Axiom – Clearing Musical Hurdles With Poise and Flair reviews this recent performance.

You might wonder, then, why Axiom — a bright, versatile young ensemble formed by students at the Juilliard School in 2005 — chose four toothy examples of latter-day modernism for its season-opening concert at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater on Monday night. The program, conducted by Jeffrey Milarsky, included Mario Davidovsky’s “Flashbacks,” Harrison Birtwistle’s “Secret Theater” and “Three Settings of Celan,” and — the relative pop hit of the bunch — Gyorgy Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto.

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Leo Ornstein

Leo Ornstein is a mostly-forgotten modern composer. However, a new site provides a long list of free MP3s of his compositions.

Born in Russia around 1893 (the exact year and day are uncertain), Leo Ornstein was recognized as a prodigy at an early age. He studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory under Alexander Glazounov but in 1907 was forced to flee with his family to America where he entered what would one day become the Juilliard School of Music. There he studied with Bertha Fiering Tapper in whose classes he met the influential Claire Reis. More significantly, he met Pauline Mallet-Prevost, herself a fine pianist, whom he would marry in 1918; she would become his lifelong collaborator, and musical scribe.

In 1910 Mrs.Tapper accompanied him on his first foreign tour and introduced him to important musical figures throughout Europe. His New York debut took place in 1911 with a completely conventional program. However, within a few years he was dazzling New York audiences with the works of Albeniz, Scott, Schoenberg, Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin, Franck, and Bartok, many of which he performed for the first time in the U.S. He also created a furor with his own radical compositions and soon came to be considered an equal of Stravinsky and Schoenberg.

But along with more radical, atonal works he also composed relatively conservative music, and this confounded his audiences. Having learned to accept him as something of a musical freak, people found such works a retreat. When some of his more lyrical compositions produced accusations of “backsliding,” he concluded that listeners were more interested in novelty and sensation than in what he considered musical substance. He began to feel increasingly remote from the direction modern music was taking, in particular the search for novelty for its own sake. Ironically, having been irrevocably labeled as a radical, he was now unwilling to bend to the demands of his own image. Instead he insisted on writing in whatever style seemed demanded by the music itself.

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Poul Ruders – Percussion Sounding Like War at Scandinavia House

The Times reviews Poul Ruders’ birthday performance.

As Mr. Ruders explained in a talk with the guitarist David Starobin, an organizer of this birthday concert, co-sponsored by Scandinavia House and Bridge Records, “Regime” was commissioned for a festival in Britain whose theme was world peace. Rather than write some “soft, bleeding-heart thing,” Mr. Ruders said, he composed a piece in which the audience is placed against the wall and assaulted with sound, victims of sonic attack. Listeners should be left begging for peace and realizing what a precious thing it is.

Still, as played here by Daniel Druckman, Tomoya Aomori and Kyle Brightwell, three resourceful musicians from the Juilliard Percussion Ensemble, this nine-minute piece exuded wild invention and rhythmic intricacy. It was not pounding drums and clanking metal that produced the loudest sounds, but the whistles blown by the players in complex, coordinated patterns.

At one point, as the musicians produced gently percolating rhythms from an array of wooden blocks, gongs, drums and more, they emitted a simultaneous barrage of shrill whistles. It sounded as if a police squad were breaking up a Javanese gamelan jam session that had gotten out of hand.

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Axiom Ensemble’s take on Messiaen Reviews

Olivier Messiaen
Image via Wikipedia

From the NY Times:

The stars that govern music must have been aligned exactly 100 years ago. Olivier Messiaen was born in Avignon, France, on Dec. 10, 1908. The next day Elliott Carter was born in New York. Messiaen died at 83 in 1992, composing until the end, still playing the organ every Sunday at the exquisite Trinité church in Paris. Mr. Carter remains very much with us and active, a miraculous fluke of nature.

Messiaen’s centenary has been acknowledged around the world this year, and the Miller Theater at Columbia University presented an exciting program as part of its Composer Portraits series on Saturday night. The deft conductor Jeffrey Milarsky led the Axiom Ensemble, a flexible group of Julliard School students who have palpable enthusiasm for challenging contemporary music and the technical skills to play it.

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