About this Recording
9.70011 - INCE, K.: Curve / Hammers and Whistlers / Istathenople / Strange Stone (Present Music Ensemble, Stalheim)
English 

Kamran Ince (b. 1960)
Curve • Hammers and Whistlers • Istathenople • Strange Stone

 

Again and again in piece after piece, Kamran Ince expresses spiritual longing in the simplest and most time-honoured way: By placing half-steps and whole steps in close proximity. The difference was poignant when Monteverdi and friends experimented with it c. 1600, and it remains so today. Ince, however, does not merely repeat a well-worn strategy. His stark way of framing and rich way of colouring these basic intervals sharpens their emotional edges and updates a time-honoured device.

The ache touches home, especially, at the outset of Curve, Ince’s string quartet. Ince wrote the piece for the Ceruti String Quartet, which gave the première at Carnegie Hall in 1997. The tentative, irregular seconds—major here, minor there, consonant here, dissonant there—quiver as they reach toward but never quite achieve real melody. The sentiment of this bit of music is not so much sadness as emotional paralysis, which is sadder than sadness. The asymmetrical pounding ostinati and the surreal rock ‘n’ roll rave-up violin solo that follow read as outbursts of frustration and anxiety. Curve, along with Domes (1992) and Arches (1994), reflects the composer’s preoccupation with architectural shapes associated with spirituality.

Hammers and Whistlers begins with a heavenly, treble clamour of woodwinds and the voices of women and children. For the next 22 minutes of this 2006 piece, Ince astonishes the ear. The stream-of-consciousness whirl, built around a surreal poem by İzzeddin Çalışlar, includes jangle and clatter and avian chirping, iron-foundry pounding, bedlams of overlapping melodies and all manner of alarms and cries. Calm, quiet choral chants butt against crashing gongs and blasting brass rising from children’s choir, women’s choir, a string orchestra, and a percussion-heavy ensemble of fifteen. These lines from Çalışlar’s poem sum up this thrilling music:

sing or whisper
crazy or sane
no limit

In Istathenople, Ince runs two distinct ideas, one driving and virtuosic, the other placid and glowing, through some of the many musical genres that have influenced him: Balkan, Turkish and Greek traditional music, rock and pop, European modernism and American Minimalism. The ten-piece band includes bouzuki, mandolin and electronic keyboard. Ince’s unique colours make even the most basic harmonies fascinating. Bathe a major third rocking to a minor third in gorgeous, shifting colours and you can listen to them all night. You would expect Istathenople to be a musical Tower of Babel, but simple, instantly recognizable materials hold the piece together. It is ever changing but ever the same; ideas heard at the outset return in colourful new clothes and dance slightly different steps. It is fun to compare the iterations and impossible not to be swept up in the overall rising energy. At the end, just when it could not get any more raucous and energetic, Istathenople turns gloriously and soothingly beautiful.

The singer, Hadass Pal-Yarden, put something of herself into that ending: A few lines from the Old Testament Song of Solomon.

mi zot ola
min haminbar
ketimerot ashan
ketimerot ashan
mi zot ola
min hamidbar

Whom is she who is rising up
From the desert
Like smoking billows
Like smoking billows
Whom is she who is rising up
From the desert

“She did this on her own,” Ince said. “When I heard it, I knew it had to stay in there.”

This disc offers spiritual longing, audacious celebration and brilliant homage and finishes with antic comedy. Strange Stone (2004), according to the composer, “represents the new-music equivalent of the traditional Turkish zurna”, a notably loud, rowdy and nasal wind instrument. Fine, but the rest of us will hear the slide whistle, the herky-jerky melodies, the scampering winds chased by a waddling bassoon and the meowing glissando strings and think: Looney Tunes. No spiritual yearning in Strange Stone; this one is pure, audacious fun. “I was going for the blur of Ottoman classical music washed with the in-your-faceness of the zurna sound, to create a synthesis of the two”, the composer writes. “I warped the classical horizontally and vertically—horizontally with what I call spice and dirt and vertically with the out-of-sync quality.”

“I am turning more to Turkish music. I am particularly interested in contrasting Turkish folk-music with Ottoman classical music. The playful and surprising aspect of the folk-music, and the depth, weight and elegance of Ottoman courtly music capture me. I have explored these two sides before, but the ingredients are changing. Maybe I am going more toward my core.”

Present Music, the Milwaukee new-music organization led by Kevin Stalheim, commissioned and gave the premières of Hammers and Whistlers (in 2006) and Istathenople (in 2003). Ince and Present Music have had a long and fruitful relationship that has included many commissions and a tour of Turkey. The Milwaukee Choral Artists, the Milwaukee Children’s Choir and the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra Strings joined the Present Music ensemble in this performance of Hammers and Whistlers.


Tom Strini


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