ANTHONY TOMMASINI, the New York Times, September 30, 2011
Elliott Carter completed his Concerto for Flute and Ensemble in March 2008, back when he was only 99. The astonishingly prolific Mr. Carter is about 10 weeks shy of 103. Since he turned 100, he has written 14 works.
He was at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday night, when the flutist Patricia Spencer and the Mannes Orchestra, conducted by David Hayes, gave the New York premiere of his rhapsodic and brilliant 14-minute concerto. You can only imagine what it meant to Ms. Spencer and the gifted student players from Mannes College the New School for Music to perform the work in Mr. Carter's presence.
For this free program Mr. Hayes also conducted a lively, clear-textured account of Haydn's Symphony No. 96 in D ("Miracle") and drew a slightly scrappy but vigorous and affecting performance of Schubert's long, demanding Symphony No. 9 in C.
Mr. Carter's concerto had its premiere in Jerusalem ? by the flutist Emmanuel Pahud and the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Ensemble, conducted by Daniel Barenboim ? in 2008. James Levine gave the American premiere in 2010 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Carter's composer's note for the piece reads almost like a mea culpa for not having written a flute concerto earlier. "I kept putting it off, because I felt that the flute could not produce the sharp attacks that I use so frequently," he writes. "But the idea of the beautiful qualities of the different registers of the instrument and the extraordinary agility attracted me more and more."
The work, scored for an ensemble including piano and percussion, was performed here by 22 players. It opens with startling, crisp orchestral chords that prod the flute into scurrying figures, quickly taken up by other instruments. The flute's skittish riffs and winding lyrical lines sometimes ignite agitated orchestral responses; at other times they are cushioned by subdued, sustained harmonies. Even when the music breaks into a jumpy back-and-forth, the mood is industrious, not aggressive.
Mr. Carter's language has lost none of its piercing, atonal bite. Yet like most of his works from his 90s and later, this score is less densely complex and layered than those from earlier decades. The enhanced clarity is a welcome turn, making it easier to hear Mr. Carter's scintillating sonorities, myriad instrumental colors and complex rhythmic interplay.
About midway through the concerto, as the orchestra remains quite feisty, the flute, as if in its own zone, just keeps playing steady, pensive passages. Eventually the flute prevails, and the piece turns ruminative. But not for long. An extended, scherzolike section full of fantastical flights takes off and builds to a final flourish of every-which-way spiraling figures.
Ms. Spencer's impressive performance had all the "beautiful qualities" and "extraordinary agility" Mr. Carter could have asked for. The young players under Mr. Hayes seemed engrossed by the music and in command of it. Mr. Carter stood up from his seat, a little shakily, to salute the players and acknowledge the ovation.
Joshua Bright for The New York Times
Mannes Orchestra The flutist Patricia Spencer is applauded by the conductor David Hayes after an Elliott Carter concerto
"...Mr. Chasalow's Flute Concerto (2005) packs a lot of ideas into 15 minutes. Its movement titles -- "Flight and Confusion," "Eggshell, More Like a Heart" and "Feather, Breath, Mirror" -- look impressionistically vague on paper, but Mr. Chasalow's appealingly symmetrical writing evokes them in a painterly way, by making vibrant, sharply articulated textures morph into stretches of wispy lyricism and back. Patricia Spencer played the solo line with a deft command of both technique and timbre..."
After intermission came a sensational reading of Boulez's dense Sonatine for flute and piano, written when the composer was a young sprout of twenty - one. It has a young man's shocking, nose - thumbing "see what I can do!" quality about it, as if he were trying to write in the most difficult idiom imaginable. But these days, musicians such as the superb flutist Pat Spencer and her pianist collaborator Linda Hall aren't fazed by Boulez's demands, and since they've performed it many times (and recorded it, on Neuma), one could only watch in admiration.?This is not a traditional "flute - plays - melody - while - piano - graciously - stays - in - the - background." At times the latter part is so difficult that it almost seems to transform the proceedings into a piano sonata with flute accompaniment, such as near the end, when Ms. Hall dispatched a long almost coda - like passage with impressive authority.
By PAUL GRIFFITHS
Instrumental music is irredeemably real. Singers, actors or dancers can disappear entirely into imaginary worlds onstage, but instrumentalists are always doing something earthbound and actual, their attention devoted to a physical machine for making sounds in the here and now. It becomes hard, therefore, to believe in an instrumentalist as a character in a drama. Instrumental performance is a drama all of its own, and it is happening now, before us, not in some make - believe action.
The works of Karlheinz Stockhausen of the last quarter - century have been bold attempts to create, nevertheless, dramas for instrumentalists, though he has had to accept the reality of instrumental performance by devising his dramas so that the role the player enacts is that of a player. A singer can be a Roman painter, a Cretan king or a Moorish general, but a flutist is always a flutist, and so she remains in Mr, Stockhausen's "Kathinka's Chant als Lucifer's Requiem," for amplified flute with recorded sounds, which Patricia Spencer played as part of the Sonic Boom festival at the Miller Theater on Thursday.
Music examples, the kernels of the 24 "exercises for listening" that make up the main body of the piece, bedeck the stage and the player represents a magician: costumed as a catwoman, she is part underworld divinity, part nightclub hostess. But the magic she exerts is music. As she steps around the stage so, figuratively, she steps around her melody, playing fragments over and over, exploring single notes. Most of the part is delivered sotto voce, and in this universe of faltering tone Mr. Stockhausen is able to concentrate on fine nuances: on tones admixed with breath, or with song, and on microtones and glides.
Ms. Spencer was in full command of this virtuosity at a whisper, and of the score, which, of necessity, she played from memory. If she was not also convincingly in her role, that might be because she shares the feeling that Mr. Stockhausen's drama is far less credible than his music. We do not see a sibyl leading prayers for the dead; we see?-?and saw?-?an expert musician.
In the rest of this program of theater music, Lisa Moore gave a startlingly good performance of Frederic Rzewski's "De Profundis" for speaking pianist: she was lustrous at the keyboard, and at once engaging and challenging in her delivery of the text, from Oscar Wilde's prison memoir. Finally there was a new production of Peter Maxwell Davies's "Vesalii Icones," where the Stations of the Cross are danced and musically meditated upon. Andr? Emelianoff was the eloquent cello soloist, and there was powerful playing too from Jo - Ann Sternberg on clarinet. David Gilbert conducted and Rebecca Stenn resolutely executed her own choreography.
Patricia Spencer has been an enthusiastic advocate of contemporary flute music for a good many years. Her expertise in this repertoire is evident in this album based in a large part on mythological subjects. There are many technical challenges. both in traditional playing and extended techniques, which she surmounts effortlessly. In the more lyrical sections which are electronically untreated she also shows a variety of tone colours throughout the CD.
The Musgrave works are playable without extensive extended techniques and are very approachable. The works by Shatin are more challenging technically. but are worth the extra effort for their unusual and attractive atmospheres. Gabriel's Wing won the National Flute Association's Published Music Competition in 1992.
Thea Musgrave (b.1928) is a prolific and versatile composer born in Scotland. now living in New York and teaching at the City University of New York.
Narcissus (1987), for flute with digital delay, is an atmospheric monologue sometimes using watery soundscapes recalling the Greek myth upon which the ride is based. The character is attracted to and then angered by the reflection of himself as seen in a woodland pool. The digital delay system is sophisticated in that it selectively repeats certain portions of the phrases played by the live performer. thus creating echoing halos around the ensuing material. The result is an attractive swirling sound that is very relaxing.
Orfeo (1975) for flute and pre - recorded tape (played by James Galway). In this work Musgrave has created much more of a dialogue with the use of the prerecorded tape material. Piccolo and bass flute feature as well as C flute to act as dynamic. independent characters in exploring the famous legend of Orpheus. The pre - recorded music has been altered electronically in a number of ways making for many interesting levels of listening, in addition to the performer.
Judith Shatin (b.1949) is an American composer and flautist. familiar with the possibilities of the instrument in both traditional and extended techniques. She is known equally for her dramatic acoustic compositions and for her imaginative use of computer - generated sound.
Gabriel's Wing (1989) for flute and piano. In a tightly constructed piece, the angelic flute takes flight through the piano's evocative medium. By clever use of pedalling, chords rich in overtones and other harmonic effects, the piano provides an exciting backdrop for the flute's soaring phrases which are enhanced by singing with the flute tone.
Fasting Heart (1987) for solo flute. This piece begins with a haunting use of singing into the flute reminiscent of Crumb's Voice of the Whale. The contemplative music which follows is interrupted by much more active, even violent, music. Shatin sees a connection between these in creating music. "a process in which there is a linking of inward journey and outward manifestation."
Kairos (1991) for flute, computer and effects processing. The relationship of the flute and its player's singing voice to the electronic medium is unique to this work. Several extended techniques are used by the live performer. but even more exotic transformations are achieved by the manipulation of all the sound material by a computer via MIDI and by a voice processor, Quadraverb. This sets the music off on a Ulysses - like journey containing all the challenges and dream - sequences a true adventure should have.
Patricia Spencer (flute); Linda Hall (piano)?-?-?NEUMA 450 - 95 (64:57).
Seekers after Truth and Beauty will find this Neuma in his comer music emporium under Patricia Spencer, Flute. In keeping with in - house etiquette, a two - composer compilation gets itself discussed here in the richly cosmopolitan alpha section rather than out there in the Siberia of collections. And so we ensnare the reader's attention with Thea Musgrave's celebrated name. But not before remarking Neuma's first mover and custodial engineer, Shirish Korde's, predilection for music of a distinctly ethereal cast, not to mention a fondness for the flute. And no, that's not a complaint; an observation, rather, having to do with the role of "little," generally one - man / woman operations, as an instrument of their proprietors' tastes. But the flute is a lovely wind, and Patricia Spencer is a lovely flutist. And perfumed atmospherics permeate one's space. Thea Musgrave and Judith Shatin both employ electronic augmentation to the flute's soaring lines, twice and once respectively. For Musgrave's Narcissus (1987), a remarkably affecting, albeit wordless, retelling of the legend, we have digital delay. For Orfeo I (1975; I cannot account for the Roman numeral), Spencer's flute operates in the foreground against a muIti - textured / layered,tape of James Galway's flute. and, again, I am unable to account for Galway's participation, except to observe the beauties of its electro - transfigurations. Not that any of this need matter to the disinterested listener: both Narcissus and Orfeo I strike me as cameo masterworks. I had no idea that Musgrave, whose reputation rests largely on her operas, is such a master of electronic media.
Both legends, that of Narcissus and Orpheus, of course end badly; how remarkably well Musgrave conveys their flavors! Orfeo I's hellish redolence, the eerie dangers hovering about, plays on the ear as palpable. For Narcissus, menacing darkness defers to flighty innocence, the naive youth's culminating and fatal encounter with water an expertly wrought heightening of a selfabsorbed unworldliness.
Judith Shatin's Gabriel's Wing, for flute and piano (1989), likewise conveys in its nine minutes a well - crafted sense of ecstatic climax. Fasting Heart, for solo flute (1987). its title taken from a Taoist discipline, follows a similarly programmatic path in attempting to express "listen[ing] with the breath." And meditatively this charmer does play, embellished along the way by simultaneous vocalizing.
Kairos, "for flute, computer and effects processing" (1991), at 15:50 differs from Musgrave's Narcissus by eight seconds. I would love to draw further parallels but cannot. Shatin's electronic effects conspire by and large in the creation of a preternatural space for the flute's sentimental journey. We again at moments hear Spencer's voice, albeit much processed. (The notes go into good technical detail.) " 'Kairos' is a Greek word signifying the most propitious moment for a new undertaking, as in Ulysses setting out on his journey. [This] suggested [to me] a compositional journey on several levels: an adventure into a new medium, a shaping of the musical sojourn, and a particular relationship between the flute and the electronic aether."
Much of this program makes difficult demands, and I hear no tentativity, reach, or strain; a strong sense, rather, of Patricia Spencer's skillful empathy. If it's a rapturous mood you're after. this well produced Neuma provides it in high - quality abundance.
...In 1991 Patricia Spencer, the flutist of the Da Capo Chamber Players, gave the American premiere of this work (Stockhausen's "Kathinkas Gesang"), and Sunday night she performed it again in a concert presented by the Group for Electronic Music. a joint enterprise of Clark University, Holy Cross College and Worcester Politechnic Institute.
It isn't possible to describe this work briefly; probably only Stockhausen himself understands it in detail. The structure comes from Tibetan Buddhist meditations on death. On stage, Spencer, barefoot and clad in black net moved among 24 objects bearing the opening bars of each musical and spiritual exercise.
Her presence was striking and her playing was extraordinary in its control over minutiae of dynamics, pitch and timbre, particularly in relationship to the complex, fluid electronic environment that surrounded her. The performance was the tour de force of technique, emotion and spirituality that the piece requires: it will stand as one of the highlights of the musical season.
Patricia Spencer has the astonishing ability to play late 20th - Century music, with all its technical and musical demands, beautifully and intelligently.
George Perle's Monody, written in 1960 for flute solo, has a busy ostinato line punctuated by parenthetical phrases, while Louise Talma's Conversations, from 1987, has simple, expressive, melodic dialogs between flute and piano. Arthur Kreiger's intimate Exchanges from 1991 uses a flute obligato over a shimmering electronic tape filled with light percussive sounds. The exchanges between electronic tape and live flutist are intimate: listening is a bit like being in a planetarium?-?-?though the stars are only representations, the experience of the viewer can still be profound and enlightening.
Carter's Scrivo in vento, also from 1991, is for flute solo. It incorporates many difficult multiphonics that Spencer plays with a full sound and honest expression. The linear arrangement of pitches, as well as the general mood and sonority of the piece reminds me a bit of Varese's Density 2l.5.
Though Boulez's Sonatine from 1946 is the oldest piece in this collection, it sounds very "modern," challenging the traditional use of the flute as an instrument of beauty and fluidity. Indeed, the flute part. at first restricted to intertwining in odd places with the flute register of the piano, eventually, travels serially through several modes of expression and registers, and at times recalls Messiaen.
Tonally Shirish Korde's Tenderness of Cranes is very exciting. The flute line is free and unpretentious, even with its use of quarter tones, glissandos, odd attacks, breathy notes. It is very "Eastern" in its independence from harmony. The solo line is interesting and balanced like a river that has its own unpredictable rhythms and multiple origins. The river here is air, and its course seems to travel West from Japan.
Stephen Jaffe's Three Figures and a Ground. in contrast to the Korde, is extremely Western with harmonic suggestions of Ives and Copland. Jaffe uses wonderful tonal devices, switching from natural to harmonic tones on the same pitch for expression, and the intelligent use of flutter - tongue as a color. I especially like the Scherzo of this piece: it flashes a lyrical sequence in the middle of rapid exchanges. At one point, what sounds like a tone row in the flute keeps getting interrupted by sequential lyrical material in the piano. The elements finally reconcile in an almost Dvorak rhythm recalling original material in fragmentary form. The Ground has Carter - like voicing that recalls a bit of Hindemith's Flute Sonata, though the liner notes refer to the Second Symphony of Rochberg.
The last piece on this disc?-?-?for flute and a whole bunch of computerized electronic equipment?-?-?has a title that seems to be a play on the past tense of fly. Its sections phee, phlie, phoo, phum are cleverly named but do not do much for me musically.
THE NOW AND PRESENT FLUTE.
Patricia Spencer, flute; Linda Hall, piano. NEUMA450 - 88 [DDD];
77:18 Produced by Judith Sherman. (Distributed by Albany,)
PERLE; Monody, TALMA: Conversations, KRIEIGER; Intimate Exchanges. CARTER; Scrivo In vento. BOULEZ; sonatine. KORDE; Tenderness of Cranes. JAFFE: Three Figures and a Ground. MARTIRANO: Phleu.
Experience has taught me to anticipate a Neuma release as a quality production of good new music. The Now and Present Flute exceeds expectations. Like Shirish Korde, who normally produces these discs (it's his label), producer Judith Sherman has a habit of making quality recordings of interesting, well - played stuff, So let's begin with a morceau that quite blew me away, and the first of the program's three works for flute and electronics, Arthur Kreiger's Intimate Exchanges, wherein, as advertised, a gentle, affectionate flute interacts with a pleasingly plump and frisky computer - generated tape, the live - canned totality an embodiment of sensuous intimacy. Its present performer is dedicatee. The electronic aspect of Shirigh Korde's Tenderness of Cranes, "for solo flute with amplified piano resonance," is of so subtle and shy a nature that one hears the piece entire as a meditation afloat in a pastel - luminous. borderless space. But in so describing it, I fail to suggest the flute's graceful, sprightly lofts, My guess is that Patricia Spencer finds it a delight to play. "Inspired by Japanese shakutachl timbres . . . [the music] weaves back and forth between two musical cultures." And very nicely too. The third of the electroacoustic works, Salvatore Martirano's Phleu, "for flute and yahaSALmaMAC MIDI orchestra," departs for friskier parts. Anyone who, understands Martirano's technical note either owns a Ph.D. or deserves one. The work's title plays on Phew!, the name of Martirano's "MIDI orchestra" a playfulness of another sort. (MIDI: musical instrument digital interface.) One hears a jazz/art - music fusion as raison d'etre for a techno - savoir faire available to few contemporaries of similarly puissant unplugged skills. Were Harry Partch alive, he might be going this route. Nancarrow said he would have done, had he the technology then. Whatever the case, Martirano's certainly making his mark as a hard - & - software -?maven / composer, in the present case. of a pleasurable, at moments touchingly sweet, frolic. Spencer is one of the four flutists who commissioned the three - part piece.
And so we take our leave of thc AC mains. Except, of course, as the means to play this disc. George Perle's brief Monody 1, for flute alone, exploits with deep understanding the flute's unique character in an elegant display of liveliness, tenderness, and mood a touch bittersweet. Louise Talma's Conversations, for Flute and piano, are certainly that. Rather than the sleekly, hard - edged modern, the dialog melds with its spring - & - autumn woodland setting. The comfortable furnishings are in no way naive or innocently rustic. Think rather of a poetry of other than urban pace and angst.
Elliott Carter's Scrivo in vento, the title of a Petrach sonnet, celebrates the Avignon poet's 687th birthday. A virtuoso exercise in contrasts, a predominant tenderness dwells cheek - by - jowl with frantic outbursts. Spencer's note to Pierre Boulez's 1946 Sonatine, for flute and piano, talks of the work's "driving, surging character." This reporter listens very much under the spell of the music's extraordinary grace. While this isn't the work's only recorded performance, it's certainly among the best. "In the French allure of the slow movement, we hear one of the first instances of the sensuous sustained - trill textures that Boulez later developed to such magnificent effect in Pli selon pli ..." As to "French allure," agreed!
In describing Stephen Jaffe's Three Figures and a Ground, for flute and piano, I'd be a fool not to raid Spencer's remarks: She calls the four - part piece a "prime example of a romantic, lyrical duo . . . in the second half of this century. The three figures are a song, dance, and a scherzo." The fourth movement, Introduction and the Ground, according to the composer, "weaving together strains from the preceding three movements. " Jaffe acknowledges the Ground as a "kind of gloss on a pair of gestures from the Second Symphony of George Rochberg, in honor of whose 70th birthday an earlier solo piano version of this movement came to be." I take particular comfort as a listener in a relationship with a composer I've long admired, largely because I find Jaffe's Three Figures and a Ground both challenging?-?-?Spencer's characterizations of the song, dance, and scherzo will tell you why?-?-?and, as its performer suggests, romantically gratifying. Again, Spencer is one of four flutists who commissioned the work. Her daunting new - music background helps explain one's deep satisfaction throughout. Pianist Linda Hall's participation ditto. I can't imagine a better - balanced program. Fine sound recordings, moreover. Warmly recommended.