For the next few months, The City of Angels is going to be the epicenter of all things Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001). That’s because the exhibition “Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary” will be on view at the MOCA Pacific Design Center from November 6, 2010 — February 4, 2011. The exhibition explores Xenakis’ wide range of sketches, scores and drawings, not only musical but architectural and aesthetic as well. Not always simply notes on score paper, many of Xenakis’ sketches and drawings conjure up artistic visions, in ways perhaps only matched by John Cage’s documents of his own explorations. Defintely a must-see.
But there are also a couple must-hears, happening right this week, both absolutely free:
Saturday, 6 November at 6pm, in L.A. State Historic Park (1245 Spring Street) a recreation of Xenakis’ legendary Polytope de Persepolis will be performed. Adapted by German sound artist and Xenakis electronic music expert Daniel Teige, Persepolis L.A. will involve six listening stations with eight speakers each. Persepolis was originally commissioned by the then Shah of Iran and performed as the opening event of the controversial 1971 Shiraz Festival that took place in the middle of the ruins of the ancient Persian capital. This performance will encompass more than 70,000 square feet of performance area within the park’s 32-acres, and will feature the recently restored multi-track music composition and computer-generated visual choreography, complete with laser beams, fire, smoke, and searchlights. The event will open with Xenakis’ first electronic work, Diamorphoses (1957), as a “geological prelude”.
Then on Sunday, November 7 at 4pm, The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts presents an outdoor performance of the final version of Xenakis’s only opera, Oresteia. This West Coast premiere includes performances by baritone Paul Berkolds, an adult chorus, a children’s chorus, and a chamber ensemble. First-come seating is on the lawn for this highly charged, brutally colorful piece.
It looks like this year will be even more delicious than last year with more performances, more baked goods, and a silent auction. All of the ensembles with tables have been invited to offer special items for auction (with all the money going directly to the ensemble); look for updates to the auction items here. Want a piano lesson with Kathy Supové or a custom album written and recorded just for you by Loadbang? The silent auction is where you’ll have the chance.
I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: even if you don’t care for all the music, it’s hard to deny the sense of community from having so many different groups all in the same room – we are all in this together! Tip of the hat to Newspeak, Ensemble de Sade, and the Exapno New Music Center for making it happen.
Finally, I’m not totally sure if you can still reserve a table as an ensemble, but if you are interested I would ask. If you are interested in helping out I’m sure they would love to hear from you as well: email@example.com
New Music, Beer, and Cookies. Seriously, what else could you possible ask for?!
It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since Hurricane Katrina. The CD release of Ted Hearne’sKatrina Ballads on New Amsterdam Records is a grim reminder that New Orleans still remains a devastated city, one that has yet to recover from the storm, doubtless at least in part due to all manner of official incompetence and governmental neglect. Source recordings that chronicle the previous administration’s bungled handling of the disaster serve as a jumping off point for Hearne’s scathingly satirical, yet often affecting, song cycle.
The record’s out on 8/31, but there’s a release party at Le Poisson Rouge to welcome the album on 8/24 at 7:30 PM. In the meantime, we’ve got a teaser video:
Here’s CBS News’ take on the city’s condition when President Obama visited last year. I’ve also linked some more recent articles from Slate in the comments section below. While Chris Becker’s comments suggest that improvements have been made, it seems like there’s still a lot to do for New Orleans to fully recover. If Hearne’s song cycle can serve as one of many reminders for us to stay the course and continue to rebuild the city, I’m all for it.
The last thing that Alan Gilbert or the New York Philharmonic needs is another affirmation that they have done something important and memorable by producing Le Grand Macabre in May. There were three (perhaps more?) New York Times articles over 11 days (May 18th, 23rd, 28th), an nice summary over on Anne Midgette’s Washington Postblog, and from just a few days ago there was this over at Newsweek. Of course our own site added to the frenzy of press/buzz here, here, here, here, here, here, and here – and with good reason! I’m quite happy to throw my hat in the camp who counts themselves lucky to be one of the few to see this amazing production. It was everything that I had hoped it would be, and I even got a fancy collectors-edition-style booklet of the libretto with the program.
Some time has gone by since the production (I’m late on my contribution to this, as per my usual), I think it’s enough for me to say that I thought it was great, and to move on to some questions.
After reading all of the press about the production, it seems that everyone who saw it easily and quickly deemed it a huge success. But I’d love to know if the Philharmonic thought it was a success! All three nights sold-out, but we know that a sold-out show doesn’t necessarily mean success. Le Grand Macabre was without question an unusual and elaborate production and must have come with a tremendous expense – just watch this video. All the extra marketing, and YouTube videos; all the lighting and projections and costumes; (presumably) all the extra rehearsals and percussion instruments; etc, etc, etc. I think the big question is: was this a successful enough event that the Philharmonic will continue these kinds of productions in the future? Was dealing with disgruntled subscribers worth it? Was the cost of the “spectacle” worth it? Was all the marketing and rogue videos worth it?
Of course I hope that the answer to all of these questions is yes. I would love to see the New York Philharmonic continue to support contemporary music the way it has since Mr. Gilbert has arrived. It’s clear that he feels very strongly about new music: he brought in Magnus Lindberg, started the Contact! series, and made this incredible Ligeti production happen. I want to know what else he has planned and what else the Philharmonic is willing and capable of doing. But, it seems that a lot of it depends on whether or not the Philharmonic thought Macabre was a success.
Eclectic in their programming and superlatively talented, the Locrian Chamber Players have a unique mandate: they are the only new music ensemble which limits their repertoire to works composed in the last decade. This has led them to give countless American and World premieres of works. LCP are giving a concert this Thursday at Riverside Church, uptown in NYC. I caught up with the group’s director, David Macdonald, who whets my appetite for what looks to be an exciting concert.
CBC: How did you come to commission Malcolm Goldstein’s The Sky has Many Stories to Tell?
DM: A long time ago I heard Malcolm play a solo violin improvisation at Carnegie Hall. I was floored by the sounds he got out of the instrument and the way he built a flowing piece on the spot out of all these extended techniques. I later found a string quartet by him, which we performed in 2008, I think. We loved the piece and, I’m happy to say, he was pleased with the performance. We got to talking about having him write a piece for Locrian and “The Sky…” is the result of that. The commission came through the Canada Council. (Malcolm lives in Montreal.) The piece, like most of his works, is a set of coordinated improvisations.
Who performs your Hornpipe? Is this a new piece?
It’s for string quartet, and it is a new piece. Anyone who wants to hear it should not come late. It lasts about 3 minutes and it’s first on the program.
Tell me about Evan Hause and his piece Halcyon Shores?
Evan is probably best known for a series of operas he’s written over the past decade based on 20th century historical subjects. Like many of today’s youngish composers, his influences are very eclectic. One of those operas has this aria where the vocal writing is kind of a hybrid of sprechtstimme and scat singing. It’s really terrific. Halcyon Shores is for violin, cello, flute and harp. It’s never been performed in New York.
John Adams’ music is, of course, well known and often performed, but Fellow Traveler perhaps isn’t one of his ‘household name pieces.’ What’s Adams up to here?
It’s a crazy little piece he wrote for the Kronos Quartet a few years ago. It’s almost entirely quarters and eighths at a very fast tempo (half-note-equals-138), with lots of nervous syncopation.
Which composers are going to be in attendance on Thursday?
Me and Evan Hause. Malcolm was supposed to be there and to play the violin part in his own piece. But he became ill last week after a grueling European tour and thought it best not to push himself. Our excellent violinist Cal Wiersma will take his place.
This has been a year of transition for Locrian Chamber Players? How have things changed in the way that you’re organizing the ensemble and programming concerts?
It’s been a tough year. When (co-founder) John Kreckler died, I wasn’t sure if we could continue. But the players have been absolutely lovely in helping me run things. Locrian is a very important part of all of our musical lives, and we will go on.
What plans are in the offing for Locrian?
Next concert: August 26.
The Locrian Chamber Players this Thursday, June 10 at 8PM in Riverside Church (10th floor performance space). Entrance at 91 Claremont Avenue (North of W. 120th Street: One block W. of Broadway) Free admission. A reception will follow the concert.
The Program: Malcolm Goldstein – The Sky Has Many Stories to Tell (World Premiere); John Adams – Fellow Traveler; Evan Hause – Halcyon Shores (New York Premiere); Joel Hoffman – Blue and Yellow; Chen Yi – Night Thoughts; David Macdonald – Hornpipe
The Players: Calvin Wiersma and Conrad Harris, violins; Daniel Panner, viola; Greg Hesselink, cello; Diva Goodfriend-Koven, flute; Jonathan Faiman, piano; Anna Reinersman, harp.
The beginning of June has taken on a certain meaning to the San Francisco Bay Area new music community, and every single one of us would erase that meaning if we could. It’s once again time for the Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival, held every year around this time in memory of one of our own, lost to us in a tragic accident on June 5, 2003.
The eighth annual festival happens this week, and the theme is “Homegrown”, since organizers are taking a break from the out-of-town headliners who’ve graced the event each year up till now.
First up, on Thursday evening June 3rd, dozens of improvisers will convene in a Tag Team Trio Shift at the Luggage Store Gallery. Refereed by Matthew’s close friend John Shiurba, the performers will play continuously, but only three at a time. The Luggage Store Gallery is located at 1007 Market Street near 6th Street in San Francisco, and donations will be accepted at the door — from $6.00 all the way up to any amount the donor desires.
On Saturday, June 5th, the somber date we all remember, the mood shifts to contemporary classicism, and the festival shifts to the other side of the bay. Two precious handwritten scores from Matthew’s notebook — “Wadadaism” (1991) and “Veins” (1995) — will share the program with works by Anthony Braxton, Cornelius Cardew, and James Tenney, all of whom inspired and influenced Matthew. The Bay Area’s renownedsfSound ensemble holds the reins of this concert at 21 Grand,located at 416 25th Street in Oakland. The same $6.00-to-infinity sliding donation scale applies.
All proceeds from the festival benefit the Matthew Sperry Memorial Fund, which is the new music community’s way of caring for Matthew’s surviving family in his absence.
The National Symphony Orchestra has been hosting composer John Adams over the past two weeks in presentations of his own works as well as works of the 20th century American, Russian and English repertoires. Last week he presented works by Copland, Barber, and Elgar as well as his own The Wound Dresser. This week, Adams and the NSO were joined by violinist Leila Josefowicz for a performance that included Adams’ electric violin “concerto,” The Dharma at Big Sur, and the Washington premiere of the Dr. Atomic Symphony.
The program began with Benjamin Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” from his opera, Peter Grimes. While the opening “Dawn” interlude began on somewhat shaky ground, Adams quickly proved himself a capable conductor of this repertoire. The composer has been doing a lot of conducting over the past decade and it’s beginning to show. His confidence as a conductor, particularly one of pre-WWII 20th century music, has grown by leaps and bounds and the NSO’s playing under him reflected this. Whenever Adams conducts, however, he always presents his own work (it is part of the attraction, after all) and where in Britten and Stravinsky he is confident and capable, in his own work Mr. Adams is simply superb.
The Dharma at Big Sur, not so much a formal concerto for six string electric violin so much as a rhapsodic evocation of cross-country travel , California mythology, and the poetry and prose of Jack Kerouac. This is a powerful work, conveying a joyful energy that is simply infectious. The violin carries the bulk of the musical argument in the piece, with very few tutti moments offering rest from some highly energetic, virtuosic music, and Ms. Josefowicz astounds in her role as Kerouac’s musical manifestation. Her playing is a revelation and she simply OWNS this part. One hopes that she and Adams will come to record the piece sometime, not so much to replace the original 2006 recording with Tracy Silverman, the violinist for whom the work was written, but to complement it, as Ms. Josefowicz brings an exuberant energy to the piece that is just on the edge of wildness, where Mr. Silverman’s recording seems much more sedate by comparison.
After intermission, Mr. Adams and the orchestra took on Stravinsky’s early, slight orchestral showpiece, Feu d’artifice (Fireworks). They handled the work expertly, certainly, but it is a work that has failed to make much of an impression upon me through the years as little more than a youthful work by a composer on the verge of greatness. Indeed, the second half was really all about the Dr. Atomic Symphony, a reworking of material from Adams’ 2005 opera, Dr. Atomic. While the symphony obviously owes a great deal to the opera (and Adams, both in his speeches to the audience in between numbers and in the program notes, rather redundantly stressed the musical connections with the opera’s plot) it is certainly worthwhile as a free-standing work and does not really need any programmatic allusions to make its point. This is a harrowing symphony, full of a wild energy that proves the dark contrast to The Dharma at Big Sur’s sublime apotheosis, and the NSO and Adams gave it a duly appropriate reading which deservedly brought the house down. And while the symphony makes a visceral impression, it is also governed by a Sibelian formal logic that makes it an important addition to the somewhat dormant American symphonic tradition. It will hopefully prove to be one of Adams’ truly major works.
The National Symphony Orchestra, Leila Josefowicz, violin, under the direction of John Adams, will repeat this program on Friday, May 21 at 1:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 22 at 8:00 p.m. at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Detail of Terry Berlier's "Stair Drum," one of three percussive sculptures for "The 41st Rudiment"
On Friday, April 30, 2010, my ensemble, Great Noise Ensemble, will present the last concert of our 2009-10 concert season. The program, presented at Ward Hall, on the campus of the Catholic University of America at 7:30 p.m. (Visit www.greatnoiseensemble.com for tickets if you’re in the Washington region this Friday), is a unique program featuring a new work for mixed ensemble and sculpted percussion by composer D.J. Sparr in collaboration with artist Terry Berlier of Stanford University. The 41st Rudiment, named after the 40 “rudiments” that percussionists study as they develop their craft, represents one more rudiment indicative of the experimental nature of Berlier’s instruments. It was written for percussionist Christopher Froh, of the San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players, and Great Noise Ensemble.
D.J. Sparr initially pitched the piece that would become The 41st Rudiment to Great Noise Ensemble’s board some five years ago. “The idea came through wanting to work with Chris Froh,” he says, “whom I had seen out on an amazing concert in Ann Arbor years back. I was in the Bay Area, so we went out for drinks, and over the course of the conversation we talked about finding instruments at a hardware store… and somehow, collectively we came up with the idea that we should ‘build something.’ From there, we started talking about what that would be, who might be interested collaborating with us, etc.” After searching for an appropriate collaborator it was Froh who suggested that they work with Terry Belier. “Terry and I worked on another project together a few years ago with the Empyrean Ensemble and Italian composer, Luciano Chessa. I played one of her sculptures then (an earlier “panlid gamelan”) and fell in love with her aesthetic. When D.J. and I first started talking about this project some five years ago, I suggested asking Terry to be involved.”
“A few years ago,” writes Terry Berlier, “ I was working on a piece called ‘Two pan tops can meet’ (2003) which was based on the homophobic Jamaican saying ‘Two pan tops can’t meet.’ (I had worked in Jamaica for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1995-97.) That first piece used thrift store pan lids as speaker housings that played a sound piece. But while I was sifting through the pan lids, I started setting aside the pan lids that resonated strongly. These eventually became Pan Lid Gamelan I in 2003 and gallery viewers were invited to play it.
In 2008, Composer Luciano Chessa wanted to compose this sculpture/instrument into one of our collaborations (Inkless Imagination IV) and I was excited to have a professional percussionist, Chris Froh, play them. A few years later, Chris asked if I would like to work with him again on making sculptures specifically for him to play and work with D.J. Sparr.”
D.J. Sparr has been building a reputation for many years now as a composer of rhythmically charged and energetic music (the Alburquerque Tribune once referred to his piece for eighth blackbird, The Glam Seduction as “Paganini on coke”) that merges classical conventions with rock idioms. The 41st Rudiment is no different, although the rock influence this time is far subtler than in the works that gained Sparr his early reputation. “I am always influenced by the drama of a rock-and-roll concert, and in this work, the drummer is the superstar… he engages the other players in ways to entice them to join in with him in gestures and call-and-response melodies…much the same as would happen in a rock-band scenario where guitarists, drummers, and bass players trade solos. This work,” however, “is heavily influenced by the baroque concerto grosso form as the large scale form is comprised of many short movements. There are elements of Bach and Vivaldi, but there are also elements of other things: Satie Gymnopédies; Spanish barcaroles; improvisatory structures such as Zorn’s Cobra; and many cadenzas and improvisation.”
2009 Frederic A. Juilliard/Walter Damrosch Rome Prize winner Lisa Bielawa has returned to her hometown of San Francisco to take part in the 2010 Other Minds festival.Her piece, Kafka Songs, will close the first night of the festival on Thursday, March 4th. Violinist, vocalist and rock star Carla Kihlstedt,for whom Kafka Songs was written, will perform. OM 15 takes place at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, and tickets can be purchased online here.
Despite her whirlwind schedule leading up to the festival, Lisa was able to take time out to answer a few of my questions.
S21: During your student years, did you ever feel pressure to become exclusively a composer, or exclusively a performer?
LB: Since I received musical training at home as a child (my parents are both musicians as well), in college I decided to major in French literature, not music. I didn’t think of myself as either a performer or a composer really until later, when I was trying to figure out how to make a living.
S21: What parameters have you set up for yourself for allotting time and energy to composing, versus performing?
LB: Decisions about which projects to do, whether composing or performing, have to be made very carefully. Above all, I want every musical experience I have, no matter what form my participation takes, to expand my own awareness, make me grow in some way. It is also wonderful if it can provide a focused inquiry for me around some particular musical issue I am fascinated by or grappling with at the moment in my compositional work. I suppose this is the ultimate test for me: if involvement in some project will result in making me better able to accomplish/address the things I want to accomplish/address in my composing (thereby making my work communicate better and clearer), then I will make the time to do this. Many performing experiences have done this for me, so I do not begrudge the time I invest in them, even though in the short term they may “take me away” from composing.
S21: Having grown up steeped in the San Francisco arts community, did you experience culture shock when you moved to New York in 1990?
LB: I had 4 years at Yale in between, which were really important ones for me. Although I wasn’t majoring in music, I was involved in vocal music and jazz through various student-run groups, and these experiences were an important transition time for me. Many of the musical friends I made at Yale came to New York as well, so the transition was rather smooth, under the circumstances. Of course there was the shock of being an adult and needing to figure out how to earn money and live a real life. These things were much more challenging than any cultural differences.
S21: The Time Out New York review praised your “organic experimentation”. Can the organic aspect of your work be identified, and how does it manifest?
LB: I suppose (I hope!) this writer could have been responding to my practice of making work about and on people. I am not so interested in experimentation as an abstract value, as much as I am interested in how one might use “experimental” or creative, unexpected ways to celebrate and heighten awareness of a particular performance experience, involving specific people in a specific place and time. This means that if I am writing for one unique performer who sings and plays the violin at the same time (that’s Carla), I will experiment with ways to celebrate and heighten the awesome strangeness and wonder of this act, whereas if I am writing for a 70-member volunteer orchestra of community music lovers (as I happen to be doing at the moment, for the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra), I will experiment with ways to heighten their experience of music-making in a community with intense musical passion and a broad range of abilities.