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~ New Century Chamber Orchestra
Reviews for 'Oculus' Review from the San Jose Mercury News Mon, Jun. 28, 2004 by Richard Scheinin CD pick: New Century Chamber Orchestra Kurt Rohde: Oculus Kurt Rohde's music is filled with exhilaration and dread. It's a mirror of our times, and it's performance by the Bay Area's New Century Chamber Orchestra will make you clench the armrests of your seat. It's dark music, lit up by peckings, clackings, snaps and slides. It sounds eerie, but lyrical; sustained, but skittish; free-form, yet dancing. Strings are plucked, thumped and softly rubbed. Low drones underlie high flickers of melody. There's a lot going on at once -- it's music as multi-tasking, tightly and emotionally played by this excellent orchestra, which has no conductor and learns all pieces collaboratively. Special Features The enhanced CD contains MP3 files of performances (Rohde is a violist in the orchestra) and PDF excerpts from scores. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Review from Symphony Magazine Nov/Dec 2004 By Melinda Whiting New Discs of Note Kurt Rohde: Oculus New Century Chamber Orchestra Looking for calm, sweet, restful contemporary music? Kurt Rohde is not your guy. By the evidence of the two works for string orchestra on his CD debut, this young composer leans toward an uneasily contemplative frame of mind, punctuated with anxious bursts of activity that seem to exhaust themselves, unresolved. Rohde's music is compelling, nonetheless, with an assured structural logic and a curious immediacy that could be called relevance. Hard to pin down, the origin of this quality is not so obvious as the pop-music references that will soon date the music of some of his contemporaries. There are musical allusions - to Stravinsky in the 'Litanies' movement of 'Oculus' - but these in no way interfere with Rohde's distinctive personal voice, which is based in tonality, but never trite. His confidence in writing for strings is striking, as he layers middle-voiced drones, enervated lyrical voices, and siren-like glissandi with scattered, disembodied pizzicati. He even calls upon the players to sing, producing an eerie sound not immediately identifiable as human. The nine miniatures of 'Oculus' come off better, overall, than the continuous, 25 minute long 'Minerva's Pools', which seems to loose it's momentum halfway through. Keeping Rohde's skittish, intricate textures together must have been no small task for the Bay Area's conductor-less New Century Chamber Orchestra. Their precision rarely flags; their commitment, never. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Review from The Gramophone February 2005 By Arved Ashby Review: Oculus, the New Century Chamber Orchestra Energetic, impeccable, beautifully recorded accounts of 'brilliant' music These three pieces, each of them scored for strings, offer a stunning display of a formidable compositional imagination. Kurt Rohde is young, but no slave to fashion. You could even say there's something charmingly old-fashioned about his language, which share an anxious and sinuous ambiguity of harmony with Berg, Nicholas Maw, Frank Martin and Britten in his more exploratory vein. Rohde's is a rare muse in that the idiom is original but not prickly or pretentious, the vocabulary not obviously tonal yet at the same time consistently anchored. Lest this makes him sound like a compromiser, let it be said that Rohde is master of his compositional worlds, and each score loses no time in carving out it's own course. The music is skittery, conflicted, self-doubting, peripatetic. It plays host to gestures and riffs rather than melodies. Yet the lines of action are tightly drawn, and the eight movements of Oculus (for string orchestra) trace a sure arc over their 30 minute span. The fifth, Stretto, artfully weaves in a quote from The Rite of Spring before we land in the oasis-like Cenotaph movement with it's sense of deep, well-deserved inhalation. So Oculus covers itself in brilliance. By contrast, Minerva's Pools - with it's pedal points and slow harmonic shift - is a darker, more elusive score. I only wish this composer's precise conception of each musical cameo were surer still: each piece offer an individual landscape, but by comparison each individual number of Britten's Frank Bridge Variations and Maw's Life Studies springs to life immediately, like a portrait of a favorite relative. Perhaps Rohde could do more to particularize his own set of harmonic likes and dislikes, to polemicize in chords. His unfailingly idiomatic and enterprising writing for strings, however, does much to catch the ear: this composer is obviously a string player himself. Rohde is composer - in - residence for the New Century group, and also director of San Francisco's Left Coast Chamber Ensemble. I see here he has been working with Kent Nagano on several large - scale projects, including an opera. Here's hoping Mondovibe let's us hear them. In the meantime, the New Century Chamber Orchestra's energetic, impeccable and beautifully recorded performances will go a long way in converting you to his cause. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- About the Composer Self-described as 'hovering somewhere between The B-52's and Alban Berg,' Kurt Rohde's music has been characterized as 'sly, with post-modern aims in mind' (Chicago-Sun Times), 'exciting and dynamic, keeping the audience and performers on the edge of their chairs,' (San Francisco Classical Voice), and 'full of undercurrents, exuberances and interrupted themes... squeezing immense amounts of variety and color from the ensemble,' (ARTSSF). Mr. Rohde is Artistic Director of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and has received the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin, a Guggenheim Fellowship, awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fromm, Barlow, and Koussevitzky Foundations. He is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied viola and composition. He has made his home in San Francisco since 1992. The two large ensemble works on this CD, Oculus, and Minerva's Pools, were commissioned, premiered and recorded by the New Century Chamber Orchestra.
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