What’s the most important factor in becoming a successful contemporary composer? (By successful, I mean a composer whose work gets played regularly in public venues, recorded, and written about in the music press). Talent? Sure. Determination? Of course. Hard work? Maybe. Strong relationships with musicians who inspire and play your work?
Dobrinka Tabakova, the 32-year-old Bulgarian/English composer whose debut ECM CD, String Paths, will be released in the U.S. on June 18, has all those qualities in spades but her career illustrates just how important that last social aspect of building a career are. Tabakova’s music is a textured blend of modern and ancient, familiar and unknown, tonal and modal, eastern and western, folky and formal. Her big musical gestures are bold and assertive. Among post-modern composers only John Adams and a handful of others write opening “hooks” that grab the listener as seemingly effortlessly.
When Tabakova was 11, her father, a medical physicist, took a position at Kings College Hospital and moved his family from their native city of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, to London. For Dobrinka, a quiet, only child with still rudimentary English skills, it was an opportunity to immerse herself even more deeply into the world of classical music.
“I had started taking piano lessons in Plovdiv when I was 7 and I continued them in London,” she says. “I was lucky enough to have teachers who didn’t seem to mind that I sometimes improvised when I came to a part I didn’t know,” she says, with a laugh. She applied and was accepted into the Junior Academy of Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which provides specialist training Saturday training to promising young people between the ages of 4 and 18.
“By the time I applied to Guildhall, I was improvising more and more and writing down sketches that I was pleased with. I took along a couple of those to my entrance exam and was accepted to study composition.” She ultimately graduated from regular Guildhall and then earned a doctorate in composition from King’s College, London.
Her first “big break” came at the age of 14, when she submitted a piece to the Fourth Vienna International Music Competition and won the Jean-Frederic Perrenoud Prize & Medal.
“I had seen an advert in the corridors at Guildhall and submitted a piece as a kind of lark,” she says. “I was stunned when I learned I had won.” Other opportunities quickly followed. She received a scholarship to attend the Centre Acanthes. Xenakis was guest composer and Messiaen’s widow Yvonne Loriod was giving lectures. Heady stuff, indeed, for a 15-year-old. Read the rest of this entry »
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Statement from the Shapero Family regarding the passing of Harold Shapero (1920-2013)
Harold Shapero, an American composer, pianist and longtime Professor of Music at Brandeis University, passed peacefully in his sleep on Friday, May 17, 2013 at the age of 93, following complications with pneumonia. Born in Lynn, Massachusetts on April 29, 1920, Shapero maintained a bold presence on the music scene in greater-Boston for the last 73 years. His friend Aaron Copland identified him with the American “Stravinsky school” of neo-classical composers that included lifelong friends and colleagues Arthur Berger, Leonard Bernstein and Irving Fine. A graduate of Harvard, his teachers included Walter Piston, Paul Hindemith and Nadia Boulanger. Shapero was a mainstay at the MacDowell Colony during the 1940s, where he completed his Serenade in D. He was an early student at Tanglewood, where Copland presented a performance of Shapero’s Nine-Minute Overture. His music was recognized with accolades such as the Prix de Rome, a Naumburg Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Fellowship and a Koussevitzky Foundation Commission. Leonard Bernstein, who conducted the premiere of Shapero’s Symphony for Classical Orchestra with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1947 called the work “a marvel” in a letter to Serge Koussevitsky. In his thirty-seven years of teaching at Brandeis, Shapero was instrumental in the development of the university’s renowned electronic music studio and taught music theory and composition. He mentored countless students and was a key figure in shaping the Brandeis University Department of Music in its early decades, serving as the department’s chair in the 1960s. Shapero maintained a close relationship with the University in recent years as a Professor Emeritus of Music, frequently attending concerts and sharing his charm with students, faculty and staff. A true Renaissance man, his widespread talents and interests ranged from the study of birds to electronics. He is survived by his wife Esther of Natick, Massachusetts, an esteemed visual artist, and his daughter Pyra (Hannah) Shapero of Falls Church, Virginia. A commercial artist and electronic musician, Pyra fondly recalls working with her father on synthesizer and piano improvisations from 1968-1972. A memorial service is planned for Wednesday, May 22 in Natick and will include remembrances by Shapero’s closest friends and the playing of a recent recording of his Arioso Variations, performed by pianist Sally Pinkas. Details are forthcoming.
“With the passing of my great friend, Harold Shapero, an entire era of great American music has passed. He knew personally Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Nadia Boulanger, Koussevitsky, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Hindemith, Irving Fine, Leo Smit and hundreds of the leading people in 20th Century art. He loved hummingbirds, hated the Yankees, serialism and lawyers, loved Thai food, Scarlett Johansson and Whittier. In his music he captured beauty and hope. He could not write without the inspiration. He hated using ‘formulas’ and ‘diddling’. He wrote music for people. In spite of his passing and our sorrow, his music will live forever.” -Brian G. Ferrell, friend of Harold Shapero
Lukas Foss, Irving Fine and Harold Shapero at Tanglewood, 1946
Alex Ross’s next book, “Wagner–Art in the Shadow of Music” is still very much a work in progress but his keynote lecture at Wagner WorldWide 2013 at the University of South Carolina (now up on YouTube) demonstrates that he is on the trail of some fascinating, and little known, aspects of his subject’s world.
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Here’s something cool to mark on your calendar. The Ojai Music Festival is launching a free three-week online course next Wednesday, May 15, leading up to the 2013 Festival which runs June 6-9. The courses are designed to help audiences “listen smarter” and enable them to gain deeper insight into the music and programming that have made Ojai–now in its 67th year–one of America’s most durable and loved summer music festivals. (FYI, this year’s Festival focuses mainly on the music of Lou Harrison, Terry Riley, John Cage and John Luther Adams).
The OjaiU courses are led by Douglas McLennan, editor and founder of ArtsJournal.com and feature guest instructors including Festival Artistic Director Thomas W. Morris and 2013 Music Director Mark Morris. Other instructors are composer John Luther Adams, pianist Jeremy Denk, dean of the Juilliard School Ara Guzelimian, music and dance critic John Rockwell, filmmaker Eva Soltes, and Los Angeles Times classical music critic Mark Swed.
We’re looking for a WordPress genius to help us update Sequenza21 by cleaning out the crawl space and attic, adding some new wiring and plumbing, attaching the garage to the main house, making the family room a more fun place to hang out and talk and to bring in a new Wolf oven and SubZero fridge. Ok, my recent conversion to home mortageship has addled my brain a bit. What we want to do is make S21 more social and interactive, clean out the spam and cut down the archives, combine what is now four separate WP instances (main, forum, CD reviews, and calendar) into one unified whole, maybe reskin add a web commerce capability. We can pay you something for the initial work and a modest retainer for being on call. Also, we’ll give you masthead credit and promote the hell out of your next concert or CD. Send a us a note if you’re interested.
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Who wants a pair of tickets to coLABoratory: Playing It UNsafe at Zankel Hall on Friday night? This is an ACO project described as the first and only professional research and development lab to support the creation of cutting-edge new American orchestral music through no-holds-barred experimentation. The composers participating in coLABoratory this season are selected from a national search for their willingness to experiment and stretch their own musical sensibilities, and their ability to test the limits of the orchestra. More info here.
If you’ve already liked our Facebook page, leave your name and a contact e-mail here before noon on Thursday. If you haven’t liked the Sequenza21 page, leave you name over there. If you’re from out of town, you can give me to local friends if you like. On Thursday afternoon, my trusty dog and I will choose a winner.
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The world has reached a sad state when our individual and institutional worth is measured by how many people like us on a social media web site. But, alas, these are modern times and in the spirit of getting with the program, we have created a Sequenza 21 Facebook page where we are cheerfully posting and reposting daily the new music community’s responses to the relevant news and happenings of the day. You might say that making Mark Zuckerberg richer and more devious on the slippery slope of privacy rights has become a passion of ours. If they can now x-ray your privates as you pass through airport security, what else do we have to lose?
But I digress. Right now on the Sequenza21 page, you’ll find many of the obits, tributes, and reflections on the passing of Dave Brubeck and Jonathan Harvey, as well as samples of works completed and started, favorite YouTube videos, and the usual bitches and moans about the sorry state of the classical music business. We’d love to have you join us. We might even report your latest concert or CD announcement. Come on over.
At an early point in Yaron Zilberman’s new film A Late Quartet, Peter Mitchell (Christopher Walken) the cellist and father figure of a world renowned string quartet, explains Beethoven’s Opus 131 to his students: “It has seven movements and they’re all connected. For us, it means playing without pause; no resting, no tuning. Our instruments must, in time, go out of tune–each in its own quite different way. Was he trying to point some cohesion, some unity, between random acts of life? What are we supposed to do? Stop? Or struggle to continuously adjust to each other until the end?”
It is an apt metaphor for the four musical souls at the heart of this intriguing little film which tries–not always successfully–to balance fidelity to the lives and behavior of real-life, successful classical musicians with the demands of a story that aims to attract a larger audience of people who won’t much care if the actors are holding their instruments correctly or not. The result is a plot that won’t really please musicians or civilians completely and is a bit more melodrama than drama.
While the quartet is preparing to launch its 25th season, the Peter Mitchell character (Walken, playing brilliantly against type) discovers that he has early stage Parkinson’s. He knows his playing days are soon over but he wants to play the first concert of the new season as his farewell and he also wants to pick his successor. As the other members absorb the devastating news, it quickly become clear that Mitchell has been the adult who held the quartet together and all of the simmering rivalries and perceived slights of the other players come rushing to the surface. Robert Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman, second violin) and Juliette Gelbart (Catherine Kenner, viola) are not so happily married–or, at least, she isn’t. She’s still not sure she shouldn’t have married the first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir) when they were dating in the early days of the quartet. Robert is also tired of playing second fiddle and wants to rotate the first chair. Daniel is a perfectionist and a pain-in-the-ass. Throw in a subplot about Robert and Juliette’s daughter, Alexandra (Imogen Poots) being a promising young violinist who gets involved with first violinist (We won’t mention the mother-daughter thing here), Robert having a one-night stand with a Latin beauty he runs with in the park, and the ghost of Peter’s wife, Miriam (Anne Sophie von Otter) showing up in his bedroom and singing him to sleep and you can see that maybe there is a little too much extra-musical stuff going on.
What makes the film work as well as it does is solid performances by everyone. Philip Seymour Hoffman is his usual commanding self. Catherine Keener is one of the most underrated actresses working. Ivanir is solid and Christopher Walken, miraculously, comes across as a sweet, gentle man that you’d like to take cello lessons from. This is the kind of film that doesn’t get made that often, about a subject that we all care about. It offers a modestly faithful look into the world of classical music and musicians. It may get a little out of tune along the way but the players deserve our applause for making it to the end.
Should you find yourself in the vicinity of Potsdam, NY on Tuesday night of this week, I highly recommend to you a concert of four recent works by Crane composer David Heinick, which will be performed by members of the Crane School of Music faculty, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Sara M. Snell Music Theater on the SUNY Potsdam campus. Alas, I don’t know Professor Heinick or his music (although I’d like to) but I do know the librettist of one of the three world premieres on the program.
“Chiaroscuro,” a setting of four poems from il Dilemma of Orfeo, by poet/artist/classical scholar/master chef/carpenter and barn raiser Walter Nobile, will be performed by soprano Jill Pearon and mezzo-soprano Lorraine Yaros Sullivan, with Heinick at the piano. Walter (and his wife Marilyn) are among my oldest and dearest friends.
Walter was born to Italian parents in Tripoli, Libya and studied the classics in Libya and Italy. After two years in Madrid, he moved to the United States, where he taught Italian language and literature at the Universities of California (Berkeley), Oregon, and Chicago. Since 2004 he has divided his time between Cecina, Italy, and Potsdam. He is currently working on a new translation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” seeking to preserve in English the musicality of the original. I might add that he has almost totally rebuilt his house in Potsdam over the past few years and spent the past summer resurrecting an old barn that most people would have regarded as a “goner” with the help of a couple of Amish lads. Not bad for a man who is pushing the Big 8-0.
Dr. Heinick joined the faculty of the Crane School of Music in 1989. Previously, he taught at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. He holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music and the Catholic University of America and is the composer of over fifty works for a variety of instrumental and vocal media, ranging from unaccompanied flute to chorus and symphony orchestra. His music is published by SeeSaw Music, Dorn Publications, Nichols Music, and Kendor Music; it has been performed throughout the United States, and broadcast on National Public Radio and the CBC.
David T. Little is stepping down as MATA executive director this fall to focus more fully on his compositional life and to pursue other professional endeavors. MATA is looking for a new ED. Says David: “It can be a really rewarding position, with excellent colleagues, and can provide a one of a kind opportunity for a composer or performer to really learn the ins and outs of arts administration, while still being very connected to composition and new music, or for an arts administrator with a passion for new music and love of composers.”
The position application deadline is August 1, 2012 and the start date is September 15, followed by a month-long training process. The new ED will officially take over duties in full on October 17th, 2012.