Monday, July 11, 2011

Bruce Morley (New Zealand Music Magazine) writes about "View From Olympus" (2001), the double concerto for piano, percussion and orchestra by New Zealand composer John Psathas: "Our composer du jour has really done it this time. Psathas is a composer who seems to have listened to everyone from Ketelbey to Keith Jarrett, and is totally confident of his ability to create a new orchestral music. His compositions . . . are diverse, unclassifiable and fragmented, yet utterly organic. Engaged by the kinetic drive of Psathas' rhythms, classical listeners have taken to the results with enthusiasm". "View from Olympus" won for Psathas the 2002 SOUNZ Contemporary Award, as well as being chosen as one of the orchestral works presented in 2009 for the International Association of Music Information Centres' "IAMIC sounds of the Year". Watch a performance of John Psathas' "View From Olympus", with pianist Michael Houstoun, percussionist Leonard Sakofsky and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marc Taddei . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

During most of his years as a composer, Charles Knox has been employed as a performer or teacher. He was an instructor of contemporary, traditional, baroque and renaissance musical styles; director of student ensembles at small and large colleges and universities; and performer in symphonic and  jazz ensembles. This is often reflected in the choice and style of his creative work. Having held the position of Professor of Music at Georgia State University from 1965 to 1995, Knox now lives in academic - but not compositional - retirement in Atlanta, the city where he has spent most of his life. He has been called "the dean of Atlanta composers", and in 2001 he received the Mayor's Fellowship in the Arts (Award in Music) from the City of Atlanta. Listen to a performance of his 1998 chamber work "2002: Semordnilap No. 2" . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

A native of Washington, D.C., composer Elizabeth Vercoe has been called "one of the most inventive composers working in America today" by her hometown newspaper (The Washington Post). She has worked as a composer in the U.S. and abroad: at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy, the St. Petersburg Spring Music Festival in Russia, the Cite International des Arts in Paris, and the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. She has written works on commission for Wellesley College, Austin Peay State University, the Pro Arte Orchestra, and the First National Congress on Women in Music. Her awards include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, the Artists Foundation, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. According to the Vercoe her work "Sonaria" (1980) "is a melodrama for solo cello written in memory of my father, an amateur cellist and violinist. Since the music was written as commentary on an imagined dance/mime either live or filmed, the listener is invited to 'screen' those private visual images sometimes evoked by music instead of hastily suppressing them and trying to 'pay attention.' The mood of the piece is at times tongue-in-cheek, but for the most part is entirely serious". Watch a performance of Vercoe's "Sonaria" played by cellist Jerome Desbordes . . . it's our second FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEO for the week.

According to composer Karl Henning, he "writes and plays music which no one else dare, in and near Boston. His music has been played and sung on three continents (NA, Yurp and Oz), and there is unconfirmed rumor that an Uruguayan zookeeper has papered adobe walls with the Henning organ Toccata. Karl has served at different times as Interim Choir Director and Composer-in-Residence at the Cathedral Church of St Paul in Boston, where he composed a 40-minute unaccompanied choral setting of the St John Passion (2008)". His work for 10 winds, "Out in the Sun" was premiered in 2006 by the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble. Listen to a performance of Henning's Out in the Sun . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Bicentennial Symphony was the 13th and last completed symphony of American composer Roy Harris. The piece was commissioned by Cal State L.A. and debuted by the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., on Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1976 as part of the country's bicentennial celebration. According to conductor John Malveaux, "in the 33 years since the work's debut in Washington, there is no record of the piece ever being played again by any orchestra." And for Malveaux, it is not only mystifying that the symphony disappeared, it's just plain wrong and inexcusable. Malveaux calls the Bicentennial Symphony "the strongest musical statement on U.S. history, slavery and race relations ever made by an American composer." It is a piece that was intentionally controversial. Through much of it, the chorus excoriates the racism of this country before and during Lincoln's time, accentuated by angry shouts from the singers. [Read more about this here].  Watch a performance of Roy Harris'  Bicentennial Symphony (1976) played by the MusicUntold Orchestra and Chorale, conducted by John Malveaux.  . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Robert Beaser is often classed as a member of the new tonalists, a group whose membership includes Lowell Liebermann, Daniel Asia, Paul Moravec, and other major America composers born at mid-twentieth century. Beaser, like his colleagues, embraces more traditional methods of composition, including tonality and an expressive directness. He possesses a great melodic gift and is unabashed in his use of it. Moreover, he is versatile in writing in a variety of genres, from opera and orchestral works to chamber pieces and songs and solo works for piano and guitar. Beaser is also active as a teacher, having chaired the composition department at Juilliard since 1994, a year after he joined the faculty there. He has also served as artistic director of the Carnegie Hall-based American Composers Orchestra, for whom he was previously composer-in-residence. Hear Robert Beaser talk about his Guitar Concerto and the compositional process . . . it's our COMPOSER PORTRAIT for the week.

Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks' music always directly affirms ethical values and responsibility towards life, toward living things and their beauty, as opposed to the catastrophic world-view. Life's great existential themes are undoubtedly present in all his works - his symphonies and other orchestral works, concertos, string quartets anther chamber works, his music for solo instruments, and also his large-scale dramatic poems and lyrical miniatures for unaccompanied choir. Listen to a performance of Vasks' choral work Mate saule (Mother Sun) (1975) . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Composer Andrew List, in speaking of his Six Bagatelles for String Trio (2002), has stressed his desire to create six little pieces with maximum contrast ranging from "in your face" to "other-worldly." The third Bagatelle, Soliloquoy highlights the viola in a keening, mournful melody accompanied by sustained notes, largely in harmonics. Listen to a performance Andrew List's Soliloquoy, from Six Bagatelles for String Trio . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.