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.
Two violin concertos breathe the air of outdoors on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 3rd at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Neil Rolnick at Harvard was looking for extra work, and answered an ad for a gardener. It happened to be at the house of the world-famous Bauhaus architect, Walter Gropius. In Gardening at Gropius House, for chamber ensemble with computer, Rolnick combines his love of two things in art that he hopes are not in conflict: avant-garde modernism and a good tune.
Twilight, Midnight, Romance, and Dawn are some of the movement titles in Ned Rorem's Violin Concerto. He almost named the piece Concertino or Variations, since there is no real program behind the music. Still, that combination of lightness and gravity, which suffuses all of Rorem's works, breathes of spring, and of air.
We remember the living and the dying on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 26th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. The music of Michael Hersch is always strong, always dark, and always provocative, but its true power lies in its vibrancy, always reaching out to us. Images from a Closed Ward refers to drawings by Michael Mazur of psychiatric patients. The lithographs and the music are tough but compelling; the sadness is deep, but the humanity, sublime. The Blair String Quartet plays this riveting 13-movement work.
A separate string orchestra piece that is also part of her second symphony, Ghosts of Judith Lang Zaimont salutes the composers Scriabin, Britten, Ravel, Berg, Christopher Rouse, and Laurie Anderson. But—and this is important—it is by no means a pastiche of other styles. Ghosts is a thoroughly integrated work of imagination and depth.
We dream our lives and live our dreams on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 19th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Bright Sheng's romantic orchestral work China Dreams includes movements called The Stream Flows and The Three Gorges of the Long River. The tragedy of U.S. duplicity before and after the Battle of the Little Bighorn is the subject of We Need to Dream All This Again. Jerome Kitzke writes, "let's dance, and call it praying," as he honors the Native American building of a new life by dreaming that life.
Clarinet and four-hand piano unfold through digital delay in the evocative Passage Through a Dream by Phillip Schroeder, and Zeitgeist closes out the show with the humorous and quirky Getting Your Z's (Or Not) by Janika Vandervelde.
We arrive at the corner of Jazz and Classical on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 12th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Chicago a cappella scats with Pleasure the music of Malcolm Dalglish, and solo piano tries out David Baker's Jazz Dance Suite as well as The Blue Hula by Tobias Picker.
John Musto's Divertimento for chamber ensemble has jazz and popular music overtones, but there's no mistaking the straight-ahead jazz worldview in three works by Philadelphia's Adam Berenson (even if he turns a corner here and there), from his brand-new 2-CD release Lumen. He's the pianist, along with bass and drums, in his Late 20th Century Stomp, Emotional Idiot, and Respectable People.