In its brief existence, Cantaloupe Music has become one of the most intrepid labels in new music, and clarinetist Evan Ziporyn, a member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, has emerged as one of its most powerful compositional voices. One test of an artist’s worth is his or her ability to take influences and create a new voice by filtering them through a more personal lens, and Ziporyn’s previous records for the label--This is Not a Clarinet (Cantaloupe, 2001) and Shadowbang (Cantaloupe, 2003)--were undeniably distinctive, mixing his interest in classical form with music from distant cultures.
Frog’s Eye is his first record of orchestral works, and he meets the ambition of writing for larger ensembles head-on. This program continues to mix his diverse interests, including Balinese Gamelan, minimalism and unorthodox textures. Finding an ensemble capable of navigating Ziporyn’s multifaceted compositions was no small feat, but the Boston Modern Orchestra Project is clearly sympathetic to the composer’s broader requirements.
The title track begins with clear references to Steve Reich but, like modern-day Reich, Ziporyn goes beyond the mathematical to create music that’s hypnotic by virtue of its repetition, and innately lyrical as well. Simple melodic and rhythmic fragments are introduced, gradually fading into the mix as new ones are established--until, in some cases, they disappear entirely. The result is a pulsing ebb and flow that develops in ways beyond the interaction of these fragments, coming across as more based on movement than the persistent evolutionary development of pure minimalism.
The other orchestral track, “War Chant,” begins by referencing composer György Ligeti. Long-toned melodic ideas emerge out of a strangely static yet swirling undercurrent, with the occasional sharp punctuation added for dramatic contrast. But while his spatial concept is similar, Ziporyn doesn’t rely on the tension that Ligeti’s microtonal dissonance created. Instead he incorporates percussion along with Hawaiian guitar to create a more diverse landscape. The composition gradually evolves through an almost jazz-like horn section to a more delicate Gamelan-like passage of cascading strings and light percussion. Then it advances to a darkly spaced climax that, finally, releases tension with spare dissonant chords and gradually slowing percussion, before returning to Ligeti territory for its brief coda.
“The Ornate Zither and the Nomad Flute,” with soprano Anne Harley, and the closing “Drill,” featuring Ziporyn on bass clarinet, were written for a wind ensemble subset of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Both pieces challenge convention through the addition of a percussion section that, again, connects to Ziporyn’s world music concerns.
Together the four compositions form what Ziporyn calls “an inadvertent symphony”--each piece is self-reliant, yet they all work as part of an unintended larger whole. Frog’s Eye is further evidence of Ziproyn's status as a composer of increasing significance.
-By John Kelman, All About Jazz
November 26, 2006
Frog's Eye Review
Evan Ziporyn's extensive experience with Balinese gamelan and his background with Bang On A Can are evident in the four works for orchestra or wind ensemble on this CD. The fact that the pieces each inhabit a distinct sound world is a testament to his versatility and range as a composer. What the pieces have in common is their organic development - a satisfying sense of inevitability that is never predictable or formulaic. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose brings its considerable energy and virtuosity to these performances.
The CD opens and closes with the most upbeat pieces. Frog's Eye is a bright and attractive work that begins by combining the simple gestural elements and additive processes of minimalism to create contrapuntal and textural complexity, and eventually coalesces into a driving rhythmic unison at the end. Drill, ebullient and jazz-inspired, features the composer as bass clarinet soloist.
The Ornate Zither and the Nomad Flute is a setting for voice and wind ensemble of two poems, one by the ninth century Chinese poet Li Shangyin, one by the contemporary American W.S. Merwin. Rather than setting the texts sequentially, Ziporyn intermingles the Chinese and English. The setting is notable for its orchestration, which is magically sparkling, while maintaining contrapuntal and harmonic simplicity, and for the lyrical vocal writing.
War Chant, which is described as evoking the sounds heard inside an airplane during take-off, flight and landing, is the most musically abstract piece on the CD, and is less indebted to the influence of the gamelan than the other works. Like Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (to which it bears an occasional superficial sonic resemblance), it does not require knowledge of the program to be fully appreciated. Its rhythmic and gestural inventiveness, and unexpected juxtapositions make it consistently engaging.
-Stephen Eddins, All Music
On War Chant premiere
"Dazzling... War Chant was a gripping experience from start to finish... (It) reminded me how unnaturally bizarre human flight really is - and how beautiful."- THE BOSTON HERALD
BMOP Conducted by Gil Rose, Jordan Hall, Friday May 21, 2004
"Ziporyn's brand-new "War Chant" ... was a gripping experience from start to finish. The MIT music professor, who "moonlights" as a clarinetist and member of the New York City-based Bang on a Can All-Stars new music ensemble, used the sounds we all hear inside an airplane cabin as inspiration for this ominous soundscape.
In broad design, it's a short (15 minute-ish) trip into the air and back to the ground. So at first, it's easy to smile at the uncanny cleverness of Ziporyn's use of strings to imply, if not exactly imitate, the sounds of a plane's engines revving up. But that sound swiftly become a metaphor for many of the feelings flying stirs up these days: a heady exhilaration, a dash of discomfort and a kind of primal terror. We may think of air travel as an ordinary human activity, even post 9/11. But "War Chant" reminded me how unnaturally bizarre human flight really is - and how beautiful."
By T.J. Medrek, The Boston Herald
BMOP soars through graceful season finale
Sunday, May 23, 2004
- THE BOSTON GLOBE
"Evan Ziporyn was in the unenviable position of having a premiere begin after 10 p.m., but his 15-minute 'War Chant' triumphantly survived the ordeal. The piece is literally about an airplane ride, but it is also about the way euphemisms and corporate coddling mask but do not conceal wild and ferocious forces at work on the fringes of consciousness. The piece is both funny and terrifying, like the world it mirrors."
By Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe
BMOP season finale is a study in contrasts
Tuesday, May 26, 2004
Boston Globe - Classical Notes: BMOP Ends it's Season on a New Note by Richard Dyer, May 21, 2004
Boston Herald - MIT Prof's Music Takes Flight - Literally by T. J. Medrek, May 21, 2004