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Posted by Judith Lang Zaimont in Uncategorized, tags: bicentennial, cantata, choral music, Composers, composing, imagining, Jewish liturgy, July 4th, new music, oratorio, Sacred Service, text setting
July 4th and JLZ
Yesterday the Milken Archive posted and Tweeted about the connection between my Sacred Service and our nation’s birthday.
#4thofJuly means reexamining Judith Lang Zaimont’s ‘Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening.’ Here’s why: http://bit.ly/lS5LvT #musicmonday
= The 70-minute work for baritone solo, chorus and orchestra is an American Service setting – largely in English — and was a bicentennial commission.
Click forward to a longer interview discussing all of the music on the Naxos CD that, along with a large excerpt from the Service, includes the dramatic cantata Parable – A Tale of Isaac and Abram, and two smaller texted pieces, A Woman of Valor for mezzo and string quartet and the choral Meditations at the Time of the New Year .
(Full interview at http://www.milkenarchive.org/articles/view/a-woman-of-valor )
We touched a bit on the activity of composing itself:
MA: What aspects of composing have been especially gratifying to you?
JLZ: Funny, the first answer that pops out is the fact that what I do takes place in time, out of time. That is, I can spend as much time on a measure, on a figure, on a moment in the music as I need to, to get it absolutely right. What am I comparing this to? Through my teens, and into the first part of my 20s, my sister Doris and I were a duo piano team [as The Lang Sisters]. We toured around the country, we constantly made recordings, we were on radio and television. The Lang Sisters were getting a pretty fair reputation, with lots of experience. But what I found was that the performing almost never was satisfying for me.
MA: Why is that?
JLZ: Things come and go. The passages are there and then they’re gone. You can’t call them back and fix and correct them. And in composing, you can do that. You can live with the moment for as long as you need to make it right.
Awhile back, I heard a well-regarded poet read her words so woefully on the PBS ‘News Hour’ that I truly could not follow the thread of meaning — the delivery was wooden, and so very artifical. In response, I wrote this:
The Music in Language
by Judith Lang Zaimont
[ (c) copyright 2009 ]
He squawks, he shrieks,
he pounds the tonic accents with such force
that I, as listener,
shiver from the assault of passion.
She, a renowned poet,
delivers in so mundane a monotone
that meaning is lost in waves
of falling intonation, arbitrarily
marking the end of every line
— her delivery, so leached of contrast
that all I, a listener,
is what she telegraphs:
This writer’s great detachment from the stuff of words.
Why, over and over
do we, as listeners,
suffer a newscaster’s dreary delivery
in one of just two modes,
“perky” or “solemn” ? –
No shades of variant meaning
no middle ground.
Why do we, as passengers,
puzzle through flight attendants’
irksome unreasoned stress on all
the small, connective, throwaway words?
Why not stress “life jacket”, “seat belts” ?
They’re important phrases
whose high freight of meaning
demands stress at highest pitch.
Actors know the secret of the music in language.
Pacing – let’s have a sliver of silence
before the keyword –
a half-beat of nothing.
Color — from shout to whispered syllable
(perhaps a whisper delayed).
Tempo — a stutter, a torrent, a mechanistic drone.
Add in Pitch to shed needle spots
right where meaning demands it .
These devices grant message to our delivery.
Music is in all these – and through music
Yes, we compose our thoughts.
Why not, then ,
like great maestros channeling a tonal army,
why not compose our saying of them?
Posted by Judith Lang Zaimont in Composers, Uncategorized, tags: chamber music, Composers, craft, early music, Holmes, music, mystery, new music, problem solving, Sara Paretsky, Shulamit Ran, trobairitz
Composers In Mysteries
Step past those tormented, fictional Wagner aspirants in bible-length novels — and for today let’s also set aside Thomas Mann. I’m a mystery nut, and I relish the present-day novels of Sara Paretsky, a mystery master who threads music into almost everything she writes. And in more than one of her books, the composers themselves show up.
Paretsky’s protagonist is V. I. Warshawski (Victoria Iphigenia – Vic for short), a Chicago PI who’s obstinate, cunning, intuitive, a quick thinker, and a general pain in the neck to many of her associates but who sticks with it, thinking through every case even as she hares around the state until the mystery in solved, no matter the bruises or bullet wounds that come her way. The daughter of a singer (mom) and a police detective, Vic keeps a piano in her apartment and often breaks into snatches of aria. (She’s also an expert basketball player and very accurate with a handgun.) Two of Vic’s close friends, both doctors, are Holocaust survivors who support Chicago’s symphony and chamber music scene, so Vic gets to a concert from time to time.
In one Paretsky short story, a composer of the distant past turns out to be an ancestor of Vic’s. And in the layered novel I’m now reading, Body Work, one character is a bassist in both jazz and early music groups, so lyrics by the trobairitz Maria de Ventadorn turn up.
But the most memorable composer appearance is in an earlier Paretsky book where one of the doctor’s sons (a cellist) comes to town with his girlfriend, Israeli composer and piano prodigy Or Nevitzky, whose new chamber piece is premiered and described in detail. — I have to believe Nevitzky stands in for Shulamit Ran, whose bio is virtually the same as the fictional character’s, and who has long been associated with music in Chicago.
It means a lot to come across a composer – someone who does what I do: who worries away at the problem at hand, never letting go until the solution is clear – in a genre book where the genre connotes “action”. Composers often don’t move when we do our thing; we can sit quiet and in place for hour after hour. And we might never be as tormented, as picturesque, as Holmes with his cocaine and dolorous violin, when we’re thinking things out. But we do hang in there until the solution is clear — just like Vic.
Another of Smooke’s 2/22/11 NMBx comments just made me laugh. “Most people’s tastes ossify by the time they reach maturity, and throughout their adult life they seek comfort through repeated encounters with the art of their youth.”
Very Not-So. Born-in-the-bone composers possess a big bump of curiosity about music — about all the arts, about life — which gets scratched regularly, and often. The “non-Pergolesi”s among us know that our individual artistic voices mature over time — that we come into our own just about when a professional baseball player’s career is winding down.
We continue actively to meet music in score and in sound. We constantly evaluate, re-assess, incorporate a new approach or perspective when it works with what we’re all about. We welcome fresh approaches (that aren’t gimmicks), and have no fear to step out, step forward. In short, no calcification!
[ What about academia, you ask? Well… maybe. But I suspect a large part of the slow-to-change, “I-teach-as-I-was-taught” groove comes from the fact that source materials -- anthologies, music history and appreciation texts – just plain do not keep up. But there are fuddy-duddies out there, unhappily. ]
I’m so sure that the next-biggest-thing will be the product of a mature music creator that the annual prize I endow (through IAWM) is specifically for a composer over 30 whose music has not yet been published or performed in a principal venue.
There’s wisdom – seasoned, at that – to discover your position within the continuum that runs from “Time is of the essence” to “All things come to the one who waits.”
~ One happy proponent of ‘hearing it all, all the time’ is Frank Oteri . He often writes in NMBx about his philosophy of openness to all the music out there, as on March 1st: “I’ve attempted to eschew self-selection and try to approach everything with completely open eyes, ears, and heart.”
Posted by Judith Lang Zaimont in Composers, Concerts, Uncategorized, tags: Composers, contemporary music, critic, first hearing, listening, new music, orchestra, premiere
Music Maker JLZ 26
A recent NewMusicBox column was titled “Changing Tastes” ( Feb. 22, 2011). In it David Smooke discusses, with some wonder, the fact that his musical tastes have changed over ten years.
I certainly agree with one of his observations : “The works that really get my brain buzzing [now] don’t always work in one hearing…. Their elusive logic excites me.” What’s most meaningful here is an underlying acceptance that we’ll want to hear the piece more than once.
This chimes with what Leo Kraft has said many times — that what we get from a first hearing basically is that something in the music calls us back to want to hear it again. The music might delight, irritate, mystify or confuse in a way we find intriguing, but overall it has to have an impact, inviting us back to hear it again. What music shouldn’t ever do is be so boring, so transparent — or signal so constantly about what we’re about to hear that we know too well what will come next — that it leaves us afterward saying “So what?” That’s death for art.
We have no control over the life circumstances of the people listening to our music. We can’t prescribe how folks take in — process, comprehend – what we put forth. All we can do is remain true to the internal prompts that keep our music vital: that it be fresh in concept and intriguing in its clothing out, that it warrant its length ( short or long), and that it offer something to savor through repeat hearings (and in multiple performances).
[ Recently I heard from a performer who was readying a Naxos disc of my music for next year, that the reason he chose one of these pieces was because it mystified yet interested him when he heard someone else play it – he just had to put it through the rehearsal-performance crucible himself in order to find out what makes it tick. ]
Yes, our age demands lots of product. And some of it is intended to have a shelf-life as brief as a quart of milk’s. But if the intention behind what we do is to make something more durable, then we’ve got to do precisely that – honestly.
From Richard Nilsen’s Feb. 27th AZ Republic review of an Arizona MusicFest concert ( Arutunian trumpet concerto, M. Bates “Desert Transport”, Rachmaninoff Symphony #2). His says of one work: “Completely competent, even magnificent in its craftsmanship, but we’ve heard this music before in other contexts. Is that enough to make it musically satisfying?”
But of the Rach: “It was music to break your heart…. When it’s over you come away knowing you’ve been through an experience… of deep, profound emotion. Competence cannot do that.”
I’ve been following the Bravo TV reality series, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” ( fifth episode this week). It tracks a group of young-ish artists, most of whom have already been exhibited , and assigns them a fresh project each week to be conceived and completed in about 1.5 days.
The completed works are then displayed in a private gallery showing followed by a critiqued from a panel of judges ( a core or regulars, plus one fresh prominent figure per week; one week it was Andres Serrano.) The projects range from utilitarian-but-arty (design a book cover for a classic novel re-issue) to almost-unspecified ( “do something outrageous”), and at times the artists receive their assignments by lot, with no say as to the subject agreeing with their own affinities ( or preferred medium).
Although it’s the usual winnowing-out design typical of such programs – and I don’t at all care who gets tapped as eventual winner – I’d pinpoint the same two interesting elements within each hour-long segment :
• The very different processes each of the artists follows in interpreting the assigned project. These are profiled in some detail – surprise! — and follow the gradual development of each new work. This manages to take up a big slice of the program, some 20+ minutes.
It’s exhilarating to see cameras paying attention to a working-out that stems from labor which is primarily ‘head-work’ . And rare.
• A refrain in the judges’ comments, present virtually every week: that the works they find successful do *in some respect* provide for viewers to respond to the piece – and actively. ( For example, they very much admired works in which the artist incorporated a mirror, or sign-in boards to register comment, or placed him/herself actually physically into the piece ; etc. )
Of course the judges want the artist’s individual personality to be expressed in the piece – but beyond that, and far from an auteur context where a viewer is only meant to “receive” an utterly complete document - the judges want the art to invite the viewer to respond, so that the work is ‘incomplete’ unless and until someone reacts to it in a way that registers to other viewers. ( This forested tree demands the listening ear be there ! so its fall can be heard.)
There’s plenty of opinion flying about throughout the episode — in addition to the judges, the artists themselves comment liberally on one another’s work throughout the show. If you pay no mind to the trumped-up personality conflicts and the bland or fatuous criticism ( or the commercials), the show can be worth screening.
The level of the works — particularly those by three of the competitors still ‘alive’ – is certainly professional. And the prize is $100,000. plus a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. Sarah Jessica Parker is one of the program originators.
– Would that composers could reap the same on-camera attention for our head-scratching hours…!
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October 3 , 2009
My Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra gets its world premiere in Baltimore on October 7th , and Iâ€˜ll be there. Itâ€™s scored for soloist and large wind ensemble; Harlan Parker conducts the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble with Timothy Hoft as piano soloist. The program also includes Husaâ€™s Music for Prague 1968, and works by Carolyn Bremer and Percy Grainger.
Subtitled â€œSolar Travellerâ€, the three-movement Concerto is a half-hour long, and is definitely absolute music. Over the years Iâ€™ve written works which center in the vastness, wonder, and beauty of sky and space â€“ music that has to do with appreciating natural cycles and the discovery of whole systems outside our normal frames of reference. These pieces are not program music but they all carry descriptive titles. So does the Concerto; its three movements are â€œOutward Boundâ€, â€œNocturne (Lunar)â€, and â€œAd astra per asperaâ€. Its only programmatic element is an embedded technical feature – each movementâ€™s core material is a progressively smaller musical interval, thus mirroring the compressive forces associated with the propulsion necessary to leave Earthâ€™s gravity.
Quite by chance, the Concerto is timely â€“ just in the past two weeks weâ€™ve learned that NASA has uncovered evidence of water hidden on both the Moon and Mars(!). For myself, living in Arizona has as benefit a state mandate that the night sky not be cluttered with light â€“ Iâ€™m someone who faithfully tracks the space station on its night-time visible passes across the skyâ€™s dome, and thrills at the sight.
[â€œSolar Travellerâ€ was commissioned by partnerships of wind ensemble conductors and pianists at Peabody Conservatory, Eastman School of Music, Indiana State University, Louisiana State University, Shepherd University, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Southern Mississippi. Individual state premieres will take place over this season and the next. ]
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September 1, 2009
With â€œBEASTSâ€, the newest movement recently posted, Iâ€™ve been musing on a particular side-note to this summer â€˜experimentâ€™ . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nr6XFT6z1Fo
We started the series because I was annoyed to see some recordings/performances of selected pieces of mine get co-opted for YouTube presentations I considered to be lame, or — in one case â€“ a copyright infringement as regards the art work.
Because I cannot endorse composing originally for a royalty-free medium, my projectâ€™s premise is to use only single movements from larger works, and only music from already-issued LP/CDs, with consent obtained ahead of time from the conductors and publishers.
The response from many (around the world) has been to correspond privately with me about the music â€“ music which they are first encountering via the videos, years after the recordings were issued: Source recordings for these videos appeared first in 1979, 1995, 1998, and 2007. And three of the four movements have been available on the Internet — for free — for at least 2 years
We consider the series is successful on its own terms â€“ for example, Texas Public Radioâ€™s Classical Blog has linked to two of the movements . This suggests the timeliness for a discussion now on the reach, and clout, of this type of communications channel.
Composers should look to develop professional guidelines for projects like these that can serve as targeted conduits to a different, broader audience.
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August 17, 2009
~ A mysterious sequence of night visions.
The newest movement in the suite of four Music/Art videos being posted over the summer months, partnering my husband Garyâ€™s artwork and my music.
â€œ Borealis â€
- now ready to view at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZPg8vdqoJg
very different from last monthâ€™s light-hearted first movement,
â€œThe Joy of Danceâ€ ( now widely available ).
The project is a collaboration between the Arizona artists and NY videographer Michael Bregman.
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August 10, 2009
This just in by email last night from a composer back East.
(Iâ€™ve been corresponding with a number of composers since my newest Music/Art video came out last week â€“ â€œBorealisâ€. )
Here is an experienced composer speaking from his heart:
“I dream of the day when I can find large enough uninterrupted periods of time to actually write music as I
want to. Knowing even as I do how hard it is to get any of performed — most of the music I’ve written has been for specific programming needs for specific groups I’ve been involved with so it’s always gotten performed, and I haven’t had the problem of writing something and then hoping someone
wants it performed. But that also has limited me in what I could write since I had to take the technical limitations of
the personnel in the groups into account. And ultimately the greatest limiting factor was the lack of time to
experiment, change, re-listen, explore and finally end with works which allowed/forced me to work beyond what I had thought my capabilities are.”
Weâ€™re in an era of funding contraction. And I fearthat makes it ever more challenging today for an American composer to establish a distinct personality in new music â€“ one which may not gibe so readily with established styles.
Yet some of us continue to make that statement, take that risk.
J L Zaimont
â€œLâ€™audace, toujours lâ€™audace!â€ â€“ Georges Danton
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