David Fulmer – Sky’s Acetylene
Sometimes it takes an effort of imagination to suss out why a particular piece of music appeals to me. Such was the case with the 14-minute opus mysteriously named Sky’s Acetylene by critically acclaimed composer David Fulmer. Just released as a New Focus Recordings EP, it’s performed by five musicians from the New York Philharmonic.
Propelled by Mindy Kaufman’s fervid virtuosity on three members of the flute family and by Eric Huebner’s dark piano colors, the piece intensifies even as – to the casual ear – it threatens to meander. Conductor Jeffrey Milarsky and the musicians stress the contrast between the flute’s ability to produce microtones and the strict limits of the piano’s discrete keys.
The before-you-realize-it migration of bass flute to C flute to piccolo marks an urgent progression of startling beauty, encouraged by subtle sprays of texture from the harp and explosive interjections of percussion. Near the end, unison snake-charm passages for piccolo and bass viol span the full tonal range of the standard Western orchestra as if to show us an entire landscape of sound from a place of distant contemplation.
A major element of the work’s appeal – for me, at least – is that despite its sequence of surprises, it sustains a sense of order and intent. It’s a bit like a short story that in just a handful of pages creates a complete world encompassing both chaos and rest, war and peace.
Sky’s Acetylene is available now on New Focus Recordings.
Apollo Chamber Players – With Malice Toward None
The Apollo Chamber Players‘ new album surveys how different composers approach smelting folk and popular music into intriguing experiments and innovations.
The title track emerges with a rock guitar-like attack, courtesy of Tracy Silverman’s electric violin, atop the ensemble’s core string quartet. J. Kimo Williams‘s “With Malice Toward None” even quotes Jimi Hendrix as it muscles through blues-rock tropes and folk-dance rhythms. The composer cites as inspiration both Beethoven’s political responses and the memory of civil rights leader John Lewis. You can certainly hear the cry for freedom and justice; the music is charged with passion but also sprinkled with delicacy and touches of humor. It’s an inspiring exploration of 20th-century modes filtered through the lens of traditional classical chamber music.
Pamela Z too reached for “vernacular” music in composing the four short pieces of “The Unraveling.” The first chops up Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want,” with the composer singing repeated fragments over loop-style accompaniment from the string quartet. The second plays similarly with a folk standard, the third is an appealing little exercise in meta-music, and the set wraps up with a taut but surprisingly pastoral paean to the busking life.
Quirky experimentation also marks “What Is the Word?” This set of short pieces begins with a sly reading by Maura Hooper of Samuel Beckett’s memory-loss poem. Composers Christopher Theofanidis and Mark Wingate then spin out the text’s sense of frustration over six concise tone poems on themes such as “Edgy,” “Mercurial,” and “Euphoric.” In the process they explore the string quartet’s sonic possibilities as the ensemble delivers an exquisite performance.
“Themes of Armenian Folksongs” offers new arrangements of folk music collected by Armenian ethnomusicologist Komitas. They’re a beautiful demonstration of how the impulse to capture traditional music in a concert format can be a potent way to paint the shared and infinitely varied passions of humankind.
Armenia is also the musical setting of the album’s longest piece, Eve Beglarian’s mournful “We Will Sing One Song” – though the composer was also inspired by the old Stephen Foster tune “My Old Kentucky Home.” The piece features percussionist Pejman Hadadi and the Armenian duduk played by Arsen Petrosyan. That traditional woodwind instrument’s doleful sound sets the mood, but the piece’s energy builds to a high level of multicolored, anxious excitement. A percussion solo then leads into an evocation of “My Old Kentucky Home,” outlined by the bent notes of the duduk set against an eerie digital track of squeals and chirps.
With Malice Toward None is an extremely interesting, brilliantly played, varied yet thematically contiguous fusion of international traditions and modern innovation. It deserves a wide hearing and will further burnish the Apollo Chambers Players’ reputation. It’s out now on Azica Records.