This is America
Works by Clarice Assad, Terry Riley, Micaela Tobin et al
Johnny Gandelsman (violin)
In a Circle ICR 023 229:17 mins (3 discs)
It’s easy to forget the turbulence of 2020 – particularly when one set of problems has been replaced with another. This Is America – an anthology of 24 works commissioned and performed by Johnny Gandelsman – is a time-capsule of that period. Unlike other lockdown projects, such as Eight Songs from Isolation that had an international scope, Gandelsman focuses on US-based composers, giving a fascinating snapshot of that nation’s diversity of sound.
Terry Riley is the biggest name here, and his 12-minute Barbary Coast 1955, performed on a five-string violin, moves between resonant reflection and whispered, breathy phrases that develop into a quasi-folk motif. Here – and in other works – Gandelsman demonstrates the outer-limits of the violin; a gentle touch is contrasted with aggressive pizzicato. Conrad Tao, who has also referenced national unrest in his solo piano album American Rage, contributes Stones – a delicately fragmented piece inspired by the carefully built rock formations he saw along the Hudson River during lockdown rambles.
The inclusion of tape, electronics, voice and guitar adds variation to the largely solo violin works. Anjna Swaminathan’s frolicking love letter Surrender to the Adventure features recorded speech, while Rhea Fowler and Micaela Tobin’s A City Upon a Hill? includes disguised samples of news reels with the notorious slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ in ominous disintegration. Although sensitively performed, the pieces with acoustic and electronic guitar would be better suited to a different programme.