Archive for June, 2007

The Rīga-based clarinet quartet Quattro Differente (Guntars Gedroics, Kristaps Kitners, Marina Vidmonte & Ceslavs Grods) will include my (recently revised version of) Panta Rei on their concerts in Liepāja, Madona, and Valmiera in Latvia in July and August. Panta Rei, originally an 8-minute work for saxophone quartet, was premiered by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet in Buffalo, New York. Quattro Differente premiered an earlier version of the piece in Ogre, Latvia, last year.

Also on these programs will be works by Nick Gotham (Up From Under/Uzniršana), Jēkabs Nīmanis (Episodes), Santa Ratniece (Septiņi Pakāpieni), Jānis Dūda (Intermezzo), Edgars Raginskis (Asteriona nams), Austra Savicka (About Time), and Imants Mežaraups (Sfinksa).

The performances will take place:
July 1, 4PM
The Gallery Theater of the Latvian Society House

August 2, Evening concert
Latvian Music Festival

August 9, 7PM
Vidzeme Summer Music Festival
Sēļu Manor House

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Sapphire Ensemble @
The Knitting Factory – Tap Room
74 Leonard Street – New York

7PM door, 7:30 PM show
Thursday, June 28
Adv. $8/DOS $10

Sapphire Ensemble (Elaine Kwon – piano; Demetrius Spaneas – winds; and other guest performers) is a NYC-based music group with flexible instrumentation that specializes in crossing genres by presenting new classical chamber music influenced by jazz, rock, film, theater, world music, and other forms of improvisation.

This concert will present new works by Nickos Harizanos, Elaine Kwon, Demetrius Spaneas, William Susman, and others, along with my Jazz Suite for Clarinet and Piano.

Actually, my piece may be the oldest in the batch. I wrote it for two of my best friends while I was still a student at Queens College. It’s one of the few pieces from that time (circa 1991?) that was spared from the trash-bin. It’s been performed with some regularity ever since I wrote it. It’s been performed in several U.S. venues, but also in Canada, Mexico, Italy, and most recently here in Latvia. Please check it out.

I met Demetrius virtually at first, via Classical Lounge, but I happened to be in New York at the time, and so we met in person then and again during another visit. He’s a great guy and a great performer. And! He will soon be coming to my part of the world. He’s moving to Russia this coming Autumn, making this a temporary (?) farewell concert to the big apple. Go to the concert and give him a great send-off if you can.

Directions to the Knitting Factory:
You can take the 1 or 9 train to Franklin Street, walk one block south to Leonard, turn left and walk a block & a half to the club.

You can take the A, C or E train to Canal Street, walk 4 blocks south and turn left on Leonard. You could also take the N or R train to Canal Street, walk down Broadway 4 blocks to Leonard, turn right, and see the club at the far end of the block.

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Pianist Ana Cervantes commissioned 18 composers to write short piano pieces to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pedro Paramo, an important proto-magical-realist novel by Mexican author Juan Rulfo. My Murmuring in Comala (click the link for an MP3) was written for this project. 12 of the pieces, including mine, were recorded on compact disc and presented at the 34th Festival Internacional Cervantino in Guanajuato, Mexico on October 17, 2006. I wrote about the Cervantino Festival some months ago in my memorial entry for the Mexican composer Ramón Montes de Oca Téllez (1953-2006), who died shortly after this last festival.

After the premiere in Guanajuato, Ana has given subsequent performances throughout Mexico: at Irapuato, San Miguel Allende, Abasolo, and San Francisco Del Rincón. She will perform it again tonight at 7:30 PM in the auditorium of the Centro Veracruzano de las Artes (CEVART), Independencia 929, esq Emparan, Centro Histórico in Veracruz, Mexico. Commissioned works by other composers on this concert, from the U.S., U.K., Spain, and Mexico, include Jack Fortner, Anne LeBaron, Tomás Marco, Arturo Marquez, Stephen McNeff, Hilda Paredes and Eugenio Toussaint.

My program note for the piece:
Rulfo’s striking sonic palette (groaning wheels, rattling windows, falling rain and murmuring ghosts), echoes the complex narrative unfolding, where we rarely know whose voice we are hearing initially. Just as sounds imply someone making them, we recognize the voices peripherally, like registering a ghost image. We discover whose voice it was rather than whose voice it is. We must resist the temptation to steamroll through these difficult passages because these veiled voices are so crucial to our understanding. Equally striking is the novel’s non-linear conception of time. It flowers slowly in multiple directions. This is a lovely analog to music, which is surprisingly multidirectional: we listen ahead and backward simultaneously, constantly reinterpreting each new musical gesture by placing it in its previous context and anticipating its direction.

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After the concert in Liepāja, we were all fired up to perform in CÄ“sis. Latvijas Koncerti arranged for a small bus to chauffeur us there, and the trip took a bit over five and a half hours, CÄ“sis being over an hour on the other side of RÄ«ga. I’m becoming accustomed to these Baltic summers, where the sun just hangs there, beating down for hours and hours. But it accumulates on bus rides, like we’re bugs under a magnifying glass, and it seems to be a distinctly un-Latvian thing to roll the windows all the way down and let the wind whip on through. So, the trip felt long.

Now, there had been some weirdness about the scheduling of this concert. Our contact in CÄ“sis insisted on changing the date from the originally scheduled one, claiming she thought she couldn’t get an audience for reasons that weren’t entirely clear, but seemed to have something to do with people having too much to do on the weekends now that summer was coming. We agreed to move the date to this one, which coincided with the city’s anniversary, and indeed there were easily over a thousand people milling around, browsing the offering of local vendors, watching some formal dancers, listening to drummers, a flamenco(ish) guitarist (amplified) and a performance that may or may not have been sanctioned but looked like a cross between some circusy acrobatics and a bunch of hippies playing hackey-sack.

The Gallery space where we were to perform was just next to all this. The space was lovely, actually. Here’s a photo of the piano trio warming up before the performance.

But, as you can imagine, the noise coming from outside was constant and distracting. And there was a video in the room on a constant loop, that we didn’t think to ask to have turned off, of a man’s face emerging from a tub of milk or something that included him smiling creepily then gasping a little bit once every five minutes or so. But that part wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was that, as far as we could tell, the only promotion for the concert, in the end, was a single poster placed outside the building. (We later learned, for example, that the nearby music school never learned of the performance.) And this meant that the audience was very small, and very quiet.

Generally speaking, Latvians have described themselves to me as shy and reserved (I remember many years ago seeing a segment on 60 Minutes or CBS Sunday Morning (Man! I miss CBS Sunday Morning!) about how painfully shy Finnish people are, and how many of them remain single because they’re too afraid of the rejection, for example. Anyway, the lack of energy in the room was truly disconcerting.

There was a growing sort of inside joke in the ensemble. A few posts ago, I talked about trying to lighten the mood of the ensemble, ease the nervous tension, be a cheerleader. One of the things that spontaneously happened during the final rehearsal before the performance in Durbe, was that during the final piece where we all play together, this sort of fiddle-tune Irish folk medley where I play the bodhrán, in order to get them energized, I cried out a couple of loud, wild hillbilly hoots. Now, they only smiled in reaction, but secretly, they loved it. When we performed in Liepāja, a couple of them gave me the big eye, waiting for me to give a big shout during the finale. Now it was time for me to be shy, and I whimped out, and they gave me hell for it. So here we were in Cēsis, and I gave a big howl, stomped my feet a couple of times, and I saw one person in the audience give a big smile. That was the only noticeable change in the room. That was a hard concert.

At the same time, there was a silver lining after all. We were invited to give the concert in RÄ«ga, on June 18th, at the Jaunais RÄ«gas Teātris. CÄ“sis, by the way, is the home of one of the national beers, and it’s not a bad beer. Before getting back on the bus, we loaded up on pizza (not as good as the beer, and I miss NY pizza even more than I miss CBS Sunday Morning) and good, cold, dark beer, which is no small consolation either.

Next up is a second, slightly truncated version of the concert back here in Liepāja that we will give on June 17th. Here’s what one of the flyers looks like.

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I just uploaded to YouTube a second video from the Liepāja concert, this time of the string quartet playing Set fire to have light. Click on the link for a PDF of the score if you’d like to follow along. The title is taken from a poem by Rumi, and the piece employs Arabic rhythmic (iqa’at) and scalar (maqamat) modes. I wasn’t trying to write an overtly Arabic piece, but rather to see what I could derive from an exploration of these specific materials. The quartet members are: Baiba Lasmane, Ginta Alžāne, Tatjana Borovika and Dina PuÄ·ite.

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