Saturday 29 August 2020

At the Gates of the Twighlight Zone: 19'40" explores Bernard Herrmann as part of its eclectic recording series

Recording the 19'40" album 'At the Gates of the Twighlight Zone'
Recording the 19'40" album At the Gates of the Twighlight Zone

Apart from his well-known films, composer Bernard Herrmann's other credits include episodes for the influential television series The Twilight Zone, music which had a big influence on how other composers treated scores for science fiction. Herrmann's music for the series is, perhaps, not as well known to many as it could be, but there is a chance to rectify this. The new subscription-based recording series 19'40" is issuing a disc devoted to Herrmann's music for The Twilight Zone, recordings of performances by 19'40"s own ensemble.

19'40"s Bernard Herrmann disc, At the Gates of the Twighlight Zone is the 12th album in a sequence which began with Progetto Generativo, transcriptions of music from Italian math-rock, noise, avantgarde and metal bands, and then continued with Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat and Il Picchio, music by Louis Andriessen, Edmund Campion, David Lang, Enrico Gabrielli and Nikolay Popov, and since then there have been albums devoted to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (both the original piano version and Emerson, Lake & Palmer's art-rock version), Microcosmicomica, music for children by Cage, Debussy, Bartók, Stravinsky, Gustav Holst's The Planets, and Stockhausen's Tierkreis, alongside releases devoted to music by composers like Chino 'Goia' Sornisi, and Mort Garson, who remain on the very fringes of the average music-lover's consciousness.

19'40" is the brainchild of three Italians, Sebastiano De Gennaro, Francesco Fusaro and Enrico Gabrielli and I caught up with the three of them by Skype to find out more about 19'40". It was a complex call owing the occasional necessity to translate from Italian to English, and the fact that one of the guys was travelling and so his reception was patchy. But their enthusiasm for the project was palpable, and also the sense of a desire to create something distinctive.

19m40s - At the Gates of the Twilight Zone - album cover (Photo and Graphic Design by Rocco Marchi)
19m40s - At the Gates of the Twilight Zone - album cover
(Photo and Graphic Design by Rocco Marchi)

19'40" is not a record label but a subscription based recording series, where people are encouraged to join and thus to explore. They issue three albums per year, with quite a varied repertoire. The three founders all have diverse backgrounds, Enrico Gabrielli is a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, composer and novelist, Sebastiano De Gennaro is a classically trained multi-percussionist, Foley artist, and self-taught composer, and Francesco Fusaro is a DJ, music producer, sound artist and musicologist.

They founded 19'40" four years ago and in July 2020 celebrated that fact that it has become a British limited company. For their inspiration, the three hark back to the glory days of the classical music vinyl disc, when companies would issue sets of the great masterpieces, and it was common to collect large sets aiming to present the world's masterpieces.

They refer to 19'40" as an anti-classical label, partly because they like the slightly belligerent element that this brings, but also because they want to refer to ante-classical, ie. before classical, to the idea that the pieces that they are issuing on disc will become classics. The classics of the future.

They do not release recordings created by others, they have their own in house ensemble and it is that that records the repertoire, both live and in the studio. Similarly, they do not go out looking for repertoire, they release mostly music that they have found or enjoy. They feel that the subscription model is a good fit, as it encourages people to stay and to explore. They produce physical discs, but have also started releasing recordings in digital format, and they admit that the commitment the series requires is significant. But they want people to be committed, to want to explore new repertoire.

For the music chosen for their recordings, they approach the music on one of three ways which can vary from the philological approach, to a respectful transcription, to what they refer to as sabotage. So that sometimes they perform a faithful transcription, but at other times the players might improvise.

All three of the founders have wide interests, both in classical music and outside it, and they listen to many different things, and it is these enthusiasms which feed into the music selected for the series. Their selections offer variety and the series deliberately offers an element of surprise, but in what they hope is a natural way. Repertoire very much incorporates their passion for music into what they do. Francesco describes them as listening to something and then imagining it differently, they look at what doors can be opened on the music. They ask the question, what would happen if ....? This means that sometimes they go a bit left-field with the repertoire or the approach, and sometimes it works and sometimes the philological approach fits best, as in their Stravinsky disc.

For the Bernard Herrmann disc, they started from material found on YouTube and then contacted the Bernard Herrmann Society. They approached his music with respect, and Enrico re-orchestrated Herrmann's scores for the in-house ensemble. In his approach to the music, Enrico wanted to reflect the way music for The Twilight Zone influenced the music for SciFi films for years to come, and so he made these elements of the legacy more prominent, so the instruments that he uses include vibraphone, glockenspiel and other percussion. Enrico reduced the number of parts from Herrmann's original, but stayed close to Hermann's ideas.

Previous recent volumes in the series have included Gustav Holst's The Planets (which was a big inspiration both for Bernard Herrmann and for later film composers such as John Williams), and Karlheinz Stockhausen's Tierkreis (Zodiac). The Planets is done in a version for 13 instruments interlinked with Francesco's sound-scapes, whilst the Stockhausen is done in a version re-imagined by Sebastiano and paired with Lorenzo Brusci's Stockhausen-inspired 'space promenade' Tear Crisis. Francesco sees an overarching theme running through these discs to the Herrmann disc.

With the Stockhausen, they feel that their recording does justice to the magical element in the work, so that we feel its weirdness and eeriness, its difference to other music by Stockhausen. Francesco points out that we tend to think of Stockhausen as working on a big scale, but Tierkreis is compressed and chamber-like.

Looking ahead, they have plenty of ideas for future volumes. One possible project is a disc devoted to music for video-games arranged for synthesizer and percussion quartet, including an original score for a game which is still a work in progress. Another idea goes under the name falsi-classici, fake classical music!

The performers of Enrico Gabrielli's arrangement of music by Fiorenzo Carpi from Pnocchio, including Olimpia Zagnoli (first left) and Francesco Bianconi of Baustelle (third left) in Milan in July 2020
The performers of Enrico Gabrielli's arrangement of music by Fiorenzo Carpi from Pinocchio,
including Olimpia Zagnoli (first left) and Francesco Bianconi of Baustelle (third left)
in Milan in July 2020

Another project in the pipeline is dedicated to the music from the 1970's Italian television series based on Pinnochio which had music by Fiorenzo Carpi. Enrico has already worked on concert version of this with Franco Bianconi of the art-pop band Baustelle, and with live-drawing by Olimpia Zagnoli, who worked on their 2017 released of Stravinsky's L'histoire du soldat. They most recently performed this in Milan on 19 July 2020, and have just received permission to be able to issue a disc of a short version of the concert arrangement.

They like working with visual artists to enhance the live effect at concerts and have worked with the Australian artist Andrew Quinn extensively, and feel that bringing a visual element to concerts is helpful for audiences not used to the classical repertoire, that you have to start from the preconceptions of the audience.

19'40" started as an idea between Enrico and Sebastiano.  The two met ten years ago when studying classical music at conservatoire. But both played rock and avant-garde music with people who did not read music. Enrico and Sebastiano started to play contemporary music such as John Cage in different clubs and different spaces, with different groups of people. They did an album of Cage's music 19'40",  but found it a strange experience performing classical music in a rock club in Italy. 

So 19'40" was founded as a home for the sort of music they wanted to play, but as they felt that Italy was not ready for the sort of crossover they were doing, they looked towards the UK, the Netherlands and the Benelux countries as being more open to this flexibility of approach. Their hope is to be able to relate to audiences who are not usually able to listen to classical music.

Full details of 19'40" from their website.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Forty-part reflection: Thomas Tallis' 40-part motet and James MacMillan's contemporary reflection on the latest disc from Suzi Digby and ORA Singers - CD review
  • Powerful advocacy: Kiveli Dörken, Christian Tetzlaff and friends in piano music and chamber music by Josef Suk - CD review
  • Neeme Järvi conducts Elgar's Violin Concerto with all-Estonian forces - CD review
  • Is the opera world ready for a Lesbian Cherubino: how opera remains rather tame when it comes to exploring some areas of gender and sexual relations - feature
  • Going on-line: Guy Johnston on how the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival plans to bring the house alive with music and to explore the house and its collections - interview
  • Taking us on a remarkable journey: the choir of St John's College, Cambridge in Pious Anthems and Voluntaries, a programme of Michael Finnissy premieres - CD review
  • What makes the disc work is the sheer verve & engagement of the performances: Adrian Chandler & La Serenissima's Extra Time  - CD review
  • Opera returns: Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and Jonathan Dove's Ariel at Waterperry Opera Festival - opera review
  • Co-founder Jonathan Darbourne introduces The Vache Baroque Festival's debut staging of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with Katie Bray as Dido  - interview
  • Words and line: Stuart Jackson and Jocelyn Freeman's fine recital disc, Flax and Fire, moves from Purcell to Britten, via Liszt, Wolf and Schumann - Cd review
  • Born in Cyprus, trained in London, the name Kemal Belevi is perhaps not well known but this disc from Duo Tandem is full of delightfully evocative pieces - CD review
  • 'Home

1 comment:

  1. Very informative and we'll written as always!


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