(Houston, TX) Houston-based soprano, writer, and impresario Misha Penton (pictured above) is back with another genre blending evening (two actually) of music for classical voice. Accompanied by pianist Kyle Evans, cellist Patrick Moore, and dancers Meg Brooker and Yelena Konetchy, Penton will present a specially staged concert of composer Elliot Cole’sSelkie, a sea tale with lyrics by Penton. Cole, a graduate of Rice University and now Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, will be in attendance for Saturday’s performance. The concerts are timed to celebrate the release of a CD recording on Selkie, a sea tale. CDs and download cards will be available for sale at the performances.
As artistic director of Divergence Vocal Theater, Penton has produced and sung in several creatively staged and intensely collaborative concert events featuring light and film projections, puppetry, stage acting, and modern dance and music from composers including Cole, George Heathco, and Dominick DiOrio. The 2010 Houston premier of Selkie featured an elaborate media and lighting design within a theatrical installation. The multimedia elements for Friday and Saturday’s performances include new choreography by Brooker and Konetchy and the screening of a video for the song “Softly Over Sounding Waves” directed by Penton.
Penton writes: “Selkies are ephemeral half-human, half-seal beings. They are transformative creatures that inhabit liminal spaces; exist at the edge of dusk and dawn; in the between-time of solstice and equinox; and where root meets earth and sea washes sand. When the moon swells to its fullest, selkies shed their seal skins, reveal their human form, and dance on our northernmost beaches, their skins ready for the taking. Selkie, a sea tale’s poetry is a dreamscape of human fragility, longing and loss, written from a sailor’s wife to her selkie love and culminates in her willingness to release him back to the sea.”
In addition to singing and mastering some truly challenging music for the voice, Penton has a gift for instilling each of her live events with a seductive, highly stylized vibe that embraces both the contemporary and the archetype. Symbols and references to fairy tales, Greek mythology, and gothic literature are all a part of her creative palette, giving each Divergence Vocal Theater event an air of magic and ritual. Penton also possesses a wicked sense of humor that compliments her very serious passion for making great collaborative art. Making magic takes a lot of work! So if you’re in Houston, don’t sleep on this unique spin on the genre of contemporary chamber opera.
Misha Penton and Divergence Vocal Theater present Elliot Cole’s Selkie, a sea tale, music by Elliot Cole, lyrics by Misha Penton, March 29 & 30 at 8:00 p.m. at 4411 Montrose Gallery, with Misha Penton (soprano), Kyle Evans (piano), Patrick Moore (cello), and Meg Brooker and Yelena Konetchy (dance). Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. CD and digital download for Selkie, a sea tale available April 1.
It’s hard to believe, but one of the primary forces that fostered the “Indie Classical” phenomenon of the aughts is celebrating its tenth birthday. The Brassland imprint, which curates artists such as the National, Clogs, Doveman, and Nico Muhly, is celebrating their anniversary by sharing music: a different free download of a song from their catalog every weekday throughout November.
Thanks to the kind folks at Brassland, below we share a stream of tomorrow’s pick: Nico Muhly’s “Skip Town,” a bonus cut from his Mothertongue CD.
Be sure to visit the label’s “song a day” giveaway site or their Facebook page to collect all the goodies (schedule below).
October in New York is becoming an embarrassment of riches in the new music world. So many wonderful concerts to hear in town! But the plethora of notable events can be a source of frustration too: sometimes you wish you could be in two places at once. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Steve Smith has figured out a way to do this!) So, while we won’t get to review everything, there’s nothing saying we can’t preview as many events as possible! What follows are some, but rest assured not all, of the excellent upcoming goings on.
- Starting Wednesday evening (Oct. 5) running through October 8 at Roulette is one of the biggest festivals celebrating the music of Anthony Braxton yet seen in the United States. It includes performances by the Tricentric Orchestra, the US debut of the Diamond Curtain WallTrio – Anthony Braxton (reeds, electronics), Taylor Ho Bynum (brass), and Mary Halvorson (guitar) – and two world premieres. The first, Pine Top Arial Music, is an interdisciplinary work integrating music and dance. The second, which is the culmination of the festival, is a concert reading of Acts One and Two of Trillium E, Braxton’s first opera. Those who can’t make the festival, or who want ample Braxton at home as well as live, can enjoy two new recordings of his music. The first is a freebie: a Braxton sampler featuring a diverse array of pieces (including an excerpt of the opera) that’s available for download via the Tricentric Foundation. The second is a recording of Trillium E in its entirety, available from Tricentric on October 11 as a download or 4 CD set.
- On October 6, Ekmeles, everybody’s favorite New York group of experimentally inclined youngster vocalists, shares a triple bill with Ireland’s Ergodos and Holland’s Ascoli Ensemble at Issue Project Room’s new 110 Livingstone location (details here). Ekmeles will perform Kaija Saariaho’s Sylvia Plath setting From the Grammar of Dreams, two short pieces by James Tenney, and two US premieres. The first, Madrigali a Dio by Johannes Schöllhorn, incorporates singing, spoken word, and even boisterous shouts in a vocal work that explores counterpoints between pitched and un-pitched vocalizations. Peter Ablinger’sStudien nach der Natur explores a plethora of sounds from the natural world as well as manmade noises: mosquitoes, quartz watches, the Autobahn, smoking, electric hums – all replicated by the human voice. Mr. Ablinger was kind enough to allow us to share a small score excerpt below.
- Also on Thursday, October 6 (drat it to Hades!) is the premiere of the Five Borough Songbook at Galapagos.Twenty composers were asked by Five Boroughs Music Festivalto each contribute a single work to this project. Participants include Daron Hagen, Tom Cipullo, Lisa Bielawa, and other heavyweights in the songwriting biz.
- On October 8 at 7 PM at the Tenri Cultural Institute (ticket info here), the Mimesis Ensemble is doing a program of “Young Voices,” featuring three youngish composers who specialize in vocal music. It’s a program that’s a bit more traditional in approach than is, say, Ekmeles’ wont, but it presents some noteworthy repertoire. Thomas Adès’Three Eliot Landscapes and Gabriel Kahane’s current events inflectedCraigslistlieder are featured alongside several works by Mohammed Fairouz.
- On October 9 at 7:30 PM, Sequenza 21′s own Armando Bayolo will make his Carnegie Hall debut (as the kids say, whoot!). Armando’s Lullabies, a newly commissioned work, will be premiered at Weill Recital Hall by Trio Montage (more information here).
- Just around the corner is the ACO’s SONiC festival, Ekmeles’ concert on 10/21 at Columbia (a humdinger of a program!), Bridge Records’ Anniversary Concert at NYPL, and, yes, the Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert at the newly revivified Joe’s Pub on 10/25. But those previews will have to wait for another post! In the meantime, there are pieces to compose, papers to grade, and both my wife’s and my birthdays this weekend. October is the month that keeps on giving: it’s good to be busy, right?
We’re saddened to learn from David Starobinof the passing of composer Peter Liebersonin Israel, due to complications from Lymphoma. He had been battling the disease since 2006 and for a time it had been in remission. But in late 2010, Lieberson travelled to Israel to seek treatment for a recurrence of the cancer.
Lieberson’s music was an extraordinary mixture of disparate strands of influences. It encompassed an intuitive post-tonal vocabulary, rooted in dodecaphonic training but also capable of lush verticals and, particularly in his vocal music, supple lyricism and sweeping melodies. In later years, his interest in meditation and Zen Buddhism contributed another layer of resonances and an intriguingly metaphysical counterweight to some of the modernist tendencies of his oeuvre.
Among the many honors he attained was the prestigious Grawemeyer Prize, which he won in 2008 for Neruda Songs. Although he was a finalist for the award on multiple occasions, the Pulitzer Prize eluded him. Back in 2004, I suggested that this injustice made him the “Pulitzer’s Susan Lucci.”
Of course, during this sad time, one can’t help but think of the passing of Lieberson’s late wife, the extraordinary mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, also of cancer. Lieberson wrote a number of memorable pieces for her, including the aforementioned Neruda Songs. If there’s a signature example to use when we advocate for our government to continue to fund medical research, I’d offer this one up: two brilliant creators in the prime of life laid low so cruelly. Both had so much yet to offer. It’s a tragedy that we’re bereft of their artistry and humanity far too soon.
When I planned to teach a course at Westminster Choir College about Benjamin Britten’s vocal music in the Fall, I knew that gender/sexuality studies would play a role in our evaluation of his works. But I certainly wasn’t planning to discuss something as topical and unsettling as the recent tragedy at Rutgers. Our campus is a half hour away from RU (my alma mater), and a number of students were understandably shaken by hearing about Tyler Clementi’s suicide.
The technological tools for communication may have gotten more sophisticated; but the people using them, if they act selfishly, can be in danger of disconnecting from their better impulses. Sadly, in this instance, the consequences were heartbreaking.
With Britten’s Michelangelo Sonnets and his opera Peter Grimes staring up at us, we began to discuss their texts. We then pondered the connection between the poems and some biographical background: Britten and Pears’ early collaboration, their trip to America, and eventual partnership. In my initial lesson notes, I’d pointed out that theirs was a relationship that was frowned upon in many corners, and would still be illegal for more than two decades after they returned to Great Britain. I asked: what resonances to Britten’s life can be found in the poetry of Michelangelo?
My plan was to then turn to a discussion of how Britten depicts these texts and alludes to personal biography in the musical details of these songs.
But in light of cyberbullying and prejudice, the continued homophobia in American society seemed an unavoidable topic: one I didn’t want to foist on the class but certainly wasn’t going to avoid if they decided to broach it. Delicately, one of the students brought up Tyler Clementi’s suicide. I was touched by how sensitively and maturely the other students in the class responded. They thoughtfully discussed the issues surrounding this terrible event, reflecting on how it affects their future work as teachers and musicians. They also reflected on how it should serve as a wake up call for their current lives, challenging them to speak out against teen suicide and try to be compassionate friends to their peers.
They pointed out that whether it is homophobia, racism, social, financial, or academic pressures that are troubling them, many young people are under duress and in need of compassion: both community support and sometimes professional help. As we saw this week, it’s far too easy for someone to be treated with prejudice and cruelty, even today. As some of the students pointed out, among young people we sadly must say, “Especially today.”
I’ll remember many of the comments made by the students on Friday. Although, to respect their privacy, I won’t share their more personal observations, there was one comment that brought us back to the music in eloquent fashion. It was the suggestion that Britten, indeed through the works we were studying that very day in class, could teach us a great deal about prejudice.
“What Britten sought, throughout his life, to portray in his music, was that if you treat someone like an outsider, we all suffer as a society: none of us can grow.”
Although we didn’t have time to find all of the musical intricacies in the songs, I’m very grateful for that lesson.
Staying in NYC this 4th of July holiday weekend? Then come partake of some musical fireworks and pan-patriotic pride as vocalist extraordinaire Phillip Cheah (his vocal range could well classify him as “soprano/baritone”) and pianist Trudy Chan serve up American Dim Sum – A celebration of the American song.
The carts will be full of dishes of American fare: beloved songs by Ned Rorem, Samuel Barber, Dominick Argento, Aaron Copland, Amy Beach, and Jack Beeson, as well as exotic delicasies by John Cage (The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs), Henry Cowell (Three Anti-Modernist Songs, written during his incarceration at San Quentin), Milton Babbitt (songs from a never-produced Broadway musical, Fabulous Voyage), and Nicolas Slonimsky (early pieces rediscovered at the Library of Congress with the help of his daughter, Electra Yourke). Topping off the festivities will be a belated, 28-years-in-the-making world premiere of songs from the nurturing river by the the friendliest iconoclastic enfant terrible around, Frank J. Oteri.
It’s all going down Saturday, July 3rd, 7:00 PM, at the Church of St Luke in the Fields (487 Hudson Street @ Grove). Only $10 to stuff yourself silly, so bring a hungry ear or two.
Brooklynite singer/songwriter Elizabeth Ziman is probably best known for her work with the indie pop band Elizabeth and the Catapult. But Ziman, a trained pianist who studied film scoring, was recently involved in composing music for a crossover “art song” project. The commission was premiered last Thursday at New Sounds Live, a concert hosted by John Schaefer at Merkin Hall in New York City. Elizabeth and the Catapult, Gabriel Kahane, and Ed Pastorini all appeared, performing new works that demonstrated their own particular takes on the ‘art song’ concept. After the gig, Elizabeth was kind enough to share some thoughts about creating crossover art songs at the behest of WNYC.
CC: How did you get involved with the New Sounds Live project? Have you been on the show in the past?
EZ: I first met John Schaefer when I was commissioned to write a piece for the Young People’s Choir of NYC about 5 years ago, and ever since he’s been really super supportive of all Elizabeth and The Catapult ventures- he’s featured us on Soundcheck a number of times. But this was our first appearance on New Sounds. We were all very excited.
CC: Tell us about the commissioned work that premiered at the Merkin Hall event.
EZ: Around the time John gave me the assignment to write the song cycle, I was reading a book of poems Leonard Cohen wrote while spending time in a Zen monastery in California: “Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing”. The general theme of these poems are not so much about religion/sex/depression/politics as is per usual with him, but more personal- mostly about being human and flawed and trying to succumb to it. He’s constantly searches for peace but when he can’t reach it, he laughs at himself. So there’s a good dark humor to the poems. Something about this really struck a chord with me and ended up writing my own poems mirroring this sentiment. Musically speaking, it was just the normal setup plus string quartet.
CC: Merkin Hall is generally known as a classical and jazz venue. Has Elizabeth and the Catapult performed in similar halls in the past?
EZ: We performed at Carnegie Hall two years ago; otherwise the closest thing to Merkin Hall we’ve played is probably a club like Joe’s Pub in the Village. But we welcome all theatre/art spaces- they usually sound the best anyway.
CC: The concept for this New Sounds program was showing how ‘art songs’ – songs in the concert music tradition – are being affected by influences of pop, jazz, and other kinds of music. How did you respond to this?
EZ: I really just tried to do exactly what I do – but because there was some kind of budget I was lucky enough to be able to hire a string quartet for the occasion as well.
CC: A lot of indie pop artists seem increasingly interested in incorporating classical influences into their work. Conversely, classical artists are blending pop influences into their compositions. Can you comment on this trend and how, if at all, it affects your songwriting and arranging?
EZ: I went to school for film scoring- so I’ve always been very interested in arranging cinematically, and using a broader scope of instruments- but I feel like bands like Sufjan, The Dirty Projectors, David Byrne, St Vincent and Antony and the Johnsons(to name a few) have been really pushing the envelope with their arrangements in a very hip way.
CC: How did your approach the ‘art song’ compared to the other artists > on the show – Gabriel Kahane and Ed Pastorini? Was there any communication about the music you were composing ahead of time?
EZ: I love Gabe, I actually wrote one of the songs for the cycle on his piano at his house while he was on tour and I was house-sitting! But no, the night was pretty much a happy surprise for all of us.
CC: Is this type of project something you’d like to explore further with Elizabeth and the Catapult?
EZ: Sure, it was an absolute honor to perform in such a beautiful venue for such a great program. I’m always psyched to be involved in new random projects, especially those being sponsored by NPR.
CC: What’s next for Elizabeth and the Catapult? Are you touring/recording this summer?
EZ: We’re recording this summer and hopefully touring very, very soon!
Those interested in hearing the Merkin Hall concert, stay tuned! It will be broadcast as part of a future New Sounds program on WNYC.
Fresh on the heels of their excellent BoaC Marathon appearance, composer Matt McBane‘s alt-avant chamber-whatever group Build is doing a collaborative concert with another twisted sister, Former-Aussie songstress Greta Gertler. It’s all going down Tuesday, June 23, 2009, 7:00pm at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette Street, NYC); tickets are $15.
In addition to performing separately, Greta and Build will join forces in premiering new string arrangements by McBane, for songs from Greta’s forthcoming album “The Universal Thump”. The idea for this collaboration was inspired by Matt and Greta discovering that they were both listed on The Deli Magazine’s NYC Top 20 Orchestral Pop chart. With the knowledge that they were in fact supposedly working in the same genre, and sharing friends and sometime roommates, Greta and Matt decided fate was telling them to get together and do something, and so here it is.
I think this is going to be a decidedly lovely show, well worth catching.