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CLASSICAL  July 2007

CLASSICAL July 2007

Subject:

Eighth Blackbird Plays Contemporary Chamber Music

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 09:36:31 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Eighth Blackbird
Imaginary Animals

*  Higdon: Zaka (2003)
*  Fitzell:
   - violence (2001)
   - evanescence (2006)
*  Mackey: Indigenous Instruments (1989)
*  Gordon: Friction Systems (2002/2004)
*  DeSantis: strange imaginary remix (2006)

Eighth Blackbird.
Cedille CDR 90000 094 Total time: 72:00

Summary for the Busy Executive: Strange visionary landscapes.

I seem to find myself on the outs with most classical-music lovers,
simply because I don't a priori hate contemporary music.  I find I keep
saner by judging each piece as it comes and by remembering that at least
eighty percent of all music is crap, including the music of the 18th and
19th centuries, the breeding ground of so many favorites.  For every
Brahms, there are scores of Waleskas.

So I don't get on my high horse when I encounter a contemporary work
that bores or irritates me nor mourn the loss of True Beauty in a Corrupt
Age.

Furthermore, Eighth Blackbird is one of my favorite ensembles of any
repertoire.  Frankly, I'd want to listen to them in Mozart and Ravel,
if they had any.  However, for the most part, this disc -- titled Imaginary
Animals and decorated with wonderfully surreal line drawings by the
composers -- disappointed me, mainly because I so disliked most of the
program.

I might as well first clear out the stuff that didn't appeal to me.
Canadian composer Gordon Fitzell simply bores me.  I just don't get
either violence or evanescence.  If they're meant to convey his meditation
on those two concepts, he would have done better to write an essay.  The
music is flat and about as shapely as gruel, pretty much what Seventies
composers were doing, certainly no better.  David M.  Gordon's Friction
Music I liked a little better.  It kind of alternates between some lively
passages and Music to Take Anacin By, incessant pounding for no good
reason.  Chances are high that in the next ten years all three scores
will disappear, unmourned by anybody but the composers themselves and
perhaps their parents.

Dennis DeSantis's strange imaginary remix, however, shows real wit.
Essentially, he turns Eighth Blackbird into a hip-hop beatbox, although
far more sophisticated than the usual thing.  The same goes for Steve
Mackey's Indigenous Instruments -- in the composer's phrase, "vernacular
music from a culture that doesn't exist." The goofy first movement, where
it seems none of the instruments are in tune with one another, I like
best, but the poetic second movement comes close.

For me, the star composition is Jennifer Higdon's Zaka, a piece of
tremendous impulse and energy.  Higdon strikes me, even at this early
point in her career, as one of our best -- a composer who can take the
most advanced techniques and make expressive music, a combination of
postwar devices fashioned by a prewar, Modernist, even neo-Romantic,
sensibility.  And it just sounds good.  First-rank organizations commission
her.  Spano and the Atlanta Symphony have had modestly successful
recordings featuring her work.  To me, it's just a matter of recording
enough of it, to disseminate it among the classical public.  Here's
hoping recording companies take the chance.

Eighth Blackbird give stellar, committed performances, as always.  They
do what new-music groups should: they explore, and quite often, they
bring back gold.

Steve Schwartz

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