The New York Times: Classical Playlist: Beethoven, Shostakovich, Tigran Mansurian and More

May 15, 2014

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time

‘AKOKA: REFRAMING OLIVIER MESSIAEN’S QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME’
David Krakauer, clarinetist; Matt Haimovitz, cellist; Jonathan Crow, violinist; Geoffrey Burleson, pianist; Socalled, electronics
(Oxingale)
This brilliantly inventive recording pays tribute to Henri Akoka, the Algerian-born clarinetist who egged on Messiaen to compose when both were prisoners of war in a German camp during World War II. Framing a vivid rendition of the “Quartet for the End of Time” are two musical flights of fancy, an improvisation by the extraordinary clarinetist David Krakauer, and an electronic remix of the quartet by Socalled. (Fonseca-Wollheim)

Read at: The New York Times

The Examiner: Oxingale presents a stunning context for Messiaen on its latest release

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time

Yesterday Oxingale released a new recording with a somewhat intimidating title, Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. This title definitely deserves points (and probably extra credit) for truth in advertising. It refers to Henri Akoka, a Jewish clarinetist who met Messiaen on the way to Stalag VIII-A, the prisoner-of-war camp to which Messiaen was sent when he was captured by the German army in June of 1940. While they were in transit to the camp, Messiaen worked up sketches for a clarinet solo that he showed to Akoka. Those sketches would eventually become the “Abîme des oiseaux” (abyss of birds) movement of his “Quatuor pour la fin du temps.” Once at the camp, Messiaen and Akoka met the violinist Jean le Boulaire and the cellist Étienne Pasquier. Messiaen wrote a short trio for clarinet, violin, and cello from which the full quartet eventually emerged and was first performed at the camp (“outdoors and in the rain,” as its Wikipedia page observes) on January 15, 1941 with Messiaen taking the piano part.

On this new recording the performers are Geoffrey Burleson on piano, David Krakauer on clarinet, Jonathan Crow on violin, and Matt Haimovitz on cello. It is, to say the least, one hell of an interpretation, combining connotations of highly free improvisation (as in “Abîme des oiseaux”) with the rhythmically demanding unison for the entire quartet in the “Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes” (dance of fury, for the seven trumpets), requiring the utmost precision for the required uniformity. However, in the midst of all the technical demands lies some of Messiaen’s most visceral efforts at composition. While this is probably a reflection of the composer’s deeply-felt commitment to the Catholic religion, I have previouslyconsidered the possibility that the entire composition is based on a misreading of the tenth chapter of the Book of Revelation. Thus, it is better to approach this music as a series of reflections of apocalyptic visions without worrying about whether or not those visions can be traced back to the New Testament.

In that respect this new recording establishes a context for Messiaen’s quartet that has more to do with the circumstances surrounding the original performers than with Messiaen’s personal articles of faith. It begins with “AKOKA,” which is an almost entirely improvised composition by Krakauer. This suggests (not necessarily accurately) that at least some of the passages that Messiaen composed may have been inspired by his listening to Akoka, le Boulaire, and Pasquier improvising on their respective instruments. It is thus at least remotely possible that “AKOKA” honors a significant precedent, since much of the music that Alban Berg composed for the violin part in his concerto emerged from his listening to improvisations by the violinist who commissioned the concerto, Louis Krasner.

Adventurous as “AKOKA” may be, as a prelude it is a bit modest in comparison with the postlude, entitled “MEANWHILE….” This is the work of Socalled, which is the name that composer Josh Dolgin assumes when he is working as a “beat architect.” The music (and, yes, I have no problem with calling it “music”) is a collage that mixes live samples of the four Messiaen performers with old radio broadcasts (news reports of the Nazi advances during the Second World War), hip-hop, Jewish liturgical incantation, and the steady beats of “markers of time.” Particularly impressive is when Socalled inserts an incessant club-scene beat behind that homophonic “Danse de la fureur” movement. On the one hand this mix affirms the precision with which that music was being played; but, at the same time, it refracts the apocalyptic denotations of the score through a jazzy lens, making for a provocative distortion of Messiaen’s original conception.

Haimovitz has been quoted as saying that the intention of the full program for this recording was to lift Messiaen’s quartet “out of the polite confines of a normal chamber music performance.” He and his colleagues have succeeded admirably; but it is worth noting that they are not the only ones inspired by this “mission statement.” Here in San Francisco in February of 2011, four of the musicians in Nonsemble 6 (originally formed by students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to prepare a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Opus 21 Pierrot Lunaire) performed Messiaen’s quartet in the Red Poppy Art House surrounded by eight paintings (one for each of the quartet’s movements) by Olivia Lam. Just as Messiaen’s score amounts to a highly individual reading of New Testament scripture, so can performances of this music reflect equally individual readings through other uses of auxiliary media.

By: Stephen Smoliar

Read at: The Examiner

The Buffalo News: Listening Post: Future Islands, Bob Dylan tribute, Avi Avital, Dinara Alieva, Hafez Nazeri, Oran Etkin and ‘Working Man’s Poet’

March 30, 2014

… Avi Avital, “Between Worlds” (Deutsche Grammophon). You have to smile, hearing Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances played on mandolin, accompanied by accordion and harp. That’s what mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital means about being between worlds. (Though the Romanian Folk Dances do sound quite at home on the mandolin, which sort of stands in for a balalaika.) Avital has great sidemen, led by Richard Galliano on accordion. They are warm and witty and unconventional – sort of like Buffalo’s Skiffle Minstrels, I thought now and then. only with a more Eastern European slant. They trade witty duets in a Piazzolla piece and fill a traditional Bulgarian dance with an infectious joy. The music tends to gather speed, gradually, like the music you hear at the Greek Festival. The mood grows more reflective with Ernest Bloch’s “Nigun” and a traditional Welsh melody, “Hen Ferghetan,” which begins with extreme delicacy and features Catrin Finch on harp. The thread that holds this disc together is that all the composers represented – also including Manuel de Falla and Hector Villa-Lobos – were all inspired by folk music. Avital and his friends help you see why. ΩΩΩ½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Hafez Nazeri, “Rumi Symphony, Project Untold” Performed by Nazeri and the Rumi Instrumental Ensemble and various artists including cellist Matt Haimovitz, violist Phil Neubauer and percussionists Glen Velez and Zakir Hussain under Nazeri’s direction (Sony Classical). How’s this for musical ambition? What the great Iranian composer and vocalist and instrumentalist wants to do with his Rumi Symphony Project, he says, is “spark a musical fusion so convincing and so different that it demands a new name.” It incorporates “the singular voice of the Persian mystical poet Rumi with the harmonic structure of Western Symphonic music, signaling the integration of distinct musical traditions into a new form and identity, a new beginning.” Nazeri has sold out Carnegie Hall with his music, and when you hear the power and beauty of what he is trying to do here (which is way beyond previous Eastern/Western musics by, say, Ravi Shankar) you’ll have no confusion why. I wish there were translations of Rumi’s poetry in the notes, but it’s marvelous, no matter.ΩΩΩΩ (Jeff Simon)…

Read at: The Buffalo News

 

The KlezmerShack: David Krakauer’s “Akoka”

March 27, 2014

CD coverAt the beginning of WWII, Olivier Messiaen was in the French army, and was taken prisoner of war. People less philistine than I consider it one of the premier pieces of 20th century music, and it premiered in Stalag 8-A on Jan 15, 1941 with Messiaen on piano, and three other musicians—one of them a Jewish clarinetist, Henri Akoka. There is a stunning description of the circumstances under which the piece was written and premiered in a new novel, Orfeo by one of my favorite authors, Richard Price. It may be the best section, and one that best illuminates what Powers is trying to say with the novel. (The one Jewish music connection to this piece, perhaps? Partly as a result of being part of that quartet of musicians, with missteps and near-transports along the way, Henri Akoka survived the war.)

I have been listing to an old RCA recording of “The Quartet for the End of Time” for the last couple of months, ever since reading about it in the novel. I had purchased the recording after reading Alex Ross’ incredible book on 20th century music, All the rest is noise,” a few years ago, and quite frankly, hadn’t gotten into it. That has changed.

Now, things have changed again. David Krakauer has released a new recording of the quartet, framed by short pieces composed by himself (“Akoka”) and digital re-mix wizard, SoCalled (“Meanwhile….”). It includes Krakauer on clarinet, SoCalled on electronics, Matt Haimovitz on cello, Jonathan Crow on violin, and Geoffrey Burleson on piano. It is stunning. It will officially release on April 1, and if you are at all interested in amazing once-avant garde music, this is a must-purchase. It has replaced (mostly) my older recording. As intended, this is the “Quartet for the end of time” for our time.

Read at: The KlezmerShack

By: Ari Davidow

The Jewish Week: Hearing A Jewish Downbeat

February 19, 2014

Cellist Matt Haimovitz’s Shoah-tinged ‘Akoka.’

When he was 16, Israeli-born cellist Matt Haimovitz was invited to play Richard Strauss’ “Don Quixote” with the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Herbert von Karajan. Berlin? Strauss, a darling of the Nazi regime? Von Karajan, who was a member of the Nazi party? But a career breakthrough of immense proportions.

He was pondering the offer when his grandfather extended another invitation.

“My grandfather took me to Yad Vashem,” he recalled in a telephone interview last week. “The experience was so powerful that I turned them down. It was a very difficult decision. It was a pinnacle on a professional level, but I couldn’t do that to my grandparents.”

Haimovitz’s career survived. He made the difficult transition from prodigy to adult professional by gradually moving away from the standard cello repertoire and expanding his horizons to take in new music and the challenges of experimentation. And he has paid back his debt to his grandparents handsomely with his new album, “Akoka,” a stunning combination of the old and the new that evokes the Shoah in an elegant way.

The centerpiece of the CD is a shatteringly beautiful performance of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” a deeply spiritual piece of music written while Messiaen was a prisoner in a German POW camp. The clarinetist for whom he wrote the piece was a fellow prisoner, an Algerian Jew named Henri Akoka. When a sympathetic camp guard arranged for Messiaen and the other musicians to be sent back to France, Akoka’s Jewish features led to his being kept in the POW camp. He eventually escaped, jumping from a train with his clarinet under his arm.

Haimovitz has teamed with David Krakauer and Socalled to create two pieces in response to the Messiaen, a composition by Krakauer bearing Akoka’s name, and a mash-up by Socalled that combines the Messiaen with the beat-maker’s usual witty collection of sound bites, musical samples and frisky beats. The result is compelling listening, particularly when you know the story behind the compositions.

“It’s always powerful to play the Messiaen,” Haimovitz said. “To think of the circumstances, that makes it an even more spiritual experience. It’s an extraordinary statement that under those conditions you could come up with something so beautiful and transcendent. It lifts the spirit.”

By: George Robinson
Read at: The Jewish Week

O'Riley's Liszt - Blu-ray Video/Audio Disc

Christian B. Carey: O’Riley’s Liszt

December 27, 2013

File under best CDs of 2013

O’Riley’s Liszt
Christopher O’Riley, piano
Oxingale

During the past decade, Christopher O’Riley has been quite busy, hosting From the Top, concertizing, and recording his adaptations of pop songs by Radiohead, Nick Drake, and Elliott Smith.  But he hasn’t released an all-classical CD since a Scriabin disc in 2004. That is, until 2013, when his two-CD recording of music by that barnstormer of barnstormers and finger-buster of finger-busters, Franz Liszt, saw the light of day. Continue reading

San Jose Mercury News: Best of 2013 classical

December 20, 2013

We’re constantly hearing that classical music is in a state of crisis: struggling orchestras, aging concertgoers, a weakened recording industry. Sometimes I think it’s all a crock, or at least a substantial exaggeration. Whatever the challenges, the music is stubborn and continues to thrive in many ways. This year, like every year, I received many dozens of new classical recordings. Here are 10 that should stand the test: old works, new works and new works commenting on old works with affection and humor.

1. Hilary Hahn, “In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores” (Deutsche Grammophon): The violinist commissioned 26 new works from 26 composers — a bonanza of repertory, created in one fell swoop. (She also held a contest to find a 27th, and wound up choosing from among more than 400 submissions.) Brilliantly performed by Hahn and pianist Cory Smythe, the results are on these two discs — a grab bag of treasures. The composers include David Lang and David Del Tredici, Mason Bates and Lera Auerbach, Nico Muhly and film scorer James Newton Howard. I’m right now obsessed with Avner Dorman’s “Memory Games,” a sort of mad, mazelike tango that might have been conceived by Conlon Nancarrow.

2. Christopher O’Riley, “O’Riley’s Liszt” (Oxingale): I love the way pianist O’Riley moves from fascination to fascination with each new recording. This double-disc feels like a concept album: nothing but Liszt transcriptions of works by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner (“Prelude and Liebestod”) and (the pièce de résistance) Berlioz, whose “Symphonie fantastique” is rarely heard in this titanic version for solo piano. It unfolds like an ancient exploration, straight to the scaffold and the “Witches’ Sabbath.” Continue reading

glass

BBC Music Magazine: Review of Philip Glass Cello Concerto No. 2 ‘Naqoyqatsi”

December 12, 2013

This Concerto grew from music Glass composed in 2001 for Naqoyqatsi, his third collaboration with the innovative documentary director, Godfrey Reggio. Glass had completed his first Cello Concerto (dedicated to, and premiered by, Julian Lloyd Webber) shortly before, but it was not until a decade later that he decided to turn the film score into a ‘proper’ concerto. I’m familiar with the first films in the trilogy, Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi but haven’t seen Naqoyqatsiapparently its images were largely digitally created. And Glass wanted to composer ‘a very acoustic piece that could be played by a real orchestra’. Continue reading

glass

Gramophone Magazine: Glass’s Naqoyqatsi score reworked as a cello concerto

December 12, 2013

Replete with images of war, death, conflict and pain, Naqoyqatsi is arguably the darkest and most disturbing depiction of ‘life out of balance’ in Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi film trilogy. Glass’s music remains for the most part detached from the film’s disturbing images, however, acting in the composer’s words more ‘as a doorway into the film’. Continue reading

The New York Times: A Crushed Spirit, Healed by the Whispers of Angels

October 17, 2013
"Angel Heart" was conceived by Luna Pearl Woolf and  Lisa Delan.

“Angel Heart” was conceived by Luna Pearl Woolf and Lisa Delan.

“There.”

“Do you hear it?”
At the beginning, there is only the voice of Jeremy Irons. Then, the sound of strings: high, sparkling filaments of sound that dance around the narrator’s voice like dust particles catching the light.

There is a whispering of wings in the silence of the night.

They’re coming. With feathers as white as snow and faces as bright as the moonlight:

Angels.

“Angel Heart” is a tender and emotionally astute children’s story told in words and music. Last month it was released as an audiobook CD; on Monday it will be performed live at Zankel Hall with the actor Chris Noth as narrator. Continue reading