One would find it hard to beat the all-star line-up featured in The Cave of Wondrous Voice, a new, hour-long survey of vocal and chamber music by the California-based composer Mark Abel. David Shifrin, Carol Rosenberger, Hila Plitmann, and Fred Sherry headline the album but they're not its only stars. On the whole, The Cave of Wonderous Voice is smartly played and engineered. Abel's writing throughout is fluent and often genial. While certain spots in the Trio, particularly, might benefit from grittier moments to offset the diatonic ones, this is music of considerable expressive directness as well as charm.
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Composer, pianist, and conductor Michael Shapiro joins us to talk about the music on his latest disc, including his John Milton-inspired piano concerto entitled Archangel. In this action-packed work, Shapiro lays out the epic Biblical battle between good and evil as a metaphor for the challenges we all face in our daily lives (which includes the current coronavirus pandemic – something Michael recently fell victim to himself). Also on the disc: orchestral excerpts from an opera based on Federico Garcia Lorca, and a full-throttle realization for orchestra of the famous organ Toccata by French composer Charles-Marie Widor.
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Voice of Hope is Camille Thomas's second album for Deutsche Grammophon. The Franco-Belgian cellist's program pays tribute to people's ability to triumph over adversity, create harmony in place of chaos, and overcome hatred with love. The album presents the world-premiere recording of Fazil Say's concerto Never Give Up, a response to terrorist attacks in Paris and Istanbul written for and premiered by Thomas, and also includes an exquisite selection of songs, prayers, and laments, Bruch's Kol Nidrei and Ravel's Kaddisch among them.
For June 30, Camille Thomas - Voice of Hope is the WFMT: Chicago 'Featured New Release'
Recently French composer and pianist Lucas Debargue breathed new life into the harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and presents works outside the standard piano repertoire. The Parisian pianist has already climbed the pinnacle of piano artistry with Beethoven, Liszt and Ravel and unleashed full-blown romantic thunderstorms with Schubert's A-minor Piano Sonata no. 14 and the madcap finale of Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit.
On the album, Debargue devotes himself completely to Domenico Scarlatti. He already played four of this Italian master's sonatas on his highly acclaimed début album. Germany's Der Spiegel waxed ecstatic: "Debargue's Scarlatti recalls his mighty predecessors. He displays the subtle touch and feeling once bestowed on these miniatures by Vladimir Horowitz and imparts new sound to Scarlatti's keyboard music. … Debargue touches the outer limits of expression between joylessness and rapture: one may find it overwrought, but it's never less than gripping. And then there's the gentle Glenn Gould touch."
Debargue joins us for this mini-episode of REMOTE with a couple words on some of his pandemic-projects, reading list, and the importance of emphasizing our similarities rather than differences. READ THE Q&A
Max Richter's trailblazing 2015 composition Sleep is now available to download with the launch of a new app. The app enables listeners to reimagine the 8-hour Deutsche Grammophon recording in custom-made musical sessions to help with focus, meditation and sleep which many people will need in the midst of the pandemic lockdown. It brings to a wider audience some of the experience shared by those lucky enough to attend Richter's extraordinary eight-hour overnight performances of Sleep – complete with beds – including LTW's own Tim Cooper who wrote about it here when it came to London in 2017.
READ THE FULL Louder Than War ARTICLE
In episode 925 of "ANIMAJAZZ", conceived and conducted by BRUNO POLLACCI , broadcast TUESDAY June 30 at 20.30, on PUNTORADIO, also streaming on www.puntoradio.fm and in an immediate podcast on http: // animajazz. eu will be the protagonists CARLA BLEY - ANDY SHEPPARD - STEVE SWALLOW - CD "Life Goes On" - "Life Goes On_ III. And On "(ECM).
The third volume of a sequence of albums begun with Trios in 2013 and continued with Andando El Tiempo (2016), Life Goes On – once more recorded in Lugano and produced by Manfred Eicher - features striking new music from American pianist/composer Carla Bley, whose trio with saxophonist Andy Sheppard and bassist Swallow has a long history. (Their first recording in trio format was Songs with Legs, recorded for the ECM-distributed WATT label in 1994.) Bley has composed for ensembles of every size but, over time, the trio has established itself as an ideal unit for expressing the essence of her work. Throughout Life Goes On, Carla's terse, distinctive piano, shaping phrases irreducible as Monk or Satie, is beautifully framed by Swallow's eloquent, elegant bass guitar and Sheppard's yearning saxes. This trio has a unique collective sound, reflecting – as The Telegraph recently noted – "musical mastery of a rare order".
We remind you that "ANIMAJAZZ" can be heard on TUESDAY at 20.30 in immediate podcast on http://animajazz.eu and the "DOWNLOAD" of the episode can be made, free of charge, from the podcasts area. Happy listening.
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The 2020 Juno Awards have wrapped, announcing a list of winners that has been on hold since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the in-person Saskatoon weekend of events in March. But tonight, June 29, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) and CBC combined the usual two-night series of events into an hour-and-a-half-long pre-recorded special, delivering a night that Canadian music fans have been waiting for.
Winner for 'Classical album of the year: large ensemble' is Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, conducted by Kent Nagano, The John Adams Album.
Released to coincide with Nagano's final season with the Montréal Symphony, The John Adams Album contains his key orchestral works conducted by one of his greatest, lifelong champions "Like all great pieces, each time one returns to them and restudies them, I'm able to find something more - new dimensions that I haven't seen before, other reflections of innovation and genius." - Kent Nagano on John Adams
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Sony Music Masterworks today releases Not Our First Goat Rodeo, the long-awaited follow-up album to the GRAMMY Award-winning The Goat Rodeo Sessions, with Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile.
In the fall of 1968, a sixteen-year old high school student named Danny Scher had a dream to invite legendary jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk and his all-star quartet to perform a concert at his local high school in Palo Alto, CA.
Blues Hall of Famer Bettye LaVette has decided to release her stirring rendition of "Strange Fruit" ahead of schedule as it says as much about the history of American racism and the state of the country today.
Guitarist John Scofield celebrates the music of his friend and mentor Steve Swallow in an outgoing and spirited recording, made in an afternoon in New York City in March 2019 - "old school" style as Scofield says, acknowledging that more than forty years of preparation led up to it.
Mark Abel discusses 'The Cave of Wondrous Voice' with FanFare
Posted: May 29, 2020 12:00 AM
| By: Admin
California-based composer Mark Abel's life journey is a fascinating one. He started off as a rock musician, and it was during a stint as a newspaper editor in San Francisco that the classical side of his output developed. In 2012, Abel became affiliated with the Delos record label; since then there has been a steady stream of releases of which the most recent, The Cave of Wondrous Voice, forms the basis for the present interview.
When did your involvement with classical music begin and which composers appealed the most-and why?
The involvement began at a very early age, as my dad loved classical music and played records frequently at home. I latched on quickly and absorbed the emotional DNA of the music, probably before elementary school-as much as a listener is capable of at that age. My dad's tastes didn't extend much beyond the 19th century (as far as Mahler, to be precise), but he knew and listened to a lot of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and certain works by other composers. He was also a friendly acquaintance of some top-level musicians, like Leonard Bernstein and Nathan Milstein. The heavy dosing of classical eventually wore off for me as adolescence approached. I'm not entirely sure why, but it likely had to do with the pressures of socialization among young people in the very conformist America of the time.
And I wonder if you could talk a little about how jazz influenced you? One can hear the importance of jazz in your first opera for example, Home is a Harbor (actually the subject of a feature article in Fanfare 39:6, July-August 2016).
I first fell in love with modern jazz in 1960–61, at the approximate age of 12, and set out to investigate it as much as I could despite living at home, going to school and not possessing a driver's license! Coming from my intense interest in classical in younger years, it was predictable that early heroes would be composition-oriented musicians like Dave Brubeck, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and the Charles Bell Contemporary Jazz Quartet, whose now-forgotten debut LP on Columbia was one of the most original records of the era. I saw these three bands live while still in my early teens.
That period didn't last long, though, as several older guys who worked in record stores in downtown Washington, DC brought the Blue Note and Riverside catalogs (among others) to my attention. My fast-expanding collection soon included John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, Cannonball Adderley, the Jazz Messengers, the young Herbie Hancock, etc. Before long, the avant-garde beckoned as well, as I delved into Ornette Coleman and the out-there New York players of the time. Cecil Taylor came a bit later for me, but I got into him too. As my teens wore on, I saw Coltrane twice and Monk once at a DC club called the Bohemian Caverns, Rollins with Don Cherry in his piano-less quartet at Howard University, Coleman and Taylor when they came to California, a young Chick Corea at Birdland with the Blue Mitchell-Junior Cook band, Pharoah Sanders, Sam Rivers, Archie Shepp, and many others. Good Lord! The 1960s was absolutely the golden era of modern jazz! Before I leave it, I must mention the pianists Paul Bley and Denny Zeitlin, whose 1960s records were simply phenomenal and which I still love to listen to.
But this rather vast exposure was consumed entirely as a devoted fan-not as an aspiring young musician. I didn't begin to concentrate on playing until I was 20 and the psychedelic rock explosion was in full flower. In the many, many years it's taken me since then eventually to achieve some credibility in the classical field, the jazz I grew up with has remained an important touchstone, both harmonically and rhythmically.
However, and I'm sure I'll offend some people by saying this, jazz has not really advanced as a creative idiom since then. Most of what one hears today is highly derivative of earlier eras and holds little appeal for me. The music still requires extremely skilled players, for sure, but fresh ideas are scarce. When confronted with the number of "Tribute to …" and "Rethinking …" albums and concerts around these days, one can be forgiven for suspecting the music may be on its last legs. It's sad.
How did you find your own compositional voice?
When stripped to its analytical basics, my music can fairly be called a synthesis of classical, rock, and jazz-with classical clearly exerting the strongest influence. This hybrid encompasses and draws inspiration from everything I've heard and loved in my lifetime. I think what makes the style original is that it's pretty seamless, with the three component parts thoroughly integrated and even indistinguishable to some people. That goal has taken a long time to achieve-and, in my view, very few who've attempted this particular mix over the years have done so successfully.
Were there any teachers of yours that were particularly important for you?
I am entirely self-taught, so there haven't been any teachers at all-only what I've picked up from listening to records and attending performances, and from my days of playing rock, which ended in the mid-1980s.
The disc begins very happily, with the bouncing, alive lines of Intuition's Dance. There's plenty going on compositionally here, too! Could you introduce the piece?
My fairly recent move into chamber music has caused me to rethink aspects of my compositional process and make some adjustments that I believe will help me going forward. I've listened to a lot of chamber music over the years, but my few attempts at it prior to the Clarinet Trio never got far because I couldn't with any ease slip into the fluidity-coupled-with-inspiration-while-respecting-architecture template that chamber writing requires. My failed attempts were too stiff. And it was frustrating, because I feel that I successfully deploy a similar approach in the art songs I've written. Anyhow, for reasons unknown, something finally shook loose in 2017, when I decided to make another try. I'm very thankful it happened; as much as I love vocal music, instrumental music has been more important to my development overall.
Intuition's Dance in some ways speaks to the conceptual recalibration I just mentioned. I've described my art song portfolio as "my take on art song"; i.e., "This is what I want to do with this form-work in it with respect and love, but don't allow it to restrain or eradicate signature aspects of my style." I must work with chamber music the same way. As I wrote in the liner notes for The Cave of Wondrous Voice, Intuition's Dance gets off to a bouncy and apparently purposeful start; it is then truncated rather abruptly and continues on a search for a new paradigm that in the end proves elusive. I realized as I was writing this piece that if I stuck to a conventional model, I'd end up with a "clarinet sonata." I didn't want that; a freely ranging concert piece for clarinet and piano is more appealing to me, and more in tune with my intentions as a composer. In recording Intuition's Dance, David Shifrin and Carol Rosenberger fully understood that the piece celebrates its own episodic nature and refuses to be pinned down.
Paul Hindemith once said (or wrote) something along the lines of "If a composer hasn't decided on the structure of a piece before beginning to write it, all is lost." Although I greatly respect Hindemith, I couldn't disagree more. In my view, "structure" should be something that grows spontaneously and eventually emerges with an identity and character that the composer can shape into a final manifestation, that hopefully stakes out some new ground in his or her canon.
You've worked with the soprano Hila Plitmann before on a number of occasions, including on your Delos Time and Distance disc I reviewed in Fanfare 41:6. Here, it's four settings of the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892–1941) that is on offer. Translation is a particularly thorny subject when it comes to poetry, and as one moves from one language to another (I've just been working with Stewart Spencer's translation of the Ring, a piece which brings up all sorts of issues!) preserving the linguistic nuances is key. But your translation finds you very much in alignment with the translator, Alyssa Dinega Gillespie, chairperson of the Russian Department at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine. Can you talk a bit about this area and the specific translation?
Translation is a thorny subject, for sure. I feel strongly that a composer should be setting only poems that have been rendered into his/her native language; some insist they be set in the original language in order to achieve optimum "authenticity" (even if the composers themselves aren't fluent in the original tongue). To me, this is utterly silly. I'm an American and know all too well that Americans have little interest in foreign cultures, let alone their languages. If I set Marina Tsvetaeva in Russian, 99.8 percent of my countrymen wouldn't understand the texts.
There are an awful lot of linguistic nuances in Tsvetaeva, which makes her poetry particularly challenging to translate. While there's a wide variance in the quality of the translations one encounters in print, her artistic persona is so strong and original that its essence emerges even in subpar translations. A person taken with Tsvetaeva, however, would obviously want to lay hands on the most incisive and elegant of interpretations. Turning up Prof. Alyssa Dinega Gillespie of Bowdoin College was a great stroke of luck for me, as she's one of the foremost analysts of Tsvetaeva and also does an outstanding job of rendering the verses in English-avoiding the clunkiness and ill-considered shortcuts some translators fall into.
You include an English horn in the scoring of these songs, which makes its plaintive mark right at the beginning of the 1922 poem "The Sybil." (Incidentally, is it possible to hear this instrument without hearing Tristan? Or is that just me?)
I love the English horn and feel it is very under-utilized. One certainly responds to its signature timbres when they are highlighted in brief sections of operas or symphonies. But I wanted to try it in a chamber context, which is quite rare. I think it works well in the Tsvetaeva cycle. The part can also be handled by B♭ clarinet, but I'm hoping the English horn players of the world might welcome the chance to display their wares in a song cycle context. I was very pleased with the work of Los Angeles reeds player Sarah Beck on the Delos recording.
You seem to find the consonance at "God has come" as a comfort in "The Sibyl" too?
Yes. The poem's opening imagery of a burnt-out stump and "all birds perished" is downright dystopian. In the section you're referring to, I wanted to convey the pathos and sense of spiritual relief at the realization that the destruction is part of God's plan. This juxtaposition is very Tsvetaevian, in my view. The woman was many times steamrolled by life and fate-and sometimes by herself-in appalling ways, but never completely lost touch with her sensitive side.
In "Two trees desire to come together" (1919) there's an incredible beauty to the text about the two trees and their "relationship"; the poem is unforgettable. When you're setting poetry of this clear stature do you find it intimidating or stimulating? What about the weight of responsibility to set these poems to music?
I did feel the weight of responsibility in the sense that Tsvetaeva is still quite underappreciated (in the U.S. especially) and the fact that no American composer has set her work in English until now. But intimidating? No. A composer must truly bond with the sentiments in a poem to do justice to it, and if you're intimidated you won't succeed. Some basic knowledge of 20th-century Russian history can't help but spur one to want to do a very small part in remembering Stalin's countless victims.
Certainly the English horn has connotations of melancholy (perhaps Dvořák has something to do with this).
Yes, melancholy-at least in the sinuous phrase at the beginning of "O sorrow floods my eyes!" Fascism was on the march when this poem was written and Tsvetaeva's premonitions of what was to come soon enough were dead on.
Was the cycle written for Hila Plitmann? The opening of the final song, "God bent under" suits her voice perfectly!
Yes, it was. Hila has been a staunch supporter of my work for nearly six years-starting with "The Palm Trees Are Restless" on the 2016 album Home Is a Harbor and continuing with three works on Time and Distance in 2018. She's been inspirational in many ways. Few world-class and widely celebrated singers stop to take the time to investigate and encourage not-very-well-known composers. But Hila has for me. This has not only bucked up my spirits but helped me raise my sights higher as a composer. In terms of technique, she can handle anything (as her work with Corigliano, Del Tredici, and Danielpour has shown); but her even greater gifts are the emotional intensity she commands and her ability to connect with an audience in live performance. She's also one of the nicest people I've ever met.
What determines the choice of poet? In a sense you have more freedom than most as you have also set your own poetry! ("Rainbow Songs" and "The Dark-Eyed Chameleon" on the Terrain of the Heart CD, Fanfare 37:6, and your texts on the Time and Distance disc-"The Invocation," "In the Rear View Mirror, Now," and "The Benediction.")
Besides Tsvetaeva, I've set Rilke, Neruda, and the California poets Kate Gale and Joanne Regenhardt. It would be hard to say what they have in common. Tsvetaeva, Rilke, and Gale I suppose are more "interior" than the more image-oriented Neruda and Regenhardt, but I probably just respond to poetry that moves me, pure and simple.
My own texts are something different; the writers who've found merit there seem to value them for their often unusually personal nature-"The Dark-Eyed Chameleon" and "In the Rear View Mirror, Now," for example. There are also societal ruminations in "The Dream Gallery" and "The Benediction," philosophical and sometimes dream-like musings in "Rainbow Songs" and "The Invocation." I haven't written any of these for a while but intend to do so again. They're an authentic window into my thinking beyond the musical decisions and, as you say, there's a freedom inherent in going your own way with texts. I've often written them at the same time I'm composing the music. Hindemith would undoubtedly be aghast, but as we Americans love to say, "It works for me!"
The question of programmatic titles for instrumental music is often a thorny one, particularly if the titles are added after the composition of the music, as is the case with The Elastic Hours. So I wonder, can you please give some background to the piece, and its ideas? I have to say I love the sense of dance in the second movement; and the performance is astonishingly vibrant!
We're agreed about the thorniness of programmatic titles added later on. However, I don't think that giving listeners a clue or signpost is a bad thing. I could have called The Elastic Hours "Violin Sonata No. 1" instead but can't see any value added there. The piece didn't have a predetermined roadmap when I embarked on it, and I wasn't entirely sure I could produce a credible work in this vein. But the thing took hold more rapidly than I expected and pretty much followed the arc I mentioned earlier-"structure" growing and asserting itself spontaneously and eventually assuming a full-blown character. In my notes for The Cave of Wondrous Voice I wrote: "Both movements follow a near-seismographic path that strongly suggests the subconscious mind's journey through the course of a day." I'm going to stick with that, as I think it's a good description of how the music feels as you experience it.
I'm so glad you enjoyed the performance of The Elastic Hours. Once again, I was very fortunate in terms of collaborators. I knew (the German violinist) Sabrina-Vivian Höpcker from her excellent Delos disc of the Brahms Hungarian Dances and got in touch when I heard she would be in Los Angeles last summer. When she expressed her liking for The Elastic Hours right off the bat there was no need to look further. Sabrina is a terrific violinist and a very dedicated musician in all respects. The rising young American pianist Dominic Cheli had some time available between engagements and also expressed enthusiasm for the piece, so we were set. Sabrina and Dominic came into the recording session well prepared, retaining the flexibility to make on-the-spot adjustments if needed. Things went very smoothly, which is not always the case in the studio. I hope to work with both of them again; they're fine players and exude a very welcome positivity.
David Shifrin, clarinet • Carol Rosenberger, piano • Hila Plitmann, soprano Fred Sherry, cello • Sabrina-Vivian Höpcker, violin Dominic Cheli, piano • Sarah Beck, English horn
This album sings and dances, with Mark Abel's "colorful blend of styles that serve the emotional nature of each work to bracing and poignant effect" (Gramophone) and further clarifies why Abel is "one of the most interesting figures in American contemporary music" (Pizzicato).
Abel's idiom eludes easy pigeon-holing-its contours extend from art song to larger forms with orchestra to a full length chamber opera, Home Is a Harbor.
The program begins with Intuition's Dance, a combination of frolic and dreamy ruminations featuring the incomparable clarinetist David Shifrin and pianist Carol Rosenberger. (Together again for the first time since their memorable albums for Delos, recorded in 1984!) Next comes the remarkable Hila Plitmann singing the powerfully moving Four Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva-the first-ever setting of Tsvetaeva's poetry in English translation. Plitmann is joined by Rosenberger and English hornist Sarah Beck.
The California-based composer Mark Abel, who "employs a colorful blend of styles that serve the emotional nature of each work to bracing and poignant effect" (Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone, August 2016) has released a new recording-his fourth in recent years-entitled Time and Distance on the Delos label. Drawing on a variegated lifetime of artistic, journalistic, political, and poetic endeavors, Mr. Abel has composed five art songs for voice and piano, three of which are based on his own texts, one on a poem by Kate Gale, and one composed to five poems by Joanne Regenhardt. Time and Distance features performances by Grammy Award-winning soprano Hila Plitman; mezzo-sorpano Janelle DeStefano, pianist Tali Tadmor, pianist Carol Rosenberger, Bruce Carver on percussion, and Mr. Abel at the organ.
Mark Abel's critically heralded previous release on Delos, the orchestral cycle The Dream Gallery, signaled a radical and culturally relevant new approach to the American art song. With TERRAIN OF THE HEART, Abel takes a fresh look at the idiom while working within the genre's more traditional framework: as a recital vehicle for solo voice and piano. Abel's lyrics leave a lasting impression. They burrow all the deeper into one's consciousness when amplified by his sophisticated musical fusion of classical and rock, aimed at broad-minded listeners – classically couth or not.
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American composer Mark Abel's song cycle, The Dream Gallery: Seven California Portraits, will be released by Delos Music digitally March 6 and on CD March 27, 2012. With The Dream Gallery, Abel has written both music and lyrics to a 70-minute work that explores a character-driven psychogeography of modern California, a state that he has been continually fascinated by and sometimes frustrated with over three decades of living there. A former rock musician-producer on the cutting-edge New York scene of the late '70s, Abel shifted careers to become a top journalist in San Francisco. He has devoted himself to composition in recent years, releasing two previous albums featuring a wide array of his "postmodern art songs." For The Dream Gallery, the composer sought out some of California's most talented, sympathetic singers and players to bring his latest creation to vibrant life.
8 New 'ON' this week: 51 Total Direct:Music Choice Markets include: New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, Berkeley CA, Wichita KS Online: Crystal Ball Report, WGOE, Live 365