MAZZOLI: Still Life with Avalanche. HUREL: ...à mesure. ETEZADY:
from Damaged Goods -- About Time; Eleventh Hour. HARTKE: Meanwhile
-- Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays. GLASS: Music in
Similar Motion. ADÈS: Catch.
Ç edille CDR 90000 133 TT: 68:28
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Noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms. This disc demonstrates
why the ensemble eighth blackbird, for my money, stands as the most
group on the contemporary-music scene. The earliest piece on the program
(1969) comes from Philip Glass, the oldest composer, and retains its
relevance to certain trends in today's music. Minimalism, after all,
yet. The youngest composer, Missy Mazzoli (in her early thirties), incorporates
the techniques Glass pioneered.
Our concert programming, by and large, feeds us on a diet of Certified
Masterpieces, relatively a new notion and one I believe unhealthy to
musical culture. Audiences seem to have lost the willingness to face
I've encountered extremes of this: people walking out before the Nielsen
symphony, simply because they hadn't heard of Nielsen. I met a guy who
insisted that the only three classical composers were Mozart, Beethoven,
and Brahms, simply because he had heard only those at the concerts he
attended. He hadn't heard of Bach and had no interest in discovering
Again, I admit these are extremes, but extremes of an attitude prevalent
in American (at any rate) classical-music culture. Why wouldn't you want
to hear something you haven't heard before? The danger is that you will
have usually spent money on something you didn't like when you heard
it for the first (or only) time. But it's not really a waste. I strongly
it lodges in the mind and at least expands your notion of music. If I
had gone with my first impressions, I wouldn't have given Brahms a second
However, I certainly don't feel that I have to like everything, and that's
the case here. I'll clear away the scrub first. Thomas Adès, a
current bright hope of British music, I find inconsistent. For me, his
from wonderful (the Violin Concerto, for example) to why bother. Catch,
though difficult as sin to play, strikes me as both ugly and pointless.
Adès provides a program of a clarinet trying to join a piano trio
-- a game of musical keep-away. However, it seems to fit in just fine
throughout. There are some very beautiful moments, but they are moments
only. The rest
of it strikes me as fussy. Philip Glass's Music in Similar Motion has
become a postwar classic. I don't care for it. It bores me, even though
the variations within its ostinatos. I tend to poop out halfway through
its eleven minutes, and the oppressive drive of it all wears me down
like Excedrin Headache #43. But I go against prevailing informed opinion.
I'm wrong or it's wrong, and if I were smart, I'd bet against myself.
Missy Mazzoli, a musical polyglot (among other things, she heads an indie
rock band), contributes Still Life with Avalanche, in part a
memorial to a cousin killed in one. The piece begins, as its title suggests,
quickly interrupted with attempts at minimalistic pulsation. It's like
several attempts to strike a lighter. The pulsation finally catches,
and the piece alternates between energetic and suspended. Mazzoli describes
her cousin as "exuberant," and the music seems both a portrait
and a reflection on loss. The piece ends ambiguously, somewhat surreally,
in the middle of a sentence, as it were.
…à mesure reveals Philippe Hurel as a super-composer. It brims with
breathtakingly complex (and clear) counterpoint and unusual, precisely imagined
It reminds me in many ways of something like Pierre Boulez's Sur
but not as dour. Indeed, a kind of mania runs through it, like Scarbo
capering up the wallpaper. This score introduces me to Hurel. I will be looking
The excerpts from Roshanne Etezady's Damaged Goods (the third
and fourth movements, apparently, from the complete suite) play off extreme
time" hints at great sadness, while "Eleventh Hour" rushes
about like the cavalry determined to arrive in the nick of time. I thought
both excerpts beautiful and would like to hear the complete score.
However, Stephen Hartke's Meanwhile counts as my favorite on the program.
Inspired by both Japanese bunraku and Balinese shadow-puppetry, Hartke
brilliantly re-imagines the gamelan orchestra, not à la Ravel or
Colin McPhee, but in a thoroughly contemporary way. The work has no explicit
program but spurs a listener's imagination to come up with one -- as the
title says, an imaginary puppet play. The percussionist, Matthew
Duvall, gets a workout, particularly on the flexatones, instruments that
glissandos and sound like a struck musical saw, but everyone has the
chance to strut their virtuosic stuff. Nevertheless, despite its great
as great as in Adès's Catch -- Meanwhile remains a score full
I've not heard a contemporary chamber group better than eighth blackbird.
They go far beyond the professionally fine reading, which you get if
you're lucky. They absorb scores into their bones, at a level of understanding
that becomes artistry and the projection of a point of view. The composers
here should be very happy.
S.G.S. (December 2013)