In the Sea of Ionia   CB0042

The music

In the Sea of Ionia is a wildly spinning, charismatically eclectic album containing four of Lentz’s recent piano works: (1) 51 Nocturnes (2011), a set of very short, contrasting nocturnes that are played without pauses, as one continuous work; (2) Pacific Coast Highway (2014), a primarily textural three-piano piece built of polyrhythmic layers of continuously shifting/drifting harmonies; (3) Dorchester Tropes (2008–09), a four-movement piano solo; (4) In the Sea of Ionia (2007–08) a piece for seven pianos that builds in activity, pace, and intensity (reaching near-frenetic proportions near the end) and employs what Lentz has for many years called “cascading echoes”—thematic cells that return (like a tape echo) throughout the work.

As with much of Lentz’s music, most of these pieces are kaleidoscopic, restless, and given to changing directions and tempos without warning—darting, from one moment to the next, amid new materials and reprised materials, a moment of lovely placidity suddenly giving way to an unrestrained burst of notes or vice versa. In contrast to his earlier work, Lentz’s most recent music relies less on process-driven constructions that boil over with musical phrases and cells (although there is still some of that here). Instead, much of this work presents a more straightforward approach to the piano. Whether one’s focus is on these recent pieces or on earlier ones, Kyle Gann’s shrewd observation about Lentz’s work holds true: “When it comes to attempts at musical seduction, Daniel Lentz’s music is way out in front.”

The composer

Daniel Lentz has been a fixture on Southern California’s new-music scene for 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 has won the Gaudeamus International Composers Competition in Holland and has received a DAAD Artists in Residence grant to work in Berlin, Germany. He has received a composition grant from the Opus Archives and Research Center of Pacifica Institute and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation with a residency at the Rockefeller Bellagio Center in Italy. He has also received numerous other awards and grants, including six National Endowment for the Arts grants, three Lila Wallace/Readers 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), the Preview Pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver, and via many TV broadcasts in the US 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 River of 1,000 Streams (CB0050), 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

“Lentz’s work ‘chortles’ in ways both sensual and intellectual.” —Los Angeles Reader

“Intriguing his listeners at the same time he wreathes them in smiles.”—Gramophone

2014 Mouth magazine interview with Lentz.

The performer

Aron Kallay, a fixture on the Los Angeles new-music scene, is a pianist whose playing has been deemed “exquisite…every sound sounded considered, alive, worthy of our wonder” (Los Angeles Times). He has been praised for being “perhaps Los Angeles’ most versatile keyboardist” (LAOpus) and “a multiple threat: a great pianist, brainy tech wizard, and visionary promoter of a new musical practice” (Fanfare magazine) and for possessing “that special blend of intellect, emotion, and overt physicality that makes even the thorniest scores simply leap from the page into the listeners laps” (KPFK Radio).

As both soloist and chamber musician, Kallay has performed throughout the United States, as well as in the Czech Republic and Ukraine. A champion of contemporary composers, microtonal music, and music that combines electronics with acoustic instruments, he is dedicated to expanding the piano repertoire by commissioning new works that challenge the idea of what it means to be a pianist in the 21st century. In 2013, he and new-music pianist Vicki Ray toured the US as the Ray-Kallay Duo. Kallay is co-director and co-founder of People Inside Electronics (PIE), a concert series for electro-acoustic music, and he curates the LA’s Tuesdays at Monk Space new-music series. He received a DMA in Piano Performance from USC, where he studied with Daniel Pollack, and he also holds degrees from the University of Michigan (MM) and Carnegie Mellon (BFA). Kallay has recorded two albums for MicroFest Records: Beyond 12 (microtonal works by Kyle Gann, John Schneider, and others) and The Ten Thousand Things (an album on which he performs John Cage’s 34′ 46.776″ for a pianist, and for which he was a 2013 Grammy nominee in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category). In 2014, Populist Records released his recording of five new works for percussion and piano (featuring percussionist Yuri Inoo). Aron is an Artist in Residence for Catalysis Projects, and on the faculty of the University of Southern California, where he teaches electro-acoustic media and piano.


“Re-catching a new piano wave: Speaking broadly, composer Daniel Lentz is deemed a kind of maverick ‘Minimalist,’ West Coast division. But as is often the case, subtleties of an artist’s voice can get glossed over in the simplifying process of ‘general deeming.’ Let’s just say he broaches sonic beauty and Minimalist-colored/rhythmicized ideas, but on his own terms, with enough objective cool in the mix to keep hints of easy-listening Minimalist sheen at bay.

“Mr. Lentz has had longstanding and deep connection to Santa Barbara over the years including stints living here (as he does now), an infamous stretch as a teacher at UCSB in the freewheeling 1970s, and this Saturday’s local public showcase of some exciting new music. At the lovably intimate and music-centric venue known as the Piano Kitchen, fast-rising Los Angeles-based pianist Aron Kallay will perform solo Lentz piano works, as heard on a brand-new album, In the Sea of Ionia, on the L.A. new music label Cold Blue. The label also released his fabulous mid-‘80s piano album Point Conception—recorded at the old Santa Barbara Sound (now Sound Design), and boldly performed by Santa Barbaran pianist Arlene Dunlap.

“Back in piano mode, Mr. Lentz shows he has plenty to say, with four pieces penned within the last seven years, and a sensitive, sturdy ally in pianist Mr. Kallay. 51 Nocturnes has an episodic structure in which the lovely but fleeting fragments over 15 minutes alternately soothe, tease and make for sometimes bracing contrasts. Pacific Coast Highway, dedicated to Cold Blue records and its stalwart founder/head/composer Jim Fox, savors sustain-pedaling harmonic states of being, in waves of sonic energy, in a way similar to Harold Budd. The title track, In the Sea of Ionia, goes for both motor-driven, post-Minimalist gridworkings and qualified prettiness.

“With a vocabulary borrowing from influences as varied as Ravel, Brian Wilson and Bill Evans, Mr. Lentz’s music is not as pretty as it might sound—or is not ‘only’ pretty. Ulterior strategies are afoot. Sentimentality grazes past and is hustled into new shapes, in a place where lyricism is served on the rocks. It sounded fresh in the ‘80s, and ditto, the ‘10s.” —Josef Woodard, Santa Barbara News-Press

“Lentz has been composing music for some 45 years and much of it has a minimal streak. It’s, however, not the kind of minimalism of Reich or Glass, but just a sparseness in between notes, slow moves, but not always highly repetitious. The four pieces here are from recent years, and two of these are for multiple pianos, I assume played one by one by Kallay, recorded using multi-track. Now here we have piano music recorded on a fine grand piano, with fine microphones…. Lentz’ piano music is not necessarily Satie- or Debussy-like, but may also have a more ‘romantic’ notion, maybe that Californian breeze that I often hear in the releases by Cold Blue Music. Maybe I’m just imagining that. The title piece, for seven pianos, has a nice complex character, almost with mild delay put forward on the pianos, but it isn’t, and it’s a great piece. The release opens with 51 Nocturnes, played without a gap between them, and has a fine late-night feel to it. The four movements of Dorchester Tropes remind me Satie and Debussy, with the more melancholic touch it has. The four pianos of Pacific Coast Highway are perhaps the closest Lentz comes to the ‘other’ minimalists. It makes all of this quite a varied release, but all of it of excellent quality.” —Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly

“Very beautiful.”Nova Express

“Daniel Lentz has been composing and releasing music for many decades, yet the music he’s creating today is as vital as anything produced in the past. While his omnivorous output ranges from the wildly exuberant to the preternaturally calm, it’s always infused with the joy of music-making and the creative spirit. Lentz isn’t a purist; influences from pop, jazz, and R&B often surface, even if you’ll find his music slotted under ‘New Classical’ or some equally inadequate title. Like Adams, Cold Blue has become somewhat of a home for Lentz, with his music featured on seven CDs, four of them exclusively devoted to his work. While he’s composed works for both conventional and unusual instrumental combinations (ensembles consisting of multiple keyboards, singers, and electronics versus ensembles of wineglasses), his latest collection, In the Sea of Ionia, features the playing of a single musician, Los Angeles-based pianist Aron Kallay…. He’s the perfect match for Lentz, someone with the technical tools capable of giving voice to the dazzle of the composer’s writing.

“Though occasional traces of the process-driven character of his previous work do emerge, In the Sea of Ionia exudes a more organic feel. Indexed as a single, fifteen-minute work, the opening 51 Nocturnes (2011) presents dramatically contrasting vignettes played without interruption. Moods vary throughout, with Lentz juxtaposing episodes of wistful reverie and dramatic intensity, and Kallay’s elegant playing brings these chiming, mercurial miniatures to life in a way that does justice to Lentz’s kaleidoscopic vision. If the shorter Pacific Coast Highway (2014) sounds denser by comparison, it most assuredly is, considering that it’s scored for three pianos, all of course played by Kallay. It’s also less melodically driven than 51 Nocturnes, with the focus this time on rolling, polyrhythmic clusters of continuously shifting harmonies.

“At twenty-three minutes the album’s longest work, Dorchester Tropes (2008–09), sees Kallay exploring in a four-movement solo piano setting an even greater range of dynamics and styles than In the Sea of Ionia. By way of illustration, compare the elegiac classicism of “Moswetuset” movement to the rollicking R&B feel of “Pocapawnet.” The final piece, the nineteen-minute In the Sea of Ionia (2007–08), revisits the multi-piano approach of Pacific Coast Highway though bolsters the density by featuring seven pianos this time. Of the four works on the release, it’s the one that’s most emblematic of Lentz’s established style. Filled with rapid-fire runs and cross-patterns, the piece builds in activity and intensity as it progresses, though occasional episodes of calm arise at judicious intervals, too. Such intervals don’t last long, however, as Kallay resumes the rapid ascent soon after each quiet passage surfaces. As I listen to these recordings, I’m reminded once again of the invaluable contributions Cold Blue has made to the musical landscape over so many years. That the West Coast label has been a primary outlet for the works of Adams and Lentz, as well as so many others, is something for which any listener appreciative of high-calibre contemporary music must be grateful.”—Ron Schepper, Textura

“The modern-postmodern scene has subjected us to a number of styles that includes high modernism, revival styles, minimal and new tonalities as well as noise-music, and avant new music which relates to avant jazz and improvisation. All of this exists simultaneously…there appears to be no one style at the forefront now. This, as I’ve said, isn’t such a bad thing. The building blocks of music remain the same, more or less, with melody, harmonic movement (tonal or otherwise), rhythm and timbre serving most composers of today. The question then is what does a composer choose to do with these elements? Ex-minimalist Daniel Lentz gives us his own take with a collection of solo piano pieces, In the Sea of Ionia, featuring Aron Kallay as the capable and sympathetic performer.

“It’s music in a tonal vein, with rhythm entering into the picture as a significant factor, sometimes with a motoric regularity taken over from the minimalist days, sometimes rather romantically rubato but the chord sequences decidedly more contemporary than romantic. Four works/suites are featured: 51 Nocturnes, Pacific Coast Highway, Dorchester Tropes in four movements, and In the Sea of Ionia.

“Lentz here does not quite fit into the Cold Blue “radical tonality” mode that one often finds on that label. His is a music of performative density that does not go in an ambient direction so much as stay within the rhythmic mainstream established via minimalism and its popular-rock-world relation and then, yes, a more rubato approach akin to pianism as we often understand it over the past 200 years….

“There is enough inventive and varied in the program that the attention does not lag. These are perhaps not masterpieces of our age but they are legitimate and distinctive enough that you feel that Lentz continues to be his own man out there. A worthy stylist who may have a couple of masterpieces left in him, certainly. And in the meantime there isn’t a banal passage to be heard, in spite of the tonal accessibility of it all.

“I find this album stimulating and enjoyable. Recommended.” —Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

“There’s something very American about Daniel Lentz’s music. I’m not always sure exactly where it is in the music. Sometimes it’s in the occasional motive…sometimes it’s in the harmonies that sound slightly ‘jazzy,’ as much as I dislike using that word…. Wherever this American sound resides in the music, it shouts at us from titles like Pacific Coast Highway—my favorite piece on the record. The title work is nearly 20 minutes and, in its slower sections, sounds more like what a composer-pianist might play to himself when alone…. This is a credit to Aron Kallay, whose performances are masterly and lend brilliance to music that was already rich.” —American Record Guide

“The opening track is 51 Nocturnes…with short bursts of different colors and textures; sometimes dramatic, sometimes mysterious, sometimes energetic but always returning to a warm, inward-looking sensibility…. Aron Kallay has just the right touch for each of the many moods here and he sustains the last chord of the piece for exactly the right amount of time. The second track is Pacific Coast Highway…an intriguing series of steady rhythms played against each other…. [L]ovely harmonies are heard as the different melody lines interact.

Dorchester Tropes follows, a work…of four movements, the first of which is titled ‘Messatossec.’ This has a dramatic opening that turns delicate with some lovely textures and tones. ‘Ponkapoag Bog’ is the second movement and opens with a quiet, pleasing melody that soon gives way to a faster, more animated section providing a lively contrast. A precisely played syncopation adds to the sense of lightness and joy between the more peaceful stretches. Strong chords and a low rumbling texture appear as well. ‘Moswetuset,’ the third movement, begins with a series of arpeggios underneath a relaxing melody…. At 2:30 the notes are falling like a series of spring raindrops…. A somewhat more dramatic sound follows with strong chords, as if watching a late afternoon sunset. The tempo slows and the piece tapers off to a settled finish. The final movement is ‘Pocapawnet’ and this has a series of forceful chords heard in an almost dance-like rhythm….There is a sense of expressiveness and joy that comes through both the playing and the notes.

“The final piece on the CD is the title track, In the Sea of Ionia. This has a gentle, languid opening that turns suddenly rapid, full of movement, with syncopated lines weaving joyfully back and forth. The slow, drifting feeling soon returns, like a lazy summer day at the beach. Now faster again, with a happy, energetic feel—good control in the playing here. As with 51 Nocturnes, In the Sea of Ionia oscillates between purposeful intensity and leisurely relaxation. The harmonies and rhythms compliment each other nicely in each of the various sections and the playing is both accurate and heartfelt. The final three minutes feel like a dash headlong down to the sea, and this is wonderfully played by Aron Kallay.

“This CD is a lovely collection of accessible and engaging music.”—Paul Muller, Sequenza21