Posts Tagged “David Lang”

(Houston, TX) Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble is continuing what has become a welcome and well-received series of innovatively staged and programmed concerts of contemporary music. Featuring the core duo of composer George Heathco on electric guitar and Luke Hubley on percussion, Liminal Space has presented concert tributes to the music of John Cage and Frederic Rzewski, composed and performed music for a puppet show realization of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu,” and participated in the Houston Fringe Festival. This Sunday at 14 Pews, they will present an evening of music by Pulitzer prize-winning composer David Lang. Works on the program include how to pray, lend/lease, string of pearls, warmth, and arrangements of selections from memory pieces.

Heathco (who, by the way, is an excellent composer as well) confirms that Lang’s music present a set of unique challenges to the performer.

Composer guitarist George Heathco (photo by David DeHoyos

Composer guitarist George Heathco (photo by David DeHoyos)

“One thing that seems to run central to performing Lang’s music is the amount of concentration and mental stamina required to just get through a piece,” says Heathco. “He gives the performer very little opportunity to let up, mentally. On top of that, some of the pieces we are performing are also technically challenging. Works like lend/lease or string of pearls have an element of subtle virtuosity. They don’t immediately sound flashy or technically demanding to the listener, but from the performer’s point of view it is a whole other story!”

The majority of the works by Lang on Sunday’s program have been re-arranged for various combinations of marimba, electric guitars, cello, and keyboards.

“We have arranged several of Lang’s memory pieces, originally for solo piano, to be played by marimba and electric guitar,” says Heathco. “We are also adapting lend/lease, originally for piccolo and woodblocks, to fit our ensemble. In lend/lease, there is only a single melodic line that is to be played in unison, with one of the instruments being largely unpitched. We wanted to bring out the beauty of Lang’s melody, and so rather than woodblocks, Luke will be performing the line on marimba, doubling the electric guitar.”

Percussionist Luke Hubley (photo by David DeHoyos)

Percussionist Luke Hubley (photo by David DeHoyos)

The new music scene in Houston continues to grow and expand into ever more intriguing permutations, stretching beyond the cozy confines of its universities and on into the clubs, galleries, and alternative performance spaces that fill the city’s un-zoned citiscape.

An evening of David Lang’s music performed in what used to be a church? Perfect. Lang performed by Heathco, Hubley, and a selection of amazing guest musicians? Even better.

Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble presents The Music of David Lang, Sunday, March 24, 7:30 p.m. at 14 Pews, 800 Aurora Street, featuring George Heathco (guitar) and Luke Hubley (percussion) with guests cellist Daniel Saenz, pianist Mark Buller, keyboardist Jeremy Nuncio, and guitarist Chapman Welch. Tickets are $11 online, $15 at the door.

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On Sunday, February 19, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang brought his music to Samuelson Chapel for the 10th Annual New Music Concert at California Lutheran University. The concert was well-attended and performed by the students, faculty and friends of the CLU music department. David Lang participated in a Q&A session with department chairman Wyant Morton and offered a number of observations on his life as a composer and how it had changed – mostly for the better – by winning the Pulitzer. His easy conversational style and helpful remarks about his music connected well with the audience.

The concert opened with two solo piano offerings from Memory Pieces – a group of 8 small-scale works that were written to capture specific memories of friends who had passed away between 1992 and 1997. These were ably played by Jessica Helms, former CLU student and accompanist for the vocal ensembles for the concert. The first piece, wed, was written in memory of Kate Ericson who, though mortally ill and near death, married her long-time companion and artistic collaborator. The music for this consisted of a series of even phrases that alternated between an airy optimism and sudden dissonances – as if reflecting the hope present in marriage and the pull of mortality. Tellingly, the piece simply stops.

The second piece, grind, was written in memory of Jacob Druckman, David Lang’s teacher at Yale. In the pre-concert Q&A David admitted to having a somewhat bumpy relationship with his mentor and this piece accordingly features loud and aggressive sounds in the lower registers.  The repetitive phrasing suggests a series of running disagreements and yet there was a kind of creative tension present in the music, doubtless a byproduct of that relationship. The title was well-chosen.

An a cappella vocal piece titled I Lie was performed next by the women of the Areté Vocal Ensemble, directed by Morton Wyant.  This was originally commissioned by Kitka, an all-female vocal ensemble in the Bay area specializing in Eastern European folk music. I Lie is a Yiddish love song of expectation and waiting and the music portrays this through a series of soft, short phrases joined by longer, over-arching tones. A soprano solo, nicely sung by Debbie Schaeffer, provided a complimentary external melody. The harmony was, by turns, airy and light as well as somewhat dissonant, but always delicate and concise.

lend/lease is a piece scored for the improbable combination of piccolo and wood blocks and was performed by Nancy Marfisi playing piccolo and percussionist Scott Higgins. There is an exotic, almost Asian feel to this and the interconnection of the parts was such that the musicians wisely faced each other for needed visual communication. lend/lease was written for a recent birthday celebration of the London Sinfonietta and reflects the cooperation between the United States and Great Britain in the early years of World War II. The intricate rhythms and patterns of lend/lease were carefully executed and the efforts of the players were recognized by the applause that followed.

Oh Graveyard from 2010, was performed by the full Areté Vocal Ensemble – some 24 voices strong. This piece is nominally based on the spiritual Lay This Body Down but is “more a response to the genre of spirituals and what they mean”, according to the composer.  Oh Graveyard begins with small phrases and builds up voice by voice.  A series of solos – soprano, tenor, bass and alto – break off from the main body of singers and add to the layers of smooth harmony that convincingly evoked the peace and restfulness of the title.

the anvil chorus for solo percussion was written, according to the composer, to celebrate “… – that since the beginning of time people have always banged on things as a result of their profession.”  The piece begins with a steady, recognizably musical rhythm but one punctuated with a series of loud bangs, clangs and booms at unexpected intervals. The percussive elements were well chosen to recreate familiar metal-working sounds and this added to the industrial atmosphere, especially in the slower tempos. As the pace of the piece quickened, a more cohesive sound emerged that made a convincing connection between the shop floor and musical expression. According to the program notes the anvil chorus “..uses a ‘melody’ to control various beat patterns. The ‘melody’ is played on resonant junk metals of the percussionist’s choosing, and, by adding certain rules, it triggers an odd accompaniment of non-resonant junk metals, played both by hand and by foot.”  The fine effort by Scott Higgins in his performance of this piece resulted in sustained applause and scattered shouts of enthusiasm from the audience.

again, the final piece of the concert featured the Cal Lutheran Choir, directed by Morton Wyant.  This work from 2005, is a setting of a few lines from the book of Ecclesiastes. again begins with short phrases in the bass and tenor with longer phrases arcing above in the higher voices. This results a well-developed harmony that was most effective when all the parts were singing together – the 70 voices of the choir were sufficient to fill the space even though dispersed, having fanned out around the edges to surround the audience.  The soft, delicate nuances of this piece provided a quietly beautiful ending to a concert of new music that was both accessible and well-received by those in attendance.

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Here’s a contest for pianists with the music of David Lang. Read all about it here.
David explains more in this video: http://youtu.be/BrmQqX_Qs5o

Between November 15, 2011 and December 31, 2011, download the score to wed from David Lang’s memory pieces without charge from http://digital.schirmer.com/lang-contest
Learn the music and make a video of yourself playing it.
Post the video on YouTube.com by midnight (Eastern Standard Time) on December 31, 2011.
**IMPORTANT** you must tag the video with the following phrase: David Lang Piano Competition 2011

I spoke with David when he was in South Texas just last year about composition: http://vimeo.com/11256163

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Ekmeles rehearses Iddon

On Tuesday 1/11, newish New York vocal ensemble Ekmeles presents a program of music by Martin Iddon, Alvin Lucier, and David Lang at The Tank. I caught up with Ekmeles’ director, baritone Jeff Gavett to learn more about the event.

Carey: Why did you form the group Ekmeles?

Gavett: “While New York is home to many exceptional instrumental groups dedicated to contemporary music, there is a relative paucity of new vocal music. Ekmeles was created to fill the gap, and bring adventurous new music for solo voices to audiences that otherwise have little or no chance to hear it.”

“Our first season so far has included a US premiere by Mauricio Kagel, New York premieres by Aaron Cassidy and Kenneth Gaburo, and new commissions by Troy Herion and Jude Traxler. We also performed as the vocal complement in a sold out performance of Knee Plays from Einstein on the Beach as part of the Darmstadt Essential Repertoire series at Issue Project Room.”

Carey: Tell us about the works on the concert?

Gavett: “First on the program is our commission, Martin Iddon’s Ἁμαδρυάδες (hamadryads). It’s a transformation of Josquin’s Nymphes des Bois which involves retuning the intervals of the original in chains of Pythagorean intervals. These pitches, notated to the hundredth of a cent, are traversed mostly through extremely slow glissandi, requiring the singers to use sine wave reference tracks to achieve the tuning. We’ll also be playing tuned wine glasses, which blend eerily with the vocal textures.”

“Next is Alvin Lucier’s Theme, a setting of a poem by John Ashbery which shares some kinship with his most famous work. Lucier fragments the poem and distributes it between four speakers, who read the text into what he calls “resonant vessels.” These are vases, milk jugs, any empty container into which is placed a miniature microphone, which picks up the sound of the voice as filtered by the vessel, much like the room filters the sound of Lucier’s voice in I am sitting in a room.”

“David Lang’s the little match girl passion rounds out the program. As the title suggests, Lang has taken Hans Christian Andersen’s moralistic children’s story and infused it with the Passion. The suffering and death of a poor little girl is thus directly and explicitly equated to that of Christ, amplifying the story’s emotional impact. The singers all play percussion instruments, and the glockenspiel is featured especially prominently, its crisp attack evoking the freezing night. The clear and sparse textures throughout the match girl text are contrasted beautifully with richer quasi-choral textures in the Passion-derived elements.”

Carey: What’s next for Ekmeles?

Gavett: “Upcoming performances include John Cage’s Song Books at the Avant Music Festival on February 12th, and Chris Cerrone’s Invisible Cities with Red Light New Music in May.”

Concert Details

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011, 7 PM - Ekmeles – Resonances
$10 admission
The Tank
345 W 45th St, Manhattan, NY 212-563-6269

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BOO! Don't be scared, it's just Christopher Rouse.

I’m looking forward to the West Coast premiere of Christopher Rouse’s String Quartet no. 3 by the amazing Calder Quartet. The enthusiastic gentlemen in the Calder Quartet have worked closely with Rouse, having recorded his first 2 quartets and his chamber ensemble work, Compline on this terrific CD.

I know there’s been Rouse-bashing by some visitors here in the past, but I admire some of his music, especially when he’s writing in his Sturm und Drang mode (as he did in the 1st Quartet and the middle movement of the 2nd). The 3rd Quartet promises to be his ultimate ultraviolent work. Here’s a quote from his program notes on the new work:

My overall description of the piece would be something akin to a schizophrenic having a grand mal seizure. This, at least, was the image to which I continually referred as I composed the music. The twenty-minute score is dedicated to the Calder Quartet and, after a slow introduction, follows a standard fast-slow-fast ordering of sections played without pause. The music is staggeringly difficult to play, and I believe this to be my most challenging and uncompromising work to date.

Those of you familiar with the fast movement from Rouse’s 2nd String Quartet have some idea of what he’s talking about when he describes “challenging and uncompromising” music.

Here’s a dirty laundry review of a Summerfest concert from the last time they programmed Rouse in San Diego, along with links to the very performance by red fish blue fish which I reviewed.

Also: More Eric Lyon! That’s what my blog visitors seem to want. So here’s a review of his work Typhoid, the black sheep at a modernist music festival back in 1993 (and the only piece with which I had a clear audio memory today from that festival 17 years ago).  And from a SONOR concert in the early ’90s, a review of Eric Lyon’s Splatter and David Lang’s Dance/Drop.

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Adam Goldberg

Adam Goldberg

(UNTITLED), an original film satire of New York’s avant-garde art scene, will appear in theaters across the nation this fall. By poking fun at the idiosyncrasies of 21st century Bohemia, (UNTITLED) introduces American audiences to some of the best that contemporary art has to offer, notably a score by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, who merges the artistic expressions of the composer protagonist with his own musical voice.

(UNTITLED) revolves around melancholy composer Adrian (Adam Goldberg) and his whirlwind affair with a Chelsea gallerist (Marley Shelton), who unbeknownst to Adrian sells vacuous commercial works to high-paying corporate clients. The film explores the idea of true art and the question of integrity lost through commercialism – all with tongue in cheek. At the beginning, Adrian’s music comprises cliché contemporary classical music elements, such as crinkling paper and breaking glass. Once his perspective and emotions achieve depth and insight through his blossoming romance, his music becomes more profound.

John Clare had a chance to send questions to both David Lang and Adam Goldberg. In the second part (part 1 is here with David Lang), John Clare finds out more about (UNTITLED) from its star, Adam Goldberg.

1. Often with a joke, there is some seriousness or truth behind it. Is there some truth to this movie even though there is some fun being poked?

Well, actually upon my last viewing of it, the second time I watched it with an audience, albeit at LACMA–the perfect audience–it seemed to have a real weight to it. The film sort of takes a turn once the absurdity is established I think. For me the film really has always been about this righteous indignation, this sort of defensiveness of one’s position–whether as an artist or a audience member or a critic or an art dealer, in this case–that really is front for enormous insecurity. These characters are all wayward and tend to overcompensate with very stringent , often absurd, points of view.

2. There are some outrageous sounds and art. How does your taste run in real life – in both “new concert music” and “art”?

I definitely have always been obsessed with sound and strange sounds and repetition, but usually incorporated into something melodic or hypnotic in some way. I have for a long time been a fan of Steve Reich–whose work began with simple tape loops and phasing of found material, but eventually he applied this process to beautiful symphonic pieces. I have also been a fan of some conceptual art, but usually when it engages the viewer, interacts with him or her in some way or tells a story. I don’t like things that seem to aim merely to shock or to alienate. Basically if it moves me or I can relate to it in some way then, well, I like it.

3. David Lang is a Pulitzer Prize winner and incredibly gifted composer, but unfortunately not a household name – how was he chosen for the movie, and how was collaboration with Untitled?

I believe Jonathan, the director, knew David from music school. He had an interesting job, both to score the film and create the ‘sound’ pieces our little group performs–though in the end it was so bizarrely structured and arranged that we could often only barely perform to playback so much of the “music” we’re making we actually are making. David also served I think as a bit of a consultant to Jonathan when he was writing this, creating my character. I love David’s music and this score is quite beautiful I think.

4. What is the possibility of Untitled 2, or Untitled – the Showtime series?

Ha!

5. There have been quite a few composers in pop culture these days, from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (Jason Segal) to “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” (Natalie Portman’s piano/composer) and the likes of Paul McCartney & Billy Joel writing new classical music. Is composition a new cool as nerds (think Big Bang Theory) are?

Hmmm….I’ve never thought “Big Bang Theory.” Well, I remember years ago Elvis Costello put out a sort of classical record with the Brodsky Quartet that was pretty innovative. Conversely, Philip Glass many many years ago started I think to incorporate a sort of popular music element–singing an so forth–into his music. I think there’s always been some overlap. I saw a great piece that a childhood friend of my girlfriend’s put on. Michael Einziger from Incubus of all things. It was fantastic, sort of Reich meets Bernard Hermann. I think there’s something that feels for lack of a better word “legitimate” about working with classical elements. I know that some of the stuff musically I’ve done musically, with my project LANDy, that I’ve been most proud of incorporates some classical elements–arrangements of strings and that sort of thing. Albeit I’m usually humming the arrangements like a crazy person to the poor violinists.

(UNTITLED) opens tomorrow, October 23rd, in a limited release; and the soundtrack is out already from Cantaloupe!

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(UNTITLED), an original film satire of New York’s avant-garde art scene, will appear in theaters across the nation this fall. By poking fun at the idiosyncrasies of 21st century Bohemia, (UNTITLED) introduces American audiences to some of the best that contemporary art has to offer, notably a score by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, who merges the artistic expressions of the composer protagonist with his own musical voice.

(UNTITLED) revolves around melancholy composer Adrian (Adam Goldberg) and his whirlwind affair with a Chelsea gallerist (Marley Shelton), who unbeknownst to Adrian sells vacuous commercial works to high-paying corporate clients. The film explores the idea of true art and the question of integrity lost through commercialism – all with tongue in cheek. At the beginning, Adrian’s music comprises cliché contemporary classical music elements, such as crinkling paper and breaking glass. Once his perspective and emotions achieve depth and insight through his blossoming romance, his music becomes more profound.

John Clare had a chance to send questions to both David Lang and Adam Goldberg. In the first post, here are Lang’s answers about (UNTITLED):

1. Often with a joke, there is some seriousness or truth behind it. Is there some truth to this movie even though there is some fun being poked?

There is a lot of truth in this movie, mostly about how people in the arts become passionately committed to something they believe in that may look unbelievable from the outside. I think that creative commitment is captured very well, as is the distance between the committed people and the people watching the committed people.

2. How cool is it for the composer to “get the girl” in this movie? Did it influence your music for the film?

Getting the girl didn’t influence my thinking in the movie, although it didn’t hurt. The progression of the character musically is that he begins by making music only for himself, because that is how large his world view is; when he meets the girl his senses and optimism and maybe even his idea of audience expand, and his music changes accordingly. I definitely tried to make that shift happen in the music. Read the rest of this entry »

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