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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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The nice folks at Exploring the Metropolis are trying  to find out where most of the city’s musicians are located within the 5 boroughs of New York City so  they can better serve them through their residency program.  To that end they have put together a super-short  (4 questions) anonymous survey for the Sequenza21 community.  These folks do a great job in finding resources for composers and musicians.  Hop over to Survey Monkey and GPS your bad self.

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Well, slightly.  Steve Smith’s terrific review of the ACME/MNMP/Sequenza21 concert at Joe’s Pub Tuesday night is now up online.  And, if you’re arriving via the Times link, welcome.  Come back regularly.  We’ll find something to amuse you.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the concert last night.  If you were there, leave a note and tell me how it went.

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Sure, you’ve seen the mesmerizing Godfrey Reggio film KOYAANISQATSI: Life Out of Balance with its breathtaking music by Philip Glass. Maybe, several times. But, you’ve never seen it projected on a huge screen above the Avery Fisher Hall stage while the New York Philharmonic plays the haunting Glass score live.

Now you can. On November 2-3, the NYPhil, Philip Glass, and the Philip Glass Ensemble and the Collegiate Chorale will be doing just that in an extraordinary once–okay, twice–in a lifetime event. The show starts both nights at 7:30.

Equal parts documentary, tone poem and visual concert, this revolutionary 1982 film portrays the relationship between humans, nature and technology. Here’s a preview of coming attractions:

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