Friday, October 28, 2011

Thea Musgrave's Niobe (1987), a work for solo oboe and electronic tape, is closely based on the Greek legend about the weeping nymph Niobe. In Greek mythology, Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus and wife of Amphion, King of Thebes. She unwisely boasted to Leto about her many sons and daughters. Leto, who only had two children, Apollo and Artemis, was angered. As punishment Apollo slew all of Niobe's sons and Artemis all her daughters. Out of pity for Niobe's inconsolable grief, the Gods changed her into a rock, in which form she continued to weep. In this short work for solo oboe and tape, the solo oboe takes the part of Niobe bitterly lamenting her murdered children. The tape with the distant high voices and the slow tolling bells, and later gong, is intended to provide an evocative and descriptive accompaniment. Watch a performance of Thea Musgrave's Niobe by oboist Heather Guadagnino . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Writing about his Toccata and Divertimento (2000), composer Ney Rosauro says, "In Northeastern Brazil there is a kind of musical game where two people begin singing and making rhymes, and challenge each other to create a better story on a given theme. This musical genre/game is called 'desafio'. My "Toccata and Divertimento" is based on the mood and melodies found on the 'desafio' and as such, the two instruments will dialog, sometimes imitating, and sometimes challenging each other. The themes and the rhythm of the piece are based on modal melodies from the baiao, a very popular dance from Northeastern Brazil". Watch a performance of Ney Rosauro's Toccata and Divertimento by percussionists Josip Konfic and Hrvoje Sekovanic . . . it's our BANG, CLANG and BEAT - contemporary percussion music for the week.

Meira Warshauer's "Ahavah" (Love) (1994) uses a text in Hebrew and English from Deuteronomy 11:13-21 which is also found in the second paragraph after the Sh'ma (Hear O Israel) in the traditional Jewish prayer book. The themes of the text are love for God, and the rewards and consequences of following or turning away from God's commandments. Warshauer chose this text in part for its relevance to our threatened earthly environment and the role of morality and love in sustaining life. The first movement, Sh'ma v'ahavta, from "Ahavah" (Hear and love), portrays themes of love and fulfillment: "...and you will eat and be satisfied.." Here a mantra-like "ahavah" combines with a modal chant "v'ahavta" (and you shall love) and a more dramatic "sh'ma" (hear/listen) in an arch form over lush orchestral harmonies. The middle movement contains the warning, "Hishamru" (beware), and represents severity and chaos. A more strident musical language with chromatic harmonies and jagged percussive outlines portrays the consequences of turning away from the commandments: " will perish swiftly from the land." The final movement restores order, "Place these words on your heart..." with a passacaglia-like pattern of repeating harmonies under a calm tonal melody as the "ahavah" theme returns, weaving through the simple texture. Hear a performance of the first movement of Meira Warshauer's Ahavah" (1994) with mezzo-soprano Jennifer Hines and the Slovak Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra with Kirk Trevor conducting . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS.

Canadian composer Robert Rival recently joined the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra as Composer in Residence for the 2011-12 season. Critics have described his work, written in a contemporary tonal style, as "well crafted", "engaging", "immediately appealing", "melodic and accessible", "memorable", and his song cycle, "Red Moon and Other Songs of War", has been called "an unequivocal hit". His music for orchestra, chamber ensemble, voice and the stage has been broadcast on CBC radio and performed by the Gryphon Trio and other leading Canadian musicians, ensembles and orchestras. His orchestral works include a one-movement Symphony "Maligne Range", inspired by a hike through the Rockies, and "Maya the Bee", a work for young audiences based on the classic children's tale. Committed to music education and appreciation, he has taught theory and composition to students of all ages, at several universities as well as privately, and has written liner and program notes for major festivals, presenters and record labels. Hear excerpts from Robert Rival's song cycle Red Moon and Other Songs of War (2007) . . . it's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.
You want the future of guitar? How about a guitarist in his twenties who is trained in composition (MM, SF Conservatory), who has received major commissions (Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center, NY), and who comes from a well-known lineage (son of famed minimalist composer Terry Riley). A guitarist trained by one of our formeost guitarists (David Tanenbaum) and one of the foremost guitarist composers (Dusan Bogdanovic). A guitarist who not only plays with but writes for other instruments and who accomplishes both tasks admirably. Isn't this what every teacher says the guitarist of the future should be? If it is, then Gyan Riley is the future of guitar, now [Andrew Hull, Guitarra Magazine]. Gyan Riley, born in northern California in 1977, has emerged as a prominent figure of guitar and contemporary music, both as a performer and composer. In 1999, he became the first graduate level guitarist ever to be awarded a full merit-based scholarship from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His awards include First Prize in the Portland International Guitar Festival Competition, First Prize in the San Francisco Conservatory Guitar Concerto Competition, and First Prize in the Music in the Mountains Young Musicians Competition. Riley played in the American premiere of John Adams El Nino, with David Tanenbaum, soprano Dawn Upshaw, and the San Francisco Symphony. Concert tours have taken him to some of the world's most prestigious concert halls in the UK, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Croatia, Turkey, Norway, and throughout the United States, and her has been commissioned to write various works, served as the artistic director for the San Francisco Classical Guitar Society from 2002-2004, and is currently engaged as professor of guitar at Humboldt State University. Watch Gyan Riley perform his Food for the Bearded (1999) . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

In Wayne McGregor's Chroma (with music by Joby Talbot), the bodies of 10 dancers are folded, a bit spindled, but not exactly mutilated, and you watch this process unfold for 25 minutes with a measure of fascination and considerable detachment. Which is, perhaps, what the choreographer wants. This much-lauded essay in kinetic architecture, prepared for London's Royal Ballet in 2006, arrived in the U.S. in 2011 via the San Francisco Ballet, and it is sure to provoke debate. Chroma revels in its unpredictability, and you are not sure it will look the same on your next encounter. This can be an exhilarating sensation, but it suggests that what's missing is an overall structure, a clearly conceived destination. The dancing stops when the music stops [Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Chronicle].  Watch an excerpt from Chroma (2006), choreographed by Wayne McGregor, with music by Joby Talbot   . . . it's our DANSES PYTHEUSES for the week.

Todd Goodman's Bass Clarinet Concerto (2008) was commissioned by Bruce Lauffer and the Beaver Valley Philharmonic to conclude their 2008-09 season. The work, in two movements, takes the orchestra and soloist through a passionate journey of the relationship between a child and a parent. The first movement, Promenade Comique, translated as funny walk, is an argument between the orchestra, acting as the parent and the soloist, representing the child. The second movement, A Berceuse et Reve (A Lullaby and Dream) reverses the roles of the two characters and tells the story of a parent, this time represented by the bass clarinet who is trying to put their child, the orchestra, to sleep. Goodman has been described as "one of America's promising young composers." Born in Bedford, Penn., he received his Bachelor of Music degree in composition at the University of Colorado at Boulder and his Masters of Music degree in composition at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Currently finishing a Ph.D. in theory and composition at Kent State University, he has also studied at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, France, with the European American Musical Alliance and at the Aspen Music Festival in Aspen, Colorado. His principal composition teachers have been pulitzer prize winning composer George Tsontakis, David Stock, Frank Wiley, and Richard Toensing. His work has been played by principle members of the Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, Singapore and Seattle Symphonies. Goodman has received commissions from a wide variety of players and ensembles across the United States. With many performances in the United States his works have also been performed in Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia. Goodman is also the founder and artistic director of the innovative contemporary art ensemble, Ensemble Immersion. The group combines music, dance, literature, film, visual arts, drama, set design, and creative audience interaction to create artistic experiences unlike any other. Listen to a performance of Todd Goodman's Bass Clarinet Concerto [and continued here] . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Francois Truffaut's film Fahrenheit 451 (1966) is based on Ray Bradbury's book, overtly from his science fiction genre, but in reality depicting something more akin to an Orwellian future. In this future all books are forbidden, and the film/book title represents the temperature at which paper burns, and the firemen of the story are employed not to put out fires but to find and destroy any discovered books. One of the firemen is tempted by the lure of books, and various characters including his wife and supervisor react to this in different ways. The movie has a surreal quality to it where the characters seem strangely detached from their predicament. It's difficult to pinpoint how this is accomplished exactly. In part it is due to some superb acting, where the characters behave quite normally in extraordinary circumstances, but the music, by Bernard Herrmann, is very much a part of this surreal experience. There are two sublime moments, both of which are enhanced by Herrmann's lustrous score. The first is the burning of Montag's books cruelly documented to the sound of the shimmering Flowers of Fire music. The second is the final shot of the Book People walking in the snow while reciting the texts they have learnt by heart - this scene, which was filmed outdoors at Pinewood Studios, was a happy accident with Truffaut taking advantage of a real snowstorm [thanks to The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann and mfiles]. Listen to two excerpts from the Fahrenheit 451 film score: The Road and Finale . . . it's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In a typically exuberant 1959 lecture-demonstration on the creative process, entitled Thinking Twice, composer Stefan Wolpe warned: "Form must be ripped endlessly open and self-renewed by interacting extremes of opposites. One is where one directs oneself to be. On the back of a bird, inside of an apple dancing on the sun's ray, speaking to Machaut [the 14th century composer], and holding the skeleton's hand of the incredible Cezanne - there is what there was and what there isn't is also. Don't get backed too much into a reality that has fashioned your senses with too many realistic claims. When art promises you this sort of reliability, this sort of prognostic security, drop it. It is good to know how not to know how much one is knowing. One should know about all the structures of fantasy and all the fantasies of structures, and mix suprise and enigma, magic and shock, intelligence and abandon, form and antiform."  Watch a performance of Stefan Wolpe's Form for Piano (1959) played by pianist Christopher Czaja Sager . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

If you are familiar with film maker/claymationist extraordinaire Bruce Bickford, you know that he specializes in a unique variation of surrealist animation, made famous in the Frank Zappa films Baby Snakes, The Dub Room Special and The Amazing Mr.Bickford. After breaking with Zappa, Bickford went on to create his magnum opus, Prometheus' Garden, and then dissolved into obscurity, feverishly working in solitude for some 25 years on perpetually evolving personal projects. He is also the subject of the award-winning documentary Monster Road. Gazing in awe at the vastness of his unseen work, I can't help but wonder if the majority of it might never see the light of day. He seems more interested in creating than finding an audience, which flies in the face of everything I previously surmised about the artistic impulse. Here was one that seemingly enjoys the act of creating, more than the result or the accolades of his achievement. Either that, or it's simply compulsion. Bruce Bickford may be notoriously lackadaisical about getting his work out there, but make no mistake; he's been incessantly building a vast library of work for himself outside of the public eye. He seems to have no qualms about exposing it, he's simply waiting for someone to show an interest. [from Erik Van Horn's blog Sinisthesia] . . . Watch an excerpt from The Amazing Mr. Bickford (1987) with music by Frank Zappa [his piece Dupree's Paradise] . . . it's our PYTHEAS SIGHTING for the week.

Tobias Fischer (at writes: "So, what constitutes the groove in the first place? To most, it’s the inexplicable part, the moment, when a "simple beat" turns into something bigger, better, brighter, when it suddenly lifts off into the sky and melts into the clouds. The groove is what makes you jump up, quit thinking, move your body and "shake that thing". Yet this mighty tool, which has been ubiquitious in charts and clubs all over the planet and, to a certain degree, even in the concert halls, has been noticeable absent from 21st century "serious" music. Why? "That’s an interesting question which invites a multitude of answers", composer Gernot Wolfgang says, "But I think at the core of the issue is, that for a long time a large majority within the classical and contemporary concert music world - conductors, musicians, critics, academics, record executives, radio hosts and the like - viewed groove-oriented music [like pop, rock & roll, jazz and world music] as inferior. Their dislike of the perceived simplicity in melody, harmony, form and rhythm translated into the exclusion of virtual all elements - including grooves - from contemporary concert music. Groove-oriented music was simply considered not to be intellectually high-brow enough and was only accepted in pops programs." Still, the inspiration for Common Ground stems from various sources and they don’t always have to do with Jazz or Pop music alone. Wolfgang openly admits his admiration for the work of Lutoslawski, Penderecki, Britten, Webern, John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Markus Lindberg . . . and yet it might be interesting to shortly have a look at another archetypical musician of the last half-century, who probably emancipated the groove more than anyone else to understand Wolfgang’s point: James Brown." Listen to a performance of Gernot Wolfgang's Common Ground, Igor at Last (2004) . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS.

American-born but now living in Austria, Nancy Van de Vate is known internationally for her orchestral, solo, and chamber music and is most famous for her Pulitzer Prize-nominated operas All Quiet on the Western Front and Where the Cross is Made. In 2005, Where the Cross is Made also was the winner of the National Opera Association's biennial competition for new chamber operas. Van de Vate has composed more than 130 works in virtually all forms, earning eight Pulitzer Prize and five Grawemeyer Award nominations. Her 26 orchestral works include Chernobyl, which was nominated for a 1989 Koussevitsky International Record Award. Van de Vate founded the International League of Women Composers in 1975 and supports the work of women composers with the Nancy Van de Vate International Composition Prize. She also includes many works by women composers on her Vienna Modern Masters label, an international recording company which she co-founded in 1990. Listen to a performance of Nancy van de Vate's Dark Nebulae (1981) played by the Polish Radio and Television Orchestra, Krakow with Szymon Kawalla conducting . . . it's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The music of Daron Hagen is notable for its warm lyricism, but his style defies easy categorization. While his works demonstrate fluency with a range of twentieth century compositional techniques, those procedures are secondary to his exploitation and expansion of the possibilities of tonal harmony, giving his music an immediacy that makes it appealing to a wide spectrum of audiences. Hagen's song cycle for baritone and string quartet Alive in a Moment was composed during July of 2003 and it functions both as an instrumental string quartet and a traditional song cycle. In seven movements, based on the poetry of W.H. Auden, the entire work develops three musical ideas given at the outset: a rhythmic tattoo in the violin, what the composer calls a "smudged melody," created by adding trills to each successive note of the melody, and heavy glissandi. Watch a performance of the first movement of Daron Hagen's  String Quartet No. 2, "Alive in a Moment", performed by baritone Robert Frankenberry and the Voxare String Quartet . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Composer William Ortiz-Alvarado was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City. A member of that fascinating hybrid culture known as "Newyorican", Ortiz composes music that often reflects the realities of urban life. After studying composition with Hector Campos Parsi at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music, he received his M.A. from SUNY at Stony Brook where his teachers were Billy Jim Layton and Bulent Arel. He later was granted a Ph.D. in Composition from SUNY at Buffalo, where he studied with Lejaren Hiller and Morton Feldman. Ricardo A. Coelho de Souza writes in his book The Percussion Music of William Ortiz, "Ortiz uses the clave rhythm as a motive or as a sonic icon of Latin American music. In his percussion quartet La Clave Bien Temperada for four clave players, it is no surprise that the clave rhythm is used. Here this distinctive rhythm is treated simply as a musical motif and not as a structural principle, as Ortiz has employed it in some of his other percussion works." Watch a performance of William Ortiz-Alvarado's The Well-Tempered Clave (La Clave Bien Temperada) (2003) played by members of Academia Latinoamericana de Percusion y Fesnojiv, with Jose Alicea-Concierto de Clasura conducting . . . it's our BANG, CLANG and BEAT/Contemporary Percussion Music for the week.

Scottish born composer Thea Musgrave writes about her work Night Music (1968), "In this work, two horn players are featured in soloistic and dramatic ways. Contrasting musical ideas are explored dependent on where they are seated in the orchestra — more lyrical when they are seated close together, more dramatic later on, when they stand at either side of the conductor, some distance from each other, and then near the end of the work the musical contrasts are further heightened by the echo effects produced by one distant offstage horn. As so often in Dreams, there are quickly changing moods; frightening, eerie, peaceful, romantic, stormy, and so in this work, highly contrasted musical sections quickly follow on from each other, they interchange and at times even overlap. The dream landscape painted in Night Music is thus in one continuous movement - the different sections indicating the changing moods: Andante Notturnale: / Misterioso: / Svegliato: (waking up) / Andante Amoroso..piu mosso, con ardore: / Appassionato: / Calmo: (Here the two horns move to their new positions either side of the conductor) / Minaccevole: (threatening) / Tempestuoso: (Here the first horn moves offstage) / Tempo di Andante amoroso alternating with Scherzoso: / Tempo di Andante." Hear a performance of Thea Musgrave's Night Music . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Award-winning composer Robert J. Bradshaw strives to forge a unique connection between composer, musicians and audiences. His compositions have been heard throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Middle East. Bradshaw’s numerous commissions include works for the American String Teachers Association with NSOA, New England Musical Heritage Initiative / New England String Ensemble and the Pappoutsakis Flute Competition. His music has been honored with first place awards by the Alabama Orchestra Association Composition Competition and the Manchester Music Festival Composition Competition which included a performance of Articles Nor-east at Lincoln Center, New York. Many of Bradshaw’s compositions, commissions and residencies have been made possible through such organizations as  the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, MetLife Creative Connections program, American Music Center, American Composers Forum, Harvard Musical Association, Harpley Foundation, Argosy Foundation, The Bruce J. Anderson Foundation, Alabama State Council on the Arts, The Cape Ann Symphony Association, Inc., Youths’ Friends Association, The Goldhirsh Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Passionate about expressing himself through the abstract art of music, Robert Bradshaw has always loved composing.  Winner of many commissions and awards, he is convinced that classical music is alive and well in America. Watch a performance of the third movement of his Concerto for Trumpet (2006) performed by trumpetist Michael Arndt and the MTSU Wind Ensemble . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.