On April 5 and 26, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presented two evenings of contemporary music that ranged from George Benjamin to composer and singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane. For this week's episode of Cued Up, we listen to selections from those two performances.
Recorded at Lincoln Center's Kaplan Penthouse, both evenings took a cross-continental approach, presenting the works of composers from across Europe and the United States.
The April 5 performance opened with Shadowlines, Six Canon Preludes for Piano by British composer George Benjamin. Here performed by pianist Gilles Vonsattel, the composition moves from spacious, meditative interludes to harsh stabs of tone clusters. We also hear Les Fees from French Composer Bruno Mantovani's Four Pieces for String Quartet as performed by the all-Canadian ensemble Afiara String Quartet. Mantovani, the recipient of multiple prizes from the Paris Conservatory, has collaborated with the Paris Opera, Chicago Symphony and Pierre Boulez among numerous others.
Highlights from the April 26 show include Joan Tower's Rising, played by the Escher String Quartet with flute soloist Carol Wincenc. Tower, currently a professor at Bard College, describes the piece in the program notes as "an ascent motion using different kinds of scales... These upward motions are then put through different filters, packages of time and varying degrees of heat environments which interact with competing static and downward motions."
The other selection from that evening is the New York premiere of Gabriel Kahane's Little Sleep's Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight. Written for voice, piano and cello and performed by Kahane with cellist Nick Canellakis, the composition draws on the duality of the musician's background as both a pop songwriter and composer of concert music. Set to a poem by the American writer Galway Kinnel, Kahane writes that the composition is "preoccupied with the idea of marrying the formal to the vernacular. In crude terms, the union of 'highbrow' and 'lowbrow'..."