Archive for the “Interviews” Category
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?
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.
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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Posted by Chris McGovern in Birthdays, Experimental Music, Festivals, Interviews, Music Events, tags: Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble, Eve Beglarian, Jenny Olivia Johnson, John Cage, Loadbang, Pierrot Lunaire, Randy Gibson, Schoenberg, Vicky Chow
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 »
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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.
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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!)
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Posted by Chris McGovern in Composers, Contemporary Classical, Electro-Acoustic, Experimental Music, Interviews, Women composers, tags: Amanda Palmer, cello, looping, Rasputina, Todd Reynolds, Zoe Keating
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 »
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“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 »
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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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org with your name. She will put aside a ticket for you for the December 7 performance.
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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.
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