Without a doubt, Continuum Ensemble NYC is one of the most unique performing groups in any genre. Consisting of nine members (with players added for certain works), the group typically performs in casual dress and often tours exotic or remote locales such as Mongolia, (former Soviet provinces) Georgia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan. The group members' humorous and playful persona can be discerned in some of their promotional photos, one ofRead more which shows the group with broad smiles and hands raised, as if to bare claws for a Halloween prank. But for all their good-natured frivolity, it is the ensemble's consistently unusual and often risky repertory that has distinguished it from other such groups. Continuum has performed the music of both little-known and well-known contemporary composers, typically in the trademark series called Retrospective Concerts, which focuses on music of a single composer. Here the group has often resurrected or premiered compositions by such diverse figures as the Americans John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, and Ruth Crawford Seeger, Cambodian Chinary Ung, Georgian Giya Kancheli, Ukrainian Valentin Bibik, Azerbaijan Franguiz Ali-Zadeh, and countless others. Continuum has made nearly 20 recordings for a variety of labels, including Nonesuch, CRI, and MHS.
Continuum was founded in New York City in 1966 by pianists Cheryl Seltzer and Joel Sachs, who are the co-directors of the group. In the ensemble's first decade or so, repertory was a bit more conventional, with the names Bartók, Stravinsky, Ravel, and Debussy appearing as often on programs such as Dallapiccola, Berio, and Babbitt. Gradually, though, Continuum became the champion of lesser-known contemporary composers or focused on obscure but worthwhile works by established modern composers.
In 1985 Continuum began making its first foreign tours, with concerts in England and Austria. There followed numerous tours of Germany, France, and other European countries. By the late '80s, Continuum developed an interest in contemporary music from Eastern Europe, Russia, and former Soviet provinces. Names like Galina Ustvolskaya, Leonid Hrabovsky, and Grazyna Bacewicz began appearing with the group.
The ensemble's first concerts in Ukraine came in 1990, with a return trip in 1996. There followed tours to Uzbekistan (1999, 2000, 2002), Georgia (2001), Azerbaijan (2001), and Mongolia (2002). Many of Continuum's early recordings appeared on lesser-known labels like CRI, MHS, and Nonesuch, but have been reissued on Naxos in the new century. Among the newer of these is a 2005 CD of Leon Kirchner works, originally released by MHS. Read less