My interview with Dennis Russell Davies, who is conducting the ACO concert, is up on Musical America’swebsite (subscribers only).
If you’re looking for a terrific way to celebrate PG’s birthday, Brooklyn Rider’s latest CD on Orange Mountain Music includes Glass’s first five string quartets. The earthiness with which they play the music may surprise you at first, but it provides a persuasive foil for some of the more motoric, “high buffed sheen” toned performances of minimalism that are out there. In a 2011 video below, they give a performance of a more recent work, a suite of music from the film Bent.
On Monday, January 16 at Carnegie Hall,Distinguished Concerts International New York brings together over three hundred musicians to give the world premiere of The Peacemakersby Karl Jenkins. The composer will conduct this work for choir, orchestra, and instrumental soloists. It is the first world premiere of one of his large-scale works to take place in New York.
The recording of The Peacemakers just came out this past Tuesday on EMI Classics. It features the strings of the London Symphony Orchestra and three choirs: the City of Birmingham Youth Choir, Rundfunkchor Berlin, and the 1000-strong Really Big Chorus.
EMI is offering a free download of a track from the album here.
The label’s also been kind enough to offer us several copies of the limited edition version of The Peacemakers for a CD giveaway. Interested parties should email me here.
I’ll use a Cageian (random) method to determine the “winners.” The contest is open until Monday, 1/16 at midnight.
Bang on a Can is celebrating twenty-five years of music making in generous fashion. Between now and Jan. 25th, you can download their new album, Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, via bangonacan25.org.In exchange, they ask for an email address and a memory of a BoaC moment: the former is kept confidential, the latter is published in a scrapbook commemorating the album.
Think this is marketing against one’s own self-interests? Probably not. The iTunes version is for sale from 1/31, and features a bonus track of the ensemble performing Philip Glass’s Closing, with Glass, live. When the physical streets on 2/28, it will be a double disc of premiere recordings that will also feature films of the ensemble. So, instead of a “loss leader,” I tend to think of this release as downtown’s answer to Radiohead’s In Rainbows. In the meantime, Happy New Year, and happy downloading, all!
One of my favorite projects this past Fall was writing the program essay for American Composers Orchestra’sSONiC festival. I had the chance to interview several composers (though only a small sampling of the many fine participants) featured on SONiC, includingHannah Lash, Anthony Cheung, Keniji Bunch (an old friend – one of my classmates at Juilliard), and the National’sBryce Dessner.
All of the interview subjects proved diverting. But I was particularly glad to have a chance in the essay to spotlight Ensemble Klang, a Dutch new music group that performedOscar Bettison’sO Death on SONiC.Their performance was critically acclaimed as one of the highlights of the festival. And if you weren’t fortunate enough to be there, my recommendation would be to get thee hence to the group’s web store for a copy of the O Deathstudio recording (with liner notes by Alex Rose!).
While you’re there, I’d recommend checking out Ensemble Klang’s other studio recordings. Cows, Chords, and Combinationsa portrait disc of minimalist composer/theorist/critic Tom Johnson has proved to be an extraordinarily valuable recording to me. It has reframed my thinking about the process-based components of minimalism: how they can be crafted into quite complicated structures and how they remain a vital component of whichever post (post post?) incarnation of minimalism we’re currently experiencing. The slowly evolving, spectral-inspired structures found on Waves, a disc of music by Peter Adriaansz, is equally engaging: a collection of soundscapes that require, nay demand, immersively intensive listening. (I haven’t yet heard Ensemble Klang’s recording of music by Matthew Wright; an oversight I hope to correct shortly).
Below, I’ve included an excerpt of my interview with Bettison, in which he discusses his creative process and the collaborative genesis of O Death.
Traditional instruments are one way to go in new music. Another is to find or create new instruments altogether. Such is often the pathway of composer Oscar Bettison. He enjoys incorporating unconventional instruments, such as those made from found objects or junk metal, into his scores.
Bettison says, “This was all a result of moving to Holland to study in the early 2000s. Before that, I had written a lot of music for traditional forces and I wanted to get away from that: to stretch myself as a composer. So, I started to play around with things, even going as far as to build some instruments; percussion mostly, but later on I branched out into radically detuning stringed instruments – there’s some of that in the guitar part of “O Death.” These things I called “Cinderella instruments: the kind of things that shouldn’t be ‘musical’ but I do my best to make them sing. And I suppose as a counterpoint to that, I shunned traditional instruments for a long time.”
Cinderella instruments, as well as references to popular music of many varieties, are signatures found in his work O Death, played on SONIC October 19, 2011 by Ensemble Klang.
Of O Death, Bettison says, “It was written for Ensemble Klang between 2005-7 and is my longest piece to date. It’s about 65 minutes long and I wrote it very much in collaboration with the group. We were lucky enough to have a situation in which I was able to try things out on the group over a long period. This was very important in writing it. The piece is in seven movements and is a kind of instrumental requiem, which references popular music elements (especially blues) and kind of grafts them on to the requiem structure. It’s something that I fell into quite naturally. This I think is tied to my idea of ‘Cinderella instruments:’ eschewing the “classical” tradition somewhat.”
Bettison continues, “The thing that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I come from a very strict classical background. I was a violinist; indeed I went to a specialist music school in London as a violinist from the age of 10. My rebellion to being in a hot-house classical music environment was getting into metal, playing the drums and listening to avant-garde classical music that was seen as outside the ‘canon’ and I think that carried on into my music. So, to psychoanalyze myself for a minute, I think I’ve done both things in a response (quite a delayed response!) to the classical tradition precisely because I feel so at home in that tradition.”
We’re giving away two signed CDs of “Music of Elliott Carter: volume 5” (Bridge 9128), and two of String Quartets Nos. 2, 3 and 4 (featuring the Pacifica Quartet; Naxos 8.559363), along with a signed 8×10 photo to accompany each.
Once again, I’ll be selecting the winners via a random drawing. If you’re interested, send me an email at: S21managingeditor@gmail.com. The contest will be open until noon on Thursday.
On the File Under ? blog tomorrow, we’ll be discussing Landscapes, Toshio Hosokawa’s first portrait CD for the ECM imprint. The new recording features an orchestral arrangement of this 1993 work, originally scored for shô and string quartet.
ECM's new release features a different view of "Landscape V"
I certainly wouldn’t want to be compelled to prefer one to the other: Landscape V is a haunting tone poem in both its intimate and fuller incarnations.
Back in 2003, the incredible pianist Amy Briggs (and if you don’t know her playing, you should check out some of her performances of the David Rakowski Etudes on YouTube) was approached by the music department at U.C. Davis to engage in a residency built around the idea of new tangos for piano. As part of the project, they asked Amy to build an entire concert program of tangos, each of which needed to be no longer than three minutes. She could use completed pieces and have others write for the project, and the Davis composition faculty (including Laurie San Martin) all agreed to write new works for her and to arrange for her to record a CD of the entire concert repertoire. Amy chose me, along with several wonderful composers like Hayes Biggs, to write a new tango of no more than three minutes. She toured with these pieces for several years and the entire project is now available via Ravello Records and at Naxos.
When Amy first approached me to contribute to this project, I was both excited and quite fearful. Tangos long ago achieved the status of major cultural achievements, basically functioning as the national musical style of Argentina. As an outsider with relatively little experience of this genre I felt that there was little that I could add. At the same time, it would have been disingenuous to write a generally inspired piece and to cavalierly claim it as a tango, and I very much wanted to work with Amy and to be involved with this endeavor.
After listening to many traditional tangos for various ensembles and several experimental composers’ reinterpretations of this form, this piece began to take shape. I retain the staggered rhythm in the first half of the measure that is the most recognizable element of the traditional form, using it as an accompaniment for a simple and mournful melody that to my mind evokes the mood of the dance. The piece then presents variations on this melody. Perhaps more important than these purely musical impetuses was my attempt to portray the various aspects of the tango itself as though constantly refracting through the emotions of the dancers and the scene itself as viewed by the participants and audience. For this reason, Requests continually presents sudden shifts in mood and affect as the perspective jumps from the internal to the external and between the various perspectives on each level.
Since I knew I was writing for an astonishingly virtuosic player, as I composed this piece I allowed myself to be pulled constantly towards ever-greater feats of pianism, making this short work very daunting for most players. I’m thrilled that ACME has chosen to present Requests on the Sequenza21/MNMP concert and look forward to hearing all the pieces at Joe’s Pub this week.
- David Smooke chairs the music theory program at Peabody. He blogs regularly at NewMusicBox and plays a mean toy piano.
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.
Take a seductive voiced art-pop singer and a post-jazz/alt-classical trumpeter. Add fragments of nineteenth century classical melodies, electronics elicited by a “mutantrumpet” controller. Then add influences ranging from ancient Greek mythology to the Hudson River Valley. What you have are the intricate yet intimate sounds on an evocatively beautiful new CD: Songs for Persephone.
The Persephone legend is one of the oldest in Greek mythology, with many variants that provide twists and turns to the narrative and subtext of the story. In the myth, Persephone, daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter, is kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld. During her absence, vegetation is unable to grow in the world; fields fall fallow and crops cannot be harvested.
To break this horrible time of famine, the gods come to an understanding with Hades. Persephone is eventually freed, but on the condition that, if she has eaten anything while in Hades’ realm, she must return to his kingdom for a certain length of time. Thus, each year she must remain in the underworld one month for each pomegranate seed that she has consumed. This serves to rationalize, in mythic terms, the change of seasons, times of decay and renewal, shifts in light and weather; even the autumn foliage and the falling of the leaves.
Vocalist Mimi Goese and trumpeter Ben Neill have updated the Persephone story, while retaining its iconic essence, on their new recording Songs for Persephone (out now on Ramseur Records). As one can see from the pomegranate on the cover, (a visual designed by Goese), the duo is mindful of the legendary Persephone’s history; but they are not hung up on providing a linear narrative.
In a recent phone conversation, Goese, who wrote the album’s lyrics, said, “The artwork that I did for the cover, featuring the pomegranate, is one acknowledgement of the myth of Persephone. And there are other images that I found in the lyrics. But we were interested in using what was evocative about Persephone to create our own story. That’s sort of how the myth evolved too – one storyteller picks up the thread from another down through the years.”
They started work on this music some five years ago, but originally presented it as part of a theatrical production by the multimedia company Ridge Theater, starring Julia Stiles. In 2010, it was produced at Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival.
The theatrical presentation and the mythological story behind it are only two strands in a disparate web of influences that resonate with Songs for Persephone. Both Goese and Neill make their home in the Hudson River Valley. Both for its stunning natural surroundings and its history as a home for artists of all sorts, the valley is rich with reference points. Neill feels that these are subtly imparted to the music.
In a recent phone conversation, he said, “I found myself particularly interested in the Hudson River School of painters. These Nineteenth Century artists depicted the local landscape and the changing of season with a dimensionality and symbolism that seemed to have an affinity with what Mimi and I were after in Songs for Persephone.”
For Neill and Goese, these extra-musical influences – artwork, nature, and theater – are an important part of the music’s genesis. But the polystylistic nature of their music making adds still another layer to the proceedings.
Goese says, “I started in dance and theater and later moved to performance art. Singing came along later. But I don’t have the musical background or training that Ben has – I’m self taught.”
She doth protest too much. Goese’s voice provided the steely, dramatic center to the work of late eighties band Hugo Largo. One part art rock and another dream pop, the group incorporated bold theatricality and ethereal experimentation, releasing two memorable full lengths, Arms Akimbo and Mettle, and the Drums EP, an alt-pop connoisseur’s delight. She’s also collaborated on several occasions with Moby and, under the moniker Mimi (no last name) released Soak, a solo album on David Bryne’s Luaka Bop label.
Goese is a powerful singer, but Songs of Persephone brings out the lyricism her voice also possesses. Cooing high notes and supple overdubbed harmonies are juxtaposed with the more muscular turns of phrase. Experience plays a role in Goese’s tremendous performances on the disc. But she also credits the musical creations of her collaborator Neill with spurring on her inspiration.
“Ben has been a terrific person with whom to work,” Goese says. “He’s inventive and willing to try new things. From the moment we first performed together, at a concert nearly a decade ago, I’ve felt an artistic kinship with him.”
One can readily hear why Neill’s music would be an engaging foil for Goese. His background as a producer, and his years of work designing the mutantrumpet, have encouraged Neill’s ear toward imaginative soundscapes. His 2009 album Night Science (Thirsty Ear) is an example of Neill’s nu-jazz arrangements and soloing at their very best.
On the current CD, Neill’s playing remains impressive; but his arranging and collaborative skills come to the fore. There are intricate textures to found, on which Neill’s trumpet and electronics are abetted by strings, bass, and drums, but it’s the melodies, floating memorably past, one after the other, that are most impressive here. Some of the melodic lines he crafts are imitative of the voice in their own right: it’s no accident that some of the most inspired music-making on Songs for Persephone are when Goese and Neill create duets out of intricately intertwined single lines.
Neill says, “The classical materials that I used as the basis of the compositions on Songs for Persephone were melodies from the Nineteenth century: from opera and symphonic music. Many of them were from relatively the same era in which the Hudson Valley painters worked. I found it fascinating to juxtapose these two genres that were in operation more or less at the same time.”
He continues, “I’d describe the material as fragments of melodies: small excerpts rather than recognizable themes. None of them are treated in such a way that most listeners will be able to say, ‘Hey that’s Berlioz,’ or ‘That sounds like Schumann.’ They were meant to be a starting point from which I would develop the music: it’s not a pastiche.”
At 7:30 PM on September 27th, Goese and Neill will be having an album release party at the Cooper Square Hotel, part of Joe’s Pub’s Summer Salon series. Goese says, “It’s an interesting space – we’ll have glass windows behind us, which is unusual as compared with a more conventional stage. But it’s fun performing in non-standard venues. It allows you to try different things and to bring different elements into the mix in terms of theatricality, lighting, and the way that you play off of each other. I’m excited to see how Persephone changes as we take it into various performing spaces.”
-Composer Christian Carey is Senior Editor at Sequenza 21 and a regular contributor to Signal to Noise and Musical America. He teaches music in the Department of Fine Arts at Rider University (Lawrenceville, New Jersey).