Thursday, March 28, 2013

During 2012 Scottish born composer Anna Meredith wrote HandsFree as a PRS/RPS 20x12 Commission for the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. It was performed by them at the BBC Proms, Barbican Centre and Symphony Hall as well as numerous flashmob performances around the UK. Meredith's HandsFree showcases the National Youth Orchestra in an unusual situation - performing with no instruments at all. The piece reveals the talented teenagers' audacious musicianship and virtuosity through beat boxing, singing, body percussion and clapping. According to The Guardian, “Pitched somewhere between classical and performance art, HandsFree is essentially a work about body percussion, fantastically planned and choreographed. The players clap, stamp, shuffle, shout and sing. The rhythmic sound patterns are mirrored by platform routines of considerable complexity. Meredith throws in a few Ligeti-like ululations to form points of stasis or relaxation, but the overwhelming impression is one of mounting exhilaration..” Watch a performance of Anna Meredith’s HandsFree (2012) by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain . . . it's one of our NEW MUSIC VIDEOS for the week.

Elizabeth Brown combines a successful composing career with an extremely diverse performing life, playing flute, shakuhachi, and theremin in a wide variety of musical circles. Her chamber music, shaped by this unique group of instruments and experiences, has been called luminous, dreamlike and hallucinatory. After hearing the instrument on a concert tour of Japan, Brown began studying shakuhachi (traditional Japanese bamboo flute) in 1984 and its music has been a major influence on her musical language. She is celebrated both here and in Japan for her compositions combining eastern and western sensibilities. In her piece Seahorse, written in 2009, Brown “traces the activities and dreams of a typical seahorse. A solo theremin swims in an ocean of Partch instruments [a harmonic canon, guitar, chromolodeon, diamond marimba, bass marimba, juststrokerods, and a zoomoozophone].” Seahorse was dedicated to Dean Drummond and commissioned by Montclair State University for its Harry Partch Ensemble. Listen to a performance of Elizabeth Brown’s Seahorse (2009) . . . one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

Of all Pierre Boulez's works, only Le Marteau sans maître (1953-55) has achieved worldwide recognition as a modern masterpiece, partly because of the praise lavished on it by fellow composers and critics, but also because the public responded to the piece with uncommon openness to its rarefied expression and fascination with its fresh timbral palette. The work was choreographed in 1973 by Maurice Béjart, who wrote “Le Marteau sans maître is an abstract work based solely on the relationship between the musical score and motion. Six musicians and a singer on stage find their match in the person of six dancers and a ballerina. The counting geometry does not yet lyrical without underlying metaphysical and extensions. But it is the public to interpret the symbols and build a path through the universe of shapes and sounds. The choreographic style is a symbiosis between test sequences by conventional successive series of precise mathematical and non traditional aesthetic and metaphysical movements inspired by the Far East also reworked material as serial.” Watch a performance of the dance version of Le marteau sans maître with Béjart Ballet Lausanne . . . it's this week's DANSES PYTHEUSES.

Jacob Druckman's Reflections On The Nature Of Water (1986) for solo marimba was commissioned by William Moersch, a champion of solo marimba music, the man responsible for commissioning much of the American repertoire for the instrument. Druckman used Reflections On The Nature Of Water as an homage to Claude Debussy, whose Preludes had inspired the young Druckman, and whose own piece Reflections In the Water (from the Images, Book One/1905) was inspired by Monet's painting Reflections on Water. Druckman likewise paints the musical text for the listener by titling each of the work's six pieces: Crystalline, with its thematic material, paints a picture of a change in the water's consistency; Fleet, quick of pace, with sharp interruptions punctuating and disrupting the flow of the piece with a calculated persistence; Tranquil, a pulsating, almost hypnotic and meditative entity of its own, this music has a sustained and forward-moving quality; Gently Swelling offers a different style in its spirited dancing - graced with splashes of new color and timbre, yet it remains constant in its motion; Profound, returning the entire work to a level of stately depth and consciousness, the music suggests a definite complexity within a mask of simplicity; and finally, Relentless, somewhat reminiscent of the music in Gently Swelling, here Druckman concludes his exploration of a new, romanticized Impressionism [notes thanks to David Brensilver/All Music Guide]. Watch a performance of Jacob Druckman’s Reflections on the Nature of Water (1986) played by Tomasz Kowalczyky . . . it's this week's BANG, CLANG and BEAT - New Music for Percussion.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Born in a church tower in the village of Polička in the Bohemian-Moravian highlands, Bohuslav Martinů began violin lessons aged 7 and was sent to the Prague Conservatory, funded by the Polička villagers. In 1923 he moved to Paris to study, and stayed for 17 years, absorbing the avant-garde as well as jazz influences. He fled Paris for the USA following the German invasion of 1940, taking up teaching posts at Tanglewood and at Princeton University. Settling in New York, he was championed by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  Martinů's prolific output of over 400 works crosses all genres – from piano solo to opera, from chamber music to ballet and film music – and his unclassifiable style has contributed to his works falling into neglect. Among his masterpieces is the cantata The Epic of Gilgamesh (1955) and the operas Julietta (1938) and The Greek Passion (1959). Also among his most significant works is the Piano Concerto No. 4,  (1956), subtitled "Incantation". The work is in two movements and the subtitle of the work definitely guides us through this fantastic, incantatory music. Martinů wrote program notes to his Sixth Symphony (subtitled "Fantaisies symphoniques") and his thoughts surely hold true for the Piano Concerto No. 4: "I wished to write something for Charles Munch (conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra). I … like his spontaneous approach to the music where music takes shape in a free way, flowing and freely following its movements." Watch a thrilling performance of Bohuslav  Martinů's Piano Concerto No. 4 (1956), "Incantation" played by pianist Ivo Kahanek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting  . . it's one of our NEW MUSIC VIDEOS for the week.

The career of Joseph Schwantner is perhaps as prestigious as that of any living American composer at the turn of the twenty-first century. Although trained in the high-serialist school, the mid-1970s saw Schwantner abandon that style in favor of a distinctly coloristic, harmonically rich, but solidly tonal (albeit often "pantonal") sound. His voice throughout the 1970s and 1980s is often characterized by rich, dark brass scoring, lurching polyrhythms, and mesmerizing ostinati. One favorite technique is the employment of "ringing sonorities," or sounds that are articulated loudly then suppressed and sustained. These sounds resonate with Schwantner's evocative titles like From a Dark Millennium (1980), Aftertones of Infinity (1978), and Wild Angels of the Open Hills (1978). His timbral palette is further enhanced by the use of nontraditional instruments like crystal glasses, water gongs, and bowed cymbals. Schwantner's style in the 1990s combined occasional excursions into disorienting atonal and vaguely serialist areas with weighty and often overpowering tonal blocks, and continued to explore new timbres. His honors include a Pulitzer Prize (1979), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and no less than six Composers Fellowship Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Hear the interview Joseph Schwantner made for the Ford Foundation's "Made in America" commission series - Made in America Interview (or check here). . . it's this week COMPOSER PORTRAIT.

Mario Verandi is an Argentinean born composer, sound and media artist. He primarily works with new technologies as an aid to exploring and expanding the boundaries of sound, space, perception and meaning. A distinct characteristic of his work has been the exploration of the poetic and evocative potential of concrete and environmental sounds and their incorporation in sound compositions, audiovisual installations, live performances and radio art pieces. His works have received prizes and awards in the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition (France), Musica Nova Competition (Prague), CIEJ Electronic Music Awards (Barcelona), Prix Ars Electronica (Linz), Stockholm Electronic Art Awards (Sweden), SGAE Electroacoustic Music Competition (Spain) and the European Bell Days Composition Prize (ZKM, Karlsruhe). He has a long-standing interest in interdisciplinary projects and as a result has created music and sound designs for art installations, dance, theatre, films and the radio. Verandi has collaborated among others with the American visual artist Catherine Ferguson, German choreographer Helge Musial, Polish theater director Grazyna Kania, German film-maker Harun Farocki, German visual artist Corinna Rosteck, Berlin-based visual artitst Lillevan and Russian visual artists Igor and Svetlana Kopystianski. Listen to Mario Verandi's electroacoutic work Prague - Imaginary Fragments (2006) . . . it's our SOUND ART for the week.

Anna Meredith is a composer and performer of both acoustic and electronic music. Meredith's music has been performed everywhere from the Last Night of the Proms to flashmob performances in the M6 Services, Soundwave Festival to London Fashion Week, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival to the Ether Festival, and broadcast on Radio 1, 3, 4 & 6 She has been Composer in Residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, RPS/PRS Composer in the House with Sinfonia ViVA, the classical music representative for the 2009 South Bank Show Breakthrough Award and winner of the 2010 Paul Hamlyn Award for Composers. During 2012 Meredith wrote HandsFree as a PRS/RPS 20x12 Commission for the National Youth Orchestra which was performed at the BBC Proms, Barbican Centre and Symphony Hall as well as numerous flashmob performances around the UK. Her debut EP - Black Prince Fury was released on Moshi Moshi records to critical acclaim including Drowned in Sound's Single of the Year. Listen to Anna Meredith's Nautilus (2012) (part of that debut EP) . . . one of our PTHEAS EARFULS for the week.