Kyle Horchâ€™s new solo recording, AngloSax, features music by British and American composers. Born and raised in the United States, Horch studied with Frederick Hemke at Northwestern University in Chicago and received a BP North America scholarship to pursue postgraduate studies at Londonâ€™s Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Stephen Trier. Since then, he has emerged as one of the UKâ€™s leading concert saxophonists, having garnered prizes at solo and chamber music competitions including the Jules de Vries International Alto Saxophone Competition, the Park Lane Group Young Artists/20th Century Music Platform, and the Coleman Chamber Music Competition. Since 1987, Horch has collaborated with pianist Pamela Lidiard, concertizing throughout Britain and abroad. Currently living in London, Horch enjoys a busy performance schedule and serves on the faculty at the Royal College of Music. Drawing on his experience as a saxophonist in the United States and Britain and his knowledge of repertoire from each country, Horch assembles on AngloSax a program that he writes, â€œfocuses especially on music with a strong sense of place, with works that are often connected by a thread of folk influence or pastoral imagery.â€
And imagery is what Rodney Rogersâ€™ Lessons of the Sky, the recordingâ€™s opening track, is all about. Rogers writes of the work, â€œthe compositionâ€™s title suggests that by observing the skyâ€”open, alive, seemingly infiniteâ€”we may gain knowledge. The music uses a collection of motives presented in a quick and ever-changing rhythmic background to express the energy and quixotic nature of our atmosphere.â€ Rogers evokes the skyâ€™s expansiveness by creating a thick texture with the piano pedaled liberally and soaring soprano saxophone lines. Pianist Pamela Lidiard supplies a beautiful patina of sound, which Horch does a fine job of dipping in and out of, punctuating certain figures with a very assertive articulation. In the workâ€™s calmer middle section, Horchâ€™s tone blossoms in the upper register. Despite a few intonation gaffes, Horch handles most of the workâ€™s inherent intonation difficulties admirably and gives the piece a passionate and committed reading overall.
Written in 1926, the Six Studies in English Folksong by Ralph Vaughan-Williams express directly the folk influence and pastoral thread Horch weaves through this album. Originally scored for cello and piano, the Six Studies were later adapted for many instruments, including a version for saxophone and piano, which has been embraced by the saxophone community. Horchâ€™s treatment of each tune is simply stunning. He is able to shape each line beautifully while walking the fine line between involvement and detachment. Horch brings this approach of studied detachment to each movement, never forcing the line, playing with just the right amount of sentimentality, and letting the music stand on its own. With Vaughn-Williamsâ€™ Six Studies, Horch delivers his most convincing and beautiful performance on the album.
Following the simple and tuneful melodies of the Six Studies, the aggressive opening of British composer Michael Berkeleyâ€™s Keening comes as a bit of a jolt. Rightly so, as the subject of Berkeleyâ€™s work is a far cry from Vaughn-Williamsâ€™ rustic folk connotations. Berkeley says of Keening: â€œthe title comes from the Irish word â€˜caoinâ€™â€”to utter the keen for the dead, to wail bitterly. The music . . . is concerned not only with the grief experienced over loss, but also with the sense of rage that often attends it.â€ The work unfolds much like oneâ€™s emotions might after the death of a loved one. The pianoâ€™s low rumblings give way to a forceful saxophone entrance, which expands into aggressive spinning lines. Horch wails at the peaks of phrases. Following this violent opening, the music gradually begins to wane in intensity. The angry and aggressive phrases, which characterize the beginning of the work transform into sorrowful laments. Again the music continually slows down and usher in portamenti in the saxophone part, suggesting a sense of resignation and conclusion, or lack thereof.
Elliott Carter composed Pastoral in 1940 for English horn and piano, but later made the work available for performance on viola, clarinet in A, or saxophone. Written early in Carterâ€™s career, the work is blatantly tonal, more reminiscent of his Canonic Suite (1939) for four alto saxophones and miles away from the atonal masterpieces which have made him famous (or infamous) in the modern musical canon. Yet Horch surely had his reasons for choosing such a work of Carterâ€™s. For one, Pastoral is not often played. Second, the work sounds quite folk-songy, playing to Horchâ€™s over-arching theme as well as his skill at crafting wonderfully shaped phrases. Indeed, Horch excels with his lyricism. He infuses Carterâ€™s lines with passion, especially in the saxophoneâ€™s upper register and shows great sensitivity to the subtle changes in character that emerge throughout the work. By including Pastoral, Horch shows a perhaps little-known musical side of Elliott Carter.
While Carterâ€™s melodic gifts may today be long forgotten or far overshadowed by his complex atonal writing, the same cannot be said of Ned Rorem, an American composer who has made his career on melody and song. Picnic on the Marne was commissioned by Concert Artists Guild for saxophonist John Harle, who premiered the work at Carnegie Hallâ€™s Weill Recital Hall on February 14, 1984. Inspired by an excursion Rorem took to the southeastern suburbs of Paris in the summer of 1956 with another individual, Picnic on the Marne is a programmatic work that depicts musically various episodes that happened between the two that afternoon. The first movement gives Horch his first real chance on the album to showcase his fine technique. But Horchâ€™s real gift, like Roremâ€™s, is his penchant for melody. Like his performance of the Vaughn-Williams Six Studies, Horch is again able to detach himself from the music just the right amount to great effect. In the third movement, â€œBal Musette,â€ he brings a wonderful charm to music that borders on saccharine sentimentality. While handling character changes in Carter and Vaughn-Williams quite well, Horch comes up a bit short in Roremâ€™s fifth movment, which depicts a â€œtense discussion.â€ Here, although handling the technical passages admirably, he fails to assert convincingly the sudden emotional changes in the music.
Evan Chambersâ€™ Come Down Heavy! for saxophone, violin, and piano serves as the American counterpart to the Six Studies by Vaughn-Williams on this album, although for Chambers, folksongs mean something different: â€œTo me, folksongs are not quaint, naÃ¯ve or innocent, as theyâ€™ve often come to be misrepresentedâ€”they are powerful, sometimes gritty, bitter and ironic, full of the sadness and longing of life.â€ The highlights of this performance are the inner movements of the work. Violinist Fenella Barton really steals the show in the second movement. She evokes the sadness Chambers imbues the tune in this setting as a â€œmountain lamentâ€ and plays with flawless intonation. Horch fills his accompanimental role in this movement well, allowing Bartonâ€™s sensitive and stirring playing to take center stage, as it should. As one might expect from the rest of the recording, Horch handles the tune in the third movement expertly. The ensemble between Barton and Horch is exceptional here. In both the first and final movements, Horch seems a bit out of his element, revealing his trouble changing to an aggressive character while maintaining integrity of sound, an unfamiliarity with more idiomatic American playing styles like jazz and the blues, and an unwillingness to commit to the wildness, abandon, and intensity Chambers demands in places. Coupled with a few glaring ensemble slip-ups, Come Down Heavy! never really gets going.
Kyle Horch is a fine saxophonist with a knack for lyricism and expression. He shares these talents with us throughout each work on AngloSax.
Kyle Horch. AngloSax Â© 2003 Clarinet Classics CC0046. Clarinet Classics, 58 Crescent Road, Upton Manor, London E13 OLT, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.clarinetclassics.com. Kyle Horch, saxophones; Pamela Lidiard, piano; Fenella Barton, violin.
Kiran Desai | The Inheritance of Loss
In 2007 Â Â Â Â 
Jonathan Franzen | The Discomfort Zone
I had planned to start this little review like this: Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone is a rather unmemorable collection of personal essays dealing with and recalling, among other things, his relationship with his parents, adolescence, birding, and Snoopy, and is much less focused than his previous book of essays How To Be Alone. Then I thought, that’s not very nice, he’s writing about his childhood and baring all of his insecurities and quirks and self-consciousness that is, well, embarrassing. So of course it’s memorable for him. But besides the essay “Centrally Located,” which details many elaborate I’m-a-senior-and-graduating-from-high-school-soon-so-I-need-to-leave-my-mark pranks, including an almost-successful plot to thread a tire over the school’s flagpole, I wasn’t really enchanted by this one. I had planned to (and still intend to) end this little review like this: Read it if you’re a Franzen fan, skip it if you’re not.
Martin Amis | House of Meetings
Martin Amisâ€™s latest novel takes place (mostly) in a Russian labor camp and is suitably dark and dismal. Written as a confessional, the narrator recounts to his daughter his life prior to, during, and after his imprisonment in the labor camp. Most of the story revolves around his relationship with his brother, who married the woman that he (the narrator) had designs on but with whom nothing romantic ever transpired despite his best efforts. At the end of the novel (and the narratorâ€™s life), we find out that he was actually queer for his brother, acting out his male homosocial desire across the body of a woman in a classic Eve Kosofsky Sedgwickian love triangle. Vintage twisted Amis, but without the humor.
Jonathan Franzen | How To Be Alone: Essays
Franzen’s wonderful collection of essays tied together by the themes of privacy and how to be alone in a world of unparalled media saturation (and his search for the meaning of writing the contemporary social novel and whether or not anyone cares). With so many media options and outlets vying for our attention and for us to consumeâ€”TV, radio, books, magazines, music, the internet, et. alâ€”how do we ever have time to tend to everything we’d like to? What is the process by which we chose what we’ll consume? Ever feel overwhelmed? The book is called How To Be Alone, but paradoxically after reading it, you discover that you are not alone. One thing I wonder about is Franzen’s skepticism toward the internet and the role it will play in our culture and how, if at all, his views have changed in the 10 years since he wrote many of these essays. Highly recommended.
Don DeLillo | White Noise
DeLilloâ€™s irony-clad postmodern critique of consumerism, media saturation, conspiracy, the potential positive effects of violence, and mortality. Written in 1985, there are times that the book is eerily prophetic: the pronouncement that in times of disaster itâ€™s the lower class people who are forgotten sounds a lot like what happened in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Similarly, the predictions of a tabloid psychic sound a little too close to another recent Horror: â€œMembers of an air-crash cult will hijack a jumbo jet and crash it into the White House in an act of blind devotion to their mysterious and reclusive leader, known only as Uncle Bob.â€ Recommended.
David Simon & Ed Burns | The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood
David Simon and Ed Burns are two angry men. Angry about how the “war on drugs”â€”a war they liken to Vietnamâ€”is being waged, or rather, isn’t being waged. For Simon and Burns, the war on drugs is just one misguided attempt to reassure the American public that the government is doing something to remedy the problems caused by drug dealing and drug dependency. Police jumpouts aimed at jacking up a few street-level dealers or touts on a possession charge. A police department that works to make good stats, not to make people’s lives better. Rhapsodizing over how a big drug seizure is concrete evidence that we’re winning the war. But what about the suppliers who’ll just keep on with the business at hand? Street dealersâ€”the soldiersâ€”are a dime a dozen, pawns in the game. The dope fiend will cop because he has toâ€”he’s not making a distinction between who’s selling the shit other than who’s got the best package. So despite the show the government puts on every now and then, no progress is being made and nobody, no matter what their political flavor, is offering any viable alternatives that might actually make a difference. That’s pretty much the premise of The Corner, as bleak and despairing and pessimistic as it sounds.
The book (a work of complete non-fiction) chronicles one year (1993) in the lives of several people living on and around Fayette Street in west Baltimore, which at the time was boasting no fewer than 7 open-air drug markets within only a 3-block radius. At the book’s center is the heart-wrenching story of Gary McCullough, Francine Boyd, and DeAndre McCullough, a family torn apart by drug dependency and the temptations of the corner. Simon and Burns spent a year (and more than 4 years following up) on the streets of west Baltimore getting to know the real people and their real stories. The McCullough and Boyd families. The circle of hardcore users. The dealers. The woman, who in an effort to comes to grips with her 12-year-old daughter’s rape and murder, opened a rec center to give the children of the neighborhood an alternative to corner life. The Corner is an amazing work of ethnography that gives us a moving portrait of the lives of people who are trying to survive at ground zero in the war on drugs.
The maxim that “the book was better than the movie” holds true in this case. I actually saw the HBO miniseries prior to reading the book. And I was so affected by the miniseries that I thought the book would be somewhat of a bear to read, knowing what happens and all that. Not so. Fans of The Wire know that Simon (an ex-Sun reporter) and Burns (an ex-police) are extremely gifted writers. As you might expect, and what I suppose is blatantly obvious, is that the book gives a richer and more vivid picture of the lives of the people of W Fayette St. Another thing that contributes to the book’s success vis-Ã -vis the miniseries, is that the book recounts the events in chronological order, whereas the miniseries (6 parts in total) focuses on a different character (“Gary’s Blues,” “Fran’s Blues,” etc.) or group of people (“Corner Boy Blues,” “Dope Fiend Blues,” etc.) each episode, making the order of events a little hard to parse at times.
Through the prism of one west Baltimore community ravaged by the corner, Simon and Burns paint a dismal picture of the war on drugs not only in Baltimore, but across the nation. (The Corner takes place in Baltimore, but the story could be played out on a corner in any large city in the U.S.) So what’s their solution? They don’t give one.
Various Authors | McSweeney’s 21
QC21 is another great issue. Every piece in this volume is outstandingâ€”and funnyâ€”although these authors stood out to me: Miranda July, Joyce Carol Oates, Yannick Murphy (can’t wait for her Mata Hari book), Roddy Doyle, A. Nathan West, and Rajesh Parameswaran. In order to keep pace with its recent quirkiness, each piece in QC21 is followed by an actual letter received by the office of Ray Charles at various dates throughout 1999 and preceded by a 12-panel illustration of an artists’ (different for each story) rendition of events in the piece, while the front cover of the book has a small flap that can be opened out across the exposed page-edges, creating a 360-degree panorama around the entire volume.
David Foster Wallace | Consider the Lobster
DFW is a literary virtuoso. Consider the Lobster is his latest collection of essays and obsrvations, and includes pieces on such disparate subjects as a talk radio host, the Maine Lobster Festival, the Adult Video Awards, and the 2000 McCain campaign. Fans of DFW will not be disappointed. And if you’ve never read anything by DFW, this is a good starting point. Highly recommended.
Milan Kundera | The Unbearable Lightness of Being
I almost abandoned this book several times, especially during the first 100 pages. I had heard good things about itâ€”lot of rave reviews and such. And since I liked Slowness and Identity, The Unbearable Lightness of Being seemed like the logical next step. Maybe it was my state of mind when I started the bookâ€”I’d just come off of Amis’ starkness and rapidityâ€”and maybe all of Kundera’s metaphor, symbolism, and allusion seemed a bit over the top for me. Too much. Actually, it was kind of annoying. I like novels about ideas but I really wasn’t sold on this one. The novel did have its moments for meâ€”I enjoyed seeing new layers of the story revealed back on itself as the book progressed (the future informing the past, and all that)â€”but was mostly disappointed. I’d skip this one. Or maybe it’s one of those that requires a second go around.
Martin Amis | The Rachel Papers
This was the first book by Martin Amis that I’ve read. However, it was not the first book of Martin Amis’ that I had planned to read. I had first desired to read what is considered his most famous, none other than London Fields. But for whatever reason I always put off digging into London Fields (until recently), despite enjoying the first few pages in the bookstore on more than
one two three four occasions. Usually when I read books, I take notes about what strikes me about that particular book, but strangely, I didn’t write any notes about The Rachel Papers. And this has nothing whatsoever to do with what I thought about it. Teenage years. Ackwardness. Hilarity. Obsessive. Hysterical. Yup, that pretty much sums TRP up. And you should read it ASAP.
Dave Eggers, ed. | The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006
The Best American series has been around for some time now but this is the first one I’ve picked up. Eggers has assembled a wonderful, well-balanced anthology of writing that spans fiction, comics, current events, religion, and lists like the “Best American Fake Headlines” (courtesy of The Onion), the “Best American First Sentences of Novels of 2005,” and my personal favorite, the “Best American Things to Know about Chuck Norris” (Chuck Norris destroyed the Periodic Table because Chuck Norris only recognizes the element of surprise; Chuck Norris can get blackjack with just one card; When Chuck Norris falls in water, Chuck Norris doesn’t get wet. Water gets Chuck Norris.). Recommended. Every. Year.
J. M. Coetzee | Disgrace
This is the first book by J. M. Coetzee Iâ€™ve read and what struck me immediately was the simplicity of Coetzeeâ€™s prose. Itâ€™s simple and yet it flows. I appreciate that he’s able to tell an extremely compelling story in writing that is clear and straightforward. Disgrace is a relatively short book but it contains plenty to think about.
Orhan Pamuk | My Name Is Red
Pamuk recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature so I decided to pick up this book, which is supposed to be one of his best. One interesting feature of the novel is that the narrator changes each chapter, providing a shift in points of view and depictions of events similar to Rashomon, but different in that the narrative flows continuously rather than replaying itself over and over. And the book’s narrators include not just human characters, but also an illustration of a horse, a gold coin, and Death, to name a few. Among Pamuk’s themes are religion, matters of style and maintaining tradition v. adopting and synthesizing new modes of thinking. Although the book takes place in sixteenth-century Istanbul all of Pamuk’s themes are allegorical to modern times. The novel’s central conflict comes from a book that the Sultan has commissioned to be illuminated in the Frankish style, which is seen by many to be an afront to Islam. Ultimately, the attempts at imitating that style of painting are unsuccessul. I got the sense that the desire of the miniaturists to reject the “new” methods of painting and adhere strictly to the traditional style without variation arose out of a deep sense of prideâ€”pride which they couldn’t feel from their novice (because they hadn’t yet taken the time to master the new style) and failed attempts to imitate Frankish paintingâ€”revealing a great deal of insecurity with themselves. I wasn’t familiar with Pamuk or the part of the world or time period about which he writes, but I really enjoyed this book.
Laura Lippman, ed. | Baltimore Noir
A collection of short stories that take place in distinct neighborhoods of my adopted hometown. Included among the contributing authors are David Simon, the creator of the HBO series The Wire. Most of the stories are excellent and it’s obvious that each author is intimately familiar with the neighboorhood their story takes place in. (However, a few of the authors seem like they’re “name-dropping” local flavor just so we know that they know the neighborhood.) David Simon’s and Laura Lippman’s stories stand out. It’s amazing to me how much Simon understands Baltimore street culture, even down to the grammar. Recommended for all citizens of Baltimore and those who wished they lived there.
Zadie Smith | White Teeth
Yannick Murphy | Here They Come
I found Here They Come on McSweeney’s after discovering Eggers through A.H.W.O.S.G. I liked this book in kind of a queer way. It’s hard to explain. I felt mildly uncomfortable throughout the entire book and I’m not quite sure why. But at the same time, once I became at ease with Murphy’s voice it was extremely compelling. It’s not a happy book, but the characters and story seem so real I couldn’t help but read the entire thing in just a few sittings.
Dave Eggers | A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Somewhere I read that A.H.W.O.S.G. was required reading, if only so you could talk about how pretentious Dave Eggers is. Most of what I’d read about Eggers put him in the PoMo crowd and often compared him to DFW so I had certain expectations about what kind of writing I was going to read. DFW is a virtuoso and sometimes uses language in a very cerebral way. Eggers is also a virtuoso but in a different way than DFW. I’m not a very fast reader, but the prose in A.H.W.O.S.G. flowed so well (as well as being so well written) that I read this very quickly. (Oh, it’s a good (auto-biographical) story too.) This was some of the best writing I’ve read in a long time.
David Sedaris | Naked
Self-deprecation and self-loathing are personality quirks that I generally find annoying, but with David Sedaris they are absolutely hilarious.
Italo Calvino | Difficult Loves
Italo Calvino | Invisible Cities
Paul Auster | Timbuktu
I had high hopes for this book 1) because of how much I liked The New York Trilogy and 2) because about half of the story takes place in Baltimore. However, this one turned out to be a big disappointment. I didn’t detect any of the “stuff” that made me like TNYT so much. The plot was a little cheesy and too saccharine for my taste. And I wasn’t really into the whole “dog whose thoughts we can hear” thing. Not recommended.
Paul Auster | The New York Trilogy
I was a little skeptical of this book, since I’m not a huge fan of detective novels.
As with the archives, this section of SLN is still in process. Of course I’ve read more than this!