Eight Beacons

Dan Albertson

[September 2015.]

[I leave this article without a dedicatee, by way of exception.]


By now, my reputation must be one of a Cassandra. I accept it. True, my enthusiasm for the new in music has faded in recent years, but believe me, if you were to listen to 1,000 new works a year, as is easily my number, you would be a grump, too.

Ninety per cent or more of it is dreck, but not all is unwell. I am delighted, against the odds, from time to time.

I therefore take this opportunity to give some attention to eight composers 40 and under, though one of them ages out of the pigeonhole this year, who fail to become mere epigones; who are radical by not needing to pretend to be radical; and whose introspection lends them credibility.

In full disclosure, I know all of the composers in question, to one extent or another. In the sub-niche of a niche in which new music operates, this fact is impossible to avoid or deny. Never has my acquaintance with anyone changed my view of his/her music, nor has my view of a personality altered my assessment of the music. I in no way attempt to be charitable, neither would I pretend that individual highlights are indicative of a broader consistency.

Onward, in chronological order:

Miroslav Srnka
(b. 1975)

I wrote about his piano concerto a year-and-a-half ago, here. Engrams for string quartet, a study on the impossibility of accurate memory, wrestles contemplation and frenzy. It verges on the inscrutable and, on occasion, the inaudible. His move 01 and move 02 for large orchestra, premièred together earlier this year, leave less of a mark; the cohesion and urgency of the piano concerto are absent.

Christian Winther Christensen
(b. 1977)

A student of Abrahamsen, Durieux and Rosing-Schow, inter alia, the Danish composer and organist composed the work that left the best impression on me in all of 2014, Chromatische Weltmusik [ohne Fremde Elemente] for cello, accordion and large orchestra. Its première was cancelled, due to a storm, and only a rehearsal recording exists. It is a work beyond and between limits of style: rhythmic yet never minimalist; static, not stagnant; and constant in its surprises.

Jānis Petraškevičs
(b. 1978)

Like Srnka, Petraškevičs trained as both a composer and a musicologist. His output is tiny, with only ten pieces since 1996 and only four in the last decade. The newest one, gefährlich dünn, “fragile pieces for double string quartet,” is indeed dangerous in its thinness. It was, by far, the standout piece from Ultraschall Berlin 2015.

Marko Nikodijević
(b. 1980)

His appeal seems to be on the wane. cvetić, kućica… – la lugubre gondola (trauermusik nach franz liszt) for orchestra is superb. Other youthful works have character. ghb/tanzaggregat for large orchestra, by contrast, veers into the realm of the silly. I only listened to his recent opera Vivier. Ein Nachtprotokoll., as I was not in München to see it, but found its music to be trite. I remain hopeful for a return to form.

Samuel Andreyev
(b. 1981)

Oboist and composer Andreyev has been based in France for more than a decade. Perhaps by dint of his instrument, his music has a predilection for lower registers. La Pendule de Profil for basset horn, bassoon, viola, cello, and double bass compels almost in spite of its instrumentation, while his new Trio for oboe d’amore, harp and viola is an exercise in judicious hesitation and resonance.

Daniel Pesca
(b. 1985)

Pesca is equal parts composer and pianist. His 30-minute Variations for Quartet deserves special mention for its ambition, its imagination and its steady pacing; slow to start, but worth the reward. His piano music, such as Nocturne and especially Through Shadows, is of a restlessness and sullenness all its own. His tender playing of Janáček therefore seems apt.

Matthew Ricketts
(b. 1986)

The second Canadian in this survey, and currently a student at Columbia University, Ricketts is capable of any number of musical types. His string quartet In Partial View shows him at his dour, intimate best; Flat Line for 15 players is a tranquil evocation of the decay of sound and of life; and his various vocal works, including song-cycles, reveal a composer not straining to convey his innate lyricism.

Sehyung Kim
(b. 1987)

A wild card, but one of real promise, born in Kazakhstan to Korean émigrés, trained in Russia and now studying with Beat Furrer in Austria. The works that I value most are from his ongoing series of sijo, his musical interpretations of the traditional Korean poetic medium: three lines of +/– 15 syllables. These works, now numbering more than 20, are miniatures mostly for solo instruments or sometimes multiples and offer cross-combinatorial possibilities: simple concepts that balance flexibility and rigor.

* * *

This epilogue points out that I have omitted some composers. Mauro Lanza (b. 1975), for instance, is well-known – but justifiably so. His phantasmagorias wear well.

Christophe Bertrand (b. 1981 – d. 2010) left behind a small œuvre showing him to have been a composer fearless in the face of competing stylistic vogues.

Jan Erik Mikalsen (b. 1979) has potential, though I tend to find his music, such as Songr for large orchestra, cloying after more than a few minutes, despite its obvious virtues. Ditto for Vito Žuraj (b. 1979), whose earlier music tends to be stronger.

Several composers from Iceland have promise, if given the time and space to evolve individual personae.

My ears remain open.

The list of composers whose music I dislike … may know no bounds.


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