Phoenix Ensemble

Mark Lieb, Clarinet

Clarinet Quintets: Babbitt, Feldman

Innova 746


Morton Feldman

Clarinet and String Quartet 




Mark Lieb, clarinet   

Aaron Boyd, violin  

Kristi Helberg, violin 

Cyrus Beroukhim, viola  

Alberto Parinni, cello


Recorded August 28th and 29th, 2008  Dreamflower Studios, Bronxville, NY

Jeremy Tressler: Engineer & Mastering    Mark Lieb and Gina Cuffari: producers


1: measure 1       14:59

2: measure 283   16:00

3: measure 609       8:11



Milton Babbitt

Quintet for Clarinet

and String Quartet




Mark Lieb, clarinet    

Aaron Boyd, violin   

Alicia Edelberg, violin

Cyrus Beroukhim, viola   

Bruce Wang, cello


Recorded February 19th and 20th, 2007  Dreamflower Studios, Bronxville, NY

Jeremy Tressler: Engineer & Mastering    Mark Lieb and Marc Wolf: producers


4: measure 1         3:06

5: measure 80       6:39

6: measure 247     9:47

7: measure 482     3:53


Morton Feldman

Clarinet and String Quartet (1983)


Morton Feldman was born in New York City in 1926 and died in 1987.  He studied piano early in his life with Madame Maurina-Press, a pupil of Ferrucio Busoni, and composition with Stefan Wolpe.  When it came to formal education however, he attended college only for a short time at New York University, leaving school to work at his father’s coat factory, and at his uncle’s dry cleaners.  In fact he held one or the other of these jobs until he was 44.  His musical maturity and education was acquired through becoming an influential member of the artistic movement known as the New York School in the 1950s, establishing close friendships and collaborations with the composers of this period, John Cage, Christian Wolfe, and Earle Brown, and with the painters, Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Barnett Newman.  These people shaped his ideas about art, music, and composition.  Choosing this path to develop as a composer transformed Feldman into a truly unique and important voice in 20th century music.


John Cage was a particularly important influence.  Feldman writes about his first visit to Cage’s home:


 At this first meeting I brought John a string quartet.  He looked at it a long time and then said, ‘How did you make this?’  I thought of my constant quarrels with (Stefan) Wolpe, and how just a week before, after showing a composition of mine to Milton Babbitt and answering his questions as intelligently as I could, he said to me, ‘Morton, I don’t understand a word you’re saying.’  And so, in a very weak voice I answered John, ‘I don’t know how I made it.’  The response to this was startling.  John jumped up and down, and with a kind of high monkey squeal, screeched, ‘Isn’t that marvelous.  Isn’t that wonderful.  It’s so beautiful, and he doesn’t know how he made it.’  Quite frankly, I sometimes wonder how my music would have turned out if John had not given me those early permissions to have confidence in my instincts.


When total serialism, and music based on systems, predetermined process, and method were in the avant-garde mainstream, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and their colleagues were going in a different direction, writing music that experimented with sounds, indeterminacy, and a kind of improvised form.  Feldman composed his music without a predetermined idea of the structure or length of the work.  The piece evolved as he was writing it, and he was finished when he felt there was nothing more to add to it, these techniques being similar to the painting methods of Jackson Pollock. 


Feldman’s music is not based on complexity but transparency, written with eternally soft dynamic markings, sometimes never reaching a volume above ppp, stripped to the bone, and often tenderly expressive and moving.  The difficulties in performing his music are rooted in its deceptive simplicity, where ensemble and intonation issues are magnified, and the lack of technical passages to hide behind forces musicians to concentrate on more fundamental ideas of music and expression.  His late works are lengthy, sometimes lasting several hours, testing a listeners ability to concentrate, but at the same time creating a truly original immersive experience, overwhelming and hauntingly beautiful.


In an interview from 1967, Feldman talks about his interest in what he calls the “five-one gesture” or the resolution of a phrase or musical statement.  He says, for example, that he is fascinated with the fact that a very dissonant cluster chord followed by a more transparent chord gives the effect of a resolution.  In his Clarinet and String Quartet, written in 1983, he uses these “five-one gestures” or resolutions as the structural elements of the piece, building the entire work almost solely on this idea.  The work is loosely in three large sections, the first section introducing the thematic material of the piece.  The large middle section develops this material, building to a climax where the clarinet plays running eighth notes over repeated string chords, and the third section begins with a return of the opening material.  Near the end of the work, Feldman introduces a completely new idea, consisting of flattened, repeated figures, finishing the piece with reflective, poignant, and strikingly beautiful gestures.  

Milton Babbitt

Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet  (1995-1996)


Milton Babbitt, born in 1916 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, is one of the most prominent musical figures of the 20th and 21st century.  His pioneering work with electronic tape, synthesized sounds, and his development of serial composition have established an essential place for him in musical history.  As composer, writer, and teacher, he has greatly influenced the most important composers of his time, as well as created controversy, challenging his audience to rethink their very definition of music, and the relationship between a creative artist and his public.   


Babbitt studied violin, clarinet, and saxophone as a child, but wished to follow his father’s footsteps and become a mathematician.  He began his studies in math at the University of Pennsylvania, but soon felt a pull towards music as a career, these aspirations taking him to New York University where he studied composition, becoming very interested in the twelve- tone music of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg.  His studies then took him to Princeton University where he was a student of Roger Sessions. 


He soon developed his own method of composing with the twelve-tone techniques of the Second Viennese School.  In addition to pitch, he arranged other musical elements into a series, such as dynamics and rhythm, creating a “total serialism.”  That and the introduction of other complex mathematical principals result in a dense and highly textured music. His innovations invited the attention of musicians, composers, and historians around the world, although these “complex, advanced, and problematical activities,” as he would call them, tended to alienate the public.


Babbitt has strong beliefs about his creative process and his relationship to his audience.  He adopted the philosophy of Roger Sessions, who said that composers must:

abandon resolutely chimerical hopes of success in a world dominated overwhelmingly by ‘stars’, by mechanized popular music, and by the box-office standard, and set themselves to discovering what they truly have to say, and to saying it in the manner of the adult artist delivering his message to those who have ears to hear it.  All else is childishness and futility. 


It is important to know of his love for popular song and jazz.  Early in his career, he even composed a Broadway musical called Fabulous Voyage, which was never produced.  While other classical composers seem to mimic jazz styles in their compositions, Babbitt writes with a great command and understanding of jazz rhythm and nuance.  Alex Ross in his book, The Rest is Noise, writes about one of Babbitt’s compositions:

Six bars into Three Compositions for Piano there is a loud B-flat-major triad.  Before you can come to terms with the psychological effects of such ‘tonal puns,’ they disappear, like half-familiar faces in a crowd.  This rigorously organized music ends up feeling mysteriously prankish, antic, loosey-goosey; it shuffles and shimmies like jazz from another planet. 


Milton Babbitt teaches composition at Princeton University and The Juilliard School.


Babbitt’s Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet, one of his later works, was completed in 1996 and commissioned by the Juilliard Quartet for their 50th anniversary.  The piece consists of four large sections connected without break.  The opening minutes sound as a clarinet solo, with very prominent jazz rhythms and almost funky string accompaniment.  The two large middle sections are a complex development of material, with short punches of traditional sounds and chords, slow poignant moments, mixed with Babbitt’s well known quickly morphing rhythmic layers.  A fanfare in the cello and viola announces the shorter fourth section which culminates in a clarinet cadenza and a final push of rough string chords under a solo clarinet.  This premiere recording of the Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet was recorded with the approval of the composer.



The Phoenix Ensemble, based in New York City, is a mixed-instrument chamber music group, consisting of a full complement of winds, brass, strings, and percussion.  The ensemble is dedicated to the performance and recording of classical music, and to the mission of making the musical arts a more essential and valuable experience in the lives of the general public.  Since 1992, through performances, recordings, and residencies in communities and schools, the Phoenix Ensemble has presented hundreds of events designed to inspire a new and diverse audience for classical music.  Its members are active freelance musicians, also playing with groups such as the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Lukes, New York City Opera, Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, as well as Broadway productions.  The group has a special interest in encouraging and giving a voice to composers of contemporary music.























Mark Lieb (clarinet) is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Phoenix Ensemble.  He received degrees in clarinet performance from Northwestern University and The Juilliard School, studying with Robert Marcellus and David Schifrin.  He has enjoyed an active career as both an orchestral and chamber musician, performing with groups such as the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, New World Symphony, Bronx Arts Ensemble, Essential Music, Vanguard Chamber Players, and Speculum Musicae.  With various ensembles he has toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, and has recorded with New World Records, Mode Records, Newport Classics, Dorian, Furious Artisans, Innova, and BMG Classics labels.

Aaron Boyd (violin) was born in Pittsburgh, where he began playing the violin at the age of seven. He graduated in 2000 from the Juilliard School, where he studied with Sally Thomas. He has played as a member of the Metamorphosen and Orpheus chamber orchestras and tours frequently as a member of the International Sejong Soloists.  He has participated in the Tanglewood, Fontainebleau, La Jolla SummerFest, Prussia Cove and Marlboro Music Festivals, where he has performed with members of the Beaux Arts Trio, as well as the Juilliard, Guarneri and Orion String Quartets.  As a member of the Milton String Quartet he recorded the premiŹre of Milton Babbitt’s Sixth String Quartet. 



Alicia Edelberg (violin), a graduate of Smith College and a student of Oscar Shumsky, is associate concertmaster of the New York City Opera, where she has been a member since 1978.  Her professional activities also include recordings, tours of Germany as a member of the Crescent String Quartet, and extensive touring and recording with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.  Commercial recordings, radio broadcasts and recitals round out Ms. Edelberg's musical schedule.  Edelberg is a regular guest of the Chamber Soloists of Austin.  Summer performances include the Bard and Grand Teton music festivals.





Kristi Helberg (violin) enjoys a career spanning many musical and cultural settings, from performing in the Salzburg Festival as a member of the Orchestral Institute at Attergau under the patronage and tutelage of the Vienna Philharmonic, to performing as a core member of Symphony in the Barn, a music festival created in the context of living and working on a biodynamic farm in Canada. With a serious interest in collaborative and new music settings, Ms. Helberg has premiered over thirty compositions and performed in such contexts as Alarm Will Sound New Music Ensemble, New York’s MATA Young Composers NOW! Festival, and in collaboration with New York-based music collective, Wet Ink Ensemble.  She is Principal violin of the Chamber Orchestra of New York, and has performed regularly with the Houston Symphony and the New Jersey Symphony.





Cyrus Beroukhim (viola) began his early musical training with Mimi Zweig in Milwaukee and made his solo debut with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at the age of 15. He has performed as soloist and chamber musician in Alice Tully Hall, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Peter Norton Symphony Space, the Metropolitan Museum of Art,  Bargemusic, the Ravinia Festival, the Verbier Festival and Academy in Switzerland, and with the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Sarasota Music Festival, the Keshet Eilon Festival in Israel, and on the Museum of Modern Art's Summergarden series. He received his Bachelor of Music from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Roland and Almita Vamos, his Master of Music from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Cho-Liang Lin, and is a Doctoral Fellow at Juilliard, continuing his studies with Cho-Liang Lin.


Alberto Parrini (cello), born in Italy, has performed throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia.  He spent the 2002-03 season as cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, in residence at Stanford University.  Prior to that he was Assistant Principal cellist with the Richmond Symphony.  He has toured extensively with Mikhail Baryshnikov and the White Oak Dance Project and performed with Continuum, Lenape Chamber Ensemble and the Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra.  His festival appearances include Evian, Tanglewood, Taos, Verbier, Montreal, San Miguel de Allende, Spoleto U.S.A., and the Piatigorsky seminar.  Mr. Parrini’s principal studies were with Timothy Eddy, Joel Krosnick and David Soyer, and is a graduate of the Curtis Institute and The Juilliard School.


Bruce Wang (cello) has performed across the United States, Asia, Europe, and Australia, both as soloist and chamber musician.  He has performed on a variety of recordings, including solo, chamber music, television, radio, as well as numerous studio recordings for feature films, theatre, and media projects.  A founding member of the Dakota Piano Trio, Mr. Wang concertized internationally under New York management, performed in residency at Queens College, and at Indiana University, Chicago Chamber Music Society, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Atlanta Chamber Music Society, and in televised interviews and performances across Australia.  Mr. Wang performs with the new music ensemble, North/South Consonance, the Bronx Arts Ensemble, and numerous other ensembles in the New York City area. 


Photography: Piero Ribelli


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