Archive for the “ACO” Category

David Schiff

While well-known for his writings about music, including books about Elliott Carter and George Gershwin, David Schiff is also a prolific and active composer. A professor at Reed College, he’s visiting New York this week to hear the American Composer’s Orchestra premiere a revamped version of Stomp, a piece that celebrates the music of James Brown. The concert, part of the Orchestra Underground series, also includes premieres by Margaret Brouwer and Kasumi, Rand Steiger, Fang Man, and Kati Agócs.

 Carey: Stomp was written in 1990 for Marin Alsop. How did you decide to write in homage to James Brown?

Schiff: I was asked for a concert opener and somewhere in the process I realized that one of my rhythmic motives was from James Brown’s “I Feel Good” (as recorded Live at the Apollo). I then re-conceived the piece as a tribute.

Carey: Have other rock or jazz legends figured in your music?

Schiff: There’s a big Motown section in my Scenes from Adolescence (1987) and my Slow Dance for orchestra (1989), written for the Oregon Symphony, has a lot of Charles Mingus in it, but I have also had the great honor of working with two living legends in jazz, Regina Carter and Marty Ehrlich.

Carey: What’s “re-lit” about this new version for the ACO?

Schiff: ACO asked me to reduce the size of the orchestra slightly to fit in Zankel Hall. This gave me the opportunity to re-score the entire piece. The wind section now is much better suited to the style of the piece: flute, E flat clarinet, two saxes, trumpet horn, trombone and tuba. But there are also a lot of musical changes everywhere. I think that in the years since I first wrote Stomp I have become more experienced with the style. The new version is much hotter than the original–even though the orchestra is smaller.

Carey: You’re currently at work on a book about Duke Ellington. Is that research infiltrating your composing at all?

Schiff: Ellington’s music influences everything I do. I go to school with his music every day and I find his melodies, rhythms, harmonies and instrumentation endlessly inspiring.

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It’s minimalist week in the Center of the Universe, highlighted on Friday night by the John Adams 60th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall.  Adams will be conducting the American Composers Orchestra in performances of My Father Knew Charles Ives, The Wound-Dresser (with bass-baritone Eric Owens) and the Violin Concerto, with Leila Josefowicz doing the honors. 

Meanwhile, also on Friday, in a nearby universe, Michael Riesman, Music Director of the Philip Glass Ensemble and concert pianist, will be performing the world premiere of his marvelous new transcription for solo piano of Glass’ score to the 1931 classic horror film, Dracula.  The gothic walls of the Orensanz Foundation for the Arts provide a perfect backdrop to Reisman performance, which will done live to film.  Tickets are $20 ($25 at the door).

On a more somber note, there will be a public memorial service for composer and pianist Andrew Hill, who died last Friday, at Trinity Church (89 Broadway at Wall Street) this Friday, April 27, at 2:00 pm.

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corey.jpg  For all the allusions to chaos and complexity in the American Composers Orchestra’s Orchestra Underground concert at Zankel on Friday night, the evening was a surpisingly mellow–dare I say it, even melodic–affair.  If new music is going to be this much fun to listen to there is a real danger that people are going to start coming to concerts.  

This is not to say the program was not adventuresome, just that it contained some unexpected crowd pleasers.  The guy sitting next to me, a visiting pianist/composer from St. Louis named Ken Palmer who came strictly for the Ives opener (Ken had written his dissertation at Yale on the Concord Sonata), even allowed that he would like to hear a couple of the pieces again and ventured that this weird Corey Dargel dude could be some kind of “breakthrough something or other” hit.

The evening began with orchestrated versions of Charles Ives’ Four Ragtime Dance, Nos. 2 and 4, originally composed for piano.  The thievery from Scott Joplin and Hubie Blake would be offensive if it were not so disarmingly obvious and re-mixed with church songs and marching band ditties with such consummate wit.  By the time we got to “Bringing in the Sheaves” (or “bringing in the sheep,” as we sang just to be naughty when I was a kid), everyone in Zankel Hall had a grin on their face.

The chaos part of the evening was supplied by Brad Ludman’s Fuzzy Logic, four short movements of dazzling electronia augmented by Lauren Bradnofsky on amplified cello and various orchestral instruments, as well as a dandy video by Boom Design Group.  I liked the way each of the movements began on a confident, assertive trajectory, became more convuluted and accelerated until they split apart, and then dissolved with a kind of a whimper.  Not sure what it means except maybe it doesn’t matter where you begin you’re going to wind up lost anyway so you can stop anywhere.  Silvestrov does that, too, although his music starts out tentative before it totally wimps out.  

Michael Gandolfi’s two-movment piece As Above was also a video collaboration (with Ean White), with the first short movement called “Touch” based on natural images and the second called “Electric” based on more urban images.  Touch was more chaos, a kind of jerky musicial cubism, based on the science of fractals, but Electric drew from vanacular musical languages, including rock, blues and some super-infectious ”flying down to Rio” Latin rhythms.  It had a beat and you could dance to it.

The major complexity element of the evening was supplied by Michael Gatonska’s After the Wings of Migratory Birds, a brilliantly rendered tone poem based on the composer’s re-imagination of the sounds made by swallows gathering in migratory flocks–the way they sound when they move at the same time, the way they all flap their wings in unison, the way they suddenly fall perfectly still at the same time.  The orchestration was dense and often breathtaking, with some stunning moments of pure beauty in the strings.  I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that this is a La Mer for the age of complexity.

Susie Ibarra did a piece on a drum set which was short and not too loud, qualities I appreciate in a drum solo.  The evening ended with Evan Ziporyn’s Big Grenadilla, a concerto for bass clarinet, which he performed admirably himself with impressive breath control.  Ziporyn’s music is so competent, so assured, so well-constructed that I really, really hope to like it someday.  I’m sure the fact that it leaves me cold is my failing, not his.

One of the several fun points of the evening was the beginning of the second half when a recording of Charles Ives hammering away at a piano and singing some hardy patriotic World War I ditty was played for the amusement of those assembled.  The recording was a little blurry but I could have sworn Ives said “That sucked” at the end.  It couldn’t have been that, although the sentiment was certainly accurate.

And, of course, the hit of the evening–the peoples’ choice–was our own boulevardier Corey Dargel, who brought down the house with a tres amusant song called All the Notes and Rhythms I’ve Ever Loved about composer boyfriends who, knowing that he can’t orchestrate, steal his stuff and use it in their own pieces which is a kind of “sadistic, back-handed compliment.”  It was the usual Corey brilliant mix of satire and truth. 

My new friend Ken in the next seat over is right;  Corey is destined to become some kind of “breakthrough something or other” hit.   Anybody need an intellectual Peter Allen?

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Brad Lubman has been involved in the new music scene for nearly two decades but this looks like his breakthrough season.  Conductor/composer Lubman makes his guest conductor debut at the helm of the  American Composers Orchestra Friday evening at  Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, when the ACO kicks off its 30th season with its first Orchestra Underground Composers OutFront! concert.

In addition to leading the orchestra in music from Michael Gatonska,  Evan Ziporyn, Michael Gandolfi, Susie Ibarra,  Charles Ives and our own wunderkind Corey Dargel,  Lubman will conduct the world premiere of his own Fuzzy Logic, for woodwinds, brass, percussion, synthesizer, piano, and amplified cello and video. Lauren Radnofsky is amplified cello soloist and Boom Design Group creates the visual designs.

The program will be repeated at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia on Sunday, October 15 at 7:30pm.

If you miss those shows, Lubman’s  new music group Electric Fuzz will be gigging Friday, October 20, starting at 7 pm, at Joe’s Pub Electric Fuzz was formed in 2006 by performers and composers who played together as members of the Musica Nova Ensemble at the Eastman School of Music.  The group is currently collaborating with Boom Design Group, a team of virtuoso visual artists and web designers, who draw on their own performance backgrounds to produce improvised and interactive video installations.

The Joe’s Pub event will feature the premiere of a new Lubman work named for Electric Fuzz; plus Jumping to Conclusions, a quartet with electronics; and several pieces for violin, cello and synth that Lubman has co-composed with ensemble member Lauren Radnofsky. Music by David Lang and Pierre Boulez rounds-out the event.

Lubman has enjoyed a busy and multi-faceted career, but is probably best known among new music insiders as a gifted utility infielder who can deliver a superior performance from any world-class orchestra or ensemble on a moment’s notice, a talent honed by having been Assistant Conductor to the mercurial and (in my view) inexplicable Oliver Knussen at the Tanglewood Music Center from 1989-94. 

This is his well-deserved chance to bat cleanup.

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