Archive for the “chamber music” Category

“Temperate” — a beautiful fresh video by videographer Michael Bregman celebrating the wide spectrum of weathers and the glories of seasonal change in our own temperate climate.

“Temperate” from ZONES Piano Trio No. 2

“Temperate” is a movement from my piano trio, ZONES. It’s a deconstructed rondo whose theme is fully expressed at the close of the seven-minute movement. And like a number of my other works, it draws its inspiration from the world of nature.

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Thoughts on a Philosophy of Programming (#1)

I’ve had it with categories!

We’ve just finished two months with specialist focus — February: African-American History Month and March: Women’s History Month – and every year in March there’s a bump-up in performances of my music. (Tania Leon once mentioned that her works get more frequent playing in February and March than at any other point around the calendar.)

Good? Not-so-good? Healthy? Unhealthy?

I am fascinated by, and yet deplore, the penchant for programming by categories. I like to imagine how to replicate the thinking behind the planning of a particular ensemble’s season. And knee-jerk, lip-service nods in select directions irk me no end.

Whatever happened to the philosophy of programming according to music the artist/ensemble finds fascinating in its own right, and return the favor by inviting listeners to join in the discovery? The aura of “Duty” is a pall indeed.

Sigh! :: In the latter ‘90s a respected musicologist colleague came to me privately to ask for my recommendations for *one* work by a woman to add to his basic music-history syllabus.
Instead, I gave him a list of 8 pieces, scattered across the 19th and 20th centuries and suggested he acquaint himself with all of them and then pick for himself. Rebecca Clarke’s great Viola Sonata eventually made its way into his course offering.

Sigh! :: It’s equally not helpful for someone as sensitive as Rob Deemer to punt when he addresses the question. In a recent NMBox posting he waffles by simply listing more than 200 names of female composers.
What good is it to have so large a field? According to a telling anecdote in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”, we withdraw when there are more than c. six choices at hand. Two hundred is 194 too many.
Why are people – good people, sensitive, knowledgeable people – reluctant to express their opinion? Why run scared of standing behind your principles, your choices?

Over the years I’ve kept sporadic data on the frequency of programming music composed by women in various genres. (This was begun during the ‘80s, when I was working on the volumes of The Musical Woman book series.) While it’s changed fractionally in some smaller genres – and in a major way in the pop-music sphere — for symphonic music and for larger chamber works it hasn’t materially budged.

Composing Women are still scraping our way towards some semblance of parity.

I close by citing my own comments from an interview published in FANFARE magazine last fall:

Q: Do you think we have reached a point in America where it is now superfluous to identify a composer with the appellation of “woman?”

“Adjective Composer” — what an unwieldy term! But once composers who were female started to get together in the ‘70s and ‘80s and we began to recognize that while we generally knew what we all were up to, we didn’t know much at all about our sister composers from the past. Our group was musically active — writing, getting played – but what amazed me was that past composers of distinction –- like Elizabeth Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, Lili Boulanger, Ruth Crawford, Rebecca Clarke, Amy Beach — who were celebrated in their own time seemed invisible to history once their era was past. We all knew Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann as pianists, but how many of us at that point knew a note of what they’d composed? It became really clear that something had to be done to stop the progressive erosion of the historical record. Stopping the erosion, and shedding light on distinguished present-day practitioners of all music specialties was what motivated my creating the books.

But that was then. Now, thirty years later we’re more visible (like raisins in a muffin), and four Pulitzer Prizes have gone to women. But grouping together all the women who write music is tricky — our affinity is only skin-deep since we span all styles and every approach to guiding sound over time.

Surely but slowly we’re being folded into the general stream of all-music. I’d welcome the day the adjective disappears. And signs are encouraging, now that more baccalaureate degrees go to women than to men. But I keep my eye on the stats, since even today in the US we’re not yet being programmed anywhere near Germaine Tailleferre’s 18% “share” of Les Six.

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Side-note on Style

Our local Maricopa Music Circle is now planning its Winter Recital. One of the pieces violinist Zhenenyeva Ehrbright and I plan to perform is a Nocturne by Medtner. Meeting his Three Nocturnes was a total treat for me – he is the real deal.
Pianists are the ones who may know Nicolay Medtner the best. His many solo Sonatas and the Concerti are legendary for pianists who care to go just one step past the tried and true. (This was his own instrument, after all, and he writes for it so the music will always sound and also feel right under the hand.) But he’s in the shadows to the public at large, bearing the ‘stigma’ of forever being thought unfashionable. (A bit like Dukas – also an educator as well as composer, and tireless editor of his own music.)
He’s a transitional figure in Russian music (dying in England in the 1950s – !), who sounds at times hints at the harmonic formulations of Scriabin or Rachmaninoff, with touches of Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky. But the music has soul, and an abundance of elegance and thought in the crafting, so that its shapes beautifully fulfill the length of their statement – they never natter, prolong, or bore. That’s an accomplishment.
I’m positive we pay too much attention to the “fashionable-ness” of any artwork. – If a piece or a picture is quite au courant, that seems to go a long way in how we evaluate it. Being on a current wavelength can in the moment make up for a work’s actually being thin, or rather uninspired, or just plain poor.
But the test of time is significant. Magnificent art is, in part, art that is durable. It speaks meaningfully to different audiences over various eras. The further away from the composer’s lifetime we are, the truer the test of the music: It then becomes possible to consider the work primarily on its own terms, on its individual premise, divorced from any fashion of the moment.

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I try to keep my hand in as a pianist, and have been fortunate to help start a local music group that rehearses almost every week. Our Maricopa Music Circle is made up of performers who studied on either East or West Coast in the US or in Russia, and who are active professional performers, retired music teachers, and dedicated amateurs who love classical music.

Our sessions are marathons, often lasting more than four hours, and encompass a wide, wide variety of music – in addition to composer ‘regulars’, our rep. is a moveable feast, including everything from A. Scarlatti through Cui, Bonis, Reinecke, Howard Hanson, Cole Porter, Jobim, etc. You name it, we’ve played it.

Our instrumentation is eclectic – high and low strings, flutes, baritone horn, sometime clarinet and guitar, and piano — so we do a fair number of tailored arrangements. We gather in 2 different rooms, rehearsing smaller-forces pieces, then come together for up to 2 hours of ensemble music. Last Friday’s rehearsal was a good cross-section:

6 of Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives arranged for vln and pno
Adagio from Korngold’s Violin Sonata
Bach E major violin Concerto, mvt. 1
Brandenburg No. 4
Poulenc Sonate (pno. 4 hands)
Debussy Petite Suite, two mvts.
Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream arr. for 2 flutes
Dvorak Slavonic Dance Op. 46 no. 2 (from orch. version + 4 hands original)
Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118 n. 2 original arrangement
Fauré Sicilienne (from orch.version + pno. solo)
Lerner and Loewe “Almost Like being in Love” org. arrangement
Free improv
Messiaen “Le merle noir”

We are faithful visitors to the web’s IMSLP/Petrucci Library and neat discoveries there include works like the Niels Gade Piano Trio, Mel Bonis Serenade, Ippolitov-Ivanov violin Sonata. A terrific side benefit has been to play and discuss what could be considered potential pairs of pieces, like Felix’ and Fanny’s Piano Trios in d minor.

We’re passionate about all music, fearless in what we attempt — and have a good time!

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