Full disclosure: the composer featured on this album of solo piano works, Alex Shapiro, is one of my dearest friends, staunchest champions, and a paragon of elegance, courage, indefatigable energy, generosity, and sagacity. So I don’t claim for a minute that this recommendation is remotely unbiased.
Still I can’t imagine any fan of living new/concert music not being swept away by these widely ranging pieces ranging across two decades, more introspective than virtuosic. Their various impetuses are wide ranging, as Shapiro herself describes: “From a fiery, unexpectedly uplifting elegy, to a somber and despairing childhood flashback; From the bleakness of the Mexican desert, to the lilt of kelp strands along the San Juan Island shoreline; From homages to R. Schumann and L.V. Beethoven, to affirmations of the fragile power of healing herbs; From lyrical angularity, to frenzied comedy.”
The creation of this album involved a fascinating two-stage process. Pianist and Yamaha Artist Adam Marks first played the tracks into a 9′ Yamaha DCFX, which captured them as digital files. These were then edited and polished. The tracks were then recorded via the piano’s playback of those revised files in New York City’s American Academy of Arts and Letters, allowing the hall’s superb acoustics to add their richness to Marks’ superb renditions.
The suite from which the album derives its title is simultaneously lyrical, reflective and haunting, and all the tracks are captivating.
But I unashamedly claim a favorite amongst these: the opening work, “Spark”, a commission in honor of Dale Mara Bershad who succumbed to cancer in 2010. This luminous, soaring piece reflect’s Mara’s “remarkable inner light cast an indelible glow. Her essence remains radiant and present: a spark from a life filled with passion and delight, burning brightly, intensely, and without end.”
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.
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.
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.
Since 2005, Marvin Rosen has held a yearly 24-25 hour marathon during the December holidays of new “concert” music as part of his “Classical Discoveries” show on Princeton, NJ radio station WPRB, devoted to music written within the previous ten years or so. This heroic and invaluable endeavor offers music by a panoply of composers from around the world, from the well known to the not so much. In the latter category, I’ve had the great honor of being included in the roster twice, last year with my Opus 20 songs for low male voice and piano.
Catching up on this fantastic panorama of contemporary concert music, generally during the holiday break from my Day Job or afterwards, is one of my favorite ways to immerse myself in concert music and exposes me to hosts of composers I might otherwise never get to know. Like Will Robin’s newer but equally invaluable Symphomania, I can’t recommend this series enough. Happily you can access it at your own rate and leisure at http://www.classicaldiscoveries.org/aboutmr.html.