Author Archive

Andrew Violette is a composer-keyboardist with a fascinating pedigree: he studied composition with Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions at Juilliard in the 1970s, and went on to spend six years serving as a contemplative Benedictine monk at St. Mary’s Monastery in Massachusetts (1988-1994). Of course, this isn’t the sum total of his life, but it gives you some indication of the kind of thinking musician he is.  Violette is also one of the few artists who understands that the purpose of a biography is to tell your story, not just to regale people with laundry list of accomplishments, schools, awards, etc. His latest–and seventh recording for Innova– Songs and Dances–features cellist Ben Capps and was released yesterday.

What’s your pet’s name and why?

I have a pet bike, a Bianchi Pista track that goes with me everywhere, from blizzards to deserts, 24/7, whenever I need to hop a ride.

How do you spoil yourself?

I buy raw milk at a secret location. That, and grass fed beef. Then I make a mean meat sauce with bucatelli and sit in front of the TV and watch a nature film.

If you weren’t making music as a career what would you be doing?

I always wanted to be a boxer but I’m a nerd.

Where do you live and how does that affect your music and the way you make it?

I live in Brooklyn, Bushwick exactly. In my building there’s a cha-cha lady who lives next door, an artist above me and party animals all over the place. I write with salsa on the brain, hammering canvases upstairs and the building shakes on the weekend.

What is your first sound memory?

Listening inside a seashell on Coney Island. Listening to old 78s of Caruso.

Name three Desert Island discs (or MP3s), recordings that you feel especially close to.

I grew up on the Toscanini performances of La Traviata and La Boheme. I would sorely miss them, even though I hear them now very occasionally. I would absolutely bring the entire Ring Cycle and Don Giovanni.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational performance and why?

As a student I had the joy of  attending a performance by Messiaen and his wife of  his Visions de l’Amen at The Cathedral of St John the Divine. I was too shy to introduce myself to them but the memory has stayed with me every day of my life.

Describe your most mind-blowing art experience (in any art form), something that instantly changed your life.

See above.

What is your greatest fear?

Not being on time. Also, being too early.

What has been your career low point?

Leaving the monastery (I was a monk)—I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do with myself. And I felt myself to be a total failure.

What were your first compositions like?  How have they changed?

You can hear them on the CD UltraViolette [ed: this interview was conducted before Songs and Dances]. Pistis Sophias and Fugamericana are pretty early—1970.

What did you learn from your teachers?  Any words of wisdom to share?

Otto Luening, Roger Sessions, Elliott Carter and Renee Longy—too much to say except that they taught by their examples of excellence.

Andrew Violette and Ben Capps

How are you like your music?

Would an outsider see/hear any similarity between your personality and your music? Music is sound in time. As Joseph Campbell says, “The best things cannot be told, the second best are misunderstood.” After that there’s music criticism.

Tell us about your release and some of the thinking behind it.

Just listen!

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Ann Millikan and pianist Emanuele Arciuli

Ann Millikan composes concert music for orchestra, chamber ensembles and choir, as well as interdisciplinary projects involving theatre and dance. Rhythmic vitality is a powerful force in her music, stemming from previous years playing jazz, African and Brazilian music. Her music is expressive and colorful, moving freely between atonal and tonal/modal languages depending upon the overall desired effect. Her works have been performed by Orchestra Filarmonica di Torino, Emanuele Arciuli, California EAR Unit, Zeitgeist, Citywinds, New Century Players, Oregon Repertory Singers, Grace Cathedral Men’s Choir, and Joan La Barbara, among others. Millikan’s recent album of orchestral works, Ballad Nocturne featuring Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra and pianist Emanuele Arciuli, and her debut album, The Music of Ann Millikan featuring the California EAR Unit are both available on Innova Recordings.

What’s your pet’s name and why?

Moccasin. He’s a tuxedo cat with perfect white paws (forget “Boots”).

How do you spoil yourself?

A good stout or ale in the yard at sunset, movies, reading by the fire, walks around the lake or in the woods. Then there’s my new fedora I just had custom-made.

If you weren’t making music as a career what would you be doing?

I’m at a point in my life where I can’t imagine doing anything else, but for 15 years I was also a Muscle Balance and Function (MBF) Practitioner. That’s a type of neuromuscular reeducation. I helped all sorts of people with postural and mobility problems from injury, stroke, and accidents. I especially enjoyed my clients who were in their 80’s and 90’s; they are incredible storytellers. MBF is based in physics and biomechanics and I still apply the science behind it in some of my music projects like HOUSE OF   MIRRORS, but I don’t see clients anymore.

Where do you live and how does that affect your music and the way you make it?

I currently live in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Probably the biggest affect on my music since moving here has been freelancing full-time instead of juggling two businesses like I did in the Bay Area. I also think living with extreme season changes has shifted me in a deep way. I find winter incredibly beautiful – it gives me intense focus for composing. And when spring comes it’s very dramatic. Within a few weeks all of the birds show up and the trees pop and there is this ecstatic shimmer on everything. We’re in it right now! I take breaks outside, soaking up that energy and then return to composing.

What is your first sound memory?

As a child I spent a lot of time going to the mountains where my grandmother lived in a cabin by a stream. Those are my happiest and most vivid memories. I’d listen to the sounds of water rushing over rocks, wind in the pine trees, tires on the gravel driveway, bird calls, all mixed together. It sounded like a giant conversation to me. That’s still how I experience sound and how I think about music as a  composer.

Name three Desert Island discs (or MP3s), recordings that you feel especially close to.

1. Morton Feldman, For Samuel Beckett, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, conducted by Stephen “Lucky” Mosko
2. Joseph Schwantner, Magabunda, with Lucy Shelton, Saint Louis Orchestra
3. Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil, to name one of many from the ’60’s Blue Note era.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational performance and why?

The world premiere of Ballad Nocturne in Torino, Italy this February. Orchestra Filarmonica di Torino commissioned the work for Italian pianist Emanuele Arciuli. The performances, led by Dutch conductor Micha Hamel, went beautifully. The audience and musicians loved it. One of the things that made the concert so special was the intriguing way Nicola Campogrande, the artistic director, programmed it, “Mozart and the USA.” It was an exploration into the relationship between Mozart (with a piano concerto and Sinfonia) and jazz-influenced works written for Arciuli by American composers. Along with Ballad Nocturne were pieces by Frederic Rzewski, John Harbison, and Michael Daugherty from an incredible project called Round Midnight Variations, a homage to Thelonious Monk.

I was never a big Mozart fan, but alternating him with these works made Mozart sound fresh, especially with Arciuli’s original cadenzas, and the contemporary music sound integrated. I was thrilled and honored to be a part of this program. Afterwards we went out for pizza and had this great conversation about new music in our three countries.

Describe your most mind-blowing art experience (in any art form), something that instantly changed your life.

Recording Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel changed my life. I was singing with the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus back in 1990 and we recorded it for New Albion. I’ll never forget standing there in the Skywalker recording studio, turning the huge pages of the score as quietly as possible, and hearing those incredible sonorities floating around us in the room. Something in me clicked. I knew I’d found a sound world I wanted to hear in my music. That was when I decided to become a “classical” composer.

My last year at CalArts I requested an independent study with Lucky Mosko on the music of Morton Feldman. He had worked personally with Feldman, conducting many of his pieces. We poured over scores, especially For Samuel Beckett. This concentrated study of Feldman greatly influenced the way I create specific textures and rhythmic juxtaposition in my music. But it all started with Rothko Chapel.

What is your greatest fear?

Not going to Brazil before I die! It’s ridiculous I haven’t been yet, half my family lives there. My brother moved to Brazil when I was 14 and introduced me to all of this incredible music and culture that’s had a huge influence on my life, but for one reason or another it’s never worked out for me to go. I’m hoping this is the year!

What has been your career low point?

About eight years ago a festival wanted to commission me to write an oratorio but didn’t get their funding. I already had ideas for the work I was excited about, so it was hard to let it go.

What were your first compositions like?  How have they changed?

My very first compositions were little piano pieces I started writing when I was four years old. My brother would write them down in a little book he made. Wobbly Penguins was a big hit. As a jazz musician in the 80’s my compositions were lead sheets and ensemble arrangements. I was always writing in odd meters like 7/4 and 15/8 and stretching chord progressions in atypical ways. Eventually I just got too restless. I felt confined by the jazz idiom. I was hearing music that was extremely complex and needed to be fully notated to be performed, so that moved me into classical composition.

I still hear lines influenced by jazz, and it’s where my rhythmic intensity comes from, but I am very much in another place with my music. I do a lot with layering – that ‘giant conversation’ I was talking about earlier – where there are independent streams within complex textures. The power, dimension, and subtlety possible with orchestra makes it a perfect vehicle for my ideas.

What did you learn from your teachers?  Any words of wisdom to share?

My teachers were Mel Powell, Morton Subotnick and Lucky Mosko. They were great mentors and I learned an enormous amount from each of them. Mel assured me that my skills as a jazz musician would serve me well as a composer, and encouraged me to keep that knowledge alive in my music. It would have been very problematic for me if I hadn’t because it’s part of how I hear. You have to be true to your voice to have one. That sounds obvious, but it is very easy for composers when they are starting out to write what they think they should write, but if it’s not what you hear, you are just manufacturing someone else’s idea of what is legitimate. To me music like that isn’t worth the ink.

How are you like your music?  Would an outsider see/hear any similarity between your personality and your music?

People have said I am quirky and my music is quirky, so it must be true! I think of my music as expressive with a certain angular unpredictability. I suppose that is true of my nature as well!

Tell us about your release and some of the thinking behind it.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational performance and why? The world premiere of Ballad Nocturne in Torino, Italy this February. Orchestra Filarmonica di Torino commissioned the work for the incredible Italian pianist Emanuele Arciuli. The performances, led by Dutch conductor Micha Hamel, went beautifully. The audience and musicians loved it.

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Composer, sound artist, community arts partner and educator, Judith Shatin’s inspirations range from myth, poetry and her Jewish heritage, to the calls of the animals around us and the sounding universe beyond. Recent projects include a McKim commission from the Library of Congress for Tower of the Eight Winds for violin and piano, premiered in December 2008 and recorded for Innova Records (INN 770).

What’s your pet’s name and why?

When I was a child we had a German shepherd name Psi-Boy – a lot shorter than his official name, Gemini of Graphmar. He looked just like Rin-tin-tin!

How do you spoil yourself?

With Gearhardt chocolate, handmade by a local C’ville chocolatier (http://gearhartschocolates.com/). My favorite is TAJ, with candied ginger, cardamon and rose.

If you weren’t making music as a career what would you be doing?

Wishing music were my career; but in a pinch I’d write words instead of music, both poetry and fiction. And I also have a strange fondness for editing.

Where do you live and how does that affect your music and the way you make it?

I live in Charlottesville, VA, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The wonderful quiet lets all kinds of music burst forth. Some of my music is inspired by nature, most clearly in Singing the Blue Ridge, for Mezzo, Baritone, Orchestra and electronics made from indigenous wild animal calls. Also, there are lots of wonderful musicians living here, creating all kinds of music – jazz, world musics, and classical, and this has led to exciting collaborations. For instance, I studied conga drumming with Robert Jospe, and will be studying percussion with I-Jen Fang.

What is your first sound memory? Psi-boy’s barking and the sound of the old upright piano we got when I was four.

Name three Desert Island discs (or MP3s), recordings that you feel especially close to.

Ligeti’s Second String Quartet

Mahler,  Das Lied von der Erde

Brahms, Liebeslieder

What has been your most memorable or inspirational performance and why?

George Crumb, Ancient Voices of Children, with Jan DeGaetani at the Aspen Music Festival, early 1970’s.  I had never heard a piece with such imaginative timbral play, and such an intense atmosphere created both by the music and the magic of the performers.  As someone captivated by timbre already, and who was drawn to poetry, I found the music and text and the relationship between the two, mesmerizing.

Describe your most mind-blowing art experience (in any art form), something that instantly changed your life.

I can’t say that one art experience instantly changed my life.  But I can say that the 2009 MOMA exhibit “Tangled Alphabets”, with work by León Ferrari and Mira Schendel, with its imaginative unraveledness,

inventive materials, and multiple relationships to letters was fantastically musically suggestive.
What is your greatest fear?

The negative impacts of the hugely polarized and increasingly corrupt political world we live in, and the inability of people to change their minds in response to factual information, or to debate rather than just restate.

What has been your career low point?
Banging on closed doors. Being met on my first day as a composition fellow at Tanglewood with the comment “Oo, a lady composer”, and having a variety of similar experiences. These include some of my fellow graduate students, on hearing of my then upcoming marriage, asking “when are you going to quit?” Answer: not in this lifetime!

What were your first compositions like?  How have they changed?

My first compositions, while I was an undergraduate, were really stabs in the dark. They were generally primitive, though reasonably performable. The first concert of my music came as a substitute for a senior recital at Douglass College, sister school to Rutgers. I was told that if I composed the music, arranged for performers, and ran the rehearsals, I could present the concert. It was the first composition concert in the school’s history, and I had a great time! The only trait these early pieces share with my current music is a focus on timbre as an articulator of form and their embodiment of my passion for composing.

What did you learn from your teachers?  Any words of wisdom to share?

From Milton Babbitt:  think more deeply, in, about and beyond music

From JK Randall:  be open to the moment, think of composition as filtered improv

From Paul Lansky:  keep going with computer music and don’t worry about your severity codes

From Jacob Druckman:  think in shapes

From Gunther Schuller:  listen, listen, listen

From Otto Luening: sit with the music, tinker, embrace your lyrical side (which he thought was my natural mode – and it is indeed one of them)

Words of wisdom:  if someone wants you to write according to some set of rules, or to write like him/her, run! Work with a number of different teachers – each has his/her own take.

How are you like your music?  Would an outsider see/hear any similarity between your personality and your music?

People are often shocked because they don’t see how my music is mirrored in my personality. My music tends to be very dramatic, sometimes violent, though there are also warmer shades.  What they don’t know is that my personality includes all of these elements. As a child I was called “the little Russian.” That says it all!

Tell us about your release and some of the thinking behind it.

My release, Tower of the Eight Winds, is a recording of my music for violin and piano, with one piece that features violin + electronics, and one piano solo. I first started thinking about the CD after violinist Hasse Borup performed my Penelope’s Song, for violin and electronics made from weaving at a SEAMUS (Society for Electroacoustic Music in the US) national meeting. He did such a great performance that I discussed the idea of the CD with him, and with pianist Mary Kathleen Ernst, a  wonderful pianist and dear friend with whom I’ve worked for years.  Happily, they had formed a duo, and the project was born. They toured the pieces, getting them into tip-top shape. And in May, 2009, we recorded them at the University of Utah, with producer Blanton Alspaugh and engineer John Newton of Soundmirror, a Boston-based firm. Blanton and John were terrific, and we all had a great time.  The CD includes three pieces for violin and piano, spanning more than 25 years:  Icarus (1981), commissioned by violinist Kevin Lawrence, who premiered it at the National Gallery of Art;  Fledermaus Fantasy (2000), commissioned by Irish violinist Karen Murray, and premiered by her and Mary Kathleen Ernst at the University of Virginia; and Tower of the Eight Winds (2008), commissioned by the McKim Fund of the Library of Congress, and premiered there by members of the Verge Ensemble: violinist Lina Bahn and pianist Lura Johnson. The other two pieces are Widdershins (1981), commissioned by Music-at-La-Gesse Foundation and premiered at the Kennedy Center; and Penelope’s Song, mentioned above.  All of the pieces share are dramatic, and focused on the particularities of the instruments, though Fledermaus Fantasy, a more ironic piece in the vein of the Sarasate Carmen Fantasy, departs from my typical musical language.  Over the course of the four movements, the music strays farther and farther from the original tunes, as though there is a kind of progressive masking, inspired by the mistaken identities in the plot. Still, the melodic imprint is clear. The CD is a kind of time capsule of my music, compressed into the genre of violin and piano.

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Ukrainian-born concert pianist GéNIA comes from a legendary musical pedigree–she is the great-granddaughter of iconic pianist Vladimir Horowitz. In March, her recording of Gabriel Prokofiev’s Piano Book No. 1 was released on the composer’s label NONClassical. The history of the recording goes back to the early ‘00s, when the pianist asked Prokofiev to write her a piece for an upcoming solo concert; pleased with the results, they agreed to expand it into a book. It was more than a year later that Gabriel learned that GéNIA was the great-great-granddaughter of Vladmir Horowitz – who made the premiere recording of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 in 1945.

On July 21, at 7:30 PM, GéNIA–along with composer Gabriel Prokofiev, and percussionist Joby Burgess (Powerplant)–will perform at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge . Other performances are scheduled for July 23 at Baltimore’s The Windup Space, and in Philadelphia on July 24th at the Crane Arts Centre.

Recently, GéNIA shared some thoughts about music with me:

The journey….

I have been trained as a classical pianist from the age of four. The classical upbringing I received in Ukraine was very traditional and included hours of practice, numerous performance opportunities and an impetus on constant improvement. My tremendous love for music meant making sacrifices in other areas of my life that I was always fond of.

My rebellious nature combined with such an intensive approach to music would have pushed me away from this classical upbringing if it were not for my great-grandmother Regina Horowitz. Regina was an exceptionally talented pianist, pedagogue and amazing musician. Her approach to music was very creative, combining professional standards with innovative thinking. My lessons with her were always inspirational and as a consequence of this, piano playing became a regular part of my daily lifestyle.

When I was 8, I developed a keen interest in ballet, and after a few months of training my parents were told to encourage me to focus on one discipline, music or ballet. My parents chose music. Then, at the age of 15 I was very fond of theatre, alas, I was confronted with the same issue and somehow I always came back to music. Music-making itself was so “normal” to me, and although it was exciting and often challenging, it had a familiarity that I found comforting. This comfort could not mask the drive I had to discover something else, something for myself. The famous Pablo Picasso quote “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it” best encapsulates this way of thinking.

My third big passion in life emerged whilst I was studying at the Kharkov Institute of Arts. I started writing for a local newspaper and embarked on a journalistic career. I loved it and would have considered working in this field alongside playing the piano, but I was presented with an opportunity to come to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Being in London completely blew my mind and as a result allowed me to focus intensely on my performance career. After a few years following traditional classical routes, I again started feeling the desire to move towards something else. This time it was contemporary music and a few years later, Yoga. These two interests developed simultaneously and I began to release a number of classical contemporary music recordings on the Black Box and Nonclassical Labels.

As a result of my practice in contemporary music and yoga, I developed a system of piano playing called Piano-Yoga, publishing my first book of exercises in 2009. Whilst doing this I began to compose, working with various producers from the dance scene and became a qualified yoga teacher. My life was full of eclectic creative projects which all seemed to take me away from the traditional classical music scene.

However, after a time of being involved in the usual classical circles I started to feel a pang of nostalgia, wondering if it was time to start playing classical repertoire again. It was around this time that I met Gabriel Prokofiev.

Aside from his music and personality, what impressed me the most about Gabriel was that he also came from the classical music background, which he rejected during some part of his adult life. He too decided to come back to it. I could not help but notice that he was going through similar life circles to me.

I commissioned Gabriel to write a piano piece for one of my concerts and what he came up with landed “in my hands” with the total ease. We were both pleased with the results and Gabriel suggested that he would write a set of classical piano compositions for me, I eagerly agreed.

The current Piano Book No 1 is a manifestation of this collaboration. This was a journey of experimenting in the studio, performing live and recording. We wanted to create something that would bring us both back to our roots. We were very particular with all aspects of the album, including the sound production. We wanted to create an intimate sounding piano album that connected to the classical recordings of the past. This led to 88.2k digital recording of a hand-picked Steinway D-Series piano which was then mastered through analogue tape and vintage valve equipment, without compression.

We were also very grateful to Steinway, who provided the best piano for us to use for the recording. They simply asked me what sound I was looking for and after my description they offered me a choice of five pianos. Feeling like a child in a toy shop I picked the one that I fell in love with.

The first piece Gabriel wrote for me in May 2005 was entitled “Sketch”. It later went on to be the first piece on our album “Piano Book No. 1”. The album, released on Nonclassical, is available in the USA and is due for release in September 2010 in the UK. I am very excited about performing this music in the USA.

These days I strive to combine my three passions holistically. My next 3 big projects include a recording of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Sonata, publishing the next Piano-Yoga book and releasing a CD of my own piano improvisations.

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I rarely post press releases here on Sequenza21, but this is rather an exception.

On June 15, Naxos released Help Nashville Symphony Rebuild Its Home, a digital-only album, consisting of Michael Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony and featuring the Nashville Symphony led by music director Giancarlo Guerrero. Help Nashville Symphony Rebuild Its Home is available through all major DSPs and online retailers, including iTunes, Amazon MP3, ArkivMusic.com, Classical Archives, and eMusic. The suggested retail price for the album will be $3.99.

Naxos, whose ten-year relationship with the Nashville Symphony has produced 17 recordings—including the multi-Grammy®-winning Made in America—will donate 100 percent of the proceeds to help the Nashville Symphony in its effort to rebuild its concert hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Additionally, the online classical music retailer ArkivMusic.com has generously agreed to donate the proceeds from the sale to the Nashville Symphony. The Nashville Symphony has flood insurance and also anticipates receiving substantial assistance from FEMA. After those funds have been exhausted, however, the Symphony still forecasts a gap of up to $10 million to cover the total cost of the flood.

In the wake of severe flooding throughout Middle Tennessee in early May, the sub-basement of Schermerhorn Symphony Center was completely flooded, and the basement was almost entirely filled with water. As a result, all of the building’s mechanical operations, including the heat-and-air system and the electrical system, were significantly affected. In addition, major damage was sustained to the console for the Schermerhorn’s Martin Foundation Concert Organ, the orchestra’s two Steinway concert grand pianos, percussion equipment, road cases, chairs and stands. Though the Schermerhorn’s Laura Turner Concert Hall was spared from the flooding, major components of the hall’s state-of-the-art convertible floor are stored underneath the hall, and these were damaged as well.

The city of Nashville sustained more than $1.9 billion in damages from the recent floods, including losses to personal property. Forty-two counties in Middle Tennessee have been declared federal disaster areas; at least 20 residents of the region died in the flooding.

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Composer/clarinetist Evan Ziporyn is a founding member of the Bang on a Can All-stars (Musical America’s 2005 Ensemble of the Year), with whom he has toured the globe since 1992. He redefined the clarinet with his 2001 solo CD, This Is Not A Clarinet, which made numerous Top Ten lists across America. He recorded the definitive version of Steve Reich’s solo clarinet New York Counterpoint for Nonesuch and, as a member of the Steve Reich Ensemble, the Grammy Award winning Music for 18 Musicians. His music provided the soundtrack for the PBS film Tailenders, and his playing was featured in the soundtrack for David Lang’s (Untitled) and Tan Dun’s Fallen. He has also recorded with Paul Simon, Matthew Shipp, and Ethel. He is also Founder and Artistic Director of Boston’s Gamelan Galak Tika, a group dedicated to new music for Balinese gamelan, which he has studied for 30 years.

His work as a composer and performer led to his receiving the 2007 US Artists Walker Award and the 2004 American Academy of Arts and Letters Goddard Lieberson Fellowship. His music has been commissioned and performed by Yo-yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, Kronos Quartet, Wu Man, the American Composers Orchestra, the American Repertory Theater, Maya Beiser, So Percussion, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, with whom he recorded his 2006 orchestral CD, “Frog’s Eye.” Recordings of his works have been released on Cantalope, Sony Classical, New Albion, New World, Koch, Innova, and CRI. He has collaborated with some of the worlds most creative and vital living musicians, including Brian Eno, Ornette Coleman, Thurston Moore, Meredith Monk, Iva Bittova, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Don Byron, Louis Andriessen, Cecil Taylor, Henry Threadgill, Wu Man, Wayan Wija, and Kyaw Kyaw Naing.

Recently, Naxos of America’s Megan McClary interviewed Evan about playing the clarinet and his involvement with the upcoming Naxos CD, Clarinet Hive, which will be available on June 29.

What was your first experience playing the clarinet?

Like all the boys in my class, I signed up for trumpet lessons in 4th grade.  I had to put down a second choice, and my sister insisted I pick clarinet.  They lined us all up to see who could get a sound out of the trumpet – I couldn’t, and my career as a clarinetist began…

Can you elaborate on the inspiration of your composition “Hive”?

My wife and I had recently become beekeepers, and I was fascinated with their strange, beautiful, and almost extraterrestrial behavior.  I was particularly struck by the contrast between their warm weather life – zooming in and out of the hive, traveling for miles to find nectar – with their winter hibernation, huddled together in a big clump, vibrating to keep the queen warm.  The piece really follows that life cycle more or less exactly.

How was this ensemble formed (i.e. have you worked with the other members previously)?

This was Ted Schoen’s project – he commissioned the piece based on my other work, which he had previously performed.  I met all the other players – including Ted – when I walked into the first rehearsal.  We recorded two days later.

What are your musical “guilty pleasures”?

All of music is a guilty pleasure…but in the last couple of days I’ve listened to Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, East Javanese street gamelan, Il Giardino Armonico playing Vivaldi, Don Byron’s Nu Blaxploitation, and Nik Bartsch’s Holon.

ABOUT THE RECORDING

Taking its name from Evan Ziporyn’s Hive, which grew out of the composer’s experience as a beekeeper, this album brings together an engaging selection of pieces for solo clarinet and clarinet ensembles of various sizes. From Piazzolla’s popular tangos to Harbison’s Bach/Stravinsky-inspired Trio Sonata, Schuller’s Duo Sonata and Barker’s Single Six, both jazz-inflected yet classical in spirit, to Persichetti’s lyrical Serenade, Clarinet Hive is an endlessly fascinating showcase of the clarinet’s expressive and virtuosic potential, as well as its wide range of subtle sonorities.

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[EDITOR'S NOTE: Corey Dargel and Matt Marks are both New Amsterdam Records composers who have new albums coming out on May 25th. Corey Dargel's album is Someone Will Take Care of Me and Matt Marks's is The Little Death: Vol 1. Corey Dargel interviewed Matt Marks in a previous installment.

Interview with Corey Dargel

by Matt Marks

Photo: Luke Batten & Jonathan Sadler of New Catalogue

Corey Dargel is known for his sweet yet psychologically complex electro-pop songs, exemplified by his previous albums Other People’s Love Songs and Less Famous Than You. For his upcoming double-CD album, Someone Will Take Care of Me, Dargel delves deeper into the darker realms of the psyche, and he utilizes acoustic instruments for the first time in nearly a decade. What do these changes signify about Dargel’s own psyche? I counseled him about the album, and I think we made several breakthroughs.  Below is a transcript of our conversation.  You can download two FREE TRACKS from the album at New Amsterdam Records.

Matt Marks: Your album Someone Will Take Care of Me consists of two CDs of two song cycles, Thirteen Near-Death Experiences and Removable Parts.  Do you consider these song cycles to be companion pieces?

Corey Dargel: Yes, because they’re both about characters who have dysfunctional relationships with their bodies: hypochondriacs and wannabe amputees.

“Wannabe amputees?”

That’s what they call themselves, people who wish to voluntarily amputate a healthy limb.  Removable Parts is about voluntary amputation, and Thirteen Near-Death Experiences is about hypochondria.  I think we’ve all probably had a taste of hypochondria in our lives, but very few of us can understand the desire to amputate a healthy limb.  Except after having worked on these pieces, I now can relate to both conditions, and I want to show how these conditions, however extreme and unrelenting, are similar to more common conditions like anxiety, loneliness, and loss of control.

Speaking of loss of control, usually you make songs with self-produced electronic tracks, but on this album you’re working with live acoustic instruments.  Did you have any control issues with that?

Yes, I am a control freak, although I prefer the word perfectionist.  I always try to control every variable of every sound, whether I’m working with humans or machines.  And yet, so much of the excitement comes from the glitches and happy accidents that result from trying to control things I can’t control.  This happens less often with live musicians because I’m more conservative and cautious about making sure that what I write is actually playable.  If I ask a machine to do something far beyond its capabilities, it will usually make its best attempt, and it will usually spit out something unpredictable.  But if I ask a human being to do something far beyond his capabilities, he will usually just withdraw and infer that I don’t understand him.  But this is very reductive because people are becoming more like machines and machines are becoming more like people.

But is there still something to be said for the composer-as-God method of working with electronics and being able to control everything?

I guess it depends on what you believe is the nature of God.  If God is loving and compassionate, He would probably write music for live musicians.  If God is disinterested and whimsical, He would probably write music for machines.

Okay, forget I said that.

Sorry, I’m sort of kidding.  No but with live musicians, I have to be more confident that what I write down in the score is exactly what I want the music to sound like. It’s a different approach, obviously, and the trade-off for fewer glitches is that live musicians bring charisma and a living, breathing kind of focus that machines can’t.  And for me, composing for live musicians involves a kind of empathy that composing for machines does not.  I have to imagine myself in their shoes to know if what I’m writing is accessible to them, but I think it goes deeper than that, and I’m actually writing particular, personalized music for individual players.

Photo: Luke Batten & Jonathan Sadler of New Catalogue

I really enjoy the addition of acoustic instruments and flesh-and-blood musicians – ICE, David T. Little, and Kathleen Supové – on Someone Will Take Care of Me.  The music has the tightness of your previous electro-pop albums, but with the energy and grace that only live musicians can give. In particular, I love that you decided to mix and master Someone Will Take Care of Me like a pop album. This is a pretty bold move, especially considering that the classical-music-recording world is filled with anti-compression zealots. Did you ever consider going for a traditional, less-compressed recording?

I think there are plenty of versatile engineers who can move comfortably between pop and classical production techniques. In fact, Ryan Streber, the excellent recording engineer behind Someone Will Take Care of Me, recorded the music in such a way that could conceivably be mixed and produced as if you were listening to it in a concert hall. So, yeah, whoever wants to tackle that project, I’m totally prepared to hand over the raw recordings.  But I guess I am somewhat of a postmodernist when it comes to authenticity in recorded music. I believe there is no such thing as an authentic recording.  A recording simply can’t sound like a live performance, and I don’t think it should attempt to.  Instead, I’ve embraced and emphasized the studio-ness of the album.  I want you to hear every idiosyncrasy of my voice, every detail of every instrument.  When the counterpoint is complex, I want every line to come across as individually clear, not blended and muffled as it might sound in a large concert hall. Classical music purists will probably recoil, but they pine for a purity that doesn’t exist.

The complexities of the counterpoint do really come out in this recording, much more than they would in a standard concert hall recording. Your melodies also tend to be quite complex rhythmically, yet they feel natural and seem to follow the rhythm of speech. They remind me of Tehillim by Steve Reich. Is it safe to assume then that your lyrics come before the music?

It is extremely unsafe to assume that my lyrics come before the music.  I write the instrumental parts first because otherwise the instrumental parts tend to be subservient to the vocal part.  And there’s nothing worse than treating ICE like a back-up band or Kathleen Supové like an accompanist.  David T. Little is a drummer and a composer, so he’s a slightly different animal.  I would never treat him like a machine, but maybe a little like a cyborg every once in a while.

Photo: Luke Batten & Jonathan Sadler of New Catalogue

It’s funny you mention Tehillim.  When I was twelve or thirteen, I decided to try listening to classical music for the first time.  I went to a Sam Goody record store in McAllen, Texas, and picked up one of the five CDs they had in their classical music selection.  It happened to be Steve Reich’s Tehillim.  That was my very first exposure to classical music.  So I’m sure it had a profound influence on me.

OMG you said Sam Goody. I had a similarly quaint introduction to classical music, picking up a CD of The Rite of Spring from The Wherehouse, I believe.

Did you get beat up in school a lot, too?

[...silence...]

The individual songs from Someone Will Take Care of Me are so iconic and catchy that I find myself singing a new favorite every day. When writing these songs, do you encounter any anxiety about the next song being as good as the last?

That was certainly the case with my last album, Other People’s Love Songs, which is comprised of custom-made love songs for real-life couples.  Every song had to be the most special, most meaningful song ever written for its respective couple.  And, of course, there couldn’t be any B-sides (“Um… sorry, your relationship didn’t make the cut”).  With Someone Will Take Care of Me, I don’t think it’s an issue of wanting each song to be better than the last.  But I do want every song to be multivalent enough that listening for the second, third, and fourth times reveals something new and perhaps alters the meaning, or changes the mood, of the song a little bit.

I’ve definitely had evolving interpretations of your songs’ meanings. For example, the first time I heard “ounce of compassion” from the song “Touch Me Where It Counts,” I thought of something quite different than (I think) you intended!

I’m very much into other people’s interpretations of my songs not synching up with my own interpretations.  I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Does this blog have sexting capabilities?

[Editor's Note: Sorry guys, it has to stay PG-13.]

Your songs are essentially character studies that deal with psychologically intense subject matter in a humorous manner, yet you very deftly avoid letting them fall into excessive irony and cynicism. How conscious, if at all, is this delicate balance?

Humor is a good way to draw in listeners, to give them permission to let down their defenses.  It can help cultivate a relationship in which you can take them to a darker place where they might not go if they didn’t think you had a sense of humor about it.  As for cynicism, I am always struggling to overcome my own cynicism about things.  After all, being cynical is like saying “Well, everything is bullshit, so I don’t give a damn!”  The novelist Kurt Andersen told me he thinks cynicism is merely the flipside of sentimentality.  I agree.  Of course everyone gets sentimental and cynical at times, but I don’t think artists should memorialize or dramatize the lack of complexity and nuance that both sentimentality and cynicism represent.  So when sentimentality and cynicism are present in my songs, I try to complicate them with irony.

But what I find fascinating about your work is the blurred distinction between sentimentality and cynicism. You seem to achieve both at once. For example, the title song, “Someone Will Take Care of Me,” is, to me, the most sentimental song on the album. The singer longs to be so violently sick that someone has to be there to take care of him around the clock.  This is perversely hopeful, but there is also deep cynicism, or at least a sense of futility: “my prognosis [is] absolutely hopeless.” You create a fascinating blend of these seemingly conflicting emotions, which is highly original. I dub it ‘cynimentality’ and herald you as its torchbearer.

Aw, that’s sweet, and the only appropriate response is for me to say, “Just because there’s no such thing as love doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

Corey Dargel, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), David T. Little, and Kathleen Supové will perform songs from Someone Will Take Care of Me on May 21st as part of New Amsterdam Records’ Archipelago Series at Galapagos in Brooklyn, NY.

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Canadian composer Stephen Chatman recently was nominated for a JUNO Award for his Centrediscs recording of Earth Songs (CMCCD 14709). The composer kindly provided some background information about his JUNO-nominated work.

The JUNO Awards will be announced on Saturday, April 17.

In 2008, I was commissioned by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to compose a major work in celebration of the university’s centenary.  The resulting 22 minute work, Earth Songs, for large mixed chorus and orchestra, was premiered at the Centenary Gala on September 28, 2008 by the UBC Singers, prepared by Bruce Pullan, and CBC Radio Orchestra, Alain Trudel, conductor.  The Gala also featured UBC alumnus and world renowned tenor, Ben Heppner.

Earth Songs celebrates the universal spirit and beauty of our natural world.  Based on settings of diverse, multilingual texts pertaining to nature and earth, the six-movement work features an eclectic array of musical approaches, influences and both western and Chinese instruments.  Through its marriage of words and music, Earth Songs not only expresses a profound concern for the frailty of the earth but also exudes a joy of nature, optimism and hope for the future of our planet.  Ultimately, the work is meant to inspire the global community to respect, restore and protect the natural and human world.

Given the natural beauty of Vancouver, the historical influence of British, American, European and, more recently, Chinese and Asian immigrants in British Columbia, and the growing multiculturalism in Vancouver and UBC, the subject of “earth”, that is, the combination of world nature and these selected cultures, was a natural inspiration.

As a North American trained classical contemporary composer of piano, chamber, choral and orchestral music, I am comfortable with western classical contemporary musical traditions.  But in recent years, my cultural and musical environment and corresponding influences have expanded.  Having traveled to China several years ago in the first official exchange of Chinese and Canadian composers and subsequently working with many Chinese musician colleagues in Vancouver, I am particularly attracted to certain Chinese instruments:  the erhu, dizi, zheng, and various percussion instruments.  It was a challenge to learn to write idiomatically for these instruments in a musical style both natural to me and sympathetic to aspects of Chinese tradition.  Working with Chinese instrumentalists, Charlie Lui, Mei Han and Kenny Chu, was extremely helpful in composing the Chinese instrument solos in the fourth movement of Earth Songs.

The initial selection of texts for Earth Songs was critical to the creative process.  Not only did the choice of texts shape the work, suggesting an overall form, trajectory and scope, it inspired certain musical ideas and feelings, sometimes expressing overpowering, broad sweeping lines contrasted by more restrained lyricism.

Settings include, in order, the famous Genesis text, 1. Light upon the earth (Et inluminent terram) sung in Latin—perhaps a subconscious Carmina Burana influence; 2. Earth and sky by Vancouver poet laureate, George McWhirter, 3. The Butterfly, by 19th century British poet, Robert Hawker;  4. The Waterfall, by 7th century Chinese poet, Jang Juling, 5. Danse des pluies, based on my own “sound lyrics’ and containing words from many languages, and finally, 6. Smile O voluptuous cool-breath’d earth! by the American poet, Walt Whitman.

The slow, chorale-like final movement, a setting of my favorite poet, Whitman—and perhaps my favorite movement of the work, reiterates the opening motive of the piece and then builds to a climactic conclusion.  The reaction of the audience at the world premiere, clearly audible on the live recording, was overwhelming—a warm response and a  rousing standing ovation.

I am grateful to the University of British Columbia, in particular President Stephen Toope, Sid Katz, and Richard Kurth, without whose support a commercial recording would not have been possible.

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Time Out New York had this to say about composer-hyperpianist Denman Maroney: “Pianists have been tinkering with the guts of their instruments for nearly a century now, but it’s altogether likely that no one has explored the art of prepared piano as diligently or creatively as hyperpianist Denman Maroney.”

The music of “hyperpianist” Denman Maroney is inspired by natural sounds and the music of John Cage, Ornette Coleman, Henry Cowell, Duke Ellington, Charles Ives, Scott Joplin, Olivier Messiaen, Thelonius Monk, Conlon Nancarrow and Karheinz Stockhausen among others. Maroney plays what he calls “hyperpiano ,” which involves bowing and sliding the strings with copper bars, steel cylinders, Tibetan prayer bowls, rubber blocks and CD cases and gives him a unique sonic vocabulary. He also uses a system of temporal harmony based on the undertone series that allows him to improvise and compose in several tempos at once.

Maroney’s February release on Innova is entitled Music for Words, Perhaps (INN717). In  a recent conversation with Innova, the artist offered the following answers…

What’s your pet’s name and why?

My last dog’s name, after the daughter I never had, was Molly, Queen of Dogs, a Portuguese Water Dog, from a shelter, too, unlike, Bo, the Obama’s dog. I travel too much to get another dog now.

How do you spoil yourself?

With a good French wine, preferably in France.

If you weren’t making music as a career what would you be doing?

Making money!

Where do you live and how does that affect your music and the way you make
it?

I live in Rockland County, New York near Harriman State Park, where I get inspiration.

What is your first sound memory?

Silence.

Name three Desert Island discs (or MP3s), recordings that you feel especially close to.

Work (Thelonious Monk with Sonny Rollins), Prestige LP; Goldberg Variations (Bach, played by Glenn Gould), Columbia LP; Vingt Regards Sur L’Enfant Jesus (Messiaen, played by Pierre Laurent Aimard), Teldec CD.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational performance and why?

A duo concert with Mark Dresser at Vision Festival XIII (June 2008), released on Kadima Collective in 2009. We hooked up really well, and the audience was fully engaged.

Describe your most mind-blowing art experience (in any art form), something that instantly changed your life.

The first time I saw Cecil Taylor play solo in 1969.

What is your greatest fear?

Outliving myself.

What has been your career low point?

The eighties.

What were your first compositions like?  How have they changed?

I’ve been writing the same piece all my life. Later versions seem better.

What did you learn from your teachers?  Any words of wisdom to share?

From Miss Matsuki (my childhood piano teacher), I learned harmony; from Leonid Hambro, technique; from James Tenney, Ives and Joplin. But mostly I taught myself.

How are you like your music?  Would an outsider see/hear any similarity between your personality and your music?

I am my music, but no one who doesn’t know me could tell this.

Tell us about your release and some of the thinking behind it.

See my liner notes.

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This morning I found an item on NewMusicBox which intrigued me greatly. It was a post by Colin Holter entitled “This is Why People Hate Modern Classical Music.” As I would have expected there was a fair amount of discussion on NMB about the article, which originally appeared in the Telegraph. In fact, composer/critic Kyle Gann, among others — pretty much flipped his lid.

Here’s Kyle’s first comment:

“Ohh, that’s just lovely, a science correspondent informing the public that the “modern” music of Schoenberg and Webern (circa 1930s – ’40s) is typical of what still goes on in music today. Just what we need. Maybe I’ll contact The Telegraph and ask them to let me write a guest editorial on my profound musings about heredity versus environment, or orgone accumulators, or some other piece of outdated scientific crap.

But how do I contact a publication locked in a 70-year time warp? Telegram?

And here’s his second comment:

“Also, as pathetically ignorant and culturally illiterate as the Telegraph article is, the rejoinder that the intricacies of classical sonata form are hardly ‘natural’ doesn’t seem pertinent. Obviously what the article obliquely tries to say without the proper terminology is that tonality is more conducive to structural intelligibility than atonality, or specifically than the 12-tone system. This is certainly more true or less true depending on compositional context, but it is difficult to deny as a gross generality. Fred Lerdahl has written about cognitive constraints on music, to the effect that our brains aren’t set up for perceiving permutational identities; Ben Johnston has written a lot about ratio organization being more clearly intelligible than ordinal and interval organization. In short, without falling for the simplistic tonality = natural and natural = good platitudes that the Telegraph seems to think pass for intellectual discourse, the article’s feebly-stated points are roughly paralleled by some legitimate and more nuanced arguments made by distinguished and experienced composers and theorists…”

Notice, however, that Gann doesn’t dismiss the article’s premise entirely — he corrects the terminology and cites composers who have written about the same thing. Personally, I think our individual brain chemistry does, to some degree, affect what we like and dislike. Quite simply it has to –how else can you explain differing tastes in food and clothing. Music can’t be all that different. I also think psychological factors play a role. I, for example, am very, very highly strung. And, I do find certain kinds of music very difficult to take because of my nervous system.

I realize we’d all like to believe that great art will only be perceived and appreciated by the “best and the brightest.” And truth be told, many people do feel stupid because they do not like certain kinds of new music. But I truly don’t think it is a matter of intelligence.  Some of us are wired to be able to appreciate or enjoy certain things. In a sense, it depends on what sort of brain you have — and that it has nothing to do with creativity or intelligence. It is what makes us unique.

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