Transcendent Bridges Continents and Consciousness

There is music so new, so original, so contemplative, and so deeply felt that it makes you want to listen, and then demands that you listen again. It's music whose layers peel back over time, as it draws you deeper into its mysteries. For premiere recordings of compositions that address time and place, and then often take you beyond them, Transcendent (DE 3555), the first offering on Delos from composer/orchestrator Chad Cannon's Asia/America New Music Institute (AANMI), earns its title.

"Beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience; surpassing the ordinary": thus does the AANMI define the word "transcendent" in the liner notes to its 58-minute album of new works by Asian and American composers. Resonantly recorded in laudably clear, three-dimensional hi-rez 24/96—the form in which I auditioned it—in three different Southern California locations, including Capitol Studios in Hollywood, the recording brings together music by six young composers as performed by several superb soloists and, on four of the works, the AANMI Los Angeles Ensemble.

You may not be familiar with the music of Asian composers Sayo Kosugi (Japan), Xiaogang Ye (China), Sun-Young Park (Korea), and Narong Prangcharoen (Thailand), let alone that of American composers Matthew Aucoin and Chad Cannon, but you will soon discover that they, conductor Yuga Cohler, and the two lead musicians, Japanese violinist Ryu Goto (playing a 1722 Stradivarius) and American bass-baritone Davóne Tines, share several things in common. One is that they are unapologetic in their creation of true art music—music intended for deep and concentrated listening rather than as background wallpaper for our ever so occupied lives. Theirs is the musical equivalent of the brilliant artwork that may surface first in a Soho Studio (if any artists can still afford Soho), and then find itself on the walls of the Whitney or MOMA. It's the kind of music that intellectuals will gobble up for its layered brilliance, and others will love for its emotional commitment, deeply passionate expression, and imaginative expanse.

Another commonality shared by this East-West, bi-coastal/multi-continental consortium of composers and musicians is that many studied at Harvard (Aucoin, Cannon, Cohler, Ryu Goto, and Tines) and/or Juilliard (Aucoin, Kosugi, Cannon, Park, Cohler, Ryu Goto, and Tines), and are totally dedicated to deepening their craft. Their list of accomplishments is astounding, beginning with Aucoin, who is Artist-in-Residence at Los Angeles Opera and recipient of an operatic co-commission from LAO and the Metropolitan Opera of New York. The list of awards and commissions these young people have already received will convince many listeners hesitant to spend time with music neither conventionally comfortable nor cushy "pleasant."

A third unifying factor, on Matthew Aucoin's Two Whitman Songs, Chad Cannon's 6-part Wild Grass on the Riverbank, and Sun-Young Park's My Beloved, is Davóne Tines's marvelous voice. Resonant and full, it can also rise to a sweet sliver of sound. Tines's singing comes across as unedited and in the moment—there are occasional real world blemishes—which results in some of the most emotionally charged performances of new vocal music I've heard in some time.

Each composer contributes their own notes to the album, which lends a personal touch to these definitive performances. Aucoin's Whitman songs, composed in 2012 as studies for his Walt Whitman opera, Crossing, are equally beautiful and mystical. Tines's ending to the second song, "A Clear Midnight," is a thing of beauty. Note how close-miked the instruments are, and the effect of that choice on aesthetic perception. A good system pays off here and throughout the album.

Sayo Kosugi's Lilac Nova derives in part from her experience of synesthesia, which displays colors before her eyes as she hears music. This is let-go-and-fly music, sometimes astringent and other times lyrical, whose beauty could leave you gasping.

The longest work on the program, Xiaogang Ye's 15-minute Lamura Cuo, was commissioned in 2014 by Toronto-based Soundstreams. Decidedly contemporary, yet utterly romantic, it was inspired by the nine sacred lakes of Tibet.

Back to an American, Chad Cannon, whose texts for Wild Grass on the Riverbank are drawn from a book-length poem by Japanese feminist poet Hiromi Ito that explores her experience as a young Japanese immigrant in the United States. There's a lot of violence in this work, which moves between descriptions of the "wasteland" desert of Southern California and the late summer storms in Kumamoto, Japan.

If that sounds intense, wait until you get to Sun-Young "Sonny" Park's My Beloved, which sets Kim So Wol's early 20th century poem, "Invocation of the Spirits of the Dead." This is deep shit, where gongs and percussion come together to express the sorrow and anger felt during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Tines is very on the edge here, and often magnificent.

Finally comes Narong Prangcharoen's disquieting 5-minute Whisper from Afar. As with all the works on the program, it posits beauty not as an end in itself, but rather as a vehicle to express, in this case, "a whimper from a composer living far away from home, who had received news of a great loss to the Thai people." Its revelations, as with those of the other works on the program, are multitudinous.

ok's picture

why no one yet comments on this excellent album.. Anyway usual suspects aside most vocal pieces remind me somehow of Scott Walker’s late 20th/early 21th century avant garde work:

AaronGarrett's picture

Terrific compositions, excellent sound, excellent instrumental performances, and sublime singing. You're absolutely right, all the better for the way he pushes his voice to emotional extremes. The singing on My Beloved reminded me of Julius Eastman's Prelude to The Holy Presence of Joan d'Arc, which is a high compliment!

(EDIT: Apparently its not just a random association! He was performing it in 2017

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Thank you so much for this.