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ClassicsOnline Home » Chamber Music with Guitar (American) - KERNIS, A.J. / LIDERMAN, J. / MACKEY, S. (Awakenings) (D. Tanenbaum, Plitmann, A. Strauss, Kernis)
Chamber music breaks exciting new ground with these three works by leading American composers. Aaron Jay Kernis’s beautiful Two Awakenings and a Double Lullaby is a touching song cycle for the unusual combination of soprano, violin, guitar and piano. In the rhythmically agile Aged Tunes, Jorge Liderman contrasts the sonorities of guitar and string quartet. Steven Mackey’s Measures of Turbulence, a remarkably subtle soundscape despite its title, explores the gonglike multiphonic sounds of acoustic and electric guitars. Each of these new pieces was written for the artists who perform them here.
By Kurt Loft
Sarasota Herald Tribune
New American Chamber Music for Guitar
Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960): Two Awakenings and a Double Lullaby (2006)
Two Awakenings and a Double Lullaby, a song cycle for high soprano, violin, guitar and piano was written in 2006 to commemorate the opening of the new Concert Hall at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. This cycle of three songs is dedicated to my beloved twins, Jonah and Delphine. The work was composed with the exceptional talents of dear friends Hila Plitmann, Axel Strauss and David Tanenbaum in mind.
The Salutation, a text by the English metaphysical poet and clergyman Thomas Traherne (1636–74), is a meditation on the rise of consciousness from nothingness, the mysteries of existence and infinite glories of being. It begins with bell-like sounds in the piano and guitar and uses these sounds transformed throughout the movement.
In The Light Gatherer, English writer Carol Ann Duffy (one of my very favorite living poets, born in Glasgow in 1955) presents her young daughter infused with light and color in myriad ways, with a beautiful realization of the exuberance of childhood and the delight in witnessing growth and change.
Double Lullaby is a gentle, lyrical song which intertwines the soprano and violin in duet. I have placed two well-known texts alongside each other—the words in English from Engelbert Humperdincks’ Lullaby from Hansel and Gretel (which treats the word “two” like a touchstone), and “Angels Watching Over Me”, a traditional American spiritual.
Two Awakenings and a Double Lullaby was commissioned by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for the Inaugural Year at Civic Center with generous funding from the Fleishhacker Foundation.
– Aaron Jay Kernis
Jorge Liderman (1957–2008): Aged Tunes (2007)
Aged Tunes (2007) represents my fourth collaboration with guitarist David Tanenbaum and Cuarteto Latinoamericano. Similar to the language of the Piano Quintet, Aged Tunes’ rhythmic language is pulsating and motoric. The opening of the piece presents the rasgueado of the guitar and the chords in the quartet forming an ensemble unison, which leads to the introduction of the “aged tune” in the guitar while the quartet accompanies the guitar with articulating harmonic points. Then, the tune goes to the quartet while the guitar holds an E pedal. After this initial presentation of the tune, the guitar and the viola establish a duet while the rest of the quartet provides a harmonic background.
After an interplay between the guitar supported by the viola and cello, and then the violins, fragments of the original tune reappear, this time juxtaposed with new materials. This section culminates in a chordal unison that leads to the return of the original melody in the guitar. Then, accompanied by the quartet, the guitar presents scalar patterns.
While the quartet presents a quasi-ostinato fragment in slow motion, the guitar articulates arpeggios and chords that end in a scalar passage in the strings. Supported by a similar ostinati in the strings, the guitar now introduces a low melody followed by a rasgueado passage.
Scalar patterns in the strings lead to a rasgueado section in the guitar which introduces a cadenza.
After the cadenza, there is a return to the original tune. This is followed by chords in the guitar accompanied by running scales in the quartet which then, in pizzicato, articulate the melody line in the guitar. The tune then goes to the violin and through an alternation of scalar passages between guitar and quartet the piece comes to an end.
– Jorge Liderman
Steven Mackey (b. 1956): Measures of Turbulence (2006)
Measures of Turbulence explores the sound of gong-like, harmonics in the two electric guitars, with melodic lines, ostinato patterns, and strummed chords in the classical guitars. The emphasis is on nuances of ensemble texture and rarely does an individual instrument emerge as a solo voice. One exception is the bass, which does not play for nearly half the piece, and takes a leadership rôle for the first couple of minutes after it finally enters.
The work is not overtly turbulent or dramatic but rather deals with relatively subtle harmonic and rhythmic disturbances that do not cause catastrophic fractures or upheavals in the music but rather contribute to a constantly evolving dynamic equilibrium. Having said that, I imagine that it is a matter of perspective; to the individual leaves on an aspen tree the breeze is a violent disturbance while the nature lover on the path below witnesses a gentle shimmer. Similarly, for a group of guitarists performing a 15-against-8 polyrhythm, the sense of disagreement is quite dramatic, while the listener, hears a blended rustling.
A word about the electric guitar harmonics: For years I have used these multiphonics in improvisatory contexts but, until now, I have never asked anyone else to learn them since the finger must be placed very precisely in positions never used for ordinary playing which makes them difficult to notate and difficult to consistently reproduce. When executed properly each harmonic produces several, predictable pitches, which sound more like gongs than a guitar.
Perhaps these harmonics are the best metaphor for the rôle of perspective in Measures of Turbulence. In order to produce these multiphonic harmonics the string must quiver in spasmodic paroxysms, yet the result of all that turbulence is a stately, somewhat solemn sound.
Measures of Turbulence is fifteen minutes long. It was commissioned by the San Francisco Conservatory for the opening of a new facility and premiered on 28 January 2007 by students, faculty and alumni of the Conservatory’s highly regarded guitar program, led by David Tanenbaum.
– Steven Mackey
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music commissioned Steven Mackey’s Measures of Turbulence and Aaron Jay Kernis’ Two Awakenings and a Double Lullaby to celebrate the opening of the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall at the school’s new home in San Francisco’s Civic Center.
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