Album Review

Journal of the IAWM Volume 20, No.1. 2014 (May 2014)\

Sound Portraits

Orchestra, Chamber, and Electro-Acoustic music by Vivian Adelberg Rudow.
MSR Classics MS 1308. ASIN: B00B5G4392 (2013)


Vivian Adelberg Rudow is one of a group of women (Margaret Meachem and Deon Nielsen Price also come immediately to mind) who have enjoyed the bulk of their success as composers later in life, after having raising their families. When her two eldest sons were in high school, Rudow returned to study music at the Peabody Institute, eventually earning a master’s degree. She recalls that when she once had to choose between taking a scheduled exam and caring for her sick son at home, a successful woman teacher at the Institute told her that she should “always do what was best for the family and the rest would fall into place.” Rudow has lived her musical life based on that good advice.

Though a latecomer to her chosen profession, the composer has certainly made up for those “missing” years with a busy musical schedule filled with performances and prizes. One of the first women to ever receive first prize in the prestigious Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition for her With Love (1986) for cello and tape, Rudow is equally at home composing for traditional instrumental or electroacoustic resources. Sound Portraits offers a fine collection of her work in a multitude of styles and instrumental (and electroacoustic) groupings and, along with the CD Love, Loss and Law (Hollins and Park Music), provides a thorough catalog of music from this prolific Baltimore-based composer.

Sound Portraits begins with the orchestral fantasy Spirit of America (1999/2006), beautifully performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Alternatively titled Urbo Turbo (Urban Turbulence), the work is a crazy-quilt of Americana-evoking styles, which reminded me both of Charles Ives’ music (for its American flair) and Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (for its lyricism). However, the music is uniquely Rudow’s and is an exuberant opening to the CD.

After this comes a series of individual “portraits” inspired by persons existing within Rudow’s sphere of interests and friendships. John’s Song (2006/07) and John’s Song – Variation 1 (2008) are in memory of a young businessman, John J. Hill, who was killed at the age of twenty-seven in an accident. John’s Song features a luscious and not-too-sad trumpet solo with an ethereal background of keyboard and electronics. The short Variation 1 is a light-hearted jazz piano rendition of the trumpet melody of the main piece. It was so inventive I hoped that the composer would offer more of these variations in different styles! Edward Hoffman on trumpet and Jonathan Jensen on keyboard provide a convincing and committed performance; all electronics are created by the composer.

The Bare Smooth Stone of Your Love (1998) for cello and piano is dedicated to the memory of Rudow’s colleague Daniel Malkin, who performed the composer’s award-winning work, With Love, mentioned above. Bare Smooth Stone was composed to the poem Cello Recital, written by Daniel’s mother, Carole Malkin, and performed at his second memorial concert; the poem is not recited in this recording. The piece is persuasively and movingly rendered by the late cellist Stephen Kates and pianist Eun Jung Shon. Once again Rudow’s love of lush and lyrical melodies is evident; this work would serve well as a recital piece for a cellist of advanced abilities. The next two works on the disc—piano pieces dedicated to the memory of eighteen-month-old Rebecca Blackwell—would also make outstanding recital or chamber concert works. Rebecca’s Rainbow Racing Among the Stars (composed in 1991 and premiered in 1994) and Rebecca’s Song (composed in 1989) are part of a larger suite dedicated to the niece of the composer’s daughter-in-law and son. Rudow comments that although she can compose dissonant and atonal music, she felt that the more lyrical and melodic music here best expressed the feeling of loss.

The flute concerto Go Green! (2010) is part of Rudow’s Earth Day Suite and is dedicated to the spirit of those who seek to clean up our waterways and parks. The Orchestra of St. John’s of Ellicott City, Maryland conveys a precise and nuanced performance, as does Sara Nichols’ flute solo. This piece resembles Spirit of America in character. Among the most interesting works on the disc is Cuban Lawyer, Juan Blanco (2000), featuring recordings sent to Rudow from Blanco himself specifically for use in the piece. Rudow’s performance of the composition was recorded live at the International Electroacoustic Music Festival in Havana in celebration of the eightieth birthday of lawyer and composer Juan Blanco, director of the Cuban Electroacoustic Music Studio. This aural documentary is a pastiche featuring Blanco’s description of his career and life story as well as Latin keyboard rhythms, sound effects, and smooth melodic materials.

Dawn’s Journey (2005) is an electroacoustic work in memory of composer, writer, lute, and recorder player Dawn Culbertson, another member of the composer’s “musical family.” The music consists of recordings of other Rudow pieces layered upon each other in a collage effect, interspersed with English country dance music (Culbertson died suddenly after an evening of English country dance). This piece was a bit too “messy” for me—I would have preferred more of a structure instead of what I experienced as a confused soundscape. However, it is the only slightly weak piece on a CD of otherwise strong works.

Much more compelling in character and structure is Rudow’s Call for Peace (2006) for solo flute and prepared tape. Composed during the Israeli-Hezbollah war, the work “was inspired by the search for peace by ordinary people” (Rudow, liner notes). The taped part features whispered words from Rudow’s 1977 Dona Nobis Pacem processed via electroacoustic means. Call for Peace is easily the best work on the CD; it is the most original in nature and style with no derivative or referential elements. Flutist Sara Nichols provides yet another brilliant performance.

The Healing Place (1985/1991) is a large-scale chamber work with narrator and tape, created and originally conducted by the composer in memory of Devy Bendit, a lawyer in her twenties who committed suicide. The most attractive aspect of this piece for me is its alternation between the busier and more contemplative moments.

Those listeners who know Vivian well know that she loves to laugh and have fun and so she does with the final, very short work, Moo-Goo-Gipan Smash! composed for the recurring 60x60 project, which solicits one-minute electroacoustic works and compiles them into an hour-long program. The vignette features snippets of Vivian’s other music as well as newly-composed prelude and postlude sections.

Overall, this is a worthwhile and enjoyable recording. Rudow’s music is energetic, engaging, and full of spirit, and it is easy to see why she enjoys such success and elicits such terrific performances. The technical aspects of the disc are superior, offering crisp and clear sound. I hope that as the CD becomes part of personal, university, and public library collections; the added exposure will allow for her works to be performed more frequently and become part of orchestral and solo recital programming.


Dr. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner is director of Academic Computing Technical Services at the University of North Texas. She is the author of Women Composers and Music Technology in the United States (Ashgate: 2006) and is currently beginning work on the second edition of this text and two subsequent volumes on women from Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Rim.


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