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I heard the world premiere of Absolute Ocean by Augusta Read Thomas in Houston Thursday night at Jones Hall.
1. Thomas spoke before the concert about her compositional process and specifically about Absolute Ocean. Her talk was engaging, direct and charming; Thomas included showing the audience some of the manuscript score, and explained how 15 seconds of music might take five hours to score by hand!
ART talking before the concert
2. Absolute Ocean is a work for Soprano, Harp and Orchestra in three movements from poetry by ee cummings commissioned by the Houston Symphony. The soloists, soprano Twyla Robinson and harpist Paula Page, performed with conviction and panache – putting the music first without extraneous movement or distractions. The texts were projected (not always coordinated, but hey, they were there!) on each side of the stage and added to the performance.
3. The opening “Graceful” movement was pointilistic and bright. Robinson pulled pitches from nowhere and was matched beautifully by Thomas’ instrumental colors and combinations. Page was often backed by four percussionists and divisi solo strings.
4. Perhaps the most charming of all was the second movement, “Playful, spry and jazzy.” Hans Graf was direct and precise with the orchestra, making it easy for the musicians to move in and out of the lines deftly. Again Robinson caught the feeling perfectly of cummings text and Thomas’ frolicsome and vivacious score. Page was purely color for the most part, but had a chance to shine with a cadenza between this movement and the finale. Evidently this cadenza was added later at Page’s request – which certainly went more to weigh the harp part…I would not call Absolute Ocean a double concerto, but rather an orchestral work for soprano with a prominent harp part. I had heard it referred to as a concerto – and would be disappointed as such – luckily it is such a wonderful work, the nomenclature is not important.
5. “Resonant and elegant” finished the 18 minute work and the short first half (the second half was Mahler’s Fourth Symphony) of the concert. The finale paints the words with creative combinations, and has a satisfying and direct ending. Absolute Ocean is a complete success for the Houston Symphony, and kudos to Graf for adding such a gorgeous work to the symphonic world.
There are two more performances of Absolute Ocean, Saturday night at 8pm and Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm. There is another pre-concert talk Saturday at 7:10pm open to all ticket holders. The 2009-10 season has just been announced for the HSO, and includes another Houston Symphony Commission, for chorus and orchestra by Kevin Puts.

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The King’s Singers are celebrating 40 years of performances and alot of new music for voices! They’ll perform holiday music this Friday and Saturday with the NY Pops and are nominated for a Grammy Award for their Simple Gifts album. Coming up is a new release of Valentines including composers like Libby Larsen.
I spoke with two members about their outreach in schools as well as premering new works by Larsen, Eric Whitacre and Paul Patterson.
Interview with David Hurley

Interview with Paul Phoenix

King\'s Singers

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Composer Michael GordonThis week the Next Wave Festival 2008 is raging at BAM, and there are several chances next week to hear Lightning at our feet, the latest from Ridge Theater and Michael Gordon at the Harvey Theater. (Dec 9, 11-13)

Gordon and I spoke on the phone about the new work that premiered in Houston. Listen to our conversation here – Lightning Interview with Gordon and Clare.
Here’s an added bonus, Gordon has a new EP coming out Tuesday, a fascinating “Purgatorio: Popera” on Canteloupe. We talked about it, as well as being married to a composer (Julia Wolfe) and everyone’s favorite 100 year old on Thursday, Elliott Carter! mp3 file

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Anne-Sophie Mutter latest cdViolinist Anne-Sophie Mutter is continually creating something new – from concerti by Krzysztof Penderecki and Andre Previn to works by Sebastian Currier and Henri Dutilleux.

Mutter’s latest project is a recording of Sofia Gubaidulina’s In Tempus Praesens, written in 2006-07 and premiered with the Berlin Philharmonic in August 2007. Selke Harten-Strehk has more background here on Mutter’s website.

I spoke with Mutter about the new concerto recording and about working with composers, and even if she composed herself. Listen to our conversation here.

That morning it was very difficult to get an international connection, and then about 10 minutes into our talk, the line went dead, and to my horror, it was another 3 minutes until I could connect again. (She now has my number as well, hahaha) Despite that, we had a great talk – this version (without our disconnect) also leaves out our talk about period bows (which she uses for the Bach concerti on the disc) as well as some talk about technology. You can hear the longer version over at ClassicallyHip.

I did leave out our talk about politics, which she was very interested in, and said Europe is watching the election closely.

Mutter performs very soon in New York City on October 13th, and you can find the rest of her schedule here. She’ll be back at Carnegie Hall in April 2009 to premiere a Piano Trio by Previn with Lynn Harrell, and a celebration of Previn’s 80th birthday with the orchestra of St, Luke’s including his Violin Concerto and a Concerto for Violin and Viola.

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Eric OwensBaritone Eric Owens is busy this fall – his Met debut as General Leslie Groves in John Adams’ Dr. Atomic is just a start to his performances this season in New York, Atlanta, London and Los Angeles.
Today is the release of A Flowering Tree on Nonesuch Records with Owens as the storyteller, another role he created. I spoke with Eric Owens about this new recording, his Met debut and about working with composers.
MP3 file

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I heard the world premiere of Steven Stucky’s August 4, 1964 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and soloists with Jaap van Zweden last night in Dallas.

1. Not since the golden age of Handel oratorios has something like August 4, 1964 been so touching and well crafted; from the amazing libretto by Gene Scheer to the vocal soloist’s costumes, the evening was thought provoking and emotional. Supertitles brought clarity to the work, but with the diction of the soloists, it wasn’t needed but certainly appreciated. Still, small details like the italics for the Stephen Spender poem used in the score that hung on one of the mother’s wall after hearing about her son’s death, was brilliant to make a distinct between the rest of the libretto.

2. The mix between the Civil Rights and Vietnam War was just right – kudos for the balanced libretto from Gene Scheer, and for Stucky’s expressive score. Especially moving was the interaction of baritone Robert Orth and the chorus, often contrasting and supporting the storyline. Also the lyric lines of the female soloists, Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Connor, were not only performed exquistely, but had touching elements such as holding hands. (All four of the soloists were in period clothes of the 1960s, complete with hats for the women and slender ties for the men held by tie bars.) Staging had been thought about, complete with an oval office set, but was left undone without sufficient rehearsal time. Also, there was an idea to have an audio prelude or overture, with the actual White House tapes and news reports about this day in 1964. It was decided with the Meyerson’s acoustics, NOT to play it beforehand, but if you catch a pre-concert talk they play it there…perhaps it should be put online as well?

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Stucky and Clare in Ithaca, NYTomorrow night is the world premiere of Steven Stucky’s August 4, 1964 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and soloists.
I spoke with Stucky last summer in Ithaca, NY about the work. Listen to the interview here. (about 4 minutes)
I’ll have more coverage of the premiere tomorrow night and reactions on Friday.
Read more (including the NY Times piece from Sunday and the program notes here.)

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I heard Gabriel Kahane at Joe’s Pub Wednesday night. If Billy Joel and Paul McCartney can write “classical music”, why can’t composers write “pop music”?
1. Gabe Kahane is a good singer, great pianist and out of this world showman. His wry and wonderful wit comes through his music and lyrics. Wednesday night Kahane shared his sounds with humor, humility and always in an entertaining way.
2. Ensemble with the four man band, including: piano, banjo, violin, clarinet, bass clarinet, drums, guitar, electric bass, toy piano and a melodic, was generally tight and toe tapping. Less stellar was the drummer playing banjo – it just didn’t click and wasn’t heard very well – perhaps it was his trip from Seattle. Later when Kahane picked up the banjo, it was heard fine and in time!
3. Rob Moose played excellent lines whether it was on violin, guitar or bass. Also Sam Sadigursky shone in his bass clarinet lines, and as a toy pianist, rocked the joint.
4. New songs including Keen were charming, including a Pan-Am bag on the subway inspired song written that day – although the riffs were cool, the selections weren’t always memorable.
5. The highlight of the evening was Kahane’s Craiglistlieder, a 21st Century masterpiece, both a virtuoso vehicle for Gabe singing and playing, and a biting commentary. Operatic riffs including pseudo recitative and rhythmic variety made this in a word, perfect.
The show was short but sweet – keep an eye out for the new album in August and go to http://www.gabrielkahane.com/ to experience the Craiglistlieder for yourself, you’ll be glad you did!

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I caught the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) at the MATA Festival Tuesday night in Brooklyn.

1. Gil Rose and BMOP played a varied concert with conviction and panache Tuesday night. While there were wonderful soloists on the program, the ensemble really held the spotlight the entire night in the best possible sense – always blending well and making the most of lines, accompaniment and ensemble.

2. The show started with Alejandro Rutty’s “The Conscious Sleepwalker Loops,” and was a perfect energetic start. Lots of rhythms were blasted in the Brooklyn Lyceum, filled to standing room only for the concert. Especially fun were the solo lines tossed about in a more calm middle section, really showing off varied styles, sometimes feeling like a tango, Las Vegas club, or a perpetual motion machine. Bubbly and glowing easily describe this MATA commissioned piece.

3. Derek Hurst’s “Clades” was a disappointment. It was clearly academic and dispassionate. I had no idea living composers still wrote stodgy, angular, pseudo-klangfarbenmelodie-esque compositions, but the work painfully drug on in four continuous movements, rarely featuring the glamorous and able Firebird Ensemble. Rays of potential did come through in the slower, slightly more moving second movement in colorful chords. Kudos to cellist David Russell and clarinetist Amy Advocat of the Firebird Ensemble for more noticable solos (the entire group was capable, just not shown in this work sadly.)

4. After intermission, the amazingly creative “On a Sufficient Condition for the Existence of Most Specific Hypothesis” by Ken Ueno was captivating. A natural blend of dissonance and glissandi, along with rough and sudden entrances of instruments, made a perfect parallel to Ueno’s singing. Clear influence of 1960s Polish composers was felt throughout but it was handled in a mature and artistic way. Most impressive was a cadenza-like throat singing passage, including a brilliant range of dynamics and wide intervals. I’ll listen for more Ueno in the future.

5. The program ended with BMOP’s Composer in Residence Lisa Bielawa’s Double Violin Concerto. The three movement work is charming and serious, and you clearly hear the love for and knowledge of the ensemble that Bielawa has with the ensemble, soloists and conductor. The second movement shows off Carla Kihlstedt’s violin playing and voice in a Goethe text, and the final movement allows both Kihlstedt and Colin Jacobsen to jam. My only moment of wonder about the work is, as a soloist in a concertante work, if Jacobsen – such a talent – might have been technically underused, purely in violinistic terms. He certainly played gorgeous lines and crisp articulations, but the piece never seemed to challenge him. Kihlstedt was at least allowed her astounding ability to sing and play, including a violin with four e strings scordatura – a brilliant and haunting effect. All in all, Bielawa’s Double Concerto is original and engaging – something that you want to hear again and again.

The MATA festival continues with installations, lectures and concerts through April 4th, and also does events thoughout the year (called “interval”). Find out more here.

BMOP and Gil Rose perform more concerts in Boston, see their killer schedule here, and keep an eye out for their new cds here! You won’t be disappointed.


John Nasukaluk Clare is a new music enthusiast and broadcast professional currently residing in Harrisburg, PA. He’s interviewed more than 100 composers and when he isn’t smoking a cigar, playing violin or travelling, John likes to laugh and eat a lot.

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