Not a lot of recent modern music--that is, music of the past thirty or forty years--appeals to me. Too often it sounds like mere academic exercises in noise shaping rather than anything that might entertain people. Indeed, the very thought of "entertaining" an audience would seem anathema to many modern composers; after all, that would smack of pandering to popular taste, something no respectable modernist would want critics to accuse them of. Then, just when I think that future generations will remember little from our current classical era, along comes a young composer like Michael Vincent Waller who breaks with the prevailing tide and produces serious music with a genuinely wide appeal. It's kind of refreshing.
According to his Wikipedia article, "Michael Vincent Waller (b. 1985, Staten Island, New York) is an American composer of contemporary classical music. He has studied with La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and Bunita Marcus. His recent compositions have been compared to Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Keith Jarrett, and Morton Feldman blending elements of minimalism, impressionism, gamelan, world music, and melodic classicism. His piano works have been described as 'evoking Debussy but refracted through a 21st century prism.'" Certainly, the music on his two-disc set The South Shore--solo and chamber works--fully illustrates these characteristics. More important, the compositions entertain both the mind and the heart.
Waller's music, at least as represented on this two-disc set, sounds melodic and a touch melancholy yet never sentimental. The program derives from compositions he wrote in the past four years, music that evokes memories, emotions, vaguely nostalgic and yearning, always sweet and flowing.
The musicians and ensembles who perform on the disc include Christine Kim, cello, and Pauline Kim-Harris, violin (Project SiS) with Conrad Harris, violin, Daniel Panner, viola, Charity Wicks, piano; Dedalus Ensemble with Didier Aschour, electric guitar, Amélie Berson, flute, Cyprien Busolini, viola, Thierry Madiot, trombone, Pierre Stéphane Meugé, alto sax, Deborah Walker, cello; 20>>21 Ensemble with Yael Manor, piano; Itay Lantner, flute, Erin Wight, viola, Clara Kennedy, cello, and Jessica Park, violin; Nicolas Horvath, piano; Esther Noh, violin; Carson Cooman, organ; Katie Porter, clarinet, and Devin Maxwell, gong percussion (Red Desert); Luna Cholong Kang, flute; and Marija Ilic, piano.
Being the old Romantic that I am, I tended to favor the more lyrical numbers in the set, starting at the beginning with Anthems for cello and piano. Like most of the pieces, it's brief and to the point, about two-and-a-half minutes, with a graceful beauty that envelops one in its welcoming tone. Likewise, Atmosfera di Tempo for string quartet is a gentle set of variations, quite beautiful in its wistful longing.
Waller describes Profondo Rosso for piano trio as a Valentine for his muse, Mia. As with any Valentine, it is pure, loving, and ultimately comforting.
And so it goes. Each piece has a haunting quality, moody and atmospheric, delightful in the moment, quickly forgotten. The pieces invite repetition of those moments, however. Tre Pezzi per Trio di Pianoforte for piano trio is probably the most impressionistic music in the set, with shadings of light and dark colors interweaving to create visions of nature, the seasons, and memories sad and anxious.
After that, there's a wonderfully evocative piece for organ called Organum that recalls music of the late Medieval-early Renaissance period in a large, airy, but very quiet cathedral. It's quiet organ music, if such a thing is to your liking; it is mine.
|Michael Vincent Waller|
The title piece, La Riva Sud ("The South Shore," of Staten Island, close to the composer's birthplace) for piano and viola involves memories of Waller's childhood. As such, it is among the most reflective and nostalgic of the works in the set.
Some of the pieces may remind you of the flute playing of Paul Horn, others of the piano of George Winston, two musicians who influenced a generation of popular artists. Yet Michael Vincent Waller's music is more complex than that, richer, subtler, and more varied.
If there is any drawback to the set, though, it is that there may be an overabundance of good things. That is, a little goes a long way and a single disc of this material might have sufficed for most of us. As it is, Waller and his team offer the two-disc set for the price of one disc, and if over two hours of his gentle compositions seem a bit much, the listener always has the choice to play only one disc at a sitting. (I had a slight preference for disc one and may be playing it often.)
I could go on, but you're getting the idea. Of course, none of the music would be of value if the musicians didn't play it well, and each of the artists involved plays with feeling and conviction. It's a lovely album all the way around.
Is Waller's music of such a quality as may become truly classic, music that people might play a hundred and more years from now? Who knows? Personally, I doubt it. Yet it is positively enjoyable in the moment, which is all that counts for us today. Equally significant, it is music that one hopes presages more good things from the composer, who is young enough to be a serious force in the world of original, avant-garde classical works.
Producers Michael Vincent Waller, Ryan Streber (who also did the mixing and mastering), and Christine Kim plus a variety of audio engineers made the recordings at several studios and a couple of live venues, XI Records releasing the album in March 2015. Although the sound derives from a number of different sources, it's all basically of a kind: warm, mildly resonant, moderately close up, and slightly soft in keeping with the nature of the tunes.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: