Last month at Columbia University’sItalian Academy, I was formidably impressed by an evening of madrigals old and new performed by the vocal ensemble Ekmeles. One of the revelations of the evening began with an idea ofensemble director Jeff Gavett. He thought that the madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo might benefit from Nichola Vicentino’s 31-tone equal tempered scale, most famously employed in the tuning of an instrument of his design, the archicembalo.
While, as Gavett admitted in the concert’s program notes, there is not direct evidence that they were ever performed this way in the presence of Gesualdo, there is some documentary evidence that Vicentino’s writings and an archicembalo were available to the composer. But here, the proof was in the singing. Gesualdo’s music sounds glorious in 31-TET. Indeed some of its idiosyncratic cross-relations and chordal voicings glisten: equally, wonderfully, strange, but somehow refocused.
Ekmeles contains several youngish singers with winsome voices: Gavett, soprano Mary Mackenzie, and countertenor Eric Brenner are notable standouts. Their interpretative maturity and skill in preparing the challenging works on the program bely the freshness of Ekmeles’ sound. The group also brought in a “ringer of ringers” for the second act. New music superstar soprano Lucy Shelton joined Ekmeles for a spirited rendition of Elliott Carter’s late Ashbery setting Mad Regales.
The program also featured several deconstructions of the madrigal aesthetic. Peter Ablinger’sStudien der Natur,in which sounds of nature and commerce alike are recreated using only voices, was a rather charming one-upping of Josquin’sEl Grillo. JohannesSchöllhorn and Carl Bettendorf took the madrigal into postmodern, often craggy, territory. Martin Iddon’s hamadryads required the group to play water-filled glasses and employ headsets to grok its very expanded Pythagorean tuning that is notated down to 100ths of a cent! Incredibly challenging to perform. But then, Ekmeles revels to be challenged.
This Thursday, composer Randy Gibson’s work will be in full force on the Music at First series. The concert features the world premiere of Gibson’s Circular Trance Surrounding the Second Pillar with The Highest Seventh Primal Cirrus, The Utmost Fundamental, and The Ekmeles Ending from Apparitions of The Four Pillars (fit that title on a postcard!), a concert length work in just intonation for sine wave drones and seven voices. Also on the bill is a set from Canadian harpsichordist Katelyn Clark.
Date: Friday, November 18th 2011
City: Brooklyn, NY
Venue: First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn
Address: 124 Henry Street
It’s hard to believe, but one of the primary forces that fostered the “Indie Classical” phenomenon of the aughts is celebrating its tenth birthday. The Brassland imprint, which curates artists such as the National, Clogs, Doveman, and Nico Muhly, is celebrating their anniversary by sharing music: a different free download of a song from their catalog every weekday throughout November.
Thanks to the kind folks at Brassland, below we share a stream of tomorrow’s pick: Nico Muhly’s “Skip Town,” a bonus cut from his Mothertongue CD.
Be sure to visit the label’s “song a day” giveaway site or their Facebook page to collect all the goodies (schedule below).
October in New York is becoming an embarrassment of riches in the new music world. So many wonderful concerts to hear in town! But the plethora of notable events can be a source of frustration too: sometimes you wish you could be in two places at once. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Steve Smith has figured out a way to do this!) So, while we won’t get to review everything, there’s nothing saying we can’t preview as many events as possible! What follows are some, but rest assured not all, of the excellent upcoming goings on.
– Starting Wednesday evening (Oct. 5) running through October 8 at Roulette is one of the biggest festivals celebrating the music of Anthony Braxton yet seen in the United States. It includes performances by the Tricentric Orchestra, the US debut of the Diamond Curtain WallTrio – Anthony Braxton (reeds, electronics), Taylor Ho Bynum (brass), and Mary Halvorson (guitar) – and two world premieres. The first, Pine Top Arial Music, is an interdisciplinary work integrating music and dance. The second, which is the culmination of the festival, is a concert reading of Acts One and Two of Trillium E, Braxton’s first opera. Those who can’t make the festival, or who want ample Braxton at home as well as live, can enjoy two new recordings of his music. The first is a freebie: a Braxton sampler featuring a diverse array of pieces (including an excerpt of the opera) that’s available for download via the Tricentric Foundation. The second is a recording of Trillium E in its entirety, available from Tricentric on October 11 as a download or 4 CD set.
– On October 6, Ekmeles, everybody’s favorite New York group of experimentally inclined youngster vocalists, shares a triple bill with Ireland’s Ergodos and Holland’s Ascoli Ensemble at Issue Project Room’s new 110 Livingstone location (details here). Ekmeles will perform Kaija Saariaho’s Sylvia Plath setting From the Grammar of Dreams, two short pieces by James Tenney, and two US premieres. The first, Madrigali a Dio by Johannes Schöllhorn, incorporates singing, spoken word, and even boisterous shouts in a vocal work that explores counterpoints between pitched and un-pitched vocalizations. Peter Ablinger’sStudien nach der Natur explores a plethora of sounds from the natural world as well as manmade noises: mosquitoes, quartz watches, the Autobahn, smoking, electric hums – all replicated by the human voice. Mr. Ablinger was kind enough to allow us to share a small score excerpt below.
– Also on Thursday, October 6 (drat it to Hades!) is the premiere of the Five Borough Songbook at Galapagos.Twenty composers were asked by Five Boroughs Music Festivalto each contribute a single work to this project. Participants include Daron Hagen, Tom Cipullo, Lisa Bielawa, and other heavyweights in the songwriting biz.
– On October 8 at 7 PM at the Tenri Cultural Institute (ticket info here), the Mimesis Ensemble is doing a program of “Young Voices,” featuring three youngish composers who specialize in vocal music. It’s a program that’s a bit more traditional in approach than is, say, Ekmeles’ wont, but it presents some noteworthy repertoire. Thomas Adès’Three Eliot Landscapes and Gabriel Kahane’s current events inflectedCraigslistlieder are featured alongside several works by Mohammed Fairouz.
– On October 9 at 7:30 PM, Sequenza 21’s own Armando Bayolo will make his Carnegie Hall debut (as the kids say, whoot!). Armando’s Lullabies, a newly commissioned work, will be premiered at Weill Recital Hall by Trio Montage (more information here).
– Just around the corner is the ACO’s SONiC festival, Ekmeles’ concert on 10/21 at Columbia (a humdinger of a program!), Bridge Records’ Anniversary Concert at NYPL, and, yes, the Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert at the newly revivified Joe’s Pub on 10/25. But those previews will have to wait for another post! In the meantime, there are pieces to compose, papers to grade, and both my wife’s and my birthdays this weekend. October is the month that keeps on giving: it’s good to be busy, right?
The newly revived Roulette(on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn) is the site for a premiere this coming Friday (details here). Guitarist-composer Joel Harrison’s Still Point – Turning World (a veiled reference to a line in “Burnt Norton,” one T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets) is a polyglot work for diverse forces. In addition to Harrison’s jazz quartet, it also features the Talujon Percussion Quartet, and Anupam Shobhakar, who plays the sarode, an Indian stringed instrument.
Still Point… requires its performers to be in a flexible collaboration, reveling in polystylism. “Crossover” is a term that’s overused and sometimes misused these days. All too often the results of less cohesive collaborations find the musicians from multiple styles working at crossed purposes or, worse, musicians from different traditions uneasily try on each others’ chops for size.
One doesn’t get this sense from Harrison’s creative activities. Instead he seeks likeminded musicians who are interested in creating a sophisticated synthesis of different genres, based on mutual support, respect, and plenty of listening to one another.
He says, “I’m willing to bet that in ten years time, many more musicians will be comfortable playing both jazz and classical, and performing music from many traditions.”
Harrison’s ensembles aim to be pathfinders in this regard. Come to Roulette on Friday and witness these musical frontiersmen!
This Spring, Baltimore-based composer David Smooke composed Criminal Element, a “nonopera” in a fabricated language, for Rhymes with Opera,a company devoted to presenting opera in nontraditional spaces. Alongside works by Martin Zimmerman, Ryan Jesperson, and George Lam, it premieres Friday, June 17th in Brooklyn at Cafe Orwell.The program, titled Criminal Intent (hopefully Dick Wolf won’t sue), will be repeated in Baltimore, Hartford, and Boston.
As if it weren’t hard enough to compose an opera, non or otherwise, in the midst of a busy semester teaching at the Peabody Institute,where Smooke is a faculty member, the composer decided to create his own libretto, in a made-up language built out of IPA no less! To help us translate this phonetic construction and its backstory, I asked for some further information about the piece, which he shares below.
Smooke says, “In this nonopera, I consider the fraud—the unveiling of which helped spark the recession of 2008—perpetrated by Jérôme Kerviel, the rogue trader from France’s Société Générale who appeared to me to function as the archetypical white-collar criminal. Like his British counterpart Nicholas Leeson, who brought down the venerable Barings Bank in the 1990s, Kerviel was an interloper in the European banking society. These men were among the first working-class hires within traditionally upper-class departments and both appear to have perpetrated their crimes as part of their vain attempts to please their superiors through outworking and outsmarting their colleagues. Here, scenes of trading—number arias—recur throughout, with each growing progressively more tense. Life beyond the office is represented by a lullaby sung by paternal and maternal figures (Kerviel’s parents were a blacksmith and hairdresser in Pont-l’Abbé, Brittany), and by snippets of city life that include an invitation from friends to join their revelry. Although this piece creates theatrical scenes with some referential elements, it is a meditation on class differences and on the germinating factors in exorbitant criminal events, and is not intended to portray the life of any specific individual.”
“There is no text; the action is conveyed through an invented language notated in the International Phonetic Alphabet. The action therefore remains relatively ambiguous and non-specific. I ask the singers and the string quartet to explore many unusual performance techniques, which force them to stretch beyond their normal comfort zones.”
As we gallop towards the end of the concert season proper (and towards the bevy of summer music festivals), it’s shaping up to be a busy time here in New York. Case in point, in the evening on Thursday June 2nd, there are two events that would suit many a new music aficionado’s fancy.
Locrian Chamber Playersare performing at Riverside Churchat 8 PM. The program includes John Adams’ String Quartet (a work that also appears, with different performers, on the new Adams Nonesuch disc), a piece by Manhattan School of Music faculty member Reiko Füting and world premieres by Raul Quines and Robert Cohen. Can’t beat the price: it’s free.
HOUSTON, TX – On February 17th, 6:30 pm at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, the Houston music group Musiqa in collaboration with the Mitchell Center and CAMH present Answers to Questions with works by composers Bill Ryan, Michael Lowenstern, David T. Little, Ingram Marshall, and Nick Zammuto all performed by composer and violinist Todd Reynolds. The concert is produced in conjunction with and in response to the CAMH exhibition Answers to Questions: John Wood & Paul Harrison, the first United States museum survey of work in video by this British artistic team. Admission is free.
Composer, conductor, arranger and violinist, Todd Reynolds is a longtime member of Bang On A Can, Steve Reich and Musicians and an early member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. His commitment to genre-bending and technology-driven innovation in music has produced innumerable artistic collaborations that cross musical and disciplinary boundaries. As a solo performer, Reynolds continues to develop and perform a repertoire of works for his instrument in combination with the laptop computer and his main software weapon of choice Ableton Live. His forthcoming double CD Outerborough (Innova) features a CD of original works paired with a second disc of works composed especially for Reynolds in the past year. Reynolds will include two of his own works from Outerborough on the Feburary 17th concert. Outerborough is due out in March.
(Outerborough design, photography, and artwork by Mark Kingsley)
Reynolds says that while certain violinists impressed and inspired him from his very beginnings as a musician, including Stuff Smith, Stephane Grappelli, and electric violinist Jerry Goodman, more relevant to him as composer and soloist is guitarist Robert Fripp (“The first looper!”) and his Frippertronics performances, as well as composer singer Meredith Monk. Like Fripp and Monk, Reynolds has absorbed the musical techniques of many musical worlds, including country, blues, Indian music, jazz, and rock. As an independent instrumentalist, he reaches to fellow composers to compose pieces that utilize his formidable technique in combination with the edges of what is possible with digital technology. Other composer/performer/composer collaborations like Dawn Upshaw with Osvaldo Golijov, Helga Davis with Paola Prestini, and Pat Metheny with Steve Reich have similarly helped “strengthen the art” of both new music and its interpreters.
This is Reynolds’ first visit to and performance in Houston, Texas. He admits he has little knowledge of Houston’s artistic output, and is tremendously excited to get to know the city. With a music and multidisciplinary scene that includes experimental music hosted by the Houston Museum for African American Culture, Nameless Sound, and the aforementioned Musiqa, to the recently lauded production of Dead Man Walking by the Houston Grand Opera, creative programming by several smaller opera companies, chorale ensembles and chamber groups including the Grammy nominated Ars Lyrica, Houston should be a destination of choice for experimental musicians from other parts of the U.S. and the world. H-Town is beating the drum loudly. The question is, are you listening?
Musiqa presents Answers to Questions with violinist Todd Reynolds. February 17, 2011, 6:30 pm, at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose. Admission is Free.
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Congratulations to Alan Pierson. Effective immediately, the conductor, composer, and director of Alarm Will Sound will join the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra as their new Artistic Director.
It’s no secret that the Brooklyn Phil has been facing significant challenges of late. During the recession, they’ve endured straightened finances and had to curtail their programming. Pierson is part of an effort to reboot it as a lithe unit, an “urban orchestra.”
The ongoing plan is that the Phil will reconnect with the community and widen its reach by having a presence in a number of different locales throughout the borough. This seems similar in some ways to the recent model of the New Jersey Symphony, which gives concerts throughout the Garden State and has made educational outreach and community engagement a significant part of its profile.
Let’s hope that this approach helps the Brooklyn Philharmonic to remain lively in its programming and solvent in its finances! Oh, and lest any new music devotees are concerned, fear not: Pierson will still remain in his current position with Alarm Will Sound.
Yesterday, Pierson released the following statement about his new appointment:
Dear friends, supporters, and fans of the Brooklyn Philharmonic,
It is a great honor to be given an opportunity to help build the future of the Brooklyn Philharmonic. This is an extraordinary time to be making music here, with Brooklyn’s ever-increasing cultural richness and diversity fostering a fantastically fertile artistic environment. In re-imagining the role of the Brooklyn Phil, we want the orchestra to connect with the Borough’s population through events that celebrate and reflect its diverse communities.
The Philharmonic’s 2011-12 re-launch will see us performing in communities throughout the Borough, rather than at one single venue. Each program will bring the Phil together with artists of the community in original and exciting collaborations. My hope is that this work will be stimulating not only to people living in these neighborhoods, but to the broader New York concert-going public and the larger musical community as well.
The Philharmonic has an exceptional history of groundbreaking music-making over more than 50 years, and I’m excited to help lead it into this next era. While plans for our new season are already underway, we’re always looking for new ideas — please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have programming ideas you’d like to share. And keep watching this website for news and updates as plans progress for the Brooklyn Phil’s re-launch this fall.
With warm wishes,
The American Modern Ensemble performs Pieces of Eight, a program of sextets at Galapagos in Brooklyn on Monday, December 13, 2010. Among the eight under-40 composers featured on the concert is Sequenza 21’s own Contributing Editor Armando Bayolo.
I recently caught up with AME’s Artistic Director Robert Paterson and asked him for some details about the show. Here’s what he had to say.
“Pieces of Eight consists of works by composers from all over the United States, including Xi Wang from Texas, Armando Bayolo from Washington, DC and David Ludwig from Philadelphia. I chose these particular works because they are wonderfully stylistically different from each other, and help to demonstrate how diverse American composers are today, particularly with regard to the subset of composers under forty.”
“Action Figure by Armando Bayolo has a strong pulse and hyper-kinetic kind of energy, and encapsulates the image of an action figure—like you would play with as a child—but through sound.” “the resonance after… by Christopher Chandler is the winner of AME’s Fifth Annual Composition Competition. Christopher writes achingly beautiful music, and this is one of those “chills up your spine” pieces—a piece of music that really makes you feel something emotional. The title perfectly encapsulates what you hear, and the musical landscape he creates is simply beautiful.”
“Adolescent Psychology by Shawn Crouch sounds like the state of a child’s mind, at least to me, especially with the rapid changes of emotion, slower introspective sections and frenetic scalar runs. Shawn has written a number of works for voice and choir, so this is a wonderful glimpse into his chamber music world.”
“Among the many intriguing qualities of Hannah Lash’s music is how she uses and explores extended techniques. In A Matter of Truth, she asks the violinist and cellist to detune their instruments way below the normal range, effectively turning each instrument into a much lower version of itself.”
“David Ludwig’s Haiku Catharsis consists of a set of short movements that are inspired by poems, and what I love about David’s work is that even though there is a numerological importance to how he constructed this piece, it never sounds technically “on your sleeve” or academic. The whole works sounds organic and lovely, and is timbrally rich and colorful.”
“OK Feel Good by Jonathan Newman is probably the most “Downtown” sounding piece on the program, and has a kind of happy “feel good” sound quality. The piece joyfully carries you along with its bouncy rhythms and Major scale harmonies and melodies.”
“Three Images by Xi Wang is the longest piece on the program, and one of the saddest. It wonderfully contrasts some of the other works on the program that are more emotionally uplifting.”
“A criminal running scared from the police on old Route 66 inspires my own Sextet. It starts with the scream of police whistles and ends with a band; it even incorporates a chase scene. AME is releasing its brand new CD of my music at this concert, and my Sextet is on the CD, beautifully performed by our wonderful ensemble.”