Linda Catlin Smith on Another Timbre (CD Review)

Linda Catlin Smith

Drifter

Apartment House and Bozzini Quartet

Another Timbre at105X2

 

Born in the US and residing in Canada for more than a quarter century, Linda Catlin Smith has become a fixture on that country’s cultural radar. She has been welcomed and feted as one of Canada’s own. For instance, she is only the second woman to win the Jules Léger Prize for Chamber Music and has had a long association with the ensemble ArrayMusic, whom she served as Artistic Director. Several recordings have been released of her music, but last year’s Dirt Road won her critical acclaim and belated notice in the United States, ending up on many critics’ “best of year” lists (mine included). Released by Another Timbre, Dirt Road was merely a foretaste of that label’s commitment to Canadian music. Another Timbre has recently released a set of five recordings in its Canadian Composers series (another batch of five is due later this year). Catlin Smith features prominently, with the double disc Drifter serving as Volume 1 in the series. Other composers include Martin Arnold, Isiah Ceccarelli, Chlyoko Szlavnics, and Marc Sabat.

 

Drifter’s program is performed by two chamber groups: Apartment House and Bozzini Quartet. The “drifting” in question is not itinerant hitchhiking, but rather the placid tempo pathways frequently chosen by Catlin Smith. The piano trio Far from Shore, played here by Philip Thomas, Anton Lukiszevieze, and Mira Benjamin, is a case in point. Slow, soft music for the trio, often reminiscent of Morton Feldman’s approach (one that Catlin Smith acknowledges as a signature influence on her work) abides alongside passages of colorful piano chords. The spectrum moves from inexorably repeated constrained sets of pitches, to chromatic counterpoint, to whole washes of sound. The intuitive sensibility that Catlin Smith claims as her approach in preference to any dogmatic systemization clearly allows her to move through constantly changing musical terrain, all the while maintaining an organic sense of each piece. How does she manage this? An interview in the booklet accompanying the Canadian Composers set quotes her as saying,”Listening. Lots of listening.” One could do worse as a composer in any style to listen as carefully as Catlin Smith does.

 

Cantelina (2013) for viola and vibraphone, played by Emma Richards and Simon Limbrick, presents another of the composer’s interests, one in heterogenous instrumental pairings. Both here and in the Piano Quintet ( 2014), another of Catlin Smith’s predilections, exploring tightly knit counterpoint in close registral positions, is featured. The overlapping in Cantilena is quite fetching (it is a combination that should be explored by more composers and one I’ll keep in my own hip pocket) and it is equally affecting when writ large in the quintet. The title work is also for a seemingly challenging combination, piano and classical guitar, played by Philip Thomas and Diego Castro Magas, but Catlin Smith’s gentle daubs of coloristic harmony and unequal ostinatos work beautifully in this duo context as well. Mon Qui Tremblais (1999), played by Thomas, Benjamin, and Limbrick, has a pulse-driven piano part that is joined by sustained violin and bowed pitched percussion. An interesting notational device is used: rather than writing out all the notes and rhythms, the composer specifies that the musicians silently read a Rimbaud poem and use its speech rhythms to shape the musical work (for instance, the percussionist gets his attack points from the accented French syllables).

 

Bozzini Quartet appears in two string quartets by Catlin Smith. Folkestone (1999) pits a persistently high violin line against blocks of slow articulated, syncopated chords played by the other three members (these have an almost accordion-like quality in their spacing). Gradually, other lines emerge from the texture, with the cello playing a poignant solo dissonant with the rest of the harmony. The chordal passages begin registrally to disperse, bringing the locus of activity closer to the violin’s sustained flautando melody. Mid-register lines now break free and the chords move in double time for a brief stretch before ceding the terrain to widely spaced and again slowly articulated harmonies. This alternation of patterns includes still more elements to be introduced: pizzicatos, duets, flashes of quartal harmonic brilliance, and a bass-register cello melody made truly weighty by the registers it has balanced against before. Clocking in at more than 32 minutes, Folkestone is a substantial and thoroughly captivating composition. Gondola involves members of the quartet coming in and out of unison and a gentle boat-rocking pacing that Catlin Smith describes thus:”The title loosely refers to its slight undulation or floating qualities – a subtle motion or disturbance of the surface, like trailing the hand in water.”

 

Evocative imagery for truly evocative music-making. Drifter is an album (a double-album at that) worth savoring.

 

 

 

Wendy Richman’s vox*viola project

Singing violist Wendy Richman

My dear friend and collaborator, singing violist Wendy Richman has undertaken a campaign to fund her first solo album, vox*viola. Consisting of pieces for singing violist by Lou Bunk, Christian Carey, Jason Eckardt, Stephen Gorbos, Jose-Luis Hurtado, Everette Minchew, Arlene Sierra, David Smooke, and Ken Uenothe recording will be released via ICE’s TUNDRA imprint on New Focus Recordings

Wendy first premiered my piece, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, a Yeats setting, in 2010 at a show that Kay and I presented at Bushwick Starr Theatre in Brooklyn. I selected the text because it was one of the readings at Kay’s and my wedding. In fact, the composition was a first anniversary present to Kay. It is inscribed:

Dearest Kay,

They say that the proper gift for a first wedding anniversary is paper. I hope you don’t mind that mine includes notes. 

All my love,

C

Wendy has been a true champion of the piece, and has since performed it in Ohio and Alabama. Other champions need mentioning: Mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen and violist John Yuan have performed Cloths of Heaven as a duo and Megan and mezzo-soprano Ellen Broen have also performed a voice-piano version with pianists Graeme Burgan and Jonathan Palmer Lakeland. Megan has even switched roles and performed it in a higher key with a violinist.

 

All of this to say that Wendy’s commission sparked my inspiration, and gave impetus to a piece of mine that has had a larger life than many, and that makes me all the more grateful to her. I am thrilled that she will be recording the piece and am excited by the works that are alongside it on the program; many are by close friends which makes this project feel particularly close-knit. She has made an IndieGoGo page for her funding campaign for the recording. You can check it out here.

 

Tonight at Miller: League of Composers

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Orchestra of the League of Composers/ISCM Season Finale

Miller Theatre; June 1, 2016 7:30 PM

Part of the NY PHIL Biennial (Tickets here)

Since its inception, the Orchestra of the League of Composers/ISCM has displayed a catholicity of style in its program selections. This year is no exception. Director Louis Karchin and the players present works ranging in character from serialism to spectralism, with a bit of neo-tonality in between. This is only fitting: the League has long welcomed composers of myriad styles into its membership. This year’s season finale is equally representative of this musical diversity.

Huck Hodge’s Alêtheia is filled with percussive passages, glissandos, and extended techniques juxtaposed with supple melodic gestures. It makes a bold impression. In a recent interview with League member Luke Dahn, Hodge clarified his particular use of orchestration as follows, “There is the combination of roughness and elegance in my music – the way that coarse yet sumptuous timbres may create a framework from which emerge elegiac lines of melody. Some listeners have identified a certain violence in my music, but it is a regenerative violence — destruction as an act of rebirth — like the restorative nature of a forest fire.”

Sempre Diritto! (Straight Ahead!) by Paul Moravec is a robust work filled, as one might imagine, with direct melodic gestures. These are supported by harmonies redolent in Romanticism. However, the piece is not merely nostalgic for a bygone era or a particular geographic area. Instead, Moravec molds these various elements into staunchly individual music of considerable character.

Composed for the pianist Peter Serkin, Charles Wuorinen’s Flying to Kahani references his opera Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The title is the name of the second “undiscovered” moon of earth, found in Salman Rushdie’s book upon which the opera is based. A piano concerto, but one cast in a single movement, it is abundantly virtuosic, both in the piano’s solo passages and in the orchestral parts. While its harmonic language is unmistakably chromatic, like many of Wuorinen’s recent pieces there is an exploration of pitch centricity (Kahani is built around the note C) and reference chords.

The longest work on the program, clocking in at some twenty-five minutes in duration, Felipe Lara’s Fringes explores the world of spectral composition, serving as an homage to the work of such French composers as Tristan Murail, Gerard Grisey, and Pierre Boulez, However, Fringes is not just built on the harmonic series found in orthodox spectralism, but also on a complex array of effects-based orchestration. Much like Hodge’s work, there is an architecture of sentiments – of gentleness contrasted with violent outbursts. Another layer of Lara’s music is his use of antiphonal seating, with instruments spatially dispersed onstage creating a vibrant colloquy. Thus once again in its Season Finale concert, the Orchestra of the League of Composers/ISCM shares a collection of pieces from the late Twentieth and early Twenty-first centuries that display diversity, virtuosity, and a wide range of reference points. One thing shared by all the works: the durable quality of the music.

Program for 5/28 Concert

Hope to see some of you tomorrow at 5 PM at the concert being given at All Saints Church in Princeton. Five world premieres in one show – what joy, what luck!

Program

*All selections composed by Christian B. Carey, unless otherwise noted

Spiritual Variations I & II

Tom Colao, organ

Je suis aimé de la plus belle Text by Cle ment Marot

Sara Noble, soprano

Selections from Nocturnes Composed by Cortlandt Matthews

i. on a particularly clear night

ii. a streetlight manifesto

iii. a Mulder meditation

Jessica Moreno, mezzo-soprano and Sergey Tkachenko, piano

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven Text by W.B. Yeats

Fiery Sunset

Psalm 103

Megan Ihnen, mezzo-soprano and Graeme Burgan, piano

Thomas Cunningham, piano

Megan Ihnen, mezzo-soprano and Sara Noble, soprano

-intermission-
Anniversary

Lullaby

Reunion

Solo 2

From Blue Symphony Text by John Gould Fletcher

Lullaby Vocalise

Thomas Cunningham, piano

Ian Good, piano

Sara Noble, soprano and Graeme Burgan, piano

Three Kenyon Settings Text by Jane Kenyon

Song

Otherwise

Let Evening Come

Megan Ihnen, mezzo-soprano and Graeme Burgan, piano

Hymn: Add one more seat to the table Text by Kay Mitchell

*All are invited to join in the singing of this hymn*

Laura Cetilia on Estuary, Ltd.

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Used, Broken, & Unwanted

Laura Cetilia, cello, autoharp, voice, and electronics

Estuary Ltd. CD

 

A live recording from 2013 made in Providence, Rhode Island, Used, Broken, and Unwanted demonstrates to good effect the wide-ranging timbral palette and drone-based structures that artist Laura Cetilia explores. The title track makes use of repetition, not in the symmetrical fashion of process-driven minimalism, but to create an undulating undergirding for the wisps of vocal and cello melodies that sporadically emerge. This elegantly segues into the exquisitely fragile “Thrum/Pin.”

“Plucked from Obscurity” makes efficacious use of pizzicato; the electronics with which it contends range from the bell-like to the percussive. Particularly lovely is the delicate album closer “Tears of Things,” in which the main, initially pizzicato-driven, ostinato is gradually supplanted by sweeping guttural electronics and an accumulation of upper register sustained notes.

In the surprisingly burgeoning field of cellists who sing, Cetilia is a distinctive one. Alternately penetrating and atmospheric, Used, Broken, and Unwanted is a stimulating listen throughout.

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