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.
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.
Over the years I’ve spent running New Classic LA, I’ve heard time and time again the narrative that the torch of new music in Los Angeles is being passed down from our venerable old institutions like Monday Evening Concerts and the LA Phil’s Green Unbrella series to newer, more agile ensembles and series like wild Up and WasteLAnd. Old wisdom had it that the best way for a composer to get played in LA was to move to New York. I hope, with the massive triumph and all-inclusive nature of the LA Phil’s Noon to Midnight event on Saturday, these narratives can finally be put to rest. The torch isn’t being passed down, it’s being shared, and everyone is invited.
First, let’s talk scale. Disney Hall’s spaces were opened up to many of LA’s ensembles and series, and the 12 hour marathon, in which it was impossible to catch everything, featured the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, Piano Spheres, wild Up, gnarwhallaby, WasteLAnd, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Monday Evening Concerts, the USC Percussion Ensemble, The Industry, Jacaranda, Chris Kallmyer, Lucky Dragons, the LA Phil Bass Quintet, the LA Phil New Music Group, as well as a slew of food trucks and a small tasting area for a few beers from SolArc, a brewery that began life catering wild Up parties.
Programming was the spirit of inclusiveness itself, though with a somewhat surprising slant toward sounds and big works from the European, harder, avant-garde. Piano Spheres presented Messiaen’s complete, three-hour, Catalogue d’oiseaux in the garden’s Keck Amphitheatre, calling on pianists Vicky Ray, Susan Svrcek, Thomas Kotcheff, Aron Kallay, Steven Vanjauwaert, Nic Gerpe, Danny Holt, Mark Robson, Joanne Pearce Martin, Sarah Gibson, Richard Valitutto, and Nadia Shpachenko. The playing was top notch, as expected with a roster like that, and the sounds floating in from the garden and street actually served the piece well, putting Messiaen’s birds in a context where you might actually find a few of them.
Other euro-avant picks for the day included the USC Percussion Ensemble’s performance of Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique with a restoration of the original Léger film, and gnarwhallaby’s even-more-aggressive-than-usual delivery of Gorecki’s Muzyczja IV, a brief, crushing, aleatoric sort of trombone concerto that was the original impetus for the group’s formation. With the LA Phil’s penchant for Gorecki’s later, more accessible, work, hearing this punch in the face in Disney Hall was a serious treat, and a highlight of the day.
But let’s get to the new stuff. Wild Up has built a National Composers Intensive in partnership with the LA Phil, in which young composers get to write for the chamber orchestra on a fast deadline, with mentorship from established personalities in the field. Wild Up picked four works for their 1 pm show, from Tina Tallon, Thomas Kotcheff, Katherine Balch, and Ali Can Puskulcu. All showed off unique voices and impressive command of orchestration. Thomas Kotcheff’s gone/gone/gone beyond/gone beyond beyond was the highlight, a riotous, overtly physical, totally insane, “total excess in all things all the time” piece that only a band like wild Up could pull off. It was convincing, self indulgant, and I loved it. I was also unaware before hearing it that guitarist Chris Kallmyer could shred that hard.
Tina Tallon’s Sear, which delved into her life with tinnitus after rupturing an ear drum a couple years ago, was a wrenching and effective listen, and my favorite piece of hers yet. Bowed styrofoam and a power drill could have been gimmicky, as could the whole idea of basing a piece on high drones and sounds disappearing – but Tina handled them with aplomb. It’s a dangerous artistic line she chose to walk with Sear, and she nailed it.
Turning back to the heavier avant-garde, WasteLAnd’s set in BP Hall had the premiere of Nicholas Deyoe’s Finally, the cylindrical voids tapping along, with text by Allison Carter sung by soprano Stephanie Aston. This seemed to show a slightly simpler and more direct side of Deyoe’s writing, as his vocal music sometimes does – but I say seemed to because the bleed of crowd noise into BP Hall became a real problem for the chamber music sets as the day went on. I am sure Ashley Walters’ performance of Liza Lim’s Invisiblity was utterly stunning, and Erik Ulman’s Tout Orgueil… seemed delicate and thought provoking – but we’ll have to go to WasteLAnd’s repeat of the performance this Friday at Art Share to be sure.
Not at all affected by the crowd noise was the LA Percussion Quartet’s performance in the same space later in the day. Daniel Bjarnason and Ellen Reid presented pieces in line with their dominant aesthetics. This is by no means a bad thing – Bjarnason’s Qui Tollis had a few ideas about varying ostinati and loops from his piano concerto Processions and was similarly thrilling, and Reid’s Fear / Release was covered in decorative flourishes reminiscent of her rooftop scene from Hopscotch, a highlight of that massive opera. Jeffrey Holmes’ Ur, on the other hand, was a break through premiere. With the ensemble surrounding the audience, each musician surrounded by similar set ups of gongs, toms, bass drums, flower pots, and cymbals, we listeners were bathed in swirling cascades of sound, as players echoed each others gestures a few beats apart. I’m not sure that the piece would work as well without the spatialization – but with it, it was magic. Thankfully LAPQ tends to record in surround sound, so the effect won’t be lost when they get around to Ur.
Surprisingly, the evening Green Umbrella concert, with its more traditional format, felt significantly less interesting than the rest of the day. The music was perfectly good – Kate Soper’s The Ultimate Poem Is Abstract was wonderful, as was the composer/singer’s assured and entertaining delivery of the text, and Ingram Marshall’s Flow was lovely as expected – but sitting in the hall, being quiet between movements somehow felt like a comedown from the high of running around from show to show, seeing friends from across the new music spectrum enjoying all sorts of different things.
Wild Up’s 10 pm set changed that. Conductor/composer Christopher Rountree’s Word. Language. Honey., a violin concerto commissioned for Jennifer Koh who tore into it with abandon, was unequivocally the best thing Rountree has written yet. Days later, as I type this, I still get chills thinking about the unison bass drum hits decaying into the distance, and the frantic shredding of strings at the opening giving way to more lyrical passages throughout, and the clever use of text (the piece began with misdirection, as the band started playing while Rountree was seemingly introducing the program), his words coming back in recorded form later. I’ve always liked his music, but Word. Language. Honey. takes his composing from “assured, effective, solid, I like it” to stunning, unique, and powerful. It’s a piece not to be missed.
This review could easily continue for another thousand words. Andrew McIntosh’s Yelling Into The Wind was clever and effective, a sort of play on the whole concept of the virtuoso concerto, as pianist Richard Valitutto traded simple lines with individual soloists from the rest of the ensemble. The Industry’s installation, Nimbus, with music from Rand Steiger, clouds floating above the elevators, musicians and singers walking around (also reminiscent of the last scene of Hopscotch) was whimsical and fun and gave life to an unusually dead space in Disney Hall. Jacaranda’s performance of Steve Reich’s Eight Lines was solid – Donald Crockett’s conducting is impossibly clear, useful for minimalism – and the crickets in the literal spotlight of Chris Kallmyer’s Crickets sang their little cricket hearts out.
The support from a major institution like the LA Phil of all these smaller, grassroots organizations is a huge boon to the LA scene. The phil knows that they wouldn’t have an audience for new music without the work of all these other presenters, and despite the right-leaning shade of the phrase “a rising tide lifts all ships,” every new music group in town will benefit from days like these, whether they were on the program or not.
A day after the event, I saw an instagram post from Kallmyer, a photo of his crickets being released into the wild. They sang together in his little box. Maybe now they’ll go spread all over LA and keep singing, inspired by what they did when they were together. As for the zillion musicians and ensembles and composers that the LA Phil invited into their home on Saturday, I know they will. LA Phil, thanks for having us.
Like many operas, David Lang’s anatomy theater (with a libretto by Lang and Mark Dion) – presented by the LA Opera and Beth Morrison Projects – ends with a woman dead on stage. Unlike many operas, said woman is dead when the curtain goes up, and her status has little impact on her ability to sing. Set ambiguously around the start of the 18th Century in England, the premise of the work is that the audience is the audience for a medical dissection. At the time, the only bodies available for dissection were those of executed convicts, and anatomists believed that the organs of a law-breaker were marked by their crimes, turning public dissections into moral spectacles where law-abiding citizens could see purported marks of evil in a criminal’s corpse. (Needless to say, there was also an element of inflicting further punishment on the convict even after death.)
And so we have our criminal: Sarah Osborne (played masterfully by Peabody Southwell) who, in an aria on the gallows before her execution in the lobby before the show proper begins, confesses to murdering her children and abusive husband, defiantly expresses her expectation that God will forgive her and receive her soul into Heaven — or, failing that, “if [her] Lord and Savior will be so cruel to [her] as men and women have been, [she] had rather burn in the flames of Hell.” The executioner is Joshua Crouch (Marc Kudisch), who also happens to be the impresario for the dissection that is to follow. “Don’t you feel safer?” he bellows at the gathered crowd, gesturing at the limp corpse of the hanged Osborne. The crowd — treated to complementary sausages and beer to better recreate the atmosphere of a public execution — laughed nervously, the first of many deliberate disconnects between the attitudes of the 21st–Century Americans we actually were and the 18th–Century Englishmen (and men were the only people allowed at “public” dissections) the characters treated us as. In the theater itself, Crouch is joined by Baron Peel (Robert Osborne) and his assistant Ambrose Strang (Timur). Strang does the work of cutting up the body and extracting its organs, while Peel pontificates about the nature of evil, the balances of the Four Humors, and other such sundries.
Not surprisingly, this is a gristly affair. Most of us would likely find a human dissection unpleasant to watch under the best of circumstances, but here the air is soured still further by the undercurrent of female objectification taken to its most literal extreme; Sarah Osborne’s body is a literal object for men to toy with, cut to pieces, and condemn. And yet, much to Peel’s chagrin, Strang finds each organ removed immaculate, describing Osborne’s stomach, spleen, heart, and uterus in hagiographic terms and utterly thwarting Peel’s quest to find the mark of Satan’s handiwork. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it is only Strang who seems to hear Osborne when she shudders back to a ghostly simulacrum of life towards the opera’s final third.) After Peel concedes failure and departs, Crouch offers to continue the dissection informally “around the back” — for a fee, of course.
Gristly as these proceedings are, the score is a far cry from a relentless stream of horrors. There are certainly moments of strident dissonance, but there are others of transcendent radiance — much of the dissection itself falls somewhere uneasily in between, torn between the marvelous inner workings of the human body and the raging misogyny and hypocrisy that surround this particular exploration of them. The bulk of the music flits lightly between twitchy recitative and more languorous arioso passages, with hints of minimalism and art pop lurking just out of sight, but there are a few moments towards the beginning that seem to veer closer to pastiche: One, Baron Peel’s first introduction, borrowing the caustic updating of early English operetta found in Brecht/Weill’s Threepenny Opera and the other, a long and bizarre ensemble number announcing the pending description of the anatomist’s tools, poking gentle fun at certain excesses of Philip Glass.
Directed by Bob McGrath and Music Director Christopher Rountree (the Artistic Director of wild Up, which served as the pit orchestra for the show), the four singers brought their roles to powerful life. Southwell’s Osborne was by turns defiant, distraught, and desperate, displaying the full range of the human heart and showing with countless subtleties the overpowering forces that might make someone conclude that murder was their best and only means of escape from an unconscionable situation. Crouch, as played by Kudisch, is a lecherous scoundrel, driven by nothing more than the desire to line his own pockets. Timur brought an air of dazed reverence to the role of Strang, a young man, clearly out of his depth, but standing firmly by what he knows to be true in pronouncing each organ unblemished even in the face of Peel’s considerable displeasure. And Robert Osborne, in turn, was a thunderously self-righteous Peel, genuinely convinced of the justness of his cause and unbending in the face of any possible contradictory evidence. In his final aria, he sends the audience away with a dire warning to be on the lookout for omnipresent evil. “Where is evil?” he snarls, “There it is! There it is! There it is!”, jabbing his finger every which way. He points everywhere except himself.
The Edge of Forever is Lewis Pesacov and Elizabeth Cline’s opera for the end of the most recent cycle of the Mayan Long Count, though to hear them tell it the piece may have already existed for a few thousand years before they showed up. Performed by wild Up on the evening of December 21, 2012, the recording is finally making its way to the public via The Industry Records this week, with a release party on Friday, June 24, at 365 Mission. Better yet, you can hear the finale right here, in this post, today! We’ll let Lewis and Elizabeth explain. The track, and info on the show, are at the end.
The Edge of Forever is, as I understand it, only the third act of this opera, the first two acts of which happened in 830 CE. Being that time is cyclical, will those first two acts be taking place again in roughly 2,280 years?
Elizabeth: That would be interesting! I believe that the cyclical nature of time means that when one cycle ends another begins, not that it repeats itself. For the Maya, the most fundamental aspect of their belief structure is that time is without end or beginning; the end of one cycle simply allows for the dawn of the next. And this is exactly what happened on December 21, 2012.
I was under the impression the performance could only happen once, on that date. Are you considering this recording almost as a document of what happened that night, more than a piece of art on its own? Or have your views of the work changed since then?
Elizabeth: We wrote an opera for an exact moment in time and it was our intention that the opera would be performed in that exact moment – December 21, 2012 from 8:30-9:15pm PST. The scenes before that moment exist and the scenes after that moment exist, unwritten, and the story itself stretches infinitely far into the past and future. It was a conscious effort to be of and in the moment. The recording documents that moment but also serves as an archive for a work that will never be realized as a whole again. However, we will be performing the final aria from the opera live at our record release show on June 24th, an exception to the rule because this aria has been modified specifically for this concert event.
Lewis: The three middle scenes of the five on the album are live recordings from the one-time only performance. I would certainly consider these as the documentation of the original event. A few unfortunate technical difficulties made for the first and final scene unusable for an album so I decided to make studio recordings to complete the documentation. Although the studio recordings were not captured at that specific moment in time, they are still very much artifacts of the event. Moreover, this unintended outcome led to the opportunity to record the first scene in the studio, a creative turn on the original music in the decision to use just one voice, the luminous Abby Fischer, to play the role of all of the 4 scribes. This allowed us to represent the many in the one, which in turn helped us go deeper into the message of Non-duality already embedded in the story. So in a way, through accidents, we arrived at an even tighter version of the work.
What attracted you both to this material? Was the interest in these Mayan culture already there, or was it spurred by the wide interest in their calendar leading up to 12/21/12? I know you are both interested in meditation, and it seems like some of the philosophy of TM and oneness made it into the work as well.
Elizabeth: As December 2012 drew near there was a huge upswell in interest in the Mayan calendar and the false “doomsday” prophesy that when the calendar ends so does the world. Even before this widespread public obsession we were fascinated by Mayan cosmology, having visited ancient Mayan temples in the Yucatan Peninsula, and started a deep dive into the ancient texts like the Popol Vuh and Chilam Balam. But really, what is more operatic than “the end” having been foretold in stone engravings since the 9th century? It is both historic and mythic which is very fertile ground for opera!
Our meditation practice and inquiry into the nature of self and consciousness is the biggest influence on our work together. Through studying and practicing meditation, I’m naturally drawn to thinking about time and perception verses presence and states of being, which like love are spaces outside of time where we connect to the infinite. This idea of connection and oneness is where this opera ends and where our next opera (in progress), Out There, begins.
It seems like, by taking native traditions and beliefs (and even instruments) and putting them into the western context of opera, you might be skirting on some questions of appropriation. I don’t mean that in at all an accusatory way, because obviously there’s such a richness of material here, but is that something that concerned you when approaching this project? How did you deal with those issues?
Elizabeth: This is such an important question to be writing and thinking about as it relates to who is telling what story in what context. In opera there is a long history of dominate cultures perpetuating their values and practices through operas that represent other cultures or intercultural exchange, we consciously tried to avoid that. The story and characters are completely unique but inspired by Mayan texts, folklore and engravings. However, New Age Philosophy, Indian philosophy, Transcendentalism, the multiverse, epic love stories, and our own experiences with meditation equally influenced the story.
Lewis: My decision to write for the primordial end-blown conch shell trumpet in the context of a more traditional Western opera ensemble stemmed from its ancient origins and deep elemental connection to the water and earth. Conch shell trumpets have been used as instruments since Neolithic times and are not only found in Mesoamerican cultures. They are found in almost every part of the world from Central Europe to India, Tibet, Korea, Japan, the Caribbean, Melanesian, and Polynesian cultures; The mythological Greek god Triton also blew a conch shell to calm the seas. The conch shell trumpet produces a beautifully pure tone, very close to a sine wave.
To balance this historic instrument the ensemble also consisted of 8 sine tone oscillators, each of which produces a single sine wave. Sinusoidal sound waves consist of a smooth, repeating oscillation of a single frequency. Unlike other sound waves, sine waves are self-identical at any moment in time, without fluctuating harmonic content, or an initial transient/final decay. In this way, sine waves seem to exist outside of time itself and are to me, a sonic representation of the infinite.
Lewis, in the liner notes you talk a bit about exploring ancient music and constructing an imagined future music, and of the ratio 13:20 informing a lot of your process. The vocal writing in the opening reminds me a lot of the Notre Dame School composers and music from the Ars Antiqua, who also had an obsession with ratios. Is that something you were actively seeking to channel?
Lewis: In contemplating the cyclical nature of time I kept coming back to this idea of the resultant blurring of the lines of the ancient and the future. I wasn’t interested in exploring ancient music per se, but more specifically, imagining my own creative interpretation of an ancient/future music. The music of the opening scene invokes a sacred song and is certainly influenced by the Western tradition of polyphonic vocal writing. The rhythmic structure uses an isorhythm with it’s talea and color based on the ratio of 13:20, respectively. Each of the 4 voices sing rounds of the isorhythm in some form of augmentation or diminution. Good ear Nick! But I do believe the isorhythm was an invention of the Ars Nova school, just after the Ars Antiqua… [Ed: Lewis is correct about this] That said, I did not intend to blatantly allude to Medieval music as much as to unfold out from their rarefied formal practices.
What was the back and forth like while working on the libretto and music? As a couple, do you try to draw a line between the project and your home life, or does working on it get into everything you do together?
Elizabeth: Creating opera with my husband is the ultimate expression of love – it is merging together to create something bigger than our two egos. I feel really lucky that our relationship has found this expression so naturally. We wrote the piece together and produced the live performance ourselves, so there were no boundaries, everything was The Edge of Forever all the time leading up to December 2012. Having a creative practice that is naturally woven into everyday life is something that artists do and certainly something Lewis does, so I followed his lead while writing with him. I wrote all the text, he started composing and wanted to cut half of my words, I fiercely guarded those words until I realized he was right, let go word by word, and he helped me shape a libretto that was so much more abstract, poetic and fit our deepest intentions for the piece.
We have an exclusive stream of the Finale. What can you tell us about it?
Elizabeth: In the final aria the scribes announce to our ancient astronomer that the time for realizing his destiny has arrived. In this scene he moves darkness to light – from a space of desire to a space of illumination where he can see the his true nature and that of the world. By the end of the aria he is released from his cave, a metaphor for his mind and thoughts, and in doing so he has attained freedom from the illusion of the self. He can now embrace the One.
Lewis: From a musical perspective, there’s a shift in the tonal content of the piece at the Finale. The music in the prior scenes consists of non-tempered microtonal inflections that create beating between the pitches, furthering an unresolved feeling of tension. However, in the finale, inspired by the image of the turning of the great cosmic clock, the ensemble locks into 5-limit just intonation. I intended the harmonies (consisting of pure, non-beating primary harmonics of the overtone series) to act as a metaphor for the moment in which the ancient astronomer merges with it all.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Lewis: Time is shaped by our own perceptions so it is deeply personal, but it is also something universal that defines us as humans. My hope is that The Edge of Forever creates conditions for the audience to reflect on the nature of time. That perhaps the past and the future are not the truth or even reality, but instead one can find the entirety of human experience in each moment.
For more information about The Edge of Forever record release party & concert on June 24, visit 356mission.tumblr.com/post/145921957755/the-edge-of-forever-a-chamber-opera-in-five-scenes
To purchase The Edge of Forever from The Industry Records, visit records.theindustryla.org/album/the-edge-of-forever
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?
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.
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?
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.
Art should make you feel something. Be it the discomfort of eye contact, mirth at the absurdity of a bitterly happy man (nope, not a typo), or literal vibrations in your skeleton, the winning pieces of the 2015 American Composers Forum National Composition Contest dealt it all through wild Up. The concert began with When Eyes Meet by Nina C. Young, a variably atonal work narrating the palpable awkwardness of eye contact with a stranger. Segments of pointillism and others of smooth lyricism portray sneaking glances and the development of silent rapport, cut short audibly by one party guiltily turning away. In short, an aural captivation of “the struggle is real.” Next up was The Man Who Hated Everything by Alex Temple. The title alone speaks volumes on what this tribute to Frank Zappa contains. It’s a witty collage of quotations barreling through a train of thought that could exist equally in Zappa or Temple’s heads, and spills out in jazz improvisation and big band bellows and words spoken by the performers assuming characters almost but not quite themselves. The performers have entirely too much fun, and it afflicts the audience delightfully, and laughter mingles with the applause. The third and final piece is Chiaroscuro by William Gardiner. Beginning with two notes in the middle range of a vibraphone, the sound seems to come physically forward from the stage into your body as the sound is transformed into sound waves with subharmonics. The other instruments play high and light over the thick, visceral vibrations, and though there is a rhythm in the high end only the harmonic rhythm in the bass is truly observed. Each chord moved a different part of myself; first my feet, then my knees, and then my chest and finally my face. Have you ever had your sinuses stuffed from the LA haze, and then inexplicably and gently stirred by pure bass notes? It is a strange thing to claim, and an even stranger thing to experience. It was emotional without emotions, and utterly spellbinding. I wanted to hear it at least a dozen times more over the course of the night.
My wish was partly granted. After the three pieces were presented in this order, the composers came down and answered a few questions with Chris Rountree, the conductor of wild Up. As a former Seattlite who has only lived in California for a year, I am still pleasantly surprised that the whole creative process seems present in the end product; the composers and artistic directors are always at the shows and still involved. This seems, forgive my poeticism, to give the art the loving support it needs to be a real triumph, not just one more modern, off-the-wall sound coming out of crazy ol’ LA.
But, it just wouldn’t be LA without being a little off the wall. After the chat with the composers and intermission, the second half of the concert was the same set, just in a different order. The best part of this experiment was that I could move seats, and thus experience the pieces from a different perspective. Also, about half the audience departed, leaving only those who seriously love their modern music. To be fair, usually after finishing a meal you don’t jump right into eating the same meal again. But this wasn’t a meal; it was more like finishing a good book and wanting to read the whole thing again. The energy was different and the room felt smaller, but there was more rapport between all the audience members. So we heard William’s piece again, and from my new vantage point I could feel the vibrations move me in different places than before, and I could imagine seeing the floor in rings of emanating pulses, which had not occurred to me before. I heard more themes and patterns in Nina’s work, and I wished I could have followed along in the score but I was mollified by this second listen through. Alex’s piece was also enhanced by the fact I could finally see the pianist’s and reed player’s faces and better hear their words. The cellist and flutist hammed it up at the very end, and the audience, as small as we were, ate it up. The second round was a stroke of genius. The stress and reverence of the big, bad world premiere was over and we were graced with the best encore we could hope for: something exactly the same but different. And it felt great.
On Wednesday, August 12, (a while ago now; please excuse this reviewer, gentle readers) wild Up presented a unique collaboration between the American Composers Orchestra, the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, and the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University: specifically, the final concert of the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, a workshop geared toward giving jazz composers the opportunity to learn about writing for orchestra. If this description alone is hard to follow, it’s because there were so many forces at play here – wild Up’s intuitive and intense grasp of chamber music, Rountree’s dynamic conducting, and a wide range of experience in jazz and classical composition. The marketing of this concert seemed a bit misleading – as the culminating concert of the workshop, one might expect to find some student pieces on the program. This was, however, a showcase of faculty pieces, with a single piece by a member of wild Up – all pieces that, in their varied and skillful ways, played with the intersections between jazz and orchestral music. According to the program, up to 16 of the composers participating in this workshop will present symphonic works in the second phase of the program in 2016.
The concert was held in the Ensemble Room at the UCLA Ostin Music Center, which had lovely, rich acoustics, especially appropriate for the stripped-down chamber orchestra resources of wild Up. The environs strongly conveyed “workshop”, with all the camaraderie and vibrancy thus implied. This camaraderie was echoed in some opening remarks by director James Newton, when he asked audience members to join hands and experience the collaborative moment as one, chuckles and smiles all around. The obvious care and passion poured into this program was moving to behold.
The concert opened with a piece by this same director. Elisha’s Gift, described by the composer as dealing with direct spiritual experience of the Northern Lights, surprisingly began with a wholly intellectual dryness. wild Up’s well-poised players presented a bevy of dramatic gestures in rhythmically interlocking clothing. There was a jazz tautness here; although in classical garb, the precision of rhythmic trajectory was influenced by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gilespie, as described in the program notes. Executions were sharp, and hocketed phrases intersected with great intimacy; one’s ears were being sharpened for contrasts to come. This dryness gave way to an unexpected depth, as phrases opened up with more space, long tones and harmonics began to make an appearance. The dry, tense landscape flowered into a richer spectrum of time, and suddenly, harmonics pulled, what was intellectual became imperative, reactions slowed, and the conversation expanded. This awareness of how to resolve tension seemed quietly but powerfully from the jazz tradition. Rountree’s conducting was effective and natural, with a director’s ease. Finally, the last elements of tension gave way and the piece shone with the spiritual purity described by Newton. Motives traversed the full range of string registers, refined with ever-more delicacy, and when phrases finally elongated into lyricism, our ears had been refined by all the previous filigree to truly appreciate the melodic grace. The final, large group statement breathed strength and spiritual engagement, unified and tangible in the present.
Next up was One Modular Future by Chris Kallmyer of wild Up, a distinct about-face. After Rountree’s short introduction to the piece, a member of wild Up held up a small collection of cards, chirping, “And here’s the score!” The piece did betray this casual form of improvisation-influenced composition, but in the best possible ways. The piece started out of the hall, with wild Up members striking single tones on shimmering gamelan-like homemade percussion instruments – and listeners were quickly welcomed into that idiomatic frame of mind, a particular kind of openness. In a traditional manner, the single melodic line telescoped into double-time, and back again. The line lacked traditional gamelan contours however, as the order of tones was randomly based on the musicians’ placement on stage. In this way, the melody had the pleasing linearity of something like a modular electronic sequencer loop. Percussionists changed order, milling around the front of the stage with a fun, casual theatricality, and then played a sequence of new tones. During this, the clarinet and piano inhabited a different space, presumably the space of a different card from the score. The clarinet played improvisatory textures and multiphonics, while the inside of the piano was scraped and struck. Percussion lines broke down, a few unison clangs resonated, 3 and 4-note fragments remained, and the percussionists receded. There was a hard transition here, which was nicely handled. The next section opened with a small wind ensemble droning reedy unisons and fifths, pungent and resonant, contrasted with a light clattering of orchestral percussion. Winds in groups always seem to evoke the outdoors, and with the improvisatory percussion background, we were quickly propelled into the forest, or a field. Once we settled into this landscape, electric guitar entered with a heavy dose of Americana, and we were sure that we were somewhere with sky. The guitar improvisation continued on repeated motives, substantial and moving, and the piece ended with a (perhaps surprise?) abruptness. There were so many tropes here that could have been poorly handled: Partch-esque homemade percussion that could have been goofy, extended techniques that could have teetered into cliché, and an unabashedly beautiful guitar solo that could have been indulgent. The wealth of compositional ideas was compellingly presented however. The lack of cohesion worked as a series of tableaus, and every idea was well-explored.
Tempest, by Steve Coleman, was a completely different dish as well, direct and potent. wild Up was joined by saxes, and jazz trumpet, and came together as a strikingly alive big band. The program notes describe the piece as evocative of the ebbs and flow of a squall, and it did not disappoint. At least this reviewer had a sudden wish for the revival of the warmth and presence of live pop music that big band jazz epitomized, and that we seem to have permanently lost. The wild Up strings performed the typical big band sax role of fleshing out rich jazz harmonies, while the composer on solo sax navigated deftly and movingly in tandem with muted trumpet. The warmth here was palpable, the hall resonant. The structure was natural and well-formed; there was the feeling of a jazz “head” at important returns. The alto sax constantly commented on the textures but also lead to new territories. One was reminded, in case one had forgotten by listening to so much new music, that harmony can have grammar. Harmonies didn’t just move and shift, tonalities anchored us with physical security. Pivot points between these tonalities were navigated by a composer well-versed in extended tonal gravity, as only a jazz player really is, now. After a while, the rises and falls of the storm began to lack dramatic effect through extended repetition, but the overall texture remained compelling and fresh, through the “rainbow chord” which ended the piece.
Sinovial Joints, by the same composer explored different facets of the jazz idiom, through a distinctly physical lens. In stark contrast to the intellectualism of Elisha’s Gift, African polyrhythm and arrhythmicism here were strongly tied to the body, encouraging one to just be. As the composer describes, “sinovial joints … function as a means of connecting bones, binding tissues and providing various degrees of movement for our bodies.” How quickly wild Up transformed into a fully functioning, churning jazz organism! The political fervency of jazz was in full evidence – there was not only toe-tapping, but sweat. Melodic lines were stated and recapitulated deftly and vibrantly, the strings functioned beautifully in their harmonic choral role, and the blend of arrhythmic and polyrhythmic elements felt totally natural, toothsome. We were not in speculation mode, we were in reality. There were unexpectedly interesting piccolo and clarinet melodies in layers, the trumpet shouted with inevitability, and an eventual transition out of polyrhythm and into orchestra textures brought us back into the intellect, with final, reflective gestures.
After a well-deserved intermission, wild Up returned with String Quintet No. 1: Funky Diversions, by Vince Mendoza. The rhythmic strength here mimicked that of Joints, but in a tighter, leaner ensemble. In a delicate opening, the strings responded to one another, pulling, yawning. Pretty diatonic lyrical motifs contrasted with tight, cerebral runs and leaping, disjunct gestures. The bass was used well, separated enough to ground the ensemble, but still “of” the quintet texture, and at 30 seconds in, ushering in a distinct funkiness. Here we were rooted not by tonal gravity, but by a solid four on the floor rhythmic inevitability. Rountree was fun to watch in this piece, obviously enjoying grooving with the ensemble. The piece as a whole still had a strong classical influence, however, with violins and viola handled idiomatically. Pretty themes were traded and hocketed, and the texture at times seemed to breathe a post-minimal air of shifting diatonic harmonies before settling into bold funk grounding. There were a few transitions to long droning tones, with traded and built in intensity back to the impact of strong, funk rhythm. This “verse-chorus” approach to form seemed to emanate from jazz traditions as well, and overall the piece was solid, self-assured.
Journey of the Shadow, by Gabriela Lena Frank, was unique on the program, as a narrated story, with a fully orchestrated backdrop. The story is a magical realist tale of a boy sending a letter to his father at war in Afghanistan, and of the boy’s shadow that slips into the envelope, and has various poignant adventures and eventually arrives back home. The work is geared toward children and adults alike, and Lena Frank’s narration is good-natured and clear. The opening oboe melody heralds the character for the entire piece: so charismatically mid-century classical, beaming with poise and charm. South American influences soon creep in, Ginastera-influenced rhythmic interactions contrasting with well-shaped clarinet lyricism. One hates to call an entire work charming, but that’s what it was: not a superficial piece, but one that exuded real charm, that awareness of how to create audience delight. Word painting was indulged with abandon throughout – for example in the description of the many kinds of letters in the mail. There were interludes of pure cuteness, including woodblock, pizzicato strings trading with staccato on piano, and wind flourishes. Erin McKibben’s flute tone was particularly rich and haunting. The form generally follows the text, as the shadow encounters various adventures, and the whole work seems built for listening as a recording, at home. The piece is familial. The jazz influence is evident, with rich extended harmonies and perfectly crafted melodies. The cartoony quality of this word painting actually conceals impressive technical strength – orchestration of this kind is actually quite difficult and requires intimate knowledge of the resources at hand. The test of this kind of piece is whether the orchestration is effective in making the story vibrant and it definitely works: one wants to know what happens next, and by the end of the story, the darker nuances of the touching tale have quietly been understood.
The final piece on the program, Time’s Vestiges by Anthony Cheung explored, according to the program notes, “metaphors drawn from geological ‘deep time’. The rumbling, buried texture wasn’t just an evocation of the earth, however; the audience was presented with a fabric of activity so dense and dynamic that it seemed to reflect the complexity of nature itself. Rhythmic counterpoint towered on top of textural effects. There were so many threads here, it was impossible for a listener to follow every contrapuntal statement, so multiplicitous were the lines. Jazz influences here were subtler than in the other pieces, if they existed at all – the most salient jazz element could have simply been the emphasis, as in all these pieces, in the immediacy of the present and the pleasure to be found in textural interplay. The melodic gestures in themselves carried a 19th century kind of angst, or surface expressivity, but the subterranean forces at work were not sentimental; they pushed and ruptured with cold precision. This unique approach to orchestration brought to mind some of the duality of Classical forms, where surface-level expression can bely a more ironic or detached foundation. The composer in fact may take this texture for granted, having lived in it for so long, as the piece starts immediately with this kind of dense patchwork, but for a new listener, the varied surface texture is fresh and enjoyable. Texturally, the piece doesn’t explore extended techniques as much as traditional effects, with tremolos and glissandi expertly layered. The piece eventually transitions from this flurry of activity to quieter moments: pizzicatos are traded with more space for reflection, and tones lengthen. We have been desensitized by the previous complexity, however, and these quiet moments seem to pass us by as we are glazed with glacial indifference. This oddly neutral respite is short-lived. The piece moves quickly to swooping, diving gestures, moving throughout the ensemble, and eventually ends with a rising line that resolves into a surprising vulnerability, given the powerful direction in the rest of the piece.
With its raucous brew of influences, the concert was a fulfilling procession of courses. wild Up’s contributions were as always, singular: no other local ensemble could have handled the diverse demands here, both technical and aesthetic. And naturally, the execution seemed effortless. One can only look forward to the next installment, in 2016, when students will be able to display the fruits of this vibrantly fertile collaboration.
This Friday, wild Up presents an evening of music curated by and celebrating the work of clarinetist Brian Walsh. Walsh is a staple of the LA scene, most frequently inhabiting the contemporary classical and jazz worlds, and having worked with everyone from the LA Phil and wild Up to Nels Cline and Bright Eyes to his own ensembles (Walsh Set Trio and gnarwhallaby). I’m glad he had time to answer a few questions ahead of tomorrow’s concerts at Boston Court (tickets available here).
This concert on Friday explores and celebrates your musical influences and experiences. Could you talk a bit about the program?
I wanted to present music that I love listening to and love playing. I also wanted to work with some of my best friends who are incredible musicians. The two pieces that first popped into my head when chatting with Chris Rountree were Brian Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study 1 for solo bass clarinet, and Fables of Faubus by Charles Mingus. The program developed out of that initial connection. gnarwhallaby will be performing a wonderful piece by Martin Smolka-Euphorium. This is scored for baritone saxophone, euphonium, cello, and prepared piano. It is both disgusting and beautiful. It also grooves. Magnus Lindberg’s Ablauf features a slithering clarinet solo bombarded by two bass drums. I will play a solo I wrote for clarinet striking assorted small objects. Walsh Set Trio(bass clarinet, bass and drums) will play my compositions that mix absurdist vocals, jazz and contemporary music. The music of the great Charles Mingus will round out the concert.
It’s a really wide-ranging program, and I’ve seen you in many different contexts as a performer. What opened you up to exploring such diverse musics? Do you even see them as diverse, or all part of the same practice?
I grew up only listening to classical music and some 60’s folk rock. When I hit 8th grade I discovered jazz and that opened the flood gates. At first, any music that featured the clarinet really interested me, and that pretty much exposes you to almost every kind of music. Almost. I don’t think so much about the diversity aspect. If I hear something and love it, I do it. The different styles just have slightly different needs. I still listen to a lot of music so my brain is used to moving relatively fluidly between styles.
Is there a particular music that’s your favorite to play? Why?
As soon as I think there is, something else comes along. I do tend to always return to contemporary music and jazz though.
What attracted you to clarinet in the first place? Was it your first instrument?
I saw a wind quintet play in the mall and liked the look of the oboe. The group was wearing tuxedos and socks that looked like shoes. I told my band director that I wanted to play oboe and got a clarinet. I figured it was close enough.
What other musicians in LA inspire you?
I have to say that all the groups and musicians I work with are constantly pushing me and inspiring me. Composers as well. Groups like wild Up and Chris Rountree, gnarwhallaby (Richard Valitutto, Derek Stein, and Matt Barbier), Nicholas Deyoe and all the folks at WasteLAnd. Daniel Rosenboom and Orenda Records just to name a few. Local heroes who are trying to make great art as well as build a strong, supportive community.
I mean this as a compliment: anytime I see you onstage I think, “oh, of course they’d get Brian, he can do anything.” That said, are there any musical goals or projects, that you’re interested in and haven’t yet been able to pursue or accomplish? Anyone you’d like to work with but haven’t yet?
I’m planning on recording an album of music featuring an expanded version of my trio, using strings and guitar. My current dream is to record an album with organist Larry Goldings. He doesn’t know that yet. I’ve also been thinking about recording a solo clarinet album. I usually don’t like listening to a whole album of solo anything so I’m not sure what to do about that.
We did a rather large post about the difficulties of performing music by Brian Ferneyhough just before this WasteLAnd concert back in February. While that post covered soprano Stephanie Aston’s part in Ferneyhough’s Etudes Transcendantales, the difficulty and intensity is much the same for anyone attempting this music. And let me tell you, violinist Mark Menzies SHREDDED on Terrain, Ferneyhough’s violin concerto.
The other reason for posting this today? Menzies joins wild Up for another performance of Terrain this Sunday at UCLA. The show, titled FILIGREE, also has music by Gerard Pesson, George Lewis, William Byrd, Nico Muhly, Arnolt Schlick and Whitney Houston, with two World Premieres by Chris Kallmyer and Andrew McIntosh.
The FREE concert is an early one, starting at 4pm at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall. Full details are on the facebook event page at facebook.com/events/664460340325127.