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Volume 28 Issue 1 | September 20 - November 8, 2022

Our 28th season in print! “And Now, Back to Live Action”; a symphonic-sized listings section, compared to last season; clubs “On the move” ; FuturesStops Festival and Nuit Blanche; “Pianistic high-wire acts”; Season announcements include full-sized choral works like Mendelssohn’s Elijah; “Icons, innovators and renegades” pulling out all the stops.

Our 28th season in print! “And Now, Back to Live Action”; a symphonic-sized listings section, compared to last season; clubs “On the move” ; FuturesStops Festival and Nuit Blanche; “Pianistic high-wire acts”; Season announcements include full-sized choral works like Mendelssohn’s Elijah; “Icons, innovators and renegades” pulling out all the stops.

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and fixed electronics dates from 2011. Haunting again comes to mind

as an apt descriptor, as solo woodwinds rise above a dense texture of

strings, gongs and cymbals. Perhaps it is the surface similarity to

George Crumb’s A Haunted Landscape that suggests the term. At any

rate, Andrew Cyr and the Metropolis Ensemble are stellar in this

culminating work on an excellent portrait disc. Razaz is definitely a

young composer to keep an eye (ear) on.

Cellist Claire Bryant’s Whole Heart

(Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0178 brightshiny.ninja)

represents both sides of her

mandate as Assistant Professor of Cello and

Coordinator for Community Engagement

at the University of South Carolina. Bryant

also directs the criminal justice initiative

“Music for Transformation,” spearheaded by

Carnegie Hall’s affiliate ensemble, Decoda,

of which she is a co-founder. The seven works she has chosen, all by

friends and colleagues, span 20 years of her career. Bryant says: “All

these passionate works reflect love and the great human experience.

Whole Heart is a reminder of the collective challenges we face and the

resilience and strength that live inside each of us.”

Andrea Casarrubios’ SEVEN was composed in 2020 and was

inspired by the early pandemic ritual in New York City of citizens celebrating

and encouraging frontline workers by banging pots and pans

each evening at 7pm. Ayudame (2004) by Adam Schoenberg was

the first piece that Bryant ever commissioned, back when she was

a student at Juilliard. Schoenberg says the Spanish title translates as

“’help me’ and refers, in part, to my struggle in composing the piece,”

which also pushed the cellist with its juxtaposition of extreme virtuosity

and high emotional output. They have both risen admirably to

the challenge. Delta Sunrise by Jessica Meyer is a gentler, at times

ethereal piece, inspired by the view from an early morning airplane

journey after the composer’s inaugural trip to New Orleans. The other

solo works are Varsha (Rain) by Reena Esmail, based on Hindustani

ragas sung to beckon rain, and the playful And Even These Small

Wonders by Tanner Porter which was “conceived in a trying time, but

looks brightly towards the future.”

Bryant is joined by violist Nadia Sirota for the quietly boisterous

Limestone & Felt by her longtime friend Caroline Shaw. Shaw and

Bryant met as young children as summer campers and Suzuki collaborators.

There’s lots of pizzicato and some rolling unison passages in

this piece which explores two “contrasting, common textures –

resonant, gleaming limestone and muted, soft felt.” The final work on

this excellent and intriguing disc, Duo for violin and cello by Jessie

Montgomery, features Ari Streisfeld, another longtime friend and

colleague. The opening and closing movements, – Meandering and

Presto – are virtuosic and playful, while the contrasting middle Dirge

is melancholy and contemplative. Montgomery says “the piece is

meant as an ode to friendship with movements characterizing

laughter, compassion, adventure, and sometimes silliness.” A perfect

ending to an enticing disc.

Violinist Johnny Gandelsman embarked on

a similar, although more ambitious, voyage

during the pandemic by commissioning

works from a number of his colleagues that

would “reflect in some way on the time we

were all living through,” a time that was

overshadowed not only by COVID-19, but

also by escalating racism, police brutality

and the ever-increasing effects of climate

change. This is America – An Anthology 2020-2021 (In A Circle

Records ICR023 inacircle-records.com/releases) is a 3CD set of works

for mostly solo violin by some two dozen composers ranging from five

to 24 minutes in length. I say mostly solo violin because some tracks

involve voice(s) and/or electronics, and some call for Gandelsman to

perform on alternative instruments including acoustic and electric

tenor guitars and five-string violin. Clocking in at nearly three and a

half hours, one might expect the set to grow tiresome after a while;

but I must say there is more than enough diversity to command and

hold attention, at least when consumed one disc at a time.

There are far too many tracks to enumerate here, but some of the

highlights for me include the following. Disc one opens with O for

overdubbed voices and violin by Clarice Assad. It is a hauntingly

lyrical meditation on oxygen (“O”) referencing not only the respiratory

distress and failure brought on by COVID-19 but also George

Floyd’s last words “I can’t breathe.” Layale Chaker’s Sinekemān, in

which the solo violin evokes the spirit of the Ottoman ancestor of the

violin (sinekemān) characterized by its seven sympathetic strings, is a

study on solitude, “an ongoing flux of moments of self-sufficiency and

struggle, lucidity and confusion, power and despair, already depicted

by the aloneness of the solo instrument.” Nick Dunston’s percussive

and scratchy Tardigrades was inspired by the phylum of eight-legged

segmented micro-animals that can survive lack of food or water for up

to three decades, withstand extreme temperatures and have even been

reported to be able to survive the vacuum of outer space (although

those on board Israel’s Beresheet mission, which crash-landed on the

moon in 2019, are thought not to have survived).

Disc two begins gently with Gandelsman singing and whistling

while strumming a tenor guitar on Marika Hughes’ With Love From J,

commemorating the life of Jewlia Eisenberg with the lyric “…The sky

above us / the ground below / 360 support around us / cut discursive

thought. Can you hear / What we’ve learned / Through the years? That

love, sweet love / Reminds us / What to listen for.” Angélica Negrón’s

A través del manto luminoso (Through the luminous mantle) takes

its inspiration from dark-sky photographs of the heavens taken in

Puerto Rico. It juxtaposes the acoustic violin with synthetic sounds

meant to replicate audio recordings of ancient stars made using data

from NASA’s Keppler/K2 missions. The eerie sounds and the “lonely”

violin suggest the depths of space and the wonder of the universe.

The minimalist pioneer Terry Riley is one of the few composers on

this anthology with whose music I would have said I am familiar.

But I must say that Barbary Coast 1955 for five-string violin is unlike

anything else of his that I have heard. Riley gives a blow-by-blow

description of the genesis and development of the work in his 11-part

program note, including a number of false starts and rejected ideas.

What we are left with is a kind of tango-tinged South American

melody “that might have found itself drifting into the weed-scented

room of a Beat poet” in North Beach (San Francisco’s “Barbary Coast”

section) in the 1950s. This slowly morphs into a rollicking Bach-like

quasi-contrapuntal section before gradually winding down. Quite a

striking work.

Disc three begins with the brief Stitched by Matana Roberts that

seems to pick up right where Riley’s piece left off, opening very

quietly with a longing melody that develops gently over its four-anda-half-minute

length before fading. With a seamless segué, Aeryn

Santillan’s Withdraw is a work “reflecting on the state of society in

2020 through an intimate lens.” These two relatively short works are

followed by more extended pieces by Tyshawn Sorey – For Courtney

Bryan, strangely the only piece to not have a contextual program note

in the otherwise quite detailed booklet – Anjna Swaminathan, Conrad

Tao and Akshaya Tucker. The disc concludes with Breathe by Kojiro

Umezaki, another meditation on the “world being brought to its knees

by an inconspicuous peril replicating exponentially (and paradoxically)

through the life-giving/sustaining act of breathing.”

Throughout this impressive undertaking Gandelsman rises to all

the myriad challenges, be they technical, stylistic or emotional. This

is a compelling snapshot, or rather compendium, of America in the

depths of a very troubled time, expressing anger, remorse, anguish

and, most importantly, hope. Kudos to all concerned, especially

Gandelsman who conceived the project and brought it to glorious

fruition.

We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent

to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social

Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor

discoveries@thewholenote.com

48 | September 20 - November 8, 2022 thewholenote.com

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