Archive for the “Chamber Music” Category
Since no one listens to contemporary classical music, and it doesn’t get put on concert programs, to have a new work not only recorded but recorded again, by different musicians, is an impossible dream. But that’s what happens when you’re John Adams, America’s leading composer. And deservedly so, because he’s a deeply skilled and intelligent composer with serious things to say and the aesthetic to say them clearly, expressively and winningly without pandering to or patronizing his audience.
But he is a busy man, and some of his recent work, like Absolute Jest and The Gospel According to the Other Mary seems more assembled from parts of pieces he (or, in the case of the former, Beethoven) has already made than thought through and composed. That’s been particulary frustrating, since his String Quartet, which I saw premiered in 2009, is not only a terrific piece but one that seemed to have opened the door to a new, late style.
The St. Lawrence Quartet was the original dedicatee, the ensemble that played it in public and recorded it first. Their intense, nervous energy was exactly right for the sinewy, restless music. Now they’ve been followed by the Attacca Quartet, with a Fellow Traveller, a new CD of Adam’s complete works for String Quartet. Their manner with the piece is very different, and that’s a strength of the recording that also serves the quality of the composition.
What is most interesting about the String Quartet is how Adams, who is fundamentally a Neo-Romantic composer with a great facility for tension, release and powerful expression, uses repetition to create a sensation of agitation, but this time without much resolution. At the Attacca’s enjoyable CD release performance at (le) poisson rouge, Adams spoke about harmony and how he believes that a facility for it is necessary for composers. But the Quartet is one of his least harmonically rich pieces, it subtly reaches back to Minimalist experiments like “Christian Zeal and Activity.” It’s also more closely related to Beethoven, who was of course a magnificent harmonist but whose secret power was always rhythm, especially building and releasing tension by moving the downbeat around to different parts of measures while maintaining the same meter.
That’s what Adams does in the Quartet, plays around with the rhythmic possibilities of short phrases, different lengths, different pulses. There’s a lot of chattering interplay that add to the overall dynamism and the whole builds to an evocative and enigmatic payoff. The Attacca plays this with less muscular vigor than the Borromeo but with more thoughtfulness, more introversion, and so bring out the internal mysteries of the music, and the swing a little bit more. They also are a more lyrical ensemble, and they pay more attention to phrasing than attack and articulation, and the results are not only expressive but place the music directly in the long history of Western classical music. I can hear the Haydn and Beethoven that is part of their memories.
That approach also pays off in John’s Book of Alleged Dances, which is both amusing in intent and seriously well-made. This is extroverted music, and the Attacca plays it that way, which adds to the impression that larger piece gives. Dances is not first-rate Adams, but especially in person, the Attacca give it a first-rate performance.
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Kevin Noe performing Kieren MacMillan’s Drunken Moon with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Last Tuesday, April 16, I trekked to Snyder Hall on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI to see a performance by the Musique 21 ensemble, an immersive ‘Theatre of Music’ Production entitled Drunken Moon. The piece was conceived and created by conductor Kevin Noe and composer Kieren MacMillan, and features the merger of MacMillan’s eponymous monodrama for two voices with an English version of Arnold Schoenberg’s legendary Pierrot Lunaire.
Drunken Moon is more than a concert performance, it is a theatrical unfolding where the music and storyline are deeply intertwined and overlap on many occasions. I chose the descriptor ‘immersive’ deliberately, because Drunken Moon is more inviting to its audience than standard chamber operas. This is the touch of Kevin Noe, who has become renowned for his innovative programming with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. In fact, Drunken Moon began as a PNME production, one of that group’s many fully staged programs, which push the boundaries of traditional concert presentation to create an audience experience that is undeniably memorable and powerfully meaningful.
Even though he was armed with students from MSU’s College of Music, Maestro Noe’s designs hit their mark Tuesday night. The show began immediately as the audience entered the theatre, in that the performers and actors were dancing, drinking and chitchatting in an imagined bar, ‘La fin bleu’, set up on the stage. Walking in on the onstage commotion like this set a refreshing and relaxing tone, at least compared to the prescribed ceremony of most Classical or Contemporary music concerts. Although the ‘Fourth Wall’ was not manipulated to any extreme, the attitude of the performance made observing Drunken Moon feel like being a part of it in some small way.
The intimate audience experience I enjoyed Tuesday night was not only a product of the small theater, sets, costumes, lighting and music. My compatriots in the audience and I were drawn into the performance by the stellar acting and singing of soprano Lindsay Kesselman and baritone Robert Peavler who brilliantly portray the main characters in Drunken Moon – dubbed only “she” and “he”. The couple’s interaction is the focal point of the performance’s narrative and the link that connects MacMillan’s Drunken Moon with Pierrot Lunaire.
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Posted by Chris Becker in Chamber Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Guitar, Houston, tags: 14 Pews, David Lang, George Heathco, guitar, Liminal Space Contemporary Ensemble, Luke Hubley, marimba
(Houston, TX) Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble is continuing what has become a welcome and well-received series of innovatively staged and programmed concerts of contemporary music. Featuring the core duo of composer George Heathco on electric guitar and Luke Hubley on percussion, Liminal Space has presented concert tributes to the music of John Cage and Frederic Rzewski, composed and performed music for a puppet show realization of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu,” and participated in the Houston Fringe Festival. This Sunday at 14 Pews, they will present an evening of music by Pulitzer prize-winning composer David Lang. Works on the program include how to pray, lend/lease, string of pearls, warmth, and arrangements of selections from memory pieces.
Heathco (who, by the way, is an excellent composer as well) confirms that Lang’s music present a set of unique challenges to the performer.
Composer guitarist George Heathco (photo by David DeHoyos)
“One thing that seems to run central to performing Lang’s music is the amount of concentration and mental stamina required to just get through a piece,” says Heathco. “He gives the performer very little opportunity to let up, mentally. On top of that, some of the pieces we are performing are also technically challenging. Works like lend/lease or string of pearls have an element of subtle virtuosity. They don’t immediately sound flashy or technically demanding to the listener, but from the performer’s point of view it is a whole other story!”
The majority of the works by Lang on Sunday’s program have been re-arranged for various combinations of marimba, electric guitars, cello, and keyboards.
“We have arranged several of Lang’s memory pieces, originally for solo piano, to be played by marimba and electric guitar,” says Heathco. “We are also adapting lend/lease, originally for piccolo and woodblocks, to fit our ensemble. In lend/lease, there is only a single melodic line that is to be played in unison, with one of the instruments being largely unpitched. We wanted to bring out the beauty of Lang’s melody, and so rather than woodblocks, Luke will be performing the line on marimba, doubling the electric guitar.”
Percussionist Luke Hubley (photo by David DeHoyos)
The new music scene in Houston continues to grow and expand into ever more intriguing permutations, stretching beyond the cozy confines of its universities and on into the clubs, galleries, and alternative performance spaces that fill the city’s un-zoned citiscape.
An evening of David Lang’s music performed in what used to be a church? Perfect. Lang performed by Heathco, Hubley, and a selection of amazing guest musicians? Even better.
Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble presents The Music of David Lang, Sunday, March 24, 7:30 p.m. at 14 Pews, 800 Aurora Street, featuring George Heathco (guitar) and Luke Hubley (percussion) with guests cellist Daniel Saenz, pianist Mark Buller, keyboardist Jeremy Nuncio, and guitarist Chapman Welch. Tickets are $11 online, $15 at the door.
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Posted by Chris Becker in Cello, Chamber Music, Classical Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Houston, Piano, Strings, Violin, tags: Gryphon Trio, Houston Friends of Chamber Music, Leonard Cohen, Ottawa Chamberfest, Patricia O'Callaghan, piano trio
The Gryphon Trio
(Houston, TX) Next week here in Houston, contemporary music rears its terrifying head in the form of Canada’s Gryphon Trio on two very different concerts presented by the Houston Friends of Chamber Music. On Sunday, February 10, the Trio and special guest soprano Patricia O’Callaghan present and evening of contemporary cabaret music in support of their recent CD collaboration Broken Hearts and Madmen, which includes stunning arrangements of songs by Laurie Anderson, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Astor Piazzolla, and Elvis Costello. On Tuesday, February 12, the Trio performs a program of piano trio music at Rice University, including contemporary works by Christos Hatzis and Valentin Silvestrov, accompanied by projected visuals by artist Stephen Hutchings.
From its inception the Trio, Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin), Roman Borys (cello), and Jamie Parker (piano), has been committed to playing and programming concerts that equally combine classical and contemporary repertoire.
“Although the very first piece we played together was Beethoven’s Opus 70, No. 1, the ‘ghost’ trio,” says Borys, “it wasn’t long after that that we gave our first world premier. There was never any sort of aversion to contemporary music. That kind of resistance to contemporary music is such a thing of the past. We knew many composers as friends and were very keen to work with them and have them write pieces for us.”
The trio’s name was chosen to signal their interest in all of the arts, not just classical music.
“We wanted to be careful to choose a name that allowed for artistic diversification,” says Borys. “We enjoyed the fact that this creature, the gryphon, was the guardian of treasures and a combination of cosmic energies.”
Hutchings, who previously created a series of paintings for the Trio’s performances of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, is one of several artists who collaborate with the trio to create their symbiotic presentations of visuals and sound.
“He has an incredible sense of what’s out there in the contemporary music world and is very curious,” says Borys of Hutchings. “His practice as a visual artist is very much tied to and inspired by music. He almost always listens to contemporary music when he’s painting.”
Soprano Patricia O’Callaghan
“People are so led by what they see,” Borys continues. “Visuals are such a powerful thing in general. When we create these pieces with visuals, we’re very conscious of that. We’re trying to create a visual environment that stimulates the person having the experience in such a way that it leads to their hearing the piece in a more intense way.”
O’Callaghan, who has performed with the Trio on several projects, occupies a unique place in the world of contemporary song performance. She initially began her career thinking she would sing opera.
Says O’Callaghan, “I did my degree, I got a grant, and went to study in Austria and began auditioning for opera houses. And I thought that that was what I was going to do, live in Europe and be an opera singer. But I really felt like I didn’t fit into that world. I really felt like an outsider, and even a little bit hemmed in by it.”
O’Callaghan then began a transition out of classical and operatic singing into a style better suited for the repertoire that was truly resonating with her, including songs by Kurt Weill, songs made famous by the great Edith Piaf, and the aforementioned Cohen, who she pays tribute to on her album MATADOR: The Songs of Leonard Cohen.
“It’s a completely different way of singing,” says O’Callaghan of her particular brand of contemporary cabaret. “Since I sang in rock bands before my classical days, I guess I could sort of reverse. But that kind of (classical) training just doesn’t disappear. It really gets in to your body.”
“A lot of the experimentation with singing happened for me in the recording studio,” she continues. “I would hear something, and then play it back and go, ‘No, I’ve gotta do something more laid back, more subtle.’ It’s been a really long learning process, trying to figure out how to sing the repertoire in a way that is natural. It’s about finding your own voice.”
Both Borys, who also directs Canada’s long-running Ottawa Chamberfest, and O’Callaghan agree that in the world of post-music conservatory performance, in concert halls and clubs across the world, the walls between classical performance and other idioms are coming down.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, to bridge genres,” says O’Callaghan. “Every genre has its strengths and weaknesses in terms of training as a musician. But I just find you can learn so much if you do bridge genres, if you do work with musicians from different disciplines. But not everyone can do it, and not everyone can do it well.”
“I would still say that we are on the cutting edge,” O’Callaghan concludes. “But I do feel like there is a trend to doing this more and more in the world today.”
Houston Friends of Chamber Music present The Gryphon Trio, Sunday, February 10, 7:30 p.m. at the Main Street Theater, Chelsea Market, 4617 Blvd. with special guest Patricia O’Callaghan, performing songs by Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello and others, and February 12, 7:30 p.m. at Stude Concert Hall, Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, performing chamber music of Valentin Silvestrov, Christos Hatzis, Antonín Dvořák, and Joseph Haydn.
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Le Train Bleu, conducted by Ransom Wilson, will present Toy Stories, a concert on Wednesday, February 6 – 7:00 PM at DROM, 85 Avenue A (between 5th and 6th) in New York, N.Y.
The evening will feature the World Premiere of Lawrence Dillon’s Seven Stories for soprano and eight instruments. The piece was composed to an original text. The composer writes, “A stuffed animal falls from an apartment window. As it falls, it peers into each passing window, trying to create stories from what it sees.” Read his recent blog post about it at http://www.sequenza21.com/dillon/?p=1962. The new work will be sung by soprano Mary Mackenzie. Visit Lawrence Dillon at http://www.lawrencedillon.com/.
Toy Stories explores mankind’s endless variety of play and playthings. The concert will also include Thomas Ades’ Living Toys, a journey through the fantasies of a child, for 14 instruments, accompanied by a new video by Adam Kendall, Matt Marks’ Sex Objects, a set of three songs about unique characters and their intimate relationships with inanimate objects, with vocal performances by Mary Mackenzie, Matt Marks, and Jeff Gavett, and the World Premiere of Eric Nathan’s Toying, a virtuoso exploration of the full range of possible sounds and techniques produced by the trumpet, played by Le Train Bleu’s Hugo Moreno.
Visit Thomas Ades at http://thomasades.com/. Matt Marks is at http://mattmarksmusic.com/ and Eric Nathan at http://www.ericnathanmusic.com/Home.html.
Tickets for the February 6 event are $20, and are available at http://www.ticketfly.com/event/205653. For more information, call 212-777-1157 or visit http://www.dromnyc.com/.
Le Train Bleu is a musical collective formed by conductor and flutist Ransom Wilson. The musicians are among the most exciting young players in New York, and are chosen for their brilliance as well as their expressive qualities. Recently named a resident ensemble of the Galapagos Art Space, the ensemble continues plans to present performances of new and interesting music. The New York Times said of their debut performance: “Under Mr. Wilson’s baton, the Train Bleu ensemble was both incisive and joyous in execution.” In the 2011-12 season, the ensemble presented a 4-concert series at the Galapagos Art Space, as well as collaborating with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company in a 2-week season at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. They also participated in a 15-month creative residency at the Park Avenue Armory, along with soprano Lauren Flanigan. Visit them at http://letrainbleu.org/.
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The Donald Sinta Quartet, performing here in 2010 with the University of Michigan Symphony Band in Shenyang, China
It is my pleasure to announce the Donald Sinta Saxophone Quartet’s first ever Composition Competition! The Donald Sinta Quartet (Dan Graser, Zach Stern, Joe Girard, Danny Hawthorne-Foss) is based in Ann Arbor and was handpicked from Donald Sinta’s Classical Saxophone studio at the University of Michigan, the same studio that produced the world-famous PRISM Quartet.
This competition coincides with the DSQ’s Paris debut in April, and the winning pieces will be performed at the Paris Conservatory, the Selmer Show Room in Paris and at other domestic performances. The competition’s deadline is February 15th, there is no application fee and more specific details regarding submissions can be found here on the DSQ’s website.
The members of the Donald Sinta Quartet have demonstrated a strong commitment to new music and living composers as long as I’ve been in Ann Arbor. Ron Amchin, a senior composition student whose work, Hot Foot, is part of the DSQ’s Spring tour commented, “They’re awesome! They will play anything you write and love challenges.”
I caught up with the DSQ’a frontman, of sorts, Dan Graser (soprano saxophone) and asked him about the group’s goals for this competition, along with the importance a new works by American composers to the growth and strength of saxophone quartet repertoire. Our conversation presented below.
Enjoy, and don’t forget to submit your best saxophone quartet piece to the Donald Sinta Quartet’s Composition Competition!
S21: What are your goals and parameters of the competition?
DG: The primary purpose of the contest is to generate several great new works for saxophone quartet from young American composers. When we were given the opportunity to perform in Paris for one of the finest saxophone studios in the world, we wanted to showcase everything that both American saxophonists, and American composers are capable of. While there is a great tradition of French saxophone repertoire that all saxophone quartets perform, our purpose with this contest is to begin establishing a greater repertoire from American composers and create a renewed national interest in writing for saxophone quartet.
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An evening of chamber music by Beth Anderson will be presented this Saturday, November 17 – 7:00 PM, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 139 St. John’s Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Flute and piano works to be performed are The Bluebird and the Preying Mantis, Dr. Blood’s Mermaid Lullaby, September Swale and Kummi Dance. The program also includes her Eighth Ancestor and Skate Suite for baroque flute, alto recorder, cello and harpsichord.
Performers will be the composer on piano and Brooklyn Baroque – Andrew Bolotowsky, baroque flute, David Bakamijan, cello, Gregory Bynum, alto recorder and Rebecca Pechefsky, harpsichord.
This concert is free and open to the public, however a free will offering will be taken to support the replacement of the church boiler. For directions to St. John’s Church and more information about the concert, call 718-636-6010 or visit http://www.facebook.com/ConcertsOnTheSlope.
The Bluebird and the Preying Mantis is the first piece Ms. Anderson composed for Andrew Bolotowsky, from about 1979. He’s the bluebird. The accompaniment is the mantis. She writes about Dr. Blood’s Mermaid Lullaby, “One night I had a very bad dream about Dr. Blood stealing my blood. I woke up and wrote what felt like the antidote to this dream – a kind of underwater lullaby with mermaids and a music box. Since the imaginary Dr. Blood was the “cause” of the dream, I gave him credit in the title. I felt much better afterwards.”
September Swale (seen above) combines various oriental scales with Satie-like lyricism and was premiered in Ghent, Belgium. Kummi Dance (in this version for flute & piano), was commissioned by String Poet and based on the poem of the same name by Pramila Venkateswaran.
Beth writes, “The Eighth Ancestor is a character that I read about in a zen book entitled Selling Water By The River. This ancestor’s message is that it does no good to be angry. The music, in an attempt to reflect this message, is not angry music. It resembles a lullaby and a hora…Skate Suite was commissioned by Diane Jacobowitz & Dancers. The dance was related to skating in some way and so I used that idea to compose the music.”
Visit Beth’s YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/135east?feature=mhee#g/f. For more information about her, including a bio, list of works, discography and much more, please visit http://www.beand.com.
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The critically-acclaimed Palisades Virtuosi presents a very special 10th Anniversary Concert – the first concert of their 2012-2013 season on Friday, November 9 – 8:00 PM at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, 113 Cottage Place in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The evening will also include a pre-concert composer and performer talk at 7:15.
Flutist Margaret Swinchoski, clarinetist Donald Mokrynski and pianist Ron Levy began their series of concerts in Ridgewood, New Jersey in 2003, when there were relatively few works composed for their instrumentation. So, their “Mission to Commission” was born. 10 seasons later, there are an additional 60 works of concert repertoire for their ensemble as a direct result of their mission. They include a commissioned work in each of their concerts.
Composers who have written for the group include Eric Ewazen, Carlos Franzetti, Paul Moravec, Melinda Wagner, Gwyneth Walker and Lee Hoiby. See the complete list at http://www.palisadesvirtuosi.org/pvcomposers.html.
November 9 concert repertoire will include the World Premiere of composer Jeff Scott’s Poem for a Lost King, commissioned by The Palisades Virtuosi.
Composer Jeff Scott
The composer writes, “Lost King is a musical poem that has been written as a metaphorical homage to the countless African kings, chiefs and village elders expelled and abducted from their homeland during the middle passage.” Visit Jeff Scott at http://www.imaniwinds.com/artist.php?view=bio&bid=1941.
Repertoire will also include Franz Danzi’s Sinfonia Concertante, Maurice Emmanuel’s Sonate and PV’s first commissioned work Lep-i-dop-ter-o-lo-gy  by Aaron Grad.
Tickets for the November 9 concert are $20, $15 for students and seniors and $10 for children age 12 and under. For tickets or more information, call 201-488-4983, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/286276 or email reservation requests to the Palisades Virtuosi at email@example.com. For directions, go to this link.
Volumes One, Two, Three and Four of the Virtuosi’s New American Masters CD series are available from Albany Records.
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Posted by Jonathan Lakeland in Brooklyn, Chamber Music, Classical Music, Composers Now, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, tags: borromeo, cygnus, elizabeth farnum, kathleen blair, mcmillen, mohammed fairouz, String Quartet
Young composer Mohammed Fairouz is not fooling around. Recently hailed by BBC World News as “one of the most talented composers of his generation,” his music melds Middle-Eastern modes and Western structures. A concert on Thursday evening will center around Fairouz’s compositional output. It is being presented by the Issue Project Room at Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral and will feature pianists Kathleen Supové, Blair McMillen, and Taka Kigawa, mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert, soprano Elizabeth Farnum, the Cygnus Ensemble, and the Borromeo String Quartet in their only New York appearance this season.
This concert will include the New York premiere of Fairouz’s The Named Angels, a new 28-minute work in four movements. The Borromeo String Quartet will be performing this premiere. About this piece, Fairouz says, “The Named Angels refers to those angels that are named and recognized in the Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions: Michael, Israfel, Gabriel and Azrael. Each of the four movements represents a character portrait of a specific Angel.”
The concert is presented by Issue Project Room at Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral at 113 Remsen Street in Downtown Brooklyn, just a few blocks from IPR. Tickets are $30, $25 for members and students, available at Issue Project Room’s website.
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Tomorrow, October 5, the highly acclaimed Fifth House Ensemble will be in Detroit, MI performing at the Max M. Fisher Music Center as part of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Mix @ the Max’ concert series.
The event is not a traditional concert. It begins at 6 PM with a cocktail and hors d’oevres hour, which sets the mood for a more informal presentation of the evening’s program and creates an opportunity for concertgoers and the performers to mingle before and after the performance.
I got in touch with Fifth House’s flutist, Melissa Snoza, and asked her about the groups experience with these kind of laid back concerts. She told me:
[T]he cocktail format is definitely something we’re familiar with, especially for this show! When we first presented this series in Chicago during the 2009-2010 season, we staged it at SPACE, which is a flexible cabaret-style venue with a bar, tables, and chairs that we could arrange in any format we liked to suit the experience we wanted to create for the evening…We’re a group that really loves to perform in unexpected spaces and to design concert experiences with our audience at the center of our programming, so we’re delighted that the DSO has staged this performance in the same way that we originally conceived it!
The program tomorrow night is called “Black Violet Act 1″, it is a compilation of several pieces from different time periods presented in Fifth House’s famed ‘narrative’ programming style. Among the works on the docket are two by living composers: Jonathan Keren‘s Hungary is Far Away and my colleague Greg Simon‘s Kites at Seal Rock.
If you are in the Detroit area tomorrow, go check out what is sure to be a fantastic evening of mingling and music. Tickets are $25 in advance, $28 at the door and can be purchased here.
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