Jordan Dykstra: Stressings
Editions Verde

A visit to Los Angeles-based Jordan Dykstra's site reveals that this incredibly productive composer, born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1985, has written a remarkable number of pieces in recent years, from string quartet and phonographic works to individual settings for grand piano and string orchestra. Our first exposure to his music occurred at the end of 2014 with the release of Audition, as bold and audacious in its content as Stressings. Like that earlier recording, the new one features Dykstra solo, his acoustic viola playing multiplied so many times it functions as a complete string section.

The impression left by this latest collection of 2015 works is that each has been conceived as a site of exploration for a particular idea or concept; not only does that produce ear-catching results, the listener's often caught by surprise, too. A case in point is “A Distant Continuum Towards (Annealing),” which, scored for forty violas of eight viola quintets, presents itself as a fairly straightforward strings-based drone during its first four minutes. But in the six that follow, change creeps in ever so surreptitiously until that fairly monochromatic opening sound climaxes in a controlled wail.

The longest setting at twenty minutes and scored for sixty-eight violas, “I'm Not a Horse Person, Dog (Accretion)” develops even more incrementally. Single bowed phrases eventually multiply until bowings of contrasting pitches gather into a swarm. That episode is gradually supplanted by a mass of string glissandi that initially drones and then shudders, on top of which a barrage of scrapes adds a raw and guttural dimension to the piece. Twenty-two violas were involved in generating the contorted scrapings, plucks, and drones of “No Going Back Before Present (Anthropocene)”; by comparison, the closing “Vibiana (Absence),” a concerto grosso for eight viola quintets and solo viola, saws relentlessly at a humming pitch until it ascends to an unsettlingly nightmarish pitch in its closing minutes. As should be patently obvious by now, Stressings isn't for the faint of heart, though that hardly argues against it.

April 2016