Restless Nation: The Music of Andy Teirstein – Navona Records

by | Jul 5, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

… a captivating blend of the folk and classical world

RESTLESS NATION: THE MUSIC OF ANDY TEIRSTEIN: Restless Nation; Secrets of the North, Suite for String Quartet and Nyckelharpa; Azazme Songs, Suite for String Quartet, Oud and Dulcimer; Letter from Woody – Mivos Quartet/Cassat String Quartet/Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra – Andy Teirstein (Harmonica, Hammer dulcimer), Marco Ambrosini (Nyckelharpa), Yair Dalal (Oud) – Navona Records NV6397 (2-4-22) (61’)****

Andy Teirstein’s music is at the nexus between classical music, dance, and folk music. “As both a folk musician and a composer of new music, my model has always been Bela Bartok,” Teirstein comments. Bartok (1881-1945) used the folk music of his native country, Hungary, writing in a dissonant, but tonal style. “He believed that one should become so imbued with the folk influence that it pervades the new music and becomes the composer’s mother tongue,” Teirstein relates. He has written film scores for PBS and BBC and produced music and dance residencies exploring the traditional music of many countries.

The string quartet is the foundation of the music on this album. Each work highlights a folk instrument that reflects the music of a different culture. “With the rise of social media, increased immigration and social hybridizations, we find ourselves in places of juxtaposition, face to face with new musical styles and approaches,” Teirstein states. He teaches music and dance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. His students are less interested in abstract music than the music of their native lands, family affiliations or even street music. Teirstein’s interaction with the musicians and their culture lends an air of authenticity to his music. 

The inspiration for Restless Nation was the composer’s yearlong journey in a pop-up camper with his young family. The music is from his children’s perspective. His son’s exclamation when hiking in the Grand Canyon, ‘Papa, my eyes were hungry…and I didn’t know it” was the inspiration for the first movement. You can hear the rhythms of the crickets and katydids from the Smoky Mountains in “Flora and Fauna.” In “Finding Our Way Home” Terstein uses scordatura tuning of the first violin to replicate the sound of old-time Southern fiddlers. 

There’s a darker, burnished sound (a cross between viola and cello) to the nyckelharpa (a Swedish fiddle) in Secrets of the North. This suite of incidental music is inspired by a short story by Isak Dinesen, The Sailor Boy’s Tale. It’s a narrative of a Sami woman who turns into a hawk and helps a boy. The nyckelharpa is a favorite band instrument in Sweden and is often used in dance music. The resonant sonorities and tuning of the fiddle lend a tangy edge to the music that blends with the string quartet. Marco Ambrosini is the authentic soloist.  

Azazme Songs was the result of a trek across the desert with a Bedoin family and oud player Yair Dalai. Terstein describes the scene, “Tea and coffee are brewing: people are cooking. Music begins, ouds and violins, made up of short repeating phrase, lyrical and endearing.” The piquant microtonality of the Arab Maquam system, the smoky sound of the oud and the mellifluous sound of the Dulcimer (played by the composer) make for a buoyant musical mix.

Letter from Woody for string quartet, harmonica, and orchestra draws on traditional American folk string bowing. The title is taken from an actual love letter folksinger Woody Guthrie wrote to his future wife.  “Hobos Lullaby” is tinged with sadness and longing; “I Love You Down to Your Feet” is a perky dance. The composer plays the harmonica. 

The performances are excellent. The music on this album is a unique and captivating blend of the folk and classical world.

—Robert Moon 

More information at Navona Records

Album Cover for Teirstein - Restless Nation