Classical CD Reviews

JEFFREY STADELMAN, “Messenger” = Messenger; Nine Bagatelles; Evans House; Koral 19 – Moravian Philharmonic Orch./Petr Vronsky, cond./Jeffrey Stadelman, p./Elizabeth McNutt, flute – Navona Records

A little of everything from this versatile composer.

Published on March 17, 2013

JEFFREY STADELMAN, “Messenger” = Messenger; Nine Bagatelles for Piano and Recorded Sound; Evans House; Koral 19 – Moravian Philharmonic Orch./Petr Vronsky, cond./ Jeffrey Stadelman, p./ Elizabeth McNutt, flute – Navona Records NV5896; 52:44 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Jeffrey Stadelman is a very pleasant discovery for me. He is on the theory and composition department at the University at Buffalo, NY and studied composition as an undergraduate with Stephen Dembski at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and went on to receive his Ph.D. in Music from Harvard University, where his principal teachers were Milton Babbitt, Earl Kim, Donald Martino and Stephen Mosko. In “new music” terms these are some important names! Stadelman has since received commissions and invitations for compositions from, among others, the Fromm Foundation and Boston Musica Viva, Nuove Sincronie, Concert Artists Guild, Trio Italiano Contemporaneo, Phantom Arts, Bernhard Wambach, Elizabeth McNutt, Jon Nelson and UW-Madison. Grants and awards include those from Meet the Composer, Harvard University, Friends and Enemies of New Music, and the Darmstadt Summer Courses.

Stadelman has also authored a number of papers and has made presentations on Babbitt and Schoenberg at universities and festivals in the U.S. and Europe. I must say based on this small but varied sample of his work, I am duly impressed! Messenger, the title work, is a three-movement, very colorful work that reminded me a bit of Jacob Druckman. The work is for all intents and purposes a symphony, as the composer points out, and the language is bold, dramatic and compelling. Stadelman acknowledges some inspiration from a stanza of poetry by A.R. Ammons. I thought the whole work was most interesting!

Nine Bagatelles for Piano and Recorded Sound is a strange but effective work. The work dates back to when Stadelman was studying with Earl Kim and the recorded sound files are activated by a performer-controlled foot pedal. Perhaps the oddest moment in the piece is the instruction to the performer during the closing two minutes of the 9th and closing Bagatelle during which the player is to sit still simply looking at her/his hands. While the recorded performance is quite odd, but interesting on its own; the live performance must surely be fairly dramatic.

Evans House is a short but virtuosic work for solo flute. Written for present performer Elizabeth McNutt, the title is taken from an actual sign of an old house, the first residence, apparently in Amherst that has since fallen to ruin. The work tests the flutist’s stamina and technique and McNutt does a splendid job!

This collection closes with one of Stadelman’s solely electronic (electroacoustic) works, Koral 19.  The composer explains that the work (pronounced “coral”) was built over a long period of time and of small units of rhythm and pitch and texture that are added onto each other to form a large, unified whole; like a reef, perhaps. While I always prefer electronics in the context of acoustically-based structures (like with orchestral or in chamber music) this electronic “play back” piece still holds the interest.

My favorite work here was definitely Messenger but I must admit I was quite impressed with all these works by Jeffrey Stadelman, who I had not heard of before. He seems to be a composer with a foot in the complex, somewhat “academic” world typified by that of thirty years ago, but with a sound that speaks to today’s audiences; especially those familiar with contemporary music. Stadelman’s music may not be that for a mass audience but I do think nearly any informed listener would like these works (especially Messenger!) and I would like to hear more from this composer!

— Daniel Coombs

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