Josh Modney


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Engage Review

by James Manheim

Violinist Josh Modney has been a consistent presence on New York's avant-garde scene, but Engage is his first release. As such, a three-album set might be considered overambitious, but in fact, the diversity of Modney's work is its strength: he attempts to open up new possibilities for the violin in contemporary performance and does not restrict himself to one or a few techniques. The large program might be divided into three parts (not corresponding to the three CDs in the physical version): new works for which Modney collaborated with contemporary composers, preexisting works, and, at the end, pieces by Modney himself. The last group involves techniques of considerable difficulty, with a slam-bang virtuoso finale. Electronics, a drone, and a prepared piano are used in the first group, but in his own works and in the performance of Anthony Braxton's Composition No. 222, Modney uses a solo, unmodified violin with many extended techniques. There are plenty of unfamiliar sounds, but perhaps the most surprising pieces are those with conventional resources: Kate Soper's Cipher (2011), in which both Modney and Soper, singing the soprano part, recite phased text, and the Bach Chaconne from the Partita for solo violin in D minor, BWV 1004, deeply unsettling in this performance in just intonation. The latter performance is representative of Modney's interest in psycho-acoustic phenomena, which also appears elsewhere in the set. Something of a compendium of violin techniques like Bach's sonatas and partitas, this is entertaining and highly recommended.

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