Zosha Di Castri: Tachitipo

, composer


Canadian composer Zosha Di Castri releases this stellar collection of music for various instrumentations, featuring the JACK Quartet, pianist Julia Den Boer, Yarn/Wire, the International Contemporary Ensemble, Talea Ensemble, and the vocal ensemble Ekmeles. Her compositions are an expression of searching artistry, mapping explorations into the nature of experience onto musical parameters, including tightly structured forms, a rich timbral/textural language, and nuanced text setting.


Composer Zosha Di Castri’s debut album “Tachitipo” features several of her eclectic chamber and solo works, both acoustic and electro-acoustic, written between 2010 to the present, and in performances by top-notch ensembles and artists (mostly New York-based) who have long-standing collaborative relationships with the composer.

Di Castri’s music reflects her restless intellect, and her compositional process is often expressed in terms of working through an abstract extra-musical idea through sound. These sound-thought experiments extend to her compositional methods themselves, often birthing and developing her music in close collaboration with her performer colleagues, as is the case with many of the works on this recording. “Tachitipo” also features a unique collaboration with one of the top recording engineer-producers for classical music, Martha de Francisco, and the internationally recognized conductor, Lorraine Vaillancourt, founder and musical director of the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne in Montreal.

Read More

The opening track on the recording, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, was written for the vocal ensemble Ekmeles and explores aging, both as a function of the voice but also in a more general sense. Using a wide range of vocal techniques that alternately focus on timbral idiosyncrasies and theatrical possibilities, Di Castri creates unusual textures that are in constant flux. Text fragments are looped and layered, sometimes featuring the sonic qualities of the words as divorced from their content and sometimes highlighting their semantic meaning in a more direct fashion.

Throughout Cortège, an ensemble work written for thirteen players, we hear Di Castri returning ominously to a haunting sonority that serves as a pivot to all of the other material in the piece. Of the work, she writes, “composed in a block-like manner, contrasting textures are juxtaposed in a rich sonic patchwork.”

Of all the works on this recording, Quartet No. 1 is the least programmatic in the sense that it is not a manifestation of an extra-musical concept realized in sound. Grounded in a compositional process that involved experimenting with sound files in an audio editing software, Di Castri has created a tactile, highly detailed library of string quartet sounds that are fresh and unique to this piece. The work toggles between these meticulous textures and moments of ethereal suspension. The quick shifts between contrasting materials create a rich landscape as the moments in the piece unfold and also trigger the listener’s recollection of material that has receded and later reasserted itself.

Describing Dux, Di Castri writes, “using falling cyclical canons that grow in complexity, and energetic outbursts from the extremes of the instrument, this piece can be read as an abstract reflection on the political climate in the U.S., the year it was written (2017).” Disjunct, mechanistic phrases combining glissandi, dense chordal sound masses, and wide registral leaps give the piece a vigorous physicality. Underlying the surface energy is a metaphor between the “leader” (dux) and “follower” (comes) in a traditional canon and the blind allegiance we witness in populations eager to step in line behind an autocrat.

La forma dello spazio for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, and cello, is inspired by the mobile sculptures of Alexander Calder and Lee Bontecou. Di Castri writes, “I wanted to create a composition in which musical gestures appear to be fairly static, yet are permitted a certain flexibility. Alluding to the idea of mobiles, La forma dello spazio has the musicians spatialized around the room.”

The title piece, for the two-pianist, two-percussionist quartet Yarn/Wire, is a “reflection on writing and the machines we use to execute our ideas.” Di Castri turns to the vintage manual typewriter as her inspiration for building a vocabulary of sounds. Tachitipo alternates between quasi-improvisatory textures featuring microtonal washes of pitch to tightly controlled, rhythmic ensemble mechanisms. At twenty four minutes, it is a monumental piece spun out of a meditation on work that progresses incrementally, one key stroke at a time.

– D. Lippel

how many bodies have we to pass through, a work composed collaboratively by Di Castri and percussionist Diego Espinosa Cruz, can be heard in Cruz' performance as a bonus video track -

  • Producer: Martha de Francisco
  • Tracks 1, 2, 4–6 recorded at Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY, May 2018
  • Track 3 produced and recorded using the facilities of Program Production at Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, July 2018
  • Recording engineers: Ryan Streber (tracks 2, 6); Charles Mueller (tracks 1, 4, 5); James Clemens-Seely (track 3)
  • Assistant engineers: Kseniya Degtyareva, Lilita Dunska (track 3)
  • Bonus video track recorded at The Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination, Reid Hall, Paris, February 2019
  • Videography and recording engineer: David Adamcyk; camera operator: Antonia Fritche
  • Editing and mixing: at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University and CIRMMT
  • Editing and Mixing Engineers: David Adamcyk (Tracks 6,7), John Castillo (Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5), Kseniya Degtyareva (Track 3, 4), Zosha Di Castri (Track 6), and Haruka Nagata (Tracks 2, 4, 5)
  • All tracks mastered by James Clemens-Seely, July 2019
  • Album Artwork Design, Layout and Printing by Kiva Stimac, Popolo Press (Montreal, Canada)

Zosha Di Castri

Zosha Di Castri is a Canadian composer/pianist/sound artist living in New York. Her work, which has been performed internationally, extends beyond purely concert music including projects with electronics, installations, and collaborations with video and dance. She has worked with such ensembles as the BBC Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the L.A. Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the NEM, Ensemble Cairn, and the groups included on this album among others. Zosha is currently the Francis Goelet Assistant Professor of Music at Columbia University and was a fellow at the Institute for Ideas and Imagination in Paris during 2018–19, while working on this recording project.

02 Oct, 2020

New Focus releases on 2020 Grammy Ballot

Several New Focus releases are on the first round ballot for the 2020 Grammy awards. The relevant albums/tracks are all currently streamable on their New Focus album pages, please take a listen and if you are a voting member, consider voting for these albums! ACRONYM: Cantica Obsoleta on the Olde Focus imprint (Best Chamber Music Performance/Best Engineered Album) John Aylward: Angelus (Best …

Read More

14 Nov, 2019

Zosha Di Castri: Tachitipo Release Event

Composer Zosha Di Castri celebrates the release of her debut recording Tachitipo with a release event at Tenri Cultural Institute on Sunday November 17th at 6pm. The event will feature performances by pianist Julia Den Boer and percussionist Diego Espinoza. Tachitipo includes performances by the International Contemporary Ensemble, Talea Ensemble, Yarn/Wire, Julia Den Boer, and the JACK …

Read More



The New Yorker: Notable Recordings of 2019

Included on Alex Ross' list of Notable Recordings of 2019


AnEarful: Best of 2019

Color. Texture. Emotion. Craft. All those virtues are fully on display on this stunning portrait debut from Di Castri, a Canadian composer with whom I was completely unfamiliar. If you’re in the same boat, paddle over and climb aboard a luxury liner packed with talent. In the engine room are Di Castri’s compositions, which demonstrate an astonishing facility with a variety of forces, from vocal group to string quartet, and from solo piano to chamber ensemble. Then, you have the staterooms, appointed with such luminaries as Ekmeles, Talea Ensemble, JACK Quartet, Julia Den Boer, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and Yarn/Wire, each one performing at the top of their game. That’s no mean feat when you consider something like the opening track, The Animal After Whom All Other Animals Are Named (2013), which has Ekmeles dishing out all manner of vocal effects while engaging in a fractured duet with glitched-out electronics. It’s a gauntlet thrown and one ably picked up by Cortège, which has Lorraine Vaillancourt through a dark funhouse of tension, release, and smart orchestration.

String Quartet No. 1 (2016) is like raw steak tossed into the JACK’s cage: they attack the score with gusto and make quite a meal for all of us. While deeply connected to the tradition, Di Castri also approaches it with a disarming freshness. May it be played often by string quartets everywhere. Dux (2017) also gives Den Boer a lot to chew on, whether it’s the keyboard spanning runs or techniques seemingly derived from Cage and Nancarrow. Unlike those two masters, however, Di Castri seems to be leading with her heart more than her head. La Forma Dello Spazio (2010), performed by ICE, is next, all flashing swords and lances, like knights on skittish horses. The percussion part adds atmosphere and the inventiveness continues to the very last note.

Yarn/Wire, a quartet of two pianos and two percussionists, now have, in the title track (2016) a new piece that should long find a place in their repertoire. Named after a brand of typewriter, it’s a showpiece for both players and composer, full of wit, charm, and moments of limpid beauty. And if all of this variety has you wondering if there's is anything she can't do, witness Diego Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez performing how many bodies have we to pass through, a deep exploration of percussive possibilities. The name Zosha Di Castri is memorable all on its own, but this knockout album guarantees it will be on the lips of anyone who loves new music. Shell out for the CD - it comes in a letterpress package by Kiva Stimac that is the ideal visual and tactile companion to the sounds within. Dare I say it's the perfect stocking stuffer?

-Jeremy Shatan, 11.30.19, AnEarful


Sequenza21: Schell's Picks for 2019

A Canadian composer based in New York who, as befits her professed “restless” personality, is fond of sudden stylistic juxtapositions in the mold of Zappa and Zorn (and Europeans like Neuwirth and Goebbels). Like the best of them, Di Castri can pull this off without sounding disjointed

-Michael Schell, 12.31.19, Sequenza21


The WholeNote

Right from the beginning of her career, Canadian composer Zosha Di Castri has been stirring up great enthusiasm – and some controversy. This recording, the first devoted solely to her compositions, offers up the altogether worthwhile experience of entering Di Castri’s adventurous sound world.

There is a lot going on in these works, with their constant shifts in mood and texture. But the inventive details add up to much more than a series of engaging episodes. Each work is tautly structured, creating an invigorating momentum. Above all, these works are inescapably moving, whether on a personal level, or when confronting the global issues that concern Di Castri. The best moments are the most unexpected. Take the burst of reflectiveness at the end of the title work Tachipito. Or the way the explosive glissandi in Quartet No.1 are interrupted by magical other-worldly harmonics. In Dux, virtuosic passages of unprompted rhapsodizing create a reassuring dream state. In Cortège, from 2010 the earliest composition here, the repetition of the opening motif throughout creates a poignant sense of longing. Each work is played by a different set of musicians. The array of performers gathered here is truly exceptional, from solo pianist Julia Den Boer playing Dux to the 13 musicians of the Talea Ensemble under Lorraine Vaillancourt performing Cortège. Di Castri’s fresh, imaginative voice carries forward the vital lineage of the avant-garde at its most enjoyable. With these works she manages to both challenge and delight.

-Pamela Margles, 1.27.2020, The WholeNote


I Care If You Listen

Zosha Di Castri is on top of the world. Born in 1985, she is a professor of composition at an Ivy League university. Her collaborators are among the most lauded new music specialists of their generation. Her biography is a sobering read. So our expectations heading into Tachitipo (New Focus Recordings) should be high—almost singularly so: is there another living composer who can claim not only the imprimatur of one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions (the place that is, after all, why it was once called “uptown” music) but also a seemingly unerring sense of the present moment and its demands? Di Castri almost seems like a figure from the middle of the twentieth century, when the substantial resources of major cultural organizations were at the command of an international avant-garde.

The resources that are mustered on Tachitipo are indeed impressive. The record features the International Contemporary Ensemble, Talea Ensemble, JACK Quartet, Yarn/Wire, Ekmeles, and pianist Julia Den Boer; all tracks are immediate-sounding and vividly recorded (some at Oktaven Audio in Mt. Vernon, others at McGill and Banff in Di Castri’s native Canada). If you were looking for a single album to capture the state of the field in contemporary music performance in the United States, you could do a lot worse than Tachitipo.

And somehow, Tachitipo feels like it sums up the state of the field of composition as well: Di Castri’s music is pluralistic but never crass or blithe, recontextualizing existing musical materials in ways that half-obscure them—and then obscuring them the rest of the way by weaving them into unexpected vertical textures and horizontal formal structures. At once inventive and eerily familiar, Di Castri’s material appeals to the physiological ear and the analytical ear both, observing no taboos but accepting no easy solutions either. Throughout the record, the restlessness with which one sonic state shifts into another is both challenging and satisfying.

The Animal After Whom Other Animals are Named, a strong choice for an opener, provides a good introduction to Di Castri’s practice; it has recourse to utterances of all kinds, making thorough use of Ekmeles’s many talents, and its integration of electronic and vocal sounds is compelling and seamless. Cortège, however, is where the depth Di Castri’s musical imagination is fully revealed. Indelible moments—like a climactic woodwind multiphonic that sounds like a streak of red paint—abound. It’s a highlight reel for Di Castri and Talea both. La forma dello spazio is intended to be performed by musicians distributed around the hall: although its merits are less obvious than those of the other pieces on this audio recording, enough comes through to suggest that the experience of hearing it live would be a special one.

String Quartet No. 1 and the record’s title track are Wunderkammers both. Much of the string quartet’s material (in particular, its “reversed” gestures) is truly uncanny, owing as much to the meticulousness of JACK Quartet as it does to Di Castri. And if the two piano/two percussion format should someday become a workhorse instrumentation like the Pierrot ensemble, thenTachitipo, a dense and intricate work ideally suited to Yarn/Wire, is destined for a stall in that stable.

Just as twenty years ago so many US composers were moved, against all good advice, to write a “9/11 piece,” a bumper crop of “demagogue pieces” has lately hit the concert stage; Di Castri’s contribution to this literature, Dux, is the least convincing work on the record. I wish I didn’t know what it was about. Even this false step, however, is an impressive feat of composing. The sound of the piano, rather than the notes played, is at issue; harmonies and gestures with clear intertextual implications are cunningly reframed, becoming bruises left by the pianist’s pummeling of the keyboard.

Taken as a whole, Tachitipo is a formidable statement. It is so comprehensively realized, institutionally ratified, and sensitive to the creative exigencies of the 21st century that one wants to send a copy of it to the publishers of textbooks for music history survey courses in the hope that it will be included in a last chapter or two. It’s an antidote to the pessimism we might sometimes feel about the situation of contemporary music, a rebuttal to the tired assertion that there are no longer any hydrodynamic currents in our ocean, and a gauntlet thrown down in front of composers twice Di Castri’s age. It’s worth listening to.

-Colin Holter, 1.21.20, I Care If You Listen


Avant Music News

Tachitipo, a set of five works composed between 2010 and 2017, is the first monograph recording from composer Zosha Di Castri. Originally from Calgary, Alberta in Canada and now resident in New York, where she is on the faculty of Columbia University, Di Castri began composing through the Edmonton, Alberta Symphony Orchestra’s Young Composers program and went onto double major in composition and performance. Di Castri is a pianist as well as a composer, and sometimes will use improvisation as a way of forming compositional ideas.

The pieces on Tachitipo demonstrate Di Castri’s versatility in composing for different instrumental groupings; included are works for chamber ensembles and small orchestra, a string quartet, a solo piano work and a piece for voice and electronics. The pieces for orchestra and mixed chamber ensembles show Di Castri’s aptitude for handling contrasts and similarities of instrumental compass and color. In a recent interview, she named Debussy as an early influence; the importance of timbral relationships in her music would seem to bear out the continuing importance of his example.

Cortège, composed in 2010 for the Acanthes Festival in Metz, France, is scored for thirteen piece orchestra. The piece, played here by the Talea Ensemble, is study of contrasts: dark and bright, light and heavy, as muffled drums are played off against the voices of flute and clarinet, and the mood alternates between a compressed, nervous energy and a melancholy languor. La forma dello spazio, also from 2010, is a quintet for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, and cello, commissioned by the Banff Center and realized here by members of the fine International Contemporary Ensemble. The piece was inspired by mobile sculptures and does seem to capture something of their motion: skittering violin and piano and rising and falling undulations on clarinet provide movement over the undertow, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, of suspended tones. The writing features nice timbral fusions of violin, clarinet, and piano in the upper registers.

Di Castri’s String Quartet No. 1, composed in 2016, was first played by the ten finalists in the Banff Centre’s International String Quartet Competition for that year. The piece, energetically played on this recording by the JACK Quartet, opens with a discordant flourish and rides a series of surges and retreats—of dynamics, of swift and slow glissandi, of unsettling harmonics. A subtle rhythmic coherence runs throughout and binds together this otherwise episodic work.

Other pieces included on Tachitipo are the mechanical typewriter-inspired, long title track of 2016 for two pianos and two percussionists, played by the incomparable Yarn/Wire; 2017’s Dux, a solo piano piece performed by Julia Den Boer; and the vocal and electronics work The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named (2013), a commission from the Canada Council for the Arts performed here by Ekmeles.

-Daniel Barbiero, 12.9.19, Avant Music News


New York Music Daily

Zosha Di Castri is one of the most fascinating and distinctive composers to emerge from the New York indie classical demimonde in the last decade or so. She loves contrasts, paradoxes and disquieting timbres, and doesn’t shy away from darkness or social relevance. She also has a refreshing sense of humor and a healthy distrust of technology. She and a series of ensembles are playing the album release show for her brilliantly thematic new one, Tachitipo (streaming at Bandcamp and named after an 19th century typewriter) at the Tenri Institute this evening, Nov 17 at 6 PM. Cover is $15/$10 stud/srs and includes a copy of the album.

It opens on a creepy note with The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, a creepy choral setting of a Nicole Sealey text sung by the ensemble Ekmeles in haunted-house counterpoint balanced by ghostly resonance. Imagine Pauline Oliveros at her most allusively disturbing.”Tell me I am not the point at which all light converges…blistering wood on the pyre,” one of the guys in the choir coldly intones.

Likewise, Cortège – a processional for chamber orchestra – juxtaposes frantic, Bernard Herrmann-esque terror with steadier motives and suspenseful atmospherics, drawing on the ancient Roman wartime siege narrative that inspired Leonard Cohen’s song Alexandra Lost. It’s a stunning, troubled piece: the whole procession lurches on, as if they have recovered.

The JACK Quartet blister and bluster through Di Castri’s String Quartet No. 1, fleeting moments of poignancy often subsumed by what the composer calls “squeaky insectile chatter, zips, squeals, ricochets, and lightning-speed hocketing glissandi.” It calls for ridiculous extended technique: the quartet dig in and make strange magic out of it, all the way to a welcome, calmly horizontal interlude before the frenzy returns.

Pianist Julia Den Boer plays Dux (latin for “leader”), a cynical diptych reflecting “polarizing juxtapositions” in the wake of the fateful 2016 Presidential election. Much of it is update on an old Rachmaninoff trope, crushing lefthand stomping the life out of any hope offered by the right (politically, the reverse would apply). As with the previous two numbers, calm when it occurs is only momentary, Den Boer returning to breathlessly shifts between frantic scampering and cold crush.

Lorraine Vaillancourt conducts a quintet of flutist Emi Ferguson, clarinetist Joshua Rubin, pianist Cory Smythe, violinist Joshua Modney and cellist Mosa Tsay in La Forma Dello Spazio. Inspired by Bontecou and Calder mobiles, it begins as a coyly amusing study in keening, sustained/fleeting contrasts enabled by extended technique but winds up as an icily starry deep-space tableau.

Piano/percussion quartet Yarn/Wire play the album’s title track, which seeks to reclaim the heritage of the typewriter from its role in keeping an emergent pink-collar class in their place. Di Castri also touches on how technology ostensibly meant to empower us often has the opposite effect. “I believe we create art in the hopes of transcending the everyday, to connect with others, to reach towards moments of opening, clarity or understanding, and yet the tools we’ve invented to facilitate this pursuit can result in isolating us even further, curling the body back in, onto itself,” she explains. The rest of her extensive album liner notes have a similarly rare eloquence.

The piece itself comes across as a sardonic mashup of mechanical Louis Andriessen-style satire, lingering, gamelanesque noir set piece and irresistibly sly sonic cartoon. As its emerging vistas grow more desolate, the effect packs a wallop. Look for this on the best albums of 2019 page at the end of the decade. We don’t have far to go.

-Delarue, 11.17.19, New York Music Daily



This is the debut album of music featuring composer Zosha Di Castri, performed by various chamber musicians from the New York area. The pieces are diverse in several respects -- they are electric or acoustic, programmatic or abstract -- but they suggest a composer with a distinctive style. All were composed between 2010 and 2016. The Quartet No. 1 for string quartet was commissioned for the Banff International String Quartet Competition, and it poses considerable challenges for the players, both individually as a group. All of the music has a virtuoso aspect, splendidly realized by the performers here, and the virtuosity is often deployed to create a rather aggressive atmosphere. This may be contrasted with quieter elements, as in Dux for solo piano, where an "often bombastic, unpredictable, powerful, scattered" leader (or "dux") line is sharply opposed to its follower line. Especially evocative is the title track, whose name refers to an 1823 Italian typewriter model. The work is not so much about suggesting a typewriter as "a reflection on writing and the machines we use to execute our ideas." Di Castri notes that many of the early "typewriters" (the term referred to both the machine and the user) were women, and there are other feminist aspects in the music and its production. A sometimes difficult but always direct and appealing debut.

-AllMusic, 12.23.19


Midwest Record

Di Castri sends out art chick alert vibes right from the start on this set that's devoted to sound and texture more so than to mere music to make its point. So arty it could give David Byrne lessons on how to make music via art school, this takes up where most left leaning eggheads leave off.

-Chris Spector, 11.14.19, Midwest Record



New York–based Canadian composer Zosha di Castri’s "Tachitipo” is a striking, rigorous debut album of solo and chamber works. Comprising interpretations by a veritable who’s who of contemporary performers—International Contemporary Ensemble, Yarn/Wire, and the Jack Quartet, to name a few—this album follows the composer’s explorations of timbral intersections and juxtapositions. Di Castri draws inspiration from a variety of places: the mobile sculptures of Lee Bontecou and Alexander Calder inform La forma dello spazio, while lines from the poets C. P. Cavafy and Leonard Cohen inform Cortège. The political climate in the United States in 2017 inspired Dux for solo piano (di Castri’s primary instrument), a virtuosic work that weaves together explosive outbursts and lovely chord blooms, with subtle nods to Messiaen.

The titular work, written for Yarn/Wire and named after an 1823 typewriter model invented by Pietro Conti di Cilavegna, is an epic work for two pianists, two percussionists, and electronics. Reflecting on “writing and the machines we use to execute our ideas,” Tachitipo is groovy, with very playful writing for percussion, momentum-building rhythms in the pianos, and is framed perfectly with well-integrated, thoughtful electronics. Like many of the other works on the album, it directly confronts musical juxtapositions and leans into them, creating waves of unpredictability and tension.

Di Castri’s abstract language blends expertly with the work’s central concern with how machines have played into human evolution—or devolution.

— Monica Pearce, 2.28.2020


BBC Music Magazine

We should not judge a book – or CD – by its cover, but “Tachitipo,” Zosha Di Castri’s debut album, deserves praise for its enticing artwork and neat folded-paper sleeve. The Canadian composer opened last year’s BBC Proms with Long Is the Journey, Short is the Memory for orchestra and chorus. Like that work, the titular piece here uses unorthodox instruments – in this case, an 1823 typewriter. Castri draws parallels between the often temporary and rarely creatively autonomous usage of both this machine and the piano by 19th- and 20th-century women. The typewriter is treated

as part of the percussion section, a sensitive integration that means the additional timbre never feels tokenistic. There’s much to explore in the other five pieces, performed by a variety of musicians across multiple locations. Pianist Julia Den Boer navigates the crisp contours of Dux (2017) with expertise, while the International Contemporary Ensemble evokes the mobile sculptures of Lee Bontecou and Alexander Calder in La forma dello spazio (2010). This work, which requires its performers to spread out around the room, and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named (2013) for voice and electronics both enjoy more impact in live performances.

— Claire Jackson, 3.01.2020


Gapplegate Classical Modern Music Review

Who is Zosha di Castri? She is a living composer, someone in the Contemporary Modern camp in her own way. A portrait album of a cross-section of her work has been out since late last year and it is a very worthwhile program. Tachitipo (New Focus Recordings FCR227) has been on my blog playlist this past week. I am glad to post on it today.

There is a good deal to like in this portrait, some six works by various performers and configurations.

The title piece Tachitipo (2016) is the most lengthy of the works at 24 minutes. It is scored for two pianos, two percussionists and electronics. There are machine-like, automata-like passages for dampened or prepared strings on the piano and percussion parts working together for something one gladly rises up to encounter in one's listening mind. They are like islands scattered among more fluid oceanic expressions, the latter "quasi-improvisatory textures featuring microtonal washes of pitch," in the composer's words. The contrasting blocks work together to leave a distinct impression of newness, of a pronounced virtuosity of sonarity. Like the 1823 Italian typewriter model for which the work is named it proceeds, the composer suggests, "one key at a time," or in other words in sectional steps. Yarn/Wire perform the work with enthusiasm and imagination.

Chronologically the album opens with an a capella vocal work The Animal After Whom Other Animals are Named (2013) for six voices and electronics. It is one of the more diffuse pieces and the vocal group Ekmeles jumps into it all with a flourish and a relish. The work looks at aging, of the voice and the human being as a whole. I am not sure I would have started the set out with this one, only because it demands a fair amount of concentration on the part of the listener, but like all New Music one should pay attention from the first, so no matter.

The following Cortege (2010) for 13 musicians thrives in the lively reading given it by the Talea Ensemble under Lorraine Vaillencourt. It according to the composer came out of an inspiration involving a procession, a strange, "relentless succession of people and sounds." The piece is filled with rollingly explosive interactions, each a part of the passing scene, as if one were watching a parade from a window. It also gives the feeling of "impending loss," as on the eve of a city falling into enemy hands or the inexorable loss of a lover as Zosha suggests. The work is quite exemplary of a thoroughgoing Expressionism that never flags and continually morphs.

Enter next the JACK Quartet, who handle di Castri's Quartet No. 1 (2016) with a flair. The resulting tumultuous music rebounds off the imagination-receptive ear quite nicely. Virtuoso parts, deep energetic forays and a sense of cosmic proportions makes this one a good starter if you are auditioning the album. It is very idiomatically string-oriented, boisterously alive, a great example of how the string quartet continues to be a context where the more serious gestures can flourish.

The complexities and dash of the solo piano Dux (2017) rivets the attention, then keeps it centered on itself throughout the 11:40 performance time. It contrasts the extremes with the middle registers as a wide-ranging whole and places definite demands on pianist Julia Den Boer that she tackles with heroic intensity. This is beautifully wild piano music that gets the adrenaline going.

Finally there is La forma dello spazio (2010) for a quintet of flute, clarinet, piano, violin and cello. Rising to the occasion is the International Contemporary Ensemble under Vaillancourt. The performers are to be auditorally placed about the room or soundstage, expressing movement against stasis as would a mobile. Each instrumentalist is given a flexibility within a set kind of continuousness. The happy whole has dynamic thrust and a hypnotic meditativeness.

So there we have it. Zosha di Castri shows herself in this album to be a voice of definite originality and talent, an imaginative and inventive force. The performers give the music their rapt attention and expressive zeal. Highly recommended for those New Music followers ready for something very new and invitingly expressed.

— Grego Edwards, 4.15.2020


CD Hot List

This is the first release dedicated entirely to the work of Canadian composer and pianist Zosha Di Castri. Opening with the weird and sometimes distressing The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named (a piece that combines live singing, sprechgesange, and electronics), it then continues through a widely varied program of modernist works for various combinations of instruments and electronics: there’s the relatively large-scale Cortège (for 13 musicians), a very intense work for string quartet and another for piano, and others, as well as a video track made available online to purchasers of the album. Di Castri has recruited absolutely top-notch talent for these dramatic and demanding works, and the album can be confidently recommended to all contemporary music collections.

— Rick Anderson, 4.01.2020


The Arts Desk

Tachitipo? The title work on this disc showcasing music by the Canadian composer Zosha di Castri refers to an early 19th century Italian typewriter. Scored for two pianos, percussion and electronics, it's a compelling single movement structure. Stretches of metallic taps and creaks evoke the typewriter’s sound, Di Castri’s music hinting at one downside of office mechanisation, namely that the women employed en masse to do the typing were powerless: “… this was a dictation job good girls did before getting married… not unlike the piano lessons previous generations undertook to attract suitors.” A spare, uneasy peace is only achieved in the final minutes. There's a fierceness, a restlessness to Di Castri's music. Her pieces aren't easy listening but you're compelled to return for repeated doses. The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named has its six vocalists singing, chanting and whispering a text by Nicole Sealey about the effects of age; again, there's a poignancy to the loss of energy and spark in the closing section.

That String Quartet No. 1’s dizzying thickets of sound are produced by just four players is remarkable; the musical argument may be difficult to follow on first hearing, but it offers an exhilarating shot of adrenalin to the curious. There's more; Cortège’s thirteen musicians deliver a stuttering, chaotic processional, and the piano solo Dux is a thunderous, percussive explosion. The performances are consistently impressive: Ekmeles astound in the vocal work and the JACK Quartet are unfazed by Di Castri's technical demands. Everything's brilliantly engineered, and artist Kiva Stimac deserves a shoutout for her packaging and design. There's also a bonus video track online: how many bodies have we to pass through is an absorbing virtuoso work for solo percussion. And Diego Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez does it justice.

— Graham Rickson, 4.25.2020


An Earful: Best of the 2010s

Nothing musical is alien to this marvelous composer of intricate chamber and vocal works. No surprise that some of the best ensembles extant (Talea, ICE, etc.) played on this debut portrait album.

— Jeremy Shatan, 4.24.2020


San Francisco Classical Voice

Zosha Di Castri, a 35-year-old Canadian composer now living and teaching in New York City, recently put out her first CD, an ear-challenging compendium of compositions from the last decade gathered under the title of the album’s centerpiece, Tachitipo (New Focus). It’s almost a resumé of sorts, best absorbed one piece at a time.

Since I’m sure you’re wondering, Tachitipo is the name of an 1823-vintage typewriter model. Di Castri is not the first to call attention to the humble typewriter — as anyone who has loved Leroy Anderson’s uproarious little 1953 concerto for typewriter and orchestra, The Typewriter, would know. But her homage is a more elaborate, 24-minute parable that is, in her words, “a reflection on writing and the machines we use to execute our ideas,” using that now-obsolete yet newly-collectible typewriter “to build a syntax of sounds.”

After the scratching of gourds at the beginning, the two pianos pound (one of them apparently detuned), the electronics ping and burble, and a mad clockwork machine full of mechanistic momentum emerges in fits and starts. What sounds like a real typewriter pecks away in the percussion section near the end, and it’s here that something close to the whimsy and humor of Anderson’s miniature can be felt.

Elsewhere on the disc, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named is a wild workout full of extended vocal techniques for six voices and electronics. Cortège for 13 instruments is part-dirge, part-whirling circus, with both elements alternating sometimes within seconds of each other. The fearless JACK Quartet shows up for Di Castri’s Quartet No. 1, where she plays with simulated backwards sounds, glissandos, microtones, and as many other experimental techniques as she can cram into ten minutes. Dux finds pianist Julia Den Boer exploring the extreme ends of technique all over the keyboard, and the quintet La forma dello spazio (performed by members of International Contemporary Ensemble) does similar things, but not without humor.

A “bonus track,” how many bodies have we to pass through, is not on the CD itself; you have to go online to access it as a video. But the extra effort is worth it because the piece benefits from seeing the solo percussionist/co-composer Diego Espinosa Cruz Gonzales going about his craft. Gonzales demonstrates a deft and dexterous finger technique on maracas from Venezuela, Brazil, and Mexico, two South Indian kanjiras and a Brazilian tamborum tied together as a triple-hand-drum set, Chinese opera gongs, and a Korean jing. He even uses a hair lift comb as a mallet. There is circular scratching of the drumheads near the start, and a climactic episode that goes all-out bonkers before matters end very, very quietly.

The imaginatively experimental bent of Di Castri’s music is complemented by nifty packaging; a cover of thin, presumably recyclable cardboard folds out to reveal a leaflet that itself folds out to reveal the program notes, with the disc snugly lodged underneath. Such are the joys of physical product that streaming cannot hope to capture.

— Richard Ginnell, 5.18.2020

Related Albums