A delicious rarity from 1999 on Musicians Showcase, "A Tree In Your Ear" offers the great artistry of Stephen Caplan on Oboe and English Horn and a program that is refreshing and varied. Indeed even the two composers who are familiar (Hovhaness, William Grant Still) are here represented by
works that will likely be new for most listeners.
The piece that opens the program is the most unusual. It's "Half Moon at Checkerboard Mesa" by
composer Phillip Kent Bimstein. To call it a "Nature poem" is an understatement; the piece is subtitled "Fantasy for Oboe, Frogs, Crickets and Coyotes" and indeed uses recorded tape for the
"creature ensemble". Also heard are the sounds of rocks, thunder, a waterhole, and the waters of the Virgin river. If you know Hovhaness's piece for Orchestra & recorded whalesong or Rautavaara's Concerto for Birds & Orchestra, well then you are in (somewhat) similar territory. The difference though is that the Bimstein piece is not only celebrating the mystery and greatness of nature, but allows us to smile quite a bit along the way-along with being oddly effective, it's actually quite funny.
The arrangements of the sounds (especially the coyotes and frogs) along with the singing oboe ends up being quite a romp imo, irreverent and nice n silly to my ears :)
This is what Bimstein says of the work:
"On a summer night several years ago, not far from my home in southern Utah, an unsuspecting group of frogs sang by a slickrock waterhole up a narrow side canyon in Zion National Park. Little did they know their voices would soon be heard on concert stages all across the world and on the internet. And they certainly never expected to share the bill with chirping crickets, howling coyotes, and tuxedoed classical musicians. But I was hiding nearby and had stealthily placed a microphone and a digital recorder at the edge of the waterhole. I also recorded the sounds of coyotes, crickets, rocks, thunder, and the rushing water of the Virgin River. After transferring these natural sounds into my computer, I shaped and arranged them on my synth keyboard. Finally, I orchestrated the sounds into a piece music for tape, and wrote an accompanying score for solo oboe to interact with the natural sounds."
Along with the Bimstein work, the others that I really enjoy are Still's poignant "Miniatures" which have an unmistakably American folk sound, with Blues and Spirituals. Hovhaness's "Koke No Niwa" (Moss Garden) is full of (his best kind of) mysticism, and it's a gently moving work that suggests time suspension and space, like several other pieces AH penned in the 1960's. The Virko Baley piece is imo okay, the Lateef Blues I'm indifferent about, and "Sonic Landscapes" by Mark Phillips-well, to be honest, after the first movement I just turn it off; there's nothing wrong with incorporating electronic music, but in this case I find the results boring and actually annoying.
Here's the track listing:
Phillip Kent Bimstein
1)Half Moon at Checkerboard Mesa (Fantasy for oboe, frogs, crickets, and coyotes) (8:21)
William Grant Still - "Miniatures" (oboe, flute, piano)
2)Ride an Old Paint (3:55)
4)Jesus is a Rock in the Weary Land (2:13)
6)A Frog Went A-Courtin' (1:27)
7)Koke No Niwa (Moss Garden, Op. 181) (english horn, percussion & harp) (9:14)
Virko Baley - "Orpheus Singing"
10)"Saltwater Blues" (piano, bass, drums) (7:07)
Mark Phillips - "Sonic Landscapes"
11)Persistent Memories (3:00)
12)Lost in the Funhouse (2:57)
13)Close Encounters (2:39)
14)Cadenza and Interlude (1:56)
15)Rappin' with Diz and Bird (3:03)