“Stillness, silence, contemplation. These are the characteristics of Rothko's paintings and of the chapel that was created for his work,” writes Sarah Rothenberg in the CD liner notes. “If Jackson Pollock's art is marked by rhythmic energy, by action made visible, the paintings of Mark Rothko hold the opposite – colors seem to float ‘as though they were breathed onto the canvas.’ … Tracing a trajectory of the avant-garde that spans a century, the music corresponds to the Chapel's environment of timeless reflection. The works of Americans John Cage and Morton Feldman, without text or program, interweave with the ruminative piano works of their spiritual predecessor from 19th century Paris, Erik Satie.”
This album addresses a network of musical relationships and inspirations. It opens with Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, named for the Houston, Texas interfaith chapel built to house Mark Rothko’s site-specific paintings. Feldman considered that his music lay “between categories, between time and space, between painting and music”, and described the score as his “canvas”. Amongst his most important influences were abstract painters, his friend Rothko prominent amongst them (Rothko, for his part, yearned to “raise painting to the level of music and poetry”). Feldman was also liberated by the freewheeling example of John Cage’s work. “The main influence from Cage was a green light,” Feldman said. “It was permission, the freedom to do what I wanted.” Cage, that most relentless of 20th century experimentalists, didn’t acknowledge what he called an “ABC model of ‘influence’” but always had a special fondness for Satie, a musical inventor of good-humoured originality with whom he could identify. On a number of occasions Cage mounted a spirited defence for Satie, critical of the critics who assigned him a minor role in music history.
To simplify: Cage was inspired by Satie, and Feldman was inspired by Cage. Mark Rothko was inspired by modern music including Feldman and Cage. And when Feldman came to write Rothko Chapel, both Rothko’s paintings and their setting fired his imagination: “To a large degree my choice of instruments (in terms of forces used, balance and timbre) was affected by the space of the chapel as well as the paintings. Rothko’s imagery goes right to the edge of his canvas, and I wanted the same effect with the music – that it should permeate the whole room.”
Feldman’s piece was first played in the chapel in 1972. On the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Rothko Chapel in 2011, a concert was held there bringing together works of Feldman, Cage and Satie. This programme was reprised for the present CD with recordings made at other Houston locations – Rice University (Cage, Satie) and the Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater (Feldman).
Kim Kashkashian negotiates the subtle, glowing textures of Feldman’s planes of sound, joined by Sarah Rothenberg on celeste, and supported by percussion and choir. Rothenberg, on piano, plays Satie’s Gnossiennes and Cage’s Inner Landscape, and the Houston Chamber Choir sings Cage’s Four, Five and more, illuminating this rarely heard choral music.
Kim Kashkashian’s association with ECM New Series since 1985 has resulted in a rich discography which includes the complete sonatas of Hindemith and Brahms, an album of Argentinian songs, the concertos of Schnittke, Bartók, Penderecki and Kurtág, as well as the Bach viola da gamba sonatas, recorded with Keith Jarrett. Her recording Kurtág/Ligeti, Music for Viola won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo Album. Kashkashian is recognized internationally as a unique voice on the viola. A staunch proponent of contemporary music, she has developed creative relationships with György Kurtág, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Giya Kancheli and Arvo Pärt and premiered commissioned works by Peter Eötvös, Betty Olivero, Ken Ueno, Thomas Larcher, Lera Auerbach and Tigran Mansurian. Kim Kashkashian has ongoing duo partnerships with pianist Robert Levin and with percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky, and recently founded the trio Tre Voci with flautist Marina Piccinini and harpist Sivan Magen. She lives in Boston, where she coaches chamber music and viola at New England Conservatory.
Sarah Rothenberg has received international acclaim as soloist, chamber musician, and for the multi-disciplinary concert presentations linking music to literature and visual arts which she conceives and directs. She has given premières of works by composers including Nicholas Maw, George Perle, Joan Tower, Shulamit Ran, Gunther Schuller, George Tsontakis and Charles Wuorinen. As chamber musician, she has collaborated with members of the American, Brentano, Emerson, Juilliard and St. Lawrence string quartets and was a member of the Da Capo Chamber Players. Artistic Director of Da Camera of Houston since 1994, Sarah Rothenberg was previously a founding co-director of the Bard Music Festival in New York. Her writings on musical and cultural subjects have been published in The Musical Quarterly, Conjunctions and Nexus. The French government awarded her the medal of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters in 2000.
Steven Schick was born in Iowa. For forty years he has supported contemporary music by commissioning or premiering more than 150 new works. He was the founding percussionist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars and served as Artistic Director of the Centre International de Percussion de Genève. Currently he is Music Director of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus and Artistic Director of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. In 2012 he became the first Artist-in-Residence with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). Schick was music director of the 2015 Ojai Festival. Amongst his publications are the book The Percussionist's Art and numerous recordings of contemporary percussion music including the complete percussion music of Iannis Xenakis. Steven Schick is Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego.
Led by artistic director Robert Simpson, the Houston Chamber Choir has collaborated and performed with artists and conductors including María Guinand, Paul Hillier, Dave Brubeck, Peter Phillips, Reinbert de Leeuw, and Jamie Bernstein. Houston Chamber Choir has toured internationally and appeared at conventions held by the American Choral Directors Association, Chorus America, and most recently at Trinity Wall Street in New York and Yale University. A champion of contemporary music, the choir has commissioned works by Christopher Theofanidis, Dominick DiOrio, Jocelyn Hagen, David Ashley White, Thomas Conroy, Anthony Brandt, Jefferson Todd Frazier, Angel Lam, and Michael Horvit.