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Higdon: On a Wire; Gandolfi: Q.E.D. Engaging Richard Feynman / Spano, Atlanta SO

Higdon / Eighth Blackbird / Spano
Release Date: 02/22/2011 
Label:  Aso Media (Label)   Catalog #: 1001   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jennifer HigdonMichael Gandolfi
Conductor:  Robert Spano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Atlanta Symphony OrchestraEighth BlackbirdAtlanta Symphony Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Atlanta Symphony's new in-house label launches with a recording of new works by Jennifer Higdon and Michael Gandolfi, both commissioned for the orchestra.

Reviews:

"The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s first in-house recording on its new label, ASO Media, is out this week... It’s a strong showing of music co-commissioned and premiered by the ASO from two of its regular composers, Jennifer Higdon and Michael Gandolfi... Last June, the ASO premiered Higdon’s 'On a Wire,' where the venerable concerto grosso form, popular in the Baroque, meets the 1960s experimental theatrics of George Crumb... Musically, the concerto is pure Higdon, showy, exuberant and beautifully crafted. There are jaunty rhythms
Read more that evoke Aaron Copland’s Americana and the melancholy lyricism of Samuel Barber, fused together in Higdon’s bright and energetic style..." -- Pierre Ruhe, ArtsCriticATL.com

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Jenifer Higdon's "On a Wire" written for the sextet known as Eighth Blackbird, a group known for their "theatrical flair" and enthusiasm plus the Atlanta Symphony conducted by Robert Spano, opens on the sound of a bowed piano wire. The drone-like effects and pinched timbre might lead one to believe they're listening to an exotic folk instrument from the Balkans or the Middle East. If this 25 minute piece continued this way it would be one of many minimalist works that circle around a narrow band of colors but Higdon doesn't let that happen. In fact, the piece does everything that a good composition should, it grows and develops, especially rhythmically and after about three minutes, when the orchestra kicks in, we find ourselves off on a wild adventure. Beyond this point the music, with a tapestry of inventive, dance-like melodies, at first sounds remarkably Russian to my ears, of the young Shostakovich and Prokofiev variety, reminiscent of their exuberant works of the 20s. The orchestra, seemingly running after or catching up with Eighth Blackbird as the music scurries through a variety of colorful hammered, plucked, strummed or struck moments, must be entertaining to watch as well as hear. Later, the orchestral writing, always assured, becomes more expansive with modal harmonies sliding under the jaunty rhythms. Here the work began to remind me of mid-20th Century Americans; Harris, Copland and Schuman. Higdon knows just when to pull out the stops but also when to hold back and closer to the end, things become more lyrical. The piece is dramatic but also highly entertaining.

The album also features Michael Gandolfi's "Q.E.D. Engaging Richard Feynman" a work for mixed chorus and orchestra. The orchestra includes an expanded percussion section, used more coloristically than rhythmically. What's not to like about Richard Feynman (1918-1988), the brilliant American physicist, teacher, author, bongo player and early collector of Tuvan throat singing before it became a fad?

The Gandolfi piece, in two large parts, explores Feynman's outlook on the world through a mixture of texts drawn from a variety of poets. The texts are intermingled which may irk poetry purists, but the booklet tells us that "the process of poetical excision and reassembly" would well-please the poets and likely Mr. Feynman. The music is a bit more in the minimalist camp than the Higdon work, opening with blocks of repeated sonorities and irregular, repeated sections using simple, boisterously bright harmonies to start with. Its all very major scale-like with splashes of colorful dissonance. The texts, provided in the booklet, are essential to understanding the work. Mr. Gandolfi's music in the second part is rhythmically more interesting as it is applied to reflect through many and varied poetic episodes by famous poets, the art of observing, which in turn reflects on Feynman's scientific mind. All this leads to an insightful conclusion inspired by a Feynman story about bird-watching in the Catskills in his youth. This is dramatic music that nevertheless depends on the texts, so have booklet in hand when listening.

- Greg La Traille, ArkivMusic.com
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Works on This Recording

1. On a Wire by Jennifer Higdon
Conductor:  Robert Spano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Atlanta Symphony Orchestra,  Eighth Blackbird
2. QED: Engaging Richard Feynman by Michael Gandolfi
Conductor:  Robert Spano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Atlanta Symphony Orchestra,  Atlanta Symphony Chorus

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