Alex Shapiro

Alex Shapiro: Notes from the Kelp

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West Coast composer Alex Shapiro writes that "Composing is a lot like making love. We're trying to please ourselves. We're hoping to please at least one other person. And we are, in fact, communicating. Passionately." You didn't hear this stuff from Milton Babbitt! But in fact there is a modernist component to Shapiro's music, wedded here to the nature imagery that living in California seems to inspire (all the music was composed in giddy Malibu). Her music is hard to classify -- it is in no way West Coast minimalism, and each piece has a distinct idea that may be worked out to quite a level of complexity. Something is happening almost all the time, and she rarely repeats material. On the other hand, it is tonally centered, it couldn't be called difficult, and a good deal of it is flat-out fun. Hear the opening Slipping, a work for violin, harpsichord, and "very mixed" percussion in which the harpsichord imitates a worldwide variety of stringed instruments in a rollicking, upbeat ride. Most of the music on the disc, including the punningly titled string quintet Current Events, vividly depicts natural forces; Deep, the sole electronic work on the album, teams a contrabassoon and electronics in a marvelously evocative depiction of the composer's experiences scuba diving in Belize. At the Abyss, for piano and percussion, embodies a program of responses to the threat of environmental catastrophe, with three movements entitled "Observe," "Reflect," and the resolute "Act." The most serious work on the album, the solo-piano For My Father, depicts the descent into dementia of the composer's father; here again Shapiro is both emotionally immediate and capable of sustaining a structural process over a long stretch. This ought to make a good introduction to the eclectic music of the present day, which embraces audiences as resolutely as the composers of the 1960s and 1970s rejected them, and it's enough to give one hope for the contemporary music scene.

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