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New CD: Scott Pender’s “In the Time Before”

Scott Pender is a Washington DC-based composer and occasional contributor to this site.  His chamber piece “In the Time Before” was just released on Navona Records. “Post-minimalist” is an entirely accurate description for the piece.  As Scott explains in his program note, he was inspired to sit down and write it after hearing Steve Reich’s Double Sextet in a performance by the Bang on a Can All-Stars in 2010.  You can’t get much more literally post-minimalist than that.  The piece does have that same constant pulse and interlocking grids of sound, but...
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Matthew McCright releases Gene Gutchë CD

Matthew McCright‘s advocacy of American piano music has brought him into collaboration with lots of composers and his standard bio starts with this list: Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, August Read Thomas, Paul Dresher, and Michael Gordon – some experimental and free thinkers, to be sure. So it was an interesting departure for McCright that his latest recording project was of music by Gene Gutche (1907-2000), a German immigrant who wrote some rather vivid works but did hew to a rather old school tonal idiom.  So I asked McCright to tell the story of how he became connected to Gutchë’s...
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“The Eleanor Hovda Collection” on Innova

Two years ago I interviewed conductor Jeannine Wager and subsequently wrote on this site what seems to still be the only complete account of the last years of composer Eleanor Hovda (1940-2009).  During our conversation Wager, her companion of 20 years, was forthcoming but obviously still grieving. She told me that she would soon be leaving their Arkansas home and was planning to begin archiving Hovda’s studio in New York City and that a series of CD releases was planned. Having spent several years calling on and attempting to assist the heirs of composers who died of AIDS, I knew that...
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Cello music by Jorge Martin new on CD, “Before Night Falls” heads to Miami

Close Encounters with Music, the chamber series in the Berkshires, is in the midst of its 20th anniversary season and has six more concerts between now and the early summer. The line-up of programs is typically thoughtful and varied with a healthy sampling of mainstream classics from the Romantic era performed by the ensemble members, plus a guest appearance by the fine young Dedaelus Quartet on May 19. There are also several intriguing thematic events, like “Trade Winds: From China with Love” on April 21 and “The Roaring Twenties: Berlin, Paris, New York” on June 2. Cellist Yehuda Hanani,...
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Speak, Tony! Speak! (CD Review)

Pianist Anthony de Mare has been a champion of contemporary music of many sorts. Yet his trademark is the amazing things he can do at the piano besides play the keys, namely talking. The pinnacle of his accomplishments, in what might be considered a new genre of works, is Frederic Rzewski’s “De Profundis,” an amazing setting of portions of Oscar Wilde’s letter from prison that de Mare commissioned and premiered in 1992.  It’s a 30-minute masterpiece, encompassing plenty of tricky piano playing, but also lots of talking, plus percussive rhythms on the body (of the...
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CD Review: Lou Harrison, Scenes from Cavafy

Lou Harrison Scenes from Cavafy: Music for Gamelan (New World) I was lucky enough to spend some time with Lou Harrison in the year or two leading up to the premiere of “Rhythms with Silver,” the score he wrote for Mark Morris. Two of the gayest artists I’ve ever known, they had a natural affinity. Though he’s one of the most musically smart and sensitive choreographers out there, Morris seldom commissions new scores and so it was an especially great thing that he got Lou to write something for his company. While the commission and the premiere were in the offing, I remember Lou saying...
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CD review: Nico Muhly’s “A Good Understanding” and “I Drink the Air Before Me”

Nico Muhly “A Good Understanding,” Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon conductor (Decca) “I Drink The Air Before Me” (Decca/Bedroom Community) New music’s Boy Wonder Nico Muhly. It’s not enough that he landed a commission from the Metropolitan Opera while still in his 20s (Two Boys, premieres in London in June at the English National Opera and shows up in New York in the 2013-14 season), but now he’s also made a double debut on a major label. These two discs present varied sides of his music – choral works and a chamber score written for an evening of modern dance. null “A...
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Higdon Watch: Reviews of new CDs and premiere of “Flute Poetic”

“Rapid Fire” is the name for a flute solo from early in the career of composer Jennifer Higdon, the recent Pulitzer Prize-winner. It’s also an apt description of her characteristic style. Two major works by her recently appeared on CD and though the performing forces on each are large, she still whips them into a frenzy. Higdon won the Pulitzer for her Violin Concerto, which was written for Hilary Hahn, who performs it on a new Deutsche Gramophone disc with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The three-movement score is grandly romantic in shape and form. But the opening movement,...
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CD review: Mikhashoff’s Elemental Fragments

Music of the late Yvar Mikhashoff is being remembered. Fitfully and occasionally. But those who knew Yvar are surely grateful. And based on the stunning performance by Winston Choi in this new CD on Albany Records there are also new generations finding beauty and power in the music. Let me admit that I enjoyed the notes by Nils Vigeland, Yvar’s former student, a pianist and a director of the Mikahshoff Trust, as much as the music on the CD. Vigeland explains the pairing of Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” and Yvar’s most important composition, “Elemental Fragments.”...
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CD review: Virgil Thomson “Heaven is Music,” Gregg Smith Singers

Where would church music be without the centuries of contributions from gay men? Actually where would the church itself be, including the priesthood… but that’s another discussion. Virgil Thomson wrote his share of sacred music and a big batch of it is included in the new collection “Heaven is Music,” (Albany Records).  The performances by the Gregg Smith Singers are from throughout the choir’s long history, presumably drawn from both concerts and recording sessions. In the back of the CD booklet there’s a little caveat the about the mixture of digital and analog recordings. While...
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