Musicians on the outskirts of Libbey Park performing Inuksuit (note the percussionist playing water gong in the upper left hand corner)
They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, so consider this photo album a 26,000 word review until I file my story. Inuksuit was one of the most extraordinary pieces of music I’ve heard since–well, John Luther Adams’ orchestra and tape work, Dark Waves. (On Sunday, we’ll hear JLA’s two-piano version of Dark Waves.)
To give you some idea of what the performance was like, here are some crude videos I made on my not-designed-for-filming camera. The mike on the camera did a reasonable job of capturing the changes in sound as you moved from one spot to another, as I did throughout the performance.
If you’re reading this before or around 11 a.m. PST June 9, hop on over to the live stream from Ojai to watch/hear Marc Andre Hamelin, Christianne Stotijn, and Martin Frost perform Alban Berg, as well as an orchestral work by Eivind Buene. Watch it here.
103 year old Elliott Carter has written a new work, Two Controversies and a Conversation, which will be premiered tonight at the Met Museum as part of the New York Philharmonic’sContact! series. The concert, conducted by David Robertson, also includes a newly commissioned work by Michael Jarrell and Pierre Boulez’s …explosante-fixe…
Carter discusses the piece in the video below.
The Contact! program will be repeated on Saturday at Symphony Space.
This month, Gyan Riley is curating for New York venue the Stone. One of the San Francisco residents that he’s invited to visit the Big Apple for a gig is avant-cabaret artist Amy X. Neuburg, who performs there tonight (details below).
Neuburg eschews the usual instrumentation of a cabaret performer, instead using an electronic drumset. But the music isn’t isolated to percussive utterances; rather the synth drums serve as a control surface with which she can trigger live recording and overdubs. Thus, a drum hit might ‘sound’ like drums, or it might just as easily trigger backing vocals or synth patches.
Using this setup, Neuburg often creates multiple loops, each with its own place in the sound field. Her set at the Stone (her first appearance there) will introduce some new works, but also revisits her back catalog, updating several pieces to accommodate this ”spatialized” aesthetic.
To many, Memorial Day weekend means the kickoff of the summer season: getaways, barbecues, traffic, and more traffic …
But the New York new music scene doesn’t seem to be on holiday from its Spring season yet. indeed, we’ll be talking a number of events in coming weeks, extending well into June.
Performers and, one hopes, audiences, aren’t even taking the weekend off. Tonight is an all Milton Babbitt concert at CUNY Grad Center. It features several pieces done by the performers who’ve made them part of their core repertoires. But any chance to hear Judith Bettina sing Philomel again or William Anderson and Oren Fader play Soli e Duettini is most welcome. Less often heard but featured here is the early “Composition for Four Instruments” and the piano duo Envoi from 1990. Though it’s bittersweet to go to hear Babbitt’s music without his convivial presence and sepulchral commentary, it is good to see that the Composers Alliance and CUNY are making every effort to keep his music alive.
Milton Babbitt Retrospective
Friday, May 25, 2012, 7:30pm at CUNY Graduate Center
Elebash Recital Hall (365 Fifth Ave, New York) Free Admission
None but the Lonely Flute (1991) Patricia Spencer, flute
Envoi (1990) Steven Beck and Zachary Bernstein, piano
Soli e Duettini (1989) Oren Fader, guitar, William Anderson, guitar
Melismata (1982) Karen Rostron, violin
Philomel (1964) Judith Bettina, soprano
Composition for Four Instruments (1948) Patricia Spencer, flute; Charles Neidich, clarinet; Joshua Modney, violin; Christopher Gross, cello
My Ends are My Beginnings (1978)Charles Neidich, clarinet
More Melismata (2006) Christopher Gross, Cello
Swan Song no. 1 (2003) Barry Cooper, flute; Robert Ingliss, oboe; William Anderson, mandolin
Oren Fader, guitar; Calvin Wiersma, violin; Susannah Chapman, cello; James Baker, conductor
On Saturday, Collide-O-Scope Music is presenting a varied program, including a Babbitt work as well, but mostly featuring music by emerging and mid-career composers. As is often the case, CoSM programs both works for conventional instrumentation and for sound objects that are decidedly unconventional. Here, the latter is represented by Lou Bunk’s “scratch-o-lin,” a cardboard contraption that he fervently attacks with a violin bow!
Collide-O-Scope Music presents “The Medium is the Music”
Alexandra Gardner: New Skin (2002)
James Romig: Walls Like These (2012)
Lou Bunk: Shreds of New Walls (2012) *
Christopher Bailey: Fantasy-Passacaglia After Hall and Oates II (2012) *
Lou Bunk: Study for Bowed Cardboard (2010)
Christopher Bailey: Outlying Afterward (2012) *
Michael Klingbeil: Vers La Courbe (2012) *
Milton Babbitt: Preludes, Interludes, and Postlude (1991)
Music: Cognition, Technology, Society set a formidable intellectual task before participants of the selfsame conference at semester’s end on the quieting campus of Cornell University. Under the attentive care of organizers Caroline Waight, Evan Cortens, Taylan Cihan, and Eric Nathan, what might have been an overwhelming conceptual storm proved smooth sailing through a series of back-to-back panels. The lack of overlap meant that everyone in attendance could take in the full thematic breadth and draw connections that might otherwise have been missed in the three-ring circus of a larger conference, thereby allowing interaction, a building of new relationships while strengthening the old, and dialogue conducive to the intellectual goals at hand.
The Panels I had the privilege and the honor of presenting first in the opening Friday morning panel, entitled Patterns, Schemata and Systems, for which I was joined by Bryn Hughes (Ithaca College) and Joshua Mailman (Columbia). I did my best to set a tone in my discussion of Modell 5, a museum installation piece by Vienna-based duo Granular Synthesis, whose eponymous approach to motion capture and digital manipulation of synchronous sound and image activated, I hope, our shared interest in the intersection of technology and sonic arts. Hughes was interested in more mainstream sonic outlets. In problematizing expectation in rock music through harmonic progression as both a function of context and of socialization, he asked: Does harmony behave in a universal way? Why do some chord progressions sound “wrong” and how do we gain knowledge of these rules?
Hughes plotted a matrix of influences on such choices, discovering through controlled testing that expectations are genre-specific (diatonic successions, for instance, are preferred by classical over blues listeners) and that the impact of voice leading, lyrical (a)synchronicity, and other variables must also be taken into account. Mailman took a more phenomenological approach to music as a site lacking in expectation, advocating a cybernetic model of listening and feedback practices. In positing retrospection as an active shaping force of musical experience, Mailman privileged context over convention in musical structure. By looking at otherwise undeterminable aspects of musical form and development—what Boulez might group under the term “listening angles”—as a means of analysis, Mailman made a provocative case for cybernetic phenomenology as a viable site for sonic inquiry.
Qualities emerge through change and exist by virtue of being measured as such. Hence the assertions of David Borgo (UC San Diego), who in the second session on Improvisation challenged the dominant paradigm of musical spontaneity as an individual act, seeking rather to enlarge the notion of agency to its extra-corporeal aspects. Because action of response happens more quickly than consciousness can grasp, our interpretations of the very same can only come a posteriori, subject to the same misinterpretations as any and all memory. Consciousness, argued Borgo, is autopoetic and under constant perturbation. Improvisers must therefore negotiate contingencies in all directions. To locate them at the center of webs as amorphous as their melodic constitutions is as difficult as it is to locate the true center of a universe that is forever expanding.
Neither are improvisational gestures simply plucked from the ether, as Jeremy Grall (University of Alabama at Birmingham) showed in his exploration of the hierarchies at work in seemingly indeterminate music-making. Grall’s interest was the divide (or lack thereof) between composition and improvisation and whether or not the two can be subject to the same analytical vocabularies. For him, improvisation is an already problematic term, one that may be absorbed into composition insofar as improvisation abides by underlying schemata. In order to negotiate the ambiguities of perception and the phases of concrescence therein, he looked to 16th-century improvisational models and their inherent blend of immediacy and indeterminacy.
A fascinating Demonstration Session kicked off the conference’s first evening. William Brent (American University) gave us a visual and aural tour through his Gesturally Extended Piano and Open Shaper, while Mailman returned with Columbia colleague Sofia Paraskeva for a demonstration of their “comprovisational” interface. Both of these technologies take advantage of the primacy of the body in communicating information at once inter- and intra-musical. Read the rest of this entry »
with Agnès Vesterman, cello & Sylvain Lemêtre, percussion
ECM Records CD 2157
Dance music in multiple forms, from the saltarello, a Venetian dance dating back to the Fourteenth century, to Breton and Celtic folk music, as well as transcriptions of medieval era compositions, Renaissance era consort music, and contemporary fare, are featured on Saltarello, violist Garth Knox’s latest ECM CD. Among the early music slections, Particularly impressive is a Vivaldi concerto, performed in a duo arrangement for viola d’amore and cello. Its interpreters, Knox and Agnès Vesterman, take this continuo less opportunity to accentuate a supple contrapuntal interplay between soloist and bass line. Equally lovely is a piece that combines music by Hildegard and Machaut in a kind of medieval style mash-up. Also stirring is this duo’s version of John Dowland’s most famous piece, Lachrimae, perhaps known best in its incarnation as the song “Flow My Tears.”
Knox, who is a past member of both Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Arditti String Quartet, also performs the disc’s newer material with consummate musicality: he also has the bedeviling habit of making virtuosic writing sound far too easy to play (his poor violist colleagues!). Knox’s own composition, “Fuga Libre,” combines jazz rhythms and neo-baroque counterpoint with ever more complicated harmonic tension points and several instances in which Knox demonstrates various extended playing techniques. Meanwhile, Kaaija Saariaho’s Vent Nocturne, an eerily evocative and tremendously challenging piece for viola and electronics, is given a haunting, sonically sumptuous rendering.
Tomorrow night, Knox celebrates the release of the CD at LPR (details below). Early music, new pieces by and for Knox, and lovely comestibles on menu and on tap? Sounds like my evening’s planned!
Tuesday May 22nd – Doors open at 6:30, show starts at 7:30
On Wednesday, May 23 in Chicago, the Spektral Quartet and High Concept Laboratories will present Theatre of War, an artistic investigation into the disconnects between the experiences of those most directly affected by our wars and the experience of the public at large. The event comes at a salient moment, immediately following the NATO summit meeting in Chicago. Theatre of War will be held at the Chopin Theatre and will be repeated on Thursday, May 24. All ticket proceeds are being donated to the Vet Art Project (www.vetartproject.com)
In every era there are artists who are able to use their work as a prism through which the public can examine troubling facts that might otherwise be hiding in plain sight. Examples abound, as diverse as Picasso’s antiwar masterpiece Guernica and Nina Simone’s civil rights broadside Mississippi Goddam. With our personal history in the struggles for civil rights and against the War in Vietnam, we consider this an important role of art. We have been troubled by the lack of public discourse and artistic light shone on a decade of US war-making.
We applaud the Spektral Quartet and their collaborators for embracing this artistic tradition with Theatre of War. The multimedia production will employ music, film, literature, and theater to examine the consequences of our nation being at war. With our modern all-volunteer military, few Americans are directly involved in our war efforts. We as a society hold those who serve in high regard. But we tend to do so with an empty reverence. We worship them as heroes without really understanding what we ask them to do in our names, nor comprehending the physical and psychic toll they pay in doing it. These are the disconcerting realities Theatre of War will confront.
The musical components of Theatre of War will be “Stress Position” by Chicago composer Drew Baker and George Crumb’s “Black Angels.” Guest pianist Lisa Kaplan of eighth blackbird will perform “Stress Position,” a staged piece for solo amplified piano. The pianist is subjected to a kind of torture, stretched to the limits to play constantly at the two extremes of the keyboard. As the volume increases and the lights go out, the audience is engulfed in the experience. The Spektral Quartet will play “Black Angels,” written by Crumb at the height of the Vietnam War turmoil. It is scored for electrified string quartet and the players are also required to vocalize, play percussion, and bow water-filled crystal glasses, creating eerie, otherworldly effects.
Richard Mosse, a filmmaker and photographer who has been embedded with US military units in Iraq and Afghanistan, will provide the video portion of the program. His short films “Theatre of War,” “Gaza Pastoral,” and “Killcam” expose elements of our military efforts of which the everyday public are typically unaware.
The literary and theatrical segments of Theatre of War will come from Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska and Chicago writer Virginia Konchan. Szymborska’s poems “Hatred” and “The End and the Beginning” assay the fundamental nature of human conflict and reconciliation. Konchan’s short story “Blackbird,” adapted for the stage by Molly Feingold of High Concept Laboratories, probes the scars of war borne by a returning soldier and his frustrated search for healing.
In presenting Theatre of War in the wake of the NATO Summit, we hope the Spektral Quartet and their artistic partners will spark a personal-level examination of our ongoing global military operations. Following the program, the audience will be encouraged to share their reactions in discussion with the artists and with each other.
Chicago-based Spektral Quartet was formed in 2010 with a commitment to play a wide-ranging repertory in traditional and genre-breaking venues. The members are Aurelien Fort Pederzoli (violin), J. Austin Wulliman (violin), Doyle Armbrust (viola), and Russell Rolen (cello). High Concept Laboratories, led by Co-artistic Directors Molly Feingold and Kevin Simmons, collaborates with Chicago-area artists and performers to foster the creation and development of new works.
Arlene and Larry Dunn are avid fans of a wide range of contemporary arts and music endeavors as well as life-long social activists. They are frequent contributors of “audience perspective” blog postings for digitICE, the blog of the new music juggernaut International Contemporary Ensemble. They live in rural LaPorte County, Indiana.
Here in Baltimore, we take great pride in our vibrant music scene. Indeed, it’s so vibrant that my friend and colleague, David Smooke, has two local premieres in one night! (OK, one of them is in DC, but we mustn’t let such details stand in the way of rooting for the home team.)
Tonight at 8:00pm at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H Street NE), David will join Great Noise Ensemble as the featured soloist in the world premiere of his toy piano concerto, Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. The piece takes its title and inspiration from a series of eighteen death-scene dioramas by Frances Glessner Lee, currently housed in the Office of the Medical Examiner in Baltimore. Back in Charm City, also at 8:00pm, the Atlantic Guitar Quartet will premiere David’s Topographies at the Engineer’s Club (11 W. Mt. Vernon Place).
Like the composer himself, unless you manage to bend the space-time continuum, you’ll only be able to attend one of these events. But should you find yourself at either of the above-mentioned points along the I-95 corridor, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to hear the latest fruits of David’s vivid sonic imagination!
Dialogue between the Traditional and the Modern
Chinese Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble
Tsung Yeh, conductor
Zhang Weiliang, Artistic Director and xiao soloist
Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, NY
May 7th. 2012
The biggest thing I can say about the Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble‘s program at Alice Tully is this: For the first 5 minutes or so when they came out and played the first piece Lang Tao Sha, which was a traditional piece, I couldn’t write a thing. It was an incredible rush that made me more fully appreciate not only the music of China, but music at its best, for its organic healing abilities, and for sounds that force you to take the time to consider them.
This concert, titled Dialogue between the Traditional and the Modern was very much what it describes, very prominent-sounding folk music that served as Eastern statements from the Chinese ensemble that were alternated with their take on the music of living American composers, Victoria Bond and John Mallia, whose works were being premiered on this occasion. The notation of the Chinese instruments being different from our system, it made me wonder how they were going to pull it off. I believe they did.
Chinese-American composer Wenhui Xie also had a traditional sounding piece titled Less, but More that had its World Premiere at this concert.
Mallia’s piece titled Nodes was a very Schoenbergian cacophony of a work whose atonal identity revealed itself even through the Chinese instrumentation, but the debut of an updated version of Victoria Bond’s Bridges was a marvelous treat not only for its brightness and upbeat presence on its own terms, but also because even the Chinese are quite capable of playing orchestral Gershwin Jazz, as evidenced in the final section of the piece! I very badly wanted to isolate the erhu from the rest of the ensemble just to hear how bluesy this instrument suddenly sounded.
It should be noted that Chai Shuai, who played both the erhu and erxian in this concert, played marvelously and passionately. I remember when I saw Hilary Hahn once playing a piece, I used to remark that I saw smoke coming from the fiddle in a way of describing the intensity of her performance, but Ms. Shuai’s erhu was indeed producing smoke. You can make of that what you will.
The meeting of Chinese and Western instruments was something that provided great insight into two different camps of hard-working musicians. There was such pungency and intensity of both the Western cello and Chinese instruments such as the zheng and the pipa, and all of these at times provided a clearer folk-sense that Western classical music doesn’t always capture fathfully.
Although it had only been happening in the second half, Tsung Yeh, the ensemble’s conductor, gave the audience some wonderful and thoughtful introductions to the works and had the composers present walk up to the stage for bows.
Zhang Weiliang, who is both the Artistic director of the ensemble and a soloist of the xiao (vertical-end-blown flute), came out and performed Wild Geese in The Sandbank as if it was a field recording of the species. It was a very natural performance that won Mr. Weiliang gracious appeal.
Another memorable moment was the ensemble’s reading of the Peking Opera piece Deep Night, which featured both erhu and Beijing erhu, which had a much higher-end sound, and the two together created this incredibly tasty ethnic harmony in what was an exciting traditional piece that received the biggest reception of the night.
To have seen this beloved event where we were given the opportunity to hear the most exciting music from China played on the instruments of their country was something to be extremely proud of, and I have to say that seeing an erhu being played alongside a Western violin is something akin to seeing two living kindred spirits meeting for the first time and bonding for life.
Experiments in Opera, the new collective founded by composers Jason Cady, Aaron Siegel, and Matthew Welch, presents its Spring Series on May 10 + 11 (Thursday and Friday) at Roulette in Brooklyn. Four new operas will be heard in workshop performances over the two evenings.
The May 10 program features a complete semi-staged, multi-media performance of Cady’s Happiness is the Problem, plus a semi-staged, work-in-progess presentation of To Scale by the creative trio known as Cough Button, and a concert excerpt from Siegel’s Brother Brother. May 11 will be devoted to a semi-staged production of Welch’s Borges and The Other, heard in its premiere as a complete work. Both shows begin at 8 pm.
While highly divergent in style and tone, all four works engage in a provocative dialog with the fundamental assumptions of the operatic form. Laugh tracks, graphic novels, localized radio transmitters, characters that are (literally) two-dimensional, two pairs of singers portraying a single historical figure: all of these elements figure in EiO’s experiments. Yet their creators remain devoted to craftsmanship and the expressive power of music to tell a story, no matter how non-linear.
Cady, Siegel, and Welch, who met at Wesleyan University, describe Experiments in Opera as:
“…a composer- and performer-driven initiative, featuring recent and new works with unorthodox answers to the traditional questions about how to connect words, story and music. Our activities emerge from a pronounced need to nurture composers drawn towards extending their work beyond the standard concert experience and into the hybrid space of the theater, performance, installation, dance and storytelling arts.”
Thursday, MAY 10
Cady’s Happiness Is The Problem is a two-act opera buffa about idealism and disillusionment. It presents three young women who sell an elixir of happiness derived from the secretions of slugs which they market as “Euphoressence.” The Problem of Happiness, which has perplexed philosophers since Plato, is explored in lighthearted yet penetrating fashion. Cady’s musical idiom melds postmodernism and pop, with occasional interjections from a very canned laugh track. The script by Cady and Nadia Berenstein takes the form of a comic book drawn by Berenstein, which is projected as sopranos Christie Finn and Megan Schubert and mezzo-soprano Lisa Komara perform to pre-recorded tracks.
“It’s a 2-act opera, semi-staged and directed by Jeremy Bloom,” explains Cady. “We did the first act at Le Poisson Rouge, but this will be the full two-act performance.”.
Aaron Siegel speaks about the work on his piece Brother Brother:
“For the concert last January, I shared 2 selections that were for percussion instruments, and this coming week, I’ll be sharing 2 of the choral excerpts. This is a piece that is still in progress, and I’ve done a little bit of recording on these works just to be able to share them. This is the first time these pieces are to be performed live, and we’re not doing it with the full ensemble this time, just with piano reduction. So there will be about 20 mins. worth of music. I’m super excited to do a work that has some choral elements in it. It just adds a whole other dimension of possibilities when you’re doing a bigger work like this.”.
Cough Button‘s To Scale is a work-in-progress that details the relationship between an architect and his “scalies”–the two-dimensional characters who populate architectural models. Co-written by Cough Button members Lynn Levy, Dave Ruder, and Aliza Simons, To Scale explores the gap between creator and created. The piece will also play with novel techniques to bridge the gap between singer and listener, including the use of localized transmitters, picked up by radios in the audience. The cast includes Paul Pinto, Brian Rady, Lainie Fefferman, Dylan Widjiono, and Aliza Simons, accompanied by instrumentalists Karen Waltuch (viola), Vasu Panicker (keyboards), Lea Bertucci (bass clarinet), and Dave Ruder (electronics).
Friday, MAY 11
Matthew Welch’s Borges and The Other is based on the iconic writer’s life and work. It’s scored for two mezzos, tenor, and baritone, backed by Welch’s ensemble Blarvuster, which serves up a potent brew of Celtic sounds, raga, minimalism, and progressive rock. Says Welch, “In 2007, the ﬁrst of [my] Borges mini-operas featured two mezzo-sopranos portraying an older and younger Borges meeting in a dream space. For a second act written for tenor and baritone, two additional Borges of differing ages meet yet again in a separate encounter of dreaming each other. In both acts, each Borges views his other in disbelief, hashing out self-loathing critique, whilst verifying biographical information.” Mezzo-sopranos Lisa Komara and Amirtha Kidambi, tenor James Rogers, baritone Jeff Gavett, and The EiO Chorus all portray Borges. Blarvuster consists of Leah Paul (flutes), Karen Waltuch (viola), Emily Manzo (piano), Taylor Levine and Matthew Hough (electric guitars), Ian Riggs (bass guitar), Joe Bergen (vibraphone), and Mike Pride (drums). Matthew Welch conducts.