Dark with Excessive Bright

DarkwithexcessivebrightI’ve listened to and liked a lot of Missy Mazzoli’s operatic and vocal music but hadn’t had much exposure to her purely instrumental writing so  was interested to get hold of a copy of her new SACD release Dark with Excessive Bright.

The title track was originally composed as a concerto for double bass and string orchestra but here it’s given in two reworkings for solo violin; one with string orchestra and the other with string quintet.  The soloist is Peter Herresthal and in the orchestral version he’s accompanied by Bergen Philharmonic conducted by James Gaffigan.  I think all the hallmarks of Mazzoli’s music, excet perhaps the use of electronics, are present in this piece.  There’s a baroque sensibility combined with 20th century minimalism but in the context of the 21st century’s embrace of individual voices rather than dominant fashions.  So, largely tonal chords are recycled n different, fairly repetitive rhythmic patterns, but it never gets dull or new agey.  I think I like the arrangement for string quintet even more.  Here it’s players from the Arctic Philharmonic conducted by Tim Weiss accompanying.  The textures are lighter and it seems to have more clarity.  Good stuff.

Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), played by the Arctic Philharmonic and Weiss, is fascinating.  There are rococo loops, slow at first, then wilder, playing over a hurdy gurdy like wheezing, droning sound.  It gets louder and more insistent and quite ominous before fading away into nothingness. Continue reading

sweet light crude

884501398961 (1)sweet light crude is a 2010 album by the ensemble Newspeak.  It contains six pieces by different composers in a style that has been called “punk classical”.  To me, the six pieces are varied enough that I’d be reluctant to put a two word label on the “style” but it’s certainly reflective of a certain kind of New York music making that combines contemporary classical influences with a whole lot of other stuff.

Here are brief, and possibly useful (or not), descriptions of each piece.

  • Oscar Bettison’s B&E (with aggravated assault) is a high energy number that sounds like a sort of squeaky minimalist jazz with a drum kit in the background.
  • Stefan Weisman’s I Would Prefer Not To, by contrast uses an eyhereal high vocal line over lyrical instrumentals with a rhythm section in the background.
  • David T. Little’s sweet light crude is another vocal piece that starts with more ethereal vocals ove a folky violin tune and drone before become something more like synth pop.
  • Missy Mazzoli’s In Spite of All This plays off a sort of scooping violin rtiff against a minimalist piano line.
  • Pat Muchmore’s Brennschluß goes full on apocalyptic with heavy metal influences.  It’s quite chaotic and requires a range of vocal styles including speech.
  • Finally, Caleb Burhans Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville is very low key.  There’s a slow melody line plus drones before vocals kick in with a kind of post industrial dust bowl feel.

All in all it’s 42 minutes of really varied and intriguing music of a kind I only seem to come across from the New York indie classical scene.  It’s well recorded and currently available for download in MP# and CD quality FLAC formats.

For the record Newspeak is Caleb Burhans – violin, Mellissa Hughes – voice, James Johnston –  piano, synth, organ, Taylor Levine – guitar, David T. Little – director, drums, Eileen Mack – co-director, clarinets, Brian Snow – cello and Yuri Yamashita – percussion.

Catalogue number: New Amsterdam Records NWAM026

Emily D’Angelo with Sophia Muñoz

DG_EDA_Pressebild_Fullbody_sRGB_©Mark Pillai. Styled by Esther Perbandt.There was never a chance that Emily D’Angelo’s solo recital at Koerner Hall was going to be a steady procession of German lieder and French chansons with the odd Broadway number thrown in and it wasn’t.  It was what D’Angelo fans would expect and (some of us at least) crave; lots of women composers and lots of contemporary music.  There were five sets.

The first linked Hildegard von Bingen, Arnold Schoenberg and Missy Mazzoli.  I’m going to focus on the Mazzoli.  There was “Hello Lord” from Vespers for a New Dark Age and “You Are the Dust” from Songs from the Uproar.  Both of these are stage works scored for chamber ensemble and electronics so they sound very different in piano score.  Emily sang the with great purity and clarity and Sophia accompanied beautifully though there’s just no way one can capture the synth pop inflections of Mazzoli on piano.  That said, it was a great advert for two works a I really admire. Continue reading


The Kronos Quartet played Mazzoleni Hall last night along with the three young string quartets they have been working with this week.  First up was the Dior Quartet (Noa Sarid, Tobias Elser, Caleb Georges and Joanne Yesoi Choi); the Glenn Gould School’s Quartet in Residence, with Soon Yeon Lyuh’s Yessori.  They were followed by the Taylor Academy Quartet (Nicholas Vasdilakoupolos-Kostopoulos, Ophit Strumpf, Angelina Sievers and Ethan Jeon) with Yotam Haber’s rather meditative From the Book.  The Glenn Gould School Quartet  (Tiffasny Tsai, Tiffany Yeung, Tristan Macaggi and Shun-Nin Yand) closed out the student part of the evening with Aleksandra Vrebalov’s semi-improvisatory My Desert, My Rose.  The standard of playing by all three groups was really high.

UK- Roskilde Festival in Denmark

Kronos Quartet perform at the Roskilde Festival.

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Alburnum CoverAlburnum is a record of contemporary American art song from baritone Brian Mulligan (Torontonians may remember him as Enrico in the COC’s 2013 Lucia di Lammermoor) and pianist Timothy Long.  There are two substantial pieces; each about 26 minutes long.  The first is Walden by Gregory Spears and it sets four prose extracts from Thoreau’s work with an extremely minimalist piano accompaniment.  I’m not really sure about turning prose into song and I’m not a huge Thoreau fan.  Perhaps if I were I would have found this more interesting.  It’s pleasant enough; it’s tonal and somewhat melodic and Mulligan has a pleasant voice but I wasn’t excited.

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How do you murder a sound?

Mizzy Mazzoli’s latest opera The Listeners is now available on the OperaVision channel on Youtube.  It’s a Den Norske Opera production recorded in Oslo a couple of months ago and it’s very interesting.  There are several short trailers etc on the channel that you can use to get an idea of what it’s about and what it sounds like.


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Best of 2021

1.boulotte sm2021 was another year of parts.  Pretty much no live indoor performances before September then a few chances to get to the theatre and now, well who knows?  So what stood out for me in 2021?  Here’s a round up by category.

Live Shows

Not much of course but there were some good shows, though opera didn’t really figure.  The Home Project from Native Earth and Soulpepper was a thought provoking look at the the idea of “home”.  MixTape at Crow’s Theatre explored the variegated nature of relationships through the medium of the once ubiquitous mix tape.  And on a more conventional note there was a rearranged at short notice recital at Koerner hall that showcased the extremely talented Davóne Tines. Continue reading

Cathedral City

cathedralcityCathedral City was the (2010) debut album of Missy Mazzoli’s ensemble Victoire.  All the tracks are music composed by Mazzoli and give a pretty good feel for her non-operatic output.  It’s been described as a “distinctive blend of post-rock dreamscapes and quirky minimalism” and that seems as good a description as any.  Virtuosic instrumental playing is mixed with live vocals, electronics and distorted recorded speech fragments.  Often the material is looped and the basic acoustic changed to create a different sound scape.  The music is by turns, drivingly energetic, brutal and gently lyrical.  It’s like the work of no other composer I know and I find it really compelling.

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Cigarettes and anisette

songfromtheuproarMissy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s opera Song From the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt is based on the journals of Isabelle Eberhardt; a Swiss explorer, mystic and writer who roamed the deserts of North Africa before her untimely death at the age of 27.  It was conceived as a multi-media opera and staged as such at The Kitchen in New York in 2012.  A studio CD recording was made by the original cast soon after.  One can get a s sense for the look and feel of the stage piece from the trailer for the original show which is still available on Youtube.

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Vespers for a New Dark Age

vespers_sFeel like listening to something different?  Then I can recommend Missy Mazzoli’s 2014 genre defying Vespers for a New Dark Age.  Conceptually it reimagines the traditional vespers prayer service with its, perhaps, archaic formality to explore he way we confront technology, ghosts, death, doubt and God in our “new dark age”.

Structurally there are eight movements run together which set fragments of poems by Matthew Zapruder.  The setting uses vocals, amplified strings, winds, organs, synthesizers and lots of electronics to create a weird and disturbing soundscape of many moods though the overall tone is very dark.

The performance is created by Mazzoli’s ensemble Victoire, Glenn Kotche (of Wilco) and vocalists Mellissa Hughes, Martha Cluver and Virginia Warnken (of Roomful of Teeth).  Electronic production is by synth producer Lorna Dune, who plays a crucial role, and is also responsible for the bonus track; an electronic remix of Mazzoli’s A Thousand Tongues.

The only criticism I have of the disk is that I couldn’t find the texts anywhere.  Sometimes they are clear enough on the recording, sometimes not so much.