Radiance in Motion
Fanfare, May/June 2019
Interview by Colin Clarke
Radiance in Motion: Composer Deon Nielsen Price in Conversation
A new disc by composer Deon Nielsen Price offers a window in to her world; it was my pleasure and privilege to discuss this with her in the following interview.
Your composition teachers were Leslie Bassett and Samuel Adler. Where did you study with each of them, and what did each give to you as his teaching legacy?
When I was in the Master’s degree program in piano performance at the University of Michigan in the early 1960s, I had the long-awaited opportunity to minor in composition and study with Leslie Bassett, who taught the non-composition majors. In his classes, where we studied the craft of composition (most often in Schubert’s art songs), I played all the examples for the class. For the private sessions with him, I decided to jump right into 12-tone music. I wrote the two atonal Walt Whitman songs (on the CD) at this time. When my piano professor heard my Diversions for Piano (some recorded on my SunRays CD), he bellowed, “Where did you get all this talent?!” and insisted I play it on my Master’s recital. I had been drawn toward composition many years earlier. While studying and performing with Academia Pro Arte in Germany, I composed an elegy in my grief over the tragic death on the Autobahn of a young boy who had recently escaped with his family to the West from East Germany. I learned that I am more comfortable expressing my inner feelings through music than through words.
The several works I had composed and performed in Michigan lay silent in a drawer for several years after I moved to Los Angeles, California, with my husband and five children. It was not until I became a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California that suddenly I was taken seriously and there were many performances of my compositions. I began notating the manuscripts on the computer and making them available through newly established Culver Crest Publications. That is why several of my early works from the 1950s and 1960s have a publishing date from the 1980s.
Dr. Samuel Adler, from the Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester, New York) spent a summer (1978, I think) as Visiting Professor at the University of Southern California, where I was just completing my Doctor of Musical Arts Degree. His message was to have integrity within a piece of music, in style, construct, and context. Also, he would tell students not to write like the Great Masters because, for example, Mozart was the authority of Mozart’s music. No one else could compose Mozart as well as Mozart!
I’m also very interested in your work with the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM)—you are a former president, I believe? (It’s a cause close to my heart; I’ve worked closely with composers Sadie Harrison and Nicola LeFanu in the UK, for example.) Can you talk a little about this as part of the introduction to this interview?
In 1979, when I was Visiting Lecturer at the University of California Santa Barbara, I attended a conference, “Up from the Footnotes,” chaired by UCSB Professor and composer Emma Lou Diemer. I realized that, in all of my five years pursuing a doctorate, I had never been introduced to a woman composer. The lecturer, musicologist Jeannie G. Pool, (now Ph.D.), soon organized the International Congress on Women in Music (ICWM), and I became a charter member. In 1993 1 was on the interim committee to merge three women in music organizations (ICWM, American Women Composers, and the International League of Women Composers) into the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM). Subsequently, women in music from many nations have gathered for congresses and festivals in Vienna, Heidelberg, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Beijing, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York City, and Mexico City. In 1999, as the final project of my term as IAWM President, I helped to produce the London Congress, held at St. Mark’s and other venues. I performed with my clarinetist son Berkeley as the Price Duo, both at the Congress and at Hyde Park Chapel. Another notable project of the IAWM was our 1997 protest of the discriminatory hiring practices of the Vienna Philharmonic. I was proud to be signatory for our letter-writing campaign that caught the attention of the international press. They have followed since then the slow, incremental progress of including some women in that orchestra.
The first piece we hear; Interruptions II, is in quite advanced language for violin and two pianos. Why two pianos for the instrumentation? Was Interruptions I the original version for two pianos with one pianist doubling on the violin?
You are correct! It was a 1988 commission for the Echosphere Duo, where I partnered with pianist/violinist Ayke Agus. She wanted a piece where she could hide the violin on a table behind the piano and surprise the audience by interrupting the duo piano music with violin, thus the title. We performed it on Echosphere concerts throughout the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 2011, I was invited to perform it with a Chinese pianist and a Chinese violinist on a Chinese Woman Composers’ Association (CWCA) duo piano concert in the China National Performing Arts Center in Beijing, and again in 2012 in the Hong Kong City Theater, where the Price Duo played a version for clarinet with my Chinese piano partner. When I contemplated recording Interruptions II, I had been working with violinist Limor Toren-lmmerman and pianist Nora Chiang Wrobel, who had just recorded my Angel Trio (Oneness, Cambria CD 2014), and I decided to expand the violin part significantly to create a veritable trio. I have been very pleased with the resulting strength of the composition, and felt it would be a good beginning for the Radiance in Motion CD.
For the sax piece Watts 1965, can you please give us the background? There is a lovely, bluesy feel, and a beautiful performance from the sax player, who really shapes phrases.
Pianist Mary Au and her saxophone partner Chika Inoue offered me a commission to compose a piece for them for the California State University at Dominguez Hills Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Watts Rebellion of 1965. I immediately said I would be delighted, because I had lived just inside the riot zone and remembered it very well. We were not directly in the conflict, but could hear it in the distance and had to cross the barriers to go to work and school, and we had to abide by the curfew. The first section of this one-movement piece is called “Barriers” and, with dissonance and chaotic rhythm, represents the heavy rioting and police gun shots. “Curfew,” the second section, called for a wailing blues that seemed appropriate for the largely African-American population in the area. The last section, “Aftermath,” returns to the rioting but also represents the good that came out of the riots in a victorious tonal passage of major chords. The long mournful note at the end is again from the blues. The Media Alts Department at CSUDH created a documentary video to show with the music. Chika Inoue will be performing Watts 1965 at the Roulette Theater in Brooklyn, New York, on May 11, 2019, with the Metro Chamber Orchestra, who commissioned the orchestrated version and will also show the video.
What drew you to Walt Whitman for the two song settings? There’s a gorgeous fragility to these settings, and a rare scoring, too (voice and viola). Can you tell me what led to the specific combination of voice and viola?
I do not remember what drew me to poetry by Walt Whitman, but it was an assignment for my composition study at the University of Michigan to set words to music for a singer and an instrument other than piano. I was intrigued with the possibilities of blending the similar ranges of the viola and the baritone singer for whom it was originally composed.
Regarding these settings and the settings of texts in general, how do you approach a text? What is it you aim to illuminate?
What draws me to particular poems is how I relate to the message of the poem. Does it speak to me and my own perspectives? Also, I look for practicality on whether the words lend themselves easily to musical setting. I usually look for words without too many syllables and with frequent long vowels. I read through several volumes of Walt Whitman poems, usually reciting them aloud, and also several sets of poems by Maya Angelou, to find those that fit my criteria.
And what draws you to a particular poet? As well as the poets represented here, I see you have previously set Maya Angelou, for instance.
Although I have set many poems by living composers, it is more practical to use texts that are in the public domain. It took two years to get permission to use words by Maya Angelou!
There’s an outpouring of lyricism to the Love Songs (1991/2014) to texts by Robert Bowen, and the musical language is quite advanced here. One of your amazing strengths, it strikes me, is the ability to use different modes of expression within the course of one piece, and yet it all sounds consistent—it all sounds like you! Also, the middle section of Interruptions II is fantastically imaginative, as it uses violin harmonics and plucked strings inside the piano, the latter perhaps associated with the avant-garde. Yet you use it within your own very individual sound-world. If pushed, how would you classify yourself compositionally?
I classify myself as an eclectic contemporary classical composer with a Romantic bent. I compose in many styles, depending on the text and subject matter.
Again, is Love Songs a revised composition (given the dual dates 1991/2014)? Also, why set poetry by Robert Bowen?
Darryl Taylor, a singer with whom I have collaborated since the 1980s, gave me the poems and suggested that I set them. Originally there were four Love Songs, but all were lost in a studio fire in 2010. When copies of two songs surfaced in a private library, I notated them on the computer in Finale in 2014 and felt it would be important to record them. I am hoping that a recording of one of the performances of all four songs may turn up.
I love the Four Medieval Songs. Here, you take 12th- and 13th-century texts and set them for countertenor and harpsichord. Can you explain how you reference the sounds of earlier music (“Pus sabers,” for example, seems to me to exude a sort of noble gallantry) while retaining your own voice? Interestingly, track 9 (“Salue, Virgo, Regia”) almost reminds me of Berio’s Folk Songs in its spirit. Has Berio’s work in this field influenced you, do you think?
I’m glad you enjoy them. Berio has influenced my writing only generally, along with other 20th-century composers. I like to employ contemporary, avant-garde and extended techniques where I believe they will enhance the expression of the music, but I seldom use them merely to experiment with sound.
I composed the Four Medieval Songs while researching early music during my doctoral work. The melodies have been transcribed from the ancient neumatic notation. Although no accompaniments are extant, we know from iconography that they were sung with strummed instruments. I tried to create accompaniments for hamichord that, although not authentic, would be compatible with what we know about the general style of the time. Besides strummed chords, and medieval modes, I used imitation and sometimes embellished the melodic line for the accompaniment. The surprising thing to me was that I wrote the songs as a research project, only to discover that each of them is a pearl with tme musical value and an invitation for personal musical expression by the performers. The difficulty is with the pronunciation and translation of the texts, which range from Catalan to Medieval Latin to Provencal French.
How lovely it is to have three carols arranged for two guitars (Ancient Carols)—and with such a nice European spread (Holland, England, and France). How did this setting for two guitars come about?
Sion’s Daughter, a carol from the Dutch tradition, and Wonder Tidings, from 15th-century England, were two of several carols published in the Oxford Book of Carols (1964) that I had arranged for vocal ensembles when I was working on my doctorate in the early 1970s. The choral arrangements have been sung by various youth ensembles. Dort, dort (Sleep, sleep) is an ancient lullaby French Carol that I have known all my life, and that my children’s choirs sang when I taught school music in the 1950s. When the esteemed guitarist and educator Jonathan Marcus commissioned me to compose for guitar duo in the early 2000s, the carols came to mind. Jonathan, in poor health by then, recruited his friends and colleagues, Gregory Newton and David Grimes, to perform and record them. David Grimes subsequently commissioned me to arrange them for his Orange County Guitar Orchestra to perform. Some of my other works for guitar are L ‘Alma Jubilo, recorded on SunRays, and Mesuree Mexicana on SunRays II; however, I do not play guitar myself.
We’ve talked about your inspiration that comes from the written word in poetry. For the suite Villa da Fontani it is kinetic sculpture that inspired “Radiance,” while the image for “Harmony” is reproduced on the booklet back cover. Both of these texts are by David C. Roy. The first piece, “Serenade, ” feels to me like an exquisite rendering for guitar Q/ the ethos of the sculpture. The knockings and percussive effects are an integral part of the experience. How did you discover Roy ‘s works? H7zat about them spoke to you, and how did you render that in your own music?
I composed these three movements after visiting my colleague, guitarist Gregg Nestor, whose home is called Villa de Fontani. The path alongside the pond, graced by a lovely fountain in the middle, leads to the heavy, majestic Spanish doors and the entrance to the home. Once inside the villa, I was captivated by the whirring sight and sound of two spinning kinetic wood sculptures that adorned two walls. “Radiance,” the first sculpture I came to, inspired the title of the CD and its image is reproduced on the booklet cover. When in motion, its two 12-spoked patterning wheels are off-balance so that they accelerate and decelerate with each rotation and create an ever-changing kaleidoscope of shifting pattern effects. I represented the motion by using running arpeggios in a composite meter of 3 and 2 pulses, and the periodic twang of the drive mechanism with a resonating snap of guitar strings. The other sculpture, “Harmony,” in an adjacent room, features stiff starts and stops. I imitate them with knocks and slaps on the upper and lower bouts of the instruments. I have looked at many other of his kinetic sculptures online, and had a pleasant communication with David C. Roy and his wife while we were developing the high-quality photo needed for printing.
“What drew you to the texts of Spiritual Songs? You set part of the Book of Mormon, a psalm, and a traditional Negro spiritual. All three share a Christian basis: Is this what drew you to them?
These are three of many more spiritual texts that I have set to music. Yes, my own affinity is to Christianity, but I am respectful of and interested in the faiths of many cultures. Currently I volunteer with the Interfaith Center at the Presidio and coordinate monthly concerts as a service to the community. Our venue is the historic Presidio Chapel by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, with its amazing acoustics. I am currently expanding another of my Spiritual Songs, “The Light of Man,” with texts from the Hindu Upanishads, into a one-act opera to be performed for these Presidio concerts as the last in a series of contemporary operas that represent viewpoints of various faiths. I have also composed the first chamber opera in the series, Ammon and the King: Immigrant Speaks Truth to Power, on a story found in the Book of Mormon.
The melody for “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” is a rare version of the traditional Negro spiritual. I was honored that it was included in the Albany recording of arrangements of Negro spirituals, How Sweet the Sound, sung by countertenor Darryl Taylor, for whom it was written.
“Fearful” from Three Faces of Kim, the “Napalm Girl, ” is played here on contrabass clarinet; there is a version for violin and piano on your disc SunRays. How malleable is the instrumentation of this piece? (You say that this contrabass clarinet version is to highlight the score ominous character.)
Composed originally for soprano and alto saxophones and piano, as a paean to the famous photo of the Vietnam War era, my violin partner insisted that I alTange it for violin and piano. The recording session was to have it recorded twice, once for each instrument. However, there was a technical recording problem and the saxophone version has never been recorded. In 1989 I arranged it for clarinet, contrabass clarinet, and piano for the Price Duo to perform. The first two movements for Bb soprano clarinet, “Soulful” and “Playful,” are recorded on my Clariphonia disc. I was gratified to record the third movement, “Fearful,” with the deep sonority of the eight-foot clarinet, on Radiance in Motion. A live performance of all three movements for violin and piano is recorded on Oneness.
Augury features a lot of advanced techniques, such as multiphonics and quarter-tones. What’s the background to this piece (ånd its title)?
Saxophonist M. Kent Gregory (with whom I had been playing saxophone/piano concerts) and his wife, violinist Lisa Berlacher, commissioned me to write a work for them. I wanted a new harmonic idiom as the basis of the work, something I prefer to identify for each of my new works. I examined the possible multiphonics on the alto saxophone and the possible double stops on the violin. I found those with matching pitches and, basing the entire composition on those pairings, I proceeded to compose contrasting sections that encompass a wide range of emotional expressions, including Romanticism. The title represents a look into a multi-faceted future in life, an augury.
I’m also intrigued by your book, Accompanying Skills for Pianists, which has been taken up as a handbook by many performers. It ‘s clear that chamber music is very important to you. too. Are you particularly drawn to the more intimate modes of expression?
My doctorate is in piano performance with a specialty in collaborative piano. In my five years of working with Gwendolyn Koldofsky and Brooks Smith, and in masterclasses with many visiting artists, I became aware of the multitude of fine points that need to be learned and incorporated in musical collaborations, even though the performers may be very accomplished soloists. I saw the tremendous amount of time and energy that Madame K, as we called her, expended on teaching these intricacies to each new solo pianist. I decided to organize the many small points into basic principles that could be learned from a book. My intent was that a pianist could learn them from a book and thus allow more time for the experienced performer professors to share their artistic insights into the repertoire. Accompanying Skills for Pianists has been used in more than 800 piano departments, and the second edition is still in use.
And, yes, I believe that my most fulfilling moments are when I am communicating with others on a non-verbal level, as we make music together in a chamber music setting.
And, finally, what is next, both in terms of forthcoming new releases and your compositional output?
The performing rights organization, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), lists nearly 300 titles of my works. The composition of the 31 songs for my chamber opera, including orchestration, score and parts preparation, revisions, and preparations for the premier concert performance March 17 , 2019, have consumed most of my creative time since the beginning of 2018. My next project will be Nzambi (God), a five-movement symphony for full orchestra, inspired by a group of paintings with the same name by the Angolan artist Hildebrando de Melo. I also am working toward a performance of my oratorio, CHRISTUS, with soloists, chorus, narrators, and full orchestra. The challenge in that project seems to be finding a conductor, venue, orchestra and chorus all in the same locale.
Review by Colin Clarke
NIELSEN PRICE Interruptions Il. Watts 1965. 2 Songs for Voice and Viola. Love Song. Four Medieval Songs. Spiritual Songs. Ancient Carols. Villa da Fontanh. Three Faces of Kim: Fearful. Augury • Lisa Berlacher Gregory, Limor Toren-lmmerman (vn); Roland Kato (va); Berkeley A. Price (contrabass cl); M. Kent Gregory (sax); Chika Inoue (sop sax, alto sax); David Grimes, Gregory Newton (gtrs); Mary Au, Sylvie Ollivier, Nora Chiang Wrobel (pn); Deon Nielsen Price (pn, hpd); Darryl Taylor (ct) • CAMBRIA 1236 (77:69)
The combination of two pianos and one violin is an intriguing one, and is the scoring chosen by Deon Nielsen Price for her Interruptions II. There is no sense of the violin being swamped. Perhaps the descriptive booklet notes do not do the piece justice; it is fascinating on a number of levels, and not just timbrally. Rhythmically, the piece is alive; Price’s music has real vitality, and her harmonic processes are infinitely malleable. Limor Toren-lmmerman is the fine violinist, while Nora Chiang Wrobel and Sylvie Ollivier are strong pianists.
The scamperings of Watts 1965 bring in other aspects of Nielsen Price’s writing. Describing the infamous Watts riots, it is a dialogue between styles as well as between saxophone and piano. Popular music references depict the crowds; the composer herself was affected by these events of 1965 (hence the work’s dual-meaning subtitle, “A Remembrance”), as she kindly describes in the interview above. Chika Inoue is a superb saxophonist, slinky when required, infinitely expressive elsewhere, while Mary Au provides impeccable musical partnership on piano.
Personally, I love the idea of the combination of voice and viola (with no piano) in Nielsen Price’s Two Songs (to texts by Whitman). The use of a counter-tenor—here the excellent Darryl Taylor—only ramps up the intriguing aspect. Originally composed for baritone (intending to link the ranges of voice and instrument), the counter-tenor adds a real layer of passion in Taylor’s reading. His voice is incredibly strong, but capable of beautiful shadings. The first, “Song of the Exposition,” roams inquiringly, while the second, “The Hermit Thrush,” finds in Nielsen Price’s individual lines the still but disquieted nature of aloneness, and indeed the fragility of life and the proximity of death.
Taylor is no less expressive in the Love Songs, to texts by Robert T. Bowen. Here he is partnered by the composer herself, giving the performances a particular stamp of authority. Particularly impressive is Nielsen Price’s micro-sensitivity to the shifts in the first song, “The Connection”; the second, “Love,” is more disjunctive (perhaps reflecting the refracted nature of love as time goes on). The Spiritual Songs, also for counter-tenor and piano, brilliantly set passages from the Book of Mormon, a Psalm (139) and a traditional spiritual (Nobody Knows the Trouble I Seen). The Mormon setting, “Believe!,” is short and effective; the Psalm (“Whither Can I Go?”) is more long-breathed, rising to a significant climax; the Spiritual has a deceptive simplicity, with the left hand rhythmically doubling the voice but with harmonic complexities throughout that add Nielsen Price’s individual stamp again.
The Four Medieval Songs for counter-tenor and harpsichord add another layer to Nielsen Price’s art. Quasi-excavation in a compositional context is brilliantly achieved via the careful use of modes and interplay between counter-tenor and harpsichord (again with the composer at the keyboard). A similar sense of temporal distance exists in the Ancient Carols for two guitars, providing balm for the ears as the composer picks carols from three territories: Holland, France and England. The performances are simply beautiful. The scoring of two guitars is continued in the suite Villa di Fontani. The interview gives details on each movement; the musical results seem to move forward from Ancient Carols into a more sophisticated, and in the initial “Serenade” no less calming, space. The taps of “Harmony” seem perfectly in place, with a lighter touch before the patternings of “Radiance” perhaps implying a sort of sonic kaleidoscope. An eight-foot contrabass clarinet graces “Fearful” from Three Faces of Kim, The Napalm Girl, a piece that has appeared in a variety of settings. Playful but with a darker central section, it is given a brilliant performance here by Berkeley A. Price and the composer. Finally, Augury, for violin, sax and piano, is a virtuoso exposition of saxophone multiphonics, violin stoppings, and quarter-tones that explores the hopes and fears of fortune-telling.
The recording quality throughout is excellent, allowing Nielsen Price’s music to shine. This is fascinating music, and a most rewarding disc.
Review by David DeBoor Canfield
The music of Deon Nielsen Price is one of my discoveries for this particular issue of Fanfare, and it was a pleasant one indeed. Because this review is part of a feature, I’m assuming that her biographical details will be found elsewhere, but I shall simply mention that she is the former president of the International Alliance for Women in Music, the president emeritus of the National Association of Composers, and the author of more than 200 compositions which span a wide variety of genres. A quick check of the Fanfare Archive indicates that this is her first exposure in these pages.
I must say that the title of the disc’s opening work, Interruptions II, is very reminiscent of the sort of appellation given to works in the 1960s and 1970s during the heyday of the avant-garde movement. This tonally traditional work, however, dates from 1988, apparently being revised in 2015, and is scored for the almost unheard-of combination of violin and two pianos. Actually, though, in its original version, it was scored for only two players, one of whom was called to play both violin and piano during the course of the piece, something perhaps even closer to unique status than the revised version heard here. Readers may recall the Gemini Variations by Benjamin Britten, a quartet for two players, one of whom was to play successively on flute and piano, and the other on violin and piano. That work was written for the Hungarian Jeney twins, who recorded it for Decca/London. Another slightly different variation on this theme was provided by Arthur Grumiaux, who was almost as gifted a pianist as he was a violinist. LP collectors may have seen the famous disc on which he recorded both parts of sonatas by Mozart and Brahms. I suppose Grumiaux never discovered this work by Price, especially since it was written two years after he died, but I can imagine him liking it enough to have played it. Its single movement employs adventurous sonorities, but always retains tonal integrity. Some moments of modality peek ülrough at times, and the piece maintains the listener’s interest right up to its dramatic close. Effective use of violin harmonics and strumming of the piano strings adds luster to this captivating work.
Price’s free tonality continues into Watts 1965 A Remembrance, a recollection of the infamous riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in the turbulent 1960s. The single-movement work comprises three contrasting sections, “Barricades,” “Curfew,” and “Aftermath.” Much of the work has the saxophonist spin out some rather “bluesy” lines (meant to represent the onlookers), and the performer is called upon to play on both the soprano and alto members of the saxophone family. The rioting and gunshots are also portrayed through more dramatic gestures in both instruments, and the work makes a considerable positive impression. At the work’s first performance, an elderly gentleman who’d been a witness to the riot commented that the composer had “gotten” the gist of the event, both in its portrayal of a bad time, but also in reflecting the positive things that came out of it.
The Two Songs for Voice and Mola give further evidence of the composer’s seeking to explore new combinations of timbres. This may, in fact, be the first—and possibly still only—work written for countertenor and viola. The texts are drawn from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and When Lilacs Last in Doocvarcl Bloom’d. Generally cast in a similar range, the two music lines are skillfully woven around each other by the composer, with sometimes the voice and at others the instrument predominating. The gentle spirit of the poetry is exquisitely matched by the music. Love Songs employs two poems, “The Connection” and “Love” by Robert T. Bowen, and the spirit of mystery that pervades the previous work carries over to this one as well, but the practice of melody and accompaniment heard in the vast majority of songs distinguishes this work from its predecessor. The first song is gently flowing, while the second, perhaps surprisingly, contains a rather rhythmically disjointed accompaniment, almost but not quite verging into jazz territory in a few spots. In any case, it’s quite catchy.
With the Four Medieval Songs, Price goes in a rather different direction. Here, she has taken (apparently verbatim) the tunes from four songs from the 12th and 13th centuries and composed an original accompaniment on the harpsichord (which instrument she plays as well as she does the piano in two of the other cycles), effectively combining the old with the new, although in her accompaniments she hearkens back to a much earlier era than she does in the other works presented herein. Throughout this cycle, she utilizes typical musical devices from the era, including imitation and heterophony (the simultaneous variation of a single melodic line). The Spiritual Songs contain three settings, taken from the Book of Mormon, the Bible (Psalm 139), and the traditional spiritual Nobody Knows de Trouble I Seen. These brief pieces fall easily on the ear, and do exude a spiritual atmosphere. I find countertenor Darryl Taylor’s voice of pleasant quality through these four works, but not always spot on in intonation; generally, though, he tums in some exquisite phrasing, and is quite a fine singer. A friend who is currently a very active countertenor happened to be staying with my wife and me, and so listened along with me to Taylor’s singing. He agreed with my assessment, stating that he found him especially effective in the first two cycles.
The recital continues with two works for guitar duo. The first work, Ancient Carols, comprises effective settings of Sion’s Daughter; Dort, Dort; and Wonder Tidings, bringing their harmonies up into our own era while maintaining the centuries-old spirit of the original works. The Villa di Fontani is another slightly larger-scale three-movement suite, comprised of three contrasting movements. The second of them, “Harmony,” is particularly interesting as it interjects taps and other sounds at irregular intervals among the rather novel (by the standards of most guitar music) harmonies that pervade the piece. The CD closes with two of the most innovative works in the program. “Fearful,” a movement from The Three Faces of Kim, a suite for contrabass clarinet and piano, is characterized by motoristic movement in sequences of atonal harmonies. These flank a brief lyrical, if tonally diffuse, center section. Finally, the listener hears Augury, an eight-minute work for violin, saxophone, and piano that contains multiphonics on the saxophone, dissonant double-stops and quartertones on the violin, and ominous rumblings in the piano. The work is quite different and more tonally advanced than anything else on the CD, but does not represent a new direction for the composer, given that it is one of the earliest works presented by her here. It does suffice to give evidence of her versatility in writing effectively in many different styles—and indeed, no two works on this CD particularly resemble each other, although Price’s compositional fingerprints show up in all of them.
All of the performances of these works present them in a most favorable light, and I believe that the personal style and secure craftsmanship of Deon Nielsen Price will gain her numerous fans among the readership of Fanfare if its members will give her a listen.
David DeBoor Canfield