Though his formal education includes study at the New England Conservatory, Fred Hersch readily points out how the on-the-bandstand schooling he received in jazz clubs like Bradley’s in New York prepared him to be the musician is today. In the course of our conversation, we spoke about this journey and all that has come in its wake, but returned again and again to the idea of taking chances, trying things out, seeing what happens if—Hersch seemingly unbowed by the anxieties such open-ended performance situations bring into play. Later, he came at it head-on: “I think there has to be a certain element of danger in jazz, or it isn’t really jazz.”
Classically trained violinists are, generally speaking, a focused breed accustomed to long hours in the practice room refining a phrase down to static perfection. This is perhaps what makes the Oberlin and Juilliard-trained violinist Jennifer Choi’s seemingly voracious appetite to try new things so striking. From Brahms to improv to serving as the concertmaster for the pit orchestra of South Pacific, Choi seems unable, or at least unwilling, to sit still.
The second piece of Nate Wooley’s planned seven-part Seven Storey Mountain cycle dropped on Important records last week. It is a haunting, often aggressive sound world that moves from a place of chilled droning into a pummeling chaos, before returning to a stressed restraint reminiscent of the work’s opening moments. After listening to the work, all I wanted to do was have a conversation with him about the music that was ultimately created. Luckily for me, he was game for a little Q&A.
A collection of five short tracks adding up to just 20 minutes of music, this EP feels like more of an amuse-bouche than an image of the ensemble’s full reach, but the character of the music is enchanting enough to make it an attractive listen. Each piece rings out as if the lid has been lifted up on a new music box, the lines mixing vibraphone, marimba, and glockenspiel with percussive sounds made using less traditional wood, metal, and glass objects. With these raw materials, the ensemble employs a musical vocabulary just quirky and mysterious enough that it would comfortably fit into the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Many scores are visually striking, but Will Redman’s catalog carries a particularly strong “take this piece and frame it” vibe. In his work, fragments of traditionally notated music can be found free-floating on an eight foot scroll or overlayed on top of one another to form a dense nest of competing musical ideas, with lines and other abstract graphic symbols implying mood and character.
Harley Gaber left this world just as a recording of his In Memoriam 2010 was making its public way out into it. Only a few weeks after the release of this beautiful and sometimes terrifying album, Gaber’s friend and colleague at the Innova label, Philip Blackburn, passed on the news of Gaber’s suicide. It is in a way a difficult thing to dig into this new piece and the deeper catalog of work now archived on Gaber’s website knowing that the creator is gone, but of course this is also the way to celebrate the work he left us.
When I opened the mailer that contained Vicious World Plays the Music of Rufus Wainwright, I questioned the prudence of this recording decision before I even had the shrink wrap fully removed. I mention this just in case your anti-muzak instincts are already telling you something similar. For those open-minded enough to wait until you actually hear a bit of it before making such a judgment call, well, you’re less jaded than I am.
This year in Seattle, Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony are celebrating the music director’s final season at the helm of the orchestra by presenting 22 world premieres, including 18 new works commissioned under the banner of the Gund/Simonyi Farewell Commissions. We caught up with the maestro in advance of his final concerts of the season to chat about new music, new ideas, and not taking no for an answer.
Austin, Texas-based composer Graham Reynolds’s The Difference Engine: A Triple Concerto does not waste notes getting your attention and it keeps a firm hold on it. His language is evocative and direct: It is as if Reynolds is delivering to your ear a mysterious and ambiguous tale in sound—wildly open to interpretation, of course, but it’s a page-turner nonetheless.