On Sunday, May 25, 2014 the Los Angeles Composers Collective presented New Strings a concert that featured new works by nine different composers and performed by the Fiato Quartet. The venue was Human Resources, a converted movie theater in historic Chinatown and although the performance space is a work in progress, the audience was seated comfortably. The acoustics in this new space were adequate – a dryer environment might have been better to bring out the finer details – but this did not affect the performance.
The concert began with String Quartet 1 by Jon Brenner and this commenced with a series of fast, precisely played eighth notes that immediately assumed a familiar minimalist texture. This developed a nice groove with effective harmonies and solid counterpoint. As the piece progressed, a section with lower dynamics – dominated by the cello – produced a more introspective feel despite the busyness. Those sequences where there was dynamic contrast and sustained tones in one or more parts were particularly effective. Towards the end of the piece the tempo slowed a bit and a pleasing theme emerged that was passed around among the players. This is music that is always going somewhere; at times it is strident but never out of control and the groove was always carefully maintained. Informed by Jon Brenner’s background in early music, String Quartet 1 is a strongly minimalist piece with a lot of moving parts that work admirably together.
Thoughts on Spring followed, by Alicia Byer. This begins with a series of long, slow notes in the violins, followed by the viola and cello. Trills appear, and with a sustained tone continuing in the viola there is the unmistakable feeling of an awakening. A slow melody is heard for a time and then – after a beat or two of silence – fast trills in the viola mark the start of a stronger, more animated section. As the volume and tempo increase there is a feeling of incipient undeniability, especially strong in the lower strings, like the emergence of the first flower shoots of spring. Thoughts on Spring is just that, and this music artfully describes the yearly process of natural renewal.
At the Warren by Carlos Carlos was next and this is a piece that is unashamedly about rabbits. Full of variously bouncing pizzicato or tremolo sounds – and often with a dance-like feel – At the Warren nicely captures the energy and movement of rabbits in the wild. At times this piece turns smoothly pastoral and was reminiscent of early 20th century English music. There was a section that quietly conveyed stealth and careful movement and other passages that expressed a more lighthearted feeling or a sense of purposeful journey. The book Watership Down came to mind. At the Warren is not abstract or difficult music, but it clearly and convincingly sketches out its subject matter.
Miniature for String Quartet No. 6 by Gregory Lenczycki followed. This began with a series of strong quarter notes that gave off an edgy feel that only increased as the rhythms became syncopated. As the piece proceeded the texture turned smoothly melodic, providing a good contrast with the opening passages. Further along there was a return to the strident rhythms of the opening and a disconnected melody emerged that enhanced the building sense of tension. The barely cohesive structure at the conclusion completes the feeling of uncertainty that characterizes this piece and makes it an interesting sojourn.
The first half of the concert concluded with Four Impressions by Nicholas White. The first of the four sections was dominated by low trills in the violin, joined by a faster repeating line in the viola. This combination generated a sense of mystery and anxiety while the second section evoked a more introspective feel with lush chords, high sustained pitches and triplets in the viola. This trailed off agreeably leaving a nostalgic afterglow. The third section continued the warm, expressive feelings with a series of slow chords and some lovely harmonies. The final section provided a fine contrast, full of fast passages in the upper strings that gave a strident and declarative feel to the overall texture. This turned slightly discordant at times, increasing the strongly purposeful feel. Some combinations of notes sounded for all the world like a muted trumpet – adding another interesting facet to this nicely balanced work.
(Houston, TX) As a way of acknowledging the impact composers such as Terry Riley, Meredith Monk, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass made on him in his formative years, composer John Zorn has described himself as a “child of minimalism” and said that the influence of the minimalist school “is somewhere in almost everything I do.”
Cellist Joshua Gindele, a founding member of the Austin-based Miró Quartet, probably wouldn’t describe himself as a child or even a grandchild of minimalism, since Glass’s repertoire, as well as the repertoire of several of the composers we’ve come to associate with the “M” word, has since found a home among the standards that any self-respecting classical chamber ensemble plays. Along with performing traditional string quartet music, including works by Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert, the Miró Quartet has commissioned and performed several new works by composers, including Brent Michael Davids, Chan Ka Nin, Leonardo Balada, and Gunter Schuller. On Tuesday, September 17, 7:30 PM at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, the Quartet performs a program of works by Schubert and Beethoven as well as Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 5.
Although Glass is still finding ways to surprise listeners and reboot the very musical language he began articulating back in 1966 with Read the rest of this entry »
Since no one listens to contemporary classical music, and it doesn’t get put on concert programs, to have a new work not only recorded but recorded again, by different musicians, is an impossible dream. But that’s what happens when you’re John Adams, America’s leading composer. And deservedly so, because he’s a deeply skilled and intelligent composer with serious things to say and the aesthetic to say them clearly, expressively and winningly without pandering to or patronizing his audience.
But he is a busy man, and some of his recent work, like Absolute Jest and The Gospel According to the Other Mary seems more assembled from parts of pieces he (or, in the case of the former, Beethoven) has already made than thought through and composed. That’s been particulary frustrating, since his String Quartet, which I saw premiered in 2009, is not only a terrific piece but one that seemed to have opened the door to a new, late style.
The St. Lawrence Quartet was the original dedicatee, the ensemble that played it in public and recorded it first. Their intense, nervous energy was exactly right for the sinewy, restless music. Now they’ve been followed by the Attacca Quartet, with a Fellow Traveller, a new CD of Adam’s complete works for String Quartet. Their manner with the piece is very different, and that’s a strength of the recording that also serves the quality of the composition.
What is most interesting about the String Quartet is how Adams, who is fundamentally a Neo-Romantic composer with a great facility for tension, release and powerful expression, uses repetition to create a sensation of agitation, but this time without much resolution. At the Attacca’s enjoyable CD release performance at (le) poisson rouge, Adams spoke about harmony and how he believes that a facility for it is necessary for composers. But the Quartet is one of his least harmonically rich pieces, it subtly reaches back to Minimalist experiments like “Christian Zeal and Activity.” It’s also more closely related to Beethoven, who was of course a magnificent harmonist but whose secret power was always rhythm, especially building and releasing tension by moving the downbeat around to different parts of measures while maintaining the same meter.
That’s what Adams does in the Quartet, plays around with the rhythmic possibilities of short phrases, different lengths, different pulses. There’s a lot of chattering interplay that add to the overall dynamism and the whole builds to an evocative and enigmatic payoff. The Attacca plays this with less muscular vigor than the Borromeo but with more thoughtfulness, more introversion, and so bring out the internal mysteries of the music, and the swing a little bit more. They also are a more lyrical ensemble, and they pay more attention to phrasing than attack and articulation, and the results are not only expressive but place the music directly in the long history of Western classical music. I can hear the Haydn and Beethoven that is part of their memories.
That approach also pays off in John’s Book of Alleged Dances, which is both amusing in intent and seriously well-made. This is extroverted music, and the Attacca plays it that way, which adds to the impression that larger piece gives. Dances is not first-rate Adams, but especially in person, the Attacca give it a first-rate performance.
(Houston, TX) Next week here in Houston, contemporary music rears its terrifying head in the form of Canada’s Gryphon Trio on two very different concerts presented by the Houston Friends of Chamber Music. On Sunday, February 10, the Trio and special guest soprano Patricia O’Callaghan present and evening of contemporary cabaret music in support of their recent CD collaboration Broken Hearts and Madmen, which includes stunning arrangements of songs by Laurie Anderson, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Astor Piazzolla, and Elvis Costello. On Tuesday, February 12, the Trio performs a program of piano trio music at Rice University, including contemporary works by Christos Hatzis and Valentin Silvestrov, accompanied by projected visuals by artist Stephen Hutchings.
From its inception the Trio, Annalee Patipatanakoon (violin), Roman Borys (cello), and Jamie Parker (piano), has been committed to playing and programming concerts that equally combine classical and contemporary repertoire.
“Although the very first piece we played together was Beethoven’s Opus 70, No. 1, the ‘ghost’ trio,” says Borys, “it wasn’t long after that that we gave our first world premier. There was never any sort of aversion to contemporary music. That kind of resistance to contemporary music is such a thing of the past. We knew many composers as friends and were very keen to work with them and have them write pieces for us.”
The trio’s name was chosen to signal their interest in all of the arts, not just classical music.
“We wanted to be careful to choose a name that allowed for artistic diversification,” says Borys. “We enjoyed the fact that this creature, the gryphon, was the guardian of treasures and a combination of cosmic energies.”
“He has an incredible sense of what’s out there in the contemporary music world and is very curious,” says Borys of Hutchings. “His practice as a visual artist is very much tied to and inspired by music. He almost always listens to contemporary music when he’s painting.”
Soprano Patricia O’Callaghan
“People are so led by what they see,” Borys continues. “Visuals are such a powerful thing in general. When we create these pieces with visuals, we’re very conscious of that. We’re trying to create a visual environment that stimulates the person having the experience in such a way that it leads to their hearing the piece in a more intense way.”
O’Callaghan, who has performed with the Trio on several projects, occupies a unique place in the world of contemporary song performance. She initially began her career thinking she would sing opera.
Says O’Callaghan, “I did my degree, I got a grant, and went to study in Austria and began auditioning for opera houses. And I thought that that was what I was going to do, live in Europe and be an opera singer. But I really felt like I didn’t fit into that world. I really felt like an outsider, and even a little bit hemmed in by it.”
O’Callaghan then began a transition out of classical and operatic singing into a style better suited for the repertoire that was truly resonating with her, including songs by Kurt Weill, songs made famous by the great Edith Piaf, and the aforementioned Cohen, who she pays tribute to on her album MATADOR: The Songs of Leonard Cohen.
“It’s a completely different way of singing,” says O’Callaghan of her particular brand of contemporary cabaret. “Since I sang in rock bands before my classical days, I guess I could sort of reverse. But that kind of (classical) training just doesn’t disappear. It really gets in to your body.”
“A lot of the experimentation with singing happened for me in the recording studio,” she continues. “I would hear something, and then play it back and go, ‘No, I’ve gotta do something more laid back, more subtle.’ It’s been a really long learning process, trying to figure out how to sing the repertoire in a way that is natural. It’s about finding your own voice.”
Both Borys, who also directs Canada’s long-running Ottawa Chamberfest, and O’Callaghan agree that in the world of post-music conservatory performance, in concert halls and clubs across the world, the walls between classical performance and other idioms are coming down.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, to bridge genres,” says O’Callaghan. “Every genre has its strengths and weaknesses in terms of training as a musician. But I just find you can learn so much if you do bridge genres, if you do work with musicians from different disciplines. But not everyone can do it, and not everyone can do it well.”
“I would still say that we are on the cutting edge,” O’Callaghan concludes. “But I do feel like there is a trend to doing this more and more in the world today.”
Houston Friends of Chamber Music present The Gryphon Trio, Sunday, February 10, 7:30 p.m. at the Main Street Theater, Chelsea Market, 4617 Blvd. with special guest Patricia O’Callaghan, performing songs by Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Costello and others, and February 12, 7:30 p.m. at Stude Concert Hall, Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, performing chamber music of Valentin Silvestrov, Christos Hatzis, Antonín Dvořák, and Joseph Haydn.
Update (July 5, 2011): The Villiers Quartet has revised its guidelines for its new music competition. The most notable change is the age restriction, which has been raised to 35. Good luck!
London’s Villiers Quartet is seeking new works by composers under 35. If you’re an emerging composer looking for an international performance opportunity, check out the guidelines to have your work premiered next season by this exciting, young ensemble. I’ll let the ensemble’s first violinist, James Dickenson, explain:
The Villiers Quartet seeks new compositions from young composers as part of its 2011-2012 concert season at St Andrew’s Church, Fulham Fields, London, UK. The concert season, which already consists of string quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn, Delius, and Beethoven, will feature a competition open to an international field of new and upcoming composers.
Three finalists will be chosen via online voting and have their works performed in London by the Villiers Quartet on April 29th, 2012. The winner will be determined at the concert by audience vote. The winner will receive a prize of £500 and a studio recording of their piece, plus inclusion of their work into the Villiers Quartet repertoire for upcoming seasons.
This competition is open to composers aged 35 and under as of January 5th, 2012.
All composition entries must be original and unpublished works written for string quartet instrumentation: 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello.
Compositions must be no longer than 20 minutes in length. You may write whatever form you want, and there is no limit to the number of movements. For instance, you might be inspired to write a one movement rhapsodic interlude. You might write a 20 movement work where each movement lasts one minute. Or you might follow the classical four-movement form as laid out by Haydn. The floor is wide open.
Deadline for submissions is January 5th, 2012. Submissions can be sent electronically, or by post. Applications sent by post must be postmarked no later than January 5th, 2012. Applications received or postmarked after this date may not be considered.
We encourage you to be creative and experimental. Most of all, we want to hear your music. For more information on competition guidelines, visit www.villiersquartet.com/2012competition.
Tomorrow from 2-8 PM in Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, FLUX Quartet plays Morton Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2. The concert is the last event in American Sublime, a two week long series that has spotlighted Feldman’s late music.
FLUX has been performing the piece since 1999, and their rendition runs around six hours. Feldman himself suggested that the piece could run anywhere from 3 1/2 to 5 hours. But one senses that FLUX’s more expansive time frame doesn’t contravene his intentions.
String Quartet No. 2, like many of Feldman’s late works, is about breaking past the boundaries of form and instead shaping music in terms of scale: as in, LARGE scale. Not only are these pieces long, they are often cast in a single, mammoth movement. They move slowly, often speaking quietly, unspooling fragments of subtly varied material at a gradual pace. But listening to them, and indeed playing them, is anything but a leisurely exercise.
String Quartet #2 is as demanding in its own way as a marathon. But, as I found out this week while listening to FLUX’s recording (available on the Mode imprint as either a single DVD or multiple CDs), it’s well worth the endurance test for both one’s attention and bladder to persevere.
The way that I listened to the piece changed over the course of its duration. At first, I found myself expecting the familiar signposts of formal arrival points; I became impatient with the gradualness of the proceedings. But, slowly, my vantage point shifted from one of expectation of arrival to one of acceptance of each passing moment in the work. It was as if Feldman was retuning my listening capabilities, extending my attention span, and urging me to revel in each detail rather than worry about how much time had passed.
When Feldman was crafting these late pieces, in the 1970s and 80s, people’s attention spans were already dwindling at an alarming rate. In the era of jet engines and color television, who had time to listen to a piece for six solid hours? By exhorting people to stop and listen, just by the very strength and captivating character of his music, Feldman dared to arrest our engagement with a world of ceaseless distractions. In short, he sought to change us.
In our current era, attention spans have dwindled exponentially further still. Multitasking, social media, cell phones, and all manner of other devices have distracted us seemingly to the limits our psyches can handle. Sometimes further, and with dangerous results – texting while driving anyone? Perhaps Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2 is an even tougher exercise for post-millenial listeners. But it might just be more necessary than ever to let this work reset our listening patterns and demand our attention.
ETHEL, acclaimed as America’s premier postclassical string quartet, will be giving a great show at Le Poisson Rouge tomorrow night. The concert is part of the Meet the Composer’s 3 CITY DASH FESTIVAL, and it features music from composers from San Francisco. Below is an email Q+A with Ralph Farris, ETHEL’s magnificent violist.
S21 Q + A w/ ETHEL:
ETHEL focuses on the repertoire of the the past four decades. While all of that music is classified as “contemporary,” it is extremely diverse compositionally. Is there any particularly style you prefer personally or as a group and enjoy working on?
We do love tunes that groove! If there is some infectious rhythmic element in a piece, it’s probably going to spark something with us.
We particularly enjoy working in person with composers. Having the experience of being together with a composer as the music comes to life is very special.
And of course, we are always thrilled to present the work of young composers!
Despite the extreme variety in contemporary classical music, do you have one sort of goal you hope to communicate generally with all the music you play?
Music is a language, a profound connector of cultures and ideas.
With our work, we aim to link people together in a shared experience, to inspire and celebrate our common humanity.
Along that line, when you receive a new work by a composer, likely something you’ve never heard or seen before, do you approach each piece differently, or with a sort of rehearsal routine?
We endeavor to learn as much as we can about a composer before we read their work, in an effort to open our ears, minds and hearts.
On the nuts-and-bolts side, we prefer to receive both a score and parts. And a MIDI file or recording is always helpful.
As to rehearsal routine, there are some tried-and-true techniques that we advocate:
• If there’s a measure that is giving us trouble, we’ll put an imaginary repeat sign around it and loop it until the physical feel of it is locked.
• Slow practice is invaluable, of course, but we also spend good amounts of time at medium speed, galvanizing ensemble and overall feel.
• Once a piece is almost feeling solid, but just needs a little push, we may turn ourselves away from each other for a run or two, in an effort to feel each others’ lines and intentions. Pretty tough exercise, but it has helped us greatly.
Do you approach pieces primarily with a sort of ETHEL quartet style? The group is notoriously charismatic– how do you translate that into an extremely minimalistic piece, for instance?
LOL. We are four people having a great time making music together. I would hope that this translates through any music that we approach.
Steve Reich turns 75 this coming October, and the celebrations have already begun. Later this month is a concert at Carnegie Hall on April 30th. It features the Kronos Quartet in a new piece commemorating a more sombre anniversary: WTC 9/11.
In the lead up to the Carnegie concert, there will likely be countless interviews, features, etc.; but this YouTube video is a terrific five-minute distillation of Reich’s interests, influences, and musical style.
I love the segue early on from bebop ii-V-I changes to Steve Reich’s pulsating ostinati.
Spring in Houston is an intensely visual experience as the grass now nourished by rain and sun turns from brown to green. Flowers are blooming in unexpected places while birds of all shades of color return to take up residence in the surrounding trees. Everything looks and smells a little…fresher. Come Spring, Houston’s bird population as well as its amphibians and yes, insects, sing or otherwise rock their antiphonal and conversational repertoire all day and all night. Which leads us to one of the many highlights of what is now the last few months of the artistic season.
This Saturday, March 26th at 7:30pm at the Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall, Musiqa presents “The Art of Conversation,” a unique blend of music and theater with the Grammy-nominated Enso String Quartet performing a program of Houston composers including two world premieres by Kurt Stallmann and Rob Smith, as well as quartets by Karim Al-Zand and Marcus Maroney. Interwoven with the music are two ten-minute one-act plays by Michael Hollinger, “Truth Decay” and “Naked Lunch,” featuring actors Briana Resa and Matt Hune under the direction of Julia Traber. The similarity of string quartet writing and performance to conversation between companions or even actors in a play inspired the concert’s name and cross-disciplinary programming. Houston, by the way, has a very lively theater scene with several forward thinking companies including Alley Theatre, Stages Repertory Theatre, Frenetic / FrenetiCore Theatre, Catastrophic Theatre, and and Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre.
Composer Kurt Stallmann
Commissioned by the Chamber Music America Commissioning Program, Kurt Stallman’s premiere Following Franz, Now for string quartet and electronics began with Stallman’s analysis of Franz Schubert’s unfinished string quartet Quartettsatz, a process that generated musical materials for his own quartet built directly from those contained in Schubert’s score. Going far beyond musical quotation, Stallman challenged himself by imposing only small changes to Schubert’s original materials – widening the opening range of pitches by a semitone, deriving all harmonic material from a few choice chords, or lengthening of the primary motif by a single sixteenth note – to develop a composition containing the “trace memory” of Schubert’s original work. Enso will perform Schubert’s Quartettsatz before Following Franz, Now so audiences can experience the transformation.
Composer Rob Smith
Musiqa Artistic Board member Rob Smith also directs the AURA contemporary ensemble at the Moores School Of Music. His composition for string quartet and The Art Of Conversation’s second world premier Spin is inspired by the manic energy and immediacy of contemporary pop music as well as the exhilarating if queasy sensation of spinning. “A circle of fifths harmonic progression, canonic passages, modal figures that loop around the tonic, and uneven rhythmic patterns” are all a part of Spin’s driving and energetic musical world.
“The Art Of Conversation” takes place March 26, 7:30 p.m. at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Zilkha Hall, 800 Bagby. Ticket prices are $20-$40 with 50% off for seniors and students with ID. You can purchase tickets at www.musiqahouston.org.
At 7:00pm, Musiqa’s Artistic Director Anthony Brandt presents “New to New Music,” a pre-concert talk geared especially for those new to contemporary classical music.
This Friday at 12 noon Central time, tune in to KUHF 88.7 to hear the Enso Quartet, Kurt Stallman and Rob Smith interviewed live on The Front Row. KUHF streams online, so those of you around the country, check it out.
JACK Quartet presents two concerts in LA this coming Sunday and Monday. On 2/13, they’re giving an afternoon concert for the Da Camera Society (tickets/details here) at the Southern California Instituteof Architecture. The program includes early music – Machaut and Gesualdo – as well as contemporary works: Philip Glass’ 5th Quartet and Tetras by Iannis Xenakis. The selections certainly suit the concert’s location: both Xenakis and Machaut are composers who should be of interest to architects!
On Monday, JACK will present a different program as part of Monday Evening Concerts at the Colburn School (tickets/details here). It includes both of Aaron Cassidy’s quartets, John Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts, Anton Webern’s Op. 9 Bagatelles, and Horaţiu Rădulescu’s String Quartet No. 5 “before the universe was born.”
This looks to be an amazing double header of new music programs. I hope that some of our Californian readers will be able to attend. If so, please send us a report.
Tim Rutherford-Johnson has an excellent post about Aaron Cassidy’s 2nd Quartet on New Music Box today.
As Tim pointed out on his blog, Paul Griffiths’ notes for the 2/14 program are online.