Living Language (2016)
[Living Language] showed an eagerness to embrace a broad musical landscape. Visconti’s 30-minute score, which featured a nimble solo turn by guitarist Jason Vieaux, turned out to be as much a polemical statement as an artistic creation. The composer’s thesis, underscored by his title, is that the world of contemporary classical music is broad and vital enough to encompass stylistic multitudes.
Visconti’s piece begins with an expansive solo in which the guitar intones a note-bending aria over droning string, in imitation of a sitar. It’s a beautiful sequence (and it makes a welcome return just before the concerto’s end), but it doesn’t linger long enough to register fully. Soon Visconti is off to the next thing, and before the piece has run its course he will have conjured up prog rock, neoclassicism, heavy metal, Arabian folk music, country blues and several others.
Living Language boasts several passages of crystalline inventiveness (a one-on-one conversation between the guitar and the principal horn is particularly telling), but it’s hard to focus on any given episode with the next one already taking shape over the horizon.
—San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman (May 2016) full review
Composer Dan Visconti, a resident of Chicago who’s 34 this year, has titled his new piece Living Language in recognition of his firm belief that classical music still is one, despite various gloomy prognostications. Entirely eschewing the sardonic whimsy I’ve heard in other pieces of his, Visconti has dealt with the problem of a guitar being quieter than an orchestra by keeping the orchestra quieter than the guitar. Only briefly, in the last of three connected movements, did the orchestra ever play more than a couple notes in forte — over the guitar or without it.
Jason Vieaux began the work casually, giving a few unaccompanied notes with long pauses between them. His excellent performance throughout was most remarkable here. Each firmly resonant note passed through three or four pitches and as many tone colors before fading away. Soon the guitar was joined by the quiet sheen of a single held note in the second violins. Gradually, Vieaux picked up a little speed, plus some harmonies from Indian classical music. Eventually some soft percussion came in, then the rest of the strings.
As the concerto proceeded, it became busier and somewhat more energetic. Harp and flute got a little to say. Hints of livelier music appeared occasionally: flamenco strums and snaps on the guitar, then a bit of klezmer in the orchestra...At least some of these hints were deliberate: Visconti was aiming for a tour of world music. Yet the concerto remained gentle, hushed, and transparent throughout, even while many were playing. Visconti’s skill at orchestration keeping it so was admirable. This concerto sounded quite unlike other modern guitar concertos by Rodrigo or others, yet it was, like their work, consonant, pleasurable, and satisfying.
—San Francisco Classical Voice, David Bratman (May 2016) full review
Visconti, currently in his second of three seasons as the [California] Symphony's Young American Composer in Residence -- Cabrera conducted his Breakdown last season -- crafts a vast canvas in Living Language. The three-movement score, performed without pause, takes its inspiration from styles and traditions ranging from medieval chant to 20th-century minimalism. The composer refers to the sounds of other cultures throughout the piece; one hears echoes of the Indian sitar, the Middle Eastern oud and Spanish flamenco guitar.
The guitar takes the lead from the start of the 25-minute concerto, introducing themes that are then distributed throughout the orchestra. Bended, unaccompanied guitar notes introduce the meditative first movement, joined by shimmering violins and subdued percussion. The music grows denser as it progresses. Woodwinds and brass engage as the guitar becomes more assertive in chugging, raga-type runs. A small army of percussion instruments adds to the mix...Living Language also yields lyrical episodes that charm the ear. A call-and-response between Vieaux's guitar and harp, played by Naomi Hoffmeyer, was especially lovely.
—San Jose Mercury News, Georgia Rowe (May 2016) full review
ANDY: A Popera (2015)
You know you're not there to hear Tosca when, a few minutes before curtain time, the general director of the opera company drops by with a stack of Dixie cups, "just in case alcohol arrives at your table."
ANDY: A Popera is a party. The new piece, premiered Thursday night in a warehouse on North American Street in Kensington, riffs on episodes and philosophical innovations in the life of Andy Warhol. It raises an urgent set of telescoping questions. What qualifies as art? Where do we set the boundaries between high art and low? And how far can opera go and still be opera? ANDY answers: anything, nowhere, and far out.
Opera Philadelphia and the Bearded Ladies, its creators, could not have chosen better artistic cover than Warhol for any kind of lunacy that crossed the stage...What was surprising about Andy, though, was that, even as it trafficked heavily in that dependable Fringe Festival commodity of coy self-indulgence, more than one performer sparkled, and the music itself formed gorgeous new land where the tectonic plates of rock and classical normally only grind.
Composers Heath Allen and Dan Visconti assembled a score of multitudes - alternately cheerful, pulsing, and groovy, sometimes embellished with operatic voices or recalling Kurt Weill, and often awash in rock-guitar acid. Several songs stand out - "Candy's Death Letter," a scene beautifully balanced between triumph and vulnerability by Scott McPheeters; and the closing few minutes, which move with unexpected psychedelic harmonic progressions as images play around with the real Andy, a skeleton, and the young one in the opera, played ably by Mary Tuomanen.
One of the production's great strengths - John Jarboe is director - is its pleasant disorientation. Who is really singing, who is lip-synching? Which sounds are electronic and recorded, which are coming from real singers and/or the real five-member instrumental ensemble?
Now that we've so emphatically entered the realm of accepting that the job of art is to entertain, it's easy to accept Andy as an enormous success. Opera Philadelphia says 40 percent of ticket buyers for the so-far sold-out nine-date run (a 10th is being added) have never bought Opera Philadelphia tickets before...a radically important innovation.
—Philadelphia Inquirer, Peter Dobrin (September 2015) full review
For the World Premiere of ANDY: A Popera a vast warehouse space in the Kensington section of Philadelphia stands in for The Factory. This pop opera, a grand, silly, and outrageous celebration of Andy Warhol, is also a meditation on art, fame and mortality.
After a gigantic box in the middle of the performance space is opened, and box shapes and large screens discovered inside, are moved away, a simple cardboard box is left. Hands holding a small video camera stick out of the top of the box. The hands turn out to be Warhol's. A large screen suspended way overhead shows that his little camera is taking videos of the audience, and of himself.
At first he's Andrei Warhola. And although his dear immigrant mother looms large in his life, he recreates himself as Andy, someone bigger, someone American. Associating "American" with Coke (a cola, that is). Andrei sings "I can be coke too. I can be two." Mary Tuomanen, looking boyish as Andrei, employs Andy's characteristic hand to face gesture and his shy greeting of, "Hi." Andrei transforms into Andy, becoming an idea, an image, multiples. Eventually there are maybe a dozen singing Andys in wigs, sometimes wearing sunglasses. Not standing in rows like a chorus, they sing from anywhere, including the audience area. The Factory comes to life with people, music, noise, video, and Warhol's signature silver balloons.
While it refers back to the 60s, this out-there collaborative performance feels new and experimental. Yet its aims might be traced way back before Warhol to grand old visionaries like Appia and Wagner, who long ago promoted a vibrant unity in the arts. Sophisticated video designed by Jorge Cousineau ramps up the live theater experience. Pre-recorded video, often matched to live stage performance, alternates with live video. Something crazy is always going on in this contemplation.
The band tackles all kinds of music. And the massive space fills with the stunning operatic sound of the Opera Philadelphia chorus as the intricate, repetitive libretto is sung by gorgeous, almost other-worldly voices in soaring harmonies. ANDY: A Popera is something very special. Its all-out artistry is the result of a true collaborative effort. If only this production could be extended so that more people could have an exhilarating experience.
—CurtainUp, Kathryn Osenlund (September 2015) full review
Don't pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches." That's the first of a page of Warhol quips printed in ANDY's program, although not one of the several which form a decent chunk of the show's libretto, set to Dan Visconti and Heath Allen's lively, impressionistic score. Well, fine then – have an inch, or three.
Gaudy, excessive and exuberantly superficial, ANDY: A Popera is in many ways a snugly fitting paean to Warholiana. Above all, it's a big, splashy, self-gratifying spectacle.
It's not, strictly speaking, about Andy Warhol in quite the ways you might imagine. We open with Andrei Warhola (his birth name) as a child, with his mother Julia (Malgorzata Kasprzycka) rhapsodizing about America and Coca-Cola, but any notions that might plant of a linear, life-story narrative to follow get uprooted pretty quickly. Andrei, played by Mary Tuomanen, is ostensibly at the center of the show, but – perhaps aptly – he doesn't actually do much of anything. Instead – and naturally – we get a multiplicity of Andys, ten or so, portrayed by members of the Opera Philadelphia Chorus in striped shirts, shades and silver shock wigs ("wig designer" – Rachel Geier – is a major credit in this show), who wander about chanting layered minimalism-style phrases or rendering the aforementioned quotables in dense, harmonically rich chorales.
Soon enough, we find ourselves at the Factory and witness the "creation" of several Warhol superstars, who are "pulled out of the crowd" in one of the show's many gestures toward audience interactivity...This is a big, elaborate production; the result of years of collaborative effort from many talented artists, and I had a very nice time watching it.
—Philadelphia CityPaper, K. Ross Hoffman (September 2015) full review
What’s wonderful and terrible and lots of fun all at the same time? ANDY: A Popera, stage three of a several-year-long development collaboration between the Bearded Ladies Cabaret and Opera Philadelphia. It’s got opera, it’s got audience participation, it’s got strobe lights and operatic voices and nudity and adult themes. It’s the story of Andy Warhol, his coming of age, and his impact on the culture of his time told through glimpses of his life and portrayed on stage, on screen, and in real life.
Andy, or rather Andrei, played by Mary Tuomanen, turns his camera on everyone: himself, the superstars he creates, and the audience members who briefly also become stars in the spotlight and on the screen. Tuomanen’s boyish demeanor captures Warhol’s gamin presence, and like Andy she focuses her attention outward on everyone else while at the same time masterminding the whole thing.
The setting is a warehouse filled with boxes, a large wooden box in the center. Julia Warhola (Malgorzata Kasprzycka), Andrei’s mother, wearing a dress splashed with pastels, asks someone in the audience to help her pull a rope marked “Pull.” When they do, the sides of the box drop open with a series of bangs, revealing a set filled with TV screens and white rectangles that move across the stage, beneath a large projection screen. Thus the show begins.
The boxes refer to Warhol’s Time Capsules, an exhibit of 612 containers, mostly carboard boxes, that contain artifacts of his life and work from the 1960s to 1987, when he died. The containers are held at the Andy Warhol Museum, where the contents of one time capsule are displayed and changed regularly.
The previous version of this popera, seen at the Wilma in July 2014, asked Why is Andy Warhol so famous? This production asks: What is Art? and Am I Art? Instead of a narrative approach to Warhol’s life, it recreates a Warholian experience, involving the audience in the mayhem, surrounding us with cast members, dropping Mylar balloons (reminiscent of Warhol’s work Silver Clouds) on our heads, even forcing us to walk through Andy’s hospital room; filming us and turning us all into art.
The whole is a mishmash of wonderful experiences and over-the-top camp performances...The death of Candy Darling (Scott McPheeters), a trans woman and Warhol Superstar, is one of the highlights of the production. We are drawn in emotionally, perhaps wanting to identify with someone, and when she asks the audience to take out their cameras and film her death, many oblige, as she expires in a swirl of silver fabric amidst a barrage of flashbulbs.
Members of the Opera Philadelphia Chorus play multiple Andys, Andy clones created by Andrei to replicate himself. In a sense these singers have cloned themselves — at the same time that they are appearing in this show, they have been busy rehearsing for Opera Philadelphia’s next production, La traviata. But while they have a chance here to be seen as individual artists, they have been subsumed under the persona of Andy and have become once more indistinguishable. In a sense, they have their 15 minutes of fame; in another, they don’t.
The lyrics come from pop tunes and from Warhol quotes. The singing is impeccable, particularly Maren Montalbano Brehm, the Opera Philadelphia Chorus member who sings for Candy Darling. The energy and fun carry the show along...For an evening of fun and surprises, this is definitely worth a trip out to Kensington, if you know where that is.
—Broad Street Review, Naomi Orwin (September 2015) full review
When you walk toward the door of the “Factory” in Kensington, you can feel the vibe. Some of the people milling about look as if they were from 1960s New York. When the show starts, they step onto the stage.
The scenarios and text created by John Jarboe and Sean Lally show details in Andy’s life and provide a panoply of his art, such as silver pillows raining down on the audience. The feat of presenting the essence of an entire life, even a short life, in a two-hour show exceeded all of my expectations. Bravo to Opera Philadelphia for joining Bearded Ladies for this production.
From the start, the crippling shyness that Andy Warhol fought all of his life is vividly portrayed by having him hide in a box and take pictures of the audience. His mother pulls him out, extolling the virtues of this wealthy country where every successful citizen drinks Coca-Cola.
As he sees his various incarnations beside him on the stage, he studies them to imagine who and what he is and what he wants to be. André/Andrei/Andy Warhola, (played superbly by Mary Tuomanen) straddles the border between inventive sophistication and naiveté. As he prepares to embark on his artful journey, he embraces everything American for better or for worse, and chooses to become Andy Warhol. If we don’t like what he shows us of our America, is it his fault?
But the pop Andy was as loud and clear as the rollicking music composed by Heath Allen and Dan Visconti. It was hard to tell which composer did which music, and the two created a seamless flow of coherent sound. The pit musicians were lively, smooth, and set the ’60s rock mood.
Jarboe and crew provided wild Warhol pop visuals in cast, costume, staging, and set. The video design was complex and fascinating, flipping from audience members to views on stage and back again.
—Broad Street Review, Margaret Darby (September 2015) full review
Andy is a production that Andy Warhol could have designed himself. It’s his sort of flamboyant imagery, presenting a group of odd characters in outrageous costumes. In some ways, it’s even better, since it adds dramatic narrative that Warhol’s paintings do not attempt.
A more valid argument could be made about the mix of musical styles in the score assembled by Heath Allen and Dan Visconti. Their music is virtually a textbook on eclecticism, mixing Middle European melodies (Andy’s family was Slovakian), snatches of opera (from Carmen and Rigoletto), psychedelic haze, and soft rock.
The coordination of forces was impressive. A live band was to the side of the stage while a dozen performers fanned out in all directions, mixing with audience members and popping up on raised platforms far from the main playing area with smooth synchronization. Some prerecorded high notes were smoothly added to the live vocals by the performers.
Video projections by Jorge Cousineau captured Warhol’s intentionally haphazard film technique and his desire to turn the observer into a component of his art, to draw us all into active participation."
—Broad Street Review, Steve Cohen (September 2015) full review
What’s art? The characters in ANDY: A Popera, a new piece based on the life of the pop art pioneer Andy Warhol, get asked that question many times, and they have many answers. “An opportunity,” says one. “[A] paycheck,” says another. As for Warhol himself, one of his answers is “Art is what you can get away with.”
If that’s true, then ANDY: A Popera is a true work of art. It takes a lot of bold chances, and it gets away with most of them.
Staged in a large warehouse in an industrial section of Kensington, ANDY: A Popera starts with a bang – literally. A huge crate, perhaps twenty feet tall, sits at one end of the warehouse, marked “Open Slowly and See” – a variation on the famous tagline Warhol used on the cover of The Velvet Underground’s first album. An audience member is recruited to pull a rope, and the wooden sides of the immense crate fall to the ground with a deafening bang. Inside the crate is a nested series of cardboard boxes – and cocooned inside of those boxes is a young Andy Warhol, here going by his original name, Andrei Warhola, and played wonderfully by an oddly androgynous Mary Tuomanen. Andrei makes his way out of this womb, past his sweet but misunderstanding mother (Malgorzata Kasprycka), and heads to New York to create art as he sees it. Tuomanen sings in a clear, lovely soprano, but she’s soon joined by a chorus of “Andies” singing in multiple ranges (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass). Tuomanen lip syncs as the other “Andies” sing, dramatizing shrewdly how Warhol adjusted his personality to suit his audience.
Part of the genius of ANDY: A Popera is the way it brings Warhol’s two-dimensional art to life. Instead of showing how Warhol made his famous Campbell’s Soup can images, we see a century’s worth of Campbell’s logos dance across a video screen (Jorge Cousineau did the stunning video design) as cans are emptied onstage and the singers list the ingredients. In the end, Andrei and the singers judge what they’ve created: “There’s nothing there,” they sing, but “it’s beautiful.” Later, Warhol’s multicolored prints of Marilyn Monroe transform into an army of Marilyns played by actors of different genders, sizes and races, each wearing a different colored dress and a different colored wig. “What about me?” sing the Marilyns; Andrei responds, “You were just a picture of a dead woman. Now, you’re art! My art.”
Heath Allen and Dan Visconti’s music – played by a five-piece band that features Allen on keyboards – covers a wide range stylistically, from poppy melodies to complex choral music to space music to ambient blips. Hard rock guitar is the musical signature for the “Warhol superstar” Joe Dallesandro (played by a lovably goofy Sean Lally), while the would-be assassin Valerie Solanas (a nicely aggressive Kate Raines) stages her own mini-opera full of polyphony that mimics her own conflicted, deranged thoughts.
ANDY: A Popera is filled with arresting images, each more bizarre than the last. And the big space of the warehouse is a perfect setting for the story of a man who made big statements...Jarboe’s direction – accommodating dozens of performers on several different levels, with actors going into the audience and improvising – is mightily impressive.
ANDY: A Popera is a remarkable and unified piece of work...At its best, it’s striking and a lot of fun.
—DC Metro Theater Arts, Tim Dunleavy (September 2015) full review
As arts collaborations go, these seem like strange bedfellows indeed: the Bearded Ladies, Philadelphia’s gender-bending, satiric, outré, and greatly beloved theatre troupe – and Opera Philadelphia.
But, as we know, opposites attract. Under the imaginative leadership of David Devan, our opera company is venturing into new, ambitious worlds – none more so than ANDY: A Popera, which turned out to be an extraordinary evening – more devised music theatre than conventional opera, but smart, entertaining, and very much An Event.
What’s next for ANDY? I don’t know, and maybe nobody else does, either. And I’m not sure it matters. Warhol was all about “happenings” – glamorous but fleeting. This is in no sense a conventional theatre work or a standard biography – but I think it may well be one that Andy himself would have loved.
—Reclining Standards, David Fox (September 2015) full review
This is the perfect fodder for a modern opera...The mash up between classic opera and cabaret provided several special opportunities. Voices trained for opera could contrast with pop voices. The audience, usually held at a distance in grand opera, now becomes part of the story, as characters move through the aisles talking to people and coaxing some into selfies and commentary.
Composers Heath Allen and Dan Visconti capture the magnification and repetitions of Warhol’s visual vocabulary in the libretto and the music. Words are often exaggerated and repeated. From the opening “OO-AH-OH WOW” to the last “There's nothing there” the composers pick up words that match the Warhol sensibility. So too does the music.
There are references to classic opera: Tosca and Carmen can be heard in the score. The entire work is a comment on opera.
Andy’s androgyny is captured by Mary Tuomanen, who also comes to the role bringing may different dimensions. She has been described as having the quiet of Hamlet and the impassioned commitment of Joan of Arc.
Andy becomes a chorus of Andys on the stage, each representing a different piece of his personality. But Tuomanen’s prime piece is always front and forward. She has a lovely, inviting voice, which is both male and female...Members of the Opera Philadelphia Chorus are the multiple Andys. It is in the repetitions of words and music and image that ANDY best captures the world of The Factory.
ANDY is a daring proposition and the collaborators meet the challenge. The set is wonderful, both in its confinement in boxes, and the stacked boxes of Andy’s daily detritus along the walls, and its extension into the warehouse. Mirrors, the silver Andy so loved, dashing costumes, minimal and maximal, all contribute to the moment, or the fifteen minutes when these people were famous.
Is this the future of opera? It is certainly one of its futures. In a packed warehouse, an audience of mixed ages and ethnicities had one terrific evening.
Opera is drama to music and through composed. ANDY certainly meets this definition and then some. The audience outreach is a particularly intriguing idea...At the very least we can mount stories that have meaning for a ‘now’ audience and invite participation. Opera Philadelphia and The Bearded Ladies have done just this. Do it in New York, Gotham!
—Berkshire Fine Arts, Susan Hall (September 2015) full review
[ANDY] achieved a near-sold out run through September 20 and a public certainly skewing younger than usual...the project was great fun as a sunny commodification of a Factory-style “happening.” Jarboe's staging proved consistently creative, dynamic and visually compelling. The many witty songs by co-composers Heath Allen and Dan Visconti achieved a pleasing flow, particularly in Act I.
—Opera News, David Shengold (September 2015) full review
An encompassing collaboration between Opera Philadelphia and The Bearded Ladies, ANDY: A Popera reflects the youth culture, sexual liberation, popular media, famous imagery, and glittery surface of the Warhol ‘60s through the lens of how the general public perceives Andy today. But this exciting world-premiere—the final version of an evolving multi-phase project—does much more; it also considers the psychological motivations of the artist and his Superstars, thereby humanizing these very human icons of Pop. Wow, that’s beautiful.
Staged in a warehouse stacked with cardboard boxes (Oona Curley’s set evokes Warhol’s studio and the “Time Capsules” in which he preserved its memorabilia), the ensemble-devised multi-media work (a format Andy pioneered at the Factory and with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable) contains stirring Poperatic music (Heath Allen and Dan Visconti), a well-researched text (lead writing by director John Jarboe and performer Sean Lally), colorful costumes and wigs (Rebecca Kanach; Rachael Geier), witty props (Alice Yorke), and the unceasing ubiquitous cameras (video design by Jorge Cousineau) that evince the insightful eye of the artist, capture the era, and record everything for posterity (including the audience; attendance = consent). The exhilarating fun and coveted fame of Act I is hijacked in Act II by the omnipresence of death, with a poignant, show-stealing, authentic performance by Scott McPheeters as the exquisite Candy Darling. Now 28 years after his passing, Andy remains a sensation who will always be remembered as a pivotal figure in our cultural history; ANDY: A Popera contributes well to that legacy.
—Phindie.com, Debra Miller (September 2015) full review
Andy: A Popera was a collaboration of the reputable Opera Philadelphia and the drag company known as The Bearded Ladies. Music was by Heath Allen and Dan Visconti, who was commissioned just a few years ago by the Albany Symphony.
The whole affair was grand and elaborate, but ultimately leaned more toward pop than opera. Electric keyboards, guitar, drum set and amplified violin provided accompaniment to songs reminiscent of rock musicals...Although the musical performances were mostly ragged and broad, they evoked the quick lines and bold colors of Warhol's silkscreens. Many other avenues of the artist's work were celebrated in fresh ways, including his black-and-white films (with projection of live video feeds above the thrust stage), his collaboration with Merce Cunningham (with rectangular Mylar cushions that bounced amid the audience), and his aphorisms on art and life, which formed much of the libretto.
Self portraiture and multiplicities, other trademarks of Warhol, literally came to life as more and more Andys kept appearing onstage, played by a chorus of men and women, all ages and sizes, dressed in identical blue-striped T-shirts and silver wigs.
After its two-week run, as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, the "Popera" will burst, never to be seen again. It was a spectacle in the manner of a '60s "happening" that I won't soon forget.
—Albany Times-Union, Joseph Dalton (September 2015) full review
With fears of opera audiences not only shrinking but literally dying off, Opera Philadelphia has been at the forefront of commissioning new operas with contemporary subject matter and an innovative, genre-blending sensibility to snare a younger audience and revitalize opera for the 21st century.
The live improvisational element in the creation of material is almost unheard of in traditional opera—as is the interactive audience participation aspect. At most traditional opera performances the audience is far removed from the action. Even sitting in the front row, the orchestra pit places an audience member at least 30 feet from the performers, usually far more as performers rarely stand on the outer edge of the stage. So no cabaret-style lap sitting or direct interaction and certainly the audience is almost never in a position to change or affect the process of creating the material or encouraged to change the performance itself.
Composer Dan Visconti said by phone, “I think that stretching both traditions to meet is a really good way to put it, because what’s special to me about the musical world of ANDY is that it does contain both the really ‘high’ and ‘low’ art traditions and a lot of their implications and they definitely meet but I’m not sure that they get mixed up and blended into something that’s a nice composite of the two.”
He added, “Opera Philadelphia has been one of the biggest leaders in the opera world in commissioning and supporting new works. I think it’s very easy to commission a new work relatively, I think it’s really hard to come up with the funding, but that doesn’t take a lot of courage. What takes a lot of courage is to support a new work with a structure that really allows it to become what it needs to be and to feature that work in a really prominent and daring way.”
—The Daily Beast, Shawn E. Milnes (September 2015) full article
Long after he first jarred the art world with Campbell's Soup cans, Brillo Boxes, and silk-screened Marilyns, Andy Warhol's print of Eight Elvises sold in 2008 for $100 million.
Was this guy, dead since 1987, an authentic pop art genius or a charlatan getting over on show-off collectors? The question lingers, and it helps drive Opera Philadelphia's world premiere of Andy: A Popera, which opens Thursday.
The idea for the opera grew out of a collaboration between the company's general director, David Devan, and the self-described "queer experimental troupe" Bearded Ladies Cabaret and its director, John Jarboe. It features personnel from both companies.
Jarboe and Sean Lally began a libretto, with composing chores assigned to two quite different talents, Heath Allen and Dan Visconti. Though the former is primarily a pop artist and the latter more a classical talent, each considers his work a continual effort to break out of any musical box.
The opera's gestation included pop-up excerpts that have been presented around the area, including at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and during a cabaret residency in summer 2014 at the Wilma Theater.
An element of the Fringe Festival, the two-act "popera" isn't a biography but more a retrospective of Warhol's legacy.
"We never considered having an actual Andy, a gay outsider from a [Slovakian] immigrant culture named Andrew Warhola who came from Pittsburgh to New York as a commercial artist," Allen said. "Because of the gender-bending nature of what our company is about, we have a woman playing Andre, a replication of his character. It's like a pants role, with the childlike quality through which he saw the world.
"Andre develops into the varied personalities of the 12 opera singers, with six cabaret performers portraying the real characters in his life," Visconti said. "The transformation of a character into a brand is a discovery, not in the details of his life, but how he arrives at his process.
The show will be performed in a "perfect venue," Allen said, a factory/warehouse space near Second and Oxford Streets, with 52 cabaret seats and 126 on risers. Performers and cameras will make the audience part of the show. Patrons might end up on a screen, giving them a slice of the Warholean dictum that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. The five-piece band consists of four electric instruments - guitar, keyboards, bass, and viola - plus drums.
Said Visconti, "Yes, it has opera that is dropped into these other worlds, but not merging. We kept the integrity of our own musical styles, but we were both interested in blurring the boundaries of tradition.
"The band floats over the top of the action, as if there are two rooms. The hard part was finding what it means, the idea that art is a process of seeing each other and ourselves. There's an arbitrary sense of performance - after all, when people go to see Verdi, they get dressed up. The fun is to play with the implications of Warhol's work, and explore how a man becomes a brand.
"We realize it's a big leap for Opera Philadelphia to have said, from the beginning, that they'll support our process and go with it. That speaks volumes about the openness of this amazing company."
—Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom DiNardo (September 2015) full article
On Sunday evening at Constellation Chicago, Fifth House Ensemble kicked off its 10th anniversary season with a bang—as well as a hiss, rattle, pop, and stomp or two.
No stranger to incorporating adventurous acoustic effects in his music, composer Dan Visconti—Fifth House’s director of artistic programming—outdid himself with his quirky Soundings, a commission by Chamber Music America which received its world premiere.
Soundings is billed as a piano trio, but the seven-movement work requires the pianist, flutist (doubling on piccolo), and cellist to all step away from their primary instruments and take up percussive knick-knacks. The “instruments” involved in this sonic menagerie include a beginner’s Harpsicle® harp, a balloon, chopsticks, a rainstick, a tuning peg, what appeared to be an incense stick, and a bag full of ping-pong balls.
Yet Soundings was more a work of musical performance art than absolute music in the sense that the work has to be seen as well as heard. The physical elements of the work are inseparable from its musical premise. As Visconti explains in Soundings’ program notes, its musicians interact by musically and literally “ganging up” against each other.
For example, in the second movement, pianist Katherine Petersen and flautist Melissa Snoza routinely interrupted cellist Herine Coetzee Koschak’s solo—Petersen armed with chopsticks and Snoza with a balloon. As Snoza slowly and squeakily let out the air in the balloon, Petersen playfully drummed Koschak’s fingerboard with chopsticks. The faux-exasperated Koschak would respond with percussive slaps to the fingerboard, which paired with Petersen’s interjections in an impressive interplay.
But for all its hijinks, the piece’s musical content was undeniably intriguing, beguiling, and smart. Each movement was thematically tight, and for the most part, the percussive toys added to the aural experience. Leading into the Bachian final movement, the ping-pong balls were noisily dumped into the piano, but when sent springing by Petersen’s playing, they became an appealing, off-kilter echo of the bounciness of the fugal lines.
—Chicago Classical Review, Hannah Edgar (October 2015) full review
Sing Into Being (2015)
The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble’s approach to performance, called the “theatre of music,” suggests that hearing new classical music can be as meaningful or enjoyable as seeing a new play or movie. By wrapping a series of works in a thoughtful theme or crafting a narrative around a program, PNME often succeeds with that goal.
While PNME, led by executive artistic director Kevin Noe, can never resist a little theatricality, the thematic elements and staging on Friday night at City Theatre were lighter than usual. This ensemble showed it doesn’t need all that — that quality performances of new music can be visceral on their own.
I should clarify that I enjoy PNME’s stagings. But the world premiere of Dan Visconti’s “Sing Into Being,” written for soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, keyboard, offstage percussion and electronics, was dramatic and bizarre and intriguing enough. Soprano Lindsay Kesselman embodied the title: breathing, scatting nonsense words and syllables, cantoring, screaming and rolling her tongue. There were no words, but the daring soprano clarified her meaning through delivery, with tribal phrases that activated the brain stem. Other moments had modern flair, such as the soprano’s operatic vibratos and the ballpark-worthy organ played by Adam Marks.
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Elizabeth Bloom (July 2015) full review
There is an old saying that goes something like, “No one is a prophet in their homeland.” In music, cultural exchange and exploration can often provide a rich set of traditions out of which interesting new genres can emerge. With roots and inspiration from the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas, Nedudim, the recent performance project collaboration between Fifth House Ensemble and the Mediterranean folk band Baladino, has precisely this kind of energy. Combining traditions and instruments spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles in an effort to explore cultural identity and shared experience through music, Nedudim was presented in concert at several venues throughout the Midwest before the ensembles made their way to Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Michigan on April 26, 2015 where I heard the final performance.
Baladino is itself an ensemble that explores cultural intersections and new avenues for expression. They strive to offer fresh and unique interpretations of Jewish Sephardic and Judeo-Spanish melodies, associated with the Ladino language, some of which date back more than a thousand years. Improvisation, electronics, and classical training each have a hand in Baladino’s interpretations of these folk melodies, but their musical versatility does not end there. Members of the group perform on a variety of instruments from different cultures, from the violin and saxophone, to the duduk, shofar, and ney.
The goal of a performance or composition that seeks to combine seemingly disparate cultures has the potential to highlight what is unique about each while commenting little on intersections or similarities. Amazingly, Nedudim accomplished both. What’s more, it did so with refinement, a variety of musical styles, and, perhaps most importantly, a performance that was both captivating and moving. Fifth House Ensemble, an accomplished contemporary chamber group out of Chicago in their own right, tossed their cultural experience and musicianship into the proverbial melting pot with Baladino’s, and what emerged was a truly unique and interesting musical statement.
The concert opened with an arrangement of two traditional Ladino folk melodies—Si Veriash a la Rana and Noches noches—arranged for this performance by members of Baladino and Dan Visconti, composer and Director of Artistic Programming for Fifth House Ensemble. The arrangement worked perfectly as a concert opener: every performer participated vocally, lending an immersive energy to begin the evening that simultaneously demonstrated the humanism of this cultural exploration. The works that followed were as stylistically varied as one might expect from the project’s description. Black Bend, a pre-existing composition by Visconti that was adapted for the collaboration, featured written and improvised solos that allowed members of both ensembles to bring their musical experience to the table. In Tzur Mishelo–also arranged for the performance by Baladino and Visconti–drones provided by the strings laid a foundation for a beautiful, chant-like melody that weaved between the members of both ensembles. Other works that were collaboratively written and arranged for the performance by Tomer Moked, Visconti, and members of Baladino included La Esklava, Tres Ermanikas Eran, Greek Blues, and Raga Etude. The performance also included a gorgeous arrangement of Robert Beaser‘s He’s Gone Away from Mountain Songs, and “Driving,” a movement from Kenneth Benshoof’s Traveling Music No. 4.
Throughout the concert, the adaptations and arrangements seemed natural and effortless—it was often easy to forget that many of these instruments come from different traditions. What’s more, the musicianship that these performers brought to the table made it difficult to believe that the two ensembles had not been performing together for years. One of the most striking ways that they demonstrated this was simply how much they grooved. Baladino and Fifth House found that all-important and ever-elusive musical holy grail we call “groove,” and frequently did so with instruments rarely called on for that purpose. In Tomer Moked’s Greek Blues, for example, the oboe, clarinet, and bassoon all helped to establish a catchy (and bluesy) rhythmic feel, while Grecian scales provided the harmonic and melodic material. Once again, the stylistic mixture worked perfectly; as Clark Carruth—the violist with Fifth House—pointed out after the concert, this work spoke more to the similarities between these two traditions than their differences.
The astounding versatility of these performers was certainly one of the reasons that each of the cultural combinations worked so well. These musicians were so comfortable in every genre and musical language they explored that finding the intersections between them seemed natural and effortless. In all aspects of the performance, down to the childhood stories told between pieces, Baladino and Fifth House inhabited a new musical and cultural landscape that was somewhere between their lived experiences and ancestry. Even more amazing, they did so not with a haphazard mash-up of clearly disparate languages, but with a refined, cohesive, and energetic musical statement that brought the audience to their feet.
—ICareIfYouListen, Justin Rito (June 2015) full review
The first half of [Duluth Superor Symphony's program] was the Minnesota premiere of Dan Visconti's Beatbox for string quintet and orchestra, a work commissioned by a three-orchestra consortium that included the DSSO. The piece was written specifically for guest artists Sybarite5, who are attempting to do for chamber music what Pentatonix has done for a cappella (5 is the new 4 this century).
Meyer strategically prefaced the performance of Beatbox with a mini-lesson in music appreciation, hinting at the "unusual playing techniques" that would be on display, and having Metcalf provide insights into the piece. After describing the piece as a contrast of "organized grooves" and "total chaos," with constantly changing meters and time signatures, Sybarite5 played a couple of excerpts where Visconti musically recreates the sounds of a DJ scratching a record and a cassette player in reverse.
It took a while for the groove to emerge in full form from the horns in the first movement of "Beatbox," then it dissipated until it came back following a swirling crescendo by the strings and cellos. I was most taken by the second movement, which began with rather eerie stratospheric chimes before developing a gorgeous, gossamer theme played by the woodwinds and pizzicato strings than was obliterated in a cacophonic crescendo. The final movement was the one where the orchestra had the most opportunity to rock out with one of the grooves.
The signature aspect of Beatbox was the concerted effort to find every conceivable way of generating sound from a string instrument. At one point Whitney and Pickett actually were playing their instruments with spoons (I had a fascinating little discussion when them at intermission regarding their criteria for selection of those spoons). At various times Metcalf was strumming her cello like a guitar, slapping the side rhythmically, and sliding her bow below the bridge and just about the tailpiece. The DSSO string section was in on the fun as well, having the opportunity to flip their instruments over and rap on the back of them with an intricate pattern.
Somewhere Vivaldi is turning to Monteverdi or whoever it was that invented pizzicato and saying, "See what you started?"
—Duluth News Tribune, Lawrance Bernabo (May2015) full review
Visconti’s Beatbox was a world premiere, proudly commissioned by the Philharmonic and three other orchestras, and specifically for the string quintet called Sybarite5. If the term “string quintet” only brings to mind Schubert’s glorious Trout Quintet or his heavenly Cello Quintet in C Major, be prepared for the shockwave of Beatbox to hit the ears full throttle, but in a pleasantly entertaining way.
Sybarite5 are truly superb players and have their heart set, as does Visconti apparently, on crossover and eclectic repertory (think Radiohead). They have traveled the world, performed in great concert halls, won awards by the dozens and made records aplenty, reaching up to the Top 10 on Billboard Classical Crossover chart. Beatbox takes advantage of just about every special effect possible on each string instrument: particularly slides up and down the fingerboard, called glissandi, and the occasional bow hairs hammering or pounding the strings close to the bridge. Exciting stuff.
—Columbia Free Times, Greg Barnes (March 2015) full review
Worn Surfaces (2014)
Worn Surfaces, inspired by Roman frescoes and the like, bespeaks antiquity, one instrument after another scratchily rising from inaudibility. The work gradually makes its way to a powerful screeching climax, then quickly fades back into nothingness.
—The New York Times, James R. Oestreich (October 2015) full review
Between an evocative and important new piece, a captivating work for solo cello, and a galvanized account of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, the program as performed Wednesday to a small audience at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights during a snowstorm kept listeners engaged from beginning to end.
Of greatest significance, and allure, was Roots to Branches, a new work by Cleveland-trained composer Dan Visconti. Using the words and musical languages of real people, Visconti celebrates the amazing stories of refugees who’ve started new lives in Northeast Ohio.
Which was the more stunning, the text or the music, it’s hard to say. Certainly the words, excerpts from interviews documenting real-life experiences, were powerful, especially as read by narrator Ali AlHaddad. Hearing of the hardships and joys experienced by local people brought home what often seems a remote phenomenon.
But it was the music, a scintillating fusion of global techniques, that made the 30 minutes of Roots to Branches pass so quickly under James Feddeck, former assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. Fragments of music representing Africa, Asia and the Middle East flowed together seamlessly in a colorful, fragrant stream spanning the decision to leave and the journey abroad to life in a new and foreign place.
At the center of it all was guest percussionist Shane Shanahan. Employing an array of exotic drums and flutes, and making noises with his own body, he captured both the sounds and essences of other cultures. Especially affecting was his rustling of water in portraying overseas travel and his exuberant drumming and cheek-slapping in “Black Days” to depict what the “Lost Boys of Sudan” do to lift their spirits.
Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony No. 3 might seem an odd answer to a fresh and socially-conscious work like “Roots to Branches.” But it isn’t. At the performance Wednesday, the two dovetailed perfectly, sharing a sense of triumph over adversity.
—Cleveland Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis (March 2014) full review - interview with Dan in the Plain Dealer
James Feddeck conducted CityMusic Cleveland in the second of five themed concerts devoted to the topic of refugees on Thursday, March 13 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Ohio City, a program that began with an arresting solo cello work by Chinary Ung, moved on to an imaginative new percussion concerto by CIM-trained composer Dan Visconti featuring Shane Shanahan.
Visconti’s Roots to Branches was commissioned by CityMusic as a work to be wrapped around quotations from refugees who have made their homes in Cleveland, collected by CityMusic’s principal oboist and VP for Community Engagement, Rebecca Schweigert Mayhew. The work is thus part of a larger project that resulted in four concerts that took place the week before featuring musicians from Burma, Somalia, Nepal, Bhutan, Sudan, Iraq, Burundi, Russia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An important sub-plot in the work is Grammy-winning world percussionist Shane Shanahan, a founding member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, who brought a treasure chest of exotic and more familiar instruments to his tailor-made solo role.
Narrated by Ali Alhaddad, the 30-minute work unfolded in five scenes chronicling the progress of refugees from their troubles in their home countries to their new homes on these shores, a narrative that inspired Visconti and Shanahan to call up a variety of aural pictures. Evocative of unfamiliar cultures but accessible to all, Visconti’s music is attractive and fresh-sounding. Shanahan’s exotic gadgets — he also played ethnic flutes — added alluring effects, though none so compelling as the “body percussion” he played on his own frame, moving upward to end with remarkable sounds from his cheeks.
—Cleveland Classical, Daniel Hathaway (March 2014) full review - interview with Dan on Cleveland Classical
The adjective 'mechanical,' when applied to a musical performance, often implies technical perfection without artistry. But given how often machines freeze or break down, any work requiring the cooperation of myriad gadgets is indeed Playing it Unsafe, as the American Composers Orchestra aptly titles its series of new works...Dan Visconti wittily incorporated prehistoric sounds generated by analog technology into Glitchscape, whose crude, static noises were woven into an ebbing orchestral canvas. Geometric designs that morphed on screen were part of the visuals by the filmmaker Simon Tarr.
—The New York Times, Vivien Schweitzer (April 2013) full review
Sympathetically led by George Manahan, the American Composers Orchestra showcased five young composers bent on expanding creative horizons. Dan Visconti's Glitchscape used obsolete Speak & Spell toys and vintage recording devices in an exploration of the expressive power of obsolescence. We think the piece looked back - not very far - in primitive affection.
—The Financial Times, Martin Bernheimer (April 2013) full review
Everything that most concerts of classical music aren't is what the concerts of the International Beethoven Project want to be. The more-than-three-hour-long concert brought together 28 classical and rock pieces based on themes from each of the four movements of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The sense of the pieces being exercises done, as it were, with the composers' left hand was dispelled most convincingly by more ambitious piano selections by Dan Visconti.
—The Chicago Tribune, Alan G. Artner (September 2013) full review
Lonesome Roads (2012)
Verge has been dishing out cutting-edge music to District audiences since 1973, and Sunday’s concert (held to celebrate the group’s appointment as New Music Ensemble-in-Residence at the Washington Conservatory of Music) focused on three living American composers...Violinist Lina Bahn took the stage with [Tobias] Werner and [Lura] Johnson to close out the afternoon with Dan Visconti’s piano trio Lonesome Roads. The players could barely contain their affection for the work, a bluesy, freewheeling suite that evokes the spirit — and mimics the sounds — of a car trip across the United States. Propulsive, cinematic, charging into the horizon with the top down and the wind howling by, it’s a work so full of life that all you want to do is climb in for the ride.
—The Washington Post, Steven Brookes (October 2015) full review
The Portland Chamber Music Festival’s closing program, on Saturday evening at Hannaford Hall, focused on three composers who were in their early 30s when they wrote the works at hand. Two of them, Beethoven and Brahms, went on to greater heights, although the relatively early works the festival presented have interesting stories to tell. The third, Dan Visconti, is now 33, so his career is yet to unfold, although the early chapters have been impressive.
Visconti’s Lonesome Roads, played between the Beethoven and Brahms works, inhabits a musical universe that has changed radically since Brahms. That’s not to say that there aren’t points of connection. Although Visconti uses modernist techniques – having his pianist bypass the keyboard and draw sounds directly from the piano’s strings, or having his string players bend notes, or use the eerie, glassine timbres of artificial harmonics – much of his score is consonant, melodic and packed with drama. He uses a time-honored format, as well: “Lonesome Roads” is a piano trio.
The inspiration for the work, however, is entirely modern. During a series of cross-country drives, Visconti explained from the stage just before the performance, he began thinking about the music of the road, by which he meant everything from mix tapes to the rhythmic and mechanical sounds of the road and his car. A musical translation of those sounds, as well as passages that borrow the energy of rock and the rhythmic variety of jazz, can be heard in the score. Emotional extremes are captured, too, from the meditative delicacy of the opening piano passage to the highly charged perpetual motion writing of the finale.
Two of the three musicians here – Mills and Aizawa – are on the superb recording of “Lonesome Roads” released by Bridge Records in 2012, the year Visconti completed the score. Their performance here, with Kraines on cello, was even more assured, and more vividly colorful, than the performance on the recording. If the performance left you curious about Visconti’s other works, that disc, also called “Lonesome Roads,” includes seven shorter chamber works that provide a broader view of Visconti’s style.
—Portland Press-Herald, Allan Kozinn (August 2015) full review
The first half ended with Lonesome Roads for piano trio by Dan Visconti (b. 1982), who is based in Chicago and apparently does a lot of driving through the Midwest. He spoke briefly, referring to to it as his “favorite mix tape,” with various genres contributing to the feel of the road and what whizzes by the windows....It began quietly and sparely, with the piano (Rieko Aizawa) providing what continuity there was, with the strings gradually coming in with harmonics and long tones without vibrato. Another section had the strings (Mills and Thomas Kraines, cello) working a rocking motif of major seconds that works its way into a kind of boogie; other sections invoked r&b, country, funk, a bit of stride, and so on, while invoking a range of properly up-to-date coloristic effects such as strumming the piano strings (and the strings’ strings), percussive effects (Aizawa whacking the piano with a pencil) and expressive harmonics and glisses. In the fifth or sixth section (we confess to losing track) the strings evoked bird calls with piercing harmonic glisses, reminding us of a line from Willa Cather’s O Pioneers in which an old farmer in Nebraska hears a sea gull overhead and says “He’s lost, fer sure!” The finale, which sounded to us like a rondo, had a hard-driving unison tune in the strings alternating with jazzy riffs and thrumming. The whole effect was quite pleasing, a full day’s journey after which even a Super 8 would be welcome.
—Boston Musical Intelligencer, Vance R. Koven (August 2015) full review
Of course, any concert with violinist Kristin Lee, pianist Michael Mizrahi, and cellist Clancy Newman would program a modern work, and this one - Lonesome Roads by Dan Visconti, who has been tapped by Opera Philadelphia to write Andy: A Popera - has movements that can be performed in any order. Visconti's trio was inspired by car trips across America, referencing Copland-esque harmonies as a jumping off point for a more personal manner, whether in descriptive effects of cars whizzing by or in his particular vision of loneliness. For me, it was about finding strangeness in the mundane, and how everyday life becomes alien in places that aren't yours.
—Philadelphia Inquirer, David Patrick Stearns (May 2015) full review
Like the Beethoven variations, 30-year-old Dan Visconti’s Lonesome Roads consists of short vignettes — seven this time — linked by a common theme, in this case the bluesy backbeat of America’s two-lane highways. The work begins with a hushed piano solo, followed by harmonics in the strings, all of which serves to evoke a sunrise. The plucking of both the strings and the piano in the second vignette is pure blues, complemented by a rock-inspired frenzy in the third...The concluding vignettes begin slowly but then accelerate into a tremendous rollicking rhythm, with all three musicians playing at lightning speed. The effect was visceral and mesmerizing, leading to loud cheers at the end.
—San Francisco Classical Voice, Steve Osborn (August 2013) full review
Dan Visconti's beautifully constructed Lonesome Roads, for piano trio, brought the concert to a rousing conclusion. The road signs of movement indications were no guarantee of where Visconti's music would go. The “gently flowing” second movement, for example, became very energetic and angular. Visconti's music travels far during its seven movements, and felt more individual than the work which opened the program.
—The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Mark Kanny (July 2013) full review
Dan Visconti is fast making a name for himself as a composer of immense talent and breadth, drawing on a huge array of musical styles. His piano trio, Lonesome Roads, is no exception — inspired by cross-country road trips and his musical journeys through rock, blue-grass, new-age and back again, while evoking the sights, sounds and feelings of being on the open road.
—The Napa Valley Register, Natasha Biasell (July 2013)
For an American piano trio on the verge of an important career, there are American trios, mature masterpieces by Ives, Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison in far greater need of promotion. The Horszowski ensemble knows this. Its violinist, Mills, is a composer himself. The trio's first recording is of a quirky new American work, Lonesome Roads by Dan Visconti. Let the Horszowskis bring on the quirk — as Horszowski did — and they'll be on their way.
—The Los Angeles Times, Mark Swed (May 2013) full review
Visconti’s Lonesome Roads, in its Seattle premiere, is an 18-minute work in seven short movements which purports to portray that American vacation standby, the crosscountry roadtrip. Apparently the movements can be played in any order, and for this trip it seemed they were driving in circles. I heard, I thought, something from Tenessee, down to New Orleans with more than a hint of jazz, out to Kansas with one of that state’s huge summer storms, and back to a bit of Kentucky bluegrass, always with the feel of cars whizzing by and fading in the distance: A well-designed, amusing work easy to hear and never becoming boring.
—The SunBreak (Seattle), Philippa Kiraly (September 2012) full review
Eternal Breath (2011)
You might have spent the better part of Wednesday night's Philadelphia Chamber Music Society mash-up of the Jasper and Jupiter quartets pondering family dynamics; there are, among and within the two groups, three siblings and two marriages, all stemming from the impossibly musical surname of Freivogel. Filial layers extended into the local premiere in the Perelman Theater of Dan Visconti's Eternal Breath. The 2011 work was commissioned to honor the 40th wedding anniversary of Bill and Margaret Freivogel, progenitors both musical and familial as parents or parents-in-law to five of the players.
Was there significance to augmenting seven standard Western stringed instruments with a shruti box, the droning Indian vessel of bellows? Harmonically, we were somewhere in the East, but the piece is characteristic of the 31-year-old stylistic polymath (who has drawn on pop, bluegrass, and jazz). There's a crushing sadness emanating from Eternal Breath borne of string evocations of the human voice - a repeated kind of pleasant wailing. Full of longing and echoes, it suggests multitudes, but spiritually it falls like an antidote on a distracted world. It is the sound of contemporary pilgrimage, perhaps to a place within one's self.
—The Philadelphia Inquirer, Peter Dobrin (January 2014) full review
The centerpiece of [The Jupiter Quartet's and Jasper Quartet's] recent joint concert at the Perelman focused on the family connections. Composer Dan Visconti wrote his 2011 octet Eternal Breath in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the parents of the four Freivogels on the roster. His title refers to the breath of life "passed from one generation to the next."
Eternal Breath is built around a "breathing phrase" that gradually grows more elaborate. Daniel McDonough plays an Indian drone-instrument instead of his regular cello, and the drone of the shruti box marks the rise and fall of the breath.
Visconti's long opening section is so simple and subdued that I was afraid we were going to be presented with an exercise in monotony. But it's only a preliminary. Violist Sam Quintal launched into a long powerful solo, which merged with a great song in which each voice makes a distinct contribution, with the drone providing continuity. At the song's climax, the individual voices become more pronounced and the eight musicians maintain a dynamic balance between individuality and chaotic cacophony.
Visconti could have ended the piece there. Instead, he returns, briefly, to his opening, and the octet fades as if it's merging with its surroundings.
—The Broad Street Review, Tom Purdom (January 2014) full review
Over the past decade, Copland House and the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, two of Westchester County’s leading cultural institutions, have forged a collaborative relationship. But on March 11, that relationship will briefly turn competitive. By chance, both institutions have scheduled concerts on that day, and both concerts explore perspectives on America that are framed, implicitly or explicitly, by views of Europe.
As part of its concert series in the music room at Merestead, a former estate in Mount Kisco, Copland House will present “An American Journey.” The program will feature Americana, a sonata for cello and piano by Dan Visconti, a two-time participant in the Copland House residency program at the former home of Aaron Copland in Cortlandt Manor.
The work was partly written during Mr. Visconti’s second Copland House stay, in 2010, after he had returned from a yearlong residency at the American Academy in Berlin. That experience, he said, had left him with “a little bit of culture shock” — a reaction to the highly theoretical approach to composition he encountered in Germany — even as it informed his views of his roots.
"There was something about being away from my home country for a while that really sharpened my own sense of American identity,” he said. “It caused me to look at some of our native American folk materials and the popular sources of our culture in different ways.”
What emerged was Americana, a panoramic work inspired by lyric fragments from five patriotic songs. He said he chose the fragments because they evoked images that suggested musical material around which he could organize movements. The process yielded movements based on colonial hymns, rock ’n’ roll grooves, drones, marches and, in the finale, a mix of styles, which segue into an epilogue that employs prerecorded tapes — the piece’s one concession to modern technology.
Although Americana generally steers clear of electronics, it embraces acoustic equivalents of the techniques of electric guitarists like Jimi Hendrix. This helps bestow an “almost hallucinogenic” quality on the piece, said the pianist Michael Boriskin, the artistic director of Copland House. Mr. Boriskin will be playing Americana with the cellist Joshua Roman, who helped develop it.
Mr. Roman, whom Mr. Boriskin recruited for an ensemble he brought to Caramoor’s outdoor festival last summer, said he and Mr. Visconti had, as students at the Cleveland Institute of Music nearly a decade ago, talked about pursuing a work that incorporates popular idioms into classical forms with an American twist. After graduating and making their marks in the world — Mr. Visconti as an award-winning composer, Mr. Roman as a 22-year-old principal with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra — they reunited and did just that with Americana.
“We’re two young Americans,” Mr. Roman said. “Why not have a great American sonata?” In developing the piece, Mr. Boriskin said, Mr. Visconti and Mr. Roman, both still in their 20s, have established themselves as worthy successors to Copland, who, as a student in France in the 1920s, was “struck by the notion that there was no culturally identified American music in the concert hall.”
—The New York Times, Phillip Lutz (March 2012) full article
In addition to these classical composers, Joshua performed Americana by Dan Visconti. This piece was unique. Joshua had warned us at the introduction of this piece that we would see something we had never seen before. That something was his playing part of the piece with his bow upside down and under the cello strings. It was such an extraordinary sound. Like the sounds of whales in the ocean. Astounding!
—Check This Art, Cheryl Lyon (November 2012) full review
Cellist Joshua Roman and pianist Andrius Zlabys made a winning duo at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron on Wednesday evening, November 16 in a program of Debussy, Piazzolla, Visconti and Brahms, the Clara I. Knight Young Artist Concert on the Tuesday Musical Association Series. The concert had strong regional connections: both of the artists as well as composer Dan Visconti are graduates of the Cleveland Institute of Music.
"[Visconti's] cello suite Americana was conceived during the composer's year in Berlin, a period that "made him acutely aware of being an American". Of its five movements (some of which feature pre-recorded material), Roman selected three which take their inspiration from such iconic, all-American tunes as 'Columbia, Gem of the Ocean' and 'Yankee Doodle.'
"Visconti has deconstructed the tunes to the point where they're sometimes only subliminally recognizable, but the three movements were kinetic, accessible and fun, featuring extended cello and piano techniques, wistfully beautiful cello melodies and dance forms as well as cadenzas for the cello that ranged from Bachian to craggy and syncopated.
—Cleveland Classical, Daniel Hathaway (November 2011) full review
The focal point of cellist Joshua Roman’s recital was the world premiere of Dan Visconti’s Americana – a suite for cello and piano. Visconti told the audience the idea for Americana came after living abroad for a year. Living in Berlin, away from his home country, made him acutely aware of being American. On first listen, Visconti’s sound experiments and use of American source material reminded me of Charles Ives. But unlike Ives, who sometimes seemed to be experimenting for the sake of experimenting, striving to elicit discomfort in his audience, Americana is a cohesive tale that winds its way through the best aspects of our shared, American culture.
Verses from American songs inspired each of the piece’s five movements. The hymn like first movement comes from "America the Beautiful." "This Land is Your Land" gave Visconti the idea for the percussive, rowdy second movement. Colliding dissonances played on the piano are meant to evoke the sea in the third movement, reminding us of "Columbia, Gem of the Ocean." Accelerating passages for the cello and piano in the fourth movement imply a march that derives its impulsion from "Yankee Doodle Dandy." For the final movement, "The Star Spangled Banner" catalyzed Visconti to imagine America’s adaptive spirit in music.
Roman, helped by [Helen] Huang, reached across hundreds of years of music on Thursday. They played Britten with the same vigor as Brahms.
But for those people who loved Roman because he offered something fresh, different, and adventurous he delivered a stunner with Americana. If he can continue to replicate Thursday night’s concert experience, we just might look back at this recital as a pivotal moment in Roman’s career.
-The Gathering Note, Zach Carstensen (June 2010) full review
When cellist Joshua Roman first emerged on the local scene, audiences swooned over his boyish looks, marveled at his still developing technique, and went along with his haphazard programing ideas. These days Roman’s poise, curiosity, and refined velvety sound are what grip audiences. His partnership with friend and composer Dan Visconti is long standing and Americana was the first major piece he wrote for Roman. Visconti’s use of American ballads, songs, and effects are sure to keep it firmly in the cellist’s repertory.
—from The Gathering Note's critic's pick of the most memorable concerts of 2010
Devil’s Strum (2010)
Following the Ellington Mr. Vieaux played Dan Visconti’s Devil’s Strum, composed for the guitarist. Devil’s Strum has reference to the so called “Crossroads” legend about blues virtuoso Robert Johnson meeting the devil at the crossroads and acquiring his virtuosity at the price of his soul. Visconti’s piece is very abstract and incorporates many blues idioms and grunts, foot stomping, and other effects. They were all played with great skill and enthusiasm.
—Classical Sonoma, Gary Digman (October 2013)
The next piece, Devil’s Strum, composed by Dan Visconti for Mr. Vieaux is a take on the story of the blues guitarist who sells his soul to the Devil to gain inhuman ability on the guitar. The piece which involved loud foot stomping, multiple string tone changes, strumming behind the nut and awesomely dazzling blues licks, did show close to inhuman ability to play the guitar and likely will only ever be played by Mr. Vieaux.
—Marlow Guitar Blog, David Kerstein (October 2013)
[Jason] Vieaux commissioned Dan Visconti (b. 1982) to compose Devil’s Strum for him in 2010. A retelling of the legend of the musician who meets the devil at the crossroads, it’s full of exotic effects — drumming, strumming high on the fingerboard near the nut, tuning, retuning – and challenges for the performer, to say nothing of his instrument. It proved a tour de force.
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sarah Bryan Miller (September 2013) full review
The other modern work was Dan Visconti's 2010 Devil's Strum, a descriptive work about making deals with the devil, the supernatural qualities underscored by extended techniques that had [Jason] Vieaux playing the strings high on the neck around the tuning pegs.
—Philadelphia Inquirer, David Patrick Stearns (January 2013) full review
The concluding [guitar] recital of the weekend was played by master musician Jason Vieaux...Following intermission, Mr. Vieaux played the world premiere of Dan Visconti’s Devil’s Strum, a bluesy and literally foot-stomping piece written for the performer, which utilizes extended techniques and like its dedicatee is full of musical personality. Mr. Vieaux captivated the packed house with his dramatic performance of the new work.
—Cleveland Classical, Mike Telin (May 2011) full review
Low Country Haze (2009)
Visconti’s other addition to the program was a chamber reduction of his orchestral piece Low Country Haze, which brought the entire ten-person ensemble to the stage. As was constant throughout the night, the group’s ensemble work was committed and seamless. The piece began as a chaotic collection of sounds—clacking of the woodwinds’ keys, pizzicato from the strings—which gradually blossomed into a sweeping melody. Haze ended with a glowing chord from a glass harp played by the group—a satisfying, ethereal conclusion to a rewarding, raucous night of new music.
—Chicago Classical Review, Hannah Edgar (October 2015) full review
Another work that summons environment is Visconti's mesmerizing Low Country Haze, which opens with tidbits of nature that lead to warm and ecstatic washes of sound, including a shimmering mist the musicians produce on wine goblets tuned with various amounts of water.
—Cleveland Plain Dealer, Donald Rosenberg (March 2012) full review
Much credit is due the [UT Austin New Music Ensemble's] fine chamber musicians, all of whom performed with great artistry and confidence. In Dan Visconti's tone poem Low Country Haze, which opened with a raw, primordial sound that evolved to a Copland-inspired peak, each player excelled as both soloist and accompanist – with a special shout-out to clarinetist Yevgeniy Reznik and flutist Daniel Velasco, whose round, gorgeous sounds were particularly memorable.
—Austin Chronicle, Michael Kellerman (February 2011) full review
The 18-piece orchestra was the star of Dan Visconti’s Low Country Haze, imagining the unfamiliar sounds of nature that 16th-century explorers must have heard in their trip through the American south. Had Debussy worked in the 21st century, he might have come up with some of the pizzicato and brushwork effects Visconti devised for the opening, that soon eased into an evocative tone poem that avoided the trap of slavishly reproducing obvious birdsong and the like.
—Metroland Weekly, B.A. Nilsson (March 2009) full review
Dan Visconti's world premiere of Low Country Haze was about new sounds in new lands. He successfully evoked distant horizons and quiet seas with long smooth and lyrical lines and colorful spare harmonies.
—Schnectady Daily Gazette, Geraldine Freedman (March 2009)
Ramshackle Songs (2009)
[The Kontras Quartet] is a group of young musicians based in Chicago, and in the past few years they have made significant inroads into the musical world through appearances at Chicago’s Symphony Center, the Juilliard School, and even on the Late Show with David Letterman.
Closing the recital is Dan Visconti’s Ramshackle Songs, a 24-minute essay intended to make a cycle of “songs without words.” Visconti has produced a lovely work, full of resplendent flowing melodic gestures that are interwoven into a satisfying whole. The piece creates the impression of an unstructured “stream of consciousness” work that just flows, and carries the listener on to where he knows not. Along the way, the sarcasm, wit and sentiment that resounded on Tin Pan Alley in the 1920s is quite evident, and the effect of the work on these ears was to make me long for a bygone era. In other words, I was moved by both the piece and the performance, and I believe you will be too.
The Kontras Quartet has a distinctive and enjoyable musical personality, and this well-recorded CD presents them in a wonderful light. This disc is a delight all around, and is accordingly warmly recommended.
—Fanfare, David Canfield (November 2015)
Similarly compact are Visconti's Ramshackle Songs, 11 movements summoning, in vibrantly modern terms, the nostalgic and energetic products of Tin Pan Alley. Alternately saucy and haunting, the songs require scrupulous shading and control. As in everything on their inaugural disc, the Kontras players are alert to the minutest facets in the Visconti songs.
—Gramophone, Donald Rosenberg (November 2015)
Visconti wrote this piece as a tribute to the rough and tumble life of "Tin Pan Alley" in New York, the center of American popular music of the earlier decades of the 20th century. As Visconti's music unfolded, we were exposed, in 11 sections, to a series of parodies of popular song styles and effects, especially the stamping of feet by the quartet members at the more uproarious moments.
It was good fun, and the Jupiter members performed it with good-natured gusto. If I had not been given all the introductory information about this piece, would I have guessed about its origins in "Tin Pan Alley"? The work did not quote any "old time" tunes, but rather evoked the ghost of them. Members of the audience reacted with strong enthusiasm.
—The News-Gazette, John Frayne (February 2014)
On January 25, Oberlin Conservatory’s String Quartet Gala Concert, the biggest event of its month-long String Quartet Intensive and Festival, drew an exceptionally large crowd to Warner Concert Hall despite the cold and snow. The program featured Oberlin’s quartet-in-residence, the excellent Jupiter String Quartet.
The Jupiter, consisting of violinists Nelson Lee and Megan Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel, and cellist Daniel McDonough, opened the night with Dan Visconti’s Ramshackle Songs, written for them in 2009. Visconti’s music is conspicuously American, containing elements of the blues, fiddling songs, and feedback from rock. Ramshackle Songs shatters Tin Pan Alley-like melodies into kaleidoscopic shards enlivened by foot-stomping, bow-swishing, plucking, and ethereal effects.
The Jupiter created a coherent whole out of Visconti’s patchwork, sweetly singing innocent tunes, manically sawing away at barn dances, and blossoming in full, melodious strains. The novel ending, where McDonough pointed out in remarks that the music slows down and detunes like a record player spinning out, was just one smile-inducing moment.
—Cleveland Classical, Daniel Hautzinger (January 2014) full review
Next up was a large scale work commissioned a few years back from Dan Visconti, a 30-year old composer who also had a piece played by the Albany Symphony Orchestra just last weekend. Ramshackle Songs was inspired by the songsmiths of Tin Pan Alley and lasts about half an hour. It consists of 11 interconnected movements with titles like “Ole Dixie Twang” and “Jackknife Flop.”
The writing is full of effects that a few generations ago might be considered avant garde. Instrumental lines frequently break off in their own directions and pacing, the sound got scratchy, pitches sagged, that sort of thing. The players also stomped their feet and whipped their bows in the air, yet there was a pervasive cheerfulness to it all. That’s largely because the writing keeps returning to a gentle tunefulness, though no direct quotes from the American songbook ever jumped out.
—Albany Times-Union, Joseph Dalton (January 2014) full review
The concert skipped ahead more than two centuries for Dan Visconti’s nostalgic Ramshackle Songs (2009). Written for the Jupiter Quartet, who will later perform the work during this festival, it fuzzes over American folk songs with bursts of squeaking, knocking, sliding, and stomping. Imagine driving along Route 66 in a hiccupping car while listening to an ancient radio that doesn’t quite work and you get a sense of Ramshackle Songs. The quartet swerved between tender melodies sheened by glossy harmonics and raucous fiddle music.
—Cleveland Classical, Daniel Hautzinger (January 2014) full review
Ballads and Broken Rhymes (2008)
Even though Ballads and Broken Rhymes may have a populist orientation, a riff on a gospel tune or something sweetly lyrical, any sense of quotation is short-lived. It is only a starting place for Visconti to make his own explorations, not only melodically and rhythmically but to experiment with the concept of a string quartet. The group's reading was lively, bridging the diversity of materials with deftness and security.
—Seattle Post-Intelligencer, R.M. Campbell (May 2008)
[The Ballads and Broken Rhymes] were fun to hear with plenty of tuneful melodies in each, yet with sophisticated harmonies and rhythmic departures which lifted them out of the mundane to something with depth which will bear repeated listening...Jazz, blues, pop and soul all are interwoven with classical techniques, including at times slurs and swoops in both pitch and volume, sometimes haunting, sometimes bright. The whole has a light, clean construction and it shouldn’t meet the one-performance fate of so many new works. This one has staying power.
—Seattle Weekly, Phillippa Kiraly (May 2008)
The Breadth of Breaking Waves (2007)
Composer Dan Visconti called on sacred and secular music of Anne Arundel County and sea chanteys of Chesapeake fishermen to create The Breadth of Breaking Waves. The work was affecting and uncluttered. A primitive, mystical quality colored and offset thundering crashes and glittering chime sounds.
—The Washington Post, Ronni Reich (November 2007)
These concerts provided listeners the opportunity to size up the first of four new works commissioned to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the City of Annapolis' royal charter. This time, the spotlight was on Dan Visconti, a young composer out of Yale and the Cleveland Institute whose works have been performed by such first-class ensembles as the Cleveland Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra and the Kronos Quartet. The Breadth of Breaking Waves, a five-minute series of musical wave patterns, lapped and receded pleasantly...I liked what I heard.
—The Baltimore Sun, Phil Greenfield (November 2007)
Fractured Jams (2006)
Dan Visconti’s smart, fun quartet Fractured Jams (which gave the concert its title) for clarinet (Michael J. Maccaferri), violin (Yvonne Lam), cello (Nicholas Photinos) and piano (Kaplan) also revolved, like a musician’s nightmare, around being unable to play. The first movement portrayed a kind of rock band sitting around the garage, too nervous to start rehearsing, and the rest of the movements had the same quality of intentional tentativeness, oddly sweet and endearing. At one point, Lam brilliantly mimicked the long, high drone of amplifier feedback; the final movement is a high-spirited rag that ended only when Kaplan slammed the keyboard lid shut.
—Musical America, Zachary Woolfe (October 2011) full review
Among the various motivations behind the festival SONiC: Sounds of a New Century, a nine-evening series of new-music concerts running throughout the city, one standout is the claim that all the included works are from composers 40 or younger. Eighth Blackbird, which played on Saturday evening in Columbia University’s Miller Theater in the festival’s second event, has never lacked for fresh pieces by emerging artists...Dan Visconti’s Fractured Jams elicited mimetic whimsy from Ms. Kaplan, Ms. Lam, Mr. Maccaferri and Mr. Photinos. Four brief movements fitfully evoked amateurish garage rock, a tipsy jug band, gritty feedback and dusty, crackly nostalgia.
—The New York Times, Steve Smith (October 2011) full review
Classical music isn’t always that funny. In fact, one of the monikers frequently applied to this repertoire is “serious art” music. Laughing, needless to say, is strictly verboten, which is a shame, since one of the main elements uniting Saturday night’s concert by Eighth Blackbird at New York’s SONiC Festival was humor. Not just “smile a little” funny, but full-on laugh-out-loud funny. The festival is a celebration of 21st century music written by composers under age 40, a truly amazing feat in these economically challenged times. These young composers have clearly eschewed much of the baggage of 20th century contemporary music, because in their use of styles and syntax borrowed from classical, jazz, and pop, and their embracing of the absurd and silly, they actually want you to laugh.
Dan Visconti’s Fractured Jams was another moment of fun acting combined with virtuosic playing, as a quartet of clarinet, cello, violin, and piano became a garage band of teenagers, a drunken jug band jamboree, a feedback loop, and a kinetic, off-kilter 78rpm record from the 1930s. Visconti’s trick was to make these über-capable performers seem like inept amateurs, a characteristic they embraced with string screeching and clarinet squawking.
—Consequence of Sound, Jake Cohen (October 2011) full review
A night of improvisation and indie rock meets classical music, with a bit of theatre thrown in; it's not your usual night of music when eighth blackbird take flight. And perhaps a work that would best prepare you for a night under the wing of eighth blackbird is Dan Visconti’s Fractured Jams.
"Fractured Jams is what it sounds like it’s a fractured jam session with 80 years of popular music just thrown into the blender," says [flutist] Tim Munro. "It's chaotic sometimes and whimsical others, it’s violent sometimes and crazy all the time.”
—Sydney Morning Herald (September 2011) full review
"[The audience] was equally appreciative of Fractured Jams, with murmurs of laughter at times. A work of fragments, with snorts and sniggers (clarinet), squeals and slides (strings), crashes, plonks and slaps (piano), it was brief, clever and fun.
—Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Philippa Kiraly (January 2008)
The big message of Dan Visconti's Fractured Jams was that new music can have some wit. There are smart references to popular music forms, as well as riffs on ragtime and, of all things, farm animals.
—The Washington Post, Stephen Brookes (September 2007)
Love Bleeds Radiant (2006)
The Kronos Quartet completed their week-long residence with the Barbican Centre in London with a typically audacious and varied programme...Among the more fanciful inclusions were a few works receiving the first UK airing. Nicole Lizée’s Death to Kosmische opened the concert: a thoroughly, commitedly postmodernist piece which involved a stylophone and an omnichord and ended with a muffled miniature LP player going wrong. Dan Visconti’s Love Bleeds Radiant was similar at least in that it also involved itself with early recording technology, combining the live quartet with mounting, crackly pre-recorded noise. Both pieces had a pleasing oddness; Visconti’s had more of an emotional core.
—I Care If You Listen, Paul Kilbey (January 2012) full review
In Love Bleeds Radiant, by Dan Visconti, a sentimental theme purred through recorded crackle and explosive outbursts to a peaceful resolution.
—The New York Times, Steve Smith (October 2010) full review
Dan Visconti's Love Bleeds Radiant walked the line between music and noise, its choralelike fragments dissolving into slashing dissonance and distortion.
—The Oregonian (2006)
The sound of a needle as it hits the vinyl—those familiar snaps, crackles, and the discordant, unexpected pops that resonate fluidity and jaggedness simultaneously. The syncopated scratchiness that plays accompanist to the guttural chords pulled from a throbbing blues guitar. Lyrics steeped in masculinity, yet with an undeniable undercurrent of fragility and vulnerability. That is the substance of composer Dan Visconti’s newest work, Love Bleeds Radiant, a piece commissioned for the Kronos Quartet that captures the strident contradictions blues music evokes....the work is a heartfelt tribute to the past that bumps flush, and sometimes violently, with the present.
—STRINGS Magazine, Tiffany Martini (June/July 2006)
Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine (2006)
Vivid...[Some Day the Sun Won't Shine] provides a cheerful and colorful assault on the senses. The Symphony Singers, directed by Evan Wels, create crowd-scene yells and murmurs set against swooping instrumental glissandos.
—The New York Times, Bernard Holland (May 2007)
And yet [conductor Paul Haas's] ability will take him far, as he proved by leading an auspicious world-premiere performance of Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine, a powerful, carefully calibrated rock-driven work by Dan Visconti.
—New York Observer, Lisa Medchill (May 2007)
Black Bend (2003 – String Quartet, 2005 - Orchestra)
The second half of the concert opened with Black Bend by ASO Composer of the Year Dan Visconti, a surprisingly charming work in which the composer and the musicians morph more or less amorphous night sounds of nature into a blues band careening off the edge of a precipice.
—Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Eric E. Harrison (January 2016) full review
American chamber orchestra Inscape's second CD features varied, arresting, original music...Dan Visconti's Black Bend is a highly persuasive, ghost-addicted blues, six minutes long, with a wonderful fiddle solo haunted by insinuating, expressive winds.
—Gramophone, Laurence Vittes (April 2015) full review
Dan Visconti’s Black Bend, written for Sybarite5, shared a sleek bluesy tint...vaporous with its delicate slides, pizzicato accents and some marvelous violin acrobatics tossed off with light abandon by Sarah Whitney.
These guys are entertainers to the core. But their music-making was serious and expert, and their performance was as compelling as any I’ve enjoyed in a long time.
—The Washington Post, Joan Reinthaler (April 2015) full review
[Inscape Chamber Orchestra's CD release] American Aggregate is distinctly American in tone, even when the internal tones clash; the country is too large to be defined by a single collection of chords...Dan Visconti‘s purposely foreboding “Black Bend” [is] based on a blues legend; ironically, when the actual blues emerge from the song, the shadows fade. But this is the manner of all blues: songs played in empathy, intended to bring solace and perhaps even cheer.
Inscape’s last album, Sprung Rhythm, was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Surround Sound. The new album seeks to match or top that honor with a superlative Blu-Ray mix. But even the CD is clear and resonant. It would be a shame for the Grammies to stop there; we’re pulling for an award in the Best Chamber or Best Contemporary Classical category this year.
—A Closer Listen, Richard Allen (Septembery 2014) full review
In a program of serial high points, there were too many to mention...Dan Visconti’s bluesy evocation of a train wreck (Black Bend) being a particular standout. An intriguing and hugely enjoyable evening in every way — and a standout in the Washington Performing Arts Society’s fine winter season.
—The Washington Post, Stephen Brookes (February 2014) full review
As on each concert, there was a contemporary work; a seven-minute exploratory sonic landscape which merges into blues called Black Bend by Dan Visconti, a young composer who has just been awarded the Rome Prize for his music. Depicting a train derailment and the haunting sounds of ghosts, the orchestra railed with glissandi and moans, and a blues beat, all of which quickly disintegrated. The music was refreshingly different.
—Albany Times-Union, Priscilla McLean (January 2014) full review
Mischa Santora and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra opened the concert – just in time for Halloween – with American composer Dan Visconti’s Black Bend (2003), a gritty, blues-invested tone poem evoking the ghostly cries of victims of a railroad bridge collapse over the Cuyahoga River.
—Cincinnati Enquirer, Mary Ellyn Hutton (October 2013) full review
[Aeolus Quartet] violinists Tavani and Shapiro audibly relished the nature and train-whistle effects in Black Bend, Visconti’s evocation of a famous train wreck on a river bend in northern Ohio. Black Bend, which appears to exist in string quartet, quintet and orchestra versions, is a bluesy delight clearly indebted to country-bluegrass fiddling – the whistle effects recall Lester Flatt’s in the Flatt & Scruggs rendition of “The Wreck of the Old 97. Visconti’s 7-minute piece is one of the finest examples of folksy classicism this side of Peter Schickele.
—Virginia Classical Music Blog, Clarke Bustard (October 2013) full review
And then Cultures in Harmony presented a Dan Visconti composition [Black Bend]. It was a delight to lend an ear to. The effect of the approaching and receding train (as told by Peter Myers) was extraordinary. The audience received it with thunderous applause.
—Dawn Newspaper (Pakistan), Peerzada Salman (August 2012) full review
Dan Visconti's Black Bend was inspired by a story he heard from an old man rowing a canoe on a river. The composition was bleak and sparse to begin with, but picked up when the 12-bar blues kicked in.
—International Herald Tribune, Ali Haider Habib (August 2012)
The CD opens with Black Bend (2003) by Dan Visconti, and the Aeolus Quartet did extremely well to put this track first. It begins with a range of sounds and melodic snippets that are evocative of a hot and humid summer day, and imitations of swarming hordes of gnats, mosquitoes, and/or other nasty things with wings also make their way into this long, fiddle-inspired introduction. Ah, but there are hints at something more to come, and before long a full-blown 12-bar blues section takes over. Visconti does a marvelous job of making this sound completely idiomatic to strings, while also making the blues feel completely at home in a 21st century concert hall. Aeolus gives a marvelous performance, building the energy to an absolutely frenetic level, and I challenge anyone to not smile and tap their feet as they listen. This track is the equivalent of the lead-off batter hitting a grand slam, or, for those who don’t follow baseball or may live in a country where it is not played, it’s damn good fun.
—I Care If You Listen, Andrew Lee (May 2012) full review
Dan Visconti’s Black Bend begins with longing, gestural wails accompanied by the pizz. and pop of a lazy river. Stabs and runs fight for space, as abbreviated melodies push their way through a mosquito texture of sixteenth notes. Seemingly out of nowhere, a blues bar opens up “just around the bend,” complete with chromatic strolls to IV and back again. Guitar riffs straight out of the Robert Johnson songbook play out over pizzicato parts in the cello that nod to their string bass roots. A few choruses in, violinists Nicholas Tavani and Rachel Shapiro do their best “Devil’s Crossroad,” battling in the upper register as the violist Gregory Luce and cellist Alan Richardson trade in their bass lines for some new chordal duds. The final moments of this 12-bar blues section play no differently than the frozen time at the end of any blues tune, tremolo chords and flying riffs; everybody rocking out so much that you can almost see the cellist give the final downbeat, its only lacking elements the bass drum, cymbal hit, and leap from the drum riser that typically wraps this sort of thing up. Beyond that, the piece flows away, decelerating with just the slightest reference to the opening as the river flows around another bend.
—NewMusicBox, Andrew Sigler (March 2012) full review
Dan Visconti’s Black Bend (2003), for string quintet, closed the concert with a quirky evocation of a jazz jam in which the viola, cello and bass create a rich fabric and a steady rhythmic bed against which the two violins (played with energy and spirit by Curtis Macomber and Miranda Cuckson) spin out dueling, bluesy solo lines.
—The New York Times, Allan Kozinn (August 2011) full review
Antonio Stradivari's instruments have been venerated, played in concert and left in taxicabs by some of the world's greatest musicians. On Saturday night, 273 years to the day after Stradivari's death, some of them were put in the hands of a young group of string players for the Library of Congress's annual Stradivarius concert, a tradition that's continued since 1936, shortly after Gertrude Clarke Whittall presented the library with five Strads to call its own.
Sybarite5, the young string quintet thus honored, represented another tradition as well. Like the Kronos Quartet, the pioneering granddaddy of contemporary chamber ensembles, and the many groups it inspired, Sybarite5 is a group that aims to play both contemporary and classical works with equal ability—their program juxtaposed Mozart with music by the indie band Radiohead.
The bridge between the old and the rock, and thus, in a way, the meat of the program, was two works written by young composers for Sybarite5...Both fused different musical vernaculars in a melting-pot style that has become a lingua franca for composers under 40. D.C. resident Dan Visconti's Black Bend [was] atmospheric and predominantly bluesy. This is the art-music take on popular American styles, and it was counterbalanced by two Piazzolla tangos at the end of the program.
—The Washington Post, Anne Midgette (December 2010) full review
With technique that approached impeccable, the five members of Sybarite5 showed off their love and mastery of a variety of 20th century music (and beyond), from Barber and Piazzolla to Led Zeppelin and Radiohead. The best moments, though, came in the new works crafted specifically for this type of group... the evening really took off with a piece written for the ensemble, Black Bend by Dan Visconti. It started modernistically, showing off violinist Sarah Whitney's ability to draw emotion out of squeaks and clawing sounds, then morphed into a blues shuffle underlying coruscating near-chaos punctuated with dabs of humor. This was one of a number of passages during the concert in which the quintet pulled from its strings the coming-from-everywhere sound of a larger group.
—Blogcritics.org, Jon Sobel (June 2010) full review
Dan Visconti’s Black Bend is a fascinating exercise in ways to explore the far reaches of customary tonality, bringing forth country music inflections in a gripping series of scorching riffs before the sly joke of a false ending.
—Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Richard Storm (May 2010)
Contemporary American composer Dan Visconti's Black Bend likewise borrowed, it appeared, from country music. Visconti took his material, disassembled it, turned it around and looked at it from all sides — just as Ravel did in La Valse.
—Allentown Morning Call, Philip A. Metzger (August 2009)
Nakahara opened the concert with Dan Visconti's Black Bend. It's a musical train wreck, literally, an orchestral onomatopoeia that includes screeching brakes, collapsing bridge, falling timbers, calming insect sounds before and after a bluesy violin improvisatory figure.
—The State (October 2008)
The program began with a wily sonic entertainment by a musician just 25. Like so many of his contemporaries, he scorns the border between classical and pop. His bluesy Black Bend, first heard here in December, is a savory stew of found sounds—insects, train whistles, the clickety-clack of steel on steel—seasoned with improvisatory elements and finished with attitude. Originally for string quartet, it sounded completely at home in its orchestral dress. The performance rocked.
—Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Larry Fuchsberg (2007)
Dan Visconti also introduced his Black Bend, inspired by tales of a disastrous train wreck in Ohio. This was one of the evening's finest and most powerful pieces, distinguished by a slow build, like a train gaining steam, and a bluesy bass line.
—The Spokesman-Review, Jim Kershner (October 2007)
[Black Bend] was fun and short, and didn't come larded with the pretensions of the other pieces.
—The Advocate Weekly, Stephen Dankner (2005)
Visconti's writing was both mature and youthful, bristling with exhilarating musical ideas and a powerfully crafted lyricism. The performance rocked, and the piece [Black Bend] made a strong impact.
—Cleveland Plain Dealer, Wilma Salisbury (2003)
Storm Windows (2004)
Dan Visconti’s orchestral piece Storm Windows takes its title from a poem by Howard Nemerov. As the orchestra plays, a narrator reads: “People are putting up storm windows now, / Or were, this morning, until the heavy rain / Drove them indoors…” The calming habits that seem to show humanity’s victory over forces of nature are halted, postponed, then destroyed altogether. Soon lawns are flattened, window glass shattered. But the storm’s destruction allows a new kind of communication to exist: “something of / A swaying clarity.”
It is this new clarity that Visconti’s compositions attempt to bring forth, working from the rubble, detritus, and storm-wreck of more habitual and conventional forms of music. Visconti, this year’s Leonore Annenberg Fellow in Music Composition at the American Academy, spent years as a jazz and rock guitarist, and traces of these genres – as well as blues, gospel, and other forms – remain detectable.
At 26, Visconti has already received numerous accolades for his work, including awards from BMI and ASCAP, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Society of Composers. In the past three years, he has had three major orchestral pieces commissioned: Overdrive for the Minnesota Orchestra, The Breadth of Breaking Waves by the Annapolis Symphony, and Low Country Haze by the Albany Symphony. The forcefulness and energy of his compositions are practically palpable: when describing his music, reviewers call it 'bristling,' 'dazzling,' and an 'assault on the senses.' The potency of Visconti’s compositions demonstrates again the power of music to communicate uniquely among the arts.
—Berlin Journal, Malte Mau (Fall 2008)
Hard-Knock Stomp (2000)
On her new disc, [violist Melia] Watras serves up an eclectic menu of pieces from the 19th century through several years ago. Watras is as vibrantly alert to mood and detail in Betsy Jolas's Episode sixième as she is to the enterprising rhythmic activity in György Ligeti's Loop and especially, the jazzy inflections and extended techniques that make Dan Visconti's Hard-Knock Stomp such a whimsical delight.
—Gramophone, Donald Rosenberg (February 2013) full review
For her latest CD, Melia Watras has chosen a nice mix of more or less central repertoire and several seldom-heard pieces...Dan Visconti’s unaccompanied Hard-Knock Stomp makes for a rousing encore to this adventurous, well-planned and engagingly presented recital.
—Journal of the American Viola Society, Carlos Maria Solare (Fall 2012)
This Short Stories album, by Melia Watras, viola and Kimberly Russ, piano, is a thoughtful and diverse collection of twenty-first century viola repertoire. Described as "staggeringly virtuosic" by The Strad, violist Melia Watras proves herself in this album to be a leading soloist with an ability to interpret an impressive array of styles.
Dan Visconti's Hard-Knock Stomp for viola solo (2000, world premiere recording): This piece, with its groove and swing, is an entertaining treat. Great performance!
—Journal of the Canadian Viola Society, Margaret Cary (Fall 2012) full review
In the liner notes to this wonderfully diverse 16-track recording—ranging from works by Henri Vieuxtemps and George Enescu to Rebecca Clarke and Dan Visconti—violist Melia Watras writes that her intent was to create a collection that "shows the viola's warmth and depth, while also display it's virtuosity and expressive capabilities." She accomplishes those goals quite admirably with the thoughtful accompaniment of pianist Kimberly Russ. And when it comes to that "virtuosic" label, Watras fits that bill in every sense of the word, from her technical command of the instrument to her considerable interpretive skills. She is, first and foremost, an artist.
And this love letter to the viola, and many of the composers who embrace the beauty of its tone, challenges anyone to make the case that no one writes great music for the viola. Throughout, Watras shows that the viola has no limits in terms of emotional range and expression. These are, quite simply, great stories told with power and passion.
—STRINGS Magazine, Greg Cahill (September 2012)
In addition to the Shostakovich Sonata, [violist Melia Watras] also offered the audience three (essentially) “show pieces” by Kreisler, Visconti, and Wieniawski. All were played extremely well...worth noting was the young composer Dan Visconti's Hard-Knock Stomp. With its references to blues and folk music, and virtuosic playing by Watras, it was an enjoyable choice to begin the recital.
—Classical in Seattle, Zach Carstensen (October 2007)
Album Reviews and Reviews of Multiple Pieces
Dan Visconti has a knack for titles. The young composer, who studied with Margaret Brouwer at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Aaron Jay Kernis at Yale, is so adept at naming his pieces that it’s nearly impossible to listen to his music without the title’s image blossoming in the brain. Take for instance the small ensemble piece, Drift of Rainbows (2009), included on' Lonesome Roads', a 2012 Bridge Records release by the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin and the Horszowski Trio of some of Visconti’s chamber music. Ecstatic strings surge and arc over majestic chords like, well, rainbows drifting through the air.
One reason Visconti’s titles are so successful is the pictorial quality of his work. He creates vivid paintings in sound, depicting the vast fields of America and the people that populate them by incorporating vernacular music. Black Bend (2003), for string quartet and bass, is an inventive romp through the blues, with strings wailing in imitation of a soulful singer. The violin and harp piece, Lawless Airs (2008), takes cowboy songs as its starting point. While harp strums mimic a guitar, the violin croons a lyrical plaint, like a lonely cowboy singing by a campfire. As darkness surrounds him, the song breaks down, but he quickly finds solace again in the quiet beauty of the countryside.
Visconti excels when he ventures into the world of the barn dance, where foot-stomping grooves and fiery fiddling reign. His first published piece, Hard-Knock Stomp (2000), in a version for solo cello, features the kind of bending and sliding one would expect to hear from a bluegrass fiddler. Neighbors relax on a dilapidated porch and hesitantly pluck their instruments until they launch into a full-on jam in the third section of the title track of this recording, for piano trio. The second movement of the clarinet, violin, cello and piano work, Fractured Jams (2006), “jug band jamboree,” is an exploded hoedown where none of the hesitant musicians can manage to play together.
The other movements of Fractured Jams demonstrate Visconti’s modernist side. Random notes and sounds pop like fireworks in imitation of a skipping record, microphone feedback, and bursts of distortion. These extended techniques also show up on the bassoon solo, Ramble and Groove (2009), where a swinging lick establishes a groove only to be continually derailed by burbling growls, squeaks, and clicks. Low Country Haze (2009) opens in a mysterious landscape populated by strange noises. Soon, an up-surging melody coalesces from the mist, and we enter the wide-open expanse that Visconti already traversed so gorgeously on Drift of Rainbows. This is where Visconti most resembles one of his obvious influences, Aaron Copland: magnificent pastoral music inspired by mythologized purple mountains and fields of grain. The naïve Remembrances (2008) for cello and piano is also in this vein, a sentimental hymn to the past.
Capturing the spirit of such a vast, eclectic country as America in music without condescending or over-simplifying is difficult, but Dan Visconti does it admirably, as illustrated by this recording. Yet his work so far has nostalgically gazed backward at a supposedly simpler time. He should try his hand at evoking the hyperactive, technology-saturated America of today.
—Cleveland Classical, Daniel Hautzinger (January 2014)
The American composer Dan Visconti is in his very early thirties and has a pluralist, vernacular turn of mind. The selection of chamber music here - performed by some elite names from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin and members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - range in date from 2000 (when he was 18) to the title track, which was composed in 2012.
Part of that vernacular inheritance and heritage include reflections on, or refractions of the Blues. Black Bend is for string quintet (string quartet plus double bass) and its scurrying patterns include abrasive lines that soon open out into a full-scale bass and violin blues exploration, into which dialogue the other instruments soon intrude with duets of their own. Written for the very different, and dulcet, combination of violin and harp, Lawless Airs starts with lyrical guitar imitations from the harp, before glancing away to explore more tactile harmonies; the glass armonica is at the back of one’s mind from time to time. The solo bassoon is given the honours in Ramble and Groove and the pawky, repeated grooves also include elements of what I hesitate to call bowel-movement-music but feel, in the interests of accuracy, I ought. Much more to my taste is Hard-Knock Stomp for solo viola. If this title suggests composers like Robert Russell Bennett and Quincy Porter, perhaps that’s rather wide of the mark but the taut variations work well and the Blues certainly shadows the work closely.
Composed for chamber ensemble and ‘delay unit’ Drift of Rainbows evokes a dreamlike state in its five-minute length. There’s considerable warmth here and so, too, moments of painterly colour. Fractured Jams consists of four movements and is composed for violin, clarinet, cello and piano. There are some caustic ‘go ape’ adventures in the first movement - the moments of reprieve come as balm - but there’s a down-home jug dance in the second. An eerie third movement attests to Visconti’s ear for telling detail and the final movement is laconic and slightly droll, rather as if William Burroughs were playing a Rag. In the light of all this the lyrical chanson that lies at the heart of Remembrances is a touch surprising, but very welcome. That he’s a composer who can spin a sonic surprise is evident in Low Country Haze for chamber orchestra, where lots of chatter, tapping and solemn lyric interludes punctuate the hazy melos. Finally, then, to Lonesome Roads, the most recent work and one that lends its name to the disc title. This is, at 18 minutes, the longest of the pieces recorded here. It packs a strong rhythmic charge, and there are bottleneck guitar evocations, interesting rock-influenced elements - especially rhythmic ones - and little wispy whistles and minimalist suggestions in the last of the roads. Cast for a conventional piano trio, perhaps this suggests the further pluralist directions yet to be taken by Visconti, roads as yet untravelled.
—MusicWeb International, Jonathan Woolf (October 2013)
There is a certain irony in the appearance of the estimable Scharoun Ensemble (a chamber group composed of members of the Berlin Philharmonic) performing on this recording of unabashedly modern American music. After all, it was the advent of German conductors and orchestral musicians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that edged American composers out of the concert halls in favor of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. But it's a brave new (string) world and 30-year-old American Dan Visconti—one of the early winners of the Kronos: Under 30 commissioning projects—brings American vernacular music to the nine sometimes ethereal, often compelling works included on this CD ['Lonesome Roads']. This is not strictly a string affair; bassoon, clarinet, harp, and piano play prominent roles in several of these compositions, but the talented string players of the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin deliver evocative, highly emotional readings, often employing extended techniques found in folk and bluegrass fiddle.
The vernacular aspect (especially bluegrass, blues, and jazz) is subdued—it is most overt on the opening track, Black Bend, which derives its inspiration from a ghost story that tells of a train derailment along the Cuyahoga River in Ohio (it is said that the cries of dead passengers can be heard even today). Outlaw ballads from the Old West, Arizona's Painted Desert, lonely stretches of rural blacktop roads, jug bands, the open spaces of the Great Plains, and even Nigel Tufnel's tricked-out guitar amp in the heavy-metal cinematic spoof This is Spinal Tap all play into Visconti's imaginative, musical wanderlust.
—STRINGS Magazine, Greg Cahill (July 2013)
Should you enjoy your bluegrass with a side of modernism, or your modernism undercut by winks at nonliterate musical traditions, Dan Visconti may appeal to you. Black Bend is an appropriate opening to the program, as it contains all later parts. The indeterminacy-spotted beginning foreshadows the highly programmed later part; and the bustling, rockme-slowly blues progression that takes over is overwhelmingly joyous, winking, and traditional. Hard-Knock Stomp continues the Southern stylization but in the form of variations. Drift of Rainbows is the neo-romantic height of the program. Filled to the brim with emotional, staggered lines that build and build, the work tries so hard to be majestic and illicit catharsis that it actually seems disingenuous. With the cowboy song, Lawless Airs, the blues, and the neo-romanticism, the dense, crackling, perturbed Fractured Jams seems like a fish out of the water. Aleatorics, multiphonics, squelps, multi-octave leaps, and what must be an entire arm hitting piano keys create a mood only briefly hinted at in other sections of the program.
—American Record Guide, Kraig Lamper (July/August 2013)
As 'Lonesome Roads', the collection's title-piece suggests, Visconti's music evokes the physical landscape of America, a range of contrasts in an integrated whole.
—Gramophone, Ken Smith (July 2013)
My first encounter with Dan Visconti’s music was courtesy of the Aeolus Quartet and their debut album, Many-Sided Music. Visconti’s Black Bend, which opens that CD, is a fantastic piece, at once evocative, virtuosic, and charming. Since my initial introduction a year ago, Visconti’s name seems to have become increasingly prevalent, and his latest award, the 2013-14 Samuel Barber Rome Prize, will only accelerate that trend. I was most excited, then, to receive the first full-length disc of his music, Lonesome Roads, from Bridge Records, and I am happy to report that it does not disappoint.
Visconti’s music on Lonesome Roads covers a range of styles, but it remains distinctly American. In some instances this American-ness is overt—blues, bluegrass, and ragtime all make an appearance—and in others it is less obvious, such as the influence of cross-country road trips or de Soto’s 16th century explorations of the East Coast. Comparisons to Copland and Ives are easy; there are sweeping, achingly beautiful open chords of Drift of Rainbows, and while Fractured Jams, “Jugband Jamboree” is chaotic and dissonant, it is also layered with music that might be more suited for a hoedown. Yet for the variety of influences and stylistic approaches, the album remains remarkably coherent given this underpinning.
It is not often that composers have the pleasure of multiple recordings of their music, so to be able to hear another take on Black Bend (here as string quartet plus bass), was a special treat. Here, the members of the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin take what I can only describe as a more measured, lonesome approach to this blues piece. While the Aeolus Quartet seemed to emphasize the more frenetic, ecstatic moments, opting for a foot-stomping interpretation, this rendition seems to linger just a fraction longer with each element of the music, opting instead for a, well, bluesier result. Both interpretations work well, which is all to Visconti’s credit. I find it difficult choosing between them.
An entirely different work stylistically is Fractured Jams. This set of four pieces is perhaps the most jarring, dissonant music on the disc, and they seem to stand out from the many overtly beautiful works on Lonesome Roads. At first take, it would be easy to think these pieces to be simply postmodernism redux, but even “eleven” (yes, that’s a Nigel Tufnel reference), with its emphasis on sound, noise, and virtuosity, never loses a sense of playfulness. This is not bombastic music for its own sake, but music that unabashedly exuberant. The fourth piece, “kaleidoscope rag,” may be intentionally disjunct and scattered, but it never loses the sense of being a ragtime. It is this groundedness that makes Visconti’s music so effective; even his more far flung explorations, which are musically fascinating, never abandon the listener.
Then there are pieces such as Drift of Rainbows, which are unapologetic in their beauty. Incorporating electronic delay and blow-organs, Visconti creates a lush, slowly moving landscape of slowly shifting chords. Even within the short span of five minutes, he manages to evoke the spaciousness of the American West. The opening of the piece Lonesome Roads, makes wonderful use of the resonance of the piano, setting the tone for this cross-country journey through the following six movements.
Overall, this is fine CD, with fantastic performances by the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin and other guests from the Berlin Philharmonic. This is a wonderful introduction to Visconti’s work, and I look forward to hearing more in the future.
—I Care If You Listen, Andrew Lee (May 2013)
Drift of Rainbows (2009), was an entirely different experience. Ostensibly inspired by the American Painted Desert (shades of Ferde Grofé), Visconti’s writing here for a mere five strings (albeit buttressed by three blow-organs, percussion, celesta, and a tape-delay unit) is undoubtedly the finest piece on the disc. In places one discerned the influences of Barber, Strauss, even early Britten, yet in the end the expression was solely his own. Visconti achieves a remarkably full sound from his string quintet, though one can always hear the clear texture that indicates this is not a full ensemble.
Conversely, Low Country Haze is a remarkable piece, beginning with effects but blossoming out into yet another spacious piece of string writing, this time less homogenous but peppered with sprinkles of asymmetric counterpoint. Once again, Visconti has really got hold of something here.
—Fanfare, Lynn Rene Bayley (May/June 2013)
Even after listening many times to this Bridge Records CD of music by the young American composer Dan Visconti, it's still difficult to describe. He certainly doesn't write in any one particular style, and you can't apply a label such as minimalist, modernist or bluesman to him, even for a single work. He writes in all of these styles and more. There are no rules; anything can be done. In fact, much if it sounds improvisatory.
Bridge Records is the first to dedicate an entire CD to Visconti's music. Written between 2000 and 2012, they are all chamber works for anywhere from one musician (a solo bassoonist performs on our sample track) to a small chamber orchestra. The medium sized ensembles are typically traditional in make-up - a piano trio and string quintet, for example - but not typical in any other way.
The opening track, Black Bend for string quintet, starts with what sounds like distant train whistles and buzzing insects. Then we hear a train on its tracks and a simple tune from a single violin. More string players are added, and the music grows subtly bluesy. Suddenly, it breaks, and all five players wailing the blues! This was when, my first time through, I picked up the booklet to see who these fabulous players were and was completely stunned to see that they are all members of the Berlin Philharmonic!
I've included all three of our little tonality icons, indicating that the music ranges from "tonal and consonant" to "highly atonal or dissonant", often within one work. There is frequently an evocation of nature, and what sounds like machine noises. Sometimes, the music shines with a radiant beauty. Visconti can transition effortlessly from one style to another so you can't recall how or when you got to such a vastly different place from where you were. Other times he'll throw you a jarring right angle turn into a highly contrasting section.
Do listen to the solo bassoon track provided to get a feeling for what the music can sound like, and hear BPO Bassoonist Markus Weidmann bring this completely original piece to a foot-stomping, key-fluttering, reed-blasting conclusion.
—Expedition Audio, Paul Ballyk (March 2013)
Dan Visconti is a composer who's equally at home with classical and popular music traditions. The works on "Lonesome Roads" benefit from this convergence. Their vernacular gestures and rhythms help audiences immediately connect with them, giving even non-classical listeners readily understood points of reference. And the classical underpinnings to the works give them a satisfying complexity and structural integrity that reveals new details and relationships with every hearing.
This album presents a sampler of Visconti's chamber music. And while there is a certain consistency of aesthetic, the variety between the individual pieces is remarkable. Remembrances is a sweetly post-romantic work for cello and piano that's quite beautiful and serene. Fractured Jams is a series of abrupt mood changes, beginning with a movement full of sudden outbursts and halting motion, and ending with a rag distorted through a fun house mirror.
Low Country Haze, for chamber orchestra shows Visconti's skill as an orchestrator. The music seems to coalesce out of the air, resolving into something that hangs shimmering before the listener. Drift of Rainbows, for chamber orchestra and delay unit, has a similar quality to it. Think Arvo Part meets Barber's Agnus Dei.
Then there's Hard-Knock Stomp, a bluesy work for solo viola. And Ramble and Groove for solo bassoon -- a work that encourages the performer to make rude noises with his instrument (one of my favorite tracks).
Lonesome Roads is the centerpiece of this album. It's a fast-paced single movement work for piano trio. String techniques borrowed from bluegrass suggest rural roadways, while the relentless pressing of the rock-inspired rhythms imply that we're driving ever onward over these two-lane county roads hurrying towards an undisclosed destination.
This is an album for explorers. If you're fed up with Top 40 and are exploring the boundries of alternative music, "Lonesome Roads" will take you just a little further. If you're tired of the same old/same old classical repertoire, and are looking for something other than dry academic exercises, "Lonesome Roads" will renew your faith in classical music's contemporary relevance.
—Off Topic'd (March 2013)
Dan Visconti's Gloriously Unhurried Road-Trip
Q2 Music Album of the Week,
Something essential is being telegraphed in the opening seconds of Black Bend. Sharp glissandos, brittle pizzicato plucks and false starts that catch out some gentle extended-technique scrapings – so much of this sounds like textbook modernism. And yet the pitches are unmistakably bluesy. Time to scramble up the traditions, and to bring that I / IV / V feel into your chamber music being played by members of the Berlin Philharmonic. (Don’t laugh; the Germans can play the blues just fine, as you’ll find when Black Bend lurches forward into the groove that it always needed to become.)
From the description, we’d seem to be in Martin Bresnick territory: a learned, slightly-academically-futzed-with appreciation of the American folk-forms. Except Dan Visconti’s compositional approach to various moods is a little less chopped and screwed. He does a little less gesturing at the reference points (a subtlety only possible in the aftermath of Bresnick’s – and Bang on a Can’s – advocacy of such language mashups). And so the brief follow-up, Lawless Airs – for violin and harp – can move from koan-like whisper to neoromantic flourish and then into an almost spectral, icy finale without needing to make a huge deal out of it.
You might be tempted to say that "Lonesome Roads" is an album that does a lot with a little – but it’s actually fairly maximalist in spirit, even down to the sequencing of its miniatures. No piece outstays its welcome. And still, the next one can be relied upon to offer something different: as happens again once the opening bassoon-grumbles on Ramble and Groove, so seemingly indebted to the minimalists (and probably Anthony Braxton, as well), are wedded to its reed-popping, foot stomping climax.
This lightly worn erudition makes "Lonesome Roads" a deeply enjoyable album. After a brief recapitulation of Visconti’s love of country-infused solo viola writing (Hard-Knock Stomp), the album is ready to go for slightly more ambition, in Drift of Rainbows, a piece for chamber ensemble and delay unit. The introduction of electronic manipulation is – what else! – subtle, but effective in the way it engages with the strain of neoromanticism that is simultaneously coming to the fore of Visconti’s language once again.
Elegaic but not saccharinely so, that work prepares the listener for another hairpin turn. The following, four-movement Fractured Jams – for violin, clarinet, cello and piano –makes good on its titular adjective within the first minute. (Visconti is a truth-in-titling guy.) That first movement, “Eleven” – a Spinal Tap reference – is devoted to some self-consicously “heavy” moments. Next, the composer’s hoedown-fixation reasserts its primacy in the “Jug Band Jamboree,” which cuts off with a snappy chromatic riff on the piano. (As played by Majella Stockhausen (!), it could have easily gone on longer.) “Series Echoes (Feedback)” offers a moment of eerie-calm respite, before “Kaleidescope Rag” brings it all home.
As a multi-movement work, it may not exactly feel like more than the sum of its parts – but all its parts are evocative and winning. The track where all of Visconti’s affections really come together with the maximum amount of power, though, is the chamber symphony piece Low Country Haze. After another spare opening, the majority of the work is given over to a lush, exploratory folk theme that is eclipsed, in the end, by the gamelan-ish haze of tuned wine goblets that are played by hand. In just over seven minutes, it’s perhaps the strongest single calling-card on this young composer’s album of works.
But it’s not all about concision, after all – as you’ll find on the gloriously unhurried, seven-movement work that gives this album its title. Played by the Horszowski Trio (featuring piano, violin and cello), Lonesome Roads gives the oft-separated styles of modernism and folk-form a reason to hang together – as though they’re on something of a cross-country road-trip. In Visconti’s telling, the two get along famously. And it’s easy to want to join up for the ride.
—Q2 Radio Album of the Week Feature, Seth Colter Walls (February 2013)
The abundant offerings of Bridge Records encompass contemporary classical and classic performances, but this latest round takes an interesting turn toward a more free style. Dan Visconti’s “Lonesome Roads” includes musical idioms that are familiar to Americans– you’ll hear blues, you’ll hear rock, you’ll hear sounds from everyday life, and technique that draws some very creative moves from the musicians assembled here. Some of the musicians are from the Berlin Philharmonic, some from Horszowski Trio...Favorites on this album include Black Bend, atmospheric and bluesy; Hard Knock Stomp, with its early 20th century feel reminiscent of rent parties and bathtub gin; Drift of Rainbows, singing of Copland and Barber-esque landscape and pathos; Remembrances, which has a song-like quality, you could almost sing along with; and the final, eponymous Lonesome Roads, which you’ll want to have playing when you’re driving to the Golden Nugget Flea Market on that first warm day of Spring.
—QonStage, Sherri Rase (February 2013)
The other Bridge Records goody: Dan Visconti’s "Lonesome Roads", nine pieces for small ensembles and soloists the disc’s annotator aptly describes as “infused with the directness of expression and maverick spirit of the American vernacular.” Visconti mines a wide swath of home-grown idioms with humor, craft, abandon and several stretches of unapologetic sentimentality, accomplished throughout with consummate aplomb. The Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with guest performers from the Berlin Philharmonic, captures the music’s spirit as if Yankee to the bone. Excellent sound.
—La Folia, Mike Silverton (January 2013)
"Lonesome Roads" is Dan Visconti’s first solo disc. Just thirty, the composer certainly has lots of talent and relishes the challenges posed by projects inspired by disparate musical styles. In particular, Visconti loves to combine American traditional music with various strains of concert music. When his postmodern magpie approach works, as it abundantly does on the title piece, a seven-movement suite at turns rhapsodic, folksy and hypermodern, the results are affecting.
—Sequenza21, Christian Carey (December 2012)
American Individualism: Scharoun Ensemble at Radialsystem
In the end, the Philharmonic's Scharoun Ensemble transformed itself into a glass harmonica: The musicians put their instruments aside and began to draw their fingers across the rims of tuned wine glasses. A soft blanket of sound ended Dan Visconti's Low Country Haze.
Previously, the ensemble under the direction of Michael Hasel basked in lush, impressionistic swelling sounds in a premiere [Drift of Rainbows] commissioned by the ensemble—Visconti knows how to bend the idioms of traditional music to such a degree that they sound refreshing rather than stale.
Stylistic obstacles are nowhere in sight of the 27-year-old Visconti, who is currently a fellow of the American Academy; for him the entire American tradition from Varèse to Cage is apparently colloquial. Each of the five pieces heard at Radialsystem this evening has a very different stylistic orientation. His Black Bend for string quintet, for example, is a masterful collage of blues elements executed with joy and wit, whereas his Fractured Jams locates itself at the unlikely intersection of improvised rock and dense avant-garde tone clusters. Remembrances for cello and piano is a melancholic cantilena close to the edge of kitsch, and yet Visconti always manages through asymmetric phrasing to imbue the music with such willfulness that one can enjoy the piece with a clear conscience.
On the European avant-garde festivals, Visconti’s music might have a tough time, because the diversity of styles and approaches has yet to yield a unified compositional language. At the same time, it’s difficult to imagine this causing him any loss of sleep.
—Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin), Ulrich Pollmann (May 2009) full review
Visconti's new scores are varied and skillful...Graffiti is the more modern of the two, a bold investigation of layered effects and colors woven into a clamorous and delicate narrative. His Storm Windows is somewhat more conventional in musical language but equally affecting in expressive impact. Set to a text by the late U.S. poet laureate, Howard Nemerov, the piece wraps warm string lines around the idyllic verses, until offstage chimes, bells and trombones evoke an aura of languid nostalgia.
—Cleveland Plain Dealer, Donald Rosenberg (November 2004)
Genre-Bending Composer Creates Music for Open Minds:
Cleveland Arts Prize feature in the Plain Dealer)
"A lot of my work has been connected to Cleveland," says Dan Visconti. "It's the place where I progressed from student to young professional."
But the link to Cleveland runs much deeper. The city also has served as the setting for numerous life-altering experiences and offered inspiration both creative and financial for some of his most important compositions.
Alas, Cleveland cannot take credit for Visconti's twin musical passion, the blues, which he says are "really a part of me, flowing through my veins pretty strongly." That honor goes to Chicago, where Visconti grew up, and to Nashville, Tenn., where the composer has done occasional work as an arranger.
But Cleveland was indeed the place where Visconti had his first serious encounter with jazz, an art form that continues to affect his musical thinking and define him as a composer... playing jazz on a pickup basis, Visconti says he discovered casual performance to be rewarding. This, in turn, taught him that 21st-century composers like himself must "create a concert experience that is special again, something that's particular rather than generic."
Unlike many musicians of today, Visconti eschews computers and sophisticated technology in favor of paper, pencil, his two favorite instruments (violin and guitar) and a rinky-dink electric keyboard he describes as "so incredibly lacking in musicality...it somehow frees me up."
Paul Cox, chair of the Cleveland Arts Prize's music and dance jury, said he found Visconti's music bold and complex but also easy to decipher. "He focuses on the details, almost obsessively, weaving these really unique textures," Cox explained. "He gives you this vague feeling you're listening to jazz, but then transcends the genre with a climax that would be intense in any context."
At the moment, he's busy fulfilling no fewer than three significant commissions. Clevelanders should get their next chance to hear Visconti's music in October, when an ensemble plans to perform his Christmas in America, a work from 2007 for soprano and electric guitar Visconti describes as "an old Christmas novelty-song that seemingly goes off on some kind of acid-trip about halfway through."
Visconti says he plans to write all three this summer while on a guest-teaching stint at the Cleveland Institute of Music and next year during a term at the American Academy in Berlin.
In the meantime, Visconti remains on the quest for fresh ears. He says his ideal listener is anyone who's open-minded, whose tastes, like his, tend to be broad rather than narrow.
In other words, someone who can't be easily pigeonholed. "I can think of no greater accomplishment than if I could, through my music, lead someone towards something new and unfamiliar to them," Visconti explains. "If my music could serve as a bridge, that would be a real privilege."