Archive for the “Interviews” Category

Daniil Trifonov, Noam Zur

“You can’t always convince,” young Israeli conductor Noam Zur said at his North American debut, “but every performance has to make a statement.”

Known as an important educational and recreational center for the performing arts, as well as a place of spirituality, Chautauqua originated as a Sunday school, and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra (CSO) became a professional performance ensemble in 1929.  Chautauqua draws its mostly long-time members out for nine weeks, employing them for an intense schedule of 21 concerts.  Part of Chautauqua’s charm in music making is that these shows craft an intimate communal experience.

Chautauqua Amphitheatre photo:Eric Shea

Chautauqua’s unique and exemplary educational role supports an endless variety of learning experiences in a congenial atmosphere.  At times, Chautauqua’s performances are also brought to a wider public through PBS and NPR broadcasts, bringing together the new, the noteworthy, and the extraordinary, and projecting it to all who care to listen.

Chautauqua- Zur- Trifonov Photo: Eric Shea

Noam Zur’s effervescent demeanor and his ability to connect with both the orchestra and the audience made for a fantastic season-closing concert at Chautauqua last week. Zur opened his show with high-energy, uptempo repertoire that included a traditional rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Johann Strauss Jr.’s Fledermaus Overture. The show was the last in a lengthy series, so the technical execution was less than perfect at points, but nonetheless the orchestra achieved nuanced ‘picture-perfect’ moments during Ravel’s orchestral arrangement of Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition, managing to expertly convey the miniature scenes’ suggested sound-worlds. Zur’s demands of both the orchestra and the audience were persuasively articulated at all times; his undeviating directorial approach completely exemplified a conductor’s ability to form connections between the visual and audial occurrences that make up the energy of a live concert.

Performing Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto under Zur’s baton for the second time, Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov had many towering expectations to fulfill as the anchor of this featured piece. Trifonov’s honors precede him, as he has recently won awards at three major international piano competitions, and his talents have been endorsed by superstar musicians, including Martha Argerich, who said she had “never heard a touch like his” (Financial Times 2011).

What brought both Zur and Trifonov together at Chautauqua speaks to the dynamics of international concert culture, and how friendships are born on the competition circuit.

Vice president and Director of programming Marty Merkley manages Chautauqua’s program office’s annual budget of $8 million.  This generous endowment allows the ensemble to invite reputable and up-and-coming guest artists, including many young First Prize winners on the international competition circuit.  Merkley, having been involved with several major projects in the music market like Michael Tilson Thomas’ New World Symphonyin Miami, is able to actively engage with competitions, and the artists that they endorse.

Noam and Uri Zur

As the First Prize winner of the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in 2011, Daniil Trifonov was offered several performance opportunities by Uri Zur of ArtPro- Management (Noam Zur’s father), who has been handling Prize winners’ concert performances since 2003.  Former First Prize winner Alexander (Sasha) Gavryluk‘s 2005 performance at Chautauqua is still remembered by its music-loving audiences. It was a feature concert like this taking place in Tel Aviv which brought Trifonov to the Kulturwald Festival in Germany’s Bavarian Forest last September to perform with Noam Zur for the first time. Noam Zur had become Principal Conductor of the Frankfurt Chamber Philharmonic, and had been chosen to direct a production of Die Zauberflöte at Kulturwald. It did not take long for the festival’s director and Uri Zur to realize that this dynamic could easily translate into a performance with Trifonov, Zur, and orchestra.

Trifonov and Zur in rehearsal

Uri Zur, who has covered a lot of professional ground in the music industry including managing Naxos’ record distribution in Israel, and of course founding his artist management company ArtPro, is always in close contact with Marty Merkley at Chautauqua, but he had not intended to promote his own son for this concert season.  Nevertheless, when Trifonov expressed interest in performing at Chautauqua at a time when CSO was without a conductor, there was no reason not to look to Noam for the position, given his substantial merit as a director.

The festival’s extremely chaotic schedule only allowed Zur and Trifonov one rehearsal before their live performance, so the team decided to reprise Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto, and attempt to recreate the captivating performance that Zur and Trifonov had presented in Germany.  Asked about rehearsals, Noam Zur commented that “conductors never feel they have the right amount.”  He says, “it’s either: ‘I don’t know what to do anymore, and we still have three days left,’ or ‘there is so much to do and we only have three days left!’ Especially in Opera, it happens a lot that you get no rehearsals.”  He says that sometimes, performers need to get by on very little rehearsal, or even just ‘wing it’: “I know the piece, you know the piece, let’s meet in the evening.”

Noam Zur assisted Pierre Boulez at the Lucerne Festival’s academy orchestra from 2006 to 2008. Inspired by the great Maestro’s style, he embraced an ambitious, yet relaxed attitude. He still recalls conducting for Boulez in an open master class at Lucerne.  As Zur shook in his shoes and dripped with sweat, Boulez stopped him saying: “this was very, very good…now do it again, and this time do it fantastic!”  Zur recalls that, “in all the animated music discussions we had, he never tried to impose his opinions. Yet I learned to be discerning and critical enough not to let people get away with everything.”

As a former trombonist, Zur says he looks at the score from the point of view of an orchestral musician. “It’s not choreography,” he says. “In this measure I stand still… it’s important how it looks, it should look beautiful still, but only because you want a certain sound. The movement is the impetus that gives the performing musicians the meaning and phrasing – the philosophyof what it should sound like.”

Noam Zur Photo: Ch. Gamble

Even though Trifonov had concerts lined up after taking gold at the 2011 Rubinstein, which is a notable marathon of pianism, and an extremely draining experience, he decided to see if he could continue his winning streak at the Tchaikovsky competition, as he was already enrolled.  Uri Zur, noted that Trifonov “did not have the highest expectation, having just completed the Rubinstein, but he was going to give it a shot anyhow.”

Trifonov’s superior rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1, in the last round of the competition with the Mariinsky Orchestra under Russian conductor Valery Gergiev won him yet another gold. Gergiev did not hesitate to support his young compatriot, whom he had awarded the competition’s Grand Prix prize.  Gergiev brought Trifonov on board for several concert events, at times he even trafficked Trifonov across the hemisphere from       performance to performance in his own private jet. “Once he dropped me at a performance rehearsal, then went on to conduct his own concert and made it back to my performance. [They were] in different countries.” Trifonov smiles at this memory, thankful for the generous attention that the artist he calls “one of the most towering [and] busiest musicians worldwide” extended towards him. This past season alone, Trifonov performed with Maestro Gergiev in multiple concerts, tackling repertoire including Prokofiev’s 1st Piano Concerto, Gusonow’s 2nd and Liszt’s 1st.

Daniil Trifonov

For the 2013 season, Trifonov is preparing a great deal of new repertoire for even more performances under Gergiev, including Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto, and Prokofiev’s 2nd, which he will perform at the White Nights Festival in St.Petersburg. “I am also going to learn some Schedrin. It’s modern, for a change. I am very interested to explore more of the modern repertoire, which I did not have had much of a chance to do yet,” says the 21 year-old virtuoso pianist. “The Russian School of Piano concentrates on the Classical works, some Bach and the Romantics,” he says.

Two days prior to his own performance in Tel-Aviv, Trifonov had a chance to attend a performance of Chopin’s 1stConcerto with the iconic Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin under the baton of Zubin Mehta, the Israeli Philharmonic’s Music Director for Life. Trifonov was always a big admirer of Kissin’s artistic individuality.  Both musicians attended Moscow’s famous Gnessin School for Gifted Children, which Trifonov describes as lacking the wonderfully equipped practice rooms he now uses at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he is about to enter his fourth year. “At Gnessin-School I played on an upright, old, banged up Bechstein,” Trifonov recalls.  Having access to modern, well-maintained Steinway Concert Grands makes a tangible difference in practice and performance according to Trifonov, especially when conquering ‘large’ repertoire like Rachmaninov, which he only started to explore this year. At the Cleveland Institute, Trifonov studies under Armenian pianist and conductor Sergei Babayan. Trifonov’s repertoire was always heavy with Chopin, but his recent studies with Babayan have opened him up to a whole new understanding of the idiosyncratic microcosm that constitutes Rachmaninov’s body of work. “He showed me a very different approach than the one I learned in Russia.  Even though ultimately everyone goes back to Neuhaus, there are very different approaches within. Babayan opened my mind without taking away what I had. With him it’s all about the touch! He added an enormous dimension to my playing,” Trifonov says. When asked about how he learned his otherworldly pianissimo touch, Trifonov describes how students hold their breath during Babayan’s studio performance classes in an effort to hear his impossibly quiet tones. It seems that it is a combination of the Russian School’s principles and Babayan’s ethereal, yet calibrating modes of touch that brings these pianists’ pianissimo to the next dimension. I personally have heard Babayan perform and it is true- one hears the echo of the master’s touch in a personally processed nature.

Daniil Trifonov and Ilona Oltuski

The young artist says that he aims to continue studying for an artist diploma with Babayan even though he only studies about 15 percent of the time, as he still feels like he has much to learn. Trifonov realizes that he must come to learn the music of each new composer in his own time. He sees himself tackling Beethoven at a later point in his career.  “Even Schubert was a challenge for me,” Trifonov admits modestly, playing Schubert’s last Sonata in B flat-minor, “though the Mozart concerti have always been a special experience for me.”

The collaboration between Noam Zur and Trifinov was a resounding success. “It ended up a spellbinding and hair-raising experience. The audience did not dare to move in order not to miss any sound in this fantastic ‘Chopin at the barn’- like atmosphere,” Zur recalls. “We really connected not only musically. We definitely became friends. I am so happy to be together again this year with Daniil, and I really have to thank him for this one here.” To no one’s surprise, Trifonov delivered pure lyrical lucidity in his piano playing, and Zur expertly supported even the most delicate pianissimo that Trifonov extricated from the piano with his delicate, almost magical caress.  Their synergy was never more evident than in the concerto’s strikingly poetic and extremely affecting Lhargettomovement. Zur and Trifonov indeed managed to yet again reconstruct some of the most magical moments of their first performance together.

Chaim Zemach’s last rehearsal with CSO- CH.Gamble

Thanks to performance opportunities at festivals like Chautauqua, young talents like Trifonov and Noam Zur can begin to instill in audiences an ever-expanding sensibility for the beauty of music and life, and continue in a longstanding tradition of talent that permeates the international concert scene.  While this concert was Noam Zur’s North-American Debut, it was also a touching curtain call for the eminent CSO lead cellist Chaim Zemach, who exited the stage at Chautauqua in a revelatory state of mind after 45 concert seasons.  As Chautauqua moves forward, I am sure we can continue to expect excellence and innovation on its stage.

 

 

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TwtrSymphony is an intriguing ensemble of musicians connected via social networking. Instead of working together to simply promote and distribute news about contemporary music, TwtrSymphony is a fully functional new music ensemble in absentia. The individual members of this orchestra never meet and rehearse as a group. Instead, the performers record their parts in isolation from each other, in widely different settings, and Musical Director Chip Michael and his merry band of engineers then assemble these recordings into cohesive works all 140 seconds in duration. Right now, TwtrSymphony is working on Chip Michael’s Second Symphony, Birds of a Feather, and the first movement “The Hawk Goes Hunting” was released on July 17.

While their website has a wealth of information including a recording, video, and thorough blog, I sat down with Chip on Monday night and chatted with him about the ensemble. While I should have kept a certain journalistic verisimilitude and had the exchange via Twitter, we opted for a slightly longer format (Skype).

Jay C. Batzner: Let’s start with the basics: what do you do in your role as Musical Director? Who else is involved (other than performers)?

Chip Michael: My role of Music Director is very organizational, pointing TwtrSymphony in the direction I think it needs to head and keeping the focus on what we need to do to get where we’re going. I am also the composer as that is a good portion of why TwtrSymphony got started.

I was looking for an orchestra to play my music and some of my Twitter friends suggested I start my own – a Twitter Symphony… and TwtrSymphony was born.

But, I want TwtrSymphony to be more than just a show case for my music. It’s a great concept, musicians from all around the world playing together. Musicians who might never get to play with other musicians making music. That’s cool. So, while I’ve written the first piece that we’re doing, Symphony No. 2 “Birds of a Feather,” I imagine a future when other composers can avail themselves of our ensemble.

As Music Director, I’m thinking about how the process works (and what doesn’t), what it means to be a symphony orchestra and how to get the pieces to fit together… so, when the time comes for us to have other composers work with the ensemble, we have the tools and setup to make sure it works right for both the musicians and the composer.

Nothing would be worse than for us to invite a composer to write something and have the end result be a horrible failure. So, in essence we’re using my music to test the waters.

We’re also in the process of re-designing the organization of TwtrSymphony. There is nothing formal to announce at this point, but the way we do things now isn’t the best way. It makes getting recordings out time consuming and requires a lot of engineering effort. A simple re-org should help that. As MD, I’m thinking about what’s best for the music and ways we can achieve quality and still maintain our global nature

JCB: The idea behind TwtrSymphony, the idea of crowd-sourcing performers, is something that we’ve seen taking off recently. I think of Tan Dun’s and Eric Whitacre’s YouTube-based performances. This seems to be a logical technological outgrowth of the “write for your friends” mentality that a lot of composers use (and rightfully so).

CM: Yes… the concept of crowd-sourcing performers is nothing new. Neither is the idea of remote recording sessions to put together an ensemble. However, I’m not aware of any instrumental ensemble to the scale of TwtrSymphony that’s been done. 60+ musicians with 90+ tracks is a lot to manage when the recordings were done in different places, using different equipment…Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir comes the closest to what we’re doing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Christina Stanley a violinist and vocalist who received her MFA in Music Performance and Literature from Mills College, and her Bachelor of Music degree from San Francisco State University where she received a full performance scholarship and studied violin with Daniel Kobialka, Jassen Toderov and the  Alexander String Quartet. She is an active performing violinist, working as as a soloist as well as an ensemble.   The composer along with the other members of the Skadi Quartet will perform two new graphic scores to open The Composer’s Muse, the second night of the11th Annual Outsound New Music Summit.  Both scores are 40 x 40 oil and charcoal on canvas.  One will be played by the full quartet, and the other as a violin and cello duet.

The Composer’s Muse concert will take place onThursday, July 19th at 8:00 p.m.  All four nights of the festival will take place at the San Francisco Community Music Center,544 Capp Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at the door, or online through Brown Paper Tickets.  With the festival fast approaching, I was happy Christina had a moment to answer some of my questions.

S21:   Your alma mater, Mills College, is well known for creating composer/performers.  I’m wondering if in your student years before coming to Mills, if you ever felt pressure to become exclusively a composer, or exclusively a performer?

CS:  Yes, I did feel pressure to be exclusively a performer, though I’m not sure it was anyone’s fault other than my own. I wanted to achieve as much as I possibly could as a classical violinist, and learn all the standard repertoire, and as much of the 20th century as I could before moving into the 21st. However, I could never quite shake  that I had all this desire inside me to create, and I sometimes wondered If I’d chosen the wrong path, despite the fact that I loved playing violin so intensely and completely. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I moved to new York and was trying to figure out what to do with myself creatively. I was still writing songs, but at that time I also began recording myself playing violin and cello, improvising and relishing the dissonances and harmonies.  I was completely thrilled at the possibilities, and knew I would continue composing, though I didn’t know how.

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John Shiurba is a composer and guitarist based in Oakland, California whose artistry embraces improvisation, art-rock, composition and noise.  In his composer capacity, he’s headlining the second night of the 11th Annual Outsound New Music Summit, an evening entitled The Composer’s Muse.  The concert will take place on Thursday, July 19th at 8:00 p.m. at the San Francisco Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at the door, or online through Brown Paper Tickets.

Shiurba’s world premiere work for large ensemble, 9:9, is a suite of nine pieces written to be interpreted by nine players with a conductor.  (Any reader who is familiar with his work will recall his affinity for numbered concepts, in past works such as Triplicate and 5 x 5.)  The score will explore the demise of the print medium through nine different types of notation, all of which are derived from newspapers. The nine players will be called upon to interpret standard music notation along with graphic, textual and pictorial notation, allowing the ensemble some creative input in the interpretation. The form of the suite will be open, allowing the conductor and the players to spontaneously shape the way the music develops in real time.  Shiurba will serve as conductor of his own piece next Thursday night.  He was also kind enough to take time out to answer some of my questions.

S21:  Sequenza21 readers have read about you before in your role as a guitarist in SF Bay Area improvising ensembles.  How does your guitar playing inform (or not inform) your compositions?

JS:  My experience as an improvising guitarist perhaps affects my compositions mostly by way of contrast. When I seek to interject something composed into an improvising ensemble, I tend toward something that the ensemble wouldn’t otherwise do. So usually I choose pitched tight rhythmic phrases that contrast wildly with the mostly arhythmic timbral material that typifies my improvising. Whether or not my approach to the guitar actually affects the music that I write probably depends largely on what music I’m writing. In the case of one of my more rock oriented projects, where I’m writing actual guitar music, undoubtedly my own guitar language (and my limitations) will factor significantly in what I write. When I’m writing for other instruments, then probably not so much. I’m not much interested in creating ways of notating the things that I (and others) do in an improvised situation– I’m happy to just let that happen as it will, and write something to contrast it.

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Experiments in Opera, the new collective founded by composers Jason Cady, Aaron Siegel, and Matthew Welch, presents its Spring Series on May 10 + 11 (Thursday and Friday) at Roulette in Brooklyn. Four new operas will be heard in workshop performances over the two evenings.

The May 10 program features a complete semi-staged, multi-media performance of Cady’s Happiness is the Problem, plus a semi-staged, work-in-progess presentation of To Scale by the creative trio known as Cough Button, and a concert excerpt from Siegel’s Brother Brother.
May 11 will be devoted to a semi-staged production of Welch’s Borges and The Other, heard in its premiere as a complete work. Both shows begin at 8 pm.

While highly divergent in style and tone, all four works engage in a provocative dialog with the fundamental assumptions of the operatic form. Laugh tracks, graphic novels, localized radio transmitters, characters that are (literally) two-dimensional, two pairs of singers portraying a single historical figure: all of these elements figure in EiO’s experiments. Yet their creators remain devoted to craftsmanship and the expressive power of music to tell a story, no matter how non-linear.

Cady, Siegel, and Welch, who met at Wesleyan University, describe Experiments in Opera as:

“…a composer- and performer-driven initiative, featuring recent and new works with unorthodox answers to the traditional questions about how to connect words, story and music. Our activities emerge from a pronounced need to nurture composers drawn towards extending their work beyond the standard concert experience and into the hybrid space of the theater, performance, installation, dance and storytelling arts.”

Thursday, MAY 10

Cady’s Happiness Is The Problem is a two-act opera buffa about idealism and disillusionment. It presents three young women who sell an elixir of happiness derived from the secretions of slugs which they market as “Euphoressence.” The Problem of Happiness, which has perplexed philosophers since Plato, is explored in lighthearted yet penetrating fashion. Cady’s musical idiom melds postmodernism and pop, with occasional interjections from a very canned laugh track. The script by Cady and Nadia Berenstein takes the form of a comic book drawn by Berenstein, which is projected as sopranos Christie Finn and Megan Schubert and mezzo-soprano Lisa Komara perform to pre-recorded tracks.
“It’s a 2-act opera, semi-staged and directed by Jeremy Bloom,” explains Cady. “We did the first act at Le Poisson Rouge, but this will be the full two-act performance.”.

Aaron Siegel speaks about the work on his piece Brother Brother:


“For the concert last January, I shared 2 selections that were for percussion instruments, and this coming week, I’ll be sharing 2 of the choral excerpts. This is a piece that is still in progress, and I’ve done a little bit of recording on these works just to be able to share them. This is the first time these pieces are to be performed live, and we’re not doing it with the full ensemble this time, just with piano reduction. So there will be about 20 mins. worth of music. I’m super excited to do a work that has some choral elements in it. It just adds a whole other dimension of possibilities when you’re doing a bigger work like this.”.

Cough Button‘s To Scale is a work-in-progress that details the relationship between an architect and his “scalies”–the two-dimensional characters who populate architectural models. Co-written by Cough Button members Lynn Levy, Dave Ruder, and Aliza Simons, To Scale explores the gap between creator and created. The piece will also play with novel techniques to bridge the gap between singer and listener, including the use of localized transmitters, picked up by radios in the audience. The cast includes Paul Pinto, Brian Rady, Lainie Fefferman, Dylan Widjiono, and Aliza Simons, accompanied by instrumentalists Karen Waltuch (viola), Vasu Panicker (keyboards), Lea Bertucci (bass clarinet), and Dave Ruder (electronics).

~~~~~

Friday, MAY 11

Matthew Welch’s Borges and The Other is based on the iconic writer’s life and work. It’s scored for two mezzos, tenor, and baritone, backed by Welch’s ensemble Blarvuster, which serves up a potent brew of Celtic sounds, raga, minimalism, and progressive rock. Says Welch, “In 2007, the first of [my] Borges mini-operas featured two mezzo-sopranos portraying an older and younger Borges meeting in a dream space. For a second act written for tenor and baritone, two additional Borges of differing ages meet yet again in a separate encounter of dreaming each other. In both acts, each Borges views his other in disbelief, hashing out self-loathing critique, whilst verifying biographical information.” Mezzo-sopranos Lisa Komara and Amirtha Kidambi, tenor James Rogers, baritone Jeff Gavett, and The EiO Chorus all portray Borges. Blarvuster consists of Leah Paul (flutes), Karen Waltuch (viola), Emily Manzo (piano), Taylor Levine and Matthew Hough (electric guitars), Ian Riggs (bass guitar), Joe Bergen (vibraphone), and Mike Pride (drums). Matthew Welch conducts.

Further information can be found at experimentsinopera.com.

Experiments in Opera
Thursday, May 10th and Friday, May 11th, 8 PM
Roulette
509 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
(917) 267-0363
Roulette.org

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New York-based new music collective West 4th (aka W4) are garnering a wonderful reputation in being very active and decisively creative in concepts for their concert series. This coming June 8th, they will put on an all-cello program titled “Cellophilia” where they will feature music not just for solo cello, but for multiple cellos of 2-8 at a time. There are eight cellists scheduled to appear, among them are
Mariel Roberts, who is also a co-producer of the concert, and Bang On a Can All-Stars’ Ashley Bathgate.

The concert is being funded via Kickstarter. Please click here or on the link at the bottom to donate.

Composer and W4 co-founder Molly Herron (pictured second from left; although her music is not featured in this concert, she’s also co-producer for the show) and cellist Mariel Roberts (pictured below) both sat down and spoke to me via Skype about the upcoming concert. “It was basically an idea”, stated Molly. “We like to do themes for our concerts, give something to tie it together with something to sink your teeth into, and so the theme for this concert was just ‘works for cello ensemble’. We’ve got a couple of solos on there, but it’s mostly groups of cellos. We’ve got 2 octets, a septet, a quartet, two duets–We just wanted to get together big hunks of cellos, and create new music together”.

The works that are scheduled to be performed (along with pieces by W4’s charter members Matt Frey and Tim Hansen) are written by composers such as Sarah Kirkland Snider, John Zorn and Michael Gordon.
The repertoire is a mix of new and pre-existing pieces. Steve Reich’s Cello Counterpoint makes a rare appearance, and was perfect for a concert of this criteria.

Molly explains. “We really wanted to do the Reich piece for eight cellos, which is so rarely done live with everybody there, and Mariel really helped us a lot with what was already established”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova Photo:Alex Fedorov

Pianists Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova are very much their own acts. But they became close partners when they debuted their Arensky CD and, in the process, founded their own record label, LP Classics, Inc. Since then, they’ve performed as a duo, as they will on May 6 at Get Classical’s inaugural concert series event at New York’s Rose Bar.But their friendship began much earlier, back in 1999, when the two pianists were freshmen at Julliard.

 

They instantly connected over their shared Russian heritage, but on top of that, their personalities just clicked. “Of course, we have had our share of fights, regular stuff that happens when two egos are involved…and we have our own lives,” volunteers Lavrova, during our animated interview over dinner with Primakov. “But we love each other.”

Photo: Alex Fedorov

 

Married to photographer Alex Fedorov, Lavrova often brings her husband on board withher projects.Fedorov is responsible for all of the photographic work featured on the Arensky CD, which Lavrova and Primakov recorded to great reviews. James Harrington of the American Record Guide wrote that the two “capture the essence of each suite, and through their considerable talents, share with us some of the most enjoyable almost unknown music I have heard in quite a while.”

 

Artistic collaboration was a natural extension of Lavrova and Primakov’s friendship, says Primakov. “We do think alike; there is a spiritual connection and a feeling for the music that just got more serious over the last two years, when we decided to get involved with recording the Arensky’s suites,” he says, reminiscent of their past years spent under teacher Jerome Lowenthal at Juilliard’s chamber music program (where they spend more time partying then practicing, they admit). “We were both excited, when we heard this music and started to perform it in concert to great reviews and decided we needed to record this interesting, yet virtually unknown program,” says Primakov. “We had two options—either pitch it to an established label or try to do it on our own. As we were thinking about this music, we both realized we wanted to have more control of the process, and it became a project that started so many things for the both of us. It also brought us even closer.”

 

While Primakov has already catalogued a number of recordings with Bridge Records, the Arensky CD was a first for Lavrova, who spends most of her time, when not performing, managing her own music school program. As the director of Music School of New York City, she teaches pianists of all levels and ages, applying her passion for music education that she inherited from her own teacher, Zalina Gurevich, who, many years ago, recognized their shared enthusiasm for teaching and kids in a young Lavrova. “She allowed me to sit in her lessons and gradually take over teaching some of her kids,” says Lavrova. “At first she would monitor the lessons and then give me feedback. It made all the difference in my learning how to become a good teacher.”

 

A very important factor in Lavrova’s teacher selections is a teacher’s performance experience. “That inspires students in a way nothing else can,” she says. One of her favorite teachers at her school, no wonder then, is Primakov, even though, between his busy performance and recording schedules, he can only take on a limited number of students.

 

But despite both of the artists’ busy daily routines, they are committed to and infatuated with their newest project, LP Classics. From the initial excitement over finding the pianos and dealing with tuners and sound engineers, they are both planning on fully integrating the record label into their careers. “We had turned to our friend Sarah Faust of Faust-Harrison Pianos to obtain two matching pianos for the recording.

Photo: Alex Fedorov

She had a new Yamaha CFX in her vast studio, which we loved, and then put us in touch with Bonnie Barrett, the director of Yamaha Artist Services, to find another. We tried it, and it sounded great, and this developed our future relationship with Yamaha.” Primakov and Lavrova are now Yamaha artists. Their Arensky CD was the first ever recording on two Yamaha CFX model pianos, and their CD release performance was live-streamed from the Yamaha showroom. Right now, the two are working on a lot of four-hand, one-instrument repertoire—an easier and more economical setup—exploring less-played pieces such as the Czerny Sonatas and works by Milhaud and John Corigliano, which they plan to perform at Get Classical at the Rose Bar.

 

In the future, Primakov says, they want to open up their record label to young artists looking to produce resume-building and career-launching first CDs. They also want to unbury historical, undiscovered past recordings of great, established performers, introducing old, forgotten gems to the public, as they did with Vera Gornostaeva Vol. 1 Chopin, a historical recording found through archived tapes in a Moscow library. “We obtained the rights and re-mastered the tapes of this amazing recording,” explains Primakov. “Another hidden secret we are now releasing is our teacher Jerry Lowenthal’s playing, which we both grew up on, and there are so many more to come.”

 

Very important to their mission is their ability to rely on efficient and passionate

Photo: Alex Fedorov

music professionals involved in the recording process. “You are so exposed as a performer, you have to be able to trust the people you work with to make you look your best,” says Primakov. “We have built a wonderful little family that includes Charlie Post, who became sound engineer, editor and producer in one, and technician Terry Flynn, who can achieve the most amazing results in the short in-betweens of the recording process. As soon as he hears just a slight irregularity in tone voicing, he informs the sound engineer and matches up everything in the matter of minutes while we step out for a glass of water.”

 

Also important to Primakov and Lavrova’s goals is the opportunity to constantly engage with new audiences, which they will have the opportunity to do this May 6, when the two perform excerpts of their four-hand program as well as some solo repertoire at Get Classical’s music series launch at the trendy Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar in New York. Primakov and Lavrova will be two of four pianists presenting a program geared to new and old classical fans, including GetClassical.org readers, by bringing 19th-century salon-type performances to the 21st-century lounge. Hosted by the Gramercy Park Hotel and myself, your devoted GetClassical.org blogger, Get Classical at the Rose Bar hopes to bring classical music to audiences that might prefer listening in the comfort of an armchair, aperitif in hand, to the formality of the concert hall. The series will give listeners the chance to meet artists in the intimacy of the cool Rose Bar and hear them talk about their music and lives as concert artists. And it is exactly this exchange that performers like Primakov and Lavrova, as well as David Aladashvili and Marika Bournaki, the two performers featured alongside them in the evening’s program, are looking forward to—to play and relate to both staying fans and interested spectators in a personal way. “We always want to test drive our program with new audiences. It’s one of the most exciting things one can do as a performer,” Primakov says.

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Jeff W. Ball

Brooklyn Wind Symphony Artistic Director Jeff W. Ball interviews Dr. David Maslanka on the music of the late composer John Barnes Chance, “channeling” the composer, and the growing prevalence of commissioning consortiums among wind ensembles.

JWB:  When did you first hear a composition by John Barnes Chance?

David Maslanka

DM: My first contact was “Incantation and Dance.”  It was around 1965.  I was a first-year grad student at Michigan State and the band there was playing the piece.  I wasn’t in the band, but heard rehearsals and performance. The piece was “hot” that year – everybody was playing it.

JWB: Has your impression of this piece changed over time?

DM: It was, and remains, an attractive piece. I liked its fresh percussive rhythmic nature, and clear instrumental colors. Working with it many years later for the Illinois State University recording was still a positive experience.

JWB: How did that project come about?  What was your role?

DM: Dr. Stephen Steele, conductor of the Illinois State University Wind Symphony, was asked by Susan Bush of Albany Records if he would be interested in making a CD of select Chance works. Susan thought this would be a timely CD, one that many people would find interesting. This is a nice recognition of the enduring quality of some of Chance’s music. Steve’s first step was to send me all the scores he had collected of Chance’s wind music – about a dozen. I reviewed them all, and came up with what I termed an “A” list. My recommendations included Incantation and Dance, Variations on a Korean Folk Song, Symphony No.2, and the piano concerto piece. In rehearsals and the recording session I acted as the “presence of the composer.” It was my job to read the score and be the reminder for basic stuff like tempos, dynamics, and qualities of articulation – to insist on these, and to offer thoughts on qualities of style. There is what is printed in scores, and then there is what has accumulated as performance practice over the years. My job was to bring things back to the score. The most interesting piece for me was Symphony No.2, a piece that Chance never heard in his lifetime. I felt like I was “channeling” Chance, allowing him to be present, both to hear his music for the first time, and to offer the suggestions he would have made for performance. This assertion certainly cannot be proven, but it was a very curious experience for me.

JWB: Why do you think that Albany Records recording has been so successful?

DM: Chance’s music is still fresh and likeable, and a large number of people remember it fondly from their younger band days. It has also not left the repertoire. Steele’s recording of this music is simply very good. It is exactingly performed and well recorded.

JWB:   Has the music of Chance (and his contemporaries) influenced your growth as a composer?

DM: I would certainly say that Chance’s music, and that of people like Clifton Williams and Vaclav Nelhybel, and my teacher, H. Owen Reed, influenced my early growth as a composer. This was different music than the so-called mainstream of the time, which was serialism and significant branching off with people like Penderecki and Berio.  Chance and other band composers were more “down home” outgrowths of school music. It has taken all the years since Chance for wind band music to attain something of mainstream status. The influences on current wind band music are as varied as world music itself, but I would say that the music of the “early modern” wind band composers pointed in a fresh direction that many of us found attractive.

JWB:   Chance was a percussionist and this heavily influenced his writing style. What was your primary instrument growing up?

DM: I was a clarinetist, and had both band and orchestra experience as a high school and college student. I had more band than orchestra, and I guess that the band sound was in my ear when I thought about writing for larger ensembles. Playing clarinet has certainly been central to my writing for winds. Being in the center of an ensemble as a performer is a major factor for any composer writing ensemble music. The influence of clarinet on my writing style is certainly there, but the factors influencing writing style are many and varied. Many people are convinced that I am a percussionist, which I am not in the least. Composers have to learn the languages of all the instruments, and then absorb and transform in themselves all the music they come in contact with.

JWB:   What do you think Chance’s music would sound like today if he hadn’t tragically passed away at the age of 39?

DM: There is no knowing how Chance would have evolved!

JWB:  Chance’s Second Symphony serves as the centerpiece for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony’s annual Modern Wind Symphony Concert. Do you believe it is important to continue writing symphonies for wind bands?

DM:   I don’t necessarily think that it is important for composers to continue to write symphonies for wind band.  Composers need to write whatever they need to write.  I happen to write symphonies (now seven of them for wind band) but that is something I have felt the urge to do since Symphony No.2 in 1985. Wind bands do not need symphonies in order to be “important”, to try to lift themselves to “orchestral” status.  They need powerful music, well-crafted for the medium, music which inspires the players and their audiences. This has been happening for quite some time now, and the grass roots wind band movement has become a world phenomenon. Wind bands need to program significant works, regardless of length or form, because players and audiences are intensely hungry for deeply nourishing and affecting musical experience.

JWB: Most wind band commissions occur at the collegiate level. Do you think it is important for community based wind bands and secondary schools to commission new music?

DM:  Most wind band commissions occur at the college level because they have figured out how to do consortiums. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. One person takes the lead and enlists a number of other conductors to share the burden of cost. This has resulted in a huge number of new pieces that immediately have more than a single use.  Not all of the music is good, but the simple fact is the more pieces that are written the high likelihood that a percentage will be outstanding. Regarding consortiums, there is no difference between a college band and a community band, except possibly the sense of being connected with other bands. The College Band Directors National Association offers college directors immediate connection to hundreds of other conductors. The CBDNA national and regional conferences, and other events like the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, allow for very intense networking among conductors. Community bands can simply join in if they wish.  Anyone can join CBDNA. Commissions are now starting from high schools as well. There is the realization that the band world is all one big family, and colleges, community bands, and high schools are willing to help each other out.

JWB: The Brooklyn Wind Symphony is happy to be leading a consortium to commission a new work from you. What do you look for and take into account when requested to write a piece for a specific ensemble?

DM:   The energy and seriousness of the conductor involved is a high consideration. I deeply respect people who are trying hard to build or do something, and I am interested to work with them. For me this has included ensembles all the way from small school groups to major recognized names.

Brooklyn Wind Symphony presents an 80th birthday concert in honor of John Barnes Chance on Saturday, March 24, 2:00 PM. Grand Street High School, 850 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. $10 suggested donation.

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Composer/vocalist Sabrina Lastman, whose duo SoCorpo is also a great fixture of the performing arts, is involved in another wonderful project. The Sabrina Lastman Quartet (and they also perform as the Sabrina Lastman Trio sans the drummer) are offering up the tantalizing combination of jazz and world music. Their CD The Candombe Jazz Sessions has been issued this month and was accompanied by a CD release show at Joe’s Pub in NY. They will be also appearing on March 10th at Pregones Theater in the Bronx. Sabrina had a few minutes to spare for a small chat. Read the rest of this entry »

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Next up in Hilary Hahn‘s chats with the composers writing for her 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores!, it’s New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-J7OdgRJegs[/youtube]

And composers, don’t forget that the 27th encore slot is still open until March 15th, and it could be you!  So tusches off seats, fire up your Finale & Adobe, but get cracking!

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