Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ney Rosauro is recognized as one of the most original and dynamic symphonic percussionists and composers today. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he started studying percussion in 1977, receiving degrees at the Hochschule fur Musik Wurzburg (Germany) and the University of Miami, and studying composition at the Universidade de Brasilia (Brazil). As a composer he has published over 40 pieces for percussion, as well as several percussion method books. His compositions are very popular worldwide and have been recorded by internationally acclaimed artists such as Evelyn Glennie and the London Symphony Orchestra. His Concerto for Vibraphone and Orchestra (1996) is dedicated to Evelyn Glennie. The first and last movements are constructed using scales quite often found in the folk music of northeastern Brazil. The first movement represents the constant life struggle of the poor people in the dry lands of northeastern Brazil. The second movement is based on the Brazilian folk lullaby called Tutu Maramba, and depicts a child's peaceful passage to a dream-filled slumber. The last movement depicts the flight of seagulls, which was inspired by time spent by the composer at Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, while watching a breathtaking view of the sun setting over the Arpoador rock formations. Watch a performance of the third movement of Ney Rosauro's Concerto for Vibraphone and Orchestra played by Diana Melo, vibraphone, and the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá Colombia, Germán Céspedes conducting . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Composer Elizabeth Hoffman has lived and worked in New York City since joining the Arts and Science Faculty at New York University (NYU) in 1998, where she founded and directs the Washington Square Computer Music Studio in NYU's Department of Music. Hoffman’s musical interests center around texture, timbre, tuning, harmony at the border of noise, and spatialization. She has written electroacoustic music since the early 1990s, and recognition for her electroacoustic music has come from the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition, Prix Ars Electronica competition, Seattle Arts Commission, and Jerome Foundation. Her score for Globeland (2002) came about from a commission - with video artist Ryan Dorin - for a video composition for the 2002 Sonic Circuits International Festival of Electronic Music and Art. Enjoy Globeland, a video by Ryan Dorin with music by Elizabeth Hoffman . . . it's our PYTHEAS SIGHTING for the week.

The title of Olivier Messiaen's Un vitrail et des oiseaux [Stained glass and birds], composed in 1986, invokes two of the composer's most poignant and favored images: the myriad colors of stained glass, and the endless melody of birdsong. Such an evocative title should not be seen as an arbitrary abstraction; both images correspond not only to the overall atmosphere of the piece, but also to specific components of Messiaen's compositional process. Messiaen always insisted that birds - "our little servants of immaterial joy" - were creating music in a very real way when engaging in song. As a self-trained ornithologist, Messiaen recorded and transcribed birdsongs from all around the world; a long list of these bird-borrowed motives appear in his works, many of which advertise their birdsong content in their titles. As might be expected, Un vitrail et des oiseaux relies heavily upon birdcalls, not only as melodic seeds, but also as structural points. The duality of the title can be seen and heard immediately in the structure of the work. The first section features a xylophone trio initiating a flittering series of nightingale calls. This is followed by a chorale passage, which immediately sets the image of a stained-glass church window adjacent to that of the xylophone's nightingale. The chorale texture is not just meant as a pointer to a mental image; Messiaen's harmonies are deliberately crafted to depict a spectrum of sonic hues - which Messiaen is bold enough to associate with particular visual colors. The piece poses enormous rhythmic challenges to the performers, which Messiaen addresses in his cryptic introductory note, "... the birds are more important than the tempos, and the colors are more important than the birds. More important than everything is the aspect of the invisible" [notes thanks to Jeremy Grimshaw, Rovi/AllMusicGuide]. Hear a performance of Messiaen's Un vitrail et des oiseaux . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

. . . also listen to Messiaen talk about the music of French composer Claude Debussy, colors in Debussy's music, and his beloved birds . . . it this week's COMPOSER PORTRAIT.

Maija Hynninen started her composition studies in 2003 at Sibelius Academy with Paavo Heininen, at the same time completing her violin studies (bachelor of music) at Oslo Academy of Music in 2004. As well as writing for acoustic instruments Hynninen has made some explorations in electro-acoustics and live-electronics in composing music for acoustic instruments and live-electronics (with Max/MSP), tape music for dancers and art installations and purely for concert performances. Her music has been broadcast by Finnish Radio (YLE), and played in concerts and festivals in Finland as well as abroad. She has received grants from the Society of Finnish Composers Sibelius Foundation, the City of Vantaa, Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Sibelius Academy and Luses. Her works have been commissioned by Yle (Finnish broadcasting company), Viitasaari Time of Music Festival, the Helsinki Chamber Choir, and Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, among others. Hear a performance of Maija Hynninen's Kaiku 2 (Echo 2) (2007) . . . it's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Composer Robert McCauley talks about his Kamrick Variations (2010): "Oboist Janet Rarick and bassoonist Benjamin Kamins are legends in the Houston orchestra arena; both teach at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, and they happen to be married. It is in Janet's capacity as artist, teacher and chamber music coach that I got to know her, as I tried to get some of my wind pieces programmed in the school's wind chamber music program. What impressed me even in my dealings with her more than her musicality and professionalism was her warmth and caring. After a number of years, I thought that I'd like to write a piece for her, and of course I thought, 'I've got to include her husband Ben, too.' They both said they would be delighted to look over the piece once I finished it. It took six weeks in the spring of 2010 to write a theme and 10 variations for oboe, bassoon and piano - the most famous 20th century piece for that combination being the Trio by Francis Poulenc. After reading through the piece, they accepted the work as their own. I wanted to call the piece "Rarick Variations", but in a gesture of modesty Janet demurred, so I combined Rarick and Kamins to form Kamrick, and thus Kamrick Variations. Watch a performance of Robert McCauley's Kamrick Variations played by oboist Scott Bell, bassoonist Jim Rodgers, and pianist Alaine Fink . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

According to composer Barry Truax, his work Riverrun (1986) . . . "creates a sound environment in which stasis and flux, solidity and movement co-exist in a dynamic balance. The corresponding metaphor is that of a river, always moving yet seemingly permanent. From the smallest rivulet to the fullest force of its mass, a river is formed from a collection of countless droplets and sources. So too with the sound in this composition which bases itself on the smallest possible 'unit' of sound in order to create larger textures and masses. The title is the first word in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. Riverrun is entirely realized with the method of sound production known as granular synthesis. With this method small units or 'grains' of sound are produced, usually with very high densities (100-2000 grains/sec), with each grain having a separately defined frequency and duration. When the grains all have similar parameters, the result is a pitched and amplitude modulated sound, but when random variation is allowed in a parameter, a broad-band noise component is introduced." Hear a performance of Barry Truax's Riverrun . . . it's our SOUND ART for the week.

Miriam Gideon’s Of Shadows Numberless (1966) takes its title from a phrase in John Keats’ poem, Ode to a Nightingale, and each of its six movements, likewise, draws inspiration from a phrase in Keats’ work. Ode to a Nightingale addresses the popular Romantic trope of a bird as an idealized version of a poet, a version who – according to Shelley’s analogous work, To a Skylark – "pourest [his] full heart in profuse strains of unpremeditated art," or according to Wordsworth’s To a Cuckoo, is "an invisible thing / a voice, a mystery." Keats’ poem focuses on the bird-poet dichotomy by following the fanciful journey of a depressed subject who is thrown into further despair when confronted with the unreachable beauty of the nightingale’s "plaintive anthem." The piece, like the poem, is full of shadows and mazes. Whereas Keats writes of "verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways," and "fad[ing] away into the forest dim," Gideon writes dense, dark music filled with half-step, major seventh, and minor ninth relationships, crowded clusters, and incessantly mumbling inner voices. Although the melodies are tuneful and usually simple, Gideon often includes some oddity in the phrasing or intervallic structure that makes the tune feel just out of reach, transported a step beyond the realm of ordinary music (thanks to Jeremy Siskind for these notes!). Listen to a performance of Miriam Gideon's Of Shadows Numberless by pianist Paula Ennis Dwyer . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

John Tavener's choral work Song for Athene (1993) is an elegiac tribute, not, as one might suppose, to the mythological goddess Athene, but to a young family friend, Athene Hariades, half Greek, a talented actress who was tragically killed in a cycling accident. "Her beauty," writes Tavener, "both outward and inner, was reflected in her love of acting, poetry, music and of the Orthodox Church." Tavener had heard Athene reading Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey and, rather as in the case of his Little Requiem For Father Malachy Lynch, conceived the piece after her funeral, lighting on the effective ideas, so touchingly realized, of combining words from the Orthodox liturgy with lines from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Between each line is a monodic "Alleluia", and, following the example of traditional Byzantine music, the whole piece unfolds over a continuous "ison" or drone. The music also received its most famous performance at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Hear a performance of John Tavener's Song for Athene sung by the Westminster Abbey Choir . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Music, a mysterious form of time," says a famous line by the poet Jorge-Luis Borges. The work of Ramon Lazkano originates in this basic dimension of music. The way his pieces progress and the gradual "erosion" of the elements linking them (a process of erosion that demands a certain materiality of the sound, which thus becomes its most striking characteristic) make allusion to how we understand and sense the passage of time, how wear and tear set in, leading to the inevitable but unimaginable end of everything it contains. The progression of his pieces "enables us to grasp our own passage towards death." Since music is time, every time we listen brings us one step nearer the ultimate end. Lazkano is a contemporary Spanish Basque composer whose works have been played around the globe, played both by him and by some of the most prestigious orchestras in the world. He is currently professor of orchestration at the Higher Academy of Music of the Basque Country "Musikene." Listen to Ramon Lazkano's Wintersonnenwende (2005) performed by Trío Arbós and Neopercusión . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

The music of American composer David T. Little has been described as "dramatically wild…rustling, raunchy and eclectic," showing "real imagination" by New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini, and his work "completely gripped" New Yorker critic Alex Ross: "every bad-ass new-music ensemble in the city will want to play him." Little’s highly theatrical, often political work draws upon his experience as a rock drummer, and fuses classical and popular idioms to dramatic effect. His music has been performed throughout the world - including in Dresden, London, Edinburgh, LA, Montreal, and at the Tanglewood, Aspen, MATA and Cabrillo Festivals - by such performers as the London Sinfonietta, eighth blackbird, So Percussion, ensemble courage, Dither, NOW Ensemble, PRISM Quartet, the New World Symphony, American Opera Projects, and many others. He has received awards and recognition from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Meet The Composer, the American Music Center, the Harvey Gaul Competition, BMI, and ASCAP, and has received commissions from Carnegie Hall, the Baltimore Symphony, the Albany Symphony, the New World Symphony, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the University of Michigan, and Dawn Upshaw’s Vocal Arts program at the Bard Conservatory. Watch Witness in Sound, an interview with David T. Little at NewMusicBox . . . it's our FEATURED COMPOSER for the week.

Thea Musgrave's Narcissus (1987) was written for four American flautists, in response to a commission from the National Endowment for the Arts. The composer has subsequently arranged the work for solo clarinet specially for F.Gerald Errante. It is intended as a concert work but it can also be performed as a ballet for two dancers (Narcissus and His Reflection). The work follows the myth of Narcissus closely: the "live" flute taking the part of Narcissus and the echo effects produced by the digital delay system evoking Narcissus' reflection. Perhaps the story is best summed up in the quotation from Hermann Melville's Moby Dick: 'And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life...' Listen to a performance of Thea Musgrave's Narcissus (1987) played by flutist Carolyn Keyes . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Lee Hyla's music is profoundly individual. Its extremes of expression are all unmistakable facets of one wide-ranging musical personality. Hyla has fashioned a personal language capable of both the simple, exquisitely polished opening of his String Quartet No. 3 and the raw Jerry Lee Lewis-like riffs in his Piano Concerto No. 2. This Jekyll-and-Hyde nature is to some extent the natural consequence of a musical background informed equally by classical music, improvisation, and rock-and-roll. The diversity of his background and the way it finds an outlet in the music may explain why his music appeals to a variety of listeners, including both uptown and downtown audiences. Appealing though it is, the music is not cynically ingratiating: Hyla consistently shies away from emulating the commercial end of each of these musics. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Hyla actually was a practicing rocker (as well as an accomplished new-music keyboardist and improviser), and has an insider's knowledge of rock's glories and limitations. What he brings from rock is its energy, and, on occasion, its brute power and rhythmic sensibilities, so different from those of jazz and classical music. From his classical training he brings a gift for musical organization and, unapologetically, a modernist aesthetic; from jazz, a melodic and gestural language that he separates from its traditional harmonic underpinnings. All of this makes for very listening indeed: Hyla's music is always direct, its drama visceral, its organic unity palpable (Eric Moe/New World Records). Watch a performance of Lee Hyla's Ciao, Manhattan (1990) played by counter)induction . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Colin McPhee  Nocturne (1958) . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

John H. Beck  Overture for Percussion Ensemble (1976) . . . it's our BANG, CLANG and BEAT, our New Music for Percussion for the week.

Edgar Varèse  Arcana (1925-27) . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Richard Rodney Bennett  Guitar Sonata (1983), mvt III – Vivo . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.