Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Celebrated American composer Melinda Wagner has amassed a wide-ranging catalog of chamber and orchestral music, but she is perhaps best known for works featuring soloists with orchestra, including her Trombone Concerto commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for principal trombonist Joseph Alessi, Extremity of Sky commissioned by the Chicago Symphony for pianist Emmanuel Ax, and the Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion, commissioned for Paul Dunkel and the Westchester Philharmonic. The Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion was also the winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Melinda Wagner's Four Songs (2004) are inspired by the poetry of Robert Desnos, Denise Levertov and Emily Dickinson. Watch soprano Haleh Abghari and the Monadnock Music ensemble perform the fourth song in Wagner's in set, Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Light is Calling (2004)
is a short film by film maker Bill Morrison, "constructed" on the music of Michael Gordon. Gordon is one of the founding members of the Bang on a Can ensemble, who, for over a decade, have concerned themselves with injecting the vitality and relevance of popular forms into the world of modern art music. And if you have heard of Bill Morrison it is probably in relation to his feature film Decasia: The State of Decay (2002), and his process of taking pre-existing footage from films which have been largely lost to the natural process of nitrate deterioration, and reconstituting them as artifacts for a new artistic product. Light is Calling continues that concept, using images from the 1926 film The Bells set to the music of Michael Gordon. Here's how IMDb describes it: "A scene from The Bells (1926) is optically reprinted and edited to Michael Gordon's seven minute composition. It is a meditation on the fleeting nature of life and love, as seen through the roiling emulsion of an film". Watch Light is Calling (2004) . . . it's our PYTHEAS SIGHTING.

Gyorgy Ligeti began his development as a composer using serial techniques. By 1961, Ligeti began using textural (sound, sonority or color) techniques, often resulting in music which is completely divisi, i.e. one part for each performer. His most famous work in this style is Atmospheres, an orchestral composition written on 87 staves.  Ligeti's Lux Aeterna (1966) is a study in vocal clusters and choral color - an expansion of the techniques he first used in a much earlier work Apparitions. In Lux Aeterna the text is divided into four sections which correspond to the four thoughts comprising the traditional Latin Requiem text: (1) Light Eternal shine on them, Lord; (2) Together with your Saints in Eternity; (3) Grant them rest eternal, for you are holy, Lord; and (4) Let light perpetual shine on them. The work is scored for a 16-part vocal ensemble. Both Lux Aeterna and Atmospheres were used in the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s epochal film 2001: A Space Odyssey (Robert L. Edwards). Listen to a performance of Ligeti's  Lux Aeterna . . . one of this week's PYTHEAS EARFULS.

Boston based composer Andrew List is a graduate of New England Conservatory of Music, and he received his doctorate in music composition from Boston University. He has enjoyed numerous commissions and performances from ensembles and solists in the United States and Europe, including The Boston Classical Orchestra, Zodiac Trio, Alea III, The Esterhazy Quartet, Interensemble (Padova Italy), The Kalistos Chamber Orchestra, North-South Consonance, The Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra, Duo Diorama, Winston Choi (pianist), Emmanuel Feldman (cellist) and soprano Lisa Saffer. List was the first prize winner of the Renegade Ensemble’s composition competition and a finalist in the Alea III International Composition Competition and the 2008 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship. He has had residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, The Atlantic Center for the Arts, The Aspen Music Festival, La Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris and The Visby Centre for Composers in Sweden. In 2001 he was awarded a distinguished artist-in-residence grant, sponsored by Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, and the city of Amsterdam. During his eight-month residency in Amsterdam he presented four concerts of his music and that of other American composers. He was also invited to present a concert at the American Embassy in The Hague, and gave lectures and workshops at major music conservatories in the area. He is the first American and the first composer to be awarded this prestigious residency. Watch a performance of Andrew List's Mystical Journey (2000) by pianists Manon Hutton-DeWys and Evi Jundt . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Portland (Maine) area is about to be treated to an Innovation Celebration April 15-17, 2011 featuring the New Music Weekend at the University of Southern Maine School of Music combined with the Portland Conservatory of Music’s Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival. Experience the mixed musical stylings of New York and Maine in a weekend of new music at the USM School of Music, starting with Unaccustomed Earth, a performance from the New York-based group Two Sides Sounding in collaboration with the composers collective South Oxford Six. Then keep enjoying new music as South Oxford Six offers a master class on composition on Saturday, April 16  and round out the weekend with a free performance of original works from the USM Composers Ensemble. All this happens April 15-17 at USM School of Music, Corthell Concert Hall, on USM’s Gorham campus. And when the concerts end at USM, they’re just beginning at the Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival sponsored by the Portland Conservatory of Music. A series of don’t-miss performances are sprinkled throughout Saturday and Sunday April 16-17. The Festival is back for its third year of concerts. And don't forget that the Pytheas Center's own Yarmouth Contemporary Music Days 2011 is coming up on April 29th & 30th in Yarmouth (of course!). . . . this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC PERFORMANCES. Find more detail at Pytheas Performances.

Daniel Sonenberg has written extensively for chamber and orchestral ensembles, and has recently gained notice for his art songs and theater compositions.  His Baseball Songs, described by James Oestreich as "touching" in the New York Times, won the Robert Starer Competition Prize of the City University of New York. His music has been presented by the Da Capo Chamber Players, Friends and Enemies of New Music, the Momenta String Quartet, the New York Singing Teachers Association, the American Composers Alliance, Hudson Valley Philharmonic, The Woodstock Chamber Orchestra and others.  Portions of his opera, The Summer King, have been presented by American Opera Projects, the Manhattan School of Music, and as part of New York City Opera’s "Vox and Friends" festival at Symphony Space. Sonenberg is a founding member of the New York-based composers collective South Oxford Six, who have presented concerts of new music at Symphony Space and the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. He has received grants and fellowships from Meet The Composer, The Corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  He has also gained national and international recognition for his scholarly work on singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. Watch a performance of Sonenberg's Whistlesparks (2006), played by flutist Lisa Lutton and harpist Arielle . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Aleksandra Vrebalov, who arrived in the United States from her native Serbia in the 1990s, is technically no longer an "emerging composer" or a "recent émigré." Her music has been commissioned by Carnegie Hall, has appeared on several recordings as well as in a prominent print publication, and her first opera, Mileva, will be staged this fall. But Vrebalov's initial success - performance by and subsequent commissions from the Kronos Quartet beginning when she was still in her 20s and had only just relocated to this side of the Atlantic - remains an encouraging model for all aspiring composers. According to Vrebalov, the lesson is "to be willing to take chances". Watch and listen to composer Aleksandra Vrebalov in an interview with NewMusicBox's Frank J. Oteri  . . . it's our COMPOSER PORTRAIT.

An internationally acclaimed composer, pianist and thereminist, Dalit Warshaw's works have been performed by over twenty-six orchestral ensembles, including the New York and Israel Philharmonic Orchestras, the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, the Y Chamber Orchestra, the Colorado Symphony, the Albany Symphony and the Grand Rapids Symphony. Awards and grants include five ASCAP Foundation Grants to Young Composers, a Fulbright Scholarship to Israel (2001-2002), a Fromm Music Foundation Grant from Harvard University, and a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1984, she became the youngest person ever to win the BMI Award for Student Composers, with her orchestral piece Fun Suite, written at the age of eight. As a pianist, Warshaw has performed widely as soloist, chamber player and improviser, in such diverse concert spaces as Avery Fisher Hall, Miller Theater, the Juilliard Theater, Merkin Hall, Steinway Hall, Tonic, and the Stone. Having studied theremin with the renowned Clara Rockmore from an early age, she has appeared as thereminist with such ensembles as the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the American Composers Orchestra and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, and has also performed in spaces such as Carnegie Hall, Disney Hall and Alice Tully Hall. A full-time faculty member of the composition/theory department at the Boston Conservatory since September 2004, Warshaw obtained her doctorate in music composition from the Juilliard School in May 2003. Warshaw has held residencies at the Yaddo and MacDowell Artist Colonies, as well as at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Listen to a performance of her Agitata (or "The Fiery One!") (1994) . . . one of this week's PYTHEAS EARFULS.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A world view was incorporated into the compositions of Somerville, Massachusetts-born Alan Hovhaness. While much of his music reflects his Armenian heritage, Hovhaness also utilized elements of Indian ragas, Japanese gugaku music and natural sounds. His mystical/contemplative gift can be heard in his lament for solo viola Chahagir (1945), which some say was the Armenian-American composer's homage to the Holocaust. Hear a performance of Hovhaness' Chahagir by violist Julia Rebekka Adler  . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Hubert Culot (MusicWeb International) writes about the Chandos Records release Luigi Dallapiccola: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2, "Dallapiccola's music may not be easy but is ultimately richly rewarding on repeated hearings, especially when helped by committed and carefully prepared readings such as these. The recording and the production of this release are up to Chandos’s best standards. This is one of the finest discs to have come my way recently; and, before ending up in my list of Recordings of the Year, it will be my Record of the Month". Read the full review and hear excerpts from this recording . . . it's this week's FEATURED RECORDINGS.

Alban Berg's Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, op. 5 (1913) are the composer's only true miniatures. Berg's former teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, roundly criticized Berg (and possibly these particular works), attempting to discourage Berg from composing songs and small-scale works, and encouraging him toward extended instrumental composition. Critics have noted the irony in Schoenberg's attack on Berg in light of the fact that Berg's Four Pieces were strongly influenced by Schoenberg's own set of miniatures, the Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19 (1911). Berg's fellow Schoenberg pupil, Anton Webern, also wrote a number of miniatures, and indeed his music became best-known for its concise expressivity, its cool character, angular melodies, and pointillistic texture. In contrast, Berg's miniatures — and indeed, his music in general — are decidedly more Romantic in gesture, texture, and timbre. The Four Pieces are very brief and complex; Berg abandons motivic connections in favor of deep structural relationships beneath a perpetually moving surface. As with most of Berg's early works, there is a preponderance of quartal and whole-tone harmonies; like the String Quartet, Op. 3 (1910), the Four Pieces undergo constant changes in tempi, dynamics, and articulation according to Berg's intricate instructions (which sometimes change from beat to beat). The first and last of the Four Pieces are the longest, flanking a slow second piece and a scherzo (AllMusicGuide). Hear a performance of Berg's Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano . . . one of this week's PYTHEAS EARFULS.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Just listening to Kaija Saariaho's Fall (1991). She's one of Finland's leading composers. Very haunting and hypnotic. And I just can't get enough of Dmitri Tymoczko's Eggman Variations (2005). He teaches at Princeton University and has written on The Geometry of Musical Chords.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Today is the first day of the 10x5 Listening Group! What new music have YOU listened to today? I started with an all time favorite - Javier Alvarez's Metro Chabacano (1991). Then it was off to something completely different - Ed Wright's Y Twr (2009). Off we go  . . .  Vinny Fuerst