Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Poul Ruders: Nightshade Trilogy

What started out as a simple chamber work has blossomed into a trilogy -- and a remarkably cohesive one at that. Poul Ruders composed "Nightshade" for the 10-member chamber group Capricorn in 1987 (and it was released on Bridge Records in 1993).

A commission by a chamber orchestra prompted Ruders to compose "Second Nightshade" (1991), which expanded on the ideas of the first work. "Final Nightshade" (2003), a work for full orchestra, completed the trilogy begun 15 years before.

Although each work stands on its own merits, hearing them in sequence as a trilogy is revealing. Overall, the "Nightshade Trilogy remind me somewhat of Schoenberg's "Verklarte Nacht," with its pervading dark and sometimes unsettling mood.

As I listened to the trilogy, I heard threads connecting the parts. Each iteration heightens the intensity of expression, as Ruders adds more instruments to his sonic palette. Overall, the works create a mood of quiet unrest. "Final Nightshade" especially features long, sustained chords with melodic fragments that slowly unfold in their midst.

Though recorded in different venues by different producers over the course of a decade, the sound is remarkably consistent throughout the album. That consistency helps the listener hear the trilogy as a whole, rather than three discrete pieces.

Poul Ruders: Nightshade Trilogy
Nightshade, The Second Nightshade, Final Nightshade
Capricorn; Oliver Knussen, conductor
Odense Symphony Orchestra; Paul Mann, Scott Yoo, conductors
Bridge Records

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Twitterdämmerung: The Twitter Opera

I remember reading somewhere that French composer Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) claimed he could use just about anything for an opera libretto -- even a newspaper article. (Judging by the quality of operas like Platée, I believe it.)

The Royal Opera House made news recently with the performance of their Twitter-driven opera, Twitterdämmerung.

The premise was simple enough. In 2009, about 700 Twitter followers contributed (in 140-character increments) to create a libretto. And, considering the sources and everyone's efforts to throw monkey wrenches (or spanners) into the works, the resulting effort works surprisingly well. (Read the complete libretto on the Royal Opera House website.)

Composers Helen Porter and Marc Teitler set the text, and this alternate-world 19th-century style opera was staged.

Is this the wave of the future? Well, probably not. But it was a great way for audiences to get engaged in a work. Is it the greatest opera ever written? Well, no (no offence to Porter and Teitler). Crowd sourcing precludes any unified artistic vision. But at the same time, something wonderful and fun was created that simply could not have come about before the rise of social media.

Which leads me to my only complaint. I've read about Twitterdämmerung, and I've watched the Royal Opera House's sample video (above). But that's it. I can't experience the work any more fully. There is no complete performance available online -- either as an audio or as a video recording.

Which means that this very 21st century opera can only be experienced the same way operas were in Rameau's day. Seen and heard by a few in live performance, and only read about after the fact by many.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Diabelli Project 076 - Wind Trio

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

Early in my composing career I wrote a set of three wind trios, each for a different combination of instruments (you can hear the first one on Soundcloud - Wind Trio No. 1, Op. 13). It's a good genre for me to revisit. I think I'll develop this piece further at some point in the near future. (click on image to enlarge)

Although I might write more, that doesn't make this sketch off limits. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, I offer this freely to anyone who would like to use all or part of it. Just let me know the results!