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Bruce Brubaker / Ursula Oppens — Meredith Monk: Piano Songs (2014)

 Bruce Brubaker / Ursula Oppens — Meredith Monk: Piano Songs (March 24, 2014)

 Bruce Brubaker / Ursula Oppens — Meredith Monk: Piano Songs

♦ο♦      A pioneer in performance art, who takes an interdisciplinary approach to creativity and has excelled in a variety of forms.
♦ο♦      “I delved into different relationships and possibilities between them; material passed back and forth, dialogues, interlocking phrases, shifts of figure and ground. In some pieces, I emphasized the individuality of each piano, writing for one player as the ‘singer’, the other as the ‘accompaniment’; in other pieces I wanted the two pianos to make one large sound.”  — Meredith Monk
♦ο♦      Oppens is a concert pianist who dedicated most of her career to performing and helping advance the cause of contemporary keyboard literature.
Born: November 20, 1942 in Lima, Peru
Location: New York, NY
Album release: March 24, 2014
Record Label: ECM New Series 2374
Recorded: April 2012, Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, Massachusetts
Duration:     47:41
Genre: Avant-Garde, Classical
Styles: Keyboard, Modern Composition
01 Obsolete Objects     2:00
02 Ellis Island     3:02
03 Folkdance     4:03
04 urban march (shadow)     3:09
05 Tower     1:37
06 Paris     3:11
07 Railroad (Travel Song)     2:16
08 Parlour Games     7:37
09 St. Petersburg Waltz     7:05
10 Window in 7’s     2:47
11 totentanz     3:07
12 Phantom Waltz     7:15
♦ο♦      Ursula Oppens: piano
♦ο♦      Bruce Brubaker: piano
≈          Recording and editing engineer: Jody Elff
≈          Assistant engineer: Jeremy Sarna
≈          Project coordination: Peter Sciscioli
≈          Score preparation: Allison Sniffin
≈          Mastering: Christoph Stickel
≈          Design: Sascha Kleis
≈          Produced by Meredith Monk and Allison Sniffin
♦ο♦      Ursula Oppens is an acclaimed performer of contemporary music, having recorded the complete piano works of Elliott Carter as well as music by Frederic Rzewski, Charles Wuorinen, Tobias Picker and many other living American composers.
♦ο♦      Bruce Brubaker — chair of the piano department at New England Conservatory (where the album was recorded) — has long been a key exponent of American minimalism and post-minimalism, having recorded works by John Cage, Philip Glass, John Adams, Alvin Curran and William Duckworth.
♦ο♦      The two pianists had known each other for decades but had never performed in tandem until Monk’s music brought them together. Oppens and Brubaker played in a 40th anniversary celebration of the composer’s career at Carnegie Hall in 2005, an event that prefigured Piano Songs.
♦ο♦      Celebrating Meredith Monk as composer, these Piano Songs give us a world at once playful and serious. Written or derived from work composed between 1971 and 2006, the pieces inhabit Monk’s unique universe, as played by two of new music’s most distinguished interpreters, pianists Ursula Oppens and Bruce Brubaker. These pieces are ‘songs’ because they have strong roots in Monk’s pieces for voice and because they are direct, specific, and imagistic. Meredith Monk on composing for two pianos: “I delved into different relationships and possibilities between them; material passed back and forth, dialogues, interlocking phrases, shifts of figure and ground. In some pieces, I emphasized the individuality of each piano, writing for one player as the ‘singer’, the other as the ‘accompaniment’; in other pieces I wanted the two pianos to make one large sound.”
♦ο♦      Celebrating Meredith Monk as composer, this album of Piano Songs presents a sonic world at once playful and earnest, familiar to those who know the one-of-a-kind universe created in her groundbreaking works for voice. Drawn from music composed between 1971 and 2006, these pieces for piano duet and piano solo are performed by two of today’s most distinguished interpreters of new music: Ursula Oppens and Bruce Brubaker. These works are “songs” because they have roots in Monk’s pieces for voice and because they are direct, specific and imagistic. 
♦ο♦      As a creator of new opera and music theater pieces, Monk has been hailed for her pioneering work with extended vocal technique and interdisciplinary performance; over a career of nearly 50 years, she has explored the voice as an instrument unto itself. Yet long before she began composing music for the voice, Monk wrote short piano studies as a music student inspired by the examples of Mompou, Satie and Bartók. She returned to composing for piano in the early ‘70s, producing pieces that had their “own topography, texture and mood,” as she writes in the liner notes to Piano Songs. In her piano music, “directness, purity, asymmetry and, above all, transparency have always been important to me. The surface of the music is seemingly simple but the intricacy of detail and the combination of restraint and expressivity challenge the performer. Every gesture is exposed and clear.”
♦ο♦      Reflecting Piano Songs, Brubaker says: “There’s an intriguing balance in Meredith’s piano music between simplicity and a kind of music you’ve never really heard before. It feels familiar and strange at the same time. Some elements can sound almost like folk music, but they can be challenging in the way they fit together. Meredith’s music has a wonderful inevitability to it, as if she discovered it as much as composed it.”
♦ο♦      The making of Piano Songs was a collaborative undertaking, with the composer in the studio alongside Oppens and Brubaker. “Meredith was sometimes very detailed in what she wanted, yet her advice could also be open~ended,” Brubaker recalls. “It was a blend of careful preparation and spontaneous performance, the best sort of session.” Solo, Oppens performs “St. Petersburg” and “Paris”, the piece that was Monk’s return to composing for the instrument, in 1972. ♦ο♦      Brubaker takes “Windows in 7’s” and “Railroad (Travel Song)” on his own. Among the works for two pianos, Brubaker arranged “urban march (shadow)”, “Tower”, “Parlor Games” and “totentanz” (with the latter from impermanence, the major work for voices and ensemble that was recorded for an acclaimed 2008 ECM album). Brubaker says: “Some of these pieces started out as scores for voices or for voices and other instruments, and transporting these into another world gives us all the wonderful opportunity of hearing the music afresh.”
♦ο♦      “I work in between the cracks, where the voice starts dancing, where the body starts singing, where the theater becomes cinema,” Meredith Monk once said. “I try to never forget that I enjoy the privilege of engaging in an activity that affirms the spirit of inquiry and allows me to make an offering of what I have found. I am grateful for being part of music, for the magic of music permeating my life.”
♦ο♦      Meredith Monk invented something new with her vocal innovations, and her fusion of sound and movement is as daring now as it was when she made her professional debut in 1964. Performers of her compositions include not only her own longstanding Vocal Ensemble but the San Francisco Symphony & Chorus, the Kronos Quartet and Bang On A Can All~Stars, among others. Her reach also extends beyond the classical world, influencing such musicians as Björk, John Zorn and DJ Spooky. Fortaken: http://player.ecmrecords.com/ 
Artist Biography by John Palmer
♦ο♦      Singer, composer, filmmaker, and choreographer Meredith Monk is a pioneer in what is now called “extended vocal technique” and “interdisciplinary performance.” Her early musical training included piano, some music theory, voice, and Dalcroze Eurythmics. The vocal arts have been an important part of her family's history: “I’m the fourth~generation singer in my family. I came from an Eastern European Jewish background, with my mom being a professional radio singer and jingle singer.”
♦ο♦      In 1964, Monk graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied composition with Ruth Lloyd and Glen Mack, voice with Vicki Starr, and vocal and chamber music with Meyer Kupferman; she also participated in opera workshops directed by Paul Ukena and Bessie Schoenberg. Dance was prominent in her studies as well. After college, Monk found herself neglecting her voice until one evening she sat at a piano and began vocalizing without words; she found the voice had “limitless colors and textures.”
♦ο♦      Between 1965 and 2010 she composed approximately 90 works, the apparent influences of which run the gamut of musical expression. “Bartók was someone I loved as a young woman, and also Stravinsky. And then I’m a person who loves music from the ‘20s and ‘30s, and there’s a jazz singer that I love named Mildred Bailey.” She also credits Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell for providing her with meaningful examples of expressiveness. For Monk, linking her vocalizing to movement was a natural extension of the performance experience, “...doing the movement was a way of me finding my own territory, so to speak, of finding my own identity.”
♦ο♦      In 1968 Monk founded The House, a company dedicated to a interdisciplinary performance; ten years later she formed the Meredith Monk Vocal Ensemble to perform her vocal compositions. Most of her recordings are available on the ECM New Series. Monk’s feature length film, Book of Days, aired on PBS, has appeared on international film festivals and was chosen for the 1991 Whitney Biennial. Her Atlas: an opera in three parts, which was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, The Walker Art Center, and The American Music Theater Festival, premiered in February 1991; a recording was released in January 1994.
♦ο♦      A site~specific work, American Archeology #1: Roosevelt Island, was first performed in September 1994, and performances of Volcano Songs (a solo music/theater/dance work) were staged in New York City, the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, and Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City. Monk’s 1998 musical theater piece, Magic Frequencies, toured the United States to critical acclaim; described as “a science~fiction chamber opera,” this sparsely scored and sophisticated piece reveals Monk’s lifelong fascination with, and investigation of, time travel and transformation. Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall was the site of a celebration of 40 years of Monk’s performing in 2005. Songs of Ascension, another work with site~specific origins, was written in 2008 and released in 2011.
♦ο♦      Monk has received numerous awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Brandeis Creative Arts Award, three Obies (including an award for Sustained Achievement), two Villager Awards, a Bessie for ASCAP Awards for Musical Composition, and the 1992 Dance Magazine Award. In 1995, Monk won a MacArthur “Genius” Award, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2006. Her 1991 film, Ellis Island, won the CINE Golden Eagle Award. Alan Kriegsman of the Washington Post, writes, “When the time comes, perhaps a hundred years from now, to tally up achievements in the performing arts during the last third of the [20th] century, one name that seems sure to loom large is that of Meredith Monk. In originality, in scope, in depth, there are few to rival her.”
Born: February 2, 1944 in New York, NY
Artist Biography by Uncle Dave Lewis
♦ο♦      Ursula Oppens is an American concert pianist who has dedicated most of her career to performing and helping advance the cause of contemporary keyboard literature. Oppens initially studied piano with her mother and later took lessons with Guido Agosti, Leonard Shure, and Rosina Lhevinne. After earning her master's degree from the Juilliard School of Music, Oppens made her New York debut in 1969 and went on to take first prize at the Busoni International Piano Competition that same year. In 1971 Oppens co~founded the contemporary music ensemble Speculum Musicae, which still exists 30 years on, although she is no longer a member. Oppens has also performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
♦ο♦      In recent years Oppens has been serving as the John Evans Professor of Music Performance Studies at Northwestern University. Nonetheless, Oppens maintains a busy performance schedule that ranges worldwide and has racked up an equally long track record in the recording studio, recording for Nonesuch, Albany, Innova, Music and Arts, New World, Bridge, CRI, and many others. One area of endeavor in which Oppens has truly made her mark is in commissioning original works from contemporary composers.  Among the composers who have written music especially for Oppens are Charles Wuorinen, Elliott Carter, Conlon Nancarrow, John Harbison, György Ligeti, and Witold Lutoslawski. Her recordings American Piano Music of Our Time and of Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Shall Never Be Defeated have both been nominated for Grammy Awards. She also played and recorded in a piano duet with the late pianist Paul Jacobs that is fondly remembered by many fans of contemporary music.

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