River of 1,000 Streams   CB0050

The music

River of 1,000 Streams (2016) is a complex, slowly growing, densely textural piece for solo piano and up to 11 layers of “cascading echoes” (which are created in a live performance via a computer running a MAX patch). Each of the piece’s hundreds of “echoes” is a short moment (generally one to a few bars in length) of the piano solo that may reappear anywhere from a half-second to 25 minutes after the pianist first plays it. Floating sparsely amid the piece’s rich primary texture of tremolos, and appearing quietly, spectrally, are short moments of a more melodic, or less textural, nature.

This work, “conceived one early morning on the banks of the Yellowstone River” (Lentz), is more purely textural than most of Lentz’s recent work. Yet, like so much of his work over the past 40-plus years, its structure is that of a complex, almost kaleidoscopically woven tapestry of new and recurring fragments of music.

The composer

Daniel Lentz has been a fixture on Southern California’s new-music scene for more than 45 years, prolifically creating a very personal music that has either embraced or tipped its hat to a number of experimental and post-experimental styles. His music can be wild and relentless in its propulsion and juxtaposition of contrasting material, or simply lushly beautiful. Sometimes it hints at pop and jazz harmonies and rhythms, sometimes it toys with late Romantic gestures, and sometimes it offers Lentz’s distinct musical visions of Southern California—both the brightly lit, bustling urban landscape and the desolate, calm, expansive desert—while always reveling in a basic joy of music-making.

Lentz’s works have been commissioned and performed by noted ensembles and soloists around the world, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, Zeitgeist, the Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio, Mobius, the Montagnana Trio, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well as many organizations and individuals, including West German Radio (WDR), Cold Blue Music, and Betty Freeman. A prolific composer whose work is often characterized by intricate musical processes, a bit of theater, and an interest in the human voice, Lentz has written large- and small-scale works for most common instrumental combinations, many unique ones (such as ensembles of wineglasses), and the many ensembles (usually consisting of multiple keyboards, singers, and electronics) with which he has toured his music throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

Lentz won the First Prize in the 1972 International Composers Competition (Stichting Gaudeamus) in Holland. In 1979, he received a DAAD Artists in Residence grant to work in Berlin, Germany. In 2010 he received a composition grant from the Opus Archives and Research Center of Pacifica Institute. In 2012, he received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation with a residency at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center in Italy. Lentz is the recipient of numerous other awards and grants, including six National Endowment for the Arts grants, three Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fund Commissioning grants, a California Arts Council composer grant, two Arizona Commission on the Arts composer grants, and six grants from the Laucks Foundation. His work has been seen on Alive from Off Center (PBS) and in the Preview Pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver, and via many TV broadcasts in the U.S. as well as in Japan, Holland, the UK, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Recordings of his music have been released on the Cold Blue, New Albion, Angel/EMI, Fontec, Aoede, Les Disques du Crépuscule, Gyroscope/Caroline, Icon, Materiali Sonori, and ABC labels. Lentz’s music appears on eight Cold Blue Music CDs, of which five are devoted exclusively to his work, including In the Sea of Ionia (CB0042), Point Conception (CB0026), On the Leopard Altar (CB0022), and Los Tigres de Marte (CB0017).

“When it comes to attempts at musical seduction, Daniel Lentz’s music is way out in front.”—Kyle Gann, Village Voice

“Lentz’s music inhabits what he terms a musical ‘state of becoming,’ where both new and reappearing musical and textual fragments are fused through complex layering processes. However, the real basis of his seductive music may be the dreamy impressionism of Debussy and the lyrical voice and keyboard interaction of Schubert’s lieder.”—John Schaefer, New Sounds, WNYC

“Daniel Lentz was particularly active and visible in the 1970s and 1980s, as one of the leading California composers of a Minimalist stamp. If Ingram Marshall was the moody, soulful voice of the Bay Area, with its fogs and mists, Lentz was the LA freeway on overdrive: bright, edgy, poppy sounds and rhythms hammered about by mostly electronic keyboards. The music, with its sudden (and often) changes of harmony, felt like a sort of cubistic Minimalism. And its sound was unforgettable.”—Robert Carl, Fanfare magazine

“Daniel Lentz’s work, with its…glossy, Pop Art–Southern California palette of colors…seems to reveal new facets with each encounter.”—Dusted magazine

“Intriguing his listeners at the same time he wreathes them in smiles, Lentz always comes up with something listenable and worthwhile.” —Gramophone

The performer

Vicki Ray, who has been described as “phenomenal and fearless,” is a leading interpreter of contemporary piano music. A longtime champion of new music, she has worked with some of the most prominent composers of our time, including György Ligeti, Pierre Boulez, Steve Reich, Elliot Carter, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Oliver Knussen, Louis Andriessen, Steven Stucky, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and Chinary Ung. Ray has commissioned and premiered numerous works from both emerging composers and such established artists as John Adams, Morton Subotnick, Stephen Hartke, David Rosenboom, Paul Dresher, Rand Steiger, Kamran Ince, and Eric Chasalow.

Ray’s concerts often include electronics, video, recitation, and improvisation. As noted by Alan Rich, “Vicki plans programs with a knack for marvelous freeform artistry…what she draws from her piano always relates in wondrous ways to the senses.” As a founding member of Piano Spheres, a concert series dedicated to exploring the less familiar solo piano repertoire, she has been hailed by the Los Angeles Times for “displaying that kind of musical thoroughness and technical panache that puts a composer’s thoughts directly before the listener.”

Ray was the keyboardist in the California E.A.R. Unit and Xtet ensembles, and she has performed frequently on Los Angeles’s Dilijan, Jacaranda, and Green Umbrella concert series. She performs regularly on the famed Monday Evening Concert series. She has been heard in major solo roles with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the German ensemble Compania, and the Blue Rider Ensemble of Toronto, with whom she made the first Canadian recording of Pierrot Lunaire.

Vicki Ray’s numerous recordings cover everything from the premiere release of Steve Reich’s You Are (Variations) to Wadada Leo Smith’s semi-improvised structures to the elegant serialism of Mel Powell to the austere beauty of Morton Feldman’s Crippled Symmetries. She may be heard on Tzadik, Bridge, Nonesuch, Innova, Cold Blue, CRI, New World, New Albion, Mode, and other labels.

She is currently head of the piano department at CalArts, where she has been on the faculty since 1991 and was awarded the school’s 2010 Hal Blaine Chair in Music Performance. For the past six years Ray has served on the faculty at the Bang on a Can summer festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Comments

 

“There is absolutely nothing novel about music for multiple pianos; it’s been done by everyone from Conlon Nancarrow to Sun Ra. Realtime processing is old news as well, but when the composer is Daniel Lentz and the performer is Vicki Ray, the combination is bound to be enlightening. The half-hour work’s title, River of 1,000 Streams, is a fine descriptor for the music on offer, but there is much more to this extraordinary listening experience.

“The piece is an ascent, or at least it ascends in large part, similarly to the way in which Xenakis’ La Legende D’eer descends. As Lentz’s music rises, wending its droning way forward as much as such staticity can, bits of the music are brought back in a web of non-periodic recurrence. Long strands interweave and are then separated, leading ultimately to a climax in the upper register and the most subtle big bang of a reverberant ending I’ve heard.

“However, for me, the real intrigue of the piece is in its syntax. Lentz has never been afraid of the triad, and it could be argued that he built a career on it. However, he uses it as does no one else, modulating from center to center with all of the consummate skill of a Romantic composer while sounding like none of them. His is a language of carefully constructed pantonal rhetoric to foster half-glimpsed allusion. In a youtube interview, Vicki Ray speaks of how she feeds her piano students at the California Institute of the Arts a diet of old and new music. It would make sense, given such a balanced approach, that she is so sympathetic to Lentz’s inclusive vision. As the piece progresses, she brings out melodic motives that conjure shades of Chopin, Liszt, Grieg and others of the bygone age software and its manipulation were supposed to replace. There is beauty, power and soul in this music, and I would challenge even those for whom the idea of modern music is anathema to sit back and relax into this complex but gorgeously pastoral universe. On speakers, the titular streams of sound are what capture the most attention as they flow past, eroding preconception as they wash the listening environment clean. On headphones, the piano’s myriad articulations and their resultant overtones grab the ear from moment to moment, thanks to Ray’s expert control of color and dynamics. Both experiences are rapturous, and, as always with Cold Blue Music, the recording is impeccable.” —Marc Medwin, Fanfare magazine

River of 1,000 Streams is always changing and begins with a deep rumbling in the lower registers—almost like the roar of a distant flight of old bombers. There is a strong flowing sensation to this, as if unseen waters are roiling just out of sight. At 2:00 the rolling phrases rise just slightly in pitch, adding a new sense of expectancy. While still very dark and ominous, the expressive playing by Ms. Ray creates a powerful surging sensation; the texture and dynamics here are expertly shaped, and the result is like listening to a restless tide. The repeating patterns move slowly up the piano keyboard and each new set of pitches adds to a sense of evolving motion.

“By 6:30 the notes are high enough in pitch to become a bit more distinct in the hearing—less like a roar and more like a patter. The flowing feel remains as the piece proceeds, but the small variations in pitch and the artful shaping of the dynamics keep the listener engaged. By 11:00 the register has moved high enough that there is a greater sense of drama in the notes, even as the passages and textural density remain consistent. At 14:24 a short melodic fragment is heard—like the cresting of a wave—marking the transition to the middle registers. The same pattern of tremolos and trills persist, but the new pitches feel more introspective and less menacing here. By 17:30 the pitch register is high enough to spark a sense of tenuous optimism—as if a ray of the sun is emerging from behind a dark cloud. At 19:00 another short melody fragment is heard, followed by dramatic surges of the low and ominous notes from the opening. The many subtleties in this piece rely on the perceptive playing of Ms. Ray, who manages to perfectly articulate the slight variations in density and texture from moment to moment.

“By 20:00 the piece has arrived at the higher reaches of the keyboard with the notes sounding crisper and more distinctly percussive, as if a climax is approaching. At 21:54, another short melody fragment appears while the trills in the upper registers sound like an alarm going off. Middle and lower register trills roll by in accompaniment, adding a sense of layered depth to this section. At 23:30 the high register texture is now very animated and a wash of middle register trills fill in nicely below, adding balance. At 25:00 another short melodic fragment appears and the mix of pitches becomes somewhat more calming. By the finish, the very highest notes on the keyboard trill anxiously but are accompanied by a series of lower surges that offer a comforting sense of closure. At the end, the sound simply ceases, the last notes ringing out and slowly dying away.

River of 1,000 Streams is a prodigious work, in its vision as well as the realization. The subtle variations are always engaging, even as they unfold slowly, and the intricate layering of the various passages is precisely formulated. The performance by Ms. Ray deserves special credit—River of 1,000 Streams will only add to her deserved reputation as one of our premiere interpreters of contemporary music.” —Paul Muller, NewClassicLA 

“Daniel Lentz is a regular contributor to the catalogue of Cold Blue Music…. Many of his works deal with the piano and River of 1,000 Dreams is not different…. This is work for ‘solo piano and up to 11 layers of “cascading echoes” (which are created in a live performance via a computer running a MAX patch)….’ The piece is just under twenty-nine minutes in length, and the aspect of cascading sounds is surely something that one recognizes in the music, like waves rolling on a beach. At times very densely layered and quite dark, but…it becomes more open and we hear a lighter, clearer piano, almost solo (or perhaps that should be ‘really solo’) with faster notes and it almost becomes an entirely different piece of music…. I wouldn’t have minded this to last longer than it does now, as it was working beautifully, inspired by the Yellowstone River, and that’s something one fully understands when one hears this music.” —Vital Weekly (Netherlands)

“A new Cold Blue release by Daniel Lentz is always cause for excitement in these parts. For forty-plus years, the Southern California composer has been dazzling listeners with his highly personalized music, one that like Cold Blue deflects attempts at genre pigeon-holing. Minimalism’s present, true, but embedded so deeply within the complex DNA of a Lentz composition it dissolves, and without too much effort traces of jazz and popular music might be located, too; at the very least, his music is richly textured, rhythmically propulsive, and melodically enticing. Refreshingly free of lugubriousness, Lentz’s panoramic tapestries never fail to reward the listener with their vibrancy and evocative power.

“In Fanfare magazine, Robert Carl contrasted the ‘fogs and mists’ of Ingram Marshall’s work with the “’right, edgy, poppy sounds and rhythms’ of Lentz’s. The characterizations aren’t inaccurate, but in the case of 2016’s River of 1,000 Streams the lines blur: in presenting a much more textural style, the twenty-eight-minute piece is both a quintessential Lentz work, as exemplified by the clear melodic figures that intermittently extricate themselves from the whole, and one reminiscent of a Marshall piece like Fog Tropes in the way the layers collapse into misty wholes. That latter effect is a product of the work’s design: as performed by renowned pianist Vicki Ray, River of 1,000 Streamsshadows the performer’s playing with up to eleven layers of ‘cascading echoes,’ echoes that, generally one to a few bars in length, reappear anywhere from a half-second to twenty-five minutes after the originating material is played.

“If anyone is up to the challenges of Lentz’s piece, it’s Ray. A longtime new music champion, the current head of the piano department at CalArts has worked with Steve Reich, Oliver Knussen, Louis Andriessen, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, among others, and has appeared on labels such as Tzadik, Nonesuch, Innova, Cold Blue, and New World. In terms of overall effect, the piece, ‘conceived one early morning on the banks of the Yellowstone River’ according to Lentz, rolls forth with the unstoppable force of a huge mass, its bass tremolos initially rumbling like some below-ground geological awakening before ascending gradually in pitch like a slow-motion wave. As the parts accumulate into dense, rolling clusters, Ray’s rendering invites comparison to similarly layered presentations by Charlemagne Palestine and Lubomyr Melnyk, but Lentz’s individuating voice asserts itself loudly when those bright melodic figures chime, much like radiant shafts of light breaking through heavy cloud cover. Think of River of 1,000 Streams as a distinctive addition to a remarkable, still-growing discography.” —Ron Schepper, Textura

“Cold Blue Music released an album that brings out the best of what one can do in combining a grand piano with real-time digital processing. The title of the album is River of 1,000 Streams, which is also the title of the only track of a single composition by Daniel Lentz. Both the title and the music were inspired by a visit the composer made to the confluence of the Yellowstone River and the Missouri River.

“The result was a composition for solo piano performing with a computer running MAX software. The software is designed to ‘echo’ sounds from the piano. The echoes themselves are relatively short; and they may reappear at different temporal distances from the source, between half a second and 25 minutes. As the piece progresses, the textures of the samples that get echoed will gradually become thicker. The effect is thus one of ‘cascading echoes;’ and, there are eleven of them that accumulate before the piece runs its course. To return to the inspiration for the music, the result amounts to a torrent of sonic activity. (Think of how Bedřich Smetana used a full orchestra to depict the Moldau building in strength as it flows, and now imagine that effect being achieved through piano and electronics with 21st-century rhetoric.)

“On this recent recording the pianist is Vicky Ray, and the duration is a little bit short of half an hour. That provides sufficient time for the attentive listener to appreciate not only the overall textural effect but also the individual threads that intertwine. The effect is lush without devolving into any of those clichéd efforts to depict grandeur. This is an impression of a very moving visual experience; but Lentz has just the right discipline to focus on the visual details, rather than on ‘the artist having the experience.’ Nevertheless, there is so much abundance of detail that one is likely to encounter new listening approaches each time this recording is played.” —Stephen Smoliar, The Rehearsal Studio

“Daniel Lentz is an American composer living in Santa Barbara, California. His back catalog is extensive, with a career that is now five decades long and growing. River of 1,000 Streams is his fifth solo release on the Cold Blue label, and the third one in a row that focuses on the piano.

“Lentz began his professional compositional career back in the sixties, with conceptual work. One piece from that time focuses on melting audience members’ ear wax with hydrogen peroxide and then listening to the bubbles. In the seventies he moved into writing what he called his ‘pretty’ pieces, in which he started doing four things that have remained consistent across his career: (1) post-minimalist textures that often focus on traditional harmonies; (2) having performers play wine glasses, and even drinking the wine out of them to change the sounds they make;  (3) using electronics to make what is in essence and elaborate loop pedal of the sounds that the performers make in real time; and (4) the human voice. By the eighties, his music is really more like Philip Glass on acid. His The Crack in the Bell and Wild Turkeys are wild post-minimalist rides involving his own ensemble of keyboards. What’s different from Glass is his tendency to frequently change texture and the Romantic tinge when the music becomes slow. His recent piano releases include music going back to 1980, but most of it has been written in the new century.

“The new work, River of 1,000 Streams, is a single 28-and-a-half-minute track that, according to the liner notes, is for ‘piano with cascading echoes.’ Cold Blue’s website explains that these echoes are small chunks of the piano part that return maybe a few seconds later or maybe even 25 minutes after their first appearance. This loop-pedal effect appears to be so elaborate that the repetitions are hard to keep track of by ear, because they are so unpredictable. The results of the echoes mainly are just to thicken the texture, as if Vishnu is playing the piano. (Lentz appears to like this sound. He’s written for as many as nine pianos at once before.) We begin our journey at the lowest end of the piano, and we soon grab on to the main sound for the entire piece—tremolos, that is, toggling between two or more notes that sustain and erratically repeat. These tremolos give the music an unsettled bubbling character, as if you are entering a boiling pot of water. You may be the lobster, but Lentz’s note choices make you enjoy being boiled alive.

“We open with an E-flat/B-flat perfect fifth. This music reminds me of John Luther Adams’s Dark Waves, for two pianos and electronics, that came out of the Cold Blue label in 2007. But, importantly, the unfolding process is different:  Adams restricts himself to piling up perfect fifths across 12-and-a-half minutes, while Lentz ascends by slowly alternating half-steps—E-flat holds while B-flat moves up to B, then E-flat becomes E and so on, which introduces different intervals and eventually fills out to larger chords. Adams creates beauty through the stark process; Lentz prefers to be more intuitive and less predictable.

“To me, the best part about River of 1,000 Streams is what begins to happen about 14 minutes in. We consistently warbled as we’ve slowly inched up the piano. But now, simple melodies and clear harmonies start randomly bubbling up out of the shaking texture. My emotions burst with the simplicity of the effect. The most memorable one for me starts with this descending line: F, E-flat, D-flat, C, B-flat. After fourteen minutes of warbling, this simple idea feels astoundingly beautiful. The music ends when we reach the top of the piano, and then the remnants of the echoes fade away.

“Pianist Vicki Ray does an astounding job with this obviously virtuosic work. One of the hardest parts of performing minimalist textures over long periods of time is maintaining control over the long-term effect. Ray handles this magnificently.

“I enjoyed listening to River of 1,000 Streams a lot. It sets up a lovely musical universe, and the effects of the wisps of melody and chords in the second half make it a wonderful cross between audible process music and more intuition-based Romantic flavors.” —David Kulma, MusicCorner

River of  1,000 Streams has a logical horizontal flow that has to do with an experiential “aha” moment Daniel Lentz had while standing on the banks of the Colorado River one early morning. What he felt inspired him to conceive of this EP-length work for solo piano and ‘cascading echoes,’ the latter of which appear very subtly and organically in the course of the work. Vicki Ray brings life to the part with sureness and sensitivity.

“Just as you cannot step in the same river twice, you cannot hear this work each time without feeling a new aspect of what you hear.… There is the constant of the dramatic arc of the music, beginning quietly and gradually building in developmental sequences of sostenuto shimmers of radically tonal rolls of chordal clusters that flow along river-like, adding embellishments and thematic directional cues that turn it all after all into musical syntax and not just atmospherics, though even if Lentz kept it entirely primal we would be transfixed. But no, he wants us to embrace its long sprawling arc of cosmic event unfolding as a very long whole.

“This is an excellent example of the Cold Blue school of mesmeric tonality. It speaks with a sprawling yet disciplined eloquence and takes us on a trip as would a river’s endless flow. Beauty is there for us. We only have to stand (or sit) and hear the music go by. Excellent!” —Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review