Daniel Stephen Johnson was born in the desert and learned to play the violin. After studying viola and English at the University of Southern California, he wrote fiction at Columbia University. Then he moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a record shop and wrote about music, literature and comedy for the New Haven Advocate and the Believer. Now he lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and works as a sheet music salesman in Queens.
The Delicious Wit of Composer David Rakowski
Monday, December 05, 2016
David Rakowski writes serious music. Every detail rewards close scrutiny. Every next step is unexpected, every rhythm unsettled; nothing is taken for granted. Each moment draws the listener forward to the next, its long, lyrical phrases unspooling through labyrinths of chromaticism, and there is often a high seriousness to those melodies, too, an earnest loveliness, and an eerie, novel beauty to the orchestral colors.
All of these hallmarks of the seriousness of Rakowski's craft are on display in the new Boston Modern Orchestra Project disc of his music for piano and orchestra, Stolen Moments, conducted by Gil Rose. And these qualities may well be what a listener takes away from these pieces – both the titular work, performed with chamber orchestra by Sarah Bob, and the more heftily orchestrated Piano Concerto No. 2, executed by Amy Briggs.
But while the music of many great contemporary American composers could be described in these terms, what distinguishes Rakowski from his fellow luminaries of the modern concert hall is his delicious wit. One need not read his tongue-in-cheek liner notes, available as BMOP/sound's typically generous insert with the CD release or as a PDF download from the BMOP site, to enjoy of Rakowski's idiosyncratic sense of humor – he describes, among other things, the unusual flavors of European potato chip he ate while composing the concerto – but it doesn't hurt, either.
Otherwise, the wit is apparent enough in a first listen to these pieces with the off-kilter jazz and tango references of Stolen Moments and the delicious virtuosity of the concerto – compositional, as well as pianistic virtuosity – holding these substantial scores easily aloft.
The performances on this program are models of clarity and strength from beginning to end, but it is a special delight to hear Briggs, Rakowski's most devoted champion, tackling the challenges he tailor-made for her in this sweet and spectacular concerto.
David Rakowski: Stolen Moments
BMOP/sound | Released Aug. 9
This audio is no longer available.