Lou Harrison


mode 140

Music For Strings



mode 140 Lou HARRISON: For Strings – Suite No. 2 for Strings; Suite for Symphonic Strings; Concerto for Pipa with String Orchestra; Bits and Pieces. Wu Man, pipa; The New Professionals Orchestra, London; Rebecca Miller, conductor.

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Music For Strings

Suite No. 2 for Strings  (1948)   (11:07)
1. Adagio, molto cantabile   (3:54)
2. Allegro moderato   (2:01)
3. Allegro moderato, tranquillo   (5:12)
First recording by string orchestra

Suite for Symphonic Strings  (1960)   (37:18)
4. Estampie   (4:02)
5. Chorale   (4:07)
6. Double Fugue   (5:12)
7. Ductia   (2:38)
8. Lament   (5:56)
9. Canonic Variations   (5:22)
10. Little Fugue   (3:12)
11. Round in Honor of Hermes   (3:04)
12. Nocturne   (3:45)
First complete recording on CD

Concerto for Pipa with String Orchestra  (1997)   (26:41)
13. Allegro   (4:12)
Bits and Pieces:
14. Troika   (2:53)
15. Three Sharing   (2:50)
16. Wind and Plum   (2:58)
17. Neapolitan   (1:10)
18. Threnody for Richard Locke   (5:20)
19. Estampie   (7:18)
First recording


Wu Man, pipa
The New Professionals Orchestra, London
Rebecca Miller, conductor

The present recording traces the development of Harrison’s creativity over a half century – from 1948 to his last large-scale composition (1997).

The Suite No. 2 for Strings was written while Harrison lived in New York. Having spent his formative years in San Francisco, Harrison had a great deal of trouble adjusting to East Coast big-city life. A nervous breakdown required him to be hospitalized for about nine months. The Suite No. 2 dates from the year after this traumatic event, and signs of Harrison’s mental stress are apparent, particularly in the torturous and difficult second movement. But also in evidence is the tranquility he sought from religion during this period and the more transparent textures he would favor later.

This CD presents the first recording of the work by a string orchestra – Harrison’s original intent.

The lengthy Suite for Symphonic Strings was a commission from BMI. By this time Harrison had returned to the San Francisco region. The bass and cello sections provide percussion accompaniment, the players hitting the bodies of their instruments with their fingers and using guitar picks on the strings to achieve a percussive pizzicato. This is the first recording of the complete nine-movement work.

Harrison had been interested in Asian music since his early years. The late Concerto for Pipa is a model of Harrison’s trans-ethnicism, evoking the many influences that had attracted him over a half century. The work ends with an extended, medieval-inspired estampie, a virtuoso tour-de-force for soloist and orchestra.

The concerto was written for conductor Dennis Russell Davies and pipa virtuoso Wu Man.

Wu Man was cited by the Los Angeles Times as “the artist most responsible for bringing the pipa to the Western World.” She has championed new pipa literature from composers including Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, and Tan Dun.

“Definitely an ensemble to look out for”, The Strad said of The New Professionals (London). Founded in 1999, The New Professionals, made up of highly distinguished young artists, rose quickly to prominence in the London music scene. Renowned for its innovative programming and dynamic musicianship, the ensemble frequently juxtaposes rarely performed 20th-century works with fresh interpretations of mainstream compositions.

Rebecca Miller has developed a reputation as one of Britain’s most imaginative young conductors. Reviewers cited her “new insights into old works” and imaginative programming, as well as her “lucid and stylish baton.” Born in California, she moved to London in 1999 after completing her studies at Oberlin and Northwestern. She was awarded the prestigious Paul Woodhouse Conducting Fellowship (2001), allowing her to study with John Carewe.


Lou Harrison
For Strings
Mode 140

Wu Man and the New Professionals
Modern music so often means anxiety, complication and harsh sounds. So it’s refreshing to encounter the optimism and innocent joy of Lou Harrison, one of those great musical explorers and innovators that America produced in the 20th century.

As the three pieces on this CD show, Harrison ranged far and wide. There are re-creations of medieval dances, strenuous fugues, slow movements with that wide-open prairie feel of Aaron Copland, and a sinuous, plaintive melodicism born out of Harrison’s long study of Asian music. In the two Suites written in 1948 and 1960 there are moments of dark complication, but in later years he achieved a marvellous serenity, exemplified here by the Concerto for Pipa (a kind of Chinese mandolin). In this piece you find evocations of the Russian balalaika, Neapolitan folk-song and even a medieval dance. It sounds like the worst kind of cross-cultural mélange, but it’s done with such simplicity that, miraculously, it comes off. The soloist is Wu Man, who is to the pipa what Ravi Shankar was to the sitar, and her performance has a winning delicacy and tact. And the strings of the New Professionals live up to their name, playing with scrupulous precision in the slow movements and incisive energy in the fast ones.
— Ivan Hewett, The Times (London), 11 December 2004, 4/5



Also by Lou HARRISON on Mode:
Lou HARRISON – Works 1939-2000 (mode 122)
Por Gitaro: Suites for Tuned Guitars (mode 195)

Wu Man profile

Rebecca Miller profile

The New Professionals Orchestra, London profile