String Orchestra of Brooklyn: afterimage

About

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn releases "afterimage," an album featuring two works written for the ensemble by Christopher Cerrone and Jacob Cooper that respond to older works by Paganini and Pergolesi respectively. Featuring the Argus Quartet and vocal soloists Mellissa Hughes and Kate Maroney, "afterimage" refracts older repertoire through a modern lens using a familiar and time honored format, the string orchestra.

Audio

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn (SOB), led by conductor Eli Spindel, releases its debut album afterimage on Friday, January 17, 2020 on Furious Artisans. The record features 2020 Grammy-nominated composer Christopher Cerrone’s High Windows featuring the SOB and the Argus Quartet; Jacob Cooper’s Stabat Mater Dolorosa featuring soprano Mellissa Hughes, mezzo-soprano Kate Maroney, and the SOB; Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 6 in G minor "The Trill / Tremolo" (Lento) featuring violinist Rachel Lee Priday; and the first movement of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa.”

Of the release, SOB conductor Eli Spindel says, “Recorded in 2016 and now released in 2020, afterimage features some of String Orchestra of Brooklyn’s favorite long-time collaborators. Jacob Cooper's Stabat Mater and Christopher Cerrone's High Windows take as their starting point a single moment from an older work and––through processes of repetition, distortion, and, in the case of the Stabat Mater, extreme slow-motion––create a completely new soundscape, like opening up a small door into an unfamiliar world. We hope you find them as beautifully disorienting as we do.”

Christopher Cerrone’s High Windows (2013), co-commissioned by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn and the Toomai String Quintet, was inspired by the windows of St. Ann’s Church in Brooklyn, the space in which the piece was first performed, and also refers to a Philip Larkin poem in which the author sums up the tumult of his youth. Cerrone reflects, “High Windows was a piece written for friends: Eli Spindel and I were neighbors at the time and I’m a longtime collaborator of the original soloists and co-commissioners, the Toomai String Quintet. I knew the church where the work would be premiered and the specific skills and strengths of the orchestra. There are many things in High Windows that are old: the opening of the piece samples a fragment from one of Paganini’s Caprices (No. 6 in G minor), the central section quotes an older piece of mine (Hoyt–Schermerhorn, for piano and electronics), and perhaps most prominently, High Windows is a sonata, a musical form which originated in the 17th century. In using these old elements and putting them in a familiar order, I strove to create recognizable signposts to guide the listener through the distinct sections of the piece. As a result, the focus becomes not these distinct sections, but rather the interaction between them: how they fit together, commingle, and discretely evolve and resolve. More than anything, though, the piece is an exercise in mixing these disparate elements—high and low, allusion and abstraction—to make something new.”

Jacob Cooper says, “When I wrote Stabat Mater Dolorosa (2009) a decade ago, I was fascinated by empirical studies that suggest we experience an extreme slowing-down of time at the moment of (near-)death—a car suspended in the air during a violent crash, or a slip down a steep rock face, creating a sense of eternal present. I decided to transfer this concept of temporal hyper-magnification to music, using a time-stretched version of the first movement of Pergolesi’s 1736 Stabat Mater as a point of departure. While the Stabat Mater text focuses on the Virgin Mary’s grief over Jesus’s death, Stabat Mater Dolorosa piece sheds the Christian framework, adapting the text to contemplate maternal grief more generally while attempting to retain much of what a religious meditation can offer: unencumbered time to reflect, a sense of spirituality, and perhaps, even a brush with transcendence.”

Executive Producers: Emily Bookwalter, Eli Spindel

Recording Engineer: Ryan Streber

Editing, Mixing, Mastering: Ryan Streber; Eli Spindel; Emily Bookwalter; Ken Hashimoto, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Rachel Lee Priday

Album Artwork: Molly Spindel Flomer

String Orchestra of Brooklyn

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn is a unique community of musicians who come together in a supportive environment to enrich the life of our communities through music. Embracing an inclusive approach to music-making, the SOB seeks to democratize both the production and reception of concert music. Founded in 2007 by artistic director Eli Spindel, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn is “quickly solidifying its role as a major orchestral figure in the borough. Incredible displays of artistry, superb programming, and a commitment to commissioning new works make the String Orchestra of Brooklyn a force to be reckoned with.” (I Care if You Listen). The SOB provides an enriching creative outlet to hundreds of musicians, and accessible, adventurous programming to thousands of concertgoers and community members in Brooklyn and beyond.

http://www.thesob.org/

Reviews

NPR Best Music of 2020: January

To move forward, you need to look back sometimes. Composer Christopher Cerrone, in his swirling and contemplative piece High Windows, riffs off a 215-year-old Paganini caprice, while Jacob Cooper channels an 18th-century vocal work for his mesmerizing, slow-motion Stabat Mater Dolorosa.

-Tom Huizenga, 1.31.2020, NPR Best Music of 2020

The WholeNote

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn (SOB)’s conductor Eli Spindel says of the group’s debut CD release "afterimage" (Furious Artisans FACD6823 furiousartisans.com) “The featured works […] take as their starting point a single moment from an older work and – through processes of repetition, distortion, and in the case of the Stabat Mater, extreme slow motion – create a completely new soundscape, like opening a small door into an unfamiliar world.” The disc begins with Christopher Cerrone’s High Windows, based on Paganini’s Caprice No.6 in G Minor. Scored for string quartet and string orchestra, the SOB is joined on this recording by the Argus Quartet. The 13-minute work examines a fragment of the Paganini as under a microscope and also draws on material from an earlier Cerrone piece for piano and electronics. The title refers to the windows of the church in which the premiere performance took place. Although this is the SOB’s first recording, they were founded in 2007 and the second work is Jacob Cooper’s Stabat Mater Dolorosa which was written for them in 2009. Taking Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater as its point of departure, the 27-minute work incorporates two singers as does the original. It takes patience to listen to the extremely slow unfolding of this careful examination of one of the most gorgeous works of early 18th-century vocal repertoire. If you are able to suspend your disbelief, it’s well worth the journey. The disc also includes the original works that inspired Cerrone and Cooper. Violinist Rachel Lee Priday performs Paganini’s solo caprice and soprano Mellissa Hughes and mezzo Kate Maroney shine in a more traditional interpretation of the first movement of Pergolesi’s masterpiece to complete the disc. My only quibble with this recording is the order of presentation. I’m sure much thought went into the decision to put the new works first and the old works last, but after several listenings I find I prefer to hear the Paganini first to set the stage for Cerrone’s tribute, then the Cooper, with Pergolesi last to really bring us home.

-David Olds, 1.27.2020, The WholeNote

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

A recurring element in the most Modern of New Music channels I have been calling "the Old in the New," referring to composers of today re-appropriating or being inspired by earlier music in a process that one way or another transforms older stylistic elements into a newly minted kind of Modernity. With the New Year we have another interesting example in Afterimage (Furious Artisans FACD 6823). On it the Brooklyn String Orchestra under Eli Spindel presents the music of Christopher Cerrone and Jacob Cooper--based in whole or in part on music by, respectively, Niccolo Paganini and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.

The key is what "based on" is all about, naturally. Each work seeks a somewhat different way of transforming the past. As Eli Spindel aptly puts it in the liner notes to the album, both "take as their starting point a single moment from an older work and--through processes of repetition, distortion, and, in the case of [Pergolesi's] Stabat Mater, extreme slow motion--create a completely new soundscape, like opening up a small door into an unfamiliar world."

To open the program Christopher Cerrone begins his "High Windows" by making use of a sampled fragment of Paganini's Caprice No. 6 "The Trill" for Solo Violin. It forms the initial moment of the extended work for the Argus Quartet and the String Orchestra of Brooklyn. But then the middle section quotes from an earlier Cerrone work ("Hoyt--Schermerhorn" for piano and electronics) and ultimately thrives as an independent composition based on traditional Sonata Form--but also draws connotations from a poem by Philip Larkin about tumultuous youth.

The multi-strandedness of meaning is further underscored as the whole expresses the composer's inspiration from the stained-glass windows of St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn, the initial venue for which the piece was written and performed. Three separate sections unfold and ultimately have their say.

Ultimately it is all about the musical and personal friendships and artistic commingling that occurred as composer, orchestra, conductor and the original small group (the Toomai String Quintet) involved themselves in the work. Virtually all were initially engaged as both colleagues and friends, then grew into the work in workshops where sections of the score were hammered out. There followed a further articulation of the actuality of the music through the four public performances that have taken place since the work was completed after that gestation period of 2013. And now of course there is this recording as a further development.

The second and more lengthy of the two works here, Jacob Cooper's Pergolesi-based "Stabat Mater Dolorosa" (2009) is a vast time stretching and alteration/transformation of the original Baroque score to become like a moment stopped in time, like a virtually endless experience of the moment of life departure, like the maternal grief of Mary on the death of Jesus, only de-sacralized to a secular inner being of sorts. The vocal parts for soprano and mezzo-soprano, nicely handled by Mellissa Hughes and Kate Maroney, segue with the endlessly pivoting orchestra around sustained progression points nearly stopped in time and space. It is exceedingly beautiful.

Finishing off the program and letting us take stock of what came before are the real-time performances of the fragments involved in the works--the Paganini Trill Caprice (with the solo violin part well played by Rachel Lee Priday) and the single movement from Pergolesi's Stabat (performed by Hughes, Maroney and the SOB). And so we come full circle back to a real-time past after a lengthy excursion through suspended presents, through multiple moments of now.

It is a rather extraordinary program in a rather extraordinary performance. Kudos!

-Grego Edwards, 1.7.20, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

textura

The String Orchestra of Brooklyn (SOB) and its conductor Eli Spindel couldn't have chosen a better programme for its debut album, recorded in 2016 but only now seeing release. Rather than present interpretations of unrelated early and contemporary works, the company selected pieces that connect brilliantly. Christopher Cerrone's High Windows (2013) and Jacob Cooper's Stabat Mater Dolorosa (2009) are followed by the two pieces to which they're respectively tied, Niccolò Paganini's Caprice No. 6, written in the early 1800s, and the first movement of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's 1736 work, Stabat Mater, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa.” Effectively articulating what the contemporary works do, Spindel says they “take as their starting point a single moment from an older work and—through processes of repetition, distortion, and, in the case of the Stabat Mater, extreme slow-motion—create a completely new soundscape, like opening up a small door into an unfamiliar world.” SOB's augmented on afterimage by special guests, the Argus Quartet for Cerrone's, soprano Mellissa Hughes and mezzo-soprano Kate Maroney for Cooper's, and Maroney again for the Pergolesi; the orchestra rests, on the other hand, for the Paganini, with violinist Rachel Lee Priday performing alone. The cumulative results are, in a word, stunning.

When a mournful theme appears that's as stirring as any by Arvo Pärt, it's not hard to understand why High Windows has become one of Cerrone's most popular and performed works. Drawing for inspiration from both the windows of St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn and a Philip Larkin poem, the thirteen-minute sonata incorporates a fragment from Paganini's Caprice into its opening section before a quote from one of Cerrone's own, Hoyt-Schermerhorn, emerges at the work's centre. Opening with swirling trills emblematic of the early Caprice, the material instantly captivates; it's the elegiac section that follows, however, that's the most stirring. As ghostly string figures establish atmosphere, the sorrowful theme makes its first appearance, the potency of its anguished expression as it builds in intensity impossible to resist.

High Windows sets an effective stage for Cooper's incredible Stabat Mater Dolorosa, which was inspired in part by the composer's fascination with empirical studies examining the extreme temporal arrestation that occurs when someone's involved in a near-death experience, be it a car crash or elevator plummet. Wanting to explore the concept in his own work, Cooper applied time-stretching to the first movement of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. The treatment gives the twenty-eight-minute performance a quality vaguely similar to the digitally time-slowed versions of songs producers have posted to YouTube, 800%-elongated makeovers of The Beatles' “Because” and Pink Floyd's “Breathe,” for instance. In all such cases, the character of the original is radically transformed, even if audible traces of it remain. What separates Cooper's treatment of Stabat Mater apart, however, is that it's executed in real-time and thus all the more captivating for being so. In its slow, incremental rise and supplicating tone, it also shares certain properties with Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, but don't mistake Stabat Mater Dolorosa for a derivative exercise. Cooper's piece stands up on its own magnificently, so much so one could picture concertgoers completely enthralled during its presentation.

In its opening part, string tones stretch out for seemingly minutes on end, each phrase adding to the accumulating mass as a meditative, reverential mood is instated, the tone consistent with text concerned with maternal grief. Like the strings, the singers' voices stretch out, each syllable of the Latin material extended to an imagined breaking point, until the closing minutes where vocalizing's delivered at a more conventional tempo. In this slow-motion treatment, episodes occur where the arrangement reduces to a skeletal core before building up again, and shifts in melody transpire so slowly every fluctuation in pitch can be monitored. Occasional tonal dissonances lend the piece a woozy, even somewhat sickly quality that in a strange way enhances this remarkable rendering of Cooper's creation.

Nicknamed “The Trill” for clearly audible reasons, Paganini's Caprice No. 6 is given a powerful solo reading by Priday, the violinist deftly voicing tremolo in the left hand while articulating the melody with the right in the five-minute performance. Though brief at three-and-a-half minutes, Pergolesi's own "Stabat Mater Dolorosa" is distinguished by the elegant intertwining of Hughes and Maroney' voices and the stately backdrop provided by the SOB. Interesting too that the tone of the original sounds so bright, buoyant, and carefree when heard next to the time-stretched version.

In sequencing the forty-nine-minute release as they did, Spindel and company bestow extra attention on the contemporary works—which shouldn't be interpreted to suggest Pergolesi's and Paganini's are mere footnotes, as they aren't. An alternate sequencing that would have seen the early pieces respectively precede the ones to which they're tied would have provided a fascinating listening experience too, such an order allowing for the relationships between them to be more immediately heard. No matter: the material as presented is ravishing and its realization by the orchestra and its guests breathtaking, and a more rewarding debut release by an ensemble would be hard to imagine.

-Ron Schepper, 1.29.2020, textura

AllMusic

In live performances, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn has promoted contemporary music but also sought to "democratize" the concertgoing experience, in part by playing familiar music. On "Afterimage", the orchestra's debut release, the group takes a simple, innovative approach to the problem: it includes two historical works, the Caprice No. 6 for solo violin in G minor ("The Trill") of Paganini, and the first movement of the Stabat Mater of Pergolesi, preceded by contemporary treatments of these works. The term "remix" isn't included in the graphics, but it may be relevant. For Stabat Mater Dolorosa, composer Jacob Cooper's take on the Pergolesi, one may more readily think of Notre Dame organum, with its vastly stretched-out choral structures based on segments on Gregorian chant. Cooper takes seven minutes to even get to the beginning of the text, and early minimalist textures are in evidence, but a link in mood with the Pergolesi persists, and putting the new works ahead of their models, which at first seems annoying, works at a basic musical level. The same is true of Christopher Cerrone's High Windows, which deconstructs the Paganini Caprice. The String Orchestra of Brooklyn, an all-volunteer group, holds up under the considerable pressure of the 27-minute Cooper work, and in general, this is an appealing example of the work of new composers who are trying to forge connections with historical classical repertory.

— James Manheim, AllMusic, 2.4.20

Midwest Record

When contemporary classical doesn’t sound like pots and pans music, it’s a win. When it sounds like something that could have been in “Star Wars” when John Williams wanted to let some new kids take a crack at it, that’s a bigger win. Building the future by building on the past, this serious bunch of players does a fine job of expanding the lexicon and taking things to the next level. A serious work that doesn’t intimidate, this is not for eggheads only.

– Chris Spector, 12.23.19, Midwest Record

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