First Take

Second Take: Andrew McIntosh and Melinda Rice on Bonnie and Clyde

Two years ago we interviewed composer Andrew McIntosh about his opera-in-progress, Bonnie and Clyde, before the first reading of a few excerpts at The Industry and Wild Up’s 2015 First Take program. Tonight in inaugurates the first ever Second Take, with a complete performance of the work. Andrew and his librettist and partner Melinda Rice somehow had time to answer questions in this week leading up to the premiere, which is at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre tonight at 7.

Bonnie and Clyde made an appearance in the first edition of First Take back in 2015. The Industry is now inaugurating Second Take with a full concert performance of the piece. Obviously there are more scenes and more music, but could you tell us what’s changed about the opera since First Take 2015? Did that reading alter your original conception of the piece? How did it influence writing the rest of it?

Melinda Rice, Andrew McIntosh, and the rest of their family. Photo by Kat Nockels.

Melinda Rice, Andrew McIntosh, and the rest of their family. Photo by Kat Nockels.

Melinda: Andrew and I have discussed this a lot.

In the excerpt of this opera performed at First Take in 2015, Bonnie and Clyde are on the edges of the story, both literally (singing from behind the audience) and in the narrative.

I felt their absence in First Take. I believed that we had created space for seeing other characters. But as I continued to work on the libretto, selecting the stories that I wanted to tell out of all of the stories that have been written down concerning them and their affects on others, Bonnie and Clyde crept back into the libretto, and back onto the stage.

In a vocal workshop of what was meant to be the full opera in mid 2016, I still felt that Clyde, and to some degree Bonnie, were missing, so I apologized to Andrew, who had thought his work in creating new material for this opera was coming to a close, and said that I wanted to write more for them. Scene 11, among other things, came out of that conversation.

Andrew, I heard you once say that you didn’t mind if audiences didn’t like your music, but that you cared a lot about what the people playing it felt. Is that sentiment the same with opera, in which there is – at least in many cases – a plot and staging that needs to communicate with a viewer?

Andrew: I’m hesitant to engage with this question, since I don’t remember the original context and I’m not sure it’s a statement I would necessarily stand behind. Also, I do have a tendency to frame ideas provocatively in conversation in ways that I often wouldn’t write down.

What I can say is that I do care quite a lot about the way performers feel while playing my music. I take extreme care to make the notation as clear as possible, solve issues like page turns, making sure the musicians have all the information they need during long rests, enough time for instrument changes, etc. Also, it is my goal to write with a kind of radical clarity, so that even if there’s only one note then it’s a note that requires love and affection from the performer and that it has some particular quality to it that they can engage with. There aren’t any throw-away notes in my music – every single one of them counts for something and asks the performers to engage critically in some way. Thus, it’s important to me to create something the performers will care about and invest in, since their parts are often exposed and transparent, even in a setting like Bonnie and Clyde where there are 27 people on stage.

1. Consider Bach’s Musical Offering or Art of the Fugue. They were completely theoretical exercises. He wrote the music because he was interested in exploring certain ideas in an almost absurdly focused, deep, and abstract way, to the point that he didn’t even specify what instruments were to play – it’s just abstract harmonies, counterpoint, and rhythms. He certainly wasn’t imaging what audiences might think or care about, yet that music continues to be performed and loved and evolve centuries later. If he had written only for a particular audience in some town in 18th-century Germany then perhaps the music wouldn’t have ended up as radical, iconic, and powerful as it did. I suppose the Musical Offering was written partly as a challenge from Frederick the Great, but I don’t know whether Bach expected the work to actually be played or not.

2. I have many small pieces that I’ve written for friends. One of those is the Symmetry Etudes, a set of eight pieces composed between 2009 and 2012 for Jim Sullivan and Brian Walsh (both of whom are playing in Bonnie and Clyde, incidentally). I wrote them simply as little experiments for us to play together in Jim’s living room for fun, not even for an audience at all. Yet, one of those pieces was the first work of mine to be played in Disney Hall, since John Adams happened to come across it and decided to include it on a concert. If I had been composing for Disney Hall I certainly would have written a different piece, and chances are that it wouldn’t have had whatever quality the Symmetry Etude had that made John select the piece for the concert. I don’t know.

3. The longer I live the less I trust my own judgment about other people’s music or art. I am fully aware that I can hear something and have a strong negative reaction the first time, yet completely embrace it the next time I hear it. In the past I’ve written off whole genres of music thinking that I didn’t value them, and then later realized that it is some of my absolute favorite music to listen to (eg. opera). If my own tastes fluctuate that much, how could I expect a whole audience to react or engage in any kind of predictable way? All I can do is write sounds that I love, try to write for the instruments or singers to the best of my ability, write in a way that asks them to engage intensely, and attempt to do so with the clearest voice I can find. If that resonates with people who listen then I will be overjoyed and grateful, but I also understand that I am never going to please everyone in a room, nor am I going to attempt to. Much of the music I love to listen to myself would probably have a somewhat polarizing effect on many audiences. If it speaks with intensity and clarity then it’s probably going to rub someone the wrong way at some point.

Melinda, I know you as a musician, but before this project didn’t know your work as a writer. Did you study formally? Or is Bonnie and Clyde a sort of first creative foray into writing?

Melinda: First, thank you for mentioning my work as a musician. I appreciate that.

This is my first libretto. I did release an album in 2016 with some of my original lyrics on it, words that I had been working on in 2013-14. I also studied fiction and non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, as well as writing in the context of film. And at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, I was a writing minor (you could do that there, which was a pleasure).

I often worry that my desire for the accoutrements of writing (the reflection, the imagining, the words, the reading of words, the editing of words, and the physical feeling of a paperback in my hands) is stronger than the concepts I have to communicate. But on the topic of Bonnie and Clyde I have made myself comfortable through reading the words of many people affected by the couple, and the ideas in this opera that have come through that process have felt necessary to share.

Andrew, in our first interview before First Take two years ago, you said you “feel that working with words and voices has unlocked something in my writing that I have been trying to find for a long time…I don’t know where it will lead, but I have a feeling that all the work I’ve been doing with singers over the past year will have a significant impact on the future of my writing.” Now that you’ve been at it a while, can you discuss a bit about where that has led?

Andrew: Ha! I still don’t know where it will lead. I’m not in the right space yet to answer this question. I don’t usually understand what I’ve done in a composition until a year or two after it’s finished. Working extensively with singers definitely changed my musical language quite substantially, but I don’t think I could articulate the nature of the change right now. So, ask me again in 2018…

As a wife and husband creative team, how has work on this project made its way into other parts of your lives, or has your relationship made its way into working? Has there been a separation between work and life, so to speak?

Melinda: I don’t know how other people’s relationships work, how much they talk about work, how much they talk about hobbies, how much they talk about ideas. For Andrew and I and this project, we would make dates to work on the opera, and we would sometimes even leave our home and walk somewhere for the meeting, so that we were really clear in our focus. But once an idea became interesting to us and was developing, our conversations about the opera would become a big part of our lives together. It felt important, so we discussed it a lot. I don’t think either of us ever felt like we didn’t want to talk about it when the other one brought it up.

What about tonight’s performance has you most excited?

Melinda: It is an honor to get to share this opera with these musicians with an audience tonight. I am terrified and excited to feel how it is received with an audience. And I am excited that my parents are here.

Andrew: Hearing the incredible talents of the musicians on stage, hearing the whole thing in one fell swoop, listening while knowing that my family has traveled from far-away corners of the country to be here and see what the little brother is up to.

We here at New Classic LA cannot wait to hear Bonnie and Clyde tonight at Second Take. Full details on the concert are up at theindustryla.org/projects/bonnie-and-clyde. Thanks to all of the composers who did interviews this week for First Take as well – you can read all of them at newclassic.la/firsttake.

First Take: John Hastings on The Former World

The 2017 edition of The Industry and wild Up’s First Take is right around the corner. On February 24, the world’s most audacious opera company presents scenes from works-in-progress by six composers. Full details on that are up at theindustryla.org/projects/first-take-2017. Over here at New Classic LA, we’ll repeat our tradition of one composer interview per day in the week leading up to it. You can read all of the interviews – including the 2015 interviews – at newclassic.la/firsttake.

Today we’ve got composer John P. Hastings discussing his work The Former World.

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

Composer John Hastings

Composer John Hastings

The Former World is a multi-media essay on ‘deep time’, geologic history, the environment, humanity, and the artist. The work uses two focal points: the life and writings of the artist Robert Smithson (famous for his land art work, Spiral Jetty) and the writer John McPhee’s tome on American geologic history, Annals of the Former World. For me, the piece began as a process to tie together the vast expanses of time used in geology with the life of the artist. How can humans comprehend these large spans of time? Coupled with the idea of human involved degradation of the environment, the work endeavors to focus on what we leave behind, what Robert Smithson called “ruins in reverse.”

The project has several components:

      1. An acoustic guitarist performing fractured, faux-Americana styled improvisations
      2. A violin duo performing highly ordered microtonal pitches.
      3. Sub-bass frequencies articulating slow movement.
      4. 4 performers delivering a multitude of text (including parts of an essay by Robert Smithson and selections from Augustine’s Confessions) using a variety of operations.
      5. Mobile boomboxes that play back field recordings made from different locations throughout the United States.
      6. A two-channel video, detailing geologic history and the human intervention on the landscape along Interstate 80, from New York City to San Francisco.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

Writing for voice, or opera for that matter, was not something that I was initially keen. However, as I have developed in my compositional life, I have come to the realization that text can explicate certain ideas that instrumental music can only approximate. The ability to further the musical work through words obviously makes complete sense. Starting with Sonic Baptism (2014), written for my newborn son, I wanted to include text that had special significance. The idea of layering text on a musical setting is something that I have included in my last several pieces.

Does your composition process change at all when writing in this medium?

I would not necessarily say that my process changes when writing for opera; whenever I am putting together a work I always try to leave open the door to whatever ideas and thoughts might come in. However, when working a piece this large, with so many parts, there does appear to be more opportunities for different tangents and threads to come into play. Because of that, the process has been longer, included more research, and has incorporated many more concepts than I originally started with. This has definitely been to the benefit of the piece and as I continue to work on The Former World I am sure that there will be even more to include.

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

Along with The Former World, which will probably take some time to complete and go into production, I am beginning the process of a long-form work that features solo trombone. This will also be another multi media project and will focus on the city of Los Angeles through its different built ecologies, as the architectural critic Reyner Banham described them. I am really looking forward to digging into the piece and taking the time to investigate Los Angeles and the different peoples that live in such a dynamic urban environment.

That’s it for First Take interviews this year, but check back tomorrow for an interview with Andrew McIntosh, whose Bonnie and Clyde, with librettist Melinda Rice, is slated for the first ever SECOND TAKE the very next day. Get your First Take tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/first-take-2017-and-second-take-bonnie-clyde-tickets-27916364598. See you tonight.

First Take: William Gardiner on All Is For The Best

The 2017 edition of The Industry and wild Up’s First Take is right around the corner. On February 24, the world’s most audacious opera company presents scenes from works-in-progress by six composers. Full details on that are up at theindustryla.org/projects/first-take-2017. Over here at New Classic LA, we’ll repeat our tradition of one composer interview per day in the week leading up to it. You can read all of the interviews – including the 2015 interviews – at newclassic.la/firsttake.

Today we’ve got composer William Gardiner discussing his work with Thomas Rawle, All Is For The Best.

Composer William Gardiner

Composer William Gardiner

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

Our piece is an animated video opera called ALL IS FOR THE BEST. It consists of an animated film with music in close sync. We wrote the music and conceptualized it together, while I took care of the orchestration and Thomas did the animation. However it was a close collaboration and we talked about every element together. In this piece we wanted to give primacy to the directness and emotiveness of music and moving images. Both music and images have a special ability to be abstract and vague yet expressively dense and specific, and we were interested in trying to make a piece in which this quality of music and image is the life-force of the piece. Thematically, the piece is politically engaged–in some ways it could be thought of as a modern descendant of Voltaire’s Candide–but its modus operandi is not particularly verbal or literal, and we hope that causes the audience to have take an active role in interpreting it.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

This is my first opera project, though I have written a piece for soprano and early music ensemble before. In terms of my relationship to opera, it’s probably worth mentioning that I grew up listening to baroque opera/Bach’s passions, and later became interested in songcraft in rock music. Thomas has more experience in writing for voice in that he has spent the majority of his career as a singer and songwriter. He performs and records under the moniker DRELLER and has released music through Terrible Records (US) and Goodbye Records (UK).

Did your composition process change at all when writing in this medium?

Hopefully it did not change very much. We tried to bring image, music, and singing together in a way that retains or even amplifies what we love about those things, rather than having them make compromises in order to fit together. However, working in a very fluid, multi-artform collaboration was really challenging (in a good way) and we’ve pushed each other further than we thought we could go.

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

Next up for me is a cello concerto. Thomas is about to make the next DRELLER release, which is going to be four tracks with accompanying video art.

Check back tomorrow for our next interview, and get your First Take tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/first-take-2017-and-second-take-bonnie-clyde-tickets-27916364598.

First Take: Marc Lowenstein on The Little Bear

The 2017 edition of The Industry and wild Up’s First Take is right around the corner. On February 24, the world’s most audacious opera company presents scenes from works-in-progress by six composers. Full details on that are up at theindustryla.org/projects/first-take-2017. Over here at New Classic LA, we’ll repeat our tradition of one composer interview per day in the week leading up to it. You can read all of the interviews – including the 2015 interviews – at newclassic.la/firsttake.

Today we’ve got composer, conductor, and Industry music director Marc Lowenstein.

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

The work I’m presenting at First Take is an excerpt from a new opera called The Little Bear. It’s an opera about the power of children’s stories and what those fairy tales can reveal about the psychology of time, change, loss, and love. So it’s a family opera: not really a children’s opera, though hopefully understandable by older children. In this wonderfully re-invigorated era of new operas, I’ve noticed that there are not many works being written about or for families and I am very drawn to the subject and the challenge it presents in bringing those themes to the operatic musical stage.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

Marc Lowenstein. Photo by Eron Rauch.

Marc Lowenstein. Photo by Eron Rauch.

I grew up as a singer and later became a conductor and a composer and finally a teacher as well. So, I’ve always lived in and around the operatic world. I wrote an opera about ten years ago based on the movie The Fisher King, and it was a good learning experience. Someone somewhere once said something like “everyone should be forgiven their first opera” and I still feel fondly about that one, and think of it as a learning experience. And I’ve always been interested in new operas, and feel very fortunate to work as Music Director of The Industry with Yuval. At The Industry, I’ve worked with a wonderful array of composers with different approaches to opera and I love seeing wildly differing effective ideas of how to bring music and drama to life in our present day. I particularly enjoy seeing other composers frame their individual voices in this world of amazingly diverse musical styles, and I’m enjoying the process of finding the right compositional voice for The Little Bear.

Does your composition process change at all when writing in this medium?

Not really. A lot of my non-operatic music is in fact a bit operatic. One thing, though, about writing opera is a slight uncertainty as to how all the pieces really do fit together in real life: in an actual, staged opera there seems to be a need for some accommodation for how dramatic storytelling contributes to and shapes the perception of musical time. That is a fun conversation to find oneself in the middle of, and one great thing about First Take is that it can show you relatively early in the process what in that dialog is merely theoretical and what might actually work.

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

I’m already expanding the Little Bear a little bit for a concert at REDCAT on April 6th that will also include a solo cantata for Jodie Landau and the premiere of a cello concerto for Derek Stein. And then there is the rest of The Industry’s exciting 2017 season that will include Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar with the LA Phil Green Umbrella series and the premiere of Andy Akiho’s and Yuval Sharon’s Galileo in September, two projects that I feel particularly passionate about!

Check back tomorrow for our next interview, and get your First Take tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/first-take-2017-and-second-take-bonnie-clyde-tickets-27916364598.

First Take: Dylan Mattingly on Stranger Love

The 2017 edition of The Industry and wild Up’s First Take is right around the corner. On February 24, the world’s most audacious opera company presents scenes from works-in-progress by six composers. Full details on that are up at theindustryla.org/projects/first-take-2017. Over here at New Classic LA, we’ll repeat our tradition of one composer interview per day in the week leading up to it. You can read all of the interviews – including the 2015 interviews – at newclassic.la/firsttake.

Today we’ve got Dylan Mattingly.

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

Stranger Love is an opera in three acts. At roughly five hours long, with 8 singers, 6 dancers, and an orchestra built on the engine of three microtonal pianos, the music of Stranger Love is like an elemental force, offering world-sized visions of the disparate ecstasies of a human life on earth, from the gentle falling of snow to a gospel revival, and the vertigo of looking into the stars.

Drawing inspiration from Plato’s Symposium, Stranger Love presents both a love story, and the story of love, in various dimensions. Act I is the tale of Tasha and André, lovers who—like Orpheus & Eurydice, Heloise & Abelard, Rick & Elsa—are brought together by chance, and whose brief, intense joy is soon threatened. Their story unfolds to the rhythm of the seasons: Spring is the encounter; Summer, the unfolding; Autumn, the threat from without; Winter, the threat from within. Act II re-frames the story: no longer individual, it is now, in the spirit of the comic poet Aristophanes, archetypical, and the action belongs to six dancers arranged in three pairs. The final act compresses seasonal time into a single instant: it is the vision of divine love—a love supreme—that Socrates attributes to the priestess Diotima.

Composer Dylan Mattingly

Composer Dylan Mattingly

Stranger Love is deliberately counter-cultural in scale. Given the persistent fragmentation of contemporary life into ever shorter temporal intervals, hectic distraction has become a default mode of our daily experience. Large-scale art forms provide a rare opportunity to encounter and dwell within a different temporality, a kind of “slow time” (Keats) in which attention is both dilated and focused. Through the collage and sequencing of music, lyric, dance, and scenography, Stranger Love endeavors to make this kind of uncommon experience possible.

The excerpt performed at First Take begins with a small introduction to the opening of the second act, and is followed by scenes 5 and 6 from the first act. These two scenes present vignettes from the end of Summer, as the light begins to wane. Scene 5 is set against the backdrop of a midsummer night’s stillness. Here, for the first time, André begins to recognize the transience of togetherness, the eventuality of loss. Tasha responds that “Delphinium, my darling, will bloom in late summer” — now is not yet the time for tears. As Scene 6 opens, the lovers share fragments of memory from the time before they knew one another. Through these recollected moments, they try to draw one another into the sacred narratives of their lives and to imagine a future together. Against a fading light, they celebrate together “the continuous life of you and me.”

Stranger Love is being written for the New York-based new music ensemble, Contemporaneous, which I co-founded in 2010 and of I am currently the executive and co-artistic director. Contemporaneous, called “ferocious and focused” by The New York Times, is an ensemble of 21 musicians who are dedicated to the commissioning and performance of the most exciting music of now.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

So much of the music that I love is sung. I think that’s likely true for a lot of people, and I’m attracted to the visceral power of the human voice. Something about being sung to signals to us that there is a connection taking place, that something is being felt simultaneously in you and me across the impermeable negative space that will ever distinguish us from each other.

While we often imagine Greek tragedy in an almost sterile environment, intoned in lugubrious waves of ethos, truly the experience of Oedipus, of The Oresteia, was a fundamentally musical event, a tremendously immersive show of music, dance, and poetry. In 2013, both my musical work and academic life (I have a B.A. in Classics, specializing in Ancient Greek from Bard College) aligned around the intricate and ecstatic musical tradition of Greek tragedy in the 5th century B.C. And while we imagine 70 attendees in a black box theater, the performance of tragedy in Athens was more like the Superbowl. Both the strange and beautiful patterns of the rhythm in Euripides’s words and the inherent unknowability of its true sound I find to be endlessly fascinating, and offered to me a wonderful vantage point from which I might imagine the role of the human voice in drama. Using this study as a point of departure, I wrote a large-scale work entitled The Bakkhai, which sets the seven choruses of Euripides’ terrifying and beautiful play to create my own entirely new personal and imaginary folk music. Work on Stranger Love has felt in some ways to be an extension of this communal and effervescent vocal tradition, and is as well inspired by my study of the polyphonic vocal music traditions of the Bayaka tribes in Central Africa and the choir of Rapa Iti, a small island in the South Pacific.

Does your composition process change at all when writing in this medium?

I wouldn’t say my compositional process has changed in working on Stranger Love so much as my thrust as a composer and the process of writing has led me singularly on this path towards this piece. And indeed, I don’t think Stranger Love could exist otherwise. After all, few things could be further removed from the aesthetic expectations of the modern public sphere than a five hour long piece of music and theater that presupposes the power of abstraction, the value of perspective, and the importance of total joy. I’ve chosen to write this massive opera, more dream than waking life — and closer to the nightmusic of that non-linguistic visceral space wherein we fall in love than the house of language in which we move by day — not for any monetary gain (there is none) or compelled by any external factor, but because I know it to be the best thing that I can do. I want to write music not because it adheres to the world we accept, but because it offers an experience of the world as we might hope to live it. Once we’ve imagined something, it already exists.

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

As a composer, Stranger Love is an all-encompassing experience. For an opera that seeks to be totally immersive, about an almost violently undiscerning joy in the spectrum of being alive on this planet, it would feel like a divestment of responsibility were I to ever let this piece out of my mind.

While I am not working on any other compositional projects, I am working as the executive director and co-artistic director of Contemporaneous, the NY-based new-music ensemble of 21 musicians, which I co-founded in 2010. Contemporaneous has performed over 100 concerts and presented the world premiere of more than 75 new works since its start seven years ago, and we have a big show coming up in April in NY (April 11th at Roulette in Brooklyn and April 15th in Tivoli, NY) consisting of four world premieres and incredible new large-scale microtonal music for the ensemble. I couldn’t be more proud of what Contemporaneous is doing and can’t wait to be a part of bringing these wonderful and daring new works to life (by composers Katherine Balch, Kyle Gann, Shawn Jaeger, and Kristofer Svensson).

Check back tomorrow for our next interview, and get your First Take tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/first-take-2017-and-second-take-bonnie-clyde-tickets-27916364598.

First Take: Laura Karpman on balls

The 2017 edition of The Industry and wild Up’s First Take is right around the corner. On February 24, the world’s most audacious opera company presents scenes from works-in-progress by six composers. Full details on that are up at theindustryla.org/projects/first-take-2017. Over here at New Classic LA, we’ll repeat our tradition of one composer interview per day in the week leading up to it. You can read all of the interviews – including the 2015 interviews – at newclassic.la/firsttake.

Today we’ve got Laura Karpman.

Composer Laura Karpman

Composer Laura Karpman

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

You’ll be hearing a portion of my opera balls, written about the iconic tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. a work that has a lot of humor, a lot of play, but also recognizes the consequences of this historic event.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

I’ve written several large scale works for voice including the Grammy award winning Ask Your Mama, which was a commission from Carnegie Hall, and a children’s opera Wilde Tales, commissioned by the Glimmerglass festival. I’ve always loved opera, and I grew up as a singer, singing both jazz and concert music.

Does your composition process change at all when writing in this medium?

I am asked this question a lot… is it different being a film composer from being a concert music composer or an opera composer? I have to say that I’m the same composer in whatever medium I’m working in. There are obviously differences in scoring a video game or a movie where you’re working around dialogue, but drama is drama, and honestly I use a lot of the same skills I have developed in film in opera composing.

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

I’m currently scoring or second season of Underground, a fantastic series on WGN that I’m very proud of. I just scored with my writing partner Raphael Saadiq, Step which was a hit at Sundance, and we created a song for it as well. There are lots more film projects on the horizon as well as a string trio based on California surf music. I am also currently developing Ask Your Mama as a VR project.

Check back tomorrow for our next interview, and get your First Take tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/first-take-2017-and-second-take-bonnie-clyde-tickets-27916364598.

First Take: Nicholas Deyoe on Haydn’s Head

The 2017 edition of The Industry and wild Up’s First Take is right around the corner. On February 24, the world’s most audacious opera company presents scenes from works-in-progress by six composers. Full details on that are up at theindustryla.org/projects/first-take-2017. Over here at New Classic LA, we’ll repeat our tradition of one composer interview per day in the week leading up to it. You can read all of the interviews – including the 2015 interviews – at newclassic.la/firsttake.

We start today with LA’s own Nicholas Deyoe.

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

Composer Nicholas Deyoe

Composer Nicholas Deyoe

Haydn’s Head is a project that Rick Burkhardt (librettist) and I have been talking about for 4 years. Joseph Haydn died in 1809, during Napoleon’s occupation of Vienna. The chaos and confusion of this time allowed Joseph Carl Rosenbaum and Johann Nepomuk Peter, two phrenology enthusiasts, to rob Haydn’s grave and steal the head. Rosenbaum believed he could study the skull to better understand the secret of musical genius. Rick used this as his jumping-off point and created a fantastic story that blends history with satire. It’s kind of a “buddy comedy” between Rosenbaum (the lead grave robber) and Haydn’s severed head. The characters you’ll get to meet in the scenes presented on First Take are: Napoleon, both grave robbers, Haydn’s Head, an ill-tempered pair of policemen, Haydn’s headless body, and a random (and disturbingly fresh) severed head obtained so that Haydn’s body may have a new head. For this performance, DanRae Wilson has designed a Head that will be present for these scenes. I haven’t seen the finished Head yet, but the test images I’ve seen have me very excited.

The incredible cast is:
Napoleon – Jon Lee Keenan
Joseph Carl Rosenbaum – Leslie Leytham
Johann Nepomuk Peter/Haydn’s New Head – James Hayden (a happy coincidence)
Haydn’s Head/Haydn’s Body – Stephanie Aston
2 police officers – Derek Stein and his Cello

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

This is my first opera, but I’ve written a lot for the voice in the 10 years that I’ve known my wife, soprano Stephanie Aston.

Did your composition process change at all when writing in this medium?

I haven’t found that my actual process of composing vocal music has changed in this situation, but working in a dramatic context has definitely shifted the way I think about style. This opera calls on every style of music I’ve composed, often quickly changing or combined in ways that I probably wouldn’t have done in my “concert music.” There is also a lot more quotation (Haydn, of course) than I would usually use, though I’ve definitely referenced older music in my compositions in the past.

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

People should check out wastelandmusic.org, of course!
I’m also working on a collaboration with local metal/thrash/hardcore/weirdo band Grand Lord High Master. I don’t know exactly what shape this is going to take, but I’m intensely exited for it. gnarwhallaby will almost definitely be involved. GLHM’s debut album comes out this Spring on Kill All Music. http://www.destroyexist.com/2017/01/grand-lord-high-master-flexxx.html.

Check back tomorrow for our next interview, and get your First Take tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/first-take-2017-and-second-take-bonnie-clyde-tickets-27916364598.

First Take: Artistic Director Yuval Sharon

All week we’ve been interviewing the composers for wild Up and The Industry’s First Take 2015, taking place tomorrow (February 21) at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Today, in the last interview of our series, we’ve got The Industry’s Artistic Director, Yuval Sharon.

Before we get into it, I want to publicly thank both Yuval and wild Up’s Christopher Rountree, and all of the musicians and staff of both organizations, for putting First Take together. What you guys do for composers ,and for the music and arts community in LA, is amazing, and inspiring. Thank you.

Here’s Yuval.

The Industry's Yuval Sharon

The Industry’s Yuval Sharon

First off, congratulations on the Götz Friedrich Prize and the numerous other awards and nominations you’ve been receiving. You’ve been getting more and more attention internationally, and that must come with invitations to collaborate and create. Has it been challenging to balance that with what you want to do with The Industry?

Thank you! I feel so fortunate that the work I have been doing has been recognized so widely for opening up new possibilities for opera. I have to say no to a lot of projects now based on the all-too-limited amount of time in a day, and that is sometimes hard. But dedication demands sacrifice, and I am so devoted to the mission of The Industry that there’s no regret on my part when I have to pass on opportunities that would keep me from The Industry. The ones I do take on are selected very carefully and with an eye first and foremost towards my artistic goals with The Industry. On the other hand, as the company is growing, I am starting to have a stronger support structure that can help me focus mostly on the artistic aspects of The Industry, and this is an enormous benefit. Hiring Elizabeth Cline as Executive Director last November is a major step in that direction, and I am so excited to see where we steer this company together in the years ahead.

In addition to providing composers a place to try out new ideas in opera, what goals are you pursuing with First Take?

First Take gives me so much hope for the future of opera. The six projects we are showcasing this year are astonishing as singular expressions, but the cumulative effect of all six is overwhelming. I want that excitement transmitted to our audience, and also to each of the composers on the program, to show them how much their work matters and how strong it is. Composing must be such a lonely exercise, especially when you are still finding your voice, or trying something that doesn’t fit in a standard operatic box.

Beyond that, the composers will receive high-quality audio and video documentation of the performance to assist them in getting their works fully produced. These are essential tools for composers; I hope, too, that as the First Take program continues (we expect to continue a biannual schedule) that it becomes more and more of a stamp of approval for other companies.

What’s your musical background? Did you come to opera through theatre or as a musician? 

I studied piano for most of my childhood and teenage years, and I sang in high school choruses. I stopped playing or singing when I went to UC Berkeley, but that’s when my love for opera really developed, as well as an interest in musicology and the interpretation of music. Now I only sing in the car — but I love doing that!

Even though I had that musical background, it wasn’t until I thought of opera in relation to theater or cinema that I finally got into it. My dad took me to the opera in high school and it just seemed like a weird, outdated ritual, happening too far away to have any visceral impact on me. It was a fun night out with my dad but not something I could take seriously. When I went to school, I started missing the experience and started thinking about opera’s theatrical possibilities.

A scene from The Industry's production of Anne LeBaron's Crescent City

A scene from The Industry’s production of Anne LeBaron’s Crescent City

What is it about LA that made you decide this was the right place to found your company? Have we lived up to your expectations?

Finding a creative home is a highly personal choice and depends more on your own goals and aesthetic concerns than external factors. For some people, New York feeds their creative spirit; for others, it’s Detroit, or Seattle, or Miami. I had a hunch that the artists and audiences that make up LA’s community would be the right one for the work I wanted to create and foster. I am constantly astonished by how easily The Industry has managed to establish itself in the cultural fabric of the city. The community here is one I feel completely aligned with and excited to create work for and with. That’s a powerful feeling that gives me the faith to push to ever new limits.

Got any new tidbits you can share with us about Hopscotch?

Only that it is the craziest adventure I’ve ever undertaken, and I am both terrified and exhilarated by the last year-and-a-half of development. It’s also the most incredible experiment in collaborative creation I’ve experienced, and I am pretty sure the composers and writers would say the same. We can’t say a lot right now, but there will be a LOT to say come October. Basically, you just can’t miss it.

He’s right about the just-can’t-miss-it-ness of both Hopscotch and First Take. Come on out tomorrow. Full details are at theindustryla.org/projects/project_firsttake15.php. For more on Yuval, visit YuvalSharon.com.

First Take: Andrew McIntosh on Bonnie and Clyde

Andrew McIntosh

Andrew McIntosh

If you’re in new music in LA, you probably know the name Andrew McIntosh. His skill as a violinist and violist is invaluable as a member of the Formalist Quartet, wild Up, and others. He’s a co-founder of populist records. And his music, as a composer, is gorgeous. He’s also the final composer on our series of interviews about The Industry and wild Up’s First Take, which takes place this Saturday at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. You can read all of the interviews at newclassic.la/firsttake. Here’s Andrew, on his opera Bonnie and Clyde.

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

In creating Bonnie and Clyde, our goal was to start from what is known about the infamous couple and work our way backwards through the stories of people around them who left first-hand accounts. Melinda Rice, the librettist, has done incredibly extensive research, sifting through biographies of family members, police officers, government officials, and friends, as well as historian’s accounts. Together with Berlin-based artist Claudia Doderer we’ve designed an experience that functions like a gallery of images of Bonnie and Clyde, filtered through the subjective eyes of the people around them. In a way, Bonnie and Clyde are not illuminated by this opera, but are left open as characters that the audience can find for themselves. In portraying this story, there are a few questions that are explored. What is it about their lives that has come to symbolize freedom and love in popular culture, when the actual lives that they led were extremely unglamorous, tedious, and full of poverty and tension? Since the accounts that have been left behind are sometimes contradictory, how do we attempt to portray a factual representation of important events in their lives? Why has our society been so fascinated be them, even 80 years after they lived? Is there something universally human about their characters that makes us identify with them?

Musically, the score reflects Bonnie and Clyde’s lives on every level. The shape of each layer and corner in the music is a reflection of the tension, the openness, and the unexpectedness of their lives. Bonnie and Clyde are embedded in the score in other ways as well. Clyde played the saxophone and a large feature of the orchestration is a pair of antiphonal saxophones (although I didn’t know that Clyde played saxophone at the time that choice was made). A classic American steel-string guitar is also prominently featured in the orchestra, as are piano and vibraphone. The only thing Bonnie was afraid of was thunder, and their deaths are represented by the use of thunder sheets. The passage of time can be felt on multiple levels as well, often with a layer that is moving very slowly underneath layers that move at more active pacing, with voices sometimes floating on top in yet another layer of time. I think that this might have been my subconscious way of expressing the constant tension between open field and city that defined their daily existence.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

This project is the culmination of several years worth of attempts at translating my musical language into something vocal. It is certainly a different language than my comfort zone of instrumental writing. That instrumental relationship to sound has developed during 25 years of playing the violin, and it’s difficult to transcend that. Writing for singers feels naked and vulnerable, and I am in awe of the power and depth that words and human voices bring to music.

I have immersed myself in the land of performing with singers very heavily over the past few years through the work that I do as a period instrument baroque musician, working with Bach Collegium San Diego, American Bach Soloists, LA Master Chorale, Tesserae, and other early music ensembles. Also, during my undergraduate degree I spent two seasons as a violist with the Nevada Opera. I derive a lot of inspiration from studying and performing old music, and the performance aesthetic around it as well. In general, the performers tend to have common interests in creating something that is highly emotional through the use of subtlety, nuance, color, and shape; interests that I also share. I first met several of the singers in Bonnie and Clyde through working in the early music community and I am incredibly happy with the entire cast of Bonnie and Clyde.

I also just recently invested a huge amount of energy into another Industry project (Hopscotch) writing for another singer that I met through the early music community, Estelí Gomez from Roomful of Teeth. Every aspect of the vocal writing was written specifically for Estelí’s remarkable voice and unique talents. I find it incredibly helpful to have a specific singer in mind and write for that particular person when I’m writing for voice. It definitely changes what comes out on paper.

Does/did your composition process change at all when writing for this medium?

I don’t know that it changes my process very much, but I feel changed as a person. I still use a pen and a ruler and start with drawings of the forms of the works on blank paper, finding patterns and symmetries in the content of the material and making maps of the harmony (more or less my typical process). The only significant difference in process is that now the very first step consists of writing out the text several times by hand. I have to write it myself on paper in order to internalize the rhythm and flow of the words.

It is hard to describe exactly how I feel changed since the change is still quite new and also ongoing, but I feel that working with words and voices has unlocked something in my writing that I have been trying to find for a long time. It’s actually quite emotional to hear music that I composed come directly out of other humans’ voices – more so than hearing it through the filter of an external instrument. I don’t know where it will lead, but I have a feeling that all the work I’ve been doing with singers over the past year will have a significant impact on the future of my writing. 

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

I recently completed a 40-minute commissioned percussion quartet for the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, which will be premiered at Zipper Hall on April 10. They are exquisite musicians, and it took me over two years to write the piece, so I feel quite invested in this performance!

I’m also working on a small piano concerto for Richard Valitutto and wild Up, which will be premiered on April 26 at UCLA, as well as a chamber piece for MUSA Baroque in San Francisco, and of course Hopscotch, the upcoming collaborative Industry project.

Check out more of Andrew’s music at septimalcomma.com. Full details on First Take are up at http://theindustryla.org/projects/project_firsttake15.php. While Andrew is the final composer in this year’s First Take series, there’s still one interview yet to go: The Industry’s artistic director, Yuval Sharon, who will be featured here tomorrow at noon. See you then.

First Take: Nomi Epstein on TRANSLATION

All week we’ve been posting an interview a day with the composers on The Industry and wild Up’s First Take event, taking place on February 21. Most of those composers have written operas. Nomi Epstein, today’s guest, seems to have broken opera down and potentially created something entirely new.

Composer Nomi Epstein. Photo by Marc Perlish photography.

Composer Nomi Epstein. Photo by Marc Perlish photography.

 

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

TRANSLATION: a conceptual chamber opera is a work which distills the conceptual material of opera- a complex layering of translations-while dismissing the tradition of opera’s expressivity, dialogue, and narrative/dramatic structure.

The topic of translation has been important in my work since 2007 when I began dissecting the compositional process by looking at how an idea for a piece materializes or translates itself into an actual sonic piece of work (i.e. the various steps/types of translation this idea takes in order to get to its sonic point). I am fascinated by how the end point is so far from the beginning, clearly demonstrating distortion of the initial idea due partly to translational processes the composer can’t control -the brain processing and translating material/ideas into other formats, the interaction between the performer and the score, the sonic realization, the listeners perception, and what we can control- the type, specificity and character of notation.

When something is translated, it changes language, (be it spoken, structural, temporal, media type), and distortion is unavoidable. TRANSLATION raises questions regarding the nature of language, representation, perspective, (mis)communication, imitation, human thought process and the ontology of the individual.

Inherent in the process of translation, or changing one language into another, is some degree of loss of content, metaphor, or marker from the original language. In opera, a plot is translated into a durational structure containing text, sonic language (instrumental and vocal), characterization, scenery, casting, costumes, and acting, each attempting reinterpretation, communication, or translation of this original idea.  Each of the choices the composer/librettist makes in how to notate and characterize the plot is a way of communicating or translating the initial idea, and translational processes follow on the part of the performers while changing the written (score and libretto) into the sonic.

In TRANSLATION there are also multiple translation layers.  These layers can be perceived aurally and visually through a complexity of distorted relationships that the individual and group performers must navigate both from score directives, and performative means. The score challenges the performers to attempt their own forms of translation, but within very strict confines or structures that I have given them.

The most evident type of translation in this work is found between members of the ensemble.  Individually, each performer will explain/define her/himself to the group of performers (albeit abstractly), after which the remainder of the group will attempt to read/understand the individual.  While defining her/himself, each performer uses a language, whose syntax is created by the composer, unique to her/himself including the specificity of the voice/language, and the perspective of first person, among various other musical parameters.  When others try to “know” this performer, they each must translate information using their own tools, interpreting their findings, and realizing them sonically.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

Though I haven’t written an opera before, I’ve written a lot for voice, and also several large scale structures.

Does/did your composition process change at all when writing for this medium?

No For several years I’ve been focusing on translation as a structural inquiry and as pre-compositional thought, and have also worked with text score notation.

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

Right now I’m working on a trio for Sonic Hedgehog, a US/European ensemble, a text score for my ensemble a.pe.ri.od.ic, and a large ensemble work for this year’s Dog Star Orchestra.

Here’s a solo piano work of Nomi Epstein’s, recorded by Eliza Garth.

Recordings of more of Nomi’s recordings are available at nomiepstein.com/Sounds.htmlTomorrow in of our series of interviews with the composers on First Take we’ve got Andrew McIntosh. Complete details on First Take 2015 are available at http://theindustryla.org/projects/project_firsttake15.php.