There's the unlikeliest motion on Now Is the Time, Sunday, October 6th at 10 pm. Kristjan Järvi conducts a live, rip-snortin' Roadrunner, a movement from the Chamber Symphony of John Adams. Singer-songwriter Gillian Welch's dark-edged Americana is on beautiful display in My Morphine, especially in this atomized arrangement by William Anderson of the Anderson-Fader guitar duo.
That leads nicely into the saxophone-and-piano Sleep Without Dreams, a lyrical work of Michael Jon Fink, and Dmitri Tymoczko's early string quartet This Picture Seems to Move. Andy Teirstein somehow combines into a piano trio Old West saloonery and the ecstatic mysticism of the dancing Rebbe, Baal Shem Tov, in Turn Me Loose.
Finally, for solo piano, is Terry Riley's answer to Sarah Cahill's request for music about either war or peace. He was "noodling around" on the piano one night, and his grandchildren asked him to keep playing this one bit. He did; it became Be Kind to One Another (Rag).
From the opening moments of its recent CD Thrum, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet throws its cards on the table. Attitude and refined sound are the driving forces here. Even the first percussive beats that herald the strut through Harlem—the first movement of Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Ghetto Strings—are nuanced, a combination of tap, stroke, and pound. This is delicious playing.
We move beyond autumnal blues, should we have them, on Now Is the Time, Sunday, September 29th at 10 pm. Saxophone, clarinet, and piano turn up the heat in Robert Aldridge's Sound Moves Blues, while Patrick Beckman honors blues tradition on the piano in Blues. Laos, Greece, Bolivia, Bulgaria, and the Tuskegee Institute's Gospel sound all inform Matthew Davidson's wide-ranging Etudes for Piano, Book 1.
Lisa Bielawa calls forth text of Jeremiah in her elegiac Lamentations for a city, a muted but compelling work for chorus and English horn. And then Philadelphia's Paul Epstein works through Isolation, Rapport, and Threnody in Three Sonnets, on words sent to him by a poet who heard his music. How lovely for that to happen, and what warm and tender songs these are, on this cusp of autumn.
We travel far and wide on Now Is the Time, Sunday, September 8th at 10 pm, starting with Another Fantastic Voyage, a piano concerto by Dmitri Tymoczko. With tongue in cheek, Tymoczko skillfully performs pop exegesis on generic myths—knights on a king’s mission, for instance, or a campy Night on Bald Mountain—where everything turns out horribly wrong.
David Toub wrote mf originally for brass, but then arranged it for string quartet, a far but convincing leap for this homage to Morton Feldman (mf), all played at mezzo-forte (mf). Insistent, Playful, and Doleful are the movements in Richard Wilson’s limber Affirmations, a colorful jaunt for a mixed chamber ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano.
You might call these fantastic lullabies on Now Is the Time, Sunday, August 25th at 10 pm. The birth of a friend's daughter inspired Rick Sowash's Lullabye for Kara for cello and piano. Steven Gerber's Violin Concerto is a rocking to sleep, of sorts, of a work he began as a student at Haverford College but never finished. One part of it, however, was born anew as this concerto's first movement.
From solo strings to more—but synthesized—is Carl Berky's The Synthelating Mariachi String Band. In Secret Geometry, James Primosch uses electronic tape with piano, and between explosive Variations and a brilliant Toccata is a Nocturne in the true spirit of night-music: the other side of a lullaby, perhaps. Phillip Lasser focuses on the singer of the lullaby rather more than the song itself, in Berceuse fantasque for violin and piano.
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.