Archive for the “Contemporary Classical” Category

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Ensemble Lux

Austrian Cultural Forum New York

November 17, 2016

NEW YORK – Austrian Cultural Forum New York makes part of its mission supporting chamber musicians from Austria, bringing them to the United States for concerts. One of the best of these concerts I have attended was this past Thursday’s New York debut of Ensemble Lux, a string quartet with formidable technique and ambitious tastes in programming. Their concert ranged across a century’s worth of music, from Anton Webern’s 5 Movements for String Quartet (1909), to la pureté de l’envie blanche, a piece from 2010 by the Lux’s second violinist, Thomas Wally.The concert opened with Olga Neuwirth’s settori, a showcase for extended techniques: alternate bowings, rapping on the wood of the instruments, Bartôk pizzicatos, altissimo register filigrees and harmonics. Neuwirth uses this expansive palette as the means to fascinating, expressive ends. Hans Erich Apostel (1901-’72) was a student of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg. The musical materials and aesthetics of the Second Viennese School are on display in Apostel’s 6 Epigramme. While the pieces are well constructed miniatures, his last name is telling of his relative place in the 12-tone pantheon.

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More engaging was Schoenberg’s String Trio. Written after the composer’s heart attack, a program reflecting this experience is often ascribed to the work. Whether one thinks it appropriate to do so, the piece is a remarkable late work by Schoenberg, juxtaposing the techniques of twelve-tone music and neoclassical phrasing with some of the visceral gestural language of his earlier Expressionism. Lux’s performance paid note both to the work’s Apollonian and Dionysian features. Correspondingly, Webern’s 5 Movements, aphoristic vignettes written at the beginning of atonality’s appearance, were played with exquisite care by the quartet.

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la pureté de l’envie blanche juxtaposed periods of silence with angular runs nearly at the instruments’ bridges. There were also tremendously quiet sustained passages. One was struck by the dynamic range the quartet had been able to deploy in ACFNY’s small performance space, from thunderous outbursts in settori to the extreme pianissimos of Wally’s work. Ensemble Lux’s precision and control mark them as a group with a promising future. Hopefully, their next visit to New York will be soon.

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meredithmonk-onbehalf

Meredith Monk turns 74 today. An early birthday present came from ECM Records on November 4th: a recording of Monk’s On Behalf of Nature project. We do not have the benefit of language: the “text” consists of songs, chants, and syllabification in unknown tongues. And there is no narrative per se, but there are clues present in the piece’s sound world that readily suggest its environmental message: at times with clarion calls; at others, with poignant vulnerability.

Joined by a versatile troupe of vocalists (many of whom also play instruments on the recording), Monk sings with tremendous vigor and impressive range. The panoply of extended techniques on display, both vocal and instrumental, elicit a veritable catalog of sounds. Some are imitative of all manner of fauna: insects, birds, and mammals. Vocal play with “nonsense” syllables moves between jazz scat and primordial language. Likewise, the materials inhabited by the instrumental forces coexist between rustic primitivism, minimalist ostinatos, and sophisticated microtonality.

Monk is not afraid to make sounds that aren’t conventionally “pretty:” howls, chittering, and screaming among them. However, she often manages to evoke beauty even in the most raw and unconventional moments of On Behalf of Nature. It is as if we are being implored, by any means necessary, to attend more fully to the world around us. While we are deprived the visual and choreographic elements of its staging in this audio-only recording (one hopes ECM might consider producing a film of the work’s acclaimed stage incarnation), the music is amply impressive all by itself. It is Meredith Monk’s birthday, true, but her gifts are shared with us.

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palau-de-les-arts-reina-sofiaBoston Conservatory at Berklee – recognized for offering one of the best opera programs in the U.S. – is launching a summer program at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain for students from all over the world looking to pursue a career in opera. The Boston Conservatory Opera Intensive at Valencia is a comprehensive three-week program taking place June 25-July 15, 2017. This is the first program to be developed jointly between the Valencia campus since the merger between Berklee and the Conservatory in June 2016.

“This summer program is designed for students who are serious about building a career in opera and are looking for next-level training,” said Richard Ortner, president of Boston Conservatory at Berklee. “Talented young singers from around the globe will come together to hone their technical skills with unparalleled faculty, gain valuable performance experience in a variety of settings, increase their understanding of what it takes to build and maintain a career in opera, and connect with industry professionals.”

The program will feature a robust schedule of lessons, musical and dramatic coachings, classes, and rehearsals, culminating in public concerts and performances of opera excerpts. “Special classes will provide insights and strategies for managing both the business and interpersonal aspects of a sustainable career,” said Johnathon Pape, director of Opera Studies at Boston Conservatory at Berklee. “Guest clinicians like renowned Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, among others, will present master classes and seminars on pertinent information such as auditioning and working in Europe.”

One of the unique features of the Boston Conservatory Opera Intensive at Valencia is the opportunity for participants to access Berklee’s state-of-the-art recording studios. Students will be able to record some of their selections for use in applications to graduate schools or young artist programs. The selections will be coached and accompanied by program faculty members, and recorded by Berklee engineers. Each participant will leave the program with a professionally produced recording of their selections.

Located in the iconic City of Arts and Sciences, Berklee Valencia is annexed to the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, an inspiring setting with top notch facilities and home to world-class cultural events. Many luminaries of the opera world have been associated with the Palau, including Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, and, most notably, Plácido Domingo.

“The Boston Conservatory Opera Intensive at Valencia provides an exciting and supportive environment that will stretch and inspire students, and help them succeed,” said María Martínez Iturriaga, executive director of Berklee Valencia. “Valencia, with its rich cultural heritage and beautiful scenery, is a perfect setting for a program of this caliber.”

Boston Conservatory at Berklee is recognized for offering one of the best opera programs in the U.S. With a nurturing community of teachers and peers, and a forward-thinking curriculum that is continually evolving, its voice and opera programs are oriented to help students grow as professional singers and as whole artists for the 21st-century stage.

About Boston Conservatory at Berklee
Boston Conservatory at Berklee provides a progressive learning environment where students are challenged to realize their potential as artists and inspired to pursue their dreams. Long recognized for its specialized training in dance, music, and theater, the Conservatory’s recent merger with Berklee now combines this rigorous, focused instruction with unparalleled access to a broad range of academic and creative opportunities. Set in the cultural, historical, and educational hub of Boston, this extraordinary institution represents the future of performing arts education. Learn more at bostonconservatory.berklee.edu.

About Berklee College of Music’s Valencia Campus
Berklee’s campus in Valencia is the first international campus established by the renowned Berklee College of Music—and its first campus outside of Boston. Located in the iconic City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, the magnificent 3,600 square meter campus has been designed specifically for music and is equipped with state-of-the art technology.

Berklee’s campus in Valencia aims to provide a hub to launch the careers across the globe for the most musically talented international students. Offering a unique curriculum, as well as an International Career Center to assist students in their transition from student to music professional, the campus presented Berklee College of Music’s first graduate master’s degree programs in contemporary music (Scoring for Film, Television and Video Games; Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration); and Global Entertainment and Music Business) in September 2012, and launched a fourth new graduate program: Music Production, Technology, and Innovation in September 2013.

In addition, Berklee’s campus in Valencia offers a Study Abroad Program for Berklee students from Boston to study for a term at Valencia, Summer and Special Programs, as well as a new way for musicians around the world to join the global music community – as performers, as practitioners, and as leaders.

More information can be found at valencia.berklee.edu

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marvin

In this year where up is down and blue is red, one constant remains: our radio pal Marvin Rosen‘s end-of-year, day-long marathon playing recent music by living composers. But how does he get enough great, new stuff to program 25 hours? Why, from YOU! Marvin needs, wants, loves your submissions of pieces you’ve composed in the last few years. So read on, and find out what you need to do to make Marvin’s marathon mus-tastic.

CALL FOR NEW MUSIC RECORDINGS

to be presented during the 11th Live Marathon (10th devoted to 21st century music) curated and hosted by Marvin Rosen, host of the award-winning program, Classical Discoveries and presented on WPRB, Princeton NJ at 103.3 FM or on line at: www.wprb.com

The title of this year’s radio extravaganza —  “24 HOUR PLUS – VIVA 21-ST CENTURY”  —  will start Tuesday, December 27th at 1:00pm (EST time) and will go nonstop, live, until 2:00pm on Wednesday, December 28th, and yes, this year’s Marathon will run like last years did — 25 hours.

This year Marvin is requesting composers to send him recordings of works completed between 2008-2016

Only recordings on CD (no MP3’s, no downloads) will be accepted and must be received by Marvin no later than Saturday, December 3, 2016. The maximum length of each work submitted should be no more than 15 minutes.

All private recordings must have good sound quality and released for radio broadcast by the owner of recording (a statement from submitting person is sufficient).
Marvin knows that in today’s time many music transactions are done via downloading etc., but since he has a full time job, as well as other volunteer duties, the recording submission process has to be done as conveniently for Marvin as possible.
If you are interested in being part of this crazy annual new music marathon please e-mail Marvin directly for more instructions at: requestformarvin@gmail.com

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It’s never good to live in the past, but sometimes we have to, even though as our latest catch phrase would have it “it is what it is.” These are some of the thoughts which came to mind when I caught the last performance of San Francisco Opera’s revival of its 2010 production of Leos Janacek’s “The Makropulos Case ” (1923-26) which received its American premiere at this house in 1966. German soprano Nadja Michael, who as the over three-hundred-year-old opera diva Emilia Marty has traveled with more aliases than you could count on several hands, was its star. But the problem here wasn’t that Michael dominated the stage as every diva should do, but that her lovers, especially her principal one Baron Jarosalv Prus (baritone Stephen Powell) hadn’t the looks much less the presence of Tom Fox, who sang Prus in the 1990 SFO Lofti Mansouri / Elisabeth Soederstrom directed production I saw with Stephanie Sundine as Marty, who owned the stage just by walking across it. And that’s a major flaw because this opera if it’s about anything — and it isn’t about much — is about sex and how its myriad illusions about “love” have driven its “heroine ” and us through her multiple couplings. But come to think of it this might be THE perfect piece of music theatre for our tired but true 2016 US (s) election cycle.

Janacek (1854-1926) may have been a great Czech composer, but his book for The Makropulos Case (which is based on his fellow Czech Carel Capek’s play which he saw at its 1922 Prague premiere) is problematic, and even Capek doubted — and he told Janacek this — that it could be made into an opera. Its flaws are there from the get go. Act 1 scene 1, which is set in the law office of Dr. Koletany ( bass-baritone Dale Travis) goes on far too long. Janacek should have established his points quickly, and should have made this scene and many others a play within music instead of a play with music, and the only really theatrical juice it gets is when Ms. Michael enters and in 2016 fashion drapes her everything in sight over the office furniture, and with that decision almost every possible ambiguity, forget subtext, goes out the window. It’s the madonna/whore complex all over again, but this time we just get the whore, which is, if not an outright insult to Janacek and his source material, but a cheapening of his obviously earnest efforts to breathe life into it. Carmen may have been a girl who can’t help it, but at least Bizet supplied seductive and yes, entertaining music for her and her suitors, and Berg, while not writing exactly entertaining music for his doomed heroine Lulu in his eponymous opera, did at least give her the benefit of the doubt.

Olivier Tambosi’s staging with production designer Schollsmann’s mostly black and white look, save the completely literal bookcases-to-the-ceiling set for the law office, added very little. Ms. Michael’s transcendence/apotheosis in the very last scene didn’t work either, because neither book, music or direction, as played here, made her vulnerable for more than, say, twenty seconds. Marty may have made lots of mistakes in her three century plus life, but she must have had a few moments of real reflection or regret — don’t we all ? — and she did have some here, but these alas came and went all too quickly. She was after all “human all too human” in Nietzsche’s pregnant phrase, and if that doesn’t come across the boards we get next to nothing. Russian conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov, who made his house debut here, kept everything in sync with his precise no-nonsense stick technique, and the SFO orchestra responded with clear, vivid and vibrant playing throughout.

Leos Janacek The Makropulos Case ( Vec Makropulos ) 

San Francisco Opera 
War Memorial Opera House 
San Francisco California 
29 October 2016 
 Nadja Michael; Joel Sorensen; Charles Workman;  Julie Adams; Dale Travis; Stephen Powell, and  supporting cast
Director: Olivier Tambosi
Chorus Director: Ian Robertson 
Conductor: Mikhail Tatarnikov

 

 

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The first woman (among several) to run for president was Victoria Woodhull, whose campaign back in 1872, before women were even allowed to vote, was greeted with nastiness from detractors and the press that rivals … well, politics today actually. Composer Victoria Bond and librettist Hilary Bell have crafted a two-act opera that depicts Woodhull’s historic run. It was acclaimed in its debut, by Anchorage Opera in 2012. Now New Yorkers have a chance to hear it. This Friday, October 28th at National Opera Center, Bond conducts a cast led by dramatic soprano Valerie Bernhardt, who will reprise the title role, and tenor Scott Ramsay, who plays her nemesis, Henry Ward Beecher.

Mrs. President
Music by Victoria Bond
Libretto by Hilary Bell
Friday, October 28 at 8:00 PM
National Opera Center
330 7th Ave. New York City
Tickets: $20 at the door

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mcintosh1On Tuesday, October 18, 2016 at The Wild Beast on the Cal Arts campus, a faculty recital by Andrew McIntosh featured no fewer than six different violins and violas, five sections of the Rosary Sonatas with period Baroque tuning, four contemporary pieces, and two world premiers. A good-sized crowd turned out mid-week to experience a wide range of music employing tuning practices from the 16th to the 21st century.

Embellie (1981) by Iannis Xenakis was first, a solo viola piece. Xenakis is quoted in the program notes: “I wrote this piece… trying to think only of the viola, with its low, beautiful notes and its particular voice lying in between those of the cello and the violin like a patch of more clement weather, a moment of calm during a storm…” The opening of Embellie was strongly assured, although perhaps tinged with a touch of anxiety, its complex texture and slight dissonances adding up to a sense of dissatisfaction. Lightly delicate phrases alternated with more forceful passages and McIntosh provided a finely controlled contrast in dynamics and color. At one point, a series of declarative phrases were succeeded by slow, continuously descending tones, unwinding like a far off siren. Rapid, skittering runs followed – requiring rock solid technique – and then some rougher, unsettled phrases that culminated in a high, wispy sound, like the soft whistling of the wind, as the piece quietly concluded.

Next was vla (2007) by Nicholas Deyoe. A version of this – vln – was written for violin, but this was the premiere performance for solo viola. Unlike the Xenakis piece that featured strong contrasts and a variety of textures, vla artfully occupied just a small subset of possible viola sounds. Deyoe noted that “The material is derived entirely from natural harmonics and pizzicato open strings on a retuned instrument.” Vla began with a continuous series of light, squeaky notes that floated insubstantially into the air, often leaving behind a questioning feel. The high, needle-like pitches were accompanied by similarly high pizzicato, deftly realized by the left hand of McIntosh, even as he bowed the arco parts. All of the familiar, rich tones of the viola were absent, but the dancing shimmer of pitches engaged the listener throughout. Vla convincingly evokes the hard sparkle of glass shards in a bright sunlight – from a most unlikely instrument.

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lyris10-8-16On Saturday, October 8, 2016 Jacaranda Music presented a pre-season event titled Intimate Letters featuring the Lyris Quartet in a concert preview of their new CD by the same name. Intimate Letters contains newly-commissioned pieces by four different composers, each writing a work of musical commentary and reflection on String Quartet No. 2 (1928) by Leoš Janáček. “Intimate Letters” is the nickname given by Janáček to this piece, inspired by his long and close friendship with Kamila Stösslová, a married woman some 38 years younger with whom over 700 letters were exchanged during a span of 11 years. The practice of commissioning new works that look to the past has lately become fashionable, and this project by Jacaranda and the Lyris Quartet involved composers Bruce Broughton, Billy Childs, Peter Knell and Kurt Rohde. The four world premieres comprised the first half of the concert, and a performance of String Quartet No. 2 by Janáček followed the intermission. The spacious sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica was mostly filled for the concert and the event included an after-party that was held in the adjacent courtyard.

The first piece in the program was Fancies, by Bruce Broughton, who wrote in the program notes: “Fancies is essentially a rhapsody/fantasia built upon the opening figures [of String Quartet No. 2 ], the most obvious being a motor rhythm that reappears throughout the piece.” Accordingly, Fancies began with a strong, repeating tutti figure, complete with rapid runs and lively trills. The tempo was brisk, but not frenetic, and the clean playing by the Lyris Quartet gave a solid coherence to the ensemble. The busy sections morphed and mutated as the piece progressed, alternating, at times, with slower stretches that often had a tinge of questioning doubt. Of all the new pieces on the program, Fancies seemed the most closely related to the early 20th century music of Janáček in form and gesture. Mr. Broughton is a well-known composer of film scores and TV themes; his versatility and craftsmanship make Fancies a vivid re-imagining of the Janáček style.

Intimate Voices, by Peter Knell, followed and in many ways this was the converse of the Broughton piece, opening with a slow, soft chord and sustained pitches. Intimate Voices is built around four notes, G, C, F# and D, that appear as the viola solo heard in the first minute of the first movement of String Quartet No. 2. This has a delicate, nuanced quality that is calm and settled, like drifting along at sea on a windless day. As the piece progressed the tempo occasionally moved ahead, but always returned to the slower, more deliberate pace of the opening. The long tones allowed for some lovely harmonies to develop and the playing by the Lyris Quartet was full and balanced. Intimate Voices is a serene and peaceful work, artfully developed from just a tiny fragment of the Janáček composition.

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noon-100Saturday, October 1, 2016 was the Noon to Midnight event at Disney Hall consisting of a series of new music concerts, many by local groups. The event ran more or less continuously – here are some observations on what I was able to see and hear.

At 3:30 PM wasteLAnd set up shop in the BP Hall area to perform three pieces, including a world premiere by Nicholas Deyoe commissioned by the LA Philharmonic. The first piece was Invisibility (2009) by Lisa Lim for solo cello, performed by Ashley Walters. The opening section began with Ms. Walters holding a bow whose hair had been twisted into a coarse rope and this gave rise to a series of rough, skittering runs that immediately challenged the listener’s expectation of how a cello should sound. Ms. Lim writes, “The ‘invisibility’ of the title of the piece is not about silence, for the work is full of sounds. Rather, I am working with an idea of the invisible or latent forces of the physical set-up of the instrument. What emerges as the instrument is sounded in various increasingly rhythmicized ways is a landscape of unpredictable nicks and ruptures as different layers of action flow across each other.”

The result was musical, but with a density and texture that explore completely new territory. The acoustics of the BP Hall space, however, were not up to the task of transmitting the subtle details of this to the large audience, and the ambient noise of passersby on the adjacent walkway obscured many of the finer nuances. Midway through Ms. Walters changed to a standard bow, and the piece became much smoother, more delicate and more familiar. The rhythms increased a bit in complexity and the resulting sound seemed somewhat stronger out in the hall. Finally, Ms. Walters grasped both bow types – one in each hand – and continued with an amazing show of virtuosity by using them simultaneously. This produced a wonderful mix of rough and smooth textures as the “… different layers of action flow across each other.” Invisibility expands the sonic language of the cello in new and intriguing ways and this deft performance by Ms. Walters was received with strong applause.

Tout Oreguil… by Erik Ulman followed, featuring Èlise Roy on woodwinds and soprano Stephanie Aston. Ulmann is the featured composer for wasteLAnd during the current season. Ms. Roy and Ms. Aston began Tout Oreguil… with interweaving lines – a stabbing and thrusting feel from Ms. Roy – whose cutting sound seemed to dominate in this space – and a smoother, more connected sound from the voice of Ms. Aston. This interplay produced a gently haunting feel and midway through Ms. Roy switched to a bass flute whose deep notes added a sense of mystery. The longer, more connected notes now coming from the soprano might have enhanced this, but the acoustics of the BP Hall space were working against subtlety. Towards the finish, a nice counterpoint in the voice restored some balance. Tout Oreguil… is an intriguing work with artful passages and fine phrasing, deserving of a more intimate venue.

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noon-30The first Green Umbrella concert of the season was held on Saturday, October 1, 2016 at Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles. The LA Philharmonic hosted Noon to Midnight, a series of ‘pop-up performances’ and events that included works by numerous local contemporary composers and music ensembles, two sound installations, and an evening concert by the LA Phil New Music Group titled Four World Premiers. Some 16 different events were scheduled over the entire day, starting at noon, and were sited at various venues within the Disney Hall complex. The combination of a sunny fall morning, minimal downtown traffic and a large, enthusiastic crowd made for a festival atmosphere, with everyone moving cheerfully about, partaking of the various presentations.

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Nimbus, a sound/performance installation created by Yuval Sharon and Rand Steiger, was invariably encountered first, suspended as it was in the space above the long bank of elevators that lead from the parking structure deep beneath Disney Hall up to the lobby. Described in the program as “…an installation that transforms a transitional space into a performance site…” Nimbus is a fanciful simulation of a rain cloud – the fluffy, cotton-candy variety – whose interior lighting and music accompaniment change with time over the course of the day. Twenty-plus sections of music were written for Nimbus by Rand Steiger and recorded by members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, (or created from recorded samples), sung by guest vocalists and even electronically extracted from filtered escalator noise. The mystical sights and sounds of Nimbus perfectly set the mood as people ascended upwards to the lobby. The soprano voices of Kirsten Ashley Wiest, Ashley Cutright and Hillary Young singing in just intonation were especially memorable for their feathery, ethereal glory. An added touch was the continuous procession of uniformed performers holding hand bells and striking solemn tones as they rode up and down the escalators among the entering patrons.

Because the scattered events of Noon to Midnight overlapped somewhat in their starting times, it was impossible to see everything. Here is a summary of some of what was happening during the day.

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