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Posts tagged 'International Contemporary Ensemble'

The Music of Wang Lu



The music of Wang Lu (b. 1982) incorporates delicate instrumental textures, field recordings, live electronics, and a wide instrumentation to evoke and enchant scenes of contemporary life on a global scale. Born in Xi’an, China, Wang studied at the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music and at Columbia University in the City of New York, before joining the composition faculty at Brown University; she was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2014, and will spend 2019 in Berlin as a recipient of the Berlin Prize. Her music evokes, documents, and transforms all at the same time: it sounds the echoes of possible future soundscapes in real time. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in her 2015 work Urban Inventory, which seamlessly weaves together the sounds of the urban environment, explorations of linguistic intonation, and traditions of free improvisation into a complex fabric of extended techniques and textures. As Alex Ross wrote in the New Yorker, “every moment is vividly etched, drenched in instrumental color [...] the flow of events is so rapid and so variegated that nothing settles into the groove of the familiar.” 

Wang describes this piece as "a way for me to try to redefine and expand a specific period in recent history, as well as convey popular public spaces bustling with activity—which are both dear to my heart." Wang included field recordings of a public park she visited every day in her youth; clips from The Red Detachment of Women, a 1964 propaganda ballet; and the voice of 1990s pop icon Yang Yuying (杨钰莹), putting the listener inside the firing synapses of a composer whose ears are always open to possibilities.

In her 2016 work Cloud Intimacy for ensemble and electronics, Wang moves from urban soundscapes to virtual soundscapes, exploring the sounds of tweets, swipes, and skeuomorphic camera shutters to imagine sound of “cloud intimacy” in the age of Tinder. The listener is inserted into the aural flow of Wang’s imaginative and unpredictable compositional consciousness, creating new sonic and affective connections between increasingly everyday sounds. The delicacy of Wang’s writing for acoustic instruments is matched by her mastery of electronic processing: sound is presented in a seamless, transformative fabric of many colors.

Patrick Castillo chose the premiere of Wang's Cloud Intimacy at the Mostly Mozart festival as one of his "top new-music moments of 2016" for WQXR. Castillo writes, "Wang’s music provides poetic and deeply personal commentary on the whole of modern civilization, meditating with equal gravitas on Tiananmen Square and Tinder. The results are in turns cheeky and devastating, and the sheer sound of it is utterly her own."

Wang's new album, "Urban Inventory," which contains recordings of that work as well as Cloud Intimacy is available from New Focus Records and may be purchased from Spotify or Bandcamp

Not all of Wang's music points outward: it can also reference the inner struggle that we must all face with a world accelerating into the anthropocene. In 2017, Wang composed Unbreathable Colors, a work for solo violin, commissioned by and dedicated to the celebrated violinist and violist Miranda Cuckson. Unbreathable Colors takes its name from the daily air quality report that represents the beige-and-gray smog of air pollution in a rainbow of color. When she composed the piece, "it had been purple for days, which means it has exceeded the [health] index." Though the pollution Wang describes is most often prevalent in Chinese cities, it is also a global problem, and Unbreathable Colors is a meditation on the inescapability of struggle, whether the skies, or their representations, are gray or purple or blue. 

Since its premiere at Brooklyn's National Sawdust in April 2017, it has been performed by the Niew Ensemble in Amsterdam, as well as Nunc's 2018 residency at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music in Houston. Check out an excerpt from Cuckson's performance below.

The Music of Michael Hersch



The music of Michael Hersch, as Alex Ross has written in The New Yorker, is "harsh, relentless, and [...] gripping in its dogged progress." Writing in The New York Times, Corinna de Fonesca-Wollheim calls it "bleak," "dark," "somber," and "anguished." But as de Fonesca-Wollheim reminds us, to many of Hersch's collaborators and listeners, this music is also necessary. As Hersch's frequent collaborator, the violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja has said: “The despair in the music makes it a necessary experience, to play and to listen to [...] There is nothing you can compare it to.”

In Hersch's 2015 Violin Concerto, commissioned by Kopatchinskaja and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Hersch presents a raw nerve, something abject—and hence something powerful and potentially life-changing. As Kopatchinskaja notes, “I’m every time really overwhelmed, and I’m a bit scared to play his music, again and again… but I know it’s very necessary for our time.”


(Patricia Kopatchinskaja on the music of Michael Hersch)

Recently recorded by Kopatchinskaja and the International Contemporary Ensemble, and released on New Focus Recordings, Hersch’s Violin Concerto was named the Best Violin Concerto of 2018 by Sequenza21. It responds directly to the death of a close friend. As Aaron Grad writes, “the four movements of Hersch’s concerto align like a series of interconnected islands of sound around an essential but unknowable vanishing point.” The concerto begins with an epigraph constructed of two fragments of poems by Thomas Hardy, and ends:

Strange sounds of anger and sadness
That cut the heart’s core,
And shaken words bitter to madness;
And then no more.


This poetic epigraph anticipates Hersch’s instructions to the instrumentalists: they are to play “ferociously”, and when the violin enters, it is to play “brutally throughout.” Kopatchinskaja comments on Hersch’s writing for the violin: “...the Violin Concerto is an open wound, there is no other way to say it. I know no other work by a composer of my generation that is so convincing, that moves me so deeply, [...] that tolerates neither doubt nor objection. It is like a mountain one can't ignore. For me, Michael Hersch embodies the new generation after icons like György Kurtág or György Ligeti. With him, everything is crystal clear, there is no decoration, no superficial beauty, no compromises. Everything is exactly in place, has found its perfect form."


Hersch’s 2010 string quartet Images from a Closed Ward was described by The Philadelphia Inquirer as one that "[leaves] you in a figurative blindfold taken off momentarily to glimpse another previously unimaginable terrain." The piece traces its origins to an encounter Hersch had with etchings by the American artist Michael Mazur (1935–2009). Like his Violin ConcertoImages from a Closed Ward explores what Mazur called an “overwhelming sense of ‘sadness’ [...] a complicated, and therefore interesting human condition.” Hersch's music can be "unrelenting, nearly without hope ... But no artwork can be without hope since it is in the very nature of creative work to be optimistic, if only in as much as we continue to work through everything but our own death.”

 

Hersch explicitly explored illness and death in his 2012 monodrama, On the Threshold of Winter, which sets texts by the Romanian author Marin Sorescu's book The Bridge, written on his deathbed. It responds directly to the death of a close friend to cancer, and Hersch's own struggle with the disease. Premiered in 2014, On the Threshold of Winter "left the audience shellshocked and the soloist, the soprano Ah Young Hong, in tears." As Andrew Farach-Colton writes in his program note for the monodrama,

Ultimately, our consolation is found in Hersch's art itself: in the richness of his imagination, and the precision and concision of his musical language. But, most of all, it is in his humanity, which shines like a beacon through the score's darkest page. 

PSNY Recent Recordings: Part I

New Music in America has been booming in recent years, with a new generation of young composers, ensembles, presenting organizations, and record labels contributing to a vibrant community with an increasingly large audience. Though streaming services have become ascendant, recordings and recording projects have come to hold an increasingly important role in new music: they serve as enduring documents of the hard work of composers and performers, letting the music travel beyond the score and the concert hall. 

Over the next few weeks, PSNY will feature the many recent recordings of compositions by our many talented composers, honoring the hard work and ingenuity of the many ensembles and record labels that contribute to the growing communtiy of new music, and indeed carry the music to new audiences across the globe. 

Our list begins with eighth blackbird's 2016 release, Hand Eye, which emerged from a stunning concert program of the same name. For Hand Eye, the multiple-Grammy™-award-winning ensemble paired up with the composer collective Sleeping Giant, which comprises of Ted Hearne, Timo Andres, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Robert Honstein, and Andrew Norman. That concert program, and the resulting album, features Andres' Checkered Shade, Norman's Mine, Mime, Meme, Cerrone's South Catalina, and Hearne's By-By Huey, among compositions by Honstein and Cooper. 

Writing in the American Record Guide, George Adams calls Hand Eye "a gorgeous, delicately constructed sonic mural." Check out eighth blackbird performing the program at Chicago's MCA:

Next, we'd like to feature an album by Ryan Muncy, the stellar saxophonist (who also performed Marcos Balter'sWicker Park on another 2016 record with the International Contemporary Ensemble). Muncy's second solo album, ism, was released on TUNDRA, ICE's in-house recording label, distributed by New Focus Recordings. Alongiside works by James Tenney and Lee Hyla, Muncy teams up with percussionist Ross Karre to perform Erin Gee's Mouthpiece XXIV, commissioned and premeired by Muncy and Karre in 2015. 

Next we'd like to feature two recordings released on New Amsterdam, both of which feature the work of Christopher Cerrone. Vicky Chow's A O R T A features Cerrone's Hoyt-Schemerhorn for solo piano and electronics, bringing her own voice to a piece that has enjoyed many performances since its 2009 premiere. The Living Earth Show's Dance Music features Cerrone's Double Happiness, a work for electric guitar and percussion that they commissioned and premeired in 2013. 

Finally, we'd like to feature an album we previously wrote about in 2016: Adrian Knight's  Obsessions, performed and recorded by R. Andrew Lee and released on Irritable Hedgehog. This long-form work for solo piano emerges from Knight's idiosyncratic and deeply personal musical language. As Knight remarked, "it's probably my most personal piece, because, like life, its trajectory wasn't predetermined. All I knew is that it would have to end." Obsessions resists mediation, and is best listened to completely. Head over to the album's Bandcamp page to take a listen. 

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