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Contemporary Music Media Review Print

New Music Raleigh & Others Perform Chamber Music of D.J. Sparr

November 25, 2014 - Williamsburg, MA:

21207, D. J. Sparr, "Woodlawn Drive," "The Glam Seduction," "Sound Harmonies with Air," New Music Raleigh: Mary Boone, flute & piccolo; Anthony Taylor, clarinet & bass clarinet; Karen Strittmatter Galvin, violin; Peng Li, 'cello; Shawn Galvin, percussion; D.J. Sparr, electric guitar; Danielle Hahn, piano; Timothy Myers, cond.; electronic track for "Sound Harmonies with Air," Kimberly Sparr, violas & violins; Matt Gold, bass; "Fantasia for Flute and Electronics: Sugarhouse," Donna Shin, flute; [D, J. Sparr, electronics, using recorded door-harp sounds]; "Vim-Hocket, Calm," Karen Strittmatter Galvin, electric violin, D. J. Sparr, electric guitar; "Vim:Hocket:Calm," Hexnut Ensemble: Susanna Borsch, recorder; Ned McGowan, flute; Gijs Levelt, trumpet; Michaela Riener, voice; Ere Lievonen, piano; Centaur CRC 3316, © 2013, TT 51:38, $16.00. Works are listed in recorded order.

This is a compilation CD, not in the usual sense, but in the sense that several studio recordings made over a period of 3-1/2 years of performances by different artists of different pieces by the same composer were gathered together for a single issue/release. Those involving New Music Raleigh musicians were recorded in SoundPure Studios in Durham, the first three works in September 2012, and "Vim-Hocket, Calm" in January 2013; the 5-1/4-minute "Fantasia…," commissioned by Shin and composed in 2012, was recorded at In Your Ear Studios in Richmond, VA, on November 5, 2012, and the work featuring the Hexnut Ensemble, "Vim:Hocket:Calm," was recorded at Studio 11 in Hilversum, The Netherlands, on December 12, 2012. It is a 7-minute revision and slight expansion, commissioned by the Walden School and premièred by Amsterdam, NL-based Hexnut in July 2010, of the similarly titled (but differently punctuated) 6-1/2-minute duo work composed in 1996-97, with, therefore, a very different instrumentation and sound. Mixing and mastering was done by award-winning and Grammy-nominated David v.R. Bowles at his Berkeley, CA-based Swineshead Productions.

The title of the CD is the ZIP Code for Gwynn Oak, MD. It is there that the Woodlawn Drive, on which was located the home of the composer's great grandmother, is found. Memories and visualizations of the quiet expansive farm that ultimately became engulfed by suburban Baltimore sprawl inspired the first 9-1/2-minute work, a sort of character piece, composed in 1999.

The music lies on the borders between classical and jazz, and to some extent popular and rock, with some environmental (e.g., bird call-like triplets, etc.), even a hint of ethnic Native American music, and a tinge of country twang in "Calm." It mixes together and hovers between traditional and modern instrumentation, but the instruments are not asked to make any strange or unusual sounds, only colorful ones, a few requiring virtuosic execution.

The longest piece, at 14-1/4 minutes, "The Glam Seduction," commissioned by the BMI Foundation. Inc./Boudleaux Bryant Fund for eighth blackbird, dates from 2002. It pushes traditional Romantic-period classical works towards the Glam Rock music of the 1980s, like Van Halen's. The 8-3/4-minute "Sound Harmonies with Air," commissioned by the Walden School for the Wet Ink Ensemble, was composed in 2009 and premièred in Dublin, NH, in June that year, with the version recorded here having been arranged for eighth blackbird for a performance at the University of Richmond, VA, in 2011. It works with harmonic progressions and chords sustained unusually long.

The double-sided, 4-fold ribbon-shaped insert sheet, featuring an attractive art work, Suspended Chrysaora by Sabina Pieslak on its cover, includes notes about the works, all written by the composer, except those for "The Glam Seduction" by Nicolas Photinos, eighth blackbird's 'cellist. They detail the genesis, inspiration, or occasion and structure for/of the pieces. Brief bios of the ensembles, principal musicians, and composer, the latter accompanied by a photo, are also given.

You need not worry that the music will be loud and unpleasant; it is anything but; there is nothing harsh or dissonant in it. Neither is it of the trite sappy, soothing, syrupy New Age background type. Some of the pieces are experimental in the sense that Sparr has determined a principle or procedure to explore and is writing to see how far it can be pushed or sustained, how far he can go in pursuing it. It is an interesting and pleasing blend of electric, electronic, and standard instruments, and the works display a wide and enjoyable variety. Not only does the music bear repeated listenings, it reveals itself as richer with each one. There is about 28-1/2 minutes of unused space available on the CD for more, however…, its absence my only disappointment.