Ofer PELZ (b. 1978)
Backward Inductions (for augmented piano) (2014/2017) [7:56]
Amit Dolberg (piano)
rec 2019, studio of Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, Tel Aviv University
Chinese Whispers (for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, prepared piano and
amplification) (2013) [10:59]
Meitar Ensemble/Guy Feder
rec December 2013, Ogen Studio, Kibbutz HaOgen
Convergence (for alto flute and electronics) (2011) [7:23]
Roy Amotz (flute)
rec June 2013, Music Faculty Studio, University of Montreal
Marchons, marchons (for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and prepared piano)
Meitar Ensemble/Pierre André Valade
rec live, 27 October 2017 Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Bourgie Hall
Blanc sur blanc (for flute, clarinet, prepared piano and amplified string
quartet) (2011) [13:38]
Meitar Ensemble and Quatuor Ardeo/Renaud Déjardin
rec. live, 26 November 2011 at Art en Résonance Festival, Paris
NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS FCR303
I first came across the work of the Montreal based Israeli composer Ofer
Pelz through David Greilsammer’s wonderful recital disc Labyrinth (2020,
Naďve V7084). The two pieces included there give a good indication of his style
but not the scope of his output. This new recording gave me the opportunity
to get to know his work a lot better. If I were forced to apply a label to
his music I would probably call it “modernist minimalism” though I suspect
that label must already be taken. What I mean by it is that the types of
sounds, melodies and harmonies he uses are fairly modernist whereas his
approach to developing his material has similarities to the minimalism of
Reich and Glass. The composer, himself, describes this aspect of his music
as ‘unstable repetition’.
The second track on this CD, Chinese Whispers, exemplifies this style.
Material is repeated but, like Chinese Whispers, it gets altered with each
repetition. The opening track, Backward Induction is meant to be this
process in reverse though how the listener is meant to be able to
distinguish the difference escapes me.
As a quite general gripe about a lot of recordings and programme notes on
contemporary classical, too often these are written in such a way as to
require fairly specific technical knowledge to be comprehensible. Perhaps
it is the case that only the initiates listen to this music, but personally
I find this a great pity. I have never understood why the Tate Modern is
knee deep in people (even in Covid times!) and contemporary classical music
is so ignored. This present disc seems to me to offer great rewards for the
curious listener and, like a lot of modern music, is not as ferociously
off-putting as it might seem.
Returning to Backward Induction, I would be very surprised if this presents
any difficulties for anyone familiar with Bartók and Philip Glass. It is
written for what is referred to as an augmented piano. What that means is
that sensors placed inside the piano are used to trigger various percussion
instruments as the piano keys are struck. In essence, a kind of deluxe
prepared piano. As with any clever musical idea, it lives or dies depending
on whether it works for the listener. I found it an amusing and
surprisingly catchy effect as the ear seeks to anticipate the percussive
contributions. Stylistically, I think anyone who enjoys the piano music of
Messiaen will find a lot to their taste here. There is a sense of vibrant
motion to Pelz’s music which I find very appealing.
Convergences is a tougher listen, though ultimately a rewarding one. If I
understood the programme note correctly, it is concerned with the elements
that combine to produce sound and with the way they are combined. As a
listening experience, this means the music becomes gradually more complex
from a rather fractured beginning. It is scored for flute and electronics.
The latter allows the breaking down and recombining of the music in such a
way that, as it progresses, it leads to the convergence on a single note
that gives the work its title. In some ways this functions rather like the
relationship between the tension of dissonance followed by its release in
consonance in tonal music. Certainly this piece generates both great
tension and, toward the end, a satisfying sense of release.
Marchons, marchons combines elements of all three of the preceding pieces.
It begins with a lengthy exploration of different timbres and tonal
qualities often at the edge of audibility. These elements slowly coalesce
and gather momentum and structure until the second main section follows the
“modernist minimalism” pattern of Backward Inductions and Chinese Whispers.
Its theme is a rather gory passage in the Marseillaise about “letting
impure blood soak our fields”. The connection with the music seems obscure
to me and I found it easier to relate to the idea of nourishing the planet
– the theme of the festival for which it was written. The first section
seeming parched and the second more energetic and revived. The rhythm which
the music develops becomes an organising factor in making sense of the
disparate sounds of the opening. This is bracing music but its vitality
means that it is hardly daunting. The sudden return of the opening music is
highly dramatic and rather haunting in effect.
Blanc sur blanc, the final work, extends this approach in what seems a
logical direction – towards mathematical logarithms as a means of extending
patterns. The patterns are little musical phrases used in the manner of
tape loops which are repeated and reorganised into ever bigger and more
complex patterns. The manner of development is more organic than this
suggests, and is rather closer to the construction of larger musical forms
from motives found in the music of Brahms and Wagner than might be supposed
at first listen. As with a lot of contemporary music at the moment, what
constitutes a musical element here seems to extend to anything that makes a
noise. As a result we get all manner of scrapes, scratches, breaths and
taps as well as more conventional musical sounds caught up in the
organising patterns. To my ears, this makes for a highly diverting and
often surprising listen but one that never descends to the level of just
All that remains to be said is that the performances are totally committed
and that the recording standards are extremely high.
This is a timely summary of the work of a distinctive and attractive voice
on the contemporary scene and I very much look forward to seeing where he
goes next – an opera perhaps?