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New Sounds From the Village

Cover Photo: New York University

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Catalog Number: CPS-8616
Audio Format: Stereo, AAD
Playing Time: 66:52
Release Date: 1993

Track Listing & Audio Samples
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Leo Kraft
1. Washington Square (8:57)
NYU New Music Ensemble
Dr. Esther Lamneck, director
John V. Gilbert
2. If Time Remembers (10:30)
Ronald Sadoff, piano
Dinu Ghezzo
3. Two Prayers (11:01)
Catherine Rowe, soprano
Electronic tape by the composer
Robert Sirota
4. Seven Picassos (14:59)
Dinosaur Annex Ensemble
Scott Wheeler, conductor
Steven L. Rosenhaus
Kol Nidre Prelude (4:58)
   Listen: RealAudio or MP3
Tina Pelikan, viola
Dawn Buckholz, cello
Mary Inwood
6. Sonata (8:03)
John Malazzo, trumpet
Robert Lanaghan, piano
Ronald Mazurek
7. Encounters (8:25)
Members of the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble


Related Links
John V. Gilbert
Steven Rosenhaus
Esther Lamneck



American Music - Spring, 1998 - by Elliott Schwartz

"In studying the development of American music, one cannot overestimate the importance of college and university communities. The alliance of cam-pus and composer goes back to the nineteenth century, and has produced a record of striking partnerships: John Knowles Pain-Harvard, Edward Mac-Dowell-Columbia, and Paul Hindemith-Yale, to mention but a few. In the postwar era, the relationship between universities and those concerned with new music grew even stronger, and especially so during the 1960s, with the proliferation of resident new music ensembles, electroacoustic music studios, and campus-centered composer organizations. As a result, the postwar pat-tern that has emerged in this country is quite different from that of Europe, where the most active centers for music (contemporary and otherwise) are the government-supported radio networks. On our side of the Atlantic, ra-dio's role has been ever-diminishing, while the campus is regarded as an invaluable laboratory, patron, and resource pool for composers. Even though the love affair between American composers and universities has cooled considerably over the last decade or so, the relationship is still ongoing, and still - most would agree - healthy.

Two recent compact discs celebrate this unique aspect of artistic activity in twentieth-century America. Each CD offers a sampler of diverse works linked by their shared roots in a common institutional center and geograph-ic base; in both cases, then, we have a music of "place." In many ways the two settings (lower Manhattan and Iowa City), separated by more than a thousand miles, couldn't be more different from each other! But they have both nurtured and fostered traditions of solid compositional activity; in fact, both discs testify to a certain strength of music-making throughout the Amer-ican academic community in general.

One of the two discs is entitled New Sounds from the Village - Greenwich Village, to be precise, located at the southern end of Manhattan Island. An even more specific location, directly facing Washington Square (itself one of the Village's traditional boundaries), is the site of New York University, and it is therefore hardly surprising that this disc presents a group of composers with NYU ties. Area contemporary music buffs may tend to overlook New York University since it is not geographically "uptown" (like Columbia or Juilliard) and esthetically has little in common with the "downtown" (multi-media, antiacademic, often minimalist) scene. But it is a lively, adventurous place in its own right, maintaining a strong presence well beyond its Village borders.

It may be puzzling to see Leo Kraft's name included on this disc, since he has long been associated with Oueens College of CUNY. During a period of residency as visiting professor at NYU, Kraft composed a work for large chamber ensemble entitled (appropriately) Washigton Square. The composi-tion's program - the chronicle of a day in Washington Square Park - allows Kraft to begin and end with distant church bells, and to offer a kaleidoscop-ic array of brief images between those points. The result is an evocative, one-movement tone-poem, particularly rich in its shimmering colors and textures. (Appropriately enough, a few of those textures seem reminiscent of other "chronologies," such as La Mer or the Vaughan Williams London Symphony.) A certain consistency in Kraft's handling of pitch material might lead the lis-tener to suspect a twelve-note row lurking somewhere in the background. But that should not be in the least offputting; the surface is by turns perky, moving, and lyric, and immediately accessible. The NYU New Music Ensem-ble, for whom the work was composed, plays it with assurance. Frankly, the real Washington Square - which can be a forbidding place - was never as at-tractive, or as benign (!), as this.

The romantic impulse underlying Kraft's piece becomes quite prominent in John V. Gilbert's piano solo If Time Remembers, an extended fantasy on material drawn from the pop classic "As Time Goes By." Gilbert works in a freely chromatic style and enjoys shifting the rhythmic focus of his gestures. For the most part, If Time Remembers affects an unhurried, musing, even med-itative air, but at times it builds up to impassioned climax. One might hear the entire fabric as though it were a cadenza from some romantic concerto - an illusion enhanced by the fact that we all (or at least most of us) know the theme that serves as its springboard. The work receives a sensitive perfor-mance from pianist Ronald Sadoff. Dinu Ghezzo also creates a romantic am-bience in his Two Prayers for soprano and electronic tape, expertly sung by Catherine Rowe (for whom the work was composed). Long, lyric lines are prominent; although the stylistic mannerisms are deliberately altered as the operatic sweep of the first movement moves to the quality of a spiritual in the second, the voice always dominates Ghezzo's textures and is never sub-sumed by the tape. At times, in fact, one would like to hear the tape rise to prominence or even stand alone - not only for the sake of textural variety but because the electronic part is so seductive in its low-key way. (One can find a wealth of associations in the tape sonority: perhaps the pealing of distant bells, wispy modulated fragments, a slowly pulsating drone bass-at times a cross between an organ and a gamelan.) Ghezzo's text is drawn from Psalms 114, l18, and 120. It would have been a plus to have the sung words printed in the CD booklet; their absence is missed.

We can perceive a distinct shift to neoclassic attitudes as we move to Robert Sirota's Seven Picassos for chamber ensemble. In each of the work's brief movements, a sense of clear linearity and lean, transparent texture is upper-most, with contrast provided by obvious tempo changes and an ever-shift-mg array of colors and melodic shapes. Sirota's use of instruments stands at the opposite pole from Leo Kraft's "orchestral" approach; although there are six performers at his disposal (on this recording, the first-rate Boston ensem-ble called Dinosaur Annex), Sirota rarely asks more than two or three of them to play at once. Within this rather austere context, occasional passages of ob-vious sentimentality - such as a ghostly waltz fragment, or an idyllic pasto-ral moment in F major - take on a dream-like quality.

The remaining three works on the disc are less "weighty" in their material, instrumentation, or duration. Steven L. Rosenhaus's brief Kol Nidre Prelude is a darkly colored setting of the traditional Jewish prayer for violin and cello. Its language is tonal, its melodic contours expansive but not excessive-ly chromatic - "romantic" in the manner of Bruch rather than Schoenberg (to mention two others who worked from a similar liturgical base). By contrast, the language of Mary Inwood's Sonata for trumpet and piano is anything but romantic. The work has a no-nonsense directness; its Hindemithean textures and contours are angular, hard-edged, and crisp, moderated only briefly by a relatively gentle slow movement. Finally, Ronald Mazurek offers a skittish, perky, fanciful divertimento in his Encounters for percussion quartet. Mazurek is the only composer on this disc who has not taught at NYU; he received his doctorate in composition there, and is now a faculty member at William Paterson State in New Jersey - also the home of the deservedly renowned New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, who provided the players for this expert performance.

It may be worth noting that all of the pieces on this CD are "referential"
to certain known historical styles, to source materials created by other com-posers, or to programmatic, extramusical stimuli. In one way or another, they all reach out the general public, and are all admirably accessible.

The second CD for review here, with special focus upon institutional ethos and geographical place, celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the Univer-sity of Iowa Center for New Music. Iowa has offered one of the nation's most distinguished composition programs, of course, and its history of achieve-ment predates the creation of the Center: even in the 1950’s for example, un-der the leadership of Philip Bezanson, students such as Edwin London, T. J. Anderson, Harvey Sollberger, Charles Dodge, and Lloyd Ultan came to lowa City for graduate study. The creation of the university's Center for New Music in 1966 opened up new directions for an already thriving program. It effec-tively provided a laboratory for student composers and performers, a con-cert venue, an electronic studio, a vehicle for commissions and premieres, and a site for guest residencies, all under one administrative umbrella.

Two of the works on this disc - and two of the most satisfying - are composed by former directors of the Center, Richard Hervig and William Hib-bard. Hervig's Off Center, for clarinet, cello, and percussion was commis-sioned specifically for this anniversarv celebration, There are multiple meanings in Hervig's title. The "Center" could possibly refer to the univer-sity music facility itself; by adding the word "off," however, one comes up with an apt description of Hervig's piece - quirky, unpredictable, asymmet-rical, and episodic. "Off Center" also turns out to be the name of the com-poser's favorite tavern in New York City! It is easy to imagine it being per-formed in (or even composed in) a congenial watering hole: in each of its vividly contrasting sections one encounters pleasant surprises - imaginative touches in scoring, rhythmic caroms, unexpected cadences. Handwork by Wil-liam Hibbard, for piano solo, is more "serious" in every way, deriving its es-thetic from the mainstream of the great Western recital tradition. The work was composed for Garrick Ohlsson - who plays it with great panache on this recording - and was inspired by Ohlsson's playing of Chopin. In the spirit of that model, Handwork is virtuosic in its technical demands and brilliant in sonority, alternating sections of impulsive, rushing gesture with more delib-erate -almost frozen - moments of a meditative character. By exploiting extremes of the piano register, and a multiple layering of asymmetric yet canonic accents (oddly like multiple tape loops in a concrete studio), the composer has created a fabric of uncommon richness. As will be obvious upon hearing this piece, Hibbard was quite gifted; his early death in 1989 was a great loss.

Three other pieces are by composers affiliated with the university and the Center. Eric Ziolek’s Nocturnes for trumpet and piano alternates between the gently flowing and static/ruminative. He makes use of extended instrumen-tal resources-interior piano resonances, pedal effects, mutes, and brass glis-sandi-in a discreet manner, providing the broadest possible timbral pallette without gimmickry. There is a tonal quality, often centered on a single note, throughout. Trumpeter David Greenhoe, and the composer as pianist, play the Nocturnes with a fine sense of dynamic shading and long-range structure. An electronic work by Robert Paredes, entitled #16 (Speakers)/Fiesta, strikes this lis-tener as a free-floating collage; its sound sources (only a few of which are rec-ognizable) include synthesizer, clarinet, bells, Casiotone, human voice-the composer's-and sundry household items. According to the composer, the net effect could be likened to a party (or celebration, or "fiesta") in progress. The work's intersecting levels of activity, ever-changing shift of foreground-back-ground roles, and deliberate lack of high-profile "motives," may remind one of Cage. In every respect, Michael Eckert's Movement for Five Instruments is the exact opposite: motivically strong, vigorous, and hard-edged, extroverted and assertive, it offers an unashamed stylistic throwback to high modernism of the 1950s and l960s. Although only five minutes long (Eckert plans to incorporate it into a larger piece), it certainly commands attention.

The final composition on this disc is a work by Joan La Barbara, the only composer not affiliated with the University of Iowa-but who, like Hervig, had been commissioned to compose a chamber work especially for the Cen-ter for New Music anniversary celebration. Her piece for ten players, Awakenings is inspired by Oliver Sacks's story of the same name (which later be-came the subject of a well-known film). Accordingly, La Barbara creates a group-sonority that evokes a distant, somnabulent state, gradually alters it-in essence gaining touch with sharply focused "reality"-and then allows it to drift baick again into a hypnotic trance. The music slowly unfolds over pedals, drones, and very gradual phase shifts. As scales and rapid patterns are introduced as well, and as the pace increases, one can detect a series of relatively stable patterns each revolving around an ostinato pattern. Even-tually bright-even raucous-colors, jolting rhythms, and contrapuntal imi-tation can be heard. But La Barbara finally brings the narrative back full circle, to an extended passage of great serenity and stasis. As a study in "focus" states, Awakenings is a triumph."

TurokÕs Choice - Issue No. 54 - by Paul Turok

"Sophisticated music by Leo Kraft (Washington Square) and others connected with NYU (CPS-8616)."


The Music Connoisseur - Volume 2, Number 4

"Marketing is more than an incidental skill in the new music industry these days. To get their products on the market, i.e., get their music recorded, composers look to someone with a good sound bite, and "New Sounds" is a typical example. Dinu Ghezzo, head of the composition department at New York University, Greenwich Village's own academic complex (and, by the way1 this writer's alma mater with degrees, yes, in marketing), and Steven Rosenhaus, an NYU faculty member and Ph.D. candidate, produced this CD with a little help from their friends. The five friends are also
associated in some way with that school located in the Village. Get it? Well, if this sort of excuse for an event works, more power to them.

Whether one is thrilled or underwhelmed by the theme of the disc is another matter, but variety of forces and personality distinction in the music do help the listening experience. Leo Kraft's orchestral piece (played by the NYU New Music Ensemble, Esther Lam neck1 director), is an easy to take musical telegram as per, "Jogged in park early today STOP met friend for lunch at Gotham Bar and Grill STOP spent rest of day under the arch STOP." Unfortunately, this little cocky overture's traffic sounds, not as mellifluous as in, say, Gershwin's Paris, reminded me all too uncomfortably of those school exams during the warm days when the windows were open and the noise of the city blared on unremittingly. But, to be fair to Leo, that's strictly a personal thing.

Mr. Gilbert's veiled piano fantasy on Herman Hupfeld's "As Time Goes By" ushers us into a quiet, but highbrow cocktail lounge insulated from all that traffic. The music is whimsical here, moodily introspective there, yet, despite some devoted interpretive skill by Ronald Sadoff, ultimately dour. Dr. Ghezzo takes us away from the din via the element of time. His first prayer, "From Psalm 114" suggests very ancient modes with the use of electronic tape to accompany the soprano (Catherine "kitty" Rowe) broodingly evocative, while "Kitty's Prayer," a more rhapsodic invocation, half sung, half shouted, is much in tune with the gospel spirit.

Passionate religiosity is also prominent in Mr. Rosenhaus' Kol Nidre Prelude in which the viola here takes on the main cantorial theme with the cello serving as partner rather than principal voice a la the Max Bruch treatment. Tina Pelikan and Dawn Buckholz are the committed string players.

The remaining three works offer a shade more con-temporary complexity. Ms. Inwood's formal Sonata gives the trumpeter (John Malazzo) a melodic line that flirts with traditional tonality while the pianist (Robert Lanaghan) dishes up the aroma of a more chromatic stew. Mr. Sirota follows in the footsteps of Mussorgsky, Goya, Schuller, among others, to evoke the sentiments of Picasso during his Blue period; there is little attempt to create specific images, although there may have been more color here than given us by Scott Wheeler and his Dinosaur Annex Ensemble.

On the other hand, the playing of the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble in Mr. Mazurek's opus is crisp and sure, beyond the merit of the piece, at least on first hearing. Similar forces have been used to better avail in the past by the likes of Carlos Chavez in his brilliantly intriguing Toccata and by the avant-garde Karlheinz Stockhausen. But then, this work is now 13 years old, and Mr. Mazurek's newer electronic compositions hold much more promise for some sort of endurance If, indeed, he can get those unique performances recorded."