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January 23, 2001

Modern ComposersGeorge Rochberg: Eden: Out of Time & Out of Space. Eden: Out of Time & Out of Space, a Chamber Concerto for Guitar and Ensemble; Muse of Fire, for Flute and Guitar; American Bouquet (Versions of Popular Music for Guitar). The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, David Shifrin, Artistic Director, with Eliot Fisk, guitar, and Paula Robinson, flute. (Arabesque Records, CD # Z6745) 2000.

American composer George Rochberg was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1918. He began his study of composition in the late 1930s, and resumed after a stint in the army during World War II. He taught at the Curtis Institute of Music and at the University of Pennsylvania from 1948 until his retirement in 1983. During that long academic career, Rochberg produced an enormous amount of music, and was one of the most influential, though not the most-performed, composers of his time. The present album from Arabesque Records contains three works by Rochberg from the 1990s, all of which prominently feature guitar.

Like most of his contemporaries, Rochberg was strongly influenced by atonal composers such as Bartok and Webern, and the serialist theories of Schoenberg, and his first works were in that mold. Like most of his contemporaries, he eventually rejected serialism and atonality and in the mid-1960s began producing works using traditional techniques of structure and tonality. Rochberg, in fact, was one of the leading voices speaking out against serialism during the 1960s, and is credited with turning many other young composers from that path as well. It was Rochberg who declared serialism "finished, hollow, meaningless" and his Third String Quartet, written in 1971, is considered by some music historians and one of the most decisive hammer-blows that nailed the lid shut on the serialist experiment for many composers. One contemporary critic wrote that Rochberg's Third Quartet was "the work that defines the attitudes of a generation of composers [and] represented a way out of the maze."

Following his vehement rejection of serialism, Rochberg developed a style he called "multi-gestural," which, in his words, "makes possible the combination and juxtaposition of a variety of means which denies neither the past nor the present." And it is this willingness to combine elements from any source, so long as they work, that is the defining characteristic of the three works in the present collection. The "chamber concerto" Eden: Out of Time & Out of Space is a perfect example. Written in 1998, the work takes its title from a W.B. Yeats line from 1906 that asks "Is Eden out of time and out of space?" Rochberg's answer is "Yes, Eden is out of reach, but still near." With this piece, Rochberg says, he intended "to shut out - with quietness and other-worldliness - the clamour and clang of the raucous Garish Day, to turn away its tumult and noise, to negate its stridency and chaos. Perhaps in the cleansing stillness and blessing of this emptied-out state of soul, Eden, though still hidden, may not be so far away; though still unreachable, may be close enough to almost touch." Maybe it's nearer the truth to say that by giving yourself up to this music, Eden may almost touch you. See if it works for you..

You can hear George Rochberg's chamber concerto Eden: Out of Time & Out of Space on WHIL-FM (91.3) Thursday, January 25 at 7:00 p.m. as part of their weekly series of music from after 1950.

-- J. Green


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