Tag Archives: contemporary music

Philip Glass’ In the Penal Colony

Philip Glass, bless his heart, keeps turning out operas, and with a couple of near-misses, they’re among the best in the contemporary canon. In the Penal Colony takes as its foundation Franz Kafka’s chilling short story of the same title. … Continue reading

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John Corigliano’s The Red Violin Concerto

John Corigliano is widely considered one of the leading American composers of his generation, which includes such luminaries as Morten Lauridsen, Terry Riley, and Ned Rorem. Commentators have characterized his style as “highly expressive,” “compelling,” and “kaleidoscopic.” In addition to … Continue reading

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Benjamin Britten’s Death In Venice

Many consider Benjamin Britten the most important British composer since World War II; indeed, some think him the most important since Henry Purcell. Although often thought an uneven composer, most writers in the area concede that his operas Peter Grimes, … Continue reading

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Arvo Pärt’s Da Pacem

The music of Arvo Pärt, one of the best known contemporary composers, is something I’ve always found attractive. From my first recording of Passio, which was, believe it or not, my beach music for a whole summer way back when, … Continue reading

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Mark Turner & Ethan Iverson’s Temporary Kings

I was sad and a little concerned in 2017 when pianist Ethan Iverson left The Bad Plus, the modern jazz trio he helped found nearly 20 years ago. Not to worry, though. He left that ensemble in good hands with … Continue reading

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Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 7, “Toltec”

Philip Glass was invited to compose a work for conductor Leonard Slatkin’s 60th birthday season with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2005; the result was the Symphony No. 7, “A Toltec Symphony”, based on the wisdom tradition of the ancient … Continue reading

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Tim Clement and Kim Deschamps’ Wolf Song Night

Classifying things seems to be, for some reason, a basic human need. And it is axiomatic that our systems for classification have built-in limits and conceptual gaps: Archaeopteryx lithographica is, therefore, a bird. And Wolfsong Night, a collaboration between Tim … Continue reading

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Olivier Greif’s Sonate de Requiem, Trio avec piano

Olivier Greif was one of those musicians: he entered the Paris Conservatory at age ten, and in 1967, at the age of seventeen, won the first prize for composition. The bulk of his output is chamber music, largely sonatas for … Continue reading

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Harold Budd’s Lovely Thunder

Harold Budd is one of those composer/performers who pops up periodically and wanders around like a medieval jongleur just doing his thing and collaborating with everyone. Noted for his piano improvisations, he has worked with the Cocteau Twins and Brian … Continue reading

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Steve Tibbetts’ Life Of

If you’re looking for a deeply contemplative album of meditative music, look no further than Steve Tibbetts’ Life Of. As with much of the Minnesota-based guitarist’s body of work, his latest release draws on world, ambient, jazz and experimental musics, … Continue reading

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Terry Riley’s Cadenza on the Night Plain

Cadenza on the Night Plain (the disc, not the work of that title) presents four of Terry Riley’s works for string quartet, works that, if your only acquaintance with Riley has been pieces on the order of In C or … Continue reading

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Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, Awase

I was immediately smitten by the music of Nik Bärtsch when I first heard it via Continuum, the 2016 ECM release from his all-acoustic project Mobile, and a show I saw from that tour was probably my favorite from that … Continue reading

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Kristjan Randalu’s Absence

About two minutes into “Forecast 1,” the first track of Kristjan Randalu’s Absence, the Estonian pianist takes a brief pause after a gently improvised introduction, then leaps into a Lisztian whirlwind of arpeggios and it seems this is going to … Continue reading

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Ugasanie’s Border of Worlds

Ugansie is the name under which Russian musician Pavel Malyshkin creates his art, which is called dark polar ambient. Border of Worlds is his fourth release since he started making this kind of music in 2010. This one is focused … Continue reading

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Philip Glass and Beni Montresor’s The Witches of Venice

The Witches of Venice, with a score by Philip Glass and libretto by Beni Montresor, based on Montresor’s children’s book of the same title, was commissioned by Teatro alla Scala and premiered there in 1995. It’s a fairy tale, with … Continue reading

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Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach

Robert Wilson, Philip Glass’ collaborator on Einstein on the Beach, noted that until that work hit the boards, theater was bound by literature. Thinking on it, he’s pretty much right: stage plays, opera, even film were constrained by a narrative … Continue reading

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Philip Glass’ Akhnaten

Akhnaten is the third of Philip Glass’ “portrait” operas, the three works based on historical figures who transformed the thinking of their times through their vision and ideas. Akhnaten’s claim to fame is that he introduced the idea of “god” … Continue reading

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Philip Glass’ Itaipu/The Canyon

Program music has a fairly long history, going back at least to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (which was actually composed as separate concertos, but let’s not be picky). Among contemporary composers, perhaps the most notable for writing program music is … Continue reading

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Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 47, Chamber Symphony for String Orchestra, Op. 110a

When I was first making my acquaintance with the range of the twentieth-century “classical” canon, the Shostakovich Fifth was the penultimate achievement of Soviet music. Shostakovich, although a loyal Soviet citizen, was also an artist, which is a breed not … Continue reading

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Arvo Pärt’s Da Pacem

The music of Arvo Pärt, one of the best known contemporary composers, is something I’ve always found attractive. From my first recording of Passio, which was, believe it or not, my beach music for a whole summer way back when, … Continue reading

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Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Canto di speranza

West German composer Bernd Alois Zimmerman is one of those unclassifiable artists whose style progressed through what seems to be the normal twentieth-century pattern: neoclassicism, atonality and the twelve-tone row of Schoenberg, serialism, and finally a kind of polyglot style … Continue reading

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Terry Riley’s Requiem for Adam

Terry Riley’s Requiem for Adam was written as a memorial to Adam Harrington, son of David Harrington, first violinist of Kronos Quartet. Adam died suddenly at the age of 16 while walking with his family on Mt. Diablo, near San … Continue reading

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Thomas Barth’s Beyond Black & White

It is sometimes very difficult to get past the packaging of recordings to the substance (if there is substance, which is not always the case), particularly when dealing with new age music (“new age” being one of those categories we … Continue reading

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Leonard Bernstein, The Original Jacket Collection: Bernstein Conducts Bernstein

I’ve mentioned before that there are vanishingly few orchestra conductors in the twentieth century whose names have become household words. There are, if anything, even fewer composers who have achieved that degree of notoriety. Leonard Bernstein is all of the … Continue reading

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Works of Igor Stravinsky

Works of Igor Stravinsky is a massive set: 22 CDs of performances of Rite of Spring, Petrouschka, L’Histoire du Soldat, Symphony in E-Flat, The Rake’s Progress and more under the direction of the composer, with additional performances by his disciple … Continue reading

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John Corigliano’s The Red Violin Concerto; Sonata for Violin and Piano

John Corigliano is widely considered one of the leading American composers of his generation, which includes such luminaries as Morten Lauridsen, Terry Riley, and Ned Rorem. Commentators have characterized his style as “highly expressive,” “compelling,” and “kaleidoscopic.” In addition to … Continue reading

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Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem

Benjamin Britten is without doubt among the foremost of modern British composers, generally considered, along with Sir Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams, as one of the most important voices in English music of the twentieth century. It goes beyond … Continue reading

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Leonard Bernstein’s Mass

Lights! Camera! Kyrie! Sounds rather theatrical, doesn’t it? Some might even say disrespectful. It’s no surprise, then, that Leonard Bernstein’s Mass generated so much controversy at its premiere in 1971. Thirty-five years later, the controversy is muted. When we think … Continue reading

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Philip Glass and Constance DeJong’s Satyagraha

Satyagraha is the second of Philip Glass’ “portrait” operas, following Einstein on the Beach and preceding Akhnaten. Commissioned by the City of Rotterdam, it received its first performance there in 1980, and has since been performed in London, New York, … Continue reading

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Tarkovsky Quartet’s Nuit Blanche

The French pianist François Couturier continues a project of more than a decade now of honoring the spirit of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovksy (1932-1986). Nuit Blanche or White Night, by what is known as the Tarkovsky Quartet, is the fourth … Continue reading

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Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet’s Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass

Mark Swed, in his essay accompanying Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass begins with the claim that “Philip Glass’ string quartets may contain some of his most intimate music.” If I wanted to quibble, I could point out that Richard Guérin … Continue reading

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Robert Sandall’s The Penguin Café Orchestra: A History

The Penguin Café Orchestra: A History is just that (although arguably it is as much a history of Simon Jeffes, but Jeffes and the Orchestra are so inextricably intertwined that I’m not prepared to argue the matter). The meat of … Continue reading

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Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus, String Quartet No. 4, Symphony No. 5

Regarded as one of Finland’s foremost contemporary composers, Einojuhani Rautavaara is a graduate of Helsinki University and the Sibelius Academy. In 1955 he was selected by Sibelius himself to receive a fellowship to study in the United States, awarded in … Continue reading

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Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Symphonic

Antonio Carlos Jobim, known widely as “Tom,” was one of the key figures in the popularity of the bossa nova, a style he and his fellows — particularly Joao Gilberto, Luiz Bonfá, and Vinícius de Moraes — created from the … Continue reading

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Anders Hagberg and Johannes Landgren’s Of Air

Anders Hagberg and Johannes Landgren are both alumni of and teachers at the School of Music and Music Education of Göteborg University (Sweden). This recordingc is part of a series by the students and faculty of the School. The range … Continue reading

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Morton Feldman’s The Viola In My Life

I remarked once upon a time that Morton Feldman’s music fills space. Listening to the sections of The Viola In My Life, I realize that Feldman does rather more than fill space: he shapes it, gives it duration and form, … Continue reading

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Michael Nyman’s Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs

Michael Nyman’s Noises, Sounds and Sweet Airs was the result of one of those “six degrees” sorts of things, coupled with a couple years of intense focus on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. During 1990-91, Nyman was working on the score … Continue reading

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Gavin Bryars’ The Fifth Century

English composer Gavin Bryars was born in Yorkshire in 1943. He studied philosophy at Sheffield University and, as might be expected, became a jazz bassist during his time there. He’s worked in a number of different idioms and styles, from … Continue reading

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Steve Reich’s The ECM Recordings

It was with some misgivings that I undertook to review this collection of the music of Steve Reich, which includes Music for 18 Musicians (1976), Violin Phase (1967), Music for a Large Ensemble (1978), Octet (1979), and Tehillim (1981). It’s … Continue reading

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And Did Those Feet’s Forgetting the Shadows of History

The group And Did Those Feet was founded in 1992 by composer/performer Richard Ellin to showcase his own compositions. He was joined by vocalists Ina Williams, who has won many awards in singing contests in Wales and abroad, and Celia … Continue reading

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Arvo Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry

I first ran across the music of Arvo Pärt many years ago, in a coffee shop owned by a man whose taste in music was as eclectic as my own. It was the Passio, and I was intrigued enough that … Continue reading

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Arvo Pärt’s Passio

Arvo Pärt’s Passio was the first recording of his music that I owned. It may very well have been the first available in the U.S. For one entire summer it was my beach music — I tended to go to … Continue reading

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Daniel Lanois’ Goodbye to Language

Daniel Lanois’ name has become synonymous with sonic exploration. From his early electronic music collaborations with Brian Eno through his legendary production work with Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, U2 and more, to his own recordings, the Canadian-born musician has delved … Continue reading

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Frode Haltli’s Air

I discovered fairly recently that, when you get into the contemporary music of Northern Europe, “accordion music” is not at all what we think it’s going to be. Which leads me to this recently released collection by Norwegian accordionist Frode … Continue reading

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Corvus Corax’ The Best of Corvus Corax

The German pop scene has got to be the one to watch. I’ve run across albums from Nubian drummers and medieval electro-pop duos who are big in the Berlin club scene, and now I’m listening to Corvus Corax, a group … Continue reading

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Eric Whitacre’s Cloudburst and Other Choral Works

Eric Whitacre is one of those contemporary composers whose background is as patchy as it is eclectic. He was thrown out of his high-school marching band, in which he played the trumpet, for being a troublemaker. As a teenager he … Continue reading

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John Luther Adams’ The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies

Two things about John Luther Adams: Like other composers of his generation his path to composition followed some surprising twists — in his case, from rock bands to Frank Zappa to Edgard Varèse to Morton Feldman. Second, he lives in … Continue reading

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Alfred Schnittke: Symphony No. 9/ Alexander Raskatov: Nunc dimittis

To Soviet composer Alfred Schnittke, music provided continuity, a connection with history and, in fact, to all of life. This is, perhaps, not so surprising: his musical education took place largely in post-War Vienna, and if anything typifies the life … Continue reading

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Miranda Cuckson, Blair McMillen: Bartók, Lutosławski, Schnittke

If I had to choose one word to describe the music of Central and Eastern Europe in the years after World War II, it would be “restless.” This restlessness actually predates the War, having its roots in the Vienna of … Continue reading

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Danish String Quartet’s Adès / Abrahamsen / Nørgård

I doubt that most people think of reviewing as a learning experience – after all, we’re supposed to know this stuff, right? Well, yes and no. Take music, for example: I’ve lived with music all my life, all kinds of … Continue reading

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