the labor of forgetting


Art song and works for solo piano by American composers Katherine Balch and Dante De Silva shimmer in this release from this new independent record label.

From left, Ryan MacEvoy McCullough, Katherine Balch and Lucy Fitz Gibbon
after recording estrangement, March 2022 (credit: False Azure Records)

KINGSTON, N.Y. — False Azure Records launches its inaugural album, the labor of forgetting, unveiling three world premieres by composers Katherine Balch and Dante De Silva, with new poetry by Katie Ford. This bespoke label for audiophiles, musicians, and music-lovers of all kinds alike strives to capture vivid performances of extraordinary repertoire, and features husband-and-wife duo soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon and pianist Ryan McCullough in its first release. Though sonically distinct, each of the included works explores the effects of time and distance on memory and human relationships, a fitting response to the lingering isolation and irreality of the last several years.

Works include Dante De Silva’s Shibui—a dirge in memory of my mentor, Deborah Clasquin; Four Years of Fog, a tone poem for retuned solo piano; and Katherine Balch’s estrangement, a setting of California poet Katie Ford’s long-form poem by the same name. De Silva’s music has been praised as “haunting” (Classical Sonoma), “beautiful” (LA Times), “sparkling” (San Francisco Classical Voice) and “fun” (Sequenza21), his work described by Mark Swed in the LA Times as belonging “to a new generation rebelling against the new.” Balch, described as “some kind of musical Thomas Edison” (SF Chronicle), has received numerous recent accolades, including the 2020-21 Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and has had works performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Sinfonietta and Ensemble Intercontemporain.

De Silva and McCullough first crossed paths through a mutual teacher, pianist Deborah Clasquin, who taught at Humboldt State University (now Cal-Poly Humboldt). The album’s opening work, Shibui—a dirge in memory of my mentor, Deborah Clasquin (2009),reflects the deep void left by Clasquin’s untimely passing. The piece for solo piano appears twice on the album, first in a conventional tuning and later refracted through the just intonation system used in Four Years of Fog. The trompe-l’oeil, kaffir lime-headed Barbie that graces the album’s cover, Linda S. Fitz Gibbon’s “Brainiac” (2018), offers viewers a persimmon, its balance of sweetness and astringency symbolizing the Japanese aesthetic concept of shibui.

De Silva’s Four Years of Fog (2016) toys with youthful idealism distorted through the dual lenses of age and experience. The title is both an allusion to the period De Silva spent in cloud-socked Arcata, California, and the heady myopia of youth. Underscored by the unusual tuning system De Silva devised for the work, the four movements for solo piano move uncannily away from the moorings of traditional harmonic relationships, shimmering as if heard through the Doppler effect of passing time.

Katherine Balch and Katie Ford’s estrangement (2020), commissioned by Brooklyn Art Song Society and funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, is a modern response to Robert Schumann and Heinrich Heine’s seminal Dichterliebe. In the thirteen-movement cycle, Balch alludes to Schumann’s harmonies while crafting her own exploration of lost love, grief, and carefully pruned rage. This tour-de-force for both voice and piano utilizes the full range of sonic possibilities for both instruments, from phonetic murmuring and disjointed leaps to evocative prepared piano sonorities. Balch’s choice to select phrases from Ford’s poem rather than set it verbatim further reinforces the intimate nature of the work, as if the listener has wandered not into a concert hall but rather into the fragmented thoughts of the singer herself.

Recorded at Cornell University’s Barnes Hall on two historic Steinway pianos restored and maintained by technician Kenneth Walkup, the album was meticulously engineered, edited, mixed and mastered by pianist Ryan McCullough in an attempt to capture a performer’s insightful sonic vision of these masterful works. False Azure Records strives for a balance of vintage mystique and modern clarity in its sound, reflecting the inherent blend of past and present in its featured works.

The album can be pre-ordered through False Azure Record’s Bandcamp page in both digital and physical formats, and will be available beginning November 4, 2022, on other platforms including Amazon, Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal. On November 4 at 8pm EST, FAR will host a virtual release party on its YouTube channel, streaming a limited-edition visual version of the album which draws on live recording session footage as well as environmental imagery gathered during the pandemic in the Pacific Northwest.

FAR no. 1: the labor of forgetting
Release date: November 4, 2022
Katherine Balch, composer
Dante De Silva, composer
Lucy Fitz Gibbon, soprano
Katie Ford, poet
Ryan MacEvoy McCullough, piano
Kenneth Walkup, piano technician

De Silva: Shibui—a dirge in memory of my mentor, Deborah Clasquin (2009) for solo piano
De Silva: Four Years of Fog (2016) for solo piano
Balch: estrangement (2020) for voice and piano
De Silva: Shibui—a dirge in memory of my mentor, Deborah Clasquin (2009) [reprise in just intonation]

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