BMOP Plays George Perle (CD Review)

George Perle

Serenades

Boston Modern Orchestra Project

Gil Rose, conductor

BMOP Sound

Composer George Perle passed away a decade ago, but his music has remained part of the repertory. This is noteworthy in that, upon their deaths, many composers are eclipsed for a time. An excellent example of the resilience of Perle’s work is a new recording on BMOP Sound. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose, presents a disc of Perle’s Serenades: one featuring viola soloist Wenting Kang, another featuring piano soloist Donald Berman, and another for a chamber orchestra of eleven players.

Serenade No. 1, which features Kang, is deftly scored to accommodate the tenor/alto register of the viola, allowing the other members of the ensemble to move astride the soloist in the soprano and bass registers. The violist is supplied a fair amount of virtuosity to navigate, as well as the lyricism to which the instrument frequently adheres. The piece is cast in five movements, beginning with a Rondo and traversing through Ostinato, Recitative, Scherzo, and Coda. As is customary in Perle’s “12-tone tonality approach,” Bergian row-types, that allow for triads to appear in the midst of post-tonal harmony, make for varied and attractive pitch structures. Kang plays with considerable fluidity and appealing tone.

Serenade for Eleven Players is like a concerto for orchestra in miniature, also configured in five movements. The first movement begins with stentorian brass pitted against staccato piano shuffles and string solos. The timpani thwacks tritones instead of fifths, and wind chords provide a piquant underpinning. Later, sinuous saxophone lines are offset by angular piano arpeggiations and countered by string solos and trills from the remaining winds. The third movement has a mournful cello solo set against pensive lines in the winds. Bustling counterpoint fills the fourth movement with a number of jump cuts between textural blocks. The finale begins stealthily with chordal stabs juxtaposed against melodies in multiple tempi that build in intensity. There is a pullback before the finish that telegraphs a gentle coda. The piece as a whole is reminiscent of Schoenberg’s early post-tonal music.

Donald Berman is the piano soloist in Serenade No. 3, again a five-movement work consisting of pithy sections. Here, however, instead of Schoenberg or Berg, Perle explores a sound world akin to that of Stravinsky’s 12-tone concerto Movements. Twelve-tone tonality can be deployed in a manner similar to Stravinsky’s own idiosyncratic approach to serialism, rotational arrays. Both these details of pitch and the general muscularity of the gestural palette, again made up of blocks of material, allow us to hear Perle through a different lens of influence. Berman does a marvelous job with the solo part, playing incisively with rhythmic precision and precise coordination with the ensemble.

Rose leads BMOP through all three serenades with characteristic attention to detail and balance. The players prepared well for this challenging program. Better advocates would not have been the wish of the composer. Kudos to BMOP for keeping Perle’s memory and music alive. This disc handily makes my Best of 2019 list.

-Christian Carey

John Luther Adams – Become Desert (CD Review)

Become Desert

John Luther Adams

Seattle Symphony, Seattle Symphony Chorale, Ludovic Morlot, conductor

Cantaloupe Music

“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.

Jan Garbarek and Hilliard Ensemble (CD Review)

Remember Me, My Dear (ECM, 2019).

Remember Me, My Dear

Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble

ECM New Series 2625

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.

-Christian Carey

Six Organs of Admittance – “Two Forms Moving”

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.

Release Day! Composers at Westminster Recording

On Friday, October 25th, Westminster Choir College’s recording label, distributed by Naxos, will release “Composers at Westminster,” a digital recording of works by the composition faculty. It includes music by Stefan Young, Joel Phillips, Jay Kawarsky, Ronald Hemmel, and Christian Carey.

Three of the college’s choirs, conducted by Joe Miller, James Jordan, and Amanda Quist, as well as Victoria Browers, a member of the voice faculty, accompanied by pianist J.J. Penna, are among the performers on the recording.

You may listen to a stream or download the music via this link.

Westminster Choir Premieres New Carey work

This past summer, Joe Miller, Director of Choral Activities at Westminster Choir College, commissioned a piece from me to celebrate the centenary of both the college and Westminster Choir. They will premiere my setting of Psalm 96 on November 9th in Massapequa, New York and November 10th in Princeton (Details below).

Appear and Inspire: 100 years of Singing
Westminster Choir
Joe Miller, conductor

Saturday, November 9, 2019, 7:00 PM
St. Rose of Lima, Massapequa, NY

Sunday, November 10, 2019, 3:00 PM
Bristol Chapel, Westminster Choir College

Program Note

This setting of Psalm 96, “Sing to the Lord a New Song,” was written to celebrate the centenary of Westminster Choir College and Westminster Choir. It seemed to be an especially appropriate text to celebrate the college’s rich tradition of music-making and express hope for its continued vitality. As a composer, I always wish that choirs will undertake “new songs” and am most pleased that Joe Miller and Westminster Choir have agreed to perform one of mine. It was composed in August and September 2019 in New Jersey and Tennessee.

Christian Carey has created over eighty musical works in a variety of genres and styles, performed throughout the United States and in England, Italy, and Japan. His compositions have been performed by ACME, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Atlantic Chamber Orchestra, C4, Cassatt String Quartet, Chamber Players of the League of Composers, Harvard Choral Fellows, loadbang, Locrian Chamber Players, Manhattan Choral Ensemble, New York New Music Ensemble, Righteous Girls, Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra, and Westminster Kantorei. Recordings of his work appear on New Focus, Perspectives of New Music/Open Space, and Westminster Choir College labels. GIA publishes his choral music and an edition of his organ music is currently in preparation for Zimbel. 

Carey is Associate Professor at Westminster Choir College. He holds degrees from the Juilliard School (B.Mus. in Voice Performance), Boston University (M.M. in Composition), and Rutgers University (Ph.D. in Music).

Modern Nature – “How to Live?

How to Live?, Modern Nature’s recorded debut, is out now on Bella Union.

Modern Nature Tour Dates:
Wed. Dec. 18 – Bristol, UK @ Friendly Records End Of Year Party
Fri. Dec. 20 – Southend, UK @ South Records End Of Year Party
Thu. Jan. 9 – Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong
Fri. Jan. 10 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
Sat. Jan. 11 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade
Sun. Jan. 12 – Boston, MA @ The Lilypad
Mon. Jan. 13 – Burlington, VT @ The Monkey HouseTue. Jan. 14 – Montreal, QC @ Bar Le ‘Ritz’ P.D.B.
Wed. Jan. 15 – Toronto, ON @ The Monarch
Thu. Jan. 16 – Detroit, MI @ Deluxx Fluxx
Sat. Jan. 18 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry
Mon. Jan. 20 – Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups
Tue. March 3 – Brighton, UK @ Green Door Store
Wed. Mar. 4 – London, UK @ Omeara
Sat. Mar. 7 – Antwerp, BE @ Trix Bar
Mon. Mar. 9 – Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso
Wed. Mar. 11 – Barcelona, ES @ Sala Vol
Thu. Mar. 12 – Madrid, ES @ Siroco
Fri. Mar. 13 – Oviedo, ES @ Lata De Zinc