Soundtracks: August 1999

We have tracked down new recordings of music by 65 American composers this month. As always, the variety is overwhelming. There are three new MMC anthologies of orchestral music featuring works by 21 composers proving that the orchestra continues to be a source of inspiration for composers with a wide variety of stylistic inclinations ranging from a powerful Piano Concerto by Emma Lou Diemer to an evocative meditative Elegy by James Caldwell to a wild parody of the orchestral tradition by John Biggs. At the same time, younger composers like Jane Ira Bloom and Tyson Rogers are breathing new life into hard bop jazz.

As usual, however, many of the discs included herein, are unclassifiable. David Garland is coming from a place somewhere between alternative rock and downtown experimentalism. Jose Halac combines the folk music of his native South America with the post-industrial improvisations of the very different folk he met here. Kyle Gann uses synthesizers to explore entire new sonic vistas opened up by alternate tuning systems. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Panzer proves that a harp isn’t always angelic and Matthew Fields reinvents the carillon. And Robert Rutman creates music with instruments of his own design including the steel cello and the bow chime. Now that the eery soundworld of the once mysterious theremin seems ubiquitous, a new disc features first recordings of theremin works by Bohuslav Martinu, written during his American exile, and Gershwin’s composition teacher Joseph Schillinger.

There are also new CDs of works for a variety of unusual instrumental combinations by two of America’s greatest elder statesmen of music: Lou Harrison and Henry Brant, both of whom are members of the American Music Center, by the way. William Thomas McKinley‘s new large-scale cantata combines solo voices with a string quartet and a saxophone quartet creating a remarkably balanced range of sonorities. On the other hand, Leo Smit‘s cycles of Emily Dickinson settings continue the art song tradition and a disc of nine new flute works performed by Grzegorz Olkiewicz show that this most intimate of voices continues to inspire a wide diversity of approaches.

Three new recordings of piano music, each by foreign-born pianists, show that 20th century American concert music is gaining more and more international prominence. Japanese-born Tomoko Deguchi features works by eight recent composers on her new disc. Tatjana Rankovich, from the former Yugoslavia, plays works by three forgotten American romantics: Paul Creston, Nicolas Flagello and Vittorio Giannini. German pianist Steffen Schleiermacher continues his remarkable series of the complete piano music of John Cage with a monumental performance of the enigmatic 1951 Music for Changes. And, by curious co-incidence, the two discs of 19th century American music featured this month where our focus is on immigration and emigration are both by composers who emigrated to the United States from other countries, French born Charles Martin Loeffler and Claudio Grafulla, who did not leave his native island Millorca, Spain, until the age of 28 to become the most important brass band leader of the Civil War era!

Once again this month, each recording featured in SoundTracks is accompanied by a RealAudio sound sample of music from the disc so make sure to experience each of these exciting new discs.

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