Women in (New) Music: Just Like a Woman Video Premiere

by Maggie Molloy

Lara Downes, photo by Rit Keller.

An entire chorus of women’s voices has risen up this year in unparalleled numbers—and not just through protests and political marches, but also through the beautiful subtleties of music, performance, and poetry.

Women in (New) Music is proud to premiere pianist Lara Downes’ Just Like A Woman: a brand new video series which weaves together the work of today’s top women composers and poets. Each episode features Downes performing a solo piano work by a woman composer, paired with a poetry reading by a woman writer.

“As an artist who works in both music and words, I want to create a space for women’s voices to come together in the expression of shared desires, dreams, and destinies,” Downes said. “These videos are meant to be glimpses into the creative lives of women.”

The first episode, which just launched on International Women’s Day, features Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rita Dove’s achingly nostalgic “Singsong” paired with composer Rachel Grimes’ introspective “Every Morning.”

We’re thrilled to premiere Episode Two right here on Second Inversion. In this second installment, Downes lends her fingers to Sarah Kirkland Snider’s liquidly lyrical “The Currents,” the music woven together with Safiya Sinclair’s vividly emotive poem “Hands.”

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, January 6 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Sarah Kirkland Snider: Unremembered: VIII. The Witch (New Amsterdam)

unremembered_cover-300x300“The Witch” is the 8th vignette in a 13-piece song cycle titled Unremembered from fabulous composer Sarah Kirkland Snider. Aggressive strings and a militant orchestration set the scene for a spooky narrative that takes us into shadowy woods full of subtle horrors. Shara Nova’s growling vocals capture both the beauty and foreboding of this imagistic and vivid score. Snider’s “The Witch” is layered, grisly and intense from start to finish. Highly recommended for listeners of all ages, just maybe not before bedtime. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


Aphex Twin: Mt. Saint Michel performed by Alarm Will Sound (Cantaloupe Music)

acoustica_300dpi_cmykStarting the new year swamped with work and already behind from the previous year is not ideal, but it is the situation many of us find ourselves in this January. Alarm Will Sound’s version of Aphex Twin’s Mt. Saint Michael is the perfect music for this situation. Perhaps embracing the chaos along with pursuit of self-care

is the way forward. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


Conlon Nancarrow (arr. Evan Ziporyn): Four Player Piano Studies performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars (Cantaloupe Music)

55805527bd9c35da77388ee16ee84cb456d8fd53You could say the 20th century experimental composer and expatriate Conlon Nancarrow was a bit of an introvert. He lived most of his life in isolation, and for decades composed only for player pianos—working alone, by hand, to produce and perfect a massive library of swingin’ blues and boogie-woogie piano rolls, his famous 49 Studies for Player Piano among them.

Well, composer Evan Ziporyn decided to take a few of those piano roll etudes and put them into human hands—the hands of the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Ziporyn created a mixed ensemble arrangement that retains the visceral intensity and mechanical energy of Nancarrow’s original rolls, but reimagines them through the Technicolor timbral palette of Bang on a Can. It’s snazzy, jazzy, and full of color—proof that although player pianos have become largely obsolete, Nancarrow’s music is still very much alive. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.


Lisa Bielawa: Synopsis No. 12 “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” Michael Norsworthy, clarinet (BMOP/Sound)

bmop1017sI have to confess that I was super biased to love this piece even before I heard it; as a clarinetist, I am a huge fan of the unaccompanied clarinet repertoire, and as a musician, I am huge fan of Lisa Bielawa. Incredible, bizarre, enigmatic works have been written for clarinet alone by composers like Igor Stravinsky, William Bolcom, and Shulamit Ran. As they require one single voice to command the listener’s attention, they are tremendously difficult to compose and perform. Luckily, the clarinet’s huge range provides ample opportunity to create a wide variety of colors and characters, and a bit of extended techniques can help as well. Bielawa’s work presents the performer with a number of different fragments and gives them free reign to decide the order in which they are played, and how many times they are used. The idea behind “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” and the other 14 Synopses (all with six-word titles) is tied to Hemingway’s six-word short story “For sale, baby shoes: never used.” Apparently, Bielawa’s musical fragments each represent a different vacation activity. BMOP’s clarinetist Michael Norsworthy does a lot of trilling and running around the register of the instrument – sounds like he had a busy summer vacation.

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.

Women in (New) Music: Timeline of Women Composers

by Maggie Molloy

women-in-music-timeline

“New” music didn’t just start up out of the blue. The contemporary classical music we know and love and treasure today is the product of centuries of innovation and experimentation in the field.

Likewise, women didn’t just pick up instruments and staff paper in the 21st century—we are the product of hundreds of years’ worth of women who fought to have their music heard. So if we’re going to celebrate Women in (New) Music, it’s important to pay tribute to the women who paved the way.

The following timeline briefly outlines the contributions of a number of history’s most influential women composers, past and present. Please note that this list is by no means comprehensive, but rather is meant to summarize some of the key accomplishments of women composers in the Western classical music tradition.

So the next time you’re looking for some fiercely empowering musical inspiration, check out some of these ladies:

HISTORIC COMPOSERS:

inanna

Enheduanna (2285-2250 BCE): Regarded by scholars as the earliest known author, poet, and composer (regardless of gender), Enheduanna was a high priestess of the moon god in the Sumerian city-state of Ur. Her temple hymns were held in high esteem, and were in use at temples across Sumer and Akkad long after her death.

Image is of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare.

 


hildegard

 

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179): Hildegard was a German Benedictine abbess, Christian mystic, and one of earliest female composers. There are more surviving chants by Hildegard than by any other composer from the entire Middle Ages, and she was one of the first composers (male or female) to create her own idiosyncratic compositional style.

 


maddalena-casulana

 

 

Maddalena Casulana (1544-1590): Casulana was the first woman in Western music history to print and publish her music, and the first to regard herself as a professional composer.

 

 


francesca-caccini

 

 

Francesca Caccini (1587-1645): Caccini had a successful career as a singer, teacher, and composer, and was one of the most prolific composers of dramatic music in the 17th century. She was also the highest-paid musician at the Florentine court.

 


barbara-strozzi

 

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677): Strozzi was the most prolific composer, man or woman, of printed secular vocal music in Venice during the mid-17th century. Her father, a poet and librettist himself, nurtured her ambitions as a composer and introduced her to the intellectual elite of Venice. Unlike her male contemporaries, she was restricted to performing at intimate, private gatherings rather than for large, public audiences.

 


elisabeth-jacquet-de-la-guerre

 

Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729): Born into a family of musicians and instrument makers, Jacquet de la Guerre was the original child prodigy in music. From the age of five, she sang, composed, and played the harpsichord at Louis XIV’s court, supported by the king’s mistress. Throughout her life, she enjoyed the patronage of the king and dedicated most of her works to him.

 


maria-szymanowska

 

Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831): Szymanowska was one of the first professional virtuoso pianists of the 19th century. She toured extensively throughout Europe and composed for the court at St. Petersburg, gave concerts, taught music, and ran an influential salon. She wrote a number of piano pieces and songs which made her an important forerunner to Chopin.

 


fanny-mendelssohn

Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847): Later known as Fanny Hensel (after her marriage), she was the sister of the early Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn. Though she was as talented and musically precocious as her brother, a musical career was considered inappropriate for a woman of her wealth and class at the time. After her marriage she played piano and performed her compositions at small, private gatherings of friends and invited guests, and she published much of her music under her brother’s name.

 


clara-schumann

 

Clara Schumann (1819-1896): Clara Schumann was one of the most distinguished composers and pianists of the Romantic era. Though she was married to the composer Robert Schumann, she tended to be the more famous of the two, and was the main breadwinner for their family. Together, Robert and Clara championed the musical career of Johannes Brahms, and she was the first to perform any of his works publicly.

 


amy-beach

 

Amy Beach (1867-1944): A child prodigy, pianist, and composer, Amy Beach taught herself to compose by studying and playing the works of other composers. Though social conventions of the time excluded her from studying or teaching at any of the top universities, she went on to become the first American woman to publish a symphony and other large-scale works.

 


marion-bauer

 

Marion Bauer (1882-1955): Bauer was an influential composer, teacher, and music critic who played an active role in shaping American musical identity in the early half of the 20th century. She held leadership roles in a number of composers’ societies, and helped found the American Music Guild, the American Music Center, and the American Composer’s Alliance.

 


rebecca-clarke

 

Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979): Clarke was a classical composer and violist best known for her chamber music featuring the viola. She became one of the first female professional orchestral players. Most of her works have yet to be published (or have only recently been published).

 

 


florence-beatrice-price

 

Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953): Price was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition performed by a major orchestra. Though she was classically trained, her music incorporated elements of African-American spirituals, emphasizing the rhythm and syncopation of the spirituals rather than just the text.

 


nadia-boulanger

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979): Boulanger was a composer, conductor, and one of the most influential pedagogues of the 20th century. Many of her students went on to become leading composers of the 20th century, including Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones, Elliott Carter, Virgil Thomson, Philip Glass, Ástor Piazzolla, and many more. Boulanger was the first woman to conduct many major orchestras in America and Europe, including the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, Hallé, New York Philharmonic, and Philadelphia orchestras.

 


germaine-tailleferre

 

Germaine Tailleferre (1892 – 1983): Tailleferre was the only female member of the group of French composers called Les Six, who were known for writing highly individual works which drew from a wide range of influences, including neoclassical. She composed hundreds of works in all genres, including many film scores.

 


lili-boulanger

 

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918): Lili Boulanger was a child prodigy and a student of her older sister, Nadia. At the age of 19, she became the first woman composer to win the Prix de Rome for her piece Faust et Hélène, but her compositional career was cut short when she died at the age of 24 from chronic illness.

 

 


ruth-crawford-seeger

 

Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953): Seeger was a modernist composer and American folk music specialist, and she was the first woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship in music. She was a prominent member of a group of American composers known as the “ultramoderns,” and her music influenced later composers including Elliott Carter.

 


LIVING COMPOSERS:

ellen-taaffe-zwilich

 

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Zwilich was the first female composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. She is one of the most frequently played living composers, and her works draw from a wide range of influences, including atonal, post-modernist, and neo-romantic.

 

 


libby-larsen
Libby Larsen:
 
One of America’s most prolific and most frequently performed living composers, Larsen has cultivated a catalog of over 500 works spanning virtually every genre. She was the first woman to serve as a resident composer with a major orchestra, and she went on to become one of the founders of the American Composers Forum.

 

 


julia-wolfe

 

Julia Wolfe: Perhaps best known as one of the three founders of the wildly innovative Bang on a Can new music collective, Wolfe’s compositional style is just as urgent and relentlessly powerful as her career. In 2015, she earned the Pulitzer Prize for music, and this year, she was named a MacArthur Fellow—the first full-time classical composer to receive this distinguished award since 2003.

 


jennifer-higdon

 

Jennifer Higdon: One of America’s most critically-acclaimed and frequently performed living composers, Higdon has both a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award under her belt. She enjoys several hundred live performances a year of her works, and her compositions have been recorded on over four dozen CDs.

 

 


lisa-bielawa

 

Lisa Bielawa: A prominent composer and vocalist both within and beyond New York’s thriving contemporary classical scene, Bielawa takes her inspiration from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. In 1997, she co-founded the MATA Festival, which has gone on to become New York’s leading showcase for vital new music by emerging composers.

 


amanda-harberg

 

Amanda Harberg: A New Jersey-based composer, pianist, and educator, Harberg’s music has been widely commissioned and performed both in the United States and abroad. She is also the founder and director of the Music in Montclair series, which pairs performances of traditional classical music with new works by living composers.

 


shara-nova

 

Shara Nova: Best known as the lead singer and songwriter for her chamber pop band My Brightest Diamond, Nova is also equally at home as a composer, mezzo-soprano extraordinaire, and musical chameleon. Career highlights include composing and starring in her own psychedelic Baroque chamber opera titled You Us We All and collaborating with practically every major musical voice in New York City (and beyond).

 


sarah-kirkland-sniderSarah Kirkland Snider: Perhaps best known for her rapturous and vividly orchestrated song cycles Penelope and Unremembered, Snider’s utterly immersive compositions have been commissioned and performed by many of the most prestigious orchestras, ensembles, and soloists throughout the world. A passionate advocate for new music, Snider also serves as co-director, along with William Brittle and Judd Greenstein, of New Amsterdam Records—a label which consistently churns out adventurous and thought-provoking new music.


anna-thorvaldsdottir

 

Anna Thorvaldsdottir: As a composer, Thorvaldsdottir is known for creating large sonic structures which immerse the the listener in their austere, somber, and utterly spellbinding soundscapes. She’s the recipient of the prestigious Nordic Council Music Prize and The New York Philharmonic’s Kravis Emerging Composer Award.

 

 


angelique-poteat

 

Angelique Poteat: A powerful compositional voice and new music advocate, Poteat is a Seattle-based composer and clarinetist whose works have been commissioned and performed by the Seattle Symphony, North Corner Chamber Orchestra, and many others. Her five-movement composition Listen to the Girls, scored for girl choir and large orchestra, explores harmful and unfair societal expectations of women.

 


kate-moore

 

Kate Moore: Moore’s award-winning compositions blur the line between acoustic and electroacoustic media, at times even crossing over into sound installation territory. She specializes in creating surprising performance scenarios which feature virtuosic instrumentalists and musicians set amidst unusual and alternative performance circumstances.

 


missy-mazzoli

 

Missy Mazzoli: Mazzoli is a Brooklyn-based composer and keyboardist who’s works flow seamlessly between chamber-operatic, electronic, and abstract sound worlds. She’s also the founder and keyboardist of the all-female new age art pop ensemble Victoire, a group dedicated to the performance of her works.

 

 


caroline-shaw

Caroline Shaw: Perhaps best known as a Grammy Award-winning singer in the boundary-bursting vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, Shaw is also a prominent violinist and composer in contemporary music. She has performed around the world as a violinist in ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble), and in 2013 she became the youngest ever recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her a capella composition Partita for 8 Voices.

 


Are we missing someone? We plan to continue updating and expanding this index of women composers as time goes on. Send your submissions to maggiem@king.org and we’ll make sure your favorite female composers are added to the list.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: You Us We All by Shara Nova & Andrew Ondrejcak

by Maggie Molloy

“Dear Beyoncé,” Shara Nova sings dotingly above the excited clattering of an antique typewriter. “Do you ever think that you’re like everybody else? Just another human, fartin’ around this damned earth?”

Queen Bey makes no reply.
600x600Regal, royal, and ridiculously talented, Beyoncé is just one of several modern pop gods called upon in Nova’s contemporary Baroque chamber opera, You Us We All. The album-length opera is a mixed-up, mashed-up court masque about five allegorical characters searching for meaning in the modern age, filled with corny fan letters and cornetto solos, broken hearts and Baroque instruments.

It’s a work of 21st-century musical theater written for 17th-century instruments—an ornate, Baroque-style pageant of life and death with music by Nova, libretto by Andrew Ondrejcak, costumes by Zane Pihlstrom, and choreography by Seth Stewart Williams.

Shara Nova (previously known as Shara Worden) is one of those musicians who is notoriously impossible to pin down. She’s an artist in every sense of the word—a composer, a singer-songwriter, a mezzo-soprano extraordinaire, and a musical chameleon.

Perhaps best known as the frontwoman her own avant-garde rock band, My Brightest Diamond, she has also collaborated with composers and artists as diverse as the Decemberists, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Sufjan Stevens, Colin Stetson, David Byrne, and many more. For Nova, writing and starring in her own Baroque chamber opera was simply the next logical step in a career of beautifully unusual musical endeavors.

You Us We All began with a commission from the Belgian ensemble Baroque Orchestration X (B.O.X.), a collective that is committed to creating new music on old instruments. Inspired by their wide range of rare period instruments, Nova began working with writer, director, and production designer Andrew Ondrejcak to craft a new theatrical work that would combine the lavish nobility and grace of the Baroque era with the boldness and artistic experimentation of the 21st century.

The opera premiered last year with performances in Belgium, Germany, Amsterdam, and New York. And though no performances made it over to the West Coast (yet!), we can still live vicariously through the original cast recording, starring Nova herself with her hand-picked skeleton cast of curious characters.

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The opera takes its structural form from the Baroque masque—a form of festive courtly entertainment which flourished in 16th and 17th-century Europe and involved extravagant music, costumes, sets, and dances. Masques typically featured a series of tableaus in lieu of a standard plot, and opted for allegorical characters to represent abstract virtues such as Beauty, Strength, or Justice.

At its core, You Us We All adheres to this basic structure of pomp and circumstance—but what begins as lighthearted courtly entertainment quickly turns into something much darker: a radical look inward at how we define our culture and, perhaps more importantly, ourselves.

Nova’s warm, lustrous vocals sparkle in the role of Hope, along with acclaimed New York-vocalist Helga Davis as Virtue, baritone Martin Gerke as Love, performance artist Carlos Soto as Time, and countertenor Bernhard Landauer as Death. The 10-piece B.O.X. collective provides a backdrop of clean, courtly, polite, and precise accompaniment reminiscent of a Baroque dance suite—but with some more contemporary percussion thrown in for a 21st-century edge.

The opera tells a tale of Love, Virtue, Hope, and Death—four dreadfully superficial characters who define themselves solely through their fabulous costumes, ornamented melodies, and material possessions. Surrounded by the glitter and glamour of riches and wealth, they begin to reflect on the meaning of their lives in the modern world only as Time strips away their carefully-crafted layers of pomp and artifice.

The opera unfolds through a number of modern-day arias and recitatives: Death falls for Love, Virtue and Hope head out to a strip club, Time drinks away his sorrows—you know, the usual operatic drama.

But it’s all tied together will introspective little letters Hope writes to the pop divinities, almost like philosophical prayers to the gods above. In her own little 21st-century way, Hope’s fan letters harken back to the Baroque tradition, when philosophers sought to reconcile the existence of life and God through their writings.

It just serves as a reminder that although we’re three centuries past Baroque music and philosophical musings, we are still just as lost as ever. But at least we’re not alone—the opera reminds us that you, us, we all still have each other. And Nova’s prominent role reminds us that above all, we still have Hope.

“Dear Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, is it true that you’re split from one single chromosome?” she sings sweetly above the antique typewriter. “Are we not us each all split from one single chromosome, and spend our lives trying to put the pieces back together?”

ALBUM REVIEW: Michael Mizrahi’s “Currents”

by Maggie Molloy

Mizrahi-Hi-Res-10_oClassical music is fluid. Try as we might, we can never pin down a definitive “beginning” or “end” to the arbitrary musical eras we’ve created. And while we may broadly categorize music as Baroque or Classical, Romantic or Modern, ultimately all of these seemingly individualized movements blend into a much broader pool: the Western classical music tradition.

But this pool is not static—it continues to change and evolve as composers and performers continue to make waves in the contemporary music world.

That’s the premise behind pianist Michael Mizrahi’s new album of solo piano works, “Currents.” Recently released on the New Amsterdam record label, the album brings together six impeccably performed and expertly recorded new American piano works, almost all of which were written specifically for Mizrahi’s idiosyncratic sound, style, and musical approach.

The result is a unique addition to the 21st century solo piano repertoire that, as the title suggests, embodies movement forward, building on the great piano works of the past while also expanding and propelling the solo piano works of the future. The album features works by Sarah Kirkland Snider, Troy Herion, Mark Dancigers, Asha Srinivasan, Missy Mazzoli, and Patrick Burke.

 

The album begins with the title track: “The Currents” by Sarah Kirkland Snider. Perhaps best known for her song cycles (which feature the inimitable voices of Shara Worden and Padma Newsome), this solo piano piece carries the same flowing lyricism and sensitivity as Snider’s vocal music—but without any of the words. Mizrahi’s fingers swim gracefully through the ebb and flow of the piece, beautifully capturing the depth and breadth of colors that make the currents come to life.

The piece is followed by Troy Herion’s pseudo-Baroque solo piano work, cheekily titled “Harpsichords.” Heavily peppered with trills and musical ornaments, the piece evokes the pristine, transparent textures of the Baroque era while venturing into 21st century melodies and musical forms (or, you know, lack thereof). Mizrahi blends both eras seamlessly.

The slow-moving and sincere “Bright Motion Ascending” is nothing short of sparkling. The work was composed for Mizrahi by his NOW Ensemble bandmate, guitarist Mark Dancigers, as the third installment in his “Bright Motion” trilogy. Mizrahi’s fast fingers transform the piano into a harp, his fingertips gliding effortlessly across cascading arpeggios, from the glistening upper registers of the piano all the way down to its earthiest tones.

Asha Srinivasan’s introspective “Mercurial Reveries” draws upon her Indian-American heritage, weaving in elements from Indian classical scales and modes, along with the occasional (and ever so subtle) jazz piano lick. Over the course of five short movements, she explores a vast terrain of distinctive musical textures, at one point even instructing the pianist to physically reach inside the piano and stop the strings’ vibrations with one hand while playing on the keys with the other. Mizrahi, as it turns out, plays the inside of the piano with the same precision and grace as the outside.

The work is followed by Missy Mazzoli’s “Heartbreaker,” an intimate piece which showcases Mizrahi’s virtuosity without bleeding over into the showy (and at times superficial) pitfall of many virtuosic solo piano pieces. The piece starts out deceptively simple, but quickly spirals into freewheeling abandon, dancing just within the limits of the pianist’s control.

The album comes to a close with Patrick Burke’s poignant and pensive “Missing Piece.” Mizrahi’s fingers pace across slow-moving triadic harmonies and yearning dissonances, uncovering the work’s clear Romantic underpinnings.

Ultimately, each piece on the album reminds us that there is no clear line between the music of the past and the music of the present. We don’t always have to separate the music into arbitrary categories—sometimes we just need to sit back, relax, and get swept up in the “Currents.”

ALBUM REVIEW: Unremembered by Sarah Kirkland Snider

by Maggie Molloy

sksnider unremembered

Childhood is a time of youthful innocence, joyous discovery, and wondrous possibility—but along with that unbridled and enchanting sense of imagination can also come dark creatures, mysterious horrors, and haunting memories.

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider braves these mystical terrors and takes on the full beauty and vast musical scope of childhood imagination in her latest release, “Unremembered.” The album is a 13-part song cycle, and each piece is its own narrative—a tender memory, a ghostly mystery, or a haunting message. Together, the cycle is a rumination on memory, innocence, imagination, and the strange and subtle horrors of growing up.

Composed for seven voices, chamber orchestra, and electronics, the songs were inspired by the poems and illustrations of writer and artist Nathaniel Bellows, a close friend of Snider. The poems depict poignant memories of Bellows’ own childhood upbringing in rural Massachusetts—tales which in turn triggered memories from Snider’s own childhood, giving shape to her musical settings of the text.

The album was released on New Amsterdam Records, a label Snider co-created with Judd Greenstein and William Brittelle in 2008 to promote classically-trained musicians who create outside the confines of the classical music tradition. The album features vocalists Shara Worden (of My Brightest Diamond), Padma Newsome (of Clogs), and singer-songwriter DM Stith gliding above the instrumental talents of musicians from contemporary ensembles like ACME, Alarm Will Sound, ICE, The Knights, and Sō Percussion.

A follow-up to Snider’s critically-acclaimed 2010 song cycle, “Penelope,” the new album lives somewhere in the mystical, mythical world between classical and pop genres. Each song is its own vividly colored vignette, a mesmerizing narrative brought to life through Snider’s rich textural and temperamental palette.

“I think that all of my music is narrative driven—that’s what I’m the most interested in musically—mood and storytelling and atmosphere,” Snider said in an interview with Molly Sheridan of NewMusicBox. “I’m fascinated by complex emotions—the places where affection crosses over and merges with dread, or regret merges with gratitude.”

From the ghostly echoes and somber lyricism of “Prelude” to the surreal dark carnival dance of “The Barn,” each piece tells a different tale of childhood; a memory embellished, ornamented, and altered over the years. In a way, Snider also embellishes memories of the classical genre—musically she recalls the strict rules and structures of the classical tradition, but she does so in a way that is blurred, broken, and beautifully contorted. Her collaboration with Worden helped breathe life into this eclectic collection of musical influences.

“Shara [Worden] had become my closest friend and we’d had so many conversations about classical versus pop music, and all of the frustrations that we had dealing with the lack of infrastructure to support music written in the cracks between those worlds,” Snider said in her interview with NewMusicBox. “She also just so comfortably can inhabit both worlds, which is something that so few singers can do, so I felt like I could really let it rip.”

Worden’s operatic voice drifts above the restless woodwind motives and dreamlike themes of “The Guest,” glides gracefully above the delicately swelling orchestral backdrop on “The Swan,” and echoes just as sweetly above the subtle, soft strings of “The Song.”

The album climaxes with “The Witch,” a ruthless and rhapsodic witch hunt played out across a programmatic musical arc. Worden’s low voice hisses against the aggressive strings and militant drums of the orchestra. She sings the ghostly tale of a witch hunt while the strings and percussion chase after her, brewing with melodrama and theatrical orchestral nuances. The piece ends with twinkling celeste motives as the haunting witch hunt fades back into a distant memory.

“The Slaughterhouse” is similarly grim, though it begins with a sweet reprieve: a gorgeous, achingly tender solo piano melody. The gentle rumination gives way to a somber tale of slaughtered animals, a collection of beasts buried beneath the winter ice—the cold memory and throbbing melodies sending shivers down the listener’s spine.
“The Girl” tells of a tragic small-town suicide—a girl hanged in an entire forest of musical timbres. Snider paints a vivid musical picture of the wind blowing through the trees, birds chirping in the early morning sky, and inquisitive animals peeking out behind woven beds of flowers. “The River” tells another solemn tale, with somber vocals flowing above fragmented melodies and a slowly rumbling bass.

The album comes to a close with “The Past,” a fractured montage of childhood memories echoing musical fragments from earlier songs in the cycle. But this time, the piece sounds hopeful—like a lullaby alive once again with the warmth and sweetness of childhood.

And just like that, the melancholy requiem of “Unremembered” evaporates into a softly twinkling silence, like an enchanting music box tenderly closing—and while the exact details of the memories may fade with time, the album itself is unforgettable.

ALBUM REVIEW: Dreamfall by NOW Ensemble

by Maggie Molloy

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If you’re looking for the latest in contemporary classical, it doesn’t get any more current than NOW Ensemble. The dynamic seven-member group is committed to pushing the boundaries of the classical chamber music tradition, often crossing into new genres and artistic media.

True to their name, NOW ensemble infuses traditional Western art music with contemporary music styles such as indie rock, jazz, pop, and minimalism—bringing classical music to new audiences in the here and now.

The foundation for their one-of-a-kind sound is their eclectic instrumentation: electric guitar, flute, clarinet, double bass, and piano. Currently in their 10th year as a group, the ensemble is comprised of artistic director and guitarist Mark Dancigers, flutist Alexandra Sopp, clarinetist Sara Budde, double bassist Logan Coale, pianist Michael Mizrahi, and composers Patrick Burke and Judd Greenstein.

So NOW, what’s the latest?

The ensemble just released their fourth full-length album, an eclectic new music mash-up titled “Dreamfall.” The expansive new release features works by seven remarkable composers of contemporary music: Scott Smallwood, Mark Dancigers, John Supko, Nathan Williamson, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Andrea Mazzariello, and Judd Greenstein.

“It is a state of immense freedom,” Dancigers said of the album’s title. “The sounds on this record reflect this freedom, this sense of something a little out of our hands, and, beyond all else, the practice of making music that is NOW Ensemble.”

Scott Smallwood’s “Still in Here” is the first piece on the album, and it begins with low, grumbling piano trill—in fact, the graphic score denotes a “slow, drunken piano trill” throughout. The piece is atmospheric and dark, even apocalyptic at times. It swells in dynamics, periodically highlighting the unique texture of each instrument above a blur of musical vibrations. Listen for the soft crinkling of a foil stove burner liner amidst the ambiance. (According to Smallwood, “the handi-foil type 302 liner is a good candidate” if you’re looking to perform this one at home.)

The title track, written by Dancigers, showcases a more expressive side of the ensemble. The three-movement work explores an eclectic collection of melodic fragments, similar to a dreamland—one moment here and the next somewhere completely different. “Dreamfall” showcases the ensemble’s full range of timbral and textural possibilities, capturing the ever-shifting moods and melodies that we experience once we finally let go and start dreaming.

Speaking of dreams, John Supko’s “Divine the Rest” is nothing short of a mesmerizing daze. It immerses the listener in an ambient electroacoustic soundscape, with calm narration whispering over sparse instrumentation. Each and every note gently rings over the surrounding static to create a slowly shifting musical landscape.

The listener is abruptly awoken from this trancelike state with an audacious piano slide introducing the next piece on the album, Nathan Williamson’s vivacious “Trans-Atlantic Flight of Fancy.” Harmonies sprawl across the keyboard with rhythmic verve, restlessly pushing forward beneath bold and brash woodwind melodies.

The ensemble again switches gears for Sarah Kirkland Snider’s “Pale as Centuries,” a musical collage which combines diverse, distinctive, and sometimes even mismatched melodic fragments into a single cohesive image.

Andrea Mazzariello’s “Trust Fall” has a somewhat more linear development, growing gradually in drama and expressivity, from its sparse and simple introduction to its climactic close. However, one thing remains a key focus throughout: lush, dolce melodies.

The album ends with Judd Greenstein’s “City Boy,” a colorful musical depiction of a free and fearless young boy, his eyes twinkling as he playfully explores the world around him. The piece moves rapidly from one melodic idea to the next, switching from a jazzy guitar groove to a circling piano motive to a flowing clarinet melody within a matter of minutes.

The piece serves as a reminder of the major themes present throughout NOW Ensemble’s musical ventures: experimentation, innovation, and above all, a genuine enthusiasm for pursing curiosity. NOW that’s what I call contemporary classical!

(NOW Ensemble’s November 2014 visit to our studios)