LISTSERV mailing list manager LISTSERV 16.0

Help for CLASSICAL Archives


CLASSICAL Archives

CLASSICAL Archives


CLASSICAL@COMMUNITY.LSOFT.COM


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

CLASSICAL Home

CLASSICAL Home

CLASSICAL  December 2009

CLASSICAL December 2009

Subject:

Kernis Orchestral Works

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Mon, 28 Dec 2009 16:07:43 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (140 lines)

Aaron Jay Kernis

*  Newly Drawn Sky*
*  Too Hot Toccata*
*  Symphony in Waves

Grant Park Orchestra/Carlos Kalmar
*Premiere recordings
Cedille CDR 90000 105   TT: 64:00

Summary for the Busy Executive: How to be Me.

The composer with a personal voice -- whose music you can recognize
almost immediately -- has always run rare on the ground.  To be sure,
fine composers have achieved much without this attribute.  For every
Beethoven, there are several Rieses.  For every Shostakovich, there's a
slew of Soviet and now Russian composers ready to riff on older discoveries.
Even the Minimalists -- whom you might think all sound alike -- have
their superstars and their decent guys, and the superstars (Adams, Glass,
Reich) tend to be those composers whose work stands distinct from each
other and from everybody else.

Those not so blessed with immediately-identifiable traits still separate
themselves in mainly two ways: a personal view of their model, as in the
case of, say, Rubbra and Holst; a personal eclecticism in which a bunch
of influences receive unique emphases, as with Barber vis-a-vis Brahms,
Stravinsky, and Edwardian song-writers.

Aaron Jay Kernis strikes me as the second kind of composer.  One finds
many influences in his music -- Copland, classic Minimalism, jazz, the
academics of the Sixties and Seventies, among others -- but it serves a
personal rhetoric.  Add to this an imaginative ear for orchestral color
and you don't really wonder why he's received a Pulitzer.  Kernis began
as a "constructivist" composer.  That is, he formulated a procedure for
specifying notes before the notes themselves.  For example, Morningsongs
(1983) works with only a limited number of pitches at a time and delineates
sections by changing the pitch set.  However, as the years have passed,
Kernis has become more interested in the emotional power of music.  He
has even embraced classical structures.  He wants his music to reach a
listener as directly as possible, and it turns out he has a talent for
it.  I can't say I've liked everything I've heard.  Sometimes I feel
as if Kernis goes on longer than his ideas warrant -- too much air.
However, I've certainly liked most of the pieces that have come my way.

Newly Drawn Sky (2005) is a kind of nocturne, but without extra-musical
narrative or description, although the sounds certainly evoke night
noises.  We begin with an ascending line in the cello, quickly overcome
in a nervous frazzle.  It turns out that the distress doesn't last long,
and the piece -- musically, at any rate -- deals with ascension, in long,
climbing lyrical lines.  A trumpet calls yearningly over the landscape.
Little points from the woodwinds, like fireflies, flicker and fade.  We
build to a "radiant" conclusion and, again, a short fade -- a beautiful
piece.

Kernis has not disdained the short orchestral showpiece, like Rimsky's
Capriccio espagnol or Russian Easter Overture.  He has written at
least the heart-racing New Era Dance.  Too Hot Toccata joins that work.
Toccatas, of course, get the heart pumping.  We can expect that a "too-hot"
toccata should deliver something beyond what we expect.  Kernis comes
through in spades.  The opening is stuffed with ideas, speedy counterpoint,
and virtuoso solos from just about every principal, all within the context
of swing and bop bands.  Ever since Milhaud at least, classical composers
have tried to get the controlled wildness of the jam session into concert
music.  The closest before now, in my opinion, was Bernstein's Prelude,
Fugue, and Riffs.  Kernis has done Bernstein at least one better.  Though
highly organized, it sounds made up on the spot.  This first section
gives way to a more relaxed, lyrical passage, and then you hold on to
your skirt.  As complex as the opening seemed, it's almost genteel
compared to its return -- a toccata on speed.  This is such rhythmically
complex music, I doubt strongly that most of the musicians here actually
keep the beat.  There are so many notes, it reminds me of Zappa's Black
Page -- more ink on the page than white space; "statistical density,"
as it were.  The jam session constantly threatens to fly apart, like a
watch wound too tightly.  Fortunately, a strong rhythm section holds
stuff together.  It's jazz, baby.  When it's all over, you find yourself
catching your breath.

In five movements, the Symphony in Waves stands as the richest, most
ambitious work here.  After two weeks of serious listening, I can't
say I have anything near its measure yet.  I do sense that I'm hearing
something extraordinary.  One of my initial problems with the piece --
what do waves have to do with anything but the first and third movements?
-- I quickly dismissed as irrelevant.  Kernis and the writer of the liner
notes try to offer a rationale, but I couldn't follow that, either.  I
decided simply to listen without the aid of a gloss.

The first movement consists largely of quasi-Minimalist pulsing and
ascending scalar lines -- "quasi-Minimalist" because it's not periodic.
Kernis seems to decide at the moment whether he wants to pulse or not.
Although there are plenty of rhetorical relaxation points in the movement,
it impresses overall as a continual buildup: All those ascending scales
have their own inherent tension.  If the first movement emphasized
continuity, the second, designated "Scherzo," stresses the integration
of disjointedness.  It begins with short, nervous bursts of notes that
seem to make no sense at all, but Kernis creates an elaborate joke. 
He begins to put chords and various accompaniments under these note-y
flashes, and suddenly they begin to make sense.  He takes us through a
range of styles, including something that sounds to me like classic bop,
and reserves his best laugh for last -- a boogie-woogie vamp, cut off
after one measure, as if Big Maceo had just walked into the room.

The third movement is "about" tension and release.  A sound like metal
grinding against metal opens the work -- tension without letup or even
build for a couple of minutes -- before it relaxes into a long, quiet
section.  Yet this isn't really release.  One senses doom in the quiet.
However, the music briefly turns lyrical in one of Kernis's beautiful,
long-breathed melodies before the grinding music returns.  The tension
is dissipated only in the last chord -- a major triad, both unexpected
and "the real, right thing."

Movement no. 4, "Intermezzo," is a two-minute smile, a point of
relaxation between two heavier sections.  Before you know it, you're
into the finale, in many ways a revisit of the world of the scherzo. 
We get a kind of abstract big-band jazz, with calls and responses, brass
playing off against reeds (and strings).  We find the scalar themes again
reminiscent of the first movement, but applied with even less "method."
They serve mainly to provide cross-accents and a syncopated backbeat.
The end interests me the most.  The rhythms become Latin, and the orchestra
takes a three-note motif between its teeth, tosses it around, but doesn't
drop it.  The obsession of it reminds me of the finale to Bartok's
Concerto for Orchestra, particularly the fanfare-ish theme on the trumpet.
The ending is a rouser.

Carlos Kalmar and his band do well by all three scores.  If they play a
bit rough in something like Too Hot Toccata, I give them a pass because
of the work's complexity and because they play with gusto.  Two recordings
-- Gerard Schwarz and Kalmar -- still in print have appeared.  I've once
heard the Schwarz and said essentially, "So what?" The music seemed flat.
Kalmar has the advantage of Schwarz's recording, of course, but he really
has come up with a reading of a different, higher order (at least compared
to my memory of the Schwarz) -- richly allusive and coherent at the same
time.

Steve Schwartz

             ***********************************************
The CLASSICAL mailing list is powered by L-Soft's renowned LISTSERV(R)
list management software together with L-Soft's HDMail High Deliverability
Mailer for reliable, lightning fast mail delivery.  For more information,
go to:  http://www.lsoft.com/LISTSERV-powered.html

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

Advanced Options


Options

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password


Search Archives

Search Archives


Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe


Archives

May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
August 2000
July 2000
June 2000
May 2000
April 2000
March 2000
February 2000
January 2000
December 1999
November 1999
October 1999
September 1999
August 1999
July 1999
June 1999
May 1999
April 1999
March 1999
February 1999
January 1999
July 1997

ATOM RSS1 RSS2



COMMUNITY.LSOFT.COM

Secured by F-Secure Anti-Virus CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager