Ars Nostra is a concept rather than a group. Its mission is not only to bring together performers affiliated with University of South Florida School of Music but to also promote “our arts” by performing music composed by our colleagues and contemporaries. The composers of our time have rich and diverse resources to draw upon embracing ancient sounds, ethnicities, popular music, as well as Western arts traditions.
Ars Nostra's first recording features vocal and instrumental music by Max Lifchitz – the renowned composer and performer. Born in 1948 in México City to Russian-Jewish parents, Lifchitz has resided in New York since 1966 where he maintains a multi-faceted career. A graduate of The Juilliard School and Harvard University, his mentors included Luciano Berio, Leon Kirchner, Bruno Maderna and Darius Milhaud. His creative activities have been underwritten by grants and fellowships from the ASCAP, Ford and Guggenheim Foundations; the University of Michigan Society of Fellows; the New York State Council on the Art; and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Lifchitz was awarded first prize in the 1976 Gaudeamus Competition for Performers of Contemporary Music held in Holland and has appeared as pianist throughout Europe, Latin America and the US. He often performs and records at the helm of the North/South Chamber Orchestra, the ensemble he founded in 1980.
Many of his compositions – including his Canto de Paz and the series of works titled Yellow Ribbons – reveal his reactions to the turbulence of recent times as well as a deep-rooted yearning for a peaceful world. Three of the pieces heard on this album were written for Ars Nostra's appearance at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City on May 15, 2012. These pieces evince a direct reflection to the theme of “our arts” – including the evocative Piano Silhouettes inspired by the paintings of University of South Florida visual artist Elisabeth Condon.
Concerning the compositions featured on this album, Mr. Lifchitz writes:
“My musical language is best described as syncretic – an amalgam of diverse trends and conventions. I borrow freely from tradition while incorporating innovations of the recent past. I take pleasure in juxtaposing folk materials of a decidedly diatonic nature with highly chromatic, complex structures. I enjoy simple rhythmic patterns and accept challenges posed by intricate metrical compounds. I don't shun any intervallic relationship and regard the entire spectrum of sound as a viable foundation for my musical language. I often assemble intricate contrapuntal constructs in which voices are allowed to move at their own speed. Most importantly, I carefully shape the surface of my music by ear since a clear sense of line and proportion helps me achieve the desired balance between simplicity and complexity, tension and relaxation, abstraction and lyricism.
Mosaico Latinoamericano (Latin American Mosaic) for flute and piano is based on folk melodies from Latin America and the Caribbean. The first movement is both meditative and dramatic. It is built around the Afro-Cuban Canto Lucumí and the Mayan Xtoles – two melodies associated with funeral ceremonies. Both tunes are based on the pentatonic scale but employ contrasting meters and rhythms. The second movement juxtaposes dance melodies from the coastal areas of México, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic including fragments of a Huapango and a Merengue. The music is definitely upbeat and has an understated sense of humor. The work was written at the request of flutist Lisa Hansen and pianist Katrina Krimsky who premiered it in Zürich, Switzerland on June 1, 1991.
The Yellow Ribbons comprise a series of works written as homage to the former American hostages in Iran. These compositions are a personal way of celebrating the artistic and political freedom so often taken for granted in the West. While the dramatic events that unfolded during 1979 provided the initial inspiration for these works, the tragic happenings that took place in New York City on September 11, 2001 as well as the continuing unrest throughout the world convinced me that working on this series was both appropriate and worthwhile.
Yellow Ribbons No. 44 (for flute and piano) is in three contrasting movements played without pause. While a few rhythmic motives serve as unifying elements for the composition, a series of expanding and contracting intervals generates the melodic and harmonic materials used throughout. The harmonic language juxtaposes traditional and surprising chord formations. The climax of the entire work occurs towards the conclusion of the second movement when the piano strikes a loud cluster in the low register and the flute plays a cadenza built around previously heard motives. The work was written at the request of flutist Kim McCormick and pianist Sang-Hie Lee who premiered it on March 16, 2007 at Ewha Woman's University in Seoul, Korea.
Yellow Ribbons No. 43, for solo clarinet, was written at the request of Michael Cirigliano, a friend and University at Albany colleague. Its musical language combines and contrasts elements derived from western (tonal) and eastern (modal) music. The single movement work consists of six variations grounded on the melodic material heard at the opening. Highly virtuosic, the writing demands the utmost in technique and precision from the performer.
Three Songs for Voice and Trumpet feature a wide range of vocal possibilities ranging from slow, lyrical melodic lines, to sprechstimme (speaking voice), to instrumental-like flourishes. Diverse timbres are achieved by having the trumpet employ various mutes. A healthy, non-doctrinaire musical eclecticism permeates the writing which effectively highlights the emotions inherent in the texts. The songs were inspired by the poetry of three New York-based poets published in the now defunct magazine Transfer.