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Notes from the Kelp CD

 

Notes from the Kelp cover

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Alex Shapiro has become one of the Pacific coast's most familiar composers of chamber music. Her name is synonymous with passionate music and a deep connection to the sea which surrounds her. Notes From the Kelp is a collection of eight of Alex's representative works.

Scroll down this page to read about each of the pieces on the new disc and hear excerpts. Visit other pages of this website, linked above and below, to learn more about Alex's life and music.

 

 
To purchase this CD directly,
click here:
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For the full watery experience,
visit the pixelsonic companion blog
to this CD, also coincidentally called
Notes from the Kelp:

  blog link
 

Click on a title to read about the track:

  1.     Slipping 7-9. At the Abyss
  2.     Bioplasm 10.   Phos Hilaron
  3-5. Current Events 11.   Music for Two Big Instruments
  6.     For My Father 12.   Deep
     
     
 
Fantastic reviews!
To read the liner notes for this CD, click here: CD liner notes

All Music Guide

"...flat-out fun... it's enough to give one hope for the contemporary music scene."

To read the All Music Guide review of this CD,
click here

"... [Shapiro] can write any kind of music she wants, and she writes only what she wants. Nowhere does one run across a hint of minimalist influence, or serialist, or neoclassic, or postmodernist, or jazz, or for that matter TV or film music. It's all just Alex Shapiro music..."

To read Kyle Gann's Chamber Music magazine review of this CD, click here

Tokafi

"[Alex Shapiro] is one of America's most interesting new composers... It takes a lot of courage to leave the window to your heart this open."

To read the Tokafi review of this CD,
click here

Sounds & Fury

"If one was forced to chose one adjective to characterize all these chamber works, that adjective would be, beautiful."

To read the Sounds & Fury review of this CD,
click here

Percussive Notes

"This inspiring recording is great to listen to regardless if one is a percussionist or not. But "At the Abyss" should be considered by any percussionists looking for great literature to perform."

To read the Percussive Notes review of this CD,
click here

Sequenza21

"Alex Shapiro’s music doesn’t need to be categorized; it should be listened to on its own terms."

To read the Sequenza21 review of this CD,
click here

The Triangle

"a wide spectrum of emotion in music that is both alluring and unforgettable... music of powerful impact... [Shapiro] uses instrumental partnerships one may never have imagined possible ñ and they work. These compositions embrace a transcendental dialectic that probes questions of life."

To read The Triangle review of this CD,
click here

Listen101

"...Ms. Shapiro handles a wide variety of instruments and idioms with style and expression... I am sure just about everyone will find something to like on the program."

To read the Listen 101 review of this CD,
click here

Kitsz

"Alex's architectural mastery comes into play... she does not waste notes. All are purposeful and directed... [her] work is notable. She handles each instrument as if it were her instrument. "

To read Dennis Bathory-Kitsz's review of this CD,
click here

KCSN-FM

"[Notes from the Kelp] is a brilliant new record. This is just such a beautiful new record: it's not just cute, it's not just charming and innovative, it's BEAUTIFUL."

To hear KCSN-FM Los Angeles host Martin Perlich talk about this CD,
click here

aworks
Listed on Robert Gable's blog aworks as one of his 10 Best CDs of 2007.
     
Notes From the Kelp  

Alex Shapiro

One-sheet from Innova Recordings:

Can a composer be happy and live a balanced life filled with music, social activism and marine biology? Alex Shapiro gives us proof that such a beautiful existence is possible, and the sonic result spans an unusually wide swath of emotions.

Shapiro's world is one of heart-wrenching lyricism and gut-wrenching demons. Whether her music is blatantly funny or stunningly introspective, it reaches out and attaches itself to the listener as a starfish might glom onto a rock. You won't want it to let go.

Raw perception and truth are offered here, and Alex doesn't mince notes. Her rhythms and melodies may either make you reach for your psychiatrist's phone number, or a snorkel. If music mirrors a composer's personality, then you'll know a lot about this one through these diverse pieces. As you listen, like the kelp-rich tide pools encircling Alex's toes, this music will show you not only a glimpse of her world, but a reflection of yours.

Alex is a seductive communicator, and "Notes from the Kelp" is a collection of chamber music representing a decade's worth of her passionate messages. Born and raised in Manhattan, she migrated to the Pacific Ocean many years ago and has never left. The eight works on this disc were composed in Malibu, California, and well-behaved muses now convene at her home in Washington's San Juan Islands.

Alex's favorite way to procrastinate from writing the next piece has been to assist the next person. Throughout her composing career she's been an officer on the boards of numerous non-profit organizations ranging from the usual contemporary music suspects to the ACLU, and she's well known in sunny So Cal as an even sunnier host for new music events.

Alex Shapiro's music has been recorded for many commercially released CDs in the United States and in Europe, but "Notes from the Kelp" is the first album comprised entirely of her works.

     

Behind the Beat

ASCAP

Hear Alex Shapiro's comments about several tracks from Notes from the Kelp, in response to questions from the producer of Behind the Beat, Steven Rosenfeld. The interview is featured on ASCAP Audio Portraits.  
  About the CD (2:52)
hear
   
  The Making of Slipping (3:04)
hear
   
  The Making of Bioplasm (3:11)
hear
   
  The Making of Deep (2:57)
hear
   
         
     

Commentary from Alex Shapiro:

Composing is a lot like making love. We're trying to please ourselves. We're hoping to please at least one other person. And, we are in fact, communicating.
Passionately.

I compose to communicate.

  Notes from the Kelp represents a decade's worth of the joy I get from communicating. All of the music you hear in this collection was composed in Malibu, California, with the Pacific ocean undulating in the background and framing my life with beauty and endless things to explore. Immersed in the tides' shifting daily rhythms, when I'm not writing music I'm often in or on the water, communing with sea life and with my inner voices. And as you can hear in these pieces, there are a lot of diverse voices that keep me company! I suppose composing is a form of socially acceptable insanity.
The variety of mood, sound and color in these tracks makes me smile. A wide swath of emotion and truth are offered here, from the silly and weird to the dark and introspective. If music mirrors a composer's personality, then you'll know a lot about me through these pieces. As you listen, my hope is that like tide pools, they show you not only a glimpse of my world, but a reflection of yours.  

As you read this, I now live in another natural seaside paradise in Washington's magical San Juan Islands. The notes I scribble these days are also from the kelp, and from a deep, watery place that a kid who grew up in Manhattan for her first 21 years could never have imagined becoming so meaningful in her life.

–Alex Shapiro, summer 2007

     
Alex's music has been featured on many CDs from Europe and the U.S., and Notes From the Kelp is the first disc comprised entirely of her works. The CD features 24 fabulous musicians who brought this music to life, each listed here. Click on their names for their bios:
  Lisa-Maree Amos
Alan Baer
Frank Basile
Carolyn Beck
Peggy Benkeser
Charles Boito
Thomas Burritt
Colleen Carroll
Bradley Haag
Eileen Holt Helwig
Susanne Kessel
Connie Kupka

Leslie Lashinsky
Robin Lorentz
Brice Martin
Teresa McCollough
Kathleen McIntosh
Victoria Miskolczy
Dan Morris
Alex Shapiro
Peter Sheridan
David Speltz
David Walther
Miwako Watanabe

 

Notes from the Kelp tray
Cover art and above photos by Paul Chepikian.

     
Amazon.com reviews from listeners:
 

Well deserved release, March 30, 2010

The first time I found Ms. Shapiro's music was one short piano piece in a truly wonderful Ms. Kessel's CD (always a class by itself in programming). I was so touched, I wrote to Alex and discovered a wonderful human being and a truly wholesome and sensitive artist. It has been a while since and now here it is, a CD fully devoted to her work. She remains beautiful, as her music. It is not easy to write accesible, sensitive and yet deep music nowadays; but she knows how to. Kudos (again!)

By L. Ackerman "CD Explorer" (Ashburn, VA, USA)

Accessible contemporary music, November 1, 2008

This recording showcases Alex Shapiro's eclectic style, and knowledge of her craft. "Notes from the Kelp" includes a spectrum of works with quite different "characters" and styles. The recording showcases Ms. Shapiro's broad range of compositional ability. I think my favorite works on this CD are "Current Events" , and "At the Abyss" not only because the multiple movements cover such an emotional range but are still connected. I really like the beautiful melodies of "Phos Hilaron" and the pure, massive soundscape of "Deep". I'd love to hear the complete "Evensong Suite". I found "For My Father" both beautiful and poignant.

I'm always impressed with the way some composers and writers can express deep personal feelings through their work, baring their souls, so to speak. Ms. Shapiro clearly has that ability. "Bioplasm" is a tour de force for flutes that works well and is impressively performed. Perhaps the most "unusual" piece on the recording is "Slipping" for violin and harpsichord. It clearly breaks any stereotypes one might have about "harpsichord music"!

I love that the CD is bursting with so many great musical ideas! Listening to the samples will provide you with a small taste of Alex Shapiro's world. Buying the CD will give you a full helping. Highly recommended.

By Lotus-Seven (The mountains of Illinois)

 
     
The music of Notes From the Kelp  
Kathy and Robin
Kathleen McIntosh and Robin Lorentz rehearsing Slip, discussing their upcoming Save the Trees campaign.
Slipping

 

Starting off the CD is an unusual, comedic piece titled Slipping, a commission from violinist Robin Lorentz of the California EAR Unit for her duets with her recital partner, harpsichordist Kathleen McIntosh. The duet version of the piece, Slip, has become a standing ovation staple of the duo's concerts; using the harpsichord as any plectrum instrument other than a harpsichord, the music touches upon a wide range of global musical styles, and the result is a world tour for anyone with attention deficit disorder. For this recording, Alex added the talents of percussionist Dan Morris to heighten the effect with idiomatic drumming from around the globe.


Pictured at left: Co-Producer John Steinmetz, Robin Lorentz, Kathleen McIntosh and engineer Mike Aarvold at Citrus Studios, January 2006.

"I was quite taken aback and, of course, amused by Slipping... it's a lot of fun and quite unexpected. I can't think of any other recent work that does this."

----—Barry Schrader, composer

 

"A thoroughly delightful frolic."

---- A.C. Douglas, Sounds & Fury

 

Read about Slipping
read
Hear an excerpt
hear
 
   
 
Bioplasm

L.A. Flute Quartet

The Bioplasm recording session with The Los Angeles Flute Quartet at Citrus Studios 3/27/04.
From left to right: Colleen Carroll, Lisa-Maree Amos, Alex Shapiro,
Peter Sheridan, and Eileen Holt Helwig.

Stretching the boundaries of flute quartet repertoire, Alex composed Bioplasm for the ever-daring Los Angeles Flute Quartet. The work was the result of Alex being named the 2004 California MTNA Commissioned Composer by the California Assn. of Professional Music Teachers, and it won a 2005 award from the Music Teachers National Association. The piece, which includes two bass flutes, two alto flutes, two C flutes and a piccolo, is created with many extended techniques including percussive pitched key clicks, pitch bending, and vocalizing while playing, as can be heard in the audio excepts below.

Above and Beyond CD
This recording appears on the Los Angeles Flute Quartet's 2005 CD on LAFQ Records, Above and Beyond, along with works by Lalo Schifrin, Arvo Part, W.A. Mozart and others. Bioplasm has been featured on many radio shows across the U.S., including WNYC-FM's New Sounds program, hosted by John Schaefer in New York City, and twice on KUSC-FM's classical music program, Modern Masterpieces, hosted by Alan Chapman in Los Angeles.

 

 

"Perhaps my favorite piece for listening is Bioplasm... it doesn't make experimentation into hard work... Bioplasm approaches the music with (dare I say it) a film composer's ear. In other words, I am not conscious of the music so much as the sensation."

-----—Dennis Bathory-Kitsz, composer, host, Kalvos & Damian

"[Bioplasm] was a particular favorite, receiving strong gusts of applause and even shouts of approval. As such, it was a well chosen finale, sending the audience home in an elated mood."

-----—Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice

 

 
Read about
Bioplasm

read
Listen to excerpts from Bioplasm
pitched key clicks
hear
singing and playing; faster
hear
pitch bending, end surprise
hear
 
   
Current Events

Current Events session

The Current Events recording session at Citrus Studios 6/14/03. From left to right:
Miwako Watanabe, Connie Kupka, violins; engineer Rich Breen; Alex Shapiro;
David Speltz, cello; John Steinmetz, co-producer; David Walther, Victoria Miskolczy, violas.

One of Alex's larger chamber works is her string quintet, Current Events, commissioned by the Pacific Serenades concert series in Los Angeles. The piece was premiered in Los Angeles March 2003 by the same musicians who then recorded it that June, and the Pacific Serenades season during which it appeared was awarded First Prize in the Chamber Music America/ASCAP 2004 Award for Adventurous Programming.

Each of the three movements, Surge, Ebb and Rip, ponders the ocean's tides as well as the waves of a more internal, emotional nature. The piece has enjoyed widespread airplay on over a hundred NPR stations across the U.S., and has been performed by ensembles including the Mladi Chamber Ensemble in Los Angeles, and The Walden Chamber Players in Massachussets.

 

It’s music exceptionally well made... I found it most attractive, especially in a long, beautifully unfolding slow movement.

------— Alan Rich, L.A. Weekly

"The centerpiece of Notes from the Kelp (for us, at any rate) is Current Events... richly dissonant and dark-textured; a dense polytonal chromaticism thatís gorgeously and unabashedly romantic and deeply affecting. If thereís but one work on this CD that all will love, this is it, and were it the only work on the CD, it alone would justify the purchase price."

------— A.C. Douglas, Sounds & Fury

Read about
Current Events

read

Listen to excerpts from Current Events
Movement 1: Surge
hear
Movement 2: Ebb
hear
Movement 3: Rip
hear
 
   
 

For My Father

German pianist Susanne Kessel created a unique concert program for a WDR radio production in Germany, featuring short solo piano pieces by numerous composers with immigrant backgrounds who were influenced by their time in California. Kessel also toured with the program in Germany, where she performed on the "New York's MoMA in Berlin: The American Season" special exhibit series, and in Bonn on the annual BeethovenFest series.

Kessel concert adKessel concert poster

Along side of Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Gershwin, Kessel chose only two pieces from living California composers, one of which was For My Father, a movement from Alex's Piano Suite.

"...particularly compelling"

------— David Toub, Sequenza21

"The most serious work on the album, the solo-piano For My Father, depicts the descent into dementia of the composer's father; here again Shapiro is both emotionally immediate and capable of sustaining a structural process over a long stretch."

------— James Manheim, All Music Guide

Californian Concert CD
Ms. Kessel recorded this program for her 2006 CD for the OehmsClassics/WDR label, Californian Concert: Music of European Immigrants and Their American Contemporaries.
Read about For My Father
read
Hear an excerpt
hear
 
   
At the Abyss

At the Abyss
At the Abyss on stage during rehearsal

At the Abyss, a dramatic, tour de force three movement work for piano, marimba, vibraphone and metal percussion is the winner of the 2003 Best Original Composition Award from the international music fraternity Mu Phi Epsilon. The music was commissioned by pianist Teresa McCollough for her 2003-2004 U.S. tour, which brought the piece to Carnegie Hall in April 2004.

Music for H & S CD Featured in the American Music Center's catalog of works composed in response to the events of September 11, 2001, At the Abyss also appears on Teresa McCollough's CD for Innova Recordings, Music for Hammers & Sticks, which includes new works by Alvin Singleton, Zhou Long, Steven Mackey, Joseph Harchanko and Belinda Reynolds. Joining Teresa on the CD are percussionists Tom Burritt and Peggy Benkeser.

"This is music that conjures images in the mind, and the joy of it all is that those images will vary from listener to listener."

------— Kevin Sutton, MusicWeb International

"...a spiky, exhilarating, energetic kind of music with a tremendous range of textures and dynamics."

------— Joe McLellan, Classical Music Critic Emeritus of The Washington Post, for RedLudwig.com

Read about
At the Abyss

read

Listen to excerpts from At the Abyss
Movement 1: Observe
hear
Movement 2: Reflect
hear
Movement 3: Act
hear
 
   
 

Phos Hilaron

In 1999, Alex was commissioned to compose the music for an Evensong service for St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. Of the six movements of a resulting work titled Evensong Suite, Alex's favorite is the Phos Hilaron, referring to "gracious light." It is included on the CD, performed by flutist Brice Martin, clarinetist Charles Boito, bassoonist Carolyn Beck and pianist and St. Bede's music director Frank Basile.

"...subdued in full-frontal music-ness... it's expressed beautifully. "

------ Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

"Phos Hilaron... is a harmonic statement of great purity and simplicity, a circularly drifting cloud of winds and piano."

------ Tobias Fischer, Tokafi

Read about Phos Hilaron
read
Hear an excerpt
hear
 
   
 
Music for Two Big Instruments

 

Also appearing on the CD is Alex's popular duet for tuba and piano entitled Music for Two Big Instruments, commissioned by Los Angeles Philharmonic principal tubist Norman Pearson and pianist Cynthia Bauhof-Williams and recorded by New York Philharmonic principal tubist Alan Baer, and pianist Bradley Haag. The piece expands audience's popular perception of traditional tuba music by offering soaring, lyrical melodic lines, as well as a few faster-than-often-thought-possible passages.

Brad Haag and Alan Baer

In May 2005, Alan Baer recorded Music for Two Big Instruments with pianist Bradley Haag for Baer's debut CD, Coast to Coast on Baer Tracks Records, which also features works by William Kraft, Paquito D'Rivera, John-Michel Defaye and others.

Coast to Coast CD

Alex and Alan Baer discussing the score during the recording session

"Music for Two Big Instruments is brilliantly crafted. It takes commitment to be other than clever, and Alex has it. She treats the tuba exactly like a French horn with an extended lower range, but takes advantage of its power without losing lyricism."

-Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

"Alex Shapiro’s Music for Two Big Instruments, written for Norm Pearson (tuba player with the Los Angeles Philharmonic)... is a very powerful piece..."

-Sérgio Carolino, Tuba News

read
Hear an excerpt
hear
 
   
 

 

 

Deep

 

Deep is the only electro-acoustic piece featured on Notes from the Kelp, and it is the final track on the CD. Alex created an electronic soundscape that submerges listeners in an other-worldly realm, and contrabassoonist Leslie Lashinsky raises notes from the depths of her instrument to transport the piece to an entirely different sonic place than everything which precedes it on the disc. Deep prepares the way for Alex's upcoming second all-Shapiro CD, Alextronica, featuring Alex's explorations in the electro-acoustic sonic world.

"... the most effective piece for contrabassoon and accompaniment I have yet heard.... Shapiro's sound track embraces the listener and creates vivid images of the unique beauty and tranquility of the sea floor."

--------Shelly Unger, The Journal of the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors

-"...the contrabassoon emerges from a pre-recorded track of electronics evoking the bottom of the sea. The blend of sonorities is ominous and magical."

-----The Gramophone

Deep also appears on bassoonist Carolyn Beck's CD for Crystal Records, Beck and Call, along with Alex's bassoon sonata commissioned by Carolyn, titled Of Breath and Touch. Also on the disc is music by Andre Previn, Marcel Bitsch, Don Chamberlain, Michal Spisak and Moshe Zorman.
Read about Deep
read
Hear an excerpt
hear
 

Alex Shapiro

 

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Alex Shapiro

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