Music News

Stephen Scott

In the eyes of the modern classical press, Stephen Scott can't compare with Philip Glass and Steve Reich; an ocean's worth of ink has been spilled over the opuses of the latter pair, while Scott's work has spelled doom for just a puddle or two. The reason is simple: Unlike Glass and Reich, who have done a wide variety of projects on scales ranging from small to gargantuan, Scott, a longtime instructor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, has focused on what some observers see as the quizzical field of bowed piano, in which an ensemble of musicians cluster around an open-lidded piano and physically stimulate the instrument's (carefully prepared) strings using items such as Popsicle sticks glued with strands of rosined horsehair. It's the kind of approach that leaves all but the most wizened avant-gardists wondering, "What the hell?" But this question becomes moot for anyone who's heard Scott's 1996 master work Vikings of the Sunrise (also on New Albion). The fascinating pieces on the disc seem to have been played by dozens of violinists, violists and other players, not a clutch of college students armed with leftovers from yesterday's dessert.

New Music for Bowed Piano doesn't hit such heights, but that's understandable; it's not a followup to Vikings, but a reissue of Scott's first recording, made back in 1984. On the disc, Scott can be heard exploring the technique, which he stumbled upon in 1976, and pushing it into new and provocative areas. "Music One for Bowed Strings" -- his very first composition in this style, completed in 1977 -- has a suitably nascent feel: The droning introduction suggests an orchestra tuning up before segueing into a delicate contrapuntal section. "Music Three for Bowed Strings" is more challenging, with an overtly Reichian feel, while "Rainbows I" and "Rainbows II" hint at the wider palette that Scott exhibits in subsequent creations.

Even Scott, in a 1999 paragraph tacked onto his original liner notes, acknowledges that the six tracks here can be perceived as "early essays in an untried medium." However, he adds, "I hope that this reissue will convey again some of the sense of excitement and discovery we all felt on our first voyages into an uncharted sound world" -- and that it does. New Music features a Scott on the road to becoming great.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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