Monday, March 26, 2012

Talking about his work The Horse with the Lavender Eye (1997), composer Stephen Hartke writes, "I've always been fascinated by non-sequiturs, and the way that sense can suddenly appear out of nonsense. I also find imagery derived from words and pictures to be a great stimulus to my musical thinking, even if the relationships between the images I seize upon are not necessarily obvious or logical. The sources for the titles of this trio are quite disparate [Music of the Left; The Servant of Two Masters; Waltzing at the Abyss; Cancel My Rumba Lesson], ranging from Carlo Goldoni to Japanese court music to the cartoonist R. Crumb, as well as 19th century Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis and Looney Tunes. A bewildering array of references, to be sure, but one that somehow whets my musical appetite." Watch a performance of Stephen Hartke's The Horse with the Lavender Eye, played by clarinetist Jerome Simas, violinist Anna Presler, and pianist Eric Zivian . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Parthenia, hailed by The New Yorker as "one of the brightest lights in New York's early-music scene," is a quartet of viols dedicated to the performance of ancient and contemporary repertoires. Parthenia has presented concerts across America, produced its own concert series in New York City, collaborates regularly with the world's foremost early music artists and ensembles, and has been featured on radio and television as well as festivals and series as wide-ranging as Music Before 1800, the Pierpont Morgan Library, Columbia University's Miller Theatre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Yale Center for British Art, the Harriman-Jewell Series in Kansas City, and the Tage Alter Musik Festival in Regensburg, Germany. Parthenia's unique variety of performances range from its popular touring program, "When Music & Sweet Poetry Agree", a celebration of Elizabethan poetry and music with actor Paul Hecht and mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek of Anonymous 4, to the complete viol fantasies of Henry Purcell and complete instrumental works of Robert Parsons, as well as commissions and premieres of many new works by composers such as Phil Kline, Richard Einhorn, Brian Fennelly, Will Ayton, Max Lifchitz, Kristin Norderval, David Glaser, and Frances White. Read more about Parthenia and the new music they have commissioned . . . they're our FEATURED ENSEMBLE, and the subject of our FEATURED THOUGHTS & IDEAS.

Hailed as a "virtuoso" by the New York Times, "unique sound" by the Daily Star, and "engagingly flamboyant" by the L.A. Times, clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh is one of Syria's rising stars. His utterly distinctive sound is now fast gaining international recognition. Born in Damascus, Azmeh is a graduate of New York's Juilliard school, and the first Arab to win the premier prize at the 1997 Nicolai Rubinstein International Competition, Moscow. A Sad Morning, Every Morning (2012), Azmeh's collaboration with visual artist, Kevork Mourad is "a little prayer for home. Dedicated to all those who have fallen in Syria in the past year." Listen to Kinan Azmeh's perform his A Sad Morning, Every Morning, with visuals by Kevork Mourad . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

American composer George Tsontakis composed the movements of his Four Symphonic Quartets as follows: Other Echoes (1996), Perpetual Angelus (1992), The Dove Descending (1995), and Winter Lightning (1993). The title of each is based on one of the Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot, but not in the order of his cycle of meditative poems. Tsontakis does not attempt to set Eliot to music, either impressionistically or programmatically. In fact, he says he scarcely consulted the poems while writing his pieces. Instead, he sought to create aural landscapes that were somehow Eliotic in expanse and depth. This is much the same relationship as between Eliot's poems and the late Beethoven String Quartets, from which the poet sought to create in language a depth of meditative introspection and breadth comparable to the composer of the previous century. Whatever one may think of Eliot's craving for spiritual absolutes and his sometimes slippery mysticism, The Four Quartets are one of the most aurally sonorous and reverberant works of 20th century poetry in the English language. And any reader who has read them with absorption aloud must have found their rhythms and phrases impressed on the aural memory indelibly. The third Quartet, The Dove Descending, concerns potentiality in reserve - conservation and expectation. This is why Tsontakis says that even though it is the gentlest and most consoling movement it also hides a kind of terror. How it is able to hold potentiality together for such length without collapsing into exhaustion or erupting into climax is the mystery the ear revisits with each re-hearing [notes thanks to Don Mager/Making Time]. Listen to a performance of George Tsontakis' The Dove Descending (1995) . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Like many of music history’s traditional classical music composers, Lowell Liebermann doesn’t only compose, but he also performs. Not limiting himself to playing his own compositions, he also dedicates some of his time to the works of other composers. To my mind, this informs Liebermann’s attitude towards composing, and shows his deep connection to classical music in general. "I understand what pianists go through, so I am very sympathetic, and the exchange with the performer of my compositions becomes much easier and more meaningful. Due to the emphasis on specialization in America, we have unfortunately created the phenomena of composers who are not active performers themselves. I think that this often results in losing touch with the physical joy and the direct connection to the active process of performing," says Liebermann. "Most performers of my premieres have adhered to extremely high performance standards, but I don’t really write for a specific performer, otherwise it won’t fit anyone else. Ida Kavafian, renowned violinist and violist and member of the piano quartet Opus One, who also serves as Artistic Director of the Angel Fire Festival in New Mexico, says about Liebermann: "Mr. Liebermann is not only an extraordinary composer, but also an outstanding pianist. It has been wonderful playing his music in groups with him, and in our piano quartet, Opus One. This summer, we premiered his Quartet for Piano and Strings, op.114 (2010), at Angel Fire; my festival had commissioned him to write a work of his choice as part of his composer-in-residence participation" (notes thanks to Ilona Oltuski/Get Classical). Watch a performance of Lowell Liebermann's Quartet for Piano and Strings (2010) played by pianist Joyce Yang, violinist Giora Schmidt, violist Lily Francis, and cellist Felix Fan . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

R. Murray Schafer is Canada's pre-eminent composer and is known throughout the world. In an era of specialization, Schafer has shown himself to be a true renaissance man. He has won national and international acclaim not only for his achievement as a composer but also as an educator, environmentalist, literary scholar, visual artist and provocateur. A prolific composer, he has written works ranging from orchestral compositions to choral music as well as musical theatre and multi-media ritual. His diversity of interests is reflected by the enormous range and depth of such works as Loving (1965), Lustro (1972), Music for Wilderness Lake (1979), Flute Concerto (1984), and the World Soundscape Project, as well as his 12-part Patria music theatre cycle. His most important book, The Tuning of the World (1977), documents the findings of his World Soundscape Project, which united the social, scientific and artistic aspects of sound and introduced the concept of acoustic ecology. The concept of soundscape unifies most of his musical and dramatic work, as well as his educational and cultural theories. Schafer was the first winner of the Glenn Gould Prize for Music and Communication as well as the Molson Award for distinctive service to the arts. In 2005 he was awarded the Walter Carsen Prize, by the Canada Council for the Arts, one of the top honours for lifetime achievement by a Canadian artist. Listen to R. Murray Schafer talk about soundscapes and composing . . . it's our COMPOSER PORTRAIT for the week.

According to Francois Couture (All Music Guide), "No matter how you present it, composer/guitarist Gyan Riley's Food for the Bearded is one beautiful, heartwarming album. Gyan Riley comes through as a sensible instrumentalist and a composer as unclassifiable as his father, Terry Riley. Elements of Spanish classical, contemporary, French jazz, and Indian classical music all become part of [his] style. Gyan Riley emphasizes musicality over novelty without sacrificing creativity in the process." Listen to Quasitremelodo, from the Sonata Quasifantokastica (2001) - a selection from Gyan Riley's Food for the Bearded  . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Alexandra Gardner is stirring up modern music circles with her innovative blend of instrumental and electronic music. Her mixed ensemble works have been championed by groups such as the SOLI Chamber Ensemble, Contemporary Music Forum, Percussions de Barcelona, Duo Levent and the Aspen Contemporary Players. Her music has been featured at festivals and performance spaces throughout the US, Europe and Japan, including the Akiyoshidae International Art Village, Centro de Cultua Contemporania de Barcelona, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Joyce SOHO, CrossSound Music Festival, The Library of Congress and The Kennedy Center. She has worked extensively with modern dance choreographers, including collaborations with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Sharon Mansur, and Deborah Riley Dance Projects. In addition to her residency in Barcelona, Gardner has been a composer-in-residence at Harvestworks Digital Media Center, The Atlantic Center for the Arts, and The MacDowell Colony. Listen to Alexandra Gardner's Luminoso (2003) performed by guitarist Enrique Malo . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Composer Lawrence Dillon writes about his new piece Poke (2011): "Poke, subtitled 'a bagatelle on anti-social media', is scored for cello and double bass, with a running (spoken) dialogue between the two musicians as they play - an argument taking place across various social media. Over the course of the piece, the two 'text', 'friend' and 'like' one another with increasing fury, as their virtual exchanges completely obliterate their real lives in a comic turn on the dark underbelly of our online politesse." Watch a performance of Lawrence Dillon's Poke played by the duo Low & Lower - Brooks Whitehouse, cello, and Paul Sharpe, double bass . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Phil Kline makes music in many genres and contexts, from experimental electronics and sound installations to songs, choral, theater, chamber and orchestral music. Raised in Akron, Ohio, he came to New York to study English Literature and music at Columbia. After graduation, he became part of the downtown New York arts scene: founding the rock band The Del-Byzanteens with Jim Jarmusch and James Nares, collaborating with Nan Goldin, and playing guitar in the notorious Glenn Branca Ensemble. His early compositions grew out of his solo performance art and often used boombox tape players as a medium, most notably Bachman’s Warbler for harmonicas and twelve tape loops (1992), and the Christmas piece Unsilent Night, which debuted in the streets of Greenwich Village in 1992 and is now performed annually in dozens of cities around the world. Other compositions include Zippo Songs, a song cycle based on poems Vietnam vets inscribed on their Zippo lighters, The Blue Room and Other Stories, written for string quartet Ethel, and Exquisite Corpses, commissioned by the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Watch and listen to Phil Kline talk about his life and his music . . . it's our COMPOSER PORTRAIT for the week.

Tadeusz Baird began to study composition during the German occupation of Poland during World War II. After the war (1947-51) he continued his studies with Piotr Rytel and Piotr Perkowski at the State College of Music (now the Music Academy) in Warsaw. He was one of the initiators and creators of the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, first held in 1956. In 1974 he began to teach composition at the State College of Music/Music Academy in Warsaw; then promoted to full professor, and becoming head of the composition department in 1977. Baird won numerous distinctions for his achievements in Poland and abroad, and among Polish composers of contemporary music, Baird's music is distinguishable for the deep respect he retained for tradition. This is manifested in his highly subtle referencing of the music of past ages – he demonstrated special admiration for Romantic, Baroque, and Renaissance music. The composer rendered his own compositions archaic by using early melodic phrases, but nevertheless created works that are highly effective in less tangible spheres – through emotion, impression, expression. His precisely and meticulously structured chords ring with exceptional beauty and his juxtaposition of musical timbres demonstrates unparalleled taste. Far from abandoning a modern compositional language, he rather deftly combined it with traditional musical elements. The entirety of Baird's music is very strongly lyrical, a trait that is most clearly manifested in the fully developed melodic lines, which are song-like in the best sense of the term [Thanks to for these notes]. Listen to a performance of Tadeusz Baird's Epiphany Music (1963) . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

From notes by composer Andrzej Panufnik: "My Second String Quartet is an abstract work, with no literary programme. However, the idea behind it is very personal and is connected with a memorable experience from my childhood. When I was 7 or 8 years old, on holiday in the country, my favorite pastime was to put my ear to the wooden telegraph poles and listen to sounds produced by the wires vibrating in the wind. After a while I became convinced that I was listening to real music - which retrospectively I think was my first experience of the creative process, as for the first time I made use of my musical imagination. When I came to compose my Second String Quartet, I decided I would try to draw upon those childhood fantasies, allowing them to suggest to me both design and musical material. The work is composed in one continuous movement, and is based on two cells only: a tetrad (4-note cell) and a triad (3-note cell) with all their reflections and transpositions. It is almost like a secret code, as if the message perhaps was written not with words, but with squares and triangles replacing ordinary letters. Although I have designed a framework with  a most rigorous structure, my main intention was to compose a fantasy-poem, with real musical substance, and to convey to the listener some of the mysterious messages which I used to over-hear in my imagination from the telegraph poles. The work starts exactly as I remember from my childhood: from total silence, through to a hardly audible chord (tetrad), gradually transformed into melodic lines, which weave throughout the work into various shades of poetical expression, returning finally to the first chord, which eventually dissolves into silence. Listen to a performance of Andrzej Panufnik's StringQuartet No. 2, subtitled "Messages" (1980) played by the Chilingirian Quartet . . . it's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ernest Bloch wrote a considerable amount of music for string quartet under descriptive titles so that you would not necessarily know what medium the pieces were written for unless you heard them. In the Mountains is a 1925 diptych, its two movements meant to evoke, in the first instance, dusk falling over the peaks of the Haute Savoie near Geneva and, in the second instance, a folk dance somewhere in the Swiss Alps. Bloch, of course, was far from Switzerland and its mountains when he wrote the first of these two pieces in Cleveland and the second in Santa Fe, New Mexico (thanks to Jerry Dubins/Fanfare Magazine). Watch the Galatea Quartet perform  Ernest Bloch's In the Mountains . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

Fallen Angel (1945) is a rarity among films noir, a picture that comes very close to capturing the slightly seedy, morally ambiguous tone of hardboiled writers like James M. Cain. It was conceived as a followup to the previous year's smash hit romantic mystery Laura, reuniting the director, one of the stars and even the celebrated composer David Raksin, who had jumped to national fame with his wistful theme for a portrait. (Glenn Erickson). Watch the opening of Otto Preminger's Fallen Angel with music by David Raksin . . . it's our PYTHEAS SIGHTING for the week.

An avid student of art and architecture, Lowell Liebermann has long been intrigued by the strange, ornate carvings called gargoyles, which embellish many old churches and palaces; often exceedingly bizarre in appearance, they were thought to help repel evil spirits. Demons seem to hover around Liebermann's own Gargoyles (1989), a set of four highly contrasted etudes, which maintains an eerieness and sense of mystery even in its more placid moments. The title is meant simply to characterize sharply drawn sketches of a florid and macabre nature, rather than to suggest any actual musical depiction of these ornamental grotesqueries (thanks to Michael Boriskin/New World Records). Listen to a performance of the first of Lowell Liebermann Gargoyles [no. 1] (1989) by pianists Timothy Durkovic . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.