Archive for the “Choral Music” Category

The following are extended versions of the interviews I had with Toby Twining and Iva Bittova, who are both appearing at the 2011 Vital Vox Festival (Both will be performing on Night 2: Vocals + Strings)

First up, Toby Twining talks about his beginnings and inspiration as well as the new and current material.

CM: How did you go from roots in country-swing to rock to the other-worldly music you’ve been making for various instruments, including voices and chamber ensemble?

TT: This is a long story—I’ll attempt a Reader’s Digest version.

I grew up in Houston and my maternal grandparents were both pro musicians—grandad played guitar, pedal steel, string bass; grandmother played gospel piano like Liberace/Debussy mix. As a teenager, I played guitars, bass, and keys in rock bands. All the kids played Texas blues as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Too Many Concerts and Cloning is Still Illegal!

Tricentric Orchestra. Photo: Kyoko Kitamura

October in New York is becoming an embarrassment of riches in the new music world. So many wonderful concerts to hear in town! But the plethora of notable events can be a source of frustration too: sometimes you wish you could be in two places at once. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Steve Smith has figured out a way to do this!) So, while we won’t get to review everything, there’s nothing saying we can’t preview as many events as possible! What follows are some, but rest assured not all, of the excellent upcoming goings on.

–        Starting Wednesday evening (Oct. 5) running through October 8 at Roulette is one of the biggest festivals celebrating the music of Anthony Braxton yet seen in the United States.  It includes performances by the Tricentric Orchestra, the US debut of the Diamond Curtain Wall Trio – Anthony Braxton (reeds, electronics), Taylor Ho Bynum (brass), and Mary Halvorson (guitar) – and two world premieres. The first, Pine Top Arial Music, is an interdisciplinary work integrating music and dance. The second, which is the culmination of the festival, is a concert reading of Acts One and Two of Trillium E, Braxton’s first opera. Those who can’t make the festival, or who want ample Braxton at home as well as live, can enjoy two new recordings of his music. The first is a freebie: a Braxton sampler featuring a diverse array of pieces (including an excerpt of the opera) that’s available for download via the Tricentric Foundation. The second is a recording of Trillium E in its entirety, available from Tricentric on October 11 as a download or 4 CD set.

–        On October 6, Ekmeles, everybody’s favorite New York group of experimentally inclined youngster vocalists, shares a triple bill with Ireland’s Ergodos and Holland’s Ascoli Ensemble at Issue Project Room’s new 110 Livingstone location (details here). Ekmeles will perform Kaija Saariaho’s Sylvia Plath setting From the Grammar of Dreams, two short pieces by James Tenney, and two US premieres. The first, Madrigali a Dio by Johannes Schöllhorn, incorporates singing, spoken word, and even boisterous shouts in a vocal work that explores counterpoints between pitched and un-pitched vocalizations.  Peter Ablinger’s Studien nach der Natur explores a plethora of sounds from the natural world as well as manmade noises: mosquitoes, quartz watches, the Autobahn, smoking, electric hums – all replicated by the human voice. Mr. Ablinger was kind enough to allow us to share a small score excerpt below.

–        Also on Thursday, October 6 (drat it to Hades!) is the premiere of the Five Borough Songbook at Galapagos. Twenty composers were asked by Five Boroughs Music Festival to each contribute a single work to this project. Participants include Daron Hagen, Tom Cipullo, Lisa Bielawa, and other heavyweights in the songwriting biz.

–        On October 8 at 7 PM at the Tenri Cultural Institute (ticket info here), the Mimesis Ensemble is doing a program of “Young Voices,” featuring three youngish composers who specialize in vocal music.  It’s a program that’s a bit more traditional in approach than is, say, Ekmeles’ wont, but it presents some noteworthy repertoire. Thomas Adès’ Three Eliot Landscapes and Gabriel Kahane’s current events inflected Craigslistlieder are featured alongside several works by Mohammed Fairouz.

–         On October 9 at 7:30 PM, Sequenza 21’s own Armando Bayolo will make his Carnegie Hall debut (as the kids say, whoot!). Armando’s Lullabies, a newly commissioned work, will be premiered at Weill Recital Hall by Trio Montage (more information here).

–        Just around the corner is the ACO’s SONiC festival, Ekmeles’ concert on 10/21 at Columbia (a humdinger of a program!), Bridge Records’ Anniversary Concert at NYPL, and, yes, the Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert at the newly revivified Joe’s Pub on 10/25. But those previews will have to wait for another post! In the meantime, there are pieces to compose, papers to grade, and both my wife’s and my birthdays this weekend. October is the month that keeps on giving: it’s good to be busy, right?

Peter Ablinger's Studien Natur (a wee excerpt)

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Art by Margaret Dolinsky, Copyright 2011

Dear Colleagues,

If you are in the vicinity of Bloomington,  Indiana, come join us at the premiere of the 2011 version of Don Freund‘s PASSION with Tropes, scheduled for May 20 and 21 at the Ruth N. Hall Theatre of Indiana University. Originally conceived as a monumental oratorio for large forces, it was adapted by Freund for an immersive and interactive multidisciplinary production. In this 80-minute version, PASSION with Tropes is cast for actors, dancers, and an ensemble of  approximately 40 voices and  instrumentalists who take multiple roles as soloists,  chamber groups and even as a jazz combo. It has been a fascinating process to see how the work has gained unexpected layers of meaning under the lens of the interdisciplinary artists. For more information, visit: http://blogs.music.indiana.edu/passionwithtropes/

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Director Robert Geary and Volti

One of the most exciting areas for new music in recent years has been in the field of choral music. In the next two weeks, two choirs devoted to new music—one a veteran organization, the other an exciting, young rookie—will be presenting important programs of new choral works in both coasts.

The rookie is Baltimore’s Anima Nova Chamber Choir, which will present a concert of works by Eric Whitacre, Tarik O’Regan, Michael Rickelston, Sean Doyle, and Anima Nova founder and director, Jake Runestad. The concert, at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 8 at St. Ignatius Church, 740 North Calvert Street in Baltimore, will benefit the Peabody Preparatory’s “Jr. Bach” scholarship, which provides opportunities for underprivileged students to attend the Peabody Prep.

The veteran ensemble is San Francisco’s Volti, which for the past 32 years has been at the vanguard of new choral music in the United States under the direction of its founder, Robert Geary. Their season finale will be presented three times (Friday, May 13 at 8:00 p.m. at the Berkley City Club; Saturday, May 14 at 8:00 p.m. at First Lutheran Church in Palo Alto; and Sunday, May 15 at 4:00 p.m. at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio) and features works commissioned by Volti, two of which, Matthew Barnson’s Genesis and Elliot Gyger’s voice (and nothing more), are world premieres.

Barnson composed his Genesis, a re-interpretation of the biblical story of creation through poetry, at Volti’s Choral Arts Laboratory, its annual commissioning and residency program where composers under 35 work with Volti’s singers, Artistic Director Robert Geary and Composer in Residence Mark Winges to create a new work for choir in a workshop setting, culminating in its premiere at the end of a given season. Barnson describes Genesis as “three tableaux that are independent of one another but dependent upon the Book of Genesis to give them meaning. Each is a subversive exegesis upon the original story of creation and posits a slight, but vital alternative in the narrative, affecting the outcome of the myth in ways that are sometimes insignificant (but poignant) and sometimes darkly different. Each of the poets whose work I set refracted my original intentions. For instance, the outer movements of the triptych actually retell stories from the book of Genesis. In the second, middle movement I set Richard Siken, a poet whose ecstatic and anxious book, Crush is replete with Biblical images. Beyond the images of apples (knowledge but death) is the feature that the last two poems share: death deferred.”

Elliot Gyger’s voice (and nothing more) reflects the composer’s interest in “language and communication in their own right.” The original germ for what would become voice (and nothing more) was planted ten years ago, when Gyger was a graduate student at Harvard University, where he heard a lecture by musicologist Mauro Calcagno. “Occasionally as a composer,” one encounters by chance a piece of text (or other extra-musical stimulus) for which one may have no immediate use, but which makes such a strong impact that one files it away for future reference. Among the many fascinating sources which Calcagno discussed was a passionate diatribe on the transience of the voice from Emanuele Tesauro’s La metafisica del niente (The Metaphysics of Nothing). Read the rest of this entry »

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Last Saturday night I caught a trio of Philip Glass‘s slightly more obscure music, performed by a well-rehearsed Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale (based in Orange County, California) as part of their annual American Composers Festival. Although lesser-known than its Los Angeles counterpart, the symphony is staffed with many fine Southern California-based musicians and performs in the recently built and acoustically impressive Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

The opening piece, “Meetings Along the Edge” from Passages (1990), featured Glass’s collaboration with Ravi Shankar, in which both agreed to each compose a melody for each other and write a new composition around it. Usually I cringe at the results at these attempts at cultural exchange and creative collaboration, but in this rare instance I was very taken with the way Shankar’s Indian melody combined with Glass’s signature contrapuntal and harmonic elements. It created a fascinating juxtaposition, that gave me new insights on how Shankar’s Indian musical elements integrated into his very recognizable compositional language.

The Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra (1995) was written to serve dual purposes: first to be performed primarily as a saxophone quartet (here handled by the Prism Quartet), and secondly to be performed with an added orchestral accompaniment. Judging by the many recordings available of the quartet (sans orchestra), it has become a popular addition to the saxophone repertoire, but at Saturday evening’s performance it was hard to forget that much of this music was very similar or even repurposed from Wichita Vortex Sutra (1990), Glass’s song cycle collaboration based on Alan Ginsberg’s spoken-word poetry with solo piano. Reusing music has been widely accepted (besides borrowing heavily from Mozart and Purcell, Michael Nyman is a common recycler of his own music) and I think there is nothing inherently wrong with reusing one’s material, but in this case the unintended results were the equivalent of watching James Gandolfini from The Sopranos appear in another TV show. No matter how hard you try, it’s hard to see him as anybody but Tony Soprano. Comparing this secondhand saxophone showcase against the powerful combination of Glass’s music with Ginsberg’s poetry doesn’t really equate apples to apples, but more like apples to apple butter.

After intermission, just from viewing the assembled 140-member Pacific Chorale and orchestra, it might be easy to assume that Glass’s The Passion of Ramakrishna would feature a grand spectacle similar to his non-narrative operas like Akhnaten and Satyagraha. But for reasons I can’t fathom the assembled full chorus and orchestra wasn’t used to its full potential, at least in comparison to his similar vocal and operatic works.

The libretto, which recounted the final months and last words of the 19th-century Indian philosopher Ramakrishna, were surprisingly taciturn and the music was pleasant, but as the Passion of Ramakrishna was coming to a close I was struck that I had never been left so cold by a Glass vocal piece: It was basically 50 minutes of recitative with no aria (i.e. mostly all story and very little emotion).  After the performance my concerns were confirmed when some of the performers said that Glass had mentioned he’d been hoping to eventually to flesh out the piece further, which was especially curious because the weekend’s performances were being recorded for a possible release on Naxos or Glass’s own Orange Mountain Music label.

Whether or not the piece performed Saturday night was the final version, it does leave me to think that in its current version, the Passion of Ramakrishna could use a few changes — namely, more “Passion” to balance out the exposition.  As a composer who has learned much from studying and performing Glass’s music over the years the music presented Saturday night shows that even though many already are calling him a “living legend”, sometimes deadlines and professional obligations lead to music that was created by a mere mortal.

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(Houston, TX) On February 25th and 26th at 8pm and February 27th at 2:30 pm (the third date added due to popular demand), the Houston Chamber Choir and Da Camera present Music for Rothko, a concert program of contemporary music in one of Houston’s most unique performance spaces. All three performances are sold out.

Presented in the interior of Rothko Chapel, the Music for Rothko program includes piano works by John Cage and Erik Satie, Tagh for the Funeral of the Lord for viola and percussion by Tigran Mansurian, and choral compositions by John Cage including Four. Feldman’s Rothko Chapel for soprano, alto, choir, celesta, and percussion, is the centerpiece of the program. The performers include the Houston Chamber Choir conducted by Robert Simpson, pianist Sarah Rothenberg, percussionist Brian Del Signore, and violist Kim Kashkashian in her first Houston appearance in more than 20 years.

New Yorker Magazine music critic Alex Ross recently tweeted: “It’s Rothko Chapel week” in reference to several performances taking place this week across the country of Feldman’s elegy for his friend painter Mark Rothko. It is exciting to find out via Twitter that this piece is receiving so much well deserved attention. Last Fall on Sequenza 21, I wrote about the Houston Chamber Choir and this upcoming concert. But I didn’t know at the time that several other performances of the piece would take place within a short span of time. And now I’m interested in contemplating what will set the Houston performance of Rothko Chapel apart from those taking place in other cities?

In his wonderful collection of writings Give My Regards to Eighth Street, Feldman describes Rothko’s paintings as “…an experience in depth…not a surface to be seen on a wall.” Music for Rothko will be complimented by the fourteen paintings Rothko painted for Rothko Chapel; and this setting is one that venues in other cities will not be able to approximate. Rothko’s paintings seem to move beyond the edges of the canvases, their surface appearances changing constantly thanks to the light coming through the chapel’s skylight and Houston’s unpredictable weather patterns. A fusion between the paintings, the architecture of the octagonal room, AND the live music is in store for the chapel’s capacity audiences.

Rothko Chapel

Music for Rothko takes place February 25th and 26th at 8pm and February 27th at 2:30pm at Rothko Chapel. All three Music for Rothko concerts are sold out.

A standby list will be created beginning one hour before the performances, and if there are unoccupied seats, ticket will be sold for $35 at the door beginning about 10 minutes before the concert begins.

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Gabriela Lena Frank

When the 2010 Composer Collaboration Awards call for proposals went out on May 10, 2010, music presenters, ensembles, and composers all over the San Francisco Bay Area called, paged, and emailed one another, then got together to put their dream projects down on paper in time for the deadline.

Today the staff and Boards of six organizations, their chosen composers, and their artistic collaborators are popping champagne corks and dancing around their offices.  They’ve received $75,000 each from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, to make six world premieres.

Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary MusicLaura Karpman and Independent
Producers/Authors, The Kitchen Sisters
The Cabrillo Festival is one of the leading festivals dedicated to contemporary classical music. The work brings together Emmy award-winning composer Laura Karpman together with The Kitchen Sisters (authors and radio producers Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson) to create a multi­-media, full evening length symphonic production titled The Hidden World of Girls. The Hidden World of Girls will focus on stories of lives shaped by the secrets girls carry with them into adulthood. The premiere is scheduled for July 28 & 29, 2012 at the 50th anniversary season of the Cabrillo Festival.

Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums (FAMSF)Sarah Wilson and Aerial Dance Company, Catch Me Bird
Inspired by the incredible architecture, landscape and visual arts collections of the de Young Museum, Off the Walls will be a new jazz composition for aerial dance, which will be performed at assorted locations outside, inside and on the sides of the museum. It will be an evening­ length, site-specific work performed by composer Sarah Wilson, Catch Me Bird Aerial Dance Company, and an ensemble of 12-18 Bay Area musicians and dancers. The premiere is scheduled for March 2013.

Jewish Community Center of San FranciscoMark Izu and Choreographer, Kimi Okada
The JCCSF’s Friend Center for the Arts aims to create a forum for innovative projects in multi­-disciplinary and multicultural contemporary and traditional performance. It will commission a multi-media, multi-disciplinary work composed by Mark lzu and choreographed by Kimi Okada entitled Mu. Incorporating Korean, African, Indian, Japanese, and Hawaiian traditional music and dance, the piece heralds the end of the Mayan calendar and uses the legend of Mu, an ancient empire of blessings and noble values destroyed by materialism and greed, as a parable for today. The premiere is scheduled for December 2012.

Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana de San Jose Incorporated (MACLA) Guillermo Galindo and Chamber Ensemble, Quinteto Latino
MACLA is a San Jose-based contemporary arts space grounded in the Chicano/Latino experience. The company incubates new visual, literary and performance art in order to engage people in civic dialogue and community transformation. Guillermo Galindo and Quinteto Latino will create Voces del Desierto, a piece that will explore the journeys of unnamed immigrants who cross the Mexican-American border in search of a better life. The premiere is scheduled for late 2011 or early 2012.

San Francisco Girls ChorusGabriela Lena Frank and Librettist, Nilo Cruz
One of the premier girls’ choruses in the U.S., the San Francisco Girls Chorus will commission Gabriela Lena Frank to create a cantata for treble chorus, chamber orchestra, and vocal soloists in collaboration with librettist Nilo Cruz. Marrying Western classical music tradition with Latin American folk music, Holy Daughters (working title) examines the cultural clash and interchange between European colonialism and indigenous tradition, and the role and perception of women in both worlds. The premiere is scheduled for June 2013.

Z Space Studio (Z Space)Marcus Shelby and Co-Creator, Margo Hall
Known nationally as a premier performance development lab for artists, Z Space will create a new work by composer/musician Marcus Shelby and actor/director/singer Margo Hall. The new musical performance piece will explore the journey of a young black woman growing up in Detroit during one of the most exciting times for music and one of the most turbulent for civil rights. Loosely based on Ms. Hall’s life, Detroit represents a link to her childhood where her father was a well-known Detroit musician and as a child, she sang with her “aunties,” who were members of the Supremes band.  The premiere is scheduled for January/February 2013.

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Ekmeles rehearses Iddon

On Tuesday 1/11, newish New York vocal ensemble Ekmeles presents a program of music by Martin Iddon, Alvin Lucier, and David Lang at The Tank. I caught up with Ekmeles’ director, baritone Jeff Gavett to learn more about the event.

Carey: Why did you form the group Ekmeles?

Gavett: “While New York is home to many exceptional instrumental groups dedicated to contemporary music, there is a relative paucity of new vocal music. Ekmeles was created to fill the gap, and bring adventurous new music for solo voices to audiences that otherwise have little or no chance to hear it.”

“Our first season so far has included a US premiere by Mauricio Kagel, New York premieres by Aaron Cassidy and Kenneth Gaburo, and new commissions by Troy Herion and Jude Traxler. We also performed as the vocal complement in a sold out performance of Knee Plays from Einstein on the Beach as part of the Darmstadt Essential Repertoire series at Issue Project Room.”

Carey: Tell us about the works on the concert?

Gavett: “First on the program is our commission, Martin Iddon’s Ἁμαδρυάδες (hamadryads). It’s a transformation of Josquin’s Nymphes des Bois which involves retuning the intervals of the original in chains of Pythagorean intervals. These pitches, notated to the hundredth of a cent, are traversed mostly through extremely slow glissandi, requiring the singers to use sine wave reference tracks to achieve the tuning. We’ll also be playing tuned wine glasses, which blend eerily with the vocal textures.”

“Next is Alvin Lucier’s Theme, a setting of a poem by John Ashbery which shares some kinship with his most famous work. Lucier fragments the poem and distributes it between four speakers, who read the text into what he calls “resonant vessels.” These are vases, milk jugs, any empty container into which is placed a miniature microphone, which picks up the sound of the voice as filtered by the vessel, much like the room filters the sound of Lucier’s voice in I am sitting in a room.”

“David Lang’s the little match girl passion rounds out the program. As the title suggests, Lang has taken Hans Christian Andersen’s moralistic children’s story and infused it with the Passion. The suffering and death of a poor little girl is thus directly and explicitly equated to that of Christ, amplifying the story’s emotional impact. The singers all play percussion instruments, and the glockenspiel is featured especially prominently, its crisp attack evoking the freezing night. The clear and sparse textures throughout the match girl text are contrasted beautifully with richer quasi-choral textures in the Passion-derived elements.”

Carey: What’s next for Ekmeles?

Gavett: “Upcoming performances include John Cage’s Song Books at the Avant Music Festival on February 12th, and Chris Cerrone’s Invisible Cities with Red Light New Music in May.”

Concert Details

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011, 7 PM – Ekmeles – Resonances
$10 admission
The Tank
345 W 45th St, Manhattan, NY 212-563-6269

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 Arvo Pärt: Symphony No. 4

Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa Pekka Salonen conductor
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tõnu Kaljuste conductor

Symphony No. 4 “Los Angeles” (2008)
Fragments from Kanon Pokajanen (1997)

ECM New Series 2160

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt turned 75 yesterday. His record label ECM Records is celebrating his three-quarters of a century with two new recordings.

Pärt’s 4th Symphony is a long-anticipated follow-up to his 3rd – which was written back in 1971! In the interim, the composer has moved from a modernist style to an idiosyncratic version of minimalism; one the composer calls the “tintinnabuli” style of composition. From bell-like resonances and slowly moving chant melodies, Pärt has crafted a personal compositional language of considerable appeal. And while this has included a number of stirring instrumental works, such as Tabula Rasa and Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, more recently Pärt has been known for his choral music. His return to symphonic form is thus an opportunity to explore his mature language in a different milieu.

Perhaps in part as an acknowledgement of the home of the orchestra commissioning the Fourth Symphony – the “City of Angels” – Pärt decided to use a text as a formative – if subliminal – device in his preparations of the piece: the Canon of the Guardian Angel. Thus, while this is certainly not merely a transcription of a vocal piece – it sounds idiomatic and well orchestrated – there is a certain chant-like quality which demonstrates the symphony’s affinity with the vocal music and chant texts that are Pärt’s constant companions.

The live recording is of the work’s premiere in Disney Hall in LA. Salonen and the LA Phil give a muscular rendition of the piece, emphasizing its emphatic gestures while still allowing for the symphony’s many reflective, meditative oases to have considerably lustrous resonance. And while one can certainly hear a palpable connection to Pärt’s chant-inspired tintinnabuli pieces, the symphony also allows for dissonant verticals and melodic sweep that recalls both Pärt’s own Third Symphony and the works of other 20th century symphonists, from Gorecki to Shostakovich.

Perhaps in order to clearly attest to the connection between text and symphony, the disc is balanced out with a fifteen-minute serving of fragments from one of his important choral works from the 1990s: Kanon Pokajanen. The composer has pointed out the relationship between the canon that was his reference point for the symphony and the texts upon which the latter choral work was based.

He says, “To my mind, the two works form a stylistic unity and belong together. I wanted to give the words an opportunity to choose their own sound. The result, which even caught me by surprise, was a piece wholly pervaded by this special Slavonic diction found only in church texts. It was the canon that clearly showed me how strongly choice of language preordains a work’s character.”

Kaljuste and the Estonian Chamber Choir are seasoned handlers of Pärt’s works, having made a number of recordings of his music. They do not disappoint here, providing a performance that juxtaposes the ethereal eternity found in the texts with an earthy and corporeally passionate rendering of the music.

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In order to further fete Pärt, ECM also plans a lush reissue of their landmark 1984 recording, Tabula Rasa, complete with a generous accompanying book with newly commissioned essays about the composer.

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Nico Muhly is set to appear at the Santa Monica Apple Store on the Third Street Promenade Wednesday, September 8th to mark two new releases from Decca. “A Good Understanding” will be released exclusively on iTunes on September 7, with physical copies available on September 21 alongside “I Drink the Air Before Me”.

Composer Nico Muhly


Muhly along with Los Angeles Master Chorale conductor Grant Gershon will take part in a Q&A session – where Muhly will demonstrate how he creates his compositions with GarageBand on his MacBook Pro. The talk will end with a performance by members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale featuring two works from “A Good Understanding” and two related works, “Like as the Hart” and “Wayfaring Stranger”.
John Clare spoke with Muhly about the works and event: mp3 file
Nico Muhly and Los Angeles Master Chorale conductor Grant Gershon appear at the Santa Monica Apple Store on Wednesday, September 8, 7:00 p.m.
Bonus – listen to the rest of the conversation as Muhly interviews Clare: mp3 file

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