Friday and Saturday: JACK and Bermel at IAS

Composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel is coming to the end of his term as artist-in-residence at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. This Spring, he’s curating several concerts that assure he’ll be fondly remembered. This Friday and Saturday, he is joined by JACK Quartet for a concert featuring Ligeti’s Second String Quartet,  Brahms’Clarinet Quintet, Bermel’s Ritornello and a new piece by Bermel:  A Short History of the Universe (as related by Nima Arkani-Hamed). I’ve been told that events on the concert series frequently sell out, so if you are planning on attending order in advance!


Friday – Saturday: Viva 21st Century Marathon

classicaldiscoveries logo

From Friday 2 PM to Saturday 2 PM (EST), broadcaster Marvin Rosen will be hosting “Viva 21st Century,” a marathon of recent classical music on Princeton’s WPRB 103.3 FM (also on the web at The broadcast will include over eighty composers.

Marvin has informed me that my “Gilgamesh Suite EP” (out now on BandCamp) will be featured sometime between 7 and 9 PM on Friday.

More details below.

Viva 21st Century

Classical Discoveries will present the 10th Annual program and the 6th 24-Hour Marathon totally devoted to music composed in the 21st century.



starts: Friday, December 28, 2012 – 2:00pm
ends: Saturday, December 29, 2012 – 2:00pm.

Approximately 80 composers will have their works aired during this marathon.
Milosz Bembinow, Thomas Blomenkamp, Sylvie Bodorova,Christian Carey, Jennifer Castellano, Daniel Dorff, Hugues Dufourt, Rosemary Duxbury, Ivan Erod, Vladimir Godar, Ola Gjeilo, Jennifer Higdon, Matthew Hindson, Mary Ann Joyce-Walter, Lei Liang, Michel Lysight, Peter Machajdik, Franco Antonio Mirenzi, Andrew Rudin, Carl Ruttl, Somei Satoh, Ravi Shankar, Ylva Skog, Allan Stephenson, John Tavener, Giel Vleggaar, Joelle Wallach and many, many others.

For Internet listeners link to excellent Time Zone Converter:

Facebook event page here: RSVP and invite your friends!

Keeping Jersey Strong: A Hurricane Benefit Comp

For $5 (or more if you’re so inclined) you can purchase Keep Jersey Strong: A Hurricane Benefit Comp from Bandcamp. It includes 53 tracks by area artists, including Real Estate, The Everymen, Cinema Cinema, Nicole Atkins, and more. All of the proceeds go to the American Red Cross’s efforts to help victims of Storm Sandy.

Monday: NJPE Premieres works by Morris and Jarvis

The New Music Series at 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 Taka Kigawa, 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; WPU faculty 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.

Event Details

Monday, Nov. 26, 2012
7:30 PM in Shea Center’s
Shea Auditorium
Suggested contribution $5
(Free for students)

William Paterson University
College of Arts & Communication
Department of Music
New Music Series
Peter Jarvis, Director
with guests
Robert Morris – Composer
Taka Kigawa – Pianist
and featuring
The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble
with soloists
John Ferrari, Payton MacDonald, and Peter Jarvis

Friday and Saturday: C4 Ensemble

C4. Photo: Keith Goldstein.

For those of us here in New York and New Jersey, the past few weeks have been challenging. In the wake of Storm Sandy, we trust that better days are yet to come, but the present’s outlook is a bit dodgy. Some forward thinking optimism, particularly of the musical variety, is keenly welcome.

This weekend, C4 Ensemble, a collective of composers, conductors, and singers committed to new music (most wearing multiple hats in terms of their respective roles in the group), presents Music for People Who Like the Future.

Spotlighting the North American premiere of Andrew Hamilton’s Music for People Who Love the Future (hmm… I wonder if this title gave them the idea for the name of the show …), the program also features music by Chen Yi, Michael McGlynn, Sven-David Sandström, Phillipe Hersant, and Ted Hearne along with C4’s own Jonathan David, Mario Gullo, David Harris, and Karen Siegel.

Event Details 
Friday, November 16, 2012
The Church of St. Luke in the Fields
487 Hudson Street, NYC 10014
8 P.M.
$15 advance / $25 day of event/ 10 $4 “Rush” admissions 30 minutes advance at the door
Closest Subway:  1 to Christopher Street/Sheridan Square

Saturday, November 17, 2012
Mary Flagler Cary Hall at The DiMenna Center
450 W. 37th Street, NYC 10018
8 P.M.
$15 advance / $25 day of event / 10 $4 “Rush” admissions 30 minutes advance at the door
Closest Subways:  A/C/E to 34th Street/Penn Station
Reception to follow

Tomorrow at Rutgers: Quintet (Concert announcement)

Nicholas Music Center

The last time my Quintet (1998) was performed was in 2005 by the New Jersey Arts Collective. Tomorrow, Rutgers University Professor Paul Hoffman, director of RU’s Helix! New Music Ensemble, will revive the piece.

This past Wednesday, I had a chance to hear the group rehearse: they are a crack unit of burgeoning new music talent. Most of the program celebrates the work of John Cage. Excited to hear them on Sunday afternoon. If you are in the area and have sufficiently battened the hatches for “Frankenstorm,” consider joining us at 2PM at Nicholas Music Center in New Brunswick, NJ.

(Here is an article, written by Carlton Wilkinson,  previewing the concert for the Asbury Park Press).

Program Note: 
“Quintet for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and vibraphone was composed in 1997 and 1998. It was the first piece I completed while studying with Charles Wuorinen in the doctoral program at Rutgers University. It was also the first of several works I composed that was inspired by visual artworks from the Abstract Expressionist movement. Quintet was premiered by New York New Music Ensemble at June in Buffalo in 1998 and received subsequent performances by Ionisation and Helix!”
-Christian Carey

Dog Days: Interview with David T. Little

David T. Little. Photo: Merry Cyr.

After a long gestation, which included multiple workshops that presented excerpts of the work in progress, this weekend David T. Little’s Dog Days will be given its premiere as a full length opera. It is being presented at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey on September 29th through October 7th. Despite all the myriad details to which he’s had to attend in the rehearsals leading up to the performances, David was kind enough to consent to an interview about the bringing this long term project to fruition and some of his other current activities.

Sequenza21: When did you first become aware of the short story on which Dog Days is based? Why did you think it would be a good subject for your first full length opera?

I first encountered the story Dog Days in the film adaptation by Ellie Lee. (The original story is by Judy Budnitz.) I was living in Ann Arbor at the time, and had gotten into the habit if composing each morning with the TV on in the distant background.  It would usually start with the previous night’s Daily Show; then, I’d switch to IFC.  On one particular day, IFC was showing a shorts program. I happened to look up at a certain moment, and catch a glimpse of Spencer Beglarian (late brother of Eve) playing Prince, the man in a dog suit.  I immediately thought: “what the hell” and couldn’t look away, almost obsessively watching the entire film. I filed this piece away, thinking of it as a work I really liked, by an artist I respected, and then sort of moved on with my day.  I wrote a song some time later, called “After a Film by Ellie Lee,” about the landscape of Dog Days–and even got to meet Ellie in 2003–but never really thought of making it an opera.

Then in 2008, Dawn Upshaw contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in writing something dramatic–a scena, or opera excerpt–for the Dawn Upshaw/Osvaldo Golijov Workshop at Carnegie Hall.  I of course said yes–because that’s what you say to Dawn Upshaw!–and began looking for a libretto. I had written the libretto for Soldier Songs myself, but those were all monologues.  This piece was to have characters who needed to have actual dialogue, which I didn’t feel I could handle that as a writer. So I approached Royce Vavrek, who I’d met maybe six months earlier after an American Lyric Theater performance, and we started talking about ideas.

After looking through a number of options, we kept coming back to Dog Days as a piece that just made sense.  It was dark, but with these wonderful moments of light.  It got into very serious issues–the animal/human divide, issues of choice and consequence, questions of how we treat the least fortunate among us–but without being heavy handed about it.  It felt like the perfect story to use for our first adaptation, and it’s proven to be an incredibly rewarding text to write with.  (Plus, it had the right number of characters to match the singers we’d been assigned!)  We approached Judy Budnitz for permission, she granted it, and we got started.  (Judy, by the way, is a really terrific author and unique storyteller.  If people don’t know her work, I hope they will check it out.)

What’s been changed or added since presenting scenes of Dog Days at Carnegie Hall?

We added a whole lot!  The Zankel presentation was only about 20 minutes, and when we did it at Vox (2010) we had about 30 minutes, having written the aria ”Mirror Mirror” for one of American Opera Projects’ Opera Grows in Brooklyn programs in the summer of 2009.  But the piece now lasts about 2 hours and 15 minutes with the intermission, so it has more than doubled since those early presentations.  Also, a number of the voice types changed.  I mentioned that we were assigned the singers for the Carnegie Workshop.  We loved all of them, but, as we worked on the libretto, came to feel that some of the voice types weren’t right for whom the characters were becoming.  For example, Howard–the father–started off as a tenor, but is now a baritone.  So in addition to the new music, we also had a lot of rewrites to the old music.  Even after the workshop in April, we continued to rewrite, and have continued to tweak throughout the rehearsal process.  We added a character who was not present in the original version (though is present in the story): the Captain, a military officer played by Cherry Duke who brings the two sons back from mischief, and tries to make a devil’s deal with Howard.  This aria was written maybe eight months ago.

The last big thing was that we finally have a dog man, played by the amazing John Kelly.  In the Carnegie Hall performance, Prince was just not there–since it is not a sung role–so all the singers were singing to an invisible man.  That’s changed in the stage version. Works much better now!

Did you want to use Newspeak from the beginning, or is the Montclair production a “chamber version” that might subsequently get orchestrated?

From the start, I had always planned for Newspeak to be the band.  On one hand, Newspeak has been a really important part of my artistic path, growth and process over the years.  On another, it felt important to make a work in which I could control the means of production, so to speak.  That I wanted to be able to find a way to make the full opera happen myself if I needed to, DIY-style.  If I had written it for orchestra, this would have been nearly impossible.  In reality, it would have been impossible for me to mount this version of the piece on my own.   It’s just too big, too expensive, with too many moving parts.  I just can’t even keep track of them all.  But at the time I thought at least if I had the ensemble taken care of, I could mount the show somehow.  But really it’s all much bigger now than I’d ever dreamed:  Bigger cast, longer duration, etc. It became a much bigger piece as we worked on it, as our 90-minute estimate became a 130-minute reality.

But all that said, this was also the right sound for the piece.   Even when we did it in VOX, I kept it more or less as is.

Writing for an amplified band is really interesting, sometimes a little tricky, but for me at least, extremely rewarding.  It was very much a learn-by-doing process for me, with Newspeak. This piece is maybe the sixth I’ve written for Newspeak over the years, and like with non-amplified orchestration, you learn something new each time.  I made very different choices in Dog Days than I did in Electric Proletariat, the first piece I wrote for the group back in 2004.  But I’ve also had the advantage of studying all of the pieces that have been written for us, and to think about how they work or didn’t work in the context of amplification.  So in a way, I partially wrote, partially assembled my own how-to manual over the years.

I think the biggest mistake people make when writing for amplified ensemble is in assuming that the amplification will fix problematic orchestration. The hard truth is that is only makes bad orchestration louder!  You still need to consider the same basic principles; it still needs to work in those traditional ways.  However, what you can gain in amplification is a broader palette of sound.  Specifically for Newspeak, having effect pedals and a synthesizer adds a whole new element to things.  Unlike in most Newspeak material, Dog Days doesn’t use any effects on the strings, but the sonic palette of the guitar is hugely important.  Taylor Levine is one of our great noise-makers, and I’ve tried to work on a lot of his specialties into the score.  Without amplification, these sounds couldn’t really exist together with the other, acoustic sounds.  But these new sounds still need to be subjected to the same orchestrational process as in a purely acoustic setting.  So it’s a little bit of a back and forth, but gradually you figure it out.

One big advantage with an amplified opera, though, is in the vocal writing. I know there are strong opinions about this, but for me, I find it really allows a broader range of vocal sound to be heard.  I don’t have a problem anymore with the whole bel canto thing–though I once did–but I do think that that particular sound is only part of a total package that contemporary singers bring to the table.  Having mics allows for all of these sounds–from whisper to a scream–to come through.  Rinde Eckert once said that, for better or worse, you cannot conceive of the 20th century without considering the microphone.  I think this is true, and equally so for the 21st century.

How did Montclair become the venue in which you chose to mount this production?

Alan Pierson was the conductor for the Upshaw/Golijov workshop in 2009.  He liked what he heard of the piece, and brought it to Jed Wheeler’s attention.   Jed Wheeler is this amazing visionary who has created a luxurious haven for adventurous work at Peak Performances.  I was actually at the opening of the theater in 2005, where they kicked off this new initiative with a Ridge Theater production of Harry Partch’s Oedipus!  That should tell you something, right?   So Alan liked the piece, brought it to Jed.  Jed liked the piece, and asked for a meeting.  We met, talked about options, plans, hopes, dreams for it.  He suggested that he knew the perfect director for the project, Robert Woodruff, at which point I had to do everything in my power not to jump across the desk and kiss him.  I had months earlier read an article in Time Out on Robert’s then-upcoming production of Edward Bond’s Chair and thought, “my god, I need to work with this man.”  So I was very excited by this prospect, and feel really grateful for the opportunity.  Working with Robert has been a terrific experience.

From that point on, all systems were go; and we progressively brought on the members of the full team: Beth Morrison, Jim Findlay, Vita Tzykun, Matt Frey, Garth MacAleavy, Lindsey Turtletaub, and many others.  It’s a truly amazing team. I feel really lucky.  In particular, Beth Morrison has been really vital to the whole process. More than anyone, Beth has really encouraged me to pursue this sort of operatic hybrid work, and offered tremendous faith and support over the years. She’s been a huge part of almost every single music theater piece I’ve done since 2007–I think Dog Days is our 7th project together, and the largest to date, with many more on the horizon.  I don’t think I’d be doing this sort of work without her.

And what has been most amazing is that all of our rehearsals have been in Montclair, on the set. That’s just unheard of. I’m told that so far we’ve logged 233 hours of rehearsal, on the stage where the show will take place.  This just never happens in theater and opera, and it’s one of many very generous things Peak Performances has brought to the table.  It’s been a real pleasure.

In addition to the new opera, you also recently took on a new academic position. Congratulations! Have you gotten to work with the students at Shenandoah yet? What are your expectations, hopes, and goals for the composition and new music programs at SU?

It’s true!  This August I took up a position as the Head of Composition and New Music Coordinator at Shenandoah Conservatory in Virginia.  I’ve remained based in New York and am splitting my time between here and there, which has meant a lot of traveling back and forth and a somewhat hectic schedule, to say the least!  (I am also still running MATA, while our incoming ED learns the ropes.)  But my colleagues are great; I love the students and have been having a great time teaching. I think Shenandoah is a really special place, and it is a very exciting time to be there.  Michael Stepniak, the dean of the conservatory, is another visionary who has done some remarkable things there already, with more on the horizon.  On my end, there are some things in the works that I’m very excited about, both on a curricular-level and in terms of guest artists, concert presenting, etc.  I can’t say too much more just yet, but it is my hope to create a composition program for the 21st century–focusing on equal parts craft, practical know-how, entrepreneurship, etc.–and in making Shenandoah a real hub for new music.

Dog Days

September 29 and October 6 • 8:00 p.m.
September 30 and October 7 • 3:00 p.m.
October 5 • 7:30 p.m.

Alexander Kasser Theater

World Premiere – A Peak Production

Beth Morrison Projects

Composed by David T. Little
Libretto by Royce Vavrek
Based on the short story Dog Days by Judy Budnitz
Directed by Robert Woodruff
Music Direction by Alan Pierson

Set and Video Design by Jim Findlay
Lighting Design by Matt Frey
Costume Design by Vita Tzykun

Featuring: John Kelly, James Bobick (baritone), Marnie Breckenridge (soprano), Cherry Duke (mezzo-soprano), Michael Marcotte (tenor), Peter Tantsits (tenor), and Lauren Worsham (soprano), with chamber ensemble Newspeak and special guests.

All tickets are $15 and are available at the Alexander Kasser Theater Box Office, by calling 973-655-5112 or online.

Dog Days from Beth Morrison Projects on Vimeo.


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.

Thursday: Pictures 2012 Concert at Montclair Art Museum

New Jersey Arts Collective is presenting their annual Pictures concert at the Montclair Art Museum on Thursday, May 24 (pre-concert talk at 6:45; show starts at 7:30). In response to a competition held earlier this Spring, high school and college age students submitted compositions for solo piano somehow inspired by the Philip Guston painting Untitled 142 (1979), which is part of MAM’s collection. The winning entries, as well as several “micro-commissions” of short works from area composers, will be performed on the concert by pianist Carl Patrick Bolleia. (Purchase tickets here).

NJAC was kind enough to program two new piano pieces by yours truly: the program notes are below.

Gloss on Guston is a brief piece for solo piano. After hearing a playthrough of the work, a colleague recently quipped, “You’ve fit all the notes of Feldman’s For Philip Guston into one minute!” Indeed, there are many more notes per bar in this piece than in Feldman’s lengthy meditation of contemplative pointillism on Guston’s artworks: with good reason. Feldman’s music regards earlier pieces by Guston – his program note indicates paintings from 1949 and 1950 were the impetus for his reliquary to his abstract expressionist painter friend. My work is a response to a late painting by Guston – Untitled #142 (1979) – which resides in the Montclair Art Museum’s collection. Its vivid colors and angular shapes suggest to me busy athleticism and even, at times, motoric gestures, as well as a taut formal design. It was composed in 2012 in response to a commission from New Jersey Arts Collective and receives its world premiere today.

Fiery Sunset is a coda to my previous commission from New Jersey Arts Collective and the Montclair Art Museum: Innesscapes, a piece composed in 2008 that responds to the museum’s extraordinary collection of pieces by New Jersey landscape painter George Inness. It is scored for clarinet, viola, and piano. The first two instruments play the piece’s first movement, while all three instruments participate in movements two and three. After hearing the premiere, in order to balance the work I wanted to add a movement, one in which the piano gets a solo turn.

Fiery Sunset may be played by itself or as part of Innesscapes as a whole. It responds to Inness’s painting Sunset and is dedicated to local composer George Walker as a small gift acknowledging his ninetieth birthday on June 27, 2012. It also receives its world premiere today.