Friday, January 27, 2006

NIkita Koshkin

If anything some might say he's in danger of getting more publicity than he deserves. I suppose in some ways that might be true but if anything that would be indicative of what can often feel like the insular and self-repetitive and self-referential world of classical guitar repertoire. If Koshkin's music is getting played to death that's only the fault of the classical guitar community across the world.

For my part I'd prefer to hear Koshkin getting overplayed for a change if we're going to be in the rut of having everything else played over and over at guitar recitals. Thing is that as much as I like Bach I could hear Bach partiats played on the violin by Hilary Hahn just as easily as I can hear them played by a guitarist. In fact it seems Hilary Hahn kind of has a reputation for playing Bach. She doesn't have a reputation for playing Koshkin, which is something a guitarist can have. SO why not play to a strength that is only characteristic of your instrument? Not saying anyone has to, just suggesting.

But it is true that a handful of Koshkin's works are extremely well represented on CD and at recitals. SO it seems to me the solution to this is to dig up other works that aren't in danger of being over-recorded. Other than Elena Papendreou I don't notice any guitarists rushing to record Koshkin's SOnata for guitar solo. I only know of two recordings of Koshkin's brilliant Sonata for flute and guitar and one of those was recorded by Koshkin himself. Are people not willing to record some of these other works of his beside the Prince's Toys and Usher Waltz because they're afraid they're already going to be upstaged by Koshkin's recordinxs? Well, upstaged they might be it's still owrth doing.

Now having studied about a dozen of the man's works I sort of see why some people level complaints at him, usually couched in niceties about how great a guitarist he is and how technically challenging his work is. But the complaints are generally the same from those who complain, that there is something a bit shallow about his work in the end or a certain drama built in for its own sake that doesn't delve into the depths of, say, Takemitsu. There's some truth to this claim, I think, but it's just as true that Haydn doesn't plumb the emotional depths of late Beethoven. Conversely, who says he ever needed to?

What Koshkin does well is musical drama. He's great at getting the guitar to sound bigtger than it normally does. Koshkin is also great at getting unusual coloristic effects to sound like music. There are other composers that do similar things. Nadia Borislova does similar things, for instance, and Atanas Ourkouzounov also uses special effects and I enjoy music by both those composers. But Koshkin's unique quality is his sense of grandeur and if that's a problem then it's a problem that can be levelled at Beethoven or Mahler. I'm notsaying Koshkin is necessarily a composer on the level of either Beethoven or Mahler (as if to suggest I even actually like Mahler), just to point out that some of the legitimate criticisms I've heard levelled at Koshkin's work can be directed at plenty of other repertoire.

And if Koshkin is lacking in musical substance, a charge I won't confirm or deny, then why not create a forum in which we can discuss that idea by looking at one of his scores in detail. I happen to take issue with how Koshkin handles recapitulation in his sonata forms but for all Koshkin may care that's simply a amatter o opinion. He's aprofessional guitarist and ocmposer and I'm not and I've got every album of his I've been able to lay my hands on! I really do like the man's music a lot and if I have differences of opinion with things he does that's more because I'm a composer with my own ideas that I can elaborate on later.

Now for those of you who have never heard of this guy before and want to check out his music there are about five albums you need to check out. The first two are recorded by Koshkin himself on the Soundet label, a great little label run by Frank Koonce who has also published an edition of Koshkin's solo guitar works you can order from him through Soundset's website (if I recall correctly). The Prince's Toys and The Well-Tempered Koshkin are a great recorded record of Koshkin's works played by the master himself. I prefer the predominantly darker and more dramatic The Prince's Toys album of the two but I like both albums a lot. TPT includes some stunning work I haven't heard anyone even dare to record like Music for Clocks or Rain.

Another CD that includes many works Koshkin has recorded but is still important for works he has NOT recorded is Elena Papendreou's CD on the BIS label. This includes one or two original works Koshkin hasn't recorded but the main reason to get this CD is to hear Koshkin's epic Sonata for guitar solo (available through, by the way).

This SOnata is a worthy work. I didn't warm up to it immediately and I still feel that sometimes Koshkin recapitulates his sonata forms a bit late for my own tastes but the scoep of the work is impressive and the music rewards repeated listening in a way that I would compare to other longer works in the guitar repertoire like Benjamin Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland. I mostly like Michael Tippet's the Blute Guitar but Koshkin's sonata, to my mind, is better even that that work, if a bit below Britten's workfor sheer profundity of musical substance. But, once again, Koshkin and Britten are different kinds of composers.

The Soundset and BIS recordings can be obtained easily in the United States for those who want them but the other recording can only be obtained by ordering from Germany. Kreuzberg has an awesome CD of Koshkin playing repertoire he has written for guitar and flute. I don't recall the flutist's name off the top of my head but a friend of mine joked that this is the kind of Russian flutist who must have played flute from the age of six and never went outside to play because her technique is fearsome. Beyond that, though, Koshkin's music for flute and guitar, especially his Sonata, is an awesoe tour-de force for both instruments and one of his most effective large-scale forms. This is actually one of the scores I want to examine in more detail for the way he developes thematic materials within and across movements.

That's a pretty good general survey of Koshkin's music. I'm not going to be as articulate as Jack Duarte or Frank Koonce in making a sales pitch for this man's music but I hope to add my own little contribution as I can. More comments about specific pieces as time permits. Meanwhile, chexck this guy's stuff out and I hope you enjoy it.

Atanas Ourkouzounov

This is a BUlgarian guitarist and composer born about 1970 if I recall correctly, and he currently resides in Paris. He has published a variety of pieces for solo guitar and chamber music including the guitar over the last seven or eight years. He has a fantastic CD on the Kle label called Contes des Balkans (named after a piece that he has written), recorded by the Ourkouzounov Ensemble.

His main influences are, at first glance, Bulgarian musical traditions and Bartok. Bartok has already proven for at least the last century that Bulgarian and other Eastern European musical traditions are rich fodder indeed for cool music. This is also true in what ourkouzounov writes for the guitar. I like to think that if Bartok ever got around to writing for guitar what he would have produced would sound at least something like what Ourkouzounov is writing now.

Most of the works on Contes des Balkans are vailable through Western publishers. His great little Sonatine for flute and guitar is available through Les Productions d'Oz in Quebec and they keep this great little number regularly in stock. The publisher of his Sonatina Bulgarica for violin and guitar escapes me at the moment but it is also available, though it's a score that too me a bit more time to find.

A brief overview of his music from here: Ourkouzounov employs many assymetric meters as motoric devices to propel his music along, often 7/8 or unusual subdivisons of 9/8 (Brubeck got his 2+2+2+3 pattern from Turkish music, which has interacted with Bulgarian music aplenty). In hs Sonatine for flute and guitar he shifts rapidly between 7/8 and 5/8 with rapid shifts of mode across an implied harmonic pedal point. A fairly common pattern I notice in his cyclical works is that he will reprise material from his slow middle movements in abridge of rhythmically diminished form in his finales, usually rondo forms.

He is also fond of special effects, especially smacking and breath-tones on the flute. He also likes to employ what are at first counterintuitive timbrel combinations such as having the flute play in its weakest, least resonant lower octave while the guitar provides accompaniment using natural harmonics alone through much of the slow movement in his Sonatine.

You can get his CD at the awesome The website is based over in Europe and is written in no less than six languages so you won't have trouble finding a format that works for you as long as you speak one of the major European languages or English. Their order process is pretty straightforward and their staff have been very helpful to me in fielding order problems and keeping me up to date about back-ordered items.

Perhaps I should do a whole separate plug for them! I have found a number of scores through them that aren't available through usual American resources. So having given my general plug for Mr Ourkouzounov's cool guitar music let's see what else I can get to. I still plan to include some score analysis once in a while and if I'm oging to do that I might as well give you resources to find the scores I'm talking about.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Jonas Tamulionis

There's a great CD of this Lithuanian composer's music out on Albany Records that I want to plug. I will add more details about track listings and where you can get at least one score for some of this guys' work when I can carve out more time. Props to Volkmaer Zimmermann and company for recording a really cool CD.

For those of you who have The Russian Collection Volume 5 fro Editions Orphee this CD includes the first and only commercially available recording of Tamulionis' Eleven Preludes that I've ever come across.

His style is fairly neo-classical but of a Eastern European variety more than what you'd expect from a German or French neo-classicist, for instance. I recently lent the CD out and so have not had a chance to look at the material in more detail but I promise to provide more notes about each piece when I can.