Archive for the “Composers” Category
Posted by Judith Lang Zaimont in Composers, Judith Lang Zaimont, tags: Awadagin Pratt, Composers, concerto, contemporary music, edge, expanded content, Harlem Quartet, Navona, new music, Parma, piano trio, Serenade, string quartet, viola, Zaimont
Between mid-October 2010 and late March 2011 three CDs of my music in various genres have been recorded and a fourth disc is planned for late June. These will come out in separate issues, each on a distinct label: Naxos, Navona, and MSR (the June and March sessions together forming a 2-disc survey).
The Navona disc is first to be out (formal release on April 26th). It features the Harlem Quartet and Awadagin Pratt performing chamber music for strings and piano, titled “Eternal Evolution”. It was recorded in December — in bitter cold, between snow storms — at the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase. (A great space, this is the fourth CD of my music captured in that hall.) Adam Abeshouse is producer/engineer.
The recording sessions were terrific and the performances are exemplary – I wanted to let loose quite amazing musicians within my sound-world, and see what resulted. Plus the disc is for me a first: an expanded CD, which when played through a computer will also scroll the scores for two of the pieces, show additional photos, and display program notes and bios more detailed than the norm while including large score extracts within the discussion.
“Eternal Evolution” was designed with two goals in mind:
- as a showcase for the performers (featuring the energetic and lyric Harlem Quartet both as ensemble and as individual players, and Awadagin in repertoire not normally associated with his very expressive, visceral playing) ;
- as a platform primarily for more recent music, notably String Quartet “The Figure”.
This is my first string quartet, written in mid-2007, at age 61. (I waited until I had something particular to say in that medium — just as with my first piano concerto, Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra ‘Solar Traveller’, written at age 65.) When a medium has been so completely and imaginatively explored by composers who came before, the composer now should be sure that the music in her head is distinct and urgent enough to be a warranted addition to rep.
[ = I also chuckle at the thought I “out-Brahms”ed Johannes. His first symphony was written at age 40; mine didn’t appear until I was 50. Between teaching and serving the needs of hordes of students along with family, I’m a prime instance of “late bloomer”. ]
Other pieces on “Eternal Evolution” are ZONES – Piano Trio No. 2, Serenade (for piano trio), and the virtuosic viola solo, Astral … a mirror life on the astral plane …
ETERNAL EVOLUTION. front panels
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.
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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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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Serendipity!Â Â Â About one month apart comes news of two different â€“ and successful – approaches by artists intent to reach their publics direct, bypassing any agent, gallery owner, or other middleman.
I discovered the first on a plane back from Vienna in an article in The EconomistÂ detailingÂ a two-day auction of artist Damien Hirstâ€™s newest works.Â Â (The article appearedÂ last month on the day Lehman Brothers collapsed.)Â The experimental sale ofÂ Â pieces by the artist well-known for variousÂ works featuring a shark as icon, took place at Sothebyâ€™s in London; it was preceded byÂ â€œunprecedentedÂ public interestâ€ in the week prior to the sale, with 21,000 visitors coming to view the sale preview in an eleven-day period.
The Hirst sale included at last one bidding war via telephone, andÂ netted an amazing total of 178 million dollars.Â Â ( Damien HirstÂ himself was not present at the first evening, understandably finding the occasion â€œtoo stressfulâ€.Â )
The second item is from todayâ€™s NY Times Magazine, titled Painting by Numbers.
Two art directors in the NY ad business,Â haveÂ web-based art enterprise which sells original works and began by selling to a targeted list ofÂ folks who were their internet contacts.Â The novelty here is that the artworks â€“ minimal, â€˜iconicâ€™ in look -Â each carry realistic price-tags, mostly quite low;Â and the subject of each painting is a portrait of the thing the makers wish to buy with the proceeds of the sale.Â ExamplesÂ of their works already sold:Â bottle of aspirin;Â plane ticket; hotel room for a night in Las Vegas; new bikini; good luck (this picture was free !).
Each of these enterprises appeals to a quite differentiatedÂ group of buyers ( big bucks /Â Â modest bucks).Â Both appear to be successful.
What kind of lesson lurks here for composers — ?
â€œLâ€™audace, toujours lâ€™audace!â€ â€“ Georges Danton
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We in the artsÂ like to live out loud in 2008, talking about almost everything (in detail)Â Â â€“ exceptÂ $$.
Since for most of us an artistâ€™s life doesnâ€™t actually pay well, we become our own patrons and subsidize our heartâ€™s work with a day job of some sort.Â For many composers, the day job is teaching.Â
For that reason I was much struck by the poignancy of David Gessnerâ€™s comments in Sundayâ€™sÂ NY Times , adapted hereÂ for composers:
Â Â Â Â Â Â Even if we grant that you can be as original within the university as up in your garret, we must concede the possibility that something is lost by living a divided life.Â Â Intensity perhaps.Â Â The ability to focus hard and long on big, ambitious projects.
Â Â Â Â Â A great [creator] , after all, must travel daily to a mental subcontinent, must rip into the work, experiencing the exertion of it, the anxiety of it and, once in a blue moon, the glory of it. Itâ€™s fine forÂ [composers]Â to talk in self-help jargon about how their lives require â€œbalanceâ€ and â€œshifting gearsâ€ between teaching and [composing], but below that civil language lurks the uncomfortable fact that the creation of [music]Â requires a degree of monomania, and that it is, at least in part, an irrational enterprise.Â Itâ€™s hard to throw your whole self into something when that self has another job.
Â – David Gessner, NY Times Magazine (Sunday Sept. 21, 2008).Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œThose Who Write, Teachâ€
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Composersâ€™ natural allies areÂ performers, listeners.
And Studio Teachers.
Kids study their instrument around the world in formalized settings, then finish up with a degree or two from Conservatory or University.Â Â Their studio teacher, with whom they study one-on-one, personifiesÂ their instrument, and serves asÂ a siphon for the selection ofÂ pieces the student will spend many practice-hours on.
Though itâ€™s true that great swatches of â€˜educational musicâ€™ are weak, forgettable, composing repertoire works forÂ developing musiciansÂ can beÂ a strategicÂ ( if occasional)Â goalÂ for alert composers.Â Â Having a piece selected for an organizationâ€™sÂ state-wide, national or internationalÂ repertoire listÂ meansÂ aÂ tangibleÂ boost forÂ that work.Â AndÂ a useful spotlight for the composer.Â Â Â Â
It also meansÂ that someone musically sophisticated is paying attention not just to the virtuoso, but to the buddingÂ performer.
My article â€œEmbracing New Musicâ€ In the current issue of American Music TeacherÂ magazine invites the teacher-performer to take a fresh, positiveÂ look at recent worksÂ they and their students will enjoy spending time with.Â (The music excerpts are all by composers other than myself.)Â Â
It recapitulates the ebb and flow of interest in newer music over the past century,Â andÂ also probes the reasonsÂ why studio teachers might be reluctantÂ to include very-new works for study as repertoire — meaning something the student will spend many hours on,Â not just sight-read.Â Â All of this is presented positively,Â with the sense of excitement at the potential of a major discovery.
Included is a sidebar on the issue of how a composer gets â€œbrandedâ€.
Read it, thenÂ comment.Â Â
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