Música de Feria, the string instruments
The four string quartets exhibit rhythmic trickery and a Ravelian harmonic sophistication, in addition to a cheerful way with folk materials that has parallels in Stravinsky, Bartok, and Janacek, though the feel is sunnier.
—The New Yorker
I was born in Santiago Papasquiaro, Durango, on December 31, 1899. It is located, I think, near the mountains, since my earliest and most vivid childhood recollection is of a trip through the sierra tied to the back of a mule—I was just a little fellow—sleeping in a tent on the ground, hunting birds with a slingshot, picking berries at daylight, hearing the wolves in the night. I was left from that time on with an impulsive, humble love of pine trees, mountains, and the horizon.
As a small boy (and maybe as an adult) I always preferred banging on a washtub or dreaming up tales to doing something useful. And that is how I spent my time, imitating instruments with my voice, improvising orchestras and songs to accompaniments on the washtub, one of those round galvanized tubs that I always preferred to drum on more than to bathe in.
I began to love Bach and Beethoven at a very early stage. It gave me much pleasure to stroll Chapultepec Park's romantic avenues, taking long strides, arms behind my back, long hair in disarray. Those lithographs and engravings of poor Beethoven, grim-faced, defying the storm, had a strong influence over me. I could do no less myself.
I have had many teachers. The best of them, with no degrees, knew more than the others. For that reason I have always had little respect for degrees. Now, after many years I still study, have teachers, write music, dream of distant countries, and sometimes bang on washtubs.
Available here: iTunes HDtracks
David Tanenbaum, guitar
This is a cycle of some of the most loved works by Piazzolla (1921-1992), whose musical language was an Ellingtonian expression of his culture. It weaves the Latin urban forms of tango, milonga, rumba, rag and bossa nova into dance-like concert music. Featuring first recordings of arrangements by Sergio and Otair Assad ("Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteños") and Leo Brouwer ("La Muerte del Angel"), David Tanenbaum's virtuostic performance also includes arrangements by Augustin Carlevaro ("Chau Paris") and the only works Piazzolla wrote specifically for guitar, the "Cinco Piezas".
These pieces remain true to Piazzolla's equation: Tango + Comedy + Tragedy + Whorehouse = Nuevo Tango.
Available here: iTunes HDtracks
Four, for tango
String quartets by Astor Piazolla, Arturo Marquez, Jose Evangelista, Miguel del Aquila, Paquito d’Rivera, Javier Alvarez, Frederico Ibarra, Javier Montiel
The Cuarteto Latinoamericano has been deeply invested in performing the cycle of composers of Latin American heritage around the world for the past few decades. On a given night on a concert stage they will perform works from these composers -- as well as Silvestre Revueltas from Mexico, Héitor Villa-Lobos from Brazil, Alberto Ginastera from Argentina and many others -- works which lift expression from the popular and folkloric toward a variable abstraction, work of powerful individuality, which is the musical relative of literature's magical realism, and which Ginastera referred to as imaginary folklore.
José Evangelista (born in Valencia, Spain) resides in Montreal, Canada where he is a professor and founder of the Balinese gamelan workshop at the University of Montreal, and a resident composer of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Spanish Garland is made up of twelve folkloric melodies, mostly very ancient and from Spain's very different Islamic regions. The styles come from the Muslims, from India, from the gypsies and from the memory of the virtuosity of Pablo de Sarasate.
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) took the tango from a popular dance form and from it made art. Four, for Tango (1987) contains remarkable instrumental vigor, powerful rhythm, and aggressive and passionate sonorities with a characteristic taste of Buenos Aires nostalgia.
Considered by the international press as "one of the most outstanding composers of South America," Miguel del Águila was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1957 and studied there, in Vienna, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Presto No. 2, written for and premiered by the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, is a Latin dance of never-ending movement. The candid and swinging theme insinuates itself with pizzicatos, progresses in crescendo and bursts into an agitated scherzo to arrive at a climax that involves a hilarious wink toward Ravel's La Valse.
The musicologist Yolanda Moreno Rivas wrote of Javier Álvarez (b. 1956), "He is probably the most interesting Mexican musician born in the '50s." Álvarez has written various pieces commissioned by and named after the Mexico City Metro system. Metro Taxqueña imagines a late night itinerary, with only a few travelers in the cars, and a somber and melancholic meditation sliding down the windows.
Paquito d'Rivera (b. 1948) former member of the Cuban group Irakere, saxophone virtuoso and fundamental figure of Latin jazz, has toured the world and recorded profusely. Written in the '70s and inspired by the music of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Wapango relates to the orchestral work by Moncayo called the Huapango.
Arturo Márquez (b. Mexico, 1950) is a composer of luxuriant imagination and has experimented frequently with the dialogue between concert and popular music of the Caribbean and Latin American origins. Homenaje a Gismonti, which honors the Brazilian musician Egberto Gismonti, was written in 1993 for the Cuarteto Latinoamericano by request of the San Miguel de Allende Chamber Music Festival. The composer was inspired by the music of the Huasteca people who performed at the San Joaquin, Queretaro, Festival. Some of the melodic and rhythmic bow strokes are suggested by the Huastecan sones, and a cello solo is in honor of Gismonti.
A leader among the current generation of Mexican composers, Frederico Ibarra (b. 1946) works in chamber, symphonic music and opera. The String Quartet No. 2, Órfico, also commissioned by the San Miguel de Allende Chamber Music Festival, is divided into three movements. His compositions are characterized by a deep and eclectic assimilation of modern and contemporary techniques and languages, and by an emotional impact that frequently reaches dramatism.
Few themes in history have been as known as Niccolo Paganini's Caprice No. 24 for solo violin. The variations by Javier Montiel -- composer and violist of the Cuarteto Latinoamericano -- have evolved into the Cuarteto's preferred encore. Going from enunciation to ironic insinuation, from neo-classicism to contemporary instrumental resources, Montiel's variations are clearly rooted to the end of the 20th Century.
Available here: iTunes
“Miroirs and Gaspard de La Nuit’
Sarah Cahill, piano
The name Maurice Ravel, for many of us, conjures up elegance and refinement, a faint perfume of decadence, and decorous tributes to a bygone era. His Impressionist label elicits dreamy visions of fountains and dappled light. In the half century of musical exploration since his death we seem to have forgotten Ravel's stature as an intrepid experimentalist -- and nowhere was he more experimental than in Miroirs and Gaspard de la Nuit. One can see, looking backward through time, that many of the ideas audiences found so provocative in the works of Olivier Messiaen and Morton Feldman were first imagined by Maurice Ravel.
Ravel was thirty when he introduced Miroirs to the Apaches, a group of avant-garde painters, writers and musicians who shared their creations at regular meetings. The composer explained that this set "marks a change in my harmonic evolution considerable enough to disconcert the musicians who have been most accustomed to my style until now." In these five pieces, Ravel placed himself in the objectifying role of the mirror and reflected his subjects obliquely. Each piece is dedicated to one of the Apaches: Night Moths to Leon-Paul Fargue; Sad Birds to the Catalan virtuoso Ricardo Viñes ("because it was fun to dedicate to a pianist a piece that was not in the least pianistic"); Aubade of the Jester, with its evocation of castanets and guitars, to M.D. Calvocoressi; A Boat on the Ocean to Paul Sordes; and Valley of Bells to Maurice Delage. Viñes premiered the set in January, 1906 to a bewildered audience.
On September 25, 1896 Ricardo Viñes, the pianist who would premiere Miroirs and Gaspard de la Nuit as well as others of Ravel's works, wrote in his diary: "Ravel stayed till eleven in the evening. We read ... Bertrands' Gaspard de la Nuit, which I let him take away." Ravel evidently liked the poems, because Viñes' diary entry for December 19, 1897 reads: "I asked him to give me back Gaspard de la Nuit and he said he would bring it around to my flat tomorrow because it was at the bottom of a trunk." Eleven years later Ravel composed his masterpiece evoking the dark visions of three phantasmagorical poems. The texts by Aloysius Bertrand (1807-1841), a supernatural poet esteemed by Baudelaire and Mallarmé, demonstrate a fantastic and macabre imagination akin to Edgar Allen Poe, whom Ravel also admired. The siren-song of the Ondine water-nymph tries to lure the poet to her palace at the bottom of a lake; in Le Gibet we hear the slow sway of a corpse hanging on a gallows, as well as a tolling (B-flat) bell described by pianist/critic Charles Rosen as "an assault on the nerves of the listener, a creation of tension through insistence, like the Chinese water torture." The demonic gnome in Scarbo terrorizes the poet with his transmogrifications, changing shape, looming large, and suddenly vanishing. French musicologists noted that with Gaspard de la Nuit Ravel's style had switched "from White Magic to Black Magic."
Available here: iTunes
works for guitar by Steve Reich, Lew Richmond, Aaron Jay Kernis, Terry Riley, Frank Zappa, Alan Hovhaness
The highlight [of the Bath International Guitar Festival] was a world premier -- Barabas ... Tanenbaum displayed astounding mastery and skill, drawing a bewildering variety of tones and colours from his acoustic guitar.
Good guitar music is flying from the pens and computers of American composers at a furious pace. Terry Riley's guitar music is a case in point. I had gently nagged him about a piece for over a decade with no result, but when his youngest son took up the classical guitar and brought its world into their house, the tide turned. Terry wrote: "Barabas was the third piece written in a group of 24 pieces planned for guitar, multiple guitars and guitar in ensemble under the banner of Abbeyozzud. All these pieces have Spanish titles and take a different letter of the alphabet to begin their names. They are indebted to the great Spanish music traditions and to those traditions upon which Spanish music owed its heritage."
Aaron Jay Kernis and I have been close friends since we met in school in 1978. He wrote me a three movement solo guitar suite in 1981, and eventually in 1995 Aaron added a new movement, modified the opening and changed the name to Partita as each movement is based upon a Baroque form.
Alan Hovahness' Sonatas are the pieces with which I had the longest gestation period. They've never been recorded before and rarely have they been played.
Lew Richmond is the least known of the composers here. An amateur musician, Zen-priest and software specialist, Richmond's Preludes are inspired by the guitar playing of Alex de Grassi.
Steve Reich's Nagoya Marimbas is here transcribed with the help of the composer for two guitars, becoming Nagoya Guitars.
The earliest piece on the recording is a little serial exercise by Frank Zappa. At age 18, Zappa was experimenting with serialism and the guitar and tossed off Waltz for Guitar. It remained unknown until Keyboard and Guitar Player magazine published a Zappa celebration edition in 1992.
music for viola da gamba by Roy Whelden and Carl Friedrich Abel, performed by Whelden and American Baroque
An introspective and quite accessible disc which is enjoyable on several levels, not the least of which is the experimental nature inherent in the very combination of new and old.
--SEE Magazine, Edmonton
This album contains pieces for the viola da gamba, some written by me and some by the German composer Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787), recognized as the last of the great viola da gamba virtuosi.
Abel occupied a unique position in the history of music. With Johann Christian Bach, he co-managed, performed and composed for one of the most successful concert organizations in London during the late 18th century. From 1765 to 1782, the popular Bach-Abel series was his principal venue, yet the instrument on which his fame rested as a performer was by then universally considered to be old-fashioned and out-of-date. Few amateurs and even fewer professionals were attracted to the viola da gamba after the close of the Baroque period. However, the music which Abel played on these concerts was anything but out-of-date. The 'Adagio-Allegro moderato' pair on this recording is an example; these were taken from a manuscript (New York Public Library, Drexel 5871) containing thirty pieces thought to represent the style of Abel's solo improvisations.
Like Abel, I have chosen to write and perform music using up-to-the-minute compositional techniques on instruments commonly thought to be old-fashioned. These instruments include, besides the viola da gamba, the resonant and warm-toned Baroque flute, violin, and cello, as well as the fully chromatic triple harp, with its three rows of strings. Techniques drawn from minimal music are evident in "Twin Rows" (and to a lesser extent in the "Quartet after Abel"). "Fanfare" is influenced by twelve-tone serialism while taking its rhythms from Baroque marches and countermarches. The retrospective "Prelude and Divisions on She's So Heavy" weds the 17th and 18th century practice of preludizing and division (variation) playing to the inimitable melodies and harmonies of the Beatles. "Galax" (named after the Virginia town hosting the most famous fiddle festial on the East Coast) joins viola da gamba chordal techniques with faint traces of Appalachian fiddle music.
Available here: iTunes HDtracks
Las Puertas de la Mañana
Ulises Espaillat, tenor; Pablo Zinger, piano
When I read poetry that touches me, I become very agitated, my whole body contorts, I vibrate totally, and tears appear in my eyes. It's very strong! I then take the manuscript paper and write the notes. The melody comes easily; everything is very quick; I cannot stop...it's as if I were possessed; suddenly, when I become aware that I found what I wanted, I stand, make gestures, walk, go in circles, laugh or cry, and give thanks to God. The music comes by itself. I am not responsible: one part of my brain has music.
--Carlos Guastavino, in conversation with Carlos Vilo
Available here: iTunes HDtracks
The Far Country
Cabrillo Festival Orchestra with Apollo Quartet & Strings, JoAnn Falletta conductor; Atlanta Singers, Kevin Culver conductor
Contemporary Classical Recording of the Year 1993
--Creative Loafing, Atlanta
"Dream in White on White" (1992) is a musical landscape on the non-chromatic ("white") tones and non-tempered intervals of Pythagorean diatonic tuning. It is a response to the clarity of those sounds, and to the treeless, windswept expanses of western Alaska.
"Night Peace" (1977) is based entirely on a single melodic line, which is heard only once, sung by the solo soprano at the end of the piece. This melody was conceived in the luminous stillness of a moonless winter night.
"The Far Country of Sleep" (1988) was composed in memory of the late Morton Feldman. Although he was an unrepentant urbanite, Feldman's music is, for me, haunted by the idea of the sublime landscape, imaginary or real. The title of this homage to him is borrowed from a poem by John Haines. It evokes in my mind both the distant dreamscapes of the Arctic and that ultimate wilderness, through which we all must pass.
The score is inscribed with a line from Alexander Pope, which Feldman once recited to me: Art after Art goes out, and all is night ...
... Night Peace is what new choral music is all about.
--John Schaefer, New Sounds
Available here: iTunes HDtracks
Alexander String Quartet; David Tanenbaum, guitar; William Winant, percussion; Julie McKenzie, flute; Lawrence Granger, cello; Marc Shapiro, piano
An appealing combination of intricacy and rhetorical straightforwardness, and the five pieces included here afford a good entree to his work.
--San Francisco Examiner
Both "Journey to Still Water Pond" and "Night Lights" were completed and first performed in the Fall of 1983 in New Haven at Yale University, even though "Night Lights" was actually the rescoring of a string quartet that I originally composed in 1980. "Night Lights" later received its official premiere by the Alexander String Quartet in San Francisco in November of 1988.
"Beaming Contrasts" was commissioned by the Alexander String Quartet and the Newman/Oltman Guitar Duo in the Spring of 1988 as a guitar sextet and received its premiere in that version in Washington, DC, and New York City in January of 1990. The latter performance was broadcasted over National Public Radio. I later rescored "Beaming Contrasts" as a guitar quintet at the request of David Tanenbaum and the Alexander String Quartet.
"Little Trio" was commissioned by Sonus Lyricus in the Winter of 1987 and received its premiere in San Francisco the following May.
"Through the Mountain" was commissioned by bassist Steve Tramontozzi of the San Francisco Symphony as a compostion for double bass and piano. It was premiered in that version with Marc Shapiro at the piano in the Spring of 1990 in Berkeley, and was later rescored for cello and piano or orchestra in August of 1991.
--Peter Scott Lewis
Available here: iTunes HDtracks
Rapunzel: an opera in six acts and other owrks
Patrice Maginnis, soprano; Lynne McMurty, mezzo-soprano; John Duykers, baritone; William Winant, percussion; Leta Miller, flute; Susan Brown, violin; Josephine Gandolfi, piano; Ensemble Parallèle; Nicole Paiement, conductor
[Of the work's] varied array of instrumental sonorities ... There was no austerity ... but a continuity which was lyric and, when desired, pungent, along with a pervasive and convincing sensitiveness.
From the Black Mountain College period (1951-1953) date the quartet Songs in the Forest as well as the opera Rapunzel. Rapunzel's six scenes were the product of an intensive effort over a period of less than three months from August to October 1952, although the subsequent orchestration required his efforts well into the following year. Based on a psychological reinterpretation of the old fairy tale by the 19th century English poet William Morris, the work is set for chamber orchestra and three solo singers who declaim in serial language that is at once jagged and lyric. Harrison describes the opera as "in part self-analysis," holding "implicit in it some of the problems, tortures, and false rapture that I was myself experiencing in analysis and psychotherapy." In 1954 the Air from Rapunzel (Act 3) won a Twentieth Century Masterpiece Award for the best composition for voice and chamber orchestra at the International Conference of Contemporary Music in Rome.
Available here: Groove
New Albion Records, Inc.