Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gloria Coates is an American composer, living in Munich, Germany, since 1969, who has the honor of being the most prolific woman symphonist we have today. She also studied with Alexander Tcherepnin and has been a tireless advocate for American music overseas and at home, where she also maintains a residence. Kyle Gann, critic, composer, and vocal supporter of contemporary music, has served as an advocate of Coates and her music for many years. Her music is quite difficult to categorize. One might say that she remains at the forefront of "modern" music, and one cannot approach her work in a traditional manner. She relies heavily on string glissandos, and if you heard only one of her pieces you might think it mere gimmickry. However, the technique is found everywhere in her work, and so the conclusion must be that there is something about it that she feels really expresses something deep down [notes by Steven Ritter @ Audiophile Audition]. Watch a performance of Gloria Coates' Nightscape (2008) played by Christine Hoock (double bass) and Dianne Frazer (piano) . . . it's one of our NEW MUSIC VIDEOS for the week.

Here's an interesting perspective on Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks from arturs86, a member of the Discussion Forum: "As a Latvian, myself, I would like to try to show Pēteris Vasks from my point of view. He always was against the Soviet Union, its system and its aggression etc. But Vasks never made his music offensive. Rather he included semantic meaning in his music - using chorals, songs of a birds, motives or characters of Latvian folk songs etc. After the Soviet era, the main idea  in Vasks' music is still the same - spirituality over everything. His father was a pastor, so Christian ideology and that point of view is an essential part of his music. Vasks finds his greatest inspiration in nature. He also feels closer to God 'in nature' than 'in church'. The main topics in his music are: (1) The Latvian nation, its faith. Homeland. Also its history. His music often uses folk motives, but he would rather use the intonation and feeling of folk music than an exact quotation of it; (2) the Beauty of nature. Seasons of a year, voices of birds etc.; (3) Birds. They are symbols of time, nature, life and freedom. Unlike Olivier Messiaen, though, Vasks does not use the voices of specific birds. They are just associative; (4) Human Existence, life as a wonder. And also the presence of death; (5) Silence. You can find a lot of extreme examples of silence in Vasks' music; and (6) Light in all possible types. Usually gentle, radiant. As a hope, as a way out, as a faith or conviction" [check the whole conversation out at]. And please listen to a performance of Pēteris Vasks' Landscape with Birds (1980) . . . one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

The conceptual and multifaceted composer Tan Dun has made an indelible mark on the world's music scene with a creative repertoire that spans the boundaries of classical, multimedia, Eastern and Western musical systems. Central to his body of work, Tan Dun has composed distinct series of works which reflect his individual compositional concepts and personal ideas - among them a series which brings his childhood memories of shamanistic ritual into symphonic performances; works which incorporate elements from the natural world; and multimedia concerti. Opera has a significant role in his creative output and of his many works for film, the score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, received an Oscar for best original score. Hear Tan Dun talk about his life and music . . . it's our COMPOSER PORTRAIT for the week.

. . . and listen to more from Tan Dun - his 1992 composition Circle . . . another of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Based on historical fact, Tan Dun's opera Tea: A Mirror of Soul (2002) sketches the tale of Seikyo, a prince-cum-monk. By suffering "bitter love," Seikyo has transcended a cruel destiny to achieve an austere peace, the meaning of which he teaches through tea rituals. But that is only half the story. For Seikyo's bitter love also involves a princess, an erotic passion so tainted by jealousy that it ends in death, shamanistic rituals, and fierce struggles over an ancient book of wisdom. Combining the lyricism of Italianate opera, lush Western orchestration, a male "Greek chorus," gamelan-like percussion, and the organic sounds of nature - water, paper, and stones - Tea brings an ancient tale to the 21st century. Watch soprano Nancy Allen Lundy sing  Death of Lan, an excerpt from Tan Dun's Tea: A Mirror of Soul  . . . it's one of our NEW MUSIC VIDEOS for the week.

Composer Lance Hulme's music "reflects the ambience and musical approach of the North American musical tradition. Compositional eclecticism, a conscience, playful and uninhibited attitude with tradition and the crossover between ‘serious’ and vernacular music. All these elements are to be found as well as the most advanced structural and aural techniques". His music has received many international awards and commissions, with performances in Europe, Asia, South America and the United States. Hulme studied at Yale University, the Eastman School of Music and the Universität für Musik in Vienna, Austria. Listen to Lance Hulme's Ghost Dialogues (1980) for tenor saxophone and trumpet . . . one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Until 1986 when he left Romania, Corneliu Dan Georgescu was considered a favorite minimalist composer, stubbornly re-inventing the intimate mechanisms of traditional Romanian folklore in a haven of mute aesthetic theories and (in his early music) grievous public hearings. Then, after moving to Germany, rumors about the composer and his theoretical concerns diminished and faded, just as it was becoming more difficult for him to mount such undertakings, or continue his émigré creations without the personal contact of musicians from his native land. Georgescu's settling in Berlin marked the continuation and completion of compositional cycles and sets started decades ago in Bucharest: Jocuri (Games), Transylvanian antemporale Studies, Preludes, and other contemplative models. His forays crossed the rubicon of musicological exile, without any formal schism or break, perpetuating those cherished structural themes of profound vision, based on rules and precepts concerning the essential act of creation. Georgescu's aesthetic guidelines are "based strictly on geometric symmetries and principles of proportion" or "the idea that anecdotal art that entertains the audience, especially in association with the 'standardized academic vanguard', is profoundly foreign" [notes thanks to Liviu Dănceanu]. Listen to a sampling of Corneliu Dan Georgescu's sound world with his electroacoustic piece Resonanzen (1999) . . . one of our SOUND ART for the week.

. . . and check out Mark-Anthony Turnage's  Hidden Love Song (2005) . . . a work co-commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with generous support from the South Bank Centre and in association with the Risør Festival of Chamber Music and Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie. The soprano saxophone is an instrument closely associated with Turnage's music, and the love song of the title is heard as a melody in the solo part, with occasional contributions from orchestral soloists. The chamber orchestra provides supporting accompaniment for much of the piece, coloured distinctively with high and low contrasts (for instance with the woodwind line-up of pairs of flute, cor Anglais and bass clarinet), but a number of characteristic violent interruptions attempt to disrupt the lyrical line. The ‘hidden’ aspect of the title comes through the work’s ‘secret’ composition as a gift for Turnage's fiancée Gabriella Swallow, the use of musical cryptograms of her name, and allusions to a W.H Auden Lullaby (‘Lay your sleeping head, my love…’). It's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sofia Gubaidulina was born in the Tartar Republic, USSR, in 1931 and has become one of the most important composers of the last two decades of the Soviet Union and the first decade of the Russian Republic. Of all active major composers, she has shown the most interest in using the classical accordion. This interest may have grown from her involvement in the 1970s with a group of composers interested in assembling ancient and traditional instruments and writing highly modern classical music for them. De Profundis (1978)  is the opening of the Latin translation of the 130th Psalm, rendered in English as "Out of the depths [I call to Thee, O Lord]." The music begins in the instrument's lowest register and slowly ascends to its bright top notes. Various textures are used, from a chorale idea that represents hope, to a long single-line melody suggesting prayer. Unusual techniques are also used, from glissandi, shuddering vibratos and the sighing sound of the instrument's bellows. The work was written in consultation with the player Friederich Lips, who premiered it in Moscow in 1980 [notes thanks to Joseph Stevenson @ Rovi]. Listen to a performance of Sofia Gubaidulina's De Profundis played by Joseph Purits (bayan) . . . it's one of our NEW MUSIC VIDEOS for the week.

Karen Amrhein is an award-winning member of ASCAP, a recipient of a 2005 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award, and has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her music has been described as "very sensitive to melody, and quite insightful as to the harmonic structure that will best support it. What results is both engaging and intriguing, as well as emotionally satisfying, not infrequently witty, and quite often uplifting - all characteristics and affects that seem regrettably rare in the work of more recent times." Listen to Karen Amrhein's choral setting of  Isaiah 40 (2007) . . . one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Eric Ewazen teaches theory and composition at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. He has become one of the most popular and often performed American composers. His contributions to the percussion world are among the most musical, lyrical and demanding. His work Northern Lights was composed in 1989 and was originally conceived as a musical presentation of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Ewazen writes that the direction of the composition changed when his mother passed away during that year. The work then took on a slightly different idea as it would also serve as homage to Ewazen's mother. It often shifts between wistful and angry, as well mysterious and reminiscent. The composer explains the he wanted to explore many of the colors available to the marimba. Watch a performance of Eric Ewazen's Northern Lights (1989) played by marimbist Matt Moore . . . it's this week BANG, CLANG and BEAT - New Music for Percussion

Sunday, January 6, 2013