Celebrating a new partnership between Nonesuch and International Anthem, two of the gold standard labels for adventurous music, January 24 will see the release of Jeff Parker and the New Breed’s Suite for Max Brown. Combining samples, some decidedly old school in origin, and exploratory improvisation, the music makes connections to Parker’s long tenure in Tortoise while adding still more depth to his musical profile.
Listeners will doubtless wonder: who is Max Brown? Parker’s mother’s maiden name was Maxine Brown, but her nickname is Max. The New Breed band name comes from the name of a store owned by Parker’s late father. Thus, the entire project is enacted as a tribute to family. The suite is Parker’s most personal, musically potent, statement to date.
Recording of the Year: Terry Riley, Sun Rings, Kronos Quartet, Volti (Nonesuch)
2002 work Sun Rings simultaneously celebrates the 25th
anniversary of the Voyager exploration and soberly reflects on September 11,
2001. Kronos Quartet, longtime collaborators with Riley, the ethereal voices of
Volti, and a collection of space sounds are combined to create a fascinating and
engaging amalgam. An exhilarating ride through the various styles that Riley
has at his disposal.
Best Recordings of 2019 (in no particular order)
Terry Riley, Sun Rings, Kronos Quartet, Volti (Nonesuch)
Jaimie Branch, FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise (International Anthem)
FKA Twigs, Magdalene (Young Turks)
Kris Davis, Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic)
Angel Olsen, All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar)
Guided by Voices, Sweating the Plague (GBV)
Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Haukur Tómasson, Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, and Páll Ragnar Pálsson, Concurrence, Víkingur Ólafsson, Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, Iceland Symphony Orchestra – Daniel Bjarnason (Sono Luminus)
Michael Finnissy, Vocal Works 1974-2015, EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble, James Weeks (Winter and Winter)
Emmanuel Nunes, Eivend Buene, Andreas Dohmen, Márton Illés, Chaya Czernowin, Donaueschinger Musiktage 2017 (Neos)
Minor Pieces, The Heavy Steps of Dreaming (Fat Cat)
Zosha di Castri, Tachitipo (New Focus)
Morton Feldman, Piano, Philip Thomas (Another Timbre)
Aaron Copland, Billy the Kid and Grohg, Detroit Symphony – Leonard Slatkin (Naxos)
Ivo Perelman, Matt Maneri, Nate Wooley, Matthew Shipp, Strings 4 (Leo)
Liza Lim, Rebecca Saunders, Chaya Czernowin, Mirela Ivičević, and Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Speak Be Silent, Riot Ensemble – Aaron Holloway-Nahum (Huddersfield-NMC)
Now in their forty-sixth year of singing, the Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips, have long made an annual December concert at Church of St. Mary the Virgin in midtown Manhattan a stop on their winter tour. Part of Miller Theatre’s Early Music Series, these concerts have focused on Renaissance polyphony, but there have also been some noteworthy new works on the programs. They frequently program the music of Arvo Pärt. Last year’s concert featured the premiere of a piece for the Tallis Scholars written by Nico Muhly.
However, this year an imaginative program, titled “Reflections” is on offer that interweaves selections based on different liturgical sections, bringing together composers from England and on the Continent active throughout the Renaissance as well as twentieth century French composers Francis Poulenc and Olivier Messiaen.
The group is nearing the completion of its edition of Josquin’s Masses. Their latest recording of Missa Mater Patris and Missa Da Pacem (Gimell CD, 2019), presents pieces whose attribution has been the matter of some controversy. The former mass is based on music by Brumel, which would be the only such borrowing by Josquin, contains some uncharacteristic blocks of homophony at strategic places and fewer of the composer’s signature imitative duos. So, is it a misattribution? Without stating anything categorically, in his characteristically erudite liner notes Phillips suggests the Brumel connection might place the mass in 1512 or 1513, shortly after Brumel’s death as an homage to a composer friend; this would make it one of the last two mass settings we have by Josquin. The source material might help to account for the different approach.
Whether Josquin wrote it or someone else, Missa Mater Patris contains some much fine music that is superlatively sung on the Gimmell CD. The Hosanna sections of the Sanctus and Benedictus, borrowing cascades in thirds from the Brumel motet, is both fleet and exuberant. The Agnus Dei III is another section where the contributions of Brumel are expertly integrated.
Phillips relates that, from the nineteenth century to relatively recently, Missa Da Pacem was held up as an example of the Josquinian style. Recent discoveries have suggested another author, Noel Bauldeweyn (Beauty Farm recently released a fine disc of this lesser known composer’s masses). Phillips is not entirely willing to concede that Da Pacem isn’t Josquin’s, he instead mentions passages that seem to point to one and then the other author and leaves the listener a chance to judge – and savor – for themselves.
Out on Friday, December 6th, via New Focus Recordings,Wendy Richman’s Vox/Viola recording includes a piece I wrote for her in 2010, “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.” The CD significantly enlarges the repertoire for singing violists, with pieces by Ken Ueno, Everette Minchew, Arlene Sierra, Jason Eckardt, and others.
Recently released on Westminster Choir College’s label, Composers at Westminster features music by five faculty composers: Joel Phillips, Stefan Young, Jay Kawarsky, Ronald Hemmel, and myself. Westminster Kantorei, conducted by Amanda Quist, recorded two of my Magnificat Antiphons for the project. Soprano Victoria Browers and pianist J.J. Penna recorded three of my Jane Kenyon Songs for the recording as well. It is available to stream/download on all major platforms (such as Presto Classical).
In other news, Joe Miller commissioned a Psalm 96 setting from me for Westminster Choir, to celebrate the ensemble’s centennial in 2020. It has received three East Coast performances, will be performed at Westminster’s homecoming concert, and then will be programmed on the choir’s West Coast tour in early 2020.
” For its 100th anniversary season, the Choir commissioned Westminster Choir College professor Christian Carey for a new work; his setting of Psalm 96 (“Sing to the Lord a new song”) was fitting for the occasion both in text and music. Receiving its second performance in this concert, Carey’s piece pays tribute to Westminster Choir’s rich tradition of church music and showed off well the Choir’s well-blended sound and ability to shift harmonies smoothly. “
Nancy Plum, Princeton Packet, November 13, 2019.
I’m currently at work on a short choral piece for Manhattan Choral Ensemble, to celebrate the group’s twentieth anniversary. My wife, Kay Mitchell, has written the lyrics.
“Become Desert is both a celebration of the deserts we are given, and a lamentation of the deserts we create.” – John Luther Adams
Born in Mississippi, John Luther Adams first came to the attention of listeners as a composer and author based in Alaska, where he lived and worked for some forty years. Pieces such as Inuksuit, The Place Where You Go to Listen, and Dream in White on White are eloquent expressions of Adams’ time there and how it impacted him both as a creator and as a person. His book, Winter Music, is a required text for composers, as well as an accessible read of significant appeal to non-musicians. In a remarkable change of pace, Adams has recently moved to the desert, staying in Mexico and Chile.
In 2013, Adams was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for Become Ocean, a work for the Seattle Symphony that mourned the rising seas caused by climate change, posing a timely questions: would land-roaming creatures, humans among them, be subsumed and return to the waters from whence they came. Since then, the piece has become a trilogy, followed by Become River and now Become Desert. The latest piece deals with climate change’s impact on water supply and the effects of warming in dry climates.
Like its performance and recording of Become Ocean, the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Ludovic Morlot, creates beguiling sounds eloquently shaped in their rendition of Become Desert. Whereas the former piece had an apocalyptic cast, moving from low to high and then cascading,the latter is filled with bells and chimes and sustained chords, creating the aura of aridity and hazy lights so appropriate to its subject matter. Partway through, rolling drums give us the only hit of respite from dryness, thundering against reiterated brass chords. Harps and plenty of sixth chords recall Impressionism, while the insistent repetition of overtone chords provides a spectral cast. Its end is a deliciously long denouement leaving us with faint chimes that evoke the piece’s opening.
Become Desert is one of the best recordings of contemporary music of 2019. Recommended.
The Hilliard Ensemble disbanded five years ago. Happily, they made a few recordings for ECM that have allowed listeners to continue to enjoy new music from them. Remember Me, My Dear was recorded on their last tour in 2014 at the Collegiate Church in Bellinzona, Switzerland. It celebrates a quarter century of collaboration, beginning with the Officium album, released in 1994 to wide acclaim.
As with their previous collaborations, Remember Me, My Dear features both early music by composers such as Hildegard von Bingen, Pérotin, and the ever ubiquitous Anonymous, as well as twentieth/twenty-first century pieces by Arvo Pärt, Komitas, and Russian liturgical composer Nikolay Kedrov. Often the blending of resources is impressive. Garbarek creates imitative lines that further elaborate Kedrov’s “Litany” and revels in the modal scales found in “Procedentem Sponsum.” The saxophonist solos over the Hilliard Ensemble singing suavely arranged jazz chords on his original “Allting Finns.”
Elsewhere, there is a juxtaposition of disparate elements. On an Agnus Dei by the Renaissance composer Antoine Brumel, the counterpoint from the voices serves as a backdrop for cascading runs by Garbarek. In the title track, which originally appeared on the studio album Mnemosyne, a homophonic chanson is elaborated with saxophone filigrees between phrases.
Garbarek’s original “We are the Stars” is a rapturous piece, with soprano saxophone contributing altissimo register climaxes that are shadowed by countertenor David James in his own upper register. Guilliame Le Rouge’s fifteenth century chanson Se je fayz deuil ideally presents the autumnal warmth of the quartet’s sound in the Collegiate Church’s generous acoustic. Pérotin’s Alleluia Navitas provides a joyous colloquy between Garbarek and the singers. Who knew that medieval organum could so successfully afford rollicking, bluesy rejoinders?
Remember, My Dear amply demonstrates that, until the end of their work together, the Hilliard Ensemble remained in fine voice. It is always difficult to say goodbye to a group that has played such a pivotal role in one’s study and enjoyment of music. The post-disbandment releases shared on ECM have been a generous surplus. The Hilliard Ensemble, and their collaboration with Garbarek, will be dearly remembered for a long time to come.
Six Organs of Admittance releases Companion Rises, their first full length in three years, on February 21, 2020 via Drag City Records. The band has shared a teaser track on various digital platforms, titled “Two Forms Moving.” Great loping rhythm guitar line here Offset by strings and overdubbed backing singers, the lead vocal is gently paced: a dash of indie meeting a slab of folk. A vibrant lead guitar solo pushes the track into effervescent terrain.