Remembering Oliver Knussen

Oliver Knussen, the influential British composer, conductor, and teacher passed away last Sunday. He was 66. As a conductor and teacher, Knussen will be remembered for his associations with Tanglewood (where he served as head of contemporary music activities between 1986 and 1993), the Aldeburgh Festival, the London Sinfonietta, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, among other organizations. In a 2005 San Francisco Chronicle interview, Knussen talked about his life in music, including his aversion to composing up against deadlines. …

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Remembering Jóhann Jóhannsson

The Icelandic-born composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly over the weekend in Berlin. He was 48. Jóhannsson was the Oscar-nominated composer of such films as Arrival, Sicario, and The Theory of Everything. His scores frequently enter a dark, ambient sound world, augmenting the colors of the orchestra with the sounds of electronic music. This excerpt from Jóhannsson’s rejected score for the film, Blade Runner 2049, ventures into the world of microtonality- nonconventional tuning in which …

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Nahre Sol: “Good Night I Love You Bye”

Nahre Sol is a pianist and composer whose music blends elements of “improvisation, traditional Western form and harmony, jazz harmony, and minimalism.” Her online video series, “Practice Notes” provides an educational resource for piano students. I discovered her music during her recent conversation with Rick Beato. Good Night I Love You Bye opens with a warm, quietly-embracing melody, propelled forward with crystalline, Bach-like contrapuntal lines. A series of exuberant musical adventures follows this opening statement. The …

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Ólafur Arnalds Meets Steve Reich

There’s something about Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds’ 2013 ambient track, No. Other, that reminds me of the music of Steve Reich- specifically, Reich’s 1979 Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards. It isn’t that the notes or rhythms are even remotely the same. It’s more about the general atmosphere which emerges from the two works. Both unfold with a gradual, hypnotic inevitability. In both, long, sustained, static tones in the middle register give us the sense of floating …

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New Release: Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra’s “All In”

In September, the Louisville Orchestra released All In, its first recording in nearly 30 years. The album, which reached number one on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart, is filled with youthful energy and a thrilling disregard for boundaries. It opens with the music of the Louisville Orchestra’s dynamic, 30-year-old Music Director Teddy Abrams, a conductor, composer, clarinetist, pianist, and force of nature. Unified Field unfolds in four continuous movements and runs the gamut from cinematic impressionist colors, to …

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A Gradual Zoom Outward: Timo Andres’ “Checkered Shade”

Checkered Shade, a 2014 chamber work by American composer Timo Andres (b. 1985), demonstrates that the repetitive, pulse-based minimalism of early Steve Reich and John Adams still provides fertile musical ground. The piece opens with pulsating string harmonics reminiscent of Adams’ Shaker Loops or Common Tones in Simple Time, both written in 1979. One passage suggests the cartoonish bombast of the final movement of Adams’ rule-breaking Grand Pianola Music. All of this is interspersed with jazzy flute licks and …

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Light Meets Sound: Christopher Cerrone’s “South Catalina”

Our perceptions of light and sound overlap in some interesting ways. Both travel through the air in waves and bounce off walls. In music, tone is often described in terms of “color,” “dark,” and “bright.” Glistening splashes of light formed the inspiration for South Catalina (2014), a sextet by American composer Christopher Cerrone (b. 1984). Inspired by an art instillation, the piece evokes piercing brilliance, as well as mystery. As with the constantly-changing play of …

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