Program 168
"Modern Melodies"

MUSIC: James Cohn: Variations on “Muskrat Ramble” performed by Mirian Conti, piano [XLNT Music CD-18012, track 10] [under the following] [3:07]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

Lots of folks are prejudiced against modern “classical” music, including me. That’s because we’ve gone through a period when many contemporary composers wrote atonal, dissonant and altogether tuneless music.

But now living composers are returning to writing music lay listeners can enjoy on first hearing, so I’m going to devote the next hour to tuneful music by living composers. At least they were living when I recorded this program. They include James Cohn, who wrote the Variations on “Muskrat Ramble” that you hear in the background right now, Phil Rosheger, Nikolai Kapustin, Michael Sahl, Lita Grier, and Sandrine Erdely-Sayo.

MUSIC: comes up and finishes

Variations on “Muskrat Ramble” by James Cohn performed by pianist Mirian Conti. That was from an XLNT Music CD. “XLNT,” in this case, is spelled “X-L-N-T.”

Cohn was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1928. He majored in composition at Julliard, graduating in 1950. He has written solo, chamber, choral and orchestral works, including three string quartets, five piano sonatas, and eight symphonies. Some have won awards, including a Queen Elisabeth of Belgium prize for his Second Symphony.

His Piano Concerto was commissioned by the Argentine/American pianist Mirian Conti, who performs it now with an orchestra that is not named on the CD. The third movement features a tango rhythm to honor the pianist.

MUSIC: James Cohn: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra performed by Mirian Conti, piano, with unnamed orchestra [XLNT Music CD-18012, tracks 20, 21, 22] [14:27]

James Cohn’s Piano Concerto performed by pianist Mirian Conti with an orchestra that is not named on the XLNT Music compact disc. “XLNT Music” is not necessarily my opinion. It’s the name of the record label. So I wonder why the producers didn’t name the orchestra the “XLNT Symphony Orchestra,” spelled like the label, “X-L-N-T.”

O.K., let’s move on to our next “Modern Melody” by a living composer. It is a very tuneful waltz for guitar by another American composer, Phil Rosheger. Rosheger was born in Oklahoma City in 1950 and began his musical studies on piano at age nine. In 1962 he took up the guitar and within six years was studying with the legendary Andrés Segovia. From 1966 until 1974 Rosheger lived in Spain, attending master classes every year with Segovia and José Tomás on full scholarships from the Spanish government. In 1972 he won first prize in the International Guitar Competition in Santiago de Compostela, the first American to do so.

Rosheger has toured throughout Spain, Canada, and the United States, making his New York debut in 1975 at Carnegie Recital Hall. His Waltz No. 7 was written for the Grammy award-winning guitarist David Russell, who performs it in this Telarc compact disc.

MUSIC: Philip Rosheger: Waltz No. 7, performed by guitarist David Russell [Telarc CD-80707, track 10] [5:03]

Philip Rosheger’s Waltz No. 7, performed by Guitarist David Russell on a Telarc recording.

You are listening to “Modern Melodies” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]

Before I tell you anything at all about the next composer, I want you to listen to one of his pieces. See if you can tell by his music what nationality he is.

MUSIC: Kapustin: Piano Sonata No. 6, First Movement, performed by pianist Marc-André Hamelin [Hyperion CDA67433, track 16] [6:09]

I don’t know about you, but I would have guessed that the jazzy first movement of the Piano Sonata No. 6 we just heard was by an American composer. But it wasn’t. It was composed by Nikolai Girshevich Kapustin, a Ukranian composer and pianist who was born in 1937. And it was performed by a Canadian pianist, Marc-André Hamelin.

Kapustin studied at the Moscow Conservatory, but during the 1950s he acquired a reputation as a jazz pianist, arranger and composer. His background as both a classically-trained musician and a jazz pianist emerges in his compositions, which mix jazz idioms with formal classical structures.

Kapustin views himself as a composer rather than a jazz musician. He has said, “I was never a jazz musician. I never tried to be a real jazz pianist, but I had to do it because of the composing. I’m not interested in improvisation -- and what is a jazz musician without improvisation? All my improvisation is written, of course, and they became much better; it improved them.”

Kapustin’s works include 18 piano sonatas, six piano concertos, other instrumental concertos, and sets of piano variations, études and concert studies. And this Toccatina, performed here on another Hyperion compact disc by Marc-André Hamelin.

MUSIC: Kapustin: Toccatina, Op. 36, performed by Marc-André Hamelin [Hyperion CDA67275, track 20] [3:05]

Nikolai Kapustin’s Toccatina, Op. 36, performed by pianist Marc-André Hamelin.

You are listening to “Modern Melodies” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]

We move next from a Ukranian-born composer of jazz-influenced music back to a Boston-born jazz-influenced composer. His name is Michael Sahl. 

Sahl began to compose at age 5 and received instruction beginning at the age of 8, when his family relocated to New York City. By 1954 he was bitten by the new music bug and was sent to Europe on a Fulbright scholarship. After attempting to break into the atonal style then in vogue for so-called “serious” composers, Sahl realized that his natural gift for melody prevented him from enjoying this type of composition. He returned to the U.S. in 1963, and after working with Lukas Foss and the Buffalo Philharmonic for a spell, he became musical director for then-reigning folk diva Judy Collins.

Sahl's earliest acknowledged musical work, String Quartet 1969, was written when he left Collins. From that time on, Sahl made his reputation as a composer of operas, musical shows, and instrumental works, several of which have a jazz-rock feel. Among the stage works that have gained him renown are Civilization and its Discontents from 1977, and Junkyard from 1992. He has also done a great deal of work writing commercial jingles and other more lucrative kinds of music.

Sahl is fond of combining "Romantic"-styled melody lines with "rhythm-section grooves" and has said that his rediscovery of traditional tonality after the baptism of fire through new music represents (quote) "progress, in the sense of recovery from an illness." That according to Uncle Dave Lewis in the All Music Guide.

Sahl started writing a 35-minute piano piece called Serenades in 1995. The first two serenades as performed by Joseph Kubera on an Albany CD will give you an idea of Sahl’s very accessible, popular-music-influenced style.

MUSIC: Sahl: opening of Serenades, performed by pianist Joseph Kubera [Albany TROY825, track 11] [5:38]

The opening two serenades from Michael Sahl’s Serenades. The pianist was Joseph Kubera. That was from an Albany recording.

Our next composer, Lita Grier, has a particularly interesting background. When she was 16 years old, she was awarded First Prize in the New York Philharmonic Young Composers Contest. She earned a degree from Juilliard and one from UCLA, and she studied with Lukas Foss and Roy Harris. And yet she abandoned composition in 1964 and didn’t return to it for more than 30 years.

She wrote her Sonata for Flute and Piano in 1956, while still a student at Julliard. The piece was first performed in July 1959 at the Tanglewood Composer’s Forum, moderated by Aaron Copland. When she returned to music writing, she took this sonata and turned it into a Concertino for Flute and Orchestra and called it, appropriately, Renascence in honor of her own musical “rebirth.”

We hear the final movement from this concerto now as performed by flutist Mary Stolper with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Freeman.

MUSIC: Lita Grier: Renascence (Concerto for Flute and Orchestra): Presto, performed by flutist Mary Stolper with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Freeman [Cedille Records CDR 90000 046, track 3] [3:09]

The final movement from Lita Grier’s Renascence: Concertino for Flute and Orchestra, performed by flutist Mary Stolper with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Freeman. That was from a Cedille compact disc called “American Flute Concertos.”

In 2009 Cedille Recordings released a compact disc devoted completely to Lita Grier’s vocal music. Included in that album are Five Songs for Children, the last of which is called “The Bluebird.” Let’s listen to that now as sung by soprano Michelle Areyzaga with Welz Kauffman at the piano.

MUSIC: Lita Grier: “The Bluebird” from Five Songs for Children performed by soprano Michelle Areyzaga with pianist Welz Kauffman [Cedille Records CDR 90000 112, track 5] [1:48]

Lita Grier’s “The Bluebird” from Five Songs for Children, performed by soprano Michelle Areyzaga and pianist Welz Kauffman.

Our final composer for this hour of “Modern Melodies” is the French/American pianist/composer, Sandrine Erdely-Sayo. Born in France in 1968, she became an American citizen in 2007.

At the age of 13 she became the youngest recipient of the French Minister of Culture Prize. And she has won so many awards since that if I were to list them, I wouldn't have time to play some of the charming piano music she has both written and recorded.

I’ve devoted an entire Compact Discoveries hour to her piano playing. It is called “Introducing Sandrine” and it is program number 136. You can stream it on demand and link to it through the website.

Arabesque recently released a compact disc totally devoted to Sandrine’s 32-minute piano suite called “Platero and I.” This is from the story by the 1956 Nobel Literature Prize-winning Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez about a small donkey named Platero -- “a soft, hairy donkey, so soft to the touch that he might be said to be made of cotton, with no bones.”

The suite has 15 movements. We only have time for three of them, so I’ve chosen the first, which introduces “Platero,” the fifth, which is called “Bread,” and the final movement, “Carnival.”

MUSIC: Erdely-Sayo: three movements from Platero and I performed by the composer at the piano [Arabesque Z6808, tracks 1, 5, 15] [5:53]

Three movements from Sandrine Erdely-Sayo’s Platero and I performed by the composer on an Arabesque release.

MUSIC: James Cohn: opening of Variations on “Muskrat Ramble” performed by Mirian Conti, piano [XLNT Music CD-18012, track 10] [under the following]

Well this brings to an end this Compact Discoveries hour devoted to “Modern Melodies.” I hope you enjoyed the music. This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening.

ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers and their latest offering, a tongue-in-cheek memoir by Compact Discoveries host Fred Flaxman called “Sixty Slices of Life ... on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.” Information and ordering at

And by the financial support of the Puffin Foundation, Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, Barry and Florence Friedberg, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida.

And by contributions to local public radio stations by listeners like you. Thank you.

Total Program Timing: 59:00

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