Composer Scott Wollschleger releases his second album with New Focus, Dark Days, chronicling solo piano repertoire written between 2007 and 2020 and featuring his longtime close collaborator, pianist Karl Larson. Aspects of style that are heard on his first album Soft Aberration are present again, but now filtered through the introspective immediacy of the solo piano medium, as we hear coloristic harmonies, a penchant for using displaced rhythms and repetition to subvert phrasing expectations, and an intuitively driven approach to form and structure.
|03||Music without Metaphor|
Music without Metaphor
|06||Brontal No. 2 “Holiday”|
Brontal No. 2 “Holiday”
|07||Brontal No. 6|
Brontal No. 6
|08||Brontal No. 11 “I-80”|
Brontal No. 11 “I-80”
|09||Secret Machine No. 4|
Secret Machine No. 4
|10||Secret Machine No. 6|
Secret Machine No. 6
In this intensely introspective collection of solo piano works, Scott Wollschleger brings the listener inside a soundworld that balances sensual and incorporeal impulses within a penetratingly honest expressive frame. Karl Larson’s performances are sensitive and tactile, eliciting watery colors from the keyboard that illuminate each track’s subtle coloristic hue. One can point to many influences on Wollschleger’s approach to the piano, from Debussy to Feldman to his mentor Nils Vigeland, but the power of the music on this recording lies in its deeply personal, almost confessional character.
The album opens with the title track, Dark Days, a meditation on five pitches that are repeated throughout the short piece in the same order and rhythm while being displaced registrally. It is an ideal opening gesture for the music that follows, a contemplation of the complexity of simple elements and a sound painting of a unique color on the piano, a consistent feature of Wollschleger’s work that is a reflection of his synesthesia.
Tiny Oblivion grows from the flourish heard in its opening bars. The gesture is mined for variation, turning it around, extending its internal repetitions, and varying its pitches and registral placement. At select points of the work, the rapidity of the arpeggiation gives way to a more deliberate presentation of pitches, as if to deconstruct the primary gesture and gaze upon its component parts to admire the miracle of its inner workings.
Music without Metaphor is one of several works on the album written in proportional notation, placing emphasis on the rhetorical relationships between musical ideas as dictated by their presentation on the page as opposed to their orientation within a fixed pulse. Within this frame Larson takes advantage of the freedom afforded him to highlight the subtly evolving material. Blue Inscription takes a similar approach to developing ideas but within a more deliberate rhythmic frame. Material is repeated with slight variation in such a way that the ear is momentarily hypnotized before a divergent musical idea breaks the entrancing cycle. Lyric Fragment hints obliquely at the late Romantic character piece tradition (think Brahms Intermezzi or Grieg Lyric Pieces), but as the title suggests, takes a sonic snapshot of that affect and lingers on it.
The set of three pieces with “Brontal” in their title contain some of the most extroverted material on the recording. Wollschleger’s first album with New Focus, Soft Aberration, included Brontal Symmetry, a work he wrote for the Longleash piano trio that is constructed as a sort of memory puzzle. Brontal No. 2 “Holiday”, Brontal No. 6, and Brontal No. 11 share some of these same characteristics, presenting material before reordering it, with an unfolding and related series of relationships between ideas that define the structure of the music and suggest the mysterious nature of human memory.
The final two works on the recording, Secret Machine No. 4 and No. 6, take advantage of the piano’s resonant properties. The short Secret Machine No. 4 is divided into two discrete sections. In the first, playfully quirky figurations are played in a quasi-improvised style, while in the second half of the piece, flowing lines highlight different accented notes while internal pitches are adjusted to change the shade of the prevailing harmony. Secret Machine No. 6 revels in sonorous arpeggiations of a static chord that are sustained with pedal, sprinkled with occasional bluesy grace notes and grounded by rich bass notes. It closes the album much like where it began, on a deep contemplation of one sonority, delving deep within to communicate something essential that lies beyond the superficialities of our information saturated era, and finding solace in the process.
– Dan Lippel
All music composed by Scott Wollschleger
Dark Days, Tiny Oblivion, Brontal No. 6, Lyric Fragment, Blue Inscription, Music without Metaphor published by Project Schott New York (BMI)
Brontal No. 2 “Holiday”, Brontal No. 11 “I-80”, Secret Machine No. 4, Secret Machine No. 6 published by Scott Wollschleger Music, New York (BMI)
All tracks recorded at Oktaven Audio, Yonkers and Mount Vernon, New York
Recording engineer: Ryan Streber
Editing, mixing, and mastering: Ryan Streber and Scott Wollschleger
Editing assistant: Charles Mueller
Piano technician: Dan Jessie (Hamburg Steinway D)
Produced by Scott Wollschleger and Karl Larson
Executive Producer: Scott Wollschleger
Painting on cover: River of Silence by Theresa Musatto, used with permission from the artist
Album design by Traci Larson
Photo of Karl Larson and Scott Wollschleger by Greg Manis, used with permission
Art photography by Jennifer Dworek, used with permission
Karl Larson is a Brooklyn-based pianist and specialist in the music of our time. A devoted supporter of contemporary composers and their craft, Larson has built a career grounded in commissioning and long-term collaborations. He frequently performs in a variety of chamber music settings, most notably with his trio, Bearthoven, a piano / bass / percussion ensemble focussed on cultivating a diverse new repertoire for their instrumentation. As a soloist, Larson is known for championing the works of his peers and the recent canon alike, often gravitating towards long-form, reflective works of the 20th and 21st centuries. Through his work with Bearthoven, collaborations with a wide variety of chamber musicians, and his solo projects, Larson has helped to generate a large body of new work, resulting in world premiere performances of pieces by notable composers including David Lang, Sarah Hennies, Christopher Cerrone, and Michael Gordon.
A sought after collaborator, Larson has performed with many leaders in the field, including the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Ensemble Signal, the American Composers Orchestra, Maya Bennardo (violin), Ashley Bathgate (cello), and Ken Thomson (clarinets/saxophones). Larson’s recent performances include notable appearances at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, EMPAC, the Guggenheim Museum, MoMA, MASS MoCA, and the Teatro General San Martín in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Karl received a Doctor of Musical Arts in Contemporary Music and a Master of Music in Piano Performance from Bowling Green State University, where he studied with Dr. Laura Melton. Larson completed his undergraduate degree at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa as a pupil of Dr. John Strauss. His recordings can be heard on Cantaloupe Music, New Amsterdam Records, New World Records, New Focus Recordings, and GALTTA Media.
Scott Wollschleger’s music has been highly praised for its arresting timbres and conceptual originality. Wollschleger (b. 1980) “has become a formidable, individual presence” (The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross) in the contemporary musical landscape. His distinct musical language explores themes of art in dystopia, the conceptualization of silence, synesthesia, and creative repetition in form and has been described as “apocalyptic,” “distinctive and magnetic,” possessing a “hushed, cryptic beauty,” (The New Yorker, Alex Ross) and as “evocative” and “kaleidoscopic” (The New York Times).
His concert works have been performed across the US and the world, including the Turner Contemporary in Margate, England, the NOW! Festival in Graz Austria, MATA Festival Interval Series, Bowerbird in Philadelphia, and the Bang on a Can Festival at MASS MoCa. Mr. Wollschleger has received support from a variety of organizations including, The New York Foundation for the Arts, New Music USA, BMI and the Yvar Mikhashoff Trust for New Music. Mr. Wollschleger was a Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of Red Light New Music, a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to presenting and crafting contemporary music.
His debut album, Soft Aberration, was released on New Focus Recordings in 2017 and was named a “Notable Recording of 2017” in The New Yorker. His second album, American Dream, written for the trio, Bearthoven, was released on Cantaloupe Music in 2019. This album, Dark Days, was released by New Focus Recordings in 2021.
Wollschleger’s work is published by Project Schott New York.