Composer Christopher Cerrone releases an EP featuring two recent works, his piano concerto The Air Suspended written for Shai Wosner and recorded with the Argus Quartet and bassist Pat Swoboda, and Why Was I Born Between Mirrors? performed by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. Cerrone’s topical, post-minimalist voice speaks powerfully through these two works that both take inspiration from the work of poet Ben Lerner, among other sources.
Christopher Cerrone’s latest EP, The Air Suspended is a follow-up to Cerrone’s GRAMMY-nominated 2021 album, The Arching Path, The Air Suspended features as its centerpiece a concerto for piano and strings featuring pianist Shai Wosner and the Argus Quartet, who recorded every string part in the concerto during the early days of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
According to the program notes by Tim Munro:
With performances of his new piano concerto canceled, Christopher Cerrone wanted to fight his sense of loss. He wondered if he could try something new, to build an album of far-flung shards: instruments recorded in studios and living rooms across the country.
“I have an interest in albums that are not simply an imitation of live-music-making,” says Cerrone. Having produced albums since the eighth grade, he says, “I’ve known the recording studio far longer than I’ve known classical music.”
Album-ized, these acoustic works take on a different hue. Gone are the spacious ambience of airy halls. Gone are the hazy, indirect sounds of distant mics. Instead, we are up close: rosin sticking on strings, air blowing into our ears. Tightly wound machines buzz and churn and clank.Read Less
The Air Suspended evokes the raw, elemental power of the weather. Originally commissioned and premiered by Shai Wosner in 2019, the work was specially tailored to Wosner’s unique virtuosic skills, delicacy of tone color, and collaborative spirit, while nodding to the ambient and terrifying emotional effects of climate change:
“I was searching for something that would give imagist power to that idea,” Cerrone says, enveloping listeners in the thrill, power, and violence of an approaching storm.
Why Was I Born Between Mirrors? completes the EP. A work for sextet, it features such unusual instrumentation as tuned flower pots and prepared piano; the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (who also co-commissioned the work) recorded it in locations as far-flung as Seattle, Paris, Copenhagen, and Brooklyn.
Munro writes further:
Cerrone’s album is a love-letter to poet and novelist Ben Lerner. Cerrone read Lerner’s novel Leaving the Atocha Station while living in Rome on a fellowship. […] Poet and composer both make art of this faultiness. In Cerrone’s music we might hear it in the friction of hazy, buzzing, “imperfect” out-of-tune notes.
As Lerner writes, “I did not walk here all the way from prose / To make corrections in red pencil / I came here tonight to open you up / To interference heard as music.”
The Air Suspended also marks Cerrone’s third collaboration with producer Mike Tierney. Their 2019 The Pieces that Fall to Earth was nominated for a 2020 GRAMMY for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance; while their 2021 The Arching Path was nominated for a 2022 GRAMMY for Best Classical Compendium.
– Chris Cerrone
All music composed by Christopher Cerrone
Produced by Mike Tierney and Christopher Cerrone
The Air Suspended was recorded by Mike Tierney at Shiny Things Studios in Brooklyn, NY, Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio in Mount Vernon, NY, and Seth Manchester at Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket, RI, throughout 2020 and 2021
Edited and mixed by Mike Tierney
Commissioned for Shai Wosner, by the Phoenix Symphony, with support from the Adele and John Gray Foundation, Albany Symphony, and the 92nd Street Y with support from Richard Replin & Elissa Stein
Why Was I Born Between Mirrors? was recorded remotely by Kevin Noe, Christopher Cerrone, and Oscar Micaelsson in Brooklyn, Copenhagen, Charleston, Greensboro, Paris, and Seattle, through- out 2020
Edited by Mike Tierney, Christopher Cerrone, and Kevin Noe
Mixed by Kevin Noe
Mastered by Mike Tierney
Commissioned by Latitude 49, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and Sentieri Selvaggi
"While Moser's album in original form was too long, this tantalizing EP of recent pieces by Cerrone is all too brief at 22 minutes. The title piece (2019) is a commanding three-movement piano concerto, whose power belies its minimal forces, with only the Argus String Quartet and bassist Pat Swoboda backing up Shai Wosner, for whom the piece was written. Conceived for the close, sculptured acoustic of a recording, I can imagine it being thrilling in a concert hall as well. Also included is Why Was I Born Between Mirrors?, performed here by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, who premiered it in 2019. The recording is a true product of the pandemic-era, however, with sessions taking place in six cities across two continents. But no matter, the final result is a deeply absorbing piece, with a narrative thrust that hints at the inspiration Cerrone took from Ben Lerner's Leaving The Atocha Station. The tale of how Cerrone improvised his way into the piece, locking flower-pot percussion jams onto a digital grid and then building from there, is nearly as gripping as the music. The Air Suspended may be short, but it packs an outsized punch." Jeremy Shatan, An Earful
"The esteemed composer Christopher Cerrone offers us 2 recent works, where his minimalist vision brings bass, piano and an ensemble to the works that takes inspiration from Ben Lerner.
The title track occupies the first half of the listen, where rumbling keys from Shai Wosner and Pat Swoboda very precise bass are accompanied by the Argus Quartet. A track that traces the raw and powerful nature of the weather, Wosner originally premiered the track in 2019, it’s a thrilling, emotive and strategically delicate 3 movements.
“Why Was I Born Between Mirrors?” finishes out the listen, and it hosts the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, who apply stirring strings, dreamy flute, well timed percussive sounds and atmospheric clarinet to the haunting keys.
As always, this body of work showcases Cerrone’s close attention to timbre and colorful tone, and the presence of acoustic instruments only enhances the appeal of the creative endeavor." Tom Haugen, Take Effect
"The piano use is hyper-modern in the concerto by Christopher Cerrone that is offered by New Focus Recordings on a very short disc (running time of 22 minutes). The concerto was as thoroughly tailored to pianist Shai Wosner as Byrd’s works were to the early harpsichord. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, performances of the then-new work were cancelled, leading to a CD in which the concerto is heard with Wosner on piano accompanied by the Argus Quartet and bassist Pat Swoboda. This is essentially a work of minimalism, filled with sustained notes and repetitive sounds. Its three movement titles are intended as evocative but are not connected especially clearly with the music: “From Ground to Cloud,” “Dissolving Margins,” and “Stutter, Like Rain.” Like many other contemporary composers, Cerrone (born 1984) seems to care as much about the literary and sociopolitical gloss of his music as about the music itself. The Air Suspended, as he calls this concerto, is supposed to connect not only to weather in general but also to climate-change concerns. It does not, at least in any reasonably clear way, but the intent to make the connection is an important element to keep in mind when listening to the piece. The basic sound of the work is not unusual for 21st-century music – indeed, the other piece on this disc sounds considerably more unusual. This is Why Was I Born Between Mirrors? Again, this is an intentionally evocative title, but only listeners firmly in the know about Cerrone and this work – or ones willing to research it – will understand that the piece is a response to a novel by Ben Lerner called Leaving the Atocha Station. Thus, as with many modern musical works tied to other art forms, this sextet requires listeners to learn its background and intentions rather than simply to listen to it and thus find out what Cerrone is trying to say. This, of course, seriously limits the likely audience for the piece – which is a bit of s shame, since the inclusion here of tuned flower pots and the use of a prepared rather than standard piano result in a sonic world that is worth experiencing, at least for the seven-minute duration of the music. Like many other contemporary composers, Cerrone creates his works carefully, but without any apparent interest in having them appeal to anybody beyond a core audience that is hungry for whatever the latest and most avant-garde pieces may be." Mark Estren, Infodad
"No question of missing out on this new disc (even quite short, too short for my liking) by Christopher Cerrone, one of the most remarkable American composers of the moment. It's always a shock. Born in 1984, he accumulates prizes (for example the Pulitzer Price in 2014 already), writes incisive, dense, sparkling music. Listen to The Pieces that Fall to Earth (2019), The Arching Path (2021), you'll be galvanized!
The title of the album, also the title of the first piece in three movements, comes from the Four Quartets of T.S. Eliot, more precisely from the fourth, Little Gidding, second part:
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended
(Powder hanging in the air
Mark a finished story) Translation by Pierre Leyris
Each album of Christopher Cerrone is based on poetry (or more broadly poetic writings), pays homage to specific poems or texts. It is this density of poetic writing that we find in his music, this way of going straight to the point, of wanting to find “elementary things”, as he himself says of this disc: “My music emerges, he says, from an idea of the oldest music. I imagine prehistoric humans making music in caves. Sing, knock, listen to the resonance. The Air Suspended evokes the raw, elemental power of time, enveloping listeners in the violence of a storm."
The eponymous piece, in three movements, has indeed something of the savagery of an approaching storm. This quasi piano concerto begins with the piano pounding in the bass. The atmosphere is heavy, the strings of the Argus Quartet quiver, slide in lightning streaks. The first movement is titled "From Ground to Cloud", after a fragment of a poem by Ben Lerner (b. 1979, Kansas): "That movement from the ground to the cloud / Slowly breaking waves on plucked / Is lightning." Stunning introduction! The second movement, adagio if you will, "Dissolving Margins" takes its title from a passage in the book My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (born in Naples in 1943) where it is about a thunderstorm which "was advancing across the sky, swallowing up all light, eroding the circumference of the moon's circle." The piano seems liquefied in the strange, rears up in a motionless crescendo, the strings crunching. A magnificent melody develops in leaping clusters in a sublime pointillist euphoria, then everything seems to fall back, as if absorbed by a dreamlike halo. "Stutter, like rain", title of the third movement, is taken from another passage of the same poem by Lerner: "If you would speak of love / Stutter, like rain, like Robert, be / Be unashamed” (If you were talking about love, / Stutter, like the rain, like Robert be / Be unashamed”) We find the leaping clusters of the previous movement, repeated in tight loops, punctuated by the expressive underlines of the strings. The piano brings order to this chaos, imposes an icy rigor, listens to the silence, becomes limpid splashes. The strings whip, the piano freezes in compact loops, here are the flashes and rumblings in the middle of the sky... Brilliant performance by pianist Shai Wosner, whom I discovered thanks to this disc.
How I like the title of the second piece: Why Was I Born between Mirrors? The title comes from Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station. In the closing paragraphs, Lerner references a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca in which a dying orange tree, unable to produce fruit, asks to be released from the torments of a barren future. For Cerrone, the title alludes to mirror opening and closing. Performed by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion and piano), the piece is very percussive, full of harmonic halos like... between mirrors! After a fairly lively start, strings and clarinet give a more restrained, mysterious atmosphere, we think we hear a music box and the piano intervenes, massive and overhanging, so much so that we have the impression this time of being between cliffs . A brief woody lull is hollowed out by dizziness, rustling, and the piece sets off again in a powerful cavalcade to bring us back to the beginning. Dazzling again!
A disc of great beauty, with radiant splendor." Pierre Leyris, Inactuelles, musiques singulières