This is the offical post of the semi-finals for the All Hands/GPO New Music Prize. Here are my review write-ups, and my picks for the two finalists. Voting will commence as soon as I can get a poll on the forums. (I don't have permission to create one).
1. A Garritan Library of the artist's choice. Donation by Gary Garritan. (Thanks Gary!)
2. Entrant's choice of two of three of my CDs (Red Wire/Rock; Running Deep/Soundtrack; Modern Works for Orchestra/Classical)
3. Short bio, link, and mp3 download on the allhands.com website (if desired), on a soon-to-be-created contest result area.
1. Entrant's choice of one of my CDs
2. Short bio, link, and mp3 download on the allhands.com website (if desired), on a soon-to-be-created contest result area.
Finalist A - Greg Smith (ConwayLemmon)
This little gem is in ABA form, with a free-flowing gentle middle section sitting nicely between the outer more tense sections. The opening chords are like pin pricks of light giving a gentle shock to the listener, followed by a slow relaxation. Perfect miniature moments of tension and release. It sets one into a cautious and expectant mood, which is the perfect emotional placemat for what follows. A lyrical violin melody emerges from the texture, then winds us down and prepares us for the middle section.
The center is what it's all about here. The sweet improvisational feel, soft rhythms, and beautiful phrasing of the vibes and harp are truly what makes this piece work for me. The tuba and violin sit far back as accompaniment, and play an essential though very reserved structural role.
The return of the sharp sounds of the opening bring the piece to a finish. This time, just a little more relaxed, and a little less prickly.
The theme "Bittersweet" was well presented here. The entire piece was a sweet center wrapped in a bitter outer layer, with just a little spillover from section to section. All together extremely satisfying!
Finalist B - Chris Bassett (CallMeZoot)
This Place I Used to Call Home
I love the humor in this piece, but it is no way the predominant feeling. It's more of the "isn't it funny..." variety one might experience when recalling a memory of mixed emotion. It opens with a crazy accelerating violin pizzicato motive that uses reverb and delay very effectively. It is imitated somewhat in the vibraphone, as the harp and bass flute build us up to the main section. The bends in the flute are very nice.
As motion begins to build up, a smoky muted trumpet enters, bringing a nice melancholy improvised jazz feel to the work. The melodies and textures here are beautiful and haunting. Listen for the continued violin pizzicato motive here, as it sneaks in the background, this time beginning quickly and slowing over time. The juxtaposition of in-time and out-of-time works perfectly in this context. The melody winds down, and we end in a soft rumbly cloud of clustered harp notes.
This piece is very evocative, and the loose non-functional harmonies and dream-like sounds are fantastic!
Runner Up - Paula Douglas (Drumroll)
This piece reminds me of Satie, which is a good thing. I very much like the impressionistic sound layered with atonal jabs. The virtuoso piccolo trumpet is quite striking, and the jaunty tuba melody mid-stream made me smile. The piano has an interesting thin and reverberant sound to it, and it sits well in the mix. However, I thought there might have been a little too much reverb overall. Depending on the texture, it sometimes added just a little confusion to the sound on the low end.
I'm very fond of the last section where harp and flute play a duet. I would like to hear some of the ideas in this part extended.
This was a very strong contender in this contest. I think it may have just missed the mark by feeling a little less cohesive than the top two. There were plenty of great ideas here, but I wasn't sure if they all felt like they belonged together in such a short piece.
Runner Up - Jon Bryson (jcbryson1)
Remember me Fondly
This piece opens with a very intriguing minimalist motoric rhythm using flute and delay. This becomes even more interesting as vibes and harp add to the motion. The vibes are treated more as a synth texture than a playable instrument, which I liked quite a bit.
I love the ominous dark harmonies, though I wasn't sure it was necessarily evoking "bittersweet" to me. The overall sound of this piece really caught me in a good way, but I was left feeling just a little lost when the rhythmic elements began to fragment apart. I think this was intended, but I didn't find it as effective as the similar use of rhythms in Chris Bassett's work. I am completely in love with the wonderful staccato hocketing that ends this work. This is wonderful punctuation!