Archive for the “Interviews” Category
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.
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Posted by Chris Becker in Canada, Chamber Music, Classical Music, Composers, Contemporary Classical, Film Music, Interviews, Orchestras, Portland, Twentieth Century Composer, tags: DaPonte String Quartet, David Darling, Elisabeth Adkins, Films by Huey, Joe Jackson, Kara Eubanks, Le Vent du Nord, Portland Symphony Orchestra, Potomac String Quartet, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, the Portland String Quartet, Tom Myron
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.
Posted by Christian Carey in Chamber Music, Choral Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Electro-Acoustic, Experimental Music, File Under?, Interviews, New York, tags: Alvin Lucier, David Lang, Ekmeles, The Tank
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.”
Tuesday, January 11th, 2011, 7 PM - Ekmeles – Resonances
345 W 45th St, Manhattan, NY 212-563-6269
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.”
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
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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Posted by Christian Carey in Chamber Music, Contemporary Classical, File Under?, Interviews, New York, Video, viola, Violin, tags: Maggio, Merkin, Paulus, Strata
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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Posted by Christian Carey in Commissions, Composers, Contemporary Classical, Events, File Under?, Interviews, New York, tags: ICE, Ken Ueno, Meet the Composer, MTC Studio
Meet the Composer’s latest venture, MTC Studio, will be unveiled on Monday at an event at the 92nd Street Y (Tribeca). It features members of the International Contemporary Ensemble and the first class of MTC Studio composers – Kati Agócs, Marcos Balter, Yu-Hui Chang, Glenn Kotche (of the band Wilco), Dohee Lee and Ken Ueno – in an evening of conversations and music making.
Yesterday, I caught up with Ken Ueno (University of California-Berkeley) and asked him about MTC Studio and some of his other recent exploits. In addition to his activities with Meet the Composer, Ueno is getting a portrait concert on the Baltimore Contemporary Museum’s Mobtown Modern series. What’s more, he’s spending the year as a Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.
Ken Ueno. Photo Annette Hornischer
Sequenza 21: For those not in ‘loop’, what’s ‘Meet the Composer?’
Ueno: Meet the Composer is one of America’s most important and vital institutions supporting the creation of new musical work. A core tenet of theirs is to foster exciting new ways for composers to interact with audiences and performers.
Sequenza 21: Tell us about their new project, MTC Studio.
Ueno: Meet the Composer sums it up this way: “MTC Studio is a website that documents the creative process of composers through video, blogs, and other web content offering a rare perspective into the raw inner-workings of a composer’s world. Viewers get the unique opportunity to follow a musical work from first note to stage and can take part in individually supporting commissioning projects.”
Sequenza 21: What was the process for creating your page on the website?
Ueno: Kevin Clark of Meet the Composer’s home office and Jeremy Robins (a videographer) came out to Berkeley to interview me over the summer. During that time, we shot some initial footage. They gave me a flip camera and I’ve been since shooting my own footage that Jeremy has been editing. It’s kind of like keeping a video diary balanced with a more general introduction to who I am and what I do as an artist. It’s been a lot of fun.
Sequenza 21: Have you had, will you have, interactions with the other MTC composers?
Ueno: Most of them I’ve already known for years! I’m quite honored and humbled to be included amongst some of my favorite composers of my generation! Glenn, I did not know from before. But being a Wilco fan for years, I look forward to meeting him.
Sequenza 21: You’re busy on this trip to the US. Tell us your itinerary!
Ueno: I gave a lecture on my music at Columbia this week. Next week, I have the MTC Studio event, a lecture at Stony Brook, and two performances of my new piece for the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players (at Stony Brook and at Merkin Hall).
Sequenza 21: How’s your residency in Berlin been? What’s the academy like and what are you writing there?
Ueno: Being at the American Academy in Berlin’s been great! I have the time and space to concentrate on composing. It’s a gracious gift of time. What’s been especially enthralling and stimulating has been learning from the other fellows. People like the literary critic James Wood, the journalist Anne Hull, the writers John Wray and Han Ong.
Two senior colleagues from UC Berkeley are there too: Martin Jay, a historian (one of the world’s foremost experts on the Frankfurt School), and his wife, Catherine Gallagher, a professor in English (an expert in the field of counterfactual fiction). It’s been great hanging out with these folks and picking their brains about all sorts of things. I’m quite impressed with our youngest fellow fellow, Kirk Johnson, who started the List Project. His organization has helped hundreds of Iraqi allies transition to the US. This man has saved people’s lives! Very inspiring. We are also lucky to have Pamela Rosenberg be our dean of fellows, with all the experience she’s had in the arts. Oh, and as a foodie, I’ve especially enjoyed the creations of the academy’s chef, Reinold Kegel. He’s fantastic!
During my year at the academy, I’ll be working on a number of projects. The first piece I finished was a 20-minute work for 11 instruments for the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players, which will be premiered next week. Next, I’ll work on an installation for SCI-Arc, a collaboration with the architect, Patrick Tighe. After that, I’ll work on pieces for Alarm Will Sound and a solo for Evelyn Glennie. If all goes well, I’m hoping to have time to work on my chamber opera, in which I’ll perform, but that’s due much later.
Introducing Meet the Composer Studio
Monday November 15, 2010, 7:30 PM
Mainstage at 92YTribeca, 200 Hudson Street, NYC
Innerviews: Music Without Borders
(Extraordinary Conversations with Extraordinary Musicians)
by Anil Prasad
Abstract Logix Books; 315 pages, Published 2010
Anil Prasad has covered music on the internet longer than practically anyone. He started the website Innerviews in 1994, well before blogging, social media, and a host of other technological changes. The web has changed remarkably over the past sixteen years, but Innerviews has remained a consistent and engaging part of the internet’s musical life.
Prasad regularly publishes interviews with musicians from a plethora of genres: jazz, fusion, funk, prog, world music, electronica, etc. Innerviews the book collects some of his most noteworthy conversations with a diverse yet distinguished assortment of musicians.
Each chapter is devoted to a different artist (24 in all). Interviewees include Victor Wooten (who also writes the book’s foreword), John McLaughlin, David Torn, Björk, McCoy Tyner, and David Sylvian.
(True, the emphasis is on jazz, world, and popular music, but even the most classically oriented of Sequenza 21′s readers will likely find plenty here that speaks to the lives of concert music artists as well).
Prasad sets up the interviews with lengthy introductions, detailing the artists’ biographies and respective career trajectories. The interviews themselves feature discussions of creative process, musical inspirations, and approaches to performing and recording. Happily, Prasad avoids the sensational (PR-induced) talking points that are so often found in many recent “press interviews.” He instead favors affording the artists a more open-ended conversation, and the chance to share in depth observations about the music itself.
There’s another key component of every Innerviews interview that’s worth mentioning. Prasad doesn’t shy away from the interior life of creative artists, asking each musician to describe their spiritual journey and how it relates to their musical experiences. It’s refreshing that this open-ended line of inquiry elicits such a variety of responses. It appears that, much like the panoply of musical styles referenced in Innerviews, the question of spirituality inspires in artists an abundance of creativity.
Posted by Chris Becker in Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Interviews, jazz, Saxophone, tags: Austin, Bass Concert Hall, Earthdriver, Fort Worth, Free Jazz, interview, Ornette Coleman, Texas
Ornette Coleman photo by Jimmy Katz
Fort Worth-born Ornette Coleman will perform November 18th, 2010 8pm at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall with his son Denardo Coleman on drums, Tony Falanga on acoustic bass, and Al MacDowell on electric bass. I can’t think of a genre of music that hasn’t been influenced by Coleman and his recorded legacy. He had a profound impact on musicians as diverse as Leonard Bernstein, John Zorn, and Jerry Garcia and at the age of 80, Coleman continues to disregard geographical, political and cultural boundaries in a relentless search to build upon his palette of sound.
A recent interview with Ornette Coleman conducted by bassist, singer, producer Jeremiah Hosea can be heard for no cost at Earthdriver.org. It’s an unusually personal and far reaching conversation that you won’t hear anywhere else. Hosea has been instrumental of promoting the work of several exciting rock, jazz, and avant-garde musicians in NYC, and I had been meaning for awhile to direct Sequenza21′s readers to his site.
Thanks to Houston’s Dave Dove for the news tip.
Posted by Chris Becker in Conductors, Contemporary Classical, Houston, Interviews, Opera, Premieres, tags: Bangkok Opera, Buddha, Houston, India, Opera, Opera Vista, Somtow Sucharitkul, Thailand, The Vista Competition, Viswa Subbaraman
It’s a cliché to say Texans like things BIG although a mid morning drive on Houston’s freeways will do little to dispel this notion. However, many incredible opera companies in Houston presenting cutting edge programming and embracing fresh approaches to audience outreach are relatively small operations. But that doesn’t mean these companies and their ambitions aren’t growing.
Viswa Subbaraman is the Founder and Artistic Director of Opera Vista, Houston’s innovative contemporary opera company. October 15, at 8pm at Zilkha Hall (located in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts) maestro Subbaraman and company present the world premiere of composer and Bangkok Opera artistic director Somtow Sucharitkul’s The Silent Prince. Billed as a “Bollywood Opera,” The Silent Prince tells the Buddhist tale of Temiya Jataka, a Buddha who has been reincarnated as a prince. When forced to choose between committing terrible karmic deeds and disobeying his father, Temiya withdraws from the world into silence.
After visiting Sucharitkul’s website to hear samples of his music and blog to read his first hand accounts of composing and conducting music in Thailand, I reached out to Viswa Subbaraman with a few questions about next Friday’s premiere and the future of opera:
What are the connections between Bollywood and The Silent Prince? Does the Bollywood connection have to do with the production’s staging and choreography as well as the appearance of a live elephant?
The Bollywood connection has primarily to do with the staging, dancing, and costuming. In a lot of ways, I see this as a throwback to to the Bollywood movies I remember watching with my parents. When I was really young, it seemed as though my parents could only find Bollywood movies that had been out for at least 5-10 years. It wasn’t as prevalent to find Bollywood movies in the US back then. Those old movies had a very operatic element to them. I think the Bollywood connection in this opera harks back to that type of Bollywood film.
Musically, the work tends to be a very eclectic piece. There are moments that strike me as being old-school Bollywood. There are also times that I’m reminded of Sondheim, Wagner, Bernstein and a score of other composers. What I find extremely successful is that it does not sound piece meal. There is a definite unity between the various musical styles.
The score for The Silent Prince combines Western and Indian instruments. What Indian instruments are used? Does the score incorporate instruments from other parts of the East as well?
The Indian instruments in Somtow’s score include Tamburas and Harmonium. In the original conception, there were ideas to use Indian percussion and a variety of Indian instruments, but in the end, it seemed as though Somtow pared things down to create a much cleaner texture. One could make the argument, however, that he uses the violins and flute in a very Carnatic way at points. There is a definite South Asian connection in the instrumentation. Somtow uses a number of tam-tams, gongs, and antique cymbals, so there is a “gamelan” influence. Granted, those instruments tend to be so common in the orchestra that we don’t consider them as exotic any more. That being said, there is a definite nod to eastern traditions in the way those instruments are used.
From your perspective as a conductor and director of an opera company, where do you think contemporary and yet-to-be-written opera in the 21st century is headed? Are the costs of production stifling the development of this tradition of music? Or are more and more people like yourself discovering innovative ways to keep this particular genre of music and its audience growing?
This is an interesting question in that these days I see a ton of new opera. Opera Vista runs an annual competition for new opera (The Vista Competition), and since our focus is primarily opera by living composers, we also receive a number of perusal scores. When I started Opera Vista, I was wary of what we would receive in the way of submissions for the competition, and I was also curious to see what the state of new opera was. I can honestly say that we should be excited by all the great opera being written by living composers. I think opera, much like other areas of contemporary composition, is marked by eclecticism. I don’t know that you can say that there is a specific style or direction that marks contemporary opera. We’re seeing every manner of opera under the sun. There seems to be almost no subject area that is taboo. There also doesn’t seem to be a musical style that is necessarily in vogue right now.
Costs of production are probably the biggest hurdle. I have literally hundreds of ideas for new productions of new opera as well as a variety of directions we could go to help composers develop their art. That being said, it is still difficult to convince potential donors of the necessity of donating to support new music. New music still scares people. This is an area that I guess I could write a book about now. I love all types of music, but as Artistic Director of an organization that is still in its infancy, there is no doubt that I have tabled some productions that I think would be amazing to explore – Elliott Carter’s What Next? comes to mind – because I need to develop my audience base as well as their faith that new opera can be interesting and not scary. I really want Opera Vista to develop a consistent donor base and to be able to truly afford its staff and musicians before pushing the envelope too far – although a Bollywood opera with a live elephant really does feel like pushing the envelope! In some ways, that is the beauty of The Vista Competition.
The Vista Competition for new opera has been an amazing way to introduce living composers and their music to audiences. Every year, I have thought that there might be a piece in the mix that is “above the audience,” and to my amazement it does extremely well in the competition. The Vista Competition is run in an American Idol style. We perform 6-10 minute excerpts of the opera to give the audience a flavor of the work. The jury then asks the composers questions about their work, and in the end, the audience votes for the winner. Because of the interaction between the jury and the composers and in the finals directly between the audience and the composers, there is an opportunity for the audience to learn about the piece in fun and hopefully not-so-scary manner. It has been a building process. I’m excited each year by the number of people who return for the competition and bring friends. We are slowly finding a way to overcome the “opera” and “new music” stereotypes that scare people.
I think there are a number of groups that are working towards fostering new opera. It takes time and a ton of effort. It truly is a labor of love initially. It’s an exciting time for new opera. I really believe in the work we are doing. I know there is now the Microscopic Opera Company in Pittsburgh, Bluegrass Opera in Kentucky, and a number of others are growing.
The Silent Prince by Somtow Sucharitkul, performed by Opera Vista, Viswa Subbaraman conducting, will premiere October 15, 2010, 8pm at Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts,
800 Bagby St.,