Cynthia Gerdes writes music for traditional instruments in a twenty–first–century style which can be described as western classical tradition extending into “now.” From a conversation among backyard birds to a sonic snapshot of Idaho history, from caricatures of human behaviors to tangos, Gerdes’ compositions explore ways of expressing the vernacular while combining it with depth and lightness, humor and insight.
In recent years Cynthia’s music has been performed by Portland’s new music performance group FearNoMusic; at the Composer’s Symposium, Performers’ Choice Concert at the Ernest Bloch Festival at Newport, Oregon; at Portland State University and in concerts sponsored by the Cascadia branch of the National Association of Composers USA.
James Bash, critic for Oregon Music News writes “Debut Recording Accents the Witty Music of Cynthia Stillman Gerdes:”
“Earlier this year, Portland-based composer Cynthia Stillman Gerdes released her first album of music. Entitled “Solo and Chamber Music,” Gerdes’s recording contains a number of relatively short pieces (the longest lasts just over 13 minutes) that Gerdes composed between 1987 and 2010, beginning with a delightful tango (played evocatively by violinist Erin Furbee and pianist Harold Gray) and ending with the whimsical “Idaho Toccata Trio” (played with gusto by Furbee, cellist Phil Hansen, and pianist Jeff Payne). “Waking Up Slow” features the muffled trombone of Robert Taylor and the bluesy piano of Gray. “Crazy Jane” (Furbee and Gray) has a mercurial flavor in its exploration of emotions. Gerdes veers into salon music with two pieces from “Correspondence,” which Gray plays with great sensitivity. The “Three Songs from the Tao Te Ching” seems to be somewhat incongruous. That is, the text doesn’t match up well with the music, despite the focused interpretation by Christine Meadows and the accompaniment of Gray, but perhaps I was expecting music with a more Asian hint to it. The “Backyard Toccata” offers a lot of intriguing escapes for piano, four hands (Mary Kogen and Gray), and the musical thread in “Love Love Wind Dust” (Hansen and Payne) seamlessly changes between the lighthearted and the slightly melancholy.
Gerdes was born in Seattle and lived in various locations throughout the Pacific Northwest. She taught at Portland State University for 20 years, and her compositions have been performed by many ensembles. Her music has a unique blend that is appealing and thoughtful. There are more pieces on the recording to explore – beyond the ones mentioned above.”
Brett Campbell, music critic, who writes for the Wall Street Journal, Oregon Quarterly, Willamette Week, San Franciscio Classical Voice and the Eugene Weekly, says of “Solo and Chamber Music”:
“Cynthia Stillman Gerdes: The Portland-based composer enlists some of her city’s top musicians in this impressively varied disc of solo and chamber music, including a sly tango for violin and piano, a cheeky little toccata, a charming pair of piano waltzes, piano and trombone duets and more. Reflective and exquisite solo piano pieces are performed by Portland Piano International director Harold Gray. More ambitious works include songs sung by Portland State University opera director Christine Meadows, from Portland author Ursula K. Le Guin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching, a wide ranging conversation for piano and cello, a meandering violin and piano piece appropriately titled “Crazy Jane” and “Idaho Toccata Trio,” a vibrant musical retrospective of Gerdes’s Boise childhood.”
Of the Idaho Toccata Trio, James McQuillen critic for the Oregonian writes:
“For violin, cello and piano, it creates a humorous and impressionistic collage of Gerdes’ childhood memories of Boise at carnival time; fiddle tricks and tunes pop up here and there, amid passages meant to depict drunken cowboys and other sights of the fair. It nicely combines overt humor and a certain dreamy quality of memory, like looking at the past through a kaleidoscope, while also conveying the creepy undertone that pervades the carnival.”