Composer Press Quotes
“Each movement [of Vapors for solo viola] opened simply and grew more complex. The first, “Falling,” created a haunting sensation of stillness, while the tough, fast music of “Floating” riveted the attention.”
New York Classical Review
“Most interesting, perhaps, is Leisner’s evocative Twilight Streams, which over the course of five short movements, ranges from the fluid, anticipatory build of ‘Empty Dark’ to the quick, jagged shards of ‘Full Dark’, the meditative ‘Empty Light’ (dominated by guitar harmonics and breath-like cello), propulsive ‘Full Light’, and searching/questioning ‘Adrift at Twilight’. It’s quite a range of moods and textures.”
“Chinese philosophy is the inspiration behind the five short movements of Leisner’s Twilight Streams, premiered on disc here in a meditative performance that achieves a certain profundity.”
“The five movements [of Labyrinths], Shimmer, Shadow, Shiver, Shatter, and Shelter translated these natural effects into musical patterns that slowly evolved and created musical gestures alternately mysterious, playful, and surprising, but always delightful.”
San Francisco Classical Voice
“The most challenging piece in the collection is the work by David Leisner [Sonata for violin and guitar], who contributed his guidance to this premiere recording. The fire and passion of the outer movements are wonderfully balanced by an almost prayerful central movement, characterized by unexpected modulations that are both technically clever and richly ambiguous in the best poetic sense.”
“This is tonal music, rich in invention and melody, emotionally direct, and beautiful…experienced, subtle, and wise craftsmanship yielding musically satisfying results….Leisner has a well-developed programmatic sense, unerringly employing the musical mot juste to draw his portraits.”
“His original composition for piano solo proved that classical guitarists can be legitimate musical thinkers with the ability to range out of the cramped knot that is them and their instrument and into a world of sound and color that points towards totally new directions…Labyrinths No. 2, written by Leisner and also receiving its premiere at the concert, is a solo piano piece in five movements that are each inspired by musical gestures by J.S. Bach…To hear the imagination of a guitarist gallivanting around on the keyboard, tickling the work of one of its greatest masters, was ultimately the most refreshing part of the entire night, and made for the kind of moment that I believe could help inspire and emancipate any musician who feels like they might be stuck behind their own instrument.”
I Care If You Listen, online classical music blog
“Leisner’s own five-movement suite Labyrinths (2007) signaled an ingenious and arresting compositional voice. The opening “Shimmer” stems from a four-note arpeggiated chord, repeated with small changes to hypnotic effect. “Shadow” is a playful scherzo, alternating the high and low ranges of the instrument. Spooky Halloween sounds dominate “Shiver”. A chromatic subject is transformed into dissonant, extreme outbursts in “Shatter”. The interplay of loud and soft dynamics is emphatically accentuated throughout the movement. “Shelter” is a modernist lullaby, an introspective pattern in repetitive sequence with a touch of intruding blues. Leisner deftly transmitted his arresting creation, reveling in its coloristic and textural complexities. Labyrinths is a fine addition to the classical guitar repertoire.”
South Florida Classical Review, Miami, Florida
“Embrace of Peace [for orchestra] struck me as a rich tone poem, striving, passionate,hopeful. It reflects brilliant intellect in combination with brilliant sensitivity on the part of Mr. Leisner…Mr. Leisner combines them freely, openly, honestly. The result is a sparkling work using new and imaginative combinations of instruments, with dissonances that were not so much strong for effect as they were subtle setups for warm and satisfying resolutions. The Fairfield Orchestra… afforded the work a meaningful sendoff into the mainstream of important repertoire.”
Westport News, CT
“Leisner’s songs have proved popular with the younger generation of American singers, and with reason. He has good literary judgement and shows imagination and taste in taking poems from disparate sources and putting them into cycles that trace emotional progress and develop dramatic shape. His prosody is excellent, and he sets words with an ear for sound, rhythm and sense…Best of all, Leisner has a gift for eloquently shaping a vocal line that is also grateful to sing.”
“These pieces [Passacaglia and Toccata] are far superior to almost anything else being written for guitar today. Not many composers manage to be equally satisfying to the hands, the ear and the mind as Leisner has.”
“His own Nel Mezzo: Sonata is an original and profoundly personal work…powerful, angry and moving music.”
“David Leisner’s four Dances in the Madhouse are a potent addition to the repertory–giddy, attractive reinterpretations of traditional forms.”
Los Angeles Times
“We heard what may be one of the most spellbinding new compositions I have listened to in many a moon–David Leisner’s Dances in the Madhouse…It is one of those small but delightful pieces which we all go to concerts hoping to hear: something new which pleases on its first
hearing yet promises to yield further treasures the next time…a contemporary gem.”
The Easthampton Star, NY
“It is refreshing to find a work of such imagination and ingenuity that could be enjoyed by all types of listeners. In fact, virtually every aspect of Dances in the Madhouse supports the contention that a composer needn’t sacrifice originality and quality for accessibility…a work of exquisite beauty.”
“Leisner’s music was consumer-friendly, his forthright style simultaneously accessible and uncompromising. Spare texture, haunting colors, and fine solo efforts from first violin, oboe, trumpet and flute ignited the ‘Tango Solitaire.’ ‘Waltz for the Old Folks’ and ‘Ballad for the Lonely’ invoked a soothing confluence of innocence and worldly wisdom, and ‘Samba!’ made for an energetic close. Leisner applauded the orchestra and received a warm ovation.”
Springfield Union-News, MA
“The result is easily accessible to the average listener, regardless of his musical sophistication, even though it’s a sound the like of which he has never heard before.”
The Springfield Advocate, MA
“The songs are ravishing. Very sophisticated music all of it. And clean and thin, and it sounds good.”
“The songs of David Leisner are real songs: full of good melody, vocally “gracious” (as singers say), accessible to hearers, comparatively easy for pianists, and based on poetry of the highest order but of simple comprehensibility. Leisner’s respect for the voice and for the poet is exemplary. In short, his songs are good to sing and good to listen to. They work.”
“Like his vibrant guitar performances, David Leisner’s music is colorful and deeply sensitive. His song cycle Confiding, to poems by women, is full of musical and literary interest and leaves an indelible impression upon the listener. Several passages are particularly haunting. David Leisner deserves serious attention.”
By Robert Schulslaper, 2007
David Leisner is a composer, guitarist, and co-chairman of the guitar department at the Manhattan School of Music. His complete music for flute and guitar is here winningly performed by the Cavatina Duo (Eugenia Moliner, flute, and Denis Azabagic, guitar), which presents these fetching works with style, sympathy, and technical aplomb. This is tonal music, rich in invention and melody, emotionally direct, and beautiful. I’m sure it’s also a joy to play, with parts that creatively exploit each instrument’s potential. Not that there’s any use of gimmickry or experimentation for its own sake. There’s nothing startling or outrageous in the writing, just experienced, subtle, and wise craftsmanship yielding musically satisfying results. Leisner has a well-developed programmatic sense, unerringly employing the musical mot juste to draw his portraits.
Acrobats is a case in point: the up and down swing of the tune provides an apt analogy for the vertiginous caprice of daring tricks on the flying trapeze. At least, that’s how I first heard it. Actually, the composer was inspired by a short story ( The Tumblers by Nathan Englander) in which the characters’ mental life is subjected to violent surges of thought and emotion, and it’s that interior vacillation that’s reflected in “In the Wings” and “Flashback” (the first two movements of Acrobats ). The Yiddish folk song, Oyf’n Pripetshik , makes a poignant appearance—it’s a memento of the frightened Jews who have mistakenly been bundled with a group of circus performers en route to entertain the Nazis. Their fate is literally “Up in the Air” (the last movement).
El Coco is similarly effective at portraying the dread aroused in two children apprehensively watching the approach of a bogeyman (the scary figure in Goya’s Que viene el Coco ): muted, single notes on the guitar, flutters from the flute, a slightly ominous, pointillist style that later coalesces into longer, but still vaguely worried lines. Nostalgia is a lovely piece, setting a sweet melody against intricate counterpoint. Two memorable soliloquys, one for each instrument, take the stage before the duo reunites for the recapitulation. Dances in the Madhouse is apparently Leisner’s most celebrated work. It’s a collection of four genre pieces—tango, waltz, ballad, and samba—each imaginatively written, emotionally powerful, and melodically affecting.
Two trios, Trittico and Extremes , round out the CD. Both reveal the same mind at work, with Kleijn and Rubin adding instrumental color as they blend fluidly with the Cavatina. Trittico ’s three movements represent the three panels of a triptych, the outer two “light and airy” (the composer’s words) and the central episode slower, but not always serene. The middle movement includes two fine solos for cello and guitar. The composer hears an Italian atmosphere hovering over the piece; the triple rhythms and lively pace could suggest saltarellos or tarantellas. Extremes consists of two movements with contrasting designations: “introverted” and “extroverted.” As might be expected, the first is slow, chromatic, self-reflective. The second is energetic and “wide-open, emotionally as well as harmonically.” While I don’t share the composer’s view that “it has the energy and rhythmic intensity of rock music,” I did enjoy the swirling interaction of flute and clarinet and the snapping bass notes from the guitar that bring the piece to a rousing conclusion.
The CD comes with enlightening, but not overly analytical notes by the composer, evocative cover photography, and thorough biographies of the performers. The recording allows the instruments to speak naturally, with a balanced presence that reinforces the collaborative essence of the recital. Leisner’s lyricism, gift for melody, and compositional finesse make his music very appealing. In addition, it’s doubtful that the Cavatina’s sophisticated and artistic playing could be surpassed. There’s more potential in the union of flute and guitar than is commonly realized, and this CD provides an incentive to investigate additional repertoire. Cavatina has inspired and commissioned new music of this type and I, for one, look forward to hearing it as soon as possible. Warmly recommended.
Leisner and Golijov: Impressive Musical Journeys
The New Mexican
By Craig Smith, May, 2001
“One wonders what Orpheus felt as he approached the upper world, having won his wife Eurydice back from Hades. Was it joy on seeing a glimpse of blue sky? Or sudden fear that stung his heart like a scorpion in a rose? David Leisner’s Vision of Orpheus , which received its
world premiere Saturday evening from 20th Century Unlimited in St. Francis Auditorium, rather suggests that it was a combination of both.
Orpheus was a near-divine musician for whom the rocks and trees walked and rivers left their beds. But he also was human, with all the inconsistencies and imperfections that suggests. When his two natures crossed, and the two emotions warred, he hesitated, looked back – and lost his love forever.
Vision of Orpheus , for guitar and string quartet, was inspired by Santa Fe painter Mark Spencer’s depiction of the final moments of the singer’s Stygian journey. Leisner’s five movements (Plea to the Underworld, Ballad of Orpheus, Deliberation, Release and Vision of Orpheus) begin with a request for mercy and move through pleading, success and doubt to melt at last into quiet despair.
It proved effective for its straightforward musical material and lack of grandstanding, for Leisner satisfied the ear with simplicity rather than trying to dazzle it with florid complexity. The movements were well crafted, with themes expanded, contracted and developed by different instruments. But the initial inspiration always was clear. The writing for both strings and guitar was idiomatic, at times even bard-like.
Leisner and the St. Lawrence String Quartet (Geoff Nutall, Barry Shiffman, Lesley Robertson and Marina Hoover) were a good team.”
By Ian Gallagher, Winter 2007
“The emotions of Leisner’s solo works are dizzying. Here, Leisner exudes creativity and expression at every moment, and each piece has an almost improvisatory quality that sounds like music, not “composition.” Nel Mezzo: Sonata is a brilliant chromatic exploration. The middle movement, Lamento, is six and a half minutes of tension building that hooks the ear to its beautiful and surprising dissonances.
Every piece on here is inventive and refreshing, pushing the expressive envelope, while keeping harmony and rhythm accessible but never boring. Most importantly, SP never sounds like you’ve heard it before: a must have for guitar lovers and players alike.”