This CD presents the premiere studio recordings of six recent chamber works from Martin Bresnick, “a major voice” with “a catalog of vibrant, varied and respected works” (The New York Times).
In the CD’s Introduction, David Lang, co-founder of Bang On a Can and winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music, writes, “this heartfelt, intimate, and very moving CD… is made of works that go deeper than what I was expecting, that become more personal. The pieces spring from the same territory as many of his other works, but they become somehow much more introspective, and they go someplace much darker. They are more painful, more mortal.”
The CD features leading new music performers, including Lisa Moore, the founding pianist for the Bang On A Can All-Stars and “New York’s queen of avant-garde piano” (The New Yorker), and cellist Ashley Bathgate, praised for her “rich tone, fluid dynamics and imaginative phrasing” (The New York Times) and a member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
The powerful title work (2011, for piano and cello) is inspired by the poem Gods Come and Go, Prayers Remain Forever, by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. A concert performance by Moore and Bathgate was praised in Lucid Culture: “A plaintively elegiac, part minimalist, part neoromantic work, as it expanded from a simple chromatic motif, a sense of longing became anguish and then descended to a brooding, defeated atmosphere, the cello and piano switching roles back and forth from murky hypnotics to bitterly rising phrases, with a particularly haunting solo passage from Bathgate… the duo played as a singleminded voice.”
Here’s a live performance excerpt of Prayers Remain Forever:
The smoothly flowing Ishi’s Song (2012, for piano) was inspired by Ishi, the last survivor of the Yahi Indians, who were decimated to extinction at the end of the 19th century. Ishi was the last native speaker of the Yahi-Yana language, and the opening melody of the piece was taken from a recording of Ishi singing what he called “The Maidu Doctor’s Song.”
The haunting, motoric A Message From the Emperor (2010, for two speaking percussionists) is based on an eponymous Kafka parable, in which a glorious being sends an important message, just for you, which can never be delivered. Bresnick remarks that we have lived on our planet for many years, waiting for a message that finally reveals the reason for our mortality and the sorrow and suffering that is our common fate.
The attractively delicate Josephine The Singer (2011, for violin) is also based on a Kafka story, his last written work “Josephine the Singer or the Mouse People.” Bresnick comments that this short story is a “prescient mediation both on divas and art, but also what might be the future of the Jews as a persecuted minority in Europe.”
The wistful Strange Devotion (2010, for piano) is inspired by an enigmatic etching in Francisco de Goya’s great Disasters of War sequence. The artist gazes with skeptical compassion at a group of Spanish people praying to a donkey that pulls a bier with a corpse. Bresnick feels that the “donkey’s mute yet somehow knowing expression seems to reveal both the sincerity and futility of the people’s unquestioning faith.”
Lang notes the CD’s works explore the equilibrium “between the living and the dead, the mortal and the immortal, the forgotten and the unforgettable.” He concludes, “The piece that exemplifies this most powerfully is Going Home – Vysoke, My Jerusalem. It was written in the aftermath a journey Bresnick took to the small Russian-Polish town where his mother was born, and where generations of his forebears had lived. He had heard stories about it all his life – the broken house, the ruined synagogue. The stories had told him where to find them. The music tells us how to remember.”
About Martin Bresnick
“Martin Bresnick is one of the great pragmatists in contemporary music,
a composer who will use any sound as long as it speaks vividly
and makes narrative sense.”
– Alex Ross, The New Yorker
Bresnick’s music has been performed by the Chicago Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Da Capo Chamber Players, and the Bang on A Can All Stars. He has received commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation, Meet-the- Composer, National Endowment for the Arts, Fromm Foundation, and Chamber Music America. His many prizes include: Fulbright Fellowship, Rome Prize Fellowship, MacDowell Colony Fellowship, American Academy In Rome Composer-in Residence, Berlin Prize Fellow, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.Presently Professor of Composition and Coordinator of the Composition Department at the Yale School of Music, Bresnick is widely recognized as an influential teacher of composition.