Music for Music: Samuel Andreyev

Samuel Andreyev: Thorough

by Dan Ursini


Samuel Andreyev is a serious composer with a dual presence on the Internet—for his music, especially his recently released album, In Glow of Like Seclusion. He also comments and does interviews on music of all kinds through podcasts and his You Tube channel. Both his work as a commentator and as a composer share a commitment to a  thorough search for the truth–  and to its expression  in as compressed and complete a nutshell as possible. Pop music fascinates him, and he says, “A good pop song makes you feel that three chords are enough. A truly great pop song creates the illusion that there only ARE three chords.”  Succinct.

Just as he knows how to get at the heart of things, the same goes for the outer cultural parameter.  Consider the music of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. It’s a half century old, but in pop culture, it’s still found in the last house on the left along the road not taken. Andreyev has posted lengthy interviews with each of the surviving band members.

Given the scope of Andreyev’s perspective, and the tireless energy that he brings to his commitments, I was excited to listen to In Glow of Like Seclusion. Across its 75 minutes are four expansive compositions, each of which are rich in ideas and energy. Throughout, the music is marked by a strong sense of urgency. Andreyev explains,“All of my pieces are really gigantic experiments, and I am always operating at the very edge of my ability. Failure is a very real prospect in everything that I do.”

The music is performed by Ensemble Proton Bern: an eight-member chamber music group conducted by Luigi Gaggero that includes four string and four woodwind instruments.  Based in Bern, Switzerland, Andreyev and the group share years of friendship and trust.

One of the sustaining joys of listening to this album is Andreyev’s extensive use of instruments, recent and old, which are rarely played in serious music concerts.  One is the musette—a small bagpipe whose popularity reached a zenith during the Baroque-era French court. And, believe me, to listen to the musette and the Casio SK-1 synthesizer achieve a snug fit in the same composition is as huge a surprise as it is a pleasure.  Yet that is exactly what happens during The Verifications 1—4.  Andreyev raids the gentle weirdness of Saturday morning cartoons, using sounds and musical passages normally employed as theme melodies and narrative effects and characterization signatures. He repurposes them as sonic images in fresh musical contexts. The results have an edgy blend of the madcap and the sinister. Andreyev reflects:” I think of Vérifications as my ‘Opus 1’, my first mature composition and the first piece in which I am really speaking my own language…. It was also the rebellious work of a desperate young man. I wrote much of it late at night at a kitchen table in the tiny Marais apartment I shared with my future wife… It has taken 10 years to figure out how this piece can and should be performed; the work is certainly enormously challenging to play because of the extremely unconventional instrumentation, but Proton have clearly nailed it with their new recording.”

Sextet in Two Parts opens with an unaccompanied clarinet solo, generous and relaxed in a jazzy way. Then there is an eruption of sound—a dramatic cavernous opening with rolling kettle drums, bongos; and a percussive piano with strings. The bottom-end percussive richness defines this composition. Andreyev remarks, ”percussion is really central to most of my chamber and ensemble works. Attack, resonance and decay; articulation and phrase; these are the very physical, embodied, tactile aspects of music that constitute a composer’s most basic toolkit. There is nothing abstract about them. To me, they are as real as the sharp point on a fisherman’s hook.”

The Sonata Da Camera is filled with sonic images of    disturbing elegance. This is music with a power that penetrates deeply into the heart. The harmonies frequently display an exquisitely articulated sourness. Throughout, there are moments of beauty imbued with deep tension Andreyev remarks:” I think the harmony should move, and that it should move us along with it; it should contain the possibility of enormous tension but also of repose, along with the ability to move dynamically between these extremes.”

The title track, In Glow of Like Seclusion has gravity, grace and inventiveness. There is so much beauty in this music; and there is so much tension and uncertainty. Sublime moments alternate with the macabre. There is a powerful formal tension between the sweeping power of Payee Chen’s voice; and the rapid shifts in timbre by the support instruments. Each shift nuances the sonic framework for her voice. But as the rapid reframings of Chen’s challenging melodies continue, the music spins free of conventional meanings.  Though these shifts occur one at a time, they have an unexpected aggregate effect. On more than on occasion, I found myself taken aback by the beauty of the music—even while I was at a total loss for words to identify the blend of emotions happening inside me.   I think Andreyev has a special gift for reaching states of feeling normally remote and evanescent. This composition is an exceptional achievement. It uses texts by the poet J H Prynne; and, as Andreyev explains: ”It was enormously challenging to compose, and this is probably in large part due to the considerable effort required to set J H Prynne’s poetry.  It took a great deal of thought before I was able to translate my musical intuitions into a performable score; at many stages in the creation of this work, I was left wondering if it would be possible to finish the work at all.”

In Glow of Like Seclusion is filled with moments of surprise. They may bring delight or disturbance- or some other excitation that can be experienced though not fully recognized. But every single one is the creation of a composer fully invested in his art. Andreyev continuously pushes himself and his music as far as it will go. It is an amazing album- fresh and provocative and true.

Samuel Andreyev at YouTube

Samuel Andreyev’s In Glow of Like Seclusion Playlist
(with all tracks mentioned in this article)

Samuel Andreyev at Divine Art Records

Samuel Andreyev at High Res Audio

Samuel Andreyev at Experience Vinyl

Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983). His play, Sandbar Flatland, directed by John Malkovich, was produced in 1978 during the dawn of the legendary Off-Loop Theater scene in Chicago. In 1990 Chicago Magazine selected it as one of the ten best shows of the preceding 25 years. Beyond this, Ursini worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine; he wrote performance art pieces presented at such Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication. In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, has had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at:


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