Author Archive


The Latin American Music Center at Indiana University is presenting American Cosmology, a program designed specially for the Composers Now  festival that is involving many members of New York’s new music scene in February.  Invited by Composers Now’s artistic director, composer Tania León, the program will be presented on February 4th a the Music Now Marathon in Symphony Space , and on February 6 at the Americas Society Concert Series.

American Cosmology was designed by the LAMC’s director Carmen-Helena Téllez to showcase complementary meditations on the sky and the cosmos represented in David Dzubay’s Astral  String Quartet and in Gabriela Ortiz’s Baalkah for String Quartet and Soprano. Astral, written for the Orion Quartet, was inspired by the ensemble’s name and by the constellations visible in the sky while the composer worked at the MacDowell Artsit Colony in  New Hampshire. Baalkah was composed for the Kronos Quartet and Dawn Upshaw, and sets texts from Mayan cosmology addressing patterns of existence and the place of humanity in the universe.

David Dzubay has received commissions from Meet the Composer, Chamber Music America, the National Endowment for the Arts, the US-Mexico Fund for Culture, and the Fromm and Barlow foundations, among others. Recent honors include Guggenheim, MacDowell, Yaddo, Copland House and Djerassi fellowships, a 2011 Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 2010 Heckscher Prize. His music has been performed by orchestras, ensembles and soloists in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Asia, and is published by Pro Nova Music and recorded on the Sony, Bridge, Centaur, Innova, Naxos, Crystal, Klavier, Gia, and First Edition labels.

David Dzubay writes: “Beginning work on a piece for the Orion String Quartet, and taking a cue either from the group’s name or perhaps from gazing upwards on evening strolls around the MacDowell Colony in rural New Hampshire, I decided to focus on the stars, composing an “Astral” quartet, movements of which would look at stars and space in various ways. Though the movements are somewhat independent, they do share musical elements and together are balanced on the curious middle movement. Like our galaxy, the quartet has a spiral structure, both in the shape of an eight-pitch ‘spiral motive’ and in the duration of the movements (roughly 5′-3′-2′-4′-3′). A recurring element, first heard in the opening bars, is a group of three evenly spaced attacks, a representation of Orion’s Belt, the tight grouping of three stars lined up in the Orion constellation.

Gabriela Ortiz is one of the foremost composers in Mexico today. Recent commissions and premieres include her new videopera Unicamente la Verdad with the Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble under Carmen-Helena Téllez; Altar de Piedra for three percussion players, timpani and orchestra for Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra with Esa- Pekka Salonen and Kroumata percussion ensemble; Zócalo-Bastilla, for violin, percussion and orchestra premiered by violinist Pierre Amoyal, and  Altar de Muertos, a string quartet commissioned by Kronos Quartet.

Baalkah, which means ‘world’ or ‘cosmos’ in Maya, was inspired by the cosmological beliefs of the Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula and of other Mexican and Central American native peoples. For over 5,000 thousand years, these Native American peoples have conceived the world as being divided into 4 cardinal directions: east, north, west and south. In each one of these directions stands a gigantic tree that supports the sky, and each one has its particular cosmological characteristics, such as its own ruling deity, its own color, a set of related plants and animals, and, more generally, its own mood or personality. The lyrics of the first four songs of Balkah are taken from a 17th century Maya book, the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, a priceless depository of centuries of historical and religious wisdom inherited by Maya priests and kept hidden from the prosecution of the Catholic church. Each member of the string quartet represents one the four cardinal directions, and the center is represented by the soprano.

The ensemble includes Madalyn and Cicely Parnas, both soloists and members of the Parnas duo that has received accolades of  “stunning” and “electrifying” in the New York Times. Madalyn will play a solo piece by Timothy Dunne earlier in the evening on of Saturday February 4th.  Cicely was the inaugural artist-in-residence of the radio program Performance Today last December.  Violinist Tim Kantor has been a featured artist with the Banff and Aspen festivals as well as with the Cleveland Pops; and violist Rose Wollman has performed all over the word with conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Fabio Luisi, Hugh Wolf, Joseph Silverstein, and Larry Ratcliff in orchestras all over the world. A fierce new music performer, soprano Sharon Harms will return later to New York for the performance of Charles Wuorinen’s It Happens Like This, which she premiered under the baton of the composer at Tanglewood last summer.

Comments Comments Off on American Cosmology at the Composers Now Festival

Art by Margaret Dolinsky, Copyright 2011

Dear Colleagues,

If you are in the vicinity of Bloomington,  Indiana, come join us at the premiere of the 2011 version of Don Freund‘s PASSION with Tropes, scheduled for May 20 and 21 at the Ruth N. Hall Theatre of Indiana University. Originally conceived as a monumental oratorio for large forces, it was adapted by Freund for an immersive and interactive multidisciplinary production. In this 80-minute version, PASSION with Tropes is cast for actors, dancers, and an ensemble of  approximately 40 voices and  instrumentalists who take multiple roles as soloists,  chamber groups and even as a jazz combo. It has been a fascinating process to see how the work has gained unexpected layers of meaning under the lens of the interdisciplinary artists. For more information, visit:

Comments Comments Off on PASSION with Tropes by Don Freund

It is a dangerous business to write new operas, but equally thrilling to produce them. Bernard Rands’s VINCENT, a work exploring the life and art of Vincent van Gogh, was premiered last Friday April 8 and 9 at the Musical Arts Center of Indiana University in Bloomington. Two other performances are scheduled for next April 15 and 16. The production was a major success for the university’s Jacobs School of Music, offering to the world something for which it is uniquely suited. A major center for musical performance and research, the Jacobs school has an unmatched capability for producing and testing new works with very high production values.  Even though the School has not embraced this role in a regular manner, its trajectory has been distinguished by ambitious productions of new works and collegiate premieres. The list includes the famous microtonal operas of MacArthur-award winner John Eaton (Danton and Robespierre, The Cry of Clytemnestra, The Tempest); the collegiate premieres of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge, and John Adams’s Nixon in China. (I still think that their airplane arrival in the first scene of Nixon is the best ever….). Besides the main stage productions in the Musical Arts Center, the School has presented collegiate premieres of Adams’s opera-oratorio El Niño, and Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, along with the premiere of Gabriela Ortiz’s video-opera ¡Unicamente la verdad!.

The premiere of Vincent represented another kind of breakthrough for the Jacobs School Opera Theater.  Known for the size of its stage and for lavish scenery built in its own workshops, this time the Jacobs School designed a new style of production for Vincent that focused on projections and digital images. After seeing two performances of Vincent with both casts, I had pre-scheduled to go to Chicago to see the last performance at the Harris Theater of Death and the Powers, the well-received opera by Tod Machover. This gave me an opportunity to gain yet another perspective on Vincent. I will not comment on Machover’s wonderful work here, except to say that it also featured original technological components in the form of musical robots and light sculptures expressing aspects of human thought and emotion. Clearly, digital technology is gaining ground as an expected expressive element in opera and other interdisciplinary genres. Soon it will need to be contemplated as a regular element in the training of musicians, especially since other musical genres beside opera are beginning to be treated in an interdisciplinary manner.

Bernard Rands’s Vincent will be judged unavoidably from diverse perspectives. As a conductor a new operas, I have been aware of the complexities of the reception of new operatic works, and I have concluded that success depends as much on a game of audience expectations as on the intrinsic structural characteristics of the composition. During the panels on the future of opera arranged around the world-premiere of Gabriela Ortiz’s ¡Unicamente la verdad!, certain tensions became apparent. For some opera fans, opera is about a dramatic narrative with a continuous musical architecture that carries the listener to a point of climax and a denouement, and that (most importantly!) features singers in the central expressive role. This concept arguably peaked in the late 19th and early 20th century with the works of Verdi, Wagner and Puccini.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments 3 Comments »