|About this Recording
8.572231 - PUTS, K. Millennium Canons / NEWMAN, J.: My Hands Are a City / HOLST, G.: Hammersmith (University of Georgia Wind Ensemble)
Millennium Canons: Looking Forward, Looking Back
The American composer Kevin Puts has had works commissioned and performed by leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists throughout North America, Europe and the Far East. Known for his distinctive and richly colored musical voice, he has received many of today’s most prestigious honors and awards for composition. He was Young Concert Artists Composer-in-Residence from 1996–1998, and is still a member of YCA’s management roster. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, he received his Bachelor’s Degree from the Eastman School of Music, his Master’s Degree from Yale University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts at the Eastman School of Music.
Kevin Puts’s Millennium Canons is a work that has an intriguing binary nature, looking both backward to the masters of the past and forward to the innovations of the contemporary. One of the most identifiable techniques of Baroque masters is imitative counterpoint. Bach in particular is known for his mastery of fugues, inventions and canons. The latter of these, the canon (not to be confused with the artillery weapon, spelled cannon, although the bombastic nature of the piece might lead the listener to think otherwise), in which identical melodic content is sounded simultaneously with time-spaced starting points, permeates the work. Puts weaves a tapestry of styles ranging from the bold and declamatory fanfares stated in four distinct trumpet parts in the piece’s exterior sections to beautiful lyrical melodic strands shared between a sweetly tinged saxophone duet. Admittedly, the piece hardly sounds baroque, with its gamut of extended tertian harmonies and brash visceral force, but the structural and stylistic elegance that lies underneath is what carries the piece from beginning to triumphant close.
My Hands Are a City
Jonathan Newman composes music rich with rhythmic drive and intricate sophistication. A 2001 recipient of the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Newman creates broadly colored musical works, often incorporating styles of pop, blues, jazz, folk, and funk into otherwise classical models. Recent performances include The Vinyl Six written for the chamber group Avian Music, arrangements of electronica premiered by Alarm Will Sound at the 2005 Lincoln Center Festival, and Metropolitan premiered by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. In 2007 he began work on an opera based on the 1962 cult horror film Carnival of Souls. Born in 1972, Newman holds a BM degree from Boston University School for the Arts and an MM degree from the Juilliard School where he studied with John Corigliano and David Del Tredici.
In 2005 I wrote The Rivers of Bowery, a short work celebrating a verse from Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Response to the piece was positive, but I believed that both the musical and extra-musical themes were perhaps larger than the length allowed. I designed My Hands Are a City as an expansion, both in thematic scope, and in musical material. In my neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the musicians and poets and characters of our mid-century “Beats” are still very active ghosts. I walk past the tenement where Allen Ginsberg wrote Howl, stroll across “Charlie Parker Place”, and over the city streets rapturously described in prose and verse, and captured in era photos and film. Surrounded by these spirits, I allowed My Hands Are a City (titled after a 1955 Gregory Corso poem), to overflow with mid-century American vernacular.
Altered progressions from bebop tunes, stretched out, frozen, and suspended solos from Lester Young and Charlie Parker recordings, as well as sensory input from months of immersing myself in novels, poetry, and photographs, all fill out the work. Taking musical material from The Rivers of Bowery happened quite naturally, as well. The process was much like approaching my finished piece as if it was my sketchbook, and using that once-final material as the cells and harmonies to then spin out. But where in its sister-work I concentrated on capturing Ginsberg’s singing of the lost and outcast mobs of his counterculture, what struck me while making this more expansive work was the ever-present cloud of sadness hanging over much of the work of The Beats in general. It’s a quiet sadness I hear even in the frantic bebop of Bird and Miles, and in my re-reading of the classic literature of the period. This too, seeped in, perhaps adding a tinge of darkness to the colors of the piece.
Lost Gulch Lookout
Composer Kristin Kuster’s colorfully enthralling compositions take inspiration from architectural space, the weather, and mythology. She has many honors and commissions to her credit including those of the American Composers Orchestra, American Opera Project, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Jerome Foundation Commissioning Program Award through the American Composers Forum and the top prize of the Underwood Emerging Composer Commission. She grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and earned her doctorate from the University of Michigan where she studied with William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, Evan Chambers, and William Albright. In fall 2008 she joined their faculty as Assistant Professor of Composition.
Lost Gulch Lookout, commissioned by John Lynch and The University of Georgia Wind Ensemble, reflects the craggy and colorful landscape of Kuster’s Colorado birthplace through hauntingly beautiful sonorities and tense dissonances. Far from merely nostalgic, her forcefully lean and athletic writing style evokes the jagged nature of the raw terrain on the razor edge of civilization. The visceral, gritty nature of the very canyons themselves are, perhaps, nature’s response to the incessant imposition of humanity into the few remaining unspoiled areas of nature. Kuster says the following of her inspiration: This piece is really about expansiveness and rocks and the heaviness of rocks; and also sky and wispy clouds above the sky and us living amongst that and in that and the fear that I have of what we’re doing to our natural resources, but also the hope that we can remember how beautiful they are so that we might preserve them.
Kingfishers Catch Fire
John Mackey, born in New Philadelphia, Ohio, holds a Master of Music degree from the Juilliard School and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied with John Corigliano and Donald Erb, respectively. He served as Music Director of the Parsons Dance Company from 1999–2003. His works have been performed at the Sydney Opera House, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Weill Recital Hall, Italy’s Spoleto Festival, Alice Tully Hall, and throughout Italy, Chile, Japan, Colombia, Austria, Brazil, Germany, England, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. John Mackey has received numerous commissions and awards including ASCAP, the American Music Center, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, and an NEA grant. Redline Tango (available on Naxos 8.570074) won the 2004 Walter Beeler Memorial Composition Prize, and in 2005, the ABA/Ostwald Award from the American Bandmasters Association, making him the youngest composer to receive the honor.
A “kingfisher” is a bird with beautiful, brilliantly colored feathers that look in sunlight as if they are on fire. Kingfishers are extremely shy birds and are rarely seen, but when they are seen, they are undeniably beautiful. The first movement, “Following falls and falls of rain,” is suspended in tone, but with hope, depicting the kingfisher slowly emerging from its nest in the early morning stillness, just after a heavy rain storm. The second movement, “Kingfishers catch fire,” imagines the bird flying out into the sunlight. The work features optional antiphonal trumpets placed behind the audience. The trumpet solo in the first movement is played from the back of the hall, and the trumpet flourishes in the second movement are played by the antiphonal trumpet choir. You may catch the reference to Stravinsky’s Firebird at the end of the piece.
Gustav Holst is among the most famous British composers, producing a prodigious repertoire near the turn of the twentieth century and in the decades that followed. Early in his career he was fascinated by the compositions of Wagner, Strauss and Ravel and later would be influenced by his lifelong friend and contemporary, Ralph Vaughan Williams. His works include frequent reference to his burgeoning interest in mysticism and nature, as well as English folk-song. His most famous work is the orchestral suite The Planets, but he is also well known for several works for wind band, including the popular Suites for Military Band.
The seeming conflict between man and nature is the theme that drives Holst’s remarkable Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo and unites the works on this recording. Holst composed the piece in 1930 as a reflection of the industrial outgrowth of the London borough and its one remaining element of nature—the river Thames, which dissects the area. The piece begins with a strange rolling motive of three measures, evocative of the river itself. As the Prelude flows by in its lazy adagio, bitonal countermelodies emerge atop the water of the low brass. The only disruption (a foreboding, perhaps) within the opening is an agitated fanfare, stated first in piccolo and followed closely by trumpets, rife with semitones and rhythmic vigor. The river motive itself dissolves as it speeds up and elides with the Scherzo. The two large sections of the work, which seem inherently disjunct, are actually related, comprising similar pitch content and intervallic relationships. This could have been Holst’s commentary that, despite overwhelming superficial evidence to the contrary, everything, including man’s continuing technological development, is both borne of and reliant upon nature’s omnipresence. The Scherzo itself comprises two distinct fugues: one in an agitated poco vivace depicting the hustle and bustle of the city and the other in a somber lento, reminiscent of the opening river. As the work reaches its midpoint, the fugues begin a retrograde presentation, following their order in reverse. At the critical moment when the opening fugue’s exposition returns, however, an unexpected change happens—the river theme returns along with it, accompanying it to its conclusion with a characteristic ambivalence. Eventually the river itself fades away into nothingness, taking with it all signs of mankind’s intervention.
Adam Gorb was born in Cardiff, Wales, and started composing at the age of ten. His first work broadcast on national radio was written when he was fifteen. He studied at Cambridge University (1977–1980) and the Royal Academy of Music (1991–1993), where he graduated with the highest honors including the Principal’s Prize. He has been on the staff at the London College of Music and Media, the junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music and, since 2000 he has been the Head of the School of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England. Gorb’s effervescent and bombastic Awayday is a salute to American musical theater and popular styles from the middle twentieth century. The energy of the work is almost overpowering, with a strangely imposing opening sequence that recedes into an ebullient fountain of sizzling syncopation. The middle section of the piece becomes gentler and the frenzy of the exterior disappears (though the syncopation remains), becoming instead a suave song-like melody. The intended image, according to Gorb, is one of taking a high-speed vacation away from the city. He says, “If you can envisage George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky and James Bond traveling together at a hundred miles per hour in an open-top sports car, I think you’ll get the idea.”
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