MORTON FELDMAN, ERIK SATIE, JOHN CAGE: ROTHKO CHAPEL
Rothko Chapel addresses a network of musical relationships and inspirations. The album opens with Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, named for the Houston, Texas, multi-faith chapel built to house Mark Rothko’s site-specific paintings. Feldman considered that his music lay “between categories, between time and space, between painting and music,” and described the score as his “canvas.” Amongst his most important influences were abstract painters, his friend Rothko prominent amongst them. Rothko, for his part, yearned to “raise painting to the level of music and poetry.”
Feldman was also liberated by the freewheeling example of John Cage’s work. “The main influence from Cage was a green light,'” Feldman said. ”It was permission, the freedom to do what I wanted.” Cage, the most relentless of 20th century experimentalists, didn’t acknowledge what he called an “ABC model of ‘influence’ ” but always had a special fondness for Satie, a musical inventor of good-humoured originality with whom he could identify.
ECM New Series
Kim Kashkashian, viola
Sarah Rothenberg, piano & celeste
Steven Schick, percussion
Sonja Bruzauskas, mezzo-soprano
Lauren Snouffer, soprano
Houston Chamber Choir
Robert Simpson, conductor
Morton Feldman, Erik Satie, John Cage.
“This terrific concept album traces a line of spiritual inspiration from the eccentric Erik Satie to the experimentalist Morton Feldman, by way of the avant-garde guru John Cage.”
— Chicago Tribune
“Best classical albums of 2015: No. 5.”
— Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe
“Conceived by pianist Sarah Rothenberg, this attractive 20th century programme celebrates both the cross-pollination of inspiration between art and music as well as between musicians. We are reminded that John Cage was inspired by Erik Satie, Morton Feldman by Cage, and Mark Rothko’s inspiration included that from composers including Cage and Feldman.
“The main draw here is Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, a gorgeously meditative work written as a tribute to Mark Rothko and specifically for the eponymous space – an octagonal building designed to house fourteen of his large canvases. “Stillness, silence, contemplation. These are the characteristics of Rothko’s paintings and of the chapel that was created for his work.’ These are the words with which Sarah Rothenberg sums up the atmosphere of Rothko Chapel, and this is indeed a very fine performance…Sarah Rothenberg plays Satie with a gorgeous touch and a fine sense of pacing – not too slow and reverential, but allowing plenty of time for sonorities to expand, and for the music to inhabit similar worlds to the pieces that surround it…The programme concludes with Cage’s earlier and more Satie-influenced piano piece In a Landscape, a sonorous and elegant soundscape in a ‘continuum’ of notes that pass like sunlight on slowly rippling water.”
— Musicweb International (United Kingdom)
“…Cage’s In a Landscape (1948) takes on prophetic qualities, anticipating similar harmonic sustains in Feldman’s work…At the same time, it harkens back to the strange almost alien world of static harmonies and slow sonic decay Satie was evoking at a time when it was not even close to fashionable to do so. The Feldman, in turn, anticipates the Cage number pieces, whose sonic pallet is as malleable as the time over which the compositions are performed, and the list of historical reference and subreference could go on.
“The performances are absolutely first-rate. Kim Kashkashian’s playing constitutes a historical palimpsest in itself…She demonstrates Rothko Chapel to be the temporally multivalent masterpiece it is…Sarah Rothenberg’s pianism on the Satie and Cage miniatures is decisive without eschewing subtlety; she employs a more meditative approach…Steve Schick’s modern music credentials need no introduction.. and the Houston Chamber Choir, under Robert Simpson’s direction, is superb.”
“On ECM’s superb and captivating Rothko Chapel an elite group of musicians interprets Morton Feldman’s sublime title piece and several others by John Cage and, the father of western musical modernism, Erik Satie. The disc explores the common conceptual and stylistic threads between the Feldman and Cage’s works and their origins in Satie’s oeuvre.
“Although Feldman’s composition is not recorded in the Chapel itself the ambience is evocative of the physical building itself. The spiritual sanctuary and painter Mark Rothko’s exquisite art are reflected in the solemn yet vibrant performance. Violist Kim Kashkashian, one of the premier practitioners of her instrument, coaxes out of it a melancholic melody that floats over percussionist Steven Schick’s kaleidoscopic array of chimes, beats and rumbles. The splendid Houston Chamber Choir under conductor Robert Simpson’s elegant direction provides haunting collective vocalese that Schick and his tolling bells underscore. Soprano Lauren Snouffer and mezzo-soprano Sonja Bruzauskas alternate ethereal wordless songs with Kashkashian’s poignant pizzicato. Pianist Sarah Rothenberg, playing the dulcet celeste, buoys and punctuates Kashkashian’s eastern flavored solo with her crystalline keys.
“The remainder of the program replicates the Chapel’s 70th anniversary concert as it alternates pieces by Satie and Cage. Most of these feature Rothenberg’s innovative pianism. Given her deep immersion in 20th century music and its cultural significance Rothenberg, indeed, is the ideal person to explore this creative connection between the two trailblazing composers.
“On Satie’s ‘Gnossienne #3’ Rothenberg’s cascading, rolling chords resonate and echo pensively. Immediately following it is Cage’s serene, incandescent ‘In a Landscape.’ Rothenberg uncovers an undercurrent of subtle passion in the otherwise angular, limpid and contemplative sonic picture.
“Sandwiched between Satie’s ‘Ogive #1’ and ‘Ogive #2’ is Cage’s transcendent ‘Ear For Ear (Antiphonies).’ Rothenberg gracefully melds the softer elements of Satie’s compositions with brisk and percussive sounds. She expresses splendidly the continuum between the cerebral and emotive inherent in these two short works. Simpson and Houston Choir channel Cage’s otherworldly liturgy. Waves of tense exchanges between tenor L.Wayne Ashley and the rest of vocalists enhance the somber and dramatic atmosphere.
“This brilliant and provocative album is not only homage to an inimitable artwork, the Rothko Chapel; it also contains infrequently documented masterpieces. As such it exposes the aesthetic and ideological threads that tie together the creative legacy of three ingenious pioneers of the musical Avant-Garde.”
— All About Jazz
Four Stars: “[Cage’s In a Landscape and Erik Satie’s Ogives and Gnossiennes] are marvellously strange and weightless in the hands of pianist Sarah Rothenberg.”
— The Independent (London)
Four Stars: “Kim Kashkashian (viola), Sarah Rothenberg (piano), Steven Schick (percussion) and the Houston Chamber Choir conducted by Robert Simpson hold stillness in their hands.”
— Financial Times (London)
“…In all ways a disk that excels in thoroughgoing programming brilliance, performative superiority and compositional exceptionality.”
— Classical Modern Spot
“This 1971 choral work was composed in memory of Rothko after he killed himself and was commissioned by the Texas church for which the artist had been creating a series of murals. It’s a passionate, reverent piece with elegiac playing here from violist Kim Kashkashian – she paints bolder strokes than many dare in Feldman, which is refreshing. The Houston choir’s singing is warm and percussionist Steven Schick creates a great sense of space and ritual. The rest of the album explores a web of connections between John Cage’s Four2, Five, ear for EAR and In a Landscape and Erik Satie’s Ogives and Gnossiennes. The latter are marvellously strange and weightless in the hands of pianist Sarah Rothenberg.”
— Kate Molleson, The Guardian
“Some works quietly become masterpieces: Morton Feldman’s intense, spare and evocative Rothko Chapel (written for the octagonal building in Houston that houses his paintings) was challenging when new […] now it seems an utterly natural, hieratic procession of contrasted friezes in which not a note is out of place […] the sequence that follows of Erik Satie piano pieces (Sarah Rothenberg) and John Cage choral fragments (Houston Chamber Choir) traces a hypnotic line of innovation. In a week of mourning, a moving hour of reflection.”
— Nicholas Kenyon, The Observer (five stars)