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Ah, ’tis a small world…years ago during my film music studies at USC I remember chatting several times with a flutist who had made the finals for a position with the LA Phil – while she was still an undergrad. Fast forward 15 years and it turns out Elizabeth Rowe is not only playing principal flute with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, she’s giving the American premiere of Elliott Carter‘s Flute Concerto this next week on Feb. 4, 5 and 9 (see  www.bso.org for times and ticket prices). Here’s what Elliott had to say about the work:

For many years flutists have been asking for a flute concerto, yet I kept putting it off because I felt that the flute could not produce the sharp attacks that I use so frequently. But the idea of the beautiful qualities of the different registers of the instrument and the extraordinary agility attracted me more and more, so when Elena Bashkirova asked me write something for her and the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, I decided it would be a flute concerto. From mid – September, 2007 to March, 2008 ideas and notes for it fascinated me without relief.

And here’s what Elizabeth had to say, not only about the concerto but also about playing Daphnis et Chloé…for which BSO just received a Grammy:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KREz3aIGPnM[/youtube]

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It’s not often that Sequenza 21 gets scooped by the likes of Rachel Maddow – but that’s a good thing for composer Melissa Dunphy and the group of 30 musicians that are all performing Dunphy’s The Gonzales Contata with text directly taken from former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ testimony before Congress. Written in a neo-Baroque style, Dunphy has inverted the genders of the primary characters in the story, with Gonzales and Sen. Specter, Leahy and Hatch sung by females and Sen. Diane Feinstein sung by a tenor. The work is being performed this weekend in Philiadelpha at the Rotunda (4014 Walnut Street) at 7pm tonight and tomorrow at 2pm with tickets being sold at the door for $20.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqUWIbP0c6Y[/youtube]

A composer, cellist, actress and model, Dunphy is currently a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. She first performed the Gonzales Cantata at West Chester University and instead of shopping it around to other choirs, she decided to apply for performance at the Philly Fringe Festival, which she did – late – but it was still accepted. Funded completely out of her own pocket and sharing profits with al the performers, Dunphy seems to have single-handedly created a demonstration of how to create a “big splash” with her work…the weekend before she starts her graduate studies at UPenn.

By creating a website dedicated to the work, complete with html tags from The Drudge Report (seen below), and utilizing Twitter to garner notice within the political  journalistic ranks (completely outside of the circle of music critics, I might add), Melissa is creating a PR model for any composer to learn from. From the recording of the entire work (!) on the Gonazales Cantata website, it’s obvious that she’s got the neo-Baroque thing down, and she does a nice job of threading the needle between creating something so dissonant that it would turn off the general public and something so über-tonal that it wouldn’t interest new-music types. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kevin Noe conducting the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble

Kevin Noe conducting the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble

Summertime in the Steel City brings forth some pretty damn good concerts from the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, one of the best new music ensembles in the country, every year and this year isn’t any different. This summer PNME will be performing over twenty new works, including two commissioned world premieres by Houston’s Pierre Jalbert and Chicago’s Stacy Garrop, over the next four weekends under the direction of their executive artistic director, Kevin Noe.

They had their first concert last night, but you can still catch them this evening at the City Theatre (1300 Bingham St.) for an 8pm concert, and, in a sly bit of audience-building, if you attend a Friday show and want to see it again, they’ll let you in fo’ free with your Friday ticket stub – one could only wish other groups did something like that!

It should also be mentioned that there will be a CD release party tonight after the concert celebrating PNME’s newest release “Against the Emptiness” issued by New Dynamic Records featuring works by Jalbert, Kevin Puts, Russell Pinkston and Ryan Francis.

In case you’re curious about whose works they’re performing this summer – I got that right after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

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Signal at LPR
The timing gods may be with me…I’ll just happen to be in NYC for the day today and just might be able to make it down from LaGuardia to 153 Bleeker Street to see Signal performing Steve Reich’s Double Sextet and his original Sextet under the watchful eye of Brad Lubman. Tickets are $30 if you haven’t purchased them yet and there are shows tonight at 7:30pm & 10pm…if you happen to see a slightly disoriented guy with a cane (from a goofball injury last week) at the later show, that’ll probably be me.

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Buffalo
Since Christian Carey’s wonderful post on June in Buffalo sounded so enticing, I figured it was time I see what all the hubbub was about. From getting there just in time to hear the first piece on the afternoon’s concert to eating wings with many of the participants at the Tap Room to thoroughly enjoying the evening concert to literally closing the seemingly popular Tap Room with the Meridian Arts Ensemble…methinks I got a good taste of it.

The overall structure of each day during the festival seems to be a lecture by one of the guest faculty, followed by workshops between the faculty and the participants, then an afternoon concert by one of the guest ensembles performing works by the participants, and ending with an evening concert by another guest ensemble which includes works by one or more of the guest faculty.

Yesterday’s afternoon concert had the New York New Music Ensemble putting six participant works through their paces and the result was a straightforward demonstration of avant-garde techniques and concepts. Prepared piano, bass clarinet multiphonics, percussionists dancing wildly from one instrument to the next, overblown alto flutes…you want ‘em, they got ‘em…yet, curiously, the two instruments who didn’t get much showcasing were the violin and cello. Read the rest of this entry »

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Great Noise Ensemble
Good gravy, how could I have forgotten to post this…Armando Bayolo’s Great Noise Ensemble will be performing their Kennedy Center debut TONIGHT with the Congressional Chorus at 7:30 pm in the Terrace Theatre at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Works featured include the world premiere of Daniel Felsenfeld’s “The First Time I Saw Snow”, and Armando Bayolo’s concerto for violin and orchestra, Musica Concertante, with violinist Jameson Cooper. Sorry for the tardy posting, but if you’ve got time tonight, check ‘em out!

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Necessity being the mother that it is, it’s always intriguing to find folks within the new music community who see a need and break out the grindstone. Here’s two examples of online entrepreneurs who have created their own niche markets:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quQnNpt6kDE[/youtube]

The brainchild of pianists Hugh Sung and SoYoung Lee, the AirTurn wireless page turner removes one of the major difficulties in piano performance – dealing with page turns (Galen mentioned this back in December). They offer a universal wireless device and several choices in pedals as well as a music scanning software that allows for digital annotations on the score.

MusicTeacherTools

Composer Rafael Hernandez has been busy coming up with all sorts of goodies both for music educators and composers at his MusicTeacherTools site. His various woodwind fingering fonts (see below) come in very handy when working with extended techniques and how many other composers have actually invented their own card game?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFI9SeAZCfY[/youtube]

These are only two examples of online entrepreneurs…got any more?

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If you happen to be in the Lake Erie neighborhood tomorrow night, the Cleveland Orchestra will be showcasing several new works by American and British composers under the baton of Oliver Knussen. The concert will include a world premiere of Wanderlust by Cornell doctoral student Sean Shepherd, a US premiere of Helios Choros III by Augusta Read Thomas and performances of works by Julian Anderson, Luke Bedford and Knussen himself (his Requiem: Songs for Sue featuring the talents of soprano Elizabeth Keusch).

The concert will begin at 8pm in Severence Hall, 11001 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, with tickets being available online or at the door (for more information call (216) 231-1111 or (800) 686-1141). Shepherd and Thomas will be giving a pre-concert talk at 7pm and you can read about each work ahead of time in their program notes.

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It’s pretty easy to drive by Fredonia, NY without realizing you’ve done so…it’s one of the many small communities that dot the I-90 Interstate between Cleveland and Buffalo, practically on the shores of Lake Erie. The surrounding countryside is known for grapes and snow…Norman Rockwell would feel right at home in the town square, and it’s often found in the dictionary illustrating the definition of “quaint”.

Not exactly the place you’d expect to find a new music series, but that’s just the way we like it. Over 30 years ago the composition students at SUNY Fredonia began to fund their student concerts through the Student Association and since 2001 the Ethos New Music Society has fostered a major concert series in Western New York called the NewSound Festival. Within the past two years the festival has featured eighth blackbird, Ethel, Morton Subotnick, Missy Mazzoli and many others.

This year it was decided to focus on the piano as the thread tying the festival together, and as we’re now into our second week it seems to have been a very successful choice. Last week we kicked things off with the husband & wife team of pianist Kathleen Supové and composer Randall Woolf, who laid bare tales of their professional lives, discussed the essentials of living as a freelance composer and performer and gave a wonderful concert featuring two works by Randy as well as Jacob Tel Vendhuis, Anna Clyne and Neil Rolnick with video by Luke DuBois. I’d known both of them by reputation, recordings and Facebook, but it was a treat to finally get to meet them in person – and to find out that they had never been invited to speak anywhere together at the same time made it even more satisfying.

Kathy Supové performing Neil Rolnick\'s \"Digits\" (photo by Lori Deemer)
Kathy Supové performing Neil Rolnick’s “Digits” (Photo by Lori Deemer)

On Monday, it was time for some Cage, and Austin’s Michelle Schumann was kind enough to bring her prepared piano kit up to the Arctic Tundra that is Western NY and show the throngs of composers, pianists and percussionists how it’s done – first by giving an in-depth lecture on the history of the prepared piano and demonstration of how to prepare a piano without incurring the wrath of the piano techs (who had already fled the scene), and then by introducing over 200 of our student body to John Cage’s Sonatas & Interludes. When she was finished, those who weren’t thanking us for bringing her in were crowding around the piano to investigate the innocent carnage that was the bolts, erasers, screws and plastic strips that were expertly inserted between the strings.

Investigating the Prepared Piano (Photo by Lori Deemer)
Investigating the Prepared Piano post-concert (Photo by Lori Deemer)

Luckily we’re still not half-way through our NewSound Festival, in case you happen to be in the area – if you have any questions, contact me at deemer@fredonia.edu.

Here’s a breakdown of the rest of the festival:

Bowed Piano Ensemble with Stephen Scott, composer and Victoria Hansen, soprano
Rosch Recital Hall, SUNY Fredonia campus
Friday, Feb. 13: 4pm, Preparation Workshop & 8pm, Lecture/Demonstration
Saturday, Feb. 14: 8pm, Concert, $5 general public

Pianist Amy Briggs and Composer David Rakowski
Rosch Recital Hall, SUNY Fredonia campus
Thursday, Feb. 19: 8pm, Lecture/Demonstration
Friday, Feb. 20: 8pm, Concert, $5 general public

Pianist/Composer Amy Williams
Rosch Recital Hall, SUNY Fredonia campus
Tuesday, Feb. 24: 8pm, Concert, Free admission

Pianist Hilary Demske plays the music of Henry Martin
Rosch Recital Hall, SUNY Fredonia campus
Saturday, Feb. 28: 8pm, Concert, Free admission

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Amazingly enough, there’s still some people who have never been to New York City…and until yesterday, I could count myself as a member of that group. This weekend, however, I finally got an opportunity to leave my post in Western NY and fly down to NYC, ostensibly to attend a NYSSMA Composition Committee meeting, but also to finally see what all the noise about the music scene was about. Lucky for me, this was a good weekend for concerts – I was able to catch two top-notch ones in the span of less than 24 hours.

I’ve been reading a lot of good reports on the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the work that Michael Christie has done since he took over after Robert Spano left three years ago, and after Saturday night I can now see why. He took the audience in the Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music through a pretty wild ride, one that traversed almost 200 years in history but was connected through the overall concept of color and narrative.

The first half consisted of John Corigliano’s Pied Piper Fantasy that featured a wonderful performance by flutist Alexa Still (imagine not only memorizing a 40-min. concerto but also having to move and act throughout the entire auditorium while you’re doing it!) as well as a very inventive staging by David Herskovits which included multitudes of actor-rats (complete with LED eyes) and throngs of costumed children – all of whom were also playing flutes and drums and playing by memory. The logistics alone – not to mention the actual performance aspects, which were many – must have been mindboggling and it’s to Christie’s credit that he took the risk to perform the work in such a way. The performance was passionate and nuanced and the visual aspects of the acting and lighting design added a extremely visceral layer to the work that the composer himself had not imagined when he wrote it.

The second half was taken up with Symphonie Fantastique; while it was a satisfying performance, it seemed to slightly suffer from balance issues, including the audio enhancement microphones that, I’m assuming, were put up to compensate for the acoustics onstage. By contrasting two masters of orchestration and story-telling – John Corigliano and Hector Berlioz – Christie impressed me with his programming skills; Berlioz was the first composer to really let the orchestration genie out of the bottle and no one in the past 25 years is more expert in evoking the color variations within the orchestra than Corigliano. My only regret was that I had to miss the post-concert concert in the BAM Cafe that featured Nico Muhly, Jefferson Friedman and Mason Bates…I had already made dinner plans with the tubist and principal trumpeter with the Brooklyn Phil (Ray Stewart and Wayne Dumaine) and who am I to turn down dinner with brass players like that?

Today’s concert was equally enjoyable, with a star-studded audience to boot. My luck was still with me as I was able to get up to Manhattan and the Tenri Cultural Institute to check out Robert Paterson’s American Modern Ensemble. Entitled 1938, the program took the unique concept of featuring six works by six world-class American composers, all of whom happened to be born in 1938 (and, of course, all will be celebrating their 70th birthday this year). Not only did AME program works by Corigliano, Joan Tower, Paul Chihara, Charles Wuorinen, John Harbison and William Bolcom, but they were adept enough to secure everyone but Bolcom to attend one of their two concerts on Sunday. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable people-watching session with Corigliano, Tower, Chihara and Wuorinen were idly chatting with each other along with Steven Stucky…I noticed several other composers including Derek Bermel and Dalit Warshaw as well…point being is that it was interesting for someone who has never been to a NYC concert to see so many well-known composers at just one relatively intimate chamber concert.

Paterson has put together a damn fine group of performers, with kudos going to cellists Robert Burkhart and Eric Jacobsen, harpist Jacqueline Kerrod, baritone Robert Gardner and serious, serious props going to Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen, two pianists who have already gotten a lot of press and deservedly so – their performance of Corigliano’s Chiaroscurro was playful, intelligent, and so very…right. The works included Tower’s In Memory for string quartet, Wuorinen’s An Orbicle of Jasp for cello and piano, Chihara’s Elegy for violin, cello and piano, Bolcom’s Celestial Dinner Music for flute and harp in the first half and Corigliano’s Chiaroscurro for two pianos (one tuned a quarter-step flat) and John Harbison’s Words from “Paterson” for baritone and chamber ensemble filling out the second half. While all the works were performed at an very high level of maturity and subtlety, the second half seemed to feel a bit more comfortable and at ease…the intimacy of the Tenri Institute cut both ways, with some very soft parts in the first half sounding tentative (though in a larger, more forgiving room with more space between the audience and the ensembles I’m sure that wouldn’t be the case).

The interviews after intermission with Corigliano, Tower and Chihara were quite informative and entertaining, as all three listed their own ideas of what drastic changes over their lifetime have affected the industry (Corigliano mentioned the internet while both Tower and Chihara agreed that the freedom that composers now feel in regards to style) and their own writing (Tower listed living in South America and being married to a jazz musician, Corigliano explained how the AIDS crisis affected him and Chihara gave several ideas, including the Vietnam War and his own coming-to-terms with his life history).

Ultimately the entire concert was extremely successful and the folks at AME should be very proud of what they accomplished. As for my trip to NYC…something tells me it won’t be my last.

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