reviews of MICROTIMINGS (2-cd set)

Paul Griffiths, Microtimings, August 2012

Fascination and irritation – the former happily more than the latter, but both deep, and sometimes deep at the same time – overlap in the experience of Richard Beaudoin’s double album Microtimings (New Focus). The combination of reactions, a combination this music seems to invite, is unusual, and comes from the compositional technique, which is partly revealed in the album title and more fully explained in the composer’s notes. Beaudoin starts out from ‘microtimings’ – timings made with acute precision – of piano recordings: Pollini playing the middle movement of Webern’s Op. 27 Variations, Cortot in Debussy’s prelude ‘La Fille aux cheveux de lin’ and, his major source, Argerich performing Chopin’s E minor prelude. These timings allow him to lay out the whole piece at whatever level of temporal stretching, from none at all to a distention that has Debussy or Chopin going at a tenth the original speed. The sounds, too, are altered, so that the effect is not just a trivial deceleration but a reworking that is appropriate to the new durational form and frame.
Beaudoin’s metaphors for his method are all visual: photography, the bending of images in curved mirrors, and the work of contemporary painters whose work plays with photographic realism and distortion, especially Gerhard Richter and Glenn Brown. From the Chopin he has (so far) derived twelve ‘Études d’un prélude’, including an orchestral score and a short opera as well as the compositions included here: four solo piano pieces and his Second String Quartet (2009), itself made up of four études. Two from the former group show the technique at its most straightforward. In ‘Chopin desséché’ the original text is all there (at a guess), but unfolding at a quarter speed and with everything staccato, therefore indeed desiccated. This is right at the ‘irritating’ end of the spectrum. ‘Latticed Window’, named after an early photograph, provides a lot more fascination. Here the Chopin goes at normal speed (or at least the speed of the Argerich recording), but the music is turned its own negative, with the melody in the bass and the accompanying chords in the treble.
In other pieces the procedure is less easy to make out, which ups the fascination and the poetry. ‘four28’ lays out the events of the Chopin prelude one by one, apparently according to their durations in the Argerich version. It lasts for nearly twenty-five minutes, about fifteen times the length of the original, which it effectively tranquilizes, for though we may be able to place a chord, there is no logical continuity and time is vastly slowed. The piece is appropriately given a title that makes it a homage to Cage’s last pieces. In ‘Black Wires’, whose title comes from a boyhood memory of Nabokov’s (this is a composer extraordinarily well versed in literature as well as the visual arts), an up-down moto perpetuo discovers elements of the original bit by bit, but only after the piece has begun with a nod to Ligeti’s Musica ricercata and run alongside Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre.
These shadows of other music – Saint-Saëns, Ligeti, Cage, and one might add Pärt in The Artist and his Model II – La Durée sans contacts s’affaiblit for string quartet, one of two compositions worked from the Debussy prelude – enrich the music just as much as do the mystery and surprise of allusions that are non-obvious or unexpected. Music being a time art, the effect of Beaudoin’s haunting string quartet is quite different from that of the visual works to which he refers: a Glenn Brown painting (reproduced on the booklet cover) and an André Kertesz photograph. The image is never fully present. It is gradually disclosed to us, and retracted, in a process that may make us feel we are at once inside the original, exploring its interior, and outside, glimpsing it within a world that is larger and strange.

Paul Kilbey, I Care if You Listen "Richard Beaudoin's Microtimings", 14 June 2012

Theory and aesthetics in new music are two very, very different things. There’s what goes in to a piece of music, and there’s what comes out, and keeping the two a healthy distance apart has been the sensible option since 1908 at the latest. Music is for the listener, after all, and in a sense the question of (for instance) how Stravinsky constructed his Requiem matters precisely as little as whether or not the Monkees wrote their own songs. The complex machinations of the compositional process should never come to obscure a resulting piece of music’s aesthetic worth. At least, that’s the theory.
The more I’ve listened to Richard Beaudoin’s new pair of CDs Microtimings, the more I’ve started to take Beaudoin’s compositions as direct challenges to the argument above. The pieces have been constructed according to a very particular and rather strange procedure, and this procedure is, as far as I’m concerned, all but inseparable from the listening experience. Go on, the pieces seem to say: appreciate us without thinking about how we were made. Put the concept aside, and just listen to the music. You can’t, can you? No? OK then.
Microtimings contains three multi-part works, scattered across the two CDs. Disc 1 is performed by pianist Mark Knoop, and Disc 2 by the Kreutzer Quartet. The Études d’un prélude are “based on a precise transcription of Martha Argerich’s 1975 recording of Chopin’s Prélude in E minor, Op. 28, no. 4.” The Artist and his Model does something similar with Alfred Corot’s 1931 recording of Debussy’s “La fille aux cheveux de lin”, and nach Webern, nach Pollini uses Maurizio Pollini’s 1976 recording of the second movement of Webern’s Variations for Piano, Op. 27.
Approaches to the material vary. Étude d’un prélude I—Chopin desséché is a direct (piano) transcription of Argerich’s recording, simply slowed down and re-notated such that her minute rhythmic nuances and touches of rubato can be written in quavers and semiquavers. The “dessication” of which the title speaks results from only the initial attack of each note being sounded. The Artist and his Model II—La durée sans contacts s’affaiblit, for string quartet, does something similar: it slows the recording to a tenth of the original tempo but retains its detail precisely, even including the white noise.
Others are more convoluted in how they are manipulated, and the Webern/Pollini piece (all for piano) perhaps unsurprisingly draws a more abstracted approach. Movement I—Neuordnung nach Dauern retains Webern’s original rhythmic and dynamic cast for the movement, but “reorganizes all of Webern’s pitches according to their duration in Pollini’s recorded performance;” Movement III—Neuordnung nach Nautstärken does the same but with the notes’ volume rather than duration. Two of the Chopin/Argerich Études – 28four (for string quartet) and four28 (for piano) – do the same thing, or something similar, organizing material according to the duration of the recorded sounds.
A third category within these pieces includes those which have been composed rather more freely; that is, with fewer rules governing the precise placement of the notes. Oddly, though, these works are if anything more arcane than the others in terms of their structure and genesis, mostly being composed “after,” or “directly in response to,” or “as an analogue to” various paintings or photographs. I can do no better with Étude d’un prélude VIII—Kertész Distortion (for string quartet), for instance, than to quote the liner notes: the piece “was composed as an analogue to André Kertész’s photograph, ‘Distortion No. 172,’ made in Paris in 1933. The photograph is of a nude as seen in a curved mirror. The composition treats the Chopin-Argerich material in an analogous fashion, curving the time (and the pitch) just as Kertész’s mirror curved the light.” It’s a ludicrously specific and obscure brief, but the result is fascinating, and – when you’re listening for it, at any rate – you can really hear the Chopin prelude drift in and out of focus. It is, though, pretty much entirely dependent on an awareness of its concept, and attempting to listen to the work without thinking about how it is distorting its original is a very tough ask. It’s hence not just an aesthetically demanding listen: it’s also an intellectually demanding one, as it really necessitates at least an awareness of what the photograph in question is – as well, needless to say, as a more or less bar-by-bar knowledge of the Chopin prelude.
In other places, such vast amounts of necessary prior knowledge get in the way of appreciation. In the case of The Artist and his Model I—La fille floutée (for piano), the liner notes tell us only that “The piece owes a debt to Gerhard Richter’s 1994 painting ‘Lesende’.” Without being told more precisely how this debt is owed, the listening experience is an uncomfortable one; the piece is too close to the Debussy/Corot original to be appreciable as a standalone work, but too far from it to be a straight reinterpretation. And beyond the girl’s hair arguably being flaxen, the connection to Richter’s painting is simply not apparent. This problem is emblematic of what really gets in the way of the project overall: its processes are paraded so clearly as to provoke an unbecoming dependency on them. It isn’t altogether clear what anybody is meant to do with these pieces, beyond compare them to their various esoteric sources.
On these terms, though, it’s frequently a fascinating experience. I think the second CD, which is the Kreutzer Quartet’s, is the better one musically; the extra remove created by the switch of instrumentation gives Beaudoin’s pieces more room to breathe, and the effects and distortions he draws from the instruments create a thrillingly fleshed-out portrait of the various musicians and artists involved. But in terms of performance, Mark Knoop’s rendition of the piano works stands out more: even when he is essentially just channeling Argerich, he still finds room – somehow – for a fresh interpretative stance of his own, and this is a pianistic achievement of the highest order.
Sometimes the way the CD set presents the music is less than beneficial, and though it’s aesthetically beautiful and informative at times, there is a gap between the level of information which the music seems to demand and that which it actually gives. It’s also ludicrously finicky (“The first three movements of the [Second String Quartet, made up of four Chopin/Argerich pieces] may be performed separately, as individual works. However, 28four may only be performed as the finale of the complete quartet”). I also wonder whether buyers of this CD will be more likely to get that the title four28 “refers to the late pieces by John Cage,” as the notes inform us, or to be able to read four different languages, including ancient Greek, which are included in the booklet without translation.
But while this album is (for me anyway) something of a minefield of conceptual questions, it’s also vital listening for anyone at all interested in performance analysis, recomposition, or any of the three recordings on which the pieces are based. It’s also a masterclass, from the Kreuzer Quartet and especially Knoop, in how to perform rigorous music expressively. It left me a touch more respectful than convinced, but this is hardly an album for the mass markets, and on its own terms it’s an undoubted success. This is music you have to know about to understand, but if you can live with that, it’s worth it.

reviews of THE AFTER–IMAGE

Mr Beaudoin fulfilled a commission from Boston Lyric Opera [BLO] for a chamber opera to be paired with Victor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis. BLO commissioned the work so that companies could more readily produce Ullmann’s short one-act opera — composed in the Terezín concentration camp in 1943 — with a fitting companion piece. Mr Beaudoin’s work, called The After-Image, is based on texts by two poets, Rainer Maria Rilke and Friedrich Rückert, and William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the pioneers of photography. The première performances took place at Boston’s Calderwood Pavilion on 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 February 2011. The work was directed by David Schweizer.

The After-Image records a moment of interaction between a woman (The Daughter, sung by mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck) and a photograph of her late father (The Photograph of the Father, sung by bass Kevin Burdette). The instrumentation—clarinet, violin, violoncello and piano—was chosen to match that of Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps [1941].

Allan Kozinn, The New York Times BEST OF 2011 "Provocative Opera at the Extremes", 16 December 2011:

Some organizations that travel the classical music mainstream have undertaken innovations this year. Take, for example, the demand for fresh programming that made the Spring for Music festival of visiting orchestras at Carnegie Hall such a success. But for me the most memorable performances were by groups that specialize in the repertory’s extremes, early and new music. And thoughtful, often provocative opera productions figured prominently at both ends. Viktor Ullmann’s “Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits” is not exactly a new work; it was composed in the Terezin concentration camp in 1943 but reconstructed from his manuscript only in the 1970s. It remains a rarity, partly because it is hard to find an appropriate companion piece for a one-act thinly veiled satire about Hitler by a composer and a librettist (Petr Kien) whom the Nazis murdered soon after his work was completed. When the Boston Lyric Opera staged the work in February, it solved that problem by commissioning Richard Beaudoin to write an independent work that could be used as a prologue, and his contribution — the gently wistful 20-minute “After-Image” — puts the Ullmann opera in a frame that complements it gracefully. Mr. Beaudoin’s piece, with texts from Rilke, Rückert and William Henry Fox Talbot, captures the nostalgic musings of a young woman as she reflects on a photograph of her father as a young soldier, and the father’s wartime experiences, heard from the grave. It gave way seamlessly to the Ullmann work...


Allan Kozinn, The New York Times "Oppressor's Tale, Written in Oppression", 2 February 2011:

One reason opera houses have resisted "Emperor" [Ullmann's “Der Kaiser von Atlantis”] is its brevity. At less than an hour it makes up only part of an evening, but finding the right piece to pair it with is a challenge. The Boston Lyric Opera’s solution was to commission Richard Beaudoin, a composer on the Harvard faculty, to write a short, independent work that could be used as a prologue. His “After-Image,” a 20-minute reflection on how photographs shape our memories of war (and those who live through them), uses texts by Rilke, Friedrich Rückert and William Henry Fox Talbot, the 19th-century British pioneer of photography. Mr. Beaudoin’s gently wistful piece, scored for the same instrumentation as Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” — another work composed in a Nazi camp, where was a prisoner of war — makes no allusions to “Emperor,” or to World War II specifically. Instead it traces the emotional arc of a young woman musing over a photograph of her father as a young soldier and lets us hear the father’s reminiscences, sung from the grave, of that distant time. The Daughter was largely a spoken part, but the mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck sang the role’s few arias affectingly, and the bass-baritone Kevin Burdette put across the Father’s music with a sharply focused clarity and power.


Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe "Antiwar opera rises from darkness", 3 February 2011

Tuesday night opened with the premiere of Richard Beaudoin’s evocative if elusive work “The After-Image,’’ cast as a lyrical exchange between a daughter and a photograph of her late father. Scored for two vocal soloists and the instrumental forces (clarinet, violin, cello, piano) of Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,’’ the piece uses text by Rilke, Ruckert, and William Henry Fox Talbot to dramatize the intergenerational dialog and to ruminate on how photographs mediate our relationship to the past.


Joseph E. Morgan, The Boston Music Intelligencer "Redemption, even in the darkest of places", 3 February 2011

Beaudoin’s The After-Image is a tableau for soprano and bass with the same instrumentation as Messian’s Quartet for the End of Time: violin, clarinet, cello and piano. With a libretto assembled by the composer from poetry and writings by Rilke, Rückert and William [Henry Fox] Talbot, the work provided an appealing opening to the evening. The tableau intimately portrays a young woman’s fleeting memory of her deceased soldier/father as manifest in an old, decaying photograph of the man in his youth. As the daughter, mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck gracefully supplied an excellent contrast to the other-worldly bass of Kevin Burdette, the Father’s spirit. Perhaps as an expression of the distance between the two characters, one in life, the other in death, Beaudoin never permits the two characters to sing a due. While the opportunity for an operatic double-soliloquy is lost, what the audience gains is an unremitting velvet tension appropriate to the unresolved distance between these characters. This tension is complemented by David Schweizer’s staging of the piece as a “pseudo concert” in a setting somewhat reminiscent of a Biedermeyer living room.


Keith Powers, The Boston Herald "In 'Emperor of Atlantis', the human spirit reigns", 3 February 2011

To complete the evening, the BLO commissioned Richard Beaudoin’s “The After-Image” as a linked companion piece. As the audience entered the theater, ushers spouted vaguely threatening non sequiturs while security cameras played footage of guests entering the hall. Beaudoin’s song cycle, revolving around the photo of a dead soldier lovingly memorialized by his daughter, was beautifully acted and sung by mezzo Jamie van Eyck and bass Kevin Burdette. The instrumentation was unobtrusive but alluring, and the vocal settings, especially those for van Eyck, powerful. “After-Image” segued into “Emperor,” as if one sprang from the other.


Editor, "Chiara Quartet—An Adventurous Musical Journey", 6 October 2011

What was outstanding about the Beaudoin work was its penchant for establishing an otherworldly mood. The first movement, full of echo patterns among the quartet, kept me in a state of anticipation throughout. At any moment, the question “where do we go from here?” was a legitimate response to the layering of sounds, and whether it was a matter of a hundredth of a second or a millisecond seemed not to matter. Music is subjective; music is participatory. Don’t clutter my mind with esoterica while I’m fully engaged emotionally. The next three movements were likewise marked by the Chopin hovering in the background, though only by dint of forcing a recall of the original prelude heard hundreds of times before. Each movement took additional cues from external sources: a Glenn Brown painting for the second movement, a distorted photo by Kertész for the third movement, and a reorganization of the Chopin prelude, none of which truly mattered. The final question is whether 38 minutes of an outstanding performance from the Chiara Quartet was enough to keep the mind and spirit engaged. For me, it was.


Peter Grahame Woolf, 19 March 2010

But for most of the afternoon I was upstairs for a quite extraordinary cutting edge presentation of "microtiming" research addressing Martha Argerich's recorded performance of a Chopin prelude, analysed with the newest technology, to perhaps reach a deeper understanding of rubato ... Curated by Neil Heyde, the discussions were wide ranging and fascinating, and performances by Mark Knoop and the Kreutzer Quartet of excerpts from resulting compositions by Richard Beaudoin were enthralling; slowed down recompositions Chopin desséché and Flutter echoes were beautiful and moving, bringing to mind such heterogeneous musics as the Goldberg 25th Variation, Beethoven's Op 132 molto adagio and Feldman, to suggest a few.


@Kevindaveykdk, Twitter 12:42pm, 17 May 2010

Chopin bicentenary just got real. Mark Knoop playing Beaudoin's inversions, slo mos, flip volume to rhythm, reworked étude at Kings Place.


Harlow Robinson, The Boston Globe "Chiara Quartet brings romantic radiance to traditional strings", 3 October 2011

Nor could one have asked for a more committed and polished performance of Beaudoin’s daunting Second String Quartet - even if one was left wondering if the work justified the effort. The 10th in an ongoing series inspired by Martha Argerich’s recording of Chopin’s beloved Prelude in E minor, Op. 28, No.4, this hyper-intellectual “etude’’ devises minute mathematical and sonic puzzles upon the surface of this tiny jewel. Of the four movements, the first (“Flutter echoes’’) was the most accessible, overlaying the Prelude’s exquisite melody and harmony with echo patterns created by bowing over the fingerboard and other unusual techniques. But at nearly 40 minutes, the piece is too long by half. The Chiara players seemed no less surprised and relieved than the audience when it came to a sudden end.


Cashman Kerr Prince, The Boston Music Intelligencer "Indebted Music from Chiara Quartet", 2 October 2011

From the one-minute, 51 seconds of Argerich’s recording, Beaudoin extrapolates a 38-minute quartet by exploding the time-axis. The first movement, “Flutter echoes,” combines natural and harmonic notes on all four instruments to produce a continuous and growing sound punctuated by a repeated rhythmic cell. From the beginning, the Chiara achieved a wonderfully singing tone and perfectly matched tonal color, so the floating tones passed between instruments were seamless. The second movement, “The Real Thing,” combines a meandering theme in the violins with incisive pizzicati from viola and cello. The third movement, “Kertész Distortion,” combines a ground of rhythmic pulsing (reminiscent of the first movement) with skittering cascades of notes curling in arabesques above the ground. The whole builds in intensity throughout the movement. The fourth movement, “28four”, is marked by a shimmeringly diaphanous soundscape pierced at times by foghorn-like tones, first on viola, later on other instruments singly or in combination. The work builds to a final intensity, the end feeling like a prelude to something yet to come.

reviews of EUNOIA SONGS

A setting of five of Christian Bök's poems from Eunoia. 

Bostonist "Concert review: New Music at the ICA", 23 September 2008:

And Bostonist has never seen a tenor struggle to maintain a straight face, but Frank Kelley very nearly succumbed during Richard Beaudoin's "Eunoia Songs" (2004), a clever musical setting of Christian Bök's already-clever experiment with vowels—all five of them, but only one per poem. The audience was less successful in containing its mirth, as Kelley performed daring escapes in Oulipo-brand verbal handcuffs: "Ursus cubs plus Lupus pups hunt skunks / Curs skulk (such mutts lurk: ruff, ruff). Gnus munch kudzu." The score distilled each vowel to its essentials, with short pinpricks of notes for "I," dipping in "U" shapes, gaping open-mouthed at "O" ("off color porn for old boors who long to drool onto color photos of cocks, boobs, dorks or dongs"). 

Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe "Whimsy, resonance on night 2 of Ditson fest", 20 September 2008:

Richard Beaudoin's "Eunoia Songs" were highly skilled settings of five poems by Christian Bök that had the audience laughing in their seats, thanks to Bök's orthographic virtuosity: Each poem uses only a single vowel but still manages to romp around with abandon ("such tumult upturns unsunk hulls"). 

reviews of NACH–FRAGEN

Mr Beaudoin fulfilled a commission from Florian Wiegand and the Konzerthaus Dortmund for the renowned German soprano Annette Dasch (recently Elsa at Bayreuth). The work, entitled Nach-Fragen, is a 30-minute song cycle that sets prose passages adapted by the composer from Christa Wolf’s 1968 novel Nachdenken über Christa T. The 17-song cycle is organized into three sections, and is punctuated by three settings of the epigraph of Wolf’s novel: “Was ist das: Dieses Zu-sich-selber-Kommen des Menschen?” (What is it: this coming-to-oneself?). The work is dedicated to Ms Dasch, who has performed it at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Wiener Konzerthaus, Konzerthaus Dortmund, Slovenska Filharmonija, Laeiszhalle Hamburg, Brucknerhaus Linz and most recently at the SWR Festspiele in Schwetzingen.


Julia Gaß, Ruhr Nachrichten "Nach-Fragen" at the Konzerthaus: Annette Dasch sings Première in Dortmund, 19 March 2009:

Historical occasions make concert life exciting. On Wednesday, there were two of them: Annette Dasch’s premiere of Richard Beaudoin’s song cycle “Nach-Fragen” and the handing over of the baton to the second roster of “Junge Wilde.” One knows American composer Beaudoin less than the texts that he set to music for the cycle he created for Annette Dasch. They are taken from the book “Nachdenken über Christa T.” by Christa Wolf, who celebrated her 80th birthday on the day of the premiere. It is a book of philosophical and existential questions, of women’s- and GDR-dreams. Beaudoin, a composer with a highly developed sense of the aesthetics of sound, has in fifteen songs with two piano intermezzi (with the fantastic pianist Wolfram Rieger) dressed these questions in sounds that are almost still late romantic, and whenever the answers are missing, he emphasized them with Sprechgesang. Annette Dasch bestowed concentrated tension to the songs, interpreted the deeply probing texts with intensity, drew a grand arc of tension across the cycle. – An impressive work and a moving interpretation.


Martin Schrahn, Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung "New Music: Inquiries into our Existence", 19 March 2009:

New music has a hard time on our concert circuit. The avant-garde is often marginalized into special series or festivals, where afficionados are among themselves. So it is something special that in the same week Dortmund had one world premiere and two German premieres on its program. Yet these new works were far removed from the pleasure in experimentation of the avant-garde...Of a different caliber is Richard Beaudoin’s song cycle “Nach-Fragen,” written for the fabulous soprano Annette Dasch, on the basis of Christa Wolf’s novel “Nachdenken über Christa T.” The American composer makes the expressionist melodrama come alive with such refinement and consistency that the work becomes an engaging listening experience. On a par the interpretation of Dasch and pianist Wolfram Rieger, who celebrate this inquiry into the foundations of our existence without any sentimentality or didacticism.


Bernd Aulich, Recklinghäuser Zeitung "Poised for a World Career: Annette Dasch excels at the Konzerthaus", 20 March 2009:

Can one sing prose like the lyricism of a Lied? Annette Dasch can, and indeed, in a most expressive manner. With the song cycle, “Nach-Fragen,” Richard Beaudoin has set a passage to music for her from the novel “Nachdenken über Christa T.” with which Christa Wolf critically examined life in the GDR. It was flattering for the Ruhr metropolis that the premiere, held on the 80th birthday of the great author, preceded performances at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam and the Vienna Konzerthaus. With academic references to Schubert, Bach, and Janacék, the Harvard Lecturer created a highly expressive dramatic miniature that approaches Sprechgesang, with artful symmetry and a transparent piano part. As interpreters, Annette Dasch and Wolfram Rieger, as outstanding partner, proved to be fully up to the challenge of this impressive work.


Sonja Müller Eisold, Westfälische Rundschau "How to Sing Existential Thoughts", 20 March 2009:

...moreover, she brought a premiere along. American composer Richard Beaudoin wrote a song cycle ‘Nach-Fragen” especially for her, based on texts by Christa Wolf (from the novel, “Nachdenken über Christa T.”). It revolves around the question, “What is it: this coming-to-oneself?” and is a reflection on time and on being human. In the three-part piece, Beaudoin’s composes with great attention to the text, he juxtaposes Lieder with recitative-like passages, and occasionally makes reference to existing musical material. He calls this “After-Images” of earlier works (Bach, Schubert, Janacek), transposed into his own musical language. Annette Dasch has a voice of enchanting timbre. She handles it with great care, placing it in the service of intense expression. She thus managed to open up the new work to the listeners, to get them interested in this musical rendering of existential thoughts.


Stefan Beig, Wiener Zeitung "Celebrated Intensity", 22 March 2009:

The second half was opened by the song cycle “Nach-Fragen” by Briton [sic] Richard Beaudoin after texts by Christa Wolf, which saw its first Austrian performance. Its sonic language and gestures were reminiscent of atonal Schönberg.


Walter Weidringer, Die Presse "Konzerthaus [Vienna]: No Fear of the Sea Monster", 22 March 2009:

It was the originality in putting together a diverse program of Lieder that was the evening’s actual strength; with the indispensable foundation provided by Wolfram Rieger, this excellent and sensitive pianist. Little known things by Beethoven, for instance the complex “An die Hoffnung”, structured like a multi-part operatic scene; among the songs by Joseph Haydn, mostly providing charming entertainment, there was also “Spirit Song”, which spreads a mysterious somber atmosphere – veritable discoveries, which Dasch combined with a cycle that was composed especially for her: “Nach-Fragen” by Briton [sic] Richard Beaudoin , set after Christa Wolf and warmly received, a freely atonal song-cycle that operates with sophisticated homages to the past and that probes the text in a poetic manner.


Peter Krause, Die Welt “Clever advocate of the art of the lied. Soprano Annette Dasch in the series “Vocal World” of the Elbphilharmonie concerts”, 27 January 2011:

And the lady from Berlin – witness her music talk show – is a committed mediator of her art: so it is quite natural that a cycle of topical music, with Richard Beaudoin’s “Nach-Fragen”, stands between Brahms and Korngold. She first tells how she was personally responsible for its creation. During a celebratory summer night at the Salzburg Festival, the young American composer promised several singers to compose songs “into their throats”, if they delivered texts of their choice to him. Annette Dasch was then just reading Christa Wolf’s novel “Nachdenken über Christa T.” and suggested passages from it whose prose style is of such poetry and rhythmic refinement that they indeed inspired the composer to set them into sounds. Hovering between romantic gesture, imaginative color play, melodramatic phrases and a handful of avant-garde brutalisms, Beaudoin translates Wolf’s existential questions with sensitive thoughtfulness, to which Dasch’s especially fine piano partner Ulrich Naudé also gives eloquent expression.


Hamburger Abendblatt "Laeiszhalle: Annette Dasch", 27 January 2011:

And the heart of the evening was the cycle “Nach-Fragen” by Richard Beaudoin, composed in 2008 for the singer and based on excerpts from Christa Wolf’s novel “Nachdenken über Christa T.” This is when the singer spoke, sang staccato, and paused in awe. Thus Beaudoin’s rich sound language combined itself with the prose passages into a manifesto of the essential. Culminating in the question: “Are you really alive, now?"


M. L., Mannheimer Morgen "Probing Questions”, 2 May 2011:

In Schwetzingen [Dasch] introduces a new festival series, “Women Power – Power Women.” The title alone sanctions in advance the expressive, space-exploding force she injects into musical settings of Beethoven, Brahms, and Korngold as well as into the pensive song cycle “Nachfragen” that provides the orientation for much of the program selection. “Nachfragen” contains sequences from Christa Wolf’s “Nachdenken über Christa T.” Canadian [sic!] Richard Beaudoin set these to music upon Dasch’s suggestion, music that allows her vocal prowess to unfold every expressive mode, from speach to the combative scream. The composer leaves it entirely to the interpreter to work through Christa Wolf’s probing observations, as timeless as they are full of topical criticism. These “inquiries” concern questions like how one can “actualize oneself in art?” “Are you really alive, now?” Or “How to respond adequately to experiences of death?” These themes sketched out in image-rich prose place upon all participants the highest demands in terms of concentration and analytic insight. The result of the Dasch analysis: doubt and perplexity, this unsparing perspective upon human inadequacy hit deeply right to the bone. And much more painful than the songs by Beethoven or Brahms.


Michael Wruss, Oberösterreichische Nachrichten “Rare Sonic Pearls with ‘La Dasch’”, 10 February 2011:

...many singers take the easy route and put complete cycles on their programs. Works that promise success and that don’t require extensive processes of thought in putting together. Yet it was not only the rarities that distinguished this recital but also the combination of pieces perfectly geared toward her voice that has turned more dramatic, emphasizing the middle range with its wonderfully warm sound and avoiding the occasionally harsh upper register. “Nach-Fragen,” a song-cycle based on texts by Christa Wolf by American composer Richard Beaudoin, then, was almost geared towards a mezzo-soprano. On a whim, a song emerged from a text from Wolf’s novel, Nachdenken über Christa T., that harmonized so perfectly that it gave rise to a three-part song-cycle with a total of 15 songs and two instrumental intermezzi.Beaudoin speaks a clipped language, very much aimed at the essential, that blossoms forth every now and then, capturing very well in musical sounds Christa Wolf’s sparse poetic prose. Here we have a two-fold coming-to-oneself that on the one hand cites the text and on the other really sharpens the focus on one’s own self. A magnificent work – magnificently sung.

*All English translations by Christian Rogowski, Professor of German, Amherst College. Original German reviews below.

original German reviews of NACH-FRAGEN

*Complete English translations listed above.

"Nach-Fragen" im Konzerthaus: Annette Dasch sang Uraufführung in Dortmund, Von Julia Gaß, Ruhr Nachrichten, 19.03.2009

Historische Momente machen das Konzertleben spannend. Davon gab es am Mittwoch im Dortmunder Konzerthaus zwei: Annette Daschs Uraufführung von Richard Beaudoins Liederzyklus "Nach-Fragen" und die Staffelübergabe an die zweite Riege "Junge Wilde". Den amerikanischen Komponisten Beaudoin kennt man weniger als die Texte, die er in dem für Annette Dasch komponierten Zyklus vertont hat. Die stammen aus dem Buch "Nachdenken über Christa T." von Christa Wolf, die am Tag der Uraufführung 80. Geburtstag feierte. Ein Buch der philosophischen und existentiellen Fragen, der Frauen- und DDR-Träume, ist das Buch. Beaudoin, ein Komponist mit großem Sinn für Klangästhetik, hat in 15 Liedern mit zwei Klavier-Intermezzi (großartig: Pianist Wolfram Rieger) diese Fragen in fast noch spätromantische Klänge gekleidet und sie meist dann, wenn die Antworten fehlen, mit Sprechgesang hervorgehoben. Konzentrierte Spannung gab Annette Dasch den Liedern, deutete die tiefgründigen Texte intensiv, zog einen großen Spannungsbogen über den Zyklus. - Ein eindrucksvolles Werk und eine berührende Interpretation.


Neue Musik: Nach-Fragen zu unserer Existenz, Martin Schrahn. Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung 19.03.2009

Neue Musik hat es schwer im Konzertbetrieb. Die Avantgarde wird oft in spezielle Reihen oder Festivals abgedrängt, wo Liebhaber unter sich sind - eine Ur- und zwei Erstaufführungen im Konzerthaus Dortmund. Es ist etwas Besonderes, dass in Dortmund jetzt eine Uraufführung und zwei Deutsche Erstaufführungen in einer Woche im Programm waren. Doch das Neue war weit weg von der Experimentierfreude der Avantgarde. In Fabian Müllers Orchesterstück „Taranis“, geschrieben für den Dirigenten Andrey Boreyko, wurde das besonders deutlich ... Von anderem Kaliber ist Richard Beaudoins Liedzyklus „Nach-Fragen”, geschrieben für die famose Sopranistin Annette Dasch, auf der Grundlage von Christa Wolfs Roman „Nachdenken über Christa T.“. Der amerikanische Komponist lässt das expressionistische Melodram mit solcher Raffinesse und Konsequenz aufleben, dass das Werk zum spannenden Hörerlebnis wird. Kongenial die Interpretation von Dasch und dem Pianisten Wolfram Rieger, die das Nach-Fragen nach den Grundlagen unserer Existenz ohne Larmoyanz oder erhobenen Zeigefinger zelebrieren.


Auf dem Sprung zur Weltkarriere: Annette Dasch brilliert im Konzerthaus, Bernd Aulich, Recklinghäuser Zeitung Nr. 67, 20.03.2009

[...] Kann man Prosa singen wie die Lyrik eines Lieds? Annette Dasch kann es, und sogar höchst expressiv. Richard Beaudoin hat für sie mit dem Gesangszyklus “Nach-Fragen” eine Passage aus dem Roman “Nachdenken über Christa T.” vertont, mit dem Christa Wolf in der DDR eine kritische Lebensbilanz vollzog. Dass die Uraufführung am Tage des 80. Geburtstags der großen Autorin Aufführungen im Concertgebouw in Amsterdam und im Wiener Konzerthaus vorausging, schmeichelt der Metropole Ruhr. Mit akademischen Verweisen auf Schubert, Bach und Janacék hat der Harvard-Lehrbeauftragte eine dem Sprechgesang angenäherte, kunstvoll symmetrische, hochexpressive dramatische Miniatur mit durchsichtigem Klaviersatz geschaffen. Annette Dasch und Wolfram Rieger als überragender Partner erwiesen sich als Interpreten auf der Höhe dieses eindrucksvollen Werkes.


Wie man existenzielle Gedanken singt, Sonja Müller Eisold, Westfälische Rundschau Nr. 67, 20.03.2009

[...] und hatte zudem eine Uraufführung im Gepäck. Der amerikanische Komponist Richard Beaudoin schrieb eigens für sie den Gesangszyklus “Nach-Fragen” auf Texte von Christa Wolf (aus dem Roman “Nachdenken über Christa T.”). Er kreist um die Frage “Was ist das: dieses Zu-sich-selber-Kommen des Menschen?” und ist eine Reflexion über die Zeit und das Menschsein. In dem dreiteiligen Stück komponiert Beaudoin dicht aus dem Text heraus, stellt Lieder neben Rezitativisches und bezieht sich bisweilen auf Bestehendes. Er nennt es “Nach-Bilder früherer Werke (Bach, Schubert, Janacek), in seine eigene Sprache übertragen. Annette Dasch hat eine Stimme von bezauberndem Timbre. Sie geht mit ihr sorgsam um, stellt sie in den Dienst innigen Ausdrucks. So vermochte sie das neue Werk den Zuhörern nahezubringen, sie zu interessieren für diese musikalische Umsetzung existenzieller Gedanken.


Gefeierte Eindringlichkeit, Stefan Beig, Wiener Zeitung 22.03.2009

[...] Die zweite Hälfte eröffnete der in Österreich erstmals aufgeführte Gesangszyklus "Nach-Fragen" des Briten Richard Beaudoin nach Texten Christa Wolfs, der in Klangsprache und Gestik an den atonalen Schönberg gemahnte.


Konzerthaus: Keine Angst vor dem Klabautermann, Walter Wiedringer, Die Presse 22.03.2009

[...] Die Originalität der Liedzusammenstellung war die eigentliche Stärke des Abends, dem Wolfram Rieger, dieser hervorragende und einfühlsame Pianist, seine unverzichtbare Grundlage gab. Kaum Bekanntes von Beethoven, etwa das komplexe, wie eine mehrgliedrige Opernszene aufgebaute „An die Hoffnung“, unter den zumeist reizende Unterhaltung bietenden englischen Liedern von Joseph Haydn auch der geheimnisvoll-düstere Stimmung verbreitende „Spirit's Song“ – veritable Entdeckungen, denen Dasch einen eigens für sie komponierten Zyklus zur Seite stellte: die freundlich aufgenommene Christa-Wolf-Vertonung „Nach-Fragen“, eine freitonale und mit kultivierten Vergangenheits-Hommagen operierende, den Texten poetisch nachspürende Liederkette des Briten Richard Beaudoin.


Gewitzte Anwältin der Liedkunst. Sopranistin Annette Dasch in der "Stimmwelten"-Reihe der Elbphilharmonie Konzerte, Peter Krause, Die Welt 27.01.2011

Und die Berlinerin, nicht zuletzt ihre Musik-Talkshow zeugt davon, ist engagierte Vermittlerin ihrer Kunst: Mit Richard Beaudoins "Nach-Fragen" steht also ein Zyklus aktueller Musik selbstverständlich zwischen Brahms und Korngold. Zuvor berichtet sie, an dessen Entstehung persönlich Schuld zu sein. In einer durchfeierten Sommernacht bei den Salzburger Festspielen habe der junge amerikanische Komponist mehreren Sängern versprochen, ihnen Lieder in die Kehle zu komponieren, wenn sie ihm denn Texte ihrer Wahl liefern würden. Annette Dasch las gerade Christa Wolfs Roman "Nachdenken über Christa T." und schlug daraus Passagen vor, deren Prosastil so voller Poesie und rhythmischer Finesse ist, dass sie den Komponisten tatsächlich anregten, sie in Töne zu setzen. Zwischen romantischem Gestus, imaginativem Farbenspiel, melodramatischen Phrasen und nur wenigen Avantgarde-Bruitismen übersetzt Beaudoin Wolfs existenzielle Fragen mit einfühlsamer Nachdenklichkeit, denen auch Daschs extra feiner Klavierpartner Ulrich Naudé beredten Ausdruck verleiht.


Laeiszhalle: Annette Dasch, Hamburger Abendblatt 27.01.2011

Größere Bögen zogen Dasch und ihr diskret-aufmerksamer Begleiter Ulrich Naudé im zweiten Teil bei Erich Korngold. Da wirkte Dasch mehr bei sich und zeigte ihre volle, tragende Tiefe. Und das Herz des Abends war der Zyklus "Nach-Fragen" von Richard Beaudoin, 2008 komponiert für die Sängerin auf Auszüge aus Christa Wolfs Roman "Nachdenken über Christa T.". Da sprach die Sängerin, sang staccato oder hielt erstarrt inne. So verband sich Beaudoins reiche Tonsprache mit den Prosapassagen zu einem Manifest des Wesentlichen. Gipfelnd in der Frage: "Lebst du jetzt, wirklich?"


Bohrende Fragen, M.L., Mannheimer Morgen 02.05.2011

In Schwetzingen führt sie die neue Festspiel-Reihe "Frauenpower - Powerfrauen" ein. Der Titel segnet schon im Vorhinein ihre raumsprengende Ausdruckskraft ab, die sie in Vertonungen von Beethoven, Brahms und Korngold investiert und auch in den grüblerischen Liederzyklus "Nachfragen", an dem sich die Programmauswahl weitgehend orientiert. "Nachfragen" enthält Passagen aus Christa Wolfs Roman "Nachdenken über Christa T.". Der Kanadier Richard Beaudoin hat dazu auf Daschs Anregung hin Musik geschrieben, die der großmächtigen Stimme jeden Entfaltungsgrad erlaubt - vom Sprechen bis zum kämpferischen Aufschrei. Der Komponist überlässt es allein der Interpretin, diese bohrenden, ebenso zeitkritischen wie zeitlosen Betrachtungen der Christa Wolf singend auszuarbeiten. Die "Nachfragen" lauten: Wie kann man sich "in der Kunst selbst verwirklichen"? "Lebst du jetzt, wirklich?" oder "Wie aber soll man angemessen auf Todeserfahrungen reagieren?". Diese in bilderreicher Prosa umrissenen Themen verlangen allen Beteiligten ein Höchstmaß an Konzentration und Durchleuchtung ab. Das Ergebnis der Dasch-Analyse: Zweifel und Ratlosigkeit, diese Klarsicht auf menschliches Unvermögen treffen tief bis ins Mark. Und wesentlich schmerzhafter als die Lieder von Beethoven oder Brahms.


Seltene Klang-Perlen mit „der Dasch“, Michael Wruss, Oberösterreichische Nachrichten 10.02.2011

Das passiert auch deshalb, da viele Sänger den einfachen Weg gehen und fertige Zyklen aufs Programm setzen, Werke, die Erfolg versprechen und keinen langwierigen Denkprozess des Zusammenstellens erfordern. Aber es waren nicht nur die Raritäten, die diesen Abend auszeichneten, sondern auch die perfekt auf ihre dramatischer gewordene Stimme zugeschnittene Auswahl, die gerade die wunderbar warmtönende Mittellage betonte und die bisweilen scharfe Höhe mied. Fast auf einen Mezzosopran zugeschnitten waren auch die „Nach-Fragen“, ein Gesangszyklus nach Texten von Christa Wolf des amerikanischen Komponisten Richard Beaudoin. Aus einer Laune entstand auf einen Text aus Wolfs Roman „Nachdenken über Christa T.“ ein Lied, das so perfekt harmonierte, dass daraus ein dreiteiliger Liederzyklus mit insgesamt 15 Gesängen und zwei instrumentalen Intermezzi entstand. Beaudoin spricht eine sehr aufs Wesentliche verknappte Sprache, die hin und wieder aufblüht, aber so die ebenso karge poetische Prosa Christa Wolfs sehr gut in Klänge fasst. Ein doppeltes Zu-sich-selber-Kommen, das einerseits Textzitat ist und andererseits tatsächlich den Fokus auf das eigene Ich schärft. Ein großartiges Werk – großartig gesungen.