Violinist Isabelle Faust may have impressed you in Mozart last week at the Mostly Mozart Festival. She’ll be back in New York for Beethoven and more next January! Her latest recording explores the sound world of Bela Bartok, including both of his violin concertos, now out on Harmonia Mundi.
“If you talk with a living composer, of course (s)he will be very clear and explain what kind of atmosphere, what kind of sound (s)he wants produced,” says Faust. The importance of new music is profound with Isabelle, who says this interaction between composer and performer is key, and influences how she plays older music.
Kevin Noe performing Kieren MacMillan’s Drunken Moon with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Last Tuesday, April 16, I trekked to Snyder Hall on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI to see a performance by the Musique 21 ensemble, an immersive ‘Theatre of Music’ Production entitled Drunken Moon. The piece was conceived and created by conductor Kevin Noe and composer Kieren MacMillan, and features the merger of MacMillan’s eponymous monodrama for two voices with an English version of Arnold Schoenberg’s legendary Pierrot Lunaire.
Drunken Moon is more than a concert performance, it is a theatrical unfolding where the music and storyline are deeply intertwined and overlap on many occasions. I chose the descriptor ‘immersive’ deliberately, because Drunken Moon is more inviting to its audience than standard chamber operas. This is the touch of Kevin Noe, who has become renowned for his innovative programming with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. In fact, Drunken Moon began as a PNME production, one of that group’s many fully staged programs, which push the boundaries of traditional concert presentation to create an audience experience that is undeniably memorable and powerfully meaningful.
Even though he was armed with students from MSU’s College of Music, Maestro Noe’s designs hit their mark Tuesday night. The show began immediately as the audience entered the theatre, in that the performers and actors were dancing, drinking and chitchatting in an imagined bar, ‘La fin bleu’, set up on the stage. Walking in on the onstage commotion like this set a refreshing and relaxing tone, at least compared to the prescribed ceremony of most Classical or Contemporary music concerts. Although the ‘Fourth Wall’ was not manipulated to any extreme, the attitude of the performance made observing Drunken Moon feel like being a part of it in some small way.
The intimate audience experience I enjoyed Tuesday night was not only a product of the small theater, sets, costumes, lighting and music. My compatriots in the audience and I were drawn into the performance by the stellar acting and singing of soprano Lindsay Kesselman and baritone Robert Peavler who brilliantly portray the main characters in Drunken Moon – dubbed only “she” and “he”. The couple’s interaction is the focal point of the performance’s narrative and the link that connects MacMillan’s Drunken Moon with Pierrot Lunaire.
(Houston, TX) Houston-based soprano, writer, and impresario Misha Penton (pictured above) is back with another genre blending evening (two actually) of music for classical voice. Accompanied by pianist Kyle Evans, cellist Patrick Moore, and dancers Meg Brooker and Yelena Konetchy, Penton will present a specially staged concert of composer Elliot Cole’sSelkie, a sea tale with lyrics by Penton. Cole, a graduate of Rice University and now Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, will be in attendance for Saturday’s performance. The concerts are timed to celebrate the release of a CD recording on Selkie, a sea tale. CDs and download cards will be available for sale at the performances.
As artistic director of Divergence Vocal Theater, Penton has produced and sung in several creatively staged and intensely collaborative concert events featuring light and film projections, puppetry, stage acting, and modern dance and music from composers including Cole, George Heathco, and Dominick DiOrio. The 2010 Houston premier of Selkie featured an elaborate media and lighting design within a theatrical installation. The multimedia elements for Friday and Saturday’s performances include new choreography by Brooker and Konetchy and the screening of a video for the song “Softly Over Sounding Waves” directed by Penton.
Penton writes: “Selkies are ephemeral half-human, half-seal beings. They are transformative creatures that inhabit liminal spaces; exist at the edge of dusk and dawn; in the between-time of solstice and equinox; and where root meets earth and sea washes sand. When the moon swells to its fullest, selkies shed their seal skins, reveal their human form, and dance on our northernmost beaches, their skins ready for the taking. Selkie, a sea tale’s poetry is a dreamscape of human fragility, longing and loss, written from a sailor’s wife to her selkie love and culminates in her willingness to release him back to the sea.”
In addition to singing and mastering some truly challenging music for the voice, Penton has a gift for instilling each of her live events with a seductive, highly stylized vibe that embraces both the contemporary and the archetype. Symbols and references to fairy tales, Greek mythology, and gothic literature are all a part of her creative palette, giving each Divergence Vocal Theater event an air of magic and ritual. Penton also possesses a wicked sense of humor that compliments her very serious passion for making great collaborative art. Making magic takes a lot of work! So if you’re in Houston, don’t sleep on this unique spin on the genre of contemporary chamber opera.
Misha Penton and Divergence Vocal Theater present Elliot Cole’s Selkie, a sea tale, music by Elliot Cole, lyrics by Misha Penton, March 29 & 30 at 8:00 p.m. at 4411 Montrose Gallery, with Misha Penton (soprano), Kyle Evans (piano), Patrick Moore (cello), and Meg Brooker and Yelena Konetchy (dance). Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. CD and digital download for Selkie, a sea tale available April 1.
(Houston, TX) Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble is continuing what has become a welcome and well-received series of innovatively staged and programmed concerts of contemporary music. Featuring the core duo of composer George Heathco on electric guitar and Luke Hubley on percussion, Liminal Space has presented concert tributes to the music of John Cage and Frederic Rzewski, composed and performed music for a puppet show realization of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu,” and participated in the Houston Fringe Festival. This Sunday at 14 Pews, they will present an evening of music by Pulitzer prize-winning composer David Lang. Works on the program include how to pray, lend/lease, string of pearls, warmth, and arrangements of selections from memory pieces.
Heathco (who, by the way, is an excellent composer as well) confirms that Lang’s music present a set of unique challenges to the performer.
Composer guitarist George Heathco (photo by David DeHoyos)
“One thing that seems to run central to performing Lang’s music is the amount of concentration and mental stamina required to just get through a piece,” says Heathco. “He gives the performer very little opportunity to let up, mentally. On top of that, some of the pieces we are performing are also technically challenging. Works like lend/lease or string of pearls have an element of subtle virtuosity. They don’t immediately sound flashy or technically demanding to the listener, but from the performer’s point of view it is a whole other story!”
The majority of the works by Lang on Sunday’s program have been re-arranged for various combinations of marimba, electric guitars, cello, and keyboards.
“We have arranged several of Lang’s memory pieces, originally for solo piano, to be played by marimba and electric guitar,” says Heathco. “We are also adapting lend/lease, originally for piccolo and woodblocks, to fit our ensemble. In lend/lease, there is only a single melodic line that is to be played in unison, with one of the instruments being largely unpitched. We wanted to bring out the beauty of Lang’s melody, and so rather than woodblocks, Luke will be performing the line on marimba, doubling the electric guitar.”
Percussionist Luke Hubley (photo by David DeHoyos)
The new music scene in Houston continues to grow and expand into ever more intriguing permutations, stretching beyond the cozy confines of its universities and on into the clubs, galleries, and alternative performance spaces that fill the city’s un-zoned citiscape.
An evening of David Lang’s music performed in what used to be a church? Perfect. Lang performed by Heathco, Hubley, and a selection of amazing guest musicians? Even better.
Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble presents The Music of David Lang, Sunday, March 24, 7:30 p.m. at 14 Pews, 800 Aurora Street, featuring George Heathco (guitar) and Luke Hubley (percussion) with guests cellist Daniel Saenz, pianist Mark Buller, keyboardist Jeremy Nuncio, and guitarist Chapman Welch. Tickets are $11 online, $15 at the door.
Light & 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 continuum 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/.
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/.
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!
(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.”
“He has an incredible sense of what’s out there in the contemporary music world and is very curious,” says Borys of Hutchings. “His practice as a visual artist is very much tied to and inspired by music. He almost always listens to contemporary music when he’s painting.”
Soprano Patricia O’Callaghan
“People are so led by what they see,” Borys continues. “Visuals are such a powerful thing in general. When we create these pieces with visuals, we’re very conscious of that. We’re trying to create a visual environment that stimulates the person having the experience in such a way that it leads to their hearing the piece in a more intense way.”
O’Callaghan, who has performed with the Trio on several projects, occupies a unique place in the world of contemporary song performance. She initially began her career thinking she would sing opera.
Says O’Callaghan, “I did my degree, I got a grant, and went to study in Austria and began auditioning for opera houses. And I thought that that was what I was going to do, live in Europe and be an opera singer. But I really felt like I didn’t fit into that world. I really felt like an outsider, and even a little bit hemmed in by it.”
O’Callaghan then began a transition out of classical and operatic singing into a style better suited for the repertoire that was truly resonating with her, including songs by Kurt Weill, songs made famous by the great Edith Piaf, and the aforementioned Cohen, who she pays tribute to on her album MATADOR: The Songs of Leonard Cohen.
“It’s a completely different way of singing,” says O’Callaghan of her particular brand of contemporary cabaret. “Since I sang in rock bands before my classical days, I guess I could sort of reverse. But that kind of (classical) training just doesn’t disappear. It really gets in to your body.”
“A lot of the experimentation with singing happened for me in the recording studio,” she continues. “I would hear something, and then play it back and go, ‘No, I’ve gotta do something more laid back, more subtle.’ It’s been a really long learning process, trying to figure out how to sing the repertoire in a way that is natural. It’s about finding your own voice.”
Both Borys, who also directs Canada’s long-running Ottawa Chamberfest, and O’Callaghan agree that in the world of post-music conservatory performance, in concert halls and clubs across the world, the walls between classical performance and other idioms are coming down.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, to bridge genres,” says O’Callaghan. “Every genre has its strengths and weaknesses in terms of training as a musician. But I just find you can learn so much if you do bridge genres, if you do work with musicians from different disciplines. But not everyone can do it, and not everyone can do it well.”
“I would still say that we are on the cutting edge,” O’Callaghan concludes. “But I do feel like there is a trend to doing this more and more in the world today.”
Houston Friends of Chamber Music present The Gryphon Trio, Sunday, February 10, 7:30 p.m. at the Main Street Theater, Chelsea Market, 4617 Blvd. with special guest Patricia O’Callaghan, performing songs by Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello and others, and February 12, 7:30 p.m. at Stude Concert Hall, Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, performing chamber music of Valentin Silvestrov, Christos Hatzis, Antonín Dvořák, and Joseph Haydn.
Le Train Bleu, conducted by Ransom Wilson, will present Toy Stories, a concert on Wednesday, February 6 – 7:00 PM at DROM, 85 Avenue A (between 5th and 6th) in New York, N.Y.
The evening will feature the World Premiere of Lawrence Dillon’s Seven Stories for soprano and eight instruments. The piece was composed to an original text. The composer writes, “A stuffed animal falls from an apartment window. As it falls, it peers into each passing window, trying to create stories from what it sees.” Read his recent blog post about it at http://www.sequenza21.com/dillon/?p=1962. The new work will be sung by soprano Mary Mackenzie. Visit Lawrence Dillon at http://www.lawrencedillon.com/.
Toy Stories explores mankind’s endless variety of play and playthings. The concert will also include Thomas Ades’ Living Toys, a journey through the fantasies of a child, for 14 instruments, accompanied by a new video by Adam Kendall, Matt Marks’ Sex Objects, a set of three songs about unique characters and their intimate relationships with inanimate objects, with vocal performances by Mary Mackenzie, Matt Marks, and Jeff Gavett, and the World Premiere of Eric Nathan’s Toying, a virtuoso exploration of the full range of possible sounds and techniques produced by the trumpet, played by Le Train Bleu’s Hugo Moreno.
Le Train Bleu is a musical collective formed by conductor and flutist Ransom Wilson. The musicians are among the most exciting young players in New York, and are chosen for their brilliance as well as their expressive qualities. Recently named a resident ensemble of the Galapagos Art Space, the ensemble continues plans to present performances of new and interesting music. The New York Times said of their debut performance: “Under Mr. Wilson’s baton, the Train Bleu ensemble was both incisive and joyous in execution.” In the 2011-12 season, the ensemble presented a 4-concert series at the Galapagos Art Space, as well as collaborating with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company in a 2-week season at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. They also participated in a 15-month creative residency at the Park Avenue Armory, along with soprano Lauren Flanigan. Visit them at http://letrainbleu.org/.
Houston-based flutist, composer, and improviser Michelle Yom
(Houston, TX) This Sunday, Houston-based flutist, composer, and improviser Michelle Yom presents FALKOR, an interactive music and dance composition featuring Yom on flute and four dancers, Kriten Frankiewicz, Erin Reck, Leslie Scates, and Sophia Torres. FALKOR utilizes video motion tracking and a wireless system triggering audio samples based on the colors of the costumes worn by the dancers as well as their movements. FALKOR takes place at Studio 101 as part of the ongoing electronic music series Brave New Waves.
Fantasy film fans (not to mention fans of 1980s pop music) will no doubt recognize the name Falkor (i.e. Falkor the Luck Dragon) from the film Neverending Story, which tells the story of a young boy who, through reading a magical book, enters into another world called Fantasia, a world sustained by human imagination. Yom uses the names of different characters and creatures from the film, each of whom represent some facet of humanity, as “venture points” to explore “the relationships between emotions, noise, sound, silence, and nothingness.”
Says Yom, “Falkor is luck and joy, Swamps of Sadness is sadness, Engywook is intellect, and Morla is cynicism. I use these characters as general ground to inspire the improvised music and dance. It seems linear, but I hope to show other sides of seemingly one-sided notions of emotion. For example, we treat sadness as a negative feeling, but it actually springs from hope in the first place, and when destroyed, begins something new.”
As a frequent participant in concerts of freely improvised music presented by the Houston organization Nameless Sound, improvisation is a crucial component to Yom’s compositional vision. Each of the four dancers in FALKOR are experienced improvisers as well. The wireless system triggering audio in response to their movement and costume colors will scramble the audience’s perception of what has been composed and what is being improvised, as well as time itself.
“I’ve been exploring silence,” explains Yom. “Different types of silence with factors like physical movement and the inevitably strong role it plays in our perception of time in a concert. I’d like to push the length of silence in a musical piece without losing the audience.”
Sunday, January 27, Brave New Waves presents Michelle Yom’s FALKOR at Studio 101 at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street, Houston, Texas, Houston, Texas 77007. Doors open at 7:45 p.m. the performance begins at 8:05 p.m. $10 cover.
Tune in to KTRU Saturday at 6:00 p.m. CT for an interview with Michelle Yom.