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MORTON FELDMAN: For Bunita Marcus – Ivan Ilić, piano – Paraty

MORTON FELDMAN: For Bunita Marcus – Ivan Ilić, piano – Paraty 135405 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi], 67:51 (10/23/15) ****:

The music of Morton Feldman is absolutely unique. There is nothing at all like it; a ‘riddle wrapped inside an enigma’ and related clichés. It also is not something the casual listener would relate to. Feldman was in most ways an iconoclast. His intent was not to create the earliest and most ‘extreme’ form of what became ‘minimalism’ but he did take a deep almost meditative approach to the raw elements in music – but especially that of pitch. He was fascinated; obsessed it seems, by intervals and harmonies and wanting to truly hear and experience them. Therefore just about every one of his works is quite long; very quiet and repetitive where changes in intervals; fragments of melody and components of harmonies change ever so gradually. There is so very little of what most listeners expect in forward motion that it becomes nearly tedious in the minds and ears of some.

However, Ivan Ilić and – I must admit – people like myself find the very, very gradual changes and Zen-like microscopic examinations of pitch rather fascinating. In fact, Ilić states in his booklet notes that For Bunita Marcus, written for a student of his at the University of Buffalo, the original is meant to be played straight through for its nearly seventy minutes. However, Ilić explains his decision to create twenty-two individual tracks because it “seems unreasonable” to expect every listener to listen to just one very long track every time. This way one can closely examine the structure by playing “just their favorite sections.” (I did smile just a bit at that.)

Feldman was in some ways, from what I’ve read, a reclusive individual who – like the “true” artist – was practically immune to the opinions of critics or mass audiences who might be very unequipped to ‘get it.’ He was also, however, competitive – wanting to create ideas and music that were purposefully new and never done before – and the complete pioneer who hung out with composer-philosopher John Cage, artist Mark Rothko and playwright Samuel Beckett.

Ivan Ilić is clearly and, I think, admirably a genuine Feldman scholar who has spent many years researching his music after playing Palais de Mari, premiered by Bunita Marcus, among others. Ilić has now recorded three albums dedicated to Feldman and his music, including “The Transcendentalist” and “Detours Which Have to be Investigated.” I am ashamed to say I am unfamiliar with these and will definitely seek them out.

As for For Bunita Marcus, I find it one of Feldman’s most unique and interesting works.  This is late Feldman, written just two years before his death from cancer. (He is said to have somewhat coyly commented that he continues to write the way he did because he was “dying very slowly.”) Some of the harmonies, some of the intervals, some of the snippets of phrase are just ever so slightly dissonant and seem to hang, unresolved. At about seventy minutes, it is long to be sure (although not as long as For Philip Guston) and will certainly try the patience of the uninitiated. Ivan Ilić is one of the cognoscenti – he does ‘get it’ and it shows.

My first Feldman work was Rothko Chapel nearly forty five years ago which I still find beautiful and practically transcendental.  His music is an acquired taste to be sure but this album could get you interested if you invest the time and patience. I strongly suggest you give it a try.

—Daniel Coombs

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