Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Guy Klucevsek “Polka From the Fringe” Release Announced by Starkland

A major project from leading new music accordionist Guy Klucevsek, out-of-print for nearly two decades, will be re-released on October 16, 2012 by Starkland, in its most comprehensive edition yet.

For his original “Polka From The Fringe” undertaking, Klucevsek commissioned over two-dozen two-steps, resulting in highly diverse music from a wide variety of composers.

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[L to R] Bill Ruyle, John King, Guy Klucevsek,
David Garland, David Hofstra 
The new Starkland double-CD release offers 29 polka pieces, ranging from Elliot Sharp’s punk-infused Happy Chappie Polka, Fred Frith’s humorous The Disinformation Polka, and John King’s slyly political song about a one-legged polka, to Carl Finch’s (of Brave Combo) beautiful Prairie Dogs, William Obrecht’s witty Guy, Won’t You Play Your Accordion?, and Dick Connette’s poignant Wild Goose.

In addition to Klucevsek, other composers include: Mary Ellen Childs, Anthony Coleman, Tom Cora, Guy De Bievre, William Duckworth, Steve Elson, David Garland, Peter Garland, Daniel Goode, Rolf Groesbeck, Robin Holcomb, Phillip Johnston, Joseph Kasinskas, Aaron Jay Kernis, Mary Jane Leach, David Mahler, Bobby Previte, Bill Ruyle, Carl Stone, Lois V Vierk, and Peter Zummo.

Once chosen as the Best Recordings of the Year by WNYC's John Schaefer, the original two CDs disappeared not long after their release (the Japanese label went out of business), and the general public had little chance to discover this exceptional music.

Guy's debut of these widely diverse polkas won "a raucous standing ovation at a downtown Philadelphia night club" at New Music America, writes organizer Joe Franklin, adding that Guy's concert "was one of the true highlights” and “as memorable a New Music America event as any during the festival's 11-year history.”

Starkland’s 24-page booklet includes the complete lyrics, updated commentary from Klucevsek, and an Introduction freshly penned by New York Downtown veteran Elliott Sharp, who recalls that “ ‘Polka From The Fringe’ met with immediate popular response – an undercurrent of sly humor seemed to permeate the music, and audiences came away thrilled and excited both by Guy’s fantastic playing and the sheer audaciousness of this innovative undertaking.”

Klucevsek’s concerts featuring these works at the Brooklyn Academy of Music were enthusiastically praised by Kyle Gann in the Village Voice:
“BAM finally unearths a real gem: Guy Klucevsek, one of New York’s most imaginative, least pretentious composer/performers. Thanks to his expertise and activism, the accordion has become a staple of with-it avant-garde ensembles, and the collection of polkas he’s commissioned – and called ‘Polka From the Fringe’ – makes a fun and very revealing snapshot of new music in the ’80s.”
In Japan, the worthiness of Klucevsek’s ambitious project attracted the attention of noted composer Toru Takemitsu, who personally invited Klucevsek and his polka band to participate in Takemitsu’s Music Today festival.

Starkland’s previous two Klucevsek CDs received impressive kudos. "Transylvanian Softwear" was awarded a “Recording of Special Merit” from Stereo Review, and "Free Range Accordion" was deemed “a funny, rich, and meaningful expression of this great American squeezeboxer's brilliance” (Santa Barbara Independent).

About Guy Klucevsek

Guy Klucevsek is one of the world’s most versatile and highly-respected accordionists. He has performed and/or recorded with Laurie Anderson, Bang On a Can, Anthony Braxton, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Kepa Junkera, the Kronos Quartet, Natalie Merchant, Present Music, Relâche, Zeitgeist, and John Zorn. Klucevsek is the recipient of a 2010 United States Artists Collins Fellowship, an unrestricted $50,000 award given annually to “America's finest artists.”

About Starkland 

Starkland’s previous recordings have received over 200 favorable reviews, including those in The New York Times, Gramophone, Stereophile, The New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, Billboard, Washington Post, Sound & Vision, New York Magazine, UK’s The Wire, Canada’s Musicworks, and France’s Revue & Corrigée. The label’s releases have been featured on such national radio programs as NPR’s All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. Other recordings present Charles Amirkhanian, Tod Dockstader, Paul Dresher, Ethel Quartet, Aaron Jay Kernis, Phil Kline, Guy Klucevsek, Kronos Quartet, Keeril Makan, Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros, Todd Reynolds, Turtle Island String Quartet, John Zorn, more.

Under the direction of “one-man army” Thomas Steenland, Starkland has also commissioned over two hours of high-resolution surround-sound music from thirteen prominent new-music composers, a commitment likely unequaled by any other label.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Unique Commissioning Program Enters Third Season

Created by the adventurous conductor Michael Christie, the unique commissioning Click! program at the Colorado Music Festival has entered its third season. Anyone can vote, by donating $10, for any/all of three composers. The composer with the most votes is awarded the commission for an orchestral work, which will be premiered during CMF's 2013 concert season. Thus the process allows the audience to both fund the commission and select the composer. It's the only commissioning program I know of that functions this way.

The three eligible composers are Chiayu HsuKristin Kuster, and Piotr Szewczyk.

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Chiayu's music has been premiered by the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, pianist Natalie Zhu, oboist Katherine Needleman, the ensemble eighth blackbird, and the Prism Quartet. Born in Banciao, Taiwan, Chiayu received her Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music, Master's degree and Artist Diploma from Yale University, and Ph.D. from Duke University. She has studied at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, the Aspen Music Festival, Fontainebleau Schools, and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. Her teachers have included Jennifer Higdon, David Loeb, Roberto Sierra, Ezra Laderman, Martin Bresnick, Anthony Kelley, Scott Lindroth, and Stephen Jaffe. A fuller biography is here. Her music can be heard in these excerpts:

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A Boulder native, Kristin Peterson Kuster received her Master's Degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and her Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, where she now serves as Assistant Professor of Composition. Her music has received support from such organizations as the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Sons of Norway, American Composers Orchestra, the League of American Orchestras, Meet The Composer, the Jerome Foundation, the American Composers Forum, American Opera Projects, the National Flute Association, and the Argosy Foundation. A fuller biography is here. Her music can be heard in these excerpts:

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Piotr Szewczyk, violinist and composer, is a violinist in the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra in Florida since 2007, and is also the Winner of the 2008 Jacksonville Symphony Fresh Ink - Florida Composers' Competition. As a composer, he has received numerous awards including those from Rapido! Composition Contest, Third Millennium Ensemble, American Composers Forum, Society of Composers, Jacksonville Symphony, British Trombone Society, VoxNovus 60x60 Project, Fauxharmonic Adagio Contest, UPBEAT Hvar - Croatia and ACCENT Competition at Music X Festival. Szewczyk holds a double Masters degree in violin and composition from University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he studied violin with Kurt Sassmanshaus, Piotr Milewski, and Dorothy Delay, and composition with Joel Hoffman, Michael Fiday, Henry Gwiazda, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, and Darrell Handel. A fuller biography is here. His music can be heard in these excerpts:
I hope many will take advantage of this unusual opportunity to help both fund and select a commissioned composer.

For more information about the Colorado Music Festival and its Click! program, visit here.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Daniel Kellogg Work Premiered at Colorado Music Festival

Daniel Kellogg's "The Gates of Paradise" received its premiere performance Thursday night at the Colorado Music Festival.

Premiering a commissioned work has become one of the season highlights of CMF, and the Click! program used to commission the works is unique to the festival. Each year, 3-4 composers are pre-selected by Maestro Michael Christie, and then the audience and anyone else can vote for a composer to get the commission by donating $10. Thus the audience both funds and selects the winning composer.

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Composer Daniel Kellogg (L) and Conductor Michael Christie at a pre-concert discussion.

Last fall's top vote winner was Boulder's Kellogg, who teaches at the College of Music of the University of Colorado, and the evening affirmed that he was indeed a felicitous choice. The piece began with shimmering, misty, sustained strings, out of which various gestures emerged in the lower strings, percussion, brass, etc. Eventually these craggy peaks asserted themselves throughout the orchestra, evoking both the Gates of Paradise (impressive huge doors of the Baptistery in Florence, Italy, later named by Michelangelo) and the striking mountains that define Boulder's western limit, where the nation's High Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. A building accumulation of these strong gestures reaches a climax to conclude the piece. It's a successful, attractive work which I hope finds performances elsewhere.

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Another new piece followed, and the report is quite different. Imagine creating a catalog of all the familiar, surefire things that an orchestra can do effectively. Then you skillfully cut and paste these into an old-fashioned 4-movement symphony. You even toss in a fugal passage (the practice of which I thought had been rightfully banned). The result might be Jay Greenberg's Symphony No. 5. Now if you compose this when you are around 14 years old, you become a prodigy that gets fetêd on CBS's "60 Minutes" etc. But the fact remains that the piece is strangely out of touch with today's music and seems devoid of any individual expression.

As Alex Ross commented about Greenberg in his excellent blog, "For him, it is 1904 and anything is possible," adding that many young composers "act as though the 20th century had never happened." One hopes that Greenberg, with some years and compositional studies under his belt since being deemed a modern-day Mozart, is learning to use his considerable talents to reveal a composer who has something to say.

The concert concluded with a solid, appealing performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Three 21st Century Works Heard at the Colorado Music Festival

Featuring three 21st century works by Stephen Hartke, Christopher Theofanidis, and Aaron Jay Kernis at last night's concert, conductor Michael Christie continued his mission of having the Colorado Music Festival perform new music.

In the mid-2000s, New York's Orpheus Chamber Orchestra commissioned six composers to create pieces, each based on one of Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos and their instrumentation.

We first heard Hartke's "A Brandenburg Autumn," composed in Germany not far from where the Bach dedicatee once lived. The conservative work was well written for the ensemble (reduced from the original instrumentation of the first Brandenburg), offering some rhythmic interest through much of the piece.

Next was Theofanidis's "Muse," which drew on the instrumentation of the third Brandenberg (3 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos, backed by a bass and keyboard continuo), augmented by additional violins. The straightforward, vitality-infused piece was well played and clearly appealed to the audience.

The final work, Kernis's "Concerto With Echoes," was easily the most distinctive of the three new works. On the surface, there seemed to be no close connection to the 6th Brandenburg that served as the work's starting point (except for the related instrumentation sans violins), and this actually affirmed that we were hearing from a composer with something to say, a piece that works on its own. The father of twins, Kernis was inspired by the 6th Brandenburg's "opening passage with two spiraling solo violas, like identical twins following each other through a hall of mirrors." The work is suffused with echoes, mirrored melodies, and other imitative orderings. Kernis avoided the strong rhythmic pulse which might as first seem so natural in this context. He also had the confidence to end the work quietly, the only piece of the evening to do so.

The three new works were each preceded by their Brandenburg counterparts, a logical line-up apparently heard here for the first time.

The original Brandenburgs served to remind us that life on occasion offers moments of wonder and joy.

The concert was also a timely reminder that, later this week, CMF will premiere a work by Daniel Kellogg, commissioned by CMF's unique Click program.

Added note: the tendency towards more and more standing ovations in concerts continues to grow, making them less and less meaningful.

Friday, June 15, 2012

New York's Spectrum Presents Surround Sound from Starkland

New York's new Spectrum venue, a technology-intensive site for innovative music and multimedia, has invited me to present a Starkland evening there on Monday June 18. Naturally my first thought was: Surround Sound. Fortunately I knew that Spectrum's overlord, the energetic Glenn Cornett, was a surround sound enthusiast.

The concert will focus on electroacoustic surround sound music I commissioned for two DVDs. (Starkland has likely commissioned more surround sound music for DVD than any other label in the world.)

The audience will hear a tidal wave of hyperdense bells, a trumpet reverberating for 7 seconds in a huge underground water tank, a spaced-out Ethel Quartet, West African balafons, a 14-foot long Quadrachord, a ghostly wailing wall, a weird madrigal, and 15,000 African parrots.

Commissioned composers include: Paul Dolden, Paul Dresher, Ellen Fullman, Phil Kline, Lukas Ligeti, Ingram Marshall, Merzbow, Meredith Monk, Bruce Odland, Pauline Oliveros, Maggi Payne, Carl Stone, and Pamela Z.

The concert will open with selections from Starkland's Immersion DVD-Audio, recognized by sources such as Pro Sound News and Billboard as the first such recording in history. Sound & Vision wrote:

"Not only a fascinating array of musical innovation but a persuasive exploration of the possibilities of surround sound... The care that went into this disc is carried through to the stylish onscreen graphics [and] the excellent printed program notes."

The second half of the concert will play most/all of Phil Kline's Around the World in a Daze DVD, a major 65-minute work commissioned by Tom as a followup to Immersion. (Another first-of-its-kind recording.) Phil's imaginative, rich use of surround sound space has dazzled many:

The New Yorker: "A special-project disk in which Kline created, out of extravagant electronic means... an audio-visual feast that balances hipster zen with the seriousness of Bach and Wagner."

Stereophile: "This adventurous music... ranges widely from ambient recordings that are surprisingly musical, to complex constructions that emerge as lyrical."

New York Magazine: "A set of sensational etudes."

Sequenza21: "Imaginary vistas that envelope, even overwhelm... Our always adventuresome friends at Starkland have outdone themselves this time."

An Extras DVD in the Daze release features a lengthy interview with Phil by John Schaefer. Time permitting, some of these sections may be shown.

The concert will feature a high quality surround playback system, installed by techmaster Lawrence de Martin.

Read more here.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wired Profiles Tod Dockstader

Wired has begun a series of articles about electronic music legends with a profile of Tod Dockstader. Writer Geeta Dayal landed a rare interview with the elderly Dockstader, which includes some anecdotes new to me, such as how the master edited steel wire recordings.

The article mentions his "impressive" electronic music recordings include 2 Starkland CDs, Apocalypse and Quatermass. Dayal notes the "fascinatingly rich, complex" music "still sounds new and relevant today," and how "Dockstader's work over the past six decades continues to be met with new waves of interest. (A documentary about Dockstader's life, by filmmaker Justin H. Brierley, is currently in the works.)

The always on-top-of-it Steve Smith comments:
"Awesome: The amazing Geeta Dayal will be writing regularly about electronic-music legends for Wired, starting with a profile of Tod Dockstader - whose Quatermass, available on CD from Tom Steenland's vital Starkland label, was among the first pieces of serious electronic music I ever heard."
Hopefully the article will bring some new fans to Dockstader's powerful music.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Target" Nominated for 2 Awards

Keeril Makan's "Target" CD on Starkland has been nominated for the 2012 Independent Music Awards both for Best Contemporary Classical Album and for Thomas Steenland for Best Album Art. Judges for the Final Winners will include Keith Richards, Tom Waits, Suzanne Vega, Joshua Redman, Tori Amos, and Ozzy Osbourne. Winners will be announced in April.

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The rising-star Makan has been described as “an arrestingly gifted young American composer” by The New Yorker. The Pulitzer-winning composer David Lang has remarked that when he first heard Makan’s music he was “blown away” by works that were “so strong and so smart.”

The CD has received some impressive reviews:

"Approachable and mesmerizing... 
captivating and engrossing."
- Sequenza21

"A sound world in which music emerges unexpectedly 
out of violent textures, gestures and cries."
- Gramophone

"Delivers a whollop of powerful emotional content... 
the recording is of excellent quality."
- New Music Box

"A composer that is destined for greatness, 
and this recording is proof of that."
- Chamber Musician Today

The "one-man army" Tom Steenland serves as Executive Director of Starkland, has designed most of the label's booklets and packaging, and has mastered many of the releases as well.

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Independent Music Award Nominees Thomas Steenland (L) and Keeril Makan

Starkland's full catalog can be found here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Other Minds 2012

The Other Minds 2012 Festival continued its tradition of presenting diverse and unexpected new music. Some highlights for me included:
  • Simon Steen-Andersen's Study for String Instrument #2 for cello and whammy pedal;
  • Gloria Coates' distinctive, otherworldly String Quartet No. 5 in a steely, committed performance by the Del Sol String Quartet;
  • Harold Budd's attractive It's Only a Daydream performed with the fine bassist Keith Lowe;
  • The rich, sophisticated sounds emerging from Ikue Mori's laptop; one wished for more of her and much less of the long group improv that followed;
  • John Kennedy's rhythmically engaging First Deconstruction (in Plastic) for various recycled objects, such as joint compound buckets, water bottles, yogurt containers, salad bar boxes, etc.;
  • Tyshawn Sorey's varied drum set improv, followed by his shift across the stage to perform an accomplished, imaginative, atonal piano improv (not something you see everyday);
  • Ken Ueno's Peradam with his effective string quartet music (performed by Del Sol) coupled with some sophisticated video created in real-time by video wizard Johnny Dekam.
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L to R: Charles Amirkhanian, Harold Budd, Gloria Coates, Ikue Mori, Tyshawn Sorey

A special attraction of these concerts is that the audience, performers, and composers gather afterwards in the lobby to sip champagne, discuss the new music we've heard, etc. A great idea which I hope continues.

In the Fellowship Concert, which preceded the 3 main concerts and featured emerging composers, I especially liked: Peter Swendsen's Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is for bass drum and digital enhancements; and Jen Wang's Renderings of Things We Couldn't Take Home which uses the apparently uncommon technique of playing tam-tams etc. with tremolo bowing. A sprinkling of John Cage garnished this concert, all of which was expertly and sensitively performed by Rootstock Percussion.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Guy Klucevsek "Multiple Personality" CD

While a new release from Guy Klucevsek is always cause for celebration, there is something special about his latest CD, “The Multiple Personality Reunion Tour” (innova 819).

In 2010, Guy was awarded a prestigious USA Fellowship, and the hefty, unrestricted bounty allowed this fringe performer to produce a CD with diverse inspirations and influences, work with some distinguished musicians and some top sound engineers, and develop some idiosyncratic arrangements.

Performers include the Grammy-nominated accordionist Alex Meixner, trumpeter Dave Douglas, percussionist John Hollenbeck, vocalist Theo Bleckman, Carl Finch’s hip polka/rock band Brave Combo, and more.

The CD opens with the lively Breathless and Bewildered, dedicated the legendary Bulgarian accordionist Ivan Milev, arranged for an uncommon ensemble of accordion, trumpet, tuba, banjo, and percussion. Waltz for Sandy presents a slyly flowing melodic line that emerges from Guy’s fleet-fingered keyboard work. An odd piece, Gimme a Minute, Please (My Sequins Are Showing), is dedicated to the Swingle Singers. Some processed background vocals do indeed echo those ‘60s Swingles.

I first became aware of Lars Hollmer upon hearing his timeless Boeves Psalm performed by Guy on his “Free Range Accordion” CD. Guy and Lars were close friends for years, until Lars passed away on Christmas Day in 2008. For me, the CD’s highlight is Guy’s Larsong, dedicated to his dear friend. It’s a lovely, heartful, sweetly sad gem. Somewhere, Lars is listening, smiling.

The attractive Ratatatatouille is dedicated to Kepa Junkera, a Basque trikitixa (accordion) master. Some hazy processed vocals float in the background, disembodied from the acoustic performances.

Next are the pleasant Three Hymnopedies, dedicated to Erik Satie. The full arrangement heard in No. 1 might be dubbed a mini big band sound, with clarinet, saxophones, trumpet, and drums. No. 2 does recall the Gymnopedies. No. 3 offers a sultry, seductive tune, and, d'après Satie, Monsieur Klucevsek has inscribed various expressions upon his score, such as, “Pardon, M’lle, I did not realize that was your foot.” This track also includes the excellent Brave Combo. Guy always works with superb musicians, and, for this CD, he journeyed to Denton, Texas, to record several tracks with Brave Combo, also heard on Pink Elephant, which elicits a wailing solo from Guy.

O’O is dedicated to Martin Denny, aka the “father of exotica.” Guy’s arrangement suitably employs the sounds of flowing water, birds, a ukulele, ocarina, and so forth.

Lars Hollmer dedicated Laderleld (Leather Camp Fire) to “Guy Klucevsek, Accordion Rider” (which seems a prescient look-ahead to the cover image on Guy’s "Free Range Accordion" CD). Guy’s arrangement here begins with the classic poking-along cowboy motive, and draws on the talented Texan accordionist Ginny Mac.

Guy dedicates The C&M Waltz to cousins who have danced to Slovenian/American bands for over 50 years. He draws on his youthful memories of such music to produce a warmly appealing piece.

The concluding track features some tasty accordion work from Guy and Alex Meixner, an excellent accordionist who performs on most of the CD’s tracks. The title “Moja Baba Je Pijana” apparently translates as “My Old Lady is Drunk.”

This “Multiple Personality” CD does indeed reflect an exceptionally wide range of influences and inspirations, Guy’s ever-fertile imagination, his effective arrangements, impeccable musicianship, and genuine musical pleasures from start to finish.