Archive for the “Participation” Category

Saariaho, Kurtág, Adams, Mazzoli

For the past seven years, Baltimore and Peabody-Institute-based composer (and friend of S21) Judah Adashi has been enlightening Mobtown’s ears by running the Evolution Contemporary Music Series. Praised by Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun for having “elevated and enriched Baltimore’s new music scene enormously,” and by the Baltimore City Paper as “superb…not the same-old, same-old,” the series has presented or premiered works by over 75 living composers, performed by acclaimed musicians from Baltimore and beyond.

Events regularly include pre-concert conversations with performers, composers, critics and scholars; featured guests have included Marin Alsop (music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra); composers Kevin Puts and Christopher Rouse; and music critics Tim Page (Washington Post) and Alex Ross (New Yorker).

The upcoming 2012-13 season looks especially nice; there are four concerts, each focused on a single cream-of-the-crop composer: Kaija Saariaho (Oct. 30), György Kurtág (Feb. 5), Missy Mazzoli (Mar. 5), and John Luther Adams (May 7).

But of course this stuff doesn’t happen with just a bit of can-do spirit, magic elbow-grease, and pixie dust; venues, compensation, equipment, logistics, rehearsals, backstage Pabst and Beer-Nuts all take a significant chunk of change. And that’s where you come in: this time out they’re using the power of crowd-sourced backing via Kickstarter to help them meet those bills. So far over 80 good folk just like you have pitched in, and their $8,000 goal is over halfway there. That’s phenomenal, but there’s only a week to go and every dollar you might be able to drop in the pot can make an enormous difference. As reward for your generosity, Backers will receive anything from your name immortalized on their website ($5), all the way up to personally signed writings of John L. Adams, free passes to further seasons, even a personal two-piano recital! ($750-1,000).

So if you at all can, why don’t you drop by their Kickstarter page, lay a few bucks down in support of the music you love, and get the warm fuzzies knowing you did your bit to make some beautiful music bloom in Baltimore?

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Dennis Báthory-Kitsz has been a great friend of new music, a great friend of S21, and a great friend of myself personally for about as long as I’ve been online. Justly (semi-) famous as the “Kalvos” half of the long-running institution that was Kalvos & Damian’s new Music Bazaar (now continued as Kalvos & Damian In the House!), Dennis has never let his rather remote Vermont location interfere with spreading the word about living composers and their music, whether through regular radio and online broadcasts, a steady stream of writings, and endless creative projects. At the same time, he’s also never let all these activities slow down his own personal composing schedule. Yet not every composition written has seen the full light of day, the most notable example being Dennis’ opera upon his indirect ancestor Erzsébet Báthory, the legendary Hungarian “Blood Countess”.

Recently Dennis has taken some steps to attempt to remedy that situation. He has a chance to see the work finally come to life, but the opera must be finished for premiere in the 2010-11 season of the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble. Basic funding for the ensemble’s regular season is already available, but support is needed for the singer, additional musicians, staging, costumes, lighting, and time to complete the remaining 40 minutes of the opera. So Dennis has turned to a newer online site, Kickstarter.com, to actively seek the financial support to make the performance a reality. We’re not talking the NEA or Ford Foundation here; we’re talking you and me, the little-guy music-lover with a few spare bucks in their pocket. I asked Dennis a few questions, just to get the whole fascinating (and often frustrating! ) backstory:

Steve Layton: Tell me about the whole long genesis of the idea and travails over the years?

Dennis Báthory-Kitsz: Yes, it is long! I’ll tell you everything. The genesis began shortly after Boston College professor Raymond McNally published “Dracula Was a Woman” in 1983. A state politician was doing an interview tour of Vermont entrepreneurs — I had founded a small computer company back then — and came to my home office. He knew my name, McNally was an old school buddy, he put the two together, and arrived with a copy of the book. I hadn’t paid much attention to the family history, but reading McNally’s book jogged something my grandfather Bathory had said — that the family had an evil female ancestor who killed people and fought with priests.

A few years later my company went under during the tech shakeup, and I started thinking about the Erzsébet Báthory story again as a distraction. Here was a countess rumored to be the world’s worst serial killer with some 600 servant victims — yet with normal kids, great intelligence, superior negotiating skills, and fluent in many languages. She was also supposedly bisexual and ended her life walled into her own torture tower. What a story! What opera!

Those were also the years of some pretty big works of mine, particularly “Mantra Canon” for orchestra, chorus, two pianos, six percussionists and descant soprano. By 1988 it had had two performances, so I was lit up with large-scale possibilities. The Bathory tale would make a fantastic production, maybe a huge opera of some kind.

In 1989, I wrote an overture in the form of a piano csárdás and about the same time heard that NPR poet Andrei Codrescu was writing a biography of Erzsébet. I got in touch and proposed the idea that he write the libretto. He thought it was a great idea — and he had supposedly seen her diaries, diaries that recounted the actual murders! Codrescu and I kept in touch, but things went sour. His book ended up being a novel. I hated it, and we had a falling out. After we patched things up a little, he was more famous and working on a film … meaning now the libretto would cost money I didn’t have.

I started sketching my own plots for three different-sized versions. It was still idle sketching with no real possibilities. But connections are funny. Back in the computer company days, I had become friends with Zoltan Radai, a tech entrepreneur in the “New Hungary” before the fall in 1989. When my family and I moved to Europe in 1991, I contacted him. He not only knew the Bathory story, he also knew how to find the castle and spoke Hungarian and Slovak. I remember that ride very well, in a rented Fiat Uno stuffed with five of us, going on torn-up roads from Budapest to Trencin.

The castle inspired me, a great hilltop ruin in a town nobody had ever heard of. This was before the great vampire craze really hit the marketplace, before European Union funds even put up decent road signs. I took photos and wriggled around the sunken castle arches and even squeezed into the “death tower”.

By the time we returned to Vermont in 1992, Codrescu’s “The Blood Countess” was out and vampires were interesting to legions of teenage girls. But I was broke and couldn’t consider an opera, even though another big orchestral piece called “Softening Cries” was performed that year. It was real cognitive dissonance for my compositional soul!

Then the web hit. I put up an “Erzsébet: The Opera” website in 1996. Microsoft’s old home page featured it and I had millions of hits in one week. Folks submitted articles, artwork and even novels for the site, and I put them all up along with buckets of my own research. Magazines wanted interviews; the first article on my opera work was published in “Requiem” in France in 1998.

But no money. No grants, prizes, investors, nothing came out of it. The huge bandwidth costs for the website were out-of-pocket. In 2001 a team from The Travel Channel found the website and sent me back to Cactice in Slovakia for a show called “World’s Bloodiest Dungeons”. The Discovery Channel asked to do a segment in 2004, again sending me to Slovakia — but this time I asked if I could write an opera scene specifically for the show. The Australian producer Chris Thorburn was actually enthused, and he and the production team came to David Gunn‘s home here in Vermont where a group of us performed it — singer Lisa Jablow as Erzsébet and a small ensemble including David on percussion and Marco Oppedisano on guitar. A clip showed up on “Deadly Women”, which airs worldwide at least twice a year.

More authors were riding the vampire wave, Hollywood was churning out crappy knockoffs, yet my inability to market just about anything kept me from funding the opera. People wanted to work on it. Prague sculptor Pavel Kraus wanted to do set design. Atlanta graphic artist Bob Hobbs wanted to recreate the castle for a virtual or video version. Singers and musicians across Europe and the States were interested. Many site visitors offered help. Juraj Jakubisko‘s studio in Slovakia even contacted me about his film “Bathory” — though they wanted marketing help, not a composer.

So despite cheerleaders, it looked like it was never going to happen. I thought the project was history and decided to move on.

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lvbMy guitarist friend in Mexico, Alexandra Cárdenas, passes along a request received from a German accordionist Eva Zöllner:

Dear friends, I need your help for a project I will present at RADAR festival in Mexico City in March. As part of a new version of Mauricio Kagel‘s LUDWIG VAN I am working on a collage of Beethoven fragments.

I’d like to ask you to contribute to this project by recording a Beethoven tune for me, preferably in an unusual manner (for example singing under the shower, whistling bits of the viola part of the Egmont Overture backwards, ….. whatever you feel like…).

I need your recordings (they can be very short, don’t even think about practising all the cello sonatas on your bass recorder… ;)  by email to eva (at) eva-zoellner.de until February 20.

I look forward to your ideas and I’d be happy to have many of you join this little project. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or forward this to some friends.

Many thanks, Eva

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…Or maybe 100? Then I’d be well on my way to doing what sound artist Douglas Henderson has planned at Peirogi Gallery’s BOILER space in Williamsburg, NY the start of next month (only not nearly so well as I think he’s conceived). But if I can’t be there, maybe YOU would like to pick up a tool and contribute? S21’s roving composer in the street, Chris Becker has both the news and an interview with Henderson:

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On November 7th and 8th, at Peirogi Gallery’s BOILER space in Williamsburg, NY, I will be participating as a head carpenter in a performance of composer Douglas Henderson’s Music for 100 Carpenters.  Doug is looking for volunteers to perform this 30-minute piece.  If you are interested in performing, can hammer a nail, and are available on Saturday, Nov. 7 and/or Sunday Nov. 8 , 6:00pm – 9:00pm for the performance and orientation, please RSVP to:  100carpenters@googlemail.com

Doug’s work straddles a line between the categories of music, sculpture, and dance and theater.  He has presented works at the Whitney Museum at Altria, Dance Theater Workshop, and PS122 in New York and at Inventionen and daadgalerie in Berlin, among many others.  He describes Music for 100 Carpenters as “a theatrical surround-sound music performance, enlisting 100 skilled and unskilled trades people.  Prying at Stockhausen’s convolution of rhythm and timbre, 100 hammers, 100 blocks of wood and some 10,000 nails of varying sizes are brought to bear in a real-time, real-world articulation of complex computer synthesis.  Under the guidance of job supervisors, thousands of hammer blows become waves of tonal murmur, threaded with rustlings of nails and occasional snarls of righteous indignation.  The performers are organized into work crews with lists of tasks and closely timed schedules, and arranged in a circle around the audience.  Toolbelts, sweat and lunchboxes are part of the score.”

I interviewed Doug to discuss Music for 100 Carpenters, his other works, as well as his current life in Berlin, Germany.  The interview is posted on my blog at beckermusic.blogspot.com/2009/10/interview-with-douglas-henderson.html

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A worthy gig for any of you, and honest labor to boot. If you’re near, bring your gear!

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