Everyone has their favorite solace music or composer. For many “classical music” partisans, it’s Bach. For some, like Alex Ross of The New Yorker, it’s Brahms. I’m firmly in the Mozart camp. In these days of unimaginably, almost medievally grim conditions in which New York City finds itself, compounded by unrelentingly inclement weather, I’ve been turning increasingly to the luminously inventive Salzburg Wunderkind for mental centering. From his extensive catalogue, this album of the violin concertos serendipitously popped up on my list and has been providing me great light in these dark times.
There are heaps of existing recordings of the concertos, but Isabelle Faust’s entry from 2017, which won major awards from both Gramophone Magazine and the BBC, is a lovely traversal of these beloved works, combining sunny, lilting charm with poignancy and depth. A wonderful reminder in this grim era that artists, both performers and creators, provide so much light, hope and reassurance of human potential.
The recent marvelous news of Jeanine Tesori’s commission by The Metropolitan Opera led me to reacquaint myself with this superb recording of the 2013 revival of her first full show, Violet from 1997. As I didn’t see the original production, and was blown away by the revival production – particularly Sutton Foster giving a gripping performance, and the incomparable voice of Joshua Henry Dixon… God this show is good: honest, un-sugar-coated, straight forward, unflinching, and for all of that all the more heart touching and arresting, with an inventive and evocative score that easily heralds the Tony-award recognition of Fun Home. Performances across the board bring the show to incredible audio life.
I’ve recently had the pleasure of getting to know the joyous and talented pianist Adam Marks, who has introduced me to the works of Grażyna Bacewicz, an artist who I confess I’d never heard of before. Based on this excellent recording of her piano music, I’m looking forward to exploring all of her material. These lively, compelling, colorful, contrasting, thoroughly engaging works are brought to scintillating life by Anita Krochmalska.
There continues to be almost exclusive focus in the new music world – I dare use the term “prejudice” – on composers establishing themselves either while in school or immediately afterwards. So it’s a pleasure to encounter a composer like myself aiming to make their name later in life and receiving well deserved recognition. New York City-based violist Jessica Meyer turned her attention to composing just within the last eight years and for others in just the last six, but her debut showcase album Ring Out displays a remarkable talent fully experienced, not surprising given Meyer’s own long-standing involvement in New York’s new music community. These six chamber pieces carry a seasoned weight and diversity of structure superbly carried out by the performers (special kudos to the always visceral Andrew Yee, particularly in the remarkable Released for solo cello).
Meyer deftly mingles explosive energy, deep introspection, radiantly scintillating textures, and of course superbly idiomatic string writing given her career as a working violist. Each piece is captivating in its own unique way. The title track, written for Roomful of Teeth, gives this renownedly unique vocal octet a marvelously imaginative aural translation of tintinabulation.
…revisiting my Spotify Yuletide Swing playlist. Always curating, refining, polishing. I hope it brings you some smiles, warmth, groove, a swing to your step and extra light to your holiday season. Let me know of any tracks you think would add to this!
Every winter I always look forward to Viva 21st Century 25 hour marathon of concert music written since 2000, hosted by the heroic Marvin Rosen on Princeton’s WPRB radio. I didn’t get around to contributing anything to this year’s broadcast – hopefully next year. In the meantime, the archived mp3 files (available till the end of January) make for fascinating listening, a real diaspora of work that I – and I think most Americans – wouldn’t otherwise get to hear, both from well- and lesser-known composers.
A recent profile in The New Yorker magazine introduced me to the remarkable jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, who at just 27 is already becoming legendary in the field for her preternatural breadth and soulfullness. I’m working my way through her (as yet) small catalog, but this album alone makes all the case for those enconiums. The variety of the arrangements by Aaron Diehl are also remarkable: I’m particularly looking forward to stealing… er, paying homage to the groove in “John Henry.” It’s such a kick to catch an artist of this caliber at the start of their career and anticipate the riches to come. This is an album that bears multiple listenings, revealing new layers and flavors each time.