Abiquiu Sketches

Morristown New Jersey, January 31, 1998, Colonial Symphony, Yehuda Gilad, conductor

Classical New Jersey, February 4, 1998, Paul Somers

… It was, therefore no surprise that in celebration of his tenth season, Gilad conducted the world premiere of the evocative Abiquiu Sketches by Frederick Lesemann, his colleague at the University of Southern California. The other pieces on the program, each with their own challenges, to be sure, were nevertheless known quantities. So the great pleasure of the evening was hearing Gilad bring a new work to life.

Lesemann, who was of course present, was interviewed by Martin Bookspan during the pre-concert talk. Lesemann spoke with great fondness of the Lower Chama Valley in northern New Mexico, about half way between Santa Fe and the Colorado border. It is the land of buttes, high desert, layers of ancient civilizations, the land of saints brought by conquistadors and priests, and the land of artist Georgia O'Keeffe.

The first of the four painterly "sketches" was a festive dance interrupted by sudden stasis in  the strings as if some ghost of millennia past were making its presence felt. The astonishing metallic percussion strokes recalled the hardness of the land and the sharp strikes of stone on stone to make the flint tools which flowed for centuries from the nearby Cerro Pedrenal (sic).

Even with opportunities for solo moments in the winds, the second movement "Bulto: The Man of Sorrows" was more a somber mood than a sorrowing melody. "The Alleluias of Santa Rosa and Santo Thomas (sic)" used the Gregorian chants for the name days of the two saints, juxtaposing and blending them. The movement was not, however, always filled with chanting, but also had moments of a modern fiesta.

"The Smile of Georgia O'Keeffe," the finale, was inspired by photographer Ansel Adams' picture of the artist with her reserve down. Perhaps because of the general proximity of the Santa Fe Opera, which has been working its way through the entire Richard Strauss operatic cycle over the years, Lesemann  conceived of O'Keeffe as a Straussian female. …


Grand Hope Crossing

Walt Disney Concert Hall, April 18, 2004, USC Thornton Symphony, Sergiu Comissiona, conductor

Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2004, Daniel Cariaga

Lesemann's new piece uses the orchestra's lavish resources generously and builds to an exciting, naturally accumulative climax. Comissiona and his charges gave it careful treatment, if with a lower energy level than might have been expected.


Symphony in Three Movements

Buffalo, NY, April 1 and 3, 1973, Buffalo Philharmonic, Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor

Buffalo Courier-Express, April 2, 1973, Thomas Putnam

Lesemann's score came across with clarity and strength. … The first movement is tensely harmonic, and rhythmically energetic. The second is more expressive, with beautiful lines (a Mahlerian luxuriance in which are set three-flute chords) songful cellos, and wind solos that are lazy, tranquil. The "sigh" is stretched to span an octave, a Stravinskyan displacement. The "silent" theme of the finale is introduced after a massive chord and timpanum shot, whose resonance invades the silence. These are not fermata pauses, but measured time; we watch the conductor beat. Gradually the "silent" theme is filled with sound, variation. Silence is Lesemann's weakest theme; his music is sounder, embodied by mass and sock. Lesemann is a composer of considerable craft and sensibility.


Concerto for Piano and Electronic Tape

Piano Spheres, January 23, 2001, Susan Svrcek, piano

Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2001, John Henken

… The second half of her program was given over to Frederick Lesemann's Concerto for Piano and Electronic Tape, itself robustly multifarious. Lesemann deals creatively with the problems of integrating live performance with prerecorded sounds, opting for practical and musical solutions rather than technological ones. He also makes his poly-stylistic forays cohere, through complex but ear-friendly harmonic and intervallic relationships.

Svrcek played the roiling outer movements with tautly accented rhythmic drive. The slow movement, with its latent electronic rumbles, is most distinctive, and Svrcek dropped in her part with a sure ear for apposite sonority.



Piano-Spheres, The Neighborhood Church, March 21, 1995, Susan Svrcek, piano

Los Angeles Times, March 23 (?), 1995, Daniel Cariaga

Surrounding that there was Chopinesque emotion, first in the genuine article, the D-flat Nocturne, Opus 27, No. 2, then in a dense homage, Frederick Lesemann's revised 1990s Ballade, which the composer - a longtime USC professor, and Svrcek's husband - modeled on the F-minor Ballade.

It is a gripping work, thoroughly and atonally of this decade, yet it seems to cram a quarter-hour of original music into 10 brief minutes. Too tight.


Fantasy for Piano Solo

Monday Evening Concerts, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 3, 1966, David Berfield, piano

Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, October 4, 1966, Patterson Greene

I particularly liked Lesemann's Fantasy, which was played with spirit and technical éclat by David Berfield. It is not too far ahead of time, but it has freshness, independence and purpose. Its thematic material grows naturally into a sort of informal form - a dubious expression, I admit, but somehow it says what I want to say. The moods, tempi and dynamics have variety, and I hope that last night will not have provided my last opportunity to hear the work.



Ojai Music Festival, May 31, 1975, Ralph Grierson, prepared piano

Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1975, Martin Bernheimer

Two brand-new piano pieces whetted avant-gardish appetites and allowed Ralph Grierson to capitalize on unorthodox keyboard flamboyance. Lesemann's "Nataraja," presumably inspired by the South Indian god of dancing, uses a prepared piano for an engaging, dashing, jangling, popping, clacking, clicking orgy of subtly changing (and evolving) rhythmic patterns.



Recording by Ralph Grierson, prepared piano, on Town Hall Records

Contemporary Keyboard, December, 1979, Jim Aikin

The fun piece on the album is Nataraja, an 8 1/2-minute romp for prepared piano, much of which is unbroken strings of sixteenth-notes that exhibit few or no simple one-bar repetitions. Every bar offers new recombinations and reorderings of the percussive sounds, so that even though only one note is being played at a time, the polyrhythmic effect is overwhelming. This piece must be horrendously difficult to play, but Grierson's technical command turns it into an artistic triumph. The constant shifting of tone color and the dry bouncing quality of the notes gives somewhat the effect of a lot of brightly colored pebbles tumbling down an incline - or maybe it's sixteen mad Munchkins banging on tam-tams, and tiny anvils. Whatever comparison you prefer, the music is certainly a delight to listen to. domo per saecula

Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, Japan America Theatre, April 4, 1988, John Harbison, conductor, and Rebecca Sherburn, soprano

Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1988, John Henken

The theater proved not as hospitable sonically to Frederick Lesemann's brightly attractive  "Alleluia…In Domo Per Saecula" as the USC University Church had last year in its premiere, but soprano Rebecca Sherburn again soared in its clean, elegant lines, deftly partnered by clarinetist Lorin Levee against the shifting background of antiphonal brass.


Five Fugues for String Quartet (Sir Blue Slips a Trend)

Huntington Library, July 12 (?), 1997, Southwest String Quartet

Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1997, John Henken

The other big piece on the program was "Sir Blue Slips a Trend," a group of five colorful fugues by Frederick Lesemann. Though better known for electronically realized scores, Lesemann here demonstrates considerable instrumental insight and imagination, from the fiercely controlled rhythmic stutter of the "Blue Fugue" to the eerie liquid beauty of the "Trans-Fugue." The Southwesters turned it out with obvious relish and pointed precision.


Sonata for Clarinet and Percussion

Carnegie Recital Hall, NY, February 12, 1980, The Uwharrie Duo

New York Times, February 17, 1980, Joseph Horowitz

The most sustained effort to suggest a shared exposition of ideas, as opposed to merely manipulating mood and texture, came in Mr. Lesemann's Sonata for Clarinet and Percussion (1968, 1972), which also effectively employs a vibraphone to surround the clarinet tones with a ghostly, oscillating halo.



Chamber Music Society of the Monterey Peninsula, Sunset Center Theater, February 14, 1995, Southwest String Quartet

Coast Weekly, February 23, 1995, Scott MacClelland

The performance was clear and concise, detailing a variety of effects emphasizing exotic colors and new forms on which to hang its musical inventions.  Having gained from other important contemporary developments  … , Lesemann took on the challenge boldly and provided conclusive evidence of new life in a tradition of composition that had grown morbidly rootbound.  Ostinato, a mainstay of the classical tradition, supplies an essential foundation in this work (as it has for much recent music) which releases remarkable energy from minimal materials.  In the process, Lesemann fulfills the same premise of every serious artist, and with far better results than most; as Picasso put it, "Forcing yourself to use restricted means is the sort of restraint that liberates invention."

60th Birthday Concert at the Armory

Southwest Chamber Music Society, Soliloquy Series, Pasadena, May 9, 1997

Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1997, John Henken

In music, technological energies of late have been largely invested in linking electronic effects and live performance.  So the belated 60th birthday concert for Frederick Lesemann, presented by the Southwest Chamber Music Society Saturday evening at the Armory Center for the Arts, proved an uncommon celebration, consisting as it did of seven of Lesemann's prerecorded electronic pieces unmediated by human performers.

Lesemann does not compose only via electronics. He was for many years the director of the Electronic Music Studio at USC, where all of the works on the program were created between 1975 and 1992, and his technological expertise is unquestioned. He can parse a lone coyote howl into a fiercely chattering ballet mécanique as he does in "Shotsona (Trickster's Dance)," and he can transmute a broad broken synthesized chord into a stairway to heaven as in "Angels' Flight."

For the joy of pure pulse power there was "Hammer Phase," a completely synthetic exercise in monomania. "Ordnal's Frenzy" is a more varied character piece, sort of amiable computer parlor music, while "Mesita Dreams" layers synthesized counterpoint over a recording of natural sounds from a New Mexico countryside. The prosaic first of Lesemann's "Paradiso XXI (Five Visions From Dante)" is less successful artistically than the magical third; both involve deconstructing recorded spoken passages.

Many of these soundscapes resonate in interesting ways with works in the Armory's "Romanticism and Contemporary Landscape" exhibition, and the audience was encouraged to walk around the gallery while the music was played. The experience proved at once both more intense and more isolating, as everyone in the audience created their own interactive multimedia performance.


The Knight's Tour

New Image of Sound, Hunter College, NY, December 5, 1968 (Monday Evening Concerts Tour), Barry Silverman, Phillip Lehrman, Percussionists, and Michael Tilson Thomas, piano

High Fidelity / Musical America, February 1969, Edmund Haines

… At the other end of the scale of control was the concluding work of Frederick Lesemann, The Knight's Tour, in which no pitches at all are notated, but only configurations of lines or sound-types or treatments. As the title suggests, the score is analogous to squares on a chess board, different boxes indicating treatments and combinations, worked out by three performers who improvise and cue each other. With so little control by the composer, the effect of Knight's Tour depends heavily upon the performers. This version was exciting and occasionally ear-splitting.