Two June releases from MN Records: Six Celan Songs, The Ballad of Kastriot Rexhepi, and Nyman Brass

Composed 11 years apart, Michael Nyman’s Six Celan Songs and The Ballad of Kastriort Rexhepi feature Sarah Leonard and Hilary Summers, singers the composer cites as key interpreters of his vocal music.
The Six Celan Songs were composed in 1990 for acclaimed German singer Ute Lemper. For this cycle, Nyman selected six of Paul Celan’s less hermetic texts, which represented the poet’s attempt to come to terms with the impossibility-according to German philosopher and social critic Theodor Adorno-of writing poetry after the Holocaust. The songs individually and collectively express the horror and emptiness experienced by the writer in exile. Nyman uses music to reinvent an imaginary emotional world related to the Romanian background in 1920s Bukovina, where Celan was born.

The Ballad of Kastriot Rexhepi, unlike the Six Celan Songs, deals directly with a war situation: an 18-month-old Kosovan boy, left for dead during the Balkan Wars, is found and re-named by the Serbs and reunites with his parents six months later. It is the most recent in Nyman’s series of collaborations with visual artists-in this case, the American feminist/conceptualist Mary Kelly. Kelly provided the composer with a complex text in simple ballad form, which he brilliantly subverts in his 18-minute piece. The work was written for Sarah Leonard and the Nyman Quartet and received its first performance in 2001 at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, surrounded by Kelly’s visual representation of the text.

Nyman Brass marks the first time an entire album of the composer’s music has been entrusted to an ensemble other than the musicians who regularly work with him. For this recording, Nyman’s works have been expertly arranged by John Parkinson and Andrew Berryman for the British brass band Wingates Band.

The two main sequences on the album are from the scores to Volker Schlöndorff’s 1996 film The Ogre and Laurence Dunmore’s The Libertine (2005). Rounding out the album are two Michael Nyman Band classics, In Re Don Giovanni and Chasing sheep is best left to shepherds from The Draughtman’s Contract (Peter Greenaway, 1982). Here the music sounds significantly different from the original performances. The composer remarks that “the whole sound-world was transformed. Things like repeated rhythms which I originally gave to piano are punchier, edgier, more dangerous on cornets and trombones.”

Wingates Band was formed in 1873 by the members of the Bible Class of Wingates Independent Methodist Church in Westhoughton, Bolton, in response to a challenge from members of Westhoughton Old Band, founded in 1858. By the turn of the century, led by legendary ‘giant’ of the British brass band movement Willaim Rimmer, Wingates had become one of the top bands in the country. In 1906, the Band achieved national fame by winning the “double”: the British Open and the British National Championships. The following year, Wingates astounded the brass band world by completing the “double” again. For more information, visit www.wingatesband.org.

Michael Nyman comments that it was “a privilege” to work with Wingates. Although his music is very different from what the players were used to, Nyman says they “picked up the style, especially the formality of the music, and it soon sounded second nature to them …I loved the spirit of the playing, the instant dedication and the energy in what is a very new sound world for me.”