Archive for the “Composers” 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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MusicMaker (JLZ)

This spring and summer have turned into prime time for my piano music.

Just in the last 4 months or so the music has been performed abroad  in Malta, Hong Kong and elsewhere; in  8 different states, and at the Smithsonian;  twice at  Weill Hall/Carnegie; and was on the repertoire list for the 2012 Kapell Competition.   Two notable recordings appeared during this period,  both  of them devoted to my piano solo music; and the Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra ‘Solar Traveller’  received one of three The American Prize in Composition 2012.

The two recordings are quite interesting:

•Three large solo works – Christopher Atzinger (Naxos)

• Two-disc survey of the solo music – Elizabeth Moak

“Art Fire Soul” (MSR Classics): 15 pieces

These two fine pianists couldn’t be more different:  One is a power-forward player whose range features  much finesse.  The other is all color, passion and impeccable technique.   Reviews have begun to appear  (passed along by the artist’s  press reps) and they’re excellent (ex.  August Gramophone).  — It’s quite revealing to put the music through such an acid test. And  largely verifies after the fact the reach  of these  disparate works written over  decades, most of them un-commissioned pieces meant only for myself to play.

In addition, NY videographer Mike Bregman has issued some recent videos focused on the piano music.   Two of them popped up last week.  One of these  - to a  light-hearted, tiny piece I actually wrote at 17, in college: Elizabeth Moak playing – he   has imaginatively  set to visuals from  the great movie “Singing in the Rain”.    This  video’s a creative remix, in part because Gene Kelly is dancing in duple meter —  and my piece is a “Jazz Waltz”,  in  three-quarter time!

Mike cleverly lines things up, catching all the music’s punctuation.      View it at:

Homage to “Singing in the Rain” – Jazz Waltz by Judith Lang Zaimont

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The Value of Reviews

And I mean reviews, plural.

In the past two weeks, I’ve thought about the merits in reviews while I experienced two sets of fresh reviews in wildly contrasted subject areas (none of these has anything to do with my own work). One set is from the world of video games – in which I’m a total outsider; the other straddles various art forms – something more my terrain. In no instance was I actually attending any of art events being discussed, nor, clearly, playing the game. But after reading a spectrum of reviews, in both cases I was able to glean specific insights concerning the particular item(s) under examination and the precise frame of reference adopted by individual reviewers. And both sets of reviews in fact cope with the biggest of themes in any creation.

What started me reading the game reviews was the release on several platforms of a new game designed by my son, Mike Zaimont. (“Mike Z” is a well-known tournament player in a number of fighting games.) His game, Skullgirls, was developed over quite a few years after a lot of thought about improvements that could be made to the fighting genre; he designed a completely new fighting engine for the new game and is project lead. The game looks good, too ; it has an all-female cast so far, and a retro-noir plus animé look created by Alex Ahad. Skullgirls developed quite a fan base in the two-years period as it was introduced player-by-player at game conventions, and it has been greeted warmly by the gaming community in the US upon release on April 10th. (Europe and Australia release was just two days ago, and it’s being translated into a number of languages.) Having sold more than 50,000 copies in its first two weeks of limited availability, Skullgirls is a hit; the team is back in place developing new chapters, new characters and other expansions.

I read many reviews in English, two in French, and watched an hour-long video review in German. A fair number are lengthy: they analyze every aspect, and are very specific on Skullgirls’ virtues plus certainly noting exactly requested adjustments. Even as a complete outsider — and someone who doesn’t own a game console of any kind, and who doesn’t know gaming terminology — by reading the assessments and thereby seeing the game reflected in comparative terms, I’m able to gain an appreciation of its character, its substance, its innovations and what the many reviewers believe it adds to the universe of fighting games. Over time in my reading I not only saw consensus appearing as to a general verdict but also gleaned an understanding of what gaming I itself means to those who are dedicated gamers.
These reviews were not just armament assembled solely in order to render a particular verdict – they were actually testaments to a passion for the world of gaming, and to loyalties and allegiances, along with a genuine quest for the new and the better that struck me notably. I came away with an enhanced regard for the evident emotion, immediate connection, and commitment of so many in the gaming world.

During this same period I also read two arts articles by our local Arizona Republic’s good arts critic, Richard Nilsen. (He’d effective in our locale because he often takes pains to bring a non-expert reader into the artistic conversation by relating arts event to frames of reference for a reader’s more usual experiences. ) The first arts piece was a long assessment/appreciation of Jackson Pollock and what Pollock brought to the invigoration of American painting and to the mid-century US art world in large. The second piece was his review of the Phoenix Symphony’s mid-April concert, which contained a recent work by an American composer the reviewer pretty much dismissed.
In pulling back from these two dissimilar arts articles I was struck most by what the reviewer revealed about himself: the values in the realized work and in the premises behind the creations that he most prizes, no matter the medium.

The Pollock overview closes with a reminder that “the older artists had a “heroic” vision of art, always moving forward to some difficult and ultimate target. “ This the reviewer contrasts with Pop Art’s pull-back from the heroic as well as the smaller goals for art in our own day. The assessment closes: “And in our age of diminished expectations, perhaps it might be good to recognize the heroic ambitions of Pollock and his buddies. They really intended to change the world. Our ambitions today seem just a bit puny in comparison.”

The Symphony review describes the newer composition as “full of New Age sounds and well-worn harmonies … [it] seems like the work of a well-behaved “A” student in class, who can give back perfectly to the teacher what [was] learned but has no actual insights to impart. The music is pleasant , but forgettable.” According to the review, the program “needed saving.” And indeed, the evening was saved by the concluding Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Heroism ( of a sort ) wins the day.

What do I come away with from these two sets of reviews? The huge contrast between a perceived distance that may have grown up between us and “Art” – engendering admiration, yes, along perhaps with a prevailing reverence for art as artifact – and the passionate engagement with, and enthusiasm for games evidenced in the gaming community.
I see that gaming world inhabitants believe they can have a say in the direction the gaming world will take – and that they applaud gaming enterprises which take chances. But arts acolytes may not understand they can have the same say – and an atmosphere of reverence rather than enthusiasm — which cultivates a tilt towards the backward glance — need not be the norm,.
When was it that music ceded the heroic stance to videogaming? If this is NOT true — Amen to that! — let’s realign the perspective, and get back into the mix.

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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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Just
finishing  up a week-long residency in
Minnesota, with activities primarily centered in the Bands program at the
University of Minnesota School of Music.


Rehearsals
have been ongoing for two  good-size  pieces, one for symphonic band and the other
for large wind ensemble.

 

In
early March the Symphonic Band, led by Jerry Luckhardt, will perform “Israeli
Rhapsody”.  It was commissioned by the
Kaplan Foundation in 2007 and has been already perform by collegiate
honor/all-state bands in  Virginia
and  Minnesota.

 

Tomorrow
night, Feb. 9th,  brings the
regional premiere of  CONCERTO for Piano
and Wind Orchestra ‘Solar Traveller’.   
Piano soloist  Timothy Lovelace
will be partnered by the legendary Craig Kirchhoff  directing the University of Minnesota  Wind Ensemble. 

       The preliminaries included separate
seminars for the graduate Conductors, 
this evening’s  lecture for the
Composition program,  and  a Thursday morning  session for the Piano Division  centered on the CONCERTO.  

 

      Minnesota Public Radio has posted a
segment of an interview on the piece I did with classical director Steve
Staruch; this includes  excerpts from the
piece as well as the interview in streamed form,  along with other info on the piece and the
regional premiere.       (
Accessed at  classicalmpr.org )

 

~~   The weather in Minneapolis this last week
has been a perfect incarnation of

         “Minnesota Nice!”

   

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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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Taking a Flyer

I’m experimenting with a trial balloon in crowd sourcing.
UnitedStatesArtists.org has now listed a project involving one development stage for my new big piece: Pure, Cool (Water) – Symphony No. 4.

Why this project?
It’s a piece close to my own heart – five movements for large orchestra, c. 33 minutes long – the newest piece aligning my continuing fascination with phenomena of the natural world with a family focus of long standing centered on environmental preservation: enhancing water quality control and preserving this crucial natural resource.

Equally important to the project coming forward in this way is the truth that artists can get typed.
Demand doesn’t always subsume to our creative visions for the future:
Commissions frequently are based upon an acquaintanceship with a composer’s existing music, primarily the works for a particular medium. Commissioners don’t always track the trend of a composer’s fresh imagining, nor perhaps be quite ready to support a brand-new vision; and it’s especially difficult if the new piece is in a medium for which the composer has written relatively little so far. Since my chamber music and solo pieces are better known than the orchestra works, the current Symphony seems an intriguing, and honest, way to try out a relatively new method for garnering support.
(Plus: If this support does materialize, the contributions from orchestra co-commissioners can be kept to a modest level, resulting in greater number of performances right off the bat, across the country.)

Why this method?

I often whisper in the ear of musicians about to go onstage with their first performance of a work of mine “Take the Dare!”
– With the new Symphony, I’m taking my own advice.

Why this portal?

Unlike other portals, USArtists Projects sets a relatively high bar for vetting the artists they invite in – a credential already in place such as a Guggenheim, or Bush Foundation Fellowship. In addition, they include a fair number of foundations among long term participants. And the project presentations themselves are elaborate, involving video, audio, images and plenty of text.

The project is titled Developing the Full Score of “Pure, Cool (Water)” Symphony.
It will run for one-and-a-half months and can be viewed under my name at unitedstatesartistsprojects.org.

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Hearing Fast = Shallow Content [?]
first of two posts

A week ago Friday I attended a concert at Arizona State University. (The program closed with a super-hot performance of my sax quartet, Parallel Play – I couldn’t ask for a better delivery!)

What stuck out from the program at large, though, was that the music by the younger composers programmed seemed built according to pretty different expectations of just what audience members were meant to get from their listening experience:

Acceptance that this hearing would in all likelihood be their one-and-only encounter with this piece – and therefore the music’s goals / contents / ambitions needed to abide by reduced dimensionality so that everything possible to glean would be doable in one pass through the piece.

Because I operate from a very different premise, I was struck by the thinness of content – by and large – in the works built accordingly. And their markedly slow harmonic rhythm. And their relatively shorter length.

Don’t get me wrong: There were striking sonorities and hooks aplenty – but they were primarily found in the very opening bars where they serve to capture the ear, and set up the listening presumption that some variation on the first material might occur – but also that that’s all there would be /could be. It makes for a tidy presentation, but (for me) is a curiously lifeless way to sustain originality in any artistic statement.

– Sure, we want the basic materials of a piece actively refreshed to our ear from time to time; that’s what Recaps (and Developments) are for. (Not to mention the essence of fugue.) Affirmation and confirmation are for sure important signals in crafting comprehensible forms.

But, by the same token, shouldn’t there be the delight of un-expected discoveries, un-anticipated adventuring in the music? If not these, then how can a piece be memorable? — something savored so much in retrospect that – like a good book – you just have to seek it out for repeated encounters.

Six years back I participated in a panel discussion with 2 other composers of wind ensemble music, and the youngest guy there confided to the room that he builds his movements by the following formula:
Present three distinguishable bits, then toss them about for the movement’s length. Is this today’s industry standard??

~~

Shana tovah ! to everyone.

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MusicMaker (JLZ) #32

When I’m deep into a piece everything changes – what I read, what I eat and when I eat, how I experience time. Breakfast often at 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon (very sparse) and dinner if I remember.

The music at hand is all-consuming – it becomes my world, and everything else falls away. (Gary’s wonderful: he keeps his own counsel, immerses himself in his current artwork and knows not to try to chat in the morning.)

At night, however, I do keep up with the world – long talks, phone, news and other TV, reading. But even the recreation is geared to problem solving: cop shows, crossword puzzles, and mystery writers who know how to engineer good plots, like Michael Connelly, Jonathan Kellerman, James Lee Burke. Dorothy Sayers too.
And all my reading at these times is  fiction: I like to visit around in other people’s imaginations.

       What do you read when you’re composing?

       Read the rest of this entry »

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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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