Archive for the “S21 Concert” Category

Leach_Xantippe_sRebuke_pg12[1].pdf 

From Sequenza21 regular Mary Jane Leach: 

Xantippe’s Rebuke, for oboe soloist and eight taped oboes, is an intense study in sound that tickles your ears. It will be performed on the Sequenza 21 Concert by Matt Sullivan. I’ve written about my approach to writing it, which I hope you will find interesting. 

My work has primarily been concerned with exploring sound phenomena – combination, difference and interference tones. I work very carefully with the specific sound properties of each instrument that I write for, qualities that change from instrument to instrument.

Initially this was done in rather direct, almost linear, ways, writing pieces for multiples of instruments, or similar instruments, that I could perform myself, taking advantage of 8-track tape machines to make the pieces. At first I wrote only for instruments that I could play myself (clarinet, bass clarinet, voice).

Two developments that helped me to expand my approach were working with vocal ensembles that could perform my multi-track vocal works, and working with music software on the computer. Using vocal groups freed up the music, releasing it from the constraints of click tracks and the rigidity (both of tempo and dynamics) that resulted from making pieces on tape, opening up the sound. By using the computer and midi playback, I was able to start writing for instruments that I didn’t play. Midi playback enabled me to compose studies of the instruments and to hear the resulting sound phenomena of these instruments without having to go through the laborious task of making multi-track study tapes of the instruments (and dealing with the problems of machines with slightly different speeds).

At first I had to tweak the sounds available to get the right overtone distribution, but eventually I started working with the Proteus instrumental sounds, which, if not perfect, at least are pretty accurate in their overtone profiles.

Writing for solo instruments is a challenge. One of the main problems, at least for me, is that I’m just not interested in even listening to a solo piece (with a few notable exceptions, but those pieces are generally for string instruments that can play multiple stops).

A way around that for me is to write a taped part that a performer plays along with in concert. At first I tried a music minus one approach, but quickly realized that that just didn’t work. If the taped parts and the live parts need to match in sound quality, then the live part is never going to match the taped sound, so the live part will either stick out like a sore thumb or will be masked by the taped parts. I tried a music plus one approach, in which the entire piece is on tape and then I augmented it in performance, but that would be too boring for anyone else to perform. I wanted to write pieces for soloists that they would want to perform and that would give them some freedom.

So I finally decided to write a solo piece that would be played with a taped part of multiples of that instrument, a sort of concerto. The taped parts would be equal and interdependent, while the solo part would be a “real” solo, in which the performer has some flexibility.

Xantippe’s Rebuke works very carefully with the unique sound of the oboe. (The partials of the oboe are so intense, that I had to stop using headphones while I worked on the piece.) The taped oboes are written to exploit its sound properties. I started with unison pitches that created the richest sound and built the piece from there. Most of the subsequent pitches and phrases that I wrote sounded acoustically before I notated them later on in the piece, and these in turn created other sound phenomena. So, in effect, the nature of the oboe and its natural sound properties determined the direction of the piece. Panning affects what happens sonically, and I worked with that. I also used panning to give cues to the performer (in addition to pitch cues), as an aid to orientation.

The solo part starts off by playing notes that are being created, but not notated or played, on the tape (sound phenomena), continuing on to play a melody that “floats” above the taped oboes.works very carefully with the unique sound of the oboe. (The partials of the oboe are so intense, that I had to stop using headphones while I worked on the piece.) The taped oboes are written to exploit its sound properties. I started with unison pitches that created the richest sound and built the piece from there. Most of the subsequent pitches and phrases that I wrote sounded acoustically before I notated them later on in the piece, and these in turn created other sound phenomena. So, in effect, the nature of the oboe and its natural sound properties determined the direction of the piece. Panning affects what happens sonically, and I worked with that. I also used panning to give cues to the performer (in addition to pitch cues), as an aid to orientation. The solo part starts off by playing notes that are being created, but not notated or played, on the tape (sound phenomena), continuing on to play a melody that “floats” above the taped oboes.

When it came time to name this piece, I was having a difficult time. I went through old notebooks to find an inspiration. Years ago, I had jotted down “Xantippe,” because I liked the name, and I decided that I’d like to use it. One, I thought it would be great to have a piece that began with “X” and two, I thought Xantippe had gotten a bum rap through the centuries. She was the wife of Socrates, and was known for being a scold. But since Socrates didn’t work and hung out all day talking with his followers while she ran the household, I think that characterization is unfair. I might have done more than dump the contents of the chamber pot on his head. This piece is Xantippe’s chance to speak up on her behalf.

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Got your attention, right? No, this is not spam.

My piece objects for marimba, piano and electronic organ is going to be premiered at the Sequenza 21 concert on November 20th. The performers will be Hugh Sung (electronic organ), Daniel Beliavsky (piano) and Bill Solomon (marimba). I encountered Hugh through MySpace, and it turns out we both live and work in the Philadelphia area, Hugh being a fantastic pianist at the Curtis Institute of Music and a fellow technologist. We’ve done a podcast together at his studio at Curtis, and I’m delighted he’s participating in this event. Daniel teaches at NYU and is also a composer, while Bill is an expert marimbist in the Hartford, CT area.

objects score

At the time that I was writing objects, I was teaching a college course in computer science; the work’s title comes from a programming construct in which blocks of computer code are organized into reusable units called objects. This is similar to how most of the piece is made up of repetitive, reusable groups of notes and rhythms, and is a feature of most of my music since the early 80’s.

I wrote objects pretty much over a weekend in 1999, although it took me two months to finalize everything. I was playing with three rhythmic fragments on my synthesizer, all in 7/16 time but with the three possible beat structures (3+2+2 vs 2+3+2 vs 2+2+3). Initially I had the keyboard play the patterns back at superhuman speeds, which was pretty interesting, but it was even more interesting when the tempo was slowed down. The entire work resulted largely from these three fragments, and only in two measures does the meter change from 7/16, namely 11/16. I wrote objects for my daughter, Arielle, who was almost four at the time.

objects is a piece that I have always thought of as my most “fun” piece. It’s very accessible, and unlike some of my other music that tends to run an hour or even more than two hours in duration (cantorials, textbook, for philip glass), objects lasts only around 11 minutes.

objects will be the finale of the concert in November, so please don’t leave early (if for no other reason than there will be a really nice party after the concert!). If you need some further convincing about sitting through until the end of the concert, click here…

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Hey Folks —

Don’t know how we managed to scoop the Times on this one.  But here’s an interview with violinist Jeffrey Phillips, who’s doing many honors on next month’s Sequenza21 concert.  The interview has to do with a certain set of violin solos by a composer who will be familiar to those who wander these parts.  Enjoy!

jeff_phillips.JPG
Q. You’re going to be giving the U.S. premiere of two works for solo violin by Tom Myron on the first-ever Sequenza21 Concert. Are they hard?
A. “They are as difficult as one would expect two pieces that were written for Peter Sheppard-Skaerved and having their U.S. premiere to be. (That means yes.)”
Q. New Music types are obsessed with questions of style and influence. What style does Tom Myron write in. Is he a post-minimalist or a post-modernist or what? Style-wise is he ripping anyone off?
A. “I don’t know what kind of –ist(s) Tom or his music are, but it does seem as if he’s ripped off pretty much everyone including the poor guy at the 7-11 down the street.  I guess those New Music types will just have to come to the concert and find out for themselves what –ist(s) Tom and his music are. I know I’m gonna.”
Q. According to the composer one of the pieces takes its inspiration from a poem by Ted Hughes and the other from a drawing by an 18th century German woman naturalist working in the Caribbean. Can you tell this just by playing them? Which is which?
 A. “No, I can’t tell which is which just by playing them. Tom even told me which one was inspired by a poem by Ted Hughes and which one was inspired by Maria Sibylla Merian’s  “A Surinam caiman fighting a South American false coral snake” and I still can’t keep them straight. I have caimans fighting poems and a snake arranged as a haiku stuck in my head.”
Q. Does it psych you out to be giving the U.S. premieres of two pieces that have been played all over the world by Naxos recording artist and violin god Peter Sheppard-Skaerved?
A. “Yes, of course, there is a little psyching out going on. Peter Sheppard-Skaerved has given the premieres of these two pieces (and numerous others) all over the world. Except in the U.S. That’s me.”
Q. Is Jeffrey Phillips a violin god?
A. “In the omnipotent/omnipresent sense, no. In the Greek sense, yes.”

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Third installment of a series of Composer Perspectives previewing the November 20th Sequenza21 Concert.

First of all, many thanks to all the people doing the behind-the-scenes work to make the upcoming Sequenza21 concert happen. It’s a daunting task, bringing all of these disparate voices together. I wonder if concertgoers don’t routinely underestimate the headaches that are hidden behind any successful performance.

I’m very curious to hear the music on this concert, having come to know all of the composers a bit online and not at all in person. But I’m uncertain which pieces I will actually be sitting in the audience for. At some point in the evening, I will be on the stage, performing in the premiere of Singing silver with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).

Scored for narrator, soprano, horn, cello and guitar, Singing silver is my latest attempt to combine words and music in a way that fully satisfies the needs of each. The narrator (me) speaks most of the text, with phrases spinning freely off of specific beats in the score. The soprano (Tony Arnold) echoes some of the text, but more often blends wordlessly with the instruments, acting as a connective sinew between the muscle of poetry and the bone of music.

Similarly, the words of Singing silver are the tissue that connects the person I’ve become with the child I once was. We all have rites of passage; mine took place in an autumn dusk, walking home from school, stepping into a busy street for God knows what reason.

Here is the text:

I was crossing the road on an autumn afternoon when a spark in the pavement caught my eye,
sun low in the sky.
I dropped to the ground on one red knee and peered into the black and gold,
as the day grew old.

Sixteen thousand jewels I found shattering the autumn light,
while the air prepared to greet the night.
Sixteen thousand diamonds calling colors to the sky
Sixteen thousand stars and crowns astounding to the eye

But I knew the ones you’d love.

I will bring them home to show to you.
I will bring them home to give to you.
I will bring them home.

I was crossing the road on an autumn afternoon when a lonely tone caught my ear,
a careful keening, strangely near.
I stopped and listened to the sky, sun angled to my right,
clutching at the night.

Sixteen thousand sounds I found shattering the autumn air,
as the day rolled over in bewildered prayer.
Sixteen thousand fragments tumbling through the atmosphere
Sixteen thousand jangled dreams rebounding in the ear

But I knew the ones you’d love.

I will bring them home to show to you.
I will bring them home to give to you.
I will bring them home.

I was crossing the road on an autumn afternoon when a flash of metal spun me round,
and up off the ground.
I thrust my arms out left and right, sun darting under me,
fleeing westerly.

And then I saw him, sitting near, laughing gently at the blurring cars
Singing silver in my ear, like sixteen thousand dangled stars.
Sixteen thousand silent smiles shining in the mist
Sixteen thousand aspirations dancing in his fist.

And I knew that he would love you.

Come home with me, I have someone to show you.
Come home with me, I have someone to give you
Come home.

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Alaska

You see this picture here? That is Alaska. That’s where my Three Miniatures for Violin and Marimba was premiered at the Juneau Jazz & Classics Festival this past May. I have fond memories of my trip there: the piece was performed no fewer than four times during the festival in various contexts, each one a little different: there was the formal premiere at a beautiful chapel by the lake with large windows serving as the backdrop to the stage; the somewhat guerilla-esque performance at Heritage Coffee; the workshop with the kids at the local magnet school. (“What did you guys think of that?” the violinist asked them, and a boy in the back raised his hand with dramatic flair and declared with the utmost finality, “WHOAH.”) I had my first radio interview ever, with Susan Fitzgerald on KTOO-FM in Juneau; I must have broken a record for the number of “umms” in a ten-minute period. Best of all, the festival arranged for participants to get free helicopter tours to Mendenhall Glacier just outside of Juneau, in which the helicopter lands ON THE GLACIER and you can hike along the ice field. As it happens, the recording of the premiere performance is scheduled to arrive today, and I may be hearing it for the first time as you read this.

You may not get to experience Alaska on Monday, November 20, but you will get to hear the first performance in New York of my piece. You know what else you’ll get to hear?

  • Four world premieres by Galen H. Brown, Lawrence Dillon, David Salvage, and David Toub.
  • Performances by a killer cast including Daniel Beliavsky, members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, Thomas Meglioranza, and David Starobin.
  • The United States premiere of The Weather Riots by our Dutch friend, Samuel Vriezen – and guess what? The Frolicsome Composer from Hell himself will be there to tinkle the keys for us.
  • Plus killer stuff (including many pieces being heard for the first time in New York City) from Anthony Cornicello, Jeff Harrington, Mary Jane Leach, Tom Myron, Frank J. Oteri, and Judith Lang Zaimont.

So how much would you think such an orgy of sound would cost? Try FREE. That’s right, no service charges, no “convenience” fees, no taxes, no late penalties, no interest due. Just show up at 7:30 and bring your antihistamines, ’cause this concert is gonna be sick.

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Over the next few weeks you’re going to be hearing a lot from the composers on the upcoming Sequenza21 concert. We’re all pretty chatty around here, and these posts are going to be one of our little publicity stunts. Here’s a sample of the sort of thing you might be seeing.

Piece: Pause Button Excerpt

Composer: David Salvage

Performer: Thomas Meglioranza

Poet: Kevin Davies

About two years ago I was looking for a text for a song-cycle for baritone and piano. Having set Christina Rossetti and Rupert Brooke, I felt obliged to find a contemporary poet. I found much poetry that I liked and even began some settings of Yosef Komunyakaa. But nothing felt right. Then a friend of mine mentioned a poet whom I had never heard of: Kevin Davies. I rummaged around online (Davies being too obscure for most bookstores) and came upon his volume “Pause Button.” After reading about two pages, I knew that, even though I didn’t know what he was talking about, there was music here.

After much deliberation, and gaining permission from Kevin (a new music fan, by the way), I decided on a passage from the book’s second half and began to write. Early sketches resembled Berg, with a thick, chromatic piano part and the voice assuming an integral – rather than dominant – role. But as I pressed forward, the feeling that I was just writing dumb notes began to bother me. So I started paring down the piano part until, one day, after having listened to György Kurtág’s “Hölderlin Gesänge,” I decided to chuck the piano part altogether and a write a solo.

Two years later “Pause Button Excerpt” is seeing the light of day. And what a day it’s seeing. Last winter, completely out of the blue, baritone Thomas Meglioranza e-mailed me having read about the piece on my Sequenza21 Wiki page. He was looking for solo baritone music and wanted a copy. Tom won last year’s Naumburg competition and is not only a stupendously gifted singer, but a real Mensch as well. Go to his website, and you’ll learn that the best way for anyone to chalk up frequent flyer miles is to attend his performances. (There are lots of them, and they’re all over the place.)

It’s a thrill to dwell here on the musical side of this concert. Being the point man on this thing mostly means figuring out how to get the marimba in the building and making sure we have access to all the electronic equipment the (other) composers require. Preparations, in all honesty, are going shockingly well. Just gotta keep certain committee members from killing each other. But folks, this is going to be awesome.

P.S. But can our concert possibly be as awesome as this apple pie?

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