Posts Tagged “Locrian Chamber Players”

On August 27, 2015, the Locrian Chamber Players gathered on the 10th floor of Riverside Church to present a program of classical contemporary music. The Locrian Chamber Players set themselves apart from other contemporary music ensembles in two ways. First, LCP only programs works that were composed in the last ten years. Second, they withhold the program notes until the end of the concert, leaving the audience members with fewer distractions from directly engaging in the program. As one who often finds himself buried in the program notes, this approach was incredibly refreshing, and successful.

 The program opened with Daniel Thomas Davis’ Thin Fire Racing, an art song for mezzo-soprano, piano, and clarinet. The work is a selection from Follow Her Voice, a set of songs based on Sappho’s Fragment 31, here translated into English. Mezzo Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek’s performance matched the fiery intensity of both Sappho’s text and Davis’ setting. While clarinetist Benjamin Baron and pianist Jonathan Faiman expertly supported her, both were also given moments to shine.

 To offer a change in mood, the second piece on the program was Shafer Mahoney’s Shining River. This duet was played by flautist Catherine Gregory and harpist Victoria Drake. In contrast to Thin Fire Racing, Shining River is calm, pensive, and deeply internal. Gregory’s long, lyric lines complemented the gently bumping harp to create the image aptly suggested by Mahoney’s title.

Another Ecstatic Opening Out by Victoria Malawey received its New York premiere. For this piece, violinist Keats Dieffenbach and cellist Kristina Cooper joined Gregory and Drake. The interesting textures and timbres Malawey creates within the ensemble are striking. The sounds of the flute blend almost seamlessly into the violin and then further from violin to cello. A pizzicato cello complements the steady churn of the harp, with Cooper’s timbre seemingly growing out of the colors of the harp.

 The first half of the program concluded with Mei-Fang Lin’s Mistress of the Labyrinth for solo piano. In contrast to the melodic and lyrical pieces presented before it, Mistress of the Labyrinth is rough and aggressive, with a dissonant and pointy harmonic language. The piece is labyrinthine, expansive and winding, never fully revealing to the listener exactly where it is leading.

 The second half of the concert opened with Cantico dell creature by Caroline Shaw. Another very old text, this piece is a setting of an Italian text by St. Francis of Assisi. While the lengthy text did yield a substantial piece, Shaw’s setting did much to offset the formulaic nature of Assisi’s poetry.

 For the finale, Cooper and Dieffenbach were joined by Baron, violinist Anna Lim, and violist Daniel Panner in Aaron Jay Kernis’ Perpetual Chaconne. The omnipresent falling motive that opens the piece creates a sense of perpetuity. As the piece builds and intensifies, it almost seems to exist outside of time. As most of the thematic detail seems to develop and open up upon itself as the piece progresses, in a fascinating way, listening to this piece feels much more like the expansion of the a single moment, the meticulous inspection of a single detail, than a large-scale progression over a long period of time.

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This Thursday evening, the Locrian Chamber Players are presenting a concert at Riverside Church in New York City. The program features music by Harrison Birtwistle, Judith Shatin, John Luther Adams, and Frank J. Oteri. Frank is a fixture on the NY scene. He’s the composer advocate for the American Music Center and is Founding Editor of their web magazine New Music Box. Frank is indeed a persuasive advocate on behalf of other composers, but he’s not asked about his own music nearly often enough. In the interview that follows, we focus primarily on Brinson’s Race, the piece that appears on Thursday’s concert. But along the way, we are given a window into Oteri’s approach to composition and his harnessing of a veritable smorgasbord of musical interests and influences.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Herman

CC: First, let’s talk about the dedicatee. Who’s Robert Overstreet? How did you meet him?

FJO: Robert Overstreet was a fascinating man who collected art and taught for many years at Auburn University in Alabama where he was Professor Emeritus of Communication and founded The Reader’s Theatre. All his students called him “Doc.”  After he retired, he moved to back to where he grew up, in rural Georgia where he maintained a small farm. We first met in 1996 and since then had had countless conversations about art, literature, music, travel, and martinis–he had at least one every day. He wrote tremendous letters (all handwritten). He was one of the last people with whom I maintained a mail correspondence; although I regret that I was far less prompt in answering his letters than he was in answering mine. He died in December 2005.

Could you tell us a bit about Brinson’s Race – the place? How did you come to decide to write a work about this location?

Over the years I had the pleasure of making several visits to his country home, an estate called Brinson’s Race, in Emanuel County, one of only two counties in Georgia to vote against secession prior to the American Civil War. Overstreet’s family lived on this land since that time and the land even includes a family cemetery. Since Robert Overstreet’s death, his daughter Laura Overstreet Biering has maintained Brinson’s Race as a family farm as well as a retreat. She set up a nice website for it that gives some more detailed history of the place and even talks about my piece of music (

Trumpet plus string quartet is an interesting combination – one that you don’t see on concerts too terribly often. How did you decide on the instrumentation?

Every year Robert Overstreet used to present a chamber music concert in nearby Twin City which consisted of works from the standard repertoire.  After hearing a recording of my 1985 song cycle Two Transfers for tenor and string quartet, he asked me to write a piece especially for one of his concerts scored for trumpet and string quartet. As far as anyone knows it was the first world premiere in Twin City. While the trumpet and string quartet idea was completely his, I think clash between a solo brass instrument and a closely-related group of strings is an interesting sonic metaphor for the clash of me, the ultimate city dweller, discovering a place that is so deeply rural.

The way you use it reminds me in certain places of Ives’ Unanswered Question. Not necessarily linguistically, but in terms of having the trumpet ‘work against’ or run ahead of the strings in certain places. Was Ives a touchstone for the piece? Were there others you’d like to mention?

Ives has always been one of my personal heroes. There are many other role models for this piece, among them, believe it or not: Arnold Schoenberg, Milton Babbitt (the first movement actually incorporates a serial approach to duration, albeit one that does not sound as you might expect it to), Philip Glass (the early strict additive process pieces), John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Henry Cowell, Conlon Nancarrow, Elliott Carter and Johannes Brahms, to some extent though admittedly it might be hard to hear their influence in here, and even Ornette Coleman and J.S. Bach.

But perhaps the biggest touchstone for me about this piece is that it was the first new piece I started and completed in the 21st century and, in retrospect, it marked a new phase in my composition. It was the first piece I composed after my performance oratorio MACHUNAS and the first lengthy piece of instrumental chamber music I had composed in a very long time.

Also, Brinson’s Race was the first substantial new piece of music I conceived of after starting to work at the American Music Center. In my first year at AMC, I had a lot less time to compose and I was still trying to complete the vocal score for MACHUNAS. Then I had a very heavy case of writer’s block for musical composition. The amount of music I was being exposed to was daunting and rather intimidating. The polystylism of Brinson’s Race I think is a direct result of being exposed to such a variety of music. In addition, it began a new interest in very formal design that has remained a hallmark of almost all the music I have composed since then.

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