A group of distiniguished Yale composer alumni (Carl Schimmel, Orianna Webb, Armando Bayolo, Adam B. Silverman and Daniel Kellogg) undertook a charming and ambitious project to write a series of works inspired by their collective experiences as new parents of young children. The resulting works for flute, viola, and harp, performed by Trio Kavak, not only represent major new additions to this elegant instrumentation, but also reflect an attractive range of stylistic approaches to capturing this seminal life experience in music.
The Moon Rabbit SyllabaryCarl Schimmel
|01||I. gathering the flowering grasses of autumn|
I. gathering the flowering grasses of autumn
|02||II. he gazes mournfully at the waxing moon|
II. he gazes mournfully at the waxing moon
|03||III. and transcending his evanescent existence|
III. and transcending his evanescent existence
|04||IV. he ascends into the pure light of the night sky and is made real|
IV. he ascends into the pure light of the night sky and is made real
|05||The Love We Save|
The Love We Save
Six Portraits in Flowing TimeArmando Bayolo
|06||I. Album Pages|
I. Album Pages
|07||II. She Finds Her Voice|
II. She Finds Her Voice
|09||IV. Bridal Song|
IV. Bridal Song
|10||V. The Little Risk Taker|
V. The Little Risk Taker
|11||VI. A Song Before the End|
VI. A Song Before the End
|12||Would Not Could Not|
Would Not Could Not
Songs for GrandmaDaniel Kellogg
|14||II. Christmas Squirrels and Candy|
II. Christmas Squirrels and Candy
|15||III. I Dream of Butterflies|
III. I Dream of Butterflies
The experience of becoming a new parent and raising a young family is a transformative one, both personally and artistically. As a result of winning a grant from the Yale School of Music alumniVentures program, the five composers featured on “Heirlooms” set out to capture the inspiration that they received from their young children in new compositions. The results showcase a fascinating range of aesthetics and express the complex and rich emotions that come with this point on life’s timeline. Carl Schimmel’s The Moon Rabbit Syllabary references his children’s part-Japanese heritage. Schimmel drew upon a Japanese story about “the rabbit in the moon” in which a God dresses as a beggar to test the kindness of a monkey, fox, and rabbit. Schimmel embeds some quotes of Japanese children’s songs and even references a Thom Yorke song, “Sail to the Moon” in this evocative “retelling” of a timeless tale. Orianna Webb’s The Love We Save captures the interplay between routine and growth that characterizes time with a small child. Familiar sounding passages are set off-kilter by rhythmic hiccups as flights of fancy take the listener, and presumably Orianna’s daughter, on brief journeys of self-discovery.
Armando Bayolo’s multi-movement Six Portraits in Flowing Time aligns with a long tradition stretching back to Bach. Bayolo uses the letters of the names of his family members to generate musical material. Dr. Seuss’ celebrated Green Eggs and Ham is the inspiration for Adam B. Silverman’s Would Not Could Not. Silverman loosely transcribes the text of the story onto the instrumental parts, with the viola “playing” the character Sam and the flute “playing” the unnamed, green-food detesting character. Daniel Kellogg’s Songs for Grandma celebrates the relationship between his daughter and her grandmother before she passed away. Kellogg’s tender, Coplandesque language is a fitting conclusion to this collection of pieces capturing a special moment in these artists’ lives.
Engineering, Digital Editing, Mixing, Mastering: Ryan Streber, OktavenAudio.com
Producers: Carl Schimmel (Tracks 1-4), Orianna Webb (Track 5), Armando Bayolo (Tracks 6-11), Adam B. Silverman (Track 12), Daniel Kellogg (Track 13-15), Ryan Streber (all tracks)
CD design and layout: Memo Salazar foolfactory.com
Recorded at Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, NY October 15-16, 2015
This recording was partially funded by a grant from the Yale University alumniVentures program
It's rare enough for one flute-viola-harp recording to see the light of day; it's even more unusual for two to be released on the same date and label. But that recently happened when Book of Memory and Heirlooms: New Music Inspired by Young Children, new collections by janus and Trio Kavak, appeared on New Focus Recordings last November. For the record, flutist Amanda Baker, harpist Nuiko Wadden, and violist Beth Meyers constitute the Brooklyn-based janus, which formed in 2002, whereas flutist Amelia Lukas, harpist Kathryn Andrews, and violist Victor Lowrie make up Trio Kavak. However much the two groups overlap in terms of instrumentation (it bears worth mentioning that on its release janus supplements its three core instruments with banjo, melodica, vocals, and percussion), their releases are fundamentally different.
Don't think for a moment that the flute-harp-viola format of these groups means their playlists are dominated by Renaissance tunes. Both recordings are firmly grounded in the present, with the musicians bringing a modern sensibility to recently created works. The reason for that in part stems from necessity: as pieces written for the trio combination aren't plentiful, janus formed with the idea of building the repertoire for the flute-harp-viola format as a key part of its MO. To that end, the group has added more than twenty new settings to the trio canon, with pieces written for the group by Caleb Burhans, Andrew McKenna-Lee, Angelica Negron, Barbara White, and others. The choice of janus as a group name, by the way, is no accident: the Roman god Janus is marked by a double-faced image that peers into the past and future, the past in janus's case signified by its choice of instrumentation and the future by the material it performs. One of the things that immediately appeals about Book of Memory is that while there are twenty indexed tracks on the release, it features two compositions only (both written for janus, incidentally) and thus feels compact. Lansky's large-scale title composition is obviously the dominant one, but Pluck, Bow, Blow by So Percussion member Jason Treuting has so much charm, its mark proves to be equally strong.
Described by Lansky himself as “a composer's conversation with older music,” Book of Memory playfully combines seven distinct movements and six interludes in striking manner, the work's realization enriched by the addition of voices and percussion. It's within the interludes that the latter elements surface, which leaves the longer movements to concentrate on formal trio arrangements and thus present the members' interactions in a purer form. The general character of the movements is conveyed by titles such as “Antique Cadences,” “Pastoral Counterpoint,” “Scherzo,” and “Lament,” and Baker, Wadden, and Meyers render all thirteen parts with gusto and conviction. Their voices blend superbly, a fact no doubt attributable in part to the many years they've played as a unit, and the clarity of the recording enhances the music's impact, too, when the separation between the three instruments is so well-defined.
Consistent with its title, Pluck, Bow, Blow literally explores the possible modes of sound production associated with each group instrument. Using hocketing, the members' voices collectively recite definitions for the works's three components in the first, third, and fifth parts, with the arresting voice-only “Pluck,” for instance, followed by the related setting “Pluck defined,” which, naturally, limits itself to pluck-generated sounds. To more fully realize the work's concept, Treuting expands on the trio's core sound by adding banjo, melodicas, and bowed harp to the arrangements, such that “Blow” builds from a flute-only intro into a veritable swarm of melodicas. One imagines Treuting's piece as a definite highlight of a typical janus show.
There's little mystery surrounding the conceptual impetus for Trio Kavak's release, with the five composers featured on Heirlooms: New Music Inspired by Young Children having catalyzed the experiences of being new parents and raising young families into compositional form. Much as janus does on Book of Memory, flutist Amelia Lukas (a member of the American Modern Ensemble), harpist Kathryn Andrews (one-half of Duo Scorpio), and violist Victor Lowri (a Mivos Quartet member) bring the composers' works to life with zestful performances that flatter their creators. Once again we're presented with a forward-thinking ensemble dedicate to enriching the flute-harp-viola repertoire with adventurous new material. It's worth noting that the composers involved—Carl Schimmel, Orianna Webb, Armando Bayolo, Adam B. Silverman, and Daniel Kellogg—didn't set out to write child-like works but rather pieces that capture the life-affirming quality of their time with their children and the emotions inspired by those transformative experiences. Moments of tenderness appear, as do exuberant episodes that evoke the innocence and carefree spirit of children at play.
Drawing from a Japanese story involving God dressing as a beggar to test the kindness of a monkey, fox, and rabbit, Schimmel's four-part The Moon Rabbit Syllabary incorporates elements of Japanese children's songs and a Radiohead tune (“Sail to the Moon,” written by Thom Yorke for his own son) into its mystical sound-world. Schimmel's music is at its dreamiest and most mysterious during the second movement (“he gazes mournfully at the waxing moon”), but there's also a pronounced fantastical character to the writing that mirrors a tale involving a rabbit ascending into the night sky. As suggested by its title, Silverman drew inspiration for Would Not Could Not from Dr. Seuss's 1960 book Green Eggs and Ham, even going so far as to transcribe the story into instrumental form, the viola personifying the character Sam and the flute the green-food-detesting character. As a result, Silverman's animated music is driven by ‘dialogue' between the instruments, with the harp acting as an intermediary for the other two.
Dedicated to her young daughter, Webb's The Love We Save threads multiple elements into its eight-minute structure, among them the delight with which a child explores its environment and the contrast between moments of high-energy and restful recharge that characterize an infant's days. Though the music is largely buoyant, the love Webb feels for her child comes through loud and clear in this album highlight. Also affecting is Kellogg's three-part Songs for Grandma, which grew out of the relationship his daughter formed with her grandmother before she passed away and is thus suitably tender in tone, nowhere more so than in the heartfelt movement “Longing.” Moments of levity arise, too, with “Christmas Squirrels and Candy” conveying the joy the two shared during the last Halloween they spent together.
And let's not forget Bayolo's Six Portraits in Flowing Time, a multifaceted, suite-like rendering of the composer's family that encompasses various moods, from joyous (“Giggles”) and mischievous (“The Little Risk Taker”) to ponderous (“Bridal Song”) and elegiac (“A Song Before the End”). As interesting and imaginative as the five composers' works are, they wouldn't be anywhere near as affecting had Trio Kavak not realized them with so much care. One comes away from this fine recording hearing the group as a perfect fit for the material. -- Ron Schepper, January 2017
Trio Kavak's "Heirlooms" a Fascinating Album
This fascinating disc of chamber music for flute, viola and harp is very similar to the Carl Schimmel Roadshow album I reviewed recently; in fact, it even starts off with a Schimmel piece, The Moon Rabbit Syllabary. This piece is equally whimsical but not quite on the wacky-humorous level of his Roadshow pieces; rather, it conjures up moonlight in a way I have seldom heard music do, and I was absolutely delighted by the tremendous emotional involvement that Trio Kavak invests in this piece.
Orianna Webb’s The Love We Save is one of those pieces that, though tonal and aspiring to melodic lines, seems somehow more elusive to the mind than The Moon Rabbit Syllabary. There is one flute melody about 3:20 into the piece for the listener to hang on to, but for the most part the music is lovely and engaging depsite the lack of formal melody. It makes perfect sense that Webb wrote this music for her then-three-year-old daughter. The opening, she explains in the notes, is a “developing chaconne,” which probably explains the lack of a definable melody. In the latter part of the piece, Webb uses some clever development in her interaction of the three instruments.
Armando Bayolo’s Six Portraits in Flowing Time takes a diverse approach to composition, utilizing slightly different styles and harmonic approaches as he moves from piece to piece. The opening, “Album Pages,” is essentially tonal and lovely, whereas the second piece, “She Finds Her Voice,” is unusually structured and rides on occasionally bitonal harmonies. “Giggles” is a bubbling, effervescent piece reminiscent of some of Duke Ellington’s writing for his River suite, while “Bridal Song” is sparse, with sustained notes by the viola and jagged bursts of sound from the flute and harp surrounding it, at least until a lyrical flute melody enters at about 1:40, just in time for the piece to end. Interestingly, “The Little Risk Taker” also begins in a jagged manner, this time with all three instruments enjoined in the rhythmic spikiness, and remains so throughout its length. “A Song Before the End” is a slow, haunting piece, played on the flute as if it were a recorder of bamboo flute, with interfections from the harp and a drone-like obbligato from the viola. It has much more the feeling of folk music than the other pieces in the suite. The second half of this piece stays focused on just two tones played by the flute, over and over, in an almost minimalist style.
Adam Silverman describes his Would Not, Could Not as a musical setting of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. It is a bustling, energetic piece, once again tonal but not necessarily melodic. Silverman used the rhythms of certain couplets from the Seuss book as a basis for his music, but does not let us know which ones he used. Silverman does say, however, that although “not entirely strict, the phrases of the character Sam are commonly given to the viola, while the words of the unnamed, green-eggs-detesting character are given to the flute.” This creates an interesting tension and interplay between them; the harp is relegated to the role of occasional commentator and accompanist. One of the things I found interesting, and amusing, about the piece was that Silverman was able to continually knit these little bursts of musical conversation together to form a coherent whole. In the latter section, the conversation seems to break up into smaller pieces of information and, as a result, little shards of music knitted cleverly together.
The album concludes with the wordless Songs for Grandma by Daniel Kellogg, honoring the relationship his daughter Kaela had with her grandmother, Win Kellogg. The opening piece, “Longing,” is extremely gentle music, haunting in its own way and utilizing a lot of “space” between segments. Trio Kavak does a beautiful job of entering into the spirit of the piece, nudging it along with a gentle but persistent rhythm and a feeling of loving warmth so essential to the mood of the piece. In the second piece, “Christmas Squirrels and Candy,” Kellogg uses the harp in a percussive manner, sparking the flute and viola tune to characterize their last Halloween together, while “I Dream of Butterflies” opens with an a cappella flute solo, leading into another viola drone as a sort of basso continuo and, a bit later, sparse harp interjections. Eventually the viola assumes a larger role in the development, interacting with the flute as a sort of “grounding” for the latter’s flutters (and the harp plucks) representing the butterflies.
All in all, Heirlooms is an interesting album, introducing a trio new to me as well as some composers I had not previously known. — Lynn René Bayley, Art Music Lounge, 1.30.2017