Composer Anthony Cheung releases a inventive, beautifully crafted collection of chamber works featuring the International Contemporary Ensemble, Spektral Quartet, and Atlas Ensemble, as well as soloists Winston Choi, Maiya Papach, Claire Chase, and Ernest Rombout. Cheung elegantly integrates elements of jazz, Chinese traditional music, and references to the classical repertoire into his powerful, meticulously crafted work.
The Real Book of Fake Tunes
|Spektral Quartet, Claire Chase, flutes|
|Atlas Ensemble, Artjom Kim, conductor||7:58|
|International Contemporary Ensemble, Maiya Papach, viola, Karina Canellakis, conductor||16:18|
|Winston Choi, piano, Spektral Quartet|
|11||Après une lecture|
Après une lecture
|Ernest Rombout, oboe||7:37|
|International Contemporary Ensemble, Anthony Cheung, conductor||12:44|
Underlying composer Anthony Cheung’s music is a level of musical comprehension of the deepest order — of the building blocks of different styles, of the component parts of complex timbral hybrids, and of the myriad ways to approach pacing and structural organization of musical ideas in time. The opening work on this recording, written for flutist Claire Chase and the Spektral Quartet, makes a tongue in cheek reference to the bible of gigging jazz musicians, The Real Book, but as Cheung points out in his program note, the organization of the five movement piece is more akin to a suite, with similar length movements expressing different affects. Cheung’s integration of jazz influences is of a far more sophisticated stripe than many efforts in that vein, owing to the fact that his approach to both that repertoire, and the concert music tradition into which he is embedding subtle aspects of it, is simultaneously reverent and well-informed. We hear his fluency with rich, colorful voicings, syncopated grooves, and improvisatory soloistic lines, mined from his voracious stylistic pallette, but handled with the same meticulous care one finds in all his pieces. Cheung’s approach to fusing divergent stylistic material is also apparent on More Marginalia, though in this instance he has rescored a work for traditional Chinese ensemble for a mixed ensemble with Western instruments as well. Cheung’s use of Chinese instruments grapples with their characteristic gestural language, but also investigates them through a modernist’s lens, deconstructing their timbres and pairing them with their Western counterparts on the basis of salient sonic qualities. Assumed Roles is a viola concerto in one movement that Cheung wrote for the International Contemporary Ensemble and soloist Maiya Papach. In it, he explores a fluid relationship between soloist and ensemble, with the viola acting at times as an adversary to the group, and at other times blending in chameleon-like to its textures. A simmering, off-balance groove burns steadily in the middle section towards the climax, and is followed by a poignant coda with hovering pitches suspended in the air as the viola descends forlornly to the low reaches of its range. Beethoven is Cheung’s model for the three Bagatelles for piano and string quartet, and again we hear the excellent Spektral Quartet, this time with Chicago based pianist Winston Choi. In the first, pointed interruptions from the piano are humanized with dense, sometimes grinding, sonorities in the quartet. A dizzying texture opens the second, with insistent returns to a central pitch framed by scurrying runs, flurries of harmonics, and pointed pizzicati. The last bagatelle plays with a theme from the second movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, pulling it apart before alluding to it briefly in the coda. Leoš Janáček’s “speech- melodies” are the inspiration for the solo oboe piece, Après une lecture. Janáček habitually transcribed speech patterns into musical notation, in this case, of lectures on Dante. Cheung chose fragments from Janáček’s sketches, applying microtonal variations and pitch bending to mimic speech even more closely. The result is a work that has the rhetorical organization of oratory, but abstracted into expressive sound. In the final work on the recording, Time’s Vestiges, Cheung explores a structural approach that dispenses with straight linearity, instead presenting material that does not repeat or engage with strict processes, wherein directionality and stasis are not in opposition, but instead act as independent energies, metaphorically moving according to “geological deep time”, devoid of human agency.
- D. Lippel
Tracks 1-5, 8-10 recorded at Nichols Concert Hall, Music Institute of Chicago, Evanston, IL. April 14-15, 2017. Recorded, edited, and mixed by Grayson Elliott Taylor
Track 6 recorded at Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam, Netherlands. September 6, 2014 (live recording)
Track 7 recorded at Merkin Concert Hall, New York, NY. August 23, 2016 (live recording). Recorded by Ross Karre, edited and mixed by Ryan Streber
Track 11 recorded at Fentener van Vlissingen Hall, Utrecht, Netherlands. December 3, 2017; Recorded, edited, and mixed by Hans Erblich
Track 12 recorded at Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, NY. March 25, 2018. Recorded, edited and mixed by Ryan Streber
Executive Producer: Anthony Cheung
Design & Layout: Marc Wolf (marcjwolf.com)
Introductory essay: Doyle Armbrust
Liner notes: Anthony Cheung
Photo credit: Anthony Cheung © Camille Tokerud
Cover art images: Pablo Castro (OBRA Architects)
Anthony Cheung (b. 1982, San Francisco) is a composer and pianist. His output ranges from solo to orchestral works, occasionally with electronics. His music has been commissioned by leading groups such as the Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, International Contemporary Ensemble, and Talea Ensemble, and also performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (MusicNOW series), Minnesota Orchestra, Ensemble Linea, Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, wild Up, Musiques Nouvelles, Atlas Ensemble, Orchestra of the League of Composers, Taipei Chinese Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lorraine, Orchestre National de Lille, eighth blackbird, Dal Niente, the New York Youth Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.
The recipient of a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship, he has also received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (Charles Ives Fellowship and Scholarship) and ASCAP, and first prize in the Sixth International Dutilleux Competition (2008), as well as a Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome (2012). He has also received commissions from the Koussevitzky and Fromm foundations. From 2015-17, he was the Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow of the Cleveland Orchestra.
His music has been programmed at international festivals such as Ultraschall (Berlin), Cresc. Biennale (Frankfurt), Présences (Paris), impuls (Graz), Wittener Tage, Tanglewood, Aspen, Mostly Mozart, Transit (Leuven), Heidelberger Frühling, Helsinki Festival and Musica Nova Helsinki, Centre Acanthes, Musica (Strasbourg), and Nuova Consonanza (Rome).
Two portrait discs have recently appeared: Roundabouts, with the Ensemble Modern and Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (Ensemble Modern Medien 2014), and Dystemporal, with the Talea Ensemble and Ensemble Intercontemporain (Wergo, 2016). His music and performances have also appeared on New Focus Recordings, Tzadik, and Mode. His music is published by EAM/Schott (PSNY edition), Editions Alphonse Leduc, and in self-published editions (ASCAP).
As a performer and advocate for new music, he co-directed the Talea Ensemble from its founding in 2007 until 2017, performing as a pianist and serving as Artistic Director. With Talea, he performed extensively in the US and abroad as a specialist of new music, and has helped to curate programs, conferences, and festivals. As a pianist, he has worked with leading composers such as Pierre Boulez, Stefano Gervasoni, Tristan Murail, Hans Abrahamsen, Iancu Dumitrescu, Julian Anderson, Steve Lehman, Steve Coleman, and Chou Wen-Chung.
As a writer and scholar, he has completed a dissertation on György Ligeti (on the Hamburg Concerto, 2010), as well as articles on contemporary music for both specialists and a general readership. Primary musical interests include notational aesthetics, jazz improvisation and transcription, microtonality and alternate tunings, rhythmic polyphony, and temporal perception. His music reveals an interest in the ambiguity of sound sources and the subtle transformation and manipulation of timbre allied with harmony, sometimes leading him to explore electronics. It also engages poetic imagery, syntax and rhetoric, natural phenomena, and the visual arts. Representations of space and place are common themes in his work, achieved through innovations in spatialization and orchestration, as well as with musical allusions and actual source material via field recordings.
Anthony received a BA in Music and History from Harvard and a doctorate from Columbia University, where he taught and also served as assistant conductor of the Columbia University Orchestra. His primary composition studies were with Tristan Murail and Bernard Rands, and he has studied additionally at the Tanglewood Music Center, Aspen Music Festival, Domaine Forget, Fontainebleau, and Centre Acanthes, working with many leading composers. His primary piano studies were with Robert Levin and Paul Hersh. From 2009 to 2012, he was a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, and is currently an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Chicago.
Spektral Quartet actively pursues a vivid conversation between exhilarating works of the traditional canon and those written this decade, this year, or this week. With its most recent album described by Gramophone as “highly-interactive, creative and collaborative...unlike anything its intended audience—or anyone else—has ever heard,” Spektral is known for creating seamless connections across centuries, drawing in the listener with charismatic deliveries, interactive concert formats, an up-close atmosphere, and bold, inquisitive programming. The Spektral Quartet is honored to be named 'Chicagoans of the Year' for 2017 by the Chicago Tribune. 2016 saw the release of Serious Business (Sono Luminus), the foursome’s most ambitious recording project to date, nominated for a 2017 GRAMMY award. “A delirious new record” (Alex Ross), Serious Business is an intrepid exploration of the many-sided face of humor in classical music, featuring vibrant premieres by up-and-coming composers Sky Macklay, David Reminick, and Chris Fisher-Lochhead, paired with a centuries-old gut-buster, Haydn’s Quartet Op.33 No. 2, “The Joke.” The quartet’s multi-city tour of Beat Furrer’s “String Quartet No. 3” and Bagatellen, a new work by Hans Thomalla, “proved that they [the quartet] have everything: a supreme technical command that seems to come easily, a capacity to make complicated music clear, and, most notably on this occasion, an ability to cast a magic spell…” (New York Times). In 2017, Spektral became one of the few quartets in the world to perform Morton Feldman’s six-hour masterpiece, the String Quartet No. 2, at both the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Toledo Museum of Art. Of this notable achievement, the Chicago Tribune writes, “...the account was more consistently sensitive to dynamics, color and nuance than on the two existing recordings — an achievement.”http://spektralquartet.com
Flutist Claire Chase, a 2012 MacArthur Fellow, is a soloist, collaborative artist, and activist for new music. Over the past decade she has given the world premieres of over 100 new works for flute, many of them tailor-made for her. In 2014 she began Density 2036, a project to commission, premiere and record an entirely new program of pieces for flute every year until 2036, the 100th anniversary of the eponymous and seminal piece by Varese. Also in the 2014-15 season, Chase is music directing and playing as soloist in a series of performances of Salvatore Sciarrino's Il cerchio tagliato dei suoni for 4 flute soloists and 100 flute “migranti”.
Chase has performed throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia, including debuts last season in Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris, London, São Paolo and Guangzhou. She has released three solo albums, Aliento (2010), Terrestre (2012) and Density (2013). In 2014, she was selected as an inaugural Fellow of Project&, with which she will several new works exploring the relationship between language, music and social interaction over the next several years.
Chase was First Prize Winner in the 2008 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. She co-founded the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in 2001 and serves as the organization’s Artistic Director and CEO in addition to playing over fifty concerts a year as an ensemble member. ICE has premiered more than 600 works since its inception and pioneered a new artist-driven organizational model that earned the company a Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center in 2010. Chase was also honored with Crain’s Business “40 under 40” Award in 2013.
In 2013, Chase founded The Pnea Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of the flute and its repertoire in the 21st century through commissions, community engagement, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary collaborations and advocacy. She lives in Brooklyn.http://www.clairechase.net
The Atlas Ensemble is a unique chamber orchestra uniting brilliant musicians from China, Central Asia, the Near East and Europe. The ensemble presents an unheard sound world of instruments from different cultures. Their repertoire consists of entirely commissioned works. The Atlas Ensemble brings together instruments from various cultures, whilst originating from the same ancestor, have travelled and developed over the course of centuries. A central issue -- and one of great potential -- is the difference between the oral/improvisational traditions on one hand and the notational/compositional traditions on the other. Since 2009, the ensemble has organized the Atlas Lab -- an international meeting place for composers and musicians from all over the world -- dedicated to the creation of new intercultural music along with the study of Asian instruments and their musical practices.http://www.atlasensemble.nl
Called “America’s foremost new music group” by The New Yorker, The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) is an artist collective that is transforming the way music is created and experienced. As performer, curator, and educator, ICE explores how new music intersects with communities across the world. The ensemble’s 35 members are featured as soloists, chamber musicians, commissioners, and collaborators with the foremost musical artists of our time. Works by emerging composers have anchored ICE’s programming since its founding in 2001, and the group’s recordings and digital platforms highlight the many voices that weave music’s present. A recipient of the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, ICE was also named the 2014 Musical America Ensemble of the Year. The group currently serves as artists-in-residence at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Mostly Mozart Festival, and previously led a five-year residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. ICE was featured at the Ojai Music Festival from 2015 to 2017, and at recent festivals abroad such as gmem-CNCM-marseille and Vértice at Cultura UNAM, Mexico City. Other performance stages have included the Park Avenue Armory, The Stone, ice floes at Greenland’s Diskotek Sessions, and boats on the Amazon River.
New initiatives include OpenICE, made possible with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which offers free concerts and related programming wherever ICE performs, and enables a working process with composers to unfold in public settings. DigitICE, a free online library of over 350 streaming videos, catalogues the ensemble’s performances. ICE's First Page program is a commissioning consortium that fosters close collaborations between performers, composers, and listeners as new music is developed. EntICE, a side-by-side education program, places ICE musicians within youth orchestras as they premiere new commissioned works together; inaugural EntICE partners include Youth Orchestra Los Angeles and The People's Music School in Chicago. Summer activities include Ensemble Evolution at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, in which young professionals perform with ICE and attend workshops on topics from interpretation to concert production. Yamaha Artist Services New York is the exclusive piano provider for ICE.http://iceorg.org
Maiya Papach is the principal violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. A member of the orchestra since 2008, she has made solo appearances with the SPCO in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with concertmaster Steven Copes, solo directed Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae and as soloist in Woolrich’s Ulysses Awakes.
Papach has made frequent national and international appearances as a chamber musician, with a versatile profile in her performances of both traditional and contemporary repertoire. She is a founding member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), with whom she has performed frequently at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and dozens of experimental venues. She has toured extensively in the former Soviet Union with the Da Capo Chamber Players, across North America with Musicians from Marlboro, and has made appearances at Prussia Cove (UK), the Boston Chamber Music Society, the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival, the Chattanooga Chamber Music Festival and Chamber Music Quad Cities. She is also currently a member of Accordo, a Twin Cities-based chamber music group.
Papach is a 2013 recipient of the McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians administered by the MacPhail Center for Music. Through this fellowship and in collaboration with ICE, she co-commissioned a viola concerto by Anthony Cheung, performed at the Mostly Mozart Festival to critical acclaim by the New York Times. She is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory and the Juilliard School, and her principal teachers include Roland Vamos, Karen Tuttle, Benny Kim and Hsin-Yun Huang. She performs on a 19th century Turinese viola by Annibale Fagnola.https://content.thespco.org/people/maiya-papach/
Canadian pianist Winston Choi is the Head of the Piano Program at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts. His professional career was launched when he was named Laureate of the 2003 Honens Piano Competition and winner of France’s Concours International de Piano 20e siècle d’Orléans in 2002. An inquisitive performer, his fresh approach to standard repertory, and masterful understanding, performance and commitment to works by living composers, make him one of today’s most dynamic young concert artists.
Choi maintains an active international performing schedule. In demand as a concerto soloist, orchestras he has appeared with include the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the CBC Radio Orchestra, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Iowa, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Iowa, the New Philharmonic, the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, the Peninsula Music Festival Orchestra, La Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia, the Symphony Orchestra of Oak Park and River Forest, l’Orchestre Symphony d’Orléans, l'Orchestre National de Lille, the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra, the Peninsula Music Festival Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, and the Victoria Symphony Orchestra.
Known for his colorful approach to programming and insightful commentary from the stage, Choi has recently appeared in recital at the National Arts Centre of Canada, the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, New York’s Carnegie-Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Recital Hall, the Kennedy Center and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., the Kravis Center in Florida, and the “Cicle Grans Solistes" in Spain. Choi performs extensively in France, having played venues such as the Salle Cortot, Lille’s Festival Rencontre Robert Casadesus, the Messiaen Festival, and the Strasbourg Festival. Frequently in demand throughout his native Canada, his numerous performances can often be heard on CBC radio broadcasts. Recently, he toured Eastern Ontario and Quebec under the auspices of Jeunesses Musicales and embarked on a 10-city Prairie Debut tour of the Canadian Prairie provinces. An accomplished chamber musician, he tours regularly with his wife, violinist MingHuan Xu as Duo Diorama, as well as with the Pivot Chamber Soloists. He has also performed with the Aeolus, Avalon, Philomusica and Spektral string quartets, and is a member of the Civitas Ensemble.
As a dedicated champion of contemporary music, Choi has premiered and commissioned over 100 works by young composers as well as established masters. A composer himself, being involved with the creative process is an integral part of his artistry. He was the first pianist to perform Pierre Boulez’s last version of Incises in North America and made the South American premiere of Luciano Berio‘s Sonata for pianoforte solo. He also regularly appears in concert at IRCAM, the world’s most renowned institution for contemporary music. Composers he has collaborated with include William Bolcom, Elliott Carter, John Corigliano, Brian Ferneyhough, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Bright Sheng, Christian Wolff, Chen Yi and John Zorn. He is also a core member of one of the country's most exciting new music groups, Ensemble Dal Niente. A frequent performer on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's MusicNOW Series, Choi has also performed with Contempo and the Fulcrum Point New Music Project.
Already a prolific recording artist, Choi’s debut CD, the complete piano works of Elliott Carter (l’Empreinte Digitale in France) was given 5 stars by BBC Music Magazine. He has also recorded the complete piano music of Jacques Lenot for the Intrada label, having won the Grand Prix du Disque from l’Académie Charles Cros for Volume I. His recording of the piano works of Thomas Adès was recently released on the Buisonne label. Other labels he can be heard on include Albany, Arktos, Crystal Records, Naxos and QuadroFrame.
Choi obtained his Bachelor and Master of Music from Indiana University, and his DM from Northwestern University. His studies were with Vivienne Bailey, James Tweedie, Menahem Pressler and Ursula Oppens. An accomplished teacher, he is also in demand as a master class clinician and lecturer on a variety of pedagogical topics. Prior to his position at Roosevelt University, he was on the faculties of Bowling Green State University and the Oberlin Conservatory. He also currently teaches at the Academy of the Music Institute of Chicago.
Ernest Rombout was born in 1959 in The Netherlands. After having studied as a guest student at the Royal conservatory in The Hague for one year, he was admitted to the class of professor Heinz Holliger in Freiburg, Germany. In 1981 he passed his final examinations cum laude which allowed him to continue studying for the Soloist’s Diploma. In 1984 he was awarded the Soloist’s Diploma cum laude. Subsequently he studied with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Maurice Bourgue. He made his debut as a soloist in 1983 in the concertgebouw in Amsterdam with the oboe concerto by R. Strauss. In 1985 he was invited to become Professor of Oboe at the conservatory of Utrecht and since 2007 also at the Conservatoire of Amsterdam. Since 1981, Ernest Rombout has enjoyed a busy solo career, appearing in festivals such as the Biennale in Venice, the Ludwigsburger Festspiele, the Donaueschinger Musiktage, the Takefu International Music Festival in Japan and the Summerfestival in Los Angeles. Conductors he has worked with include Christopher Hogwood, Marc Foster, Ernest Bour, Ed Spanjaard, Jaap van Zweden and Heinz Holliger. In addition to his performances with such orchestras as the Radio Symphonie Orchester Berlin, The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, The Prague Chamber Orchestra , the Vienna String Soloists and the Nieuw Ensemble Amsterdam. Rombout has made numerous radio, television and CD recordings all over Europe. In 1990 he made his first tour to the USA. On his first solo-CD (DECCA) in 1994, he recorded the oboe concertos by Haydn and Mozart with the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra. In the summer of 1998 he was a member of the jury of the International Competition for Oboe in Geneva. Since Ernest Rombout has also engaged himself in modern music, numerous compositions have been composed for him by noted composers such as Luca Francesconi, David del Puerto, Maurice Weddington, Stefano Bellon, Wen Deqing, Eric Verbugt, Rokus de Groot,Richard Rijnvos, Wim Laman, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf and Seung-Ah Oh. In addition to solo playing, Rombout is also a member of the Nieuw Ensemble Amsterdam (Contemporary music), The Atlas Ensemble (Contemporary music combining instruments and styles from Europe and the Middle and far East). He also conducts these ensembles occasionally, as well as larger chamber music projects at both Conservatoires.
He is also co-founder of the Sinfonietta Amsterdam and was solo oboist of The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra for six years. Ernest Rombout has also given many masterclasses in London, Graz, Lisbon, Moscow and Liechtenstein.
Like many modern composers, Cheung’s music is edgy and spiky, more a linkage of progressive harmonic movement than any real attempt to present a lyric line, but unlike so many others he understands musical development. Thus, even in the startling opening section of The Real Book of Fake Tunes, there is musical substance beneath the effects. In the second piece, the flute is pitched in its lower register, creating a haunting effect as the strings play around it. The music continues to progress this way through each of the five pieces in the suite.
The problem I had with the next piece, More Marginalila, is that it still sounded like the preceding five pieces, which made me wonder if Cheung had anything more to say than this spiky but similar style. This is a trap that many modern composers fall into: once they’ve found acceptance and praise for sounding “edgy,” it’s all they have to say.
Taken on its own merits as a sort of hard-edged background music, however, the album is interesting. Cheung’s music is intellectually fascinating, if a bit narrow in scope, although he does present us with some slower tempi in the Bagatelles, and Après une lecture is a fascinating oboe solo piece. The finale, Time’s Vestiges, is more complex than many of the other pieces, using counterpoint in an interesting way as well as string portamento effects.
In short, a fascinating disc, worth hearing at least once.
—Lynn René Bayley, 9.24.2018, The Art Music Lounge
Anthony Cheung, a composer and professor at the University of Chicago, has routinely drawn from a broad range of inspirations and intellectual notions to create music that play with traditional forms. The opening suite The Real Book of Fake Tunes, a cheeky reference to the collection of lead sheets many young jazz musicians use to learn how to improvise on standards, is actually for flute (played here by Claire Chase) and string quartet (Spektral Quartet), an infrequently used instrumental format that’s nonetheless been around for two centuries. While the composer notes that there are chord progressions in the final section that might suggest Coltrane’s Countdown, the music itself bears virtually no resemblance to jazz. But the interaction and shifting focus of Chase and Spektral does evoke a fluidity we don’t often experience in contemporary composed music. The three Bagatelles for string quartet and piano reference various Beethoven pieces, while Aprés une lecture uses some of the notated transcriptions composer Leoš Janáček made of the spoken language from Brno, Czech Republic as melodic motifs that hold the piece together. As fascinating as such ideas are, they wouldn’t matter if the composer’s structural rigor and lyric gifts didn’t transform them into work that’s consistently compelling.
-Peter Margasak, 8.28.2018, Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical August 2018
"Cycles and Arrows", a collection of complex, well-crafted compositions for chamber ensembles, is the third portrait CD of work by Anthony Cheung (b. 1982). The recording highlights Cheung’s interest in composing with a focus on the qualities of instrumental voices both alone and in combinations.
Cheung’s concern with instrumental color follows naturally from his formation as a composer. A pianist as well as a composer, Cheung had as his primary composition teachers the spectralist Tristan Murail and Bernard Rands; he wrote his dissertation on Ligeti’s Hamburg Concerto, a late work exploring non-harmonic sonorities for solo horn and chamber orchestra. Given this background, it isn’t surprising that Cheung’s compositions tend to engage sonority as a substantive product of careful orchestration.
With the exception of 2015’s Après une lecture, a work for solo oboe, all of the pieces on Cycles and Arrows locate their musical centers of gravity in the timbral effects of instrumental aggregations and divisions. One of the more adventurous instances is More Marginalia (2014) for a ten-piece ensemble. The composition represents a reworking of Cheung’s 2012 piece for ten traditional Chinese instruments, originally written for the Taipei Chinese Orchestra. For the newer work, Cheung replaced half the Chinese instruments with Western instruments of more-or-less analogous makeup. The ensemble’s unconventional makeup allows Cheung to set up shifting timbral alliances and oppositions between groups of instruments whose contrasting voices reflect contrasting traditions and playing techniques; especially effective are the contrasts between the plucked and bowed Chinese instruments on the one hand, and Western strings and winds on the other. In this piece as in the other works for chamber orchestra, Cheung plays instrumental coalitions off against each other in constellations of color that break apart as quickly as they cohere.
Although a solo piece, Après une lecture also is essentially about the dynamics of sound color. Based on a free reading of Leoš Janáček’s transcriptions of spoken language, Cheung’s composition, forcefully realized by oboist Ernest Rombout, draws on a vocabulary of microtones and multiphonics to mimic the vagaries of the human voice; its irregular accents and tempos, along with mercurial changes of register, convey something of the range of sonic nuances that are an integral, if often overlooked, dimension of linguistic meaning.
-Daniel Barbiero, 9.17.2018, Avant Music News
One common criticism of post-modernism when it first became widely known in the 80’s was that it was a movement based on superficialities. For example, when an architect used some vestige of a Greek column in their work it was just there because it looked good or called up certain associations. There was seemingly no reference or understanding about why the ancients might have developed such a form or what mathematical principles lay behind its visual perfection.
The music of Anthony Cheung is a firm rebuttal to that line of thinking. When you read his program notes for this, his third portrait album, you quickly realize that any echo of past forms or other compositions comes from a place of deep scholarship and musical understanding. Combined with a sureness of orchestration that feels natural and intuitive but is surely the product of much study and experimentation, the result is a delightful array of compositions from the last five years. Take the opening work, written for flute and string quartet and cheekily entitled The Real Book Of Fake Tunes. Over five short movements, the dialogue between the players unfurls with such wit and elegance you almost forget there are five people working together to produce the sounds. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the players are the genius flautist Claire Chase and the excellent Spektral Quartet, who also appear on the angular Bagatelles with pianist Winston Choi.
So it goes throughout the album, whether combining Chinese instruments with Western ones in More Marginalia (played by the astonishing Atlas Ensemble) or composing for solo oboe in Après Une Lecture, which is cleverly based on notated speech patterns Cheung saw in the notebooks of Leos Janacek and played to perfection by Ernest Rombaut. The International Contemporary Ensemble appears on two pieces, the swaggering Assumed Roles with violist Maiya Papach, and Time's Vestiges, which ends the album with a sense of unresolved mystery, like a flashlight’s beam being swallowed by tunnel. Cycles And Arrows is, like Dystemporal from 2016, further proof that Cheung is one of the finest composers of our time.
-Jeremy Shatan, 10.7.2018, An Earful