This album marks North/South Consonance's twenty-fifth consecutive year of advocacy on behalf of the music of our time. It contains first recordings of five inspiring scores by living American composers selected from among the many compositions recently performed as part of our unique New York City concert series.
The featured works exhibit diverse but complimentary aesthetic outlooks. A post-modern thread definitely runs through all of them. A genteel neo-classicism informs Ziffrin's Concertino, while inventive timbric effects infuse Mayer's Messages. Bulow's Syntax for solo flute piece traces its inspiration to Japanese shakuhachi techniques, while Koykkar's Out Front is clearly inspired by rhythmic and melodic devices found in pop music. Snyder's masterful vocal cycle Traveling West somehow manages to reflect all of the above tendencies.
MEET THE COMPOSERS
A native of Moline, Illinois, Marilyn J. Ziffrin was educated at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and at Columbia University in New York. Her mentors included Alexander Tcherepnin and Karl Ahrendt. She has received commissions from, among others, the New Hampshire Music Festival, the American Guild of Organists, the Hope College Concert Choir and the Concord Chorale. Ms. Ziffrin 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.
Her music may be heard on the Crystal, Capra, CRS, and Opus One record labels. Richard Stoltzman and the Warsaw Philharmonic recorded her clarinet concerto for the MMC label. Max Lifchitz's recording of her Suite for Piano is available on North/South Recordings No. 1002 and Neva Pilgrim's performance of her Songs of the Trobairitz was released on North/South Recordings No. 1005. Also active as a writer, Ms. Ziffrin is the author of a much-acclaimed biography of the distinguished American composer Carl Ruggles published by the University of Illinois Press.
The Concertino for Piano and Seven Instruments was written in 1999 in celebration of North/South Consonance's 20th anniversary season. Helen Lin and the North/South Consonance Ensemble first performed it in New York City on June 6, 2000. In addition to the solo piano, the scores calls for an ensemble consisting of flute, oboe, bassoon, two violins, viola and cello.
The work is in three contrasting movements arranged around the traditional fast-slow-fast pattern. A dialogue between the piano and the rest of the ensemble opens the first movement. The soloist is given ample opportunity for technical display while using colorful harmonies built around fourths and fifths. The languid and elegant middle movement features an expressive single line in the piano as counterpoint to the dreamy melodies played by the bassoon, flute viola and cello. The third movement starts by juxtaposing percussion-like passages full of rapidly changing meters in the piano with loud interjections from the ensemble. The lyrical middle section that follows culminates with a brief piano cadenza and a dramatic restatement of the lyrical second theme by the ensemble. The percussive music that opened the movement returns leading the work into an energetic, virtuosic finale.
William Mayer (b. 1925; New York City) attended Yale University and the Mannes College of Music where he studied composition with Roger Sessions, Felix Salzer and Otto Luening, and conducting with Izler Solomon.
His many awards and honors include two National Endowment for the Arts grants, Guggenheim and MacDowell Fellowships, recording grants from the Ford Foundation, performance grants from the Michigan and New York State Arts Council, a citation from the National Institute for Music Theater for his Agee-based opera A Death in the Family and an award for lifetime achievement from the Center for Contemporary Music. His works have been performed by many of the leading orchestras including Philadelphia, Minnesota, Cincinnati and the London Philharmonic. They are available on recordings issued by the Albany, Koch, Newport Classics and New World labels.
In addition to composing, he has written articles on music for the New York Times and other leading publications and has had varying assignments from the US Information Agency.
The New Grove Dictionary of American Music describes Mayer's musical style as "characterized by a contrasting of transparent textures with humorous, highly rhythmic and densely scored passages." Musicologist Joseph Machlis adds: "His is a lyrical music that follows the middle of the road flavored with an unusual flow of fancy and wit."
Messages was written in 1972 on commission from flutist Paul Dunkel, who felt there was a need to increase the literature for pieces for virtuoso flute and instrumental accompaniment. In addition to the flute - doubling on piccolo - the score also calls for violin, viola, cello and a large group of percussion instruments.
In the preface to the score, the composer writes that the music attempts to capture the almost magical qualities long associated with the flute. Each of the composition's four movements takes its name and character from an image or sound: Wind, from the rustling of grass on a wild plain; Touch, from drums calling out to the flute; Wood, from the dry clicks and clacks of wood sending out messages to the other instruments; and Light Years (Ravel remembered), from starlight endlessly quavering.
Following its premiere in 1973, New York Times critic Donal Henahan commented as follows: "Messages consisted of four deftly eclectic movements bearing impressionistic titles." After the Boston premiere of the work, Ellen Pfeifer wrote in the Boston Herald: "the first three movements - Wind, Touch and Wood - evoke the characteristic sounds. Breezes swirl, gusts, arabesque through grass. The wood of different instruments is tapped or struck, a cymbal is bowed an empty bottle blown upon, while the flute plays trills, roulades and staccato effects. The last movement Light Years (Ravel remembered) is a songlike meditation of great poignancy and sweetness." The Boston Globe's music critic Michael Manning stated: "Both for performance and sheer enjoyment Messages took the prize... The impression of the whole was inventive and exciting."
Flutist Lisa Hansen and the North/South Consonance Ensemble first performed Messages as part of its New York City concert series on January 13, 1991. This recording honors the composer on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
Harry Bulow earned degrees in music from San Diego State University and the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1996 he was invited to join the faculty of University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he now holds the rank of Associate Professor teaching music theory, composition, and computer applications. Bulow's mentors included composers Aaron Copland, Peter Mennin, Henri Lazaroff and David Ward-Steinman. He also studied jazz composition and arranging with Henry Mancini. The Eastman Wind Ensemble, the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Omaha Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony and the Honolulu Symphony have performed his works.
As a saxophonist he has made solo guest appearances with the Honolulu Symphony and numerous band and wind ensembles throughout the country. His compositions have merited impressive awards including first prize from the International Composers' Competition in Trieste, Italy; the Oscar Esplá Prize from the City of Alicante in Spain; numerous ASCAP awards and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His chamber ensemble composition Lines, Curves and Voluminous Variations appears on North/South Recordings No. 1013. Max Lifchitz's recording of his Suite for Piano (N/S R No. 1026) received a GRAMMY nomination in 2003.
Syntax I for Flute was composed in 1980. Sheridon Stokes, Professor of Flute at UCLA, premiered it at the National Flute Association's Convention in Seattle, Washington, in August 1982. Lisa Hansen introduced this work to New York audiences on May 19, 2004.
The single-movement work is based on a brief five-note figure heard at the outset. The intervals of minor seconds, sevenths and minor thirds tend to dominate the musical language since they form the essential intervals of the five-note figure. The demanding writing also requires the performer to obtain unusual effects from the instrument that are somewhat reminiscent of non-western techniques. These include "bending" pitches and producing uncommon overtones. The composer states that his intent was "to shape a work whose line was increasingly intense, wide in its range of expression and practical with regard to its performance. "
Joseph Koykkar is a Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he teaches in the Interarts & Technology Program and also serves as Music Director of the dance program. His compositions have been performed extensively throughout the US, Europe and South America and are available on recordings issued on the Northeastern, MMC, SEAMUS, Equilibrium and In-Sync labels. MMB Music; Seesaw Music Corporation; Belwin-Mills and JNK Music publish his works. He has received grants from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the American Music Center and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Koykkar served as composer-in-residence for the NOW Festival '96 at Capital University in Columbus, OH and has been a fellow at the International Summer Workshop for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany; the Music of Our Time Seminar at Indiana University; the Atlantic Center for the Arts; the Conductors Institute American Composer/Conductor Program; and the Montanea Festival in Bern, Switzerland. He has also served as president of the Wisconsin Alliance for Composers.
Out Front employs an ensemble comprising flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and one percussionist playing both marimba and vibraphone.
The outer movements are separated by a brief, slow-paced interlude. The writing features the flute and clarinet as semi-soloists, but avoids the traditional concerto solo/ensemble attributes. The composition clearly embodies Koykkar's stylistic characteristics including clarity of structure, economy of musical materials and directness of communication. It also reflects the composer's long-held belief that the popular as well as the serious music of our epoch are both valid sources of inspiration.
Out Front was written in 1995 on commission from the ensemble Synchronia who premiered it on April of 1995 in St. Louis, MO. North/South Consonance performed it in New York City on March 15, 1998.
This recording of Out Front was supported in part by a grant from the University of Wisconsin -Madison Graduate Research Committee.
Randall Snyder is head of the Composition Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and was appointed that school's first Composer-in-Residence in 1996.
A native of Chicago (b. 1944), Snyder studied saxophone with his father, a professional jazz musician. During high school he received a scholarship to the Stan Kenton Band Camp and in 1962 was honored with a Downbeat Magazine Student Hall of Fame Award. He later attended Quincy College and the University of Wisconsin earning a DMA degree in 1973. Snyder also studied Korean music at the Traditional Performing Arts Institute in Seoul.
Over sixty of his of pieces have been published and over twenty have been commercially recorded on the CRS, VMM, Opus One and Élan labels. In 1992 Snyder served as Composer-in-Residence with the Nebraska Chamber Orchestra through a grant from National Endowment for the Arts. Ensembles throughout the country including Synchronia, SoundMoves, Timaeus, Inoue Chamber Ensemble, and Friends and Enemies of New Music have performed his works. The Lincoln, Omaha and West Virginia Symphonies, the Moravian Philharmonic, and the National Repertory Orchestra have programmed his orchestral works.
Snyder appears as conductor of the North/South Consonance Ensemble in the recording of his Shalimar for flute, viola, cello and piano released on this label in 1997 (North/South Recordings No. 1013). The recording of his chamber orchestra work Fictions featured on North/South Recordings No. 1027 was nominated for a 2003 GRAMMY.
Traveling West is a song cycle for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble - flute, violin, viola, cello, and piano (doubling celesta) - inspired by poetry of four women writers from Nebraska. The poets are: Susan Strayer Deal, Marjorie Saiser, Hilda Raz, and Kathleene West.
The opening Overture introduces the various instruments of the ensemble as well as the intervals of the major and minor third that figure prominently throughout the work. The pensive opening leads directly into Susan Strayer Deal's Traveling West, a poem that evokes the dramatic colors projected on the vast dome of the prairie sky. The second song, Riding the Ghost of All Fierce White Horses, is according to the poet Marjorie Saiser, an expression of flying and freedom. The musical setting is a nonstop, breathless ride, spurred on by the flourishes and swirls in the piccolo.
Hilda Raz's introspective Sarah's Wing is the one poem not directly connected to the Nebraska landscape. Accompanied only by the flute, the vocal line gently sways between expressive recitative episodes and vivid melismatic embellishments. It leads without pause into Sarah's Waltz; a brief, wistful commentary on the previous song played only the ensemble. Kathleene West's By Water Divined, the longest song of the cycle, proceeds through several sections eventually climaxing with the words "and she sings, her voice a counterpoint..."
Traveling West was written in 1991 on commission from the Broyhill Ensemble who first performed it in Lincoln, Nebraska. It received its New York premiere under the auspices of North/South Consonance on January 13, 1993.