The positive aspect of having too much of a good thing is that you’ve consumed something good. For me in the last week, the object of my over-consumption has been new works by student composers, not only created by colleagues of mine at the University of Michigan, but the representatives of the University of Iowa, Indiana University and the University of Cincinnati who attended the 2011 Midwest Composers Symposium. Topping off the weekend-long buffet of freshly baked music was Monday evening’s second student composers’ concert of the year here at Michigan (which I will cover in the next installment in this pair of reviews). Suffice it to say, I heard a lot of music in those four days, so I will do my best to cover what passed by my ears.
Midwest (as the event will be dubbed from now on) is an annually occurring conference of student composers held at one of the four member institutions (UM, UI, IU and CCM) on a rotating basis. For more background information check out last year’s post on the symposium. I participated in the Michigan delegation this year and traveled to Bloomington, Indiana (IU was the host this time ’round) with my work for two marimbas “Dark Spiral” (here’s a video). There were four concerts altogether, one Friday evening and three on Saturday offering over 30 individual works to an audience of composers, performers and professors. Intervening between the morning and afternoon concert Saturday was a very thought-provoking discussion session wherein each school elected students to give a brief presentation on a musical topic of their choice. I really enjoyed the interactions spawned by this feature of the event and I hope it is retained and, perhaps, expanded in the future.
I apologize in advance to all those performers and composers I am unable to devote much time to in the forthcoming paragraphs. The extreme volume of music presented to me forces me – understandably I hope – to be uncomfortably brief. Before getting specific I want to emphasize that every school represented themselves extremely well, in my opinion. Each offered a variety of styles and ensembles making the slate of proffered works as diverse as it was ample.
Now to the music.
Friday’s concert featured the “large ensemble” works, including performances by the Indiana University Chamber Orchestra, Contemporary Vocal Ensemble and New Music Ensemble. There were many remarkably beautiful moments in the first two works, Natalie Williams‘ Les Chant du Malador (2011) and Stas Omelchenko‘s Musings… (2011), particularly the third movement of Ms. Williams’ piece, which alludes to tonality in a very refracted way that is convincing and engaging without being too on-the-nose. These chamber orchestra works were followed by two very well-received (at least with my crew) choral pieces: Lindsey Jacob‘s Continue to Exist (2006) and Ji Young Kim‘s Reflections on Waiting for Mama (2011). Ms. Kim’s work is particularly striking in how it uses onomatopoeia to imitate the native language of her text’s subject, Korean. The piece balances the choir’s texture wonderfully, using precisely located solos to convey and magnify the work’s narrative backbone. The final two works on the evening’s program were Paul Dooley‘s Point Blank (which I already reviewed) and Justin Grossman‘s At Last the Secret is Out (2010), pairing very nicely together to conclude the first evening and set the bar very high for Saturday’s music.
Program committee: Clarice Jensen, Hayes Biggs, and Christian Carey
ACME Management: Bernstein Artists, Inc.
ACME Publicist: Christina Jensen
Thanks: Nancy Kleaver & Max Freedman of MNMP, Jerry Bowles, Steve Layton, Sue Renée Bernstein, Christina Jensen, Canelle Boughton, Glenn Freeman, Justin Monsen; the staff at Joe’s Pub: Shanta Thake, Sara Beesley, Michele Renkovski, & Patricia Bradby.
Special thanks: to the musicians for their dedicated work preparing the program; to the featured composers for their beautiful music; and to all the members of the Sequenza 21 and Manhattan New Music Project communities, without whom this event would not be possible.
Clarice: So, ahem, Nadia it was pretty remarkable when we switched from reading from the score to parts when we were working on Hayes’ piece (ed.: Steal Away by Hayes Biggs). It’s like the music took on a different meaning.
Nadia: I know!! I find that stuff so incredible. Sometimes I forget that a massive portion of our jobs as musicians (especially of the new music persuasion) is essentially translating visual material into sound. We’re kind of like professional map-readers. Do you have any notational pet peeves?
Clarice: Page turns of course… But other than that, just spacing in general. If notes look all bunched up, then it’s hard not to make them sound that way! What about you?
Nadia: My super-dork pet peeve is spelling; I hate it when chords are spelled out in ways that have little regard for traditional chord structures. It’s sometimes really hard to wrap your brain around a whole bunch of sharps and flats living together all higgledy-piggledy without regard for implied harmony. I know I know: super-dork. That having been said, I kind of love how notation is a kind of personal, no two alike sort of thing. It gives the performer so much insight as to how the composer may be thinking. Oh! And I can get kinda frustrated with things that are notated with very small durations (64th and 128th notes) which are then in a super-slow tempo. I understand a kind of freneticism may be what the composer is going for, but it just seems to add so much time to the rehearsal/parsing process.
Clarice: Totally agree on that one. Pretty amazing how this abstract system of symbols and lines and dots can be subject to so much scrutiny and discussion regarding interpretation. And how dots and lines paired with scrutiny and discussion results in beautiful music! Amazing!
Nadia: Yay! So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the type of music and programming that translates well live vs. that which is great to listen to on the radio or on a recording. There are so many types of gestures which are fascinating to watch people achieve, which cannot be really understood in a recording. Like even a pregnant pause, for example.
Clarice: For sure – the physicality of achieving a musical gesture just can’t be heard in a recording, and sometimes seeing that gesture is what makes the music translate to the audience. However, would you say that there is any music that makes more sense recorded rather than live? What about music in the rock/pop world?
Nadia: Oh decidedly. Stylistically that’s an idea Classical peeps kind of “borrowed” from the pop world to begin with, even going so far back as Musique Concrète territory. Like, think about how many times we’ve heard the exact same performance of a song like “Louie Louie.” That performance IS the work itself. Everything else is a “cover.” This can seem like a weird, alien counterpart to the Classical model (like, do I only do covers???), but yeah, there’s a lot more of that type of thinking these days, from things like John AdamsLight Over Water to Nico Muhly’s The Only Tune, a piece I’ve performed a lot. When that piece was conceived it was as a recorded collage. When we play it, we are trying our damnedest to approximate the recording. It’s sort of the opposite type of problem from what we were talking about above, the “why does this music lack the visceral impact it had live on this record” type of problem.
Well, I’m super into the diversity of voices on this program. I get to wear a lot of different hats! (Jagged hat, lyrical hat.)
Clarice: Yes, I think the variety of pieces we ended up with is pretty emblematic of the wide range of excellent writing and composition that’s happening now. And as a performer, it really is rewarding to wear all of these hats! I mean, I’ve always considered lyrical playing to be a personal strength of mine, but over the years I’ve worked so hard on rhythmic accuracy through playing intricate music, and now I consider that to be a strength as well. It’s amazing how all of this diverse writing is in fact shaping the performers who are often playing music in the contemporary world. Do you think your focus on new music has changed you intrinsically as a performer?
Nadia: Oh, totally. Whenever you work on some weird skill, it changes the kind of mental space in which you think about everything else, really. The rhythmic idea you bring up is super apropos; I also kind of came from a lyrical place as a kind of a default, but the more I work on concepts of groove and flow, the more these ideas end up creeping their way into even the most lyrical stuff. Knowing more things as time goes on rules.
Well, lovely to chat with you, C, I can’t wait for the show!!
Clarice: Yep yep, it’s gonna be a good one!
Tickets to the Sequenza 21 Concert are free (the venue charges a $12 food/drink minimum).
“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.