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Watching Over Engrossing Electronic and Violin Works


Watch Over Us Yvonne Lam, violin. Blue Griffin Records 647 Total Time: 53:00 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****


Violinist Yvonne Lam teaches at Michigan State University and has appeared with several West Coast orchestras as soloists. She may be familiar to some overs of contemporary music as one of the members of the contemporary music ensemble, Eighth Blackbird. The current release brings together six works by accomplished women composers that use electronics as a companion to the solo violin lines.


Missy Mazzoli’s Tooth and Nail kicks things off here with a quite engaging piece with a folkish flair. Here she infuses her accompanying ideas with the sounds of Uzbekistani traditions using a jaw’s harp (sometimes referred to as a “Jew’s Harp”) which adds unique plucked overtones and sounds. Viola samples also add a warm undercurrent to the music. Bent pitches and inflections provide a connection to the central Asian folk sounds. The solo line floats above these ideas with often beautiful lyrical lines. The brief Apartment Sounds, by Katherine Balch, grew out of the composer’s experience during the 2020 COVID lockdowns. Here she incorporates some of the ordinary sounds from daily life in this backdrop of sounds and effects. The violin line is somewhat tonal and mostly pointillistic, trying to perhaps find a constant in the seeming random sounds while taking cues from them. Nathalie Joachim’s work, Watch Over Us, lends the album its title and was inspired by a documentary about and Islamic casket maker and body washer (Two Gods). Her piece also takes some samples (of an Islamic call to worship) coupled with manipulated bits of sound (processed vocalizations) along with synthesizers. The violin line floats above this in a somewhat somber idea as things move forward. Lam’s lyrical playing gets a chance to shine well here in long swaths of sound that ebb and flow against the backdrops. In Anna Clyne’s Rest These Hands, inspiration from Bach’s first violin sonata (BWV. 1001) and poetry of her own mother are the departure points in this more poignant piece. It was written on the anniversary of her mother’s death and is part of a series of six pieces. The text is read while the violin plays a somber, reflective line. Quotation music of a different nature appears in the following Well-Spent by Eve Beglarian. The piece was inspired from a line in a notebook by Leonardo da Vinci that she read after time kayaking and biking along the Mississippi River. In her work she also samples a 1942 recording featuring Mary Rowlands. It is a sort of moto perpetuo of rapid passage work providing a window in Lam’s virtuosic capabilities. The album closes with the lengthier Synaesthesia Suite from composer Kate Moore. This work is perhaps the most “avantgarde” of the lot with its interesting variety of sounds and repeated motives that are somehow looped back around and morphed as the piece begins in a sort of interactive dance between soloist and electronics. Smaller motivic ideas are used with both the electronic and acoustic ideas playing often in tight musical segments. This is quite amazing to hear considering the need for an exact and constant understanding of tempo and the overall thrust of the electronic elements. This too is a sort of perpetual motion work that sort of just bubbles about with interesting colors and sounds shifting across the course of the piece. The solo violin also gets to pause to let some of these ideas settle in from time to time which is also quite fascinating.


Watch Over Us features some stunningly beautiful and enthralling contemporary music. Here the electronic ideas and effects feel less gimmicky and are more integral to the pieces that Lam has chosen for this recital. Lam’s playing features a full tone that helps communicate the emotional content. The structural undercurrents are brought out in her own sense of line and shape. This results in more emotionally engaging performances with a sense of her own interpretative understanding. The whole project is helped by well-equalized sound that allows distinction to the electronic elements alongside the acoustic solo. The program itself is varied and contains quite accessible music that should also warrant repeated enjoyment.

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