Saturday: Calloways perform Carey in Miami

I’m very pleased to report that mezzo soprano Rachel Calloway and cellist Jason Calloway will be, to my knowledge, the first musicians to perform my music in Florida. Tomorrow (Saturday 9/29) at 8 PM, they present a free concert at the Harold Golen Gallery in Miami.

Part of the Acoustica 21 series run by FETA (Foundation for Emerging Technologies and Arts), the program will include pieces by Peter Sculthorpe, Andrew Waggoner, and Carl Schimmel, and my own triptych of Jane Kenyon settings.

Sounding Beckett Sounds Good

Holly Twyford in Sounding Beckett. Photo: Jeremy Tressler.

Three of Samuel Beckett’s late one-act plays (from his “ghost period”) are the source material for Sounding Beckett, an interdisciplinary collaboration that is entering its second (and final) weekend of New York performances at Classic Stage Company on September 21-23.Theatre director Joy Zinoman has enlisted a fine cast of actors and resourceful design team, Cygnus Ensemble directed by guitarist William Anderson, and composers Laura Kaminsky, John Halle, Laura Schwendinger, Scott Johnson, David Glaser, and Chester Biscardi to create a production that is both respectful of the playwright’s work and imaginative in its incorporation of music.

Beckett was quite specific about what sounds and music are to be added to his plays: one can’t just insert incidental music willy-nilly without running afoul of his estate. Sounding Beckett avoids this pitfall, instead allowing composers to have the last word: after the actors have left the stage. Each of the plays - Footfalls, Ohio Impromptu, and Catastrophe – has been supplied with a musical “response” by two different composers. A composition is played directly after the performance of each play (the “cast” of composers rotates. This past Sunday afternoon, the show I attended featured music by Schwendinger, Halle, and Kaminsky).

In a talkback after Sunday’s performance, Schwendinger underscored that the pieces we heard were meant as musical responses to the plays: not necessarily programmatic outlines or storytelling. Thus, her piece responded to the strong emotions churning under the surface of Footfalls with sustained passages of controlled, but angst-imbued dissonance. After seeing actor Holly Twyford’s simmering performance in the play, one could readily understand Schwendinger’s poignant, elegantly crafted response.

Halle’s piece after “Ohio Impromptu” featured a more effusive language, with arcing lines surging towards, but never quite reaching, a place of closure and repose. Again, while not mimicking the action on the stage, his music seemed like a kindred spirit to Ted van Griethuysen’s mellifluous reading of a tragic story of love lost;  it also resonated with the silent, but facially expressive, performance of actor Philip Goodwin. I was also quite taken with Kaminsky’s composition, which nimbly captured the emotional content portrayed by Catastrophe’s three disparate characters.

Cygnus Ensemble (Anderson, guitarist Oren Fader, flutist Tara-Helen O’Connor, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Pauline Kim, and cellist Chris Gross) were impressively well-prepared; they performed all of the compositions with top notch musicality. Anderson, a composer himself, has supplied a multifaceted overture and economical music for scene changes. His work draws upon the sound world of modern classical music in a way that is simpatico to the compositions of the featured composers, while also referencing the type of incidental music one hears in current productions of plays in New York. If Anderson needs another hat to wear, he might consider creating incidental music for more plays!


SOUNDING BECKETT will perform Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. from September 21 to 23.  Tickets are $50 and $75 and go on sale starting July 20.  Tickets can be purchased by calling Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111 or on online at

League of Composers (Concert Announcement)

Today I learned some very exciting news. My duo For Milton will be performed by the League of Composers Chamber Players on Sunday February 24, 2013. Concert details below.

The piece has also been released on CD by Perspectives of New Music/Open Space Magazine (PNM/OS CD 3, available here).

League of Composers Chamber Players
Sunday, February 24, 2013 – 3:00 pm
Tenri Cultural Institute

Tickets: $20 gen. adm / $10 student/senior, available in advance, or at the door.

Penumbrae (2008) Luke Dahn
Piano Trio (2009) Jordan Kuspa
For Milton (2011) Christian Carey
Sextet (1937)    Aaron Copland
Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (1994) David Chaitkin.

If you believe in a piece, never give up on it!

It’s understandable for composers sometimes to wonder if one of their pieces has been orphaned or abandoned. Years go by without it being heard from and its creator asks him or herself: will I ever hear this piece performed again?

It can be particularly hard to countenance when it is a piece that you believe in; one that you feel is representative of what you had to offer during a particular period of your creative life.

Last week, going through some tapes, I found an old cassette of my Quintet (1998), the first piece I composed while at Rutgers University as a doctoral candidate studying with Charles Wuorinen. It was also the first in a group of pieces inspired by abstract expressionist artworks.

I paused for a moment before resuming filing, thinking, “I’d love to hear this piece again sometime. I’ve sent it out to a bunch of places and no one has programmed it. Guess I’ll have to keep trying.”

Last night, I got an email from pianist and conductor Paul Hoffmann asking for score and parts for an old piece, my Quintet for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and vibraphone. Helix! will be reviving it on Sunday, October 28.

Quintet was first played at June in Buffalo by New York New Music Ensemble in 1998 and was later performed by Helix! in Fall ’98 and by Ionisation (Darren Gage’s excellent group) in 2006.

This will also be the first time I’ve had something done at Rutgers – except in masterclasses – since I graduated in 2001.

If you are feeling poorly about a particular piece’s future chances, hang in there. Keep sending it out to sympathetic professionals and performing ensembles.

Here’s a SoundCloud recording of a digital transfer of that old tape!

For those of you in the area, Quintet will be performed by Helix! on 10/28 at Rutgers’s Mason Gross School for the Arts on Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ at 2 PM.

West Coast Premieres this Weekend

Contemporary “Pop songs” and Long Songs for Flute and Piano

Amelia Archer, flute, and Hubert Ho, piano.

“What can one say musically in 3 minutes or less? A lot. A series of 6 compositions for flute, piccolo, alto flute and piano, by composers Christian Carey, John Bilotta, Nora Ponte, Bert Van Herck, Claude Debussy, and Edgard Varèse, are framed by more typical-length pieces, both new and established. Isang Yun’s Garak filters Korean sensibilities through an acerbic filter of dissonant gestures. Aaron Copland’s “flowing, poetic, and lively” Duo ends the program. The program also features a new piece by Hubert Ho written for this collaboration, and a reprise of Tremble, written for Amelia Archer.”

-Hubert Ho



Hubert Ho: Tremble for flute and piano

Isang Yun: Garak for flute and piano

Claude Debussy: Syrinx for solo flute

Christian Carey: Bagatelle for alto flute and piano

John Bilotta: Caprice for flute and piano

Edgard Varèse: Density 21.5 for solo flute

Nora Ponte: Falling for piccolo and piano

Van Herck: Whilst Dreaming for flute and piano

Hubert Ho: Injection Refraction No. 2 for flute and piano (World Premiere)

Aaron Copland: Duo for flute and piano

Event Details

Friday, August 24, 2012, 8pm

West Valley College, Saratoga, CA

(park at Parking Lot 7, closest campus road is East College Circle)

Music/Theater Building (marked TA), Choral Rm. 12

Detailed directions to campus:

Public transit:

Saturday, August 25, 2012, 8pm

Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana St, Berkeley, CA 94704

Corner of Bancroft and Dana

AC Transit: 51, 52; BART: Downtown Berkeley

Sliding Scale $5-$20

Supported by Seven Cats Contemporary Music Series

Previews of Locrian’s 8/24 Concert

I am very much looking forward to this Friday’s Locrian Chamber Players Concert. It features music by Caleb Burhans, Georg Friedrich Haas, David MacDonald, James Bunch, and yours truly. Doubly excited because, after all, how often does a composer get a chamber group to agree to prepare a piano?

Several press outlets have been kind enough to run previews of the event.

The New Yorker’s is here.

Time Out New York recommended the concert as a critic’s pick here.

ACF listed it here.

AWorks here.

Instructions to composers

Gloria Cheng. Photo by Hilary Scott.

Friday August 10

LENOX – It was such a treat to have the opportunity to hear Gloria Cheng in recital at Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music. It included works by Birtwistle, Rands, Knussen, Benjamin, Harbison, and Salonen. I wrote the essay for her program and thus had taken the time to assiduously study all the scores in advance. But hearing them come to life in Cheng’s performance was still revelatory. Her accounts of the pieces were technically assured, meticulously detailed, and interpretively thoughtful. Those listeners who fear the post-tonal wing of contemporary repertoire, finding its dissonance forbidding, should make a point to hear her perform. She makes these works sing; your phobia will likely be cured before intermission.

There was a score that I hadn’t seen prior to the recital: her encore. To commemorate his 80th birthday Cheng commissioned a piece from John Williams. Mindful of the weighty program that listeners had already heard, the pianist made one request: that the composer write a short piece: one that could fit onto a single page.

After she explained this stipulation to the audience, Cheng unfurled the page of staff paper that Williams had delivered to her. His Conversations was indeed written on one page: one BIG page that could fill a grand piano’s entire music desk!

The audience certainly didn’t mind, and Cheng gave a stirring rendition of a work on which the ink was barely dry.

Those who know John Williams’s music from his film scores might assume that his concert music sounds similar. It doesn’t. Indeed, it fit right in alongside the formidable offerings already hear on the program. Who says one can only compose in one style?

And who said that a “single page” had to be 8″ 1/2 X 11″?

8/24: Locrian Chamber Players Celebrates Cage Centennial

On Friday, August 24 at 8PM, Locrian Chamber Players celebrates the John Cage centennial with brand new works for prepared piano and ensemble by Christian Carey and James Bunch. The piano in these works is prepared to the specifications of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes.


  • Georg Friedrich Haas de terea fina
  • Caleb Burhans Contritus
  • Caleb Burhans Escape from New York
  • Christian Carey Gilgamesh Suite*
  • James Bunch Permanent Emotions*
  • David Macdonald New Ostinati*

* World Premiere

Riverside Church

10th Floor Performance Space,

91 Claremont Avenue,

New York, New York 10027

Directions - North of W. 120th Street – One block West of Broadway

Subway: 1 Train to 116th

Ph: 212-870-6700

(Church’s homepage)

free admission

A Cowboy Hangs Up His Spurs

On July 22nd via his PostClassic blog, Kyle Gann published a post titled “One Less Critic,” more or less announcing his retirement from music criticism. Writing for nearly thirty years in a number of publications, notably the Village Voice and Chamber Music Magazine, Gann has been a thoughtful, often provoking, and even, occasionally, a polarizing figure in discourse about contemporary classical music. He’s also been active in a number of other activities, first and foremost as an imaginative composer, a professor at Bard College, and a musicologist who’s published articles and books on a wide range of composers, including minimalists, microtonalists, Conlon Nancarrow, and John Cage. His book on Robert Ashley will be published this fall.

In his blog post, Gann writes, “Criticism is a noble profession, or could be if we took it seriously enough and applied rigorous standards to it, but you get pigeonholed as a bystander, someone valued for your perspective on others rather than for your own potential contributions.”

He’s not the first composer/critic to voice these concerns. It’s fair to say that those who write about others’ music potentially imperil their own. One’s advancement in a career as a creative and/or performing artist often involves blunting their candor and, upon occasion, judiciously withholding their opinions, delicacies which a writer (at least, an honest writer) can ill afford.

Certainly, I haven’t always agreed with Gann’s assessment of the musical landscape. In 1997, I first read his essay on 12-tone composers in academia, in which he likened those in grad programs studying with Wuorinen and Carter to be a wasted generation of composers, like lemmings leaping to their (artistic) deaths. At that time, I was a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers: studying with Wuorinen and writing a dissertation on Carter! I didn’t transfer or change my topic.

That said, I respect Gann’s formidable intellect and, even when it stings a little, his candor.  I hope that during his “retirement” from criticism, he will find many new opportunities provided to him as a  composer. In the spirit of bygones being bygones, maybe some of them will be in collaboration with ensembles that, back in the day, got a rough review from him!