Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks writes about his composition Plainscapes (2002): "The beauty of the Latvian landscape inspired many of my works, for it has given me moments of exceptional happiness. The plains are a dominant feature of the Latvian countryside, a place where one can see the horizon and look at the stars in the sky. Plainscapes is made up of three vocalises separated by little interludes. The dynamic of this diatonic, meditative composition is piano (quiet) almost throughout. At the end of the third vocalise the mood changes, however. A growing crescendo leads to the climax – to the Vision of Nature Awakening." Watch a performance of Vasks' Plainscapes by Sol Gabetta (cello), Guy Braunstein (violin), and Camerata Vocale Freiburg, conducted by Winfried Toll . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Augusta Read Thomas’ deeply personal music is guided by her particular sense of musical form, rhythm, timbre, and harmony. But given this individuality, her music is affected by history - in Thomas' words, "Old music deserves new music and new music needs old music." For Thomas, this means cherishing her place within the musical tradition and giving credit to those who have forged the musical paths she follows and from which she innovates. She was the Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from May 1997 through June 2006, a residency that encompassed nine world premieres, culminating in the premiere of her concerto for violin, flute and orchestra entitled Astral Canticle - one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Watch Augusta Read Thomas talk about her life and her music in an interview for Boston Symphony Orchestra . . . it's our COMPOSER PORTRAIT for the week.

François Bayle's Jeita (1970) originally appeared on an LP in the mythical Silver Series on the Philips label in the early 1970s. This piece was assembled out of sound material partly recorded in front of a live audience in an actual cave. According to Bayle, "Straight away, I realized I had duplicated this large machine which turns time into form flowers by means of billions of busy and regular [water] drops — an immense clock — and I had created a man-size clock for the ear." Heavy natural reverb, echoes, water droplets, site workers, instruments, etc. are all transformed into abstract hazes of the finest order, hence the quote, "This is not a cave!" (- our thanks to the folks at ArcaneCandy.com). Listen to François Bayle's Jeita . . . our FEATURED SOUND ART.

John Aylward's music has been praised for its youthful energy and precision. In line with his mentors David Rakowski, and George Tsontakis, Aylward is quickly paving a new path of sophisticated and emotional American modernism. His latest works entertain experimental harmonic and textural concepts while not sacrificing rigorous technique or rhythmic vitality. Aylward's music has been performed within the U.S and abroad by numerous ensembles including the New York New Music Ensemble, The Lydian String Quartet, Third Angle, The Bard Symphony Orchestra, Juventas, and The Aspen Contemporary Ensemble.  His work has also been championed by soloists Jo Ellen Miller, Curt Macomber, Chris Finkel, Steven Gosling, Christopher Oldfather, Sam Solomon, Elizabeth Keusch, Karina Sabac and Daria Binkowski. In 2010, Aylward was selected as a Composers Apprentice at the National Centre for the arts in Ottowa, Canada. Listen to a performance of John Aylward's Reciprocal Accord (2009) . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Katherine Hoover, born in West Virginia and living in New York City, is a leading composer and flutist who attended the Eastman and Manhattan Schools of Music. On several occasions she has been drawn to Native American subjects through works in media other than music. In the case of Kokopeli (1990), her most often performed and recorded work for flute, the composition was suggested by the Hopi Nation stories of Kokopeli, who is one of the mahu, or hero spirits, and who is often depicted as a hunchbacked flute player. Kokopeli led the migrations of the Hopi through the canyon lands of the Southwest, playing his flute so the people could follow him by sound, a sound that can sometimes be heard whistling through the canyons and reflecting off cliffs. Hoover sought in this work to depict this wandering, during which the Hopi learned of their special relationship with the land. The music has a kind of solemn joy, and suggests a Native American ritual (Joseph Stevenson, All Music Guide). Watch a performance of Katherine Hoover's Kokopeli by flutist Johanna Borenstein . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), the stark tale of political and moral corruption in Los Angeles, is one of the undisputed classics of a bright decade in American filmmaking. In Chinatown Polanski and screenwriter Robert Towne took the disillusioned, shadow-dappled cinematic language of '40s film noir and translated it into contemporary terms. Every neo-noir film released since then has borrowed from Chinatown, which looks as fresh today as it did in 1974. Yet a preview audience hated it, and studio executives were sure that it would bomb at the box office - until composer Jerry Goldsmith, working against the clock, wrote a brand-new score that helped turn a costly disaster into an unforgettable hit. It isn't unusual for movies to be rescored under pressure, but Goldsmith's music for Chinatown is so well suited to the film that it's hard to imagine that he knocked it out at the very last minute. The original score, written by Phillip Lambro, was heard on the soundtrack of the version of the film that was shown seven weeks prior to the film's release date at a preview in San Luis Obispo, a small town north of Los Angeles. "By the time the lights came up, half the audience had walked out, scratching their heads," Robert Evans (the film's producer) wrote in his 1994 autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture. Concluding that Mr. Lambro's original score was responsible for the film's poor reception, Mr. Evans called in Goldsmith, and 10 days later Chinatown had a new score. Mr. Towne, who was present at the first recording session for Goldsmith's score, later told a journalist that "you could see the movie come to life. It was like you couldn't see the movie with the other score, and now you could, and I thought, 'Omigod, we may have a chance.'" So it did: Chinatown is now universally acknowledged as one of the key American films of the '70s. Yet most of the critics ignored the score, and though Jerry Goldsmith received an Oscar nomination for Chinatown, he lost out to Nino Rota for The Godfather, Part II. Nowadays, of course, film connoisseurs don't need to be told twice that the music of Chinatown is central to its greatness - but how many people are aware that Goldsmith's score is one of the finest compositions of the postwar era, regardless of genre? (Terry Teachout, WSJ Online) Watch an excerpt from Roman Polanski's Chinatown . . . it's our PYTHEAS SIGHTING for the week.

Jeremy Grimshaw writes of our Second New Music Video for the week: "Of Charles Ives' more than 200 songs, General William Booth Enters Into Heaven (1914/33) is one of the best known, and certainly one of the most musically ambitious. The stirring song is a setting of the poem by the same name, penned by Vachel Lindsay in 1912. The poem, which became very popular and brought considerable notoriety to its author, is an ode to William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. In it, Lindsay imagines Booth marching into the hereafter at the head of a large army consisting of lepers, drunks, and other downtrodden folks, of which 'each slum had sent its half-a-score the round world over.' These 'vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath' march as a procession in drills before the pearly gates, and, as they enter in, Jesus appears, his outstretched hand healing them of their ills. Ives' brash musical style is a perfect match for Lindsay's uncompromising imagery (which William Butler Yeats praised for being 'stripped bare of ornament'). Ives characteristically includes in his broad palette of musical materials liberal quotations from familiar musical sources. The most prominent of these is a repeated refrain, interpolated throughout the song, which is taken from the Salvation Army hymn tune known as 'Fountain.' The refrain, which often finds itself juxtaposed with Lindsay's most unsavory images, poses the question 'Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb.' These parenthetical asides poignantly highlight a familiar Christian metaphor by placing side-by-side the unsightly image of Jesus' suffering with that of Booth's weary followers. Ives' further seems to revert the message outward to the listener by rendering the refrain with a sudden change of tonal orientation. This imperative is driven home when, at the end of the piece, as Booth's troops are healed and welcomed into heaven and the piano's drum beats fade into silence, the refrain appears once again as a lingering question." Watch a performance of Ives' General William Booth Enters Into Heaven by The Lee University Chorale, with Dr. William Green, conductor . . . our second FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEO.

"I never saw Duke Snider play — by the time I became aware of the Dodgers, Snider had been lost to the newly created Mets and then traded to the hated Giants. But the old-timers still talked about him and that kept the memory of his greatness alive. The Duke was part of the collective memories of the fans — our shared history, our myth, our lore. Baseball fans love this kind of stuff — the constant measuring of the present against the past, the counting of things, the microscopic scrutiny of arcane statistics. The baseball historian Bill James revolutionized the way players and games get evaluated with his innovations in how these statistics get sliced up and weighted, inventing new terms like 'sabermetrics' and 'win shares.' Baseball fans not only love this stuff; they think that knowing these things makes the game more fun to watch. Connections are drawn between the game in front of you today and all the games ever played before, creating an intense dialog between each player on the field and all past players on all past fields. Somehow the legendary magnificence of baseball's past doesn't get in the way of enjoying what is happening in baseball’s present. Can we say the same thing about classical music? Not always. Our love of the past can enhance what we hear, but I often feel that the appreciation of classical music’s glorious past can get in the way of truly hearing the music being made right now . . ." Read more from A Pitch for New Music, written for The New York Times by composer David Lang . . . this week's FEATURED THOUGHT & IDEA.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Composer David Felder has long been recognized as a leader in his generation of American composers. His works have been featured at many of the leading international new music festivals, and earn continuing recognition through performance and commissioning programs. Felder’s work has been broadly characterized by its highly energetic profile, through its frequent employment of technological extension and elaboration of musical materials (including his Crossfire video series), and its lyrical qualities. Felder has received numerous grants and commissions including many awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, two New York State Council commissions, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, Guggenheim, two Koussevitzky commissions, two Fromm Foundation Fellowships, two awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, Meet the Composer "New Residencies" (1993-1996), and many more. In May 2010, he received the Music Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a career recognition award. Watch a performance of David Felder's Inner Sky (1994) with flute soloist Mario Caroli . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Judd Greenstein has attracted attention through his close collaboration with many of the best young solo musicians in New York and beyond, including violist Nadia Sirota, soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird, percussionist Samuel Solomon, violinist Colin Jacobsen, pianists Michael Mizrahi and Blair McMillan, and flutist Alex Sopp. He has also received performances by and commissions from a wide array of ensembles around the country, including Present Music, the Seattle Chamber Players, as well as many prominent ensembles in New York, including Carnegie Hall, the Kaufman Center, Newspeak, the Da Capo Chamber Players, the New Millennium Ensemble. Central to his output is his work for NOW Ensemble, the composer/performer collective that has quickly established itself as one of the most prominent and promising sounds in 21st century chamber music. Butterfly Dream (2010) is a dance collaboration between Greenstein and choreographer Xiao-xiong Zhang. Based on a story by Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, the story deals with a man who dreams he is a butterfly and then upon waking questions the nature of existence; it explores the ideas of self-invention and re-creation. Watch an excerpt from Butterfly Dream performed by Nimbus Dance Works . . . it's our DANSES PYTHEUSES for the week.

I recently attended a performance of Andrew List's new work From The Temple of Dendera: 12 Etudes for Piano, featuring the work's dedicatee, pianist George Lopez. It was a wonderful experience - gorgeous music presented by a consummate artist in the beautiful Studzinski Recital Hall on the campus of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The work is a fascinating and evocative exploration of Egyptian mythology through the sumptuous sound world of Andrew List. Read what the composer has to say about his new piano work . . . it's this week's PYTHEAS THOUGHT & IDEA.

Creative expression has always been a matter of course for Estonian composer Mirjam Tally. She has tried almost every medium, from writing to painting – even radio. But the one she eventually plumped for was also the one she finds the most difficult: composing music. Explore Tally's sound world through her gorgeous choral work Call Love to Mind (2009) . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

... and find out more about Mirjam Tally, her life and her music, at her Pytheas Composer Page.

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

Monday, May 9, 2011

John Luther Adams is a composer whose music embodies the landscapes of Alaska, his home since 1978. Adams attended Cal Arts as an undergraduate in the early 1970s, and after graduating began work in environmental protection. This work first brought him to Alaska in 1975. His deep love for the location led to his permanent migration there in 1978 and it continues to be the driving force in his music to this day. Adams' compositions span many genres and media. His frequent use of static textures and subtle changes show his obvious affinities with minimalism, and his tendencies toward extended, meditative, and intuitive structures belie his true love of the music of Morton Feldman. Adams has written: "My music has always been profoundly influenced by the natural world and a strong sense of place. Through sustained listening to the subtle resonances of the northern soundscape, I hope to explore the territory of 'sonic geography', that region between place and culture . . . between environment and imagination". Watch a performance of John Luther Adams' The Farthest Place (2001) performed by Lydia Kabalen (violin), Brian Archinal and Andy Bliss (vibraphone), Satoru Tagawa (bass), and Clint Davis (piano)  . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

The celebrated French composer Pierre Henry was among the pivotal forces behind the development of musique concrete, becoming the first formally educated musician to devote his energies to the electronic medium. Born in Paris, he began training at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of ten, studying piano and percussion, while also attending the classes of Olivier Messiaen. Still, Henry had little regard for traditional musical instruments, preferring instead to experiment privately with non-musical sound sources; over time, he grew fascinated with the notion of incorporating noise into the compositional process. In 1949, Henry joined the staff of the RTF electronic studio, founded by Pierre Schaeffer five years earlier; he soon immersed himself completely in electronic music, heading the Groupe de Research de Musique Concrete throughout the greater part of the 1950s. In 1958, Henry left the RTF, and in 1960 he teamed with Jean Baronnet to found the Apsone-Cabasse Studio, the first private electronic music workshop in France; concurrent was his realization that for musique concrete to evolve, it would need to begin incorporating the electronic aesthetics pioneered in other areas of the world. Throughout the decade to follow his music adopted increasingly spiritual and meditative qualities. In 1969, he premiered Ceremony, which included music by the pop band Spooky Tooth. By the 1970s, his primary interest was large-scale works, complete with elaborate lighting effects. Henry has continued to work regularly on into the 21st century in a vast range of musical contexts -- even collaborating with the American alternative rock trio Violent Femmes. Watch and listen to composer Pierre Henry talk about his life and music in Pierre Henry - The Art of Sounds . . . it's our COMPOSER PORTRAIT.

At the request of Yo-Yo Ma, who had played the 1992 premiere of American composer Peter Lieberson's King Gesar, Lieberson conceived a concerto for amplifihttp://www.pytheasmusic.org/honegger.htmled cello and orchestra, entitled The Six Realms, that outlines a key Buddhist teaching: that differing states of mind and emotions color our view of the world and shape human experience. This philosophy is reflected in the piece's formal structure; each of the concerto's six continuous sections represents a different state of being. The work's fifth movement The Human Realm deals with Passion: the desire for something better, and a lessening of self-absorption, allowing for the possibility of our becoming dignified humans who long for liberation from these six realms of existence. It is only from this realm that we are able to move on to achieve Enlightenment: the right way to view, and interact with, the world. Put simply, Buddhists believe that humans cycle back and forth, endlessly, through these six states, experiencing the concomitant afflictions that attach themselves to each level. In Lieberson's Six Realms, the cello soloist acts as emotional protagonist and the orchestra's "guide" — a cousin to the Romantic concerto's "hero" — leading all of us from realm to realm until we finally are able to liberate ourselves from this misery-inducing cycle. Although not programmatic, the piece's subtle use of musical imagery allows the listener without any previous knowledge of Buddhist tenets to grasp its depiction of universal human experiences. Listen to a performance The Human Realm from Peter Lieberson's The Six Realms (2000) with cellist Michaela Fukacova and the Odense Symphony Orchestra, Justin Brown conductiong . . . one of this week's PYTHEAS EARFULS.

Arthur Honegger's Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (1924) is in reality a ten-minute neo-classical "piano-concerto-in-two-movements", sporting severe "wrong note" harmonies and complex counterpoint within what is actually a rigid framework. The two movements further subdivide into four, and the effect is a full-scale, but tiny, piano concerto. Overall, the work is a sort of miniature jewel of a concerto which displays  Honegger's gift in full maturity and shows both the extent to which he departed from the Impressionism of some of his countrymen, and the effectiveness with which he managed the neo-classical form. As one of his mature works, the piece is somewhat complex and demanding, especially in its rhythmic shifts and contrasts. As just plain music, the work is fun and satisfying (- from the All Music Guide). Watch an smart and inventively filmed performance of Honegger's Concertino for Piano and Orchestra with pianist Ilana Vered and the Swiss Radio Symphony Orchestra, Matthias Bamert conducting . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Trained as a professional flautist and leading a busy career as conductor and flautist, Katherine Hoover is also a distinguished composer with a sizeable body of works to her credit. Though she has composed much music for flute, she has also written substantial works for orchestra and chamber ensembles. I for one was particularly impressed by Katherine Hoover the composer whose music was new to me and who is a most distinguished composer with a remarkable orchestral flair, who has obviously things to say and who knows how to say them in the best possible way" (Hubert Culot/MusicWeb International). Watch a performance of Katherine Hoover's Thin Ice (2009) with pianist Mirian Conti . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

John Luther Adams is a composer whose music embodies the landscapes of Alaska, his home since 1978. Like many composers of his generation, Adams did not grow up immersed in scored music. He began playing music as a teenager, as a drummer in rock bands. Through his experience in rock bands, friends introduced him to the music of Frank Zappa. Through the liner notes of a Zappa album, he discovered Edgard Varèse. Similarly, Varèse's liner notes brought him to John Cage. But it was not until Adams discovered Morton Feldman that he found his calling. After graduating from Cal Arts, Adams began work in environmental protection. This work first brought him to Alaska in 1975. His deep love for the location led to his permanent migration there in 1978. It continues to be the driving force in his music to this day. Adams' musical work spans many genres and media. He has composed for television, film, children's theater, voice, acoustic instruments, orchestra, and electronics. Adams himself says: "My music has always been profoundly influenced by the natural world and a strong sense of place. Through sustained listening to the subtle resonances of the northern soundscape, I hope to explore the territory of 'sonic geography' - that region between place and culture . . . between environment and imagination". Watch a performance of John Luther Adams' Sauyatugvik - The Time of Drumming (1996) with the Mark Pekarsky Percussion Ensemble . . . it's this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC FOR PERCUSSION.

William Zagorski (Fanfare Magazine) writes: "Karen Amrhein's collection of works on MMC Records showcases a young and still evolving composer with a strong musical profile and an abiding respect for, and mastery of, techniques of the past. She is a striking miniaturist and a superb contrapuntalist, but one who exploits that often dour and forbidding device in the most ingratiating of ways. Her aphoristic music is enlivened by an attractive sense of whimsy and delight at being alive, and listening to it in chronological sequence, I have the sense of a composer who is not merely developing at a fast pace, but doing so explosively." The Baltimore based Amrhein has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and she has written for orchestra, soloists with orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, voice and instrumental soloists. Listen to the final movement from Amrhein's Sonata for Trumpet and Piano (1996) . . . one of this week's PYTHEAS EARFULS.

Lou Harrison for fifty years was in the vanguard of American composers. An innovator of musical composition and performance that transcends cultural boundaries, Harrison's highly acclaimed work juxtaposes and synthesizes musical dialects from virtually every corner of the world. Growing up in the culturally diverse San Francisco Bay Area, Harrison was influenced by Cantonese Opera, Gregorian chants and the music of California's Spanish and Mexican cultures. He also developed an interest in Indonesian Gamelan music through early recordings. His early compositions included a large body of percussion music, combining Western, Asian, African and Latin American rhythmic influences with homemade "junk" instruments. During this period, Harrison worked closely with John Cage and began studies in Los Angeles with Arnold Schoenberg. A move to New York in the mid-1940's brought Harrison to the Herald Tribune as music critic. Here he helped to bring wider attention to the work of Charles Ives, and is considered largely responsible for Ives' receiving the Pulitzer Prize. The young composer and critic also embarked on a study of early European music during this period. In the late forties, Harrison taught at the legendary Black Mountain College. By the early fifties, he moved back to California, where he lived till his death in 2003. Over the decades he maintained an interest in dance, theater and the craft of instrument building and was an accomplished puppeteer who wrote written musical for puppet theater. Harrison traveled extensively, adding to the global resonance his artistry, performing and studying with the musical masters of varied cultures, and presenting his work to enthusiastic audiences everywhere. Watch a performance of the Round from Harrison's Serenade for Guitar (1978) with guitarist Joshua Bornfield . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.