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).
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Tonight at 7 PM at the Apple Store on Manhattan’sUpper West Side, Mantra Percussion performs Michael Gordon’s Timber, a work for six percussionists playing 2″x4″s. The event celebrates Cantaloupe’s release of a CD of Slagwerk den Haag’s performance of Timber (which I reviewed yesterday on File Under ?).
Don’t you love the one pound wooden box they’ve packaged the CD in? Don’t you love saying Slagwerk den Haag three times fast?
Below is a video with more information about the piece, including interviews with performers and the composer. If you’re in NYC and want to beat the heat, check out an iPad, and hear six percussionists knock wood, amble on over to Apple tonight.
I heard Kronos Quartet perform Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 (2010) earlier this year at Carnegie Hall. For three string quartets (two were overdubbed in this live performance) and recorded voices taken from phone calls by first responders on September 11, 2001, as well as interviews with New Yorkers some years later, it doesn’t serve as a nostalgic remembrance. Rather, it’s a dramatic whirlwind of a piece, at times bracing and overwhelming.
For those who’ve tired of the languid sentimentality and unfortunate jingoism that has too often been attached to 9/11 by those who’ve been witnesses from a distance, Reich’s response is an affecting tribute, both to those lost and to the New Yorkers left behind. I’m glad that its recording will see release near the 10 year anniversary of September 11, 2001.
The release also include So Percussion performing Reich 2009 Mallet Quartet and Reich and Musicians performing Dance Patterns (2002).
Thanks to Nonesuch for letting us debut the CD’s artwork.
“I’ve never had a grand plan. Never even had an ambition – I still don’t, beyond wanting to write better music,” says Ford. “So I’ve done things as they’ve come along. Of course I also say no to things. I got into writing music journalism because, in 1983 when I came to Australia, I wasn’t, over all, very impressed with the music journalism I read. My radio work really came out of being an academic and gradually replaced it totally.”
Although born in England, Andrew Ford has become associated with his adopted homeland, Australia. He’s one of the most astute commentators on the country’s music scene, hosting “The Music Show,” a weekly broadcast on ABC Radio National since 1995.
“I live in the country, and most weeks I compose from Monday to Thursday. Then on Friday I drive the two hours up to Sydney and my producers hand me a folder full of research and a bunch of CDs relating to the guests I will have on The Music Show the following morning. There are usually four and we try to mix things up: I might talk to a jazz singer, a didgeridoo player, an opera director and the composer of a new string quartet. I do the show live, and then drive home on the Saturday afternoon. I try not to work on Sundays. If I’m writing a book, of course, that might have to take over for a while.”
Ford has written several books, and while most are accessible to a general audience, he’s never shy about exposing his readers to a wide array of adventurous music. He’s also the rare interviewer who’s able to “talk shop” with composers from the vantage point of a fellow practitioner. This is clearly demonstrated in Composer to Composer (1993), an excellent collection of interviews he conducted with many of Australia’s finest composers, as well as composers from elsewhere, such as the UK’s Brian Ferneyhough and Americans John Cage and Elliott Carter. Another one of his collections, Illegal Harmonies, has just been reissued in its third edition by Black, Inc.
Ford says, “Illegal Harmonies was a history of music in the 20th century and began as a radio series in 1997. There were ten 90-minute episodes, one for each decade. The book was published the same year, and this is its third edition. I’ve added a new preface and also there’s a new epilogue looking at music in the first decade of the 21st century.”
Black, Inc. has also recently published Ford’s latest book, The Sound of Pictures. He says, “Funnily enough, the book isn’t really about film scores. I’d say that, more accurately, it’s about films and how they used music and sound in general. It looks – and especially listens – to a lot of films, and finds some connections between them. The way films use sound to plant clues – including false clues – or to undermine, as well as reinforce, what is happening on the screen.”
Those wishing for an entrée to Ford’s own music might start with The Waltz Book, a recent CD release on the Tall Poppies imprint. It consists of sixty one-minute long waltzes performed by pianist Ian Munro. But these are hardly your garden-variety Viennese dance pieces by Strauss. They explore a wide array of sound worlds, using waltz time as a jumping off point for some truly imaginative musical excursions.
Ford says, “The piece was never really about waltzes. It was an attempt to build a single large structure out of a lot of small structures. I felt these small pieces should all be the same size – like a mosaic – but that each might have its own personality and be performable as an independent miniature. A minute seemed the obvious length for each piece, and having decided that, the idea of the minute-waltz followed. Of course, the fact that each minute is a waltz – or at least waltz-related – brings a kind of unity to the hour-long whole, but what interested me above all was two things. First, I wanted to experiment with putting different amounts of music into the minute molds: you can have a minute of furious activity, or a minute of Satie-like blankness. Second, I wanted the overall structure of the hour to be coherent. That’s a long time listening to piano miniatures, and the audience needs to have its attention held: there had to be a sense of a journey or a story being told. You can imagine that at the first performance I was quite nervous!”
Another of Ford’s most recent pieces found the composer working in another medium with a storied tradition: the brass band. The Black Dyke Band premiered his work The Rising at the Manchester Brass festival in January 2011.
Ford says, “Without wishing to make a pun, writing for a brass band was a blast, and especially writing for the Black Dyke Band which is the UK’s finest and has more than 150 years of history behind it. They can play anything – they are total virtuosi. I’d never written for band before. I wasn’t even terribly sure what a baritone horn was. I did my homework, but I confess there was an element of guesswork involved. But the piece came out well. It sounded just as I’d hoped. Better, in some ways, because one thing I’d failed to appreciate was just how homogenous the sound is – it’s like they are all playing different sizes of the same instrument. It was this big glowing mass of sound – the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan – and I am completely hooked. I would love to write another band piece.”
Which other works would Andrew Ford like for listeners from outside Australia to hear? “I’m very happy with my Symphony (2008). I feel that, perhaps out of all my pieces, you could say this was really typical of me. There are no references, no extra-musical stuff: it’s just my music. And fortunately you can hear (and see) Brett Dean conducting the premiere of the piece at my website. I’ve revised it slightly since then, but nothing major. My opera, Rembrandt’s Wife (2009), is another piece I am very happy with. I had a brilliant libretto (by Sue Smith) and I tried to make it into one long song. I was determined it would be full of real singing from start to finish. It was a joy to write and I’ve never felt so unselfconscious in writing a piece. It felt as though it wrote itself. What else? Maybe Learning to Howl (2001), a song cycle for soprano, soprano sax/clarinets, harp and percussion, to words mostly by women.”
“One long-term project is called Progess. My earliest pieces – when I was a teenager – were rather influenced by Stockhausen’s then current intuitive music. This was convenient, in a way, because I must admit that I didn’t really know how to write everything down. As my technique improved, I have always wanted to return to that, to introduce more freedom into my pieces, but the trouble is I keep hearing them rather clearly in my imagination and I end up notating what I hear. Progress, right from the start, is designed as a fluid piece, with hardly anything pinned down and the players asked to improvise in various ways and based on certain melodic models. The instrumentation is totally flexible and so is the spatial layout. Indeed perhaps the most interesting thing about it is the way it will accommodate itself to the building in which it is performed – literally filling the building (not just the main performance space – even assuming there is one of these), so that it becomes a musical representation of the building. There will also be recorded voices – something I’ve used quite a lot recently – talking about the place, its history, its significance, what was there before it was built, etc. It should see the light of day next year with further performances in 2013, but it’s early in the process, so I can’t say too much more.”
When asked who, apart from Andrew Ford, are the composers born or residing in Australia that should gain more currency abroad, Ford replies, “David Lumsdaine, 80 this year and now living in the UK, is a very serious voice, I think. What interests me in particular is the way in which his soundscapes and his composed works intersect. There’s a new CD – White Dawn – that places them alongside each other. I’m very drawn to Mary Finsterer’s music, especially her latest stuff. It’s always interesting to observe composers in transition. Of course if you’re not in transition, then you’re drying up.”
Illegal Harmonies and The Sound of Pictures can be ordered via Black, Inc.’s website.
Andrew Rudin is well known to the Philadelphia new music community, both as a composer and, for many years, as a professor at University of the Arts. One of his former students, Amanda Harberg, introduced me to Rudin some years back at a post-concert reception in New Jersey. I remember being struck by his piercing intellect and wide-ranging knowledge of music. I’ve greatly enjoyed interacting with him via Facebook in recent years. Although direct in his opinions, sometimes in irascible fashion, he’s a font of information about composers (particularly Ralph Shapey), opera, poets, and tasty baked goods.
On Tuesday, Rudin’s music is featured on a portrait concert at Symphony Space in New York (details below). The program features Celebrations, a recent piece for two pianos and percussion that’s also included on Rudin’s new CD on Centaur Records.Miranda Cuckson and Steve Beck play Rudin’s Violin Sonata, a lyrical and affecting work from 2004. Eugene Moye and Beth Levin tackle the composer’s new Sonata for Cello and Piano. For those closer to Philly, the program will be repeated on Thursday at Caplan Recital Hall (211 South Broad St.).
The aforementioned Centaur CD also features two concerti, a passionately expressive viola concerto for Brett Deubner and a rhythmically energetic and harmonically jagged piano concerto for Marcantonio Barone. Both soloists are accompanied by Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman. This ensemble has long championed Rudin’s music. In fact, they also feature Rudin’s Canto di Ritorno on To the Point,their debut for the Innova imprint. At turns rhapsodic and fiercely passionate, it’s a score that’s likely to engage both traditional and contemporary audiences alike. Appearing with the fetching curtain-raising title work by Jennifer Higdon, as well The River Within, a fantastically vibrant piece by Jay Reise, Canto di Ritorno serves as the centerpiece for one of my favorite contemporary classical albums released this Spring.
Tomorrow from 2-8 PM in Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, FLUX Quartet plays Morton Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2. The concert is the last event in American Sublime, a two week long series that has spotlighted Feldman’s late music.
FLUX has been performing the piece since 1999, and their rendition runs around six hours. Feldman himself suggested that the piece could run anywhere from 3 1/2 to 5 hours. But one senses that FLUX’s more expansive time frame doesn’t contravene his intentions.
String Quartet No. 2, like many of Feldman’s late works, is about breaking past the boundaries of form and instead shaping music in terms of scale: as in, LARGE scale. Not only are these pieces long, they are often cast in a single, mammoth movement. They move slowly, often speaking quietly, unspooling fragments of subtly varied material at a gradual pace. But listening to them, and indeed playing them, is anything but a leisurely exercise.
String Quartet #2 is as demanding in its own way as a marathon. But, as I found out this week while listening to FLUX’s recording (available on the Mode imprint as either a single DVD or multiple CDs), it’s well worth the endurance test for both one’s attention and bladder to persevere.
The way that I listened to the piece changed over the course of its duration. At first, I found myself expecting the familiar signposts of formal arrival points; I became impatient with the gradualness of the proceedings. But, slowly, my vantage point shifted from one of expectation of arrival to one of acceptance of each passing moment in the work. It was as if Feldman was retuning my listening capabilities, extending my attention span, and urging me to revel in each detail rather than worry about how much time had passed.
When Feldman was crafting these late pieces, in the 1970s and 80s, people’s attention spans were already dwindling at an alarming rate. In the era of jet engines and color television, who had time to listen to a piece for six solid hours? By exhorting people to stop and listen, just by the very strength and captivating character of his music, Feldman dared to arrest our engagement with a world of ceaseless distractions. In short, he sought to change us.
In our current era, attention spans have dwindled exponentially further still. Multitasking, social media, cell phones, and all manner of other devices have distracted us seemingly to the limits our psyches can handle. Sometimes further, and with dangerous results – texting while driving anyone? Perhaps Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2 is an even tougher exercise for post-millenial listeners. But it might just be more necessary than ever to let this work reset our listening patterns and demand our attention.
Peter Lieberson’s record label, Bridge Records, has been kind enough to share some of his music with us: an excerpt from The Six Realms, for Cello and Orchestra (2000), one of his later and larger works and a piece that has an explicitly Buddhist programmatic element.
Here is movement 5, performed by cellist Michaela Fukacova, the Odense Symphony Orchestra, and conducted by Justin Brown. The recording is from Bridge 9178, The Music of Peter Lieberson.
In addition to silk and other precious goods, the Silk Road helped disseminate Buddhism, one of its earliest, and most valuable, cultural exports. For almost thirty years, Peter Lieberson has been a devout Buddhist, having studied with the great Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist master he met in 1974. Says Lieberson, “Buddhism’s appeal to me in the early 1970s was that it was not a religion in the conventional Western sense. Buddhism did not posit the existence of any external deity or savior or, for that matter, an individual personal ego…The basic message of the great Buddhist masters was: Be brave enough to experience existence without dogma or beliefs of any kind.” Read the rest of this entry »
Turkish pianist Seda Röder has been around these parts more than a few times; sometimes for her wonderful playing and sometimes for her wonderful podcasts. Now an Associate at Harvard, since coming over to the U.S. in 2007 (after graduating the Mozarteum in Salzburg) Seda has been a bit of a whirlwind when it comes to new music. Not content to take the standard performer’s trajectory, Seda gives almost equal measure to not onlyconcertizing, but also informing and promoting on behalf of the lesser-known — both newer and older — corners of modern classical music. Of course, in one of the corners most dear to her lies the work of living Turkish composers, a corner most of us have never paid any attention to.
Now Seda has taken a pretty big step on the way to rectifying that gap in our awareness: first, with the release of her new CD Listening to Istanbul, a collection of six newly-commissioned piano works by Turkish composers both established and emerging; and second, through a marvellous accompanying websitethat amplifies the CD and the works on it with all kinds of extra information, background, notes and interviews with the composers themselves.
Here composer Tolga Tüzün talks about his work Permanence: