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Program Notes December 8, 2008

Posted by jeffclef in Arts, classical music, Music, Uncategorized.

Program notes penned by yours truly. The first two, which I wrote earlier this year for Argento, inspired me to forage through my files for the third.  Argento is a New York based chamber ensemble which, according to the website, pushes “new music on the cutting edge.” Its director Michel Galante officiates over a bizarre marriage of orchestral staples (violins and strings) with electronic toys: synthesizers, tape loops, signal processing. The third excerpt is taken from my senior piano recital four years ago. Wish I had some clips to put these snippets in context, but copyright and all that.

“Bernhard Lang — Differenz/Wiederholung 1 (2002/2008) and 5.2 (2008),” Three Titans of Austria, Argento Chamber Ensemble, Leonard Nimoy Thalia, New York, October 2008 | [full program]

…A loop is a segment of a musical sample usually repeated on end. Modulating any number of factors, however, (the speed of the sample, the endpoints of the loop, its pattern of movement within the sample, the distance between loops, etc.), yields a score of aural perspectives from which to perceive the sample. “Loop Aesthetics” thus aims to do for sound what Impressionism and Cubism had done for the image a century ago. Just as Picasso aimed to represent the totality of a chair by collapsing different perspectives into the same plane, Lang endeavors to reveal a sound object through the shivers of its collective slivers as they are transformed by various loop operations. Through this form of “differentiated repetition,” the sample is conveyed to the listener in pointillistic fashion as the shards of sound are reassembled into a newly flickering whole.

Loop Aesthetics may sound like minimalism on speed, but it is in fact a minimalism turned inside out, a minisculism. The minimalism of Steve Reich was a music based on the out-of-phase repetition of simple melodic-rhythmic modules. In works like Violin Phase, Reich had juxtaposed live instruments with prerecorded sound loops to create a hall of echoes simulacrum. While Lang plays with the same conceit in D/W 5, he is not after the calming lull of Reich’s music but rather the nervousness elicited by the unpredictable, differentiated repetition.

D/W 5 opens with a disconcerting sound field flickering from a tape, which in spite of its distortions, sounds oddly familiar. On it is a cornet sample from the Sinfonia in Act III of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo. While the quotation is not recognizable as such, Lang extracts from the sample a signal which is looped in with the trumpets of the live ensemble. The sample becomes the basis for building “granular loops” (a few milliseconds long), which “jitter” between variable starting points and endpoints along the time axis of the sample. Out of this interplay emerges the drama of differentiated repetition. At the end of the piece, the introductory quote to Monteverdi resurfaces, providing the segue to Lang’s actual opera, Theater of Repetitions (2003).

Orpheus is a myth about music’s affective power, about music’s power to soothe. Lang, however, denies such comfort, having chosen a sample which heralds Orpheus’ infernal descent. In later versions of the myth, Orpheus is rent to shreds by the Maenads for forswearing women after losing Eurydice, and something similar may be going on in D/W 5, which enacts the mutilation of the original opera. Lang’s music doesn’t renounce women, but rather the expectation
that music provide consolation. If Lang is after any kind of pleasure, it’s the kind akin to goose bumps. Perhaps the though behind the jittering loop is that it induces the same shiver of excitement in the listener, the shiver which accompanies every new experience. Tonight’s performance of Differenz/Wiederholung 5.2, specially arranged for Argento by Michel Galante, marks its U.S. premiere.

“Beat Furrer — Gaspra (1998),” Three Titans of Austria, Argento Chamber Ensemble, Leonard Nimoy Thalia, New York, October 2008

…In other respects, however, Gaspra marks a new direction in Furrer’s oeuvre. Not only is it Furrer’s first piece to deal uncompromisingly with noise (vs. sound), it is also one of his first pieces to synchronize the voices within a uniform measure, a principle which the composer now rejects as being too rigid. This method of composition Furrer has further elaborated through an analogy to episode film, a succession of related shots which develop a given subject. In Gaspra, this montage of shots is achieved by smaller instrumental groups within the larger ensemble. In addition to the tutti passages where all the musicians participate, two extreme perspectives are identifiable by their sonorities: the groaning, rhythmically overdetermined piano, and the tremulous and rhythmically erratic string trio. Other shots hone in on a cello-clarinet duet and a percussion piano duet. But what exactly are these instrumental shots of? Named after an asteroid five kilometers in diameter, Gaspra places the listener in outer space where one may eavesdrop on the “rocky debris of an exploding star, which wanders aimlessly in the gravitational field of our solar system.”

“Anton Webern — Variations, Op. 27 (1936),”  Senior Recital notes, Dineklspiel Auditorium, Stanford University, May 2004 | [pdf]

…The bare look of Webern’s instrumental scores has generally encouraged equally bare interpretations. Consequently, many listeners may have the same reaction as Webern had to his own music when performed in so stark a manner. Stadlen’s copy of the score, however, suggests that Webern envisioned the Variations with an enormous amount of feeling and rubato, having coined poetic expressions like revived, pressing, and sighingly, for the pianist to render.

Webern’s title is somewhat misleading. If the work is a set of variations, what are they variations of, since no unifying theme is given? Only the third movement, which Webern actually composed first, seems to match the title’s description. “The completed part,” Webern had clarified during the early stages of composition, “is a movement of variations; what is evolving will be a kind of ‘suite.'” Why, then, didn’t he title the work a suite? Presumably, that designation belies the aims of experimentation and transformation at work within in the piece. The movements of a suite usually have little in common. Webern’s three movements, on the other hand, share the compositional premise of the twelve‐tone row and a painstaking concern with creating symmetrical configurations that perhaps derives from Webern’s study of mirror forms in Renaissance and Baroque music. Symmetry, then, can be regarded as a common concept or “theme” explored in the entire Variations



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