"Hypnotically Memorable" - Lucid Culture
"His impeccable command is evident throughout ... with the violist using his considerable technique to bring forth the emotional richness of the works presented. It's a testament to the recording's quality and Cords' artistry that its status as a solo viola project quickly recedes into the background and one's attention instead shifts purely to the music..." - Textura
"This is one of those rare albums that compels in all styles, and can make people who fear new music forget that they are listening to recent creations. Cords has incredible control over his bow, coaxing out a remarkable range of dynamics and timbres. There isn’t a dull moment on this album." - Muscial Toronto
Have you ever observed the seemingly infinite reflections of yourself when standing between two parallel mirrors? This phenomenon of self-similar repetition is an example of recursion, which can be observed in nature and also has broad applications in the sciences. Seeing connections to the discipline of playing the viola and its repertoire, I was inspired to use the concept of recursion as a guiding metaphor for this project.
Practicing is often regarded by musicians as a necessary evil, but there is also a mantra-like quality embedded in this quotidian ritual; repetition engrains the music deeply in both mind and body, leading to deeper levels of understanding. And so, for any given phrase heard by an audience, a performer undergoes hundreds of prior repetitions which are invisibly informing that moment. The process of making a solo recording similarly requires an intense level of scrutiny. Putting myself under a microscope in this manner presented a qualitatively different challenge than I typically experience in ensemble settings, my most familiar musical habitat. Extending the circle wider, if engaging in the process of discovery is invaluable to the performer, it is also possible for the listener to benefit from a recording in a similar way; repeated listening allows new facets of the music to be continually revealed.
As far as the music itself, identifying pieces which thrive on the self-similar repetition of musical cells (through devices like theme and variations, passacaglias, rhythmic and melodic looping, binary form, etc.) was one of the unifying principles behind the choice of repertoire on this recording. Our generation as a whole is already receptive to the interplay of musical patterns. After all, we are surrounded by the various loops found in pop and minimalist music, not to mention those occurring in the digital and mechanical soundscape of modern life. But repetition is obviously not a recent musical invention, having been utilized across the ages and in countless traditions globally. Perhaps in earlier times this practice evolved as a way to make music easily memorable and familiar? Whatever the case, there is a sense that the music on this recording is as compelling to behold on a cellular level as it is in the sum of the parts.
Given the above, I wanted to present a program that spanned broadly across history. But certain other unifying threads appeared as the process evolved. These works exemplify the special quality of the viola's sound world, highlighting the inimitable characteristics of it's dulcet and melancholic voice. But at the same time, they demonstrate that the viola is a mutable instrument, capable of a broad palette of expression. Recurring throughout this recording is also a sense of journey, real or imagined. Pórt Na BPúcaí conjures a fairies' lament originating from the Blasket Islands off the West coast of Ireland, Chahagir (torchbearer in Armenian) sends us on a spiritual trek to Armenia, and Rubbra's Meditations travel across time to the Byzantine era. And going beyond a sense of physical place, all of these works vitally engage the imagination as a vehicle to transcend the everyday. Stravinsky's ephemeral Élégie for solo viola brilliantly succeeds in creating a transportive listening experience.
Recursions begins and ends with passacaglias by two great composer-performers. Biber was a gifted violinist and this passacaglia, a solo postlude to his Rosary Sonatas for violin and continuo from 1676, represents possibly the greatest solo violin work before Bach. It's dark hued modality and intricate figurations transfer sympathetically to the viola. Hindemith, primarily remembered today as a composer, was also a leading violist of his day whose legacy of works for the viola have been lovingly embraced by subsequent generations. Their examples, along with others, have inspired me to throw my own hat into the ring.
In Biber's day, distinctions between composers and performers were not common. By the time Hindemith arrived on the scene, such musicians were becoming increasingly rare. The mid-twentieth century even witnessed a period of outright antagonism between the two sides. I am reluctant to describe myself as a composer, but putting Five Migrations out in the world felt like a useful way to counter that sense of reticence. And as it turns out, a lifetime spent with the instrument under my ear combined with experiences gleaned from an itinerant lifestyle have contributed a fairly useful store of creative fodder. It seems to me that one of the best ways we can keep our tradition relevant is if performers learn to re-embrace the fertile terrain between interpretation and creation. Though we may ultimately fail to create on the level of Biber and Hindemith, we certainly become more empathetic musicians in the process. At the very least, we end up with works that better reflect ourselves and our environment.
- Nicholas Cords
Recursions track listings (ICR 006):
1. Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, trans. Lebermann - Passacaglia (postlude to the Rosary Sonatas, 1676) 8'39"
2. Irish traditional, arr. Nicholas Cords (after Martin Hayes) - Pórt Na BPúcaí 5'08"
3. Edmund Rubbra - Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn 'O Quando E Cruce,' Op. 117 (1964) 10'19"
4. Alan Hovhaness - Chahagir, Op. 56a (1945) 5'52"
5-9. Nicholas Cords - Five Migrations (2012) 7'05"
6. Stilted Reverie
10. Igor Stravinsky - Élégie (1944) 5'43"
11-14. Paul Hindemith - Sonata for solo viola, Op. 11, #5 (1923)
11. Lebhaft, aber nicht geeilt 3'06"
12. Mäßig schnell, mit viel Wärme vortragen 4'39"
13. Schnell. Viel langsamer, gesangvoll 3'29"
14. In Form und Zeitmass einer Passacaglia 9'08"