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Nico Muhly, Sharon Isbin, Cameron Carpenter, and more
by Gregg Shapiro
Recorded live during the Met’s 2013 season, the double disc Two Boys (Nonesuch) is queer classical composer Nico Muhly’s collaboration with gay playwright Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza). Lucas’ cautionary tale of murder and intrigue involving the Internet and the police is set in 2001 and follows luddite detective inspector Anne Strawson (mezzo-soprano Alice Coote) as she is thrust into the technological realm of the 21st century while investigating the stabbing of one boy (Jake, portrayed by Christopher Bolduc and Andrew Pulver) by another older boy (Brian, portrayed by Paul Appleby). This thoroughly modern opera, sung in English, is accessible even to the most hesitant and inexperienced opera listener.
Nico Muhly is also present on Music for Heart and Breath (Universal Music Classics/Deutsche Grammophon), composed by Richard Reed Parry of the Grammy Award-winning Canadian band Arcade Fire. As you might expect, heart and breath play a vital role in these compositions performed by Muhly, Parry, and Kronos Quartet/yMusic. Described as a “series of compositions that use involuntarily moving organs of the human body [such as the lungs and heart] as performance parameters,” according to Parry, the concept is “less about ‘performance’ in the traditional musical sense,” and more about translating “the quiet internal rhythms of the body” into music. On that level, Parry certainly succeeds.
Lesbian classical guitarist Sharon Isbin is fêted with the eponymous five-disc box set on Warner Classics. Encompassing three of Isbin’s recordings released between 1997 and 2004, the five Teldec and Warner Classics albums do a solid job of spotlighting Isbin’s outstanding fretwork and guitar skills. These albums—Journey to the Amazon (on which she is joined by saxophonist Paul Winter), Dreams of a World (featuring folk-inspired guitar music by Theodorakis and others), Guitar Concertos (with music composed by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun), Baroque Favorites for Guitar (with compositions by Bach and Vivaldi), and Concierto de Aranjuez (featuring the music of Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, and Ponce) are all splendid achievements, each complementing the other.
Queer organist Cameron Carpenter’s If You Could Read My Mind (Sony Classical) is his most daring album by far, and marks the debut recording of his International Touring Organ. While it’s probably unlikely that Carpenter (an OutSmart coverboy in 2013) will ever achieve the kind of crossover success that he rightfully deserves (perhaps a dance remix would do the trick), it’s not hard to admire his substantial talent. What’s especially striking is the inclusion of both original compositions (such as “Music for an Imaginary Film”), as well as his renditions of 20th-century pop tunes, including the Gordon Lightfoot-penned title tune, Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie,” Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy,” and Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s “Pure Imagination.” The limited deluxe edition of If You Could Read My Mind includes a DVD containing the doc Birth of the International Touring Organ.
Beginning with 1990’s acclaimed Cole Porter tribute Red Hot + Blue, which featured a stellar assortment of queer and queer-friendly artists, including Sinead O’Connor, Jimmy Somerville, Erasure, k.d. lang, Annie Lennox, U2, Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop, and the late Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues, singing Porter tunes, the Red Hot Organization launched a series of AIDS fundraising albums that continue to be issued to this day. Covering a variety of genres (indie, country, dance, Latin, Brazilian, African, alternative, and jazz, to mention a few) and calling on an incredible array of talent (Antony, Sharon Jones, David Byrne, Grizzly Bear, Meshell Ndegocello with Herbie Hancock, Bebel Gilberto, Angelique Kidjo, George Michael, Natalie Merchant, Smashing Pumpkins, Patti Smith, Bob Mould, Pavement, Dolly Parton, Wilco with Syd Straw, and Future Bible Heroes), the Red Hot compilations are something to look forward to, and all in the name of a worthy cause. Red Hot + Bach (Masterworks), one of the Red Hot Organization’s 2014 releases, is akin to the work that Cameron Carpenter is doing in that it features a variety of hip artists (such as Chris Thile, Mia Doi Todd, Shara Worden, and Julianna Barwick) performing the music of J.S. Bach for an audience (read: generation) that might not necessarily have Bach in its iTunes playlist.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.