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Saariaho, Kurtág, Adams, Mazzoli

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?

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Or is that the other way around?… Anywho, Hilary Hahn just checked in with the latest in her series of chats with the composers of her In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores; this time with Israel’s own Avner Dorman:

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[Ed. note: Composer and Peabody Institute faculty member Judah Adashi  has this appreciation of Ralph Jackson, retiring after 10 years at the helm of music-rights organisation BMI.]

L to R: Ralph Jackson, Judah Adashi, bassoonist Peter Kolkay, and Concert Artists Guild President Richard Weinert

I met Ralph Jackson in June 2001, when I received a BMI Student Composer Award. As the head of BMI Classical (and later President of the BMI Foundation), Ralph knew this to be a momentous event in a young composer’s life, not least because he himself had been a two-time recipient of the prize. One of the memorable charms of that initial encounter, as the winning composers gathered for dinner on the eve of the awards ceremony, was listening to Ralph recount his experience as a starry-eyed winner 25 years earlier. After dinner, Ralph welcomed all of us into the BMI fold.

To my surprise, this was only the beginning. My interaction with Ralph goes far beyond work registrations and royalty checks, though he has patiently fielded even the most mundane questions about these and other practical matters (always with the caveat, “remember, I am not a lawyer”). Ralph is continually on the lookout for opportunities that would be a good fit for particular composers on the BMI roster. It was Ralph who connected me with the Arc Duo, an ensemble that went on to commission, perform and record my music. And after several invitations from Ralph to apply for the BMI Foundation’s Carlos Surinach Fund Commission, I was proud to accept the 2006 award from him.

The fact that countless BMI composers could have written the preceding paragraphs captures the essence of Ralph’s generosity: he is personally invested in each one of us. From time to time, in conversations with my parents, they ask whether I might do well to hire an agent. I tell them it isn’t something I need or want to do; and besides, for all intents and purposes, I have one: Ralph Jackson. Apart from my family, it is difficult to imagine anyone taking as deep and genuine an interest in my music as he has over the past eleven years. When I look at the framed BMI certificates in my studio, I am buoyed by the thought of someone who has consistently believed in and supported what I do.

June 29, 2012 was Ralph’s last day at BMI, after 32 years of devoted service. He has decided to retire, to pursue his gifts as a visual artist, explore new paths, and spend time with his husband David and their beloved dog, Ringo. BMI has named Deirdre Chadwick to succeed Ralph as head of classical music, and I feel that I can speak for my peers in saying that we are immensely excited to work with her. But Ralph will always occupy a singular place in my musical life, and in the lives of so many of my fellow composers. To borrow Kyle Gann’s characterization of John Cage, Ralph has been “a walking, one-man healthy climate for new music.” He is the quintessential musical citizen, a joyous spirit who has made the world of contemporary music a better place.

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Composer pal (and one of the selected composers on our second Sequenza21-sponsored concert a few years ago) Jeremy Podgursky has been busying-it-up in the Hoosier State for a while around Indiana University, and one of the fruits of that labor is happening this week: Holographic is a new series devoted to presenting contemporary music outside the confines of the Jacobs School of Music, taking new sounds to greater Bloomington and maybe even beyond. The first two concerts (music by Jacob Druckman, John Gibson, Amy Kirsten, Alex Mincek, John Orfe and Sam Pluta) are happening this Thursday, March 8 at 8:00pm at Bloomington High School North and Friday, March 9 at 8:00pm at the Russian Recording Studio; both are free. Over 50 volunteer musicians from the Jacobs are putting their blood, sweat and tears into the event; Indiana Public Media has more info in this interview with Jeremy. Here’s wishing them well, and that it’s just the start of something long-lived. Just for good measure, here’s a video flyer on the series:

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Next up in Hilary Hahn‘s chats with the composers writing for her 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores!, it’s New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead.

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And composers, don’t forget that the 27th encore slot is still open until March 15th, and it could be you!  So tusches off seats, fire up your Finale & Adobe, but get cracking!

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2011 was an great year for freelance composer/cellist/conductor Peri Mauer. Premiere performances of her work this past year included her trio AFTERWORDS, for clarinet, cello, and piano; BLOGARHYTHM: Scenes 1 & 2 for 24-piece chamber ensemble (which she also conducted) RHAPSODANCE, for clarinet and piano; BLOGARHYTHM ON THE ROCKS, for chamber ensemble, as part of Make Music New York 2011 in Central Park in June; and MORNING IN A MINUTE, in the Vox Novus Concert Series at Jan Hus Church in October. In 2011 her music was heard on the radio for the first time as well. Just this past January brought the world premiere of her piece for three cellos in Composers Concordance Festival 2012, and she’s about to have the world premiere of PIXELIANCE this Sunday, Feb. 5th at 3 pm, St. Mark’s Church in- the- Bowery (131 East 10th St.), as part of a New York Composers Circle concert paying tribute to composer Dinu Ghezzo, and also featuring works by Elliott Carter, Robert Cohen, Debra Kaye, Nataliya Medvedovskaya, Nailah Nombeko, and Matt Weber.

I asked Peri to answer a few questions from me, and she was happy to oblige:

Besides your usual hectic rounds as a freelance cellist/conductor, you’ve had a pretty good and busy year for performances of your own music. How did all of these things come together?

Being a constant presence on the musical scene and getting in on just about every opportunity I come across is the main reason I get so much work. My motto is “Seize the moment”, and there is so much opportunity, so many amazing people to hook up with. I see myself as part of a larger picture, and the possibilities for so much creativity and actualization are everywhere.

Your piece BLOGARHYTHM had a couple really well-received performances (in very different venues, I might add!). Could you tell me a little more about the title/inspiration, and the form of the piece?

Overall, BLOGARHYTHM is what I think of as an “umbrella piece”. I can adapt it to different performance situations and will keep adding scenes to it when given an opportunity to present it. It is totally my own project, my musical blog set to performance, and I enjoy it tremendously. Plus I get a chance to conduct and put ensembles together, which I also really enjoy. With it, I can integrate all the various facets of my musical life.

With all those previously-mentioned hectic rounds, where do you find the time to really sit down and compose? How hard is it to keep a good balance between playing and composing?

Doing both playing and composing are extremely important to me. At times it can be very difficult to maintain the balance (like right now, having  just returned home from a three-hour rehearsal for a concert), but I do my best. It is like having two children that you love equally and want to be sure they get equal time, one is not favored over the other, etc.  The result is I am always working on some project. This is what I do, this is my life.

You’re a life-long New Yorker? Does your life now resemble whatever plans you were laying for it back when you were just coming up through school? You’ve seemed to avoid the standard, safer course of sticking with teaching; was that a conscious decision?

Yes, I am a life-long New Yorker. Truth is, I never made any plans. I just kept going! I began piano when I was 5, cello at 11, went to the High School of Music & Art, and just never stopped. I am a bit unusual as far as composers go, in that I love to perform and miss it terribly if I let it go. I am miserable when things fall into an everyday sameness, so I never sought out either a steady orchestra or teaching gig. It would drive me crazy to have a regular ongoing routine.

When you look back at musical life in New York when you were just coming out from The Manhattan School of Music, and what you see going on now, what seems different/same, easier/harder?

The internet has definitely made everything a lot easier. I am amazed at how easy it is to learn of opportunities, to create them, to hook up with them, and get them going creatively.

What influences have been the guiding lights and inspiration for your own music language?

My own ear : ) …  I’ve always liked the sound of 12- tone music. Discovering Webern was very pivotal for me. Although my own music isn’t serial, it is 12-tone. I write from my life, and therefore my work is dramatic and emotionally relevant.

One thing you wish I’d ask you…..

Hmm, not sure! : )  My life is a musical one, this is what I do.

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Hilary Hahn is at it again, working her way through chats with all of the composers commissioned for her “In 27 Pieces” collection of encores. This time up it’s a bright, young up-and-comer by the name of Jennifer Higdon (OK, maybe not quite so young, and maybe she’s pretty much arrived, but she’s still pretty darn bright!)

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S21′s intrepid reporter-in-the-field (oh yeah, and superstar violinist, too!) Hilary Hahn just happened to virtually bump into the dean of (very young) American composers, Nico Muhly. …Well, maybe there was a little advanced planning, but let’s keep this casual, shall we? Here they muck-de-muck for a friendly quarter-hour, about the musical life and the pieces Nico’s composed for Hilary.

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[Ed. Note: Please welcome composer (and long-time S21 supporter) Dennis Bathory-Kitsz, and sit back as he spins a tale for the ages (and yet all quite true!), of how he managed to conceive, write, and finally produce his very own opera in the (semi) wilds of Vermont.]

In the past week I’ve received emails from other composers, many of whom had doubted that my opera Erzsébet would ever be mounted. After two decades of promises, nearly two years of faltering fundraising, three directors, and a flood that pushed us out of our home, opening night seemed distant and dim. How did it happen for me? Could they finally get to mount their operas?

The opera’s genesis is long & convoluted. When I was a child in the 1950’s, my adoptive father Zoltan Bathory had mentioned an evil family ancestor. In 1983, I was given a copy of Dracula Was a Woman, Raymond McNally’s biography of Elizabeth Bathory. She was a vampiric, serial killing, blood-bathing countess with male and female lovers who died walled up in her torture chamber! The Tigress of Cséjthe! Hungary’s National Monster! What could be better for an operatic tale? In 1987 Erzsébet was scribbled onto my compositional to-do list.

Coincidentally, I’d heard that poet and NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu was working on a biography of Erzsébet based on new research. I got in touch; Codrescu was interested in writing the libretto.

But soon my life was in turmoil, with my failed computer company and failed personal life and broken compositional dreams and a falling out with Codrescu, whose biography ended up as an attempt at a Tom Robbins-esque novel. Beyond that, Vermont was not a friendly place for new music in the 1980’s, even though my pseudo-csárdás piano sketch for the opera overture had been commissioned and performed. My new partner Stevie (now my wife), her daughter and I left for Europe in 1991. A rare opportunity brought us into then Czechoslovakia at Cachtice, home of Erzsébet’s most notorious castle.

I sketched some scenarios for the opera, considering chamber and grand-opera versions. I’d written an opera before — Plasm over ocean, with libretto by David Gunn, my cohort on Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar — but this new one would be less avant-garde and more actual storytelling and drama.

On returning to Vermont, my boxes of Erzsébet research—books, articles, novels, stories, photosgraphs, videos, postcards, trinkets—became the impetus to create an online home for the opera project. That led to a connection with a Czech sculptor living in America, Pavel Kraus. We had similar artistic sensibility and soon worked together on Sex and Death: Offerings in Burlington, Vermont, and later at Prague’s Mánes Museum, newly restored after the dreary Communist years. Pavel would be the opera’s visual designer, and was the earliest team member who stayed with the project.

In 1999, Lisa Jablow, singer, conductor, and aficionado of new music, became interested in the Báthory story and wanted to sing the lead. She suggested a monodrama written specifically for her, and that became the manageable version of the opera—small enough to afford, intimate enough to create a powerful atmosphere. Read the rest of this entry »

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We’ve profiled and interviewed composer Michael Hersch before here at S21. Unlike a lot of composers who lineage and influences I get pretty easily, In Hersch’s case there’s something coming from a place that I don’t get. And I tell you now, that’s a good thing. There isn’t a big grab bag of the latest tricks and fashions; the style could almost be called traditionalist. Yet there’s something at work that is so “interior”, an almost hermetic voice that owes nothing to anyone but the composer himself, that makes for a slightly unsettling but endlessly fascinating listen.

And tonight, for the first time since 2001, Michael Hersch himself is coming to NYC to play his own work. His recording of his sprawling, 2-hour piano work from 2005, The Vanishing Pavilions, was pretty highly praised here on its release; tonight Hersch plays his new 1-hour version, at Merkin Hall (8pm, details & tickets here), on a concert with his After Hölderlin’s ‘Hälfte des Lebens’ for viola and cello, played by the always-marvelous Miranda Cuckson and  Julia Bruskin (this piece was premiered at a memorial concert held inside the Pantheon in Rome, just two months after September 11, 2001).

Here’s a small taste of The Vanishing Pavilions, Hersch playing movement 27 of the large version:

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