Archive for the “Composers” Category

(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

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)

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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LightSoundLogoLight & Sound Concerts presents The Unusual Universe of Rob Schwimmer, two programs featuring theremin, continuum and piano virtuoso Rob Schwimmer on Friday, March 15 at 8:00 PM and Sunday. March 17 at 3: 00 PM at The Old Stone House, Washington Park, 336 Third Street (bet. 4th & 5th Avenues) in Brooklyn, New York. The park entrance faces 4th Avenue. This is presented as part of Light and Sound’s Spring 2013 series.

Rob Schwimmer is an internationally known composer, pianist, theremin and LightSoundRSchwimmercontinuum player. As a founding member of the highly acclaimed Polygraph Lounge he performs regularly with his duo partner, multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart, of Bang On A Can All Stars. Schwimmer is one of the top theremin virtuosos in the world. As an original member of The NY Theremin Society he has appeared as soloist with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s at the prestigious Caramoor Festival and with The Little Orchestra of New York at Lincoln Center. Much more about him at http://www.robschwimmer.com/.

Tickets for the March 15 and 17 performances are $20 at the door, and are also available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/347890. Also on March 17, at 2:00 PM Light & Sound will present a special 40 minute Family Concert & Conversation with the Artist – $15 for first adult, $5 for each additional family member. For more information, call 718-768-3195 or visit http://julianneviolin.com/LandSBlog/?page_id=249. A reception will follow each event.

Light & Sound, curated by its founder/director, violinist Julianne Klopotic, is a full spectrum performance series. Unique in its approach, the 2013 season includes performances informed by New/Experimental Music, Classical, Jazz/Rock and World Music.  Other Light & Sound Spring 2013 Old Stone House Series presentations are The Klopotic-Pierce-Zoernig Trio performing Schubert Piano Trios on April 5 and 6, David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir on April 19 and 21 and Glass Music Master Miguel Frasconi on May 17 and 19. More about the series at http://www.lightandsound-concerts.org.

The Old Stone House, a Historic House Trust of New York City site, commemorates the Vechte-Cortelyou House’s unique place in Brooklyn and American history. Through exhibits, programs and events, they preserve the House’s rich past while contributing to Brooklyn’s contemporary cultural community. Visit them at http://theoldstonehouse.org/.

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TomJ1On Friday, February 22 the week-long 2013 residency of Tom Johnson in Los Angeles was capped off with a concert of his music at the wulf, an experimental performance space deep in the gritty heart of industrial downtown. Featured was the Los Angeles premiere of  ‘Clarinet Trio’ and four other works, plus the occasion was also marked by the release of a new CD of Tom’s works titled ‘correct music’ from Populist Records. About 50 people crowded into the reclaimed factory loft to attend the event and what the wulf lacks in amenities was more than compensated by the enthusiasm of the young audience. The concert was free and there was an ice chest full of  Tecate beer – what’s not to like?

Tom Johnson’s time in Los Angeles this past week was spent giving lectures on mathematics and music at Cal Arts, hosting an exhibition of his drawings in the Art Share LA gallery and presiding over concerts of new music. Tom has deep minimalist roots and, according to the concert notes, “works with simple forms and limited sonic materials, utilizing logic and mathematical models in both his music and his drawings.”

TomJ2

The concert began with Clarinet Trio, performed by Jim Sullivan, Brian Walsh and Damon Zick. This piece consists of a series of short passages with changing sets of three note chords separated by short pauses.  Tom Johnson uses mathematics and sets of drawings to describe his intended sequence of the various permutations of musical sound and these are then translated into the written score and parts.  Clarinet Trio was constructed to explore the possible ways of playing seven different three-note chords and this took about 20 minutes to unfold. The different segments varied in rhythm, attack, dynamic and tempo but the ensemble playing here was very tight and each phrase was cleanly played with good intonation. The acoustics of the small space at the wulf were well-matched to the musical forces and those listening were very attentive during  the Trio – even the 5 second pauses between phrases became familiar after a few minutes. The occasional horn blast from the nearby freeway made its way inside during the silences, but this was not a distraction. The premiere was well-executed by the performers and well-received by the audience.

The second piece was Eggs and Baskets, a narrated piece that is similar in construction to Tom’s Narayana’s Cows. The idea in Eggs and Baskets was to musically describe all the possible ways to put six eggs in two baskets. The two baskets were represented by a viola, played by Andrew McIntosh and a clarinet played by Brian Walsh – as the narration progressed each player sounded a series of notes representing the number eggs in his ‘basket’. The interplay between the viola and clarinet thus became increasingly varied as the permutations grew, with notes trading rapidly back and forth within the same phrase – but this was cleanly done and very effective. The narration by Douglas Wadle nicely connected the playing to the concept, making for an enjoyable piece.

Trio for Strings followed and this set out to play “all possible 3-note chords adding to 72 where C = 24” – some 280 combinations altogether. This was a smooth legato sound of rapidly changing tone combinations, often dissonant. I found that my ear would follow one or the other string players for a time, the chords that sounded were brief and constantly changing. The pitch discipline of the string players was impressive as each tone typically did not bear any familiar relationship to those around it. Hearing this piece is like listening to a computer roll through the possible permutations of a pitch set and it gives a striking example of just how small a subset our traditional tonalities are of all the possibilities that are available in the equal-tempered scale.

Tilework for Piano followed and this was played by Dante Boon, the Dutch composer and pianist. This was similar to Clarinet Trio in that it consists of a series of short phrases built from a limited number of tones, separated by short pauses. The piano gives this piece a more introspective feel and I found my ear tended to concentrate more on the patterns than the pitches or timbre. A concert presented by Mr. Boon will be given at the wulf on February 28.

tomj3

The concert concluded with Eight Patterns for Eight Instruments, and the musical forces used for this performance were sax, piano, violin, clarinet, accordion, guitar, flute and oboe. There is a video of this piece on YouTube as played mostly by strings but the use of winds here yielded a brighter, more accessible sound. ‘Eight Patterns for Eight Instruments’ consists of eight short segments of scales and simple chord patterns. This music is as close to the classic minimalist style as was heard during this concert and the eight instruments played tightly together, filling up the space with a well-balanced sound. A sort of warm optimism radiates from this piece that is appealing and, if anything, too short.

This concert was a good illustration of just how fully grounded is the music of Tom Johnson on the mathematics of combinations and permutations. Rarely has a music been so rigorously architected – the drawings that Tom uses to structure his work look very much like a set of drafted plans or a chemical diagram for a complex molecule.  Other minimalist composer’s of Tom’s generation incorporated repetition and gradual changes in rhythmic patterns to realize their music. Tom’s music stands out because of his use of an entirely different mathematical space to guide the structure of his works.

Further information about upcoming events at the wulf is available here.

More about the exhibition of Tom Johnson’s drawings at Art Share LA can be found here.

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The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbum, Artistic Director and Conductor

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.

Read about the music and composers at http://nyvirtuosos.wordpress.com/.

Special guest will be Brent Funderburk, piano. A pre-concert discussion with several of the composers will begin at 2:15 PM. More about this concert at http://kaufman-center.org/mch/event/the-new-york-virtuoso-singers.

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.

More about NYVS at http://www.nyvirtuoso.org/aboutus.htm. Join their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-New-York-Virtuoso-Singers/130509011774.

This program is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

See video of NYVS from their October 21, 2012 performance at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall below:

Chen Yi Let’s Reach A New Height
Stephen Hartke Audistis Quia Dictum Est

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[Ed. note: Kurt Rohde, Professor of Composition at the University of California at Davis, sent us this report on the recent Music and The Art of Migration Festival there. The weeklong series of events combined a number of approaches to the concept and practice of migration across the arts, with an emphasis on music.]

Sometimes it feels like new music has a way of finding places to collect, gather and pool. Not surprisingly, a number of important US cities (LA, NY, Chicago, etc.) have traditionally been the gravitational centers around which everything else orbits. In our current culture of immediacy and unimpeded online access, the reach of new music being produced in smaller communities is increasing at an astounding rate…or maybe it’s just that we are hearing about it more than ever before. Regardless, there is no question that that vibrant, inventive new music can now be found in more towns across the country. Enter the town of Davis.

Located in the Sacramento River Valley between the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco, Davis is a bucolic college community. It is the home to the University of California at Davis. UCD is home to the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2002. During the week of January 30th to February 3rd, a “flash flood” of new music took place. The UC Davis Department of Music hosted Worlds of Discovery & Loss: The Art of Migration and Music Festival, with support from the Mondavi Center and the Davis Humanities Institute. UCD faculty and composers Sam Nichols and Laurie San Martin organized the five-day festival with a depth of vision. By bringing together visiting ensembles like the Calder Quartet and Rootstock with UCD resident groups Empyrean Ensemble and the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, Nichols and San Martin exquisitely executed a festival that explored the role of migration in music and how it intersects with visual art, cultural studies, and storytelling. In effect, the festival became a migratory “stop” for everyone involved, a way station in between points where ideas were exchanged and shared before moving onward.

I joined San Martin and Nichols as their assistant during the festival: It was a fantastic way to experience firsthand all the events. At the core of the festival was the presence of composer-in-residence Lei Liang and seven Festival Composition Fellows (Kari Besharse, David Coll, Elliot Cless, Annie Hsieh, Nicholas Omiccioli, Ryan Suleiman, Tina Tallon). Around this center were a series of concerts, public talks, and private colloquia. Since there were so many incredible events scheduled throughout the week, I thought it might be most useful to share what I though were the highlights.

Perhaps the most obvious example of how the festival showcased art’s intersection with the migration of people and culture came in the form of a panel discussion moderated by UCD sociologist David Kyle. Guest panelists Anthony Sheppard (musicologist and professor of music at Williams College), Maria Elena González (Cuban-American sculptor), Philip Kan Gotanda (playwright and filmmaker at UC Berkeley), Peter Kulchyski (Native Studies at University of Manitoba), and Chan Park (Korean P’ansori expert and professor of Korean language, literature, and performance studies at Ohio State University), took part in a lively discussion detailing how various cultural collisions impacted the full range of their work. What I took away from this conversation was the intriguing notion that nomadic culture, diaspora, and willful immigration all contribute to the formation of an identity in their work that was inseparable from their identity as people. There was a blurring of the conventional binary definitions (THIS vs. THAT, or GOOD vs. BAD) surrounding concepts about nomadic life, or the urge to immigrate, or the pull of being part of a diaspora. It felt reassuring to know that in our hyper-digital age, artists are ever more sensitive in identifying the thread that runs through their lives, connecting them and their work with their ancestors, predecessors, to those that will come after them. It was complicated. It was heartening. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

Stephanie Berg

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.

Dustin DunnThe 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 Gryphon 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.”

Patricia OCallaghan

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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LeTrainBleu2
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.

LDPhoto1012BThe 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/.

LeTrainBleuLe 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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Marvin Rosen interviews composer Alex Shapiro.

For years now, long-time WPRB radio host Marvin Rosen has brought the world (though it’s in Princeton, New Jersey, it also streams live over the web) all manner of “Classical Discoveries” every Wednesday from 5:30 to 11 AM ET. But from 11 AM until 1 PM “Classical Discoveries” switched gears to become “Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde“, serving up the newest — and often by radio standards, the “difficult” — works to an enthusiastic audience eager to hear what’s going on today in contemporary classical music. Often there were also interviews with established and up-and-coming composers and performers as well.

The broadcast landscape for such stuff is already so very tiny in the vast radio world of “safe” music, talk, news, sports, etc; unfortunately it’s about to shrink even more, as Marvin’s “Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde” slot is being shut down by the WPRB powers-that-be in favor of other programming. Joe Barron over at the “Liberated Dissonance” blog has more on the story. Marvin is truly one of the most warm and selfless people I know, working so hard each week to bring his listeners this stuff — even when stylistically it might not be his personal cup of tea — simply because he really loves our living music of today in all its forms, and feels so strongly the need to share that enthusiasm with the wider world.

Marvin’s “Classical Discoveries” show will remain a WPRB Wednesday-morning fixture, but the last “Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde” is this Wednesday, 11 AM until 1 PM. Tune in if you can, broadcast or online, and a huge round of applause to Marvin for what he was able to bring both the living composers and adventurous listeners these past five years.

[Update: the management of WPRB has responded with some further amplification, in the comments at the end of this post.]

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Pianist and composer Kris Becker (photo by Bhavin)

Pianist and composer Kris Becker (photo by Bhavin)

(Houston, TX) “Ah! Expression!” That’s the first thing that came out of my mouth when I cued up and heard “Elegy,” the poignant, yet unsentimental first track on Houston-based pianist and composer Kris Becker’s new recording Expansions. Becker is a classically trained pianist and composer with a passion for both 19th century and prog-rock piano and a compositional vision well served by his formidable technique. Like the song says, “Oh, yeah! The boy can play!” But it’s the range of expression in Becker’s playing and writing that ultimately resonates with me.

Real quick, let me explain the name thing. Kris and I are not related, although we are definitely brothers in spirit. We’ve even performed on the same bill, albeit separately, me on laptop cuing and mixing electronic and sample-based sounds to accompany avant-garde films, and Kris on Nord playing both what he calls his “nu-classical” repertoire and rock influenced songs. When I first relocated the Houston, the local press managed to mix the two of us up at least once (my photo appeared above Kris’ name in an ad for a gig with his rock band Frozen Heat). So just to clarify, it’s Kris with a “K,” okay?

Okay. Now back to the music. Expansions features 13 tracks, 11 of them compositions for solo piano. “Covenant” is a feisty dialogue for clarinet (played by Sarunas Jankauskas) and piano, and the title track is a seven and a half minute theme and variations for solo flute beautifully performed by Victoria Hauk.

There’s no question Becker’s formidable (that word again) piano skills have everything to do with generating the compositional material he has shaped into an award-winning, body of work. But there’s heart and soul in the man’s music, not just technical fireworks. His compositions, especially the compositions on Expansions, are intensely programmatic and poetic, a fact one can gather not only from Becker’s liner notes but the expressive and dynamic directions you see in his scores (a couple of my favorites include “scintillating and terrifying” and “twisted”).

Expansions closes with a four-movement monster of a of a piece “Piano Sonata No. 1,” which is dedicated to Becker’s Rice-era piano instructor Robert Roux. Becker appreciated my description of this piece as a “monster,” and told me that in fact that’s how the piece struck him after he first heard it back in its entirety. Several tempo and meter changes, as well as the breadth of expressive demands on the player, sets the piece firmly outside of the camp of this generation’s latest batch of post-minimialists. It’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. At times, especially in the first movement, I’m reminded of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, though Becker is quick to name check Keith Emerson as he is Chopin and of the usual 19th century long hairs. “Piano Sonata No. 1″ deservedly won the 2012 National Federation of Music Clubs Emil and Ruth Beyer Composition Award.

Like any good romantic, Becker is determined to realize his music, his way, maintaining what a friend of mine calls “aesthetic ownership” of a very personal musical vision. Sure, Becker can tear up Mozart and Beethoven, but why play it safe? His drive compels him to a road a little less traveled. It’s a hard road, but many classically trained musicians these days are similarly deciding to forgo the traditional and instead cut their own artistic path. So Kris with a “K” is in good company!

Becker’s Expansions is available now on CD Baby and iTunes.

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