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John Liberatore: Catch Somewhere

by Zohn Collective

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Composer John Liberatore writes poetic music that often embeds actual poetry into the fabric of its composition. While only one of the four works on Catch Somewhere includes sung text, each piece is inspired in one way or another by poetry, mirroring a literary approach by assigning sounds to express essential and ineffable meaning. The Zohn Collective, conducted by Tim Weiss, delivers poignant performances.

John Liberatore approaches his compositional process like a poet, seeking to capture in sound what is otherwise inexpressible. The four works in this collection each relate to external inspiration in different ways, but share Liberatore’s characteristically rich harmonic palette and transparent approach to developing musical ideas. The performers from the Zohn Collective deliver precise interpretations informed by a deep understanding of Liberatore’s style.

An ensemble fanfare, A Very Star-Like Start, opens the album, bristling with optimistic rhythmic energy, inspired by the composite effect of watching a swarm of fireflies in the night sky. Pointillistic figures dance around the ensemble, outlining linear contours like sonic constellations. Longer durations provide sinewy connective material while punctuated accents articulate the work’s metric organization. As the piece evolves, the various layers of material vye for primacy, threatening only briefly to steer the work away from its inexorable forward momentum.

Gilded Tree for solo flute is inspired by poetry by Randall Potts about multimedia sculptures by Esther Traugot (the artist who created the cover image for the album) that contemplate found objects. The piece adapts an observational stance, approaching the musical material as one might gaze upon a still-life painting, more captivated with the fixed essence of an object than a teleological evolution of an expressive idea. The first is lyrical and reflective, the second features disjunct, quixotic gestures, and the third highlights mysterious timbral trills, breaking the spell only momentarily with pointed high register material. The final movement, “quivering with light,” is the work’s shortest, opening with a series of phrases that slow down as if to end in question marks before a final gesture remains continuous in tempo as it fades out in volume.

The eight movement trio for percussion, prepared piano, and classical guitar, Catch Somewhere, was inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem, “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” and the movement names are taken directly from the text. Whitman’s analogy is between the spider’s web weaving and the artist’s creative activity. Liberatore explains his own evolving understanding of the poem in the liner notes. “vacant, vast, surrounding” highlights each instrument’s percussive orientation, with repeated notes coalescing into lush harmonies, evoking a reverberant cave. Disembodied gongs, a pianissimo ostinato in the right hand of the keyboard, ethereal chords, and a plaintive melody in the guitar lend “surrounded, detached” an eerie quality. “Little promontory” is funky and rhythmic, as composite gestures between the three instruments turn short figures around in various permutations. “thread I” and “thread II” are short, thoughtful interludes in which an initial articulation triggers interlocking strings of notes between instruments, like droplets of water. “O my soul” is the longest movement in the work and features guitar in an unfolding series of slowly arpeggiated figures and liberamente figures that spin a beguiling web of implied counterpoint and melodic pathos. “filament, filament, filament” and the work’s final movement “Catch Somewhere” are vigorous journeys through virtuosic passagework, the former threading together scalar figures and the latter focusing on ecstatic repeated note groupings.

Hold Back Thy Hours is a work for tenor and ensemble that sets four fragments of seventeenth century poetry. Liberatore borrows from the musical style of the era, embedding hints at Baroque style into the writing. “while I sleep” opens with an oscillating major second passed throughout the ensemble that is slowly transformed as it is heard in various timbral combinations under the evolving tenor line. The text “gentle river” in “Lo, thy streams” is set with unsettling glissandi in the ensemble and forceful chordal interjections, a prismatic look at a Baroque arioso setting. “Violets pluck’d” evokes the 18th century more overtly, with continuo accompaniment and tonal harmony that is filtered and subverted through a contemporary lens. “ ‘til we have done” is charged with foreboding, as the resonance from accented low piano notes is extended in the orchestration of the ensemble and the voice pleads for more nighttime hours before the morning forces a reckoning in the light of day.

– Dan Lippel


released June 2, 2023

Bill Maylone, recording engineer, tracks 1, 14-17
Recorded at the University of Notre Dame

Continuous Motion Productions, recording engineers, tracks 2-5
Recorded at Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music

Julian Chalon and Nick Williams, recording engineers, tracks 6-13 Recorded at Columbus State University Schwob School of Music

Final mastering: Ryan Sterber, Oktaven Audio

Design: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
Cover image: Unearthed, by Esther Traugot, used with permission
Composer portrait photo credit: Barbara Johnston, Notre Dame Photography




New Focus Recordings New York, New York

New Focus Recordings is an artist led collective label featuring releases in contemporary music of many stripes, as well as new approaches to older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Daniel Lippel (who is the current director), composer engineer Ryan Streber, and composer Peter Gilbert in 2003-4, and features releases from many of new music's most active performers and composers. ... more

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