American Modern Ensemble – Powerhouse Pianists II

American Modern Ensemble
Blair McMillen | Stephen Gosling

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Powerhouse Pianists II is the thrilling follow-up album for the American Modern Ensemble's original Powerhouse Pianists album which also featured Blair McMillen and Stephen Gosling, performing an electric collection of solo works for piano by American composers.

Hailed as the “the dynamic duo of contemporary pianists” who “share a messianic devotion to modern music” by The New York Times, Gosling and McMillen apply the full force of their artistry to seven shining examples of music for two pianos by living composers, including John Adams, Mary Ellen Childs, John Corigliano, Amanda Harberg, Doug Opel, Robert Paterson, and Frederic Rzewski. The album is impeccably produced by GRAMMY® -winning producer Adam Abeshouse.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this recording is how the simple addition of a second piano explodes the textural and coloristic possibilities. Deep Blue Ocean, a poetic and powerful three-movement rumination on the sea by American Modern Ensemble founder Robert Paterson, opens the album with intense waves of resonance holding up tinkling rising patterns that burst into block chords, punctuating the pastoral subaquatic scenes.

Doug Opel indulges the playful possibilities of the dueling pianos in Dilukkenjon, with the two pianos engaged in a tension-filled championship race to the finish. In Subway, a swinging take on mass transit, composer Amanda Harberg takes full advantage of the 176 keys available to her to capture the swirl of activities and personalities that flow underneath New York City. The frenetic pulse melts into the simple patterns of Mary Ellen Childs’ Kilter, which evoke a sense of mystery and mysticism as they become inextricably entwined.

In John Corigliano’s show-stopping Chiaroscuro for two pianos tuned a quartertone apart, traditional harmony and musical gestures swim in a sea of microtonal surrealism to great expressive effect that goes out with a bang. John Adams evokes the vast expanses of the American west with his ecstatic brand of minimalism in Hallelujah Junction and the disc closes with a two-piano arrangement of Frederic Rzewski’s raging industrial masterpiece Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues from Four North American Ballads.

About American Modern Ensemble

American Modern Ensemble (AME) joyfully celebrates and showcases American music, performing the widest possible repertoire, particularly by living composers. Our goal is to grow our audience base as far as possible beyond the music community. AME includes on-stage chats with featured composers, presents premieres, and conducts three annual competitions for young, emerging and professional composers. Receptions after each concert enable audience members to mingle with both composers and performers in an intimate, relaxed setting.

Founded in New York City in 2005, AME has been a dynamic, creative force in the American new music scene. With a world-class ensemble made up of NYC's finest musicians, AME is "simply 'first-rate" (The New York Times). AME has performed and premiered over 135 works by over 120 living American composers in venues ranging from Lincoln Center to Galapagos Arts Space, and has "consistently demonstrated a flair for inventive programming" (Steve Smith, Time Out New York). AME programs both cutting edge and traditional works, presenting unique, engaging events that encourage dialogue between artists and audiences. AME is committed to that connection: over 90% of the composers whose works have been programmed by AME have attended our concerts. Sold out crowds at Merkin Hall, Dimenna Center, the Rubin Museum, The TimesCenter and many other venues are a winning testament to AME's tremendous fan base and ever expanding popularity.

In 2012-13 AME was the ensemble-in-residence at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City, and AME tours and offers educational outreach programs. Recent collaborations include the Dance Theater of Harlem and Talujon percussion ensemble. For more information, visit americanmodernensemble.org.

Tracks

  1. Deep Blue Ocean – I. The Darkness Below [3'38"] – Robert Paterson 

  2. Deep Blue Ocean – II. Sunbeams and Waterfalls [3'24"] – Robert Paterson

  3. Deep Blue Ocean – III. Accents and Waves [4'27"] – Robert Paterson

  4. Dilukkenjon [8'16"] – Doug Opel

  5. Subway [3'16"] – Amanda Harberg

  6. Kilter [9'28"] – Mary Ellen Childs

  7. Chiaroscuro – I. Light [1'46"] – John Corigliano

  8. Chiaroscuro – II. Shadows [4'11"] – John Corigliano

  9. Chiaroscuro – III. Strobe [4'42"] – John Corigliano

  10. Hallelujah Junction [15'44"] – John Adams

  11. Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues [11'01"] – Frederic Rzewski

Total Time 70:20

It’s taken five years to release [Powerhouse Pianists II], but the wait was worth it… The performance is consistently fluent, meticulous, inspired and well recorded. Robert Paterson’s triptych Deep Blue Ocean starts with Jazzy evocations, slips into Messiaen’s stained-glass harmony, goes salsa, then concludes with expansive pop ‘power’ chords that gently pulsate: a fun, uninhibited piece. Doug Opel’s Dilukkenjon is a stylistic pudding packed with dissonant repetition, post-minimal noodling and lyrical episodes… By contrast, Amanda Harberg’s Subway splices and dices rock/blues clichés into fresh, unpredictable pattens. Mary Ellen Child’s Kilter is a carefully crafted large-scale work characterised by repeated notes and a kind of Asian modality. Gosling and McMillen take the opening section slower and more suggestively than in Anthony de Mare and Kathleen Supove’s slightly faster, more incisive 1995 recording (XI Records).

Such is John Corigliano’s unerring car for effective keyboard textures in Chiaroscuro that the tuning of the two pianos a quarter-tone apart never sounds gimmicky. This performance is no less marvelous than the Oppens/Lowenthal version (Cedille, 10/11 US)… John Adams’s energetic yet arguably overlong Hallelujah Junction has never sounded better on disc, while Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues has the edge over the composer’s own recording with Oppens (Music & Arts) for Gosling and McMillen’s pinpoint detaché articulation of the churning bass-register clusters. Highly recommended.
— Gramophone
The seven compositions included on the recording capture the swirl of activities and personalities of such living composers as John Corigliano, John Adams, Frederic Rzewski, Robert Paterson, Mary Ellen Childs, Amanda Harber and Doug Opel... Gosling and McMillen perform the works of these major composers with excellence, dynamic contrasts and fluidity. Recommended. (Five Stars)
— LA Music Examiner
The variety in the music is staggering, as is the virtuosity of the two pianists. I have played the piano for most of my life and have taught piano for the past thirty-six years, and I can’t even imagine trying to read some of this music let alone play it! I have a deep and sincere appreciation for the artistry that went into this album...If you like avant-garde experimental piano music, Powerhouse Pianists II should be a real treat!
— Kathy Parsons, MainlyPiano.com
Getting a reputation as the dynamic duo of modern classical piano, they certainly show there’s more to the form than arts council inspired pots and pans music. Playing this stuff likes it the most natural thing in the world, anyone that’s been put off by contemporary American classical music ought to give this disc a spin and re-evaluate. Delightfully explosive and powerful, this is a set that’s sure to be a real ear opener. You can’t go wrong here if you’re looking for some new sonic explorations.
— midwestrecord.com