The question—What Is American Classical Music?—comes to mind on Now Is the Time, Sunday, August 18th at 10 pm. The Symphony No. 1 of John Biggs is in the grand tradition we think of as “American,” with wide-open sounds and deep breaths from the prairies—first brought to us by Virgil Thomson of Kansas and Aaron Copland of Brooklyn. It’s as American as it gets.
The music of John Biggs grows honestly out of this tradition, but the very day in 1963 that the middle movement was completed, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This Passacaglia of this American symphony, often performed separately as a memorial, lends added resonance to the entire work.
Carol Barnett takes two worlds that ought not go together—and makes them go together. The World Beloved, A Bluegrass Mass is remarkable because of its integrity. This is no simple Mass-with-a-banjo. Text is interpolated between the sections of the Mass, and the total result is solid, colorful—and uplifting. The bluegrass band Monroe Crossing joins Philip Brunelle’s VocalEssence in a work that could only have come to light in America.
Stark contrasts play against each other on Now Is the Time, Sunday, August 11th at 10 pm. Zeitgeist performs In Bone-Colored Light, Jerome Kitzke's illumination of a late afternoon in an American landscape. Gabriela Lena Frank opens up the Indian and Spanish cultures of Peru for "Holy Mary, let's go dance," or Ccollanan Maria, a sighing, gospel-inflected work sung by San Francisco's Volti.
Maggi Payne finds music in sounds from the environment, processes them electronically, and attractive surprises result in System Test (Fire and Ice). And from Curt Cacioppo's recent CD Italia, Network for New Music performs Colomba Scarlatta della Libia, or Red Dove of Libya, a bubbling work of shadow and light.
Unusual ensembles blend their voices on Now Is the Time, Sunday, August 4th at 10 pm. W.A. Mathieu vaulted into stardom among jazz cognoscenti when, at 22, he wrote all the arrangements for the 1959 Stan Kenton album Standards in Silhouette. He went on to help found Chicago's Second City improv troupe, and writes music and books melding Western and Eastern traditions.
For All sets Gary Snyder's original Buddhist- and Native American-tinged poetry, as well as a translation of Chinese poet Han Shan. The early-music Galax Quartet, combining gut-stringed violins, cello, and viola da gamba, accompanies contralto Karen Clark.
Ezra Laderman writes for an orchestra of cellos in Parisot, named for the director of the Yale Cellos, Aldo Parisot. Laderman further subtitles the five movements for cellists Gregor Piatigorsky, Pablo Casals, Emanuel Feuermann, János Starker (who died in April 2013), and Parisot. A cello ensemble produces one of the most beautiful out-of-the-box sounds in music, and Laderman varies the texture and motion exquisitely.
The Wunderkind has come of age! Gustavo Dudamel, the young, Venezuelan conductor known for his flashy and energetic performances with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, and, since 2009, as music director with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has turned in a deeply considered performance of Gustav Mahler’s profoundly personal symphonic statement. The recording captures the 32-year-old (31 at the time of this live concert recording) tackling repertoire conductors 20 years his senior are just now finding themselves ready to take on.
We reflect on the Battle of Gettysburg’s 150th Anniversary on Now Is the Time, Sunday, July 7th at 10 pm. Warren Swenson sets the Civil War poetry of Moby-Dick author Herman Melville in Battle Pieces. Infused with the musical accents of the time and with riveting word pictures, Battle Pieces honors, in Lincoln’s undying phrase, “the last full measure of devotion” given at Gettysburg.
Dedications of other sorts round out the program. In the short brass piece Numbering the Stars, Rodney Rogers quotes the 19th-century hymn “Wondrous Love.” Sarah Meneely Kyder sets a poem of her sister’s, using text from their father in World War II, in Letter from Italy, 1944. With Zoë Cansdale of Hartburn, Dick Hensold remembers the life of a young woman taken too soon, in music for pipes that is both poignant and uplifting.
from Frederic Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated
It’s a monument of contemporary solo piano literature on Now Is the Time, Sunday, June 23rd at 10 pm. Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated is a staggering set of 36 variations on a Chilean folk song for solo piano.
Beginning with a simple statement, Rzewski weaves a complicated scheme of penumbras of the tune. Some are complicated, some are bluntly simple. For all its interweavings, the work grows into a musical edifice that is frankly gorgeous. Nicolas Slonimsky calls Rzewski (a virtuoso pianist as well as composer) “a granitically overpowering piano technician, capable of depositing huge boulders of sonoristic material across the keyboard without actually wrecking the instrument.” This is music that must be met.
Tune in this Saturday, June 15th, after the opera, when Mark Pinto will host a special New Releases. He's stretching out and broadcasting for us Mahler's last completed symphony, the Ninth. We can't spill the beans on whose recording it is, but it's gotten raves! You will not be disappointed.
If you have the time to tune in just for this monument of orchestral literature, get to your radio or point your browser to wrti.org by about 4:15 pm.
I admit I approach any new recordings of these, my favorite Tchaikovsky symphonies, with a bit of trepidation. Over the years I’ve encountered one too many recordings, as well as concert performances, that lay on the incurable Romanticism a bit too thick. Thematic presentations are muddled and tempos are stretched so that each movement, regardless of the tempo indication, seems to plod at the same pace.
It’s as if some conductors believed that Tchaikovsky, who always wore his heart on his sleeve, needed help expressing his feelings.
It's all movement and angles on Now Is the Time, Sunday, June 9th at 10 pm. Sergio Cervetti's two harpsichord pieces Candombe and Alberada spin and dance, while Elizabeth Brown's chamber work Liguria bends deliciously (she's also the flutist).
Another composer/performer is the Philadelphia area's Steve Bowman, whose electronic Odd Angle of the Isle is mixed down from live club dates (no sequencers! no multi-tracking!). Steven Winteregg imagines an orchestral bullet train speeding through France with a brisk TGV, but David Evan Thomas's Thrum nudges the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet through layers and soft waves to close the program.
The cold snap is behind us and we’re feeling the warmth of spring on Now Is the Time, Sunday, May 19th at 10 pm. Ingrid Arauco’s Florescence buzzes and hums for the flute and harpsichord of Mélomanie, and Derek Bermel brings Thracian Sketches in all its Bulgarian-inspired rhythms to viola and percussion.
George Tsontakis takes us to the Mediterranean with orchestral Gymnopedies that are more Greek than French, but France infuses the sound of Avner Dorman’s Moments Musicaux for piano.
Things heat up with the computerized kicks of Thrum by John Gibson, and finally, with the two electric guitars that rock David Lang’s Warmth.