The evocative ECM debut of the outstanding Hungarian guitarist Zsófia Boros addresses a broad range of composition for her instrument, drawing on music of the Americas. “Often I think I am holding the choice of music in my own hands, but later I wonder if the music has chosen me as a medium. My approach is always very intuitive; when a piece of music grips or touches me, I want to reflect it – to become a mirror and convey it.”
“There is no more important reason for composing music than spiritual renewal.”–Sofia Gubaidulina. Shostakovich once famously said of his student, Sofia Gubaidulina, “I want you to continue along your mistaken path.” Mistaken, that was, in the former Soviet Union, where the deliverance preached through her devout composing sat uncomfortably with censors. So much so that when she composed her Seven Words in 1982, she was obliged to leave out “…of Our Savior on the Cross” from its title. Nevertheless, this riveting work is one of the twentieth century’s reigning masterpieces.
Tomas Luis de Victoria and Josquin Desprez were not contemporaries, they lived and worked in different countries, and perhaps shared little in terms of abstract compositional style. Yet throughout Europe, generations of musicians recognized them as kindred spirits, and tablature versions of their masses and motets circulated amongst lutenists. For John Potter, this is “the secret life of the music – in historical terms its real life.” In this characteristically creative project Potter - joined by Trio Mediaeval singer Anna Maria Friman and three outstanding vihuela players - explores “what happens to music after it is composed.”
Released in time for the great Ukrainian composer’s 80th birthday on September 30, Hieroglyphen der Nacht features Valentin Silvestrov’s music for solo violoncello and for two cellos. German cellist Anja Lechner has had a long association with Silvestrov, first documented on the Grammy-nominated leggiero, pesante in 2001. Here she plays, alone, Augenblicke der Stille und Traurigkeit (of which she is the dedicatee), Lacrimosa, Walzer der Alpengöckchen, and Elegie (which calls for her to play both cello and tamtams). Lechner is joined by French cellist Agnès Vestermann, a frequent duo partner, to play Drei Stücke (dedicated to both musicians), 8.VI. 1810…zum Geburtstag R.A. Schumann, Zwei Serenaden, and 25.X.1893…zum Andenken an P.I. Tschaikowskij.
Sometimes music is so theatrical that it needs no stage or actors to enlighten its listeners. If such music comprised a genre in and of itself, composer Heiner Goebbels would be one of its most idiosyncratic masters. Along with Michael Mantler, Goebbels represents a theatrical strand in the ECM universe that challenges the reviewer attempting to describe it, yet which is perfectly clear once it reaches the ears. My first encounter came through Surrogate Cities, a dazzling piece of music theatre that remains the yardstick by which I’ve measured all Goebbels experiences since. That being said, the more I hear, the more I recognize the futility of such comparison, for in his decidedly textual sound there is equal room for any and all sentiments to frolic, dance, and weep.
The term "cultural imperialism" is often used, justly, when Western musicians appropriate aspects of third world music for their own, watering it down to listener-friendly levels and giving scant acknowledgement to its original creators. Whereas this sort of approach has been the unfortunate rule, from Paul Simon to David Byrne, every once in a while a glorious exception emerges. Such an exception is Swedish percussionist Bengt Berger's Bitter Funeral Beer band. Berger, who devoted lengthy periods of study to West African music, particularly that of Ghana, assembled a large contingent of fellow Swedes, trained them in various aspects of West African traditions and, most importantly, chose Ghanaian folk themes with utterly beautiful and irresistible melodic lines from which to improvise.