Living Color

The recent seismic events in the U.S. – particularly the long overdue revolution to address police brutality and systemic racism – has had the welcome and yet sad side-effect of adding to my listening list a number of living composers of color I’d never heard of before. Sad because my listen-to lists, which admittedly rely on well known outlets, rarely include this demographic (and that’s a whole other and much longer post). A situation the current times is happily changing.

Aside from a handful with whom I’m personally acquainted – Shelley Washington, Omar Thomas, Evan Williams, Kevin Day, Tania Leon, Marcos Balter (whose gorgeous Pan I had the honor to perform in) – I feel like I’m rarely exposed, virtually or at concerts, to the music of composers of color, particularly black composers.

Politics and optics aside, this baffles me. In particular this album of string quartets by British Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga, has been a repeat listen since it was recommended several weeks ago by Evan. I would place any these vivid, imaginative, colorful, varied and voyaging works ahead of a number that are routinely trotted out on concerts because of name recognition. I hope that happens, especially with these superb performances by Ensemble Arcadiana. These pieces should be in the top of any quartet’s repertoire of living composers, regardless of demographics or box checking.

I realize one can’t listen to everything – well, Frank Oteri can, but some of us actually need sleep. I can’t wait to have my listening horizons expanded even wider, especially exploring more of Alberga’s work.

Black Out Tuesday

In honor of the fight to confront the systemic racism and police brutality still ingrained in the United States, I am pausing my weekly recommendations to commemorate the murder of George Floyd, the latest in an abhorrent line of racially charged murders.

Please: put down your devices. Go out. On the streets. In person. Peacefully. But raise your voice.

We all must be the change. The authorities and government will never do it. We must. Us. Me. You.

#Blacklivesmatter

Solace in Mozart

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.

Violet

Violet

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.

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Basking in Bacewicz

Basking in Bacewicz

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.

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Superb showcase album from a late emergent composer

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.

A highly recommended purchase.

21st Century New Music Marathon

21st Century New Music Marathon

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.

Rising star jazz singer

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.

Head boppin’ John Adams

This recording introduced me to the young, fantastically visceral Attacca Quartet of whom I’ve become an ardent fan, catching as many of their New York performances as my multiple careers permit. It’s something to see these kids all but turning themselves inside out in their enthusiasm for whatever they’re performing: especially the work of living composers to which they’re particularly committed. And with their latest NY concert being devoted to the quartet works of America’s éminence grise, John Adams, it seemed fitting to revisit this vitalic survey. There’s a corybantic element to a lot of Adams’ work that the group imbues with the appropriate raw heft, while still providing the delicacy and insight of the more discursive, exploratory pieces: all the more impressive given the group’s youth.

If you’re in the New York area on Sunday, April 4, 2017, do yourself a favor and catch this superb ensemble at National Sawdust in Brooklyn. Failing that, put on your dancing shoes and groove to this kinetic, vibrant album.