On February 16, 2016, Tuesdays@Monk Space hosted a concert of Cold Blue Music artists in the lively Koreatown district of Los Angeles. A good crowd came out to hear music by Michael Jon Fink, Jim Fox, Michael Byron and Peter Garland. Three premieres were heard including the world premiere performance of In the Village of Hope by Michael Byron.
The first piece, Vocalise (1979), by Michael Jon Fink, was for piano and performed by the composer. This opened with series of quietly beautiful notes, like the melody from a simple hymn and unfolded with the spare elegance that is the hallmark of Michael Jon Fink’s compositions. The warm acoustics of the cozy Monk Space – with brick walls on three sides – allowed for an extra long duration and decay of the sustained notes, adding to the sense of serenity. Vocalise is not a long piece, but contains all the essential elements of peaceful sensibility that informs this composer’s music.
From a Folio (2013), also by Michael Jon Fink followed, and for this piece of seven movements cellist Derek Stein joined the composer, again on piano. Each of the movements are compact and variously declarative, quietly powerful, unsettling, questioning, solemn or even sorrowful. Sustained cello passages were often set up by a series of simple piano notes or chords, a contrast that proved to be very effective. At other times a soft call and answer pattern between the cello and piano prevailed. The subtle touch on the piano was complimented by the sensitive playing of Derek Stein who discerned the quiet intentions of this work perfectly. The graceful consistency of these seven movements give From a Folio a notable sense of tranquility combined with a satisfying cohesiveness.
The world premiere of In the Village of Hope (2013), by Michael Byron was next, performed by harpist Tasha Smith Godínez, who commissioned the work. This is an ambitious piece, full of constant motion but with an engaging and exotic character. It has a soft, Asian feel and the steady patter of notes fall like raindrops in a warm tropical shower. A light melody in the upper registers is joined in masterful counterpoint below, and the piece glides delicately through several key changes as it continuously unfolds. Listening to the Cold Blue recording of this piece one imagines that the harpist would be a great flurry of motion – but the technique of Tasha Smith Godínez in this performance was superb; her graceful fingers never seemed hurried or her movements labored. The tones from her harp were clear and strong; the lively acoustics of Monk Space made them almost seem amplified. A drier acoustic environment might have served to bring out the intricate texture more clearly. Michael Byron, who was in attendance, admitted to a certain trepidation when he turned in the imposing score, but Ms.Godínez never asked for any changes or modifications and proved more than equal to the task in this performance. In the Village of Hope is a profoundly impressive work, in both its vision and realization.
On Thursday, October 22nd at the new downtown New York venue the Sheen Center, an acoustically generous and attractive performance space, we heard the second of three concerts presenting selections from Anthony de Mare’s ambitious commissioning project Liasons: Reimaginings of Sondheim from the Piano. De Mare has recorded the 36 commissioned pieces for ECM Records, which has released a generously annotated 3 CD set of them.
De Mare is an ideal advocate for this music. His touch at the piano is at turns muscular, dexterous, and tender, well able to encompass the many demeanors the commissioned composers adopted when interpreting Sondheim’s songs. De Mare’s experience as a teacher (at Manhattan School of Music) was on display as well. Abetted by brief video interviews with a few of the featured composers, he gave short explanations of each piece from the piano. For the students and devotees of musical theatre on hand, these explications were no doubt an invaluable introduction to a number of composers and an integral part of the experience. For those of us familiar with the classical composers commissioned for the project, there were a number of anecdotes and musical details that revealed intriguing pieces of information about the genesis of the programmed pieces and their creators’ interest in particular aspects of Sondheim’s work.
With such an embarrassment of riches on display, it is difficult to pick favorites. For me, Ricky Ian Gordon’s take on “Every Day A Little Death,” from A Little Night Music, was truly lovely, and it was given a nearly impossibly gentle rendition by De Mare. Nils Vigeland’s imaginative version of material from Merrily We Roll Along was a standout: compositionally well structured, balancing thematic transformation with retaining a sense of the title tune’s “hummable” character. Phil Kline took material from a lesser-known Sondheim musical, Pacific Overtures, and made “Someone in a Tree” an especially memorable offering. Nico Muhly’s “Color and Light,” from Sunday in the Park with George, gave De Mare a motoric, post-minimal workout. In “Birds from Victorian England,” based on material from Sweeney Todd, Jason Robert Brown had the pianist playing with three overdubbed instruments, while Rodney Sharman’s “Notes of Beautiful” from Sunday, judiciously included playing inside the piano.
De Mare plays the final concert of the Sondheim triptych at Symphony Space on November 19th. Based on his performance at the Sheen Center, it is a “can’t miss” event.
The evening began with a pre-concert panel discussion moderated by Chad Smith, VP of Artistic Planning. He was joined by John Adams and four of the composers whose works were on the program: Missy Mazzoli, David Lang, Mark Grey and Andrew McIntosh. The question that provoked the most discussion revolved around the changes in minimalism since its inception. John Adams suggested that it has now acquired a more lyrical bent and that contemporary composers are writing music for musicians who want to be technically challenged. The consensus was that the term ‘minimalism’ is now useful as a description for a certain palette of sounds and processes; but few composers today would identify themselves as minimalists. The programming of this concert was itself an attempt to chart the evolution of minimalism since the mid-20th century.
Even before the concert began the long elegant lines of William Duckworth’s Time Curve Preludes (1977-78) – a work that was something of a departure from the strict minimalist form of that time – could be heard from the piano on stage, carefully played by Richard Valitutto. The music this night was non-stop and there were presentations in various places outside the concert hall during the two intermissions. When the crowd had settled into their seats, a spotlight suddenly shone high up on the organ console revealing Clare Chase, flute soloist, who began the concert with Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint (1982). This piece incorporates a tape track of rapid, staccato flute notes and the soloist plays a line that weaves in and around the looping patterns. The feeling was a sort of aural kaleidoscope of changing complexity that was reassuring in its repetition. Ms. Clare smoothly changed flutes several times and this gave a series of different colors to the piece as it progressed. About mid-way the accompaniment in the tape became more flowing and less frenetic, and this helped to bring out the solo flute. The sound tended to be a bit washed out by the time it reached high up in the balcony where I was sitting, and while this did not detract significantly from the performance, the piece was more effective when the solo line was distinct.
The second work, Stay On It (1973) by Julius Eastman was performed by wild Up with Christopher Rountree conducting. This begins with a series of short syncopated phrases in the piano, soon picked up by the strings, voices and a marimba. This has a lilting Afro/Caribbean feel that builds a nice groove as it proceeds. Horns sound long sustained notes arcing above the texture, but this slowly devolves into a kind of joyful chaos, like being in the middle of a slightly out of control street party This was carried off nicely by wild Up, even when the entire structure collapsed into and out of loud cacophony led by the marimba and horns. The piece seemed to spend itself in this outburst, like air flowing out of a balloon, but towards the end the rhythm regrouped sufficiently to finish with a soft introspective feel. Stay On It quietly concluded with a single maraca shaken by conductor Christopher Rountree.
The first section of the concert finished with Different Trains (1988) by Steve Reich. In this performance the train sounds and voices were provided by a tape with the Calder Quartet playing seamlessly along. This piece, and the story behind it, will be familiar to most who follow minimalist music, but seeing it live one gets a much better appreciation for its complexity and the effort involved in playing it by a string quartet. The sound system didn’t project the voices very clearly up into the balcony where I was sitting, but this actually afforded a new perspective. With a recording heard through headphones one can easily get caught up in how well the strings are mimicking the voices. High up in Disney Hall you could get just a sense of the words, and I found myself concentrating instead on the sound of strings – and this made for a more powerful experience. The different colors of the three movements came through more vividly, and the intensity that the Calder Quartet brought to this piece was impressive. Different Trains is a masterpiece of late 20th century minimalism and this was made even more obvious in this reading, burdened as it was by less than ideal conditions. The ethereal passages that conclude the piece were beautifully effective, and as the sound faded slowly away, a sustained and sincere applause followed.
The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, Conductor and Artistic Director, will present the third concert of their 25th Anniversary season on Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 3:00 PM at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th St. (btw Broadway and Amsterdam) in Manhattan. This event, co-sponsored by Merkin Concert Hall, marks NYVS’s return to the venue where they presented their first concert in 1988.
To celebrate their 25th Anniversary, Harold Rosenbaum and the NYVS asked 25 of this country’s most important composers to create new works. The March 3 concert will feature World Premieres of 13 of these commissioned works from Richard Wernick, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Mark Adamo, Richard Danielpour, Augusta Read Thomas, Thea Musgrave, Joseph Schwantner, William Bolcom, Roger Davidson, David Felder and Joan Tower.
Tickets for the March 3 concert are $25/$15 students. For tickets or more information, call Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center at 212-501-3330 or visit http://kaufman-center.org/mch/.
The other 12 works commissioned works, by Jennifer Higdon, George Tsontakis, John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, Shulamit Ran, John Harbison, Steven Stucky, Stephen Hartke, Fred Lerdahl, Chen Yi, Bruce Adolphe and Yehudi Wyner were premiered on October 21, 2012 at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall. All 25 of the commissioned works will be recorded for Soundbrush Records.
Continuing their collaborative efforts to spotlight the work of Missouri composers, the Columbia Civic Orchestra and the Mizzou New Music Initiative have announced the selection of two orchestral works written by Missouri residents to be performed by the CCO at a concert in March. The two winning pieces were chosen in a statewide competition conducted under the auspices of the Missouri Composers Orchestra Project. The winners will receive a $500 honorarium from MOCOP’s sponsor, the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation.
The work chosen in the Open category is Ravish and Mayhem by Stephanie Berg, a native of Parkville who earned her master’s degree in composition from the University of Missouri last May and now lives in Columbia. The winning composition in the High School category is Appalachian Rhapsody by Dustin Dunn, a 16-year-old junior at South Iron High School in Ironton.
The winners were selected through a blind judging process by John Cheetham, professor emeritus of music theory and composition at the University of Missouri, and Bruce Gordon, former orchestra manager for CCO. The judges also awarded Honorable Mentions to Nicholas S. Omiccioli of Kansas City for his work flourishes, and to Patrick David Clark of Columbia for FE 700° C.
Both winning compositions will be performed by the Columbia Civic Orchestra as part of their annual concert of music by living composers at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, March 9 at Broadway Christian Church, 2601 West Broadway in Columbia. Tickets are $15 for individuals, $40 for a group of up to 5, and can be purchased in advance online at http://www.columbiachorale.com/ or at the door.
The concert also will spotlight several contemporary works for chorus, including the world premiere of La Terra Illuminata by Mizzou adjunct assistant professor Paul Seitz, a new piece commissioned specifically for CCO and the Columbia Chorale by the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation.
The Mizzou New Music Initiative is an array of programs intended to position the University of Missouri School of Music as a leading center in the areas of composition and new music, and is the direct result of the generous support of Dr. Jeanne and Mr. Rex Sinquefield and the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. Mizzou has really been doing good stuff down that way the past few years, and it’s important to remember that the heartland of America is just as much a breeding ground for new music, composers and performers, as are the two coasts. Keep it up!
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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.
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.
The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, Conductor and Artistic Director, will present the first concert of their 25th Anniversary season on Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 3:00 PM at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th St. (btw Broadway and Amsterdam) in Manhattan. This will mark their return to the hall where they presented their first concert in 1988.
To celebrate their 25th Anniversary, Harold Rosenbaum and the NYVS asked 25 of this country’s most important composers to create new works. The October 21 concert will feature World Premieres of 12 of these commissioned works from Jennifer Higdon, George Tsontakis, John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, Shulamit Ran, John Harbison, Steven Stucky, Stephen Hartke, Fred Lerdahl, Chen Yi, Bruce Adolphe and Yehudi Wyner.
Tickets for the October 21 concert are $25/$15 students. For tickets or more information, call Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center at 212-501-3330 or visit http://kaufman-center.org/mch/.
The other 13 works commissioned works, by Richard Wernick, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Mark Adamo, Richard Danielpour, Augusta Read Thomas, Thea Musgrave, Joseph Schwantner, William Bolcom, Roger Davidson, David Felder and Joan Tower, will be premiered on Sunday, March 3, 2013, again at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall.
This season (12-13) has many firsts for Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. For their opening concert, Orpheus performs Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony for the first time and, in addition to expanding their traditional repertoire, Orpheus has commissioned a staggering four world premieres this season! (Gabriel Kahane is their composer in residence.)
The season begins with the world premiere of Augusta Read Thomas‘s Earth Echoes, a piece commissioned by Orpheus and written to commemorate the death of Gustav Mahler.
John Clare spoke to Augusta about the new work. The two discuss Mahler, orchestration and the magic of Carnegie Hall. Listen to their conversation on soundcloud.
It will be performed October 10th in Easton, PA; Carnegie Hall on October 11th; and in Storrs, CT at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts October 12th.
The great diversity of the Los Angeles area has produced a wide variety of cultural institutions and one of those is the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) – an expression of the sizable Jewish community here. The LAJS is “Dedicated to the performance of orchestral works of distinction, which explore Jewish culture, heritage and experience. It also serves as an important resource for aspiring composers and musicians. As part of its mission, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony is committed to building ‘bridges of music’ and understanding within the diverse multi-ethnic communities of our great city.”
The LAJS marks its 18th or ‘Chai’ anniversary this year with a concert on August 26 titled ‘Chai-lights – Celebrating 18 years of Jewish Music‘. The concert includes a contemporary work ‘Klezmopolitan Suite‘ by Niki Reiser, in its US premiere. Past concerts have included themes from bible stories, the Sephardic-Latino connection, a tribute to Jewish film composers and many educational performances given throughout the city. As part of its mission, the LAJS actively commissions new works and often includes contemporary pieces in its programming.
Dr. Noreen Green, artistic director, conductor and one of the founders of the LAJS, recently met with Sequenza21 to talk about Jewish music, the LAJS and the process of programming and selecting new pieces for performance.
So what is Jewish music and how do you program it? Dr. Green describes: “People have this idea what of Jewish music is – like its bas mitzvah music – so I try to take it beyond. We do a lot of klezmer, but we do it within the framework of the orchestral instruments so it expands the colors of what klezmer is – I think it adds another level to it. And we also do Castelnuovo-Tedesco [an Italian-Jewish composer who came to Los Angeles in 1939 as a refugee] and we also do Bloch and we also do Korngold and a lot of the film composers. Being a good programmer is really key to how the audience is going to react. Whatever you want to say, we are entertainment dollars, so we want people to come and feel like they have had a high musical experience, but in addition I want them to feel like they have learned something – and had a little fun.”
How do you go about selecting new music for the LAJS? The process, admits a smiling Dr. Green is ‘mystical’, but she declares: “Well, it’s all subjective. First of all, I have to like it. I have to make sure it also fits into whatever theme the concert is. I will commission [a piece] within a theme, like the Istoria Judia, the piece had to fit into the whole.”
The Istoria Judia concert this past March had as its theme the expulsion of the Jews from Spain after 1492 and featured a commissioned work by composer Michelle Green Willner. There was a close collaboration between Dr. Green and the composer as the piece was written, but this is not necessarily the case for new music programmed by the LAJS.
Dr. Green explains: “I seek out the people I want to work with. Now of course there are a lot of people come to me and say ‘will you perform my music?’ – that’s more difficult. …I get bombarded with scores – as you can imagine. The ones I don’t even look at are the ones that come without an initial solicitation – a note or letter [from the composer] that asks ‘would you be interested in something like this?’ I have to come up with a kernel first – something to work from – then I go and seek out music. I have a file – and when people will say ‘I have a cello klezmer concerto – would you be interested in that?’ – and I’ll say ‘Maybe in the future but send me some information’ and that goes in the file. I’ve just done our repertoire for next year, so I went back into that file to see what I had – and I didn’t remember some of the things that had been sent. It can take several years sometimes, before a new piece fits into our programing.“
The LAJS does just a few concerts a year, so the opportunities for new music to be performed are also few, even given the commitment to programming it. It can take years for the right combination of theme and music to converge. This was the case with the ‘Klezmopolitan Suite‘, a work that has been around for some time. Dr. Green describes: “I think what is interesting about the Klezmopolitan Suite is that when I read the description of the themes that he [composer Niki Reiser] took, it encompassed all of the elements of what the Jewish symphony is about, because it uses Sephardic themes, it uses Ashkenazic and it intermingles those two main streams of Judaism in a very interesting and ingenious sound. It has ethereal sections and then it has the real flat out klezmer sections – and how he balances these out – I think it is an ingenious work and I’ve been wanting to do it for 10 years.”
How has new music been received by audiences? According to Dr. Green: “It depends on the piece – some people like it and some people hate it! And that is one of the beauties of new music, it engenders discussion.. and I think it’s great when people have very strong reactions to music. I would say 90% of the time mostly people like it, but sometimes people will say ‘well, that didn’t really resonate with me’. [and I say] ‘Great, didn’t resonate with you – but somebody else was crying during it’. It is similar to the way everyone reacts differently to a movie and that is part of the beauty of live performance. If you sit in front of the computer to watch something or listen to it on the radio – that is not a public experience, it’s not a shared experience – and I think we all need more of that, a shared, live experience.”
And that is as good an argument for live performance of new music as you will find!
Further information about the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, Dr. Noreen Green and the August 26 concert are here.
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