This week marks the premiere of a new concerto by Vivian Fung for the harp. Starting in Alabama this Thursday and later this spring in Germany, NY, DC, and in the fall, California, harpist Bridget Kibbey unveils the piece for harp, percussion, and strings. “It was tricky,” says Fung. “When we were deciding on the instrumentation, we originally thought it was going to be for the entire orchestra – but the harp is like a guitar, or other instruments that have balance issues, if you are not careful [with the orchestration]. So even with the percussion, I have to choose instruments that could compliment that sound very well, but not drown out the sound of the harp.”
Fung also prepares the harp in one section of the work, placing card stock in the strings. “It kind of mutes the strings (in the low register) so it almost turns it into a percussive sound, almost a bass guitar sort of sound – you know, the thump.”
Listen to an interview with Vivian Fung about this new concerto here as an mp3 file including how the commission came about, whether to name or subtitle the new work, inspirations, and writing for harp.
The New York premiere takes place Sunday and Monday, April 6 & 7 at le poisson rouge.
Bonus - more behind the scenes for composers – shop talk with Vivian and John Clare: mp3 file Hear the answers to how Ms. Fung started as a composer, dream genres, and the importance of recordings/publication for a composer.
Fort Worth-born Ornette Coleman will perform November 18th, 2010 8pm at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall with his son Denardo Coleman on drums, Tony Falanga on acoustic bass, and Al MacDowell on electric bass. I can’t think of a genre of music that hasn’t been influenced by Coleman and his recorded legacy. He had a profound impact on musicians as diverse as Leonard Bernstein, John Zorn, and Jerry Garcia and at the age of 80, Coleman continues to disregard geographical, political and cultural boundaries in a relentless search to build upon his palette of sound.
A recent interview with Ornette Coleman conducted by bassist, singer, producer Jeremiah Hosea can be heard for no cost at Earthdriver.org. It’s an unusually personal and far reaching conversation that you won’t hear anywhere else. Hosea has been instrumental of promoting the work of several exciting rock, jazz, and avant-garde musicians in NYC, and I had been meaning for awhile to direct Sequenza21’s readers to his site.
Since 1989, British composer Richard Ayres(born 1965) has lived and worked in the Netherlands. He currently teaches composition at the Royal Conservatoire in Den Haag: an institution where he did his graduate studies with Louis Andriessen. His compositional style reveals a profusion of influences, from Ives and Kagel to Ades and Janacek. Above all one notices his interest in dense counterpoint, frequently deployed in multi-layered structures; as well as a concomitant flair for testing the limits of playability, often with an eye towards cultivating a “melancholically humorous” ambience.
One of his favorite mediums is the “noncerto:” a composition for soloist and orchestra in which the soloist isn’t a heroic individual who overawes both orchestra and audience. Instead, the soloist’s role is quite the opposite: a Beckettian antihero: frequently asked to explore the barely possible or, indeed, the impossible. There are antecedents for the noncerto – notably in works by Carter, Feldman, and Kagel. By turning the concerto paradigm on its head, Ayres creates an affecting exploration of the individual who feels inarticulate: out of step with society. Doing so while creating compelling music (that attracts non-soloists) is no mean feat! But Ayres’ noncertos are becoming increasingly in demand.
This year he’s received a great deal of buzz in Europe. His new CD for the NMC imprint, Noncertos and Others, has received accolades from many corners, including critical praise from venues not ordinarily known to be sanguine about contemporary classical music. Perhaps the disc’s biggest coup to date is landing the coveted “Editor’s Choice” distinction from Gramophone magazine.
Despite the plaudits overseas, Ayres isn’t a household name yet here in the United States. Indeed, during the course of our wide-ranging discussion, he mentioned having not yet been programmed by an orchestra the United States. One hopes that this oversight is quickly remedied!
Christian Carey: How did you come up with the idea of the ‘noncerto?‘ Who first performed one of your noncertos? Have soloists been receptive to the idea of this type of piece?
Richard Ayres: I saw a program on the TV that was about a trombonist with some sort of Alzheimer’s disease. He was holding an electric razor and thought it was a trombone. He became very upset when he couldn’t work out how to play it. This broke my heart, and I wanted to write a little piece out of sympathy or as a tribute to this guy. This piece became the first noncerto for small ensemble and alto trombone. The Schoenberg Ensemble from Amsterdam commissioned it. I became attracted by the idea of outcast against the crowd, and four more noncerti followed.
Soloists need a melancholic sense of humor (humor not comedy), and an amazing technique to play these pieces. In spite of being underdogs, the solo parts are obviously virtuosic. I like to think that anyone that is attracted to the melancholia of Charlie Chaplin, or the excess of Terry Gilliam would like to play my noncerti. This is certainly just vanity.
CC: Each time I listen to No. 37B for Orchestra, I’m struck by what I hear as a kinship with the music of American composer Charles Ives: the overlapping of orchestral lines in a sort of collage, the frequent shifts of focus, and the wondrously pungent dissonances. Of course, I might just be listening through my own set of repertoire filters, but I wondered- is Ives at all influential on the music you’re composing?
RA: Oh yes! I heard Ives’ 4th symphony when I was a student and this gave me permission to write “far too many notes” sections in my pieces, and generally to roam around musical history. Actually these seemingly complex textures are rarely more than five musical lines…any more than 4 musical lines seems to be heard as a texture. I’m glad I listened in that particular counterpoint class!
CC: Who are some other touchstone composers you might point to?
RA: Oh, far too many to mention. I devour all music. Contemporary music loves range from Jerry Hunt right through to Tom Ades. I listen to loads of folk and rock music, just about anything. If I had to pick out some especially important classical composers then, apart from Ives, the music of Janacek, Sibelius, Beethoven, Mozart, Purcell, Rameau, Verdi, Strauss has been a massive influence on my composition.
I am just as, if not more, influenced by film. Fellini, Guy Madden, Terry Gilliam, and the great Charlie Chaplin have all played a part in shaping my creative taste.
CC: Would you tell us a bit about your numbering system for pieces?
RA: Three reasons for the numbers: I don’t have a lot of imagination for titles, and the ones I have made up were pretty awful; I find it easier to remember which piece is which (although this is no longer true. As I get older and the number of pieces increases, I find I can’t remember which is which); I forget now which painter said “a title is as important as a color in a painting”. Was this Jasper Johns? Whoever it was, I agree entirely. A title determines, or colors the listeners perception of a piece of music. I don’t want to pollute a listener’s experience unless it is absolutely necessary. At the moment I am playing with a juxtaposing literary and musical narrative, and am writing extremely long movement titles that are very evocative, and either concur with, or contradict how we experience the music’s emotional world.
CC: Noncertos and Others (NMC) has gotten a terrific reception, both in Europe and the US. Has this been a surprise, albeit a pleasant one?
RA: I wish I could be cool and knowing and say that it was what I had expected. I can’t, and I am extremely surprised. When I opened my copy of Gramophone magazine and saw my CD was editor’s choice I immediately ran to buy a copy to send to my mother. I’m very happy.
CC: For those whose introduction to your work comes via this CD, where would you send them next to learn more about your oeuvre?
RA: That is a bit of a problem as this is the only commercial recording, and so far my music has been played all over Europe but not in the states. I’ve never been there either, but I will get there one day!
The King’s Singers are celebrating 40 years of performances and alot of new music for voices! They’ll perform holiday music this Friday and Saturday with the NY Pops and are nominated for a Grammy Award for their Simple Gifts album. Coming up is a new release of Valentines including composers like Libby Larsen.
I spoke with two members about their outreach in schools as well as premering new works by Larsen, Eric Whitacre and Paul Patterson. Interview with David Hurley
This week the Next Wave Festival 2008 is raging at BAM, and there are several chances next week to hear Lightning at our feet, the latest from Ridge Theater and Michael Gordon at the Harvey Theater. (Dec 9, 11-13)
Gordon and I spoke on the phone about the new work that premiered in Houston. Listen to our conversation here – Lightning Interview with Gordon and Clare.
Here’s an added bonus, Gordon has a new EP coming out Tuesday, a fascinating “Purgatorio: Popera” on Canteloupe. We talked about it, as well as being married to a composer (Julia Wolfe) and everyone’s favorite 100 year old on Thursday, Elliott Carter! mp3 file