“How to begin? No beginning... never ending reverberation,” Antoine Beuger writes in the accompanying notes to Leo Svirsky’s River Without Banks. Dedicated to his first piano teacher Irena Orlov, River Without Banks is a mesmerizing, emotional collection of pieces that are simultaneously complex and fluid. The title River Without Banks comes from a chapter of musicologist Genrikh “Henry” Orlov’s profound work Tree of Music. In said chapter, Orlov traces the history of sacred music from the Western and Eastern tradition and how the forms (of the chant, raga etc.) sought to eliminate the division between the physical and the spiritual--the bank and the river.
Arranged for two pianos with accompaniment from strings, trumpet, and electronics, this is Svirsky’s first piece to approach the history of the piano and the possibilities of the recording studio, and his deepest dive yet into exploring the instability of listening and its transformation of musical semantics and affect. Like Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project, Svirsky overlays romantic musical gestures to create a lush unfamiliarity. No sooner than each track begins the next moment unfurls beneath it, cascading time and blurring perception of past and present.
Akin to a multidimensional Rzewski thematic interpretation, Svirsky’s music defies genre-classification or classical ideology while its virtuosity clearly stems from somewhere from within disciplined traditions. Continuously revisiting, revising, and renewing its emotional core, River Without Banks is less an album of songs than songs of a singular, unlocatable album. Performed by the composer with assistance from Britton Powell, Max Eilbacher, Leila Bordreuil, Tim Byrnes, and recorded by Al Carlson.