Review by Peter Burwasser
THE POETRY OF PLACES • Nadia Shpachenko (pn, toy pn 2 , voc 2 ); Joanne Pearce Martin 1,3 (pn); Nick Terry 1 , Cory Hills 1 (perc) • REFERENCE 730 (77:32)
NORMAN 1 Frank’s House. MELTZER In Full Sail. VAN ZANDT Sí an Bhrú. LASH Give Me Your Songs. KIRSTEN 2 h. o. p. e. MATHESON Alone, in waters shimmering and dark. SPRATLAN Bangladesh. YOUNG 3 Kolokol
As was the case with Nadia Shpachenko’s previous Reference Recordings project, Quotations and Homages, this release features a broad range of contemporary voices, with a scintillating mix of daring sound, genuine beauty, and a commodity too often missing from the new music world: humor. The earlier release featured new music that overtly referenced the composer’s inspirations. The unifying theme for this collection is a subject that has long been of interest to me (although I am hardly alone); the effect of place on the reception of art. At the time of the opening of the current home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Verizon Hall, in 2001, I spent a good deal of time with one of the members of the acoustical design team (Tateo Nakagima, the Senior Consultant for Artec Consultants), discussing the intricacies of the system that was installed, with its moveable ceiling cloud and adjustable walls. While all of that wonderful technology enhances the enjoyment of live music, we concluded that it is no less important for one’s acoustical perception than the listener’s state of mind, or, for that matter, what a listener ate for lunch that day.
This collection of eight new works, all receiving world premiere recordings, draws inspiration from significant architecture as well as place. Starchitect Frank Gehry’s buildings are the subject of the first two works. His Santa Monica house is the subject of Andrew Newman’s Frank’s House, in which a lovely waltz is enhanced by percussion effects using materials (plywood, corrugated metal, chain link fence) found in the design of the building. The angular historicism of the house is in contrast to the undulating glass surfaces of Gehry’s IAC Building, along New York’s High Line Park, which Harold Meltzer pays homage to with delicate, shimmering solo piano music.
Jack Van Zandt’s Sí an Bhrú jumps back in time to 3200 BC, with a musical commentary on the structure named in the title, a stone and earthen edifice that is one of the oldest buildings in the world. The six sections, for solo piano and electronics, mimic the growth of the project amidst a stark natural setting with seemingly palpable sound. Both Hannah Lash’s Give Me Your Song and Amy Beth Kirsten’s h.o.p.e. are informed not by architecture per se, but the spirit within specific buildings. The deceptively simple, somewhat Minimalistic music of Lash was inspired by her 2015 summer sojourn in Aaron Copland’s upstate New York home, and Kirsten’s charming and quirky work for toy piano reflects her amazement (which I share) for the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. I was also amazed at the perfectly pitched and delightfully crystalline sound of the Schoenhut toy piano.
James Matheson’s place is a house on an island in the middle of a lake. His vantage point is from the house looking out. The piece is in three sections, opening rather heroically with brash chords, and continuing in an open-throated voice, evoking the exuberance of nature as well as her menace. He dedicates the last movement to his teacher, the late Steven Stucky, a fine composer and lovely man whom I also had the privilege of knowing. Lewis Spratlan returns to monumental architecture for Bangladesh, a five-section work inspired by architect Louis Kahn’s great late career masterpiece, the National Assembly of Bangladesh. The music is as handsome as the building, evoking the dignity and allusions to antiquity in Kahn’s work.
The CD concludes, appropriately, with a chorus of Russian Orthodox bells (think of the Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov), created by pianos and electronic renditions of actual church bells—in this case, the Danilov Bells installed at Harvard University. It sounds like a celebration, as does the cumulative effect of this remarkably diverse and thoroughly engaging collection. Nadia Shpachenko is a great friend and champion of new music. Peter Burwasser