The evening began with a pre-concert panel discussion moderated by Chad Smith, VP of Artistic Planning. He was joined by John Adams and four of the composers whose works were on the program: Missy Mazzoli, David Lang, Mark Grey and Andrew McIntosh. The question that provoked the most discussion revolved around the changes in minimalism since its inception. John Adams suggested that it has now acquired a more lyrical bent and that contemporary composers are writing music for musicians who want to be technically challenged. The consensus was that the term ‘minimalism’ is now useful as a description for a certain palette of sounds and processes; but few composers today would identify themselves as minimalists. The programming of this concert was itself an attempt to chart the evolution of minimalism since the mid-20th century.
Even before the concert began the long elegant lines of William Duckworth’s Time Curve Preludes (1977-78) – a work that was something of a departure from the strict minimalist form of that time – could be heard from the piano on stage, carefully played by Richard Valitutto. The music this night was non-stop and there were presentations in various places outside the concert hall during the two intermissions. When the crowd had settled into their seats, a spotlight suddenly shone high up on the organ console revealing Clare Chase, flute soloist, who began the concert with Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint (1982). This piece incorporates a tape track of rapid, staccato flute notes and the soloist plays a line that weaves in and around the looping patterns. The feeling was a sort of aural kaleidoscope of changing complexity that was reassuring in its repetition. Ms. Clare smoothly changed flutes several times and this gave a series of different colors to the piece as it progressed. About mid-way the accompaniment in the tape became more flowing and less frenetic, and this helped to bring out the solo flute. The sound tended to be a bit washed out by the time it reached high up in the balcony where I was sitting, and while this did not detract significantly from the performance, the piece was more effective when the solo line was distinct.
The second work, Stay On It (1973) by Julius Eastman was performed by wild Up with Christopher Rountree conducting. This begins with a series of short syncopated phrases in the piano, soon picked up by the strings, voices and a marimba. This has a lilting Afro/Caribbean feel that builds a nice groove as it proceeds. Horns sound long sustained notes arcing above the texture, but this slowly devolves into a kind of joyful chaos, like being in the middle of a slightly out of control street party This was carried off nicely by wild Up, even when the entire structure collapsed into and out of loud cacophony led by the marimba and horns. The piece seemed to spend itself in this outburst, like air flowing out of a balloon, but towards the end the rhythm regrouped sufficiently to finish with a soft introspective feel. Stay On It quietly concluded with a single maraca shaken by conductor Christopher Rountree.
The first section of the concert finished with Different Trains (1988) by Steve Reich. In this performance the train sounds and voices were provided by a tape with the Calder Quartet playing seamlessly along. This piece, and the story behind it, will be familiar to most who follow minimalist music, but seeing it live one gets a much better appreciation for its complexity and the effort involved in playing it by a string quartet. The sound system didn’t project the voices very clearly up into the balcony where I was sitting, but this actually afforded a new perspective. With a recording heard through headphones one can easily get caught up in how well the strings are mimicking the voices. High up in Disney Hall you could get just a sense of the words, and I found myself concentrating instead on the sound of strings – and this made for a more powerful experience. The different colors of the three movements came through more vividly, and the intensity that the Calder Quartet brought to this piece was impressive. Different Trains is a masterpiece of late 20th century minimalism and this was made even more obvious in this reading, burdened as it was by less than ideal conditions. The ethereal passages that conclude the piece were beautifully effective, and as the sound faded slowly away, a sustained and sincere applause followed.
The New York Virtuoso Singers, Harold Rosenbaum, Conductor and Artistic Director, will present the third concert of their 25th Anniversary season on Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 3:00 PM at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th St. (btw Broadway and Amsterdam) in Manhattan. This event, co-sponsored by Merkin Concert Hall, marks NYVS’s return to the venue where they presented their first concert in 1988.
To celebrate their 25th Anniversary, Harold Rosenbaum and the NYVS asked 25 of this country’s most important composers to create new works. The March 3 concert will feature World Premieres of 13 of these commissioned works from Richard Wernick, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Mark Adamo, Richard Danielpour, Augusta Read Thomas, Thea Musgrave, Joseph Schwantner, William Bolcom, Roger Davidson, David Felder and Joan Tower.
Tickets for the March 3 concert are $25/$15 students. For tickets or more information, call Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center at 212-501-3330 or visit http://kaufman-center.org/mch/.
The other 12 works commissioned works, by Jennifer Higdon, George Tsontakis, John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, Shulamit Ran, John Harbison, Steven Stucky, Stephen Hartke, Fred Lerdahl, Chen Yi, Bruce Adolphe and Yehudi Wyner were premiered on October 21, 2012 at Kaufman Center’s Merkin Concert Hall. All 25 of the commissioned works will be recorded for Soundbrush Records.
Just before intermission of the opening concert of the Beyond Cage Festival on October 22, I pulled out my iPhone to see if the Giants were beating the Cardinals for the National League Pennant, and was disoriented to see that it was 9:49pm. It seemed like there must have been a massive network malfunction, because the extraordinary performance of Atlas Ecpliticalis with Winter Music that I and the rest of the audience had fervently applauded could not possibly have gone on for an hour and forty-five minutes. The duration had felt assuredly like a leisurely performance of an early Romantic symphony, say the Beethoven Pastorale, something that was stimulating and enveloping but that never demanded a hint of endurance from the ear or mind.
But it was so, Petr Kotik had just led the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, with Joe Kubera and Ursula Oppens simultaneously playing Winter Music, in almost two hours of some of the most resolutely avant-garde music, and the listening experience was such that the sensation of time was lost completely inside the performance. The extraordinary became the unbelievable.
Kotik had already presented this piece twenty years ago, in a historic concert that became a memorial to the recently deceased composer. And he and the ensemble have recorded it twice, on a recently reissued Wergo album and a great and unfortunately out of print Asphodel release, and these are not only the two finest recordings of Atlas but also two of the finest recordings of Cage’s music available. But the concert exceeded these, reflecting the understanding of such a profound work of art that can only come through time spent examining and thinking about it.
If you were having a conversation with fellow music lovers about the great American composers, Carl Ruggles would not be the first person to come to mind. The “Great American Composer” honor is most often bestowed upon Copland, Ives, or even depending on the company you are with, Bernstein.
Courtesy of SONY Music & Other Minds Records
This is not to say, however, that a popularity contest equates to greatness. An equally adept and creative composer, Carl Ruggles produced a small yet intriguing output of pieces for a variety of ensemble types. It is only fair, then, that when recording the complete works of a lesser known composer such as Ruggles, top-tier musicians should be brought in to lead the process. This recording does not disappoint, and the Buffalo Philharmonic, under the leadership of Michael Tilson Thomas, have produced an earnest and committed recording of Ruggles’ entire catalogue.
The great diversity of the Los Angeles area has produced a wide variety of cultural institutions and one of those is the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony (LAJS) – an expression of the sizable Jewish community here. The LAJS is “Dedicated to the performance of orchestral works of distinction, which explore Jewish culture, heritage and experience. It also serves as an important resource for aspiring composers and musicians. As part of its mission, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony is committed to building ‘bridges of music’ and understanding within the diverse multi-ethnic communities of our great city.”
The LAJS marks its 18th or ‘Chai’ anniversary this year with a concert on August 26 titled ‘Chai-lights – Celebrating 18 years of Jewish Music‘. The concert includes a contemporary work ‘Klezmopolitan Suite‘ by Niki Reiser, in its US premiere. Past concerts have included themes from bible stories, the Sephardic-Latino connection, a tribute to Jewish film composers and many educational performances given throughout the city. As part of its mission, the LAJS actively commissions new works and often includes contemporary pieces in its programming.
Dr. Noreen Green, artistic director, conductor and one of the founders of the LAJS, recently met with Sequenza21 to talk about Jewish music, the LAJS and the process of programming and selecting new pieces for performance.
So what is Jewish music and how do you program it? Dr. Green describes: “People have this idea what of Jewish music is – like its bas mitzvah music – so I try to take it beyond. We do a lot of klezmer, but we do it within the framework of the orchestral instruments so it expands the colors of what klezmer is – I think it adds another level to it. And we also do Castelnuovo-Tedesco [an Italian-Jewish composer who came to Los Angeles in 1939 as a refugee] and we also do Bloch and we also do Korngold and a lot of the film composers. Being a good programmer is really key to how the audience is going to react. Whatever you want to say, we are entertainment dollars, so we want people to come and feel like they have had a high musical experience, but in addition I want them to feel like they have learned something – and had a little fun.”
How do you go about selecting new music for the LAJS? The process, admits a smiling Dr. Green is ‘mystical’, but she declares: “Well, it’s all subjective. First of all, I have to like it. I have to make sure it also fits into whatever theme the concert is. I will commission [a piece] within a theme, like the Istoria Judia, the piece had to fit into the whole.”
The Istoria Judia concert this past March had as its theme the expulsion of the Jews from Spain after 1492 and featured a commissioned work by composer Michelle Green Willner. There was a close collaboration between Dr. Green and the composer as the piece was written, but this is not necessarily the case for new music programmed by the LAJS.
Dr. Green explains: “I seek out the people I want to work with. Now of course there are a lot of people come to me and say ‘will you perform my music?’ – that’s more difficult. …I get bombarded with scores – as you can imagine. The ones I don’t even look at are the ones that come without an initial solicitation – a note or letter [from the composer] that asks ‘would you be interested in something like this?’ I have to come up with a kernel first – something to work from – then I go and seek out music. I have a file – and when people will say ‘I have a cello klezmer concerto – would you be interested in that?’ – and I’ll say ‘Maybe in the future but send me some information’ and that goes in the file. I’ve just done our repertoire for next year, so I went back into that file to see what I had – and I didn’t remember some of the things that had been sent. It can take several years sometimes, before a new piece fits into our programing.“
The LAJS does just a few concerts a year, so the opportunities for new music to be performed are also few, even given the commitment to programming it. It can take years for the right combination of theme and music to converge. This was the case with the ‘Klezmopolitan Suite‘, a work that has been around for some time. Dr. Green describes: “I think what is interesting about the Klezmopolitan Suite is that when I read the description of the themes that he [composer Niki Reiser] took, it encompassed all of the elements of what the Jewish symphony is about, because it uses Sephardic themes, it uses Ashkenazic and it intermingles those two main streams of Judaism in a very interesting and ingenious sound. It has ethereal sections and then it has the real flat out klezmer sections – and how he balances these out – I think it is an ingenious work and I’ve been wanting to do it for 10 years.”
How has new music been received by audiences? According to Dr. Green: “It depends on the piece – some people like it and some people hate it! And that is one of the beauties of new music, it engenders discussion.. and I think it’s great when people have very strong reactions to music. I would say 90% of the time mostly people like it, but sometimes people will say ‘well, that didn’t really resonate with me’. [and I say] ‘Great, didn’t resonate with you – but somebody else was crying during it’. It is similar to the way everyone reacts differently to a movie and that is part of the beauty of live performance. If you sit in front of the computer to watch something or listen to it on the radio – that is not a public experience, it’s not a shared experience – and I think we all need more of that, a shared, live experience.”
And that is as good an argument for live performance of new music as you will find!
Further information about the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, Dr. Noreen Green and the August 26 concert are here.
TwtrSymphony is an intriguing ensemble of musicians connected via social networking. Instead of working together to simply promote and distribute news about contemporary music, TwtrSymphony is a fully functional new music ensemble in absentia. The individual members of this orchestra never meet and rehearse as a group. Instead, the performers record their parts in isolation from each other, in widely different settings, and Musical Director Chip Michael and his merry band of engineers then assemble these recordings into cohesive works all 140 seconds in duration. Right now, TwtrSymphony is working on Chip Michael’s Second Symphony, Birds of a Feather, and the first movement “The Hawk Goes Hunting” was released on July 17.
While their website has a wealth of information including a recording, video, and thorough blog, I sat down with Chip on Monday night and chatted with him about the ensemble. While I should have kept a certain journalistic verisimilitude and had the exchange via Twitter, we opted for a slightly longer format (Skype).
Jay C. Batzner: Let’s start with the basics: what do you do in your role as Musical Director? Who else is involved (other than performers)?
Chip Michael: My role of Music Director is very organizational, pointing TwtrSymphony in the direction I think it needs to head and keeping the focus on what we need to do to get where we’re going. I am also the composer as that is a good portion of why TwtrSymphony got started.
I was looking for an orchestra to play my music and some of my Twitter friends suggested I start my own – a Twitter Symphony… and TwtrSymphony was born.
But, I want TwtrSymphony to be more than just a show case for my music. It’s a great concept, musicians from all around the world playing together. Musicians who might never get to play with other musicians making music. That’s cool. So, while I’ve written the first piece that we’re doing, Symphony No. 2 “Birds of a Feather,” I imagine a future when other composers can avail themselves of our ensemble.
As Music Director, I’m thinking about how the process works (and what doesn’t), what it means to be a symphony orchestra and how to get the pieces to fit together… so, when the time comes for us to have other composers work with the ensemble, we have the tools and setup to make sure it works right for both the musicians and the composer.
Nothing would be worse than for us to invite a composer to write something and have the end result be a horrible failure. So, in essence we’re using my music to test the waters.
We’re also in the process of re-designing the organization of TwtrSymphony. There is nothing formal to announce at this point, but the way we do things now isn’t the best way. It makes getting recordings out time consuming and requires a lot of engineering effort. A simple re-org should help that. As MD, I’m thinking about what’s best for the music and ways we can achieve quality and still maintain our global nature
JCB: The idea behind TwtrSymphony, the idea of crowd-sourcing performers, is something that we’ve seen taking off recently. I think of Tan Dun’s and Eric Whitacre’s YouTube-based performances. This seems to be a logical technological outgrowth of the “write for your friends” mentality that a lot of composers use (and rightfully so).
CM: Yes… the concept of crowd-sourcing performers is nothing new. Neither is the idea of remote recording sessions to put together an ensemble. However, I’m not aware of any instrumental ensemble to the scale of TwtrSymphony that’s been done. 60+ musicians with 90+ tracks is a lot to manage when the recordings were done in different places, using different equipment…Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir comes the closest to what we’re doing. Read the rest of this entry »
Tonight, the Alabama Symphony, conducted by Justin Brown, appears at Carnegie Hall as part of Spring for Music, a week long celebration of out-of-town orchestras with adventurous programming aesthetics. Many of them are making their Carnegie Hall debuts; all of them are bringing programs of interest and demonstrating that, despite the oft-reported economic vicissitudes in the world of classical music, there remains a tremendous vitality of orchestral music making throughout North America.
In addition to a repertory standby, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, the ASO presents two New York premieres of pieces they commissioned: Avner Dorman’s Astrolatry and Paul Lansky’s Shapeshifters. The latter work is a double piano concerto for the duo Quattro Mani.
The same forces recently recorded it, as well as two other pieces by Lansky, for Bridge . The disc, titled Imaginary Islands, shows off Lansky’s music at its most colorful, filled with virtuosic passages for the soloists and formidably propulsive post-minimal writing for the orchestra. The composer’s take on minimal figuration is a fascinating marriage of an “enhanced” harmonic palette, one evocative of Messiaen as often as it is of Adams, with crackling ostinati and pileups of syncopation.
The recording demonstrates how far the ASO has come in a relatively short period of time: less than twenty years ago (in 1993), the orchestra had declared bankruptcy and its future was very much in doubt. The musicians and Brown, who soon departs from his position as their music director, should be proud of the successes the ASO has enjoyed in recent years. The standard of playing has risen, the orchestra’s programming has included a number of new works including several commissions, and they have been featured on several recording projects. This week’s visit to Carnegie Hall: a well-deserved victory lap!
Brooklyn Wind Symphony Artistic Director Jeff W. Ball interviews Dr. David Maslanka on the music of the late composer John Barnes Chance, “channeling” the composer, and the growing prevalence of commissioning consortiums among wind ensembles.
JWB: When did you first hear a composition by John Barnes Chance?
DM: My first contact was “Incantation and Dance.” It was around 1965. I was a first-year grad student at Michigan State and the band there was playing the piece. I wasn’t in the band, but heard rehearsals and performance. The piece was “hot” that year – everybody was playing it.
JWB: Has your impression of this piece changed over time?
DM: It was, and remains, an attractive piece. I liked its fresh percussive rhythmic nature, and clear instrumental colors. Working with it many years later for the Illinois State University recording was still a positive experience.
JWB: How did that project come about? What was your role?
DM: Dr. Stephen Steele, conductor of the Illinois State University Wind Symphony, was asked by Susan Bush of Albany Records if he would be interested in making a CD of select Chance works. Susan thought this would be a timely CD, one that many people would find interesting. This is a nice recognition of the enduring quality of some of Chance’s music. Steve’s first step was to send me all the scores he had collected of Chance’s wind music – about a dozen. I reviewed them all, and came up with what I termed an “A” list. My recommendations included Incantation and Dance, Variations on a Korean Folk Song, Symphony No.2, and the piano concerto piece. In rehearsals and the recording session I acted as the “presence of the composer.” It was my job to read the score and be the reminder for basic stuff like tempos, dynamics, and qualities of articulation – to insist on these, and to offer thoughts on qualities of style. There is what is printed in scores, and then there is what has accumulated as performance practice over the years. My job was to bring things back to the score. The most interesting piece for me was Symphony No.2, a piece that Chance never heard in his lifetime. I felt like I was “channeling” Chance, allowing him to be present, both to hear his music for the first time, and to offer the suggestions he would have made for performance. This assertion certainly cannot be proven, but it was a very curious experience for me.
JWB: Why do you think that Albany Records recording has been so successful?
DM: Chance’s music is still fresh and likeable, and a large number of people remember it fondly from their younger band days. It has also not left the repertoire. Steele’s recording of this music is simply very good. It is exactingly performed and well recorded.
JWB: Has the music of Chance (and his contemporaries) influenced your growth as a composer?
DM: I would certainly say that Chance’s music, and that of people like Clifton Williams and Vaclav Nelhybel, and my teacher, H. Owen Reed, influenced my early growth as a composer. This was different music than the so-called mainstream of the time, which was serialism and significant branching off with people like Penderecki and Berio. Chance and other band composers were more “down home” outgrowths of school music. It has taken all the years since Chance for wind band music to attain something of mainstream status. The influences on current wind band music are as varied as world music itself, but I would say that the music of the “early modern” wind band composers pointed in a fresh direction that many of us found attractive.
JWB: Chance was a percussionist and this heavily influenced his writing style. What was your primary instrument growing up?
DM: I was a clarinetist, and had both band and orchestra experience as a high school and college student. I had more band than orchestra, and I guess that the band sound was in my ear when I thought about writing for larger ensembles. Playing clarinet has certainly been central to my writing for winds. Being in the center of an ensemble as a performer is a major factor for any composer writing ensemble music. The influence of clarinet on my writing style is certainly there, but the factors influencing writing style are many and varied. Many people are convinced that I am a percussionist, which I am not in the least. Composers have to learn the languages of all the instruments, and then absorb and transform in themselves all the music they come in contact with.
JWB: What do you think Chance’s music would sound like today if he hadn’t tragically passed away at the age of 39?
DM: There is no knowing how Chance would have evolved!
JWB: Chance’s Second Symphony serves as the centerpiece for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony’s annual Modern Wind Symphony Concert. Do you believe it is important to continue writing symphonies for wind bands?
DM: I don’t necessarily think that it is important for composers to continue to write symphonies for wind band. Composers need to write whatever they need to write. I happen to write symphonies (now seven of them for wind band) but that is something I have felt the urge to do since Symphony No.2 in 1985. Wind bands do not need symphonies in order to be “important”, to try to lift themselves to “orchestral” status. They need powerful music, well-crafted for the medium, music which inspires the players and their audiences. This has been happening for quite some time now, and the grass roots wind band movement has become a world phenomenon. Wind bands need to program significant works, regardless of length or form, because players and audiences are intensely hungry for deeply nourishing and affecting musical experience.
JWB: Most wind band commissions occur at the collegiate level. Do you think it is important for community based wind bands and secondary schools to commission new music?
DM: Most wind band commissions occur at the college level because they have figured out how to do consortiums. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. One person takes the lead and enlists a number of other conductors to share the burden of cost. This has resulted in a huge number of new pieces that immediately have more than a single use. Not all of the music is good, but the simple fact is the more pieces that are written the high likelihood that a percentage will be outstanding. Regarding consortiums, there is no difference between a college band and a community band, except possibly the sense of being connected with other bands. The College Band Directors National Association offers college directors immediate connection to hundreds of other conductors. The CBDNA national and regional conferences, and other events like the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, allow for very intense networking among conductors. Community bands can simply join in if they wish. Anyone can join CBDNA. Commissions are now starting from high schools as well. There is the realization that the band world is all one big family, and colleges, community bands, and high schools are willing to help each other out.
JWB: The Brooklyn Wind Symphony is happy to be leading a consortium to commission a new work from you. What do you look for and take into account when requested to write a piece for a specific ensemble?
DM: The energy and seriousness of the conductor involved is a high consideration. I deeply respect people who are trying hard to build or do something, and I am interested to work with them. For me this has included ensembles all the way from small school groups to major recognized names.
Brooklyn Wind Symphony presents an 80th birthday concert in honor of John Barnes Chance on Saturday, March 24, 2:00 PM. Grand Street High School, 850 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. $10 suggested donation.
Those who’ve read File Under ? for a while may know that, two years ago, my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Tanglewood. We celebrated our first anniversary at the 2010 FCM (composers take note: if your prospective partner doesn’t mind taking in a contemporary music marathon as part of your honeymoon, he/she is a keeper!) Due to work obligations, Kay and I weren’t able to attend the first three days of the 2011 Festival of Contemporary Music. Those who’d like to read excellent coverage of the beginning of the festival should head on over to New Music Box for Matthew Guerrieri’sreview. But we did make it up to Lenox, MA for the final two days of the festival. And our short weekend was action packed; we heard five concerts and saw a play (a rather uneven performance of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare and Company).
Kay at Shakespeare and Company.
Pierre Jalbert, Music of Air and Fire: The Boston Symphony often does a contemporary work on one of its concerts during the week of FCM as a nod to the festival. This year, it was Pierre Jalbert’s Music of Air and Fire (2007), which the orchestra, lead by BSO assistant conductor Sean Newhouse, performed at the Shed on August 6.
Jalbert was a Tanglewood fellow back in the 1990s. A professor at Rice University, he’s now in demand as a composer, both of works for large orchestra and for smaller forces, as this month’s NMB profile attests.
This six minute overture was premiered by the California Symphony; it is Jalbert’s first piece on a BSO program. Music of Fire and Air is a lively and well-paced curtain-raiser, with deft writing for percussion and vivid neo-tonal harmonies from strings and winds. Apart from a small excerpt available for streaming on Jalbert’s website, it is as yet unrecorded. Given the bang-up job the BSO did with the piece, dare we hope they’ll commit it to disc sometime soon?
Karchin leads TMC Fellows. Photo Hilary Scott
Louis Karchin, Chamber Symphony: Karchin’s Chamber Symphony (2009) was the closer of FCM’s 10 AM concert on August 7 (one of three given in Ozawa Hall on the festival’s final day). Cast in three movements, its features limpid, flowing francophilic lines, daubed with tart counterpoint, as well brilliantly colorful verticals and bold Straussian horn calls. Despite leading an ensemble comprised primarily of student performers (albeit very talented student performers), Karchin’s conducting elicited a bright and assured rendition that rivaled its premiere by pros that I heard back in 2010. FCM should invite Karchin to return, both to hear his own works performed and to work with the students on contemporary repertoire.