United States: LifeMusic 2



Ned Rorem
United States – Seven Viewpoints for String Quartet

August Read Thomas
Eagle at Sunrise

Chen Yi
At the Kansas City Chinese New Year Concert

Jennifer Higdon
Southern Harmony

William Bolcolm
Three Rags

The second volume of the Ying Quartet’s accalaimed LifeMusic series.

This CD features newly commissioned works by some of America’s leading composers with the aim of producing “a collection of string quartets that connects the music we make with the American experience and issues of our time”.

It is with great pleasure that we present the second disc of LifeMusic commissions. When we initiated this project eight years ago, we made it our goal to produce a collection of string quartets that connects the music we make with the American experience and issues of our time. With the ongoing and generous support of the Institute for American Music, we have continued to commission two new works per year from established and emerging composers. The initial inspiration for each piece is drawn from some aspect of life in America.

We have been delighted by each composer who has taken on our challenge, and have enjoyed watching our series of LifeMusic commissions form an increasingly eclectic mosaic of musical styles and points of view. It is our hope that the range of LifeMusic works themselves will grow to reflect the wonderful and energizing diversity that is the best of America. We have had good success integrating our LifeMusic commissions into the broad range of the Ying Quartet’s performing activity, presenting each work multiple times both in formal concert settings and in all kinds of community gatherings in cities large and small. LifeMusic has proved to be in essential component in our continuing mission: To reinforce the powerful connection between music and life and to make classical music a relevant and vital part of everyday life.

UNITED STATES: Seven Viewpoints for String Quartet (2000)
Ned Rorem

Music and words have always been inextricably linked for Ned Rorem, and the charm of these seven brief episodes for string quartet is hinted at by each of the descriptive titles. “There and Back” is an extended, exact musical palindrome; “Forty Chords” is precisely forty chords in length; “Nursery Rhyme” is a sweet, innocent frolic. Even the title suggests a double meaning on the word, “States”, both a reference to America and to a “state” of being. Ned remarks, “I’ve united the seven sections” or “states” with the overall title, United States, subtitled “viewpoints” (which might better be termed “earpoints”).

Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas creates music that infuses every note with life and urgency. About the compact and densely coiled Eagle at Sunrise, she writes, “The music is immediate, bold, colorful and dramatic. The work celebrates the passionate sound of the strings and is built from a tightly wrought harmonic scheme and its resultant counterpoint. The spirit of America, symbolized by the eagle, our national bird, at sunrise is an image of hope and implicit faith in the inevitability of new beginnings and ardent dreams.” The work showcases the cello in a high, soaring register, and features character markings such as, “Majestic,” “Steadfast,” and “Unwavering.” The original score was dated just a few days after September 11, 2001.

Chen Yi

Drawing from her native vocabulary of the pitches and rhythms of Chinese folk music, the irrepressible Chen Yi offers a wildly colorful and dynamic musical commentary on a Chinese New Year celebration concert in Kansas City, Missouri, presented by several local Chinese-American organizations. The first musical episode uses the viola to imitate the erhu, or Chinese fiddle, which can play the tones of the spoken Chinese language, all while the other instruments join in with the joyful sounds of celebration. The second section is inspired by the art form of making hand-pulled noodles. The fine, interwoven, and often independently moving musical lines depict the delicate noodles that seem to appear magically from a ball of dough in the hands of a master chef. In the third part, propulsive musical gestures depict the dramatic movements of a Chinese sword dance.

Jennifer Higdon

Like a hot summer breeze that blows across a large, wooden porch, Southern Harmony is a portrait of the American South (Georgia and Tennessee) where Jennifer grew up. She reflects, “The three movements depict gentle aspects of Southern life: a slower pace, simple living, and an emphasis on traditional, handed-down music. While this work is much less complex and moves at a slower pace than most of my music, I like to think that it doesn’t necessarily reflect the South as being simple, but rather what was for me a simpler time.” “Soft Summers” is like a lazy afternoon spent down at the fishing hole, lying still while the blazing heat builds; “Reel Time” is a lively dance in duple time based on the traditional reel; and “Gentle Waltz” captures the generous spirit of the Tennessee Waltz. The sound of this piece is informed by fiddling and by characteristic techniques of Appalachian-style string playing such as open strings and slides.

William Bolcom

Though these rags are not LifeMusic commissions, ragtime music is a significant part of America’s musical heritage. Arranged by the composer for string quartet, each rag is an exceedingly engaging, masterful and witty celebration of this great American style championed by musicians such as Scott Joplin.

    Ned Rorem

  1. United States (i) A Beginning
  2. United States (ii) There and Back
  3. United States (iii) A Snowless Christmas
  4. United States (iv) Forty Chords for Mark on April First
  5. United States (v) Nursery Rhyme
  6. United States (vi) Fargo
  7. United States (vii) An Ending
  8. Augusta Read Thomas

  9. Eagle at Sunrise
  10. Chen Yi

  11. At the Kansas City Chinese New Year Concert (i) The Talking Fiddle
  12. At the Kansas City Chinese New Year Concert (ii) Making the Hand-Pulled Noodles
  13. At the Kansas City Chinese New Year Concert (iii) Blue Dragon Sword Dance
  14. Jennifer Higdon

  15. Southern Harmony (i) Soft Summers
  16. Southern Harmony (ii) Reel Time
  17. Southern Harmony (iii) Gentle Waltz
  18. William Bolcom

  19. Three Rags (i) Poltergeist
  20. Three Rags (ii) Graceful Ghost
  21. Three Rags (iii) Incineratorag