Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Iannis Xenakis composed his Pleiades in 1978. Its four movements employ an amazing sound world of percussion instruments: metal plates struck by hammers; marimbas used in minimalist repeated patterns, rhythms and colors; and drums of all sizes. Watch a hypnotic performance of the second movement, Claviers by the Yale Percussion Group . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Aaron Copland was at the forefront of American music. He was a skillful and determined composer who incorporated jazz, European post-Romanticism, and even serialism into his works. But it was his distinctively American pieces that have made him famous -- they're vigorous, energetic, highly rhythmic and extremely accessible, and Copland's original audiences loved them. Listeners still do: Fanfare for the Common Man and the ballets Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring are burned into the American psyche. But the appeal he has as a popular artist does not make for work of poor quality. Even the most ostensibly jingoistic or simplistic of his pieces is multilayered, incredibly dense and harmonically sophisticated, revealing a formidable mind at work. For instance, the composer's best-known ballet Appalachian Spring is a powerful and emotional document of the pioneer spirit that subtly moves from austere phrases to full, lush textures. The piece flirts with dissonance, quotes from traditional folk tunes and utilizes effective and propulsive changes in meter. Copland was shrewd enough to craft art that still touches people, and talented enough to ensure it lasted beyond his lifetime. Check out the fascinating film Aaron Copland and the American Sound film created by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra as part of their "Keeping Score" series . . . and our COMPOSER PORTRAIT for the week.

The dance work Smoke (1995), using the music of Arvo Pärt, was originally created by choreographer Mats Ek for Swedish Television. Revamped and adapted later for the stage as Solo For Two, it is a melancholic love duet, mysterious and strict, considered one of the most admirable examples of the meeting between classical and contemporary dance. The work describes the very intense communication between a man and a woman with all its emotional and psychological complexity. Both dancers explore human existence and its contradictions. It is an example of the daring creative style of Mats Ek, combining the use of psychological dilemmas with a very subtle sense of humor. Check out the original Swedish Television version of this haunting work performed by Niklas Ek and Sylvie Guillem . . . our current DANSES PYTHEUSES.

According to composer John Tavener, "The Greek word Ypakoe means "to be obedient", "to hear", "to respond". In the present context it refers to the Ypakoe of Easter in the Orthodox Church. "Why seek ye among the dead, as though He were a mortal man?". Ypakoe, written in 1997 for solo piano, is a meditation on both the passion and resurrection of Christ. The work is a totally spiritual concept - to attone the individual's (performer's or listener's) will to the divine will." Watch a performance of Ypakoe by pianist Ralph van Raat . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

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

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