Notes and Editorial Reviews
Onyx. Song in High Grasses. Snapdragon. Leaning Into and Away. Ariadne Music. Coastal Traces Tidepools 1. Shenai Sky. Record of an Ocean Cliff. Crossings in a Mountain Dream. Glacier Track. Glosses Glacier. Beginnings. Coastal Traces Tidepools 2. Borealis Music. Boundaries. Cymbalmusic: Centerflow/Trail II. Journey Music. Lemniscates. Regions. Jo Ha Kyu. Ikima. Breathing The Proclamation: excepts. Dancing in Place. Spring Music with Wind. 40 Million Gallons of Music
Prism Players; Libby Van Cleve (ob, English horn, shenai); Jack Vees (el gtr, b gtr); Eleanor Hovda (pn, cymbals, shakuhachi); Relache;
Cassatt Qrt; California EAR Unit; Jan Weller, David Gilbert (fl); Elizabeth Panzer (hp); Lee Humphries (pn); et al.
INNOVA 808 (4 CDs: 4:20:03)
I’ve written about Eleanor Hovda (1940–2009) in these pages before; indeed, in the program notes for this release I’m quoted at length. For that I’m honored, because I feel she is a major composer in need of a certain rescue now. She died of cancer far too young; she forsook positions in the Ivy League and New York artistic life for grassroots arts administering in her native and beloved Minnesota; she wrote music that, despite genuine complexity, often looked simple or naïve in score. In short, by life and aesthetic choices she herself made, and by the cards dealt her over which she had no control, she was marginalized in the broader culture of American music. But we still need her.
Parts of this comprehensive collection were originally released by O.O. Discs and I reviewed some of it in
22:4; I’d urge interested readers to check this review out in the online archive, as it goes into much more technical detail about the music than I will here. The second disc,
, is more of an extended collective improvisation for dance featuring Libby Van Cleve, double reeds; Jack Vees, guitars; and Hovda on piano interior. But the other three discs consist of more clearly defined pieces, even though they still have the composer’s trademark openness.
I now think of Hovda to some degree as the American Scelsi. By that I mean there’s an emphasis on pure sound as an expressive medium, shaped at the macro and micro level to bring out what Wallace Stevens called “the beauty of inflections.” There’s also a mystical/spiritual bent, but it’s never overbearing. Unlike Scelsi’s, Hovda’s music is often fragile, gentle, and delicate. As a result, when it really rips loose, it carries a shocking impact. I now feel that she’s an example of what I call “sonic charisma,” a capacity to take basic sonic materials that should be simplistic, facile, messy, and then imbue them with such authenticity that you can’t resist them. (Christian Wolff is another such composer in my book.)
The performances are consistently imaginative and committed, and make the case for the music persuasively. Some of the recordings are more “archival” than others, but I’d never for a second preclude their inclusion because of some hiss or ambient noise. The works range from the exceptional oboe work
Jo Ha Kyu
(thrillingly performed by Libby Van Cleve) to the Cassatt Quartet’s glasslike rendition of
to what sounds like a vast Tibetan tantric ritual in
40 Million Gallons of Music
(in fact the real story is just as wild, as the piece is a sonic exploration of a giant underground water storage tank in Fayetteville, Arkansas, recorded just after 9/11). Hopefully that gives some idea of the range. As a grand bonus, the scores for works on three of the four discs are viewable on your computer as pdfs (as are extended program notes for the entire set). One senses both how free
how precise the composer was; her craft is evident in these striking scores in her own hand. Though there is one score,
whose graphic approach is incredibly beautiful and imaginatively focused, in all the scores one sees a magical touch at work, mixing scribbling doodles with more traditional notation.
A final word of thanks and recognition to Philip Blackburn and the entire Innova organization, as this is yet another of the incredibly important rescue operations they’re performing for composers who might otherwise slip through the cracks (I think of their great Henry Brant series, for example). Every music library in America, for example, should have this collection. Bravo; it gives us all a little faith in lean times. And this is unquestionably on the next Want List.
FANFARE: Robert Carl
Works on This Recording
Onyx, for ensemble by Eleanor Hovda
Length: 13 Minutes 42 Secs.
Regions, for ensemble by Eleanor Hovda
California EAR Unit
Length: 12 Minutes 42 Secs.
Jo Ha Kyu, for oboe by Eleanor Hovda
Libby Van Cleve (Oboe)
Length: 3 Minutes 46 Secs.
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