Archive for the “Performers” Category

ninakotovaNina Kotova premieres a new work by Christopher Theofanidis this weekend in Dallas. In the second part of looking at the new work, I spoke with the soloist about the piece, and learned more about how the piece came into being. Listen to our conversation:

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The concert takes place Thursday, Friday & Saturday – and more performances coming up in Asia & Europe.

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nicholas_photinosLast week on the podcast: Cliff Colnot (download Cliff’s interview here).  This week: Nicholas Photinos, cellist in eighth blackbird (download Nick’s interview here).

Turns out that 8bb was just finishing up some studio sessions at the end of last month for Reich’s Double Sextet.  Unfortunately, we will need to wait over a year until we actually get to hear it.  (Incidentally, Galen has some commentary about how frustrating it is that we have to wait so long for these recordings here.)  Anyway, I don’t know how many ensembles think about their programming in terms of a five-course meal, but these guys do, and Nick tells us a little bit about that process.  More beer!

Check-in next week for the first of two interviews with members of the Chicago based new music ensemble, dal niente.

As always, you can subscribe in iTunes here, on the web here, or just click here to download Nick’s episode.

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The San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF) kicks off next week, and several of its original founders will be performing in celebration of the festival’s tenth anniversary.  One of them, Donald Swearingen, will take the stage on Thursday, September 17th along with Maria Chavez, Mark Trayle, and Mason Bates.  The show starts at 8 pm in the Brava Theater, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online or at the door.

It’s hard to coax Donald Swearingen away from his many projects, but I did manage to get him to share some background and a few hard-to-find details about his upcoming SFEMF performance.

S21: How has the SFEMF evolved since you helped found it in 1999?

Now in its 10th year, the child has definitely come of age. It’s grown into larger (and progressively more comfortable) venues, and from embracing primarily Bay Area artists, to an impressive roster of local, national, and international talents, both obscure and well-known. All this is a result of the dedication and ongoing efforts of the steering and curatorial committees, whose vision and energy have been the essential ingredients in the success of the festival. I should mention that I personally have not been directly involved in these activities in recent years, serving only to offer a comment here or there. But I’m amazed at the amount of effort (and it indeed takes lots of effort) that goes into the planning and execution from year to year. Read the rest of this entry »

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One of the simple rules for the podcast is that there is a new episode every two weeks.  That rule was broken in July when all four members of ETHEL were featured.  And, that rule is being broken again in September when four musicians based in Chicago will be featured.

The month starts out with conductor Cliff Colnot (best known for his work with Contempo, Chicago Symphony’s MusicNow, ICE, and others).  Cliff is a unique person in that he feels so strongly about notation and rehearsal efficiency, that he has produced documents outlining the way he likes to see things as a conductor–and gives them away to anyone who asks.  Some of his thoughts on the topic are rather controversial, but anyone who has met him knows that it is hard to find a more appropriate word to describe him than “efficient”.   Even if you disagree with him on some of his points of view, it’s hard to argue with the fact that composers should be preparing scores and parts in a way that doesn’t waste rehearsal time.  Cliff describes how to get these documents for free at the end of his episode.

As always, you can subscribe in iTunes here, on the web here, or just click here to download the episode.

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Mauricio Kagel‘s 1984 “Der Eid des Hippokrates” (“The Hippocratic Oath”), for piano 3-hands. Kagel wrote:

This aphoristic composition was inspired by the publication in January 1984, in a medical magazine, of an article on my latest work. Whiling away the time in hospital waiting rooms, I began to think about the generous Hippocratic oath. I could not say if it was because I was wondering about the influence this Greek practitioner had — but there I was, writing a piece for two left hands, while also calling on the right hand [….] One hand keeps on providing a muted drumming, on a corner of the piano, as if transmitting extracts from the early oath in Morse code: “I swear by the doctors Apollo, Aesculapius, Hygieia and Panacea, by all the gods and the goddesses…”

The players here are András Hamary, Markus Bellheimand Armin Fuch, from a 2008 concert.

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161406554_2a1aeaa283 This week on the podcast, I wrap-up the month of violist interviews with John Pickford Richards. For those of you not sure who John is, he’s best known as the violist in Alarm Will Sound and the JACK Quartet. Our three violists in May posed some important questions, not just for composers, but for performers as well. Beth Weisser asked, “What is the core of what we do?” Nadia Sirota encouraged us to embrace who we are. John Richards asks, “What is the opposite of a cheerleader?” Also, have you ever wondered if John has been hit by a composer? Listen to this weeks episode and find out.

Click here to subscribe through iTunes. Click here to add it to your RSS.

I wish I could tell all of you how excited I am about the interviews lined up for the summer, but I need to keep a few of them a secret until I actually finalize and record them. For now, I will just mention that July is devoted to the members of a certain unique string quartet, and August and September will feature musicians from outside New York (and even a few from outside the US).  In the meantime, check back in June for my interviews with Seda Röder and Brad Lubman. And thanks again to Beth, Nadia and John.

For those of you in NYC, I’ll see you today at the Bang on a Can Marathon!

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[We previewed this concert a couple weeks ago, and were hoping to file a quick review following the performance. Due to unforseen circumstances it’s a few days later than we’d like, but reviewer Eric Johnson came through in the end:]

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Xiayin Wang offered two world premieres on her May 18 recital at Alice Tully Hall. Ms. Wang’s career is on the rise, with a number of orchestral appearances, solo recitals, and her new CD release of music by Scriabin on Naxos. The New York Sun recently praised her for a “robust, confident performance,” attributes she displayed here as well. In addition to Haydn, Chopin, Ravel, Scriabin and Liszt, we heard Richard Danielpour’s Second Book of Preludes and Sean Hickey’s Cursive.

Danielpour says that “the Preludes are evocative memories of real life,” but no explicit narrative was provided for any of the seven movements. The opening “Persepolis” hinted strongly at neoclassical Stravinsky, followed by an angst-filled second movement, an “Elegy” resembling Barber, and a spastic rag. I was particularly fond of the straightforward appeal of “Elegy”; not only in the music but Wang’s performance. Simplicity can often create the most eloquent music, and that was surely the case here.

Sadly, I’m not sure anyone but Ms. Wang and Mr. Danielpour really know what the fifth prelude sounds like. Shortly after the beginning of the piece, a particularly rude audience member answered a phone call in the concert hall. She then proceeded to walk out very slowly, talking in a stage whisper all the while. It’s fair to say that the pianist was the only one not glaring at her!

Sean Hickey has firmly grounded his career in jazz and chamber music, as well as composing for film and theatre. Hickey’s notes for Cursive speak of a desire to write seamlessly, a “mostly unbroken line,” but to these ears it was anything but seamless. The piece was filled with seemingly unrelated ideas — more like sketches than cursive calligraphy. Yet Ms. Wang gave a compelling performance, tying the loose threads together. Wang’s enthusiasm and daring shone clearly in her commitment to these two living composers’ pieces.

The standard repertoire was engaging too, every selection displayed wonderfully. Indeed, the most exciting portion of the program was the final movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. Ms. Wang practically lifted herself off the bench as she pounded out Ravel’s exotic, even sultry depiction of Scarbo’s moonlit flight. A complimetary highlight was Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F Major – a thing of rare beauty, played most delicately.  ~~ Eric Johnson

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For those of you keeping track, this week’s episode is the second of three highlighting violists. Last week, Elizabeth Weisser; this week, Nadia Sirota. Nadia has some good advice for musicians: it may sound obvious, but that thing that makes you unique is the thing that makes you special. Not only is this good advice for performers but it’s good for composers to remember as well. The more we can embrace our “craziness”, the more comfortable we can be with ourselves. Musicians on the podcast talk a lot about working and collaborating with composers, but Nadia actually has some suggestions for making these relationships work in mutually respectful ways. Nadia also has a new CD, first things first, which will be released on New Amsterdam Records on Tuesday, May 19 (Steve had a nice pre-release-party-post last week).

Looking ahead, the week of May 31 will feature violist John Pickford Richards, and during the month of June I’ll be talking with pianist Seda Röder and conductor/composer Brad Lubman.

May 31 also happens to be the annual Bang on a Can Marathon in New York City– are there any musicians you would like me to try and track down for an interview? I will also be in Chicago in early June – is there anyone in the second-city I should be in touch with? If you have suggestions please email them to:

And for those of you new to the show, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes by clicking here, point your blog-readers here, or find it on InstantEncore by clicking here.

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Since 1995 Chicago’s Percussion Scholarship Program has been shaping all kinds of mallet-whackers from grades 3 through 12. The program, under the direction of CSO percussionist Patricia Dash and Douglas Waddell, percussionist with Lyric Opera of Chicago, with amazing direction and arrangements by Cliff Colnot, has been growing something phenomenal. The kids’ musicianship and commitment seems to me every bit as stunning as Dudamel’s Venezuelan El Sistema stuff everybody’s been going gaga over. Don’t believe me? Just take in our young crew’s monster ride through Colnot’s arrangement of Dimitri Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony:


Incredible. The group’s big spring concert is coming up again this May 17th, 1:30 pm in Buntrock Hall at the Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Avenue. And it’s free, meaning not much better value can be had for a Sunday’s afternoon.

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Music by Wolff, Sciarrino, Kotik, Carter, and Ligeti / Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, Ostravská Banda, FLUX Quartet; Petr Kotik, Conductor /Alice Tully Hall, May 6, 2009

Conductor/composer Petr Kotik has been an impressive advocate for contemporary music in New York for forty years. Residing in the US since 1969, he has been running the S.E.M. ensemble since 1970: performing a wide range of repertoire, commissioning works and cultivating successive generations of young players into seasoned new music performers. S.E.M.’s orchestral unit has been active since ’92; Kotik’s also been running Ostravská Banda, an international chamber orchestra comprised of S.E.M. players and young European counterparts, since ’05. Both of these groups, as well as the FLUX string quartet, another youngish ensemble devoted to new music, were featured on Wednesday night’s Tully Hall performance: a program of brand new chamber music and three contemporary works that seem destined for the core repertory.

Christian Wolff’s Trio for Robert Ashley (commissioned for the concert) employed three of the FLUX members – violinist Tom Chiu, violist Max Mandel, and cellist Felix Fan – in a fragmentary multi-movement piece. Indeed, its juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated musical materials set the tone for an evening devoted to unorthodox formal presentation. Sustained notes were set against skittering, Webernian motifs. Single lines evaporated into pensive rests while vigorous tutti were all too ephemeral; evaporating into the silence from when they came.

In its US premiere, Salvatore Sciarrino’s Vento D’Ombra made quite an impression. Another work which employed silences as well as fragmentary gestures as signatures, it focused on tiny musical cells – mostly dyads and trichords – as well as a cornucopia of special effects. Wind and brass players breathed through mouthpieces without fingering notes, strings played scordatura and microtones. The whole was a meticulously shaded pointillist canvas of brief gestures, undulating slides, and pianissimo staccato dabs.

Kotik’s own String Quartet was cast in a lengthy single movement. Impeccably performed by FLUX, it was centered on an ambling, long-breathed melody played by the quartet in unison (later in octaves). Only gradually did this evolve into two-voice counterpoint, with a violin countermelody that took on greater urgency. Tutti passages ratcheted up the tension quotient still further, evocative of some of the brilliant polyphonic passages from Ligeti’s second quartet. The idée fixe unison passage returned at pivotal junctures, requiring precise coordination and tuning on the part of FLUX: both were readily supplied.

Elliott Carter’s recent ‘second piano concerto,’ Dialogues, is a fascinating companion piece to the monolithic concerto from the 1960s. Written for a much smaller orchestra, it allows the soloist to take on an enlarged role. In a clever inverse of its larger precursor, the pianist often overwhelms the ensemble, cowing it with brilliant virtuosity. Daan Wandewalle was an excellent protagonist, supplying brilliant cadenzas, thunderous verticals, and an overarching sense of shaping and musicality. Read the rest of this entry »

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