Friday, March 15, 2013

CCC 063 - George Tsontakis

In modern classical music, tonality doesn't have to mean banality. American composer George Tsontakis -- this week's subject for the Consonant Classical Challenge -- is a good example. Tsontakis is a fairly young composer whose tonal language seems like an extension of the Post-Romantic composers. His chords are thickly stacked, shifting and changing through incremental chromatic motion.

One of Tsontakis' most popular works is his Ghost Variations for piano. The title refers to the intent of the work. The variations are based on a somewhat vague theme, with an indefinite form -- like a ghost. Tsontakis' use of harmony masterfully provides an ambiguous frame of reference, while still subtly suggesting logical progression towards the finish.

Tsontakis has several major compositions for chamber groups, including four string quartets and three piano quartets. the nature of the string writing reminds me quite a bit of Schoenberg's "Verklärte Nacht."

Tsontakis has composed several works for orchestra. His use of tonality benefits from the expanded forces at his disposal. "Laconika" features the same thick harmonic textures (mostly in the strings). At the same time, Tsontakis blends the instruments in a truly imaginative fashion to precisely express the mood he's after.

While Tsontakis's music may share some superficial characteristics with those of the post-romantics, it has a distinctive sound that clearly identifies it as music of our time. George Tsontakis has enjoyed success as a composer. Several prominent musicians commission and champion his work. While his music might be a little too much for the blue-hairs, I think Tsontakis' works should be appealing to the under-55 crowd -- or anyone of any age who wants something substantial to listen to.

Recommended Recordings

Tsontakis: Piano Quartet Trilogy

George Tsontakis: Violin Concerto No. 2; Clair de Lune; The Past, The Passion

New York Variations (includes Tsontakis' Ghost Variations)

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