Saturday, May 10, 2014

Koh to return with another 'Bach & Beyond' set

A news release from Cedille Records reports that violinist Jennifer Koh's Bach & Beyond Part Two album will be released this year.

I don't know anything about the album yet, but I sure did like 2012's Bach & Beyond Part One. 

That album begins with J.S. Bach's "Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006" and ends with Bach's "Partita No. 2 in d minor, BWV 1004." Sandwiched in between is Ysaÿe's second violin sonata, Kaija Saariaho's "Nocturne" and Missy Mazzoli's "Dissolve, O My Heart," the latter a world premiere.

All are solo violin pieces, which puts a lot of pressure on Koh, but I like her Bach partitas better than the other recordings I've heard so far. Check out her slashing attack on the "Prelude," the first track on the album, and the drone on the next track, the "Loure." She gets a great sound out of her instrument, so I want to record the name of the producer and engineer: Judith Sherman.

My music collection falls into two broad groups: Legacy classical music (which I can play basically anytime I want) and modern classical music (which I can play when the more conservative ears in the household are not present.) With the Koh, I can get my Saariaho fix in and listen to the Mazzoli but still answer any objections by pointing out that Bach will return soon. So it's an album I also can play anytime, a modern music "sneak it in" album.

(Disclosure Cedille sent me a copy of the album. See my blog post on freebies.)

Friday, May 9, 2014

A note about freebies

As I am determined to resume blogging, I need to say a word about some of the recordings I will be talking about.

From time to time, record companies and individual artists who apparently are completely desperate for publicity will send a complimentary commercial recording to your humble blogger.

I do my best to listen to these recordings, but a free recording does not guarantee a good review or even any attention at all here.

I do not claim to be a music expert, but I am a sincere enthusiast, and I will not express enthusiasm, or even mild pleasure, for a recording that I don't like.

For example, I'm a fan of eighth blackbird, but I didn't like the the Lonely Motel album. Obviously, other folks did not agree -- it did win a Grammy -- but I don't care. I was pleased to give a good notice for the Meanwhile album (which also won a Grammy.)

I'll try to note in my blog posts whether I paid for a recording or parted with cash for it or whatever.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Lou Harrison on UbuWeb

I was surprised to discover that one of my favorite composers, Lou Harrison, is heavily represented on UbuWeb, the Internet archive for avante-garde and hard to obtain material.

A page on the website has links allowing visitors to download MP3 files for five Harrison albums.

A FAQ on the website has the following answer to the question, "What is your policy concerning posting copyright material?" Here is the answer in full:

A. If it's out of print, we feel it's fair game. Or if something is in print, yet absurdly priced or insanely hard to procure, we'll take a chance on it. But if it's in print and available to all, we won't touch it. The last thing we'd want to do is to take the meager amount of money out of the pockets of those releasing generally poorly-selling materials of the avant-garde. UbuWeb functions as a distribution center for hard-to-find, out-of-print and obscure materials, transferred digitally to the web. Our scanning, say, an historical concrete poem in no way detracts from the physical value of that object in the real world; in fact, it probably enhances it. Either way, we don't care: Ebay is full of wonderful physical artifacts, most of them worth a lot of money. 

Should something return to print, we will remove it from our site immediately. Also, should an artist find their material posted on UbuWeb without permission and wants it removed, please let us know. However, most of the time, we find artists are thrilled to find their work cared for and displayed in a sympathetic context. As always, we welcome more work from existing artists on site. 

Let's face it, if we had to get permission from everyone on UbuWeb, there would be no UbuWeb.

The posting of the Harrison albums would appear to push the envelope a little bit on UbuWeb's own stated policy. I looked for Lou Harrison albums at Amazon's MP3 store. Four out of five of the posted albums were available for purchase (the exception being the album of Harrison's piano music.)

On the other hand, Harrison died more than 10 years ago, and as with any serious American composer who isn't named "Philip Glass," "Steve Reich" or "John Adams," I worry about whether Harrison will find and sustain an audience over the long term. (Yes, many people reading this blog will know who Lou Harrison is, but let's face it -- you're a small minority of a small minority.) I wouldn't mind at all if the UbuWeb posting resulted in many more people discovering Lou Harrison's music.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Colin MacDonald's 'Circle of Wind'

The saxophone usually is associated with jazz; even a moderately informed jazz listener can name some of the great saxophonists, such as Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, etc.

Colin MacDonald (the hirsute Canadian saxophone player, not the hirsute Canadian rock musician) makes a good case for the saxophone as a modern classical instrument on his recording Circle of Wind.

Informed by his study of Zen, yoga and the I Ching and by his interest in the gamelan and in minimalist composers, Circle of Wind features MacDonald on sax in a variety of settings, including solo, with a pianist, as part of a saxophone quartet, with a cellist and with a "choir" of 11 saxophones, with all of the pieces penned by MacDonald.

So what did I think? I bought this without telling MacDonald after meeting him in a nonmusical context, figuring that if I didn't like it I would never have to tell him. But I did like it. The term "minimalist" sometimes inspires a feeling of dread, but MacDonald provides enough variety in melody and settings to keep things interesting. I've listened to the album quite a few times.

I bought my copy from Amazon -- I love the way Amazon automatically back up everything I buy on the site's cloud player -- but MacDonald points out that if you buy direct, you can get a CD or you get get FLAC files or high fidelity MP3s with PDF liner notes and artwork.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A recording for Duckworth's piano concerto?

When composer William Duckworth died in September 2012, he left behind a piano concerto, BIG PIANO, a seven movement, 24-minute piano concerto composed for pianist Bruce Brubaker.

Duckworth was one of my favorite composers and I took his death hard. Over the years since discovering him on a recording by the Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, I had tracked down much of his music, often buying a CD that had just one of his works. And lately, I've begun to wonder: Whatever happened to BIG PIANO? Is there going to be a recording?

I Tweeted Brubaker, "Any chance there will be a recording of Duckworth's 'Big Piano'?" He replied, "Yes, definitely."

I haven't pressed for more details -- I'll wait for his announcement -- but it sounds like he is working on some good news.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

eighth blackbird's 'Meanwhile'

I didn't care very much for eighth blackbird's Lonely Motel album; I thought the album of Steven Mackey's music sounded like bad pop music. Other people obviously liked the album better than I did, as it picked up a Grammy.

The latest eighth blackbird album, Meanwhile, is an effort more in keeping with most of their other albums: A collection of compositions by various top modern composers. 

Meanwhile won a Grammy, too, for best chamber performance, and composer Stephen Hartke picked up a Grammy for best classical composition for the title track, "Meanwhile: Incidental music to imaginary puppet plays," and in this case I agree with the Grammy voters: I thought Hartke's piece was clearly the standout on the album. The collection of short pieces sounds like an accompaniment for the puppet plays in science fiction writer Jack Vance's classic novel, Emphyrio. It sounds like nothing I've heard on any other recent album. 

The rest of the album also is strong, with stylistically different pieces from the likes of Missy Mazzoli, Philip Glass, Roshanne Etezady and Philippe Hurel. The only piece I couldn't make sense of after repeatedly listening to the CD was Thomas Ades' "Catch." The booklet says the performance of the piece features "an elaborate choreography for the clarinetist, who in performance dashes across the stage, dances around the piano, keens from afar and, rejected for the last time, sits in his onstage chair for the very first time just as the final notes are played ... " Maybe it is easier to grasp if you can see the performance.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Clocks in Motion a very promising group

I didn't have time to write about these guys (plus one gal) when I saw them on March 24 in a concert on the campus of Baldwin Wallace University, but I wanted to post about this group before it's too late. Clocks in Motion seems very promising to me. I hope the group becomes part of the modern classical landscape the way that, say, Kronos Quartet or eighth blackbird has become.

The group, a percussion ensemble from Wisconsin , opened its BW concert with a performance of Steve Reich's "Music for Pieces of Wood." The performance consisted of five guys hitting blocks of wood with a mallet. The piece sounded like a miniature version of "Music for 18 Musicians," with individual instruments (sorry, "pieces of wood") dropping in and out.

Next, the group played "Concerto for Violin and Percussion Orchestra" by Lou Harrison. I've been a Lou Harrison fan for years, but I didn't know that particular piece. It was unusual and fun. One musician had a row of flower pots of different sizes, suspended by ropes; the same musician also played a set of wind chimes. Another musician banged on a cello that had been set up horizontally above the stage. Excellent playing by guest violinist Evan Kleve really helped the piece go. (When I mentioned that to one of the group's members, Sean Kleve, he replied, "That's my brother!" Sean is the guy on the right in the above photo.)

The next piece was by the only featured composer I've never heard of, Herbert Brün. "At Loose Ends" had some beautiful soundscapes, and I'd love to be able to find a recording so I can hear it again. After the break, the group concluded with a rendition of Xenaxis' "Pléïades," and I plan to  hunt up a recording of it, too.

I asked Sean Kleve after the concert when the group will start issuing recordings, and he said recording sessions are scheduled this summer.

Here's a review of the group's May 25 concert at Cleveland State University; it was identical to the Baldwin Wallace show, except that the group dropped the Reich and opened instead with John Cage's "Bacchanale." Wish I could have heard that, too.

I've signed up for the group's email list and hope to hear more of the group in the future.