METAFAGOTE, bassoon virtuoso Rebekah Heller’s second release on the International Contemporary Ensemble’s (ICE) in-house imprint TUNDRA, is an album that explores and inverts the raw sound of the solo bassoon using electronics, spatialization, and powerful melodic writing. The recording features four landmark works for the instrument written for Heller by luminary composers Jason Eckardt, Felipe Lara, Rand Steiger, and Dai Fujikura, all heard here in their premiere recordings.
|01||Concatenation (2013) for bassoon and live electronic|
Concatenation (2013) for bassoon and live electronic
|02||Following (2014) for solo bassoon|
Following (2014) for solo bassoon
|03||A Compendium of Catskill Native Botanicals, from Book 2: Asarum canadense, “Wild Ginger"|
A Compendium of Catskill Native Botanicals, from Book 2: Asarum canadense, “Wild Ginger"
|04||Metafagote (2015) for solo bassoon and 6 pre-recorded bassoons|
Metafagote (2015) for solo bassoon and 6 pre-recorded bassoons
METAFAGOTE, bassoon virtuoso Rebekah Heller’s second release on the International Contemporary Ensemble’s (ICE) in-house imprint TUNDRA, is an album that explores and inverts the raw sound of the solo bassoon, using electronics, spatialization and powerful melodic writing. The recording features four landmark works for the instrument written for Heller by luminary composers Jason Eckardt, Felipe Lara, Rand Steiger, and Dai Fujikura, all heard here in their premiere recordings. About his work for bassoon and live electronics processing, Rand Steiger writes, “Concatenation revisits an approach I have explored in previous solo pieces that I call “nested etudes,” in which a set of contrasting materials, any one of which could have been the subject of an etude, are laid out and interwoven into a continuous conversation. In this piece, there are seven different kinds of material, each with a unique approach to signal processing.” After each “character” is introduced in its own exposition, as the piece evolves, the different kinds of material begin an increasingly interwoven dialogue with each other. Dai Fujikura’s Following is a follow up work to his earlier piece, the evocative Calling also written for Heller in 2011. This newer lyrical piece stands in contrast to the bracing, multiphonics-heavy earlier work. Jason Eckardt’s A Compendium of Catskill Native Botanicals, Asarum canadense, “Wild Ginger” slithers around microtonal melodic fragments, evoking a ritualistic chant. Eckardt resides in the Catskill Mountain region north of New York City, and this sonic meditation on botanic species found near his home is consistent with his engagement and reverence for the natural and the indigenous in many of his works. On the title track, Brazilian born Felipe Lara explores how layering bassoon upon bassoon - seven bassoons total - can create a new instrument entirely, or, a Metafagote (fagote being the word for bassoon in Felipe's native Portuguese). All four works, major and exciting additions to the solo bassoon repertoire, were written for and with Rebekah Heller through a deep and meaningful collaborative process with each composer.
Producer: Jacob Greenberg (track 1, 3, 4) Ryan Streber (Track 3)
Recording engineer, mix, mastering: Ryan Streber
Recorded at: Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY oktavenaudio.com
Design: Paul Read pauljamesread.com
Photo by Carrie Schneider carrieschneider.com
Praised for her “flair” and “deftly illuminated” performances by The New York Times, bassoonist Rebekah Heller is a uniquely dynamic chamber, orchestral and solo musician. Equally comfortable playing established classical works and the newest of new music, Rebekah is a fiercely passionate advocate for the bassoon. Called an "impressive solo bassoonist" by The New Yorker, she is tirelessly committed to collaborating with composers to expand the modern repertoire for the instrument.
As a member of the renowned International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Rebekah has played concerts all over the world. She has been a featured soloist with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and has played solo works in cities both near and far - including São Paolo, Rio, Paris, Berlin, Köln, Chicago, New York, Boston, Minneapolis, and many more.
Before moving to New York, Rebekah completed a one-year appointment as Principal Bassoonist of the Jacksonville Symphony and has served as Principal Bassoonist with the Atlanta Opera Orchestra, and the Utah Festival Opera.
From 2005-2008, Rebekah was a member of the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida. During her time there, she worked with some of today's most innovative and electrifying musical minds, including Michael Tilson Thomas, Robert Spano, Marin Alsop, Oliver Knussen, Yo-Yo Ma and Christian Tetzlaff.
Rand Steiger’s music has been commissioned and performed by many ensembles, including the American Composers Orchestra, Boston Musica Viva, Ensemble Intercontemporain, International Contemporary Ensemble, Lontano, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, NYNME, Prism Quartet, San Diego Symphony, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Talea Ensemble, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he served as Composer Fellow. Soloists he has composed for include Matthew Barley, Maya Beiser, Claire Chase, Daniel Druckman, Peter Evans, Alan Feinberg, George Lewis, Mark Menzies, Susan Narucki, Vicki Ray, and Steven Schick.Throughout his career, Steiger has been involved in computer music research, having held three residencies at IRCAM, and enjoying a long fruitful collaboration with Miller Puckette, the leading computer music researcher of his generation. He was Composer-in-Residence at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology from 2010 to 2013. Many of Steiger’s works combine orchestral instruments with real-time digital audio signal processing. They also propose a hybrid approach to just and equal-tempered tuning, exploring the delicate perceptual cusp between a harmony and a timbre that occurs when tones are precisely tuned. Some examples of works deploying these techniques include: Ecosphere, developed during residencies at Ircam and premiered by the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris; Traversing, written for cellist Mathew Barley and premiered by the Southbank Sinfonia in London; Cryosphere, premiered by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, A Menacing Plume, premiered by the Talea Ensemble in New York, and the Coalescence Cycle, premiered on a portrait concert at Miller Theater in New York by the International Contemporary Ensemble in 2013. He is currently working on string quartets with electronics for the Flux and JACK quartets.
Dai Fujikura was born in 1977 in Osaka, Japan. He was fifteen when he moved to UK to complete his secondary education. His studies continued in college, where, during his sophomore year, he won the Serocki International Composers Competition. Since then, he has been awarded many other important prices including the Royal Philharmonic Society Award, Otaka Prize, Akutagawa Composition Award, WIRED Audi Innovation Award, the Paul Hindemith Prize, and The Silver Lion Award from Venice Biennale 2017. His works include operas, orchestral pieces, ensemble works, chamber music, and film scores.
Having received numerous international co-commissions, Dai Fujikura’s music has been performed in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. He recently held the composer-in-residence position at Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra. He has received two BBC Proms commissions, his “Double Bass Concerto” was premiered by the London Sinfonietta, and in 2013 the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave the UK premiere of his "Atom". Suntory Hall hosted a portrait concert of his orchestral music in 2012. Fujikura’s "Tocar y Luchar" was premiered under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in Venezuela in 2011.
Fujikura has also received performances and commissions from Bamberg Symphony, Munich Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Philharmonia Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New Japan Philharmonic, and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, among many others. He has collaborated with Ensemble Modern, Arditti Quartet, Ensemble Intercontemporain, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Oslo Sinfonietta, Asko Ensemble, Klangforum Wien, and Bit20 Ensemble. Ultraschall Berlin, Lucerne Festival, Salzburg Festival, Punkt Festival, Spoleto Festival, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Tanglewood Festival have all programmed his music, and his works have been conducted by many conductors including Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, Jonathan Nott, Kazuki Yamada, Martyn Brabbins, Peter Rundel, and Alexander Liebreich.
Dai Fujikura’s first opera Solaris, a co-commission by Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Opéra de Lille, Opéra de Lausanne, Ircam-Centre Pompidou, and Ensemble Intercontemporain, had its world premiere in Paris 2015. The multimedia production which included dance, electronics, and 3D film was directed by Saburo Teshigawara who also wrote the libretto. The opera is based Stanisław Lem’s famous science fiction novel of the same name. Theatre Augusburg will present a new production of Solaris for the German premiere in May 2018.
Fujikura’s debut solo album, Secret Forest was produced by NMC Recordings in 2012. Since then, he’s had numerous albums produced including Mirrors which features four of his orchestral works, Ice, on the Kairos label, and most recently, my letter to the world, named for his song cycle, which he produced on his own label, Minabel in collaboration with SONY Japan. For a complete list of his recordings, visit http://www.daifujikura.com/un/discography.html.
Fujikura also has strong connections to the experimental pop/jazz/improvisation world. His co-composition with Ryuichi Sakamoto, peripheral movement for electronics, premiered in Hakuju Hall in Japan in 2013, and his collaborative works with David Sylvian were recorded for Sylvian's album Died in the Wool. Jan Bang released an album on Jazzland records, which featured Fujikura’s collaborations with Jan Bang and Sidsel Endresen.
Recently, Dai has been named the artistic director of the Born Creative Festival in Tokyo Metropolitan Theater for 2017. He will take the positions of composer-in-residence at the Orchestre national d'Île-de-France, and artist-in-residence at The Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo beginning in 2017. He is currently preparing for his second opera, The Gold-Bug, which will premiere in March 2018 in Basel. His orchestra work, Glorious Clouds which was co-commissioned by Nagoya Philharmonic, WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, and Orchestre national d'Île-de-France, will be premiered in Japan in 2017, followed performances France and Germany.
Dai Fujikura is published by Ricordi Berlin.
Jason Eckardt played guitar in jazz and metal bands until he first heard the music of Webern, and then he immediately devoted himself to composition. Since then, his music has been influenced by his interests in perceptual complexity, the physicality of performance and the natural world. He has been recognized through commissions from Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Guggenheim Museum, the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University (1996, 2008), Chamber Music America, the New York State Music Fund, Meet the Composer, the Oberlin Conservatory and percussionist Evelyn Glennie; awards from the League of Composers/ISCM (National Prize), Deutschen Musikrat-Stadt Wesel (Symposium NRW Prize), the Aaron Copland Fund, the New York State Council on the Arts, ASCAP, the University of Illinois (Martirano Prize), the Alice M. Ditson Fund and Columbia University (Rapoport Prize); and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Fondation Royaumont, the MacDowell and Millay Colonies, the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, the Fritz Reiner Center for Contemporary Music, the Composers Conference at Wellesley, the Atlantic Center for the Arts and the Yvar Mikhashoff Trust for New Music. His music is published by Carl Fischer.
Praised by the New York Times as "a gifted Brazilian-American modernist" whose works are “brilliantly realized”, “technically formidable, wildly varied”, and possess “voluptuous, elemental lyricism”, Felipe Lara’s work — which includes orchestral, chamber, vocal, film, electroacoustic, and popular music—engages in producing new musical contexts by means of (re)interpreting and translating acoustical and extra-musical properties of familiar source sonorities into project-specific forces. He often aspires to create self-similar relationships between the macro and micro-articulation of the musical experience and highlights the interdependence of acoustic music composition and technology, including the application of electroacoustic paradigms as catalysts for both entire structures and local textures.His music has been recently commissioned by leading soloists, ensembles, and institutions such as the Arditti Quartet (with ExperimentalStudio Freiburg SWR), Brentano Quartet (with Hsin-Yung Huang), Claire Chase, Conrad Tao, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Duo Diorama, Ensemble InterContemporain, Ensemble Modern, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, International Contemporary Ensemble, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Ogni Suono, Rebekah Heller, and São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (Osesp).
The bassoon is a tough instrument to both play and to compose music for, but Rebekah Heller, recently named co-artistic director of New York’s International Contemporary Ensemble, has spent years expanding those possibilities. Her second solo album features four disparate commissions for her unwieldy instrument, two of which enhance her agile machinations with electronics or tape, while the other pair feature her playing without any extras. Rand Steiger’s tour-de-force “Concatenation” asks Heller to lay out seven different concepts in a row, some of which contort gyrating low-to-high passages with wild electronic refractions before they start interacting with one another in a delirious interactive fashion the composer dubs “nested etudes.” Dai Fujikura’s “Following” comes next, casting a lyric, deeply melancholy spirit that beautifully exploits the bassoon’s often sorrowful timbre, while Jason Eckardt’s “A Compendium of Catskill Native Botanicals” is another purely acoustic piece that attempts to meditate upon the spirit of a species indigenous to his current home, with passages of curiosity and passages of placidity. The collection ends with Felipe Lara’s intense title piece—named after the Portuguese name for Heller’s instrument—a dazzling journey through multi-tracked air-escaping-balloon wheezing, lush orchestral sweeps, and dive-bomb glissandos with Heller toggling between tender melody and brusque percussive effects.
— Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Daily, 2.26.2018
They say that if you live long enough, you’ll hear things you never imagined possible. This is one of them. Any preconceived notions you may have had about bassoon music are blown clear out the windows by this new release, for Rebekah Heller and her bad-ass bassoon (just look at her attitude on the cover!) are here to explode them.
The music is modern, challenging, and best of all, interesting. Four composers with a single directive, to write music for solo bassoon and electronics, all responded with different and very imaginative settings. I can’t say that any of this music is easy or accessible, for it is not. On the contrary, it’s rather forbidding; but it’s well constructed, interesting, and stretches the instrument to entirely new limits.
Rand Steiger’s Concatenation, which opens the recital, sets the bassoon in an echo chamber, occasionally using feedback, echo effects and distortion to propel his ideas. The composer has described this work as one where “a set of contrasting materials, any one of which could have been the subject of an etude, are laid out and interwoven into a continuous conversation. In this piece, there are seven different kinds of material,” and as each character is introduced the different kinds of material “begin an increasingly interwoven dialogue with each other.” My lone complaint was that, in the closing two minutes of the piece, it became so deconstructed that even I had some trouble following it.
Next up is Dai Fujikura’s Following. This is surprisingly lyrical, and in fact includes no electronics at all. It gives Heller a chance to show just how good she is on the bassoon; her tone is so pure here that most of the time it sounds like an alto saxophone, and a very fine one at that (think Johnny Hodges or Jimmy Dorsey). Although lyrical, the piece is also quite daring harmonically, but Fujikara never loses sight of the long line of the music and holds the listener’s interest from start to finish. There is also some real invention and development going on here, which makes the performance all the more interesting.
By contrast, Jason Eckardt’s A Compendium of Catskill Native Botanicals, Asarum canadense, “Wild Ginger” uses microtones and snippets of melody which simulate the feeling of ritual chanting. This, too, is played without any electronics or overdubs. In this piece, Heller’s tone surely does not resemble anything but a bassoon. The music also includes several surprising “dead stops” in which one assumes the music is over, yet it continues to go on and develop.
The last piece is perhaps the most complex. Felipe Lara layers seven bassoons in all, six of them pre-recorded, bookended by the sound of waves rushing up on the shore. Some of the pre-recorded bassoons are sped up in order to enhance the upper range of the instrument, and there are also some odd “knocking” sounds thrown in for good measure. Slithering, rising chromatics are heard just before the four-minute mark, enhancing an already strange musical experience. Later on, at about 6:30, a sort of reverb-echo effect is achieved by having the pre-recorded bassoons overlap sustained B-flats in almost a hocket style while the “live” bassoon plays stabbing figures in and around them. Later on the background bassoons play varying figures while the live one distorts tones and plays somewhat microtonally. Eventually the interaction becomes quite complex, the background bassoons almost sounding like a choir behind a vocal soloist. It’s a very odd piece, but also a very interesting one.
By and large, this is a fascinating release, and each piece is the world premiere recording. If nothing else, it should expand the minds of listeners and other composers as to the timbral and technical possibilities of the bassoon, and instrument that, too often, gets no respect.
—© Lynn René Bayley, Art Music Lounge, 12.8.2017
Bassoonist Rebekah Heller, a member of ICE, released Metafagote, her second solo album, in 2017 on Tundra. Featuring premiere recordings of four works written for Heller by Rand Steiger (Concatenation), Dai Fujikura (Following), Jason Eckardt (Wild Ginger), and the title composition by Felipe Lara, Megafagote supplies Heller with ample opportunities to demonstrate the bassoon’s entire bag of extended techniques, from multiphonics to microtonality, as well as various live electronic manipulations. That said, one never feels that the plethora of effects on display are mere showpieces; all four composers are working on extending the bounds of the instrument. There also is a significant interest demonstrated in spatiality which features in different ways in each of the pieces.
Steiger’s live electronics supply echoing canons and additional resonance to Heller’s bassoon. Following is a follow-up piece to the hard-driving Calling, written by Fujikura for Heller in 2011. This time around, angular melodies that span the compass of the instrument, beginning gently but picking up speed and energy over time, are hauntingly evocative. Eckhardt’s Wild Ginger employs many of the aforementioned extensions, but does so in a seamless way, using them to inflect asymmetrical groupings of melodic cells that variously congregate and concatenate i. Partway through, the interruption of rests and sustained pitches add other elements of tension, leading way to a low-register eruption that Heller unleashes with fulsome power. The closing section contrasts this with pitch bends and multiphonics in the bassoon’s upper register. It is a most persuasive piece.
Lara’s work is for live bassoon alongside a half-dozen pre-recorded bassoons. The chords and shrieking glissandos emitted from the tape part create an uneasy shadowing of a solo part that often departs from its prefabricated brethren on extended flights of fancy, but occasionally touches down to intone alongside them. Percussive articulation, wide pitch bends, trills, and a brusque gestural palette combine to make this a dramatic showpiece with which to end a compelling recording.
Heller’s advocacy for the bassoon, and her staunch commitment to expanding its repertoire, are laudable. Her playing is both detailed and thrilling throughout. Metafagote is one of my “Best-of” solo recordings of 2017.
- Christian Carey, christiancarey.com, 12.20.17
Bassoonist Rebekah Heller is committed to expanding the repertoire of solo and electro- acoustic works through close collaboration with composers interested in writing for the often-unsung instrument. Each composition on the album was written specifically for Heller between 2012 and 2015, and each work show- cases different facets of her virtuosity.
Rand Steiger’s Concatenation for bassoon and electronics opens the album with a declamation of the bassoon’s lowest register in the form of perpetual motion that morphs into six other rich and varied motivic areas. Composed in 2012, Steiger’s 16-minute work is a self-described ‘nested etude’ that exploits both Heller’s tech- nical dexterity and her sensitivity to phrasing. The electronics play an important role in differentiating each of the seven varieties of material, as each take a unique approach to sig- nal processing. Quivering tremolos are treated with echoes and spatialisation, slow, expressive glissandi excite resonant filters, rapid and suc- cinct motives are harmonised, and heavy, power- ful tones are fed into unexpected distortion. In Concatenation the processing serves to expand the bassoon’s timbral palette; true to the title of the album, Steiger and Heller create a ‘meta’ bassoon, rather than a case of acoustic solo and digital accompaniment.
Concatenation is an exhibition of Heller’s admirable performative agility. She moves seam- lessly between technically demanding etude-style material and beautifully phrased melodies, a jump that is not often heard in bassoon writing.
Heller’s emotive phrasing is on equal display in Dai Fujikura’s 2014 work for bassoon alone, Following. Heller worked with Fujikura on an earlier piece, Calling, that is featured on her first album, 100 Names. While Fujikura explored the bassoon’s multiphonic capabilities in Calling, he dials back the extended techniques in Following. The lack of novel sounds is quite refreshing; Fujikura allows the listener to devote one hundred per cent of her focus to the con- tours of the melody. Fujikura crafts his twisting and haunting melody to cover the full range of the bassoon in a brief and almost formless five minutes. Although Heller expertly shapes the energy flow of the melody, the dynamic remains fairly static throughout the work. For such a lyrical piece, it is a shame that the dynamic range was not wider. in the recording.
Jason Eckhardt’s A Compendium of Catskill Native Botanicals, Asarum canadense, “Wild Ginger” is similar to Following in length and instrumentation. Eckardt writes that the six minute solo piece is inspired by wild ginger, a ‘perennial whose delicate, dark-purple flower, often concealed by the plant’s leaves, is supported by branching rhizomes that grow underneath’. A Compendium begins with gestures that recall, in both shape and register, the famous bassoon solo opening of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. These gestures bloom into more elaborate shapes that slip into the spaces between half-steps and occasionally give way to extended periods of silence. The shapes continue to grow in complexity, becoming faster and more intricate, until the opening gesture returns at nearly two-thirds of the way through the piece. A final twisting gesture, this time in the lowest register, follows the recapitulation. The energy of this low register foray is broken by another extended silence that reveals a meditative final section of breathy long tones and fragile multiphonics.
The segue from A Compendium to the album’s final and most ambitious piece, Felipe Lara’s title track Metafagote (2015), is stark. The unadorned coda of Eckardt’s solo work gives way to Lara’s dense and driving piece for solo bassoon and six accompanying bassoons. Metafagote is flexible in its instrumentation; the piece can be performed live with either seven total bassoonists or one soloist and pre-recorded tape, similar to Steve Reich’s Counterpoint pieces. Supported by a New Music USA Project grant, Metafagote is the culmination of close collaboration between Heller and Lara. Their cooperation is easily heard throughout the work. Together, the musi- cians are able to exploit and transform the bas- soon’s idiosyncratic timbres, stretching the norms and expectations of bassoon repertoire. The multiple layers of bassoons often sound syn- thetic, causing the listener to question whether the source is acoustic or processed. Throughout the course of the 18-minute work the soloist moves in and out of focus, engaging with the accompanying layers in different ways: interlocutor, listener, instigator.
Heller’s technical virtuosity is on full display. Lara’s material covers the gamut of bassoon timbres, from dense multiphonics, screeching overtone sweeps, and frenetic bisbigliandi, to percussive slaps, breath tones and aching glissandi. The harmonic palette is fairly static throughout the long piece, but I did not find it bothersome. The energy flow comes from the changes in timbre and texture, not from changes in harmony. That said, there is an especially beautiful harmonic release at the 13:20 mark, accompanied by a contrabassoon pedal tone. This pedal tone continues as energy builds through more turbulent solo lines. Suddenly the accompaniment falls away and the solo bas- soon is left to articulate a final line, ending the work with sputtering slaps.
Heller’s admirable artistry is matched by her technical prowess on all the pieces of “Metafagote”. Composers interested in writing for the bassoon should take note of this album, as it showcases the true heterogeneity of the instrument’s colours.
— Heather Stebbins, 10.2017, Tempo
Rebekah Heller is an American virtuoso on the bassoon, and we've come across her on Tyshawn Sorey's album,"Josephine Baker: A Portrait, on which Heller performs as a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).
In many languages, the bassoon is called "fagot" or "fagote", as here in Portuguese in the title.
On 'Metafagote', she performs compositions by Jason Eckardt, Felipe Lara, Rand Steiger, and Dai Fujikura, all composed specifically for her. Some of the compositions include overdubs and electronics, making the sound richer and denser than with a true solo performance. The title track, by Felipe Lara, offers a performance played over six pre-recorded bassoons.
On Dai Fujikura's composition, Following, the instrument can be heard in its natural sound, which in my opinion still gives the best idea of the artist's skills. The same can be said by Jason Eckardt's Compendium of Catskill Native Botanicals, Asarum canadense, “Wild Ginger”, a strange meditative piece that starts quite distant, but becomes more intimate as the music evolves.
For readers looking for something new, this might be of interest: the music is surprising and fascinating, adventurous and exploratory, and Heller's performance is nothing short of stunning, complex, precise, daring and sensitive at the same time.
-Stef Gjissels, 10.1.2018, The Free Jazz Collective
For this listener, traversing contemporary music concerts in the 1980s there appeared a trend to modify the traditional look of classical performers. The first striking example I can recall is the venerable Kronos Quartet performing all in tight black leather outfits. And there are performers who have an intentionally different look such as violinist Nigel Kennedy or Kathleen Supove whose look is decidedly unconventional. Focusing on attire could conceivably detract from a musical performance but the previously mentioned performers have in common with the performer on this disc both virtuosity and a distinctly different look which seems integral to their performance delivering decidedly unconventional music. The photography by Corrie Schneider creates a striking and evocative cover image giving her a sort of superhero ambiance. Why not?
Rebekah Heller, of course, is also one of the members of the wonderful ICE Ensemble, one of the finest working chamber groups focusing on contemporary music. ICE has in common with groups like Bang on a Can, Alarm Will Sound, ACME, and others the fact that they are populated by some of the finest young musicians who seem to be able to meet any challenge…er, commission thrown at them. In addition many of the musicians in these groups are also interesting composers. The others have a profound interest in new music that match their skills and passions oh so well.
In Metafagote Rebekah Heller presents 4 works on 4 tracks. Rand Steiger (1957- ) is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and Cal Arts. Steiger has been at UC San Diego since He is a 2015 Guggenheim Award recipient and though his discography is adequate this writer sees his name, hears his music too infrequently.
Steiger’s work opens this disc with Concatenation (2012) for bassoon and live electronics. Steiger is skilled in writing for both conventional instruments and for high tech electronics including spatialization, live processing. Steiger’s work is assertive, pretty much freely atonal, and packs a punch emotionally if memory serves. There was a vinyl record (this composer is younger than me by one year and I’m guessing still hoards at least a selection of LPs. The work was Hexadecathlon: “A New Slain Knight” (1984), basically a horn concerto for horn with chamber ensemble. It burns in my brain still, wonderful 6 minute cadenza at the end too.
Back to Concatenation, it is a sort of all consuming experience, a sound bath if you will. The timbres achieved with the combination of bassoon with electronics creates some grand, almost orchestral textures.
The second work is by one Jason Eckhardt (1971- ), a name vaguely familiar but his work is new to me. Eckhardt earned a B.A. from Berklee in 1992 followed by an M.A. (1994) and a D.M.A. (1998). He has studied with James Dillon, Jonathan Kramer, Milton Babbitt, Brian Ferneyhough, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. That provenance gives one an idea of what to expect…complexity. And he dishes that out for solo bassoon. Heller is up to the challenge in this piece, Wild Ginger (2014) from a series of pieces based on native plants in the Catskills. Again, why not?
The third track contains, Following (2014) for solo bassoon from a composer whose inspiration also sometimes comes from plants. Dai Fujikura (1977- ) is a prolific Japanese composer who also comes from a legacy of complexity having studied with the likes of Boulez, Taketmitsu, and Ligeti. Fujikura’s music may be complex but his music tends to have a softer edge, more like Takemitsu than Boulez. Again Heller demonstrates her technical skills that rise to meet the challenges posed here.
Last but not least is a piece as large and encompassing as the Steiger. Felipe Lara(1979- ) is an accomplished Brazilian composer. He is represented here by, Metafagote (2015), the most recent of the compositions here. It is scored for bassoon and 6 pre-recorded tracks. One is naturally put in the mind of Steve Reich’s counterpoint series for soloist playing against multiple pre-recorded similar instruments. The piece also can, and has been, performed by a soloist with 6 other bassoonists.
While the Reich notion is not the worst place to start, this piece is anything but minimalist. Rather it is distinctively modernist. It is a virtuosic exploration of some fascinating possibilities of the lowly bassoon. Lara owes more to free jazz at times in this epic, almost a concerto, piece.
I don’t know how many bassoon fanciers are out there but if you like new and experimental music of a virtuosic nature this is a great bet.
-Allan J. Cronin, 1.29.19, New Music Buff