Photo: Steve Pyke
Philip Glass turned eighty years old today. A celebration was held at Carnegie Hall tonight, a concert by the Bruckner Symphony Linz, led longtime Glass collaborator conductor Dennis Russell Davies in the premiere of the composer’s Eleventh Symphony and Three Yoruba Songs (with vocalist Angélique Kidjo).
In Nashville tonight, I’m not hearing any live Glass alas, but I am enjoying a brand new recording by Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. Philip Glass – Piano Works, his debut for Deutsche Grammophon, features interpretations of the Études and excerpts from Glassworks. The Siggi String Quartet joins the pianist on some of the music, reworked to incorporate strings. Both here and in the solo selections, Ólafsson brings to bear a supple sense of phrasing and wide-ranging gestural palette. His playing stands starkly at odds with the seemingly irrepressible notion that ostinatos serve as motoric cogs in a supposedly limited minimalist vocabulary. He finds 1,000 flavors of repetition. Anyone who wants an point of entry to or refresher course on Glass’s music need listen no further than here to find bold, dramatic interpretations of his work.
Paul A. Epstein Piano Music
R. Andrew Lee, piano
Irritable Hedgehog CD/DL
Prior to this recording, composer Paul A. Epstein was not a name known to me. There are so many vital creators out there that one must continue to search for them. Thankfully, R. Andrew Lee has recorded this disc for Irritable Hedgehog. It presents eight of Epstein’s compositions for solo piano: a delightfully diverse and stimulating collection.
In Will Robin’s excellently annotated liner notes, he points out that Epstein doesn’t fall neatly into the minimalist category. His interest in Sol LeWitt, Philip Glass, and Tom Johnson notwithstanding, there are processes afoot in Epstein’s music that share an affinity with modernism. Thus, we hear motoric passages brushing up against piles of dissonance and non-tonal canons. Some processes of pitch and rhythmic manipulation demonstrate an awareness of serial approaches: Robin quotes post-minimalist composer and author Kyle Gann, who likens Epstein to “the Milton Babbitt of minimalism.”
Lee performs this challenging music nimbly, with extraordinary verve and impressive rhythmic accuracy. The pianist has steadily expanded his reach to include many composers from seemingly all corners of experimental music. While one savors this recording, it is also exciting to contemplate what Lee will come up with next.
Cedille Records CD 90000 157
The “M” word: minimalism: oft-quoted, sometimes maligned, often misunderstood, and seldom accepted as a self-descriptor by composers. We get into ever more thorny ground as we begin to contemplate “post-minimalism:” does it describe chronology, influence, or some kind of murky musical terrain? If we are to use the descriptor for chronology, even Philip Glass suggests that his pieces departed very early from minimalism. So what are listeners to do with a release such as Filament, on which there is a 17-minute long piece of process music (Two Pages by Glass) that clearly makes much out of comparatively little? Further, what do we call pieces by the younger generation of indie classical composers (another loaded term), clearly enamored with repetition, who make up the bulk of this disc? Perhaps it is better to avoid the style tags altogether and instead say that each of the pieces on Filament is composed by a creator fascinated with repetition, but each one in a different way.
Bryce Dessner channels the instrumentation and affect of murder ballads of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries to create the rustic ostinatos of Murder Ballades. Written for a celebration of Philip Glass’s 75th birthday, Nico Muhly’s Doublespeak is designed to hearken back to the “obsessive repetition” of the 1970s, but it does so in a powerfully articulated fashion. Son Lux’s contributions, abetted by the vocals of Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), are brief remixes of material from the album. Filament’s high point is a high octane and highly coordinated performance of Glass’s Two Pages. A single, propulsive line that can be played by any combination of instruments: the elements couldn’t be more minimalist in conception, but the execution is anything but.
Happy birthday to composer Terry Riley, who turns 80 today.
There are CD releases out this week to celebrate the composer. My assessment of ZOFO Plays Terry Riley appears in the CD Reviews section of Sequenza 21 and on my blog.
But wait, there’s more.
Nonesuch Records has done right by Riley. They have released One Earth, One People, One Love, a 5-CD boxed set of the complete recordings of Riley’s music composed for Kronos Quartet. The set contains a disc of unreleased tracks, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector: Music of Terry Riley. For those of you yelling – “No fair! I already have the Kronos discs. I want to buy the unreleased recordings as a separate CD!” – Nonesuch is allowing you to do just that, separately releasing these recordings on a single disc.
Once again, happiest of birthdays Mr. Riley! May you continue to write the eloquently beautiful music we have come to know and love for many years to come.
ZOFO Plays Terry Riley
Sono Luminus Blu-ray/CD
Piano four hands duo Eva-Maria Zimmerman and Keisuke Nakagoshi once again bring energy, virtuosity, and imagination to a composer’s work on their latest recording, a portrait of Terry Riley.
ZOFO arranged a few of the pieces on the album for four hands. Their rendition of “Half-Wolf Dances Mad in the Moonlight” is a powerfully incisive standout and “G Song” is supple and, given the breathlessly fast tempo, played with impressive rhythmic integrity. There is also a new piece on the CD, commissioned by the duo: the sprightly, syncopated, and surprisingly stylistically faithful Praying Mantis Rag.
The rest of the programmed pieces are from The Heaven Ladder, Books 5 & 7, collections commissioned by pianists Sarah Cahill and Gloria Cheng. The most expansive of these selections, “Cinco de Mayo,” is given a sterling rendition, filled with dynamic shadings, fleet passagework, and tightly knit exchanges.
Pointed up on the album is Riley’s versatility as a composer. While he can create churning ostinatos with the best of them, his connections to jazz, raga, and dance music of many varieties are just as prominently felt here as his status as an elder statesman of minimalism. Given their chameleon-like presence on previous recordings, ranging from Rite of Spring to Samuel Barber to David Lang, it is hardly surprising that ZOFO relishes in the eclecticism of the fare here. Recommended.