Fond memories of seeing Dave Brubeck at Berklee, Scullers, Newport, receiving his honorary degree at Manhattan School of Music, and, best of all, going with my brother Tyler Carey to the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts to hear him. Tyler encouraged me to go backstage and get an autograph. When Dave heard that I was a composer, he had me sit down and talk to with him about classical music for a good while. A very kind soul and talented pianist, composer, and group leader.
We continue to receive reminiscences marking Elliott Carter’s recent passing at the age of 103. Below, we hear from John Aylward, a composer and Carter scholar. He spent many of his formative years in Arizona. Stories of Elliott’s 1950-’51 sojourn to the area to write the First String Quartet have remained influential on Aylward’s own creative process.
In remembering Carter, I think of how, in 1950, Carter ventured to Tucson, Arizona to compose his 1st String Quartet. Tucson is where I was born, and so I’m familiar with the intense isolation that Carter must have been seeking. In those vast, expansive desert landscapes, a certain kind of depth can be had once one is separated from the noise of our culture. The Sonoran Desert that surrounds Tucson is a place so completely removed from the concerns of our world. Coming from New York City, Carter was brave to face this isolation. But his exploratory character must have drawn him to it: a silent environment where he could imagine a music all his own.
My own experiences with Carter were transforming. I first met him in New York at a concert celebrating his 95th birthday. A performance of this 5th String Quartet made a great impression on me, and I wanted to know how it was put together. Carter was notoriously shy about discussing the technical aspects of his work and with me he was no different. Soon after, I took the time to study the work’s sketches at the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Switzerland. After satisfying my technical curiosities, I realized that Carter was right to not want to ‘talk shop’ too much with me. He was concerned with being understood as an artist and not a technician: that all the rigors of his work were in service of his art.
Like the desert Carter explored while composing one of his most ground-breaking works, contemporary music itself can sometimes feel inaccessible, even to those who care about it so deeply. For those looking in, perhaps they see a window into the alienation artists can feel as they attempt relevant cultural commentary in such an abstract medium. And Carter’s music is no different, having sometimes been characterized as difficult to access. But what Carter gave us, in the example of his life and work ethic, was the opportunity to move beyond that discourse, and into a space where the rigorous pursuit, and the excitement and adventures of creation, are valued most highly. It is certainly through Carter’s persistent search, over a lifetime, that he found an original voice. Such an artistic path might set an example for any young artist worried about staking a claim too soon.
On Monday December 3rd, pianist Jenny Q Chai is giving her DMA lecture recital at my old stomping grounds: Manhattan School of Music. Chai has become a persuasive advocate for a wide range of repertoire, but, after meeting him in Darmstadt some five years ago, the piano music of Marco Stroppa has become one of her keenest passions. Her lecture recital, which she plans to give in a lab coat (!), will focus on Stroppa’s Innige Cavatina. Below, check out a recording of the work from Jenny’s SoundCloud.
Via the SoundCloud embed below, check out “Three Rivers,” a track from Canzonas Americanas,Alarm Will Sound’s new CD on Cantaloupe. It features music by Derek Bermel, the talented composer, clarinetist, and curator of multiple new music programs.
The New Music Seriesat William Paterson University has long been one of the most interesting musical destinations in the Garden State. On Monday, November 26th, its director, Peter Jarvis, along with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and guest pianist TakaKigawa, present an ambitious evening of music that includes works by leading lights Boulez, Ligeti, Babbitt, Carter, and Stravinsky. In addition, 21st century composers Daniel Levitan, Evan Hause, and Gene Pritsker are also represented on the program.
If that weren’t enough, the concert features two premieres. Jarvis conducts his Concerto for Vibraphone and Percussion Sextet; WPUfaculty member John Ferrari will play the solo part. Guest composer Robert Morris has contributed another pocket concerto for percussion ensemble to the proceedings. His Stream Runner (2007), written for marimba soloist Payton MacDonald (also a member of WPU’s faculty). will conclude the evening.
Monday, Nov. 26, 2012
7:30 PM in Shea Center’s
Suggested contribution $5
(Free for students)
William Paterson University
College of Arts & Communication
Department of Music
New Music Series
Peter Jarvis, Director
Robert Morris – Composer
Taka Kigawa – Pianist
The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble
John Ferrari, Payton MacDonald, and Peter Jarvis
Widmann, clarinet; Heinz Holliger, oboe;
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Christoph Poppen, conductor
ECM New Series 2110
39 year old Jörg Widmann is a virtuoso clarinetist and one of Germany’s rising stars in the realm of music composition. Both of these aspects of his talents are on display in a new portrait disc released by ECM Records. Christoph Poppen, one of the label’s mainstays (another multi-talented musician – a fine violinist and conductor) leads the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie in a program that displays Widmann as a musician with a diversity of interests and a multi-faceted compositional toolkit to match.
The disc’s title work features Widmann playing a plethora of extended techniques, haloed by orchestral writing that is primarily atmospheric with occasional fierce outbursts. Messe, despite its moniker and movement titles mirroring the Ordinary of the liturgy, is for large orchestra sans voices. Fastidious attention is given to contrapuntal details in several “contrapuncti” movements. Elsewhere a juxtaposition of weighty tutti and long-breathed angular melodies provide some surprising textural shifts.
Fünf Bruchstücke (1997) are early works that feature clarinet and oboe. The latter duties are fulfilled by oboist/composer Heinz Holliger (another formidable double threat!). The two are given many opportunities to display the extended technical capabilities of their respective instruments. But it is the sense of cat and mouse interaction and the energetic elan that typifies much of the compositions’ demeanor that make them far more captivating than many a virtuoso showcase.
Widmann weds musicality and technical facility seamlessly. While the episodic nature of this program gives tantalizing glimpses of his potential, one looks forward to the composer/clarinetist expanding his horizons to larger formal designs on a future recording.
Thrilled that Gina Izzo and Erika Dohi haven’t had their Righteous Girls performance at Cornelia Street Cafe thwarted by Storm Sandy. Then venue was kind enough to reschedule the show to January 14 at 8:30 PM. They will be giving the first live performance of my duo “For Milton:” written in memory of Milton Babbitt.
Event Details Classical at the Cornelia Righteous Girls- Gina Izzo, flute, and Erika Dohi, piano,
plus artist Zlata Kolomoyskaya and pianist Tristan McKay
Music by John Cage, Paul Brantley, Judd Greenstein & Randy Woolf
as well as new pieces by Christian Carey, Tristan McKay & Michael Patterson
Monday January 14 at 8:30 PM
Cornelia Street Café
29 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014
$10.00 cover plus $10.00 minimum
Robert Paterson may not be the first or only person to use six mallets on the marimba; but he’s fast becoming a proselytizing percussionist for the technique. He has developed it based on the Burton grip with two additional mallets and is composing works to help expand the repertoire for sextuple sticking.
Christian Carey: Hi Rob. Thanks for talking about your unusual approach to playing the marimba. Lots of marimba repertoire is playable with a mallet or two in each hand. When did you first try adding two additional mallets to your technical routine? What did you feel this approach allows you to do at the instrument?
Robert Paterson: I first began exploring using six mallets when I was an undergrad student at the Eastman School of Music. It actually started out as an accident: there happened to be six mallets lying on top of my marimba, so I quickly grabbed all of them and began fooling around with a waltz-type figure to try and impress a girlfriend. I just happened to pick up the mallets in a way that worked, and I was immediately hooked.
Six-mallet technique allows for expanded harmonic possibilities, so for example, I can play triads in each hand. I can also quickly alternate mallets, so if you number them left to right, 1, 2/3, 4, 5/6, or whatever combination works. I can also play one-handed rolls quite easily, and play ripple roll chords that sound much more robust. You can also hold different mallets from left to right, so for example, a large rubber mallet as mallet 1, then five hard yarn mallets, so that the lowest note sounds very full and distinctive. There are seemingly limitless possibilities. Basically, anything that can be done with four mallets can be done with six, and with six I can do so much more.
If there’s one single goal I have with this new album, it’s to prove that six mallet technique is not a gimmick: I am definitely not just playing block chords on the naturals (i.e., the lower bank of notes), and I can really move the mallets around quite freely. The one thing I can’t do super fast if use mallets like piano fingers. I can do that to a certain degree, and at a moderate tempo, but it’s usually easier to alternate notes in melodic runs left hand to right hand.
CC: How has being a percussionist and marimba specialist impacted your work as a composer?
RP: There are certain technical aspects of composing I definitely obsess over, probably more than if I had grown up playing the violin or any other instrument. I am fascinated with resonance, and how notes ring. I also like bell sounds, and often ask non-percussionists to play cup gongs (temple bowls or Tibetan bowls), finger cymbals and other hand-held percussion instruments. A recent piece I wrote entitled A New Earth for orchestra, chorus and narrator requires certain players to play custom-tuned wind chimes, the kind you might have on your back porch. I am not sure if this stems from a sort of secret desire to bring other performers to the dark side of percussion land (although most of the time they really enjoy it), or that I just can’t disregard my roots, or something else entirely. Perhaps the main reason is that I really wish orchestras and other ensembles had larger percussion sections, so maybe this is my way of compensating, a sort of back door approach.
CC: Just in terms of your composing career, you’re a busy guy, with residencies, commissions, and involvement in running an ensemble (the American Modern Ensemble). How do you keep in shape as a performer?
RP: That’s a great question, and one I constantly struggle with. As I started receiving more commissions, residencies, and so on, and also started to conduct more, I eventually had to cut way back on performing, and only do what I really wanted to do, which at this point, happens to be marimba playing (often with six mallets) and occasionally new music by other composers. When I was younger, I definitely played my share of Messiah timpani parts and road shows for a variety of orchestras and chamber ensembles, and even rock gigs, but I eventually decided to leave all that behind so I could focus more on what I really love to do.
For me, the key to keeping in shape is to play a little every day (or a lot, obviously, if I am preparing for a concert). Admittedly, I think this is easier for percussionists than brass or wind players, or even string players. I can get back in shape pretty quickly, but that’s also because I have a pretty solid technical foundation and practiced a ton when I was younger, so it’s not too difficult.
CC: Wednesday night is the release show for not one, but two CDs, one showcasing your six-mallet marimba playing technique, another by Makoto Nakura that includes a new four mallet work you wrote. How did this confluence of releases come about? Also, you’ve been writing works including marimba for a while. Why did it now seem to be an opportune time to showcase these pieces on a single disc?
RP: The double release idea just sort of happened. I have been planning on releasing this Six Mallet Marimba album for years, but never had enough music, without including pieces that have nothing to do with marimba or six mallets. Many of my six mallet pieces are on the short side, so you need a bunch of them to make a full album. I finally had an album’s worth of pieces, so this seemed like the right time.
As for Makoto’s album, recently, my indie record company AMR (American Modern Recordings) signed a deal with him to re-release his older albums and also release Wood and Forest, his new album. Makoto commissioned me to write a new four-mallet piece, and since this was happening all around the same time, we decided to combine the events. We are cross advertising to each other’s followers and audiences, which is great. It’s not every day that you hear two marimbas together, particularly in the Rubin Museum of Art, so we thought audiences might enjoy that.
CC: What will attendees get to hear on the show?
RP: I am performing a marimba solo entitled Komodo (inspired by Komodo dragons), Braids for violin and marimba, with my wife Victoria (written for her, and inspired by watching her braid her hair and musical forms based on different braiding styles), Duo for Flute and Marimba, a three movement work that I’ll play with flutist Sato Mougalian (the NY premiere), the world premiere performance of Stillness for oboe and marimba with oboist Keve Wilson, and finally the world premiere of a new marimba duo entitled Mandala, that was commissioned by Makoto. It is inspired by the theme of “happiness” and a Hevajra Mandala image in the Rubin Museum’s art collection.
Makoto will be performing four works: Mandala (with me), Forest Shadows for solo marimba, the four mallet piece I wrote for him, and two works by other composers. The first is Arbor Una Nobilis for marimba and violin by Jacob Bancks, which he will play with violinist Jesse Mills, and the second is Winik/Te’ for solo marimba by Carlos Sanches-Gutierrez. All in all, it will be a an exciting fascinating program, and I am really looking forward to hearing Makoto play live, and also to play this duo with him! It will be a complete thrill.
CC: AME seems to be going really well: getting lots of attention both for their live performance and recordings. What’s coming up next for the ensemble?
RP: Our next concert after this one is entitled The End Of The World, and it’s a collaborative event with Talujon, a NYC based percussion ensemble. AME will be performing works by a variety of composers, including George Crumb and George Rochberg, and Talujon will be performing works by Daniel Iglesia, Hannah Lash, and Daniel Wohl. Finally, next March, we will be presenting a concert tentatively titled Concertos & More, featuring works by Steve Mackey, Sean McClowry, a piece by me entitled Looney Tunes and a piece by Eric Nathan, the winner of our 2011-12 composition competition. We are also excited that we just became the official new music ensemble-in-residence at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, so we will be working with the composers at that institution as well.
We also have a few other recordings in the works, including a second two piano album (appropriately titled Powerhouse Pianists II) with Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen, featuring piano duos by various excellent composers, a chamber vocal album of some of my music, and we will be on an album that will be released on Bridge Records with works by Steve Mackey. We have many other albums planned, but since we put a lot of love and care into each album, we try to only release them when they are good and ready and everyone is confident that they represent AME and AMR (American Modern Recordings) well. AMR thinks of itself as an indie boutique classical record company that releases the highest possible quality albums of contemporary music, so if we’re getting any attention, we’d like to think it’s because we have put so much love and care into what we do.
American Modern Ensemble
Wednesday November 14, 2012 @ 7:00 PM
$15.00 in advance / $30.00 day of
Member Price: $13.50
The Rubin Museum of Art is located in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City
on 17th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues.
(Rubin Museumwebsite here)