May 23-24, 2012: Spektral Quartet and High Concept Laboratories Present Theatre of War
by Arlene and Larry Dunn
On Wednesday, May 23 in Chicago, the Spektral Quartet and High Concept Laboratories will present Theatre of War, an artistic investigation into the disconnects between the experiences of those most directly affected by our wars and the experience of the public at large. The event comes at a salient moment, immediately following the NATO summit meeting in Chicago. Theatre of War will be held at the Chopin Theatre and will be repeated on Thursday, May 24. All ticket proceeds are being donated to the Vet Art Project (www.vetartproject.com)
In every era there are artists who are able to use their work as a prism through which the public can examine troubling facts that might otherwise be hiding in plain sight. Examples abound, as diverse as Picasso’s antiwar masterpiece Guernica and Nina Simone’s civil rights broadside Mississippi Goddam. With our personal history in the struggles for civil rights and against the War in Vietnam, we consider this an important role of art. We have been troubled by the lack of public discourse and artistic light shone on a decade of US war-making.
We applaud the Spektral Quartet and their collaborators for embracing this artistic tradition with Theatre of War. The multimedia production will employ music, film, literature, and theater to examine the consequences of our nation being at war. With our modern all-volunteer military, few Americans are directly involved in our war efforts. We as a society hold those who serve in high regard. But we tend to do so with an empty reverence. We worship them as heroes without really understanding what we ask them to do in our names, nor comprehending the physical and psychic toll they pay in doing it. These are the disconcerting realities Theatre of War will confront.
The musical components of Theatre of War will be “Stress Position” by Chicago composer Drew Baker and George Crumb’s “Black Angels.” Guest pianist Lisa Kaplan of eighth blackbird will perform “Stress Position,” a staged piece for solo amplified piano. The pianist is subjected to a kind of torture, stretched to the limits to play constantly at the two extremes of the keyboard. As the volume increases and the lights go out, the audience is engulfed in the experience. The Spektral Quartet will play “Black Angels,” written by Crumb at the height of the Vietnam War turmoil. It is scored for electrified string quartet and the players are also required to vocalize, play percussion, and bow water-filled crystal glasses, creating eerie, otherworldly effects.
Richard Mosse, a filmmaker and photographer who has been embedded with US military units in Iraq and Afghanistan, will provide the video portion of the program. His short films “Theatre of War,” “Gaza Pastoral,” and “Killcam” expose elements of our military efforts of which the everyday public are typically unaware.
The literary and theatrical segments of Theatre of War will come from Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska and Chicago writer Virginia Konchan. Szymborska’s poems “Hatred” and “The End and the Beginning” assay the fundamental nature of human conflict and reconciliation. Konchan’s short story “Blackbird,” adapted for the stage by Molly Feingold of High Concept Laboratories, probes the scars of war borne by a returning soldier and his frustrated search for healing.
In presenting Theatre of War in the wake of the NATO Summit, we hope the Spektral Quartet and their artistic partners will spark a personal-level examination of our ongoing global military operations. Following the program, the audience will be encouraged to share their reactions in discussion with the artists and with each other.
Chicago-based Spektral Quartet was formed in 2010 with a commitment to play a wide-ranging repertory in traditional and genre-breaking venues. The members are Aurelien Fort Pederzoli (violin), J. Austin Wulliman (violin), Doyle Armbrust (viola), and Russell Rolen (cello). High Concept Laboratories, led by Co-artistic Directors Molly Feingold and Kevin Simmons, collaborates with Chicago-area artists and performers to foster the creation and development of new works.
Theatre of War
1543 W Division
Chicago, IL 60642
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 7:30 PM
Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 7:30 PM
General Admission: $30.00
Student Admission: $20.00
Arlene and Larry Dunn are avid fans of a wide range of contemporary arts and music endeavors as well as life-long social activists. They are frequent contributors of “audience perspective” blog postings for digitICE, the blog of the new music juggernaut International Contemporary Ensemble. They live in rural LaPorte County, Indiana.
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Princeton Symphony Orchestra
Richardson Auditorium, Princeton, NJ
May 13, 2012
PRINCETON – The Princeton Symphony’s final concert of its classical season included two repertory staples – Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major – as well as a revised version of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s sole work to date for orchestra, Disquiet. Although Snider is a rising star in the world of contemporary music, she has thus far made her name as a formidable composer of vocal works, notably the song cycle Penelope, as well as theatre music and chamber compositions for groups such as yMusic and NOW Ensemble.
She first conceived some of the material for Disquiet back in 2000, and the original version of the piece was premiered at Yale while she was a graduate student there in 2004. The revised version given by the Princeton Symphony, conducted by Rossen Milanov, is a single movement tone poem around a quarter of an hour long. Rather than depicting “disquiet” primarily via its pitch or rhythmic language, creating abundant dissonances or angularity, Snider takes another approach: uneasiness is primarily delineated by the work’s formal design. Thus, one may at first be surprised to hear the its often lush harmonies and strong melodic thrust. But as Disquiet unfolds, a labyrinth of disparate gestures and contrasting sections, often supplied in quick succession, imparts the title’s requisite restive sensibility.
Milanov brought out the piece’s wide dynamic shifts, exhorting brash tutti and hushed sustained chords from the orchestra. The piece’s quick sectional shifts allowed several performers brief turns in the spotlight: concertmaster Basia Danilow, clarinetist William Ansel, and flutist Jayn Rosenfeld noteworthy among them.
One hopes that, with this performance under her belt, Snider will get the opportunity to create more works for orchestra. Given Disquiet’s colorfully cinematic use of motives, one also wonders whether she might try her hand at film-scoring.
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TWO PREMIERES BY DAVID SMOOKE
by Judah Adashi
Here in Baltimore, we take great pride in our vibrant music scene. Indeed, it’s so vibrant that my friend and colleague, David Smooke, has two local premieres in one night! (OK, one of them is in DC, but we mustn’t let such details stand in the way of rooting for the home team.)
Tonight at 8:00pm at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H Street NE), David will join Great Noise Ensemble as the featured soloist in the world premiere of his toy piano concerto, Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. The piece takes its title and inspiration from a series of eighteen death-scene dioramas by Frances Glessner Lee, currently housed in the Office of the Medical Examiner in Baltimore. Back in Charm City, also at 8:00pm, the Atlantic Guitar Quartet will premiere David’s Topographies at the Engineer’s Club (11 W. Mt. Vernon Place).
Like the composer himself, unless you manage to bend the space-time continuum, you’ll only be able to attend one of these events. But should you find yourself at either of the above-mentioned points along the I-95 corridor, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to hear the latest fruits of David’s vivid sonic imagination!
Tonight, the Alabama Symphony, conducted by Justin Brown, appears at Carnegie Hall as part of Spring for Music, a week long celebration of out-of-town orchestras with adventurous programming aesthetics. Many of them are making their Carnegie Hall debuts; all of them are bringing programs of interest and demonstrating that, despite the oft-reported economic vicissitudes in the world of classical music, there remains a tremendous vitality of orchestral music making throughout North America.
In addition to a repertory standby, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, the ASO presents two New York premieres of pieces they commissioned: Avner Dorman’s Astrolatry and Paul Lansky’s Shapeshifters. The latter work is a double piano concerto for the duo Quattro Mani.
The same forces recently recorded it, as well as two other pieces by Lansky, for Bridge . The disc, titled Imaginary Islands, shows off Lansky’s music at its most colorful, filled with virtuosic passages for the soloists and formidably propulsive post-minimal writing for the orchestra. The composer’s take on minimal figuration is a fascinating marriage of an “enhanced” harmonic palette, one evocative of Messiaen as often as it is of Adams, with crackling ostinati and pileups of syncopation.
The recording demonstrates how far the ASO has come in a relatively short period of time: less than twenty years ago (in 1993), the orchestra had declared bankruptcy and its future was very much in doubt. The musicians and Brown, who soon departs from his position as their music director, should be proud of the successes the ASO has enjoyed in recent years. The standard of playing has risen, the orchestra’s programming has included a number of new works including several commissions, and they have been featured on several recording projects. This week’s visit to Carnegie Hall: a well-deserved victory lap!
Sean Shepherd with the Claremont Trio. Photo: Michael Lutch
In the Kaleidoscope: the Music of Sean Shepherd
April 23, 2012
Music Mondays at Advent Lutheran Church
NEW YORK – Sean Shepherd’s music was featured in last week’s Music Monday concert at Advent Lutheran Church on New York’s Upper West Side. One of the fast rising stars of contemporary classical music’s thirty-something set, Shepherd has already been performed by the New York Philharmonic, on their Contact contemporary music series, and is currently in residence with both the orchestras Cleveland and Reno. Upcoming performances of his works are this summer at the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music and in the Fall with the National Symphony (both under Oliver Knussen). His publisher – a little house you may have heard of – Boosey and Hawkes.
Although the aforementioned accomplishments indicate that Shepherd is making a name for himself as a composer of orchestral music, the concert at Advent Lutheran demonstrated that he’s also creating compelling works for chamber forces. The centerpieces of the program were two oboe quartets – Mozart ‘s K. 370 paired with a new piece by Shepherd. In discussing the work in an onstage interview, the composer mentioned his undergraduate degree in bassoon performance as an entry point into composing for winds and as a reason for his selection of the Mozart work as a companion piece to his own music on the concert. Another inspiration surely was oboist Liang Wang (of the New York Philharmonic), whose superlative control in the Mozart buoyed a supple performance with many lovely dynamic shadings.
Shepherd’s Oboe Quartet (2011), which received its New York premiere, takes inspiration from the Mozart; but not in any direct or referential sort of way. Rather, the graceful balance of elements found in the earlier piece serves as a totemic point of reference, allowing Shepherd’s postmodern language to be imbued with large-scale formal clarity. Wang adopted a more mysterious tone quality here, befitting the arcing filigrees that characterized his more virtuosic passages. His collaborators, violinist Miranda Cuckson, violist Jessica Meyer, and cellist Julia Bruskin were also impressive in the work’s darting counterpoint and frequent tightly coordinated entrances.
Cuckson, joined by pianist Aaron Wunsch, gave a performance of Shepherd’s Dust (2008) that underscored its variegated moods, ranging from diaphanous Impressionist verticals to fierily angular melodic ricochets. Dust encompasses both Shepherd’s flair for the dramatic and his capacity for fetching lyricism.
The Claremont Trio was on hand to give the New York premiere of a brand new piano trio, written for them by Shepherd. Some of the signature elements found in the evening’s earlier pieces were here too: quickly rendered angular passages in rhythmic sync, wide contrasts of mood between more ruminative sections and those busily attired with nervous energy, and a varied harmonic palette that encompasses passages that, while not exactly tonal in orientation, provide a sense of lyricism and centricity, as well as places where the pitch language is replete with dissonance. But more heightened here than elsewhere on the concert was the sense of multiple time streams and a catalog of metric shifts that I presume may be architectural in design (I hope to get my hands on a score to verify this presumption). Regardless, it’s one of Shepherd’s most thoughtfully constructed works to date. The Claremont Trio plays it throughout with assuredness and enthusiasm. Collectively and as soloists, Shepherd has given them many places to shine: and shine they do. Dare we hope that a studio recording is forthcoming?
Incidentally, Music Mondays hosted a packed crowd for this event. While it doesn’t hurt that admission is free, whatever they are doing to get out the word is working!
Over at Sequenza 21
Editor Steve Layton’s Bandcamp page
, is a free download of a comp he’s curated, titled ppp.
Description and embed below.
“Between April 26th-28th 2012, twenty-five musicians from around the U.S. and the world gathered at the music-sharing website known as ImprovFriday.com
. The suggested theme for our sharing was simply “ppp;” i.e., the music term for “extremely soft and quiet.” How each person interpreted this in their own performance was left to them. This CD documents mash-ups I made during the course of the weekend event, of all the different tracks coming in to the site from these musicians. Some tracks were heavily edited, but most were left close to their original state, and simply allowed to interact with the other tracks in an unforced way.”
Musicians: Günter Gläser, Kawol Samarkand, Roger Sundström, Peter Thörn, Glenn Smith, J.C. Combs, Lee Noyes, Kavin Allenson, Steve Moyes, Richard Sanderson, Paul Muller, Lydia Busler-Blais, Benjamin Smith, Jérôme Poirier, Fabio Keiner, Norbert Oldani, Chris Vaisvil, Steve Layton, Paulo Chagas, Steve Moshier, Bruce Hamilton, Shane Cadman, Jim Goodin.
released 29 April 2012
When we talk about the “indie classical” phenomena on Sequenza 21 and Signal to Noise, as we’ve done a fair bit in recent times, we’re often referring either to concert music composers who incorporate elements of indie pop or classical presentations that incorporate or are created by pop musicians. But increasingly, musicians with both feet firmly planted in the pop arena make music that can just as easily be called “indie classical.”
The record companies may market these releases as pop, but the songs contained therein have arrangements that use concert instruments deftly with a composerly aesthetic. And, unlike some great pop albums that outsource the band charts, the “songwriters” do their own arranging, often playing much of the material themselves. Thus, it’s worth remembering that the classical crossover phenomena is, happily, a busy two-way street. And while this is nothing new (Frank Zappa is just one notable antecedent), it’s certainly a resurgent phenomena that’s fostering fertile music making.
A case in point is Birthmark, a project whose principal songwriter is multi-instrumentalist Nate Kinsella. The track below, “Stuck” (an embed from Soundcloud), is a preview from his forthcoming third LP Antibodies, which will be released via Polyvinyl.
With hushed vocals accompanied by strings, winds, and mallet instruments aplenty, it would fit right in on the Ecstatic Music series or a release on Brassland or New Amsterdam. Kudos to Polyvinyl: it’s nice to see more labels branching out into this polystylistic milieu.
I recently gave an interview about our activities at Sequenza 21 to the blog A Closer Listen. I also curated a mix for them, consisting of selections by composers who participated in our 2011 concert.
You can read the article and hear the mix here.
Mohammed Fairouz. Photo: Samantha West.
It’s one of those evenings when you wish you could be at two New York concert venues at once!
Mohammed Fairouz’s opera, Sumeida’s Song, will be performed at Zankel Hall on 4/2 at 7:30. The work is based on playwright Tawfiq El Hakim’s Song of Death. Presented by the Mimesis Ensemble (conducted by Scott Dunn), the cast features soprano Jo Ellen Miller, mezzo Rachel Calloway, tenor Robert Mack, and baritone Mischa Bouvier. (Ticket info here).
Also on Monday at 7:30 PM, Cutting Edge Concerts Festival kicks off its fifteenth season at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater at Symphony Space. Monday nights in April will feature concerts and composers in conversation with the festival’s curator, composer and conductor Victoria Bond (ticket info here).
Jazz pianist Jim McNeely joins the Danjam Orchestra perform two works inspired by Paul Klee paintings. They will also perform the world premiere of a new work by saxophonist Daniel Jamieson. The program also features the premiere of N. Lincoln Hanks’ Monstre Sacre, assayed by pianist Paul Barnes. Finally, tenor Rufus Muller and pianist Jenny Lin perform a work by Bond, based on a portion of James Joyce’s Ulysses, entitled Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming.
The Cutting Edge Concert on Monday April 9th includes works by Roberto Sierra, Judith Shatin, and Tania Leon. And Sequenza 21 readers should be sure to mark their calendars for the Cutting Edge show on April 16. Washington DC’s Great Noise Ensemble, led by S21′s own Armando Bayolo, visits the Big Apple to present a program that includes violinist and composer Cornelius Dufallo in a new piece for amplified violin and ensemble.
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Jeff W. Ball
Brooklyn Wind Symphony Artistic Director Jeff W. Ball interviews Dr. David Maslanka on the music of the late composer John Barnes Chance, “channeling” the composer, and the growing prevalence of commissioning consortiums among wind ensembles.
JWB: When did you first hear a composition by John Barnes Chance?
DM: My first contact was “Incantation and Dance.” It was around 1965. I was a first-year grad student at Michigan State and the band there was playing the piece. I wasn’t in the band, but heard rehearsals and performance. The piece was “hot” that year – everybody was playing it.
JWB: Has your impression of this piece changed over time?
DM: It was, and remains, an attractive piece. I liked its fresh percussive rhythmic nature, and clear instrumental colors. Working with it many years later for the Illinois State University recording was still a positive experience.
JWB: How did that project come about? What was your role?
DM: Dr. Stephen Steele, conductor of the Illinois State University Wind Symphony, was asked by Susan Bush of Albany Records if he would be interested in making a CD of select Chance works. Susan thought this would be a timely CD, one that many people would find interesting. This is a nice recognition of the enduring quality of some of Chance’s music. Steve’s first step was to send me all the scores he had collected of Chance’s wind music – about a dozen. I reviewed them all, and came up with what I termed an “A” list. My recommendations included Incantation and Dance, Variations on a Korean Folk Song, Symphony No.2, and the piano concerto piece. In rehearsals and the recording session I acted as the “presence of the composer.” It was my job to read the score and be the reminder for basic stuff like tempos, dynamics, and qualities of articulation – to insist on these, and to offer thoughts on qualities of style. There is what is printed in scores, and then there is what has accumulated as performance practice over the years. My job was to bring things back to the score. The most interesting piece for me was Symphony No.2, a piece that Chance never heard in his lifetime. I felt like I was “channeling” Chance, allowing him to be present, both to hear his music for the first time, and to offer the suggestions he would have made for performance. This assertion certainly cannot be proven, but it was a very curious experience for me.
JWB: Why do you think that Albany Records recording has been so successful?
DM: Chance’s music is still fresh and likeable, and a large number of people remember it fondly from their younger band days. It has also not left the repertoire. Steele’s recording of this music is simply very good. It is exactingly performed and well recorded.
JWB: Has the music of Chance (and his contemporaries) influenced your growth as a composer?
DM: I would certainly say that Chance’s music, and that of people like Clifton Williams and Vaclav Nelhybel, and my teacher, H. Owen Reed, influenced my early growth as a composer. This was different music than the so-called mainstream of the time, which was serialism and significant branching off with people like Penderecki and Berio. Chance and other band composers were more “down home” outgrowths of school music. It has taken all the years since Chance for wind band music to attain something of mainstream status. The influences on current wind band music are as varied as world music itself, but I would say that the music of the “early modern” wind band composers pointed in a fresh direction that many of us found attractive.
JWB: Chance was a percussionist and this heavily influenced his writing style. What was your primary instrument growing up?
DM: I was a clarinetist, and had both band and orchestra experience as a high school and college student. I had more band than orchestra, and I guess that the band sound was in my ear when I thought about writing for larger ensembles. Playing clarinet has certainly been central to my writing for winds. Being in the center of an ensemble as a performer is a major factor for any composer writing ensemble music. The influence of clarinet on my writing style is certainly there, but the factors influencing writing style are many and varied. Many people are convinced that I am a percussionist, which I am not in the least. Composers have to learn the languages of all the instruments, and then absorb and transform in themselves all the music they come in contact with.
JWB: What do you think Chance’s music would sound like today if he hadn’t tragically passed away at the age of 39?
DM: There is no knowing how Chance would have evolved!
JWB: Chance’s Second Symphony serves as the centerpiece for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony’s annual Modern Wind Symphony Concert. Do you believe it is important to continue writing symphonies for wind bands?
DM: I don’t necessarily think that it is important for composers to continue to write symphonies for wind band. Composers need to write whatever they need to write. I happen to write symphonies (now seven of them for wind band) but that is something I have felt the urge to do since Symphony No.2 in 1985. Wind bands do not need symphonies in order to be “important”, to try to lift themselves to “orchestral” status. They need powerful music, well-crafted for the medium, music which inspires the players and their audiences. This has been happening for quite some time now, and the grass roots wind band movement has become a world phenomenon. Wind bands need to program significant works, regardless of length or form, because players and audiences are intensely hungry for deeply nourishing and affecting musical experience.
JWB: Most wind band commissions occur at the collegiate level. Do you think it is important for community based wind bands and secondary schools to commission new music?
DM: Most wind band commissions occur at the college level because they have figured out how to do consortiums. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. One person takes the lead and enlists a number of other conductors to share the burden of cost. This has resulted in a huge number of new pieces that immediately have more than a single use. Not all of the music is good, but the simple fact is the more pieces that are written the high likelihood that a percentage will be outstanding. Regarding consortiums, there is no difference between a college band and a community band, except possibly the sense of being connected with other bands. The College Band Directors National Association offers college directors immediate connection to hundreds of other conductors. The CBDNA national and regional conferences, and other events like the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, allow for very intense networking among conductors. Community bands can simply join in if they wish. Anyone can join CBDNA. Commissions are now starting from high schools as well. There is the realization that the band world is all one big family, and colleges, community bands, and high schools are willing to help each other out.
JWB: The Brooklyn Wind Symphony is happy to be leading a consortium to commission a new work from you. What do you look for and take into account when requested to write a piece for a specific ensemble?
DM: The energy and seriousness of the conductor involved is a high consideration. I deeply respect people who are trying hard to build or do something, and I am interested to work with them. For me this has included ensembles all the way from small school groups to major recognized names.
Brooklyn Wind Symphony presents an 80th birthday concert in honor of John Barnes Chance on Saturday, March 24, 2:00 PM. Grand Street High School, 850 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. $10 suggested donation.
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