Following the critically acclaimed Frog's Eye, Big Grenadilla/Mumbai marks the second Cantaloupe Music collaboration between composer/clarinetist Evan Ziporyn and Gil Rose's Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP). It is also the second time that Evan has teamed up with world-renowned tabla player Sandeep Das - a member of the Silk Road Ensemble - thus forging together a non-western master musician with a premiere western orchestra.
Founder and longtime member of of the Bang on a Can All-Stars and founder of the Gamelan Galak Tika, Evan Ziporyn creates music at the crossroads of genre and culture. Having avoided the standard classical orchestra for most of his career, Evan came around to viewing the western orchestra as a world music ensemble - a reliquary of folk instruments and practices, rebuilt and retuned to play together; something that was constantly evolving - and he wanted to be a part of the evolution, to bring more outside elements in. An album that could have been titled 'Outsider Concertos', Big Grenadilla and Mumbai have done just that: two works written for orchestra featuring non-orchestral instruments.
Commissioned and premiered by the American Composers Orchestra in 2006, Big Grenadilla features Evan Ziporyn on bass clarinet and is named for the wood from which clarinets are made and the 'big' orchestra, magnifying and framing. Wanting to highlight and amplify what he likes to do best on his instrument, Evan calls the piece 'an attempt at ancestor worship, on two levels: the instrument dreams of its living, rooted reality, with the orchestra playing the role of its environs.'
A concerto for tabla - Indian hand drums - and string orchestra, Mumbai is a memorial to and meditation on the terrorist bombings in that city in 2008. Soloist Sandeep Das is given 'complete freedom and no freedom' - the underlying rhythmic structure of the tabla is intricate and inflexible, but the nuances and specifics of his solo part are up him. He is backed up by a full percussion section, which implores a mixture of rhythms and applications of percussive textures and both are set against the harmonically resonant body of a string orchestra. Mumbai was commissioned by BMOP and premiered on May 27, 2011.
In his written introduction to this recording, Ziporyn notes the upsetting circumstances that surrounded the composition of this work, which features tabla player Sandeep Das with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and conductor Gil Rose. In 2008, just after Ziporyn began writing, terrorist attacks in Mumbai, including at VT, shook India and the rest of the world. As his response to those events, the piece's three movements became structured as Before, During and After. But Mumbai isn't a work that catalyzes grief. Instead, it's luminous and dreamlike, unfolding with a glow and a sense of wonder both intimate and soaring. This is music you climb inside as the tabla cuts through the gleaming strings.
Ziporyn's way of framing the excellent Das, a member of the Silk Road Ensemble, as soloist carries a deep satisfaction for lovers of Indian classical music. It wasn't all that long ago that this instrument (which is actually two drums, a right-handed drum that's the tabla proper and the left-handed, deeper-voiced drum called the bayan) weren't accepted within Indian classical music as worthy solo instruments. It was relegated instead as mere rhythmic accompaniment to singers or melodic instruments. It took the extraordinary talents of one virtuoso, Ustad Alla Rakha (the father of the very popular and gifted musician Zakir Hussain) to change that paradigm in the 1950s and 1960s. Given that tabla has been used for centuries, and that ancestral precursors like the double-headed pakhawaj have been around for even longer, the popularity of tabla in solo roles is, relatively speaking, brand new.
The companion piece, Big Grenadilla, is an amazing, virtuosic showpiece for bass clarinet, played by Ziporyn himself with Rose and the BMOP. And this brief 14-minute concerto is in itself worth a serious visit. A concerto for the hulking and awkward bass clarinet, you may ask? Yes, most assuredly and delightfully so - at least as long as it's in Ziporyn's hands. Here the terrain is more like a stage at an indie rock show than a meditative landscape. At the beginning, his clarinet growls and buzzes like an electric guitar and by the end, Ziporyn is wailing away like a rock legend, bathed in the light of the orchestra's pumping, frenetic energy. It's a whole other side of Ziporyn, a composer as variegated as the cultures he celebrates. --NPR Radio
There's something about Big Grenadilla/Mumbai, Evan Ziporyn's newest album on Cantaloupe which pairs two concertos for unconventional solo instruments, that leaves it akin to a mental yoga exercise, finding balance in extremes.
It's the Mumbai portion of the album that perhaps has the most profound effect. Written in response to the 2008 terrorist attacks on the eponymous city, it's a haunting and cathartic 35-minute ride that thunders with Sandeep Das's free-form tabla talents and a full-colored performance from Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Ziporyn's ethnomusicology (best displayed by his works for the gamelan) is in full force here, incorporating modes of Indian classical music that seamlessly blends the northern and southern disciplines of Hindustani and Carnati composition, a nod perhaps to Mumbai's situation in the midsection of the country.
The end comes with a numbing blow that hints at renewal, but also leaves you feeling a bit raw, an appropriate feeling to have four years after the city's devastating attacks. What cushions it further is the preceding track, Big Grenadilla. Written as a concerto for bass clarinet (played here by the composer), the piece takes its name from the synonymous wood used to make clarinets, and doesn t skimp on the 'big' aspect either.
In Ziporyn's performance, there's a hint of that godlike sigh that created the universe grand yet with some understandable uncertainties and ambiguities (Rome wasn't built in a day) set against an orchestra as vast as the final frontier. It builds in intensity, leading to a remarkable climax that mirrors the same in Mumbai, but to an entirely different end: Where the latter is about destruction, this is about creation. Thankfully, the end of the second track feeds into the beginning, giving us a galvanizing sense of hope after the last breath of overtone. --WQXR Radio, Olivia Giovetti