Fall Music Preview ~ Modern Composition

The sweet sounds of modern composition are tailor-made for fall.  Solo piano scores the falling of leaves, while strings reflect the season’s bittersweet emotions. When orchestras bloom, they offer a sense of fullness; the heart can overflow even when the outer warmth is receding.  We suspect that some of the year’s finest albums will be found in this category.  There’s great power in this music, and richness of hue, enough to exude a warm autumn glow.

Our cover image is taken from Pinterest, but after a long net search we were not able to ascertain its origin.  If you know, please tell us so we can give proper credit where it is due!  Ironically, we found it while looking for “pumpkin piano.”  Close enough!

Rich’s Pick:  Rhian Sheehan ~ A Quiet Divide (Loop Recordings, October 5)
Five years have passed since Stories from Elsewhere, although Rhian Sheehan has remained active in other ventures, releasing a live album and a film score and mentoring artists such as Levi Patel and Lauren King.  His return is a triumph.  A Quiet Divide bleeds elements of nearly every genre we cover, most notably ambient, electronic, experimental and post-rock, but its heart is modern composition. Hints of the old Sheehan remain, but he’s pushed his music further into the orchestral realm and in doing so has achieved a new transcendence.


We initially thought Mary Magdalene was Johann Johannsson‘s last work, but the honor actually goes to his score for the horror film Mandy.  While it’s not the happiest note to end on, any music from him is welcome (Lakeshore/Invada, September 14).  Iceland Airwaves made news this year by announcing a lineup that was 50% female.  The FatCat/130701 label also deserves credit for releasing four female-fronted albums in a row, the latest being the debut of Stockholm pianist Shida Shahabi.  Homes is tender, loving and calm, a respite from the troubles of the outside world (October 25).  But wait, there’s more!  Coinciding with a U.K. tour is the September 27 release of the compilation The Sea at the End of Her String, boasting all-new tracks from Shahabi, Resina and Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, as well as a bonus piece by the founder of the label.   See the tour if you can; tickets are available here.


Those who have been enjoying the HBO series Sharp Objects are directed to Alexandra Stréliski‘s Inscape, which includes the show’s highlight piece Plus tôt.  But stay tuned for “Burnout Fugue;” not all is quiet here.  Gregor Schwellenbach‘s The Body as Archive is a score for the film of the same name, described as a “dance film essay.”  The piano is dominant, but light adornment arrives from multiple angles (Galerie, September 7).  Stefan Schultze Solo combines piano and prepared piano on System Tribe, garnishing the blend with a sprig of light treatments (WhyPlayJazz, September 7).  Dmitry Evgrafov returns to the solo piano on the obviously titled Return EP, which brings back memories of his earliest work; we’re proud to say we knew him when (Fatcat/130701, September 14).  Cristina Spinei presents three solo piano pieces and one for piano and cello on her Mechanical Angels EP, due September 14 along with a new video.  An additional twist is the invitation for other pianists to film their own renditions (September 14).  Piano meets string trio on Cameron Brooks‘ Vicissitude EP, set for release on September 21 via Subtempo.  And Craig Armstrong combines his piano with strings on Sun On You, performed with the Scottish Ensemble and preceded by the elegant single If You Should Fall. We’ve been enjoying Armstrong’s work for decades, and are glad to hear him sounding as good as ever (Decca, September 7).


Sam Slater‘s Wrong Airport Ghost sounds like the work of a small orchestra, thanks to layering and amplification; but it’s actually the sound of a single string (Bedroom Community, October 5).  Those who prefer string quartets will find a perfect match in Fiona Brice, whose 3-part String Quartet No.1 will be released on September 19 (Bigo & Twigetti).  12 Ensemble make their debut by performing the works of four composers on Resurrection (September 14).  The group should not be confused with Sylvain Chauveau’s ensemble 0, which sounds completely different despite the similar name.  plays eight compositions and it lasts 38:36 sees the ensemble trading instruments such as glockenspiel, vibraphone and chime, and would make a perfect mobile for a nursery (flau, October 5).  flau also presents a new album from Ulises Conti, formerly known for his piano works; Los efímeros (The ephemeral ones) features fuller instrumentation and is as lush as a greenhouse (September 21).


Less Bells is one of the fall’s freshest surprises, billed as an “ambient orchestral” project by Joshua Tree’s Julie Carpenter.  Solifuge mixes modern composition, ambience and drone in a manner that soothes and delights (Kranky, September 14).  Staccato Signals is still fresh, but Ben Chatwin has already released a follow-up: a reimagining of the album that saw him return to the studio for a fresh new take.  Drone Signals is an elaboration of themes, in which some aspects of the original album are brought to the fore, others smoothed out and still more added.  Both albums are superb; we’re hoping to see a special edition double-release (September 14).  Violin, viola and cello go through the mixing board on Michael Lind‘s Strings and Clusters, resulting in a lovely cloud of composed drone.  The cover crosses the ocean into winter, reflecting the name of the label (Polar Seas, September 21).


Composers work hard at their craft, but few call it physical labor.  That is, save for Manu Delago and his ensemble, who hiked into the Alps along with a film crew to capture the recordings of Parasol Peak.  The movie is incredible, as is the cast’s determination to soldier on through all types of conditions.  Despite the harshness of the climate, the compositions burst with ebullience and stand as a metaphor for the temporary triumph of man and woman over nature (One Little Indian, September 7).  Luca D’Alberto returns with the lush orchestral sound of Exile, preceded by the single Consequences; the album drops October 5 on !K7, and the video draws pleasant comparison to “Wait for Me.”  And one of the most intriguing releases of the season comes from the Estonian duo Maarja Nuut and Ruum.  Their sound ranges from folk expression to electronic burst, from instrumental lushness to vocal lullaby, drawing pleasant comparison to Dead Can Dance.  Muunduja is out October 5 on Fatcat/130701, a label owning the genre this season.

Those who enjoy both classical music and modern composition will have reason to celebrate on October 19, when Deutsche Grammofon releases Peter Gregson‘s recomposed double disc Bach: The Cello Suites. The new interpretation follows other successful label ventures, most memorably Max Richter’s take on Vivaldi.  New Amsterdam Records seems to be having success with its subscription service, which allows members early access to its releases.  The next of these comes from Robbie Lee and Mary Halvorson, who team up on Seed Triangular for an album of semi-composed, semi-improvised music.  Much of the latter comes from the first contact of artist and instrument (September 7).  The label will chase this down with the exciting Blueprinting from Aizuri Quartet, performing the works of multiple American composers.  The title refers to a style of Japanese woodcutting (September 28).

Three Trapped Tigers’ Matt Calvert is now the leader of a small ensemble, who serve up a warm and welcoming sound on Typewritten.  Whenever the listener starts to relax, the avant garde slips in.  The album is set for release on Truant Records September 7, and the lead single can be heard below.  The jazzy 10-part Wayfaring Suite comes from the hard-to-pronounce Hochzeitskapelle and Kama Aina, but don’t let that stop you ~ like most of the music covered here, it’s wordless.  The album is described as “ten small islands, full of riches.”  The sounds of glockenspiel, trombone, banjo and toy piano keep it as light as the Kailua breeze (Morr Music, September 21).  A 16-piece orchestra is found on Engage and Share, from storied composer Lars Graugaard and Grup Instrumental de València.  The three quarter-hour pieces ebb and flow, creating the impression of a living organism (Kairos, September).

Coming tomorrow:  Fall Music Preview ~ Rock and Post-Rock!

One comment

  1. Flow

    Hi Richard Thanks for the kind mention of Kama Aina & Hochzeitskapelle! Much appreciated Bests Flow


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