Archive for the “Premieres” Category
Posted by Chris Becker in Composers, Contemporary Classical, Dance, Houston, Opera, Premieres, tags: Chamber Opera, Dance, Divergence Vocal Theater, Dominick DiOrio, Elliot Cole, Greek Heroine, Houston, Isadora Duncan, Klytemnestra, Misha Penton, Selkie, Spring Street Studios
Opera Singer Misha Penton as Klytemnestra (photo by Kerry Beyer)
(Houston, TX) Houston based opera singer Misha Penton opens her unique performance space Divergence Vocal Theater this Friday, April 15th. Located at Spring Street Studios, home to many of Houston’s finest visual and mixed media artists. Divergence Vocal Theater will bring together Ms. Penton’s team of singers, musicians, composers, dancers, and lighting and costume designers to present new chamber opera repertoire. Klytemnestra, a collaborative opera dance theater work featuring music by composer Dominick DiOrio, sung text by Misha Penton, spoken text by John Harvey, and choreography by Meg Brooker, is receiving a great deal of positive press in advance of its premier April 15th and 16th at Divergence Vocal Theater.
Ms. Penton’s mission is to subvert the social mores and business paradigms preventing singers from creating their own works. In the wake of reality after graduate school, more and more classical instrumentalists are creating their own business and career models, going further and further out into what is, for many musicians, uncharted territory. Violinist Todd Reynolds, the ensemble Alarm Will Sound, and Houston based pianists Jade Simmons and Kris Becker are a few examples of musicians who are each developing a sustainable means for commissioning, performing, and deriving an income from playing contemporary classical music. Their approaches are as varied as their personalities, and there is much to discuss when it comes to what is actually working for one musician as opposed to another. But in the near future, these intrepid instrumentalists are going to find that more and more singers, including Misha Penton, are “out there” with them.
Misha and I met shortly after my relocating to Houston and I quickly recognized a kindred spirit. This interview took place via email in advance of the premier of Kyltemnestra.
Chris Becker: In a recent interview you said: “One of the things I want to do…is restructure the way people think about who does opera, how it’s done, who makes it, and who performs it…What I do with Divergence is…create my own works and I sing in them. It’s very much something actors and dancers do, but singers are not encouraged to create their own products.” Do you think this model that you’re describing is the future of classically trained musicians?
Misha Penton: Actually, I do – but it’s already happening. And it really isn’t anything new…instrumentalists in particular have been savvy to this model for a long time – the success of independent ensembles like Eighth Blackbird comes to mind immediately. Some conservatories are starting to take entrepreneurship seriously. Opera America has a great feature about entrepreneurship in its spring magazine and about singer-led initiatives, and entrepreneurship is the theme for the conference this year as well. Obviously rock and jazz musicians work this way and always have. I’m seeing more classically trained singers take on their own projects, but it doesn’t seem to be as encouraged by the vocal teaching tradition as it could be…but again, that is all changing. The more opportunities we, as artists create, the better we’ll be able to define success for ourselves. As a singer, I’m only partly an interpretive artist. I’m a theater artist and writer too, so I’ve always done creative work. I think of myself as an independent artist who happens to create work collaboratively.
Opera Singer Misha Penton (photo by Kerry Beyer)
CB: Who are some of your peers among singers that are doing something similarly subversive?
MP There are more and more small opera companies popping up that singers are joining forces to create – that’s absolutely fantastic. And classically trained singers are branching out into all sorts of music projects. I meet singers all the time who say, “Hey I have this idea for a project” – I just love that. Go do it!
In general, I question the traditional company and nonprofit structure – so I’m not sure that’s the best survival tactic nor the best creative model. There are so many options for funding work now without forming a nonprofit (fiscal sponsorship, crowdfunding, etc). The last thing I want on my back is an “organization”. I work project-to-project and I’m aspiring to a Robert Fripp-ian model – a “small mobile intelligent unit”.
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(And Gods know sanctuary is something many of us might be searching for these days…) This Monday, 21 March, at 8pm in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall (57th Street and Seventh Avenue, NYC), the ensemble Lunatics at Large begin a series of four concerts with five premieres, of works involving the collaboration of five composers and five poets. This little bit of numerology is titled “The Sanctuary Project“; Project Director Evi Jundt says:
We picked artists whose work we believed would be evocative of the theme ‘Sanctuary.’ First, the poets presented one new poem and some older works to the composers. The composers then chose which poet(s) they felt compelled to collaborate with. Each collaboration happened on its own terms: in one case, it resulted in a group of poems set to music in a song cycle; in another case, the poet helped find examples of folk music to be quoted in the composition. In the next stage, musical compositions served as inspiration for another new work by the poets. Finally, the poets – the initiators of the process – will join the musicians onstage to read their work in between performances of the chamber pieces.
The composers are André Brégégère, Mohammed Fairouz, Raphael Fusco, Laura Koplewitz and Alex Shapiro; the poets are Rob Buchert, Joanna Fuhrman, David Shapiro, Yerra Sugarman and Ryan Vine.
The Lunatics will present the same concert three more times, in actual sanctuaries: April 8, 8pm at Christ and Saint Stephen’s Church (122 West 69th Street, NYC); April 10, 7pm at the Synagogue for the Arts (49 White Street, NYC); and April 21, 7:30pm at WMP Concert Hall (31 East 28th Street, NYC).
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Posted by Chris Becker in Composers, Contemporary Classical, New York, Opera, Performers, Premieres, Women composers, tags: Andrea Liberovici, Apollo Theater, Helga Davis, Jeffrey Zeigler, Mephisto's Songs, multimedia, paola prestini, Robert Wilson, Salon Series
This Friday and Saturday October 22 and 23, Andrea Liberovici’s multimedia work Mephisto’s Songs premieres a part of the Apollo Theater’s Salon Series. I’m not familiar with Liberovici, but I am familiar with Mephisto’s featured performer singer Helga Davis. In addition to Ms. Davis’ amazing vocals, the piece includes recorded narration by Robert Wilson and cello improvisations by The Kronos Quartet’s awesome Jeffrey Zeigler. Live musicians for this performance include Clarice Jenson (cello), Fred Cash Jr. (bass), and Abe Fogle (drums).
Some of you may be familiar with Helga Davis as a host of WQXR’s Overnight Music. She works frequently with composers Paola Prestini and Bernice Johnson Reagon who, in collaboration with Robert Wilson, created the critically acclaimed opera The Temptation of Saint Anthony with Davis singing the role of Hilarion. And some of you truly hip folks may know that she sings on two scores I composed for dance, Like Dirt for Racoco Productions and La Spectra for Movement Pants Dance. Davis is also a distinctive and powerful composer. Her solo shows combining song, spoken word, theater, and video at venues that include New York City’s Whitney Museum or Galapagos are not to be missed.
Check out the Apollo Theater website for ticket information for their Salon Series. An article about another one of Liberovici’s recent projects can be found here.
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Posted by Chris Becker in Conductors, Contemporary Classical, Houston, Interviews, Opera, Premieres, tags: Bangkok Opera, Buddha, Houston, India, Opera, Opera Vista, Somtow Sucharitkul, Thailand, The Vista Competition, Viswa Subbaraman
It’s a cliché to say Texans like things BIG although a mid morning drive on Houston’s freeways will do little to dispel this notion. However, many incredible opera companies in Houston presenting cutting edge programming and embracing fresh approaches to audience outreach are relatively small operations. But that doesn’t mean these companies and their ambitions aren’t growing.
Viswa Subbaraman is the Founder and Artistic Director of Opera Vista, Houston’s innovative contemporary opera company. October 15, at 8pm at Zilkha Hall (located in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts) maestro Subbaraman and company present the world premiere of composer and Bangkok Opera artistic director Somtow Sucharitkul’s The Silent Prince. Billed as a “Bollywood Opera,” The Silent Prince tells the Buddhist tale of Temiya Jataka, a Buddha who has been reincarnated as a prince. When forced to choose between committing terrible karmic deeds and disobeying his father, Temiya withdraws from the world into silence.
After visiting Sucharitkul’s website to hear samples of his music and blog to read his first hand accounts of composing and conducting music in Thailand, I reached out to Viswa Subbaraman with a few questions about next Friday’s premiere and the future of opera:
What are the connections between Bollywood and The Silent Prince? Does the Bollywood connection have to do with the production’s staging and choreography as well as the appearance of a live elephant?
The Bollywood connection has primarily to do with the staging, dancing, and costuming. In a lot of ways, I see this as a throwback to to the Bollywood movies I remember watching with my parents. When I was really young, it seemed as though my parents could only find Bollywood movies that had been out for at least 5-10 years. It wasn’t as prevalent to find Bollywood movies in the US back then. Those old movies had a very operatic element to them. I think the Bollywood connection in this opera harks back to that type of Bollywood film.
Musically, the work tends to be a very eclectic piece. There are moments that strike me as being old-school Bollywood. There are also times that I’m reminded of Sondheim, Wagner, Bernstein and a score of other composers. What I find extremely successful is that it does not sound piece meal. There is a definite unity between the various musical styles.
The score for The Silent Prince combines Western and Indian instruments. What Indian instruments are used? Does the score incorporate instruments from other parts of the East as well?
The Indian instruments in Somtow’s score include Tamburas and Harmonium. In the original conception, there were ideas to use Indian percussion and a variety of Indian instruments, but in the end, it seemed as though Somtow pared things down to create a much cleaner texture. One could make the argument, however, that he uses the violins and flute in a very Carnatic way at points. There is a definite South Asian connection in the instrumentation. Somtow uses a number of tam-tams, gongs, and antique cymbals, so there is a “gamelan” influence. Granted, those instruments tend to be so common in the orchestra that we don’t consider them as exotic any more. That being said, there is a definite nod to eastern traditions in the way those instruments are used.
From your perspective as a conductor and director of an opera company, where do you think contemporary and yet-to-be-written opera in the 21st century is headed? Are the costs of production stifling the development of this tradition of music? Or are more and more people like yourself discovering innovative ways to keep this particular genre of music and its audience growing?
This is an interesting question in that these days I see a ton of new opera. Opera Vista runs an annual competition for new opera (The Vista Competition), and since our focus is primarily opera by living composers, we also receive a number of perusal scores. When I started Opera Vista, I was wary of what we would receive in the way of submissions for the competition, and I was also curious to see what the state of new opera was. I can honestly say that we should be excited by all the great opera being written by living composers. I think opera, much like other areas of contemporary composition, is marked by eclecticism. I don’t know that you can say that there is a specific style or direction that marks contemporary opera. We’re seeing every manner of opera under the sun. There seems to be almost no subject area that is taboo. There also doesn’t seem to be a musical style that is necessarily in vogue right now.
Costs of production are probably the biggest hurdle. I have literally hundreds of ideas for new productions of new opera as well as a variety of directions we could go to help composers develop their art. That being said, it is still difficult to convince potential donors of the necessity of donating to support new music. New music still scares people. This is an area that I guess I could write a book about now. I love all types of music, but as Artistic Director of an organization that is still in its infancy, there is no doubt that I have tabled some productions that I think would be amazing to explore – Elliott Carter’s What Next? comes to mind – because I need to develop my audience base as well as their faith that new opera can be interesting and not scary. I really want Opera Vista to develop a consistent donor base and to be able to truly afford its staff and musicians before pushing the envelope too far – although a Bollywood opera with a live elephant really does feel like pushing the envelope! In some ways, that is the beauty of The Vista Competition.
The Vista Competition for new opera has been an amazing way to introduce living composers and their music to audiences. Every year, I have thought that there might be a piece in the mix that is “above the audience,” and to my amazement it does extremely well in the competition. The Vista Competition is run in an American Idol style. We perform 6-10 minute excerpts of the opera to give the audience a flavor of the work. The jury then asks the composers questions about their work, and in the end, the audience votes for the winner. Because of the interaction between the jury and the composers and in the finals directly between the audience and the composers, there is an opportunity for the audience to learn about the piece in fun and hopefully not-so-scary manner. It has been a building process. I’m excited each year by the number of people who return for the competition and bring friends. We are slowly finding a way to overcome the “opera” and “new music” stereotypes that scare people.
I think there are a number of groups that are working towards fostering new opera. It takes time and a ton of effort. It truly is a labor of love initially. It’s an exciting time for new opera. I really believe in the work we are doing. I know there is now the Microscopic Opera Company in Pittsburgh, Bluegrass Opera in Kentucky, and a number of others are growing.
The Silent Prince by Somtow Sucharitkul, performed by Opera Vista, Viswa Subbaraman conducting, will premiere October 15, 2010, 8pm at Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts,
800 Bagby St.,
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Heads-up, listeners! WPRB‘s Classical Discoveries host Marvin Rosen has a couple nice treats through the day this Wednesday:
Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 11:00am (EDT) Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde will present the world premiere broadcast of Morton Feldman‘s 21-minute ‘lost work’ Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963), recorded by Glenn Freeman, percussion and Debora Petrina, piano-celeste. This is ahead of its September limited-edition release on OgreOgress Records. Originally composed for the dancer and choreographer Merle Marsicano, it was the longest work Feldman had composed to date and provides insight into his upcoming 1964 solo percussion work The King of Denmark. This very unique and haunting sound world, created with various keyboards, mallet instruments and exotic percussion instruments, can later be heard in several of Feldman’s epic length works of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Then from 12:00pm till 2:00pm (EDT), world-renowned Israeli cellist and new-music champion Maya Beiser — whose latest and most excellent CD release Provenance is riding high in the charts — will join Marvin live in the WPRB Studio to chat and perform.
As always, NYC’ers can tune in directly to WPRB at 103.3 FM on the dial; everyone else can head to the WPRB website and click the “Listen Now” link on the left side of the page.
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SEMC in action, Dec. 2009
In Chicago? There’s a concert this week I wish I could attend — maybe you’ll be my proxy —
The Sissy-Eared Mollycoddles (named for a colorful bit of Ives invective), is a hub for an enthusiastic community of young Chicago performers and composers.
Their upcoming concert, “Ghost Towns,” will feature two premieres: Brian Baxter‘s mountainous Lulu City and Eric Malmquist’s take on the traditional Irish Folksong, The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Luke Gullickson’s epic Terlingua Meditations, Ben Hjertmann’s raucous Dakruvoso, and James Klopfleisch’s miniature for two violins, Cairn, round out the evening.
Thursday, May 20, 2010 7:30pm
Curtiss Hall, Fine Arts Building
410 S Michigan Avenue, 10th Floor
Chicago, IL 60605
$10 suggested donation at the door
Going to this concert? Leave a comment here and let us know what you thought!
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Posted by Armando Bayolo in Chamber Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Events, Music Events, Percussion, Premieres, Washington D.C., tags: D.C., Music event, Percussion Concertos, Washington, World Premiere
Detail of Terry Berlier's "Stair Drum," one of three percussive sculptures for "The 41st Rudiment"
On Friday, April 30, 2010, my ensemble, Great Noise Ensemble, will present the last concert of our 2009-10 concert season. The program, presented at Ward Hall, on the campus of the Catholic University of America at 7:30 p.m. (Visit www.greatnoiseensemble.com for tickets if you’re in the Washington region this Friday), is a unique program featuring a new work for mixed ensemble and sculpted percussion by composer D.J. Sparr in collaboration with artist Terry Berlier of Stanford University. The 41st Rudiment, named after the 40 “rudiments” that percussionists study as they develop their craft, represents one more rudiment indicative of the experimental nature of Berlier’s instruments. It was written for percussionist Christopher Froh, of the San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players, and Great Noise Ensemble.
D.J. Sparr initially pitched the piece that would become The 41st Rudiment to Great Noise Ensemble’s board some five years ago. “The idea came through wanting to work with Chris Froh,” he says, “whom I had seen out on an amazing concert in Ann Arbor years back. I was in the Bay Area, so we went out for drinks, and over the course of the conversation we talked about finding instruments at a hardware store… and somehow, collectively we came up with the idea that we should ‘build something.’ From there, we started talking about what that would be, who might be interested collaborating with us, etc.” After searching for an appropriate collaborator it was Froh who suggested that they work with Terry Belier. “Terry and I worked on another project together a few years ago with the Empyrean Ensemble and Italian composer, Luciano Chessa. I played one of her sculptures then (an earlier “panlid gamelan”) and fell in love with her aesthetic. When D.J. and I first started talking about this project some five years ago, I suggested asking Terry to be involved.”
“A few years ago,” writes Terry Berlier, “ I was working on a piece called ‘Two pan tops can meet’ (2003) which was based on the homophobic Jamaican saying ‘Two pan tops can’t meet.’ (I had worked in Jamaica for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1995-97.) That first piece used thrift store pan lids as speaker housings that played a sound piece. But while I was sifting through the pan lids, I started setting aside the pan lids that resonated strongly. These eventually became Pan Lid Gamelan I in 2003 and gallery viewers were invited to play it.
In 2008, Composer Luciano Chessa wanted to compose this sculpture/instrument into one of our collaborations (Inkless Imagination IV) and I was excited to have a professional percussionist, Chris Froh, play them. A few years later, Chris asked if I would like to work with him again on making sculptures specifically for him to play and work with D.J. Sparr.”
D.J. Sparr has been building a reputation for many years now as a composer of rhythmically charged and energetic music (the Alburquerque Tribune once referred to his piece for eighth blackbird, The Glam Seduction as “Paganini on coke”) that merges classical conventions with rock idioms. The 41st Rudiment is no different, although the rock influence this time is far subtler than in the works that gained Sparr his early reputation. “I am always influenced by the drama of a rock-and-roll concert, and in this work, the drummer is the superstar… he engages the other players in ways to entice them to join in with him in gestures and call-and-response melodies…much the same as would happen in a rock-band scenario where guitarists, drummers, and bass players trade solos. This work,” however, “is heavily influenced by the baroque concerto grosso form as the large scale form is comprised of many short movements. There are elements of Bach and Vivaldi, but there are also elements of other things: Satie Gymnopédies; Spanish barcaroles; improvisatory structures such as Zorn’s Cobra; and many cadenzas and improvisation.”
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Fresh off its German premiere, composer and S21 blogger Lawrence Dillon‘s newest string quartet begins making its rounds of the U.S. this week, under the completely able fingers and bows of the Emerson String Quartet.
From the Invisible Cities String Quartet Cycle, String Quartet No. 5 combines elements of chaconne, passacaglia and theme-and-variations. The piece takes the Welsh tune “All Through the Night” through, as the Lawrence writes, “a dizzying and dazzling journey from twilight to twilight.” The movements are Twilight – Variations; Dream – Chaconne; Dream – Passacaglia, and Variations – Twilight. The piece was commissioned by the Emerson Quartet and an anonymous donor, in honor of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
The U.S. premiere performances will happen Saturday, April 10, 7:30 PM at Watson Chamber Music Hall of University of North Carolina School of the Arts (1533 S. Main Street in Winston-Salem) and then Wednesday, April 14 at Meany Hall, the University of Washington (15th Ave, NE and NE 40th St., Seattle). The programs will also include works by Schubert, Barber, Ives and Dvorak. Future performances of the Quartet are scheduled for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Here’s wishing this particularly well-travelled baby a bright future.
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The 15th Other Minds Festival kicks off this evening, offering San Francisco a three-day immersion in contemporary music from around the world. One of the locals headlining this year is Gyan Riley, who’ll premiere his new quartet work commissioned by Other Minds, entitled When Heron Sings Blue.
Equally well known as a classical guitar virtuoso and as a composer, Gyan will take on his own guitar part in the quartet on the third festival night, joined by his Gyan Riley Trio bandmates Timb Harris (violin & viola) and Scott Amendola (percussion). Electric bassist Michael Manring will complete the quartet.
Concert Three of the Other Minds Festival begins at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 6 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Full details and tickets are available here.
Gyan naturally had a lot going on this week but I was still able to get a few questions in front of him for the readers of Sequenza21.
S21: How did the quartet instrumentation of When Heron Sings Blue come about? What was it about the piece that wanted an electric bass underpinning, and specifically Michael Manring?
GR: As a guitarist, my early works consisted of primarily solo guitar writing. In the last several years, however, my compositional output has shifted in the direction of ensemble writing. One medium that is particularly enticing to me is that of violin, guitar, and percussion, and I assembled my trio as an ongoing project to satisfy this interest.
There are several reasons why I chose the violin. To begin with, it was my first instrument (I played violin for five years, beginning at age 6). As an element in the ensemble, the two main assets of the violin are the potential to slide between the notes, and the ability to crescendo on a given note (things that the guitar cannot accomplish without electronics). Composing for violin has allowed me to vicariously express these musical desires. Additionally, I’ve learned that these two qualities are wonderfully complimentary to the guitar, creating a uniquely beautiful composite sound.
The other reason that the microtonal possibilities of the violin are important to me is their close association with Indian music, which has been in my ears literally since birth. (As a vocalist, my father has studied North Indian raga for nearly 40 years.) Timb Harris, the violinist in my trio, although classically trained, has long since been fascinated with the music of Eastern Europe, and has traveled extensively in Romania to pursue this interest. One of the reasons I invited him to join this project was his understanding non-Western idiom, and there is an audible and historical connection between the sentiment of Indian music and that of Romania.
Although Scott Amendola’s main instrument is the drum set, using chopsticks, brushes, mallets, and even his hands, and supplementing that with a variety of hand percussion instruments, he creates a plethora of sound unlike that of any other drummer I’ve heard. His breadth of experience and understanding of jazz, avant-garde, and experimental improvisatory idioms contributes a vast array of possibilities to this project.
I have worked with bass guitarist Michael Manring on and off for about two years. He has a unique ability to seamlessly drift in and out of the foreground, occasionally drawing from his vast repertoire of extended techniques, yet always in service of the musical objective. In working with this ensemble, I grew to greatly enjoy the broad timbral spectrum and solid rhythmic foundation that the bass guitar provided—qualities that I now know would be fruitful additions to the existing trio, greatly benefiting our overall sonority. Read the rest of this entry »
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There was a fair amount of buzz a couple years ago (including here at s21), when composer Michael Hersch‘s enormous piano canvas The Vanishing Pavilions was released on CD. What the New York Times has written about Hersch’s work in general seems to apply quite well to this two-hour-plus piece: “If the symmetries and proportions of Mr. Hersch’s music evoke the grounded fixity of architecture, its dynamism and spontaneous evolution are those of the natural world. Its somber eloquence sings of truths that are personal yet not confessional… Within the sober palette, the expressive power and range are vast.”
Turns out that this evening-length piece was only the first part of a trilogy of evening-length works — or rather, a “tet-trilogy”… The second part, Last Autumn, is a duo, and it exists in two versions: one for horn and ‘cello, the other for saxophone and cello. The horn/cello version was premiered in Philadelphia back in October last year, at the able hands of hornist (and Hersch’s brother) Jamie Hersch and cellist Daniel Gaisford. About that premiere, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns wrote:
“As great as [The Vanishing Pavilions] is, Last Autumn eclipses it. In the airier, more distilled Autumn, whose emotional riches defy the harmonic limitations of the instruments, the music exploits the instruments in every imaginable way. …Idea and sound were inextricably one, and more viscerally exciting for it. … Long, vigorous applause indicated that Hersch’s more personal and demanding works are no longer appreciated by only a few.”
And now the saxophone and ‘cello version of Last Autumn is getting its premiere this Saturday, Feb 27 at 8pm in Merkin Hall here in NYC. Once again Gaisford is cellist, joined this time by saxophonist Gary Louie.
I had a chance to ask Hersch some questions about the work, the trilogy as a whole, and his motivations. I was also able to get a few questions to Louie, about what it feels like to be involved in a piece of this scope:
S21: Michael, being a composer myself I know better than to ask you about why these enormous musical expanses have become necessary in your work. Still, even when following what we can’t help feel is the absolutely right path this music is leading us, short (Webern) or long (Wagner, Morton Feldman, Andrew Violette, David Toub, you), was there ever a moment where you had to look at the sheer size of these visions and think “is this crazy or what”?
Michael Hersch: When I first began to compose, many of the works I wrote were quite long. Most of these earliest efforts however are now withdrawn, including my undergraduate recital work which consisted of a single program-length piece (a work for trumpet and strings). As I progressed through my twenties I felt that I should try and broaden, or in this case contract, the canvasses which I was working with. While there are a few works still in my catalog from those years, most of the pieces I wrote during this period I also am not satisfied with. It wasn’t until my thirties that I felt able to begin to naturally express myself in works of varying lengths – especially in pieces under thirty minutes. It was at this point however that I decided to begin work on The Vanishing Pavilions, which seemed a natural outgrowth of what I had done before. I also recognized that beginning this project was a decision that would necessarily have deep implications on how and what I would write for the foreseeable future. I certainly knew that a work of this scale would have little chance of ever being programmed. That said, most anything a composer writes in our age suffers this reality. If their were performers who could play this particular work or its later siblings, they would have to commit vast amounts of time and energy to learning a piece that they rarely, if ever, would be asked to perform. For The Vanishing Pavilions, my intention was to write, premiere and record the work myself. For Last Autumn, I was remarkably fortunate to have found performers beyond myself willing to commit the necessary time to the piece. It has been a surreal experience to witness the kind of selflessness they have brought to the task of learning the music.
You asked if I thought it crazy to write music on this scale. There is certainly precedent for composers embarking on journeys like this in the past. In my case, I think I felt at a certain point that due to life’s uncertainty, my time was best spent following what seems that absolutely right path you mentioned.
S21: Do you see the piece as an evening-length work from the outset, or does it only become apparent after starting the composition?
MH: I knew that the three works of this cycle would be in the neighborhood of 3 hours each from the outset. Writing each piece has been a slow, deliberate, years-long process, with unexpected turns along the way. The Vanishing Pavilions took over four years to write, Last Autumn three years. When I complete the last work in the cycle, the entire undertaking will have taken some ten years.
S21: Certainly unique among ‘epic’ compositions has to be that the whole almost-three hours of Last Autumn is a duo for two solo melodic instruments. Was there ever a temptation along the way to add another voice or two to the mix?
MH: When I decided to write the work, I knew that the specific performers I was writing for were capable of remarkable things on their respective instruments. The cellist, Daniel Gaisford, is able to solidly convey the resources of a cello, viola and violin, creating if called upon the illusion of a string trio. In saxophonist Gary Louie, I knew I essentially had access to a quartet made up of horn, saxophone, clarinet and oboe. In the case of my brother Jamie, I knew he was capable of creating the illusion at different times of a bass trombone, tenor trombone, horn and trumpet. Ultimately, in both cases I felt I was writing for not a duo of two melodic instruments, but in fact a septet.
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