Miranda Cuckson ~ Preview of Melting The Darkness CD release parties (Nov 12th and 14th)


Courtesy of Spectrum/Glenn Cornett

Spectrum is pleased to celebrate the launch of violinist and violist Miranda Cuckson’s Melting the Darkness album, which is to be released digitally on November 11 by Urlicht Audiovisual.

The works on the album are:
Iannis Xenakis: Mikka S
GF Haas: de terrae fine
Oscar Bianchi: Semplice
Chris Burns: come ricordi, come sogni, come ecchi
Ileana Perez-Velasquez: un ser con unas alas enormes
Robert Rowe: Melting the Darkness

This event at Spectrum is part 1 of a two-evening album launch, part 2 being two nights later on Nov 14 at the Brown Institute Concert Serieshttp://brown.stanford.edu/blog/brown – and featuring the four microtonal pieces on the album.

Nov 12 at Spectrum will feature the CD’s three works for violin and electronics by Perez-Velasquez, Rowe and Sigman- the former two in live performance and the Sigman in the recorded surround-sound version. These will be heard in the context of solo electronics pieces by each of these composers. Sound engineer Richard Warp, who worked on this CD as well as Miranda’s previous Nono project on Urlicht, will play his recent composition with video.

Miranda, Robert Rowe, Ileana Perez-Velasquez and Richard Warp will be in attendance. Physical CDs will be for sale at the event.

Full liner notes for the album are here: http://www.mirandacuckson.com/2014/08/25/liner-notes-for-new-cd/

Excerpted notes:

This album ventures into regions of the art of violin-playing the significance of which is now becoming clear. Devoted entirely to microtonal compositions for violin and pieces for violin with electronics, this CD explores works of seven composers who have been challenged by these areas of discovery to create intriguingly fresh and surprising sound worlds….Since turning much attention in recent years to the music being written in my own time, I have found it fascinating to explore certain areas of experimentation that have taken my instrument beyond the familiar glories of its heritage. One of these is the use of microtonality- a system of intervals involving distances smaller than the half-step (the keys on a piano). I have been intrigued by both the physical aspects of working with such intervals, and the idiosyncratic ways in which composers use such intervals for their own expressive aims. Another interest has been noise- that is, non-pitched sounds, often percussive or abrasive, produced by unusual techniques on the instrument. A third area I’ve been eager to explore has been music involving electronics. Since electronic music’s beginnings, using spliced reel-to-reel tapes decades ago, the possibilities of the technology have exploded so that there are numerous ways in which to create or generate sounds and to interact, as a live performer, with them. This has led to a palette of sound possibilities and a degree of agility of response often not offered by traditional instruments.

Alex Sigman’s VURTRUVURT for violin and live electronics was commissioned for this recording. In this piece, the violin is a live denizen of an urban sound world, adding its startling noises to a world of machines. The electronics part is triggered and adjusted by an additional live performer. The piece was recorded in studio, after which the composer added some further sound processing and also created the spatialized imagining found on the 5.1 surround disk. Sigman writes:

V is for Vehicle and Volume, not Violin. U is for Union. R is for Resonance, Recording, Reflection…and T is for Trigger. VURT refers to the 1993 cyberpunk science fiction novel by Jeff Noon. Set in a dystopian Manchester, the novel chronicles the (mis)adventures of a gang of Stash Riders, who travel between Manchester and a parallel universe called Vurt. The boundary between the universes remains permeable, as Vurt creatures and events materialize on Earth. The sound sources employed in VURTRUVURT include elements evocative of the decaying urban and industrial environments described by Noon, as well as songs by Manchester bands of the 1980s-90s that were influential upon the his writing. These sources were also central to generating the violin material. In performance, the electronics are projected through a pair of small sound exciters: one attached to the violin, the other to a resonating glass surface. The violin thus becomes an electrified tension field, a physical point of actual/virtual intersection and cross-influence.

Ileana Perez-Velasquez’s work “un ser con unas alas enormes” is for violin and fixed media: the electronics were previously recorded onto a CD as one single track, with which the violinist performs in real time. The piece evokes a lush natural world with dangerous-sounding animal calls and insect noises in the electronics. Cuban motifs and a full-throated, heated lyricism characterize the violin part. Perez-Velasquez’s note:

“un ser con unas alas enormes”, which translates as “a being with enormous wings”, was inspired by the 17th Freeman Etude for violin by John Cage. Within the hectic gestures that are a major part of this etude are passages reminiscent of Cuban rhythms. An important idea for Cage is that human beings can be better themselves by overcoming their limitations. This piece translates that spirit; humans improve through the use of their imagination. The title is also related to the literary work by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “un hombre muy viejo con unas alas muy grandes”. The tape part, as my departure of style, is fragmentary, and contains processed excerpts from the Freeman Etude. The piece also includes concepts of silence that are present in non-Western music. The use of silence as a conscious part of the piece yet again reflects back to Cage.

For Robert Rowe’s piece, Melting the Darkness, the violin part was written and recorded first; the composer then created the electronics as an accompaniment to the violin part, using processed snippets of the violin-playing, samples of percussion instruments such as the tabla, and other synthesized sounds. The violin propels the narrative of the piece, with a warm, largely conventional style of violin-playing. Rowe writes:

Melting the Darkness was written for Miranda Cuckson and commissioned by the New Spectrum Foundation. The piece is built around contrasting styles of music and performance, ranging from gritty, rhythmic phrases to more lyrical and slowly shifting sonorities. These contrasts are amplified and elaborated by an electronic commentary consisting of fragmented and processed material from the violin performance as well as a number of secondary sources. The title comes from The Tempest (as it should when a piece is composed for Miranda): “…as the morning steals upon the night, Melting the darkness…”

I will be featuring an all-new interview with Miranda Cuckson on The Glass Sho very soon! Stay tuned!

Miranda Cuckson.com

The Glass Sho ~ Ecouter Ensemble/David Donnelly on His Documentary ‘Maestro’)


The latest installment of The Glass Sho features an interview with the flute/cello (and sometimes piano as well) trio Ecouter (Natalie Spehar, cello; Nikola Ragusa, flute; Amelie Brodeur, flute and piano). They discuss their all-new music and visual arts project titled Project “Three”, which will be released as a recording and toured in several locations, launching at Spectrum in NYC on 11/21, and features pieces commissioned from composers such as Rebecca Brandt, Cristina Spinei, Luci Holland, Clio Montrey, and several others.

A few minutes of the forthcoming recording (Luci Holland’s “Ash”) are previewed in this episode.
More details on the premiere and the tour here:
Introducing Project “Three” for 2014-2015

Also interviewed is film director David Donnelly, who discusses his documentary Maestro. The film stars conductor Paavo Jarvi and follows his day-to-day activities with the Cincinnati Symphony. Also featured in the film are appearances by Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang and Joshua Bell among others.

The film’s post-production has yet to be completed. David has a Kickstarter campaign set up to fund the costs of both the film’s stereophonic soundtrack as well as squaring royalties for some of the music selections.
Please contribute here:
Kickstarter for Maestro by David Donnelly

The Glass Sho: Episode 22 (Ecouter Ensemble/David Donnelly on His Documentary ‘Maestro’)

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The Glass Sho ~ Vicky Chow/Danielle Eva Schwob and Ashley Jackson


My podcast The Glass Sho has a new home: PRX.ORG
Until I can figure out a way to move everything over to the new address, please feel free to enjoy the episodes on podomatic.com and iTunes.
In any event, I hope you all continue to enjoy the podcast.

The latest episode features interviews with Bang On a Can All-Stars’ pianist Vicky Chow and composer Danielle Eva Schwob and harpist Ashley Jennifer Jackson.

Ashley Jennifer Jackson has a debut concert for Lincoln Center tomorrow night (which will feature the debut of Danielle Schwob’s piece “Lights In The Dark” written for harp and string quartet), Sept. 20th at 8 PM at New York City Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, Bruno Auditorium
The American Modern Ensemble Quartet will perform with Ashley in the second half of the program.
111 Amsterdam Avenue at W. 65th St, New York, NY 10023.
Admission is FREE, but tickets are still required; Please reserve here: www.chambermusicny.org/contact-us

Vicky Chow and I discussed her new releases:
Tristan Perich’s work Surface Image on New Amsterdam, which will be released Oct. 28th, and her recording of Steve Reich’s Piano Counterpoint, included on the Reich compilation Radio Rewrite, also including performances by Alarm Will Sound and Jonny Greenwood, and that will be released on Sept. 30 on Nonesuch.
Hear exclusive excerpts from these recordings on the podcast link below.

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The Glass Sho: Episode 21 (Vicky Chow/Danielle Eva Schwob & Ashley Jackson)

The Glass Shō ~ Jenny Q. Chai on Her Forthcoming CD of Nils Vigeland Piano Music


Pianist Jenny Q. Chai (whom you might be familiar with from here because she has been on this blog several times interviewed and reviewed–if not, you must know her because she’s a respected figure in both classical and new music) had some time to sit and do another great interview with me, this time for The Glass Shō podcast, and I asked her to discuss her yet-to-be-released Naxos disc Life Sketches: Piano Music of Nils Vigeland, and some details about the composer and his music. Below is an excerpt from our chat, but you can hear the interview in its entirety on the Glass Sho link below and at the top right of this page.

nilsvigeland“I’ve known Dr. Vigeland since I was 21, I was studying my first year of masters at MSM, and I think I just took a theory class of his. Back then I was a normal pianist that came out of Curtis Institute of Music and wanted to do horse-race type piano competitions. So my focus wasn’t on anything other than traditional classical repertoire, and just practicing a lot. I liked new music, and I had started playing it already at Curtis, but I wasn’t so serious–I wasn’t so sure about doing it full-time or really becoming a contemporary performer, but I was asked as a favor by a friend, John Slover, who ended up writing “Mallet Dance”, the 2-prepared piano piece I premiered in China. He was living on the same floor as the dorm, and he asked me if I could play this student piece of his, and I was like ‘Sure!’, and it didn’t take that much from me to work. The concert was great, and then I was asked to play for Dr. Vigeland because John Slover had studied with him. So that’s how we met–Later I took his theory class, and I guess he remembered me as a player. He was very warm, and he’d run into me in the library and hand me scores of Ives and Cage. He would just talk to me about new music, and then he eventually gave me the score for his own piece ‘Life Studies’. and I realized this was the first serious piano cycle I’ve ever received from a living composer, and I took it very seriously! I was also nervous because I felt my knowledge of new music wasn’t substantial enough to play it. but I practiced and worked with him, and it was great! He even offered to rewrite some passages because my hands were too small to play one particular page of the music, and I thought ‘Wow! How is that possible??’ That was my first real experience working with a living composer–I was someone who was used to playing classical composers like Beethoven and Mozart, and he was offering to rewrite a page for me–It was overwhelming! So that was the start of my longtime collaboration with Dr. Vigeland.”

The Glass Shō: Episode 7 (Jenny Q. Chai/Kristin Lee)

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Jenny Q. Chai (jennychai.com)

My Favorite CDs of 2013


Ok, so, first of all, this list is really late, please accept my apologies for that.
Another thing is that I decided that I can’t rank things anymore as it never seems like a fair assessment for anyone to be ranked higher or lower than anyone else, therefore this list is in NO PARTICULAR ORDER, so there is no “number one pick” or “lowest on the list” placement here.
These were the recordings in new music that truly stood out for me.
I also must apologize that I’m not a very good writer in discussing what makes this music tick for me–Can I just say there was something about it that stood out? It would be crazy for me to simply repeat that over and over for them all. I haven’t figured out why this is, maybe I just need a bigger vocabulary. And I also have chosen not to write CD reviews anymore for this reason.
But anyway, I hope everyone appreciates the picks and why I have placed them here.

I do want to point out about In 27 Pieces that I’m so glad it was finally released and we got to hear these pieces after only hearing them described to me by some of the composers, it was worth the wait. I’m also glad Hilary finally offered up some serious scraping that she held back on when I heard her play Antheil live a few years back.


Towards Daybreak ~ Bill Ryan, Billband

100 Names ~ Rebekah Heller

In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores ~ Hilary Hahn, Cory Smythe

A Single Breath: Beethoven’s Last Three Piano Sonatas ~ Beth Levin

A Single Noon ~ Gregg Kallor

Corps Eqxuis ~ Daniel Wohl, TRANSIT

The Spirit of the Garden ~ Rose & The Nightingale

Prelude Cocktail ~ Lawler + Fadoul

Voyages ~ Conrad Tao

I Do (The Wedding Album) ~ Polkastra

Death Speaks ~ David Lang, Shara Worden, Maya Beiser

Exiles’ Cafe ~ Lara Downes

23 rubai’yat ~ John King, Jenny Lin

Baroque ~ Nadia Sirota

Evensong ~ Caleb Burhans

Glass: Concerto Fantasy/Mohammed Fairouz: In The Shadow of No Towers (Symphony #4) ~ Paul Popeil, University of Kansas Wind Ensemble

There was also one particular pop album I liked last year:

No Sugar Added ~ Fight The Fear (a great local band here in CT that hopefully will be going places soon 😉 )

New review of Silfra from Headphone Commute!

Headphone Commute

Hilary Hahn & Hauschka ‎- Silfra

Has it really been six months since I’ve seen Hilary Hahn & Hauschka perform live? I can’t slow the time, but I can keep the memories. It seems that just yesterday I sat in the front row, looking up at Hilary playing her violin, while Volker Bertelmann smiled from the corner behind the piano. She would get lost in her music. Her eyes closed she would bend knees and shuffle booted feet in time with the beat, moving with music in a magical dance. Occasionally she would glance at Volker, who seemed lost in percussive piano elements himself. And the two would connect, in that mysterious and curious language. One or the other would nod, and the rhythm would shift.

If you’re a fan of Hauschka, as I have been since The Prepared Piano (Karaoke Kalk, 2005), then you should not be surprised. His music on Silfra maintains the staccato arrangements so…

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2012 ~ The Year in Music (In My Mind)


This has not been a year where a lot of things jump out at me. I guess it’s safe to say that I am not a great music journalist when not every recording comes out and speaks to me in such a powerful way. Other people seem to find various strong points even about music they find only marginally satisfying. I tend to be less outspoken. I’m also still the sole writer and operator of this page, so, that is another factor, when it is very difficult to have the ability to even make the time for every recording and rank them accordingly.

I also have to say that it’s really against my personal beliefs to have a list of “best” albums in an order that gives the impression that I think certain recordings are better than others. Yes, I do have favorites, but it’s tough when you want to make a big list, and you put really good albums at the bottom end of it. And what are the factors that put lesser or greater value on those picks, exactly? I had a list last year, and even though I swore that it was not a list in the order of greatness, I still had the Hilary Hahn Ives recording listed first. That was definitely pointed out right away, but I still feel that I broke my own rule for the sake of Hilary Hahn, almost to the point that I was being biased. I do really like her Ives album, but I suppose that it was easier to start with that. I randomly listed some other releases last year, some of which I actually reviewed on the blog and others I didn’t, but did hear beforehand. Leah Kardos’ Feather Hammer was, for sure, a dark horse candidate for album of the year, and, in my opinion, a debut CD (even though she’d made music previously as My Lithium & Me) that surely sounds like a recording that’s going to be a difficult one for Ms. Kardos to top in the years to come.

Getting back to 2012, I think it’s easier to just talk about the year in music when I look at it this way: There were quite a few really good moments, but this year for me, Silfra by Hilary Hahn and Hauschka is definitely the clear winner if I were to choose a winner. Being that I like HH and everything, that is a certainty, but when I heard about it and I saw the cover, I knew that it was not going to be like the rest of her catalog. Continue reading

CD Review: Matt Siffert, Morningside

I have to say that what I like about Matt Siffert’s EP Morningside right off the bat is that he gives you two straightforward tunes and then an instrumental that sounds like a music cue piece from the Rocky soundtrack–The piece I’m thinking of there is “Philadelphia Morning”, but this is “Daybreak in Alabama”, so, I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, but it’s like Matt Siffert read my mind and knew exactly what that piece would remind me of, and he instinctively knew my taste as well. Get out of my head, Matt Siffert!

“I Think of You Less” has a riff that recalls Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” with its honky-tonk stagger. “Riverside Drive” and “She’s so Enthusiastic” seem to be much more in tandem with a sort of Billy Joel or Ben Folds if those guys were living in Williamsburg. Very good rock-pop chamber arrangements with a sweet cello and mournful French horn.

This being his debut EP, I look forward to Matt’s full albums.

Click here to buy/stream Matt’s EP Morningside

CD Review: Edward Auer/Shanghai Quartet, Chopin: The Two Piano Concertos

Chopin: The Two Piano Concertos
Culture/Demain Recordings
Edward Auer, piano
Shanghai Quartet
Peter Lloyd, double bass

Written by Peter S. Murano

This new CD features Chopin’s Concerto in F minor, op. 21 (world premiere recording of Auer’s arrangement) and Concerto in E minor, op. 11, as performed by Edward Auer, piano, with the Shanghai String Quartet. The surname Auer is not new to the classical music world, due to the presence of famed violinist and teacher Leopold Auer. The artist represented on this new disc, Edward Auer (no relation presumed), is a pianist, now in his early seventies (born 1941). He is Professor of Piano at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and was born in New York City and grew up in Los Angeles. He made a name for himself by winning the International Chopin Piano Competition in 1965 – the first American to do so, and has had an illustrious career. Continue reading

CD Review: Melody Fader, Music of Frédéric Chopin

On this, her second CD, pianist Melody Fader presents an all-Chopin recital that covers a decent cross section of Chopin’s well-known repertoire, and plays it with such a refreshing tone. The recording, having been done at Fraser Performance Studio (home of WGBH), reveals itself as a crisp, rich document of this young soloist’s journey of an ultimate “pianist’s composer”.

After a superb reading of the F-sharp Bacarolle, op. 60, Fader performs 4 straight pieces in C-sharp (technically, 2 of them are D-flat–In any event, it’s a chord that exudes such warmth for me, and I just can’t explain why) that almost sound as if Chopin intended this to be another sonata. Among these works is the Nocturne #2, and being a piece that I have never been able to keep a memory of from anyone, it seems to finally have a memory thanks to Fader–I think she succeeds in making it a signature piece (take a look here). Continue reading