Douglas Boyce: Some Consequences of Four Incapacities

, composer


Composer Douglas Boyce, composer-in-residence of acclaimed new music ensemble counter)induction, releases his debut portrait CD, featuring three of his kinetic chamber works in riveting performances by c)i, Aeolus Quartet, and Trio Cavatina. Boyce's music reflects a wide array of interests, from Renaissance traditions to modernist aesthetics, embedding these influences in works that oscillate between tightly organized ensemble mechanisms  and carefully curated moments of independent instrumental freedom.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 57:19
01102nd & Amsterdam
102nd & Amsterdam
Aeolus Quartet14:26
02Piano Quartet No. 1
Piano Quartet No. 1
counter)induction: Miranda Cuckson, violin; Jessica Meyer, viola; Sumire Kudo, cello; Steve Beck, piano8:21

Fortuitous Variations

Trio Cavatina
03I. every deduction involves the observation of a diagram
I. every deduction involves the observation of a diagram
Trio Cavatina9:43
04II. the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another
II. the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another
Trio Cavatina9:34
05III. so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless
III. so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless
Trio Cavatina8:23
06IV. the dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement
IV. the dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement
Trio Cavatina6:52

Boyce opens the program in a haze — specifically the murky intersection of 102nd & Amsterdam. Ponticello tremolos dart around the ensemble, and one can imagine standing on the city corner, peering this way and that in response to sounds and darting figures in the charged nighttime atmosphere. A poignant cello solo follows, a balance between imploring high notes and shaking glissandi and admonishments in the bass. The glissandi find their way into all the parts for a subsequent section, leading into a densely energetic, chromatic passage. The eerie atmosphere of the opening returns as this portrait of an urban crossing beautifully captures how one spot in a city can contain an entire universe. PIano Quartet No. 1 begins with Bartokian off-kilter accents (or perhaps Fripp-ian, reflecting Boyce's love for cult favorite progressive band King Crimson), alternating with hocketed passages between viola and piano. The texture gets progressively more dense as lines snake in and out of the ensemble, before a passionate passage leads back to the fervor of the accented opening. Fortuitous Variations opens with similarly angular music, pillars of repeated octaves in the piano alternating with swooping gestures in the strings. The subsequent variations subject the material to all manner of manipulation, from timbral, to rhythmic, to registral. Movement two opens ephemerally, with the piano articulating muted harmonics inside the piano and the strings playing delicate glissando harmonics, before growing into a tapestry of dialogue between three voices, sometimes conversing with each other, and sometimes with themselves. Movement three is a solemn hymn, grounded throughout by a somber pulsing of chords in the piano. The closing movement and the last track on the recording accumulates slowly, first with violin alone, then adding cello, before the piano joins for a richly contrapuntal section, saving its wildest moments for near the end of the movement. The work closes with pensive chords, leaving the listener with a sense of a composer who does not feel the need to clinch a closing statement, preferring to leave with questions hanging in the air. Douglas Boyce is a composer with a powerful focus and impetus in his music, but also a fantastic capacity for expressive range and an uncanny ability to sustain complex rhetorical arguments within his sophisticated structures.

Recording engineer: Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio

Producer: Ryan Streber/Douglas Boyce


Track 1: members of the Aeolus Quartet: Rachel Shapiro, violin; Greg Luce, viola; Alan Richardson, cello

Track 2: counter)induction: Miranda Cuckson, violin; Jessica Meyer, viola; Sumire Kudo, cello; Steve Beck, piano

Tracks 3-6 Trio Cavatina: Harumi Rhodes, violin; Priscilla Lee, cello; Ieva Jokubaviciute, piano

Douglas Boyce

Douglas Boyce writes chamber music that draws on Renaissance traditions and modernist aesthetics, building rich rhythmic structures that shift between order, fragmentation, elegance, and ferocity. Regarding A Book of Songs (2006, in process), the Washington Post wrote “[they] can only be described as drop-dead beautiful. Easily the most captivating works on the program, these songs of love and death are extraordinarily well written and insightful.” Regarding La Déploration, (2016) Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim wrote that "...the violinist, cellist... and clarinetist... spread out throughout the crypt. Against vaporous harmonics and ghostly fragments of Renaissance music played by the strings, [a] warm, clear clarinet announced itself as very much alive as it sashayed in and out of blues territory and laughed in the face of their mournful keening.”

Aeolus Quartet

Formed in 2008 at the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Aeolus Quartet consists of violinists Nicholas Tavani and Rachel Shapiro, violist Caitlin Lynch, and cellist Alan Richardson. Since its inception, the all-American quartet has been awarded prizes at nearly every major competition in the United States and performed across the globe with showings “worthy of a major-league quartet” (Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News). Mark Satola of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes, “A rich and warm tone combined with precise ensemble playing (that managed also to come across as fluid and natural), and an impressive musical intelligence guided every technical and dramatic turn.” They were the 2013-2015 Graduate Resident String Quartet at the Juilliard School, and they currently make their home in New York City. The Aeolus Quartet are Grand Prizewinners of the 2011 Plowman Chamber Music Competition and 2011 Chamber Music Yellow Springs Competition. They were awarded First Prize at the 2009 Coleman International Chamber Ensemble Competition, a Silver Medal at the 2011 Fischoff International Chamber Music Competition, and a Bronze Medal at the 2010 International Chamber Music Ensemble Competition in New England. The 16th Annual Austin Critics’ Table named the Aeolus Quartet their 2010-2011 “Best Ensemble,” and the “Best Touring Performance” in 2017. The Aeolus Quartet has released two critically acclaimed albums of classical and contemporary works through the Longhorn/Naxos label which are available on iTunes, Amazon, and major retailers worldwide. A third album of contemporary and classic American composers is schedule for worldwide release with Azica Records in spring of 2018. The Quartet has performed across North America, Europe, and Asia in venues such as Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Reinberger Recital Hall at Severance Hall, Merkin Hall, The Library of Congress, Renwick Gallery, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center.


In its nineteen years of virtuosic performances and daring programming, the composer/performer collective counter)induction has established itself as a force of excellence in contemporary music. Hailed by The New York Times for its “fiery ensemble virtuosity” and for its “first-rate performances” by The Washington Post, c)i has given critically-acclaimed performances at Miller Theatre, Merkin Concert Hall, and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. counter)induction is the winner of an ASCAP/Chamber Music America Award for Adventurous Programming and has headlined numerous festivals, including the Music at the Anthology Festival, Boston Conservatory New Music Week, the Columbia Music Scholarship Conference, and most recently the 2010 Conference of the International Consortium for Auditory Display. Since emerging in 1998 from a series of collaborations between composers at at the University of Pennsylvania and performers at the Juilliard School, counter)induction has premiered numerous pieces by both established and younger emerging American composers; including Eric Moe, Suzanne Sorkin, Ursula Mamlok, and Lee Hyla. c)i has also widely promoted the music of international composers not often heard in America, including Jukka Tiensuu, Bernhard Gander, Gilbert Amy, Dai Fujikura and Vinko Globokar. From Beijing to Boston, from Yale University to Rochester’s Strong Museum of Play, counter)induction inspires audiences of every age and background. With over a decade of teaching experience, ensemble members have led many interactive programs ranging from kindergarten classes that explore the world of sound to workshops with emerging composers from the University of Pennsylvania, Boston Conservatory, and George Washington University.

Trio Cavatina

Pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute, violinist Harumi Rhodes, and cellist Priscilla Lee formed Trio Cavatina in 2005 at the renowned Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. Deeply rooted in a strong sense of shared musical values, Trio Cavatina has rapidly emerged as one of today's outstanding chamber ensembles whose committed music-making prompted Harris Goldsmith to describe the trio, in his 2008 Musical America article, as offering 'potent, intense interpretations’. As the winner of the 2009 Naumburg International Chamber Music Competition, Trio Cavatina made its Carnegie Hall debut in 2010 with scintillating performances of two monumental Beethoven trios, Leon Kirchner's second trio, and the world premiere performance of 'Faces of Guernica' written for them by Richard Danielpour. They also made their San Francisco debut earlier that season at Herbst Theater (San Francisco Performances).


The Art Music Lounge

Truly a strange album, this, with no liner notes to speak of and no information on the composer. I found this information on the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society website (et. al)

So now you know as much about him as I do. The music, as I hear it, contains elements of Baroque and even some folk music in a modern idiom. At times he relies on the same kind of devices that so many modern composers do, such as sudden burst of atonal, energetic passages in the midst of calm and sliding chromatics, but he at least tries to be original. The opening piece, 102nd at Amsterdam, begins mysteriously, eventually leading to a slithering cello passage that leads the ear away from the higher strings’ skittering. It is not music that is immediately attractive, but rather seems to attempt a purposely abrasive quality that is couched in a fine sense of structure. A contrapuntal passage follows, after which the entire quartet employs slithering portamento against one another before the viola plays busy, quadruple-time passages around which the others make comment. It seemed to me to be music that revels in trying to sound formless when in fact it has a considerably tight structure.

By contrast, the opening of the Piano Quintet [sic] is loud, with sharp staccato chords, which lead to the piano playing a running bass line while the strings play above it. The music eventually moves into more graceful bowed figures, again played in counterpoint against one another, and again the music develops well, eventually moving back into contrapuntal figures as part of the development section. Boyce then alternates these motifs and moods through the rest of the movement.

This brings us to the Fortuitous Variations, the only multi-movement piece on this disc. Boyce again contrasts a staccato opening against a lyrical passage, then another passage in counterpoint between the various instruments, piano and the string playing pizzicato. By this time I had come to realize that these sort of cat-and-mouse games form the backbone of Boyce’s style. It’s quite interesting to a point, but the continual abstraction of his music tends to wear a bit on the advanced listener. I’m not sure that he consciously realizes this, but the continued effects he produces lead to predictability rather than surprise. In the second movement, he returns to the slithering style of 102nd at Amsterdam with aggressive plucked notes thrown in.

In the fourth and final variation, titled “the dawn and the gloaming most,” Boyce creates his tightest-constructed piece on the album, a brilliant canon that pits the strings against the piano and each other in an ever-expanding series of variants.

Overall, then, an album of well-constructed music that strives for effects, achieves them, but never quite reaches greatness.

—© June 2018, Lynn René Bayley, Art Music Lounge