The pseudo-fact that we are ‘visual creatures’ has been drummed into mass culture for the past several decades. It’s pernicious pieces of propaganda, one of those marketing tools that is so pervasive and in-plain-sight that social critics and paranoids searching for subliminal messages and methods of mass coercion not only overlook it, they embrace it. We see and therefore we buy what we see is the way it goes, from artful design to pornography to fine art, where currently overcompensated rentiers pay immoral sums for works meant that, when hung on the wall of the McMansion, are meant to dazzle and intimidate with their pedigree and cost.
It’s bullshit, of course. Yes we see and are interested in what we see, but our most important sense organ is our ears, we are hearing creatures. Our eyes are promiscuous and fickle, what pleases them changes from year to year and culture to culture. But our ears are connected to our lizard brains and our souls. The thing that goes bump in the night is universal and eternal, the way it sets our hearts racing and sense on edge is as human as it gets, and the effect that sound has on us is exponentially more powerful than that of images. As R. Murray Schafer has pointed out, we can’t close our ears.
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On August 9, Christian Wolff’s Changing the System (1973) was performed by the new experimental music group Southland Ensemble, in the heart of historic China Town here in Los Angeles. About 40 people filled Automata, a small space at Chung King Court dedicated to the experimental arts, to hear Wolff’s politically charged and innovative work that utilizes graphical scoring designed to inspire a kind of consensus-driven interpretation from the players. Enlarged reproductions of the score were hung on the walls and the audience was encouraged to walk about and inspect them during the performance.
Christian Wolff is the last surviving member of the New York School of experimental composition that famously included Morton Feldman and John Cage. In fact it was Wolff who gave John Cage a copy of I Ching , stimulating that composers use of random processes in composition. And Wolff himself, according to the program notes, sought “to turn the making of music into a collaborative and transforming activity…” allowing the players to work out the realization of the piece within the guidelines of the score. Read the rest of this entry »
Tuesday night’s Prom concert, by the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by John Storgårds, included, as part of a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation, Edmund Rubbra’s Ode to the Queen, performed regally by Susan Bickley. Rubbra’s music is close to being completely unknown now, but in its day was rather successful; in 1961 on the Third Program, what is now BBC Radio 3, there were more of his pieces played than works of Berg, Copland, Ives, Janacek, Messiaen, or Tippett, according to the program notes for this concert. That all was changed by William Glock, who, apparently, when he took over as comptroller of the BBC, decreed that no more of Rubbra’s music would be played, and that had its effects on the possibilities for the music’s dissemination. I have to say that absolutely nothing about Ode to the Queen seemed to indicate that that was a bad move. Occasional pieces are usually not the best indication of a composer’s music, but although somewhere in all of Rubbra’s music (and there seems to be lots of it) there must be something to support Adrian Boult’s remark, quoted in the program, that Rubbra “goes on creating masterpieces,” this wasn’t it. The program started with Walton’s march Orb and Sceptre, which was written for the coronation; which seems to me to be far less successful than Crown Imperial, the march he wrote for the previous coronation.
The program also included another work which ran afoul of stylistic fashion, the Symphony in F#, Op. 40, of Erich Wolfgang Korngold. By the time Korngold finished his symphony and it was played, in 1952, he had already been more or less forced by events
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If there were a contest for hardest working man in New Music, my choice for a winner would be Sean Hickey. The personable 43-year-old Detroit native is not only a husband and father and a top classical music industry executive with a serious day job, he is a prolific composer of eloquent, stately music that manages to engage (or, at minimum, not enrage) the post-modern crowd through the sheer originality and persuasiveness of its musical ideas–without sending the blue hairs scurrying for the exits. Like his original inspiration, Igor Stravinsky, and well-known contemporaries like Daniel Asia, Michael Daugherty, Aaron Jay Kernis, Libby Larsen, Lowell Liebermann,Paul Moravec, and Osvaldo Golijov (Have we forgiven him yet?), Hickey writes music that is enjoyable to listen to. Not easy. Enjoyable.
He also arranges music, writes travel articles, helps any friend who needs it and occasionally mows lawns on big estates in Westchester.
The release of his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra and Concerto for Clarinet on Delos has solidified his reputation as a formidable new classicist whose work demonstrates where American music might have gone had the heirs of neoclassic Stravinsky, Ravel, Hindemith, Milhaud, Martinu, Honneger and their tuneful ilk taken over music academia in the 50s and 60s instead of the mathematicians.
Hickey’s route to a music career is a familiar one for talented kids of his generation –he got himself a guitar and learned how to make it talk. Read the rest of this entry »
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The common plight of the self-publisher is the issue of distribution. Sure, we all have access to professional-grade notation software and binding equipment but these tools do not help us get our work into the hands of performers nor do these tools help us find potential interested groups and expand our music into the larger world. The internet has been a boon for distributing other self-developed media, be it Bandcamp, Tunecore, CD Baby, Soundcloud, Vimeo, or YouTube. In recent years similar sites have been popping up to assist with the distribution of printed materials. Lulu.com is marketed towards self-published authors and provides storefront tools for selling any bound printed materials. Music is certainly possible on this site but two sites are interested in selling their services to self-published composers. The publishing firm JW Pepper launched its “MyScore” service about a year ago and more recently the site ScoreStreet.net has popped up to offer a similar service: give composers a place to distribute and sell their scores with the promise of reaching a larger audience.
MyScore and ScoreStreet both describe their services as ways to get your music to more people with less hands-on fuss. Each place takes over the printing and shipping of printed material, both offer digital sales, and neither site requires an exclusive contract with them. In other words, if you want to put some of your scores up on MyScore, some on ScoreStreet, and see which one works best for you then you are encouraged to do it. Read the rest of this entry »
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The 60th birthday of John Zorn! Who would believe it? I guess 60 is the new 30. On Saturday, the Lincoln Center Festival celebrated with a concert devoted exclusively to all of Zorn’s string quartet music, a total of six works from 1988 to 2011. Zorn is such an enigmatic eclectic musical persona and many-hat-wearer—Avant-garde enfant terrible, jazz-punk provocateur, saxophonist, improviser, unorthodox arranger, japanophile, experimental music impresario, klezmervangelist, record producer, and book series editor. He is also at least as enigmatic as a composer. So it occurred to me that an evening of his string quartets might be just the ticket to put his creative oeuvre—his compositions at least—into perspective, to be perceived in the context of today’s contemporary composition scene. I was right. Over the course of this one evening, I gained a much fuller and presumably more accurate picture of Zorn’s musical thought: exactly what I hoped for.
In this case much credit goes to the skillful and committed performers. The miraculous JACK Quartet was on hand for the first half, while the polished Alchemy Quartet took up the second half, joined by the JACK and Brooklyn Rider Quartets for the concluding Kol Nidre quartet which was performed in triplicate (three to a part). Read the rest of this entry »
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Photo credit: J. Henry Fair
As part of this year’s Golandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium and International Piano Festival at Princeton, violinist/violist Miranda Cuckson appeared on stage with pianist Yegor shevtsov at the lecture of eminent composer, princeton’s own Steven Mackey, and the evening’s concert performance.
Although the method is in its origins is designed to cater to pianists, the Symposium has recently succeeded in its efforts to expand the use of the principles of the Taubman Approach,to other instruments. Thanks to the active engagement of faculty member, British violinist Sophie Till, in cooperation with the Institute’s co-founder and artistic director Edna Golandsky, the approach has been innovatively implemented for violinists.
While the festival focuses predominantly on traditional classical performance and repertoire, Edna Golandsky presents a strong Jazz section, featuring this year’s performers from the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, under the artistic direction of Danilo Perez, as well as some new music from contemporary composers; Golandsky, an open-minded musician, stands behind the inclusiveness of her programming choices. The main emphasis is on excellence in performance, no matter the musical genre. Miranda Cuckson’s participation combines all of these qualities, in a particularly remarkable way. Her ability to perform the traditional repertoire on violin is quite convincing, and with great splendor, Cuckson manages to connect to the audience effortlessly with her virtuosic presentation of the Sonata for Violin and Piano written by Steven Mackey in 1996. Read the rest of this entry »
“I am not a cheerleader,” Auerbach says in our meeting, the day after The Blind premiered on July 9th as part of Lincoln Center Festival. (until July 14th)“I am not trying to please anybody, which, by the way should not be the goal of any artistic endeavor. Yet, art should give you something you have not yet experienced in the same way and you want to be changed by that experience.” Despite Auerbach’s artistic intentions, critical voices have emerged which attack the political correctness of the core metaphor of The Blind, giving rise to a debate about a symbol largely removed from the context of the work. I ask her, “Why the blindfold? Why the potentially sensational effect?” She explains: “I am not about shocking; The Blind is not a gimmick, but aims to fulfill to Maeterlinck’s (the playwright) call for a symbolist breaking of barriers, and attempts to provide a deep psychological understanding. It also pertains to a religious, meditative state of being, which entails a certain unearthing experience of disorientation, facilitated by the absence of the visual element. The Blind brings the audience away from the material state, exploring mental communication with the music’s ritualistic elements, and hopefully lets the audience come away with an individual learning experience that will stay with them, potentially changing who they are.” Directed by John La Bouchardière, the New York production of the work, which Auerbach for lack of a more precise description refers to as “a cappella opera,” has omitted the traditional stage setting used in the 2011 Berlin Konzerthaus and Moscow Stanislavsky Theatre productions of her score and libretto.
This new, innovative production takes The Blind a step further, eliminating the darkened stage of former productions in favor of the extremely isolating effect of blindfolding the audience; this theatrical method addresses our extreme reliance on visual effects, and aims to challenge the audience’s capacity for hearing, listening, smelling, and feeling temperature, thus evoking a heightened sensory and emotional experience. “Part of Maeterlinck’s conception is a distinct religious connotation, and includes elements of randomness, which, in this production led also to the separate placing of women and men,” says Auerbach, and adding that the experience of the piece also differs slightly for each participant, depending where they are seated. “Every staging demands different elements; in this particular one, timing and positioning was essential to the flow and the individual impression of each audience member.” The physical experience of The Blind’s staging is truly unique, and remarkably executed. Read the rest of this entry »
Liquid Skin Ensemble teamed up this weekend with the dance company Naked With Shoes for an evening of new music and choreography at the AndrewShire Gallery in the vibrant Koreatown area of Los Angeles. Two concerts were given – July 5 and 6, 2013 – consisting entirely of works by Steve Moshier and featuring the premiere of a new piece, Guilt of the Templars. Original choreography was provided by Jeff and Anne Grimaldo, and also dancer Mary Stein. The AndrewShire art gallery is an intimate space – holding maybe 40 people – and the arrangement of audience seating, musicians and dance space, while imperfect, was the best that could be done. The sight lines and acoustics in this venue are not ideal, especially given the dynamic power of Liquid Skin, but this did not detract significantly from the performance. The dancers also coped well with the limited space.
The Liquid Skin Ensemble has been a presence in the Los Angeles new music scene for over 13 years and their trademark rock-solid playing is a happy consequence of the stability of the personnel – the seven members of this group have played together for a long time and it shows. The mix of guitars, keyboards, saxophone, electric bass and Moshier’s vibraphone make for a balanced combination of percussion and sustained sounds that were used to good effect throughout the concert. Works dating from 1981 up to the present were included in this concert and gave a sort of historical arc to the programming.
The music of Steve Moshier falls squarely within post-minimal/neo-tonal tradition with propulsive percussion and driving rhythms such as were heard in the opening piece Shakeout (1981). The dancers here responded accordingly with a sort of fight scene that mirrored the high energy in the music. This was followed by Hidden Face (1990), a slower, more introspective piece that felt much more fluid and relaxed. Hero of the Blast Furnace (1983) featured more fast and hard rhythms with the dancers artfully including chairs in their choreography. Lost Souls (1991) gave the dancers another workout with chairs and a strong beat. The call and answer between the saxophone and vibes was particularly effective here and at the end the dancers were fully extended across the chairs, exhibiting an enviable agility and athleticism.
Two Liquid Skin pieces were offered without choreography. Cross the Wounded Galaxies (1985) has a light, airy texture that starts in the vibraphone and is variously joined by guitar, woodwind and keyboards. Different combinations of the instruments pass the theme around and the swelling tutti sections, when dominated by the saxophone, are especially effective. Leaving Paphos Ringed with Waves (2010) was probably the most serene piece in the concert – quiet, simple and almost chant-like.
This set the stage for the premiere of Guilt of the Templars: for the Liquid Skin Ensemble (2013) and this was accompanied by dancers Anne Grimaldo and Mary Stein. The title suggests some sort of dark, medieval thundercloud of a piece, but it is actually a light, cheerful work that begins with the dancers bouncing two large rubber balls back and forth in a sort of game. Gentle and disarming, the piece quickly acquires a child-like charm. The two dancers are both very tall women and this piece was subtitled ‘Too Long Ladies’ – a truth that was ironically disguised by their costume and playful choreography.
About midway into the piece the accompaniment by Liquid Skin Ensemble ceased and the dancers sang out several of the tall cliches that they must have been endured growing up: “How is the air up there?” and “My, you are a tall drink of water!” – a sort of cathartic release that generated an empathic response from the audience. They then sang several of the old Doublemint Gum tunes – a parody put down of the old sexist jingle that invites you to ‘double your pleasure, double your fun’ – and this was received with a knowing laugh by the audience. A video followed, projected on the wall, showing the ‘Too Long Ladies’ outdoors on sidewalks, streets and curbs performing dance steps on everyday objects underfoot. The video was accompanied by Liquid Skin, and as is the case with music skillfully written and performed for a film or video, you forget that the musicians are even in the room. The dancers may have stolen the show in this piece, but Guilt of the Templars was a fine finish to an evening of good music and skillful dancing.
The Liquid Skin Ensemble is:
Jannine Livingston – Electric keyboard
Ruth Cortez – Electric Keyboard
Mark Gordillo – Amplified Acoustic Guitar
Hai Truong – Electric Guitar
Susanna Hernandez – Electric Bass
Michael Lassere – Saxophones
Steve Moshier – Vibraphone
More information about the AndrewShire Gallery is here.
Berkeley Symphony, in cooperation with EarShot, invites applications for the 2014 Under Construction Reading Series. Three emerging composers will be selected to participate from a national candidate pool. Each will compose a new 10-minute work for orchestra that will be workshopped, rehearsed and read under the baton of music director Joana Carneiro, in two reading sessions on February 2-3 and May 4-5, 2014 in Berkeley, CA. Composers will receive artistic and career guidance from the Symphony artistic staff, orchestra musicians, and mentor-composers, Robert Beaser and Edmund Campion. Composers will also participate in professional development workshops and feedback sessions.
Each accepted composer will write a new work, not to exceed 10 minutes duration, scored for the following instrumentation: 2 flutes; 2 oboes; 2 clarinets; 2 bassoons, 2 French horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones (one tenor, one bass), timpani + 1 percussion, piano, and strings: 8, 6, 5, 4, 2. (The following woodwind doubles are permitted: piccolo, English horn, and bass clarinet.) Attendance is required for both sessions, and each composer is responsible for delivering professional quality score and parts. Travel and accommodations will be provided.
Applicants must be either a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or student studying full-time in the U.S. Applicants should be composers at the early stages of their professional careers and must not have had a work performed (other than a reading) by a Bay Area professional orchestra, nor have had a substantial history of works performed by professional orchestras at large. Composers who have applied previously for an EarShot Reading are eligible to apply. Applicants must submit a signed submission form, representative work sample orchestral score, resume, works list, and letter of recommendation. Incomplete, illegible, or late applications will not be considered.
Full guidelines & submission information available online at: www.EarshotNetwork.org/berkeley.html
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