Tag: contemporary music

Sounds Heard: Make It Big (Large Ensemble Edition)

Kevin Puts: To Touch The Sky, If I Were A Swan, Symphony No. 4 “From Mission San Juan”
Harmonia Mundi
Performed by Conspirare (Craig Hella Johnson, cond.) and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Marin Alsop, cond.)
Puts: To Touch The Sky
The works on this recording by composer Kevin Puts share common inspiration in that they are all treatments of spiritual concepts such as ideas of the “divine feminine.” The interconnected movements of To Touch The Sky: Nine Songs for Unaccompanied Chorus on Texts by Women are stunningly performed by Conspirare, featuring texts ranging from Sappho to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Although the opening track, If I Were A Swan, with text by poet Fleda Brown (who also happens to be Puts’s aunt) was originally intended to be part of the sequence, Puts ultimately chose to have it stand on its own. Symphony No. 4 “From Mission San Juan” was commissioned by an avid listener and attendee of the Cabrillo Festival, who was especially enamored with the annual concerts that take place at San Juan Bautista. Puts took that opportunity to delve into the music of the Mutsun Indians, who, despite being baptized and taught to sing church music by the friars of Mission San Juan, managed to retain their own musical practices for some time. The first movement of Symphony No. 4 (featured in the track below), performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with Marin Alsop conducting, uses the unique acoustics of the Mission space as an inspirational stepping-stone.

John Musto: Concertos and Rags for Piano
Bridge Recordings
Performed by Odense Symphony Orchestra (Scott Yoo, cond.) and Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra (Glen Cortese, cond.)
Musto: Concertos and Rags
Over the past ten years in particular, composer John Musto has been busy with opera productions and vocal music, but this recent Bridge CD features Musto’s two piano concertos—the first dating from 1988, and the second from 2006—with the composer himself at the piano. Throughout each concerto, Musto’s affinity for ragtime can be heard within the harmonic language and the melodic lines. In fact, sandwiched between the two big pieces are two short solo piano works from Musto’s Five Concert Rags, further inquiries into such musical connections. The third movement of Piano Concerto No. 1, Scorrevole (featured here), is a roller coaster ride for the ears, bustling with ever-shifting orchestra textures and rollicking percussion.

inscape: Sprung Rhythm
Sono Luminus
Richard Scerbo, director
inscape: Sprung Rhythm
This debut recording of the Bethesda, Maryland-based inscape chamber orchestra showcases the work of the three younger composers from the mid-Atlantic region—Nathan Lincoln-DeCusatis, Joseph Hallman, and Justin Boyer. The ensemble expands and contracts to adjust for the unique voice of each composer, from chamber orchestra for Lincoln-DeCusatis’ A Collection of Sand, to smaller mixed ensemble for Hallman’s imaginatively orchestrated imagined landscapes: six Lovecraftian elsewheres. For those who want to put their surround sound systems to work, the physical CD comes packaged with an additional audio-only Blu-Ray disc containing all of the compositions, plus additional bonus tracks featuring Boyer’s work Auguries for bassoon and string trio. Whichever recorded medium you decide to explore, these are all interesting musical works, expertly recorded, and performed by inscape with confidence and dexterity. The label Sono Luminus has smartly created a mashup of the works on this recording, which is presented below:

Sounds Heard: Blowing In The Wind (Flute Edition)

Among the CDs that have landed on my desk in recent weeks are a few that showcase flute prominently. Here are three artists whose highly individual styles of integrating flute into their compositions perked up my ears.
Elizabeth Brown, Arcana
Performed by Elizabeth Brown
New World

Composer/flutist Elizabeth Brown is aptly described in the liner notes of her recent CD Mirage as a “gentle maverick.” Her work is experimental in nature, yet rather than whacking the listener over the head with that, the music has an understated and beautifully handmade feel that begs careful listening and exploration. Brown is a talented flutist as well as a shakuhachi and theremin player, and within the disc’s seven works she performs on those instruments in combination with ensembles that include string quartet, recorded sound, Harry Partch instruments, and Japanese traditional instrument orchestra. The track featured here, Arcana, for flute and recorded sound, is full of bending, melting sounds that suggest a dreamlike tale of intrigue.


Harris Eisenstadt, What Is A Straw Horse, Anyways?
Performed by Nicole Mitchell, flute; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon; Mark Dresser, contrabass; Harris Eisenstadt, drums, compositions
Golden State
Order Directly

Harris Eisenstadt’s Golden State features the somewhat unusual instrumental combination of flute, bassoon, contrabass, and drums. I was immediately struck by the pointillistic style of drumming that opens a number of the tracks—as if Eisenstadt (who is performing on drums) is reveling in the individual sound world of each drum or cymbal—and by the pleasantly quirky, occasionally stuttering, restless nature of the woodwind writing, not to mention the casual sprinkling of extended techniques through the pieces. What Is A Straw Horse, Anyways? combines all of these elements into an engaging (and fun!) musical statement.


Matthew Joseph Payne, flight of the bleeper bird: obviously I was abducted by paper aliens
Performed by Meerenai Shim
The Art of Noise

As an unrepentant fan of most things “bloop-bleep”-oriented, I couldn’t resist Matthew Joseph Payne’s work flight of the bleeper bird for flute and Game Boy on flutist Meerenai Shim’s compilation album The Art of Noise. The second movement, entitled “obviously I’ve been abducted by paper aliens,” opens with a somewhat “typically contemporary music flute-y” melodic line, but is quickly enveloped by cascading waves of electronic tones, transforming into a gleefully bouncing, frenetic duet. Anyone needing a fix of well-honed music derived from electronic game sounds should have a listen.

And while you’re at it, give the whole CD a spin—the four other thoughtfully constructed and well-performed works on The Art of Noise, which also deliver doses of cello, piano, and percussion in addition to Shim’s flute, were composed by Daniel Felsenfeld, Janice Misurell-Mitchell, Jay C. Batzner, and David E. Farrell.

New England’s Prospect: The Manicured Lawns (Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music)

There is no good reason for Tanglewood to be where it is, apart from the late, latent imprint of Gilded Age fortunes, the leftover patronage that lured first Henry Hadley then Serge Koussevitzky to the Berkshires in the 1930s. This season’s Tanglewood anniversary—lately, every year seems to bring one—is the 75th of the Music Shed, erected in 1938 as a riposte to nature: conceived, funded, designed, and built in a spasm of pique over an epic rainstorm the previous season. The place channels history at every turn, but it is not so much the history of the land it sits on, or the century’s worth of people who passed through it on its way to its current incarnation. It is the history of itself. The past that Tanglewood leverages is its own. It is a recursive monument.
I mention this as a possible explanation for why, even after more than four decades, Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music still seems to be making itself up as it goes along. In one sense, it should—the music keeps changing, so the FCM should, too. But the goal seems to change from year to year. Is it a survey, a snapshot of the time? An in-depth exploration of particular personalities? A stake-in-the-ground vision of the future? A chance to adjust the ledger of the past? An educational exercise? All of the above?

Under the direction of pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, this year’s festival—Thursday to Monday, August 8-12—glanced off several of those possibilities without settling on any one. The festival-as-portrait was divided up three ways—and across two continents—between Elliott Carter (in memoriam), Marco Stroppa, and Helmut Lachenmann. The festival-as-rewind centered around a concert that sought to bring some venerable American classical counterculture into the Tanglewood fold. The festival-of-the-moment brought the U.S. premiere of George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin, presented in concert on Monday night.
At the same time, the FCM felt weirdly hemmed in. A limited, all-male, all-white roster of composers was hardly an adventurous template. But the festival also, from piece to piece, seemed to be changing its mind on what exactly it wanted to be.


Thursday’s concerts (which I covered for the Boston Globe) had included Instances, Carter’s second-to-last work; Friday’s opened with his last, Epigrams, performed by violinist Sarah Silver and cellist Michael Dahlberg (both members of the New Fromm Players) and Aimard at the piano. Like Instances, the piece is aphoristic, mercurial in the alchemical sense, its prima materia seeming to encompass all manner of metals, soft and hard, dark and bright. Also like Instances, it seems to play with the idea of late-period music: efficiently brief and often elegiac—some of the string writing in Epigrams is as lyrical as anything Carter ever wrote, going all the way back to his neo-classic Americana—but constantly surrounded by sharp, disjunct, even fierce commentary and contrast.

Lachenmann’s portfolio—introduced on Thursday with “…zwei Gefühle…,” a quite thorough deconstruction of texts by Leonardo da Vinci—continued on Friday with his Third String Quartet, Grido (beneficiary of a phenomenal performance by the JACK Quartet). As is Lachenmann’s wont, Grido is a canvas of noise: bowing on the bridge, bowing behind the bridge, bowing the tailpiece, bowing the tuning pegs, dragging the bow up and down the strings like a howl of wind, with occasional incursions of denatured pitch. Grido also shares with “…zwei Gefühle…” a seeming multitude of endings, the music coming to a halt only to start up again, on its way to another (temporary) halt. It gives Lachenmann’s music a kind of eschatological heaviness, an enervating existential persistence built into the music’s structure.

The Tanglewood Music Center performed the U.S. premiere of Marco Stroppa's Let Me Sing Into Your Ear on Thursday night with amplified basset horn player Michele Marielli. Photo by Hilary Scott.

The Tanglewood Music Center performed the U.S. premiere of Marco Stroppa’s Let Me Sing Into Your Ear on Thursday night with amplified basset horn player Michele Marielli.
Photo by Hilary Scott.

Let Me Sing Into Your Ear, Stroppa’s electrified basset horn concerto performed on Thursday night, proved a divertimento next to Friday’s Traietorria, for piano and computerized sound. Stroppa, a three-decade veteran of electronic composition, has a style that falls somewhere between music and sound art; Traietorria, finished in 1989 but only making it to the United States now, is a catalog and a summation, a 45-minute marathon of acoustic/digital interaction that is both strikingly advanced, considering its ‘80s vintage, but also technologically limited in a way that—compared with 2010’s Let Me Sing Into Your Ear—seemed to have demanded a more deliberate and conscientious curation of its resources. The piano writing is of a fascinating virtuosity: Gaspard de la Nuit, maybe, or the Three Pieces from Petrouchka, crushed and compressed into dense recycled fury. Traietorria is vast and uncompromising, and a lot of the audience was squirming by the end. But I loved it. True, I love big, obsessive manifesti. But I also loved the opportunity to hear it. Aimard clearly wanted to bring the piece here, and was clearly using the FCM as the chance to do it. Is that enough reason for the festival itself? Traietorria made the case for a resounding maybe.


In past years, something like Traietorria—or Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, the anchor of the Sunday morning concert—probably would have been a concert unto itself: a prelude to one of the full-length festival concerts, or a late-night happening in the old Tanglewood Theatre. The FCM, when I first started going, ran from Wednesday through Sunday night. Now it runs Thursday through Monday. Given the immoveable object that is the BSO schedule—Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon, now also an open rehearsal on Saturday morning—that one-day shift has both limited the FCM’s offerings and increasingly bumped its concerts up against the Boston Symphony Orchestra itself.

Saturday’s concert, for instance, was presented as the 6:00 p.m. prelude to the 8:30 p.m. BSO concert, which meant a visiting contingent of BSO patrons shifting and grumbling their way through what actually was one of the more entertaining programs of the week. Aimard played a sampler of Carter’s post-Night Fantasies solo piano music (Retrouvailles, Tri-Tribute, and 90+), his nervous, crystalline touch ideal for the music’s hyper-intelligent, kitten-on-the-keys style. Stroppa’s Ossia: Seven Strophes for a Literary Drone (an homage to Joseph Brodsky) was another assemblage of effects, this time for piano trio (violinist Matthew Leslie Santana, cellist Louise Grevin, and pianist Katherine Dowling), but with the visual and aural diversion of a different stage placement for each movement. Where Stroppa went delicate, Lachenmann, on this concert, went slapstick: GOT LOST, in a performance of unfailing deadpan mastery by pianist Stephen Drury and soprano Elizabeth Keusch, deconstructed the idea of art song, its own text, and the conventions of performance into a monument of weighty goofiness. Like the rest of Lachenmann’s works, it is deliberately drawn out, though here the lengthy disintegration is played as a bleak, I’m-not-dead-yet joke.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard performs piano works by Elliott Carter. Photo by Hilary Scott.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard performs piano works by Elliott Carter.
Photo by Hilary Scott.

The 8:30 p.m. concert at the Koussevitzky Music Shed included the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s annual nod at Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music: Sound Fields, Elliott Carter’s brief exercise in string-orchestra klangfarbenharmonie that was premiered at the 2008 FCM. Four minutes of soft chords is, on paper, about as perfunctory a contribution to the festival as the BSO could make, but they did a lovely job with it, conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi energetically cueing the structural accents beneath the music’s placid surface. The audience? At least where I was, the audience was unusually terrible, coughing throughout. I finally made peace with it by imagining it as an impromptu Lachenmann jest: a memento mori of audible ill-health, paying tribute to Carter by acknowledging that no one in the audience was likely to live as long as he did.


The three middle FCM concerts were marked by a comparative absence of Tanglewood Music Center Fellows. The New Fromm Players are TMC alumni, a troupe of contemporary specialists specially hired for each summer season, and they shared the stage with a stream of guests: Aimard, the JACK Quartet, Drury, and Keusch. The student fellows filled out the more orchestral-sized ensembles on Thursday’s concert (and the Reich). But Grevin, the cellist in Stroppa’s trio, was the only fellow on these chamber concerts—that is, until a last-minute substitution let a quartet of fellows (Matthew Vera, Thomas Hofmann, Adrienne Hochman, and Francesca McNeeley) open Sunday morning’s concert with an exhilarating performance of György Ligeti’s 1954 String Quartet No. 1, replacing the previously scheduled Monument—Selbstporträt—Bewegung (that was to have been performed by Dowling and Nicolas Namoradze, both New Fromm Players).

Having Ligeti’s early quartet rather than his later, puckish salute to minimalism, somewhat unraveled the programming thread of the concert, which, on paper, was to lead up to the Reich 18. The addition of more Stroppa, too, was a bit of a detour: BSO cellist Mickey Katz (a former New Fromm Player himself) played Stroppa’s Ay, There’s the Rub, a slow formal morph between pitch-based and noise-based extended techniques. (Katz followed it with an encore, another memorial, one of Henri Dutilleux’s 3 Strophes sur le nom de Sacher that did much the same as Stroppa’s piece, but with a more deft accent.) The ceremony proper started with a dashing rendition—by Dowling and Namoradze—of Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies Nos. 5 and 6 (in a transcription by Thomas Adès), then, after intermission, concluded with Music for 18 Musicians. If the performance was clean but a little square—more downbeat than backbeat—the familiar machinery made Ozawa Hall ring.


By the time everyone reassembled on Monday night for Written on Skin, it felt like yet another festival. Benjamin’s opera was having its American premiere, and the anticipation was high. Premiered in 2012, Written on Skin is fugitive in a way that echoes the FCM itself, constantly shifting its own identity. The plot is medieval: a love triangle between a severe Protector (baritone Evan Hughes), his wife Agnès (soprano Lauren Snouffer), and the Boy (countertenor Augustine Mercante), hired by the Protector to produce a lavish, expensive illuminated book. A pair of angels (mezzo-soprano Tammy Coil and tenor Isaiah Bell) offer commentary and, in the guise of Agnés’s sister and brother-in-law, a brittle mirror to the Protector and Agnés. And to us: Martin Crimp’s libretto freely drops in anachronistic reference to contemporary consumerism, class division, and religious fanaticism. The characters alternate between proclaiming their own symbolic status and narrating their own stage action.

Augustine Mercante, Evan Hughes, Lauren Snouffer and conductor George Benjamin performing Written on Skin in Ozawa Hall 8.12.13.Photo by Hilary Scott.

Augustine Mercante, Evan Hughes, Lauren Snouffer, and conductor George Benjamin performing Written on Skin in Ozawa Hall.
Photo by Hilary Scott.

None of this should work; it all does, spectacularly. The orchestra (conducted by Benjamin) seethes and burns like molten steel; the vocal lines stutter and soar, forever off-balance but ready to take flight at a moment’s rage; the climax of the opera—the Protector kills the Boy, serves his heart to his wife, who then commits suicide in joyful spite—shifts from lurid to magical with breathtaking dexterity. After the rest of the festival’s cross-purposes, even in its more rewarding moments, to bring this piece across the Atlantic felt like a real coup. And the performance—mostly TMC Fellows, only Hughes and a few extra instrumentalists joining as guests—had fierce grandeur. More than that, though, the opera’s cross-referenced multiplicity—the way it combined the distance of legend with the immediacy of reinvention, the precise description of its action with its euphoric evocation, the proclamation of archetype with individual specificity—offered a possible mission statement for the FCM as a whole: a glittering interchange, ever-shifting, looking forward and looking back, equal parts ritual and experiment, all held together by sheer musical brio.

The self-conjured nature of Tanglewood extends to the FCM; it means, for one thing, that no one will ever be happy with what it is, because it seems like it could be whatever you want it to be. I can’t think of another new music festival that people have quibbled and argued about for so long, but that, too, is a kind of heritage: not many new music festivals are so worth the quibbles and arguments. Give the FCM credit: it leaves you wanting more—more concerts; more American innovations, more European innovations, and more input from the wide world beyond that axis; more musicians sinking their teeth into the repertoire; more sheer when-else-will-we-ever-do-this impractical madness. It’s a tall order. But if you can make your own history, why not shoot for the moon?

TMC Fellows perform "Music for 18 Musicians" by Steve Reich as part of the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood on 8.11.13. Photo by HIlary Scott.

TMC Fellows perform Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich as part of the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood.
Photo by Hilary Scott.

Sounds Heard: Rebekah Heller—100 names

It’s refreshing to hear the bassoon edging its way towards the sonic foreground in contemporary music. Anyone with doubts about how cool the instrument can be has perhaps not yet heard bassoonist and core member of ICE Rebekah Heller perform; in her hands, the oft-underappreciated woodwind is transformed into a fierce creature that cannot be ignored onstage. Whether the music being performed is a cadenza from a Mozart piece or a new work by an ICELab participant, she will make you wonder how you never noticed the instrument before.

Her first solo CD, 100 names, features six work for solo bassoon, both alone and paired with electronics. All of the composers represented make use of Heller’s virtuosic playing abilities, loading up their compositions with the most extended of extended techniques. The potential “gimmicky” feel is absent though, because the pieces were obviously created in collaboration with Heller, who is clearly comfortable handling such musical material. The first piece by Edgar Guzman, ∞¿?, opens the disc with a bang; a thick, low electronic tone with rough edges cuts in and out, is quickly joined by the bassoon in its lowest range, and from there the two engage in an undulating dance of rollicking multiphonics, beating tones, and multi-tongued, staccato interruptions. The texture thickens and becomes increasingly complex as it reaches a climactic, abrupt ending.

Marcelo Toledo’s Qualia II employs a totally different sound world, beginning with high-pitched squeaks, dramatic, close-miked breath (and breathless) sounds, and amplified key clicks. Low range melodic cells are underscored by Heller’s “helicopter” technique (in which the bassoon actually does sound like a helicopter hovering at a distance), interrupted by a dramatic set of her vocalized yelps and groans. The mood then calms to slower, more extended wind and noise drones. The piece is like solo instrument musique concrète.

Dai Fujikura’s Calling is an artful construction of multiphonics wrapped around a beautifully mournful melodic line that slinks through the sound field, gradually incorporating the multiphonics into itself. On speaking a hundred names for bassoon and processing also shows off a lyrical side; fellow ICE member Nathan Davis deftly combines multiple layers of bassoon that expand and contract within the stereo space, shifting in mood from happily frenetic to angry to tranquil. Ultimately the story ends with the bassoon being swallowed in its own electronic processes, flying away into high frequencies, like a helium balloon let loose into the sky.

…and also a fountain falls the farthest from the sound worlds presented on 100 names, brought to you by Marcos Balter. It features more of Heller’s voice—this time reciting passages from Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein—heavily reverbed, and punctuated with small percussion instruments in addition to fragile bassoon textures. It shows a sparse, stripped down side of the instrument, and also reveals Heller’s willingness to try anything.

The bonus track (a sip of espresso to end the program?), Du Yun’s 10pm, ixtab is a dramatic pile-up of bassoon tracks and recorded found sound. It’s a speedy, intense roller coaster ride that slams to a halt as abruptly as it began.

For a thorough tour of the capacities (and extremes) of the bassoon, 100 names is the recording to check out. Hopefully other bassoonists will also start to perform these works (not to mention commission new works and make albums of their own!) and continue to expand the available repertoire for the instrument. Bassoon is not just for inner orchestra voices anymore.

Cornelius Dufallo: Making It Personal

For composer and violinist Cornelius Dufallo, making music, whether creating his own or performing the work of others, is quite literally a way of life; he considers it a path of personal discovery. “Composing and performing help me discover who I am not only as an artist, but as a human being,” says Dufallo, who enjoys a richly varied musical career that encompasses music from the realm of avant-garde improvisation to the most exacting fully-notated scores.

During his studies at Julliard, Dufallo became involved in contemporary music because many of his friends were composers, and he wanted to play their work. “I wasn’t thinking of it as a career move or anything—it was like a social thing,” says Dufallo. “I was doing it because they were my friends and it was interesting. And I got to play a lot of really cool pieces that way.” From there he played with a number of ensembles, became one of the first members of the Flux Quartet, as well as a founding member of the new music ensemble Ne(x)tworks, and he most recently spent seven years as a violinist with the quartet Ethel. The process of collaborating with different composers and learning about their creative processes inspired him to compose more of his own works, many of which utilize amplified violin with electronics.

Playing amplified gave me so many more options in terms of tone color, and I learned a lot about timbre that way. Then it was really fun to go back to playing acoustic, with those timbres in mind, because then that really expands your approach to the instrument on a purely acoustic level as well.

Such a range of performing experience has resulted in a personal repertoire of violin music that reads like a thoughtfully curated selection of significant works from the early 21st century. On May 31, Dufallo will present the fourth installment of his Journaling recital series, which he created to track the route he has traveled, via his collaborations with composers, in the performance of contemporary violin music. The concert will feature world premieres of pieces composed by Kinan Azmeh, Tim Hodgkinson, and Paul Brantley, as well as works by Jacob TV, Svjetlana Bukvich, Patrick Derivaz, and Dufallo himself. A new CD with six works from the Journaling series will be released in June.

In the same way that his recitals take an autobiographical approach to current events in contemporary music by chronicling his personal exploits within the field, Dufallo’s own compositions are the result of intense introspection and self-awareness. Composing serves as a means by which he processes life experiences, in addition to providing creative and intellectual fulfillment. He has explored topics such as his own dreams, as in the work Carillon for amplified violin and electronics, and he recently premiered a work for violin and ensemble with the Washington, D.C.-based Great Noise Ensemble titled Paranoid Symmetries that addresses the painful experience of a close relation’s mental breakdown.

In his compositional process, Dufallo attempts to always maintain a balance between structure and spontaneity, staying open to the possibility of unexpected musical connections that might arise throughout the course of his daily musical activities. A short phrase improvised at a sound check for a concert might find its way into his latest composition, or variations on a completed work could be taken in a completely different direction for a new piece. Ultimately for him, composing is one piece of a larger undertaking; that of “finding one’s way as an individual, which is a lifelong endeavor.”

Sounds Heard: Eric Moe—Kick & Ride

Kick & Ride proves an apt title for composer Eric Moe’s recent BMOP Sound release, highlighting his use of drum set and percussion throughout the three compositions represented. The high energy works, characterized by Moe in the liner notes as “cantankerous sisters,” indeed deliver shots of dramatic flair and suspenseful anxiety that could nearly persuade a listener to skip that all-important morning cup of coffee.

The first work on the CD, Superhero, is scored for Pierrot ensemble, and musically traces the trials and tribulations of an imaginary comic book character as planets are saved, evil twins are vanquished, and existential crises are survived. It is possible to hear within the work’s five movements the car chases, the personal anguish, and the sonic representations of the KA-POWs and BLAMMOs associated with favorite comic book superheroes. Before any assumptions are made about the somewhat lighthearted theme of this piece, rest assured that this is serious, thoughtfully rendered music, that Moe says is an affectionate, rather than an ironic, glimpse into the concept of the superhero. The musicians give beautifully crisp, tight performances, reflecting both energy and repose in their allotted places.

Eight Point Turn begins with the pulse of sand blocks paired with a low-register contrabass ostinato, onto which other instruments gradually pile to create obsessively winding circular patterns. These motions are interrupted at many points, but persevere in shifting orchestrations and harmonic schemes, giving a sense of navigating narrow switchback trails up a mountain.

Although the title track of the CD, Kick & Ride, is a drum set concerto in two movements for the percussionist Robert Schulz and BMOP, Moe reimagines the concerto format in his own fashion. The opening features call-and-response patterns between drum set and orchestra, but overall, rather than composing a competitive, back-and-forth dialogue between drum kit and orchestra, their relationship has to do with whether they are in sync or playing independently of one another. In the first movement, “The Cracked Tune that Chronos Sings,” the drum set often plays delicately, very much behind the orchestra, allowing long, lean string melodies to come to the forefront. Eventually, filigree patterns between cymbals and drums erupt into a full drum kit cadenza, which abruptly cuts away to a sober conclusion in winds and brass.

The second movement, “Slipstream,” opens with a reference to the “Wipeout” rhythm, which is quickly farmed out to various pitched instruments and continues to color the entire movement. Again the drums travel from foreground to background and back again, almost without pause, carrying on independent conversations and occasionally chiming into the group talk, ultimately joining the orchestra in an intensely romping final climax.

All of the pieces on Kick & Ride feature idiomatic, finely wrought writing for all of the instruments, but it is especially notable that the drum set music sounds completely natural and fits organically into the different ensemble settings. Although it is possible to hear whispers of many different types of music—rock and roll, African, jazz, etc.—Moe has made the music his own. This disc is a treat for percussionists, for composers on the lookout for effective drum set writing, and for contemporary music listeners in general.

Stretching the Truth

Rubber Bands

Anyone only briefly acquainted with classical concert music of any color has likely had occasion to witness one of the most ubiquitous bluffs in the concert world: presenting one or more works from many years ago as an example of “contemporary” music. I can’t count the number of the times I’ve seen Shostakovich or Copland billed as representing contemporary (or variously, “modern”) music; and I’ve even been to a few so-called “new music” concerts where every piece on the program was from the last century. And don’t get me started about performing competitions that require performance of one “modern or 20th century work” along with the obligatories, as if the 21st century never happened.

The advantages to the perpetrators of these myths are readily evident. Often caught between fulfilling grant and trustee obligations, winning kudos from critics, and the need for programming that fills seats, major music organizations see the programming of truly contemporary works as something worth touting as much as possible and putting into practice hardly at all.

This stretching of the truth goes on both very baldly and implicitly. Most orchestral concerts featuring a lone 20th century work give the impression that the music of Bartók or Bloch or Barber represents the most adventurous flavor worth sampling. Similarly, I’m all for Pierrot Lunaire, but I can’t stomach a composition composed nearly a hundred years ago being billed as part of a contemporary music concert. If we’re not really going to program new music, let’s at least be honest so we can see how precious little new music there really is—all the better to test the assumption that a fresh work written in the listener’s own time would really be any more off-putting to closed ears than one more performance of a 20th-century masterwork.