Voices from the Heartland

George Crumb says he has now finished his American Songbook project, with the final installment premiered last night in Philadelphia by Orchestra 2001 with James Freeman conducting. This has been a huge undertaking: seven big cycles of folk song settings, all for solo voice or two singers, accompanied by percussion quartet plus amplified piano. This last set, called Voices from the Heartland, includes settings of “Softly and Tenderly” “Lord, Let Me Fly!”, and “Beulah Land”, among others, as well as a couple of American Indian chants. There is a delightfully Ivesian treatment of “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Maidens” combined with “On Top Of Old Smokey” – the two songs are sung simultaneously in different keys. In a sense, the pieces break no new ground for Crumb – he has his language  – but within that language they are unfailingly imaginative, varied, and beautiful. The performance was very fine, with George’s daughter Ann and baritone Patrick Mason as soloists. These singers, along with the instrumentalists of Orchestra 2001, are so experienced in performing Crumb’s music that the special demands he places on them – whispered vocal effects, or myriad non-Western percussion instruments – pose no problems. It is uncommon to hear players, for example, consistently command the extremely soft dynamics that George often requests.

I do wish the voices had been amplified more subtly – not just more softly, but not as closely miked. I feel there must be a way to use the amplification to support the voices and help them compete with the loudest percussion passages while still making it feel like the voices and the percussion are in the same acoustical space. In contrast, the amplification of the piano made some of its more delicate effects audible while keeping the instrument integrated with the non-amplified percussion. You were constantly aware of the voices being amplified – it shouldn’t draw attention to itself in this way.

The amplification was also a bit too loud for the Boulez Anthèmes 2 on the first half of the concert, in a virtuosic performance by Gloria Justen, with Peter Price assisting at the laptop.  As for the piece itself, it is a pleasant 8 minute demonstration of how a computer can process live violin sound. Unfortunately, the piece went on for 3 times that length. While the sounds were attractive, Boulez just presents them, never shaping them into a narrative. Not that every piece has to have a linear narrative; a succession (rather than a progression) of contrasting gestures can work, but if you are going to have a piece that long, you would need less repetition of gestures, or at least some genuinely extended phrases, rather than short phrases going on at length. A comparison with the Crumb is instructive: both pieces rely on an unusual sound palette, but the carefully shaped forms and the sensitive attention to timing in George’s music makes for a vastly more successful piece.

The concert began with a short piece by Louis Andriessen, a setting of a letter he received from mezzo Cathy Berberian, the spouse of composer Luciano Berio. In the letter she speaks of how Stravinsky re-shaped what became his Elegy for J. F. K. for her. The piece is straightforward, light in manner, with a hint of elegiaic tone, for it memorializes an artist who died too young. Ann Crumb served the piece well with her charismatic theatrical flair.

Here I am with George after the performance:

 

More about George and the Songbooks, here, here, and here.

Tuesday Night Miscellany

– Stephen Hough has a remarkably poetic post on Anglican Evensong.

– Matthew Guerrieri on the Harbison 6th.

– George Crumb premiere coming up this weekend in Philly with Orchestra 2001. David Patrick Stearns has a preview.

Prism collaborates with Music from China in NYC February 3 and in Philly Feb. 4. Details here.

Here’s a video prepared by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with Gil Kalish on Crumb:

Upcoming in Philly, Boston, Phoenix, and NYC

– New music choir The Crossing offers three performances of Kile Smith’s Vespers, collaborating with Piffaro, The Renaissance Band. I don’t know a better contemporary piece for old instruments – for that alone the work is a remarkable achievement. But instrumentation aside, this is exceptionally beautiful music. January 7 and 8 in Philadelphia, January 9 in New York, details here.

Eric Chasalow’s new horn concerto will be heard at the Southwest Horn Conference in Phoenix on January 14, and in Boston at a BMOP concert, January 27. Eric is perhaps best known as a master of the electronic medium, but his acoustic music is just as superb.

– There will be an evening of music by Hayes Biggs at Manhattan School, January 15. I earlier wrote about the Avalon Quartet’s recording of Hayes’s touching O Sapientia/Steal Away here. Update: more info about the concert here. Susan Narucki and Christopher Oldfather will offer a new song cycle.

– The seventh and final volume of George Crumb’s American Songbook will be premiered by Orchestra 2001 on January 28 and 29 in Philadelphia.

Coming Attractions – 2011-2012

– Go here for a press release on the upcoming Miller Theater season, including a massive James Dillon 3-night extravaganza and Composer Portraits including John Zorn and George Lewis.

– the Orchestra 2001 website lists three programs for next year, with Boulez, Adams, Pärt, Andriessen, and a Crumb premiere – the seventh book in his remarkable American Songbook series.

CityMusic Cleveland offers 24 free concerts next season.

Network for New Music’s focus is on what they are calling Word Music, with big pieces by Lewis Spratlan and Matthew Greenbaum, and collaborations including one with The Crossing.

Upcoming in Philly and NYC

– March 18 – soprano Mary MacKenzie (of SongFusion) performs with Shuffle Concert this Friday, March 18 at Baruch College. It’s a nice idea – the audience picks the program on the spot!

-March 19 and 20 – Orchestra 2001 plays Hindemith, Berio and Roberto Sierra. Julianne Baird, soprano; Marcantonio Barone, piano, Lori Barnett, cello are featured. The performance on the 19th is at the Trinity Center in Center City, Philadelphia, on the 20th at Swarthmore College.

– March 22 – the Philadelphia chapter of the American Composers Forum presents a webcast interview with George Crumb at 7 PM. Audio trailer here.

– March 29 – Penn Contemporary Music presents violinist Maria Bachman and pianist Jon Klibonoff at Penn’s Amado Recital Hall in Irvine Auditorium, 34th and Spruce Street. Program includes Glass: Sonata No. 1; Paul Moravec: Three Pieces; George Rochberg: Sonata; and the first performance of a new work by Penn faculty composer Jay Reise, The Flight of the Red Sea Swallow. The Glass and Moravec works are Philadelphia premieres. The late George Rochberg was, of course, a long-time Penn faculty member, and he wrote his sonata for Bachman.

– April 12 – looking a little ahead, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra will perform Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony at the Kimmel Center, Christoph Eschenbach conducting, with Di Wu, piano and Thomas Bloch, ondes Martenot.

Wednesday Night Miscellany

– Orchestra 2001 concerts are coming up this weekend – info here.

– Opera Today has interesting interviews with composers I like, including some with Penn connections: my faculty colleague Anna Weesner, and alums Pierre Jalbert and Steve Jaffe.

– YouTube has an interview with Mario Davidovsky – there are four parts, begin here.

Upcoming in Philly

Two leading new music groups in town are active soon:

– this Friday, Oct. 29th, the Network for New Music Ensemble will collaborate with composer Hyo-shin Na at the Korean Arts Festival being held at Haverford College.

– Nov. 6 at Trinity Center in Philadelphia, and Nov. 7 at Swarthmore College, Orchestra 2001 plays music by Tan DunMay T-Chi Chen, Penn alum Jennifer Barker, and Penn faculty member Jay Reise – Jay’s piece is a premiere.

Thursday night datebook

Events: very soon, soon, and not so soon:

Bowerbird presents Eliane Radigue’s complete Naldjorlak cycle at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street in Philadelphia, 8 pm, Friday, September 24.

Orchestra 2001 offers two works by Osvaldo Golijov, plus Enoch Arden by Richard Strauss, with Marina Sirtis as narrator; September 24 at Trinity Center, September 26 at Swarthmore College.

– Oboe goddess Peggy Pearson plays the Boston premiere of Stephen Jaffe’s Chamber Concerto “Singing Figures” at the first Winsor Music concert of the season. Sunday, October 3 at St. Paul’s Church, Brookline, 7:00 PM. (Check out the fine recording of the piece on Bridge.)

UPDATE: I just received an e-mail reporting that the October 3 Winsor Music  concert is cancelled, due to “an injury to a performer. She will be OK, but could not manage this week’s schedule of rehearsals. We regret any inconvenience caused by this cancellation.”

– Mimi Stillman’s Dolce Suono Ensemble premieres a new Richard Danielpour trio on October 22 at Trinity Center in Philadelphia. Read here (scroll down) about the group’s Mahler/Schoenberg project, coming next spring, and including commissioned works by Steven Stucky, Steven Mackey, Fang Man, David Ludwig, and Stratis Minakakis.

21st Century Consort offers Barber, Copland, Jon Deak, Jordan Kuspa, and Mark Kuss at its season opener, October 23, Smithsonian American Art Museum in DC.

Greeting Seasons

Season announcements for various new music ensembles are pouring over the virtual transom. Here are just a very few samples – use the links for more complete info, and seek out what is available in your own town:

Collage New Music of Boston is featuring Fred Lerdahl all season with five pieces across the three concert season. Works by Hartke, Mazzoli, Boykin, Liptak, and Harbison’s Louise Gluck cycle The Seven Ages are additional highlights.

Here in Philly, Network for New Music is having an Asian season, with music from or inspired by Tibet, China, Japan, and Korea. Featured composers include Chou Wen-Chung, Dai Fujikura, Takemitsu (with video by Gene Coleman), and Shih-Hui Chen.

Also in Philadelphia, Orchestra 2001 makes its own contribution to the Asian focus with works by Tan Dun and May T-Chi Chen, along with premieres by Jay Reise and Gerald Levinson and music by Golijov and Dutilleux.

The Dallas-based Voices of Change is offering music by Moravec, Lutoslawski, Xi Wang, Poul Ruders, and Chen Yi.

In San Francisco, Earplay revives a 1959 work by Seymour Shifrin, as well as playing music by Saariaho, Harvey, Lori Dobbins, and Michael Finnissy.

Alarm Will Sound is touring with a multimedia program called 1969 – Beatles arrangements, Bernstein, Berio, Stockhausen  – inspired by a planned joint concert by Stockhausen and the Beatles that never took place. The program comes to Zankel Hall on March 10.

The Composer Portraits at Columbia University’s Miller Theater this season will feature Matthias Pintscher, Fred Lerdahl, Pierre Boulez, Julia Wolfe, Mario Davidovsky, Chaya Czernowin, and Joan Tower.

Da Capo Chamber Players celebrate their 40th anniversary with programs that include premieres by George Tsontakis and Keith Fitch.

The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society is not a new music ensemble, but it deserves mention here, for their many concerts will include a rich array of new music and 20th century classics, including works by Ingrid Arauco, Curt Cacioppo, Crumb, Lawrence Dillon, David Finko, Hindemith, Daniel Kellogg, Jan Krzywicki, Lowell Liebermann, David Ludwig, Webern, Messiaen, and Richard Wernick.

PMP online

The Philadelphia Music Project – a grant making initiative of the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage – has put its magazine online. Composer Rob Maggio has written a short essay about his upcoming premiere with Orchestra 2001 this weekend. Those concerts will also feature music by Barber, a premiere by Paul Moravec, and a local premiere by Andrew Rudin.