Archives for January, 2012
Posted by Steven Berryman »
The percussion quartet ensemblebash celebrate their twenty years of musical success with a series of three concerts at Kings Place, London. ‘Minimum Maximum’ – the first concert in the series – programmed significant works from the ensemble’s extensive repertoire from the past two decades that offers ‘rhythmic muscularity and technical dexterity’. The performance opened with the quartet spatially seperate, their arrangement of traditional Siwe bell music being heard around the hall as they slowly came together in front of the stage performing patterns that gradually increased in complexity. The music took a sudden turn to a faster tempo and one was struck by not only the super-human rhythmic precision of the individual percussionists but the shared rhythmic feel of the group; amazing to hear such variety from the bells. Stephen Hiscock, a member of ensemblebash, described the second piece in their programme as ’carrier bag music’; works that could be performed by percussion instruments that could be ‘carried on a bus’. Howard Skempton’s (b. 1947) ‘Shiftwork’ was just that, with everything the quartet needing for the work fitting on one trap tray. Subtle sonorities came from maracas and the ramekins filled with baking beads. The work grew in complexity and featured passages that contrasted different pairings of instruments such as the small bells, and maracas. One’s ears grew to appreciate the quieter sounds of this work and how virtuosic the players were at creating not only a range of dynamics but a range of varied attacks.
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More than seventy years since its composition, Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” swells with relevancy in the modern era. Those of us alive today have a more fractured and complex sense of the passage of time than any previous generation of humanity, living simultaneously in lightspeed cyberspace and glacial reality, keeping in touch with friends, family and associates across all possible timezones and sleep schedules. Messiaen’s most famous piece is a kaleidoscope of time-perception and apocalyptic paranoia, chronicling his fear for humanity in the throes of World War II, and also his daily struggle to maintain sanity as a prisoner of war. But is a simple reading of the piece enough to capture the same spirit, decades after its birth? It’s doubtful that Messiaen would’ve wanted musicians to take a museum-mentality approach to his work. Enter clarinetist David Krakauer and his like-minded cohorts: cellist Matt Haimovitz, pianist Geoffrey Burleson, violinist Maria Bachmann, and DJ/MC Socalled. The evening was billed as “Akoka: The End of Time”, and featured three separate-but-connected works: “Akoka”, a structured improvisation organized by Krakauer, an unaltered presentation of Messiaen’s Quartet, and finally “Meanwhile” a composition by Socalled.
Krakauer is a world-renowned classical musician whose work in the last twenty years has increasingly tilted towards klezmer and the avant-garde. He’s worked with musicians as diverse as John Zorn (on the viscerally powerful Kristallnacht) and ex-James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley (in the klezmer-funk project Abraham Inc.). Burleson, Haimovitz and Bachmann share his passion for boundary-stretching music, blurring the lines between interpretation and improvisation, while Socalled is a musical chameleon, equally at home crafting dense musique concrete soundscapes and spitting rhymes about the merits of big booty.
David Krakauer – Photograph by Jean-Marc Lubrano
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Posted by George Heathco »
Following a fair amount of controversy regarding scandalous album art, Steve Reich released a new album this past September featuring three works: WTC 9/11, performed by the Kronos Quartet; Mallet Quartet, performed by So Percussion; and Dance Patterns, performed by members of Reich’s longtime ensemble Steve Reich and Musicians.
WTC 9/11 is Steve Reich’s third string quartet and, like its predecessors, was composed for the Kronos Quartet. Composed in 2010 the piece bears a striking resemblance to Reich’s first quartet Different Trains in that it features the quartet interacting with prerecorded voices, as well as an element that Reich made use of in his second string quartet Triple Quartet, which is writing for one live quartet and two prerecorded. There are three movements: I. 9/11, II. 2010, III. WTC. It commemorates the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York City, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Steve Reich (Source: redbullmusicacademy.com)
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Somewhere in the world of contemporary music, in among all the solo bassoon CDs and Tom Waits arrangements, there is occasionally the odd ‘traditional’ recital featuring new orchestral pieces: symphonies, concertos, that sort of thing. This past Friday’s concert at London’s Barbican Hall was one such occasion, featuring symphonies by Myaskovsky and Schoenberg, framed around a world première by Alexander Goehr and a UK première by Niccolò Castiglioni.
Played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conducted by longtime Goehr associate Oliver Knussen, Goehr’s When Adam Fell is a further addition to his considerable catalogue of works which engage fascinatedly and constructively with mainstream musical heritage. The remarkable chromatic bass of Bach’s chorale prelude Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt served as a compositional basis. Goehr’s piece is committedly abstract and finely wrought, a delicate, pensive study on and around the Bach bass line, whose harsh sixths and sevenths echo gracefully through the orchestra. Goehr’s orchestration here is generally light, with a very Second-Viennese scrupulousness of timbre, and in the hands of Knussen and the BBCSO it filled the Barbican acoustic beautifully.
Alexander Goehr – Photograph by Maurice Foxall
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Posted by Lauren Alfano »
Holiday CDs come and go. Some fade out while others become lasting favorites. My prediction is that the 2011 Delos release, Ceremony of Carols, will be one of the latter. The disc marks an excellent recording debut by the aptly-named Etherea Vocal Ensemble, a group of young professionals formed in 2009 and led by artistic director, Derek Greten-Harrison.
As its title suggests, the CD presents Britten’s holiday favorite, A Ceremony of Carols (Op. 28) for treble voices and harp. Despite countless recordings of this work on the market, Etherea’s rendition stands out from the first crystalline declaration, “Hodie Christus natus est,” to the end. Captivating throughout, the singers’ clarion voices were particularly crisp and bright during the animated polyphonic sections of “Wolcum Yole” and “This little Babe.” Of special note is Derek Greten-Harrison’s fine countertenor voice which he put to good use in the haunting solo, “That youngë child”—another favorite movement from this work.
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First, before we go any further, let’s review the basics of Kamala Sankaram’s Miranda: it is a “steampunk murder-mystery chamber opera”, depicting the trial of three suspects accused of murdering young Miranda Wright. This trial is being broadcast on a reality TV show in an alternate history (the precise year of which is kept purposefully vague), and features a small chamber ensemble whose musicians also serve as the cast (often singing and playing simultaneously). The audience participates as the jury, admitting or denying evidence (in the form of short flashback scenes) and ultimately deciding who is guilty, all done through the highly democratic process of yelling one’s choice loudly at the bailiff (who’s serves in sort of an MC/comic relief capacity, explaining the rules at the beginning and constantly breaking the fourth wall). Sankaram composed the score and co-wrote the libretto (with Rob Reese, who also directs), and the music itself blends elements of Baroque opera, modernist art song, Hindustani classical music, tango, pop, and hip-hop (the latter carried by a bump-grinding baritone sax and an auto-tuned robot judge). Oh, and the whole show opens with a series of commercials set in this other world, such as a Calvin Klein-style attractive-people-running-around-a-fancy-house ads preaching the weight-loss benefits of “Consumption”, complete with flirtatious coughing into bloody rags. Got all that? Good.
Kamala Sankaram, Pat Muchmore – Photograph by Ben Arons
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