The ‘transitional’ music of Ivan Sokolov

Ivan Sokolov performing at the Moscow Tchekhov Library

The violinist Karen Bentley Pollick first encountered the Russian composer and pianist Ivan Sokolov a little over ten years ago, when they were both guest artists for a Baltic Voices Festival organized by the SeattleChamber Music Players. Since then Pollick has taken a great interest in Sokolov’s music; and, to date, she has released three recordings in which she performs music by Sokolov and others with Sokolov as her pianist. On the first of these, {amberwood}, released in 2007, she plays both violin and viola, each in a Sokolov sonata, the violin sonata of 2005 and the viola sonata of 2006. The two also perform the 2001 “Tango Orientale” for viola and piano by the Swedish composer Ole Saxe and “Uspávanky” (lullabies), written in 2006 by the Czech composer Jan Vičar.

For the following recording, Homage to Fiddlers, released in 2007, Pollick and Sokolov were joined by cellist Dennis Parker. The title track is a duo for violin and cello by Vičar, and Sokolov is represented by his A minor piano trio, composed in 2000, and his 2002 cello sonata in D minor. Pollick and Parker also perform a “Duettina” by another Czech composer, Viktor Kalabis, written in 1987. On the most recent recording, Russian Soulscapes, released this past February 14, Pollick and Sokolov perform with another cellist, Richard Slavich, and violist Basil Vendryes. This album presents two major Sokolov compositions, his 2009 string trio and his 2010 piano quartet.

Sokolov graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in the early 1980s, a critical time for Russians. He was born on August 29, 1960; so he never had to endure the soul-destroying elements of Stalinism at its worst. However, the post-Stalinist Soviet Union in which he grew up had its own elements of brutal authority. It was only in 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Part, that things began to change. Gorbachev initiated a major restructuring (“perestroika” in Russian), which included the new policy of glasnost (Russian for “openness”). Throughout the Soviet Union artists became aware that greater freedoms of expression would be not just tolerated but openly celebrated.

We are familiar with how many of Sokolov’s colleagues benefitted from this change. Through Alfred Schnittke he may have cultivated his interest in past legacies. However, Schnittke had experienced enough brutal authoritarianism to acquire a jaundiced view of that past as a Garden of Eden from which he would be forever expelled; and it is difficult to encounter a Schnittke composition that is free of all traces of bitter irony. Sokolov, on the other hand, could view the past as providing a richly fertile soil that would nurture the growth of his own compositional voice. Thus, in the booklet for Homage to Fiddlers, we read the influences for his 2002 cello sonata in reverse chronological order: Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Gustav Mahler. The attentive listener will find them all there but will also find Olivier Messiaen in the piano trio (along with Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, and César Frank). What listeners will not encounter, on the other hand, are signal characteristics of some of his other colleagues, such as the adventurous dissonances of Sofia Gubaidulina or some of the startlingly unique approaches to a naïve minimalism found in Valentyn Silvestrov.

Pollick’s recording project is still very much in progress. Thus far it seems to have been based on specific musicians who have come to perform together with Pollick and Sokolov. Consequently, the recordings are not so much a journey as they are pages from a photographic album portraying the composer in different instrumental settings. As such, there is no recommended order for listening based on either the release dates of the albums or the dates of the compositions themselves. As a matter of personal preference, however, I would have to confess that Homage to Fiddlers resonated particularly well with my own experiences in listening to chamber music, and it would not surprise me if other listeners came to the same conclusion in the course of their explorations.





Karen Bentley Pollick: Virtuosity of the avant garde

Published: Thursday, March 11, 2010, 9:40 PM

By Michael Huebner — The Birmingham News 

Thursday, Birmingham Museum of Art

Five stars out of five

Invariably, a program of modern music will contain one or two works that won’t stand the test of time — they will be performed once or twice and never again. For the eight pieces on “Alternating Currents,” violinist Karen Bentley Pollick assured that wouldn’t happen.

Rarely will a recital such as this engage the ear from beginning to end, yet each piece at Birmingham Museum of Art event had a unique style and temperament, reflecting Pollick’s keen sense for gleaning quality in experimental music and giving these scores their rightful due.

A common denominator in all but one piece was electronics, hence the program’s title. Two speakers belted out sounds ranging from vaguely recognizable to incomprehensible, flighty to otherworldly. Pollick’s role was to complement, contrast and expound on them.

Michael Angell’s “Capital Spheres” created a menagerie of repetitive bleeps and ethereal sounds, extending the sonic range of a piano while Pollick accompanied on amplified violin. David Jaffe’s half-human, half-machine evocations in “Impossible Animals” could be mournful, frightful or funny. Based on synthesized voices and a recorded winter wren, it tweeted, warbled and created new creatures in the imagination, the scales and arcing vocal glissandos sometimes resembling Chinese opera.

Brian Moon continued the animal theme by electronically manipulating the howls and growls of a stray dog who has taken up residence at Pollick’s home. Charles Norman Mason’s intricate sonic weavings in “Metaman” brought a grainy video by Sheri Wills into focus. Dorothy Hindman introduced her “Fantasia for Karen Alone,” a slowly unfolding dialogue with a recorded violin in pointillistic plucks and snaps and high-pitched harmonics. Zack Browning used highly-charged sound masses in broad swashes to bring “Sole Injection” to an intense conclusion.

The only acoustic piece on the program, Dan Tepfer’s sultry “Solo Blues” is a duo for a single performer. A remarkable feat for both composer and performer, it showcased Pollick’s unique ability to play the violin with one hand and the piano with the other.

To some, the works on “Alternating Currents” might not be music at all. To those following the thread of the avant garde through the tame apologies of post-modernism, there was no denying these composers’ skill and vision. Pollick not only extended that thread, she vitalized and emboldened it. An audience in Seattle will have a say in the matter when she repeats the program there on March 19.



Music Festival: Americans set a challenge

Canberra International Music Festival
“Double Duo and Friends” (Concert 24)
Albert Hall, May 18
Review and photos by Judith Crispin
Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick and pianist Lisa Moore. Violinist Karen Bentley Pollick and pianist Lisa Moore.

THIS celebration of American music was one of the most challenging programs of the Canberra International Music Festival.

Synergy percussion ensemble kicked things off with a new arrangement of  “China Gates” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams. This ornate work creates a music box effect, and Synergy performed it with precision and sensitivity.

A second work by Adams, “Road Movies” for electric violin and piano, was brought to audience acclaim by renowned pianist Lisa Moore and violinist Karen Bentley Pollick. This three-movement minimalistic work, based on the manipulation of short cells, recalls the all-American sounds of George Antheil and Steve Reich.

Bentley Pollick’s violin playing was nothing short of astonishing, delivering absolute precision with double and triple stops, as well as accented bowed staccati. In the scordatura second movement, she produced low tones of a truly extraordinary timbre. Lisa Moore demonstrated incredible stamina with her effortless presentation of the relentless piano part, particularly in the vigorous final movement.

Martin Bresnick charmed the audience with his “Ishi’s Song”, based on a recording of the last Yahi Indian. The work began sweetly, with pianist Lisa Moore singing the little song upon which this work is based, the piano then picking up the tune for the first few bars. Bresnick achieves a wind chime effect with his clever use of sostenuto pedal, building up layers of harmonic colour beneath delicate rhythmic patterns. Moore brought out lovely bell-tones from the Steinway and maintained a chant-like character throughout the work. Intricate passages become gradually sparser, until “Ishi’s Song” was reduced finally to a single repeated note – a poignant metaphor for the last Yahi singer.

The final work of the evening was an unexpected pleasure for me – Paul Dresher’s semi-improvised “Glimpsed from Afar” for his invented instrument the “Quadrachord”, (a giant construction with long amplified strings) and a MIDI controller, the Marimba Lumina, played by Joel Davel. The musicians used laptops to generate loops and define synthesis parameters, creating a shifting palate of musical colour. “Glimpsed from Afar” revealed the influence of Indian Carnatic music – its extended melodies produced with bowed Quadrachord, in a singing style not dissimilar to the musical saw.

The poetic quality of the music soon expanded into thunderous percussive sonorities produced by mallets on Quadrachord strings. A noise like huge helicopters was generated by pummelling the Quadrachord with fists and palms, building to cacophony, layer by layer. The audience threw concert tradition to the wind and showed their appreciation with cheers, whistles and stamping.

Judith Crispin is a composer, writer, photographer and director of  Manning Clark House .



Music Festival: Musical shine to the Dome

Canberra International Music Festival
“Amazing Space 4: sounding the Shine Dome”
At the Australian Academy of Science, May 16.
Reviewed by Helen Musa
Audience members look on behind ensembleAudience members look on behind ensemble“WE needed a very special iconic building for this concert,” architect and  UC lecturer, Ann Cleary, told the crowd at the Shine Dome today, before the Australian premiere of Paul Dresher’s work “In the Name(less),” and the seminal Terry Riley composition “In C”.

To be sure, festival director Christopher Latham had warned her that the Academy of Science building was designed for voice not music so it was all a bit of a risk, but it proved a risk that paid off.

First, in freezing conditions, the audience had to form a sort of conga line to circumnavigate the building before entering the two concert spaces.

As with previous “Amazing Space” concerts held in the Arboretum, in two J S Murdoch buildings and in the High Court, the concert was preceded by words – many of them.

Cleary explained how architect Roy Grounds had won the contract to design the Academy of Science building because of the way he related it to Canberra, with its  “blindingly brilliant natural light” and the hills around which partly inspired the dome shape. Cleary waxed musical in her metaphors, suggesting that Grounds had designed a building full of “intervals, rhythms and cadences”.

There followed a rare reminiscence by Victoria Grounds, the daughter of the architect, who told those assembled of the conservative time at the height of the Menzies era when the presence of brilliant scientists necessitated such a building. Although, in her childhood, when the building was being constructed, Canberra was tagged “six suburbs in search of a city,” it was distinguished by a general optimism, a sense of future.

Seemingly matching the adventurous architecture was the inventiveness of the San Francisco-based performance duo, Paul Dresher and Joel Davel, both playing electronically supported instruments.

Dresher’s was the elongated Quadrachord,  a largely aluminium instrument that breaks down for touring. The west coast of the US, he told us, still had a “do-it-yourself tradition” that came from being so far from the centres of cultural authority, and in his view, when playing on such a large-scale  instrument, “you move towards architecture”.

“In the Name(less)” proved  to be a structured improvisation without notation, in which the Quadrachord was bowed, plucked and sometimes beaten, to gentle  percussive effects from Davel that, like the building, evolved into a more fully enveloping experience.

It was time for the audience to move into the centre of the Dome, where ceiling discs floated above us “like a Martian embassy”, as Cleary suggested.


The "conga"  line

The “conga” line

Latham put  in a word or three, describing the powerful ideas in the San Francisco Bay area that had inspired him as a young music student, and explaining the Indian musical influeces on Dresher and Terry Riley, whose influential work “In C” was possibly “the most performed piece of the last century”. His music was not feudal,” Latham told us, it had no conductor, and unlike most western music that Latham thought was ultimately “neurotic”, Riley’s was perhaps the happiest music ever written.

He was right. It was time for sheer enjoyment, as Dresher and Davel were joined by other colleagues including Lisa Moore on piano and Karen Bentley Pollick on violin. Then, emerging from the shadows above us on the rear balcony were ANU School of Music students with  faculty members, sax player John Mackey and percussionist Gary France.

Astonishingly, the audience accepted Latham’s invitation to walk around, sometimes beating out the rhythm, during the performance, which began with trancelike delicacy and then, augmented by brass from above, ended up as a triumphant assertion of joie de vivre.



Canberra Jazz blog


22 May 2013

Channeling Joni and ‘Runner
“Make me feel good, rock and roll band / I’m you’re biggest fan / California coming home”. So sang Joni Mitchell. Paul Dresher performed at the Albert Hall and he did some things differently. They say they do things differently in California, the home of hippies and Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It also gave us Ronald Reagan and it’s also broke. Jazz looks to civilisation and lives in its undercurrents, in NYC and Berlin. California channels the fresh and new, at least to our generation. So Paul Dresher presented his Double Duo in concert with compositions relating to our sense of the passage of time and to fuel drag racing. Paul himself performed on electric guitar (Strat) so the R’n’R reference has some validity. He also performed on Quadrachord, a five-stringed instrument of 160-inch scale which he bowed. So here’s the new and the quirky together. I didn’t particularly warm to the use of either instrument. Paul doesn’t attempt Steve Vai although he does solo, but the distorted tones were lacking in overtones and seemed to just fatten the mix and get lost in it. It might work better with studio processing. Similarly, the Quadrachord didn’t seem to provide a whole lot more than repeating sequenced arpeggio-like harmonics, although there was an intervening sound each cycle that was maybe a double stop. I was thinking it must have cost a bomb to transport. So much for the R’n’R and the quirky Californian aspec

But did I like the music? Immensely. This was minimalism, repeated arpeggios and sequences that mutate over time, square structures of four with melody over, brilliant dissonance and consonance switching back and forth, stubborn contradictory polyrhythms, dense clouds of percussion that regularly float over, dull repetition and deep groove with obtuse melody and clashing harmony and splashes of colour from bell-like percussion. It’s a world of dull repetition and enlivening contrast. I frequently remember a murder and chase street scene from Bladerunner as a picture of a possible future: huge diversity of people and clothes and cultures under constant rain and huge neon signs and police in flying cars descending next to Asian street hawker kiosks. To some degree dystopian; to some degree diverse and exciting. I picture both California and minimalism as somewhat like this. I can doubt the mind-numbing repetition of the fours and triplets and two chords and the rest, but I tap my feet with this music and thrill with the incongruity of it all, the unexpectedness of melody and harmony, and especially the rhythms that clash and contradict but are sustained, wondering all along that it holds together and speaks to me. There’s even a sense of soloing here, from distorted guitar or clarinet or especially from the violins, but it’s written, not improvised.
It’s not surprising that this was one of the smaller audiences at a CIMF concert. It’s new music, although minimalism is not too new now. I’d picked it. Megan’s normally a listener to Bach and Beethoven but she liked it too, suggesting it’s better live. Maybe. It grows and mutates like a living thing and that probably works better live. This was another concert with a Quiros St connection. Our no.2 billet is Graeme Jennings. He knew these players in SF but had never played with them until he played a solo part in Cage Machine on this date. This was a great gig. I felt satisfied and excited and intellectually requited. There’s great tradition in “fine” music and I love it, but this is music for our time and I’m pleased to see it’s so well grounded. Great gig.

The Double Duo is led by Paul Dresher (electric guitar, quadrachord, composer) with Karen Bentley Pollick (violin), Lisa Moore (keyboard) and Joel Davel (percussion) with guests Graeme Jennings (violin) and Robert Spring (clarinet, bass clarinet).


Posted by Eric Pozza at 9:32 pm



The Paul Dresher Ensemble Double Duo returns to Old First Church

April 13, 2013

By Stephen Smoliar – San Francisco Examiner

Last night in Old First Church, the Paul Dresher Ensemble Double Duo returned to the Old First Concerts series, under whose auspices they had last performed in June of 2010. The two duos of the group’s name reflect both the traditional and the modern. The traditional one pairs violinist Karen Bentley Pollick with pianist Lisa Moore. The other pairs Dresher himself, performing on electric guitar and invented instruments, with percussionist Joel Davel. Nevertheless, the group has prepared a repertoire allowing them to perform in different combinations. Last night each duo performed only once; but there were also two solos, one trio, and one quartet.

Dresher is also a composer. In that capacity his two contributions to the program revisited works that were performed in 2010. One of these, “Glimpsed From Afar” was his one duo performance with Davel. For those who enjoyed Dresher’s “Chromatic Quadrachord,” when he performed with the San Francisco Contemporary Players at the end of last month, “Glimpsed From Afar” provided an exhilaratingly different perspective on his invented instrument. The quadrachord has a 160-inch frame supporting four strings and considerable pickup and synthesis technology. While Dresher used it as a drone behind an instrumental quartet of piano, marimba, clarinet, and violin in “Chromatic Quadrachord,” in “Glimpsed From Afar” it was the primary instrument.

Davel divided his time between sharing the ample space of the quadrachord with Dresher and performing on a marimba lumina, basically an electronic control device played with marimba mallets invented by Don Buchla (whose first modular synthesizer, the Buchla Series 100, was built almost exactly 50 years ago). Davel used this to provide the sonorities required by a percussion section, but he also brought his percussionist’s skills to the quadrachord, including inserting metallic plates below the strings to create some ecstatically exciting bursts of fortissimo rhythms. “Glimpsed From Afar” was composed for “A Slipping Glimpse,” a dance work performed by the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company; but a generous amount of choreographic thinking also went in to how Dresher and Davel worked together when both were performing on the quadrachord. This “return performance” was a high point of the evening and remains a first-rate example of the synthesis of music and technology at its best.

The other Dresher composition on the program was a repeat performance of the second movement of “Double Ikat,” composed for the trio of violinist David Abel, pianist Julie Steinberg, and percussionist William Winant. This was again composed for a dance piece, “Loose the Thread” by Brenda Way. The title of the music refers to a style of weaving in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, but the second movement is an homage to the North Indian sitarist Nikhil Banerjee. Where the focus of “Glimpsed From Afar” is rhythm expressed through diverse sonorities, “Double Ikat” is highly melodic, with themes that spin out in the manner of the unfolding of a raga on the sitar, while the piano arpeggios reflect plucking across the sitar strings when a raga is introduced. Dresher calls this “my most blatantly lyrical work to date;” but his lyricism remains decidedly contemporary, as well as invitingly engaging.

The other duo performance of the evening was John Adams’ “Road Movies,” performed by Pollick and Moore to begin the program. This piece has become popular with many violinists, even some associated more with the traditional repertoire. (Midori performed it at her 2010 recital for San Francisco Performances.) It bops along at a pleasant pace, a bit like a Volkswagen Beetle from the Sixties puttering its way across New Mexico. Its affably loping quality disguises the technical demands placed on both performers, and last night’s execution concealed those demands well. This was music to smile at, even if a fair amount of sweat had to go into creating those smile-inducing conditions.

The two solo performances both involved electronic support. Moore performed “Piano Counterpoint,” an arrangement of Steve Reich’s 1973 “Six Pianos” for piano solo with prerecorded tracks prepared by Vincent Corver in 2011. Corver basically reworked Reich’s original conception into one of his later “Counterpoint” compositions, multi-line pieces for a single instrument (flute, clarinet, guitar) in which some of those lines may be taken up by a recording. In this particular case Moore actually performed two of the contrapuntal parts, leaving the rest to the backing recording. However, since this was based on relatively early Reich, the piece lacked some of the overall architectural conception found in pieces like “Electric Counterpoint” (another work performed by San Francisco Contemporary Music Players this season, at the beginning of the year, with none of the parts recorded). Nevertheless, Moore gave an impressive account of this arrangement, which was probably receiving its first performance in San Francisco.

Davel then took a drum solo in a performance of “Eight Oh Eight” by Ian Dicke. The title refers to the Roland TR-808 drum machine, one of the earliest instances of that particular technology. The piece is basically “about” creating and synchronizing with recorded loops, demanding much of the performer by way of listening in the course of execution. This was Davel’s one performance that did not use the marimba lumina; and his use of acoustic instruments clarified the interplay between the performed and the synthesized.

All performers united at the end of the evening for a finale that was truly grand. The piece was Martin Bresnick’s “Fantasia On A Theme by Willie Dixon,” whose tongue-in-cheek title evokes both Ralph Vaughan Williams’ fantasia based on a hymn by Thomas Tallis and Sixties Rock. Willie Dixon was a leading Chicago blues singer who influenced not only the origins of rock and roll but also the transformation of rock brought on by groups such as The Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The “theme” for Bresnick’s fantasia is “Spoonful,” not so much in the way that Dixon sang it as in the way that Cream recorded it. The work was composed in 2001 as a piano concerto; and Bresnick created a revised “chamber version” in 2012. Like “Glimpsed From Afar,” this was music to get the blood flowing and the limbs pulsing in rhythm, the perfect way to send the audience home with a bounce in their steps.


Duo TwoSense Afloat Again

July 10, 2012

By Bruce Hodges

United StatesUnited States Janáček, Martin Bresnick, Samuel Carl Adams: TwoSense (Ashley Bathgate, cello and Lisa Moore, piano), Karen Bentley Pollick (violin), Courtney Orlando (violin), Bargemusic, New York City, 20.6.2012 (BH)

JanáčekPohádka (Fairytale) (1923)
Martin BresnickPrayers Remain Forever (2011)
Samuel Carl Adams: Piano Trio (2011, world premiere)
Martin Bresnick: Trio for piano, violin and cello (1988)

In September 2011, the cello and piano duo TwoSense (Ashley Bathgate and Lisa Moore) had scheduled this concert at Bargemusic, the unique floating venue nestled in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge—that is, until the New York Fire Department closed down the barge unexpectedly, canceling the recital. Some ten months later, all parties were able to reconvene, and the reward for those who waited was a strong program featuring recent works by Martin Bresnick and Samuel Carl Adams.

Ms. Moore is well known for her expertise with Janáček, and the evening opened with his Pohádka(Fairytale), which scholars attribute to V.A. Zhukovsky’s The Tale of Tsar Berendyey, about the adventures of the Tsar, Princess Marya and her father, Kashchey. Packed with the composer’s typical folk-based rhythms, here it received—perhaps paradoxically—an urbane yet rustic performance. Moore’s light flicks on the keyboard were matched by equally deft pizzicato from Bathgate, and the concluding Allegro had plenty of garrulous energy. Some of that energy was held in check for Martin Bresnick’s Prayers Remain Forever, based on based on a poem by Yehuda Amichai. Bresnick writes of the poet’s intent to provide gentle consolation, but finding a “strain of existential reproach.” His musical response is an initial, solemn section, followed by one of great fervor. Moore and Bathgate gave the new piece an appropriately stirring reading, with both artists shaping Bresnick’s phrases with the intensity of passionate human speech.

In his comments, Samuel Carl Adams mentioned his Piano Trio as a kind of “tribute to 18th-century forms,” and for a young composer whose output regularly includes “noise, pulsating rhythms and slow harmonic movement” it is a departure, with a definite input from jazz. The coda was especially fun, and with Karen Bentley Pollick on violin, the trio enthusiastically captured Adams’s playfulness. Bresnick’s Trio (from 1988) is in four movements, starting with a spare, sustained opening (“simplice, inesorable”), which quickly becomes more ardent, fusing the three instruments in a rich choir. The contrapuntal, pizzicato-filled second movement arrives in vigorous contrast, followed by an airy, questioning love song. Near its end, a forceful piano cadenza leads straight into the final movement, which uses elements from the first three. After a ferocious mid-section—this time with Courtney Orlando adding her violin to the duo—the ending lands suddenly, mysteriously.


TwoSense ~ The Barge Rocked Further (A Review)

In Classical MusicConcert reviewsNew Classical MusicReview on June 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm

By Chris McGovern

TwoSense rocking the Bargemusic harder than it had been, literally!
(L to R: Lisa Moore, piano; Ashley Bathgate, cello; Photo courtesy of Bonnie Wright)

Here and Now Series
Ashley Bathgate, cello
Lisa Moore, piano
Special guest soloists Courtney Orlando, violin
Karen Bentley Pollick, violin
Fulton Ferry Landing, NY
Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Well, it was that time again! Time to pursue another trip to the rocky atmosphere on the Barge in Brooklyn for another shore-bound performance, this time from the wonderful duo TwoSense. Comprised of Ashley Bathgate on cello and Lisa Moore on keys, TwoSense had just given a preview of this show at the previous weekend’s Bang On a Can Marathon, and it was great to have a sort of extended evening of Bang-related music.

Before they got to the living composers, the duo began the set with Leoš Janáček‘sPohádka. A 3-movement sonata-meets-tone-poem, the piece was delivered with a great clarity and delight, and a conclusion that is sweet in its serenity (EDITOR’S NOTE: You can hear another recording of TwoSense performing the third movement “Allegro” when you click on Lisa Moore’s “TwoSense” page).

Martin Bresnick‘s “Prayers Remain Forever” remains an astonishing work, sounding even more intense at the Barge than it did at the Winter Garden during the marathon, and the piece’s greatest moments for me are the cascading piano and the cello’s vibrant sustained chords during the fever-pitch conclusion that literally always leaves the two soloists looking like they played for their lives.

The world premiere of  Samuel Carl Adams‘ Piano Trio featured another guest soloist,Karen Bentley Pollick, whom you may know from not only a previous interview we didbut also from the band Electric Diamond. This was a genuinely exciting work, and to see Pollick perform with the duo was a long-awaited treat as you saw a great deal of hard work and history being displayed on the stage. Along with intensity and rhythm from the soloists, a humorous-sounding conclusion seemed to surprise the audience, and in turn they met the piece with their approval.

Mr. Bresnick had a second piece on the program–his Trio for Piano, Cello and Violin, and joining them for this was violinist Courtney Orlando from the ensemble Alarm Will Sound. Though an older work of Bresnick’s, his trio is equally as active and colorful, and has a sort of dialogue between the violin and cello that was interpreted splendidly by Bathgate and Orlando. Both Orlando and Pollick gave wonderful performances here that would make them perfect additions to the ensemble if TwoSense ever decided to become a trio.

It is always such a treat to see recitals from this duo, hearing either new pieces or new performances of older pieces, and whether they are just a duo or have guest musicians, Lisa Moore and Ashley Bathgate are such grounded and well-versed players that know how to interpret the kind of music they choose to give, and give their all to such incredibly diverse works. Between Moore’s powerhouse piano and Bathgate’s radiant cello, TwoSense are like the perfect storm of chamber duos.

I personally think they were the reason the waters suddenly got rougher on the Barge during the concert.

Duo unifies new music, minimal to modern

Published: Tuesday, March 10, 2009, 11:49 AM

By Michael Huebner — The Birmingham News 

4 stars out of 5


Karen Bentley Pollick, violinist; Lisa Moore, pianist
Monday, Hill Recital Hall
Birmingham-Southern College

The stylistic cohesiveness in the “Prophet Birds” program Monday at Hill Recital Hall was made all the more convincing by Karen Bentley Pollick’s and Lisa Moore’s determination to make it lucid and palatable.

The violin and piano duo — both ardent protagonists for the new and the good in modern classical music — chose as its featured work a world premiere by Sam Adams. A 24-year-old Californian who happens to be the son of a more famous composer named John, Sam has written a work that bears a small resemblance to Dad’s post-minimal stylistic amalgamations, but is most concerned with sonic exploration. In “Aves Nostradamus,” the piano becomes a percussion instrument — pedals knocking on the floor, hands tapping on wood and rubbing under the keyboard. In the first movement, titled “Stutter,” its expressiveness comes from a winsome physicality inside a coherent rhythmic framework. “Prophecy” toys with silence, enhanced by violin ornaments.

Adams, who was on hand for the premiere, connected with Schumann’s song, “Prophet Bird,” as did Martin Bresnick in “Bird as Prophet,” performed immediately after Adams’ work. A tense, dizzying work, it moves from violin double-stop unisons going in and out of phase to a long chromatic expanse and sustained high violin note.

Anchoring the recital was John Adams’ “Road Movies,” a three-movement work bookended by the composer’s minimalism — repetitive patterns, off-kilter rhythms and caffeinated, adrenalin-rich ripples of sound — but offset by a languidly expressive middle movement. The duo played with inspiration and tenacity, mastering the work’s jazzy imprint on the finale, titled “40% Swing.”

Also on the program was Paul Dresher’s “Elapsed Time,” a work that closes with Philip Glass-style minimalism, set in motion by Moore’s pianistic strength and focus.

Leos Janacek’s Sonata for Violin and Piano was the evening’s oddity. Its post-romantic angst played out with dry detachment, offset by lovely playing in the “Ballad” movement.


Violinist, pianist display wide range of inspiration

Published: Thursday, March 08, 2007, 10:18 AM

By Michael Huebner — The Birmingham News 


Who performed: Tuesday at Birmingham-Southern College, Karen Bentley Pollick, first lady of new music in Birmingham and wife of the BSC president, played an intriguing duo recital with Russian pianist and composer Ivan Sokolov.

Who composed: BSC composer Charles Norman Mason continues to accumulate miles from his year in Rome. So does his wife, Dorothy Hindman, who buttressed her playlist while there. Sokolov, Michael Angell, Robert Boury and Jan Vicar completed the assembly in this Birmingham Art Music Alliance event.

Modern musings: Birmingham composers headed the innovation department. Angell’s “Prig and the Pig” alternated clock-like staccato with an outpouring of brute force. Little could be perceived of Mason’s cryptic organization in “Incantesimi: Ommagio a Scelsi e a Berio,” yet he transcended the theoretical melee with drama and colorful sonorities. Hindman painted a multilayered cityscape of Rome in “centro.”

Easier listening: Sokolov’s “Solnechnaya” sonata lands somewhere between Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, surprising for a work composed in 2005. Its passion and melodrama were mined well by the duo. Boury’s “Two Blues” owes much to ragtime, while Vicar’s “Uspavanky” served well as a meditative closer.



Karen Bentley Pollick, Grant Dalton put on exciting show in Birmingham

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

For The Birmingham News

It’s rare to see the violin and piano played simultaneously – by one person. Karen Bentley Pollick, a violinist, pulled off that exciting feat when she played Dan Tepfer’s “Solo Blues for Violin and Piano” on Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham.

The piece, which ended the first part of an Artburst concert with Pollick and percussionist Grant Dalton, called for the violin and piano to alternate between melody and accompaniment. Pollick gallantly bowed away on her violin while her free hand bounced across the keyboard. Fortunately, Tepfer’s fine piece was worth the effort.

The concert also featured a number of exciting 20th century pieces, particularly two by Elliott Carter, who’s celebrating his 100th birthday this year. Pollick played “Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi for Solo Violin,” a work that weaved many fits and starts into a smooth base. Dalton performed Carter’s undulating “March for Solo Timpani,” which featured several rousing, strong variations in beat.

Pollick and Dalton teamed for “Djembach: Suite for Violin and Percussion,” a series of movements by Christian Woehr that’s laid out as tributes to a variety of violists. Each movement was led off by a poem about the violist. The poems read more as inside jokes, but the movements themselves, with Pollick changing attitudes at will and Dalton playing the djembe (a kind of drum), made for some exciting music and painted portraits of the personalities of each subject.

Together, Pollick and Dalton also treated us to a piece called “Fanitullen,” for which she played her hardangerfele, a Scandinavian string instrument. Toward the end, she and Dalton were able to let loose on a piece called “Salsa for Karen for Violin and Percussion” by Ole Saxe. Pollick clearly has a personal connection with this piece, and she pretty much lit the house on fire with her movements as well as her playing as Dalton kept up the beat. But after having played the piano and violin simultaneously, she deserved to go wild….

Composer Martin Bresnick brings unique brand of spirituality to Birmingham-Southern College

Published: Saturday, February 16, 2008, 12:07 PM

By Michael Huebner — The Birmingham News

4 stars out of 5

The ever-scrappy and ambitious music department at Birmingham-Southern College has brought several iconic composers and their music to Birmingham in recent years. On Friday night, BSC presented Martin Bresnick, a profoundly spiritual composer from New Haven, Conn. He was in Birmingham to oversee rehearsals, lead a master class and explain his music to the small but tuned-in audience.

Bresnick’s particular brand of spirituality, with its emphasis on the beauty and connectedness of the natural world, recalls the transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau. The music of Charles Ives repeatedly came to mind throughout the nearly two-hour concert, although the surface of Bresnick’s music is very different. It integrated diverse elements, including birdsong, American vernacular music, video derived from William Blake’s eccentric poetry and engravings, and lots and lots of noise.

He complemented the regional underpinning with several references to southern creative traditions, including blues from the Mississippi Delta via the rock band, Cream, and texts by Georgia poets transformed into a mysterious song cycle for mezzo-soprano.

The vocal ensemble Sursum Corda sang two Sacred Harp-inspired Psalm settings. Despite the subtitles — New Haven and Woodstock — local audiences would surely place the craggy stylistic origins of the two choral works squarely in North Alabama.

Bresnick’s musical materials include nods to minimalism and, through the occasional musical quote, post-modernism. Bresnick is undaunted by major and minor triads, pounding rhythmic repetitions and extended stays in a limited tonal realm. While this description suggests minimalists such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich, Bresnick’s emphasis on transformation of material and, perhaps more significantly, of mood, distinguishes him from those composers. His repeated and varied musical aphorisms recall Beethoven and his descendants. Indeed, the manner in which Bresnick marries musical gesture with spiritual content often brought the music of Gustav Mahler to mind, especially during the song cycle.

The roster of excellent performers included violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, who navigated brilliantly between sumptuous melodies and timbral noodlings, and mezzo-soprano Nadine Whitney, for whom Bresnick composed the cycle. Most impressive was Australian pianist and would-be contortionist Lisa Moore, who, while engaged in traditional ivory tickling, also slapped, stomped, vocalized and narrated.


Duo Premieres Five Works

Karen Bentley Pollick, Violin & Craig Hultgren, Cello

By Michael Huebner — The Birmingham News

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Birmingham Art Music Alliance has proved time and again that the experimental and avant garde are still healthy and relevant.

These steadfast modernists are surviving the onslaught of what many classical music marketers perceive as audience-pleasing (therefore tonally conservative) new music. Instead, they stage a refreshing mix of world premieres, off-the-beaten-track oddities and multimedia works.

Monday’s concert at Birmingham-Southern College offered five premieres and two works with live computer processing. The performers were two of Birmingham’s most prominent new music devotees, one the violinist Karen Bentley Pollick.

BSC’s Dorothy Hindman contributed “Monumenti,” a duo inspired by Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war protests in which images of confrontations, arguments, periods of repose, humor and ridicule were easy to conjure from the two opposing instruments.

Charles Norman Mason, completed “Entanglements” in Rome recently, where he is fulfilling his Rome Prize obligations. An intricately scored duo, its acoustic string timbres are imitated and expanded by computer-generated sounds in snappy rhythms, balanced by eerie sustained tones.

Bentley Pollick commissioned Czech composer Jan Vicar to write “Homage to Fiddlers,” a bold, dramatic work with lively rhythms and a hint of Bartok. Tracy Mendel combines lyricism with tension-producing repetition in “Lines After Neruda and Gismonti,” but the work’s connection with its title is vague.

Projected images of melting timepieces, family photos and outer space propelled UAB composer Michael Angell’s Sonata for Cello and Tape, a work that oozes nostalgia and surrealism.

An amplified Bentley-Pollick accompanied herself in “Fiddle Faddle,” as Troy, N.Y., composer Neil Rolnick manipulated a feed of her live performance with a computer. Easily the most technologically advanced piece on the program, it was also the least adventurous, its Gershwin-esque language and suggestions of fiddle tunes softening the experimental bite.


Professors combine for engaging show

Published: Friday, October 12, 2007, 11:21 PM

By Michael Huebner — The Birmingham News


Performers: Karen Bentley Pollick, Craig Hultgren, Adam Bowles, Donald Ashworth, Alexander Volobuev, Lori Ardovino, Patricia Pilon, Laurie Middaugh, Jennifer Cowgill and Kathryn Fouse

Charles Norman Mason’s whimsical invention met Ed Robertson’s sophisti­cated craftsmanship Thursday night at Brock Recital Hall.

Mason, a Birmingham-Southern College professor and 2005 Rome Prize winner, tee­ters between the avant garde and post-modernism. His music is at once challenging and engaging and, judging from the consistently high performances by BAMA musicians, exciting to perform.

“Three Legged Race” served as a fanciful overture — a short but sweet trio with thorny rhythms that was handled deftly by violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, cellist Craig Hultgren and pianist Adam Bowles.

“Blazing Macaw” is also a trio, of sorts. A piano, played by Bowles, is accompanied by two speakers spewing out cascading electronic arpeggios and lyrical gestures that match and extend the piano’s express­ive range.

Perhaps most telling of Mason’s work is his string quartet, “Oh What a Beautiful City.” Premiered by the Miami String Quar­tet in front of the Birmingham City Council last February, the quartet, formerly titled “Prelude to Parlay: Mood Music for the City Council,” has a new name and was given a shot of adrenaline. Pollick, Alexan­der Volobuev, Michael Fernandez and Hultgren turned in a sparkling perform­ance, easily trumping the first reading. The work’s rhythmic intricacies, Appalachian-tinged folksiness and high energy were viv­idly realized.

Robertson, who retired from the Univer­sity of Montevallo faculty two years ago, was the 2004 Carnegie Foundation Ala­bama Professor of the Year. “Chronos,” for flute and piano, explores subtle hues through pitch bends and gently rocking rhythms. “Music for Cello and Piano” creates crafty dialogues in alternately medita­tive and dramatic movements.

The composer’s best work came in “Three Poems about War,” powerful set­tings of poems by A.E. Housman, Edith Sit­well and Siegfried Sassoon that weep and scream for an end to violence. Although soprano Jennifer Cowgill’s uneven reading didn’t do justice to the first two settings, the final poem, “Attack” was chillingly ren­dered in speech-song to shouts of “O Jesus, make it stop!”


Guitarist Bowman contributes versatility, talent at BAMA event

Published: Saturday, November 10, 2007, 11:04 PM

By Michael Huebner — The Birmingham News 

Few cities can boast new music forums as active as the Birmingham Art Music Alliance. Most of the works this tenacious organization presents will never achieve masterpiece status, and its concerts won’t set any attendance records. Yet they consistently turn up gems.

Saturday’s BAMA event at Hill Recital Hall featured guitarist Paul Bowman, whose passion for the moderns has landed him solo engagements at places like Carnegie Recital Hall and Alice Tully Hall.

The concert had Bowman busy on all six works, four of them premieres. An exceptionally versatile musician, he negotiated a pastiche of styles with ease.

Equally devoted to the cause, violinist Karen Bentley Pollick performed with enthusiasm and expertise in four of the pieces.

For his “Ten Strings,” a duo for guitar and violin, Monroe Golden made an about face from his unique brand of microtonal minimalism. The open strings of the violin and guitar were his palette, violin slides and glissandos his brush strokes. Suggestions of country fiddling and swing added to the color.

Dorothy Hindman reprised her “Needlepoint,” a poignant evocation for solo guitar that was inspired by her mother’s battle with cancer. Repetitive, relaxing arpeggios create the backdrop for dissonant outpourings that seemed to reflect pain and anger.

Joseph Landers’ gentle “Eclogue” used an alto recorder and cello, played by Lori Ardovino and Craig Hultgren, to create an effective pastorale. Matthew Scott Phillips’ “An Approach to Destiny” and Mary Elizabeth Neal’s “Duo for Violin and Guitar” were less engaging works that drew more on early 20th century styles.

Like much of Charles Norman Mason’s music, “Scrapings,” for violin and guitar, is a smile inducer. Blips of synthesized and pre-recorded sounds combined with jazzy violin riffs and steady guitar rhythms. Recorded voices, reciting poetry by Patrick Barron, seeped into the complex, but transparent fabric.


Opening Birmingham Art Music concert a multifaceted blend

Published: Friday, September 10, 2010, 1:30 PM

By Michael Huebner — The Birmingham News 


Music by Josh Crowe, Ed Robertson, Cooper Schrimsher, Dorothy Hindman, Monroe Golden and Jan Vicar

Thursday, Brock Recital Hall, Samford University

Four stars out of five

Instead of forming a unified front, the dedicated composers in the Birmingham Art Music Alliance express themselves freely, making each of their concerts a candy store of styles.

The standout came from Ed Robertson, whose music has taken on increased depth and profundity since he retired from the University of Montevallo in 2005. Composed in 2009 for soprano saxophone, “Inflections” takes a page from Messiaen’s clarinet solo, “Abyss of the Birds.” A somber five-note theme becomes a deeply moving solo voice that is at once engaging and conversational. Lori Ardovino performed with clarity and feeling.

In the audience was Dorothy Hindman, who was acknowledged for her “Jerusalem Windows.” Her alternately splashy, colorful, pointillist and gritty evocation of the 12 tribes of Israel is an inspired departure from Marc Chagall’s stained glass masterpieces. The former Birmingham-Southern faculty composer recently moved to Miami with her husband, Rome Prize-winning composer Charles Norman Mason, now on the University of Miami faculty.

Josh Crowe’s very accessible “Quirktet” for string quartet fits the mold of Mark O’Connor’s classical-bluegrass blend, moving from fiddle tunes to a slow waltz to a country jam. Cooper Schrimsher’s “Field of Dreams,” was a short and agreeable duo for violin and piano.

The final two pieces best revealed BAMA’s diversity. Birmingham composer Monroe Golden’s highly abstract piano solo, “81,” was followed by Czech composer Jan Vicar’s “Musica da Canzonetta,” a duo for viola and bass that produced smiles at every turn for its playful simplicity and clever turns of mood.

Karen Bentley Pollick, who played either violin or viola on four of the six pieces, played with unflagging skill, with strong support from violinist Julia Sakharova, cellist Craig Hultgren, Ardovino, pianists Adam Bowles and Kathryn Fouse and bassist Abraham Becker.