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Fred - Rzewski: Pocket Symphony, etc / Eighth Blackbird

Album Summary

>Rzewski, Frederic : Pocket Symphony, for ensemble
>Rzewski, Frederic : Les Moutons de Panurge, for any number of instruments
>Rzewski, Frederic : Coming Together for speaker, bass instruments & ensemble
Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

"The six-person ensemble, Eighth Blackbird [sic], masterfully realizes three of Frederic Rzewski’s works. Rzewski (b. 1938) is a highly inventive composer who, typical of this day and age, integrates a vast number of musical isms into his language. His music is intricate and demanding—that of a minimalist with an uncharacteristic appreciation of the need for a forward thrusting and variegated harmonic rhythm, and Eighth Blackbird [sic] sails through these scores as if they were the most congenial of playgrounds." -Fanfare

"It's really good to have a disc of Frederic Rzewski's instrumental music, even if two of the works recorded here are arrangements (authorized by the composer). Les Moutons de Panurge is a rambunctious game of counting sheep--a melody that grows by adding a note on each repetition, with the process then reversed, all at high speed. This gives the work a certain minimalist aspect, and it's brilliantly played by the sextet Eighth Blackbird, whose performances always represent just about the last word in virtuosity. Coming Together is a setting of a letter by Sam Melville written from Attica prison just before the famous inmate uprising. Rzewski is one of the few composers who can make the combination of spoken words and music really worth hearing, and this piece is no exception. The actual text is spaced out at large intervals over the course of the work, and the result makes you want to listen to what comes next. It doesn't strike you as someone talking too much over music that you can't hear as well as you want to.

Pocket Symphony was written for Eighth Blackbird. In six brief movements, it runs the stylistic gamut from easy lyricism and tonal, dance-like movement, to an enigmatic conclusion making all sorts of "modern" sounds. There's even a touch of Jew's harp, à la George Crumb. For the record, the piece is scored for flutes, clarinets, violin, cello, percussion, and piano, and the range of color that Rzewski finds in this theoretically restrictive format really is amazing. The sonics are absolutely state of the art, and the only thing that prevents me from giving this recording the highest rating is the fact that the combination of words and music (in Coming Together) and the more difficult sections of the Pocket Symphony will not be to every listener's taste. Still, with entertaining notes featuring the players in conversation with the composer, this is as finely conceived a tribute as I can imagine to one of the most interesting and worthwhile figures in contemporary music today." -Classics Today (9/10)

"COMPOSERS, no matter how evident their stylistic allegiances may be, almost invariably prefer to regard themselves as unclassifiable. Frederic Rzewski is harder to classify than most. His overtly political pieces receive a lot of attention, but he writes plenty of works free of extramusical agendas, and they are no less striking. Stylistically, he is everywhere, from Minimalism to 12-tone and densely pounded clusters that sidestep debates about tonality entirely.

Mr. Rzewski's music has no lack of champions, but the six musicians of Eighth Blackbird, though relative newcomers, seem particularly well suited to it. They have, for one thing, quickly identified the thread that runs through Mr. Rzewski's work: an almost organic current of narrative tension that makes this music pure drama. Politics or style may catch the listener's ear first, but virtually everything Mr. Rzewski writes, even his settings of workers' anthems, is packed with vivid interplay.

Drama is Eighth Blackbird's thing as well. Several works the group has commissioned involve light staging, and even its habit of playing difficult contemporary music without scores - moving around the stage to make the most of that freedom - is a bit theatrical. And theatricality is a component of all three works the band plays on "Fred" from Cedille Records.

The newest, "Pocket Symphony" (2000), was written for Eighth Blackbird, and if it thrives on interplay of different kinds - among the musicians, between sound and silence, between portentousness and light-spirited playfulness - it also leaves room for improvisation in the cadenzas for each player. The cadenzas, oddly, become the work's anchors, rather than decorative pauses: on repeated hearings, you find yourself waiting for Matt Albert's amalgam of country fiddling and Bachian counterpoint; Nicholas Photinos's pizzicato cello line; Lisa Kaplan's Bartokian piano solo; Matthew L. Duvall's graceful marimba and thundering bass drums; and the thoughtful, shapely flute and clarinet meditations by Molly Alicia Barth and Michael J. Maccaferri.

Two oldies catch Mr. Rzewski in his Minimalist period. The skeleton of "Les Moutons de Panurge" (1969) is a single 65-note melody. The work borrows moves from Philip Glass, Steve Reich and John Cage. The melody is built gradually by adding notes on each repetition (Mr. Glass's additive process), but Mr. Rzewski counted on at least one musician to make a mistake (a Cagean chance element), so that the unison line would move out of sync (Mr. Reich's phase technique), creating a web of intricate counterpoint.

In "Coming Together" (1971), the musical backdrop is a brisk ostinato, heard first in the piano line, then traveling through different combinations of the group's roster. But the spotlight is on the narration, drawn from a letter of Sam Melville, a prisoner at Attica who was killed in the 1971 uprising there. Only a handful of phrases are quoted, but as repeated with different inflections - and in this version, by both individual and massed voices - their emotional pitch and meaning change radically, from calm and reasoned to urgent and eventually almost deranged with pain and terror. Eighth Blackbird plays superbly here, and does a brilliant acting job as well." -New York Times (Best CDs of 2005)



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Works Details

>Rzewski, Frederic : Pocket Symphony, for ensemble
  • Ensemble: eighth blackbird
  • Notes: Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL (07/14/2003-07/17/2003)
  • Running Time: 27 min. 3 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2000

>Rzewski, Frederic : Les Moutons de Panurge, for any number of instruments
  • Ensemble: eighth blackbird
  • Running Time: 11 min. 45 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1968

>Rzewski, Frederic : Coming Together for speaker, bass instruments & ensemble
  • Ensemble: eighth blackbird
  • Notes: Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL (07/14/2003-07/17/2003)
  • Running Time: 18 min. 57 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1972