Cantaloupe Music's recent release, For George Lewis | Autoschediasms, is an eponymous diptych of recent large works for chamber orchestra by the contemporary American composer Tyshawn Sorey, here performed by the ensemble Alarm Will Sound. The album is available both as a digital release and as a two-CD set, and it includes accompanying program notes by the composer. The first disk contains the fifty-three-minute single-movement work For George Lewis, while the second disk features two contrasting twenty-six-minute performances of the same open-form process composition Autoschediasms. The three performances, representing the two compositions over two disks, together convey a dialectic between the two organizational poles that form the backbone of Sorey's creative process: the predetermined and the improvised.
In For George Lewis, Sorey channels the influences of his esteemed mentor - for whom the work is named - in an exploration of glacially paced sonic processes. Here, slowly pulsating masses of sound morph very gradually in terms of textures, timbres, dynamics and emergent melodic contours over the course of an hour. This music discourages impulsive or impatient listening; instead, it calls for us to remain open as the piece unfolds on its own terms. In the program notes, Sorey is remarkably candid about his hopes and intentions, expressing confidence that the attentive listener will be rewarded in experiencing the composition all the way through to its conclusion. I, for one, find myself in full agreement with his assertion. Specifically, my impression is that this music vividly employs a masterful and effective use of contrast and deceptive transformation. The piece exists in a 'fully notated score', as Sorey explains, and is conducted in this recording by Alan Pierson.
Listen — Tyshawn Sorey: For George Lewis
(CD1 track 1, 0:00-0:30) ℗ 2021 Cantaloupe Music LLC :
Contrasting with this fully notated work is the open-form Autoschediasms. In his program notes, Sorey states that 'Autoschediasms is a conductor's vocabulary that is used to generate live, real-time composition' resulting in 'an ever-evolving duet for conductor and orchestra'. Hence, this is not simply the title of a composition; it is also the name of an entire semantic system through which the conductor improvises - and simultaneously communicates - the fundamental shapes of the musical content, the specifics of which are further improvised by the members of the ensemble. Sorey explains that this language operates through a system of three parameters: 'Gesture', 'Autonomy' and 'Category'. All three of these the conductor indicates in performance by means of multiple batons, specialized hand shapes and custom messages written on small whiteboards. Sorey conducts the ensemble himself in both performances of this piece heard in the recordings.
Listen — Tyshawn Sorey: Autoschediasms 2019, No 4: St Louis
(CD2 track 1, 0:00-0:30) ℗ 2021 Cantaloupe Music LLC :
The album differentiates the two contrasting performances of this work by presenting them with distinctive track titles: Autoschediasms 2019 No 4 St Louis and Autoschediasms 2020: Video Chat Variations. The 2019 St Louis performance is audibly characterized by a broad juxtaposition between frantically scurrying dissonant polyphonic textures and consonant lyrical passages with warmer timbres. In the 2020 video chat performance, these two broad sound worlds are not so much juxtaposed as they are fully blended together into a cohesive and somehow more protean whole. It is worth noting that this latter performance was recorded during COVID lockdown with the members of the orchestra scattered across five different states in the USA. The Autoschediasms format does seem well suited to the temporally unpredictable world of virtual performance collaboration, considering the difficulty of musical coordination across time, space and differing internet connection speeds. As a composer myself who also uses improvisation and open-form structures when writing for a virtual performance, I can attest to the utility of collaborative tools like these in situations where in-person performances are impossible. Moreover, in the hands of Sorey and Alarm Will Sound, the process proves capable of delivering equally compelling results whether the players are meeting on stage or on screen.
Listen — Tyshawn Sorey: Autoschediasms 2020: Video Chat Variations
(CD2 track 2, 0:00-0:30) ℗ 2021 Cantaloupe Music LLC :
In the For George Lewis | Autoschediasms diptych release, Tyshawn Sorey and Alarm Will Sound bring alive the creative dualities of the predetermined and the improvised at multiple levels of agency, from composer to conductor and individual instrumentalists alike. In conclusion, I consider this release to be essential listening for anyone seeking a snapshot of effective synergies between process and product in contemporary music for chamber orchestra.
Copyright © 19 December 2021
John Dante Prevedini,