The Aurora String Quartet: (Sharon Grebanier, violin; Mariko Smiley, violin; Basil Vendryes, viola; Margaret Tait, cello); Kathleen Supové, piano
What sets David Macbride apart from many composers of his generation is his firm commitment to—and, indeed, his continuation of—the high modernist tradition that has shaped so much of the best twentieth-century music. By this I mean that his musical syntax is unified, complex, chromatic, and often frankly dissonant; he has neither fallen in love with the repeat sign nor proclaimed a born-again “return to tonality” and it is obvious that he has listened with profit to such masters as Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, and Béla Bartók...
The two works on this recording were both written in the late 1980s – the Three Dances in 1987, Chartres in 1989. Macbride chose the title of the first pieces as an homage to John Cage, whose Three Dances for Two Prepared Pianos he admires and because, he explains, although the three movements don’t need choreography, “they might adapt well to it, because each movement has strong rhythmic ideas.” And, despite a considerable rhythmic complexity, the Dances flow. This is music that provides satisfaction yet contains depths and intricacies to inspire further listening.
The Three Dances originated during a trip to China. “Lisa and I had gone over with the Greater Hartford Youth Orchestra and we stayed on for a couple of weeks when the tour was over,” he recalled. “In the middle of the night, I started hearing a passage in my head. And it wouldn’t leave me alone and so I finally wrote it down and it ended up in the conclusions of both the second and third movements.”
Chartres, as its title might suggest, also began with a sojourn abroad. “It was inspired by the great cathedral in Chartres,” Macbride said. “I was particularly fascinated by the labyrinth in the center of the nave. I’ve been interested in musical mazes for about a decade and I’ve incorporated them into Chartres so that every performance will come out somewhat differently. The music is strictly notated but there are many choices the performer can make within the structure. The central movement is eight musical mazes, each one leading into the next, and any path that is chosen should provide a successful aesthetic totality. I wanted to write a large-scale piece that would reflect some of the magnificence I find in great works of architecture.”
This title, originally issued on the CRI label, is now available for order from New World Records as an on-demand CD (CD-R). It can also be downloaded in MP3/320, FLAC and/or WAV format(s).