Author Archive

Dina Koston was a unique figure in the Washington music scene.  A composer and pianist, she was the Iron Lady behind the Theater Chamber Players, a pioneering ensemble that tackled an eclectic blend of old and new chamber music in DC from 1968 to 2004–well before the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center came along.   Her friend and collaborator, pianist Leon Fleisher described her as “complicated, compulsive, wacky and wacked out,” (sounds  like my kind of woman).  The Library of Congress is staging two events this week to honor her life and legacy.  On Wednesday night  Joy Zinoman directs a production of Samuel Beckett’s ephemeral short play Ohio Impromptu as a prelude to Koston’s last composition, Distant Intervals, and other new works from the Cygnus Ensemble. On Thursday night,  Fleisher, Koston’s longtime artistic partner and friend, performs and conducts an evening of Ligeti, Koston, and Brahms, featuring the Liebeslieder Waltzes.


“Dina Koston had the most acute musical ear of any musician I have ever known.”

Leon Fleisher, pianist, conductor and co-founder of Theater Chamber Players with Dina Koston


“Many of us on the staff at the Library of Congress knew Dina Koston in many contexts for a number of years. We admired her as a pianist and were inspired by her thoughtful programming and her integrity in her work for the Theater Chamber Players, whose concerts made a hugely important contribution to Washington music lovers. We knew her as a fine composer who was commissioned by the Library’s McKim Fund, and also as a serious researcher we often saw in our Performing Arts Reading Room. She was both a performer on our Coolidge Auditorium stage–and a superbly knowledgeable concertgoer here, for several decades. We are immensely grateful to Dina not only for her unexpected and extremely generous bequest, but for her confidence in the Library. We will work hard to earn it in the future programs and projects made possible by her gift to us.”

Anne McLean, Senior Producer for Concerts and Special Projects, Library of Congress Music Division


“While Dina could be difficult to work with, the end results in our performances were always worth it. I still use her insights in my own teachings of the songs of Wolf and Webern, to name a very few. Her programming of the new and the old remain unmatched in chamber music programs of today.”

Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano


“Dina Koston was a model for all of us. She seemed to embrace effortlessly a quality that is essential for authentic composing: she believed completely in, was on intimate terms with, her own muse.”

Frank Brickle, composer


“Working with Dina Koston was a true learning experience.  Dina was demanding of herself as well as those around her, expecting us to rise up to our very best.  Her knowledge of music and the connection between composers and works was astounding. As a result, her concerts were at a different level in the programming and performance.  She had a definite idea of what she wanted to hear, how a particular work should sound.  She loved new music, and she was dedicated to Bach.  But just to hear Dina play her warm-up, to Chopin, was breathtaking.”  

Sherry Goodman, former Manager of Theater Chamber Players & publicist to Dina Koston


“I played 10 seasons with the Theater Chamber Players, and then after TCP’s final concert, I continued to perform Dina’s music–solo, and with Cygnus. I am also pleased to have brokered the NYNME commissioning of Dina’s Quintet With Claves. I am greatly enriched through my exposure to Dina’s extraordinary musical sensibility. She did not hesitate to say everything that was on her mind in rehearsals, and I learned a great deal.

Dina was exposed to music that she would never have heard if not for her work with Cygnus. She was smitten by Dylan Lardelli’s oboe and guitar duo. She rediscovered Wuorinen through the Sonata for Guitar and Piano, which she began programming in Washington, bringing me and Joan Forsyth to Washington and Baltimore to perform that Sonata. I am grateful for her willingness to forgive Cygnus for our interest in certain latter-day musical movements. There were certain things that she simply could not abide.

Dina’s music was conceived entirely in her head. She could hear it better than a computer. No one had better training than Dina, who studied with Boulanger, Berio, attended the Darmstadt festival, and studied piano with Leon Fleisher.

Dina had a Chemex coffee maker. (I grew up with one of those.) On her coffee table she had a facsimile of Ezra Pound’s comments penned into an early version of The Wasteland. She loved Beckett, and wrote her last work for the Cygnus group + 3, entitled *Distant Intervals*, which is a musical reflection of Beckett’s Ohio Impromptu. These were points of connection for us. Moreover, we both devoted most of our lives to running ensembles–curating. We both put our composing second.

For the moment musical modernism is being portrayed by name brand critics as an outmoded relic of the cold war. I am ok with the characterization, and I am not concerned because such characterizations are always transitory. In 18th C. Opera, the witch sang in a quasi-baroque style, employing the power of the *quality of being out of fashion* to paint a character musically. (Remember the violin playing in Mel Brooks’ *Young Frankenstein*.) Mozart and Mendelssohn would rediscover Bach; and the Baroque eventually becomes bathed in nostalgia (slow movement of Brahms, op. 88!). I have come to embrace and celebrate the music that has seized the center, for the moment. Dina, on the other hand, was not in a position to embrace things like minimalism. Dina could be difficult–a modernist witch! Some find her music difficult. Why not? It is about 85 years out of fashion! She would not care. While Varese can come to mind as an aural predecessor, I love the moments of musical recession, following her scary, Varese-like tuttis, the intimate, quiet moments of insight that happen in the shadows of those brutal blocks of sound–I find in such moments her authentic and personal voice, while the concrete walls of sound seem to be a necessary frame for those personal moments.

I defend the ethos of artistic authenticity and high ambition that characterized cold war aesthetic values. I add, moreover, that despite government support for the RCA synthesizer and the Darmstadt festival (points that are coming to light at the moment, causing quite a stir) artistic values are always *psychologically overdetermined*.

Dina’s music is ambitious, authentic, yet in no way doctrinaire. She wrote what she heard, and it is very difficult to say what governs the development of her compositions. She was truly an improvisor.”

William Anderson, founder of Cygnus Ensemble

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It was not a great year for movies, in my humble opinion.  But like they say in the most obnoxious Bud commercials yet:  here we go.

The Top Ten Movies I Saw in 2011

The Trip – Two prominent English comics eat and impersonate their way through the Lake District in a film that is barely a film at all but manages to be both hysterically funny and oddly touching.

Submarine – Young Oliver gets laid. A coming of age film that will make you forget that you ever saw one of those before. Memo to Woody Allen: This is how to write funny.

Bullhead (Rundskop) – Cattle  doping and simmering French-Flemish violence create a brutal backdrop to a horrifying and unforgettable tale of revenge.

A Separation – Educated, secular Iranian couple war over the soul and approval of their daughter as they approach divorce. Could have been filmed in Shaker Heights without changing a word of dialogue.

Another Earth – Overlooked gem that address the question of whether we can ever undo—on this earth or another—the damage that we do to each other.

Take Shelter – Another neglected small masterpiece about a construction worker with premonitions of impending disaster.

Drive – Great performances by Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks and supporting cast in a stylized tale  whose roots run from Jean-Pierre Melville to Walter Hill to Nicholas Refn. (I watched Refn’s earlier Danish-language Pusher Trilogy this year, too, and found the three films astounding.)

Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene – Girl escapes cult and Manson-like leader but cannot shake the fear of being stalked. Gripping, real.

We Need to Talk About Kevin – So your son is a serial killer? In a just world, Meryl Streep would be Tilda Swinton’s maid.

Cedar Rapids – An old-fashioned comedy that makes you laugh without resorting to gross out.


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Chamber Music America has announced the following spring grant opportunities.

· New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development offers support for the creation and performance of new chamber works by U.S. jazz ensembles. This program also funds activities that extend the life of the work and encourages the development of career-related business skills. Deadline: March 9, 2012

· Classical Commissioning provides support to U.S. ensembles and presenters for commissions of new chamber works. Grants are made for commissioning fees, copying costs and ensemble rehearsal honoraria. Compositions must be written for small ensembles (2 to 10 musicians) performing one to a part, and may represent a diverse musical spectrum, including contemporary art music, world music, and works that include electronics. Deadline: April 6, 2012

Grant preparation workshops are offered in CMA’s New York City office, and nationally via teleconference, in advance of deadlines.

Upcoming workshops are: New Jazz Works (February 22) Classical Commissioning (February 29 and March 7)

All workshops take place from 3:00-4:00 PM (Eastern Time). RSVP by email is required (please indicate if attending in person or via teleconference). For more information or to reserve for a workshop, please contact: Susan Dadian, program director, CMA Classical/Contemporary Jeanette Vuocolo, program director, CMA Jazz.

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With so much of the new music buzz being (deservedly) sucked up by the Ecstatic Music Festival right now, I wanted to make sure that the S21 faithful know about what looks to be a great evening coming up on February 10 at 9 pm at Joe’s Pub, featuring three of “hottest” musician/composers around.

Todd Reynolds, dubbed by ur…me, “the Eric Clapton of the electronically souped up violin,” will perform a few works from his album Outerborough, which was named Amazon’s Best Classical release of 2011, and also perform with the British cellist Peter Gregson,  who has collaborated with Tod Machover and Max Richter, among many other luminaries. He will be marking the first US performance of Nonclassical’s latest release, Cello Multitracks (written by Gabriel Prokofiev), which he premiered in London in 2011.  Prokofiev, who is also in the US for the world premiere of his latest orchestral work, has gained a unique status as an innovative, far-reaching figure within British contemporary music. His work as a composer has brought instruments such as turntables, electric guitars, and oil drums, to high profile concerts including the BBC Proms, earning him critical acclaim in the process. Meanwhile, as a DJ Prokofiev has carved a singular reputation, playing to audiences at the New York Met and around the world, combining his background in urban music production with a passion for 20th and 21st century classical music.

Book it, Dano…

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If you’re an emerging composer looking to produce and promote your work, hear it played before live audiences by first-rate musicians, learn from and hang out with music notables like Christopher Theofanidis and Irvine Arditti in the historic drop-dead gorgeous Northern Italian city of Pavia, check out the highSCORE Festival, Italy’s leading annual contemporary music festival and master classes program. The dates are July 23 – August 4.

“Last year’s program was a huge success,” says Artistic Director Giovanni Albini. “In 12 intense days we had nine lectures, several hours of both master classes and private lessons, 54 new music scores performed (of which 35 were premieres) in seven concerts, 30 participant composers and performers, and many guest artists. Plus Italian classes, a guided trip of the City of Pavia, and an outstanding workshop on Italian cooking.”

This year’s guest of honor is the legendary violinist Irvine Arditti, who has recorded more than 180 CDs with his own String Quartet and more than 30 as a soloist, premiering the music by the most important composers of the contemporary period. Arditti will present a lecture on contemporary violin performing practices, providing participant composers with his expertise and knowledge of modern music.

Christopher Theofanidis, fresh off the success of his opera Hearth of a Soldier, staged by the San Francisco Opera, is the Faculty Chair of the Festival for the third year in a row.

“Christopher is a great artist and an amazing teacher with an enormous experience,” Albini says. “A wonderful person, entirely dedicated to participants during the days of the event. He is able to offer so much, from both artistic and human point of view.”

Mario Garuti, Head of the Composition Department of the Conservatory of Milan, Dmitri Tymoczko from Princeton University, Amy Beth Kirsten, Ugo Nastrucci, Marina Giovannini, and Giovanni Albini complete the faculty roster.

Once again this year, the highSCORE Prize will be awarded to the best participant composer, who will have the chance to come back for free in 2013. In the previous editions, the highSCORE Prize has been awarded to Jenny Beck (2010) and Riho Esko Maimets (2011).

The 2012 edition will focus on the music for String Quartet, solo Violin, Viola, Cello, and Guitar (classical or electric), but participants are also invited to submit music for theorbo and lute, with or without electronics. In 2010, Ugo Nastrucci gave a lecture on contemporary music for early instruments. To see some tips on how to write for such instruments, see last year’s highSCORE Proceedings.

Among the many call for scores dedicated to participants the clarinet ensemble led by Denis Zanchetta, piccolo clarinet at Teatro La Scala, Milan, stands out.

Performances during the festival will be presented at cultural and historical sites throughout Pavia. Such venues will include the famous church of St. Peter in the Golden Sky where St. Augustine and Boetius are buried, while the “F. Vittadini” Higher Institute of Music Studies, with its 20 plus large, well-equipped rooms with Vertical and Grand Pianos, is the core of the festival.

The event, under the artistic direction of Giovanni Albini and the executive production of Paolo Fosso, is produced by the highSCORE New Music Center. The Center has just published the CD “Quintets,” containing five scores for electric guitar and String Quartet written by the best composers of the 2010 festival. A new CD, including the best compositions of highSCORE Festival 2011 for solo guitar, will be recorded in the next few months.

Proceedings and video excerpts from the last editions can be found on the highSCORE New Music Center brand new portal.

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Don’t know what you folks are doing this coming Tuesday night, January 17, but I will be trekking uptown to Symphony Space to see the Gaudete Brass, a splendid Chicago-based chamber ensemble rarely seen in these parts, who will present a concert of still-hot-off-of-Sibelius contemporary brass chamber music, including the world premiere of a new work by S21 familiar Rob Deemer.

“We were going to be traveling to New York to showcase at the Chamber Music America’s National Conference and while we were in town, we decided to present a concert that will mostly feature music we premiered this past fall including works by New Yorker Adam Reifsteck, David Sampson and Stacy Garrop and we added the new piece that Rob wrote for us,” says Scott Tegge, the group’s tubist.

The concert starts at 7:30 pm but I’ll be there at 6:30 for a pre-concert discussion with the composers featured on the program, led by the estimable Frank J. Oteri.

“One of the wonderful things that has happened this year is that we have gotten to know the composers individually throughout the year not just through their music, but from actually spending time with them,” says trombonist Paul Von Hoff.  “This experience has produced amazing works that really reflect the strengths of the quintet and its members.”

The quintet will present David Sampson’s seventh and newest brass quintet, Chicago Moves as well as Helios, Stacy Garrop first brass quintet.  In addition to these new pieces, the concert will also feature the GBQ’s take on five part Italian Madrigals by Giaches de Wert and Joan Tower’s monumental composition, Copperwave.

Get yourself some tickets here and come on up.  See you there.

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HK Gruber has a cold.  The nasal voice dripping into my telephone earpiece from his home in Vienna sounds more like an early-round contestant on Frog Idol than the celebrated Austrian composer and frequent chansonnier of Frankenstein!!, one of the most unusual and beloved pieces of contemporary music you’re likely to encounter.  In the chansonnier role, the performer is required to  sing  in cabaret, lieder and exaggerated operatic styles as well as speak, whisper and shriek at the top of his lungs.  All of which, Gruber does extremely well if you’ve heard a recording or seen him perform.

Will his congested state affect his upcoming performances of Frankenstein!! with the New York Philharmonic at the Metropolian Museum on December 16 and Symphony Space on December 17, I wondered?  “Not at all,” he says. “It might make them more even more interesting. This is not the kind of role that demands much serious singing.”

Even via transatlantic cable you can tell that HK Gruber is a man who enjoys his work and clearly doesn’t take himself all that seriously.  As a composer, he’s been pulling the beards of Schoenberg and the other Gods of the Second Viennese School for well over 40 years now.  Born in Vienna in 1943, Gruber was a member of the Vienna Boys’ Choir and at the Vienna Hochschule für Musik studied composition with Erwin Ratz and Gottfried von Einem, theory with Hanns Jelinek and double bass with Ludwig Streicher. From 1961 he played double bass with the ensemble ‘die reihe’ and from 1969 with the ORF-Symphony Orchestra. Since 1997 he has devoted himself to composing, conducting and performance as chansonnier.

Gruber’s heroes were not the atonal gang of the Second Viennese School but  composers like Kurt Weill and Hans Eisler whose music mined popular musical forms like caberet to create theater pieces often set to Bertolt Brecht’s subverisve lyrics.  Not that Gruber dislikes gnarlier works by more formal composers.  His music theatre repertoire also includes Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs for a Mad King, and works by Kagel.

The origin of the Frankenstein!!, a pan-demonium for chansonnier and orchestra after children’s rhymes by H.C. Artmann dates back  to the Frankenstein Suite of 1971 — a sequence of songs and dances written for the Vienna ‘MOB art and tone ART Ensemble’, a group of young art and music radicals that included fellow composers Kurt Schwertsik and Otto Zykan which was then active in the field of instrumental theatre. “We had this radical idea that harmony could be pretty nice. Everything didn’t have to be atonal.  Of course, they referred to us as those ‘Viennese Clowns.'”  He sounds positively pleased.

Gruber was unhappy with the improvisatory structure of the original and felt it required a full orchestra so in 1976/77 he completely recomposed the work in its present form and convinced a promising young conductor named Simon Rattle to take it on.  It was first performed on November 25, 1978 by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, with Gruber himself as soloist. For the 1979 Berlin Festival he wrote an alternative version for soloist and 12 players. Since then, the two versions have been performed literally hundreds of times and Gruber has recorded them both–as chansonnier with the Camerata Academica Salzburg, led by Franz Welser-Möst for EMI, and as both singer and conductor with the BBC Philharmonic for Chandos

“The title of the volume from which I took the poems of Frankenstein!! – Allerleirausch, neue schöne kinderreime (Noises, noises, all around – lovely new children’s rhymes) – sounds naive and innocently cheerful; but H.C. Artmann described the poems as being, among other things, ‘covert political statements.’ He refused to explain what he meant but we all know from history that  the monsters of political life have always tried to hide their true faces, and all too often succeed in doing so”

Gruber believes one of the reasons for Frankenstein’s endurance is that it works one one level for kids and on another for adults.  And who of any age could resist an orchestral work that requires nearly all the orchestra players to double on toys of various kinds. Including a plastic hose; a “bird warbler” (a short plastic or metal pipe on a string, swung like a lasso); and an automobile horn (vintage 1910, the score suggests); a toy car horn; toy clarinets, saxophones, trumpets and piano paper bags  and a set of variously pitched swanee whistles, made of tubing with a recorder mouthpiece and a plunger that allows the player to produce glissandos.

Despite Frankenstein!!’s extraordinary popularity, Gruber is far from a one-hit wonder.  He is particularly noted for his concertos, including Aerial for trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, which has received over 40 performances since its premiere in 1999, two for violinist Ernst Kovacic, the Cello Concerto written for Yo-Yo Ma and premiered at Tanglewood in 1989, the percussion concerto Rough Music in the repertoire of Evelyn Glennie, and Busking for trumpet, accordion, banjo and string orchestra, premiered by Hardenberger in 2008. His dramatic works include the apocalyptic opera Gomorra staged at the Vienna Volksoper in 1993, Gloria, a musical version of Rudolf Herfurtner’s classic pigtale, staged at the 1994 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Munich Volkstheater, Wien Modern festival, Munster Theater and the Aspen Music Festival, and Der Herr Nordwind to a libretto by HC Artmann, premiered at Zürich Opera in 2005.

He is currently at work on an opera based on Ödön von Horváth’s play Tales From the Viennese Woods which as a subject is as far afield as one can get from the gay Strauss waltz from which it takes its name.  A woman named Marianne seeks to escape the brutality of  petit bourgeois life on “a quiet street in Vienna’s Eighth District” but is stifled by a conspiracy of her miserable neighbors.  Gruber likens her to a female Wozzeck.

But, for now, there is the durable Frankenstein!! with the New York Philharmonic at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of December 16 and the following night  at Symphony Space.  Also on the program are Fibers, Yarn and Wire by Alexandre Lunsqui and Gran Duo by Magnus Lindberg.  Details are here.

I have three sets of tickets for the December 17 performance at Symphony Space.  Here’s your tossup.  Name a famous American composer who has sung the role of chansonnier in Frankenstein!!   Or, name a famous American conductor who has sung the role.  I’ll pick the winners out of hat if several people get it right.

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She was 21. I was 22. We were in love. Nothing was impossible.

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David Lang is one of my favorite composers and among a handful of brave souls who created the vibrant new music scene we enjoy today. He and his Bang on a Can co-founders Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon were writing, producing and getting their music played and recorded long before the coming of the internet, inexpensive recording technology, and a hip club scene made DIY SOP. He reminds me a bit of the hero in the old country song “I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Superstar.”

His latest recording on Cantaloupe, this was written by hand, was officially released yesterday.  The album is made up of two compositions, the title work this was written by hand and memory pieces, both performed by the gifted pianist Andrew Zolinsky, who gave the first performances of both them some years ago. Perhaps because they are played so beautifully on a solo piano, both works have a directness and approachability that make them among the most user-friendly and enchanting that Lang has ever written, IMHO.  What you have here, folks, is a mature composer in total command of his craft and his musical soul.

Ah, but you want to know about those extra hands, right?   One of the works on the album, wed, is  the subject of an online contest that some really talented but perhaps underappreciated pianst will win.  The sheet music for wed is available for free here and you are are invited to download it. Pianists can then post videos of themselves playing the work onto YouTube with the tag “david lang piano competition 2011″. After January 1, all of the submissions will be judged by an all-star pianist panel consisting of Vicky Chow, Jeremy Denk, Lisa Moore, Andrew Zolinsky, and the composer himself. The winner will be flown to New York, and Lang will compose a new work for four hands to be played by him/her and Zolinsky at (le) poisson rouge on May 6. The winner will also play his or her rendition of “wed” at (le) poisson rouge. The full rules can be found here.

Good luck.  I’m pulling for you.

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I’ve never been a Twitter fan.  Very few people have ever said anything worthwhile in 144 characters and I’m not one of them.  The chances are good that you aren’t either.  But, I LOVE Google+  Easy to share music and all kinds of neat stuff, have real conversations that you can actually follow, and an incredible filtering system for us passive aggressives.  For example, I “circle” everyone who circles me but the people I don’t really want to follow (relatives, people who might vote for Herman Cain, people who were home-schooled or sell real estate) I put in a circle labeled “People I Don’t Really Want to Talk To.”  And, I never look at that stream.  On the other hand, I have a circle for Composers and Musicians that has more then 900 names in it and I follow it several times a day.  (About 400 of them are guitar players which doesn’t really count…just kidding).  I’d be happy to share them with you if you like.  In fact, here are 500 now:  Jerry’s G+ Musicians Circle.

But, I digress.  If you’d really like to hablo avec and share ideas with me, Steve or Christian, you’ll find us at:

+Jerry Bowles

+Steve Layton

+Christian Carey

Christian and I are a lot more active on G+ than Steve so far but we’re working on him.

If you’re a G+er, leave your link in the comments and I’ll add you to the Sequenza21 circle I’m putting together.

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