A Combustible Combination

Tonight (May 30th), C4 Ensemble, a choir comprised primarily of composers and conductors, partners with amplified chamber ensemble Fireworks for a gig at Le Poisson Rouge: C4′s first at the venue.

In a program titled “When Sparks Fly,” these combined forces present music by Fireworks founder Brian Coughlin, Jonathan David, Karen Siegel, and Martha Sullivan. The program is repeated on Saturday at MMAC (details below).

WEDNESDAY, May 30, 2012

(Le) Poisson Rouge

158 Bleecker St (Thompson & Sullivan)

7:30 PM (doors open at 6:30)

$15 Advance Purchase/$20 Day of Performance at lepoissonrouge.com

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Theatre at MMAC

248 West 60th St (10th-West End)

8:00 PM

$15 at the door or online

Mountain Goats plus Anonymous 4 on Q2

Offbeat collaborations have become a hallmark programming preference for Merkin Hall’s Ecstatic Music festival. But the combination of a cappella group Anonymous Four with indie rock songwriter Josh Darnielle of the Mountain Goats and multi-instrumentalist/arranger Owen Pallett is a standout even in this season’s diverse set of offerings.

Josh Darnielle (photo: Jeremy Langet)

Our friends at WQXR were kind enough to share the concert on Q2: it’s streamable via the embedded player below.


Transcendental Youth (Darnielle)
Lection: Apocalypse 21:1-5
The Lord’s Prayer (John Tavener)
Motet: Salve virgo regio/Ave goriosa mater/[DOMINO]
Motet: Gaude virgo nobilis/Verbum caro factum/ET VERITATE
Benedicamus domino: Belial vocatur
Conductus: Nicholai presulis
Song: Novus Annus Adiit
Trope: Gratulantes celebremus festum
The Scientist (Richard Einhorn)
Religious Ballad: Wayfaring Stranger

Free DL: “Alleluia, Ascendit Deus” (Soundcloud Demo)

Casavant Organ at Grace Church Newark

Here’s a Soundcloud demo of my latest choral piece, a motet setting of “Alleluiai, Ascendit Deus” (Psalm 47:5). Instead of those beastly MIDI ooh’s and ah’s, I’ve used a sample of an organ flute stop as the sound palette. Please feel free to download, share, embed, etc.

The piece will be premiered as part of the 175th Anniversary celebration of Grace Church Newark, a service commemorating the Feast of the Ascension (May 19,2012 at noon).

New project

I’ve been asked by organist Joe Arndt to write a motet for Grace Church Newark’s 175th Anniversary, celebrated on the Feast of Ascension (May 19 2012 at noon). The church has requested a setting of “Alleluia, Ascendit Deus,” a text most famously set by William Byrd. I’m keeping Byrd’s vocal divisi – SSATB (during his time, probably AATbB), but emending the text used in his version.

Instead of blending words from two psalms as Byrd did (fusspot that I am, I don’t like liturgical mixing and matching), I’m setting the verse below.

Ascendit Deus in iubilatione,
et Dominus in vocae tubae. Alleluia.
Dominus in caelo paravit sedem suam. Alleluia.

Psalm 46 (47): 5

God has ascended with jubilation,
and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Alleluia.
The Lord has prepared his seat in heaven. Alleluia.

Once Copernicus got Westerners to realize that heaven might not be “up there,” and Sputnik gave us an even greater reality check, the Ascension of Christ has been one of the passages in the Bible that most vexes literal-minded readers.

I love what Anglican theologian N.T. Wright has to say about this. In the book The Resurrection of Jesus (coauthored as a dialogue with John Dominic Crossan), he rhetorically poses the “laws of physics” question about the Ascension. Wright doesn’t to dodge the issue. He responds that Christ didn’t need to ascend all the way to heaven to present a miracle to the disciples, he only needed to get past the first clouds to demonstrate a transfiguration!

A rebuttal such as this certainly helps an ecumenically minded composer to set to work. If all goes well, the music will reach that first layer of cumulus handily!

This Weekend: Brooklyn Village at Roulette

The hot ticket this weekend is in Brooklyn, about Brooklyn, and performed by Brooklynites. Check out the trailer for Brooklyn Village below.

A multimedia piece starring the Brooklyn Phil and Brooklyn Youth Chorus, it features repertory standards, new pieces by David T. Little, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Matthew Mehlan, and a tale as old as the Brooklyn Bridge. In fact, slightly older: its story concerns the buildings razed to make way for said bridge. All that plus Mellissa Hughes and Sufjan Stevens: talk about bringing out the star power!

Event details

Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 7:30 PM
Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue
Tickets: $20-$35 (www.roulette.org)


Brooklyn Philharmonic; Alan Pierson, conductor

Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Dianne Berkun, director

Mellissa Hughes & Lauren Worsham, sopranos


Beethoven: Scherzo from Symphony no. 3 (1804)

Copland: Prelude to Symphony no. 1 (1924/8)

Sufjan Stevens: The B.Q.E. mvt. 6: Isorhythmic Night Dance With Interchanges (2007)

Shape Note song for chorus with audience participation (early 19th century)

Plus three world premieres:

Sarah Kirkland Snider: Here (2012, commissioned by Brooklyn Youth Chorus)

David T. Little: Am I Born (2012, co-commissioned by Brooklyn Phil & BYC)

Matthew Mehlan: Canvas (2011/12)

C4 at a Loss for Words

New York-based C4 Ensemble is a choir that specializes in new music. Most of its members are composers or conductors, or both!

On Thursday March 1 and Saturday March 3, the group is performing a program entitled “A Loss for Words: An Evening of New Choral Music on Alternative Texts” (info and tickets here). Since I’m away this weekend at a conference in Dayton, C4 was kind enough to let me sit in on one of their recent rehearsals.

The group’s dynamic is a lesson in exceeding expectations. The member’s take turns leading warmups and rehearsing pieces, allowing for several conductors to direct works on each concert. I was impressed that, despite the occasional oneupmanship that’s inevitable to find when having that many conductors in a room, they do quite a good job of sharing and passing authority from one person to the next. Indeed I’m so glad that C4 is around: They seem to revel in the challenges that other choirs avoid like the plague. One person to a part in polytonal divisi? No problem. Finding your pitch out of nowhere after clouds of clusters? Sure! Singing in three different meters at once? What else you got?

For music without conventional texts, these pieces have a lot to say. The program features guest soloist Toby Twining, performing with the choir in a beautiful piece of his from the late 80s, “Hee oo oom ha,” a multicultural essay featuring Twining’s flexible countertenor scatting, African polyrhythms, and sepulchral shamanic incantations from bass Hayes Biggs. A new piece by Tim Brown juxtaposes spoken word clips from adverts and news headlines that overwhelm a chorus resembling a Sondheim waltz, seeking desperately to blot out the chatter.

“The Blue of Distance,” by Zibuokle Martinaityle, is a beautiful and intricately woven score with many divisi humming lush polychords, set against keening ostinatos. I was quite taken with Martha Sullivan’swork on the program, which features earthy melismas and folk music references.In addition, C4 will be singing John Cage, Huang Ro, Thomas Stumpf, Jaako Mantyjarvi, David Harris, and Karen Siegel. If you’re in town, this promises to be an exciting and varied concert program.

Thursday, March 1, 2012 @ 8pm Church of St Luke in the Fields 487 Hudson Street (south of Christopher St.)
Saturday, March 3, 2012 @ 8pm Tenri Cultural Institute 43A West 13th Street (bet. 5th & 6th Aves)

Monday 1/9: Crossing Choir performs in NYC

The Crossing

Last fall, I was wowed by the The Crossing, a professional chamber choir directed by Donald Nally that is based in Philadelphia. They took part in Miller Theatre’s presentation of James Dillon’s Nine Rivers, a three-evening work that is the Scottish composer’s magnum opus (read my Musical America review here). Armed only with tuning forks (and, of course, excellent preparation by Nally), they performed this superbly difficult piece in the ‘new complexity’ style with aplomb; on a densely populated stage to boot (I don’t think I’ve seen fifty people onstage at the same time at modest-sized Miller before!).

On Monday January 9,  Crossing returns to NYC to perform with Renaissance band Piffaro in Kile Smith’s Vespers, a work that blends early and contemporary musical styles. Smith’s setting of Lutheran liturgical texts is crosscut with elements referencing postmodern Man’s complicated relationship with God, ritual, doubt, and organized religion. Throughout the holidays, I’ve cheated a bit and spun some Epiphany tunes early, enjoying the Navona recording of the work. I’m eager to hear it live on Monday evening.

Concert Details

Monday, January 9, 2012

7:30 PM

Park Avenue Christian Church, NYC - Directions

Pre-concert talk with the composer 45 minutes the concerts


Setting Stephen John Kalinich

1/1/2012 – Despite my stepping back, editing, and taking stock, I still managed to finish one more piece in 2011: a short unaccompanied SATB setting of “My Kiss is a Journey…”, a poem by Stephen John Kalinich. Stevie is an accomplished poet, songwriter, and lyricist. He’s probably best known for his poems “If You Knew…” and “A World of Peace Must Come,” as well as for supplying lyrics for several songs by the Beach Boys. But these works just scratch the surface of his varied and prolific career.

I began corresponding with Stevie a few years ago, after writing about his CD A World of Peace Must Come. He was kind enough to allow Kay and I to read one of his poems as part of our wedding ceremony in 2009. I’m delighted that Stevie allowed me to set some of his poetry to music.

My kiss is a journey
From Gods lips
Who blew me into being
You can hear a faint echo
If you listen intently
Beyond the silence is the Hmmm
Of Creation continuing

-Stephen John Kalinich

I posted a MIDI demo of the piece over at Soundcloud (embed below). Instead of vocal “oo’s” and “ah’s,” the “out-of-the-box” software synth solution, I opted to substitute clarinets for the voices. If any choirs are interested in the piece, please be in touch.

My Kiss is a Journey midi demo by cbcarey

Stevie’s latest recording is California Feeling, a compilation of various artists recording his songs, lyrics, and poetry.

C4 Gets Ecstatic this Thursday & Saturday

A collective of choral composers and conductors who sing too? Right up my alley!

Join C4 tonight or on Saturday for a program of ‘ecstatic’ music, featuring several new works, including a premiere by Sequenza 21 friend and collaborator Hayes Biggs (program notes below).

Notes on The Caged Skylark by Hayes Biggs

My setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s The Caged Skylark was begun in the spring of 2011 and completed in August of the same year. The piece is dedicated to Gregg Smith, in honor of his eightieth birthday and with deepest thanks for his unflagging commitment to and support of American composers over the past several decades.

Hopkins (1844-1889), besides being possessed of a vision that made much of twentieth-century English poetry possible, was a convert to Roman Catholicism and a Jesuit priest. The Caged Skylark begins darkly, its first two stanzas juxtaposing the image of the brave, “dare-gale” skylark chafing against the confines of his “dull cage,” with the workaday drudgery of humans, imprisoned in their own earthly bodies. My setting begins with a duet for the sopranos and altos that seems to suggest the aimlessness of the bird in his futile struggle against his incarceration, culminating in chordal “bursts of fear or rage” in the full choir, with the altos hanging on stubbornly after the other voices have abruptly been cut o

Hopkins changes the affect completely for the last two stanzas. The skylark, even when flying free and high, still needs a resting place, a “wild nest” to which he can rapidly descend at will from the heights. Likewise, humans freed—in Hopkins’s view—by the fact of Christ’s resurrection still require their own dwellings, but their bodies are now transformed into something much lighter, no more an encumbrance than would be a rainbow alighting upon a meadow. Musically, my interpretation of the oem takes on a decidedly more tonal cast, but it is a tonality hard won and not without ambivalence.

Please feel free to visit my web site: www.hayesbiggs.com

C4 Choral Ensemble



Featuring Ecstatic Meditations by Aaron Jay Kernis and The Hildegard Motets by Frank Ferko.

Also including the world premiere of The Caged Skylark by C4 composer Hayes Biggs and

works by Jonathan David, Michael Dellaira, John Harbison, Robin McClellan, and Tarik O’Regan.

Thursday, November 17th at 8:00PM
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
3 West 65th Street, NYC
(at Central Park West)


Saturday, November 19th at 8:00PM
Church of St. Luke in the Fields
487 Hudson Street, NYC
(just south of Christopher Street)

Admission $15, suggested

Visit our NEW AND IMPROVED web site at http://c4ensemble.org/