Suzanne Farrin's Corpo di Terra is a collection of "songs without words" that composer Suzanne Farrin has created based on sonnets by the Italian poet, Petrarch. These solos and duos explore a fragile, intimate world of sound and expression on their respective instruments.
|01||Polvere et Ombra|
Polvere et Ombra
|Nuiko Wadden, harp||4:59|
|02||Corpo di Terra|
Corpo di Terra
|Julia Lichten, cello||12:59|
|03||Uscirmi di Braccia|
Uscirmi di Braccia
|Antoine Tamestit, viola, Markus Hadulla, piano||9:55|
|04||Ma Dentro Dove|
Ma Dentro Dove
|Joshua Rubin, clarinet||8:32|
|05||Time is a Cage|
Time is a Cage
|Calvin Wiersma, violin||5:15|
Corpo di Terra is a collection of "songs without words" that composer Suzanne Farrin has created based on sonnets by the Italian poet, Petrarch. This recording, Farrin's first full length release, treats individual instruments as the canvas on which the composer can word paint subtle shadings of color and structure found in the original words. The results are meditative in gestalt but within this introverted frame, there is a wide dramatic range as the instruments struggle to express ideas beyond their abstract limitations.
The recording features performances by several specialists in the field of contemporary music performance, including clarinetist Joshua Rubin and harpist Nuiko Wadden, both of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), veteran New York new music freelancers violinist Cal Wiersma and cellist Julia Lichten, as well as the Munich-competition-winning violist Antoine Tamestit (France) with pianist Markus Hadulla (Germany).
Suzanne Farrin's works have been performed in the US, Europe, and South America, at such venues as Carnegie's Weill Hall, Symphony Space, The Kennedy Center, the Walker Center, the Mostly Mozart Festival, the Sonic Festival, Alpenklassik (Germany), Theaterforum (Germany), and Festival Nuevo Mundo (Maracaibo). She has collaborated with such ensembles as the Arditti Quartet, So Percussion, the American Composer's Orchestra and ICE. Farrin is an Associate Professor of Composition SUNY Purchase.
“Like field recordings from inside the cerebral cortex” (Timeout Chicago)
Suzanne Farrin’s music explores the interior worlds of instruments and the visceral potentialities of sound. Her music has been performed by some of the great musicians of today on stages across Europe and North and South America.
Tim Page, the former classical music critic of the Washington Post wrote: “If you can imagine the dense, perfumed chords of Messiaen’s piano music combined with the clangorous, insistent, near-pictorial tone-clusters of Frederic Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, you will have some idea of what Farrin’s work sounds like. Yet it transcends its derivations to leave the distinct impression of its own.”
She has been featured at venues and festivals such as Mostly Mozart, Matrix, Alpenklassik, Music in Würzburg, BAM NextWave, Theaterforum (Germany), Town Hall Seattle, Carnegie’s Weill Hall, Symphony Space, the Walker Art Center, SALT (Victoria, BC), Festival Nuevo Mundo (Venezuela) and New York’s The Stone, Spectrum, Joe’s Pub, among many others. She has been supported by organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Meet The Composer, the Wachovia Foundation, Concert Artists Guild and New Music USA. Some of the musicians and ensembles who have interpreted her work include the American Composers Orchestra, The League of Composers Orchestra, ICE, the Arditti Quartet, the Spektral Quartet, So Percussion, Antoine Tamestit, Joshua Rubin, Nuiko Wadden and Ben Melsky. She has been a guest at the MATRIX Festival at the SWR in Freiburg, Germany (2013) and the Harvard Summer Composition Institute (2012, 2014). In addition to composing, she is a regular host on Q2, the New York City-based new music radio station.
Upcoming commissions for 2014-15 include new works for countertenor and ensemble for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) with Anthony Roth Costanzo and a work for cello and accordion for The Philharmonic Society of Bremen.
Suzanne Farrin is Associate Professor and Chair of Composition at the State University of New York (SUNY) Purchase. She holds a doctorate in composition from Yale University. "Corpo di Terra," released on New Focus Recordings, is devoted entirely to her music, which may also be heard on the VAI, Signum Classics, Tundra and Albany Records labels.
Each selection on Corpo di Terra seeks to be a “song without words,” which may be why composer Suzanne Farrin’s music feels so familiar. Structured around texts of the Italian poet Petrarch, with the exception of “Time Is a Cage,” these solos and duets play like field recordings from inside the cerebral cortex.
“Polvere et Ombra” uncorks the record with fleet glissandi from harp virtuoso Nuiko Wadden, giving the impression of words being shaken loose from an ancient encyclopedia. The title track, which follows, is most representative of the seductive harmonic language put to use by Farrin. Irascible scratches and dissonances diffuse into the solace of consonant, fluttering harmonics, like the first calm inhalation after a scream.
Corpo di Terra’s sterling musicianship comes to a head with Antoine Tamestit (viola) on “Uscirmi di Braccia” and Joshua Rubin (clarinet) for “Ma Dentro Dove.” Tamestit trounces the tetrachords scrubbing across the strings, while Rubin redirects his instrument into an unplayed piano, the strings of which resonate sympathetically in response. “Time Is a Cage” pulls the listener out of a linear reality with violin soloist Cal Wiersma bending pitches, and the brain.
- Doyle Armbrust, January 2013
The first release exclusively devoted to the music of Suzanne Farrin can be described as a quasi-autobiographical sonic self-portrait refracted through the sonnets of Petrarch. According to the composer’s programme notes, the poems are “projected through the lens of individual instruments,” and set as “songs without words.” Petrarch “became the source of everything… my muse,” unlocking a “dramatic impulse,” as Farrin says in a video interview for the Columbia Italian Academy, where the project was premiered. The series of short to medium-length works on the album combines into a collection of instrumental solos and one duo, recorded by an all-start cast of capable soloists. All but the last piece make direct references to Petrarch’s sonnets by quoting excerpts in their titles.
“Polvere et Ombra” (Dust and Shadows) is a sparkling improvisatory etude of colorful arpeggios, spiky chords and contrasting shadowy whispers, played with brilliance by harpist Nuiko Wadden.
“Corpo di Terra” (Flesh of the Earth) emerges from nothing and crescendos to screaming
distortion like a burning express train, circling around central pitches in a series of broad gestures alternating with contemplative harmonics and silences. The language here is highly evocative and visceral. Cellist Julia Lichten creates a compelling atmosphere that draws the listener into each utterance, encouraging exploration of the inner life of sound as it disintegrates into silence.
“Uscrimi de Braccia” (Leave my Arms) features violist Antoine Tamestit and pianist Markus Hadulla in a bitter melodic lament. We can almost feel the declamation of poetic stanzas, punctuated by intakes of breath. The development in this work is less rhythmically varied, looping around the repeated tremolando gesture in both instruments. The potential of the piano remains somewhat under-explored, allocating a mostly accompanying role to the second musician. However, the very end of the piece presents an unexpected surprise – a dark and aggressive incantation of Mathäus von Collin’s text set by Schubert in Nacht und Träume.
“Ma Dentro Dove” (But Inside Where) has clarinettist Josh Rubin play with resonance and aural illusions in a thoughtful monologue. The clarinet is augmented and shadowed by a cloak of sound from a resonating piano, which is fed the sound of the clarinet through loudspeakers while the dampers are permanently released. Different timbres and registers activate an array of resonances with striking and inventive results. Rubin showcases the full range of possibilities of his instrument, culminating in a breathless bird-like cadenza.
The concluding “Time is a Cage” is a meditative and gradual exploration of gestures and timbres. We recognise stylistic similarities here with string writing from the other pieces on the album: tremolandi, timbral gradations, double stops of melodic fragments with held pedal notes, and extended harmonics. Violinist Calvin Wiersma is particularly effective with the dynamic contrasts and softer shades demanded in this work.
Are these settings songs of unrequited love and the frailty of life and matter? If so, instead of fatalistic pessimism, we are left with a sense of warmth and optimism glowing at the core of each work, something that endures. Farrin shows compelling virtuosity in her writing for soloists, creating intimate, fragile and exposed situations. One feels that hardly anything is superfluous here, with every utterance finely chiselled. Farrin states that composing is an “unmasking” process for her, “taking away until a more essential place is revealed.” The resulting works are indeed stripped of unnecessary layers until we are left with distilled essence of a personal truth – a rare skill for an artist. One can only hope that Farrin continues to explore and expand her palette, venturing into writing for more varied instrumental forces and projecting her language onto a larger canvas.
- Xenia Pestova