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Christopher Fox

Headlong

Heather Roche, clarinets

Métier CD

MSV28573

 

Composer Christopher Fox has crafted an imaginative output, employing diverse approaches and many different technical resources. His latest Métier CD, Headlong, is devoted to clarinet music, for instruments of varying sizes. Heather Roche is the stalwart interpreter of these pieces. Her own versatility and facility with myriad extended techniques make Roche an ideal performer of Fox’s music. Indeed, the clarinetist’s website serves as a compendious catalog of techniques used to play contemporary works. This recording serves as an ideal accompaniment to her web-based pedagogical forays.

 

Several of the pieces here are ten-minute essays that have time to build and, in places, to breathe (as, one hopes, Roche is afforded as well). Even slightly shorter works like the gentle, fragmentary seven minutes of …Or Just After are given time enough to display significant exploration of the materials used in their construction. Here, there is a contrast between plummy low register melodies and higher single, sustained notes. Gradually and after many iterations, the upper line gains a note or two. This subtle shift in texture feels seismic and changes the registral give and take of the work. Likewise, small shifts are meaningful moments in the six-minute long Escalation. Originally written for Bb clarinet and here played on contrabass clarinet, the piece explores a mid-tempo stream of short phrases of chromatically ascending notes. In this incarnation, the sepulchral register in which these occur accentuates a kind of “walking bass” character that imparts a hint of jazzy swagger.

 

Some of the pieces include overdubs, either of electronics or other clarinets, and a couple are transcriptions of works originally written for other instruments or else for unspecified woodwinds. Originally composed for oboist Christopher Redgate, Headlong includes an ostinato electronic accompaniment that the composer suggests could sound like video games from the 1980s. The real fun here is the morphing of tempos through three different ratios:  5:4, 9:8 and 5:3. It makes for intriguing interrelationships between the instrumental part and the accompanying motoric bleeptronica. Headlong is an engaging mix of tempo modulation and minimal pulsation that shows a different and appealing side of Fox’s creativity.

 

On stone.wind.rain.sun, Heather Roche overdubs a duet with herself. The two clarinets converge and diverge throughout, with sustained and repeating notes in one instrument serving as a sort of ground for the chromaticism of the other voice. Registral changes, such as a leap downward to the chalumeau register to add single bass notes to the proceedings, divide the counterpoint further still, at any given moment affording one the impression of three or four distinct voices in operation.

 

One of my favorite compositions on the CD is Straight Lines for Broken Times, another piece employing overdubs. One track samples bass clarinet playing polyrhythms while the other two explore the “harmonic riches of the instrument,” as Fox describes a plethora of upper partials. Extended techniques are abundantly on offer. Altissimo notes, multiphonics, microtones, and harmonics create a swath of textures. However, the polyrhythmic underpinning assures that the piece feels guided in its course, beautifully shaping what could be a melange of overtone clouds. Straight Lines for Broken Times encapsulates Fox’s proclivity for experimentation in multiple domains: that of the recording medium, a wide palette of pitches that encompasses microtonal harmonics, and fluidly morphing tempos with intricate layers of local rhythms. The result never ceases to be of interest.

 

Fox and Roche are an ideal pairing. While Fox has a number of CDs to his credit, listening to this one, an ideal future project comes to mind. Next time out, one imagines the composer adding a couple other instrumentalists or a vocalist to the mix to provide Roche with more foils and a few less overdubs. Fox’s ensemble pieces also expansively embrace the musical materials that exemplify today’s experimental wing of contemporary music. With Roche aboard as “team captain,” the result would certainly be another serving of diverting performances.

 

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Matt Shoemaker

One year ago the Pacific Northwest’s new music community was stunned by the suicide of Matt Shoemaker: painter and musician, enthusiastic traveler, frequent performer with Gamelan Pacifica, and accomplished creator in the genre of dark ambient. Shoemaker’s “electroacoustic soundscapes” have been released in a variety of formats by Elevator Bath, Helen Scarsdale Agency and other labels, and I offer an overview of this work in the Second Inversion article Mutable Depths: Remembering Matt Shoemaker. Shoemaker was a veteran of Seattle’s formidable electronic music scene, and he often performed his music at the Chapel Performance Space, the workhorse venue for experimental music in this city. It was there that an assembly of his colleagues, friends and admirers gathered on the night of May 5 to honor his memory.

Eric Lanzillotta opened the evening by coaxing deep, dense sonorities from a Moog MG-1 analog synthesizer. These gently modulated sounds were soon joined by filtered bands of pink noise, and then by low frequency sine wave glissandos. These latter often seemed to be amplitude modulated by a noise source to create an irregular tremolo, a time-honored technique for introducing complexity into the innately regular sonorities of electronic instruments. Lanzillotta often collaborated with Shoemaker, and the two can be heard jamming together in a 2005 session that has been released on Anomalous Records. An excerpt thereof is available on SoundCloud:

Jim Haynes took the stage next. This California-based musician and Helen Scarsdale Agency proprietor began by recounting the impact of encountering Shoemaker’s music for the first time (“Fuck, this guy is doing what I’m trying to do, only way better”). Next Haynes stepped up to his instrument table and brought in a major sixth drone that anchored the first several minutes of his set. Like Lanzillotta, Haynes exclusively used abstract, synthesized sounds—most notably a series of falling glissandos that swelled to an incredibly loud and thick climax before suddenly evaporating into one of those electronic “rattles” that evoke the world of Forbidden Planet-style sci-fi movie soundtracks.

I’d been curious about the half dozen 40W halogen bulbs scattered across Haynes’ setup until finally, ten minutes in, they started to illuminate, powered by the same pink noise source that was controlling the amplitude of his rumbling oscillators. A visual and aural crescendo ensued, the blinding effect of these irregularly flickering lamps inside the otherwise dark Chapel interior suggesting a campfire emerging from beyond the grave—a vast improvement over those tacky synchronized disco lights you see at popular concerts and clubs.

As he’d done before, Haynes suddenly cut the signal to the lamps and oscillators, leaving only a faint heartbeat-like pulse. After a few forlorn palpitations, the set ended. Of the evening’s offerings, it was Haynes’ music that reminded me the most of Shoemaker’s.

Matt Shoemaker’s LP Isolated Agent/Stranding Behavior ?(Elevator Bath eeaoa031) featuring his original artwork

Up next was Climax Golden Twins, a Seattle-based experimental music band that has been active in various guises for 25 years, and whose configuration for the night comprised founders Robert Millis and Jeffrey Taylor along with Dave Knott and Jesse Paul Miller. The instrumentarium featured analog and digital synths, guitars, a hi-hat and an array of toys and other homemade contraptions. The music was free improv with the continuous transitions and generally slow tempos that are characteristic of that genre nowadays. The 20 minute set included the first concrete sounds of the evening: radio signals transduced through guitar pickups, sampled instruments and, most poignantly, excerpts from Shoemaker himself playing a Millis piano piece. These latter sounds, repetitive tinkerings on a C? minor triad of a kind I’d associate with Brian Eno or West Coast postminimalism, served to anchor the final five minutes of the set, which saw Knott walking through the space plucking this same chord on a ukulele as the piano excerpts played on, both forward and backward.

Knott remained onstage for a solo set that featured a half-sized bottleneck guitar with custom re-entrant tuning designed so that when the fingerboard is barred at the 9th fret, the strings can be played on either side. Its timbre reminded me of the spicy, transient-rich sounds of a Japanese biwa or samisen. The improvisation began in free rhythm, eventually taking on a steady pulse the way that a raga performance might progress from alap to jor. As the music grew more animated, Knott’s use of a sliding glass rod imparted a bit of Hawaiian inflection, and for the last few minutes Knott performed overtone singing over his now-steady strumming.

Miller returned to close out the event with a video featuring footage he shot in Indonesia, where Shoemaker had once spent several formative months. The multilayered imagery was conveyed in extremely fast cutting, sometimes combined with time lapse layers, and the montage was accompanied by synth drones mixed with field recordings (also from Indonesia). It was a suitable conclusion, and a reminder of the visual side of Shoemaker’s art (which was simultaneously on display in a memorial exhibit at Jack Straw New Media Gallery. All told, it was a substantive and beautiful evening of timbrally rich music befitting its dedicatee.

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James Romig

Still

Ashlee Mack, piano

New World Records 80802

Composer James Romig has spent the past twenty years cultivating a body of work that embodies both rigorous structuring and a wide-ranging gestural palette. As is explained in Bruce Quaglia’s excellent liner notes for Romig’s first New World CD, Still, there is good reason for these two aspects to be so important to Romig. His training as a composer was with American modernists Charles Wuorinen and Milton Babbitt, while his background as a performer – a percussionist – included a number of works by minimalists such as Steve Reich.

Extra-musical touchstones also play a significant role as inspirations for the composer. A series of National Park residencies has provided him with natural beauty to contemplate while composing. Abstract Expressionist painters such as Clyfford Still, who is the titular reference point for Romig’s piece on this CD, also enliven his imagination.

Nowhere in Romig’s output to date is this confluence of influences more apparent than in Still, a nearly hour-long piece for solo piano. One can see the pitch material’s progression in a chart in the liner notes and note the comprehensiveness of its organization. Unlike Romig’s portrait disc Leaves from Modern Trees, where the pieces tend towards tautly incisive utterance, here the progression of pitch material evolves slowly in a prevailingly soft dynamic spectrum. Ashlee Mack, a frequent performer of Romig’s music, provides a sterling interpretation. Slow tempi are maintained no matter what local rhythms (some complex) ripple the surface texture. In addition, Mack voices the harmony skilfully, allowing the piece-long progression to be presented with abundant clarity.

One more composerly ghost lurks in the room: that of Morton Feldman. Also an appreciator of Abstract Expressionism, who created long single movement pieces that transformed slowly and remained primarily soft, Feldman could seem to be Still’s natural progenitor. While surface details and scale of composition are similar, there is a significant musical difference between Feldman’s paean to a painter like Philip Guston and Romig’s reference to Clyfford Still. As pointed out by theorists such as Thomas DeLio, the undergirding of a Feldman piece is indeed subject to an organizational structure. That said, his work seems more intuitive than Romig’s, which is methodical in the unfurling of its linear components and their constituent harmonies. Whether Feldman’s surface in any way inspires the depths of Still, I am not sure; it would be an interesting question to pose to Romig. Either way, Still is his most engaging and beguiling piece to date. One looks forward to hearing more works that accumulate Romig’s proclivity for parks, painters, maximalists, and minimalists; these many ingredients make for intriguing results.

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Knussen Honorary Doctorate RAM July 2018

Oliver Knussen received an honorary doctorate from the RAM on 5 July 2018.

Saddened to learn of the passing of composer and conductor Oliver Knussen. One of the truly great musicians of our time, Knussen had received an honorary doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music, where he was Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music, just a few days ago.

A renowned pedagogue as well as a superlative conductor of contemporary music, Knussen held positions with such organizations as London Sinfonietta, Aldeburgh Festival, Tanglewood, BBC Symphony, and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

While not as prolific as some of his contemporaries, his catalog included a number of high quality works. Knussen will be remembered for compositions such as his two Maurice Sendak operas – Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop – orchestra pieces such as the Horn and Violin Concertos and Fanfare with Fireworks, and his settings of Walt Whitman and, in a Requiem for his late wife Sue, Emily Dickinson and W.H. Auden. Knussen’s final work, O Hototogismu!, consisted of adaptations of 17th-19th century Haiku poems for soprano and ensemble. It was premiered at Aldeburgh in June 2017.

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On June 19, 2018, Coaxial Arts was the venue for a program of noise, experimental music and sound. The snug downtown Los Angeles location filled up with a congenial crowd of the knowledgeable and the curious for a concert presented by the wulf titled Open Source: Anderson, Hutson, Shiroishi, Smith. An impressive array of cables, synthesizers, mixing boards, computers and radios was spread over several tables, including a large reel-to-reel tape loop. Casey Anderson, William Hutson, Stephanie Cheng Smith and Patrick Shiroishi were on hand to bring it all to life.

The evening began with Duo by Anderson and Smith, opening with Anderson’s signature use of an amplified transistor radio tuned to a local AM station. Electronic synthesizers joined in with beeps and squeals, projecting an exuberantly spacey feel. Ms. Smith added some scratching and scraping sounds from an amplified violin, inserting some tension. Casey Anderson then contributed a series of long, solemn tones on soprano saxophone and this seemed to bring a measure of stability to the strident electronic sounds that otherwise dominated. More radio stations were heard, contributing a sense of fuzzy normality. The piece seemed to swing back and forth between the swirling whirlpool of electronic sounds and the more familiar sounds of violin, saxophone and AM radio. At the finish, the electronics seemed to prevail by sheer power, even as a long mournful wail was heard from the soprano saxophone. Duo is an apt metaphor for modern life, pulled between the forces of chaos we cannot control and the refuge we gain by retreating into our own humanity.

Quartet followed the intermission, and for this all four players took their places. Ms. Smith continued with her violin and synthesizer, along with Anderson’s soprano sax, electronics and radio. The quartet was rounded out with Patrick Shiroishi playing alto and sopranino saxophones and William Hutson, who presided over a reel-to-reel tape recorder modified to move a large tape loop around two music stands placed several feet apart. Quartet was an expanded variant of Duo and began with the snatches of AM radio and a low humming from the electronics. There was a quietly mysterious sputter coming from the tape loop as well as more beeps and squawks from the synth. The alto and soprano saxes joined in, contributing a sustained warbling that was very effective and added a welcome human dimension to the otherwise exotic collection of electronic sounds.

As the piece proceeded, the saxophones increased their presence with a stimulating free form section that was very effective. The entry of the sopranino, with its very high register, often took on the character of the electronic sounds, especially in short, choppy passages. This made for an intriguingly  hybridized texture as Shiroishi repeatedly drove his saxophone into the pitch domain of the electronics. Quartet surged back and forth and when the electronics dominated, there was a sense of tension and stress. When the saxophones were stronger there was a more welcoming feel, and when the AM radio was played there were the sounds of the banal and the familiar. Quartet wandered freely from one pole to the other, challenging the listener to navigate the line between the anxious and the accustomed.

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John Adams Violin Concerto

Violin Concerto – John Adams

Leila Josefowicz, violin

St. Louis Symphony, David Robertson, conductor

Nonesuch CD

Some recordings become touchstones in one’s collection. Despite there being several fine renditions out there, the 1996 Nonesuch CD of Gidon Kremer playing John Adams’ Violin Concerto (1993), with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s conducted by Kent Nagano, is an abiding favorite of mine. Now, more than twenty years later, Nonesuch has bested its own best with the release of Leila Josefowicz’s recording of the concerto with the St. Louis Symphony, conducted by David Robertson.

Josefowicz is front and center in the mix. Since the violinist plays nearly constantly in the piece, and tends to evoke the actions of the orchestra more so than one finds in traditional concertos, this seems entirely appropriate. Her rendition of the piece is filled with crisply fluent runs and fluid dynamic shifts. The first movement is appropriately dramatic in cast, the second takes on a poignancy that is most affecting, and the finale is truly a bravura showcase for the soloist. In addition to the vibrant energy of Josefowicz, under Robertson the St. Louis Orchestra gives a performance that is both dynamically potent and attentive to detail.

While repetition remains an important component of Adams’ music, the Violin Concerto is a watershed piece for the composer in that breaks out of the boundaries of post-minimalism into a more versatile gestural language than he had previously used. In addition to this change in rhythmic practice, the concerto features greater chromaticism than one had previously heard in pieces by the composer. He fluently wends his way through a variety of key centers – there are even moments where post-tonality reigns supreme over triadic writing. These facets of his writing have only blossomed in the ensuing years. However, it is pleasing to be reminded of their roots in the concerto, particularly by such a persuasive account of the piece.

john-adams-doctor-atomic-450

This is the label’s thirtieth CD of music by Adams; their connection to the composer dates back to the 1986 recording of Harmonielehre. On June 29th, 2018, Nonesuch will release yet another recording of music by Adams, and a particularly noteworthy one: the premiere CDs of his 2005 opera Dr. Atomic. More about that soon.

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Ghost Ensemble - We Who Walk Again
We Who Walk Again
Ghost Ensemble
Indexical LP/Download

Since 2012, New York’s Ghost Ensemble has pursued a deep listening ethos that incorporates a range of repertoire, both pieces by ensemble members and works by composers such as David Bird, Kyle Gann, Giacinto Scelsi, and Gerard Grisey. Any ensemble in the US that references “deep listening” invariably is also interested in Deep Listening, the piece that evolved into a discipline and subsequent body of musical and theoretical work from sound artist Pauline Oliveros.

Since its inception Ghost Ensemble has been associated with Oliveros’ work, both her compositions and sound practices. It is fitting that We Who Walk Again, their debut recording, features the first studio recording of the Oliveros piece “Angels and Demons.” A text score from 1980, its primary guideline is as follows: “any sound that has been heard inwardly first may be made.” Players may take on the role of “Angels,” the meditation’s “guardian spirits,” or Demons, “individual spirits of creative genius;” they may also switch back and forth between roles. Here the piece manifests itself in an initial testing out period of slow individual tones that is gradually varied by means of timbre, density, and use of dissonance. Starting in the Feldman realm of spare pianissimo fragments, a long range crescendo shapes the piece. It is enabled by successively more penetrating held pitches, extended techniques, syncopated percussion, and an eventual blossoming of rangy melodic gestures. A belated denouement supplies a few furtive valedictions, but no dramatic close is supplied (nor does one seem necessary).

The group’s oboist Sky Macklay is also a composer on the rise, with a number of high profile performances and commissions to her credit. Macklay’s 60 Degree Mirrors revels in extended techniques available to winds. Her command of multiphonics and microtones on the oboe is prodigious and she gives flutist Martha Cargo a detailed part as well. The piece also has spectral roots, with shimmering overtones, particularly “crunchy” upper partials, demonstrating an edgier side of the “deep listening” continuum. 60 Degree Mirrors is not just technically sophisticated; it has considerable dramatic heft and proves to be a thrilling listen.

Ghost Ensemble founder, accordionist and composer Ben Richter, provides the recording’s other piece, Wind People. More than double the length of the Macklay and Oliveros performances, it affords the group the opportunity to stretch out and engage in the shaping of a larger arc. Long glissandos played by bassist James Ilgenfritz provide a particularly resonant touchstone, and similar sliding tones from violist Hannah Levinson and cellist Maria Hadge underscore its structural character. Meanwhile, the winds explore all manner of overtones, sometimes punctuating the proceedings with held pitches appearing in contrast to the yawning slides, at others engaging in pitch bends of their own. Percussionists Chris Nappi and Damon Loren Baker provide under-girding drums, subtle yet insistent. Richter and harpist Lucia Helen Stavros sometimes pepper the texture with melodic gestures, but more often are the harmonic “middle” that sustains the fabric of the piece. Over time, sustain becomes a powerful force traversing all instruments and registers, and sumptuous overtone chords saturate the work. A coda provides a long diminuendo in which overtones fade into thrumming drums, drones, and string glissandos. Wind Music is a well-crafted and eloquent work.

Of Wind Music, Richter says that he sought to “draw a sense of peace and comfort from our smallness, transience, and fragility in the face of an overwhelming immensity, the music mirroring the constant ebb and flow visible when zooming in or out to quantum or geological time.”

Amid today’s tumult, drawing peace and comfort from deep listening is a worthy goal, one that Ghost Ensemble appears poised to attain often.

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Tangents - New Bodies - cover scan

Tangents
New Bodies
Temporary Residence Ltd.

Australian instrumental quintet Tangents return with their fourth album via Temporary Residence. It is their finest work in some time, with an even broader palette of materials and stylistic reference points that are adroitly incorporated. The combination of cello, especially favoring pizzicato, and synth melodies remains, but along for the ride are prepared piano sounds, angular bass interjections, and skittering beats. Electric guitar textures and and undulating patterning are propelled by muscular acoustic drums.

Indebted to post-rock, jazz, alt-electronica, and a dose of contemporary classical sounds, it transcends these various categorizations and their carbon dating to create music that is entirely fresh and of the moment. Recommended.

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Da Capo Chamber Players Perform a Potpourri of American Works

Da Capo Chamber Players

Da Capo Chamber Players

Merkin Concert Hall

June 4, 2018

NEW YORK – Themed programs and portrait concerts are all the rage these days. As such, it is refreshing when an ensemble goes eclectic, presenting a diverse array of music. Such was the case on Monday, June 4th, when Da Capo Chamber Players performed eight pieces by living American composers who write in a plethora of styles. Consisting of violinist Curtis Macomber, cellist Chris Gross, flutist Patricia Spencer, pianist Steven Beck and joined by guest artists soprano Lucy Shelton, clarinetists Marianne Glythfeldt and Carlos Cordeiro, and percussionist Michael Lipsey, the musicians are a formidable cadre of some of New York’s best new music performers. This was handily demonstrated in all of the works on offer at Merkin — how often can you depend on that level of consistency?

Few groups perform the rhythmic patternings of minimalism more assuredly than the Da Capo Players. Here they clearly delineated the differences between various types of ostinatos. Sweet air (1999) by David Lang juxtaposed its repetitions with distressed dissonances, In the sole premiere on the program, Dylan Mattingly’s Ecstasy #3 (2018) presented passages filled with an alt-folk-inflected melody. An arrangement by Robert Moran of Philip Glass’s Modern Love Waltz (1980) may have explored repetition in the most straightforward way of the pieces here, but its fluid playfulness made it a fetching addition to the proceedings.

The modernist wing of composition was represented too. Elliott Carter’s Canon for Four (1984) received an incisive rendition, with the contrapuntal details of the work vividly underscored. Tanoa León’s One Mo’ Time (2016) mixed a varied palette of chromaticism with inflections of gospel and jazz. She is one of the best at allowing these two traditions to coexist in her music in organic fashion. Christopher Cerrone supplied one of the evening’s most imaginative works. Hoyt=Schermerhorn for keyboard mixed a gradual build-up of soft textures that was somewhat indebted to the works of Feldman but through quicker changes of harmony. Over time, effects such as reverb and treble register loops brought the piece from its eighties origins into the twenty-first century. Amalgam (2015) by Taylor Brook, was the concert’s most experimental piece, with the players (and soprano Lucy Shelton) moving from disparate roles to unison playing, then heterophonic treatment of the piece’s melody. Amalgam is a fascinating composition that certainly proved to be a successful experiment for Da Capo.

The concert’s standout was Romancero (1983), for soprano and ensemble, settings of four medieval poems thought to be from the Sephardic Jewish tradition by Mario Davidovsky. Shelton was as expressive as ever and well-matched for the angular challenges posed by Romancero’s post-tonal pitch vocabulary. Her voice ranged from delicately floating pianissimo passages to forceful forte declamations. The instrumental parts are quite demanding as well, reminiscent of the complexly articulate language of Davidovsky’s electroacoustic Synchronisms. Shelton is a frequent collaborator with Da Capo (see a recent video of their rendition of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire below), and their association showed in the intricate interplay between voice and instruments: a gem of a performance.

As if to remind us of the celebratory catholicity of taste that bound together the disparate strands of this program, its finale was the brief, yet brilliantly multi-faceted, Encore (1991) by Bruce Adolphe. Composed to celebrate the Da Capo Players’ twentieth anniversary, it has remained a staple of their repertoire. It is hard to believe that the group has now been going for 48 years. Based on the vigor with which they performed at Merkin Hall, the sky’s the limit for their upcoming golden anniversary season.



[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw-OItKIZMc&w=560&h=315]

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The 14th annual Dog Star concert series rolled into The Wild Beast at CalArts on June 9, 2018 and featured the Los Angeles appearance of the noted Dutch pianist Reinier van Houdt. A fine crowd assembled in The Beast despite a brush fire that shut down two lanes of the local freeway. Four contemporary solo piano pieces were on the program as well as Concert for Piano and Orchestra, by John Cage.

Layers for Piano, by Nomi Epstein, opened the program and began with a series of soft, single notes followed by brief chords. A deep rumble was occasionally heard in the lower registers, but the opening pattern of a few notes plus a simple chord persisted as the piece proceeded. The phrasing was consistently spare but engaging, with a quietly mysterious feel. The emotional delivery was impressive given the economical use of sound and masterfully restrained touch by van Houdt. The soft nebulous edges of Layers for Piano artfully evoked a comfortable float on a feathery cloud.

More quiet music followed with Pythagorean Study for piano and electronics, by Andrew Young. Short two-note chords separated by silence were repeated, as if some signal were being transmitted. As the piece proceeded this muted pattern repeated, with the notes changing pitch or played in a different register. The overall effect was to create a wistfully nostalgic sensibility from just this simple construct. The soft keyboard playing by van Houdt was the critical element here, and the listening was like basking in a collection of warm memories. Also, by Jennie Gottschalk followed and this displayed a similarity to the Young piece in that it consisted of quietly simple chords. These included dissonance as well as a somewhat darker tone in the lower registers. Although carefully subdued, Also contained a slightly sinister feel that was enhanced by the accelerando towards the finish. Rapid high and low notes completed the drama at the ending.

Trapani, by Jerry Hunt followed, and this 1989 solo piano piece provided a lively contrast to the more reserved music heard in the program to this point. Strong tremolos rippled through the highest and lowest registers of the keyboard producing an agitated feel full of anxiety and tension. A great wash of notes continued with a distinctly fluid feel, like some darkly churning waterway in full flood. The dynamics rose and fell like a surging tide, cresting to an impressive level, only to pull back again. The texture was a mass of continuous motion, as if driven by waves on a stormy sea. The extended tremolos, the variations in volume and intensity were all skillfully executed by van Houdt, whose precise control over the keyboard never wavered. Trapani is an expressive and animated conjuring of the powerful natural forces at work all around us.

The final piece on the program was Concert for Piano and Orchestra, by John Cage. Mr. van Houdt was joined by an instrument section consisting of cello, violin, bassoon, flute and viola. Written for David Tutor, Cage’s construction and notation for this piece allow a wide latitude for interpretation by the piano soloist. The piano score is a series of loose pages, each with a condensed form of notation, and are played in whatever order the pianist determines at the moment. The instruments in the orchestra are supplied with several pages of notated staffs and although there are no bar lines marked or tempos specified, each staff is assigned a duration of one minute. Accordingly, the instruments are synchronized by stop watch while the pianist plays independently. The soloist leads in the sense that there is always something heard from the piano. This may be a run of notes, cluster chords or perhaps a bit of a melody. There were extended techniques as well – plucking of strings inside the piano and knocking on various external parts of the wood case. The instruments accompany with independently sustained tones or short phrases and there is no common beat or pulse.

This arrangement actually works quite well. The piano is the most active part, and the notes bounded up and down the keyboard with a sense of playful energy. Van Houdt seemed to be in constant motion, as if chasing a kitten around and through the piano. The instruments filled in solidly so that the texture was constantly changing but always engaging. Although the piano and instruments are intentionally disconnected, there is a surprising cohesiveness to this piece as it uncoils with a delightful unpredictability. That Concert for Piano and Orchestra takes such breathtaking chances with its indeterminate structure and yet achieves such a captivating result is a testament to the artistic vision of John Cage, and irrefutable evidence of technical mastery by those who undertake its performance.

This concert was made possible, in part, by support from the Netherland-America Foundation.

The Dog Star concert series continues through June 16 at various venues around Los Angeles.

In addition to Mr. van Houdt, the performers in this concert were:

Christine Tavolacci, flute
Cody Putnam, bassoon
Eric Clark, violin
Cassia Streb, viola
Jennifer Bewerse, cello

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