Tag Archives: contemporary music

Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air, Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band

A Rainbow in Curved Air is a hard piece of music to describe, in part, perhaps, because although easy to listen to (at this point in history, at least), it’s not really very easy to make sense of. In part … Continue reading

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Linkin Park’s A Thousand Suns

Full disclosure: as much as I am ever a “fan” of anything, I am a Linkin Park junkie. I suspect that’s only partly because they do loud, obnoxious rock and roll; it’s also partly because they are very sophisticated musicians … Continue reading

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Michele Rabbia, Gianluca Petrella, Eivind Aarset’s Lost River

By turns ambient, majestic, contemplative, evocative, even at times unsettling, Lost River by the new trio of drummer Michele Rabbia, guitarist Eivind Aarset and trombonist Gianluca Petrella is a sonic hall of wonders. The album’s 10 tracks, mostly in the … Continue reading

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Philip Glass and Wendy Sutter’s Songs and Poems for Solo Cello

Philip Glass is not only arguably the best-known contemporary American composer, and one of the most prolific, he is also one of the most versatile. He’s done operas, film soundtracks, orchestral works for the Philip Glass Ensemble, and chamber music. … Continue reading

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Stephan Micus’s White Night

Stephan Micus is a unique spirit in what used to be called world music. His dedication to unfettered exploration of his musical vision is truly impressive. On White Night, his 23rd solo album for ECM, Micus unleashes his visionary creativity … Continue reading

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Ned Rorem’s Winter Pages/Bright Music

First, the confession: I have avoided Rorem’s music for years because I have an inexplicably deep-seated resistance to the art song in any form (whether this is because I was once a folk-singer or in spite of that fact, I’m … Continue reading

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Toru Takemitsu’s I Hear the Water Dreaming

I’ve long been fascinated by the music of Toru Takemitsu, one of those post-War Japanese artists who incorporated Western ideas in music while maintaining a strong sense of Japanese traditions. My first run-in was with November Steps on vinyl, bought … Continue reading

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Dominic Miller’s Absinthe

Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. That’s what guitarist Dominic Miller’s Absinthe is all about. But its not some wispy, tentative conception of atmospherics. Rather it’s the intentional use of sound, space and time to evoke a strong sense of place or emotion. … Continue reading

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Philip Glass and Martina Winkel’s Kepler

Philip Glass’ Kepler is another of his “portrait operas,” this one of the seventeenth-century German mathematician and astronomer who developed the laws of planetary motion, which became the foundation, ultimately, of Newton’s theory of gravitation. It’s no mistake that the … Continue reading

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Kronos Quartet’s Winter Was Hard

Winter was Hard is one of Kronos Quartet’s anthology albums, and contains a wealth of contemporary music from a wide range of approaches. It is one of the first of their recordings that I owned (in cassette) and my first … Continue reading

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Stephen Emmer’s Recitement

I love it: pop culture invades the avant-garde. OK – now I’ve got that off my chest and am sitting here listening to Stephen Emmer’s Recitement. It’s really popular music, and Emmer has boosted it up a level in the … Continue reading

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Keith Jarrett’s Radiance

Keith Jarrett is a remarkable example of the phenomenon of the performer/composer. Although he is generally considered a jazz pianist — one of the finest — I first became acquainted with his work through his recordings of the twentieth century … Continue reading

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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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