Night Voyages: Salonen’s “Insomnia” and Sibelius’ “Nightride and Sunrise”

Esa-Pekka Salonen’s 2002 orchestral tone poem, Insomnia, takes us on a haunting nocturnal voyage. The opening bars slip into a restless, looping stream of musical “thoughts” which toss and turn with prickly persistence in the woodwinds. As the piece develops, the insomniac’s obsessive mental chatter becomes a colorful tonal dreamscape which is simultaneously beautiful and disturbing. Gradually, restlessness dissolves into the serenity of near sleep in the final minutes, only to be interrupted …

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Samuel Adams’ “Shade Studies”: The Marriage of Acoustic and Electronic Sound

Shade Studies is a brief and meditative work for solo piano and sine wave resonance, written in 2014 by the American composer, Samuel Adams (b. 1985). The piece sets up a haunting dialogue between the world of acoustic sound and ethereal electronic aftertones. In his program notes, the composer writes, Shade Studies examines the counterpoint between the acoustic resonance of the piano and sine waves. The music is quiet and built of cadences, silences, …

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New Release: Michael Torke’s “Being”

Being, the newest album of American composer Michael Torke (b. 1961), is a celebration of pulse and pattern. Written in 2019 and scored for a chamber orchestra of 24 instruments, the work is described in Torke’s program notes simply as “a continuous 43 minute composition, in 9 parts, whose tempo is a consistent 126 beats per minute.” Being plays tricks with our perception of time, centering us in the moment, and delivering an experience akin …

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John Adams’ Piano Concerto, “Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?”

John Adams’ Piano Concerto, Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic as part of its 2018-19 Centennial season. Technically, it counts as Adams’ “Piano Concerto No. 3,” following the exhilaratingly mechanical Century Rolls (1996) and the dreamy impressionism of Eros Piano (1989). The Concerto unfolds seamlessly in a single, continuous movement broken into three sections (fast-slow-fast). According to Adams, the title, attributed to Martin Luther, came from an article …

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Music of Oscar-Winning Composer, Hildur Guðnadóttir

At the recent Oscars, the Academy Award for Best Original Score went to the 2019 psychological thriller, Joker. The score’s composer is the Icelandic cellist, Hildur Guðnadóttir (b. 1982). She has a growing list of film and television score credits, including Stefano Sollima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018), Trapped (an Icelandic television mystery series), and Chernobyl, a series produced by HBO and Sky TV. After listening to some of the film music, I was inspired to investigate a few excerpts …

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New Release: Andrew Norman’s “Sustain,” Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Sustain, a haunting orchestral soundscape by American composer Andrew Norman (b. 1979), was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the opening of its centennial season. A concert recording, released earlier this year, documents the piece’s October, 2018 world premiere. Sustain was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in Music. The recording, which features the LA Phil and Gustavo Dudamel, is up for a Grammy in the categories of “Best Contemporary Classical Composition” and …

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Remembering Christopher Rouse

Christopher Rouse, the American Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, passed away on Saturday at a hospice center in Towson, Maryland. He was 70. The orchestra, with its dramatic power and rich color palette, was central to Rouse’s work. Pieces such as Gorgon (1984), Concerto for Orchestra (2008), and Prospero’s Rooms (2012), unleash a terrifying, raw, titanic energy. In a previous post, we explored the equally haunting sonic landscape of Rouse’s Symphony No. 1 (1986), in which the spirts of Bruckner and …

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