“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:
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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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.”
If contemporary classical music had “supergroups”, the 8-year-old ensemble Ne(x)tworks would definitely be one of them. With the likes of Joan La Barbara (voice), Kenji Bunch (viola), Shelley Burgon (harp & electronics), Yves Dharamraj (cello), Cornelius Dufallo (violin, Director), Miguel Frasconi (glass instruments & electronics), Stephen Gosling (piano), Ariana Kim (violin), and Christopher McIntyre (trombone), their roster is led by major movers long on the NYC new-music scene. Working with both classical and improvisational roots, their repertoire encompasses the open scores of the New York School composers of the ’50s, the experiments of the AACM, and the SoHo scene and Downtown composers of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a wonderful and vitally important thing, to have an ensemble active in keeping earlier experimental works not only remembered, but truly alive.
Ne(x)tworks just released their latest CD through CD Baby, documenting a 2007 performance at the Stone in NYC, and they’re also beginning a year-long residency at the Greenwich House Music School. As kick-off to both, they’re giving a concert at GHMS this Thursday, November 18 at 8 pm, as part of the 25th anniversary season of North River Music (Renee Weiler Concert Hall, 46 Barrow Street, NYC / $15).
On the bill, Edgard Varèse‘s little-known Untitled Graphic Score (ca. 1957). Varèse created the score while attending Earl Brown’s workshop on graphic notation, and the piece — conceived for an ensemble of jazz and classical musicians — reflects the kind of scores the composer was writing in real time on a chalkboard during that period.
The program will also feature two works from Ne(x)tworks’ latest CD. Creating a form that moves beyond the “jazz” and “classical” labels, Leroy Jenkins‘ Space MInds: New Worlds, Survival of America (1979) offers a platform for an active dialog between the performers and the composition itself, with extensive improvised passages. Arthur Russell‘s Singing Tractors (pages 1 & 2) (ca. 1987) is an open-ended work that merges influences from Post-Cagean randomness to free jazz to rock and pop music to classical elements to African beat and dance music.
Also included are a sneak preview of ensemble member Christopher McIntyre’s Smithson Project (2010), scored for mixed ensemble and computers and drawing its inspiration from the work of renowned earthwork artist Robert Smithson (1939-73) — as well as Jon Gibson‘s Multiples (1972) for open instrumentation, a classic example of early minimalism from this stalwart member of New York’s experimental music community.
As a bit of concert preview, we managed to get a few words from Ne(x)tworks members Joan La Barbara, Miguel Frasconi, and Christopher McIntyre themselves, on aspects of the ensemble and the upcoming performance:
The new indie classical kids on the block, Newspeak, have just released their first video. David T. Little’s composition sweet light crude, featuring soprano Mellissa Hughes in fine voice and the ensemble grooving up a storm, is ready for your delectation on YouTube.
The piece has been given the “jump cuts and jitter” treatment by videographers Satan’s Pearl Horses.
Jennifer Higdon and John Clare in Dallas for her Violin Concerto performance in May 2010
It is a huge day for new music new releases tomorrow, Tuesday, September 21st. Last month you might remember I interviewed Nico Muhly about his new releases before he spoke in LA about the works on the Decca label and featured an in-store performance. Tomorrow those discs will hit the stores as well as two major works by another composer, Jennifer Higdon.
What is astounding about Higdon’s cds are that they are by two different labels (Telarc & DG) and by two different violinists (Jennifer Koh and Hilary Hahn) of two different violin concertos, written closely together: The Singing Rooms and the Violin Concerto. I was curious about how all of this came together for Jennifer.