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.

Mind-centering piano album

Sometimes I think the Universe is truly looking out for me by planting things in my lap just when I need them. Amidst the mounting tension of last week’s mid-term elections in the U.S., something prompted me to select this album from my ever-evolving To Listen To list, and thank you whoever for that. These tranquil, iridescent, meditative sketches by Japanese composer Mamoru Fujieda are mental balm, all the more amazing in that they were constructed from digital data extracted from measuring electrical fluctuations on the surface of the leaves of plants. Exquisitely conveyed by pianist Sarah Cahill, this album of simple, contrasting, imaginative works is one I’ll be frequently returning to.

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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.

The cello concerto I wish I’d written

The cello concerto I wish I’d written

If I ever get commissioned to write a cello concerto – and I’m very much hoping I will some day – it is going to be hard to not have it be heavily influenced by British composer Mark Bowden’s captivating Lyra, performed by Oliver Coates and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales on a compendium album of the composer’s work. This alternately lyrical, kinetic, vibrant dance between soloist and orchestra is one of the most inspiring pieces of new concert music I’ve heard in a while. The instrumental writing is kaleidoscopic and fresh, and the piece leads the ear along in a way I really admire. Highly recommended.

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One of the highlights for me of this past New York theater season, which was overwhelmed with great new work both musical and non, was the new show Bandstand, with a score by Richard Oberbacker and Robert Taylor. This trenchant, poignant yet unfailingly exuberant and toe-tapping show garnered great reviews and much enthusiastic word of mouth, and rightly so. Sadly, amidst the competition this season it never found a strong foothold, and is closing on September 17. So if you’re in New York or coming, I can’t recommend this show enough: catch it live while you can. It’s a big, complicated show and I imagine a tour is a long shot.

Aside from Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography that rightly won this year’s Tony and stellar performances across the board, this score has some of the most amazing arrangements and orchestration in recent years by Greg Anthony Rassen and Bill Elliott, and given the genius work that’s been coming in lately that’s saying a lot.

Seriously, catch it live if you can. Failing that, or better yet in addition to, the original Broadway cast recording superbly captures this show.

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.