This Tuesday, Tuesdays @ Monk Space presents an eclectic evening of new choral and brass music featuring a double bill with the Trio Kobayashi (Allen Fogle, Matt Barbier, and Luke Storm) and C3LA (Contemporary Choral Collective of Los Angeles). Cristina Lord, T@MS’ Social Media and Outreach Director, interviewed both ensembles ahead of the concert. This originally appeared on the T@MS site, and is reprinted here with permission.
T@MS Interviews C3LA
The Contemporary Choral Collective of Los Angeles has no single director, and is instead collectively run by its members (all of which are talented new music singers, many composers themselves). What unique insights, opportunities, and/or challenges has this approach led to for the ensemble?
One of our main challenges has been scheduling. We are all busy students and/or professionals, so finding times when we can all meet to rehearse, perform, or discuss administrational business is often difficult. Finding a consensus takes time, which is of course not an issue in a traditional ensemble with a single director who makes all the decisions.
Since the conductors vary piece to piece and come from the group as well, adapting to varied conducting and rehearsing styles keeps things fresh. Composers do not conduct their own pieces, which encourages collective music making and an openness to various artistic interpretations and aesthetics. Everyone brings their own unique and formidable skill sets to our concerts, from the planning stages to the actual performances.
The program at Monk Space on December 20th includes ten diverse pieces written by composers within the last 25 years. How do you go about programming new works together? For example, can you speak a little about how the pieces on this program relate to one another?
In our concerts, our primary concern as a group is to program interesting, well crafted pieces. Thematic continuity seems secondary, but its consideration can often help shape a program and assist us in deciding which pieces will be on a given concert, and in what order. Stylistic variation is also important to us. “Passing Flight” has various interpretations; there are pieces that deal with literal flight, ephemeral moments in nature, and philosophic contemplations.
What about performing new music do you find most rewarding?
I can only speak for myself, but as a composer it is always satisfying and exciting to have one’s own music performed. As a singer, it is wonderfully challenging and stimulating to encompass such stylistic breadth within a single concert, as well as to tackle the various technical hurdles each piece presents. Our goal as an ensemble and as individuals is to show people how vital, inventive, and intellectually and emotionally gratifying music written in the last quarter century is. Introducing and being introduced to wonderful new repertoire and composers is incredibly rewarding.
T@MS Interviews Trio Kobayashi
Plainsound Brass Trio (2008) was written for your ensemble by the German composer Wolfgang von Schweinitz. It involves 18 microtonal variations, and explores the trombone’s trigger valve action at various tuned slide positions. What has been your experience learning and performing this piece?
This piece was the impetus for the creation of Trio Kobayashi and has been a major part of our repertoire for more than eight years. Wolfgang, Matt Barbier, and I all arrived at CalArts in the fall of 2007—Wolfgang as the James Tenney Chair of Composition and Matt and I as graduate students. Conversations about just intonation and brass technique planted the seeds of this collaboration. The first performance took place after nearly a year of rehearsals and meetings with Wolfgang, an intensive process of learning a new notation system and unfamiliar intervals. The Plainsound Brass Trio continues to be one of the most challenging yet rewarding pieces we have ever faced and occupies a special place in our repertoire.
Your trio specializes in just intonation for brass. What about just intonation (or microtonal music in general) is most interesting to you, and what do you see for the future of microtonal music?
Microtonality is often thought of as a means of creating extra dissonance, exoticism, or just a general sense of ‘weirdness.’ In just intonation, all intervals come from the harmonic series, the theoretical collection of pitches that comprise musical timbre. Among these intervals are familiar consonances, unexpectedly sonorous dissonances, and shadings of microtonality.
Non-tempered tuning has been a fascination of composers since the earliest writings of music theory. The broad acceptance of a single tuning system—as we have today with equal temperament—is really an exception in musical history, which has seen a nearly constant debate over various systems and practices. What the future of microtonal music holds is anyone’s guess. It will be limited only by the imagination and skill of composers and performers.
Besides microtonal works, you’ve also performed vocal music arranged for brass, and will be sharing the concert with vocalists at the upcoming performance at Monk Space. From your perspective, what similarities do you find between brass and voice?
Brass players and singers share the distinction of being the only musicians to produce sound with their own bodies and early brass instruments were often used to accompany singers and to strengthen the choir. We are thrilled to share this program with C3LA, as this pairing reflects the natural affinity between these two families.
Iannis Xenakis wrote three pieces involving Game Theory, a branch of probability theory, including Linaia-Agon (1972), which you will be performing at Monk Space as well. The piece also involves free choice as a central component. What unique challenges did this piece pose? Can you talk a bit about the process of learning and performing it?
Linaia-Agon is a depiction of a mythological battle between Linus, the famed musician, represented by the trombone, and Apollo, the god of music, represented by the horn and tuba. In this piece, we are asked to make in-the-moment decisions that shape the overall form of the piece, affect individual musical events, and determine who is the victor of the ‘combats.’ This seat-of-your-pants approach lends an intense energy to every performance, each of which is different from the last.