Oboist Jacqueline Leclair releases a collection of new works for English horn that cover a wide range of stylistic territory and explore the rich, penetrating voice of this beguiling instrument. Featuring premieres of music by Hannah Kendall, Faye-Ellen Silverman, Karola Obermüller, and Cecilia Arditto, as well as recent works by Jenni Brandon, Lisa Bielawa, and Meera Gudipati, Leclair's virtuosity, flexibility, and lyricism abound in these major contributions to the English horn repertoire.
|01||Ashakiran “Ray of Hope”|
Ashakiran “Ray of Hope”
|04||In the City at Night|
In the City at Night
|05||different forms of phosphorus|
different forms of phosphorus
|06||Synopsis #10: I Know This Room So Well|
Synopsis #10: I Know This Room So Well
Oboist Jacqueline Leclair’s Music for English Horn Alone features several recent works for this characterful member of the double reed family, four of which are premieres. There is an appealing range of aesthetics represented by the music on this recording, from lyrical character pieces with various sources of inspiration by Hannah Kendall, Jenni Brandon, Meera Gudipati, and Lisa Bielawa to finely wrought modernist works by Faye-Ellen Silverman and Karola Obermüller, to an off-kilter exploration of extended technique by Cecilia Arditto. Leclair brings her virtuosity and interpretative expertise to all of these works, a testament to her many years experience at the forefront of new music performance.
Meera Gudipati’s Ashakiran (“Ray of Hope”) (2019) is grounded in Hindustani Indian classical music. Based on the morning raag Bhairavi, the work opens with an improvisatory passage introducing the pitch content and registral contours of the raag. Hints of rhythmic passagework are interspersed with lyrical explorations in this first section. The second section of the piece evokes the gat, a cyclic phrase that is embellished by the performer, featuring virtuosic material. Ashakiran closes with a short, meditative improvisation on raag Bhairavi, inviting the performer of the notated score to briefly inhabit the improvisatory source of its inspiration.
Hannah Kendall’s Joe (2006) is a musical interpretation of an award winning photographic portrait by Richard Boll. The photo, a prize winning work on display at London’s National Portrait Gallery, is of a shirtless man, wearing a few necklaces and sporting tattoos, and captured in a manner that suggests an itinerant lifestyle. Kendall’s setting vacillates between mournful, singing phrases and playful, dancelike fragments.
The tape part for Faye-Ellen Silverman’s Layered Lament (1984) was fashioned from pre-recorded string sounds, furnished by Vladimir Ussachevsky and realized at the University of Utah Electronic Studio. The expressive notion of “lament” pervades the piece, from the hauntingly opaque, “choral” quality of the opening, to the vocal urgency and elastic phrasing of the English horn gestures. After the introduction, the English horn has an extended solo exposition before the tape part provides an unsettling sonic environment that supports increased instrumental intensity.
Jenni Brandon’s In the City at Night (2008) depicts the unique, magical quality of the nocturnal urban environment. Delineated sections including “Sunset,” “City lights,” and “Quiet Streets,” Brandon captures several characters in the five and half minute work. After developing an evocative opening section featuring an ascending arpeggio figure, the material gradually glides into a repeated syncopated groove that is varied and embellished. A tender melody follows, before we hear the repeated groove again, before finally the ascending arpeggio returns to close the work.Read More
Karola Obermüller’s different forms of phosphorus (2020) is a meditation on metamorphosis and life processes that occur at a geological pace, having profound impacts on life on earth. Key to the musical language of the piece is a rich vocabulary of multiphonics on the English horn, sonorities that Obermüller relishes and mines for deep expressive content. A unique feature of her treatment of these rarefied sonic gems is the various oscillations that happen within their sustained duration, whether it be an accelerating vibrato, trills, or exploring fine increments of microtonal gradation. Obermüller gradually introduces pointed, fragmentary gestures in between the verticalities, until the two textures become integrated in a quixotic, primordial dance which ultimately fades out into the distance. Leclair commissioned Obermüller to write the piece specifically for this project.
Part of a series of fifteen short works for solo instruments, Lisa Bielawa’s Synopsis #10: I Know This Room So Well (2008) was written during a three year residency with the Boston Modern Opera Project. The subtitle refers to a character in an unfinished opera of hers who describes her intimate familiarity with her jail cell — “If in the dark a chair has moved, I can move around it. I know the room so well.” The piece begins with a lilting two note descending figure contrasted by a floating melody above. The consistent return to these two fragments of material, reordered and turned around, is reflective of some of the enforced familiarity to which the character alludes, or as Bielawa writes, “our various jails, virtual, and real.”
The final work on the album, Argentinian composer Cecilia Arditto’s Música invisible (2004) takes inspiration from the Queen of Heart’s famous line from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, “Off with his head!” Arditto writes a range of sounds that are made “over and through the instrument without using bocal or reed.” She establishes a series of clocklike percussive figures that are broken up by vocalizations and utterances, creating a primitive, slightly mad quality. The piece is a sort of anti-English horn English horn piece, and a clever and wry way of ending an album filled with such instrumental range.
– Dan Lippel
Recorded at Hotel 2 Tango, Montreal Quebec
Recording Engineer: Shae Brossard
Mastering Engineer: Harris Newman
Design: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
Oboist Jacqueline Leclair is Associate Professor of Oboe at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University. She is a member of Ensemble Signal, and can frequently be heard performing solo and chamber music concerts internationally. Leclair formerly served on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and Mannes College (NYC), and was Assistant Professor of Oboe at Bowling Green State University (Ohio) from 2007 to 2012. During her last two years at BGSU she also served as the Director of the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music.
Summer festivals for which Leclair has served as faculty and/or performer include the Lincoln Center Festival (NYC), Chamber Music Conference of the East (VT/NY), June In Buffalo (NY), Chamber Music Festival of Aguascalientes (Mexico), East/West Festival (Kazan Tatarstan) and the Sebago Music Festival (ME), among others.
In addition to performing a variety of classical and other musics, Leclair specializes in the study and performance of new music. She has premiered many works, and regularly presents classes in contemporary music and its techniques at schools such as UCLA, the Eastman School of Music, Brigham Young University, The North Carolina School for the Arts, and University of California San Diego.
Leclair has recorded for Nonesuch, CRI, Koch, Neuma, Deutsche Grammophon, and CBS Masterworks, receiving critical acclaim in particular for her premiere recording of Roger Reynolds’ Summer Island. Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VIIa Supplementary Edition by Jacqueline Leclair is published by Universal Edition, Vienna; and Leclair's recording of the piece is on the Mode Records collection of all Berio Sequenze and other solo works.
The New York Times has reviewed Leclair's performances as "astonishing" and as having "electrifying agility"; and the New Yorker has referred to her as "lively" and "wonderful." Leclair studied with Richard Killmer and Ronald Roseman at the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester and SUNY Stony Brook, earning a Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts.https://www.nuoboe.net/
Meera Gudipati currently serves as co-principal flute with the United States Coast Guard Band. Previously, she held the position of principal flute with the New Haven Symphony and the South Asian Symphony Orchestra. In addition to exploring her South Asian heritage through performance, Gudipati incorporates Indian classical music in her compositions. Recent commissions include a reed quintet for the Yale Music in Schools Initiative. Her accolades include 1st prize at the National Flute Association Orchestral Audition Competition, Kentucky Collegiate Flute Competition, and the Florida Young Artist Competition. Gudipati holds a Master of Music from Yale School of Music and a Bachelor of Music from University of Texas at Austin. As a supporter of local organizations, Gudipati has collaborated with museums and non-profits to amplify culture and history within her community.https://www.meeragudipati.com
Described as ‘...intricately and skillfully wrought’ by The Sunday Times, Hannah Kendall’s music has attracted the attentions of some of the UK’s finest groups including London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers, and Philharmonia Orchestra, with performances at the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, The Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio Theatre, The Place, Westminster, Canterbury, Gloucester and St Paul’s Cathedrals, Westminster Abbey, and Cheltenham Music Festival. Kendall’s works have also been broadcast on BBC Radio, including 'Composer of the Week' in March 2015, and 'Hear and Now' in October 2016. In 2015, Hannah won the Women of the Future Award for Arts and Culture. Recent projects include a one-man chamber opera, 'The Knife of Dawn' premiered at London's Roundhouse in October 2016. Kendall is deeply committed to contemporary culture as a whole and often works collaboratively with artists from other art forms.
Born in London U.K. in 1984, Kendall graduated from the University of Exeter with First Class Honours in Music, having studied composition with Joe Duddell. Hannah also completed a Masters in Advanced Composition with Distinction from the Royal College of Music studying with Kenneth Hesketh and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Royal College of Music Study Award and the RVW Trust. Kendall is currently based in New York City as a Doctoral Fellow in Composition at Columbia University.https://hannahkendall.co.uk
Faye-Ellen Silverman began her music studies before the age of four at the Dalcroze School of Music in New York City. She first achieved national recognition by winning the Parents League Competition, judged by Leopold Stokowski at the age of 13, and performing her winning piano composition in Carnegie Hall. A published composer at age 24 and an ASCAP member at age 25, about 100 of her compositions are now published by Subito Music and recorded on several labels. She has received awards from UNESCO, American Pen Women and ASCAP, and artist residen- cies in Europe (Villa Serbelloni, Fundación Valparaíso, and VCCA/ France) and the United States (Macdowell, Yaddo, and VCCA). She has received numerous commissions, including those from the Greater Lansing Symphony and the American Brass Quintet. Her American performances include those by the Baltimore, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Greater Bridgeport, and New Orleans orchestras, and at the Monday Evening Concert series (L.A.), Voices of Change (Dallas), and the Aspen Music Festival. International performances include those at the International Experimental Music Festival in Bourges, ISCM - Korea section, Nieuwe Oogst (Belgium), Grupo Musica Hoje (Brazil), the Corona Guitar Quartet (Denmark), and Jauna Muzika (Lithuania).
Silverman is a founding member of Music Under Construction, a Founding Board Member of the International Women’s Brass Conference, and a Board Member (Secretary) of New York Women Composers. She is also the author of several articles, record reviews for The Balti- more Sun, and the 20th century section of the Schirmer History of Music. She is currently on the faculties of The Juilliard School and New York University.http://www.fayeellensilverman.com
Jenni Brandon is a composer and conductor, creating music in collaboration with other musicians and artists. She is inspired to write music that is beautiful and lyrical, telling stories through memorable musical lines often influenced by the collaborator’s story, nature, and poetry.
Brandon has been commissioned to write solo and chamber works, concertos, and opera. Her music appears on over 20 albums, and has been awarded the Sorel Medallion, American Prize, Paderewski Cycle, Women Composers Festival of Hartford International Composition Competition, and Bassoon Chamber Music Composition Competition, among others. Her works are published and distributed by Boosey & Hawkes, Santa Barbara Music Publishing, Graphite Publishing, TrevCo Music Publishing, Imagine Music, J.W. Pepper, and June Emerson. She runs Jenni Brandon Music, which publishes and distributes her works.
As a conductor, Brandon often conducts her own works and works by other living composers. In 2019 she conducted her one-act opera 3 PADEREWSKIS in the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington D. C. She also presents workshops and talks on collaboration and the business of music, striving to create a supportive environment where collaboration leads to exploration of ideas.
Brandon received her undergraduate degree in Music Composition at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and her Master of Music in Composition from the University of Texas at Austin. She did doctoral work at the University of Southern California.
When she is not making music, Brandon is often on her yoga mat, either practicing or teaching yoga.http://jennibrandon.com
The music of Karola Obermüller, described by the New York Times as "hyperkinetic music,” is constantly in search of the unknown, often with layers and layers of obscured material buried deep underneath a surface, which is at times sumptuous and other times bristling with rhythmic energy. Her unique voice began forming in collages of sound made with tape recorders as a child, and evolved later with composition degrees from the Meistersinger-Konservatorium Nürnberg, the Hochschule für Musik Saar, and the University Mozarteum Salzburg. Her sense of rhythm and form was forever changed by studying Carnatic and Hindustani classical music in Chennai and Delhi India.
A Ph.D. at Harvard University brought Obermüller to the U.S. where she now teaches at the University of New Mexico, co-directing the composition area. She also lives and works part of the year in Europe and has been a visiting artist at ZKM, Deutsche Akademie Rom, Centro Tedesco di studi Veneziani, Akademie Schloss Solitude, and IRCAM.
Obermüller’s music, often political and always dramatic, includes operas for Staatstheater Nürnberg, Theater Bielefeld, Theater Bonn, and Stuttgart’s Musik der Jahrhunderte. The emotional juxtapositions of story suspended in a tableau architecture that one finds in her operas can be heard in her concert works as well. These include commissions from the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fromm Music Foundation, New Music USA, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Saarländischer Rundfunk, and numerous renowned soloists and ensembles.https://karolaobermueller.net/
Composer, producer, and vocalist Lisa Bielawa is a Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition and takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. Her music has been described as “rumina- tive, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart” by The New York Times. She is the recipient of the 2017 Music Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and a 2020 Discovery Grant from OPERA America. She received a 2018 Los Angeles Area Emmy nomination for her unprecedented, made-for-TV-and-online opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser, created with librettist Erik Ehn and director Charles Otte.
Bielawa consistently executes work that incorporates community-making as part of her artistic vision, including Broadcast from Home, a large-scale interactive work in response to the coronavirus pandemic crisis. She has also created music for public spaces in Lower Manhattan, the banks of the Tiber River in Rome, and on the sites of former airfields in Berlin to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her music has premiered at the New York Philharmonic Biennial, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, SHIFT Festival, and Naumburg Orchestral Concerts, among others.
Bielawa began touring as the vocalist with the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1992; and in 2019 she was the inaugural Composer-in-Residence and Chief Curator of the Philip Glass Institute at The New School. In 1997 Bielawa co-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers. And for five years, she was the artistic director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus.http://www.lisabielawa.net
Cecilia Arditto studied music at the Conservatorio Julián Aguirre, in CEAMC Buenos Aires and at the Conservatory of Amsterdam (cum laude). She has been living in Amsterdam since 2002. Arditto’s music is performed all over the world: Gaudeamus Festival (Holland), Borealis Festival (Norway), Darmstädter Ferienkurse (Germany), Innovations en Concert (Canada), and Festival Rümlingen (Switzerland), among others. She has been an artist in residence in Camargo France, in Boswil Switzerland, and in Berga Spain. Recent prizes include New Maker Ensemble Call for scores (London), Low Frequency Trio competition (Mexico), Wilde Lieder Marx Music Competition by the Birmingham Con- temporary Music Group (U.K.), and Festival Mujeres en la Música 2020 (Colombia). She is a finalist in the Rychenberg Competi- tion 2020 with her work for orchestra, Tissue. And her work, Musique Concréte, was selected to represent Holland at the ISCM World Music Days Festival 2022 in New Zealand.
Arditto is fascinated by sounds in general, those of musical instruments but also those of other objects; and she translates these sonic experiences into music notation. “Writing music for a ventilator that sounds different every time is much more challenging than writing music for a whole orchestra!” In her music, notation does not just describe a sound result, but it also brings extra musical actions to the score, like movements, lights, and space design.
Since 1998, Arditto has performed in a duo with flutist Adriana Montorfano, exploring music in between categories. She is also a yoga teacher, combining her yoga classes with her concerts all over the world.https://ceciliaarditto.com/home.html
Jacqueline Leclair’s latest album Music for English Horn Alone features seven works for solo English horn, four of which – by Hannah Kendall, Faye-Ellen Silverman, Karola Obermüller and Cecilia Arditto – are spectacular premieres. Leclair, known in the music community as a contemporary music specialist on oboe, brilliantly showcases her flair for new music techniques on the oboe’s darker cousin with equally stunning results, making these works an invaluable addition to the repertoire.
From the outset, Leclair’s playing is exceptional; the richness of tone and beautiful, subtle articulations are displayed over the entire range. From multiphonics, flutter-tonguing, note-bending and the exploration of the extreme soft dynamic, Leclair charms with her mastery of the English horn.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this thoughtful assortment is its ability to captivate and give rise to autonomic responsiveness to touch and visual and auditory stimulation through its exploration and depiction of the instrument’s possibilities and range, whisking the listener from one culture and destination to another without the need to traverse the physical. If one had to describe this collection in a single word, it would be “borderless.”
— Melissa Scott, 12.04.2020
Jacqueline Leclair’s album Music for English Horn Alone, released in October 2020, represents a landmark for the versatile—but often underestimated—English horn. In particular, the album showcases the colorful timbral palette of the instrument through both traditional modes of playing and extended techniques. This is the first part of two blogs addressing pieces on Leclair’s new album: different forms of phosphorus by Karola Obermüller and Música invisible by Cecilia Arditto. In this blog post, after introducing Leclair’s album, I explore how in different forms of phosphorus, four timbral motives drive the musical narrative of coalescence and structure my experience of the organization of the piece.
What do you think of when you think of the timbre of the English horn? Those who are familiar with this gem of a musical instrument might associate it with any of its more famous orchestral solos, such as the opening of the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony or Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture. Rich, gorgeous, plangent, woeful, singing, soulful, and melancholy, the English horn most often takes the spotlight during slow, mournful melodies. (For those not familiar with the English horn: it is a bigger and lower version of the oboe, resulting in a unique timbre.)
Now, don’t get me wrong—I love to revel in a good English horn lament. But because the English horn has been typecast for centuries, few understand its truly amazing expressive flexibility. This isn’t to say that some composers haven’t explored its possibilities, or that it hasn’t found itself in atypical contexts (“Wishful, Sinful” by The Doors, for example), but rather to emphasize that traditional treatment of the English horn has overlooked its timbral multidimensionality.
Jacqueline Leclair’s new album release, Music for English Horn Alone, challenges this limiting stereotype: in her own words, she is “throwing down the gauntlet.” The album includes plenty of beautiful moments that capitalize on the gorgeous tone that the English horn is justifiably famous for, but the English horn doesn’t just sing in this album: it dances, prances, grooves, scurries, sighs, frets, ruminates, wails, screams, screeches, argues, and more. The diverse repertoire covered in what may be the first solo album for unaccompanied English horn showcases the instrument’s incredible versatility, including—you guessed it—its versatility of timbre.
Several of the compositions explore the color palette of the English horn using almost entirely traditional playing techniques—for example, juxtaposing musical ideas in the narrower, more energetic, and brighter high register with the grainier, richer, and more chocolate-y lower register. These and similar timbral contrasts are sometimes used as structuring elements in the music. Other compositions explore the sonic universe of “extended” techniques, where the musician produces sounds in non-traditional ways, such as clicking keys, flutter-tonguing, or speaking into the horn without a reed. In this sense, Leclair’s entire album marks an “Amazing Moment in Timbre.” For the remainder of this blog, we will take a closer look and listen to Obermüller’s piece, different forms of phosphorous.
Motives are very brief musical ideas that composers often use to create structure for listeners. Obermüller’s genius in different forms of phosphorus comes in part from her elegant mastery of motivic narrative. The motives in this piece are primarily timbral; they have signature melodic and rhythmic content, certainly, but their distinct characters emerge from their timbral properties—some of which are results of variation in pitch, articulation, and duration. In my analysis of this work, I identify four principal motives, which begin as separate entities but coalesce throughout the piece, culminating in a climactic integrated stream of multiphonics that spirals out into the ether.
The first section of different forms of phosphorus is dominated by the pedal motive, a single low, held pitch that provides a stage for timbral exploration through manipulation of the speed and width of vibrato and of the pitch-timbre complex on a microtonal level.
This section also includes the occasional pop, a short, clean note that functions as punctuation. The pop idea later reveals itself as a special variety of the drip-drop motive, characterized by crisp articulations and short durations. (Note that the identities I’ve given these motives, and their names—pedal, drip-drop, etc.—don’t necessarily reflect how the composer conceived of the piece but rather describe how my own understanding of the perceptual organization of the piece has emerged through listening.)
The most melodic motive is introduced early on (around 1:40) but doesn’t really come into its own until the second half of the piece. I’ve come to call this idea the whale motive, since its lonely sound, especially paired with the reverb of the recording mix, reminds me of a whale song. I hear two versions of the whale motive: the keening whale and the plangent whale, which are primarily differentiated by the timbral differences as a function of tessitura: The keening whale sound is quite high and pleading, narrower and more compact, even piercing at times, while the plangent whale, capitalizing on a lower portion of the English horn’s register, provides more resonance and richness.
The multiphonic motive provides the piece with texture. My name for the motive isn’t very creative here—it literally refers to the type of sound produced by the extended technique called a “multiphonic.” On wind instruments that usually only play one note at a time, unusual combinations of fingerings can produce sounds that contain several discriminable pitches. However, the timbres of these sounds are quite different from the instrument’s usual sound: they’re often rough, gritty, or harsh and almost always contain microtones. In this piece, they provide a critical contrast in tone color to the other timbral ideas.
Spectrograms provide a way of visualizing timbres. Time is notated on the x-axis, while the vertical dimension of the graph indicates frequency. The intensity of the color shows where the energy of the sound is concentrated. Below are visualizations and sound clips for each of the four motives I’ve described.
The form of the piece is slippery: the presentation of musical materials is evolutionary, morphing, coalescing. Often, the end of one musical idea turns out to be the beginning of another. Sometimes one motive will take on some of the characteristics of a different motive. As a result, there are likely many interesting ways of experiencing the narrative of the piece. To conclude this post, I’ll share with you how I hear the organization of the piece, based on the motives I’ve described above. You can see an overview in a diagram at the end of the blog.
The first three minutes of the piece are sonically rooted in the pedal motive. In this section the pops serve as punctuation, and as the pedal motive begins its gradual evolution, we are also introduced to both the whale and multiphonic ideas, but we always return to the pedal. For the next minute and a half, the multiphonic texture dominates—we don’t lose the pops or the occasional whale keen, but the main action of this section takes place through the exploration of multiphonics, which are often sounded as tremolos or trills. The variation of speeds among the tremolos sets the pacing.
At around 4:20 in the piece, the first attempt at integration of the motives occurs, but it is limited by temporality—one motive happening after another—and ultimately unsuccessful. The series of phrases which unfurl from here begin with pedals, just like in the beginning of the piece. Yet each pedal statement attempts a different evolution; for example, the first series of iterations move from pedal to multiphonic to drip drop within each phrase. Beginning around 5:50, the integration attempt is overtaken by the whale song. While the whale keens have been present throughout, the motive has not yet been given the opportunity to sing until now, where keening whale becomes plangent whale. The pops and drips continue to punctuate this section, and the multiphonics are also woven into the song.
A series of three clear pops, about seven and a half minutes in, signals the beginning of the end. The first tactic is to weave together the drip-drop and the multiphonic ideas, which are juxtaposed more and more rapidly, like spinning dancers gaining momentum. Just after 8:20, the final integration begins to happen, first in a series of waves that ebb and flow. While a sense of temporal alternation between motives is still present in the earlier waves—specifically, between the multiphonic and drip-drop motives—it becomes more and more evident that unity must be achieved timbrally, rather than melodically, or temporally. The sound that emerges begins to take on the multiphonic color with the drip-drop articulation and pacing, plus the pitch-bending characteristic of the whale song and the continuity of the pedal. Each wave pulls these elements together more and more. Then, the original pedal returns, clear and resonant, just for a few seconds, but with a marked determination. The final wave—and the complete integration—begins. Upon successfully gaining momentum, the newly formed motivic complex spirals off into the distance, leaving the impression that these processes—and this momentum—endures beyond our listening.
— Lindsey Reymore, 11.15.2020
For the many who associate the English horn primarily with slow, soulful melodies tinged with melancholy, a listen to the bold new CD by Jacqueline Leclair will be a wake up call. Leclair, an intrepid and lauded contemporary music performer, presents a wide variety of pieces that demonstrate that this instrument is capable of a huge range of colors, moods, and expression.
Music for English Horn Alone on the New Focus Recordings label, offers seven works composed between 1984 and 2020. The works vary from short, lyrical, character pieces to complex compositions employing extended techniques and electronics. Some works are highly accessible while others are significantly more adventuresome and challenging. Throughout, Leclair plays with fluidity, gorgeous sound, and brilliant technique. What a pleasure it is to hear works employing contemporary techniques performed with such natural musicality.
The first work, Meera Gudipati’s, Ashakiran “Ray of Hope”, is inspired by Hindustani Indian classical music. Lyrical and virtuosic sections end with an improvisation on the piece’s raag (basically, an Indian scale). Joe, by Hannah Kendall, is a musical illustration of a photograph by Richard Boll at London’s National Portrait Gallery. At first glance, the shirtless man with his tattoos and baggy pants seems an unlikely muse. But with greater examination, the photograph conveys a great deal of expression and ambiguity. Kendall’s short work delivers a similarly wide range of expressions, brilliantly executed by Leclair.
Faye-Ellen Silverman’s Layered Lament includes haunting electronic sounds created from material supplied by the pioneering electronic composer Vladimir Ussachevsky. A sense of lamentation pervades the piece which was written for another pioneer of contemporary oboe playing, James Ostryniec. Silverman composes with a variety of extended techniques, all performed with ease and fluidity by Leclair. Jenni Brandon’s accessible and melodious In the City at Night is a tone painting for solo English horn that evokes various nocturnal urban scenes.
Karola Obermüller’s serious, intense work, different forms of phosphorus, serves as the centerpiece and center of gravity for the entire CD. Leclair commissioned this piece, described by the composer as “a meditation on metamorphosis and life processes that occur at a geological pace, having profound impacts on life on earth”. The composer thanked Leclair for working with her on the instrument’s particularities and peculiarities and remarked that it “has been a revelation working with you [Leclair] on the power and subtleties of the multiphonic possibilities of the cor anglais.” These sentiments are reflected abundantly in Obermüller’s composition and Leclair’s masterful performance.
Lisa Bielewa’s lovely miniature Synopsis #10: I Know This Room So Well, was written during a residency with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and was part of an effort to write challenging solo pieces for many different instruments. Like Gudipati’s work, it is a warm, accessible, virtuosic piece that employs extended techniques quite modestly and musically. These would be excellent compositions for English hornists who want to begin to explore contemporary techniques. Perhaps the most extreme and also the most playful work, Cecillia Arditto’s Música Invisible, is performed on the English horn without bocal or reeds. The composer explores new possibilities of the English horn through the setting of texts by Lewis Carroll, utilizing key clicks, whistles, whispers, exclamations, and other sounds. It is characteristically bold of Leclair to end this album, filled with such glorious expressivity and range of colors, with a dramatic and theatrical piece of an entirely different nature.
Another refreshing dimension of Music for English Horn Alone is that all works were composed by women, including several women of color; however, the recording is not represented or marketed as such. Could it be that we have come to a point when this is not a rarity or a selling point? (I found myself wondering if there will ever be a time when music by white male composers or dead European composers would be considered a niche market.)
We musicians are lucky to be in a profession that demands constant learning and ever-expanding imagination. For those who want to grow, to be challenged, to be inspired, and to be delighted, listen to this remarkable new recording.
— Libby Van Cleve, 12.11.2020
Funny how the world converges sometimes. Just today I started catching up with the awesome podcast from TAK Ensemble, listening to Hannah Kendall interview Elaine Mitchener and thinking I need to follow up on both of them. Then I plucked this album off my teetering stack and spotted Kendall's name among the seven composers Leclaire included here. At just over three minutes, Kendall's piece is short but characterful. Called Joe (2006), and based on the photo of the same name by Richard Boll, it asks more questions than it answers while conveying empathy for its subject. Leclair's technique in this world premiere recording is flawless, as it is throughout this concise collection. There's plenty of variety here, too. In The City At Night (2008) by Jenni Brandon has some of Gershwin's jazzy insouciance, full of dance rhythms and narrative thrust, while Karola Obermüller's different forms of phosphorous (2020) tends towards abstraction, exploring extended techniques. Perhaps most radical is Música invisible (2004) by Cecilia Arditto, which has Leclair removing the reed and bocal to make some very human noises.
The Obermüller and Arditto pieces are also recorded for the first time, as is Layered Lament (1984) by Faye-Ellen Silverman, which in its use of electronics is at least 20 years ahead of its time. Besides just being a good listen, such advocacy and archiving make Music For English Horn Alone, which also includes fascinating works by Meera Gudipati and Lisa Bielawa, a truly important release and one that will define this repertoire, for years to come.
— Jeremy Shatan, 11.08.2020
Jacqueline Leclair has graciously presented in this album a series of robust, powerful, and tecnically nonpareil performances of works for solo English horn. Leclair's interpretations demand your whole attention, to fill your mind's ear. Lyrical passages pervade the works of Meera Gudipati (Ray of Hope) and Lisa Bielawa (Synoposis No. 10, I Know This Room So Well) while earthy, dark timbres of contemplation take form in the works by Hannah Kenndall (Joe) and Karola Obermüller (Different Forms of Phosphorus). Jenni Brandon's In the City at Night plays out as a varicolored and impassioned soliloquy fantasia. Layered Lament by Faye-Ellen Silverman begins with electronics painting a starry, desolate landscape in sound, interrupted by the English horn's furious, insistent melodies rich in pitch bends and timbral trills. Musica invisible by Cecilia Arditto is "based on the exploration of new possibilities for English horn" and calls for the performer to speak through the instrument: passages from L. Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" ("Off with his head!") combine with tapping on the instrument. You're there with Alice, acutely aware of the Mad Hatter's pocket watch marking the passage of time you don't have. I'd urge students to program this work on their recitals: your audience will be wide-eyed with the spell this piece casts and no one will soon forget the performance. Bravo to Leclair for having the courage to take center stage and commanding it with such aplomb, ebullience, and genius.
— Stephanie Ann Boyd, 2.12.2021
Ah, what hi res mastering can do for these solo recitals with instruments you don’t often think of as front and center axes. The oboist shifts to English horn for a set of premiere works and recordings that finds her front and center and knowing how to use that spotlight well. Masterfully played delivering all the sound and expression you need on her own, this recital is for music fans who like it up market but don‘t need to be eggheads. A lovely piece of art throughout.
— Chris Spector, 10.05.2020
Oboist and English hornist Jacqueline Leclair is an associate professor at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montreal. She is a dedicated chamber musician and pedagogue at festivals as well. What Leclair has assembled here is a program more likely to appeal to specialists and the intellectually curious than to the general listener. We get 40 minutes of music for unaccompanied English horn, all of it written by female composers, each piece displaying very different musical styles. This variety helps to maintain interest despite the possibility of monotony. Leclair’s extremely musical and intensely committed performance also helps on that front.
Meera Gudipati was born in 1993 in Düsseldorf, studied in Germany and then America, and is currently co-principal flute with the United States Coast Guard Band. Her music reflects her Indian heritage, and Ashakiran is a beautiful piece drawing on Hindustani classical music, specifically raag Bhairavi, which is traditionally performed in the early morning. This is extremely evocative, lyrical music at the beginning, before it morphs into a more energetic section that asks the performer to improvise.
Joe, by British composer Hannah Kendall (b. 1984), is a musical interpretation of an award-winning photo portrait of a sad young man who might be homeless, on display at London’s National Portrait Gallery (a photo is included in the booklet). While I did not quite get the connection, I enjoyed this lyrical and somewhat enigmatic piece, played with great sensitivity. The photo itself is ambiguous, showing its subject looking askance with a questioning look on his face.
Layered Lament by Faye-Ellen Silverman, an American composer born in 1947, is scored for English horn and electronic tape. I have to confess that the music, composed in 1984 with prerecorded sounds supplied by Vladimir Ussachevsky, did not speak to me.
In the City at Night was composed in 2008 by American composer Jenni Brandon. It is an extremely evocative work, its four sections titled “Sunset,” “City lights,” “Quiet street,” and “Sunrise.” The music is essentially lyrical except for its evocation of the blinking lights of a city, and there is a playfulness to it that was enjoyable, in part due to some ingeniously irregular rhythmic patterns.
German composer Karola Obermüller (b. 1977) composed different forms of phosphorus for Leclair in 2020. The work is scored for English horn “with reverb ad libitum,” but we are given no technical information about how that is achieved. The music takes advantage of the considerable range of colors available to the English horn. In her notes Obermüller calls the piece “a kind of love letter to Earth and her network of infinite connections between all matter.” At 10 minutes, different forms is the longest work on the program, and because of the great variety of sounds it contains, it doesn’t wear out its welcome.
American composer Lisa Bielawa (b. 1986) was composer-in-residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project 2006–09, and during that period she composed 15 short pieces, called Synopses, for individual members of that orchestra. Each piece has a six-word subtitle: the one for English horn is “I Know this Room so Well.” The music is based on an aria from an earlier opera of Bielawa’s, and this origin in vocal music is clear in Synopsis #10’s lyrical nature. I found this a particularly lovely piece.
The program concludes with Música invisible, written in 2004 by Argentinian composer Cecilia Arditto (b. 1966). This is one of the more experimental pieces here. Ardito took her inspiration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, beginning with the Red Queen’s command, “Off with his head!” The music asks for sounds made through and over the instrument without using the reed or the bocal, the tube that connects the reed to the body of the instrument. Citing texts by Lewis Carroll about time, which “are used to create rhythmic clocks with various percussive effects on and in the English horn. A lullaby unites the piece like a leitmotiv, evoking a childhood atmosphere full of riddles, teasing, and madness.” I get the premise and followed the texts printed in the booklet, but I have to admit that the music made no impact on me whatever.
As I said at the outset, this album isn’t for everyone. I can easily imagine, however, that double-reed players will be very interested in it, both for the repertoire and for the virtuosic playing displayed by Leclair.
— Henry Fogel