utorak, 2. travnja 2013.

Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi - Here (and There) (2013)

Klavir i elektronika.
Šest suvremenih skladatelja (Phillip Schroeder, Ed Martin, Jeff Herriott, Brian Belet,Tom Lopez, Jim Fox) posebno su mislili na Astolfi dok su izvlačili žilice iz svog mozga.


Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi has been around for a while, born in Canada, a pianist, one who likes to get inside the instrument and assist her music by fooling internally. The traditional keyboard is not out of bounds, but she does not restrict herself. The six tracks on this album were commissioned by her from six different composers, and all of them modify her skilful piano sound to a greater or lesser degree, artificially, mechanically—very subtly and almost unnoticibly with a faint reverb in “green is passing” by Jeff Herriott, or by accompanying the keyboard with mangled nature-sampling in Brian Beleter’s “Summer Phantoms”, a composition that works over its own ideas of unsteadiness and erasure, sounds rubbed and scratched, clomp of stone in pond, the piano snatched in and out of the score, an adventurous track, fish-hooked with red-herring hints.

What is falling in the pond? What is buzzing? Should I imagine this water in a landscape? Should I picture solid ground? Tom Lopez wants to swagger away in the direction of fragments as well in “Confetti Variations” but the field recording behind the piano is so stoic and linear that it sabotages his attempt to detonate Brahms, though the switch from fireworks to rain is inspired. Sense of humour! But the anecdote is carried on too long—more punchline please.

Here (And There) is billed as “music for piano and electronics,” and while such a description certainly doesn't misrepresent the recording, it's first and foremost a piano album featuring the considerable talents of Canadian-born Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi. Though her repertoire encompasses works ranging from the Renaissance era to the present, this Innova release finds her championing the works of six modern composers, all of whom created the material on the recording with Astolfi in mind.
The opening piece, “Crystal Springs,” by Phillip Schroeder (also the album's producer), uses a number of elements to evoke the rugged sprawl of the titular Arkansas setting, most obviously the dense clusters that Astolfi generates as a base for a sparser series of statements. Throughout the ten-minute piece, Schroeder skillfully and subtly complements her playing with electronically manipulated sounds sourced from an electric bass, suspended cymbal, and the inside of a piano, the latter audible in the crystalline strums that lend the material an incandescent and even ethereal air. Sensitivity abounds, not only in the pianist's handling of the material but in the careful balance struck between the foreground and background elements. Following it is Ed Martin's “Swirling Sky,” which distinguishes itself immediately from Schroeder's setting in its usage of micro-tonality and uses as its inspirational starting-point the mutating patterns of drifting clouds one observes whilst lying on the grass.
Martin's piece archieves a density that at times verges on overwhelming, which makes the subsequent piece, Jeff Herriott's “green is passing,” a veritable study in contrast when it presents a pulseless reverie of severely reduced character. Notes are minimal in number, the spaces between them generous, and electronics are once again a factor but subtly so, with electronic reverb deployed as a near-subliminal tint that echoes off of Astolfi's notes. Rather more unsettling by comparison is Brian Belet's “Summer Phantoms: Nocturne,” which adjusts Schroeder's balance so that the piano and accompanying elements are equally emphasized. Though Belet composed the piano music first and only included marginal annotations for the electronics, the latter—processed string scrapes, hand-dampened tones, soundboard strikes, and other expanded piano tones—functions as an integral part of the work's cryptic sound-world. The key word here is definitely phantoms, as Belet and Astolfi collectively conjure a nocturnal set-piece of goblinesque grotesquerie into being.
If Brahms seems to be peeking through the initial flourishes of Tom Lopez's “Confetti Variations,” it's no accident: in this most collagistic of the album's pieces, the composer conceived of the work as a mashup of Brahms and Morton Feldman, with Astolfi wending a circuitous path through eighteen minutes of fireworks, explosions, and thunderstorms. Though its concluding Feldman-esque minutes are suitably minimalistic, “Confetti Variations” is often a wild ride that keeps the pianist on her toes as she tries to avoid being thrown off course by the left turns Lopez repeatedly throws in her way.
Arresting in its own way is Jim Fox's “The pleasure of being lost,” which overlays Astolfi's elegant playing with a spoken word text (one Fox freely adapted from the journals of nineteenth-century naturalist and world traveler Joseph Dalton Hooker) delivered in hushed manner by Janyce Collins. With the pianist's lyrical phrases augmented by the bell-like shimmer of electronically processed sounds, a sense of serenity and calm attends the piece in a manner that's not unwelcome, coming as it does after the Lopez collage. Fox's setting, like the album in general, provides an excellent example of what can happen when a pianist of Astolfi's calibre explores the sonic possibilities that electronic enhancements can bring to a compositional work. - textura.org

Here (and there) is a collection of six pieces for piano and electronics composed for and performed by Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi. Astolfi is the rare artist who seems as comfortable with traditional classics as she is with this much more experimental music. I first became aware of her astonishing pianism on Phillip Schroeder’s 2005 release, Music for Piano,and her recordings never fail to impress. A member of the music faculty of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Astolfi has commissioned and premiered many new solo and collaborative works and has received numerous awards and grants. That said, some of this music is very challenging, so if you are looking for soothing, melodic piano music to relax with, you’d probably better move on. On the other hand, this is a fascinating look at some of the directions Contemporary American classical music is moving in. Five of the six composers are teachers at the college and university level, and the sixth is the director of an experimental music label. The pieces are all very different from each other and range in duration from 6 1/2 minutes to a little more than eighteen. 

Phillip Schroeder’s “Crystal Springs” was inspired by the lush, rugged beauty of Crystal Springs, Arkansas as well as imaginary springs. The three large sections of the piece were designed by use of the Fibonacci series. In addition to the piano, electronically manipulated sounds from an electric bass, a suspended cymbal, and the inside of a piano were used. Sometimes sparkling and sometimes dark and mysterious, this is my favorite track. “Swirling Sky” (Ed Martin) begins peacefully, recalling moments spent watching clouds while lying in the grass. As it progresses, it depicts losing oneself in the moment and being swept through the clouds in an “extraordinary adventure.” Jeff Herriott composed the first version of “green is passing” in 1999 and revised it in 2006 to reflect his evolved composing style. Very quiet and subtle, it creates an atmospheric listening experience that I find hypnotic. The esoteric “Summer Phantoms: Nocturne” is made up of the piano, string scrapes, hand dampened tones, soundboard strikes, and other processed sounds. Tom Lopez’s “Confetti Variations” has an especially interesting story. Astolfi had told Lopez that two of her favorite composers of piano music are Johannes Brahms and Morton Feldman, which set Lopez to dreaming about a Brahms/Feldman/Lopez “mashup” (Lopez’s term). His composition process entailed “shredding Brahms and Feldman piano music into brightly colored fragments, firing the sparkly bits into the air, and listening to them rain down over field recordings” (from the liner notes). Sometimes beautiful and sometimes noisy and chaotic, it is quite an experience! Jim Fox’s “The pleasure of being lost” features the speaking voice of Janyce Collins reading a text freely adapted from the writings of Joseph Dalton Hooker. While the words are often obscured, sounds that accompany the reading are processed from the timbres and rhythms of her voice. The piano and bell tones also accompany the voice - very haunting and mysterious!- mainlypiano.com/

Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi is a Canadian-born pianist whose playing has been lauded as “brilliant” (New Music Connoisseur), “persuasive” (Sequenza21), and “beautiful” (American Record Guide). Her repertoire, ranging from the Renaissance era through the present, clearly affirms her keen interest in new music, which has led her to commission and premiere many new solo and collaborative works—music that has been featured on live radio broadcasts and released by Albany Records and Ravello Records’ Capstone Collection (including multiple CDs for the Performers’ Recording Series of the Society of Composers, Inc.). Astolfi is the soloist for the Wisconsin Soundscapes commissioning and touring project (sponsored by the Wisconsin Alliance for Composers and the Wisconsin Arts Board) and a founding member, with Holly Roadfeldt, of the duoARtia piano duo.
The recipient of numerous awards and grants, Astolfi’s passion for new music has been recognized by invitations to many regional, national, and international music forums, where she has premiered and lectured on new piano music. Astolfi also frequently serves as a piano clinician, coach, and master class instructor. An active member in various local, state, and national music associations, she serves on the governing board of both the Wisconsin Music Teachers Association and PianoArts (a North American piano competition, festival, and fellowship organization). Her advanced studies in piano performance were with pianists Helmut Brauss (University of Alberta), Tom Plaunt (McGill University), and Lydia Artymiw (University of Minnesota), with whom she completed doctoral studies. Astolfi currently serves on the music faculty of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

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