AMN Reviews: The Return of Neuma Records

One of the more positive things that happened in 2020 was the relaunch of Neuma Records.  In 1988 Shirish Korde and Jerry Tabor launched the label. They built a catalog that included recordings of well known twentieth century composers such as Xenakis, Cage, Boulez, Messiaen, Nono, Scelsi  and Varese. But the catalog caught my attention in the early 90’s because it was releasing recordings of works by contemporary electroacoustic composers and recordings by performers who focused on the work of lesser known contemporary composers . The catalog includes works by Dashow, DeLio, Dodge, Gaburo, Johnston, Karpen, Lansky, Laske, Lippe, Martirano, Oliveros, Reynolds, Risset, Saariaho, Subotnick, Yuasa and many many more.

By the end of the 90’s Neuma’s release schedule had really become sparse. In 2020 the label relaunched with Philip Blackburn taking over. Blackburn is a composer who spent almost 30 years working at Innova Recordings. Innova focuses on assisting composers and performers through the recording, publication, marketing and distribution process. As a result, Innova has curated a diverse body of contemporary music spanning more than 650 albums. Blackburn has brought this assistive and curatorial approach to Neuma.

In December of 2020 Neuma released three new recordings. The first was from composer Wesley Fuller (1930-2020).  It is a nice collection of seven electroacoustic pieces for instruments and computer.

Fuller ‘s works skillfully blends acoustic instruments and computer generated sounds with a focus on gesture, shape and color.

The second release is from composer Robert Moran. It is a nice collection of eight diverse works for orchestra. On this album Moran’s work is primarily neoromantic with occasional minimalist tendencies.

The third release is a concert recording from 1967 of composer Kenneth Gaburo conducting the New Music Choral Ensemble in a diverse program of twentieth century choral music. This is a really interesting release. If you don’t have any contemporary choral music in your collection then this would be the disc to have. It is not hard to imagine that in 1967 very few people in the US had heard live performances of choral music by Luigi Nono, Anton Webern and Olivier Messiaen. But practically no one had heard any music, never the less choral music from Pauline Oliveros, Ben Johnston, Leslie Bassett, Charles Hamm and Robert Shallenberg. Under the direction of Kenneth Gaburo the New Music Choral Ensemble took on the extreme technical challenges of performing such a diverse and difficult program. The program’s compositions included everything from 12 tone serial music to 31 tone just intonation to graphic and descriptive notation to works with live and or prerecorded electronics! The spirited performances on this disc are extremely well done. Also included are two interesting electronic pieces by Gaburo that were used to allow the singers a short break in between some of the pieces on the program. I highly recommend that you give this album a listen!

As I was getting ready to post this, Neuma released several additional titles – Robert Moran’s opera “Buddha goes to Bayreuth”, Gina Biver’s “Nimbus” which is seven miniatures for electroacoustic chamber ensemble, spoken word and soprano voice, James Caldwell’s “Pocket music” a set of concreté miniatures made with “small” sounds usually of things found in his pockets, and Spanish composer Juan J.G. Escuerdo’s “Shapes of Inner Timespaces” a collection of eight acousmatic compositions. Perusing their online catalog today it looks like several more titles are being released in February including a recording of Harry Partch’s “The Bewitched” ! I am glad to see that Neuma is back and that Blackburn has established an aggressive release schedule of diverse contemporary music. You can hear more samples of current and upcoming releases as well as selected back catalog on the Nuema Soundcloud Page. So check it out!

Chris De Chiara

For Pierre Boulez, It’s Still About the Music

From NYTimes.com:

IN a maroon turtleneck and loose-fitting gray suit, eyes on his score, Pierre Boulez took turns one late August morning here rehearsing the soloists for “Répons.” Written in 1981 for six soloists, chamber orchestra and live electronics, it is the first major work he wrote using the electronic-music institute in Paris, Ircam. But it has rarely been performed, just a few dozen times.

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The lion in winter still roars but more quietly

Pierre Boulez, a friend of Górecki during the ...
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From chicagotribune.com, a profile of Pierre Boulez and his upcoming events.

On March 26, the French composer and conductor, one of the most distinguished figures in contemporary music, will turn 85. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with which Boulez has enjoyed an exceptionally cordial relationship that goes back four decades, is celebrating that milestone with a series of concerts and discussions throughout the month that will bring audiences closer to Boulez’s music, as well as give them the chance to hear him conduct new pieces along with classics of the 20th century with which he has long been identified.

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Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music – Ambition Abounds in an Exultation Over Contemporary Works

NYTimes.com reviews this recent festival.

A stray orchestral work, Helen Grime’s Clarinet Concerto (2009), opened the Sunday evening concert, which was otherwise devoted to chamber music. Ms. Grime, an English composer born in 1981, seems drawn to melody and textural luxuriance, but she also has an ear for counterpoint and rhythmic complexity that gives her music an appealing edge. The concerto’s most entrancing section is a clarinet cadenza in which a combination of trills and sustained tones creates the illusion of several clarinet lines intertwined. Brent Besner was the superb soloist.

Ms. Grime’s work was a world premiere, as was Elliott Carter’s “Poems of Louis Zukofsky” (2009), on the same program. Lucy Shelton, the soprano, and Thomas Martin, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s associate principal clarinetist, are sufficiently expert in Mr. Carter’s music to round off its difficulties, but this one needed little help: its soprano line, though chromatic, is warm-hued and melodic, and the clarinet writing darts around it in a way that brings out the humor in some of Zukofsky’s quirky, aphoristic texts.

Also on Sunday evening the guitarist Oren Fader presided over a lively account of Mario Davidovsky’s invitingly pointillistic “Festino” (1991), and Ryan McAdams conducted a suitably brash, pulsing performance of Tansy Davies’s “neon” (2007), a septet rooted in a Zappaesque raucousness.

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This Week at the ISSUE Project Room

From the ISSUE Project Room:

06/25 @ 8pm – Mivos String Quartet and the CNS Symphony Orchestra play works by Tony Conrad, Huang Ruo and Luke Dubois Dave Soldier and Brad Garton

MIVOS quartet is devoted to performing contemporary music. It was founded in 2008 by violinists Olivia DePrato and Joshua Modney, violist Victor Lowrie, and cellist Isabel Castellvi. They met while pursuing a master’s degree at Manhattan School of Music in the Contemporary Performance Program. Since their inception they have performed and premiered works by both young and established composers including […]

06/26 @ 8pm – Susie Ibarra Quartet

Friday, June 26 at 8pm Susie Ibarra Quartet violin Jennifer Choi, piano Kathleen Supové, harp Bridget Kibbey, drums and percussion Susie Ibarra. Performing Ibarra’s original music for quartet, inspired by Filipino Indigenous folklore. “Composer and Percussionist Susie Ibarra is known for her individual artistry on percussion and genre-defying music. In the past decade, her willingness to step out from […]

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Ensemble Intercontemporain – Past Meets Present With Ligeti’s Blurred Colors and Frenetic Rhythms

Pierre Boulez in 2004
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A recent Ensemble Intercontemporain performance is reviewed.

For decades, it was hard to think of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, a brilliant French chamber orchestra formed in 1976, without factoring in the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, who founded the group.

Mr. Boulez asserted, not incorrectly, that to advance his rigorous Modernist aesthetic, he needed a band capable of rendering the music of Schoenberg, Webern and their followers with the same clarity and conviction that a conventional group might pour into Mozart and Beethoven.

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American Composers Orchestra Season Finale

The American Composers Orchestra has its final show of the season happening May 1st in NY.

American Composers Orchestra, the nation’s most consistently adventurous champion of new orchestral work, returns Underground for five World Premieres at 7:30PM on Friday, February 20, presented by Carnegie Hall at Zankel Hall. The concert continues ACO’s cutting-edge Orchestra Underground series that redefines orchestral music with new composers, new influences, new multimedia collaborations, and new technologies.

This concert program features:

Robert Beaser delivers the New York premiere of his new Guitar Concerto written for long-time friend and collaborator, the “monster virtuoso” Eliot Fisk. Beaser’s concerto is the first work work commissioned by his “home team” orchesta in over a decade.

Derek Bermel‘s contribution to the program is the world premiere of A Shout, A Whisper, A Trace, a piece inspired by Bartók’s correspondence during his final years in New York City. The commission also concludes the triumphant three year Music Alive Residency Bermel has had with ACO.

Lukas Ligeti (Labyrinth of Clouds) and Thomas Larcher (Bose Zellen) join this musical gathering of old friends with a world premiere and U.S. premiere promising new and excting sounds. Both Ligeti’s Labyrinth of Clouds and Larcher’s Bose Zellen (Malignant Cells) will feature composers as soloist. Ligeti will play his Marimba Lumina and Larcher will be spotlighted soloing on prepared piano which gradually becomes stripped of its trappings throughout the piece.

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New festival to showcase innovation in music

Stephen Drury and others will play in Colorado.

Three nationally and world-renowned musicians who are pushing the envelope of innovation in sounds and harmonies will headline the first Open Space Festival of New Music on the University of Northern Colorado campus next week.

Pianist Stephen Drury, composer Paul Rudy and bouzouki player Roger Landes will perform together and individually next Thursday and Friday between a series of lectures and presentations organized by UNC professors Paul Elwood and Sara Heimbecker.

Drury, the Boston Globe’s 1989 Musician of the Year, has performed or recorded with the American Composers Orchestra, the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Radio Orchestra, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Boston Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Springfield (Mass.) and Portland (Maine) Symphony Orchestras and the Romanian National Symphony.

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Olivier Messiaen at 100 at Symphony Space

Olivier Messiaen
Image via Wikipedia

From NYTimes.com:

Olivier Messiaen’s centenary celebrations have made his music more plentiful than usual this season, but it’s not as if his works were neglected at other times. Organists play his challenging, visionary music regularly, and if the orchestral works could stand greater exposure, the chamber and vocal scores have become staples both in concert halls and on recordings. Certainly his “Quartet for the End of Time” (1941) is regarded as a modernist classic with a berth in the standard canon.

The quartet was a pillar of “Olivier Messiaen at 100,” a centenary tribute at Symphony Space on Thursday evening that included another major score, the otherworldly “Visions de l’Amen” (1943). Both are steeped in the Roman Catholic mystical imagery that informed virtually every note Messiaen composed, and both are exquisite examples of his idiosyncratic, wholly expressive style, in which dissonant harmonies are matched with melodies drawn from bird song and Indonesian gamelan music.

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