Andy Teirstein has one of those picaresque biographies that you
couldn’t make up: it’s enough to cite his days as
a musical clown in a Mexican circus to give you some idea. He’s
a music-theatre man through and through, though ‘theater’ is
the American way, and this barnstorming example of the breed
has sought a wide range of musical influences, from Appalachian
to Balkan, to seed his own music. As a violist he sits at the
heart of things and indeed he plays the viola in this disc of
his own music - a wide-ranging conspectus crewed by a suitably
large number of ensembles, great and smaller. It’s a heady
There are Balkan folkloric strains running strongly through Kopanitza
a piece that toys with time signatures and dynamic variance.
There’s an engaging sense of narrative as well throughout
its multi-partite length. Invention
was inspired by Schoenberg’s
Serenade Op.24 but retains a strong and freewheeling independence
of its own, and remains rhythmically vivacious. What is Left
is for voice - here an alto, Naaz Hosseini - two chorus
singers, a violist and cellist. The text is notable, and the
ethos veers from melismatic to pop-orientated. It was composed
in response to 9/11 but strikes a very different point of view
to the response of, say, John Adams, whose own rather more portentous
setting, On the Transmigration of Souls,
seeks to occupy
a different layer of emotive response.
The Suite is a performance piece rich in counterpoint, with an
intense Pavanne, and a pawky (alternating folkloric) Gigue to
finish. Despite the baroque-sounding affiliations the spirit
is closer to Classicism. One of the most recent pieces is Teirstein’s
setting of that good old good one The Shooting of Dan McGrew.
listeners of a certain age and geography the original would have
been ripe for parody by Billy ‘Almost A Gentleman’ Bennett
(perhaps he did). It’s a good ensemble piece, a burlesque
melodrama, though maybe a dose of Antheil’s compressive
spirit might have tightened it. David M Lutken is the fearless
Three Movements for String Quartet and Folk Musician
some sound-specific examples of Americana. There’s a movement
each for Jew’s harp, harmonica and banjo, all played in
the saddle, as it were, by the composer with the members of the
Cassatt Quartet. Inevitably this has a folksy vigour, a camp-fire
sense of nostalgia and there’s an Appalachian-Pete Seeger
feel in the last. Turn Me Loose
(2007) is for piano trio,
and it embraces Ragtime in the first movement and some strong
Jewish inflexions in The Rebbe’s Dance.
ends with Maramures (in memory of Jacob Glick),
movement viola concerto, steeped in Eastern European folk-music.
There’s a rich Allegro opener and expansive lines for the
central movement - noble processional and portent too. The tangy
trumpet and percussion galvanise the finale, a fast dance with
cadenza for the intrepid soloist Danielle Farina.
As one might expect this is an eclectic mélange of music,
excellently played, recorded and documented. Teirstein may have
been a clown but he’s no fool.