ListN Up: Jessie Montgomery (July 17, 2020)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up offers an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. This series is sponsored by American Composers Forum/innova Recordings with new releases every Friday on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Jessie Montgomery is an acclaimed composer, violinist, and educator. The recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Award from the ASCAP Foundation, her works are performed frequently around the world. Her music interweaves classical music with elements of vernacular music, improvisation, language, and social justice, placing her squarely as one of the most relevant interpreters of 21st-century American sound and experience. Her profoundly felt works have been described as “turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life” (The Washington Post). Since 1999, Jessie has been affiliated with The Sphinx Organization, which supports young African-American and Latinx string players. She currently serves as composer-in-residence for the Sphinx Virtuosi, the Organization’s professional touring ensemble. A graduate of Juilliard and New York University, Jessie is currently a Graduate Fellow in Music Composition at Princeton University.

Hi, I’m Jessie Montgomery, composer and violinist, and I’m here to share with you a playlist of music that I have found inspiring over the past couple of years. I think that you’ll find that there’s a lot of variety in terms of the influences behind some of the creations of this music, but you’ll also probably find that it overall takes on a meditative quality which I hope you can bask in for a few short minutes of your day. Represented here are works that also live in a textural and color realm that I find myself drawn to in a lot of my works as well. So, I hope you enjoy and hope this inspires you to continue to make more musical discoveries of your own.

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes

Britany Howard carries on the tradition of blues, country, and rock n’ roll in a way that lets our minds expand to greater heights. This song is unique in that it has a singular line that carries you from beginning to end, like a meditation, leaving you open to what’s to come.

String Quartet No. 2, II. Vivace by Benjamin Britten, performed by Endellion String Quartet

I think this recording by the Endellion String Quartet captures the gestural, sweeping, and complex textural quality of the music. And since we’re talking about how Black music influences all people and cultures, I love how in the second theme, Britten seems to have written in his own interpretation of a bluesy solo over a be-bop background (around 1:10). Considering the piece was written in 1945, it’s highly likely he would have spent a night on the town with Peter Pears to take in the latest popular music brought over by Black Americans seeking refuge in Europe.

The Cave of Rebirth by Tigran Hamasyan

Hamasyan‘s harmonic language, influenced in part by his Armenian heritage, is what gives his music an unexpected and refreshing feeling of progression. The result is something dark, honest, and utterly euphoric.

Aqua by Jessie Montgomery, performed by Bob Stewart and PUBLIQuartet

Written for string quartet plus tuba, I was really trying to capture a shared color space among the string and brass qualities. It sounded like a deep greenish blue, and moved like water.

I Only Speak of the Sun, I. The sun is my master by Jessica Meyer, performed by Miranda Cuckson, Jessica Meyer, and Caleb van der Swaagh

Meyer’s ability to express clear images and tone painting through extended techniques is shown here in spades. Performed by herself along with colleagues Miranda Cuckson and Caleb van der Swaagh, the trio paints a vivid musical picture that I just want to bask in!

Ice (Jascha Narveson Remix) by big dog little dog

This collaboration between my bass partner Eleonore Oppenheim and our recording engineer, composer Jascha Narveson, continues this exploration of sound and color. We played with natural pre-recorded sounds and the image of a slowly moving and reforming glacier, which Jascha remixed into an epic rendition of our original concept.

Musique d’ameublement: Carrelage Phonique by Erik Satie, performed by Ensemble Ars Nova

The master of tapestry music (and I mean that in the most flattering terms), Satie’s music is purposeful in its deliberate and clear images. From his work titles to the musical guts, the idea of “character music” is exemplified in the music of Satie. This movement from his collection of “Furniture Music” hits you with a kind of magenta in cubist form…and keeps you there to the end. 

Djelimady Rumba by Afrocubism

Afrocubism, a band of musicians from Mali and Cuba, continues the Afro-Cuban tradition made famous by the Bueno Vista Social Club. I love this cool yet intricate rumba ornamented in Malian melodies.