[Ed. note: Kurt Rohde, Professor of Composition at the University of California at Davis, sent us this report on the recent Music and The Art of Migration Festival there. The weeklong series of events combined a number of approaches to the concept and practice of migration across the arts, with an emphasis on music.]
Sometimes it feels like new music has a way of finding places to collect, gather and pool. Not surprisingly, a number of important US cities (LA, NY, Chicago, etc.) have traditionally been the gravitational centers around which everything else orbits. In our current culture of immediacy and unimpeded online access, the reach of new music being produced in smaller communities is increasing at an astounding rate…or maybe it’s just that we are hearing about it more than ever before. Regardless, there is no question that that vibrant, inventive new music can now be found in more towns across the country. Enter the town of Davis.
Located in the Sacramento River Valley between the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco, Davis is a bucolic college community. It is the home to the University of California at Davis. UCD is home to the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2002. During the week of January 30th to February 3rd, a “flash flood” of new music took place. The UC Davis Department of Music hosted Worlds of Discovery & Loss: The Art of Migration and Music Festival, with support from the Mondavi Center and the Davis Humanities Institute. UCD faculty and composers Sam Nichols and Laurie San Martin organized the five-day festival with a depth of vision. By bringing together visiting ensembles like the Calder Quartet and Rootstock with UCD resident groups Empyrean Ensemble and the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, Nichols and San Martin exquisitely executed a festival that explored the role of migration in music and how it intersects with visual art, cultural studies, and storytelling. In effect, the festival became a migratory “stop” for everyone involved, a way station in between points where ideas were exchanged and shared before moving onward.
I joined San Martin and Nichols as their assistant during the festival: It was a fantastic way to experience firsthand all the events. At the core of the festival was the presence of composer-in-residence Lei Liang and seven Festival Composition Fellows (Kari Besharse, David Coll, Elliot Cless, Annie Hsieh, Nicholas Omiccioli, Ryan Suleiman, Tina Tallon). Around this center were a series of concerts, public talks, and private colloquia. Since there were so many incredible events scheduled throughout the week, I thought it might be most useful to share what I though were the highlights.
Perhaps the most obvious example of how the festival showcased art’s intersection with the migration of people and culture came in the form of a panel discussion moderated by UCD sociologist David Kyle. Guest panelists Anthony Sheppard (musicologist and professor of music at Williams College), Maria Elena González (Cuban-American sculptor), Philip Kan Gotanda (playwright and filmmaker at UC Berkeley), Peter Kulchyski (Native Studies at University of Manitoba), and Chan Park (Korean P’ansori expert and professor of Korean language, literature, and performance studies at Ohio State University), took part in a lively discussion detailing how various cultural collisions impacted the full range of their work. What I took away from this conversation was the intriguing notion that nomadic culture, diaspora, and willful immigration all contribute to the formation of an identity in their work that was inseparable from their identity as people. There was a blurring of the conventional binary definitions (THIS vs. THAT, or GOOD vs. BAD) surrounding concepts about nomadic life, or the urge to immigrate, or the pull of being part of a diaspora. It felt reassuring to know that in our hyper-digital age, artists are ever more sensitive in identifying the thread that runs through their lives, connecting them and their work with their ancestors, predecessors, to those that will come after them. It was complicated. It was heartening. Read the rest of this entry »
Continuing their collaborative efforts to spotlight the work of Missouri composers, the Columbia Civic Orchestra and the Mizzou New Music Initiative have announced the selection of two orchestral works written by Missouri residents to be performed by the CCO at a concert in March. The two winning pieces were chosen in a statewide competition conducted under the auspices of the Missouri Composers Orchestra Project. The winners will receive a $500 honorarium from MOCOP’s sponsor, the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation.
The work chosen in the Open category is Ravish and Mayhem by Stephanie Berg, a native of Parkville who earned her master’s degree in composition from the University of Missouri last May and now lives in Columbia. The winning composition in the High School category is Appalachian Rhapsody by Dustin Dunn, a 16-year-old junior at South Iron High School in Ironton.
The winners were selected through a blind judging process by John Cheetham, professor emeritus of music theory and composition at the University of Missouri, and Bruce Gordon, former orchestra manager for CCO. The judges also awarded Honorable Mentions to Nicholas S. Omiccioli of Kansas City for his work flourishes, and to Patrick David Clark of Columbia for FE 700° C.
Both winning compositions will be performed by the Columbia Civic Orchestra as part of their annual concert of music by living composers at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, March 9 at Broadway Christian Church, 2601 West Broadway in Columbia. Tickets are $15 for individuals, $40 for a group of up to 5, and can be purchased in advance online at http://www.columbiachorale.com/ or at the door.
The concert also will spotlight several contemporary works for chorus, including the world premiere of La Terra Illuminata by Mizzou adjunct assistant professor Paul Seitz, a new piece commissioned specifically for CCO and the Columbia Chorale by the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation.
The Mizzou New Music Initiative is an array of programs intended to position the University of Missouri School of Music as a leading center in the areas of composition and new music, and is the direct result of the generous support of Dr. Jeanne and Mr. Rex Sinquefield and the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. Mizzou has really been doing good stuff down that way the past few years, and it’s important to remember that the heartland of America is just as much a breeding ground for new music, composers and performers, as are the two coasts. Keep it up!
For years now, long-time WPRB radio host Marvin Rosen has brought the world (though it’s in Princeton, New Jersey, it also streams live over the web) all manner of “Classical Discoveries” every Wednesday from 5:30 to 11 AM ET. But from 11 AM until 1 PM “Classical Discoveries” switched gears to become “Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde“, serving up the newest — and often by radio standards, the “difficult” — works to an enthusiastic audience eager to hear what’s going on today in contemporary classical music. Often there were also interviews with established and up-and-coming composers and performers as well.
The broadcast landscape for such stuff is already so very tiny in the vast radio world of “safe” music, talk, news, sports, etc; unfortunately it’s about to shrink even more, as Marvin’s “Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde” slot is being shut down by the WPRB powers-that-be in favor of other programming. Joe Barron over at the “Liberated Dissonance” blog has more on the story. Marvin is truly one of the most warm and selfless people I know, working so hard each week to bring his listeners this stuff — even when stylistically it might not be his personal cup of tea — simply because he really loves our living music of today in all its forms, and feels so strongly the need to share that enthusiasm with the wider world.
Marvin’s “Classical Discoveries” show will remain a WPRB Wednesday-morning fixture, but the last “Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde” is this Wednesday, 11 AM until 1 PM. Tune in if you can, broadcast or online, and a huge round of applause to Marvin for what he was able to bring both the living composers and adventurous listeners these past five years.
[Update: the management of WPRB has responded with some further amplification, in the comments at the end of this post.]
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Violinist Mari Kimura has built a career fearlessly taking the violin to places still little-explored. from her work with sub-harmonics (using precise but difficult bowing techniques to obtain notes up to an octave below the normal violin range), to the integration of all manner of digital and electronic interweavings, to playing everything from from the ferociously difficult to the frenzied soaring to the freely improvised, Mari has made her violin sing like few others in our generation.
Likewise for Elliott Sharp and his exploration of the guitar in all its many shape-shifting forms. Elliott has become such a New York institution as to give the Statue of Liberty a run for her money (though to be fair, Lady Liberty doesn’t do too many new-music concerts). Edgy and restless, Sharp’s work attacks a lot of our notions of what a guitar is supposed to do, while always still reminding us of the roots it and we come out of.
These two wonderfully complex performers and creators will be found together on the same bill this Friday, Nov. 16 at 8pm, at Glenn Cornett’s intimate Spectrum concert space on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (121 Ludlow, 2nd Floor, tickets $15 suggested donation).
Mari Kimura will present her recent works using Augmented Violin, IRCAM’s bowing motion sensor technology. Kimura’s Meteo-Hahn is a new work in collaboration with data visualization specialist Bruce Hahn, and is an interactive audio/visual work using weather patterns and data. Her other premiere is Poly-Monologue, a work-in-progress version of her large-scale multimedia project “ONE” which will tour in 2013. In Poly-Monologue Kimura collaborates with singer Kyoko Kitamura; the trilingual (English, French, Japanese) texts and Kitamura’s vocalization interact with Kimura’s Augmented Violin. Kimura will also perform works by François Sarhan, an intriguing European composer/theater director/encyclopedist: Un Chevalier (2007) and Oublée (Forgotten, 2012) for solo violin. The works are based on the text by Russian poet Daniil Harms (1905-1942), expressing the pressure on intellectualism during Stalinism.
Elliott Sharp will present Octal, a collection of pieces for the Koll 8-string guitar-bass built exclusively for Sharp. These pieces function somewhere between etudes and jumping-off points for improvised explorations. Not academic, these performances are filled with free-jazz energy and burning bluesy extemporizations using Sharp’s signature extended techniques.
Extra bonus — Kimura and Sharp will also improvise together during the concert. There’s going to be a lot of magic on this bill, and Spectrum is a wonderfully homey and intimate place to catch a concert. So if at all possible head on over and treat yourself to some musical bliss.
Superstorm Sandy wreaked a fair amount of havoc on a lot of concert schedules, but things are starting to return to something resembling normal. One quick shout-out I’d like to pass along is a performance this coming Sunday, Nov. 11, by the really wonderful violinist/violist Karen Bentley Pollick.
Usually found at home in the mountains of Colorado, Karen’s coming to Brooklyn to give a concert of lots of pretty recent music — including the premiere of former Brooklynite and S21 composer/webmaster Jeff Harrington’s Grand Tango for violin with video. Jeff’s been living in France for a couple years now, and it’s good to see his work find its way back here.
Also on the bill is Seattle composer Nat Evans’s and video artist Erin Elyse Burns’s desertscape Heat Whispers; New York composer Stuart Diamond’s prismatic video that he created for his 1974 Baroque Fantasy for violin, a work championed by the late Max Polikoff. New York video artist Sheri Wills‘s videos are featured in Sapphire for violin and electronics (2010) by New York composer Preston Stahly; Dilemma for viola (1987) by Czech composer Jan Jirásek; The Red Curtain Dance for viola (2003) and Letter to Avigdor for violin (1990) by Israeli American composer Ofer Ben-Amots; and Metaman for violin with digital sound & video (2009) by Rome Prize winner Charles Norman Mason.
It’s an afternoon concert, 3:00 pm at the Firehouse Space (246 Frost Street in Brooklyn, New York). Tickets are only $10 at the door — so if you need a break from all that’s been happening, and wouldn’t mind hearing a concert filled with fantastic playing and tons of music you’ve likely never heard before, head on over.
And for my Seattle friends, Karen will be doing the concert Nov. 16 at the Chapel of Good Shepherd Center, and then Dec. 14-15 in San Francisco at Theater Artaud Z Space.
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Another composer interview from our favorite “reporter-at-large-when-she-isn’t-being-a-famed-virtuoso”, Hilary Hahn as part of her “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores” series. This time it’s a chat with Indian composer/violinist Kala Ramnath, about her encore piece that Hilary will perform in a concert this coming January:
…and the results were not good… One of the brightest small labels for new music in the last 4-5 years has been NYC’s New Amsterdam Records. Founded by Judd Greenstein, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and William Brittelle, its catalog is full of some of the best young, fresh composers working today, performed by a bevy of equally fresh & talented players. This label has quickly risen to the forefront in capturing and disseminating the newer American scene.
All of that hard work has unfortunately just gotten a lot harder; Their offices are in the Redhook area of New York City, and weren’t dealt kindly with by Hurricane Sandy. As Sarah Kirkland Snider writes on her Facebook page:
Our new New Amsterdam HQ in Red Hook was totaled by Sandy. The water mark is over 4′. We had moved much of the office to higher ground prior to the storm, and elevated everything else, but we still lost all files/paperwork, a hard drive, some furniture, vintage synthesizers and music gear, and most of our CD stock. Our landlord does not have flooding insurance, and our attempts to acquire it before the storm were denied. There is some talk of FEMA helping uninsured Red Hook businesses, but that seems like a long shot. Stunned and heavy-hearted we are.
Truly a catastrophe for a small company like this… Clean-up and picking through has begun, but they’re certainly going to need a lot of help to get back to a point where they can continue the outstanding service they’ve done to new music listeners, performers and composers alike. Nothing is set yet, but at the very least you can “like” their Facebook page to show your support, and to stay aware of any coming requests for help, donations, or benefits.
New Amsterdam is truly a treasure, and we’re absolutely rooting for a comeback.
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The Dutch composer/performer/poet Samuel Vriezen and I go waaay back on the web, to a time when musicians found each other and some musical conversation on the old Usenet newsgroups. In the dozen-plus years since that time, I’ve watched Samuel be pretty darn active on all kinds of fronts: producing concerts, composing a wonderful body of music, writing and translating poetry… He’s even been invited over this way to the U.S. a few times for presentations of his work.
Samuel’s own musical inclinations have evolved since his time in university, but for a long while now what really interests him is how to set up relatively “simple” musical parameters, that become very “unsimple” and rich through both their process of unfolding, and the performers interaction with those processes and each other.
Given that predilection, I suppose it was almost fated for Samuel to be drawn to the music of Tom Johnson. One of the American composers closely associated with New York Minimalism in the heady 70s and 80s (and well-known at the time as music critic for the Village Voice), Johnson left the U.S. to settle in Paris in the mid-80s, where he’s been ever since. Unlike the ever-more-elaborate, eclectic and programmatic direction his then-compatriots Reich and Glass have traveled, Johnson has remained pretty much focused on exploring purely musical processes; simple “germ” ideas that are rigorously followed, yet result in surprisingly rich music. One such piece is Johnson’s very long 1986 piano work The Chord Catalogue. Johnson simply asked “What would it sound like to play all the chords possible in a single octave?” …Of which there turns out to be 8178 of them! needless to say, though the concept is extremely simple the execution by a pianist is tremendously difficult.
Which brings us back to Samuel Vriezen. Samuel some years ago became so intrigued with the work, that he knew he had to learn and present it himself. And learn and present it he has, many times, to very enthusiastic audiences. His involvement with the piece has even led Samuel to compose some excellent new works, that riff on the same kind of idea that Johnson had.
The reason I’ve been telling you all this? because Samuel has decided that the time has come to get this piece and his performance down on CD, and to do that he’s decided to ask all of us new-music-lovers out there to help raise the money to make that CD a reality. Using the crowd-funding site Indiegogo, Samuel has in rather short order already drummed up over half his $8,000 goal; I think there are a lot of people out there who know this will be one great CD. So click those links I just gave you, head to the Indiegogo site, and let Samuel himself tell you about the piece, his passion, and the project. Besides making this wonderful CD a reality, your donation can score you some really nice perks (see the right side bar for a description). To quote Rosie the Riveter, WE CAN DO IT!
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Long a fixture here at S21 until just a few years ago, composer David Salvage has been busy teaching at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Back in 2010 he conceived the idea of keeping his compositional chops up by starting an open-ended series of piano pieces, called Albumleaves. At the same time David started a blog as an integral part to showcase them, in which each new piece features not only the score but a recorded performance as well. The series is now pushing 90 pieces (!), and some of them have just come out on a recording on the Navona label. It’s an elegant, smartly realized project, and I asked David to give a little recap and backgroud on how it came to be, and what it’s meant to him:
I wanted to write a lot of music; I wanted to play the piano more. And I wanted to write a blog. I figured out how to put these desires together in January 2010, when the idea occurred to me to start a blog that would consist of posts that would be musical instead of verbal, and that would nonetheless reflect the offhand, freewheeling, and autobiographical character of conventional blogs. And now that I had a piano in my home for the first time in twelve years, I was especially fired up to get the project going. The next month, I came up with the title Albumleaves, and, in late March, I began composing the “leaves,” as I thought I’d nickname the posts.
I thought that in order to maintain the blog-like nature of the site the posts would have to be written quickly and manifest a high degree of musical variety. Initially, my goal was to write three leaves every two weeks. While I was only able to maintain this rate for a month or two, the pace of composition remains rapid: in the 139 weeks since beginning Albumleaves, I have completed 89 leaves, which is more than one leaf every two weeks (and there is both an 81a and 81b). As for musical variety, click here, here, and here to hear for yourself. By maintaining variety, the blog remains casual, surprising, and attractive to listeners—and full of fresh challenges for me.
The original vision for the site always went beyond original composition. Since 2010, I’ve been posting recordings of music by other composers—like Federico Mompou—and quotations about music by authors like E.M. Cioran. More recently, I’ve started excerpting from free improvisations that I record and posting them as improvisation fragments.
Over time, I’ve grown more confident about the project’s integrity. Since I listen to such a wide variety of classical music (from Notre Dame organum to twentieth-century atonality with few gaps in between), I’m not concerned by my reluctance to develop a personal style of composition. Writing good pieces is challenge enough for me at the moment; if they do not synthesize their disparate influences into a unique musical voice, I’m not going to worry about it. Nor do I worry anymore about inconsistency of quality: even the greatest composers (and authors and painters and everyone else) produced works of varying quality. And I don’t see how writing quickly or slowly has anything to do with consistency: some of the strongest leaves were written in two hours; some of the weakest took weeks. (And even though it took him much less time to write, Brahms’s second symphony is just as good as his first.) For now, the quality of my playing troubles me more than the quality of my composing: I admit to posting a few sloppy recordings. (Here’s one.) But hopefully the music always comes through anyway.
I am proud of the nine lucky leaves that made it to market on the new CD Lock and Key; they are representative of the site, and I thank Navona Records for their enthusiasm and interest. I also would like to thank the 2,404 unique visitors from 75 countries who have visited the site to listen—though surely it’s not for purely musical reasons that the most popular leaf remains “Manatee.” Happy listening, everyone, and see you at Albumleaf 100!
For the past seven years, Baltimore and Peabody-Institute-based composer (and friend of S21) Judah Adashi has been enlightening Mobtown’s ears by running the Evolution Contemporary Music Series. Praised by Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun for having “elevated and enriched Baltimore’s new music scene enormously,” and by the Baltimore City Paper as “superb…not the same-old, same-old,” the series has presented or premiered works by over 75 living composers, performed by acclaimed musicians from Baltimore and beyond.
Events regularly include pre-concert conversations with performers, composers, critics and scholars; featured guests have included Marin Alsop (music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra); composers Kevin Puts and Christopher Rouse; and music critics Tim Page (Washington Post) and Alex Ross (New Yorker).
The upcoming 2012-13 season looks especially nice; there are four concerts, each focused on a single cream-of-the-crop composer: Kaija Saariaho (Oct. 30), György Kurtág (Feb. 5), Missy Mazzoli (Mar. 5), and John Luther Adams (May 7).
But of course this stuff doesn’t happen with just a bit of can-do spirit, magic elbow-grease, and pixie dust; venues, compensation, equipment, logistics, rehearsals, backstage Pabst and Beer-Nuts all take a significant chunk of change. And that’s where you come in: this time out they’re using the power of crowd-sourced backing via Kickstarter to help them meet those bills. So far over 80 good folk just like you have pitched in, and their $8,000 goal is over halfway there. That’s phenomenal, but there’s only a week to go and every dollar you might be able to drop in the pot can make an enormous difference. As reward for your generosity, Backers will receive anything from your name immortalized on their website ($5), all the way up to personally signed writings of John L. Adams, free passes to further seasons, even a personal two-piano recital! ($750-1,000).
So if you at all can, why don’t you drop by their Kickstarter page, lay a few bucks down in support of the music you love, and get the warm fuzzies knowing you did your bit to make some beautiful music bloom in Baltimore?