Can classical be underground?

By SAM PFEIFLE  |  November 14, 2008

And they're working with big-time artists, not just the young guns that are sometimes paraded in front of us as the vanguards for a classical-popularization movement. Stoltzman is the single most-famous clarinet player in the world, and the Tchaikovsky piece he recorded with Slovak Radio for Phoenix was transcribed for him by composer Toru Takemitsu, probably the first name in Japanese classical music.

Stoltzman's playing (mixed maybe a little too high above the rest of the orchestra) on that 4:46 "Herbstlied" (or "Autumn Song") is as melancholy and dark as you might expect, alternating with the strings in falling-down phrases like spiraling pine needles and then opening up into brighter melodies like Julie Andrews singing "these are a few of my favorite things." The best bits come, though, when he plays Bottesini's "Duetto" with double bassist Richard Fredrickson. Fredrickson is another talent that composers write for, and his fierce quarter notes open the tune with a hammer. The contrast of the throaty double bass and the delicate clarinet, like Stan Getz (or Bill Terry, for that matter) doing "Fools Rush In," is riveting.

Composer Jonathan Sacks is no slouch either. You've mostly heard his stuff in films like Toy Story 2 (he kind of looks like the goateed collector bad guy), Seabiscuit, or, most recently, The X-Files: I Want to Believe (actually, you probably didn't hear his stuff there, because, like everyone else, you didn't actually see that movie). His 5th (S)eason is a collection of works he's composed over the past 30 years, recorded by the Warsaw and Slovak Radio philharmonics, along with a slew of guest musicians.

The orchestra pieces, "Incantations: Book V" and "Sagittarius Rising," are what you'd expect from a film composer: dramatic in their mood swings, moving from subtle flickerings to resounding cymbal crashes and storm-trooper drums to ultra-sonic woodwinds. The "Litanies," as performed mostly by Stoltzman, with some piano accompaniment, are more esoteric, brief thought pieces that lean as much toward avant-jazz as classical. And "Sirian Blue" is a nine-minute exercise in distortion and drone, the sort of thing you'd find on the next Seekonk record.

Both records provide a broad spectrum of access points and are very cool efforts to present classical heavyweights in a new context and forum. They're not destined for Top-40 or WCYY, but for music fans looking for something new to dive into, these are as likely to satisfy as the new Ocean record.

Sam Pfeifle can be reached at

PHOENIX IN FLIGHT | Released by Richard Stoltzman | on Navona Records |

5TH (S)EASON | Released by Jonathan Sacks | on Navona Records |

Sibilance starts now

We're sure that RAY LAMONTAGNE would be embarrassed about this, but now that he's all big-time, he's going to have to get used to this kind of stuff: JENNIFER ANISTON and JOHN MAYER were seen canoodling at his Hollywood show a couple weeks back. This was used by some gal rags to prove that Aniston is having Mayer's baby (or babies — they're saying it's twins; of course, it's always twins nowadays).

Be on the lookout for a new disc from TARPIGH, Portland's most eclectic trio. It's called Captain Cullpeppers Caribiners and the Twinkling Lights their first since 2002's Go Hogh Wild, and they'll release it with a show at SPACE Gallery on November 26. [see correction below]

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