Archive for the “Performers” Category
Dialogue between the Traditional and the Modern
Chinese Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble
Tsung Yeh, conductor
Zhang Weiliang, Artistic Director and xiao soloist
Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, NY
May 7th. 2012
The biggest thing I can say about the Hua Xia Chamber Ensemble‘s program at Alice Tully is this: For the first 5 minutes or so when they came out and played the first piece Lang Tao Sha, which was a traditional piece, I couldn’t write a thing. It was an incredible rush that made me more fully appreciate not only the music of China, but music at its best, for its organic healing abilities, and for sounds that force you to take the time to consider them.
This concert, titled Dialogue between the Traditional and the Modern was very much what it describes, very prominent-sounding folk music that served as Eastern statements from the Chinese ensemble that were alternated with their take on the music of living American composers, Victoria Bond and John Mallia, whose works were being premiered on this occasion. The notation of the Chinese instruments being different from our system, it made me wonder how they were going to pull it off. I believe they did.
Chinese-American composer Wenhui Xie also had a traditional sounding piece titled Less, but More that had its World Premiere at this concert.
Mallia’s piece titled Nodes was a very Schoenbergian cacophony of a work whose atonal identity revealed itself even through the Chinese instrumentation, but the debut of an updated version of Victoria Bond’s Bridges was a marvelous treat not only for its brightness and upbeat presence on its own terms, but also because even the Chinese are quite capable of playing orchestral Gershwin Jazz, as evidenced in the final section of the piece! I very badly wanted to isolate the erhu from the rest of the ensemble just to hear how bluesy this instrument suddenly sounded.
It should be noted that Chai Shuai, who played both the erhu and erxian in this concert, played marvelously and passionately. I remember when I saw Hilary Hahn once playing a piece, I used to remark that I saw smoke coming from the fiddle in a way of describing the intensity of her performance, but Ms. Shuai’s erhu was indeed producing smoke. You can make of that what you will.
The meeting of Chinese and Western instruments was something that provided great insight into two different camps of hard-working musicians. There was such pungency and intensity of both the Western cello and Chinese instruments such as the zheng and the pipa, and all of these at times provided a clearer folk-sense that Western classical music doesn’t always capture fathfully.
Although it had only been happening in the second half, Tsung Yeh, the ensemble’s conductor, gave the audience some wonderful and thoughtful introductions to the works and had the composers present walk up to the stage for bows.
Zhang Weiliang, who is both the Artistic director of the ensemble and a soloist of the xiao (vertical-end-blown flute), came out and performed Wild Geese in The Sandbank as if it was a field recording of the species. It was a very natural performance that won Mr. Weiliang gracious appeal.
Another memorable moment was the ensemble’s reading of the Peking Opera piece Deep Night, which featured both erhu and Beijing erhu, which had a much higher-end sound, and the two together created this incredibly tasty ethnic harmony in what was an exciting traditional piece that received the biggest reception of the night.
To have seen this beloved event where we were given the opportunity to hear the most exciting music from China played on the instruments of their country was something to be extremely proud of, and I have to say that seeing an erhu being played alongside a Western violin is something akin to seeing two living kindred spirits meeting for the first time and bonding for life.
Tsung Yeh’s listing on ArtsEverywhere.com
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Ittai Shapira's new CD, released this month, includes his new violin concerto, to be premiered on April 20th.
Ittai Shapira is best known as an internationally acclaimed soloist with an impressive list of collaborators that includes some of the world’s finest conductors and orchestras. He is a champion of contemporary music, having premiered concertos by many of todays most renowned composers, including Kenji Bunch, Shulamit Ran, Theodore Wiprud, Avner Dorman, and Dave Heath.
While still a violin student years ago, Shapira studied analysis and composition with Mark Kopytman. He loved composing, but his performance career soon grew too busy to allow for any other callings, so he kept his creative spark alive by writing his own cadenzas to the standard violin concertos. Over the last decade, his many collaborations with composers have reconnected him to the creative process and rekindled his early passion for writing music. Since 2008 he has written two violin concertos, as well as a series of fiendishly challenging solo violin caprices.This month the British label Champs Hill Records released a CD of Shapira’s two violin concertos, Concierto Latino (2008) and The Old Man And The Sea (2011), as well as his Caprice Habanera (2010).
The most recent of these works, The Old Man And The Sea, is an exciting, larger-than-life piece in the grand tradition of the virtuoso violin concerto. Inspired by Earnest Hemingway’s classic novel of the same title, the work is full of soulful melodies, dramatic orchestration, and dazzling technical passages, all delivered on the recording with Shapira’s smooth tone and powerhouse virtuosity. While the piece keeps a close programmatic relationship to the novel, it also stands on it’s own as a compelling work, and a substantial contribution to the violin repertoire. The recorded performance is with Neil Thomson and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
In a recent conversation, I asked Shapira about his compositional process for The Old Man And The Sea. He explained that the idea first came to him while on a concert tour in 2008, when he found himself based in Key West, Florida, for several days. Not surprisingly, he was struck by the beauty of the locale, but he also became very interested in the local fishing culture. Shortly after this trip, when the BP oil spill devastated the whole region, Shapira felt moved to write a piece that was in some way related to the lives of the Gulf Stream fishermen. As a long time fan of Hemingway, it did not take him long to connect his new inspiration to Hemingway’s great novel, and when Molloy College commissioned him to write a piece for the “Innovative Classics Series” all the pieces fell into place.
As with his first concerto, Shapira prepared for this new endeavour by composing some solo pieces, in this case caprices with Carribean and Cuban stylistic elements. Describing his process, Shapira says,” In every piece I write there is an ‘outside influence’ because that is how I learn; this leads to different harmonic languages, different sound worlds, and consequently different bow techniques. The caprices that I write are always studies towards these new styles.” The solo piece included on this disc, Caprice Habanera, was indeed a study for The Old Man And The Sea.
Shapira will be performing the world premiere of his new concerto with the chamber orchestra known as The Knights on April 20 at Molloy College in Long Island. The combination of Shapira’s playing, his music, and this hot-shot orchestra should make the event one of the most exciting of the month.
Ittai Shapira rehearses The Old Man And The Sea with Neil Thomson and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra:
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- Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova Photo:Alex Fedorov
Pianists Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova are very much their own acts. But they became close partners when they debuted their Arensky CD and, in the process, founded their own record label, LP Classics, Inc. Since then, they’ve performed as a duo, as they will on May 6 at Get Classical’s inaugural concert series event at New York’s Rose Bar.But their friendship began much earlier, back in 1999, when the two pianists were freshmen at Julliard.
They instantly connected over their shared Russian heritage, but on top of that, their personalities just clicked. “Of course, we have had our share of fights, regular stuff that happens when two egos are involved…and we have our own lives,” volunteers Lavrova, during our animated interview over dinner with Primakov. “But we love each other.”
- Photo: Alex Fedorov
Married to photographer Alex Fedorov, Lavrova often brings her husband on board withher projects.Fedorov is responsible for all of the photographic work featured on the Arensky CD, which Lavrova and Primakov recorded to great reviews. James Harrington of the American Record Guide wrote that the two “capture the essence of each suite, and through their considerable talents, share with us some of the most enjoyable almost unknown music I have heard in quite a while.”
Artistic collaboration was a natural extension of Lavrova and Primakov’s friendship, says Primakov. “We do think alike; there is a spiritual connection and a feeling for the music that just got more serious over the last two years, when we decided to get involved with recording the Arensky’s suites,” he says, reminiscent of their past years spent under teacher Jerome Lowenthal at Juilliard’s chamber music program (where they spend more time partying then practicing, they admit). “We were both excited, when we heard this music and started to perform it in concert to great reviews and decided we needed to record this interesting, yet virtually unknown program,” says Primakov. “We had two options—either pitch it to an established label or try to do it on our own. As we were thinking about this music, we both realized we wanted to have more control of the process, and it became a project that started so many things for the both of us. It also brought us even closer.”
While Primakov has already catalogued a number of recordings with Bridge Records, the Arensky CD was a first for Lavrova, who spends most of her time, when not performing, managing her own music school program. As the director of Music School of New York City, she teaches pianists of all levels and ages, applying her passion for music education that she inherited from her own teacher, Zalina Gurevich, who, many years ago, recognized their shared enthusiasm for teaching and kids in a young Lavrova. “She allowed me to sit in her lessons and gradually take over teaching some of her kids,” says Lavrova. “At first she would monitor the lessons and then give me feedback. It made all the difference in my learning how to become a good teacher.”
A very important factor in Lavrova’s teacher selections is a teacher’s performance experience. “That inspires students in a way nothing else can,” she says. One of her favorite teachers at her school, no wonder then, is Primakov, even though, between his busy performance and recording schedules, he can only take on a limited number of students.
But despite both of the artists’ busy daily routines, they are committed to and infatuated with their newest project, LP Classics. From the initial excitement over finding the pianos and dealing with tuners and sound engineers, they are both planning on fully integrating the record label into their careers. “We had turned to our friend Sarah Faust of Faust-Harrison Pianos to obtain two matching pianos for the recording.
- Photo: Alex Fedorov
She had a new Yamaha CFX in her vast studio, which we loved, and then put us in touch with Bonnie Barrett, the director of Yamaha Artist Services, to find another. We tried it, and it sounded great, and this developed our future relationship with Yamaha.” Primakov and Lavrova are now Yamaha artists. Their Arensky CD was the first ever recording on two Yamaha CFX model pianos, and their CD release performance was live-streamed from the Yamaha showroom. Right now, the two are working on a lot of four-hand, one-instrument repertoire—an easier and more economical setup—exploring less-played pieces such as the Czerny Sonatas and works by Milhaud and John Corigliano, which they plan to perform at Get Classical at the Rose Bar.
In the future, Primakov says, they want to open up their record label to young artists looking to produce resume-building and career-launching first CDs. They also want to unbury historical, undiscovered past recordings of great, established performers, introducing old, forgotten gems to the public, as they did with Vera Gornostaeva Vol. 1 Chopin, a historical recording found through archived tapes in a Moscow library. “We obtained the rights and re-mastered the tapes of this amazing recording,” explains Primakov. “Another hidden secret we are now releasing is our teacher Jerry Lowenthal’s playing, which we both grew up on, and there are so many more to come.”
Very important to their mission is their ability to rely on efficient and passionate
- Photo: Alex Fedorov
music professionals involved in the recording process. “You are so exposed as a performer, you have to be able to trust the people you work with to make you look your best,” says Primakov. “We have built a wonderful little family that includes Charlie Post, who became sound engineer, editor and producer in one, and technician Terry Flynn, who can achieve the most amazing results in the short in-betweens of the recording process. As soon as he hears just a slight irregularity in tone voicing, he informs the sound engineer and matches up everything in the matter of minutes while we step out for a glass of water.”
Also important to Primakov and Lavrova’s goals is the opportunity to constantly engage with new audiences, which they will have the opportunity to do this May 6, when the two perform excerpts of their four-hand program as well as some solo repertoire at Get Classical’s music series launch at the trendy Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar in New York. Primakov and Lavrova will be two of four pianists presenting a program geared to new and old classical fans, including GetClassical.org readers, by bringing 19th-century salon-type performances to the 21st-century lounge. Hosted by the Gramercy Park Hotel and myself, your devoted GetClassical.org blogger, Get Classical at the Rose Bar hopes to bring classical music to audiences that might prefer listening in the comfort of an armchair, aperitif in hand, to the formality of the concert hall. The series will give listeners the chance to meet artists in the intimacy of the cool Rose Bar and hear them talk about their music and lives as concert artists. And it is exactly this exchange that performers like Primakov and Lavrova, as well as David Aladashvili and Marika Bournaki, the two performers featured alongside them in the evening’s program, are looking forward to—to play and relate to both staying fans and interested spectators in a personal way. “We always want to test drive our program with new audiences. It’s one of the most exciting things one can do as a performer,” Primakov says.
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Composer/vocalist Sabrina Lastman, whose duo SoCorpo is also a great fixture of the performing arts, is involved in another wonderful project. The Sabrina Lastman Quartet (and they also perform as the Sabrina Lastman Trio sans the drummer) are offering up the tantalizing combination of jazz and world music. Their CD The Candombe Jazz Sessions has been issued this month and was accompanied by a CD release show at Joe’s Pub in NY. They will be also appearing on March 10th at Pregones Theater in the Bronx. Sabrina had a few minutes to spare for a small chat. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Chris McGovern in Bang on a Can, Composers, Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, Performers, tags: Andy Akiho, Ashley Bathgate, Eighth Blackbird, Mariel Roberts, percussion, steel pan, Vicki Ray, Vicky Chow
Andy Akiho may have started out as a performer only, but his heart has driven him to become not only a wonderful composer in his own right, but a composer/performer that creates some of the most wonderful and compelling sounding pieces combining steel pans with a variety of instruments from other great new classical musicians. Having studied composition with such greats as Julia Wolfe, David Lang, Ezra Laderman, and Martin Bresnick among others, Akiho had just recently won eighth blackbird’s inaugural Finale National Composition Contest. Andy talked to me about that and some of my favorite works of his. Read the rest of this entry »
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Posted by Chris McGovern in Electro-Acoustic, Events, Experimental Music, New York, Performers, Review, tags: Amy X Neuburg, Composer/performers, Cory Smythe, looping, multimedia, performance art, Piano, Roulette
Cory Smythe and Amy X Neuburg; Photos courtesy of Glenn Cornett
Amy X Neuburg/Cory Smythe
Dec. 13, 2011
It’s East Meets West…coast, that is.
On the stage of the old-school charming Roulette in Brooklyn was yet another creatively edgy program, put on this time by the pairing of West-coast avant-cabaret artist Amy X Neuburg and New York’s own pianist-composer, ICE’s Cory Smythe. Presented without an intermission, the show was almost entirely electronic or electro-acoustic in nature (with the exception of a refreshing burst of Fats Waller’s “Handful of Keys” from Mr. Smythe), and most of the pieces were composed and/or arranged by both of them. Read the rest of this entry »
DZ4: Alicia Lee, Brad Balliett, Alma Liebrecht, Arthur Sato
Watching the beginning of a new ensemble is always exciting. But there’s a difference between a group that sets up camp in known territory — say, in the mineral-rich lands of string quartet literature, or in the breadbasket of Pierrot — and a group that strikes out for the wilderness, to make a repertoire where there had been none.
In the last year, I’ve seen the launch of two groups with this mission. The Deviant Septet went to that place Stravinsky discovered in “L’histoire du Soldat” but that was never settled by others — clarinet, trumpet, trombone, bass, bassoon, violin, percussion. They added two new pieces, by Ruben Naeff and Sefan Freund, at their incredibly fun inaugural concert in May. By next May there will 12 more by 12 new composers, all based on Stockhausen’s Tierkreis.
The DZ4 wind quartet (that’s oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn) has a similar mission, to build a repertoire from scratch through projects that involve many composers tackling similar projects. Their debut concert, “One Hot Minute,” featured 20 one-minute compositions by 20 different composers (I got to be one, and was much rewarded by their terrific musicianship and heartfelt enthusiasm). This Friday they’ll perform their second project, “The Well-Tempered DZ4,” in which 24 composers each take on a different minor or major key.
These groups are doing something that I, especially as a composer, find really inspiring — they’re committing to an unknown music. Composers, go write for them! They’re stellar players, great to work with; check out the concert and say hi.
The Well-Tempered DZ4
Friday October 21st, 2011
46 Barrow Street, New York
C Major- Jacob Garchik
A Minor- Bradley Detrick
G Major- Karl Kramer
E Minor- Lauren Winterbottom
D Major- Pauline Kim
B Minor- Jonathan Russell
A Major- Evan Premo
F# Minor- Gareth Flowers
E Major- Eric Wubbels
C# Minor- Jane Antonia Cornish
B Major- James Blachly
G# Minor- Ted Hearne
F# Major- Mohammed Fairouz
Eb Minor- Caleb Burhans
Db Major- Mike Block
Bb Minor- David Byrd-Marrow
Ab Major- Charlie Porter
F Minor- Glenn Cornett
Eb Major- Nathan Burke
C Minor- Matt McBane
Bb Major- Ryan Carter
G Minor- Ken Thomson
F Major- Zachary Detrick
D Minor- Ryan Francis
Posted by Christian Carey in CDs, Contemporary Classical, Downtown, Electro-Acoustic, Festivals, File Under?, Interviews, jazz, New York, Performers, Video
Songs for Persephone: Mimi Goese & Ben Neill
Take a seductive voiced art-pop singer and a post-jazz/alt-classical trumpeter. Add fragments of nineteenth century classical melodies, electronics elicited by a “mutantrumpet” controller. Then add influences ranging from ancient Greek mythology to the Hudson River Valley. What you have are the intricate yet intimate sounds on an evocatively beautiful new CD: Songs for Persephone.
The Persephone legend is one of the oldest in Greek mythology, with many variants that provide twists and turns to the narrative and subtext of the story. In the myth, Persephone, daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter, is kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld. During her absence, vegetation is unable to grow in the world; fields fall fallow and crops cannot be harvested.
To break this horrible time of famine, the gods come to an understanding with Hades. Persephone is eventually freed, but on the condition that, if she has eaten anything while in Hades’ realm, she must return to his kingdom for a certain length of time. Thus, each year she must remain in the underworld one month for each pomegranate seed that she has consumed. This serves to rationalize, in mythic terms, the change of seasons, times of decay and renewal, shifts in light and weather; even the autumn foliage and the falling of the leaves.
Vocalist Mimi Goese and trumpeter Ben Neill have updated the Persephone story, while retaining its iconic essence, on their new recording Songs for Persephone (out now on Ramseur Records). As one can see from the pomegranate on the cover, (a visual designed by Goese), the duo is mindful of the legendary Persephone’s history; but they are not hung up on providing a linear narrative.
In a recent phone conversation, Goese, who wrote the album’s lyrics, said, “The artwork that I did for the cover, featuring the pomegranate, is one acknowledgement of the myth of Persephone. And there are other images that I found in the lyrics. But we were interested in using what was evocative about Persephone to create our own story. That’s sort of how the myth evolved too – one storyteller picks up the thread from another down through the years.”
They started work on this music some five years ago, but originally presented it as part of a theatrical production by the multimedia company Ridge Theater, starring Julia Stiles. In 2010, it was produced at Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival.
The theatrical presentation and the mythological story behind it are only two strands in a disparate web of influences that resonate with Songs for Persephone. Both Goese and Neill make their home in the Hudson River Valley. Both for its stunning natural surroundings and its history as a home for artists of all sorts, the valley is rich with reference points. Neill feels that these are subtly imparted to the music.
In a recent phone conversation, he said, “I found myself particularly interested in the Hudson River School of painters. These Nineteenth Century artists depicted the local landscape and the changing of season with a dimensionality and symbolism that seemed to have an affinity with what Mimi and I were after in Songs for Persephone.”
For Neill and Goese, these extra-musical influences – artwork, nature, and theater – are an important part of the music’s genesis. But the polystylistic nature of their music making adds still another layer to the proceedings.
Goese says, “I started in dance and theater and later moved to performance art. Singing came along later. But I don’t have the musical background or training that Ben has – I’m self taught.”
She doth protest too much. Goese’s voice provided the steely, dramatic center to the work of late eighties band Hugo Largo. One part art rock and another dream pop, the group incorporated bold theatricality and ethereal experimentation, releasing two memorable full lengths, Arms Akimbo and Mettle, and the Drums EP, an alt-pop connoisseur’s delight. She’s also collaborated on several occasions with Moby and, under the moniker Mimi (no last name) released Soak, a solo album on David Bryne’s Luaka Bop label.
Goese is a powerful singer, but Songs of Persephone brings out the lyricism her voice also possesses. Cooing high notes and supple overdubbed harmonies are juxtaposed with the more muscular turns of phrase. Experience plays a role in Goese’s tremendous performances on the disc. But she also credits the musical creations of her collaborator Neill with spurring on her inspiration.
“Ben has been a terrific person with whom to work,” Goese says. “He’s inventive and willing to try new things. From the moment we first performed together, at a concert nearly a decade ago, I’ve felt an artistic kinship with him.”
One can readily hear why Neill’s music would be an engaging foil for Goese. His background as a producer, and his years of work designing the mutantrumpet, have encouraged Neill’s ear toward imaginative soundscapes. His 2009 album Night Science (Thirsty Ear) is an example of Neill’s nu-jazz arrangements and soloing at their very best.
On the current CD, Neill’s playing remains impressive; but his arranging and collaborative skills come to the fore. There are intricate textures to found, on which Neill’s trumpet and electronics are abetted by strings, bass, and drums, but it’s the melodies, floating memorably past, one after the other, that are most impressive here. Some of the melodic lines he crafts are imitative of the voice in their own right: it’s no accident that some of the most inspired music-making on Songs for Persephone are when Goese and Neill create duets out of intricately intertwined single lines.
Neill says, “The classical materials that I used as the basis of the compositions on Songs for Persephone were melodies from the Nineteenth century: from opera and symphonic music. Many of them were from relatively the same era in which the Hudson Valley painters worked. I found it fascinating to juxtapose these two genres that were in operation more or less at the same time.”
He continues, “I’d describe the material as fragments of melodies: small excerpts rather than recognizable themes. None of them are treated in such a way that most listeners will be able to say, ‘Hey that’s Berlioz,’ or ‘That sounds like Schumann.’ They were meant to be a starting point from which I would develop the music: it’s not a pastiche.”
At 7:30 PM on September 27th, Goese and Neill will be having an album release party at the Cooper Square Hotel, part of Joe’s Pub’s Summer Salon series. Goese says, “It’s an interesting space – we’ll have glass windows behind us, which is unusual as compared with a more conventional stage. But it’s fun performing in non-standard venues. It allows you to try different things and to bring different elements into the mix in terms of theatricality, lighting, and the way that you play off of each other. I’m excited to see how Persephone changes as we take it into various performing spaces.”
-Composer Christian Carey is Senior Editor at Sequenza 21 and a regular contributor to Signal to Noise and Musical America. He teaches music in the Department of Fine Arts at Rider University (Lawrenceville, New Jersey).
Posted by Christian Hertzog in Chamber Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, Festivals, Performers, Premieres, tags: Christopher Adler, David Toub, Ferneyhough, Frank Cox, Matthew Burtner, noise, soundON, Stuart Saunders Smith, World Premiere
Full disclosure: I co-founded San Diego New Music in 1994, served as its first Executive Director, and have been a board member since 2000. This isn’t a review or a comprehensive report so much as some of my impressions and observations about what’s going on at The Athenaeum in La Jolla, California, this weekend. If you think I overlooked anything, please feel free to contribute more in the comments section below.
After core members of NOISE, the resident ensemble of San Diego New Music, dispersed across the continent (flutist/director Lisa Cella to Baltimore; percussionist Morris Palter to Fairbanks), it became more and more expensive and time-consuming to do an entire season with the ensemble in San Diego. The ingenious solution NOISE came up with was to do an annual festival in June.
This year’s installment is the 5th year of San Diego New Music’s festival, soundON. From the beginning, it’s been impressive for the wide range of musical styles represented on the festival and for the high caliber of their commissions and score submitted through a semi-annual call. Unlike other competitions, there’s no entry fee. The musicians themselves wade through the entries and determine which scores they want to play on the festival.
Last night, the first of the festival, had impressive commissions and nice finds through the calls for scores. Several of the composers in attendance this year have been composers with whom NOISE has developed a relationship over the years: Christopher Adler (who doubles as the Executive Director of San Diego New Music), Stuart Sanders Smith, Matthew Burtner, Madelyn Byrne, and Sidney Marquez Boquiren.
Madelyn Byrne is represented by a video installation by Lily Glass, to which Byrne supplied a soundtrack. I can’t comment on it now, as I spent most of the last night catching up with old friends, but the lovely sounds I did manage to overhear and the colorful still or slow-moving abstractions on the screen invite further exploration tonight and tomorrow. (Update: turns out I heard this two years ago at a new music conference. It’s included on a DVD of works by lesbian composers, Sounding Out. Yes, it is worth experiencing again.).
Time Comes Full Circle, for violin and cello, struck me as completely unique in the output of Stuart Saunders Smith. Framed by an opening and closing spoken dialogue between the instruments the work begins with a mournful modal lament for both instruments, a prismatic minor key duet somewhat reminiscent of Pärt or Schnittke; I’ve never heard anything like this before in Smith’s music. This first section continues exploring this haunting music, only to abandon it for an extensive middle section which is in a vein more typical for Smith: independent, thorny harmonic and rhythmic counterpoint, marked by striking moments where the violin and cello come together in unisons—one, an A 5 spaces above the treble clef. It’s not a perfect unison—at times one instrument drops out and the other takes over, or a heterophonic melody splinters away. The minor-key lament returns in the final section, splintered in new combinations.
Any critic describing Smith’s music is in trouble searching for an easy category in which to pigeonhole him. If he belongs to any school, it’s probably the individualist, intuitive New England branch of experimentalism begun by Ives and Ruggles, later branching off in an intellectually rigorous way by Elliott Carter. Smith’s music, though, strikes me as highly intuitive, seasoned with the acceptance of sounds and free forms of the New York School composers Cage and Brown. Invoking any of these names tells you, only in the vaguest, broadest sense, what his music resembles. He is sui generis. What I can report is that this is an expansive work, a significant contribution to the infrequently explored combination of violin and cello. It was given a wonderful performance by cellist Franklin Cox and violinist Mark Menzies, and Smith seemed genuinely delighted with their interpretation.
A recent solo flute work by Nicolas Tzortzis, Incompatibles III, was dropped from the concert. The program notes are intriguing: “The whole work is based on the idea of ‘going towards something else,’ coming back each time, leaving again, and so on, before reaching the moment of the revelation.” Tzortzis was represented by a frenetic ensemble piece last year which appeared to ring some new changes on the New Complexity style (a distinguishing feature was the amount of repetition and return in the work). I hadn’t encountered his music at all before the Festival last year, and I was looking forward to hearing more. Alas, in its place was Berio’s Sequenza I, given a sharply delineated reading by Lisa Cella. I know it’s a major landmark in flute repertory, and yet taken in the context of all of Berio’s Sequenzas, it is the most dated, the least interesting to 21st century ears. The later Sequenzas developed a modern manner of prolonging dissonant harmonies through a solo instrument; today Sequenza I seems more caught up in the rapid turnover of all 12 tones, as many European composers strove to do in the 1950s.
Christopher Adler is my favorite San Diego composer after Chinary Ung. Aeneas in the Underworld, Act I: The Caves of Cumae suggests a new direction in his music—a music theatre work for reciting guitarist. Chris has two consistent strains in his music, the ethnomusicological (he’s an expert on Thai music) and the mathematical, and Aeneas appears to lean towards the latter. In four “scenes,” guitarist Colin McAllister recites Virgil’s poetry in Latin, while playing a prepared guitar. Like Cage’s prepared piano music, the guitar is more of a percussion instrument here than a melodic/harmonic device, so the focus in the music is on expanding and contracting rhythmic patterns. Over these regimented rhythms, McAllister orates with what I assume is a more natural spoken delivery.
I heard the premiere a month or two back, and was frustrated by the inability to read the text in the dimly lit hall. The music, in general terms, delineates the broad themes of the poetry. Last night’s performance was far more assured, the rhythms crisper, the declamation more confident, and it was greatly helpful to be able to read a translation of Virgil’s text as McAllister recited.
You may have seen this cartoon going around—it’s pretty much an inside joke by Christopher Adler part describing the work to an incredulous guitarist, although in broader terms the interaction between composer and performer is rather true, if cloaked in humorous exaggeration.
A surprise event had been announced for the festival, and after a brief intermission Frank Cox was plunked down in a chair front and center facing the performance area, and serenaded with seven compositions dedicated to him by Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Stuart Saunders Smith, Colin Holter, Steven Kazuo Takasugi, Sidney Corbett, John Fonville, and Brian Ferneyhough. The real surprise was Ferneyhough’s piece, titled Paraphrase on Antonin Artaud’s “Les Cenci,” unusual for being the only purely electronic work by Ferneyhough anyone present could recall. It appeared to be constructed entirely from samples, and yet the densities and microtones distinguished it from the average MIDI composition.
SoundON in the past has done “Chill-Out” concerts, which are what you might expect them to be: performances of more meditative, quiet, and/or serene works. Tension Studies I by Samuel Carl Adams, a West Coast composer still in his 20s generating lots of buzz, was scheduled for a Chill-Out performance, yet was withdrawn. In its place was a lovely electroacoustic composition by Matthew Burtner, whose title I do not now recall, composed for Colin McAllister. McAllister is a mountaineer, and recorded sounds of his ascent up the tallest volcano in Mexico; Burtner used these sounds and slowly-changing diatonic harmonies to supply an acoustic foundation over which McAllister played gently oscillating notes, ringing harmonics, and melodies which sounded quasi-improvised. Many folks commented later on how beautiful this work was, and I agree. I had heard it previously, and hearing it for a second time was a pleasant experience.
David Toub will be known to Sequenza21 readers. He submitted a trio for violin, cello, and vibraphone to the call for scores. Christopher Adler, in a preconcert talk, described how Toub’s score—dharmachakramudra—leapt out from all the others, in its being a more austere form of minimalism, a style Adler did not see at all in any of the other 400+ submissions. It is a quiet piece, featuring chords in the violin and cello rocking back and forth with four-note vibraphone chords. If you can imagine Morton Feldman writing a rhythmically regular and shorter piece, or Steve Reich writing a dissonant, slow work, that might give you an idea of the piece.
The concert ended with the ocean inside by Frances White, another composer new to San Diegans. Her work was composed for Eighth Blackbird, and incorporated a tape part. It was consonant, lyrical, and a lovely way to end the evening.
And the performances? First class, throughout the night. These performers take their commitment to the music of our time extremely seriously. Doing this festival is a labor of love, and the concern and passion is always evident in everything they play.
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Pianist Marilyn Nonken is performing Triadic Memories on June 4 in Philadelphia as part of “American Sublime,” a festival devoted to the works of Morton Feldman. Marilyn was kind enough to tell us a bit about working on Feldman’s music, as well as some of her other upcoming projects.
-What were your early encounters with Feldman’s music like?
I can’t remember my first live Feldman experience as a listener. One of the first works I remember hearing was FOR SAMUEL BECKETT. My first experience playing Feldman was with Ensemble 21, when we performed VIOLIN VIOLA CELLO PIANO, which was just a transformative experience for me, as a chamber player. After that experience, I very much wanted to find a solo work of his to perform and possibly record.
Listening to Feldman is special because there is that great luxury of time. It can take, in TRIADIC MEMORIES for example, maybe a half-an-hour or forty-five minutes to get acclimated to the environment of the work, and to become familiar with the kinds of things that happen in that special environment. In each of his pieces, I think, there’s an extended period where the materials introduce themselves, so to say.It’s not dynamic in the sense of something happening right away, or a conflict being presented, or a big question being asked — and so I feel it’s best to not aggressively try and “figure out” what is happening.
- Which pieces by Feldman have you performed?
VIOLIN VIOLA CELLO PIANO, EXTENSIONS 1, THE VIOLA IN MY LIFE, INTERSECTION 2, PALAIS DE MARI, and TRIADIC MEMORIES –
- What do you think Feldman meant by titling a piece Triadic Memories?
Feldman’s piano music is all about decay, what he would refer to as a kind of receding landscape …. For me, that sense of resonance and the dying of the sound is perhaps the most important part of the piece. His harmonies are gorgeous, very lush and evocative — but as beautiful as they are, more of the piece is spend listening to them fade.
- When did you record Triadic Memories for Mode? Has your performance of the work changed over time?
I believe this is 2004, recorded perhaps summer 2003. I’m sure my performance has changed — although not drastically. In terms of timing and rhythmic precision, I believe it’s very consistent with the recorded version. I’m still convinced by that “magic” (for me) tempo and the specificity of the rhythms, and the way I first conceived of articulating them. But I do feel that I’ve become more sensitive to the harmonic nuances of the work, as I’ve become more familiar with it over the years — the way I voice things, and the way I anticipate the decay, I think, has become more personal.
- While they’re not often showy, Feldman’s pieces make significant demands of their own on performers. Can you tell us a bit about those, and how you prepare to perform Triadic Memories in concert?
I feel these works are very virtuosic, despite the fact that they’re not fast and full of passagework. There’s a moment-to-moment control that Feldman requires, in terms of dynamic and timbre and attack, which requires a tremendous amount of physical and mental preparation. To be that attuned to the smallest nuances, and physically in total control, for such a significant span w/o any real “recess” requires a special kind of concentration. For me, there is no substitute for playing the work — in real time, w/o interruption, — daily for at least a week or two before the concert. There is always detail-work to be done (specificity of rhythms, defining colors, making certain that the surface of the work is somehow “flawless” and w/o rupture — but doing everything sequentially, in tempo, is always a test.
- After Triadic Memories, what are some of your upcoming projects?
I’m very excited to be working again with the fabulous pianist Sarah Rothenberg on a four-hand Kurtag program, combining (as the composer himself has done) Kurtag’s JATEKOK with his Bach transcriptions, presented as a concert program on an upright piano. Sarah and I had a fantastic time working on Messiaen’s VISIONS DE L’AMEN, touring and recording it, and this is a very different and intimate kind of project — I’m also preparing for a recording of American spectralist composer Joshua Fineberg’s complete solo piano music, which will appear on CD with Hugues Dufourt’s recent ERLKONIG — a follow-up to my complete Murail disc. It will feature a new work written for me by Joshua, amd I am very much looking forward to touring with that, as a complete program in itself. And just after this Festival, I’m recording Elizabeth Hoffman’s “organum let open,” a beautiful work she wrote for me last year, based on texts of theatre artist George Hunka. It’s wonderful to be doing such recent music, and inspiring to be working with such talented composers.
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