“Magical” is a pretty cheesy way to describe anything, particularly one’s time at a music festival. Yet, something – at least – special happened during yesterday’s Aspen Festival Orchestra performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 5. Gentle rolls of thunder began to accompany violinist Robert McDuffie’s dramatic journey through the first two movements of the Barber, growing louder as the orchestra approached the thrilling conclusion of the work. It seemed as if the weather was a presage to the ominous clamor of the Mahler, and more amazing was its harmonious transition from thunder clouds to a soothing light rain right as Festival Music Director Robert Spano reached the downbeat of the symphony’s yearning Adagietto movement.
I’ve seen many such examples of concert music and nature coming together in my first week as a student at the Aspen Music Festival. It is an honor for me to be among the accomplished, ambitious and talented musicians – professionals and students – who, every year, congregate in this mountain town to showcase and expand their abilities in music performance, conducting and composition. Though I won’t bore you all with grandiloquent, Thoreau-esque meditations on the “vibratory hum” uniting music and nature, I am excited to report on the many wonderful performances of contemporary music I will attend over the next four weeks.
The first event I went to was a recital by the superb pianist Jeremy Denk, which featured an unusual pairing of Ligeti’s Etudes for Piano and Bach’s Goldberg Variations, in that order. Almost all the other student composers here came to the concert, and we wondered if these two heavy, complex and extremely contrasting works could complement each other. Mr. Denk’s reasoning behind the program was clear enough: he said he wanted to feature what he thought were the earliest and latest “titanic” masterpieces for solo piano. Yet, we were still a little intimidated by what lay before us. To his credit, Mr. Denk’s charisma was infectious and he did a wonderful job warming up the audience to the material he was about to present.
Outsound acquired a Board of Directors and incorporated its bad self in 2009. Now with a 501(c)(3) IRS determination in hand, it’s a stalwart provider of experimental music, sound art, found sounds, improvisation, noise, musique concrete, minimalism, and any other kind of sound that is too weird for a mainstream gig in the Bay Area.
The upcoming 2011 Outsound New Music Summit is the 10th annual, running from July 17-23, 2011. All events will take place at the San Francisco Community Music Center, 344 Capp Street, San Francisco. Eager listeners can purchase advance tickets online.
Sunday July 17: Touch the Gear Exposition
Outsound’s free opening event allows the public to roam among the Summit’s musicians and sound artists and their sonic inventions, asking questions, making noise and learning how these darn things work.
Monday July 18: Discussion Panel: Elements of non-idiomatic compositional strategies
Another free public event in which composers Krys Bobrowski, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Kanoko Nishi and Gino Robair will discuss the joys and pains of creating new works some of which to be premiered in The Art of Composition. The public is invited to participate in a Q&A session.
Wednesday July 20: FACE MUSIC
This concert is devoted to the voice, the world’s oldest instrument, and artists who expand its horizons: Theresa Wong, Joseph Rosenzweig, Aurora Josephson, and Bran…(POS).
Thursday July 21: The Freedom of Sound A night of operatic free expression, and power of spontaneous sound from Tri-Cornered Tent Show featuring guest vocalist Dina Emerson, Oluyemi and Ijeoma Thomas’ Positive Knowledge, and Tom Djll’s “lowercase big band”, Grosse Abfahrt with special guest Alfred Harth (A23H).
Friday July 22: The Art of Composition
Gino Robair premieres his Aguascalientes suite based on scenes captured by Jose Guadalupe Posada, Andrew Raffo Dewar’s Interactions Quartet performs Strata (2011) dedicated to Eduardo Serón, Kanoko Nishi premieres her graphic scores along with bassist Tony Dryer, and Krys Bobrowski offers Lift, Loft and Lull, a series of short pieces exploring the sonic properties of metal pipes and plates and the use of balloons as resonators.
Saturday July 23: Sonic Foundry Too!
In a sequel to the first Sonic Foundry performance in 2006, 10 musical instrument inventors are paired up in 5 collaborations: Tom Nunn, Steven Baker, Bob Marsh, Dan Ake, Sung Kim, Walter Funk, Brenda Hutchinson, Sasha Leitman, Bart Hopkins, and Terry Berlier.
(Visual Abstract, First Movement, Music by Pierre Jalbert, Film by Jean Detheux)
On January 8th, 2011, at 7:30 p.m. in Zilkha Hall of The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, the Houston TX new music group Musiqa presents Real and Imagined – a concert collaboration with Aurora Picture Show featuring Theo Loevendie’s Six Turkish Folk Songs as well as music by Eve Beglarian, Paul Frehner, and Evan Chambers. Houston-based composer Pierre Jalbert’sVisual Abstract for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion will be performed live to a film created by Jean Detheux. The concert will be conducted by Houston Symphony Assistant Conductor Brett Mitchell.
Led by five composers (including founding member Pierre Jalbert) Musiqa is receiving a great deal of notice for its innovative multi-disciplinary concert events (dance, visual art, and theater are always integrated into Musiqa performances) as well as its educational programming that annually reaches thousands of Houston area students. Next season, Musiqa will celebrate its ten-year anniversary.
Pierre Jalbert graciously responded to a few questions about Visual Abstract:
Chris Becker: Did Jean Detheux create his film before, after, or during the composition of Visual Abstract?
Pierre Jalbert: He created the film after the piece was written. The music was commissioned and premiered by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble a few years back. Jean and I worked on a project last year in which he created a film first and I wrote the music to the film. That work was entitled L’œil écoute (The Eye Listens), and was also premiered by PNME. This time around, we decided that we would reverse the process, and he would do his film to the already existing music.
Chris Becker: In performance with the film, is the conductor watching the film for the timing of some of your musical events? I’m thinking of the third movement where rhythmic hits coincide with abrupt changes in the film.
Pierre Jalbert: Yes, the conductor is looking at the film for cues from time to time, and we rehearse many times through to get the timing down. As you can imagine, it’s very difficult as each performance is slightly different. But Jean made the film to not have too many abrupt changes. But still, there are a a few that make it challenging.
Chris Becker: The layers of images in Detheux’s film are very rich and tactile. They remind me of natural phenomena, weather, or even what we “see” when we close our eyes and listen to the sounds around us. Speaking as a composer, what do you think makes an “abstract” work of visual art successful?
Pierre Jalbert: I think when one looks at the film and hears the music as a single entity, and one does not dominate over the other, but each enhances the other, then we have something interesting.
Chris Becker: Next season, Musiqa will celebrate its ten-year anniversary. As one of the people who founded the organization, how does it feel to look back on all Musiqa has accomplished?
Pierre Jalbert: It’s amazing to look back and see how the organization has grown. I remember a few of us meeting at Tony Brandt’s house 10 years ago and brain-storming about what the organization could be. We wanted to get new music out into the community and into downtown and offer up repertoire that wasn’t being heard in Houston. All of the composers on the Artistic Board work really well together (Anthony Brandt, Karim Al-Zand, Rob Smith, Marcus Maroney, and myself), and that has been crucial in keeping things going through the years.
Tickets for Real and Imagined – including discounted tickets for seniors and students – are available for purchase on the Musiqa website.
Hidden within the typical drive-to-cadence activities that closed the 2010 Fall semester here at the University of Michigan were three special performances showcasing the creativity and boldness of student composers David Biedenbender, Roger Zare and William Zuckerman. The premieres of their works – Three Rilke Poems, Janus, and By the way: Music in Pluralism, respectively – demonstrated the profits of well executed collaborations with all of the following: a third-party ensemble, a soloist, and other forms of media. I am proud to report the largely unqualified success of these endeavors and suspect these works are part of a more general movement in the new music community to work closely with performers and performance groups on large-scale projects.
First, I will talk about David Biedenbender’s Three Rilke Poems, on which he worked closely with the University of Michigan Chamber Choir under the direction of Maestro Jerry Blackstone. For two reasons, this chamber choir collaboration was the most traditional out of the three works I’m discussing: it is not at all uncommon to work with choral ensembles, and Mr. Biedenbender’s music was fairly straightforward in terms of content. However, these realities should not diminish the absolutely overwhelming poignancy of his composition.
Three Rilke Poems had an overall structure of slow-faster-slow, though the two slow movements possessed highly contrasting materials and were not connected. The faster middle movement, Herbst, had a very elegant opening where Mr. Biedenbender layered opposing ostinati, creating a crackling bed of additive rhythms upon which he introduced the primary melodies for the piece. The practicalities of choir performance often obligate a composer to use more a more traditional harmonic language when writing a choral composition. While this was true about Three Rilke Poems, Mr. Biedenbender found many ways to undermine the order of his tertian or modal systems, such as the layered rhythms at the beginning of Herbst. Consequently, though Three Rilke Poems relied heavily on triads and diatonic dissonances, it was a clearly modern composition.
From left to right: Donald Scavarda, Gordon Mumma, Robert Ashley and Roger Reynolds take the stage after Thurday's ONCE. NOW. concert. Photo courtesy of Subaram Raman.
Although Ann Arbor’s ONCE. MORE. festival, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ONCE Group composers, does not end until tonight, the events with the surviving founders of the groundbreaking concert series – Roger Reynolds, Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma and Donald Scavarda – concluded Thursday evening. That night’s ONCE. NOW. concert featured more recent works by these four composers.
Robert Ashley’s Van Cao’s Meditation (1991), for piano, opened the evening. The piece was resonant, repetitive, and reminded me of Satie’s Ogives in spirit. Essentially, Van Cao’s Meditation milled about one confined group of a few notes which covered all registers of the piano and, at the end of each phrase, settled on an octave which was not part of this more prevalent pitch collection. The piece was over half and hour long, so the music’s motion through time was made interesting by altering the dynamics and lengths of phrases.
More importantly, the performance is meant to be intensely physical – as Ashley said before the piece, the player must have the music, “in their body” – and Pianist Ming-Hsiu Yen succeeded in delivering the work in a beautifully corporeal way. Most profound was the flowing of Ming-Hsu’s arms as she ascended and descended the arpeggiated figure at the heart of the piece. Perhaps because the work’s musical landscape is so static, Ashley placed a higher premium on the physical aspects of Thursday’s performance, even going so far as to request Ming-Hsiu wear a sleeveless top in the concert. These inferences notwithstanding, Ashley’s piece, despite its epic length, was a wild success on Thursday and many people I talked to after the concert said their reaction to Van Cao’s Meditation was profoundly visceral.
Gordon Mumma’s Than Particle (1985) was next on the program and featured one of the most well-received performances of this week’s concerts. University of Michigan Associate Professor of Percussion Joseph Gramley dazzled in this duet between a percussion soloist and electronic sounds. The synthesized part is from a long-obsolete Yamaha computer program, but Mumma insists on using this version of the electronics because, “some of the synthesized percussion sounds are absurd”. Mr. Gramley’s performance was commandingly athletic and lyrical, particularly when he abandoned his mallets for his fingertips. The percussion part at these moments was unbelievably delicate and juxtaposed humorously with the clumsy timbre of the electronics. Deservedly, Mr. Gramley earned the evening’s first curtain call.
Tomorrow and Thursday are two special nights for contemporary music in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This week, the University Musical Society is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the ONCE composers, a group of University of Michigan student composers whose 1960s new music festivals gained worldwide acclaim. The surviving members of the group, which was founded by Roger Reynolds, Robert Ashley, Donald Scavarda, Gordon Mumma, and the late George Cacioppo, have come back to Ann Arbor to revisit the revolutionary spirit that inspired them and recognize what they’ve achieved in the years since they left Michigan.
The local media here in southeast Michigan have previewed this week’s event with great success, so head the to following links if you’d like to read what annarbor.com, the metrotimes and the Detroit Free Press have to say about the history of the ONCE group. I will be Sequenza 21’s eyes and ears observing the rehearsals and other behind-the-scenes activities that will make these concerts happen. Additionally, I will review both performances and talk to each of the composers at Wednesday’s “Conversation with the ONCE Composers”.
For now, I have the pleasure of watching the ONCE composers in rehearsal, which is a beautiful experience. First of all, they are clearly thrilled to be in Ann Arbor; this is clear in their smiles, the enthusiasm with which they interact with their performers and, most poignantly, in the playful anecdotes the ONCE members have shared with each other between rehearsal times. Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma have been warm and enthusiastic to their performers, the former even joked with Dr. John Ellis – chair of piano performance at Michigan – earlier today, quipping, “that last phrase is one I never got right,” in reference to his solo piano piece Large Size Mograph.
Roger Reynolds’ professionalism is admirable: he understands how to get exactly what he wants from his players without being curt or overbearing. Thursday night’s concert, which features recently written works by the ONCE composers, includes Reynolds’ Ariadne’s Thread for string quartet and electronics. He has handled the quartet masterfully so far, explaining to them the vision he had beyond his complex musical language and guiding them with generalities towards the affect he desires.
If you are in the Ann Arbor area tomorrow or Thursday at 8 PM, head to Rackham Auditorium on the University of Michigan’s Central Campus to share in the past and present of this important movement in American music (tickets are also $2!). If not, stay tuned to Sequenza 21 for updates on this event all week long. The programs for the concerts and a description of the rest of the ONCE MORE festival is available here.
Skull courtesy of Casa Ramirez (photo by Chris Becker)
Skeletons! Witches! Vampires! No, I’m not talking about candidates in Houston’s midterm elections. I’m talking about Halloween and the two days that follow known as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Like many other places in the Southern U.S., Houston culture is a healthy mix of the supernatural and the spiritual. In the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Meurtos, food, beverages, and sweets are placed on homemade alters as gifts for the spiritual manifestations of those who have passed who will, over the course of the 48 hours that is All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day, visit the people they knew before the afterlife. Gift giving and the ephemeral nature of playing music – particularly improvised music – have all been on my mind lately.
In his recent book Tradition and Transgression about composer John Zorn, author John Brackett includes a chapter describing Zorn’s music from the perspective of “the gift and gift giving.” The composer receives a “gift” from an artist – maybe an artist from an earlier time – in the form of creative inspiration and techniques that can be applied to their respective medium and then passes the “gift” along in various forms of musical homage. There are so many examples of this practice in music. Many compositions by Charles Mingus are named for musicians he knew and loved and directly referenced in melody, harmony, and/or rhythm (A few examples are Reincarnation of a Lovebird, So Long Eric and Goodbye Porkpie Hat for Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy and Lester Young respectively). Certainly there are parallels between creating art and celebrating our ancestors. Maybe there’s actually no difference between the two actions?
Who are some of the composers, friends, and/or family members you yourself have paid homage to in musical form?
Alexandra Adshead and Chris Becker at Avant Garden (photo by Jonathan Jindra)
For the month of November, the tireless Dave Dove and his organization Nameless Sound continue their They Who Sound “First Time Duo” series at Houston’s Avant Garden, every Monday from 7pm to 9pm. Each week, two to four improvisers who have never played together share the stage to perform a set of entirely improvised music. This is a great concept, and I wonder if it could expand beyond its current network of free improvisers to include pairings with members of Houston’s classical, jazz, and rock communities. Maybe some students from Houston’s School for the Performing Arts could share the stage with people with a history in Houston’s free improv and/or so-called noise scenes and try to find some common ground?
Also at Avant Garden on the last Wednesday of every month, keyboardist Robert Pearson presents a program of experimental music (Robert was kind enough to invite me and Alex to play last Wednesday, and we had a ball). These Wednesday shows are also an opportunity to hear Robert who doesn’t play like anyone I’ve ever heard before. Imagine Matthew Shipp, former Birdsongs of the Mesozoic Roger Miller, and Erik Satie all at 200 bpm and you sort of get an aural impression of what Robert sounds like on the keys. The resulting music is almost Zen-like in spite (or maybe because of) the tempi. Go hear him for yourself!
On November 2, 2010, 7pm at Talento Bilingue de Houston, Cuban tenor Alejandro Salvia Cobas and belly dancer provocateur Ms. Y.E.T. perform at show of artist and longtime A.I.D.S. activist Lourdes Lopez Moreno’s show of hand built clay skeletons. Moreno’s work will be on display through November 7th. A short, spooky video featuring Cobas’ voice is up on YouTube.
On November 7, 7:30pm at Zilkha Hall, Houston’s composer led contemporary music organization Musiqa celebrates the work of Benjamin Patterson, a groundbreaking artist who was a founding member of the avant-garde group, Fluxus, and whose work explores the experimental and improvisational possibilities in music. The concert Born in a State of Flux(us) is free, and Patterson will be there for what should be a crazy evening.
The University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) proudly hosted last weekend’s meeting of the MidWest Composers Symposium, a consortium currently made up of the composition departments from CCM, Indiana University and the Universities of Iowa and Michigan.
The Symposium dates back to the 1960s, and, according to University of Michigan Professor of Composition Evan Chambers, arose dually from the prevailing sentiment that American contemporary music was not respected globally and the fact that, at that time, it was exceptionally challenging for student composers to get their works performed. “Each of the [charter] schools was known for different kinds of composition,” Professor Chambers explained in a phone interview, “there was no other way to find out what was happening between these institutions.”
Because I was unable to attend last weekend’s festival, I checked in with the event’s student co-director Jennifer Jolley, a current doctoral candidate in composition at CCM. Jennifer received her undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and then took time off to teach, perform and accompany in Vermont. She began studying at CCM in 2007 and organized this year’s MidWest Composers Symposium with fellow graduate composition student Angelique Poteat.
S21: What were the greatest organization challenges you faced in pulling together this year’s MidWest Composers Symposium?
CCM is unfortunately on the quarter system, which meant that our classes started on September 22; therefore we only had a month to plan everything. Angelique Poteat (my co-director) and I gave our composers two weeks to assemble their pieces and performers, and that left us a mere two weeks to put everything together. We couldn’t figure out the concert order until CCM submitted their contribution, and we wanted to give the new CCM students a chance to submit a piece for the symposium.
S21: At its founding, each member of the MidWest Composers Symposium possessed unique musical tendencies; for example, the University of Iowa was know for preferring experimental compositional techniques. Do similar musical identities still exist from one member institution to another? If so, what were the weekend’s most remarkable examples of this diversity?
I believe they do, although this year UI did not submit as many electronic/experimental pieces as they have in the past! In fact, Angelique Poteat’s “Cyclic Complement” for bass clarinet and fixed format (CCM), Melody Eötvös‘s “Die hohle Höhle” for 5.1 surround playback (IU), Jerod Sommerfeldt‘s video “Linear” used sounds constructed in Pd (CCM), and Zach Zubow‘s “Fugitive Yellow Shirt” for violin and electronics (UI) were highlights from the experimental end; Mr. Zubow’s piece being one of the few electronic submissions from UI.
I can imagine going paperless, even internet-less, but going music-less? Impossible! Thanks to people as energetic and creative as Juilliard-trained violinist, Mark Peskanov, this is unlikely to happen.
Peskanov is the man behind Brooklyn’s ‘Bargemusic’, a series attracting music mavens and sporadic music lovers alike. At least four times a week, the ancient 100-foot barge at Fulton Ferry Landing sways gently to the rhythm of Peskanov’s diverse program offerings featuring emerging, as well as sought-after, performers from the world of classical music and jazz.
This summer, the floating concert hall’s 176 seats were filled daily, sometimes even twice a day. “We present 52 weeks of continuous programming, all year around”, Peskanov explains. “It is, in a real sense, music in motion.”
Bargemusic is very much part of its Brooklyn neighborhood. “A grocery store is open every day of the week, as well”, says Peskanov. “People are used to just showing up, and there is something going on. Some artists – not all of them very well known to the public – perform many times during a season; the choice of programming informs the choices of artists, and vice versa”.
Above all, the series strives to be inclusive. Kids come free, and at $35 a ticket per adult, some families bring many, and come often. “We remain a venue with a friendly, family-style character. When you arrive late for a performance, because the weather is bad, you are not going to stay outside in the rain.”
For a long time, Bargemusic was not even set up to accept credit cards, let alone online booking. All reservations were handled the old-fashioned way – by phone. “We are in the process of adapting, technology-wise”, Peskanov promises.
Word about Bargemusic is spreading, even without a lot of advertising. “Our artists are of a certain level, and we do want to make them happy. It is the personal approach that is really special. I work closely with the artists, and often perform together with them. Many are good friends and acquaintances of mine, and I share my own experiences as a musician. Everything I do is informed by that. I played in many different concert halls, and with many illustrious artists … music is a gift to express.” When talking about his responsibility towards younger performers, Peskanov is taking a page out of the book of Isaac Stern, whom he performed with himself and not only admires as a great artist, but also as a great educator. “The best way to learn is to be on stage. Anything can happen”.