Composer Anthony Cheung releases a inventive, beautifully crafted collection of chamber works featuring the International Contemporary Ensemble, Spektral Quartet, and Atlas Ensemble, as well as soloists Winston Choi, Maiya Papach, Claire Chase, and Ernest Rombout. Cheung elegantly integrates elements of jazz, Chinese traditional music, and references to the classical repertoire into his powerful, meticulously crafted work.
The Real Book of Fake Tunes
|Spektral Quartet, Claire Chase, flutes|
|Atlas Ensemble, Artjom Kim, conductor||7:58|
|International Contemporary Ensemble, Maiya Papach, viola, Karina Canellakis, conductor||16:18|
|Winston Choi, piano, Spektral Quartet|
|11||Après une lecture|
Après une lecture
|Ernest Rombout, oboe||7:37|
|International Contemporary Ensemble, Anthony Cheung, conductor||12:44|
Underlying composer Anthony Cheung’s music is a level of musical comprehension of the deepest order — of the building blocks of different styles, of the component parts of complex timbral hybrids, and of the myriad ways to approach pacing and structural organization of musical ideas in time. The opening work on this recording, written for flutist Claire Chase and the Spektral Quartet, makes a tongue in cheek reference to the bible of gigging jazz musicians, The Real Book, but as Cheung points out in his program note, the organization of the five movement piece is more akin to a suite, with similar length movements expressing different affects. Cheung’s integration of jazz influences is of a far more sophisticated stripe than many efforts in that vein, owing to the fact that his approach to both that repertoire, and the concert music tradition into which he is embedding subtle aspects of it, is simultaneously reverent and well-informed. We hear his fluency with rich, colorful voicings, syncopated grooves, and improvisatory soloistic lines, mined from his voracious stylistic pallette, but handled with the same meticulous care one finds in all his pieces. Cheung’s approach to fusing divergent stylistic material is also apparent on More Marginalia, though in this instance he has rescored a work for traditional Chinese ensemble for a mixed ensemble with Western instruments as well. Cheung’s use of Chinese instruments grapples with their characteristic gestural language, but also investigates them through a modernist’s lens, deconstructing their timbres and pairing them with their Western counterparts on the basis of salient sonic qualities. Assumed Roles is a viola concerto in one movement that Cheung wrote for the International Contemporary Ensemble and soloist Maiya Papach. In it, he explores a fluid relationship between soloist and ensemble, with the viola acting at times as an adversary to the group, and at other times blending in chameleon-like to its textures. A simmering, off-balance groove burns steadily in the middle section towards the climax, and is followed by a poignant coda with hovering pitches suspended in the air as the viola descends forlornly to the low reaches of its range. Beethoven is Cheung’s model for the three Bagatelles for piano and string quartet, and again we hear the excellent Spektral Quartet, this time with Chicago based pianist Winston Choi. In the first, pointed interruptions from the piano are humanized with dense, sometimes grinding, sonorities in the quartet. A dizzying texture opens the second, with insistent returns to a central pitch framed by scurrying runs, flurries of harmonics, and pointed pizzicati. The last bagatelle plays with a theme from the second movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, pulling it apart before alluding to it briefly in the coda. Leoš Janáček’s “speech- melodies” are the inspiration for the solo oboe piece, Après une lecture. Janáček habitually transcribed speech patterns into musical notation, in this case, of lectures on Dante. Cheung chose fragments from Janáček’s sketches, applying microtonal variations and pitch bending to mimic speech even more closely. The result is a work that has the rhetorical organization of oratory, but abstracted into expressive sound. In the final work on the recording, Time’s Vestiges, Cheung explores a structural approach that dispenses with straight linearity, instead presenting material that does not repeat or engage with strict processes, wherein directionality and stasis are not in opposition, but instead act as independent energies, metaphorically moving according to “geological deep time”, devoid of human agency.
- D. Lippel
Tracks 1-5, 8-10 recorded at Nichols Concert Hall, Music Institute of Chicago, Evanston, IL. April 14-15, 2017. Recorded, edited, and mixed by Grayson Elliott Taylor
Track 6 recorded at Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam, Netherlands. September 6, 2014 (live recording)
Track 7 recorded at Merkin Concert Hall, New York, NY. August 23, 2016 (live recording). Recorded by Ross Karre, edited and mixed by Ryan Streber
Track 11 recorded at Fentener van Vlissingen Hall, Utrecht, Netherlands. December 3, 2017; Recorded, edited, and mixed by Hans Erblich
Track 12 recorded at Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, NY. March 25, 2018. Recorded, edited and mixed by Ryan Streber
Executive Producer: Anthony Cheung
Design & Layout: Marc Wolf (marcjwolf.com)
Introductory essay: Doyle Armbrust
Liner notes: Anthony Cheung
Photo credit: Anthony Cheung © Camille Tokerud
Cover art images: Pablo Castro (OBRA Architects)
Composer and pianist Anthony Cheung writes music that explores the senses, a wide palette of instrumental play and affect, improvisational traditions, reimagined musical artifacts, and multiple layers of textual meaning. Described as “gritty, inventive and wonderfully assured” (San Francisco Chronicle) and praised for its “instrumental sensuality” (Chicago Tribune), his music reveals an interest in the ambiguity of sound sources and constantly shifting transformations of tuning and timbre.
Anthony Cheung has been commissioned by Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Cleveland Orchestra (as the Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow), New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Musikfabrik, Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, AMOC, and the International Contemporary Ensemble, with additional performances by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Chicago Symphony Orchestra MusicNOW ensemble, Minnesota Orchestra, Linea, wild Up, and Dal Niente. He has also written works for the Escher and Spektral Quartets, violinist Jennifer Koh, flutist Claire Chase, oboist Ernest Rombout, and pianists Gilles Vonsattel, Shai Wosner, and Joel Fan.
In addition to concert works, he has written music for film (null and void, after Guy Maddin), captioned sound sources (The Natural Word), and in collaboration with multiple poets (the echoing of tenses). His music has been programmed at festivals around the world, including Acht Brücken, Ultraschall, Cresc. Biennale, Présences, impuls, Wittener Tage, Ojai, Tanglewood, Aspen, Mostly Mozart, Transit, Heidelberger Frühling, Helsinki Festival and Musica Nova Helsinki.
His previous recordings include three portrait discs: Cycles and Arrows (New Focus, 2018), Dystemporal (Wergo, 2016), and Roundabouts (Ensemble Modern Medien 2014). As a performer and advocate for new music, he was a co-founder of the Talea Ensemble, performing as a pianist and serving as artistic director.
The recipient of a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship, Anthony has also won awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and ASCAP, and first prize in the Sixth International Dutilleux Competition (2008), as well as a Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome (2012). He received a BA from Harvard and a doctorate from Columbia University, and was a Junior Fellow at Harvard. He taught at University of Chicago from 2013-20, and is an Associate Professor of Music at Brown University.
Multi-GRAMMY nominees, the Spektral Quartet actively pursues a vivid conversation between exhilarating works of the historical repertoire and those written this decade, this year, or this week. Since its inception in 2010, Spektral is known for creating seamless connections across centuries, drawing in the listener with charismatic deliveries, interactive concert formats, an up-close atmosphere, and bold, inquisitive programming.
With a tour schedule including some of the country’s most notable concert venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, The MET Museum, Miller Theater, Library of Congress, and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, the quartet also takes great pride in its home city of Chicago: championing the work of local composers, bridging social and aesthetic partitions, and cultivating partnerships with cultural and civic institutions across the city. Over their ten years, Spektral has commissioned dozens of new works, many by composers of international significance, leaving a lasting impact on the 21st-century string quartet repertoire.
Named “Chicagoans of the Year” by the Chicago Tribune in 2017, Spektral Quartet is most highly regarded for its creative and stylistic versatility: presenting seasons in which, for instance,
a thematic program circling Beethoven seamlessly coexists with an improvised sonic meditation at sunrise, a talent show featuring Spektral fans, and the co-release of a jazz album traversing the folk traditions of Puerto Rico.http://spektralquartet.com
Flutist Claire Chase, a 2012 MacArthur Fellow, is a soloist, collaborative artist, and activist for new music. Over the past decade she has given the world premieres of over 100 new works for flute, many of them tailor-made for her. In 2014 she began Density 2036, a project to commission, premiere and record an entirely new program of pieces for flute every year until 2036, the 100th anniversary of the eponymous and seminal piece by Varese. Also in the 2014-15 season, Chase is music directing and playing as soloist in a series of performances of Salvatore Sciarrino's Il cerchio tagliato dei suoni for 4 flute soloists and 100 flute “migranti”.
Chase has performed throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia, including debuts last season in Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris, London, São Paolo and Guangzhou. She has released three solo albums, Aliento (2010), Terrestre (2012) and Density (2013). In 2014, she was selected as an inaugural Fellow of Project&, with which she will several new works exploring the relationship between language, music and social interaction over the next several years.
Chase was First Prize Winner in the 2008 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. She co-founded the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in 2001 and serves as the organization’s Artistic Director and CEO in addition to playing over fifty concerts a year as an ensemble member. ICE has premiered more than 600 works since its inception and pioneered a new artist-driven organizational model that earned the company a Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center in 2010. Chase was also honored with Crain’s Business “40 under 40” Award in 2013.
In 2013, Chase founded The Pnea Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of the flute and its repertoire in the 21st century through commissions, community engagement, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary collaborations and advocacy. She lives in Brooklyn.http://www.clairechase.net
The Atlas Ensemble is a unique chamber orchestra uniting brilliant musicians from China, Central Asia, the Near East and Europe. The ensemble presents an unheard sound world of instruments from different cultures. Their repertoire consists of entirely commissioned works. The Atlas Ensemble brings together instruments from various cultures, whilst originating from the same ancestor, have travelled and developed over the course of centuries. A central issue -- and one of great potential -- is the difference between the oral/improvisational traditions on one hand and the notational/compositional traditions on the other. Since 2009, the ensemble has organized the Atlas Lab -- an international meeting place for composers and musicians from all over the world -- dedicated to the creation of new intercultural music along with the study of Asian instruments and their musical practices.http://www.atlasensemble.nl
With a commitment to cultivating a more curious and engaged society through music, the International Contemporary Ensemble – as a commissioner and performer at the highest level – amplifies creators whose work propels and challenges how music is made and experienced. The Ensemble’s 39 members are featured as soloists, chamber musicians, commissioners, and collaborators with the foremost musical artists of our time. Works by emerging composers have anchored the Ensemble’s programming since its founding in 2001, and the group’s recordings and digital platforms highlight the many voices that weave music’s present.
Acclaimed as “America’s foremost new-music group” (The New Yorker), the Ensemble has become a leading force in new music throughout the last 20 years, having premiered over 1,000 works and having been a vehicle for the workshop and performance of thousands of works by student composers across the U.S. The Ensemble’s composer-collaborators—many who were unknown at the time of their first Ensemble collaboration—have fundamentally shaped its creative ethos and have continued to highly visible and influential careers, including MacArthur Fellow Tyshawn Sorey; long-time Ensemble collaborator, founding member, and 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winner Du Yun; and the Ensemble’s founder, 2012 MacArthur Fellow, and first-ever flutist to win Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Prize, Claire Chase.
A recipient of the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, the International Contemporary Ensemble was also named Musical America’s Ensemble of the Year in 2014. The group has served as artists-in-residence at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival (2008-2020), Ojai Music Festival (2015-17), and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2010-2015). In addition, the Ensemble has presented and performed at festivals in the U.S. such as Big Ears Festival and Opera Omaha’s ONE Festival, as well as abroad, including GMEM-Centre National de Création Musicale (CNCM) de Marseille, Vértice at Cultura UNAM, Warsaw Autumn, International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt, and Cité de la Musique in Paris. Other performance stages have included the Park Avenue Armory, ice floes at Greenland’s Diskotek Sessions, Brooklyn warehouses, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and boats on the Amazon River.
The International Contemporary Ensemble advances music technology and digital communications as an empowering tool for artists from all backgrounds. Digitice provides high-quality video documentation for artist-collaborators and provides access to an in-depth archive of composers’ workshops and performances. The Ensemble regularly engages new listeners through free concerts and interactive, educational programming with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Curricular activities include a partnership at The New School’s College of Performing Arts (CoPA), along with a summer intensive program, called Ensemble Evolution, where topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion build new bridges and pathways for the future of creative sound practices. Yamaha Artist Services New York is the exclusive piano provider for the Ensemble. Read more at www.iceorg.org and watch over 350 videos of live performances and documentaries at www.digitice.org.
The International Contemporary Ensemble’s performances and commissioning activities during the 2023-24 concert season are made possible by the generous support of the Ensemble’s board, many individuals, as well as the Mellon Foundation, Howard Gilman Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Aaron Copland Fund for Music Inc., Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, The Cheswatyr Foundation, Amphion Foundation, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, New Music USA’s Organizational Development Fund, Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, BMI Foundation, as well as public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council for the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The International Contemporary Ensemble was the Ensemble in Residence of the Nokia Bell Labs Experiments in Art and Technology from 2018-2021. Yamaha Artist Services New York is the exclusive piano provider for the International Contemporary Ensemble.http://iceorg.org
Maiya Papach is the principal violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. A member of the orchestra since 2008, she has made solo appearances with the SPCO in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with concertmaster Steven Copes, solo directed Benjamin Britten’s Lachrymae and as soloist in Woolrich’s Ulysses Awakes.
Papach has made frequent national and international appearances as a chamber musician, with a versatile profile in her performances of both traditional and contemporary repertoire. She is a founding member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), with whom she has performed frequently at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and dozens of experimental venues. She has toured extensively in the former Soviet Union with the Da Capo Chamber Players, across North America with Musicians from Marlboro, and has made appearances at Prussia Cove (UK), the Boston Chamber Music Society, the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival, the Chattanooga Chamber Music Festival and Chamber Music Quad Cities. She is also currently a member of Accordo, a Twin Cities-based chamber music group.
Papach is a 2013 recipient of the McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians administered by the MacPhail Center for Music. Through this fellowship and in collaboration with ICE, she co-commissioned a viola concerto by Anthony Cheung, performed at the Mostly Mozart Festival to critical acclaim by the New York Times. She is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory and the Juilliard School, and her principal teachers include Roland Vamos, Karen Tuttle, Benny Kim and Hsin-Yun Huang. She performs on a 19th century Turinese viola by Annibale Fagnola.https://content.thespco.org/people/maiya-papach/
Canadian pianist Winston Choi is the Head of the Piano Program at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts. His professional career was launched when he was named Laureate of the 2003 Honens Piano Competition and winner of France’s Concours International de Piano 20e siècle d’Orléans in 2002. An inquisitive performer, his fresh approach to standard repertory, and masterful understanding, performance and commitment to works by living composers, make him one of today’s most dynamic young concert artists.
Choi maintains an active international performing schedule. In demand as a concerto soloist, orchestras he has appeared with include the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the CBC Radio Orchestra, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Iowa, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Iowa, the New Philharmonic, the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, the Peninsula Music Festival Orchestra, La Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia, the Symphony Orchestra of Oak Park and River Forest, l’Orchestre Symphony d’Orléans, l'Orchestre National de Lille, the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra, the Peninsula Music Festival Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, and the Victoria Symphony Orchestra.
Known for his colorful approach to programming and insightful commentary from the stage, Choi has recently appeared in recital at the National Arts Centre of Canada, the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, New York’s Carnegie-Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Recital Hall, the Kennedy Center and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., the Kravis Center in Florida, and the “Cicle Grans Solistes" in Spain. Choi performs extensively in France, having played venues such as the Salle Cortot, Lille’s Festival Rencontre Robert Casadesus, the Messiaen Festival, and the Strasbourg Festival. Frequently in demand throughout his native Canada, his numerous performances can often be heard on CBC radio broadcasts. Recently, he toured Eastern Ontario and Quebec under the auspices of Jeunesses Musicales and embarked on a 10-city Prairie Debut tour of the Canadian Prairie provinces. An accomplished chamber musician, he tours regularly with his wife, violinist MingHuan Xu as Duo Diorama, as well as with the Pivot Chamber Soloists. He has also performed with the Aeolus, Avalon, Philomusica and Spektral string quartets, and is a member of the Civitas Ensemble.
As a dedicated champion of contemporary music, Choi has premiered and commissioned over 100 works by young composers as well as established masters. A composer himself, being involved with the creative process is an integral part of his artistry. He was the first pianist to perform Pierre Boulez’s last version of Incises in North America and made the South American premiere of Luciano Berio‘s Sonata for pianoforte solo. He also regularly appears in concert at IRCAM, the world’s most renowned institution for contemporary music. Composers he has collaborated with include William Bolcom, Elliott Carter, John Corigliano, Brian Ferneyhough, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Bright Sheng, Christian Wolff, Chen Yi and John Zorn. He is also a core member of one of the country's most exciting new music groups, Ensemble Dal Niente. A frequent performer on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's MusicNOW Series, Choi has also performed with Contempo and the Fulcrum Point New Music Project.
Already a prolific recording artist, Choi’s debut CD, the complete piano works of Elliott Carter (l’Empreinte Digitale in France) was given 5 stars by BBC Music Magazine. He has also recorded the complete piano music of Jacques Lenot for the Intrada label, having won the Grand Prix du Disque from l’Académie Charles Cros for Volume I. His recording of the piano works of Thomas Adès was recently released on the Buisonne label. Other labels he can be heard on include Albany, Arktos, Crystal Records, Naxos and QuadroFrame.
Choi obtained his Bachelor and Master of Music from Indiana University, and his DM from Northwestern University. His studies were with Vivienne Bailey, James Tweedie, Menahem Pressler and Ursula Oppens. An accomplished teacher, he is also in demand as a master class clinician and lecturer on a variety of pedagogical topics. Prior to his position at Roosevelt University, he was on the faculties of Bowling Green State University and the Oberlin Conservatory. He also currently teaches at the Academy of the Music Institute of Chicago.
Ernest Rombout was born in 1959 in The Netherlands. After having studied as a guest student at the Royal conservatory in The Hague for one year, he was admitted to the class of professor Heinz Holliger in Freiburg, Germany. In 1981 he passed his final examinations cum laude which allowed him to continue studying for the Soloist’s Diploma. In 1984 he was awarded the Soloist’s Diploma cum laude. Subsequently he studied with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Maurice Bourgue. He made his debut as a soloist in 1983 in the concertgebouw in Amsterdam with the oboe concerto by R. Strauss. In 1985 he was invited to become Professor of Oboe at the conservatory of Utrecht and since 2007 also at the Conservatoire of Amsterdam. Since 1981, Ernest Rombout has enjoyed a busy solo career, appearing in festivals such as the Biennale in Venice, the Ludwigsburger Festspiele, the Donaueschinger Musiktage, the Takefu International Music Festival in Japan and the Summerfestival in Los Angeles. Conductors he has worked with include Christopher Hogwood, Marc Foster, Ernest Bour, Ed Spanjaard, Jaap van Zweden and Heinz Holliger. In addition to his performances with such orchestras as the Radio Symphonie Orchester Berlin, The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, The Prague Chamber Orchestra , the Vienna String Soloists and the Nieuw Ensemble Amsterdam. Rombout has made numerous radio, television and CD recordings all over Europe. In 1990 he made his first tour to the USA. On his first solo-CD (DECCA) in 1994, he recorded the oboe concertos by Haydn and Mozart with the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra. In the summer of 1998 he was a member of the jury of the International Competition for Oboe in Geneva. Since Ernest Rombout has also engaged himself in modern music, numerous compositions have been composed for him by noted composers such as Luca Francesconi, David del Puerto, Maurice Weddington, Stefano Bellon, Wen Deqing, Eric Verbugt, Rokus de Groot,Richard Rijnvos, Wim Laman, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf and Seung-Ah Oh. In addition to solo playing, Rombout is also a member of the Nieuw Ensemble Amsterdam (Contemporary music), The Atlas Ensemble (Contemporary music combining instruments and styles from Europe and the Middle and far East). He also conducts these ensembles occasionally, as well as larger chamber music projects at both Conservatoires.
He is also co-founder of the Sinfonietta Amsterdam and was solo oboist of The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra for six years. Ernest Rombout has also given many masterclasses in London, Graz, Lisbon, Moscow and Liechtenstein.
Anthony Cheung, a composer and professor at the University of Chicago, has routinely drawn from a broad range of inspirations and intellectual notions to create music that play with traditional forms. The opening suite The Real Book of Fake Tunes, a cheeky reference to the collection of lead sheets many young jazz musicians use to learn how to improvise on standards, is actually for flute (played here by Claire Chase) and string quartet (Spektral Quartet), an infrequently used instrumental format that’s nonetheless been around for two centuries. While the composer notes that there are chord progressions in the final section that might suggest Coltrane’s Countdown, the music itself bears virtually no resemblance to jazz. But the interaction and shifting focus of Chase and Spektral does evoke a fluidity we don’t often experience in contemporary composed music. The three Bagatelles for string quartet and piano reference various Beethoven pieces, while Aprés une lecture uses some of the notated transcriptions composer Leoš Janáček made of the spoken language from Brno, Czech Republic as melodic motifs that hold the piece together. As fascinating as such ideas are, they wouldn’t matter if the composer’s structural rigor and lyric gifts didn’t transform them into work that’s consistently compelling.
— Peter Margasak, 8.18.2018
"Cycles and Arrows", a collection of complex, well-crafted compositions for chamber ensembles, is the third portrait CD of work by Anthony Cheung (b. 1982). The recording highlights Cheung’s interest in composing with a focus on the qualities of instrumental voices both alone and in combinations.
Cheung’s concern with instrumental color follows naturally from his formation as a composer. A pianist as well as a composer, Cheung had as his primary composition teachers the spectralist Tristan Murail and Bernard Rands; he wrote his dissertation on Ligeti’s Hamburg Concerto, a late work exploring non-harmonic sonorities for solo horn and chamber orchestra. Given this background, it isn’t surprising that Cheung’s compositions tend to engage sonority as a substantive product of careful orchestration.
With the exception of 2015’s Après une lecture, a work for solo oboe, all of the pieces on Cycles and Arrows locate their musical centers of gravity in the timbral effects of instrumental aggregations and divisions. One of the more adventurous instances is More Marginalia (2014) for a ten-piece ensemble. The composition represents a reworking of Cheung’s 2012 piece for ten traditional Chinese instruments, originally written for the Taipei Chinese Orchestra. For the newer work, Cheung replaced half the Chinese instruments with Western instruments of more-or-less analogous makeup. The ensemble’s unconventional makeup allows Cheung to set up shifting timbral alliances and oppositions between groups of instruments whose contrasting voices reflect contrasting traditions and playing techniques; especially effective are the contrasts between the plucked and bowed Chinese instruments on the one hand, and Western strings and winds on the other. In this piece as in the other works for chamber orchestra, Cheung plays instrumental coalitions off against each other in constellations of color that break apart as quickly as they cohere.
Although a solo piece, Après une lecture also is essentially about the dynamics of sound color. Based on a free reading of Leoš Janáček’s transcriptions of spoken language, Cheung’s composition, forcefully realized by oboist Ernest Rombout, draws on a vocabulary of microtones and multiphonics to mimic the vagaries of the human voice; its irregular accents and tempos, along with mercurial changes of register, convey something of the range of sonic nuances that are an integral, if often overlooked, dimension of linguistic meaning.
— Daniel Barbiero, 9.17.2018
One common criticism of post-modernism when it first became widely known in the 80’s was that it was a movement based on superficialities. For example, when an architect used some vestige of a Greek column in their work it was just there because it looked good or called up certain associations. There was seemingly no reference or understanding about why the ancients might have developed such a form or what mathematical principles lay behind its visual perfection.
The music of Anthony Cheung is a firm rebuttal to that line of thinking. When you read his program notes for this, his third portrait album, you quickly realize that any echo of past forms or other compositions comes from a place of deep scholarship and musical understanding. Combined with a sureness of orchestration that feels natural and intuitive but is surely the product of much study and experimentation, the result is a delightful array of compositions from the last five years. Take the opening work, written for flute and string quartet and cheekily entitled The Real Book Of Fake Tunes. Over five short movements, the dialogue between the players unfurls with such wit and elegance you almost forget there are five people working together to produce the sounds. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the players are the genius flautist Claire Chase and the excellent Spektral Quartet, who also appear on the angular Bagatelles with pianist Winston Choi.
So it goes throughout the album, whether combining Chinese instruments with Western ones in More Marginalia (played by the astonishing Atlas Ensemble) or composing for solo oboe in Après Une Lecture, which is cleverly based on notated speech patterns Cheung saw in the notebooks of Leos Janacek and played to perfection by Ernest Rombaut. The International Contemporary Ensemble appears on two pieces, the swaggering Assumed Roles with violist Maiya Papach, and Time's Vestiges, which ends the album with a sense of unresolved mystery, like a flashlight’s beam being swallowed by tunnel. Cycles And Arrows is, like Dystemporal from 2016, further proof that Cheung is one of the finest composers of our time.
— Jeremy Shatan, 10.07.2018
This anthology of recent pieces enchants even more than "Dystemporal” (cf. No. 651). Cheung has matured, the refinement of his writing illuminates discourse as form. If the Impressionist tendency of The Real Book of Fake Tunes (2015) can sometimes call to mind Debussy or Roussel (undoubtedly the alloy of the flute and the strings, here a quartet) and even Murail, it is thanks not only to the fluidity of the material, but especially to the circulation of its influx between the voices. Claire Chase's flutes (piccolo, and C, and alto) weave through the interstices of the more lyrical strings and sometimes envelop them. As with the flutist, the Spektral Quartet modulates brightness and grain. When it comes to producing a more raspy timbre and a vigorous rhythmic frame, the bows hold nothing back.
Cheung’s Chinese cultural heritage and background are manifest in More Marginalia (2014): sheng, guzheng, pipa and erhu become the ambiguous alter ego of Western instruments, and vice versa. With a subtlety that is fully his own, he avoids any exorcising drift, and the three moments of the piece return as many "marginal comments" to his Windswept Cypresses, which appeared in the aforementioned album.
With Assumed Roles (2014), the composer returns to his avowed obsession with multiple voices and realities. It is a role play that we attend, and the status of the viola vis-à-vis the ensemble is never final. By the harmonic climate that prevails, and with the help of an electric guitar, the piece takes a spectral coloration, hybridized by looped patterns. Bright and virtuosic, fluid and lyrical - all qualities that the International Contemporary Ensemble renders with naturalness - Assumed Roles is typical of the sense of formal dynamics developed by the composer.
Time's Vestiges (2013) for ensemble is an extension, with its well-negotiated transition from a faltering overactivity to a stripped stasis. The finely dosed microtonality that Cheung readily uses is also evident in the Bagatelles (2014) for piano and string quartet, where its necessity seems obvious. Highlighting Winston Choi, the consubstantial mixture of suppleness and supersonic reactivity increases the communicative vitality of these miniatures. We will surely continue to talk about the musical inventiveness of Anthony Cheung.
(5 star review)
— Pierre Rigaudière, 2.01.2019
It is all in the detail. Anthony Cheung has an intensely accurate sense of where his notes are going, and how and why. His music is so well made that it can give a friendly wave to jazz without falling flat on its face. It can even entice a quotation – from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, of all things – to play new games. And its precision is responsible for a wealth of sonic magic.
In this collection of ensemble and chamber pieces, all from 2013-15, the jazz flavour comes across most cheerfully in Assumed Roles, a kind of unconcerto for viola, when a family of springing motifs gradually comes to take over from a four-note pattern that has monopolized the music a while. And the ending of this piece, a long descent shadowing Mahler, again shows how, when Cheung reflects on something, the image remains firmly embedded in his own mirror.
Beethoven you might think a trickier customer, but Cheung handles him adroitly in a set of three Bagatelles for piano and string quartet. Quite apart from the odd quotation or reference, these pieces accept the Beethovenian definition of the bagatelle as something abrupt and compact, nothing mere about it. Similarly bagatellish in this respect are the five movements of The Real Book of Fake Tunes, for flute and quartet.
Though Cheung has a Chinese surname, he was born in San Francisco, and his music only begins to sound Chinese when he is writing for Chinese instruments – along with western ones – in More Marginalia. Even here, the otherness is held tightly in check as much as it is all through his music by abstraction.
All through, too, creative awareness lends a light in which the music reveals itself, beautifully. Yet one piece retains its even more beguiling mystery: Time’s Vestiges, for nine players. This, in twelve minutes or so, irregularly, executes a sweep from low to high – an arrow of time, within which there are many smaller arrows, cycles, and cycles on cycles. At the beginning, soloists take turns with a four-note shape not unrelated to that of Assumed Roles. Time is slow and sticky here, and the instruments need effort to extricate themselves. There follows a sequence of episodes gradually taking over from one another: an imaginary ocean of wavelets and sprays, a multi-instrument staccato pattering, a wonderful horn solo, and finally a crushed harmony of retuned strings in continuous ascent as the piano takes steps in the same direction. Haunting and memorable.
Not to be forgotten, too, is Après une lecture, an oboe solo of recurrent motifs with a startling close.
The excellent performances feature ICE, the Atlas Ensemble, the Spektral Quartet, Winston Choi, Claire Chase and Ernest Rombout.