Archive for the “Washington D.C.” Category

Washington, D.C. readers may have noticed that the new music scene in the District has been exploding lately.  This week brings another significant event when New York’s Cygnus Ensemble makes its Washington debut at the Library of Congress.  The concert, part of a mini-residence by Cygnus at the Library, is presented as a tribute to legendary violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler.  Rarely heard music by Kreisler from the Library’s Fritz Kreisler collection will be performed, featuring guest violinist Miranda Cuckson on Kreisler’s own Guarneri del Gesù violin.

Most notably for new music fans, the concert features the world premiere of Harold Meltzer’s Kreisleriana, for violin and piano, commissioned by the Library of Congress’ McKim fund.  The concert also features Meltzer’s Pulitzer-Prize finalist work Brion, commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for the Cygnus Ensemble.

The concert begins at 8:00 p.m. at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium.  There will be a pre-concert discussion by Mr. Meltzer and Cygnus founder William Anderson at 6:15 p.m. at the Library’s Whitall Pavillion.  No tickets are required for the pre-concert talk.  Tickets to the main concert are free but require reservations and may be obtained by contacting Ticketmaster online or at 202.397.7328.

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Composers, performers, or music-lovers looking for an interesting day job: PostClassical Ensemble needs a manager for their group. Contact Joseph Horowitz at jh AT josephhorowitz DOT com for more information.

Here’s a brief job description:

Managing Director, PostClassical Ensemble. Cutting-edge, 8-year-old DC-based chamber orchestra seeks half-time administrative director. The director will work with Artistic Director (Joseph Horowitz) and Musical Director (Angel Gil-Ordonez). Wide-ranging responsibilities include: budgeting, contracts, web management, marketing, artistic/strategic planning, fund-raising, radio broadcasts (WFMT; Sirius XM), Naxos recordings and DVDs, touring, etc. Our thematic programming incorporates dance, theater, film. Close collaboration with National Gallery of Art, Georgetown University (our Educational Partner), Strathmore Music Center.

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The National Symphony Orchestra has been hosting composer John Adams over the past two weeks in presentations of his own works as well as works of the 20th century American, Russian and English repertoires.  Last week he presented works by Copland, Barber, and Elgar as well as his own The Wound Dresser.  This week, Adams and the NSO were joined by violinist Leila Josefowicz for a performance that included Adams’ electric violin “concerto,” The Dharma at Big Sur, and the Washington premiere of the Dr. Atomic Symphony.

 

The program began with Benjamin Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” from his opera, Peter Grimes.   While the opening “Dawn” interlude began on somewhat shaky ground, Adams quickly proved himself a capable conductor of this repertoire.  The composer has been doing a lot of conducting over the past decade and it’s beginning to show.  His confidence as a conductor, particularly one of pre-WWII 20th century music, has grown by leaps and bounds and the NSO’s playing under him reflected this.   Whenever Adams conducts, however, he always presents his own work (it is part of the attraction, after all) and where in Britten and Stravinsky he is confident and capable, in his own work Mr. Adams is simply superb. 

The Dharma at Big Sur, not so much a formal concerto for six string electric violin so much as a rhapsodic evocation of cross-country travel , California mythology, and the poetry and prose of Jack Kerouac.  This is a powerful work, conveying a joyful energy that is simply infectious.  The violin carries the bulk of the musical argument in the piece, with very few tutti moments offering rest from some highly energetic, virtuosic music, and Ms. Josefowicz astounds in her role as Kerouac’s musical manifestation.  Her playing is a revelation and she simply OWNS this part.  One hopes that she and Adams will come to record the piece sometime, not so much to replace the original 2006 recording with Tracy Silverman, the violinist for whom the work was written, but to complement it, as Ms. Josefowicz brings an exuberant energy to the piece that is just on the edge of wildness, where Mr. Silverman’s recording seems much more sedate by comparison. 

After intermission, Mr. Adams and the orchestra took on Stravinsky’s early, slight orchestral showpiece, Feu d’artifice (Fireworks).  They handled the work expertly, certainly, but it is a work that has failed to make much of an impression upon me through the years as little more than a youthful work by a composer on the verge of greatness.  Indeed, the second half was really all about the Dr. Atomic Symphony, a reworking of material from Adams’ 2005 opera, Dr. Atomic.  While the symphony obviously owes a great deal to the opera (and Adams, both in his speeches to the audience in between numbers and in the program notes, rather redundantly stressed the musical connections with the opera’s plot) it is certainly worthwhile as a free-standing work and does not really need any programmatic allusions to make its point.  This is a harrowing symphony, full of a wild energy that proves the dark contrast to The Dharma at Big Sur’s sublime apotheosis, and the NSO and Adams gave it a duly appropriate reading which deservedly brought the house down.  And while the symphony makes a visceral impression, it is also governed by a Sibelian formal logic that makes it an important addition to the somewhat dormant American symphonic tradition.  It will hopefully prove to be one of Adams’ truly major works. 

The National Symphony Orchestra, Leila Josefowicz, violin, under the direction of John Adams, will repeat this program on Friday, May 21 at 1:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 22 at 8:00 p.m. at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

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Detail of Terry Berlier's "Stair Drum," one of three percussive sculptures for "The 41st Rudiment"

On Friday, April 30, 2010, my ensemble, Great Noise Ensemble, will present the last concert of our 2009-10 concert season.  The program, presented at Ward Hall, on the campus of the Catholic University of America at 7:30 p.m. (Visit www.greatnoiseensemble.com for tickets if you’re in the Washington region this Friday), is a unique program featuring a new work for mixed ensemble and sculpted percussion by composer D.J. Sparr in collaboration with artist Terry Berlier of Stanford University.  The 41st Rudiment, named after the 40 “rudiments” that percussionists study as they develop their craft, represents one more rudiment indicative of the experimental nature of Berlier’s instruments.  It was written for percussionist Christopher Froh, of the San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players, and Great Noise Ensemble.

D.J. Sparr initially pitched the piece that would become The 41st Rudiment to Great Noise Ensemble’s board some five years ago.  “The idea came through wanting to work with Chris Froh,” he says, “whom  I had seen out on an amazing concert in Ann Arbor years back. I was in the Bay Area, so we went out for drinks, and over the course of the conversation we talked about finding instruments at a hardware store… and somehow, collectively we came up with the idea that we should ‘build something.’  From there, we started talking about what that would be, who might be interested collaborating with us, etc.”  After searching for an appropriate collaborator it was Froh who suggested that they work with Terry Belier.  “Terry and I worked on another project together a few years ago with the Empyrean Ensemble and Italian composer, Luciano Chessa.  I played one of her sculptures then (an earlier “panlid gamelan”) and fell in love with her aesthetic.  When D.J. and I first started talking about this project some five years ago, I suggested asking Terry to be involved.”

“A few years ago,” writes Terry Berlier, “ I was working on a piece called ‘Two pan tops can meet’ (2003) which was based on the homophobic Jamaican saying ‘Two pan tops can’t meet.’  (I had worked in Jamaica for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1995-97.) That first piece used thrift store pan lids as speaker housings that played a sound piece. But while I was sifting through the pan lids, I started setting aside the pan lids that resonated strongly.  These eventually became Pan Lid Gamelan I in 2003 and gallery viewers were invited to play it.

In 2008, Composer Luciano Chessa wanted to compose this sculpture/instrument into one of our collaborations (Inkless Imagination IV) and I was excited to have a professional percussionist, Chris Froh, play them. A few years later, Chris asked if I would like to work with him again on making sculptures specifically for him to play and work with D.J. Sparr.”

D.J. Sparr has been building a reputation for many years now as a composer of rhythmically charged and energetic music  (the Alburquerque Tribune once referred to his piece for eighth blackbird, The Glam Seduction as “Paganini on coke”) that merges classical conventions with rock idioms.  The 41st Rudiment is no different, although the rock influence this time is far subtler than in the works that gained Sparr his early reputation.  “I am always influenced by the drama of a rock-and-roll concert, and in this work, the drummer is the superstar… he engages the other players in ways to entice them to join in with him in gestures and call-and-response melodies…much the same as would happen in a rock-band scenario where guitarists, drummers, and bass players trade solos.  This work,” however, “is heavily influenced by the baroque concerto grosso form as the large scale form is comprised of many short movements. There are elements of Bach and Vivaldi, but there are also elements of other things: Satie Gymnopédies; Spanish barcaroles; improvisatory structures such as Zorn’s Cobra; and many cadenzas and improvisation.”

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Many of our regular s21 readers should be familiar with Amsterdam’s own Samuel Vriezen, both as a visitor here on these pages, as well as a composer selected to be on both of our past s21-produced concerts. Samuel’s always been a highly active explorer, whether in his own or others’ music, poetry, concert production, cross-continent discussions with artists of all stripes, you name it. With a strong interest in Language Poetry, it’s not surprising that his explorations have led him to what I might call “Language Music”.

No composer could better typify this kind of piece than ex-pat American (and former Village Voice critic) Tom Johnson. For quite some time, Johnson’s own brand of ‘minimalism’ has produced a whole series of stunning pieces, often from the most basic and transparent idea and means. The beauty of Johnson’s work is that he’ll take some very simple starting concept or question and, without trying to finesse or “art it up”, follow the process all the way through in the most natural and even mundane fashion. What’s fascinating is how such a simple starting point can end up creating it’s own rich and absorbing musical experience.

Case in point: Johnson’s 1986 piece titled simply The Chord Catalog. The work consists of all 8178 chords you can play using the 13 tones of one full octave, from the 78 2-note chords up to the one 13-tone cluster. The progression unfolds on the piano with absolute regularity, both through the notes and through time. While this may sound dry as dust, what happens over time is a strange tension, anticipation, and eventually even a bit of rich disorientation. It’s also incredibly difficult to perform; Johnson himself had such a hard time mastering it that he was pretty sure there’d be no one to follow. But along came Samuel, who became enamoured enough with the piece to put in all the work necessary to not only master it, but to surpass the master in accuracy and speed.

And now there’s a chance for you to hear Samuel bring his performance of The Chord Catalog to our own shores. He’s winging his way across the pond to give two performances here: the first in Washington D.C. this Monday, October 26th at 7:30pm at Ward Recital Hall, Catholic University of America, 620 Michigan Ave. NE); the second in New York City on Wednesday, October 28th, 8:30PM at Roulette (20 Green St.).

The Concerts are titled “Chord Catalogues” because also on the bill is Samuel’s own 2006 piece Within Fourths/Within Fifths, a work that forms a kind of natural extension to the Johnson.

Just to complete the hat-trick, Samuel also has the world premiere of his piece Sept Germes Cristallins at a concert Friday, october 30, 8PM, presented by the Ensemble Lunatics At Large at the Mannes College of Music (Mannes College Concert Hall, 150 W. 85th St) in a bill that includes Chen Yi, György Kurtág, Ryan Brown, Luciano Berio, William Funk and John Harbison. About the new work, Samuel tells me it “was written at the request of the Flemish literary review, Deus Ex Machina, as a contribution for their Valéry issue. Given that I am a poet and a composer with some background in mathematics, the idea was that I would somehow respond musically to one of the fragments from Valéry’s Cahiers – the extraordinary and humungous collection of thoughts and notes that he diligently was penning down every single morning for many decades. I chose a brief text that compares a sudden memory to the sudden crystalization that can happen in an over-saturated solution, because it suggested musical textures to me. It’s a piece in which every musician has lots of freedoms, with the soprano in control of the pacing, and every now and then a sudden fractal canon crops up.”

So if you’re in any of those neighborhoods then, drop by for some truly astounding music, and say “hi” personally to one of the nicest minds I know (for an in-your-face Dutch guy, that is ;-) … ).

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