The intrepid American Wild Ensemble was formed around a project to perform new works in national parks in the US, and has continued to create exciting events outdoors in unconventional spaces, from caves to mountaintops. Their recording, Duos and Trios, features four works for combinations of cello, clarinet, and flute by Aaron Travers, David Liptak, Margaret Brouwer, and David Clay Mettens that reflect the ensembles penchant for deriving inspiration from the natural world.
|Emlyn Johnson, flute, Daniel Ketter, cello||9:13|
Avaloch SketchesDavid Clay Mettens
|Emlyn Johnson, flute, Daniel Ketter, cello|
|05||IV. Playful, quirky|
IV. Playful, quirky
Two NocturnesDavid Liptak
|Emlyn Johnson, flute, Daniel Ketter, cello, Ellen Breakfield-Glick, clarinet|
|06||I. Stone and Leaf|
I. Stone and Leaf
|07||II. Under Starry Skies|
II. Under Starry Skies
|08||Fear, Hiding, Play|
Fear, Hiding, Play
|Emlyn Johnson, flute, Ellen Breakfield-Glick, clarinet, Daniel Ketter, cello||13:30|
The American Wild Ensemble, founded in 2016, is a unique group that is designing creative programs that invite audiences to connect and engage with the spaces in which they are hearing the music performed. These spaces include outdoor locations in national parks and historic sites. On their second recording, the ensemble presents four works for iterations of flute, clarinet, and cello that were written for them, as an outgrowth of their varied activities connecting the experience of music making with an increased awareness of our natural world.
Aaron Travers’ Stillwater Marsh is inspired by a waterfowl resting area of the same name in Bloomington, Indiana that is home to Canada geese, blue herons, and several other species. Scored for flute and cello, Travers’ captures both the rich diversity of sounds of the reserve as well as some of the characteristic behavior of its inhabitants. The work opens with a composite gesture of an oscillating tremolo figure in the cello and a flute pizzicato followed by a whirring gesture that evokes an exotic bird call. Swooping figures traded between the instruments imitate bird flight and conjure the intricate territorial dynamics of the ecosystem.Read More
David Clay Mettens’ Avaloch Sketches, also for flute and cello, was written while the composer was in residence with the performers at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute in July 2019. In contrast to Travers’ nature focused program, Mettens turns inward, examining relational dynamics in this four movement piece. Each movement explores different paradigms of relating, from the supportive pizzicato punctuations in the cello of the first movement, to the strident, edgy articulations of the cello and brash overblown passages in the flute in the second movement, to the integrated voice of the two instruments in the third movement, “Sinuous.” The final movement reprises all three modes of relating, adding a hocketed, mechanistic texture, suggesting a tandem that has established a well oiled routine for interaction.
David Liptak’s Two Nocturnes for flute, clarinet, and cello was written to be premiered at the North Cascades National Park in Washington in 2018. Both of the Nocturnes were meant to be played outdoors, with “Stone and Leaf” to be played at dusk and “Under Starry Skies” to be played afterwards, in darkness. “Stone and Leaf” with music of tentative anticipation, short, staccato figures connected by sinewy lines and broken up between instruments to create small rhythmic organisms. A lyrical middle section is anchored by sustained material passed between cello and clarinet, before the staccato gestures return in more animated fashion. “Under Starry Skies” captures the mystery of hearing sounds in the darkness and not being able to identify where they are emerging from. The instruments echo each other’s entrances as if in conversation with each other in the enveloping night. Taut, pointed unison punctuations shift the character in the middle section, signaling an intensified vigilance, perhaps an awareness of potential danger. The threat seems to subside, as the music returns to the harmonious conversation that opened the movement, but just as it is coming to a close, Liptak compresses the intervallic range down to a minor second, and an uneasiness sets in to close the work.
Margaret Brouwer found inspiration in bird song from species in the Great Lakes region, specifically sounds that signaled fright and protective impulses. Her Fear, Hiding, Play (2020) mines extended techniques in the instruments to evoke this charged emotional atmosphere, resolving it towards the end of the work with the exuberance of play and dancing.
The American Wild Ensemble remains closely tethered to the outside world, creating projects and cultivating commissions that respond directly to our precious environment. In an era when many musicians are looking for ways to link their work to pertinent issues of our time, American Wild has found a resonant path, illuminating our experience of the natural world with vibrant, thought provoking new works of music.
– Dan Lippel
Recording, editing, and mixing:
Tracks 1-5: D. James Tagg, djamestagg.com
Tracks 6-8: Dave Schall, daveschallsound.com; additional mixing by D. James Tagg
Mastering: D. James Tagg
Tracks 1-5: Stagg Sound Services studio, Bloomington, IN, September 2021
Tracks 6-8: Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI, May 2021; originally recorded for presentation as a digital recital
Cover illustration: Henry Fording Eddins, instagram.com/henry.fording
Photography: Aaron Travers
Album design: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
Aaron Travers is self-published (BMI)
David Clay Mettens is published by Mettens Press (ASCAP)
David Liptak is published by American Composers Edition (BMI) Margaret Brouwer is published by Brouwer New Music Publishing (BMI)
The commission of Two Nocturnes was supported by a 2017 New Music USA project grant. The recording of Two Nocturnes and Fear, Hiding, Play was supported by the Office of Research and Innovation at Western Michigan University.
The Music in the American Wild initiative began in 2016 with a commissioning project inspired by a performance tour of American national parks, in honor of the National Park Service centennial. Since those initial tours performing in unconventional venues, from caves to mountaintops, the American Wild Ensemble has continued to celebrate American places, historic figures, and events by commissioning new works and performing them in site-specific and site-inspired locations. Since 2016 the ensemble has commissioned more than 30 new works for 2-7 performers, with the support of organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, and Mid-America Arts Alliance, for performances in both traditional and nontraditional venues across the country. American Wild Ensemble emphasizes audience engagement both through programming and performance design, aiming to offer a cohesive experience that connects listeners to the spaces around them through music designed with those spaces in mind.
American Wild Ensemble’s first album, Music in the American Wild, collected the original 11 works commissioned to celebrate the National Park Service centennial, featuring the full ensemble septet of winds, strings, and percussion. This second album shares several of the ensemble’s more intimate works written for flute, clarinet, and cello. Each of these works explores unique compositional and textural possibilities for these small ensembles and invites imaginative reflection on our experience of the natural world.
In publishing this recording, it is our hope that other ensembles will enjoy engaging with this wonderful music as much as we have and embrace these colorful new works as part of their own performance repertoire.
Emlyn Johnson is the Co-Director and flutist of the American Wild Ensemble. Since 2016 she has led the commission of more than 30 new thematic works and shared them in national parks, historic sites, and other unconventional venues across the country in collaboration with an ever-evolving roster of community partners.
With a primary focus in new music, Emlyn has also performed as flutist with Ensemble Signal, the Slee Sinfonietta, and Alla Balena Ensemble. She performs regularly with her husband, cellist Daniel Ketter, as tuo duo, which aims to commission new flute and cello duo repertoire, including new concert music for youth audiences.
As an educator, Emlyn has served on the faculties of several State University of New York institutions and at Missouri State University. She presents regularly at universities, conferences, and workshops on topics around community-engaged arts and project design and development.
As a presenter, Emlyn has served as the Executive Director of the long-running Pro Musica chamber music series in Joplin, Missouri, since April 2021.
Daniel Ketter specializes in the performance of contemporary and classical chamber music. As Co-Director and cellist of American Wild Ensemble since 2016, Daniel has led collaborations with ten different national parks and historic sites and commissioned and premiered over 30 new chamber music works for grant-funded projects celebrating the people and places that de- fine American communities with new music.
Daniel began his tenure as cellist of The Opus 76 String Quartet in 2020. Opus 76 are currently Artists-in-Residence at the Midwest Trust Center at Johnson County Community College, where they present a full season of live and digital performances.
As a supporter of contemporary music, in 2021 Daniel led the annual Cello Teaching Repertoire Consortium, with the mission to supplement traditional cello student repertoire with the commission of new pedagogical concert works and etudes representing diverse musical styles and cultural backgrounds. This project was supported by 35 cello teachers across the country, and featured in workshops and performed by students at the Eastman Cello Institute.
In 2018 Daniel joined the faculty of Missouri State University, where he teaches courses in cello, chamber music, and music theory.
Ellen Breakfield-Glick, clarinet, is one of the original members of the American Wild Ensemble. Praised for her “skill and poise” and “lovely” playing (Cleveland Plain Dealer), Ellen maintains a versatile career as an orchestral clarinetist, chamber musician and educator. An active orchestral musician, she has played associate principal clarinet with CityMusic Cleveland Chamber Orchestra since 2012 and frequently performs with orchestras throughout the United States.
Dr. Breakfield-Glick has served as Assistant Professor of clarinet at Western Michigan University School of Music since Fall 2019. At WMU, she teaches applied clarinet, coaches cham- ber music and performs with the Western Woodwind Quintet and the Western Winds. Prior to her appointment at WMU, Dr. Breakfield-Glick served on the faculty at Cleveland State Univer- sity from 2013-2019. She won the 2016 CSU Golden Apple teaching award, given to faculty members for excellence in teaching and outstanding contributions to the CSU community. During the summer, Dr. Breakfield-Glick is the Guest Faculty Director at the University of Michigan’s MPulse Clarinet Institute and Woodwind Instructor at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.
Ellen received a Bachelor of Music degree and Arts Leadership Program Certificate from the Eastman School of Music and Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance.
Aaron Travers’ music is multi-faceted, encompassing a range of styles and techniques, and explores the intersection of seemingly incompatible elements. His pieces have been performed widely across the United States, as well as select locations in Europe, Asia and South America, and in major music festivals such as the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, the Festival de Musica Contemporanea in Cuba, and the World Saxophone Congress in Scotland.
He has received numerous awards including the Arts and Letters Award and the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Alexander Zemlinksy Prize, the Barlow Prize, and the Fromm Foundation Composition Prize. His music has been performed by Dal Niente, the Third Coast Percussion Quartet, The South Dakota Symphony, NOTUS Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, and the American Wild Ensemble, among many others. Selected compositions are recorded under the Innova, Raven and ArtistShare labels.
Mr. Travers also enjoys nature photography and prose writing. He has written two books in a series for young adults available on Kindle Direct Publishing and is working on a third and fourth. He currently serves as Associate Professor of Composition at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he resides with his wife, pianist Winnie Cheung, and his two children, Rowan and Linden.
The Chicago Tribune has praised the music of David “Clay” Mettens as “a thing of remarkable beauty,” displaying a “sensitive ear for instrumental color.” His recent work seeks to distill the strange and sublime from the familiar. He reflects upon the experience of wonder in music that ranges from rich and sonorous to bright and crystalline, seeking expressive immediacy in lucid forms and dramatic shapes.
His work has been recognized with the 2021 Hermitage Prize from the Aspen Music Festival and School, a 2020 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, Ithaca College’s 2018 Heckscher Foundation Composition Prize, first prize in the 2018 Salvatore Martirano Composition Competition, a 2016 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, and the 2015 SCI/ASCAP graduate student commission. He received a commission from the American Opera Initiative for a one-act opera, which was premiered in December 2015 by the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center, and his orchestral works have been performed by orchestras across the United States and Europe. His music appears on recordings by the Grossman Ensemble (Fountain of Time, 2020), Fuego Quartet (Migration, 2019), Lotus (Rogue Lotus, 2018), and American Wild Ensemble (Music in the American Wild, 2018).
He most recently studied with Anthony Cheung, Sam Pluta, and Augusta Read Thomas while completing a PhD in music composition at the University of Chicago, where he is currently a teaching fellow in the Humanities Division. He earned his masters degree at the Eastman School of Music and completed his undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina with a degree in music composition and a clarinet performance certificate.
David Liptak’s music has been described as “luminous and arresting,” “richly atmospheric,” and having “transparent textures, incisive rhythms, shimmering lightness.” His compositions have been performed throughout the United States and abroad by the San Francisco Symphony, the Montreal Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Group for Contemporary Music, EARPLAY, the Ying, Cassatt, and JACK String Quartets, the Dinosaur Annex Ensemble, the New York New Music Ensemble, the 20th-Century Consort, baritone William Sharp, soprano Tony Arnold, and by many other soloists and ensembles. In 1995 David Liptak was awarded the Elise L. Stoeger Prize, given by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in recognition of distinguished achievement in the field of chamber music composition. He has received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, both in 2002, and he is the 2006 recipient of the Lillian Fairchild Award from the University of Rochester. Commissions for new music have included those supported by the Fromm Foundation, the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Meet the Composer, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the California Music Center, and the Hanson Institute for American Music. Recordings of David Liptak’s music can be found on Bridge, Innova, Albany, Centaur, and other recording labels. He is President of the American Composers Alliance, and his music is published by several publishers, including Keiser Classical, Alfred Music - Donald Hunsberger Wind Ensemble Library, and American Composers Edition. Much of his music written very recently has explored the poetry and magical quality of stars and starlight, imagined and real. A dedicated teacher of composition students for the past three decades, David Liptak is Professor of Composition at the Eastman School of Music, where he has taught since 1986.
Margaret Brouwer has earned critical accolades for her music's lyricism, musical imagery and emotional power. Lawson Taitte of the Dallas Morning News wrote, “Ms. Brouwer has one of the most delicate ears and inventive imaginations among contemporary American composers.” Brouwer’s honors include an Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Meet The Composer Commissioning/USA Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, Ohio Council for the Arts Individual Fellowship, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Ford Foundation and John S. Knight Foundation.
The Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has established a Margaret Brouwer Collection that will be available for research by scholars, composers and performers. Performances of Brouwer’s music include those by the symphonies of Detroit, Dallas, Seattle, Liverpool, Rochester, Anchorage, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Birmingham UK, Halle UK, Cabrillo, Canton, Columbus, American Composers Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Symphony Space, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Kennedy Center, the Corcoran Gallery, as well as venues throughout Taiwan and Germany. Dr. Brouwer served as head of the composition department and holder of the Vincent K. and Edith H. Smith Chair in Composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music from 1996 to 2008. Residencies include those at the MacDowell Colony where she has been a Norton Stevens Fellow and at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. Recordings of Brouwer’s music can be found on the Naxos, New World, CRI, Crystal, Centaur, and Opus One labels.
Few musicians are as tied to nature as those in American Wild Ensemble. Directed by flutist Emlyn Johnson and cellist Daniel Ketter — who both received their doctorates at Eastman School of Music — the contemporary classical group commissions new chamber music from composers with the goal of helping audiences connect more directly to their environment.
Originally created to play new music in national parks, the American Wild Ensemble has tasked composers Margaret Brouwer, David Liptak, David Clay Mettens, and Aaron Travers with writing works that are influenced by nature. “Duos and Trios,” released in July by New Focus Recordings, was the result.
“Stillwater Marsh” by Aaron Travers is anything but still. It evokes the many species of birds found at that marsh in Bloomington, Indiana. Ketter’s cello sounds as if its sound is feeding back through an amplifier, as he plays around with distorted timbres and harmonic overtones. Meanwhile Johnson’s flute flutters through complicated articulations. “Stillwater Marsh” is less about communicating a melody than it is about evoking a vibe. At no point, however, does it veer into atonal territory.
The link to nature is less overt in Mettens’s “Avaloch Sketches.” The composition is notable, however, for its captivating range of moods, from the complementary roles of the flute and cello in “I. Floating” to the caustic interplay in “II. Aggressive.” To call this music “mercurial” is like calling the music of Mozart “melodic.”
For “Two Nocturnes” by Liptak, Johnson and Ketter are joined by clarinetist Ellen Breakfield-Glick, who adds brightness while providing a buffer between the sometimes harsh differences in tone of the flute and cello. The two movements, titled “Stone and Leaf” and “Under Starry Skies,” are meant to be performed outside. Breakfield-Glick’s clarinet brings intrigue to the American Wild Ensemble’s sound, and Liptak’s deliberate use of sonic space between the three instruments makes for a more open, resonant sonic environment.
“Fear, Hiding, Play” by Brouwer draws from the vocalizations of birds in the Great Lakes region. The trio of musicians uses a full palette of unconventional techniques to create a different range of expressive possibilities that prioritizes an ambient environment rather than melodies.
“Duos and Trios” is the perfect album for those listeners wanting to dip their toes into experimental sounds without abandoning melodies altogether. A winning combination of accessible and adventurous, “Duos and Trios” finds American Wild Ensemble operating with sensitivity and precision. The music is impossible to pin down, but that’s not the point. Johnson, Ketter, and Breakfield-Glick understand that hooking the audience means providing people with the familiar while also leaving room for mystery.
— Daniel J. Kushner, 10.03.2022
AWE started in 2016 as an experimental group organising concerts in natural surroundings, inviting the audience to interact with the music and the concert settings. This included outside locations and historical buildings. So you would start thinking of music like Pavement or other groups, where the sounds from the environment were integrated into the music. This is more than 'field recordings, as there is still a musical score that supersedes the environmental sounds and noises.
On this release, it is not quite so, and I am not sure whether I am relieved or disappointed. We find four pieces written by young American composed specifically for this ensemble. The first two are duos for cello and flute. Aaron Travers' Stillwater Marsh conjures up sounds found at a waterfowl resting place in Bloomington, IN. It conjures as the piece is a studio recording. The musical lines try to invoke the sense of bird calls and birds fluttering and moving around. As a musical piece (without this background information), I find it quite enjoyable, with the two instruments able to create and follow long and drawn melody lines, intertwining and dialoguing. With the birds approach at the back of my head, it reminds me more of Prokofiev and Peter and the Wolf, and I find the latter more convincing, I must say. Why does music have to 'represent' something and can not just stand for itself? The second piece, by David Mittens, does not have a specific setting displayed. Flute and cello interact differently, more melodically in the first and third and more aggressively in the other two movements. A dreamy mood evolves that could be associated with a landscape.
The third track, written by David Liptak, a composer and music professor who has already been discussed here, has been specifically written to be performed just before dusk (the first movement), with the second being played in the dark. This piece adds a clarinet and, thus, a new colour element. Fittingly, it is called 'Nocturne'. Although I find this an excellent idea, a lot of the effect is lost in the concert setting. The audience is invited to reflect on their thoughts on sunsets during the concert. Weak. With around five and six minutes in length, I believe it is challenging to get the timing right. Nevertheless, performing during sunset (or sunrise, at that) is a glorious experience at festival concerts, as I can testify. Margaret Brouwer's piece Fear, Hiding, Play concludes the release; part leans towards mimicking bird movement with nervous flute lines, part reference to hiding away at home during Covid, expressing the yearning to escape. This is the first time I have encountered music that directly addresses Covid. There have been plenty of attempts to exploit the lockdown situation via media-mailing or interacting via Zoom or the phone, i.e. in recording technology. I also heard the first references to lockdowns in punk song lyrics today. But here is a musical representation that expertly captures a sly atmosphere of insecurity, fear, and sideways movement trying to escape, with no direct reference to wildlife, such as in the first track. In my view the best composition on this release.
But all in all, a bit of a missed opportunity. If these pieces were composed for outdoor performances and the surroundings were to play a role in this, this aspect would have either been grossly neglected by the recording setting or been ignored by the composers. In any case, I would have expected more.
— Robert Steinberger, 8.30.2022
The sound is quite contemporary and contrasts as strongly as possible with that of the Concordian Dawn disc on a New Focus Recordings CD featuring the American Wild Ensemble. But interestingly, the music is anything but “wild.” The group’s title refers to its interest in performing in national parks and playing music focused on the natural world. It is, of course, the natural world from a 21st-century perspective, as is clear from the musical language and approach of the four pieces on this rather short (49-minute) disc. Two of the works are for flute and cello: Aaron Travers’ Stillwater Marsh (2018) and David Clay Mettens’ four-movement Avaloch Sketches (2021). The work by Travers (born 1975) is intended to evoke the sounds of a waterfowl-resting area, which to some extent it does; but to an even greater extent it has an electronic-music feeling even though the instruments are not electronically modified. The piece would work better as background for a visual presentation than it does when heard simply as audio. The piece by Mettens (born 1990) is mostly a study in techniques, emphasizing pizzicato here, legato there, individualized lines here, combined ones there. The concluding a-little-bit-of-everything movement, labeled “Playful, quirky,” mixes much of the content of the first three. The remaining two works on the disc include clarinet as well as flute and cello. This makes for a richer and more interesting sound. David Liptak (born 1949) offers paired nocturnes (2018) called “Stone and Leaf” and “Under Starry Skies,” which are not especially evocative of the designated scenes but which intermingle the instruments in attractive ways and offer a feeling that, if not actually nocturnal, is at least crepuscular. Finally, Margaret Brouwer (born 1940) offers the most interestingly conceived work on the CD, called Fear, Hiding, Play and written in 2020 – showing a composer in full command of the musical medium in her 80th year. What is especially noteworthy (pun intended) here is the way the sound of the instruments is changed – that is, extended – without drawing attention to the extension as a technique or a self-consciously contemporary approach. Brouwer’s work really does reflect the three words of its title, using birdsong-like elements more effectively than Travers does in his piece while moving her music in an increasingly outgoing, buoyant direction. Although any direct connection of this piece with the natural world is somewhat obscure, the music itself speaks effectively to an audience interested in hearing the appealing sound that results when flute, clarinet and cello are employed by a composer whose sensitivity to the capabilities of the instruments can fairly be described as fine-tuned.
— Mark Estren, 8.11.2022
One theory about the origin of music holds that birdsongs and the natural environment’s repertoire of sounds were the inspiration for prehistoric humans, but rarely do musicians return the favor. Here is a unique example, however. Starting in 2016 a group of performers initiated a project, Music in the American Wild, that took site-specific pieces to the National Park system. Since the sites ranged “from caves to mountaintops,” the experience must have been enthralling for performers and audiences alike. Out of 30 works commissioned by the American Wild Ensemble, their debut album featured nine pieces associated with the specific landscapes where they were performed.
As a seed idea, uniting music and landscape sounds lovely, and that first album was also available as a video so that the whole music-in-nature experience could be conveyed. For this follow-up album, however, there are no visuals, and the American Wild Ensemble has been reduced to three instruments—flute, clarinet, and cello—playing two duos and two trios. So far as I can gather, only one work, David Liptak’s trio titled Two Nocturnes, was performed in situ, during a 2018 tour where the music was played in the splendor of North Cascades National Park. The two movements are meant to be played at twilight and at night, which no doubt added to Liptak’s evocative and mostly gentle writing.
It is surprisingly rare in classical music for composers directly to imitate birds and animals, before Messiaen’s obsession with exotic birdcalls, at least. The closest we come to imitation in this collection is Aaron Travers’s flute-and-cello duo, Stillwater Marsh. The composer’s note mentions his experiences walking through the marsh, which serves as a water fowl refuge in Bloomington, Indiana. Without notating any bird’s actual song as Messiaen did, Travers gives the flute soaring lines filled with ornamentation, and the breakneck speed that is often called for from flute and cello seems to echo the tree swallows in the marsh who dive-bomb intruders to protect their nests.
Travers’s piece made for an imaginative start, and throughout the album all three performers play with great musicianship, technique, and flair. Otherwise, several limitations arise that will bother some listeners more than others. For me, the most serious of these was the dulling effect of hearing only flute, clarinet, and cello. The risk of monotony wasn’t overcome by commissioning works that display a great deal of imagination. All four pieces are couched in a bland idiom that is neither atonal nor melodic, organized in structures that seem neither formal nor spontaneous.
A few new-music sounds are timidly employed, yet on the whole, with so little to distinguish one piece from another, there isn’t much to engage the listener’s imagination. Margaret Brouwer’s trio, Fear, Hiding, Play, proposes a fruitful connection between humans and creatures in the wild. The parallel being drawn marks how birds and animals will show fear and hide from sight at the sign of threat and how humans were driven into fear and hiding by COVID-19. If only Brouwer’s seed of an idea had grown into music that wasn’t so harmless and conventional.
All four composers seem limited to the familiar mode of airy flute, nimble clarinet, and soulful cello. I kept yearning for a memorable melody or some striking contemporary device, but none emerged. I hasten to add that the level of skill displayed by each composer is admirable. What would elevate their music is the very landscape that we don’t get to experience without a video or traveling to the right national park on the right day. I’ll underscore again that the issues that bothered me might not even be present for another listener. If you are attracted to unchallenging new music that is generally soothing, this album might be just right for you.
— Huntley Dent, 12.03.2022