Reviews

Recent Reviews

ALBUM REVIEW: Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: A Composer’s Approach (Navona)

by Don W. Seven | Baby­sue Reviews | June, 2012

“We were first intro­duced to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier by way of Wal­ter / Wendy Car­los’ electronic record­ings from the 1970s. Now in the twenty-first cen­tury well-known pianist Don Fre­und takes a more tra­di­tional approach, pre­sent­ing the piece in full over the course of two discs.

These com­po­si­tions are among Bach’s best (in our opinion)…so to hear them so expertly exe­cuted here is indeed amighty big thrill. The discs are housed in a beau­ti­ful tri-fold card­board sleeve which man­ages to house­ev­ery­thing in a very small space. Also included in the pack­age is an instruc­tional DVD by Fre­und that we can­not make any com­ment on because we don’t con­sider our­selves knowl­edge­able in the field of music instruc­tion. Irre­gard­less, this is one cool slick pack­age that includes Clavier Book 1 in its entirety…and played with pas­sion. Won­der­fully enter­tain­ing music that never gets old. Top pick.

ALBUM REVIEW: Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: A Composer’s Approach (Navona)

InfoDad.com: Family-Focused Reviews

A very inter­est­ing com­bi­na­tion of per­for­mance and ped­a­gogy at a very rea­son­able price, Don Freund’s per­for­mance and dis­cus­sion of the first book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier … is well-played, thought­fully pre­sented and dis­tin­guished for Freund’s gen­uine attempt to com­mu­ni­cate with 21st–cen­tury audi­ences about this bril­liant 18th–cen­tury music. Fre­und (born 1947) presents the music itself, played forth­rightly on a mod­ern piano, on two CDs, and then offers a DVD con­tain­ing “lessons” about four spe­cific pieces – the pre­ludes and fugues in C major, C minor, C-sharp major and C-sharp minor. Fre­und clearly under­stands this music both his­tor­i­cally and in terms of its com­mu­ni­ca­tion poten­tial, and rehear­ing the four works on the DVD after lis­ten­ing to and watch­ing the “lessons” is quite an inter­est­ing expe­ri­ence after ini­tially sim­ply hear­ing them played on CD. Fre­und is him­self a com­poser, as the title of this record­ing makes clear, but what really comes through in the DVD is that he is a fine teacher (he is pro­fes­sor of com­po­si­tion at the Jacobs School of Music at Indi­ana Uni­ver­sity). Fre­und dis­cusses Bach’s com­po­si­tional process and how it affects spe­cific ele­ments of the per­for­mance of The Well-Tempered Clavier, and if his emen­da­tions on the basis of his analy­sis … add to a listener’s appre­ci­a­tion of Bach’s music. … This Navona release is a valu­able three-disc set for its com­bi­na­tion of an under­stand­ing ren­di­tion of the music with dis­cus­sions that will help lis­ten­ers bet­ter com­pre­hend and relate to Bach’s work.

ALBUM REVIEW: Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: A Composer’s Approach (Navona)

Gapplegate Review | June, 2012

JS Bach’s Well Tem­pered Clavier, most will know, is one of the sin­gu­larly bril­liant sets of com­po­si­tions our world has produced.

Composer-Pianist-Musicologist Don Fre­und has recorded the First Book of Pre­ludes and Fugues from the series and added a DVD of his demon­stra­tion and analy­sis of the first eight sets on Well Tem­pered Clavier, Book 1: A Composer’s Approach (Navona 5869). In all you get the two CDs of music and the DVD lec­ture disk, at a nice price.

The per­for­mances, on pianoforte, are com­mit­ted and filled with moments where Mae­stro Fre­und will via rubato and empha­sis, bring out phrases he finds to the point com­po­si­tion­ally. It is an unpre­ten­tious, very decent read­ing, if not with the dash and fire of Glenn Gould or the pris­tine period zeal of Wanda Landowska.

What makes this set espe­cially worth­while is his lec­ture disk “Com­po­si­tion Lessons with JSBach.” It cap­tures Pro­fes­sor Fre­und, pre­sum­ably at Indi­ana Uni­ver­sity where he teaches, pro­vid­ing a very insight­ful lec­ture demon­stra­tion on the C, C-minor, C# and C#-minor Pre­ludes and Fugues.

It’s a DIY video of the lec­tures them­selves, with split-screen pre­sen­ta­tions of Fre­und and his piano on one side and Bach’s musi­cal nota­tion occu­py­ing the other half of the space. For each pre­lude, each fugue, Prof. Fre­und has color-coded the nota­tion accord­ing to the structural-function of any given pas­sage or line. So with a fugue, you can read­ily see the fugue sub­ject and its var­i­ous entrances in the matrix, its per­mu­ta­tions, devel­op­ment, the non-structural pas­sages, etc.

What’s par­tic­u­larly engag­ing about the lec­tures is that Fre­und looks at each work in terms of com­po­si­tional strate­gies. Bach is envi­sioned writ­ing the actual work, com­ing to var­i­ous points in the com­po­si­tion process where he must make choices.

Why he made a par­tic­u­lar choice from a strat­egy stand­point and why Bach was an extra­or­di­nary com­poser for doing so is what the lec­tures are all about and there are some bril­liant analy­ses. Each prelude-fugue is dis­cussed with Don demon­strat­ing the musi­cal pas­sage in ques­tion while you fol­low on the nota­tion repro­duc­tion, then at the end of each set a full per­for­mance (from the CD ver­sion) is jux­ta­posed to put it all in perspective.

It serves as a rather bril­liant intro­duc­tion to Bach as a com­poser sees him, a fel­low com­poser. And so there are moment of delight when we savor a dis­so­nance that the fugal devel­op­ment leads Bach to, moments of free inven­tion, the utter ele­gance of Bach in sim­plic­ity or the incred­i­bly beau­ti­ful com­plex­i­ties of his four-part fugal writing.

In the end you go away from this set with insight into the com­po­si­tional mind of Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach. Your appre­ci­a­tion of the Pre­ludes and Fugues are height­ened. And then you have some very ser­vice­able and sen­si­tive ren­di­tions of the whole of Book One to hear repeatedly.

Stu­dents and old hands at the Bach cor­pus should revel equally in the lec­tures and appre­ci­ate the per­for­mances. It’s a wor­thy deal no mat­ter how you look at it. Bravo!

MUSIC REVIEW: Evening of Freund

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com April 2, 2012

Freund brings joy to his performance

If there’s one word that resonates when composer Don Freund offers up some of his music to the public, it is joy. When, for instance, he sat at the piano on Friday night in Auer Hall to perform a couple of his Preludes (he’s been writing one annually since 1990), he looked as if communing with himself, happily letting his fingers strike the keys, thereby releasing the music for his ears to hear and mind to relish. At times, he was all smiles.

And when he took up the baton to conduct his “Life of the Party: Concerto for Bassoon and 16 Friends,” he literally danced before his co-performers, a picture of rapture, looking ever so gleeful that all those musicians were there and that an audience was in the house listening. He exuded joy, and the music itself seemed to exult in being let out to reverberate.

For Friday’s concert, the affable composer had convinced bassoonist Kathleen McLean and 16 fellow faculty members and students from the Jacobs School to perform “Life of the Party,” a sort of non-vocal, all-instrumental half-hour opera that details a celebration where music and conversation abound. The music covers a wide territory: rock, Gospel, background, classical, jazz, funk. The musical conversation also ranges, to represent small talk, religion, politics, sports, art, and interpersonal relations.

The whole thing is fun. McLean was terrific on and as the lively bassoon. Kevin Grainger was just as terrific on and as the contrabassoon, an angry instrument when the bassoon dared to flirt with the electric guitar, calmed when reconciliation occurred.

Friday’s program began dazzlingly with Freund’s “SeeNoHearNoSpeakNo,” a piece for three instrumentalists (most prominently violist Rose Wollman, along with percussionist Brian McNulty and double bassist Dorian Jackman) and three admirably agile modern dancers (Rachel Newbrough, Kelly McCormick Bangs, and Jingze Wang). Elizabeth Shea, IU’s Director of Contemporary Dance, created the demonstrative choreography for this performance.

It was a pleasure also to welcome back Eva Legene, the recorder artist who taught for 20 years in the Early Music Institute. She soloed in a new recorder version of Freund’s “Daydream in A,” initially scored for clarinet. Hers was a subtle star turn, undoubtedly taxing to all but the likes of the supremely gifted Legene.

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2012

MUSIC REVIEW: FREUND ORGAN AND TRUMPET

Concert-goers feel lively gusts of musical winds

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com
February 2, 2012

Don Freund thinks big.

A few years ago, he set about writing an opera based on “Romeo and Juliet,” a project he tenaciously completed. Last May, on the University Theater stage, he produced a remarkably complex performance piece called “Passion with Tropes,” consisting of music, theater, dance, poetry, philosophic humanism and explosions of visuals.

Tuesday evening, to fill his faculty recital slot, he gave an Auer Hall audience “Out of the Ordinary: Music for Organ and Trumpet by Don Freund.” That meant a presentation of two works by the composer: “Ordinary Pieces: A Concert Organ Mass,” written in 1991, and the 1997 “Breeze Works,” an exercise for trumpet and organ.

One never knows, arriving at a concert featuring Don Freund’s music, just what to expect. He writes in virtually every style and form, and he’s an adventurer with the courage to try his hand at whatever drives those creative urges of his at the moment. As consequence, even if an individual listener considers a here-and-there result not to be a total success, he or she will find it impossible to be bored. Freund, after all, is a composer who exudes imaginative energy.

Prime example: “Ordinary Pieces.” It is scored for solo organ. The religious themes and welter of emotions usually expressed in a Mass by chorus and vocal soloists are given to the organ. The absence of words makes such an approach questionable, but Freund made it work far better than one might have expected. He scored the Mass so creatively, gave the organ such a range of expressions and tonal colors, that the messages he intended to impart somehow are.

Of course, Freund’s program notes helped ease the journey of significance. Take the Prelude, a setting meant to symbolize a verse from Psalms, “You sprinkle me, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed,” and meant to recall, from the composer’s own boyhood, the priest sprinkling holy water on the congregation. Freund describes the music as “angular jagged harmonies . cleansed by a drizzling pentatonic fountain.” Later, about the Benedictus (“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”), he writes: “Picture a funky procession of a ragtag gang following a guy on a donkey. Enjoy the rests.” Both descriptions were spot on reflections of the music.

On Tuesday, Freund chose to have the movements of “Ordinary Pieces” played by thirteen different organists: students, faculty, and that very much non-retired retiree from the faculty, Marilyn Keiser. For the record, the others were, in order of appearance, Josef Ciskanik, Daniel Corneliussen, Juan Mesa, Bruce Neswick, Elizabeth Clark, Chappell Kingsland, Mike Powell, Martha Sliva, Stephen Price, Colin Andrews, William Bryant, and Ryan Brunkhurst. Their tasks were not easy; for some the assignment was, indeed, of highly challenging nature.

They acquitted themselves famously well. Because of all the shuffling and seat changing from player to player and for consistency of approach, one might have preferred a single organist versus a baker’s dozen, but the concert gave attendees a welcomed opportunity to hear the breadth of talent in and about IU’s organ department.

Freund’s “Breeze Works,” which followed the Mass, proved most definitely breezy. Played with ferocious enthusiasm by Janette Fishell on organ and John Rommel on trumpet, it blew lively gusts of musical winds through the hall. And, yes, as Freund expressed the wish in his program notes, the two wind instruments, thus unleashed, caused this listener and no doubt others there to “feel lightly tossed about.”

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2012

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MUSIC REVIEW: UNIVERSITY ORCHESTRA AND WYCIK

Guest conductor reveals why he must come back again and again

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com October 28, 2011

The new face was that of Ekhart Wycik, who makes his living in the Rhineland area as associate general music director and principal conductor of the Dortmund Opera Theater and faculty member at both the University of Music in Cologne and the Robert Schumann University of Music in Dusseldorf.

On Wednesday evening, the face and body and mind of that gentleman took the podium in the Musical Arts Center to lead the University Orchestra in a refreshing program that from the opening downbeat revealed a genuine talent. Here was a conductor who clearly made his wishes known in body language and technique, conveying to his young musicians what he wanted from them. He had obviously done that during rehearsals, with a result of readings that not only sparkled with precision and transparency but that boldly exuded character.

Without intermission, Maestro Wycik offered two 19th century staples by Brahms and Smetana and, between them, a work by IU’s Don Freund. Each item emerged with its individuality articulated and accentuated.

He opened with the rousing Academic Festival Overture, Brahms’ musical gift to the University of Breslau for giving him an honorary degree. What had been expected by tradition was a dignified composition. What Brahms wrote was an overture developed around four student drinking songs. The German-born Wycik injected Wednesday’s performance with every drop of old world collegial spirit. It had that musical essence which comes as birthright to someone reared and trained in middle Europe. The conductor had the gift to pass along his insight so that the orchestra seemed interpretively at one with him.

Freund’s “Word on the Street” is as American as the Brahms is German, a niftily crafted orchestral exercise seasoned with the blues and rock as well as classic elements, all harmonically accessible and rhythmically inviting. This music might not have been second nature to Wycik, but one never would have known. He fashioned its performance with sensitivity to composer intent and an enthusiasm that appeared to embrace the music’s stylistic attributes and atmospheric exuberance.

Brahms and Freund, on this night, were warm-ups for three of the six symphonic poems Smetana wrote and combined to honor “Ma Vlast” (“My Country”). The best known of those six was among the chosen, a musical journey down “The Moldau.” Though actually the second of the poems, Wycik chose to place at the end of the concert this evocative depiction of a waterway flowing and drifting through the Czech countryside and Prague.

He preceded it with “The High Castle,” a tonal painting mystic and majestic, and the gorgeous “From Bohemia’s woods and fields,” with music so invitingly spacious and open. Was ever a more loving musical tribute paid to a composer’s homeland? Conductor Wycik and the University Orchestra treated “Ma Vlast” as lovingly as it should have been. The performance was simply beautiful.

Newcomer Wycik needs to come back.

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2011

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Sequenza 21 Review: Don Freund’s PASSION With Tropes

Posted by Jeremy Podgursky / May 30, 2011

Full disclosure is necessary up front: last year I had the pleasure of studying composition with Don Freund at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University. Our working relationship was fruitful and inspiring, and I left his studio with new insight, skills, and quite a lot of new music. So what are some of the important things I learned from him? Passion, energy and confidence are infectious. Anything goes stylistically when instilled with passion, energy and confidence. Know thy instruments and use them with passion, energy and confidence. Take risks and don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face (with passion, energy and confidence), etc.

When one has the chance to experience the embodiment of such a laundry list in a living, breathing piece of art, the impact is much greater. So to witness the premiere of Freund’sPASSION With Tropes last weekend was truly fulfilling as a listener and a former student. Throughout the 80+ minute piece of music theater Freund’s espoused wisdom revealed itself to me in the form of “do as I say AND as I do”.

A little back story (more can be found at the link here): Freund’s PASSION was originally composed in 1983, and the revision underwent a distillation of the orchestration and re-sculpting of the narrative to direct motion towards the end of the piece. In the notes for the program, Freund describes the piece as “a theatre work about the experience of attending an oratorio (or, more specifically, a Passion)”. As far as an all-encompassing message, he suggests that PASSION “is about life as defined by suffering and love”. One of the most unique aspects of this piece is the manner in which it is told: instead of a linear narrative Freund opted to create a collage of musings by over forty poets, philosophers and playwrights for the libretto. Presented in almost a cut-up method, strands of Nietzsche flow into Beckett, Shakespeare segues to Sartre, and Vonnegut morphs into Dostoevsky, all of which are interspersed with actual liturgical text. The “…With Tropes” in the title takes on two meanings, with a trope as a word or expression used figuratively as well as the embellishment of parts of the Mass via insertion of a musical phrase.

The premiere of the 2011 version of PASSION took place at the Ruth N. Halls Theater at Indiana University-Bloomington to a packed house. It was such a multi-faceted production that it required participation between four university departments as well as support from the New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities and the Institute of Digital Arts and Humanities at Indiana University. The orchestration was for a 20-person orchestra, members of the IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble (as well as various combinations of soloists), and a children’s choir from the local St. Charles School. There were also dancers and actors from other departments at IU to enhance the drama and action, as well as visuals (animation and still images) and stage direction provided by talented local and faculty artists. The audience was seated in four sections on the stage, surrounded by choirs as dancers and actors walked down the aisles from all angles.

One of the most fascinating aspects of PASSION is how organically and effortlessly Freund’s narrative flows. I’ve experienced the same seamless unfolding in films by masters such as Fellini, Greenaway and Godard and the effect is mesmerizing. In PASSION, ghosts of medieval chant ingeniously morph into what could be a Staple Singers number followed by a modernist orchestral texture. The musical language is always stylistically supportive of the text, with the collage-like arrangement enhancing the sense of time travel. Although some chosen texts only appear as one-off segments, Freund created multiple continuities as other texts and their musical counterparts return and progress at different points throughout the piece. The overall effect is almost as if someone is changing the channels to watch several different things at once. Lesser composers would have had a hard time succeeding with such a narrative; Freund’s technical skills and fluency in multiple musical dialects enabled an unhindered flow throughout the intense, 80+ minute journey. The staging of certain dramatic scenes (i.e. Waiting for Godot and King Lear) provided repose and release from the scored texts, showcasing the bare sound of the human voice and the graceful motions of the dancers. And the on-stage seating enabled the attendees to be surrounded by the visuals, sounds and motions of all of the performers, thus enhancing the immersing nature of the production.

For those unfamiliar with the Jacobs School of Music, the performers here generally range from fantastic to amazing. The chamber orchestra and Contemporary Vocal Ensemble handled their duties with finesse, poise, and expertise, never overbearing and always adapting effortlessly to whatever was asked of them. The children’s choir probably melted some hearts, lending a sense of innocence and unconditional love to the performance, and the actors and dancers performed with elegance and grace. With all of these different factors contributing to the success of the piece, enough praise cannot be bestowed upon conductor Carmen-Helena Tellez. With so many different elements at play, her understanding of the score, restraint and self-assurance were evident throughout.

And with such a convincing performance it is necessary to acknowledge the masterful score that facilitated it. Freund’s ingenuity, creativity, and command of his craft were on display, leaving no doubt that he is an artist of the highest level and that PASSION is a high-water mark of a fecund career. It is a bold, imaginative, risky work full of brilliant orchestration, color, heart and soul. Judging by the tangible sentiment in the room, Freund’s passion, energy and confidence worked wonders.

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A Middle Quartet

With its driving rhythmic impetus and a healthy proportion of violent activity, Don Freund’s A Middle Quartet was no less engaging than the Crumb (Voice of the Whale). It projected much of the drama and vitality of the middle Beethoven string quartets its composer admires. -Robert V. Palmer, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 10/16/90

Freund’s excellent A Middle Quartet is worth hearing again. In the middle section Freund cleverly uses jazz and rock elements within a classical format. Energy returned late in the piece, with a minimalist strain that seemed to end with a question. -Whitney Smith, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 4/10/90

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A Stage is All the World

A Stage is All the World for piano and tape by Don Freund is a rip-roaring, hilarious parody of piano virtuosity winningly performed by the composer. -John Schneider, Musical America, September 86

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Backyard Songs

The most attractive of the three premieres (the Jubal Trio, Merkin Hall, 5/14/90) was Don Freund’s Backyard Songs. The poems by Gwendolyn Brooks are clear-eyed, loving evocations of black life. Freund drew sensitively from black American music. The poems were placed within a scat-singing frame like jewels in felt boxes and each had its blue harmonic turns and subtly swung rhythms, yet they were also carefully structured and composed. No improvisation here. There was some loss of spontaneity as a result, but also a sense of the poet’s own discipline and neatness. -Peter Goodwin, New York Newsday, 5/16/90

Of the three premieres, the most commanding was Don Freund’s Backyard Songs. Especially in the final poem, “Of DeWitt Williams on his way to Lincoln Cemetery,” with its keening, angry refrain “a plain black boy,” the cycle attained a tragic stature. -John Rockwell, The New York Times, 5/20/90

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Clamavi

If one word can be used to summarize Freund’s music it would be “dramatic.” His compositions are almost cinematic in their direct appeal. Clamavi starts out like a firecracker, blinding in its intensity. Pentecost is a lavish, highly charged entertainment. –Owen Hardy, The Louisville Courier-Journal, 11/9/81

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Crunch Time

The highlight of the afternoon for me was Don Freund’s Crunch Time (2010). Like all the composers on the program (played without intermission), Freund was not afraid of repetition. So much the easier for the audience to grasp a bit of what is going on in a piece. Pounding dissonances form the bookend “crunch” of the structure, the central portion of which consists of a faster set of riffs and syncopations taken over by an earworm of a tune marked “insolent, punk.” Freund writes that the tune is “not a pretty one,” and it “refuses to go anywhere or go away.” Not a problem. It’s a lovable ugly, especially its last four notes, which reminded me of Alex North’s film music for Cleopatra’s entrance into Rome. -Jeff Dunn, San Francisco Classical Voice, 11/7/10

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Hard Cells

The most interesting work of the evening was Don Freund’s Hard Cells. Despite Freund’s sophisticated compositional techniques — a bit of polytonality, elements of minimalism — Hard Cells comes through with a mainstream contemporary sound. It is solidly written, up to date and immediately appealing. -Robert Croan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/6/90

Hard Cells is “user-Freundly” piece, propelled by insistent rhythmic patterns that serve as foundations for vivacious and sometimes offbeat building blocks. -Donald Rosenberg, The Pittsburgh Press, 3/6/90

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Killing Time

Killing Time is a remarkable composition, unlike any other in the saxophone repertoire. Freund has molded a tightly constructed composition, blending contemporary classical styles and rock clichés into a captivating chamber composition…an exciting adventure for the performers and the audience. Highly recommended for its unique qualities, which make it appealing and fascinating to a whole new generation of audiences. -John Sampen, The Saxophone Symposium, Winter “86

Don Freund’s Killing Time was the toughest music on the program. There was a good deal of late Beat anguish in the braying saxophone effects and pounding piano clusters in the opening and closing minutes, but these episodes were separated by a lovely, elegiac saxophone solo, a jaunty passage with a walking bass on tape, and some explicit jazz. -Mike Greenberg, San Antonio Express News, 4/9/85

There was an outrageous quality to Don Freund’s Killing Time for amplified saxophone, amplified piano, and one of the most aggressively nasty, ugly (and delightful) tapes ever devised. Quotes and allusions abound, as Freund combines references to disco, punk, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Zappa in ways that render them all equally helpless. This is definitely not a pretty work, but it is a highly effective one. -Elliott Schwartz, Musical America, February `81

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Life Goes On

Freund’s Life Goes On is an 18-minute piece whose two sections balance a bluesy yet fast-paced prelude against a whirlwind, biting finale. The ideas are solid and well-knit, and the writing — especially for the violin — is often brilliantly virtuosic. -James Wierzbicki, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/20/90

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Papillons: String Quartet after R. Schumann

With Papillons: String Quartet after R. Schumann on the Corcoran program, Don Freund showed himself to be a composer thoughtful in approach and imaginative in style. Freund has succeeded in capturing the contemporary composer’s dilemma with considerable musical and dramatic skill. -Joanne Sheely Hoover, The Washington Post,4/4/80

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PASSION With Tropes

MUSIC REVIEW: PASSION WITH TROPES

Passion story one of many voices, sources

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com May 23, 2011

Two words fixed themselves in my mind as I experienced a performance Friday evening of “Passion with Tropes,” composed by Don Freund and realized by talents of consequence and varying persuasions: ambitious and demanding.

For Freund, it was certainly an ambitious project, one he describes as a “theater work about the experience of attending an oratorio (or, more specifically, a Passion).” For those who sang/acted/danced their way through the happenings on stage of Indiana University’s Ruth N. Halls Theater, what they undertook was, again most certainly, demanding.

Were one to properly credit everyone involved, just their names and responsibilities could fill the space reserved for this review. Music director and conductor Carmen Helena Tellez explained in program notes that the “immersive and interactive performance was born out of many years of preliminary experiences by all the participating artists.

”Those artists stretched from Freund and Tellez in the Jacobs School of Music to premier lighting designer Robert Shakespeare from the department of theater and drama, along with second lighting designer Chris Wood; digital artist Margaret Dolinsky from the Hope School of Fine Arts; Susanne Schwibs, filmmaker at IU Radio and Television Services; Elizabeth Shea, director of the university’s contemporary dance program; art scholar Marianne Kielian-Gilbert; stage director Jonathan Courtemanche, a post-graduate student in theater and drama, and, of course, the necessary performers.

The uninterrupted 80-minute musical spectacle tells once again the story of the Crucifixion, what led to it and what happened thereafter. In April, music devotees had opportunities to hear other versions of the Passion, the quietly eloquent 17th century “Seven Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross,” by the German Heinrich Schutz, and the somber, chant-dominated 1982 “Passio,” by the Estonian Arvo Paert.

Freund’s approach is something else again. The title he uses, “Passion with Tropes,” offers a clue, “trope” referring, as the dictionary says, to both a “literary or rhetorical device used in other than its literal sense” and a “phrase, sentence or verse interpolated in a liturgical text to amplify or embellish.” He has devised and interpolated massively with words and music.

The non-Biblical add-ons come from such sources as philosophers Friederich Nietzsche and Soren Kirkegaard; French poets and writers including the Catholic polemicist Charles Peguy and existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre; from “He Died in Detroit,” by the African-American poet Etheridge Knight, and “Slaughterhouse Five,” by Indiana’s Kurt Vonnegut. New England poet Anne Sexton and additional American poets (Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg), the German Rainer Maria Rilke, the Russian Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Shakespeare, among others, are quoted or have their words set to music.

Throughout, the theme involves the human struggle to survive, the tragedy of defeat and loss, the triumph over suffering on the cross and off, the power of sacrifice and love, the gift of redemption.

Freund’s impressive music reinforces his chameleon talent to voice his musical thoughts in all sorts of styles. One heard a riveting amalgam of chant, pop songs, operatic arias, very contemporary choral effusions, and an orchestral language that crossed borders of time and fashions. Everything seemed suitable for the chosen moments and the whole.

And everything in this production was heard and seen from on stage of the Ruth N. Halls Theater. The auditorium was blocked off. Attendees sat in four sections of folding chairs, about 30 or so in each. Constantly shifting and invigorating visuals were projected from two huge screens, one covering what is normally the rear of the stage, the other hugging the curtain. In front of those screens, in aisles and at the center, performers sang and danced as they portrayed the characters of the biblical story and the tales told by the authors Freund had chosen for his libretto.

One could argue an inclusion here and there, but Freund put together a remarkably vigorous, sometimes harrowing and often deeply moving collage that his production colleagues then effectively built upon.

The large cast of performers — including an orchestral ensemble of 20, vocal soloists and members of the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, and the choir from St. Charles School — gave their apparent all. One should mention two striking dancers, Joe Musiel and Laura Hunter; their brief scene of the dead Jesus draped over his mother’s lap was simply stunning. Baritones Howard Swyers and Zachary Coates and tenor Nicholas Fitzer carried out particularly important vocal obligations. Henry McDaniel handled the “Howl” scene from “King Lear,” carrying Lear’s dead daughter Cordelia, most powerfully.

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2011

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Sequenza 21 Review: Don Freund’s PASSION With Tropes

Posted by Jeremy Podgursky / May 30, 2011

Full disclosure is necessary up front: last year I had the pleasure of studying composition with Don Freund at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University. Our working relationship was fruitful and inspiring, and I left his studio with new insight, skills, and quite a lot of new music. So what are some of the important things I learned from him? Passion, energy and confidence are infectious. Anything goes stylistically when instilled with passion, energy and confidence. Know thy instruments and use them with passion, energy and confidence. Take risks and don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face (with passion, energy and confidence), etc.

When one has the chance to experience the embodiment of such a laundry list in a living, breathing piece of art, the impact is much greater. So to witness the premiere of Freund’sPASSION With Tropes last weekend was truly fulfilling as a listener and a former student. Throughout the 80+ minute piece of music theater Freund’s espoused wisdom revealed itself to me in the form of “do as I say AND as I do”.

A little back story (more can be found at the link here): Freund’s PASSION was originally composed in 1983, and the revision underwent a distillation of the orchestration and re-sculpting of the narrative to direct motion towards the end of the piece. In the notes for the program, Freund describes the piece as “a theatre work about the experience of attending an oratorio (or, more specifically, a Passion)”. As far as an all-encompassing message, he suggests that PASSION “is about life as defined by suffering and love”. One of the most unique aspects of this piece is the manner in which it is told: instead of a linear narrative Freund opted to create a collage of musings by over forty poets, philosophers and playwrights for the libretto. Presented in almost a cut-up method, strands of Nietzsche flow into Beckett, Shakespeare segues to Sartre, and Vonnegut morphs into Dostoevsky, all of which are interspersed with actual liturgical text. The “…With Tropes” in the title takes on two meanings, with a trope as a word or expression used figuratively as well as the embellishment of parts of the Mass via insertion of a musical phrase.

The premiere of the 2011 version of PASSION took place at the Ruth N. Halls Theater at Indiana University-Bloomington to a packed house. It was such a multi-faceted production that it required participation between four university departments as well as support from the New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities and the Institute of Digital Arts and Humanities at Indiana University. The orchestration was for a 20-person orchestra, members of the IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble (as well as various combinations of soloists), and a children’s choir from the local St. Charles School. There were also dancers and actors from other departments at IU to enhance the drama and action, as well as visuals (animation and still images) and stage direction provided by talented local and faculty artists. The audience was seated in four sections on the stage, surrounded by choirs as dancers and actors walked down the aisles from all angles.

One of the most fascinating aspects of PASSION is how organically and effortlessly Freund’s narrative flows. I’ve experienced the same seamless unfolding in films by masters such as Fellini, Greenaway and Godard and the effect is mesmerizing. In PASSION, ghosts of medieval chant ingeniously morph into what could be a Staple Singers number followed by a modernist orchestral texture. The musical language is always stylistically supportive of the text, with the collage-like arrangement enhancing the sense of time travel. Although some chosen texts only appear as one-off segments, Freund created multiple continuities as other texts and their musical counterparts return and progress at different points throughout the piece. The overall effect is almost as if someone is changing the channels to watch several different things at once. Lesser composers would have had a hard time succeeding with such a narrative; Freund’s technical skills and fluency in multiple musical dialects enabled an unhindered flow throughout the intense, 80+ minute journey. The staging of certain dramatic scenes (i.e. Waiting for Godot and King Lear) provided repose and release from the scored texts, showcasing the bare sound of the human voice and the graceful motions of the dancers. And the on-stage seating enabled the attendees to be surrounded by the visuals, sounds and motions of all of the performers, thus enhancing the immersing nature of the production.

For those unfamiliar with the Jacobs School of Music, the performers here generally range from fantastic to amazing. The chamber orchestra and Contemporary Vocal Ensemble handled their duties with finesse, poise, and expertise, never overbearing and always adapting effortlessly to whatever was asked of them. The children’s choir probably melted some hearts, lending a sense of innocence and unconditional love to the performance, and the actors and dancers performed with elegance and grace. With all of these different factors contributing to the success of the piece, enough praise cannot be bestowed upon conductor Carmen-Helena Tellez. With so many different elements at play, her understanding of the score, restraint and self-assurance were evident throughout.

And with such a convincing performance it is necessary to acknowledge the masterful score that facilitated it. Freund’s ingenuity, creativity, and command of his craft were on display, leaving no doubt that he is an artist of the highest level and that PASSION is a high-water mark of a fecund career. It is a bold, imaginative, risky work full of brilliant orchestration, color, heart and soul. Judging by the tangible sentiment in the room, Freund’s passion, energy and confidence worked wonders.

 

Freund’s new PASSION with Tropes – a three-hour extravaganza for orchestra, chorus, children’s chorus, jazz ensemble, a dozen vocal soloists, and a small company of actors – features a libretto that is a compilation of texts from more than forty diverse sources woven into a stream-of-consciousness gloss on the passion and death of Jesus Christ. The apparent disparity between Biblical passages and the writings of Existential philosophers, between sections of the Mass and blatantly atheistic texts, gives this literary montage a very real dynamic energy. PASSION with Tropes generates some profound intellectual resonances. -James Wierzbicki, Musical America, October, `84

 

Don Freund’s PASSION with Tropes is a major work, a stimulating combination of traditional and modern text and music. It is not merely the use of diverse styles, it is their direct juxtaposition that gives this work its special character. Such an experience is not for all tastes. Yet there is no denying this immense work is an impressive example of spiritual quest. -Mark Kanny, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/28/88

 

As is common practice with the gentlemen of the Nashville Contemporary Brass Quintet, they found last night – in three excerpts from Don Freund’s PASSION with Tropes – not just an effort to keep modern music alive but also a reason for it to live. . . A rapturously metaphysical poem by Dylan Thomas is set to a wide-ranging melody, while underneath it the instrumentalists provide an unsettling pointillistic background. James Joyce’s “All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters” finds the singer darting in and out among wonderful gurgling and blurbing effects in the brasses. Still, Freund is nowhere more honestly inspired than when he asks that the icily poignant Dostoyevsky text be simply recited to an accompaniment of sardonic little fragments. It is a clear-headed work, clever and, at the same time, splendidly controlled. -John Bridges, The Nashville Tennessean, 2/16/85

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Refractions

Refractions (choreographed to Don Freund’s Episode) is a fascinating jazz piece. The stage’s wings are lit, and keyboardist Freund and saxophonist Allen Rippe are on stage. In both score and choreography for 14 women (by Janet Parke), elements of repetition and conflict suggest that we’re all just lighted objects moving through time. -Whitney Smith, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 4/10/90

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ReTournai: Toccata à Quatre

…But to the listener who listens, rather than seeks a tonal bubble bath, there will be much to ponder and even enjoy, whatever his musical training. Don Freund’s ReTournai: Toccata à Quatre is a case in point. The work takes as its point of departure the opening of the Agnus Dei from the medieval Tournai Mass. The pungent, antiquated sound of parallel fourths and fifths in the older style provides an excellent foil for Freund’s driving, vital music. The result is exciting, bold in its experiments with sonority, and successful without being traditional. -Stephen Luttman, The Memphis Statesman, 4/14/80

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Springsongs

Springsongs by Don Freund was the most accessible and successful. Springsongs is a joyous piece of music which links two seemingly unrelated periods in music history in such a logical and progressive way that hearing both periods expressed in such close proximity helps the audience understand both periods better. The work is well-crafted and exciting and deserves to be heard much more. . . Especially as a result of the Freund Springsongs, the audience is left with a feeling of optimism in the future of music. -Arthur LaBar, Cookeville Herald-Citizen, 4/3/83

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The Past as Future

Don Freund’s The Past as Future is one of those rare works that can bridge the gap between serious composer and public. And it is a good initiation into the electronic groove: Bits of imaginative tonal composition with suggestions of historical styles interspersed with non-musical sound. Structurally satisfying. Quickest 19 minutes in some time! -Judy Echaniz, Rochester Times-Union, 8/18/71

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Triomusic

Triomusic has some fine moments, such as a chorale tune outlined through piano overtones — a haunting shimmer distilled through hammered chaos. -Tim Page, The New York Times, 12/19/82

Triomusic is a pungent, energetic romp that makes substantial, satisfying listening. -Robert Croan, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 9/27/85

Don Freund’s Triomusic, a collage of nostalgic-sweet quotations interrupted with modernist sound effects, was immensely strong and subtle. -Charles Shere, The Oakland Tribune, 10/17/85

Don Freund’s Triomusic closed the program with estimable wit. Freund blitzes a listener with disparate styles that vary from a Lutheran chorale to jazz and minimalism. Somehow the “stream of consciousness” writing held together and was greatly appreciated. -Marilyn Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/17/85

Don Freund’s Triomusic is an extraordinary composition in which “stylistically incongruous sections” are juxtaposed in a collage-like manner. The material includes chorales, a tarantella, phrases and fragments in various nineteenth and twentieth century idioms and a piece of minimal music. This list may read like a jumble, but on the contrary, Triomusic is cleverly constructed, at times exciting, amusing, disturbing, beautiful, and always fascinating. -George Hall, Music and Musicians, London, March `83

The big sensation of the (Society for New Music) concert was Triomusic by Don Freund. …Lord, what a wild ride while it lasts! -Mark G. Simon, Ithaca Times

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(As Pianist)

Freund’s performance of Berio’s Cinque Variazioni demonstrated his virtuosic capabilities. Happily in his case, the virtuosity did not exist for its own impressive sake, but rather was used in the service of Berio’s ideas. Freund emphasized the contrasting characters of the variations by calling upon a wealth of techniques, varied enough to realize his perceptive observations about the works changing emphases. -Perry Goldstein, WILL-FM, Champaign, Illinois, 11/12/77

The composer as pianist proves to be an ardent and intense pianist, with immense technical prowess. -Anne Price, Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, 6/18/76

Don Freund came aboard for sensitive playing of the piano part. The presence of the piano seemed to evoke even more sharply etched phrasing by the strings. Freund’s heart may belong to contemporary “new” music, as his active championing of it evidences – and as becomes a composer. But in the Dvorak Quintet he put his considerable talents in the service of music that is anything but new, and he did it brilliantly. -Robert Jennings, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 4/5/78

To Don Freund, who had accompanied Copland’s Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson and then launched into the intricate, 30-minute Piano Fantasy, Copland was also enthusiastic. “It’s a real test,” Copland said, “but he handled those very difficult pieces well. They did wonderfully tonight.” -Henry Bailey, Memphis Press Scimitar, 11/11/78

Freund performed Copland’s Piano Fantasy with the authority and with the steely fingered techniqued mandated by the piece. -Robert Jennings, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 11/11/78

Freund gave the impression that he is as able a keyboard player as he is a composer. His technique, too, was blemish-free; his general approach suggested he was equally comfortable with each of the styles represented. And his rapport with his partner (violinist Julian Ross) was keen; the pair’s interpretations radiated the glow that comes from musicians who understand very well what they’re doing and who are fully committed to communicating that understanding to an audience. -James Wierzbicki, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/20/90

The Memphis Piano Quartet is a sparkling group that approaches chamber music with wit and musicality. Each member displays a standard of performing excellence, but listens as well as he plays. In the Mozart, the piano often took the lead; strings bowed with hushed urgency, revealing Freund’s gleaming, lightly pedaled runs. -Whitney Smith, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 4/10/90

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(As Conductor)

The MSU Orchestra was well prepared, and Don Freund’s conducting was enthusiastic and economical. Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 excelled in that Freund’s demonstrative style revealed the piece’s energy, lyricism, and melancholy to both players and audience. -Whitney Smith, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 10/21/88

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(MSU New Music Festival)

One other figure very much in evidence at the Memphis festival was Don Freund, who is MSU’s resident composer and has been one of the strong organizing forces behind this festival. Freund’s energy apparently knows no bounds; during the five days of concerts he was seen conducting, rehearsing, hosting receptions, and doing an outstanding job as chamber ensemble pianist. He was also represented as a composer by a number of works – some absolutely outrageous in their use of collage/quotation (the marriage of punk rock and Beethoven in Killing Time, or the gentler Beethoven fixations of Pastoral Symphony), and others simply solid, pan-tonal structures of strong profile. As a composer, Freund is a good cut above average, and has a terrific future ahead of him. As an administrator, he’s no less talented. -Elliott Schwartz, Musical America, August, `81

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