Instant Encore playlist

Now playing at Instant Encore:

Ryan MacEvoy McCollough plays Andrew McPherson’s Secrets of Antikithera and John Harbison’s Second Piano Sonata.

two works of mine are available: the Albany Symphony playing Luminism (various posts about the piece begin here), and organist Karel Paukert playing my Meditation on “What Wondrous Love is This?”

Da Capo Chamber Players offer music by Cleveland composers Keith Fitch, Andrew Rindfleisch, and Greg D’Alessio.

Darknesse Visible, a piano work by Thomas Adés, played by Hoang Pham.

– the Ying Quartet offers Chou Wen-Chung’s First String Quartet, “Clouds”.

Streaming Luminism

You can now listen to the Albany Symphony performance of my Luminism at Instant Encore. David Alan Miller conducts a very fine performance. I don’t know how long the piece will be available, but since the Albany will probably not be adding new material over the summer, it should be there for a while. Read a program note about the piece here, and read posts about my time in Albany here, here, here, and here. I notice that the Albany has won an ASCAP adventurous programming award.

Luminism in Albany

L to R: conductor and music director of the Albany Symphony David Alan Miller, composers John Harbison, James Primosch, and Stacy Garrop

I’ve already blogged about my recent experience in Albany herehere and here, but am only now getting around to a word about how the May 22nd concert went. David Alan Miller, Albany Symphony music director, began the program with two new movements from Stacy Garrop’s planned Mythology Symphony. Her Becoming Medusa was performed by the Albany last fall (you can hear the performance here), and at David’s suggestion, she is adding additional movements to the piece. The new ones deal with The Sirens and The Fates. She has a handle on a big orchestral sound, with grand, vivid, even overpowering gestures (perhaps there is a Christopher Rouse influence here?). Both new pieces drive to huge climaxes; in the Fates movement, the peaks contrast with some eloquent (and beautifully played) solo cello writing. Stacy says she is planning a Pandora movement to round out the piece. It is a smart strategy to write independent pieces that can combine to make up a grander vision – think of George Tsontakis’s T.S. Eliot piecesRouse’s Phantasmata; Carter’s big Symphonia; and Augusta Read Thomas’s Helios Choros ballet tryptich (go here and scroll down), worthy pieces all. Or at least it seems like a smart strategy. The problem is to get the entire set performed as a unit. This partly has to do with the problem of the second performance that I wrote about here; but it also has to do with the unavailability of a 40 minute slot for a new piece on an orchestral concert.

The best thing about the next piece on the program, a percussion concerto by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, was the commanding performance by soloist Colin Currie, who is perhaps best known for his performances and recording of Jennifer Higdon’s Grammy-winning Percussion Concerto. I found the Rautavarra rather square and unimaginative. It is saying something when the most interesting composing in a concerto is the cadenza which has been written not by the composer, but by the soloist! Currie is a remarkable virtuoso, and made as much as he could of the often stiffly constructed solo part. I hope to hear him in a more inspired work soon.

My own Luminism followed the intermission. (You can read my program note here.) Rather than try to describe it more, I’ll let you hear it for yourself when it becomes available on Instant Encore. For now, I’ll just report that David and the Albany did a fantastic job – David paced the piece beautifully, there was wonderful solo playing (thank you, horns, for the beautifully echoing nocturnal passage), and the full ensemble had power and precision.

The concert closed with a suite from John Harbison’s opera The Great Gatsby. Berg extracted a Lulu Suite from his opera, but he also planned a Lulu Symphony, and Harbison’s suite tends toward the symphonic in character. Although sometimes the transitions are abrupt, the piece is more than a simple stringing together of excerpts. There is something symphonic about the tension created when the 20s style pop tunes Harbison created are juxtaposed with the music for the story’s more dramatic moments. Both kinds of music share some of the same motivic material and it is as though that material is being developed in two different keys. With the music alone, Harbison is able to convey something of the expressive impact of the opera on this smaller canvas. Take the words and scenery out of many contemporary operas, and you will have mere background music. That’s not the case with Gatsby. There is an affecting drama deep in the music’s bones.

Apart from this symphonic drama, there is plenty of charm in the piece. The witty, expertly crafted 20s songs – foxtrots, a tango, and so forth – are played by a sort of cafe orchestra embedded in the larger ensemble. There are sometimes tiny hints of Ives when the pop songs collide with something else – for example, a very high, soft violin obligato played over one of the pop tunes feels like something from another world –  and I would have enjoyed more of that. Let’s hope this impressive suite inspires more productions of the opera itself.

It was a fantastic experience in Albany. David, let’s do it again soon!

Dogs of Desire (Report from Albany #2)

Final rehearsal for Luminism went well today, with yesterday’s adjustments falling into place very nicely. This was the first time I heard the piece all the way through, and therefore my first chance to really assess the formal shape. I think it is going to work, though there is a lot of slow music.

After a fine dinner at Muza, a Polish restaurant in Troy (a sampler with pierogis, stuffed cabbage and potato pancakes was excellent; the Polish beer, called Zywiec, well, nothing special), my colleagues John Harbison, Stacy Garrop, and I went to hear the Albany Symphony’s new music ensemble, called Dogs of Desire. The Dogs are a unique endeavor, in that they have a relatively set chamber orchestra instrumentation, and that they play only newly commissioned works written for the group. The aesthetic angle is downtown-ish, with pop elements, including arrangements of familiar tunes, yet the group is not easily pinned down. I see George Tsontakis and Paul Moravec on their list of commissioned composers, alongside Marc Mellitts, David Lang, and Caleb Burhans. My favorite pieces tonight were a new work by Todd Reynolds involving Eric Singer’s musical robots (midi-ed acoustic instruments – some of the same instruments that Pat Matheny has been touring with); Ted Hearne’s setting of a Frank O’Hara poem; and, as an encore, an arrangement of the Bruce Springsteen song Fire (you know it from the Pointer Sisters version) by Derek Bermel. David Alan Miller conducted very fine performances, though amplified chamber orchestra remains tricky with respect to balances: the strings were occasionally reduced to mimes.

Diabolic Diabelli

Now that my piece for the Albany Symphony, “Luminism“, is in the capable hands of Ken Godel, who is computer engraving the score, I can turn my attention to the next project: a contribution to a collection of 25 variations by 25 composers on the theme of Beethoven’s  Diabelli Variations (click on the image at left for an IMSLP link to the score of the Beethoven) to be premiered at the 25th anniversary celebration of Network for New Music here in Philadelphia. The event takes place at the Queen Street branch of the Settlement Music School in Philly, on May 2. Go here to see the list of composers involved; the styles represented are nicely diverse. The title of this post is the title of my piece, and comes from the fact that I have re-imagined the harmony of the theme using stacks of tritones, the good ol’ diabolus in musica, as the theorists tell us.