Palimpsest - Music for Strings - Album notes and links

Submitted by ACA on Sun, 03/03/2024 - 15:02

Palimpsest String Music




Arabesque Records announces the release of Palimpsest Music for Strings, a new album of eclectic and dynamic premiere recordings for string trio, string quartet, and solo strings curated for Arabesque Records by Gina Genova, Molly Aronson, and Larua Manko Sahin. The album features contemporary classical music by the composers Hall Overton, Alison Nowak, Clara Kim, Nick Virzi, and Hatira Ahmedli-Cafer. Artists who have brilliantly captured the bright spirit and rigor of this music include Monica Davis, Laura Manko Sahin, Molly Aronson, Soyoung Choi, and Alexander Yakub

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1.      String Trio Movement 1                                                                         5:42   
2.      String Trio Movement 2                                                                        4:01   
3.      String Trio Movement 3                                                                        5:37 
Monica K. Davis violin, Laura Manko Sahin viola, Molly Aronson cello


RIVERDAUGHTER for Solo Cello and Electronics (2023)

4.       Riverdaughter for Solo Cello and Electronics                                      11:08  
Molly Aronson, cello         


5.      Station (palimpsest) for String Quartet                                                      7:54   
Soyoung Choi violin, Alexander Yakub violin, Laura Manko Sahin viola, Molly Aronson cello


6.      Sonata for Solo Viola                                                                                    9:12 
aura Manko Sahin viola

STRING TRIO   (1970)

7.      String Trio Movement 1                                                                                2:09 
8.      String Trio Movement 2                                                                                2:57    
9.      String Trio Movement 3                                                                                1:22    
Monica K. Davis violin, Laura Manko Sahin viola, Molly Aronson cello

Tracks 1,2,3,5,7,8,9 Published by American Composers Edition (BMI)
Track 4 published by Nick Virzi Music (ASCAP); Track 6 published by Hatira Ahmedli Cafer

Album Cover artwork “In Pursuit” by Molly Aronson.
CD Package and booklet Design by TK.


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Silver Wires — Music by Overton, Nowak and Kim

by Peter Nelson-King

Hall Overton by W. Eugene SMithHall Overton’s voice was one of dynamic concentration — like the best of the mid-century polytonal composers, his soul was thoroughly urban, and his music reflected it. Born and raised in Michigan, Overton was encouraged towards getting a music degree by his high school teacher in Grand Rapids, and he spent two years at Chicago Musical College before joining the army to fight in the second World War. It was in this hellish environment that he was introduced to jazz, and when he returned to his studies after the war he made sure to study in New York, where he would be offered exposure to both the classical and jazz worlds. He studied under Vincent Persichetti at Juilliard and would later become a respected teacher there alongside his former teacher. His career really began in the 1950s, performing jazz piano for the likes of Stan Getz, Teddy Charles, Jimmy Raney and Duke Jordan, and arranging for Thelonius Monk. While he snagged some major commissions and had big works recorded through CRI, Overton never gained the fame of many of his contemporaries, which is both understandable and disappointing. What is easy to appreciate in his concert works — and perhaps a key to their relative neglect since their inception — is his intuitive approach to what musical modernism could do, always striving for new sounds without hitching his wagon to an “ism”.

His equal efforts in classical and jazz most likely informed this approach and was more common in his day than it is now. Even setting aside big names like Bernstein writing crossover works, one can point to Mel Powell for taking a similar path, starting off as a respected jazz pianist before developing his classical voice, or Meyer Kupferman pushing the boundaries of both genres in his own way. Jazz’s great gift is putting the onus of invention on the creative powers of individual players, and Overton honed his individuality in playing and composing towards similar ends. One only has to listen to his combo playing, such as with Teddy Charles on their “3 for Ellington” album, to hear hallmarks of his concert works: punchy stacked chords, a keen ear for negative space, and gesture equaling notes in importance. Overton’s earlier works grew organically from blending modal themes and terraced chords, such as his Piano Sonata No. 1 from 1952. An austere opening soon gives way to dense harmonic counterpoint, with lines leaping into each other and bursting into bitonal chord towers. Much of the same can be seen in his String Trio from 1957, a major American work in the genre. Its sotto voce opening has the three voices in octave unison, flowing through disparate harmonic centers with silky ease before spinning up energy to an explosive double-stopped chord. The succeeding counterpoint leaves hushed voices at the door, and the music swings vigorously through organic development. It is this sort of music that evokes the urban soul of Overton’s music most effectively, with business rubbing against business, architecture, peaking for moments before rushing along with traffic. The legacy of earlier American composers can be heard as well, such as at rehearsal 35 with its short, acid chords pick-pocking over a muscular tenor line; this is safely in the realm of Harris, Schuman and Piston, masters of American symphonic writing that were clear influences on Persichetti. Overton never bothered with explicit Americana, but the American-ness of this music can’t be denied, with its bold, no-nonsense approach to harmonic structure, rhythmic dynamism and sonic impact. Even when the Trio returns to sotto voce, this is merely a gateway to more intensity, such as the blistering 16th notes at rehearsal 65 and forward. While never reaching true fugue, this latter half of the movement requires virtuoso commitment from the players and doesn’t disappoint listeners. The 2nd and 3rd movements are more homogenous but no less engaging.

The 2nd lets its voices glide at a slow 84 bpm through dovetailing lines, and the 3rd grabs the listener by the shirt and flings them into a dance battle. Throughout, Overton’s approach to dissonance is open and emotionally accessible; it engages the heart of a listener who searches through all music for flash and gesture regardless of whether a system was used to arrive at it or not. No matter how Overton arrived at the forte chord jabs of the finale, no audience can deny the pure drama of the music as it lunges, barks and careens through itself.

If Overton's Trio_ gains presence through classical structures, Alison Nowak's String Trio lives by eschewing them. Nowak is the daughter of fellow ACA composer Lionel Nowak (1911-1995), a professor at Bennington College whose works managed charm and invention within conservative parameters, albeit non-tonal. His daughter most definitely represented the world of the new generation, where big forms are splintered into sliver-thin episodes, tonality is scrupulously avoided, and total engagement is required from performers for any understanding. Each of the three movements plays like an encyclopedia of colors and textures, with self-contained moments flitting in and out of view like fireflies. There are no bar lines or meters, forcing the players to perform from the score and thus see everything at once, and greatness comes from complete ownership of the moments and the ability to pace the whole.

Like many composers of her generation, Nowak looked to Webern for inspiration, though one can also see the shadows of the Four Songs for voice and string quartet by Vivian Fine (1913-2000), one of her composition teachers at Bennington. The 1933 work was written by a young woman embracing the atonal counterpoint developed by New York's Ultramodernist crew (including Ruth Crawford Seeger and Carl Ruggles, himself a family friend of the Nowaks), and her string colors play like silver wires suspended through deep blackness. A similar spirit is present in Nowak's Trio, though taken deeper into a borderless country. Her musical fragments flash across the mind's eye — as in a dream, everything is related but elusive, the feelings lingering even when the final movement vanishes.

A palimpsest is a parchment manuscript that has been recycled — specifically, an already-used parchment that has had its original ink scraped off so the sheet can be reused. This was a common occurrence before printed books, as paper was costly to make, and many ancient manuscripts were sacrificed for newer use in this way. Two of Archimedes’s mathematical treatises are only fully known because of the discovery of a manuscript copy that had been scraped away, its pages used for a 13th century prayer book. It was found centuries later, when faint remnants of the original text were seen, and with modern spectral analysis we have been able to read the full text. Artists are especially sensitive to the issues raised by palimpsests, as they are engaged in creating new works and releasing them into other hands, and much of their growth comes from the study of older works they have received in one format or another. Whenever they are presented with evidence of a lost work, or a work nearly lost, they are thrust into a narrative of the passage of information through time, and how we value works that only live through our actions.

Clara Kim’s Station (Palimpsest) echoes the effect of a palimpsest while augmenting and remixing it, making a collage of several sound sources with a cornucopia of extended techniques. Its opening material consists of eerie, phasing tones, creeping insidiously through the air like transfer lines in fog. The source was a field recording of sounds in a Port Authority Bus Terminal, considerably slowed, that Kim transcribed using spectral analysis. String quartets are well-suited to this sort of soundworld, with fretless string bowing allowing for infinite microtonality and dozens of special effects. Kim calls for quarter tones, ghosted notes, harmonics and half-harmonics, overpressure, underpressure, and much more, but it’s all deftly paced, not putting so much on the listener’s plate at once that they can’t continue.

After a few conventional-sounding chords surge their way up through the spider-silk, we abruptly enter a section more directly evocative of palimpsest, where distant excerpts from classics of the string quartet repertoire start and stop, alternating with white noise. The past 50 years have had their share of fine “metafictional” string quartets, such as George Crumb’s Black Angels and Alfred Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3 — the latter quartet is a clear antecedent, with its direct quotations of Purcell, Beethoven and Shostakovich roiling in and out of view, fighting for clarity and dominance. Kim gives away the mechanic for his quotation with the I.D. of the first quote, a passage from Sibelius’s String Quartet ‘Voces Intimae’, Op. 56: “broadcasted from far away”. Even though we get a clear, substantial taste of the source passage here, the subsequent snatches are more truncated and blurred, such as a striking segment marked “Beethoven + Sibelius convolutions”. Anyone who has driven between metropolitan areas will be familiar with the effect when two radio stations collide with each other, fighting for frequency dominance, and recalling this effect may be one way in which “station” could be an apt title, alongside sounds from a bus station.

These two sonic ideas form the basis of the work, with different proportions and layerings, not a single spectrum but one with interlaced bars. Some sections call for a more romantic affect, others play with fragments or “convolutions”, and some ask for direct emotional strain, confronting the listener in a way that the shades of older music may be unable to do in their splintered forms. Kim draws the piece to a climax with another Voces Intimae reference and a climactic episode of high yearning, allowing for ff and fff at the most strained ends of the instrument’s ranges. This big emotion moment sings and aches to a height but doesn’t finalize — we are left with shocked air, some winnowing strands of silver wire, and a final moment with the quietest, most ambiguous sound Kim asks for. Like many of her works, Station (Palimpsest) begins and ends in stillness, and here the journey is one of interference refined, of memory scraped away by the encroachment of urban environments, of emotions that resonate stronger through absence, through the dream of what we can’t know.

About the Composers and Artists

Nick VirziNick Virzi is a composer from New York City whose work includes acoustic, electronic, and electroacoustic music, as well as intermedia pieces and multichannel installations. His recent pieces explore the relationships between humans and the natural world, numerology and rhythmic structure, and ethnography and identity. Nick’s music has been performed around the world by leading artists including Séverine Ballon, Tony Arnold, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, the JACK Quartet, the Spektral Quartet, Splinter Reeds, Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Ensemble Liminar, Distractfold, the Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble, the TAK Ensemble, and Ensemble Dal Niente. He has been a featured composer at international festivals including Gaudeamus Muziekweek and the Impuls Academy and at venues such as the Juilliard School and the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, Denmark.

Riverdaughter (2023) is based on the character Goldberry, the “River-daughter,” from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Part One: The Fellowship of the Ring. In Chapter 6, “The Old Forest,” Tolkien introduces Goldberry, an enigmatic being thought to be the spirit of the river Withywindle. When the Hobbits first encounter Goldberry, Tolkien describes her voice:

“Then another clear voice, as young and ancient as Spring, like the song of a glad water flowing down into the night from a bright morning in the hills, came falling like silver to meet them” from “The Old Forest”, The Lord of the Rings, Part One: The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien, Ballantine Books, 1965-73. Riverdaughter is an imagined realization of Goldberry’s voice, inspired in part by the sounds of water heard throughout my travels in the wilderness of California. The music is composed using naturally occurring acoustic phenomena, including sympathetic resonances on the cello. The electronics were created using field recordings of the water sounds heard at the Yuba River in Northern California. The Yuba is itself an idyllic natural setting inhabited by people living in harmony with the natural world, perhaps a close real-world equivalent to Tolkien’s Withywindle.


Hatira Ahmedli CaferHatira Ahmedli Cafer was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1958. She began her musical studies at six years old on the piano. Cafer composed her first piece, “Apple” song for children’s chorus at age seven, which was funded by the Azerbaijan Radio and Television Art Council. Cafer went on to the Russia Music Academy for both her undergrad and master’s degree in composition. She completed her Doctorate at the Azerbaijan Academy of Science. Cafer’s pieces have been published in Moscow, and she won an award from the USSR Ministry of Culture in 1982 for Sonata for Violin and Piano. In 1994 she moved to Ankara, Turkey, and became a composition professor at Bilkent University, and later at Hacetteppe University (Ankara State Conservatory) — where she still teaches today. Cafer’s Sonata for Solo Viola is a one-movement work that shows the full range of the viola. She incorporates musical elements from her native Azerbaijan, as well as her new home country, Turkey. The opening motive is a fragment from the segah makam — known for expressing love. The composer states, “The theme of the work is a war of religions and races, and it is understood that real love in war is lost. The piece comes to a close with the reappearance of the love motive”. The piece was written for and premiered by Laura Manko Sahin in February 2015 in Ankara, Turkey.


Clara KimClara Kim is a Korean-born composer based in New York. Her compositions have been performed in concerts and festivals such as the Aspen Summer Music Festival and School, the Zodiac Music Festival (France,) BUTI Tanglewood Summer Music Festival, the Atlantic Music Festival, the Uzmah/Upbeat International Summer Music Festival (Croatia,) and the High Score Summer Festival (Italy). An accomplished pianist, Kim performed her own "Fantasy Concerto" with the American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein. She has been commissioned by the New Juilliard Chamber Ensemble, Quartet Indigo, Iktus Percussion Ensemble, and the Da Capo Chamber Players, among others. She has received numerous awards including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Charles Ives Scholarship (2018,) and the Gena Raps String Quartet Competition (Juilliard 2017). Kim was awarded bachelor’s degrees in music composition and physics from Bard College and the Master of Musical Arts degree in composition from The Juilliard School. She completed the DMA degree, studying with Reiko Füting at the Manhattan School of Music.


Alison NowakBased in New York City, Alison Nowak has been active as a composer, violinist and teacher for over 50 years. Her father was Lionel Nowak, pianist, composer and Bennington College faculty member (1948-1993), and Alison grew up listening to his music and that of family friend, Carl Ruggles; and to concerts of new music at the Composers Conference (which she attended as a young composer in the mid-70s). She received her BA in music from Bennington College, studying composition with Louis Calabro, Henry Brant and Vivian Fine and violin with Eric Rosenblith, Sylvia Rosenberg and Jacob Glick. She pursued her studies in composition with Charles Wuorinen at Columbia University Graduate School and received both a MA and DMA from Columbia, where she was composer/violinist with the Composers Ensemble. She taught at Union College, the 92nd St. Y, the New School and Columbia University Teachers College. She is the recipient of commissions, awards, grants and residences; and her music has been performed to broad acclaim.


Violinist and violist, Monica Davis, praised for her “refined and attractive” playing (New York Times), enjoys a multifaceted performance career based in New York City. She has recorded for film, television, contemporary composers, and recording artists including Alicia Keys, Darlene Love, Billy Ocean, and Bruce Springsteen. She has toured with Regina Spektor, Diana Ross, and Rostam among others; performed on late night TV, The Tony Awards, Live from Lincoln Center, with artists including Pearl Jam, Solange, Bette Midler, and Audra McDonald. Monica is a guest performer with the Bronx Arts Ensemble, Concerts on the Slope, Harlem Chamber Players, Saratoga Chamber Players, and Tertulia.


Laura Manko SahinViolist Laura Manko Sahin has performed as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral player throughout the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. She was the Principal Violist of the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, violist of the Boston Harp Trio, and a member of the Bilkent (Ankara, Turkey), Knoxville, and Winston-Salem Symphony Orchestras. Dr. Sahin is on the faculty at Skidmore College and the New Jersey Youth Symphony Orchestra. She is a founding member of the Hubbard Quartet, and substitute with the Phantom of the Opera Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra.



Mollyl AronsonWith a diverse career as a cellist and pedagogue, Molly Aronson is a musician known for her `solidity and verve’ (San Francisco Classical Voice). Molly has performed across the United States and internationally, playing concerts in settings as varied as Carnegie Hall to state prisons. Some highlight engagements include performances on the Embassy Series, Bargemusic, Savannah Philharmonic Chamber Music Series, Luzerne Festival Series, Candlelight Concerts with the Highline Quartet, and Mohawk Trails Concerts. She has performed as guest principal cello with the Mid-Atlantic Symphony, Glens Falls Symphony, and Brooklyn Chamber Orchestra, and has been a concerto soloist with the Valley Winds and Holyoke Civic Symphony. Molly has also performed with the Eagles, Josh Groban, Rod Stewart, and Michael Bublé, toured and recorded with the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra.


Violinist SoYoung Choi, is an active performer in both the United States and Korea. She has appeared as a soloist with major Korean Orchestras such as Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra, and Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra. A passionate chamber musician, her festival appearances include Yellow Barn, Kneisel Hall, Taos School of Music, Heifetz Music Festival.

Violinist-composer Alexander “Sasha” Yakub is from Amherst, Massachusetts, and has been playing the violin since age 4. He has performed with several ensembles in New York and New England including the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, the AHRS Symphonic Orchestra, and Duo 404. He was a Violin Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, and winner of the BPYO, Windham Orchestra and Springfield Youth Orchestra concerto competitions, as well as concertmaster of the MA All-State Orchestra.


Peter Nelson-King is a multi-instrumentalist and writer based in the Seattle area. They earned brass performance degrees from University of Puget Sound and Boston University and play regularly with multiple large ensembles, and mount solo recitals. They also research and promote works by unjustly neglected composers of the 20th century, and frequently collaborate with Seattle’s poetry scene.