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“Best of 2020” Lists Feature Projects Publicized by Jensen Artists

The New York Times Best Classical Music of 2020 list featured the following projects publicized by Jensen Artists this year:

Ethel Smyth’s The Prison – James Blachly conducting the Experiential Orchestra, with Sarah Brailey and Dashon Burton (Chandos Records): “Ethel Smyth, the British suffragist, has found another advocate in the conductor James Blachly, whose recording of her last major work, “The Prison,” from 1931, exudes quality (Chandos) — an album of the year, by any measure.”

Spektral Quartet – Experiments in Living (New Focus Recordings): “The Spektral Quartet’s digital-only double album, Experiments in Living, invited listeners to hit ‘shuffle’ on their streaming service of choice. (Alternately, one could use the group’s specially designed tarot cards to determine a new sequence during each listen.)

On one randomized tour through Spektral’s playlist, I was astonished to discover how some of the players’ darting articulations during the first movement of Brahms’s String Quartet No. 1 proved a perfect appetizer for the serrated edges of Sam Pluta’s ‘binary/momentary logics: flow state/joy state.’”

Igor Levit (Sony Classical): “Divas, it goes without saying, don’t have to be singers. And perhaps no musician of any kind made the most of an agonizing year like this pianist, who livestreamed dozens of little recitals out of lockdown from his apartment in Berlin. He stopped for a bit and then, as the caseload spiked once more this fall, recommenced, with a beautifully considered, poised yet yearning performance of Bach’s Partita in E Minor on Nov. 16.”

Furthermore, The New York Timeslist of The 25 Best Classical Music Tracks of 2020 included the following three selections:

Meredith Monk’s Downfall from MEMORY GAME; Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble; Bang on a Can All-Stars (Cantaloupe Music): “For almost 60 years, the composer and performer Meredith Monk has created works mainly for herself and her close circle, so it’s been an open question what will happen to those intricate, idiosyncratic pieces when she’s gone. This album of sympathetic but not slavish new arrangements — collaborations with the Bang on a Can collective — offers tantalizing experiments. The clarinetist Ken Thomson gives the hawing vocals of “Downfall,” part of Ms. Monk’s post-apocalyptic 1983 evening The Games, seductively sinister instrumental surroundings.”

Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Mikros from Gyda Valtysdottir’s Epicycle II (Sono Luminus): “A subterranean hall of mirrors lures in the listener in this deeply affecting three-minute track. Gyda Valtysdottir’s cello takes on the guise of a modern-day Orpheus and the spectral sounds of the underworld as she layers her performance on top of two prerecorded tracks. As this protagonist cello line sighs, heaves and slackens, the taped parts add fragmented scratch tones, whispers and tremors, evoking terrain both alluring and treacherous.”

‘The Prisoner Awakes’ from Ethel Smyth’s The Prison; Experiential Orchestra and Chorus; James Blachly, conductor (Chandos): “Ethel Smyth, suffragist and composer, is among several female composers receiving fresh, deserved attention as the classical music industry tackles its diversity problem. If they all receive recordings as perfect as this account of her last major work, we will all benefit. Half symphony, half oratorio, The Prison includes this striking chorale prelude, with dark and light in the same bars, at its heart.”

In The Washington Post’s Best Classical Music of 2020, composer, vocalist, and producer Lisa Bielawa was recognized for her work this year on Broadcast from Home. “As long as I’ve been aware of composer Lisa Bielawa, I’ve admired her eagerness to dismantle the usual dynamics holding composers, performers and audiences in place and repurpose them to create completely new structures. In normal times, Bielawa would assemble hundreds of people for highly spatialized public performances for her ‘broadcast’ compositions. The covid-19 crisis put an end to that, but the imposed isolation and lost connections pushed Bielawa into an entirely new practice — such as Broadcast From Home, made entirely from sung testimonials from people across the country coming to grips with the first months of the pandemic. When we listen back for music that also serves a documentary purpose for this dreadful stretch, Bielawa’s will remind us how we got through.”

The New Yorkers Notable Performances and Recordings of 2020

included Ethel Smyth’s The Prison and Spektral Quartet’s Experiments in Living.

a closer listen spotlighted Spektral Quartet’s Experiments in Living in two of its year end lists. It was chosen as the top prize for The Year’s Best Packaging category. “We knew this was something special from the moment it was announced. After years of gracing album covers (and recording dozens of his own), collage artist øjeRum created a series of art cards for this project. They arrive in a keepsake box, accompanied by two decks of word cards and the suggestion to pair words with images and images with songs, producing an endless supply of listening experiences and interpretations.” Experiments in Living was also chosen among a closer listen’s The Year’s Best Album Covers list. “This striking cover art is only the introduction to a generous art deck that accompanies the double album Experiments in Living.”

a closer listen chose Gyda Valtysdottir’s Epicycle II as part of its Top Ten Modern Composition releases of 2020. "As a co-founder of múm, Valtýsdóttir is responsible for some of the most influential releases in experimental electronics. On her own, she continues to surprise, moving from genre to genre with aplomb. On Epicycle II, she honors Icelandic composers from Bjarnason to Thorvaldsdóttir, gracing their art with an elegant twist. When she sings, Kate Bush comes to mind; but when she allows the instruments to sing for her (as on most of the album), the results are sublime."

Other notable features for The Prison include: The Boston Globe's Top 10 Classical Albums of 2020; ArtsFuse's Best Classical Recordings of 2020; and WQXR's Best Classical Albums of 2020.

Experiments in Living was also chosen for year-end lists by Vanessa Ague of The Road to Sound and by George Grella of Kill Yr Idols.

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