Mike Greenberg, Classical Voice America (2016)
"The world premiere of a tough-minded, intricately designed, devilishly difficult cello concerto by the American composer Jeffrey Mumford was the intriguing second course of a contemporary feast served by the San Antonio Symphony under guest conductor John Axelrod on Jan. 22 in the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. The indefatigable cello soloist was Christine Lamprea.
Mumford dedicated his concerto to Elliott Carter.
Mumford, born in Washington, D.C., in 1955, has a penchant for poetic descriptive titles – in the present instance, of fields unfolding…echoing depths of resonant light. Among Mumford’s teachers was Elliott Carter, to whose memory the concerto is dedicated. It is cast as a single movement that clocked in at just under 22 minutes.
The music takes a firm stand on Mumford’s own sui generis aesthetic. He declined to follow other composers of his generation down any of the paths of “accessibility” that dominated new music after the late 20th century’s general turn against serialism. But neither is he a strict serialist.
In a 1997 New York Times article, writer K. Robert Schwarz quoted Mumford: “[Serialism] has left us with just another technique to use in our arsenal of expressive tools…. When I use a row in my work, I’m not dogmatic about it, and certainly it’s not thorough or all-pervasive.”
Lamprea brought limpid beauty of tone to the demanding solo part. The demanding solo part calls for vertiginous leaps, long roller-coaster runs, an abundance of double- and triple-stops and a few quadruple-stops, frequent breaking of the general 4/4 meter into various -tuplets, and sometimes all of the above virtually at once, to say nothing of those serialistic flats and sharps requiring constant vigilance. There are two extensive cadenzas, both written out and accompanied by tuned percussion and flecks of color from harp and winds. The solo line has rhapsodic episodes, and its frenetic passages suggest burgeoning, indomitable, unruly life.
The orchestration is atmospheric and spare, a Cézanne landscape of shimmering, delicate, iridescent color sometimes overlaid by broad, bold strokes that evoke the fitful churning of the gears in a gigantic, ancient machine. If there is a fault in this concerto it is a flatness of dramatic contour. The piece doesn’t seem to have a destination in mind. But when the scenery en route is so comely, maybe that doesn’t matter."
Steve Smith: New York Times (4/8/14)
Mike Telin: Clevelandclassical.com (7/8/14) Link to review
"Jeffrey Mumford wrote his “of ringing and layered space” with specific pianists — including [Jenny] Lin and [Lura] Johnson — in mind for each of its five sections. The title seemed to apply particularly to Lin’s movement; with its complex array of melodic lines over a wash of pedaled strings, it had the quality of an insistent dream. Johnson’s movement was earthier and more extroverted, with even a hint of barrelhouse here and there; both were fine, satisfying works."
-Stephen Brooks, The Washington Post
"Put simply, Jeffrey Mumford's music is a place where extraordinary compositional skills, a keen mind, and an intuitive empathy for the full spectrum of human emotions, meet and are given expressive form."
-Joshua Freeman, American Composer's Forum Newsletter
"… a fine strong piece… a near Medieval purity of line…"
-Tim Page, The Washington Post
"… a gracious use of instruments and a style of writing that is abstract yet attractively figurative"
-Joseph Dalton, "Time Out" New York
"… a philosophy of music making that embraced both raw passion and a gentle imagistic poetry… his pieces carry musical evocations of the effects he describes"
-Alan Kozinn, The New York Times
"Jeffrey Mumford is emerging as a truly important composer of the last decade or so of this century."
-Joan Reinthaler, The Washington Post
"…a composer who makes something mesmerizing and beautiful out of harmonic ambiguity…Compelling listening; excellent performances
… a coloristic glow created by the leisurely unfolding of layered lines… contemplative with gleaming touches evoking poetic sonic imagery"
-Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
"…a style of writing that is abstract yet attractively figurative…Mumford's sounds are distant and floating, often gentle and beguiling…remarkably rich and varied."
-Joseph Dalton, Time Out New York
"[The] balance between impressionism and expressionism makes Mumford's music quite listenable if not outright interesting."
-American Record Guide
"…evocative music that does not reveal all it has to say on the first hearing but invites and rewards repeated [listening]."
-Joseph McLellan, Washington Post
"… this music…has a deeply thoughtful, even soulful integrity…
… Mumford is a composer to watch."
-Robert Carl, Fanfare
"Changing almost like a kaleidoscope, a Mumford chord can sound like Brahms, one of his heroes, one moment and then ca suddenly be a spiky chromatic entity. The handling of these masterful transition in harmonic coloration is…a hallmark of Mumford's subtle and expressive style."
-Joseph Pehrson, The New Music Connoisseur
the focus of blue light for Violin and Piano
"This is a piece I could listen to several times more, trying to feel out its formal argument while still enjoying its visceral pleasures…Mumford is a composer to watch."
-Robert Carl, Fanfare
eight aspects of appreciation for Violin and Viola
"Mumford is an astute craftsman who understands different timbres and their subtlety. In this work, in eight sections, he explores the timbral relationship between the violin and viola."
-Sorab Modi, The Strad
"The work was no warm, fuzzy tribute; instead, its brief movements suggests a series of thorny topics. The Manns threw themselves into the whirl of angular, combative lines with the kind of virtuosity Mumford’s piece seemed designed to display."
-Joe Banno, The Washington Post
the clarity of remembered springs for Viola
"…a melancholy, elegiac piece that is nicely suited to the viola’s deep voice. Its tempo is slow, yet it moves compellingly forward."
-Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
amid fleeting pockets of billowing radiance for Cello
"It was a fascinating experience and the highpoint of a recital…"
-Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post
WITHIN A CLOUDBURST
"…brief but potent … an abstract riot of color, dissonance and density"
-Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press
as the air softens in dusklight for Orchestra
"The work depicts clouds in motion… Largely static, often pointillistic, dusklight skillfully exploits sonorities and moods, with reflective passages interrupted by threatening sounds."
-Derrick Henry, Atlanta Journal / Constitution
"…Mumford creates structures analogous to cloud formations, in which competing sonorities rise and fall, creating a unique beguiling effect."
-Mary Ellen Hutton, Cincinnati Post
"Perhaps the evening’s most forward-looking composition… Melodically austere and rhythmically diverse, Mumford’s work served nicely to showcase the quality of CCM’s Philharmonia."
-Keith Morris, The Cincinnati Enquirer
within a cloudburst of echoing brightness Fanfare for Orchestra
"Mumford has packed an enormous amount of musical activity into what I can only call a four-minute epic. The harmonies are dense but never impenetrable, the orchestral colors are downright prismatic, the dissonances are aggressive and angular yet brimming with poetry and nuance."
-Tim Page, The Washington Post
toward a deepening stillness beyond visible light
"…there couldn't have been a more attentive and appreciative audience…His one movment, atmospheric piano quintet stretches the listeners' ears and imaginations."
-Mary Hoffman, Columbus Dispatch