Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Carlos Chavez's Ten Preludes for Piano, composed in 1937, is quite different in treatment from Chavez's earlier piano works. Both in form and in the natural pianism of the Preludes, Chavez renounced some of his former stridency and created instead a modern counterpart (terse, linear, percussive) of Bach's preludes. The composer wrote: "My plan was to write one for each of the seven white keys. I composed, then, a Prelude in each of the Gregorian modes. Thus I started with the Dorian and followed with Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, and Hypolydian. These seven modes taken care of, I decided to expand the series to ten and continued with a kind of bimodality in the eighth and a mixture of modality-tonality in the ninth and tenth. In almost all of my previous works there is evidence of procedures that are classic or academic, such as imitations, progressions, sequences, etc. In these Preludes, I indeed followed some of these procedures, since I felt that at least here they were capable of going beyond traditional effects." The Ten Preludes possess a hypnotizing monotony, the kind associated with the ritual music of the Aztecs. Instead of attempting to reproduce a direct reflection of the spirit of Mexico, Chavez has created a synthesis of that spirit. Watch a performance of two of Chavez's Ten Preludes played by pianist Mauricio Garza . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Pierre Boulez is among the most influential contemporary musicians, as both a composer and a conductor. He is known principally for his extension of the techniques of serialism beyond the limits of the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, under the strong influence of his teacher Messiaen, into a logical style that brings with it a paradoxical freedom. His career as a conductor has brought him engagements with the most famous orchestras in a  wide repertoire, from Rameau to Wagner to the contemporary. Listen to an interview with Pierre Boulez as he discusses his life and his music . . . it's our COMPOSER PORTRAIT for the week.
. . . and watch a performance of his Le soleil des eaux (1948/65) with soprano Elizabeth Atherton, the BBC Singers and Symphony Chorus, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer, Pierre Boulez.

Composer John Corigliano writes: "When Sylvia McNair asked me to write her a major song cycle for Carnegie Hall, she had only one request; to choose an American text. I have set only four poets in my adult compositional life: Stephen Spender, Richard Wilbur, Dylan Thomas and William M. Hoffman. Aside from asking William Hoffman to create a new text, I had no ideas. Except that I had always heard, by reputation, of the high regard accorded the folk-ballad singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. But I was so engaged in developing my orchestral technique during the years when Dylan was heard by the rest of the world that I had never heard his songs. So I bought a collection of his texts, and found many of them to be every bit as beautiful and as immediate as I had heard, and surprisingly well-suited to my own musical language. I then contacted Jeff Rosen, his manager, who approached Bob Dylan with the idea of re-setting his poetry to my music. I do not know of an instance in which this has been done before (which was part of what appealed to me), so I needed to explain that these would be in no way arrangements, or variations, or in any way derivations of the music of the original songs, which I decided to not hear before the cycle was complete. Just as Schumann or Brahms or Wolf had re-interpreted in their own musical styles the same Goethe text, I intended to treat the Dylan lyrics as the poems I found them to be. Nor would their settings make any attempt at pop or rock writing. I wanted to take poetry I knew to be strongly associated with popular art and readdress it in terms of concert art-crossover in the opposite direction, one might say. Dylan granted his permission, and I set to work. I chose seven poems for what became a thirty-five minute song cycle." Hear soprano Hege Monica Eskedal and pianist Eva Herheim perform Chimes of Freedom from Corigliano's Mr. Tambourine Man (2000) . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

The years Bohuslav Martinu spent in America between 1941 and 1953 weren't happy ones; the combination of political events in Czechoslovakia, the turmoil of World War II, and Martinu's residing in a country he found less than congenial depressed his spirits considerably. Nevertheless, he managed to keep up his usual prolific pace of composition. In his first five years in America he had produced fully 25 new pieces, and the spirit of optimism upon the end of the war brought Martinu a new burst of creativity; the Symphony No. 4, one of Martinu's most engaging and mellow orchestral works, was born of this spirit. The symphony was written between April and June 1945, mostly in New York and partly at Martinu's summer home near South Orleans, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod [from the All Music Guide]. Watch a performance of the first part of the scherzo-like second movement of Martinu's Symphony No. 4 with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Karen Tanaka is acclaimed as one of the leading living composers from Japan. She has been invited as a composer in residence at many important festivals, and her music, for both instrumental and electronics media, has been widely performed throughout the world by major orchestras and ensembles. As described in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Tanaka's "music is delicate and emotive, beautifully crafted, showing a refined ear for both detail and large organic shapes." Her three movement harpsichord piece Jardin des Herbes (1989) is representative of her writing style: well crafted with attention to detail and attention to the transformation of timbres similar to the effect of light refracting through crystals and prisms. The second movement, entitled Sweet Violet: Early Spring Flowers with Seductive Scent is set in a freely ternary structure providing an attractive melody accompanied by consonant, yet not quite tonal harmonies. Watch a performance of Karen Tanaka's Sweet Violet by harpsichordist Antonio Oyarzabal  . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Blow (2007) is an experimental film made with an 8mm camera, using the music of Estonian composer Mirjam Tally. It follows the different rhythms of urban society. Old abandoned greenhouses from the Soviet Era and quick changes to modern Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, are used to show how a country transforms from post-socialism to capitalism. Estonian film maker Ülo Pikkov graduated from the Turku Arts Academy in Finland in 1998 and from the Institute of Law at University of Tartu in Estonia in 2005. He has published numerous caricatures, comics and illustrations, as well as written and illustrated books for children. At the moment he works as an Associate Professor in Animation at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Watch Ülo Pikkov's film Blow (2007) . . . it's our PYTHEAS SIGHTING for the week.

Oleg Ledeniov (MusicWeb International), in reviewing the CD Montage Music Society - Starry Night Project writes, "The work that ends the disc - or, I better say, crowns it - is Andrew List's Noa Noa: A Gauguin Tableau for violin, clarinet and piano. The three eternal questions of Gauguin's picture - 'Where do we come from?', 'What are we?', 'Where are we going?' - are interpreted by the composer 'as representing three facets of human consciousness.' I hope the Mahlerites won't kill me if I describe the parts as 'What the body tells me' (aggressive, determined, forceful - our Past), 'What the mind tells me' (ever-changing, fluent, searching - our Present), and 'What the soul tells me' (spiritual, peaceful, and blissfully beautiful - hopefully, our Future). This last movement is sublime. It also serves as an answer to the unsettling questions of the first track, the Starry Night by Gauguin's friend van Gogh. If you know these moments, when the music ends and you stay in silent awe and then exhale 'Aaah!...' - you'll know this is one of them." Listen to the first movement of Andrew List's Noa Noa, A Gauguin Tableau (2008) performed by members of Montage Music Society . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Claude Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp (1915) is at once evocative and emotionally ambiguous, a languid oasis from the harmonically adventuresome Cello Sonata (1915) and Violin Sonata (1917) which were written by Debussy in the final years of his life. He once remarked that he didn't know whether it "should move us to laughter or to tears. Perhaps both?" The sonata is in three free flowing movements: Pastorale, Interlude - Tempo di minuetto, and Allegro moderato ma risoluto. Listening to such an abstract, non-representational movements, it is easy to understand why Debussy was moved on one occasion to refer to anyone who described such music as "impressionistic" as an "imbecile" [from the All Music Guide]. Watch a performance of Debussy's gorgeous Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp played by members of The New York Harp Trio . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Joaquín Rodrigo's music is an homage to the rich and varied cultures of Spain. No other Spanish composer has drawn on so many different aspects of his country's spirit as sources of inspiration, from the history of Roman Spain to the work of contemporary poets. His music is refined, luminous, fundamentally optimistic, with a particular predominance of melody and original harmonies. His first works reveal the influence of composers of his time, such as Ravel and Stravinsky, but a personal voice soon emerged which would go on to create a notable chapter in the cultural history of Spain in the 20th century, where the originality of Rodrigo’s musical inspiration goes hand in hand with a devotion to the fundamental values of his tradition. Rodrigo’s numerous and varied compositions include eleven concertos for various instruments, more than sixty songs, choral and instrumental works, and music for the theatre and the cinema. Many distinguished soloists have commissioned works from him, among them Gaspar Cassadó, Andrés Segovia, Nicanor Zabaleta, James Galway, Julian Lloyd Webber and the Romero guitar quartet. His numerous writings on music reveal a profound understanding of his art [note from]. Watch a performance of Rodrigo's Tonadilla (1959) played by guitarists John Williams and Julian Bream . . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

The ballet Maa (1991) [the word "maa" in Finnish can mean "earth", "land" or "country", possibly even "world"], with music composed by Kaija Saariaho, was the response to a commission from the ballet of the Finnish National Opera. The ballet does not have a plot as such, rather it is built around thematic archetypes such as doors, gates, stepping into new worlds, journeys and the crossing of waters. Both scenography and music are shrouded by deliberate mystery and characterized by a lucidity and minimalism of gesture. The work's openness and approachability make it an ideal introduction to the poetry and poeticism of Saariaho's music. The approach taken by original choreographer Carolyn Carlson and Saariaho when producing Maa was not one of close collaboration, rather they chose to let their differing artistic personalities encounter one another and spark off tensions and syntheses. Carlson's methods rely heavily on improvisation and the development of ideas whose outcome cannot be known a priori, while Saariaho's conceptual process makes active use of deterministic solutions and carefully planned temporal frameworks. In no sense did these contrasting, if not conflicting approaches lead Saariaho to neglect the dramatic requirements of the different sections of the ballet. In working a weave of textures which progress and change at a leisurely and gradual, almost minimalistic pace, she has clearly been attentive to finding a balance for the whole work which takes the listener into account. Saariaho's compositions are laid out in such a way that they encourage us to imbibe and dwell in the timbral detail. The sensuous calm which permeates the music for Maa inevitably affects our mood and senses, turning them to higher levels of sensitivity and awareness [note by Juhani Nuorvala]. Watch an excerpt from the ballet Maa, performed by Works & Process and the International Contemporary Ensemble, with new choreography by Luca Veggetti . . . it's our DANSES PYTHEUSES for the week.

The music of Puerto Rican composer William Ortiz-Alvarado depicts the Latino culture in the United States, mainly that of New York City. Raised in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the composer's musical roots are a mesh between the metropolis' own imposing and crowded socio-culture of the oppressed, with those unemployed and marginalized Latinos who gather in the streets in search of a musical outlet in order to forget their life condition. Ortiz-Alvarado is not deaf to this reality; he grasps it and makes a fascinating musical graffiti through his craft as a trained classical composer. He calls his musical canvas "graffiti sonora" or "streetlore" where elements of the two cultures collide to create a new authentic and legitimate musical language. Within the last three decades,  Ortiz-Alvarado has written over 130 compositions for almost all types of musical genres; from song to opera, from chamber music to symphonic works. Among his numerous awards, grants and commissions is the 2001 Latin Grammy Nomination for the CD Tango mata danzon mata tango by the Baja California Orchestra, which includes his Guitar Concerto Tropicalizacion. Listen to a performance of Ortiz-Alvarado's Urbanización (1985) . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFUL for the week.

A self-taught composer, Don Dilworth's career has encompassed both folk music and contemporary concert music, ballet, and opera. An aspiring composer from grade school, he was proficient in both folk and classical guitar by the time he entered college at M.I.T. as a physics major. This coincided with the late '50s folk music boom, which was particularly vibrant in Boston. While attending M.I.T., he was a regular patron at Club 47, a venue that became one of the leading showcases for new folk music talent, including Joan Baez, Noel Paul Stookey, Eric Von Schmidt, and the Charles River Valley Boys, and he later started playing guitar there on occasion. Baez became a particularly big fan of Dilworth's playing and later asked him to perform at her sister's wedding. Shortly after Baez signed with Vanguard Records and left Boston, Dilworth gave her the gift of a song, Annabel Lee, based on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe. Baez later recorded the song in an arrangement by Peter Schickele on her album "Joan" (1967). Apart from some instruction from Gregory Tucker at M.I.T. and Nicolai Martinov of the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, Dilworth has remained almost entirely self-taught as a composer and musician. Based in Maine, he has written seven operas, several songs cycles, and a considerable body of chamber music, as well as works for synthesizer and cello. Listen to Don Dilworth's The Sick Rose (1994) performed by soprano Nancy Ogle and pianist Clayton Smith . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

According to composer Jesse Ayers, his piece Jericho (2005) is "a surround-sound piece employing expanded instrumentation, multiple antiphonal effects, narration, and extensive and unorthodox audience participation. It is based on the Biblical account of the Battle of Jericho (Joshua 6), in which the famed walls of Jericho fell down flat. The work was composed over a 17-month period from Oct 2003 - Feb 2005, and was premiered April 22, 2005, by the Valparaiso University Chamber Concert Band under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Scott Doebler. The score carries the dedication 'to Ted, from whom I learned about risk taking and breakthrough.' Compositionally, Jericho makes extensive use of the 15th-century melody Veni Emmanuel (O come, O come, Emmanuel). It is used to generate motivic ideas; it appears as a cantus firmus in the bass in the long pedal tones; a three-voice, fifth species harmonization of Veni is used to generate harmonic cycles; and finally it is quoted directly in the last section of the piece as the audience sings the phrase O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Watch a performance of Jesse Ayers' Jericho by narrator Kenneth Cox with the Lamont Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, conducted by Lawrence Golan. . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Composer Richard Maxfield is one of the little-sung names in American avant-garde music. "For someone nearly forgotten today, Maxfield had a tremendous impact—largely through his classes at The New School in New York, which attracted radically avant-garde musicians such as Joseph Byrd, Dick Higgins, and even John Cage himself. Born in Seattle in 1927, Maxfield had studied with Krenek, Babbitt, Sessions, and Dallapiccola, but left this Eurocentric background behind to move toward a Cagean experimentalism." Eventually he made contributions to the so-called "minimalism" movement, while forecasting a wide range of developments in the future of electronic music. His Amazing Grace (1960) mixes tape loops from two sources: a speech by revivalist James G. Brodie and electronic fragments from Maxfield's 1958 opera Stacked Deck. The loops play back at various speeds, causing the fragments to overlap in complex ways. This method would later be explored further by Terry Riley, Steve Reich and others. "It is astonishing how many threads of 1960s music seem to begin with the ideas Maxfield explores, and it is a tragedy that his early death, from leaping out a window at age 42, kept him from participating in the more rewarding scene that would later appear" (our thanks to New World Records' liner notes). Listen to Maxfield's Amazing Grace . . . it's our SOUND ART for the week.

Louise Talma was born in Arcachon, France to American parents. Her pianist father died during her infancy, and her mother, an opera singer, moved the family to New York City in 1914. She studied at the Institute of Musical Arts (later the Juilliard School), New York University and Columbia University, where she received her Master’s of Arts in 1933; she also spent sixteen summers in Fontainebleau, France studying piano with Isidor Philipp and composition with Nadia Boulanger, who was the first to suggest that she compose. Talma's many awards include two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Grant to compose the opera The Alcestiad (1958) (featuring a libretto by Thornton Wilder), the Sibelius Medal for Composition, the Bearns Prize for Composition, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities. And in 1974, she became the first woman composer to be elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In addition, she served on the music faculty of Hunter College in New York for over fifty years. Her best-known choral work is the charming three movement cycle Let's Touch the Sky (1952) for chorus, flute, oboe and bassoon to words by e.e. cummings. Listen to the Jane Hardester Singers performing "If ups the word...", the third movement of Louise Talma's Let's Touch the Sky . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFUL for the week.

In October 1918, Charles Ives suffered a heart attack brought on by exhaustion and undiagnosed diabetes. This marked a turning point in his career. As Ives' biographer Jan Swafford points out, for the remainder of his life the primary focus of Ives' musical efforts would be promoting his works, rather than composing. The very first work that he chose to show to the world - after fifteen years of nearly absolute artistic isolation - was his Second Piano Sonata, subtitled "Concord, Mass., (1840-1860). Ives had a special regard for the work. He took great pains to explain his aims in his Essays Before a Sonata, a programmatic overview of the sonata that Ives included when he published the work (at his own considerable expense) in 1921. In short, the sonata is a series of meditations on four great Transcendentalist writers: Emerson, Hawthorne, "The Alcotts," and Thoreau. The fourth movement is dedicated to Thoreau, who Ives describes as "a great musician, not because he played the flute, but because he did not have to go to Boston to hear 'the Symphony'". (note by Scott Mortensen/MusicWeb International) Listen to a performance of the Thoreau movement of Ives' Piano Sonata No. 2 . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Stefan Klaverdal is one of his generation’s most active and performed composers in Sweden and his music has been performed countless times in Europe and elsewhere. In recent years, his focus has been on purely vocal pieces and vocal and instrumental pieces in combination with live electronics. An early and frequently performed work is Fragment av en mässa (Fragment of a mass) (1999) for vocal sextet, while the much talked about scenic oratorio Judas (2003) for vocal soloists, mixed choir, organ and electronics, stands as one of his seminal creations. A prominent and long-standing feature of Klaverdal’s work is cross-genre collaboration, especially his music for dance performances and for dance and art films. His scores to the dance films Manskligt monster (Human pattern) and Insyn (Insight) earned him top honours in the multimedia category at the Bourges International Festival of Electroacoustic Music and Sonic Art in 2006 and 2008. Klavedal was originally a singer, and strives to reproduce these lyrical and human qualities in his compositions. With live electronics as an active extension of his own voice, he paints electroacoustic landscapes from a palette of passion, drama and beauty. Watch a performance of Stefan Klaverdal's  eyes like a flame of fire (2009) with soprano recorder player Susanna Borsch . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Choreographer Jiri Kylian’s Memoires d’Oubliettes (2009) was a fitting inclusion in Nederlands Dans Theater’s 50th Anniversary Tour, concluding Kylian reign as resident choreographer, with pieces that offer echoes of nostalgia yet retains all the freshness and relevance of the magnificent Nederlands Dans Theater company. In Memoires d’Oubliettes the dancers explore a shadowy, empty terrain, at times moving as though pushing through inky waters - with a silky slowness and a spellbinding serenity - at others, shifting with an itchy, percussive desperation, their bodies scribbling urgent messages in the darkness. Kees Tjebbes interrupts the black space with pale pools of blue, evoking ocean depths with an effective lighting design, while whispering voices creep through the music (by Dirk Haubrich), adding to the edgy atmosphere. Watch an excerpt from Memoires d’Oubliettes performed by members of the Nederlands Dans Theater . . . it's our DANSES PYTHEUSES for the week.

Delvyn Case is Boston-based musician who is active as a composer, orchestral and choral conductor, and college educator. He also maintains an active career as a writer and lecturer on a variety of musical topics, from sacred music to hip-hop, and pursues numerous musical outreach projects in his home city of Quincy, Massachusetts, and beyond. He is currently Assistant Professor of Music at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, where he serves as Music Director of the Great Woods Chamber Orchestra. Formerly he served as Visiting Professor of Theory and Composition at the Longy School of Music and as an adjunct faculty member at Boston College and Northeastern University. He currently serves as Music Director of the Eastern Nazarene College Choral Union, the Quincy Bay Chamber Orchestra (a professional orchestra he founded to provide outreach and educational concerts), the Quincy Summer Singers (a community choir he founded in 2009), as pianist in the avant-garde improvisation ensemble "The Meltdown Incentive", and as composer-in-residence for Cambridge’s "Dance Currents, Inc." Listen to a performance of Delvyn Case's Tenebrae factae sunt (2000) sung by the New York Virtuoso Singers . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFUL for the week.

Pianist Eve Egoyan talks about the music of Canadian composer Ann Southam in an interview with Musicworks magazine, "... there is a close connection between composing for or playing the piano and other forms of work done by hand, such as weaving, that reflect the nature of traditional women's work - repetitive, life-sustaining, requiring time and patience. But through it all, runs a thread of questioning." Musically, Ann Southam's questioning takes the form of ever-repeating musical motifs that, over time and small changes, coalesce into answers. Hear this in Southam's piano work In Retrospect (2004) . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.