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.
No, not that Clinton woman and the iconic, dark (& sadly now dead) singer… Hilary Hahn managed to virtually catch up with a very busy Nico Muhly, and they chat on subjects far and wide in this two-part interview:
Composer, violinist, and performance/video artist Laurie Anderson has never been one to rest on her laurels. But Homeland, her latest project for Nonesuch takes her farther afield than she’s previously been.
Rather than staying at home to record, Anderson developed the album’s songs over a two year period of touring. And, for the first time, she’s involved her partner Lou Reed in a collaborative recording process (he receives a co-producer credit). The results sound recognizable as songs by Laurie Anderson; but the sonic formula has been tweaked – indeed, refreshed – by the risks taken and departures made during the recording process.
A recurring character is Fenway Bergamot, Anderson’s “male alter-ego,” who graces the album cover and performs on the recording.
Below are a couple of “making of” videos Nonesuch has posted to YouTube.
I don’t normally quote press releases wholesale, but I don’t know what I could better in my own account (though be sure to read the last paragraph for some extra sweet deals). So…
On Thursday, May 20th,Metropolis Ensemble will present Home Stretch, in two performances featuring the compositions of composer/pianist Timothy Andres presented alongside two composers who have inspired his unique style: Wolfgang Mozart, and the father of ambient music, Brian Eno. Also featured will be the New York Premiere of Anna Clyne’s elegiac work for string orchestra, Within Her Arms. In keeping with Metropolis Ensemble’s mission to re-imagine the concert experience, each audience member will be handed a chair as they enter the Angel Orensanz Center and will be allowed to seat themselves where they like, giving them the opportunity to control their concert experience and to create a more social and interactive environment.
Andres‘ piano concerto, Home Stretch, was written as a companion piece to Mozart’s K. 465. He explains that, “My last attempt at a piano concerto was when I was 15, and since then, I’ve mostly lost interest in the typical “virtuosity for its own sake” soloist versus orchestra dynamic of the genre. Luckily, the Mozart-sized forces led me to approach Home Stretch as chamber music, allowing for more subtle gestures and interplay between musicians.”
For the concert Andrew Cyr, Metropolis Ensemble’s Artistic Director/Conductor, asked Andres to write music to pair with Home Stretch, which led to Brian Eno: Paraphrase on themes of Brian Eno. Andres remarks that, “I immediately thought of the spacious, static opening section of Home Stretch and the huge debt it owes to Eno’s harmonies and timbres. The result is a 19th-century style “orchestral paraphrase” on the subject of Eno’s music, focusing on the albums Before and After Science and Another Green World, with some Apollo by means of an introduction.
Much of the solo part of, Piano Concerto No. 26 “Coronation”, one of Mozart’s most popular concertos, was left unfinished by the composer. Inspired by the conception of music as a living art form, Metropolis Ensemble has commissioned Andres to compose new music for the left hand part as well as an entirely new solo cadenza to be performed on the evening concert by Andres.
Anna Clyne‘s Within Her Arms was a 2009 commission from Esa-Pekka Salonen as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella series. Metropolis Ensemble presents the New York Premiere of this work for string orchestra. Within Her Arms, dedicated to Clyne’s mother, brings to mind the English Renaissance masterpieces of Thomas Tallis and John Dowland.
Also, only on the afternoon concert’s bill, Andrew Norman‘s work for eight virtuoso violins, Gran Turismo. Norman writes: “Rewind my life a bit and you might find a particular week in 2003. I was researching the art of italian Futurist Giacomo Balla for a term paper, watching my roommates play a car racing video game called Gran Turismo, and thinking about the legacy of Baroque string virtuosity as a point of departure for my next project. It didn’t take long before I felt the resonances between these different activities, and it was out of their unexpected convergence that this piece was born.”
Remember now, we’re talking two concerts, both on Thursday, May 20: at 1pm, Trinity Wall Street (79 Broadway), and again at 8pm at the Angel Orensanz Center (172 Norfolk Street). The afternoon gig is FREE, but click here for an RSVP or tickets to the evening gig. And that’s not all, folks: “This project has been in the works for two years and coincides with the Nonesuch release of Andres’ new CD Shy & Mighty. We will be running a promotion at Timo’s CD launch event at Le Poisson Rouge on Monday, May 17. Anyone who buys a ticket for the Thursday night concert at the event on Monday will receive a free copy of Shy and Mighty. We would also like to extend a special offer to readers of Sequenza21: we would like to offer 2 for 1 general seating tickets with the code sequenza21“.
2009 Frederic A. Juilliard/Walter Damrosch Rome Prize winner Lisa Bielawa has returned to her hometown of San Francisco to take part in the 2010 Other Minds festival.Her piece, Kafka Songs, will close the first night of the festival on Thursday, March 4th. Violinist, vocalist and rock star Carla Kihlstedt,for whom Kafka Songs was written, will perform. OM 15 takes place at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, and tickets can be purchased online here.
Despite her whirlwind schedule leading up to the festival, Lisa was able to take time out to answer a few of my questions.
S21: During your student years, did you ever feel pressure to become exclusively a composer, or exclusively a performer?
LB: Since I received musical training at home as a child (my parents are both musicians as well), in college I decided to major in French literature, not music. I didn’t think of myself as either a performer or a composer really until later, when I was trying to figure out how to make a living.
S21: What parameters have you set up for yourself for allotting time and energy to composing, versus performing?
LB: Decisions about which projects to do, whether composing or performing, have to be made very carefully. Above all, I want every musical experience I have, no matter what form my participation takes, to expand my own awareness, make me grow in some way. It is also wonderful if it can provide a focused inquiry for me around some particular musical issue I am fascinated by or grappling with at the moment in my compositional work. I suppose this is the ultimate test for me: if involvement in some project will result in making me better able to accomplish/address the things I want to accomplish/address in my composing (thereby making my work communicate better and clearer), then I will make the time to do this. Many performing experiences have done this for me, so I do not begrudge the time I invest in them, even though in the short term they may “take me away” from composing.
S21: Having grown up steeped in the San Francisco arts community, did you experience culture shock when you moved to New York in 1990?
LB: I had 4 years at Yale in between, which were really important ones for me. Although I wasn’t majoring in music, I was involved in vocal music and jazz through various student-run groups, and these experiences were an important transition time for me. Many of the musical friends I made at Yale came to New York as well, so the transition was rather smooth, under the circumstances. Of course there was the shock of being an adult and needing to figure out how to earn money and live a real life. These things were much more challenging than any cultural differences.
S21: The Time Out New York review praised your “organic experimentation”. Can the organic aspect of your work be identified, and how does it manifest?
LB: I suppose (I hope!) this writer could have been responding to my practice of making work about and on people. I am not so interested in experimentation as an abstract value, as much as I am interested in how one might use “experimental” or creative, unexpected ways to celebrate and heighten awareness of a particular performance experience, involving specific people in a specific place and time. This means that if I am writing for one unique performer who sings and plays the violin at the same time (that’s Carla), I will experiment with ways to celebrate and heighten the awesome strangeness and wonder of this act, whereas if I am writing for a 70-member volunteer orchestra of community music lovers (as I happen to be doing at the moment, for the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra), I will experiment with ways to heighten their experience of music-making in a community with intense musical passion and a broad range of abilities.
Violinist Jennifer Koh has, since even before this past Spring showed its face, been pretty much living out of a suitcase or two. Crisscrossing this country and a couple other continents, She’s been playing everything from Antonio Vivaldi to John Zorn. Just last week she was beautifully acquitting herself at Miller Theatre, in a performance of Kaija Saariaho’s Graal Theatre. December is about all the break she’s getting, too, before it starts all over again.
In the middle of all this came her newest CD on Cedille, Rhapsodic Musings, a collection of solo violin music almost all composed within the last ten years: Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Lachen Verlernt (2002), Elliott Carter’s Four Lauds (1984-2000), Augusta Read Thomas’ Pulsar (2003), and John Zorn’s Goetia (2002). It’s an intensely involving and personal listen, definitely not simple showy fare, and the recording is close and crystalline. Here’s a short video of Jennifer talking about the genesis of the CD:
I recently had the chance to ask Jennifer a few questions via e-mail, and her answers follow:
S21: You’ve got quite a wide repertoire at your command, but when it’s come to recordings you haven’t gone with much in the way of the grand war-horses. The Szymanowski 1st is about as close as you’ve come, the rest delving back into lesser-known gems by Menotti, Martinu, Bartok… And then most recently lots of contemporary (and usually living) American and European composers. The pieces you choose — Higdon, Ruggles, Harrison, Salonen, Carter, Zorn — while often incredibly beautiful aren’t the stuff of easy crowd-pleasers. I get a bit of this feeling of you truly being taken deeply by something in each of these works, and bringing them to people almost like an excited kid shares their latest amazing discovery to their friends or parents. Am I getting warm here? …
JK: I just want to play music that I believe in! This is true for music that is known or unknown, new or old. When I play a piece, it means I will have lived with it in a very intimate and intense way for a long time and ultimately, I want to spend my life with music that I love and find meaningful. If I discover a piece of music that I think is incredible but is not very well known, I do become fervently dedicated to it because I think it SHOULD be known to everyone and I want to share it with as many people as possible! In the end, I don’t think I’m that different from the next person. I’m just another member of society and I hope that if I find a piece of music to be compelling and interesting, then it will speak to other people as well.
S21: These past few CDs you’ve gone from violin and orchestra, to violin and piano, to just solo violin. I know this can’t go much further (unless you toss the violin and just clap and sing!), but was that increasing intimacy and focus at all intentional? Does it feel any different when you make a CD where you know you’re responsible for every moment of sound on there?
JK: Everything about “Rhapsodic Musings” was intense and personal for me from the initial inspiration point for the program to the recording process to the actual compositions on this CD. The idea for this CD came from a collective time of shock and loss and I wanted to focus the CD into a personal journey out of that collective experience. During this same period of time, I saw the violin that one of my mentors, Felix Galimir played while he was alive. Felix was a huge influence on me in so many ways especially because of the passionate relationship he had with the music that he worked on with the composers of his time which included Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. When I played on Felix’s violin in the shop, I felt he was back with me because I heard him in that violin. Violinists have very intense and intimate relationships with their instruments and it is almost impossible to separate the identity between violin and violinist because each lives in the other. I feel like my violin is a part of me and I chose a solo violin program for “Rhapsodic Musings” because I wanted to express that personal relationship between violin and violinist. Read the rest of this entry »
I thought it might be nice to close out the month of interviews from Chicago by featuring a couple musicians from dal niente. The ensemble has some great concerts planned for October, but I caught violinist Austin Wulliman and flutist Shanna Gutierrez back in June.
Austin’s episode is worth listening to just to hear him say, “I love me some Scelsi”. You don’t hear that very often, but it’s true, oh so true. Shanna talks a little in her episode about interesting experiences with composers, but the real value is in the seemingly endless list of resources she mentions if you are writing for flute, or are just thinking about writing for flute.
Listen to Austin’s interview here and Shanna’s here. Subscribe to the podcast here.
Ensemble dal niente begins their season on Friday with what they are calling OKTOBERFest. You can find all the details on their website. How many groups are pairing Franco Donatoni with John Luther Adams, or Bach with Rihm, or Helmut Lachenmann one week and Arvo Pärt the next week? They are doing it all in October – I wish I could be there!
Friday, October 2 – 7:30pm ($10/5)
Columbia College Concert Hall, 1014 S. Michigan Ave.
Sunday, October 4 – 3 pm ($5)
Sherwood Conservatory of Music at Columbia College, 600 S. Michigan Ave.
Sunday, October 18 – 2:00pm ($5)
Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, 4802 N. Broadway Ave.
Sunday, October 25 – 3:00pm (FREE!)
Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.
I am excited to say that this month on the podcast I am featuring all four members ETHEL.I was able to spend some time with the band before their performance at the Bang on a Can Marathon and would like to thank them for being so generous with their time.It was difficult to decide who should go first, so I’ve decided to go alphabetical by last name (brilliant, right?!), which means that we’ll begin with violinist, Cornelius Dufallo.
If you want to keep up with this series, I’d recommend subscribing in iTunes or through your blog-reader.Or, you can listen to this week’s episode now by clicking here.
Check back on July 16 (for violist, Ralph Farris), July 21 (for cellist, Dorothy Lawson), and July 26 (for violinist, Mary Rowell).
And before I go, I just want to mention that I’ve had a chance to listen to Cornelius’ new CD, Dream Streets, which you can find on iTunes or Amazon, and is well worth spending some time with.If you are into the whole amplified-violin-looping-thing then you’ll love this recording.He has an original voice in this genre and I really love that when I’m done listening I don’t feel like he was just showing off or trying to impress someone.
Hilary Hahn doesn’t need much introduction; as one of the leading violinists today, many of you have any number of her recordings or have been lucky enough to catch her in concert.
Usually we put our stars up on some pedestal, always with that remove of the stage between us. But Hilary herself has a different idea of what a star should be up to in between wowing folks at those concerts. She happens to love to talk to people, especially other musicians, and is genuinely interested in what makes them tick. And she loves to share what she hears with us, often using her own trusty laptop to record her interviews. As she says: “Through interviewing, I find out things about people which would never come up in casual conversation: how they work, what their creative processes are, how they view their artistic output, what they value in their professions, and so on. To me, those topics are fascinating.”
Hilary was especially interested in doing a whole series of interviews with contemporary composers; since that’s what s21’s all about we thought “why not hook up?”So here’s the deal: each month Hilary will be visiting with a different composer, posting the interview to her YouTube channel. We’ll let you know as soon as each goes up, give you the first part here and guide you to the place to view the rest. We’re really happy to work with Hilary, and to bring a bit of “real people” to the sometimes too-serious perception of our “art”.
First up, Hilary paid a visit to Judd Greenstein, a composer who’s not only been getting a lot of acclaim for his music, but is also one of the founding forces behind the exciting, young and extremely buzz-worthy New Amsterdam recording label. Hilary and Judd discuss self-presenting, artist-driven labels and the indie classical scene:
San Francisco is famous for its innovations, its open minds, and its spirit of protest. In 2005, according to Rova Saxophone Quartetmember Larry Ochs,“our government was committing all sorts of crimes against humanity in all of our names. I wanted to create some art that flew in the face of those acts – but not overtly political because that’s not what we do.”
Rova dreamed up an international collaborative work in honor of the visionary genius of Buckminster Fuller and his “Spaceship Earth” global perspective. “Good works by people brought together from different countries – if only to point out that it was possible for people to meet for the very first time and in a week of collaboration, create something positive for the spirit, and something that was more than any one of the collaborators could create on his/her own,” Ochs explains. Berlin-based multimedia artist Lillevan, Swedish-born percussionist Kjell Nordeson, Canadian contrabassist Lisle Ellis, cellist and Kronos Quartet alumna Joan Jeanrenaud, and violinist rock star Carla Kihlstedt make up the international dream team that will join Rova in presenting Fissures, Fixtures: for Buckminster Fuller.
The set of pieces combines live music and digital animation in a continuous feedback loop, with the music influencing the creation of the film in real time, and the film images inspiring the music. Improvisation, as Larry Ochs declares, will ensure that the piece transcends the individuals involved and becomes more than the sum of its parts. Rova and friends offer up the piece to honor “someone who over 40 years ago was stating categorically that mankind had to find a way to work together to create a one world-system that benefitted everyone.”
Since both performances will be recorded for future DVD release, this is your chance to immortalize your own applause for contemporary music posterity. The concert happens twice, on May 22 and 23 in Kanbar Hall at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco located at 3200 California Street. Tickets are $24.00 general, $21.00 for JCCSF members, and $16.00 for students. Get them online at www.jccsf.org, and by phone at (415) 292-1233.
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