Archive for the “Interviews” Category

The Avant Music Festival, a 5-night event being held at The Wild Project in NYC between Friday, Feb 10th and Saturday the 18th, promises to be a compelling series of shows of music in the vein of avant-garde. Along with music by living composers Randy Gibson (whom you are about to hear from), Eve Beglarian (Songs From The River and Elsewhere) and Jenny Olivia Johnson (After School Vespers), there is a performance of Schoenberg‘s ground-breaking work Pierrot Lunaire and a 2-part show on Saturday the 11th celebrating the 100th Birthday of John Cage at 4 PM and 8 PM respectively (This concert, by the way, features Vicky Chow performing the great Sonatas and Interludes on prepared piano). Randy, who is one of the curators of the event, spoke briefly about the festival as well as himself. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Comments Off on 2012 Avant Music Festival: Preview and Interview with Randy Gibson

2011 was an great year for freelance composer/cellist/conductor Peri Mauer. Premiere performances of her work this past year included her trio AFTERWORDS, for clarinet, cello, and piano; BLOGARHYTHM: Scenes 1 & 2 for 24-piece chamber ensemble (which she also conducted) RHAPSODANCE, for clarinet and piano; BLOGARHYTHM ON THE ROCKS, for chamber ensemble, as part of Make Music New York 2011 in Central Park in June; and MORNING IN A MINUTE, in the Vox Novus Concert Series at Jan Hus Church in October. In 2011 her music was heard on the radio for the first time as well. Just this past January brought the world premiere of her piece for three cellos in Composers Concordance Festival 2012, and she’s about to have the world premiere of PIXELIANCE this Sunday, Feb. 5th at 3 pm, St. Mark’s Church in- the- Bowery (131 East 10th St.), as part of a New York Composers Circle concert paying tribute to composer Dinu Ghezzo, and also featuring works by Elliott Carter, Robert Cohen, Debra Kaye, Nataliya Medvedovskaya, Nailah Nombeko, and Matt Weber.

I asked Peri to answer a few questions from me, and she was happy to oblige:

Besides your usual hectic rounds as a freelance cellist/conductor, you’ve had a pretty good and busy year for performances of your own music. How did all of these things come together?

Being a constant presence on the musical scene and getting in on just about every opportunity I come across is the main reason I get so much work. My motto is “Seize the moment”, and there is so much opportunity, so many amazing people to hook up with. I see myself as part of a larger picture, and the possibilities for so much creativity and actualization are everywhere.

Your piece BLOGARHYTHM had a couple really well-received performances (in very different venues, I might add!). Could you tell me a little more about the title/inspiration, and the form of the piece?

Overall, BLOGARHYTHM is what I think of as an “umbrella piece”. I can adapt it to different performance situations and will keep adding scenes to it when given an opportunity to present it. It is totally my own project, my musical blog set to performance, and I enjoy it tremendously. Plus I get a chance to conduct and put ensembles together, which I also really enjoy. With it, I can integrate all the various facets of my musical life.

With all those previously-mentioned hectic rounds, where do you find the time to really sit down and compose? How hard is it to keep a good balance between playing and composing?

Doing both playing and composing are extremely important to me. At times it can be very difficult to maintain the balance (like right now, having  just returned home from a three-hour rehearsal for a concert), but I do my best. It is like having two children that you love equally and want to be sure they get equal time, one is not favored over the other, etc.  The result is I am always working on some project. This is what I do, this is my life.

You’re a life-long New Yorker? Does your life now resemble whatever plans you were laying for it back when you were just coming up through school? You’ve seemed to avoid the standard, safer course of sticking with teaching; was that a conscious decision?

Yes, I am a life-long New Yorker. Truth is, I never made any plans. I just kept going! I began piano when I was 5, cello at 11, went to the High School of Music & Art, and just never stopped. I am a bit unusual as far as composers go, in that I love to perform and miss it terribly if I let it go. I am miserable when things fall into an everyday sameness, so I never sought out either a steady orchestra or teaching gig. It would drive me crazy to have a regular ongoing routine.

When you look back at musical life in New York when you were just coming out from The Manhattan School of Music, and what you see going on now, what seems different/same, easier/harder?

The internet has definitely made everything a lot easier. I am amazed at how easy it is to learn of opportunities, to create them, to hook up with them, and get them going creatively.

What influences have been the guiding lights and inspiration for your own music language?

My own ear : ) …  I’ve always liked the sound of 12- tone music. Discovering Webern was very pivotal for me. Although my own music isn’t serial, it is 12-tone. I write from my life, and therefore my work is dramatic and emotionally relevant.

One thing you wish I’d ask you…..

Hmm, not sure! : )  My life is a musical one, this is what I do.

Comments Comments Off on All hustle and bustle for Peri Mauer

Hilary Hahn is at it again, working her way through chats with all of the composers commissioned for her “In 27 Pieces” collection of encores. This time up it’s a bright, young up-and-comer by the name of Jennifer Higdon (OK, maybe not quite so young, and maybe she’s pretty much arrived, but she’s still pretty darn bright!)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pu7PewnFGxo[/youtube]

 

Comments 1 Comment »

Photo courtesy of Andre Penven for Coilhouse Magazine

Zoë Keating (Wow, what can I say??) has definitely cultivated a very respectable place in the new music and indie music circles. After rethinking a classical concert career as a cellist for working a tech job, she was intervened to perform with various friends, played in the band Rasputina, eventually went solo with a gorgeously layered, rhythmic cello sound. Zoë went on to sell over 40,000 copies of her CDs without distribution, a record label or management. And she has over one million Twitter followers. The internet loves her!

Besides her solo career, her other projects include music collaborations with various dance companies (Apex Contemporary Dance Theatre, American Repertory Ballet, Digby Dance), film scoring (or soundtrack performances; Warrior, The Secret Life of Bees, The Conspirator), scoring for varied TV programs and other medias, and makes guest appearances alongside artists such as Amanda Palmer, Paolo Nutini, Imogen Heap, and many more. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments 2 Comments »

“I always describe the viola as something that is kind of the wrong size for its body. It sounds like a man singing very high or a woman singing very low. And there’s something about that in-between-ness that is very attractive to me and the challenge of overcoming the fact that, physics-wise, it’s actually proportioned incorrectly, in other words, for a viola to be the right size for the length of its strings to play very easily, it would be something like the size of a small cello…There’s something about reaching in and having to get around that imperfection that really appeals to me, honestly.” Read the rest of this entry »

Comments 12 Comments »

Spectrum Concerts Berlin visits New York

Last week, I met with cellist Frank Dodge at Lincoln Center to discuss the upcoming concert his ensemble Spectrum Concerts Berlin is giving in New York.

At 8 PM on December 7th at Weill Recital Hall, Dodge and his colleagues, in collaboration with the Abby Whiteside Foundation, will present a program that celebrates the works of composer/pianist Robert Helps (1928-2001).

Helps was a virtuoso performer adept at both contemporary repertoire and warhorses from the classical music canon. He also relished championing works that had been overlooked and crafting (often fiendishly challenging) transcriptions for the piano.  More than once, I heard Milton Babbitt suggest that Helps “made the unplayable playable.”

Born in the United States, Dodge relocated to Berlin in the 1980s. But he didn’t forget about his first encounters with Helps: in the late 1960s in Boston as a student at the New England Conservatory of Music.

He says, “Bob (Helps) liked to champion pieces that needed looking after. His performances of the music of John Ireland, Felix Mendelssohn, and Poulenc and, of course, his own music were truly very special to hear. We were fortunate to have him visit and perform with us in Berlin twice. I only wish that, before his passing in 2001, we could have collaborated more frequently.”

Dodge’s stewardship has cultivated a group of champions of underrepresented repertoire. Spectrum Concerts Berlin is currently giving its twenty-fourth season of concerts. They have recently released their second recording devoted to Helps’ music: Robert Helps in Berlin (also featuring the ATOS Trio and Helps; Naxos 8.559696-97). A double CD set, it features a number of Helps’s important chamber works, including one of his first mature pieces, the 1957 Piano Trio, as well as one of his last, Piano Trio No. 2, written shortly before his passing. It’s interesting to note his return to the genre after forty years’ absence. My initial impression of the piece is one of leave-taking. I hear its angular lines, brittle articulation, and acerbic harmonies as a defiant kind of valedictory statement. Dodge, on the hand hears the trio showing evidence of new potential directions in Helps’s music; alas, unrealized.

He says, “The second Piano Trio and some of the other late pieces, such as Shall We Dance (1994) and the Piano Quartet and Quintet (both 1997), provide glimpses of Bob considering his compositional approach afresh. I find the discoveries he makes in these works to provide some of his most exciting music.”

The CD also includes a live recording of Helps at the piano; performing a recital that includes some of his aforementioned favorites: Mendelssohn, Ireland, Poulenc, Shall We Dance, and Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Etudes (or, as one of my professors used to like to call them, Chopin on steroids!). One is struck by his exquisite touch and seemingly effortless virtuosity of Helps’ playing.

The impressive array of compositions and music-making displayed on the Naxos disc raises a question. Why isn’t Helps a household name here? Why don’t American-based ensembles perform more Helps and why don’t more composers know him as an important figure?

When I pose this question to Dodge, he says, “Bob did zero self-promotion: none. Even though he taught all over and was very well respected, he had a difficult time with the conventional ‘career building’ activities that many musicians take for granted as part of the business. And he also had considerable personal struggles during his lifetime, with illnesses and other challenges. There were long periods of silence, where he didn’t play or compose at all. Fortunately, these gave way to great bursts of creativity.”

“So, Helps isn’t a household name … yet! Things will change. Sometimes, when a figure is hyped during his or her lifetime, but their work is nothing special, they fade away rather quickly. With Helps, the opposite can be true. It is durable work, and its legacy will only grow. The strength of his music is what will bring performers and listeners to it over time.”

My take: if you’re in the New York area, don’t miss out on this chance to hear Spectrum Concerts Berlin on 12/7. They will make you a convert to Helps’s music in nothing flat.

Ticket Giveaway

In a very generous gesture, the ensemble is offering 20 FREE tickets to S21 readers.  If you’re interested in attending the show, email Paula Mlyn at: paula@a440arts.com with your name. She will put aside a ticket for you for the December 7 performance.

Comments Comments Off on Spectrum Concerts Berlin in NY 12/7 (interview; ticket giveaway)

S21’s intrepid reporter-in-the-field (oh yeah, and superstar violinist, too!) Hilary Hahn just happened to virtually bump into the dean of (very young) American composers, Nico Muhly. …Well, maybe there was a little advanced planning, but let’s keep this casual, shall we? Here they muck-de-muck for a friendly quarter-hour, about the musical life and the pieces Nico’s composed for Hilary.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IBk_U6b2Hw[/youtube]

Comments 2 Comments »

Paul Jacobs

Paul Jacobs performs at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City this Wednesday, November 16 at 7:30 PM. Famed as an “evangelist for the organ”, Jacobs will play a 20th/21st century program that highlights not only the instrument’s traditional grandeur and sublimity, but also its range of emotion and insight.
John Clare spoke to Paul about the program, teaching organists new music plus composers about the organ, and some new works by Mason Bates and Michael Daugherty: mp3 file
An extraordinarily expressive performer and an intensely intelligent musician, Grammy Award-winning organist Paul Jacobs is helping the King of Instruments retake its rightful place in classical music. He is known for his marathon performances, which sometimes last up to 18 hours, of the complete works of J.S. Bach, Messiaen, and other composers, as well as his presentations of new works and core repertoire. Jacobs was invited to join the faculty of the Juilliard School in 2003, and was named chairman of the organ department in 2004, one of the youngest faculty appointees in the school’s history. He received Juilliard’s prestigious William Schuman Scholar’s Chair in 2007. Jacobs has played with numerous orchestras around the country, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Jacobs’ most recent album is a recording of Copland’s Organ Symphony with the San Francisco Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.
“Sacred Music in a Sacred Space” at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City is committed to presenting the finest sacred choral and organ repertoire spanning over 1,000 years of music history. Known for their artistic excellence, the renowned Choir and Orchestra of St. Ignatius Loyola present exhilarating performances of large-scale choral masterpieces as well as more intimate and reflective settings by lesser-known composers. Internationally-acclaimed organists may also frequently be heard on the Church’s magnificent N.P. Mander Pipe Organ, the largest tracker organ in New York City. General admission is $20, with tickets for students and seniors at $15.

Comments Comments Off on New Music for the King of Instruments

John Corigliano (photo by J. Henry Fair)

Houston’s Musiqa opens its season with the Houston premiere of composer John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man for amplified soprano and chamber ensemble and texts by one of the most influential lyricists of all time, Bob Dylan. Karol Bennett is the soprano, and Robert Franz conducts. The concert also includes a performance of John Harbison’s Songs America Loves To Sing and a reading by Justin Cronin, the award-winning author of The Passage. Musiqa’s five member Artistic Board will also premiere a series of Musiqa Minatures in celebration of its 10th anniversary season.

The lyrics Corigliano chose for this song cycle, including Mr. Tambourine Man, Blowin’ in the Wind, Masters of War, All Along the Watchtower and Forever Young, are as timely today as they were when Dylan originally wrote them in the 60’s. “I felt the most important thing Bob Dylan did in the 60’s was raise political awareness of the situations around his time,” says Corigliano. “His time is not that dissimilar to our time.”

In an exclusive interview with Musiqa’s Chris Becker, Corigliano discusses the poetry of Bob Dylan, the challenges of composing for the voice, and the current state of music education.

Chris Becker: Have you had listeners come up to you, say people in their 20’s or students, and ask you about Bob Dylan? Do younger audiences know who Bob Dylan is?

John Corigliano: I think everybody knows who Bob Dylan is, 20 year olds too. Last season he was playing on the Grammys and he’s got new stuff coming out all the time. He’s an active artist as well as one who existed in the 60’s.

Chris Becker: Have you heard anything from Dylan himself about the piece?

John Corigliano:
No, not a word. I sent him the CD when it came out, the orchestral vocal performance on Naxos. But I didn’t expect to hear anything for several reasons. He’s such a superstar this would probably be insignificant to him. I think he thinks that classical music is elitist music so he might not respond well and certainly he would probably have a response (like): “He’s setting it all wrong! That’s not the way it goes!”

Chris Becker: I wonder about that. I think it would be very intriguing to get a reaction from him at some point. I asked the first question I guess in part because I’d read that when you grew up when Dylan was first making the rounds…you weren’t really listening to his music? You were listening to other kinds of music.

John Corigliano: That’s correct. I wasn’t interested in folk music that basically dealt three or four chords and a melody that stayed the same verse after verse no matter what the words said. I was much more interested in more innovative things like what the Beatles were doing. If was at a coffee house and I heard Bob Dylan, I’d keep talking to my friend in the coffee house and I wouldn’t say: “What’s that?” It wouldn’t have drawn me. I think his words are magnificent, but when I finally did hear the music, I didn’t think it fit the words sometimes because that’s not how folk music goes. It has a single verse even if the mood and the whole tenor of the words change. When I heard the Beatles on the other hand, the orchestrations they do, the harmonies they do, the phrasing – it’s all very unusual stuff. I was much more drawn to that.

Read the entire interview here.

Special thanks to Jeremy Howard Beck for his help with coordinating this interview

Musiqa Presents: Play a Song For Me, September 24, 2011, 7:30 p.m. at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Zilkha Hall, 800 Bagby, Houston TX 77002. Individual tickets: $40, $30 and $20. 50% off for students and seniors with ID. Individual tickets and subscriptions are available at the Hobby Center website.

Comments 2 Comments »

Songs for Persephone: Mimi Goese & Ben Neill

Take a seductive voiced art-pop singer and a post-jazz/alt-classical trumpeter. Add fragments of nineteenth century classical melodies, electronics elicited by a “mutantrumpet” controller. Then add influences ranging from ancient Greek mythology to the Hudson River Valley. What you have are the intricate yet intimate sounds on an evocatively beautiful new CD: Songs for Persephone.

 

The Persephone legend is one of the oldest in Greek mythology, with many variants that provide twists and turns to the narrative and subtext of the story.  In the myth, Persephone, daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter, is kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld. During her absence, vegetation is unable to grow in the world; fields fall fallow and crops cannot be harvested.

 

To break this horrible time of famine, the gods come to an understanding with Hades. Persephone is eventually freed, but on the condition that, if she has eaten anything while in Hades’ realm, she must return to his kingdom for a certain length of time. Thus, each year she must remain in the underworld one month for each pomegranate seed that she has consumed. This serves to rationalize, in mythic terms, the change of seasons, times of decay and renewal, shifts in light and weather; even the autumn foliage and the falling of the leaves.

 

Vocalist Mimi Goese and trumpeter Ben Neill have updated the Persephone story, while retaining its iconic essence, on their new recording Songs for Persephone (out now on Ramseur Records). As one can see from the pomegranate on the cover, (a visual designed by Goese), the duo is mindful of the legendary Persephone’s history; but they are not hung up on providing a linear narrative.

In a recent phone conversation, Goese, who wrote the album’s lyrics, said, “The artwork that I did for the cover, featuring the pomegranate, is one acknowledgement of the myth of Persephone. And there are other images that I found in the lyrics. But we were interested in using what was evocative about Persephone to create our own story. That’s sort of how the myth evolved too – one storyteller picks up the thread from another down through the years.”

 

They started work on this music some five years ago, but originally presented it as part of a theatrical production by the multimedia company Ridge Theater, starring Julia Stiles. In 2010, it was produced at Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival.

 

The theatrical presentation and the mythological story behind it are only two strands in a disparate web of influences that resonate with Songs for Persephone. Both Goese and Neill make their home in the Hudson River Valley. Both for its stunning natural surroundings and its history as a home for artists of all sorts, the valley is rich with reference points. Neill feels that these are subtly imparted to the music.

 

In a recent phone conversation, he said, “I found myself particularly interested in the Hudson River School of painters. These Nineteenth Century artists depicted the local landscape and the changing of season with a dimensionality and symbolism that seemed to have an affinity with what Mimi and I were after in Songs for Persephone.”

 

For Neill and Goese, these extra-musical influences – artwork, nature, and theater – are an important part of the music’s genesis. But the polystylistic nature of their music making adds still another layer to the proceedings.

 

Goese says, “I started in dance and theater and later moved to performance art. Singing came along later. But I don’t have the musical background or training that Ben has – I’m self taught.”

 

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oG1XgKytxd0[/youtube]

She doth protest too much. Goese’s voice provided the steely, dramatic center to the work of late eighties band Hugo Largo. One part art rock and another dream pop, the group incorporated bold theatricality and ethereal experimentation, releasing two memorable full lengths, Arms Akimbo and Mettle, and the Drums EP, an alt-pop connoisseur’s delight. She’s also collaborated on several occasions with Moby and, under the moniker Mimi (no last name) released Soak, a solo album on David Bryne’s Luaka Bop label.

 

Goese is a powerful singer, but Songs of Persephone brings out the lyricism her voice also possesses. Cooing high notes and supple overdubbed harmonies are juxtaposed with the more muscular turns of phrase. Experience plays a role in Goese’s tremendous performances on the disc. But she also credits the musical creations of her collaborator Neill with spurring on her inspiration.

 

“Ben has been a terrific person with whom to work,” Goese says. “He’s inventive and willing to try new things. From the moment we first performed together, at a concert nearly a decade ago, I’ve felt an artistic kinship with him.”

 

One can readily hear why Neill’s music would be an engaging foil for Goese. His background as a producer, and his years of work designing the mutantrumpet, have encouraged Neill’s ear toward imaginative soundscapes. His 2009 album Night Science (Thirsty Ear) is an example of Neill’s nu-jazz arrangements and soloing at their very best.

 

On the current CD, Neill’s playing remains impressive; but his arranging and collaborative skills come to the fore. There are intricate textures to found, on which Neill’s trumpet and electronics are abetted by strings, bass, and drums, but it’s the melodies, floating memorably past, one after the other, that are most impressive here. Some of the melodic lines he crafts are imitative of the voice in their own right: it’s no accident that some of the most inspired music-making on Songs for Persephone are when Goese and Neill create duets out of intricately intertwined single lines.

 

Neill says, “The classical materials that I used as the basis of the compositions on Songs for Persephone were melodies from the Nineteenth century: from opera and symphonic music. Many of them were from relatively the same era in which the Hudson Valley painters worked. I found it fascinating to juxtapose these two genres that were in operation more or less at the same time.”

 

He continues, “I’d describe the material as fragments of melodies: small excerpts rather than recognizable themes. None of them are treated in such a way that most listeners will be able to say, ‘Hey that’s Berlioz,’ or ‘That sounds like Schumann.’ They were meant to be a starting point from which I would develop the music: it’s not a pastiche.”

 

At 7:30 PM on September 27th, Goese and Neill will be having an album release party at the Cooper Square Hotel, part of Joe’s Pub’s Summer Salon series.  Goese says, “It’s an interesting space – we’ll have glass windows behind us, which is unusual as compared with a more conventional stage. But it’s fun performing in non-standard venues. It allows you to try different things and to bring different elements into the mix in terms of theatricality, lighting, and the way that you play off of each other. I’m excited to see how Persephone changes as we take it into various performing spaces.”

 

-Composer Christian Carey is Senior Editor at Sequenza 21 and a regular contributor to Signal to Noise and Musical America. He teaches music in the Department of Fine Arts at Rider University (Lawrenceville, New Jersey).

Comments Comments Off on Interview with Mimi Goese and Ben Neill