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Drummer, composer, and lecturer Chris Cutler

Drummer, composer, and web radio star Chris Cutler

Radio Web MACBA is a radiophonic project from the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) website that explores the possibilities of the internet and radio as spaces of synthesis and exhibition. The programs are available on demand, and as a podcast subscription.

Beginning with a program called Probes #1, drummer extraordinaire Chris Cutler (one of the founding members of the legendary band Henry Cow) examines the side-effects of the collapse of tonality in the 20th century, and intriguingly addresses the idea of Western music notation and modern recording as “memory technology.” As Cutler explains, “Different forms of memory will engender different forms of music.”

“In the late nineteenth century two facts conspired to change the face of music: the collapse of common practice tonality (which overturned the certainties underpinning the world of Art music), and the invention of a revolutionary new form of memory, sound recording (which redefined and greatly empowered the world of popular music). A tidal wave of probes and experiments into new musical resources and new organizational practices ploughed through both disciplines, bringing parts of each onto shared terrain before rolling on to underpin a new aesthetics able to follow sound and its manipulations beyond the narrow confines of ‘music’.”

“This series tries analytically to trace and explain these developments, and to show how, and why, both musical and post-musical genres take the forms they do. This first program sets the scene and investigates early reconsiderations of pitch: probes that postulate new scales to be constructed through the ever-greater subdivision of the inherited intervals of equal temperament.”

Probes #1 is a fascinating podcast, just one of several on the RWM website. Special thanks to composer and sound artist Douglas Henderson for bringing this site and Culter’s podcasts to my attention.

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Trio Oriens_Becker_Tsai

(“Composer Talk” co-hosts Chris Becker and Hsin-Jung Tsai with Trio Oriens)

Howdy pardners!

Some of you may remember that a little over two years ago I relocated from New York City to Houston, TX. Since then, I have been enjoying what is truly a lively and diverse music and arts scene (clap, clap, clap, clap) “deep in the heart of Texas!” This past year in particular has been especially stimulating and busy for me as a composer, performer, writer, and DJ.

Yes, DJ. As in radio DJ. As in, “Tune in Saturday, December 29th, 2012, 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 PM central time for Composer Talk at 90.1 HD2 KPFT and streaming live on the web at ktru.org!”

“Composer Talk” is a spin-off of KTRU’s contemporary music program Scordatura which airs Saturdays from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM CT. The current Scordatura hosts include composer Paul Connolly, bassist and composer Thomas Helton, and pianist and composer Hsin-Jung Tsai. Awhile back, Hsin-Jung interviewed me for an edition of Scordatura, and she and I had so much fun talking about music that we decided to make it a regular thing. Hence, “Composer Talk,” a monthly radio show that features the two of us playing recordings of and talking about contemporary music. Just music and talk, you know, no big whoop.

For each edition of “Composer Talk,” Hsin-Jung and I bring in whatever music we think needs to be shared with the world that month (we always bring more music than we have time to play) and just let it roll. There’s no script. We play raw recordings of premier performances, unreleased recordings by friends far and wide, deep vinyl cuts, and CDs that come to us from great independent labels including Innova, New Amsterdam Records, American Modern Recordings, Cantaloupe Music, and many others.

We’ve had the pleasure of interviewing guest artists in the studio for “Composer Talk,” including Houston’s own Trio Oriens, marimba player Wei-Chen Lin, composer Joseph Phillips, and pianist Robert Boston.

Some of our listeners enjoy just checking in for a few minutes at a time, while others let the show play in its entirety. Unfortunately, the show isn’t archived, so any unplanned alchemy that happens only happens once, kind of like music: ephemeral and (we hope) fun.

“Composer Talk” airs this Saturday, December 29th, 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Central Time) in high definition at 90.1 HD2 KPFT and streaming live on the web at www.ktru.org.

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John Corigliano (photo by J. Henry Fair)

Houston’s Musiqa opens its season with the Houston premiere of composer John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man for amplified soprano and chamber ensemble and texts by one of the most influential lyricists of all time, Bob Dylan. Karol Bennett is the soprano, and Robert Franz conducts. The concert also includes a performance of John Harbison’s Songs America Loves To Sing and a reading by Justin Cronin, the award-winning author of The Passage. Musiqa’s five member Artistic Board will also premiere a series of Musiqa Minatures in celebration of its 10th anniversary season.

The lyrics Corigliano chose for this song cycle, including Mr. Tambourine Man, Blowin’ in the Wind, Masters of War, All Along the Watchtower and Forever Young, are as timely today as they were when Dylan originally wrote them in the 60′s. “I felt the most important thing Bob Dylan did in the 60’s was raise political awareness of the situations around his time,” says Corigliano. “His time is not that dissimilar to our time.”

In an exclusive interview with Musiqa’s Chris Becker, Corigliano discusses the poetry of Bob Dylan, the challenges of composing for the voice, and the current state of music education.

Chris Becker: Have you had listeners come up to you, say people in their 20’s or students, and ask you about Bob Dylan? Do younger audiences know who Bob Dylan is?

John Corigliano: I think everybody knows who Bob Dylan is, 20 year olds too. Last season he was playing on the Grammys and he’s got new stuff coming out all the time. He’s an active artist as well as one who existed in the 60’s.

Chris Becker: Have you heard anything from Dylan himself about the piece?

John Corigliano:
No, not a word. I sent him the CD when it came out, the orchestral vocal performance on Naxos. But I didn’t expect to hear anything for several reasons. He’s such a superstar this would probably be insignificant to him. I think he thinks that classical music is elitist music so he might not respond well and certainly he would probably have a response (like): “He’s setting it all wrong! That’s not the way it goes!”

Chris Becker: I wonder about that. I think it would be very intriguing to get a reaction from him at some point. I asked the first question I guess in part because I’d read that when you grew up when Dylan was first making the rounds…you weren’t really listening to his music? You were listening to other kinds of music.

John Corigliano: That’s correct. I wasn’t interested in folk music that basically dealt three or four chords and a melody that stayed the same verse after verse no matter what the words said. I was much more interested in more innovative things like what the Beatles were doing. If was at a coffee house and I heard Bob Dylan, I’d keep talking to my friend in the coffee house and I wouldn’t say: “What’s that?” It wouldn’t have drawn me. I think his words are magnificent, but when I finally did hear the music, I didn’t think it fit the words sometimes because that’s not how folk music goes. It has a single verse even if the mood and the whole tenor of the words change. When I heard the Beatles on the other hand, the orchestrations they do, the harmonies they do, the phrasing – it’s all very unusual stuff. I was much more drawn to that.

Read the entire interview here.

Special thanks to Jeremy Howard Beck for his help with coordinating this interview

Musiqa Presents: Play a Song For Me, September 24, 2011, 7:30 p.m. at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Zilkha Hall, 800 Bagby, Houston TX 77002. Individual tickets: $40, $30 and $20. 50% off for students and seniors with ID. Individual tickets and subscriptions are available at the Hobby Center website.

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[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHnpLbMWo7c[/youtube]

Video shot and edited by Jonathan Jindra. Music by George Heathco.

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Opera Singer Misha Penton as Klytemnestra (photo by Kerry Beyer)

(Houston, TX) Houston based opera singer Misha Penton opens her unique performance space Divergence Vocal Theater this Friday, April 15th. Located at Spring Street Studios, home to many of Houston’s finest visual and mixed media artists. Divergence Vocal Theater will bring together Ms. Penton’s team of singers, musicians, composers, dancers, and lighting and costume designers to present new chamber opera repertoire. Klytemnestra, a collaborative opera dance theater work featuring music by composer Dominick DiOrio, sung text by Misha Penton, spoken text by John Harvey, and choreography by Meg Brooker, is receiving a great deal of positive press in advance of its premier April 15th and 16th at Divergence Vocal Theater.

Ms. Penton’s mission is to subvert the social mores and business paradigms preventing singers from creating their own works. In the wake of reality after graduate school, more and more classical instrumentalists are creating their own business and career models, going further and further out into what is, for many musicians, uncharted territory. Violinist Todd Reynolds, the ensemble Alarm Will Sound, and Houston based pianists Jade Simmons and Kris Becker are a few examples of musicians who are each developing a sustainable means for commissioning, performing, and deriving an income from playing contemporary classical music. Their approaches are as varied as their personalities, and there is much to discuss when it comes to what is actually working for one musician as opposed to another. But in the near future, these intrepid instrumentalists are going to find that more and more singers, including Misha Penton, are “out there” with them.

Misha and I met shortly after my relocating to Houston and I quickly recognized a kindred spirit. This interview took place via email in advance of the premier of Kyltemnestra.

Chris Becker: In a recent interview you said: “One of the things I want to do…is restructure the way people think about who does opera, how it’s done, who makes it, and who performs it…What I do with Divergence is…create my own works and I sing in them. It’s very much something actors and dancers do, but singers are not encouraged to create their own products.” Do you think this model that you’re describing is the future of classically trained musicians?

Misha Penton: Actually, I do – but it’s already happening. And it really isn’t anything new…instrumentalists in particular have been savvy to this model for a long time – the success of independent ensembles like Eighth Blackbird comes to mind immediately. Some conservatories are starting to take entrepreneurship seriously. Opera America has a great feature about entrepreneurship in its spring magazine and about singer-led initiatives, and entrepreneurship is the theme for the conference this year as well. Obviously rock and jazz musicians work this way and always have. I’m seeing more classically trained singers take on their own projects, but it doesn’t seem to be as encouraged by the vocal teaching tradition as it could be…but again, that is all changing. The more opportunities we, as artists create, the better we’ll be able to define success for ourselves. As a singer, I’m only partly an interpretive artist. I’m a theater artist and writer too, so I’ve always done creative work. I think of myself as an independent artist who happens to create work collaboratively.

Opera Singer Misha Penton (photo by Kerry Beyer)

CB: Who are some of your peers among singers that are doing something similarly subversive?

MP There are more and more small opera companies popping up that singers are joining forces to create – that’s absolutely fantastic. And classically trained singers are branching out into all sorts of music projects. I meet singers all the time who say, “Hey I have this idea for a project” – I just love that. Go do it!

In general, I question the traditional company and nonprofit structure – so I’m not sure that’s the best survival tactic nor the best creative model. There are so many options for funding work now without forming a nonprofit (fiscal sponsorship, crowdfunding, etc). The last thing I want on my back is an “organization”. I work project-to-project and I’m aspiring to a Robert Fripp-ian model – a “small mobile intelligent unit”.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Spring in Houston is an intensely visual experience as the grass now nourished by rain and sun turns from brown to green. Flowers are blooming in unexpected places while birds of all shades of color return to take up residence in the surrounding trees. Everything looks and smells a little…fresher. Come Spring, Houston’s bird population as well as its amphibians and yes, insects, sing or otherwise rock their antiphonal and conversational repertoire all day and all night. Which leads us to one of the many highlights of what is now the last few months of the artistic season.

This Saturday, March 26th at 7:30pm at the Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall, Musiqa presents “The Art of Conversation,” a unique blend of music and theater with the Grammy-nominated Enso String Quartet performing a program of Houston composers including two world premieres by Kurt Stallmann and Rob Smith, as well as quartets by Karim Al-Zand and Marcus Maroney. Interwoven with the music are two ten-minute one-act plays by Michael Hollinger, “Truth Decay” and “Naked Lunch,” featuring actors Briana Resa and Matt Hune under the direction of Julia Traber. The similarity of string quartet writing and performance to conversation between companions or even actors in a play inspired the concert’s name and cross-disciplinary programming. Houston, by the way, has a very lively theater scene with several forward thinking companies including Alley Theatre, Stages Repertory Theatre, Frenetic / FrenetiCore Theatre, Catastrophic Theatre, and and Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre.

Composer Kurt Stallmann

Commissioned by the Chamber Music America Commissioning Program, Kurt Stallman’s premiere Following Franz, Now for string quartet and electronics began with Stallman’s analysis of Franz Schubert’s unfinished string quartet Quartettsatz, a process that generated musical materials for his own quartet built directly from those contained in Schubert’s score. Going far beyond musical quotation, Stallman challenged himself by imposing only small changes to Schubert’s original materials – widening the opening range of pitches by a semitone, deriving all harmonic material from a few choice chords, or lengthening of the primary motif by a single sixteenth note – to develop a composition containing the “trace memory” of Schubert’s original work. Enso will perform Schubert’s Quartettsatz before Following Franz, Now so audiences can experience the transformation.

Composer Rob Smith

Musiqa Artistic Board member Rob Smith also directs the AURA contemporary ensemble at the Moores School Of Music. His composition for string quartet and The Art Of Conversation’s second world premier Spin is inspired by the manic energy and immediacy of contemporary pop music as well as the exhilarating if queasy sensation of spinning. “A circle of fifths harmonic progression, canonic passages, modal figures that loop around the tonic, and uneven rhythmic patterns” are all a part of Spin’s driving and energetic musical world.

“The Art Of Conversation” takes place March 26, 7:30 p.m. at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Zilkha Hall, 800 Bagby. Ticket prices are $20-$40 with 50% off for seniors and students with ID. You can purchase tickets at www.musiqahouston.org.

At 7:00pm, Musiqa’s Artistic Director Anthony Brandt presents “New to New Music,” a pre-concert talk geared especially for those new to contemporary classical music.

This Friday at 12 noon Central time, tune in to KUHF 88.7 to hear the Enso Quartet, Kurt Stallman and Rob Smith interviewed live on The Front Row. KUHF streams online, so those of you around the country, check it out.

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(Houston, TX) On February 25th and 26th at 8pm and February 27th at 2:30 pm (the third date added due to popular demand), the Houston Chamber Choir and Da Camera present Music for Rothko, a concert program of contemporary music in one of Houston’s most unique performance spaces. All three performances are sold out.

Presented in the interior of Rothko Chapel, the Music for Rothko program includes piano works by John Cage and Erik Satie, Tagh for the Funeral of the Lord for viola and percussion by Tigran Mansurian, and choral compositions by John Cage including Four. Feldman’s Rothko Chapel for soprano, alto, choir, celesta, and percussion, is the centerpiece of the program. The performers include the Houston Chamber Choir conducted by Robert Simpson, pianist Sarah Rothenberg, percussionist Brian Del Signore, and violist Kim Kashkashian in her first Houston appearance in more than 20 years.

New Yorker Magazine music critic Alex Ross recently tweeted: “It’s Rothko Chapel week” in reference to several performances taking place this week across the country of Feldman’s elegy for his friend painter Mark Rothko. It is exciting to find out via Twitter that this piece is receiving so much well deserved attention. Last Fall on Sequenza 21, I wrote about the Houston Chamber Choir and this upcoming concert. But I didn’t know at the time that several other performances of the piece would take place within a short span of time. And now I’m interested in contemplating what will set the Houston performance of Rothko Chapel apart from those taking place in other cities?

In his wonderful collection of writings Give My Regards to Eighth Street, Feldman describes Rothko’s paintings as “…an experience in depth…not a surface to be seen on a wall.” Music for Rothko will be complimented by the fourteen paintings Rothko painted for Rothko Chapel; and this setting is one that venues in other cities will not be able to approximate. Rothko’s paintings seem to move beyond the edges of the canvases, their surface appearances changing constantly thanks to the light coming through the chapel’s skylight and Houston’s unpredictable weather patterns. A fusion between the paintings, the architecture of the octagonal room, AND the live music is in store for the chapel’s capacity audiences.

Rothko Chapel

Music for Rothko takes place February 25th and 26th at 8pm and February 27th at 2:30pm at Rothko Chapel. All three Music for Rothko concerts are sold out.

A standby list will be created beginning one hour before the performances, and if there are unoccupied seats, ticket will be sold for $35 at the door beginning about 10 minutes before the concert begins.

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Todd Reynolds photographed by Toni Gauthier

HOUSTON, TX – On February 17th, 6:30 pm at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, the Houston music group Musiqa in collaboration with the Mitchell Center and CAMH present Answers to Questions with works by composers Bill Ryan, Michael Lowenstern, David T. Little, Ingram Marshall, and Nick Zammuto all performed by composer and violinist Todd Reynolds. The concert is produced in conjunction with and in response to the CAMH exhibition Answers to Questions: John Wood & Paul Harrison, the first United States museum survey of work in video by this British artistic team. Admission is free.

Composer, conductor, arranger and violinist, Todd Reynolds is a longtime member of Bang On A Can, Steve Reich and Musicians and an early member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. His commitment to genre-bending and technology-driven innovation in music has produced innumerable artistic collaborations that cross musical and disciplinary boundaries. As a solo performer, Reynolds continues to develop and perform a repertoire of works for his instrument in combination with the laptop computer and his main software weapon of choice Ableton Live. His forthcoming double CD Outerborough (Innova) features a CD of original works paired with a second disc of works composed especially for Reynolds in the past year. Reynolds will include two of his own works from Outerborough on the Feburary 17th concert. Outerborough is due out in March.

(Outerborough design, photography, and artwork by Mark Kingsley)

Reynolds says that while certain violinists impressed and inspired him from his very beginnings as a musician, including Stuff Smith, Stephane Grappelli, and electric violinist Jerry Goodman, more relevant to him as composer and soloist is guitarist Robert Fripp (“The first looper!”) and his Frippertronics performances, as well as composer singer Meredith Monk. Like Fripp and Monk, Reynolds has absorbed the musical techniques of many musical worlds, including country, blues, Indian music, jazz, and rock. As an independent instrumentalist, he reaches to fellow composers to compose pieces that utilize his formidable technique in combination with the edges of what is possible with digital technology. Other composer/performer/composer collaborations like Dawn Upshaw with Osvaldo Golijov, Helga Davis with Paola Prestini, and Pat Metheny with Steve Reich have similarly helped “strengthen the art” of both new music and its interpreters.

This is Reynolds’ first visit to and performance in Houston, Texas. He admits he has little knowledge of Houston’s artistic output, and is tremendously excited to get to know the city. With a music and multidisciplinary scene that includes experimental music hosted by the Houston Museum for African American Culture, Nameless Sound, and the aforementioned Musiqa, to the recently lauded production of Dead Man Walking by the Houston Grand Opera, creative programming by several smaller opera companies, chorale ensembles and chamber groups including the Grammy nominated Ars Lyrica, Houston should be a destination of choice for experimental musicians from other parts of the U.S. and the world. H-Town is beating the drum loudly. The question is, are you listening?

Musiqa presents Answers to Questions with violinist Todd Reynolds. February 17, 2011, 6:30 pm, at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose. Admission is Free.

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The job requirements of a working composer are elusive, perhaps especially for composition students enrolled in University degree programs that fail to provide graduates with the interpersonal and business skills necessary for survival outside the walls of academia. One student composer told me recently: “We are all being trained to teach.”Woody Allen famously said: “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” But those who compose and don’t teach do find ways to sustain themselves and their passion for music through a variety of collaborative and creative means, some perhaps less “traditional” than others. With this in mind, let’s have a chat with my friend composer Tom Myron.

The range of Tom Myron’s work as a composer includes commissions and performances by the Kennedy Center, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, the Topeka Symphony, the Yale Symphony Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Bangor Symphony and the Lamont Symphony at Denver University. He works regularly as an arranger for the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, writing for singers Rosanne Cash, Kelli O’Hara, Maxi Priest and Phil Stacey, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, and the Quebec folk ensemble Le Vent du Nord. Le Vent du Nord’s new CD Symphonique featuring Myron’s orchestra arrangements is receiving an incredible amount of positive press throughout Canada and will be available for purchase in the U.S. soon. A video preview of the recording is included in this interview.

His film scores include Wilderness & Spirit; A Mountain Called Katahdin and the upcoming Henry David Thoreau; Surveyor of the Soul, both from Films by Huey. Individual soloists and chamber ensembles that regularly perform Myron’s work include violinists Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, Elisabeth Adkins and Kara Eubanks, violist Tsuna Sakamoto, cellist David Darling, the Portland String Quartet, the DaPonte String Quartet and the Potomac String Quartet.

Myron’s current projects include commissioned work for the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra and creating arrangements for Joe Jackson’s music-theater piece Stoker
inspired by the life of Bram Stoker author of 1897 Gothic novel Dracula.

Tom (I’ll call him Tom now) graciously took time out of his schedule to answer a handful of questions including several having to do with the “business” of making music.

Chris Becker: You arrange and orchestrate music for a variety of artists and have a career composing concertos, string quartets, and various settings for voice. Are these two separate careers that you have to juggle? Or do they intersect providing you with even more musical opportunities than if you were focused only one or the other?

Tom Myron: From a purely logistical point of view it’s a juggling act. Both types of work tend to lead to more opportunities within their respective areas, but there isn’t a lot of overlap. That said, they DO intersect for me on a more personal, creative level. I love getting to know all kinds of musical idioms in a very practical, mechanical way. I also love just about everything that goes into handling, preparing and rehearsing music for live performance. My training in composition and the orchestral repertoire has benefited my commercial work by giving me the flexibility to consider (and rapidly execute!) multiple solutions to specific problems. The commercial work in turn informs my composition by instilling a disciplined work ethic and keeping organization and clarity of intention foremost in my mind.

Read the rest of this interview.

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Houston, TX – There’s no question that Houston’s proponents of contemporary music are enthusiastically embracing creative marketing concepts and alternative venues for performances in an effort to expand and educate a new century of audiences. In an un-zoned city like Houston, I find that musicians and audiences will happily cross so-called genre and cultural boundaries especially if there’s promise of a good time (Texas barbecue can help too, but that’ll be another entry…). Much to my delight, I am seeing familiar faces when I’m out at performances of new music be it in a gallery in the Third Ward, a club in Montrose, or the Hobby Center’s Zilka Hall. Although I’ve only been living in Houston for short time, I feel a sense of connection to what is a pretty broad cross section of the city’s creative community.

Duo Scordatura violinist Nicholas Leh Baker

One of the familiar faces I see around town is Houston composer George Heathco, who hipped me to what will be an exciting concert of contemporary pieces for the violin and viola, including three (!) world premieres, performed by the duo of violinist Nicholas Leh Baker and violist Faith Magdalene Jones who call themselves Duo Scordatura. The concert takes place Saturday, January 29th at 6pm at First Presbyterian Church, located at 5300 Main Street. Tickets for concert are $10 for general audiences and $5 for students, children, and seniors.

The concert, titled COMMISSIONED, includes four works commissioned by Duo Scordatura, including works by Alexandra T. Bryant, Luke Dahn, George Heathco, and Dr. Daniel Kramlich. Part of the creative marketing for COMMISSIONED includes the Commissioned Project Interview Series featuring the duo and commissioned composers discussing the collaborative process that takes place between composers and the performing musicians.

Composer George Heathco

Heathco describes his programmed piece Turbine (2010) as “a bitch to play, but…a very entertaining work (or so I hope).” Also on the program are pieces by Jack Benson and Jodran Kuspa.

All of the composers on the bill either currently or have at one point called Houston their home and, according to Nicholas Leh Baker in his video interview, will all be present at the performance. Duo Scordatura is committed to presenting works “in a wide range of venues across the Houston landscape.” I look forward to hearing them next Saturday at First Presbyterian Church, and in the future wherever their mission takes them.

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