Archive for the “Contemporary Classical” Category

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While I was in Ireland a week ago, I had the honor of speaking to composition students at the Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music & Theatre. It was a great chance to spend two hours talking about myself…

“It’s kind of odd making a powerpoint presentation about yourself,” I opened to absolutely no laughs or even smiles.

I guess starting off with a joke didn’t work afterall. It really was an honor though. It was fun to tell my story and how I approach composing. I’m always interested in how others work and (perhaps selfishly) I enjoyed discussing the music that I’ve been so lucky to write.

I presented a number of different pieces, including my masters thesis, First Flight. At approximately 13 minutes in length, First Flight was my first successful wind ensemble work. And at 13 minutes in length, it was 47 minutes shorter than the theses written by everyone sitting in front of me. “We have a requirement of at least one hour of music.”

One hour of music. That’s four times the size of my thesis. So that should mean 60 minutes of intelligent, artistic and quality music, right? This lead me to the question, does size really matter?

Ok, well if you know me you know I love Mahler. He’s the king of long-winded composition. Even when I speak of my love for Mahler, I think of specific moments I love. In the monumental 3rd symphony (being honest here), I love the final movement. That’s 30 minutes, not an hour, I could care less about the “bing, bong” part. I love all of the 10th Symphony, but technically the Adagio was the only movement finished. Ok ok ok, I love the 9th Symphony. The opening is so lush and by the time you get to the end it’s just so magical…by the time you get to the end.

Ok, let’s put Mahler to the side for a moment. What music do I love that takes at least 60 minutes to get through? Planets? Wagner? Symphonies? Daphnis & Chloe? No, I love the moments more: Jupiter, finale of Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 and obviously Lever le jour, obviously. I would say an opera or musical doesn’t count in this instance because there are so many small sections that make up the whole.

Now some of you will say, “Well Tim, it takes going through the full hour long piece to recognize the importance of the moments.” Yes, you’re right. I think, or are you?

Let’s avoid discussion of how we’re “all ADHD” and can’t focus for an hour of music. My question is should we?

Remember that the requirement is for the composition to be at least 60 minutes in length. Can a composer write a concise and fully intelligent piece in 60 minutes? Yes, we have seen it in the past, (there are many great long works) but can the composer do it without meandering all over the place? Do composers need to be boasting about how big their composition is, or should we celebrate the ones with less girth that get the job done?

www.timcorpus.com

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Pisaro15Downtown Los Angeles was the venue on Monday, May 4, 2015 for a concert by Michael Pisaro and Graham Lambkin – marking the release of their new CD, Schwarze Riesenfalter, on Erstwhile Records. A standing-room only crowd packed into the Wulf to listen to an atmospheric mix of guitar, keyboard, percussion and recordings.

The concert consisted of a single work based loosely on the text of Summer, a short poem by Georg Trakl that begins:

The twilight stills the lament
Of the cuckoo in the wood.
Deeper bows the wheat,
The red poppy.

A black storm threatens
Above the hilltop.
The ancient trill of the cricket
Dies in the field.

A recording of bird calls, some indistinct voices, and a loud piano crash began the piece, establishing a mood that was at once outdoors, dark and primal. The soft clanging of a gong was heard and the roar of a crackling campfire increased in volume along with vaguely menacing voices – it was as if some sort of ceremony was taking place deep in the wood. The voices faded and the solitary piano notes became warmer and welcoming as a sense of natural balance emerged. Graham Lambkin reached inside the piano, sounding one of the lower strings that morphed into a low groan. A sudden, sharp rapping on the piano case and some taut notes added a new layer of tension. Michael Pisaro rose from the piano bench and took up his electric guitar – a buzzing drone was heard along with a few loud pops – it was as if the instrument and the electronics were synthesizing the fire heard previously.

The piece proceeded with a sense of lurking jeopardy from the recorded voices and the scratchy sounds from Graham Lambkin’s processed violin, offset at times by a strong but calming melody in the guitar. This sense of contrast carried the piece forward – oscillating between a low, simmering anxiety and a more organic wholesomeness. At length Pisaro put down his guitar and took up the small gong, circling the performance area and filling the air with soft, contemplative sounds. Splashing water was heard and some light notes from Graham Lambkin at the piano mixed with the gong in a pleasantly airy amalgam. The recording now issued what sounded like someone walking through a thicket, and it was as if the woods were filled with benevolent spirits.

New notes from the piano shifted the mood to a decidedly darker tone and the gong was replaced with finger cymbals that added a sense of uneasiness even while maintaining a mystical feel. A low drone appeared, followed by a recording of sustained harmonica tones, some clicks and pops – all accompanied by the moaning voice. The piano, played once again by Michael Pisaro, sounded a series of somber notes and whirring sounds were heard, enhancing the darkness and mystery. This took on a dreamlike quality and the sounds of falling rain added a sense of sadness. The rain increased – a definite downpour now – as the piano continued with its sorrowful melody. The sound of wind arose in the recording and some whistling by the performers increased the palpable sense of loneliness. A recording of the piano theme previously heard was played through a tiny speaker placed center stage, and this small, ghostly sound seemed to haunt the performance space as it quietly faded away. The brief sound of footsteps in a corridor concluded this highly atmospheric and evocative work.

The playing was integrated seamlessly with the various recorded passages – and kudos to Pisaro and Lambkin who had to manage all the technology and move about on a completely darkened stage. The recordings and live playing were artfully synchronized and yet the whole seemed to be greater than the sum of the individual parts. The playing and the recordings both were necessary to complete the entire picture so vividly painted by this piece. The experience drew in and captivated the audience, who responded with sustained applause at the conclusion.

Schwarze Riesenfalter is available from Erstwhile Records. Excerpts can be heard at SoundCloud.

Photo by Ethan Swan (used with permission).

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Dear Friends,

On Sunday, April 19, my piece Rise was premiered in Washington, DC. A collaboration with the poet Tameka Cage Conley, the work bears witness to our country’s fraught journey from Selma to Ferguson and beyond. The morning of the performance, a young Black man named Freddie Gray died of severe injuries sustained while in Baltimore City Police custody.

Last week, Chris Shiley and I recorded the Invocation that opens Rise. The same music returns in the fifth movement, called for by Dr. Cage Conley’s words: “A horn tells us, / a brother has fallen, again…” I share it with you as a lament, a prayer, and a call to action, for Freddie Gray and for Baltimore.

You can stream the track for free, and buy it for $1 or more. All proceeds go directly to the family of Freddie Gray, and will be used to cover medical and burial costs.

Click here to listen and donate. Thanks so much, and please share if you are so inclined!

All Best,
Judah

P.S. For those interested, I posted some thoughts on art and activism over the course of the past week in Baltimore. You can read them here and here.

Contact Judah Adashi

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marieThe New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy (NWS),  has launched a free, online resource called  Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration, dedicated to the works of one of the 20th century’s most influential, innovative and provocative composers . Content for the website derives from New World Symphony’s three-day program Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Centennial Celebration (February 8-10, 2013), the most ambitious and comprehensive commemoration of the artist’s legacy mounted during the hundredth anniversary of his birth. The site, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, represents works from throughout Cage’s career, with performance videos of some of the composer’s best-known pieces as well as works that have never before been presented or documented in this way.

At the core of the online archive are videos of 12 performances and behind-the-scenes discussions of Cage’s work by Michael Tilson Thomas; Fellows of the New World Symphony; world-renowned artists including new-music vocalist Joan La Barbara, pianist Marc-André Hamelin, soprano Jessye Norman; and dancers from the New World School for the Arts in choreography by Merce Cunningham. The performances drew on the extraordinary possibilities for staging and visual enhancement made possible by the New World Symphony’s campus–the New World performances extend that process, going beyond simple documentation to become creative realizations of Cage’s work. More than 25 behind-the-scenes vignettes of rehearsals and preparations for the performances take the viewer into the process of “making the right choices,” providing musicians, educators and audiences around the world with rare access to insights and conversations between NWS’ Founder and Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas, NWS Fellows, guest artists, and John Cage experts as they approached the delicate and nuanced task of preparing Cage’s works.

Also included on the site are extended essays by John Cage and Michael Tilson Thomas; interviews with Michael Tilson Thomas, Laura Kuhn (Executive Director of the John Cage Trust), guest artists and NWS Fellows; artist biographies; links to program information for each work performed; and materials related to Cage’s activities in poetry and visual art.

“The New World Symphony’s John Cage festival was an opportunity to stretch our imaginations to the fullest,” said Michael Tilson Thomas. “Over the course of the week we came to appreciate the amazing range of his music. The diversity of his music inspired us to use all the capabilities of our ensemble and of our building to present his works in installations designed for them. The videos on the website are, in some cases, reportage of those installations. In other cases they are new video works based on the experiences of the live performances. The process of performing and interpreting his works has been a transformative experience for all of us who were involved.”

The extraordinary richness of the videos on the site is made possible by the comprehensive documentation of the works during the festival by the New World Symphony’s audio and video team. The festival and the website was funded in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, ensuring that the works of John Cage would be documented and made available for future generations to learn about and appreciate his contributions to the fields of music, dance and artistic thought. Documentation of the event included multiple camera and audio crews who recorded hundreds of hours of video over a two-week period, documenting every aspect of the preparation and presentation of Making the Right Choices.

Highlights of the archive include the video realization of The Seasons (1947), Dance / 4 Orchestras (1982), in which images of Cage’s drawings and compositions are layered upon the views of the musicians in performance; Cheap Imitation (1969), performed with a portion of the original and rarely seen Merce Cunningham choreography, titled “Second Hand”; and She is Asleep, Part 1 (1943), which includes images that appear to be seen from within the instruments being played. Over the next year, additional videos, interviews and materials will be added to the site.

The website is New World Symphony’s most recent accomplishment in online music education. NWS is a leader in the experimentation and development of music applications for Internet2, a high-speed, next-generation Internet, connecting more than 200 U.S. universities as well as international universities and governments. To date, NWS has connected with more than 150 institutions in over 20 countries, in order for its Fellows to receive instruction from professionals around the world, and for its Fellows to share their own knowledge with young musicians as well, providing access to classical music instruction and mentorship that they may not otherwise have access to.

 

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Tomorrow evening, composer and pianist Gregg Kallor will continue his stint as SubCulture’s inaugural composer-in-residence with a performance of songs that will also feature acclaimed mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala and renowned baritone Matthew Worth. The concert corresponds with a celebration of National Poetry Month and the 150th anniversary of William Butler Yeats’ birth, whose work Kallor sets in many of the songs included on the evening’s program.

Again, the performance is tomorrow, April 28, at SubCulture (45 Bleeker Street, Downstairs), and tickets are $25 in advance, $30 the day-of. Doors open at 6:30 PM and the concert begins at 7:30. More information on the program and the night’s featured artists can be found here, at SubCulture’s website.

Tomorrow’s concert marks the second showcase of Kallor’s two-year residency, which will ultimately result in five world premiere performances. The next event on Kallor’s docket as SubCulture’s composer-in-residence is later this year, in June.

 

 

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lapqFriday night, April 10, 2015 and Zipper Hall in downtown Los Angeles was the venue for a concert titled I Hold The Lion’s Paw featuring the The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. A knowledgeable crowd gathered to hear four pieces of percussion music that included a world premiere.

The first piece on the program was Mallet Quartet (2013) by Joseph Pereira, written for two vibraphones and two marimbas. Pereira writes about this piece: “Each pitch is considered on its own as a scale, of many timbral particles waiting to be examined. For the most part the focus is on the resonances, the attacks, and the overtones. Whether it is the playing technique used or simply the natural sounds of the instrument, these can all be exposed and manipulated in different ways, depending on the register they are in.” The metallic sounds of the vibraphones and the more organic tones from the marimbas provided a rich set of contrasts and possibilities that were exploited throughout this piece. From the very first chord that came crashing down from the stage there was the immediate sense of ‘many timbral particles’ flying through the air. The feeling was like being inside a bipolar grandfather clock with metallic clangs and twinges intermingling with wooden knocks and rapping. Rapid and independent runs from each instrument added to the general cloud of sounds that alternated between a metallic, industrial hardness from the vibraphones and a more comforting, natural sound from the wooden marimbas.

There were quiet stretches and these had the feeling of being in a dark basement full of active industrial piping off in the distance. At other times the tutti crescendos that increased in tempo as well as volume produced an energetic, industrial feel – but without becoming overwhelming. A variety of mallets were used to create a series of changing effects and textures from each instrument. Joseph Pereira’s experience as principal timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is embedded in the sinews of Mallet Quartet – the techniques for extracting just the right sounds and colors were masterfully scored and in this performance carefully executed.

Lullaby 5 (2013), by Nicholas Deyoe, followed and for this the stage was reconfigured with four percussion stations having, variously, marimbas, vibraphones, drums, cymbals and other assorted percussion. This began with a light tapping on a snare drum and then cymbals followed by a sharp report from a drum. Some bowed sounds were heard, a flurry of loud percussion, and then a quiet stretch. A mysterious feeling predominated in the softer spots and carried forward a growing tension that was periodically discharged by loud tutti drum rolls and cymbal crashes. The piece progressed this way with slowly rising levels of stress broken by sudden surges in volume and energy. A drum stick drawn over the surface of a cymbal was especially effective in one of the quieter places. The louder sections were vintage Deyoe, who demonstrated that he can bring his characteristic intensity and frenzy to a percussion piece. Lullaby 5 is reminiscent of Lullaby 4 – written for cello, trombone, clarinet and piano – and comprised of the same tension/release pattern heard here. Lullaby 5 is an exacting exploration of strong feelings along these same lines, proficiently expressed by the LAPQ.

The Year Before Yesterday (2013) by Shaun Naidoo was next. The program notes state that “Naidoo’s use of rhythm, form and melody creates a gorgeous and singular sound-world that truly expands the existing percussion repertoire. … This work was among the last that Naidoo completed before his early and unfortunate passing in 2013.” Scored for marimbas and vibraphones The Year Before Yesterday begins with low trills that lay down a nice bass foundation followed by a series of single notes that generate a feeling of building tension. We are walking deep into a dark forest, and the crescendos and decrescendos add a sense of adventure to the journey . There are stretches of syncopated melody that add energy and movement as well as slower sections – as if we are resting from our trek, surrounded by the sounds of the forest. The Year Before Yesterday is a marvelous sonic exploration of an unknown place, powered by percussion and our imagination.

After an intermission, the final piece of the program was the world premiere of I Hold The Lion’s Paw (2013-2014) by Andrew McIntosh. For this there were two percussion stations center stage and one each in the right and left balconies. The piece began with single notes struck on bowls at all four stations followed by chime tones. There was a sense of being surrounded by the sounds and an overall exotic feel. From time to time water was added to the bowls, raising their pitch and this became something of ritual throughout the performance. The vivid imagery and sustained sense of motion and movement evoked a kind of sojourn, as if we were walking along some strange path. At times it felt as if we had arrived at some fantastic, yet dangerous hamlet – the mix of percussion changing towards chimes, bells and cymbals – and a great flurry of sound that felt orderly and civilized. At other times it was as if we were caught outdoors in a violent storm, complete with sheets of rain and loud claps of thunder.

I Hold The Lion’s Paw is a large-scale piece and, as Andrew McIntosh quoted in the program notes: “To summarize Morton Feldman, the form of a piece of music over 20 minutes or so in length ceases to be concerned with structure and instead is about strategy. There is a point in any long piece where you lose an emotional connection to the shape as a whole, and the piece then becomes about the moment-to-moment flow of experience and memory.” If the journey was long – and it seemed as if we had circled around and revisited a place or two – the sounds were always interesting and the variety engaging. The spacing of the percussion stations between stage and balcony was used to good advantage. The coordination of each remote station – with the slight delays in sound arrival – was nicely exploited and precisely executed by LAPQ. Different stretches of the piece varied in dynamics, texture or color and the journey was enhanced by the presentation of ‘gifts’ to the listener – elements that were unexpected or the result of the placement of the different percussion stations. This piece has a certain resemblance to McIntosh’s Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure, from a recent CD; the same sense of exotic exploration comes through. I Hold The Lion’s Paw is a vast, but always interesting work that extracts the maximum from the varied percussion pieces of the ensemble, and this performance was superbly realized by the LAPQ.

The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet is:
Nick Terry
Matt Cook
Justin DeHart
Cory Hills

Mallet Quartet, The Year Before Yesterday and Lullaby 5 are available from Amazon on a CD titled The Year Before Yesterday

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The Minnesota Orchestra is off to Cuba.  The historic May trip culminates with two performances in Havana, May 15 and 16 and will also include several musical exchanges between Orchestra musicians and students.  These will range from coaching sessions with high school and university student musicians to rehearsing with a Cuban youth symphony and playing jazz music with professional Cuban musicians. The Orchestra announced in February that it would perform in Cuba as part of the 19th annual International Cubadisco Festival this May, becoming the first U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba since President Obama took steps to normalize relations between the countries last December.  The tour is being made possible by a generous gift from Marilyn C. and Glen D. Nelson.

The Orchestra’s opening performance on Friday, May 15, at the Teatro Nacional will feature Music Director Osmo Vänskä conducting the Orchestra in an all-Beethoven program, including the Egmont Overture; Symphony No. 3, Eroica; and Choral Fantasy, the latter with Cuban pianist Frank Fernández and choruses Coro Vocal Leo and the Cuban National Choir.
The second performance, on Saturday, May 16, at the same location will feature Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla’s Danzón, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite, conducted by Vänskä.

The Orchestra tour group will comprise 165 individuals, including 100 musicians, as well as stage crew, staff, community members participating in a “people to people” exchange and members of the media.  Cargo for the trip will include 65 tour trunks, collectively weighing more than four tons, and the music for 16 musical works, totaling 2,000 individual parts.

The International Cubadisco Festival is an annual music festival that encompasses one of the most important recording competitions in the Cuban music industry.  The theme for the 19th annual festival, running from May 15 to 24, is symphonic and choral music.

Musical Exchanges
Following their arrival in Cuba on Wednesday, May 13, Orchestra musicians will visit Cuban high school and university music students on Thursday, May 14.  At the Escuela Nacional de Música, a national high school for music study, Minnesota Orchestra brass, string, percussion and woodwind players will coach student chamber groups, hold master classes and exchange musical performances in a two-hour morning session. The Escuela Nacional de Música includes more than 500 students from across Cuba who focus on both classical and popular music studies.

At the nearby Instituto Superior de Arte, a university that focuses on the arts, Minnesota Orchestra musicians representing all the instrument families will meet with university student musicians, offering group master classes as well as practical coaching advice for students who are preparing for annual competitions, again in a two-hour session.

On the morning of Friday, May 15, the Minnesota Orchestra will join the 80-member youth symphony, Orquesta Sinfonica Juvenil Amadeo Roldán, onstage at the Teatro Nacional for a side-by-side rehearsal.  Sharing stands and music, the Minnesota musicians and high school-aged youth symphony members will rehearse Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances with Music Director Osmo Vänskä.  (The students will perform this music the next day as part of the International Cubadisco Festival.) Composer and conductor Guido López Gavilán—who serves as the youth symphony’s conductor—will also lead the combined ensemble in a rehearsal of one of his own pieces: Guaguancó, a colorful work with complex Cuban rhythms.

Following the Minnesota Orchestra concert on Saturday, May 16, members of the Orchestra who also specialize in jazz performance will head to the Havana Café, where they will participate in a late night musical jam with Cuban musicians.

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darcy-james-argue

Delighted to see one of our favorites,  Darcy James Argue, among the 2015 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship winners announced yesterday.

The Guggenheim Foundation gives out annual fellowships in a range of disciplines including academia, the arts and science. The organization says they are “appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise” and this year’s 175 scholars were drawn from a pool of 3,100 applicants. The organization’s website does not list the amount, saying that the grants vary, “taking into consideration the Fellows’ other resources and the purpose and scope of their plans.”

2015 Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellows for Music Composition:

George Lewis, Steve Lehman, Darcy James Argue, Matthew Barnson, Richard Carrick, Sean Shepherd, Rand Steiger, Amy Williams, Etienne Charles, Chihchun Chi-sun Lee and Andreia Pinto-Correia.

Past award winners in this category include George Antheil, Aaron Copland, Alex Mincek and Vivian Fung.

 

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RC20April 1, 2015 was the date and the REDCAT Theater at Disney Hall was the site of a concert by the Southland Ensemble of the early music of the late Robert Ashley. A full crowd was in attendance with only a scattering of empty seats.

The Entrance (1965) was first on the program and this was video projected behind the stage showing a keyboard with stacks of pennies being placed on the keys. There were speakers in the back of the theater where the tones could be heard and as a new stack of pennies was to a key added the resulting tone could be heard entering what was a continuous chord. The stacks grew in number and eventually the sound produced was a large cluster chord that seemed to cast a spell in the theater – just loud enough to be heard but never very definite and always changing as stacks of coins were moved about or added to the keyboard. In fact this video was projected during the entire concert, providing a sonic foundation for all that followed. Robert Ashley, quoted in the program notes, stated: “I have never understood what ‘The Entrance’ means. It was ‘inspired’. I would guess that it means something like the way to get into another, different frame of mind – that makes the performance of the other pieces possible.” This continuous realization of The Entrance was well-suited to the REDCAT performance space and consistent with Ashley’s vision of it.

She Was a Visitor (1967) featured a female soloist spotlighted in one corner of the dark stage precisely repeating the words “She was a visitor.” As this continues, the listener becomes aware of musical suggestions heard in the patterns of speech. The audience was invited to join in by choosing a sound from the recitation and then vocalize that sound quietly for the length of one breath. There was some participation in this and it was most effective when sustained. Small pockets of sound arose among the audience in the darkened theater at varying times and this was an appealing addition to the repetition of the phrase. It was as if small communities of sound formed, disbanded and reformed in subtle collaboration with the soloist. That She Was a Visitor extracted these fascinating bits of musicality from simple repeated speech was a credit to the focus of the soloist and the theatricality of the staging. Such was the power of the moment that applause was held – it was as if we were witnessing the arc of a larger story as the stage was prepared for next piece.

The Wolfman (1964) followed and this piece was described in the program notes as “… treating the cavity of the performer’s mouth as a chamber that influences the nature of the feedback heard by the audience.” Accordingly, a very brave James Klopfeisch took up his position center stage under a spotlight and a microphone. Off to the right, Casey Anderson operated some equipment that played back recorded voices and generated various electronic sounds. The soloist began by humming a steady note into the microphone and attempting, with varying success, to induce feedback into the theater sound system. Different vocal techniques were used including sung notes and long, sustained shouts. As the piece progressed, the beeps and chirps of the accompanying electronic sounds became louder and seemed to compete with the soloist. The cries of the soloist into the microphone became more plaintive as the electronics gained in strength – perhaps as a metaphor for the individual trying to be heard in a society filled with informational clutter. At one point Klopfleisch began imbibing water in an attempt to change the sonic properties of his throat and mouth in order to match the power of the ever-rising electronics. The increasing distress of the singer generated an instinctive empathy for the individual striving to be heard. Eventually the electronic chatter slowed and then stopped, leaving just the soloist to bring the piece to a quiet ending. The stage lights darkened leaving just the enigmatic sound of the cluster chord from the video. The Wolfman is a memorable piece that gains its power from the courage of the soloist and the precision of the lighting, staging and sound systems – all of which was featured in this excellent performance.

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PiE Wild Beasts - picture 158The spaciously comfortable sanctuary of the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena, CA was the site for a concert titled gnarwhallaby: The Wild Beasts. On a pleasant Sunday evening, March 29, 2015, a nice crowd gathered to hear the six pieces on the program that included a world premiere. The concert was produced by People Inside Electronics and featured the formidable playing of the gnarwhallaby ensemble combined with historical as well as contemporary electronic sounds.

A question and answer session preceded the concert and a brief history of gnarwhallaby was recounted. It was noted that the instrumental combination of the group comprises a sort of miniature orchestra with piano, woodwind, brass and strings represented. This combination tends to drive their repertoire and much of their material has come from the late 20th century music of Eastern Europe, although they have performed a number of works by contemporary Los Angeles composers.

The first piece was Pour quatre [For Four] (1968) by Włodzimierz Kotoński (1925-2014) and this began with a series of light, rapid runs of notes from several instruments, played independently and with no common beat. Sforzando entrances by individual players appeared against this busy background and the overall effect was quite intriguing. As the piece continued, different duos of instruments would begin a section, be joined by a third instrument and then drift apart as the combinations reset. This gave rise to a procession of different textures of varying densities that was quite engaging. Although no electronics were used in this piece, the program notes state that Kotoński composed by “Eschewing strict meters, tempi and traditional score format in favor of a cue-based and texturally/temporally improvisational notational technique, the aesthetic of this piece is less like chamber music and more like the unpredictable and ineffable environment of the early electronic pieces.” All of the strong entrances were cleanly played and the wilder parts efficiently managed by gnarwhallaby, making Pour quatre the perfect reference point for the rest of the concert program.

Next was Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo (1971-72) by Andrzej Dobrowolski (1921 – 1990) and for this two large speakers were placed on each side of the piano that began the piece by emitting a loud rumble of thunder. A sustained and anxious sound followed and a crash from the piano dramatically signaled the entrance of the soloist. A variety of mechanical sounds, clicks and squeaks from the speakers were accompanied by a series of rapid runs on the keyboard and the alien feel of the electronics was offset by the more musical counterpoint in the piano. Different sounds came from different speakers – at times and the piano had to compete to be heard. The electronic sounds eventually settled into a menacingly low rumble, like some sinister alien presence lurking nearby in the shadows. The piano played lightly – but still sharply – as if reflecting the anxiety that was hanging in the air. In this charged atmosphere the piano evoked a mixture of dread and fear as if waiting for the creature to strike. The electronics now became more animated, like a pin ball machine, going faster and faster.  The piano responded with a series of frantic passages as if in a full panic, followed by a sudden crash and silence. Now alone, the piano issued quiet, but anxious notes as the electronics started up again with a dull roar that grew in volume, before finally fading completely away. Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo is a powerful and frightening piece of music that demonstrates how effectively electronic sounds can trigger primal emotions.

The Wild Beasts (1978) by Morton Subotnick (b. 1933) followed, for piano, trombone and electronic ghost score. This work was originally inspired by an exhibition of Les Fauves paintings, and Subotnick writes: “I was left with the impression that each subject was portrayed as ‘normal’, but that we were seeing this subject through a strangely prismatic atmosphere… an atmosphere comprised of rare and possibly ‘unearthly’ gases… an atmosphere in which normal expectations of color and shape would not exist. This was the visual counterpart to my ‘ghost’ idea, i.e. a traditional musical instrument played into an unusual and continually transforming atmosphere … an atmosphere in which the normal sound expectations would not exist.”

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