Nine Stellar Pieces

RobertMartin

Innova 311

 

Nine Stellar Pieces is a collection of exquisite windsolos each named after one of the heavens' brightest stars. Exhilarating anddelicate, they are exuberant statements celebrating the wonder of the nightsky.

 

Robert Martin began composing at age 10. After receivingBachelors and Master’s degrees in Music Composition from the PeabodyConservatory of Music, he worked at various jobs, including as an apprentice inpipe organ restoration. In 1976, the American Academy of Arts and Lettersawarded him the Charles Ives Scholarship for outstanding music composition,allowing him to continue post-graduate studies in New York. In 1979, hereceived a Fulbright Scholarship to Vienna for music composition. Returning toNew York in 1980, he turned his attention to Wall Street, rising to theposition of Senior Vice President in investment banking at a leading firm, andserving as financial advisor to the City of New York. As the 1999 recipient ofthe Japan-U.S. Creative Artist Fellowship in music composition, he spent sixmonths traveling throughout Japan. Currently, he is active as a composer fulltime and travels widely in Asia and Europe.

 

A native of Japan, Michiyo Suzuki began her musicalstudies with piano at age three, violin at age six and clarinet at agethirteen. As a recitalist and chamber musician, Ms. Suzuki has performedextensively in her native country as well as in Europe and the United States.She studied with Charles Neidich at Purchase College Conservatory where shereceived her MFA degree and at SUNY Stony Brook in the DMA Program. In 1996 shemade her New York Debut at Carnegie Recital Hall as an award winner from Artist'sInternational and has been heard with increasing frequency in New Yorkparticularly in contemporary repertoire. Ms. Suzuki is a member of ST-X XenakisEnsemble USA and Absolute Ensemble, and can be heard on "Xenakis Live InNew York"and "Iannisimmo" from Vandenburg, and "AbsoluteEnsemble" and "Absolute Mix" from CCn'C.

 

Linda Wetherill is former principal flutist of Paris IRCAMand Frankfurt Radio Symphony. Born in Milwaukee, Linda graduated from EastmanSchool of Music and did her graduate work at SUNY Stony Brook. She toured assoloist/cultural ambassador for USIS throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa,collaborating with composers and basing in Turkey as guest professor from1989-91. She is the first woman to have performed public broadcast concerts inSaudi Arabia; numerous premieres include Halffter's Double Concerto in Parisand Stockhausen's "Im Freundschaft" in Carnegie Hall as winner of NewYork’s East-West Artists competition. The New York Times heralds her as"really a marvelous player, both in terms of technical mastery andexpressive elan.

 

Stephen Foreman grew up in Tacoma, Washington, where hebegan musical studies at age twelve. Upon graduating from Oberlin College, hetook a position with the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, performing for the ClevelandOpera and the Cleveland Ballet as well. In New York, where he earned hisMaster's degree from The Juilliard School, Mr. Foreman is now an activefreelance musician in both orchestral and chamber settings. In addition to hiswork with the MBQ, he has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Orchestraof St. Luke's, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Solid Brass, and theCharleston Symphony. He is also a member of the New York Big Brass, GramercyBrass Band, and the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, with whom he has recorded.

 

Paul Cohen is one of America’s most sought aftersaxophonists for orchestral, chamber, solo and recital concerts. He hasappeared as soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, Richmond Symphony, NewJersey Symphony, and Philharmonia Virtuosi. His many solo orchestraperformances include works by Debussy, Creston, Glazonov, Martin, Villa-Lobosand Cowell. In addition, he has played in numerous ensembles including theCleveland Orchestra, Santa Fe Opera, New Jersey Symphony and the OregonSymphony. His saxophone quartet, the New Hudson Quartet, has performedconcertos by Calvin Hampton and Nicolas Flagello. Most recently, he can beheard on his solo CD, Vintage Saxophones Revisited, featuring the premiererecording of Cowell’s Hymn and Fuguing Tune #18. Dr. Cohen holds M.M. and DMAdegrees from the Manhattan School of Music. His teachers have included GalanKral, Joe Allard, and Sigurd Rascher. Dr. Cohen has rediscovered and performedlost saxophone literature including solo works for saxophone and orchestra byLoeffler, Florio and Dahl, as well as rare chamber works by Grainger, Ornstein,Sousa, and Siegmeister. Dr. Cohen is currently on the faculties of theManhattan School of Music, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU and William PatersonUniversity and CW Post.

 

Michael Powell is one of the most sought after trombonistsin New York City. Since 1983, Mr. Powell has been a member of the celebratedAmerican Brass Quintet. He performs and records regularly with the Orchestra ofSt. Luke's, The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and the Little Orchestra Society.Mr. Powell has performed as soloist with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, KansasCity Philharmonic, the Aspen Music Festival, and the New Hampshire MusicFestival. He also performs on Broadway and records for radio and television,and has recorded on many major record labels. He has taught master classes atthe Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. He is on the faculties of TheJuilliard School, Rutgers University, SUNY at Stony Brook, and the Aspen MusicSchool. Mr. Powell performs on a Conn 88-H trombone.

 

William Purvis pursues a multifaceted career both in theU.S. and abroad as French Horn soloist, chamber musician and conductor. Achampion of new music, Mr. Purvis has recently given premieres of horn concertiby Peter Lieberson and Bayan Northcott, a trio for violin, horn and piano byPoul Ruders, and as conductor of Speculum Musicae, the U.S. premiere of Luimenby Elliott Carter. In addition to his frequent guest appearances with theChamber Music Society he is a member of the New York Woodwind Quintet,Orpheus,the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and Mozzafiato, an original instrument wind sextet.Mr. Purvis has collaborated with the Tokyo, Orion, Mendelssohn, Sibelius andFine Arts String Quartets, and has appeared as solo horn of the ChamberOrchestra of Europe with Nicholas Harnoncourt. His large number of recordingsspan an unusually broad range from original instrument performance to standardsolo and chamber music repertoire to contemporary solo and chamber music works,and also includes numerous recordings of contemporary music as conductor. Otherrecordings of solo horn works include "Around the Horn" by MiltonBabbitt on Koch, and "Dynamis" of Sheila Silver on CRI. Mr. Purvis isa graduate of Haverford College with a BA in philosophy and is a member of thefaculties of the Yale University School of Music, The Juilliard School and SUNYStony Brook.

 

Trumpeter Raymond Mase enjoys a diverse career as soloist,chamber artist, orchestral player, and teacher. As a member of the AmericanBrass Quintet since 1973, he has performed worldwide, premiered countless newworks for brass, and has appeared with the quintet on over twenty-fiverecordings. He serves as co-principal trumpeter of the New York City BalletOrchestra, American Composers Orchestra, Westchester Philharmonic, andfrequently performs and records with many New York based ensembles includingthe New York Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, MusicaSacra, and Orpheus. He can be heard on over one hundred recordings, includingtwo solo CDs for Summit Records-Trumpet in our Time and Trumpet Vocalise-and isalso featured on a recently released Summit recording of David Sampson'strumpet concerto Triptych. Mr. Mase is chair of the brass department at theJuilliard School, and also serves on the faculties of the North Carolina Schoolof the Arts and at the Aspen Music Festival.

 

Robert Ingliss is principal oboist with the AmericanSymphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Virtuosi, Northeastern PennsylvaniaPhilharmonic, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra He is a member of thechamber ensemble An die Musik (oboe, string trio & piano.) He has premieredworks by composers as diverse as Charles Wuorinen and Paquito D'Rivera,appearing with groups such as Speculum Musicae, Da Capo Chamber Players, theNew Music Consort, League-ISCM Chamber Players, and is a member of theimportant contemporary music group Ensemble Sospeso. Mr. Ingliss has recordedfor over two dozen record labels, and has appeared as soloist and chambermusician throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australasia.

 

Knowledge of the stars has not dispelled their wonder. Ourstories about them have altered—we see in them now huge gravitationalforce, immense age, vast distance and the synthesis of the atoms of which weare made, not the dotted outlines of gods, heroes and celestialanimals—but that change has not diminished the awe they evoke, for ourstories are as extraordinary as those of an older time.

 RobertMartin’s Nine Stellar Pieces seem to belong to both times, both sets ofstories. Their vigorously modernist style places them in a contemporary worldof quantification, precision, and disinclination to accept received ideaswithout acute analysis. But their sound-poetry also pursues the stars’ ancientassociations, besides taking account of their appearance—the luster thathas stayed the same through the millennia, all nine subjects being among thebrightest in the sky.

 What would astar sound like? As points, they could only be single tones. As unchanging,they would have to be tones going on eternally. But though there are indeedsome long, if not eternal, tones here, each of these pieces is essentially anextended melody: not so much the song of a star, perhaps, as a song addressedto a star, a hymn.

 

Each is, though, in another sense the song of a star: thestar performing it. The pieces are virtuoso items, ‘stellar’ for sure, one foreach of the common orchestral wind instruments, including saxophone. And windinstruments are suitable for the star-singing purpose because they are wordlessvoices, mouth-blown, and because of their pure colors.

 

The pieces were composed over a period of sixteen years,from autumn 1981 (Sirius) to spring 1997 (Achernar), and yet they arestylistically consistent and share many features. Each moves through a sequenceof connected but diverse phases, defined by markings that recur from piece topiece: Deciso, Espressivo, Drammatico, Agitato, Appassionato, and the rarerElevato (suggesting indeed a hymn-like character, present in Antares, Sirius,Achernar and Shaula) and Velato (for the ‘veiled’ sounds of clarinet or saxophonetremolos, or trumpet flutter-tonguing, all pianissimo).

 The changesof pace and rhetoric are brought about by melodic developments that go rightthrough each piece. Such developments would include repetitions andtransformations of small motifs (easy to hear in Arcturus), periodic rises toprogressively higher notes or falls to progressively lower ones, widenings ornarrowings of intervals, revolvings around a particular interval, and varyingsof phrase by keeping the rhythm much the same but altering the pitches. Veryoften development takes place within a context of dialogue: an idea grows, ordiminishes, when it is confronted in alternation with a contrasting idea.

 

So much for generalities. Now some specifics on thepieces, their stars and their stories, given in the order of the recording,which is the order the composer has suggested for complete performances.

 

Spica for clarinet (1984). Spica, blue-white, is thebrightest star in the zodiac constellation of Virgo, where it represents thespike of wheat in the virgin’s hand. The piece starts out moderately low andquiet, with gestures ending in tremolos that slip lower. Through all thesubsequent changes of character, the instrument’s top register is reserved forthe Tempestuoso music very near the end, reaching up finally to a high Grepeated in echo. Then back, in a postscript.

 

Regulus for horn (1988). Regulus, also blue-white, is thebrightest star in another zodiac constellation, Leo, being the lion’s heart. Itgained its name, ‘little king’, from Copernicus. Much of the piece is puresong, offset by passages of stopped staccato tones, long low notes or outburstsof assertion. Finally, after the most dramatic moment, comes an extreme drop.The bass C repeated intermittently earlier had seemed low; now the instrumentplumbs an octave lower.

 

Arcturus for bassoon (1987). Arcturus, yellow-orange, isthe fourth brightest star seen from earth. It belongs to the constellation ofBoötes, but its name means ‘watcher of the bear’, with reference to theneighboring constellation of Ursa Major. This the music seems to recognize,being more than usually suggestive of two voices in dialogue, one observing theother. The most fluently melodic passages focus on particular registers, andbring out the often overlooked versatility of the instrument. As in theclarinet piece, but differently, the ending is in the extremes.

 

Antares for trumpet (1990). Antares owes its name, ‘rivalto Mars’, to its red color. It is the brightest star in the zodiacconstellation Scorpius. Allusions to a warrior god and a warrior creature aresurely present in the music, though the piece is more various than that wouldimply. It begins slow, quiet and distant, then warmer, with a nice effect ofthe harmon mute being slowly withdrawn (at the end of the opening section) orinserted (a little later). Decisiveness enters with staccatos and repeatednotes. Then comes the Velato music, and after that the Elevato, interrupted andspurred by hurtling drama. The ending, once again, is at a high point, followedby a closing return to the start.

 

Sirius for flute (1981). Sirius is bright white, thebrightest star we see and chief of Canis Major. Appropriate for it the brightwhite tone of the flute, in a sequence of scurryings, songs and ejaculations.Maybe the heart of the piece is the Elevato section that comes about two-thirdsof the way through, starting with oscillations through a minor sixth. But thereis a climax again right at the end, with the highest, loudest note of the pieceand, three octaves under it, the lowest.

 

Achernar for alto saxophone (1997). Achernar is our ninthbrightest star—brighter than Spica or Antares, or such other familiarobjects as Betelgeuse and Deneb, but never seen from above latitude 30ľ north,and so invisible to nearly everyone in the United States and everyone inEurope. It was, though, seen by Arab voyagers, who named it ‘river’s end’,since it marks the end of the river constellation Eridanus. The piece,fittingly written last, has many similarities with others in the cycle: runs ofaccelerating notes, as in Antares and Sirius, and—very close toSpica—‘veiled’ tremolos, widening range and a near-final top note withecho. But Achernar is about endings, and the ending is unique. It is evenunique twice over, since the last note of all can be played, alternatively,fortissimo.

 

Aldebaran for tuba (1994). Aldebaran, red-orange, is theprincipal star of Taurus, representing the eye of the bull. If the horn waswell suited to royal Regulus and the trumpet to martial Antares, the tuba iscertainly the right instrument for making bull sounds, and even bull movements:the slow repeated notes suggest an animal pawing at the ground, and the salliesnear the end, from successively lower to successively higher notes, are likecharges. But the tuba-bull can sing, too. Once more the ending is in extremeregisters, and special.

 

Vega for oboe (1982). Vega, white and our fifth brighteststar, is the first star of Lyra, the lyre of Orpheus and Apollo, inventors ofmusic. Early civilizations in Mesopotamia and India, however, saw thisconstellation as an eagle or vulture, and the piece seems to accept bothconnotations. Most of it is eloquent melody, and most of it is in flight.

 

Shaula for trombone (1993). Shaula, a blue-white star,owes its Arabic name of ‘the stinger’ to its position at the tip of Scorpius.The piece, at the end point of the cycle, finds a new context—and a newcolor—for much that has been heard before: the dialogue of legato andstaccato, the slow removal of a mute during a sustained note (cf. Antares), theexchanges after this between running figures in a crescendo and bold, bouncytriplets (cf. Aldebaran, quoted almost exactly), the dramatic accelerations,the middle-high register trills (cf. Spica) and, inevitably, the quick closeafter extremes of register have been touched, at the culmination of one moreElevato. The scorpion stings, three times, and expires. —Paul Griffiths,July 2000

 

"...their sound-poetry also pursues the stars'ancient associations...the luster that has stayed the same through themillennia, all nine subjects being among the brightest in the sky." —Paul Griffiths,Music Critic, New York Times

 

"Nowhere do I detect anyparticular influences at work, the score coming from a personal musical voice that hasan instinctive relationship with each of the instruments used...Do give thedisk a try, for these are highly interesting excursions into the capabilities of windinstruments."  —David Denton, Fanfare Magazine, Nov/Dec2000