American Composers Orchestra

edited December 2012 in Classical
This is a gathering of posts from the Classical N&N and the listening thread:

- Each track is released as individual (album priced ?) singles.
ETA: not album priced in Europe.

Conductors: Bradley Lubman; Jeffrey Milarsky; Steven Sloane
Artists: Evan Ziporyn (Bass Clarinet); Fred Ho (Baritone Saxophone); Todd Reynolds (Violin); Seth Josel (Electric Guitar); Ned McGowan (Contrabass Flute)

- "An album that explores the extreme ends of what’s possible when some uncommon solo instruments join the orchestra as soloist. This album contains five works by as many composers featuring music for unusual instruments that extend the range and sonic possibilities of an otherwise acoustic orchestra.

Three of the pieces are what we might call “bottom-feeders,” as they explore and gather their power from the extreme low register. Evan Ziporyn demonstrates the virtuosic possibilities of the bass clarinet, integrating his own ideas with influences ranging from Balinese Gamelan to jazz to Stravinsky, in his Big Grenadilla. Fred Ho makes “real dragons fly” in a tour-de-force and call-to-action for baritone saxophone and orchestra that combines Chinese folk song with an avant-jazz perspective. Perhaps the most unusual instrument on this album is the seldom-heard contrabass flute, an instrument that, in the hands of Ned McGowan, is capable of everything from near breathless calm to driving bass riffs that propel the orchestra forward.

The other two works on the album partner electric instruments with the orchestra. Keeril Makan’s Dream Lightly features the electric guitar of Seth Josel. But you won’t find any amped-up power chords here, only the most delicate and ethereal of guitar harmonics, making the piece an almost anti-concerto. Finally, Neil Rolnick, a pioneer in electronic music, introduces us to the cyborg-fiddle he created with soloist Todd Reynolds, an instrument that seamlessly takes us from flashy Pagagini-esque pyrotechnics to cyberspace.

Each of the five pieces was commissioned and premiered by ACO for Orchestra Underground, its entrepreneurial ensemble and concert series at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall that seeks to re-invent and re-imagine the orchestra with unusual instruments, eclectic influences, new collaborations and technologies, and important new compositional voices."

- From the linernotes @:

American Composers Orchestra homepage:


  • edited December 2012
    Track 1:
    - for electric guitar & orchestra
    - "In Dream Lightly, we are placed in a world that is beautifully paralyzed, or perhaps paralyzed by beauty. The music does not move; it has fallen asleep but is not aware of it. It is stuck in a continual repetition of similar thoughts, slightly changing and rearranging them, cast in subtly changing environments.

    The guitarist almost always plays harmonics—notes produced by lightly touching the string at certain points to create sounds that sound higher and more fragile than ordinary pitches. The world of harmonics hovers above the guitar, oftentimes slightly, but purposefully, out of tune with instruments played in a conventional manner. The traditional tuning of the orchestra reflects a desire to move forward, to be able to modulate, and is a compromise between this desire and the way vibrating strings and air columns naturally work. The tuning of harmonics is derived from the open string; it is a static world, complete unto itself.

    The piece explores the dissonance that exists between the harmonics on different strings of the guitar, as well as between the tuning of the guitar’s harmonics and the tuning of the orchestra. All of the music is derived from or in response to the guitar. It is not a concerto in the traditional sense, as the soloist and the orchestra are not antagonists. Rather, it is as if the orchestra exists inside of the guitarist’s head, helping, supporting, and coloring. There is a passage where the guitarist gently strums the instrument, not playing harmonics. Whether this is a moment of clarity or a deeper sleep is uncertain. After this, the music returns to its initial thoughts but eventually pushes forward, whether to wakefulness or deeper slumber, is again uncertain."

    - Keeril Makan.
  • edited December 2012
    Track 2:
    - for bass clarinet & orchestra
    - "Big Grenadilla is my second bass clarinet and large ensemble work: previously, I composed and performed Drill for bass clarinet and wind ensemble, casting myself in the role of drill sergeant, leading the troops through a vigorous basic training.

    Bass clarinet is the instrument I know best, thrust into my hands in high school, and never far from me since. It’s a life partner, and I write for it as I would write for another musician, ideally using my music to reveal the instrument’s own physical and spiritual character. In practical terms, the vocabulary of the music is contoured to the acoustic characteristics of the horn, rather than the other way around. Grenadilla is a dense, strong dark wood that is often mistaken for ebony. It is the primary wood for many instruments, including the bass clarinet, whose bottom joint alone is a single piece 30 inches in length. 60 years ago, Woody Herman premiered Stravinsky’s pocket-sized Ebony Concerto. Title aside, I claim no conscious connection to this masterpiece, but simply bow my head in homage."

    - Evan Ziporyn.
  • edited December 2012
    Track 3:
    - for baritone saxophone & orchestra
    - "The title of this work is based on a traditional Chinese folksong used to say farewell. When the Real Dragons Fly! is a farewell to obstructionists and gatekeepers who prevent the real creative forces in humanity. It is a liberation song—allowing people who’ve been held down, blockaded, obstructed, disappeared, marginalized, and ignored to fly and soar. It is dedicated to all imaginative forces that want to work together to bring about human liberation—trying to free humanity from slavish consumption of both unneeded material items as well as foolish items.

    This is my first “outing” with a traditional Western-European orchestra. I’ve written for unique ensembles involving western instruments before but never had an interest in writing for standard configurations of Western-European genres.

    This performer-composer relationship allows me to use an extreme amount of extended techniques and improvisation and keep the orchestra more defined in their standard practices. The time and long-term relationship required for developing any sort of improvisatory relationship with the orchestra is nearly impossible, so I have approached this from the point of view of letting myself explore the cosmos, and I am the foil. Any good composer can use the forces they have and develop an architectural plan and ground strategy that is suitable for the capacity of the players. For example, writing for cross-culture instruments (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.) you must understand the abilities of all those instruments, the architecture, etc., and you have to know their characteristics, capabilities, and capacities. With this architectural plan—as with any multi-cultural endeavor—you must know the elements you are dealing with and respect them. You must add your own creativity and imagination to stretch them but know they can’t become what they are not. They are what they are."

    - Fred Ho.
  • edited December 2012
    Track 4:
    - for contrabass flute & orchestra
    - "The contrabass flute is the larger cousin of the normal flute, sounding two octaves below and taking up four times as much space. It’s largely unknown in the classical repertoire, and Bantammer Swing is likely the first ever solo concerto written for it. The piece is a standard concerto form of three movements with a cadenza. That being the case, my main goal as a composer was to try to show off some of its qualities – the singing highs, the velvety middles, the rich lows, and also some of its possibilities for extended techniques. Having played the smaller flute for many years before becoming a composer, I was immediately attracted to the low notes on the contrabass flute and the various musical roles possible at the low end of the frequency spectrum.

    Regarding the title, I recently moved to a different house after living in a little Amsterdam attic apartment on the Binnen Bantammer Street. I chose the title to commemorate my time there and because most of the voices in Bantammer Swing are the ones developed during that period."

    - Ned McGowan from the linernotes.

    Ned McGowan with his contrabass flute:
  • - To be continued with track 5. . .
  • edited December 2012
    Finishing this series of posts about one of my top 5 albums of 2012:

    Track 5:
    Todd Reynolds, violin
    Neil Rolnick, electronics
    Steven Sloane, conductor

    - "During the writing of this piece, the biggest event in my life was the birth of my first grandson. Besides the general good feeling of welcoming a new being into the world, Jake’s arrival left me thinking a lot about time and the way in which knowledge and values are transmitted across generations, how my memories of my own grandfather, who was born more than a century ago, will be transmitted to my grandson, who I hope will take them many decades into the future. This is all very heady stuff to try to make relevant to an 18-minute piece for violin, computer, and orchestra. But it is relevant to the piece in a number of ways.

    First, as I began to work on the piece, I found myself in a kind of middle ground between the past and the future. From the past, the idea of making a real concerto was very appealing. As I think of the concerto from the 19th century, it is a virtuoso vehicle that sets up a competitive binary relationship between soloist and the orchestra. Second, thinking towards the future, this isn’t just a concerto for violin, but a concerto for a cyborg violin that has been intimately joined to a computer. For the last few years, I’ve been deeply involved in writing work that explores this kind of relationship between instruments and computer—that uses the computer to expand the already substantial expressive abilities of virtuoso players.

    Perhaps inspired by my grandson, I’ve tried to approach the writing of this piece with a kind of fresh look at how my materials can work together. As new babies spend time figuring out each and every bit of their world—how to control their heads and hands and feet, how to identify their parents and themselves, how to smile and laugh—I’ve tried to dramatize the encounter between soloist and ensemble by thinking of it as a process of constant discovery.

    Part of the discovery has been the dialog I’ve had with Todd Reynolds, the soloist in the piece. Todd and I have worked together in many different ways over more than a decade, and I’ve seen his initial interest in getting to know more about music technology develop into a deep engagement with the computer as a natural extension of his music making and violin playing. This makes for the possibility of working in a serious way to re-define what a violinist might do musically when the instrument is paired up with a computer. Although originally I thought of this as a concerto for violin, computer, and orchestra, I’ve now begun to think of it as a concerto for a new kind of instrument, one that combines the computer and violin into a single musical instrument. I’ve thought of it as a cyborg violin, but Todd and I began referring to it as an iFiddle.
    So, maybe as I watch a new kid learn about his world by exploring it day to day, I tried to learn about the iFiddle by exploring it in the old world of the concerto form. On an emotional level, the music I write invariably reflects what I’m feeling when I write it. For whatever joyfulness you hear in the piece, you probably have my grandson to thank."

    - Neil Rolnick.

    Neil Rolnick:
    - "A pioneer in the use of computers in performance since the late 1970s, Neil Rolnick often includes unexpected and unusual combinations of media in his work. Whether working with electronic sounds, improvisation, or multimedia, his music has been characterized by critics as “sophisticated,” “hummable and engaging,” and as having “good senses of showmanship and humor.” Rolnick’s performances included concerts in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vienna and New York. He completed 50 Fugue and Numb, both part of the extended media performance MONO in 2012. That same year he was awarded the Hoefer Prize from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Innova Recordings released The Economic Engine in 2009, which was cited as one of the year’s outstanding classical CDs in the New York Times. He has also received a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, and residencies at the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation. In January 2011 Innova Recordings released his 16th CD, Extended Family. Rolnick teaches at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, where he founded the iEAR Studios."

    Todd Reynolds:
    - "Todd Reynolds has been hailed by critics as “New York’s reigning classical/jazz violinist.” He is a fixture on New York’s downtown scene, playing with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Steve Reich Ensemble, and as a founding member of the Mahavishnu Project. Reynolds is a co-founder of the New York-based string quartet Ethel, and he has premiered works by dozens of American Composers. After studying under the legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz, and receiving degrees from the Eastman School of Music and SUNY Stony Brook, Reynolds served as Principal Second Violinist of the Rochester Philharmonic. His career has included performances, recordings, and collaborations with a huge and diverse list of prominent figures including Yo-Yo Ma, Uri Caine, John Cale, Steve Coleman, Joe Jackson, Graham Nash, Marcus Roberts, Wayne Shorter, and Cassandra Wilson."
  • edited December 2012
    - A sequel . . .
    ACO has just a week ago posted a number of tracks for streaming on Soundcloud with works by Steve Mackey, Charles Ives, Conlon Nancarrow, Tania Le
  • edited August 2014
    Excellent new album from ACO:
    - "Tech & Techno is the fifth installment in American Composers Orchestra’s series of Orchestra Underground digital releases that reinvent the orchestra with exciting new compositions, eclectic influences, unusual instruments, cutting-edge experiments, and multidisciplinary collaborations.

    The music on this album inhabits a musical zone that is part underground dance club, part computer science lab, and part symphony hall. There’s hip-hop, trip-hop, techno, laptops, and a “cyborg” fiddle. Intrepid new music that is never timid—it’s neither afraid to groove, nor afraid to stretch WAY OUT. We hope these genre-bending artistic explorations will have you rethinking what an orchestra can be (and can do) in our evolving streaming/downloadable sound-world.

    So put on your dancing shoes, and maybe your thinking cap, too, and enjoy."

    Edmund Campion: Practice
    “Practice does not make perfect, it is a process that generates change; change governed by unseen gravitations and rituals that, in the end, determine form…”

    Justin Messina: Abandon
    “In the early 1990’s, while American automobile manufacturers were fleeing Detroit, the deserted city saw an electronic music renaissance based in its many underground dance clubs… a new musical language since dubbed ‘Detroit Techno.’ This work is a sort of analog homage… ”

    Anna Clyne: Tender Hooks
    “Tender Hooks features technologies and instruments created and developed by laptop-artists. The orchestra is a source for live processing incorporating a wide variety of input devices such as microphones, foot pedals, controllers, drawing tablets and one of the earliest electronic instruments, the Theremin.”

    Neil Rolnick: iFiddle Concerto
    “A concerto for a new kind of instrument, one that combines the computer and violin into a single musical instrument… a cyborg violin.”

    Mason Bates: Omnivorous Furniture
    “The thumping electronica beats of an underground club—which are other-worldly sounds to some listeners of 200 year-old acoustic instruments—can provide an interesting stasis that an orchestra’s myriad textures can explore.”
Sign In or Register to comment.