Category: Listen

A New Music Halloween Playlist Curated By Vanessa Ague

One of the exciting ways to use the New Music USA platform is user-generated playlists. Our goal with playlists is to give you the power to curate the music you love on our site. You can now save, organize, listen to, and share videos and recordings from both projects and profiles by using playlists.

Using playlists is simple and intuitive. When you are logged in and on a profile or project page, if you see a video or sound recording that you want to add to your playlist, just click “Add to Playlist.” Once you do that, you can access your playlist at any time by navigating to “My Playlist” underneath the user tab at the top right of the page. The recordings you’ve added will now appear in your playlist.

Our friend and colleague Vanessa Ague agreed to curate a Halloween-themed playlist with works that she sourced from across the New Music USA platform. She found some great tracks that include performers such as Atlantic Guitar Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, Nadia Sirota, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, and more! Vanessa’s picks are helping us get into the Halloween mood. Click the link and take your Halloween listening to the next level.


NewMusicBox Mix: 2017 Staff Picks


This isn’t meant to be just another 2017 “Best of” list. Rather, New Music USA being all about the discovery of new sounds, staffers here like to celebrate the end the year with a shout out to a track that caught their ears and hung on for any number of good reasons. Don’t see a 2017 favorite of yours? We hope you’ll tell us more about it below in the comments so we can all give it a listen.

Follow the links for further listening and to add the albums to your own collection.

Happy Holidays from New Music USA!!

This Is The Uplifting Part

Natacha Diels: Child of Chimera
Ensemble Pamplemousse

ALBUM: ..​.​This Is The Uplifting Part
Parlour Tapes+

Purchase via Bandcamp / USB

I love that Pamplemousse’s collective musicmaking is utterly virtuosic and serious but also light and often playing with humour. It elevates the concept of new music while simultaneously questioning its very underlying fabric. This is also the *only* physical media I’ve bought this year. It comes as a usb stick nestled in a laser-cut bamboo “cassette tape.”

–Eileen Mack, Junior Software Engineer

Passionate Pilgrim

Brad Balliett: My Flocks Feed Not
Oracle Hysterical/New Vintage Baroque

ALBUM: The Passionate Pilgrim
Via Records

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes

I caught the CD release show for this album at National Sawdust and was completely entranced by the mix of materials used to create its unique soundworld. With period instrument and modern timbres, words that feel timeless, and musical language that cuts across eras, it was easy to enter this world and hard to stop exploring it (especially with the voices of Majel Connery and Elliot Cole in my ear). Passionate Pilgrim remained in rotation for me for weeks after the show, and I’m excited to revisit it again as part of this year-end reflection.

–Molly Sheridan, Director of Content, and Co-Editor, NewMusicBox

Memory Bells

Night Foundation: Memory Bells

ALBUM: Memory Bells
Lobster Theremin

Purchase via Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

Grab that eggnog (or adult beverage of choice) and chill with some seriously lush downtempo from the Night Foundation—a.k.a. the Miami-based Richard Vergez—crafted with love, hardware, real tape loops, and a trumpet.

–Eddy Ficklin, Director of Platform

Glorious Ravage

Lisa Mezzacappa: Shut Out the Sun

ALBUM: Glorious Ravage
New World

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes

Lisa Mezzacappa’s album Glorious Ravage, featuring the stunning vocals of Fay Victor and an ensemble of incredibly talented musicians and improvisers, took me on a far off journey through the lens of largely forgotten female explorers. Mezzacappa transforms the words of these female explorers into song and also developed visuals for the live performance. Although I wasn’t fortunate enough to see the live performance, the music itself is completely captivating. I still feel I need at least a few more good listens through the whole album to really get my ears and mind around the music, but this makes the work all the more rewarding. I particularly enjoyed Shut Out the Sun. If you’re looking for a taste of this inspiring work, it will be well worth your time.

–Kristen Doering, Grantmaking Associate


Kate Soper: Songs for Nobody: “III. Song”
Performed by Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble

ALBUM: Hushers
New Focus Recordings

Purchase via Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

Choosing just one track from one recording is just so difficult—I’m not a “favorites” kind of person. Who’s my best friend? I have many friends and I love them all. So I want to say a special shout out to Fabian Almazan for his really superb recording Alcanza, and I urge everyone to give it a listen. Meanwhile, I love the Quince ensemble’s pure and compelling vocal sound. I also adore this Kate Soper song, and together, this is a nearly perfect recording—at least as perfect as art could ever be!

–Deborah Steinglass, Director of Development


Yosvany Terry: Okónkolo (Trio Concertante)
Bohemian Trio

ALBUM: Okónkolo
Innova Recordings

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes

The title track from The Bohemian Trio’s debut recording, Okónkolo (Trio Concertante), springs a joyous escape from the porous walls of the genre prison. How to label this? Who cares! It’s crafted with expertise, performed with seemingly spontaneous precision, and a blast to listen to.

–Ed Harsh, President and CEO

Wake in Fright

Uniform: The Light at the End (Cause)

ALBUM: Wake in Fright
Sacred Bones

Purchase via Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

“The Light at the End (Cause)” is a standout track from Uniform’s 2017 Wake in Fright. Making the most of electronic and analog tools to produce ear-splitting, heart-pounding noise, the NYC duo has imbued a recording with the strength of a live show. This track, and dare I say the entire record, is worth a listen.

–Madeline Bohm, Software Engineer and Designer

Soft Aberration

Scott Wollschleger: Soft Aberration
Karl Larson, piano; Anne Lanzilotti, viola

ALBUM: Soft Aberration
New Focus Recordings

Purchase via Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

A beautiful, slow meditation delicately and deftly handled that will only further reward with repeated listening.

–Scott Winship, Director of Grantmaking Programs

Knells II

The Knells: Poltergeist

ALBUM: Knells II
Still Sound Music

Purchase via Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

“Poltergeist” by The Knells really stood out to me this year amid the sea of new releases. I love the blending of genres to create something totally unique, and the music video is awesome.

–Sam Reising, Community Platform Strategist and Grantmaking Manager

Composer's Collection: John Mackey

John Mackey: Foundry
North Texas Wind Symphony conducted by Eugene Migliaro Corporon

ALBUM: Composer’s Collection: John Mackey
GIA Composer’s Collection

Purchase via Amazon / iTunes

The latest addition to the exceptional GIA Composer’s Collection series is surprisingly the first commercial CD release devoted exclusively to the music of John Mackey and features 12 stunning examples of the wonders he works in the wind band idiom. There are many treasures in this two-disc collection, but the piece I’ve pressed the replay button to hear the most is Foundry, a relatively brief (just 4 ½ minutes) 2011 “grade 3” piece (for what that means, read Garrett Hope) that was originally written for a consortium of junior high school and high school orchestras. Here the usual mix of winds, brass, and percussion are augmented with a wide array of found objects; ideally a group of 12 percussionists are asked to strike piles of metal, pipes, wood, and mixing bowls, as well as to whack a whip. Written nearly a century after Iron Foundry, Alexander Mosolov’s famous orchestral paean to Soviet industrial accomplishments, Mackey’s piece is less about work and all about play. Junior high school is one of my worst memories, but I’d re-enroll today if I was given a chance to participate in a performance of this!

–Frank J. Oteri, Composer Advocate, and Co-Editor, NewMusicBox

Inspect the Unexpected: 10 Years of Counterstream Radio

Counterstream Radio Desk

Ten years ago today, our own Counterstream Radio was launched into virtual existence with an invitation to listeners to “inspect the unexpected.” Since then, our library of recorded tracks has continued to grow, as has our fan base. We’ve now broadcast the work of thousands of composers representing a wide range of styles and perspectives to listeners around the globe.

To inaugurate the station’s launch, we presented a conversation between Meredith Monk and Björk, two vocal artists and composers who had never met but who had plenty of fascinating things to share with one another. We celebrated our first year on the air with a repeat of this “radical connections”-style program, this time featuring a conversation between Phil Lesh and Elliott Carter. You can listen to both of these programs on-demand whenever you wish.

But really, what fans seem to have appreciated most about the station is the unfiltered access it provides to an incredibly wide and diverse catalog of new music. There is perhaps no more powerful advocacy that can be done for the work than by allowing it the space to speak for itself. To celebrate this 2017 anniversary milestone, we’ve programmed a special playlist of pieces that have been recorded since the station launched.


▷▷▷Tune in to Counterstream Radio▷▷▷


Is there a piece you’d like to hear on Counterstream? Drop us a line!

NewMusicBox Mix: 2016 Staff Picks

holiday lights

Before we ring in 2017, it’s become a bit of a tradition here at New Music USA to give a cheer for some of the standout music of the past year. Below you will find a selection of tracks streamed separately with a bit of commentary on what made them notable, as well as a continuous playlist of all of the music at the bottom of the post. Follow the links for further listening and to add the albums to your own collection.

Don’t see a favorite of yours? We hope you’ll add it below so we can all give another round of applause to the great work that hit our ears in 2016.

Happy Holidays from New Music USA!!

Timber Remixed

Michael Gordon; remixed by Ikue Mori: Timber
Performed by Mantra Percussion

ALBUM: Timber Remixed
Cantaloupe Records

Purchase via the Bang on a Can Store / Amazon / iTunes

I love the idea of keeping a work alive by recreating it in a variety of ways, and for this work Michael Gordon and Mantra partnered up to shine light on a number of composers, each with a very different voice. Why this particular track? On a personal level, I just really respond to Ikue Mori’s aesthetic. I shared this with the hope that many of you listening will explore the entire release, and then dig deeper to explore all the composers on it further. –Deborah Steinglass, Director of Development

Nicolas Jaar: No

ALBUM: Sirens
Other People

Purchase via Other People / Amazon / iTunes

An atmospheric delight. Imagine walking the halls of a slightly run-down, crowded apartment building on a sultry August evening. Lots of background, a shifting and elusive foreground—you never know what you’ll hear next. Here’s a track, but seriously, you need to sit back and just listen to the whole thing. –Eddy Ficklin, Director of Platform


Daniel Wohl: Formless
Performed by Daniel Wohl, Lucky Dragons, Olga Bell, Caroline Shaw, Bang On A Can All-Stars, Mantra Percussion, Mivos Quartet, and Iktus Percussion

ALBUM: Holographic
New Amsterdam Records

Purchase via Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

I’m a sucker for post-rock and ambient music. Eno’s Music for Airports done by the Bang on a Can All-Stars was one of the first introductions that brought me to contemporary classical composition. Listening to Daniel Wohl’s Holographic reminds me of this area of post-minimalist/classical and post-rock/ambient genre cross-talk that has always interested me. This record exhibits that style of slow and thoughtful musical development with well-orchestrated blends of electronic textures and instruments. — Blake Whiteley, Development Assistant


Oneida / Rhys Chatham: You Get Brighter

ALBUM: What’s Your Sign?
Northern Spy Records

Purchase via Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

I first heard Oneida play in a disused public parking lot Brooklyn in 2001. It was a pretty dark time for New York and we were all young and angry. Oneida’s sound has matured without losing any of that passionate, furious energy which struck me then. Teamed up with composer Rhys Chatham, Oneida have recently issued What’s Your Sign?. While some of the tracks are a little uneven, “You Get Brighter” is definitely worth a listen. –Madeline Bohm, Software Engineer and Designer

stone people

Martin Bresnick: Ishi’s Song
Performed by Lisa Moore, piano

ALBUM: The Stone People
Cantaloupe Records

Purchase via the Bang on a Can Store / Amazon / iTunes

Lisa’s playing (and singing) here is, as always, supremely musical and controlled and full of intent, and the piece, like all of Martin’s music, is profound, surprising, and rewarding to delve into. The Ishi of the title was the last of his people–the Yahi Indians–and the piece is based on transcription of a traditional song he recorded after being taken in by anthropologists at the University of California, Berkeley (his story is definitely worth reading). I’ve heard Lisa play (and Martin introduce) Ishi’s Song live a number of times now, and each performance feels like a brief glimpse into a lost world. The original melody is sung and then braided into shimmering, shifting textures, creating a mirage-like sensation, like being on the edge of seeing or grasping something that ultimately remains elusive. –Eileen Mack, Junior Software Engineer


David T. Little: Winter – Act III, Scene 2, “Endgame”
Performed by James Bobick, Marnie Breckenridge, Cherry Duke, John Kelly, Michael Marcotte, Newspeak, Alan Pierson, Peter Tantsits, and Lauren Worsham

Album Name: Dog Days
Vision Into Art Records

Purchase Amazon / iTunes

Dog Days, the opera by composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek, is terrifying, and that’s why I love it so much. There’s something about watching a family fall apart in a post-apocalyptic world that’s deeply disturbing (especially–spoiler alert!–when cannibalism is involved), but at the same time it’s too fascinating to look away. David’s score is a haunting representation of the action on stage, and this track reflects the tension, panic, and loss of humanity and hope we’ve reached at the climax of Dog Days. –Sam Reising, Community Platform Strategist and Grantmaking Manager

real enemies

Darcy James Argue: Dark Alliance
Performed by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

ALBUM: Real Enemies
New Amsterdam Records

Purchase via Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

Darcy James Argue brought a certain amount of swagger to the table just by forming an 18-piece big band in New York City. I’m pretty sure the first show I caught featuring his amazing crew of co-conspirators packed the stage so tightly that the bass player was effectively in the club’s kitchen—and they were still killing it! But what I really walked away thinking—and to even greater degrees after every performance I’ve heard since—is that Argue has a gift for attracting committed, remarkable players and feeding them a stream of witty and sophisticated material, a potent mix that excites the audience’s ears as well as their toes. With Real Enemies, his exploration of conspiracy-driven politics through the decades (originally designed as a theatrical event), his cross-era cuts are particularly incisive. –Molly Sheridan, Director of Content, and Co-Editor, NewMusicBox


Kris Davis: Tim Berne
Perform Kris Davis and Tim Berne

ALBUM: Duopoly
Pyroclastic Records

Purchase via Bandcamp / Amazon / iTunes

This improvisation featuring Kris Davis and Tim Berne, is from Kris Davis’s aptly named album Duopoly. The album consists of Davis playing one composed and one improvised duet with eight different musicians (the first half of the album is all of the composed pieces and the second half is all of the improvised pieces) in a package that comes with an audio cd and a visual record documenting recording session. While the individual playing throughout the album is wonderful, what really appeals to me about this track is the way in which the musicians play off each other to creates a piece whose structure I found to be complex and organic. –Brad Lenz, Development Manager

wild cities

Clint Needham: On the Road: Nothing Behind Me
Performed by Francesca Anderegg (violin) and Brent Funderburk (piano)

ALBUM: Wild Cities
New Focus Recordings

Purchase via New Focus / Amazon / iTunes

I was first drawn to Francesca Anderegg’s album Wild Cities having known her and the pianist during my graduate studies, but I was especially taken with the work, On the Road: Nothing Behind Me by Clint Needham. The first listen had me Googling for sheet music! The piece is a mixture of playful lightness and distant, far-off memories tinged with wistfulness and the fading sunlight. –Kristen Doering, Grantmaking Associate


Jennifer Bellor: Chase The Stars
Performed by Jennifer Bellor, Rasar Amani, Lynn Tsai, Ivan Ivanov, Samantha Ciarlo, Tammy Hung, David Chavez, Lindsay Johnson, Bennett Mason, Sean Carbone, Tim Jones, Kyle Bissantz, Summer Kodama, Jeremy Klewicki, and Bronson Foster


Purchase Amazon / iTunes

Since so many extraordinary recordings are released every year, it usually borders on the impossible to sing the praises of just one of them. But JCOI-alum Jennifer Bellor’s self-released Stay seems to be several albums at the same time. Equal parts jazz and contemporary chamber music, but also indebted to indie rock, hip-hop, and even golden age Broadway musicals, this kaleidoscopic collection of 13 originals is a wonderful demonstration of how to maintain a highly individual compositional identity without needing to take refuge in pre-post-genre musical silos. I love Moments Shared, Moments Lost (a 2016 duo for clarinet and pipe organ), and AfterHours (a 2014 drum set solo), but nothing probably sums up the dazzling eclecticism of this release more effectively than Chase The Stars, a 2015 setting of an Emily Brontë poem in which Bellor’s own operatic voice is accompanied by flute, bass clarinet, string quartet, piano, electric guitars, three percussionists, and a rapper! –Frank J. Oteri, Composer Advocate, and Co-Editor, NewMusicBox

Stream the full list:

Stream the 2016 Bang on a Can Marathon

Tune in to this page to watch the Bang on a Can Marathon live stream from 4-10 PM on Saturday, July 30. This year, the Marathon is taking place at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) as part of the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival.

Below is the approximate schedule for the Marathon:

Julia Wolfe: Tell Me Everything
George Crumb: Ancient Voices of Children
John Luther Adams: In a Treeless Place, Only Snow
David T. Little: sweet light crude
Akiko Ushijima: Distorting Melody

Brian Petuch: Protosaurus
Frederick Rzewski: Coming Together
Orchestra of Original Instruments (O of OI) led by Mark Stewart
Andrew Hamilton: Music for People Who Like Art
David Lang: ark luggage

Ken Thomson: Boil (world premiere)
Missy Mazzoli: Still Life with Avalanche
John Luther Adams: The Light Within
Louis Andriessen: Hoketus
Steve Reich: Music For Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ

You can also download the Bang On A Can Summer 2016 Mixtape for free on Bandcamp.

Now Streaming on a Device Near You: New Music Playlists

A little while ago, New Music USA quietly released a new feature to our web platform. In case we were too quiet, here’s a little write-up for you. Go ahead and take a look. I’ll be here when you get back.

NMUSA playlists

You might be wondering, why’d they do that? In the age of Apple Music and Spotify and the like, why do the same thing? Well, it comes down to variety. Since you’re reading this, I’m guessing your tastes include more—much more—than Taylor Swift and Adele. While the major streaming services are expanding their catalogs, they’ll never amass the treasure trove of contemporary American music that we have coming in the door every day. And these gems come to us in the form of project grants. With a current count of 295 projects receiving our support and actively using our platform, we’re sure to have something you haven’t heard before—and won’t hear anywhere else.

But wait, you might now wonder, how do I get in on this action? Make a profile and showcase some of your music on it (more about that below). Then make a playlist of your own and other’s pieces and start sharing far and wide on the social media of your choice. Getting a project grant is a competitive process (the next deadline is April 4, 2016), but anybody can register, make a profile, and start a playlist.

Now you might be dreading the thought of finding the mp3s of your music and uploading them again to yet another service. (Almost as bad as having to burn CDs for every last thing. Remember those days?) Well, we thought about that, too. You can certainly upload mp3s of your music into our care for sharing with the world. However, if you’ve got media already on Soundcloud, Vimeo, or YouTube, our playlist player will also happily support anything from these three services that you add to your profile.

Like all good platforms, we’re continually evolving. Using the web as our digital engagement machine allows us to adapt—and adapt quickly. With feedback from our users (yes, dear reader, that means you!), we can make this feature better and better all the time. New Music USA is dedicated to creating more opportunities for artists, and that can be more than just cash or featuring you in articles. We can harness the power of software to create a dynamic platform that supports an ever growing community of creators connecting with fans.

NewMusicBox Mix: 2015 Staff Picks

Staff Mix 2015

Before we bid farewell to year that was, New Music USA staff members have surveyed the 2015 recordings crowding their desktops (real and virtual) and chosen some of their favorite tracks from the past twelve months for a special NewMusicBox Mix. Below you will find each track streamed separately with a bit of commentary on what made it stand out, as well as a continuous playlist of all of the tracks at the bottom of the post. Follow the links for further listening and to add the albums to your own collection.

These artists have very generously allowed the use of their tracks in this project, and we encourage you to support them by purchasing their albums and letting them know if you enjoy what you hear!

Happy holidays to all!


Tristan Perich: Telescope for 2 bass clarinets, 2 baritone saxophones, & 4-channel 1-bit electronics
Performed by Sara Budde, Eileen Mack, Argeo Ascani, and Alex Hamlin.

ALBUM: Telescope
Physical Editions

Purchase via Bandcamp

In 2015, Tristan Perich began releasing his “Compositions” series of recordings on his own label. So far the run includes four discs, each featuring a single composition scored for acoustic instruments in conversation with Perich’s signature 1-bit electronics. Plus, the sleek, chapbook-sized packaging also includes a fold out poster of the full score! It’s an incredibly compelling visual element that’s not often revealed to the listener and provides a poignant reminder of the composer’s presence in the audio mix.

Molly Sheridan, Executive Editor, NewMusicBox and Director, Counterstream Radio


TIGUE: Cerulean

ALBUM: Peaks
New Amsterdam

Purchase via Bandcamp

Tigue rocks. Literally. Last year they rocked the New Music Bake Sale, and they’ve got a growing following among non-new music types, too. This track is the most “Tigue” on their new album, and features a great big ritardando that makes you more excited.

Kevin Clark, Director of Platform


Du Yun: San
Performed by Matt Haimovitz, cello

ALBUM: Orbit: Music for solo cello (1945-2014)

Purchase via primephonic

While most of the world might think solo cello begins and ends with Bach, we know better. And thanks to the talented and adventurous Matt Haimovitz, we have a three-disc set of modern cello pieces to prove it. The repertoire on these discs spans a huge range and is a testament to his skill, musicality, and eclectic tastes. The track featured here is San by Du Yun, an atmospheric, and sometimes dark, journey for a lone cello through a forest of shifting electronic sounds.

Eddy Ficklin, Senior Software Engineer


Son Lux: Change is Everything

ALBUM: Bones

Purchase via Bandcamp

There is so much great music out there! I especially want to shout out to Jen Shyu, Steve Coleman, and Rudresh Mahanthappa for their recent releases. So how to choose? I went with Son Lux’s “Change is Everything” from the album Bones, for so many reasons—not the least of which was the focus of Ryan Lott’s newish band with Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia on inventing and reinventing, something I deeply believe in. The music is great, and the message of change seems perfect as we enter the new year.

Deborah Steinglass, Director of Development


Sarah Kirkland Snider: The River
Performed by Padma Newsome, DM Stith, Shara Worden, and the Unremembered Orchestra

ALBUM: Unremembered
New Amsterdam

Purchase via Bandcamp

Sarah Kirkland Snider’s arresting new song cycle, Unremembered, deserves to be listened to in order at least twice. But if you have to pick one track, listen to “The River.” Snider’s music moves swiftly, murmuring along, with a burbling vocal line and hand claps that catch the listener and indicate that not all is well on the banks of this river. It’s haunting, graceful melody will stay in your head long after you finish listening

Hannah Rubashkin, Development Manager for Institutional Giving

anthracite fields

Julia Wolfe: Flowers
Performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars and Choir of Trinity Wall Street

ALBUM: Anthracite Fields

Purchase via Bandcamp

Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields, which was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music, is one of the most ambitious in her collection of works based on the lore of Appalachia. The oratorio harkens back to the plight of the coal miners in northeastern Pennsylvania and was created after extensive research Wolfe gathered from everything from oral histories to children’s rhymes. Anthracite Fields is a haunting and moving journey into the lives of those who inhabited the region at coal’s height as well as those who remain there today.

Sam Reising, Grantmaking and Social Media Manager

glass partita

Philip Glass: Partita VII. Chaconne, Part 2
Performed by Tim Fain
ALBUM: Tim Fain Plays Philip Glass: Partita for Solo Violin
Orange Mountain Music

This is the kind of recording that makes me hunt for sheet music. The Partita For Solo Violin, and especially “Chaconne 2,” showcases Philip Glass’s ability to work inside a form and create something new. Tim Fain’s performance showcases both the dance like, baroque rhythms and the minimalist harmonies of this incredible piece.

Debbie Milburn, Junior Software Engineer


Jason Eckardt: Subject
Performed by JACK Quartet

ALBUM: Subject

Jason Eckardt’s heavy metal and jazz backgrounds are readily apparent in the title track from his new album, “Subject.”  The piece, which is based on CIA interrogation techniques that manipulate senses, juxtaposes rapid and cacophonous phrases (expertly played by JACK) with periods of silence sometimes slashed with single chords, effectively hinting at (albeit certainly in a reduced way) the experience of that type of interrogation.

Brad Lenz, Development Associate for Individual Giving

african math

Martin Scherzinger: African Math (featuring Hallucinating Accordion and Mirror Notes / Slow Noises)
Performed by Tom Rosenkranz, piano; Jen Choi, violin; Chris Gross, cello

Album: African Math
New Focus Recordings

Some folks may find it odd that a classical piano trio is a group comprising a piano, a violin, and a cello and not simply three pianos, but they’ll be even more surprised when they hear the very non-classical sounding compositions on South African-born, NYU-based Martin Scherzinger’s 2015 CD African Math in which these instruments play music typically played on mouth bows in the Kalahari or on mbiras throughout Zimbabwe. This joyous music is a perfect soundtrack for Kwanzaa or whatever holiday you’re celebrating this December.

Frank J. Oteri, Composer Advocate and Senior Editor, NewMusicBox

Sounds Heard—Liaisons: Re-Imaging Sondheim from the Piano

The cover for the ECM New Series 3-CD set Liaisons (2470-72).

Liaisons (ECM 2470-72), Anthony de Mare’s 3-CD recital of piano pieces by 36 different composers based on musical theatre songs by Stephen Sondheim, is somewhat unprecedented in the annals of recorded history. In some respects, it’s akin to numerous instrumental jazz albums that re-interpret Broadway show tunes, but not really. These re-imaginings are not by one artist or combo but rather by 36 different composers, actually 37, since as a postlude de Mare offers a Sondheim rendering of his own devising. So perhaps it is more like a tribute album in which the oeuvre of a specific songwriter or band is covered by a wide range of artists. Well, not quite. Even though three dozen disparate compositional voices were involved here and the results are extremely different, all were asked to create music for the piano (and most did, though some added electronics). Plus all of these Sondheim “covers” are interpreted by the same musician—Anthony de Mare—and these pieces form a surprisingly cohesive whole when the collection is listened to in its entirety.

Aside from the recording, de Mare is currently in the middle of a tour where he is performing these works live. On Thursday, November 19, he will perform a selection from the series in New York City, with Sondheim scheduled to be in the audience, at Symphony Space. Then on December 12, he will take the material to PianoForte Studios in Chicago, with more appearances in the works for 2016.

To give some hint of the range of this project, we asked two of the composers de Mare commissioned—Annie Gosfield and Eve Beglarian—to share with us the some of the back story behind their idiosyncratic takes on Sondheim songs. In Gosfield’s setting of “A Bowler Hat,” from Sondheim’s somewhat lesser-known 1976 Broadway musical Pacific Overtures, phrases from the original song waft in and out, whereas in Beglarian’s “Perpetual Happiness,” an elaborate fantasia on the song “Happiness” from Sondheim’s 1994 Tony-award winning show Passion, Sondheim’s tune is transformed into insistent, propulsive motives that caress the keyboard relentlessly. Both totally sound like the work of their respective composers yet both still clearly reflect Sondheim’s immediately-identifiable sound world.



Different Hats

By Annie Gosfield

I never sat through a live musical. I can barely name a show tune, let alone sing one.

So imagine my surprise when Anthony de Mare contacted me about reimagining a Stephen Sondheim song for a new project. As usual, Tony’s enthusiasm was infectious, and I love surprising projects that unexpectedly spring up, so how could I say no?

I met Tony in the 1990‘s, when the new music scene in New York was smaller, friendlier and a little more incestuous. Tony played my piece “Brooklyn, October 5, 1941,” in which the pianist’s fingers never actually touch the keys. Instead, the notes are sounded by baseballs, which are rolled on the keyboard, and used to strike the strings and soundboard of the piano. A catcher’s mitt comes into play, creating monstrous left-hand clusters. This athletic piece was a happy match with Tony’s very physical approach to the piano. I never would have guessed that writing a piece for piano, baseballs, and catcher’s mitt would lead to Sondheim.

We met to discuss the project, and Tony gave me a list of available songs. Steve Reich had already grabbed “Finishing the Hat,” so I quickly checked out “A Bowler Hat.” Why? Because I like hats, and I used to be a milliner. The two contexts are not completely unrelated: the urge to transform materials and make something new out of something in hand exists whether I’m dealing with a Sondheim song or a raw piece of felt. “A Bowler Hat” was a little more obscure (the last thing I wanted to do was tackle “Send in the Clowns”) and had an infectious repeated theme. It’s from Pacific Overtures, and sung by Kayama, a Japanese man proudly displaying his Western accoutrements—a pocket watch, a cutaway coat, and, of course, a bowler hat. The song is about cultural shifts and Kayama’s personal transformation, which fits nicely with the idea of adapting a musical theater piece to my own style.

Working with the piece was another story. The further I got from the original, the weaker the music became. I quickly learned what so many of the other composers already knew, that Sondheim’s songs were impeccably constructed. Any major changes felt like pulling one stone out of a Roman arch; Sondheim was our keystone and the original structure stood beautifully on its own. Like blocking a hat, the song had its own inherent shape, and it was best to respect that. Writing for Tony provided a lot of inspiration as well. I took some liberties, imagining his unique mix of muscular brawn and emotional lyricism, added elements, and combined existing motives. In the end, I stepped back and enjoyed being the instigator of a new conversation between Mr. Sondheim and Mr. de Mare.

This series of delightful surprises continued. When I was a teenager and first met my partner, guitarist Roger Kleier, in the dorm of the music school at North Texas State University, the background soundtrack was often the gorgeous, ethereal, reverb-heavy LPs by Terje Rypdal and John Abercrombie. They were part of Manfred Eicher’s signature sound world on ECM. Fast forward a few decades, and I’m at the Academy of Arts and Letters with the wondrous Judith Sherman producing Tony’s impressive 3-CD set, and after an unexpected sequence of baseballs, hats, and late night dorm listening, my name’s on an ECM release, represented by the spectacular Mr. de Mare.



By Eve Beglarian

I thought I knew what love was,
I thought I knew how much I could feel.
I didn’t know what love was.
But now I do.

—Giorgio in “Happiness from Passion

When Tony de Mare asked me to rework a Sondheim song for his Liaisons project, it took me a while to settle on the opening number from Passion. At the time, I had never actually seen a production of that particular show, so I was surprised when it called to me.

Passion opens with a couple reaching the end of their lovemaking and then singing a love duet in their post-orgasmic bliss. How else do you open a show called Passion, right?

But it’s a curious love duet. While the melodic lines do everything love duets are supposed to, and the words are full of love and certainty, the accompaniment is slightly off-kilter, with curious glancing dissonances that roil just beneath the surface. One of the hardest jobs I had in my reworking was to keep the crunchiness submerged: the dissonances wanted to leak out and infect my version, which would have destroyed the perfect ironic balance Sondheim created.

When I made my version, I thought I understood what the song was getting at. I understood the show as a warped rom-com that happens to end badly. The guy is with the wrong girl, who seems totally right at first; he meets the right girl (who seems really amazingly wrong at first) and finds true love, which is really great. But then it turns out that love, physical love, kills the woman he loves. So sad.

And a little confusing and unsatisfying. Is the story saying that passion is great but sex is a problem? Not too likely. Is it saying love has to kill you to be the real thing? I know there’s a long tradition (Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, and on and on) bolstering that line, but in most cases it’s outside forces that kill the lovers, not love itself. I’ve been mulling this whole question over for a while, even after seeing the fine production of the show at Classic Stage Company in 2013.

A few weeks ago, at Tony’s first show celebrating the CD release, the project’s producer, Rachel Colbert, told me about a novel called Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig, which tells the same story as Passion. Sondheim credits Ettore Scola’s film, Passione d’Amore, as his inspiration, a film which in turn was based on the novel Fosca, by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. Tarchetti seems to be the source for both Sondheim and Zweig, but I don’t know if Sondheim has read the Zweig.

For me, Beware of Pity was a revelation.

Zweig makes horrifyingly clear that pity is an act of monstrous vanity which destroys everyone: both the pitier and the pitied. Pity is the opposite of empathy or even sympathy. The pitying person sets himself above the one he pities:

On that evening I was God. I had calmed the waters of unrest and driven the darkness from their hearts. But from myself, too, I had chased away the fear, my soul was at peace as never before in all my life.

Pity acts to alienate the pitier from the pitied, isolating the pitier from the vulnerability the pitied person arouses in him. In Beware of Pity, Zweig makes clear that the most broken person in the story is not the sickly woman, but the male protagonist, who himself realizes, “it is not evil and brutality, but nearly always weakness, that is to blame for the worst things that happen in this world.”

At the end of the novel, he abandons his now-fiancée—who commits suicide in response to his betrayal—and runs off to join the opening battles of the First World War. It’s clear to readers of the novel, which was published in 1938, that this soldier has the soul of a Nazi officer: a seemingly brave, strong hero who is actually weak, fearful, and therefore brutal.

In Passion, when Sondheim brings back the music of “Happiness” under a love scene between Fosca and Giorgio, I think he is hinting at some of this complexity. We know Giorgio was wrong to sing “I didn’t know what love was, but now I do,” to his first lover, Clara, at the top of the show. Fosca is heartbreakingly correct at the end of the show, when she sings “Too much happiness, more than I can bear” to the same melody. She sings these words to a man who even now doesn’t have a clue what real love is, because he is besotted with pity.

Usually I embark on creative work with some awareness of what it is I am trying to make sense of as I make the piece. In this case, the piece called me before I understood why I needed to grapple with it. I am grateful to Tony, to Stephen Sondheim, to Rachel Colbert, and to Stefan Zweig for showing me something I needed to understand. Thanks to this exploration, I understand something new about the vital distinction between pity and empathy/sympathy. But I’m still not going to claim I understand what love is!

Andy Milne on Star Trek

How did William Shatner choose eclectic jazz pianist/Dapp Theory frontman Andy Milne to score his series of Star Trek documentaries? It turns out that Avery Brooks, the actor who played Captain Benjamin Sisko for seven years on the Star Trek spinoff Deep Space Nine, is an accomplished jazz singer and pianist in his own right and had performed with Milne. So when Shatner asked Brooks whom he thought could create music for this project, he immediately suggested him. Milne’s Trek score (released on the CD From The Bridge) has led to multiple performances at Star Trek conventions. But for this lifelong science fiction fan, the greatest experience has been sitting in the captain’s chair on the Enterprise.

Cover of Andy Milne's CD From The Bridge featuring a photo of Milne sitting on the captain's chair of the Enterprise from Star Trek.

The cover of Milne’s From The Bridge Listen to excerpts from the CD here.

(You can read more about Milne and his music here.)