7 months ago

Volume 27 Issue 3 - December 2021 / January 2022

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Many Happy Returns: the rebirth of Massey Hall -- from venue to hub; music theatre's re-emergence from postponement limbo; pianist Vikingur Ólafsson's return visit to to "Glenn Gould's hometown"; guest writer music librarian Gary Corrin is back from his post behind the scenes in the TSO library; Music for Change returns to 21C; and here we all are again! Welcome back. Fingers crossed, here we go.

Planispheres Mike Block

Planispheres Mike Block Bright Shiny Things ( ! Cellist, singer, songwriter, composer and educator Mike Block has one of the most eclectic résumés around. From his “chopping” folk history, to jazz and cross-cultural music collaborations (check out his duo with tabla player Sandeep Das, for example) Mike Block has worked with nearly everyone from Stevie Wonder to to Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. From pop to jazz, classical and bluegrass, there seems to be no end to the continuous exploration and collaborations around the world for this diverse and prolific artist. As an innovator, Block was among the first wave of cellists to develop a standing style of playing in order to move while performing, and can – and does – play his challenging repertoire sitting, standing and even while singing. He was also the first standing cellist to perform at Carnegie Hall, and on top of that, his Bach is superb. What is such a diverse collaborator to do during a world pandemic? Bring in Block’s latest, and possibly most poignant project, Planispheres. As an exploration of human connection during a time when these connections are nearly impossible to make, each track is a full, freely improvised solo to one unknown lucky listener, in a large open space which allowed him to sonically explore and test the acoustics throughout the album. The intimacy of each performance is palpable and adds to the personal nature and timely relevance of the album. Here we have an opportunity to witness not only the wide range of sonic participation of the venue, but also the silent participation of each unnamed audience recipient. We can hear Block’s urgency to connect with others, while allowing space and time to be a fourth element in the room. This album will engage anyone who is missing the intimate experience of live chamber music, but most especially lovers of the cello. Cheryl Ockrant Chris Campbell – Orison Various Artists Innova 008 ( ! An orison is a type of prayer, perhaps better described as a plea. Maybe Chris Campbell is asking for relief, or faith in the future, as are many of us. He makes this plea by means of Orison, a chamber work for strings, piano, and percussion, 14 players in all, named but not designated by instrument. Track titles directly refer to one another. Movements three and five, for example, are Ten Thousand Streams (Forward Motion), and Ten Thousand Streams (Retrograde); the second movement is Rotating Light Mirrors the Water, the sixth, Rotating Hymns. The first movement, Parallels, Threading Light, finds an answer in the last, Ground Calls Out to Sky (an implied parallel?). The central movement, perhaps a mirroring plane, is Streams to Source, Object to Origin. Arvo Pärt comes to mind in the early going of Parallels, but he and the consonant, pleading intervals disappear into turmoil and opaque dissonance. Piano lines emerging from this seem improvisatory, and here as elsewhere the recording values seem hell bent on saturation. It isn’t easy to stay with, especially at a higher volume. The storm passes, as storms do, and a segue leads into the calmer second track, and middle voices expressing again those chant-like parallel intervals. The tracks run together, many times introduced by a manic drum kit. It’s difficult to puzzle out the structure; I take it on faith that there is one. The drum kit passages drive impetuously through the often otherwise wandering sound-cloud formations. Colours and textures recur, in patterns not immediately apparent. Is this a masterpiece? I’m not prepared to say yes or no. I do give benefit of the doubt to Campbell. Max Christie Tiffany Ng – Dark Matters Various Artists Innova 050 ( ! A fascinating collection, Dark Matters features the music for carillon of Stephen Rush performed by Tiffany Ng. Questions of the technical sort arise: what microphone placements worked best; and if any ambient sound needed to be filtered out? It must have been a spectacular project to work on, purely in this regard. Musically, Rush makes brilliant use of his years spent studying the instrument, learning how to capitalize on the peculiarly diminished quality of the bells’ overtone profiles. A noticeable rise before and decline after each performance, makes for a kind of ambient “huff,” an enveloping foggy frame, like giant respiration. Two carillons, one in Michigan and one in the Netherlands, play so differently it reminds one of how particular this type of instrument is, and how contingent the performance is on their sounds, much like organs. Whereas an organ has a synthetic animus, or breath, bells are defined by attack, such that every note’s momentum diminishes through its sustain. What Rush makes room for, and Ng perfects in execution, is a linearity that counters this. Decay follows attack, but gently repeated notes and Ng’s impressive control of dynamics give sustenance to line. The smaller lighter instrument in the Netherlands is featured on Sonata for Carillon from 2007, as well as on the title track, from 2013, and on Six Treatments, which uses live electronics that animate the music in fascinating ways. The U of Michigan bells are darker and deeper, and are heard only on the disc’s bookends: Three Etudes, 1987, and September Fanfares, 2018, for carillon, brass quintet and percussion. The Sonata is a revelation, titanic chamber music by turns soulful and dancelike. Fanfares is the least effective track, possibly on account of difficult balance and timing issues, but brass quintets should find a way to program it anyway. Max Christie Sunrise Jacob Cooper; Steven Bradshaw Cold Blue Music CB0062 ( ! We need to create a new category of artistic manifestation, along the lines of “responses to the pandemic.” This disc, sung by Steven Bradshaw and embellished by the electroacoustic work of Jacob Cooper, would fit. Bradshaw and Cooper played remote call and response over the course of several months until they were satisfied with the outcome. The title refers to an early 20th-century popular song: The World is Waiting for Sunrise, by Ernest Seitz and Gene Lockhart. Covered by Duke Ellington and Willie Nelson, to name only two, it seems to have been an anthem of hope during a dark era, as alluded to in the liner notes; the song was written during the Spanish influenza epidemic. This is no song cover; the closest analogy would be cantus firmus. The original lyrics, deconstructed or otherwise, are chanted at intervals throughout what amounts to a 32-minute meditation; they’re partially buried behind a more or less constant C Minor-ish drone. The events, or processes, develop gradually, but two-thirds of the way in the voice disappears into a burgeoning melee. The piano enters with a repeated motif that yearns toward G Minor. The voice returns as vocalise, soaring above on syllables from the original text, but barely recognizable. I’m reminded of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, another prayer for love in a dark time. There have been plenty of musical depictions of the sunrise, and this fits in that category as well. Essentially a long process piece that demands and rewards attention, even if it doesn’t offer consolation. Max Christie 44 | December 2021

Emily Koh – [word]plays New Thread Quartet; Noa Even; Philipp Stääudlin Innova 055 ( ! Emily Koh’s biography lists her as: “composer+” a suggestion that in addition to being a composer, she is also a bassist. However, that mathematical sign does not even begin to describe her prodigious gifts as a multi-disciplinary artist. This enables her to inform her radiant music with experiences from across the visual and sonic artistic spectrum. Remarkably, on the repertoire for the album [word]plays, Koh also adds a literary dimension to her compositions. While it is true that the five pieces on this album are – as Koh correctly subtitles the collection – “microtonal works for saxophone(s),” the artistic topography of the music is spectacularly prismatic. This is best experienced in the three items performed by the New Thread Quartet, comprising saxophonists Jonathan Hulting-Cohen (soprano), Kristen McKeon (alto), Erin Rogers (tenor) and Zach Herchen (baritone). The items are further connected like a three-movement suite with titles that play upon three words: homonym, heteronym/, cryptonym. They unfold in diaphanous layers of sound as the quite magical mystery of each is revealed in waves of microtones. That set is bookended by medi+ation and b(locked.orders); two solo saxophone pieces, the former performed by Philipp Stäudlin (baritone) and the latter by Noa Even (soprano). These are clever miniatures, the writing of which feels as if the performance instructions suggested is one-or-more-syllables-per-non-uniform-length note. There is exquisite poetry in these charts; a rumbling gravitas in the former and a high and lonesome, swirling tonal palette in the latter. Raul da Gama Three Chas Smith Cold Blue Music CB0061 ( ! Multiinstrumentalist Chas Smith’s recording Three is not simply atmospheric, its ethereal sonic palette comes with a twist in that the ripples on his ocean of sound spread vertically, seemingly piercing the very dome of the sky. Even the title is subtly idiomatic; its reference being more Trinitarian than merely numeric. The musical hypnosis begins almost immediately in the whispered, metallic hiss of a myriad of instruments on Distance, continuing through The Replicant and into the denouement of this recording on a piece aptly called The End of Cognizance. The composer says that “the spirit of Harry Partch” pervades throughout. But even a first run-through of this repertoire suggests overtones of the soundtrack of a Philip K. Dick cinematic narrative. In particular, the short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – which became Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner – comes presciently to mind. The music throughout seems to hang in the air like dense vapour of a sonic kind. But the seeming stasis is constantly changing, metamorphosing into something quite different at every turn. Its dark melodic fragments spin and pirouette constantly, revealing Smith’s singular balletic lyricism. The three parts of the music are layered one atop the other like sonic strata evocative of the massive natural forces pervading a planet spinning its way into infinity in triumph against time. The orchestration is as brilliantly inventive as the instruments that are employed to play it; all constructed by Smith himself. Raul da Gama confined. speak. Ensemble Dal Niente New Focus Recordings FCR308 ( ! The Chicago based Ensemble Dal Niente releases a collection of works that were streamed during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. With each work offering a variety of experimental techniques and sound worlds, this music reveals the ensemble’s incredible musical abilities. Igor Santos’ confined. speak. is a post-Lachenmannian work that explores themes of “confinement and liberation.” Santos’ music is carefully crafted and contains an impressive series of magical events. The harp concerto of Hilda Paredes, titled Demente Cuerda, contains endless virtuosic gestures for both soloist and ensemble members – all of which are expertly performed. With Tomás Gueglio’s Triste y madrigal we receive a delicate and mysterious soprano part amid outlandish restlessness in the ensemble – a beautifully enigmatic work. In Merce and Baby by George Lewis, the composer creates an imagined musical scenario that exists only in the documentation of a collaboration between jazz drummer Baby Dodds and avantgarde dancer Merce Cunningham in the 1940s. Finally, Andil Khumalo’s Beyond Her Mask is a disturbing and important statement that confronts violence against women in South Africa. Ensemble Dal Niente delivers stunning performances of works that truly speak to our time. Adam Scime What we're listening to this month: Where Words Fail Music For Healing Margaret Maria 'My deepest hope is that this music can offer some healing, understanding, comfort, strength when we feel weak or when words fail us.' - Margaret Maria Préludes et Solitudes Marie Nadeau-Tremblay A very personal album of pieces for solo unaccompanied violin by Baroque composers such as Telemann, Purcell, Torelli, Baltzar and Biber. Beethoven: Violin Sonatas nº 4, 9 & 10 Andrew Wan and Charles Richard-Hamelin This third and marvelous last volume of the complete sonatas for violin and piano is characterized by its refined instrumental textures and intimate mood. Remembering Russia Jesus Rodolfo & Min Young Kang Violist Jesús Rodolfo makes his PENTATONE debut showcasing three 20th-century Russian composers who left their homeland. December 2021 | 45

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