Posts Tagged ‘Interview’

Interview: Nadia Shpachenko on her Piano Spheres debut

Dr. Nadia Shpachenko-Gottesman is associate professor of music at Cal Poly Pomona. Photo by Tom Zasadzonski.

Dr. Nadia Shpachenko-Gottesman is associate professor of music at Cal Poly Pomona. Photo by Tom Zasadzonski.


Tomorrow (Tuesday) night, pianist Nadia Shpachenko has her Piano Spheres Satellite Series debut at REDCAT. Tickets are available at redcat.org/event/piano-spheres-nadia-shpachenko. We reviewed Nadia’s last album here a few months back, and are stoked both for this concert and the fact that she had a minute to answer some questions about the program via email. Here’s Nadia.

So tell me about your Satellite Series show.

Tomorrow I will be performing a recital that features music written for me by six very talented composers with whom I worked closely on the interpretation of the works. It is an incredibly personal program that I can’t wait to share with LA audiences! The second half of the program will present the world premieres of two architecture-inspired works commissioned by Piano Spheres. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Lewis Spratlan’s Bangladesh conveys the transformative hope of Louis Kahn’s National Assembly Buildings in Dhaka. Annie Gosfield, whom the New Yorker called “The Carl Nielsen of Second Avenue,” wrote The Dybbuk on Second Avenue for this recital. Annie’s piece reflects the changing mix of influences in one theater in the Lower East Side’s “Jewish Rialto” over the years: from Yiddish theater to burlesque, from Chekhov to William Burroughs. These are the first two works of a project I am completing, to commission and record works inspired by architectural settings. In 2016 I will premiere four more new works by Amy Beth Kirsten, Hannah Lash, James Matheson, and Harold Meltzer at the Piano Spheres series at Boston Court, all illuminating particular architectural phenomena. The first half of the program  will include works written for my albumWoman at the New Piano by Tom Flaherty, James Matheson, Adam Schoenberg, and Peter Yates. I like to humorously call that program Music for a New B’ak’tun, that is music for a newly transformed world, the new 5,125 year cycle according to the Mayan Calendar, which began in 2013 when all those works were written. I will note that the pieces all touch on the themes of transformation, of resonances across time, of cycles of rebirth. Cretic Variations by James Matheson emphasizes lengthy resonances, how momentary events persist, shape new events, and how our memory of the past is revised by events of the now. Whereas Adam Schoenberg’s Picture Etudes take us through a variety of worlds, from placid to energetic, Peter Yates’ Finger Songs take us on a journey through time, playing on our sentiments with flashes and resonances of musics past. Whereas Tom Flaherty’s Airdancing (for which the wonderful Genevieve Feiwen Lee will join me on toy piano) and Adam’s Picture Etudes introduce novel combinations of sound sources, Peter’s Finger Songs feature novel combinations of musical forms and genres. A number of the pieces feature descent into true musical chaos, and emergence into the new – whether momentous, as in the thunder and dawn of Cretic Variations, or thrilling, as in whoops and swirls of Airdancing. I am very excited to perform this program tomorrow!

Here is a sneak peak into the first half repertoire:

Had you selected the In Full Sail piece to begin with, or does the theme really encompass the whole program?

In Full Sail to me means sailing towards my dreams, taking chances and going for it all the way. In Full Sail is also the title of a piece Harold Meltzer is writing for my architecture-inspired program. In Full Sail won’t be premiered until May 2016, but Harold was the first composer I approached for the project and the first one to come up with a title. And thoughIn Full Sail is a critic’s description in particular of the Frank Gehry building to which Harold is responding, the title seems to describe well the theme of the first concert that will feature works from this project (but will also feature works fromWoman at the New Piano), given its wide meaning.

What’s it like being a Satellite Series artist? I’ve heard there’s a bit of mentoring and support from the long-term Piano Spheres mainstays.

I am honored and excited to join Piano Spheres as a Satellite Artist! Vicki Ray has been a wonderful mentor, giving me great advice about programming and career building and I am looking forward to presenting a composition workshop with Vicki this afternoon at Boston Court, together with composers Lewis Spratlan (who just got into town from Massachusetts) and Adam Schoenberg. Vicki’s sparkly personality and infectious energy definitely have a way of rubbing off on me, and all the other Piano Spheres pianists and staff have been very supportive, making my Piano Spheres experience superb!

We’re lucky in LA to have a lot of fantastic pianists. Who else in town inspires you?

I agree, the Los Angeles new music (and older music) scene is thriving! When I go to concerts of new music, I see enthusiastic people of all ages in the audience. There is great appreciation in LA for all things avant-garde, outside the box, with too many wonderful new music ensembles and solo artists to list. Since my twin boys were born 5 years ago, my concert going experience slowed down a bit for a few years, but last year I was able to attend many incredible, inspiring concerts featuring adventurous, innovative music, much of which was actually written by local composers. Since I can’t list everyone who inspires me in town, I would like to focus on the Piano Spheres pianists, who inspire me beyond words. I was fortunate to be able to attend most Piano Spheres concerts last season (and of course the fantastic season opener with Gloria Cheng and Thomas Adès in September). Each of the principal artists, Gloria Cheng, Vicki Ray, Mark Robson and Susan Svrček, presented cohesive, exciting, beautifully-themed programs that featured their exceptional pianism and great imagination in interpreting new works. I was also very impressed by the inaugural Satellite Series last season and still remember vividly Nic Gerpe’s powerful Crumb performance and Aron Kallay’s unforgettable program, which included a piece for speaking pianist and electronics by Vykintas Baltakas, for which Aron recited a text in Lithuanian! I also frequently collaborate with the adventurous pianist Genevieve Feiwen Lee, with whom I recorded two works for my album (Airdancing by Tom Flaherty and Bounce by Adam Schoenberg), and who will be airdancing with me on Tuesdayat REDCAT. I would just like to mention one more pianist who to this day continues to inspire me, my wonderful teacher John Perry, with whom I completed my graduate studies during the late 1990s through mid 2000s. Perry is turning eighty in February and has not slowed down a bit with his teaching and performances, which are moving, powerful and deeply felt. And he just presented a recital at Carnegie Hall to celebrate his 80th birthday!

What’s next after this show?

I have a very exciting season planned, with numerous premieres and exciting collaborations! I will be focusing on two brand new solo programs this season, which I will touring and recording in the near future. One of the programs, which I will start calling The Poetry of Places once it starts presenting only the architecture-inspired works in one recital, will feature six new compositions written for my project mentioned above (two of which I will be premiering). I will be performing these works more than a dozen times this season in California, New York, and Baltimore. For this project I will also be recording Andrew Norman’s Frank’s House for two pianists and two percussionists. Andrew and I were classmates at USC and I am thrilled to collaborate with him on this project! My other program, which I like to call Quotations and Homages will feature new and very recent musical homages by Matthew Elgart, Daniel Felsenfeld, Tom Flaherty, Vera Ivanova, James Matheson, Missy Mazzoli, Nick Norton (you!) and Peter Yates, five of which I will be premiering at Spectrum in New York on December 13. I am also very excited about my upcoming collaborations with Los Angeles Philharmonic’s violinist Vijay Gupta, with whom I will be performing a few local concerts in January, and with Kathleen Supové, with whom I will be performing concerts in three states in December, January and February, including the premiere of Jack Van Zandt’s Regular Division of the Plane for two pianos and a piece selected from ACFLA’s call for scores.

Anything else to add?

For this concert I had the privilege of choosing a beautiful Steinway & Sons concert grand that will be delivered to REDCAT tomorrow! I became a Steinway Artist last February and this was the first time since becoming a Steinway Artist that I had the opportunity to choose an instrument for a specific performance, an instrument that I felt would be a great match for the program on Tuesday. Adam Borecki beautifully filmed the Steinway Selection process, during which I discussed the differences between the instruments and performed short sections from some of the pieces on each piano. You can watch the clip, which was just finished this morning, here:

Interview: Jodie Landau on you of all things

Jodie Landau

Composer, singer, and percussionist Jodie Landau‘s new record with wild Up is now out on Bedroom Community records. There was a great listening party at Pieter Space last weekend (photo below), and the official release concert is this Friday at 9 at the Bootleg. Jodie’s been busy. In addition to commissioning works from fellow composers for this album — guess that was a while ago now, actually — he’s been world hopping to perform with Valgeir Sigurðsson and other Bedroom Community musicians, re-arranging the record for live performance, getting ready for wild Up’s NY debut next week, and, thankfully, answering questions from me. Here’s Jodie.

So what’s happening this weekend?
This Friday, we’re celebrating the release of our new album you of all things at The Bootleg Theater presented by Live Arts Exchange. I’ll be joined by members of wild Up and four singers to perform my pieces from the album, other original compositions, arrangements of Bjork and My Brightest Diamond, and a piece written for me by Valgeir Sigurðsson.

Featured in this performance are Andrew Tholl, Adrianne Pope, Linnea Powell, Derek Stein, Brian Walsh, Archie Carey, Erin McKibben, Richard Valitutto, Alison Bjorkedal, Ivan Johnson, Sam KS, and singers Anna Schubert, Justine Aronson, Sarah Beaty, and Lacey Jo Benter. With sound by Nick Tipp.

About the record: can you share the backstory on how this multi-part collaboration came to be?

I met Graduale Nobili, the Icelandic choir featured on the album, in 2013 while they were performing with Bjork on her Biophilia residency in LA. We got to hang out after the shows, and even had a pool party, at which they performed, I performed, and we sang a little thing together.

After hearing their beautiful, unique sound, and getting to know them, started to think, what if I went to Iceland to work with them? A few months later I sent them a message asking if they’d be interested in doing a concert and/or recording. At the time I wasn’t sure what this could be. When I mentioned this possibility to Chris Rountree, he eagerly said “I’ll conduct!” and we then both agreed that we should bring members of wild Up. With Chris and wild Up on board suddenly this crazy idea was legitimate.

But then… where do we record? We thought of no one else but Valgeir and Greenhouse Studios. To our pleasant surprise, Valgeir had a few available days and was intrigued by this ambitious project.

In July 2013, we ran an Indiegogo campaign to help cover the costs of the recording, the choir and our travel. We are so forever grateful to all those who donated to help make this project come to fruition.

A lot of those supporters were on hand for the album listening party at Pieter Space.

A lot of those supporters were on hand for the album listening party at Pieter Space.

You picked a diverse group of composers to write for you for this project, yet the album sounds very cohesive. Was that Valgeir’s doing? Or did you discuss a certain sound or direction with the composers you worked with?

Beyond the options of instrumentation/players, I actually made a point not to give Ellen, Marc, or Andrew any specifications regarding what they wrote. I wanted them to write anything their hearts desired.

The cohesiveness, I think, stems from a several things. For one, all of these pieces were written with these players in mind. They each have such a distinct sound and ways of interpreting the written material and moments of improvisation. And of course, the choir’s presence and unique sound throughout definitely helps to tie these all together. And then there’s all the exceptional work that Valgeir and his co-engineer Paul Evans did in capturing, editing, mixing this record.

I heard a bit about the choir learning everything by rote rather than reading parts. Can you talk a bit about working with them?

Working with them was unlike anything we’ve done before. Many of them have been singing together since they were very young and they have this impeccable unified, pure, and gorgeous sound. It was quite insane and wonderful teaching them an hour of new music… in a week. And some of this music is really hard. But they all pulled through so excellently. As group, they were fascinating. Some of them seemed to have perfect pitch, while others didn’t really read music, or at least music this complex and often polyrhythmic, but yet learned it all by ear.

There’s a certain androgyny in your singing voice, and some of the lyrics discuss gender – particularly striking is the line “I am neither boy nor girl.” We’ve been friends a while, yet gender or sexuality have never come up in our conversations. It’s not so much that I’m interested in your particular preference or identification, but I’m very interested in how whatever that may be influences your art making.

Ellen chose Mandy Kahn’s text for her piece based on one of the first conversations she and I had. We were talking about writing operas, and she asked what topics I was interested in. Ideas of gender, gender fluidity and transgender came up. And, I think, both she and I relate so heavily to these words “I am neither boy nor girl, I am a figure that has known and lost a love.”

Gender is definitely a major topic in my life, and yes I’m surprised it hasn’t come up in our conversations. So thanks for asking about it. And I’m happy to be quite open about it and give you a bit of my personal history.

To start, my parents tried to have a girl and they got me, “the boy with long eyelashes” as my mom says. Also, my name is Jodie. As a kid, I occasionally received girl’s trophies in sports leagues (I’m a little bummed I didn’t keep them). In high school, the class roster had an M or F next to each name, and mine mistakenly had an F next to it. Substitute teachers would get very confused when they called “Jodie” and I raised my hand. Their double takes were priceless. And, I’m occasionally asked if Jodie’s my real name, or if it’s a nickname or short for something.

Most Halloweens I dressed up in some combination of my mother’s clothing (which unfortunately doesn’t fit me any more). I even went to prom in a dress, because I wanted to go as a girl without a date, because it strongly upset me that a few friends hadn’t gone the year before because they didn’t have a date and/or a guy hadn’t asked them. Also, for whatever reason, I felt more comfortable and was able to have more fun going to prom in a purple dress and heels.

Last anecdote. From 8-13 years old I played hockey. My teammates listened to music together, often rock and rap. We’d sit in the back of the car and curse along with Eminem. But I also taught a few of them some choreography to dance and song “I’m gonna ruge my knees and role my stockings down…” and the rest of the Chicago musical soundtrack.

Anyway… all of this to say that I’ve never quite felt like “boy,” “guy,” “man,” or “male” accurately represents all of me, as I don’t always relate to meanings people associate with them, and I’ve received a lot of, let’s say, interesting, or maybe influential comments about my gender and/or sexuality based on the way that I behave and interact with the world, simply because of my name, or even my singing voice. (A youtube comment from several years ago reads “He sounds like a little gay girl”. I found this oddly flattering.)

These are all certainly a major part of my identity.

Now, I’ll stop myself from continuing with the anecdotes — I could go on forever — let’s talk about gender as it relates to my music.

All of my pieces on the album, are sung from the “I” perspective and sung to you. I, myself, never directly bring up gender or gendered pronouns. I hope that they can be sung, or heard, or felt from any one perspective to another. So I think this adds to the sense of androgyny, along with my own personal androgenic tendencies, and the fact that I’m quite often singing in my upper range.

Along with these ideas of gender and androgyny, sexuality is also certainly an influence. Though, by sexuality, I don’t quite mean sexual preference, especially not in relation to questions like “do you like men or women?” as the nature and structure of this type of question is quite limiting (and super binary). Rather, a lot of this music is about allowing for any type(s)—or maybe, my type(s)—of sexuality and sensuality.

You’ve been, from a career standpoint, on the up and up lately, and of course signing with Bedroom Community is going to be huge for both you and wild Up. Has anything changed in how you work as a result? Does music making feel any different to you now than it ever did?

What a great question. Certainly remains to be seen. But, thus far I certainly feel my music making beginning to enter the “professional realm,” whatever that means. In some ways, both in joining Bedroom Community and just in working with wild Up, there is a different sense of care and thought into what I’m presenting to the world and why.

I recently performed in London with Bedroom Community, and it was such a warm welcoming and a wonderful experience. It was so fascinating to thrown in the midst of this tight-knit group. They played new music, and older music, and new versions of older pieces that are in their BedCom “repertoire”. They way they engaged with the music and the charts, was some beautiful hybrid between an ensemble and a band. This made me feel right at home. So in regards to your question, maybe joining Bedroom Community is actually going to help keep music making that beautiful hybrid that I so enjoy… while of course elevating it quite a lot, as they are so wonderful and incredible!

What’s next for you?
This Sunday I head to the east coast with wild Up for our NY debut. Then, I go to Iceland to perform off venue shows during Iceland Airwaves with Bedroom Community. After that, we’ll just have to wait and see 🙂

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you!

Info on the release concert this Friday is up at liveartsexchange.org/event/jodie-landau-wildup-you-of-all-things. More on the record is up on Bedroom Community’s site, at bedroomcommunity.net/releases/you_of_all_things.

Review/Interview: Diamond Pulses, Daniel Corral

Diamond Pulses, the new electronic album by Daniel Corral, released on Orenda Records and available September 12, is an odd duck. How could it be otherwise, as by Corral’s admission, it “started as a mockup for a microtonal Plinko game/sound-installation.” The Plinko element is referenced on the album artwork, as a glowing grid interacting with a drifting abstract background. There’s a clue.

On the surface of the single, 32-minute track, everything seems perfectly transparent, maybe even grid-like. Insistent, hopped-up Plinko polyrhythms braid together in a dense patchwork of minimalist activity, while oceanic noise waxes and wanes. Or it’s pop electronica, but more desperate, more worldly, shamelessly reverbed. Minimalist motivic transitions speed the texture through harmonic and registral shifts, while rhythm remains constant. Corral knows exactly what he wants us to hear, at what pace, and moody swells of noise give us enough respite to fool us into thinking we’ve made our own choices. Robert Ashley said that music either comes from speech, or it comes from dance. Diamond Pulses is unconditionally from the dance. There are no words here at all.

But there is something else, tugging. What is it? Why the Feldman quote in the liner notes, “Sound is all our dreams of music. Noise is music’s dreams of us.”? The rhythms aren’t just insistent, they’re rabid. Transitions aren’t just inevitable, they’re eerily prescribed. Electronic ephemera churn in atonal relation to pretty guitar-ish licks. Noise swells aren’t just a contrast; they undermine with a mysteriously undercooked autonomy. Things are not as diatonic as they seem.

The piece is not really diatonic, after all. It slowly transforms into an 11-limit tuning system, the middle of the piece swimming in shades of microtonal subtlety. Taken together, the whole is perplexingly different than the sum of its parts. Nothing here quite matches up, as Corral notes, “making it impossible to focus on the endless business of trying to square an imperfect circle.” Grappling with alternative tuning systems has a tendency to bring these kinds of cracks to the fore. Things don’t fit. The illusion of the joints of reality being flush is demolished. That’s the interest in this album; we don’t realize it, but the incongruities here turn us inside-out.

Take a few listens, and see if you notice the flip-flop. Maybe don’t listen to this, despite temptation, while driving. Listen at home, with dedicated ears, to this strangely rigid dance meditation, a fervent solipsism with a disturbingly wild, encroaching reality. Consciously intended or not, Diamond Pulses evokes Los Angeles.
___

We asked Daniel a few questions about the album:

You mention that the album grew out of an experiment for a Plinko installation. Can you talk a little more about that process of development?

I was at a residency when I sketched out that original Plinko installation idea. I had a great studio right near the beach, and you might be able to hear a cheap imitation of those ocean sounds in the noisy washes that fade in and out during Diamond Pulses. That studio was quite large, and allowed me to imagine what installations might fit inside it. I really like Trimpin’s work, and I think his whimsicality comes out in my music box installations. I was trying to imagine similarly playful sound installations that also have a more conceptually sound footing. I sketched out a just intonation Plinko game on some graph paper, and started thinking about how that might be translated into a performable piece. At the same time, I had a 4-channel audio setup there with which I made quite a few quadraphonic electronic pieces with a tunable sampler. These streams of thought smashed together into Diamond Pulses. Perhaps it is a bit more serious than the original game show-inspired idea, but hopefully still enjoyable.

What specifically made you think that these materials would work as an album-length piece, rather than as an installation?

There are two big factors in the decision to turn Diamond Pulses into an album-length piece: accessibility and space. An installation has a specific time and place in which it can be appreciated, and that unique experience is part of what makes it so magical. On the other hand, an album can find its way all over the world via the internet. Also, live performances of it are solo, so it’s easy to plan and schedule. When my residency ended, I returned back to LA and realized that it would be ridiculous to try and put more installation-type pieces in my small house. But, I could develop the performable electronic piece practically anywhere. For example – I did a lot of programming for it on my laptop during a long Bolt Bus ride with Timur and the Dime Museum. After the first performance of Diamond Pulses at Battery Books, I decided that it would be worth trying to make an album of it. I knew that Orenda Records had put out some fantastic albums of adventurous music, so I reached out to them. I am grateful that they were interested, and they have been great to work with as I developed the piece into what’s on the album!

Is this whole piece in 11-limit temperament? Could you give a little more information for readers who may not be familiar with alternative tuning systems?

It’s hard to come to a succinct explanation of tuning, but I’ll give it a try! Most musicians using microtonality do so with systems based on ratios, often with some sort of fundamental pitch as the denominator. A ratio with a lower numerator and denominator is usually considered more consonant, while higher numbers are more complex and dissonant. “Limits” bound the available pitches to a certain level of complexity (EX: a system with a 3-limit will likely sound less complex than a system with a 5-limit). Basically, Diamond Pulses starts super simple, gets more complex, and returns to simplicity in a sort of ternary form. It starts with just one note and very gradually moves to a limit of 3, then, 5, 7, 9, and 11. After reaching a limit of 11, it gradually contracts back to the single note it started with, which is the fundamental that all of the tuning ratios relate to. Because Diamond Pulses starts with just one note and slowly increases it’s limit, the available intervals get more complex as well. When it decreases it’s limit back to one fundamental pitch,  it’s kind of like a symphony ending on a big V-I – at least that’s how I imagine it. I put an image of the “score” on my website here, if anyone is interested: spinalfrog.com/projects/diamond-pulses

I’ve spent a fair amount of time with people and works that use microtonality with great skill and musicality, and have long been a bit too intimidated to really share any of my own. Diamond Pulses is the first piece of mine built around a tuning system that I feel comfortable putting out in the world.

If there is one thing you’d want people to listen for in this piece, what is it?

I never have one universal thing that I want all people to listen for in my music. Rather, I hope that Diamond Pulses has multiple levels on which it can be experienced. Someone that has trained his/her ears to hear the tuned intervals might enjoy doing so, while someone else with no knowledge of or interest in that might just like the spacey rhythmic grooves. I want listeners to engage with Diamond Pulses in whatever capacity they see fit.

___

Check out the official CD release show this Saturday, with special guests Danny Holt and Mike Robbins:

Saturday, September 12, 8pm and 10pm
Automata
504 Chung King Court
Los Angeles CA 90012

8pm:
• Workers Union, performed by Danny Holt and Mike Robbins
• Diamond Pulses, performed by Daniel Corral

10pm:
• Two Pages, performed by Danny Holt
• Diamond Pulses, performed by Daniel Corral

But tickets online here:
https://www.artful.ly/store/events/6883

Interview: Scott Worthington on Prism

Scott Worthington

Scott Worthington

This Sunday, ArtShare LA will be hosting a party celebrating Scott Worthington’s recent release of Prism on Populist Records (out August 14, available for pre-order here), a collection of works spanning 2010-present, all in his singular voice. The program will include pieces from the recording as well as other pieces for bass and electronics. We asked him a few questions about the recording and upcoming party:

How did you go about starting work on this set of recordings? You seem to have developed a unique voice with bass playing and electronics. What do you feel is the relationship here? Are the electronics always more fixed and your bass playing more improvisatory? Do they inform each other? What comes first, and how do you craft the pieces?

Back in 2010 I tried to record At Dusk and Prism. That attempt didn’t turn out very well, so I guess you could say that I started to work on it all the way back then. The recordings on the album are from 2014 and 2015. I didn’t craft the pieces in order to produce the album, but I think I got lucky and they sound nice together.

I’m not sure if there’s a relationship. I just try to make electronic parts that don’t sound like my own *very* reductive stereotype of wiz/band/swoosh electronic music. I like some of that music but I’m just not good at making it and/or am too lazy to try.

Neither of the electronic parts on this disc are fixed. In At Dusk, they end up sounding like a very pitchy reverb chamber. It has an entirely notated bass part. I’ve adjusted some of the rhythms and dynamics as I’ve played it more, but I wouldn’t consider is improvisatory. As for the chicken/egg, I had the idea to get the computer to mimic the sustain pedal on the piano, wrote the bass part with that in mind, and experimented writing some different computer programs until I thought it sounded right.

In Reflections I cue the drones in a way that sort of fakes live processing. It has some melodic fragments and ideas that remain the same from performance to performance, but there is no score. This piece started as a bass ensemble work for five basses and I made a version for solo bass and drones afterwards.

Your work seems to prioritize some traditional musical ideas – there are memorable themes and motifs, as well as more atmospheric materials. Are you concerned with making memorable gestures that can be developed? Or do you have a different way of thinking about thematic material?

I guess I’m a “motive guy” or something like that. Sometimes I like to tell people my music is mash up of Brian Eno and Morton Feldman. I like things that can be remembered but aren’t necessarily played the same every time. I think most of the development in my pieces comes from layering different motives on top of each other, but not necessarily developing the motives themselves. Reflections works exactly like this. I have a bank melodic ideas and I put them together during the performance. I used to just write this kind of thing out in score form, but more recently I’ve been eschewing scores and trying to create environments where these kinds of ideas can live and get a bit of a life of their own from performance to performance.

There are two versions of a quintet, with a note, “After Feldman.” While somewhat static, there is still more trajectory here than what I associate with Feldman. Did you have a specific piece in mind that was influential? I’m curious about the reason for two versions – can you describe the compositional method here?

A specific piece, yes! Piece for Four Pianos. Here’s a youtube recording:

I think I have it right that the pianos each have the same part and progress at their own pace. In my piece, there are five separate parts, but I…borrowed…the “at your own pace” bit. Since it’s not exactly the same every time I thought I’d put two performances on the album. I also think they act as nice palette cleansers between the longer pieces on the album.

I really enjoyed Prism. I can see how you’re working with some potent, dramatic materials that are then refracted and explored, like light through a prism. Your handling of the form here seems really intuitive. Did you have a specific structure in mind, or did the materials themselves suggest the form? Is there anything else you’d like listeners to know about the piece?

Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 I think I did have a little structure mapped out (it’s from 2010, so my memory of writing it is a little fuzzy). There are five parts and I think those parts only had to do with the pitches/chords in the sections. I think that was the extent of the formal plan. So, maybe that means it was intuitive? I don’t think I set out with a plan for how long the sections were. It was towards the end of when I was really concerned with pitch sets and things like that and I was (clearly) moving towards using a lot of repetition and being sparse and droney in general.

Your fifth track is in memory of Stefano Scodanibbio. Can you talk a little bit about what his influence is?

He was one of the most incredible bassists (and perhaps musicians) to walk the planet. I never got to meet him or see him perform, but the kinds of things he was capable of on the bass are unparalleled. I wrote the piece shortly after his untimely death from ALS. It doesn’t use any of the techniques or pyrotechnics he was known for and capable of, but I tried to make a contemplative piece in his memory.

Are you excited about the release party concert? Do the other pieces on the program relate to this recording, or are they just pieces you enjoy performing for other reasons?

Yes, I’m excited! I’m also heading off on a CD release tour playing at the Center for New Music in San Francisco on the 14th, the Wayward Music Series in Seattle on the 19th (with Nat Evans), and at the Wandering Goat in Eugene on the 20th (with a lot of other artists and bands). Lots of miles on the car, but I’m looking forward to meeting people and playing some music for them.

I’ll be playing two new works that Nat Evans and Brenna Noonan wrote for me for these concerts. They don’t relate specifically to the album, but I wanted to make a nice concert and not just play the record for people. I met Nat and Brenna through a project that Nat did called The Tortoise (https://natevans.bandcamp.com/album/the-tortoise). The concert will close with Julia Wolfe’s piece Stronghold which is just an awesome piece–it’s kind of a barn burner.

And finally, if you could sit down with your listeners and tell them anything, what would it be?

Hope you enjoy it 🙂

We hope you enjoy it too. For more information, visit:
http://artsharela.org/event/scott-worthington-local-cd-release-concert-art-share-l-a/

Scott Worthington – Prism CD Release Party
8.9.15, 8pm, $10
ArtShare
801 E. 4th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90013

See you there!

Interview: Odeya Nini on her voice, her music, and her concert this Friday

Odeya NiniOdeya Nini is an experimental vocalist and composer. At the locus of her interests are textural harmony, gesture, tonal animation, and the illumination of minute sounds, in works spanning chamber music to vocal pieces and collages of musique concrète. Her solo vocal work extends the dimension and expression of the voice and body, creating a sonic and physical panorama of silence to noise and tenderness to grandeur. Odeya’s work has been presented Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, Odessa, Mongolia and Vietnam.

This Friday, Odeya performs music from A Solo Voice, an investigation of extended vocal techniques, resonance and pure expression, exploring the relationship between mind and body and the various landscapes it can yield. The work is a series of malleable compositions and improvisations that include field recordings and theatrical elements, aiming to disassociate the voice from its traditional attributes and create a new logic of song that is not only heard but seen through movement. We caught up with Odeya to discuss her work.

First up, what’s on the show at Human Resources this week?

Yes, the show this Friday is a double bill with members of the Southland Ensemble – they will be performing works by Cassia Streb, Eric KM Clark, Manfred Werder and Taku Sugimoto. I will be performing a 40 minute set of solo vocal compositions and improvisation with movement and theatrical elements I call A Solo Voice. This work has evolved over the last 4 years, always morphing, into something new under the same title. In this iteration I include some pieces from my albumVougheauxyice (Voice) which was released exactly a year ago.

Your music as a vocalist deals with the body in a very direct way. While of course most singers are aware that their body is their instrument, you take it farther with the voice and movement workshops, voice bath meditations, and incorporating yoga, movement, and your whole body into your work. Did those interests (voice and the body) develop separately and you’ve found a way to combine them over time, or were they always intertwined for you?

My path and intentions as a vocalist began in a very different place from where they are now. I began as a theater major in high school singing in musicals, followed by a life as a singer songwriter performing around NY with my guitar, which led me to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary music where I later discovered free jazz and new music. During those years of song singing I was always challenged by my voice. I didn’t have enough air, I was told my vocal chords didn’t close completely while I sang, I wouldn’t be able to hit certain notes comfortably and phrased the way the song asked for. There were numerous things I was dealing with vocally. When I started free improvising I began to find my comfort zone by realizing that I could make any sound by changing the shape of my mouth, that I could dictate my own rhythm and phrasing, and let my singing be dictated by my body, senses, and pure expression. It was during that time that I began to feel I could own my voice and discovered it in new ways.3 headed singer

My journey as a yoga teacher developed during this time as well, except I was in search of different things to strengthen and heal, which kept the two worlds separate. It took about 5 years for me to integrate yoga and music, and although I felt a profound growth in both of them, I still didn’t quite connect that music was completely in the body. As a vocalist you cannot separate the body from the voice, they are interconnected from your heels to your finger tips to the crown of your head and of course to your emotions and imaginations. After years of developing this understanding and finding a new way of vocalizing that was truly a full body experience I began to share this with others. The workshops and lessons I teach often take on a therapeutic nature, since one really needs to peel layers, release, find strength, meditate, and have deep awareness towards an inner and outer self to be able to work this incredible instrument. We all have the potential to allow our voice to reveal things to us and others and I am trying to spread that good vibration in my way.

Your identify as both vocalist and composer. I’ve heard a bit of your chamber music, and seen you perform, and it seems like your music is very different depending on which of those contexts it’s for.

It’s true that my instrumental music is different from my vocal music. A main difference is that I write vocal music only for my own voice, and instrumental music only for others. Another main difference is that you can jump and roll on the ground while singing, but you can’t quite do that with an instrument. My vocal work has a strong performative practice. I write for my body and voice and for the tension that is held when I look into the audience’s eyes, its a completely different quality of communication. There is also an inherent drama in the voice: it’s human, and shares a collective history with every other person. My instrumental music is a world that is already in interaction with itself, in harmony, inviting the audience to enter and travel as another layer of the tapestry. Chamber music is for an audience to lose themselves in while solo voice is for them to see themselves as.

I am currently working on a piece that brings both those worlds together, which I began during a residency at the Banff Centre in February.

And when you write for your own voice, how do you balance improvisation and being-in-the-moment-and-space against pre-composed material? Is that assumed divide even a useful way of approaching your work?

The balance is very organic, and actually where I feel that yoga really comes in to my experimental contemporary work. At jazz school they taught us that improvisation is composition in real time. When you are in a state of commitment and focus, a flood of very clear ideas that flow from one to the next come through intuitively. I think a lot about the pieces I write, I spend a lot of time writing text about them, their meaning, why and how I am performing them. I have some pieces that are graphically written movement to movement, and some that are words, descriptions and concepts. Before a performance I usually meditate for a while, I meditate on my day, on where I am on what I want to express and perform those piece from that point. I let everything channel through me organically. Its funny but when I perform for artists, dancers, and other non musicians, some of the first comments are – “you’re so brave”. With classical musicians it’s usually – “How much of that was improvised?” When they discover  in disbelief that it was about 80 percent, that’s when I start gaining their respect 🙂

What are you working on now? What’s coming up after this show?

I did a lot of traveling in the last few months performing A Solo Voice, so I feel I am at a brewing point. I just want to settle and let new inspiration come though. With that said, I am working on this piece for voice and chamber ensemble, a monodrama of sorts, I also have some shows in Europe in June and I am performing and composing music for a new theater piece which is based on a traditional Korean Shaman ceremony which will be presented in August.

Full details on Odeya’s concert at Human Resources are up at facebook.com/events/1586249551630860. Her debut album, Vougheauxyice, for solo voice, was released in April of 2014 and is available at odeyanini.com.

Matt Cook of the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet on Holding the Lion’s Paw

Andrew McIntosh came up to me at a concert last week to invite me to hear the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet premiere his new piece, I Hold The Lion’s Paw, at Zipper Hall this Friday, April 10. I’ve loved LAPQ’s recordings, and immediately thought, “wait a second, why haven’t we done anything with them on New Classic LA?” Andrew introduced me to percussionist/LAPQ member Matt Cook, and here we are.

The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet

The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet

Fill us in on the show at Zipper this weekend.

On Friday, April 10th, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet will play a new piece from Andrew McIntosh called “I Hold The Lion’s Paw.”  We are thrilled to premiere this in Zipper Hall because we can take advantage of the size and acoustics of such an incredible space.  We will have four stations set up around the audience to spread melodies in the air and move our sound around the hall. The goal is to create a concert experience that is tailored more towards our audiences’ ears rather than their eyes.

The other pieces on the concert will remain on stage and represent a more traditional chamber music concert experience. These pieces have been written for us by Los Angeles based composers Nick Deyoe, Joseph Pereira, and Shaun Naidoo.  For audiences that have never attended a percussion concert, they will be amazed by the virtuosity of percussionists as well as the diverse sonic possibilities of the art form.

With the music you choose to program and record, it’s obvious that space is important to you. Your records on Sono Luminus are recorded in 7.1 surround sound. Did the decision to record like that come from within the group, or from the recording team? Do you feel that the recordings work equally well on a stereo setup like most listeners have?

As opposed to a string quartet or those with piano, the percussion performance model is very fluid and always changing. We often have strict space constraints because of the large size of our instruments like timpani and marimbas.  Equally as often, we have high flexibility in space based on the kind of repertoire we choose and the smaller  instruments we could use to create it.

At each show, we try to use the space provided to give an audience the deepest experience possible. We tailor each piece and our instrument choices to do just that.

When we perform in a small space, we give an intimate experience of hand held instruments and use items that can fit on one small table. These concerts often explore rhythm or the nuance of softer sounds. When in a large hall, we choose music that can push the limits of the louder dynamic spectrum.

We are excited to perform this show in Zipper because the hall is sensitive enough capture subtle details with clarity and it is large enough to let us push the louder moments.

The spatial aesthetic of our albums began when we started our recording partnership with Sono Luminus.  Most of what they record is in 7.1 Surround Sound and designed to appeal to both the audiophile community and traditional lovers of classical music.

Their recording sessions typically use one tower of microphones in the center of the room with seven microphones pointing in every direction.  During the session, we place our instruments in four stations surrounding the microphones so they can capture the actual spatial sound image. This presents challenges when trying to execute tight rhythmic passages over a great distance, but it pays off when we are able to listen to a piece and feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the ensemble.

When our albums are released, they come with two discs – one stereo CD, and one BluRay surround sound disc.  To me, the stereo version still captures the beautiful details of the composition, our playing, and a large dynamic spectrum.  The stereo version is also how 95% of our listeners can hear the album (iTunes, Spotify, and mp3s, etc).  Having said that, sitting in the middle of a BluRay surround sound album with the production quality that Sono Luminus offers is an extremely rare and rewarding experience.

You have, in not a huge amount of time, put out an impressive number of records, nabbed a GRAMMY nomination, and managed to keep a very busy schedule of performances and events. You’re still in touch with our local scene here, though. Without being too blunt about it, what’s your secret?

We appreciate the kind thoughts and we feel fortunate that our work has been received so  well up to now.  With the individual realities of our family lifestyles, SoCal living proximity, and our creative work with other projects, it is not possible for us to be a “full-time” ensemble at the moment. We are also passionate educators so this makes presenting long tours challenging.

Dealing with our limited schedules, we have chosen to create most of our work by collaborating with composers who are associated with Southern California in some way. The Los Angeles art music community in 2015 is equally as diverse and exciting as anywhere in the world.  Although we do work with composers all over the world, since our ensemble’s birth we have made it our mission to highlight the music of Southern California. In doing so, we hope to extend the long tradition of new music on the West Coast by contributing what is happening right now.

Our relationships with these artists help propel our artistry and career as an ensemble. We work together to create an audience, a sound world, and relationships with music venues.

Percussion quartet is a genre that more and more composers are writing in. Is the medium becoming today’s equivalent of the string quartet in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries? If so, why do you think that is?

Percussion repertoire is expanding rapidly… we love this! There are several reasons for this recent explosion of content.

75 years ago, composer John Cage challenged the expectations of classical music listeners and used percussionists to experiment in a variety of musical contexts.  He set the trend for many composers today to be ambitious in that way. He also established the trend for many percussionists to volunteer to experiment for composers and push the limits of what they could achieve behind an orchestra.

The large collection of instruments many of us have and the hundreds of sounds we can create is attractive to many composers. These sounds often can not be appreciated from behind a larger ensemble, so percussion quartet is a great outlet to explore them. For example, crumbling paper or bowing a cymbal is a kind of sound that requires very few other events to be happening in that moment so they can be heard.

Lastly, the pedagogy over the last 65 years has evolved and created an incredible vehicle for producing creative, talented, and ambitious students. These students create professional ensembles or become teachers to an even more evolved group of young students. A few decades ago, percussion training was limited to orchestral applications or drumset. Now, percussion ensemble playing is at least 50% of the education most modern percussionists receive.

With more and more pieces in the medium, and – I assume – more and more submissions as your reputation grows, what makes a piece stand out as something you want to play? What gets you excited?

Pieces can stand out to us for a variety of reasons.  It could be as simple as coming across a piece that fits a theme of an upcoming event – such as music for percussion and electronics, or music to be performed outside.

New pieces that get us  excited can vary as well.  We often get excited by “new classical” pieces that cross genres and invite interest from wide audiences.  We are equally as interested in meditative pieces that focus on subtle shifts in sound evolving over time.

In terms of choosing our repertoire, it is a fluid process. We always welcome new works and any composer to send us ideas.  With the limited touring schedule, it sometimes has to coincide with practicality of other pieces on the concert and what instruments are available with the time given.

What’s on the horizon for LAPQ?

After our show on April 10th, we head up to Fresno in May for the California Day of Percussion. We’ll adjudicate young ensembles, give masterclasses, and perform a show for hundreds of high school and collegiate percussionists.

LAPQ recently received our 501c3 non-profit status, so we are excited to be developing the long term growth of our group! We are in the process of solidifying our Board of Directors, fundraising, and long term planning over the next few months.

We are also preparing to record our third album with Sono Luminus. As part of this, we are talking to various composers and finding the right mix of artists to collaborate with to make the album special.  Part of this will be fundraising for a large scale commission, which we are very excited about!

Tickets to see LAPQ this Friday at Zipper Hall are available from $5 – $20 at the door. Full details are up on the facebook event page at facebook.com/events/875741825819987. More info and recordings are up on LAPQ’s site, lapercussionquartet.com.

Interview: WasteLAnd’s Nick Deyoe, Matt Barbier, Scott Worthington, Brian Griffeath-Loeb, and Elise Roy

WasteLAnd‘s second season at ArtShare starts this Friday, September 19 (tomorrow) at 8 PM, with percussionist Justin DeHart performing John Luther Adams’ The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies in its entirety. Their first season at the venue was a blast, and drew great crowds for dense and challenging music. We managed to track down the series’ co-directors for an interview about the series and what’s coming up.

What was the impetus to start this series?

Scott: I think we had all individually dreamed of having a series that played music we wished would get played more ’round these parts. Then we realized that multiple heads can be better than one. Our programming is sort of a mash up of all of our desires. For example. I mostly just recommend pieces that are long enough to be the whole concert.

Matt: A lot of the music I really love has a tendency to fall in the cracks between different series in town, so for me, an exciting part of wasteLAnd is getting to focus upon music that I really love that is just outside of the mission of a lot of the series and groups I play with. It’s exciting to get to listen to other performers interested in this type of music and hear what they want to play, but don’t get to, and help provide a space for them.

Nick: I’ve been talking about wanting to do this for years.  I’ve never really wanted to run an ensemble, but have wanted to run either a series or a venue for quite a while.  In fact, I would love it if, at some point down the road, it became possible for wasteLAnd to have its own space.  I had discussed this off and on for some time with Scott, Brian, and Matt, but nothing ever got started until Scott finally found an opportunity through ArtShare that looked promising as a way to launch wasteLAnd.

Is there a central mission, theme, or idea you program your concerts around, or is each one a beast of its own?

Scott: We try to focus on local performers the most (their repertoire interests and, of course, performances), local composers second, and then music that doesn’t seem to show it’s face much around Los Angeles. From there we try to put together concerts that we want to go to.

Matt: Frequently a programming decision is made around the idea of “I really want to hear/perform this one piece, but it’s too much for me to throw together a concert.” With wasteLAnd that’s frequently become a central kernel for a concert. We have an idea for one or two pieces one of us really loves and that gives us a bend and ensemble to build around. Or at least that’s how I think…

Nick: Basically what Scott said…  We love LA and want to show how special the things that happen here are while also presenting music by composers around the country/world who excite us.  The five of us (Elise, Brian, Matt, Scott, myself) have pretty different aesthetic positions.  For anything to be programmed, all five of us have to be on board with it, rather than a simple majority vote.  This is something I feel strongly about because it helps to keep our overall output broad and requires that we all give serious consideration to all of the ideas that are brought to the table (or G-chat conference).

I’ve heard Barbier joke that the directors are Deyoe’s minions. How do you guys divide responsibilities?

Brian: This is a classic example of Barbier’s inability to grasp infinite recursion. As one of the directors himself, Deyoe clearly makes this so-called “joke” an ontological cow pie.

Matt: Well maybe I’m just Deyoe’s minion, or at least try to be.

Nick: the division of responsibilities is an ongoing project for us.  For season one, everyone kind of did everything. For each set of tasks that came up, we’d email around with a list of “what needs to be done” and divvy up the responsibilities.  This will always be some version of how we do it (especially during concert weeks), but we are also working on better defining our individual roles within the organization to make certain aspects more efficient.

What do we have to look forward to in the coming season?

Nick: LOTS to look forward to! We’re excited to finally be at the point of announcing things (coming out this afternoon along with our kickstarter). We’ve been thinking about the concerts (programs/personnel/logistics) since April.  We have 25-30 local performers playing and are presenting something around 30 composers.  Some highlights are The Formalist Quartet with Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick in October, Mark Menzies and Stephanie Aston with the wasteLAnd musicians performing Ferneyhough’s Terrain and Etudes Transcendantales, Italian violinist/violist Marco Fusi playing a solo program of young Italian and Angelino composers, and the world premiere the brass version of James Tenney’s Saxony….and lots of other things.  Check our website www.wastelandmusic.org for full season 2 details.

Matt: What Nick wrote. This year is exciting because it’s a wonderful mix of pieces I’ve wanted to play for a long time (Terrain, Saxony, Hölszky’s WeltenEnden, EARTH) and that I’ve always dreamed of hearing like- particularly Ferneyhough’s Etudes Transcendantales. So for me it’s very exciting and I think this year’s programs will have that for a lot of people.

Is Elise Roy having any issues with being the only beardless member?

Brian: All conditions are impermanent. My beard, for instance, has grown substantially in the last few days. Elise was brought on for her deep existential wisdom; I doubt she’d fall prey to fears of beardlessness as a permanent state of being…

Nick: I think there’s still plenty of beard to go around.  Having Elise as a part of the team has been great so far. She came in once most of the season was already planned, but will be instrumental in our planning for season 3 and has also offered a lot of very useful insight as we prepare to raise the funds for the current season.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Scott: Please be on the look out for our Kickstarter which will help prolong wasteLAnd’s life and wellbeing.

Matt: Well one can braid top-of-head hair into a beard with quite successful results.

Elise: If you find yourself at any of our concerts, please introduce yourself or say hi to us.  For the five of us, one of the joys of hosting this series is seeing the new music community of Southern California come together!

Interview: Composer Daníel Bjarnason on The Isle is Full of Noises

On Sunday, March 4, the American Youth Symphony and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus will jointly premiere Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason’s The Isle is Full of Noises at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Bjarnason’s music is, if I do say so myself, damn amazing (scroll down to the video below for proof).

AYS just sent out a newsletter with an interview with Bjarnason about the new piece. They also very kindly gave me permission to reprint it here. Enjoy!

Did you play in a youth orchestra growing up or sing in a children’s chorus?
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much experience with youth orchestras as a kid, since my main instrument was piano. However I managed to sneak into the school orchestra sometimes when they needed extra percussion. My main instrument on those occasions was the bass drum, and I consider the highlight of my percussion career playing Tchaikovsky 4 on the bass drum. Later, when I was studying conducting in Freiburg, Germany, I got to play a lot of piano and celeste in the university orchestra, which was great for me, both as conductor and as a composer. I have a great deal of experience with choir singing, and sang in a chorus both as a kid and as a teenager. There is a rich choir tradition in Iceland and many people who are not musicians sing in choirs.

Please tell us about some of your recent projects.
I recently released an album called Sólaris, which is a piece of music that I wrote with Ben Frost. We performed and recorded Sólaris with the Sinfonietta Cracovia from Krakow, Poland. It is a piece based on the original story of Stanislav Lem and the movie by Andrei Tarkovsky (some people might recognize the Hollywood remake by Soderbergh).

Is this your first premiere in the United States?
This is my first large scale premiere in the US. I believe my only other US premiere was when I played a small piano piece that I had written on John Schaefer’s radio show in New York City a couple of years ago.

What would you say about The Isle Is Full of Noises to the orchestra, to introduce them to your work, before the first read through?
I would talk about the words of Shakespeare, and tell them how when I was writing this I imagined the orchestra to be the Island on which The Tempest happens, this enchanted island that has many sounds and moods and atmospheres, from very gentle and beautiful to the most violent and raging.

What is the audience going to experience?
One of the things that I find wonderful about music is that everyone can experience it in their own way, and a piece of music can have many different meanings to many different people. I don’t want to say what is right or wrong and I don’t even believe there is such a thing. This is also the reason why I usually don’t write program notes.

Now, if you could invite anyone you like to this concert, who would you invite?
Shakespeare. And my grandfather.

What is next on your calendar? What other commissions are you working on?
I am working on a piece for the LA Phil that will be premiered in October, conducted by John Adams as part of the Green Umbrella series. Then there is a new chamber opera on the horizon, my first opera. But currently I am rehearsing La Bohème at the Icelandic Opera, which opens on March 16th.

For complete details, and to order tickets, to the March 4 concert, visit aysymphony.org/concert-calendar/current-season/march-4-2012.

Interview: Composer/Percussionist Ben Phelps

When I started New ClassicLA, Ben Phelps wrote to me almost immediately. Aside from being very complimentary, he told me how excited he was about LA finally forming a proper new music scene, with ensembles like What’s Next? and others performing in clubs and alternative spaces far outside of Disney Hall. Ben has played all over town, from gigs as a percussionist at Disney Hall to a principal position with the American Youth Symphony. The music he’s been writing has been getting him a lot of attention throughout Southern California and beyond.

This Wednesday, What’s Next? Ensemble (of which Ben is a founding member) premieres his new work Six Ways to Be Alone at Royal/T in Culver City. After watching him nearly impersonate an octopus with the percussion parts at their last concert, I wouldn’t want to miss it. Plus they have good beer and cupcakes.

At What’s Next? Ensemble’s concert a few weeks ago, I overheard you talking to a composer about writing for marimba. You said something along the lines of “we need more real composers interested in writing for percussion. Mostly it’s percussionists trying their hand at writing something.” You, however, are both a percussionist and a composer. Tell me about how your two practices influence each other, and whether you have trouble balancing them or making sure you’re in top shape for both.

Well, it’s always trouble, and I’m not sure I ever am in total top shape for both. I tend to be a pretty obsessive composer, so one thing that helps me is that I’m not actually doing both simultaneously most of the time. I find it pretty impossible. If I’m writing a piece, I tend to get consumed and then just have to finish the piece before moving on. The rest of the time, I can practice, or feel guilty that I’m not. Multi-tasking is one of the worst inventions ever, I have massive inferiority complexes about my multi-tasking abilities.
So am I as good a percussionist as I would be if I weren’t also a composer? Probably not. However, I can say that I believe I’m a much better composer for having been so active a player- I’ve learned so much more about music from sitting in rehearsals and actually figuring out how to make stuff work than I ever did in a classroom. Actually, being a percussionist is pretty perfect for this because in a Mahler symphony, say, we tend to play so few notes. There’s a lot of time to sit and listen to how he uses the bassoon.

Talk with me about Six Ways to Be Alone, the piece you’ll be premiering. What was its genesis? What are you trying to do with the piece?

Well, initially I wanted to write some pop songs. I was wondering why the “serious” composer is expected to set poetry, instead of just writing a song (music and lyrics) like Bob Dylan. Also, you can’t be a young hip composer these days without trying to incorporate pop influences into your music. Otherwise you don’t fit into the critical narrative. However, I quickly found that writing pop songs for orchestral instruments can sound pretty lame. So while I liked the idea of saying I was working on a “rock opera,” the finished product might be pretty far removed from this initial conception. What I’m left with are some original songs about love and loss. Like most good songs.

Not having heard it yet, the title implies a very personal meaning. How do you feel about putting yourself into your music? Do you want to represent your own emotions and worldview and such, or let the music take on a character independent of yourself?

It’s not something I actively set out to do, I also don’t set out NOT to do it. It seems crazy to think “nothing of me is in this piece of art,” because one that’s bullshit, no matter how hard you try something about your circumstances and life went into the creation of that thing at that time, and two, I’m not sure the artist should consider that desirable. In any case, it’s pretty hopeless for me. Pieces I obsessed with at the time find their way into my music, as do my life situations and world views, and personality. I don’t fight it, isn’t that one of the things that makes art interesting? That said, music is abstract and it’s not like I set out to write an autobiography. I just want to write music that I find moving and meaningful, and sometimes that becomes more personal and sometimes less so.

With the previous questions in mind, do you prefer to explain and discuss your work with audiences, or let your music speak for itself? I ask because of the minimal (and quite eye-catching) program notes that What’s Next? used at their last concert, and because it seems like there are artistic and experiential implications when you discuss a work before listeners hear it.

Shrug. I’m a little indifferent. I get annoyed when an explanation becomes longer than the piece. But sometimes it’s nice to give the novice listener something to grab onto. Listening to music- really listening- is a learned art and you can’t expect to just throw people into classical music concerts and really understand everything. I hope that my music speaks for itself. I think sometimes you can get more from a piece if you know just a little more about it before you hear it. Or maybe even better after you hear it. I don’t think there will be any explanation for my piece in the program though.

Since you’re both composer and performer, and a very virtuosic and capable one at that, I’d like to know your feelings on the performer-composer relationship, and the role of individual virtuosity these days.

I’ll let you know how it goes when others have attempted my marimba solo. I can and do proselytize about the need for composers to write music that is no more difficult than it absolutely needs to be, but I’m not sure if I listen to my own advice.

What else is on the horizon for you?

I’m writing a string quartet (with trumpet) about Los Angeles. It’s called The Angels. Get it? My new percussion quartet will be premiered by the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet in the spring. And What’s Next? is a lot of work.

As always, since we are in fact promoting LA as place for people to come for music and beyond, what is your favorite:

1. Neighborhood

I’m a Los Angeles Cosmopolitan, not a Balkan.

2. Place to hear music

Hmm. Wherever it’s good? I guess I’m seen most at Disney concert hall, and the Blue Whale in Little Tokyo.

3. Restaurant

Well, I’ll give a plug to Malibu Seafood, in Malibu obviously.

4. Bar/hang out

I liked Wurstkuche before it was cool. My new favorite is BeerBelly, little Tokyo. Apparently they have lucky charms pancakes. I haven’t had those.

5. Store

I’ve never considered having a favorite store.

6. Thing to do/see

Concerts. And climbing mountains. That basically sums it up.
Check out the premiere of Six Ways to Be Alone this Wednesday at Royal/T in Culver City. For more information on Ben and What’s Next? Ensemble, visit benphelpscomposer.com and whatsnextensemble.com.

Interview: Music Director Grant Gershon on the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 2011-12 Season

Grant Gershon is a busy guy. You would be too, with a season as jam packed as the one he has programmed for the LA Master Chorale. He’s also an LA local, having studied at USC and working – in addition to his duties as the LAMC’s music director – with the LA Opera, LA Phil, LA Children’s Chorus, and others. I’m amazed and honored that he had the time to answer a few questions about the chorale’s current season, which began this past weekend at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

I’m going to open with a loaded question: what concert or piece are you most excited about this season?

Grant Gershon

Hmmm, you’re asking me to choose my favorite kid! That can be very hurtful to the siblings, you know. Okay…I’m very interested to see what Gabriela Lena Frank comes up with for the chorale and Huayucaltia. David Lang and James Newton are two very good friends of mine, and I’m eager to share their music with our singers and audience.

You’ve got a lot of variety programmed, both throughout the season and within individual concerts. Could you talk about how you prepare differently for, say, Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion than you do for David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion?

Someone once asked Helmut Rilling how he prepares a score, and he said, “I look at it.” Pretty much the same for me, whether it’s Bach or someone else!

Could you talk a little bit about the “LA is the World” commissioning project, and this year’s composer, Gabriela Lena Frank?

I love Gaby’s music and her sense of fantasy. “LA is the World” is a commissioning initiative that we started in 2006. The idea is to pair composers with master musicians that represent traditions within the various communities that make up Los Angeles. Gaby will work with the terrific band Huayucaltia, which specializes in Andean music. Gaby comes to this project with a lot of experience and perspective on this music of her mother’s roots.

Were you involved in the creation of the expanded choral version of The Little Match Girl Passion, or did David Lang take that on himself?

That was his deal.

You mentioned that in programming this season, you’ve focused largely on texts, and said that you would be doing “pieces of tremendous political import and works with profound spiritual implications.” Could you discuss some of the philosophical nuances of programming and performing music?

Whoa, that’s a lot to chew on! First off, did I say that? Okay, I probably did. One of the things that I find most fascinating about programming a season of choral works is that you have to deal with the spiritual implications of this repertoire. Since the most ancient times, singing in groups has had a strong ceremonial or religious underpinning. Certainly the great choral repertoire that has come down to us over the last 600 years was more often than not written either for liturgical use or to communicate the composer’s own religious or spiritual quest.

The LA Master Chorale is not a religious organization, and I’m not interested in proselytizing. The music itself has to be of such a high quality that it universalizes any dogma that the words alone would suggest. To me, that is the ultimate test of what is worthy of our programs.

At the same time, the “political” message behind a piece like Gorecki’s Miserere (support of the solidarity movement in Poland) or Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion (the responsibility of society to aid the least fortunate) is amplified and made even more compelling by the brilliant musical structure of each work.

I know you’re running out of time, so just a few quick LA questions! What is your favorite:
1. Neighborhood
Eagle Rock, of course!

2. Place to hear music
Walt Disney Concert Hall, of course!

3. Restaurant
Too many to say!

4. Bar/hang out
Kendall’s (after a concert).

5. Store
Apple (just shoot me now!).

6. Thing to do/see
Star gaze through the light pollution!

For more information on Grant and the LA Master Chorale, visit lamc.org.