Archive for the “Contemporary Classical” Category
Posted by George Grella in Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, Recordings, Review, tags: Andy Kozar, Caroline Shaw, Gregory Brown, Kevin Puts, Le Poème Harmonique, Marco Marazzoli, Monteverdi, New York Polyphony
Some of the most timeless, gripping, modern and surprising music I hear consistently are the vocal works of Renaissance Italian composers and their associated circle – Monteverdi, Gesualdo, the great Madrigalist Luca Marenzio. Saturday night at Miller Theatre I heard music from composers who were new to me – Giovanni Maria Trabaci, Il Fasolo (not Giovanni Battista Fasolo) and Marco Marazzoli – in a revelatory and affecting concert from the great early music ensemble, Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre.
Why Renaissance music at Sequenza21? First, Miller is as important for their early music programming as they are for their Composer Portraits, and second, they build the connection between the two eras not only abstractly through the two series but through a newer exploration of the past by way of the present. Last season they began a Bach Revisted series that paired early and new music musicians and programs (I saw an excellent concert with Kristian Bezuidenhout playing C.P.E., W.F. and J.S. Bach accompanied by Ensemble Signal, who themselves gave a masterful performance of Michael Gordon’s Weather, and since you can’t have Gordon without Reich and Reich without Bach, there’s nothing to argue ). The series continues this year with concerts that pair Bach with Kaija Saariaho, Reich and Joan Tower.
This fits into the ongoing history of music, where composers continue to write a cappella vocal works. I had a significant dose of them from John Zorn, including a set he explicitly calls “madrigals,” and there’s a good handful of contemporary vocal music built on the work of the ancient pioneers that has not only crossed my desk but been in the news this year. The critical point of all of this is that the old music is for the most part so much more daring, free and innovative than what I hear from contemporary composers, with some notable exceptions.
New vocal music has had a moment this year with Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize award for her Partita, which appears on the debut disc from Roomful of Teeth. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the piece, but not much right about it either. There are contemporaneous vocal compositions that do some of the same things, do them better, and go beyond. Partita is polite music with a few accessories that might appear experimental but that are, in 2013, ordinary things in a composer’s toolbox. The teleology of her texts is shallow and brittle. Spoken words? Berio wrote and adapted far more compelling texts. Phonemes? Kenneth Gaburo’s works are older than Shaw and are still experimental. These tools are also better used in choral works on an excellent new CD of music from composer Kevin Puts. His work doesn’t sound as superficially ‘new’ but he makes richer, deeper and more proficient music with the same elements of text and fragmented vocal sounds.
His harmonies are also involving, and this matters. Harmony is the essential feature of the history of this music, it’s through the voice that composers created polyphony and counterpoint. But we’re supposed to know so much more today than they did in the 17th century, so why does Gesualdo sound so much fresher and newer than most new vocal music? His harmonic flights of fancy are surprising and effective because he creates a context that is clear, logical and describes the terms he’s working with. There is a fashion in contemporary vocal music of tossing in dissonant or extended chords that, since it’s in opposition to the overall harmonic context, comes off as a self-conscious way of asserting new music bona fides. That is one of the traps that Zorn’s work can fall into.
At edge of the trap but never falling in is a new work from Gregory Brown, Missa Charles Darwin, available in an engrossing recording from New York Polyphony. Brown works with history in two ways, cultivating a refined sense of vocal polyphony while setting Charles Darwin’s writing from On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man and various letters. The harmonic motion is mostly strong and logical, though parts like the “Alleluia” section suffer from jarring modulations. It’s a strong work overall, though, and in particular Brown is the only contemporary composer I can recall who crafts vocal lines that have the same sense of independent harmonic rhythm and expressive freedom that makes the madrigals of Monteverdi and the like so powerful (there’s a fine companion to Brown’s piece, another new recording from New York Polyphony, Times Go By Turns, a collection of works from Byrd, Plummer and Tallis).
It’s enduringly strange to me how the techniques of Monteverdi have been left by the wayside. The combination of voices singing the same text, in counterpoint and rhythmic opposition, is one of the most beautiful and involving sounds in music, across all genres. Add words like:
Veglio, penso, ardo, piango; e chi mi sface
Sempre m’è innanzi per mia dolce pena
Guerra è il mio stato d’ira e di duol piena,
E sol di lei pensando ho qualche pace.
(I watch, brood, burn and weep; and she, my undoing
Is ever before me, causing such sweet sorrow;
Warfare is my state, full of anger and pain,
And only thoughts of her bring me peace)
have immediate personal meaning to us across the centuries. Setting them as Monteverdi did gives them physical urgency and so the Miller Theatre concert was exciting and moving. Le Poème Harmonique, like other early music groups, sees this music as coming from the earth, the groin, not the mind and the heavens, so there is fire and humor. The program was “Combattimenti” which you can hear on this marvelous CD; it included Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. It ended with Marazzoli’s La Fiera di Farfa, an astonishing dramatic parody of Monteverdi. For a while, it’s a dazzling picture of a fair, with hawkers, gawkers and more calling out, arguing, dancing. The parody comes near the end, when a ball breaks out and two gentlemen, friends, begin to fight. It seems in deadly earnest until the loser calls off the coup de grace by singing “Friend, you have won: I forgive you; you forgive me too. Indeed, in such circumstances it is a fine thing to be a base coward.”
In no way was this the experience of gazing quaintly back at the humanism of the past. Dumestre did something remarkable in this concert: there are songs within the larger piece, sung by characters inhabiting the fair, not only the faux-fight “Guera e Mort,” but two remarkable ballads, sung beautifully by tenor Serge Goubioud, “È no ssusciame’n canna (He cannot play a flute)” and “Vurria’addeventare pesce d’or (I’d like to become a golden fish).” In these moments, Dumestre moved the accompaniment from continuo-recitativo style repetitive bass and chord accompaniment, with a modern, vernacular sense of articulation and syncopation. Goubioud moved his voice from throat and head to his chest, and we were hearing popular music, as in-the-moment today as it was 400 hundred years ago. It felt liked the Marazzoli was here to keep us company with the knowledge that he knows our cares and loves and worries, because they are the same ones people have across epochs. The past is never past, the music of all eras speaks to us eternally.
But it would not if it wasn’t made with imagination and conviction. Those are the essential qualities of Andy Kozar’s remarkable recording On the End … . This is a superb collection of music, all the pieces exploring the possibilities of contemporary notation and instrumental playing. Kozar uses a variety of techniques, including graphic notation, and from the knife’s edge focus of the playing (Kozar plays trumpet and is joined by his colleagues in loadbang, Miranda Cuckson and others) it’s clear that he conveys his ideas to his musicians with precision and power.
The centerpiece is a Mass that has its foundation in the traditional movements and texts yet an expression that is at the cutting edge of creativity. Jeffrey Gavett’s voice croons and spits and shouts the words, through mellifluous lines and extreme intervals, while the instruments respond, sometimes amicably, sometimes antagonistically. There is a moment-to-moment fragmentation but an overall consistency of effect: the unfathomable mystery of death and how to express our incomprehension. Kozar steps outside the clichés of comfort and process, he never ingratiates and always fascinates. Like Le Poème Harmonique’s concert, it makes the past eternally alive, present and important.
Monday at the DiMenna Center, New York New Music Ensemble presents a program of works by Lukas Foss (1922-2009). Lukas (with whom I studied in the 90s when I was at BU) was a man of many musical talents with a near-omnivorous interest in a host of musical styles. Rather than try to present a comprehensive portrait of them all (a tall order in a single evening!), NYNME will focus on pieces from the mid-sixties through the mid-eighties, the period during which he was in his most experimental phase. In Echoi (1963), Foss made use of vast swaths of serial-inspired charts – there are pictures of them taking up whole walls of his studio. However, his performance directions add a measure of postmodern theatricality and there’s more than a bit of aleatory at work too. These seemingly disparate elements come together in a piece that is a masterful melange. Paradigm (1968), is more ebulliently chaotic still. Incorporating clangorous percussion and vociferous shouts alongside quasi-rock riffs from electric guitar, it channels more than a bit of the cultural and political revolutions afoot in the year of its composition.
Solo Observed (1982), began its life as a virtuosic solo piano piece, Solo, which found Foss experimenting with minimalism and maximalism at the same time. Solo Observed (1982, in versions for both orchestra and chamber ensemble), adds additional instruments, who observe, comment on, and sometimes even obstruct the pianist’s solo. The last work on the program, Tashi (1986), written for the star-studded chamber ensemble of the same name, is one of my favorite of Foss’s chamber works. Abundantly virtuosic and sumptuously harmonically varied, it is one of the best syntheses of the various styles and varied materials that fascinated Foss. Hunt down Rendezvous, the group’s 1989 recording on which it appears. Better yet, catch it live tonight.
Posted by Chris Becker in Chamber Music, Classical Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Flute, Houston, Improv, Interviews, jazz, Performers, tags: Houston Friends of Chamber Music, Imani Winds, improvisation, Jeff Scott, maqam, maqamat, Simon Shaheen, Wayne Shorter, wind quintet
Imani Winds: Jeff Scott, Toyin Spellman-Diaz, Valerie Coleman, Monica Ellis, and Mariam Adam. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
(Houston, TX) Since the group’s inception in 1997, the Imani Winds have continued to expand the relatively small-sized repertoire for wind quintet by commissioning several works by such forward-thinking composers as Alvin Singleton, Roberto Sierra, Stefon Harris, Daniel Perez, Mohammed Fairouz, and Houston’s own Jason Moran. Moran’s four-movement work Cane, Moran’s first composition for wind quintet, appears on the Imani Winds’ 2010 album Terra Incognita, along with pieces by two other jazz masters, Paquito D’Rivera and Wayne Shorter. (The Imani Winds appear on Shorter’s critically acclaimed 2013 live quartet album Without A Net in a scorching performance of his 23-minute through-composed work Pegasus.) Imani Winds members Valerie Coleman (flute) and Jeff Scott (horn) also compose and arrange for the quintet. In concert, the Imani Winds present traditional classical fare alongside new works that explore African, Latin American, and the Middle Eastern musical idioms and performance techniques.
On Tuesday, October 15, 2013, the Imani Winds make their Houston Friends Of Chamber Music debut at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, performing arrangements of classic works by Ravel and Mendelssohn, Jonathan Russell’s powerful wind quintet arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring, and Scott’s arrangement of Palestinian-American oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen’s composition Dance Mediterranea, a piece that requires the quintet to play and improvise with Arabic scales or maqamat.
I spoke with Jeff Scott about the challenges of arranging Shaheen’s piece for the quintet as well as what it means to be a chamber wind ensemble in the 21st century.
Chris Becker: What are some challenges you faced in arranging Simon Shaheen’s music for the Imani Winds?
Jeff Scott: I listened to Shaheen’s piece over and over and over again so I could learn what I could do in the different section to offset it. We are an ensemble with five completely different sounding instruments that can create many different colors. So I listened to each section and thought, “Who could play the bass here? Who would sound great playing the solo line here? Who could really do something percussive on their instrument there to make it sound like an authentic version of the song?”
CB: There’s improvisation in your arrangement? Is that correct?
CB: Can you talk a little bit about the improvisation in the piece? Are you and your fellow winds improvising with scales? Are you improvising over some kind of harmony? Or is it even freer than that?
JS: It’s definitely structured. In that part of the world, the scale is called a maqam. This piece deals with three different maqamat. So for the solo sections, I only wrote out a rhythmic figure for whoever is playing the bass and the scale itself for whoever is playing the solo. The stuff in the middle is fleshed out completely and gives the top and bottom players guidelines they can follow.
In preparation for this piece, we had workshop rehearsals for learning the different maqamat and how to play inflect on our respective instruments the quarter tones and semitones that exist in those scales, so we wouldn’t just be playing a diatonic scale with two half steps and then calling that a maqam. That’s not it at all. The challenge was getting that g half flat just so! (laughs)
What separates people who play with those different scales and people who play Western music and diatonic scales, is that our ears are adjusted. We know when someone is playing a flat seventh, you know? But to be able to play it as part of a scale and know whether or not you’re just flat enough? (laughs) That’s a different thing! We played these scales in workshops for Shaheen almost like we were auditioning for him. We’d play, and he would say, “No, no, no…” and then play the scale with us and show us exactly where they fit. It’s a thing you just constantly have to work on because it’s not a part of our pedagogue. It’s not part of our training.
Before playing this piece, we’ll have our set of rehearsals the week before, and we’ll go through the shed of practicing those scales and testing one another.
CB: Is improvisation a part of your background? Or is it something new that you and the other members of the Imani Winds have explored since coming together as an ensemble?
JS: I’d say for the most part it’s new. Improvising wasn’t a part of our formal training. We all went to either the Manhattan School of Music or Juilliard. And it just wasn’t asked of you, it just wasn’t. Now, post-school? Yeah. You realize that in the 21st century commercial world, if you’re going to survive, regardless of what your training is, you have to be flexible enough to improvise. It was definitely harder for us coming into it, but more schools are requiring it these days. I think that’s really wonderful. The language of music from other countries is now filtering its way into the Western chronicles and as a musician, you have to be able to speak the different dialects. We have embraced it and really went out there and grabbed every possible challenge we could.
CB: What you say about conservatories in the U.S., that more programs are including improvisation and music from around the globe, is something I’m hearing about more and more in my interviews with younger musicians.
JS: It used to be shunned. When I was at the Manhattan School of Music, back in the 80s, I wrote this piece for horn and percussion that I wanted to play on one of my recitals. I remember playing the piece for my teacher and him not wanting me to do it because most of my part wasn’t written down and he couldn’t work with me on it. It wasn’t because the it sounded “bad” or “good,” he just didn’t know how to work with me on it as an improvised piece of music. And that said a whole lot about the institution and my training in general! (laughs) It speaks volumes!
CB: Tell me about the Imani Winds’ collaboration with saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter.
JS: We were asked to come and perform with him at the Hollywood Bowl on his 80th birthday along with Esperanza Spaulding, Herbie Hancock, Dave Douglas and all of these incredible musicians. We performed a piece that Shorter composed and arranged called Pegasus. It’s a symphony! The piece is written for his and wind quintet. It’s a symphony! It’s a mammoth, epic journey with improvisation from everyone involved, a through-composed piece with many different moods.
The whole thing started when the La Jolla Music Society in California commissioned Shorter to compose a piece for us, which he titled Terra Incognita. It was just for wind quintet, and it was the first piece he’d composed that didn’t involve him as a performer. He’d never written something for someone else that he didn’t intend to perform.
So he wrote this wind quintet and it was way out (laughs) with just as much room to improvise as you could possibly want. We didn’t know what the heck to do with it. So we learned everything note by note, and then played it for him. And he smiled and said, “That’s great. But promise me you’ll never play it like that again. I want you play it different every time. I want you to start from the end. I want you to leave out some parts. You can start in the middle. Just use the piece as a point of departure.”
CB: That’s so great.
JS: It says a whole lot about him. But it also says a whole lot about where I think classical music in general is going when it comes to chamber music and accepting improvisation, jazz and all of the world’s music, and having musicians who are flexible enough and open enough to at least experiment. It’s the only way we’re going to get the patrons of chamber music societies to have that openness and expectation when it comes to who they decide to put on their series. I mean, if we don’t start doing it, they’re going to continually only want the Haydn cycles. (laughs)
So we have to not only accept it, we have to become nimble at it. You have to be able to deliver a good product so the patrons say, “You know what? I want more of that!”
And besides, as a wind quintet, we don’t have the Haydn cycles! (laughs) They just don’t exist. We occasionally play the old stalwarts of the wind quintet, but that stuff runs out in about two weeks. You’ve got to play new stuff and push the envelope a bit, and improvisation is just a normal step along the way for expanding the repertoire for the wind quintet.
Houston Friends of Chamber Music present the Imani Winds, Tuesday, October 15, 7:30 p.m. at Stude Concert Hall, Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, performing works by Valerie Coleman, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Simon Shaheen, and Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring arranged by Jonathan Russell.
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The Society for Minimalist Music is holding their biennial conference this year on the campus of Cal State Long Beach from October 3d through the 6th. Opening day included a concert of piano music by primarily west coast-influenced composers who have appeared on the Cold Blue Music label, and two of whom – Michael Jon Fink and Kyle Gann – were in attendance. The venue was the Daniel Recital Hall which comfortably held the audience, consisting mostly of conference attendees. The pianist was Bryan Pezzone.
The wide variety of expression in this concert – even within the context of piano music – illustrates the extent to which minimalist music has evolved past its stereotypical image of repetition and stasis. Nine pieces by six composers were listed on the program; here are some impressions and reactions.
The concert opened with Five Pieces for Piano Solo (1997) by Michael Jon Fink, whose spare, soft style is very engaging. Part 1, Passing, starts off with single tones and then a series of interesting chords that build into a slight tension. This continues in part 2, Mode, now with some dissonance, producing a somewhat more strident sound. Fragment, for Lou Harrison, the third part, provides a welcome contrast with a series of soothing low arpeggios that are then repeated in a higher register. The tension reappears in part 4, Echo with the same repeating figure and is resolved in the last part, Epitaph‘ with a slow, calming bell-like finish – the final chord seems to hang in the air, evaporating into silence. The long pauses between parts and the simple elegance of the sequences add to the introspective nature of this quiet music.
Hermetic Bird, a section from Peter Garland’s Bright Angel (1996) followed with a driving, bright sound incorporating powerful chords and echoes. It is as if a light has been switched on or you are facing the sun just above the horizon. This piece was written in memory of Kuniharu Akiyama and according to the program notes, Garland states that “Bright Angel refers to a view point on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, where one gets a spectacular view of canyons and depths. I was there at sunset, thinking of Kuniharu and of this piece, thinking about life and death.” As the work progresses it becomes softer with overtones floating above thick chords and sounding almost church-like. The piece concludes with louder section supported by a prominent bass line and is as satisfying in its strength as the ending of Five Pieces for Piano Solo was in its softness.
A second Garland piece was heard, The View from Vulture Peak (1987) and this was followed by Ponkapoag Bog (2008-09) by Daniel Lentz. This has a warm, soft feel – as reflective and nostalgic as Garland’s music is dynamic. Ponkapoag Bog is filled with lovely chords that become bouncy and playful as the piece progresses – a full sound that is bubbly and almost dance-like at times. Daniel Lentz is based in Santa Barbara, California but interestingly this piece was commissioned by Dr. Richard Marcus of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and Ponkapoag Bog is an actual historic New England Native American site nearby. Ponkapoag Bog is a sunny piece, full of optimism, and in its denser sections reminded me a bit of a Prokofiev piano concerto.
Sad from Kyle Gann’s Private Dances (2000) suite was next. According to the program notes, Kyle “…had to excise some of the original 11-against-13 rhythms, but the piece is still tricky. The idea was to have a clear harmonic rhythm while thoroughly obscuring the meter…” Byran Pezzone carried this off nicely and to my ears the ornamented moving line in the melody and the solemn – but never somber – feel of this piece sounded almost conventional. Private Dances was commissioned by Sarah Cahill and was premiered by her on a New Albion CD.
as she sleeps (2000) by Michael Byron followed, a piece consisting of soft chords, pauses and a spare, economical style as befits a work dedicated to the composer’s daughter. The other pieces listed on the program were La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles (1980) by David Mahler, and Requium (1976), another Daniel Lentz piece. The program concluded with Celesta Solo (1981) by Michael Jon Fink.
Bryan Pezzone, known for his film and studio work, did a masterful job on the keyboards, readily adapting to the different styles and requirements of each piece. Afterwords, Cold Blue Music hosted a reception in the lobby, and Jim Fox could be seen moving among the guests with his usual gregariousness. It was a fine evening for hearing minimalist music and for reconnecting with acquaintances.
The demise of the New York City Opera is a tragedy for American composers, singers and fans of new opera. With rare exceptions, it has been, since its founding in 1943, the only game in town for large-scale productions of major works by composers who were still breathing at the time. From now established oldies like Douglas Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, and Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land to newer masterpieces like Mark Adano’s Little Women, John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, and Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, the NYCO has been an invaluable platform for American-style grand opera.
The NYCO was instrumental in launching the careers of many great singers like the people’s diva, Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, Plácido Domingo, Maralin Niska, Carol Vaness,José Carreras, Shirley Verrett, Tatiana Troyanos, Jerry Hadley, Catherine Malfitano, Samuel Ramey, Lauren Flanigan and Elizabeth Futral.
Many of the happiest nights of my life I have spent sitting quietly in the dark were spent in the upper reaches of what will always be called by me the New York State Theater. I feel like I’ve lost an old friend.
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This article points up a very serious and potentially catastrophic, it seems to me, situation which everybody should know about. There is a very possibility that the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, which is clearly one of the preeminent summer music programs for pre-college students (and a very important program for pre-college composers) in the United States, may not exist NEXT YEAR. Tell all your friends….
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Posted by Chris Becker in Ambient, Composers, Contemporary Classical, Electro-Acoustic, Experimental Music, File Under?, Houston, Improv, Sound Art, tags: Houston Fringe Festival, Paul Connolly, Super Happy Fun Land
(Houston, TX) If Houston is becoming, as one young Houston-based composer puts it, a “hub for contemporary music,” credit must be given to more than a few local ensembles, organizations, and venues that operate without institutional support and on shoestring budgets. Contemporary music ensembles made up of university professors and their students performing contemporary music in universities for other professors and students are nothing new. But composers who not only write, perform, and creatively program contemporary music and present it outside of academia in venues typically dedicated to performance art, experimental rock and underground noise? That’s a little more interesting, and certainly more conducive to expanding audiences for 21st century composition.
Composer Paul Connolly (Photo by Lynn Lane)
Houston-based composer Paul Connolly understands this. As the curator and producer of Brave New Waves, which was born out of electronic and video artist Jonathan Jindra’s Binarium Sound Series and is currently Houston’s only concert series dedicated solely to electronic music, Connolly has worked hard to bring seemingly disparate artists and audiences together to share and experience new sounds. On October 2,3, and 5, as part of the sixth annual Houston Fringe Festival, Connolly shifts roles from producer to composer to premier The Quiet Persistence Of Memory, an original electro-acoustic composition that, not surprisingly, will be performed by a wildly diverse collection of Houston musicians and improvisers.
The Quiet Persistence Of Memory is scored for bass, tenor, and soprano voices, viola, harp, contrabass, percussion, and analog modular sound tools. The ensemble Connolly has gathered to perform this work includes Aaron Bielish (viola), Kathy Fay (harp), Thomas Helton (double bass), Luke Hubley (percussion), John Pitale (percussion), Ben Lind (narration), Misha Penton (soprano), Matthew Robinson (tenor), and SPIKE the percussionist (percussion, electronics). Each of the three scheduled performances of The Quiet Persistence Of Memory will feature a slightly different configuration of the performers. The score, which Connolly describes as “a time-based grid that allows the performers to both see their part as well as existing parts of others that have been prerecorded,” is augmented by live improvisation and accompanying visuals.
“When I first began conceptualizing the piece,” says Connolly, “it probably had an equal balance between acoustic instruments and electronic material. However, the piece has evolved to where it has become very much a totally acoustic instrument work, with live electronics that are used almost like Foley in film. Very subtle, and simply providing a background that’s not necessarily noticeable.”
The title of the piece, aside from its nod to the surrealist painter Salvador Dali, refers to “the process by which information (i.e. memory) is encoded, stored and retrieved.” Connolly’s compositional process, which included recording studio performances by many of the participating musicians and incorporating those recordings into the piece for the same musicians to “remember” and react to in the live performances, speaks to the subject of how memory is utilized, disrupted, and (de)valued “in a hyper-information rich society.”
No two of the three performances of the piece will be alike, and kudos must go to the folks behind the Houston Fringe Festival for scheduling multiple opportunities for audiences to hear and experience Connolly’s music.
Paul Connolly presents The Quiet Persistence Of Memory October 2, 5, 9:30 PM and October 3, 8:00 PM at Super Happy Fun Land, 3801 Polk Street, Houston, TX. Part of the sixth annual Houston Fringe Festival.
Clarinettist David Krakauer, a major voice in both contemporary classical music and modern klezmer, will be performing an exciting and eclectic series of concerts this coming week at The Stone (September 24-29), featuring several of his current collaborative projects. This week long residency will offer a chance for audiences to hear all the sides of David’s artistry, and to enjoy the work of some very cool guest artists as well. In the following interview he discusses this coming week, his musical history, and some of his other fascinating projects.
CD: David – you are known around the world as a classical clarinetist, and also as a leading innovator in the world of Jewish klezmer music. Tell us a little about this “double life” — what is your history with these parallel paths, and how do you see each as a manifestation of your artistic voice? How, when, and why do you bring them together?
DK: I didn’t grow up playing or hearing klezmer music as a kid. But when I came to it, I was in my early thirties and somehow had both the maturity to understand the emotional impact of the music plus some kind of concept of why I was choosing to embark on that musical journey. Basically at the beginning, I just started to play klezmer as a pure search for cultural identity that was totally separate from my professional musical life. And fortunately my early musical education had fully equipped me to embrace an “off the page” style of music. Already during the time I attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City I was lucky enough to have had a musical education in both classical and jazz. When I was 15 I started studying with Leon Russianoff, one of the greatest clarinet teachers of all time. By the time I started working with him in the early 70s, his former students included many of the top orchestral clarinetists in the country like Stanley Drucker, Franklin Cohen, Michelle Zukovsky etc. But in addition he taught the great jazz clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton (best known for his illustrious tenure in the Duke Ellington band) and a huge array of players from all walks of the music business. So Russianoff had a very open mind and was anything BUT a “stuffy” classical teacher. His mix of incredible rigor with a lovely, easy-going looseness was perfect for me and set the stage for the career I have today. As far as the jazz side of things goes, I had the great fortune to meet the incredible composer/pianist Anthony Coleman when we were students together at Music and Art. He asked me to join his band that was doing a huge spectrum of jazz repertoire ranging from Jelly Roll Morton to Monk to free jazz (in addition to Anthony’s music). Covering so many styles of jazz was actually rather unusual at that time, and it was a tremendous experience.
But when I went to college, I kind of had a crisis of confidence. I ended up abandoning jazz and deciding to focus almost exclusively on classical music. In fact, I think at the time I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to find a personal voice as an improviser. I worked very hard in classical music and excelled; but was always tremendously conflicted about making that choice. It would take many years for me to sort that all out. In any case, right out of school I spent ten years freelancing doing chamber music, contemporary classical, orchestral playing and some recitals here and there. After a while I made some headway with some very prestigious associations like the Marlboro music festival, a woodwind quintet that won the Naumburg Chamber music award, a New York recital debut as a winner of the Concert Artists’ Guild, chamber music with a wonderful group of people in the NY Philomusica and countless concerts with many of the New Yorks’ new music groups such as Continuum and the Da Capo Chamber Players.
It was a very rich and busy life, but I got to a point in my early 30s where somehow I felt like something was missing and I had thrown the baby out with the bath water. I knew at that point I needed to return to the world of improvising and non-written music. So through a series of chance meetings and coincidences (that in retrospect I see I was somehow directing myself towards) I came to klezmer music. At first I was just doing it for fun. And in the same moment I found myself connecting to my Jewish roots for the first time. It was exhilarating. After a few months of doing a bunch of very low key gigs my name came to the attention of the Klezmatics and they asked me to join. It was during that time where I started to develop my own original sound and find my own voice. The conflict I had felt for over 15 years was finally resolved and klezmer became a foundation for me to create a musical home for myself.
I did two recordings and countless tours of Europe with the Klezmatics before I left the band to form my own group in the mid-90s. And that has all launched me on the path that I’m still following today. In addition to touring with my own band, it’s fantastic to have an opportunity to bring it all together by working with composers who have given me room to be myself within their compositions. Recording and performing Osvaldo Golijov’s monumental composition “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” with the Kronos is a notable example. Plus nowadays I have more and more chances to be a soloist with fantastic symphony orchestras playing pieces that straddle both worlds by composers like George Tsontakis, Wlad Marhulets, Ofer Ben-Amots and Mohammed Fairouz. I’ve also enjoyed incredible collaborations with the Montreal based beat architect Socalled, the renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz, John Zorn and the great master of funk Fred Wesley. Musically I feel like I’m in an incredibly exciting place where I can bring all the diverse elements of my universe together with so many incredibly rewarding projects.
CD: Your Stone residency really seems to be something of a self portrait in that you have chosen to showcase a different side of your artistry each night. We’ll hear your klezmer band, we’ll hear you playing John Zorn’s music, some improv, and some chamber music. Can you tell us a little about the concepts behind each night?
DK: The Stone residency coming up next week is an amazing opportunity for me to offer a cross section of many of my major projects. During the first three nights a number of the musicians who have worked with me for many years will be on board. After having played so much together, there are times when we’re virtually mind-reading. Joining me in various configurations will be Sheryl Bailey on electric guitar; Jerome Harris on bass; Michael Sarin on drums; Will Holshouser on accordion; and Keepalive on sampler.
-Tuesday 9/24 will be a show with my Acoustic Klezmer Quartet. We’ll do an “unplugged” mix of traditional klezmer pieces done with my own quirky spin mixed with my compositions that all come from the story about my particular musical/personal journey.
-On Wednesday 9/25 I’ll present my arrangements of a group of pieces from John Zorn’s Book of Angels Volume 3. John selected these pieces specifically for me and this is a great chance to pay tribute to a musical association I’ve had with Zorn for over twenty years.
-Thursday 9/26 will be a performance with “Ancestral Groove” which is my current touring band.
I decided to change my band’s name from “Klezmer Madness”, because for me at this point, klezmer no longer seems to encompass all that I’m doing now. Klezmer will always of course be part of my music, but the title “Ancestral Groove” seems to better reflect the totality of my story.
-Friday 9/27 will mark the debut of a new duo project with the incredible South African pianist, arranger and musical explorer Kathleen Tagg. We’ll be doing our arrangements of a couple of klezmer tunes, brand new electro-acoustic works by exciting New York composers Aleksandra Vrebalov and Jorge Sosa and our new arrangements of great New York performing composers Kinan Azmeh and John Zorn. I’ll also be doing Steve Reich’s iconic “New York Counterpoint” and Messiaen’s “Abyss of the Birds”.
-On Saturday 9/28 I’ll be doing an evening of improvisation with the incredible new music singer Helga Davis, the fantastic former cellist of the Kronos Quartet Jeffery Zeigler and the astonishing violinist/electronics wizard Todd Reynolds.
-The final concert on Sunday 9/29 will feature performances in both sets of the aforementioned “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind’ by Osvaldo Golijov. I’ve been a champion of this work since 1994 and am delighted to have a chance to play it in New York once again. Jeff Zeigler will join once again in addition to a tremendous super group including the amazing Margaret Dyer on viola and Abigale Reisman on violin. Plus I’m so delighted that you , Cornelius Dufallo, will also be a part of it bringing your tremendous artistry to this ensemble !!!!
All in all I’m super excited about this residency and can’t wait to get underway!
CD: You have a new project called “The Big Picture,” in which you will be re-interpreting some of the great film scores of all time. Please share with us how you came up with this project! I think you describe it as a “new phase” for you – how so?
DK: “The Big Picture” is a multi-media concert with a six piece band interpreting music from iconic films that (as we find out during the course of the performance) all have Jewish content. There’s music from the soundtracks of the obvious films like “The Pianist” and “Sophie’s Choice”…but there’s also music from Woody Allen films like “Midnight In Paris”, “Radio Days” and “Love and Death” that include jazz standards and pieces by Sidney Bechet and Prokofiev. And then there are pieces from Mel Brooks….and from Randy Newman. And more! So the range is pretty incredible. With the six piece band of tremendously poetic musicians we’re able to bring a special playfulness and intimacy to all this music. It was a blast to make the CD. Now we’re in the phase of producing a film that will accompany the music. This whole show will launch in Jan-Feb at the museum of Jewish Heritage down in Battery Park. I just heard the finished master of the CD the other day…and as I listened to this incredible selection of pieces fill the room it felt like I was going through a whole journey of the Jewish experience for the last 120 years. So yes… It’s quite different from anything I’ve ever done before, but at the same time it’s a continuation of my story and the search for identity that I’ve been involved with for the past 25 years. I put this all together with an extremely talented team and am extremely excited to bring this project out into the world to share with the public in the next few months.
CD: Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians?
DK: I often say the following to young musicians :
Follow your dreams….no matter how crazy they seem!
Explore as much diversity in music as possible!
Full disclosure: Caroline Shaw has played my music, so I make no claim to objectivity here.
The day after Paul Moravec won the Pulitzer prize, John Adams started shooting from the hip about the Pulitzer going to “academic composers.” I was annoyed. But I figured, “Okay, he’s being a jerk, but Paul is an established composer writing quality material: He doesn’t need Adams’s permission to be successful.”
Recently, however, Adams has been sniping at younger composers. Yesterday in the NY Times, he took a thinly veiled swipe at Caroline. I know that she doesn’t really need JCA’s permission to be successful either. However, it really ticks me off that Adams is willing to burn the bridge behind him.
So let’s break the cycle of composers eating their young. Emerging and just-emerged composers: remember to pay it forward and to not get crotchety before your time.
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Posted by Chris Becker in Austin, Cello, Chamber Music, Classical Music, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Houston, Strings, tags: Beethoven, Houston Friends of Chamber Music, Miro Quartet, Philip Glass, Schubert, String Quartet
(The Miró Quartet)
(Houston, TX) As a way of acknowledging the impact composers such as Terry Riley, Meredith Monk, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass made on him in his formative years, composer John Zorn has described himself as a “child of minimalism” and said that the influence of the minimalist school “is somewhere in almost everything I do.”
Cellist Joshua Gindele, a founding member of the Austin-based Miró Quartet, probably wouldn’t describe himself as a child or even a grandchild of minimalism, since Glass’s repertoire, as well as the repertoire of several of the composers we’ve come to associate with the “M” word, has since found a home among the standards that any self-respecting classical chamber ensemble plays. Along with performing traditional string quartet music, including works by Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert, the Miró Quartet has commissioned and performed several new works by composers, including Brent Michael Davids, Chan Ka Nin, Leonardo Balada, and Gunter Schuller. On Tuesday, September 17, 7:30 PM at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, the Quartet performs a program of works by Schubert and Beethoven as well as Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 5.
Although Glass is still finding ways to surprise listeners and reboot the very musical language he began articulating back in 1966 with Read the rest of this entry »