Friday, December 30, 2016

First Takes: Music for String Orchestra - Chris Theofanidis, "Visions and Miracles" - Paul Moravec, "Morph" - Lisa Bielawa, "Trojan Women" - Michael Gatonska, "Transformation of the Hummingbird" - New York City String Orchestra - Albany Records 2007

This is a marvelous survey of music written for string orchestra by contemporary composers and a disc I have been listening to a lot lately. Christopher Theofanidis's "Visions and Miracles" is an energetic and exciting piece and a great disc opener. I predict many listeners hitting "repeat" here. It is Paul Moravec and Lisa Bielawa that will be the most familiar names here I would think, however all four composers here deserve a closer look by anyone interested in contemporary music - and it's quite accessible at that. Michael Gatonska's "Tranformation of the Hummingbird" is the most "challenging" piece here however most listeners will find it agreeable. If you find say Penderecki listenable (and you should!) your ears won't shy away here. Needless to say I'm not comparing the substance of Gatonska's piece to those penned by the Polish master (and fellow countryman, as it happens). Oh and Gatonska studied with Penderecki among others - I just stopped by his website. So there you go. This album is all-around a knock-out for lovers of sumptuous strings - and the impressive ensemble from NYC deliver all of the perfect punches. 

You guessed it...the String Orchestra of New York City.

Here is a review by the always authoritative Walter Simmons:

"The Albany disc presents the leaderless String Orchestra of New York City (SONYC) in impeccable performances of a varied program of recent works. The most recent—and most impressive—is Moravec’s Morph (2005), which reveals a rather different sort of expression from that reflected in the works just discussed. Associated in his mind with both the myth of Apollo and Daphne and with Morpheus, the god of dreams (Moravec is fond of mythological and literary references), this through-composed 17-minute work “morphs” continuously and with great subtlety through a variety of moods, attitudes, and activities, from an abrasively dissonant opening to a sensitive and delicate final conclusion. With its broader range of expression and more consistently serious demeanor, not to mention some brilliantly intricate counterpoint, I find it to be a somewhat “meatier” work than most of the Moravec I have heard, and one that invites repeated audition. 

The other works on the Albany disc warrant attention as well. The three other composers—Christopher Theofanidis, Lisa Bielawa, and Michael Gatonska—are each about 10 years younger than Moravec. Although I am not as familiar with his music, Theofanidis seems to be another of the post-modern neo-tonalists. Born in Dallas, he studied at Yale, Eastman, and the University of Houston, and is currently on the faculties of both the Peabody and Juilliard Schools, and has enjoyed many awards, commissions, and performances. His Visions and Miracles was originally composed for string quartet in 1997. The first movement, “all joy wills eternity,” is high-spirited and jubilant, with an interestingly non-toxic use of dissonance. With its modal, dance-like melodies, in its recasting for string orchestra it almost suggests the familiar and much-beloved genre of English string music, although I suspect that this is far from the composer’s own conception. The second movement, inspired by a quotation from Timothy Leary, explores the implications of a major scale through fragmentation and modal mixtures. But it is the last movement, entitled “I add brilliance to the sun” that I find most interesting, with its middle-Eastern-sounding heterophony, and some novel and very effective techniques of ensemble writing. As a whole, this intriguing piece is likely to be enjoyed by a wide range of listeners, especially those receptive to tonal string music that gently pushes the conventional limits of the genre.

Lisa Bielawa is the daughter of composer Herbert Bielawa, and was associated for some time with the Philip Glass Ensemble, although she has been engendering considerable interest in her own work. The Trojan Women also began as a work for string quartet, based on music originally written in 1999 for a theatrical production of Euripides’s tragedy. Each of the work’s three sections seeks to convey an expression of grief associated with the three respective tragic heroines. As with Theofanidis’s work, the musical means used in the first two sections remain largely within the general vocabulary of early/mid-20th-century tonal string music: the first is dolorous and lugubrious; the second draws upon lively, irregular rhythmic patterns. The third section, however, dispenses with audible rhythmic pulse and displays much use of slow portamentos and other microtonal techniques, creating a very eerie effect, and giving the entire work a broader compass.

The final piece is Transformation of the Hummingbird, by Michael Gatonska. Gatonska, who appears to have been born in Poland, is another figure on the scene who has received a variety of auspicious grants and commissions. Though not an invariable guide, pretentious and deceptively meaningless program notes so often signal pretentious and meaningless music that I approached this work with a strong negative bias, which was initially confirmed by my listening experience. However, further immersion changed my impression considerably. Showing some influence of the leading Polish composers of the late 20th century, the 14-minute piece unfolds as an extremely varied and imaginative series of brief episodes that embrace a wide range of musical vocabularies. Some of these episodes are not terribly appealing, and I wasn’t always sure I detected an over-arching aesthetic meaning to the work, but the more I listened to it, the more convinced I became. It is certainly a much better piece than the program notes suggest; he should do himself a favor and junk them.

This is my first exposure to the ensemble SONYC, and I am extremely impressed by their vigorous, committed, and incisive playing, as well as by their flawless precision. The CD is an excellent overview of some of the intriguing and appealing music composed in America during the past few years, in this case highlighting repertoire for string orchestra. It provides a most encouraging impression of an especially fertile creative period."

FANFARE: Walter Simmons 

I have include a pdf of the booklet.

Do enjoy!

Colleen - Colleen et les Boîtes à Musique - The Leaf Label 2006

Here is another album by the French composer and musician Colleen (Cécile Schott) that I have enjoyed immensely over the years. Not unlike "The Golden Morning Breaks" (which you can check out here if you have not: ) "Colleen et les Boîtes à Musique" is full of delightful sounds such as gentle gamelan-like music that entrances while whispering in your ear and shimmering, delicate percussive music boxes. This sound world  allow Schott's pieces to float effortlessly like dandelion phyllaries letting go of their seeds - this is what I see and feel every time I listen. To me it's like the aural equivalent of macro photography at its most magical.

Colleen's own words about the album: 

This long EP, released in 2006 on The Leaf Label, was born from an invitation by national French radio France Culture for their programme Atelier de Création Radiophonique : I had to make a one-hour long piece and chose to explore the world of music boxes, small and large, new and old, and incorporated excerpts from films including music boxes between the songs. I was able to rely on the help and expertise of my friend musician, producer and radio presenter John Cavanagh, who owns a considerable collection of antique music boxes, and recorded me in Glasgow improvising with small mallets or my fingers on those huge Victorian models. 

Although the songs were originally intended only for that radio programme, The Leaf Label liked the music so much that they decided to release it as an EP (for copyright reasons, the film excerpts could not be included).




Saturday, December 24, 2016

Jewish Tone Poems: Aaron Avshalomov, Four Biblical Tableaux - Sheila Silver, Shirat Sara - Jan Meyerowitz, Symphony "Midrash Esther" - Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin - Seattle Symphony - Gerard Schwarz, Yoel Levi - Naxos American Classics/Milken Archive 2004

I don't have the time to look for Hannuka-themed or inspired albums but without a doubt this exciting disc of tone poems by Jewish composers will fit the bill swimmingly :) One can festively spin a dreidel whilst playing the gorgeous suite by Aaron Avshalomov, which was inspired in part by traditional Chinese music. 

Happy Hanukkah (The correct/best spelling for the festival of lights? It's still debatable, I say choose your favorite ;) and happy holidays to all!!! I'd like to wish each and everyone of you nothing but peace, love, and of course - much music.


The following notes (quite informative & easy-peasy-lemon-squeezey for me) I have pasted from Naxos:

Aaron Avshalomov (1894–1964) was born in Nikolayevsk, eastern Siberia, where his grandfather had established a profitable business after being exiled from the Caucasus in the 1870s. Aaron was sent for medical studies to Zürich, where his musical interests blossomed. He attended the Zürich Conservatory briefly — which constituted his only formal musical education. After the October Revolution, in 1917, which made further studies in Europe impossible, his family sent him to the United States — via Manchuria and northern China. Less than a year later, having married a fellow Russian émigré in San Francisco, he chose to return to China. Apart from a short period in the mid-1920s, when he spent three years in Portland, Oregon, Avshalomov remained in China until 1947. For a number of years he lived in Peking, where he worked for China Booksellers and then for Libraire Française. Despite his lack of musical training — apart from the one term in Zürich — he began composing. He developed an approach that grafted elements of traditional Chinese music — which he had first encountered as a child among the Chinese community of his Siberian hometown — onto a colorful Russian style in the manner of Rimsky-Korsakov. He used the Western-oriented symphony orchestra to imitate and evoke sounds of traditional Chinese instruments, and he also transcribed characteristic ornamentations and used such instruments as temple blocks and finger cymbals. Among his first works of this type was an opera, Kuan Yin, which was premiered in Peking in 1925.

Avshalomov achieved some performances of his works in America during his stay there in the 1920s, but he was unable to establish either a position or a significant reputation in the United States, and he returned to China in 1929. He settled in Shanghai, where there was an established Jewish community, and he became the head librarian of the municipal library and, in 1943, conductor of the Shanghai City Symphony. His works during this second period in China include concertos for violin and piano and two additional operas: The Twilight Hour of Yan Kuei Fei (1933) and The Great Wall (1933–41), which was premiered there in 1945.

During the period of the Japanese invasion and occupation of China, and then the Second World War, Avshalomov lived there under house arrest. His son, the composer Jacob Avshalomov, had been born in 1919 in China but had emigrated to the United States in 1937, and after the war his father joined him — this time remaining permanently.

In his initial postwar years in America, Aaron Avshalomov saw the premiere of his Dream of Wei Lin ; and his Second Symphony (1949) was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky. But once again he was unable to parlay those achievements into further success or to gain the recognition warranted by his obvious gifts. He remains a composer whose legacy awaits deserved rediscovery.

Neil W. Levin


Avshalomov: Four Biblical Tableaux 
B'nai Brith Ritual Suite 
Program note by the composer's son

During my father's sojourn in Portland, Oregon, from 1926 to 1929, he was sustained by its Jewish community, to which he was introduced by his dear friend Jacques Gershkovitch, the founding conductor of the Portland Junior Symphony. My father's associations with that community led to the formation of the B'nai Brith Orchestra under his musical direction. Shortly afterward, Rabbi Henry J. Berkovitz asked him to compose an orchestral work for the dedication of Temple Beth Israel in Portland.

Although my father had scant Jewish education or religious upbringing in eastern Siberia, he had absorbed enough of his Jewish heritage to both inspire and facilitate the composition of this work, which portrays three biblical scenes — Queen Esther's Prayer, Rebecca by the Well, and Ruth and Naomi, followed by a Processional. Two factors are evident in this music as influences on my father in general: his interest in Chinese music and his admiration for the music of Ernest Bloch. Bloch's influence appears in these tableaux in the occasional use of augmented seconds as melodic intervals, cadences on open fifths, and organically conceived grace notes. These features are also discernible in traditional Chinese music.

Soon after the dedication of the synagogue, my parents and I left Portland to return to China. A farewell concert was organized, at which the Four Biblical Tableaux were performed in the Little Theater of the Studio Building. The work then lay dormant for decades, until 1971, when I was invited to present a dedicatory concert with my youth orchestra for the New Greater Portland Jewish Community Center. I included this work, together with Bloch's Schelomo.

Jacob Avshalomov


Sheila Silver (b. 1946) was born in Seattle, where she began piano studies at the age of five. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1968, having studied composition with Edward Dugger. The university's George Ladd Prix de Paris enabled her to study for two years in Europe, and she worked with Erhard Karkoschka in Stuttgart and György Ligeti in Berlin and Hamburg. She earned her doctorate in music from Brandeis University, studying with Arthur Berger, Harold Shapero, and Seymour Shifrin. She also spent a summer at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, on a Koussevitzky fellowship, where she worked with Jacob Druckman. In 1979 she became a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and in 1997 she was appointed Charles and Andrea Bronfman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Judaic studies at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Silver's compositions span a wide range of media and subject matter. Among her Judaically related works in addition to Shirat Sara are a Psalm setting — Bar'khi nafshi et adonai (Worship the Lord, O My Soul) — for antiphonal choirs, which was commissioned for the Gregg Smith Singers; To the Spirit Unconquered, a piano trio inspired by Primo Levi's writings on the Holocaust; a piano concerto whose final movement was composed in the style of a Hassidic niggun ; and a cello sonata that contains a theme and variations on an original tune for shalom aleikhem, one of the Sabbath eve z'mirot (table songs or hymns). Her large catalogue of general works includes a full-length opera, The Thief of Love, based on a modern reworking of a Bengali tale; two string quartets; Dance of Wild Angels, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and premiered by its New Music Group in 1990; Moon Prayer for string sextet; Theme and Variations for Bowed Vibraphone ; chamber music in other assorted combinations; piano pieces; and song cycles. She has also written two film scores, many cabaret songs, and incidental theater music. Current works include Midnight Prayer for Orchestra (2003), commissioned by the Stockton Symphony; and Chant for contrabass and piano (2003).

Silver was the recipient of a Bunting Institute Fellowship; the Rome Prize; the American Institute of Arts and Letters' Composer Award; and awards and commissions from the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio Residency), the MacDowell Colony, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Barlow Foundation. She was also twice a winner of the ISCM National Composers Competition.

Silver: Shirat Sara

Shirat Sara (Song of Sarah) was written as a symphony for strings, with the concertmaster or concertmistress as the soloist. Silver conceived this tone poem while living for a brief time in Jerusalem's Old City during the summer of 1984, and she completed it after her return to the United States. It addresses the biblical heroine Sarah, the first matriarch, who was the wife of Abraham, the first patriarch — known as the father of the Jewish people. The work's program concerns the story, told in Genesis, of Sarah's sorrow at her inability to conceive, her entreaties to God for a child, and the joy she experiences at finally being granted that wish with the conception and birth of her son, Isaac, in her old age. Each of the three movements depicts one of those stages of the story.

The first movement was composed in Israel, inspired by the sounds the composer heard one evening as she passed by an open window of a yeshiva (Talmudic academy). A group of men were singing a farewell to the Sabbath, and the melody was long and cyclical, seemingly without phrase beginnings, endings, or tonal center. The mysterious, lingering tune evoked a mourning, or reluctance to see the Sabbath pass, which had a profound effect on the composer as she began writing the work.

Threads of a quasi-Hassidic tune appear throughout the piece, and the second movement is based on a contemporary neo-Hassidic tune that Silver learned in New York. But its harmonic treatment encompasses both tonal and nontonal aspects — sometimes in juxtaposition, sometimes in a tension between the two. That duality applies to many of Silver's other works as well.

In her approach to this work, Silver was intrigued by Sarah's role in Jewish as well as Western history and culture. "In the Judeo-Christian heritage of the Western world", she has reflected, "the figure of Sarah holds a special place. She was the first woman to maintain unfaltering faith in the one, eternal God." The work was premiered in 1968 by the Hartford Symphony under the direction of Tibor Pusztai.


Jan Meyerowitz (1913–98) was born Hans Hermann M. in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland ). His family had converted to Christianity prior to his birth, and they concealed the fact of his Jewish ancestry throughout his youth. Among certain elements and social circles (albeit a very small minority) of German-speaking or German culturally oriented Jewry during that period, an act of such total assimilation and radical disassociation from Jewish identity — whether for social or political reasons (motivations of true religious convictions would not have dictated such secrecy) — was not altogether unique. Meyerowitz did not even learn that he was in fact a Jew until he was about eighteen. Ironically, in one instance, as a result of his family's chosen path, he narrowly escaped death. At some point, according to a lifelong friend, he was on a train that was halted by German soldiers, who removed all circumcised men and shot them summarily.

Meyerowitz went to Berlin in 1927 and studied music with Walter Gmeindl and Alexander Zemlinsky. When the Nazi party assumed control of Germany in 1933 following the elections that resulted in Hitler's appointment as chancellor, Meyerowitz went to Rome, where he studied composition with Ottorino Respighi and Alfredo Casella and conducting with Bernardino Molinari. After the first concert of his music in Rome, the Italian composer-critic Mario Labroca observed that his compositions are "in a chromatic style like Berg's, but they nonetheless present an evident melodic definition that clearly excludes atonality". Meyerowitz took up residence in Belgium in 1938, but when the Second World War commenced with the German invasion of Poland, in 1939, he went to southern France, where he acquired friends in the Resistance and survived underground much of the time. In Marseilles he was hidden from the Germans with the help of the French singer Marguerite Fricker, whom he married after the war. Upon the liberation of Paris in 1944, several important French musicians — such as Jean-Pierre Rampal, Yvonne Loriod, and Yvon Le Marc' Hadour — performed his works there in radio broadcasts and concerts.

In 1946, about a year after the American and British liberation of France from German occupation, Meyerowitz immigrated to the United States, where he became an assistant to Boris Goldovsky at the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood. He later joined the music faculty of Brooklyn College, after which he taught at City College of New York (C.C.N.Y.), soon establishing himself in America as a composer. His second opera, The Barrier (1949), with a libretto by Langston Hughes — based on Hughes's play about racial tensions in the South, The Mulatto — was premiered in 1950 at Columbia University. It was revived at several Italian opera houses during the 1970s and at the Darmstadt Staatsoper in 1996. In 1956 Meyerowitz was awarded the first of two Guggenheim fellowships, and that same year he completed his opera Esther, based on the biblical Book of Esther (completely unrelated to his earlier Symphony Midrash Esther, recorded here), also with a libretto by Hughes, which was commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation for the eighth Festival of Contemporary Arts held at the University of Illinois (1957). Other collaborations with Hughes included a cantata, The Five Foolish Virgins ; and The Story of Ruth, for coloratura soprano and piano. Among Meyerowitz's other operas are Eastward in Eden, with a libretto by Dorothy Gardner, about Emily Dickinson's love for a married minister; Bad Boys in School, a one-act "opera farce" after Nestroy; Simoon, with a libretto by P. J. Stephens after a Strindberg play; Godfather Death, also with a Stephens libretto; and Winterballade, apparently his last opera, after the play by Gerhart Hauptmann. His other nonoperatic vocal works include Missa Rachel Plorans, an a cappella Mass setting, which critic Howard Taubman of The New York Times described as "a mixture of archaic and modern ideas, which are fused expressively"; his Emily Dickinson Cantata ; Herodiade, a setting of the dialogue by Stéphane Mallarmé; and cantatas, song cycles, and individual songs on poetry of e. e. cummings, Robert Herrick, Keats, Rimbaud, and many others. His instrumental catalogue in addition to Midrash Esther includes a flute concerto; shorter orchestral pieces; and chamber music, including a string quartet written sporadically between 1936 and 1955 that was described in Musical America as "a lyrically impassioned and subjective work colored with archaic Hebraic religious undertones".

Meyerowitz received one of the coveted annual commissions from Cantor David Putterman and New York's Park Avenue Synagogue for a complete Friday evening service (kabbalat Shabbat — "welcoming the Sabbath" — and arvit). That work, titled Shir hadash l'shabbat (A New Song of the Sabbath), was premiered there on the synagogue's 80th anniversary, in 1962 — at its 18th annual service of new liturgical music by contemporary composers.

The polarized critical reactions to his music were as eclectic and diverse as Meyerowitz's span of subjects and literary sources — which embraced American, English, French, and biblical poetry and drama and expressed both Hebraic and Christian liturgies. Some thought it overly conservative and even antiquated. Alan Rich of The New York Times spoke of Meyerowitz's stylistic identification "with the past" (a "right" he nonetheless conceded to him), and of his imitation of 19th century operatic conventions and effects without an encompassing musical shape — although he acknowledged that some of Meyerowitz's operatic writing was the sort that could generate enthusiastic ovations. Musicologist and famously outspoken observer Paul Henry Lang thought Meyerowitz's music lacked personality and bespoke a fin de siècle mysticism that evoked a Central European rather than any Hebraic melos, even in declared Judaic expressions such as Midrash Esther. Yet other, equally prestigious and respected reviewers reacted quite differently. In 1957, Felix Greissle discussed Meyerowitz's music in The Musical Quarterly, noting its special importance in an era when musical styles have appeared and changed so rapidly that they bypassed a more natural evolution of style that accompanied important musical developments of previous centuries. "He [Meyerowitz] has decided for himself", Greissle wrote, "to take up and expand where recent tradition has left us with a near vacuum… His compositions reveal a full command of all the paraphernalia of the superior artisan, such as well-wrought themes, perfect interrelation between melody and harmony, consummately developed climaxes, and logically built and strongly contrasting forms." The eminent composer and critic Virgil Thomson thought Meyerowitz was "possessed of a strong dramatic talent" and, following the 1950 premiere of The Barrier, anticipated a bright future for him. The Chicago Daily News critic went further in his admiration: "It is clear that Meyerowitz is that rare phenomenon in contemporary music: a real opera composer". And following Eastward in Eden' s premiere, a writer for the Musical Courier exclaimed, "We do not hesitate to call Jan Meyerowitz one of the greatest musico-dramatic talents of our day". In general, his music was perceived in both late Romantic and expressionist terms, permeated by intense emotion — often in juxtaposition with more delicate lyricism. But by the late 1960s and 1970s his music fell into neglect in America, and he returned to France after his retirement from City College.

Meyerowitz: Symphony Midrash Esther

Symphony Midrash Esther (commentary on [The Book of] Esther) is a tone poem that emotionally depicts aspects of the story — told in the biblical Book of Esther — of the imminent genocide of the Jews in the Persian Empire and their triumphant reprieve and victory over their tormentors. But it is also a musical reflection of traditional exegeses and expansions upon that story and its characters, as found in Midrashic (exegetical) literature. Although the work carries no literal program, the composer drew his inspiration from the Talmud; the Midrash (rabbinic commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, often by way of allegory and metaphor, dating to the 5th–6th centuries C.E.); and other rabbinic commentary on this subject.

In the biblical narrative, Haman, the closest advisor and highest court officer to Ahasuerus, King of Persia and ruler of the vast Persian Empire, is besotted with envy and hatred for the Jews as a people — a hatred that arose because Mordecai, a Jewish leader and a courtier in Ahasuerus' palace, refused to bow down to him. Mordecai's adopted orphaned cousin, Esther, is the king's prized and cherished wife — Queen of Persia. On Mordecai's advice, she has never revealed her Jewish identity. Waging a personal vendetta, Haman plots against the Jews by convincing Ahasuerus that they present a collective danger to royal authority and to the state, and he persuades the naïve king (known in Jewish literature as melekh hatipesh — "the fool king") to authorize complete annihilation of the Jewish population throughout the empire. This is to occur on a particular day, which Haman has chosen by lots ( pur). Beseeched by Mordecai, Esther intercedes by revealing her Jewish identity to Ahasuerus. She pleads on behalf of her entire people, pointing out that the genocide decree would apply to her as well. When it is discovered that Mordecai once saved the king's life by exposing a regicidal plot, Ahasuerus turns on Haman in disgust and orders him to be hanged on the gallows he has just constructed for hanging Mordecai. However, since the law prevents a royal decree from being revoked, Ahasuerus issues a new order, allowing the Jews to organize for self-defense, and then to engage their enemies on the same day that Haman chose for the Jewish mass murder (the 13th of the Hebrew month of adar) — resulting in their decisive victory.

The first of the symphony's four movements, a solemn introduction to the story, evokes the imminent danger to the Jews amid the lurking forces of evil. The second movement, Haman, contains passages that reflect a frenzy of raw hatred and rage, personified in the story by Haman and expressed here by motoric energy. The third movement, Esther and Ahasuerus, is at once a contemplative lament and a representation of Esther's heroic poise, perhaps suggesting the dialogue in which she beseeches the king and reveals — at considerable risk to herself — her own Judaic ancestry. The final movement is titled Purim (a Hebraic plural form of the word pur), referring to the annual joyous Jewish festival that is celebrated to commemorate the averting of the catastrophe and the triumph of the Jews over their mortal enemy — which, in universal terms, might also be interpreted as a triumph of justice over evil and of equity over tyranny.

Midrash Esther received its premiere in 1957 with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos. Subsequent performances included one by the Pittsburgh Symphony under the baton of William Steinberg, a vocal advocate of Meyerowitz's music. It is tempting to consider obvious parallels between the biblical narrative and Meyerowitz's own experience as a near victim of — and refugee from — the German genocide, but the issue of hidden Jewishness poses yet another question. Meyerowitz's family had concealed its — and his — Jewish identity for a type of social safety (concerns for physical safety would not have been at issue until the early 1930s). To save her people, Esther's tactic is precisely the opposite: to reveal her identity and thus personalize for the king the impending disaster. Was the irony of that comparison present in Meyerowitz's consciousness as he created this work? And was it part of his inspiration? One can only speculate, but he does seem to have been sufficiently fascinated with the story to create two independent musical and dramatic expressions of it, and to have probed much lesser known ancient and medieval Judaic commentaries in order to create his own "musical midrash ". For one who had no Jewish education, and to whom that Midrashic literature must certainly have been foreign, that level of Judaic curiosity cannot fail to arouse our interest.

Neil W. Levin


A Medieval Christmas - Pro Cantione Antiqua and The Medieval Wind Ensemble - Innovative Music Productions (IMP) 1986

A charming and festive album this, with mostly Medieval tunes and songs. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!!!

A spicy Christmas feast, from a time when classic and folk music mixed. There was little difference in the popular music of the church or the tavern! Often more Chaucer than Christian… A lively record to sit back and enjoy! The attraction of the melodies and especially the exciting rhythms of Medieval music has influenced composers like Vaughan Williams and popular icons such as Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull. Many pieces are as popular today as they were centuries ago. 
-From the album

"A spirited recital by Mark Brown's Pro Cantione Antiqua and the English Medieval Wind Ensemble. The six singers are old hands (including Charles Brett, James Griffett, and Michael George) and it's a good full-bodied sound they produce. Still more attractive is the rhythmic variety of their performances, starting with the well-known Alle psallite. Other medieval pops include Angelus ad Virginem, Orientis partibus and Goday my lord syre Chrristemas and a particularly lovely setting of Beata viscera by Perotin. It is also good to hear Plainchant sung by human beings rather than daleks!" - The GRAMOPHONE

Tracks info:

1.Ductia (English, 13th Century) 1:17
2.Alle Psallite (German, 13th Century) 1:07
3.Portugaler (French,14th/15th Century) 2:12
4.Angelus Ad Virginem (English, 13th/14th Century) 2:46
5.In Seculum Breve (French, 13th Century) 1:31
6.Orientis Partibus (French, 13th Century) 2:05
7.Ductia (English, 13th Century) 1:27
8.Verbum Patris (French, 12th Century) 1:36
9.E Semine Rosa (French,12th/13th Century) 2:25
10.Alleluia Psallat (English, 13th/14th Century) 1:47
11.Thys Vol (English, 14th/15th Century) 1:34
12.Edi Beo Thu (English, 13th Century) 1:45
13.Ecce Quod Natura (English,15th Century) 2:39
14.Nova, Nova (English,15th Century) 1:47
15.Goday My Lord Syre Cristemasse (English,15th Century) 2:27
16.Danse Real (French,13th Century) 1:52
17.Beata Viscera (French,12th/13th Century) 1:51
18.Virgo (French,13th Century) 1:09
19.Beata Viscera (English,13th Century) 2:15
20.Quene Note (English,14th/15th Century) 1:17
21.A Sollis Ortus (French,15th Century) 2:48
22.Tard Il Mio Cor (English,15th Century) 1:14
23.Ther Ys No Rose (English,15th Century) 4:12
24.Nowel, Synge We Both Al And Som (English,15th Century) 2:01
25.Nowel, Owt Of Your Slepe (English,15th Century) 2:11
26.Hayl Mary (English,15th Century) 3:32
27.Synge We To Thys Mery Cumpane (English,15th Century) 2:41

Enjoy all ye listeners

Sunday, December 18, 2016

We are all in the wrong business.

This is why:

Check out Mahler's revisions in blue crayon!

This is the 232 page handwritten score of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection". It sold for only $5.6 million at Sotheby's in London last month.

How do we make that leap....the career change??

So clearly we all should start by having much more talent, followed by 1) being a dead composer who chose cryogenic freezing prior to death, or 1a) has a time-machine stashed at the least, 2) less talent but enough to be an auctioneer at Sotheby's - can you imagine the commission, or 3) become a legitimate, legal relative to Gustav Mahler, and then go find his "stuff". 4) Hire an attorney

*If the above listed fails, open your very own special place on blogger. Continue collecting cans.

The Cradle of the Renaissance - Italian Music from the time of Leonardo Da Vinci - (Ensemble) Sirinu - Hyperion 1995

Yes, yes, this is a capital example of musically taking a 180° turn. This is a magnificent disc of Renaissance instrumental music, songs and dances. Ensemble Sirinu is pure magic, really my only complaint is that they only have a few releases. In fact, this is I think the only one that I own. I don't make a habit of requesting music on my own blog - however, if anyone has Sirinu's "Court Jesters" 
release on Griffin records - it would be most welcome!! 

Apparently Sirinu has had works especially written for them - clearly that would suggest composers who are still 'in the pink', or at least one would hope. Graham Fitkin and Howard Skempton are two such examples of not-dead people. I have not heard any of the collaborations - but I am most interested!

Quite a while back, maybe one year or almost two, I posted a couple recordings on Dorian by one of my favorite early music ensembles of all time, The Baltimore Consort. If there's any real interest I will happily share more of their releases - just let me know. Their contribution to early music has been important to me (my spirit attests to this!) and their musical alchemy conjures up not only ancient times but so many fond memories personally.

I've included the booklet making things nice, easy, and yes......informative.


Ladder of Escape (Volume 1) Contemporary Music for Bass Clarinet - Music by Theo Loevendie, Isang Yun, Brian Ferneyhough, Enrique Raxach, Eric Dolphy, Michael Smetanin, Guus Janssen & Martin Wesley-Smith - Harry Sparnaay, Bass clarinet - Attacca 1989

I was going through a couple external hds earlier in search of a rare Ingmar Bergman film ("Music in Darkness" from 1948) that has only been released PAL/Region 2, which I discovered only after buying it :(  It was advertised as "all regions" and only the dvd itself had the regional specs. Pffff!  How and why there are films by one of the greatest directors of all time that are not globally available  or still sitting on shelves in the Janus archives or wherever else - this is just beyond me. Then there are early Bergman films that have never been remastered and only exist as original vhs tapes - how is this possible? Imagine the frustration of cherishing the last 6 or 7 symphonies by any composer but at the same time having almost no opportunity to fall in love with his or her earlier efforts? Or traveling from I dunno, New York to Slovenia just to be able to listen to a brilliant disc with encoding issues (not everyone is aware of blogs or p2p, you know!) Well, this has nothing to do with the music at hand...that is, I just realized lol; sometimes I need to smack myself 'upside the head' or you would be at risk of taking a long dull rant-trip with me. Superfluous eyeball workouts. 

If I upset myself any further over Swedish cinema I'm going to need a dr. and pills flown in from the Island of Faro ;)

The point was that whilst sifting around I found as usual endless amounts of releases that I have no memory of - or barely. The thoroughly contemporary music-making on this cd is one such example. I will say that I just played it through and I'm not that taken with it; the music is for solo bass clarinet, and a couple pieces call for tape as well. There's just a consistency here, which is the music does not vary as much as I would expect. There are interesting moments, but as a whole I'd likely play this in the background. Lovers of more abstract, modern music will enjoy this - of course I  think that counts for perhaps 20% of the visitors here if that! So I hope this description saves you from or whets your modern appetite for the music. If you are familiar with the Attacca "Ladder of Escape" releases well you will want to have this either way. I quite like some of the others, and currently there are 14 volumes.

I'm going to guess that the most familiar names here for listeners are composers Brian Ferneyhough and Isang Yun. I am always an advocate for exploring any art - so even though I managed to make this release sound less than appealing for most ears - it only takes 1 minute to d/l and sample for yourself :)

As I mentioned I do like some of the other volumes, so have a look at the entire series here:

Enjoy or feel perplexed or both

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Beethoven - Symphony No. 3, The Eroica - Grosse Fugue - St. Petersburg Soloists - Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hiroshi Wakasugi - Arte Nova Classics 1996

I was joking yesterday about the "lack" of Beethoven shares around the blogosphere yet I really did plan on posting LvB. I have always loved Beethoven's string quartets, and especially the "Grosse Fugue" Op. 133, which was originally the final movement of the String Quartet No. 13 in B major Op. 130. It's one of Beethoven's greatest achievements I think, and one that fascinated, perplexed and turned-off audiences during Beethoven's lifetime. The fascination still remains today. It's understandable, this "great fugue" (double fugue) is unlike anything else from that period, and indeed it sounds fresh and uncannily contemporary (it was composed in 1825 after all..). Arnold Schoenberg heard it as a premonition of atonality, and Stravinsky commented that "the Grosse Fugue is an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever". 

One thing that I didn't know about was Beethoven's response to the largely unsuccessful premiere of the original String Quartet, Op. 130. The audience, in typical fashion, demanded an encore of two middle movements. A disgruntled Beethoven supposedly exclaimed: "And why didn't they encore the Fugue? That alone should have been repeated! Cattle! Asses!" 

-Ironically, I'm discovering only now as I'm listening that the Grosse Fugue as performed here is for chamber orchestra, not quartet! Obviously I haven't heard this disc in many many years. Still this is a lovely and in some ways illuminating way to experience it.

Thus I am going to now also upload the proper string quartet version as a separate link, as impeccably played by the Quartetto Italiano.

Oh the Eroica Symphony is played beautifully here - The Saarbrücken RSO is an impressive group as I'm sure many of you know! So this is all-around a great addition to your Beethoven collection if you don't own this.

And the actual Grosse Fugue for string quartet, in one of the finest performances around:

Arte Nova Disc:

1. Sym No.3 in E flat, Op.55 'Eroica': Allegro Con Brio
2. Sym No.3 in E flat, Op.55 'Eroica': Marcia Funebre. Adagio Assai
3. Sym No.3 in E flat, Op.55 'Eroica': Scherzo. Allegro Vivace
4. Sym No.3 in E flat, Op.55 'Eroica': Finale. Allegro Molto
5. Grosse Fuge in B flat, Op.133 - St. Petersburg Soloists/Michail Gantvarg


Friday, December 16, 2016

Happy Birthday to the Uber Maestro!!!!

We have all heard that Beethoven was baptized on December 17th, and while (somehow) there's no solid proof of actual birthdate - I have always believed that it is today, December 16th. I'm not alone with that. Plus my father who started collecting Beethoven records at 7 years of age, well he's such a Beethoven lover that he's practically a historian on the man. He says it's the 16th, and I say "okay".

I must go out, however *if* possible later I just might post Beethoven (It's hard to find Beethoven shares anywhere online, I know - so just think of the service I'd be doing for the world). I'm feeling a bit Grosse Fugue-ish these days - what a knock out! 

Happy birthday to the original King of Pop!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Moving on to Naturalism

Doctor T, ¿alguna vez tiene uno de estos en su oficina?

Your impression: Wow!!!  Your post-impression: Run away!!!!   😜

Unseen Rain: Music by Robert Kyr - Threefold Vision (Three Motets for Three Voices) - Songs of the Shining Wind (for Three Voices, Lute & Vielle) - Unseen Rain (for Three Voices, Chorus & Instruments) - Ensemble Project Ars Nova - Back Bay Chorale - Ensemble P.A.N. New Albion 1994

This was my introduction to Robert Kyr (I heard the last work on the disc, "Unseen Rain" on a late night radio show and was mesmerized) and my first Kyr purchase. Interestingly, as this recording opens, with "Threefold Visions" it will automatically appeal to lovers of early music - 14th century polyphony specifically. Indeed, the works here had I said nothing at all would come as quite the surprise for anyone who only checked out the Violin Concerto Trilogy post. One could describe the music here as "authentic-contemporary-14th-century music" which, I'm sure, has never been said (at least not this precise wording). More than a few modern composers have found inspiration from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, the most obvious example perhaps being the great Estonian Arvo Part. I love early music and highly admire Robert Kyr's music - so this release is a win-win, double-happiness type of experience for me. Still it is "Unseen Rain" which steers clear of the archaic that I most enjoy here.

"Songs of the Shining Winds" continues the journey through musical antiquity, for three voices once again with the addition of one lute and one vielle (a stringed instrument from Medieval times). It's a lovely excursion, a satisfying and flawless composition to my ears. Truly and utterly flawless, it must be mentioned, are the performances throughout the entire program. This is high artistry, the deepest possible understanding of the various musics - and a love for them.

(I know this is obvious - or should be - but please support the artists, composers and labels
that I share here when possible; buy Kyr's music from amazon or anywhere so long as you do!!)

This I pasted from Robert Kyr's website: 
It's just a blurb, but it concerns the piece that drew me to this New Albion jewel.


"Unseen Rain" was commissioned by the Chase Foundation in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Longy School of Music (Cambridge, Massachusetts). Even before choosing the texts, I decided to compose a work for many more singers than instrumentalists, which would include as many members of the Longy community as possible. I wanted the vocalists to dominate the attention of the listeners and to be the dramatic focus of the work.

The Chase Foundation also specified that the texts were to be "in celebration of music" and must not be too somber or grim in general tone. Early in my search, it became clear that the twentieth century would probably not yield poetic texts of this nature. I wanted to find epigrammatic, haiku-like texts which were filled with simple words and direct images. Fortunately, I found some beautiful translations of Rumi's quatrains (short poems of four lines each) and after reading at least 500 of them, I set about the task of creating a celebratory musical drama from the general collection.

The work fell into three parts: in the first, "The Prophet's Quatrains," the countertenor is a prophet beseeching the community (the chorus) to remain awake throughout the night in order to fully experience the joys of music; in the second, "The Lovers' Quatrains," the soprano and tenor are lovers rejoicing in the similarities between love and music; and in the third, "A Communal Affirmation," the prophet and the lovers join the chorus to proclaim the spiritual power of music ("Listen to the unstruck sounds, and what sifts through that music..."). The title of the work is an image taken from one of Rumi's quatrains - it relates to the end of the piece, when what has been hidden (unseen/unheard) finally becomes apparent. The Persian word for "Unseen Rain" also refers to "grace". [Excerpt from the liner notes.]

-I can try to post the liner notes at some point, but they are quite lengthy!


The astonishing paintings of Wang Yidong

Wang Yidong is one of China's finest realist painters. I'm having a "why not?" moment so here's a few examples of his magic. One cannot view these works without doing a double or triple take -"wait..these are not photos?"  :)

Enjoy I hope.

Perhaps no double-take for this one, still lovely.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Re-up for 'La Danse de Puck' and anyone else: Méditations: Debussy, Sonata for Flute, Viola & Harp Harald Genzmer, Trio for Flute, Viola & Harp - Bax, Elegiac Trio - André Jolivet, Petite Suite - Nathan Currier, A Sambuca Sonata

One of my favorite discs for this most enchanting of instrumental combinations.

New links, original page:

Robert Kyr - Violin Concerto Trilogy - Concerto No. 1, "On the Nature of Love" - Concerto No. 2, On the Nature of Harmony" - Concerto No. 3, "On the Nature of Peace" - Third Angle New Music Ensemble - Pacific Rim Gamelan - Denise Huizenga and Ron Blessinger, Soloists - New Albion 2005

This is my favorite recording of Robert Kyr's music. These three concertos for violin are gorgeous and such a supreme delight!! The violinists who take on these concertos are incredible and I cannot fathom better interpretation. As I mentioned in the last post, it's really baffling that there are barely any recordings of Kyr's instrumental or orchestral music (for example he has written 12 symphonies - that's just the tip of the iceberg) and this disc will leave you wanting for much much more, I assure you. Each concerto in Kyr's trilogy is gold; although there is emotional depth and a philosophy that strings these works together (the violinist is seen as the "adventurer" traveling within these three "spiritual landscapes") each concerto is highly individual, yet consistency is to be found in the form of sublime lyricism and tonality - this folks, is a total knockout. That's my capsule rating - indeed this music is near my ears.

The Concerto No. 1 "On the Nature of Love" contains thirteen variations on the hymn tune "What Wond'rous Love is This" and will pull at the heart-strings indeed. The work has something of a neo-romantic feel and with it's combination of violin and string orchestra it has a radiant beauty that is within the musical realm I think of Vaughan Williams to a degree. Robert Kyr is not afraid to write music that is gorgeous, traditional yet modern simultaneously. You just might want to put this on "repeat" but do not forget: there are two more concertos to go!

The Concerto No. 2 "On the Nature of Harmony" is also ridiculously beautiful and lyrical. This concerto shares the East meets West sound world of the great Lou Harrison; in no small part due to the addition of a gamelan ensemble which makes this concerto feel like a quasi double concerto of sorts. The violin writing is fiery and virtuosic (think of John Adam's kinetic violin concerto perhaps - add to this the Balinese musical tradition of a metallic orchestra and the result is spiritually and emotionally satisfying - as is the case in all three concertos - but here especially it's an aural cosmos of tranquility and explosiveness co-exisiting, and it's a "place" that is gripping and exciting to the end.

Concerto No. 3 "On the Nature of Peace" is of a darker shade than the other two concertos, with ominous orchestral colors engrossing the listener. One feels a sense of unease and opposing forces (the first movement is aptly titled "conflict") from the very start - the opening literally smashes it's way into your ears with a metallic blast and sense-misura playing in the strings. The second movement finds the violin singing a mournful song, yet as the movement and it's adventurer continue on their way, the feel is (just a tad) hopeful imo, yet the intensity still looms large. The third movement "Reconciliation" is just that; it is joyful and celebratory as the murkiness melts away, the sun now beating down on the listener's face - it's a satisfying trip and in the end all is well with the world it appears. 

Robert Kyr

I can type out the composer's notes from the booklet if anyone would like - I just cannot do this today.
Enjoy this tremendous trilogy!