BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL
The Best Contemporary Classical Music on Bandcamp, June 2024

By

Peter Margasak

·
June 27, 2024

The taxonomy of contemporary classical music—new music, contemporary music, whatever you want to call it—is a thorny issue. But every month, we’ll take a look at some of the best composer-driven music to surface here on Bandcamp—that which makes room for electronic experimentation, improvisation, and powerful takes on old classics.

Léo Dupleix
Resonant Trees



Last year I wrote admiringly about the trio Les Certitudes performing the music of its keyboardist Léo Dupleix, and this phenomenal new album suggests that he’s in the midst of a genuine creative explosion, masterfully harnessing the harmonic splendor of just intonation within ravishing, slow-motion melodic forms. He plays stately harpsichord lines, conjuring a sound somewhere between Arnold Dreyblatt and C.C. Hennix. But once the rest of his ensemble begins to shape patient, beautifully pastel chords alongside him, the music opens up. “Resonant Tree I” features the clustered tones of violist Cyprien Busolini; traverso flutists Mara Winter and Johanna Bartz; and bass clarinetist Juliette Adam unfolding amidst Dupleix’s cycling patterns—subtly shaded with synth tones—which are further complemented by meticulously placed acoustic guitar and 12-string accents from Fredrik Rasten, which function a bit like a prism, brilliantly refracting the sounds. The flutes are absent on “Resonant Tree II,”  which is guided by a related but different sequence of chords, elevating the viola into a more prominent role, interacting with the harpsichord sounds more explicitly, and pulling away from the muted bass clarinet tones. In a brief sleeve note the composer writes that he often dreams of a “sound that one could grasp in one’s hand.” It doesn’t feel like a dream as much as a beautiful reality.

Tristan Perich
Open Symmetry



Composer Tristan Perich staked his turf nearly two decades ago, writing music that almost exclusively incorporates, or is built around, the pulsations of 1-bit electronics, the most basic unit in computing. What might seem like a dead-end to some musicians has become an ever-expanding area of inquiry for him, as he’s turned to writing extended works for conventional instrumentation alongside banks of flickering electronic tones that evoke the shimmering minimalism of Steve Reich. This latest endeavor was written for the French group ensemble 0, pitting three vibraphones against 20 of his 1-bit devices, which engage in energizing back-and-forth exchanges over the course of 50 hypnotic minutes. Both the vibraphones and electronics function as sonic groupings, the borders of which are perpetually blurred and steadily morphing: what is electronic and what is acoustic? That sleight of hand is fascinating, but it wouldn’t hold our attention if the compositional material wasn’t so rigorous and meticulously plotted. The rapid pulsations in Perich’s writing, articulated in wildly diverse densities and tonalities, change constantly, and as with early Philip Glass music we often don’t notice these shifts until they’re in our rearview mirror. The music swerves between meditative grace, needling intensity, and almost psychedelic grandeur.

Yannis Kyriakides
Hypnokaséta



This scintillating work by Amsterdam-based Greek composer Yannis Kryriakides evolved from a series of dreams he had during the early days of the pandemic lockdown, between April and June of 2020. That’s all he tells us about them, apart from the cryptic, delightfully enigmatic titles of the 16, uninterrupted parts of the work, which may or may not actually be connected to the dreams, which are “encoded” in the music. The title is Greek for “sleep-cassette,” a reference to the philosopher/scientist Daniel Dennett who has suggested that, in the words of Kyriakides, “dreams are loaded into consciousness like a cassette tape during the night and played just before waking.” While it’s frustrating not to have a better idea of how this all works, I can’t complain when the music offers up plenty, evoking colorful dreams. The work is performed by the masterful Montréal string ensemble Quatuor Bozzini, along with guitarist Andy Moor (of the Ex), who also adds tape elements, and throughout the work those instrumentalists shift in different combinations and groupings. The occasional incursion of brittle, manipulated cassette noise pierces what is otherwise a richly meditative, rapidly paced series of episodes featuring textural drift, sparkling bursts of tart harmony, wiry counterpoint, microtonal electronics, and haunted tone poems, all rolling within and between one section to the next with impressive fluidity.

Leilehua Lanzilotti
the sky in our hands- our hands in the sky



As a child growing up in Hawaii, composer Leilehua Lanzilotti spent time around the sculptures of Toshiko Takaezu. So when she was enlisted to co-curate an exhibition of the artist’s work, specifically exploring the sonic element of Takaezu’s ceramic objects—resonant bodies she called “closed forms”—Lanzilotti was able to draw upon first-hand experience. The second half of this album is the 46-minute title work, which is included in the show as a video installation. The composer played a variety of the artist’s bronze bells and closed forms—some of which contained small objects that were dropped inside of them before they were fired in a kiln, creating variable rattle-like qualities. The result is a patient exploration of those peculiar resonances; frictive, clattery accents punctuating longer swells of decaying tones and muffled, extended rumbling that sounds as if recorded underwater. The album opens with the New York trio Longleash performing “for Toshiko,” a concise four-movement based on recordings of Takaezu’s bronze bells transcribed and arranged for piano, violin, and cello. The individual movements were titled after a quote from the artist that conveyed how her work connected the visual, the tactile, and the sonic. The enveloping resonances are harnessed and parsed, with shifting lines that thrum and drone, mixing percussive stabs and arching long tones. Sō Percussion tackle “sending messages” using clay pots on the first movement and bells and rattles on the second, sharpening Takaezu’s generous sound world in ebb-and-flow pulsations and abrasions.

Zoe Efstathiou
Solo Piano: Edge of Chaos



The music on the debut album from Greek pianist and composer Zoe Efstathiou stems from an abiding “fascination with unveiling the piano overtones by harnessing the properties of complex systems, which emerge when competing oscillations of strings interact with room acoustics, microphone placements, the piano’s pedals, and its soundboard.” Each of the album’s five pieces explore this phenomenon in different ways. “Dodone” is marked by what sound like bowed piano strings, momentarily grazed and slowly, patiently beginning to decay before the next gesture enters, producing new combinations of overtones. On “Chalkeion” angular, jagged stabs of chords are banged out asymmetrically, a physical movement that leaves a different sort of dissolving artifact trailing each articulation. The net effect of pulls the listener in to hear the fleeting tones as they disintegrate. “Omphee” also uses bowing, but this time there’a a more metallic bite to the higher register tones, and the gestures pile up with greater density. “Amvracia” mixes conventionally struck low-end tones with prepared piano machinations, both altering the timbre of certain strings or generating rattling and buzzing, again with new works opening up at the overtones ring and gather. “Dione,” which concludes the record seems to electronically shape some of the tones, as if played backwards so that they decaying sounds seem to swell rather decay.

Lisa Illean
arcing, stilling, bending, gathering



UK-based Australian composer Lisa Illean has a striking feel for the elusive, writing music that’s not so much between states as finding exacting clarity in details that initially escape our notice. The four works on this portrait album masterfully balance sound as disparate layers that shift depending on the perspective of the listener, and how the various elements collide and combine. On the title piece the piano of Aura Go and the violin of Emma McGrath float and ripple through delicate sheets of wavering, unstable sonic gauze. All of those are drawn from and abstractly allude to the opening bars of the fourth and final movement, which is expertly articulated by various members from the Australian Academy of Music. Its title suggests different motions that distinguish all of the attractively elusive sounds featured here. A similar effect is presented on “Tiding II,” as pianist Siwan Rhys, percussionist George Barton, saxophonist David Zucchi, and electronic artist Michael Acker produce terse, patiently unfolding constellations of sound and texture, like objects moving through a gravity-free atmosphere. Melodic fragments, harmonic swells, and rhythmic drift seem to cycle through the pieces randomly, but there’s a sharp design inside Illean’s writing that makes it all feel like natural phenomenon. Soprano Juliet Fraser articulates texts from poet Gerard Manley Hopkins on “A through-grown earth,” conveying a literal message while conjuring a sound that floats within hovering translucence of Explore Ensemble. The album closes with an orchestral piece from 2015 that demonstrates Illean’s long-term aesthetic commitment to such exploration.

Wild Up
Julius Eastman Vol. 4: The Holy Presence



The L.A. ensemble Wild Up reinforces its fervent commitment to the music of Julius Eastman with the fourth installment of his work, mixing some of his most well-known pieces with music that has been unjustly overlooked or lost over time. “Our Father,” a late piece built around a liturgical vocal duet, is tackled by the astonishing Davóne Tines, ripping into dense harmonies by overdubbing both parts amid stark orchestral accompaniment. The other three pieces are all tackled by a single musician. Richard Valitutto imparts his usual blend of precision, power, and sensitivity in “Piano 2,” an obscure late piece, previously recorded by the composer’s compatriot Joseph Kubera. (Kubera also helped clean up the score from the uneven notation of the composer, who was in poor health when he wrote it.) The second half of the program features more familiar compositions, including the harrowing “Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan of Arc,” delivering by Tines in a performance that locates a level of intensity, soul, and passion that has left me floored each time I’ve heard it, the stentorian grain of his voice hitting like a sledgehammer. Cellist Seth Parker Woods, one of Eastman’s most vociferous contemporary advocates, laid down all 10 cello parts for the piece, delivering a slashing, propulsive performance on par with the visceral, soaring power of the Tines prelude.

Helmut Lachenmann
Mes Adieux



In his liner note essay to this dazzling new release Harry Vogt, long-time producer at the WDR—the acclaimed German radio station in Cologne—recalls composer Helmut Lachenmann marveling that Trio Catch’s rendering of his mid-‘80s clarinet trio piece Allegro sostenuto (included here) required none of his input or feedback. “They did it quite radically, with incredible perfection, and yet with levity and vibrancy,” he writes. For years, the challenges of the composer’s paradigm-shifting work demanded his oversight. And although the world has finally caught up with his ideas, this excellent collection of compositions spanning six decades proves his music still bristles with excitement and confrontation. Perhaps the primary lure of this new recording—all produced by WDR—is the first recording of his bracing second string trio, the title composition expertly rendered by trio recherche. But the two older pieces are no less captivating. Allegro sostenuto delivers a tension-riddled pull between spry motion and tones that linger, all of them quite abstract—delivering on the composer’s trademark instrumental musique concrete. Notturno, a transitional cello concerto written between 1966–68, where his modern sound world began to crystalize—nearly 60 years later it remains mind-blowing . Plenty of composers have embraced his ideas, but the crackling precision and vitality of his conceptions stands alone. As crucial as it is for labels to support and document brand new work, it’s commendable for a label that also finds time to remind us how vital and enduring the music of still-living pioneers can be: kudos to Bastille Musique.

The Rhythm Method
Pastorale



This New York string quartet has regularly distinguished itself by complementing its playing with simultaneous singing—for better or worse, depending on the piece. I’ve never heard them pull it off with such ease before. The ensemble has programmed three disparate works, all of which embrace different kinds of abstraction. On Paul Pinto’s “String Quartet No. 4,” both string sounds and voices are radically slowed down to the point of incomprehensibility, symbolizing the incremental rebuilding process in New York between Hurricanes Sandy and Irene and infusing the performance with the paranoia that all of that progress could be trashed again, as climate change increasingly hovers over everyday existence. Ensemble violinist Marina Kifferstein wrote String Quartet No. 2, an evocative excursion into just intonation in which chords rise and fall in overlapping patterns, further enhanced by wordless vocal shapes that help conjure a thick, almost three-dimensional attack that’s meditative and visceral in equal measure. The Rhythm Method are joined by singer-flutist Alice Teyssier of International Contemporary Ensemble on a reading of Lewis Nielsen’s “Pastorale …. para los pobres de la tierra,” in which she moves seamlessly between voice and instrument, flanked by the ensemble’s tender harmony singing, navigating texts drawn from Antonio Machado, Pablo Neruda, and Saint Francis of Assisi. The multi-faceted gem feels both maximal in how the composer extracts so much range and possibility from the players, and abstract in its clangorous harmony and gestural abstraction.

Viibra
Viibra



Viibra is an Icelandic flute septet that was originally brought together to perform on Björk’s 2017 album Utopia. They’ve clearly taken their time in presenting their first album. Yet rather than cashing in on that association, or veering toward pop-oriented work, the ensemble’s debut is packed with fiercely adventurous sounds. The tone is set with Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir’s “Venutian Wetlands,” a deliciously disorienting collision of piercing upper register clusters, animal-like grunts, and unstable fluctuations—like a placid drift abruptly suddenly snagged by turbulence. It’s followed by Berglind María Tómasdóttir’s “CD Players,” a texture-rich drone toggling between two lone pitches, opening up a thrilling array of harmony. While a couple of pieces composed by the two members of the crossover duo Hugar evoke a more conventional approach, even a sweet-toned work like Bergur Þórisson’s “kvoða” still has a nice timbral bite. Composer John McCowen originally wrote “Mundana X” for two contrabass clarinets; here he tackles one of those lines himself, adding in a low sine-tone. His spectral analysis of the other clarinet part breaks it down into seven mind-melting layers of partials, allowing us to hear how many elements go into a single pitch. In contrast, Bára Gísladóttir’s “Ms. Ephemeris Abyss” masses those seven flutes into a single, wriggling organism that suggests a nest of vipers emanating from a single source.



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