WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

The Unheard Music - New American Music for Wind Ensemble and Brass

Mcloskey / Barish / Kusterer / Hewitt
Release Date: 10/08/2013 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1442   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Lansing McLoskeyNico MuhlyKeith KustererJustin Barish
Conductor:  Eric Hewitt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Boston Conservatory Wind EnsembleTriton Brass
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  
On sale! $18.98
CD:  $16.99
In Stock

Notes and Editorial Reviews

THE UNHEARD MUSIC: New American Music for Wind Ensemble and Brass Triton Brass; 1,2 Eric Hewitt 1,3,4,5 , cond; Boston Cons Wind Ens 1,3,4,5 ALBANY 1442 (66:24)

MCLOSKEY 1 What We Do Is Secret. 2 The Madding Crowd. MUHLY Read more 3 So to Speak. KUSTERER 4 _of patina BARISH 5 Machine Music

“The Unheard Music” is the title of the present CD, such titles usually being drawn from the name of one of the pieces on it, but this one coming rather from one of the movements in the first work. Given that none of the four composers heard on this CD was known to me and quite possibly to you, I shall give brief biographical details of each.

First encountered herein is Lansing McLoskey (b. 1964), who received his training at UC Santa Barbara and the USC Thornton School of Music. His studies culminated in his being awarded a Ph.D. from Harvard, and his music has been widely performed on six continents, by such ensembles as The Hilliard Ensemble, Triton Brass, Atlantic Brass, newEar Ensemble, Speculum Musicae, and others. His recent (2011) What We Do Is Secret springs from the composer’s past connections with punk rock groups, in particular the group The Germs . Consequently, each of its movements, “Strange Notes,” “The Unheard Music,” “New York’s Alright [sic] (...If You Like Saxophones),” and “Rise Above,” comes from song titles by such groups. If you, like me, are about as ignorant about punk rock groups as it is possible to be, you’ll probably just ignore these titles and stick to my comments about the music, which the composer affirms simply springs from the words and not the music of these groups.

“Strange Notes” begins with, yes, some strange notes in an upward rocketing flourish but quickly settles down to low chorale-like lines in the solo brass instruments, over which further dissonant flourishes are superimposed. From that point on, the piece continues in a movement that presents a series of imaginative sonorities that serve to evoke some mysterious and distant unknown world, followed by one containing a violent, percussion-rich exercise full of New York-ish, bluesy gestures, and finally an exciting movement full of sustained dissonances and contrapuntal intricacies.

McLoskey’s music also closes the CD with an older (2007) work entitled The Madding Crowd, this being the only work on the CD for a chamber ensemble, the brass quintet. The work is cast in a single movement comprising five parts and an introduction, the latter beginning with a seemingly random series of isolated chords before it transitions into quickly repeated chords of similar construction. Each of the subsequent parts features a different instrument (the second trumpet of the traditional brass quintet is replaced with the slightly less brightly toned cornet). Most of the solos have senza misura sections that verge on free improvisation over the rhythmically strict parts in the other instruments. This highly virtuosic work makes a powerful impression, and the Triton Brass deserves much of the kudos for making it so, along with their participation in What We Do Is Secret.

Much different from the preceding work is Nico Muhly’s So to Speak from 2004. Muhly (b. 1981 in Vermont) received a degree in English literature from Columbia University and a MM from the Juilliard School, where he worked with Christopher Rouse and John Corigliano. His music has received performances by the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, and the Boston Pops, among other distinguished artists and ensembles. So to Speak (after Thomas Tallis) is an extended meditation on Tallis’s Pentecost anthem Loquebantur Variis Linguis (they spoke in many tongues). Now, don’t expect Renaissance-sounding music here: There are certainly undercurrents of Tallis to be heard, but all the figuration and sonorities, as well as the dramatic structure of the piece, combine to create a piece of music from our own time. Particularly striking to my ears is the way the composer has various instruments suddenly come from nowhere with various lines and motifs. Tallis’s anthem eventually emerges as a kind of cantus firmus, but there is always a good bit of non-Tallis going on in conjunction with it, and the work is viscerally exciting throughout.

Keith Kusterer, also born in 1981, holds degrees from the Boston Conservatory and Columbia College Chicago, where he studied under Marcos Balter, Ilya Levinson, Marti Epstein, and Curtis Hughes. His music has received several prizes and awards, including an award in the 2000 John Lennon Songwriting Competition, and the 2012 Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble Competition prize. His work, of patina, is recent to the point that it was composed in the same year (2013) that I’m writing the review of it. Patina is of course the darkening process that affects copper and other metals as they become weathered or oxidized. Such a burnishing of the metal is usually considered aesthetically appealing, and so the composer has extrapolated the idea into music wherein a robust original conception is “worn down” to remnants that can be considered skeletal. The analogy is extended to metals through the use of metallic instruments, such as harp and certain of the percussion instruments.

The work opens with barely perceptible sounds, which are soon punctuated by various percussion instruments, including triangle, cymbals, and marimba. The composer draws in other interesting sounds from the ensemble, some of which resemble the didgeridoo, and gradually develops these into a stunning sonic portrait to create a work that never flags in interest or originality. It’s one of those “I can’t wait to hear what he does next!” sort of pieces. That doesn’t mean that I hear anything reminding me in particular of the patina-creating process, but his title is probably as good as any.

Justin Barish is a very young (b. 1990) composer, and a product of the Boston Conservatory where he studied with Dalit Warshaw, Marti Epstein, and Andy Vores. His awards include the 2011 Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble Composition Competition and the 2012 Roger Sessions Memorial Award. His Machine Music is a rather violent exercise, replete with dissonances, repeated strokes on various percussion instruments, twitterings from the woodwinds, blaring brass clusters, and the like. At around the five-minute mark, though, the violence yields to a much more subdued texture, which provided a welcome relief. The piece is effective in its way, but I think demonstrates less imagination in its use of its materials than the other works on the disc. Nevertheless, I shall look forward to hearing other music by this composer, if it comes my way. Who knows what his music will sound like when he is 46.

This well recorded CD might not be for the hot tea and crumpets crowd, but if you’re into brassy atonality, i.e., no key and trumpets, you’ll find much to like here. This original and imaginative music by composers of considerable craftsmanship will certainly appeal to many.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
Read less

Works on This Recording

What We Do Is Secret by Lansing McLoskey
Conductor:  Eric Hewitt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble,  Triton Brass
The Madding Crowd by Lansing McLoskey
Conductor:  Eric Hewitt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble,  Triton Brass
So to Speak by Nico Muhly
Conductor:  Eric Hewitt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble,  Triton Brass
of patina by Keith Kusterer
Conductor:  Eric Hewitt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble,  Triton Brass
Machine Music by Justin Barish
Conductor:  Eric Hewitt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble,  Triton Brass

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Shiny New Music October 1, 2013 By Gerry Dionne See All My Reviews "Music lovers who have grown up listening to, and admiring, some of the writing for winds from William Schuman (Symphony 8 comes to mind), or the more demanding music from Stan Kenton as written by Bob Graettinger and Pete Rugolo - then throw in some Toru Takamitsu, Edgard Varese and Lou Harrison - will feel very much at home with this new collection of music from American composers Lansing McLoskey, Nico Muhly, Keith Kusterer and Justin Barish. All of this music is realized with virtuosic subtlety, power and precision by the Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble and Triton Brass Quintet. The musicianship and the disk's sonics are unequivocally first rate. With releases of this caliber, gone are the days when new music suffered first exposure to the public with tentative or otherwise inadequate performances, a factor that impeded understanding of a great deal of new music since the Second Viennese School of Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alban Berg. With the possible exception of the Kusterer's "of patina", none of these works is avant garde. I'm not saying they're derivative, or in any way clones of something that's gone before. All of the music on this set is muscular, distinctive, and proof-positive that non-electronic ensemble music is alive and kicking like mad in America. What sets the Kusterer piece apart comes down to two elements; the unorthodox methods of acheiving some of the unique sounds we hear such as overblowing the flute mouthpiece or the key slapping of other woodwinds. The second and more important distinguishing element is its microtonalism. High pitched, microtonally harmonized tones produce an affect similar to the overtones in a bell. Kusterer utilizes fixed pitch percussion, for example, with tuneable woodwinds to achieve a gorgeous new sound. Western ears are used to the tempered scale as a gold standard. Historically, any music that calls for intervalic sounds between the piano's half steps is viewed as non-legitimate - something alien; certainly not concert music. And yet, "of patine" employs these quavering quarter and eighth tones to produce some of the most ethereal and, dare I say it, beautiful contemporary music I've heard. Its very delicacy pulls the listener toward it. We lean forward in our seats, breathless, not wanting to miss anything. Then he surprises us with a stretch of some of the most testosterone-soaked passages from among these pieces. Yet, they fit seamlessly with his quiet moments. Nearly nine minutes of music pass like a flash before our ears. I think we'll be hearing more from Mr. Kusterer. I wish I had the space to expand similarly to the other composers on this wonderful disk. Hopefully, they won't remain "Unheard" much longer." Report Abuse
Review This Title