Nameless: Works by Matthew GreenbaumCygnus Ensemble/Momenta String Quartet/Miranda Cuckson

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<FURIOUS ARTISANS RELEASE> Furious Artisans is pleased to release the first album recording of works devoted to composer Matthew Greenbaum, featuring an all-star cast of performers including 4 renown sopranos (Ben-Ze’ev, Farnum, Bishop, Herried), the Momenta String Quartet, Cygnus Ensemble, and violinist Miranda Cuckson.

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Matthew Greenbaum is the only composer in New York to be a mentee of both Stefan Wolpe and Mario Davidovsky. Wolpe was one of the many great minds who were forced to our shores by historical circumstances, and arriving here, found that there was interest in what they had to offer. Stravinsky, Hindemith, Krenek, Schoenberg, as well as Stefan Wolpe all tried to put down roots in the Western Hemisphere, with varied success. Or, perhaps it’s more fair to say that their influence is paying off very slowly over a long period of time. We see their various musical languages becoming current in surprising places, and in my optimistic view, this will continue. Wolpe was the center of the universe for a small but extraordinary group of composers and musicians in New York City that included Josef Marx (oboist and publisher), pianist Zaidee Parkinson, composers Austin Clarkson, Charles Wuorinen, Milton Babbitt, Ursula Mamlok, and Morton Feldman. He also taught a number of prominent progressive jazz musicians, and found his first American audience in the Abstract Expressionist painters.

From Wolpe, Greenbaum inherited the idea of the limited pitch field, Wolpe’s term for a process of attrition where subsets of the chromatic collection gradually add and lose pitches (thus the nine-note group in Nameless.) Wolpe’s technique of “cubist polyphony” (Greenbaum’s term) also left an indelible mark. It describes a process where motivic units are fractured into their component parts and projected into musical space, so that the same event becomes perceivable from different soundpoints. Greenbaum’s work is thus linked to the Austro-German musical tradition through Wolpe, who himself was a student of Anton Webern. Greenbaum also has a strong affinity with Wolpe’s utopian socialism.

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Davidovsky’s influence can be felt in the acknowledgement of timbre as a constructive element, in the treatment of instrumental complexes as ‘mega’-instruments, and in the super-liminal speed of certain passages—as in Venerable Canons.
It was Davidovsky who introduced Greenbaum to Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed. Davidovsky’s Biblical work for voices and instruments, “Scenes from Shir hashirim” (The Song of Songs) was deeply influential in the conception of Nameless.
Greenbaum’s Wild Rose, Lily, Dry Vanilla sets a revealing bit of Emerson’s nature poetry. The poem is fragmentary, lacking a title, and it exists in various forms.

Wild Rose, Lily, Dry Vanilla was written for the Cygnus Ensemble’s Emerson bicentennial celebration, which took place in 2004 at the NY Society for Ethical Culture. Poet John Hollander, the host of the event, explained that Emerson’s musical ideal was the Aeolian harp, which responds to the whims of the winds and is quite untainted by human sentiment.
Greenbaum took this idea further. In Wild Rose, Lily, Dry Vanilla the wind is the bluster of nature in action, opposed by moments of calm where we may perceive and read what the winds have written. Nature in action puts our point of view in a state of flux, actively forming a point of view, forming a stance, but only when the action yields to a moment of calm ….

For the complete liner notes, please purchase the album or contact us.

Produced by Matthew Greenbaum
Executive Producers: William Anderson, Marc Wolf
Engineer: Jeremy Tressler

Tracks 1-6 recorded at Dreamflower Studio, Bronxville, NY dreamflower.us
Track 7 recorded at Advent Lutheran Church, Manhattan, NY

All works published by American Composers Alliance (composers.com)

Design & Typography: Marc Wolf
Polygon backgrounds courtesy Justin at altitudedesigns.ca
Photo of Matthew Greenbaum: Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène.

This recording made possible in part with generous funding from:
The Boyer College of Music and Dance, Temple University
The Roger Shapiro Fund
The Mary Flagler Cary Trust
The Academy of Arts and Letters

Thanks to West Center Church (Bronxville, NY)

Cygnus Ensemble

With its pairs of plucked strings, bowed strings and woodwinds, Cygnus has a precedent in the Elizabethan “broken consort”.

The members--Tara Helen O'Connor, flute; Robert Ingliss, oboe;  William Anderson and Oren Fader, classical and electric guitars/mandolin/banjo;  Calvin Wiersma, violin; Susannah Chapman, violoncello--are all virtuoso players with a great wealth of experience with some of our most cherished musical institutions, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Opera Chamber Players.

Cygnus has given a concert series in New York City since 1994.  Concert tours include Russia, Holland, Denmark, Poland, Mexico, and the U.S. Recent honors include a Pulitzer Prize finalist (“Brion,” by Harold Meltzer, written for Cygnus), and a commissioning award from Chamber Music America (Akemi Naito’s “Mindscape; Four Poetic Images”.  Cygnus has had two works featured on Art of the States, presently, Wuorinen's Sonata for Guitar and Piano.

Momenta String Quartet

Praised by the Washington Post for “an extraordinary musical experience” and by the New York Times for its “diligence, curiosity and excellence,” the Momenta Quartet is celebrated for its innovative programming, juxtaposing contemporary works from widely divergent aesthetics with great music from the past. Momenta has premiered over 80 works and collaborated with over 100 living composers while maintaining a deep commitment to the classical canon. In the words of The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, “few American players assume Haydn’s idiom with such ease.”

In recent seasons, Momenta has appeared at such prestigious venues as the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery, the Rubin Museum, Miller Theatre at Columbia University, Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, Bargemusic, Le Poisson Rouge, the Stone, and Roulette. In addition to its long-standing affiliation with Temple University, Momenta has performed and lectured at Cornell, Columbia, and Yeshiva Universities; Williams, Swarthmore, Haverford, Bard-Simon’s Rock, and Bates Colleges; the Mannes and Eastman Schools of Music and Boston Conservatory. Festivals include Music at Gretna, Cooperstown, Cincinnati College-Conservatory’s Accent12 Festival, and artist residencies at Yellow Barn and the Avaloch Farm Music Institute. The quartet has performed in Hawaii, England, Singapore, and Indonesia, and has received grants from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, New Music USA, the Aaron Copland Fund, Brooklyn Arts Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Momenta has recorded for Centaur Records, Furious Artisans, MRS Classics, PARMA, New World Records, and Albany Records; and has been broadcast on WQXR, Q2 Music, WWFM, Music for Internets, Austria’s Oe1, and Vermont Public Radio. The quartet’s debut album, MOMENTA, will be released on Albany Records in 2015.

Matthew Greenbaum

Matthew Greenbaum was born in New York City in 1950. He studied composition with Stefan Wolpe and Mario Davidovsky and holds a Ph.D. from the CUNY Graduate Center.

Greenbaum’s awards, fellowships and commissions include the Serge Koussevitzky Music Fund/Library of Congress, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Meet the Composer, the Fromm Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund and the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Penn Council on the Arts.
Performances of his works include the Japan Society of Sonic Arts (Tokyo), the BEAMS Festival (Brandeis University), the Darmstadt Summer Festival, the Leningrad Spring Festival, the Jakart Festival (Indonesia), Hallische Musiktage, Ensemble SurPlus (Freiburg), Nuova Consonanza (Rome), Ensemble 21 (Odense), the Da Capo Chamber Players, Cygnus, Parnassus, Fred Sherry, Marc-André Hamelin, David Holzman, Stephanie Griffin, the Momenta Quartet, Network for New Music, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Group for Contemporary Music, Orchestra 2001, Christopher Taylor and the Riverside Symphony, and the Houston Symphony.
His works are published by Tunbridge Music and the American Composers Alliance. Recordings are available from Antes and CRI. All-Greenbaum recordings are available on the Centaur and Furious Artisans labels.

Greenbaum is also a video animation artist. Works in this medium include ROPE AND CHASM for mezzo and video animation, an hour-long setting of excerpts from Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra; EFFACEMENT (2014) for piano and video animation, and BITS AND PIECES, for tenor sax and video animation. Performances of these works have taken place in Tokyo under the aegis of the Japan Society for Sonic Arts, Network for New Music (Philadelphia), the BEAMS Festival (Brandeis U) and the Center for Contemporary Opera (NYC).

Dr. Greenbaum is a professor of composition at Temple University.
 


Reviews

Fanfare

Matthew Greenbaum (b.1950) is committed to a language less in favor today: intense, highly chromatic, packed with detail, brimming with ideas. But this is not the setup for the sort of facile dismissal that usually follows such a description. One of the fringe benefits of the stylistic tidal shift that has occurred over the past couple of decades is that those composers who have kept the faith with the postwar Modernist language really do have the faith: They refuse to bow to fashion, they’re in it from genuine commitment … and Greenbaum is one of them.

Guitarist (and Cygnus Ensemble director) William Anderson’s notes point out that Greenbaum is the sole living student of both Stefan Wolpe and Mario Davidovsky. Influence of both is audible in Greenbaum’s music, but the former is far more significant. Wolpe remains one of the most important yet undersung composers of the concert music tradition in the second half of the 20th century. His music is strict, fiercely uncompromising, and sonically gripping. He developed a technique tangentially related to “classic” serialism, but far more flexible: As a result one hears motivic shapes and harmonic forces of cohesion and dissolution far more evidently than in comparable music.

Greenbaum’s work shares elements not only with Wolpe but Webern (strict forms such as canon) and late Stravinsky (a highly idiomatic, concise, sectional approach to a piece’s structure, along with a brilliant, shimmering, and transparent sound). This collection has two instrumental and two vocal works, and one is a magnum opus.

Both instrumental works are for small forces but pack a lot of information. Venerable Canons (2007) are four quicksilver movements for flute and violin, in which one can clearly hear the canonic structure. It’s a tribute to Greenbaum’s imaginative manipulation of material and context that they feel so different to one another. Chaconne By Attrition (2006) for solo violin uses a similarly strict form, and once again one hears over its 10 minutes a constant flow of imaginative variation. And somehow, amongst the prolix information, one senses the common ground from which it all emerges and returns.

Read the full review

American Record Guide

Matthew Greenbaum’s melodies bounce back and forth between instruments, creating a web of counterpoint that can act as a kind of aural illusion. His four Venerable Canons for flute and violin sound as though they could be for four different instruments. Pizzicatos and bowed strokes alternate with long and short notes on the flute, trading back and forth seamlessly. Of course, as the title indicates, these pieces are canons, so there is an added echo effect in addition to the articulation and gestures of his phrasing. The term klangfarbenmelodie, most often applied to some music of Schoenberg and Webern, isn’t far off here. Greenbaum’s style is much more consonant, though, and certainly more playful. Even in his piece for solo violin, Chaconne by Attrition, there are constant leaps and fragmented phrases that have a similar effect. The title piece on the record, Nameless, is for considerably larger forces—three sopranos and two chamber groups. It is also much longer than the other works—nearly half an hour. Greenbaum’s approach works well over a longer form and with added voices. There is no text, but that does not keep it from feeling deeply expressive. Indeed, it was written after an inscription in The Guide to the Perplexed of Moses Maimonides (1120–90), a work of Jewish philosophy: “Whatever is Deity can’t be described; what can be described is not Deity.” Greenbaum’s wordless psalm is a powerful evocation of this sentiment. © 2015 American Record Guide - George Adams, July 2015

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