The Many Sides of Elodie Lauten

Postminimalist, neoclassicist, meditationist, New Ageist, improviser, jazzer, opera composer, Elodie Lauten is one of the most Protean composers of recent years, with many sides to her personality, but they all sound like her. I think of her a little as the female Terry Riley, though her music is a little more muted in tone, and more recognizably hers regardless of genre than Terry’s sometimes is. In making her January’s composer of the month on Postclassic Radio, I tried to include something from all sides. Two long works I’ve posted in their entirety: her opera The Death of Don Juan from the mid-1980s, and her quasi-oratorio Waking in New York from the late ‘90s, based on poems by her friend Allan Ginsburg (and selected by him for that purpose before he died). The Death of Don Juan epitomizes what I think of as her quintessential mystical style, while Waking in New York has more of a pop sensibility, with singers drawn from Broadway, gospel, and operatic idioms. I’ve always told Elodie that Waking in New York reminds me of Erik Satie’s masterpiece Socrate in its impassive melodies over kaleidoscopically changing harmonies, and I’ve added the first movement of the latter work to the playlist for comparison. (Socrate strikes me as a seminal postclassic work anyway, even if it was written in 1917.)

The overture to Lauten’s brand-new opera Orfreo (that’s not a typo: the subtitle is “The Orphic death of Ray Johnson”) demonstrates how Baroque she can sound when working with classical instruments like harpsichord, as do two lovely excerpts from her large-scale cantata Deus ex Machina. Three movements from her synthesizer improvisation Tronik Involutions show her at her most sparklingly cosmic – New Age, you might dismiss it as, but more richly textured and more harmonically motionless than any New Age music I’ve ever heard. And I’ll continue adding some of the early pieces from which I first knew her work, the early piano pieces and Concerto for Piano with Orchestral Memory. I’ve also put up one movement from Variations on the Orange Cycle played by pianist Lois Svard, a haunting, Riley-ish, reconstructed improvisation, and someday I’ll post the entire piece. It takes at least this much music to demonstrate the tremendous range of Lauten’s universalist imagination.

Other offerings for the new year are all works not commercially available, as far as I know:

Vagina, an intense, 47-minute, multi-lingual monologue for herself and orchestra by the Spanish-German Maria De Alvear;

Strange Attractors for string quartet, drums, and sampler keyboard by Diana Meckley, a classically totalist work from that classically totalist year 1989;

String Quartet No. 1, “In Praise of Poor Scholars,” by Peter Garland, in its sole performance by the Kronos Quartet – sorry about the hiss, I SoundSoaped it as much as I could, and the piece deserves to be heard; and,

Autumn Resonance for piano and two digital delays, an early piece by Wayne Siegel that I discovered working for New Music America, as detailed in my last post.

Siegel is American, born in 1953, but in 20 years I haven’t run across his name again except when I’ve gone explicitly looking for it. He moved long ago to Denmark where he is apparently enjoying a successful local career as an electronic music professor, and his native country has virtually forgotten about him. His music is excellent, though, and I’ll be playing more of it. This early work has obviously minimalist origins, but it’s always been one of my favorite pieces from the early 1980s, and I’ll bet the farm you haven’t heard it. Again, the point here isn’t to sell CDs, but to convince you that a hell of a lot of the best music around never bubbles out into the public sphere – except maybe on Postclassic Radio.