Exactly a year ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing violinist/composer Cornelius Duffalo of ETHEL. The string quartet is a forerunner of the current movement interested in transforming how we experience classical music in the 21st century, questioning boundaries between tradition and technology, performer and audience. (See also my article here.)
Made up of traditionally trained, classical musicians, ETHEL has taken a post-classical personal approach to broadening the spectrum of their music making which the New Yorker calls “vital and brilliant.”
Their music represents a Pan-American exploration- reaching from Jazz and Native American influences, to New York’s contemporary responses to 9/11. Performing at alternative venues has also become part of ETHEL’s performance style, playing for younger audiences, who rather frequent pubs, than concert halls.
Their latest album Heavy (in answer to the previous Light) for the Innova-recordings label, recorded on April 24th at Joe’s Pub, feels like a celebration of the group’s longstanding and personal collaboration with composers of the contemporary New York music scene.
Dorothy Lawson, ETHEL’s cellist and founding member, describes the development of the group and shares her observation on the different aspects of this album. “We clearly have grown as a group; it is interesting for me to observe how different this album is compared to our first ones. The very first recording called Ethel we did after six years of performing together and we were still forming ourselves.
It was a document of the composers who helped us to get started as a group, like John King or Evan Zipporin. Four years later, Light was much more relaxed and lighthearted, more imbued with pop colors and rock. But this one now, Heavy, represents the post-classical world fully. It’s related to classical in its architectural way of designing music, in its generation through processes rather than stanzas. The classical mindset is about taking you on a journey or inquiry of some sort, taking the time for the problems and the solutions that the composer finds. The influences or composers we are pulling from do not convey traditional styles, or mainstream classical layers. We could call it a blend, which of course still does not really describe anything specific and we often did struggle with words to describe our personal style. But we clearly went through a transition – now people say this sounds like ETHEL. We are opening our platform to other cultures and it’s a process of true cultural exchange and a way to live with music in a special way.”
Some of the material on Heavy was performed by ETHEL beforehand, long before they were committed to the recording’s eighteen months long process. The recording includes works by Julia Wolfe, John Halle, John King, David Lang, Kenji Bunch, Marcelo Zarvos and Don Byron. The group’s longstanding member, violinist Mary Rowell, is featured on the release, but left ETHEL last year. She will make a guest appearance with ETHEL for John King’s No Nickel Blues featured on Heavy, at the release to be held at Joe’s pub.
But it is now violinist Jennifer Choi’s part, who has since become the newest ETHEL member, to perform all other works featured on the CD. “Being with ETHEL this past year, has been an eye opening experience for me,” says Choi, who describes herself as a big improviser and is immensely attracted to ETHEL’s multicultural approach to music, thereby supplying her with much added, creative stimulus. “It is new music to many people; the new album pays homage to New York City, but it’s not really limited to the New York experience. It is quite refreshing and people all over the United States can relate. And there is always a meaning behind our programs. As the newbie I was attracted to its American mix. For so many years we brought all the European composers over. Now there is a big wave of fresh, contemporary American music that should be interesting internationally, now.”
Supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Greenwall foundation, Heavy, according to ETHEL co-founder, violist Ralph Farris, serves as “homage to New York City, its people and its music.”
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New music pianist Jenny Q. Chai is making a special appearance at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall on April 19th at 7:30 PM playing some great pieces by
Ligeti, Marco Stroppa, György Kurtág, Messiaen, and even Schumann (guess they’re trying to make him sound young again) as well as two world-premiere pieces by composers Ashley Fu-Tsun Wang and Inhyun Kim.
She had some time to talk with me about that upcoming show and her musical path. Read the rest of this entry »
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It’s one of those evenings when you wish you could be at two New York concert venues at once!
Mohammed Fairouz’s opera, Sumeida’s Song, will be performed at Zankel Hall on 4/2 at 7:30. The work is based on playwright Tawfiq El Hakim’s Song of Death. Presented by the Mimesis Ensemble (conducted by Scott Dunn), the cast features soprano Jo Ellen Miller, mezzo Rachel Calloway, tenor Robert Mack, and baritone Mischa Bouvier. (Ticket info here).
Also on Monday at 7:30 PM, Cutting Edge Concerts Festival kicks off its fifteenth season at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater at Symphony Space. Monday nights in April will feature concerts and composers in conversation with the festival’s curator, composer and conductor Victoria Bond (ticket info here).
Jazz pianist Jim McNeely joins the Danjam Orchestra perform two works inspired by Paul Klee paintings. They will also perform the world premiere of a new work by saxophonist Daniel Jamieson. The program also features the premiere of N. Lincoln Hanks’Monstre Sacre, assayed by pianist Paul Barnes. Finally, tenor Rufus Muller and pianist Jenny Lin perform a work by Bond, based on a portion of James Joyce’sUlysses, entitled Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming.
The Cutting Edge Concert on Monday April 9th includes works by Roberto Sierra, Judith Shatin, and Tania Leon. And Sequenza 21 readers should be sure to mark their calendars for the Cutting Edge show on April 16. Washington DC’s Great Noise Ensemble, led by S21’s own Armando Bayolo, visits the Big Apple to present a program that includes violinist and composer Cornelius Dufallo in a new piece for amplified violin and ensemble.
In December 2010, as I was still adjusting to the climate change between Houston, Texas and Ann Arbor, Michigan, I heard a piece that has stuck with me ever since. I wrote about it here, along with two others, and called this particular work, which was performed with video and dance, “the most well executed student production of ANY KIND I have seen.” This piece is Music in Pluralism by William Zuckerman, a former University of Michigan composition student who is currently freelancing in New York.
On April 11th at 8 PM, in the Kaufman Center’s Merkin Hall, Music and Pluralism comes to life as part of the opening performance of the 2012 Tribeca New Music Festival. The event is also functioning as a CD release party for a recording of Music Pluralism William has worked on for over two years. Moreover, the April 11th concert is the debut of Mr. Zuckerman’s hand-picked ensemble, “Symphony Z”. I caught up with William and asked him a few questions about Music and Pluralism, Symphony Z and his life as a freelance composer; but, before I get to his eloquent responses, I want to set the stage for what Music in Pluralism has to offer its audience.
In the piece, William handles immense proportions with the deftness far beyond his years, and ties together a diverse cadre of musical influences – everything from Pop Rock to Bach’s Passacaglia in C Minor! – with the compelling and cogent force of his artistic vision. David Bloom, the charismatic busybody behind the group Contemporaneous (who share the stage with Symphony Z on April 11), conducts Symphony Z, and is similarly impressed with Music in Pluralism’s scope, eclecticism and coherence. He told me in an e-mail, “[i]t’s [Music in Pluralism’s] coexistence of unity and variety that makes the piece so compelling.”
When I got the CD of Music in Pluralism in the mail, I must admit I was a little apprehensive. Part of what moved me so much about its December 2010 performance was how beautifully William and his collaborators mixed the media of dance, music and video of the course of the work’s 45-minute duration. Obviously, the audio version lacks these non-musical elements, and I was concerned their profundity may have skewed my initial feelings about William’s music. As I will espouse more verbosely in an upcoming review of the Music in Pluralism CD: I am happy to report the piece stands – more effusively, triumphs – on its own.
Tonight, Hotel Elefantmakes its debut concert at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music (a venue that’s just celebrated its one-year anniversary). The concert features two works by David T. Little. Sequenza 21’s own James Holt will be on hand to host the event; he’ll conduct an onstage interview with Little.
Below, check out one of several preview videos from the ensemble’s YouTube channel (there’s interview footage with several of the program’s composers): composer Leah Maria Villarreal and violinist Andie Springer discuss preparing a new multimedia work entitled “The Warmth of Other Suns.”
Congratulations to pianist Peter Poston for winning the David Lang 2011 Competition.
Below is his award-winning entry, a performance of Wed, submitted via YouTube:
Poston will get to perform as part of an all Lang program at le poisson rouge in New York City on May 6, 2012 at 5pm. The concert at LPR includes Andrew Zolinsky performing selections from the CD, a new 4-hand piano work premiered by Zolinsky and Poston, a new 6-hand piano piece for the 3 runners-up – Catarina Domenici, Katherine Dowling, and Denise Fillion – and performances by guitar legend Derek Johnson and other special guests.
This Was Written by Hand
Piano Music by David Lang
Andrew Zolinsky, piano
Cantaloupe Music CD
Wed, the audition piece for the David Lang 2011 Competition, is featured on This Was Written By Hand, David Lang’s latest CD, a recital disc recorded for Cantaloupe by pianist Andrew Zolinksy. It isone of eight “Memory Pieces” included on the disc. This group serves as postminimal “Characterstucke,” an attractive and mercurial group of contrasting miniatures.
Then there is the touching title work. One of Lang’s most organically constructed pieces, it was, indeed, written by hand and intuitively constructed. A meditation on the ephemeral nature of life, it captures a similar poignancy to Lang’s recent vocal work “Little Matchgirl Passion,” but writ smaller, more intimately. To both this and the Memory Pieces, Zolinsky brings a fluid grace and subtlety that abets the spontaneous, almost improvisatory, character of the material.
New York-based C4 Ensemble is a choir that specializes in new music. Most of its members are composers or conductors, or both!
On Thursday March 1 and Saturday March 3, the group is performing a program entitled “A Loss for Words: An Evening of New Choral Music on Alternative Texts” (info and tickets here). Since I’m away this weekend at a conference in Dayton, C4 was kind enough to let me sit in on one of their recent rehearsals.
The group’s dynamic is a lesson in exceeding expectations. The member’s take turns leading warmups and rehearsing pieces, allowing for several conductors to direct works on each concert. I was impressed that, despite the occasional oneupmanship that’s inevitable to find when having that many conductors in a room, they do quite a good job of sharing and passing authority from one person to the next. Indeed I’m so glad that C4 is around: They seem to revel in the challenges that other choirs avoid like the plague. One person to a part in polytonal divisi? No problem. Finding your pitch out of nowhere after clouds of clusters? Sure! Singing in three different meters at once? What else you got?
For music without conventional texts, these pieces have a lot to say. The program features guest soloist Toby Twining, performing with the choir in a beautiful piece of his from the late 80s, “Hee oo oom ha,” a multicultural essay featuring Twining’s flexible countertenor scatting, African polyrhythms, and sepulchral shamanic incantations from bass Hayes Biggs. A new piece by Tim Brown juxtaposes spoken word clips from adverts and news headlines that overwhelm a chorus resembling a Sondheim waltz, seeking desperately to blot out the chatter.
“The Blue of Distance,” by Zibuokle Martinaityle, is a beautiful and intricately woven score with many divisi humming lush polychords, set against keening ostinatos. I was quite taken with Martha Sullivan’swork on the program, which features earthy melismas and folk music references.In addition, C4 will be singing John Cage, Huang Ro, Thomas Stumpf, Jaako Mantyjarvi, David Harris, and Karen Siegel. If you’re in town, this promises to be an exciting and varied concert program.
Thursday, March 1, 2012 @ 8pm Church of St Luke in the Fields 487 Hudson Street (south of Christopher St.)
Saturday, March 3, 2012 @ 8pm Tenri Cultural Institute 43A West 13th Street (bet. 5th & 6th Aves)
Many of us love to see musical works created to accompany choreography performed with dancers involved. But this weekend finds musicians approaching these pieces from another vantage point. Ne(x)tworks, Greenwich Music House’s ensemble-in-residence, presents “Music Without Dance,” a festival of works originally written for dance that are abstracted from movement and performed as absolute music.
What’s revealed about these pieces by listening to them while imagining (or even avoiding thinking about) the dances to which they were originally attached? Curation by subtraction: I like it!
Ne(x)tworks Presents the “Music Without Dance” Festival
Saturday, February 25th: 7:30PM concert
Sunday, February 26th: 6:00PM free panel discussion, 7:30PM concert
FREE panel discussion on the relationship between music and dance.
With choreographers Yoshiko Chuma, Katherine Beyar, Nai-Ni Chen, Erica Essner,
and composers Joan La Barbara, Miguel Frasconi, John King, Annea Lockwood.
Sunday, Feb. 26, 7:30PM
Stuplimity No. 3 (2007) by Christopher McIntyre
Desert Myths (2006) by Joan La Barbara
Jitterbug (2007) by Annea Lockwood
DELTA (dreamdeepdown) (2002) by John King
Ne(x)tworks is: Joan La Barbara (voice), Shelley Burgon (harp & electronics), Yves Dharamraj (cello), Miguel Frasconi (glass instruments & electronics, Director), Ariana Kim (violin), Christopher McIntyre (trombone), and special guest Jenny Lin (piano). Learn more on the Ne(x)tworks website www.nextworksmusic.net.
So Percussion recently released remixes of tracks from Amid the Noise, their recording of music by Jason Treuting. You can grab it for free via their Bandcamp site (embed below).
Treuting recently released sheet music for Amid the Noise, which can be purchased at Good Child Music.
This year, a great number of artists and ensembles are celebrating John Cage’s centenary – even Jessye Norman and Meredith Monk are getting in on the act as part of Michael Tilson Thomas’s revival of the American Mavericks series with the San Francisco Symphony. While it will be fascinating to see that some of these “out of the box” Cage performances will be happening, it’s also nice to hear that groups like So Percussion, who have a long track record performing Cage’s music, are celebrating the centenary in style. On 3/26, they are taking part in the American Mavericks series at Carnegie Hall (details here).
The concert will be the culmination of a tour by the group featuring Cage’s Third Construction as the centerpiece of Cage-themed program entitled We Are All Going in Different Directions.
There’s an equally imaginative recorded component So’s feting of the maestro of indeterminacy. On 3/27, Cantaloupe will release So Percussion’s “John Cage Bootleg Series.” The release includes a blank LP (the better with which to perform 4’33″!), a CD sampler, and a card with download codes that will enable listeners to obtain all of the group’s Cage bootlegs online. And the audio artifact lover in me delights in the handsome homemade feel of its handsome packaging. Top to bottom, Cage’s aesthetic is well manifested in So Percussion’s activities this Spring!
We Are All Going in Different Directions: So Percussion Celebrates Cage
Feb 28: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee (Cage’s Third Construction)
March 2: The Royal Conservatory, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
March 6 + 7: The McCullough Theatre, University of Texas, Austin
March 10: Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin (Cage’s Third Construction)