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Made in the Americas: Symphonies and Soundscapes:
Volume 1, Set 1 Jim COCKEY (b. 1947)
Symphony #3, “An Idaho Symphony” (2008) [26.09] Michael
KARP Affirmation for Strings (2004) [6.48] Gary SUNDEN Vivace (1995) [4.19]
R. A. MOULDS Leyendas Místicas I: Égloga, el Sauce que el enamoró de la Caricia
del Viento (2002) [10.43]
MIDDLETON Radiant Peaks [10.04] Hans PARENT(b. 1978) Insomnia Music (2000) [7.39]
KNIGHT Encounter with a Jazz Riff [7.16] Robert A. HAGENBUCH, Jr.(b. 1967) Overture of Crisis, Op. 96 [4.25] Ulf GRAHN (b. 1942) As Time Passes By (1970s) [5.12]
ESHIMA August 6th[4.08] Ryan VIGIL Untitled (2006) [10.52] Rain WORTHINGTON Confluences [6.37]
Paul KONYE A Tone Poem for Africa (2008) [5.36] Kari JUUSELA(b. 1954) Varjot [10.04] Gregg WRAMAGE (b. 1970) La Tristesse Durera (2006) [5.12] Timothy L. MILLER (b. 1961) Kid’s Play (1989-2001) [15.37] Jay Anthony GACH(b. 1955) Musician’s Wrestling [6.49]
Orchestra/Robert Ian Winstin
rec. May-August 2008, ERMMedia studios, Virginia, USA.
Notes in English ERMMEDIA ERM5572
[74.49 + 72.25]
This odd and eclectic collection is by no means a single
large musical experience. You will always want to listen to
one at a time, nothing being gained by playing the disks straight
through as at a concert. Recording quality is very good, average
for today’s technology but not at today’s audiophile level. The
quality of composition and performance varies widely, from magnificent
to dreadful, and I have arranged the listing above approximately
in that order.
One’s appetite is not whetted by what is to my taste one of the
ugliest and most unreadable record covers I have ever seen. Further,
if you are not extremely careful, you can’t tell any difference
between this disk and a different disk in the same series where
the only distinction on the cover is hidden in the illegible display
text. If you see the disk in stock and on display in a shop -
an almost impossible experience these days, at least in the USA
- take a careful look and check the issue number before buying.
Let me begin at the bottom of my list. It is surely not fair to
rate Mr. Gach’s composition Musician’s Wrestling dead last
because most of the credit, or should I say discredit, goes to
the conductor and orchestra who do not play well. The discordant
bleating, stumbling, brass fanfares and ragged strings induce
ear fatigue long before your first hearing is complete. Go ahead;
it’s all right to hit the skip button. Checking the composer’s
website, is like night and day. The beautiful performance
of this work offered there on MP3 shows it to be enjoyable and
very interesting. Buy the MP3 from the composer, don’t buy this
CD recording for this work. The composer’s attaching a quotation
from Emily Dickinson to the score does nothing to clarify it or
explain, whatever insight into the creative process it may give.
It’s not my musical idea of Emily Dickinson.
Miller’s Kid’s Play, the second longest work on these disks,
is made up of brief pieces, each including quotations from other
symphonic music with virtually nothing of interest connecting
them. Overall it sounds like just what it is, the score to a film
about a day in the life of an elementary school student. Nothing
bad goes on, but one hearing through is enough forever. I remember
elementary school as an exhausting, dirty, frightening, challenging
experience, more like Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, or Bartók’s
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. There was nothing
cute or charming about being there and living it, the politically
correct fantasies of parents and teachers notwithstanding.
La Tristesse Durera, (“the sadness remains”), so entitled
after a passage in a letter to Vincent Van Gogh from his brother,
is a tonaphobic sonic essay. It’s typically fatiguing in the seemingly
endless sequence of discords and lack of any perceivable dramatic
intent or rhetorical motion.
On his website Nigerian composer, conductor, and
violinist Dr. Paul Konye is shown to be very busy with a number
of activities at Siena College, New York, and other places in
the world. A Tone Poem For Africa was composed and performed
to commemorate the award of an honorary degree to Dr. Immaculee
Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwanda genocide. While the circumstances
of the work are interesting, the work itself is an occasional
piece of little distinction. In the absence of any explanation
in the notes, it appears to be an attempt to merge African folk
music motifs with Western forms. Simple dance figures are repeated
with slight variation by piano and strings. With more time and
thought put to it this idea might have accomplished more.
Ryan Vigil’s “Untitled” is a spooky, intriguing sound byte consisting
of two electronic sounds, rain (or is it a locust attack?) and
wind (or is it distant surf?) joined by high string chords. Gradually
the pitch moves lower and is joined by various percussion accents.
A British ambulance drives by. So far the title might be “February
dawn in Brighton.” Then, after some more banging and throbbing
it just runs out of steam and stops. A good beginning, but there’s
much more work to be done.
Varjot is a sonic collage built of simple, not very original
units, that is to say, they remind you of other music. It goes
its course without making much of a point.
Rain Worthington is the only woman composer represented on these
disks. Her Confluences for strings repeats simple ideas
with slowly evolving changes seemingly forever. You’ll be glad
when its over and surprised to see that it’s been less than seven
minutes when it seemed like much longer. Philip Glass is able
to create excitement, drama, and suspense by doing this; perhaps
it is the rhythmically flat performance here that is mostly at
Encounter with a Jazz Riff pretty much says it all, with
jazzy brasses dancing around Ivesian mysterious strings. Entertaining
and accessibly tonal it is worth several hearings.
The title of Shinji Eshima’s August 6th refers
to the date in 1945 on which the first atomic bomb was dropped
on Hiroshima, where the composer’s mother was born. He speaks
of “expressing the unspeakable” a noble if unattainable ideal.
A simple, very tonal, touching, ultimately unmemorable elegy for
Insomnia Music is an intriguing mood piece mostly for harp
and strings after an introduction on motifs recycled rather directly
from the Peter GrimesInterludes. Pleasant, worth
hearing a number of times.
R.A. Moulds’ Egloga: el Sauce que el enamoró de la caricia
del Viento [The willow that fell in love with the wind] is
a very lovely, totally tonal, idyll for strings and winds on the
Dvořákian theme-and-repetitions-with-change-of-color format.
Again, the performance on the composer’s website (the
MP3 file, of course, not the MIDI version) is better than the
one on this disk, but both are attractive and listenable, worth
hearing many times.
Jonathan Middleton’s Radiant Peaks is an intriguing sonic
collage, including tape sounds. In its use of percussion and of
rhythmic cycles it is reminiscent of Hovhaness. I think the orchestra
needed a few more rehearsals but this is a work you will want
to come back to a number of times.
Robert A. Hagenbuch Jr’s Overture of Crisis and Ulf Grahn’s
As Time Passes By are exotic works, basically tonal, which
evince a genuine musical logical dramatic structure, something
not much in evidence previously in our survey. Not only will you
want to hear them over and over but you might want to find out
what else these people wrote.
Michael Karp’s Affirmation For Strings and Gary Sunden’s
Vivace are the most conservative pieces on the disk. That
they are thoroughly tonal in the classical style and thus thoroughly
listenable goes without saying. But beyond that they are very
good music. The Adornistos would tell us that writing tonal music
in this time is lazy and cowardly, but I disagree. It takes a
lot of courage and skill to write a piece of music that will be
readily compared to the best of Mozart and Haydn - or in Sunden’s
case, Rossini - where any shortage of inspiration or lack of craftsmanship
will be instantly audible to the great majority of listeners.
It’s easy to write a piece that sounds like Schoenberg when only
a handful of people in the audience will have a clue whether it’s
any good or not.
We come to the flagship work of this set, Jim Cockey’s Third
Symphony “An Idaho Symphony.” Perhaps it isn’t fair to compare
directly the previous brief orchestral essays with a fully worked
out four movement symphony for large orchestra and I’m sure that
many of the other composers on this disk have written more extensive
and substantial music. But just as a diamond is, at 10 on the
mohs scale, many times harder than sapphire is at step 9, the
Cockey symphony towers mightily above the other music in this
set. This work is the reason you need to buy this set.
Landscape Symphonies have a long and honorable history and,
by the way, I take any lengthy multi-movement work of serious
intent to be a “symphony.” If we start with Vivaldi’s Four
Seasons, and continue through Beethoven’s Pastorale,
Glazunov’s The Seasons, and if we allow seascapes as
well so as to encompass Debussy’s La Mer and Vaughan
Williams’ Sea Symphony, their number is remarkable. Incidentally,
Vaughan Williams’ five odd-numbered symphonies are arguably
all landscape symphonies, a topic for another time. Among American
works we have Hanson’s Sea Symphony, Ives’ Three Places
in New England, and, most notable, Hovhaness’s Symphony
#2, Mysterious Mountain. Hovhaness’s other landscape
symphonies — for example, #50, Mt. St. Helens, and #60,
Appalachia — while remarkable among his output, have
never achieved comparable popularity. And I have intentionally
not mentioned Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite. Stravinsky
said, “Music by its very nature is incapable of expressing anything”
(Quoted by Alex Ross in a recent New Yorker) and yet
even Sacre du Printemps and the Firebird Suite
can be described as landscape symphonies if the Disney animation
artists have anything to say about it.
Cockey’s Third Symphony is like Vaughan Williams’ Third
in that he is writing about his own familiar countryside - rather
than a fantasy or idealized landscape, as with Hovhaness and
Beethoven. It is however unique in that it was written to be
accompanied by projected photographs of Idaho landscapes. This
IdahoSymphony was commissioned by Dr. Paul Collins,
a chiropractor and senior member of the Boise Philharmonic Symphony
Board, who also suggested the format of the work. The concert
on April 18, 2008, containing the world premier was the farewell
concert to be conducted by the dedicatee James Ogle who had
been music director of the orchestra for 18 years. Ogle’s concert
reading timed at 33.28, somewhat slower and more romantically
phrased than Winstin’s yet at places I am grateful for Winstin’s
rhythmic precision and incisive attack. The Millennium Symphony Orchestra plays
beautifully in this work, better than anywhere else in this
set, and since it was recorded in 24 bit sound, we may some
day see this recording released in high resolution format.
Jim Cockey was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but has spent most
of his life in Idaho. He holds a degree in Musical Composition
from the University of Oregon where he studied with Homer Keller
and Hal Owen. Jim has worked with the Moody Blues and the Carson
City Symphony; his First and Third Symphonies
were premiered by the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra and his Second
Symphony by the Billings, Montana, Symphony Orchestra. Jim’s
brother Tim is the author of two series of popular crime novels.
Vaughan Williams’ England was a place of gentle green hills,
rain and fog, and rich, irrepressible vegetation nourished by
the blood of thousands of years of heroes and their victims.
There are other interesting similarities, particularly in the
handling of the scherzo and the use of solo instruments
against the orchestra, to say nothing of the round lyrical phrases,
lush harmonies colorful orchestration, and effective evocation
of mystery and tragedy as well as joy.
Jim Cockey’s McCall, Idaho, is a small, now highly gentrified
town on a lake surrounded by high mountains and lodgepole pine
forests. It was the site of the filming of “Northwest Passage”
in 1939, and later was used for practice bombing runs by the
crew of the Enola Gay on their way to their rendezvous with
history in the skies over Hiroshima. McCall is a very beautiful
place where the natural four seasons proceed clearly in their
sequence. New England has nothing on Idaho when it comes to
The photographs were chosen from among those taken by Idaho
photographer Glenn Oakley, and selecting the photographs proceeded
parallel to the composition of the music. Like Sibelius’s symphonies,
Cockey’s Symphony is about a place where nature rules
without the consent of Man; the only living things portrayed
in the photographs are a single very small deer and a number
of birds. There are some fences, a distant ranch, a lonely stretch
of road; several pictures were taken in an abandoned orchard.
A Winter view with distant lonely picnic tables buried in the
snow further suggests the insignificance of humans.
Photographer Oakley shows Idaho to Idahoans at a time when we
need to become aware of how little natural beauty is left and
to begin intense efforts to save what remains. Hardly any more
powerful statement to that effect than this symphony can be
imagined. It is to be hoped that this symphony will one day
be available on a DVD with the photographs included; they add
to the music. However the music is a completely satisfactory
listening experience, a masterpiece even in the absence of the
Vivaldi began with Spring, Glazunov began with Winter, but Cockey
begins with Autumn with a grand, round, memorable landscape
theme which at once engages the listener and is developed in
a classic sonata form movement. The opening picture is a lonely
misty valley at sunrise with green trees just beginning to yellow,
the music a sweeping theme of a Tchaikovskian balletic integrity,
the swinging of your arm in a grand arc gesture. No better opening
could be imagined; the emotional effect is riveting, overwhelming.
The listener is enraptured, spellbound until the final bar.
Cockey’s Autumn is joyous, his Winter tragic but ending in promise,
his Spring delightful and energetic, his Summer beginning ominous
with leaden heat, the smoke of distant fires, later coming alive
in the flowing of rivers.
What does the music sound like? It doesn’t take long, especially
in the scherzo, to guess that Copland is one of Cockey’s
favorite composers, his debts to Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Wagner,
and Prokofiev — even Frank Martin — expressing themselves more
subtly. There is no Mahler/Shostakovich anguished pessimism
here; this is pure classic American optimism, the individual
in solitary interaction with the vastness of Nature, as perhaps
nowadays only found in Idaho. This work employs the largest
orchestra Cockey has ever made use of and his skill at orchestration
is exceptional. The colors change with assured drama, sonorities
and textures leading logically into one another, the balances
always maintained between the extremes of register and texture,
the surprises always anticipated but refreshing none the less,
all upon a rich base of solid four square counterpoint. Violinist
Cockey’s orchestra sings and breathes like a living being. Heard
at the premier between The Firebird and Ravel’s Pictures,
this work felt comfortably among equals, and inspired the strongest,
most sustained applause of the evening, or any evening in recent
At the composer’s website you can purchase this
CD and also audition and purchase a CD of Symphonies 1 and 2.
Note on sequence of works across the 2 discs:
CD 1 contains the Parent, Gach, Karp, Vigil, Moulds, Worthington,
Sunden, Konye and Miller works. CD 2 contains the Wramage, Knight,
Eshima, Middleton, Juusela, Hagenbuch, Grahn and Cockey
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