|(E) Music in NYTimes
|By Nenad N. Bach |
Culture And Arts
(E) Music in NYTimes
|Nenad: This appeared in today's NYT and mentions this fellow Marshall as |
recording music from Croatian and Serbian Orthodox Churches in Dubrovnik.
Marshall brother-in-law, Francis Tomasic, was killed in BH - I assume
Tomasic is a Croatian surname.
December 30, 2001
An American Minimalist Who Can Stir the Soul
By ADAM SHATZ
ONE of the most intractable myths of the classical tradition is that Western
art music is "autonomous," heroically transcending the context that nurtures
it and lacking any genuine social function. It's hard to see how anyone
could take this notion seriously after Sept. 11. Within days of the attacks,
memorial events were held in concert halls throughout the country, vividly
confirming an often forgotten attribute of classical music: its ritual
power. I recently spoke to a friend about what we'd been listening to,
post-apocalypse. At the top of his list was Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer
known for his haunting settings of Christian texts. At the top of mine was
Ingram Marshall. To which my friend replied, "Ingram who?"
If Ingram Marshall had a longer beard, spoke Estonian, lived in Berlin and
worshiped in the Russian Orthodox Church, he might, like Mr. Pärt, be called
a "holy minimalist" and count Michael Stipe among his fans. But reputation,
like fate, is partly an accident of geography, and Mr. Marshall, who was
born in New York and lives in New Haven, will never have Mr. Pärt's exotic
aura. American minimalists, we're told, write secular music, while Eastern
European minimalists like Mr. Pärt write sacred music. Never mind that Steve
Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams have all composed major works on
religious themes. Next to Mr. Pärt, the Pole Henryk Gorecki and the
Englishman John Tavener, they might as well be children of a lesser god.
James Patrick Cooper for The New York Times
Ingram Marshall conducting a rehearsal of his 1981 work ``Fog Tropes'' at
Cooper Union in October.
Arts & Leisure (Dec. 30, 2001)
The contrast between American secular minimalism and European holy
minimalism is especially misleading in Mr. Marshall's case. True, he does
not write explicitly liturgical music, nor does he cultivate any priestly
airs. But his music is some of the most stirring spiritual art to be found
in America today.
"Composers, poets and artists always feel useless in the wake of calamity,"
Mr. Marshall said in a recent interview. "We are not firemen; we are not
philanthropists or inspirational speakers. But I think it is the tragic and
calamitous in life that we try to make sense of, and this is the stuff of
our lives as artists." A few months ago, Mr. Marshall's plainspoken sense of
duty would have been almost quaint; today it feels just right.
Mr. Marshall's mournful, sonorous music can be heard on two new releases -
"Kingdom Come" (Nonesuch 79613-2), which features recent works for
orchestra, choir and string quartet, and "Dark Waters" (New Albion NA 112
CD), a series of pieces for oboe and French horn. Like the films of Andrei
Tarkovsky, much of the music here has a quality of timeless lament, of
inconsolable sorrow. Tenderly human in expression yet superhuman in scale,
it seems to contemplate our condition from a very great height. Mr. Marshall
enhances this effect by interweaving conventional instruments with
prerecorded, computer-manipulated sounds or with live devices, like digital
delay. The fusion of electronic manipulation and human intention is seamless
but never slick.
"Ingram has always had his own extremely distinctive voice," Mr. Reich said.
"Call it subdued, call it Northern, call it tragic and personal. `Kingdom
Come,' especially its opening measures, is some of the most beautiful music
Mr. Adams likened Mr. Marshall's music to "certain 19th- and 20th-century
American painters who used landscape as an expression of an elegiac
sensibility. There is a real sense of melancholy, an experience of landscape
in Ingram's music."
His work is a synthesis of three radically divergent traditions: electronic
music, Indonesian gamelan and turn-of-the-century European Romanticism. Born
in 1942, he came of age at a time when many American composers were
thrilling to the possibilities of electronic technology. A graduate student
in music history at Columbia University, Mr. Marshall found his true home in
the school's renowned electronic music studio, directed by Vladimir
Ussachevsky. "What I loved about the studio was being able to manipulate
sounds as if they were colors you were painting with," Mr. Marshall
recalled. "It was a very direct, physical act." Although he no longer writes
strictly electronic music, he said his "impulse of working with sounds as
color, atmosphere, and memory hasn't really changed."
The other defining experience of Mr. Marshall's first years as a composer
was the trip he made to Indonesia in the summer of 1971. In Bali he studied
with the gamelan master K.R.T. Wasitodipura and learned to play the gambeh,
a flute that he has since incorporated into several compositions. But what
revolutionized his thinking was the slow, stately music of Java, which
showed him that "time could be driven to an almost complete halt and still
Oddly enough, Mr. Marshall's music has virtually none of the Eastern
inflections that ripple through the early work of Mr. Reich, who fell in
love with gamelan around the same time. Indeed, Mr. Marshall is in some
respects the most European of minimalists, an unabashed romantic who
luxuriates in sound and who does not shy away from grand, even bombastic
gestures that would cause some of his peers to blush. Where Mr. Reich and
Mr. Glass rebelled against the 19th-century symphonic tradition, Mr.
Marshall has embraced it. He said he felt "an especially strong affinity
with the Northern loneliness in Sibelius's music." Both "Dark Waters" and
"Kingdom Come" allude to Sibelius's tone poem "The Swan of Tuonela."
Neither a process-oriented minimalist nor a neo-romantic, Mr. Marshall never
fit comfortably into any camp. As Mr. Adams, a close friend of Mr.
Marshall's since the 1970's, when they were neighbors in San Francisco,
recalled: "Ingram was a fish out of water because his music was so romantic,
so expressive. His example gave me a great deal of encouragement and helped
to validate my own feelings about expressivity."
The support was mutual: it was Mr. Adams who encouraged Mr. Marshall in his
move away from purely electronic composition. After Mr. Marshall presented
his tape piece, "Fog" - a brooding collage of fog horns, ringing buoys,
wind, female voices and gambeh - Mr. Adams, then the conductor of a
contemporary-music ensemble, suggested that Mr. Marshall arrange the piece
for brass sextet. With painstaking attention to verisimilitude, Mr. Marshall
succeeded in making the brass lines - the low murmurs of tuba and trombone,
the sirenlike sounds of French horn - seem as if they were emanating from
the fog itself. Composed in 1981, the revised work, "Fog Tropes," has become
Mr. Marshall's signature piece; "Kingdom Come" concludes with a fine new
arrangement of it for the Kronos Quartet.
In recent years, Mr. Marshall has been especially drawn to spiritual
sounds - church bells, choirs, the shuffling of feet in cathedrals. The
title track of "Kingdom Come," a 16-minute work performed by the American
Composers Orchestra under the conductor Paul Dunkel, dates to Mr. Marshall's
visit to the former Yugoslavia in 1985. Wandering through Dubrovnik, he
smuggled his tape recorder into services at Croatian Catholic and Serbian
Orthodox churches. The recordings lay on his shelf until 1994, when Mr.
Marshall's brother-in- law, the journalist Francis Tomasic, was killed by a
mine in Bosnia. Mr. Marshall then set to work on the piece, combining his
tapes with an old recording of a Bosnian Muslim gusle singer.
More dissonant than anything Mr. Marshall has written, "Kingdom Come" is a
troubled requiem. After a sumptuously lyrical opening for strings, the piece
builds to a tormented polyphony as Croatian, Serbian and finally Bosnian
voices are added. The conclusion - the repetition, and the dying away, of a
left-hand piano chord - is no more reassuring. It's a meditation on the
clash of political and religious faiths that may speak to American listeners
today with an uncomfortable immediacy.
A measure of solace is provided in the work that follows, "Hymnodic Delays,"
an arrangement of four early American Protestant psalms for Paul Hillier's
Theater of Voices, a choral quartet. Mr. Marshall, whose mother played piano
in the family's Congregational church, combines digital delay with more
traditional techniques like canons to underscore the meaning of these
prayers. In his arrangement of Jeremiah Ingalls's "Bright Hour Delayed,"
which asks "How long dear savior, O how long / Shall this bright hour
delay?" he elongates the words "delay" and "long" through digital delay,
which gives the yearnings they express an aural embodiment. "What I'm trying
to do is go into the actual sound of the words," he said. "I think that
words in religious texts that are very old have a way of connecting people
Ingram Marshall's music offers a powerful recreation of the experience of
solitude that is very close to an experience of the divine. Reprinted in the
liner notes to "Kingdom Come" is a 1976 photograph of Mr. Marshall by his
friend Jim Bengston. In the picture, Mr. Marshall is seen from the back,
looking out on the Sierra Nevada enshrouded in fog. It's a portrait of a man
jealous of his privacy and humbly aware of the fragile position he occupies
in the cosmos. As in his music, Mr. Marshall suggests that, measured against
the inexorable forces of nature and time, we are finally insignificant
figures in a vast landscape.
Adam Shatz's most recent article for Arts & Leisure was about the guitarist
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