Reviews :::: Schirmer News Winter 2009

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Read a selection of reviews from this fall's premieres and performances!

Avner Dorman
Lost Souls
...the music was marvelous, featuring sprinkles of dissonance among ever present tonal riffs and passages. The rhythms were so intense that one percussionist overturned his bongos near the beginning of the work. Evocations of the styles of Chopin, Bach, Gershwin, Ligeti and others could be heard throughout the work. Dorman employed a clever technique of beginning a melody in the piano and continuing it in the strings in an abnormally high register. While the central portion of the composition flagged in energy and interest, the conclusion was a musical roller coaster ride. Goldstein played convincingly, with a dual musical personality: vibrant lyricism at times followed by highly technical musical athleticism. The work ended with an extended piano trill, high strings, crashing percussion and (more theatrics!) lights out. The orchestra proved a highly skilled partner for Goldstein, impressive in its precision and orchestral colors.
Kansas City Star, 11/20/2009

John Harbison
Leonard Stein Anagrams
True to Harbison’s innate spirit of invention, compositional command, and dogma-free musical range, he has concocted something fascinating, a diverse and connective set of 13 miniatures (the last titled 12a, in deference to the “13”-phobic Stein and Schoenberg). Each piece bears a title based on anagrams of Stein’s name, including Note slid near, L.A. trend: noise (a garrulous and exciting blast of piano sound) and Tender as a lion, a suitable impression of the imposing yet affable Stein.

Stylistically, we get hints of the influence of Schoenberg — and his miniature-minded pupil Webern — and also Satie (especially in Rise tone, lad!), along with revealing doses of Harbison, Stein himself, and detectable elements of Cheng’s musical persona.
The Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2009

Aaron Kernis
Concerto With Echoes
Also inspired by a Bach Brandenburg concerto was Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Aaron Jay Kernis' Concerto with Echoes. Unusual in the absence of violins, it mirrors Bach's sixth Brandenburg by using only violas, cellos, and basses in the strings. Opening with a gentle fluttering of the strings, the piece became more agitated and toccata-like before settling down to soothing tranquility with the gentle chiming of gongs and the rich resonance of the basses.
The Morning Call, 10/08/09

Peter Lieberson
The Coming of Light
On Sunday evening, the chamber musicians offered rarefied sensitivity to dynamics in this superb world premiere. Lieberson’s long-standing affinity for musical theater comes through in these six songs set to poetry by Shakespeare, John Ashbery and Mark Strand. The stanzas are set fluidly in motion with a minimalist’s energy even when they can be generally characterized as unsettlingly plaintive. Baritone John Michael Moore sang with fortitude and grace, yielding the right amount of playfulness when called for. He fleshed out a grave beauty in the fourth song, set to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 109 (”O, Never say that I was false of heart”), that was surely the cycle’s vertex. There’s no reason more prominent American baritones like Thomas Hampson or Nathan Gunn shouldn’t have this cycle on their radar in the future. The composer was in attendance and received a frenetic round of applause.
The Chicago Classical Review, 9/28/09

Tan Dun
Violin Concerto: The Love
Mr. Tan’s new Violin Concerto, subtitled “The Love...” [is] in three continuous sections meant to evoke young love, romantic love and philosophical love...

The opening section, “Hip Hop,” was lean and angular, with free-time violin soliloquies and violent outbursts. But a steady funk-rock drum beat and brash whoops from the brass section made the music unusually playful and accessible.

The middle movement, “Malinconia,” recalled Mr. Tan’s lushest film-score work; Mr. Lin’s warm playing was surrounded with a plush bed of strings. Energy dipped slightly during the final section, “Dramatico,” with its constant shifts of pace and mood. But Mr. Lin’s exuberant playing held your attention, and Mr. Tan drew a performance of exceptional assurance from the Juilliard Orchestra.
The New York Times, 10/27/09

John Tavener
Hearing the British composer John Tavener’s Requiem in its United States premiere at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Wednesday night, in the opening concert of the "Sacred Music in a Sacred Space" series, you felt literally engulfed in pantheistic ecstasy.
The New York Times, 10/09/09

Augusta Read Thomas
Violin Concerto No. 3, Juggler in Paradise
Augusta Read Thomas’s [Violin Concerto No.3], Juggler in Paradise (a BBC co-commission, receiving its UK premiere), is apparently metaphorical. Relating to the interaction of soloist and orchestra, it hints both at the athletic part given the solo violin and the almost celestial regions inhabited by the orchestra.

At the start of the work it is the violin that establishes that sphere, though it is soon surrounded by an aura of bell-like sounds produced by harp, celesta, vibraphone, glockenspiel and indeed tubular chimes. Before long the soloist has embarked on her juggling act, a pointillistic technique in which a nervous, spiky effect is ameliorated by the soft plops of marimba and crotales.

There are few if any grand statements by the whole orchestra: more in the way of mini-discussions among groups of instruments, with a gathering of forces for a brief exclamation before a return to the rarefied spheres high above the stave.
The London Evening Standard, 10/09/09

Augusta Read Thomas
Helios Choros II
Thomas’s approach often weds a preference for rugged complexity with a keen ear for the sensuality of sound. So too Helios Choros II is very densely scored for a large orchestra with multiple layers of near constant activity - short sunken fanfares, fast instrumental relays, jagged violin solos, a pizzicato echo chamber - and yet a sense of rhetorical coherence nonetheless emerges... The music holds the ear but does not overwhelm it.
The Boston Globe, 10/17/09

Joan Tower
Ivory and Ebony
...commissioned for the San Antonio [International Piano Competition]... it’s an evocative work in which jazzy tone color and broad emotionalism are expressed through the idea of a rivalry between music made on the black keys and the white keys.

Tower’s piece begins with a soft, quiet series of repeated chords that alter slightly harmonically, creating a sonic color wash very much in keeping with the Debussy that followed it. Tower makes use of the full keyboard, from deep rumblings in the bass to running passages in opposition directions that reach both ends of the instrument. Amid all this tonal bravura is a little motif, the first three notes of a minor-key scale, that help anchor the music in a narrative context.
The Palm Beach Artspaper 10/7/09

Julia Wolfe
Steel Hammer
"At the heart of Ms. Wolfe’s score is the venerable John Henry, a song recorded by hundreds of singers, including Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen...

Ms. Wolfe’s piece is not a conventional setting. You barely hear the traditional melody, though fragments waft past occasionally. Instead Ms. Wolfe has undertaken an obsessive study of the song’s many versions and has made an expansive, eclectic setting of the results...

...Ms. Wolfe’s opening movement, Some Say, breaks down the phrase “Some say he’s from,” in ways that recall Steve Reich’s early tape pieces It’s Gonna Rain and Come Out...

But Ms. Wolfe’s musical language reaches well beyond Minimalism. The third movement, Destiny, is couched in dark dissonances that veer on cacophony. Characteristics is underpinned by what might have been a flamenco rhythm..."
The New York Times

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