Christina Stanley a violinist and vocalist who received her MFA in Music Performance and Literature from Mills College, and her Bachelor of Music degree from San Francisco State University where she received a full performance scholarship and studied violin with Daniel Kobialka, Jassen Toderov and the  Alexander String Quartet. She is an active performing violinist, working as as a soloist as well as an ensemble.   The composer along with the other members of the Skadi Quartet will perform two new graphic scores to open The Composer’s Muse, the second night of the11th Annual Outsound New Music Summit.  Both scores are 40 x 40 oil and charcoal on canvas.  One will be played by the full quartet, and the other as a violin and cello duet.

The Composer’s Muse concert will take place onThursday, July 19th at 8:00 p.m.  All four nights of the festival will take place at the San Francisco Community Music Center,544 Capp Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at the door, or online through Brown Paper Tickets.  With the festival fast approaching, I was happy Christina had a moment to answer some of my questions.

S21:   Your alma mater, Mills College, is well known for creating composer/performers.  I’m wondering if in your student years before coming to Mills, if you ever felt pressure to become exclusively a composer, or exclusively a performer?

CS:  Yes, I did feel pressure to be exclusively a performer, though I’m not sure it was anyone’s fault other than my own. I wanted to achieve as much as I possibly could as a classical violinist, and learn all the standard repertoire, and as much of the 20th century as I could before moving into the 21st. However, I could never quite shake  that I had all this desire inside me to create, and I sometimes wondered If I’d chosen the wrong path, despite the fact that I loved playing violin so intensely and completely. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I moved to new York and was trying to figure out what to do with myself creatively. I was still writing songs, but at that time I also began recording myself playing violin and cello, improvising and relishing the dissonances and harmonies.  I was completely thrilled at the possibilities, and knew I would continue composing, though I didn’t know how.

S21:  What is the significance of each component of a visual art piece which becomes a graphic score?  Do media, color, and shape have specific meanings you’re trying to get across to the performer?

CS:  Yes, each shape has a technical or timbal meaning for the performer. Intensity of color always translates into intensity of sound, but the color itself is up to the performer to interpret. I personally don’t have synesthesia, but color has an extreme emotional impact on me, much like music itself. The gradations of the color in the score are relative to gradation in dynamic or timbre, or both. I usually create a key for performers, and though some forms are consistently interpreted throughout multiple scores, they do change and new ones are introduced.

S21:  Are there aspects of your insider’s knowledge of the string quartet which you bring to compositions?

CS:  Yes, I do think my study of chamber music and my specific knowledge of the string quartet has heightened my interest in composition drastically. I owe a lot to the Alexander String Quartet and their dedication to their craft. There is so much incredible repertoire for strong quartet that completely changed my relationship to music forever. I will never forget my introduction to the Shostakovich or Bartok string quartets.  For me, these were life changing events. There was a time in my life when I couldn’t get goosebumps from music. Everyone else talked about it but I didn’t understand. I had a dream where I was sitting in an old oaken room listening to a string quartet, and I got goosebumps listening to them. Soon after, I started school at San Francisco State University and began listening to the ASQ play weekly, and began playing chamber music myself. Listening to them rehearse Shostakovich 8 was the first time I had goosebumps in waking life.  I also feel that the relationships the string instruments have to one another are perfectly balanced in the context of the string quartet, an idea which translates very naturally to other mediums.

S21:  Offline, I’ve heard you describe the performers in your premiere as “brave”.   Can you tell me more about that?

CS:   I believe the performers of the Skadi Quartet are quite brave, as they agreed to play pieces that, until quite recently, they knew little to nothing about. They are both paintings, and although every musician of the quartet is extremely experienced in the performance of new music and graphic scores, I don’t think they have performed anything like this before. For their bravery and incredible musicianship, I am indebted to them.

S21:  What’s your way of balancing classical violin playing with everything that’s involved in composing and performing your own work?

CS:  This is an excellent question. I try to practice Bach, Ysaye, Mozart and Paganini (and my scales..ahem..) as much as my recent travails practicing Mikka S (Xenakis) and the Bartok solo sonata. I make my living teaching violin, so I believe it is extremely important to practice what I preach to my students, and practice, myself! however, when I am under a time constraint painting a score, as I have been, practicing is relegated to the hours between students. Besides, on my days off,my hands are covered in paint. I also try to gig as much as possible. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of weddings, but I play at Mills often as well. Most recently I was involved in the world premiere of Roscoe Mitchell’s “Would You Wear My Eyes” for chamber orchestra.

By Polly Moller

Polly Moller is a composer, performer, improviser, performance artist, and curator based in Oakland, California, USA. She practices a lot, writes many grant proposals, drinks a lot of mochas, and serves on the Board of Directors of Outsound Presents.