Violinist Francesca Anderegg has gathered an exciting collection of new works for violin and piano from young composers influenced by the minimalist heritage of John Adams. Inspired by Ginsberg’s poem, “After Dead Souls”, Anderegg explores an ever evolving American compositional tradition that romanticizes life on the road, freedom, exploration, individualism, and virtuosity. With her pianist collaborator, Brent Funderburk, Anderegg presents these works by Hannah Lash, Ted Hearne, Ryan Francis, Reinaldo Moya, and Clint Needham as heirs to the minimalist tradition, but also as contemporary contextualizations of the romantic character piece and early 20th century impressionism.
On the RoadClint Needham
|03||Nothing behind me|
Nothing behind me
|04||Everything ahead of me|
Everything ahead of me
Imagined ArchipelagosReinaldo Moya
|06||The Island of Many Calendars|
The Island of Many Calendars
|07||The Island with the Imaginary Moons|
The Island with the Imaginary Moons
|08||The Island at Noon|
The Island at Noon
|09||The Island of the Imagined Birds|
The Island of the Imagined Birds
Ryan Francis’ Remix takes EDM layering as a jumping off point, but owes much to Adams in the manner that it builds on that foundation. Displacing motivic material to different parts of the beat, and sequencing up in register to reach a climax, Francis paints an exuberant picture and the piece opens the disc with an unmistakably American sensibility. Hannah Lash’s Adjoining reaches back to late 19th century romanticism and early 20th century impressionism as its models. Cadences are continuously suggested but constantly evaded, as the entire piece unfolds without truly resolving. In Clint Needham’s On the Road, unabashed neo-romanticism conjures open Americana landscapes. Ted Hearne’s Nobody’s is a deconstructive approach to Appalachian fiddle music, merging that tradition’s violin technique of “clogging” with avant-garde extended techniques on the instrument, for a hypnotic and visceral effect.
Reinaldo Moya’s Imagined Archipelagos explores a duality between repetition in two very different traditions, the American minimalist tradition and Venezuelan folkloric music. In the opening movement, "The Island of Many Calendars", there is a sense that the piano and violin are simultaneously together and also in two separate planes at once. Movement three, "The Island at Noon", features an insistent rhythm and energetic foreground activity. The final movement, "The Island of the Imaginary Birds", opens with solo moto perpetuo passagework in the violin, returns to the rhythmically disjointed ensemble presentation of the opening movement, sprinkling in more oblique references to Venezuelan folkloric tradition. Anderegg and Funderburk play with energy and lyrical beauty throughout, and bring this refreshing program of new American music to life with the sense of freedom and openness its theme suggests.
Recorded by Cameron Wiley at the Ordway Concert Hall in St. Paul Minnesota
Produced by Francesca Anderegg and Sam Bergman
Album Artwork and layout by Jeff Sheinkopf
Francesca Anderegg’s Wild Cities is haunted by the American dream, a dream of perpetual travel on an endless open road. This highway passes through neon swaths of electronic dance music, rusty belts of Appalachian fiddling, and fluid post-Romantic fields. With pianist Brent Funderburk, the young violinist takes on the music of five young American composers, each affected by the work and musical style of John Adams. Nationalistic it is not, but decisively American it is, as American as roadside attractions and Route 66.
Ryan Francis’s shifty Remix folds in some markers of EDM — choppy phrases, a bouncing pulse, an irregular structure that seems to respond to itself similar to how a DJ mixes in symbiosis with their crowd. Hannah Lash’s “Adjoining” curves and curls unexpectedly, developing and receding without the cathartic final swell that the beginning seems to tease. Clint Needham’s On the Road is first contemplative and poignant, expansive phrases in long notes with hints of restlessness sneaking in.
Ted Hearne’s Nobody’s — the wildest of the bunch — draws on the sinewy, aggressive attacks and double stops of the Appalachian fiddle tradition, an echoing thud keeping the beat. Reinaldo Moya’s Imagined Archipelagos is more spacious and optimistic, with little disquiet save the arpeggiated shards that introduce the “imaginary birds” of the fourth movement. In exploring the repetitions in both American minimalism and Venezuelan folk music, the piece sends four distinct impressionistic postcards. The second movement, “The Island with the Imaginary Moon,” is especially breathtaking, a gently melancholy moment to stop, breathe, and look around as the earth moves under you.
Through it all, Anderegg’s playing is crisp and eloquent, adapting seamlessly to the diverse natures of the five pieces. Funderburk’s piano is similarly flexible, sometimes charging forward confidently, other times sailing dreamily above the asphalt. The album has no clear peak, just a beginning and an ending that feels more like a “to be continued” than an end. Somehow, it feels right that way. As Needham’s inspiration, Jack Kerouac, writes - “there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars.”
- Zoe Madonna, Q2 Music, 7.5.16
Adventurous violinist Francesca Anderegg has a richly eclectic new roadtrip-themed album of mostly brand-new indie classical works, titled Wild Cities, just out and streaming at WQXR. She’s playing the album release show with pianist Brent Funderburk on July 12 at 8 PM at National Sawdust; advance tix are a good idea and are $25.
The first track, Remix, by Ryan Francis, opens with a maddeningly repetitive, syncopated violin riff that eventually shifts to the piano. It would have been impossibly easy for both Anderegg and Funderburk to loop it and take their time playing karaoke against it; to their credit, they don’t, as it winds down to an acerbic, purposeful spaciousness. Uh oh, then they’re off again! It has the same kind of high-voltage playfulness as Todd Reynolds’ recent work.
The album’s masterful centerpiece, Hannah Lash‘s achingly plaintive nocturne Adjoining, sets Anderegg’s emotively resonant, subtly vibrato-laden lines soaring over piano that blends Chopin prelude angst with more austerely starlit tonalities. Clint Needham‘s Kerouac-inspired diptych, On the Road builds quickly from a purposeful stroll to a jauntily skipping interlude that stops short of blithe; then the two voices reconfigure, pensively, down to still, mysterious ambience. The conclusion scampers and bustles with uneasy anticipation up to a surprise ending.
Ted Hearne‘s Nobody’s, for violin and percussion, starkly blends hints of Appalachian stepdancing music and insistent minimalism with challenging leaps to comet-trail harmonic cadenzas. Reinaldo Moya‘s four-part suite, Archipelago Imagined opens with darkly modal allusions – which could be Slavic, but actually draw on Andean music – and then weaves in and out, Anderegg’s violin bright and anxious over uneasily glitttering, waltzing piano. Part two subtly builds longscale, circling, Debussy-esque phrases within a predictable neoromantic rhythmic framework. Puckishly tongue-in-cheek, mathematically bouncing circular variations dominate the third movement, while the conclusion brings the piece full circle, a synthesis of the segments in turn. This is not an album about grandiose pyrotechnics but about camaraderie, and teamwork, and acerbity, and tunefulness, and ultimately good fun, all of which ought to translate live in National Sawdust’s magnificent sonics. - July 2016
As a sense of disarray and fragmentation mounts in the world of contemporary music, Francesca Anderegg’s Wild Cities delivers a refreshingly optimistic sense of the future, full of adventure and possibility. Anderegg chose the title after reading John Adams’ autobiography, in which the iconic composer reproduced Allen Ginsberg’s words as the epigraph, Beatnik love for the open road blazing through strong and clear. She chose the works of five young American composers, in whom Adams’ minimalism shows significant influence, and who take that minimalist heritage and carry it in their own direction. Anderegg was fascinated by the way in which all five composers picked up the same musical legacy and drove off into the great unknown, toward those “wild cities” of the future, while maintaining a sense of unity. This unity is reaffirmed through Anderegg’s technically precise yet stirring performance, and by pianist Brent Funderburk’s conscientious accompaniment throughout the album. Anderegg and Funderburk open with Ryan Francis’ Remix, a piece that combines elements of various EDM subgenres with classical forms to create a pulsing, hectic relationship between the two instruments. Several times, the violin and piano suddenly shift into much brighter, more expansive landscapes, like a driver suddenly breaking through the edge of a shadowy wood and into the rolling, sun-soaked bluffs beyond. Francis notes that the structure of Remix is “labyrinthine”, and while it is based loosely on the opening violin motif, it just as often takes a life of its own and goes where it pleases – as often happens on a good road trip. Adjoining, by Hannah Lash, comes from a much more tonally structured framework. Less fraught and more conceptual, the violin and piano beautifully weave around each other and gradually build expectations for what is to come into view – only they are never realized, and the violin simply and quietly ascends into the clouds, leaving adjustment and adaptation up to the listener. Following this ascension into the ether comes Clint Needham’s On the Road: Nothing Behind Me, the first of two movements about the eponymous book’s stylized beauty of the nomadic lifestyle. Funderburk opens the piece with four arpeggiated octaves of F sharp, a theme that continues throughout the first movement and links the piece to the waif-like atmosphere left by Anderegg’s violin in Adjoining. The transition is well executed and seamless, as though Needham is reflecting upon the road taken by Lash as his own. The transition into Needham’s second movement, On the Road: Everything Ahead of Me, however, is intentionally jarring and chaotic. It effectively contrasts its apparent disorder and excited optimism for the mysteries of the future with the nostalgia and hindsight expressed in the first movement. Shifting dreamlike into a new scenario, Ted Hearne’s Nobody’s takes Adams’ minimalism to the backroads of Appalachia, incorporating rhythms and double stop fiddle techniques of the region into his work. Anderegg plays the piece selflessly, paying an esteemed homage to the unique patterns and tones described by Hearne and allowing the listener to fully access the music’s human side. The violin and piano duo enters finally into Reinaldo Moya’s Imagined Archipelagos. This five-movement piece begins with themes inspired by Mayan culture and moves, by the closing movement, to a rousing Venezuelan joropo played in unaligned, sparring sketches – sometimes obstinate and commanding, other times buoyant and whimsical. Moya chose the title Imagined Archipelagos because of the idea that although each island appears separate, they are all connected beneath the water. This concept applies not only to Moya’s work, but also to Anderegg’s album as a whole. With Wild Cities, Anderegg has completed an admirable survey of contemporary American composition, revealing these composers’ stylistic influence by Adams with great skill and panache. - Brendan Howe, Second Inversion, 7.16.16
Well, what a space in time.
After my trip to the outer edges of the outer edges with Christopher Rouse last week, things don’t get back to normal just yet. I was half expecting to write about the familiarity of Puccini, perhaps. Or a nice bit of Bach. But normal service has not been resumed. Violinist Francesca Anderegg’s wonderful Wild Cities makes sure the trip back home is postponed.
What a fabulous record this is. I’m not a musician – as will be obvious to anyone reading this blog – but even non musicians can tell when there’s a blazing fire to be put out, and Anderegg’s playing is just such a fire.
What a spellbinding, twisting, intoxicating 49 minutes of incendiary violin this is. There’s a sort of perilousness about it, an edginess that I find quite extraordinary. She would be more than enough on her lonesome, but on this great album you also have to factor in Brent Funderburk’s piano as well, which is exceptional. In Wild Cities two musicians basically bring their top game to a record and it’s a total joy.
Taking as its inspiration the music of John Adams, and sharing the call of Ginsberg (“Where O America are you going in your glorious Automobile … ?”) Anderegg chooses music from five young American composers who share a passion for the evocative space of Adams, and in whose work, she says, there are “imaginary landscapes of the future.” Minimalism goes on the road, in 21st Century vehicles. What to me still seems the very essence of modern is being picked up here by a whole new generation. Who knows, as Sandy Denny put it, where the time goes …
Sometimes themed records don’t work, but this one does. There isn’t a single piece on it that I didn’t like.
The car door slams and we set off with the exhilarating ‘Remix’ by Ryan Francis. It’s a glorious, tumbling and rotating motor of a piece – key turned and we’re good to go. Adams is there in the piano and violin sing-song, and Glass, but when it kicks in with some glorious full throttle Americana, even Copland, I think. We’re off into a new kind of Appalachian Spring, with piano running up the highway as the violin shifts gear, looks out the window, soars above like a bird. Swoops like a drone camera. The jazzy, bluesiness of the piano in places keeps the motor running – sometimes reminding me of David Shire from The Conversationsoundtrack, sometimes even the hip strolling of Peanuts. Well, for me anyway! What I’m trying to say is that it’s just a bit of a road movie this piece, a travelogue. Where are we going? Who knows, but we’ll be there by nightfall. Or we’ll run out of fuel, abrupt, in a hot desert of dreams.
Clint Needham’s two ‘On The Road’ pieces are superb. Again, the playing is magnificent as we work out a place of timelessness between part one, ‘Nothing Behind Me’ and part two, ‘Everything ahead of me’. As with ‘Remix’ there is an enormous sense of progress and panorama, the emotional ups and downs of travel to who knows where. Sort of like the wild giddiness of driving down from a mountain in the early dawn, then a spiky catch-up with memory or regret as we’re lost in thought, gazing out the window at a world gone slow motion. Maybe at a gas station. In the rain. In the second piece we regain momentum, tumbling as if in a chase. Damn me if I’m giving up now, sort of thing. But of course, it isn’t that simple. The piano slows again in places and the violin flows over all this observation with a kind of Vaughan Williams wistfulness … until that relentless rhythm picks up, and we’re gone again. With a great thump of piano we have arrived at wherever we are. Wherever that is.
Ted Hearne’s composition ‘Nobody’s’ is excellent. It’s a take on Appalachian fiddle music and the clogging tradition, with electronic effects and a rhythmic thumping that creates a kind of elemental noise that reminds me of some Hardanger work like the wonderful Benedicte Maurseth – which of course makes lots of sense. Elemental is a good word. Music like this stresses for me that as long as the instrument has been played there have been such fierce tunes to dance and trance to – whether in the Appalachian mountains, or Norwegian fjords or the forests and clearings of Bartók. Some will find the thumping and squeaking and panicking of the fiddle to be harsh and wild, but I find it totally mesmerising. It bangs and bows to an exhilarating finish, and is both frightening and gorgeous at the same time.
The four pieces which close the record, by Reinaldo Moya, are utterly brilliant. They are ‘Imagined Archipelagos’ and the subtitles suggest their mental cartography: ‘The Island of the Imaginary Birds’, for example, or ‘The Island with the Imaginary Moons’. Again, the piano and violin work supremely well together and as the pieces unspool there is a hugely exciting blend of the minimalist Adams expression, with the Venezualan folk music that inspires Moya – music that wends and dances, sways, forgets and remembers. This is best seen in the final piece (the ‘Imaginary Birds’) which carries both the relentless spooling of the industrial minimalist rush, and the stomp and sinew of a flamenco in blistering white dust. The piano is particularly wonderful here.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this whole record – but I’ve been sleeving a favourite till last: ‘Adjoining’ by Hannah Lash. If you were to lock John Adams, Alban Berg and maybe even Bernard Herrman in a room at midnight and trap them there till they produced music, it might end up sounding a wee bit like ‘Adjoining’. It’s an eerie and tense yet romantic nine and a half minutes that I really, really like. I mention Berg because there’s that fracture and stumble, but in places ‘Adjoining’ also puts me in that slightly heartbroken fugue I get from more ruminative Debussy piano pieces, say. Strangely it also recalls for me Wojciech Kilar’s Mina themes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Anyway, two ‘musics’ are at work. The violin reaches high peaks of something like desolation, perhaps, or a harsh longing or concern as the piece moves towards its close. You feel like you can reach out and touch it the emotion is so thick – but of course, in the end, you can’t. It’s not in this room.
What is adjoining here, you wonder at the end of Lash’s piece? What is this otherness next to us we can’t quite see. It reaches an almost Hitchcock place of tension at one point but then returns to the almost jazzy rumination of the piano while an intense high sighing of Anderegg’s violin continues – as if to tell us the pressure is rising, that all is not well in the world next door, and may never quite be.
“What’s he building in there?” as Tom Waits might say. -- Classical Nowhere, 7.2.2016
The violinist Francesca Anderegg’s album Wild Cities (on New Focus Recordings) is incredibly earnest. Her performances with the pianist Brent Funderburk are enthusiastic and eager; the minimalist-influenced pieces by five young American composers voluble and energetic. Anderegg is excited about this music, and wants you to be, too.
I want to share her excitement, but can’t quite get there. Taking its title from the Allen Ginsberg poem “After Dead Souls,” which the composer John Adams used as the epigraph to his autobiography, Wild Cities features music inspired by Adams’ combination of minimalism, more traditional structure, and Romantic harmony. For the most part however, both Anderegg’s performances and the pieces on this recording are preoccupied with rhythmic drive, barreling vivaciously forward without as much regard for emotional content or its corollary, a purposeful overarching form.
The major exception to this is Hannah Lash’s Adjoining (2015), commissioned for this album. The least minimalist of the pieces (I’m not even sure how it fits into the theme of minimalist inspiration), it is a decadent, brooding meditation similar to the works of Alban Berg, which stretch harmony to its limit. Rich chords continually defy resolution, though Lash’s harmonic language is not quite as pained as Berg’s.
Adjoining is so close to being a truly great piece, but I think Anderegg’s performance prevents it from reaching that status on this recording. She doesn’t take enough time to let the piece breathe, to feel the resistance in these intense harmonies and struggle against it. Perhaps Anderegg was too taken up by the rhythmic rush of the rest of the album to stretch time here and revel in Lash’s harmonies. Her icy tone also conflicts with both the warmth of the piece and of Funderburk’s generous playing. It is as if she is presenting only the body of the piece, rather than excavating its soul. The same problem occurs throughout the recording, and is evident in the way Anderegg describes the pieces in her liner notes. She continually extols the “kinetic, alive, bumpy” quality of minimalism, focusing almost exclusively on their rhythmic aspects and outward appearance (“duality between a smooth surface and animated inner rhythms.”)
Some of the pieces are entirely fixated on this kineticism. Ryan Francis’s Remix (2004) is a breathless, headlong sprint filled with burbling repetitive patterns and abrupt shifts in tempo and mood. Both the stream of notes and sudden changes are almost too rapid to wrap your head around before they have moved in another direction once again, with brief lyrical sections especially suffering from a lack of space or development. While the rhythms are lively, that is the main thing one can pick up on: aspects of the body, without the soul again.
Anderegg is more convincing in Clint Needham’s On the Road (2013). The first movement, “Nothing behind me,” showcases her most touching playing. A simple, sentimental melody in the violin over firmly-rooted piano chords conjure images of a vast, unchanging landscape with a polished car soaring forth across it. “Everything ahead of me,” the second movement, taps into a churning, motoric drive that is much more fun and exciting than the rush of Remix.
Ted Hearne’s short Nobody’s (2010) is the only piece where Anderegg is not joined by Funderburk. In place of piano accompaniment are thudding stomps, a practice taken from Appalachian fiddle music. Fiddle phrases are repeated with a variety of attacks and techniques, as though a violinist was fooling around on their instrument, experimenting with different methods of playing some memorized motifs.
The most inventive, and “bumpy,” work on the album is Reinaldo Moya’s four-movement Imagined Archipelagos (2012). Though it suffers from the problem that plagues all of these pieces–that of a modular form where sections don’t always cohere and sometimes transition jarringly–it contains engrossing textures and captivating moods. All of the movements feature multiple temporal strands layered on top of each other, with different rhythms unfolding simultaneously. In “The Island with the Imaginary Moons,” this leads to bit of a muddle, but the music still manages to strike a simultaneously consoling and unsettled tone. “The Island of Many Calendars” pits a wistful violin against a constantly flowing piano; even when the violin tries to ignore the inexorable movement of the piano, it can’t stop time from oozing away. “The Island at Noon” focuses on an insistent rhythm while layers appear and disappear around it.
Finally, “The Island of the Imagined Birds,” the last movement and the most thrilling piece of music on Wild Cities, is built on a progression that could be a tango. But this repeated music is continually scuffed by elongation or shrinking, generating a quirky, unpredictable groove of the sort you might encounter in some contemporary jazz. It’s simultaneously brainy and physical, perfectly embodying Anderegg’s description of a “smooth surface and animated inner rhythms.” This is music I can get excited about. — Daniel Hautzinger, 1.6.2017, I care if you listen