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Blog Archive



Rufus Wainwright's "Prima Donna" on Deutsche Grammophon

Deutsche Grammophon has released the debut recording of Grammy-award winning songwriter and composer Rufus Wainwright's premiere opera, Prima Donna. The album features soprano Janis Kelly, who originated the title role at the opera's premiere at the Manchester International Festival. Praised as a “singing actress of near genius” (Sunday Times), Kelly’s experience with operatic repertoire of the past and present is fitting for Wainwright’s operatic ambition and ideals.

Prima Donna tells the story of an opera singer at the end of her celebrated career as she reminisces and muses about what may come afterward. Wainwright explains that for years he had been searching for a suitable story:

[One] that wasn't a saga involving a chorus and insane costumes... [Suddenly] a story fell into my lap, after watching an interview with Maria Callas. The opera is not about her, but it is about the persona of an opera star; it is a day in the life of an opera singer...the subtle shifts of a woman's heart; the grave consequences of little actions...

Though Wainwright's inspiration and musical language draws heavily from grand romantic opera, particularly recalling the grandiose elements of stage works by Richard Strauss, his lyrical flair and dramatic pacing is distinctly his own. The recording prominently features lush and energetic playing by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The winds are heard in playful passages as well as soaring lyrical moments, and the flute has a noticeable presence recalling familiar usage in Mozart and Verdi’s operatic works. The writing for the strings is highly effective, with exquisite emotional phrasing and color that enhance the opera's throttling moments and embellish the drama in ways recalling Wagner. The final interlude in Prima Donna is a beautiful melodramatic feast of strings with a striking violin solo that crystalizes the opera's potent emotional elements.

Alongside soprano Janis Kelly, the two-disc release features soprano Kathryn Guthrie, tenor Antonio Figueroa and baritone Richard Morrison with Jayce Ogren leading the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Copies of the full score as well as the vocal score (for both the full and concert versions of the work) are available from PSNY.

New Works by Timo Andres on PSNY

Timo Andres: modern troubadour. No, he doesn't wander the French countryside singing Occitan poetry. But like a troubadour, Andres has been performing and composing across the country, commissioned by modern patrons such as Carnegie Hall and the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival for fellow performers such as yMusic, eighth blackbird, and pianists Bruce Levingston and Kristin Elgersma. We're proud to offer a batch of Andres' latest works for direct download on PSNY. 

To begin, consider two new works for solo piano: Clear and Cold, and Heavy Sleep. Both highlight Timo's nuanced take on composers of the past—Ravel and Chopin, respectively—and offer new interpretations on the terrors and pleasures of melancholy and somnambulation. Check out this excerpt from Heavy Sleep

Andres' new works for chamber ensembles expand his palette to include many more hands and instruments than his own two at the piano. Andres describes Safe Travels, composed for yMusic, as "a short, peripatetic piece built on a constantly-shifting harmonic pattern"; these shifts remind the listener of the experience of travel, with its endless, shifting patterns, traversing the gamut of harmonic possibilities.

Checkered Shade, written for eighth blackbird, takes the pen-and-ink drawings of Astrid Bowlby as its metaphorical inspiration. The piece mirrors the experience of seeing Bowlby's work: an intense attention to detail, slowly followed by the realization that the small pattern also constitutes a much more complex whole. 

Vijay Iyer Joins PSNY!

PSNY is thrilled to announce the newest addition to our roster: composer, pianist, MacArthur fellow, Harvard professor, and all-around renaissance man, Vijay Iyer. Iyer's signature work as a musician in the past few decades has cemented him as a ground-breaking, boundary-crossing, true innovator of the 21st century. And now, his compositions for chamber ensembles are available to the public, for immediate, direct download. 

Our initial offering of Iyer's works is a testament to his bold style. Let's start with Dig the Say, a string quartet commissioned by Brooklyn Rider.

This work draws inspiration from James Brown, whose signature rhythms and harmonies (particularly around 0:26) are reimagined for string quartet with Iyer's fluid compositional hand. Not a mere transcription or imitation, this quartet filters Brown's energy into an entirely new composition that attempts a daring act of transcription across instruments and time. 

Iyer's Time, Place, Action, for string quartet and piano, contains similar stylistic elements—unison ostinati, rhythmic complexity, lyrical phrasing—but with a darker, more abstract effect. This work seamlessly blends compositional aspects of the classical quartet repertoire, jazz piano, and electronic music, as many of Iyer's works do. Check out a video of Iyer performing Time, Place, Action with the Brentano Quartet at the studios of WQXR in New York:

Iyer's Rimpa Transcriptions, commissioned and premiered by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, incorporates elements of improvisation into a brooding, meditative sound-scape. In the first movement, "Waves," a clarinet picks from several melodic fragments and performs them against an ominous background of glockenspiel, string glissandi, and bass pizzicatti. Figuration and accompaniment are split between the ensemble with expert orchestration.  

Our last initial offering of Iyer's works is Bruits, for wind quintet and piano. This work, premeired by Imani Winds, incorportes Iyer's signature rhythmically complex ostinati, accompanied by a wind quintet which blows through harmonies deeply inspired by contemporary jazz. 

Keep an eye out on our blog for more of Iyer's works to come in the future! 

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