DAVID LOEB/ SAMPLES FROM RECENT Vienna Modern Masters-CDs

 

DAVID LOEB

THE COMPOSER

The nineteen portrait CDs of the music of DAVID LOEB which appear on the Vienna Modern masters label have provided VMM the rare privilege of combining superb new music, wonderfully performed, with beautiful new art. The composer’s wife, Emiko Toda Loeb, is a distinguished quilt maker whose creations appear on the covets of all nineteen of these CDs, making their presentations especially noteworthy.

The Loebs’ unique artistic collaboration has deep resonances in the music. VMM 3056, Transparent Reflections, features 18 compositions, each inspired by a particular quilt made by Emiko Toda Loeb. Many of the CDs contain music played on Asian instruments, while others feature music based on Oriental scales. Virtually all of the music reflects the composer’s profound knowledge and deep love of Asian art, literature, and music.

DAVID LOEB’s experience with Asian music began in 1964 when he studied traditional Japanese music with Shinichi Yuize. In that same year he also developed a lifelong interest in composing for early instruments, especially viols. Earlier he had received his BS from the Mannes College of Music in New York, where he studied with Peter Pindar Stearns and has taught for almost fifty years. During many of those years he also taught composition at the Curtis Institute for Music in Philadelphia.

Born near New York in 1939, DAVID LOEB has received many honors and awards, beginning in 1961 with the Bohuslav Martinu Award and including annual ASACP awards since 1965. Widely known in Japan as well as in the USA, his scholarly articles have appeared in The Music Forum and Current Musicology. Emiko Toda Loch’s magnificent quilts are regularly seen in solo exhibitions in Japan, the USA, and many other countries.

KOKEI (1986, 2008) means "Old Landscapes;" all three pieces in this collection relate to Chinese art. "Kaiketsu" in Japanese means to reveal something hidden or secret, but in Chinese refers to a painter putting the initial brush­strokes of a painting onto paper or silk. For me these meanings have a linkage, for in drawing those strokes the painter begins to reveal to us the comprehensive image hidden in his mind until that moment.

When Zhao Xiang Zhang performed this piece in Beijing, he wanted a companion piece to go with it and made a transcription of my "Night Rain on the Xiao and Xiang" (VMM 2044, track 12), scenery which many Asian painters depicted over centuries. After he played it for me, I expanded it to include resources possible on the er-hu but not on the shinobue. I then wrote a third piece to put between the first two, picturing musically the powerful craggy pines associated with Ma Yuan and later adapted by Japanese painters (even though Japanese pines do not resemble his trees at all).


The DOUBLE CONCERTO (1990) was my first venture into writing for wind orchestra.

I was hesitant to use most of the intruments not found in the symphonic orchestra, so other than a quartet of saxophones, the ensemble comprises a normal symphony orchestra minus the strings. I had also not really thought about the sonorities produced by the doublings of many of the parts, so in this recording, following Marcel van Bree's excellent suggestion, there is only one player for each part. This gives a greater transparency, and much of the time provides more of a chamber music character.

The first movement includes two distinct themes, considerable development, and a duo-cadenza, but the form certainly bears little resemblance to the sonata. The second movement incorporates elements of both slow movement and scherzo, as many other composers have done to include all of the traditional four-movement elements into a three-movement structure. The last movement has many rondo characteristics, but once again the form doesn't quite match tradition.


TENRAI (2007) "Rustling of the Heavenly Winds" ...how can we in this life really know what this sounds like? I offer this piece (after several unsatisfactory efforts) only as a guess or suggestion. Naturally it must convey some sense of tranquillity; I have tried to do this by having the opening idea return at the end more quietly and much more slowly.


SEIYA(A CALM NIGHT) is a setting of an adaption of a poem by Ryokan, a famous poet active around 1800. Although he was Japanese, he wrote poetry as kanshi, in essence writing in Chinese. However, oral renderings of the poems, even at that time, would have used Japanese pronunciation, as I have done. The poem opens with a most typical Chinese image of a solitary man walking out from his modest home into a mountain valley to play his qin. However the narration takes on a surrealistic Japanese twist when we learn that the qin has no strings! Thus the combination of the text with a Chinese instrument and a traditional Japanese mode of singing seems entirely appropriate, despite the likely possibility the poet was merely following a traditional Chinese setting, without having ever actually heard the qin.


ANDORRAN FANTASY (1970, 1998) originated as a very short movement in a set for viola da gamba and harpsichord (the performers had stipulated a minimum of six movements and a maximum duration of eight minutes!). Although it seemed to work in that setting, I envisioned greater possibilities in an expanded context. An attempt to realize this in a piano work clearly did not succeed, and only many years later, during a vacation in Andorra, did I return to the challenge, this time fortifying myself with the resources of a very large orchestra.


The Fantasias on East Asian Modes, composed between 1977 and 2001, arose from a most unlikely circumstance. A pianist had requested a piece for a tour of the Far East (about thirty appearances in seven countries), specifically asking for music based on 'the Asian scale'. Since the major-minor scale system has formed the basis of nearly all Western music for more than five centuries, it seems quite logical to assume that a single scale encompassing the traditions of the East Asian countries should exist, but in actuality each country possesses its own unique scales and practices. If I had said that no such scale exists, I might very well have lost the opportunity, so I simply agreed to the stipulation, mumbling something like "I'll find some way to do this," although at the moment I had no idea how.


GAUNKYO
("A Bridge to the Lingering Clouds") (2001)

Although this name suggests a setting for a fairy tale, the bridge really does exist, It has a beautiful angled roof, and provides a splendid view of a similar bridge which dominates a maple grove within Kyoto's Tohfukuji ("Temple of the Eastern Happiness ). This piece suggests very early morning, long before the temple opens, when one might see mists rising from the mountains behind the temple, and perhaps not see another soul.

This composition little resembles Western quintets for a keyboard or wind instruments with string quartet. The sho (a Japanese mouth organ) normally appears in Imperial Court music, mostly playing successions of pentatonic chords which blend wlth melodies played by wind instruments. It sometimes plays this role here, but at other times the melody itself, in some instances accompanied by viols playing chords resembling those of the sho. Occassionally the sho participates equally with the viols in various contrapuntal textures. The techniques and sound qualities of the viols allow them to combine very well with traditional Japanese instruments, perhaps more effective than modern strings do.


Sonata No. 5 for bass clarinet (2003) arguably comes closest to the traditional sonata organization. It makes more use of 'extended techniques' than the earlier sonatas (although very modest by recent standards), but in each instance only for a clearly audible purpose. Thus the tremolo in the first movement helps to distinguish a contrasting theme from what came before. A single slaptongue at the end of the second movement establishes an unexpected ending as quietly as possible. The harmonics at the end of the third movement serve as an echo, even quieter than the same three notes heard softly at the outset. In the last movement, pairs of slaptongue notes introduce fugal entrances of a version of the opening theme. A brief fluttertongue passage heralds the inversion of that subject. At the very end of the movement the slaptongue idea returns, followed by key clacks, allowing the movement to drift off even more quietly and mysteriously than it began.


Sonata No. 5 for trombone and piano (2005) reuses some of the concepts found in the previous piece, The first movement uses the same tempo principle as in Sonata No. 4. The sec ond movement again resembles a song or aria, although with rather more com plex reshaping of the ideas than one might expect. The final movement agai uses variation form, although in a more humorous atmosphere. Ir includes ver brief references to the first and second sonatas, but no great harm is done if on misses them.


Sky Echoes, music for Shinobue:
Ohkaku (2005) While writing this piece I read a Chinese poem which referred to a 'Cherry-Blossom Palace' as a very calm and pleasant place. I had just finished a setting of a quite gloomy autumnal poem which mentions a desolate palace, and composing this piece seemed to offer a relief, with many quicker notes intended to suggest a sense of ease and an absence of worries.


Ancient Legends (1999) has three movements which are not based on any specific legends. Each should be heard as if listening to a storyteller who is trying to convince you that the story’s events, whether plausible or not, really happened. In that context it seemed appropriate ro have the second movement based on a theme which sounds like a wistful Japanese folk melody, although in fact; it is original.


Two Views of the Silent Waterfall (2002) describes a waterfall in a remote part of Ohara, the north end of Kyoto, which is remarkably quiet, although certainly not silent. Some rhythmic and melodic patterns suggest aspects of traditional Korean music, although I have not used any quotations from the traditional repertoire.
The so-haekum derives from the Chinese erh-hu, a two-string violin with a “trapped” bow. In its current North Korean form it has four strings and a “free” bow. In both playing techniques and sound, it seems like a blend of the violin and the treble viol, possessing all the agility of the Former and the warmth of the latter.



Over dinner on one of his spontaneous whirlwind visits to New York, my former teacher, Shinichi Yuize, nonchalantly suggested that I should make an album of compositions based on all of Emiko's quilts. I doubt he had calculated that this would require six or seven CDs, and that in the time needed to produce them, Emiko would make enough new quilts for at least one additional disc! Nor had he considered that about half of her quilts are reversible, which would require a different composition for each side, as with the "Transparent Reflections" pair in this album.

We have of course collaborated before. Emiko's quilts grace the covers of all 14 preceding CDs in this series, and I have composed and performed pieces for some of her exhibitions; most of these appear on VMM 2044, 2050, and 2060. But somehow this CD seems like the ultimate collaborative effort.

In keeping with me nature of this collaboration, we dispense with the customary individual biographies (which many readers already know), replacing them with a brief account of our history together. We met in 1975 on a plane from Japan to Europe. She had joined a small tour (really more of a musical pilgrimage) as her first venture outside of Japan, while I had chosen the long way back to New York to hear pieces of mine in Basel and London. We exchanged addresses and corresponded for some months until my next trip to Japan, which provided us the chance to get to know each other during leisurely visits to many of the Kyoto temples. After more months of correspondence, she defied family and friends (except the encouraging Yuizes!) and came secretly to New York. For more than thirty years we have been each other's severest critics and most ardent supporters.


The Zither Player - This work refers to an eighth-century Chinese poem, apparently set to music no longer extant, by Wang Wei, better known in his lifetime as a painter and musician. It tells of a woman playing her instrument all night, chilled in her damp robes by the autumn dew and afraid to enter her empty bedchamber. However, we learn no more about why, or about her eventual fate. Zither-type instruments (zheng and qin in China, koto in Japan, kayagum and komongo in Korea) have far more importance in East Asia than in the West.


The two books of Caprices (1999, 2009) are collections of short pieces in highly varied moods and textures which sometimes present technical challenges and sometimes expressive challenges. While far from displaying all the resources of the mandolin, they do feature many of its capabilities, especially its contrapuntal possibilities, which composers often overlook.


Voices of the Four Seasons (2004, 2010)

This album originated in a rather improbable manner. The unlikely saga begins in 2007 in Spain after the recording of my two double concerti for Windsongs (VMM 3060). Henri Bok and I had agreed that the Windsongs CD still had space for another short piece, and I duly composed a five-minute duo for two bass clarinets. However, the other soloist seemed always to have scheduling problems, so the recording never happened. Henri and I decided to record Voices of Winter instead, since we felt it was the best and most ambitious of my solo pieces which he had not yet presented on CD. He soon recorded it, but given its total lack of ´encore´ qualily, we placed it between the two double concerti. Sometime later, both published reviews and numerous comments from colleagues selected that short solo piece as the best on the Windsongs CD. That came as a big surprise to us both, especially considering that our decision to include the work had come at the last minute.

This emboldened me to expand Voices of Winter into this very much larger Four Seasons collection. As with historical works of that type (Vivaldi, Glazunov, etc.) the movements of my work may be played either separately or together. Fortunately, Henri immediately agreed to record it, but once again, we felt that the album needed another somewhat shorter piece, and Henri suggested the trio. This time he selected colleagues who participated enthusiastically, and the recording went very smoothly. In addition to its length, Voices of the Four Seasons (2004, 2010) offers many other challenges to the performer. It requires extreme range of register (almost five octaves), extreme range of dynamics and variety of color, not to mention tremolos, harmonics, and other somewhat unusual techniques.

Above all it required the ability to shape these large-scale movements into coherent wholes. As with many ofmy other works, listeners·may recognize the sound of pentatonic scales, especially in the Autumn and Winter movements. After nearly a half-century of intensive involvement with Asian musical traditions, using these scales has - for better or worse ~ become a part of my natural musical language. I do not push myself to use them, but I also make no effort to avoid them.


TAKEORI (2011) My wife and I have both drawn inspiration from abstract shapes created by Japanese artists using strips of bamboo forced into supple, curved shapes. For such a piece it seemed appropriate to reshape a theme composed long ago—originally for a unison of flute, violin, and cello (VMM 2048). The cover art on this album shows one of my wife’s reinterpretations of the bamboo sculptures.


LYRIC PIECES (2010) All of the solo pieces on this album were written for the people who recorded them, and I hope that each one fits the respective performer's playing style. Paul Smith is a versatile player with a broad spectrum of musical interests, hopefully reflected in the contrasts both within and between movements. While I believe most of this to be obvious, it should also be noted that the Asian character of the Lento assai seemed an appropriate inclusion for the person who had shortly before recorded my entire Asian Fantasias collection.


KINDRED SPIRITS
Composer's Commentary

This album differs from my previous shinobue albums in two
significant respects. In addition to a variety of solo pieces, it
includes two chamber compositions, duos with violin and guitar; it also does not include pieces written over a span of many years. All of the music was composed during 2013, although a few of the pieces draw upon thematic ideas from earlier works. To ensure at least a semblance of quality control, I composed more music than I intended to use, allowing me to eliminate certain pieces which did not fit well. The rejected works included another duo with violin, five additional caprices, and several solo pieces, one of which was actually recorded and edited but seemed unsatisfactory. Most of the pieces have programmatic references, which greatly eases the task of explaining them.

It is now exactly fifty years since I began to compose for Japanese and early Western instruments. This protracted activity has resulted in frequent "type-casting", although in retrospect, the benefits seem at least equal to the disadvantages. I have not played Japanese flutes for quite as long, but more than fifteen years playing Western flute in my youth provided a useful foundation and also led to discovering some fingerings generally unknown among Japanese performers. While this incrcased my compositional resources, it has also discouraged some Japanese players from performing pieces which extensively utilize these resources.

TAKEORI II and III continue my long artistic collaboration with my wife, distinguished quiltmaker Emiko Toda Loeb. In this current series we create parallel works inspired by the Japanese art of folded bamboo baskets or similar shapes. The photograph on this album cover shows the second quilt in the series.