Aki Takahashi, piano; FLUX Quartet (Tom Chiu, Conrad Harris, violins; Max Mandel, viola; Felix Fan, cello); The DownTown Ensemble (Margaret Lancaster, flute; Daniel Goode, clarinet; Larry Polansky, guitar, mandolin; Joseph Kubera, piano;Chris Nappi, vibraphone)
The compositions contained on this disc, like many of Barbara Monk Feldman's (b 1953) works, have a strong connection to specific locations, and take their inspiration from landscapes the composer has known and experienced－not as literal depictions in sound, but as abstracted impressions of the colors, textures, and atmospheres evoked by these special places.
The Chaco Wilderness (2005) and String Quartet No. 1 (2004) both take their inspiration from the high deserts of northern New Mexico, where she lived from 2000 to 2012. Specifically, these compositions reference the area around Chaco Canyon in the northwest part of the state, the site of abandoned ancient Native American settlements perched at the bottom of the rugged cliffs of this harsh but beautiful landscape. In program notes for the quartet, the composer has compared these cliffs to a "gravitational sculpture," addressing the close ties her music has both to nature and the visual arts.
Like Georgia O'Keeffe's work, the music takes its inspiration from nature, but from this initial impulse reaches out towards abstraction. As in O'Keeffe where natural subjects are highly stylized, in Monk Feldman's work the melodic figures, while beautiful and expressive, are the starting point for more intensive exploration of instrumental color, texture, and registral shapes and contours.
The score to Soft Horizons (2012), for piano, is inscribed with the location of Gaspésie, Quebec. As with the desert, the paradoxes of scale are palpable in the maritime landscape of this location, where the St. Lawrence River widens out to meet the Atlantic, the river gradually becoming the ocean in one direction, while the varying light－either reflecting off the water's surface, or mixing with the rising fog－creates another illusion, blurring the distinction between the surface of the water and the distant horizon, and between the water, air, and land. Soft Horizons dissolves any fixed point of reference into a misty floating world of sound. It explores the full range of the instrument, and in doing so creates its own audible illusion, gently playing with the inherent limits of human perception
Barbara Monk Feldman: Soft Horizons