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[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3V5jhpB5zzE[/youtube]

Last July we posted on the British Villiers Quartet’s first international competition, the call for which Sequenza21 readers helped refine.  After an online voting process, three finalists (Canadian  Riho Maimets, American  Henry B. Stewart and British Chris Roe) have been selected and one will be crowned winner on Sunday during a special concert in London.  The concert, hosted by British conductor and violinist, Thomas Kemp,  will take place at 3:00 p.m., GMT, at St. Andrew’s Church in London and will be webcast at www.villiersquartet.com/2012competition, where viewers from around the world will be able to cast their votes in real time.  The Villiers Quartet narrowed down the entries to six semi-finalists whose videos were showcased for public poll on their website during the month of March.  This online poll tallied over a thousand votes, and the three finalists came out on top to compete April 29th.  The winning composition will be determined by a new combination of live audience and online votes.  More information about the composers and their pieces can be found at www.villiersquartet.com.  All three composers will be present at Sunday’s concert.

 

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As I alluded in an earlier post, Washington, D.C.’s new music scene has been exploding lately.  Part of that explosion comes courtesy of Kathleen Supove, who on Tuesday will be performing one of her “Exploding Piano” programs at the new music series at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (full disclosure: I’m that series’ curator).  In anticipation of this event, I’ve asked Kathy to write a few words about her program:

When Armando Bayolo asked me to perform on his New Music Series at the Atlas Theater in Washington D.C., I immediately thought: what am I going to play at the NATION’S CAPITAL? …the place that’s home to the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center Honors, and the place from which we all imagine sending time capsules to other planets.

Something I’m proud of is having commissioned more than a few stellar pieces that  could take their places in the 21st Century piano repertory. Particularly, I would cite the multimedia works, with  sound tracks and, sometimes, video.  Not only are they great virtuosic vehicles with all those challenges and rewards, but they have soundtracks that are original, evocative, and infectious. Send them to the moon!!

Also, I saw this as a time to REPRESENT: it’s an America that is about quilting as well as about Steve Reich’s “Different Trains”, about Quaker revival meetings as well as the Metropolitan Opera. I wanted things that reflected the American musical language in some way, and I also wanted to reflect the American sense of humor.

Here’s the program:

“Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos” by Missy Mazzoli

“The Same Sky” by Carolyn Yarnell

“On Track” by Anna Clyne

“What Remains of a Rembrandt” by Randall Woolf

“Digits” by Neil Rolnick

You can’t find a better example of the American vernacular crafted into art music than Missy’s piece; Carolyn’s piece is quite simply one of the best piano works of the last 20 years. Anna Clyne may have been born in London, but here she demonstrates a truly American sense of humor and appropriation of found sounds; Neil’s piece exhibits all of the above with an American aesthetic that perhaps finds it roots in Scott Joplin and other early ragtime artists.

These are not the only pieces that I love and am proud to program, but they certainly represent a kind of hit parade for me. But I also wanted something new. What fun is performing without that? Here’s where Randall Woolf’s piece came in. Full disclosure: he’s my husband. He hadn’t written a piece for me in a decade, but did so this fall. It was premiered two weeks ago in Florida (a commission by New Music New College), and I wanted to add it to the mix. The piece is part of a large project on which I’m embarking called Digital Debussy, in which composers create works that either subject Debussy fragments to modern electronic processes or, in some way, realize a 21st century Debussy. Randy is one of those maverick Americans, who is always pushing his and the world’s envelope a little. I knew he wouldn’t disappoint on this.

I can’t wait to see what the audience in Washington D.C. will be like. I’m pretty sure they won’t be bored. Now, to figure out what I’ll wear and what I’ll say…….

-KS

 

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Washington, D.C. readers may have noticed that the new music scene in the District has been exploding lately.  This week brings another significant event when New York’s Cygnus Ensemble makes its Washington debut at the Library of Congress.  The concert, part of a mini-residence by Cygnus at the Library, is presented as a tribute to legendary violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler.  Rarely heard music by Kreisler from the Library’s Fritz Kreisler collection will be performed, featuring guest violinist Miranda Cuckson on Kreisler’s own Guarneri del Gesù violin.

Most notably for new music fans, the concert features the world premiere of Harold Meltzer’s Kreisleriana, for violin and piano, commissioned by the Library of Congress’ McKim fund.  The concert also features Meltzer’s Pulitzer-Prize finalist work Brion, commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for the Cygnus Ensemble.

The concert begins at 8:00 p.m. at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium.  There will be a pre-concert discussion by Mr. Meltzer and Cygnus founder William Anderson at 6:15 p.m. at the Library’s Whitall Pavillion.  No tickets are required for the pre-concert talk.  Tickets to the main concert are free but require reservations and may be obtained by contacting Ticketmaster online or at 202.397.7328.

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[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/28274561[/vimeo]On September 11, 2011 the United States marks a decade since the deadliest terrorist attack on our soil, one that has left an indelible mark on the nation’s psyche as a whole. A number of musical tributes, from modest concerts to widely publicized record releases, will be taking place. One of the most unique and interesting is the marathon concert being curated/organized by composers Eleonor Sandresky and Daniel Felsenfeld at Joyce Soho, 155 Mercer Street in Manhattan. Music After, as the event is called, will begin at 8:46 a.m. on Sunday, September 11, 2011 and extend till just after midnight and will feature music by composers who were living in downtown Manhattan on September 11, 2001, a veritable “who’s-who” of the international new music scene including Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Joan LaBarbara, Phil Niblock, Michael Gordon, Phil Kline, Nico Muhly, Judd Greenstein, Morton Subotnick and Rosanne Cash, among many others.

Music After is as much a commemoration of community as it is a memorial for those lost on that morning ten years ago. “So many people I spoke with (after 9/11),” says Sandresky, “talked about how important it had been for them to join in their community and help out. It was definitely something that I had wanted to do as well but couldn’t. Living as I did then with the “pile”–as it was known–literally just around the corner, it was too overwhelming for me, but there were many that did volunteer.
“On the first anniversary [of 9/11],” adds Felsenfeld, “when so many large-scale memorials and commemorations were laid out, I remember thinking that the best way to actually acknowledge the event musically had less to do with ‘requiems’ and ‘threnodies’ and more to do with people. I was a few blocks from the World Trade Center that morning, I saw (and smelled and felt) everything. And I was certainly not alone. So I imagined a LONG concert where every composer or songwriter we could locate who either lived there or happened to be there would be represented with a short and modest work. Then the event becomes not about the fallen or the horror of the day, but about the sheer scope of composers–different kinds of composers, many of whom define what we think of in terms of various musical “scenes”–who were in the thick of the morning.” “This event,” says Sandresky, “is about bringing our community together to stand and sing and play together on this day. And we are coming together as a community and reaching out to our greater community with music.”

Felsenfeld adds that “it is the scope of the concert that makes its point: that so many were affected so directly. Even a four-hour concert would require us to leave out people, and we didn’t want to have to do that. Besides–and I will speak for myself here but suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way–every year September 11 is a difficult day to get through, and we liked the idea that there was a place where, from 8.46am, the moment the first plane hit, until the earliest moments of September 12, there would be somewhere for people in our own community to go. Even if they don’t come,–even if none of them come–it is just a good thing to have as an option.”

In this spirit of community, Music After is a completely grass-roots organized, produced and funded event. There are no corporate or institutional sponsors. Sandresky and Felsenfeld are, therefore, relying on the new music community to rally together to make this event happen, providing yet another avenue for participation for those of us who may not have been directly affected by the events of September 11, 2001 (because we did not live in New York or Washington) but who still bear the scars of this national tragedy. To that end, there are a number of ways to contribute: you can give to Music After’s IndieGoGo campaign or if you have a PayPal account and would like to contribute using that service, you can visit the event’s web site and click on the “give” tab; for large donations, please contact Eleonor Sandresky and/or Daniel Felsenfeld directly via musicafter911@gmail.com for further information on how to make your contribution. “As far as giving goes,” says Felsenfeld, “both Eleonor and myself are strictly volunteers–nothing is going directly to us–and the Joyce SoHo has generously donated their space for the day. All the money we need is going to pay for the people who are going to make the event happen that day: the performers, the crew, the tech, as well as the rental of the equipment. Almost everyone is working at a reduced rate, but with eighteen hours of music, over 50 composers, and somewhere around 75 performers as well as a full staff, you can see that we’ll need your help.”

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In a recent piece for Slate , musicologist Jan Swafford took readers on a little tour of contemporary music that has yielded a fair share of controversy. Mind you, that Slate is publishing a piece on contemporary concert music (or, as Swafford puts it, “contemporary ‘classical’ music, or whatever you want to call it”) for a general readership is a very good thing. But I wonder if we couldn’t do better than Mr. Swafford’s myopic, narrow-minded and patronizing article.

For the record—and right off the bat—let me state that I agree with Mr. Swafford’s ultimate message that “(t)he archetypal avant-garde sensibility was captured in the dictum ‘Make it good or make it bad, but make it new.’ I suggest that it’s time to take that attitude out behind the barn and shoot it. (Emphasis mine.) Standing in the middle of the sometimes interesting chaos and anarchy that is the scene in all the arts, I suggest in its place: Make it old or make it new, but for chrissake (sic) make it good.”

Let’s, by all means, stop worrying about categories and just care about the quality of the work presented. Categories will sort themselves out. This is something for future musicologists to do, not present ones. But Mr. Swafford spends the bulk of his article before this point doing precisely the hair splitting he is decrying (or have I missed the point? Is he really decrying the fact that none of the music he samples—save perhaps his own – is any good?).

Fine, you might say; he’s splitting hairs. Isn’t that his prerogative as a musicologist? Sure, I would say; if only he’d bothered doing more than just cursory research for examples that prove his point.

For example: in his definition of “academic brutalism” he cites an excerpt from Jefferson Friedman’s Eight Songs, a “real colonoscopy of a piece” that consists of transcriptions of songs by “the noise band Crom-Tech” which Friedman made for the Yesaroun’ Duo in 2004. On the basis of this piece alone, Mr. Swafford catalogs Friedman as an “academic brutalist.” While Friedman doesn’t appear to be associated with a university at the present time (shouldn’t an “academic” anything be involved primarily in academia?), a quick glance at Mr. Friedman’s music page on his website quickly reveals that he is far from an academic anything and not merely a “brutalist.” Sure, the particular example of Eight Songs Mr. Swafford cites is pretty brutal, but, from what I can gleam in a quick excursion into Crom-Tech’s work via YouTube, it’s a pretty faithful evocation of the original source material. Given that “aesthetic brutalists” (by way of Xenakis) “want to hurt you” one might be surprised, when one samples, say, Friedman’s 78 or his haunting (and rightly revered) String Quartet no. 2. Mr. Friedman, if anything, would fit in what Kyle Gann would call a totalist style (a problematic label as well, to be sure, but one which I increasingly find useful for music that has roots traceable to minimalism but also welcoming higher degrees of rhythmic and harmonic dissonance as well as influences from rock, pop as well as other “classical” genres), but mostly one is struck by its shear pleasantness. This is incredibly rewarding music to listen to that is far from hurtful and straying far from the pandering banality that can trap all but the most skilled composers of what Swafford calls the “new niceness” (seriously, what about the term Neo-Romanticism fails to apply here?).

I won’t even get into Swafford’s description of a “lecture by a young academic brutalist” whom he refused to name, but who has identified himself to his friends on Facebook (I’ll try to extend some respect to Mr. Swafford by continuing to keep our “young academic brutalist” anonymous in this forum, though I really hope he comes out with a more formal reply to the Slate article than a brief discussion on Facebook).

I’m writing for an audience of connoisseurs here, so it’s a little redundant of me to say that “contemporary ‘classical’ music, or whatever you want to call it” is a LOT of things far beyond the limited and limiting list of malformed categories Mr. Swafford has devised. And, to be fair to Mr. Swafford, I don’t think he’s suggesting that his list is exhaustive or representative of even a majority of the styles of concert music today. But it is disingenuous, patronizing and ridiculous to frame your explanation of the “new noises” in a tone that barely hides your contempt for this music. If this is advocacy, please, stop doing us any favors!

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Update (July 5, 2011): The Villiers Quartet has revised its guidelines for its new music competition. The most notable change is the age restriction, which has been raised to 35. Good luck!

London’s Villiers Quartet is seeking new works by composers under 35. If you’re an emerging composer looking for an international performance opportunity, check out the guidelines to have your work premiered next season by this exciting, young ensemble. I’ll let the ensemble’s first violinist, James Dickenson, explain: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ9bzsWGJEQ[/youtube]

And here are their guidelines, which can also be found at the Villiers Quartet’s web site.

The 2012 Villiers Quartet New Works Competition

The Villiers Quartet seeks new compositions from young composers as part of its 2011-2012 concert season at St Andrew’s Church, Fulham Fields, London, UK. The concert season, which already consists of string quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn, Delius, and Beethoven, will feature a competition open to an international field of new and upcoming composers.

Three finalists will be chosen via online voting and have their works performed in London by the Villiers Quartet on April 29th, 2012. The winner will be determined at the concert by audience vote. The winner will receive a prize of £500 and a studio recording of their piece, plus inclusion of their work into the Villiers Quartet repertoire for upcoming seasons.

Competition Requirements:

This competition is open to composers aged 35 and under as of January 5th, 2012.
All composition entries must be original and unpublished works written for string quartet instrumentation: 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello.
Compositions must be no longer than 20 minutes in length. You may write whatever form you want, and there is no limit to the number of movements. For instance, you might be inspired to write a one movement rhapsodic interlude. You might write a 20 movement work where each movement lasts one minute. Or you might follow the classical four-movement form as laid out by Haydn. The floor is wide open.
Deadline for submissions is January 5th, 2012. Submissions can be sent electronically, or by post. Applications sent by post must be postmarked no later than January 5th, 2012. Applications received or postmarked after this date may not be considered.
We encourage you to be creative and experimental. Most of all, we want to hear your music. For more information on competition guidelines, visit www.villiersquartet.com/2012competition.

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The 2011 Celebrate Asia competition from the Seattle Symphony is now open!

Seattle Symphony’s Celebrate Asia announces the second Seattle Symphony Celebrate Asia Composition Competition. The Competition seeks to promote and recognize young composers who are interested in Asian culture, music and traditions.  The concept originated in 2008, when local Asian leaders wanted to find a way to strengthen bonds with the broader community through a cultural celebration. Celebrate Asia is part of the Seattle Symphony’s Around the World series.

The Seattle Symphony, presenting its 109th season in 2011–2012, will come under the artistic leadership of Music Director Designate Ludovic Morlot in September 2011, following the close of Gerard Schwarz’s Farewell Season as Music Director. The Orchestra performs in the acoustically superb Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. The Symphony is internationally recognized for its adventurous programming of contemporary works, its devotion to the classics, and its extensive recording history. From September through July, the Symphony is heard live by more than 315,000 people.

•Award and Performance
The winning composer will receive a $1,000 cash award and an opportunity to visit Seattle for the world premiere. The winning score will be performed by Seattle Symphony and conductor Mei Ann Chen on February 24, 2012, in Benaroya Hall at the annual Celebrate Asia! concert.
•Eligibility
All composers born after January 1, 1966, are eligible.
•Jury
Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony Music Director
Simon Woods, Seattle Symphony Executive Director
Elena Dubinets, Seattle Symphony Vice President of Artistic Planning
Members of the Seattle Symphony Artistic Advisory Committee
•Submission Guidelines

1.Works must have Asian influences (for example: Asian folk melodies, Asian stories and legends, Asian traditional instruments).
2.Works must be new, original and accessible.
3.Works should be 3 to 6 minutes in duration.
4.Works should be for orchestra or chamber orchestra with instrumentation no larger than 3333 – 4331 – T+3 – hp – kybd – str. Woodwind doublings are allowed.
5.The submitted work must have had no prior performances.

6.Interested composers should submit:
– A legible, bound, full score
– A recording of the piece on a CD (midi-format is OK)
– A clear description of the composition’s Asian influence(s)
– A biography, with current address, e-mail address, and phone number
– If selected, professionally prepared parts will be required 60 days before the concert.
•Entry Fee and Deadline
There is no entry fee. All entries must arrive no later than Friday, October 21, 2011. Seattle Symphony is not responsible for lost or damaged material. The winning composition will be announced before Friday, November 18, 2011.
•Send submission to:
Seattle Symphony Celebrate Asia Composer Competition
ATTN: Amy Stagno
Seattle Symphony
P.O. Box 21906
Seattle, WA 98111-3669

Questions and inquiries may be emailed to: celebrateasia@seattlesymphony.org

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Director Robert Geary and Volti

One of the most exciting areas for new music in recent years has been in the field of choral music. In the next two weeks, two choirs devoted to new music—one a veteran organization, the other an exciting, young rookie—will be presenting important programs of new choral works in both coasts.

The rookie is Baltimore’s Anima Nova Chamber Choir, which will present a concert of works by Eric Whitacre, Tarik O’Regan, Michael Rickelston, Sean Doyle, and Anima Nova founder and director, Jake Runestad. The concert, at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 8 at St. Ignatius Church, 740 North Calvert Street in Baltimore, will benefit the Peabody Preparatory’s “Jr. Bach” scholarship, which provides opportunities for underprivileged students to attend the Peabody Prep.

The veteran ensemble is San Francisco’s Volti, which for the past 32 years has been at the vanguard of new choral music in the United States under the direction of its founder, Robert Geary. Their season finale will be presented three times (Friday, May 13 at 8:00 p.m. at the Berkley City Club; Saturday, May 14 at 8:00 p.m. at First Lutheran Church in Palo Alto; and Sunday, May 15 at 4:00 p.m. at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio) and features works commissioned by Volti, two of which, Matthew Barnson’s Genesis and Elliot Gyger’s voice (and nothing more), are world premieres.

Barnson composed his Genesis, a re-interpretation of the biblical story of creation through poetry, at Volti’s Choral Arts Laboratory, its annual commissioning and residency program where composers under 35 work with Volti’s singers, Artistic Director Robert Geary and Composer in Residence Mark Winges to create a new work for choir in a workshop setting, culminating in its premiere at the end of a given season. Barnson describes Genesis as “three tableaux that are independent of one another but dependent upon the Book of Genesis to give them meaning. Each is a subversive exegesis upon the original story of creation and posits a slight, but vital alternative in the narrative, affecting the outcome of the myth in ways that are sometimes insignificant (but poignant) and sometimes darkly different. Each of the poets whose work I set refracted my original intentions. For instance, the outer movements of the triptych actually retell stories from the book of Genesis. In the second, middle movement I set Richard Siken, a poet whose ecstatic and anxious book, Crush is replete with Biblical images. Beyond the images of apples (knowledge but death) is the feature that the last two poems share: death deferred.”

Elliot Gyger’s voice (and nothing more) reflects the composer’s interest in “language and communication in their own right.” The original germ for what would become voice (and nothing more) was planted ten years ago, when Gyger was a graduate student at Harvard University, where he heard a lecture by musicologist Mauro Calcagno. “Occasionally as a composer,” one encounters by chance a piece of text (or other extra-musical stimulus) for which one may have no immediate use, but which makes such a strong impact that one files it away for future reference. Among the many fascinating sources which Calcagno discussed was a passionate diatribe on the transience of the voice from Emanuele Tesauro’s La metafisica del niente (The Metaphysics of Nothing). Read the rest of this entry »

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I am probably shooting my career in the foot by writing this, not to mention my standing in the D.C. arts community (such as it is), but it has to be said:

Michael Kaiser is just plain wrong about the state of the art.

Mr. Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center, writes in a recent article for the Huffington Post that “the arts are in trouble because there is simply not enough excellent art being created.” He bemoans the lack of innovative artists in a fit of nostalgia, saying that “when I was a young man we had Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey and George Balanchine and Jerome Robins.” “We also had Bernstein and Rodgers and Stravinsky and Rubinstein and Horowitz and Tennessee Williams and…”

You’ll get no argument from me as to the greatness of those artists he mentioned. Mr. Kaiser, in succumbing to nostalgia for an idealized past, ignores the greats we have among us today. Today we have (I’ve never been interested in dance, so I’m afraid I can’t match him category for category with great contemporary choreographers, so I’ll throw in some filmmakers instead to keep to a dramatic art form) Paul Thomas Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Julie Taymor (as long as she stays away from stage adaptations of comic books, evidently) and Christopher Nolan. We also have David Lang, Steve Reich, TWO John Adams (Johns Adams? John Adamses?), Michael Daugherty, Michael Gordon, Stephen Hartke and Frederic Rzweski. We also have Valeri Gergiev, Brad Lubman, Marin Alsop, the Takacs Quartet, eighth blackbird and David Simon, Ronald D. Moore, David Mitchell, Jonathan Franzen, Mario Vargas Llosa, and these are just the “old timers,” the established artists whose work has been around now for some time and whose impact, while varied, is unquestionable.

Perhaps, however, it’s not a matter of names. A lack of innovation is also problematic. “Today,” he writes, “far more inventiveness can be found in popular entertainment than can be found in the classic arts. The embracing of new technologies and the willingness to try new things seems to have become more the province of rock music and movies than of opera, ballet and theater.”

I have to wonder what movies Mr. Kaiser has been watching or what rock music (other than, perhaps, Radiohead or The Fiery Furnaces) he’s been listening to. He does, I’ll grant him, have a point when it comes to opera, ballet and theater, though he, as the president of one of the nation’s pre-eminent arts venues, should know that this is likely to be the result of budgetary pressures than a lack of adventurousness on the part of opera, ballet and theater companies. Innovation in these fields, it seems, is inversely proportional to an organization’s annual budget. Simply put: theater companies have to sell tickets and experimental works by unfamiliar artists do not usually sell well. Audiences fear the unfamiliar, which stifles innovation. A lot of the most innovative work, in my experience, is being done by smaller, leaner operations like Opera Alterna in Washington, D.C., The Figaro Project in Baltimore (which does it—and struggles to do it—on a shoestring budget stemming from their work towards making all of their productions free to the public), Guerrilla Opera in Boston and Divergence Vocal Theater in Austin (hey, the arts in this country do not solely center on the east coast!). These companies are often able to innovate simply because of the limitations placed upon them by their budget. High-tech gadgets do not necessarily equate innovative productions.

Musically, Mr. Kaiser may be limited by the same vision imposed upon him by the Kennedy Center and the National Symphony Orchestra, who tend to engage soloists and recitalists performing works by composers who will not ruffle too many feathers, thus theoretically guaranteeing higher ticket sales. One wonders if Mr. Kaiser is familiar with the work of composers as diverse and interesting as Arlene Sierra, Ryan Brown, David T. Little, Alexandra Gardner, D.J. Sparr, Marc Mellits, David Dramm, Donacha Dennehy, Michel van der Aa, Carl Friderich Haas, Fabian Panisello (hey, not all great art is produced in this country. We live in a global community, even in concert music), Ana Clyne, Oscar Bettison, Rob Paterson or Ken Ueno; or if he’s familiar with the works of performers like Winston Choi, the Euclid Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, Claron McFadden or which works from the contemporary rock “canon” he finds more innovative in their blend of technology, theater and live concert performance than Michel van der Aa’s Here Trilogy, or Anna Clyne’s Rewind, or as moving and arresting as Oscar Bettinon’s O Death, or as infectiously moving as Marc Mellits’ Five Machines. “California Girls?” “Baby?” “Alejandro?”

The list could be endless, frankly, if one knows where to look. The problem the arts have, frankly, is a fundamental lack of vision. We have brought the “graying” of the audience in our efforts to keep hold of “traditional” audiences through war horses and unchallenging programming. Compounding this irony is the ivory tower mentality evident in Mr. Kaiser’s essay, a mentality that I doubt Mr. Kaiser espouses purposefully but which is simply the result of his position and the type of institution for which he works. Mr. Kaiser has proven time and again to be an innovative and important contributor of new initiatives and ideas to reinvigorate and revitalize American concert life. It is an irony of O’Henry-esque proportions that he should prove so myopic in identifying an apparent lack of innovation in contemporary art, culture and, especially, music.

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On Monday, January 24, 2011 at 8:00 p.m. at The Bushwick Starr in Brooklyn, violist Wendy Richman of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) will present “Viola & “, the first program in her “Vox/Viola” project, in which she presents new and important works for singing violist and/or electronics. The program features works by Arlene Sierra, Lou Bunk, Hillary Zipper, Kevin Ernste, Kaija Saariaho, Giacinto Scelsi and Sequenza21’s own Senior Editor, Christian Carey. I caught up with Ms. Richman via email to speak with her about the project’s origin and her interest in performing “one-woman duos.”


“It’s not entirely fair for me to say all the pieces are one-woman duos,” she says. “There’s a very active partner, sound designer Levy Lorenzo, doing much of the program with me.” The idea for these programs goes back several years, growing in part out of Wendy’s involvement with a number of composer friends who happened to work extensively with electronics, but “also because I liked the idea of having a recital program that was totally self-contained. In my imagination, I could pack my laptop, mic, and a pedal, meet with a sound guy for 10 minutes, and—bam!—the show would go perfectly.”


The reality of doing recitals with live electronics proved more complicated than Richman imagined, however, until she met Lorenzo while performing Kaija Saariaho’s Vent Nocturne at an ICE Saariaho portrait concert in New York’s The Tank, where Lorenzo was the audio engineer. “I really experienced the piece differently during that performance. Levy is a fantastically sensitive musician, in addition to [having] great technological skills. Maybe it was in part the rather cramped quarters of the Tank, so we were essentially onstage together, but I’d never really approached playing this music as a duet. Now, it’s really important to me to approach it that way, so the electronics part is not only ‘live’ but ‘alive’.”


“About five years ago,” she adds,” I began playing Scelsi’s Manto, a three-movement work whose movements can be played separately, all together, or in any pairing. The last movement’s instruction states that it is for ‘altiste/chanteuse (necessarily female),’ and ‘the text is a speech of the Sibyl [a prophetess or seer].’ I was learning the piece during a really hard time in my life, when I was recovering from a bad accident, and I think I was looking for music that really spoke to me. Well, the Scelsi did! I guess I was speaking/chanting to myself, (because) it was the first piece in a long time that I had an extremely visceral response to, and that particular commitment seemed to speak to audiences. I received really positive feedback about it and began to feel that it was my piece.”


While there are a number of violinists who sing and play at once (Courtney Orlando of Alarm Will Sound and Monica Germino, of the Dutch group Elektra come to mind), singing violists remain something of a rarity. “I knew that there were some other string players who had done similar things but hadn’t heard much about viola/voice works aside from the Scelsi, and basically I just thought it would be a fun project for me to do.”


So at the urging of the composer Ken Ueno, Ms. Richman embarked on blazing a trail as a singing violist commissioning a number of composers to write pieces for her. The commissioning process, she says, was refreshingly informal and casual. “I talked to composer friends and told them that I don’t have any money (yet!) but that I’m fairly confident I can get a decent number of performances. Their responses varied, of course, but for the most part they were all interested and it was just a matter of time (many had paying commissions that would obviously take priority). I currently have eight finished pieces (three of which are being premiered on the 24th), and a total of about twenty composers who have committed to writing things over the next few years.”


The group of composers on the “Viola & “ program represents a highly eclectic and diverse group. This may seem unusual, but it stems from Ms. Richman’s refreshingly open and friendly approach to commissioning new works. “After hearing (a composer’s) music and liking it, the most important thing for me is that I like the composer (himself) and want to work with (him). In some ways, that’s more important to me, because they might find themselves making stylistic adjustments anyway given the relative newness of the genre to them. I needed to feel like we connected as friends so I could be really comfortable in the collaborative aspect of the project.”


Viola &
Violist/vocalist Wendy Richman and Engineer Levy Lorenzo
Part of The Forge’s Forgefestival
Monday, January 24, 2011 at 8:00 p.m.
Admission: $10
The Bushwick Starr
207 Starr Street
Brooklyn, NY 11237
Info Line: 201.875.8573
www.theforgenow.com

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