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Funky Little Crustaceans - William Hill / Golan, Moravian Po

Release Date: 04/03/2007 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 924   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  William Hill
Performer:  James PelleriteWilliam Hill
Conductor:  Lawrence Golan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 14 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ECHOES AND BOUNDARIES James Pellerite (Native American fl) JP PUBLICATIONS (46:18)

GALLOWAY Night Chants. FRIENDLY Prelude to Silence. MOLS Cadenza. PELLERITE Theme and Variance. Canto. Preludio. The Crickets Charge. Read more class="COMPOSER12">PURRONE In the Shadows. SNYDER Prism. M. BLISS Phantom Breeze. WHITE Palindromes. TOKITO Fantasia I. APPLEDORN Native American Mosaic

VISIONS, DREAMS, AND MEMORIES James Pellerite (Native American fl); Lawrence Golan (cond); Moravian PO ALBANY 893(58:46)

MAULDIN Dreams of the Child of Light. YEAGLEY Wessi vah-peh. BOYADJIAN Sevan. DEUSSEN Night Forest. SNYDER Elegy. HILL Meditation and Ritual Dance

HILL Funky Little Crustaceans. Aurora Borealis. 1 7 Abstract Miniatures Lawrence Golan, cond; 1 James Pellerite (Native American fl); Moravian PO ALBANY 924 (74:29)

If there is an instrument that is more evocative, mysterious, and haunting than the Native American flute, I have yet to hear it. It has an almost magical power to effect a heightened emotional state in the listener. Virtually every piece I’ve heard written for the instrument—quite a few by now—evokes windswept plains, ancient traditions, and a world that is unchanged over millennia. I would guess that the instrument itself has scarcely changed over a very long period, and music written for it hundreds of years ago might sound remarkably similar to what is being composed afresh by many composers today.

James Pellerite, perhaps more than any other person alive, has promoted, played, and expanded the repertory of the instrument he adopted upon his retirement from a busy performing and teaching career in 1994. The Native and classical flutes are really very different instruments, having little similarity in tone production, fingering technique, and sound, making it all the more remarkable that someone could later in life take up such a new instrument and master it. Pellerite has done exactly that, and is surely considered one of the top performers on the Native flute in the world today.

The first CD under review here contains music for unaccompanied Native American flute. Most of its traditional music was performed exclusively by the solo instrument, and only through the ministrations of Pellerite and other modern exponents has a body of literature with other instruments been created. If you are unfamiliar with the instrument, the solo disc might be the best place to begin to get acquainted with it. Given the instrument’s pentatonic construction, the music written for it has generally been diatonic in character, although some of the composers have called for unusual intervallic patterns and figurations. Characteristic of the instrument are effects known as fillips—short, high notes that usually come before or after a sustained pitch. The effect is entirely distinctive to this instrument: I know of nothing exactly akin to it in any other. Glissandi (glides) and portamenti (semi-glides) are also intrinsic to the performance tradition of this instrument.

All of the composers included here, including Pellerite himself, write felicitously and idiomatically for the instrument, while maintaining distinctive voices. Pellerite’s own works tend to be more tonally centered than some, but are written with the sure hand of someone intimately familiar with the strengths of the Native flute. Prelude to Silence by Ray Friendly is also particular effective, both in the music and its evocative title. It is actually an arrangement of a vocal work based on the 23rd Psalm. Marilyn Bliss’s Phantom Breeze strikes an arresting synthesis of the flute’s basic scale and the notes outside the scale (requiring special fingerings). The search for new sonorities on the flute probably reaches its zenith in a composition by one of the better-known composers on the CD, Mary Jeanne van Appledorn. Her Native American Mosaic includes chromaticism and multitonalities that effectively expand the musical base for the instrument’s haunting expression. The CD may most easily be obtained from jamespellerite.com.

The other two CDs are both productions of Albany Records, and feature the Native flute with orchestra or chamber-orchestra accompaniment. The first disc features the Native flute in works, all written for Pellerite, by six different composers. Dreams of the Child of Light by Michael Mauldin is gently lyrical and modal, and contains an extended cadenza for the flute in the last of its three movements. At 19 minutes, this may be one of the more extended works for this instrument. Its title refers to the Dalai Lama, and in the work, the composer seeks to reflect the resilient spirituality of those both young and young-at-heart. Mauldin, a transplant to New Mexico, has served as president of the New Mexico Composers’ Guild, and teaches piano, voice, composition, and orchestration in the Albuquerque area.

David Yeagley is a Comanche from Oklahoma, having received a doctorate from the University of Arizona in 1994, working with Daniel Asia. His Wessi Vah-Peh uses extended tonalities to achieve distinctive sonorities, conjuring up more dissonance than one usually associates with the music written for the Native flute. This is gentle dissonance, however, with tonality never lurking too far away. Following the practice of Native Americans in adopting techniques of Western (European) painting and making it their own art, Yeagley has imagined his people doing something similar in Western art music. The result is an arresting exercise in color and sonority. Wessi Vah-Peh is named and written in tribute to the composer’s mother, who was named by her grandfather. Her name means roughly “curly hair,” after the fact that as a newborn she had a large curling lock of black hair prominent on her head.

Sevan by Hayg Boyadjian pictures one of the world’s highest lakes near the home of the composer’s ancestors in Yerevan, Armenia. Muted first violins, playing in upper registers, and timpani, representing the surrounding mountain peaks, punctuate the texture, and set the tone for this evocative work. The flute represents the piping of the shepherds and somehow seems as appropriate in the context of the geography of Armenia as it does in its usual Western American settings. The piece ends with a distillation of the quietude of the mountains.

In Night Forest of Nancy Bloomer Deussen, a composer working in the San Francisco area, we return to the lyrical modality heard in the Mauldin piece. Deussen’s work depicts a Native American boy wandering into the night and encountering a host of frightening things—goblins, shadows, strange animals—but before he is overcome with fright, he sees a comforting ray of light in the distance, leading him to safety. The work includes an ancient musical theme, Westron Wynde , in the solo flute about three-quarters of the way through the nine-minute composition.

Randall Snyder’s Elegy was conceived for Native flute and lute, and eventually wound up in the version with accompaniment of strings and harp that is heard here. The mood is dark and somber at the beginning, but eventually yields to a lighter and more optimistic tone. Begun in September 2001 as a memorial to the composer’s father, it assumed a more universal relevance in the light of the tragic events that occurred that month in Manhattan. Snyder taught at the University of Nebraska, and his style incorporates an appealing mix of elements, all evocative, and idiomatically underpinning the lines in the solo instrument. At six minutes, this work is the briefest on the CD, but it makes a significant impact.

The Meditation and Ritual Dance of William Hill rounds out the first of the Albany CDs. Composed in the space of one week in 2006, the piece amounts to a tone poem, albeit one with no specific program. The orchestration includes percussion and piano, lending a particularly mysterious ambience to the work. Flutes in both G and F# are used, the latter in a middle section requiring a darker, more earthy sound from the soloist. The Ritual Dance is in two sections, the first slow and mysterious, and the second ratcheting up the tempo to a very lively—even frenetic—pace. Although all the pieces on this CD are strong works, Hill’s piece takes pride of place to my ears, in part because of his imaginative orchestration, and the contrasting colors and moods that he evokes.

On the basis of the strength of this work, I am glad to have an opportunity to review a second Albany CD devoted exclusively to Hill’s music. Only one of the pieces on that CD, Aurora Borealis, features the Native flute, and it is every bit as fine a work as the Meditation and Ritual Dance , albeit, at a half hour, three times the length of Meditation (making it perhaps the longest symphonic work written for Native flute). It also reaches the loudest climax of any work I’ve heard for the Native flute. Like Meditation, it is described by its composer as a tone poem, with “an Impressionistic musical language…used to depict the icy monochromatic stillness of the far north [and] gradual hints of color developing into more subtle shadows of the spectrum as the piece evolves.” I cannot improve upon the composer’s description of his piece, which invokes a haunting and dark atmosphere, onto which a walking bass line is occasionally superimposed. Living in the South and Midwest all of my life, I’ve never had the thrill of experiencing the aurora borealis, but this music must be a sonic equivalent to the visual spectacle that many have witnessed.

I should make a brief parenthesis to introduce William Hill to readers who do not know his music. A graduate in percussion from Indiana University, he has been active on the musical scene as composer, conductor, percussionist, and teacher, currently serving as principal timpanist in the Colorado Symphony, and as a teacher of composition and counterpoint at Denver University’s Lamont School of Music. His music has been feted in many quarters, and Hill was recognized as Composer of the Year for 2007 by the Colorado chapter of the Music Teachers National Association. It’s easy to see why on the basis of the works under review here, as each of them demonstrates a secure technique, an accessible but original style, and an abundance of substantial and contrasting musical ideas.

His well thought-out titles complement beautifully his musical ideas: Funky Little Crustaceans is certainly catchy as a title, and the composer immediately thought so too, when his wife used the epithet to describe the thousands of tiny creatures she witnessed on the beach of the Outer Banks of North Carolina during a vacation. All the composer had to do, then, was to write a piece that would go along with the title. This he did, beginning the work with big block chords that represent the pounding waves upon the beach, an effect that gives way to a kind of disjointed calypso, meant to depict the crustaceans as they are tossed chaotically to and fro by the waves. A slower lyrical middle section is eventually pushed to its conclusion by a final crashing musical wave. The percussion-rich score works on every level, including the humorous touches that occasionally intrude. These include directions to the musicians such as “suddenly skittering erratically ahead.”

The disc concludes with Hill’s Seven Abstract Miniatures, which is scored for percussion solo and chamber orchestra. Like Mussorgsky’s Pictures (and of course, countless other works), it is a musical suite based on artwork. Unique in this piece is the fact that the artwork depicted in the music is by the composer himself. At least, I think it’s unique, as I cannot offhand recall another such piece, even though other composers have been artists as well. Lord Berners and Schoenberg immediately come to mind as examples. A partial precedent for Hill might exist in Swiss painter Paul Klee’s 1938 Harpia Harpiana, which includes a phrase from a melody apparently of his own composition in the actual drawing. In any case, given his early training in both music and visual art, Hill has succeeded in effectively setting seven of his own designs (reproduced in black and white in the booklet); additionally, given that he is featured as solo percussionist in this recording of the work, he is a triple threat. The music is full of the angular energy that is depicted in his art, clearly delineated by the lines, often driving and virtuosic, of the solo percussionist. The work also has its gentle moments as well as jazzy segments, and is quite a tour de force.

All of the performances on these three CDs seem definitive to me. Pellerite’s mastery of the Native flute has seldom been equaled elsewhere. In the orchestral works, Lawrence Golan and the Moravian Philharmonic do a most worthy job in displaying these works to excellent advantage. For those with any interest in exploring the Native American flute, any of the CDs will prove most worthwhile, although only about a third of the Hill disc is devoted to Pellerite and his instrument. It is, regardless, well worth picking up on the merits of Hill’s music, and the performances thereof. Sonics are likewise clear, rich, and present on all three discs, each of which is strongly recommended.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Funky Little Crustaceans by William Hill
Conductor:  Lawrence Golan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1990 
Length: 11 Minutes 32 Secs. 
Aurora Borealis by William Hill
Performer:  James Pellerite (Flute)
Conductor:  Lawrence Golan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 27 Minutes 58 Secs. 
Abstract Miniatures (7) for Percussion and Chamber Orchestra by William Hill
Performer:  William Hill (Percussion)
Conductor:  Lawrence Golan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 34 Minutes 30 Secs. 

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