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Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020

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  • Ensemble
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  • September
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Choral Scene: Uncharted territory: three choirs finding paths forward; Music Theatre: Loose Tea on the boil with Alaina Viau’s Dead Reckoning; In with the New: what happens to soundart when climate change meets COVID-19; Call to action: diversity, accountability, and reform in post-secondary jazz studies; 9th Annual TIFF Tips: a filmfest like no other; Remembering: Leon Fleisher; DISCoveries: a NY state of mind; 25th anniversary stroll-through; and more. Online in flip through here, and on stands commencing Tues SEP 1.


BANG ON A CAN A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND RAUL DA GAMA Bang on a Can was founded in 1987 by three American composers who remain its artistic directors: Julia Wolfe, David Lang and Michael Gordon. During the current COVID-19 crisis, particularly devastating in New York City, the renowned Bang on a Can Marathon, a celebration of the best and latest contemporary music from the Big Apple, has migrated to the internet, morphing from an annual live event into periodic streaming blasts. There have been three sixhour iterations so far (May 3, June 14 and August 16) and plans are to continue these online activities until performances for live audiences can fully resume. You can stay apprised of future events at Michael Gordon – Anonymous Man The Crossing; Donald Nally Cantaloupe Music CA 21154 ( Meredith Monk - ..M…EM..O.R…Y ….G.A….ME…. Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble; Bang on a Can All-Stars Cantaloupe Music 21153 ( Singing in the Dead of Night Eighth Blackbird Cedille Records CDR 90000195 ( David Lang – Love Fail Lorelei Ensemble; Beth Will Cantaloupe Music 21158 ( David Lang – Love Fail Quince Ensemble Innova 056 ( The human voice, one of the first instruments in our world (there are likely others, such as interstellar “noise”), has rarely been glorified in better circumstances than in the five recordings mentioned above. Perhaps this is because in all of the recordings in question the purest of sound – that of the human voice – has been pushed to both define exactly what it means to give praise to the arts melodically, harmonically and rhythmically. But each of these works also redefines polyphony – within the continuum of music – in the grand manner. Coincidentally (or perhaps not at all) members of the ineffably brilliant musical New York City cooperative, Bang on a Can, have been associated with each of the recordings and this means, of course, that you can expect the unexpected in the most sublime sense of the term. Musicians such as Meredith Monk, Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon and David Lang are – together and separately – proverbial forces of nature. They represent everything that is transcendent about human vocalastics. Impossible leaps in register, manipulating breathing whether nasal, throat or diaphragmatic, weaving voices (using harmony and electronic manipulation) into diaphanous musical fabrics of breathtaking beauty or simply singing with lustrous simplicity and honesty are just some of their many phenomenal characteristics. And then there is the interpretation – or sometimes using the non-interpretation of the works to deliver the finest quality of music and musicianship – which catches us off guard. This is something that happens across all of the works and recordings in question. Michael Gordon’s Anonymous Man deals with the existential loneliness of community. The music describes both the discovery and effects that something like that could have on the human sensibilities. Gordon’s work comprises the music and accompanying narratives that, when sung solo or in ensemble, speak to the existential angst of Gordon’s character as the Anonymous Man. The music startles and the words constantly enliven it through their beautifully bizarre and almost neurotic sensitivity to feeling and experience. The musicians of The Crossing, conducted by Donald Nally, capture all of Gordon’s angst by investing the music with just the right amount of drama and emotion – which is also often delightfully deadpan. The textural light and shade of music in On That Terrible Beautiful Morning is perfectly judged in terms of both phrasing and intonation. Meredith Monk’s work on Memory Game is a traversal through the topographical landscape of the mind and is somehow viewed through the spatial and the horological. Just as you would need a small leap of imagination to see hour in horology, but could nail the meaning by envisioning the study of time and the art of making timepieces, in Monk’s case you are drawn forwards and backwards in time by playing the proverbial Memory Game. The members of Bang on a Can bring with them instruments to evoke a kind of musical séance in the fullest and most magical sense of things supernatural and brilliantly entertaining. In these nine pieces the listener is led slowly through subtly changing mental-musical scenery. There are often deliberately comical (spoken, sung and instrumental) effects. Slowly, like a brilliant jigsaw puzzle these brightly coloured musical fragments evoke a Memory Game that is dismantled and reassembled in constantly hypnotic patterns. The eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird describes metaphorical antecedents of the dizzying exploits of the ensemble Eighth Blackbird who make music by means of “…noble accents/and inescapable rhythms…” While not strictly speaking a vocal recording, the album, Singing in the Dead of Night, is certainly creatively and evocatively a singing one. Although it is David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon of the formidable group Bang on a Can, who have splintered the iconic Beatles song, Blackbird, by reimagining it in five fractured segments of the original lyric in a somewhat darker realm than its original creation, Eighth Blackbird must also be credited with its most magical reconstruction. Instruments – specifically the exquisite manner in which they have been played – don’t simply recreate the whispers, murmurs, moans and groans of the human voice as well as the proverbial flutterings of the blackbird of the Beatles song, but, in fact, propel the music into a proverbial orbit. Finally, David Lang’s deeply introspective almost operatic meditation Love Fail fuels the endeavours of two accomplished chamber groups – the Lorelei Ensemble and the Quince Ensemble. The release of both concurrently is probably a coincidence but to imagine that this fact may not do either release any favours would be a fallacy. Both releases are superb and recommend themselves for different reasons. The Lorelei’s a cappella version affects with a performance that is forthright and deeply moving; unravelling in the ensemble’s wonderfully flexible approach, creating imagery that befits something of great density and import as well as something delicate and light. Quince Ensemble’s performance adds minimalist instrumentation and is equally profound, bringing wonderful shape and motion to the simpler pieces and musical clarity to the most dense. Together these five recordings offer a rare and uplifting musical repast in this time of great consternation and stress. 40 | September 2020

STRINGS ATTACHED TERRY ROBBINS The compositions by French and non-French composers on Silhouettes, the new CD from violist Dana Zemstov and pianist Anna Fedorova (Channel Classics CCS 42320 purportedly were all inspired by French poetry, a link that seems tenuous at best and in some cases non-existent, but when there’s playing as rapturous and ravishing as this, who cares? The 1919 Sonata by Rebecca Clarke opens the CD, and what an opening it is – flowing, passionate, intense and finely nuanced playing from both players in a gem of a work that combines Debussy and Ravel influences with an English mood. The “French connection” is a quote from Alfred de Musset that Clarke wrote on the opening page. The first of three effective transcriptions of short pieces by Debussy – La plus que lente – precedes the 2007 Suite Op.51 by Netherlands composer Arne Werkman, its Allemande, Branle, Pavane and Tarantella movements providing Baroque form for modern musical content. Debussy’s Clair de lune is followed by Darius Milhaud’s fourmovement Sonata No.1 Op.240 from 1944, another work that glances back at the Baroque style. Based on unpublished and anonymous themes of the 18th century, it has a really lovely third movement Air, later arranged by the composer for viola and orchestra. The rhapsodic and impassioned 1906 Concert Piece by the Romanian composer George Enescu precedes the final Debussy transcription, Beau Soir, providing a beautiful ending to an outstanding CD. Both performers have technique, tone and musicality in abundance, but it’s a long time since I’ve heard such beautiful viola playing in particular, Zemstov displaying a wide range of tonal colour without any hint of the nasal quality that you sometimes encounter in viola recitals. There’s more excellent duo work featuring viola on Threaded Sky, the new CD from the Miller-Porfiris Duo of violinist Anton Miller and violist Rita Porfiris ( Their Divertimenti CD was enthusiastically reviewed here in May 2017, and this latest recital of short works easily lives up to the same standard. What we're listening to this month: Three works by American composer Augusta Read Thomas – her complete violinviola duo music – form the first half of the disc. Rumi Settings was written in 2001, its four movements – Dramatic, Resonant arpeggio, Suspended and Graceful and Passionate – inspired by the 13th-century Persian poet. Double Helix from 2011 was originally for two violins; Silent Moon was premiered in 2006. Krzysztof Penderecki’s Ciaconna in Memoria Giovanni Paolo II from 2005 was the last movement of his Polish Requiem, a work that took 25 years to complete. Originally for string orchestra it was transcribed for violin and viola by the composer in 2009, the Miller- Porfiris Duo returning some of the omitted voices to the transcription here. Angel Fire by the Asian-American composer Bright Sheng has four movements, the third based on a Chinese folk song. Finally, the very brief The Weight of Shadows from 2019, by the Iranian-American composer Mani Mirzaee, uses santoor mallets and not bows to produce sound, bouncing the light Persian hammers on the strings with a dulcimer-like effect. Niv Ashkenazi: Violins of Hope is a celebration of the artistic and educational project founded by Israeli luthier Amnon Weinstein and his son Avshalom in which instruments that were owned by Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust are restored and played in the best concert halls by the world’s best players, the latter including Shlomo Mintz and Daniel Hope (Albany Records TROY1810 Violinist Ashkenazi and accompanist and fellow Juilliard graduate Matthew Graybil first became involved with Violins of Hope in 2017, and Ashkenazi is the only violinist to hold an instrument from the collection – in this case an early 20th-century Eastern European or German violin – on long-term loan. For this CD he chose Jewish repertoire that covers the instrument’s lifetime. Robert Dauber’s Serenade (1942) makes a beautiful opening to an excellent recital that comprises Bloch’s Nigun (1923), John Williams’ Theme from Schindler’s List, Julius Chajes’ The Chassid (1939), Sharon Farber’s recent Bestemming: Triumph, Szymon Laks’ Trois pièces de concert (1935), George Perlman’s Dance of the Rebbitzen (1929), Ravel’s Kaddisch (1914) and Ben-Haim’s Berceuse sfaradite (1945) and Three Songs Without Words (1952). It’s easy to understand why the Weinstein family has such trust and faith in Ashkenazi’s commitment and performance: he clearly has an emotional bond with this instrument, lending all of these short pieces a beautifully distinctive and idiomatic sound. Invisible Ritual Jennifer Curtis and Tyshawn Sorey Invisible Ritual is a document of the unique synergy between composer/ performer/improvisers Jennifer Curtis and Tyshawn Sorey, under the auspices of the International Contemporary Ensemble. George Crumb Edition, Vol. 19: Metamorphoses (Book I) Marcantonio Barone Vol. 19 Complete Crumb Edition, recordings supervised by the composer, is made up entirely of Metamorphoses Book 1, Crumb specialist, Marcantonio Barone, piano. New England Trios Joel Pitchon, Marie-Volcy Pelletier, Yu-Mei Wei Trios by American composers Leonard Bernstein, Ronald Perrera & Walter Piston. Bernstein's 1937 trio – one of his earliest works – is dance-like, bluesy, jazzy. Chinary Ung, Vol. 4: Space Between Heaven and Earth Chinary Ung Award-winning Cambodian/ American composer Ung's music is suffused with modal and microtonal inflections, drones, elaborate, expansive, and even a languid approach to musical-time. September 2020 | 41

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