Archive for the “Interviews” Category
- Julien Quentin
When talking to the young and talented pianist Julien Quentin, it became obvious to me that this generation of young, classical musicians – at least the successful ones– have definitely adopted something of a jetsetter lifestyle.
I had just met him at Verbier, where he performed for his 5th summer in a row, at the prestigious music festival. Two years ago he had performed at their special celebration “Night of Pianists” that featured different generations of accomplished pianists, Emanuel Ax, Nelson Goerner, Yuja Wang, among others. The festival’s artistic director Martin Engstroem had spotted Quentin, when he had heard his 2004 recording with clarinetist Julian Bliss.
Quentin confirmed the positive impressions I had brought back from Verbier myself (see also my article Musicerati at Verbier):”Verbier is really special in that all the star- artists are all happy to play the game… old and young, everybody is sharing the stage together and there are such musical fireworks.”
Born in Paris, Quentin grew up in Geneva, where his parents opened the “Librairie Quentin,” a connoisseur’s bookstore specializing in rare manuscripts and art books.
He attended both the local High School at Thonon to receive the French baccalaureate and the Conservatory at Geneva, where he studied with the Russian Piano Pedagogue Alexis Golovine.
It was through his teacher that Quentin met with Martha Argerich, who, at the time was residing in Geneva.
He describes how he had heard a recording of Golovine playing two-piano repertoire with Argerich and how that inspired him tremendously.
Quentin became friends with Argerich’s daughters, two of whom, Stephanie and Lydia today still reside in Geneva, while Argerich herself lives in Brussels now.
He describes the most fascinating meeting with one of Argerich’s close friends and an important musical figure, Nikita Magaloff. “One time, I visited Nikita’s home and let me play for him. He gave me some advice but, most importantly, he acknowledged that I had enough talent to make a life in music. That was a defining moment for me, giving me the self-confidence, to continue on the road I had always felt, was meant for me. It is a wonderful feeling if you know what you want in life. Growing up, a lot of my friends did not know what they wanted to achieve, they had to find themselves. I had a normal upbringing with sports, art and literature all around me. If my parents pushed me, they did that more for my general studies, than for music. I only had my first serious concert at 12, in Thonon. Then right after this in Evian at the Rostropovich Auditorium and since then the sirens of the stage haunted me.”
- Julien Quentin at Verbier Photo: Marc Shapiro
Quentin went on to continue his studies in the United States receiving his Artist Diploma with Emile Naoumoff, at Indiana University and then his Graduate Diploma in New York, under György Sándor, from Juilliard in 2003.
He shared a lot of his insights, such as why it is so important to understand the individuality of each pianist and what works for him personally: “Every pianist has certain abilities and experiences things differently, learning in unique ways. A lot depends on your individual preference but also on things like your discipline, for example. Also everybody is physically built in ways that influence their particular abilities and ways to function better. For me personally, I could sight read music for hours on end, but the physical playing at the instrument was not as easy to handle for several hours in a row as some others can,” says Quentin. He remembers how he once talked with Argerich about how she accomplished so much in such little time, and he quotes her saying:”Whether you take a week, a day or a minute, what counts is the result.”
“At the end it is really about what you can do and what makes you do it,” says Quentin.
“ You need the will for it since it is solitary work, otherwise you can forget any kind of great music making. But whether it is one or two focused hours or ten hours, which I rarely have the tolerance for physically or mentally, it differs for each pianist, or in pedagogue’s Heinrich Neuhaus’ words:”You can practice at the piano with the score and with the score without the piano, or you can practice without the score and without the piano,” which I do a lot, actually. This mental kind of practicing works really well for me, it gets you a better understanding of the musical scope of the score. It is a very abstract way of learning but it really makes you picture in your mind an ideal line or singing phrase, which you are sometimes too busy to do, while working things out physically. If you think about conductors and composers…that’s how they often figure out the bigger picture.”
- Julien Quentin
The development of the so called inner ear, which this method certainly favors, is certainly an inherently important enhancement of musicality and the understanding of a score, and it is clearly helpful with memorization and in generally developing the musical imagination.
Quentin, whose technique has been deemed as “flawless” by the press, tries to follow, what he describes as the natural approach of the so called Russian School, which his first teacher brought to his attention and which, in his esteem in a nutshell, enables one to do more, with less.
This technique encourages the pianist to lead from the forearm, rather than from the fingers themselves, moving effortlessly and efficiently. One can support a particular singing quality of the melodic line, by weight distribution of the forearm.
Great Russian teachers traveled a lot to Europe and America, especially with the fall of the Iron Curtain, but even before that. It may be that with the virtuosic Russian repertoire of the 20th century itself, which he feels at home with intimately, (besides his Russian teachers, his mother’s roots are Polish-Russian, Jewish) influenced a tradition that could be traced back to the great pedagogues like Neuhaus.
But Quentin is also a child of his environment and time. He absorbed French Impressionism and embraces New Music, especially since his time in New York.
After his American years at school, Quentin was no stranger to the club-scene of his generation. “Turntables, weekly shows in bars and lofts, jam sessions and electro jazz were on the agenda at all times; mixing music, inviting other musicians to play together was a very social experience. I enjoyed it tremendously. It was an eye and ear opener for me, just to see how our friends in the audience would react. This was a fresh experience, where we generated crossovers between two worlds. Supporting new composers is almost a duty of a young performer. These are compositions of today’s life, just as it was the case a century or two ago. I am always interested in connecting different works and in collaborations of different techniques and art forms. “
Berlin became Quentin’s latest place of choice, which he loves for its active musical life, allowing him to experiment with new combinations of paired recitals of classical and new music. He likes to use live effects with the piano and add loops and electronic backgrounds and beats to it, developing his own musical blend, which can easily involve improvisation at the piano, with the laptop getting into the picture as well.
For all its possibilities, but mostly for its particular charm, he loves Berlin and for its slightly slower pace. “No rush, wherever I go I have friends who perform and by now I am really lucky, since all work is coming to me via email or phone. “ This youtube video shows Julien with an avid collaborator of his, the violinist David Garrett having fun with Rimsky-Korsakov’s ” The Flight of the Bumblebee”Flight of the Bumblebee.
His next gigs are in the planning: He would like to produce his own electro tracks and therefore is in touch with the likes of American composer/producer Justin Messina & British producer Martin Wheeler (aka Vector Lovers) to collaborate on future productions. Other jam and studio sessions are also scheduled in the next few weeks in Berlin with various artists from the electronic music and jazz scene.
Hilary Hahn. Photo: Peter Miller
We all know Hilary Hahn as Sequenza 21’s resident video blogger; oh, and she’s a world class violinist and DG recording artist.
Wearing both of those hats simultaneously, Hilary had a video chat via Skype with composer Max Richter earlier this week. Richter is one of 27 composers commissioned to write an encore for Hahn; she begins debuting the pieces this coming October. In order to spotlight the featured composers, Hilary’s planning to release a video interview with one each month. It makes us here at Sequenza 21 feel kind of special. After all, how many other websites have their video blogger booked two years out?
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Andrew Ford’s “Illegal Harmonies”
Andrew Ford. Photo: Jim Rolon
“I’ve never had a grand plan. Never even had an ambition – I still don’t, beyond wanting to write better music,” says Ford. “So I’ve done things as they’ve come along. Of course I also say no to things. I got into writing music journalism because, in 1983 when I came to Australia, I wasn’t, over all, very impressed with the music journalism I read. My radio work really came out of being an academic and gradually replaced it totally.”
Although born in England, Andrew Ford has become associated with his adopted homeland, Australia. He’s one of the most astute commentators on the country’s music scene, hosting “The Music Show,” a weekly broadcast on ABC Radio National since 1995.
“I live in the country, and most weeks I compose from Monday to Thursday. Then on Friday I drive the two hours up to Sydney and my producers hand me a folder full of research and a bunch of CDs relating to the guests I will have on The Music Show the following morning. There are usually four and we try to mix things up: I might talk to a jazz singer, a didgeridoo player, an opera director and the composer of a new string quartet. I do the show live, and then drive home on the Saturday afternoon. I try not to work on Sundays. If I’m writing a book, of course, that might have to take over for a while.”
Ford has written several books, and while most are accessible to a general audience, he’s never shy about exposing his readers to a wide array of adventurous music. He’s also the rare interviewer who’s able to “talk shop” with composers from the vantage point of a fellow practitioner. This is clearly demonstrated in Composer to Composer (1993), an excellent collection of interviews he conducted with many of Australia’s finest composers, as well as composers from elsewhere, such as the UK’s Brian Ferneyhough and Americans John Cage and Elliott Carter. Another one of his collections, Illegal Harmonies, has just been reissued in its third edition by Black, Inc.
Ford says, “Illegal Harmonies was a history of music in the 20th century and began as a radio series in 1997. There were ten 90-minute episodes, one for each decade. The book was published the same year, and this is its third edition. I’ve added a new preface and also there’s a new epilogue looking at music in the first decade of the 21st century.”
Black, Inc. has also recently published Ford’s latest book, The Sound of Pictures. He says, “Funnily enough, the book isn’t really about film scores. I’d say that, more accurately, it’s about films and how they used music and sound in general. It looks – and especially listens – to a lot of films, and finds some connections between them. The way films use sound to plant clues – including false clues – or to undermine, as well as reinforce, what is happening on the screen.”
Those wishing for an entrée to Ford’s own music might start with The Waltz Book, a recent CD release on the Tall Poppies imprint. It consists of sixty one-minute long waltzes performed by pianist Ian Munro. But these are hardly your garden-variety Viennese dance pieces by Strauss. They explore a wide array of sound worlds, using waltz time as a jumping off point for some truly imaginative musical excursions.
Ford says, “The piece was never really about waltzes. It was an attempt to build a single large structure out of a lot of small structures. I felt these small pieces should all be the same size – like a mosaic – but that each might have its own personality and be performable as an independent miniature. A minute seemed the obvious length for each piece, and having decided that, the idea of the minute-waltz followed. Of course, the fact that each minute is a waltz – or at least waltz-related – brings a kind of unity to the hour-long whole, but what interested me above all was two things. First, I wanted to experiment with putting different amounts of music into the minute molds: you can have a minute of furious activity, or a minute of Satie-like blankness. Second, I wanted the overall structure of the hour to be coherent. That’s a long time listening to piano miniatures, and the audience needs to have its attention held: there had to be a sense of a journey or a story being told. You can imagine that at the first performance I was quite nervous!”
Another of Ford’s most recent pieces found the composer working in another medium with a storied tradition: the brass band. The Black Dyke Band premiered his work The Rising at the Manchester Brass festival in January 2011.
Ford says, “Without wishing to make a pun, writing for a brass band was a blast, and especially writing for the Black Dyke Band which is the UK’s finest and has more than 150 years of history behind it. They can play anything – they are total virtuosi. I’d never written for band before. I wasn’t even terribly sure what a baritone horn was. I did my homework, but I confess there was an element of guesswork involved. But the piece came out well. It sounded just as I’d hoped. Better, in some ways, because one thing I’d failed to appreciate was just how homogenous the sound is – it’s like they are all playing different sizes of the same instrument. It was this big glowing mass of sound – the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan – and I am completely hooked. I would love to write another band piece.”
Which other works would Andrew Ford like for listeners from outside Australia to hear? “I’m very happy with my Symphony (2008). I feel that, perhaps out of all my pieces, you could say this was really typical of me. There are no references, no extra-musical stuff: it’s just my music. And fortunately you can hear (and see) Brett Dean conducting the premiere of the piece at my website. I’ve revised it slightly since then, but nothing major. My opera, Rembrandt’s Wife (2009), is another piece I am very happy with. I had a brilliant libretto (by Sue Smith) and I tried to make it into one long song. I was determined it would be full of real singing from start to finish. It was a joy to write and I’ve never felt so unselfconscious in writing a piece. It felt as though it wrote itself. What else? Maybe Learning to Howl (2001), a song cycle for soprano, soprano sax/clarinets, harp and percussion, to words mostly by women.”
“One long-term project is called Progess. My earliest pieces – when I was a teenager – were rather influenced by Stockhausen’s then current intuitive music. This was convenient, in a way, because I must admit that I didn’t really know how to write everything down. As my technique improved, I have always wanted to return to that, to introduce more freedom into my pieces, but the trouble is I keep hearing them rather clearly in my imagination and I end up notating what I hear. Progress, right from the start, is designed as a fluid piece, with hardly anything pinned down and the players asked to improvise in various ways and based on certain melodic models. The instrumentation is totally flexible and so is the spatial layout. Indeed perhaps the most interesting thing about it is the way it will accommodate itself to the building in which it is performed – literally filling the building (not just the main performance space – even assuming there is one of these), so that it becomes a musical representation of the building. There will also be recorded voices – something I’ve used quite a lot recently – talking about the place, its history, its significance, what was there before it was built, etc. It should see the light of day next year with further performances in 2013, but it’s early in the process, so I can’t say too much more.”
When asked who, apart from Andrew Ford, are the composers born or residing in Australia that should gain more currency abroad, Ford replies, “David Lumsdaine, 80 this year and now living in the UK, is a very serious voice, I think. What interests me in particular is the way in which his soundscapes and his composed works intersect. There’s a new CD – White Dawn – that places them alongside each other. I’m very drawn to Mary Finsterer’s music, especially her latest stuff. It’s always interesting to observe composers in transition. Of course if you’re not in transition, then you’re drying up.”
Illegal Harmonies and The Sound of Pictures can be ordered via Black, Inc.’s website.
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Posted by Polly Moller in Bass, Chamber Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, Festivals, Improv, Interviews, Piano, Premieres, San Francisco, Women composers
San Francisco Bay Area composer/performer Kanoko Nishi wraps up our series of interviews with composers who are premiering new works at the 10th Annual Outsound New Music Summit in San Francisco on Friday, July 22nd. The Friday night concert, entitled The Art of Composition, starts at 8 pm at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets, and you can also buy them at the door. Listeners who don’t want to wait that long can get up close and personal with the composers, and learn about their creative process, at a free Monday night panel discussion at 7 pm on July 18th.
Kanoko is classically trained on piano and received a BA in music performance from Mills College in 2006. Her recent interest has primarily been in performing 20th century and contemporary music on piano and koto, and free improvisation in a variety of contexts. SF Bay Area contrabassist Tony Dryer and guitarist IOIOI, visiting from Italy, will perform Kanoko’s graphic scores as a duo.
S21: How has your classical piano training prepared you – or not prepared you – for improvisation and composition?
I think that one very important element that is particular to musical improvisation as opposed to improvisation in other fields is the role of the musical instruments one performs and interacts with, and classical training for me was just a very deep way of building a relationship with my instruments. What has been helpful is not so much the technique, vocabulary or repertoire, but the time, energy and thoughts spent in the process of acquiring these more concrete skills and knowledge. For me, every improvisation I do is like a battle with the instrument I’m playing, in my case, either the piano or koto, and though I cannot really practice improvising by its definition, it’s only by practicing regularly that I feel I can enrich myself as a person, build my stamina and confidence enough to be a suitable match for my instrument to bring out its full potential. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Polly Moller in Chamber Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Electro-Acoustic, Experimental Music, Festivals, Improv, Interviews, Premieres, San Francisco, Sound Art, Women composers
Krys Bobrowski is up next in our series of interviews with composers who are premiering new works at the 10th Annual Outsound New Music Summit in San Francisco on Friday, July 22nd. The Friday night concert, entitled The Art of Composition, starts at 8 pm at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets, and you can also buy them at the door. Listeners who don’t want to wait that long can get up close and personal with the composers, and learn about their creative process, at a free Monday night panel discussion at 7 pm on July 18th.
Krys is a sound artist, composer and musician living in Oakland, California. In addition to French horn she plays acoustic and electronic instruments of her own design. Her collection of original instruments includes prepared amplified rocking chairs, bull kelp horns, Leaf Speakers, Gliss Glass (pictured at left) and the Harmonic Slide. Krys received her M.F.A. in Electronic Music and Recording Media from Mills College and her B.A. in Computers and Music from Dartmouth College. In addition to performing her own work, Bobrowski plays with the Bay Area-based improvisation ensemble Vorticella.
Her new work, Lift, Loft, Lull, is a series of short pieces exploring the sonic properties of metal pipes and plates and the use of balloons as resonators, performed by the composer and Gino Robair. The compositions have their origins in Bobrowski’s recent instrument prototyping work for the Exploratorium.
S21: Do your pipes, metal plates, and balloons come with any sound-generating history? Is there any “tradition” behind their use in music?
During my artist residency at the Exploratorium, I began experimenting with alternative resonators for musical instruments. I wanted to create an experience that would allow the listener to hear the ‘sonic bloom,’ the moment a resonator comes in tune and couples to a vibrating object.
As part of this project I started researching resonators in traditional and experimental instruments. I came across an interesting photo from the 1950s of someone playing an instrument made of glass rods attached to a series of inflated plastic cushions. The cushions were acting as the resonators for the glass. Later, I learned that the Baschet brothers, Francois and Bernard Baschet, invented this instrument along with dozens of other beautiful sound sculptures, including an inflatable guitar!
This started my exploration of using balloons as resonators, mostly for instruments made out of various kinds of metal: plates, pipes, bars, odd-shaped scraps. I also came across references to Tom Nunn’s and Prent Rodgers’ work with balloons and balloon resonators in a book by Bart Hopkin, ‘Musical Instrument Design.’ This led me to make a version of the ‘balloon gong’ instrument shown in the book.
The results of my sonic explorations and the ‘balloon gong’ will be featured in my composition, Lift Loft Lull. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Polly Moller in Chamber Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Electro-Acoustic, Festivals, Improv, Interviews, Premieres, San Francisco, Saxophone
Here’s the first in a series of interviews with composers who are premiering new works at the 10th Annual Outsound New Music Summit in San Francisco on Friday, July 22nd. The Friday night concert, entitled The Art of Composition, starts at 8 pm at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets, and you can also buy them at the door. Listeners who don’t want to wait that long can get up close and personal with the composers, and learn about their creative process, at a free Monday night panel discussion at 7 pm on July 18th.
Andrew Raffo Dewar (b.1975 Rosario, Argentina) is an Assistant Professor in New College at the University of Alabama. He’s a composer, improviser, soprano saxophonist and ethnomusicologist. He’s studied and/or performed with Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, Alvin Lucier, and Milo Fine. He has also had a long involvement with Indonesian traditional and experimental music. His work has been performed by the Flux Quartet, the Koto Phase ensemble and Sekar Anu. As an improviser and performer Andrew has shared the stage with a plethora of musicians worldwide, both the celebrated and the little-known.
As a member of his own Interactions Quartet, Andrew will premiere “Strata” (2011), dedicated to Eduardo Serón and inspired by the Argentine artist’s 2008 series of paintings, “La Libertad Es Redonda” (“Freedom is Round”). His description tells us that “Through a combination of improvisation and notation, performers negotiate several “layers” of written material, mixing and matching components that are eventually assembled into nested counterpoint.”
S21: You’re traveling quite a distance to premiere your piece at the Outsound Summit but it’s certainly not the first time you’ve been here. How did you become associated with the San Francisco Bay Area new music community?
I lived in Oakland for roughly two years (2000-2002) before heading off to graduate school at Wesleyan University in Connecticut to study with people like Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier. My first exposure to the Bay Area community was, if I remember correctly, a two-day workshop with legendary bassist/composer Alan Silva organized by Damon Smith at pianist Scott Looney’s performance space in West Oakland in 2000, which was an excellent experience. After that, I worked regularly — I think it was weekly — in a “guided improvisation” workshop ensemble at Looney’s organized by clarinetist Jacob Lindsay and guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante, and separate improvisation sessions with violist/composer Jorge Boehringer, which were both situations where I had the opportunity to play with many great Bay Area folks, like trumpeter Liz Albee and many others, which was wonderful. Around that time I was walking by guitarist/composer John Shiurba’s house with my horn, and he happened to be outside watering his garden. He asked me what kind of music I played, and I think the combination of the perplexed look on my face and my inability to answer his question easily is why we connected that day — he invited me in to chat, and when I saw a framed photo of Anthony Braxton on his mantle (whose work I’ve appreciated since my late teens, and who I’ve had the great opportunity to study and perform with) I knew I was “home.” Read the rest of this entry »
Speaking with the skilled young pianist about her involvement in the field of new music performance, it is easy to be smitten by the classically trained Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music graduate’s contagious enthusiasm and engaged by her personal insights. During the past two years she has been catching up on a lot of new music repertoire as the pianist/keyboardist of the new music ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars.
The innovative sextet consists of clarinet, keyboard/piano, cello, electric guitar, bass and drums. The unique interplay—the cello and grand piano are regularly amplified on stage— creates a composite sound world. Half rock band half amplified chamber group, the All Stars are renowned for their successful avant-garde initiative, engaging in new music collaborations with some of the most inspiring composers of our time.
Having collaborated with much of the new music A-list, including Steve Reich, Tan Dun, Ornette Coleman, Philip Glass and Meredith Monk, the band has been hugely successful in a variety of performance projects held at both high-end venues like Carnegie Hall and alternative, sometimes public, performance spaces.
The photos in this article were taken at the sound check of what has become one of the band’s most well-known collaboratives, the Bang on a Can Marathon, an annual, all-day extravaganza held at New York’s World Financial Center’s Wintergarden on June 19. The marathon was Initiated in 1987 by composers David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Garden who wanted to create an all-inclusive “meeting of the bands,” breaking down the barriers between music genres. Co-presented by the River to River Festival and Arts at World Financial Center, in this year’s marathon, 150 performers and composers present a nonstop open house of new music.
Within the genre of new music, the All Stars are known for their eclecticism and their interaction of composition styles yet also for their distinct choice of instrumentalization as well as their performance dynamic level. In addition to performing themselves, the group and its members are also involved in producing and curating a variety of new music happenings. For Chow, the activism it entails is a lifestyle. Currently, she spends many of her evenings at New York’s Gershwin Hotel, where she runs her own new music series called Contagious Sounds.
A natural performer from a young age, Canadian-born Chow was invited to perform a demanding solo piano program at the International Gilmore Keyboard Festival at age 9. She went on to study at Vancouver Academy of Music, where her teacher, Lorraine Ambrose, recommended she continue her studies at Julliard, leading her to study under Professors Yoheved Kaplinsky and Julian Martin. Her arrival in New York was met with upheaval—more so than the minor disasters than accompany every move; Chow had come to New York just two weeks before 9/11. She was at the Juilliard library when the dramatic events of that day unfolded. Chow still remembers Julliard Director Polisi’s instructions to bring pillows to the underground theater room for safety in the event of further attacks. Of Chinese descent, she later volunteered at the World Trade Center, translating for Asian victims’ family members.
But there was another reason that, when upon entering Juilliard, Chow found herself stopped in her tracks. Kaplinsky, chairperson of the Piano Department at Julliard, realized that Chow had been tensing up at the piano and told her she needed to make big adjustments to her technique. Kaplinsky introduced her to the Taubman approach, which explores natural piano technique through an intensive retraining. “I had to learn to arrange myself with a constantly dueling conflict between thinking of what I had to think about in applying the technique and my opposing intuition,” she explains. But to her great delight, her playing improved in the process, making it all worthwhile. Her color and tone, her ability to gain an efficient control of the articulation she intended, opened up a whole new experience for her, she says. “I remember at one point, the fact that I was working with limited repertoire in order to gain the technique fully was so disheartening to me. When the yearly concerto competition in Juilliard was to be held with Bartók’s 1st piano concerto, I decided to take on the challenge. Veda [Kaplinsky] needed convincing, since a month before the competition I only had the 1st movement ready. But in a way she inspired me to push through, and when I won the competition, she was extremely proud of my accomplishment.”
Chow’s thorough exploration of the piano and her new relationship with her instrument whet her appetite for experimentation. Having been approached by the young Juilliard composer Zhou Tian to perform one of his compositions, Chow discovered a calling for the new and non-classical. “As I opened his score, it was clear to me that here was something happening that I had missed for a long time, during all my studies of music. While I loved music and loved performing, I did not exactly see myself spending the rest of my life repeating the experiences that classical music had provided me with. It was in the contemporary music, I found the excitement I was looking for.”
The constant learning of new scores, the exploration of new and unlimited experimentations within new music suited her curiosity and led her to rescind her application to Julliard and Mannes School of Music’s doctorial degree programs and enroll instead in Manhattan School of Music’s Contemporary Performance Program. Around the same time, she began performing with multiple young composer collectives from Harvard and New York Universities that she got involved with through another contact from Juilliard, her friend Alex Lipowski, percussionist of the new music Talea Ensemble.
Having found what she was searching for, Chow quickly became a powerhouse within the new music scene. Not only did she become a more versatile pianist, but she also developed a whole new set of musical abilities. “From a pianistic point of view, not only did my sight reading improve from all the creative work with the score I am doing, let alone by the enormous numbers of new scores I read all the time. One of the challenges is that you often have to rely on your own interpretations—even though the composer sometimes intermediates. That’s a very different experience than performing works of composers that have been performed over and over,” says Chow, also confirming that in the challenge lies the thrill of finding new articulation. “Experimenting is part of the experience of new music, and I have gained another set of skills in creating different sounds, influenced by other genres. It also frees your personality to be roughing up some feathers with different sound worlds providing the kind of grit I need.”
The agony of having supported side by side the six-year battle of his beloved spouse of thirty years, Célia Cooke’s, illness and then having to endure her loss to cancer on March 30th of this year, pianist/composer Jed Distler looks to some old friends for solace and to his life in music.
An outgrowth of his need to heal is his recently released CD, “Meditate with the Masters”, produced during these recent hard times for the Musical Concepts label. He sees his contribution as helpful in creating a “gentle ambiance, ideal for holistic and therapeutic treatments, or for intimate dinner gatherings and solitary afternoons at home… as well as for public situations, such as waiting rooms, airport lounges, restaurants…”
The hint of the familiar in each of the fifteen tracks that Distler titles after a renowned composer –after Schumann, after Chopin, after Distler, for example – (he includes himself nonchalantly in the list of pianistic masters with a dash of good humor) provides pianistically pleasant variations, composed in a traditional style with rhythmically soothing, unfussy piano treatments. One of my favorites is his folk-like treatment of Schumann’s ‘Von fremden Ländern und Menschen’ from Kinderszenen, infusing the beautiful Schumann theme within a new and original connective musical tissue. Some of the compositions suggest his great sensibility for jazz formulations, an area Distler is known for through his published Art Tatum and Bill Evans transcriptions for solo piano. These became renowned when pianist’s Jean –Yves Thibaudet recorded for the Decca label in 1997, “Conversations with Bill Evans,” arranged and transcribed by Distler.
Distler’s new music is often performed and recorded by star performers of the new music scene. “Three Landscapes for Peter Wyer, for toy piano,” recorded by Margaret Leng Tan on Point records was featured in three film scores, and his “Loose Changes” for two pianos was recorded by Quattro Mani on Bridge recordings. Pianist Jenny Lin and ‘ETHEL’s violinist Cornelius Duffalo (see my article ) are among the many artists he has been commissioned by.
“As a composer I am mostly inspired by a commission and deadlines. I am anchored in the pianist/composer tradition, but I don’t believe in any music snobbery, I try to be open minded. All good music is equal. Jimi Hendrix, for example will never be dated, while there are pieces of so-called “serious” music that I never want to listen to! For me music is about good communication and it is also about a lifestyle that includes a good work ethic, in order to maintain great technique, which is necessary to delivery. I read somewhere that the great jazz pianist Bill Evans said how technique was being able to do musically what you want to do, without having to worry about your hands. Better still, that other extraordinary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson once defined technique as the thing that made your ideas listenable. These thoughts help me try to entertain and communicate effectively with an audience,” says Distler.
He does not volunteer elucidation about his own compositions, feeling too close to it to comment, but rather leaves that to the musicians who perform them and who will establish his oeuvre. However, he prolifically comments on others, though, making his mark by way of his often-insightful music reviews, published chiefly in Gramophone and Classicstoday.com. Distler is committed to making a difference in the world of music, engaging his many talents as lecturer, writer, promoter, presenter and pianist for various media and concert performances.
On the piano and as artistic director of ‘Composers Collaborative’, co-founded with his late wife Célia Cooke , Distler has performed and programmed other composers’ works and continues to create and to partake in music initiatives on Public Radio and in venues like the Cornelia Street Café. Last week’s ‘Serial Underground’, a new music series performed for several years at this intimate setting, brought me in personal contact with this seasoned musician’s expressive pianism for the first time. Dubbed “the subversive nightclub series” by TIME OUT NY, Distler followed a performance of a group called “Other Life Forms,” with some intimate renderings of Thelonious Monk pieces.
Reaching out to his audiences is an innate talent of Distler and he certainly does achieve what he has set out to do in exactly the way he describes it:”Communicating comes first, expressiveness follows.”
Since it is impossible to mention all the endeavors he shared with me on a long list, I am just going to point you to one of the many interesting projects taking place at the Cornelia Street Cornelia Café, the ComposersCollaborative Inc, presentation of “Mano-a- Mano” Piano Festival on August 21, 22, and 23rd as well as a promising undertaking of Thelonious Monk’s entire piano oeuvre, the resourceful pianist plans to perform right here on February 17, 2012, the 30th anniversary of Monk’s death.
Pianist Marilyn Nonken is performing Triadic Memories on June 4 in Philadelphia as part of “American Sublime,” a festival devoted to the works of Morton Feldman. Marilyn was kind enough to tell us a bit about working on Feldman’s music, as well as some of her other upcoming projects.
-What were your early encounters with Feldman’s music like?
I can’t remember my first live Feldman experience as a listener. One of the first works I remember hearing was FOR SAMUEL BECKETT. My first experience playing Feldman was with Ensemble 21, when we performed VIOLIN VIOLA CELLO PIANO, which was just a transformative experience for me, as a chamber player. After that experience, I very much wanted to find a solo work of his to perform and possibly record.
Listening to Feldman is special because there is that great luxury of time. It can take, in TRIADIC MEMORIES for example, maybe a half-an-hour or forty-five minutes to get acclimated to the environment of the work, and to become familiar with the kinds of things that happen in that special environment. In each of his pieces, I think, there’s an extended period where the materials introduce themselves, so to say.It’s not dynamic in the sense of something happening right away, or a conflict being presented, or a big question being asked — and so I feel it’s best to not aggressively try and “figure out” what is happening.
- Which pieces by Feldman have you performed?
VIOLIN VIOLA CELLO PIANO, EXTENSIONS 1, THE VIOLA IN MY LIFE, INTERSECTION 2, PALAIS DE MARI, and TRIADIC MEMORIES —
– What do you think Feldman meant by titling a piece Triadic Memories?
Feldman’s piano music is all about decay, what he would refer to as a kind of receding landscape …. For me, that sense of resonance and the dying of the sound is perhaps the most important part of the piece. His harmonies are gorgeous, very lush and evocative — but as beautiful as they are, more of the piece is spend listening to them fade.
- When did you record Triadic Memories for Mode? Has your performance of the work changed over time?
I believe this is 2004, recorded perhaps summer 2003. I’m sure my performance has changed — although not drastically. In terms of timing and rhythmic precision, I believe it’s very consistent with the recorded version. I’m still convinced by that “magic” (for me) tempo and the specificity of the rhythms, and the way I first conceived of articulating them. But I do feel that I’ve become more sensitive to the harmonic nuances of the work, as I’ve become more familiar with it over the years — the way I voice things, and the way I anticipate the decay, I think, has become more personal.
- While they’re not often showy, Feldman’s pieces make significant demands of their own on performers. Can you tell us a bit about those, and how you prepare to perform Triadic Memories in concert?
I feel these works are very virtuosic, despite the fact that they’re not fast and full of passagework. There’s a moment-to-moment control that Feldman requires, in terms of dynamic and timbre and attack, which requires a tremendous amount of physical and mental preparation. To be that attuned to the smallest nuances, and physically in total control, for such a significant span w/o any real “recess” requires a special kind of concentration. For me, there is no substitute for playing the work — in real time, w/o interruption, — daily for at least a week or two before the concert. There is always detail-work to be done (specificity of rhythms, defining colors, making certain that the surface of the work is somehow “flawless” and w/o rupture — but doing everything sequentially, in tempo, is always a test.
– After Triadic Memories, what are some of your upcoming projects?
I’m very excited to be working again with the fabulous pianist Sarah Rothenberg on a four-hand Kurtag program, combining (as the composer himself has done) Kurtag’s JATEKOK with his Bach transcriptions, presented as a concert program on an upright piano. Sarah and I had a fantastic time working on Messiaen’s VISIONS DE L’AMEN, touring and recording it, and this is a very different and intimate kind of project — I’m also preparing for a recording of American spectralist composer Joshua Fineberg’s complete solo piano music, which will appear on CD with Hugues Dufourt’s recent ERLKONIG — a follow-up to my complete Murail disc. It will feature a new work written for me by Joshua, amd I am very much looking forward to touring with that, as a complete program in itself. And just after this Festival, I’m recording Elizabeth Hoffman’s “organum let open,” a beautiful work she wrote for me last year, based on texts of theatre artist George Hunka. It’s wonderful to be doing such recent music, and inspiring to be working with such talented composers.
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As I mentioned yesterday, Talea Ensemble will be giving a concert of works by Olga Neuwirth in New York City on Tuesday at 8 PM (Details/tickets here). The group’s percussionist, Alex Lipowski, was kind enough to talk with me about Talea’s activities of late and tomorrow’s show.
Alex Lipowski. Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan
- This has been a busy season for Talea Ensemble. Do you feel that the group’s reach and activities are expanding of late?
The 2010-‘11 season has been an amazing collection of projects for Talea and we are so grateful for each of them. One of our goals is to reach as wide an audience as possible and this season we were able to achieve that by collaborating with so many outstanding institutions such as Miller Theatre, Symphony Space, the Consulate General of Denmark, Scandinavia House, Korean Cultural Service NY, Columbia and New York Universities, the Austrian Cultural Forum, Czech Center New York, Washington Square Contemporary Music Society, the Roger Smith Hotel, and Bang on a Can. Through all of these inspiring collaborations, we were able to introduce Talea’s programs to new audiences while bringing together diverse groups from the New York community.
- Tell me a bit about your recent gala event.
We recently had our second annual Gala which was at the Roger Smith Hotel. Talea Gala is a special event for us because it gives us an opportunity to come together with our audience and supporters and celebrate the end of a season while launching the next. Talea Gala includes dinner, a silent auction, performances, as well as pre-dinner and post-concert receptions. The event gives all of the attendees the chance to get to know some of their fellow audience members as well as the Talea performers and board of directors. This year, we were especially honored to have Norman Ryan from European American Music Distributors as our Guest of Honor. It was a really special evening for Talea and we are deeply grateful to everyone who was a part of it.
- You recently gave a concert of works by Unsuk Chin. On Tuesday, you’re performing music by Olga Neuwirth. Both of these are composers that are well known on the international scene but they are still in the process of gaining acclaim here in the US. For our readers who don’t know much about Unsuk or Olga, where should they start to get to know their works?
We feel honored to have had the chance to collaborate with Unsuk Chin on a program of her music which was generously supported by the Korean Cultural Service NY, and equally honored to now have the opportunity to work with Olga Neuwirth on an entire program of her pieces which is generously supported by the Austrian Cultural Forum. Both composers have a significant presence in Europe but have not had the American exposure they deserve and we hope that these concerts will help bring some recognition to their music and that other ensembles, presenters, and listeners will take interest in it as well. For many listeners, both composers are perhaps best known for their works for large ensembles and operas. Unsuk Chin is well known for her opera Alice in Wonderland and Olga Neuwirth for her opera Lost Highway which was given its US Premiere at Miller Theatre. Both composers have wonderful CDs on Kairos that I would highly recommend.
- What was it like working in rehearsals with Unsuk Chin?
Unsuk Chin was great to work with for more many reasons but one of which is her intensity and focus in rehearsals. She has a well-sculpted vision for her music and is able to communicate really well to performers.
- I understand that one of her works had quite a theatrical component and involved playing in the dark. How did you approach working on these components of her music?
One of Unsuk Chin’s pieces, Allegro ma non troppo for solo percussion and electronics which I played, is theatrical, and the sound-world as well as the theatrical nature of the piece depict a scene, as she put it in my case, of a “house-husband” cleaning the home while awaiting his wife’s return. The opening scene of the piece begins with a large cardboard box in the middle of the stage which is torn open to discover that the contents of the box are colorful tissue papers which are then tossed into the air creating a colorful soundscape. Playing percussion in itself is theatrical and having a chance to overtly take on a role is an exciting opportunity to explore an extension of musical performance.
- What will listeners hear by Neuwirth on Tuesday night? What has it been like working with her on these pieces?
Tuesday’s Olga Neuwirth Portrait Concert will feature a retrospective of Olga’s music and feature her works ranging from solo to large ensemble pieces. Featured on the concert will be Talea’s pianist Steve Beck playing incidendo/ fluido for solo piano and electronics, as well as bassoonist Adrian Morejon playing torsion: transparent variation for solo bassoon and large ensemble. Additionally the program will include Neuwirth’s…ad aduras… for violin duo and wood drum, AKROATE HADAL for string quartet, and In Nacht und Eis for bassoon, cello, and ring modulator. The program also features a special in-concert interview with the knowledgeable and well-versed, Bruce Hodges.
Working with Olga on her music has been such a pleasure because she knows exactly what she wants in each score. Her sound world is incredibly detailed because she has a deep understanding of each individual instrument’s sonic capabilities. Her positive energy is contagious too and she is inspiring for the ensemble.
- What’s in store for the Talea Ensemble this summer and next season?
This summer, Talea will tackle its largest project yet, and will team up with the Bang on a Can Marathon to present the US Premiere of Fausto Romitelli’s last and largest work, An Index of Metals for soprano and large ensemble which will feature the outstanding Tony Arnold. We will be making a formal announcement of the 2011-12 season’s projects in July, so stay tuned to www.taleaensemble.org