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Blog Archive



Andrew Norman's "Play", Revised & Ready for Action at the LA Phil

Andrew Norman has had many honors bestowed upon him in the past several years: he has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist, won both the Berlin and Rome Prizes, held a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was recently named Musical America's "2017 Composer of the Year". Within the past four years, attention continues to return to Norman's large-scale orchestral work, Play — a work that critic William Robin has called "the best orchestral work that the twenty-first century has seen thus far"— a "symphony in everything but name" that endlessly enchants audiences, musicians and critics alike. 

Play was commissioned in 2012 by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and premiered to critical acclaim; the ensemble's recording, also critically acclaimed, was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award

But Norman, unlike most composers, has not rested on his laurels; instead, he has pursued the conceptual and theoretical implications of this knotty, ludic work further, and has decided to substantially revise the piece, playing with the idea that a "work" must be a bounded, concrete object. Instead, Norman offers us a "work" as a process of discovery: a set of instructions for play. 

(pages from Andrew Norman's Play)

These revisions for Play were commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the new iteration of this work will premeire on October 28th at Walt Disney Concert Hall, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.

Violist and scholar Anne Lanzilotti has recently published an extensive article on Norman's Play in Music & Literature, which traces the development of the work through her years of close collaboration with Norman as musician, musicologist, and friend. Lanzilotti, along with videographer Stephen Taylor, have created a website dedicated to exploring Norman's extended instrumental techniques, titled "Shaken, Not Stuttered." 

As Lanzilotti writes in Music & Literature

"Norman’s music is thrilling to experience live because of the abundance of unusual sounds that emanate from the stage. Emerging from these sounds is an incredible, slow, lyrical narrative that Norman threads through each piece. The journey of each instrumental line in this narrative gradually unfolds, manipulated by rules of the symphonic game, and blurred by intensely physical extended techniques that challenge traditional concepts of beauty."

In time for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's performances this weekend, the revised score for Andrew Norman's Play is available now for sale from PSNY

Ann Cleare's "eyam ii" Premiered by Argento Ensemble

Ann Cleare's eyam series consists of "five attacca pieces for clarinets and flutes, all of which deal with ideas of isolation and infiltration." Cleare's work explores the static and sculptural nature of sound, probing the space between composer, performer, and instrument with texture, noise, sound, and silence. The inspiration for the eyam series comes from the town of Eyam, in Derbyshire, England; it chose to cut itself off from the outisde world when the plague was discovered there in 1665. Positioning instrumentalist as "village", the eyam pieces tug at the differences between individual and multiple, safety and danger, the known and the unknown. 

eyam ii (taking apart your universe), for contrabass clarinet and ensemble, saw its world premiere on October 24th at St. Peter's Church in New York, performed by soloist Carol McGonnell; she will perform it again on October 29th in Washington, DC at the Library of Congress. Presented on a concert program by the Argento Ensemble, eyam ii is being paired Cleare's eyam i (it takes an ocean not to) for solo clarinet, along with Sciarrino's introduzione all'oscuro, a classic work of sculptural sound. Ireland's Contemporary Music Centre has recently featured Cleare's work in a video interview, shown above. Check out more of Cleare's works here.  

Contemporary Piano Video Library features Lei Liang's "Garden Eight"

Lei Liang's Garden Eight, for solo piano, has recently been featured as part of pianist Ricardo Descalzo's Contemporary Piano Video Library, a project that spotlights contemporary piano repertoire with video recorded performances and commentary. In his feature on Garden Eight, Descalzo writes, 

This is a collection of eight short pieces that are not intended to evolve from one to another. Rather, they are like different views of the same landscape. [Quoting Liang:] ”These pieces are musical gardens. To perform one of them is to walk through a garden of sounds… ”

Liang composed his Garden Eight, originally for any solo instrument, using only six pitches and six relative durations (and dedicated to a friend whom Liang had seen six times before composing the work). The work is part of Liang's larger "Garden" series (including Garden Six for saxophone sextet, and Garden Nine for singers, piano and rocks), which serves as a tribute to the Ming Dynasty Yuen Yeh (the earliest and most exquisite Chinese horticultural treatise). Liang writes that "gardens, in this discourse, are not treated as a confined enclosure, but as an extended environment. A Chinese garden is a visual world as well as a world of other senses."

(Garden Six, performed by New England Conservatory Saxophone Ensemble)

Descalzo's performance and video documentary delicately captures this essential quality in Garden Eight. Check out the film, above, and visit Descalzo's Contemporary Piano Video Library for more video performances and commentary, including a feature on Karen Tanaka's Crystalline II.

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