The agony of having supported side by side the six-year battle of his beloved spouse of thirty years, Célia Cooke’s, illness and then having to endure her loss to cancer on March 30th of this year, pianist/composer Jed Distler looks to some old friends for solace and to his life in music.
An outgrowth of his need to heal is his recently released CD, “Meditate with the Masters”, produced during these recent hard times for the Musical Concepts label. He sees his contribution as helpful in creating a “gentle ambiance, ideal for holistic and therapeutic treatments, or for intimate dinner gatherings and solitary afternoons at home… as well as for public situations, such as waiting rooms, airport lounges, restaurants…”
The hint of the familiar in each of the fifteen tracks that Distler titles after a renowned composer –after Schumann, after Chopin, after Distler, for example – (he includes himself nonchalantly in the list of pianistic masters with a dash of good humor) provides pianistically pleasant variations, composed in a traditional style with rhythmically soothing, unfussy piano treatments. One of my favorites is his folk-like treatment of Schumann’s ‘Von fremden Ländern und Menschen’ from Kinderszenen, infusing the beautiful Schumann theme within a new and original connective musical tissue. Some of the compositions suggest his great sensibility for jazz formulations, an area Distler is known for through his published Art Tatum and Bill Evans transcriptions for solo piano. These became renowned when pianist’s Jean –Yves Thibaudet recorded for the Decca label in 1997, “Conversations with Bill Evans,” arranged and transcribed by Distler.
Distler’s new music is often performed and recorded by star performers of the new music scene. “Three Landscapes for Peter Wyer, for toy piano,” recorded by Margaret Leng Tan on Point records was featured in three film scores, and his “Loose Changes” for two pianos was recorded by Quattro Mani on Bridge recordings. Pianist Jenny Lin and ‘ETHEL’s violinist Cornelius Duffalo (see my article ) are among the many artists he has been commissioned by.
“As a composer I am mostly inspired by a commission and deadlines. I am anchored in the pianist/composer tradition, but I don’t believe in any music snobbery, I try to be open minded. All good music is equal. Jimi Hendrix, for example will never be dated, while there are pieces of so-called “serious” music that I never want to listen to! For me music is about good communication and it is also about a lifestyle that includes a good work ethic, in order to maintain great technique, which is necessary to delivery. I read somewhere that the great jazz pianist Bill Evans said how technique was being able to do musically what you want to do, without having to worry about your hands. Better still, that other extraordinary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson once defined technique as the thing that made your ideas listenable. These thoughts help me try to entertain and communicate effectively with an audience,” says Distler.
He does not volunteer elucidation about his own compositions, feeling too close to it to comment, but rather leaves that to the musicians who perform them and who will establish his oeuvre. However, he prolifically comments on others, though, making his mark by way of his often-insightful music reviews, published chiefly in Gramophone and Classicstoday.com. Distler is committed to making a difference in the world of music, engaging his many talents as lecturer, writer, promoter, presenter and pianist for various media and concert performances.
On the piano and as artistic director of ‘Composers Collaborative’, co-founded with his late wife Célia Cooke , Distler has performed and programmed other composers’ works and continues to create and to partake in music initiatives on Public Radio and in venues like the Cornelia Street Café. Last week’s ‘Serial Underground’, a new music series performed for several years at this intimate setting, brought me in personal contact with this seasoned musician’s expressive pianism for the first time. Dubbed “the subversive nightclub series” by TIME OUT NY, Distler followed a performance of a group called “Other Life Forms,” with some intimate renderings of Thelonious Monk pieces.
Reaching out to his audiences is an innate talent of Distler and he certainly does achieve what he has set out to do in exactly the way he describes it:”Communicating comes first, expressiveness follows.”
Since it is impossible to mention all the endeavors he shared with me on a long list, I am just going to point you to one of the many interesting projects taking place at the Cornelia Street Cornelia Café, the ComposersCollaborative Inc, presentation of “Mano-a- Mano” Piano Festival on August 21, 22, and 23rd as well as a promising undertaking of Thelonious Monk’s entire piano oeuvre, the resourceful pianist plans to perform right here on February 17, 2012, the 30th anniversary of Monk’s death.
When I met with violinist/composer Cornelius Dufallo, whom many know as a member of the very original, postmodern somewhat premiere-focused group of string players called Ethel, he gave me the big news about the group straight away: Mary Rowell, one of Ethel’s founding members, will be leaving the group as of June 1st, to pursue different lifestyle choices and Jennifer Choi, of the same younger Juilliard Alumni generation as Dufallo himself, will be joining the group. So, in a way this article is bidding fare well to Ethel-violinist Mary Rowell and making a hello-shout to Jennifer Choi.
Eagerly answering an audition call for the then already-reputable Ethel-band when they had an opening, Dufallo joined the quartet six years ago. He describes the relationship with all members as excellent and really close. He remembers:”We clicked right from the beginning. Mary is going to be missed and will continue to be involved during the transition process, to make sure that Ethel will keep on going strong.”
What attracted Dufallo to Ethel’s core concept was the commitment to the imaginative programming of contemporary music, executed with great artistry as well as personal dedication.
Specializing in music composed after 1995 seems not to be an unusual undertaking anymore and especially not in the New York area and the few other Metropolitan centers around the country. Even the press, for the most part, is enthusiastic:
”New music is hardly scarce during the main part of the New York concert season, and spaces like issue Project Room, Galapagos and the Tank specialize in it year around. But spring and summer are a virtually nonstop parade of festivals celebrating the experimental,” says Alan Kozinn in his article about Ethel’s opening program of this year’s Tribeca New Music Festival at Merkin Hall (see Alan Kozinn’s review in the New York Times May 24th. 2011)
But only in recent times has such gusto, developed and persistently pursued by promoters, supported by internet advocates as well as educational and private institutions, not to mention the younger growing audiences, proven new music to be of such a high public esteem.
What seems to have made a real difference in the new appreciation compared to a former unwillingness of audiences and press and programmers alike may be the actual high quality of music making. This new batch of musicians brings to new music projects a unique versatility, a high quality of training, as well as an innovative and engaging, invigorating dedication.
Read the rest of this entry »
So far, 14 compositions by different contemporary composers have been dedicated to violinist Ittai Shapira. Belonging to the now thirty something generation of performers of the New York classical music scene – he and pianist Jeremy Denk were roommates in college- he is now renowned as a versatile performer of an enormous classical violin repertoire, incorporating past and present, traditional as well as contemporary.
One of these premieres included the violin concerto written for him by Israeli compatriot and Pulitzer Prize winner, Shulamit Ran. It was performed at Shapira’s acclaimed Carnegie Hall debut in 2003 with the Orchestra of St.Luke’s. In 2007, it was incorporated into Ran’s compilation of works performed by Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Shapira’s international performances as a fine soloist with many leading orchestras as well as chamber groups, coupled with his varied recordings, show his widespread interest in standard and unusual repertoire, explaining why so many composers dedicate works for his performance.
Another Israeli compatriot, a composer who lately enjoys great international demand, Avner Dorman, wrote a violin concerto for Shapira as well, in 2006. It was performed with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
Dorman was, as was Shapira, trained at Juilliard after leaving Israel for New York. While Dorman studied composition with John Corigliano, Shapira studied violin with Dorothy DeLay and Robert Mann and privately coached with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman.
Since Ittai was involved in the Daniel Pearl Foundation, they decided to dedicate the piece and its premiere performances to the memory of journalist Daniel Pearl, as Dorman mentions in the liner notes to the concerto. Another concerto by composer Dave Heath found his way onto the soundtrack for the film about Daniel Pearl’s tragic death in Pakistan “The Journalist and the Jihadi”, via Shapira. Read the rest of this entry »
I am enjoying a cappuccino, that borders perfection, at pianists’ Lucille Chung’s and Alessio Bax’ tasteful, uncluttered and brand-new address on New York’s Upper-Upper West side. Lucille’s organizational skills translate into the modern, streamlined, yet comfortable chic atmosphere, echoing Alessio’s Italian classy design heritage that takes a decisively leading voice when it comes to the kitchen as well as, to my delight, handling the professional grade cappuccino maker.
This generous space that the attractive young couple calls home, when in New York, holds two grand pianos. One in their study that for now doubles as a guestroom, for practicing and teaching; the other one in the living room, for practicing simultaneously or to entertain each other and guests who typically are music lovers or musicians as well.
Playing the piano is what both regard as central to their lives. That’s why they might as well spend time doing it together. Two young, successful musicians in their own right, they share the rest of their time together, between juggling the piano faculty at Dallas’ SMU and their increasingly busy performance and recording schedules. In great demand as soloists, they have found themselves increasingly performing as a duo as well.Not that they necessarily planned it that way. Even though it always seemed like a great idea and it had happened on occasion, their duo performances have only recently gained in volume, taking up about 20 percent of their time, which was previously engaged with their professional solo performances. And, the truth is, they enjoy spending this ‘quality time’ at the piano together.
Playing as a duo creates endless opportunities of preparing and performing wide ranging and well-rehearsed programs and finally offers them variety, by taking the music on the road to different venues they like to travel to, together. How much more romantic could it get?
“It takes a lot of coordination,” says Lucille, who is in charge of all organizational details for the team. Alessio smiles happily, while claiming no interest in that domain, confirming: “We just decided this year to block out increased time for our collaborative performances. We have always played together sporadically, but never had made the effort to plan for it formerly in advance.” Read the rest of this entry »
It certainly took some of the proverbial practice, practice, practice…. to get to Carnegie Hall, on the part of the 23 years old Alexej Gorlatch, who is continuing his studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover, Germany; but it almost certainly took a lot more than that. All that practice, as well as his immensely abundant natural pianistic technique and musical talent, still does not usually lead directly from Hannover to Carnegie Hall, or does it?
There is no doubt that the international piano competition circuit has become extremely important to fostering and rewarding young artists with the opportunities of performance experiences, and launching their professional careers in the process.
Tonight’s recital was part of the first prize, awarded to Gorlatch as the winner of the Dublin International Piano Competition, in 2009. Gorlatch winning First Prize in Dublin.
Founded in 1988 and sponsored by a private benefactor, the competition joined the Alink-Argerich Foundation in 2004 and is recognized as one of the finest International piano competitions worldwide. A member of theWorld Federation of International Music Competitions, it attracts a wide consortium of international competitors during its triennial events. Chaired by Irish pianist and piano pedagogue John O’Conor, who is also the competition’s artistic director, the competition relies heavily on its distinguished international jury. Read the rest of this entry »
2 Comments »
While visiting Chicago, I heard that the personable and very handsome Andsnes, one of Europe’s finest pianistic exports, who has acquired seven Grammy Award nominations and many international awards, was in town for a concert program. He also is performing the same program tonight at Carnegie Hall.
This was the perfect opportunity for me to assess Chicago’s stylish Symphony Hall. Located at the premier address, Michigan Avenue, the entire experience of the program fit in with the city’s mixed architectural skyline, a bit of old and a bit of new. While that mix exerts a certain charm in Chicago’s architectural landscape, at first glance, the concert’s program appeared a bit lacking in coherence.
However, Andsnes’ great effortless style and elegance, which was constantly present in his playing, gave the program’s an overall seamless quality without taking away from the essential expressivity of each individual piece.
The two Beethoven Sonatas that flanked the Brahms and the Schoenberg pieces in the April 3rd. program told a lot about Andsnes’ technical prowess, as well as his great sense for architectural structure in music.
Beethoven’s Waldstein, which the program noted as a groundbreaking work, “revealing a previous unknown sound”, was performed with great sonority and alluring explorations of the composition’s core, yet fulfilled its main promise; namely to reveal. Perhaps there was even a nod to the last Beethoven Sonata No.32 in C Minor, Op.111, as a “Farewell to the Sonata form” as Thomas Mann in his Doctor Faustus coined it; and Andsnes’ dynamic range within the Brahm’s Opus 10 Ballades brought out – well, the endearing quirkiness of Brahms, with just the right amount of unassuming drama.
The most electrifying playing though was heard in Andsnes projection of all the fine nuances in Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces, Op.19. Here Andsnes expressed a sheer limitless array of color.
One of the Encores, a Kurtag flourish of a piece called Scraps of a colinda melody- faintly recollected, was rendered with a most pianistic pianissimo, a Chopin Waltz in A-flat Major op.42 and Schumann’s Romance in F-sharp Major, No.2, Op. 28 gave a romantically infused introspective farewell.
Leif Ove Andsnes
Andsnes’ celebrated status as a performer has already afforded him a sizeable EMI and Virgin discography and just last month he signed a new contract as a Sony artist. They plan to feature the forty year old Andsnes playing Beethoven’s five piano concertos with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, both performing and directing from the keyboard.
As he showed backstage visiting fans baby pictures of his now 10-month old daughter on his iPhone, he admitted smilingly: “On nights before concert performances, I get to sleep through the night in a separate room from the baby.” Thank god for connecting, yet clearly separate rooms in hotels, as well as for permitting the music to speak for itself, even without a binding contextual program.
Now in their 10th season, the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players have earned their special place in New York City music lovers’ hearts.
A stone throw from Lincoln Center’s main venues, the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church on 152 West 66th Street provides a modest but intimate setting for the chamber music series, commemorating the powerful legacy of the founder and conductor of the Jupiter Symphony Orchestra, Jens Nygaard, who had performed for audiences at Alice Tully Hall, as well as the homeless and victims of natural disasters alike.
His passion for music not only glorified already celebrated works, but he sought out lesser known and neglected works or composers whose names had been forgotten, which he presented with great appeal. This charismatic personality in teaching and music-making touched many lives before he passed away in 2001. The Emmy Award winning documentary “Life on Jupiter,” has accounts of Nygaard’s highly spirited and relevant impact, told by his friends and colleagues.
Run by private funding, the enthusiastic efforts of the Chamber Players’ manager and Nygaard’s widow, Mei Ying, as well as former first bassoonist and now music advisor, Michael Volpert, the series is dedicated to continuing Mr. Nygaard’s artistic quest for beautiful music and interesting performance. It also keeps on providing performance opportunities for some of the former orchestral musicians as well as talented guest artists.
A small but loyal and informed audience follows this quest on a very low budget. Tickets are not expensive. The performances are held on twenty Monday afternoons (2pm) and evening (7.30pm) programs.
Besides playing some of the standard gamut, the performers who come from a roster of first rate, internationally performing artists, notably explore a handpicked, highly selective repertoire.
Read the rest of this entry »
1 Comment »
Jerome L.Green Space
Having the opportunity to listen in on a live-broadcast conversation with Esa-Pekka Salonen, the internationally renowned composer/conductor and curator of the Lincoln Center’s festival “Hungarian Echoes” (taking place March 10 -27), sounded like a wonderful proposition to me. This was a presentation of WQXR’s Green Space on Tuesday, March 7.
I would have just wished that the energetic moderator, a driving force in the New Music scene, Nadia Sirota, had let the conversation really take off to higher grounds. Sirota is a successful Juilliard graduate violist and faculty member at Manhattan’s School New Music department, as well as a performer and interpreter of the new new music scene, so she certainly neither lacks the knowhow nor the charisma to engage her subject in a meaningful discourse.
The Q2 production at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WQXR, which accommodates a small audience to experience the process of radio broadcasting, is an ideal multi-media performance space that could be the cultural platform for New York and beyond. This could have been true in this case, had Salonen been given the chance to get in more lines.
Instead, there he was, the current leader of the British “Philharmonia”, whose vocational career has catapulted him, even though he is on the younger side, into the internationally recognized top league of enigmatic conductors, hardly being given the opportunity to share much of his insights with the audience.
He was the undisputedly most interesting guest one wanted to hear from, as he sat next to Sirota while pianist Conor Hanick performed Ligeti on the harpsichord. And there he remained sitting silently, while pianist Marino Formenti filled in for Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the piano with some Bartók pieces and while musicians of the New York Philharmonic offered a somewhat awkward potpourri of different movements of works by the three featured festival composers: Bartók, Haydn and Ligeti.
Even if the pieces represented the composers of the festival, the characteristics of Ligeti on harpsichord, or the tender piano pieces of Bartók’s “Hungarian Dances,” had little in common with the symphonic festival and they certainly did not help answer the question thrown out by Sirota to Salonen and pianist Formenti: “What makes them Hungarian? “
The only information I really took away from the conversation which gained lively momentum through the emotionally charged, but a bit chaotic, Formenti was the fact that the Hungarian thread was to be understood somewhat loosely, since Hungarian geographical territories continuously shifted according to political alliances within the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Culturally, what was really thought to be Hungarian was often rooted in Gypsy music.
However the music of Hungarian-born Bartók and Haydn, who had worked at the Esterhazy court in Hungary, and Ligeti, born into a Jewish-Hungarian family from Transylvania, remains fascinating. Their music was highly innovative for its time and therefore captivated the interest of Salonen, the true modernist spirit, to curate the festival.
As far as Salonen’s personal input about the festival, he volunteered one important fact, namely that he finds himself at a stage in his life where he now has free choices of performances. Luckily for us, he obviously likes the Bartók, the Haydn and the Ligeti. This was even clearer when I heard his Bartók rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic that same morning. He was really fantastic at it. Demanding yet devoted, he negotiated with the already excellent and capable Philharmonic players several nuances of tempi, dynamics and coloration. He stopped and started them, even stopping them mid-bar where they immediately picked up fluidly. Sometimes he did this with a little humor: “We managed to bury the trumpets…twice…”, sometimes with firmness, but always making sure of getting his way, in a compelling manner. Concert master Glenn Dicterow sat to his left with the violins, opposing the violas on the right hand side of the conductor – a relatively new seating arrangement, agreeable with Salonen and Alan Gilbert (compare with my concertmaster article).
The atmosphere stayed always friendly, but there was also a tremendously focused concentration in the orchestra, as they conformed audibly to the energetic, modern dance-like movements of the Finn. It was an exciting way to listen to Bartók’s inventive themes that actually seem so much less confrontational as we get more and more familiar with them over the years. He really – as Dicterow remarked on the way to rehearsal, is not at all that “avant-garde” anymore. As wonderful as this rehearsal was, I felt that at the Green Space performances, “Less is more” would have worked better.
I went there for Salonen’s vision and how it connected to works at his festival, as well as to get to know something about his personality. The incredibly important fact that he had worked closely with Ligeti, before his death in 2006, was only briefly mentioned, but never elaborated on. A world of influences on a potent composer and conductor could have been brought to light, by the talented performer and radio show host known to champion New Music of this high caliber, so why didn’t Sirota do it? She had the space, the time, and the man right with her.
Salonen, who had not even taken the time to change since the rehearsal must have felt similarly, after beating traffic all the way to 160 Varrick Street, even if he did come by limousine.
1 Comment »
Even though the pianist’s ‘Liszt – Recital Tour’ did not actually start out, as originally planned in Jerusalem, and instead started in Madrid, playing in Jerusalem for the first time was of great moment to Kissin’s heart. As he put it, “Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim Tishkach Yimini …” Douay-Rheims Bible
(If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten)
I could not even begin to imagine the impact of this literal transcription.
Kissin performs concerts in Tel Aviv on a regular basis, but this concert, held on February 16th, (instead of as planned on January 8th) was the first of its kind, his first Solo recital here and had a locally invested objective: to help raise funds for the Jerusalem Music Center.
The initiative for the concert, as Kissin told me, was based on his wish to perform in Jerusalem itself and, looking for this welcomed opportunity, he approached his friend, Lady Annabelle Weidenfeld.
As a member of the Center’s Advisory Board, Lady Weidenfeld, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Foundation and renowned pianist Murray Perahia, the organization’s president since 2009, obliged enthusiastically and the concert was planned as part of Kissin’s 2011 world tour.
The concert, to honor Liszt’s 200th bicentennial was held at the International Convention Center ’Binyanei hauma’ in Jerusalem to accommodate as many people as possible. This was part of a Liszt recital tour which put Jerusalem on the classical music map along with the usual venerable venues including Carnegie Hall, the latter on March 9th, 2011.
Situated within the picturesque neighborhood of ‘Mishkenot She’ananim’, near Jerusalem’s Old City, JMC was founded in 1973, inspired by the vision of legendary violinist and mentor to many great artists, Isaac Stern and Teddy Kollek, then eminent mayor of Jerusalem.
As an advanced training center for Israel’s young musical talents, JMC’s mission – as executive director Hed Sella in an interview with Sarah Carnvek explains, is not geared to discover the next prodigy, but is rather invested in helping talented young people to become all-round musicians.
Says Sella:”From the JMC point of view, we try to be apolitical and invite only those with the best musical quality. We are involved in several projects that see Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs playing together. We believe in coexistence.” Read the rest of this entry »
1 Comment »
Composer Vivian Fung
“I find the most inspiration while travelling” says composer Vivian Fung, whose first commission for the New York Chamber Society was performed under the baton of Gerard Schwarz, in 1995. She was 19 years old at the time. Her interests in music are influenced by her wide ranging travels and exude cross cultural pollination.
Fluent in Cantonese as well as English, Fung unites both worlds of her Asian heritage and the Western influences of her schooling and surroundings, comfortably within her personality. “My background is Chinese but I grew up in Edmonton, Canada, and my training is Western throughout,” Fung explains to me over lunch on the Upper West Side, at ‘Nick&Tony’ near Lincoln Center. Exclaiming to be a big “foodie,” the delicately built young composer examines the menu, settling for an exotic sounding version of a hamburger. She is decisive and matter of fact, yet agreeable and comfortable with defying categorizations. When it comes to music her take is especially definite:”There is no line for me, marking classical music from non-classical.”
After earning her doctorate in composition from Juilliard in 2002, the energetic young musician started teaching music theory as part of the faculty of Julliard’s Literature and Materials of Music department.
An inspirational trip to Bali in the summer of 2004 brought about some exploration of South East Asian Gamelan music and led her to curate the innovative ‘World Music Series,’ at Juilliard. This venture allowed her to channel some of the exciting and foreign artistic influences into her ‘other life’ in academia and to introduce the students to different cultural elements, broadening their musical horizons.
Inspiration - Bali
“I would invite top notch artists, talk about their culture and background and just introduce the students to different influences.” she remembers, contagiously excited. She explains how this came about: “I had just come back from Bali, and had studied with one of the foremost Balinese Gamelan groups named Cudamani, which happened to go on tour in the US that spring of 2005, and so I invited them to give a lecture-recital at Juilliard.”
It is easy to see how Fung’s innovative project won her enthusiastic followers throughout the Juilliard student body. Personal interaction is existentially important for Fung:”Since composing for me is a very collaborative process, with the performing musician(s)and I am interested in a true involvement, it is important that there is a passionate approach towards my work, about my music. It helps, of course, to have a personal relationship as well. When the performer is enthusiastic, learns the piece by heart and gives the performance full attention and effort, the result is something greater than the piece itself. ”
Naturally, the personal factor always comes into play; and especially so with most of the promising collaborative circles of new “music scenes,” with the often overlapping interaction of performers, composers, conductors and educators. Based mostly in America’s Metropolitan areas, these groups of musicians also seem to provide more and more often their own audience base. Remarkably though, a perpetual artistic individualism prevails through even the most collaborative efforts. It seems as there has never been a more exciting conglomerate of mixed stylistic, highly original and creative voices around.
Fung exclaims: “My work as a composer is so personal; I am always open for influences that inform my choices. Of course the Asian undercurrent is always going to be there, this is always going to be part of who I am. But ultimately it’s all about one’s personal journey. Of course I am aware who my colleagues and friends are, and we do have a community. I love also interacting with the audience, talking about my piece and experiencing a connection. It is important to me, that the audience is diversified. I do not believe in elitism. I am very involved in the Chicago Fulcrum Point New Music Project, a chamber ensemble found in 1998 by acclaimed musician, conductor and music educator Stephen Burns. They will present the world premiere of my “Yunnan Folk Songs” on March 22nd, 2011, as part of their concert “Speaking in Tongues. In the Chicago area, Fung was also composer –in- residence for the Music in the loft series in 2005/6.
True to Fung’s academic interest, the “Yunnan Folk Songs” is a project, based on vast research by Professor Zhang Xingrong of the Yunnan Art Institute, China. Since the early 80’s he has established an immense ethno-musicological collection of folksongs preserving cultural edifices of 25 minority nationalities in Southwest China, recording and transmitting their distinct languages and musical outputs.
Says Fung: “I can go in-between a lot of things, can be an observer of different traditions, without having to stick to any particular way. How you relate to the world and other people comes from an imagination from within. The same goes for musical composition. My musical reference to certain cultural influences is always characterized or filtered by my inspiration of certain aspects of it.”
With the Yunnan Folk song- cycle for example, Fung felt an immediate urge to explore the strong emotional impact of the raw and earthy voices, expressing an uninhibited emotional quality delivered by means of intense contrapuntal textures.
This seventeen-minute cycle of seven songs for mezzo-soprano, baritone and chamber ensemble is a still in process artisticinvestigation that she would like to explore even further and maybe develop, at some point, into an operatic work.
To find enough time for her increasing emergence as a composer, Fung made the decision to leave Julliard’s teaching position in 2009. “A leap of faith,” as she admits.
“I really enjoyed teaching as well, but I just could not be able to branch out, in the way I wanted to, having such limited time,” says the married Fung who is also considering time issues, concerning the debate of starting a family.
For the time being, she relishes the highly personal involvement with the artists she creates her works for: “My relationship with performers is becoming more and more important to how I shape a new commission, as well as the potential longevity of my work.”
Fung tells about her friendship with pianist Jenny Lin , a well recognized young performer, who is known for her fine musical skills in both classical repertoire as well as a new music pianist: “In 2005, Jenny approached me to write a new work for her on prepared piano, which became Glimpses, premiered by her at the ISCM Miami Festival in 2006.
This work has been performed numerous times, by Jenny and has since been picked up by such pianists as Margaret Leng Tan, Vicky Chow, and Bryan Wagorn, who will perform it at the Americas Society, New York, April 26th. 2011, celebrating the composer as the rising star of Canadian music that she is. Part of this celebration will also be the Canadian Afiara String Quartet , currently the graduate resident string quartet at The Juilliard School in New York, where they serve as teaching assistants to the Juilliard String Quartet.
“I think that it was thanks to the care, Jenny and I applied working on finding the right notation and nuances that helped get the work “out there,” says Fung. “Already then, Jenny recognized the potential in Glimpse’s first movement, “Kotekan” to be built up into a larger, more complex work. This idea led to my piano concerto “Dreamscapes” for Jenny that was commissioned by Andrew Cyr for the Metropolis Ensemble and was premiered at LePoisson Rouge in November of 2009. So…if you listen to the Piano Concerto, there is a quotation of “Kotekan” about 4 minutes into the concerto and that material is greatly expanded upon.”
Violinist Kristin Lee attended Fung’s class at Juilliard, and was fascinated from the get go. A mutual collaboration with the violinist, whom Fung describes as gutsy, virtuosic and lyrical at the same time, started when Fung got invited to one of her performances.
“I invited Andrew [Cyr] to join me and we both were blown away by her performance. Andrew invited Kristin to join the Metropolis Ensemble, where she also became the concertmaster for the performance of my Piano Concerto in 2009. She loved it, enough so, that she sent me an email after a rehearsal and asked me to write a violin concerto for her…The relationship I have fostered with Kristin resulted also in her accompanying me to Bali, this past summer of 2010, while I was touring with Gamelan Dharmaswana, in residence here at the New York Indonesian Consulate…the trip made our musical friendship grow deeper…The cadenza was a collaborative effort, it will be a tour de force,” says Fung, as she invites me to preview the performance of mentioned cadenza, at its inaugural benefit performance at Riverpark, with the Metropolis Ensemble on March 8th, 2011. The world premiere of the violin concerto in its entirety is planned for sometime in the fall of 2011.
“I am also an active community member, fostering additional relationships with rising composers and performers through workshops and outreach programs. In my role of the New York Foundation for the Arts music fellow for 2010-11 I have been involved as a mentor in their Immigrant Artist Mentorship program, where I share my artistic experiences and resources, helping a young composer in her early career to achieve her goals.”
And she has indeed already plenty of valid resources and experiences to share.
Fung’s very next important date is the Canadian premiere of her String Quartet No 2. , taking place in Edmonton, her Canadian hometown.
Presented by the Edmonton Chamber Society and featuring the Shanghai String Quartet on March 5th. 2011, the work was a commission by the Shanghai String Quartet in 2009 in celebration of their 25th Season. Another piece for String Quartet, Pizzicato, composed already in 2001 and recorded with the Ying Quartet and released by Telarc in 2008, will be featured by the Escher Quartet as part of Chamber Society of Lincoln Center’s Opening Night, Fireworks -Concert at Alice Tully Hall, on September 26th, 2011.
Expect nothing less than Fireworks!
For more Information about the composer Vivian Fung, see her website: http://www.vivianfung.net/
1 Comment »