by Brendan Howe
After Dead Souls
Where O America are you
going in your glorious
down the highway
toward what crash
in the deep canyon
of the Western Rockies,
or racing the sunset
over the Golden Gate
toward what wild city
jumping with jazz
on the Pacific Ocean!
As a sense of disarray and fragmentation mounts in the world of contemporary music, Francesca Anderegg’s Wild Cities delivers a refreshingly optimistic sense of the future, full of adventure and possibility. Anderegg chose the title after reading John Adams’ autobiography, in which the iconic composer reproduced Allen Ginsberg’s words as the epigraph, Beatnik love for the open road blazing through strong and clear. She chose the works of five young American composers, in whom Adams’ minimalism shows significant influence, and who take that minimalist heritage and carry it in their own direction.
Anderegg was fascinated by the way in which all five composers picked up the same musical legacy and drove off into the great unknown, toward those “wild cities” of the future, while maintaining a sense of unity. This unity is reaffirmed through Anderegg’s technically precise yet stirring performance, and by pianist Brent Funderburk’s conscientious accompaniment throughout the album. (Listen along to samples of each track, courtesy of New Focus Recordings)
Anderegg and Funderburk open with Ryan Francis’ Remix, a piece that combines elements of various EDM subgenres with classical forms to create a pulsing, hectic relationship between the two instruments. Several times, the violin and piano suddenly shift into much brighter, more expansive landscapes, like a driver suddenly breaking through the edge of a shadowy wood and into the rolling, sun-soaked bluffs beyond. Francis notes that the structure of Remix is “labyrinthine”, and while it is based loosely on the opening violin motif, it just as often takes a life of its own and goes where it pleases – as often happens on a good road trip.
Adjoining, by Hannah Lash, comes from a much more tonally structured framework. Less fraught and more conceptual, the violin and piano beautifully weave around each other and gradually build expectations for what is to come into view – only they are never realized, and the violin simply and quietly ascends into the clouds, leaving adjustment and adaptation up to the listener.
Following this ascension into the ether comes Clint Needham’s On the Road: Nothing Behind Me, the first of two movements about the eponymous book’s stylized beauty of the nomadic lifestyle. Funderburk opens the piece with four arpeggiated octaves of F sharp, a theme that continues throughout the first movement and links the piece to the waif-like atmosphere left by Anderegg’s violin in Adjoining. The transition is well executed and seamless, as though Needham is reflecting upon the road taken by Lash as his own.
The transition into Needham’s second movement, On the Road: Everything Ahead of Me, however, is intentionally jarring and chaotic. It effectively contrasts its apparent disorder and excited optimism for the mysteries of the future with the nostalgia and hindsight expressed in the first movement.
Shifting dreamlike into a new scenario, Ted Hearne’s Nobody’s takes Adams’ minimalism to the backroads of Appalachia, incorporating rhythms and double stop fiddle techniques of the region into his work. Anderegg plays the piece selflessly, paying an esteemed homage to the unique patterns and tones described by Hearne and allowing the listener to fully access the music’s human side.
The violin and piano duo enters finally into Reinaldo Moya’s Imagined Archipelagos. This five-movement piece begins with themes inspired by Mayan culture and moves, by the closing movement, to a rousing Venezuelan joropo played in unaligned, sparring sketches – sometimes obstinate and commanding, other times buoyant and whimsical.
Moya chose the title Imagined Archipelagos because of the idea that although each island appears separate, they are all connected beneath the water. This concept applies not only to Moya’s work, but also to Anderegg’s album as a whole. With Wild Cities, Anderegg has completed an admirable survey of contemporary American composition, revealing these composers’ stylistic influence by Adams with great skill and panache.