Composer & Bang on a Can All-Stars Member Ken Thomson to Release RESTLESS Album
Restless includes Thomson's Restless (2013-2014) and Me Vs. (2012) performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars cellist Ashley Bathgate and Brooklyn-based dynamic virtuoso pianist Karl Larson. This album marks Bathgate and Larson's recording debut as a duo.
The composer and performers decided to release Restless primarily on vinyl, with each piece neatly taking one side, in a nod to the vinyl albums of Thomson's childhood, as well as a way of suggesting to listeners that they digest each piece individually, in its entirety. The album will also be available digitally.
Bathgate and Larson will be performing Restless live in Cincinnati, OH (October 23, University of Cincinnati), Ann Arbor, MI (October 25, University of Michigan), Columbus, OH (October 26, Short North Stage), and Restless and Me Vs. in New York, NY (November 9, Le Poisson Rouge).
This week, Second Inversion premieres the video for Restless, describing it as, "giving you not only an earshot of the music, but great insight into the inspiration behind the music." Watch here.
Restless follows Ken Thomson's 2013 album Thaw (Cantaloupe Music) performed by the JACK Quartet, which was named the No. 1 Classical CD of 2013 by Rhapsody and was featured on NPR's list of "10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing." iTunes wrote, "While Thomson can be a prankster, these suites show a serious side worth hearing," while Time Out New York described the album as, "Brainy, gritty and visceral, the music leaps off the disc."
Thomson, Bathgate, and Larson have worked together on many Bang on a Can projects throughout the years, collaborating on new music through the All-Stars (of which Bathgate and Thomson are members), the Summer Music Festival at Mass MoCA, worldwide tours, and more. Thomson says, "Working with Ashley and Karl over the process of putting together Restless was really phenomenal. The two of them, who had played together but never this deeply, began to develop this intense and empathetic rapport. It's especially notable because Restless is not really a cello solo with piano but a real duo. During the recording session, the perfectionism of both of them really became clear, but each honored the other generously. Since doing this piece, they have started to play Brahms together and other repertoire to pair with this piece in concert - some might say it's totally 'backwards' to start from the new piece and then go into standard repertoire together, but that is what is happening naturally for them. It's a great ongoing relationship to watch develop."
Restless (2013-4) for cello and piano and Me Vs. (2012) for solo piano are two of Thomson's most substantial chamber works. Both pieces consist of multiple movements, last approximately 20 minutes, and are major additions to the solo piano and cello/piano duo traditions. While their forms and instrumentation are a clear nod to traditional idioms, Thomson's signature blend of jazz, punk, and modern art music is still boiling at the surface. These works highlight the composer's masterful manipulation of tension and energy. The music churns, building in a wave of dissonance and density while never leaving traditional harmony behind.
Of Restless, Thomson writes: Despite having written plenty for cello in chamber music contexts, and two other solo pieces, I never felt like I was able to articulate my feelings for the instrument until this piece. There were a few things that contributed to this. One was that this wasn't a piece I set out to write - I had set up an artist residency to work on a piece with a collaborator that fell apart at the last minute. For the first time in a very long time, I had time set aside to write and did not have an immediately pressing project. Over multiple walks in the woods, this piece began to develop. The other element that contributed to the sound was completing my pieces Thaw and Perpetual for JACK Quartet. These were breakthrough pieces for me, in which I began to allow myself to start to write more tonally, finding ways that consonance can feel real and integrated with my music.
Of Me Vs., Thomson writes: The titles of the movements in Me Vs. ("Turn of Phrase," "Another Second Try," "Me Vs.") are related to the inspiration for the movements; the first was a thought generated from asking a writer who worked on epic poetry how her writing day went; she told me that if she found one good turn of phrase, she was happy with her work for the day. As someone who thinks macro before micro, I was inspired by this, and used this idea for the basis for this punishing-relenting-punishing first movement. "Another Second Try" could stand for any part of our lives that seem to be a nonstop trial and error, and continual redirection; and "Me Vs." was the only possible title after writing this last movement. In micro, it's about the pianist vs. the music. But, in some ways, it's also about moving through life.
Ken Thomson's music is notoriously difficult, consistently demanding the height of virtuosity from each performer. Akin to his writing for his jazz group Slow/Fast and collaborative jazz/chamber/punk group Gutbucket, Thomson achieves heightened energy through aggressively dense and blisteringly fast passagework; he uses the entire range of both instruments, pushing the performers to explore new connections between far-flung notes. In a true Lisztian effort, the performers must precisely navigate lengthy passages while maintaining the steady increase of tension and density, pushing the large-scale form to dramatic climaxes.
About Ashley Bathgate: American cellist Ashley Bathgate has been described as an "eloquent new music interpreter" (New York Times) and "a glorious cellist" (The Washington Post) who combines "bittersweet lyricism along with ferocious chops" (New York Magazine). Bathgate is a member of the award winning, internationally acclaimed sextet, Bang on a Can All-Stars, the chamber music group HOWL and is also a founding member of TwoSense, a duo with pianist Lisa Moore, and Bonjour, a low-strung, percussive quintet with fellow new-music-mavens Florent Ghys, James Moore, Eleonore Oppenheim and Owen Weaver. Originally from Saratoga Springs, NY, Bathgate began her cello studies with the late Rudolf Doblin, principal cellist and assistant music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic in the 1950's. After his passing, she resumed her tutelage with Ann Alton at Skidmore College. From there she continued on to study at Bard College with Luis Garcia-Renart (B.M.) and then at the Yale University School of Music with renowned cellist, Aldo Parisot (M.M. & A.D). Bathgate resides in New York City.
About Karl Larson: Brooklyn based pianist Karl Larson is a specialist in the music of our time, consistently presenting adventurous programs. Larson has premiered many solo piano and chamber pieces, including works by David Rakowski, Ken Thomson, Robert Honstein, Chris Cerrone, and David Lang. Recent performances of note include Morton Feldman's Triadic Memories, Olivier Messiaen's Harawi, and the world premiere of Scott Wollschleger's Meditations on Dust for solo piano and string orchestra. A sought after collaborator, Larson has worked with many notable musicians and ensembles including Tristan Perich, Ashley Bathgate, Vicky Chow, Erik Carlson, Mantra, Eve Beglarian, the Eco Ensemble, the Sleeping Giant Composer Collective, and Contemporaneous. He has been featured on many notable series and festivals including the Bang on a Can Marathon, the MATA Festival, WQXR's Hammered!, the Contagious Sounds Series, the Frequency Series, and many more. Larson is also a founding member of Bearthoven, a piano, bass, and percussion trio dedicated to the frequent promotion and performance of brand new works. Larson received a Doctor of Musical Arts in Contemporary Music and a Master of Music in Piano Performance at Bowling Green State University. He is on faculty at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music.
About Ken Thomson: Ken Thomson, a staple of New York City's contemporary music and jazz communities, is widely regarded for his ability to blend a rich variety of influences and styles into his own musical language while maintaining a voice unmistakably his own. Embracing the combination of complexity in harmony, rhythm, and form while adding a punk-rock aesthetic, Thomson stands alone in his unique corner of today's multifaceted musical world.
In addition to being clarinetist for the Bang on Can All-Stars and music director of Bang on a Can's Asphalt Orchestra, he plays saxophone and is one of the three composers in the punk/jazz band Gutbucket. Gutbucket has toured internationally to nineteen countries and 32 states over seventeen years and released CDs for Knitting Factory, Enja, NRW, Cantaloupe and Cuneiform Records. He is on faculty at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival.
As a composer, he has been commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, Bang on a Can, the True/False Film Festival, Doug Perkins, and others, and has received awards from New Music USA, ASCAP and Meet the Composer. The New York Times wrote of his work Wait Your Turn for the American Composers Orchestra upon its premiere at Carnegie Hall, "The concert ended on a high note. . .the music offered a density worthy of the closing bars of a Led Zeppelin epic," and of his work seasonal.disorder for the All-Stars, "a virtuoso piece... a texture laced with power chords, screaming clarinet lines and cluster-laden piano writing. In the end it is sheer madness, in a good, thrillingly visceral way." San Francisco Weekly writes about his music, "Thomson's original compositions are as complex as a beehive, filled with amber-hued nooks and crannies that bear traces of jazz, world music, and classical, without succumbing to any of them." His latest 15-minute work for chamber orchestra, Boil, was premiered at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival in summer 2016.
As composer-performer, Thomson leads an ensemble called Slow/Fast, was created to meld jazz and contemporary concert music. The group released its second album, Settle, on NCM East Records in 2014. It was praised by The New York Times for its "intricate long-form compositions," and garnered a five-star review in All About Jazz. The Chicago Reader wrote, "Thomson's pieces breathe and emanate an infectious energy, with every wend and wind hurtling the music forward rather than showing off the band's chops."
As a saxophonist and clarinetist, he has collaborated with ensembles International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, and more. He has also worked as a conductor and music director, notably, directing composer Julia Wolfe's Traveling Music at the Bordeaux Conservatory in France in 2009, and has conducted performances of Music for Airports with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, choir, and guest musicians from Melbourne to Buenos Aires. He is a Selmer Paris/Conn-Selmer endorser, and a D'Addario Reeds artist.