Geoff Nuttall, violinist for the St. Lawrence String Quartet and Director of Chamber Music for the SpoletoUSA Festival in Charleston SC, just announced details of the 11 programs for the 33 concerts that will be performed at this year’s Festival . The series runs from Friday, May 22 through Sunday, June 7 and is sponsored by Bank of America. I’ll be taking in a few of the performances and giving you a report.
Among the highlight of this year’s series is the world premiere of Control Freak for improvising singer and instrumental septet, composed by the 2015 composer-in-residence Mark Applebaum. A colleague of Nuttall’s at Stanford University, Applebaum is known as the “mad scientist of music” because of his inventive compositional style and innovation with instruments. In addition to the premiere of his new piece, he will perform his Aphasia for hand gestures with pre-recorded sound as well as several pieces for blues piano. Applebaum performs on the first two programs; Control Freak premieres on Program III, performed by baritone Tyler Duncan, pianist Pedja Muzijevic, clarinetist Todd Palmer, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Geoff Nuttall, violist Daniel Phillips, and cellist Christopher Costanza.
“It’s going to be a varied and eclectic musical ride with Mark,” Nuttall says. “He’s an amazing blues and jazz pianist, which you’ll experience, and you’ll also get to witness an important moment in music history when we hear a new piece of art.”
Programs for this season’s series include well-known canonic jewels as well as new musical experiences with contemporary compositions and selections unearthed from past centuries. Among the new and newish pieces are Osvaldo Golijov’s Omaramor for cello, performed by Alisa Weilerstein; Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet, op. 11; and Andrew Norman’s Light Screens.
The chamber music series begins on Friday, May 22 at 1:00pm with Vivaldi’s Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe in B-flat Major, featuring violinist Livia Sohn and oboist James Austin Smith; Mark Applebaum’s Aphasia; and Dvořák’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major.
Nuttall has great taste and his eclectic pairings of compositions spanning more than 400 years, are always entertaining, if a tad, quirky. Program IV will include two pieces by Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo, whose opera Paradise Interrupted has its world premiere at Spoleto Festival USA this season. “Flow I and II” will feature Huang Ruo on vocals, as well as Zhou Yi on pipa (Chinese lute) and other series artists, including Tara Helen O’Connor, who will abandon her usual flute for the djembe (West African drum). Huang Ruo’s compositional style often marries Chinese tradition with seemingly disparate cultures, as is also heard in Paradise Interrupted.
“It’s a great luxury to be able to bring Huang Ruo from the opera to the chamber stage.” Nuttall says. “Audiences will be able to see the full portrait of a musician. This is a great example of the spirit of Spoleto—we have this vast canvas of disparate artistic offerings, and because the creative minds behind them are in the same place at the same time, new artistic connections are forged for both the musicians and the audience.”
This year, lutenist Kevin Payne joins the musicians on the Dock Street stage, opening the doors to repertoire from the Renaissance, including two John Dowland songs and an Elizabethan set with Nuttall, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, and cellist Christopher Costanza; the lute is also featured on Baroque and contemporary works. Payne is a member of Juilliard 415, the Buxtehude Consort, and the Peabody Consort, and was the first lutenist to be accepted to The Juilliard School, where he is pursuing a graduate diploma in historical plucked instruments.
Returning artists include baritone Tyler Duncan, pianist Pedja Muzijevic, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, clarinetist Todd Palmer, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Livia Sohn, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, pianist Inon Barnatan, violinist/violist Daniel Phillips, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, double bassist Anthony Manzo, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet (members of which are Mr. Nuttall, new second violinist Owen Dalby, Lesley Robertson, and Christopher Costanza). New to the series is composer Mark Applebaum, lutenist Kevin Payne, violinist Benjamin Beilman, and pianist Erika Switzer.
Led by Nuttall, the St. Lawrence String Quartet—the Arthur and Holly Magill Quartet in Residence—celebrates its 25th anniversary during their 2014–15 season, including 20 years as part of the Bank of America Chamber Music series at Spoleto Festival USA. Making his ensemble debut from the Dock Street Theatre stage, Owen Dalby has been named as the new second violinist of the SLSQ. Dalby is a graduate of Yale University and is an acclaimed soloist and chamber musician. Currently based in New York, his relocation to Stanford University to be an artist-in-residence with his colleagues in the SLSQ will be a homecoming of sorts; Dalby is a native of Berkeley.
This year’s festival will be Nuttall’s sixth season as chamber music director, a post that includes his introductions to each program from the stage. Of his ability to educate and entertain,The New York Times said: “Mr. Nuttall turns out to be chamber music’s Jon Stewart… while maintaining the high musical standards of the series, he has established a new style of presentation that juxtaposes the ridiculous with the sublime, delves into serious musicology and casually uses technology. In short, he is subtly redefining what a chamber music concert can be.”
Each of the 11 programs is performed three times with two performances daily at 11:00am and 1:00pm in the 463-seat Dock Street Theatre at 135 Church Street.
The joyous news from Philadelphia today is that Bird Lives! Opera Philadelphia is doing its first premiere in almost four decades and it’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, composed by Daniel Schnyder, whose “thrilling classical-tinged jazz blend…constantly pushes the envelope” (Jazz Times), to a libretto by award-winning poet and playwright Bridgette Wimberly. The new chamber opera was created for American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a nominee for the 2015 International Opera Male Singer of the Year Award.
Co-commissioned and co-produced with Gotham Chamber Opera, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD was conceived and written for Brownlee’s agile, expressive voice, which Schnyder likens to the color and technical virtuosity of Parker’s music. As the New York Times notes, the tenor “soars easily up to ringing top notes, high Cs and even higher. Mr. Brownlee’s singing is a model of bel canto style.”
Directed by Ron Daniels under the leadership of Music Director Corrado Rovaris, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD premieres in Opera Philadelphia’s Aurora Series for Chamber Opera, crowning the company’s 40th Anniversary Season with a five-performance run in the Kimmel Center’s intimate Perelman Theater (June 5–14). Tickets are available from Ticket Philadelphia at 215.893.1018 or operaphila.org.
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The concert began with Recomposition #4 (2012) by Brian Griffeath-Loeb and this featured Mark Menzies as solo violin. According to the program notes “… Recomposition #4 takes Ferneyhough’s iconic violin solo, Intermedio alla Ciaccona, and subjects it to an array of transformations. The original is amplified, constricted, recolored, warped, looped, erased, and – on occasion – left unaltered, presenting a surreally divided consciousness that challenges both identity and authorship.” This began with loud, intense chords in the higher notes and sharp, rapid runs that became very shrill at times. At other times the sound was softer, as when the the strings of the violin were gently rubbed by the bow. A variety of extended techniques were evident and at one point Mark Menzies was rapidly fingering the strings of the violin without using the bow – and just that slight contact sent out a series of ghostly tones that were barely audible in the Art Share performance space. As the piece progressed, Menzies seemed to be attacking the violin as the complexity and energy continued to build. There was a sense of being witness to a titanic struggle: the violinist as individual against the world. The piece concluded as a soft high tone slowly gathered strength until it sounded like a whistling tea kettle, followed by a sudden silence. This was a virtuoso performance by Mark Menzies and was received with sustained applause.
Terrain (1991-1992), by Brian Ferneyhough was next and this again featured Mark Menzies as violin soloist, backed by an ensemble of eight instruments. Terrain has been described as a violin concerto reconfigured with modern forms and this seems entirely appropriate. The piece begins with an extended violin solo that is filled with rapid streams of notes, short bursts and punchy passages – all infused with the frenetic energy that is so characteristic of Ferneyhough’s music. As the other instruments join in there is a striking independence in the playing, with seldom any rhythmic cohesion between sections or the soloist. Add to that the quick runs and dissonant harmonies, it would seem to be a recipe for chaos. And yet, the overall feeling has a kind of organic textural wholeness – like looking at the shimmering surface of a lake or a choppy sea. The sound sometimes comes in waves – as in one passage when the brass surged together, centering the music temporarily. Terrain is full of allusions to powerful geologic forces operating deep within the earth – the shifting combinations and alignments of the various instruments keep the energy level high with the violin sometimes leading and sometimes lost in the mix. Hearing this music is a sort of aural equivalent of an abstract expressionist painting. The playing by WasteLAnd as conducted by Nicholas Deyoe was precise enough that all of the details came through clearly and Mark Menzies once again performed brilliantly.
He will take up his appointment in September 2017, following in the footsteps of previous Principal Conductors including André Previn, Michael Tilson Thomas, Sir Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev. As Music Director he will be involved in every aspect of the LSO’s work as well as championing the importance of music and music education.
At the announcement of his appointment, Simon Rattle said: “During my work with the LSO over the last years, I noticed that despite the Orchestra’s long and illustrious history, they almost never refer to it. Instead, refreshingly, they talk about the future, what can they make anew, what can they improve, how can they reach further into the community. In terms of musical excellence, it is clear that the sky’s the limit, but equally important, in terms of philosophy, they constantly strive to be a twenty-first century orchestra. We share a dream in which performing, teaching and learning are indivisible, with wider dissemination of our art at its centre. I cannot imagine a better or more inspiring way to spend my next years, and feel immensely fortunate to have the LSO as my musical family and co-conspirators.”
Simon Rattle outlined his vision for universal access to music, with children and young people at its heart. He called for new standards in making world-class music available to all. He stated his aim that every musician should be engaged in composing, improvising, mentoring and performing; that the creation of new music will be central to the process, working with leading composers and teachers; and that his appointment will generate new partnerships between London and the whole country to confirm the UK as a world leader in the arts.
Simon Rattle is currently Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Berliner Philharmoniker, where he was appointed in 2002. His first appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra was in October 1977, at the age of 22. He conducted the LSO at the opening ceremony of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, memorably performing Chariots of Fire with Rowan Atkinson. Most recently, in January this year, he was acclaimed for his two concerts with the LSO of Schumann, Stravinsky, Webern, Berg and Ligeti at the Barbican Centre.
Lennox Mackenzie, Chairman of the LSO, said: “I am thrilled that Sir Simon Rattle has accepted our invitation to lead the Orchestra into the future. On behalf of our whole Orchestra, we welcome him as our Music Director at this hugely important moment in the LSO’s history. I would also like to offer the Orchestra’s sincere thanks to Valery Gergiev who has been the LSO’s Principal Conductor since 2007 and who steps down from his position at the end of this year.”
Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director of the LSO, said: “This is the realisation of a dream, to bring Simon Rattle back to his home country to lead the extraordinary musicians of the LSO. We look forward to a new chapter of ambitious music-making that reaches deep into the communities we serve and touches people’s lives with the power of music.”
Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director of the Barbican Centre, said: “We are delighted to welcome Sir Simon Rattle to the LSO, our resident orchestra since the Centre opened. The presence of a world-class orchestra at the heart of this world-class arts centre, serving the widest range of audiences across London and beyond, has been an indispensable part of the Barbican’s success. We look forward to a period of thrilling development as Simon Rattle takes the LSO to ever greater heights of musical achievement and service to the community.”
Professor Barry Ife, Principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, said: “Sir Simon Rattle’s commitment to the next generation of musicians and to music education is world renowned. His appointment as Music Director of the LSO is an exciting opportunity, particularly for the students of the Guildhall School who regularly perform alongside the LSO’s musicians.”
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MATA Festival celebrates its seventeenth year, Monday, April 13 to Saturday, April 18, 2015, showcasing the wild variety of today’s compositional climate with a sweeping range of original compositions by thirty composers under the age of 40 from seventeen countries around the globe. Curated by the newly appointed Artistic Director, Du Yun, the 2015 Festival received international submissions from nearly a thousand composers—increasing by hundreds each year and confirming MATA’s booming status as the leading international festival for emerging composer talent. Among the Festival’s featured works are eleven American premieres and nine world premieres—three of which are Festival commissions—representing voices from Croatia to Iran, Bolivia to China. The 2015 Festival Commissionees are Ann Cleare (Ireland), Adam de la Cour (UK), and Wang Lu (China/US). MATA Festival 2015 boasts an unequaled lineup of performers, presenting Sweden’s aptly named Curious Chamber Players in the group’s U.S. debut visit, along with performances by Talea Ensemble, Momenta Quartet,Bearthoven, and a number of featured composer/performers.
“A bellwether of shifting tides” (Village Voice), the Festival’s non-dogmatic stylistic range is dizzying, this year offering a percussion sculpture, a punk-inspired scream-song, two works involving lamps and light bulbs, a pop-glitch piece based on Billy Joel’s “Honesty,” a sung resumé, a dancer connected to a pulley-driven prepared piano, recordings of Chinese women exercising in public, string quartets, electronics, video, and more. For the 2015 Festival, MATA also partners with Chashama to present a free site-specific sound art installation open daily to the public at Chashama 266, a storefront gallery in the bustling Fashion District. Festival offerings are previewed in an intimate opening night salon at Chelsea’s ultra-chic Paula Cooper Gallery with wine and music (Monday, 4/13); the “vibrant annual celebration of young composers” (The New York Times) continues over five nights at The Kitchen(Tuesday-Saturday, 4/14-18). Tickets are $20, $15 for students, available at www.thekitchen.org except for the opening night reception, $50 via www.matafestival.org. A full schedule of events appears below.
Composers who have been commissioned or presented by MATA early in their careers include Pulitzer-prize winner Jennifer Higdon, Derek Bermel, Annie Gosfield, Nico Muhly, Andrew Norman, David T. Little, and Alex Mincek. Over the years, the Festival has steadily expanded its international profile, highlighting fresh new voices and emerging trends on a global scale. Says Du Yun, “Not only are we tirelessly expanding our international profile, we arealsosurveying the scene at home. We are building a platform where the unthinkable is the status quo and the outcast is the norm.”
A week from today, the American Modern Ensemble will bring a brand new program to SubCulture‘s stage. Entitled, “BLUE”, this upcoming performance celebrates the release of AME’s latest album, Powerhouse Pianists II, which features pianists Stephen Gosling and Blair MacMillan performing works for two pianos by leading living composers including John Adams and John Corigliano.
The program AME will perform at SubCulture will feature an array of the group’s talented players performing works by Margaret Brouwer, George Crumb, Robert Paterson, and Frederic Rzewski, among others. The evening’s music is arranged around the theme of “blue”, and spans from nautical evocations in Crumb’s Vox Balanae, Brouwer’s Lonely Lake, and Paterson’s Deep Blue Ocean, to stylistic suggestions of “blue” in Amanda Harberg‘s Tenement Rhapsody, Laura Kaminsky‘s Full Range of Blue, and the concert’s closing piece, Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues.
The Blue Whale in the Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles was the venue for a concert entitled “The Other Side of Valentines Day” by the group Synchromy – appropriately on Sunday, February 15, 2014. A nice crowd turned out to hear an evening of original new music performed by soprano Justine Aronson, Matt Barbier on trombone and pianist Richard Valitutto. In all, some ten pieces were heard, most of them by Los Angeles-based composers. The concert programs were handed out in envelopes in the manner of a Valentines card – a clever touch that added to the convivial ambiance.
First up was Song for Justine and Richard by Nick Norton, based on a lyric by Conor Oberst. This began with some quiet notes in the upper registers of the piano that evolved into some nice harmonies as piece progressed. After some moments Justine’s voice entered with a single quiet word: “Never.” Her smooth soprano, and also the very high notes in the piano accompaniment, had to compete against some kitchen noise that occasionally intruded on the quieter sections. But the sweet, introspective feel of this piece was effectively brought out by good ensemble and careful observance of dynamics by the performers.
A silhouette of constrained motion, by Tina Tallon followed. This was a solo trombone piece including mutes and extended techniques played by Matt Barbier, who filled the room with all manner of squeaks, growls and guttural sounds. A wide variety of timbres and textures ensued, and as the piece continued one got the sense that a sort of feral language was unfolding, conveying a kind of elemental emotion. There was the sense of hindrance, impediment and perhaps slight vexation, but overall there was a more distinctly organic feel to this – an intriguing exercise in musical and non-verbal communication.
Falling, a work by Jason Barabba was next, based on a text by Annie Jankowski. This featured Justine Aronson’s voice whose range and power were more clearly evident. Richard Valitutto accompanied with a series of trills while long arcs of strong vocal passages soared overhead. The piano was more in an accompanying role, although the piece was punctuated with sharp notes and dramatic crashes that Richard does so well. At one point a sort of dance rhythm broke out and towards the end some recited text – “Grasping at hope that flies right by” – was very effective.
Parking in Cars by Dante de Silva followed and this was built around a mashed recording of a cautionary public service announcement from 1947 titled Are You Popular? Dante de Silva added a bouncy, 50’s sort of tune that incorporated its lyrics from the film: “Ginny thinks that she has the key to popularity – parking in cars with the boys at night.” This phrase was repeated, almost rap-like, while Matt Barbier played along, adding a jaunty bass line. The result produced a feeling that was part nostalgia and part amazement at a message so clearly out of date with 21st century deportment. But all this was more in fun than embarrassment and Parking in Cars proved to be a very enjoyable piece.
Next up was McCallum Songs by Nicholas Deyoe, written for piano and voice and based on a series of love poems written by Clint McCallum. The music consists of several shortish sections that opened with low piano chords and soft vocals, lending a somber tone to this. The text carries the story forward and was sung by Ms. Aronson with a quiet purity of tone. The feelings conveyed by these pieces are variously anxious, wistful, plaintive, frustrating, yearning, angry – all of the emotions that are part of the subject. Some of the text was narrated and this added to the sense of intimacy. Nicholas Deyoe has often exhibited a lively pyrotechnic flare in his compositions, but the McCallum Songs are elegantly infused with a soft, understated passion.
Unphotographable, by Scott Worthington followed and this combined electronic waveform tones with Matt Barbier’s muted trombone. This had a distinctly alien feel as the electronic waves began zero-beating and the trombone joined in, adding to the rhythms. It sounded, at times, like a sort of machine language was being spoken and the trombone playing was precise enough to blend in seamlessly. This piece occasioned an interesting reversal in the sense that the acoustic instrument was combined with the electronic waves as if it were another oscillator. Matt Barbier returned after the intermission for another solo work Mantram: Canto Anomimo by Giancinto Scelsi. This was a more conventional piece – no cold sine waves here. There was an exotic, Asian feel at times and this gave Matt Barbier a chance to stretch out using various slide effects and powerful playing that filled the room.
An arrangement of the Gershwin standard They’re Writing Songs of Love, But Not for Me, by Michael Finnissy was next, performed solo by Richard Valitutto on piano. This began with a tentative feel – as if the music was just below the surface, searching for itself. This had the effect of engaging the listener as the familiar melody slowly came into focus, artfully spanning the decades since the original was first heard. The playing by Valitutto had just the right touch of balance between old and new.
Walk of Shame, written by Richard Valitutto followed, performed by Matt Barbier on a muted bass trombone. A variety of interesting textures were produced with a sort of buzzing from the mute often riding on the pitch. The melody moved along quickly, with rapid passages, adding to a sense of pace. The playing required consistently good technique and Matt Barbier delivered even as this was his final piece in a long concert.
The concert concluded with Simple Daylight , the noted song cycle by John Harbison, based on a text by Michael Fried. Originally commissioned by Lincoln Center Simple Daylight was first sung by Dawn Upshaw and begins with a sharp piano introduction that settles into a distinctly mysterious feel. The voice enters, building drama, even as the lyrics seem concerned with the ordinary. The music and the text work together effectively throughout, creating tension that results in a kind of indefinite, disconcerting awareness. Now a faster section that adds a further measure of anxiety, and the mood turns variously loud, dramatic, scary, and at times quiet and reflective. This is a complex piece, always something just beneath the surface, but the lyrics and the music always compliment each other perfectly . Harbison’s wide experience with choral church music is evident as he weaves a delicate thematic thread through each of the songs that comprise Simple Daylight. The playing in this performance – and especially the singing of Justine Aronson – never wavered under the many demands of this long work at the end of a full evening of concertizing.
Synchromy will appear at Boston Court in Pasadena July 17, 2015 in a program that will feature Brightwork and a variety of new music.
I see my friends in Houston just had a brush with rare, almost-freezing weather. All the better to get you in the proper mind-set for a wonderful concert coming up this week… This Saturday, February 21, 7:30 pm, at the South Main Baptist Church (4100 Main Street, Houston, TX), the one-and-only Paul Hillier will make his Houston debut leading the also one-and-only Houston Chamber Choir, in a program of music from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Hillier is a world-renowned and award-winning choral director at the forefront of both early and new music, often combining the two with highly inventive programming across musical periods and cultures. Since the 1970s, Hillier has built a catalog of over 100 recordings (released on Harmonia Mundi, ECM, EMI, Finlandia, and Hyperion), and has won two Grammy Awards, for recordings of Arvo Pärt’s Da Pacem (2006) and David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion (2009).
Highlights of the program include Pärt’s Magnificat; Three Poems by Pēteris Vasks, and The Stomping Bride by Vaclovas Augustinas (which calls for members of the ensemble to perform interlocking percussive patterns on various instruments of their own choice). Also on the program are works by Veljo Tormis, Galina Grigorjeva, Rytis Mazulis, and Algirdas Martinaitis.
You can get tickets online at www.houstonchamberchoir.orgor by calling (713) 224-5566. General admission tickets to the concert are $40 for Adults, $36 for Seniors (65+), and $10 for students (with valid ID).
So H-towners, before those balmy 70s completely drive your winter away again, why not head there this weekend and chill with some truly beautiful music?
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The two living American composers who share the name John Adams were the big winners at last night’s Grammy Awards.
John Adams, of Nixon in China and Death of Klinghoffer fame, won the Best Orchestral Performance for the second year in a row with the Saint Louis Symphony, conducted by David Robertson, being selected for its recording of his latest scores: City Noir and the Saxophone Concerto. Last year, the San Francisco Symphony’s recording of his Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine took home the award.
The Seattle Symphony received the Best Contemporary Classical Composition award for its recording of John LUTHER Adams’s Become Ocean. The orchestral work, inspired by the Pacific Ocean and the effects of climate change, was premiered by the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot in 2013. Last year it won the Pulitzer Prize for music.
The wonderful Hilary Hahn and the pianist Cory Smythe shared a Best Chamber Music Grammy for “27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores,” a two-CD set of 27 short, diverse pieces that the violinist commissioned. .
A Lifetime Achievement Award went to the conductor, composer and 26-time Grammy winner Pierre Boulez, whom the announcer on the televised broadcast insisted on calling “BOU-LAY.”
For those you anticipating posthumous fame, the most encouraging selection of the evening was a Best Classical Compendium Grammy for late American maverick composer and inventor Harry Partch. Accepting the award for his recording of Partch’s Plectra & Percussion Dances, producer John Schneider noted that his musicians had to learn the composer’s daunting 43-note scale as part of their preparation. Congratulations and thank you to the great people at Bridge Records.
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Carnegie Hall will mark its 125th anniversary next season by launching a new music project that will commission 125 new works over the next five years. Carnegie will present 15 world premieres next season, two American premieres, and 19 New York premieres by composers including Magnus Lindberg, John Adams, Olga Neuwirth, Jonathan Leshnoff and the composing collective Sleeping Giant, which is made of composers Andrew Norman, Robert Honstein, Ted Hearne, Jacob Cooper, Christopher Cerrone, and Timo Andres.
Carnegie named the Kronos Quartet its creative chair for the season and said that as part of the newmusic project it would jointly commission 10 new works a year with the group for the next five years.