Ellen Taafe Zwilich: Millenium Fantasy; Images; Peanuts Gallery

Audio Samples

>Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe : Millennium Fantasy, for piano & orchestra
>Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe : Images, for 2 pianos & orchestra
>Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe : Peanuts Gallery, for piano & orchestra

Album Summary

>Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe : Millennium Fantasy, for piano & orchestra
>Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe : Images, for 2 pianos & orchestra
>Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe : Peanuts Gallery, for piano & orchestra
Performers Conductor Ensemble
  • >
Composer

Notes & Reviews:

Among America's most admired, awarded and frequently performed composers, Ellen Taafe Zwilich, who celebrated her 70th birthday in 2009, remains young at heart. Performed here by virtuoso pianist Jeffrey Biegel for whom it was written, 'Millennium Fantasy' is based on a folksong that Zwilich's grandmother sang to her as a child. 'Images' drew its inspiration from a number of paintings held at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., including the Alice Bailly self-portrait reproduced on the cover of this disc. Zwilich, herself featured in Charles M. Schulz's famous 'Peanuts' comic strip, returned the favor with a delightful series of musical portraits of Schroeder, Linus, Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Peppermint Patty and Marcie.

"Called by Ms. Zwilich a "reflection" of the turn of the last century, Millennium Fantasy is a substantial addition to the repertoire that could endure to the next century. Pianist Jeffrey Biegel, dedicatee and soloist, put together the commission with 27 orchestras. The composer based the Fantasyon the folk song "Fair and Tender Maiden." In two movements, the 18-minute piece was a vibrant dialogue between piano and orchestra. Mr. Biegel's technique was suited to the writing, which demanded a unique blend of jazzy percussiveness and lyricism. Coloristic touches included harp-like glissandos in the piano. A beautifully serene moment came in the second movement, when the pianist played with a fluid touch against softly sustained strings. He tackled the jazzy cadenza (which had Prokofiev-like bite) with exhilaration." -Cincinnati Enquirer

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Opperman Music Hall, FSU, Tallahassee, FL (04/04/2009-04/05/2009).



Reviews

Exciting new works for piano from unique perspectives!
The new Naxos CD "Millenium Fantasy" (559656) showcases three very engaging new works for piano and orchestra by the renowned American composer, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. The title work, written in 2000, is structured very much like a two movement piano concerto. Written for Jeffrey Biegel, who performs it wonderfully here, it is based on a "folk song" that Zwilich's grandmother used to sing to her. (Which is very familiar to me, as well, but the composer does not provide - does not know? - the title) A very pleasant, pretty and somewhat virtuostic work, the "Fantasy" was written for the millenium but does not have to do with the date. Her "Images" for two pianos and orchestra (1986) is, I believe, the best piece on this program. Written for the opening of the National Museum in the Arts in Washington, DC, the work exists in five movements. Each section is a depiction or tribute to one of the paintings in the gallery. Clearly, each of the paintings focuses on a theme with a particularly feminine perspective, but the music is strong and reflective. Zwilich herself has long ago surpassed any connotation of her art as a talented female composer and for the past thirty years, at least, is seen more properly as one of America's great composers. In looking up the paintings online, one can see the sonic connections to themes that range, visually, from simple beauty to a bit unsettling. In particular, I was taken with the soft, pensive feel of #2, "La poupee abandonee" by Suzanne Valadon, depicting a doll whose owner has outgrown the need for her. Equally interesting but quite different is the final section, "Spiritualist" by Helen Frankenthaler, reflective of the soft, but abstract feel of an image - possibly a female head - in deep thought. This is a very interesting work deserving of much wider play in a genre that needs more good rep! Lastly, there was a connection - a mutual admiration - between Ellen Zwilich and the late, great cartoonist, Charles Schulz, that I was not aware of until this disc. Apparently, Schulz had made reference to Zwilich's music in at least a couple of his "Peanuts" cartoons over the years and Zwilich's work for piano and orchestra, "Peanuts Gallery" (1996) is her tribute to her friend, the "father" of all those famous characters. Zwilich's work captures the child-like nature of the protagonists and the feel is light, clever and engaging; not intended to be "profound". Schulz's work uses almost archetypal children's personalities to let adults find their real self and enjoy the realization. Some essays over the years that seek inspiration and hidden meaning in the cartoon miss the point. Zwilich's music does the same for the listener. In six sections, based on a main character, each movement has its own feel: the opening uses some quotations from Beethoven's "Hammerklavier Sonata" to elicit the feel of Schroeder and his penchant for Beethoven. Followed by a simple lullaby for Linus and his blanket, never quite fully alert and then the dancing dog, "Snoopy does the Samba". There is a a tongue in check lament for Charlie Brown, as we imagine a sighed "Good grief!" followed by a disconcerting "Lucy freaks out" (Zwilich comments in the characters temper and 'inner violence' that evaporates quickly) The work concludes with an almost parody of a parade march to depict Peppermint Patty and Marcie leading a single file walk across the comic frame - as frequently happens. All in all, this is a wonderful disc which shows a lighter, more relaxed aspect of Zwilich's considerable talent and output and showcases great music from wonderful source material. All the performances are terrific. The soloists, Jeffrey Biegel, Read Gainsford and Heidi Louise Williams are top notch and what a pleasant surprise the Florida State University Symphony is under the clear and empathetic direction of conductor Alexander Jimenez!
Submitted on 10/15/10 by Dan Coombs 
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Works Details

>Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe : Millennium Fantasy, for piano & orchestra
  • Performer: Jeffrey Biegel (Piano)
  • Conductor: Alexander Jimenez
  • Notes: Opperman Music Hall, FSU, Tallahassee, FL (04/04/2009-04/05/2009)
  • Running Time: 20 min. 21 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2000

>Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe : Images, for 2 pianos & orchestra
  • Performers: Read Gainsford (Piano); Heidi Williams (Piano)
  • Conductor: Alexander Jimenez
  • Notes: Opperman Music Hall, FSU, Tallahassee, FL (04/04/2009-04/05/2009)
  • Running Time: 16 min. 39 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1986

>Zwilich, Ellen Taaffe : Peanuts Gallery, for piano & orchestra
  • Performer: Jeffrey Biegel (Piano)
  • Conductor: Alexander Jimenez
  • Notes: Opperman Music Hall, FSU, Tallahassee, FL (04/04/2009-04/05/2009)
  • Running Time: 13 min. 59 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1996