Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Bracing, Vividly Uneasy New Album of Eric Nathan Orchestral Works

“I compose for my music to be performed live and to be experienced from beginning to end,” Eric Nathan explains in the liner notes for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s new album of his compositions, The Space of a Door, streaming at Spotify. He’s hardly alone in that viewpoint – and these days, it’s against the law in New York to perform most of what’s on the record. If we want our culture to survive, we have to end the lockdown ourselves. Nobody’s going to do it for us.

Back to the music: the album is bookended by both a full symphonic arrangement and a chamber orchestra version of the bracing, persistently uneasy Paestum, inspired by the ruins of a Greco-Roman temple. The large-ensemble version begins with a bang – literally – which sets off an agitated, swirling flock of birds, or so it would seem. Conductor Gil Rose brings out a lustrous calm which is all the more suspenseful in contrast to the composer’s unwillingness to let it settle in: those ruins obviously left an impact. In both versions, the disquieting bustle returns with a fanfare and ends with unresolved Messiaenic clarinet.

With its lushly acidic close harmonies, slow doppler-like phrases, tense flutters and bubbles, Omaggio a Gesualdo has less in common with pre-Renaissance Italy than Henryk Gorecki (with some spiky Bartok thrown in for spice).

The album’s title track begins with a robust nod to Brahms but quickly shifts to an uneasy lustre and decays to a suspenseful stillness before Rose pulls one of many sudden upward spirals – a persistent trope here – out of the calm again. In many ways, the shifts between atmospherics and bordering-on-frantic activity mirror the album’s opening and closing segments.

Timbered Bells is a triumphantly brassy, regal shout-out to the distinctive echoes off the hills surrounding the Tanglewood complex, The triptych Missing Words has similarly playful origins, in this case the illusion of motion that passengers on a stopped train experience while watching one that’s actually moving – and also the joys of romping through piles of autumn leaves. Glissandos and razorwire microtones build vividly dissociative ambience. Big brass gestures answered by ghostly flickering strings pervade the middle miniature and the coyly furtive conclusion.

Flutter and bluster – Nathan really likes those clustering high winds and reeds – stand out in front of increasingly somber ambience and dramatic, windswept counterpoint in Icarus Dreamt, a Matisse reference  Nathan’s repertoire has been well represented by major new-music ensembles in concert here in his hometown in recent years; it’s good to have this record to spread the word about this distinctively compelling composer’s work

August 21, 2020 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lisa Bielawa’s Double CD Release Concert Is Characteristically Captivating

Sunday at Galapagos composer/singer/multi-instrumentalist Lisa Bielawa and an inspired cast of indie classical types played a stunningly eclectic mix of new material from her two latest albums, Chance Encounter (with the Knights and soprano Susan Narucki) and In Medias Res (with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project conducted by Gil Rose). The concert got off to a rough start: drummer Bob Schultz was game to recite a series of occasionally bizarre, frequently amusing overheard-on-the-street quotes over what turned out to be pretty steady solo drums, but he wasn’t given a soundcheck (big mistake) and consequently the lyrics were often inaudible. And in the rap era, making the beats fit is part of the fun; this piece seemed more of an slapdash attempt at jazz poetry with random words set to an unrelated rhythm.

Things got exciting fast after that. Harpist Ina Zdorovetchi played another piece from the BMOP album, shifting from unselfconsciously Romantic cinematics to a mysterioso theme, followed by pianist Sarah Bob playing another solo work that went in the opposite direction, a tug-of-war between consonant comfort and bracing, wide-open, sky-at-night atonalities. After a pause for technical difficulties, the excitement went up another notch. Split between the stage and the back balcony, members of the reliably surprising indie orchestra the Knights turned in a marvelously orchestrated (in both senses of the word), strikingly stereo version of Bielawa’s Prologue and Topos Nostalgia section from Chance Encounter. Alternating fugal astringencies between the two sections of the ensemble with still, quiet beauty and the occasional playful conversation between instruments, it was a showstopper: flutists Alex Sopp and Lance Suzuki along with violinist Carla Kihlstedt backlit by the sound booth while Narucki and several of the Knights held court onstage, among them violinists Colin Jacobsen and Christina Courtin, violist Nicholas Cords, oboeist Adam Hollander and Bielawa herself adding terse, pensive accents on piano.

The program concluded with Kihlstedt singing the Song from Bielawa’s Double Violin Concerto, a potently effective transposition of modernist melodicism to a traditionally classical framework, accompanied by string quartet, viola, piano and harp. That Kihlstedt was able to sing her tricky counterrhythms while playing was impressive enough: what was breathtaking was how powerfully she belted those off-center tonalities. Clear, pure and laserlike, she didn’t have much of anything in common with Narucki’s virtuosically operatic delivery, but she was every bit as intense and compelling, maybe more.

In addition to the music, two short films were screened: Lisa Guidetti’s 2007 lushly summery, awardwinning look at Chance Encounter being played in Chinatown’s Seward Park, and Renato Chiocca’s view of Chance Encounter as it was created – to expose random outdoor audiences, pretty much anywhere (in this case, Rome), to the work of new composers. It’s as simple as bringing a truckload of chairs and letting the audience assemble without knowing that they’re in store for what could be an amazing free concert.

December 21, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Film, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Louis Andriessen – La Passione: Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose

This is an important album – to the unitiated, it may seem strange, but stay with it, there’s a payoff at the end. Louis Andriessen is no stranger to adventurous listeners: he’s been a fixture of the avant garde for over forty years. This album begins with a carillonesque instrumental and then a series of art songs, all but one based on poems by legendary, mad Italian poet Dino Campana. Campana spent much of his life institutionalized, including his final years: his surreal, twisted, horrific imagery and sense of anguish compare with Baudelaire at his most crazed. Taking an approach which is severe yet atmospheric, the subtlety of Andriessen’s interpretation underscores its often extreme intensity. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Gil Rose vigorously emphasizes the compositions’ otherworldy ambience, enhanced by the incisive violin of Monica Germino (selected specifically by Andriessen  for this project) and vocals of Cristina Zavalloni. Throughout the songs, her voice serves as an key ensemble instrument rather than a narrator, sometimes leading, sometimes taking a complementary role.

The first piece, Bells for Haarlem layers several keyboards including a macabre synthesizer patch to mimic churchbells, starting out minimalistically before its permutations set in: with its unsettling overtones, there’s a considerable resemblance to Phil Kline’s work. The first of the Campana pieces is a seven-minute song that marks the beginning of an ongoing collaboration between Andriessen and Zavalloni, a singer he credits as being as versatile as another longtime performer of his works, the legendary Cathy Berberian. Utilizing more strangely ringing keyboards in the beginning, Zavalloni follows with her own call-and-response over starkly acidic ambience from the orchestra. As they will later on, restless atonalities illustrate images of madness, in this case an understated depiction of a train ride to hell – or from hell perhaps.

The following piece, Letter from Cathy cleverly illuminates the complete text of a letter from avant garde vocal legend Berberian to Andriessen relating how Stravinsky almost didn’t choose her to sing his Elegy for JFK. The composition is a portrait – Andriessen’s melody matches Berberian’s exact wording, capturing his favorite singer in all her many moods: capricious, exacting, divaesque, irrepressible, with a childlike, rapt creativity and similar response to same. Minute passages of jarring dissonance, dreamy ambience, echoes of disappointment and a big, catchy pop ballad all make their entry and depart just as quickly. Those familiar with Berberian’s work will find it picture-perfect.

The cd’s title track is a suite, a remarkably tense, suspenseful work especially considering the madness and of its subject matter: there’s limitless potential for grand guignol here, but Andriessen doesn’t go there. It begins with a vividly wary fanfare, then Zavalloni comes in, gleefully eerie over bustling, Mingus-esque strings. The third poem is about abandonment and despair, an interesting place for Andriessen to have the electric keyboards do an echoey, surreal clog dance.

Satan enters, to a vigorous violin solo: this is where Andriessen most closely evokes his big influence, Stravinsky. He follows it with a severe, understated prayer to Satan, a supremely satisfying, fullscale horror movie segment that stalks along to the first of only two big crescendos. Only during the execution scene that concludes the suite is the orchestra allowed to unleash a scream at full, roaring volume and the effect is visceral. And then it ends as quietly and atmospherically as it began. Who is the audience for this? Bang on a Can and more adventurous NPR fans, certainly, as well as more open-minded opera devotees – Zavalloni’s unadorned, crystalline voice is not mined for its beauty here, but she comes across as someone who could sing pretty much anything. Play this back to back with the Rites of Spring and enjoy both the similarities and the innovations of this strange and often riveting album.

September 5, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment