mode 76 Lydia Kavina, Theremin076theremin: Music from the Ether – original compositions for theremin by Bohuslav MARTINU: Fantasy for theremin, string quartet, oboe & piano.; Percy GRAINGER: Free Music #1 for 4 theremins + works of Joseph Schillinger, Isidor Achron, Kavina, Freidrich Wilckens, Jorge Antunes and Vladimir Kamorov. With Joshua Pierce (piano), Elizabeth Parcells (soprano), Portland String Quartet
As her hands dance around the instrument’s antennas, Lydia Kavina proves the theremin is no mere producer of Hollywood sound effects. One of the first attempts to unite music and scientific technology in the 20th century, the theremin is considered to be the ancestor of modern electronic musical instruments. It has been hailed as the “instrument of the future” (according to Cage, Varèse, Grainger and others) to Hollywood sound effect (played in soundtracks to Spellbound, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Lost Weekend, etc.) to rock-and-roll instrument (used by The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Portishead and others).
Russian theremin virtuoso Kavina presents the first release EVER dedicated solely to original compositions for the instrument-spanning the “golden age” of the theremin from its invention in the 1920s to contemporary works.
All FIRST RECORDINGS.
This disc is full of discoveries, including Martinu’s Fantasia, and Grainger’s graphically notated Free Music #1, along with other “period” works by Schillinger (known for his writings on music and as a guru to composers from Gershwin to Earle Brown) and Isidor Achron (the accompanist to Heifetz). Modern works are represented by Kavina herself, Brazilian Jorge Antunes (with electronic tape) and Russian Vladimir Komarov, whose work also incorporates the inventor’s voice and a rendition of Glinka’s infamous The Lark, which Theremin had performed for Lenin to demonstrate the instrument.
Kavina is today’s leading thereminist. The granddaughter of Leon Theremin’s first cousin, she was the inventor’s last protégée. She began studying the instrument with him at the age of 9, and was concertizing by age 14. She has appeared in Howard Shore’s soundtracks to eXistenZ and the Oscar-winning movie Ed Wood, and has performed in the Tom Waits/Robert Wilson collaborations Alice and The Black Rider. Kavina now serves on the lecture staff of The Glinka Museum and is affiliated with the Theremin Center, both in Moscow.
Kavina is accompanied by pianist Joshua Pierce (noted for his series of Cage piano works on Wergo as well as a virtuoso performer in the Romantic repertoire), the renowned Portland String Quartet and coloratura soprano Elizabeth Parcells.
A second disc of theremin works with Lydia Kavina and chamber ensemble by Oscar winner Howard Shore, Olga Neuwirth (one of Europe’s leading contemporary composers), Christian Wolff, Percy Grainger and Miklos Rozsa’s Spellbound. For release in 2006.
Features of this reissue of one of Mode’s best selling discs:
New 24-bit remastering from the original edited tapes brings out more detail and better tonal color.
The sonic range of the disc now spans 0 hz-20,000 khz, allowing playback systems to reproduce the subliminal sound of the theremin’s low frequency range.
Slightly revised packaging.
Lydia Kavina Music from the Ether: Original Works For Theremin Mode 76
Varied program from the world’s leading thereminist. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reissue of this 1999 disc was prompted by the interest generated in the woo-woo electronic instrument by the release of the documentary of Robert Moog, which we reviewed recently. The performer is seen in the film. Not just a simple reissue, the original CD has been remastered in 24-bit hi-res and the sonics are cleaner and more wide range than the earlier release. Kavina is the foremost theremin soloist in the world today, and is the granddaughter of the first cousin of Leon Theremin – the inventor back in the 1920s of the precursor to synthesizers and most electronic instruments. She began studying the instrument under his tutelage at age 9 – there is a photo of the two of the two of them in the note booklet. She also collaborated with Moog in a DVD on how to play the theremin, which is not an easy instrument to play well by any means. The Mode label is also working on a DVD of Kavina playing works for theremin and chamber ensemble plus several interviews.
There’s plenty of sites on the theremin on the Net, so I’ll concentrate on the specific works on this CD in lieu of an exhaustive treatise on this most unusual musical instrument. Percy Grainger has many sides to his personality, and it turns out the composer of Country Gardens also liked to experiment with music and even free it from the tempered system of Western music. He found the theremin “the most perfect of tonal instruments I know,” and created his first Free Music work for four of them, all four being played by Kavina here via overdubbing. Martinu composed his Fantasia for theremin, oboe, piano and strings in 1944 in New York City, where he was exiled during WW II. The many varieties of sound possible with the theremin appealed to this composer of colorful works.
Joseph Schillinger, who lived until 1943, sounds like a more modern Scriabin. The Ukrainian musical visionary founded the first jazz orchestra in the Soviet Union and in America was a guru to musicians ranging from Gershwin to Earle Brown. He was attracted to electronic instruments and had theories about the coordination of all the arts into one means of expression. He wrote his “Electric Movement” using mathematical and geometrical structures, and exploited the ability of the instrument to “provide a tone of infinite durations without renewal of attack.” Kavina’s own two works exhibit many unusual effects possible on the theremin in the first and similarities to the human voice in the second, which has a soprano vocal part.
Ms. Kavina looks good in her strapless. After all, if you play a musical instrument without every actually touching it, you wouldn’t want clothing interfering in any way with your arm and finger movements. From adolescence on I have always wanted a theremin of my own. I think its use in the soundtracks of “Spellbound’ and “The Red House” were my stimuli for this. I recall Bob Moog’s kit version was originally only $50. You can still purchase a theremin online. Anyway, this probably explains why I love and recommend this CD. Your mileage may vary. — John Sunier, Audiophile Audition (online magazine), 14 November 2005
Lydia Kavina Music from the Ether: Original Works For Theremin Mode 76 (2005)
Do you want to know just how Brian Wilson’s Beach Persons gave us “Good Vibrations”? How did movie directors and their film score wizards keep us spellbound throughout The Lost Weekend until The Day the Earth Stood Still? One word: theremin. Perhaps the first electronic instrument, the theremin – named for its designer, this Russian fellow Leon Theremin – generated eerie sine-waves of sound when a human bean passed his/her hands ’round its “antenna.” Music From The Ether presents several varied classical compositions spanning 1929-1996 – never previously recorded, btw – writ especially for the theremin. The music herein ranges from the poised, Slavic folk-inspired tapestry “Fantasia, for theremin, oboe, piano & string quartet” by B. Martinu to the harrowing, virtually confrontational, industrial-strength pieces by Jorge Antunes and Vladimir Komarov. Featured soloist is Ms. Lydia Kavina, whose space-age acumen has been well-displayed on discs by Tom Waits and the soundtracks to Ed Wood and eXistenZ. Attention: noise-mongers of all artistic derivations, whether you’re tuned-in to John Cage, Merzbow, Boyd Rice, Pere Ubu, or the Velvet Underground, you owe it to your hep self to partake of this recently remastered, most exceptional platter. — Mark Keresman, http://www.sctas.com/, 10.24.05
Lydia Kavina Music from the Ether Mode 76
Music from the Ether is one of the few available discs employing the Theremin, and the most representative collection to date of art music written exclusively for the instrument. However, the importance of the disc is not only due to this fact, but because it symbolizes the significant role that the Theremin had in expanding the horizons of twentieth-century American music, preempting all other electronic instruments and becoming the standard method of producing electronic sound until the advent of the translator in the late 1960s….
…Music from the Ether is an attempt to focus on the body of music specifically written for the instrument, rather than target other well-known music and tunes arranged for Theremin. The disc consists of twelve tracks and totals just over an one hour of listening time. While as a solo instrument the sound of the Theremin can quickly wear thin, the pieces in this compilation range from solo unaccompanied Theremin, duets for Theremin and piano, Theremin and voice, Theremin and magnetic tape, through a quartet for four Thweremins, to full ensemble for Theremin, oboe, piano and string quartet. The composers of these pieces are Joseph Schillinger (1929 and 1932), Friedrich Wilckens (1933), Percy Grainger (1936), Bohuslav Martinu (1944), Isidor Achron (1945), Lydia Kavina (1989 and 1994), Jorge Antunes (1995), and Vladimir Komarov (1996) – an impressive battery covering over seventy years of music history presented in chronological order. The disc comes complete with a detailed booklet (presented in English, German and French) outlining historical background, listing the contents, credits, and sponsors, as well as informative liner notes by Olivia Mattis about the pieces and performers.
The disc may be looked upon as a three-part narrative. Part 1 is a compilation of pieces written for the Theremin before Kavina. Part 2 is a showcase for Lydia Kavina, the composer. Part 3 is an intersection between the Theremin and twentith-century electronic music. The disc opens with two Shillinger pieces. The first is a beautiful song without words and is actually the piano reduction of the opening movement to the First Airphonic Suite, performed in 1929 by Theremin himself as a soloist accompanied by Schillinger on piano with Nicola Sokoloff conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. The second, more thematic in character, is a show of mathematical (geometrical) principles as found in the Schillinger Method of Musical Composition (where the piece is used for illustratory purpose). Wilckens’s Dance in the Moon is a lyrical duet between piano and Theremin in an impressionistic style. The piece exemplifies how well the idiom suits the instrument. Percy Grainger’s Free Music #
1 is a fascinating exercise that employs a unique graphic score (left and right hands are notated on separate staves), an arrangement calling for four Theremins (all played by Kavina), and a compositional style of free tonality. Unfortunately, the piece lasts only 1’22” and the listener is left hanging in the air. Martinu’s Fantasy (premiered by Lucie Bigelow Rosen in 1945) is a beautiful piece that places the oboe in a position as the pivot between timbres of the Theremin and the strings (quartet and piano). While it was penned as one continuous movement lasting 14’23”, the piece resembles a chamber concerto employing an ABA form. In between dynamic peaks, the listener is led through an emotional soundscape running the gamut of human experiences. Isidor Achron was known mostly as the accompanist for Jascha Heifets, yet he did write some music. His Improvisation was dedicated to Lucie Bigelow Rosen as a recital piece. After a short introduction, the piece conforms to a more standard ABA form, and might have been intended to place the Theremin in between more popular Tin Pan Alley and classical music styles. Kavina’s two compositions are most definitely the show-pieces of the disc. Her performance expertise and compositional insight offer the listener an opportunity to hear the Theremin at its best, and on the highest artistic level ever recorded. Her three-movement Suite for Theremin and was premiered in Poland in 1989. The middle movement, which stands in great contrast to the two outer lyrical sections, is a dynamic demonstration of the range of effects that can be achieved with the instrument; it has, in fact, been arranged for Theremin and synthesizer as a stand-alone number. Her second piece, In the Whims of the Wind, was written for the singer Elizabeth Parcells in 1994. It is an etude highlighting timbre control-attacks and balance-as eloquently illustrated in the interplay between the electronic Theremin and Parcelle’s human voice (coloratura soprano). The technical ability of Kavina here is as yet unprecedented by any other Thereminist-even Rockmore! Undoubtedly, this is a masterpiece performed by two master performers. The listener should be aware that the extreme frequency range of the Theremin may damage some speaker systems, and if any piece on this disc will do it, this is the one!
The final two tracks are especially interesting to those with tastes for new music. Jorge Antunes wrote Mixolydia for Lydia, and its name punfully suggests, it is written in the modal style of sixth century B. C., with added magnetic tape supplied by two French electronic research studios. The last piece, by Vladimir Komarov, is a biographic sound collage depicting Thremin-his personality, invention, and history-composed to honor his centennial. The piece is called Voice of Theremin, which is especially befitting as the Russian language still refers to this instrument as the Themenvox, and because the piece is built around synthesized processed sound bites of Theremin’s own voice recorded by Komarov himself who accompanied Professor Theremin on his 1991 visit to America. While the impression is that the piece involves a vast amount of computer-generated sounds, it appears that no other sounds except his voice were added. The collage attempts to illustrate Theremin’s whirlwind life story, including Mikhael Glinka’s Skylark melody (the same melody Theremin performed for Lenin in 1992), and a churning waltz exemplifying his fashionable ballroom standard of living while in America.
Lydia Kavina is a perceptive, insightful, creative, and intelligent performer-composer. In her hands, the Theremin stands out as an instrument well deserving the fruits of new compositional efforts. While some might feel that Music from the Ether is the perfect gift for the classical fan who has everything, this of course is nothing more than a belittling understated cliché. The Theremin, and the music written for it between 1925 and 1950, is as much a part of Americana as was the Packard, Hudson, DeSoto, rumble seat, drive-in movie, soap-box racing, zoot suit, two-toned shoe, hand-painted necktie, pompadour hairdo, ice-box, soda fountain, Kool-Aid, dial telephone. Phonograph, player piano, Wurlitzer, washboard, nickel & dime (5 & 10) store, Horn & Hardart’s Automats, Heinz 57 varieties, Ed Sullivans, and so on. All American musicians, music libraries, musicologists, and everyday listeners should embrace Kavina’s Music from the Ether with pride. — Warren Brodsky, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, American Music, Spring 2004
Original works for Theremin MUSIC FROM THE ETHER Lydia Kavina / Joshua Pierce / Elizabeth Parcells / Carol Eaton Elowe /Kristen Fox / PortlandString Quartet MODE 76
B-movie aficionados may have heard thereminist Lydia Kavina playing on Howard Shore’s soundtrack to “Ed Wood”. This disc finds the theremin in more classical surroundings, though in the slight yet pretty works by Schillinger, Achron and Wilckens, it could easily be replaced by a violin-Kavina’s sickly vibrato recalls the schmaltzy cheese of Jascha Heifetz’s early recordings (Achron was Heifetz’s accompanist for years, incidentally). These works, along with Bohuslav Martinu’s “Fantasia”, where Kavina plays in a distinctly trad line-up of piano quintet plus oboe,have aged somewhat, while Percy Grainger’s astonishing “Free Music #
1” (1936) for four theremins still sounds like music from another planet (shame it only lasts 82 seconds). Kavina’s own compositions are stilted but show the instrument off to great effect, as do Jorge Antunes’ “Mixolydia” (1995) (whose tape part was realised in part at the GRM, though you’d never guess), and Vladimir Komarov’s “Voice of Theremin” (1996), an eerie waltz that works surprisingly well. —Dan Warburton, THE WIRE, September 1999
Amazon.com (8/99) * * * * * The theremin may be one of the oddest instruments ever invented:the electronic device’s high-pitched sound resembles no other–and younever even touch it to play it. It’s become familiar from that novel BeachBoys solo on “Good Vibrations” and the occasional sci-fi score sound bite,but it’s seldom thought of as the serious instrument its inventor LeonTheremin wanted it to be. This recording, like the must-have Clara Rockmoredisc, “The Art of the Theremin”, attempts to change that. Lydia Kavina mightvery well be the best thereminist playing today; she’s the inventor’s lastprotégée (as well as being the granddaughter of his cousin)and her range on the instrument is unparalleled. Here, she tackles thebody of work made specifically for the instrument from the likes of JosephSchillinger, Bohuslav Martinu, Percy Grainger, Isidor Achron, and a handfulof contemporary composers. Grainger’s “Free Music #
1” for four thereminseerily defies the bounds of written composition (Kavina plays all fourtheremin roles); Kavina’s own Suite is an impressive showpiece of the instrument’srange; and Vladimir Komarov’s tape-and-theremin piece “Voice of Theremin”is built entirely of passages from the instrument and the voice of Thereminhimself, all processed through a computer with stunning results. Martinu’sFantasia for Theremin, Oboe, Piano, and Strings is the disc’s real charm:a 14-minute composition with plenty of oboe-theremin interplay and lovelystring passages from the Portland String Quartet. For the classical fanwho has everything, this disc may be the perfect gift. —Jason Verlinde
“Music from the Ether” is nicely divided between historic theremin worksfrom the 1930s and ’40s and recent music, most of the latter by Kavinaherself. If you expect either creepy space-age effects or sentimental renderingsof Saint-Saens “The Swan,” you’ll find little resembling either — instead,there are fairly conservative but solidly modernist works treating theinstrument with scrupulous respect. Two are rare recordings of works byJoseph Schillinger, the eccentric would-be revolutionary who conceptualizeda mathematical basis for all artistic beauty, and whose arithmetical composingmethods guided a generation of Tin Pan Alley song writers. The introvertedromanticism of his style (demonstrated with noted Cage pianist Joshua Pierceas accompanist) is echoed in the disc’s most ambitious work, a 1944 fantasiafor oboe, piano, string quartet and theremin by Czech composer BohuslavMartinu, which uses the oboe as an intermediary between theremin and strings.
What’s impressive is that the theremin sounds not at all out of placein these classical surroundings, so distinct and free of glissando is LydiaKavina’s sense of pitch even in the most angular atonal lines. Her own”Suite” from 1989 has a similar Eastern Europe-tinged romanticism — butpostmodern rather than derivative, for she handles her ostinatos and tonalcounterpoint with too much originality to make her sound like a throwback.You get a little more alien-evoking stereotypicality in “Mixolydia” bythe Brazilian Jorge Antunes, while in “Voice of Theremin,” Vladimir Komarovdeliberately spins some old-timey theremin cliches around a recording ofTheremin’s own voice as Kavina plays Glinka’s “Skylark,” the tune withwhich he demonstrated the instrument for Lenin in 1922. With a few exceptions,the disc is remarkably listenable and non-gimmicky. —Kyle Gann, The Village Voice, August 31, 1999
Also by Lydia Kavina on Mode Records: Spellbound! (mode 199)
“Mastering the Theremin”, LydiaKavina’s instructional video for theremin performance, including performancesof 3 Kavina compositions.