Wayne Alpern, Rezurrektion Review
In musical innovation, some artists boldly experiment with new sounds, crafting masterpieces that defy easy categorization. One such artist is the composer and pianist Wayne Alpern, whose work seamlessly blends classical and contemporary musical styles. His latest album, Rezurrektion, is a testament to his inventive spirit. Skillfully performed by the Sirius Quartet, Rezurrektion is a captivating musical journey that explores the possibilities of fusion, where classical motifs engage in a harmonious dialogue with contemporary elements, creating a timeless and universal musical experience. In the Q&A that follows, we delve into Alpern’s creative process, shedding light on the intricate details and thoughtful considerations that have shaped Rezurrektion into a unique musical experience.
The Sirius Quartet, comprising Chern Hwei Fung on violin 1, Gregor Huebner on violin 2, Ron Lawrence on viola, and Jeremy Harman on cello, skillfully navigates Alpern’s complex arrangements. Their collective expertise breathes life into Alpern’s vision, delivering performances that are both precise and emotionally resonant.
Q: Your work in Rezurrektion masterfully intertwines classical motifs with elements from jazz, rock, and other genres. Can you shed light on your compositional process when it comes to blending these diverse musical languages together, especially within the framework of established classical pieces?
- A: “My musical goal is to integrate classical music with popular vernacular music on a deep structural level, not simply juxtapose them on the musical surface, so that they actually merge and become one at a higher level of synthesis. I consider this creative fusion “post-genre” music. All of these styles exist within me; I have studied and played them all. I hear them in my head and have acquired the technical capacity to work with them creatively as “found objects” capable of further development. My compositional process is one of bricolage, constructing new music from diverse and culturally available styles and familiar melodic resources. I work intuitively with no system. I compose what I hear, drawing freely from multiple styles. I apply classical techniques to vernacular music. The result is more a rearrangement or recomposition of existing pieces beyond the scope of a traditional arrangement. In this case, I drew heavily on Mozart as the operative musical framework. I have studied and taught Mozart for many years. Together with Bach, who stands alone at the pinnacle, Mozart has been my greatest classical teacher because of his transparency and clarity, followed by Haydn for his wit and humor. My other influences are Duke Ellington and George Gershwin, both of whom I’ve paid tribute to on this album. Another technical influence for this specific album was the string quartets of Bela Bartok. My greatest jazz influence is the Bach of jazz, Charlie Parker.”
In Rezurrektion, Alpern’s dedication to creating a harmonious blend of diverse musical elements is palpable. Each piece is a testament to his careful and inventive fusion of genres while still honoring the classical underpinnings of the compositions.
The intricate details of this fusion process become evident in pieces like “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” Here, Alpern introduces syncopated pizzicato sections that evoke the rhythmic swing typical of jazz. This subtle alteration adds a layer of complexity, transforming the classical piece into a lively conversation between genres.
Moreover, Alpern’s use of rock melodies as source material is executed with finesse. These melodies, seamlessly woven into the fabric of classical compositions, underscore his ability to blur the lines between genres while maintaining a cohesive sonic narrative.
Alpern’s harmonic progressions further exemplify his commitment to a multi-genre fusion. Drawing from classical, popular music, and jazz, he crafts harmonic progressions that are diverse and unexpected. Each statement of a melody is adorned with a fresh harmonic pattern, imbuing the pieces with an evolving emotional depth and a storied vibe.
His recomposition of Mozart’s “C Major Sonata” is another showcase of rhythmic ingenuity. Alpern infuses the piece with a jazz rhythm swing style and Afro-Caribbean rhythmic motifs. His creative tweaking of the original score’s rhythmic structures allows the piece to fluidly transition between these rhythmic scenes.
Q: The title “Rezurrektion” is both evocative and unique in its spelling. What inspired this particular title, and how does its unconventional spelling reflect the ethos of the album?
- A: “The title Rezurrektion captures the aesthetic idea of taking older existing pieces, familiar and often iconic, and resurrecting them in a contemporary style. Rather than creating entirely from scratch, which I do on other projects, this album draws upon the history of music and the available repertoire in all genres. I try to breathe new life into old tunes, like pouring new wine into old bottles. The funky spelling Rezurrektion rather than Resurrection suggests that the music has a slight twist, a creative nod, so that the multiple styles and excerpts are not exact replications, but recomposed and altered renditions. This is a resurrection, but a funked-up one.”
Rezurrektion, as an album title, is particularly evocative, cleverly encapsulating the essence of Alpern’s endeavor to breathe new life into classical compositions. The unconventional spelling mirrors the subtle transformations Alpern applies to well-known pieces, adding an element of modernity.
In pieces like “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” Alpern intertwines inventive harmonic patterns with quotes from popular music, reviving the composition with fresh layers of complexity. Similarly, Duke Ellington’s “Black Beauty” is reimagined with a rich texture that aligns with the sophistication and elegance of the original jazz piece. Alpern effortlessly navigates between Tchaikovsky-esque passages and elements of ragtime and blues, offering listeners a rich tapestry that blurs the lines between classical and jazz.
Alpern’s approach to fusing classical and popular music aligns him with composers like George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, John Adams, and Osvaldo Golijov. Just as Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Bernstein’s “West Side Story” became iconic blends of classical and jazz, and Adams’ “City Noir” and Golijov’s “Ainadamar” offer unique and innovative fusions of classical and popular music, Rezurrektion stands poised to engage a diverse audience, from jazz and classical enthusiasts to general music lovers.
Q: Tracks like “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” showcase advanced techniques, from intricate counterpoint to rhythmic innovations. Could you discuss your approach to reharmonization and the incorporation of extended techniques in the string quartet format?
- A: “I am a trained classical composer and music theorist who has studied and analyzed classical music and techniques extensively. I have also studied and performed music from other cultures, including African and Indian music, both of which employ highly developed rhythmic schemes. I apply all these techniques to vernacular music, treating all the styles the same. I also do the reverse of applying jazz and rock techniques to classical music, such as reharmonization, syncopated bass line, ostinatos, and improvisation. The string quartet is one the greatest ensembles ever created. I can treat these instruments, violin 1, violin 2, viola, and cello, as four independent structural voices, soprano, alto, tenor, and bass (SATB), regardless of timbre. I could recompose these same pieces for any four-part ensemble. My last album, Saxology, is for saxophone quartet. Its instruments, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, and baritone sax, present the same SATB format. With minor adjustments for range, I could have composed Rezurrektion for saxophone quartet. When I work with a larger jazz ensemble, I treat the trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, and trombone as a four-part SATB ensemble. Rezurrektion could be recomposed for a jazz combo with a rhythm section. With some adjustments, it could be for choir.”
The technical intricacies woven into Rezurrektion are striking, especially in pieces like “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.” Alpern’s skillful reharmonization and adept use of counterpoint not only breathe new life into the classics but also make them accessible to a wider audience, all while preserving their technical complexity.
Every track on the album is a testament to Alpern’s mastery of melody and his profound understanding of tension and release. This is evident in his counterpoint writing and reharmonizations, which are seamlessly integrated into the compositions. Alpern’s deep comprehension of the capabilities of the Sirius Quartet enables him to explore a variety of extended techniques, including Col legno, pizzicato, harmonics, tapping, Sul ponticello, Sul tasto, and Bartók pizzicato. These techniques are artfully employed throughout the album to enhance the auditory experience.
Alpern underscores that the adaptability of his music is such that, even if performed by a choir, the essence would translate seamlessly. The extended techniques would be thoughtfully developed to suit the specific SATB ensemble, underscoring Alpern’s creative prowess in understanding and writing for his performers.
In crafting narratives rich with emotion within each piece, Alpern echoes the Romantic era’s emphasis on expression. His work finds resonance with composers like Golijov, known for using extended techniques to convey nuanced rhythms and emotions, and Frédéric Chopin, famed for his emotive harmonic progressions. Like these predecessors, Alpern’s arrangements invite listeners on a poignant and emotionally resonant journey.
Q: With your deep roots in the Motown sound and a rich academic background, how do these influences converge in Rezurrektion? Are there specific moments in the album that you feel are direct tributes or nods to these origins?
- A: “The convergence of diverse influences in Rezurrektion occurs on three different levels. First, much of the music is freely composed without direct quotation, but idiomatically in the particular genre I am using. I have absorbed all these diverse styles in my ear, mind, and body over the years. Second, in many cases, there is a deep and perhaps hidden integration of different pieces. For example, “Rent/Holberg” presents a structural synthesis of Jonathan Larson’s song “Without You” from the Broadway musical Rent, and the Prelude of Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite.” I picked these two because I love them both. Another example of a deeper structural integration takes place in the merging of Mozart’s “F Major Sonata” with “I Don’t Want to Live Without You” by Foreigner. The melody weaves in and out of these two divergent pieces, producing a post-genre blending. I am reminded of John Cage’s response in this respect when asked why two seemingly random musical passages went together. He said, “they go together because I put them together.” Another instance of this deeper structural integration occurs in “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” where Mozart’s iconic piece is mashed up with the 1950s doo-wop classic “Little Darlin'” by the Diamonds and Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.” Finally, I integrate Duke Ellington’s “Black Beauty” with a famous passage from Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony. The reconciliation of conflict in juxtaposition is an important aspect of resurrection. Finally, there are numerous direct quotations from disparate vernacular and classical sources, including jazz standards, Broadway show tunes, popular music, and other classical pieces. I generally draw upon these from my own memory without consulting the original music, so invariably, there are personal, idiosyncratic alterations creating inexact replications. Many of these occur in “Eine kleine Nachtmusik,” but they permeate the entire album. Some of these are “All the Things You Are” by Jerome Kern, “Baby Hold On” by Eddie Money, “Do Re Mi” by Richard Rodgers, and the James Bond Theme. There are also classical quotations from Mozart’s own “G minor Symphony,” the “Lacrimosa” from Mozart’s Requiem, and Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.””
The subtle interweaving of Motown influences into Rezurrektion is a nod to Alpern’s skillful ability to blend diverse musical styles and traditions. This is particularly evident in tracks such as “Rent/Holberg,” where historical pieces are gracefully brought into conversation with more contemporary musical styles.
In “Rent/Holberg,” Alpern cleverly maneuvers the percussive effect typically found on the second and fourth beats of a measure, a distinctive trait that artfully incorporates the percussive backbeat found in the Motown sound. The way he orchestrates this effect around the Sirius Quartet is fascinating: at times, it is produced by a pizzicato pluck of the strings, while at other times, it is achieved by striking the instrument with the bow. This percussive motif is passed seamlessly among all four players, creating a dynamic and engaging auditory experience.
Alpern’s ingenuity doesn’t stop there; he allows different melodies to be performed concurrently by the other players, continuing his signature style of complex counterpoint and lush harmonies. This careful juxtaposition and integration of elements not only serve as delightful surprises but also create a bridge between historical compositions and modern influences, making the listening experience both familiar and refreshingly novel.
Q: Given the ever-evolving landscape of music and the increasing fusion of genres, where do you see the place of contemporary classical music, especially in the context of works like Rezurrektion, in resonating with the newer generation of listeners?
- A: “The younger generation loves classical music; they just don’t know it because it has been marketed badly. So much of contemporary film music and music for commercials and television comes out of the classical tradition. Much of contemporary popular music, hip-hop, techno, and various sub-genres, including the new school of jazz, are inspired by classical music. Kendrick Lamar cites Beethoven as a major influence. You can hear Mozart’s melodies in many television commercials. Leonard Bernstein, a profound influence on me as a child and teenager, claimed that good music transcends all boundaries and has no genre. He used the analogy of the eclecticism of American society with the eclecticism of his own musical style. I grew up in the Detroit area listening to Motown, jazz, rock, and classical music, and was an avid follower of Bernstein. I am seeking to achieve the same transcendence as he did with his music. My music is for everybody.”
Rezurrektion indeed has the potential to resonate deeply with a younger audience, skillfully bridging the gap between the traditional and the contemporary. Alpern’s approach to reimagining classical pieces infuses them with a fresh vitality while still preserving their timeless essence.
Listeners are immediately drawn into the rearrangements, where familiar rhythms and melodies from various genres pique curiosity and invite further exploration. The seamless blending of classical motifs with elements of jazz, rock, and pop creates moments of delightful surprise and fosters an engaging listening experience.
By intertwining the classic with the contemporary, Alpern crafts a musical tapestry that feels both familiar and innovative. This delicate balance could undoubtedly captivate younger listeners, introducing them to the richness of classical music through a contemporary lens that is both accessible and engaging.
Q: After the success and innovation of Rezurrektion, what’s next on the horizon for you? Are there other classical pieces or genres you’re looking to explore and reimagine in your signature style?
- A: “My next release will be another collection of jazz fusion arrangements already recorded called Batman, in the mold of my earlier albums, Frankenstein and Skeleton. The lead tune “Bat Man” is a heavy jazz-rock-rap version of the “Chinese Dance” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite that seriously rocks. I also have an arrangement of Stephen Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle” in the anthem style of Freddie Mercury and Queen, and a mashup of the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” in a humorous old-time jazz band style with a smokin’ klezmer/reggae middle section. There’s a tribute to my home roots in Motown’s “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops but in a soft-shoe style, and “Desafinado” and “Have You Met Miss Jones” in a flashy big stage band style. After Batman I’m releasing two already recorded albums of original compositions, Alchemy for woodwind quintet performed by the Imani Winds and Modern Music for Piano, Vol. 1 performed by Steve Beck. Both of these are produced by the multiple Grammy winner, classical producer Judy Sherman. I should also give a big nod to the Dave Darlington, my engineer from the beginning, who recorded and perfectly mixed Rezurrektion. The cover is from a painting by Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) and my talented art designer is Mircea Eni in Tokyo. And let’s not forget Kari Gaffney who’s been a great support in handling promotion. Last but not least is the Sirius Quartet — Chern Hwei Fung 1st violin, Gregor Huebner 2nd violin, Ron Lawrence viola, and Jeremy Harman cello — whose performance on this album is impeccable. They understood and absorbed my post-genre aesthetic and moved fluidly and musically between radically juxtaposed and integrated compositional styles. Then there will be a slight pause while I’m finishing my book on the music theorist Heinrich Schenker and the relationship between music and law.“
Wayne Alpern’s Rezurrektion is a journey through time, artistry, and innovation. His daring fusions and meticulously crafted arrangements offer listeners a fresh perspective on familiar classics, demonstrating the boundless and perpetually evolving nature of the language of music. The Sirius Quartet, with their exceptional skill and emotive performances, bring Alpern’s visionary compositions to life, delivering a rich and immersive listening experience. Together, Alpern and the Sirius Quartet elevate the art of musical conversation, reminding us of the infinite possibilities that emerge when tradition and innovation coalesce harmoniously.
Connect with Wayne Alpern: Website |
September 15, 2023
Henri Elkan Music