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 event is not a traditional concert. It begins at 6 PM with a cocktail and hors d’oevres hour, which sets the mood for a more informal presentation of the evening’s program and creates an opportunity for concertgoers and the performers to mingle before and after the performance.
I got in touch with Fifth House’s flutist, Melissa Snoza, and asked her about the groups experience with these kind of laid back concerts. She told me:
[T]he cocktail format is definitely something we’re familiar with, especially for this show! When we first presented this series in Chicago during the 2009-2010 season, we staged it at SPACE, which is a flexible cabaret-style venue with a bar, tables, and chairs that we could arrange in any format we liked to suit the experience we wanted to create for the evening…We’re a group that really loves to perform in unexpected spaces and to design concert experiences with our audience at the center of our programming, so we’re delighted that the DSO has staged this performance in the same way that we originally conceived it!
The program tomorrow night is called “Black Violet Act 1″, it is a compilation of several pieces from different time periods presented in Fifth House’s famed ‘narrative’ programming style. Among the works on the docket are two by living composers: Jonathan Keren‘s Hungary is Far Away and my colleague Greg Simon‘s Kites at Seal Rock.
If you are in the Detroit area tomorrow, go check out what is sure to be a fantastic evening of mingling and music. Tickets are $25 in advance, $28 at the door and can be purchased here.
When I took the job at UMM, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find fellow composers and new music. (We are pretty far out here, after all.) I need not have worried. Last night I drove over to Central Square (a converted high school) in Glenwood to hear “Water Music,” a performance by Ensemble 61, a new-music group out of the Twin Cities led by composer Kirsten Broberg and percussionist Erik Barsness.
There’s something wonderfully “only in America” about contemporary music in a small-town high school auditorium. I immediately thought of Charles Ives who, though not represented in the composers last night, would no doubt have approved. The show opened with what is now standard new-music repertoire – George Crumb‘s Vox Balaenae. Linda Chatterton deftly tackled the flute/vocal opening, and cellist Joel Salvo (a colleague at UMM) nailed the seagull effects. Pianist Matthew McCright handled the extended inside-the-instrument challenges effectively, and apart from some minor synchronization issues Crumb’s work was given a solid reading.
Soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw performed two songs for unaccompanied singer by Jarrad Powell – “the rain of the white valley” and “i am rain.” The songs, chosen for their connection to the larger theme of the evening, were quite haunting. Unaccompanied voice is always a risk, and Henneman Shaw rose to the challenge. The hall’s acoustics weren’t much help to her, unfortunately. I was seated toward the front, and even as close as I was the enunciation was problematic. Given that I could hear how clearly she was pronouncing the words, I can only chalk it up to the hall.
The first half closed with Magnus Lindberg‘s Steamboat Bill, Jr. for clarinet and cello, a post-modern tour-de-force inspired by the Buster Keaton movie of the same name and performed with considerable verve by clarinetist Paul Schimming and cellist Salvo.
The second half opened with former Minnesotan Jesse Langen playing Morgan Krauss‘s I Water, I Night for solo guitar. As with the solo voice works, it was beautifully done and possibly swallowed up in the back of the hall. Langen pointed out beforehand that the dynamic never exceeded mezzo forte; I do hope the back was able to hear how well he performed the work.
The final piece was co-founder Kirsten Broberg‘s The Waters of Time, a setting of six sonnets – in the original Spanish – by Pablo Neruda. The instrumentation was Pierrot-plus-percussion, so in addition to the above players the ensemble featured violinist Emilia Mettenbrink and Barsness on percussion. I did not know Broberg’s music beforehand, but now I want to know more of it. This was a sensitive, beautiful work that took advantage of the capabilities of the ensemble. I would like to single out Henneman Shaw and Schimming in particular for their contributions.
I have been out here on the prairie for exactly six weeks today. If I get the chance to hear new music once every six months, I’m thrilled. Broberg mentioned the group was taking this concert on a tour of Minnesota (they have just a couple more stops, including one in Fergus Falls in mid-October). It’s exciting to be in a state where even more isolated areas like here have a thriving music scene. Between all the concerts at UMM and groups that come out of the Twin Cities and Fargo, I don’t think I’ll ever want for the good stuff.
For the past seven years, Baltimore and Peabody-Institute-based composer (and friend of S21) Judah Adashi has been enlightening Mobtown’s ears by runningthe Evolution Contemporary Music Series. Praised by Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun for having “elevated and enriched Baltimore’s new music scene enormously,” and by the Baltimore City Paper as “superb…not the same-old, same-old,” the series has presented or premiered works by over 75 living composers, performed by acclaimed musicians from Baltimore and beyond.
Events regularly include pre-concert conversations with performers, composers, critics and scholars; featured guests have included Marin Alsop (music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra); composers Kevin Puts and Christopher Rouse; and music critics Tim Page (Washington Post) and Alex Ross (New Yorker).
The upcoming 2012-13 season looks especially nice; there are four concerts, each focused on a single cream-of-the-crop composer: Kaija Saariaho (Oct. 30), György Kurtág (Feb. 5), Missy Mazzoli (Mar. 5), and John Luther Adams (May 7).
But of course this stuff doesn’t happen with just a bit of can-do spirit, magic elbow-grease, and pixie dust; venues, compensation, equipment, logistics, rehearsals, backstage Pabst and Beer-Nuts all take a significant chunk of change. And that’s where you come in: this time out they’re using the power of crowd-sourced backing via Kickstarter to help them meet those bills. So far over 80 good folk just like you have pitched in, and their $8,000 goal is over halfway there. That’s phenomenal, but there’s only a week to go and every dollar you might be able to drop in the pot can make an enormous difference. As reward for your generosity, Backers will receive anything from your name immortalized on their website ($5), all the way up to personally signed writings of John L. Adams, free passes to further seasons, even a personal two-piano recital! ($750-1,000).
So if you at all can, why don’t you drop by their Kickstarter page, lay a few bucks down in support of the music you love, and get the warm fuzzies knowing you did your bit to make some beautiful music bloom in Baltimore?
The 100th anniversary of the birth of John Cage was celebrated in Pasadena, California at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center with a concert by Gloria Cheng titled Two Sides of Cage’s Coin. The Boston Court venue is comfortably cozy and all but a few of the 100 seats were filled to hear Water Music and the entire sequence of Sonatas and Interludes. Despite the modern industrial construction of the hall – it has corrugated steel walls – and a play going on in the adjacent theater, the acoustics proved more than adequate for the intimate space.
John Cage was born in Los Angeles and has many connections here despite being known primarily as a New York composer. Cage studied with Schoenberg at UCLA – where Gloria Cheng is now a faculty member. He lived for a time in Pacific Palisades and later in Hollywood. Cage was also a colleague of Lou Harrison and taught at Mills College in the Bay area. To mark the centennial here in Los Angeles of the birth of John Cage – one of Americas most influential composers – is entirely fitting and appropriate.
The first piece on the program is known generically as Water Music but as Ms. Cheng explained the official title should be Boston Court, Pasadena August 24, 2012 because Cage had intended the title to be taken from wherever it was performed. This piece was first presented as 66 W. 12 at Woodstock, NY August 29, 1952 and so the title is updated on each playing. Water Music is partly music and partly performance – the score calls for a table radio, three kinds of whistles, cups and pitchers of water, a wooden stick and a deck of playing cards, all in addition to the piano. (A similar piece - Water Walk – was once performed by Cage himself on the old I’ve Got A Secret TV program and you can see this here on You Tube.)
Boston Court, Pasadena August 24, 2012 started with the rolling out of a small cart full of items to center stage – the radio plays – and Ms. Cheng began a series of activities such as pouring water from cup to pitcher, blowing various whistles, etc. This was all done by timing the sequence of actions with her iPhone (a nice 21st century touch) and following Cage’s score, which was projected overhead for all to see. No one brings as much dignity to the concert stage as Gloria Cheng, but she could have been a 1950s housewife scurrying about attending to various domestic chores. When the score called for a chord or two on the piano, however, everything changes: it is the virtuoso who – with just a few notes struck – suddenly and decisively shifts the focus to an artistic perspective. It is this overlap between the mundane and the suddenly artistic that makes this piece so intriguing – our ordinary lives are never quite removed from the arts – and art bleeds into our everyday experience.
Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano was written over two years,1946 to 1948, at a time when John Cage was working with choreographer Merce Cunningham. Ms. Cheng explained that because there was no room in the dance studio for drums, Cage hit upon the idea of adding various pieces of hardware to the piano strings to give it a more percussive sound. He eventually devised explicit instructions on how the piano was to be prepared and he specifies individual types of screws, bolts and plastic pieces for each of 45 different notes on the piano. A complete chart by Cage showing how the piano is to be prepared was included in the program.
To those who have never heard a prepared piano the resulting sound invariably exceeds prior expectations. The lower prepared notes have a wonderful gong-like quality while the middle register can produce beautiful bell tones. The higher notes tend most toward the percussive, at times resembling the notes from a music box. The added texture of the prepared piano is fully explored in Sonatas and Interludes which are, by turns playful, dramatic, solemn, agitated, languid, mysterious and tranquil. The ‘Sonatas’ are played in groups of four followed an ‘Interlude’ for a total of 20 pieces – all played sequentially. This work was written at a time when Cage was studying South Asian music and culture – the various pieces in Sonatas and Interludes evoke a definite exotic and mystical feeling and are intended to portray the eight permanent human emotions as defined by Indian philosophy.
As might be expected, Sonatas and Interludes is a very challenging work for the performer – from the 3 hours of piano preparation time to understanding just how each note will feel and react. And of course you can see that the piece is technically difficult just by looking at the notes on the score – rapid runs of complex arpeggios, soft quiet stretches and dramatically loud passages. Because the hardware tends to shorten the duration of the sound when a prepared note is struck, this music is typically a sequence of single notes and rapid runs with very few long chords – a good test of the performer’s dexterity. Ms. Cheng was up to all of this but what impresses most is her ability to find just the right dynamic and “touch” for each section – even with 45 of the keys prepared. I asked her afterwords if she had much chance to practice on a prepared piano and she responded that at one time she did so but now feels confident given her experience with Cage’s music. In any event the results were well-received by the audience who brought Ms. Cheng back for two curtain calls amid much cheering. Gloria then invited those interested to come on stage to look inside the piano – and help her “de-prepare” it – a gracious gesture from an accomplished performer.
This concert was sponsored by Piano Spheres and information on their upcoming concert season can be found here.
I’ve been greatly enjoying Third Coast Percussion’s new CD/DVD release on Mode. John Cage: The Works for Percussion 2 captures some of Cage’s early music in which he assisted both in the development of the percussion ensemble but also formulated a musical aesthetic in which rhythm took primacy over pitch; “noise” became a welcome part of music’s sonic spectrum. Third Coast’s rendition of the Constructions (particularly the First Construction “in Metal”) and their beautifully filmed, lighthearted yet earnestly delivered version of Living Room Music are can’t miss contributions to the spate of Cage releases in his centennial year.
As luck would have it, we still haven’t worked out that “cloned reviewer” thing. On Thursday, August 9th, I’m heading up to the Berkshires to Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music. Down here in New York at MoMA, Third Coast are the featured performers for the museum’s “John Cage Day.” At 6:30, they will perform a set in the Sculpture Garden that features the New York premiere of Renga: Cage: 100, a group of short (5-7 seconds) pieces commissioned by Third Coast to celebrate the Cage centennial. Works by Augusta Read Thomas, David Smooke, Paul Lansky, and many others are fleetingly featured!
The group that helped to start the indie rock plus classical crossover genre, Clogs, doesn’t often make it out to Brooklyn. But, if Monday’s show at Galapagos is any indication, when they visit the borough, the group goes all out.
In addition to selections from Clogs’ previous studio recordings, the concert features “Shady Gully,” a new group of songs written by Padma Newsome. Those in attendance will also get a sneak preview of “2 Moon Shine,” his forthcoming opera project.
Also on the bill is Clogs member Thomas Kozumplik’s project Loop 2.4.3. I’ve been greatly enjoying their latest full length recording American Dreamland (out now via Music Starts from Silence). Kozumplik, joined by Lorne Watson, have created a percussion heavy and somewhat jaundice eyed view of the American dream, referencing everything from Edgar Allen Poe to Easy Rider to urban blight along the way. While the album’s subject matter could easily become a colossal bummer, Loop 2.4.3 creates supple beats and several fetching tunes (the radio ready single “So Strong” noteworthy among them) that make even a dystopian post industrial landscape sound like far better a destination than its likely to be!
A small caveat for fans of the National: guitarist Bryce Dessner is not playing the Galapagos show. Ben Cassoria will take over his duties for the evening (no mean substitute!).
This venue was the location of this past Sunday’s concert featuring Iktus Percussion (Cory Bracken, Chris Graham, Nicholas Woodbury, and Steve Sehman), pianist Taka Kigawa, and toy pianist Phyllis Chen. According to Iktus member Cory Bracken, one of the missions of the evening (focused entirely around composer John Cage) was to take some of his pieces that are almost exclusively performed in academic settings, and begin to inject them into the public concert repertoire. What the audience encountered, therefore, was a healthy mix of both often and not-so-often performed pieces by John Cage.
In Fall 2012, composer/conductor Victoria Bond’s opera Mrs. Presidentpremieres at Anchorage Opera in Alaska. Its “out of town” tryout is on Monday July 9th … in New York at Symphony Space.
The opera’s subject is Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president. Woodhull’s campaign in 1872 predates women’s suffrage. It was mired in controversy and scandal which, as we all know, makes it ideal material for an opera!
I was particularly pleased to learn that dramatic soprano Valerie Bernhardt is playing Woodhull. Val and I both sang at the Chatauqua Institute back in 1992. Her voice was already a mighty and beautiful instrument then and has only grown more impressive in the ensuing years.
Soprano Valerie Bernhardt
Need more inducement? Okay. Those in town seeking relief from the heat wave, remember: Symphony Space has lovely central AC and quite a nice bar to boot!
On Tuesday, the New York Philharmonic celebrates French composer Henri Dutilleux, the recipient of the orchestra’s first Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music.
Dutilleux has decided to use the prize money to commission three composers to write works for the Philharmonic in his honor. He’s already selected one – Peter Eotvos. Who would you recommend to Mr. Dutilleux as the other two commission recipients?
Alan Gilbert will conduct and Yo-Yo Ma is the featured guest soloist.
Ainsi La Nuit for String Quartet (1976)
Cello Concerto — Tout un monde lointain (A whole distant world) (1970)