20th Century Consort
1-4 George Crumb: CELESTIAL MECHANICS (Makrokosmos IV)
Cosmic Dances for Amplified Piano, Four Hands [22:07]
I. Alpha Centauri [3:48]
II. Beta Cygni [4:17]
III. Gamma Draconis [5:42]
IV. Delta Orionis [8:17]
Lambert Orkis and James Primosch, piano
Jan Orkis, piano assistant
Maurice Wright: CHAMBER SYMPHONY
for Piano and Electronic Sounds [15:02]
Lambert Orkis, piano
William Penn: FANTASY FOR SOLO HARPSICHORD [14:40]
Lambert Orkis, harpsichord
Dexter Morrill: FANTASY QUINTET
for Piano and Computer [13:56]
1. Ringing [6:43]
2. Our Hearts’ Delight [3:27]
3. Ragtime [3:40]
Lambert Orkis, piano
Recorded digitally in 1998 with technical assistance
from Dexter Morrill, in Circle Surround ™ for surround
reproduction through home theater systems (stereo compatible).
The 2Oth Century Consort
is an ensemble of award-winning artists
drawn from the symphonic, chamber, and solo
concert world. In residence at the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Consort has reached a broad audience with its unique approach to music-making for over twenty-five years — equal parts virtuosity, stage presence, and programming acumen.
Conductor / Artistic Director
Throughout his career, Lambert Orkis has championed
the music of contemporary composers, as soloist in recital and with orchestra, and as a chamber musician. For its
first eleven years he was the pianist of the 2Oth Century Consort in residence at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., with which he performed, recorded
and toured extensively.
Mr. Orkis has premiered compositions of many composers including solo works by Richard Wernick, James Primosch, George Crumb, and Maurice Wright. Bridge Records has released compact discs of Crumb’s A Little Suite for Christmas and Wernick’s Sonata for Piano, both written for Mr. Orkis. The award-winning Wernick Piano Concerto, written for him, the National Symphony Orchestra, and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, has been released on CD by Bridge Records with Symphony II of Chicago, the composer conducting. Mr. Orkis’ newest CD from Bridge is entitled “From Hammers to Bytes” and contains works he commissioned and premiered: Wernick’s
Piano Sonata No. 2 for solo piano and Primosch’s
Sonata-Fantasia for piano and synthesizer, one player.
Though Lambert Orkis has acheived international recognition for his performances and recordings of contemporary music, and also for his insightful interpretations on period instruments, this multi-Grammy nominee is best known for his international appearances and acclaimed recordings as a chamber musician.
His performances with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter are renowned. Together they have appeared annually for over a decade to capacity audiences all over the world. Their recordings for Deutsche Grammophon include the Beethoven Sonatas for Piano and Violin, winner of a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance. This recording was a culmi-nation of their yearlong commitment to this music, which resulted in over 80 concerts world-wide in 1998. A film of the Paris performances has been broadcast on European television, and DVD videos contain the Paris performances of these sonatas as well as a documentary film entitled “A Life with Beethoven.” “Recital 2000” features music for violin and piano by Prokofiev, Crumb, Webern, and Respighi and their most recent recording, “Tango Song and Dance,” finds Mr. Orkis and Ms. Mutter performing works by Fauré, Brahms, and Kreisler.
Mr. Orkis has appeared with Ms. Mutter and cellist Lynn Harrell in trio concerts in Germany and Switzerland, and performed in concert with cellist Han-Na Chang in Europe and the United States.
He has appeared twice in Hanoi as soloist and in collaboration with violinist Julian Rachlin, most recently followed by a benefit performance in Phnom Penh to assist the Cambodian Red Cross. Other recent appearances include participation in concerts for the Bay Chamber Concerts series in Maine, solo recitals in the United States and Europe, and participation as juror and performing artist in the Trondheim (Norway) International Chamber Music Competition and Festival.
His career as a collaborator has included over ten years of touring with the Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. His extensive discography includes appearances on Sony Classical with the Dutch
cellist Anner Bylsma. In the Smithsonian Institution’s Castle Trio, with which Mr. Orkis has recorded
the complete cycle of Beethoven Trios using
period instruments, he performs regularly at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He
has also appeared with The Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra in period instrument performances
of Beethoven piano concerti.
When not playing on the world’s foremost concert platforms, Lambert Orkis is a regular performer with the National Symphony Orchestra where he holds the position of Principal Keyboard. 2003 heralded the introduction of the Kennedy Center Chamber Players, an ensemble composed of the principal chair players of the NSO string and keyboard sections with concerts scheduled in
and around the Washington and Annapolis areas, including the Kennedy Center, Library of
Congress, and Wolf Trap.
Mr. Orkis holds the position of Professor of Piano
at Temple University’s Esther Boyer College of
Music in Philadelphia where he has taught for over 30 years. He has been honored by that institution
with the University’s Faculty Award for Creative Achievement as well as the Alumni Association’s Certificate of Honor.
Celestial Mechanics (Makrokosmos IV)
George Crumb (b. 1929, Charleston, West Virginia) grew up in a musical family and learned from
childhood to play the clarinet and piano. He took
his undergraduate degree in composition at Mason College of Music and Fine Arts in his native Charleston, then went to the University of Illinois for his master’s degree and to the University of Michigan for his doctorate. There he studied with Ross Lee Finney, who, after his father, became the strongest musical influence on him. He has been on the faculty of the University
of Pennsylvania since 1965. In addition to numerous grants and awards from the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for Echoes of Time and the River.
Crumb’s early music grew out of short musical
subjects in which timbre played as important a role
as pitch and rhythm. His music has continually been marked by an extraordinarily refined ear for color and astonishing inventiveness in the creation of sounds, often using novel methods of tone production, occasionally with amplification to pick up the delicate overtones that might be lost otherwise. Much of his music has been programmatic, often drawing on a zodiacal cycle or number symbolism or such quasi-dramatic elements as masked performers, to serve the cause of musical illustration with vivid sounds, ranging from the sweet and delicate to the threshold of pain.
Regarding Celestial Mechanics, the composer
“Celestial Mechanics, Cosmic Dances for Amplified Piano, Four Hands completed in April 1979, is the fourth in a series of works entitled (or subtitled) Makrokosmos. The first two works were scored for solo piano and the third (Music for a Summer Evening) for two pianos and percussion.
I had long been tempted to try my hand at the four-hand medium, perhaps because I myself have been a passionate four-hand player over the years. The best
of the original four-hand music — which includes,
of course, those many superb works by Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms — occupies a very special niche in the literature of music. The idiom, a strange hybrid of the pianistic and the orchestral, lends itself readily to a very free and spontaneous kind of music – one thinks of the many collections of dances of various types and of the predilection for the “fantasy” genre. The present work, therefore, comprising a
suite of “cosmic” dances composed in a rather “fantastic” style, falls squarely within the tradition.
My sole departure from tradition occurs at two points in the score where I have enlarged the medium to six-hands; and so, in the whimsical manner of Ives, the page turner must contribute more substantively to the performance than is his wont.
The title Celestial Mechanics was borrowed from the French mathematician Laplace. The titles for the four movements (added after the music was completed!) are the beautiful names of stars of the first through the fourth magnitude. The majestic movement of the stars does indeed suggest the image of a “cosmic choreography” and, in fact, I briefly considered opting for an alternate title (proposed by my brother, punster that he is) — The Celestial Ballroom.” – George Crumb
for Piano and Electronic Sounds
Maurice Wright (born in Front Royal, Virginia,
October 17, 1949) is rapidly attaining a considerable profile among American composers of his generation, particularly as indicated not only by the number of works that have recently been recorded but also
by the company they keep. Any American composer
might well find it daunting to have a piano sonata appear as the “filler” on a compact disc containing Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata, arguably the most important piano work yet written by an American.
Yet there is Wright’s Sonata, performed on a compact disc by Marc-André Hamelin and finding itself
worthy company for the craggy Ivesian work.
Wright studied composition at Duke University
with Iain Hamilton and then at Columbia University with Mario Davidovsky, Jack Beeson, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and Charles Dodge. He now teaches
at Temple University. As his educational lineage
might suggest, Wright’s earlier work made considerable use of twelve-tone techniques in the approved academic style of the period. He was also active in the composition of electronic music and of works that combined electronic and acoustic instruments, such as the Chamber Symphony for Piano and Electronic Sound. By the late 1970s he began working in a more tonal, lyrical idiom, with less use of serial precompositional planning.
Wright taught at Columbia University in the mid-1970s, then spent a year at Boston University (1978-79); the following summer he was the composition teacher in the Young Artists Program of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Since 1980 he has been on the faculty of Temple University in Philadelphia. His works range widely from purely electronic music to a wide range of chamber scores, songs, orchestral works, and two operas, one (still unperformed) based on John Philip Sousa’s Faustian novel The Fifth String and the other, The Trojan Conflict, treating the events of the Trojan War in a parody of television news reports in which a quartet of Greek gods and goddesses play in a quartet as they watch the war taking place on their television screens. Maurice Wright’s output includes several works
for percussion instruments, including Marimba Music
of 1981 for marimba with electronic sound and a marimba concerto premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
As with anything connected to computers in the last half-century, the development of technology with electronic music has been stunning in the speed of change. Wright’s Chamber Symphony for piano with electronic sound was composed–technologically speaking–in the Middle Ages, when a composer often could not hear the music he had composed until after he had followed elaborate processes that were different from one kind of piece, and one kind of equipment, to another. Only at the end of the process could he decide whether that had been the music he had actually conceived! Maurice Wright’s description of his work of composing the piece captures some of the heroic qualities of imagining music in that New World:
“Written for pianist Robert Miller, the Chamber Symphony was premiered in Alice Tully Hall in 1977 in a series of Bicentennial concerts of American piano music. Each movement was realized with a different synthesis technique using the resources
of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, the Columbia University Computer Center, and Columbia’s Nevis Physics Laboratory. The electronic sound for the first movement was created by designing and recording every note separately,
then using a grease pencil and ruler to mark the duration of the notes, which would be spliced together. Several stereo tapes made this way were them combined on a 4-track master tape which
was later mixed down to stereo again. I was able
to create about 5 seconds of sound for each
hour I worked in the studio.
The second movement was put together very quickly using a keyboard synthesizer and a
4-channel tape recorder.
By contrast the third movement seemed to take forever to compose and then to realize. In it I was experimenting with an “adaptive canon,” in which the imitating voices were scaled in time to fit in the same sized measure as the leading voice. The leading voice of the canon would shift back and forth between 2/2 and 5/4, creating havoc for the voices that followed. I worked out the durations with a portable calculator and composed the movement during a winter residency at the Yaddo Colony in Saratoga Springs, New York.
When I came back to New York City I began the process of realizing the synthesized sound. Charles Dodge had taught me how to use MUSIC360, a synthesis program written by Barry Vercoe at MIT and based on the original synthesis software born at Bell Labs a decade earlier.
The MUSIC360 program processes two collections of information: a numerically coded “score,” and a group of “instruments” which the composer would build in software from a set of building blocks called unit generators. I would type all this data using a computer terminal in the university computer center then submit the job to the IBM mainframe for batch processing. Sound synthesis is very time-intensive, then requiring about 10 seconds of computer time for each second of finished sound, whereas most of the jobs submitted by students from other departments would complete in thousandths of a second. The mainframe would schedule jobs based on the individual’s account priority and the estimated time for the job, and often this meant that music jobs would be run by the night shift. I would come by the next morning to look over the output and try to analyze the error messages that were almost always there. Then I would edit my files and submit the job again. If the program ran to completion, I would then borrow the data type that held the results of the computation, package it with an audio tape and instruction sheet, then take the package to the Physics department office where a driver would make a daily trip to the high energy physics laboratory in Irvington, New York. The physics labs had an IBM360 computer that could be used for single-user jobs without interruption. Here an operator would convert my data tapes to 4 channel audio tape and the van driver would return the tapes on the next scheduled trip to Manhattan.
When the tape arrived on campus I could finally take it to a tape studio and listen to what had I done. In terms of time and physical resources it was quite an undertaking, and one I found to be richly rewarding.” – Maurice Wright
Fantasy for solo harpsichord
William Penn (b. 1943) received his M.A. degree at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where his teachers included Heny Pousseur, Mauricio Kagel, Allen Sapp, Robert Mols, then went on to Michigan State University for his doctorate, studying with H. Owen Reed, Paul Harder, and Richard Klausli. For a half-dozen years he was a member of the theory and composition faculty at the Eastman School of Music, and he has been visiting Associate Professor of Composition and Electronic Music at the University of Connecticut, Director of the Electronic Studio at the University of Arizona, and visiting Professor of Composition and Composer-in-Residence at the University of South Carolina. He is currently based in Tucson, Arizona, where he is a producer for the CD label Arizona University Recordings.
A great deal of Penn’s music has been conceived for the theater, including stage productions
of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Folger Shakespeare Theatre, and the New York Shakespeare Festival, as well as Broadway and off-Broadway productions, or for feature films and television. He composed the score for the 70mm film shown at the United States Pavilion at the Technology World’s Fair in Tsukuba, Japan, and, in a very different area, he has composed and arranged for the harmonica and piano duo of Herbineaux and Penn. He has received over two dozen ASCAP music composition awards
in both the “serious” and “pop” categories.
Even this unusually wide field of activity scarcely prepares the listener for the virtuosity and wit of his Fantasy for solo harpsichord (1973). The harpsichord, after all, is an instrument of a limited range in pitch, color, and dynamics, and it is an instrument specifically associated with an historical period more than two centuries past. (This remains true despite the fact that a number of contemporary composers have chosen to write for it.) The formality of
musical structure and the balanced emotional temperament of the music that we hear on the harpsichord creates the expectation in the listener of something similar, perhaps slightly updated with regard to harmonic language.
Penn’s harpsichord piece comes as an utter surprise. The player begins in a staid and formal way sounding indeed as if playing a Bach prelude, perhaps, though one written by a Bach who had accepted 20th-century harmonic ideas. But the chordal structures with decorative melodic figures yield to racing single lines that cover the full range of the instrument, which in turn come to a stop with violently assertive chords that are little short of explosive. “Bach” turns to “Liszt” in his most demonic, virtuosic vein, and then goes even further to – what? Wild rushing lines, powerful chords reiterated in Morse code patterns, bits of whimsy turning to passages in which the listener wonders how the instrument can withstand the assault. The apparently structured formality of the opening becomes ever more unbuttoned (though the recurrence of these materials provides a shape to the piece as a whole), and exhausts itself in witty, dramatic virtuosity.
Dexter Morrill was born in North Adams, Massachusetts, in 1938. He studied composition with William Skelton, Leonard Ratner, and Robert Palmer. During the 1960s, he was Ford Foundation Young Composer fellow in University City, Missouri. Since 1971 he has been the Director of the Computer Music Studio at Colgate University, where he is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Music. Computer and tape-music compositions predominate in his works, which have received performances in the United States, Canada, Australia, and most European countries. In 1980, Morrill was a Guest Researcher at IRCAM, in Paris; he was also a visiting professor of music at SUNY Binghamton and Stanford. He spent part of his time doing research on the analysis and synthesis of trumpet tones. He has received composition grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and various performing organizations. He has also worked on special jazz projects for Stan Getz and Wynton Marsalis, and is the author of A Guide to the Big Band Recordings of Woody Herman, published by Greenwood Press. Fantasy Quintet is a fourteen-minute work for piano with a computer part sending the remainder of the score to four speakers. Morrill composed it in 1977-78 on a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for pianist Dwight Pelzer, who gave the first performance and also recorded the piece. The piece is cast in three movements, with two sections of cadenza-like material (in the middle of the first movement and near the end of the last).
The composer has provided the following commentary:
“It was my intention from the beginning to compose a work that would allow the performer to play with some degree of freedom and in a virtuoso style. Throughout most of the work the computer is limited to four voices, each having its own speaker. The Fantasy Quintet is meant to resemble a chamber concerto in terms of its volume and its frontal stage characteristic. In at least one sense this rather traditional and perhaps heroic plan would seem to be out of step with a medium using loudspeakers, which people often view in a detached or impersonal way. Yet it was that condition which I wanted very much to investigate in the Fantasy Quintet. The work attempts to personalize the speakers, and their sounds are those of natural instruments, such as the trumpet, the clarinet, and the drum. The musical material in the Fantasy Quintet varies considerably.
The first movement, “Ringing,” is based on the old bell-ringing or change-ringing idea. The rhythms of the four instruments (speakers) and the piano are derived from a ringing plan, using two note values and one rest. The piano begins by simply fitting in with the scheme as a fifth part, but soon elaborates on the whole scheme. It reaches a point where there is no coordination between parts, but eventually the piano re-enters the ringing music and ends as it began.
The material for “Our hearts’ Delight” was drawn from a volume of Victorian piano music that I had bought some years ago at a local library sale. The piano performs bits and pieces of these old popular melodies in an improvised fashion against the loudspeaker sounds.
The final movement, “Ragtime,” seemed like a
natural piece to do for an ending, and it allowed
me to use my computer brass band, which keeps getting distracted and turning into other sounds. The ragtime melodies are original, or perhaps as original as I could make them given my love of this type of music to Joplin and early jazz.” – Dexter Morrill