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!
1 Comment »
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?
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:
[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.
1 Comment »
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:
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.
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!
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.
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!)
1 Comment »
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.
2 Comments »