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.
On Saturday October 17th, the Byrne:Kozar Duo is performing “A Lady” at the NienteForte Festival at Tulane University in New Orleans (7 PM at NOLA Sidebar).
On October 25th, the recording Composers at Westminster (WCC19109) will be released via digital platforms. I coordinated the project and two of my Magnificat Antiphons, performed by Westminster Kantorei, and three of my Jane Kenyon settings, performed by Victoria Browers and J.J. Penna, are among the programmed works. The program notes are below.
“Composers at Westminster”
The five composers featured on this recording are full-time members of the composition faculty at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. The programmed selections display a range of musical styles and works for different forces: three of the college’s choirs as well as voice faculty, pianists, and visiting string artists.
Stefan Young is not only a composer but an estimable pianist. He performs some of his own piano pieces from a musical diary called Thoughts for the Day: here we get a peek at his ponderings for January. Young also plays in Ronald Hemmel’s string quintet Night Moves, a work written to accompany dance. The Other World is Young’s choral settingof an ancient Egyptian text (in translation), performed by Schola Cantorum, conducted by James Jordan. Clarum Sonum, a group of recent graduates, contribute Jay Kawarsky’s setting of Rami Shapiro’s poem Unending Love.
Joel Phillips is represented by two Christina Rosetti songs, performed by voice faculty member Victoria Browers and pianist J.J. Penna, as well as a setting of William Blake’s beloved poem “Little Lamb,” performed by Westminster Choir, conducted by Joe Miller. Two of Christian Carey’s Seven Magnificat Antiphons are performed by Kantorei, conducted by Amanda Quist. They are settings of ancient Latin texts that traditionally are sung during Advent. Carey’s first of two groups of Jane Kenyon songs are also performed by Browers and Penna.
Composers at Westminster celebrates the creativity of its faculty. It serves as a document of just some of the many collaborations they regularly undertake with Westminster faculty and students and in the wider musical community.
The Other World – 5:27
(text: Egyptian, 3500 BC, translated by Robert Hillyer, music by Stefan Young, Copyright 2018)
Westminster Schola Cantorum, James Jordan, conductor
2- Press Onward – 3:24
3- Sleep, Little Baby – 3:38
(poems by Christina Rossetti, music by Joel Phillips, copyright 1999)
Victoria Browers, soprano; J.J. Penna, piano
4-O Sapientia – 2:20
5-O Oriens – 2:45
(texts – 5th Century Latin, music by Christian B. Carey, GIA Publications, copyright 2019)
Westminster Kantorei, Amanda Quist, conductor
Ronald A. Hemmel –
6- Night Moves (Piano Quintet) – 10:55
(music by Ronald A. Hemmel, copyright 2014)
Leah Asher, Maya Bennardo, Meagan Burke, and Erin Wright, strings; Stefan Young, piano
J. A. Kawarsky
7- Unending Love – 3:41
(poem by Rami Shapiro, music by J.A. Kawarsky, copyright 2015)
Clarum Sonum, conducted by Rider Foster.
Stefan Young – Thoughts for the Day – January
(music by Stefan Young, copyright 2018)
8- Jan. 4. Vigorous – 1:52
9- Jan. 11. Driving – 1:43
10- Jan. 28. Slowly – 1:00
11- Jan. 31. Remembering Peter – 2:20
Stefan Young, piano
Christian B. Carey – Three Kenyon Songs
12- Song – 2:17
13 – Otherwise – 4:32
14- Let Evening Come – 4:13
(poems by Jane Kenyon used by kind permission of Graywolf Press,
music by Christian B. Carey, File Under Music, copyright 2019)
Victoria Browers, soprano; J.J. Penna, piano
15- Little Lamb – 4:09
(poem by William Blake, music by Joel Phillips, G. Schirmer, copyright 1997)
Westminster Choir, Joe Miller, conductor
Total timing: 54 minutes
Dr. Stefan Hayden Young is Professor at Westminster Choir College. He received a B.M. from Rollins College, certificates in harmony, piano, and solfège from the American School of the Arts, Fontainebleau, France, an M.M. in piano from the Juilliard School, and a Ph.D. in composition from Rutgers University. Commissions have included the Haverford Singers and NJMTA. He has written for various media including orchestra, band, choir, chamber ensembles, voice and piano, and a variety of solo instruments. He has also served as director of music and organist at a number of churches in New Jersey and on Martha’s Vineyard. At Westminster, Dr. Young is director of the Composition Week summer session, coordinator of the student composition concerts, and coordinator of the composers’ project with the Westminster Community Orchestra. In 2003, his Anthology of Art Songs was released onCD.
Joel Phillips is Professor at Westminster Choir College where he has taught since 1985. Phillips has received a number of commissions well as awards, the latter including annual recognition from ASCAP, the G. Schirmer Young Composer’s Award, and a BMI Award. His choral works are published by G. Schirmer, Inc., Transcontinental Music Publications, GIA, and Mark Foster Music (Shawnee Press).
Dr. J.A. Kawarsky is Professor at Westminster Choir College. He received a B.M. from Iowa State University, and an M.M. and D.M.A. from Northwestern University. He has written for all genres including solo instrument, orchestra, band, choral, vocal and theater. Prayers for Bobby. for choir, orchestra, narrator and soloists, has received numerous performances throughout the United States and Canada and was recorded by the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus and members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC. Iowa State University premiered the alto saxophone and orchestral winds piece, Fastidious Notes. 17 universities throughout the United States commissioned the symphonic band work Red Training Reels. The cantata Sacred Rights, Sacred Song has been performed throughout the USA and Israel. Navona Recordings released Kawarsky’s 2018 portrait CD, Spoon Hanging from My Nose. Yelton Rhodes Music, Transcontinental Music, and Southern Music publish his compositions.
Ronald A. Hemmel is Professor at Westminster Choir College. Dr. Hemmel received his B.M. in Music Education from Westminster Choir College, his M.M. in Music Theory/Composition and Organ Performance from James Madison University, and his M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Rutgers University. He is a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists. Before coming to Westminster, in 1994 he directed the music program at Woodberry Forest School. His compositions include works for solo instruments, voice and piano, choir, and both small and large ensembles. Several of his choral works are published by Yelton Rhodes Music, G.I.A. Publications, and Transcontinental Music Publications.
Christian Carey is Associate Professor at Westminster Choir College. He has created over eighty musical works in a variety of genres and styles, performed throughout the United States and in England, Italy, and Japan. Performances of his compositions have been given by ACME, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Atlantic Chamber Orchestra, C4, Cassatt String Quartet, Chamber Players of the League of Composers, loadbang, Locrian Chamber Players, Manhattan Choral Ensemble, New York New Music Ensemble, Righteous Girls, Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra, and Westminster Kantorei. His score for the play Gilgamesh Variations was staged at Bushwick Starr Theatre in Brooklyn, NY. For Milton, a flute/piano duo,has been recorded twice, for Perspectives of New Music/Open Space and New Focus Recordings.
In recent years, pianist Ethan Iverson has been collaborating with a number of artists, particularly elder statesmen of the jazz tradition. In 2017, he appeared at the Village Vanguard with trumpeter Tom Harrell. The performances were document on Common Practice, Iverson’s most recent ECM recording. In addition to Harrell, the CD’s personnel includes bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson, longtime associates of the pianist.
The common practice to which the title refers are jazz standards, mostly from the Great American Songbook but also bebop originals. The group investigates a range of styles, from ardent balladry on “The Man I Love” to smoky lyricism on “I Can’t Get Started” to puckish wit on “Sentimental Journey.” Harrell and Iverson display imaginative recasting of harmonic changes throughout, but especially on vigorous versions of “All the Things You Are” and “Wee.” Iverson contributes two tunes, “Philadelphia Creamer” and “Jed from Teaneck,” both blues with twists and turns of the form.
On Wednesday, October 16th, the quartet reunites for two sets at Jazz Standard (details below). Their take on jazz’s common practice is not to be missed.
Ethan Iverson Quartet featuring Tom Harrell
Wednesday, October 16 - shows at 7:30 and 9:30 PM Jazz Standard 116 E. 27th Street, NYC Tickets here
Ethan Iverson – piano Tom Harrell – trumpet, flugelhorn Ben Street – bass Eric McPherson – drums
On Sun of Goldfinger, his latest recording for ECM Records, saxophonist TimBerne partners with guitarist David Torn and percussionist Ches Smith. The outing incorporates the avant-jazz palette usually adopted by Berne and Smith along with amplified sonics and effects incorporated by Torn.
There are three long-form pieces on Sun of Goldfinger. “Eye Meddle” builds from a fragmentary welter of ostinatos, each at first seeming to go their own direction, into a tightly interwoven and densely populated texture with wailing upper register saxophone accompanied by an insistent guitar melody and double time rhythms from Smith. Torn’s guitar then soars to match Berne, overdubs allowing for him to add a feisty rhythm guitar part to the mix. A filigreed, polyrhythmic denouement follows.
“Spartan, Before it Hit” opens with sustained upper register guitar answered by a mournful saxophone melody. A unison melody is offset by altissimo saxophone harmonics in imitation of the earlier high-lying guitars; Smith takes on a motoric beat while Torn contributes thunderous rock riffs and Berne corresponding squalls. The climax involves a huge crescendo from Smith, Torn’s laser beam guitar lines, and angular soloing from Berne. A subdued interlude, quite gentle in context, follows. Alternating with more forceful passages, an extended reflective demeanor explores fascinating musical pathways. At the conclusion, altissimo register saxophone alongside loping guitar is reasserted to make for a neat moment identifying the piece’s larger form.
The album’s closer, “Soften the Blow,” begins with oscillating dyads and bits of scalar passages. Sonorous guitar chords interrupt these fragments, followed by sci-fi effects, overblowing, and reverberating sounds from Smith. The drums finally enter, punctuating the music’s surface with short, muscular gestures. Berne then takes a solo that combines the fragments of the opening into piquant, post-tonal lines. While Torn reaches deep into the spacey side of his effects kit, the saxophone solo kicks into high octane, as do the drums. Smith creates a fascinating panoply of cymbal sounds and Torn’s solo matches Berne’s intensity, even bringing out the whammy bar for bent note emphasis. Behind all this is a doom-rock ostinato that propels the proceedings. The structure devolves, yielding a more ruminative passage where each member of the trio goes their own way. Wailing guitar and emphatic drums provide the link to another long crescendo in which Berne bides his time, allowing the spotlight to rest on his colleagues’ interaction for a time before rejoining the proceedings to lead it into fervent free jazz territory. A brief coda brings the boil back to simmer, leaving the listener with much to ponder.
On October 13th in New York City at Nublu 151 (151 Avenue C in the East Village), the trio will appear in a show at 9 PM; doors open at 8 (Tickets here).