Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Keiko Abe's contributions to the contemporary marimba repertoire have been a milestone in the development of the marimba as a solo concert instrument. Besides the creation of a new repertoire through commissions and her own compositions, Abe's contributions to the marimba include the improvement of the sound quality of the marimba and the establishment of the five octave instrument as the standard concert marimba. During the last four decades, her compositions have been performed and studied worldwide and become standard literature for the marimba. She has written more than sixty compositions for marimba, including concertos, duets and solo pieces [note thanks to Juan Manuel Alamo Santos/UNT Digital Library]. Watch a performance of Keiko Abe's Prism Rhapsody (1995) played by marimba soloist Karen Takaguchi . . . it's one of our NEW MUSIC VIDEOS for the week.

Mark Ford is the coordinator of percussion activities at The University of North Texas in Denton, Texas and a past president of the Percussive Arts Society. He is a marimba specialist and the coordinator of one of the largest percussion programs in the United States at UNT. Ford is an active performer on the marimba and he has been featured throughout the United States at universities and music conferences. He also regularly performs at International Music Festivals in South America, Asia, Australia and Europe. Watch a performance of Mark Ford and alto saxophonist Ann Bradfield playing Ford's Wink (2011). Ford wrote Wink for his sons, Austin (marimba) and Kevin (saxophone). Premiered in 2011, Wink is a "groovy-hip collaboration that explores three main themes: a syncopated melody, a floating assertion, and a waltz-like phrase. This piece gradually builds to a rock-style adaptation of the opening statement to end the work. The title refers to those beautiful moments between fathers and sons when words are not necessary, just a wink and a smile" . . . it's this week BANG, CLANG and BEAT - NEW MUSIC.

Vincent Ho is widely recognized as one of the most exciting composers of his generation. His works have been hailed for their profound expressiveness and textural beauty that has audiences talking about with great enthusiasm. Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Vincent Ho began his musical training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, the University of Calgary, the University of Toronto, and the University of Southern California (2005). His mentors have included Allan Bell, David Eagle, Christos Hatzis, Walter Buczynski, and Stephen Hartke. His many awards have included Harvard University's Fromm Music Commission, The Canada Council for the Arts' "Robert Fleming Prize," ASCAP's "Morton Gould Young Composer Award," four SOCAN Young Composers Awards, and CBC Radio's Audience Choice Award (2009 Young Composers' Competition). Listen to a performance of Vincent Ho's Four Snapshots of a Dream (2002) . . .  it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Alexandra Gardner composed New Skin (2004) for flutist Barbara Held. It combines recordings of dawn from various locations, digitally processed gong and percussion sounds, and live alto flute in a structured improvisation. In many cultures sunrise is received with rituals of respect and thankfulness, acknowledged as a new beginning, or rebirth. In this composition my intention is to evoke an arrival into "light"-a sense of awakening to a new day. Listen to Alexandra Gardner's New Skin for solo flute  .  . . . it's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pierre Jalbert is one of the most highly regarded American composers of his generation, earning widespread notice for his richly colored and superbly crafted scores. Focusing primarily on instrumental works,  Jalbert has developed a musical language that is engaging, expressive, and deeply personal. His Icefield Sonnets (2004) was written for the Ying String Quartet and was inspired by the poetry of Anthony Hawley. Each poem in the set speaks of the notion of “north” - specifically in the winter months - and aims to capture some of the different moments of “coldness,” from quiet stillness to more violent activity. Like the set of poems, the work in three movements, the first, Cold is a Cell, marked "Cold, airy, suspended, like an ice crystal", the second, Glass is a Place, marked “driving forward,” and the third movement, North is a Notion, marked “Sustained.” Listen to a performance of the third movement of Pierre Jalbert's Icefield Sonnets, North is a Notion played by the Enso String Quartet . . . it's one of our NEW MUSIC VIDEOS for the week.

RainForest (1968), with choreography by Merce Cunningham, electronic score by David Tudor, and silver pillows by Andy Warhol, is a wonderful artifact of the 1960's, one that tells us how much fun we've been missing since. A dance work choreographed in 1968 - a year synonymous with student revolt - cannot be immune from the spirit of its time. RainForest sums up a great deal of the rebellion in the arts that Cunningham himself did so much to foster. Its implication of free-wheeling anarchy through floating decor that cannot be controlled and choreography that does not play by conventional rules, its animal and nature imagery in both the score and the dancing - all these elements are what one would call 60's material. Most typical is the point at which Cunningham and Warhol find common ground. This is the appropriation of the commonplace. Ordinary objects such as pillows become shiny silver helium-filled sculpture. Ordinary movement is integrated into sophisticated dance composition. The heyday of Pop art meets the heyday of life-is-art dance theory [notes by Anna Kisselgoff/The New York Times]. Watch an excerpt from RainForest (1968) performed by members of the Rambert Dance Company . . . it's our DANSES PYTHEUSES for the week.

Thomas Adès is one of today’s most formidable musical talents, equally at home composing, conducting or performing his own music and that of others at the keyboard. For all the piano repertoire Adès plays, there is one composer whose music is never far from his home piano: François Couperin (1668–1733) - the most accomplished member of one of France’s legendary musical families. In Three Studies from Couperin, composed in 2006 for the Basel Chamber Orchestra, Adès extracted three movements from Couperin's harpsichord studies (or Ordres). Much of the source material remains intact and recognizable, but his compositional process certainly extends beyond mere orchestration; a close analog is what Stravinsky accomplished with his Pulcinella, exploding Pergolesi’s music into a rich and personal orchestral world [notes by Aaron Grad for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra]. Listen to a performance of Thomas Adès' Three Studies from Couperin, with the Chamber Orchestra Of Europe conducted by the composer . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Gloria Coates' relatively early Cantata da Requiem "WW II Poems for Peace" (1972) looks at World War II from the viewpoints of women on either side of the conflict - from a young German widow to American poet Marianne Moore, with a sinister BBC weather report, which indicates that “conditions [are] ideal for bombing offensives,” along the way. Coates makes no attempt to sentimentalize the thoughts and fears of these women, and the Cantata da Requiem is no less harsh than it needs to be. Again, the instrumental writing is highly imaginative, even descriptive, and the vocal lines, while uncomfortable, match both the words themselves and their intensity. Come and listen to Gloria Coates' Cantata da Requiem "WW II Poems for Peace" (1972)  . . . it's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Composer Tod Machover heads the Opera of the Future project at MIT's Media Lab, and that term nicely describes his Death and the Powers: The Robots' Opera. It is clearly recognizable as opera: It has a story and characters, and its full-blooded arias, elegantly illuminating the apt (if occasionally self-conscious) text by the poet Robert Pinsky, are sung with passionate intensity by humans. The "future" part is embodied both in the orchestral writing, which skillfully combines acoustic and electronic music to create a remarkable range of colors and levels, and in the staging: not just the rather charming robots that grow, shrink and whiz around the stage, but the way that technology creates the playing environment, even allowing the main character's performance to influence and animate the set. Technique relates to theme. The opera is about what it means to be human, and what technology adds or subtracts. Simon Powers, a dying billionaire, has devised a "System" whereby his consciousness is uploaded into the walls and the objects of his room, enabling him to live forever without his body. The drama comes from his family's reactions to this disembodied being who surrounds them as a voice, a Teflon-strung, bird-like chandelier, and tall "bookcases" of flashing, trembling, color-changing lights [notes thanks to Heidi Waleson/The Wall Street Journal]. Listen to a wonderful performance of Miranda's Aria, from Death and the Powers (2010) . . it's one of our NEW MUSIC VIDEOS for the week.

Dave Brubeck has composed classical works with jazz elements at least since the 1960's. His first large choral piece, The Gates of Justice, suffers from, mainly, inexperience - among other things, routinely sending soloists into their topmost range, over-complicating the texture beyond the ability of players to distinguish inner lines. Despite this, however, the oratorio gave plenty of hope that Brubeck would work through these problems. The Gates of Justice was far more than an excuse for a cynical promoter to cash in on Brubeck's popularity as a performer, unlike, say, EMI and Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio. For one thing, Brubeck knew something about how to write paragraphs extended beyond those of song, or, in the case of jazz playing, choruses. One also sensed a mind constantly exploring musical connections between such superficially disparate things as the blues and Jewish cantorial singing. So check out Telarc Records' Classical Brubeck (Telarc 80621 which features so of Dave Brubeck's other choral works: Beloved Son (1978); Pange Lingua Variations (1983); Voice of the Holy Spirit (Tongues of Fire) (1985); and the instrumental Regret (2001) . . . it's our FEATURED RECORDING for the week.

According to composer Judd Greenstein, "Be There (2008) is a continuation of my effort to strip down my musical language to its essential components, to be fluid and Romantic and gestural and rhythmic all at the same time, without calling undue attention to those features or qualities. When I am writing music, and things are going well, I feel that I am present in the moment of the music's creation, a present-ness that is more full than any other I know. To "be there" is the best state that there is; it's the state of complete association with life and living, an association that is the utter antidote to the dissociative forces of anxiety and fear. Whether Be There expresses that idea to other listeners, fully, partially, or not at all, it somehow conveys that meaning to me. Many thanks to Colin Jacobsen and Peggy Kampmeier for their support in bringing the work to life" . . . . it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

. . . and have a listen to Michael Torke's  Green (Verdant Music) (1986) . . . it's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Thomas Adès has enjoyed enormous visibility since first emerging as a composer in the early 1990s. He quickly dazzled thanks to the confidence with which he discovered his unique voice, with scarcely a pause to clear his throat. His Asyla (1997), a compact four-movement symphony, is immense not only in its scoring for large orchestra but in the emotional range it telescopes into its deceptively brief duration. Adès choice of title is typically suggestive and mysterious - Asyla is the Latin plural of "asylum," which can mean both a place of inviolable refuge and an institution for the insane. The beauty of Asyla is how it plays on this plurality of meaning without devolving into a chaos of too-muchness [notes by Thomas May]. Watch a performance of the third movement of Thomas Adès Asyla played by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle  . . . it's one of our NEW MUSIC VIDEOS for the week.

Stephen Petronio’s I Drink the Air Before Me (2009), with music by Nico Muhly, begins where none of his other dances have: aboard a ship. Scrim in the shape of a sail is pinned to one side of the stage; the choreographer, with the costuming help of the artist Cindy Sherman, is its craggy, bearded captain, dressed in a nautical jacket, chaps and rubber hip boots over jeans. Named after a line from Shakespeare’s Tempest, the dance is inspired by a raging storm. Like Petronio's choreography, the score, by Nico Muhly, evokes turbulent undercurrents in which the frantic sounds of flute and strings are woven with the more tumultuous notes of a trombone and piano. Without being literal, the music and choreography create a sonic, ephemeral wave. The bulk of I Drink the Air Before Me assembles Petronio's usual tools: ferocious speed, rigorous structure and dancers who ravel and unravel like ribbons. Groups of bodies swell and dissipate like squalls, though while the scene is frequently forceful, the relentless choreography is only part of the picture. Petronio’s movement also reverberates as an energetic echo, moving past the physical form to etch invisible lines and patterns onto his canvas, the stage. Amanda Wells, arching her back, swirls her legs and arms as if swept by wind. Gino Grenek whips his body across the stage like a funnel cloud. And Shila Tirabassi, a force of nature herself, elongates her reach with every movement to impart sensual fluidity. When the violent rush of bodies threatens to overwhelm, Mr. Petronio calms things down. The Young People’s Chorus of New York City joins the dancers onstage to sing the work’s choral finale, One Day Tells Its Tale to Another. Their innocence softens the fury; the sea is finally still, and Petronio has weathered a perfect storm [Gia Kourlas, The New York Times]. Watch an excerpt from I Drink the Air Before Me . . . it's this week DANSES PYTHEUSES.

According to composer Amy Scurria, her Five Haiku (1998) "is somewhat of a tragic love story, in which the man is singing about a woman who exists not in his life, but very strongly in his mind, and only in his mind. He has been touched by this woman and cannot let her go from his memory. He sings about all of the emotions, both beautiful and painful that her memory evokes. He is terribly saddened without her and yet her imprint that she has left on him is so strong that he knows he is wonderfully changed forever by her. Although the title of the piece is Five Haiku and is set to five haiku, the piece opens and closes with a poem. Five Haiku is a story about longing and letting go. We seem to always be longing for something and in a certain way it is that longing that keeps us striving forward to reach that unobtainable goal. However, when that longing stifles us and causes us to turn around and to cease facing forward, it is then that the longing must be let go of and there must be a realization that everything in our lives, no matter how wonderful or how horrible, can ultimately change us in the most wonderful ways that we often don't even recognize." Listen to a performance of Amy Scurria's Five Haiku  . . .  it's one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

. . . and check out Miles Hoffman and Alberto Parrini playing Walter Piston's Duo for Viola and Violoncello (1949) . . . it's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.