Composer Douglas Boyce's second release on New Focus, The Hunt by Night, is a collection of his finely wrought chamber music. Boyce's music balances an affinity for subtle motivic development with vigorous rhythmic energy. Featured performers are counter)induction, Trio Cavatina, violist Beth Guterman Chu, cellist Schuyler Slack, and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute.
|01||Quintet l’homme armé (Live)|
Quintet l’homme armé (Live)
|counter)induction, Benjamin Fingland, clarinet, Miranda Cuckson, violin, Jessica Meyer, viola, Caleb van der Swaagh, cello, Ning Yu, piano||12:37|
|02||Stretto Perpetuo, Quire 4 No. 1 from A Book of Etudes|
Stretto Perpetuo, Quire 4 No. 1 from A Book of Etudes
|Schuyler Slack, cello, Ieva Jokubaviciut, piano||9:41|
|03||Piano Quartet No. 2|
Piano Quartet No. 2
|Trio Cavatina, Beth Guterman Chu, viola||11:43|
|04||Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind|
Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind
|counter)induction, Miranda Cuckson, violin, Daniel Lippel, guitar, Jeffrey Irving, percussion||14:26|
|05||The Hunt by Night, Quire 9 No. 3 from A Book of Etudes|
The Hunt by Night, Quire 9 No. 3 from A Book of Etudes
|counter)induction, Benjamin Fingland, clarinet, Caleb van der Swaagh, cello, Ning Yu, piano||12:07|
Composer Douglas Boyce releases his second recording of chamber music that draws inspiration from many sources — early music forms and techniques modernized for the present, dynamic chamber music interaction, and rich interpretations of poetry, painting, and philosophy. Boyce uses all these to create a multilayered tapestry of sound and ideas. This collection includes performances by counter)induction (the ensemble he co-founded), as well as Trio Cavatina, Beth Guterman Chu, Ieva Jokubaviciute and Schuyler Slack.
Douglas Boyce’s Quintet l’homme armé is created from a 15th c. melody of the same name. The piece is roughly in 2 halves. The first opens full of a bright edginess, streaming freely from a manic clarinet, all shrieks and flourishes. The second explores a quieter side of the instruments — introspective, transparent. The clarinet’s shrieks turn to moans. It is not that the intensity has bled out, it is still palpable. We now hear only its trace, a shimmering filament held taut.
Stretto Perpetuo is part of Boyce’s large scale Book of Etudes project. Boyce works closely in collaboration with engineer Ryan Streber, and it shows. The precision and clarity of the recording spotlights the full timbral mastery of cellist Schuyler Slack: a heavy bow that is caustic, almost severe; a throaty and muscular pizzicato, a wonderfully bitey articulation that sounds like a bad scraped knee feels. Boyce balances the sharp edges with starry, gentle chord sequences for the piano. Pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute’s wide panorama of tone — pastel, rounded tones for the highly-voiced chords, and steely hardness for the midrange punches — enlarges the piece such that it sounds like more than a duo. But the insistent ostinato returns, with its sleight-of-hand syncopations. Even a gossamer coda is infiltrated by that ostinato, seemingly trying to start something, only to spirit off into the distance.Read More
Boyce’s Piano Quartet No. 2 begins with writhing glissandi in the strings, punctuated with piano calls. They increase in volume and insistence, toward a breaking point, only to recede slowly. The gambits are varied — a jangling piano overtakes the writhing strings, a passage of high violin grows increasingly aggressive and subsumed by bouncing, insistent eighth notes, the whole lot subjected to “heavy messing” (Boyce’s marking). The last farewell slowly unwinds over the last two minutes of the piece, leaving us in an alien, suspended world, full of memories.
Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind is dedicated to Boyce’s son, a dreamy and dramatic four year old when the work was composed. In much of Boyce’s work, motive is presented as a process; here motive stands as gesture, a statement of its own. The spareness of the work brings into relief the three very different characters of the violin, guitar and percussion, and allows for the varied timbres and combinations to speak clearly. Elsewhere, the instruments interact so tightly as to sound like a single organism. Especially arresting are moments when the sonic border between one instrument and another is unstable; another affecting moment happens about three minutes from the end, when an imitated line is slowly mapped onto violin and guitar.
Boyce’s The Hunt By Night is the final piece in his wide ranging set of 21 Etudes. More than abstract music, it is an aesthetic, poetic conversation with the painting by Paolo Uccello (1470) and the poem by Derek Mahon that shares its name. This “modern caccia” is vibrantly alive. Along the way, roles change, instruments group and regroup, but the energy of the chase cannot be contained. The heat of the pursuers and the pursued is there, along with the sudden quiet moments of suspenseful waiting. Tempo markings “ill-advised” and “fully-fanged, target oriented” intensify the atmosphere. All of Boyce’s Etudes assume virtuosity on the part of the players, and this is no different. These players swing us between the stylized dimensionality of the painting and the smooth space of the chase, all switchbacks and takeovers and leaps through the rhythmic patterning of the forest.
– Kyle Bartlett
Track 1 recorded live by Ars Laureate at the Armand Hammer Auditorium, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, George Washington University, Washington DC. (15 Nov, 2020)
Track 2 recorded at In Your Ears Studio in Richmond, Virginia, (17 Nov, 2018) mixed and mastered by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon West, NY
Tracks 3, 4, 5 recorded, mixed, and mastered by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon West, NY; Piano Quartet No. 2 (4 Oct 2011), Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind (19 May, 2019), The Hunt by Night (1 Feb 2020)
Session producers: Carlos Chafin (Track 2) Ryan Streber (Tracks 3,4,5)
Editing producers: Ryan Streber and Douglas Boyce
Design and Layout: Douglas Boyce
Cover image: The Hunt by Night, 1470 (Paolo Uccello, 1397-1475)
The Hunt by Night is partially supported by grants from George Washington University
Douglas Boyce writes chamber music that draws on Renaissance traditions and modernist aesthetics, building rich rhythmic structures that shift between order, fragmentation, elegance, and ferocity. Regarding A Book of Songs (2006, in process), the Washington Post wrote “[they] can only be described as drop-dead beautiful. Easily the most captivating works on the program, these songs of love and death are extraordinarily well written and insightful.” Regarding La Déploration, (2016) Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim wrote that "...the violinist, cellist... and clarinetist... spread out throughout the crypt. Against vaporous harmonics and ghostly fragments of Renaissance music played by the strings, [a] warm, clear clarinet announced itself as very much alive as it sashayed in and out of blues territory and laughed in the face of their mournful keening.”https://www.douglasboyce.net
In its twenty years of virtuosic performances and daring programming, the composer/performer collective counter)induction has established itself as a force of excellence in contemporary music. Hailed by The New York Times for its “fiery ensemble virtuosity” and for its “first-rate performances” by The Washington Post, c)i has given critically-acclaimed performances at Miller Theatre, Merkin Concert Hall, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Music at the Anthology, and the George Washington University. Since emerging in 1998 from a series of collaborations between composers at the University of Pennsylvania and performers at the Juilliard School, counter)induction has premiered numerous pieces by both established and emerging American composers; including Eric Moe, Suzanne Sorkin, Ursula Mamlok, and Lee Hyla. c)i has also widely promoted the music of international composers including Jukka Tiensuu, Gilbert Amy, Dai Fujikura, Diego Tedesco, and Elena Mendoza. Since its inception, c)i’s mission has been straightforward: world-class performances of contemporary chamber music, without hype and without agenda other than a complete commitment to the most compelling music of our day.http://counterinduction.com/
Benjamin Fingland interprets a diverse range of clarinet literature, with performances conveying “spiritedness and humor”, “unflagging precision and energy”, "eloquence and passion", "dazzling technique" (The New York Times) and playing described as “something magical” (The Boston Globe), “compellingly musical” (The New York Times) and “thoroughly lyrical…expert” (The Philadelphia Inquirer). A proponent of the music of our time, he works closely with living composers. In addition to being a founding member of the critically-acclaimed new music collective counter)induction, he plays with many leading contemporary performance ensembles: NOVUS NY, the International Contemporary Ensemble, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Network for New Music, the Argento Ensemble, the Locrian Chamber Players, and Sequitur. He is a member of the renowned Dorian Wind Quintet, which will soon celebrate 60 years of groundbreaking commissions and performances of wind chamber music. He has Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the Juilliard School and is on the faculty of the Third Street Music School Settlement in New York City.http://benjaminfingland.com
Violinist Miranda Cuckson has combined a deep background in the classical repertoire with an adventurous and probing spirit to become an acclaimed, in-demand performer of music new and old. She performs worldwide as soloist and chamber musician, at venues including the Berlin Philharmonie, Carnegie Hall, Teatro Colón, Suntory Hall, Library of Congress, 92nd Street Y, Guggenheim Museum, Monday Evening Concerts in LA, and the Marlboro, Bard, Lincoln Center, West Cork, Bridgehampton, Music Mountain, Portland and Bodensee festivals.
She made her Carnegie Hall debut playing Piston’s concerto with the American Symphony Orchestra. Her recent performances include premiering a violin concerto written for her by Georg Friedrich Haas, in Tokyo, Stuttgart and Porto, the New York premiere of Michael Hersch’s concerto, and recent recitals at the Metropolitan Museum, Miller Theatre, Strathmore and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music.
Her discography includes, most recently, violin music of Wolpe, Carter and Ferneyhough (Urlicht), and Bartók, Schnittke and Lutoslawski (ECM Records). The New York Times named her recording of Nono’s La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura a Best Classical Recording of 2012. Her eleven lauded albums also feature the Korngold and Ponce concertos and music by Finney, Shapey, Martino, Sessions, Eckardt, Hersch, Xenakis, Glass, Mumford, Fujikura and more.
She is director of the non-profit Nunc, a member of collectives AMOC and counter)induction, and a performer and advisory council member at National Sawdust. She studied at The Juilliard School, where she received her doctorate and the Presser Award, and she teaches at Mannes College.
With playing that is “fierce and lyrical” and works that are “other-worldly” (The Strad) and “evocative” (New York Times), Jessica Meyer is a versatile composer and violist whose passionate musicianship radiates accessibility, generosity, and emotional clarity. Jessica has premiered pieces for solo viola internationally – expanding the repertoire for viola by championing new works while also composing her own. Meyer’s compositions explore the wide palette of emotionally expressive colors available to each instrument while using traditional and extended techniques inspired by her varied experiences as a contemporary and period instrumentalist. Recent premieres include performances by the Grammy-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, cellist Amanda Gookin for her Forward Music Project at National Sawdust, soprano Melissa Wimbish for her Carnegie Hall debut, Sybarite 5, PUBLIQuartet, and NOVUS NY of Trinity Wall Street under the direction of Julian Wachner. Equally at home with many different styles of music, Jessica can regularly be seen performing on Baroque viola, improvising with jazz musicians, or collaborating with other performer/composers.https://jessicameyermusic.com
A versatile chamber musician and soloist, cellist Caleb van der Swaagh is an alumnus of Ensemble ACJW (now known as Ensemble Connect) – a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. Caleb is a first prize winner in the SAVVY Chamber Competition and is the recipient of the Manhattan School of Music Pablo Casals Award and the Tanglewood Karl Zeise Memorial Cello Prize and was also a grant recipient from the Virtu Foundation. As a chamber musician, Caleb has performed with the Borromeo String Quartet, The Knights, A Far Cry, and the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players and has recently appeared at such festivals as the Chelsea Music Festival, Ottawa ChamberFest, Garth Newel Music Center, Music from Montauk, and Birdfoot Festival. Caleb’s most recent release is the Carter Clarinet Quintet with Phoenix Ensemble on Navona and he has also appeared on recordings on Albany Records, Bright Shiny Things, Supertrain Records, Linn Records, and Avie Records.
An advocate of contemporary music, Caleb is a member of counter)induction and Ensemble Échappé as well as performing with other leading new music ensembles. Among many others, Caleb has premiered works by such composers as Beat Furrer, Ted Hearne, Iancu Dumitrescu, Christian Wolff, Roscoe Mitchell, and Georg Friedrich Haas. He also regularly performs his own compositions and arrangements.
A native New Yorker, Caleb graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University as part of the Columbia – Juilliard Exchange program with a degree in Classics and Medieval & Renaissance Studies. Caleb received his master’s degree with academic honors from New England Conservatory and later studied at the Manhattan School of Music. His primary teachers are Bonnie Hampton, Bernard Greenhouse, Laurence Lesser, and David Geber. Caleb plays on a cello made by David Wiebe in 2012. For more information, visit www.calebvanderswaagh.com
Praised for her, “taut and impassioned performance” by the New York Times, pianist Ning Yu performs with vigor and dedication for traditional and repertoire of the 20th and 21st century on stages across the United States, Europe and Asia. Ning brings virtuosity and adventurous spirit to a wide range of music, both in solo performances and in collaborations with some of today’s most distinguished creative artists.
Working at the forefront of the current creative music scene in the US, Ning has given dozens of world premieres by esteemed composers such as Tristan Murail, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, David Lang, Michael Gordon, Enno Poppe, and collaborated with artists from different genres such as Sufjan Stevens, Glenn Kotche, Pete Swanson, and Bryce Dessner. She has performed with ensembles such as Bang on A Can All-Stars, ICE, Talea Ensemble, Signal Ensemble, counter)induction, and she is a member of the highly regarded piano/percussion quartet Yarn/Wire.
Ning appears in concert halls, international festivals, universities, and other non-traditional performance spaces. These venues include Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Museum of Modern Art , Miller Theater, Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, Library of Congress, Issue Project Room, Pioneer Works, Contempo Concert Series at University of Chicago, the Kennedy Center, Kimmel Center, Köln Philharmonie in Germany, Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam, Kwe- Tsing Theater in Hong Kong, Spoleto Festival, Rainy Day Festival in Luxembourg, Ultima Festival in Norway, Transit Festival in Belgium, Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, Singapore International Arts Festival, Princeton University, Stanford University, Columbia University, Yale University, Brown University, and Eastman School of Music.
In theater, Ning performed with Mabou Mines’ Dollhouse — a critically acclaimed production directed by Lee Breuer. She can be seen in the production’s feature-film version, produced by ARTE France. Ning has also collaborated with director Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project on the development of the Tony Award–nominated play 33 Variations.
Ning is the winner of the Boucourechliev Prize at the Ninth International Concours de Orléans in France — a competition devoted to piano repertoire from 1900 to today. Together with other members of Yarn/Wire, the first-prize winner of Open Category of the International M-Prize Chamber Music Competition, and the prestigious “40 under 40 award” of the Stony Brook University for outstanding alumni.
Ning is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music (B.M. And M.M.A) and Stony Brook University (D.M.A.). She is assistant professor of piano and chamber music at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Ning currently resides in New York City with her husband and daughter. She is a Yamaha Artist.
Pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute, violinist Harumi Rhodes, and cellist Priscilla Lee formed Trio Cavatina in 2005 at the renowned Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. Deeply rooted in a strong sense of shared musical values, Trio Cavatina has rapidly emerged as one of today's outstanding chamber ensembles whose committed music-making prompted Harris Goldsmith to describe the trio, in his 2008 Musical America article, as offering 'potent, intense interpretations’. As the winner of the 2009 Naumburg International Chamber Music Competition, Trio Cavatina made its Carnegie Hall debut in 2010 with scintillating performances of two monumental Beethoven trios, Leon Kirchner's second trio, and the world premiere performance of 'Faces of Guernica' written for them by Richard Danielpour. They also made their San Francisco debut earlier that season at Herbst Theater (San Francisco Performances).
Guitarist Dan Lippel, called a "modern guitar polymath (Guitar Review)" and an "exciting soloist" (NY Times) is active as a soloist, chamber musician, and recording artist. He has been the guitarist for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) since 2005 and new music quartet Flexible Music since 2003. Recent performance highlights include recitals at Sinus Ton Festival (Germany), University of Texas at San Antonio, MOCA Cleveland, Center for New Music in San Francisco, and chamber performances at the Macau Music Festival (China), Sibelius Academy (Finland), Cologne's Acht Brücken Festival (Germany), and the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. He has appeared as a guest with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and New York New Music Ensemble, among others, and recorded for Kairos, Bridge, Albany, Starkland, Centaur, and Fat Cat.http://www.danlippel.com
Douglas Boyce’s erudite liner notes may make you reach for a dictionary. If I read him right, chamber music is no longer mere comfortable entertainment for the well-heeled; it provides contemporary humankind with an escape from time’s clutches, through ritual provided by “music’s hierophants” (the priesthood of composer/performers). Not sure about that, but let’s turn to the music itself.
Boyce writes lively, sometimes jarring and jagged lines, demanding for clergy and congregation alike. The title track was already released by counter)induction (Boyce is a founding member), reviewed last issue. It’s terrific to have a broad collection of his music to compare to that exhilarating jaunt.
Quintet l’homme armé references the cantus firmus Guillaume Dufay used in his eponymous Mass; extra marks if you can sing that melody, but even so, you’ll still need some imagination to find a connection between it and this mysterious descendant; I believe I hear the echoes, but I won’t bet the house. Piano Quartet No.2 involves intricate play with rhythmic blocks. There’s a chancy leeway to how the piece comes together, so this version is just one of the ways it might go. The longest track, and prize-winner for me, Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind is dedicated to Boyce’s young son. This whimsical trialogue between violin, guitar and percussion progresses from halting introductions, through a wacky little jig, and thence into the mystery world of a child’s deep slumber. Time keeps passing, but the listener feels it suspended for the duration.
Fantastic playing by the many participants. Clean crisp recording values too. Read and decipher the liner notes, if you can. Call it value added: I learned some arcane words, like apodeictic. As for the runes in the margins, no clue.
— Max Christie, 5.06.2021
Who is Douglas Boyce? A good way to start knowing about him is on a recent album of his chamber music, The Hunt By Night (New Focus Recordings FCR 278). It is another great example of why New Focus Recordings is one of the best things to happen to New Music in a long time.
We get a chance to immerse ourselves in five works, all around 10 minutes or so long. They were composed between 2003 and 2020, so of course we are talking about very new things. Douglas Boyce puts a great deal of thought, imagination and detail into each of these pieces. They happily and refreshingly occupy a turf somewhere between Neo-Classical and High Modern chamber space--rhythmically vivid in a post-Stravinskian sense, tonally vast in a near atonal mode, adventuresomely scored.
The inner sleeve of the CD puts forward what Boyce is all about in such clear terms I think it right to quote it directly. That is, that "Douglas Boyce writes music exploring the historical entailments of musical-being and with the temporal poetics of performance." Well, uh, yes. He does do that. It actually makes sense once you listen carefully.
In the liner notes to this program Boyce agrees with Stravinsky in asserting that music is fundamentally anchored ontologically in time, as opposed to anchoring in sound. Music situates performers and audience in a special ritual temporality. History and the present coincide. They do so here in a specific bio-mechanical continuity we call "chamber music," in this case delicately specific in spite of the "severity" of the Modern. It encompasses for all that an historical meta-narrative as well.
"Embodied performance" here joins with what we now experience as the digital--on the CD of course.
Of the five pieces on this recording, three feature the 6-7 member chamber gathering counter)induction. The title work "The Hunt By Night" reimagines in musical sound Paulo Uccello's 1470 painting by that name, taking a middle path in some ways between symmetry and flatness with hunters, dogs and hunting horns set against the rigid envelopment of the forest. The music in turn reflects a poem based on the painting, the 1970 expression by one Derek Mahon. The eloquently matter-of-fact rhythmic vitality of the work vividly goes far in an elaborate substitution of temporal rituals of sound-in-motion. It is a music that is bracing, beautifully conversant in depicting the memory of image and word. It is a work of convincing, excellent fettle. The clarinet part marks the territory in a special pointedness that the rest of the instrumentation follows and expands.
Backing up to the opening "Quintet l'homme arme" we have more to immerse us, very gladly. It gives counter)induction another vivid explosion of sound that obliquely reflects the extraordinarily popular "l'homme arme" setting that composers adopted often enough during a pretty numerous number of decades after its emergence in the 15th century. Boyce's dramatic treatment of the melody puts it into dissonant territory and renders it wholly something other, which we Modernist sympathizers can only welcome as familial and pleasing to our specially formulated palettes. The contrast of movement and relative stasis in the two sections heightens the feeling of difference too and taking it all in, it is a happy listen, indeed!
The "Etude for Cello and Piano No. 1" (2017) comes into our hearing with a lively springboarding out from a quasi-bolero and then on to a heightened connectivity of rhythm contrasting with further elocutions we find most absorbing--or at least I do! Bravo to Ieva Jokubaviciute and Schuyler Slack for a fantastic performance of this one.
The "Piano Quartet No. 2" (2008) gives Trio Cavatina and violist Beth Guterman Chu a kind of thrillingly dissecting musical possibility in the tightly focused excitment of this considerably lucid outburst.
And finally we experience with pleasure the third counter)induction performance with the 2019 "Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind" which stands out for the nicely expressed initial sounding of classical guitar (Daniel Lippel) and its subsequent unwinding and unfailing development with both guitar and chamber group forging together as a whole.
It is music that should grab ahold of you decidedly after a few listens. Douglas Boyce is reassuringly and convincingly his own voice in these works. And the performances are fully up to the challenging demands he puts on all concerned. A Chamber Modern gem, it all comes to that. This one gets my highest recommendation. Give it a chance and see what happens. It is serious business. Bravo!
— Grego Applegate Edwards, 3.11.2021
In selecting the fifteenth century “L’Homme Arme” tune as the centerpiece for his quintet by the same name, composer Douglas Boyce demonstrates an affinity for connecting music of the past with an individual contemporary voice. The piece leads off his portrait CD Hunt by Night, and it matches a structural integrity akin to Renaissance talea with an energetic, propulsive demeanor. Chamber ensemble counter)induction impressively navigates the intricacies of the score, particularly impressive in their rhythmic coordination of a number of turn-on-a-dime entrances.
Two pieces from Boyce’s A Book of Etudes both deal with rhythm in still more intricate fashion. Stretto Perpetuo, played by cellist Schuyler Slack and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute, deals with, as its title suggests, constant and varied kinds of overlap. A recurring ostinato is broken into sections where the opening gesture is treated in different tempos and various playing techniques. Metric modulation further complicates the structure of Stretto Perpetuo, but Slack and Jokubaviciute present a detailed and robust performance of even the work’s thorniest challenges. The title work, a trio played by clarinetist Benjamin Fingland, pianist Ning Yu, and cellist Caleb van der Swaagh, members of counter)induction, is filled with ostinatos as well; its three-fold repetitions of small melodic cells take on a post-minimal cast. Fingland plays impressively, employing glissandos and rasps reminiscent in places of Klezmer. Elsewhere, all three instrumentalists engage in an elaborate game of follow-the-leader that suggests the title’s hunting metaphor. The coda reenacts this passage in slow motion, culminating in a delicately arcing descent to the bass register.
Piano Quartet No. 2 is sinuously textured, with glissandos and repeating fragments providing a counterweight to angular melodies. Repetitions are offset to create a kaleidoscopic panoply of gestures. Trio Cavatina, joined by violist Beth Guterman Chu, provides supple sliding tones, explosive repeating gestures, and characterful delineation of the piece’s sectional progress and playful conclusion.
Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind, the title taken from Derek Mahon’s poem Achill, was written for counter)induction members violinist Miranda Cuckson, guitarist Dan Lippel, and percussionist Jeffrey Irving. Boyce dedicates the piece to his then four year-old son, and the younger Boyce’s loves – a half-size guitar, movement and dance, and the moon and the stars – all evoke touching moments in the piece. Lippel’s playing takes on a puckish character, while Cuckson’s violin outlines a jaunty dance tune adorned by colorful percussion from Irving. Finally, the games end, naptime encroaches, and we are treated to a dreamscape presented as a gentle lullaby. Boyce moves easily between technical fluency and emotional resonance, making Hunt by Night a most satisfying collection of his music.
— Christian B. Carey, 3.16.2021
The Hunt by Night is the second monograph recording of chamber music from composer Douglas Boyce. Boyce, who is on the faculty of Washington DC’s George Washington University, often takes his inspiration from early music as well as from contemporary modes of composition. This comes out most explicitly in his Quintet l’homme armé, a piece for clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano performed here by members of the counter)induction ensemble, a group which Boyce co-founded. Boyce takes the late medieval melody L’homme armé and subjects it to a thorough refiguration in which it is transubstantiated into something with a completely contemporary sound.
The title track, The Hunt by Night, Quire 9 No. 3 is from Boyce’s Book of Etudes. The piece appared previously on the counter)induction album Against Method; in my review of that album I described it in these pages as “a trio for clarinet, cello, and piano that uncoils with a spry, loping energy that recalls the spirit of Les Six.” Stretto Perpetuo, Quire 4 No. 1 for cello and piano, is another one of Boyce’s twenty-one etudes. The object of this vigorous piece’s study is rhythmic, hence its foundation in a rhythmically varied, urgently repeated single note that cellist Schyler Slack and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute pass around between themselves.
Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind is a trio for violinist Miranda Cucskon, guitarist Daniel Lippel and percussionist Jeffrey Irving. This is a sparely written piece that allows each individual voice to stand out with clarity against a background of open space; in particular, Lippel’s finely etched, plucked tones contrast tellingly with Cuckson’s bow work.
The Hunt by Night also contains the Piano Quartet No. 2, an essay in microtonality for strings.
— Daniel Barbiero, 3.24.2021
The esteemed composer Douglas Boyce returns with a 2nd album of chamber sounds, where his always unique vision embraces poetry, painting and philosophy as he draws from primitive techniques that are modernized for the many players present.
“Quintet l’homme armé” starts the listen with a vibrant, adventurous spirit where Benjamin Fingland’s unpredictable clarinet and Miranda Cuckson's precise violin interact playfully with Ning Yu’s warm piano in a live setting, and “Stretto Perpetuo, Quire 4 No. 1 from A Book of Etudes” follows with Schuyler Slack’s moody cello and Ieva Jokubaviciute’s keys birthing both calm moments of beauty and tense bursts of mystery.
The halfway point offers us “Piano Quartet No. 2”, where piano from Jokubaviciute blurs with Harumi Rhodes’ quivering violin and Priscilla Lee’s cello. “Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind”, the longest tune at 14+ minutes, lands near the end, and alternates between low, cinematic rumbling as well as Daniel Lippel’s spirited guitar and Jeffrey Irving’s well timed percussion.
“The Hunt by Night, Quire 9 No. 3 from A Book Of Etudes” bookends the record with bright and animated keys from Yu, Caleb van der Swaagh’s deft cello and Fingland’s clarinet acrobatics in a memorable, exciting finish.
A very diverse effort that’s capable of being intense, nearly manic, and also intimate, often abstract, Boyce meticulously blends the instruments together in a way that nearly redefines the idea of chamber music, while keeping the listener enthralled for the entire journey.
— Tom Haugen, 3.22.2021
The clarinet is a partial feature on a New Focus Recordings CD of chamber music by Douglas Boyce – but viola, cello, guitar and piano are also heard prominently in performances by a number of very fine soloists, including members of one of those ensembles that seem determined to prove their originality by making it hard to spell their names: counter)induction, starting with a small letter and broken up by a parenthesis because…well, just because. Thankfully, the music is appealing enough to overcome any silliness of spelling. It is, however, of interest mostly in smaller doses, except for listeners who unhesitatingly accept pretty much anything with a contemporary and more-or-less avant garde sound. Quintet l’homme armé (2003) for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano is cacophonic by intent and sounds much like the chittering of somewhat out-of-tune birds rather than anything to do with an “armed man” or the 15th-century tune on which Boyce’s work is loosely (very loosely) based. Etude No. 1 for Cello and Piano (2017), marked Stretto perpetuo, fits that designation rather well, with an ongoing ostinato motif for the cello – entirely atonal, not surprisingly – providing contrast with comparatively placid chords on the piano. Piano Quartet No. 2 (2008) handles the piano in quite a different way, the percussive keyboard writing contrasting with atonal glissandi in the high range of the strings, producing, eventually, a sense of having arrived at an unknown destination. Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind (2019), a trio for violin, guitar and percussion, includes some actual melodic handling of the guitar and some clever contrasts between the two stringed instruments – with their very different playing requirements – and the percussion complement. This is the most intriguing work on the disc in its exploration of differing sonic timbres and its alternation of close interactivity among the disparate instruments with tightly knit sections for the three together. The CD concludes with The Hunt by Night (2020) for clarinet, cello, and piano, returning to the clarinet focus of the disc’s beginning and also returning to the largely directionless bounce and lack of discernible progress or goal that appear in the CD’s first work. All five pieces here are intermittently interesting, but none really sustains cohesively from start to finish – indeed, cohesiveness seems quite far from the intentionality of any of this music. The compositions treat the winds and other instruments in recognizably similar ways, and all share a sense of determined modernity that will appeal to a limited audience and appears quite uninterested in anything beyond that.
The combination of intellectual acuity and visceral emotion that shines from DoublasBoyce’s music makes him a very special voice indeed. I was pretty much knocked out by a previous New Focus disc of his music that I reviewed in Fanfare 42:3; the present release offers music of equivalent challenge, and depth.
The ability to absorb a variety of inspirations is at the heart of Boyce’s art: in the earlier review, the emphasis was on semiotics; here we have early music forms and techniques impacting on a very modernist soundscape hand-in-hand with a Weltanschauung shaped by a profound immersion in the ramifications of semiology. Taken from a live performance, the Quintet l’homme armé, heard here in a live performance, takes that famous 15th-century melody into a piece comprising two halves, the first replete with clarinet shrieks, the second calmer, the shrieks mutated into moans. For Boyce, “sound is a tool, ready-to-hand, for the reshaping of the everyday’s temporal flow to something richer, something intoxicating, but also more demanding” (from the composer’s own booklet notes).
He expands by stating that “this is the great necessary metaphysics of music in our time,” as it alters “the warp and woof of time’s fabric”. In the Quintet, isorhythm meets Ives; ligature meets Ligeti. If, as Boyce postulates, “the heirophants’ call must be shrill if they hope to clear the space of the negotiation of our everyday,” his music succeeds in this in leaps and bounds; and how effective, therefore, the stasis of the latter part of the Quintet, frozen, the mysticism of the dark. The performance, by counter)induction is of astonishing assurance.
The next piece, Stretto Perpetuo, is also known as “Quire 4 No. 1” from Boyce’s large-scale project, A Book of Etudes. Two combative soloists, here Schuyler Stack on cello and Ieva Jokubavicuite on piano, virtuosos both, take on the high-octane challenge. All credit to engineer Ryan Steber here, for capturing every last detail of Stack’s articulation and each of Jokubavicuite’s timbral variations. From the hard-edged to the playfulness of a kitten’s game, this relentless (perpetual) modernist toccata is a piece born for the concert platform; it is heard here in a edge-of-the-seat performance. Jokubavicuite is pianist of the Trio Cavatina.
The Piano Quartet No. 1 was heard on the previous disc, lasting a mere eight minutes. The Second Piano Quartet is also relatively brief (twelve minutes); here the members of Trio Cavatina are joined by violist Beth Guterman. Although the piece examines our relationship to time, meter and beat, Boyce’s pervading preoccupation, it does so rather elusively. The score uses aleatoric techniques, and so what we hear on this disc is but one realization, one that moves from veiled mystery through a rather surprisingly catchy dance to peace. The way the performers here can move so easily and convincingly between states is most impressive; that peace really does feel hard won.
When it comes to Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind, we move into the liminal space of dream. The title is taken from Derek Mahon’s Achill: “And I think of my son a dolphin in the Aegean / A sprite among sails knife-bright in a seasonal wind /and wish he were here / where currachs walk on the ocean”. Again, the music moves towards dance, almost seductively this time. There seems to be more than a touch of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale about Miranda Cuckson’s violin, itself beautifully interacting with Daniel Lippel’s superb guitar and Jeffrey Irving on percussion.
The most recent piece here (2020), The Hunt By Night, another of the continuing Etudes series (Quire 9 No. 3), offers an electrifying dance for clarinet, cello and piano. The title comes from Paolo Uccello’s 1470 painting and Mahon’s similarly-titled 1970 poem (part of the painting is reproduced on the booklet cover; make sure you open the booklet out fully). Mahon’s poem explores what the hunt has come to mean since it operated as a primordial act of necessity, an exploration of sigification that would inevitably appeal to Boyce. The composer refers to “the sprezzatura” (studied play) of counter)induction’s performers as an echo of the energy of the crowded foreground of the painting. The way the instruments chase each other is at times in the manner of a children’s game, another type of hunt, of course; often great accuracy and unanimity of the three players at speed is called for, and the performers (Benjamin Fingland, clarinet; Caleb van der Swaagh, cello and Ning Yu, piano) emerge triumphant. There is both joy and wit in this score.
Boyce’s ferocious curiosity about the very nature of sound, and music, creates works of art that are compelling. They each require performers of the very highest caliber, and that is exactly what they receive here. Recommended, but perhaps not for the faint-hearted.
— Colin Clarke, 3.26.2021
Douglas Boyce is, like many composers, likely to be inspired by his physical environs, as well as history and philosophy. My last encounter with his music on these pages included a string quartet entitled 102nd and Amsterdam, which exudes a kind of noir ooziness, albeit in Boyce’s unique and unabashedly abstract voice. On this new release, including music written between 2003 and 2020, he references music of the pre-Baroque, as echoed by the choice of a 14th-century painting by Paolo Uccello as the album’s cover art (which is titled, like the last work on the program, The Hunt by Night). In the composer’s eloquent vision statement, “this is the great metaphysics of music of our time – to alter the warp and woof of time’s fabric.”
The opening work on the program, Quintet l’homme armé, seems to depict a kind of drama, replete with urgent and even furious exchanges (the clarinet brays as if recalling an ancient herald), but also calm and inquisitive passages. Boyce invokes the multi-layered, essentially musical qualities of human conversation. The Hunt by Night also unfolds in a conversational manner, and feels less historically referential than the quintet. Interestingly, the music does not so much depict a hunt, but rather the preparation for one, with a nocturnal sensibility hanging over the entire enterprise.
The dreamy Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind was inspired by the composer’s son, aged four at the time of the composition, who loves dancing and playing a guitar he can barely fit in his arms. This evoked memories for me of attending new music concerts with my own son (who is now in his early 30s), when he was a child, and watching him groove to the music in a way that may have evaded the supposedly more knowledgeable adults. The unique scoring, for violin, guitar and percussion, is both sophisticated and child-like, with the leading voice provided by the superb counter)induction violinist, Miranda Cuckson. The overt flavor of this music is spare, but there is a world of rhythmic and harmonic interest within that envelope.
In addition to the music here that seems to be inspired by the ages, there are two works of absolute chamber music, an Étude for Cello and Piano, and a Piano Quartet. The Étude (from a larger book of études), true to its title, is highly virtuosic, requiring unusually taut coordination of the solo lines, and yawning dynamic lunges for the cellist. The work exudes a robust energy, and is superbly rendered by cellist Schuyler Slack and the wonderful pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute. The Piano Quartet begins mysteriously with strings only, as the piano gradually enters the soundscape with splatters of notes, as the tension and energy of the music ramps up, which is finally dissipated in the resolution of the piece. In Boyce’s dense program notes (I needed to consult a dictionary with regularity), he indicates that the score allows for some improvisation on the part of the performers, although it is not clear how this is manifested. Certainly, the superb Trio Cavatina, along with violist Beth Guterman, play the music as if they are writing it on the spot.
— Peter Burwasser, 5.24.2021