In July 2015, the US and Cuba re-established formal diplomatic relationships with the joint opening of their respective embassies in Havana and Washington, DC. The following November, the American Composers Forum sent ten composers and the instrumental ensemble Third Sound to perform a program of contemporary American music at the 28th Havana Contemporary Music Festival. Heard in Havana simultaneously presents this program and the recording debut of Third Sound: Sooyun Kim (flute), Romie de Guise-Langlois (clarinet), Karen Kim (violin), Michael Nicolas (cello) and Orion Weiss (piano), directed by composer Patrick Castillo.
Many of these structures on Heard in Havana maximize space and silence as musical commentary on modern lives stuffed full of too much clutter, busy-ness and noise, and avoid bright tonal colors in favor of shades of grey and black. "Smash" (by Jennifer Higdon) represents contemporary society's insistence on more speed in communication, in transportation and in general. Flute and violin seem to bounce off the piano, which then sets off in hot pursuit of the flute and violin, chasing faster and faster around to the end. "Smash" suggests the accompaniment to a chase scene in a Bugs Bunny or other classic Warner Bros. cartoon, and simply stops dead like it ran into a brick wall.
"Inexpressible (v. 2)" (Amadeus Regucera) centers on a three-way conversation or argument with flute, cello and violin each taking turns dominating the point of view and numerous pauses providing punctuation between their sentences. Harsh, grating cello eventually grinds all the other voices down although flute doesn't go without a fight. "Taken as a whole, the piece can be experienced or 'understood' in terms of the physicality, vigor, and breathlessness of its performance," notes the composer in the companion booklet.
Inspired by Masks, Fumiko Enchi's acclaimed novel constructed around the three representative female masks of traditional Japanese Noh theater, "Mieko" features flutist Kim in a wide empty electronic space. Her playing steps strong and sure through spectral sound and cavernous nothingness with no other instrument to lean on, a cinematic heroine navigating her way as the dark sounds of a horror movie rattle and howl all around her.
Piano hesitantly pecks at the opening to "Microconcerto [in memoriam György Ligeti]" as if searching for that one magical note that will unlock the rest of the composition, and then holds the piece together through its progression of shifting moods. "'Microconcerto' is a tribute to my Hungarian roots and to Gyšrgy Ligeti's influence, written in the aftermath of the composer's passing," Agocs explains. Agocs is a Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of the Arts and Letters Award, The American Academy of Arts and Letters' lifetime achievement award in music composition.
Details on the Strasbourg Rosace: Detail I, Detail II, Detail V, Detail IX (Spencer Topel); Immutable Dreams: II.
Microconcerto [in memoriam György Ligeti] (Kati Agocs); Fantasy-Quartet (Ingrid Arauco); a crowd of twisted things
(Christopher Wendell Jones); Mieko (Kai-Young Chan); Paean, Epitaph, and Dithyramb: I. Paean, II. Epitaph, III.
Dithyramb (Jeremy Gill); Inexpressible (v. 2) (Amadeus Regucera); Radians Phase II (Michael Harrison); Wave: I. quietly
urgent (Cindy Cox); Smash (Jennifer Higdon).
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