Borderlands Ensemble: the space in which to see

About

Formed in 2017, Tucson based Borderlands Ensemble formed to foster connections across disciplines and music communities that have traditionally been separated. the space in which to see specifically draws links between music cultures in Arizona and Mexico, engaging with one of the most dynamic and charged dialogues in our current national landscape. Including works by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, Jay Vosk, Vivian Fine, Charles Daniels, Alejandro Vera, as well as traditional Mexican songs arranged by Borderlands artistic director Johanna Lundy, this engaging debut speaks to the ensemble's purview to reach out to the region specific audience of the culture rich American Southwest.

Audio

# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 71:18

the space in which to see

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Sarah Toy, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn
01I. This is how you see me the space in which to place me
I. This is how you see me the space in which to place me
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Sarah Toy, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn1:11
02II. To see this space see how you place me in you
II. To see this space see how you place me in you
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Sarah Toy, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn3:02
03III. This is how to place you in the space in which to see
III. This is how to place you in the space in which to see
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Sarah Toy, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn1:33
04IV. The space in me you see is this place
IV. The space in me you see is this place
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Sarah Toy, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn2:48
05Passing Ships
Passing Ships
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Freya Creech, violin, Ann Weaver, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn11:23

Songs and Arias

Vivian Fine
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn
061. Love-Song
1. Love-Song
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn2:09
072. Elizabethan Song
2. Elizabethan Song
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn1:45
083. Rupert’s Aria from the opera “Unfulfilled”
3. Rupert’s Aria from the opera “Unfulfilled”
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn1:48
094. Arioso
4. Arioso
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn2:35
105. Duet (homage to Claude Debussy)
5. Duet (homage to Claude Debussy)
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn1:52
116. Aria from the cantata “Leben O süsses schreckliches Leben”
6. Aria from the cantata “Leben O süsses schreckliches Leben”
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn1:13
127. Canto Hondo (Deep Song)
7. Canto Hondo (Deep Song)
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn2:55
13Dream Machine
Dream Machine
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Joseph Rousos-Hammond, violin, Sarah Toy, viola, Ann Weaver, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn10:16
14Ometéotl
Ometéotl
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Ann Weaver, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn, Sean Bresemann, conductor14:55
15La Llorona
La Llorona
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Freya Creech, violin, Ann Weaver, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn, José-Luis Puerta, guitar4:00
16Sin un Amor
Sin un Amor
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Freya Creech, violin, Ann Weaver, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn, José-Luis Puerta, guitar3:35
17Sobre las Olas
Sobre las Olas
Ellen Chamberlain, violin, Freya Creech, violin, Ann Weaver, viola, Robert Chamberlain, cello, Johanna Lundy, horn4:18

Hailing from the American Southwest, the Borderlands Ensemble was formed in 2017 to reach across social boundaries and bring communities together through concert music. the space in which to see was catalyzed by a project entitled “Place and Identity in the Borderlands” which specifically explored connections between the shared cultural identity of Arizona and Mexico. Led by artistic director Johanna Lundy, three collaborators brought their specialized knowledge to the project: Dr. José Luis Puerta, guitarist; Dr. Luis E. Coronado Guel, Mexican historian; and Jessica Gonzales, visual artist who created paintings inspired by the music that are included in the album artwork. The collection of music on this release speaks both to the group’s commitment to building cultural bridges through chamber music as well as its refined and impactful performances.

The album opens with a work written for Borderlands by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti. the space in which to see sets a text by Layli Long Soldier, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. The poem engages with issues of Indigenous identity and place, concepts which are obviously at the fore in the borderlands region. The opening movement features an unsettling, percolating ensemble texture around which clarion horn notes sound a call to attention. In the second, a quote from the heroic climax of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is heard in augmentation in the horn over insistent violin notes and a skittering, rhythmic gesture in the cello. The third setting is static and ominous, with unstable sonorities in the strings creating a shrouded texture. The last movement also evokes Stravinsky, albeit his austere later style heard in works such as Requiem Canticles. Individual instrumental entrances form an ambiguous chorale before Lundy’s horn closes the work with a series of meditative breaths.

Jay Vosk’s Passing Ships for horn and string quartet is an abstract representation of human migration. The horn and quartet occupy opposite roles in a dialogue, and Vosk establishes a mournful tone throughout that captures the struggle against obstacles that migrants face in their pursuit of freedom and security.

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Vivian Fine’s Songs and Arias contrasts richly expressive movements with moments that gently poke fun at the classical tradition. Fine ventures through allusions to several styles and eras in the work, from the rhapsodic, Romantic quality of the outer movements, “Love Song” and “Canto Hondo (Deep Song)”, to the early music inspired “Elizabethan Song” and “Arioso”, to the Debussy inspired “Duet.” The work’s more humorous moments come in two excerpts from fictional compositions: “Rupert’s Aria from the opera ‘Unfulfilled’” with its raucous horn part and a concertino style aria from a non-existent cantata, “Life, Oh Sweet Terrible Life.”

Mexico City born Charles Daniels’ Dream Machine explores the illogical and fantastical landscape of dreams. The composition avoids recognizable main themes, instead linking together evocative, colorful textures tied together by a logic all their own.

Alejandro Vera’s Ometéotl is inspired by the Aztec god of creation, representing the creative essence that powered all other gods and deities. Integrating pre-Hispanic rhythms and imitations of ancient instruments, Vera conjures a world where faith was invested in powerful forces beyond human control. Angular lines and imitative passagework evoke a ritualistic, mystical expression.

The final three tracks on the album are arrangements of Mexican music by artistic director and hornist Johanna Lundy. “La Llorona”, or the “wailing woman,” is an important figure in Mexican folklore, the embodiment of tragic melancholy. “Sin un Amor” is a representative song from the repertoire of the famed New York City based bolero group Los Panchos, formed in 1944. The final arrangement, “Sobre las Olas” is probably the best known of the three, originally composed by Juventino Rosas. Despite his Indigenous heritage, Rosas composed in a wide range of styles, from European waltzes to polkas to mazurkas.

– Dan Lippel

Recorded May 2019, September 2019, and August 2020 at Crowder Hall at the Fred Fox School of Music, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Primary producer and editor: Johanna Lundy

Additional production by: Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, Chris Jackson, and Molly Gebrian

Recording and mastering engineer: Wiley Ross

Conductor (Vera): Sean Bresemann

Cover art: Jessica Gonzales

Package design: Robert Jaime

Borderlands Ensemble

The Borderlands Ensemble was formed in 2017 by Johanna Lundy, Ellen Chamberlain, Sarah Toy, Ann Weaver, and Robert Chamberlain. After many years working together in an orchestral setting, they were ready to explore new concert formats and grow relationships with audiences. The ensemble’s performances aim to disrupt barriers imposed by classical music venues and traditions, making classical music more engaging and relevant to all people. Past concerts have taken place at breweries, biker bars, and coffee houses and the group has collaborated with the Museum of Contemporary Art-Tucson, the Consulate of Mexico in Tucson, the Downtown Chamber Series (Phoenix), El Crisol Mezcal Bar, Galeria Mitotera, the Loft Cinema, and many others.

The Borderlands Ensemble supports composers and their creation of new music and believes in the medium of contemporary art music to shed light on humanity and create collective experiences. They also enjoy performing pop, rock, and folk crossover music. They strive to celebrate and promote diversity in everything they do, with the long-term goal to change the public’s perception of classical and contemporary art music and to create measurable social change in the borderlands community through music.

The project that inspired this album, Place and Identity in the Borderlands, was an exploration into the shared cultural identity of Arizona and Mexico, presented through the lens of classical chamber music. Special collaborators joined the group: guitarist Dr. José Luis Puerta, Mexican historian Dr. Luis Coronado Guel, and visual artist Jessica Gonzales. Drs. Puerta and Guel were instrumental in selecting popular and folk repertoire to compliment the new compositions. Gonzales created four original paintings that were inspired by the new works on this album – her artwork is featured throughout.

Special thanks to the Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona, The University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music, and the Tucson Guitar Society for their support of this project. Additionally, this project would not have been possible without the support of private donors and collaborators.


Reviews

5

The Art Music Lounge

This diverse and unusual assemblage of modern works as played by the Borderlands Ensemble is a most welcome addition to the catalogue. My regular readers may have seen my long rant on the poor state of classical music today due to the fact that 90% of the music played by most classical musicians is old stuff which, though it may be good, is the classical equivalent of tuning in a radio station or podcast that only plays popular music from the 1920s through the 1940s. So on that score, I heartily applaud this album.

The downside is that the Borderlands Ensemble seems to take the view that biker bars and breweries are the places to attract new audiences to new classical music. I’m not sure that this approach works all that well. Better they should perform in open public spaces, like a downtown plaza or something similar, and allow whatever audience to come to them rather than trying to force the issue playing for bikers and drunks. At least, that’s how I look at it.

I detected a PC slant to the first selection, Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti’s the space in which to see, taken from a text by Layli Long Soldier of the Oglala Lakota Nation and presumably exploring Soldier’s “indigenous identity.” My view is pretty much the same as that of the late Benny Goodman in judging musical talent: “I’m selling music, not racism. If a guy has something to give, let him give it.” In other words, please stop worrying about this or that writer’s or composer’s racial background. If the music is good, that’s all that really matters. Period. The End.

As it turns out, the space opens with typically edgy string figures, the French horn blurting out-of-tune notes, and some sort of percussion (though no percussionist is listed) banging away. Eventually the horn lines coalesce a little, there is a break in the music, and the second part opens with edgy cello lines over which the other strings all seem to be playing similarly edgy figures. Here it is the horn that grounds the listener in more consonant lines, an island of form in the midst of formless music. It is, without question, a strange piece, mostly in the now-accepted modern-edgy style that originated in the 1990s with Thomas Adès but is now a universal mode of musical expression.

There seems to be very little in the way of development in this piece; it is, like so many works of this genre, music of feeling and emotion rather than form. Nonetheless, much of it is very effective if not particularly cohesive. The fourth and fifth sections, titled “The space in me you see is this place” is the most consonant and lyrical piece in this suite, though again there is little development.

Jay Vosk’s Passing Ships has the string quartet develop the music, quite slowly, while the French horn makes intermittent, and often one-note, comments. The one drawback to this piece is that it goes on far too long (11:20) and says the same things over and over.

I happened to review this CD without looking at the track listing in the booklet while it was playing, and thus sometimes missed the change-over from composer to composer. This proved to be a problem for the music included therein, as so many of the pieces by different composers sounded so much alike. For a moment, I thought that Passing Ships was part of Lanzilotti’s suite, and to be honest, “Elizabethan Song” from Vivian Fine’s Songs and Arias sounded much like Passing Ships and the last track of the space. Yet most of Fine’s suite has more musical form to it than the preceding works, thus I found it very interesting. She, at least, actually developed her music and took a varied approach to composition as she moved from movement to movement, thus providing the listener with not only more form but also more contrast in style. By far the most interesting and complex piece in this suite was “Duet (Homage to Claude Debussy)” which, ironically, sounds absolutely nothing like any of Debussy’s music. But make no mistake, Fine was an excellent composer and this suite of instrumental songs is an outstanding piece, brilliantly played by the ensemble. Bravo!

Dream Machine is by Charlie Daniels, a composer born in 1985 and thus not to be confused with the country singer of the same name. This is a somewhat minimalist piece, with a lot of moving parts that stay on one chord for as long as one can possibly stand, though there is development in the music which takes it out of the minimalist genre. Moreover, Daniels changes the tempo from medium fast to slow for a middle section of surprising originality and great beauty.

Personally, I didn’t “get” Alejandro Vera’s Ometéotl at all…not that I didn’t understand his intention to write a piece “based on the Aztec god of creation and the duality of Mixtec mythology” (whatever the latter is), but that Vera just seemed to be just tossing notes and phrases up against a wall to see what sticks. Some of the musical ideas are interesting, but as a complete piece it is rather formless. Perhaps that was his intention. Vera’s explanation is that his piece “mixes pre-Hispanic rhythms and imitations of sonorities of ancient instruments with a modern aesthetic.” In short, a jumble of sounds, interesting in and of themselves but rather scrambled as a composition. Towards the end the strings drop out as the French horn indulges in a splattering of notes that have no connection with one another, but just seem to exist for the sake of existing.

We then get some Mexican music, much of it traditional, starting with the melodic and very old-fashioned-sounding waltz La Llorona. It’s very pleasant to hear but neither modern nor classical. Although pleasant to hear, it’s just pop music, no different than listening to Wayne King’s band play The Waltz You Saved for Me. Sobre las Olas, by the way, is our old friend Over the Waves; and yes, it was written by Mexican composer Juventino Rosas and not by Waldetufel or Strauss, as many people assume.

Definitely a mixed-bag album, then, with two really excellent pieces (the Fine and Daniels works), some interesting moments in the others, and a Mexican waltz festival at the end.

— Lynn René Bayley, 8.07.2021

5

Infodad

A New Focus Recordings release featuring the Borderlands Ensemble has interlocking causes, as hinted at in the performers’ name: it seeks to explore relationships between American (specifically Native American) and Mexican music and also wants to blur the distinction among genres to create a new blend that reaches across the social boundaries reflected in various groups’ preferences for different forms of music – the latter aim also being an element of the Apollo Chamber Players’ CD. However lofty these goals (which are common ones in music today), these pieces too reach out successfully only to the extent that they work as music rather than social dogma. Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti’s the space in which to see (no capital letters – a not-uncommon affectation) is on the topic of Native American feelings and identity (it is based on a text by a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation). The music is of course unsettled, dissonant and athematic, its most interesting element lying in the “blended genres” area, since it uses a bit of Stravinsky here and there. Jay Vosk’s Passing Ships is more aurally accessible: a horn weaves a consistently expressive, rather dour sound above a string quartet. The work wears out its welcome rather quickly (it goes on for 11½ minutes) and does not directly reflect on the migrant experience, which is what it intends to do – but this is well-constructed music, even if it is a touch on the self-important side. In Songs and Arias by Vivian Fine, the blending and contrasting of genres is very direct and at times amusing (humor tends to be noticeably absent from “cause” music). One of Fine’s seven movements pays direct homage to Debussy; two others, more lightheartedly, present material from a nonexistent opera and a nonexistent sort-of-Bach-like cantata. The mildly sarcastic material, for what it may be worth, is not all that different from music created in all seriousness by other contemporary composers – there may be a lesson in that somewhere. After this, Dream Machine by Charles Daniels is textural rather than rhythmic or thematic, and it is intended not as parody but as a reflection of dream experiences. Then, Alejandro Vera’s Ometéotl, the title being the name of the Aztec god of creation, comes up with some interesting effects to indicate ancient belief systems and very old instruments (which are imitated, not actually used). The work is one of those formless-and-of-the-void pieces for which György Ligeti was well-known. The disc concludes with three arrangements of Mexican music – which, like the arrangements of Armenian folk tunes played by the Apollo Chamber Players, prove to be more aurally attractive and more directly communicative than the more-sophisticated, carefully composed works on the rest of the CD. This is not merely a matter of pleasant sounds, although certainly these three pieces have those (Sobre las Olas is a very well-known waltz tune indeed) – it is a matter of unassuming music, music that does not seek to force engagement of the audience with a specific cause or attitude, being better able than more-intense works to communicate a sense of style and cultural connection.

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