Friday, April 5, 2013

Welsh born (and now upstate-New York based) Hilary Tann writes of her piece Shakkei (2007): "Shakkei, a term used in Japanese landscape design, means 'borrowed scenery.' Two well-known examples of shakkei underlie my piece. The first movement, marked slow and spacious, is inspired by Mount Hiei as viewed from Shoden-ji, a temple with a dry landscape garden. The second movement, marked leggiero, is inspired by the hills of Arashiyama as viewed from Tenryu-ji, a temple with a lush stroll garden. In musical terms, the sparse landscape of the first movement is complemented by an 'overgrown' second movement. In both movements I could not resist lightly 'borrowing' from Debussy’s Nuages, since the idea of borrowing was part of the identity of the piece and an English horn was at hand." Watch at performance of Hilary Tann's Shakkei (2007) played by alto saxophonist Susan Fancher (the work was originally written for oboe solo) and the Thailand Philharmonic conducted by Allan McMurray . . it's one of our NEW MUSIC VIDEOS for the week.

In 2009 the percussion ensemble Tambuco collaborated with visual artist Kevork Mourad in a work they called Pencils. Members of Tambuco share some of their thoughts on the project: "Of the instruments that we regularly hear when we attend a concert, we found that percussion instruments are certainly those whose visual appeal gives them added value. Modern percussionists attribute the success of their performances in a way similar to sound artists who explore  musical ideas via the combinations of sounds, colors and textures, often not written down, while accompanied by the great visual presence and appeal that percussion instruments generate in such a scenario. Listeners are often fascinated by this type of experience, and percussionists strive to discover the best ways to utilize the shapes, sizes, materials, sticks, etc. capable of producing such a wide variety of sounds. We can say, then, that a percussion concert becomes a powerful visual and auditory experience." Kevork Mourad has developed a special technique of spontaneous painting, in which he shares the stage with Tambuco, creating his artwork in counterpoint to their music. Using acrylic paint, he draws images that are projected onto a large screen behind the musicians. The result is spectacular: the narrative aspect of the music grows, reinforced by the strength of the plastic elements created. The opportunity to see an artist like Kevork Mourad performing on stage, watching his approach to painting, his strokes, producing images and textures, makes us think that his work as a scenic artist is very similar to a musician, who similarly prepares textures, long lines, colored with different forms of attack and dynamic, in an exposition, development and conclusion. Watch a performance of Pencils (2009) with Tambuco and Kevork Mourad . . . it's our SOUND ART for the week.

Conlon Nancarrow was an iconoclastic American composer who wrote in an utterly new way using new instrumental resources. While isolated from the main currents of music, he was virtually ignored by the public and his colleagues until the 1970s. He is primarily known for his 50 studies for player piano, which combine a quasi-improvisatory likening to jazz pianists Art Tatum and Earl Hines, with dazzling rhythmic complexity rendered at tempos that exceed the capabilities of human performers. Nancarrow adopted the player piano as his instrument of choice because of its ability to exactingly reproduce his complex rhythmic layers -- sometimes up to 12 layers simultaneously -- and because of his relative isolation from performers while living in Mexico. Composed in 1986, Nancarrow's Piece No. 2 for Small Orchestra begins with an enthusiastic, bright, but stumbling, march tempo, followed by various stops and starts, interruptions, jazzy pizzicato bass lines, a coquettish oboe solo, and a very tenuous bassoon and trombone duet. The music gradually tries to reassemble itself by drawing together fragments in multiple tempi; and though not quite succeeding, it does recreate a new body that seems satisfied enough to proceed with a strong ending cadence. A delightful piece and an interesting extension of Nancarrow's rhythmic compositional procedures he employs in his works for player piano [notes thanks to]. Listen to performance of Nancarrow's Piece No. 2 for Small Orchestra played by the ensemble Continuum . . . one of our PYTHEAS EARFULS for the week.

London born Cecilia McDowall has been described by the International Record Review as having "a communicative gift that is very rare in modern music." Often inspired by extra-musical influences, her writing combines a rhythmic vitality with expressive lyricism and is, at times, intensely moving. She has won many awards as well as being short-listed for the 2005 and 2008 British Composer Awards. Her music has been commissioned and performed by leading choirs, including the BBC Singers, ensembles and at major festivals both in Britain and abroad and has been broadcast on BBC Radio and worldwide. She is currently composer-in-residence at Dulwich College School, and is an Oxford University Press composer. Watch a performance of Cecilia McDowall Now May We Singen (2007) by The Virginia Chorale . . . it's this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

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