I know that this blog has essentially shut down. There have been many ideas for posts since we moved here to CO, but having a baby, new job, etc. means that the time for writing is, well, minimal. I do intend to keep this site alive, in case I get the bug to get back into posting more, but for the time being I’m blogging elsewhere. I was invited by Thomas Deneuvill to write for a wonderful blog devoted to new music: I Care if You Listen. I’ve already done a few posts for them, and many more will be coming in the future. They have a roster of sixteen other authors, which means that 1) new stuff is always in the pipeline and 2) I can take my time with reviews/opinion posts. I’m really excited to see where this is going, but of course, that means that whatever this may have become is taking an even further backseat… But for now, things are good.
(My first attempt at CD reviewing for Sequenza21)
Eve Egoyan, Piano
Works by Ann Southam
Centrediscs CMCCD 17211
As musicians we are trained to listen with a critical ear, to automatically dissect, analyze, and evaluate each musical performance we encounter. Knowing that one will have to write about a musical experience brings all this training to the forefront, or at least it should. That didn’t happen for me—at least not initially.
My problem, if you can call it that, was that Ann Southam’s piano music was so beautiful andEve Egoyan’s interpretation so exquisite, that I didn’t want to listen critically; I wanted to lose myself, disengage my analytical mind, and simply enjoy. In time I was able to cobble together notes for this review, but even after several hearings I must say that this desire to become lost in the music remains ever-present. What follows is my evaluation, such as it is, but if I haven’t yet convinced you to purchase this recording, I’m not sure that anything else I could write will.
Returnings represents perhaps the last musical statement of the phenomenal Canadian composer Ann Southam (1937-2010). She chose the pieces and their ordering for this CD in the last year of her life, and the album also includes the last two pieces she wrote, Returnings Iand Returnings II: A Meditation. These pieces, along with Qualities of Consonance (1998) andIn Retrospect (2004), were all written for the Eve Egoyan. (I might also add that the image on the cover is original artwork by Southam.)
The CD works marvelously as a whole, to the extent that you might find yourself hard-pressed not to consider this one single composition. Each of these four pieces seems to grapple with its own internal conflict: consonance and dissonance, minimalism and dodecaphony, or restraint and restlessness. What makes this conflict work, and what draws the listener, is that these conflicts never resolve. Southam merely presents these seemingly disparate ideas one against another and lets them be, never allowing one to dominate, and to great effect.
The second piece on the album, In Retrospect, is very reminiscent of a later work (also recorded by Egoyan), Simple Lines of Enquiry (2007). A single twelve-tone row is presented across the keyboard in small sections, and with generous use of the damper pedal, these tones are allowed to interact with one another and slowly build into chords. The pacing and balance of tone that Egoyan provides is spot on. The delicacy of her interpretation tells you that this is a pianist listening intently to every single sound she creates, and that each note is placed in a precise moment in time.
The third track is Qualities of Consonance, by far the most overtly virtuosic work on the CD. It is grounded in serene chords and ostinati, but is frequently interrupted by rapid passagework. Here, the conflict is seems to be presented by two separate pianists, as Egoyan contrasts these two elements extremely well. While her sensitive touch has been well noted in other recordings, here we are given a taste of her technical prowess and adept articulation. Yet this is never virtuosity for its own sake, as each gesture is executed with a clear sense of line.
That said, if there is any weakness on this CD, it is this piece. Despite the Egoyan’s exuberance of the difficult passages, I felt like there was more room for rubato and dynamic contrast in some of the lines of the more serene sections. Likewise, from a compositional standpoint Qualities of Consonance lacks the cohesion of so much of Southam’s other music, making it feel disjointed at times. That said, this remains a remarkable CD, and looking for weaknesses is a bit like deciding which is your least favorite 20-year-old scotch.
The first and last pieces on the album, Returnings I and II, are quite similar to one another. Here, the conflict is between a gentle rolling bass ostinato supporting consonant chords and another twelve-tone row. The row is presented at the outset of both pieces before the ostinato enters, at which point the notes of the row are presented between chords of the right hand. The effect is marvelous, as at times the row adds depth to the harmony and at other times clashes against it. Again, this conflict is never resolved, but allowed to play itself out, and the overall effect becomes one of great calm despite the dissonances that arise.
This sense of calm pervades all four pieces, and I cannot but help think of Southam’s passing when I listen to this CD. Her ability to find beauty in the unresolved dissonance and to allow things to be as they are seems like a beautiful metaphor for life. La vita è bella, and without caveat. It saddens me to think that this will be the last collaboration between two such talented artists, but as Egoyan writes, “each time I perform her music, Ann returns as a radiant resonance, with us, forever.”
I’ve no doubt that many more Southam recordings will be produced in the coming years, but as this contains her last compositions, performed by the pianist for whom they were written, I cannot help but feel a sense of finality when the album ends. I will listen often to this truly beautiful CD, and each time raise my glass to Ann. May she rest in peace.
For a long time, I didn’t buy music. There was a space of time as an undergraduate were I would buy lots of CDs because I was really seriously diving into ‘classical’ music for the first time, but after that, I don’t think I bought more than an album or two per year. I wasn’t stealing stuff; I just didn’t have much of an interest in purchasing (or to use a more crass term, consuming) music.
I didn’t see that as a problem until someone wanted to start producing my CDs. Suddenly I was faced with a situation where I was hoping that people would buy my music, but generally speaking I wasn’t interested in buying the music of others. I suppose for some that might be a bit of an ethical dilemma, but I was thinking more practically. I was essentially trying to promote a behavior I didn’t understand well (buying music), and that was a problem.
So I asked myself, why don’t I buy music?
And I kept asking myself, because I didn’t know. I kept pondering, all while continuing to promote my own music.
Then it kind of hit me, and I think I should have seen this a looooong time ago.
One behavior that did change for me after my first CD came out is that when I did buy music, I did my best to buy directly from the artist. (Which everyone should do!) I had a much better understanding of percentages that are taken away through different distribution options (to say nothing of the labels themselves), and knew that much more of my money would be going to artists if I could purchase directly.
And that, I think, was finally what got me back into buying music. (I’m getting to the point, honestly.)
When I was buying music through iTunes, or buying the music of an artist whose music was produced by a large label, the value of that purchase was defined solely on the music. That is, I decided to part with that $10 only if I thought it was worth $10 to be able to listen to that music whenever I pleased. If you throw Spotify and similar streaming services into the mix, I could do get that music for free, legally, pretty much whenever I wanted. Why spend $10?
However, when I buy directly from an artist, particularly if they are unknown or part of a very small label, then value is added to the equation. Yes, I was still getting the music, but I was also supporting the artist! Suddenly, I don’t mind parting with $5-10 because I get to support what someone is doing. I get to make someone’s day by being another download from their website. (And believe me, it’s a great feeling when it happens to you.) So I get my music and get to help someone else continue to make music, which for me was never part of the equation before.
So, for you analytically minded out there, here is a way to boil it down.
Before this realization, a purchase would require satisfaction of this equation:
Value of Music ≥ Price of Album.
After, it looked more like his:
Value of Music + Value of Supporting the Artist ≥ Price of Album.
That’s the big difference. If you feel like you are supporting the artist, the perceived value (as opposed to monetary value) of that purchase goes up quite a bit, making you much more likely to part with your hard-earned money. And that is why I’ve been purchasing more music lately than I have in a long time.
Therefore, in the spirit of demonstrating this new-found perspective of mine, let me direct you to three albums I’ve purchased in the last week or so. You can go to these sites and stream the albums, in their entirety, for free. If you like them, buy them. You’ll be supporting some great folks.
I just recalled a little incident from my youth. One which I pray I can replicate with my children. (This is all completely true, by the way.)
My dad comes up to me and says, “Let’s play a game.”
I, naïve and eager to please my father, respond, “Ok.”
“It’s called let’s see who can hit the softest. You go first.”
I punch his arm as delicately as I possibly can, hoping to win the game.
He punches back with ferocity, declaring through an ever-broadening smile, “I lose!”
Feeling dejected, hurt, and betrayed, I sulk off. Later however, I happen upon my mother, and decide that while I cannot easily exact revenge on my father, I can perhaps lesson the blow (so to speak) by pulling the same trick on my mother.
“Mom, let’s play a game. It’s called let’s see who can hit the softest. You go first.”
“Who do you think taught your father that game?”
I came across a recent meme through twitter called #Reverb11. Near as I can tell, it is a series of prompts (which you can access here) asking you to reflect on 2011 and look forward to 2012. As I haven’t blogged in a long time, this seemed a great opportunity to get back into it a bit.
So without further ado, here is yesterday’s prompt. (I hope to do today’s as well and catch up.)
One Word. Encapsulate the year 2011 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2012 for you?
I debated a while about what word I would use for 2011, but this seems most fitting. 2011 has seen the fulfillment of many goals and dreams. In fact, so much was brought to fruition this year that I actually had a bit of a crisis in that I wasn’t sure what to do next, but I’ll get to that in a bit…
I started this year with a newly minted doctorate working for Avila University in Kansas City. Carrie was just barely pregnant with our second daughter, and looking back, that all seems like ages ago. One of my primary concerns back then was securing a job, which given the economy was looking like a difficult undertaking at best. Still, I had a leg up on many others. My title of Artist-in-Residence got me a decent number of hits from the applications I was sending out, but these weren’t necessarily positions that I was excited about.
My first interview was at Snow College in the very small and rural town of Ephraim, Utah. (As it was described to me, there are two stoplights in the county, and we have one of them.) It is a junior college, but they do have some of the finest music facilities that I had ever seen, bar none. Things were wonky from the get-go, however. They wouldn’t pay my full way to come out to interview, the interview was remarkably brief (they were planning to interview all four candidates on the same day), and they were offering somewhere in the neighborhood of $35,000 a year for this tenure-track position. I wasn’t necessarily sold on the position before the interview, and afterwards I was even less so.
The day before I left for that interview, though, was the day I officially joined the Catholic Church. This had been a journey of several years, including close to nine months of classes and rites leading up to the Easter Vigil. So regardless about how I felt about the position at Snow, I was still in a very good place.
Shortly after all that excitement, I did land an on-campus interview for a position at Regis University. It was a different position than the others I had applied for (read more here), but I was very excited about the possibilities. The differences in the interview process couldn’t have been more stark between Regis and Snow. My way out was paid, I was put up in a very nice hotel room, everyone was very welcoming, and I felt like I was given an opportunity to show them who I was over the course of a full day, which is about all one can hope for in an interview. Plus, the job was in Denver, Colorado, putting us much closer to family. Needless to say, when the offer came, I very excited to accept the position. Me, a gainfully employed member of society before the age of 30.
(As a side note, Snow College never bothered to contact me to say that someone else had accepted the position. Here’s the person that did get the job. Once again I am reminded how blessed I am to not only have a job, but great one at that.)
Also around this time I presented and performed at a conference in Caen, France, so that was cool.
Things were very much in motion for the summer. My position began in late July, giving us just under two months to move to a new city. Add to this the fact that I was planning to record two CDs that summer. Not busy at all…
Things were hectic, but we managed pretty well. Phase 1 of the moving process was purging, which is something everyone should do from time to time. I estimate that we got rid of 30-40% of the stuff we owned. We sold a few things,but for the most part we gave a lot of stuff away and trashed the rest. It felt great. The packing wasn’t fun, but even that went better than expected. Regis covered the cost of the move, so we didn’t have to worry about that, and the moving company we used even gave us a bunch of used boxes.
By July 21st, we were living in Denver, trying to figure out a completely new city while I was navigating a new job. The first of the two CDs, Ann Southam: Soundings for a New Piano, was released and pretty quickly began garnering positive press. This, along with the second CD, William Duckworth: The Time Curve Preludes, brought to fruition what David McIntire (who produced the CDs) and I had wanted to do for quite a while. It was the fulfillment of several years of planning and work, and it still feels great to sit back and listen to these recordings.
All these things were what my brother would describe as being “big damn deals,” but they all paled in comparison with the birth of Amelia Anne Lee on September 21. Our family grew to four, which wasn’t as big of a change as it was having Rachel, but still represented a host of new challenges. We had forgotten what sleep deprivation really was, but at the end of the day, I still smile more now than I ever have in my adult life.
But sometime in October, it kind of hit me… what now???
In the last several years I had gone from a newly married grad student to a honest-to-goodness doctor with a good job, two kids, living in a new city with three CDs to my name. I frankly didn’t know what my next ‘project’ was going to be. Dave and I hadn’t talked much about another recording, I wasn’t (and am not) interested in pursuing other degrees at the moment, and I’m not anxious to start taking dissertation chapters and turning them into articles (though I will be doing that a little this winter break).
Then I figured it out.
I was asked to play for a reception of deans at my new employ, and realized that I could play for hours on end. I had finally gotten to the point where I had quite a bit of repertoire in my fingers. Then, while walking across campus, I had a moment of inspiration, “Minimalism in Twelve Parts.” I’d do twelve recitals all over the place, all with different programs. It’d be a way to learn a bunch of new music (something I was anxious to do), while also creating a nice package with which I could seek out venues.
Following a successful trip to the Third International Conference on Minimalist Music, in which I closed out the conference with a performance of An Hour for Piano, I started emailing… everyone. I used most every connection I had, and within a month I have confirmed nearly every venue for this series. And it’s going to be all over the place. Utah, Colorado, Missouri, and Michigan for a few, but also Toronto for a couple recitals and several places in the UK (including London). I’m over the moon with how things are developing, and already it seems that recording projects are starting to present themselves.
So this brings me to 2012, and I think the word I would like next year to be about would be:
This year has been both the culmination of years of work, but also the start of so many wonderful things. I really want to keep it going. I think I’ve found a path forward into a new phase of life, and I intend to move forward with gusto.