Critically acclaimed piano trio Longleash releases a debut album featuring first commercial recordings of innovative piano trios, written by an international group of composers launching remarkable careers. This collection of works illustrates the inventive and experimental ethos that has shaped the evolving identity of this traditional instrumentation in recent years.
Passing Through, Staying Put for Piano TrioChristopher Trapani (b. 1980)
|01||I. Passing Through|
I. Passing Through
|02||II. Staying Put|
II. Staying Put
Il colore dell’ombra per violino, violoncello e pianoforteClara Iannotta (b. 1983)
|03||I. Passage, come un velo|
I. Passage, come un velo
|04||II. D’unfiato; III. Onirico|
II. D’unfiato; III. Onirico
|05||IV. Con precisione!|
IV. Con precisione!
|06||ver_flies_sen für Violine, Violoncello und Klavier|
ver_flies_sen für Violine, Violoncello und Klavier
|07||Strange Attractors Piano Trio No. 1|
Strange Attractors Piano Trio No. 1
|08||Corde Vuote per violino, violoncello e pianoforte|
Corde Vuote per violino, violoncello e pianoforte
Performed with inspired virtuosity by Longleash, the album includes Christopher Trapani’s Passing Through, Staying Put (2011), Clara Iannotta’s Il colore dell’ombra (2010), Yukiko Watanabe’s ver_flies_sen (2012), Juan de Dios Magdaleno’s Strange Attractors (2014) and Francesco Filidei’s Corde Vuote (2010).
The album’s title, Passage, alludes not only to the international backgrounds of these composers and performers (representing the United States, Mexico, Japan, Italy) but also to the presence of multicultural, pan-historic influence in this music (referencing colonial Brazil, 1910s France; present-day Austria, England, Cyprus, Italy). Most importantly, Passage refers to the continuing evolution of the piano trio genre itself. Each composer accesses novel modes of resonance and interplay here, redefining the instrumentation in five unique ways. From liner notes by violinist Pala Garcia: “within each work is an amalgam of multicultural influences and global journeys, sourcing inspiration from visual art, literature, and music from the past and present. This traditional instrumentation, with its classical ideals and high-romantic associations, gains a multitude of new colors, forms and textures in this passage forward.”Read More
Christopher Trapani’s Passing Through, Staying Put is a study in contrasts between motion and stasis, deriving its bipartite structure from “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi,” the novella by Jeff Dyer. Clara Iannotta’s Il colore dell’ombra processes the trio’s resonance through a shadowy filter, sourcing inspiration and musical material from Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor. In Juan de Dios Magdaleno’s Strange Attractors, principles of fractal mathematics rule over interrelated musical cells, which swerve along unpredictable trajectories. The multilayered musical surface of Yukiko Watanabe’s ver_flies_sen evokes images of tile reflected through water, inspired by the work of Brazilian painter Adriana Varejão. The ingenious simplicity of Francesco Filidei’s Corde Vuote is a paean to each instrument’s natural mode of resonance: the open string.
In his introduction to Passage, composer/pianist Nils Vigeland describes the album “as a collective contemporary response to the piano trio,” a reworking of “an instrumental form far removed from its classical origins.” Noting the celebrated origins of this instrumentation in Haydn and its storied legacy in Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms, Vigeland credits these five composers with challenging the piano trio’s historically accepted parameters and limitations. “Is it possible that the term ‘common practice,’ used to describe western music’s wildly differentiated four hundred year use of the tonal system, could now be used to describe an instrumental usage available to composers of very different expression? This album answers with a resounding yes!”
Recorded at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC)
Session Producer: Argeo Ascani
Audio Engineers: Jeffrey Svatek and Todd Vos
Editing, Mixing, and Mastering: Jeffrey Svatek
Recording Location/Dates: EMPAC, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY. April 25-28, 2016
Edited and Mixed at EMPAC
Album Artwork: Pink Lady (2015), Scarlett Hooft Graafland
Album Design: Laura Grey
Liner Notes: Pala Garcia, Nils Vigeland
Publishers: Corde Vuote, Edizioni Musicali Rai Trade (2010); ver_flies_sen, Universal Edition (2012); Il colore dell’ombra, Edition Peters (2010).
This album is made possible by the Artist Residency Program at EMPAC.
Longleash (Pala Garcia, violin; John Popham, cello; Renate Rohlfing, piano) is a group with a traditional instrumentation and a progressive identity. Inspired by music with unusual sonic beauty, an inventive streak, and a compelling cultural voice, Longleash extends a love of classical chamber musicianship to the interpretation of contemporary music, crafting performances that are both dynamic and thoughtfully refined. An “expert young trio” praised for its “subtle and meticulous musicianship” (Strad Magazine) and its "technical expertise and expressive innovation" (Feast of Music), Longleash has quickly earned a reputation in the US and abroad for innovative programming, artistic excellence, and new music advocacy. Longleash takes its name from Operation Long Leash, a CIA program designed to covertly support and disseminate the work of American avant-garde artists throughout Europe during the Cold War.
The trio balances a full performing schedule with commissioning and recording projects alongside their proprietary summer concert series and composition workshop, The Loretto Project (KY). Performance highlights include concerts at Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), the Ecstatic Music Festival (NY), the Green Music Center (CA), National Sawdust (NY), Scandinavia House (NY), Trondheim International Chamber Music Festival (Norway), and the University of Louisville. Longleash has conducted lectures and workshops at New York University, Manhattan School of Music, University of Nebraska, Ohio University, and Hunter College. The trio's work on behalf of American composers has been recognized and supported by Chamber Music America, the Alice K. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.http://longleashtrio.com
Cellist John Popham is a chamber musician and teacher based in Brooklyn, New York. His playing has been described as “brilliant” and “virtuosic” (Kronen Zeitung), “warm but variegated”, and “finely polished” (The New York Times).
Currently a member of Either/Or Ensemble and LONGLEASH, Mr. Popham has performed internationally with groups including Klangforum Wien, Talea Ensemble, and the Argento Chamber Ensemble. He has appeared as soloist with the Louisville Orchestra, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, the Red Light Ensemble, and the Kunstuniversität Graz Chorus.
Recent festival appearances include Brücken (Austria), Open Musik (Austria), IMPULS (Austria), the Vermont Mozart Festival, USINESONORE (Switzerland), Bay Chamber (Maine), the Contemporary Classical Music Festival (Peru), Lucerne Festival, and Klangspuren (Austria).
Dedicated to new music performance, Mr. Popham has worked with composers including Pierre Boulez, Tristan Murail, Steve Reich, Nils Vigeland, and Reiko Füting. The recipient of a Fulbright research grant, Mr. Popham spent the 2013/2014 academic year in Austria, where he studied the performance practice of Klangforum Wien and worked with leading figures in contemporary Austrian music: Beat Furrer, Georg Friedrich Haas, Klaus Lang, and Pierluigi Billone.
Mr. Popham is currently cello faculty of the Extension Division of Rutgers University. He received his BM and MM from the Manhattan School of Music where he was a student of David Geber and David Soyer and was awarded the Manhattan School of Music Full Scholarship. He has recorded for Tzadik, Carrier, New Focus, Albany, and Arte Nova records.http://www.johnpatrickpopham.com
Christopher Trapani was born in New Orleans. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music and English from Harvard, then spent most of his twenties overseas: a year in London, working with Julian Anderson at the Royal College of Music; a year in Istanbul, studying microtonality in Ottoman music on a Fulbright grant; and seven years in Paris, where he studied with Philippe Leroux and worked at IRCAM. Since 2010, Christopher is based in New York City as a doctoral candidate at Columbia University. He is the winner of the 2016 Rome Prize and the 2007 Gaudeamus Prize, and in 2015 was a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart. His scores have been performed by Ensemble Modern, ICTUS, Talea Ensemble, Ensemble L'Itinéraire, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and the JACK Quartet, amongst others.http://www.christophertrapani.com
Born in Rome in 1983, Clara Iannotta spent her childhood as a flautist. At the age of twenty, she began taking composition classes in Milan with Alessandro Solbiati. After moving to Paris, she continued her training at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris with Frédéric Durieux. She has been a guest of the Berliner Künstlerprogramm des DAAD and is now a PhD candidate at Harvard University. Recent projects include new pieces for Duo 2KW, Arditti Quartet (Festival d’Automne), Ensemble Nikel (Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt), and an installation for the Münchener Biennale. She is the artistic director of the Bludenzer Tage zeitgemäßer Musik festival (2014–18) and lives in Berlin and Boston.http://www.claraiannotta.com
Yukiko Watanabe was born in Nagano, Japan in 1983. She recently graduated with her Konzertexamen degree from the Hochschule für Musik Köln and has also studied at the Kunstuniversität Graz. She has received numerous awards, including the Ö1 Talentebörse Composition Prize, scholarships from the Rohm Music Foundation, the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). In 2016 she won the Akutagawa Award for Music Composition with her orchestral work "gefaltet…". She has studied composition with Keiko Harada, Beat Furrer, and Johannes Schöllhorn. Currently, Yukiko is a stipendiary of the International Ensemble Modern Academy in Frankfurt.http://www.yukiko-watanabe.blogspot.com
Juan de Dios Magdaleno was born in 1984 in Colima (Mexico) where he became active in music at the age of 10, initially through his Mexican folk heritage. He completed his bachelor’s degree in composition at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam under the tuition of Fabio Nieder and Richard Ayres, and received his master’s degree in composition at the Kunstuniversität Graz under the supervision of Pierluigi Billone and Gerd Kühr. His music has been performed by ensembles such as Ensemble Intercontemporain, Arditti Quartet, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Asko|Schoenberg Ensemble, Nieuw Ensemble, and Nouvel Ensemble Modern. Recently, Juan de Dios was invited to CURSUS at IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) and has been a resident at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. He completed his postgraduate studies under the guidance of Beat Furrer and lives in Helsinki, Finland.http://www.juandediosmagdaleno.weebly.com
Born in Pisa in 1973, organist and composer Francesco Filidei graduated from the Conservatory of Florence and the Paris Conservatoire. His music has been performed by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Linea, 2E2M, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Les Percussions de Strasbourg, Klangforum, Musikfabrik, Ensemble Recherche, Next Mushroom Promotion, Tokyo Sinfonietta, and Neue Vocalsolisten, among others. He was commissioned by the IRCAM Reading Committee, and awarded the Salzburg Music Forderpreistrager, the Takefu Prize, the Siemens Forderpreistrager, the UNESCO Picasso/Miró Medal of the Rostrum of Composers, and the Abbiati Prize. His works are published by Rai Trade. Francesco has taught composition courses at Royaumont (“Voix Nouvelles”), the University of Iowa, Takefu, the International Young Composers Academy in Tchaikovsky City, and at the Darmstadt Ferienkurse. In 2016 he was appointed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture.http://www.francescofilidei.com
From the beginning, chamber music and the chamber ensemble have been mainstays of the Western art music tradition. And like the larger tradition, they have undergone periods of evolution, stability, and rapid if not disruptive change—not only in the structure and content of the repertoire, but in the very definition of what constitutes a chamber ensemble as well. Two new releases on the New Focus label bring new perspectives to this venerable and profoundly fluid format.
Transient Canvas is the duo of bass clarinetist Amy Advocat and marimbist Matt Sharrock, whose Sift is their first full-length recording. Seen close up, the duo’s makeup is unusual—the marimba doesn’t really appear in Western classical music until Darius Milhaud’s 1947 Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone, and bass clarinet is traditionally not a solo instrument. But from a larger perspective, Transient Canvas is an oblique variation on the piano-wind duo, the marimba being just another tuned percussion instrument. The pairing of these two low-compass, decidedly un-Stentorian instruments is inspired, as are the five compositions, all written within the last four years, that are presented here.
The slightly melancholy side of the duo’s aggregate sound is effectively brought out in the title track, a 2014 work by composer Daniel T. Lewis. The piece has a gently rueful feeling to it, with phrases trailing off into silence like a reflective speaker’s unfinished sentences. Adam Roberts’ impeccably constructed Nostalgia Variations (2015) occupies a similar affective space, with a plaintive melody built around a four-note kernel. Although subjected to elongation, compression, bisection and other creative deformations, the basic profile of the melody almost always is discernible. The other three compositions, by Tina Tallon, Curtis Hughes and John Murphree, also play to the two instruments’ ability to evoke the emotional ingathering of the downward glance.
The more conventional chamber ensemble of piano, violin and cello is the protagonist of Passages, a recording by the Brooklyn-based trio Longleash (pianist Renata Rohlfing, violinist Pala Garcia and cellist John Popham). Passages is a cosmopolitan collection that contains five works by five younger contemporary composers from Europe, Japan and North America, four of whom are under 40. Although the group’s instrumentation is traditional its sounds aren’t; the three, and particularly the strings, draw on the expanded repertoire of timbres and gestures that composer Nils Vigeland, in his liner note, suggests constitute a new “common practice.” In fact, while the pieces vary in their sources of inspiration and in their method of composition, all make intelligent--and above all artistic—use of a broad palette of techniques and sounds. For example, Rome-born Clare Iannotta’s evocatively-titled Il colore dell’ombra (2010) uses microtones, diverse bow articulations and percussive and damping piano gestures to bring out multiple shadings of individual and composite sound colors. American Christopher Trapani’s Passing Through, Staying Put, a two part work of 2011 whose themes of motion and rest were suggested by Geoff Dyer’s paired novellas Geoff in Venice/Death in Varanasi, contrasts the strings’ glissandi and harmonics with more conventional piano chords. Mexican composer Juan di Dios Magdaleno’s Strange Attractors (2014) weaves its sound events into a discontinuous texture mimicking the behavior of a chaotic system, while Yukiko Watanabe’s ver_flies_sen (2012) constructs its texture out of staggered cells made up of harmonics and abrupt piano interventions. And as its title implies, Pisa native Francesco Filidei’s 2010 Corde Vuote is scored for violin and cello playing exclusively with open strings; the piece creates a sense movement through the superimposition of voices and through the controlled use of dynamics and bow placement. — Daniel Barbiero, 10.12.2017, Percorsi Musicali
The chamber trio combination has its roots in music written by Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms, but the five daring compositions on Longleash's debut album collectively inhabit a wholly different soundworld than any associated with those figures. Violinist Pala Garcia, cellist John Popham, and pianist Renate Rohlfing might, in other words, play traditional instruments, but the contemporary material they perform is anything but. The group name, incidentally, derives from Operation Long Leash, a recently declassified CIA operation aimed at promoting the work of American avant-garde artists in Europe during the Cold War. Currently Brooklyn-based, Longleash likewise is committed to disseminating work, in this case recordings of material written by composers from the United States (Christopher Trapani), Mexico (Juan de Dios Magdaleno), Japan (Yukiko Watanabe), and Italy (Clara Iannotta, Francesco Filidei), none of it penned earlier than 2010.
It's worth noting that while Longleash eschews electronic treatments on Passage, the trio is very much committed to expanding on the tonal possibilities of each instrument using extended techniques. As Nils Vigeland observes in his introductory liner notes, techniques associated with strings such as muting, harmonics, pizzicato, ricochet, and col legno battuto are embraced not only by the two string players but Rohlfing too. In redefining the modes of playing, Longleash reinvigorates the trio tradition by thinking in new ways about the instruments' roles and the textural possibilities that naturally follow.
The unusual character of Passage's soundworld is signaled immediately by the glissandi effects and plucked cello phrases coursing through Trapani's Passing Through, Staying Put. Though the two-movement piece is but six minutes long, this arresting study, whose structure is derived from Jeff Dyer's novella “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi,” effectively prepares the listener for the adventurous trio re-imaginings to come.
Iannotta's Il colore dell'ombra draws for inspiration and sources musical material from Ravel's Piano Trio in A minor, even if one would be hard pressed to make the connection when presented with a shadowy presentation that sees curdling, detuned string flourishes augmented by low piano notes and strums of the keyboard's insides. Innovative gestures of a similar kind surface during Magdaleno's Strange Attractors, when the strings play notes so high they almost transcend pitch, and in Filidei's Corde Vuote, where the musical possibilities afforded by open strings are explored. The latter's an especially fascinating study, including as it does moments where fingers mute the strings and thereby suffocate their resonance. In Garcia's own words, “As the strings' natural resonance is allowed to emerge, it is as if lungs fill with air, and voices open: our breath and movement respond in kind, finally stirring the pianist from her long silence.”
At seventeen minutes the album's longest setting, Watanabe's ver_flies_sen unfolds like an engrossing conversation between three parties, with the fragmented expression of one engendering similarly clipped responses in the others. Space and silence are integral to the work's design, with the piano, for example, playing single notes almost exclusively and Rohlfing as focused on exploiting the percussive potential of his instrument as playing standard notes.
On this fifty-five-minute collection, Garcia, Popham, and Rohlfing achieve something not only difficult but rather remarkable, too, in vividly maximizing the musicality and accessibility of uncompromisingly experimental pieces. To make such challenging material feel so inviting is a testament to Longleash's fully engaged performances of the works presented.
— Ron Schepper, textura, 10.2017
The strikingly beautiful cover art reminiscent of Magritte is striking and make this reviewer nostalgic for the days of the 12×12 format of LP covers. (Album Artwork: Pink Lady (2015), Scarlett Hooft Graafland, Album Design: Laura Grey). It is, perhaps by virtue of its nod to modernism, a metaphor for the content of this album as well as being its title.
Longleash is apparently the oh so clever operations name of a CIA project whose goal was to help proliferate American modern art in the cold war era. These days I guess that would be “weaponizing” art. And this modern piano trio has (curiously) elected this for their stage name.
Well the content of this album is nowhere near your traditional piano trio and may even seem subversive to some listeners. Longleash are modernist throughout. Pala Garcia, violin; John Popham, cello; and Renate Rohlfing, piano self-identify as a group with “traditional instrumentation and a progressive identity.” Indeed they have chosen a rather young and pretty much unknown group of composers: Francesco Filidei (1973- ) is the oldest of the group followed by Clara Iannotta (1983- ), Juan De Dios Magdaleno (1984- ), Christopher Trapani, and Yukiko Watanabe.
Despite the varied backgrounds these composers seem to share a particular segment of a modern aesthetic. They seem fond of judicious use of extended instrumental techniques and quasi-minimalist cells but their styles are quite listenable. They seem to have aspects of pointillism, the occasional terseness of Webern, some rhythmic intricacies and the occasional nod to a melody. In short they seem schooled in the variety of techniques which rose largely out of the twentieth century but seem beholden to none of them seeking instead to judiciously use their skills to create their own unique sound worlds.
There are five works on eight tracks and none of them can be easily described except to say the the combination of listening with the aid of the liner notes can be helpful. That is not to say the works cannot stand on their own. That is a useful experience in itself.
I suppose it might be best to say that these works will likely evoke a variety of reactions from various listeners. This is the sort of album, at least for this listener, that benefits from a direct concentrated listen without distraction but it is also worth experiencing as background music, letting the experience creep in where it might while you do other things. And then a read through the liner notes to try to divine the composers’ intents.
I’m not being facetious here. I think this is a very intriguing album but one which is difficult to characterize in words and one which is beyond this writer’s expertise in terms of any useful analysis. Also the newness of these voices does not allow one to place these works even within the contextual canon of each individual composer’s work. We have free floating modernism which, as was thought in the cold war days, may invade one’s intellect in subversive ways.
The review immediately preceding this one, Soft Aberration, features this piano trio on it’s first track. Now Scott Wollschleger is very closely associated with the Manhattan School of Music. What is curious here is that Longleash has managed to find the present disparate group of emerging composers with no directly discernible connections to the Manhattan School but with a clear affinity for the same sound world. It is the luck of the draw that these reviews have appeared in this sequence but the similarities are striking. So if you like the spare sounds of the New York School (John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, Christian Wolff) and their successors in people like Scott Wollschleger, Reiko Futing, and Nils Vigeland (who, along with Pala Garcia provides the useful liner notes) then this will be your cup of tea. But even if you don’t know these folks you are still in for a fascinating journey of cutting edge ideas by emerging composers. And even if it is not “weaponized art” subverting your mind to western ideology you can be assured that it is genuine and uplifting work done by some wonderful performers of composers you will likely hear from again very soon.
— Allan Cronin, New Music Buff, 11.16.2017
The title Passage doesn't communicate much, but the notes to this American release of international new compositions are more forthcoming. The piano trio Longleash explores works for traditional instruments whose potentialities are imagined in new ways. Intriguingly, this does not indicate extended technique, but rather that, in the words of annotator Nils Vigeland, "Instruments as sound producers rather than as bearers of melody and harmony inspire new forms as well." The works, from Italy, the U.S., Mexico, and Japan, are atonal, but their organization in terms of instrumental sonority and register is generally clear. You might not catch the "fractal systems of chaotic behavior" in Juan de Dios Magdaleno's Strange Attractors, but sample the work and enjoy the way it tries to "sustain resonance until it reaches a crisis." In Yukiko Watanabe's ver_flies_sen, the piano plays mostly single notes, and in Francesco Filidei's deceptively simple Corde Vuote, it is withheld for much of the piece. Christopher Trapani's Passing Through, Staying Put deploys the instruments in service of just those two states. "Is it possible that the term 'common practice,' used to describe western music's wildly differentiated four-hundred-year use of the tonal system, could now be used to describe an instrumental usage available to composers of very different expression?" It's an ambitious aim, but one interestingly realized here.
— James Mannheim, All Music, 11.2017
The trio Longleash is a formidable one. They step forward dramatically with Passage (New Focus Recordings 180), a program of very modernistic piano trio works by five composers, all younger than I am. All were born between 1973 and 1984, so they are relatively young. The music has a pronounced high modern panache, and a special attention to "register, tone production, texture" as the liners put it, in other words sound color and extended techniques when appropriate. The music is thoroughly episodic with irregular and punctuated entrances and exits in the idiom of the avant guard chamber outlook. It is music of extended tonality and expanded gravitation trajectory, not, in other words, tonal in any conventional sense, but not necessarily purely atonal, either, for the most part.
The trio instrumentalists are put through their paces and handle the complexities with assurance and exceptional musicianship, so that the core of the music comes through with a speech-like naturalness, with phrasings that work together for a cohesive horizontal and vertical logic that is clear and directionally artful.
Longleash is named after the CIA Cold War program known as Operation Long Leash, which was dedicated to disseminating US avant garde works throughout Europe. Of course the name illustrates the ambiguity of the functional presence of the avant movement in modern society. The trio is comprised of Pala Garcia on violin, John Popham on cello and Renate Rohlfing on piano. They according to the liners are "inspired by music with an unusual sonic beauty, an inventive streak, and a truthful cultural voice."
That is surely true of the works on this album and Longleash rises to the occasion with superbly musical interpretations. None of the composers are exactly household names, but each provides music that together forms a cohesive whole as to general approach while each showing true inventive individuality.
So there is real substance and serious aural remapping of the trio terrain with the program at hand. It begins with Christopher Trapani's "Passing Through, Staying Put," and from there we hear Clara Iannotta's "Il colore dell'ombra," Yukiko Watanabe's "ver_flies_sen," Juan de Dios Magdaleno's "Strange Attractors," and finally Francesco Filidei's "Corde Vuote." We may seemingly be a great distance from Haydn's Piano Trios and indeed we are. Yet the idea of such a configuration as a viable constant remains.
The color capabilities of each instrument as well as the ensemble as a whole is primary to this lively and very musically progressive collection of trio works. Longleash brings us exemplary performances one could hardly imagine being bettered and in the process allows us to hear just how exciting and ear-opening modern chamber music can be.
Passage is indeed an avenue, a path, an opening into the latest New Music for Piano Trio and though perhaps not destined for mass consumption, even if it should be, is a real triumph for both Longleash and the composers involved. I recommend it highly.
— Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, 11.17.2017
Longleash masterfully subvert one of classical music’s most treasured instrumental contexts—the piano/violin/cello trio—with a dazzling assortment of pieces collected from composers working around the globe on Passage, an album both bracing and tender. This instrumental setup was popular in the 19th century with composers like Schubert, Mendelssohn, and, especially Haydn (who wrote 45 works for such trios). Here, violinist Pala Garcia, cellist John Popham, and pianist Renate Rohlfing boldly reinvent the sound for the 21st century.
American composer Christopher Trapani treads lightest here with his gossamer-fine “Passing Through, Staying Put,” a two-part marvel where strings slide and burst around the piano figures in the first section, making way for the cello to take command in the second with a series of probing, percussive machinations. Italian composer Clara Iannotta manipulates the instruments to generate a wildly divergent palette by slackening the strings of the strings and damping the strings inside of the piano on her “Il colore dell’ombra,” a wonderfully visceral three-movement chamber work of harrowing physicality, tactility, and abrasion. The arrangements provide a gritty rebuke to the trio’s conventional ethos.
Japanese composer Yukiko Watanabe doesn’t employ such instrumental manipulations on her stunning “ver_flies_sen,” but she’s no less unconventional than Iannotta. Her work was inspired by an oil painting by Adriana Varejão called “O Húngaro” that depicts a pool framed by blue-and-white ceramic tiles. The music feels like a keen study of the irregularity of aquatic motion, with ever-shifting patterns, some of which feel similar to one another, but never identical, with timbres that are equally unstable. There’s a different set of extremes within Mexican composer Juan de Dios Magdaleno’s “Strange Attractors,” where swoops, slurries, and shards of sound seem to float through the ether, recombining in startling mixtures of pregnant resonance. On “Corde Vuote,” by Italian composer Francesco Filidei, the score pushes inexorably forward as Garcia and Popham play a delicious series of strokes across their instruments, letting overtones decay, smash into sudden piano explosions, or drift quietly.
Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Daily: Best of Contemporary Classical, 11.2017
What’s a 21st-century composer to make of the classical piano trio? That seems to be the conceit (at least from reading Nils Vigeland’s introductory note) to the piano trio Longleash’s debut album, Passage. Suffice it to say, you won’t be mistaking any of the trios on this New Focus Recordings disc for the ones by Mendelssohn or Brahms.
Christopher Trapani’s Passing Through, Staying Put evokes physical sensations related to momentum through the use of expressive devices (fast crescendos and decrescendos) as well as technical ones (glissandi, percussive articulations, etc.). It’s creatively done and, in its brevity (only about six minutes long), packs in quite a bit.
In a similar vein, Clara Iannotta’s Il colore dell’ombra draws out the physical qualities of the instruments of the ensemble – the raspy metal of strings that are bowed, plucked, and struck; the grit of horsehair on a bow; the wooden frame of the violin and cello. The concept might be abstract, but Iannotta’s writing offers lots of personality: haunting sonorities in Il colore’s first movement, riotous energy in its second, and ethereal textures in the finale. It’s a piece that always keeps you guessing – but it fully engages the mind and emotions at the same time. No small feat, that.
Likewise sonically inventive but less expressively successful are Yukiko Watanabe’s ver_flies_sen and Juan de Dios Magdalena’s Strange Attractors. Both offer striking gestures: the latter’s study of harmonics draws a particularly fresh array of sounds out of the piano, while the former offers a remarkable exploration of acoustic space. But neither, to these ears at least, really exceeds the sum of its parts, both coming across as too bound to their respective concepts by half. Ditto for Francesco Filidei’s Corde Vuota, a study of resonance that, again, provides ear-catching textures (especially via breathy, string harmonics) but, expressively, says little.
That said, Longleash – made up of violinist Pala Garcia, cellist John Popham, and pianist Renate Rohlfing – performs each score here with visceral intensity and a rich array of tonal colors. It’s tough music, by any measure, but one can hardly imagine stronger performances.
— Jonathan Blumhofer, ArtsFuse, 12/18/2017
Violinist Pala Garcia and pianist Renate Rohlfing met Popham during their studies in New York at Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School. They gave their first concert as Longleash in 2013. The name comes from a covert CIA program that was used to advance contemporary American music in Europe during the Cold War. The trio released Passage, their debut CD, in Fall 2017. As on Soft Aberration, Longleash plays vivaciously, expressively, and with keen virtuosity that extends to a host of extended techniques.
Christopher Trapini’s Passing Through, Staying Put is, according to the composer, “a study in contrasts between motion and stasis.” String chords slide from harmony to harmony, sharp melodic stabs and pizzicatos are offset by angular keyboard verticals. The material morphs from more active to reposeful demeanors in an effective series of contrasts. Il dolore dell’ombra, by Clara Iannotta, is written in homage to Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor. One can hear scraps of material that reference Ravel’s language in whisps and fragments but, as is the intent, it is nearly engulfed by the strong presence of Iannotta’s interest in resonances from both pitch and noise-based spectra. Once again, cascading string glissandos, some bleating like birdsong, wreath a more propulsive piano part that explores the bass register of the piano in contrast to the prevailing altissimo range inhabited by the strings. The second movement finds the piano bifurcated between extreme treble and bass registers, while the strings enact screeching slides. This is interrupted by a more inward-directed interlude, with sustained harmonics and pianissimo chordal interjections from the piano. Impressionist harmonies burble to the surface; Ravel’s trio asserts itself while the 21st century techniques momentarily seem in retreat. The third movement returns to a more energetic, almost dance-like demeanor. Once again harmonics and inside-the-piano work reign supreme.
Yukiko Watanabe’s ver_flies_sen is inspired by the water imagery in the art of Brazilian painter Adriana Varejã. A diaphanous-textured miniature, its use of glissandos and harmonics reflects a similar palette to the one in Trapini’s piece; but here it is deployed with extreme delicacy and gradual pacing. Juan de Dios Magdaleno’s Strange Attractors, intricately constructed using fractal mathematics, has a less straightforward trajectory than the other works on the CD, but it is no less compelling. Indeed, its labyrinthine structure shows an imaginative composer at work. The disc closes with Corde vuolte by Francesco Filidei: a horse of another color, it is a paean to open string sonorities.
Passage demonstrates that even in the midst of the advanced techniques now again in vogue in the early 21st century, there are a plethora of manners of deployment of these materials. The performers are top notch advocates for composers at the vanguard of the second modern movement. One can envision a bright future for both Longleash and the composers they champion.
— Christian Carey, christiancarey.com/Sequenza21, 1.6.18
With their debut album Passage (New Focus Recordings, 2017), the members of the string trio Longleash have cemented their reputation as a traditional ensemble with a contemporary voice. By focusing on recent repertoire, Pala Garcia (violin), John Popham (cello), and Renate Rohlfing (piano), are out to change the string trio’s musical world.
The five pieces that Longleash presents on Passage use no prepared piano or computer software. This acoustic-only setup provides an excellent context for the otherwise-limitless nature of the works they present. Each of the five featured composers focuses on exploring a different facet of music in their contributions, and each asks fundamental questions of the ensemble: “When does a tone begin?” “What is music and not noise?” “What kinds of sounds are possible, and how can they be made?” Questions like these define any repertoire that breaks with tradition.
The two movements of Christopher Trapani‘s Passing Through, Staying Put reflect the composer’s interests in Turkish music and in motion and stasis as musical devices. Both movements eschew any kind of steady pulse, but focus on the interplay between the voices. “Passing Through” has much more motion, which it achieves through string glissandi that pass between the violin and the cello. The piano plays mostly accompaniment, though occasionally comes to the front. The speed of the short glissandi followed by fast pizzicato passages creates tension that propels the music forward. Trapani’s experience with Turkish and Ottoman music (he studied in Istanbul on Fulbright scholarship) becomes even more obvious in “Staying Put.” Some of the string passages are written to imitate Middle Eastern plucked string instruments. Because this movement explores musical stasis, the composer uses repeated tones to create tension without musical motion. The glissandi in “Staying Put” are much longer and have more staggered entrances, creating more exposed textures. The repeated tones (or intervals, in the case of the piano) function like drones while minimizing some of the natural decay in the sound.
Clara Iannotta‘s compositions focus on the “choreography of sound,” evident in her four-movement trio Il colore dell’ombra. While none of the individual movements keep one steady pulse throughout, Iannotta’s writing relies on rhythmic drive in individual sections more than any of Longleash’s selections. This provides a much-needed contrast to the previous music. Her trio features the strings more than the piano, which plays open intervals spread across several registers. The third movement “Onirico” is the only slow movement, and by far the most evocative. It explores many of the same tone possibilities as Trapani’s “Staying Put” and later Filidei’s Corde Vuote. The short fourth movement brings the sounds and rhythms Iannotta has explored in the first three movements together into an electric finale that is over almost as soon as it begins. My only personal disappointment in the entire album was that the final movement wasn’t longer. Iannotta proves with it that she can write concise, direct music that is perfectly balanced and cohesive, and as with an incredible dessert, I wanted more.
Yukiko Watanabe has chosen the largest musical canvas of the five composers on the album. At over seventeen minutes, ver_flies_sen is an Ansel Adams-scale panorama of the experimental dialect she has created for this ensemble. Over the course of the piece, she performs a comprehensive sound and texture study, favoring harmonics and their breathy, ethereal quality. Watanabe relies on the dialogue between exposed solo lines and combined sounds to create the different textures. Her writing alternates between long sustained tones (without traditional vibrato) followed by sudden bursts of technical punctuation.
Strange Attractors by Juan de Dios Magdaleno is the most percussive selection, using low and repeated tones to imitate the sounds of percussion instruments. Of Passage’s five compositions, Strange Attractors also has the most acoustic space in it. The three voices are often written in registers far removed from each other, and there is more solo writing in the piece than there is combined instrumental texture. This can make it feel very angular, particularly during abrupt changes. Magdaleno’s conception of space in music and the scale of the space that he creates reveals architecture as a major musical influence.
The final composition on the album is Francesco Filidei‘s Corde Vuote, and is the most conventionally tonal (relatively speaking). Filidei’s compositional interests lie in the distinction between music and noise. In his own descriptions of his work, he has described it as “music which has lost its sound element.” Corde Vuote is made up of musical sounds (i.e., an instrument is creating sounds intentionally), but there is little connecting those sounds into larger ideas.
As a debut album, Passage is both ambitious and sincere. An ensemble like Longleash could easily spend its career playing only its standard classical repertoire: Haydn, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Brahms, and Schumann, perhaps adding Ives as a token eccentric, but Longleash shows no intention of doing so. The trio’s members have proven that they have a very different vision for their ensemble, and I look forward to hearing their next project.
— Kathleen McGowan, 3.14.2018, I Care if you Listen
Despite public and governmental hostility toward the avant-garde in the McCarthy era, the American Central Intelligence Agency was willing to try anything in its propaganda war with the Soviet Union. This included sponsoring the Congress for Cultural Freedom to use American literature, painting, poetry and music to demon- strate the USA’s creative, intellectual and cultural superiority, and to subvert the rigid Soviet sys- tem’s censorship and control. The CIA saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and acted as covert patron to painters such as Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko and others, many of whom were ex-communists. For security reasons, and to preserve the integrity of the programme, there had to be enough distance between the agency and the artists, who had little respect for the government, and no knowledge of their role in Operation Long Leash. In its heyday, the Congress for Cultural Freedom ran two dozen magazines, had offices in 35 countries, and funded touring exhibitions of American painting that visited every large European City.
Jump ahead more than 60 years, and the ideological wrangling persists, albeit using different tools and provocations. In 2015, American investment in the National Endowment for the Arts budget was $146 million, while the 2017 annual cost of security for the current President is budgeted at $120 million. Today’s CIA, with a 2013 fiscal budget of $14.7 billion, uses the Barney and Friends theme, the Meow Mix commercial and Metallica in its ‘psychological operations’, while classical music is functionally relegated to dispersing loitering teens outside 7–11s. The American string trio, Longleash, however, took the recently declassified fab name from the CIA’s project, cast away the agency’s aspersions, and embarked on the more noble venture of fostering new music for violin, cello and piano.
All of the pieces on the Passage recording exhibit traits of the title, in the transit from one condition or process to another, in dislocated segments, via the wandering lapse of time, or more generally in the ongoing redefinition of the string trio. Passing Through is Christopher Trapani’s peripatetic beeline through a long path of chords guided by computer-assisted voice-leading procedures. While the piano performs its tetrachordal manoeuvres on a bristling rhythmic surface, the strings exchange dynamic sliding and bolting pat- terns overtop. By contrast, the related second section, Staying Put, is a more focused exercise in ensemble virtuosity. While more stable harmonically, it is equally accomplished in its compositional technique. Juan de Dios Magdaleno’s Strange Attractor articulates its fractally generated characters using extremes of register in the piano part, with the strings frequently pulling resonances from its harmonic vocabulary. With its strident, scattered, yet related piano gestures, the piece is somehow simultaneously inevitable and chaotic in its fragmentary behaviours. All things considered, more than a handful of other pieces share the same title and fractal apparatus as Magdaleno’s, and it’s not apparent what unique contribution this adds to the batch.
ver_flies_sen, by Yukiko Watanabe, features exquisitely orchestrated plays of timbre blurring into one another. The piece projects both segmentation and liquidity, with sonic distortions akin to the visual morphing of tiles in a pool as seen through the rippling water in Adriana Varejão’s O Hungaro, the painting that inspired the piece. Longleash’s interpretation subtly navigates the balance between the feel of Varejão’s painting, and the passing, elapsing, and fracturing reflected in Watanabe’s German title. Francesco Filidei’s Corde Vuote (Open Strings) differs from the other pieces on the recording in its concentration on the violin and cello (the piano enters for the first time halfway through the piece), and its more constrained approach to materials and development. The placid flow of the work, along with the ringing sustains of the open strings and harmonics, appears to animate and anthropomorphize the strings into a set of gently respirating lungs. Notwithstanding its consistency, the piece also contains several deftly handled harmonic twists, particularly two-thirds of the way through, prior to its gradual, semi-retrograde exhalation.
Where the strength of Filidei’s piece rests in his effortless and restrained application of open string spectra, in Il colore dell’ombra, Clara Iannotta delves further into spectrality via colour theory. Iannotta’s powerful work can partially be heard through the filter of French impressionist painters, who adopted Eugène Chevreul’s research into separating effects of light, and chiaroscuro. From Chevreul, Renoir gleaned that ‘No shadow is black. It always has a colour. Nature knows only colours’. Subsequently, shadow colour was no longer considered primary tone plus darkness, but a fine composite of pigments and their oppo- sites. Similarly, Monet’s 20 paintings of the Rouen Cathedral (1892–94) investigate the fleeting, changing light, colour and shadow on the structure at different times of day, different times of year, and in different weather conditions. Music, on the other hand, has the advantage of uninterrupted mobility through time, which is fundamental to Il colore dell’ombra’s achievement. In the first section, ‘Passage com un velo’, the loosened strings offer a dark, guttural quality to the transitory tone colourings of the cello, supported by the radiant cyclic rumbling of low piano harmonics. ‘D’un fiato’ (in one breath) continues the muscular deployment of extreme registers from the first movement, receding to calm, whistling harmonics in the strings. The brief final movement shimmies along like shifting colour filters, crossing, accumulating, and separating back in a mysterious continuity that quickly accelerates to its conclusion.
Overlooking the awkward, under-edited liner notes, Passage is an inspired debut album, on which Longleash is tethered to tight playing and bound together in lucid interpretations of the music.
Paul Steenhuisen, Tempo, 2018