Archive for the “viola” Category

Superstorm Sandy wreaked a fair amount of havoc on a lot of concert schedules, but things are starting to return to something resembling normal. One quick shout-out I’d like to pass along is a performance this coming Sunday, Nov. 11, by the really wonderful violinist/violist Karen Bentley Pollick.

Usually found at home in the mountains of Colorado, Karen’s coming to Brooklyn to give a concert of lots of pretty recent music — including the premiere of former Brooklynite and S21 composer/webmaster Jeff Harrington’s Grand Tango for violin with video. Jeff’s been living in France for a couple years now, and it’s good to see his work find its way back here.

Also on the bill is Seattle composer Nat Evans’s and video artist Erin Elyse Burns’s desertscape Heat Whispers; New York composer Stuart Diamond’s prismatic video that he created for his 1974 Baroque Fantasy for violin, a work championed by the late Max Polikoff. New York video artist Sheri Wills‘s videos are featured in Sapphire for violin and electronics (2010) by New York composer Preston Stahly; Dilemma for viola (1987) by Czech composer Jan Jirásek; The Red Curtain Dance for viola (2003) and Letter to Avigdor for violin (1990) by Israeli American composer Ofer Ben-Amots; and Metaman for violin with digital sound & video (2009) by Rome Prize winner Charles Norman Mason.

It’s an afternoon concert, 3:00 pm at the Firehouse Space (246 Frost Street in Brooklyn, New York). Tickets are only $10 at the door — so if you need a break from all that’s been happening, and wouldn’t mind hearing a concert filled with fantastic playing and tons of music you’ve likely never heard before, head on over.

And for my Seattle friends, Karen will be doing the concert Nov. 16 at the Chapel of Good Shepherd Center, and then Dec. 14-15 in San Francisco at Theater Artaud Z Space.

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Saltarello

Garth Knox, viola & fiddle

with Agnès Vesterman, cello & Sylvain Lemêtre, percussion

ECM Records CD 2157

Dance music in multiple forms, from the saltarello, a Venetian dance dating back to the Fourteenth century, to  Breton and Celtic folk music, as well as transcriptions of medieval era compositions, Renaissance era consort music, and contemporary fare, are featured on Saltarello, violist Garth Knox’s latest ECM CD.  Among the early music slections, Particularly impressive is a Vivaldi concerto, performed in a duo arrangement for viola d’amore and cello. Its interpreters, Knox and Agnès Vesterman, take this continuo less opportunity to accentuate a supple contrapuntal interplay between soloist and bass line. Equally lovely is a piece that combines music by Hildegard and Machaut in a kind of medieval style mash-up. Also stirring is this duo’s version of John Dowland’s most famous piece, Lachrimae, perhaps known best in its incarnation as the song “Flow My Tears.”

Knox, who is a past member of both Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Arditti String Quartet, also performs the disc’s newer material with consummate musicality: he also has the bedeviling habit of making virtuosic writing sound far too easy to play (his poor violist colleagues!). Knox’s own composition, “Fuga Libre,” combines jazz rhythms and neo-baroque counterpoint with ever more complicated harmonic tension points and several instances in which Knox demonstrates various extended playing techniques. Meanwhile, Kaaija Saariaho’s Vent Nocturne, an eerily evocative and tremendously challenging piece for viola and electronics, is given a haunting, sonically sumptuous rendering.

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Tomorrow night, Knox celebrates the release of the CD at LPR (details below). Early music, new pieces by and for Knox, and lovely comestibles on menu and on tap? Sounds like my evening’s planned!

Event Details

Tuesday May 22nd – Doors open at 6:30, show starts at 7:30

Le Poisson Rouge

158 Bleecker Street, NYC| 212.505.FISH

music of Hildegard von Bingen, Guillaume de Machaut
John Dowland, Henry Purcell, Antonio Vivaldi, Kaija Saariaho, and Garth Knox

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“I always describe the viola as something that is kind of the wrong size for its body. It sounds like a man singing very high or a woman singing very low. And there’s something about that in-between-ness that is very attractive to me and the challenge of overcoming the fact that, physics-wise, it’s actually proportioned incorrectly, in other words, for a viola to be the right size for the length of its strings to play very easily, it would be something like the size of a small cello…There’s something about reaching in and having to get around that imperfection that really appeals to me, honestly.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Clarice Jensen and Nadia Sirota

Clarice: So, ahem, Nadia it was pretty remarkable when we switched from reading from the score to parts when we were working on Hayes’ piece (ed.: Steal Away by Hayes Biggs). It’s like the music took on a different meaning.

Nadia: I know!! I find that stuff so incredible. Sometimes I forget that a massive portion of our jobs as musicians (especially of the new music persuasion) is essentially translating visual material into sound. We’re kind of like professional map-readers. Do you have any notational pet peeves?

Clarice: Page turns of course… But other than that, just spacing in general. If notes look all bunched up, then it’s hard not to make them sound that way! What about you?

Nadia: My super-dork pet peeve is spelling; I hate it when chords are spelled out in ways that have little regard for traditional chord structures. It’s sometimes really hard to wrap your brain around a whole bunch of sharps and flats living together all higgledy-piggledy without regard for implied harmony. I know I know: super-dork. That having been said, I kind of love how notation is a kind of personal, no two alike sort of thing. It gives the performer so much insight as to how the composer may be thinking. Oh! And I can get kinda frustrated with things that are notated with very small durations (64th and 128th notes) which are then in a super-slow tempo. I understand a kind of freneticism may be what the composer is going for, but it just seems to add so much time to the rehearsal/parsing process.

Clarice: Totally agree on that one. Pretty amazing how this abstract system of symbols and lines and dots can be subject to so much scrutiny and discussion regarding interpretation. And how dots and lines paired with scrutiny and discussion results in beautiful music! Amazing!

Nadia: Yay! So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the type of music and programming that translates well live vs. that which is great to listen to on the radio or on a recording. There are so many types of gestures which are fascinating to watch people achieve, which cannot be really understood in a recording. Like even a pregnant pause, for example.

Clarice: For sure – the physicality of achieving a musical gesture just can’t be heard in a recording, and sometimes seeing that gesture is what makes the music translate to the audience. However, would you say that there is any music that makes more sense recorded rather than live? What about music in the rock/pop world?

Nadia: Oh decidedly. Stylistically that’s an idea Classical peeps kind of “borrowed” from the pop world to begin with, even going so far back as Musique Concrète territory. Like, think about how many times we’ve heard the exact same performance of a song like “Louie Louie.” That performance IS the work itself. Everything else is a “cover.” This can seem like a weird, alien counterpart to the Classical model (like, do I only do covers???), but yeah, there’s a lot more of that type of thinking these days, from things like John Adams Light Over Water to Nico Muhly’s The Only Tune, a piece I’ve performed a lot. When that piece was conceived it was as a recorded collage. When we play it, we are trying our damnedest to approximate the recording. It’s sort of the opposite type of problem from what we were talking about above, the “why does this music lack the visceral impact it had live on this record” type of problem.

Well, I’m super into the diversity of voices on this program. I get to wear a lot of different hats! (Jagged hat, lyrical hat.)

Clarice: Yes, I think the variety of pieces we ended up with is pretty emblematic of the wide range of excellent writing and composition that’s happening now. And as a performer, it really is rewarding to wear all of these hats! I mean, I’ve always considered lyrical playing to be a personal strength of mine, but over the years I’ve worked so hard on rhythmic accuracy through playing intricate music, and now I consider that to be a strength as well. It’s amazing how all of this diverse writing is in fact shaping the performers who are often playing music in the contemporary world. Do you think your focus on new music has changed you intrinsically as a performer?

Nadia: Oh, totally. Whenever you work on some weird skill, it changes the kind of mental space in which you think about everything else, really. The rhythmic idea you bring up is super apropos; I also kind of came from a lyrical place as a kind of a default, but the more I work on concepts of groove and flow, the more these ideas end up creeping their way into even the most lyrical stuff. Knowing more things as time goes on rules.

Well, lovely to chat with you, C, I can’t wait for the show!!

Clarice: Yep yep, it’s gonna be a good one!

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Tickets to the Sequenza 21 Concert are free (the venue charges a $12 food/drink minimum).

October 25 at 7 PM

Joe’s Pub in NYC

Tickets and Tables are still available by phone.

Call 212.539.8778 to make your reservation

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(Houston, TX) On February 25th and 26th at 8pm and February 27th at 2:30 pm (the third date added due to popular demand), the Houston Chamber Choir and Da Camera present Music for Rothko, a concert program of contemporary music in one of Houston’s most unique performance spaces. All three performances are sold out.

Presented in the interior of Rothko Chapel, the Music for Rothko program includes piano works by John Cage and Erik Satie, Tagh for the Funeral of the Lord for viola and percussion by Tigran Mansurian, and choral compositions by John Cage including Four. Feldman’s Rothko Chapel for soprano, alto, choir, celesta, and percussion, is the centerpiece of the program. The performers include the Houston Chamber Choir conducted by Robert Simpson, pianist Sarah Rothenberg, percussionist Brian Del Signore, and violist Kim Kashkashian in her first Houston appearance in more than 20 years.

New Yorker Magazine music critic Alex Ross recently tweeted: “It’s Rothko Chapel week” in reference to several performances taking place this week across the country of Feldman’s elegy for his friend painter Mark Rothko. It is exciting to find out via Twitter that this piece is receiving so much well deserved attention. Last Fall on Sequenza 21, I wrote about the Houston Chamber Choir and this upcoming concert. But I didn’t know at the time that several other performances of the piece would take place within a short span of time. And now I’m interested in contemplating what will set the Houston performance of Rothko Chapel apart from those taking place in other cities?

In his wonderful collection of writings Give My Regards to Eighth Street, Feldman describes Rothko’s paintings as “…an experience in depth…not a surface to be seen on a wall.” Music for Rothko will be complimented by the fourteen paintings Rothko painted for Rothko Chapel; and this setting is one that venues in other cities will not be able to approximate. Rothko’s paintings seem to move beyond the edges of the canvases, their surface appearances changing constantly thanks to the light coming through the chapel’s skylight and Houston’s unpredictable weather patterns. A fusion between the paintings, the architecture of the octagonal room, AND the live music is in store for the chapel’s capacity audiences.

Rothko Chapel

Music for Rothko takes place February 25th and 26th at 8pm and February 27th at 2:30pm at Rothko Chapel. All three Music for Rothko concerts are sold out.

A standby list will be created beginning one hour before the performances, and if there are unoccupied seats, ticket will be sold for $35 at the door beginning about 10 minutes before the concert begins.

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Strata – a trio consisting of pianist Audrey Andrist, clarinetist Nathan Williams, and  violinist/violist James Stern - has just started a new commissioning project. Abetted by a grant from the Rauch Foundation, their Metaclassical Music Project seeks to bridge the gap between new music and the non-specialist audience through educational outreach and the commissioning of new works that seek to communicate with a range of listeners.

Phase one of Strata’s “demystification” of contemporary fare involves presenting a new piece by Stephen Paulus on a concert this weekend at Merkin Hall (details below). Paulus is certainly a composer who fits their mission statement: an artist who doesn’t water down his language (and can indeed sound quite ‘modern’ in places) but has managed to craft a body of work that speaks to many “mainstream” classical listeners.

Alongside Paulus’ Trio Concertant, Strata will present works by Robert Maggio, Jonathan Leshnoff, and Béla Bartók’s Contrasts. I recently caught up with Stern to discuss the concert, as well as Strata’s future plans for the Metaclassical Music project.

Sequenza 21: Tell me a bit about the background and formation of Strata.

Stern: Strata is an ensemble that grew out of friendships formed at the Juilliard School. Audrey and I began dating while we were both graduate students there, and then Audrey met Nathan in a doctoral seminar they were both taking after I had moved away to take a job at the Cleveland Institute. So far we’ve never all three lived in the same city, but Audrey and I got married a few years later, while Nathan’s career was taking him all over the world with a succession of teaching positions and performing. Despite the geographical obstacles, the three of us got serious about developing a repertoire and performing throughout the North American continent. I also got serious about playing viola so as to augment our repertoire possibilities. We chose the name “Strata” (layers) in recognition of a fondness that we all share for the intricacies of counterpoint (many-layered music), as well as a commitment to uncovering many layers of meaning in what we play.

Sequenza 21: What’s the concept behind your new commissioning project?

Stern: The Metaclassical Music Project began with the idea that a composer might be able to facilitate the educational outreach presentations that we do. What if, for example, a single melody could be cast successively in monophonic, homophonic and then polyphonic textures of gradually increasing complexity? Then we would have an array of examples to explain these ideas to a young audience and this would, in turn, help to illuminate other standard repertoire we play for them. Next, what if such an array of musical demonstrations actually formed part of a large-scale concert piece; that is what if, in addition to their educational function, they created a coherent emotional trajectory that added up to an intense concert experience? This is where the idea started. But it evolved into something more general: what happens to an artist’s self-expression when she or he takes on the commitment to instruct? I actually believe that composers like Shostakovich, and writers like Milan Kundera and Herman Melville have done this: they write in what I like to call the “didactic voice,” and that this is part of the key to the immense power they achieve.

Sequenza 21: How did you decide to commission Stephen Paulus?

Stern: Nathan first encountered Paulus when he participated in a performance of one of Paulus’s operas. He was deeply struck by the color and imagination of the writing. Somewhat later I performed Paulus’s Partita Appassionata, at the Cosmos Club of Washington D.C., with my University of Maryland colleague, pianist Bradford Gowen. Paulus was being inducted into the Cosmos Club, which was described by the late Wallace Stegner as “the closest thing to a social headquarters for Washington’s intellectual elite.” Their website goes on to report: “Among its members, over the years, have been three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 32 Nobel Prize winners, 56 Pulitzer Prize winners and 45 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.” Strata has also performed there. Two things struck me on this occasion. One was how easy Paulus’s music made it for us, as performers, to connect with an audience. The energy in the room was wonderful. The other was hearing Paulus speak about his music. With regard to a song cycle that was being performed that evening he described, with evident enjoyment, how he had deliberately written one of the songs using the twelve-tone technique, just to prove that it could be done in a way that was attractive and not intimidating. This was the kind of creativity and exuberance we were looking for with the Metaclassical Music Project.

Read the rest of this entry »

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I just wanted to make sure everyone knew that tonight in Chicago the International Contemporary Ensemble will be paying tribute to an amazing violist, Omar Hernández-Hidalgo.  They have commissioned three new pieces in his honor which will be premiered at 7:30 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.  Back in early June, Steve made us all aware of what happened and the response from the community was quick and memorable.

On a personal note, I was fortunate to be part of the Indiana University New Music Ensemble while Omar was there and I’ll always remember the day he walked in to the first rehearsal of Berio’s Chemins II for Viola and Ensemble – everyone in that room was completely speechless.  So amazing and so inspiring.  Of course every time he played this was the reaction.

Thanks to ICE for making this concert happen.  If you can get to Chicago tonight go to this concert.  More info here.

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There’s a lot of shock and sadness in the Mexican classical community just now: last week one of the finest violists in Mexico and the world, Omar Hernández-Hidalgo, was found dead in his hometown of Tijuana, four days after apparently being kidnapped. A principal violist by the age of 21, Grammy-nominated twice, the first violist in his country to recieve a PhD. (at Indiana University), praised by Pierre Boulez, Hernández-Hidalgo was a champion of contemporary music, especially the new and vital in his own country. While his technique was commanding and virtuosic, his own personality was warm, modest and endlessly generous. He was in the midst of a demanding schedule of performances and festivals right up to his disappearance, and the sudden hole his senseless death leaves in the Mexican musical soul is keen and intense. Our hearts go out to his colleagues, family and friends, along with our hopes for sanity, peace and determination to stand for a world that will not stand for this kind of evil. RIP.

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ralphAs promised, today is Part II in my series of podcast interviews with the members of ETHEL. I’m happy to announce that violist Ralph Farris gets the My Ears Are Open “prize” for not only providing us with the longest episode to date, but I think it’s fair to say that he also has the most opinionated episode to date. It will be a 30-minutes well spent.

If you would like to subscribe to the series you can do so here and/or here. And, as always, feel free to send comments, suggestions, and recipes to podcast@jamesholt.net

If you missed Part I with violinist Cornelius Dufallo you can listen now by clicking here. Next up is Part III with cellist Dorothy Lawson on July 21 and Part IV with violinist Mary Rowell on July 26.

Is there a person or ensemble you’d like me to interview for the show? Over the next several months I’ll be featuring more musicians from places OTHER than New York so please send along your wish lists and don’t be shy.

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

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

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

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

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