Interviews

Ashley Walters and Nicholas Deyoe on their history as collaborators

Composer Nicholas Deyoe and cellist Ashley Walters celebrate the release of their albums for Duane and Another Anxiety on October 20th, 2017 on Populist Records.

Each album has a distinct narrative, but the two releases are connected — two of Deyoe’s works appear on Walters’ album and Walters appears as both a member of the WasteLAnd ensemble and as a soloist on for Duane.

For this interview, Nick and Ashley reminisced about their collaboration over the past decade. Here, they present stories about their albums, music, and friendship.

First Impressions of Each Other

ND: I first met Ashley Walters in rehearsals for my second jury piece at UCSD (September-ish 2007), but I’d seen her perform with the Formalist Quartet a few times in the year before that. She was really astonishing in the quartet performances that I’d seen and I was really excited to get to work with her. She was detail-oriented, clear and direct in her feedback, and unbelievably positive. When we met, I was still really figuring myself out musically. I had a lot of insecurities that I was desperate to keep hidden and regularly felt like I wasn’t making music that was as interesting as that of my colleagues. Ashley was someone whose support and enthusiasm for my music made an incalculable difference in how I saw myself. As I became more confident in myself and my music, I began to feel much more free to develop my language (I’m not sure I’ve ever expressed these sentiments to Ashley). Daniel Tacke (who wrote a beautiful essay for my liner notes) and Stephanie Aston were two others who played pivotal roles for me. These were people who helped me question my work in a constructive way, helping me understand who I wanted to be musically.

AW: I met Nicholas Deyoe when we were grad students and neighbors in San Diego. I immediately noticed Nick’s presence and energy in rehearsals — he was professional yet sensitive; gregarious yet humble. I found tremendous energy and extreme contrasts in his music, which has biting, severe, and brutal sounds with moments of purity and sweetness. Whether I think of Nick in those early meetings or as a current collaborator and friend the word that always comes to mind to describe him is kind. He is a prominent force in the LA music scene not only because of his professional drive but because our community knows that he is invested in making connections with people and building strong friendships. I think there are many people who would consider themselves lucky to have met Nick.

Cellist Ashley Walters and composer Nicholas Deyoe. Photo by Warren LaFever.

Cellist Ashley Walters and composer Nicholas Deyoe. Photo by Warren LaFever.

ND: After this, Ashley and I started working together a lot, especially once we discovered that we were neighbors. Hearing Ashley’s perspectives on working with other composers, rehearsal preparation, and performance materials shaped my own approaches toward all things. I had the luxury of not only learning from her through our collaborations, but by drinking tea and talking about issues in other music, teaching, and life. She is thoughtful, direct, and never negative without warrant. If Ashley thought something was a problem, there was a good reason. She was the person to teach me that cello music is just as much about the person holding the instrument as the instrument itself (seems silly to make such an obvious statement) and that not all cellists have massive hands. She also demonstrated time and again that she would always strive to find a good solution for anything. Her dedication is remarkable and is something I witnessed immediately. In the 10 years we’ve known each other, I’ve only watched that dedication to her craft, her community, and her students deepen.

AW: Our first collaboration, For Stephanie (on our wedding day), was written for a momentous occasion — the marriage of Nick and Stephanie Aston. I am still touched to this day that our first collaboration was presented at such a personal event for two dear friends. During the process of creating this piece we spent as much time drinking tea and building our friendship through conversation as we did experimenting with sounds. This allowed us to connect first as friends and artists and then as collaborators not long after. [There is a work on each of our albums that was written for and performed at each other’s wedding. Six years after Ashley performed For Stephanie at my wedding, Stephanie performed Immer Wieder, which was composed for Ashley’s marriage to Luke Storm.—ND]

Then and Now

AW: In some ways it is impossible for me to imagine my career without the presence of Nick Deyoe — both as a colleague and as a composer. Releasing these two albums on the same day feels like the perfect celebration of a chapter in my life that has been enhanced by our work together.

As a performer, I try to be a portal between a composer’s voice and the audience’s experience. It has been a true honor that Nick has chosen me time and time again to be his ambassador of sound. Nick has challenged my technique and my own creativity; his music constantly inspires me to explore new colors and timbres on my instrument. I am a better cellist because of our work together. Nick’s musical language is unique but now feels completely familiar and comfortable to me. It’s like riding a bike — but his music is much more difficult than that!

ND: My relationship to pieces like another anxiety or for Stephanie are a lot different now than when I composed them four and eight years ago. At the time of creation, I was very focused on every detail, fussing over the sculpting of small moments. Now, as Ashley plays the pieces over and over again, across several years, I’m continually excited by the way she surprises me. At this point, I assume the time she has spent practicing the pieces surpasses the time I spent composing them. She has put incredible thought into every moment of the interpretation. She owns these pieces now, and it is an honor to watch her thought process unfold. In our early meetings refining her part for Lullaby 6, it felt like I was hearing her play an old piece. Ashley’s earliest interpretations were already nuanced and persuasive. It felt like she had already internalized the piece in a way that felt so familiar despite the music being completely new to us. [I truly think this work is a masterpiece, Nick. While it is an intensely difficult to play it was never anything but pure joy for me to uncover the nuances in your notation.—AW]

AW: Nick is often outgoing and effusive after concerts but the two performances that I remember and cherish the most are when he was speechless backstage — it was in those moments that I felt like we truly understood the magnitude of our collaboration. For me the performance of Nicks’s concerto, Lullaby 6 “for Duane,” is my most memorable — that night was not about virtuosity or even about collaboration — it was truly about friendship. Nick and I stepped on stage, he with a baton [“baton” is figurative, because I rarely use one.—ND] and myself with my cello, and together we celebrated the life of Nick’s father, Duane, who had passed away earlier that year. I was again honored to be asked to share a profound moment in Nick’s life through his music.

ND: Each new project we start together feels like it is embedded in everything we’ve already done while still moving forward. My collaborations with Ashley (similar to what I’ve done with Stephanie Aston and Matt Barbier) are what I use as a model when encouraging composition students to focus on building relationships with their peers. With these people, whom I’ve made so much music with over the last several years, a very different set of possibilities emerges. A new piece is a continuation of a long, thoughtful, and mutually respectful dialog rather than a fresh start. I am excited for every new musical relationship I begin, but maintaining the old ones is what I cherish about being a musician.

The Recording Process

AW: The collaboration between the composers and myself on this album extended past the composition/performance stage and into the recording process. Every composer (except Berio) was present when I recorded their piece. For me, recording solo repertoire in a large studio can feel lonely and isolating. However, in these sessions the energy of each composer was palpable through the glass. Wolfgang von Schweinitz brought his masterful ear and bolstered my own confidence with the fragile intonation in Plainsound-Litany. Wadada Leo Smith’s spirit in the booth was as contagious as it is on stage. The flexibility of his notation allows the performer to find her own voice and Smith provided constant support about the decisions I was making and the risks I was taking in my interpretation. Andrew McIntosh, a string player himself, is more frequently sitting in front of the mic than in the producer’s seat. (However, he is a talented producer in his own right, as you can hear on Nick’s album!). Knowing the great difficulty of his own piece, Andrew was my cheerleader throughout the process. Nick Deyoe was the first composer who joined me in the recording studio. Because this recording was documenting our first collaboration it felt like a special moment for both of us.

ND: All of the topics that Ashley and I keep discussing come back to collaboration. Making this album was a giant collaboration, involving 20+ people. My role composing the music, making the scores/parts, and editing the recordings feels, relatively, like a small part of everything that came together to make this album. This was the incredible work of 15 performers, 2 poets, a visual artist, a designer, and the miraculous producer/engineer pair of Andrew McIntosh and Nick Tipp. During our recording days last March, I spent time on both sides of the glass. I conducted Finally, the cylindrical voids tapping along and Lullaby 6 “for Duane,” and I sat next to Andrew in the control room for Immer Wieder and 1560. As a performer, I was trying to simultaneously think in-the-moment while considering what would make a good recording. Thankfully, Nick (Tipp) and Andrew (Mcintosh) were paying great attention to everything, taking notes, and also reading the room and managing the overall flow of the session. Recording challenging music is stressful for everyone, and having people who can help keep a productive flow while ensuring that everyone in the room is happy can’t be understated. On the other side of the glass, with the opportunity to listen more objectively (Immer Wieder, 1560), I was no less grateful to have Nick and Andrew’s sensitive ears reinforcing (and sometimes contradicting) what I was hearing. Their notes were crucial to me when I edited the album.

To learn more about the albums and the release party/concert that will take place on October 20th, visit here: http://deyoe-walters.brownpapertickets.com/

Pre-Order from Populist Records here:

Ashley Walters – Sweet Anxiety
https://populistrecords.bandcamp.com/album/ashley-walters-sweet-anxiety
Nicholas Deyoe – for Duane
https://populistrecords.bandcamp.com/album/nicholas-deyoe-for-duane

Sequenza, Sequenza!

The next Tuesdays at Monk Space concert will feature a unique opportunity to hear almost all of Luciano Berio‘s famous Sequenzas – all in one place! Berio wrote these solo pieces throughout his life, starting in the 1950s up until his death in 2003. Numbering fourteen in total, they speak to the unique possibilities of almost every orchestral instrument. The concert will take place in the warehouse at Monk Space, with a simultaneous performance happening in the Annex across the hall. Audience members are invited to move between the halls at their own pace (and maybe stop for some wine in between).

An all-star cast of performers will be lending their talents to these works, and are graciously donating their performances to this fundraising concert. I asked some of the performers about their challenges, triumphs, and overall experiences with these pieces. Here’s what they had to say: 

Elizabeth Huston – Sequenza II (Harp)

I find it fascinating how Sequenza II uses nearly every known extended technique for the harp, while simultaneously making the piece cohesive using thematic material. Often, when composers use too many effects and bizarre techniques, it comes off as just a showcase of weird sounds, not a thoughtful piece of art. This is not the case with Sequenza II, however, which really showcases Berio’s skill as a composer. I also find it incredible how many new rhythmic, melodic, and dynamic themes I find every time I practice the piece. It’s incredibly dense.

I first performed it on my own showcase of all the Sequenzas. Like any piece with this level of complexity, you can practice it indefinitely and it always has room for improvement, which is simultaneously frustrating and rewarding. It’s very significant to me because the challenge of putting together the showcase was, like the piece, incredibly frustrating and rewarding, and resulted in one of the most fun projects of my life. The research put into all of the pieces to create a cohesive show made me really understand the incredible thing that is the Sequenzas, and how the evolution of the Sequenzas in many ways maps the evolution of western music as a whole. I applaud Aron for taking this on!

Stacey Fraser – Sequenza III (Voice)

I think the most interesting and challenging thing is that you need to remain humble and continue to revisit the score despite the number of times you may have performed it! There really are so many notes, subtleties and nuances that it is essential for one to continue to study the score, vocal and silent practice are critical. This is not an improvised piece, Berio notated every note and every vocal gesture. I have been singing the piece since I was a student in the late 90’s and I think the fun thing for me is to see how the piece has matured in my voice over the last 22 years. I have the technical facility to do a lot more in the way of actually making tone yet the “young me” somehow still emerges every time I take the piece out to practice.  Those were the days of rock and roll – Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and BERIO!

I first performed the piece on the stage of Borden Auditorium at the Manhattan School of Music on February 25, 1995 as part of their annual Festival of New Music. I was the first act on the program and the concert closed with Tan Dun’s Circle with Four Trios and he was indeed in attendance, I of course had no idea who he was at the time. Not only was it my first time performing the Sequenza III but this also marked my New City debut. I was a young soprano from Nova Scotia, Canada having just completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. I found myself enrolled in the Master of Music program at MSM and among a sea of 90 amazing sopranos, graduate and undergraduate combined. I figured out within my first month that if I wanted a solo opportunity in my first semester at MSM, it would likely only happen if I sang music that the other 89 sopranos would not be so interested in learning. I hoped and prayed that that my U of T training would allow me to tackle such a challenging work. Claire Heldrich, percussionist and Director of the Contemporary Music Ensemble entrusted me with the piece, she hadn’t even heard me sing but somehow my passion for new music convinced her that I could do it.

A few days before the concert I came down with sinusitis/laryngitis but by some miracle I was able to sing – I didn’t realize until my teacher Cynthia Hoffmann called me the following Saturday morning to tell me that a photo of my performance and a favorable review by Allan Kozinn was gracing the front page of the Arts Section of the Saturday edition of the New York Times. Although not a new music aficionado of contemporary music herself, Ms. Hoffmann was proud and felt that the piece was the key to me opening up my operatic voice; I believe she was correct.  It is always fun revisiting the work, and I can’t help but feel like that 20 something year old naive soprano from Canada is somehow reflected in even my latest rendition of the piece.

Mari Kawamura – Sequenza IV (Piano)

This piece casts of variety of small sections with different characters that are sequenced one after another, and this demands of the pianist a great deal of concentration and delicate control.  As the section move on, you have to change the technique immediately: the touch, speed of attack, amount of body weight…these constant shifts are the most difficult thing about this piece.

I first performed this piece last March, so our relationship is rather new. The more I learn it, the more charming and playful I find it to be.

Matt Barbier – Sequenza V (Trombone)

For me the most interesting parts about the trombone sequenza relate primarily to it’s place in the canon. It’s really the first piece in the trombone repertoire that asks a player to redefine their relationship with one’s instrument. It also has an interesting, and somewhat dubious, history, but I suppose it’s best to leave somewhat off the record. The biggest challenge for me is picking the sequenza back up as these moments arise. I always find it an interesting dichotomy when I return to the piece because the it’s ingrained on my memory for the view of a much less skilled trombonist, so my return visits always find me questioning if I’ve made the musical choice I’m remembering to cover a lack of skill or to embrace a past vision. I always enjoy trying to access my 22 year oldish brain and try to sort what was going on in there.

I first performed it in the fall of 2007. For me it’s gone from a piece that I thought would, at one point, be a repertoire cornerstone, but, as my relationship to traditional new music has changed, has really become something I view as quite old (it’s 51 years old). As something of that age, I came to feel that it’s important to know, but ultimately something to be moved past. Now my relationship with it is primarily in teaching it as a jumping off point with students who are more interested in exploratory techniques. That said, the piece does have a very nostalgic place for me as when I started to learn it I ended up having about ten days to do so for a master class with Mike Svoboda. That moment laid the foundation for our relationship and Mike has been an incredibly helpful resource as I’ve found my own creative path.

Trumpet player Daniel Flores has his mentor’s copy of Sequenza X, with handwritten markings from Berio himself.

Daniel Flores – Sequenza X (Trumpet)

For me, Sequenza X represents a unique blend of both technical challenge, and an opportunity to express oneself in a freer manner than one might find on a standard piece of trumpet literature.  As you can hear throughout the different sequenze, Berio offered both a consistent set of textures and effects he wanted created, ranging from trilled notes on one pitch, frantic scale runs, and extreme dynamic contrasts, to more instrument native ideas.  In the case of Sequenza X, Berio had both the great jazz trumpeter’s Miles Davis and Clark Terry on his mind, and really, jazz was certainly on the mind of Berio throughout.  Whenever you hear the interval of a minor third from D natural to F natural in the first gesture of the piece, you are actually hearing Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You,” sang by Nancy Wilson in 1964!  So, what I find most interesting about Sequenza X is the blend and balance of the evolution of Berio’s original ideas, coupled with the taste and information of what makes sense in the trumpet tradition.

I first performed this piece in 2015 at the Chosen Vale International Trumpet seminar, which was  quite a year!  I had the opportunity to learn the piece from two very special artists, the great Thomas Stevens, former principal trumpet of the LA Philharmonic, who premiered the first iteration of the piece, as well as the famous Italian trumpet soloist, Gabriele Cassone.  In fact, I had to perform the piece in masterclass for both of  them, which made me quite nervous, but things seemed to work out!  That night, Thomas Stevens gifted Berio’s manuscript of the third iteration of the piece, which we play today, to Gabriele…what a special night that was!

So, Sequenza X has a very close place to my heart in that my teacher in Italy, Gabriele Cassone, worked directly with Berio in the recording studio, to create what many of us consider to be the benchmark recording of the piece.  In fact, the score in front of me on stage is a copy of Gabriele’s part with Berio’s personal hand markings, as well as penciled in meters that were the genesis of what would become Chemins VI, otherwise known as Kol-Od, which Berio wrote specifically for Cassone.

I would definitely consider myself a 2nd generation student of Berio in that the information Cassone received was directly passed to me, and my relationship with the piece certainly has evolved from one of understanding the basic architecture of the work to that of being able to interpret the piece on a much more personal level, really striving to play it from the heart…to not worry about being surgical with the technique, but to play each and every gesture with as much freedom as possible.   It never will sound the same twice, and in my opinion, that is the beautiful result of Sequenza X!

Mak Grgic – Sequenza XI (Guitar)

I find that the most interesting characteristic of the Sequenza written for guitar is also its biggest challenge. This might be the case with the others as well, but amongst the plethora of notes used in all the crazy permutations, which sometimes seem a bit repetitive, there is a clear progression and pathway from one “tonal” center to another. These tonal centers are sluggish to shift, as each lasts for a few pages easily. Battling through all the virtuosic material with grace while underlining such a global progression of musical mass is what intrigues me most with this piece and is also a very tasking thing to do well.

I performed this piece for the first time at Jacaranda Series, and had less time to prepare it than I would have hoped for. At that time, which I believe was a year and a half ago, I had told myself that it will be impossible to land every single of the notes, so I went for “the gestures”. The performance was just as nerve wracking as it was successful. Now, a year or so later, I have had the opportunity to play it a few times around, and have grown fond of its intricacies, which I hope will speak with grace and vigor at the performance on Tuesday.

Ashley Walters – Sequenza XIVa (Cello)

As a kid, I grew up playing both cello and percussion and I think part of why I love this piece so much is because it allows me to play both! In many ways, Berio set the precedent for composer/performer collaboration making the unique characteristics and capabilities of each dedicatee a central theme in many of his Sequenzas. In the case of this final Sequenza, Berio incorporates these Kandayan drumming cycles, which were shown to him by the great Sri Lankan cellist, Rohan de Saram. I first learned this piece 10 years ago and it has been a staple of my repertoire since.

Tom Peters – Sequenza XIVb (Double Bass)

Sequenza XIVb is a re-imagining of the cello Sequenza, by double bassist Stefano Scodanibbio with the blessing of Luciano Berio. The most challenging part is learning Stefano Scodanibbio’s crazy pizzicato harmonic techniques, something he was famous for. This will be my first performance of Sequenza XIVb.

Check out Tuesdays at Monk Space for more information about this event.

 

Julian Day and Jason Barabba on DuoFest

Julian Day. Photo by Felicity Jenkins.

Julian Day. Photo by Felicity Jenkins.

A couple of years ago the composer Jason Barabba told me I had to meet Julian Day. Julian’s an artist/composer/writer/broadcaster from Sydney, and he just happens to be in Los Angeles this week participating in the closing night of Synchromy and Boston Court’s DuoFest and interviewing people like Henry Rollins (we’ll get to that). Ahead of tonight’s event, we had a minute to catch up with both of them.

How did the two of you meet?

Julian: It was an unlikely venue – a 13th century monastery in Tuscany. But we were as areligious then as we both are now.

Jason: It was the Cortona Sessions for New Music in 2011, an excellent new music festival bringing composers and performers together for performance and way too much eating of stunning food. I remember telling Julian he sounded British to me and not Australian, and he gave me that look that people give Americans when they don’t know how to respond to us.

Julian, what are you doing here in LA? I know you’re a composer, but I’d heard something about interviewing US musicians about their politics…

Julian: I’m jaunting around the country interviewing musicians about politics in the age of Trump. So far here I’ve caught up with hardcore punk legend Henry Rollins and UCLA scholar Shana L. Redmond. But my main task is to dust off my turntables to play in Ludwig Van, a music theatre work composed by Mauricio Kagel for Beethoven’s 200th birthday in 1970. It’s a riotous piece that you simply can’t miss – you may not hear it again for another 47 years.

Tell me about the piece.

Composer Jason Barabba

Composer Jason Barabba

Jason: Kagel’s Ludwig Van has always been a bucket-list piece for me. In my circle I’m fairly well known for having a bit of an antipathy for Beethoven, and so it makes sense that I should be involved in a new music concert that is all about Ludwig. Kagel’s score is the centerpiece of the night, surrounded by works by Ludwig himself, as well as John Corigliano and Clarence Barlow. We’re having an absurd amount of fun with it. The thing about the Kagel is, you can do almost anything you want, as long as Beethoven is the source. In some ways it makes it easy, but in many ways it is significantly more work than presenting a normal score. But, I’ve always wanted to do it, and we’re grateful to Boston Court for giving us the space and the support to put it on. Expect a disco ball, Julian on turntables with my complete set of Beethoven on vinyl, and a stage full of mind-blowingly-excellent musicians.

Julian: Jason isn’t the only one with a funny thing for Beethoven. I think he’s been a complex touchpoint for many composers over the past century – too willful, too bombastic, too ‘genuis’ – and it’s time we reclaim his obsessive, brilliant and dramatic ouevre and basically luxuriate in it.

How have the other DuoFest events been?

DuoFest has been a big step forward for Synchromy, and we’re enjoying the chance to try so many things out in one week. We brought along four duos that are either already collaborators us, or are people we have always wanted to work with; Aronson-Valitutto, Panic Duo, Aperture Duo and Autoduplicity. They have all shared the stage this week, and I’m just so pleased with how great they’ve all been to work with. We’ve premiered a few pieces: a gorgeous work by Andrew Tholl and a great new violin and piano piece from Juhi Bansal, and I wrote a new piece for Aperture Duo and Autoduplicity and a pair of singers. It’s a 6 and a half minute opera called Any Excuse Will Serve a Tyrant.

Would you like to share anything about the opera?

Jason: I had an idea for a piece for the Aperture Duo, and we were going to do that, but this year I suddenly felt like I had to compose pieces that were in some way dealing with the world (political/social/environmental) that we find ourselves dealing with. I needed to do something that made some manner of statement. I felt like one of the things we need is to remember how to be part of a society, and how to treat the people around us, so I thought back to the old Aesop Fables, and found The Wolf and the Lamb fit the bill perfectly. Since we had Aperture sharing a program with Autoduplicity, I brought in two singers that I love to write for, Baritone Scott Graff and soprano Justine Aronson to be my Wolf and Lamb, and I couldn’t be more happy with the result. They were stupdendous, under the baton of Geoffrey Pope and directed by the awesome June Carryl.

Julian, with your musicopolitical reporting, what was your take on the piece?

Julian: It’s really clever. Fundamentally it’s a beautifully scored vignette that combines comedy and pathos with dramatic flair. By using a very old fable Jason can also comment, with historical distance, on the turbulent politics the States is currently experiencing. I strongly urge my good colleague to set more Aesop fables to music as he’s a natural.

What are you both working on now that people can look forward to?

Julian:I’m working on an album-length composition for London pianist Zubin Kanga using electronics and theatrical staging, as well as a 24-hour choral piece which will premiere in Sydney in early September. And adjusting my crazy sleep patterns.

Jason: I just finished a commission for playwright Tom Jacobson’s new play, and am planning to take a short sabbatical from composing while I decide what needs to be said next. I hope to be able to create an entire set of Aesop micro-operas in the coming year, because Tyrant was way more fun to do than should be allowed. Once DuoFest is over, Synchromy will start making plans for the upcoming year, and we’ve got some very cool things on the table.

Tickets for Ludwig Van are available at bostoncourt.com/events/333/duofest-night-8-finale-ludwig-van.

An interview with Brightwork newmusic’s cellist, Maggie Parkins

brightwork

brightwork

Brightwork newmusic (Sara Andon – flute, Aron Kallay – piano, Maggie Parkins – cello, Nick Terry – percussion, Tereza Stanislav – violin, and Brian Walsh – clarinet), joined by soprano Stacey Fraser, will be performing an eclectic set of works by Southern California composers on June 27 at Monk Space. I had the chance to hear some of Maggie Parkins’ thoughts about the upcoming concert and more:  

The program includes a diverse set of works by Southern California composers. Can you tell us about your experience with these works? What do you hope to convey to the audience? 

We are very excited to present these pieces by LA composers at Monk Space. We have performed all the works on the concert before, which is fantastic. Doing repeat performances of a new work is a great way for us to go deeper into the piece. Of course, the better you know a piece the easier it is to bring to life the composer’s vision. It is also more fun to present things you are familiar with because you can let go more in performance. It is great to play works by local composers because it strengthens our already burgeoning new music community. Also, you find yourself developing a bond with the composers that can last for years.

On the program are works by William Kraft, Chris Cerrone, Shaun Naidoo, Pamela Madsen, and Tom Flaherty (whose piece, Internal States,is a Brightwork commission). Have you worked with these composers before? What is the process usually like between the composer and performers when commissioning a new work for the ensemble? 

We performed William Kraft’s Kaleidoscope at the annual Hear Now Festival a few years ago. Bill coached us before that performance. This is the second piece by Chris Cerrone we have performed. Last season we played the Night Mare with guest violist Cynthia Fogg. It’s great to collaborate with top notch guest artists! Soprano Stacey Fraser will join us for this concert on i will learn to love a person. She is a friend of the band and is amazing to work with. Shaun Naidoo of course was a dear friend of both percussionist Nick Terry and pianist Aron Kallay. It is still hard to believe that he passed away so suddenly five years ago. He was a larger than life fixture on the new music scene for years. His raucous energy lives on in his music, and we are honored to keep his memory alive by performing his music. In Pamela Madsen’s piece, Why Women Weep, for cello and electronics, I recorded myself speaking a text provided by the composer that I then play along with. I get to be my own accompaniment! Internal States is vintage Tom Flaherty; gorgeous lush harmonies, biting wit, rhythmically intricate ‘dancing’ figures. It’s a blast to play.

Brightwork newmusic is known for performing cutting-edge music from emerging composers, as well as classics from 20thcentury literature. What do you find similar/contrasting between these two areas? 

The great thing about playing new music is the ability to work ‘hands on’ with the composer. Getting feedback and working through performance issues makes realizing their piece in front of their eyes a very satisfying process. The classics are like milestones; performing them is an honor. It’s like living with a piece of history when you perform a piece that has stood the test of time to become a cherished work.

Any future projects on the horizon you’d like to share? 

The most exciting thing we have coming up is a recording project featuring three of the pieces on this concert!

Check out Tuesdays at Monk Space for more information about the upcoming concert on June 27. 

Video Exclusive: Daniel Bjarnason on Qui Tollis

A few months ago we heard the premiere of Daniel Bjarnason‘s Qui Tollis at the LA Phil’s Noon To Midnight festival (review here). Tomorrow, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet brings the piece back to LA at the release concert for their album BEYOND. In the third of our series of exclusive videos, Daniel and the members of the quartet discuss the work.

Beyond that, Daniel was kind enough to answer a few questions:

In the video about Qui Tollis, LAPQ member Nick Terry describes it as having a combination of serenity and brute power. I’d say that about a lot of your other work too, particularly Emergence, which also came out recently. Is that balance something you actively strive for, or does it happen almost on its own as a result of your voice and taste?

I would say it is something that is a part of my own voice, like you say, and having realized that I don’t really fight against it but am aware of it. Sometimes I want to emphasize that characteristic and sometimes not.

You mentioned looking to other percussion works for inspiration on this one. Are there any particular inspirations, or pieces you discovered while listening, that readers can also check out?

I would like to mention one piece in particular that I completely fell in love with which is The So Called Laws of Nature by David Lang.

What excited you most about working on this piece with LAPQ?

I felt that they were really willing to go the extra mile to bring the piece to life. Apart from being fantastic musicians they have a wonderfully curious and positive attitude. For example the idea of using electronic triggers was entirely theirs and I thought it worked great.

You’ve been doing a lot in LA lately. What attracts you to the scene here? What’s different about it from Reykjavik or the other places where you are most active?

I’ve had the great fortune of developing a relationship with the LA Phil and I continue to work with them regularly which is an absolute privilege and joy. I have also worked the Calder quartet which is LA based and have been in touch with many other wonderful musicians and artists in the city. I find that there is this energy and curiosity in LA and a general willingness to experiment that I find invigorating. In some ways it reminds me of Reykjavik in that there is a feeling of everything being possible. I think that is what is attracting so many artists to the city now.

Reserve your tickets to tomorrow’s free concert, as well as a copy of the CD, at LAPQ.org. You can check out videos about the work with LAPQ by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Andrew McIntosh here and here.

Video Exclusive: Anna Thorvaldsdottir on Aura

Yesterday we premiered The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet‘s video with Andrew McIntosh about his piece I Hold The Lion’s Paw, from their forthcoming album Beyond. Today we’ve got composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir discussing her piece Aura.

The record is out on Friday, and LAPQ is playing a free album release show at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute that night at 7:30. The album and concert include music by Christopher Cerrone, composer of The Industry’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Invisible Cities; Daniel Bjarnason, who was recently featured in the LA Phil’s Reykjavík Festival; and rising LA composer Ellen Reid. The evening will also include video and surround-sound audio samples of works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Andrew McIntosh, plus a demonstration of an immersive virtual reality video of Cerrone’s L.I.E. from his Memory Palace, heard on the new album.

Come back tomorrow for our video and interview with Daniel Bjarnarson, and pick up the album and concert tickets at lapq.org.

Video Exclusive: Andrew McIntosh on I Hold The Lion’s Paw

The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet‘s next album, Beyond, drops on Friday, and they’re playing a free album release show at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute that night at 7:30. The album and concert include music by Christopher Cerrone, composer of The Industry’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Invisible Cities; Daniel Bjarnason, who was recently featured in the LA Phil’s Reykjavík Festival; and rising LA composer Ellen Reid. The evening will also include video and surround-sound audio samples of works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Andrew McIntosh, plus a demonstration of an immersive virtual reality video of Cerrone’s L.I.E. from his Memory Palace, heard on the new album.

LAPQ gave us permission to premiere three composer interview videos they did, and we’ll have them up today, tomorrow, and Thursday ahead of the concert and release. To start, here’s composer Andrew McIntosh and members of the quartet discussing his piece I Hold The Lion’s Paw

Album and concert details are at lapq.org.

Meet Kristen Klehr, the BEAR behind the Festival MARS and more

Kristen Klehr is a name I’ve seen related to so, so many concerts in LA, but never onstage. We became friends over a shared “I run into you at everything, what are you doing here?” sense of curiosity. The short answer is that she produces events and helps run ensembles. We cover a lot of performers and composers on New Classic LA, and thought it would be interesting to talk to the people who put those performers and composers onstage. So we’re starting that with Kristen, who recently founded her own production company, BEAR, and is collaborating to put on the MARS Festival, which starts tonight. Here we go:

Kristen Klehr. Photo by Francesco Desmaele 2016​.

Kristen Klehr. Photo by Francesco Desmaele 2016​.

When we met you had just moved to LA, and had most recently been producing the ​n​ief-​n​orf festival in ​Greenville, SC​. What brought you out here?

Ha! Honestly, it was on a whim! I had finished with Cabrillo Fest up in Santa Cruz, actually was expecting to wind up in SF, but I thought, “well, I don’t need to go back to New York or Cleveland yet, and I finished my master’s, so I’m not heading back to Florida, hmm, might as well go explore?!” …and so I road-tripped down the 1 with a violinist friend that had a session in LA after Cabrillo, crashed on a friend’s couch – as the typical LA transplant does apparently – and let life unfold!

As I understand it you did some work for Kaleidoscope to their next stage, and then founded BEAR to run your own productions. Since then I’ve seen the name on a few collaborations, like the ones with Kensington Presents at the ​Viaduct. Your next one is with the MARS Festival, starting on April 14. Tell me about the festival.

Oh, it is super exciting – a ten-day long music, arts, and technology festival in the Arts District – partnered with Art Share LA and Angel City Brewery – featuring some truly killer artists and innovators – totally rad talent – I mean, what could be better?!​

I don’t mean for this question to come off as confrontational, more like curious. I had heard rumblings about the festival before you were attached. What does BEAR bring to the groups you collaborate with?

I think BEAR has a unique advantage, the musician/performer perspective in combination with a production focus. Being able to think about creative solutions for projects and innovative concert designs is what sparks me, and I LOVE when organizations get to thrive from a slightly more streamlined experience. Funny enough, I’ve found my hands in a good amount of organizations that are either in their inaugural year or looking to take growing steps forward; I didn’t set out to purposefully help young non-profits launch or grow, but I do like to think about how I can help strengthen their missions, encourage new connections or exposures within their communities, and honestly ease some of the workload off of them – that is a producer’s job after all, to dial in focused productivity while not letting anything slip through the cracks. Easier said than done of course, but it’s my hope that BEAR brings to the table an ability for the founders or directors to focus on the artistic direction and design (while I love doing that as well in my own projects), and to have to worry less about the delegation. When I see all the gears turning smoothly like a well oiled machine, I feel like I did my job.

There’s no shortage of great musicians and composers in town, but being able to produce an event is something special. What would you like to see improve, on average, about the ways groups present themselves? Phrased another way: what advice do you have for concert producers?

​ Hmm, well – what I’d like to see is a bit different than probably the advice I’d give for concert producers haha. Advice I’d give to other producers is a simple thought, but is so so important: that everything you have, do, and list in a line item budget or schedule, realistically has a body behind it. A physical person must be there – as simple a cue on a headset as, “lights to half, audio stand by, house out, and go: conductor” quite literally means: “there is a physical person that has to be cued to switch the lights to half, there is a team of people that did the stage lighting design prep and programming the week prior, there is a physical person that not only is standing by to turn the audio live but also another backstage prepping and handing the mic to the conductor, there might be a third audio engineer standing by to hit record or go live for radio broadcast (in communication with another human at the station!), and then not only is the conductor a physical person but there also was person that placed his/her music on the stand prior to the house even opening, etc. etc.” …or in a budget sense, “music rental” does not just mean that the music is magically there at rehearsal at X-amount of dollars, but that some BODY picked it up from the shipment, a different person probably wrote in bowing or cuts, another human submitted and paid for the ASCAP/BMI, an administrator organized and distributed the music to the correct musicians in instrumentation, and there are human beings playing said music of course. The point being, they’re all human. Treat people with respect, and account for things with an understanding that it requires a person to complete the task. I think things fall through the cracks when multiple people know that things have to happen, but they all think that someone else is handling it. And then it becomes a “he-said-she-said” scenario…which is never ideal! Staying clear about job responsibilities and communication is key, as well as treating people with kindness and gratitude – stressful times happen, but try to keep it in check as you work through it, and keep your eye on the prize – which is creating an awesome concert experience!

You’re also a percussionist. How does that figure in what you do as a producer? Do you ever feel internal conflict of interest?

Well, funny enough, a few friends have joked that because I have a percussionist’s brain, logistics have always been in the forefront of my planning and coordination​, which is super helpful for a producer of live concerts! ​​​Internal conflict with that topic doesn’t really happen too much anymore, other than that there are only 24 hours in a day, I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I enjoy doing both! I feel that if I was only a producer/entrepreneur or only a performing musician, I would feel a bit unsatisfied – both sides keep me balanced and moving me forward. More to the point, I can’t imagine not playing, or not dreaming up new creative endeavors, or producing cool shows – or working out haha – it’s just a part of what makes me, me – and I think if I cut out one side completely, the other side would suffer in quality.

Now that you’ve been in LA for a couple years, how does it measure up to your expectations?

Well, I’m not sure I had crazy high expectations, however I do feel that I’ve done a lot of random things in my life since moving here – things I never thought I’d get to experience. Like film sets, fitness adventures, new media-tech conventions, photo shoots, truly incredible live gigs, amazing recording sessions, meeting so many remarkable people that are also all about the hustle…and I’m so grateful for that! When I first arrived, my expectations were more centered on a pretty narrow mindset of an orchestral admin career path to be honest, and well, that has certainly taken a new turn for sure! But I see it as being all interconnected, so it’s not a bad thing. I will say, I think I’ve eaten more burritos since moving to LA than I have the entire history of my life prior! Taco stands here definitely exceeded my expectations hands down! So good.

What else in town are you excited about?

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m thrilled that you’re taking the time to ask me these questions! I think that as entrepreneurial initiatives keep emerging with musicians after they graduate from great music schools, even with great new programs or tracks with this focus branching out in conservatories, there’s still a bit of a haze in, “okay, but now what…and what if I want to do this?…but it’s not quite been done before…but I have this gut feeling I think I could do it…but what does that actually take?…what does that look like realistically?…”​ and I know for me it was so valuable to hear other people’s stories as to how they got to where they are now, as well as perspective/lessons learned along the way. I’m a huge advocate for strong arts admin tracks as well as “entrepreneurship for musicians” type classes to be growing at universities, because those people behind the scenes making it happen so that the musicians on the stage can perform great concerts are not two different people. They are often two sides of the same person, and it’s important to make resources available to them on both sides. Thanks!!

Get your Festival MARS tickets at festivalmars.com and follow Kristen’s continuing work at producedbybear.com.

Clarence Barlow on his music

Clarence Barlow at the Alphonse Mucha exhibit in Fullerton after the premiere of his piece, )ertur(, on January 28.

On April 8th, REDCAT will host a concert of composer Clarence Barlow’s works of the 21st century, including major ensemble, electronic and intermedia works. Tickets and info for that are at redcat.org/event/clarence-barlow. Full disclosure: I’m a student of Clarence’s, as is my friend Brandon Rolle, who interviewed him for UCSB’s website. The university kindly gave us permission to reprint that interview here ahead of this Saturday’s concert. Here are Brandon and Clarence:

Clarence Barlow is a composer and the Corwin Chair of Composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. While Barlow is recognized internationally for his contributions to electronic music and his pioneering work in algorithmic composition, his voluminous artistic output defies categorization, breaking boundaries of style, genre, and form. Recently, the dynamic and diverse output of Barlow’s career was celebrated by a three-day festival of his works in Cologne, Germany—a city that introduced Barlow to Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the avant-garde music of mid-20th-century Germany from which his distinct compositional trajectory launched. This year Southern California, too, celebrates his career and music: January 28th marked the premiere of his recent major intermedia piece )ertur( in Fullerton, CA, and February 24th saw a program of his early chamber works (from ages 14-22) at UCSB.

Many of your best-known works in the academic community are those which utilize algorithmic processes or your original software, but early on you were an active pianist and conductor and your compositions are markedly more romantic—can you talk a bit about your early musical experience/education?

Well as a young boy, age eight, I used to play in a school band in my then home town Calcutta. Then at the age of 11, I decided to make my own music, though I had no formal teaching. At 13, I got into a general classical mode and at age 15 I got into a historical style at more or less Haydn, Mozart, reaching Rachmaninoff at age 17. Then a music critic heard my stuff and told me I was too conservative, and that there was other music I should listen to—he played me Samuel Barber on the piano—and I did move on. But all of these pieces were written for regular classic acoustic ensembles. My first electronic music was written at age 24, so these early pieces from 50 years ago—of which there will be a concert here at UCSB—are all going to be in styles of Haydn, Mozart, Bartók, etc. There will be two string quartets, and a wind quartet sounding a bit like Prokofiev, or Hindemith. Those pieces are a natural outcome of the process of my historic music development through my teen years and early 20s.

How did that first computer piece at 24 come about?

As one of the few people in India—well, the only one—writing Western contemporary music, I got a scholarship to go to Germany to study composition there. After the interview I was told I could pack already, and it was through this scholarship that I ended up studying with Zimmerman and  Stockhausen. The Cologne school where I started my studies in 1968 was the place to study electronic music—it had the only electronic music studio in a school at the time. So that’s where I made my first electronic pieces at 23 (Studies) and my first serious electronic piece at 24 (Sinophony I), gradually easing myself unwittingly into the very avant-garde contemporary music scene in Cologne, where I found my roots. But all the same, I broke with rules of the avant-garde in crazy ways.

When I started to do computer music—I was 24—it was because I understood there were certain algorithmic things I wanted to do which could probably only be realized by a computer. I remember that at the end of 1972, I drove a night and a day to Stockholm where I worked for two weeks in a studio over the Christmas break making my piece Sinophony II. I realized, a computer could do anything I wanted it to do, if I learned to program it properly.

In your teaching and lectures you talk about algorithms as a means to an end, compositionally. In the beginning, were you primarily experimenting to find new sounds?

No, I knew what I wanted. I could imagine the first stages of the compositional process and said ‘okay, let me work on that and listen to it’. For instance, my piece …or a cherish’d bard… is written for piano, but it’s highly algorithmic. I computer-programmed a first version of the piece, listened to the result and thought ‘boring, what do I have to change?’ I moved my program in a new direction and thought the result was a lot better, but now this gave me new ideas, which changed the process further until I finally said ‘this is it’. I had my piece.

I can’t imagine everything at the beginning, but listening to test results always gives me new ideas. The imagination is always the carrot, and I am the horse following it, as it were. And this holds for my algorithmic piano, ensemble, and electronic music alike. My electronic music is inspired even in its timbre by algorithms—someone told me recently that there is no such thing as algorithmic timbral composition; I said that isn’t true, I do it all the time.

Composer Clarence Barlow

Composer Clarence Barlow

A major component of your teaching, writing, and composing are your theories on tonal and metric functions as a continuum.

I came to Germany at age 22 writing conservative early 20th century music. But at the age of 24 my style broke completely and I became radical. My piano piece Textmusic was unlike anything I had done before; it was accorded a 20-minute response from the audience at Darmstadt—boos and applause; it was one of the big scandals of Darmstadt that year. From then on I was no longer writing in any historical style, unless I wanted to deliberately.

At 29, I first imagined a variably tonal music, not as in the past where it was simply tonal or semi tonal or atonal—I wanted tonality to go from 0% to 100% and back. It became clear that if I wanted to make this variable tonality—and variable metricity—that I had to develop a theoretical fundament. So I got into prime number theory, looked at Pythagoras and Euler and found my way through algebraic formulae which I programmed all summer in Cologne at the Institute of Phonetics. That is how these formulae became the cornerstone of a lot of my work.

Why was it important to be able to move between tonal/atonal styles as a parameter or variable?

One of my great heroes in literature is James Joyce. He absorbed culture into his work, which is not only fantastic literature but is also a commentary on culture. Looking at music culture of the past—tonal, atonal—I wanted to use all of that. I saw tonality as a kind of magnetic field, the strength of which I wanted to change at will. Joyce often writes in historic styles with a twist—I do that too, in my derived music. But in my algorithmic music I also conjure up and generate styles which might or might not make you remember past history.

What about the incorporation of extra-musical elements into your music? 

I have been synesthetically oriented for most of my life. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it, but I’ve always been very interested in the visual. And language—when learning German at 22, I discovered my great love of language. So I think it is because I love all these things that I start to perceive bridges between them and music.

As a composer for both fixed media and human performers, what is it that you look for in a performance of your acoustic work?

For me it is important to listen to the result—now the humanly played result may not be 100% accurate as in a MIDI rendition, but if it were, it would be without soul. A great human performance has expression, phrasing, nuances. If it comes across as something fresh, something with musical spirit, then I’m happy.

Then do you find it problematic for electronic music that it lacks such human “spirit”?

No, it’s not a problem. It is like being in a planetarium, looking at exact moments in time, exactly placed, with exact frequencies.

Like much modern music, your compositions can be challenging to listen to for many people. Is there ever temptation to adjust the musical language to make the concept more accessible?

I don’t need to be accessible. I believe in the grand body of culture we have behind us, and in the propagation and extension of it. You cannot make it accessible to everyone. You don’t doctor art to propagate it. I love James Joyce: should Joyce have written in a simpler style to be more accessible? I believe very strongly you stick to your guns, you do what you have to do.

So what would you suggest to a listener in order get the most out of your music? Out of modern music in general?

I would say first of all, frequency of listening is very important. You have to listen often. You’ve got to go to lots of events, you’ve got to have an open mind. Get to know the music.

We couldn’t agree with that more. Check out Clarence’s music at REDCAT on Saturday at 7. Tickets and more information are up at redcat.org/event/clarence-barlow

Pianist Sarah Cahill on Lou Harrison

It’s Lou Harrison’s 100th birthday! (Well, almost.) San Francisco-based pianist Sarah Cahill will be joining LA’s own Varied Trio (Shalini Vijayan, violin, Aron Kallay, piano, and Yuri Inoo, percussion) at Monk Space on April 4 to celebrate, performing a variety of Harrison’s works. I had the opportunity to ask Cahill some questions about the upcoming concert and more. Here is Sarah:

Pianist Sarah Cahill

Pianist Sarah Cahill

You’ll be performing several solo piano works by Lou Harrison at Monk Space, including Jig, Range-Song, Dance for Lisa Karon, Conductus from Suite, and Summerfield Set. Can you tell us bit about these works? Also, what are your thoughts about Lou Harrison’s music in general?

Even though Lou Harrison said “Equal temperament destroys everything,” and was far more fascinated by just intonation and other tunings, he wrote some extraordinary music for the equal tempered piano (which describes basically all modern pianos).  His Jig and Range-Song have been played only rarely, if at all, since he wrote them in 1939.  He was 22 years old, studying with Henry Cowell, who was in San Quentin at the time.  In these pieces, he evokes Cowell with his chord cluster techniques.  There’s a third piece from this set called Reel, and it’s sometimes called Reel for Henry Cowell.  That gets played a lot, as opposed to Jig and Range-Song.  Dance for Lisa Karon is a year earlier, from 1938, and the manuscript was discovered just a few years ago in someone’s house in San Francisco. Conductus is from the Suite which Lou Harrison wrote when he was studying with Arnold Schoenberg, and it resembles Schoenberg’s own Suite in that it uses a twelve-tone row but is not strictly twelve-tone. Summerfield Set is an exuberant three-movement work from 1988, and it’s the Lou Harrison we know and love, with dance rhythms and singable tunes. It’s dedicated to the keyboardist Susan Summerfield.

What do you find most compelling about commissioning and performing new works?

I love the surprise of receiving a new score, of bringing a piece of music to life and knowing it’s going to enter the repertoire and be interpreted by countless other pianists (after I have lots of time with it!).  It’s exciting to explore a piece of music that’s completely unknown territory.  And I love working with living composers, the exchange of ideas, the whole process of developing a piece and working towards a premiere or a recording.

What initially drew you to the piano, and what are your favorite (and/or least favorite) aspects about being a pianist?

I was initially drawn to the piano by a charismatic and beautiful teacher named Sharon Mann who is a Bach specialist. Because of her, playing Bach was everything to me.  My least favorite aspect of being a pianist is the pressure of trying to learn a piece fast when ideally it should be given a year or two.  My favorite part of being a pianist is immersing myself in practicing all day long, which is a luxury, and that feeling in performance that someone else is playing and I’m just listening– when the music seems to play itself.  One other thing I find exciting is getting to the point where I know a composer’s work so well that I can identify mistakes in the score.

Do you ever compose? If not, what kind of composer do you think you would be?

I would be a terrible composer.  I love the whole process of interpreting.

Tickets for the April 4 concert, co-presented by Tuesdays at Monk Space and MicroFest, are available here