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House of Solitude at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Photo by Jill Steinberg.

House of Solitude at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Photo by Jill Steinberg.

This coming February, composer Paola Prestini and I will present the world premiere of House of Solitude, an installation concerto, at Krannert Center in Champaign-Urbana. We have been working together on the piece since 2010 (Paola as composer and me as performer); this premiere seemed like a good moment to share with the community a short article about how the piece came together.

Our collaboration began in 2010, when I asked Paola to contribute a piece to my Journaling series (an ongoing series of concerts focusing on contemporary music for violin and electronics). At the time, Paola was finishing up some work at the Sundance Institute Film Music program, and she had assembled a collection of short field recordings that she was calling “the Sundance stems.” These included a recording of a man singing, various sounds of nature, and horses running. Using these samples as a point of departure, Paola created a wonderfully lyrical and expressive piece for violin, pre recorded tracks, and a motion sensing violin bow called the K-Bow. Invented by Keith MacMillan, the K-Bow is a blue-tooth enhanced violin bow that enables the performer to use physical motions to manipulate sounds in real time. It was brand new technology for Paola and me, and we had fun figuring out how we were going to use it in the piece.

That initial segment, which ended up as the last section of the completed piece, was presented at the Stone in August 2010, as part of Journaling. In the audience that evening were to visual artists, both friends of Paola: Carmen Kordas and Erika Harrsch. Both Carmen and Erika expressed interest in creating video to go with Paola’s music. Around this time, Paola had been considering developing it into a larger, two-part piece called Labyrinth, so she decided to ask each of the artists to contribute video : Carmen to the first part, and Erika to the second. She decided to make the first section a concerto for violin and electronics (House of Solitude), and the second section a concerto for cello and electronics (Room No. 35).

The next stage of evolution happened in March of 2011, when we presented 20 minutes of the piece at Cal State Fullerton. In preparation for that show, we went into the recording studio and really fleshed out the backing tracks, syncing the music to the first 20 minutes of Carmen’s gorgeous video. Paola added more field recordings to the sonic environment: the sound of an EKG machine, more nature sounds, my own voice, and some recordings of everyday objects. She began to call the piece an “installation concerto,” branding a new hybrid genre that combined aspects of installation art with aspects of the classical concerto. Over the next two seasons we presented this version of the piece in New York (River to River Festival), Washington, DC (The Atlas Performing Arts Center), Zimbabwe (Harare International Festival of the Arts), and Maine (Bay Chamber Concerts). By the end of this run of performances, Paola and Carmen had added 10 minutes of music and video (making the duration 30 minutes), and I refined my improvisations and honed my use of the K-Bow.

When she first started the piece, Paola had recently read Octavio Paz’s famous work, The Labyrinth of Solitude. Her title for the two concertos, Labyrinth, was a allusion to the existential labyrinth of which Paz writes. Together, Paola and I contemplated how the “labyrinth” of an individual’s inner world manifests itself externally in acts of creativity and ways of relating to others. We were beginning to think of the piece as a concerto for violin and “multiple selves,” a concept that Paola and I agreed was deeply connected to the image of an inner labyrinth. I enjoyed how the idea of multiple selves resonated with the object relations branch of psychoanalytic theory, an area I was beginning to explore. For me, the piece became not only an exploration of the idea of multiple selves, but also a musical depiction of the struggle to bring together disparate internalized figures and fragments of the self into a cohesive whole. The drama became the search for clarity through the realization of personal truth.

This coming performance at Krannert Center on February 1 will be the world premiere of the complete piece. For this show we will be joined by some illustrious new collaborators, including director Michael McQuilken, videographer Brad Peterson, lighting designer Yi Zhao, sound designer Dave Cook, EDREAM, and Michael Winger. The second part of the entire work, Room No. 35, will be presented, featuring Maya Beiser on LED cello (conceived by Erika Harrsch and Maya Beiser, created by Erika Harrsch), and video by Erika Harrsch. Room No. 35 is based on the writing of Anais Nin, and approaches the concept of multiple selves from a different angle.

After the performance of the original 10 minute section at Journaling. From left to right: Dongmyung Ahn, Amy Kauffman, Jeff Ziegler, Cornelius Dufallo, Paola Prestini, Alanna Maharajh Stone, Corey Dargel.

After the performance of the original 10 minute section at Journaling. From left to right:
Dongmyung Ahn, Amy Kauffman, Jeff Ziegler, Cornelius Dufallo, Paola Prestini, Alanna Maharajh Stone, Corey Dargel.

Labyrinth brings together two “installation concertos,” two different performers who use technology, two technological innovations (the K-Bow and the LED cello), two visual artists, and two different stories that both deal with the concept of the divided self, into one evening length multimedia piece.

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krakauer_chair-colorClarinettist David Krakauer, a major voice in both contemporary classical music and modern klezmer, will be performing an exciting and eclectic series of concerts this coming week at The Stone (September 24-29), featuring several of his current collaborative projects. This week long residency will offer a chance for audiences to hear all the sides of David’s artistry, and to enjoy the work of some very cool guest artists as well. In the following interview he discusses this coming week, his musical history, and some of his other fascinating projects.

 

CD: David – you are known around the world as a classical clarinetist, and also as a leading innovator in the world of Jewish klezmer music. Tell us a little about this “double life” — what is your history with these parallel paths, and how do you see each as a manifestation of your artistic voice? How, when, and why do you bring them together?

DK: I didn’t grow up playing or hearing klezmer music as a kid. But when I came to it, I was in my early thirties and somehow had both the maturity to understand the emotional impact of the music plus some kind of concept of why I was choosing to embark on that musical journey. Basically at the beginning, I just started to play klezmer as a pure search for cultural identity that was totally separate from my professional musical life. And fortunately my early musical education had fully equipped me to embrace an “off the page” style of music. Already during the time I attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City I was lucky enough to have had a musical education in both classical and jazz. When I was 15 I started studying with Leon Russianoff, one of the greatest clarinet teachers of all time. By the time I started working with him in the early 70s, his former students included many of the top orchestral clarinetists in the country like Stanley Drucker, Franklin Cohen, Michelle Zukovsky etc. But in addition he taught the great jazz clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton (best known for his illustrious tenure in the Duke Ellington band) and a huge array of players from all walks of the music business. So Russianoff had a very open mind and was anything BUT a “stuffy” classical teacher. His mix of incredible rigor with a lovely, easy-going looseness was perfect for me and set the stage for the career I have today. As far as the jazz side of things goes, I had the great fortune to meet the incredible composer/pianist Anthony Coleman when we were students together at Music and Art. He asked me to join his band that was doing a huge spectrum of jazz repertoire ranging from Jelly Roll Morton to Monk to free jazz (in addition to Anthony’s music). Covering so many styles of jazz was actually rather unusual at that time, and it was a tremendous experience.

But when I went to college, I kind of had a crisis of confidence. I ended up abandoning jazz and deciding to focus almost exclusively on classical music. In fact, I think at the time I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to find a personal voice as an improviser. I worked very hard in classical music and excelled; but was always tremendously conflicted about making that choice. It would take many years for me to sort that all out. In any case, right out of school I spent ten years freelancing doing chamber music, contemporary classical, orchestral playing and some recitals here and there. After a while I made some headway with some very prestigious associations like the Marlboro music festival, a woodwind quintet that won the Naumburg Chamber music award, a New York recital debut as a winner of the Concert Artists’ Guild, chamber music with a wonderful group of people in the NY Philomusica and countless concerts with many of the New Yorks’ new music groups such as Continuum and the Da Capo Chamber Players.

It was a very rich and busy life, but I got to a point in my early 30s where somehow I felt like something was missing and I had thrown the baby out with the bath water. I knew at that point I needed to return to the world of improvising and non-written music. So through a series of chance meetings and coincidences (that in retrospect I see I was somehow directing myself towards) I came to klezmer music. At first I was just doing it for fun. And in the same moment I found myself connecting to my Jewish roots for the first time. It was exhilarating. After a few months of doing a bunch of very low key gigs my name came to the attention of the Klezmatics and they asked me to join. It was during that time where I started to develop my own original sound and find my own voice. The conflict I had felt for over 15 years was finally resolved and klezmer became a foundation for me to create a musical home for myself.

I did two recordings and countless tours of Europe with the Klezmatics before I left the band to form my own group in the mid-90s. And that has all launched me on the path that I’m still following today. In addition to touring with my own band, it’s fantastic to have an opportunity to bring it all together by working with composers who have given me room to be myself within their compositions. Recording and performing Osvaldo Golijov’s monumental composition “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” with the Kronos is a notable example. Plus nowadays I have more and more chances to be a soloist with fantastic symphony orchestras playing pieces that straddle both worlds by composers like George Tsontakis, Wlad Marhulets, Ofer Ben-Amots and Mohammed Fairouz. I’ve also enjoyed incredible collaborations with the Montreal based beat architect Socalled, the renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz, John Zorn and the great master of funk Fred Wesley. Musically I feel like I’m in an incredibly exciting place where I can bring all the diverse elements of my universe together with so many incredibly rewarding projects.

CD: Your Stone residency really seems to be something of a self portrait in that you have chosen to showcase a different side of your artistry each night. We’ll hear your klezmer band, we’ll hear you playing John Zorn’s music, some improv, and some chamber music. Can you tell us a little about the concepts behind each night?

DK: The Stone residency coming up next week is an amazing opportunity for me to offer a cross section of many of my major projects. During the first three nights a number of the musicians who have worked with me for many years will be on board. After having played so much together, there are times when we’re virtually mind-reading. Joining me in various configurations will be Sheryl Bailey on electric guitar; Jerome Harris on bass; Michael Sarin on drums; Will Holshouser on accordion; and Keepalive on sampler.

-Tuesday 9/24 will be a show with my Acoustic Klezmer Quartet. We’ll do an “unplugged” mix of traditional klezmer pieces done with my own quirky spin mixed with my compositions that all come from the story about my particular musical/personal journey.

-On Wednesday 9/25 I’ll present my arrangements of a group of pieces from John Zorn’s Book of Angels Volume 3. John selected these pieces specifically for me and this is a great chance to pay tribute to a musical association I’ve had with Zorn for over twenty years.

-Thursday 9/26 will be a performance with “Ancestral Groove” which is my current touring band.

I decided to change my band’s name from “Klezmer Madness”, because for me at this point, klezmer no longer seems to encompass all that I’m doing now. Klezmer will always of course be part of my music, but the title “Ancestral Groove” seems to better reflect the totality of my story.

-Friday 9/27 will mark the debut of a new duo project with the incredible South African pianist, arranger and musical explorer Kathleen Tagg. We’ll be doing our arrangements of a couple of klezmer tunes, brand new electro-acoustic works by exciting New York composers Aleksandra Vrebalov and Jorge Sosa and our new arrangements of great New York performing composers Kinan Azmeh and John Zorn. I’ll also be doing Steve Reich’s iconic “New York Counterpoint” and Messiaen’s “Abyss of the Birds”.

-On Saturday 9/28 I’ll be doing an evening of improvisation with the incredible new music singer Helga Davis, the fantastic former cellist of the Kronos Quartet Jeffery Zeigler and the astonishing violinist/electronics wizard Todd Reynolds.

-The final concert on Sunday 9/29 will feature performances in both sets of the aforementioned “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind’ by Osvaldo Golijov. I’ve been a champion of this work since 1994 and am delighted to have a chance to play it in New York once again. Jeff Zeigler will join once again in addition to a tremendous super group including the amazing Margaret Dyer on viola and Abigale Reisman on violin. Plus I’m so delighted that you , Cornelius Dufallo, will also be a part of it bringing your tremendous artistry to this ensemble !!!!

All in all I’m super excited about this residency and can’t wait to get underway!

CD: You have a new project called “The Big Picture,” in which you will be re-interpreting some of the great film scores of all time. Please share with us how you came up with this project! I think you describe it as a “new phase” for you – how so?

DK: “The Big Picture” is a multi-media concert with a six piece band interpreting music from iconic films that (as we find out during the course of the performance) all have Jewish content. There’s music from the soundtracks of the obvious films like “The Pianist” and “Sophie’s Choice”…but there’s also music from Woody Allen films like “Midnight In Paris”, “Radio Days” and “Love and Death” that include jazz standards and pieces by Sidney Bechet and Prokofiev. And then there are pieces from Mel Brooks….and from Randy Newman. And more! So the range is pretty incredible. With the six piece band of tremendously poetic musicians we’re able to bring a special playfulness and intimacy to all this music. It was a blast to make the CD. Now we’re in the phase of producing a film that will accompany the music. This whole show will launch in Jan-Feb at the museum of Jewish Heritage down in Battery Park. I just heard the finished master of the CD the other day…and as I listened to this incredible selection of pieces fill the room it felt like I was going through a whole journey of the Jewish experience for the last 120 years. So yes… It’s quite different from anything I’ve ever done before, but at the same time it’s a continuation of my story and the search for identity that I’ve been involved with for the past 25 years. I put this all together with an extremely talented team and am extremely excited to bring this project out into the world to share with the public in the next few months.

CD: Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians?

DK:  I often say the following to young musicians :

Follow your dreams….no matter how crazy they seem!

Explore as much diversity in music as possible!

Be entrepreneurial!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zf69VJcklZk&list=PLE494F293DC054002[/youtube]

 

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Kinan Azmeh

Kinan Azmeh

On September 3rd Kinan Azmeh CityBand returned to Joe’s Pub for the official release of their new album, Elastic City. The disc, a collection of passionate and virtuosic pieces in the genre of Arab World Jazz, features Azmeh (clarinet), Kyle Sanna (guitar), Josh Myers (bass), and John Hadfield (drums and percussion). Formed in 2006, the ensemble has received critical acclaim in the US, Europe, and the Middle East. Judging from the large and wildly enthusiastic audience at Joe’s Pub, they are clearly developing a big following here in New York.

Born and raised in Damascus, Azmeh finished his training at New York’s Juilliard School and has since gained international recognition as a clarinettist, composer, and musical innovator. He’s currently recognized as one of Syria’s leading classical musicians and composers, and also has a well deserved reputation as one of New York’s most engaging composer-performers. In addition to his work with CityBand, Azmeh performs regularly with the Syrian ensemble HEWAR, the Damascus Festival Chamber Music Ensemble (of which he is the artistic director), and also as a solo artist.

CityBand has a captivating stage presence and an interpersonal attunement that comes from years of performing together. They respond intuitively to each other, grooving effortlessly in complex meters, and never getting in each other’s way. Their improvisations are sophisticated and emotionally powerful, each member contributing a distinct individual voice to a seamlessly blended whole. At times Azmeh brings the dynamics of the group down to an almost inaudible level, building it slowly to ecstatic heights.

Azmeh started the evening with a deeply moving solo entitled A Sad Morning, Every Morning, a composition that he wrote in memory of the thousands who have lost their lives in the Syrian conflict. Other memorable moments included Woods, a haunting and transportive work by Kyle Sanna, and Wedding, a raucous piece written by Azmeh that featured the group’s dazzling virtuosity.

Kinan Azmeh: A Sad Morning, Every Morning  (art by Kevork Mourad)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nD9jbBFKetA[/youtube]

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MI0003500473

Audibles, a new CD from GIA Wind Works

American composer Steven Bryant has recently contributed a beautiful new piece to the piano-and-winds repertoire. Commissioned by pianist Pamela Mia Paul, Bryant’s Concerto for Piano was recorded for the GIA Wind Works label, as part of a new disc entitled Audibles. The performers are Paul and the North Texas Wind Symphony, conducted by Eugene Migliaro Corporon.

Concertos for piano and wind instruments are a rare breed. The twentieth century produced only a handful of them, the most famous being Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1923-24, revised 1950). Shortly after Stravinsky, Colin McPhee wrote Concerto for Piano and Wind Octet in 1928. In 1943 Henry Cowell composed Little Concerto, for piano and band, and George Perle contributed Concertino for Piano, Winds, and Timpani in 1979. More recently additions to the genre include the Norwegian composer Mark Adderly’s Triptych for Solo Piano, Orchestra of Winds and Percussion (1988), and Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments by Kevin Volans (1995). Bryant’s compelling work is likely to become a well known member of this lesser known genre.

Composer Steven Bryant

Composer Steven Bryant

Bryant explains that the two contrasting movements of the concerto are constructed from the same set of descending dyads. The first movement begins in wistful, contemplative simplicity, slowly unfolds, reaches towards its triumphant and spirited zenith, and then recedes again. The arc structure of the movement is elegantly punctuated by a shift from descending to ascending motion at the halfway point. The second movement, with its running sixteenth notes and playful syncopated rhythms, is a display of virtuosity for soloist and ensemble alike. In both movements Bryant uses the concise material to develop music that is thematically cohesive, rhythmically compelling, and filled with timbral beauty. Paul’s performance is clear, powerful, and supportive of the compositional structure.

Also included on the disc are compositions by Brett William Dietz, Donald White, Jess Turner, Francisco Jose Martinez Gallego, Carter Pann, and Justin Freer. Audibles is available on Amazon and also at www.giamusic.com.

Listen to Steven Bryant’s Concerto for Piano

 

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Poet and Air Force veteran Lynn Hill performs in Holding It Down
Photo by Marc Millman Photography

The most recent collaboration of composer/pianist Vijay Iyer and poet Mike Ladd, entitled Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project, received its world premiere last week (September 19-22) at The Harlem Stage Gatehouse. This multimedia work, epic in scope, yet poignant in its emotional nuance, is the result of three years of interviewing and collaborating with veterans of color from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Holding It Down also marks the culmination of a trilogy of multimedia works by Iyer and Ladd, the others being Still Life with Commentator (2006) and In What Language (2003). Each of the three works examines a different aspect of post-9/11 America, but all three respond to the fear and injustice brought on by what Iyer and Ladd eloquently describe as the “insidiously racialized Global War on Terror.”

Iyer’s through-composed score consisted mostly of highly sensitive and imaginative settings of the poetry of Ladd and two veterans, Maurice Decaul and Lynn Hill, punctuated by moments of virtuosic improvisation by Iyer and members of the ensemble. The poems (performed by their authors) were moving, powerfully honest artistic responses to war and the challenges of coping with trauma. Tim Brown’s video design contributed an evocative visual counterpoint, and the video interviews, conducted and edited by the project’s director, Patricia McGregor, were particularly well timed and interesting. The ensemble, which consisted of Iyer (piano, laptop), Guillermo E. Brown (vocals, electronics), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Okkyung Lee (cello), and Kassa Overall (percussion), provided an intricate, colorful, and at times surreal musical mindscape. One unforgettable moment was Overall’s gut-wrenchingly beautiful drum solo about two thirds of the way through the piece.

The presentation of a continuous 80-minute piece that brings combines music, poetry, video, and drama is no easy task. Careful attention must be given to the balance and interplay of the various media, and the dramatic flow and experiential continuity. Credit must be given to director Patricia McGregor, who forged the elements of this work into a seamless and deeply moving journey. With the exception of two moments when the balance between the ensemble and voices could have been handled better, the production was basically flawless.

With Holding It Down Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd have offered a model of how artists can present social commentary that is profound yet unsentimental; complex yet focused; provocative yet inviting. While so many multimedia projects these days hurt the genre by dilluting their own impact, Iyer and Ladd have created one in which each medium strengthens the whole. On December 1, 2012, these artists will appear again at The Harlem Stage Gatehouse for a new piece called Sleep Song, in which they will focus on the populace of nations affected by war. Collaborating artists for Sleep Song will include the Iraqi poet Ahmed Abdel Hussein, oudist Ahmet Mukhtar, and guitarist Serge Teyssot Gay.

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Ittai Shapira Champs Hill Records

Ittai Shapira's new CD, released this month, includes his new violin concerto, to be premiered on April 20th.

Ittai Shapira is best known as an internationally acclaimed soloist   with an impressive list of collaborators that includes some of the world’s finest conductors and orchestras. He is a champion of contemporary music, having premiered concertos by many of todays most renowned composers, including Kenji Bunch, Shulamit Ran, Theodore Wiprud, Avner Dorman, and Dave Heath.

While still a violin student years ago, Shapira studied analysis and composition with Mark Kopytman. He loved composing, but his performance career soon grew too busy to allow for any other callings, so he kept his creative spark alive by writing his own cadenzas to the standard violin concertos. Over the last decade, his many collaborations with composers have reconnected him to the creative process and  rekindled his early passion for writing music. Since 2008 he has written two violin concertos, as well as a series of fiendishly challenging solo violin caprices.This month the British label Champs Hill Records released a CD of Shapira’s two violin concertos, Concierto Latino (2008) and The Old Man And The Sea (2011), as well as his Caprice Habanera (2010).

The most recent of these works, The Old Man And The Sea, is an exciting, larger-than-life piece in the grand tradition of the virtuoso violin concerto. Inspired by Earnest Hemingway’s classic novel of the same title, the work is full of soulful melodies, dramatic orchestration, and dazzling technical passages, all delivered on the recording with Shapira’s smooth tone and powerhouse virtuosity. While the piece keeps a close programmatic relationship to the novel, it also stands on it’s own as a compelling work, and a substantial contribution to the violin repertoire. The recorded performance is with Neil Thomson and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

In a recent conversation, I asked Shapira about his compositional process for The Old Man And The Sea. He explained that the idea first came to him while on a concert tour in 2008, when he  found himself based in Key West, Florida, for several days. Not surprisingly, he was struck by the beauty of the locale, but he also became very interested in the local fishing culture. Shortly after this trip, when the BP oil spill devastated the whole region, Shapira felt moved to write a piece that was in some way related to the lives of the Gulf Stream fishermen. As a long time fan of Hemingway, it did not take him long to connect his new inspiration to Hemingway’s great novel, and when Molloy College commissioned him to write a piece for the “Innovative Classics Series” all the pieces fell into place.

As with his first concerto, Shapira prepared for this new endeavour by composing some solo pieces, in this case caprices with Carribean and Cuban stylistic elements. Describing his process, Shapira says,” In every piece I write there is an ‘outside influence’ because that is how I learn; this leads to different harmonic languages, different sound worlds, and consequently different bow techniques. The caprices that I write are always studies towards these new styles.” The solo piece included on this disc, Caprice Habanera, was indeed a study for The Old Man And The Sea.

Shapira will be performing the world premiere of his new concerto with the chamber orchestra known as The Knights on April 20 at Molloy College in Long Island. The combination of Shapira’s playing, his music, and this hot-shot orchestra should make the event one of the most exciting of the month.

 

Ittai Shapira rehearses The Old Man And The Sea with Neil Thomson and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTrwF89RIvQ[/youtube]

 

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Also Published on Urban Modes

On January 10 I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Huang Ruo’s music at (le) poisson rouge. I’ve been a fan of Huang Ruo since 2007, and I was particularly interested in hearing his most recent string quartet, having missed the Chiara Quartet’s premiere last season. This performance was given by the excellent Momenta Quartet (Emilie-Anne Gendron and Alex Fortes, violins; Stephanie Griffin, viola; Michael Hass, cello).

The quartet’s title, Calligraffiti (a fusion of the words “calligraphy” and “graffiti”) is meant to reflect the composition’s autobiographical nature: Huang Ruo grew up in China and moved to New York City as a young adult, so Chinese calligraphy and  urban graffiti are among the visual images that have influences his aesthetic sense.

In order to describe his compositional approach, Huang Ruo has coined the term “dimensionalism,” which he describes as an organic integration of Chinese folk, Western avant-garde, rock, and jazz. Despite his own description, none of these styles is immediately recognizable in his music. This is good, because Huang Ruo’s unique musical voice is far more interesting than any obvious allusion to the above mentioned genres. Whichever styles he draws upon is really his own concern; what is compelling about his music is its vitality, inventiveness, and extreme emotional expression.

The quartet’s three movements run without pause. The first two movements lead the listener on a journey through rugged musical terrain: expressionistic glissandi, tones clusters, and driving rhythms. Huang Ruo builds an almost uncomfortable level of emotional tension by means of  long sustained drones with microtonal fluctuations alongside periodic outbursts of dissonance. The drones eventually transform into high pitched screams in the violins as the lower instruments come together in a powerful, seemingly unstoppable rhythmic motive. In the third movement the listener’s perceverance is rewarded with the emergence of a sublime melody (built mostly of fourths and fifiths) that is gently passed from player to player until it dissolves into a single high harmonic at the end.

The Momenta Quartet, an ensemble that seems unusually well suited to Huang Ruo’s music, performed with fire, fantasy, and absolute musical commitment.

Also on the program were Book of the Forgotten, a playful and virtuosic work for clarinet and viola (performed by clarinetist Vasko Dukovski and violist Stephanie Griffin) and excerpts from Huang Ruo’s recently composer opera, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (performed by soprano Fang Tao Jiang, tenor Laurence Broderick, Ensemble FIRE, and the Momenta Quartet).

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(also published on Urban Modes)

ETHEL will soon be reunited with our dear friend and collaborator Ayelet Rose Gottlieb at the 2012 Winter Jazz Fest (January 7th @ Zinc Bar). Ayelet has composed a deeply heartfelt piece for ETHEL and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi entitled Shiv’a . We’ve been developing Shiv’a for over a year now, and recently recorded it. This January’s concert marks the beginning of a series of live performances of the piece.

Ayelet’s style combines tuneful folk influences with moments of abstract improvisation. Her tone color choices are unusual and interesting. In this interview she discusses her music, her projects, and the fascinating relationship between her music and her dreams.

Dufallo: Can you discuss Shiv’a – your inspiration for the piece, and how it came together?

Rose Gottlieb: Shiv’a is a meditation on the process of mourning. It referneces Jewish and Buddhist mourning rituals. I composed it following several deaths, including that of my good friend, drummer and percussionist Take Toriyama. It took a while to piece together the seven movements of Shiv’a, and to find the right “language” for it (the movements vary from graphic scores to traditional scores, with improvisation sections). It’s a very special piece for me, as it’s my first long instrumental composition.

Being a vocalist, I’m used to working with text, and in this case the composition process was very different from anything I had done before. Since there were no words, the way in for me was visual. Each movement in the piece is like a sketch that draws an image with sounds and textures. The titles of the seven movements reflect upon a quotation from the book of Kings:

There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks [...] but the Great Spirit was not in the wind. After the wind — earthquake. But the Great Spirit was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake — fire. But the Great Spirit was not in the fire. And after the fire — a voice of thin silence.

The movement titles also reflect the four elements of nature, being slightly jolted and out of place — Geshem (rain), Ra’ash (earthquake), and Esh (fire). Air is referenced through the use of a unique instrument that was made specifically for Shiv’a by installation artist Michelle Jaffe: the “Blanket with 49 Bells (BW49B).” My dream life is at least as “real” to me as my waking reality… When I started composing Shiv’a I had an incredible,  powerful dream of a blanket with bells on it, that was moved by the wind. Michelle took on the task of bringing this sound-sculpture into physical reality, and the BW49B is now an integral part of Shiv’a. The bells signify a soul that keeps ringing in the world after the body has passed…

Dufallo: Can you tell a little bit about your musical history?

Rose Gottlieb: From childhood through the end of high school I studied to be a classical flautist. When I was about 14 I started “flirting” with improvisation — first as a flautist, then as a vocalist. Saxophonist Arnie Lawrence moved to Israel in the 1990′s, and performing with him solidified my direction into the realm of vocal jazz and improvised music… About a year before I started singing I started having a recurring dream of swirling colors — a large, intricate orchestral piece would be playing, causing the colors to move. Every time I awoke from that dream I experienced a great frustration about not having the skill to “transcribe” this sub-concious composition… I decided to start writing music, in order to be able one day to write that piece that was asking to be born… Of course, once I started composing, the dream stopped. I’m still hopeful this piece will come to visit me again some day…

Dufallo: What are some exciting upcoming projects?

Rose Gottlieb: With Shiv’a – I’m very much hoping it will now have life as a performed piece. I feel that the combination of ETHEL, Satoshi Takeishi, and Michelle’s BW49B will be a real treat to see on stage. We’re starting this journey on the night between the 7th and 8th of January at Winter Jazz Fest (Zinc Bar, 12:15 AM). The album is in the mixing stages, and will be released toward the end of 2012/early 2013.

Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, ETHEL, and Satoshi Takeishi rehearse Shiv'a

Aside from Shiv’a I have a few exciting projects in the works. On March 28th my composition for trombone and piano, Carry On — Check In, will be premiered at Carnegie Hall by pianist Vered Reznik and trombonist Haim Avitzur.

In Israel I recently recorded Betzidei Drachim / On the Roadside — a project that features my settings of Israeli and Palestinian poetry. The music is a cross-over of jazz, prog-rock, and middle-eastern music… This project features my long standing collaborator, pianist Anat Fort, as well as Ihad Nimer on oud and violin, and several other leading Israeli musicians.

With Mycale — John Zorn’s a capella vocal quartet — we’re touring the US and Europe, and working on new materials. We’re also gearing up for an exciting 2013 — Zorn’s 60th birthday year!

Outside my musical life — I recently shifted my base (once again) to London, where my husband works as an animator. I am grateful every day that music is my life and I have such incredible people to share it with…

 

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[Ed. note: Please welcome one of our newest S21 shipmates, violinist/ composer Cornelius Dufallo. The New York Times' Steve Smith writes "As a violinist and a composer in the string quartet Ethel and the collective ensemble Ne(x)tworks, Cornelius Dufallo has made substantial contributions to New York’s burgeoning new-music scene." I couldn't agree more, and look forward to his contributions to come. So take it away, Neil!]

Missy Mazzoli

Life in ETHEL is frantic these days. In the midst of meetings, emails, conference calls, and intense rehearsals, I sometimes (sadly) lose touch with the sense of wonder that originally drew me to a life in contemporary music. Missy Mazzoli is one composer whose music always brings me back to a fundamental excitement about what I do. I have been working with Missy on her solo violin piece, Dissolve, O my Heart, which I will be performing at Bargemusic on October 5th (8PM) as part of my ongoing Journaling series.

Originally written for Jennifer Koh, the piece is essentially Missy’s emotional reaction to J. S. Bach’s D minor Chaconne (one of the great masterworks of the solo violin literature). She starts the piece with the same iconic d minor triad, in which, she explains,  the listener immediately “acknowledges the inevitable failure of the assignment.” Missy is referring to the impossibility of achieving the structural perfection of Bach’s work, and how, from her perspective, the only way to create her  own piece was to embrace it as a “failed Chaconne.” It’s a gorgeous failure, if you ask me. The version that I will be performing in October includes live electronics (three different kinds of digital delay), which Missy and I have been developing together.

Abigail Fischer in "Songs from the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt" (photo by Lindsay Beyerstein)

One of Missy’s massive new projects is to create three operas, each one about “a fascinating female character from the 20th or 21st century.” Part one of this trilogy, Song From The Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardtis sure to be spellbinding. The libretto, co-written by Royce Vavrek and Missy, is based on the journals of Isabelle Eberhardt, and depicts more than a dozen scenes from Eberhardt’s life. The opera begins at the moment of Eberhardt’s death, and continues as a series of flashbacks.

Eberhardt, who was a Swiss writer and explorer of the early 20th century, has been alternately idolized and shunned as a symbol of female liberation. Missy points to Eberhardt’s relentless search for personal freedom and independence, her complicated love life, and her gender ambiguity (as a cross-dressing female artist) as themes that continue to be relevant to women today. Another interesting through-line of the opera is how Eberhardt navigates the conflict between Eastern and Western cultures. Eberhardt moved to North Africa and converted to Islam when she was a young woman. “She fought in street battles in Algiers against the French,” Missy explains, “but she was also working for the French as a journalist, so she was caught between these two worlds.”

The opera, directed by Gia Forakis, has already been workshopped at Galapagos in Brooklyn, New York City Opera’s VOX, and Bard College, and will be premiered at The Kitchen on February 24, 25, and March 1-3. Performers include singer Abigail Fischer and NOW ensemble; with films by Stephen Taylor.

Missy has some other exciting projects coming up, including two new pieces – one for the Albany Symphony, and one for cellist Maya Beiser. Her all-star band Victoire (Olivia De Prato, violin; Eileen Mack, clarinet; Lorna Krier, keayboards; Elenore Oppenheim, bass; and Missy on keyboards), whose CD Cathedral City was one of NPR’s top ten classical albums of 2010, will be performing at the Bell House in Gowanus on October 17. Not to be missed!

This post was also published in Urban Modes

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“The composer’s job is to create a context for music-making to reflect the emerging consciousness.”  Hafez Modirzadeh

ETHEL performs music of Hafez Modirzadeh
By Cornelius Dufallo
Also published on Urban Modes

Hafez.jpgHafez Modirzadeh, a visionary saxophonist, theorist and composer, has been developing his own style of inter-cultural improvisation for three decades. His mentors and collaborators have included Ornette Coleman, some of the founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and the great Iranian violinist, Mahmoud Zoufonoun.  ETHEL first encountered Modirzadeh in 2007, and the two parties felt an immediate artistic sympathy.

Since that time, Modirzadeh has created a body of work for saxophone, flutes, karna, string quartet, trumpet, santur, tombak, daf, and voice. On July 23, 2011 nine musicians came together to perform this music at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA. The lineup included ETHEL, Mili Bermejo (Mexican Argentinian jazz vocalist), Amir ElSaffar (Iraqi – American trumpeter), Faraz Minooei (Iranian santur player), Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh (Iranian percussionist), and the composer himself on saxophone and Karna. The unforgettable event, which Modirzadeh entitled In Convergence Liberation, was met with enthusiasm from a large audience, and all nine artists spent the following two days together at Open Path Studios in San Jose, recording the music for a forthcoming CD.

Matching-SpiritModirzadeh’s work combines fascinating musical and philosophical concepts. “Composting” (a specific type of improvisational dialogue based on pre-existing written material), “matching-spirit” (a process of group improvisation using shared interval structures), “intoning” (a technique of improvising within a unison, playing with the higher partials of the overtone series), “tetramodes” (a carefully calibrated microtonal system based on a synthesis of ancient and modern approaches to intervallic relationships), and  “Makam X”  (an overarching and inter-cultural musical system of various partials of the harmonic series) were some of the techniques that the nine musicians shared and practiced together. Rhythmic meters of 17/4 (5+5+7) –inspired by Persian poetry — were the foundation for improvisations that defied cultural boundaries. Persian modal systems, Iraqi maqam, Andalusian musical traditions, aspects of Indonesian gamelan, and references to western classical composers from the past three centuries were all called upon in this collaboration.

Tetramode
In 2009 Modirzadeh described his musical aesthetic this way: “It begins with a few ideas sounded together, each one in an incomplete fashion, as if light were peering through traditions’ tattered curtains.”  More recently he has started to speak of a “Convergence Liberation Principle,” which is directly inspired by the gathering at Tahrir Square, which he considers “the most concrete and brilliant example”  of Convergence Liberation. Musically speaking, the concept is connected to a dual approach of honing individual style, while also transcending all cultural distinctions. The strategies that we used to translate these concepts into sound were mostly intuitive. We each drew from our own years of discipline in our respective traditions, but we also abandoned that discipline to make ourselves totally vulnerable. The process was mysterious, but we could all clearly feel a deep connection to our nature as social animals. For a few days we rejected the concepts of right and wrong; instead, we created a group dynamic based entirely on trust.
Members of the Convergence Liberation Band
(From left: Cornelius Dufallo, Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh, Mary Rowell, Dorothy Lawson, Ralph Farris,  Amir ElSaffar, Hafez Modirzadeh)

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