New music hears old tunes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, July 26th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. George Crumb has a way—like no one else—of investing the simplest gesture with mystery and grandeur. He fills his seventh American Song Book, Voices from the Heartland, with these touches of wonder assembled in these hymns, spirituals, folk songs, and American Indian chants. Soprano Ann Crumb and baritone Patrick Mason are accompanied by Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman.
Beginning the show, there's just time enough to hear a movement from David Amram's Violin Concerto. His Celtic Rondo breathes the air of long ago from another place, or maybe he hears the spirits of ancestors from any place. Charles Castleman is the soloist.
Islands and dances and flutes seem to float on Now Is the Time, Saturday, July 19th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Haiku of Basho inspired Edie Hill's This Floating World for solo flute; Elena Ruehr's The Law of Floating Objects is for one flutist multiplied many times. An excerpt from A Floating Island is Matthew Greenbaum's chamber opera on an episode from Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, where some are so lost in thought they don't see what's right in front of them.
The Habanera makes us think of Cuba and islands (okay, it's a stretch), and we find one in 5 Pages from John's Book of Alleged Dances by John Adams. Robert Ackerman improvises Havana Special, clarinet and bass, and there's just enough time for an Ackerman encore, Scena.
Celebrate the solstice on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 21st at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Into Light is Marilyn Shrude's orchestral paean to youth and possibility, and Lewis Spratlan outlines an entire day of activity—both fun and contemplative—ending with a starry night, in A Summer's Day. Looking at the evening sky reflected in Italy's Lake Como, Laura Elise Schwendinger asks C’è la Luna Questa Sera? ("is there a moon tonight?").
As Monet painted the same scene in different light (including his Rouen Cathedral series from 1892-1893), Jennifer Higdon used materials from her blue cathedral in different ways in Light Refracted for clarinet, string trio, and piano. One of Brian Dykstra's piano rags is the deliciously floating Sweet Daydreams, and in light moving, David Lang provides an encore for Hilary Hahn.
Miniatures are big on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 14th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. The Pastiche of John Biggs is a riot of tunes you already know, skillfully arranged, while Miniatures are original offerings from Louis Anthony deLise's brand-new CD for flute and piano. A concertino is a small concerto, but Harold Schiffman's, for oboe, is the biggest work on the program and a lyrical treat.
Singing can be vocal or instrumental on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 7th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. A tribute to a family, carved in cemetery marble, is the choral Notturno in Weiss (Nocturne in White) by Robert Moran. Joseph Hallman's Three Poems of Jessica Hornik uses voice with an expanded chamber ensemble, while Anthony Iannaccone selects a solo piano for his Song without Words.
An Uruguayan legend or Leyenda comes from Sergio Cervetti for voice and orchestra, and from her ten-year-old daughter's poem about a Cape Cod berry-picking excursion, Elena Ruehr creates the all-instrumental Blackberries.
from Charles Ruggiero: Three Blues for Saxophone Quartet
Reaching inside helps to explain what surrounds us on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 31st at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. The poet and resistance fighter Avrom Sutzkever wrote the powerful words David Garner sets in Vilna Poems, for voice, clarinet, cello (Matt Haimovitz here), and piano. Paul Lansky, recently retired from a stellar career at Princeton, honors teachers, friends, and influences in Notes to Self for piano. Echoing throughout are George Perle, Milton Babbitt, Stravinsky, and Ravel, who moderates a conversation between Hindemith and Messiaen!
The blues often come around when we look inside, so we take a turn there for the final work. But even the blues can be light blue. Jazz subtle and not-so infuses Three Blues for Saxophone Quartet by Charles Ruggiero.
It's a blast from the past on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 24th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. David Del Tredici threw over his cutting-edge training in 12-tone music for his aggressively tonal "Alice" pieces, works based on Alice in Wonderland. In looking back, you might say, he never looked back from then on; some have called him the first neo-Romantic. Vintage Alice is a chamber opera for one singer, and it's delightfully quirky, just like Lewis Carroll.
Physicist Richard Feynman was known for his humor as much as his smarts; Michael Gandolfi captures both in the large choral/orchestral work Q.E.D.: Engaging Richard Feynman. From Hilary Hahn's CD of encores is Ford's Farm by Mason Bates. We see the horse & buggy giving way to the first automobile in this fun, fiddling excursion: Call it a short ride in slower machines.
Saxophonist and Prism Quartet founder Matthew Levy has spent his career getting other composers played; now the spotlight's on him in a new CD, and what a brilliance it reveals.
Call the Prism Saxophone Quartet contemporary-classical, call them avant-jazz, even call them omnivorous, but whatever you call them, they've been setting the gold standard for three decades. 2014 is in fact their 30th anniversary, and in that time, while centered in Philadelphia, they've been everywhere, stretching styles while inhabiting classical, jazz, world, and rock idioms.
Prism has commissioned more than 150 works, but in People's Emergency Center (Innova) they turn the entire two-disc set over to Matthew Levy.
People's Emergency Center is the first movement of Been There, and is also the name of a shelter helping women and children in West Philadelphia. It and the second movement, Gymnopedie (the word Erik Satie coined for his most famous piece), are culled from Levy's music for a documentary about the shelter. The Prism four (Timothy McAllister, Taimur Sullivan, Zachary Shemon, and Levy), bass, drums, guitar, and former Prism member Tim Ries on soprano saxophone all create magic with swirling precision.
Levy's voice is at once vernacular and otherworldly, steeped in jazz but living in—as Henry Cowell would have it—the whole world of music. Serial Mood seems to ponder that post-Schoenberg world of harmony, and in doing so reveals a tasty secret known to Dizzy Gillespie, Gunther Schuller, and a few other hep cats: If you play 12-tone music with a hard, swinging beat, it sounds for all the world like be-bop.
That's one of the unexpected treats that Levy offers. Another is the overarching spirit of generosity—to the listener and to each player. All the music of his I've heard exhibits this. Whether it's rhythmically striking, sonically challenging, or a charming tune, it is genial music offered warmly to a real world filled with real people who want something good to hear. An excellent example is Brown Eyes, which here employs the whole band, but which Levy first had played in public in a smaller version. The occasion of the premiere? His wedding.
[Been There and Brown Eyes were featured on Now Is the Time, May 10, 2014.]
New things are created out of old on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 17th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. David Gompper worked with Austrian violinist Wolfgang David on a new concerto before it was a concerto. For violin and piano, the work evolved through rehearsals and performances until Gompper felt it was ready, and then he orchestrated it as his Violin Concerto.
John King began four movements of AllSteel, for the string quartet Ethel, on September 10th, 2001. After the attacks of the following day, he added four more. A violent electric-guitar sound-world breaks through in the four 9/10 movements, but the even-numbered post-9/11 movements all have the word Peace in their titles. AllSteel ends with Peacerises.
Dan Becker pours Bach inventions through a post-minimalist filter into an electronically processed keyboard to come up with wonderfully twisting pieces. Energy and humor accompany the sand shifting under our feet in ReInvention 2C.
Somebody's looking out for us on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 10th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Genius loci is the spirit of a place, guardian spirit, or guardian angel; Frank Brickle's short work Genius Loci for mandolin and guitar is both whimsical and expansive. The Stone Tower looks over the artist colony of Yaddo, and is also the name of the first movement of Ned Rorem's Flute Concerto, written for Jeffrey Khaner, who performs it here.
Prism Saxophone Quartet founder Matthew Levy begins and ends the program with music from his new CD, People's Emergency Center. That's the name of a shelter helping women and children in West Philadelphia. It, too, is a first movement title, of Been There, music from a documentary about PEC. It's for Prism plus bass, drums, guitar, and another saxophone, as is Brown Eyes, which carries with it another great spirit. Matthew Levy had it performed at his wedding.