and I paint stars with wings…

A review from —

Stanley Grill: and I paint stars with wings…

In keeping with the lyrical tone of the album title are the four settings presented on composer Stanley Grill’s latest Innova collection. Each work differentiates itself from the others through changes in personnel, yet central to the album is the string orchestra, which is particularly well-suited to Grill’s material, rich as it is in modal harmonies and contrapuntal, interweaving lines. Performed by the Camerata Philadelphia (twenty members, including its conductor and music director, cellist Stephen Framil) with American violist Brett Douglas Deubner and Taiwan-born soprano Peggy Pei-Ju Yu as guest soloists, the recording offers a compelling portrait of Grill. While his music isn’t retrograde, it does reflect the influence of the Medieval and Renaissance music that he loves and that bolsters the ageless quality of his works.

At the core of Grill’s music is a humanistic desire for world peace and a desire to translate the physical world into musical terms—in his own words, “The world says something, I try to understand it, and then translate it into musical language.” To that end, he’s ably assisted by his sympathetic collaborators, whose realizations flatter him greatly. The album includes two works composed for Deubner, the first a viola concerto called The Four Elements and the second Mystical Songs, performed by soprano, viola, and strings and featuring settings of four Fernando Rielo poems.

Subtly programmatic in mood and musical design, The Four Elements presents movements named after the ancient elements. Deubner’s sumptuous viola is the first sound one hears when “Earth” initiates the performance, though the Camerata Philadelphia’s equally sumptuous strings aren’t far behind. Grill’s lyricism is on full display at this early juncture, the opening movement conveying a harmonious serenity that presents the planet as an idyllic place as opposed to one environmentally ravaged. “Air” inhabits a sphere that’s rather more ethereal, with melodic lines suspended as if on high and pizzicato playing helping to reinforce the impression. Animated by comparison, “Water” rushes forth in way that mirrors a river’s flow, whereas “Fire” is understandably the most turbulent of the four parts. Enhancing the musical effect, audible separation between soloist and orchestra is maintained throughout, which allows Deubner’s virtuosity to be all the better appreciated.

Grill’s humanism comes explicitly to the fore in the album’s sole work for string orchestra alone, Pavanne to a World Without War. Designed to promote non-violence, the rapturous standalone has the added distinction of being the inaugural work in the composer’s ‘Music for Peace’ project. Individual string players occasionally move to the forefront, but for the most part the work showcases the ensemble playing of the strings-heavy Camerata Philadelphia. The two-movement In Praise of Reason distances itself from the Pavanne by featuring the CA’s hornists, Trish Giangiulio and Jonathan Clark, prominently, even if the primary focal point is the cello of Framil, for whom the work was composed. Despite its instrumental design, a political dimension is present as Grill wrote the piece during the weeks leading up to the 2016 U.S. election, the composer despairing of the lack of reason witnessed in the political discourse and musing on how much better the world would be if the logic found in music could be carried over to other parts of life. The resultant work isn’t bleak, however, Grill opting instead to inspire by infusing his material with a hopeful, uplifting spirit.

While its musical character is complementary, Mystical Songs parts company with the other three pieces in two ways, in featuring singing, first, but also in its structure, which sees vocal and instrumental parts alternating. As mentioned, the work was composed for Deubner, but Yu’s singing leaves as strong a mark, especially when it’s the only time vocals appear on the release. In his selection of poems by Rielo, Grill purposefully chose ones that share common images—birds and trees, for example—that symbolically convey a sense of wonder about nature’s beauty. Whereas the instrumental sections are distinguished by Deubner’s artistry, the four vocal movements are elevated by Yu’s radiant voice. Texts (in Spanish with English translation) for the songs are included with the release, but chances are you’ll likely more fixate on her vocal delivery than the words she’s singing. Regardless, Grill’s music provides the soloists and the Camerata Philadelphia with splendid material to work with, and he in turn is well-served by the conviction the participants bring to the performances.
May 2020

and I paint stars with wings (a review)

I am thrilled to share this review of my latest release on Innova Recordings “and I paint stars with wings.” The review, written by Raul da Gama, is from World Music Report.

“In 2017 Stanley Grill wrote music that elevated the terrestrial to the celestial with At the Center of All Things. That music swept across Whitman’s America (and Mr Grill’s) and the Bohemian landscape of Rilke. This endeavor has now been followed up with one in which the composer – Mr Grill – turns his gaze heavenward. But his heaven is also a metaphor that has been held close to the human heart for generations – even ages since man began to grapple with his own existence in the universe. Naturally Mr Grill does likewise – that is, in this music he turns his thoughts, first, to the elements, then to a more utopian view of our world.

Having done that Mr Grill embarks on the more meditative part of his music journey which he examines things from a Kantian perspective. This finally leads to a launching, if you will, into the deeper meditative states that examine religious experiences during alternate states of being. This last part of the recording contains music that is inspired by the poems of Fernando Rielo.

Make no mistake this music is deep. At an ontological level it examines the very nature of being. Significantly, when the greatest minds of civilizations – from the Buddha, Confucius and Averroes, to Aristotle and Plato, Kant and Nietzsche – have delved into the nature of humanity, they have almost always turned their inner eye – and indeed the full weight of the intellect – towards the heavens. We are, after all, a product of the same energy that exists in the heavens; among the stars. This is where Mr Grill seems to seek his inspiration for this music. In fact, his music comes from that rarefied realm.

Mr Grill’s gifts are put to a severe test right out of the gate – in his work, “The Four Seasons”. This is a magnificent chamber piece and a bravura piece for Brett Douglas Deubner’s viola. The work is a superb musical painting in which Mr Grill grapples with the nebulous and the concrete. The imagination with which Mr Grill manipulates rhythm and timbre to achieve the desired effect for each of the four elements is crucial to the success of the piece. The rugged descriptions of Earth to the bouncy alternation of eight and sixteenth notes that follow through Air and Water to the roar of the final Fire movement are played with graceful virtuosity by the soloist as well as by the tightly-knitted ensemble which, in turn, plays with impressive tone and colour.

The meditation in the form of a pavanne which seeks to imagine a world at peace is a superb tone poem that unfolds from darkness-to-light. Its stately tempo and opulent texture makes the formal architecture of the work quite gorgeous; a kaleidoscopic work with a miniature with a symphonic halo. “In Praise of Reason” is a shimmering work, a terrestrial parturition experienced in the stately Adagio, Moderato that turns into a celestial contemplation with its brisk Allegro. The recording ends with a longish vocal work set to poems by the Spanish Catholic mystic and poet, Fernando Rielo. Mr Grill’s creates songs around four poems strung together with breathtaking Intermezzos. Peggy Pei-Ju Yu delivers the recitatives in a gloriously lustrous soprano and Mr Douglas Deubner returns to solo with equal radiance.

As with his other works Mr Grill puts his profound stamp on music that celebrates heaven and earth. The results are transcendent music presented in a recording with considerable power and warmth eminently suited to Mr Grill’s ascendant music.”

Gramophone Review

Art songs being among the most intimate of musical expressions, this recording of 24 such works shows Stanley Grill to be an expert craftsman who responds to his chosen texts with utmost sensitivity. And what texts they are: poems by CF Cilliers, Hart Crane, WB Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Verlaine, Federico García Lorca and Carl Sandburg. Such a list might appear intimidating but the words are seamlessly wed to music as set by Grill. The composer’s style is accessible in the most positive sense, with melodic lines that grow from the meaning of the verses and harmonic fabrics of delicate colours and warmth.

Three of the cycles are scored for soprano and piano, while one collection is inventive on several counts: The Violin Sings in a Common Language is a series of conversations for the eponymous instrument and a soprano called upon to negotiate poems in German, French, Spanish, English and Afrikaans (a Haiku by Cilliers, a South African poet). Nancy Allen Lundy brings luminous shadings to these challenges in tandem with the fervent artistry of the violinist Ralph Farris.

Lundy teams with the exceptional pianist Stephen Gosling in the other collections, which range from songs set to poems by Cilliers – whose imagery of ‘rustling flights of wings’ gives the disc its title – to cycles devoted to Crane and Yeats verses. The composer provides enough subtle contrasts in all of this fare to keep the ear entranced. Lundy and Gosling venture deeply into the varied atmospheres of Grill’s keenly shaped miniature dramas.

Written by Donald Rosenberg

Rustling Flights of Wings (review)

Stanley Grill: Rustling Flights of Wings

Rustling Flights of Wings shares many qualities with another collection of short vocal works recently reviewed at textura, Scott Perkins’ Navona release Whispers of Heavenly Death. In each case, a comprehensive account of the American composer’s vocal writing is presented; in addition, the songs aren’t performed by a large orchestral ensemble but one or two musicians, a move that in turn amplifies the intimate character of the songs and performances; and in each case the composer has set his music to poetic material, with the music thoughtfully conceived with the texts in mind. One key difference separates the recordings, however: whereas Perkins’ classical art songs are performed by a handful of vocalists, those on Stanley Grill’s are sung by one only, soprano Nancy Allen Lundy. Joining her are pianist Stephen Gosling and violinist Ralph Farris, with the former accompanying her on three cycles and the latter one.

That Lundy is the sole singer featured is hardly a handicap; if anything, her warm, lustrous voice proves a natural vehicle for Grill’s lyricism, and with Gosling and Farris performing at an equally high level, the composer’s material is well-served by all involved. The choice of texts proves as well-considered; in Grill’s own words, “My favourite poets write words that seem to sing off the page and so setting their words to music is a necessary and natural response”; certainly, the writers whose works he selected for the song treatments (Hart Crane, Rilke, Lorca, Verlaine, and Sandburg among them) and the performers involved do their part to help bring the NYC-raised composer’s works to vivid life. Collectively and individually, the performers bring a staggering array of credits to the project: boasting a repertoire exceeding thirty roles, Lundy has sung with opera companies and at festivals throughout the world; Gosling is a member of a number of ensembles and has collaborated with Pierre Boulez, John Zorn, Steve Reich, and others; and Farris has likewise worked with a vast range of artists, from Ethel (the string quartet he founded and directs) and Martin Scorsese to Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and Bang On A Can.

As represented on this release (which Farris produced), Grill’s music feels both contemporary and classic, rooted as it is in time-honoured techniques and rich in melody, harmony, and counterpoint. His songs are models of concision, too, with only three of the twenty-four presented nudging past four minutes. The writer whose name will be perhaps least familiar is C.F. Cilliers, whose writings Grill discovered through Facebook and, after he was summarily smitten by their quality, set to music. Just as Grill’s material is enhanced by the performers, so too are Cilliers’ words by Grill’s nine treatments. Words like graceful, luminous, playful, and incandescent come to mind as the songs appear, with the sensitive presentation by Lundy and Gosling deepening their poignancy.
The five-part The Violin Sings in a Common Language originated when Grill composed its first song, Rilke’s “Der Nachbar” (The Neighbour), for violinist/soprano Ursula Fiedler and subsequently encountered other poems that use the violin as a central image. Struck by the idea of gathering the songs into a cycle featuring violin, Grill proceeded to do so, imparting through the gesture the idea of music as a language capable of uniting people, no matter how different. Consistent with that, the songs, which include the plaintive “Der Nachbar” and heartbreaking “Chanson d’automne” (Autumn Song), are sung in their original languages, German, French, Spanish, English, and Dutch, and performed magnificently by Lundy and Farris, who exhibit a particularly deep connection with one another.

As poised as the opening cycles are the sparkling vocal-and-piano performances of 4 Songs to Poems by Hart Crane and 6 Songs, Grill’s heartfelt treatment of poems by W.B. Yeats. In the booklet included in the release, the composer states, “The best of my music has arrived, rather inexplicably, as part of a personal effort to understand the world and myself. It is, in a way, an act of translation. The world says something, I try to understand it, and then translate it into musical language.” How fortunate are we to be the beneficiaries of that effort.

January 2019

World Music Report review of “At the Center of All Things”

Stanley Grill: American Landscapes; Lonely Pieces; At the Center of All Things; Diderot String Quartet – Adriane Post: vn; Johanna Novom: vn; Kyle Miller: va; Paul Dwyer: vc

Can an ensemble as small as a string quartet create music that is ‘epic’ in nature? Perhaps not always because it is not intended to be that way, but certainly the Diderot String Quartet certainly transforms this extraordinary music by Stanley Grill into something proverbially Whitmanesque in the sweeping poetry of its performance. Masterpieces though they certainly are, they are only one side – a visual, neo-Americana side – of the work of a highly inquisitive and analytical artist who seems always on the lookout for a new challenge. This must not be construed as a critique for being one-sided. On the contrary, the work “American Landscapes”, which begins the recording of these three set pieces, is orchestrated to be a plain, clean-coloured, deeply imaginative and theatrically functional and sweepingly gorgeous at the same time.

Once the meditative last notes of this piece melt away they are replaced by a vivid description of social dissent that has been crafted into “Lonely Voices”. Arching phrases from the violins, viola and cello build into the richness and complexity of the work’s architecture, which attempts to place a sole voice of dissent at the center of the work. This ‘voice’ is ‘sung’ by each soloist in turn as a considerable contrapuntal picture emerges in which musicians unfold the work’s diaphanous body as lucid, open textures are combined with strong affirmative melodies, culminating an eloquent resolution in the final, Presto movement.

In “At the Center of All Things”, the crowning glory of this album, inspiration from Rilke’s unique lyrically-intense voice in Bohemian-Austrian literature is woven into the single, rhythmically fluid movement of this work creating a singular work conveying – at once stroke – the voices of both poet (Rilke) and composer (Grill) in a powerful mix of the personal, the quietly resolute and the visionary; all this so convincingly and so sympathetically. And all of this music – including that of the first two works – is captured in the brilliant, persuasive performances of the Diderot String Quartet – violinists Adriane Post, Johanna Novom, violist Kyle Miller and cellist Paul Dwyer. Throughout this remarkable group provides a very real sense that the performers know the works inside out and they are especially good at conveying the dynamic and fluid inner pulse of Stanley Grill’s music

Released – 2017
Label – Innova Music
Runtime – 1:03:12

Raul da Gama, WMR Senior Writer. Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a musician and an accomplished writer whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

Review from Kathodik of “At the Center of All Things”

Stanley Grill ‘At the Center of All Things’
(Innova 2017)

Il compositore americano Stanley Grill ha trovato nel quartetto d’archi il medium ideale per esprimere le sua poetica. Lo stile di Grill lo avvicina ad autori come Peter Garland, Lou Harrison, Alan Hovhaness, nella comune capacità di trovare il proprio linguaggio espressivo recuperando in maniera originale forme del passato. Nello fattispecie, la principale fonte d’ispirazione di Grill è costituita dalla musica rinascimentale, specie nell’impianto polifonico, ma anche nelle armonie modali. Il contrappunto tra le voci strumentali è denso, geometrico, ma mai troppo serrato: esso è concepito per far respirare, in armonico equilibrio, le spaziate linee melodiche, puntellate da una sorta di morbido basso continuo in pizzicato o da incisive sequenze ritmiche. In questo modo Grill costruisce un mondo ideale, pervaso da una bellezza pura e incontaminata; gli American Landscapes sono in effetti paesaggi mentali, alla stregua di certi scenari dipinti da Hopper. Il Diderot String Quartet, grazie tanto alla loro familiarità con un repertorio che si estende dal Settecento ai primi del Novecento, quanto al suono intenso e corposo degli archi con corde di budello, si rivela interprete ideale di una musica che guarda al passato per costruire, attraverso l’arte e la bellezza, un futuro migliore.
Aggiunto: December 6th 2017
Recensore: Filippo Focosi
Link Correlati: Innova Records Home Page
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Lingua: italian