For Fred Lerdahl (world premiere, LA Phil commission)
Newark-born multi-instrumentalist and composer Tyshawn Sorey is celebrated for his incomparable virtuosity, effortless mastery and memorization of highly complex scores, and an extraordinary ability to blend composition and improvisation in his work. He has performed internationally with his own ensembles, as well as artists including John Zorn, Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Wadada Leo Smith, Marilyn Crispell, George Lewis, Claire Chase, Steve Coleman, Steve Lehman, Robyn Schulkowsky, Evan Parker, Anthony Braxton, and Myra Melford, among many others.
In 2017, Sorey received a MacArthur “Genius” fellowship. The Spektral Quartet, Ojai Music Festival, and International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) have commissioned his works. Sorey also collaborates regularly with ICE as a percussionist and resident composer. This season’s projects include a residency at the Berlin Jazz Festival and a new piece for Carnegie Hall’s 125 Commissions Project in partnership with Opera Philadelphia for tenor Lawrence Brownlee, addressing themes associated with Black Lives Matter.
As a leader, Sorey has released six critically acclaimed recordings that feature his work as a composer, multi- instrumentalist, and conceptualist, including his latest, Verisimilitude (Pi Recordings, 2017). His work has been premiered at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, Ojai Music Festival, The Kitchen, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Roulette, Issue Project Room, and the Stone, among many other established venues and festivals.
Sorey recently received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Columbia University. In Fall 2017, he assumed the role of Assistant Professor of Composition and Creative Musics at Wesleyan University, where he had received his Master’s Degree in composition in 2011.
Tyshawn Sorey’s composition teachers at Columbia University were George Lewis and Fred Lerhdahl. “They’re both really fantastic for different reasons,” Sorey said in a recent Columbia News interview. Lerdahl “confirmed for me that improvisation was such a strong part of my music that to deny it was to be dishonest with myself.
This was truly liberating for me on many levels, as I felt before then that I was trying to be something I wasn’t, and will never be.
“Both Fred and George pushed me to develop a greater understanding of what I want out of a given composition and to really address it in the notation – to have notation work for me.”
For Fred Lerdahl is a work of softly shimmering beauty, like moonlit mist in an A-B-A song form. In the framing sections, the piano and vibraphones create a hazy harmonic corona through close intervals – lots of seconds, sevenths, and ninths – and the constant use of the sustain pedals. The viola extends the harmonic implications in harmonic sighs and long-stepping lines.
The middle section brings a greater sense of forward movement, with the viola floating as in a flickering gymnopédie. The return to the initial texture is truncated and fading, leaving just the quiet tolling of the piano. — John Henken