Monday, October 24, 2011

Boulder Fall

Autumn in Boulder, Colorado is beautiful! Even with a power plant in sight. A and I went to a pumpkin patch that was basically picked clean of pumpkins, but we did get to walk around in the beautiful day, see a working steam-powered tractor, and then crunch in some leaves. We found a lopsided pumpkin but still enjoyed carving it. Well, I enjoyed carving it, but made A scoop out all of the guts. It's just never been my thing.
I'm still so surprised here at how dry it is, and how infrequently it rains. In Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Boston, Iceland- almost all the places I've lived or visited, it has rained fairly frequently, and in some places, so frequently that it makes sense to carry around your umbrella with you. Here, I look at the forecast and they're rarely rain even predicted, if so, it's a tiny scattered shower.

The leaves here are mostly turning yellow; it's not the red and orange New England fall, but it's wonderfully colorful all the same. There are lots of crunchy leaves on my walk to school, so I am in a good mood to start teaching. It's even been quite warm here during the day, enough that I'm catching some rays mid-day as I eat lunch outside! Try that in Buffalo, not likely.

I've finished the percussion quartet and am moving on to a chamber commission from the Trillium ensemble in Pittsburgh- flute, clarinet, and piano. Meanwhile, I still have one percussionist to record, and filming of the percussion piece outdoors at the National Center for Atmopheric Research. Here's hoping for continued beautiful autumn weather as we head out of October and into the 'wintry' months.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sigurður Sævarsson: Missa Pacis

The Icelandic composer Sigurður Sævarsson has a new album out, and his ‘Missa Pacis’ blossoms with harmonies for choir, organ, cello, and percussion. I heard ‘Missa Pacis’ in concert with Hljómeyki choir during the ‘Dark Music Days’ music festival in early 2011; the piece was performed at Neskirkja (a church in Vesturbær) under dimly-lit altar lights, rows of candles, and a perfectly-hushed audience. Finally released as an album, the mystical mood of the live performance is faithfully recreated in recording. ‘Missa Pacis’ takes up where Sigurður’s last CD ‘Hallgrímspassia’ left off, with minimalist gestures and haunting melodies, changing and growing from one movement to the next. ‘Kyrie’ begins the work (it is a Mass, after all), and is one of the most striking pieces on the album, a Requiem-like death march. But it seems that this feeling is short-lived: the death-march fades into an overall serenity (hence 'Mass of Peace') that carries throughout the album. The ending of the ‘Hosanna’ movement sounds a little like Beethoven meets Stravinsky, executed as only an Icelander could do. The percussion often takes the place of a whole orchestra, with its large tympani and bells. If there were one thing that was lacking in ‘Missa Pacis’ it is that the instruments don’t get to show off their full potential; I wanted a solo movement for cello, some virtuosic playing for the organist. But being a work primarily for the choir, the instruments often provide splashes of color that wake up a somber chorus. The highlight of Sigurður’s CD is its strikingly beautiful sections of vocal writing, carrying the torch of the Icelandic choir tradition that goes back centuries. The Latin text throughout the work is always clearly heard and understood- very rare among works for a large ensemble. Sigurður invents moments for voices that that shine like bells, chiming in and then fading out to a near-inaudible whisper. Best of all, there are surprisingly hummable melodies, especially in the ‘Sanctus’ and ‘Miserere’. I found myself singing sections of ‘Missa Pacis’ as I took a walk outside, realizing that it’s not too often that a Latin Mass gets stuck in my head on the way to 10-11.

(A portion of this review is/was slated to be published in Reykjavík Grapevine newspaper, though publishing date is still unknown. I wrote the review at the end of my Fulbright in July, and haven't seen it published yet, hence the availability here first. Should the article appear I'll of course link to that too.)

Friday, October 07, 2011

Percussion Quartet

My new work in progress is a quartet for percussion based on the 'Chinook' wind patterns of Colorado. I even met with a climatologist to get data for it! I had my first rehearsal for it today and it was quite successful. I've never written anything for a group of all non-pitched percussion before, so I was a bit nervous about getting interesting rhythms. Not to worry! I do have a *tiny* bit of pitched material in there.

These came in the mail today, the final part of what I needed for the quartet. Last year in Iceland I ordered handbells, in rainbow colors, for people to play outside. I even had them shipped overseas I wanted them so badly for a piece. The year before I ordered make-your-own music box kits and amplified them. So naturally this year I had to order something interesting, and that would be terra cotta bird whistles. They're awesome.

Monday, October 03, 2011

You Dehydrate Me Part II

Even on a grand scheme (like the solar system), it's not gonna work out. Sun here is silent and brooding, just like she always is. Luckily Earth verbalizes her feelings; good job Earth, you're really making progress.