Next Tuesday, December 12, violist Diana Wade will be performing a solo recital at Monk Space, with some guest appearances from violist Linnea Powell and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Beattie. I had the opportunity to ask Diana some questions about the program, working with composers, and thoughts about performing and composing. Here’s what she had to say:
The title of the program is “You Made It Weird.” So, how weird is it?
SO WEIRD! HA. Actually, I think weird is in the eye (or ear, as the case may be) of the beholder and on some level I don’t think anything on my program is weird. It’s only weird if you make it weird. That being said, there’s some pretty strange stuff on the docket: I don’t imagine most people have heard an entire vocal duo in vocal fry, let alone anticipate hearing that at the top of a “viola recital.” What I love about this program is that no two pieces really embody the same aesthetic, so I’m really trying to go down the rabbit hold of each sonic world so far that maybe the strange, at very least, starts to make sense? I get bummed out when I hear that people feel alienated by new music or classical music, in general. I’m not at all planning on doing a lecture-recital, but I have taken into consideration the entertainment value of what I’ve programmed as well as thinking about what is an effective way to communicate and present these strange beautiful sounds to the connoisseurs and newbies, alike.
Can you tell us a bit more about your own piece, fry on fry? What was the inspiration behind it?
fry on fry was borne out of a “hey, wouldn’t it be funny if….” situation: I met Jen Beattie (who will be performing with me) at New Music on the Point, a new music festival in Vermont. Jen mentioned that she was talking to the singers there about vocal fry and I just said “hey, what if there was a piece in vocal fry, solely notated in types of fries?!” She and I giggled about it and over a beer (or three) came up with the general performance practice- a french fry will sound like this, a curly fry like that, etc. I didn’t think I would write the piece ever. Fast forward a few months and I get an email from Jen “I’m coming to LA, write the fry piece!” So I did, and it has strangely taken off. It’s been performed a handful of times on both coasts and just recently had its Australian premiere! While it is certainly a funny piece, from the minute I started writing I couldn’t get out of my mind some old podcasts and npr stories I’d heard about people complaining about the sound of women’s voices on the radio and, in particular, any use of fry in their voice. This just added a layer for me: considering all of these complaints about women’s voices and then choosing to write a piece that just bombards the listener with this supposed awful sound for a few minutes is really empowering. The last thing I’ll say about that is that Jen and I premiered the piece, but she has also performed it with a male duo partner and the Australian premiere was with two men: it’s so cool to experience the piece in each iteration. It takes on a new life with each combination. I will be projecting the score while Jen and I perform it, so everyone can see all the fries!
You’ll be performing the world premiere of a piece by Adam Borecki for viola, electronics, and projection. Can you tell us more about the piece?
Ok I don’t want to give away all the craziness that is Adam’s piece BUT I’m really excited about it. This is the first time I’ve had a solo piece so specifically written for me. Adam and I started working together on it in the summer – he recorded those early conversations and some of the movement titles are actually quotes of things, or references to things I said. Most of this piece was written with me sitting in the room next to Adam which was a luxury to both of us and led to a really beautiful collaboration. The piece is in 5 movements and some of the parts I’m most excited (and nervous) about require me doing things beyond playing the viola. I want to remain mysterious so I will just list things that are involved: video camera, lazy Susan, two pocket synthesizers, an mbira, office supplies, a quarter sized violin bow, a wooden frog and SO MUCH MORE.
In a way, this is a dream program for me: for example, I’ve wanted to play Viola, Viola (Benjamin) for a decade, but at first at seemed too daunting and then it was hard to find the right time and place to do it. I’m super thankful to my friend Linnea Powell for learning it with me, we’ve been chipping away on it for a few months and it’s been so fun to work with her.
I mean, all of these pieces are rad but the Sciarrino was one of the first pieces I knew I wanted to program- I had heard recordings of it and was completely enamored with sounds and textures I was hearing and I immediately knew I wanted to use them as connecting material throughout a program. Then, I got the music, and realized how wickedly hard this beautiful music was. So, there was an extended banging my head against the wall phase of learning it, but I think they are going to be a really special feature of this program.
In many ways, this program is incredibly personal and represents a fairly accurate snapshot of what’s going on in my mind right now from the beautiful to the completely bizarre.
What are your thoughts about working with and/or playing the music of living composers?
Whether it’s playing music by a friend or a living composer I’ve never met (like Sciarrino), I think it is of the highest importance to be playing music of our time. I absolutely love playing the “standard” repertoire, but being able to have conversations with composers: whether about a specific piece, or just getting to know them, informs so much about how I want to approach their music. Having the opportunity to bring a piece to life for the first time is an extra special thing to be a part of- getting to see and hear abstract ideas turn into a reality is completely thrilling.
What do you enjoy most about solo performance versus working with ensembles, such as Wild Up, Jacaranda, and others?
Well, this concert feels like a stepping out for me as an artist. For the majority of my professional life, I have seen myself in reference to an ensemble whether that’s an orchestra or chamber ensemble and so it’s really exciting (and a little scary) to take full ownership of a program to let people know who I am and what I’m about. I don’t have schemes or illusions that I’m on the road to becoming a famous viola soloist (I know, that’s sort of an oxymoron), but I see this as a step in the direction of carving out a little space for my voice in Los Angeles and, hopefully eventually, in the greater musical world.
Check out Tuesdays at Monk Space for more information on the December 12 concert or to purchase tickets.
This Friday night, June 3, Aperture Duo, the violin/viola duo project of Adrianne Pope and Linnea Powell takes the stage at Boston Court for the next installment of wild Up!’s WORK series. Thankfully, Linnea and Adrianne found time between rehearsals to answer a few questions about the show and the duo. Enjoy, and see you Friday!
So, tell me a bit about Friday.
Adrianne: Po Pow!!
Linnea: On Friday night Adrianne and I are featured on a double bill for wild Up’s WORK series. WORK concerts highlight the influences and passions of members of the band and we’re excited to bring our chamber music project Aperture Duo to the series. This concert is a huge honor for both of us and we took the opportunity to bring some friends along and play some larger ensemble pieces.
A: It’s going to be a raucous show: we’re playing duos by George Aperghis, W.A. Mozart, Nicholas Deyoe, and a world premiere by Chris Rountree with our good friend and collaborator, Jodie Landau. We’re finishing the concert with a Julia Wolfe piece for 5 singing, stomping violins. Prepping for this concert with Maiani da Silva, Mona Tian, and Nicole Sauder has been a total blast.
What inspired you to start this duo? Were you friends before and wanted to do something together, or was it a specific body of work you wanted to explore and develop?
L: I moved to LA in 2013 and was pretty hungry for chamber music opportunities in town. A year later Adrianne showed up at a wild Up planning meeting and I basically accosted her to read through some duos.
A: I had no idea what I was getting into, but once we started reading Mozart, I was amazed at how well we clicked musically. Then we discovered a ton of similarities….both native surf-town-hippie-ville Californians, University of Michigan alums, amino acid fans, etc. We decided to set a goal for our reading rehearsals by preparing a full concert. We found a recently written duo by Clara Ianotta that we both loved and added it to the Mozart and Martinu.
L: I think we were both surprised at how well that first concert went. It’s a goal of every chamber musician to to be spontaneous and completely present on stage, and it definitely was the case for this show. We had so much fun performing and our audience loved it. After that we were hooked. Knowing that there was limited existing rep for violin and viola duo made it all the more enticing since we were both excited to commission new works.
We know each other through the new music scene, and I’ve of course seen you play with wild Up! and program works by local composers. So, imagine my surprise when a friend’s first comment after seeing Aperture Duo was about the Mozart – he said “that was the best Mozart K. 423 I’ve ever heard.” Is your interest in “the rep” similar to your interest in new music?
A: Absolutely. I love looking at a piece written today, then looking back at Mozart and realizing that badassery is timeless. Composers have always been and will always be breaking, rewriting, then breaking rules over and over again. Our focus is definitely on new music, but by performing music from multiple genres we become better interpreters and musicians. The styles inform each other.
L: It’s all there, no matter when a piece was written: form, contrast, phrasing, communication, sound-world, intent. Working with a composer on these concepts can make it easier because they can give us specific ideas, but we still do a lot of our own interpretation on every piece. And sometimes it’s really fun to say “they’re dead! let’s do what we want.”
Have you found any sticking points on the sort of genre-mixing you program? Or are you finding audiences to be as open minded as you are?
L: In general, the response to our programming has been super positive. With such closely related instruments, the common misconception is that all pieces programmed on a violin and viola duo concert will sound the same. We see this as a fun challenge, and we strive to program contrasting works.
A: We also put a lot of thought into the audience experience. We want our programs to hold the audience’s attention and we want them to actually feel things during our concerts…whether it’s bliss, curiosity, or total discomfort to the point of wanting to pull their hair out. We also like to ask the question of “what is beautiful?” This allows us to be creative with pushing the limits of our instruments’ sounds.
Who do you like to go hear in town?
L: There’s so much happening all the time! It’s super inspiring to see our friends in the new music scene putting themselves out there and programing shows with so much intent. We both try to see as many concerts as we can to support the thriving scene.
A: Besides local groups, I love to go to all kinds of different concerts…from Lila Downs to Andrew Bird to Patti Smith.
L: When my ears need a break I love seeing independent theater and dance.
What’s next for Aperture Duo?
A: This summer, we are excited to be in residence at Avaloch Farm, where we will work on rep for next season and workshop a commission with Noah Meites. In August, we’ll be performing at the Carlsbad Music Festival. We have lots of shows in the works for next season including an Aperture Duo and Friends concert with Richard Valitutto and some exciting commissions.
Anything else you’d like to add?