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Last year I decided to try my hand at liveblogging the Bang on a Can Marathon concert and had so much fun doing it, I figured I’d come back and do it again. Held in the World Financial Center, the marathon will begin at noon and last till midnight and is FREE, so y’all have plenty of time to get here, find a spot to sit, and enjoy the huge lineup of performers and composers the Marathon is bringing forth today (the day’s schedule can be found here).  If you attend, I’ll be sitting in the front row corner in the press section – feel free to come up and say howdy!

Since this puppy will probably be a bit lengthy when all is said and done, I’ll put the updates below the break.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Mark Campbell have teamed up with director Kevin Newbury and conductor Rob Fisher to create a unique musical view into the people who were affected by the Civil War. Co-commissioned as a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War by the Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond, Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, Virginia Arts Festival and Virginia Opera, “Rappahannock County” [will receive its Richmond*] premiere Tuesday, Sept. 13 at the Modlin Center of the Arts at 7:30 and run for three evenings with a special forum discussion at 4pm on Sept. 13 with the show’s creators.

I got a chance to chat with Ricky Ian Gordon today about the upcoming premiere…enjoy the interview here: Ricky Ian Gordon Interview

[* Note: the world premiere was given in Norfolk, VA in April at the Harrison Opera House - RD]

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One might assume that any work receiving its premiere this weekend – especially this Sunday – would have to be somehow related to the 9/11 memorials taking place around the country. One work, however, is being premiered on Sunday simply due to the natural schedule of the festival during which it is to be performed, and has no connection to the memorial whatsoever. The work in question is David Del Tredici’s String Quartet No. 2, set to be given its premiere performance by the Orion String Quartet at 3pm this Sunday at the South Mountain Concert Series in Pittsfield, MA.

I was able to catch up with David in the middle of his busy schedule to ask him a few questions about the work and his connection to the Orion String Quartet. Listen to our brief interview here: Del Tredici Interview

The full press release after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

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So I happened to be in the city over the weekend and didn’t have any interviews or other meetings today, so I figured “Hey, I’ve got a laptop…why not liveblog the Bang on a Can Marathon over at the World Financial Center? One press pass and sweet front row seat later, and here I am. I’m not sure if I’l be insane enough to make it to midnight, but I’ll try to give y’all a sense of as much of the festivities as I can. Started in 1987 by David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon, the Marathon has turned into one of the biggest new music events in the country. I’ve never liveblogged anything before, so this should be interesting! I’ll keep the rest of the posts under the break so as to not take up a huge amount of space – if you have time and in the NYC area, come on down – it’s free, you can come and go as you’d like, and I’ll be in the front on the corner if you want to say hi! Read the rest of this entry »

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Tonight will feature the two winners of the first annual Call-for-Scores that the Nief-Norf Project put together this year as part of the first 10-day Nief-Norf Summer Festival going on down at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. The brainchild of percussionist and Artistic Director Andrew Bliss, the festival presents five concerts that focus on new music for percussion, including works by Cage, Reich, Applebaum, Bresnick, Zorn, and this year’s composer-in-residence, Christopher Adler. In addition to works for percussion by Mario Davidovsky, Stuart Sanders Smith and Alexander Lunsqui, Caroline Mallonee’s North South East West and Steven Snowden’s A Man with a Gun will be premiered tonight as the winners of the Project’s first Call-for-Scores.

If you’re in the area, be sure to check out both tonight’s concert at 8pm on the Furman University campus and their final concert on Thursday evening as part of the “Music of the Lake” Series in Greenville.

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[Apologies for the delay on this posting – laptop illness kept me from completing it till today.]

During my week stay in Illinois, I was lucky enough to catch several concerts that proved how strong the new music scene is in Chicago. On Saturday May 28, Ensemble Dal Niente presented a rich and varied concert at the Music Institute of Chicago that featured several new and established works and a wide array of talented performers. Ensemble Dal Niente has been steadily gaining ground as one of several new music ensembles (including ICE and Alarm Will Sound) that has taken the structure of an extensive ensemble that allows for both small and large-scale works, and their season finale gave a good demonstration of the effectiveness of this structure.

The concert started off with the world premiere of Microscript for three winds and three strings by New York-based composer Drew Baker. Inspired by the miniscule writings by the Swiss author Robert Walser, this work intended to build momentum with a minimum of material through subtle timbral and articulation shifts, finally breaking into a set of three simultaneous duets. With all six instruments playing the same pitch for over two minutes at the outset of the work, intonation inconsistencies (update: even taking microtonality into account -rd) in the strings showed exactly how difficult such a simple concept can be – but it was impressive at how oboist Andrew Nogal and soprano saxophonist Ryan Muncy were able to blend their instruments with the flute and strings.

The Spektral Quartet, which makes up part of the string contingent in Ensemble Dal Niente, followed with a striking performance of Augusta Read Thomas’ Rise Chanting; the details in the score were plainly evident in the performance and Thomas’ penchant for lines that seem improvised came across very naturally and yet with an extreme precision. The first half of the concert concluded with a rambunctious setting of Louis Andriessen’s 1974 piece Workers Union. With an eclectic collection of strings, winds, and keyboards (including two toy pianos and an iPad), the ensemble gave a thrilling performance of the seminal work, which was very well received by the almost-full house.

The second half of the concert featured two works that could not have been more contrasting – Morton Feldman’s Vertical Thoughts 2 and György Ligeti’s Piano Concerto. Violinist J. Austin Wulliman and pianist Winston Choi brought a light touch and gauzy sensibility to the Feldman, with Wulliman walking the tightrope between extreme softness and inaudibility and Choi setting each sonority with confidence. In an impressive feat of mental gear-shifting, Choi was brought back to the stage to play the solo part in one of Ligeti’s most demanding works with the ensemble-as-chamber orchestra under the direction of DePaul faculty Michael Lewanski. With the exception of a few balance problems in the percussion that were exacerbated by the acoustics of the hall, the ensemble brought this work to life in vivid colors and with a exactness in detail and intensity. I have heard from many colleagues at Winston Choi’s talent and was not disappointed in the performance – he really is one of the best interpreters of new music on the piano scene today. While the entire ensemble shined in the performance, severe kudos needs to be given to standout performances by hornist Julia Filson, bassist Mark Buchner, bassoonist Wendeline Everett, piccoloist Constance Volk and the haunting ocarina from Alejandro T. Acierto.

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One of Chicago’s most notable chamber ensembles, Third Coast Percussion, joined forces on Tuesday evening with flutist Tim Munro (of eighth blackbird) to create an intriguing evening exploring music from the 20th and 21st centuries. While flute and percussion might not be an obvious combination, it worked extremely well with the assistance of some subtle amplification that did not detract or distract from the overall performance and actually assisted in giving what would have been an overly dry ambience some life.

The concert was well-programmed with a healthy balance between new works by Australian composer Anthony Pateras and Third Coast member Owen Clayton Condon against older works by George Crumb, John Fonville, and John Cage (the latter of which we’re going to be hearing a lot from over the next 18 months as we approach the centenary of his birth). Crumb’s An Idyll for the Misbegotten took good advantage of the balconies in the venue and allowed Munro to begin his performance behind the audience, wind his way through the tables and waiters before taking center stage and retracing his steps to conclude the piece with exquisite bird-like flutters where he began the work.

I’ve seen other concerts where two multi-movement works are interlaced, but none that worked quite so effectively as the combination of Fonville’s Music for Sarah for solo flute and Cage’s Quartet for percussion quartet; the extremely varied colors Munro was asked to extract from his instrument with polyphonic textures through singing-while-playing as well as playing without the head-joint shakuhachi-style made a resonant contrast against Cage’s simplistic, almost monochromatic instrumentation and non-melodic excursions that were brought to life through Third Coast’s intense performance. I have to point out David Skidmore’s accuracy during this piece, as the head of one of his mallets flew off near the end of the piece and popped yours truly square in the chest – nice shot, David!

One of two world premieres of the evening, Pateras’ work Lost Compass fit well in the Cage/Crumb mold that the first half of the concert had set; the combination of a meandering alto flute against four percussionists skittering across glassware and metals with knitting needles intentionally did not move forward with a purpose, but rather seemed to just exist as entities of themselves (an effect that was heightened with one’s eyes closed which helped to abstract the percussion sounds into one great and complex rattle). Cage’s Aria again strewed the percussionists around and within the audience to make improvisatory comments on what was the most memorable performance of the evening, with Tim Munro laying down his flute to belt, mutter, caterwaul, coo and stutter in five different languages (from memory, natch) all while wandering throughout the audience; it was a tour-de-force performance that would be a shame not to get recorded at some point. The evening concluded on the right note with Fractalia, Condon’s new percussion quartet for two marimba four-hands with each performer switching back and forth from the marimba to several toms; the work is both memorable and enjoyable while being not overly virtuosic – this piece could easily become a staple in the percussion quartet repertoire.

The concert took place in the Mayne Stage theatre on the North Side of Chicago, one of several “alternative venues” that are popping up all over the country and are unafraid to feature a wide array of styles and genres to a diverse audience. While this concert worked out really well in the venue for many reasons, there were a few times where the whispering of wait-staff and clinking of glasses made unwelcome comments through some of the more intimate moments – though I’m sure Mr. Cage would have approved.

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Not even two years old by students and alumni of Peabody Conservatory, the Figaro Project is one of several new opera companies that have sprouted up around the country, and it presented itself last night not only as an impressive collective of talented performers, but as a strong advocate for newly-written opera. Brought to life in the University of Baltimore’s Performing Arts Theatre (and for the low-low price of “free”!), thirteen singers and a small pit of 1-3 players provided the spark for three one-act operas by local composers Paul Matthews, Douglas Buchanan, and Joshua Bornfield.

Each work stood apart from the others in its own way and presented both highlights and challenges to the fledgling troupe. Matthews’ Piecing It Apart successfully attempted to incorporate flashbacks into the mix as two detectives interrogate a farmer for the possible killing of his mistress. Combining the patina, unreliable narrator, and overlapping plot lines of modern-day puzzle films, the work had some wonderful musical moments as the relationship between the suspected killer and his hapless victim emerges throughout the story. Lux et Tenebrae by Douglas Buchanan spiraled off in a completely different direction, forging together a mythological story of how shadows came to be through the adventures of a Child soon after the universe was formed. Utilizing the largest cast and pit of the evening, Lux showed both the advantages & disadvantages of such a menagerie – the spectacle and depth of the story was provided by the talented cast but one felt the need of a scorecard at points to figure out who was who (the stylized costumes definitely helped here), and the increased orchestration made balancing the singers in the reverberant hall a challenge.  The final work on the program, Strong Like Bull by Joshua Bornfield was the highlight of the evening for several reasons. The story, loosely based around the tenuous political upheaval in Russia in the years following the deposition of the Czar, seemed one part Kubrick, one part Marx Brothers and admirably showcased each cast member’s talents. Bornfield demonstrates that there is still room for humor in opera today, and one is optimistic that this work brought to life by other companies.

As mentioned, the casts of all three operas were quite good; standouts included Caitlin Vincent in Piecing It Apart, Nola Richardson in Lux et Tenebrae, and the quartet cast of Strong Like Bull – Jessica Abel (and her hand puppets), Jessica Hanel Satava, the scenery-chewing Nathan Wyatt, and Peter Drackley (whose ubiquitous cigar should have been credited as a member of the cast). Music Director Younggun Kim and conductor Jim Stopher performed an immense amount of material throughout the evening to great effect.

There’s one more showing of these operas tonight at 7:30 in the University of Baltimore’s Performing Arts Theatre – if you’re in the area you’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend an evening.

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Lee Hoiby, one of the preeminent composers of song and opera in the 20th Century, passed away today at the age of 85. I was lucky enough to host Lee for a two-day residency here at SUNY Fredonia last September, which culminated in a concert of his works by students and faculty with Lee playing piano for every work…including a sing-a-long with the entire audience at the end. To see 20-year-old voice majors lining up after the concert to get his autograph was pretty special, and indicative of how much he meant to so many music lovers around the world. His publisher’s statement is below: Read the rest of this entry »

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While the Weather Channel might only associate our flyover community with snow & cold every year, here in western New York at SUNY Fredonia things are heating up with the onset of the yearly NewSound Festival sponsored by the student-driven Ethos New Music Society. Since I started teaching here in 2007, we’ve continued a 30+ year tradition of spectacular guest composers and performers, and this year looks to be our largest festival to date. Since Fredonia is in driving distance (3 hrs or less) of so many different arts centers, including Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Syracuse & Toronto, it seemed only right to let y’all know what’s going on in our small but mighty new music haven here on the shores of Lake Erie. This year’s festival was curated to showcase the human voice and the wide array of composers and works that explore and expand the realm of vocal music in the 21st century.

First a round-up of the entire festival, which hits the ground running Friday evening in the Rosch Recital Hall (where all the events will be unless otherwise noted):

  • 1/28: Jamie Jordan, soprano w/ Daniel Pesca, piano & Sean Connors, percussion, 8pm, free
  • 2/4: Tony Arnold, soprano w/ Jacob Greenberg, piano, 8pm, free
  • 2/4: Opening of Notations21 Graphic Notation Scores exhibit with author and musicologist Theresa Sauer, 6-8pm in the Rockefeller Art Gallery, free
  • 2/11: NOW Ensemble and composers Missy Mazzoli, Corey Dargel and Judd Greenstein performing works of Mazzoli & Dargel, 8pm, $2 students/$5 public
  • 2/16: Lindsey Goodman, flute & voice, 8pm, free
  • 2/18: Florestan Recital Project with Aaron Engebreth, baritone and Alison d’Amato, piano, 8pm, $2 students/$5 public
  • 2/19: League of the Unsound Sound with composers David Smooke and Ruby Fulton, 8pm, free
  • 2/25: Chamber Music of Dan Welcher, 8pm, $2 students/$5 public
  • 2/26: SUNY Fredonia Wind Ensemble performing works by Welcher, Ives, Stravinsky and a world premiere by tubist/composer Jim Self, 8pm in King Concert Hall, free

The first concert with soprano Jamie Jordan will feature works by Hannah Lash, Zachary Wadsworth, Eric Nathan, Daniel Pesca and Michaela Eremiasova as well as our own Paul Coleman and the first of two performances of George Crumb’s Apparition (Tony Arnold will be performing the same work the following week). If you’re in the area, come join us for some great music-making!

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