Guest post: Hayes Biggs

Hayes Biggs is an outstanding composer, vocalist, copyist, and longtime instructor at Manhattan School of Music. I was delighted when he agreed to help us judge the call for scores for the Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert (which will be on Oct. 25 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub in NYC). The concert will close with the final movement from Hayes’s String Quartet, a work he discusses in the following post.

If ever a piece required my patience as it slowly taught me what it needed to do and be, it was my String Quartet: O Sapientia /Steal Away. My first sketches for it date from 1996, but it was not completed until 2004. This eight-year span of course included numerous interruptions of various sorts, including time on the back burner while other more immediately pressing projects got done. Even in rare moments of front-burner status I struggled with it, but I remain as proud of this work as of anything I’ve ever composed. The Avalon String Quartet premiered it in 2006 and subsequently recorded it for the Albany label.

The title refers to the quartet’s two main sources of material: my Advent motet for unaccompanied voices, O Sapientia, composed in 1995, and the African-American spiritual Steal Away. It is the latter that is the focus of the third and final movement, the one that will be heard at Joe’s Pub on October 25.  It is in two parts played without interruption: an Epigraph—simply a straightforward presentation of the melody of the spiritual—followed by an extended free Fantasia on that melody.

The quartet bears an overall dedication to my wife, Susan Orzel-Biggs, but this movement carries a separate one in memory of my friend, teacher and mentor, Tony Lee Garner (1942-1998). He was the choral director at Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College), as well as an accomplished singer, actor and director, and he taught me as much about the joys and responsibilities of being an artist as anyone I have ever known. As a freshman member of the Southwestern Singers in the spring of 1976 I sang in a program of American music under Tony’s direction that included William Dawson’s beautiful arrangement of Steal Away. The printed key of that arrangement is F major, but Tony liked the way the choir sounded with it transposed up a half step, so in this movement the tune is always heard in the key of G-flat major.


The Sequenza 21 Concert is free.

Tickets and Tables are still available by phone.

Call 212.539.8778 to make your reservation

Guest Post: Dale Trumbore

One of our featured composers on the Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert (on October 25 at Joe’s Pub) is Dale Trumbore. In the following post she tells us about the work ACME will perform on the program: a piece that was premiered in 2009 by Kronos Quartet.

How it will go (2009) is a quirky little 6-minute work for string quartet; its first descriptive marking is “maniacally cheerful.” Although the piece is a rondo, the piece has a frantic, slightly unpredictable quality, as if it doesn’t know which way it’s supposed to go, or when exactly it should return to its main theme. I imagine the piece almost like a mechanical toy: there are moments where the battery-power of the piece seems to be failing, then resurging a bit too enthusiastically; at the end, it simply dies down, like a wind-up toy running out of steam.

I sketched out the idea for How it will go’s main theme one afternoon back in 2006, then put it aside it until I started working in the University of Maryland’s fantastic program that allows student composers the opportunity to collaborate with the Kronos Quartet. Over the span of two years, selected composers work with the Quartet to write new works; the program culminates in a concert of these new pieces. This opportunity seemed the perfect venue in which to develop that little melody; I wanted to write a piece that was fun to play and to hear, but with an element of almost virtuosic showing-off at times, to showcase the ensemble performing it.

The premiere of How it will go took place a few months after I first moved to Los Angeles, and I flew back to Maryland to hear it. The dress rehearsal for the piece was on my birthday that year; hearing the Kronos Quartet perform your new composition in its entirety for the first time is not a bad way to spend a birthday.

As I was waiting in UMD’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center about an hour before the performance, I happened to check my email and see that How it will go had won Lyrica Chamber Music’s Composition Contest; the piece would receive its second performance (by the Neave Quartet) less than a month after the Kronos Quartet premiere. The two performances differed greatly in interpretation, particularly in tempo, but they were both fantastic. I can’t wait to hear ACME perform the piece in October!

Two days before the Sequenza 21/MNME concert, I’ll be accompanying soprano Gillian Hollis in a performance of selections from our recently-released CD of art-songs I’ve written for Gillian, Snow White Turns Sixty. That performance is Sunday, October 23 at St. Paul’s Church, 200 Main St., Chatham, NJ 07928, and the 3 p.m. concert has a suggested donation of $5, which will go towards the church’s fund to replace their organ.  More about the CD and other upcoming performances along the Snow White Turns Sixty tour can be found here.

Guest post: Laurie San Martin

Laurie San Martin

Laurie San Martin teaches at UC Davis. She’s one of our featured composers on the fast approaching Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert (October 25 at Joe’s Pub). In the guest post below, she talks about her work Linea Negra, which will be performed on the program.

Linea Negra

The faint, dark, vertical line that appears on a very pregnant woman’s belly in the weeks before she bursts is called the linea negra.  So it seemed like a fitting title for the solo marimba piece that I was writing during the final weeks of my first pregnancy in the summer of 2004. Real-life deadlines work in my favor as a composer. That is to say, the countdown leading up to a big life change is an intensely productive time for me. Linea Negra is a piece I always associate with that particular time in my life. When most mothers would have been preparing the baby’s room or redecorating the house, I was making deals with my daughter while she was still in the womb. “How about you wait a few more days to come out and I can finish this piece.  Really, it’ll be much better that way.” She arrived a few days late, so I was able to finish the piece on time; I have the greatest daughter one could ask for (and the piece isn’t bad, either).

I compose from left to right. That is to say, I start at the beginning and pretty much write the musical events in the order that they happen. It probably comes as no surprise then that my music is very linear.  Linea Negra is just under five minutes in length, with an ABA structure. The outer sections are a fast and repetitive moto perpetuo while the middle section is slow and lyrical. The piece is quite virtuosic–the marimba player is asked to play very fast runs, leaps, and chords; audience members often describe the piece as “acrobatic.”

Linea Negra is written for percussionist Chris Froh, who premiered the piece in October, 2004 at the American Academy in Rome. Chris is an exhilarating performer, and I was very lucky to be able to work with him while writing the piece. Hearing the work in progress influenced the direction of the piece and helped me iron out some of the technical difficulties, and clarify the musical gestures.  Working with a musician of Chris’s dedication and commitment is such a privilege for a composer, not to mention, inspiring and rewarding.

Guest post: Jay Batzner on Slumber Music

The Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert is fast approaching. This free event will be at Joe’s Pub on Oct. 25 at 7 PM (reserve a seat here). The American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) will perform a program that features music by composers selected from our call for scores. In the coming weeks, we’ll be hearing from a number of the composers and performers appearing on the concert. First up is Jay Batzner, who teaches at Central Michigan University and contributes regularly to Sequenza 21. He tells us about his piece on the program: Slumber Music.

I remember a lot about composing Slumber Music, which is a bit odd since most of the time I don’t retain memories about the act of composing. I was asked to write a piece for cello and piano for a multiple sclerosis fundraiser in 2008. My initial plan for the piece was to take a melody and start disrupting it and distorting it, much the same way that MS interferes with messages in the nervous system. I wrote my cello melody but I just couldn’t bring myself to act on my original plan. I liked the line too much to destroy it so I just chose to repeat it. When I started to add the piano into the mix, all I heard was a very thin and very sparse accompaniment.

My inner critic kept screaming, “You can’t have NOTHING going on in the piano! You’ve got to give them something worth playing! It is all too simple! Make it sophisticated and interesting!” My inner critic was about to win when, for one reason or another, I decided to stick to my guns. I’ve followed a lot of bad advice in my compositional past, changed my original ideas when I was told to do so, even though I was right, and I was done with that. The stillness in this music appeals to me. The last thing I wanted to do was throw it away because I was insecure.

The second movement unfolded in a similar manner. I had the piano chords and just started taking them wherever they were going to go. It was now the cellist’s turn to have direct and focused motion, floating around the harmonies that were propelling the action forward. The movement came out in one single chunk, maybe 45 minutes of time.

When I was done, I was in a sort of daze. I went for a walk in order to process the experience. My compositional process was undergoing a radical shift. I had been a planner, plotter, and schemer, someone who had an Idea for a piece and then wrote according to that form. Slumber Music really changed that. My plan for the first movement didn’t work; the piece wanted to be something else. Where no plan existed for the second movement, it came together almost too easily. And here was music I was happy with! Ten years ago, during the height of my scheming days, I hated my own music. I seemed to be turning things around.

There is a distinct before/after within me that hinges on this piece. I don’t write music the same way now as I did before Slumber Music. I am much happier with my product and I know when to listen to my inner critic and when to shut it up. Coupled with Goodnight, Nobody, which I wrote the same year, Slumber Music is really important to my writing because now I see how it put me on my current compositional path.

Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert


We’re pleased to announce details for the 2011 Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert featuring the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME). The following entries from the call for scores have been selected for inclusion in the program:


James Stephenson (UK) – Oracle Night

Robert Thomas (NJ) – Sixteen Lines

Jay Batzner (MI) – Slumber Music

Rob Deemer (NY) – Grand Dragon

Sam Nichols (CA) – Refuge

David Smooke (MD) – Requests

Dale Trumbore (CA) –How it Will Go

Laurie San Martin (CA) – Linea Negra

James Holt  (NY) – Nostos Algea


The concert will be on October 25 at Joe’s Pub at 7 PM. It will be a free event open to the public.

Thank you to all of the composers who sent in scores and recordings for consideration. You made it very difficult to decide on a final program: there were many strong entries by talented creators.

Thanks too to Hayes Biggs and Clarice Jensen, who joined me in judging the competition, and to Justin Monsen of Manhattan New Music Project, who provided invaluable administrative support. And without the generosity and vision of Jerry Bowles, this project would never have gotten off the ground.