Julius Eastman Vol. 3: If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich - JULIUS EASTMAN (1940–90) : If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich, Evil N*****, The Moon’s Silent Modulation. WildUp
Catalogue Number: 09Z027
Label: New Amsterdam Records
Description: Volume 3 in Wild Up's invaluable survey of the works of the extravagantly gifted, maverick, multitalented genius brings us three very different ensemble pieces that demonstrate, among other things, the total unpredictability of Eastman’s muse. There is no such thing as an Urtext score in Eastman’s output; his notated works, meticulously precise in some respects, almost invariably contain elements of aleatory, ambiguity, and improvisation, reflecting the fact that the composer, an exceptionally talented improviser, was usually involved in the performances of his music that occurred during his lifetime, so that his scores are frequently blueprints waiting for elaboration. This is the premiss upon which Wild Up base their interpretations, which are effectively free transcriptions based on Eastman’s scores, where they exist, and recordings, ditto. Their version of Evil N_____ departs from the four pianists at four pianos model that the composer used, but did not specify; the work can be played on any number of similar instruments, and has been transcribed for two accordions (remarkably successful) and string quartet (less so, at least in parts). Wild Up take some liberties with these instructions; two pianos are coupled with a large instrumental ensemble. The piece starts with the pianos, but by the 4-minute mark, the ensemble dominates the texture in rich, dense, slow-moving floes of sound, reminiscent of John Luther Adams, or - more likely suggested by - the magmatic, basso profondo textures of Eastman’s Symphony No.2 (1983), which is completely unlike anything he was doing in 1979, when Evil N_____ was written - and this is even more true of the ending, in rich, consonant string chords. The minor key gestures and vicious fusillades of repeated notes from the piano rendition are thus somewhat submerged, and the unison refrain becomes more punctuation than an integral part of the hurtling progress of the piece, but it gains a degree of grandeur in the process. It is, in its own right, a tremendously effective rendition of Eastman’s most notorious score, though probably one that he never envisioned - though that is not to suggest that he would necessarily have disapproved of it. It emerges as a very different piece, though; for example, 3/4 of the way through a passage dominated by sustaining, melody instruments suggests the Michael Nyman Band for several minutes, and the heavier textures sacrifice something of the music's frenetic, headlong drive. Admirers of Eastman’s music will certainly find this alternative view a necessary addition to their collections. The Moon’s Silent Modulation dates from 7 years earlier, in a different lifetime, while Eastman was still in Buffalo, NY. In the early 1970s, Eastman was enjoying widespread successes as a performer, in works by Henze, Stockhausen, R. Murray Schafer, and Peter Maxwell Davies, whose "Eight Songs for a Mad King" was a tour de force for Eastman, performed in multiple cities and recorded in London. The Moon’s Silent Modulation is a multimedia ballet, for flute, percussion, 2 pianos, speaker, chorus, string quartet, and dancers, and demonstrates the composer’s extravagant flair for the theatrical. The score incorporates graphic notation and improvised passages. After the premiere, the Buffalo Evening News reported the event, “This is a big work, full of gesture, its core based on an oft-repeated three-note motif. Slicing block-chords, tone clusters and a long crescendo-diminuendo of two stolidly opposed repeated chords were played by Mr. [Ronald] Peters with an excellent sense of timing, heightening the drama.” The other work here, with the superb title "If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?" was composed in 1977, around the time of the upheaval in the composer’s life when he left Buffalo and moved to New York City. It was composed for his mentor and champion, Lukas Foss, and his Brooklyn Philharmonic. Foss described the piece as "merciless". It sounds like a deeply wounded, bitterly angry preface to the "N_____" series (of four pieces, of which only two are known to have survived), written shortly thereafter. For the first performance, Eastman provided a highly pessimistic, philosophically contemplative programme note, perhaps reflecting his state of mind at the time, having been uprooted from his position of academic security. This is one of the handful of works of which we have recordings of performances in which the composer participated. Wild Up have obviously based their interpretation on this - the basic material is plainly recognizable - but even more than with Evil N_____, the result is a very different piece. In the archival performance the work opens with an unadorned ascending chromatic scale on trumpet, ending on a high E which is then obsessively repeated for several minutes. The other brass then enter with raucously discordant chords, and the ensemble moves into an extended passage of ascending and descending scales which exploit the Shepard Tone acoustic phenomenon. From the first notes, Wild Up provide an introduction, and the scales are played on more than one instrument. This increased density and opulence of texture is characteristic of the new recording, adding richness and weight to Eastman’s original concept of the piece (maybe; there seems to be no surviving recording of the Brooklyn Philharmonic performance, and the one that does exist is for the specified brass ensemble, with violin solo). Eastman's "chimes" - two spatially opposing sets of tubular bells in the live performance - are played by a gentler vibraphone on the CD, which blends into the ensemble more readily. The obsessive Shepard Tone material is more of an unrelenting idée fixe in the composer-supervised performance, and repeated snarling and baying brass gestures, punctuated by the deranged clangor of the bells form a prolonged episode of unbridled, inchoate fury, whereas Wild Up make it more of a "conventional" orchestral climax (a pretty shattering one, it has to be said). A dramatic, intense violin solo, with sparse accompaniment from the bells alone, forms an extended cadenza in the historical performance, and the eventual re-entry of the brass has the effect of the malicious mutterings of hostile, growing mob. In the Wild Up performance, this entire section is played by winds and voices, with some electronic echo and reverb effects, and the mob is literally represented by a cacophony of voices. Given the nature of Eastman’s bequest to performers who followed him, though, this kind of organic growth in performance practice is the only way to attempt to do justice to his kaleidoscopic vision (and in some cases, such as Buddha from Vol. 2 (07Z020), where a semi-graphic score provides all the core materials and no clue what to do with them), the only alternative to no performance at all. Wild Up's recordings are unfailingly vital, inventive, and impactful, and this continuing series is essential for admirers of the composer.