Described by the Boston Globe as “a composer of great intellectual curiosity”, John Aylward today announced the release of his latest album Celestial Forms and Stories (New Focus Recordings).
Inspired by the stories of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Aylward attempts to rewrite the myths Ovid immortalized through a five-piece suite of atmospheric chamber music. Renowned Viennese ensemble Klangforum Wien perform visible, sometimes obscured delicate and poetic textures, gestures, instrumental counterpoint and harmonies, beautifully conducted by one of the ensemble’s many guest conductors, Finnegan Downie Dear.
Aylward has always been fascinated by Greek mythology, having already sought new avenues of musical interpretation in previous works. Aylward’s fascination with Transfigurations dates back to his youth in the Sonoran Desert where one of his brothers was studying the classics. Unlike other artists who have harnessed Ovid’s imagination for the subject, Aylward is more interested in the writer’s narrative strategies. “Just as Ovid reduced improbable and fantastical transformations to simple processes, I thought there might be a way to construct a musical world out of equally simple musical materials,” says Aylward. As explained in Italo Calvino’s essay “Ovid and Universal Contiguity” (1979) and Six Memos for the New Millenium, Ovid was a master of lightness, speed and precision – the same qualities that lie at the heart of Aylward’s musical narration.
What started out as musical analogues soon became short studies and later vivid musical transformations. The album begins with Ephemera for clarinet and cello, which sets out the ideas that are expanded and developed through the varied forms and different stories in the works that follow. The three movements in the middle embody characters from Ovid’s tales: Mercury, Daedalus and Narcissus. The closer album, Ananke, mixes mythological impulses with a contemporary French harmonic palette. Ananke is a work of fractured continuities evoking the impulses and desires of the Three Fates: Clotho, the spinner, Lachesis, the giver, and Atropos, the inflexible. In a timeless conversation, the music embodies these characters as tensions rise, perhaps a fate unfolds.
This brand is Aylward’s second release during the COVID pandemic. The first, Angelus (Released 2020, New Focus Recordings), has been hailed as “a triumph (Classical Modern Music Blog) and “a captivating sonic experience perfectly recorded (Oberon’s Grove)”. Unlike Angelus, Celestial Forms and Stories was produced, recorded, edited and mastered entirely remotely due to COVID-related constraints.” Aside from the difficult time difference between me and the European-based musicians, this recording process unique was much more effective!”
The child of an immigrant mother from Germany (herself a World War II refugee) and in circumstances of both great diversity and economic instability, Aylward musically deals with the impacts of his earlier life, filled with a deep sense of community, rich expressions of cultural convergence stories and otherworldly landscapes of the desert.