Reviews

Presented chronologically


The audience was then treated to a new composition by Vermont composer David Rakowski. The work, "Elegy," has been performed as a chorale and a string quartet, but on this occasion it was performed as a work for a fairly large number of strings.
Rakowski has not gone unnoticed. For composition, he has been awarded the George Whitefield Chadwick medal from the New England Conservatory of Music and has received the BMI student composer award.
"Elegy" is an unusually good work. There are intimations of what is best in Stravinsky. One would like to give Rakowski a second hearing. — Stefan Janis, Newark Star-Ledger, March 19, 1984

Rakowski's "Slange," written for Parnassus, had its first performance. The composer calls it a "mini-concertino in five sections."  It's a short stretch (about six minutes) of finely worked, agreeable, but unmemorable music, for eight players, with the sound of clarinet and bass clarinet together, as the composer heard them in Parnassus' recent performance of the Schoenberg Serenade, one of its sonic inspirations. — Andrew Porter, The New Yorker, November 12, 1984

Of the works by younger, less established composers ... David Rakowski's "Slange" stood out.  It is dark and brooding, making particularly effective use of the darker sonorities of horn and bass clarinet. — Nancy Miller, Boston Globe, November 12, 1985.

David Rakowski's "Duo" (1981) amounted to eight minutes of slightly anguished lyricism, by turns tightly coiled and expansive, and it got what sounded like an assured, capable performance from violinist Gerald Itzkoff and pianist Karen Harvey. — Richard Buell, Boston Globe, March 29, 1988.

I was unable to garner much pleasure from the other three works on the program. ... Joseph Dubiel's "Precis," for clarinet and piano, and David Rakowski's "Duo" for violin and piano both struck me as exercises in schematic sound construction. Both had the virtue of concision. — Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, November, 1988.

... and eight superb members of the Griffin Ensemble, led by Gunther Schuller, in a lively, affectionate performance of David Rakowski's Slange, "a concertino in two movements," the program notes advised, "the second of which was written after the premiere." — Lloyd Schwartz, Boston Phoenix, October 6, 1989

"    " — Ellen Pfeifer, Boston Herald, September 28, 1989

Schuller led the last work, David Rakowski's "Slange" for eight instruments.  The program unhelpfully told us the title comes from "memorable scenes" in the film "Local Hero" (which memorable scenes?); the music, conducted and played with conviction, begins with darkly tremulous yearnings and progresses toward equally dark certainties. — Richard Dyer, Boston Globe, September 27, 1989

...the latter (Slange) I found dry and humorless. — George W. Harper, Patriot Ledger, September 27, 1989

The evening ended with David Rakowski's colorful and nicely orchestrated "Slange," a substantial item for eight instruments, including, very effectively, bass clarinet.  The gray eminence Gunther Schuller conducted this last piece with care and finesse, taking care to bring off the genuinely rousing finish. — Steve Metcalf, Hartford Courant, September 29, 1989

The Violin Concerto by Rakowski is a little like the Lutoslawski Cello Concerto in that the dialogue between soloist and orchestra relives and dramatizes various kinds of unsettling human relationships before finally reaching a kind of harmonious cooperation that assures us that life can go on. The form is absorbing and the thematic material richly implicative, and the performance, which featured the assured and eloquent Gerald Itzkoff as soloist, made you believe it's all true. — Richard Dyer, Boston Globe, October 1990

David Rakowski's "Violin Concerto," like all scores that aim for avowedly serious goals, resists firm assessment on first hearing. It is both tense and sumptuous, and seemed well-served by the solo playing from Gerald Itzkoff. — Josiah Fisk, Boston Herald, October 17, 1990

Also new is a disc featuring Speculum Musicæ, playing a quartet of works by four composers born in the 1950s (CRI CD 617). The most successful is David Rakowski's Imaginary Dances, a spirited work with much felicitous counterpoint and great rhythmic vitality." — John F. Link, I.S.A.M. Newsletter, Fall 1992

The Rakowski etudes are also in this vein (perpetual motion), the first of them a virtuoso exercise in repeated notes, and the second of them a virtuoso exercise in notes that swirl rather than repeat; it also has some lyric contrast achieved without change of speed. The amusing title is "BAM!" — a note to herself that Harvey left in the music of another Rakowski piece. "BAM!" is as good a word as any for the piece, and the performance. — Richard Dyer, Boston Globe, January 30, 1992.

The Rakowski has aims both more serious and more witty, and it reaches them easily — a rare accomplishment. The two etudes (E-Machines and BAM!) are short, restless, mercurial, full of constant transformations. There are traces of a devilish wit (at one sublimely timed moment, the first notes of Beethoven's "Fuer Elise" (sic) make a teasing hit-and-run appearance) — Josiah Fisk, Boston Herald, January 29, 1992

Next was a world premiere, "Cerberus," by Columbia University professor David Rakowski. This was listed as a concerto for clarinet, although the chamber orchestra itself was more featured. Soloist Beth Wiemann sat within the orchestra, but in a first chair position, such as the solo cello player has with the Sacramento Symphony, and her music was more often than not intermingled with the other instruments, particularly the other two clarinets. She was also required to switch between the B flat clarinet and the bass clarinet, a difficult transition because of the larger mouthpiece, the increased resistance from the instrument due to the larger resonating chamber, and the wider spacing of the keys for fingerings. Now it's not too much of a trick to play the two instruments alternately. The trick is to be able to play them well. Beth Wiemann managed this difficult feat with a lovely sound on each instrument, and impressive technical ability. The third movement, marked "liberamente, quasi cadenza" (why they still use these Italian terms is questionable), but this was Wiemann's chance to show off the low, sonorous tones of the bass clarinet, and she was certainly a pleasure to hear. Rakowski's music has many elements of musical satisfaction, although the performance in the future may be limited by the unusual demands on the soloist. — Clark Mitze, KXJZ Radio (Sacramento), May 13, 1992.

Thus won, the audience proved more than ready for Rakowski's four-movement "Cerberus," a concerto for clarinet and chamber orchestra (13 players) conducted by Bauer. Cerberus was the three-headed dog guarding the gates of Hades; Rakowski uses the image to reflect the fact that the solo clarinet (Beth Wiemann) is backed frequently by another (Diane Maltester) and a bass clarinet (Clark Fobes), although neither is as prominent as the soloist, who also plays bass clarinet. Never mind; just listen to the music, it never snarls at anybody.
The four movements lasted 23 minutes, and every one was worth listening to. The scoring was full of wonderful ideas — pairing the French horn (Nowlen, playing well) with the clarinet, for instance, or slipping the oboe (Dennis Harper) in with the three clarinets. Contrast, lively thought, lyric beauty were everywhere, and at least a word must be said for the rich instrumental blend in the slow first movement, for the way flute (Zucker) and a string quartet call gently behind the bass clarinet solo; for the long, lovely reflective passage in the slow third movement, and the way trumpet (John Pearson) and mallets (Tracy Davis) pick up spirits for the finale. Throughout, the playing of Beth Wiemann was supple and expressive and Bauer's conducting seemed right on top of it all. — William Glackin, Sacramento Bee, May 13, 1992.

Concluding the first half of the concert was David Rakowski's "Cerberus" clarinet concerto, the three-headed dog of the titular Greek myth being portrayed by three clarinettists (sic) at the beginning. The interplay, prior to the emergence of the real soloist, the immensely talented Beth Wiemann, gave listeners a Heissenbergian sense of indeterminacy, one which governed the remaining movements.
The witty scherzo threw hermetic themes about among the clarinettists, leading to the most accessible movement, the adagio, dominated by Wiemann's switch to the unfamiliar tones of the bass clarinet. I found the frenetic final movement impenetrable on first hearing, but for the sake of the rewards which preceded it, would be eager to hear it again. . . . . (later in the review:) Not one of the works in the concert appears to have been written for academic score-parsers. Wilson's and Rakowski's pieces demand repeated hearings, and if CD producers have any sense of responsibility, listeners will have the chance to immerse themselves in the increasingly rewarding awareness of the music's complexities. — Bill Collins, Davis (California) Enterprise, May 15, 1992.

More structural invention was evident in the New York premiere of "Cerberus" (1991) by David Rakowski, an American composer who was born in 1958 and studied at Princeton and the New England Conservatory. But this 20-minute (sic) concerto for bass clarinet and clarinet (both impressively played by David Gresham), seems at odds with its title. Instead of portraying the fearsome hound with three heads who guarded the gates of Hades, it has an almost pastoral effect; a dreamy, lulling pattern emerged out of layers of suspensions, imitations and resolutions. It is more liquid than animistic. — Edward Rothstein, New York Times, September 23, 1993.

(Lyn) Reyna's piano accompaniment gave the strength necessary in both compositions. She also played a modern solo work by David Rakowski called "Three Etudes for Solo Piano." Machine gun-like repeated notes predominated with not a whole lot of melodic line, a challenge for the pianist and rather hard on a classics-oriented audience. — Janice Riese, Peninsula Times-Tribune (San Jose),  precise date unknown (1993)

David Rakowski's "Diverti" consists of three quick character pieces; any sense that the seriousness of its ideas is leavened by wit is confirmed in a program note where Rakowski reveals that he chose the pitches of the work's motto theme by rendering the name "Beth" as B-E-F-F. — Josiah Fisk, Boston Herald, February 3, 1994.

..No placid sitting and humming along. Love it or hate it, grin or grit your teeth, the music required a response.
And love I did the two works with soprano Cheryl Marshall ....
The U.S. premiere of David Rakowski's "A Loose Gathering of Words" was striking indeed. Conducted by Ross Bauer, the ensemble, in addition to Marshall and (Peter) Josheff, included Diane Maltester, clarinet; Uri Wassertzug, viola; Sarah Fiene, cello; and Thomas Derthick, bass. One poem was especially translated, and three others especially written, for the piece. Referring to night and day, motion and rest, they spoke of the humor and mystery of life.
Rakowski's music capitalized on the ability of the soprano to sing with each of the instruments. A cello played and her voice seemed to rise out of its sound, to be its own twin. The first song, from Louise Bogan's translation of Heine's "Death is the Tranquil Night," was as haunting as alien but somehow recognizable dreams.
The jazzy "Earthy Anecdote" (text by Wallace Stevens) utilized the ensemble together and the voice moving quickly, but it somehow carried an undertone of threat. For "The Gazelles" (Joseph Duemer), the soprano register was high and the instruments spoke together —gossiped— in low-voiced colloquial conversation.
The last section, "World's Saddest Song" by Tom Chandler, featured the saxophone playing against the voice, and clarinet and saxophone in duet. Chords by the other instruments marked the ends of phrases. The end was marked by a palpable, and poignant, silence. — Marilyn Mantay, Davis Enterprise, Jan. 25, 1995

(About A Loose Gathering of Words) Composer David Rakowski's music is extraordinary with its unique beauty. It is complex, yet accessible. As a composer, Rakowski expects enormous abilities from his musicians. For example, the piece opens with a soft, single note on the bass viol and after a few moments, that unison note is joined by the cello. And then the bass drops out and the cello, in turn, passes it onto the viola and drops out. The viola then hands it off to the bass clarinet, and eventually to the B-flat clarinet. Now, such unison playing sounds so simple, but it is exceedingly difficult. It involves different tone registers on each instrument and playing absolute unison is very tricky, especially at certain tempos, and when you are totally exposed. Rakowski's music is impressive in its brilliant craftsmanship, in expressing interesting, listenable and inspiring music. — Clark Mitze, WXJZ Radio (Sacramento), January 22, 1995

Christine Schadeberg ... stepped into the spotlight to sing David Rakowski's settings of Louise Bogan's "Late," "Cassandra," and "To Be Sung on the Water." Mr. Rakowski framed these melancholy poems with dark, angular lines that responded eloquently to the imagery in the texts. — Allan Kozinn, New York Times, April 15, 1995

David Rakowski's "Hyperblue" (1993) was a nontraditional piano trio of strong profile. — Richard Buell, Boston Globe, March 19, 1996

"Hyperblue", by the prolific and inventive David Rakowski, gave the string players equal time, in two jazzy scherzos surrounding a nice schmaltzy slow movement. The piece starts with everybody in unison sounding uncannily like a saxophone, departing from and revisiting that unison as they bop along. Keyes' beautiful sound in the slow movement-warm, fleshly, more vocal than many singers—was matched by Rider in their poignant duet. Shapiro joined them with big Brahmsian arpeggios, sweeping into a tense, jaggedy final scherzo that seemed to go on a little too long without release. — Susan Larson, Boston Globe, April 2, 1996

Trillage is a piece to spend some time with. For the player, this is an etude, and a difficult one. The four-minute performance time will need to multiplied many times in practice. With this piece, that investment of time is worth it. The listener is also gratified. Beyond the swirl of fast notes, Trillage yields lyricism, sensuousness, humor, exhilaration, thorniness, and poetry. It would reward many hearings.
Cast as a theme with six variations and a coda, the music changes figuration and character as might be expected, all the while musing on the idea of the trill. Sometimes the trill is merely toyed with, as in the passages that, in the composer's words, "find ways of getting into and out of trills in the contrapuntal voices." At other times, the trill becomes an important motif. Sometimes it accompanies; sometimes it nearly disappears. Occasionally it is attacked head-on, as in the coda where, to quote the composer, "double trills and a triple trill accompany one last stab at a tune." (These are quiet double and triple trills, by the way.) Contrary to trill exercises, and differing from continuous-trill etudes, this piece uses the trill as a sub-plot; the main story is the working out of variations on a theme—a plot carried out with many ingenious creations of rhythm and texture.
Written in 1993 for Alan Feinberg, Trillage is the fourth in a series of five piano etudes. All are published by Peters, but only one other, the first, is yet off the press. The titles reveal the composer's humor: E-Machines, BAM!, Nocturnal, Trillage, and Figure Eight.
E-Machines is a study in scampering repeated notes. It takes off like a bat out of that place known for its furiously fast bats, and never lets up. For two-and-a-half minutes, the piano whispers, growls, sings, and flits. Just when you realize that "Für Elise" has been quoted, the music is off doing something else. This is fun!
When the remaining three etudes are released, "Trillage" and "E-Machines" will be looked at again in these pages in a review of all five pieces. In the meantime, something should be said about their imaginative composer.
David Rakowski, born in 1958, studied at the New England Conservatory and Princeton, and taught at Stanford and Columbia. Currently, he is living in Rome as winner of the Rome Prize Fellowship of the American Academy. When he returns, he will teach at Brandeis. A trombonist, he knows enough about the keyboard to make pianists sweat. — Bradford Gowen, Piano & Keyboard Magazine, March/April 1996.

And it is hard to imagine that David Rakowski's "Sesso e Violenza," a concertino featuring two flutes and commissioned by the ensemble, would have got any listener hot and bothered without the composer's program note about the instrument's sexiness and violence in its extreme registers. It is hard to imagine that it did so anyway, though the maundering unisons worked the conductor, Peter Jarvis, into an incongruous lather with their evident metrical complexity. — James R. Oestreich, New York Times, March 17, 1997.

David Rakowski's "Imaginary Dances" (1986), which had been composed for the crack Speculum Musicae ensemble, understandably delights in giving each player — there are eight — some sporty solo work to do, this against an instrumental mass that contrives to be both bright and dense. It was nothing if not busy, as if a positive horror of empty staves — also known as "Roger Sessions Syndrome" — had been stalking the young composer. — Richard Buell, Boston Globe, October 21, 1997.

In contrast [to a piece by Eric Zivian], Rakowski's "Sesso y Violenza" (sic) — really a concerto for two flutes, as conducted by George Thomson — was fascinating. The opening unison — (list of players given) — was so astounding and smooth that it best can be called cool.
The flutes began to emerge as a duo, creating their own unison, each gradually emerging as a solo instrument. The limit was reached when Brody took up the piccolo and Krejci the alto flute. Trios ensued, as the flutes with the marimba, but much of the time short motives, like fragments of melody, were heard from the other instruments. I did not find these little soundings distracting. — Marilyn Mantay, Davis Enterprise, November 4, 1997.

David Rakowski evidently has a passion for writing etudes, and your writer's quick impression is that they tend to be rhapsodic, colorful, and visually oriented, and that they are strangely and tersely unpredictable, no two alike. The four here, dating from 1988 to 1996, could have been about machines or dust motes, and was that a near-quotation (hastily though better of) from Beethoven's "Fuer Elise"? — Richard Buell, Boston Globe, February 4, 1998

(about the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra) Yet "conductorless" is a more relative term than it might seem. In a new work, David Rakowski's "Persistent Memory," Eric Bartlett, who as principal cellist dominated the quiet opening and close, conducted virtually throughout with his head. In a bobbing adaptation of conductorial patterns, he delineated the shifting meters, alternating, for example, between quadruple and quintuple, and cued other players with his eyes.
Mr. Rakowski's work, a moving memorial to a patron, is also effective in strictly musical terms, beginning in elegy and, after animated variations, slumping back into it. After a slight lack of intonational focus at the start, the performance was a fine exercise in sustained intensity — James R. Oestreich, New York Times, March 10, 1998

Elsewhere, the group showed off some of its other noted members. Mary Rowell, who has been touted through some glamorously fashioned promotion as the newest fiddling sensation, performed a fun work by David Rakowski written especially for her and her electric viola (sic). This ten-minute composition calls for certain effects, such as bent strings (which create the wha-wha sound), but they are never overdone. One movement entitled "Fumando" really is smokin', while "Lazy" is a foot-tapping bit of the blues. But the outer movements are familiarly straight, the final portion being fast and boiling but still relatively low-key. — New Music Connoisseur, Summer, 1998

One artist who's visited Voices often is soprano Christine Schadeberg, a virtuoso performer of new music who nver seems to be fazed by offbeat and difficult writing. She was featured in two compositions Monday night" The Burning Woman Revisited by David Rakowski and Backyard Songs by Don Freund.
The former amounts to an intriguing duet for soprano and clarinet in which both occasionally take the same melodic line but then quickly diverge. The music effectively mirrors four enigmatic texts. Mr. Powell was Ms. Schadeberg's clarinet partner, and reader Jane MacFarland gave a preview of the words. — Olin Chism, Dallas Morning News, October 1, 1998

Earplay then performed a work dedicated to it by David Rakowski, now teaching at Brandeis University. It is called "La Roba", "stuff" in Italian, and is divided into three sections of varying tempi. It begins very rapidly, lingers in a slow, eloquent middle part, then scurries away in a very busy final movement. It was filled with interesting details, loud bursts, rapid unison lines placed among sustained chords. The "Pierrot Lunaire" ensemble—flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano—ably and with great success fulfilled the composer's intentions for line and color and motion. Unfortunately, the ending didn't work and it seemed wrong; it suddenly broke off. All that energy can't just stop without preparation; the effect was disquieting. — Marvin Tartak, San Francisco Classical Voice, January 26, 1999

Rakowski is a composer with a sense of humor, and a gift for communicative clarity of expression. Having started out in music as a non-classical player, and then subsequently studying with Babbitt and Berio (among others) he has emerged as a composer who is not afraid of complexity but who seems always concerned to dress it up in appealing colors, viscerally arousing dynamic activity or some other attribute to assure its ready approachability. The largest work here, Sesso e Violenza is a tour de force, which is almost guaranteed to leave the listener breathless by the end. – CD review on RecordsInternational.com, July 1999.

It's that time of year when a handful of young composers gathers at Wellesley College for the experience of having their music scrutinized, discussed, performed and recorded, with the additional benefit of having a pair of composers in residence (sometimes former fellows themselves) nearby to point the way. To David Rakowski fell the first of the two "Conversations With Composers" events in which those composers show their wares. It will be his colleague Lee Hyla's turn on Thursday, same time, same place. 
Born in 1958 in St. Albans, Vt., and educated at the New England Conservatory of music and Princeton University, Rakowski played in a rock band when he was young. Why does one note this? In part because it's no longer worthy of note. Any classically trained American composer below a certain age who hadn't done so would probably be the exception nowadays. 
As to what else this tells us, intuitions and prejudices will differ. Unless this writer missed it, not once in his talk Thursday night did Rakowski mention any other composer by name, living or dead. The music itself had a self-contained, self-possessed tone, as if completely confident that it was saying exactly what was intended in the manner intended. Could it all have been as tidy-minded, painless, and ahistorical as it sounded? 
To these ears, instrument and voice inhabited noncontiguous worlds, arbitrarily at odds musical spaces — both in the clarinet and soprano settings (The Burning Woman Revisited, words by Joseph Duemer, 1997) and in the piano and clarinet one (To Be Sung on the Water, words by Louise Bogan, 1989). If each, on its own, had a certain sensuous charge, that's because they were, after all, made up of variations in air pressure, timbre, overtones — they were physical sound. But combined, they came to little more than a thin, grayish fog of abstraction, of having been willed into existence. 
How odd that it was the music we heard in recorded performance that proved to have blood in its veins. "Persistent Memory", composed for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, with its elegiac but strangely taut slow music, showed a degree of rhythmic life and invention more convincing than when Rakowski was working with faster tempos, whether in that piece or in the twee motoric Clarinet Quintet that he wrote for the 50th anniversary of Brandeis, where he is a faculty member. — Richard Buell, Boston Globe, July 31, 1999.

Rakowski's five-part "Silently, a Wind Goes Over" uses poems by Joseph Duemer, Wallace Stevens, April Bernard, and Robert Louis Stevenson to depict various aspects of storms in both external and internal worlds. (In the wake of [Hurricane] Floyd, these took on special meaning; indeed, Narucki commented that "After the last few days, I am rethinking the whole wind thing"; and the following afternoon, at the NCMA, she remarked that she was heading home to New Jersey to continue drying out her basement.) These were for the most part not terribly grateful songs, and the Stevenson poem ("Windy Nights," from A Child's Garden of Verses) seemed particularly ineffective, but she and Oldfather gave them with total commitment. John W. Lambert, Spectator Online, Duke University, September, 1999

Rakowski, a Brandeis faculty member who has been patiently amassing a remarkable set of piano etudes over recent years (“Pollici e Mignoli” for thumbs and pinkies only, “Touch Typing” for index fingers, “Plucking A” for reaching inside the instrument), was represented by yet more of same: “E-machines” (1988) and “BAM!” (1991), done by Nonken to even more of a fare-thee-well than on “Hyperblue,” an all-Rakowski compilation on the CRI label. — Richard Buell, Boston Globe, October 19, 1999.

Mr. Rakowski, whose relentlessly virtuosic “E-machines” (1988) and “Bam!” (1991) opened the program, is an unusually accomplished eclectic. Even as a listener notes a parade of influences, from Minimalism to jazz, the music somehow maintains a sense of consistency. — Allan Kozinn, New York Times, October 20, 1999.

David Rakowski (born 1958) is on the composition faculty at Brandeis University. He studied with Robert Ceely and Babbitt, among others, and with Berio at Tanglewood. Rakowski's music shows a concern for note-to-note (and line-to-line) relationships, including at least a smattering of serial technique in the Babbitt and Ceely vein, with a more motoric, pulse-driven rhythmic base for nearly every piece represented here. Rakowski's work shows an energy akin to rock music, but he doesn't at all rely on rock's gestures and cliches, and his compositional craft is worlds away from that genre. 
Since 1988 Rakowski has been writing an apparently haphazard series of piano etudes that also seem to serve as compositional etudes; the most recent of these on this disc is No. 14 (Martler), from 1997, and there are 20 (or more) by now. Marilyn Nonken performs five of them here. E-Machines (Etude No. 1, 1988) and BAM! (Etude No. 2, 1991) form a related pair. Both feature a more or less constant stream of fast notes. E-Machines is a study on repeated notes; BAM! contains a punctuating chord that occurs within the otherwise steady and fast stream. Les Arbres embues (Etude No. 7, 1995) is much slower music, a quiet melody with chordal accompaniment. Corrente (Etude No. 10, 1996) is another rapid-note etude with a slowly evolving melody in the right hand. Martler (Etude No. 14) is a perpetual-motion crossing-hands exercise. A quotation from Smoke on the Water in this etude is symptomatic of both Rakowski's awareness of rock music and the wise-guy sense of humor that crops up in many of his pieces. 
A perpetual-motion section shows up in many of Rakowski's pieces, including the first movement of Hyperblue, a piano trio (1991-93). There are wrenches thrown in the works from moment to moment, odd eighth notes among the 16ths, for example, the constant forward motion stuttering but never ceasing. The second movement is more lyrical, the strings providing intertwining lines, the piano an arpeggiated accompaniment that becomes a figure in itself. The last movement is more chordal, with again a distinct, fast pulse, but yet more staggered than in the first movement. Attitude Problem, a later trio (1996-97), shows similarly balanced approach to the ensemble, similar rhythm-pulse ideas, similar line-against-line writing, even a similar three-movement form. The details of the two are different, but the mood is enough the same to make me wonder about the need to have both of them on this disc. Probably greater familiarity would throw their differences into sharper relief, though. 
Sesso e Violenza (1995-96) is a slightly larger (23 minutes) ensemble piece, with two solo flutes (one doubling piccolo, the other alto flute) and small ensemble. In this piece Rakowski often makes a composite solo of the two flutes, enabled the more by the sensitivity among the players. The slight expansion of the timbral palette over the piano trios does the music well, allowing a more sensuous side of Rakowski's music to come out, unlike the more detached lyricism of the string writing in the trios. The Three Songs on Poems of Louise Bogan (1989) also touches on this kind of lyricism in the vocal writing, but the setting of the texts and the overall tone of the songs seem lacking in real conviction. Rakowski's oft-used rhythmic drive is a shadow of its usual self. "Late" and "To Be Sung on the Water," which bracket the set as slowish fast movements, in a way, lack the conviction of their instrumental counterparts. 
Performances are convincing, especially the virtually symbiotic ensemble work in Sesso e Violenza and Marilyn Nonken's readings of the Etudes. Altogether this is a solid and enjoyable collection exhibiting a very high level of energy and craft as well as a consistently expressive compositional voice. — Robert Kirzinger, Fanfare Magazine, November 24, 1999.

Born in 1958 in St. Albans, Vermont, David Rakowski is the youngest of the three Brandeis composers here under review. He was a finalist for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize in Music with his chamber-orchestra composition Persistent Memory, which was premiered by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. His awards include a Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and awards from the Rockefeller Foundation and BMI. Prior to joining the Brandeis faculty in 1996, Rakowski taught at Columbia and Stanford Universities and completed a Ph.D. at Princeton University.
Composed to follow his first piano etude E-Machines (published by C. F. Peters in 1990), Rakowski’ second etude for piano, BAM!, is a virtuosic display of dynamic, tempo, and register extremes. Although it may be performed separately from E-Machines, BAM! aptly derives its title from the ending of the companion piece, which concludes with a sudden sixteenth note on Bf2-Df1 marked sffffff and played with the fist. BAM! begins with this same subcontra minor third attack (now reduced to a sfff) that recurs at irregular moments to pierce a pp texture of running sixteenth notes. The tessitura of these sixteenth notes begins at the lowest range of the piano, gradually widening as it ascends to a stratospheric ef’’’’.
Although this music speaks a harmonic and rhythmic language of the later twentieth century, BAM! (and its companion etudes Nocturnal and E-Machines) are very much in the spirit of the nineteenth-century concert etude aimed at demonstrating virtuosity. The overall formal design underlying Rakowski’s etudes is uncomplicated, and each lasts only three to four minutes. Marked to be played “pipistrello in uscita dal inferno” (bat out of hell) —that is, as fast as possible with q = 144+— BAM!  feature meter changes in virtually every measure, sudden extreme changes in dynamics, and wide-leaping sixteenth notes. To perform this work, a pianist requires a technique of the highest order. Composed in Bellagio, Italy in 1991, BAM! was premiered in Boston in February 1992 by Karen Harvey, to whom it is dedicated.
Published with BAM!, Rakowski’s third piano etude, Nocturnal, forms an attractive complement to the two earlier etudes. It was composed in 1992 and premiered a year later by pianist Lyn Reyna. Marked lento, this etude begins quietly and revolves around an incantation of a registrally fixed fs’ repeating at syncopated quarter-note durations. Against the backdrop of this ostinato, a multivoiced counterpoint unfolds from below. Eventually, d’ quietly takes of the fs’’s role, and gradually this musical mantra descends through f to E1. Throughout this descent, there is a foreshortening of the time that each new pitch holds on to its mantra role. In opposition to this idea of a descending repeated pitch, the music of the contrapuntal voices gradually ascends and gains rhythmic speed, becoming fastest as the mantra reaches its lowest note. At this point, the music continues with a wide separation of registers between quiet articulations in the lowest range of the piano and the other voices in higher registers, sounding vaguely like a quiet echo of BAM! when the two pieces are played as a set. The fixed repeated pitch idea is still present in the second half of this etude, but remains buried in the more complex piano texture that has developed. In the final measures of Nocturnal, the repeated fs’ re-emerges at a slightly faster speed to bring the etude to a close.
The combined edition of BAM! and Nocturnal is reproduced from the composer’s handwritten manuscript. Rakowski’s calligraphy can be hard on the eyes because his ledger lines tend to be uneven and accidentals sometimes look crowded; once again we have the annoying spiral binding. This is an unfortunate appearance for such well-crafted and appealing piano music.
Rakowski’s Duo for Violin and Piano, written between 1979 and 1981, is dedicated to Milton Babbitt on the occasion of the composer’s sixty-fifth birthday in 1981. It was premiered in Boston by violinist Ken Sugita and pianist Karen Harvey. This is a rhythmically complex work with many changes in tempo, including a section with metric modulations in rapid succession. Due to the difficulty of synchronizing the violin and piano parts, the performers are to read from score. Peters provides a cleanly engraved edition, although the font size is somewhat small considering that this is a performing score.
The piano must make significant use of the sostenuto pedal for special resonance effect, silently depressing specified keys and then applying the sostenuto pedal to raise the dampers on the strings for those selected pitches. As accented chords and pitches are played, the undampened strings resonate particular harmonics sympathetically. Rakowski indicates in the score’s prefatory notes that if the piano’s sostenuto pedal does not work properly, then the performer should ignore sostenuto markings, although a very attractive aspect of this music would be lost without this resonance.
In responding to the issues of complexity in his music, Babbitt commented that “I want a piece of music to be literally as much as possible” (The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. [London: Macmillan, 1980], 1:106). Rakowski has very admirably made his duo “as much as possible,” composing a very expressive and dynamic piece with a larger vision behind the complexity of details. In doing so, he has written and impressive and fitting homage to Babbitt. —Martin Schreiner, Harvard University; Notes, Vol. 56 No. 2, December 1999, pp. 506-507.

Ordering vanilla ice cream or a bean burrito may be a bit on the boring side, but it's a good test of a purveyor's wares in these days of myriad culinary choices. Similarly, composers can often be judged by their piano music — if they can get the basics right, the addition of richer sonic flavors should naturally follow. Four recent albums from composers and pianists show just how well the basics can be done these days. All share a sensibility with respect to past, and an energy that looks to the future.
David Rakowski's music on the CRI release Hyperblue brims with spirit and humor. He is an American in-your-face Messiaen fond of doublings, bells, and sonorous chords. His piano etudes — temptingly only partially revealed on this CD (numbers 1, 2, 7, 10 and 14) — are scattered about like bookends amongst the longer chamber works. While the album does not include his notable Pollici e Mignoli, Touch Typing, and Plucking A (respectively for thumbs & pinkies, index fingers, and inside-the-piano performance), we are treated to essays on melody with thick chords (7), left-hand running notes (10), repeated notes (1), and swirls of notes (2).
The titular Hyperblue explores the headlong darker side of jazz, characterized by the composer as a "scherzo sandwich" of fast-slow-fast, although where I come from, sandwiches are described by their innards, not the bread… The Triple Helix's tasty performance here and in Attitude Problem capture Rakowski's Carteresque sense of the dramatic, further demonstrated by Sesso e Violenza in Ensemble 21's animated reading where eventually the flutes are sucked back into the unison at the end, kicking and screaming.
If Rakowski can do this much with non-verbal music, imagine his take on the poetry of Louise Bogan in Three Songs. Following suit, Ross Bauer provides high-quality program notes to this fine release. — Mark Alburger, 21st Century Music, March, 2000.

Not all contemporary settings are so novel. "Three Songs on Poems of Louise Bogan" (1989), a work by the young American composer David Rakowski (b. 1958), is more traditionally set for voice and piano. While these songs are direct descendants of the lieder and chansons of the previous century, they reveal the emotional rawness and candor of their texts in a confessional manner unthinkable even fifty years ago. "Late" is a study in disaffection and alienation, a vocal line that stuns with its cool apathy. In "Cassandra," composure turns to unchecked frustration and rage of one to whom no one listens. The singer articulates the words in speech-like fashion, in fuming recitative, as the piano offers hollow support.
Song, like a wing, tears through my breast, my side,
And madness chooses out my voice again,
Again. I am the chosen no hand saves.
Harmonically lush and inviting, Rakowski's music is also extraordinarily tactile. "To Be Sung on the Water" shares the buoyancy of other water pieces, like Debussy's La Mer, Schoenberg's "Farben," Op. 16 No. 3 ("Summer Morning on a Lake"), and Schubert's "Auf Dem Wasser zu singen." It embodies musically the strong rhythmic drive of Bogan's text.
Beautiful, my delight,
Pass, as we pass the wave.
Pass, as the mottled night
Leaves what it cannot save,
Scattering dark and bright.
Beautiful, pass and be
Less than the guiltless shade
To which our vows were said;
Less than the sound of the oar
To which our vows were made;—
Less than the sound of its blade
Dipping the stream once more.
—Marilyn Nonken, Agni, No. 51 (spring, 2000)

David Rakowski negotiates the complexities and contradictions of the music of our time with uncanny fluency. His songs really sing with a natural yet unpredictable lyricism. His works for small ensemble are true chamber music with intricate and mercurial changes. His extensive series of Piano Études, with their ferocious technical demands and infernal wit, push outward the range of possibilities for true virtuoso. The orchestra music has density and scale and large eloquence. And his music laughs as it engages the body, sings, dances, challenges the mind and explores the spirit. — Citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ceremonial Program, May 17, 2000.

(about CRI CD 820) Craft and energy mark the music of Maine composer David Rakowski. His pieces, particularly the ones for solo piano, here given sure performances by Marilyn Nonkin, (sic) have clear phrase shapes, tonal (but not necessarily) harmonic structures, and are easy to follow. They sound like they would be challenging and enjoyable to play, but after a while they begin to take on a grey cast, perhaps owing to a rather constant level of harmonic tension—and not much tension, at that. These well-made pieces could probably find a place in the college recital repertoire. — American Record Guide, July, 2000.

Primo CD personale per Rakowski, autore assai sfaccettato e dalla vena compositiva fresca ed “impudente”. Qui troviamo brani per diverse formazioni, dai titoli eccentrici e dallo sviluppo sonoro molto invitante (Sesso e Violenza, per due flauti e gruppo strumentale o Hyperblue, per trio di pianoforti o gli Etudes per pianoforte). Da ascoltare. — web.tiscalnet.it/silenziodist/maggio2000.htm, Web page for Maggio Distributors, Italy.
[ The first solo CD from Rakowski, a rather multifaceted author from a fresh and "impudent" compositional vein. Here we find diverse strains, from eccentric titles to extremely inviting developments of sonority (Sesso e Violenza, for two flutes and instrumental group, or Hyperblue for piano trio, of piano Etudes). A must hear. ]

David Rakowski is one of America’s finest, most accomplished young composers. In the booklet notes for this CD, he mentions having “spent and misspent a good portion of his youth playing keyboards in a rock band and trombone in community bands.” This listener believes Rakowski’s time was excellently employed this way; while his music exhibits some affinity with the Columbia/Princeton ethos, it also possesses a clarity, directness, sparkle, and vigor very much its own. It is tempting to think that years of playing Sousa marches and Rolling Stones tunes helped leaven this composer’s rigorous training, ultimately putting Rakowski onto the path that resulted in the uniquely personal style exhibited here.
East Coast influences are most clearly seen in his Three Songs on Poems of Louise Bogan. The piano accompaniment here is expressionistically moody (though more textural than linear in approach), supporting an atonal, yet atmospheric vocal line. The effect of the first two songs is mysteriously understated, of the last, plushly warm.
The three large ensemble pieces on this release share certain characteristics. All employ unison openings (either melodic or rhythmic), scherzo-oriented material, and three-movement fast-slow-fast layouts played without intervening pauses. As is true of the best composers, though, Rakowski inventively fleshes out his basic blueprints with widely varied and engaging material of significant originality. The title piece’s outer movements are restless, intense, and dramatic, surrounding an elegantly earnest contrapuntal midsection. The whole exhibits an almost Beethovenian sense of demonstrative energy. Attitude Problem, while equally substantive, is somewhat lighter in feel. The work’s last movement tangibly takes its scherzo label to heart; while still kinetically intense, it utilizes silences and sudden parameter shifts to delightfully droll effect. And the slow movement here is expressive in a still and crystalline, not resolute, way. Sesso e Violenza employs its flute, strings, piano, and percussion scoring to stunning effect. This is a colorful feast for the ears, willowy and gorgeous. One can revel in this piece solely on a sensually sonic level—but to stop there would be a mistake, as there is much melodic and structural beauty to enjoy here as well.
Scattered in between these larger pieces, like lustrous wildflowers in a verdant field, are found numerous piano etudes. Most of these, such as Martler, Corrente, and BAM!, are vibrant, good-natured toccatas of different kinds; the major exception is Les Arbres Embues, a warmly atmospheric work which suggests an updating of Messiaen’s slow piano compositions.
Performances (featuring Ensemble 21, the piano trio Triple Helix, soprano Judith Bettina and pianists Marilyn Nonken and James Goldsworthy) are uniformly excellent. Sound quality and production values are fine.
Simply put, this is a significant release by a major composer, thoroughly enjoyed, and highly recommended. One’s money will not be misspent in picking up a copy. — David Cleary, 21st Century Music, November, 2000.

Works by Jason Eckardt, David Rakowski, Michael Finnissy, Milton Babbitt, and Jeff Nichols declined to dance or sing. With the exception of Rakowski’s “Les Arbres Embués” (1995) — a sonorous mood piece, whose gently chiming parallel chords recall Debussy — this is music that prefers to argue. — Tom Strini, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 29, 2001.

That nearly everyone but the stagehands had a chance to speak at length made the evening so civilized, so enlightened, so Quaker-like that you hoped it would conclude before your clothes went out of style. Such elongating elements cannot have helped the concentration among listeners and musicians, even under the quick-on-the-uptake direction of Jan Krzywicki.
The primary victim was David Rakowski’s Gut Reaction, which more or less bounced off my fatigued ears, though the level of inspiration in his setting of the Sophie Wadsworth poem The Gardener rallied the evening. Nonetheless, if Network for New Music is going to present lecture recitals, they should be billed as such. — David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer, January 29, 2001.

The program included two solo works, one featuring the ferociously talented pianist Amy Briggs Dissanayake in four spiky, often witty etudes by Rakowski. Claiming that he wrote short piano etudes when he was "having trouble" composing larger works, the young American composer has created a lively stew of ideas inspired by '30s swing, traditional technical exercises for piano and his own off-kilter sensibility. — Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times, May 4, 2001.

Rakowski's Piano Etudes (1997-98) and Martino's "A Set for Clarinet" (1954), proved less intrinsically interesting than the dashing virtuosity of their respective performers, pianist Amy Briggs Dissanayake and clarinetist John Bruce Yeh. The rhythmic dislocations and dense, toccata-like structures of the four Rakowski etudes often brought to mind the superior keyboard studies of Gyorgy Ligeti and Conlon Nancarrow. – John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2001.

Two of the final concerts alone would have made the journey to Lucerne worth while. Under Timothy Foley,  another conductor who has complete control of dynamics, phrasing and ensemble with an unostentatious beat, The United States Marine Band,  which I still rate as probably the best in the world, gave a beautifully planned program, beginning with a Harmoniemusik arrangement of the William Tell Overture (a nice gesture to our hosts), ending with a superb Lincolnshire Posy, and including two standards — the new edition of Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Copland's The Red Pony, which really should be played more often. The second half of the program began with the world premiere of David Rakowski's Ten of a Kind, a concerto for ten clarinets,  who are in fact but one of many concertante groups drawn from the orchestra. I loved the sound world and found the ideas flowed naturally and that the contrasts were finely drawn. – Tim Reynish, WASBE newsletter, Summer 2001.

Seine ganze Farbpalette konnte das Orchester unter Colonel Timothy W. Foley hingegen in der Suite «The Red Pony» von Aaron Copland demonstrieren, wobei es den Blechglanz ganz für den Schluss aufsparte, in dem die volksliedhafte Anfangsmelodie triumphierend im vollen Orchester erklingt. Der zweite Teil war dann vorab Musik unserer Zeit gewidmet. Die Kunstfertigkeit, mit der David Rakowski in «Ten of a Kind» durch die vier Sätze das thematische Material verändert, dabei fast asketisch die Holzbläser gegenüber dem Blech bevorzugt, führt beinahe ins Uferlose. Und den Solisten mit zehn Klarinetten zu besetzen, geht wohl zu weit, erschwert eine Concerto-Wirkung. — Von Fritz Schaub, Neue Luzerner Zeitung, July 14, 2001.
[ In contrast, the orchestra (the US Marine Band) under the direction of Timothy W. Foley was able to demonstrate the full palette of colors in the suite “The Red Pony” by Aaron Copland, saving the glow of the brass for the finale, where the folklike melody from the opening reappears in the whole band. The second half was then dedicated to music of our time. The skillfulness of David Rakowski’s variations of the theme in “Ten of a Kind” throughout the four movements, while almost ascetically preferring the woodwinds over the brass, leads almost nowhere. And to use ten solo clarinets seemed like taking it too far, making it more difficult to achieve the effect of a concerto. ]

Of the three works given, David Rakowski’s Imaginary Dances (1986) was the one most mindful of proportion and structure. The composer’s careful ear for sectional and formal balance is obviously manifest: movements clearly possess beginnings, middles, and ends that are architecturally sound. Orchestrated for a sizeable complement that adds oboe, viola and percussion to Maw’s Pierrot quintet, the piece manages to delineate busy, East Coast oriented densities without ever seeming clotted or stodgy. This is dramatic, energetic, well-argued music of much character and sense of purpose, a first-rate listen. — David Cleary, Twenty-First Century Music, January, 2002.

Three interesting pieces made up the program's first half, two of them duets. The brief opening work, David Rakowski's Two Can Play That Game, was given its premiere by bass clarinetist Peter Josheff, for whom it was composed, and marimbist Jessica Van Oostrum. In this engaging piece the instruments were closely partnered, often in the same register, sharing some rhythmically-tricky motivic material before gradually moving into separate territory and then merging once more. — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classicial Voice, May 7, 2002.

Though not called such, the new works were de facto concertos, including David Rakowski's "Locking Horns" for Horn and Chamber Orchestra. Twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, including this year, Mr. Rakowski has technique to burn. The five jam-packed movements of "Locking Horns" all begin with the same music, yet in each the materials are developed differently. In the middle movements, a horn in the chamber ensemble, annoyed by the attention the solo hornist is grabbing, attempts to usurp the starring role but ultimately fails. 
Mr. Rakowski layers the score with astringent, darting, atonal counterpoint in a way that remarkably manages to keep the overlapping textures audible. Yet, "Locking Horns" lacked a convincing overall structure. Though just 15 minutes (sic), it seemed long-winded. The surprise ending — the music flutters upward then just stops midflight — sounded arbitrary. The horn soloist Daniel Grabois and the ensemble, conducted by Paul Hostetter, gave an assured and vividly colored performance.  — Anthony Tomassini, New York Times, May 23, 2002.

Nonken warmed up with a couple of Etudes (2002) by David Rakowski. Sliding Scales is a wickedly funny parody of regimented piano practice, a manic Gradus ad Parnassum, beginning with scale patterns and gradually expanding intervals leading to some rather dangerous leaps which were executed with spectacular abandon. By way of contrast, Twelve-Step offers a counterpoint of lovely lyrical lines in the vein of Rakowski’s earlier piece, Nocturnal, a favorite of mine. — Jerry Kuderna, San Francisco Classical Voice, October 8, 2002.

Next of the program’s five piano trios, David Rakowski’s HyperBlue (1991-1993) was inspired by the flight patterns of birds, whose flocks, veering out of formation, become momentarily disoriented and then reconverge to continue on their path. The first of three interconnected movements exemplified this behavior, as piano and strings brushed against each other while sharing an angular, twisting line, in a blurred and fluid version of birds in flight. Then suddenly, the texture was buffeted by sharp rhythmic and harmonic accents, causing a complete breakdown, with the ensemble in seeming disarray, followed by a gradual and tentative return of the original material. These dramatic caesuras were exciting and effective, punctuating and giving needed contrast to the ongoing linear activity. In this movement the piano was the driving force, and Lois Shapiro was the dynamic performer who kept things going. — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, November 18, 2002.

Some of the pieces in the group performed by Susan Narucki, the soprano, were more conventional art songs ...  David Rakowski's "For Wittgenstein" (1996), has a propulsive, dramatic thrust. — Alan Kozinn, New York Times, November 20, 2002.

Speculum Musicae has typically explored the corner of the contemporary repertory where composers create rigorous structures, mostly outside the bounds of tonality. This ensemble largely stayed on that path in its program at Merkin Concert Hall on Monday evening, but the players showed that this music can also crack a smile. 
The curtain raiser, David Rakowski's "Gardener," is a setting of a poem by Sophie Wadsworth in which gardening and vegetable imagery morph into steamy sexuality. The soprano line, sung with presence and allure by Susan Narucki, is accompanied by perpetual-motion ensemble writing that reflects the drives of the text. — Alan Kozinn, New York Times, December 5, 2002.

Grade: B+ 
David Rakowski: Etudes. Amy Dissanayake (Bridge 9121) 
Don't let the silly titles of these pieces – like Fourth of Habit or The Third, Man – put you off. David Rakowski's musical wit is considerably sharper than his punning. 
Piano etudes are the epitome of artistic athleticism. The composer, 45, has been writing them frequently since 1988. The 22 recorded here provide a survey of 20th-century piano technique. There are echoes of many modern composers, but Mr. Rakowski has his own, jazz-tinged voice. 
Ms. Dissanayake barrels through all the difficulties without losing the sense of fun. — Lawson Taitte, Dallas Morning News, March 23, 2003

Vermont-born composer David Rakowski, 45, studied at the New England Conservatory, Princeton and Tanglewood. He teaches composition at Brandeis University. This disc includes just less than half of the 48 piano etudes he has written to date. He has described these compelling miniatures as “brief virtuoso pieces that develop a singular idea based on some technical problem of performance or an abstract musical idea.” As such, they represent a kind of compositional workshop in which he plays serious games with the way notes are put together.
Superbly crafted, difficult to play but fun to listen to, the etudes are laced with a dry with  that is reflected in the punning titles (“You Dirty Rag,” “You’ve Got Scale,” “A Gliss is Just a Gliss”). Rakowski’s music is typically fast, jittery and jazzy, full of off-kilter rhythms and wacky surprises, yet never clever just for the sake of being clever. If you care to regard these pieces as a capsule survey of what’s been going on in American music, of all kinds, over the last 30 years, I don’t think he would object. Brilliant Chicago pianist Amy Dissanayake dispatches them with a kind of elegant ferocity that takes your breath away. I’m recommending this disc to everybody as a splendid introduction to a composer with a fresh, distinctive voice, whose works deserve much wider circulation. — John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, March 30, 2003.

David Rakowski’s Études for piano show near boundless creativity harnessed to a delightful sense of humor, and we all know how rare this last quality is, particularly in contemporary music. The titles of the various pieces frequently offer an amusing commentary on their intent: Touch Typing is played by the two index fingers only; Plucking A brilliantly explores “inside the piano” timbres; A Gliss is Just a Gliss and the hyper-brilliant Fists of Fury are self-explanatory, while Schnozzage requires a little help from the player’s nose. There are scattered references to other pieces (including a memorable vision of Purple Haze in the étude appropriately named Purple), and despite some slow bits the general impression remains of manic energy.
If there’s any fly in the ointment, it may be that Rakowski could focus his ideas a little more sharply by giving the music a stronger melodic profile, though his preference for simple forms, clearly articulated, makes each piece easy enough to follow at first hearing. Amy Dissanayake does a splendid job projecting the music’s wit, and her unflappable virtuosity makes even the densest writing sound effortless. Typically excellent sonics round out a marvelous disc that piano fanciers should snap up without hesitation. — David Hurwitz, classicstoday.com, May 7, 2003.

Expert pianism graces this American’s studies in fun-time and pun-time
For William Blake, exuberance rather than prudence equalled beauty and there is certainly nothing prudent about David Rakowski (b1958) and his Etudes. Expertly performed by Amy Dissanayake, an intrepid pianist, this disc contains 22 Etudes selected from a cycle-in-progress of 50 (48 down and two to go), written largely as a diversion from larger projects.
The booklet notes, which quote extensively from the composer, give you a random sense of what to expect. For Rakowski the idea was ‘to play games with the way notes get put together’, and he certainly is a great lover of games. This one must be played ‘too fast’, another ‘like a bat out of hell’. The climax of No. 16 is a ‘gonzo boogie-woogie from hell’ composed by candlelight during a Maine ice-storm. No. 18 is inspired by a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox baseball team, while No. 11 is an Etude for the index fingers only (‘pianists who wish to use more fingers may do so at their own discretion, but should be very, very ashamed’). No. 36 remembers Jimi Hendrix and his Purple Haze, No. 13 has you playing inside as well as outside the piano, while No. 22, ‘Schnozzage’, is written for nose as well as fingers.
Throughout, one form of inspiration is easily substituted for another (‘little puffs of smoke’ become ‘musical fireflies’ in No. 35). Less engagingly, such facetiousness seems a far cry from wit, a quality the notes compare favourably with Haydn – ‘as with Haydn, the mind never stops’. There is also an unfortunate reference to Rakowski’s continuation of great Etude writing, from Chopin to Ligeti. Such claims are far-fetched and although there are some relatively attractive exceptions (Nos. 14, 23, 26 and 29), few of these works achieve anything approaching the genuine order and complexity of the two composers named above.
The recordings are acceptable rather than outstanding and Dissanayake, a former student of Ursula Oppens, is clearly more than at home in Rakowski’s welter of demands. — Bryce Morrison, Gramophone, June, 2003.

This one should be much smoother sailing.
These etudes by the American composer David Rakowski were written over a period of 14 years; and he continues writing them.
To me, the fascination of these etudes is to be found in their almost endless variety. The pianist, Amy Dissanayake, plays with a sure sense of understanding, 22 of them here, and they run the gamut of just about every emotion you could imagine. — King Durkee, Copley News Service, July, 2003.

David Rakowski (b. 1958) is a composer with lots of wit and some musical depth. These 22 etudes add up to a little less than half of his entire output of same. A New Englander, he uses the writing of etudes as a way of letting off steam from other projects. The idiom is somewhat atonal but refers back to many different styles. Listening to this music without reference to the titles is not totally engrossing, since an etude is, by nature, a finger exercise. The titles to add a dimension of appreciation and often disarming humor to the situation. Hayes Biggs's detailed descriptions in the liner notes add even more, turning a potentially abstract experience into an enjoyable one.
For instance, Touch Typing is for index fingers only and is based on patterns that the budding typist would learn on a typewriter keyboard — ASDFG, for instance. To this the composer adds a note in the music that "Players who wish to use more fingers may do so at their discretion, but should also be very, very ashamed." Then there's Schnozzage, where one is invited to employ the nose to play the melody in the middle register. The composer also suggests that "the middle part may be played instead by a second person contributing a third hand, or by an extremely well-trained pet." The music is not as crazy as these remarks might indicate, and Dissanayake plays it with great aplomb and musicality, with or without her nose. — David Moore, American Record Guide, July-August 2003.

Your reviewer especially liked the Rakowski and Shapiro selections. ..... Rakowski’s three selections [BAM! (1991), Nocturnal (1991), and Close Enough for Jazz (1995)] make effective colorist use of piano writing and demonstrate a nicely expressed sense of structural balance. And pieces by both composers contain a palpable level of motivic economy, confident and easy manner of melodic speech, and clear if not attention-getting sense of crafty sophistication. — David Cleary, New Music Conoisseur, Summer 2003.

It is not necessarily a compliment to call an artist eclectic. If stylistic influences are too far afield and a core philosophy does not emerge, then there can be no sense of individuality. This line is crossed all too often in our post-modern age, in which pastiche can serve as no substitute for true substance. David Rakowski, a New England native and currently a professor of composition at Brandeis, applies his brand of eclecticism from the inside out, adding, as a crucial element, a kind of sly wit that leads program annotator Hayes Biggs to compare the young composer to Haydn. His intellectually lively and expressive Etudes, which he seems to dash off as if they were pages of a daily journal, frequently touch on some aspect of our modern life, with references to boogie-woogie, Jimi Hendrix, and baseball, but also to Debussy, Bach and Mozart — all in a kind of deconstructionist way. The music is clever, but not in a completely self-referential way. Rakowski may have a sense of humor, but a thoughtful manner pervades all of his music as well.
Amy Dissanayake, a protege of Ursula Oppens, brings fire and beauty to this fascinating material, and Bridge provides its usual fine production values. In all, a worthwhile introduction to an invigorating new American voice. — Peter Burwasser, Fanfare Magazine, September-October, 2003.

In David Rakowski's Locking Horns, the primacy of French-horn soloist Daniel Grabois is established only through great effort, and is challenged all the way by an aggressive fellow horn player in the ensemble. — Steve Smith, Time Out New York, November 20-27, 2003.

Next on the program is a horn concerto by David Rakowski. Again we hear a debt to Ligeti, particularly in Rakowski's decision to play the solo instrument against a counterpart in the ensemble, a technique Ligeti has used in all of his concertos except for the Piano Concerto. The five movements of Rakowski's piece are all based on the same basic melodic idea, a (sort of) 12-tone lick that he treats to Schoenbergian processes of developing variation. He is an expert orchestrator and crafts textures of remarkable subtlety and clarity; he is also an extremely funny guy (he taught me score preparation in college, and kept us laughing the whole time) and this shows in the music, especially when he makes fun of typical horn idioms. — Ian Quinn, American Record Guide, January-February, 2004.

There was much to enjoy, and much to dislike ... A new work, David Rakowski's Dream Symphony, proved less interesting. The work had some softness and elegance that complemented (sic) the string ensemble, but generally failed to deliver the musical goods. Waiting for development, instead we found introspection. Looking for insight, instead we found confusion. Davenny Wyner dragged the most out of the score, but in the end no substance could be ascertained. There was some great playing: solos in the first violin (concertmaster Greg Vitale), first violist Lisa Suslowicz, and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer. In the end, however, it amounted to nothing. — Keith Powers, Boston Herald, February 1, 2004.

There was a lot of music in town that Sunday, and of a much higher quality than what CBS/MTV offered at the Super Bowl ... I didn’t stay for the BSO Brahms, choosing to forgo a repeat of the Fourth Symphony in order to hear the second half of Susan Davenny Wyner’s New England String Ensemble at Jordan Hall. I caught the last two movements of the world premiere of David Rakowski’s Dream Symphony, an Allegro giocoso (which I tried to hear from the lobby) and a serious, moody Adagio assai. More than a century after Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, it’s still unusual for a symphony to end with a slow movement. It made me want to hear the whole piece. — Lloyd Schwartz, Boston Phoenix, February 13-19, 2004.

The Carter is complimented (sic) by three recent chamber concertos involving different and changing relationships between soloist and ensemble. ... in David Rakowski's "Locking Horns" the horn gradually emerges from the ensemble as an eloquent soloist. ... These three pieces, excellently performed and vividly recorded, complete a well planned and invigorating programme. — Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine, April 2004.

Both David Rakowski and Thea Musgrave also tinker with the juxtaposition of soloist and group in their respective offerings. Rakowski's Locked Horns (2002) (sic) is a horn concerto in which the horn soloist is only gradually revealed to actually be the soloist. It starts out as a member of the ensemble, contending with the orchestra's horn player and various other ensemble members who try to assert themselves and take center stage. It is only at the end that the horn soloist (in a valiant performance here by Daniel Grabois) effectively vanquishes his rivals and comes to the fore. Rakowski, a professor at Brandeis University, always seems to create energetic music with an attractive pitch language and forceful dramatic thrust. Locked Horns (sic) is no exception. — Christian Carey, Splendidzine, March 29, 2004.

Pianist Amy Dissanayake rounded out the program with a selection of fascinating piano etudes by Ligeti and Rakowski—music that's fast, jittery, utterly original and literally made to order for a new-music virtuoso such as herself. — John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, April 20, 2004.

In addition, BMOP Music Director Gil Rose - who in less than a decade here has become one of the most important musicians in this city - led his marvelous orchestra in two earlier works: Elena Ruehr's luminous 1989 "Sky Above Clouds'' and David Rakowski's powerful 1997 "Persistent Memory.'' — T.J. Medrek, Boston Herald, May 23, 2004.

David Rakowski's "Persisent Memory" (sic) is basically an elegy, both collective and individual; the music transforms into many emotions but always cradles its origins within it. This is an eloquent and beautiful piece. — Richard Dyer, Boston Globe, May 26, 2004.

David Rakowski's top-notch violin/cello duo Twofer is cleverly and satisfyingly constructed, delineating an ABAB format whose brief outer sections contrast greatly in tempo and mood, leaving the two central portions to develop these truncated bookends extensively. Common to all are snatches of octave materials, which neatly impart overall unity. — David Cleary, New Music Connoisseur, Spring-Summer 2004.

It's a bit embarrassing to admit, but as a longtime Left Coast dweller I'd never even heard of David Rakowski until a moment ago. But in my defense I'd be willing to bet that most New Yorkers aren't familiar with, say, Pablo Ortiz, Cindy Cox, David Soley, or the like. So, needless to say, this new Albany release [Martian Counterpoint] is my first encounter with Rakowski's music, and if I were going to infer anything from the titles bestowed upon his compositions, my guess would be that this guy is a total goofball, or at least harbors some strange affinity towards Babbitt's bon mot titles. Silliness aside, that thrill of unknowing built into each and every first experience—which, by the way, I love and who wouldn't?—was, in this instance, actually overshadowed by the power-grip of Rakowski's piano writing. Besides, even though I feel that Rakowski's compositions deserve better, it's the composer's prerogative, and I'm more than willing to forgive ridiculous titles as long as the music they’re attached to is good enough to rise above. By the way, the music is fantastic.
The disc kicks off with Rakowski's Etude #33, a.k.a. Sliding Scales—insert smirk—an idiomatic swirl of, what else, scale passages that surpasses mere finger exercise by miles and then some. This colorful cloudburst is followed by the tentative The Third, Man, a plausible atmospheric accompaniment to those very words uttered by a couch potato trippin' on shrooms, man. Which leads me to wonder, what the hell was Rakowski on when he decided to write a concerto for 10 clarinets and wind ensemble?
No matter, because the centerpiece of this disc, Ten of a Kind, delves into its homogenous instrumentation with a lengthy, atmospheric Adagio surrounded by dense, yet perfectly jaunty tunes. Clarinets continue to hog the spotlight in the temperamental Cerberus for solo clarinet with chamber ensemble and the brief and lyrical Mento—island folk music or freshmaker, hmm? As you contemplate this and the countless other mysteries shrouding Rakowski—okay, I'm joking, but be sure to stick around for a couple more piano etudes that finish off the CD. In the end, if one thing becomes clear, it's this: Rakowski's endearing piano music is pretty damn good. So listen up and enjoy. — Randy Nordschow, NewMusicBox, September, 2004.

David Rakowski is an amazingly inventive composer. This (Martian Counterpoint) is a great sampler of his music, giving 6 of his piano etudes (he has over 60 now), some chamber music and the brilliant “Ten of a Kind” for ten clarinets and wind ensemble. — Greg MacAyeal, CD Hotlist, November, 2004.

The first thing that catches your eye on Bridge's second release dedicated to the piano etudes of David Rakowski is the fanciful, punning names he bestows upon his pieces, among them Sixth Appeal, Boogie Ninths, Taking the Fifths and Bop It! While these hysterical headings bespeak the composer's wicked sense of humor, they also belie the seriousness of the fare within.
Based at Brandeis University and the musical progeny of Milton Babbitt, Rakowski is a composer of seemingly limitless invention. His works, while composed in an atonal idiom, play on riffs and repetition, providing a sort of familiarity. You can almost hear his bulging brain at work as he offers a heartbreaking, angular lyricism one moment, a barn-burning virtuoso knockout the next.
In California-based pianist Amy Dissanayake, a new-music soldier well versed in standard-repertoire fundamentals, Rakowski has found an ideal interpreter. The composer demands extremely complicated rhythms and fast-flying passage-work in all registers of the keyboard; in Dissanayake's capable hands, it all sounds effortless. Her fervid approach to the tricky toccata E-Machines is matched by her restraint in Silent But Deadly, in which she plays as quietly as possible lightning-fast figures that seem like they ought to be loud. Combined, Rakowski and Dissanayake take the listener on a breathtaking tilt-a-whirl ride of high jinks and unexpected turns, without stinting on quiet repose. Rather than new music's typical "strong medicine," the result is a wholly captivating listen. — Daniel Felsenfeld, Time Out New York, November 11-17, 2004.

The zany humor apparent from the titles - The Third, Man is an étude on thirds, Roll Your Own on rolled chords, etc - is also an element of the music, and this is a welcome relief from the terribly, terribly serious aura that surrounds some modern music. The two big ensemble pieces (with groups of clarinets as 'soloist') are closely argued, tautly dynamic structures filled with event and a logical progression of argument, taking in a wide range of emotional territory along the way. Even the brief piano études with their humorous titles display a thorough affinity with the piano and include some gorgeous textures as well as hair-raising excitement and examples of brilliantly written pianistic virtuosity, not so very far removed from the sort of thing familiar to enthusiasts for Rzewski's music, for example. — Records International catalogue, December, 2004.

While Persistent Memory (1997) by David Rakowski and Aurora (2000) by Augusta Read Thomas have East Coast roots, neither proves anything but wonderful to hear. Rakowski's two movements delineate ternary and variation formats without a hint of stuffiness. The sturdy material is handled here with crafty inspiration, its masterful spinning of seamless counterpoint being only the most obvious manifestation. And while textures are often full, there's never a dense or clogged measure. — David Cleary, New Music Conoisseur, Fall 2004.

David Rakowski (b. 1958) studied at New England Conservatory with Robert Ceely and John Heiss, at Princeton with Milton Babbitt, Peter Westergaard and Paul Lansky, and at Tanglewood with Berio. He has twice been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and has a long and impressive list of awards and honors. He currently teaches at Brandeis.
This release, titled Martian Counterpoint, opens with two of the six etudes for piano sprinkled throughout this program (Rakowski has composed 60 of them to this point). Debussy is an obvious influence for "Sliding Scales" (an etude on scales) and "The Third Man" (an etude on thirds). "Roll Your Own" is a beautiful rolled chord study. "Twelve-Step Program" is well described as an "etude on chromatic scales and wedges," very imaginative and entertaining. "Fourth of Habit" (built on fourths) is in swingin' bop style, and "Fists of Fury" employs occasional clusters in between figuration of sizzling virtuosity. These etudes are terrific, and I hope a larger sampling of the set will be released soon. Amazing pianist Marilyn Nonken dispatches them with terrifying ease.
Ten of a Kind (2000) is subtitled both Symphony No. 2 and Concerto for Ten Clarinets and Wind Ensemble, with Rakowski following Kalevi Aho in conflating the two historically distinct genres (an apologia for this is given by the annotator in the notes). The clarinet group is treated somewhat like a baroque concertino, with the massed sonority giving the work a strangely hollow glow, but not especially changing the symphonic band color, which is so often dominated by massed clarinet sonority anyway. The piece is in four densely-packed movements. The language is sophisticated academic Americana, intermingling jazz attitude with intricate post-serial machinations. The opening movement ("Labyrinth") is chattering and angular with aviary nods to Messiaen. II. ("Song Stylings"), written first and containing material for the other movements, is mushy, slow symphonic band lyricism numbingly dull and academic despite the composer's sense for the long line. I can see the captive concert band crowd squirming. III. ("Yoikes and Away") might wake them up — the opening jazzy section, intensely virtuosic, is followed by a relaxed and fluid trio and then neatly tied up with a complex and eventually sizzling recap. IV. ("Martian Counterpoint") is yet another jazzy scherzo, bringing back previous material and leading to an oddly unassuming conclusion. I'm normally not a fan of the symphonic band literature, but I can easily report that this is a serious and impeccably crafted contribution, though demanding for players and audience alike. I do admire Rakowski's uncompromising stance. The performance by Col. Timothy Foley's US Marine Band is absolutely flawless.
Mento (1995) is a brief three movement set (a short divertimento — hence the title) for clarinet and piano, written for the composer's talented wife, Beth Wiemann, who plays it here with humor and conviction (I noticed that the timing is off for III. It should read 1:40).
Cerberus (1992) was also written for Ms. Wiemann. It's a triple clarinet concerto in four continuous movements, the three clarinets depicting the mythological multi-headed dog that guards the entrance to Hades. The picture fits well with the long, sinuous lines that form the trios in I. and III.. The remaining musical argument is typically lively and exuberant.
Rakowski's work is skillful and highly impressive, though its often clotted language places considerable demands on listener and performer. He is definitely to be regarded as a leading light for the baby boomer American modernist generation. — Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide, January-February 2005.

Having responded very favorably to David Rakowski's first volume of études, I can recommend this second installment without hesitation. As with the first set, there are times when a stronger melodic profile might have been welcome, where the music's didacticism gets in the way of sheer expressive nuance, but these are relatively few and far between, and most of this stuff is delightful. There are études based on intervals, such as No. 37 (Taking the Fifths), No. 39 (Sixth Appeal), and No. 32 (Boogie Ninths). E-Machines (No. 1) is a dazzling study in repeated notes; Pollici e mignoli, or The Virus That Ate New York (No. 9) is written for thumbs and pinkies alone, and describes a tiny rhythmic cell that gradually devours the entire melodic line.
Rakowski seems particularly creative when throwing out major challenges to the player's virtuosity (while poking gentle fun at the same time), as in Sliding Scales (No. 33), which title is self-explanatory, Trillage (No. 4), and best of all, No. 38, Silent But Deadly, which tests just how much the player can take while remaining at the softest possible dynamic level. As with the first volume, Amy Dissanayake plays all of this music with commitment and joie de vivre. She sounds like she's having a great time, and her tone never hardens under pressure. Bridge provides its usual excellent sonics, and the notes by the composer are entertaining and useful. It's always a pleasure to hear purposeful contemporary music that has plenty of appeal (and a sense of humor) yet doesn't need to make cheap compromises. Good stuff! — David Hurwitz, Classics Today, February 17, 2005.

It was just last issue that I asked for more of David Rakowski’s piano etudes. Well, like magic, here they are. Volume 1 was reviewed by David Moore (Bridge 9121: J/A 2003).
This is certainly the most formidable set of piano etudes since Ligeti’s. Bridge now completes its survey of the 60 plus of them to date, all played by this fine pianist, a student of Ursula Oppens and 1999 graduate of Northwestern University. This release covers all of Volume 1 (1988-96) and most of Volumes 4 and 5 (2000-2002).
I think one needs to keep in mind that these are etudes (studies) and are not especially intended for extended listening, thought they are programmed in as musical a way as possible. Rakowski is assuredly an American composer, and his music has that brash and raucous side that can wear thin with overexposure. (I don’t think the same issue comes up in the etudes of Chopin, Debussy, or, indeed, Ligeti, where there is such variety of color and expression in every single work.) And Rakowski is an academic American composer, with all the impressive (and perilous) trappings that go along with his Ivy League pedigree. You get at least a part of the picture. For all the sophistication and brilliance, I wish he would allow just a little more air into his work, which does have a tendency to get stuffy.
Many of his best moments are those that take jazz as their basis (stride in IV:40, “free jazz” in I:8, boogie in IV:32, bop in V:41, swing in V:50). These pieces really catch fire and must be a blast in concert. That’s not to say that Rakowski doesn’t have a sensitive and lyrical side: that side comes out particularly well when he’s sharing the rarefied air of the Great Composers of Europe (Wagner in I:3, Debussy in I:7, Schumann in V:48). They are never obviously or crassly quoted, to Rakowski’s credit—only gently and lovingly suggested. (I particularly like V:43’s fantasy on the figure of Bach’s C-minor Prelude, WTC I.)
Sometimes that rarefied air comes directly from American academic halls (maybe not so rarefied there). We get inspirations from the likes of Mario Davidovsky (IV:6 (sic)) Martin Boykan (IV:31), and George Edwards (I:4). Of course those “in the know” will be amused by these little homages, but others might want to move on discreetly to other matters, like the many very effective “interval etudes”, which compare well with Debussy’s classic works in this genre. These make useful and welcome supplements to those Olympian pieces.
I particularly like etudes with mind-boggling virtuosity (that’s mostly what etudes are for, aren’t they?). I direct your attention to the dizzying scale etude (IV:33), the blistering repeated note etude (I:1), or the fiendishly tricky octave etude (I:5). (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Marilyn Nonken’s incredible performance of IV:33 on Albany.) As you can tell from reading this, there’s really something for everybody, and you should find your favorites and mix and match to your taste. It’s a tremendous project, and if you’re a pianist you are strongly advised to take note. All fans of contemporary piano music will definitely want to add these to your collections.
Notes are tremendously detailed and helpful, though some of the congratulatory prose could have been edited out. I enjoy Mr. Rakowski’s sense of humor. Sonics are very up front and a bit jangly sometimes, but it’s impossible to complain about Ms. Dissanayake’s amazing accomplishment. – Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide, March/April 2005

...Still, it may not be wise to put a spotlight on compositional gamesmanship, as the New York New Music Ensemble did on Monday evening at Merkin Concert Hall in a program it called ''Games People Play.'' Part of the game, after all, is making it not seem like one. 
An exception is David Rakowski's ''Two Can Play That Game'' (1995), a duet for bass clarinet and marimba, which at least touches on the subject in its title. Mr. Rakowski's work is like a brisk tennis match: its lines are rhythmically interlocked, with melodic material moving between them. Jean Kopperud, the clarinetist, and Daniel Druckman, the percussionist, kept the work's energy level steady and made the most of the jazz-inflected rhythm that drives the piece. — Allan Kozinn, New York Times, May 25, 2005.

Rather than modeling the program's final piece explicitly on Ives, David Rakowski based it on instructions for how to write music like Milton Babbitt, offered as graffiti in a men's room at Princeton: "Take jazz chords, make strange." Mr. Rakowski used this as the title of a piece that includes salutes to other American composers, including Lee Hyla and Aaron Copland, in a complicated but light series of movements (each including the label "Americano") for clarinet and string quartet. 
They're certainly American, those out-of-towners, the concert was like a folk quilt of references and quotes and styles, although perhaps not one with quite enough bright patches. — Anne Midgette, New York Times, June 13, 2005.

Pessimists about the future of classical music may be looking in the wrong places. There were empty seats at the Metropolitan Opera's estimable "Aida" on Friday night, but on Saturday, "Powerhouse Pianists" filled the Tenri Cultural Institute to its gills, with standees crowding the rim of this small West Village gallery and hopeful ticket buyers stretching out onto 13th Street. ... Most of this music was fiercely virtuosic: David Rakowski's "E-Machines" a whirl of repeated notes, and Mischa Zupko's "Five Etudes for Piano" Liszt-like in their florid generosity. — Bernard Holland, New York Times, October 18, 2005.

You’re sitting at the piano with pen in hand working on a large opus and have suddenly hit a dry patch. So what do you do? If you’re Brandeis University faculty member David Rakowski, you reach for another notebook and write one or more etudes for piano as a palate cleansing exercise. This unusual tactic has in fact paid sizable dividends for both this composer and the piano literature. Numbered currently at six books of ten etudes each plus a few extra, Rakowski has created the most important collection of such pieces yet produced by an American tonemeister.
This pair of CDs contains the complete Books I to IV of those items and over half of Book V, presenting a side of this composer hitherto unencountered. Rakowski’s oeuvre commonly shows predilection for an Atlantic Seaboard ethos, but here we experience him as a scalar if non-triadic stateside eclectic, able to directly quote snippets from Ludwig van Beethoven to Hayes Biggs and filch from popular idioms ranging from boogie to bop, swing to stride. The only bows to a Northeast oriented approach are found in Rakowski’s impeccable craftsmanship and Babbitt-like punning titles (“You Dirty Rag” and “A Gliss is Just a Gliss,” for two).
Most of these miniatures are based on a specific sonority, gestural idea, or piano technique. All are concise, yet brimming with personality. And despite notds to composers as diverse as Debussy, Prokofiev, Berg, Nancarrow, and Messiaen, Rakowski creates a distinctive, highly varied sound world. For example, the ten or so etudes employing a perpetual motion approach carve out their own unique niches – none copy each other in terms of harmony, texture, or dramatic unfolding. And while some of the larger entries are cast in clear palindromic forms, even those showcasing a more intuitive formal approach satisfy greatly. These splendid little gems are worthy of any keyboardist’s attention.
Pianist Amy Dissanayake’s performance here is superb. A rich tone quality, impeccable finger work, scintillating voice delineation, and tasteful pedaling contribute to some of the most beautifully musical keyboard playing this critic has heard in some time. Editing and sound quality are wonderfully good. Both releases are a definite must-hear. – David Cleary, Living Music, Fall, 2005.

Only one work could be called new. David Rakowski wrote "Inside Story" this year, while Charles Wuorinen's "Fortune" goes back to 1979. ... Mr. Rakowski's three movements begin with scurrying figures and sharp banging interruptions; they continue with a kind of baritonal nocturne and end with rumbling tremolos and a terribly complicated piano part running beneath them. 
Beauty in the feel-good, hedonistic sense was as absent here as it was in Mr. Wuorinen's "Fortune." One could split the evening into two camps. One side says, "The sensuous is still important"; the other, "Here is the news, not all of it pretty." — Bernard Holland, New York Times, December 21, 2005.

David Rakowski has a keen sense of humor, so much so that he can make you laugh aloud at some of his music. When I reviewed his Études for piano (four (sic) of which are included on the present CD), on the Bridge label, I commented that Rakowski may have a sense of humor, but that a thoughtful manner pervades all of his music as well. The program annotator for that disc, Hayes Biggs, went so far as to compare Rakowski to Haydn in this regard, a remarkable compliment indeed.
That said, Rakowski’s humor, like Haydn’s, is employed in a limited way, and most of the material on this disc is serious stuff, even with titles like Yoikes and Away and Martian Counterpoint. These are both movements from the Symphony No. 2, Ten of a Kind, scored for 10 clarinets and wind ensemble. In this work, Rakowski engages in an introspective, rather dense, uniquely textured language. His music connects to the listener in the manner of a good old-fashioned raconteur; this is the music of someone you you might enjoy bellying up to the bar with and having a good natured spat about politics, washed down by a fine microbrew. This work, then, is easy to follow and get a grip on, because of this overtly conversational manner, but it is never condescending or simple. It demands attentive listening.
Rakowski’s wife, Beth Wiemann, not incidentally, is a clarinetist. That instrument, and a whole bunch of other winds, feature prominently in Rakowski’s palette, at least as displayed on this CD. I don’t know whether or not Rakowski has written much music for the voice, but he certainly captures the vocal quality of the clarinet, both in the sprightly choruses of Ten of a Kind and in the more direct dialogues between clarinet and piano in Mento. Cerberus is based on the Greek myth of the three-headed dog who guards Hades, thus, the scoring for three solo clarinetists and small ensemble. The music is mysterious, with suppressed dynamics and textures that seem, oddly, murky and lucid at once. There is, traditionally, considerable drama in the tale of Cerberus, but Rakowski seems more interested in what lies beyond the portal that the beast protects.
Rakowski himself is a pianist (sic), and his Études, an ongoing project with 60 plus set down on paper so far, are his musical diary. They are wonderful pieces, much talked about, and better yet, much played in the new music community. Here is a taste, with the ever-extraordinary Marilyn Nonken, for whom some of the music was expressively (sic) written. Nonken plays them with her usual panache and intelligence.
The influence in American new music of composer, teacher, and good-natured spirit David Rakowski is ascending. Hear why. — Peter Burwasser, Fanfare, January-February, 2006.

David Rakowski's ''Dances in the Dark," drawn from a ballet for children, is accessible, energetic, and dodgy. — Richard Dyer, Boston Globe, February 1, 2006. 

Clairement, le compositeur américain David Rakowsky connaît aussi bien son Haydn que son Prokofiev que son Ives ou son jazz… Les titres souvent humoristiques de ses études (des jeux de mots parfaitement intraduisibles, pour la plupart) cachent un sérieux de propos musical parfaitement maîtrisé. Et si, par exemple, Touch typing est destiné à n’être joué qu’avec deux doigts, comme le font les dactylographes débutants, le but est réellement didactique ! 
Rakowsky écrit une musique tout à fait belle, d’un langage nouveau (et destinée aux dix doigts du pianiste, rassurez-vous), attachante, claire et pourtant complexe, faite d’invention propre autant que d’influences parfaitement assumées: aucune avant-garde inflexible donc, mais un langage souple, fluide, mouvant, extraordinairement diversifié et coloré. 
À mettre entre les mains de tous les pianistes et entre les oreilles de tous les mélomanes un tant soit peu curieux.
[Clearly the American composer David Rakowsky (sic) knows well his Haydn as well as his Prokofiev and his Ives and his jazz ... The often humorous titles of these etudes (most of them perfectly untranslatable puns) belie perfectly serious and controlled musical substance. And if, for example, "Touch Typing" is intended to be played with only two fingers, like beginning typists, the goal is really didactic.
Rakowsky (sic) writes a complexly beautiful music, in a new language (and, be assured, for the ten fingers of the pianist), attractive, clear and yet complex, made of clean invention with perfectly absorbed influences — thus no inflexible avant-garde, rather a language which is supple, fluid, moving, extraordinarily diverse, and colorful.
Put these [etudes] between the hands of all pianists and between the ears of all music lovers who are interested in something new.] — Abeillemusique.com, March 6, 2006.

At Zipper, too — although I keep forgetting to mention it — a charming and communicative pianist named Amy Dissanayake came on from Chicago on March 7 to fill in the wild-card position in this year’s Piano Spheres roster. With her came Chicago music: six Piano Etudes by Augusta Read Thomas attached to descriptive titles — “Cathedral Waterfall,” “Rain at Funeral,” etc. Seven etudes by David Rakowski were more specific: “Repeated-note,” “Etude on Melody and Thick Chords.” I don’t usually expect to get much from the terseness of the piano etude (unless the composer be Ligeti), but these turned out as a pair of valuable, attractive garlands, very nicely put forth. David Rakowski teaches at Brandeis; when last heard from he had run his string of etudes to 70. — Alan Rich, L.A. Weekly, April 12, 2006.

Vocal warm-ups will never be the same again thanks to David Rakowski's delightful series of Encores, works which are as brainy yet playful with singing as his trademark Etudes are with piano playing. On Scatter, Rakowski merges scat singing with melodies derived from pitch mapping the names of the performers. — Frank J. Oteri, New Music Box, December, 2006.

Though written in 1991, David Rakowski's "Winged Contraption" also received its premiere on Saturday. The writing suggests a kind of smoldering Mahlerian intensity, funneled through a lean and often astringent harmonic language. The piece ends precipitously, leaving the ear still hungry for more. — Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe, January 22, 2007.

David Rakowsky dans ces trois études résume quelques esthétiques du XXe siècle, sans rien y ajouter d’original. Absofunkinlutely qui se veut inspirée de la musique funk fait penser à du Stravinsky mélangé à du Ligeti (ah ! les fameuses « touches bloquées »), Rick’s Mood est une sorte de « pari musical » d’écrire uniquement des accords majeurs (Erik Satie l’a déjà fait ça) et NOT, avec sa récitation d’un poème minimaliste (« Happy ? not happy… Unhappy !!! ») renvoie aux happenings de John Cage dans les années 50. Pièces bien peu intéressantes malgré l’énergie qu’y donne Adam Marks. 
 [David Rakowsky (sic) in these three études summarizes some of the esthetics of the twentieth century, without adding anything to the originals. Absofunkinlutely, which wants to be inspired by funk music, makes one think of of Stravinsky mixed with Ligeti (ah! the famous “blocked keys”), Rick’s Mood is a kind of “musical bet” to write only major triads (Erik Satie already did that) and NOT, with his recitation of a minimalist poem (“Happy? not happy… Unhappy!!!”) returns to the happenings of John Cage in the Fifties. Pieces that aren’t very interesting in spite of the energy given them by Adam Marks.] — Maxime Kaprielian, ResMusica.com, March 12, 2007.

[About SONGS AND ENCORES, Bridge 9199] The songs of Chester Biscardi and David Rakowski show that lyricism is alive and well in the hands of a younger generation. Five stars. — Calum McDonald, BBC Music Magazine.

[About SONGS AND ENCORES, Bridge 9199] Also striking are David Rakowski's tonally ambiguous rhapsodic vocalises "Three Encores". — Stephen Eddins, AllMusic Guide.

[About SONGS AND ENCORES, Bridge 9199] If this review gives shorter shrift to Biscardi, Picker, and Rakowski, it's not because their songs are less fine. ... Biscardi and Rakowski are less overtly romantic than Picker, but they too find the richness of the texts and communicate them to the listener fully. — Raymond S. Tuttle, International Record Review, March 2007.

[About SONGS AND ENCORES, Bridge 9199] Most of the songs in this collection were composed within the last fifteen years – the majority of them for New Yorker Judith Bettina. Their consistently high quality says much for the discrimination of singer and pianist; while personal links with the composers are manifold, there’s little self-indulgence in the music or music-making. The stylistic and expressive range of these songs is appreciable. .... Violinist Curtis Macomber takes part with the duo in David Rakowski’s Musician, originally scored for soprano, string orchestra, harp and celesta. Like Picker, Rakowski studied under Babbitt at Princeton. His setting of Phillis Levin’s Georgic, ‘in memory of Edward Thomas’, is very impressive in its condensed drama. Three Encores, including the jazzy Scatter, are engaging vocalises. James Goldsworthy makes much of Rakowski’s three-minute elegy Sara, for piano solo. — Peter Palmer, Tempo, July 2007.

David Rakowski supplied “Locking Horns” (2001-2), a French-horn concerto that also charts a voyage from murkiness to clarity. Each of the work’s five movements expands on the set of short figures set forth in the introduction, with the horn solo first presented as a gentle overlay, scarcely more than another strand of counterpoint. In the central slow movement, the horn — played gracefully here by Tianxia Wu — holds forth more powerfully, and it keeps the spotlight through the rest of the work despite a strand of orchestral horn writing that briefly steals the attention..... As in the second part of the Haapanen work and the best moments of Mr. Rakowski’s score, precise, energetic scoring creates its own excitement, whatever the densities of the language. —- Allan Kozinn, New York Times, October 1, 2007.

You're sitting at the piano with pen in hand working on a large opus and have suddently hit a dry patch. So what do you do? If you're Brandeis University faculty member David Rakowski, you reach for another notebook and write one or more etudes for piano as a palate clearing exercise. this unusual tactic has in fact paid sizable dividends for both this composer and the piano literature. Numbered currently at six books of ten etudes each plus a few extra, Rakowski has created the most important collection of such pieces yet produced by an American.
This pair of CDs [Bridge 9157 & 9199] contains the complete Books I to IV of these items and over half of Book V, presenting a side of this composer hitherto unencountered. Rakowski's oeuvre commonly shows predilection for an Atlantic Seaboard ethos. But here we experience him as a scalar if non-triadic stateside eclectic, able to directly quote snippets from Ludwig van Beethoven to Hayes Biggs and filch from popular idioms ranging from boogie to bop, swing to stride. The only bows to a Northeast oriented approach are found in Rakowski's impeccable craftsmanship and Babbitt-like punning titles ("You Dirty Rag" and "A Gliss is Just a Gliss," for two).
Most of these miniatures are based on a specific sonority, gestural idea, or piano technique. All are concise, yet brimming with personality. And despite nods to composers as diverse as Debussy, Prokofiev, Berg, Nancarrow, and Messiaen, Rakowski creates a distinctive, highly varied sound world. For example, the ten or so etudes employing a perpetual motion approach carve out their own unique niches — none copy each other in terms of harmony, texture, or dramatic unfolding. And while some of the larger entries are cast in clear palindromic forms, even those showcasing a more intuitive formal approach satisfy greatly. These splendid little gems are worthy of any keyboardist's attention.
Pianist Dissanayake's performance here is superb. A rich tone quality, impeccable finger work, scintillating voice delineation, and tasteful pedaling contribute to some of the most beautifully musical keyboard playing this critic has heard in some time. Editing and sound quality are wonderfully good. Both releases are a definite must-hear. — David Cleary, New Music Connoisseur, Spring/Summer/Fall 2007. (edited reprint of a review appearing earlier in Living Music)

"Re-Inventions," the opening concert of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's 11th season, promised "glorious and subversive music for keyboards." While none of the four pieces heard Friday night fully lived up to either adjective, they did present individual and strikingly resourceful ideas on how the concerto, a timeworn musical form, could be reimagined for the present ... 
The final work, David Rakowski's Piano Concerto, was also having its world premiere, with soloist Marilyn Nonken. It was the most conventional in form — in four separate movements — yet also the most fully satisfying work of the evening. It begins with a single note (A) plucked on the strings of the piano, and its repetition gives the first movement its initial jolt of energy. That plucked note opens all four movements, which comprise an adagio, with some gorgeous wind playing; a rhythmically complex scherzo; and a sweeping finale that recalls the first movement. Like Colgrass, Rakowski has the soloist use a second instrument - in this case a toy piano - though much more sparingly. The orchestral writing is wonderfully varied, and the soloist's part is both virtuosic and lyrical throughout.
Each of the four soloists was superb, and Nonken was outstanding. BMOP, under Gil Rose, gave the kind of vital, secure performances we have come almost to take for granted. May they remain glorious and subversive for years to come. — David Weininger, Boston Globe, November 6, 2007.

Let's start with the obvious: The Philadelphia Orchestra's current Leonard Bernstein Festival honors its namesake in spirit more than in fact. ... Network for New Music's Wednesday concert at the Kimmel Center ended with David Rakowski's Sex Songs, and Lenny was known to like sex. ....
... The concert ended with the first hearing of Rakowski's Sex Songs: They're accomplished, thoughtful and so ambitious they sometimes felt more like sinfoniettas than songs. But sexy? Not at all. — David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer, January 19, 2008.

[review of Keys to the Future, concert 2] If there are still any shreds of doubt lingering about the wealth of compositional tools being assiduously mined by today's composers, an evening like this should dispel them entirely..... 
Piano etudes are still very much in vogue, and David Rakowski is now working on his ninth book of them. (The final one listed on his website, No. 82, is "F This" in which he answers the challenge of writing an etude using a single note.) Amy Briggs Dissanayake chose four, written from 1997 to 2002, with personalities as varied as their titles. No. 40, "Strident," uses jazzy syncopations in the manner of early 20th century stride piano, whereas No. 13, "Plucking A," combines thuds and twangy work directly on the piano's strings. No. 41, "Bop It," is a flood of hyperactivity, while "Martler," No. 14, is an edgy exercise in crossing hands, with a furious ending in the lower register. Several of these were written for Ms. Dissanayake, who seemed completely unfazed by their sometimes amusingly frightful demands. — Bruce Hodges, Seen and Heard International (music-web international), April, 2008. 

Sweet is not an adjective generally associated with percussion recitals, but it's the first descriptor that comes to mind listening to this album and reading its program notes. That's not to say there isn't plenty of vitality and rhythmic energy and virtuosity on display here, but these pieces don't exploit the angst-inducing and nerve-jangling possibilities of which a modern percussion battery is easily capable. Most of the works are solos, but Michael Lipsey is joined in several by other players to create a small ensemble. ... In David Rakowski's Mr. Trampoline Man, a talking drum provides the springiness that effectively evokes a trampoline, as well as the ground for a passacaglia against which a tabla line is juxtaposed. His Framer's Intent for solo dumbek exploits the drum's timbral variety and has the sound of a genial, intelligent improvisation. — Stephen Eddins, allmusic, May, 2008. 

David Rakowski's "Imaginary Dances" were fast, dense, and vigorous. — Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe, September, 20, 2008. 

The first four pieces of the recital showed Kirkendoll at more accessible moments. He began with a captivating take on David Rakowski's Etude No. 52, "Moody's Blues," a rousing, rhythmically driven, rock-and-roll study inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis. — Whitney Smith, indystar/indy.com, September 23, 2008. 

In the space of about two hours last night, pianist Amy Briggs dove into the daunting field of modern American music — at one point, nose-first (literally) — and demonstrated the diverse richness of that repertoire in brilliant fashion. 
Her concert, a presentation of the Evolution Contemporary Music Series at An die Musik, included a couple of premieres. ... Like the Thomas work, David Rakowski's Piano Etudes pose any number of technical challenges, while attempting to provide a certain entertainment quotient. Briggs chose seven of the composer's nearly 90, sometimes cheekily-named Etudes, a sampling from the years 1997-2005. Absofunkinlutely conjures up boogie-woogie on acid; Palm de Terre (receiving its official U.S. premiere — an "informal performance" is on YouTube) surrounds a gentle melody with misty harmonic clusters; Cell Division derives its glittery sonic coloring from the generic sound of a mobile phone being turned on; Chord Shark (an official world premiere, with an informal YouTube version) is like a thunderously dissonant variation on Chopin's C minor Prelude. Briggs delivered these and the remainder with abundant bravura, but her most distinctive feat came in a piece with a silly name, Schnozzage, that doesn't apparently aim for silliness. It calls on the pianist to articulate the melodic line with her nose, while her hands fill in subtle textures at either end of the keyboard. (Until last night, I was under the illusion that Peter Schickele had composed the only nasal keyboard piece — and that one is intended for a laugh.) Rakowski was on hand to enjoy the dynamic performances of his music. — Tim Smith, BaltimoreSun.com, January 27, 2009. 

Certainly the quintet of composers, most of them now near their 50’s, are highly proficient with their instruments. Daniel Rakowski (sic), for instance, could take a piece by Erroll Garner—and Mr. Berman played it with Garner flourishes—and transfer it to a pair of keyboards, which become more and more complex, with the notes going totally out of sync. The punny Dorian Blue by David Rakowski sounded initially resembled cocktail pianoism gone out of whack. But that “eccentricity” actually came from a supposed 12th century Dorian mode sketch (thus the double pun) from a Jewish mystic. — Harry Rolnick, ConcertoNet.com, March 1, 2009. 

For David Rakowski, too, conventional sounds sufficed. Parallel lines played simultaneously on piano and celesta drifted in and out of sync in his Étude No. 71 (“Chase”), inspired by the jazz pianist Erroll Garner. In Étude No. 72 (“Dorian Blue”), an ancient Jewish devotional chant played with the left hand was embellished and occasionally bullied by right-hand flourishes. — Steve Smith, New York Times, March 3, 2009. 

Following intermission were two Collage commissions for full ensemble, one new and one old. David Rakowski’s Phillis Levin Songs (the premiere) was really a knockout. Levin’s writing occupied an interior space, looking out to nature for metaphors to explicate personal situations. The music was vividly pictorial, nimbly conjuring forest scenes, subatomic reactions, snowfall, and other snapshot moments. — Adam Baratz, Boston Musical Intelligencer, March 4, 2009. 

The second half of Monday’s performance was somehow more neurotically introspective: this is the musical sound world that is somehow less willing to reveal its secrets at first blush. 
Bettina returned for the world premiere of David Rakowski’s Phillis Levin Songs, commissioned in 2008 for the Collage. Levin’s poetry is complicated and practically beyond comprehension, and it was unclear that Rakowski had attempted to understand the poetry or interpret for the listener anywhere beyond the most superficial. Mr. Hoose’s performance with Collage presented an attentive interpretation of Rakowski’s difficult score, but an almost juvenile understanding of Levin’s work, combined with unreasonable melodic lines that bordered on sustained “parlando vocalise” (what, exactly, does one sing when there’s nothing to sing? More precisely: how?) simply seemed a molestation the ensemble’s considerable talents. — Sudeep Argawala, The Tech (MIT), March 6, 2009. 

These [Tobias Picker songs] were sung by their dedicatee, new-music soprano Judith Bettina, who later returned for the premiere of David Rakowski's six Phillis Levin Songs, a new Collage commission. Bettina had suggested several of Levin's poems to Rakowski, but neither she (still visibly counting) nor Rakowski seemed to connect with or illuminate these poems about love, nature, time, and words. Rakowski's startling and colorful music might better have been left untrammeled by any vocal line at all. — Lloyd Schwartz, Boston Phoenix, March 10, 2009. 

About a year and half ago, we did a NewMusicBox Cover on David Rakowski, in preparation for which I studied his then 80 solo piano etudes and became a hardcore devotee. These quirky pieces are a rare breed—they're pithy and some are even hysterically funny, no small feat to accomplish in the abstract, non-representational medium of music. As a result, pianists flock to them, and they are fast becoming staples of the contemporary solo piano repertoire. But all through our talk, David insisted that he's more than "the piano etude guy". He mentioned to me that he had written a piano concerto for Marilyn Nonken and that she would be performing it with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under Gil Rose in Boston on November 2, 2007. I'm also a big BMOP fan—here's an orchestra that really can play, and all they do is new music. So I knew I had to be there. 
So on that day, I left the office at lunchtime, zoomed downtown to take the Chinatown bus (the cheapest way to get to Boston). I rolled into Beantown, and then got on the T to head to the concert hall. After gulping down dinner from a Middle Eastern take-out place, I raced across the street and made it there just in time. But once the concert was over—having no place to crash that night and also needing to be back in NYC for another music-related activity the following morning—I bolted out during the final applause and barely made it onto the last bus back, finally getting home around 3:30 a.m. It was truly a whirlwind, as was Rakowski's concerto, which to my ears at the time lacked the cohesion and concision of his miraculous miniatures. Admittedly, though, my ability to process any of the music I heard that night—Elliott Schwartz's heady Chamber Concerto #3, Michael Colgrass's wonderfully insane multi-tasking concerto Side by Side, and Anthony Davis's intense Wayang V, as well as the Rakowski—was a tad hampered by the commute. 
Therefore I was overjoyed when I received a recording of Rakowski's Piano Concerto, which is part of BMOP's newly-released all-Rakowski CD on their beautifully packaged BMOP Sound imprint. I could now actually focus on this music. Even the etudes, which offer first-time listeners quite a bit to mull over and be engaged by, contain tons of sonic information which can be difficult to process on only a single listening. I knew that those pieces got more exciting—as well as more comprehensible—the more I heard them. So I was delighted at the prospect of the Piano Concerto's secrets, heretofore lost on me in transit, finally being revealed. 
Indeed, the piece, which I've now listened to five times, is a remarkable construction. Derived from material that originally appeared in the piano etudes, but fleshed out with colorful orchestration (including having the soloist additionally play on a toy piano from time to time), the concerto feels like a giant four-dimensional Rakowski etude. (A fun parlor game would be to figure out how many etudes you can hear echoes of herein. Some hard-to-miss ones include the frenetic ostinato from the very first etude, E-Machines, and the rhythmic motif from No. 68, Absofunkinlutely.) Each of the work's four movements opens with the inside-the-piano plucked "A" from Rakowski's 13th etude, Plucking A, which gives the work's overall trajectory an unusual non-linear narrative. It's like beginning every chapter of a novel with the same opening sentence, or the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day. Like that film, the material develops quite differently each time it is presented. The closest parallel I can think of in music is the Fourth Symphony of Charles Ives, each of whose movements seem to present a different answer to the same question. Rakowski's concerto feels equally serious, although this is perhaps in part due to his perpetual title punning being reined in somewhat. "Piano Concerto" is an atypical Rakowski title, but still he was incapable of resisting the following header for the last movement: "Poco andante, quasi adagietto, con gusty; Allegro; Cadenza; Allegro"—a nod to composer Augusta Read Thomas. 
The disc also offers additional proof of Rakowski's weightier side. It opens with Persistent Memory, a 1997 composition which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. This is music that is way more somber and sublime than fans who only know Rakowski through the etudes would ever expect. It was originally written for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra during a particularly rough period in his life—his mother-in-law was dying of cancer and he could not afford to travel to see her before she died or to attend her funeral. In addition, Lily Auchincloss, the woman who had sponsored Rakowski's residence at the Rome Academy, where he was at the time of the composition, also died. So it's fitting, then, that the first of the work's two movements is an Elegy, which comes across to my ears sounding like latter-day Alban Berg. The other movement—Variations, Scherzo, and Variations—takes the material from the Elegy and messes with it structurally, turning it into something else entirely, though never quite completely away from its fundamental profundity. 
At the other end of disc is the brief Winged Contraption (1991), the earliest of the works collected here. Composed in a total of 23 days—conceptualized, orchestrated, and copied all at once—the work was a 60th birthday present for Martin Boykan, Rakowski's colleague on the faculty of Brandeis University. In typical Rakowski prankster fashion, it is filled with allusions to Boykan's compositions as well as music by another friend, Ross Bauer (although these references are a bit harder to ferret out than the etudes that permeate the Piano Concerto). All in all, the disc provides a much needed window into Rakowski's music beyond the piano etudes. So if you're even a fraction less out of your mind than I am, you probably won't spend 10 hours on a bus to check out Rakowski's "other music," but now you no longer have to: just buy the disc! — Frank J. Oteri, New Music Box, March 23, 2009. 

[About Americans in Rome, Bridge 9271] David Rakowski's music shows an instinct for melody writing. His lyrical song was composed for Susan Narucki, who performs it here with conviction. — Carla Rees, Music-Web International, April, 2009.

David Rakowski is an interesting, inventive and well-schooled composer; his concepts are involved and engaging, he realizes them well, he is studious and hardworking. Rakowski is also prolific — his best known work is his collection of piano etudes, which currently run to 88 in number — and his credentials are unassailable, winning numerous prizes and capable of claiming Milton Babbitt, Paul Lansky and Luciano Berio among his mentors. BMOP's David Rakowski: Winged Contraption combines that interestingly named 1991 orchestral work with his Persistent Memory (1997) and the Piano Concerto (2006) he has written for pianist Marilyn Nonken. 
Rakowski has a grip on his stylistic language which superficially can be said to be based in expressionist techniques, but is certainly more lightweight and individualized than that would imply. However, despite the presence on the disc of a work called Persistent Memory, this music tends to pass through one ear and out the other; there isn't anything memorable about it. That may well be Rakowski's intention, to make music that assumes a different shape and form every time you hear it and not to leave a lasting impression, so that it appears fresh every time. For some listeners this will work, but for others it leaves the ear kind of thirsty. Nevertheless, there is no doubting the passionate dedication on the part of the participants in this recording, particularly Nonken, who contributes a note on Rakowski's Piano Concerto that is both heartfelt and illuminating. The sound recording and quality of performance is excellent, although for some reason these BMOP discs will not play on certain CD players, which is odd as there appears to be nothing special about the CD format itself. — Uncle Dave Lewis, allmusic, May 2009.
It remains a mystery why certain labels send their CDs to us. Like for instance BMOP Sound. It is a difficult job to cover these two of their new releases. They fall beyond the scope we usually cover. So I will be very descriptive only on these two. But first the label itself. It is the outlet of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. They perceive it as their mission to record important classical compositions of the 20th and 21th century. These two releases may illustrate this. We are talking now of two respected american composers who are however not very well known at this side of the Atlantic. To me are they are completely new. But both have long careers behind them as very productive composers. On 'Winged Contraption' by Rakowski three compositions are documented: 'Persistent memor' (sic), (1996-97), 'Piano Concerto' (2005-06) and 'Winged Contraption' (1991). The performances are led by Gil Rose. Piano and toy piano are played by Marilyn Nonken. Rakowski had his training at the New England Conservatory and other institutes. As a composer he made fame with his long series of piano etudes. Listening to his works on 'Winged Contraption' it was difficult for me to connect him with other composers and traditions. To my ears his style sounded very 'European'. … No doubt BMOP has a good nose for what are influential and innovative compositions in our times. And probably the compositions by Radowski (sic) and Harbison adjust to these criteria. But as said above this is not my territory, and their music doesn't really talk to me. — Dolf Mulder, Vital Weekly No. 685, June, 2009. 

Born in Vermont in 1958, David Rakowski is best known for his long series of witty, extravagant piano etudes. They have been often performed, and recordings of them have been praised by ARG’s reviewers: Bridge 9121 (July/Aug 2003), Albany 681 (Jan/Feb 2005), Bridge 9157 (Mar/Apr 2005). Rakowski has written much else, too, including three symphonies, five concertos, wind ensemble pieces, and chamber and vocal music. 
Three of his works for orchestra fill this expertly played and vividly recorded disc. Winged Contraption, from 1991, is a single 10-minute span that might be described as a modern tone-poem. The music is chromatic but sumptuous in a modern-but-approachable and quite sophisticated idiom with affinities to many other contemporary American and Western European composers, including (for just a few examples) George Perle, John Harbison, Richard Rodney Bennett, Robin Holloway, Peter Schat, and Theo Verbey. Long melodic lines arch out over bustling figures and explosive gestures, the whole conglomeration moving powerfully toward an abrupt ending. Despite the title, there’s nothing rickety about the piece, though it does have a certain aerodynamic fluidity. 
Persistent Memory, from 1997, is in much the same style, though  it’s twice as long and laid out differently, consisting of a slow, 9-minute elege that breaks out into a much more active 12-minute sequence of bustling, billowy variations. 
By far the longest composition here—and the best—is the 2006 Piano Concerto. There are four movements that total 34 minutes. I and IV are allegros with slow introductions, II is an adagio, III a scherzo. Each movement begins quietly and tentatively, with a stuttering, repeated-note figure that acts as a “motto”; and each ends with a brief, chiming flurry on the toy piano. The keyboard writing—much of it derived from the composer’s piano etudes—is virtuosic and intricate, as indeed is the orchestral accompaniment. As the notes by Marilyn Nonken, who plays the socks off the solo part, point out, the piece is “architecturally complex and dramatically ambitious” though without renouncing the composer’s ebullient “sense of play” (most notable, perhaps, in the jouncy asymmetries of the jazz-inflected scherzo). 
Rakowski’s concerto is a brilliant creation that offers a multitude of inventive details, lots of drama and excitement, and a satisfying sense of large-scale formal logic. If there’s a weakness it’s that the work doesn’t quite manage to project an instantly identifiable personality. But it does offer the listener more than enough incentive to go back and listen again, as I did with increasing pleasure and admiration, as the work’s individuality became clearer and stronger. — Mark Lehman, American Record Guide, July/August 2009. 

... David Rakowski's 'For Wittgenstein' presents some of the most daring writing so far in terms of registral disjointing -- Narucki delivers it as beautifully as she surely would any Webern song. Throughout, Donald Berman's accompaniments are models of sensitivity. — Colin Clarke, Tempo Vol. 63, July, 2009. 

On Saturday at 2:30, Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music continued with its second concert. The FCM performances contain generous helpings of music. While established composers such as George Benjamin, David Rakowski, and John Corigliano were included Saturday, curator Augusta Read Thomas programmed a great deal of music by the “emerging” generation and by composers underrepresented on US concerts … Another performance highlight: Pianist Gregory DeTurk played the hell out of three piano etudes by David Rakowski. He reveled in the quick arpeggiations and repeated notes of E-Machines, gave a jaunty rendering of Taking the Fifths, and created a wonderful, lyrical ambience on Les Arbres embué. For anyone who thinks that Rakowski’s etudes are all about mixing jocularity with virtuosity, they need only listen to the latter piece to hear an example of considerable depth and poignancy. — Christian Carey, Sequenza 21, August 9, 2009. 

Composer David Rakowski’s jocularity is well known. His many piano etudes (88 at last count) feature a number of sly allusions to other styles and works, as well as more overt zaniness; one even requires the performer to play pitches with their nose! His previous concerti have featured various subterfuges in which the soloist is upstaged by the orchestra. And, famously, goofiness abounds on his website. But alongside Rakowski’s penchant for light-hearted expression are consummate craftsmanship and music of considerable poignancy. BMOP’s recording features three ensemble works that highlight both Rakowski’s eloquence as an orchestrator and his ability to evoke a wide spectrum of emotions in music. 
Persistent Memory was written while the composer was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome: a period in which the composer experienced adversity and loss on several fronts. Cast in two-movements, it features an elegy suffused with considerable melancholy and long arching melodies reminiscent, without overt homage, of the Copland “Americana school.” This is juxtaposed with rejoinders: tart brass punctuations and, in the second movement, a defiant scherzo – featuring tour de force writing for the winds – and a series of variations that refract the elegy’s material through a multi-colored prism. 
The CD’s title work was composed as a sixtieth birthday tribute to Martin Boykan. The pre-compositional conceit for the piece is that it is exactly sixty pages long – again a glimmer of Rakowskian witticism. But composer imparts considerable gravitas here as well. The texture features angst-laden horn-writing and Bergian dissonant string verticals that belie any notions of Winged Contraption as an occasional bouquet. Amid these serious signatures lie percussive adornments and a propulsive clock: an ostinato that manifests variously as repeated note figures (a frequent Rakowski device) and burbling arpeggiations. 
Marilyn Nonken has been one of several tireless champions of Rakowski’s solo piano works. It seems particularly fitting that he has fashioned a concerto for Nonken that references several of the etudes composer for her – resulting in a work of ambitious scope and a near-frenetic events structure. Easily one of Rakowski’s finest pieces to date, it features a host of playing techniques – thereby allowing Nonken to exercise both her conventional chops and explore some avant paths along the way. 
The first movement’s opening is a master class in the “one-note” introduction. A-natural is treated to dampening, plucking inside the piano, various chordal harmonizations, and gradual haloing by the instruments of the orchestra until it is revealed in relentless repetition as an ostinato – a self-contained first theme group! Repeated single pitches once again provide a motoric canvas upon which a host of coloristic devices and harmonic divergences are imposed. The plucked A-natural returns at the beginning of each movement of the concerto as a centering and invocational device. 
While the piano writing is tailor-made to Nonken’s abundant capabilities, she’s also given a chance to exercise a bit of whimsy in several asides for toy piano. The concerto also features a few other unconventional touches, such as the inclusion of a novelty percussion item called chatter-stones. And although one is glad for Rakowski’s occasional digressions into humor and his imaginative textural additions to the proceedings, the most striking moments in the concerto feature elegant writing for the conventional instruments in the band. Wind solos and keening string sostenuto passages accompany piquant, colorful verticals in the piano – and that irrepressible plucked A! – in a gorgeous slow movement. 
The scherzo, on the other hand, focuses on short rhythmic cells and terse orchestral interjections. It also revels in adroitly jazzy piano-writing. The orchestra answers these swinging signatures with sassy horn blats and suavely articulate strings: hallmarks of a bygone era of cinematic music warmly recreated here. 
The repeated note device reappears in the last movement, leading to a quote from Rakowski’s first piano etude, “E-Machines.” The quote references still another quote (a quote within quote!) of Beethoven’s Für Elise. Nonken records Rakowski’s cadenza for the CD, but it’s worth mentioning that the composer let her create her own for the premiere – such is the trust and close working relationship of creator and interpreter here.
The other interpreters on the scene, Gil Rose and the BMOP, are sterling in their preparation and superlatively musical. The disc is one of the orchestra’s best thus far, and the weightiest and most satisfying in Rakowski’s discography to date. Serious fun indeed! — Christian Carey, Sequenz 21, October 1, 2009. 

There are marvellous ideas in David Rakowski's music. At the end of the slow movement of his Piano Concerto (2006), for instance, the soloist suddenly switches to a toy piano to play a flourish that's at once otherworldly and mischievous. Similarly, the jazzy syncopations and riffs in the movement that follows convey simultaneous feelings of playful spontaneity and lurking menace. 
Indeed, there's usually some striking element in Rakowski's work to attract one's attention. In Winged Contraption (1991), it might be how the fast, motoric main section is affected by the aching emotion of the slow introduction, which hovers like one of those dark storm clouds that doggedly follow a cartoon character. In the Elegy that opens Persistent Memory (1997), it might be the way the long phrases open and spread like tendrils of a fast-growing plant. 
And, yet, for all Rakowski's inventiveness and clever ideas, there's something missing, though what exactly that something is is difficult to pinpoint. At first I thought it might be a sense of direction or, to be more precise but less grammatical perhaps, a sense of directedness. But that's not really true. That vegetal Elegy grows quite assuredly until it bursts into the intricate and prickly bloom of the variations that follow. 
No, I think it's the material itself that lacks character. The big, overarching concepts are imaginative and effectively rendered, and so are a great many of the details and gestures (like that toy piano flourish). But melodically, thematically, motivically -- however you see fit to describe this particular "horizontal" aspect of music -- there's not much to grab on to.
Certainly, the performances here are top-notch. Pianist Marilyn Nonken, who's had a long association with Rakowski's music, plays the tricky solo part of the Concerto with great flair and finesse. And under Gil Rose's direction, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project has developed into a true virtuoso ensemble. — Andrew Farach-Colton, Gramophone, October, 2009. 

The format has long become a genre in itself, an economical standard of sonorities and players almost a century old (in 2012!) and the basis of countless groups and commissions. Its flexibility and variety, however, was already a hallmark of ‘daily music’ in public places, with lobby, salon and theater orchestras. Schoenberg’s ironic Brettllieder were scored for soprano, piccolo, trumpet, snare drum, and piano in 1901, a sound more than familiar to cabaret patrons, and the second version of Rhapsody in Blue was scored for pit band by Ferde Grofe in 1925 with cues in each part, so that a recognizable performance was achievable even without a solo piano. For Boston Musica Viva, entering its fifth decade, this format has never been a limitation, and certainly not a compromise. On Friday, November 20, at the Tsai Performance Center, there was a remarkable variety, with many reference points and abundant cleverness ... Mikronomicon, a new David Rakowski work written for Geoffrey Burleson on commission from BMV, takes a left turn into jazzy funky noir. The composer and the pianist have history and a complicated Weltanschauung, and the piece chews up the musical landscape with great humor. The reedy melodeon tones taste a little Argentinian, and the register games are a lot of fun. The second movement of this ‘microconcerto’ was inspired by a dream, a haunting falling major 2nd harmonized and re-harmonized 99 times; I went home and put on Mahler 9. And the Scherzo, ‘dirty and intense,’ a funk delirium; both Rakowski and Burleson bring to bear abundant vocabulary from Piazzola and Prokofiev that flies by with great effect. — Eric Culver, Boston Musical Intelligencer, November 23, 2009.

This is the third volume in Bridge’s set of David Rakowski’s Études for piano. The present disc, brilliantly performed by Amy Briggs, includes selections from Book V as well as Books VI and VII in their entirety. 
 An étude (study) can explore many different subjects at once. It can be a technical exercise for the pianist, such as a fingering study, or an exercise for repeating notes, for example. For the composer these studies provide him or her with the challenge of making expressive musical sense out of the technical challenges the pieces present to the performer. 
 Rakowski, in his Études, has added stylistic exercise to this mix. Theses pieces are written in a dazzling array of compositional and performance styles. The titles (“Stutter Stab”, “Cell Division”, and “Killer B’s”, for example) give a hint of both the technical and stylistic/expressive problems addressed in each piece. The pop-sounding titles indirectly describe the sound of the music, which is “tonal” in the broadest sense of the word, with fugitive key centers banging up against each other. 
 Amy Briggs plays this difficult music with precision and style. She makes it sound easy, and it certainly isn’t. Her playing is expressive and colorful. I look forward to going back to the earlier discs in the series. — Steve Hicken, Sequenza 21, January 20, 2009.


As Hyla said beforehand, this program—which also featured the music of David Rakowski and George Crumb–was going to be a night of “challenging music.” Yet with a panorama of three unique compositional voices, this made for a more tantalizing evening than a difficult one. At Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall, familiar figureheads of Chicago’s new music scene—George Flynn, Stacy Garrop, Shulamit Ran—helped populate a bustling crowd of loyal followers, young and old... 
Hyperblue (1993) by David Rakowski, might be the soundtrack to an Ingmar Bergman film had he ever directed an American film noir. Said to explore the “dark side of jazz,” the work is closer to a neo-romance, with its gut-wrenching episode between violinist Joseph Genualdi and cellist Jacob Braun. — Bryant Manning, Chicago Classical Review, February 9, 2010. 


David Rakowski is closing in on Etude No. 100, though this collection is breathlessly trying to keep up, 20 or so behind. It fills in the gaps in Vol. 5 (each has 10 etudes) from earlier Bridge releases, and then includes Vols. 6 and 7 in their entirety. 
Rakowski (born sometime in the 1950s, his Web site is mum) is a self-proclaimed odd duck, though an enormously successful one. I’ve encountered him glancingly, and enjoyed his company. He’s always “on,” and I think I’ve never met anyone with a greater zest for the bad pun (following in Milton Babbitt’s footsteps here). Looking at the titles of many of the etudes on this disc, one sees this habit persists: “Eight Misbehavin’,” “Ménage à droit,” “ A Third in the Hand,” etc. 
Now it could be easy to dismiss all this as dorky composer humor, except for the fact that it is quite brilliant. Rakowski, who admits he’s not much of a pianist, has definitely written one of the more substantial bodies of recent work for the instrument. The pieces are imaginative, idiomatic, virtuosic. The composer’s aesthetic is tied to hard-edged modernism, and Charles Wuorinen’s jangly sound seems a progenitor. But Rakowski also has an Ivesian side, in that he can’t help but blend that Uptown perspective with all the “dirty” rock/blues/funk experiences he had in his youth. Thus “Moody’s Blues” (you see the puns just keep coming; author Rick Moody is a friend of the composer, and a co-conspirator in a number of the titles) is a pounding number that suggests what Jerry Lee Lewis might sound like if he’d had Rakowski’s (Ivy league) education. Rakowski sets a lot of technical challenges for himself in these pieces: a left-hand etude (No. 67, “Ain’t Got No Right”); a pseudo-minimalist essay (No. 66, “Less Is”); a piece based entirely on a pedal tone (No. 63, “Killer B’s). All these the composer meets with aplomb. Some really knock me out, such as No. 53, “Cell Division,” which is a sparkling high register rain of arpeggios, delicate in a way many of the set’s pieces are not; and No. 62, “Name that Turn,” an extravagant imitative contrapuntal structure. 
Rakowski has said he has a few rules for these works: (1) they have to be through composed; (2) they have a six-day work limit; and (3) they are never revised. As a result, what we’re hearing is a type of diary of his interests, obsessions, and discoveries. Or they can be seen as a stream of “fixed improvisations.” Paradoxical as that sounds, I think it’s in fact a precise description. These are spontaneous “fancies” of the composer, written in white heat, but informed by his innate sense of rigorous form and invention. 
Which also suggests a possible problem for the listener. We have 24 etudes here. When taken individually or in small groups (the way they usually are on any concert program), they’re exhilarating. When listened to as a whole, Rakowski’s manic energy can become taxing. My feeling is that this collection is probably of most interest to and use for pianists (who want to learn possible new repertoire), and for composers (who want to steal a thing or two). I, for one, found it very engaging to read Hayes Biggs’s detailed descriptive notes, listening for how the conceit of each piece was technically realized. For other listeners, the disc is well worth your time and attention, but you may want to use it as an introit or an encore (i.e. in small doses) to a larger work. 
Amy Briggs has technique to spare and to burn—which is precisely what she does through the whole program. She’s a fabulous pianist, and admirably attuned to Rakowski’s vision. At times, she can be a little too unremittingly steely for my taste, but I frankly think this is what the composer wants, and she’s following his lead. Sound, as usual for Bridge, is superb.--Robert Carl, Fanfare, March/April, 2010. 


It is a scene straight out of Mary Poppins. Strapped to a bass drum, cymbal in one hand, stick in the other, the conductor Richard Pittman parades around the Boston auditorium with a crash and a bang as if about to belt out chim-chim-cheroo. “Isn’t show business wonderful?” laughs a member of the orchestra. It is. But this isn’t show business. Or at least, I don’t think it is. In Europe contemporary classical music is a pretty dour thing. Not in America. 
Pittman’s Boston Musica Viva may be one of the oldest contemporary music ensembles in America, their performances may be edifying, but their game is still showbiz. Next week they come to Kings Place in London with three all-American concerts. In the programmes, unrepentant 12-toners rub shoulders with post-minimalists, neo-romantics, former rockers, jazz men and slickly brilliant encores from Bernard Hoffer, the man behind the music to the TV animation Thundercats: an accessible, eclectic and, even at its most uncompromising, engaging medley. Contemporary American composition has a lot to teach its European cousins. 
 “Europeans are very serious about the craft,” says the composer David Rakowski, one of Musica Viva’s regular collaborators, whose website gives us the following information: “David Rakowski has male pattern baldness, high blood pressure, little hope of growing a real beard and a chin dimple.” If he wasn’t a composer, Rakowski could be a stand-up. 
One of his current projects is composing a set of études for piano with titles such as Eight Misbehavin’ (for a study in octaves). “There was a thread about my études online. A European wrote: ‘With titles like that, the music has to be bad.’ But you can have titles like that in America.” Why? “I don’t know. Maybe because we grew up with The Ed Sullivan Show?” 
That the capitalist, populist ethic and the concept of popular culture are not dirty words in America may be another reason. “We don’t have a fear of treading over the populist line at all here,” Rakowski says. “Composers utilise everything, whether they’re doing it in a postmodern way or they’re drawing on the music of their youth, which in my case would be the Monkees, the Beatles or Jesus Christ Superstar and the way that the rhythms and phrasing work in that music. And that’s fine with us.” 
Gunther Schuller, a Musica Viva regular, jazz man and Pulitzer prize-winning composer, started the Third Way movement in the 1950s, which got people such as the saxophonist Ornette Coleman to improvise on Schoenbergian tone rows. “A lot of things are coming together that were segregated before,” Schuller says, sitting amid jazz and classical scores piled high on the floor. “And the possibilities of all this fructifying between these different streams is potentially tremendous and very exciting.” 
John Harbison, (whose song cycle, The Seven Ages, comes to Kings Place next week), encourages those he teaches at Tanglewood to engage with the popular tradition, “otherwise there tends to be a disconnect”. Harbison thinks that the next generation will tear down the classical-pop divide, not all of which will be a good thing. 
The flip side to the capitalist melting pot of American contemporary composition is that you find a lot of ambitious selling out, says Rand Steiger, a former rock musician and now chairman of the music department at the University of California, San Diego. “Many young composers write as if they have never had a bad day in their lives,” Steiger says. “It’s music that’s driven by ambition. And a lot of orchestras have embraced that repertoire.” 
Funding patterns have probably subconsciously moulded the American style of composition, Rakowski admits. But, in this financial climate, you have to think about your audience. “Given how much competition there is for how little funding, this is inevitable,” Rakowski says. Given the bumper crop of students joining Rakowski’s class at Brandeis University in Massachusetts this is more true than ever. “Numbers always go up in tough economic times. They figure that if you can’t get a job as a stockbroker why not be a composer?” 
Perversely, there’s a lot of optimism in the air, especially with Michelle Obama taking interest in hosting regular classical music evenings at the White House and spearheading a classical music education initiative. Some think it might usher in a return to the munificent era of JFK, when composers and conductors had the ear of the President. 
 “The Depression was one of the greatest creative artistic periods in our history,” the octogenarian Schuller is keen to remind me. The financial downturn may yet lead to another revolutionary flowering. 
Boston Musica Viva are at Kings Place, London N1 (020-7520 1490), March 25-27 — Igor Toronyl-Lallic, London Times Online, March 18, 2010.

David Rakowski’s “Phillis Levin Songs” (2008) proved a tougher sell. Ms. Levin’s poetry is often sweet and sometimes childlike, but except for the closing setting, “On Time,” Mr. Rakowski’s angular vocal writing resists giving it the melodic allure it seems to demand. Judith Bettina, the soprano, sang these settings gracefully, but they remained emotionally distant. — Allan Kozinn, New York Times, April 10, 2919

David Rakowski's music is of more serious intent, albeit not humourless. He has composed many piano Etudes, usually as diversions from bigger projects, and collected them into books of ten, of which there are nine so far. This is demanding music, and Amy Briggs has done a fabulous job of traversing them all: this is Volume 3, containing Books 6 and 7 and some of Book 5. These Etudes cover a range of character and texture, many rather astringent with a bitingly rhythmic profile; Rakowski focuses more on the instrument's percussive qualities than its lyrical ones. It's very well played and recorded, with a superbly informative booklet -- well worth investigating. — Tim Parry, BBC Music Magazine, April, 2010. 

In her program notes pianist Marilyn Nonken observes that Rakowski “asks us, as only a serious composer can, to come and play.” That instinctive urge, be it expressed in science, mathematics, or art, is often thought to underlie our species’ creativity. In music, a composer can transform whimsical, transitory, impulsive, or improvisatory materials into a “serious” work, or he can choose to inject humor via parody, quotation, or even rude noises. I first discovered Rakowski, who’s well known for his sense of fun, through his ongoing series of piano etudes: eighty-eight to date (a very significant number for pianists!). Although his sly wit is usually expressed through purely musical means or in his punning titles, there’s one etude that brings the nose into play as well as the hands. He can be silly but he’s not a provocateur: his music is well written, attractive, and accessible. When I read that he’d composed a new piano concerto I couldn’t resist hearing it and now that I have, I can say that the style of the piano etudes translates very well into the new format. It’s not just that the essential language is the same; Rakowski quotes specific ideas from his etudes, scattering them through the movements. Although he’s written four other concertos, “all of them with an ironic twist on the idea of concerto…for once I wanted to write a traditional concerto with traditional concerto interactions between individual and orchestra.” The result is occasionally a tour de force, especially in the thrilling, sometimes jazzy Scherzando and the last movement cadenza. Rakowski frequently consulted with Nonken while writing the piece, at one time suggesting adding a toy piano. She liked the idea but handling two instruments must sometimes have complicated things for her, especially in one particularly memorable passage in which the soloist is required to play rapidly on both keyboards simultaneously. To enhance the sense of continuity among the movements, Rakowski introduces each one with a plucked “A” from inside the piano. Another unifying device was “to write fast outer movements with slow introductions using the same music.” While far from a traditional nineteenth century romantic concerto with big tunes, the piece opens with lyrically evocative music, setting a mood that’s then partially disrupted by strongly accented chords from the pianist. Rapidly repeated notes introduce a faster section and are also dispersed throughout the concerto, lending the solo part a toccata-like aspect. The orchestral instruments play with great agility, reminding me of Part II of Persistent Memory and Winged Contraption (more about them in a moment). The third movement projects a mysterious atmosphere, with solo winds coloring the initially light scoring. When the strings enter they provide a softer cushion for the meandering soloist. Finally, the delicate toy piano closes the movement. Throughout the Concerto Nonken plays the motoric passages with a winning combination of fluidity and strength and projects either calm or repressed tension in the slower moments. The orchestral contribution is exceptional, with the winds especially lithe. Persistent Memory falls into two sections, first a slow moving, sustained elegy followed by a more active series of variations that at times sounded like a concerto for orchestra. Winged Contraption is similar in texture, tempo, and line to the second half of Persistent Memory: the composer’s personal harmonic vocabulary infuses both, with hints of traditional triadic tonality interspersed at the beginning of Winged Contraption. Otherwise the music in the purely orchestral works seems predominantly atonal but not in an overly spiky or aggressive way. Still, I hear some “modernist” angst. BMOP plays beautifully under Gil Rose’s inspired direction and the recording has great clarity, presence, and timbral fidelity. Nonken’s and Rakowski’s  reminiscences lend a welcome personal touch. This is an excellent disc that should be heard by fans of contemporary music and especially those with a yen to add an exciting new piano concerto to their collections. Recommended. — Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare, May-June 2010.

Amy Briggs, (a.k.a. Amy Dissanayake) is a pianist who has long specialized in new music, and with this disk she continues to establish herself as one of the most active and acclaimed pianists of her generation. She and composer/collaborator David Rakowski again pair up with selections from Books V-VII of his piano etudes. Whether in the skittish "Stutter Stab," the minimalistic "Less Is," or the lyrical chorale "Rick's Mood," Briggs displays her formidable technical skill to perfection, and her command over the wide array of colors and expressions is impressively exhibited in these pieces. Also noteworthy is her utmost attention to dynamic details and clarity  of phrasing. Briggs is particularly successful with those works that are jazzy and demand rhythmic precision and sharp attachks that burst with fire and energy. There is no doubt that this is a CD that should be added to your collection. M.F.L., Clavier Companion, August, 2010.

In addition to these works, the ensemble presented a New England premiere of David Rakowski’s Current Conditions, interweaving of Beethoven’s fifth symphony (of all things) into bawdy ragtime melodies. It’s a fun work – one that integrates the two textures without peering down from an ivory tower. And although the traces, then culmination of Beethoven’s work blended beautifully with the early-twentieth-century themes of the work, somehow, a slower tempo plagued the ragtime, robbing it of its inherent humor. — Sudeep Agarwala, Boston Musical Intelligencer, March 2, 2011. 

Several works employed river and water imagery. …. Rakowski’s rhapsodic “Luccicare’’ glistened, shimmered, and conjured up the eternal spirit of J.S. Bach, another spectacular natural monument. — Harlow Robinson, Boston Globe, March 14, 2011. 

Luccicare, by David Rakowski, does not refer to a revised national health care system, either for ourselves for some poor devil named Lucci. Rather, and happily, the composer makes use of the poetic Italian verb referring to the play of light. Specifically, Rakowski intends to depict light playing on rivulets as they descend into the Sturm of canyon currents and then return to their glinty sources. Effective in its impressionistic depiction of scintillating swirls and ripples, the piece did not proceed, as we expected, into the full flow of the “torrents” Rakowski cites, before returning to the subtly eddying source. So, no Moldau here. One was not sure if frequent caesuras in this performance, as well as in a number of other pieces, were the result of awkward page turns or were compositional intentions. If the former, then more care in score preparation, or, a double music stand is in order. — Tony Schemmer, Boston Musical Intelligencer, March 14, 2011. 

The program also featured the premieres of Arthur Kreiger’s “Sound Merger” for chamber orchestra and electronic sounds, and David Rakowski’s “Talking Points (Right Wing Echo Chamber)” for strings and cello soloist. 
Mr. Rakowski told Mr. Schaefer that he had written the work while on sabbatical, when he read political blogs and began thinking about how political messages are spread by repetition. The work lived up to its title: after a lively introduction it outstayed its welcome like pundits’ ceaseless chatter.  — Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times, June 21, 2011. 

Titling pieces is a bit of an art; the right one can provide a nice shorthand description, sort of a program note in miniature. The wrong one can put a work in an unsympathetic or confusing listening context – especially on first hearing. There were examples of both on the League of Composers/ISCM Orchestra program, June 18 at Columbia University’s Miller Theater.  …
 “Talking Points (Right Wing Echo Chamber)” (2010), is another potentially confusing title. One would expect David Rakowski’s concerto for cello and strings to sound edgy or strident. Instead, it focuses on the insinuating aspects of partisan rhetoric, how propaganda gets repeated over and over again until, true or not, it can seem to its supporters like holy writ. Rakowski’s language is rhythmically vivacious, and his “echo chamber” consists of layers of repeated contrapuntal lines and gradually unfolding stacks of piquant harmonies. An elegantly provocative piece and an excellent showcase for Sherry, “Talking Points” was the standout of the evening. — Christian B. Carey, Musical America, June 21, 2011.

The most inspired piece that I heard on the program was David Rakowski’s take on “The Ladies Who Lunch,” (from Sondheim’s Company), which featured a rolling bass line against some very difficult chords that roamed all over the keyboard and a nifty transition to a jazzy sequence that morphed into a Chopinesque riff and touched on some Rhapsody in Blue before ending. Although de Mare struggled with the chords, Rakowski’s music seemed to go somewhere. — James Bash, Oregon Music News, July 16, 2011.

‎"The most inspired piece I heard on the program, David Rakowski to take "the ladies who lunch" (from Sondheim's Company), which featured a bass line rolling contracts against some very hard to walk through the keyboard and a transition a sequence of easy jazz riff Arabesque Chopin and has a number of Rhapsody in Blue in the end. Although Marc was struggling with the chords of the music seemed to go anywhere Rakowski. " — Classical Music News, July 17, 2011, writer uncredited.

Anthony de Mare has made a valuable career out of playing contemporary American music, and his PIPF concert a couple of years ago remains one of my favorites. He’s commissioned some of today’s leading composers to create new versions of songs by an American composer who, by virtue of working in what’s now regarded as a corner (though what used to be the center) of  American music, is often overlooked on those lists of greatest living composers. Yet how can anyone ignore the staggering accomplishments of Stephen Sondheim, whose music has dominated American musical theater for the past four decades?
De Mare’s set kicked off energetically ... highlights included a brilliant “The Ladies Who Lunch” from the ever-adventurous David Rakowski and an epic take on Follies’ beautiful “Losing My Mind” from Pulitzer winner Paul Moravec. — Brett Campbell, Oregon Arts Watch, August 7, 2011.


... David Rakowski’s “Thickly Settled,’’ which was getting its world premiere, proposes to “evoke the once-bustling, back-road settlements of rural Massachusetts.’’ ...
“Thickly Settled,’’ for violin, viola, clarinet, and piano (same lineup as for Olivier Messiaen’s “Quatuor pour la fin du temps’’), with BMV music director Richard Pittman conducting, conjured the New England of H.P. Lovecraft rather than Charles Ives. There were pockets of brooding bustle, and William Kirkley’s clarinet kept evoking “The Twilight Zone.’’ The third and last movement didn’t quite live up to its hilarious title: “Pipistrellosamente,’’ or “like a bat.’’ — Jeffrey Gantz, Boston Globe, October 3, 2011.

The first thing that caught our attention as we entered the Tsai Performance Center for the opening concert of Boston Musica Viva’s 43rd season on September 30 was the very diminutive Kawai baby grand piano on the stage. What’s with that? we wondered. Answers appear below. ...
The first half of the program ended with the premiere of David Rakowski’s Thickly Settled for clarinet (William Kirkley), violin (Keyes), cello (Müller-Szeraws) and piano (Geoffrey Burleson), which Pittman informed the audience is the third work BMV has commissioned from Rakowski. The title, derived from those road signs one sees on rural roads to warn of impending hamlets, turns out to have little to nothing to do with the piece. Rakowski’s is one of the rare genial musical personalities (his hilarious riposte to all manner of compositional orthodoxies can be seen here) and this three-movement quartet is something of a devil-may-care romp whose first movement opens in a cloud of dust that gradually settles into a melodic line that drives through a jazzy stretch before a lyrical close. A slow, very self-consciously lyric and beautiful movement follows, in which Rakowski gives the piano a somewhat incongruous accompaniment entirely played directly on the piano’s strings. 
“Pianists hate that,” Rakowski said, with a big smile, in his introduction  — for which reason, as Burleson told us later, BU sternly refused permission to use Tsai’s regular concert grand. Those party-poopers! The finale, which Rakowski described as a scherzo, sets up a toccata-like driving rhythm against which the violin descants with a slow-moving tune. The movement segues to a slower “trio”; then, just a few seconds after resuming the opening section, it all just stops. La commedia è finita. A charming, well-built piece in a loose-limbed way. The performance, conducted by Pittman, seemed perfectly together. Each player contributed passages of distinguished finesse and the ensemble seemed to be chugging contentedly. Even Burleson smiled. — Vance R. Koven, Boston Musical Intelligencer, October 3, 2011.

In a Saturday afternoon recital that was the result of years of planning and commissioning, pianist Anthony de Mare opened his performance by making a verbal case for Stephen Sondheim's standing as a top American composer. That should be a no-brainer for theater lovers, who have long known Sondheim as the reigning king of musicaldom.
But de Mare's proclamation was for the Van Cliburn Foundation crowd—the performance, Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim, was on the Cliburn at the Modern series—who should consider Sondheim up there with Copland, Gershwin and Bernstein.
And then he set out to prove it, playing works inspired by Sondheim songs by such noted composers as William Bolcom, Steve Reich and Jake Heggie.
The reworkings had each composer's style stamped on them. The tunes included Gabriel Kahane's "Being Alive" (from Company), Fred Hersch's "No One Is Alone" (Into the Woods) and, in one of the more interesting versions, David Rakowski's take on "The Ladies Who Lunch" (Company), with bossa nova lines and an evocation of the character, Joanne, who sings that song. Hard to do, considering those lyrics (and Elaine Stritch's original performance) are probably among the best known of any Sondheim tune, except maybe "Send in the Clowns."-- Mark Lowry, Theater Jones, February 7, 2012.


David Rakowski’s Micronomicon (sic), a piano concerto written specifically for BMV’s Geoffrey Burleson, opened Boston Musica Viva’s June 16th concert for the Rockport Chamber Music Festival at the Shalin Liu Performance Center. The first movement began with disconnected gestures from which a jaunty piano theme emerged, reflecting Burleson’s experience with jazz; the harmonies underpinning the theme incorporated a tangy dissonance into their pleasant expansiveness. Throughout the movement, Rakowski’s instrumentation was fluid and engaging, particularly in a passage where the piano and glockenspiel joined in florid passagework over a well-blended high-register ensemble accompaniment that brought out the sparkle — while keeping any piercing tones at bay. There were some moments of seemingly directionless hurly-burly, but the movement was brought to a satisfying conclusion.
The second movement was an atypical slow one built around a descending two-note motif that moves from the piano to the ensemble and back. While Burleson’s great talent was evident throughout all the varied passages in Micronomicon (sic), I was most impressed with the depth and variety of expression he brought to a motif whose extreme simplicity would perhaps allow lesser soloists to lapse into mechanism. The third and final movement was built on an obviously funk-inspired rhythmic motif introduced by the piano. The coordination of the piano and percussion parts in these opening passages was groovy perfection. At the culmination of the movement, Burleson and percussionist Robert Schultz once again collaborated, here in a nostalgic and increasingly virtuosic melodica (a wind instrument with a piano keyboard) duet that for all its ingenuity, did not have much sense of completion. It was left for the ensemble to bring the concerto to a conclusion with a further exploration of the funky material from the beginning. -- Stephanie Lubkowski, Boston Musical Intelligencer, June 18, 2012.

Geoffrey Burleson ... followed this short suite with more Saint-Saëns (whose complete piano music he is recording for the Naxos label) — the expansive “Caprice on Ballet Airs From Gluck’s ‘Alceste’ ” — and a gentle étude [Les Arbres Embués, #7] by David Rakowski, before closing the concert with three of his own virtuosic, lively, occasionally jazzy improvisations on a handful of Debussy themes. -- Alan Kozinn, New York Times, August 22, 2012.



The program included two other works inspired by music from Company, … David Rakowski's "The Ladies Who Lunch" (from Company) in which Joanne's increasing inebriation was echoed by shifting embellishments from a gentle upper register buzz to a deep and churning lower one as the piece progressed. — Andy Propst, The Sondheim Review, October 1, 2012.


Be this as it may, the program opened with the premiere of the Symphony #4 by NE Phil’s composer in residence David Rakowski, who teaches at Brandeis and has for decades successfully negotiated the border zone between the groves of academe and the badlands of zaniness. He writes well and tightly composed pieces with an air of madcap tomfoolery, and the Fourth Symphony illustrates the point. The movement titles, “Waning Crescent,” “Current Conditions,” “Ice to Rain,” and “Double Shot” have nothing to do with the music, but were whimsically chosen from topic headings on the Weather Channel’s home page. The work started as one five-minute children’s piece in which Rakowski “hid” the motto motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in a jazzy outer wrapper based on the motto’s rhythmic and intervallic substance (this is the movement called “Current Conditions”). He later added other movements of similar structure based on well-known works of Bach, Mahler and Mozart (in the completed symphony, these composers are arrayed in alphabetical order, with Beethoven 5 therefore informing the scherzo). On the “serious” side, the musical materials, organized in the Ivesian method of development-first-theme-later, are tightly and imaginatively presented and add up to a wicked-clevah and entertaining whole. In contrast to another famous local composer who has built a significant œuvre of symphonies, Rakowski’s insouciance makes him, to over-simplify a bit, the contra- Harbison. Pittman and his symphonic forces served this piece well with sprightliness and, in the direct and tender slow movement based on music from Mahler’s Second Symphony, affecting pathos. Special kudos to oboist Sandra Ayres in that movement. — Vance Koven, Boston Musical Intelligencer, October 30, 2012.


For David Rakowski, the project was a particularly challenging adventure. In fact, it took him three months to complete his piece, and he described it as the "hardest thing I've ever done." He was familiar with Sondheim's work, vividly recalling that, when he first attended the New England Conservatory of Music, it seemed that every other dorm room was blaring out either Sweeney Todd or Chuck Mangione's Feel So Good. Another connection with Sondheim was that they both studied with Milton Babbitt. He settled on "The Ladies Who Lunch" to reimagine, because he had recently been watching the DVD of the documentary on the making of the Company east recording and became particularly taken with the Elaine Stritch through-line. Describing it as a "song that's already perfect," the lyric became fundamental to his approach, trying to musically evoke both the character's alcoholic haze and her deep sadness - camouflaged in a happy sounding song.
As Rakowski studied the original he became increasingly taken with the masterful subtlety of the progressions and the intensity of the chromatic inflections. He also noted how the song evolved harmonically and was amazed to discover that there was a modulation from C major to D-flat that he had never noticed before. Rakowski describes his original works as basically tonal and hyper-chromatic - not triadic. But for this reimagining he took the original tune, began to take it apart and put it back together in a way that made it his own largely through changes of chords, adding notes and, in some cases, changing tempos. Perhaps the most significant difference is that rather than end with the original's scream of a toast, his ending fades out, focusing on the character's disappointment. — Mark Horowitz, The Sondheim Review, December 1, 2012.

Nicholas Phillips approached several composers looking for music inspired by the phrase “American Vernacular” and the end result is a strong balance of eclectic musical tastes framed within relatively conservative harmonic and formal frameworks. Mr. Phillips was aiming for a “classical crossover” disc at the start but he creates is a disc of fun and charming music which, while performed with a high level of technical and musical sophistication, doesn’t feel the need to take itself too seriously. There are serious works on the disc, no doubt, but the overall focus is on enjoyable works which sound as gratifying to play as they are to hear. If you want a disc which is trying to rant for or against a style or idiom, you want a different disc. This is merely a well-programmed and performed collection of music which is approachable and engaging to listeners from a broad range of backgrounds…

Hotfingers: Three Vernacular Nondances again shows David Rakowski’s flair for idiomatic and engaging piano writing. These three short works sound right at home among his piano etudes. Maybe I’m biased but I think every disc of American piano music should include something by Rakowski. — Jay Batzner, sequenza21, January 19, 2014.


The other concerto on the program featured the dazzling technique of another performer and champion of new music, pianist Amy Briggs.
Written especially for her, David Rakowski’s Piano Concerto No. 2 ripples with gnarly jazz riffs in its three sprawling movements. The brasses punctuated Brigg’s funky licks with the charged shouts of big band music, and the dexterously-played marimba and xylophone melodies recalled Milt Jackson solos from the 1940s. Elsewhere, Rakowski’s orchestration thinned into a sheer fabric of sound. Briggs, strumming the strings inside the piano and doubling on celesta, gave the music a silky veneer. The third movement’s cadenza brought traces of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, yet Rakowski’s more frantic and unpredictable style explored wider musical frontiers.
The second movement, a beautiful elegy for Milton Babbitt, broke up the live-wire energy. Here, a solo English horn traded a mournful song, based on a tone-row from Babbitt’s Solo Requiem, with clarinet in fine expression. — Ryan Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review, January 18, 2014.

The “modern” in Boston Modern Orchestra Project varies in its meaning. Sometimes it refers broadly to music of the past several decades, such as its recent revivals of operas by Virgil Thomson and Michael Tippett. On Friday at Jordan Hall, though, its focus was on the other sense of the word: what’s happening right now. On the bill were three world premieres, all commissions from composers with local connections and associations with BMOP. This was, to my mind, the group at its vital, cutting-edge best…
The most well-rounded pleasures of the evening came from David Rakowski’s Second Piano Concerto, composed for pianist Amy Briggs. (The pair documented the piece’s writing on the blog “The Amy and Davy Show.”) Briggs has recorded most of Rakowski’s piano etudes, and accommodated the concerto’s virtuosic demands with shockingly little outward effort.
It’s a big piece, well over half an hour, and a mercurial one. It begins with a bustling piano solo that has jazz leanings and pungent harmonies (think Art Tatum playing Bartok). Varieties of jazz recur throughout the piece, as do shimmering stillness, plaintive melodies, and rapid-fire trade-offs between soloist and orchestra. What makes the concerto so engrossing was how natural its evolutions among styles, textures, and moods seemed. The middle movement — a memorial to Milton Babbitt, who died while the concerto was being written — was completely transfixing.
Each of these wonderful pieces deserves repeat performances. The orchestra, under artistic director Gil Rose, played with an assurance that is both familiar and still astonishing. — David Weininger, Boston Globe, January 20, 2014.



The final work on the program—taking the entire second half and calling for the largest orchestral ensemble—was David Rakowski’s Piano Concerto No. 2, written for the splendid Chicago-based pianist Amy Briggs, who played it with terrific control, panache and energy–not only on the piano keyboard but also inside the instrument, plucking the strings, occasionally turning to a celesta set to her right, and eventually playing both celesta and piano together.
Rakowski, who teaches at Brandeis, composed the concerto during a residency in France in 2011. He explained that, before getting on the plane to leave, he had a long conversation with Amy Briggs “about what kind of things she wanted in her concerto.” He conceived of other material that got used in the concerto in a dream. Briggs made several suggestions, including alternations of solo and tutti in a quasi-Baroque texture, jazz elements, and the inclusion of the celesta.  The sheer size and variety of the score indicate how seriously the composer took these and other suggestions.
Rakowski has composed an enormous number of piano etudes—100 of them, between 1988 and 2010, at which time he decided to stop…though, as it turns out, only for a while. The etudes may be finished, but he has already composed some forty piano preludes. This interest in piano pieces bespeaks a great interest on the composer’s part in the keyboard medium (though he disclaims any special ability as a pianist). Amy Briggs has played many of them, and technical elements from some of them can hardly fail to appear in a big work like the concerto.
The first movement (of three) begins with fiercely motoric energy, but a slow middle section produces one of the most marvelous touches of color in the piece: The soloist slowly plucks individual strings inside the piano, one at a time. Each time the plucked string creates a sharp attack on a pitch, which is simultaneously attacked and held by one of the woodwind instruments, given the magical feeling that the piano string has somehow become (for example) a clarinet, while that quiet tone is held, then tapers into silence.
The second movement is mostly slow and quiet, conceived as an elegy in memory of Milton Babbitt, who died shortly before work on this movement began. Rakowski quotes a row from Babbitt’s Solo Requiem in the clarinet at the beginning, inverting it at the end.
The final movement includes several references to jazz gestures suggesting everything from Stravinsky’s irregular “jazzy” works of the early ‘20s, hints of stride, and more. Among the musical elements that tie the full concerto together are a hypnotically repeated two-note figure in the xylophone—a slowly repeated descending fifth, to which the piano responds quietly. After a number of repetitions, this quiet obsession veers off course, as the two notes of the descending fifth move elsewhere (the passage occurs near the end of both first and third movements). The celesta sound and the plucking inside the piano also generate moments so striking in their first appearance that later appearances provide a clear sense of shaping of the piece.
The audience reaction to the concerto—both in its rich repertory of enticing ideas and the brilliant performance by both soloist and orchestra—was immediate and extended. — Steven Ledbetter, Boston Musical Intelligencer, January 21, 2014.


David Rakowski’s Piano Concerto No. 2 was, on the surface, a much more conventional piece, and purposefully so—from its lushly chordal, moto perpetuo, étude-ish opening, the reference point seemed to be the highly-stylized, fashionably syncopated Jazz Age piano concerto. But that was a springboard for Rakowski’s brand of subtle mischief. That opening, for starters, ended up a lot more off-balance, the steady rhythmic stream sliced and diced into all manner of speed bumps. The second theme—the place, say, where Gershwin liked to let the piano take over in a wash of rubato—turned into an inside-the-piano exercise, plucked and strummed punctuation to a play of intervals in the orchestra, sixths and sevenths (and others) at harmonic sixes and sevens with each other. Throughout, Rakowski kept dropping in little bits of delicious orchestration. (Note to self: extended doubling of piano and motor-on vibraphone is an idea worth stealing.)
The second movement—conceived as an elegy for Milton Babbitt, one of Rakowski’s teachers—commenced with some more felicitious instrumentation: a stop-and-go duet between the vibraphone and marimba, joined by double-bass pizzicato, that turned into intermittent obstacles in a stream of English horn (then clarinet) cantilena. The echo of Ravel’s G-major concerto was strong, except that the piano filigree here roped the rest of the orchestra into an unexpected faster tempo. The finale had an expected fast and busy character, but ended up being more of a hesitation-toccata, the concerto’s traditional prizefight qualities reduced to a collection of feints and stutter-step footwork, before a cadenza—which finally tipped over into straight stride piano—and a vastly-telescoped reprise of the opening movement brought the piece to a close.
Like Ueno, Rakowski was writing for a specific performer: Amy Briggs, the profoundly adroit Chicago-based pianist who has been the primary performing means of Rakowski’s encyclopedic set of piano études, the increasingly whimsical challenges of which just seem to make Briggs more adventurously game. (Much of the flavor of the concerto—the jazz colors, the soloist’s doubling on celesta at particular formal landmarks—was, according to the program notes, at Briggs’ request.) Like the études, the concerto has more than a little of Rakowski’s trickster personality. Statements and ideas are inseparable from bluffs and subterfuge, not unlike a magic trick in which the misdirection is so skillful and impressive that you don’t notice that your chosen card is never actually revealed. But the patter and the choreography glister.  — Matthew Guerrieri, New Music Box, January 28, 2014.

Some of the most interesting writing on the disc belongs to David Rakowski in his Hotfingers: Three Vernacular Nondances. The first of these short movements, the fantastically-named "Superfractalistic," builds from a few, simple angular ideas to increasing density into the middle of the piece. The harmonies are at times dissonant and jarring, but darn if it doesn't groove. I also adore the third movement, which closes the album, "Écoutez et Répétez." If there is a 21st century American equivalent to the last movement of Prokofiev's 7th Sonata, this must be it. — R. Andrew Lee, I Care If You Listen, Issue 5, February 1, 2014.


Last but very much not least we have David Rakowski’s Hotfingers: Three Vernacular Nondances studies of rhythm, form and style.

In the first, Superfractalistic, Phillips picks out a fragmented staccato motif before these fragments are allowed to make a hesitant, rhythmic theme, growing in rhythmic complexity and dynamics as music progresses. Growing Season Blues has a repeated motif that opens quietly and is quickly developed and varied, though still retaining a hesitant feel. The music soon moves to a more flowing, bouncing, gently rhythmic theme, growing into a flowing, bluesy melody that increases in complexity before reducing to a simpler, quieter version to end. Ecoutez et Répétez opens with a rapid motif for left hand with a right hand motif dancing around it. The music soon develops with some terrific rhythmic bounce showing just how Phillips can really swing. These terrific pieces show a great fusion of jazz and classical – you can’t even see the seams. They are brilliantly played by Nicholas Phillips. — The Classical Reviewer, March 4, 2013.

From his home base at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, the talented, entrepreneurial pianist Nicholas Phillips engaged a range of composers to respond through music to the phrase “American vernacular.” The results cover an impressive stylistic span: glittering pop-infused études by Mark Olivieri and Joel Puckett; luminous meditations from Ethan Wickman and Ben Hjertmann; a bluesy finger-buster by Luke Gullickson; puckish miniatures by the unfailingly brilliant David Rakowski; and more. — Steve Smith, New York Times, March 5, 2014.


The final work featured is Hotfingers: Three Vernacular Nondances, composed in 2012 by David Rakowski. Aficionados of Rakowski’s seminal piano etudes will revel in this new piece’s similarly off-kilter takes on blues and jazz with fractals thrown in for good measure. I, for one, was extremely disappointed when Rakowski reached his 100th solo piano etude and said that he would write no more of them, but I’m overjoyed that he’s found a way around his vow.  — Frank Oteri, newmusicbox, April 22, 2014.


… And so it happened that, on Saturday night, an energetic and well-drilled New England Philharmonic under Pittman’s baton delivered not only a vivid world premiere, but a snapshot of the music world 60 years ago—a world with which, it turned out, debutant Rakowski had quite a bit in common.

The scintillating high percussion and winds of Schuller’s A Dramatic Overture, Op. 1, for example, were fresh in the audience’s ears when Rakowski set the flutes a-flutter again in his airy piece, which is the first movement of his Dance Episodes (Symphony No. 5), scheduled to be premiered in full by this orchestra next fall.
The swirling breezes and fluttering streamers of Zephyrs grew out of a single note E, heard at the outset and for much of the piece.  Flashing woodwind scales and glissandi for strings and harp kept the winds swirling as pizzicato strings introduced a complex but catchy rhythm, leading to a lively coda of jazzy runs over a walking bass.  An American sense of fresh air and wide open spaces linked this work to its compatriots on the program, and even some of the Russian “wide shots” in Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 7.  — David Wright, Boston Classical Review, May 4, 2014.


[about YouKyoung Kim's performance of Fists of Fury} Skillful , talented , crafted, professional , awesomeness all yes. But... Piano , or any solo instrument play at that speed & that many notes, just sounds like jumbled ........ & noise. it's like " look @ me ". as the saying goes " all about quality not quantity " . — Paul Wagner, World Piano Competition Facebook page, June 24, 2014.


[about YouKyoung Kim's performance of Fists of Fury} It sounded like a two year old banging on it. Sorry but it did! I.havr heard many professional piano players play a fast tempo song in competitions and they've sounded like real notes, but this no! — Steven Lawson, World Piano Competition Facebook page, June 24, 2014.

After the intermission David Rakowski spoke briefly about his new Symphony No. 5, which began as a series of Dance Episodes. The composer’s jocular manner, apparent in his detailed program notes, provided some cover for what is obviously a serious and beautiful work. The first movement, Zephyrs, had been already performed by the orchestra last year; it is organized around a pedal-point trill on E and F that moves around the orchestra but is surrounded by Ravel-like harmony of fine sensibility and upper-register transparency. The second movement, Masks (the only other time I ever heard this title used, instead of Masques, was in a Suite by Beryl Rubinstein), is more stark and brass-oriented, organized around a G center; its tricky rhythms provided neat punctuation, and didn’t faze the players at all. Of the third movement, Triste, the composer wrote,”I was thinking of a slow, sad dance of a solo, then duo, then trio, and then quartet” for strings, and the accumulation of soli, with added winds one by one, made for a clear texture in which the expressive melodic lines were never submerged even when the full orchestra joined in. The finale, called Motive Perpetuo, gave prominence to the orchestra’s pianist, Patrick Yacono, hidden at the back of the stage but in full partnership with the whole. This was the liveliest part of the entire symphony, with a noticeable jazzy beat and repeated middle-register figures — probably the most danceable part of the work, and it reminded me of a different Masque, the one in Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety Symphony. All in all, David Rakowski’s new Symphony, entirely independently of any dance spirit, is an important work, impeccably orchestrated and wonderful to hear. — Mark deVoto, Boston Musical Intelligencer, October 26, 2014.


Two works received top billing: the Fifth Symphony of David Rakowski, entitled Dance Episodes, and Bernard Hoffer’s Ligeti Split, both of which received world premieres.

Rakowski, who has been composer-in-residence with the NEP since 2011, composed his new symphony on a commission from the orchestra for a short work based on dance-like themes. The resulting twenty-three-minute symphony is a tautly constructed and energetic affair.
Dance Episodes is chock full of catchy ideas. Whiffs of pizzicatos and twisting wind motives collide into a dense swirl in the first movement, aptly titled “Zephyrs.” The second, “Masks,” is based upon a slithery theme, played by sliding trombones, and bustling sixteenth-note figures that scatter throughout the full ensemble. The third and shortest movement, “Tristesse,” evolves from a serpentine violin solo, played with honeyed tone by concertmaster Danielle Maddon. A snappy rock riff drives the momentum of the final movement, “Motive Perpetuo,” in a style similar to John Adams’ Lollapalooza.
At times, Rakowski’s ideas seem to burn themselves out prematurely, the movements stopping short of full realization. Nevertheless, Pittman led the orchestra in a spirited reading that gave the work bold advocacy. — Ryan Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review, October 26, 2014.

Rakowski is a Vermont-born-and-raised fellow who first studied trombone and then composing at the New England Conservatory, Princeton and Tanglewood. That has led to a busy life of creating and teaching music. Currently, he serves as Naumburg Professor of Composition at Brandeis University.
He and New Music Ensemble director David Dzubay chose two works of Rakowski, one called “Stolen Moments” for the ensemble, the other a package of three items from his Piano Etudes. For those, Kathy Tai-Hsuan, a doctoral candidate in piano performance, took the stage and created a stir with her deft handling of the music.
 “Stolen Moments” moves cleverly, elegantly through four brief movements, with five winds sometimes contrasting, sometimes joining a string quartet. The piano has been carefully tossed in as a complicating third orchestral element. The content features, all subtly interwoven, jazz, the tango and what is definitely chamber music, contemporary and not so. The whole makes one listen for the spice and variety built in and for the loveliness and aural uniqueness of what one hears. The music sounds fresh, welcomes thinking about one’s own stolen moments, and indicates that the composer has found his voice.
Rakowski’s three etudes are titled “Diminishing Returns,” “Quietude” and “Narcissitude.” The first hints at minimalism, with repeated patterns of notes, but here starting from a diminished state, building force, then diminishing again. “Quietude” is restoratively quiet. “Narcissitude” is a showpiece requiring the pianist to deal with ever intensifying speed. Lee truly aced the challenge.  — Peter Jacobi, Herald-Times, October 27, 2014.

…The same could be said of the evening’s other premiere, David Rakowski’s Dance Episodes, Symphony no. 5. Now in his fourth season as NEP composer-in-residence, Rakowski is one of the region’s best composers. He teaches at Brandeis, has received a litany of awards and honors, and his music often displays a quirkily original voice.
Parts of the Symphony are vintage Rakowski. The first movement, “Zephyrs,” is deftly scored and filled with subtle tonal shadings. It begins mysteriously with trills and glissandos that run off in various directions and morph into unexpected shapes before returning to their original form. The third movement, “Tristesse,” is a “sad dance” for solo violin (accompanied by various groups of instruments) and was played brilliantly on Saturday by Danielle Maddon. It’s as expressively direct as anything Rakowski’s written. And the finale, “Motive Perpetuo,” kicks off with a promising, early-rock-inspired harmonic progression.
But, to these ears, the whole piece didn’t quite click. The second movement, “Masks,” is too static, it’s two themes not balancing each other nearly enough. They’re overly similar and, as a result, the movement’s five-some-minute duration feels like much longer. The finale also runs long, with a substantial, developmental stretch around its middle sounding tedious and unconvincing. Only the first and third movements really work, through and through.
Pittman and the NEP gave Dance Episodes a confident, nuanced debut outing. At the very least, Rakowski’s written a piece that, if it doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its parts, plays very well to the ensemble’s strengths and the quality of their performance returned the favor handsomely.  — Jonathan Blumhofer, Arts FUSE, October 27, 2014.

The Rakowski [violin and piano piece Pied-a-Terre on Daniel Stepner's Music from Brandeis CD, Centaur] consists of a tonally very free, lyrical prelude, a motoric, jazz-inflected fugue and an exhilarating, even more propulsive presto-finale in irregular rhythms. — Records International catalogue, February 2015.


There is also “Sibling Rivalry,” (sic) a brash and jazzy suite by David Rakowski. — Mary Kunz Goldman, The Buffalo News, April 30, 2015.


Three miniatures by David Rakowski (“Toyed Together” — a left hand-right-hand duet for piano and toy piano — “Extended Puppy” and “Absofunkinlutely”) exemplified that composer’s rampant imagination, ideas and riffs aggressively growing, mutating, overrunning a stretch of time like invasive species. — Matthew Guerrieri, Boston Globe, July 1, 2015.


“Liaisons” is the wonderfully apt title given by pianist Anthony de Mare to his commissioning project, which brings together three dozen composers — a starry who’s who of the contemporary music world — and the glittering, refined music-theater scores of Stephen Sondheim. Each composer was asked to do a free treatment of a Sondheim song, and the results — which de Mare has been rotating through recital programs for several years and has now recorded on this irresistible new CD set — are little short of breathtaking. There is, first of all, the range of approaches, from relatively faithful (Steve Reich on “Finishing the Hat,” Fred Hersch on “No One Is Alone”) to refractory (David Rakowski’s “The Ladies Who Lunch,” Frederic Rzewski’s “I’m Still Here”). — Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, September 25, 2015.


Note by note, pianist Anthony de Mare and three dozen composers had put their own imprints on songs Sondheim wrote over the past half-century, a tribute to the man who redefined Broadway…David Rakowski’s “The Ladies WhoLunch” is a chromatic critique of Joanne’s bender in “Company.” — Ronald Blum, Associated Press, October 20, 2015.


David Rakowski’s “All That Chas” for clarinet and string trio, by contrast, was a model of elegance, the music shifting almost imperceptibly from hazy stillness to busy, rhythmically pointed interchange among the players, before tranquillity returns at the end. The clarinet part, beautifully played by Diane Heffner, was unfailingly lyrical. — Steve Smith, Boston Globe, October 27, 2015.


The idea is simple but daring: to invite a range of composers to create piano works based on the Broadway songs of Steven Sondheim. Thirty-six composers in all took the challenge, and some of the results are stunningly beautiful. … On the lighter side, “The Ladies Who Lunch” by David Rakowski is a loopy affair fueled by “another vodka stinger” (to quote Sondheim’s lyrics). — Joseph Dalton, Albany Times-Union, November 8, 2015.


And as the very much approving and satisfied Sondheim himself says in his liner notes/endorsement: "They aren't decorations of the songs. They're fantasias on them, responses to the melodic lines and the harmonies, and occasionally the accompaniments." Given this full freedom, Company's "The Ladies Who Lunch" is taken at a tempo slow and meditative, bringing out the simmer more than the rage, thanks to the mind of David Rakowski. — Rob Lester, Sound Advice, talkinbroadway.com, November, 2015.


… A pre-concert conversation between conductor Hoose and the four composers yielded little beyond what was included in the program booklet (some of which is online on Collage’s blog). I did learn, however, that I should avoid the mistake of a previous commentator who, in Wyner’s words, accused the composer of being “eclectic.” The term is an easy choice for describing music that is never, as far as I know, twelve-tone, serial, aleatoric, minimalist, or any of various other things that characterize many compositions of the last five or six decades. Indeed, none of the evening’s offerings falls easily into pre-made categories, reflecting the group’s and the composers’ avoidance of the obvious and the easy.

Even David Rakowski’s “Stolen Moments,” a substantial 2008 composition which here received its area premiere, was not as straightforwardly “jazzy” as one might have expected from the initial conversation or the program notes. Christopher Oldfather gave a crisp, confident performance of the challenging piano solos in the first and last of the piece’s four movements. Echoes of stride pianists James P. Johnson and Fats Waller, acknowledged by the composer, were clear enough in a couple of passages in the first movement, as were the bebop influences in some of the single-note riffs of the last. But as the piece developed I began to wonder whether the “jazz elements” that make for ready conversation were not red herrings in music whose real substance lies elsewhere—perhaps in the masterfully paced growth of each movement out of what seem at first to be just a few good-natured or quirky opening ideas.
This seemed especially clear in the two inner movements, where the nine other instrumentalists take the lead. The slow second movement, which included some expressive playing by the woodwinds (sometimes in octaves), built to a melodic horn solo accompanied by dark piano chords and quiet tremolos in the flute—one of many beautifully conceived sonorities in the piece. Tango rhythms in the third movement, mentioned prominently in the discussion, in fact emerged only gradually and served mainly as discreet accompaniment to sometimes ornate woodwind lines, again often in hard-to-tune unisons or octaves. (These made me think of the music for concert band which the composer, now at Brandeis University, mentioned as among his first inspirations while growing up in Vermont.) — David Schulenberg, Boston Musical Intelligencer, January 11, 2016.

David Rakowski’s “Stolen Moments” slotted jazz tropes into classical context. No one could have danced to the deconstructed and fragmented big-band swing of the first movement or the offbeat, swaying third movement tango, which was awkwardly designated “sultry” in the score. If it was sultry, it was an academic sultry. Bebop piano interludes were technically perfect but restrained, lacking in playfulness. However, the second movement, which was inspired by spirituals, touched the sublime. The jazzy idioms and classical instruments combined to create a unique flavor, dissonant and sweet. — Zoë Madonna, Boston Globe, January 12, 2016.


(about the premiere of Natura Morta) "  " — David Patrick Sterns, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20, 2016.


David Rakowski’s Gnöpélledie is an inventive three-minute set of variations, with a hint of ragtime. — Mike Telin, Cleveland Classical, April 20, 2016.



The other new work of the evening, David Rakowski’s Sixth Symphony, was composed at the MacDowell Colony during another natural event, in this case the harrowing snowstorms that hit the Northeast last winter. Cast in three movements and lasting about half an hour, Rakowski’s arresting new symphony is more serious in nature than his Fifth Symphony, which the NEP premiered in 2014. 
Darkness prevails in each of the three movements. The first unfolds from mourning cellos and snarling muted trombones. Brass statements that coalesce in bristly stacks of harmony interrupt static dissonances in the woodwinds. Providing the backdrop of this movement is a long sustained pitch that roots the music in the key of D. This is tonality by assertion. 
The second movement features the woodwinds and opens delicately, with clarinet and flute chords budding from a slithery bassoon solo. Elsewhere strings and winds stack chords upon one another to create halo effects that were left to resonate in the hall.
The final movement is a nervous scherzo. The music stems from serpentine statements in the winds and grows into bursts of phrases in the strings and brass. Disjointed figures creep into the texture, recalling, coincidentally or not, flurries of snow.
Pittman led the New England Philharmonic in playing of rapt intensity to make a strong case for Rakowski’s work. — Aaron Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review, May 1, 2016.

And the ensemble offered the premiere of its commission from ... David Rakowski, “Arabesques I Have Known,” a three-movement work featuring the group’s excellent pianist, Geoffrey Burleson—a bit monotonous but worthwhile.  —  Charles Warren, Berkshire Review for the Arts, October 30, 2016.


David Rakowski's Stolen Moments is a listenable and approachable example of his witty take on emotion which challenges one's cerebral involvement with his music. With a healthy emphasis on jazz elements (as well as the blues and even the tango), the four movements are assisted by the pianist Sarah Bob in a bravura display of technique and stamina. The same could be said for the incredibly complex and demanding playing of Rakowski's frequent collaborator, the amazing pianist Amy Briggs and what she brings to the Piano Concerto No.2, demonstrating just how incredibly versatile and competent she is as a performer. What she does with the three movements in the concerto is absolutely amazing. Few pianists would even attempt to play the demanding piece, and one wonders how someone survives beyond such taxing and seemingly exhausting demands. While it would be wonderful, if a bit daunting, to see her do such a marvelous interpretation of Rakowski's composing, it's still a wonder to listen to. — Jack Craib, South Shore Review, December 1, 2016.



David Rakowski writes serious music. Every detail rewards close scrutiny. Every next step is unexpected, every rhythm unsettled; nothing is taken for granted. Each moment draws the listener forward to the next, its long, lyrical phrases unspooling through labyrinths of chromaticism, and there is often a high seriousness to those melodies, too, an earnest loveliness, and an eerie, novel beauty to the orchestral colors.
All of these hallmarks of the seriousness of Rakowski's craft are on display in the new Boston Modern Orchestra Project disc of his music for piano and orchestra, Stolen Moments, conducted by Gil Rose. And these qualities may well be what a listener takes away from these pieces – both the titular work, performed with chamber orchestra by Sarah Bob, and the more heftily orchestrated Piano Concerto No. 2, executed by Amy Briggs. 
But while the music of many great contemporary American composers could be described in these terms, what distinguishes Rakowski from his fellow luminaries of the modern concert hall is his delicious wit. One need not read his tongue-in-cheek liner notes, available as BMOP/sound's typically generous insert with the CD release or as a PDF download from the BMOP site, to enjoy of Rakowski's idiosyncratic sense of humor – he describes, among other things, the unusual flavors of European potato chip he ate while composing the concerto – but it doesn't hurt, either.
Otherwise, the wit is apparent enough in a first listen to these pieces with the off-kilter jazz and tango references of Stolen Moments and the delicious virtuosity of the concerto – compositional, as well as pianistic virtuosity – holding these substantial scores easily aloft. 
The performances on this program are models of clarity and strength from beginning to end, but it is a special delight to hear Briggs, Rakowski's most devoted champion, tackling the challenges he tailor-made for her in this sweet and spectacular concerto. — Daniel Johnson, Q2 Music — Album of the Week — December 5, 2016.


The spirit of jazz and, in particular, that of Duke Ellington and perhaps George Gershwin seem ever present in this recent release from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.  David Rakowski (1958- ) is a new voice to these ears but clearly a highly developed one well schooled in writing for large orchestra and for piano solo within that context as well.
Two works are presented here, the four movement Stolen Moments (2008/2010) and Piano Concerto No.2 (2011).  Both are large, colorful works in a basically tonal/romantic context but with clear modernist influence.  Nothing experimental here, just sumptuous orchestral writing and a challenging and interesting work for piano and orchestra.  It was only from reading the useful liner notes that I learned Rakowski had been a student of Milton Babbitt (1916-2011), a composer famous for his hard nosed complexity.  In fact Rakowski actually quotes from Babbitt and this music is a tribute to the education received from this man (keep in mind that Babbitt also taught harmony to Stephen Sondheim).
It is as difficult to grasp that Rakowski was taught by Babbitt as it is to believe that, by his own assertion, he knows very little about jazz.  The first work seems to channel the spirits of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin more than Babbitt for sure.  This four movement orchestral suite, in it’s many moods, is melodic, jazzy and engaging in a way that can’t fail to entertain.
Amy Briggs has long been a collaborator with Rakowski and is an artist who has successfully made her career exclusively playing contemporary music.  This second of Rakowski’s concertos for this instrument was written for her and she plays it magnificently.  She clearly has a feel for the jazz rhythms and handles the virtuosic writing as though it were second nature.
The concerto ventures into a variety of moods and provides ample opportunities for many BMOP soloists to have their moments.  It is basically a classical three movement structure with multiple subdivisions within each movement.  These large movements come in at nearly 15 minutes each and are practically works unto themselves though they clearly adhere to the same basic vision.  The second movement is dedicated in memory of Rakowski’s teacher Milton Babbitt.  I’m sure he would have approved.
This is in fact the second time that Gil Rose and his massively talented musicians have chosen to survey some of Rakowski’s music.  That alone should be enough to clue listeners in to a potentially good listen.  Rose has been amassing a catalog of music by modern composers whose work deserves attention and, while this is an example of some pretty recent music, Rose and BMOP have done a fine job of giving attention to composers who have been unjustly neglected as well.   They seem to have a fine ear for quality music and this reviewer will listen to anything they choose to record.
As usual with BMOP, the recording is bright and lucid allowing the listener to hear the fantastic details in these big and intricate but entertaining works.  The production is by Gil Rose himself with recording and post-production by Joel Gordon.  Another great volume in the growing BMOP canon. — Allan Cronin, New Music Buff, December 10, 2016. Review also appears on amazon.


Stolen Moments (BMOP Sound 1048) gives us two recent works of a modern and rhythmically very lively cast by David Rakowski (b. 1958), a  pupil of Milton Babbitt who has gone on to develop a very abstracted yet melodically-harmonically communicative style, not Serialist per se so much as post-Serialist and eclectically beyond category. 
The title work (2008/2010) is almost a concerto for piano and orchestra but in the end gives the orchestra as much or more of a say in the musical pathways that fit together so intricately well. The idea was to take elements of modern jazz and reframe them in new music terms. Pianist Sarah Bob does a fine job with her complex piano part. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project under Gil Rose handles its part with its usual impeccable sense of form and detail. 
The same could certainly be said of the "Piano Concerto No. 2" (2011) and its even more complex and demanding modernist sprawl of jagged abstractions and beautifully communicative down-to-earth contrasting phraseology. Amy Briggs tackles her part heroically well, providing the essential high energy level so important to this work's successful performance. 
We come out of this program with a rabid appreciation of David Rakowski as a high modernist who can and does incorporate some so-called vernacular elements for two brilliant cocktails of flavor and color.
It is yet another ravishing release in the BMOP series. Very much recommended. — Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review, December 29, 2016.

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project have made quite a name for themselves in the arena of contemporary music. I’ve listened to several of their recordings, and each time have been won over by the level of commitment and musicianship under inspirational conductor Gil Rose. A few months ago I had the pleasure of reviewing their superb recording of music by the Canadian composer Kati Agócs.
Stolen Moments started life as a work for string quartet, woodwind quintet and piano in 2008. Two years later Rakowski was asked to arrange it for chamber orchestra (double woodwinds, two horns, full strings and piano) and this version was premiered by the U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra in May 2011. This transcription is what we have here. It's a highly colourful score peppered with jazz, tango and blues, which is surprising considering Rakowski claims he doesn't know anything about jazz, and rarely listens to it. Rigorous, persistent rhythms inform the general character of the opening movement, and the spontaneous feel is reminiscent of an improvised jam session. The piano, in the capable hands of Sarah Bob, contributes two strides. Leaving jazz we take up blues in the second movement, which is evocative of an African-American spiritual. There's almost a static dimension to this serenely thoughtful music. A lonely landscape immediately springs to mind, yet the effect is soothing. It's certainly the movement I like the most. The piano is consigned to the shadows, its solemn tolling chords adding an air of disquiet and foreboding. The transparent textures of the third movement, where the piano is notably absent, is all the more effective for some alluring woodwind solos. Described as a 'stylized tango', the underlying changing rhythms are positively 'sultry' as the title suggests. Rakowski spices things up in the finale, where the piano opens with a striking solo. Rose coaxes some vim and vigour from the players, bringing the work to an impressive close.
The Piano Concerto No. 2 dates from 2011 and is a big-boned score, cast in three substantial movements, of roughly fifteen minutes duration each. The pianist is Amy Briggs, who has collaborated with Rakowski on many occasions. He is known for his one hundred piano études, some of which she has programmed in her recitals. Her career has focused on contemporary music and she's a more than competent jazz player. For Briggs the work is a bespoke creation; she collaborated throughout its gestation, with the composer accommodating her style in the writing. He, himself, makes no claim to be a pianist, but rather refers to himself as a 'failed trombonist'. Rakowski had studied with Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) who died during the work’s composition. In tribute, the second movement became an elegy for him. Each of the three movements has multiple subdivisions, and each could almost work as a stand-alone piece. Rakowski is a master orchestrator and his imaginative scoring shows much ingenuity and invention, offering many opportunities for each section of the orchestra to have its moment in the spotlight. The piano writing demands of the player a formidable technical arsenal and acute sense of rhythm. Amy Briggs’ stylish performance scores highly in this regard. Rose coaxes a myriad array of sonorities from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.
Both works are stunningly recorded. The engineers have worked wonders balancing the various sections of the orchestra with the piano. Annotations are superbly detailed, and include a lengthy 'comment' by the composer, where he employs his unique brand of wry humour. — Stephen Greenbank, Musicweb International, February, 2017.


David Rakowski (born 1958) writes incredibly well-crafted music that is shot through with lightness and a sense of humour. I have come across one instance of his Etudes before, Nos 21 and 30 (on Sung-Soo Cho's Maximum, Minimum, Modern from Albany) and was impressed, so it is good to have a whole disc to consider: there are 100 Etudes in total.
To pick some highlights: Rakowski's Fireworks (Etude 80) is directly influenced by Debussy; Etude 82, F this, concentrates on just one pitch, transforming the piano into a drum. Rakowski uses a wide variety of musical genres as stepping-off points, including progressive rock (Etude 86) and minimalist techniques (Etudes 71 and 84); the pianist is also asked to speak in Etude 74, while Schumann is important to Etudes 75 and 97. The Berceuse (Etude 87) is heard in two versions, for toy piano and celesta.
Amy Briggs is a superb exponent, fully immersed in Rakowski's very individual music. Recommended. — CC, International Piano, March/April 2017.

There were six South Koreans out of 12 contestants (whatever is in the water over there, they should bottle it) and their names hinted at what was to come ...
She was followed by Youkyoung Kim who played a piece called Fists of Fury by David Rakowski. She went one further than Koki Kuroiwa yesterday – he only threatened to punch the piano, but she actually pummelled it with her closed fists. I could hear the honking car horns of New York City and the thunder of traffic evoked as she smacked the black notes with her knuckles.
This composition should get more outings. It was stupendous, even though it must have seriously shortened the life of the piano. I look forward to hearing Rakowski’s composition Schnozzage, which uses the nose (no kidding!) in competitions to come. — Hastings Online Times (UK), March 3, 2017.


David Rakowski’s nearly 200 preludes and etudes for solo piano explore the possibilities of the instrument in a variety of appealing ways, characterized in large part by persistent rhythmic drive and energy. Sarah Bob offered three preludes he wrote for her. Mind the Gap #18 moved from fitful starts to a jazzy and flowing middle to a big band swing, fading away at the end. Wayo was soft and gentle, a child’s daydream, moving to a lilting dance and then off to sleep. Ghepardo gave us a marvelously feral portrait of a leopard stalking its prey, moving in brief bursts, repeated notes signaling alertness, a short intense chase leading to rapid passagework and a descending crash of chords, ending in unrelaxed restfulness. The performance was exciting and evocative. At Bob’s invitation, Rakowski himself sprung up from the audience, hoisted himself onto the stage in a memorable display of youthful vigor, and accepted the audience’s homage with simplicity and grace. — Leon Golub, Boston Musical Intelligencer, March 5, 2017.
An absolutely dazzling New York solo debut was given this week by American pianist Kara Huber. If that is “cutting to the chase” rather quickly, compared to the usual scene-setting introduction, I figured I’d better commit it to paper quickly before I might start to believe that the whole evening was a mirage. It was not, of course, a mirage – but a very rare achievement, one that those without the regular habit of attending concerts will have sadly missed. There are many fine players out there today, without question, but to hear such a fiendishly difficult program presented with such seemingly effortless polish, maturity, insight, grace, and stamina to burn leaves one simply dumbfounded – and yes, this is coming from a reviewer who has played (and taught) a sufficient amount of the same repertoire to develop some strong opinions.
One noticed first the interesting program itself, beautifully conceived to open with four of the Etudes by David Rakowski (b. 1958), a major work of Joan Tower (b. 1938), three confections of Earl Wild (from Seven Virtuoso Etudes on Gershwin Songs), and, after intermission, the complete Op. 32 (Thirteen Preludes) of Sergei Rachmaninoff. The general trajectory led the listener in reverse chronology from the bright and brash hues of the witty Rakowski into the sometimes dark ruminations of Rachmaninoff’s 1910 opus, with a change of wardrobe to match. Suffice it to say that it worked…
One noticed next: the playing! Opening with Rakowski’s Etude #52, Moody’s Blues (2003), Ms. Huber made short work of this perpetual motion chordal toccata, exhibiting fearless steadiness, riveting machine wrists, and charisma to boot. I am actually not a huge fan of this “Rock and Roll Etude on repeated chords” but it was such an invigorating opening in qualified hands that it won one over. Following (with an unannounced switching of order) came the Etude #25, Fists of Fury (1999). Again, Ms. Huber rode it as a vehicle for her prodigious pianistic skills. The next, Etude #30 A Gliss is Just a Gliss (2000), was a sheer delight in playful glissando acrobatics, and the conclusion, Etude #68 Absofunkinlutely (2005) captured the audience with its infectious and energetic “funk” rhythms. Mr. Rakowski is to be treasured for livening up the piano repertoire with close to 100 of these often humorous and appealing etudes on different facets of pianism (pianists who did not know that: get to work!). Ms. Huber, though, is to be commended for tackling such formidable challenges with ease and panache. One could only imagine the joy for Mr. Rakowski, who was present for a bow. — Rorianne Schrade, New York Concert Review, March 18, 2017.


The Boston Chamber Music Society program Sunday night at Sanders Theater offered a satisfying mix of old and new, of which the latter was a premiere from one of Boston’s most reliably satisfying composers. …
The first half ended with the premiere of an oboe quintet, called Entre Nous, by David Rakowski, long a fixture in the composition department at Brandeis. The quintet was commissioned by BCMS’s in-house commissioning club, a wonderful concept, and was written for the soloist, new BCMS member and longtime luminary Peggy Pearson. Rakowski’s music, even the most serious, is always full of fun, or at least reflects his irrepressible wit. In brief introduction and in his written note, he alluded to ideas in the three-movement piece being tossed about like a hot potato, and the “devilish scherzo” finale that quotes a snip from the second movement of the Beethoven trio on the program. The first movement certainly lived up to its billing: beginning with an inchoate and mysterious pizzicato passage, it coalesced into a lively discussion of rising and falling minor thirds, with the oboe’s flowing line (Pearson’s tone was superb, bespeaking a virtuoso who shows no sign of decline) usually set off against the jaggier, chattier, and sometimes jazzier burble of the strings (violinists Harumi Rhodes and Lee, violist Dimitri Murrath, and Ramakrishnan), punctuated with Haydnesque pauses. The slow movement is lyrical without cloy, with short phrases stretching and ramifying. A center section focuses on a turn, sounding like a quote from Mahler’s Lied von der Erde, becoming agitated in the strings while the oboe remains above the fray with an anodyne descant. The finale was the only part that left us a little let down, inasmuch as it didn’t seem quite as devilish as it might have been, and could have used more dynamic force. Still, we hope the quintet, which might have made a great entry for the Cobbett Prize if that were still around (not strictly for oboe quintets, but there were some really good ones that came out of that competition, such as Britten’s), gets more play; it’s definitely an enhancement to the repertoire. — Vance Koven, Boston Musical Intelligencer, April 11, 2017.


Those listeners who think of all contemporary classical music as grim, ugly and/or humorless should investigate pianist Amy Briggs' latest release on Bridge, volume four in a series devoted to the 100 piano etudes (1988-2000) of American composer David Rakowski. The etudes are a garden of delights — smart, witty, ingenious — demanding a pianist of uncommon skill and interpretive imagination, which Briggs most certainly is. I, for one, can hardly wait for Vol. 5, presumably the final installment of the series. — John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, April 12, 2017.

– General Description:
David Rakowski (originally from Vermont) is an honored and recognized American composer. Rakowski’s 100 piano études (considered to be contemporary classics) were composed over a period of 22 years and have been compared to the works of Ligeti (a Hungarian composer of contemporary avant-garde classical music). Here, Amy Briggs performs her fourth volume of Rakowski’s works. Briggs playing has been described as having “dazzling pianistic prowess and unusual expressive understanding" and this is correct. This is a fantastic series that is executed with precision, passion and strength. Well worth playing again and again.
– FCC Compliant: YES
– Recommended Tracks: 2, 4, 5, 8, 14, 16
– Track Reviews: 
1. (2:52) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 77, Ecco - bright and harsh
2. **(4:31) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 86, Prog Springs Eternal - rolling and dark
3. (3:31) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 80, Fireworks - richly stormy
4. **(4:16) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 71, Chase - a spackling of starry tones
5. **(3:25) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 73, Heavy Hitter - smashing the wall with a wrecking ball
6. (5:02) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 72, Dorian Blue - searching for a theme
7. (1:42) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 81, Kai'n Variation - fast and elusive stomping
8. **(6:58) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 74, Not - angry vocals added using text by novelist Rick Moody
9. (2:45) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 85, Diminishing Return - block chords atop stuttering single tones
10. (1:54) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 87, Berceuse _Toy Piano - as eerie as toy pianos can be
11. (3:27) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 75, Twilight - quiet wandering around the block with some obstacles
12. (2:53) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 82, F This - tap dancing atop one tone
13. (3:23) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 89, This Means Warble - atop the trees
14. **(2:53) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 76, Clave - bang go the jerky chords
15. (3:20) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 97, Quietude - walking around the keyboard
16. **(4:48) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 93, Polkritude - whipping across the surface
17. (1:54) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 87, Berceuse (celesta) - sparkly and dreamy
18. (3:31) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 84, What's Hairpinning - atop a single tones again
19. (2:36) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 88, Toyed Together - tense toy piano plus piano
20. (2:56) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 78, Upon Reflection - slow and off kilter
21. (3:07) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 83, M'Aidez - rolling with force
22. (2:09) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 90, Solid Goldie - fast thoughts
23. (3:30) Études, Vol. 4_ No. 79, Narcissitude - loud and harsh

—Zookeeper Online (Stanford), DeVoss, April 13, 2017.