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Christopher Cerrone's "The Pieces that Fall to Earth" Released on New Amsterdam Records

Christopher Cerrone's long-awaited album, The Pieces that Fall to Earth, has recently been released on New Amsterdam Records. This new album collects three vocal cycles, all performed by the Los Angeles-based collective Wild UpThe Pieces that Fall to Earth, with soprano Lindsay Kesselman; The Naomi Songs, sung by vocalist Theo Bleckmann; and The Branch Will Not Break, sung by a chorus of eight vocalists. 

The three vocal cycles collected on The Pieces that Fall to Earth each draw their text from different contemporary poets: Kay Ryan, Bill Knott, and James Wright. In each cycle, Cerrone activates the subtle and powerful affective worlds created through his setting of these poems to music, marrying the modernist and avant-garde sound-worlds of composers such as Luciano Berio and Morton Feldman with more traditional strophic settings of lush and memorable vocal melodies. 

Cerrone notes, “These authors profoundly inspired the music that I wrote. I feel that by setting their disparate languages, I have composed three works that are kindred spirits, but whose differences are as profound as their similarities.”

The blog I Care if You Listen recently premiered a music video for "Swept Up Whole," from the album's titular vocal cycle, featuring soprano Lindsay Kesselman. As Cerrone writes,

In “Swept Up Whole,” the narrator sings “You aren’t / swept up whole, / however it / feels. You’re / atomized. The wind / passes. You / recongeal. It’s a surprise.” This film, conceived of by Evan Chapman and Kevin Eikenberg of Four/Ten Media, takes this poem and reimagines its themes visually and chronologically.

The Pieces that Fall to Earth has already been celebrated with an album release concert in Los Angeles; on August 2nd, the album will see another release event at New York's Areté, featuring Theo Bleckmann singing The Naomi Songs in an arrangement for piano and voice, accompanied by Timo Andres, who also wrote liner notes to the album. Rachel Lee Priday will perform Cerrone’s Sonata for Violin and Piano with Andres, and percussionist Andy Meyerson of The Living Earth Show will play a solo version of Cerrone’s meditative A Natural History of Vacant Lots." Cerrone will also accompany soprano Alexandra Smither in his work "I will learn to love a person."

FLUX Quartet Performs Michael Hersch's "Images from a Closed Ward" with Live Video Projection

The music of Michael Hersch often addresses some of the most intense of human emotions and events: loss, suffering, pain, and darkness, what frequent collaborator Patricia Kopatchinskaja calls "this dark side, this shadow and blood." Indeed, the work that inspired Kopatchinskaja to work with Hersch was his 2010 string quartet, Images from a Closed Ward, which emerged from Hersch's encounter with the visual art of Michael Mazur, whom Hersch met in 2000 at the American Academy of Rome. This 13-movement string quartet responds directly to Mazur's gripping series of etchings and lithographs that depict the lives of residents—many of whom were committed against their will—at a Rhode Island mental institution in the early 1960s. 

The isolation, pain, and sorrow of Mazur's work is directly evoked in this masterful string quartet's movements, which transition between what the New York Times has called "creeping dread and desperate urgency." Hersch's gestural language seamlessly moves through texture, timbre, and harmony, using the four instruments of the string quartet as an organic being that convulses and laments, both statically and dynamically. In evoking the pain of disabled people treated with injustice and violence from a broken institutional system, it also allows listeners to imagine possibilities for restitution, justice, and ultimately peace.

A Lithograph by Michael Mazur  A Lithograph by Michael Mazur 

Originally commissioned and premiered by the Blair String Quartet in 2012, Images from a Closed Ward was recently recorded by the FLUX Quartet and released on New Focus Recordings in 2018. In addition to this new recording, the FLUX Quartet has also performed Images from a Closed Ward with a new live video projection, designed by James Matthew Daniel, which superimposes images of Mazur's works, excerpts of poetry, documentary photographs from mental institutions in the mid-20th-century, and other documentation related to those institutions on the performing quartet. The result is an even more powerful event that combines Hersch's sonic language with the visual work and poetry to which it responds, contextualizing and placing the quartet in the middle of a multi-sensory field. 

This video, taken from a performance at Philadelphia's Icebox Project Space, documents the FLUX Quartet's masterful performance of Hersch's work, and serves both as a compliment to their recent recording and also as a standalone work with its own unique combination of audio-visual poetics. Watch the full performance below.

The Music of Katherine Balch Now on PNSY

PSNY is thrilled to announce the publication of seven works by Katherine Balch, whose music has been described as "a shimmering sonic blanket quilted from microswaths of richly colored acoustic fabrics." Balch has emerged as a powerful voice in new music, earning commissions from the Tokyo, Minnesota, Oregon, Albany and California Symphony Orchestras, Orchestra philharmonique de Radio France, Ensemble Intercontemporain, International Contemporary Ensemble, and the Argus, Aizuri and JACK quartets, and many more. Balch earned an MM at the Yale School of Music and is currently a Dean's Fellow at Columbia University, where she is pursuing a DMA, studying with Geroge Lewis, Georg Friedrich Haas, Fred Lerdahl and Marcos Balter. She is currently 2017-2020 composer-in-residence for the California Symphony, and also serves on the faculty of the Walden School in New Hampshire. 

Ranging from solo violin to thirteen players, Balch's works on PSNY exemplify her unique exploration of texture and timbre at a granular level, which is also reflected in her works' larger-scale trajectories.

In 2015's New Geometry, for example, Balch inverts a trope from Tom Stoppard's Arcadia—the discovery of micro-level details in plant life—and instead "[amplifies] compact gestures through the harmonic trajectory of the piece, which passes from microtonal to chromatic to diatonic landscapes." Balch's organicism permeates her music, creating textures and timbres that are both highly crafted and also seemingly natural. This simultaneity of craft and nature is also evident in her 2015 string quartet, With Each Breathing, which the composer says "appropriates, reinterprets, and obfuscates" the voices of the inner movements of Beethoven's late string quartets. In her quartet, Balch expresses the ways in which music is created through breath, and vice versa. 

Balch's 2017 solo violin work, Responding to the Waves, continues her investigation into the nexus of humans, nature, and technology, reflecting on a passage from Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name. In an interview in VAN Magazine, Balch discusses this piece in relation to her larger interests in materialism, human and non-human life, gestures, and structural form. 

Balch's interests in gesture, organicism, and texture are also present in her vocal music. 2017's Phrases, for soprano and double bass, sets excerpts from Rimbaud's aphoristic and mysterious Phrases, pulled from his larger prose-poetry collection Les Illuminations. Balch describes the composition of these works during a time of restless energy, "like the tight-knit jittering of molecules in a solid," and thinks of them as both an expression of that feeling and as their simultaneous antidote.

PSNY will also be publishing Balch's Prelude for cello and piano—which is able to be performed as an attaca introduction to Brahms's E Minor cello sonata—and Una Corda for prepared piano and ensemble, which begins with a single tetrachord for the piano and spins out into the ensemble, with microtonal variations. 

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