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Bright Shiny Things Releases 'Impulse', the solo debut album from multi-award winning violist Jordan Bak

May 12, 2022 | By Paula Mlyn
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For Immediate Release
May 13, 2022
Media Contact: 
Paula Mlyn    
(212) 924-3829

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IMPULSE features pianist Ji Yung Lee as well as works by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, 
Joan Tower, Rebecca Clarke, Quinn Mason, Jeffrey Mumford, Toru Takemitsu, and the world premiere recording of Tyson Gholston Davis’s Tableau XII 

NEW YORK, NY–On May 13, 2022, Bright Shiny Things releases Impulse [BSTC-0162], the solo debut album from  Jamaican-American violist Jordan Bak—proclaimed a “dazzling” performer by New York Classical Review, which continued: “his playing was so constantly involving and impressive that one was drawn to each note and phrase.” The album features the world premiere recording of Tableau XII  by Tyson Gholston Davis, and a diverse roster of composers from the early 20th century to the present—Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, Joan Tower, Rebecca Clarke, Quinn Mason, Jeffrey Mumford, and Toru Takemitsu. Five of the seven tracks are for viola alone; for Clarke and Takemitsu’s compositions Bak is joined by South Korean pianist Ji Yung Lee. Impulse is available to order 


impulse album cover


Bak explains:

“I wanted to create a work of art that not only showcases the diverse range of sounds of the viola, but the diverse compositional languages and backgrounds of amazing artists that write for the viola as well. And, in turn, to create an experience challenging how we interpret and process music, even silences within music, in pockets of present time and space.”

Each of the works recorded here has its own relationship to time, from the heartbeat of Clarke’s untitled work, to the perpetual motion of ko?u inoa, to the varying breath cycles of wending. Even the album title engages with time, suggesting both a musical pulse and the “impulse” behind an action not planned in advance. One points to rhythm, the other to a performance ideal: music as one inevitable present moment after another.

Rebecca Clarke’s Untitled begins with a calm and steady rhythm in the piano, like a relaxed human heartbeat. Written in about 1918 while the composer was concertizing as a violist around the U.S., the work’s harmonic materials have been compared to Debussy and Ravel, but the ravishing melodic lines forged out of a modernist aesthetic and the absolutely idiomatic viola writing are all the composer’s own. 

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti calls ko?u inoa “a homesick bariolage.” The bariolage bowing technique of rapid alternation between open and stopped strings dates back at least to Bach, but in Lanzilotti’s composition and Bak’s performance the open bass note takes on the character of a constant but distant memory for which the melody never stops mourning, an impression reinforced by the haunting long-tone vocals that emerge in the final third of the piece. 

In 2021, Bak was chosen for WQXR’s inaugural Artist Propulsion Lab initiative, designed to give support and opportunities to deserving early and mid-career artists during the pandemic. Each receives an honorarium of $15,000, as well as a budget of up to $5,000 to engage collaborators and commission works; Tyson Gholston Davis’s Tableau XII was commissioned for Bak through the program and premiered last fall, and is given its world premiere recording on this album. A work of contrasting moods throughout, it keeps the violist constantly vacillating between extremes of expression. As Davis says: “I believe that my music should be as emotionally complex as we are.” 

Joan Tower’s Wild Purple was composed in 1998 as an attempt to overcome the perceived expressive limitations of the viola with “wild energy.” Tower says of the title: “I always thought of the viola sound as being the color purple. Its deep resonant and luscious timbre seems to embody all kinds of hues of purple.” 

Composed in 2020, Quinn Mason’s In Memory was intended, in a sense, as a blank canvas for nostalgic reflection. The composer elaborates: “This piece wasn't written about a specific time or person. It is meant to be a contemplation of memories past … the viola acts as the voice that recalls these memories and reflects on them with tranquil, yet occasionally tumultuous introspection.” 

Bak calls Jeffrey Mumford’s wending “a piece to coincide with the breath and how it travels and changes from beginning to end.” Mumford exploits the far reaches of the viola’s expressive range, from “faint windchimes in the distance to raw emotional, animalistic grit.” Dedicated to violist Wendy Richman, the basic harmonic material of the work is based on letters from her name (ie. wEnDy riCHmAn). 

Arranged by Toshio Hosakawa for piano accompaniment from the orchestral original, Toru Takemitsu’s A String Around Autumn is characterized by Bak as “incredibly beautiful, openly present in every moment … it exists patiently, delicately.” Commissioned for the Festival d’Automne à Paris and dedicated to the people of France, the work envisions the viola as the “string” around the festival, taking its cue from a poem by Makoto Ooka: “Sink don’t sing. / Be simply silent. / Be simple: a string to wind around / Autumn.” 



Rebecca Clarke
1. Untitled

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti
2. ko?u inoa

Tyson Gholston Davis
3.Tableau XII

Joan Tower
4. Wild Purple

Quinn Mason
5. In Memory

Jeffrey Mumford 
6. wending

Toru Takemitsu
7. A String Around Autumn



“A star in the making,” (Seattle Pi) Jamaican-American violist Jordan Bak is an outstanding artist of passion, energy, and authenticity in the recital and chamber music arenas. A Sphinx MPower Artist Grant Recipient and a top laureate of the 2020 Sphinx Competition, Bak is also a winner of the 2019 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition, the recipient of the 2019 Samuel Sanders Tel Aviv Museum Prize and the 2019 John White Special Prize from the Tertis International Viola Competition. A strong advocate of 20th and 21st century new music, Bak has collaborated with such composers as Kaija Saariaho, Caroline Shaw, Eli Greenhoe, Sampo Kansurinen, and Delong Wang. In addition to his growing solo career, Jordan Bak is a member of the celebrated New York Classical Players and is a featured artist for WQXR’s inaugural Artist Propulsion Lab.


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