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Living Music Journal... hard-copy synopsis

Vol. 21 / No. 2             the journal of the Living Music Foundation           Fall 2006/Spring 2007


The feature interview in this issue of Living Music is with composer Elliott Schwartz and was conducted in cele ration of his 70th birthday in 2006

Many CD reviews covering a wide variety of releases are included both in extended articles and our "briefly noted" reviews section.

Our feature scholarly article, by Robert Gluck, addresses the use of cultural and ethnic resources within the field of electronic music.

            -- Carson Cooman

Eliott Schwartz

Charles Wuorinen
Robert Sirota
  from top: Elliott Schwartz,
Robert Sirota, Charles Wuorinen

Living Music Journal Current Index and Excerpts:

Special articles:

[An Interview with Elliott Schwartz on the occasion of his 70th birthday by Carson Cooman] [Traditional Cultural Resources in Electro-acoustic Music by Robert Gluck]

Regular departments:

[Feature article] [Member News] [From the Editor]
[Briefly Noted] [CD Reviews]


Traditional Cultural Resources in Electro-acoustic Music

--by Robert Gluck

Instead of reproducing the Feature Article in its entirety here, we are presenting some outstanding (and enticing) excerpts from the article--

      The aesthetic defined by musique concrète pioneer, Pierre Schaeffer, was to treat sounds as object sonore, manipulable sound objects to be organized in time and space. Sounds were to be experienced by means of ecoute reduite, reduced, or maybe more aptly translated, focused listening. That is, one should pay exclusive attention to the qualities of the sound object at hand.

      In 1959, Halim El-Dabh, then at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City, composed 'Leiyla and the Poet,' a setting of a Middle Eastern folk story, drawing upon a traditional Egyptian stringed and percussion instruments, plus voice, as sound sources, all subject to tape manipulation. This work drew upon aesthetic and technological ideas that he first explored in 1944 in 'Wire Recorder Piece,' created in Egypt, in which he transformed the spectral qualities of a women's ritual chant. Setting a narrative text and using recognizable instrumental sounds was a novel approach within a field that historically shied away from self-conscious use of recognizable sonic materials. Equally, the representation of identifiable, culturally specific musical traditions was outside the norm.

Most of El-Dabh's musical colleagues did not refer to culturally specific or identifiable sounds in their work. They, like composers in Europe, the United States and Canada, looked to electronic sounds as a way to explore musical alternatives to what they already knew. Thus, the work of most international composers who came to the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City in the late 1950s and 1960s, among them Mario Davidovsky, alcides lanza and Francisco Kröpfl, from Argentina, Bülent Arel and Ilhan Mimaroglu from Turkey, Makoto Shinohara from Japan, Edgar Valcarcel from Peru and Tzvi Avni from Israel, would be difficult to culturally distinguish from that of studio founders Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening.

      Yet, El-Dabh was not alone. Parallel trends could be found in Japan in the 1950s and in the 1060s, Indonesia and 1970s South America.

Persian-American composer Darius Dolat-Shahi, a student at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center during its final days, composed works for traditional Persian stringed instruments, the tar and sehtar (two forms of lutes), integrated with electronic sounds. In Dolat-Shahi's 'Sama,' for tar and electronics (1985), a rhythmic structure develops around a simple electronicallly-generatted pulse and rhythmic tar figures, upon which solo tar improvisations evolve, periodically giving way to recorded sounds of birds and electronically processed sounds. The music always returns to the pulse, around which a filigreed tar solo emerges, devolving to electronic sounds and again returning.

Beginning in the 1990s, Westernization and the spread of the internet, have paradoxically re-awakened interest in indigenous ethnic cultures, especially within the generation of people attuned to new technologies. The proliferation of recording technologies has made it possible to learn more about the local traditional music often spurned by their parents. Traditional aesthetics and musical materials thus enter a dialog with the evolving aesthetic and practices of electro-acoustic music.

Fischman's 'Alma Latina' for tape (1996-97) is a dense, swirling tour de force that evokes dance rhythms and Latin American musical references. Embedded within an abstract sound tapestry are vocal exclamations and melodic figures played by brass instruments characteristic of 1940s mambo dance bands. Chen's 'Primary Voice' (2003) is a series of compositions that embed electronically generated sounds, some abstract and some tonal or percussive, within a traditional Chinese instrumental ensemble comprised of hu qin (fiddle), de-zi (zither), pipa (lute), voice and percussion. Large segments of this work are lyrical and melodic, merging Chinese melody, featuring the subtle portamento of the pipa, and Western harmony, with the addition of rich and resonant electronic sounds.

At times, a traditional instrument bears symbolic as well as aesthetic significance. In American-Jewish composer Alvin Curran's 'SHOFAR' (1991, updated 1994), blasts on the ancient Jewish trumpet-like shofar (ram's horn) bring forth what he describes as a "wide spectrum of brash contrasting colors, gestures and events unified by an equally diverse quality of sampled and recorded sounds from Jewish life and nature in general."

The use of spoken text and electronically processed vocal sounds in electro-acoustic music is not new. Examples of compositions by European and North American composers include Luciano Berio's 'Thema: Ommagio a Joyce' (1958) and Joan La Barbara's '73 Poems' (1994). The conscious and often explicit use of traditional cultural elements by Yao, Shapira and others, is a novel departure from previous practice. Dajuin Yao's 'red cinnabar drizzle' (1999), for pipa, narrator and computer, draws upon the melodic qualities of spoken Mandarin Chinese, set within a texture of rapidly plucked pipa string sounds that has been exaggerated by the use of electronic processing. In Yao's 'endless frustration' (1999) a dense sound cloud with shifting spectral qualities is crafted from time-stretched sounds of a phrase from a traditional Chinese opera and instrumental music. The overall effect in both works is a timeless, subtly shifting yet static sonic presence.

The detailed and nuanced timbral control possible with many Eastern instruments can be enhanced and extended by means of electronics. Korean instrumentalist Jin Hi Kim believes that such an expansion can transcend the sum of its parts, resulting in the creation of something new that honors the old. She refers to this new construct "the atmosphere of a traditional instrument." Traditional techniques and aesthetic values are not lost but neither do they dictate possible directions that the new music can travel. Ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin suggests the possibility of a two-way dialogue when he describes traditional practices as dynamic and not static. "Tradition is a process, not a set of objects. You have to think of ethnicity as a set of resources that people use, not as a particular content or a particular set of objects. The concept is how they think about who they are" and, I would add, how they conceive of their musical potentialities.

Electronically expanding traditional instruments is not a simple matter. Not all performers of traditional instruments are friendly to the idea of electronically expanding their instruments. Some are understandably protective of the purity of inherited music forms and sounds. Consumer electronic music technologies may, in fact, cause distortions of the unique features of a traditional instrument. Jin Hi Kim suggests: "If the instrument is equipped with electronics and as a result it looks bigger or stronger, the subtlety of the instrument gets lost. The surrounding aesthetic, artistic and cultural environment of the instrument is more than just the physical instrument and it can become lost." Kim recalls that her first electric komungo "sounded like electric guitar and was too common."

Clearly, a growing body of electro-acoustic composers culturally rooted outside of the Western or Northern hemispheres is exploring the intersection between traditional musical sounds, forms and instruments and electronic technology. The results have often enriched the fields of electronic and computer music, taking it in directions that could not have been predicted by its founders. Argentine composer Alejandro Iglesias Rossi concludes: "Composers in the so called peripheral countries are at the crossroads between finding their own personal identity as creators and their cultural identity as members of a community that encompasses them. The challenge relates to getting to be oneself, discovering one's uniqueness in all its potency. This process not only affects the creator but also influences and transforms the very geoculture he was born into. The transculturization of elements must be digested, internalized, in order to reappear with a special potency, a unique color that will broaden the fringes of knowledge, as one explores the unknown lands of creation."

Many thanks to Tzvi Avni, Sinan Bökesoy, Yuanlin Chen, Alvin Curran, Avi Elbaz, Halim El-Dabh, Rajmil Fischman, Jin Hi Kim, alcides lanza, Sapto Raharjo, Alejandro Iglesias Rossi, Arik Shapira, Richard Teitelbaum, Shahrokh Yadegari, and Dajuin Yao for their cooperation on this and other related projects and to Emmanuelle Loubet and Takehito Shimazu for their published work about Japan. A special thanks to Ricardo Dal Farra, whose research regarding South America (documented at Fondation Daniel Langlois at and to Joel Chadabe for his ongoing support. Further information may be found on the web at Electronic Music Foundation's historical website, The EMF Institute:

Specific resources are included in the original hard-copy article.

     "Composers in the so called peripheral countries are at the crossroads between finding their own personal identity as creators and their cultural identity as members of a community that encompasses them. The challenge relates to getting to be oneself, discovering one's uniqueness in all its potency. This process not only affects the creator but also influences and transforms the very geoculture he was born into. The transculturization of elements must be digested, internalized, in order to reappear with a special potency, a unique color that will broaden the fringes of knowledge, as one explores the unknown lands of creation."

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An Interview with Elliott Schwartz on the occasion of his 70th birthday

by Carson Cooman

2nd portrait of Elliott Schwartz at the piano not in online version
(Elliott Schwartz at the piano)

      His works are represented by various publishers, and recordings of his compositions have been released on ten different labels. His works have been performed by many major orchestras, ensembles, and festivals, and in recent years, he has engaged in countless residencies at academic institutions around the world.

            American composer Elliott Schwartz (b. 1936) was born in New York City and studied with Otto Luening, Jack Beeson, and Paul Creston, earning three degrees from Columbia University. He has been a faculty member at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, since 1964 and has also taught at the University of Massachusetts, Ohio State, Cambridge University, and many other American and British institutions. Schwartz is co-editor of the anthology Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music, co-author of Music Since 1945, and the author of Electronic Music: A Listener's Guide, The Symphonies of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Music: Ways of Listening. His works are represented by various publishers, and recordings of his compositions have been released on ten different labels. His works have been performed by many major orchestras, ensembles, and festivals, and in recent years, he has engaged in countless residencies at academic institutions around the world.
            On the occasion of his 70th birthday, Elliott Schwartz spoke with Carson Cooman about his musical career, style, philosophy, and current activities.

CC:When did you first know you wanted to be a composer?

ES: Very early. I would say around the age of 6 or so. I had started piano lessons and was studying from one of those little books where you play very simplified versions of music by the so-called "great masters." In the book were portraits of all the composers. I was more smitten by the portraits than anything else. I wanted to be one of those people wearing a frilly collar, with long hair and funny looking eyeglasses, suffering and dying young--it all seemed very romantic!

Elliott Schwartz as J. S. Bach, courtesy Dwight Winenger
(J.S. Schwartz)
(portrait not in the
hard copy version)
CC: What's the earliest work of yours that you still acknowledge, and when do you feel you came upon your own musical voice?

ES: There are a number of early student pieces that I acknowledge -- at least to the degree that I'd be delighted to have someone perform them, and I would stand up and take the applause, if there were any. But I wouldn't go out of my way to promote them. The first pieces that I still feel proud of enough to promote actively are works of the 1960's, when I was in my late 20's and early 30's. There's a quartet for oboe and strings, a suite for viola and piano which was performed a year ago at a festival in Maine, and a 1961 work for chamber orchestra (Pastorale) that was just played at Concordia College. I was happy to hear the Pastorale again, as it hadn't been played for many years. At the time, it reflected my growing interest in the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams and was composed when I was writing my doctoral dissertation on his symphonies.

The piece has quite a bit of the "pastoral" Vaughan Williams sound world. It's modal and very tranquil, with some interesting chord progressions that go in unexpected directions. When I heard it this spring, I was surprised it sounded that good after forty years.

To whatever degree I have my own voice (and I'm not really sure as to what the characteristics of my voice are), it began to emerge in the 1970's. One particular strain that began to manifest itself was my fascination with various kinds of ostinati: repeated figurations, pedal points, and slowly moving ground basses. I began to explore situations where the static material remained barred metrically, and the material happening against it became free and non-metric. So, a certain kind of "choice-making" began to enter the picture: performers were relatively free to play material when they wished, against a very solid, metrically fixed pattern.

That eventually led me further in new directions, where I began thinking of musical texture in terms of multiple exposure -- different levels of activity happening simultaeously. I was very strongly influenced by a colleague I had met in my first teaching job at University of Massachusetts/Amherst, a visual artist named John Goodyear. John was very active in what was then called op-art. He was creating works that would be displayed in multiple levels -- two paintings or reliefs hung in front of one another, with various holes and spaces in them -- so that if one were to gently nudge the front object, it would move and you would see different kinds of shifting arrangements. I was trying to do something similar musically. I also became interested in Cage, Satie, and Ives; in their work, I discovered different strategies and concepts to which I'd never been formally introduced during my student years.

One other important ingredient grew from my work as a teacher of electronic music in the late 1960's and early 1970's. This was a time when electro-acoustic music had recently become an important part of our experience. I found myself directing a studio at Bowdoin and writing a book on the subject for laypeople. My work in the studio reinforced my way of thinking about musical textures -- not only in terms of simultaneous levels, but also spatial separation, which could be realized easily with loudspeaker placement.

CC: Throughout your career, it seems that you've stayed active as a pianist. Do you enjoy this as a change from composition?

ES: I certainly do. I love performing as a pianist, though increasingly my piano playing gets more and more restricted to my own music. In my years of teaching at Bowdoin and elsewhere, I've accompanied students in Beethoven violin sonatas, Brahms piano trios, Morton Feldman ensemble works -- all sorts of things. I am beginning to feel that my skills as a pianist are getting rusty, so I primarily focus on playing my own work at this point.

CC: You spent a period of years doing a great deal of prose writing and producing books on subjects ranging from music appreciation to the symphonies of Vaughan Williams. How did this work impact your composing?

ES: I think my writing has always reflected a subject that was itself important to my composition at that time. So, it was never divorced from my creative work -- just another way of looking at a compositional issue that was occupying my mind. Electronic Music: A Listener's Guide was being written when I was composing a good deal of tape music in the studio. My music appreciation book published in the 1980's (Music: Ways of Listening) hinted at my new-found interest in certain aspects of non-Western music, among them the perception of music as a theatrical and spatial experience.

I think my appreciation text was unique in discussing the musical experience as spatial, directional and theatrical -- even architectural. It emphasized the fact that when you hear a Schubert song you should ideally be in (or imagine being in) someone's living room, or in a parlor when you hear a Chopin etude. Consider that a lot of classical music has been designed for outdoor garden parties and cathedrals, just as there's music designed of loudspeakers and (if you use headphones) the space between your ears. By contrast, most of the then-current literature on music appreciation tended to treat all music as though it were meant for either Carnegie Hall or an LP record. I was trying very hard to break with that. -- and I believe my focus was strongly influenced by my composition direction at that time.

CC: I know that you are a frequent visitor to England, and are friends with many of today's major British composers. How did your connections with that country come about?

ES: It was partly by accident and also partly because of the Vaughan Williams connection. I was in touch with the president of the American Music Society, a London-based organization that invited American composers to come and speak and promoted concerts of American music in England. In the course of our correspondence, he asked me if I could think of any American composer who would like to come to London for a semester and exchange positions with an English composer. I immediately volunteered myself! In the Fall of 1967, I came to London and taught at Trinity College of Music, and the British composer Richard ("Tony") Arnell came to America and taught at Bowdoin. That semester led to other invitations, and I've been returning to England ever since. I know the place very well, and have become friends with many of its musical citizens. I've also made a number of guest-composer visits to Oxford and Cambridge. My wife and I were in London just two weeks ago, for a concert at the Royal Academy of Music celebrating my 70th birthday year. It was very enjoyable! They performed three chamber pieces of mine, and also short birthday pieces composed for the occasion by Michael Finnissy, Judith Weir, Robert Saxton, Peter Dickinson, Colin Hughes, and Richard Arnell.

There will be another concert for my 70th birthday this November at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Because of the birthday business, it's been an extremely busy year. When I reach the age of 71, I figure nobody will play my music again, so I'd better milk it while I can during this year, before I sink back into obscurity.

CC: What is your typical process when you sit down to start a new piece?

ES: Every piece comes about as the result of a request or commission. Thus, it usually comes with specifications -- the instrumentation, the duration, and often the context of a particular occasion. I decide which kinds of sounds and textures I'd like, and I listen carefully to the instruments that will be involved to remind myself of their characteristics, then I usually seek out some extra-musical inspiration.

In recent years most of my music has taken its impetus from musical fragments of other composers. Whenever a commission is attached to a special occasion, a particular music festival or "context," I try to think of all the possible associations that first performance context may have. Then I try to draw my source materials from pre-existing music connected to those associations.

When my trio for viola, clarinet and piano was commissioned, I immediately thought of the Mozart work for that combination, and I knew I wanted to quote fragments of it. Somehow that led me to the Arpeggione sonata of Schubert and the Brahms clarinet trio. I suddenly realized that all of those three composers has aassociations with Vienna, and that led me to consider Das Lied von der Erde by Mahler. The finished piece -- a collage of fragments by these four composers -- is called Vienna Dreams.

In the 1970's and early '80's, I would often write by beginning with the initial gesture of a piece -- the first sound one hears -- and then work my way through as though I were "improvising" in slow motion. As I went along, I'd never tear up what I'd already written. If something that's already happened seems odd, I'd then figure out what in the future pages could be done to make it seem "correct" (as though I were on a stage, improvising). I could put the music down and come back to it later, and it would be at the point I had left it in this "frozen performance." I found that method very stimulating.

At some point, progressing page by page and minute by minute in this piece, I would always reach a stage where I knew that I had enough material and I didn't need to invent anything new. Everything that would happen from that point on could be considered variation or development of what had already come. There would be a second stage of realization, later on in the process, where I knew how long the piece would be. Then, at a third stage, I knew how it was going to end. Then the rest of the composing would become very easy, as it's strategically moving towards a goal.

CC: For me, one of the most notable things about your musical style is how a single work of yours does often contain quite a diversity of musical material and notation -- ranging from free atonal aleatory to very tonal passages. Yet, you always integrate everything together so musically and compellingly within a piece. How do you conceive of the connections between material to make it coherent?

ES: Although the materials I work with -- tonal, non-tonal, even the musical quotations -- may seem dissimilar on the surface, I try to find certain little things they have in common, or structural similarities that one might not immediately hear but can be coaxed out. I look for gestures or passages where certain ideas cross over from one style to another or from one century to another.

Another technique that interests me goes back to the 80's when I began focusing on quoted material. I enjoy creating new melodic shapes by taking fragments from the familiar excerpts and stringing them together. I transpose a number of the excerpts to get maximum pitch vocabulary, and that almost inevitably leads to the creation of a 12-tone row. Thus, a row has been born from this strange combination of quoted familiar fragments. I use the row itself, then, to generate harmonic and melodic material and new gestures. When the original quotes appear, I hope they'll be heard as somehow related to my row.

In much of my music composed since the 80's, then, fairly discordant, angular, "high-modernist" sounds mingle with triadic textures and tonal material; the two languages often appear simultaneously. The idea is that once you hear enough of them, your ear begins to feel comfortable (I hope) with a straddling of both worlds. The familiar material takes on an unfamiliar cast, and it all becomes "one" in its own "time-warp" world. That may explain why the texture seems cohesive, and I'm very glad you feel it does.

CC: You've mentioned "12-tone rows," yet it seems like these are always a free generative device for you, to open up a wide pitch space.

ES: I am in no sense a serialist composer. I regard the use of tone rows as one technique I might want to employ, but within a much broader music world and harmonic spectrum. I'm not a minimalist either, but I like to use devices that I first heard in works by Reich, Glass, and Riley. Not for 45 minutes (!) -- for perhaps a minute and a half or so.

The late 20th century was obviously a very eclectic time, and we who are fortunate enough to be living now are very lucky to have this huge body of musical literature to enjoy. In this we're greatly aided by the recording industry and the radio. People can hear so much music of different styles, from different centuries and many places in the world, and all very easily. There's no reason why a composer can't draw upon all of this and put various strands together to create one's own special mix, unique and personal to each composer.

CC: I know that some composers don't listen to much music by other composers. They find it inhibits their own work. It seems, however, that you listen to quite a bit of music -- attending concerts often and frequently hearing recordings. Do you find your engagement with the work of your colleagues has a positive impact on your own writing?

ES: I think it's been very positive. I do listen to a great deal of music by other composers. Firstly, I've had to because of my teaching. Many of my classes have been broad survey courses like "history of the symphony" or "history of piano music." In those courses I make it my business to get into the 20th century as quickly as possible so I don't give it short shrift. I thus have the students listen to much music of our own time. This exposure has made me a different kind of composer.

I can think of one specific result. Over the years I've become a bit of a schizoid composer. The pieces I compose to be performed on campus for my own students to play are, by necessity, relatively unchallenging technically. They involve more improvisation, chance procedures, graphic notation, and theatrical elements. The music I compose for the "outside world" of professional musicians and conservatories tends to be more traditionally notated and technically more difficult. It's been good that I've straddled both approaches to music because they have influenced each notation, and theatrical elements. Music I compose for the "outside world" of professional musicians and conservatories tends to be more traditionally notated and technically more difficult. Both approaches have influenced each other in my output.

I do enjoy listening to music, but I don't necessarily enjoy looking at scores of other composers. I find it gets in the way. I often advise composition students to come to terms with new works strictly by ear at first. Just hear the music and soak it in simply as an aural experience. From that, one can try and hear what certain kinds of images and ideas emerge from the experience. Then, when that influences your composing, you're doing it by ear and you're getting it "wrong" in your own work -- since you've never seen the notation of the original. That is a good thing, though, since you're finding your own expressive way of responding to music. Only after that listening-digesting process do I think it's important to look at a score and see what the composer did.

CC: Have you ever run into any musical hostility towards your work as a composer, either from performers or critics?

ES: I've certainly received bad reviews -- every composer has! Sometimes they were warranted. I go back and look at earlier pieces of mine and realize they were deeply flawed. Some of those unkind comments were indeed accurate. I've also had some terrific positive reviews, for which I'm thankful. I've never met with any hostility in general -- in the sense that my entire syle was being called into question, or any large-scale aspect of my work dismissed as not being relevant. I know there are people who find the mixing of tonal and non-tonal elements in the same works problematic or offensive, but they've never come out and said so to my face.

I've never been taken to task abroad for being an American. I've had my music played in many countries, and I've made friends with composers in different parts of the world. I enjoy their music and they seem to enjoy mine. I've occasionally been in the position of giving advice to younger composers on how to deal with a poor review. I hope I've taken my own advice in "taking the punches" and getting on with the next piece.

I care about my audience. I compose for a fantasy audience, composed of millions of people who are just like me, an audience of Elliott-clones sitting out there. The second-level "audience" I think about would be the performers. I want them to enjoy the experience of playing my music. I want them to have fun with the challenges, the quotes (if any), and the little hidden games and messages throughout.

CC: What are some of your up-coming projects?

ES: First, I'll be working on a series of solo pieces to be performed by Bowdoin students, then I'll be composing a violin concerto to be performed in the fall of 2007 by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and British violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved. I've been asked to write some etudes for trombone duet, to be played by trombonist Tom Everett at Harvard. A New York City group called the Contrasts Quartet is interested in a theatre piece in which the performers will speak, hum, shout, and whisper.

I hope to be writing a book as well.

CC: If you were given the grant and opportunity to write absolutely any kind of work, of any scope, for any performance context, what kind of work might you write?

ES: I think it would involve a big symphony orchestra, the medium I love the most. I think I'd want to work with one of those spatial configurations that Henry Brant has explored so brilliantly -- where one takes a whole orchestra and splits its members into sub-groups located around the hall, some on the stage, some in the balcony, some along the side walls, and some in the lobby. It would also probably have electronic sounds, projected over speakers ringing the hall. That way I could return to a medium I haven't used in quite a while but would love to do again.

Some of the works of Elliott Schwartz mentioned in this interview are available on CD recordings. Vienna Dreams is available on "Equinox" from New World Records and Timepiece 1794 is available on "Voyager" from Albany Records. Chamber Concerto II for clarinet and nine players and Chamber Concert IV for saxophone and ten players are available on "Elliott Schwartz: on CRI Recordings, now available from New World Records.

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CD Review:

Robert Sirota: Triptych
New Voice Singles CNVS 001, Time: 25:18

by David Cleary

This release is comparatively brief in duration, the first in a projected series of "singles" issued by the Chiara String Quartet. The term "single" is used loosely here, as the disc is devoted to a 25 minute composition.

Triptych (2002) Robert Sirota, currently the president of the Manhattan School of Music (previously the director of the Peabody School of Music at Johns Hopkins), reflects upon the September 11th terrorist tragedy, inspired by a visual art entity with the same title painted by Philadelphia artist Deborah Patterson. Sirota's piece employs a gritty language derived from scales that noticeably evokes Bartok, though its finale contains numerous frankly triadic passages. Triptych speaks in a raw, wrenching manner that invariably proves evocative. Sorry to say, the work also lacks tightness in material and architecture, but its riveting way of moving from moment to moment nearly manages to trump these shortcomings. The Chiara String Quartet (Rebecca Fischer and Julie Yoon on violin, Jonah Sirota on viola, and Greg Beaver on cello) perform with conspicuous skill and heart. Editing and sound are fine.

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Return to Index.

CD Review:

Bernadette Speech: Reflections
Mode 105, Time: 72:55

by David Cleary

Some composers are easy to pigeonhole while others resist simple categorization. Count New York-based composer Bernadette Speach among the latter.

Speach's oeuvre of the last fourteen years or so can best be described as New Tonalist with a penchant for jazzy verticals and a Downtown affinity for patterned material and loose unfolding. Her music also contains experimentalist touches such as extended techniques and indeterminacy. And there's significant influence of the hushed output of her primary teacher, Morton Feldman, and pieces such as John Cage's piano solo Dream.

The best selections here maximize Speach's finely honed ear for sonic beauty -- most all this music can be characterized as languid, winsome, luscious, and fragile -- while downplaying their lack of structure and tendency to stop rather than end. Fortunately, several of these items, including Chosen Voices (1991) for toy piano and prepared guitar as well as the solo piano entities Angels in the Snow (1993) and When It Rains, Lleuve (1995) are short enough to coast by on their lovely exteriors. The longer the opus, the more noticeable the problem, however -- Trio des Trois (1992) for viola, cello, and piano, and especially the sprawling Women Without Adornment (1995) for voice, reciter, and mixed trio would have all benefited greatly from clearer structure and closings that convince. The latest work encountered here, Viola (2000) for that instrument and piano, fortunately shows some attempts to think architecturally, tracing some narrative curve aspects.

The string quartet les ondes pour quatre (1988) seems from an earlier period. Here, patterned material is layered thickly, outlining a spiky harmonic language. Absent the fetching surface of later listens, it pleases least.

Performances are good. From the sizable list of executants, one should single out the Arditti String Quartet, guitarist Jeffrey Schanzer, violist Rozanna, and pianists Speach and Anthony DeMare for their evocative playing. Production is fine and sound quality is exemplary.

an image of the 'Spins' CD cover is in the original article

CD Review:

Spins: Music of Robert Cogan, Pozzi Escot, David Fulmer, Jonathan Saggau, and Matthias Truniger
Neuma 450-106, Time: 52:05

by Matthew Warnick

Cogan's Eight Poems of Williams Bronk, "Soul" Version (1998), is performed by soprano Elizabeth Keusch and pianist John Sakata, in four Movements. Movement A opens with the piano characterized by an improvisational nature. The individual notes are brief in duration, limiting much of what you hear to their percussive onset - the string doesn't have a chance to settle into a "steady-pitch" -- at least it is difficult to hear. Opposing this are chords long in duration, but made up of enough notes forming clusters as to obscure the "pitch" nature of the individual notes. Most of the playing is loud, further emphasizing the percussive nature of the piano. The piano assumes the character of an entire percussion "section" in its flexibility. At the same time, the voice, in opposition, is comparatively and almost entirely "muted" in nature. The voice's further contrasts are its steady rhythm and little variation in its melodic quality. This sets up a simultaneously intense, listening experience. Significant is the transformation of the piano writing by Movement D, which has become like the voice in Movement A, quiet and slow, with single notes of long duration. This enables the brief percussive-onset of the piano-strings to take on a lesser presence compared to the long, "steady-pitch" absent from the opening. There is almost a total absence of clustered chords that were also present in the opening. Lastly, one can barely hear what sounds like continued singing during the final, long recorded applause, so much so that the applause takes on a percussive "reprise" in and by itself. This completes a journey through the piano's tone-colors, not only based on an understanding of the nature of the instrument and it's perception, but places it in the context of artistic form, instead of mere theory. The compositional use of the texts of the four poems in this version echoes this piano structure. The beginning lines of the four poems that are used in Mvts. A -- C, are "separated" from their ending lines, which are all grouped together in Mvt. D. The piano structure also "separates" the percussive beginning of its notes in the early Mvts, concentrating on the sustained nature of their ending in Mvt. D, like the use of the texts of the poems. John Sakata, who often plays Cogan's literature, is forceful and precise, while Elizabeth Keusch contributes to the written page with her own warmth and understanding. The performers contribute greatly by understanding their roles in a difficult work.

Escot's Violin Concerto (2003), is performed by David Fulmer on solo violin, accompanied by the Carnegie Mellon Contemporary Ensemble conducted by Efran Amaya. The concerto opens with a series of three trumpet phrases, which - along with the silences between them -- lead into the opening violin solo through a series of increasing Golden Mean proportions (1/.618). This "grows" the piece from its beginning, not by changing the 20" length of the trumpet phrases, but by increasing the silences between the individual 3-note phrases. The changes in dynamics of the trumpet phrases also foreshadow the coming violin melody. The solo violin starts at the 1'22" (82") mark. The violin writing then alternates between loud, short phrases and long soft phrases, including silences. The orchestra picks up a continuous pitch rise with the violin, alternating tone-colors and instruments. There is a gradual muting of the orchestra towards the end of the Movement, which is finally defined by the beginning of the second Movement (with no break in-between the two) by the reintroduction of the trumpet which started the concerto.
      The entire second Movement exhibits a "growing process" as detailed by the introduction. All features grow in time, pitch, and tone-color as the Movement also grows in time

Mvt. III begins (0") with a sustained single note in the orchestra until 1'52" (112"), the same duration of the sustained note that the orchestra plays in the Mvt. I. This is also the same practical total length as Mvt. II (1'55"). Mvt. III ends with a violin sustained note from 3'45" (225") to the end of the piece at 4'20" (260"). Performances by Fulmer and the Carnegie Mellon Contemporary Ensemble are true to the score. The dynamism created by musical growth connected to geometric structure creates an enjoyment of listening to this mature "Concerto" by Escot.

Fulmer's String Quartet No. 2 (2005), is performed by the Tetras String Quartet. Its members are David Fulmer, violin; Keats Dieffenbach, violin; Nadia Sirota, viola; and Claire Bryant, violoncello. The entire composition is in one Movement - built on two contrasting styles, pointillistic writing versus that of a sustained character. The opening consists of the two violins, one playing a moderate "pointillistic" part while the other consists of moderately-long sustained tones. There are no extremes in loudness, range, or tone-color.
     The pointillistic writing begins using shorter durations - leading eventually to the use of "pizzicato" technique. At the same time, the opening sustained tone style develops towards its own extremes by increasing the frequency of notes and noticeable increases in range.
      This is an engaging piece and exhibits virtuoso writing and performing. David Fulmer should continue to be heard from as a performer and composer.

Jonathan Saggau's Modulus for Two Flutes (2001) is performed by Alicia Di Donato and Mauricio Garcia. This composition makes good use of musical language in its three Movements, titled: Contemplative, Faces of Grief, and Playful. Movement I, Contemplative, uses pitch-language intervals which could be called "neutral" (or "Contemplative"). They are harmonious in nature - pentatonic scales - avoiding the use of dissonant intervals, especially "tri-tones". The timbre's and rhythms used match the pitch-language in the sense of avoiding extremes, but the two flutes explore changes in register -- higher and lower. The "Golden Mean" of the first movement -- occurring at 1'11" - is marked by the beginning of trills, the first in this movement. The two players start at different speeds and in different registers, but after the trills at the Golden Mean, the players reverse roles, whereas the upper flute had played more slowly in the beginning, now it becomes noticeable increases in range. faster, using arpeggios to further distinguish itself.
      Movement II, Grief, is the longest, a full 8'13". It is filled with contrasts, development, and full-use of the flutes capabilities. They are both brought to the foreground in equally important two-part writing.
      In Movement III, Playful, the flutes use freedom by the continued introduction of new-material from the first two Mvts. The most noticeable difference, however, is the lack of silences, so prominent in Mvt. II. The first silence occurs at 55", the "negative" Golden Mean of the Mvt. The writing focuses on using large interval changes and fast, dance-like rhythms. At a duration of 2'02" (equal to one-quarter of Mvt. II's length), the two flutes start a unison, high speed passage -- which includes the only other silence - ending with a gesture of the compositions maximum dynamic and pitch range -- and unique tone color -- climaxing on the final note. Jonathan Saggau has an experienced and developed grasp of how to use a variety of compositional techniques, leading the listener through an engaging work where the two flautists contribute an intuitive performance.

The last piece on this CD is by Truniger, Spins (2004), performed by Carol Rodland for solo viola. Its compositional characteristics and major gestures are "balanced" by expressions of opposing natures. There are not large numbers of these expressions, more in the way they occur. Throughout the gestures themselves, there is a "glue" of a perfect fourth pitch interval (in many guises), giving a certain "uniform" sound that persists -- or maybe "survives" -- otherwise constantly changing surroundings. The title, Spins, plural, rather than "Spin," singular, suggests going around through the sequence of material at least more than once, allowing multiple chances to modify its original presentation. Pinning down a detailed "form" seems to go against the nature and purpose of the composition as a whole. Violist Carol Rodland's talented performance goes a long way to contributing a necessary touch.

a charming informal portrait of Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot is in the original article

(Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot)

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Three compositions by Daniel Adams were accepted by Dorn Publications during the Summer of 2006: Augustine Shadows for oboe and piano, Ambivalence Recalled for flute solo, and Khromas Diabolus for trombone and percussion ensemble. Adams's composition Between Stillness and Motion for piano solo received performances on two concerts sponsored by the Texas Chapter of NACUSA in May. On May 13 the piece was performed at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and on May 25 it was performed at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, Texas. Felipe J. Ramirez was the pianist for both performances. Adams's composition Concerto for Marimba and Percussion Ensemble has been released on a CD entitled "Marimba Concerti", recorded by the McCormick Percussion Ensemble and released by Capstone Records in the Fall of 2006. On November 13 Adams's Talea for six percussionists was included on a program entitled "The Percussion Ensemble in the Middle School/High School Music Program", presented as part of the Annual In- Service Conference of the North Carolina Music Educators Association, held in Winston-Salem, NC. The performance of Talea was directed by Tracey Wiggins, percussion instructor for University of North Carolina-Pembroke

Adams also received a performance of Alchemy for solo viola on a concert entitled "Houston Original." The concert, sponsored by the Foundation for Modern Music, was held at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church (Houston, Texas) on November 19, 2006. The performer was violist Abhijit Sengupta.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra, Jeffrey Silberschlag, conductor, recorded Vivian Adelberg Rudow's Urbo Turbo (Urban Turbulence) on November 8, 2005 in London, UK. The Orchestra Sinfonica Compagnia D'Opera Italiana, Jeffrey Silberschlag, conductor, performed Vivian Adelberg Rudow's Dark Waters of Elba in Alba, Italy, December 18, 2005. Vivian's The Bare Smooth Stone Of Your Love, was published on the 2005 NACUSA, CD, Greetings From, performed by the late Stephen Kates, cello and Eun-Jung Shon, piano. The music is in memory of the late Baltimore cellist, Daniel Malkin and was composed to a poem by Carole Malkin, Dan's mother.

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