Please welcome Jonathan Lakeland, a conductor and pianist making his first contribution to Sequenza 21, a review of pianist Ang Li’s Weill Hall program. Plenty of 19th century rep, but two premieres as well.
The collaboration between performer and composer is one of the great joys of music. Pianist Ang Li’s recent Carnegie Hall recital (12/18 at Weill Hall) was, if nothing else, a celebration of this beautiful relationship. Ms. Li programmed music that celebrated the 200th birth-year of Franz Liszt, while also performing new works by two terrific young composers: Jérôme Blais and Jared Miller.
Ms. Li began her program with Liszt’s piano transcription of “Liebestod”, the final aria from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which opens with three hypnotizing ambiguous chords. The performance was riveting. One could hear the entire orchestra in the reduction, illustrating not only the brilliance of Ms. Li’s musical ability, but also the genius of the birthday boy himself.
Following this was Liszt’s “Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este” from Annés de Pèlerinage, a piece was inspired by the Gospel of John (4:14), “but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” As Liszt’s writing transitions from depicting the beauty of the divine water towards depicting the greatness of eternal life, Ms. Li was able to achieve a rounded and sonorous bass, an area of the piano that some other pianists abuse and manhandle.
After a brief pause came a set of three Schubert songs transcribed for the piano by Liszt: “Wohin”; “Der Müller und der Bach”; and “Gretchen am Spinnrade”. One of the questions a performer must answer when preparing these famous transcriptions is whether the melody should be played as if it is being sung, or if it should be played as if it is on an instrument, or imitating a series of instruments. The cardinal mistake a pianist can make is to have made no decision, for this rejects the compositional foundation of these pieces. Ms. Li clearly decided to “be a singer.” The result was a lyrical and present melody reflecting the character of a Chopin nocturne, while also respecting the programmatic writing of Schubert’s songs.
The first half ended with Liszt’s Ballade no. 2 in b minor. In keeping with the recital’s programmatic theme, Ms. Li mentions in her program notes that this piece is supposed to depict, the myth of Hero and Leander. One could surmise it to say it was a myth that was Wagnerian and tragic in character. In her performance of this piece, I felt Ms. Li emphasized depiction too much, and tried to force-feed me the images behind each musical moment. She did not let subtlety play a role here, and I felt that her choices got in the way of Liszt’s writing. This surprised me, but she quickly redeemed herself.
Following intermission was a second half full of youth and vitality. Mr. Blais, whose piece, “Es ist genug!” received its U.S. premiere at the recital this evening, explained to the audience that he is an atheist, and was asked to write a piece for a concert of contemporary piano music celebrating Christmas. Clearly, he was faced with a slight problem. How does an atheist compose something referencing the sacred? He decided that as a musician, the closest he could get was to write a piece worshipping Johann Sebastian Bach.
Mr. Blais’ composition combined fragments of Bach’s keyboard works separated by moments of improvisation. He combined this structure with the use of the sostenuto pedal to highlight the overtone series, and its embedded harmonic influence. The result was a vacuum of ringing overtones broken by momentary bursts of counterpoint, and slightly incomplete but familiar cadences. Ms. Li committed to the vision of the composer, and delivered a tasteful and confident performance.
Between Mr. Blais’ and Ms. Miller’s works was a set of three Debussy preludes: Brouillards, Minstrels, and Feux d’artifice. Ms. Li’s musical vision seemed slightly skewed. Perhaps it was hearing this set between two extraordinarily organic performances, but they seemed to lack the evening’s prevalent interpretive power.
The world premiere of, “Souvenirs d’Europe”, by Jared Miller, was next to be heard, and Ms. Li had him speak before her performance as well. Mr. Miller is pursuing his Master’s degree in composition at Juilliard. He told the audience that he had been commissioned for this work immediately upon returning from backpacking through Europe. Naturally he was inspired by Liszt’s, Annés de Pèlerinage, as this set of pieces was written as Liszt’s reflection of his travels through Europe. Miller’s piece is in three movements: Fontaines, Origines, and İLa Rambla!. As Mr. Miller writes, “Fontaines evokes the Cascade Donjon Waterfall in Nice, France.” What was immediately noticeable was his intimate knowledge of the piano’s versatility. The result is an admirable accomplishment of programmatic writing- we can hear the water sloshing, and gravity’s tempo as it pulls the water along its course.
“Origines” is “inspired by the significance of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris,” says Miller. He evokes, “the sounds of ancient chorales, chants, bells, and [the] organ echoing through time and space.” Ms. Li channeled these images and instruments very well. Miller’s piano writing mimicked each instrument quite well.
İLa Rambla!, “evokes Barcelona’s main tourist drag”…”one hears pulsating Latin music escape a nightclub, smells tapas being cooked at a cerveceria, and tastes the most potent sangria in the world.” Mr. Miller’s communication of folk life and song rivals that of the masters Bartok, Britten, and Dvorak. His music is both hypnotic and efficient, leaving every musical detail with an interconnected meaning. At only twenty-two years old, his music brims with potential. Not even waiting until the piece had fully ended, the audience sounded their cheers, applause, and bravos for Miller and Li.
Ms. Li ended the program with Granados’ Allegro de Concierto. This exciting piece was a perfect choice to follow Miller’s rousing İLa Rambla!. Ms. Li played it with brilliant enthusiasm.
My parents-in-law have a long tradition of enthusiastic photography. Greta the golden retriever is less than a year old, but she’s already an accomplished model.
To those readers in the United States, I’d like to wish you a safe and happy Independence Day. While there’s a lot of music played on this holiday that is arranged to be “broadly appealing,” Charles Ives was never one to compromise. “Fourth of July” (1904), from the Holidays Symphony, complexly layers a number of patriotic tunes, which move a different speeds and simultaneously appear in different keys.
No one will mistake this piece for John Philip Sousa anytime soon, but it’s Ives’ way of paying tribute to the complex and multifaceted portrait that he saw both as America in the modern age and as the epitome of the American dream. Michael Tilson Thomas leads the Chicago Symphony in the embedded video below.
The 2011 Celebrate Asia competition from the Seattle Symphony is now open!
Seattle Symphony’s Celebrate Asia announces the second Seattle Symphony Celebrate Asia Composition Competition. The Competition seeks to promote and recognize young composers who are interested in Asian culture, music and traditions. The concept originated in 2008, when local Asian leaders wanted to find a way to strengthen bonds with the broader community through a cultural celebration. Celebrate Asia is part of the Seattle Symphony’s Around the World series.
The Seattle Symphony, presenting its 109th season in 2011–2012, will come under the artistic leadership of Music Director Designate Ludovic Morlot in September 2011, following the close of Gerard Schwarz’s Farewell Season as Music Director. The Orchestra performs in the acoustically superb Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. The Symphony is internationally recognized for its adventurous programming of contemporary works, its devotion to the classics, and its extensive recording history. From September through July, the Symphony is heard live by more than 315,000 people.
•Award and Performance
The winning composer will receive a $1,000 cash award and an opportunity to visit Seattle for the world premiere. The winning score will be performed by Seattle Symphony and conductor Mei Ann Chen on February 24, 2012, in Benaroya Hall at the annual Celebrate Asia! concert.
All composers born after January 1, 1966, are eligible.
Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony Music Director
Simon Woods, Seattle Symphony Executive Director
Elena Dubinets, Seattle Symphony Vice President of Artistic Planning
Members of the Seattle Symphony Artistic Advisory Committee
1.Works must have Asian influences (for example: Asian folk melodies, Asian stories and legends, Asian traditional instruments).
2.Works must be new, original and accessible.
3.Works should be 3 to 6 minutes in duration.
4.Works should be for orchestra or chamber orchestra with instrumentation no larger than 3333 – 4331 – T+3 – hp – kybd – str. Woodwind doublings are allowed.
5.The submitted work must have had no prior performances.
6.Interested composers should submit:
– A legible, bound, full score
– A recording of the piece on a CD (midi-format is OK)
– A clear description of the composition’s Asian influence(s)
– A biography, with current address, e-mail address, and phone number
– If selected, professionally prepared parts will be required 60 days before the concert.
•Entry Fee and Deadline
There is no entry fee. All entries must arrive no later than Friday, October 21, 2011. Seattle Symphony is not responsible for lost or damaged material. The winning composition will be announced before Friday, November 18, 2011.
•Send submission to:
Seattle Symphony Celebrate Asia Composer Competition
ATTN: Amy Stagno
P.O. Box 21906
Seattle, WA 98111-3669
Questions and inquiries may be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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/
Published in 2007, The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross’ first book, was an engrossing and thoughtful survey of Twentieth Century music, equally useful as an introduction to neophytes and a refresher to specialists (he’s since tweaked the paperback edition to be even more comprehensive, including updated info and a “go-to” listening list). By “classical music” standards, the book was wildly successful, and Ross subsequently garnered a number of honors, including a 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award and a 2008 MacArthur Fellowship. Its follow-up, Listen to This, doesn’t limit itself to contemporary concert music. Instead, it’s a wide-ranging survey of musical topics, including portrait essays of musicians as diverse as Radiohead, Marian Anderson, Sonic Youth, and Cecil Taylor, discussions of specific musical genres, and thought pieces on the state of music education, the record industry, and cultural consumption at home and abroad.
Ross has been a music critic on the staff at the New Yorker since 1996. While most of these essays are culled from his writings there, Listen to This never strikes one merely as a “greatest hits” compilation. Rather, the volume is structured to tease out several overarching concerns. One of them is the working musician. In one chapter, he demystifies the grueling touring schedule of chamber musicians, pointing out that even acclaimed groups such as the St. Lawrence String Quartet have to hustle to make a living in today’s economic climate. Far from being another “death of classical music story,” Ross argues for the relevancy of these touring ensembles that, despite these challenges, bring music of a very high level of artistry to locations far and wide, many of them off of the beaten path. Another topic is globalization’s affect on postmillennial music, which is explored in a particularly fascinating travel essay detailing a concert-filled trip to China and in a jaunt to Carnival in Brazil with Björk.
While there’s no mistaking Ross’ erudition, a trait that allows specialists to prefer his writings to those of some of his journalist colleagues with less musical knowledge, Listen to This is an approachable collection. One of the ways in which it speaks to a wide audience is with an eagerness to share in what Leonard Bernstein called “The Joy of Music.” Indeed, Ross is that rare writer on music who can share his enthusiasms for an artist’s work with unabashed honesty. But even when backstage with Radiohead or following Björk through the streets of Salvador, he defuses any notions of fanboy journalism – a trend that, alarmingly, has infiltrated all too many publications of late. Instead, Ross seeks to put a human face on artistic process, detailing the origins of Björk’s eclectic musical tastes and providing a foil for the singer’s exotic costumes and playful demeanor by detailing a studio session in which, while humane, she is exacting in eliciting musical details from collaborators. There’s an emotional openness, even vulnerability, which runs through a number of these essays. His eulogy of the exquisitely talented mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson is one of the most affecting yet observant tributes to this recently departed artist (rereading it was made all the more poignant by the passing in April of her husband, the composer Peter Lieberson).
The state of music education is a frequent topic of discussion of late. Ross’ essay “The Crisis of Music Education” should be required reading for policy-makers, educators, and the parents of artistically motivated children alike. As one can tell by the title, it acknowledges the beleaguered state of arts and education funding; but Ross still provides several glimmers of hope for the future. He describes the unlikely and extraordinary flowering of a music program in the inner city at Malcolm X Shabazz High School in Newark, New Jersey. Another urban success story is detailed in Providence, Rhode Island’s Community MusicWorks, a program run by the Providence String Quartet, a group of graduates from major conservatories who prefer giving back to staking a claim for fame and fortune. Ross even gets in on the education act himself: part of his book tour for Listen to This has featured a performance/discussion of bass lines throughout music history ranging from Purcellian grounds to Delta Blues walking lines: it’s also made for a cult YouTube hit, in which Ross is joined by the Bad Plus’ Ethan Iverson and ex-Battles composer Tyondai Braxton.
A staff position at the New Yorker provides a platform from which can wield considerable influence. Some of the essays collected here have already had undeniable impact. Ross has done a considerable amount to raise the stock of Alaskan composer John Luther Adams, and his fascinating chapter on the composer’s works and working environments is another “must-read” excerpt. One wonders whether it’s mere coincidence that Providence String Quartet founder Sebastian Ruth received a 2010 MacArthur Fellowship. If Ross had a hand in this, more power to him: it’s nice to see a music critic on the side of the good guys!
Now in their 10th season, the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players have earned their special place in New York City music lovers’ hearts.
A stone throw from Lincoln Center’s main venues, the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church on 152 West 66th Street provides a modest but intimate setting for the chamber music series, commemorating the powerful legacy of the founder and conductor of the Jupiter Symphony Orchestra, Jens Nygaard, who had performed for audiences at Alice Tully Hall, as well as the homeless and victims of natural disasters alike.
His passion for music not only glorified already celebrated works, but he sought out lesser known and neglected works or composers whose names had been forgotten, which he presented with great appeal. This charismatic personality in teaching and music-making touched many lives before he passed away in 2001. The Emmy Award winning documentary “Life on Jupiter,” has accounts of Nygaard’s highly spirited and relevant impact, told by his friends and colleagues.
Run by private funding, the enthusiastic efforts of the Chamber Players’ manager and Nygaard’s widow, Mei Ying, as well as former first bassoonist and now music advisor, Michael Volpert, the series is dedicated to continuing Mr. Nygaard’s artistic quest for beautiful music and interesting performance. It also keeps on providing performance opportunities for some of the former orchestral musicians as well as talented guest artists.
A small but loyal and informed audience follows this quest on a very low budget. Tickets are not expensive. The performances are held on twenty Monday afternoons (2pm) and evening (7.30pm) programs.
Besides playing some of the standard gamut, the performers who come from a roster of first rate, internationally performing artists, notably explore a handpicked, highly selective repertoire.
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 job requirements of a working composer are elusive, perhaps especially for composition students enrolled in University degree programs that fail to provide graduates with the interpersonal and business skills necessary for survival outside the walls of academia. One student composer told me recently: “We are all being trained to teach.”Woody Allen famously said: “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” But those who compose and don’t teach do find ways to sustain themselves and their passion for music through a variety of collaborative and creative means, some perhaps less “traditional” than others. With this in mind, let’s have a chat with my friend composer Tom Myron.
The range of Tom Myron’s work as a composer includes commissions and performances by the Kennedy Center, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, the Topeka Symphony, the Yale Symphony Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Bangor Symphony and the Lamont Symphony at Denver University. He works regularly as an arranger for the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, writing for singers Rosanne Cash, Kelli O’Hara, Maxi Priest and Phil Stacey, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, and the Quebec folk ensemble Le Vent du Nord. Le Vent du Nord’s new CD Symphonique featuring Myron’s orchestra arrangements is receiving an incredible amount of positive press throughout Canada and will be available for purchase in the U.S. soon. A video preview of the recording is included in this interview.
His film scores include Wilderness & Spirit; A Mountain Called Katahdin and the upcoming Henry David Thoreau; Surveyor of the Soul, both from Films by Huey. Individual soloists and chamber ensembles that regularly perform Myron’s work include violinists Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, Elisabeth Adkins and Kara Eubanks, violist Tsuna Sakamoto, cellist David Darling, the Portland String Quartet, the DaPonte String Quartet and the Potomac String Quartet.
Tom (I’ll call him Tom now) graciously took time out of his schedule to answer a handful of questions including several having to do with the “business” of making music.
Chris Becker: You arrange and orchestrate music for a variety of artists and have a career composing concertos, string quartets, and various settings for voice. Are these two separate careers that you have to juggle? Or do they intersect providing you with even more musical opportunities than if you were focused only one or the other?
Tom Myron: From a purely logistical point of view it’s a juggling act. Both types of work tend to lead to more opportunities within their respective areas, but there isn’t a lot of overlap. That said, they DO intersect for me on a more personal, creative level. I love getting to know all kinds of musical idioms in a very practical, mechanical way. I also love just about everything that goes into handling, preparing and rehearsing music for live performance. My training in composition and the orchestral repertoire has benefited my commercial work by giving me the flexibility to consider (and rapidly execute!) multiple solutions to specific problems. The commercial work in turn informs my composition by instilling a disciplined work ethic and keeping organization and clarity of intention foremost in my mind.
Houston, TX – There’s no question that Houston’s proponents of contemporary music are enthusiastically embracing creative marketing concepts and alternative venues for performances in an effort to expand and educate a new century of audiences. In an un-zoned city like Houston, I find that musicians and audiences will happily cross so-called genre and cultural boundaries especially if there’s promise of a good time (Texas barbecue can help too, but that’ll be another entry…). Much to my delight, I am seeing familiar faces when I’m out at performances of new music be it in a gallery in the Third Ward, a club in Montrose, or the Hobby Center’s Zilka Hall. Although I’ve only been living in Houston for short time, I feel a sense of connection to what is a pretty broad cross section of the city’s creative community.
Duo Scordatura violinist Nicholas Leh Baker
One of the familiar faces I see around town is Houston composer George Heathco, who hipped me to what will be an exciting concert of contemporary pieces for the violin and viola, including three (!) world premieres, performed by the duo of violinist Nicholas Leh Baker and violist Faith Magdalene Jones who call themselves Duo Scordatura. The concert takes place Saturday, January 29th at 6pm at First Presbyterian Church, located at 5300 Main Street. Tickets for concert are $10 for general audiences and $5 for students, children, and seniors.
The concert, titled COMMISSIONED, includes four works commissioned by Duo Scordatura, including works by Alexandra T. Bryant, Luke Dahn, George Heathco, and Dr. Daniel Kramlich. Part of the creative marketing for COMMISSIONED includes the Commissioned Project Interview Series featuring the duo and commissioned composers discussing the collaborative process that takes place between composers and the performing musicians.
Composer George Heathco
Heathco describes his programmed piece Turbine (2010) as “a bitch to play, but…a very entertaining work (or so I hope).” Also on the program are pieces by Jack Benson and Jodran Kuspa.
All of the composers on the bill either currently or have at one point called Houston their home and, according to Nicholas Leh Baker in his video interview, will all be present at the performance. Duo Scordatura is committed to presenting works “in a wide range of venues across the Houston landscape.” I look forward to hearing them next Saturday at First Presbyterian Church, and in the future wherever their mission takes them.