Archive for the “Interviews” Category

Jed Distler

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.

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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

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Ittai Shapira

So far, 14 compositions by different contemporary composers have been dedicated to violinist Ittai Shapira. Belonging to the now thirty something generation of performers of the New York classical music scene – he and pianist Jeremy Denk were roommates in college- he is now renowned as a versatile performer of an enormous classical violin repertoire, incorporating past and present, traditional as well as contemporary.

One of these premieres included the violin concerto written for him by Israeli compatriot and Pulitzer Prize winner, Shulamit Ran. It was performed at Shapira’s acclaimed Carnegie Hall debut in 2003 with the Orchestra of St.Luke’s. In 2007, it was incorporated into Ran’s compilation of works performed by Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Shapira’s international performances as a fine soloist with many leading orchestras as well as chamber groups, coupled with his varied recordings, show his widespread interest in standard and unusual repertoire, explaining why so many composers dedicate works for his performance.

Another Israeli compatriot, a composer who lately enjoys great international demand, Avner Dorman, wrote a violin concerto for Shapira as well, in 2006. It was performed with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.

Dorman was, as was Shapira, trained at Juilliard after leaving Israel for New York. While Dorman studied composition with John Corigliano, Shapira studied violin with Dorothy DeLay and Robert Mann and privately coached with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman.

Since Ittai was involved in the Daniel Pearl Foundation, they decided to dedicate the piece and its premiere performances to the memory of journalist Daniel Pearl, as Dorman mentions in the liner notes to the concerto. Another concerto by composer Dave Heath found his way onto the soundtrack for the film about Daniel Pearl’s tragic death in Pakistan “The Journalist and the Jihadi”, via Shapira. Read the rest of this entry »

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Miss Music Nerd (AKA composer/keyboardist Linda Kernohan) recently had an opportunity to chat with Sir Harrison Birtwistle after hearing his Violin Concerto premiered by Christian Tezlaff and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  In the course of their conversation, Birtwistle discussed the impetus for writing a violin concerto, his difficulties with precompositional schemes (“I get terribly bored…by the time I’ve got 200 yards down the road”), and how he handles getting “stuck” while writing a work.

The entire interview (with some interesting links to other Birtwistliana) can be found here.

Ms. Hahn, if you’re looking for a new concerto to learn (hint, hint)….

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 “Guess who this trunk used to belong to?” asks Glenn Dicterow, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, as he leads me through the backstage rooms and hallways of Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall; his home away from home, only a New York block away.

We are standing in front of a huge antique – or at least old fashioned –weathered-looking black trunk, impressively marked with travel stickers indicating its many different destinations.

“…..long history with the New York Phil…” he coaxes me into guessing the celebrity, whose travel companion the trunk had been before it was given to Dicterow, to hold the concertmaster’s possessions on his trips with the orchestra.

“Yes, you guessed right.” He turns back to me, “It’s finished with a red velvet interior and belonged to no other than – Leonard Bernstein.”

Since he joined the New York Philharmonic as concertmaster in 1980, Dicterow has played first fiddle under the preeminent Maestros who have served as the New York Philharmonic music directors’ guest conductors from around the world, and leading soloists.

Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and now Alan Gilbert…. Here is a true collective of all singular personalities, with different temperaments and musical expectations. It can’t be an easy task to appease all of these charismatic leaders and keep one’s own integrity, leave alone one’s own sanity.

 Yet, thanks to his remarkably generous spirit, it seems that Dicterow has managed to do just that, highly successfully.

On the faculty of the Juilliard School and as acting chairman of the innovative Manhattan School of Music ‘Orchestral Performance Program’, Dicterow also follows his other vocation: Music Education.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The job requirements of a working composer are elusive, perhaps especially for composition students enrolled in University degree programs that fail to provide graduates with the interpersonal and business skills necessary for survival outside the walls of academia. One student composer told me recently: “We are all being trained to teach.”Woody Allen famously said: “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” But those who compose and don’t teach do find ways to sustain themselves and their passion for music through a variety of collaborative and creative means, some perhaps less “traditional” than others. With this in mind, let’s have a chat with my friend composer Tom Myron.

The range of Tom Myron’s work as a composer includes commissions and performances by the Kennedy Center, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, the Topeka Symphony, the Yale Symphony Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Bangor Symphony and the Lamont Symphony at Denver University. He works regularly as an arranger for the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, writing for singers Rosanne Cash, Kelli O’Hara, Maxi Priest and Phil Stacey, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, and the Quebec folk ensemble Le Vent du Nord. Le Vent du Nord’s new CD Symphonique featuring Myron’s orchestra arrangements is receiving an incredible amount of positive press throughout Canada and will be available for purchase in the U.S. soon. A video preview of the recording is included in this interview.

His film scores include Wilderness & Spirit; A Mountain Called Katahdin and the upcoming Henry David Thoreau; Surveyor of the Soul, both from Films by Huey. Individual soloists and chamber ensembles that regularly perform Myron’s work include violinists Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, Elisabeth Adkins and Kara Eubanks, violist Tsuna Sakamoto, cellist David Darling, the Portland String Quartet, the DaPonte String Quartet and the Potomac String Quartet.

Myron’s current projects include commissioned work for the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra and creating arrangements for Joe Jackson’s music-theater piece Stoker
inspired by the life of Bram Stoker author of 1897 Gothic novel Dracula.

Tom (I’ll call him Tom now) graciously took time out of his schedule to answer a handful of questions including several having to do with the “business” of making music.

Chris Becker: You arrange and orchestrate music for a variety of artists and have a career composing concertos, string quartets, and various settings for voice. Are these two separate careers that you have to juggle? Or do they intersect providing you with even more musical opportunities than if you were focused only one or the other?

Tom Myron: From a purely logistical point of view it’s a juggling act. Both types of work tend to lead to more opportunities within their respective areas, but there isn’t a lot of overlap. That said, they DO intersect for me on a more personal, creative level. I love getting to know all kinds of musical idioms in a very practical, mechanical way. I also love just about everything that goes into handling, preparing and rehearsing music for live performance. My training in composition and the orchestral repertoire has benefited my commercial work by giving me the flexibility to consider (and rapidly execute!) multiple solutions to specific problems. The commercial work in turn informs my composition by instilling a disciplined work ethic and keeping organization and clarity of intention foremost in my mind.

Read the rest of this interview.

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Ekmeles rehearses Iddon

On Tuesday 1/11, newish New York vocal ensemble Ekmeles presents a program of music by Martin Iddon, Alvin Lucier, and David Lang at The Tank. I caught up with Ekmeles’ director, baritone Jeff Gavett to learn more about the event.

Carey: Why did you form the group Ekmeles?

Gavett: “While New York is home to many exceptional instrumental groups dedicated to contemporary music, there is a relative paucity of new vocal music. Ekmeles was created to fill the gap, and bring adventurous new music for solo voices to audiences that otherwise have little or no chance to hear it.”

“Our first season so far has included a US premiere by Mauricio Kagel, New York premieres by Aaron Cassidy and Kenneth Gaburo, and new commissions by Troy Herion and Jude Traxler. We also performed as the vocal complement in a sold out performance of Knee Plays from Einstein on the Beach as part of the Darmstadt Essential Repertoire series at Issue Project Room.”

Carey: Tell us about the works on the concert?

Gavett: “First on the program is our commission, Martin Iddon’s Ἁμαδρυάδες (hamadryads). It’s a transformation of Josquin’s Nymphes des Bois which involves retuning the intervals of the original in chains of Pythagorean intervals. These pitches, notated to the hundredth of a cent, are traversed mostly through extremely slow glissandi, requiring the singers to use sine wave reference tracks to achieve the tuning. We’ll also be playing tuned wine glasses, which blend eerily with the vocal textures.”

“Next is Alvin Lucier’s Theme, a setting of a poem by John Ashbery which shares some kinship with his most famous work. Lucier fragments the poem and distributes it between four speakers, who read the text into what he calls “resonant vessels.” These are vases, milk jugs, any empty container into which is placed a miniature microphone, which picks up the sound of the voice as filtered by the vessel, much like the room filters the sound of Lucier’s voice in I am sitting in a room.”

“David Lang’s the little match girl passion rounds out the program. As the title suggests, Lang has taken Hans Christian Andersen’s moralistic children’s story and infused it with the Passion. The suffering and death of a poor little girl is thus directly and explicitly equated to that of Christ, amplifying the story’s emotional impact. The singers all play percussion instruments, and the glockenspiel is featured especially prominently, its crisp attack evoking the freezing night. The clear and sparse textures throughout the match girl text are contrasted beautifully with richer quasi-choral textures in the Passion-derived elements.”

Carey: What’s next for Ekmeles?

Gavett: “Upcoming performances include John Cage’s Song Books at the Avant Music Festival on February 12th, and Chris Cerrone’s Invisible Cities with Red Light New Music in May.”

Concert Details

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011, 7 PM – Ekmeles – Resonances
$10 admission
The Tank
345 W 45th St, Manhattan, NY 212-563-6269

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American Modern Ensemble

The American Modern Ensemble performs Pieces of Eight, a program of sextets at Galapagos in Brooklyn on Monday, December 13, 2010. Among the eight under-40 composers featured on the concert is Sequenza 21’s own Contributing Editor Armando Bayolo.

I recently caught up with AME’s Artistic Director Robert Paterson and asked him for some details about the show. Here’s what he had to say.

Pieces of Eight consists of works by composers from all over the United States, including Xi Wang from Texas, Armando Bayolo from Washington, DC and David Ludwig from Philadelphia. I chose these particular works because they are wonderfully stylistically different from each other, and help to demonstrate how diverse American composers are today, particularly with regard to the subset of composers under forty.”

Action Figure by Armando Bayolo has a strong pulse and hyper-kinetic kind of energy, and encapsulates the image of an action figure—like you would play with as a child—but through sound.”

“the resonance after… by Christopher Chandler is the winner of AME’s Fifth Annual Composition Competition. Christopher writes achingly beautiful music, and this is one of those “chills up your spine” pieces—a piece of music that really makes you feel something emotional. The title perfectly encapsulates what you hear, and the musical landscape he creates is simply beautiful.”

Adolescent Psychology by Shawn Crouch sounds like the state of a child’s mind, at least to me, especially with the rapid changes of emotion, slower introspective sections and frenetic scalar runs. Shawn has written a number of works for voice and choir, so this is a wonderful glimpse into his chamber music world.”

“Among the many intriguing qualities of Hannah Lash’s music is how she uses and explores extended techniques. In A Matter of Truth, she asks the violinist and cellist to detune their instruments way below the normal range, effectively turning each instrument into a much lower version of itself.”

“David Ludwig’s Haiku Catharsis consists of a set of short movements that are inspired by poems, and what I love about David’s work is that even though there is a numerological importance to how he constructed this piece, it never sounds technically “on your sleeve” or academic. The whole works sounds organic and lovely, and is timbrally rich and colorful.”

OK Feel Good by Jonathan Newman is probably the most “Downtown” sounding piece on the program, and has a kind of happy “feel good” sound quality. The piece joyfully carries you along with its bouncy rhythms and Major scale harmonies and melodies.”

Three Images by Xi Wang is the longest piece on the program, and one of the saddest. It wonderfully contrasts some of the other works on the program that are more emotionally uplifting.”

“A criminal running scared from the police on old Route 66 inspires my own Sextet. It starts with the scream of police whistles and ends with a band; it even incorporates a chase scene. AME is releasing its brand new CD of my music at this concert, and my Sextet is on the CD, beautifully performed by our wonderful ensemble.”

Event Details

Pieces of Eight

Monday, December 13, 2010 at 7:30 PM

GALAPAGOS ART SPACE, 16 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY

(Corner of Water Street in DUMBO)

A/C, 2/3, F Trains

Tickets: 20 Advance / $25 at the Door

Advance Ticket Purchase

Online: galapagosartspace.com • Phone: 718-222-8500

AME Artists

Stephen Gosling, piano

Blair McMillen, piano

Sato Moughalian, flute

Benjamin Fingland, clarinet

Meighan Stoops, clarinet

Robin Zeh, violin

Victoria Paterson, violin

Arash Amini, cello

Robert Burkhart, cello

Matthew Ward, percussion

Robert Paterson, conductor

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Strata – a trio consisting of pianist Audrey Andrist, clarinetist Nathan Williams, and  violinist/violist James Stern – has just started a new commissioning project. Abetted by a grant from the Rauch Foundation, their Metaclassical Music Project seeks to bridge the gap between new music and the non-specialist audience through educational outreach and the commissioning of new works that seek to communicate with a range of listeners.

Phase one of Strata’s “demystification” of contemporary fare involves presenting a new piece by Stephen Paulus on a concert this weekend at Merkin Hall (details below). Paulus is certainly a composer who fits their mission statement: an artist who doesn’t water down his language (and can indeed sound quite ‘modern’ in places) but has managed to craft a body of work that speaks to many “mainstream” classical listeners.

Alongside Paulus’ Trio Concertant, Strata will present works by Robert Maggio, Jonathan Leshnoff, and Béla Bartók’s Contrasts. I recently caught up with Stern to discuss the concert, as well as Strata’s future plans for the Metaclassical Music project.

Sequenza 21: Tell me a bit about the background and formation of Strata.

Stern: Strata is an ensemble that grew out of friendships formed at the Juilliard School. Audrey and I began dating while we were both graduate students there, and then Audrey met Nathan in a doctoral seminar they were both taking after I had moved away to take a job at the Cleveland Institute. So far we’ve never all three lived in the same city, but Audrey and I got married a few years later, while Nathan’s career was taking him all over the world with a succession of teaching positions and performing. Despite the geographical obstacles, the three of us got serious about developing a repertoire and performing throughout the North American continent. I also got serious about playing viola so as to augment our repertoire possibilities. We chose the name “Strata” (layers) in recognition of a fondness that we all share for the intricacies of counterpoint (many-layered music), as well as a commitment to uncovering many layers of meaning in what we play.

Sequenza 21: What’s the concept behind your new commissioning project?

Stern: The Metaclassical Music Project began with the idea that a composer might be able to facilitate the educational outreach presentations that we do. What if, for example, a single melody could be cast successively in monophonic, homophonic and then polyphonic textures of gradually increasing complexity? Then we would have an array of examples to explain these ideas to a young audience and this would, in turn, help to illuminate other standard repertoire we play for them. Next, what if such an array of musical demonstrations actually formed part of a large-scale concert piece; that is what if, in addition to their educational function, they created a coherent emotional trajectory that added up to an intense concert experience? This is where the idea started. But it evolved into something more general: what happens to an artist’s self-expression when she or he takes on the commitment to instruct? I actually believe that composers like Shostakovich, and writers like Milan Kundera and Herman Melville have done this: they write in what I like to call the “didactic voice,” and that this is part of the key to the immense power they achieve.

Sequenza 21: How did you decide to commission Stephen Paulus?

Stern: Nathan first encountered Paulus when he participated in a performance of one of Paulus’s operas. He was deeply struck by the color and imagination of the writing. Somewhat later I performed Paulus’s Partita Appassionata, at the Cosmos Club of Washington D.C., with my University of Maryland colleague, pianist Bradford Gowen. Paulus was being inducted into the Cosmos Club, which was described by the late Wallace Stegner as “the closest thing to a social headquarters for Washington’s intellectual elite.” Their website goes on to report: “Among its members, over the years, have been three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 32 Nobel Prize winners, 56 Pulitzer Prize winners and 45 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.” Strata has also performed there. Two things struck me on this occasion. One was how easy Paulus’s music made it for us, as performers, to connect with an audience. The energy in the room was wonderful. The other was hearing Paulus speak about his music. With regard to a song cycle that was being performed that evening he described, with evident enjoyment, how he had deliberately written one of the songs using the twelve-tone technique, just to prove that it could be done in a way that was attractive and not intimidating. This was the kind of creativity and exuberance we were looking for with the Metaclassical Music Project.

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