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Moods: Piano Music by American Women Composers
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Moods: Piano Music by American Women Composers
Marilyn J. Ziffrin, Elizabeth Bell, Rain Worthington, Rami Levin

Max Lifchitz, Piano

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This album features recent piano works by four living American women composers. Appearing on record for the first time, these compositions were introduced to New York City audiences through North/South Consonance's unique concert series.
Appealing and captivating, the featured works approach the keyboard in diverse ways. Ziffrin combines stylish rhythms and harmonies with easy-to-understand formal structures. Bell's striking harmonic choices and undulating melodic lines create arresting tension and drama. Levin's work is an impressive tour de force for both performer and listener. Worthington's musical language – simple and direct – rewards the listener with a seemingly endless chain of surprising melodic discoveries.
Great care was taken to preserve the integrity of the concert hall ambiance when this album was recorded and mastered. Indeed, the listener will find that the natural resonance of the concert hall and the music's wide dynamic range were captured successfully. Please use a moderate volume setting when playing this disc.
About the Composers
A native of Moline, Illinois Marilyn J. Ziffrin (b. 1926) was educated at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and at Columbia University in New York. Her composition mentors included Alexander Tcherepnin and Karl Ahrendt.
Ziffrin has received commissions from the New Hampshire Music Festival, the American Guild of Organists, the Hope College Concert Choir and the Concord Chorale, to name a few. She has been honored with awards from ASCAP and the New Hampshire Council on the Arts. Most notably, she received the 1972 Delius Composition Award for her song cycle Haiku. Also active as a writer, Ziffrin is the author of a much-acclaimed biography of the distinguished American composer Carl Ruggles published by the University of Illinois Press. Her music is available on the Crystal, Capra, CRS, Opus One, MMC and North/South Recordings labels.
In recognition of her considerable contributions to the music and arts community, the State of New Hampshire bestowed upon her the 2007 Governors Arts Lotte Jacobi Living Treasure Award.
Moods is a set of three contrasting pieces. The first starts slowly, gradually moving into a faster tempo. The second is introspective, while the third moves rapidly and rhythmically with many dynamic changes. Ms. Ziffrin writes: “it is up to the listener to identify his or her mood for each piece.”
The Sonata for Piano was written for Jayne Kelly, an eminent New Hampshire performer and teacher. Kelly had performed a few of Ziffrin's shorter works and suggested to her that is was time to write a more substantial composition. Ziffrin agreed and the result is this work in three movements.
The opening movement uses an easy-to-understand A-B-A form. While the A sections are demonstrative and expressive in nature, the B section is faster and rhythmic. The composer describes the evocative second movement as “a ramble – a very leisurely idle stroll” and the fast, toccata-like finale as “displaying jazz influences.”
Elizabeth Bell (b. 1928; Cincinnati, OH) graduated from Wellesley College and The Juilliard School; married and raised three children; was divorced and later remarried; and now, in 2007, lives in Westchester County with her husband and Subito, their Siamese cat.
Her music, for voice, solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and orchestra, has been performed world-wide. She has three all-Bell recordings: MMC CD#2082, N/S R #1029, and N/S R #1042. She had two all-Bell 75th Birthday year concerts given in her honor: New York City (October 12, 2003), and Yerevan, Armenia (April 28, 2004). She has received a number of grants and awards, including Grand Prize in 1996 in the Utah Composers' Guild Competition for her large chamber ensemble composition Spectra, a work written to mark North/South Consonance's 10th season.
Bell served as music critic for the Ithaca (NY) Journal for five years. She was one of the founders and officers of New York Women Composers, Inc., served for five years on the Board of Governors of American Composers Alliance, and is a member of SCI, IAWM, NACUSA, AMC, and other professional organizations.
Fanfare Magazine referred to her as “a fine composer with a vivid, highly entertaining sense of instrumental color.” And the American Record Guide called her “one of our country's leading composers.”
The Arecibo Sonata was conceived during the 1960's when the composer was living in Puerto Rico near one of the largest telescopes in the world. It was revised in the fall of 2005 at the request of Max Lifchitz who premiered it in New York City on April 24, 2006. This recording honors the composer on the occasion of her 80th birthday.
The composer writes: “The first movement, Molto Largo e Mesto – Allegro con Spirito, is based on a sketch I found which I had probably made in the 1950's. After a brief slow introduction, it turns into a somewhat mercurial fast movement. The second (new) movement, Lento, is a slow, grieving piece, concerned, I suppose, with my mortality, written while I was under treatment for cancer. The third movement, Allegretto, serves as a scherzo; it is a little parody of a march trying to be a fugue. The fourth, Allegro appassionato, is, as the title suggests, passionate, even rebellious.”
Rami Levin earned her B.A. from Yale University, an M.A. in composition from the University of California, San Diego, and a Ph.D. in composition from the University of Chicago. Her catalogue includes works for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, and solo instruments. Her compositions have been performed in the U.S., Brazil, Britain, Canada, Spain, Norway, Italy, and the Slovak Republic.
Levin's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra was recorded by clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and the Slovak Radio Orchestra. She has received consecutive annual awards from ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) since 1994. She has been active in the Chicago music scene both as a composer and as the founding director of Lake Forest Lyrica, a chamber music concert series performed at Lake Forest College by some of the finest ensembles in Chicago.
Levin served as Chair of the Department of Music at Lake Forest College from 1994 until 2005 and is now Professor of Music. The recipient of a Fulbright lecture/research award, she spent a semester teaching and composing at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2008. She is currently the Founding Director of the Center for Chicago Programs, Associate Dean of Faculty, Director of Internships, and Composer-in-Residence at Lake Forest College.
Passages is a single movement work built around the melodic and rhythmic gesture heard at the opening. This motive consists of two intervals: an augmented fourth and a perfect fourth. It functions as the main sonority throughout the piece, undergoing constant transformations while generating complimentary melodic and harmonic materials. Dreamy, nocturne-like sections are juxtaposed with highly rhythmic and energetic episodes that reveal jazz and tango influences. The work ends as quietly as it begins.
Ms. Levin states: “Passages was commissioned by pianist Kuang-Hao Huang shortly after the birth of his first child, an event which coincided with my youngest child leaving for college. The music describes the joy of bringing a new life into being, and the mixed emotions of a parent watching an offspring gain independence and go off into the world.”
Romanticism, world music, and minimalism inform Rain Worthington's compositional style. Her career has taken her from New York City loft concerts to avant-garde performances spaces and dance clubs to orchestral recordings in Europe.
Kyle Gann – who wrote an extensive profile about her music for Chamber Music Magazine – stated: “The rhythmically thoughtful works of Rain Worthington take ideas of American musical style to a new place – like a walk in a familiar, yet very different park.”
Her orchestral works appear on the ERM Media's prestigious CD series, Masterworks of the New Era and Made in the Americas. They have been performed in New York by the SEM Ensemble Orchestra.
Worthington has been awarded grants from Meet the Composer, ASCAP, the American Music Center and the American Composers Forum. Her composition, Shredding Glass, was entered for Grammy consideration in 2008. She is Founder and Co-director of NetMusicWorks, a contemporary music promotion service, and serves as Director of Development for the New York Women Composers, Inc.
Ms. Worthington kindly provided the following commentary on her four works:
“Hourglass is a musical reflection on the passage of time and the delicacy and variable nature of its passing – as in the shifting phases of sand in a turning hourglass.
Tangents derives its name from divergent musical lines that seem to arrive and depart from a musical center, much like fragments of thoughts that tangentially pass through conversations.
Dark Dreams was inspired by a painting by Jared FitzGerald. The germinating idea for the piece relates to the image of an angel in the moonlight wrestling with a shadowy figure. Dark Dreams extends the metaphor to the struggles with emotional demons confronted in life.
Always Almost is an expression of the profound realization that some of life's deepest yearnings may remain unfulfilled, seemingly just out of reach – just 'always almost.' Yet from this sadness music arose.”
About the Pianist
Max Lifchitz was awarded first prize in the 1976 International Gaudeamus Competition for Performers of Twentieth Century Music held in Holland. Robert Commanday, writing for The San Francisco Chronicle described him as "a young composer of brilliant imagination and a stunning, ultra-sensitive pianist." The New York Times music critic Allan Kozinn praised Mr. Lifchitz for his "clean, measured and sensitive performances” while Anthony Tommasini remarked that he “conducted a strong performance.” Payton MacDonald writing for the American Record Guide remarked, “Mr. Lifchitz is as good on the podium as he is behind the piano.”
A graduate of The Juilliard School and Harvard University, Mr. Lifchitz has appeared in concerts and recitals throughout the U.S., Latin America and Europe. In 1994, New York Women Composers, Inc. bestowed upon him its Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his activities on behalf of concert music written by women.
His CD album devoted to the piano music of Mexico elicited the following comment from Fanfare Magazine: "After several listenings, North/South Recordings No. 1010 is recommended to more than just a specialist audience because of the wide variety of attractive and challenging music that it contains. Lifchitz is a poetic pianist with requisite power to make the many granitic climaxes register. Easily, the most interesting new piano disc so far in 1996."
The American Record Guide commented as follows on Mr. Lifchitz's album The American Collection (N/SR 1014): “suffice it to say that it would be hard to find a better snapshot of what American composers have been writing for the piano in the past decade than this collection. Lifchitz plays everything with sensitivity and force, where appropriate; and recorded sound is vivid and natural.”
Released in 2002, Diversions (North/South Recordings No. 1026) elicited the following comments from the London-based Gramophone Magazine: "Lifchitz has devised a charming programme of previously unrecorded pieces… His affectionate playing provides surprising emotional weight… Beautifully recorded album… Recommended.”
American Women Composers and Final Bell (N/S R 1043 & 1044) released in 2006 were also greeted with much acclaim by the press. Essayist Jack Sullivan, writing for the American Record Guide stated: “Max Lifchitz, for whom much of this music was written, plays with his usual brave authority…. Engaging collections of new music played with color and commitments by one of America's finest exponents of contemporary piano music.”
Mr. Lifchitz's recitals sponsored by the 2008 Barcelona Festival of Song in Spain were broadcasted on Radio Catalunya and his appearance as part of the University of Western Michigan's Bullock Concert Series on WMUK-FM.

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