Going by the ones I know, at least, harpists aren’t overly thrilled with their repertoire. Admittedly, my harping acquaintances are heavily biased towards the ones who apply to new music–friendly festivals, but still, the point stands: There’s an awful lot of frivolous harp music out there (much of it, unsurprisingly, French), and while one or two pieces like that can be a nice change of pace, at a certain point, you want something with a little more crunch and substance. And that’s where composers come in.Read More
Unsurprisingly, my first exposure to Viet Cuong had nothing to do with nocturnal lepidopterans. Instead, it was in the fall of 2010 when the Yale Concert Band played his Ziggurat, complete with a custom animation projected behind us that, for some reason, involved flying bicycles. At the time, Cuong was finishing up a Master’s of Music degree at the Peabody Conservatory (where he also did his undergraduate studies) and preparing to begin an MFA in Composition at Princeton, where he’s currently pursuing his Doctorate. Despite still being in school, he’s accumulated a truly staggering number of awards and performances — on all six permanently inhabited continents, according to his webpage — and I’m honestly kind of surprised I haven’t encountered more of his works. (The YCB played another of his band pieces, Sound and Smoke, in 2012.) I’m sure that will change going forward; he’s an excellent composer and his fame is only going to continue to grow.Read More
Many composers over the years have written variations on other composers’ themes as an homage to their friends and predecessors, and that tradition is alive and well today. André Mehmari was born in 1971 in Niterói, Brazil, and began studying music with his mother at the age of five. A precocious youth, he taught himself jazz improvisation by ear, and had established himself as a piano and organ teacher by the age of fifteen, with several compositions already under his belt. In 1995, he moved to São Paulo to study at the University of São Paulo*, and from there his career really took off, both as an active pianist (in multiple genres) and as a composer and arranger. He tours internationally, and has written works for major musical institutions both at home and abroad; he also enjoys an active life as a recording artist, with some of his albums being entirely improvised.Read More
Very few standard chamber groups are as heterogeneous as the wind quintet. From the brassy outbursts of the horn to the breathy whispers of the flute at the bottom of its range, the ensemble covers a broad timbral range, and one that is not easily unified — even in the most perfectly balanced performances it’s still immediately obvious which instrument is carrying which line. If the string quartet presents a seamless façade of timbral similarity, the wind quintet is more of a menagerie, bursting with brilliant, uncompromising colors. Some people see this as a defect, others as a delight.Read More
Before you accuse me of repeating a composer, today we‘re featuring Leo Brouwer, not Margaret (to my knowledge there is no relation). Leo Brouwer was born on 1 March, 1939 in Havana, Cuba, into a family of music enthusiasts. His father gave him informal guitar lessons, teaching him to pick out pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos and the like, largely without the use of sheet music. Brouwer started taking formal lessons at the age of 13, and quickly attained a high level of ability on that instrument, making his professional debut at the age of 17.Read More
Sometimes called “The Dean of African American Composers”, William Grant Still (1895–1978) is undoubtedly most famous for his first symphony, the Afro-American Symphony from 1930. That’s a great work, and it’s definitely worth getting to know if you’re not familiar with it, but I think relying on it too heavily to give a snapshot of Still’s output runs the risk of pigeonholing him and limiting our conception of his musical breadth. Still himself was adamant about this [College Music Symposium], insisting that he “wrote as [he] chose, using whatever idiom seemed appropriate to the subject at hand” and “did not bow” to the “complete domination” of Jazz any more than he did to the modernist style he encountered when studying with Edgard Varèse.Read More
Chances are, if you see a lot of live music, that you’ve been to one or two concerts that you described as “literally unforgettable” as you walked out the auditorium doors. Chances are, also, that you’ve forgotten more than a few that you said that about. Certainly that was the case for me with this week’s piece. I first heard it back in the summer of 2009 at the Kinhaven summer music festival, and was totally blown away by it. I then proceeded to not think about it at all until about a month ago, when I was researching the composition faculty at various grad schools I’m looking into applying to. I was on the second or third Spotify album of Paul Schoenfield’s music when I scrolled down the track listing and saw Café Music as the last offering on the disk.
“Huh,” I thought, “That title seems awfully familiar.” At first I thought I might be confusing it with something by Astor Piazzolla (an Argentinian composer famous for revolutionizing the tango, among other legacies), but as soon as I heard the opening bars, the memory of that Kinhaven concert came rushing back to me, leaving me utterly boggled as to how I could have forgotten about it so completely over the intervening half-decade.Read More