Archive for the “Performers” Category
Posted by Chris Becker in Chamber Music, Classical Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Flute, Houston, Improv, Interviews, jazz, Performers, tags: Houston Friends of Chamber Music, Imani Winds, improvisation, Jeff Scott, maqam, maqamat, Simon Shaheen, Wayne Shorter, wind quintet
Imani Winds: Jeff Scott, Toyin Spellman-Diaz, Valerie Coleman, Monica Ellis, and Mariam Adam. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
(Houston, TX) Since the group’s inception in 1997, the Imani Winds have continued to expand the relatively small-sized repertoire for wind quintet by commissioning several works by such forward-thinking composers as Alvin Singleton, Roberto Sierra, Stefon Harris, Daniel Perez, Mohammed Fairouz, and Houston’s own Jason Moran. Moran’s four-movement work Cane, Moran’s first composition for wind quintet, appears on the Imani Winds’ 2010 album Terra Incognita, along with pieces by two other jazz masters, Paquito D’Rivera and Wayne Shorter. (The Imani Winds appear on Shorter’s critically acclaimed 2013 live quartet album Without A Net in a scorching performance of his 23-minute through-composed work Pegasus.) Imani Winds members Valerie Coleman (flute) and Jeff Scott (horn) also compose and arrange for the quintet. In concert, the Imani Winds present traditional classical fare alongside new works that explore African, Latin American, and the Middle Eastern musical idioms and performance techniques.
On Tuesday, October 15, 2013, the Imani Winds make their Houston Friends Of Chamber Music debut at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, performing arrangements of classic works by Ravel and Mendelssohn, Jonathan Russell’s powerful wind quintet arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring, and Scott’s arrangement of Palestinian-American oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen’s composition Dance Mediterranea, a piece that requires the quintet to play and improvise with Arabic scales or maqamat.
I spoke with Jeff Scott about the challenges of arranging Shaheen’s piece for the quintet as well as what it means to be a chamber wind ensemble in the 21st century.
Chris Becker: What are some challenges you faced in arranging Simon Shaheen’s music for the Imani Winds?
Jeff Scott: I listened to Shaheen’s piece over and over and over again so I could learn what I could do in the different section to offset it. We are an ensemble with five completely different sounding instruments that can create many different colors. So I listened to each section and thought, “Who could play the bass here? Who would sound great playing the solo line here? Who could really do something percussive on their instrument there to make it sound like an authentic version of the song?”
CB: There’s improvisation in your arrangement? Is that correct?
CB: Can you talk a little bit about the improvisation in the piece? Are you and your fellow winds improvising with scales? Are you improvising over some kind of harmony? Or is it even freer than that?
JS: It’s definitely structured. In that part of the world, the scale is called a maqam. This piece deals with three different maqamat. So for the solo sections, I only wrote out a rhythmic figure for whoever is playing the bass and the scale itself for whoever is playing the solo. The stuff in the middle is fleshed out completely and gives the top and bottom players guidelines they can follow.
In preparation for this piece, we had workshop rehearsals for learning the different maqamat and how to play inflect on our respective instruments the quarter tones and semitones that exist in those scales, so we wouldn’t just be playing a diatonic scale with two half steps and then calling that a maqam. That’s not it at all. The challenge was getting that g half flat just so! (laughs)
What separates people who play with those different scales and people who play Western music and diatonic scales, is that our ears are adjusted. We know when someone is playing a flat seventh, you know? But to be able to play it as part of a scale and know whether or not you’re just flat enough? (laughs) That’s a different thing! We played these scales in workshops for Shaheen almost like we were auditioning for him. We’d play, and he would say, “No, no, no…” and then play the scale with us and show us exactly where they fit. It’s a thing you just constantly have to work on because it’s not a part of our pedagogue. It’s not part of our training.
Before playing this piece, we’ll have our set of rehearsals the week before, and we’ll go through the shed of practicing those scales and testing one another.
CB: Is improvisation a part of your background? Or is it something new that you and the other members of the Imani Winds have explored since coming together as an ensemble?
JS: I’d say for the most part it’s new. Improvising wasn’t a part of our formal training. We all went to either the Manhattan School of Music or Juilliard. And it just wasn’t asked of you, it just wasn’t. Now, post-school? Yeah. You realize that in the 21st century commercial world, if you’re going to survive, regardless of what your training is, you have to be flexible enough to improvise. It was definitely harder for us coming into it, but more schools are requiring it these days. I think that’s really wonderful. The language of music from other countries is now filtering its way into the Western chronicles and as a musician, you have to be able to speak the different dialects. We have embraced it and really went out there and grabbed every possible challenge we could.
CB: What you say about conservatories in the U.S., that more programs are including improvisation and music from around the globe, is something I’m hearing about more and more in my interviews with younger musicians.
JS: It used to be shunned. When I was at the Manhattan School of Music, back in the 80s, I wrote this piece for horn and percussion that I wanted to play on one of my recitals. I remember playing the piece for my teacher and him not wanting me to do it because most of my part wasn’t written down and he couldn’t work with me on it. It wasn’t because the it sounded “bad” or “good,” he just didn’t know how to work with me on it as an improvised piece of music. And that said a whole lot about the institution and my training in general! (laughs) It speaks volumes!
CB: Tell me about the Imani Winds’ collaboration with saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter.
JS: We were asked to come and perform with him at the Hollywood Bowl on his 80th birthday along with Esperanza Spaulding, Herbie Hancock, Dave Douglas and all of these incredible musicians. We performed a piece that Shorter composed and arranged called Pegasus. It’s a symphony! The piece is written for his and wind quintet. It’s a symphony! It’s a mammoth, epic journey with improvisation from everyone involved, a through-composed piece with many different moods.
The whole thing started when the La Jolla Music Society in California commissioned Shorter to compose a piece for us, which he titled Terra Incognita. It was just for wind quintet, and it was the first piece he’d composed that didn’t involve him as a performer. He’d never written something for someone else that he didn’t intend to perform.
So he wrote this wind quintet and it was way out (laughs) with just as much room to improvise as you could possibly want. We didn’t know what the heck to do with it. So we learned everything note by note, and then played it for him. And he smiled and said, “That’s great. But promise me you’ll never play it like that again. I want you play it different every time. I want you to start from the end. I want you to leave out some parts. You can start in the middle. Just use the piece as a point of departure.”
CB: That’s so great.
JS: It says a whole lot about him. But it also says a whole lot about where I think classical music in general is going when it comes to chamber music and accepting improvisation, jazz and all of the world’s music, and having musicians who are flexible enough and open enough to at least experiment. It’s the only way we’re going to get the patrons of chamber music societies to have that openness and expectation when it comes to who they decide to put on their series. I mean, if we don’t start doing it, they’re going to continually only want the Haydn cycles. (laughs)
So we have to not only accept it, we have to become nimble at it. You have to be able to deliver a good product so the patrons say, “You know what? I want more of that!”
And besides, as a wind quintet, we don’t have the Haydn cycles! (laughs) They just don’t exist. We occasionally play the old stalwarts of the wind quintet, but that stuff runs out in about two weeks. You’ve got to play new stuff and push the envelope a bit, and improvisation is just a normal step along the way for expanding the repertoire for the wind quintet.
Houston Friends of Chamber Music present the Imani Winds, Tuesday, October 15, 7:30 p.m. at Stude Concert Hall, Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, performing works by Valerie Coleman, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Simon Shaheen, and Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring arranged by Jonathan Russell.
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Clarinettist David Krakauer, a major voice in both contemporary classical music and modern klezmer, will be performing an exciting and eclectic series of concerts this coming week at The Stone (September 24-29), featuring several of his current collaborative projects. This week long residency will offer a chance for audiences to hear all the sides of David’s artistry, and to enjoy the work of some very cool guest artists as well. In the following interview he discusses this coming week, his musical history, and some of his other fascinating projects.
CD: David – you are known around the world as a classical clarinetist, and also as a leading innovator in the world of Jewish klezmer music. Tell us a little about this “double life” — what is your history with these parallel paths, and how do you see each as a manifestation of your artistic voice? How, when, and why do you bring them together?
DK: I didn’t grow up playing or hearing klezmer music as a kid. But when I came to it, I was in my early thirties and somehow had both the maturity to understand the emotional impact of the music plus some kind of concept of why I was choosing to embark on that musical journey. Basically at the beginning, I just started to play klezmer as a pure search for cultural identity that was totally separate from my professional musical life. And fortunately my early musical education had fully equipped me to embrace an “off the page” style of music. Already during the time I attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City I was lucky enough to have had a musical education in both classical and jazz. When I was 15 I started studying with Leon Russianoff, one of the greatest clarinet teachers of all time. By the time I started working with him in the early 70s, his former students included many of the top orchestral clarinetists in the country like Stanley Drucker, Franklin Cohen, Michelle Zukovsky etc. But in addition he taught the great jazz clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton (best known for his illustrious tenure in the Duke Ellington band) and a huge array of players from all walks of the music business. So Russianoff had a very open mind and was anything BUT a “stuffy” classical teacher. His mix of incredible rigor with a lovely, easy-going looseness was perfect for me and set the stage for the career I have today. As far as the jazz side of things goes, I had the great fortune to meet the incredible composer/pianist Anthony Coleman when we were students together at Music and Art. He asked me to join his band that was doing a huge spectrum of jazz repertoire ranging from Jelly Roll Morton to Monk to free jazz (in addition to Anthony’s music). Covering so many styles of jazz was actually rather unusual at that time, and it was a tremendous experience.
But when I went to college, I kind of had a crisis of confidence. I ended up abandoning jazz and deciding to focus almost exclusively on classical music. In fact, I think at the time I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to find a personal voice as an improviser. I worked very hard in classical music and excelled; but was always tremendously conflicted about making that choice. It would take many years for me to sort that all out. In any case, right out of school I spent ten years freelancing doing chamber music, contemporary classical, orchestral playing and some recitals here and there. After a while I made some headway with some very prestigious associations like the Marlboro music festival, a woodwind quintet that won the Naumburg Chamber music award, a New York recital debut as a winner of the Concert Artists’ Guild, chamber music with a wonderful group of people in the NY Philomusica and countless concerts with many of the New Yorks’ new music groups such as Continuum and the Da Capo Chamber Players.
It was a very rich and busy life, but I got to a point in my early 30s where somehow I felt like something was missing and I had thrown the baby out with the bath water. I knew at that point I needed to return to the world of improvising and non-written music. So through a series of chance meetings and coincidences (that in retrospect I see I was somehow directing myself towards) I came to klezmer music. At first I was just doing it for fun. And in the same moment I found myself connecting to my Jewish roots for the first time. It was exhilarating. After a few months of doing a bunch of very low key gigs my name came to the attention of the Klezmatics and they asked me to join. It was during that time where I started to develop my own original sound and find my own voice. The conflict I had felt for over 15 years was finally resolved and klezmer became a foundation for me to create a musical home for myself.
I did two recordings and countless tours of Europe with the Klezmatics before I left the band to form my own group in the mid-90s. And that has all launched me on the path that I’m still following today. In addition to touring with my own band, it’s fantastic to have an opportunity to bring it all together by working with composers who have given me room to be myself within their compositions. Recording and performing Osvaldo Golijov’s monumental composition “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” with the Kronos is a notable example. Plus nowadays I have more and more chances to be a soloist with fantastic symphony orchestras playing pieces that straddle both worlds by composers like George Tsontakis, Wlad Marhulets, Ofer Ben-Amots and Mohammed Fairouz. I’ve also enjoyed incredible collaborations with the Montreal based beat architect Socalled, the renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz, John Zorn and the great master of funk Fred Wesley. Musically I feel like I’m in an incredibly exciting place where I can bring all the diverse elements of my universe together with so many incredibly rewarding projects.
CD: Your Stone residency really seems to be something of a self portrait in that you have chosen to showcase a different side of your artistry each night. We’ll hear your klezmer band, we’ll hear you playing John Zorn’s music, some improv, and some chamber music. Can you tell us a little about the concepts behind each night?
DK: The Stone residency coming up next week is an amazing opportunity for me to offer a cross section of many of my major projects. During the first three nights a number of the musicians who have worked with me for many years will be on board. After having played so much together, there are times when we’re virtually mind-reading. Joining me in various configurations will be Sheryl Bailey on electric guitar; Jerome Harris on bass; Michael Sarin on drums; Will Holshouser on accordion; and Keepalive on sampler.
-Tuesday 9/24 will be a show with my Acoustic Klezmer Quartet. We’ll do an “unplugged” mix of traditional klezmer pieces done with my own quirky spin mixed with my compositions that all come from the story about my particular musical/personal journey.
-On Wednesday 9/25 I’ll present my arrangements of a group of pieces from John Zorn’s Book of Angels Volume 3. John selected these pieces specifically for me and this is a great chance to pay tribute to a musical association I’ve had with Zorn for over twenty years.
-Thursday 9/26 will be a performance with “Ancestral Groove” which is my current touring band.
I decided to change my band’s name from “Klezmer Madness”, because for me at this point, klezmer no longer seems to encompass all that I’m doing now. Klezmer will always of course be part of my music, but the title “Ancestral Groove” seems to better reflect the totality of my story.
-Friday 9/27 will mark the debut of a new duo project with the incredible South African pianist, arranger and musical explorer Kathleen Tagg. We’ll be doing our arrangements of a couple of klezmer tunes, brand new electro-acoustic works by exciting New York composers Aleksandra Vrebalov and Jorge Sosa and our new arrangements of great New York performing composers Kinan Azmeh and John Zorn. I’ll also be doing Steve Reich’s iconic “New York Counterpoint” and Messiaen’s “Abyss of the Birds”.
-On Saturday 9/28 I’ll be doing an evening of improvisation with the incredible new music singer Helga Davis, the fantastic former cellist of the Kronos Quartet Jeffery Zeigler and the astonishing violinist/electronics wizard Todd Reynolds.
-The final concert on Sunday 9/29 will feature performances in both sets of the aforementioned “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind’ by Osvaldo Golijov. I’ve been a champion of this work since 1994 and am delighted to have a chance to play it in New York once again. Jeff Zeigler will join once again in addition to a tremendous super group including the amazing Margaret Dyer on viola and Abigale Reisman on violin. Plus I’m so delighted that you , Cornelius Dufallo, will also be a part of it bringing your tremendous artistry to this ensemble !!!!
All in all I’m super excited about this residency and can’t wait to get underway!
CD: You have a new project called “The Big Picture,” in which you will be re-interpreting some of the great film scores of all time. Please share with us how you came up with this project! I think you describe it as a “new phase” for you – how so?
DK: “The Big Picture” is a multi-media concert with a six piece band interpreting music from iconic films that (as we find out during the course of the performance) all have Jewish content. There’s music from the soundtracks of the obvious films like “The Pianist” and “Sophie’s Choice”…but there’s also music from Woody Allen films like “Midnight In Paris”, “Radio Days” and “Love and Death” that include jazz standards and pieces by Sidney Bechet and Prokofiev. And then there are pieces from Mel Brooks….and from Randy Newman. And more! So the range is pretty incredible. With the six piece band of tremendously poetic musicians we’re able to bring a special playfulness and intimacy to all this music. It was a blast to make the CD. Now we’re in the phase of producing a film that will accompany the music. This whole show will launch in Jan-Feb at the museum of Jewish Heritage down in Battery Park. I just heard the finished master of the CD the other day…and as I listened to this incredible selection of pieces fill the room it felt like I was going through a whole journey of the Jewish experience for the last 120 years. So yes… It’s quite different from anything I’ve ever done before, but at the same time it’s a continuation of my story and the search for identity that I’ve been involved with for the past 25 years. I put this all together with an extremely talented team and am extremely excited to bring this project out into the world to share with the public in the next few months.
CD: Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians?
DK: I often say the following to young musicians :
Follow your dreams….no matter how crazy they seem!
Explore as much diversity in music as possible!
The latest from Isabelle Faust
Violinist Isabelle Faust may have impressed you in Mozart last week at the Mostly Mozart Festival. She’ll be back in New York for Beethoven and more next January! Her latest recording explores the sound world of Bela Bartok, including both of his violin concertos, now out on Harmonia Mundi.
“If you talk with a living composer, of course (s)he will be very clear and explain what kind of atmosphere, what kind of sound (s)he wants produced,” says Faust. The importance of new music is profound with Isabelle, who says this interaction between composer and performer is key, and influences how she plays older music.
Hear the entire interview with Isabelle Faust with John Clare, talking about each concerto, creating fresh sounds in programming, and the importance of composers here.
Light & Sound Concerts presents The Unusual Universe of Rob Schwimmer, two programs featuring theremin, continuum and piano virtuoso Rob Schwimmer on Friday, March 15 at 8:00 PM and Sunday. March 17 at 3: 00 PM at The Old Stone House, Washington Park, 336 Third Street (bet. 4th & 5th Avenues) in Brooklyn, New York. The park entrance faces 4th Avenue. This is presented as part of Light and Sound’s Spring 2013 series.
Rob Schwimmer is an internationally known composer, pianist, theremin and continuum player. As a founding member of the highly acclaimed Polygraph Lounge he performs regularly with his duo partner, multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart, of Bang On A Can All Stars. Schwimmer is one of the top theremin virtuosos in the world. As an original member of The NY Theremin Society he has appeared as soloist with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s at the prestigious Caramoor Festival and with The Little Orchestra of New York at Lincoln Center. Much more about him at http://www.robschwimmer.com/.
Tickets for the March 15 and 17 performances are $20 at the door, and are also available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/347890. Also on March 17, at 2:00 PM Light & Sound will present a special 40 minute Family Concert & Conversation with the Artist – $15 for first adult, $5 for each additional family member. For more information, call 718-768-3195 or visit http://julianneviolin.com/LandSBlog/?page_id=249. A reception will follow each event.
Light & Sound, curated by its founder/director, violinist Julianne Klopotic, is a full spectrum performance series. Unique in its approach, the 2013 season includes performances informed by New/Experimental Music, Classical, Jazz/Rock and World Music. Other Light & Sound Spring 2013 Old Stone House Series presentations are The Klopotic-Pierce-Zoernig Trio performing Schubert Piano Trios on April 5 and 6, David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir on April 19 and 21 and Glass Music Master Miguel Frasconi on May 17 and 19. More about the series at http://www.lightandsound-concerts.org.
The Old Stone House, a Historic House Trust of New York City site, commemorates the Vechte-Cortelyou House’s unique place in Brooklyn and American history. Through exhibits, programs and events, they preserve the House’s rich past while contributing to Brooklyn’s contemporary cultural community. Visit them at http://theoldstonehouse.org/.
Le Train Bleu, conducted by Ransom Wilson, will present Toy Stories, a concert on Wednesday, February 6 – 7:00 PM at DROM, 85 Avenue A (between 5th and 6th) in New York, N.Y.
The evening will feature the World Premiere of Lawrence Dillon’s Seven Stories for soprano and eight instruments. The piece was composed to an original text. The composer writes, “A stuffed animal falls from an apartment window. As it falls, it peers into each passing window, trying to create stories from what it sees.” Read his recent blog post about it at http://www.sequenza21.com/dillon/?p=1962. The new work will be sung by soprano Mary Mackenzie. Visit Lawrence Dillon at http://www.lawrencedillon.com/.
Toy Stories explores mankind’s endless variety of play and playthings. The concert will also include Thomas Ades’ Living Toys, a journey through the fantasies of a child, for 14 instruments, accompanied by a new video by Adam Kendall, Matt Marks’ Sex Objects, a set of three songs about unique characters and their intimate relationships with inanimate objects, with vocal performances by Mary Mackenzie, Matt Marks, and Jeff Gavett, and the World Premiere of Eric Nathan’s Toying, a virtuoso exploration of the full range of possible sounds and techniques produced by the trumpet, played by Le Train Bleu’s Hugo Moreno.
Visit Thomas Ades at http://thomasades.com/. Matt Marks is at http://mattmarksmusic.com/ and Eric Nathan at http://www.ericnathanmusic.com/Home.html.
Tickets for the February 6 event are $20, and are available at http://www.ticketfly.com/event/205653. For more information, call 212-777-1157 or visit http://www.dromnyc.com/.
Le Train Bleu is a musical collective formed by conductor and flutist Ransom Wilson. The musicians are among the most exciting young players in New York, and are chosen for their brilliance as well as their expressive qualities. Recently named a resident ensemble of the Galapagos Art Space, the ensemble continues plans to present performances of new and interesting music. The New York Times said of their debut performance: “Under Mr. Wilson’s baton, the Train Bleu ensemble was both incisive and joyous in execution.” In the 2011-12 season, the ensemble presented a 4-concert series at the Galapagos Art Space, as well as collaborating with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company in a 2-week season at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. They also participated in a 15-month creative residency at the Park Avenue Armory, along with soprano Lauren Flanigan. Visit them at http://letrainbleu.org/.
…and the results were not good… One of the brightest small labels for new music in the last 4-5 years has been NYC’s New Amsterdam Records. Founded by Judd Greenstein, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and William Brittelle, its catalog is full of some of the best young, fresh composers working today, performed by a bevy of equally fresh & talented players. This label has quickly risen to the forefront in capturing and disseminating the newer American scene.
All of that hard work has unfortunately just gotten a lot harder; Their offices are in the Redhook area of New York City, and weren’t dealt kindly with by Hurricane Sandy. As Sarah Kirkland Snider writes on her Facebook page:
Our new New Amsterdam HQ in Red Hook was totaled by Sandy. The water mark is over 4′. We had moved much of the office to higher ground prior to the storm, and elevated everything else, but we still lost all files/paperwork, a hard drive, some furniture, vintage synthesizers and music gear, and most of our CD stock. Our landlord does not have flooding insurance, and our attempts to acquire it before the storm were denied. There is some talk of FEMA helping uninsured Red Hook businesses, but that seems like a long shot. Stunned and heavy-hearted we are.
Truly a catastrophe for a small company like this… Clean-up and picking through has begun, but they’re certainly going to need a lot of help to get back to a point where they can continue the outstanding service they’ve done to new music listeners, performers and composers alike. Nothing is set yet, but at the very least you can “like” their Facebook page to show your support, and to stay aware of any coming requests for help, donations, or benefits.
New Amsterdam is truly a treasure, and we’re absolutely rooting for a comeback.
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Posted by Jonathan Lakeland in Chamber Music, Choral Music, Classical Music, Composers, Conductors, Contemporary Classical, Criticism, Orchestral, Orchestras, Percussion, Performers, Recordings, Review, tags: bevely morgan, buffalo, carl ruggles, judith blegen, michael tilson thomas, philharmonic, ruggles, speculum musicae, tilson thomas
If you were having a conversation with fellow music lovers about the great American composers, Carl Ruggles would not be the first person to come to mind. The “Great American Composer” honor is most often bestowed upon Copland, Ives, or even depending on the company you are with, Bernstein.
Courtesy of SONY Music & Other Minds Records
This is not to say, however, that a popularity contest equates to greatness. An equally adept and creative composer, Carl Ruggles produced a small yet intriguing output of pieces for a variety of ensemble types. It is only fair, then, that when recording the complete works of a lesser known composer such as Ruggles, top-tier musicians should be brought in to lead the process. This recording does not disappoint, and the Buffalo Philharmonic, under the leadership of Michael Tilson Thomas, have produced an earnest and committed recording of Ruggles’ entire catalogue.
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The 100th anniversary of the birth of John Cage was celebrated in Pasadena, California at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center with a concert by Gloria Cheng titled Two Sides of Cage’s Coin. The Boston Court venue is comfortably cozy and all but a few of the 100 seats were filled to hear Water Music and the entire sequence of Sonatas and Interludes. Despite the modern industrial construction of the hall – it has corrugated steel walls – and a play going on in the adjacent theater, the acoustics proved more than adequate for the intimate space.
John Cage was born in Los Angeles and has many connections here despite being known primarily as a New York composer. Cage studied with Schoenberg at UCLA – where Gloria Cheng is now a faculty member. He lived for a time in Pacific Palisades and later in Hollywood. Cage was also a colleague of Lou Harrison and taught at Mills College in the Bay area. To mark the centennial here in Los Angeles of the birth of John Cage – one of Americas most influential composers – is entirely fitting and appropriate.
The first piece on the program is known generically as Water Music but as Ms. Cheng explained the official title should be Boston Court, Pasadena August 24, 2012 because Cage had intended the title to be taken from wherever it was performed. This piece was first presented as 66 W. 12 at Woodstock, NY August 29, 1952 and so the title is updated on each playing. Water Music is partly music and partly performance – the score calls for a table radio, three kinds of whistles, cups and pitchers of water, a wooden stick and a deck of playing cards, all in addition to the piano. (A similar piece - Water Walk – was once performed by Cage himself on the old I’ve Got A Secret TV program and you can see this here on You Tube.)
Boston Court, Pasadena August 24, 2012 started with the rolling out of a small cart full of items to center stage – the radio plays – and Ms. Cheng began a series of activities such as pouring water from cup to pitcher, blowing various whistles, etc. This was all done by timing the sequence of actions with her iPhone (a nice 21st century touch) and following Cage’s score, which was projected overhead for all to see. No one brings as much dignity to the concert stage as Gloria Cheng, but she could have been a 1950s housewife scurrying about attending to various domestic chores. When the score called for a chord or two on the piano, however, everything changes: it is the virtuoso who – with just a few notes struck – suddenly and decisively shifts the focus to an artistic perspective. It is this overlap between the mundane and the suddenly artistic that makes this piece so intriguing – our ordinary lives are never quite removed from the arts – and art bleeds into our everyday experience.
Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano was written over two years,1946 to 1948, at a time when John Cage was working with choreographer Merce Cunningham. Ms. Cheng explained that because there was no room in the dance studio for drums, Cage hit upon the idea of adding various pieces of hardware to the piano strings to give it a more percussive sound. He eventually devised explicit instructions on how the piano was to be prepared and he specifies individual types of screws, bolts and plastic pieces for each of 45 different notes on the piano. A complete chart by Cage showing how the piano is to be prepared was included in the program.
To those who have never heard a prepared piano the resulting sound invariably exceeds prior expectations. The lower prepared notes have a wonderful gong-like quality while the middle register can produce beautiful bell tones. The higher notes tend most toward the percussive, at times resembling the notes from a music box. The added texture of the prepared piano is fully explored in Sonatas and Interludes which are, by turns playful, dramatic, solemn, agitated, languid, mysterious and tranquil. The ‘Sonatas’ are played in groups of four followed an ‘Interlude’ for a total of 20 pieces – all played sequentially. This work was written at a time when Cage was studying South Asian music and culture – the various pieces in Sonatas and Interludes evoke a definite exotic and mystical feeling and are intended to portray the eight permanent human emotions as defined by Indian philosophy.
As might be expected, Sonatas and Interludes is a very challenging work for the performer – from the 3 hours of piano preparation time to understanding just how each note will feel and react. And of course you can see that the piece is technically difficult just by looking at the notes on the score – rapid runs of complex arpeggios, soft quiet stretches and dramatically loud passages. Because the hardware tends to shorten the duration of the sound when a prepared note is struck, this music is typically a sequence of single notes and rapid runs with very few long chords – a good test of the performer’s dexterity. Ms. Cheng was up to all of this but what impresses most is her ability to find just the right dynamic and “touch” for each section – even with 45 of the keys prepared. I asked her afterwords if she had much chance to practice on a prepared piano and she responded that at one time she did so but now feels confident given her experience with Cage’s music. In any event the results were well-received by the audience who brought Ms. Cheng back for two curtain calls amid much cheering. Gloria then invited those interested to come on stage to look inside the piano – and help her “de-prepare” it – a gracious gesture from an accomplished performer.
This concert was sponsored by Piano Spheres and information on their upcoming concert season can be found here.
TwtrSymphony is an intriguing ensemble of musicians connected via social networking. Instead of working together to simply promote and distribute news about contemporary music, TwtrSymphony is a fully functional new music ensemble in absentia. The individual members of this orchestra never meet and rehearse as a group. Instead, the performers record their parts in isolation from each other, in widely different settings, and Musical Director Chip Michael and his merry band of engineers then assemble these recordings into cohesive works all 140 seconds in duration. Right now, TwtrSymphony is working on Chip Michael’s Second Symphony, Birds of a Feather, and the first movement “The Hawk Goes Hunting” was released on July 17.
While their website has a wealth of information including a recording, video, and thorough blog, I sat down with Chip on Monday night and chatted with him about the ensemble. While I should have kept a certain journalistic verisimilitude and had the exchange via Twitter, we opted for a slightly longer format (Skype).
Jay C. Batzner: Let’s start with the basics: what do you do in your role as Musical Director? Who else is involved (other than performers)?
Chip Michael: My role of Music Director is very organizational, pointing TwtrSymphony in the direction I think it needs to head and keeping the focus on what we need to do to get where we’re going. I am also the composer as that is a good portion of why TwtrSymphony got started.
I was looking for an orchestra to play my music and some of my Twitter friends suggested I start my own – a Twitter Symphony… and TwtrSymphony was born.
But, I want TwtrSymphony to be more than just a show case for my music. It’s a great concept, musicians from all around the world playing together. Musicians who might never get to play with other musicians making music. That’s cool. So, while I’ve written the first piece that we’re doing, Symphony No. 2 “Birds of a Feather,” I imagine a future when other composers can avail themselves of our ensemble.
As Music Director, I’m thinking about how the process works (and what doesn’t), what it means to be a symphony orchestra and how to get the pieces to fit together… so, when the time comes for us to have other composers work with the ensemble, we have the tools and setup to make sure it works right for both the musicians and the composer.
Nothing would be worse than for us to invite a composer to write something and have the end result be a horrible failure. So, in essence we’re using my music to test the waters.
We’re also in the process of re-designing the organization of TwtrSymphony. There is nothing formal to announce at this point, but the way we do things now isn’t the best way. It makes getting recordings out time consuming and requires a lot of engineering effort. A simple re-org should help that. As MD, I’m thinking about what’s best for the music and ways we can achieve quality and still maintain our global nature
JCB: The idea behind TwtrSymphony, the idea of crowd-sourcing performers, is something that we’ve seen taking off recently. I think of Tan Dun’s and Eric Whitacre’s YouTube-based performances. This seems to be a logical technological outgrowth of the “write for your friends” mentality that a lot of composers use (and rightfully so).
CM: Yes… the concept of crowd-sourcing performers is nothing new. Neither is the idea of remote recording sessions to put together an ensemble. However, I’m not aware of any instrumental ensemble to the scale of TwtrSymphony that’s been done. 60+ musicians with 90+ tracks is a lot to manage when the recordings were done in different places, using different equipment…Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir comes the closest to what we’re doing. Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by Jonathan Lakeland in Classical Music, Composers, Concert review, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, New York, Percussion, Performers, tags: cage, iktus, john, John Cage, Le Poisson Rouge, percussion, phyllis chen, taka kigawa
Le Poisson Rouge is a striking place.
This venue was the location of this past Sunday’s concert featuring Iktus Percussion (Cory Bracken, Chris Graham, Nicholas Woodbury, and Steve Sehman), pianist Taka Kigawa, and toy pianist Phyllis Chen. According to Iktus member Cory Bracken, one of the missions of the evening (focused entirely around composer John Cage) was to take some of his pieces that are almost exclusively performed in academic settings, and begin to inject them into the public concert repertoire. What the audience encountered, therefore, was a healthy mix of both often and not-so-often performed pieces by John Cage.
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