AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Alvin Lucier – Orpheus Variations [Important Records IMPREC469]

Orpheus Variations, a recent work for cello and seven wind instruments by Alvin Lucier, is a thirty-one minute piece based on a single seven-note chord. This would seem to be extremely limited material for a work of this length—and it is—but by exploring the timbral and resonant effects of distributing these seven notes across winds and cello, Lucier develops in detail a rich sound world that manages to be both hypnotic and kaleidoscopic at the same time.

Lucier has said that he thinks of this collection of tones primarily as a sonority, by which he seems to mean he imagines them as they would actually be played with the specific timbres and registers appropriate to the instruments for which they’re scored. It is a concern with the concrete qualities of sounds as they are actually played. He realizes this in the way he orchestrates his pitch set: throughout the piece he has the seven notes circulate through the ensemble in a constantly shifting pattern of arpeggiated long tones played with and against various instrumental combinations. Although the piece is long, its recurrent cycling of this closed set of material in changing registers and voices defeats any mundane sense of duration the listener may have; in my own repeated listenings the piece has seemed considerably shorter than its run time as measured by the clock.

The chord that forms the basis for the Orpheus Variations appears in Stravinsky’s score for the first part of George Balanchine’s 1947 ballet Orpheus. A product of Stravinsky’s neoclassical period, the music for the ballet was inspired by Monteverdi. The chord itself is highly unstable, a quality Lucier dramatizes by breaking it down into consonant and dissonant subsets that overlap, clash, float and dissolve at an unhurried pace.

Orpheus Variations was composed for cellist Charles Curtis and was premiered by Curtis in August, 2015 at the Ostrava days; here, it’s performed by Curtis with members of the SEM Ensemble.

Daniel Barbiero


Adam Rudolph / Yusef Lateef at Interpretations

From New York’s Interpretations:

Adam Rudolph / Yusef Lateef:

3 World Premieres

Thursday, September 17, 2009
8PM at Roulette
20 Greene Street (between Canal and Grand)

The 21st Season of Thomas Buckner’s innovative series of new music begins on September 17, 2009, with a presentation of the longstanding collaboration between saxophonist/composer Yusef Lateef and percussionist/composer Adam Rudolph. The collaborative duo of Yusef Lateef & Adam Rudolph began working together in 1988, and over the last 20 years, they have shared their work with enthusiastic audiences in Europe and the USA. Presented a few short weeks prior to Lateef’s 89th birthday, this evening’s program features three newly commissioned works and readings of original poetry by Yusef Lateef, with musical accompaniment.

Lateef: Concerto For Percussion (for Adam Rudolph)
With the S.E.M. Ensemble conducted by Petr Kotik

Lateef: A Syllogism (for baritone and piano)
Featuring Joseph Kubera, piano and Thomas Buckner, baritone voice

Rudolph: Nightsky (for baritone and percussion)
Featuring Adam Rudolph, percussion and Thomas Buckner, baritone voice

Readings of Original Poetry by Yusef Lateef (with musical accompaniment)

At nearly 89 years of age, DR. YUSEF LATEEF has been a major force on the international musical scene for more than six decades. He has been named an American Jazz Master for the year 2010 by the National Endowment for the Arts, in recognition of his many contributions to the world of music. His explorations into sound have led him from study of Eastern music since the 1950’s to a recent four year Senior Research Fellowship at Ahmadu Bello University, in Zaria, Nigeria. He contributed to the legendary groups of Dizzy Gillespe, Charles Mingus and Cannonball Adderly and led his own ensembles in tours worldwide. He has composed for and performed with the Detroit, New World, and Augusta Symphony Orchestras. His recent work The African American Epic Suite was recorded and performed by the Cologne Radio Orchestra and featured himself and Adam Rudolph as soloists. Dr. Lateef also has many publications to his credit in both music and literature. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Music at the University of Massachusetts.

Composer and hand percussionist ADAM RUDOLPH has been hailed as “a pioneer in world music” by the New York Times and “a master percussionist” by Musician magazine. He has recorded extensively and performed at festivals and concerts throughout the North & South America, Europe and Japan, with Don Cherry, Shankar, Foday Musa Suso, Kevin Eubanks, Pharoah Sanders, and Hassan Hakmoun. Rudolph has been on the faculty of Esalen Institute, California Institute of the Arts and the Danish Jazz Federation Summer Institute. He has received grants from the Cary Trust & NEA and has released several recordings and toured internationally his own ensemble, Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures. His first opera, The Dreamer, recently premiered to coincide with its CD release. Rudolph’s rhythm repository and methodology book, Pure Rhythm was published in 2006 by Advance Music, Germany. Rudolph has received grants and compositional commissions from the Rockefeller Foundation, Chamber Music America, Meet the Composer, Mary Flagler Cary Trust, the NEA, Arts International, Durfee Foundation and American Composers Forum. In July 2009 he received his second “New Works” grant from Chamber Music America.

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Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble – Compositions of Shifting Identity

From the Times:

The composer and conductor Petr Kotik presided over a varied program of rugged, demanding contemporary works at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday evening. And perhaps inadvertently, he also demonstrated how porous new-music groups are these days. The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, an expansion of a chamber group Mr. Kotik founded in 1970, shared the bill with the Ostravska Banda, which he started in 2005. But the rosters in the program book showed that nearly everyone in the S.E.M. group was also in the Ostravska Banda, which is slightly larger.

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S.E.M. Ensemble in May

New York’s S.E.M. Ensemble has announced a show:

The Orchestra of the S.E.M Ensemble, FLUX Quartet and Ostravská banda join forces at Alice Tully Hall, May 6 at 8pm

Premieres by Christian Wolff, Salvatore Sciarrino and Petr Kotik

Works by Elliott Carter and György Ligeti

Featuring Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle and Czech violinist Hana Kotková in their Alice Tully Hall debuts
New York, NY, March 24, 2009 – The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, founded and directed by Petr Kotik, joins forces with the FLUX Quartet and the international chamber orchestra Ostravská banda for an evening of adventurous music at the newly re-opened Alice Tully Hall, Wednesday, May 6th, 2009. Featured works include three new pieces by self-taught composers: the premiere of Christian Wolff’s Trio for Robert Ashley (2009), performed by members of the Flux Quartet; the American premiere of Sicilian-born composer Salvatore Sciarrino’s Vento D’ombra (2005), performed by The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble; and the premiere of Petr Kotik’s String Quartet No. 1, Erinnerungen an Jan (2007-09), performed by the Flux Quartet. The program also features renowned Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle in Elliott Carter’s Dialogues for Piano and Orchestra (2003), and award-winning Czech violinist Hana Kotková in György Ligeti’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1990-92) – both making their debuts at Alice Tully Hall. Petr Kotik conducts The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble as well as Ostravská banda.

The second half of the program will highlight Ostravská banda (OB) in its second NY appearance. A unique international chamber orchestra comprised of some of the best young musicians from Europe and the United States, OB was founded in 2005 as the orchestra-in-residence of the acclaimed new music institute and festival, Ostrava Days (www., in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Pianist, Vandewalle, who garnered an international reputation for his remarkable interpretation of contemporary American piano repertoire – “putting many American classical musicians to shame” (American Record Guide) – will be the soloist in Elliott Carter’s Dialogues for Piano and Orchestra.

The concert will culminate with György Ligeti’s highly innovative and incredibly virtuosic Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, performed by Kotková. A frequent soloist with major European orchestras and a former member of the Smetana Trio, Kotková has been hailed by critics as continuing the great Czech violin tradition. Described as “folksong for the homeless” (Paul Griffiths), Ligeti’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra contains a wealth of melodies from Carpathian and the South Eastern part of Europe, Ligeti’s ancestral home. Raised in this part of the world and having played folk music with her family since the age of four, Kotková is a uniquely apt interpreter of Ligeti’s Concerto.

WHEN: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 8:00pm

WHERE: Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, 1941 Broadway at 65th Street, New York

WHO: The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble
FLUX Quartet
Ostravská banda
Hana Kotková Violin
Daan Vandewalle, Piano
Petr Kotik, Conductor

Christian Wolff: Trio for Robert Ashley (premiere)
Salvatore Sciarrino: Vento D’ombra (American premiere)
Petr Kotik: String Quartet No.1 Erinnerungen an Jan (premiere)
Elliott Carter: Dialogues for Piano and Orchestra
György Ligeti: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra

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