Ezra Sims: Musing and Reminiscenceby Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Although Ezra Sims was born in Birmingham, he is associated with New England, being based in Cambridge, MA, since 1958; before that he studied at Yale with Quincy Porter and with Darius Milhaud at Mills College. Sims made his debut in 1959 in a concert given by the Composer's Forum in New York City, and at that time he was exclusively writing serial music. Sims has stated that his switch to composing microtonal music in 1960 was the natural result of his ear inclining in that direction, and that "it became apparent that I would either compose with intervals smaller than the half step or not compose at all." Beginning with quarter tones, Sims abandoned their use after his "Sextet" (1962) and gradually began to broaden his approach, arriving at his basic scale by 1970, an 18-note octave that can be modulated into a system of 72 pitches. The divisions between pitches are deliberately unsystematic and based on Sims' own preferences rather than perceived theoretical laws of temperament. While Sims' pioneering work has won him considerable recognition in academic circles, it has not earned him frequent recordings; the first release on record of any of his microtonal music did not appear until 1968 on the CRI label of Boston Musica Viva performing Sims' "String Quartet No. 3." Most early recorded performances of Sims' music have been collected on a disc in CRI's American Masters series; New World's Ezra Sims: Musing and Reminiscence consists entirely of recordings made in the 21st century. Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project -- along with solo clarinetists Amy Advocat and Michael Norsworthy -- have the most ambitiously scored work on the disc, "Concert Piece II" (2005). Boston Musica Viva return to Sims in a recording of the title work, "Music and Reminiscence" (2003); both of these works have a mysterious, romantic flavor to them with unstable beds of harmonic undercurrent wavering underneath the soloists like a layer of algae. The pieces are very linear and at times in swells of contiguous microtones can sound harsh, though listeners attuned to alternate harmonic systems -- such as those found in the work of Partch, with just intonation and some electronic music -- should have no problem internalizing any of it, though some others may not be able to stand it. "If I Told Him" (1996) -- a setting of Gertrude Stein's literary "portrait" of Pablo Picasso -- is the most captivating piece, with the alto Christina Ascher part-singing, part-intoning Stein's text while cellist Christoph von Erffa contributes an unpredictable and dynamic accompaniment. Ted Mook's solo cello turn "AEDM in mem" (1988) is a good general introduction to Sims' general microtonal approach, although at times it feels like an etude or exercise. Eric Moe's rendering of the early "Sonatine" (1957) and his duet with Mook on Sims' "Sonata" (1957) are both really good examples of Sims' 12-note style, successfully modeled on the example of Anton Webern to the extent one nearly regrets that Sims decided to change his direction. Sims is one of those stubborn American visionaries whose music goes its own route. A large part of the appeal of his work to musicians is that he provides the means to produce totally unheard harmonic combinations without the use of specially built instruments or tunings. That the road may be rough sometimes to the uninitiated is part of the territory, and those who are intrigued with the sense of adventure offered in microtonal music will find Ezra Sims an expert tour guide.
- Release Date:
- New World Records
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