The Improv Show

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Does contemporary music need to be exquisitely written out with Ferneyhough levels of expressive detail? Do scores need to reflect every nuance, every slight bending of time, every possible elaboration of the melody?

The answer, it seems, is a resounding NO – at least for a creation portion of the composer population. Indeed, throughout the history of Western music, there are times when it seems as though more is left unsaid than said – consider Baroque pieces that are more like lead sheets than fully-executed scores, classical concertos with room for improvised cadenzas and eingangs, or especially the artfully-constructed jazz charts from the 40s-60s.

Today the Brothers Balliett consider a group of composers for whom improvisation is essential to the execution of their artistic vision, including some updated, new-music-y renditions of old scores, like Emilio de Cavalieri's Lamentations, beautifully ornamented in improvisation by Poeme Harmonique. The on-the-spot melodic invention demonstrated here brings these pieces from the Baroque to the contemporary in a startlingly visceral way.

John Zorn, the expertly innovative improvising composer, is amply represented, with examples from his Fire Book and the enchanting tune Chachmiel; his Tzadik label-mate Suphala makes an appearance as well. Rounding out the program is a through-composed tune by Dave Holland, and a set of songs by one of the finest improvising composers of all time, Giancinto Scelsi

Do these guys just make it up as they go along? If so, we here at Q2 Music hope they continue.