Stress Position is a collection of Drew Baker's piano music, focusing on works that take a politically charged stance through their presentation, and performed with virtuosity and conviction by pianist Marilyn Nonken.
|Marilyn Nonken, piano, Drew Baker, piano, Sean Connors, percussion, Peter Martin, percussion||15:42|
|02||Asa Nisi Masa for Solo Amplified Piano (2005)|
Asa Nisi Masa for Solo Amplified Piano (2005)
|Marilyn Nonken, piano||16:01|
|03||Gray for Solo Piano (2004)|
Gray for Solo Piano (2004)
|Marilyn Nonken, piano||4:19|
|04||National Anthem for Solo Piano (2006)|
National Anthem for Solo Piano (2006)
|Marilyn Nonken, piano||6:18|
|05||Stress Position for Solo Amplified Piano (2008)|
Stress Position for Solo Amplified Piano (2008)
|Marilyn Nonken, piano||9:20|
Hailed by the American Record Guide as "one of the greatest interpreters of new music," pianist Marilyn Nonken releases Stress Position, an intense, politically-charged collection of works by up-and-coming composer Drew Baker.
Stress Position is the first recording to feature the works of Drew Baker. Baker's compositions have been presented by many leading new music groups including The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Talea Ensemble, Ensemble Dal Niente, The Group for Contemporary Music, Chicago Chamber Musicians and Ensemble 21. This recording represents the culmination of an artistic partnership between Baker and Nonken that dates back to 2004. Since that time, Nonken, Director of Piano Studies at New York University's Steinhardt School, has performed the works on this disc at festivals and concert series throughout the world including Works & Process at The Guggenheim Museum, Musica Nova Helsinki, Music Harvest Festival in Denmark, Pittsburgh's Music on the Edge, Philadelphia's CHAMBER MUSIC NOW! and the Festival of New American Music in Sacramento.
The title track refers to a form of torture brought back into the public consciousness following the atrocities at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. With both arms extended to the extreme ends of the piano, the performer must execute unceasing repeated figures that grow louder and denser over the course of the harrowing 9- minute work. Upon hearing Marilyn Nonken's premiere of Stress Position, poet Laura Mullen referred to it as "One of the most effective pieces of overtly political art I’ve experienced, the piece is also just drop dead gorgeous." Baker's reaction to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can also be heard on the album's fourth track, National Anthem, in which The Star Spangled Banner is recast into a haunting, dirge-like setting that renders the tune nearly unrecognizable. In addition to addressing political topics, Baker's piano works continually challenge preconceived notions of the instrument itself. From the ethereal, "electronic" sounds of the opening track, Gaeta for two pianos and water percussion, to the shotgun blast chords of Asa Nisi Masa for solo amplified piano, Nonken's stunning performances are a testament to the the piano's myriad identities.
Stress Position is available in CD format as well as digital download. Both include Jennifer Boyd's striking cover art and extensive liner notes written by the composer.
"an engrossing meditation on the sustain, overlap and decay of isolated pitches." - The Chicago Tribune on Drew Baker's Gray for solo piano - featured on Stress Position
"a determined protector of important music" - The New York Times on pianist Marilyn Nonken
Marilyn Nonken is one of the most celebrated champions of the modern repertoire of her generation, known for performances that explore transcendent virtuosity and extremes of musical expression. Upon her 1993 New York debut, she was heralded as "a determined protector of important music" (New York Times). Recognized a "one of the greatest interpreters of new music" (American Record Guide), she has been named "Best of the Year" by some of the nation's leading critics.
Marilyn Nonken's performances have been presented at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Miller Theatre, the Guggenheim Museum, (Le) Poisson Rouge, IRCAM and the Théâtre Bouffe du Nord (Paris), the ABC (Melbourne), Instituto-Norteamericano (Santiago), the Music Gallery (Toronto), the Phillips Collection, and the Menil Collection, as well as conservatories and universities around the world. Festival appearances include Résonances and the Festival d'Automne 4both, Paris) and When Morty Met John, Making Music, and Works and Process (all, New York), American Sublime (Philadelphia), The Festival of New American Music (Sacramento), Musica Nova (Helsinki), Aspects des Musiques d'Aujourd-hui (Caen), Messiaen 2008 (Birmingham, UK), New Music Days (Ostrava), Musikhøst (Odense), Music on the Edge (Pittsburgh), Piano Festival Northwest (Portland), and the William Kapell International Piano Festival and Competition. Highlights of recent seasons have included performances of Hugues Dufourt's Erlkönig, Morton Feldman'sTriadic Memories,Tristan Murai's complete piano music, and Olivier Messiae's "Visions de'l Amen" with Sarah Rothenberg. Composers who have written for her include Milton Babbitt, Drew Baker, Pascal Dusapin, Jason Eckardt, Michael Finnissy, Joshua Fineberg, Liza Lim, and Tristan Murail.
She has recorded for New World Records, Mode, Lovely Music, Albany, Metier, Divine Art, Innova, CRI, BMOP Sound, New Focus, Cairos, Tzadik, and Bridge. Her solo discs include "American Spiritual," a CD of works written for her, “Morton Feldman: Triadic Memories,” “Tristan Murail: The Complete Piano Music,” “Stress Position: The Complete Piano Music of Drew Baker," and "Voix Voilees," music of Joshua Fineberg and Hugues Dufourt. She appears as concerto soloist in David Rakowski's Piano Concerto (Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project), Roger Reynolds's “The Angel of Death (Magnus Martensson and the Slee Sinfonietta), and Jason Eckardt's "Trespass" (Timothy Weiss and the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble).
A student of David Burge at the Eastman School, Marilyn Nonken received a Ph.D. degree in musicology from Columbia University. Her writings on music have been published in Tempo, Perspectives of New Music, Contemporary Music Review, Agni, Current Musicology, Ecological Psychology, and the Journal of the Institute for Studies in American Music. She has contributed chapters to “Perspectives on French Piano Music” and “Messiaen Perspectives 2: Techniques, Influence, and Reception” (both, Ashgate) and is currently writing a monograph on spectral piano music for Cambridge University Press. Director of Piano Studies at New York University's Steinhardt School, Marilyn Nonken is a Steinway Artist.
Drew Baker is a Chicago-based composer and pianist. Described by the American Record Guide as "extremely inventive," Baker's music explores the many sonic identities of conventional and unconventional instrumentations, often taking into account visual art and politics.
Baker's complete piano music was recently recorded by renowned pianist Marilyn Nonken and released on New Focus Recordings. Additionally, his works have been performed by a number of leading contemporary music ensembles including H2 Quartet, Talea Ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Dal Niente, Chamber Cartel, The Group for Contemporary Music, Ensemble21, and Chicago Chamber Musicians.
Baker earned a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from the Eastman School of Music, a Master of Music in Composition from Rice University and a Doctor of Music in Composition from Northwestern University. His primary composition teachers have included Marti Epstein, Augusta Read Thomas, Shih-Hui Chen, Karim Al-Zand and Jason Eckardt.
"Stress Position is an album of piano music by Chicago based composer and pianist Drew Baker; it is brilliant. His way of writing for the piano is based on the sonorities—the unique sounds a piano makes and the idiosyncratic way a piano makes them. It is extremely inven- tive and aurally seductive, and each piece speaks with its own voice. Gaeta is a work for two pianos and water percussion. It is made up of fantastic, ethereal sounds in thin, glassy layers. Asa Nisi Masa is a completely uncom- promising work for amplified piano built of rough, violent chords, and punctuated by pregnant pauses. Gray is a short work written for the composer’s nephew—thoughtful and achingly beautiful. National Anthem layers three simultaneous versions of ‘The Star Span- gled Banner’, each in a different key and with its own slow tempo. To disguise the source even more the melodic contour is altered—this also serves as a statement of the composer’s “unease and sadness about America’s place in the world” in light of the recent, and continu- ing, wars in the middle east. Stress Position is evocatively described by the composer: “The insistent and unrelenting rhythmic repetition coupled with an ever-increasing mass of pitch- es and dynamic intensity, creates a scenario whereby the piano becomes a torture appara- tus. Virtuosity in this case is defined by the ability to endure.” The title refers to the method of torture where victims are forced to maintain difficult body positions for extended periods of time—brought again into the public eye through news of the atrocities at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo. The piece is absolutely electrifying, and there are very few people other than the incomparable Marilyn Nonken who could pull it off with such power."
– Ira Byelick, March/April 2012
Composer Drew Baker’s music is demanding stuff. Highly conceptual, viscerally physical, and often politically charged, it requires much from its performers. Baker is fortunate to have a staunch advocate in pianist Marilyn Nonken. She has championed his music, commissioning works and programming them frequently on her recitals. This New Focus disc demonstrates just how much she has internalized music that would fell many a less formidable artist.
Take the title work, which is named after the “vigorous interrogating techniques” that, during the past decade, proved to be one of many regrettable blights on the United States’ human rights record. The piece requires Nonken to have her arms extended to both registral extremes throughout, gradually stretching her hands to navigate wider intervals and thicker chords. Sensory assault – increasingly piercing amplification – and, live at least, sensory deprivation (the work ends with the lights out, imitating a detainee being blindfolded) are also part of the package. It’s an unnerving, deeply troubling piece about an equally squirm inducing topic. The most amazing thing to me about all this – Nonken asked for this piece: she’s a plucky pianist! Asa Nisi Masa, another amplified work, features fists full of dense low register clusters, delivered in a battery of cannonades.
But, thankfully, Baker isn’t merely indulging a streak of danger music throughout the disc. National Anthem,another piece commissioned by Nonken, is a far more delicate affair. Yet it’s just as politically motivated asStress Position. The Star-Spangled Banner is deconstructed, played in three different keys, in a slowly moving overlapping canon. What might seem like an Ivesian conceit is deployed in a more Feldmanesque fashion, to agreeable effect. Also quite appealing is Gray, another slowly developing piece featuring angular linear counterpoint and gently articulated yet dissonant harmonies, delicately shaded with careful attention to pedaling indications and keen awareness of the decay rates of various resonances. It’s played quite beautifully in this detailed performance by Nonken; she inhabits it with graceful poise.
Baker and percussionists Sean Connors and Peter Martin join Nonken for Gaeta, a work for two pianos and water percussion. I heard this piece’s premiere at the Guggenheim’s Works and Process Series back in 2006 and found it to be quite impressive. One was awash in a plethora of water sounds, hand percussion, and prepared piano in a soundscape that was abundantly varied yet never overly busy. While Gaeta thrives in a live acoustic, the New Focus disc has done much to capture its shimmering sonic magic.
– October 18, 2011