Orchestra students can be two things at once: wildly inventive (because they haven’t yet learned what “shouldn’t be done”) and open to fresh ideas. But few are lucky enough to have a visiting teacher like Greg Haines, who not only instructs, but listens and compliments. Haines’ sessions with the students were reshaped in the studio and form the heart of Digressions. Some other friends stopped by along the way: Peter Broderick plays on the disc, Dustin O’Halloran gets a recording credit and Nils Frahm contributes the mastering. This group of friends has become ubiquitous, and their collaborative work continues to shine. But it’s the humble Iden Reinhart (Strië) who most impresses, laying down the main violin parts that serve as the core of the recording.
What is the future of the field that was once called “classical”? This is the discussion that the young Haines had with the even younger musicians, who must have appreciated his age and accessibility. In the field of modern composition, at least three dominant strains have come forth: those of sound and silence (Johann Johannsson), sustained note (Greg Haines) and atonal fluctuation (Daniel Bjarnason). Yet there is much movement not only within these strains, but among these artists. The best news for aspiring composers and performers is that new avenues have opened for new faces. Not only can artists begin to make a name for themselves in their late teens and early twenties, they no longer need to feel constrained by old modes and motifs.
The five movements of Digressions form a confident and cumulative impression, like wisps floating together to form a cloud. As in most works of this type, it’s hard to extract a single piece, as they are meant to work in tandem. The same is true of Haines’ last work, Until the Point of Hushed Support, a brilliant album that balks at any attempt to divide it into singles. Digressions does not have the former album’s downcast tone, which is understandable considering its genesis. As much as that album was informed by autumn – filtered light, tinted leaves – Digressions is an album of spring. Never is this more apparent than in the bubbling piano and seedling strings of “Azure”, which rises from the album’s more stolid center to exude an aura of regeneration: a swirl, a swirl, and in the final minutes, a sprout. As the album draws to a restrained close, listeners are led to pull down the screen windows. Spring will be here soon, and the music is itching to move outside. (Richard Allen)
Release date: March