Wednesday, October 28, 2009

According to composer David Sartor "Reveries (2007) depicts a soul's final reflections on a rich life filled with both triumph and regret. The work concludes with the soul's last cry heavenward, followed by the incredible homecoming and overwhelming peace of being joined with God". Hear and see the world premiere performance of Reveries by the Burlington Chamber Orchestra with conductor Michael Hopkins . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Considered by many to be the most important composer of the 20th century, Russian-American Igor Stravinsky revitalized European music tradition with his irregular rhythms, dissonant voicings and life-long willingness to experiment. Beyond his famed ballets and orchestral suites like The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, he was also a renowned conductor, pianist, teacher and collaborator with many of the great artists of his era. In Igor Stravinsky: Composer, film maker Janos Darvas has created an extraordinary portrait, woven from a voluminous legacy of fascinating film interviews and performances, to reveal one of the great musical minds. See excerpts from the film ... this week's COMPOSER PORTRAIT.

... And for those who haven't fully explored the Pytheas Center's website, please check out COMPOSERS SPEAK ON THE WEB. Hear and see composers talk about their life and music using our ever expanding online video and streaming audio sources. Fascinating portraits of contemporary music's creative artists.

Choreographer Patrick Delcroix describes Adrift in Softness (2007) as an "essentially abstract piece playing with the idea of a central character drifting between different states of consciousness. Within this condition of reverie, reality is suspended and free-flowing thoughts and memories blend into each other, receding as mysteriously as they appear". Watch an excerpt from this beautiful dance work (with music by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto) . . . this week's DANSES PYTHEUSES.

Iranian born Behzad Ranjbaran’s music has been described as having "qualities of inherent beauty and strong musical structure that make it a satisfying musical entity". Hear Janis Bukowski perform his Ballade for Solo Contrabasse (1999), commissioned by the International Society of Bassists . . . FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst
Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The New Yorker has called composer Stephen Paulus "...a bright, fluent inventor with a ready lyric gift." His prolific output of more than four hundred works is represented in many genres, including music for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, solo voice, keyboard and opera. Watch a performance of his Poemas de Amor (2006) for chorus and marimba by the Taylor Festival Choir . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Stanley Fefferman has written of Ann Southam's Simple Lines of Enquiry (2008): "The 12 movements of Simple Lines of Enquiry (2008) ‘depict’ slight-to-subtle variations of seemingly similar musical lines, hues and tonal materials. And, just as the experience of visual art occurs in a silent gallery, so the experience of this musical event, these sound paintings generate an atmosphere of silence. Typically, you hear the pianist play a cluster of 5-10 notes which are allowed to hang in the air, mingle their overtones, and fade away into near silence before the next cluster appears. These tone rows vibrate ... like beads of different sizes, threaded at varying intervals along a continuity of overtones that seems to emerge as a principle subject of the music — a simple line of enquiry. The melodies, such as they are, involve much repetition, like a lullaby. The end effect is to focus the mind and relax it at the same time, creating a steady state that binds the attack and flux of each note and each cluster together as a thing itself." Read more about Ann Southam, her music and Eve Egoyan's recording of Simple Lines of Enquiry (2008) at our current FEATURED RECORDING.

From Only the Cinema: "Federico Fellini's film "8 1/2" (1963) transforms the director's preoccupation with his own creative difficulties and his tangled relationships with women into a wild film where fantasy and reality blend together seamlessly. Fellini packs the film with fantasies, dreams and nightmares, many of them loosely based on his own experiences, and all of it propelled by the jaunty music of Fellini's frequent collaborator, composer Nino Rota." Watch an excerpt from this amazing film - this week's PYTHEAS SIGHTING.

The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music turned 70 this past April, a significant anniversary that most people would probably find difficult to believe. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich remains a strikingly youthful presence, with her sparkling blue eyes, ever-present smile and good cheer. "I don’t feel it," says Zwilich. "Suddenly you turn around and there are all these candles on the cake. I’ve worked very hard for many, many years and it’s just kind of nice to feel that you’re at the top of your game - and (she adds with a laugh) that people are celebrating your ancient status." Zwilich's (pronounced SWILL-ik) witty, unpretentious personality belie her determination and toughness, qualities necessary for a female composer to make her way in a male-dominated profession, particularly three decades ago when a woman composer was still viewed as something of an eccentric novelty. She has been remarkably prolific, writing in all genres except opera, and has created a significant, extensive body of work. Watch Franklin Howell perform her Lament for Piano (1999) . . . FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst
Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music

Friday, October 16, 2009

From Paula at Sequenza21: "Ge Gan-ru's Fall of Baghdad (String Qt No.5) (2005) is at once a tribute to George Crumb’s Black Angels for electric string quartet (1970) and an expression of the composer’s own feelings about the war in Iraq. Like Crumb’s work before it, the music comprises three long sections divided into thirteen shorter ones. 'Hair-raising squeals' produced by 'applying pressure to the strings behind the bridge to create a scraping sound of indefinite pitch' open the work. In this quartet, Ge uses extended techniques neither as cultural relics nor as suggestions of ethereal spirits, as he has in other works. Instead, he uses his unique musical language to symbolize the devastation and despair associated with war. Ge employs microtonal inflections to suggest Middle Eastern music (which shares some of its idioms with the music of his native country China) and also makes use of glissandi and distorted sound to create "hellish" effects; playing col legno (striking the strings with the wooden part of the bow) both in front of and behind the bridge for the Caliph’s drum and using extreme high notes on low strings for "moaning" sounds." Hear a performance by Modern Works . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

György Ligeti was an adventurer in form and expression and a great visionary of contemporary music. His richly varied output takes a special position in its musical quality and uncompromising individuality. Ligeti moved far away from aesthetic trends and methods all his life. He was characterized by fresh and unorthodox ideas, any form of dogmatism was foreign to his nature, his entire oeuvre is marked by radical turning points. Admired and hugely influential in the profession, the sensual accessibility of his music has won the hearts of audiences everywheres ... hear him talk about his life and music - our current COMPOSER PORTRAIT.

Sarah Horick, a native of Charleston, SC, is currently a doctoral student in composition at Catholic University, having earned an M.M. in Music Composition and an M.A. in Music Theory from Florida State University. Her primary composition teachers have included Ladislav Kubik, Mark Wingate, Mark Kilstofte, and private study with Christopher Theofanidis. Horick’s works have been performed in the United States, Canada and Europe. Have a listen to a work by this up and coming composer, her Equipoise (2006) for flute and vibraphone - this week's PYTHEAS EARFUL.

Once Leos Janácek found his compositional voice (quite late in life by any standard) he explored musical territory uniquely his own. His Concertino for Piano (1925) is no exception. Here the piano is joined by a small ensemble of 2 violins, viola, clarinet, horn and bassoon, with the horn taking a prominent role in the first movement's musical conversation. Watch a wonderful performance by pianist Martha Argerich ... FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst
Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music

Friday, October 9, 2009

From the folks over at Bad Assembly: "György Ligeti composed Artikulation in 1958 and recorded it at the Studio of Electronic Music of the West German Radio in Cologne. The piece predates the modern analog synthesizers of the late 60’s and early 70’s – the sound sources are a combination of generated sound and tape manipulation. When you hear it you can’t help but think of R2D2, and yet Artikulation was written 20 years before Star Wars was released. Twelve years after Ligeti recorded the piece, Rainer Wehinger created an "aural score" for it. The liner notes from Ligeti's score provide an explanation for what’s going on in the music: "The piece is called Artikulation because in this sense an artificial language is articulated: question and answer, high and low voices, polyglot speaking and interruptions, impulsive outbreaks and humor, charring and whispering". To realize this in a score, Wehinger used a timeline measured in seconds, and used shapes and colors instead of notes on a staff. He used dots for impulses and combs for noise. He used different colors to represent variations in timbre and pitch". Have a look and listen - György Ligeti's Artikulation (1958) with "aural score" by Rainer Wehinger . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

"It's impossible to discuss twentieth-century music without touching upon Stravinsky's best-known work (Le Sacre du Printemps/The Rite of Spring - 1913) to some extent. Indeed, the twentieth century's long list of masterpieces would have been inconceivable if not for this forty-minute work that ruffled many feathers at its debut". (Paul-John Ramos: Stravinsky's Le Sacre at 90, Classical Net). Watch a performance choreographed in 1959 by the great Maurice Béjart ... our current DANSES PYTHEUSES.

Check out what Phil Muse of Sequenza21 is talking about ... "The scintillating performance by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra under Gerard Schwarz - a longtime champion of contemporary music - of four works by Bright Sheng shows clearly why this composer is a great favorite among present-day musicians. He has a penchant for treating traditional instruments of the orchestra in non-traditional ways that today’s generation of young musicians find stimulating and challenging. And his rhythmic vocabulary will keep everyone (the audience included) on their toes" ... this week's FEATURED RECORDING. Then read Vivien Schweitzer's (The New York Times) article about Bright Sheng's life and works - Intrepid Journey Leads to Ambitious Works - our FEATURED THOUGHT & IDEA this week at Pytheas.

And what more can be said about the most controversial piece of contemporary music there is - John Cage's 4' 33" (1952). I think it's just best to have a listen with a friend and speak your mind ... experience it at FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst
Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Lark Ascending (1920) is perhaps the most perfect work Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote for a solo instrument accompanied by orchestra. Finding inspiration not only in English folk tunes but also in a poem by the English poet George Meredith (1828-1909), Vaughan Williams' orchestral romance offers an impressionistic image of a lark's song and his beloved English countryside. The composer included a portion of Meredith's poem on the flyleaf of the published score:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

Hear and watch a stunning performance of The Lark Ascending by violinist Janine Jansen . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Jugu Abraham, at Movies That Make You Think writes, "Time and again people have asked me which movie is my all time favorite. I have often said without much hesitation: King Lear (1971), by the Russian film maker Grigory Kozintsev. Even close friends wonder if I have lost my wits because they expect my favorite would be Orson Welles's Citizen Kane or a work of Tarkovsky, Kieslowski, or even Terrence Mallick, my favorite directors. I fell in love with the Ukranian-born director Kozintsev’s King Lear some 30 years ago and I continue to be enraptured by the black-and-white film shot in cinemascope each time I see it. Each time you view the film, one realizes that a creative genius can embellish another masterpiece from another medium by providing food for thought---much beyond what Shakespeare offered his audiences centuries ago". The sparce film score by Dmitri Shostakovich comes from last years of his life. Have a look ... this week's PYTHEAS SIGHTING.

American composer Christopher Rouse started out at as a rock & roll drummer. However, it was not long until his love for classical composing took over and he enrolled in the Oberlin Conservatory. Having received a degree in composition in 1971, he continued with graduate work at Cornell University. He has taught at the Eastman School of Music since 1981, began teaching composition at the Juilliard School in 1997 and became co-composer in residence at the Aspen Music Festival in 1999. In a successful career as a composer he has won many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for his Trombone Concerto in 1993. Rouse is best known for his large body of concertos and symphonic works. He has been described as "the Stephen King of composition," since many of his works from the late 1980s and early 1990s dealt with issues of death, horror, tragedy, and mythology. Hear Rouse's 2007 talk with Chandler Branch of Soli Deo Gloria before the world premiere performance of his Requiem (2007) ... this week's COMPOSER PORTRAIT.

Toru Takemitsu's Rain Tree Sketch II (1992) was composed in memory of Oliver Messiaen. The name was probably inspired by a quotation from Kenzaburo Oe's story Atama no ii, Ame no Ki (An Ingenious Rain Tree): "It was named the 'rain tree', for its abundant foliage continued to let fall rain drops from the previous night's shower until the following midday. Its hundreds of thousands of tiny, finger-like leaves store up moisture, whereas other trees dry out at once." The work is a dreamy, moody meditation on the flow of life, built on half a dozen well chosen notes. Hear and watch a performance by pianist Vestard Shimkus ... this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst
Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music