LA scene regulars likely know pianist Nadia Shpachenko, whose tireless concert and recording schedule is a model to live up to. Nadia has premiered more than 60 works by Elliott Carter, George Crumb, Daniel Felsenfeld, Tom Flaherty, Annie Gosfield, Vera Ivanova, Leon Kirchner, Amy Beth Kirsten, Hannah Lash, James Matheson, Missy Mazzoli, Harold Meltzer, Adam Schoenberg, Lewis Spratlan, Gernot Wolfgang, Iannis Xenakis, Peter Yates, Jack Van Zandt, and others. This Saturday, March 10, she teams up with People Inside Electronics for a show at Throop Church in Pasadena featuring both premieres and works from her upcoming album, Quotations and Homages. Nadia had a minute to answer some questions, so we asked some:
PIE’s concerts tend to focus on the interaction between human performers and electronics. Do you have a background in this type of performance, or is this new ground for you?
I have been performing pieces with electronics for many years now, this is an area of great interest for me! I love to explore how composers use their imagination to complement the acoustic instruments with all kinds of additional timbres and sound sources. I think the very first piece with electronics that I commissioned was Airdancing by Tom Flaherty. Airdancing was written for my first album of brand new works titled Woman at the New Piano. This piece was written for me and Genevieve Feiwen Lee on piano and toy piano, and has since become quite a favorite with performers and audiences! I have performed works with live electronics and with fixed media. The works on Saturday’s PIE concert will include diverse approaches to electroacoustic writing, from Annie Gosfield’s bold and wild Phantom Shakedown featuring malfunctioning short-wave radios, grinding cement mixers, and detuned and prepared piano samples, to Isaac Schankler’s poignant and heartbreakingly beautiful Future Feelings, featuring gentle piano passages reinterpreted through ambient synths and filtered noise, to Alex Temple’s captivating incorporation of pre-recorded interviews with her friends, colleagues, former students and family members sharing very personal and at times extremely painful experiences. Also, my husband Barry Werger is a recording engineer and a roboticist. When we met in Boston more than 20 years ago, he was working on his PhD at Brandeis University and part of his artistic output was touring the world with his robotic theatre troupe. The plays often featured my performances and robot actors, so the interaction between human performers and AI was an interest for me even then, although in a form quite different from what I will presenting this Saturday.
I see some old friends and some new ones on this program. What do you look for when you’re programming a concert?
This program features many composers who I worked with closely on multiple projects, and also some composers whose works I haven’t played before. When I commission pieces, I usually perform them dozens of times (often as many as 40 times for each commissioned piece), especially when the pieces are recorded and I then tour the programs to promote the works and the albums. Since I often create thematically inspired programs, it can be challenging for me to program single compositions not already part of my larger projects. My upcoming PIE concert presented me with a great opportunity to both showcase the works I commissioned most recently, and also to select works by composers with whom I did not collaborate before, all united by the common inspiration of the electronics component in the music. Tom, Annie, Vera, and Jack all wrote pieces for me that I premiered in the past. I was eager to work with Isaac Schankler for a long time now, and finally I got a new piece from him that I will be premiering on Saturday, inspired by Isaac’s baby boy, noise music, Romantic/teen angst, the melancholy of Chopin, and the composer’s worries and hopes for alternate future possibilities. This concert will be my first collaboration with Alex Temple and Julia Wolfe.
Vera’s piece is the only one that lists multimedia. What can we expect from it?
Vera’s piece exists in several versions and at the PIE concert it will be performed with all possible components – projections of the text of the poems over images, and the fixed audio part, which interjects the piano part. The fixed audio part makes use of original recordings of the poems (The Echo, In the Fog, Wind, and The Lake Isle of Innisfree) read by the poets themselves (Anna Akhmatova, Herman Hesse, Boris Pasternak, and William Butler Yeats). Overall the multimedia is created to bring back the presence of these poets and to connect the text of the poems directly to the music. And there will be one more piece with multimedia. Jack Van Zandt wrote his Sí in Bhrú for my upcoming Poetry of Places album, which will be released on Reference Recordings in Spring 2019. My Poetry of Places album will feature newly-written works by Amy Beth Kirsten, Hannah Lash, James Matheson, Harold Meltzer, Andrew Norman, Lewis Spratlan, Nina C. Young, and Jack Van Zandt, all inspired by unique buildings. Jack’s piece was inspired by the oldest building in the world, built in Ireland during the Neolithic period, about 5000 years ago. This building, Sí in Bhrú (or Newgrange in English), is fascinating on so many levels. Like the passageway and the interior chamber of Sí an Bhrú itself, the electronic elements of the work (created in dozens of layers from several sources) resonate at a frequency of 110 hertz in support of the piano part that does the same. I will perform this work with an accompanying video that features images of this unique stone age monument.
Looks like you have a consortium commission on the concert, which seems like a great way for performers to bring new works into the world. Could you talk a little about how that process works, for our readers who may not be familiar with it?
The consortium commissioning is somewhat common in orchestral, wind band and choral worlds, but is relatively new for solo music. It was realized through the Global Premiere Commissioning Consortium, an organization which accepts applications from composer/performer teams and a group of commissioning consortium members who split the composer’s and the project leader’s fee. This approach makes it affordable for the selected teams to commission new music. A relatively small commissioning fee allows the consortium members to secure the premiere performance rights on their respective territory for a fixed amount of time and help the composer to get his/her work performed globally. It is a great project which is focused on promoting the composer and his/her performers. We currently have 25 members who will premiere Vera’s new piece in 10 countries and 16 USA states.
Tom Flaherty’s piece is on your upcoming CD, Quotations & Homages. Want to talk a little about the album?
My upcoming album Quotations and Homages will be released on Reference Recordings in early April (next month). This album features newly-written works inspired by a variety of earlier composers and pieces, from Mozart to Brahms to Stravinsky to Messiaen to Carter to Ustvolskaya to The Velvet Underground. It’s a program that’s both serious and lighthearted. Older works are brought to new light through piano/s, toy pianos and electronics by living American composers Tom Flaherty, Missy Mazzoli, Peter Yates, Vera Ivanova, Nick Norton (you!), Adam Borecki, Daniel Felsenfeld, and James Matheson. At my PIE concert on March 10 I will be performing the two works with electronics from my album. The first piece, written for me by Tom Flaherty, is titled Rainbow Tangle. It captures the otherworldly ecstasy of the seventh movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, using live electronic delays, transpositions, and reverberation to expand the sonic palette. I will close my PIE concert with Tom’s Igor to Please, a piece constructed using only the notes of Stravinsky’s “Augurs” chord from the Rite of Spring (an unusual spacing of an Ab harmonic minor scale). This piece exists in multiple versions for solo piano, solo toy piano, duo piano, and the original version for two pianos four-hands and two toy pianos, each with pre-recorded electronics. My album features the original version of this piece for 6 pianists, recorded with my amazing colleagues Ray-Kallay Duo, HOCKET, and Genevieve Feiwen Lee. On Saturday I will be performing the solo piano and electronics version of Igor.
What’s next on your schedule after this one that readers can look forward to?
After this week, which is keeping me busy with 2 days of recording sessions and six concerts (four of them at ArtNight Pasadena on Friday, previewing my PIE program, I will be going to Canada to promote the upcoming album release. Local performances next month will include collaborations with the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, bassoonist Judith Farmer, and clarinetist Edgar Lopéz (performing Gernot Wolfgang’s Trio WINDOWS, which we will be recording in May). My concert schedule is updated at nadiashpachenko.com/event and interested readers can subscribe to my newsletter to be invited to future performances at nadiashpachenko.com/contact.
Tickets for this weekend’s show are available at peopleinsideelectronics.com/nadia-shpachenko.
The virtuosic Aperture Duo (Adrianne Pope and Linnea Powell) will be performing at Tuesdays at Monk Space this coming Tuesday, February 27. I had the opportunity to ask Adrianne Pope (violin) and Linnea Powell (viola) about the upcoming show, working with composers, and more. Here’s what they had to say:
Our Monk Space program has been incredibly fun to put together, as it features some of our favorite composers and people whose works center around memories, reunions, and reflections. Sciarrino’s short and fleeting “La Malinconia” and Georges Aperghis’ enthusiastic “Retrouvailles” are pieces that we’ve wanted to perform for years. The program also features two Aperture Duo commissions: a world premiere by Sarah Gibson and a commission by Nicholas Deyoe from 2015. These two commissions give a window into our wide ranging interests as a duo, as they are very contrasting in sound and style.
From whistles to claps, beautiful lyricism to deafening scratches, we aim to create programs that challenge the assumptions of what a violin and viola duo can sound like. This will show be no exception!
You’ll be premiering Sarah Gibson’s piece, tiny, tangled world at the concert. What has your experience been like with this new work?
Whether it’s performing, teaching, or composing, working with Sarah is always a joy for us. As a composer, Sarah has a perfect balance of clear ideas and flexibility. We got to workshop new sounds, different notation options and extended techniques from the very beginning stages. We have loved seeing it evolve each step of the way!
When Sarah gave us the final draft, we were thrilled to see how virtuosic and unique it is from our other rep. She even included a specific extended technique that was new to us! Her title, tiny, tangled world, has been in place from the beginning sketches, and it has been intriguing to see the work really come to fit the title perfectly.
How often have you worked with LA composers Sarah Gibson and Nicholas Deyoe in the past? Can you tell us a little about these experiences?
With Sarah, we have performed as colleagues, performed her works in other ensembles, and worked with and performed her composition students’ works. Tiny, tangled world is the first piece Aperture has worked on solely with Sarah.
With Nick, we have performed a little bit together, and we’ve played many of his works with different groups in LA. We recently got to work with his students at CalArts on new works, and we recorded 1560 for his most recent album, for Duane. 1560 was one of our first commissions and we can’t wait to play it again at the end of this month.
Besides being colleagues, both Sarah and Nick are good friends of ours and we jump on any opportunity to collaborate with them.
Any upcoming performances or projects you’d like to talk about?
In April, Aperture Duo is ensemble in residence with the Black House SoCal New Music Workshop at UC Irvine. We’re very excited to work with the selected composers and musicians there, it’s going to be a wonderfully creative workshop! In May we’ll be in residence in Northern California at Las Positas College and in June we’ll be performing at Bread and Salt in San Diego, where we’ll be premiering a new work by Courtney Bryan. It’s going to be a great spring! More information can be found on our website.
In anticipation of their upcoming show “L.A. Stories” at Monk Space on February 18, I interviewed Phil Popham (oboe) and Sarah Robinson (flute) from Helix Collective, a Los-Angeles based ensemble specializing in multi-media, collaborative performance, and recording. The show will feature works by composers Eugene Micofsky, Dale Trumbore, Reena Esmail, Mark Carlson, Jamie Thierman, and Helix Collective’s own Phil Popham. Here’s what Phil and Sarah had to say:
How did you get the idea for “L.A. Stories,” and how did you go about programming this particular set of pieces for the concert?
PHIL: We had been performing our show “The Cocktail Stories” which involved Hollywood screenwriters sending us stories about their favorite mixed-drinks. We read the works while simultaneously performing the original music for each story. The music was very fusion and cross-over. It mixed electronics, loops, hip-hop, techno, you name it! We decided to create an all acoustic show, that would involve more new-music composers here in Los Angeles. We assembled a group of 8 composers. We had LA authors and poets submit their works. Each composer personally chose the story and writer they wanted to work with. Once the works were completed, the group began rehearsals. We all had to dig deep for the dramatic speaking. We were mostly classically-trained musicians. It’s funny though, I don’t see a big difference in being dramatic through the oboe vs. my voice. The similarity is still strikingly odd to me.
SARAH: We really enjoyed doing music and storytelling programs in the past and we loved the depth of experience it offers to the audience. There are so many levels on which to engage with the music and the words, and the way they interact. With this program, we wanted to celebrate our adopted home town and utilize the depth of writing talent there is in the city. The instructions for the composers were fairly open-ended so we have a very cool variety of ways that they incorporated the spoken word with their music. We tried to represent a variety of musical perspectives – one composer, Eugene Micofsky, has a rock band background and another, Reena Esmail, specializes in the intersection of Western and Hindustani music. We wanted to make the whole project representative of the city.
How do you hope the audience will react to “L.A. Stories?”
PHIL: I want them to feel the excitement and wonder of being part of such a great place. Even with its quirkiness, trials, and tribulations, there is a power that draws us here. They have made it. They have stayed, and in its own way, the city wants to give back to them. The show should remind them of why they stay, and give them a sense of validation and community for their struggles. I want them to feel that even when they are hitting rock-bottom, there are offerings here they could get nowhere else. This show is really about everyone in the audience as well as those of us on stage. It’s about all of us. I want them to be proud of where we live, where we are from, and that we are survivors here each day. When leaving the concert venue, I want them to look in amazement at the city before them, look in amazement at themselves for being part of it, and see the outstretched arms of a truly creative, inspiring, and humbling town.
SARAH: I think this city is so vast and complicated. As musicians we have the unique experience of traveling all over the area and working with so many different people – from Skid Row to Beverly Hills – sometimes in a matter of hours. I hope what we can share with this program is the individual experiences of a variety of artists. I think each writer and composer involved in this project has their own Los Angeles and I would love for our audience to feel like they’ve seen the city through their eyes.
What do you find most engaging or interesting about multi-media and collaborative performances?
PHIL: From an artist’s standpoint, multi-media and collaborative shows communicate incredibly efficiently. It also gives you the ability to add emphasis, context, and conflict into a moment instantly. With so many brilliant people contributing expertise toward relaying the message, it can be delivered, colored, or altered by different disciplines simultaneously. It’s so vivid! Once the writer has written the story, the delivery of the actor can provide more context. Likewise, the music being performed can emphasize, corroborate, or even complicate the story. When we’re collaborating like this, I think the composer must be visceral. You have to think of your heart and nerve endings more than your head. It’s a very fun way to create. You’re getting down to the fundamental reasons music exists. Then, you combine the dramatic power of the writers with the engaging music by the composers and the energetic talents of the musicians/actors. Everyone has now come together to tell a multi-faceted story through each of their disciplines. It’s very powerful.
SARAH: I think a project can only be as interesting as the people who put it together. The more artists, the more perspectives, the more genres you have represented, the more we can speak to the universal human experience. Of course, there are limits to how many people you can have collaborating at one time but I find the quality and the importance of what we’re doing benefits exponentially when we incorporate other artists from far and wide in the artistic landscape.
Helix Collective is known for performing at a wide range of venues. Are there any unexpected similarities or differences that you’ve found between performing at nightclubs versus concert stages?
PHIL: They are very different, but each is priceless. A grand stage with stellar acoustics, 1000’s of seats, and a captive audience could certainly a good environment for a show. They tend have to have nice pianos, as well. The intimacy of a bar/nightclub concert is invigorating. A crowd which can interact, yell, applaud, and laugh whenever they feel moved to do so is incredibly rewarding for the musicians. I love being with the audience while performing. I love hearing them if they say things to us and respond to what we do. If the natural acoustics aren’t great, with a good audio engineer, you can be pumped through the house sound system. This actually gives you much more flexibility and variety in the sound, if you go for it. You can also add a huge variety of lighting to the show. This makes it more collaborative/multi-media as more talented people are adding a perspective and skills to the performance.
SARAH: It’s hard for me to overstate how much performing in casual spaces like nightclubs has taught me about being an artist and performer. What is beautiful about a classical concert environment is the focus and concentration that it helps engender. But the real danger for musicians is that it is really easy to lose touch with your audience. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how many of them might be asleep much less how much they are enjoying your performance. In a club, though, I can really read the room. I know what people are thinking. They are shouting, or in rapt attention, or on their phones – whatever it is that they’re doing, I can get information from that about how effective my performance is for them. Helix Collective has done so much playing in these spaces and it allows for the best market research and through that we’ve developed programs that really sing – whether you’re in a dive bar or a big hall.
Any upcoming performances or projects you’d like to talk about?
PHIL: After our performance at Monk Space, we are going to start raising money to record all of these great works! We plan on releasing the album by May or June. We are discussing whether it will be pure audio or a DVD! Let us know, folks!
SARAH: We are excited about our Monk Space debut Sunday, February 18th at 6pm! Monk Space has been such a key player in supporting adventurous music here in L.A. and we are so happy to be part of their programming. We’ll be repeating the L.A. Stories program at Brand Library on March 3rd. Also this spring we are collaborating with composer Mark Weiser and librettist Amy Punt to present the premiere of their opera “The Place Where You Started” at Art Share L.A., May 17-19. We’re also hosting our 5th season of the Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival this summer at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre and composer applications are open now through March 25th.
Check out Helix Collective to get tickets for the show February 18.
The Nouveau Classical Project, a New York-based, all-women contemporary ensemble, makes it their mission to integrate music with other arts disciplines and to show that classical music is a living, breathing art form. On February 7, Equal Sound presents The Nouveau Classical Project’s first Los Angeles concert, “Currents.” Currents features music composed for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and electronics commissioned by NCP. I interviewed NCP’s artistic directors Sugar Vendil and Mara Mayer about interdisciplinary arts, commissioning new works, and the upcoming concert, featuring works by Odeya Nini, Olga Bell, Gabrielle Herbst, and Isaac Schankler. Here’s what they had to say:
Can you tell us about the works on the program? What is the inspiration behind the title, “Currents”?
Currents is a program that consists of pieces commissioned specifically for NCP that use our acoustic instruments of piano, flute, clarinet, violin, and cello, and some form of electronics. The title refers both to electric currents and the fact that the music is brand new. Each piece explores the boundaries between acoustic and electronic timbres in a different way, from field recordings in Bell’s piece to acoustic buzzing sounds created through extended techniques on a deconstructed clarinet in Kifferstein’s work.
What are your thoughts about interdisciplinary arts, and what kinds of interdisciplinary works do you hope to see evolve in the future?
Interdisciplinary collaboration can be great, but can also be tricky to do really well. We both attended E|Merge interdisciplinary collaborative residency in 2015 and learned a lot about communication during the collaborative process and how to clearly define roles and potential decision-making hierarchy between collaborators. Artistically it’s important to understand how the elements fit together and interact and not just slap things together at the last minute. Ideally, collaborators work together throughout the artistic process so that ideas can evolve together and the finished work can be cohesive and fulfilling for all parties. We hope to see our work with fashion designers evolve in the future in a way where they are more involved earlier in the process.
How often do you commission new works for Nouveau Classical Project?
We commission new pieces every year, and this happens in a variety of ways: a composer can be awarded a commissioning opportunity via our annual Commissioning Call for Scores competition (we are accepting submissions until April 20, 2018 you can apply here: http://www.nouveauclassical.org/call-for-scores/). We reach out to composers we want to collaborate with; or occasionally a composer sends us a random proposal and we’ll work with them if we love their music and decide their proposed project is a good fit.
Sugar, you’re known for combining classical music with new fashion – what parallels do you see between the fashion and music worlds?
They’re both nonverbal ways of communicating. A score or a piece of clothing is activated by a human. Music and fashion – and I use fashion here in the sense of personal dressing – are two expressive art forms that already exist in a musical performance. What we try to do at NCP is make these parallels intersect.
Any future projects you’d like to talk about?
On May 31, 2018 we are premiering a new opera by Gabrielle Herbst at Roulette in Brooklyn. We love her music and working with her, so this project is really special to us.
Check out Equal Sound for more information about the upcoming concert Feburary 7 and to get tickets.
This coming Tuesday at Monk Space, Mojave Trio (Sara Parkins, violin; Maggie Parkins, cello; Genevieve Feiwen Lee, piano) will be performing along with SAKURA Cello Quintet (Michael Kaufman, Benjamin Lash, Gabriel Martins, Yoshika Masuda, Peter Myers), for a program of music by composers Daniel Silliman, Daniel Allas, Thomas Kotcheff, Kaija Saariaho, and Nico Muhly. I had the opportunity to ask cellist Maggie Parkins some questions about the piano trio as a genre, performing the works of living composers, and the program on January 9. Here’s what she had to say:
As a standard of the classical canon, how has the piano trio evolved over time in your opinion?
Here is a quote from Kaija Saariaho: “I have written many trios for different combinations, but have been hesitant to compose for a traditional piano trio, maybe because of its long and weighty tradition.”
The chamber ensemble of the piano trio with its plentiful classic beginnings of Haydn and Mozart, its deeper development of Beethoven and Schubert, to its late 19th century peak of a romantic explosion of Mendelssohn (Felix and Fanny), Brahms, Schumann (Robert and Clara) Dvorak and Debussy, etc., has left an indelible mark on the repertoire for three mostly compatible instruments.
The early twentieth century has left some fantastic staples such as, Ravel, Shostakovich, Faure, Frank Bridge, Henry Cowell, Korngold, and of course Ives. One can develop a long list of later 20th and early 21st century works but there seems to be a wane of multiple explorations into the genre by well-known composers as other types of chamber ensembles using different instrumental combinations have developed. Now we see sextets, duos, percussion groups, and many other variations that capture the contemporary landscape. Contemporary piano trios are generally used to “fill out” programs of concert length. One sometimes wonders why some notable 20th century composers such as Bartok, Stravinsky, Prokofiev or Barber didn’t write for piano trio.
The string quartet seems to have continued to capture the interest of composers more consistently than piano trio. There are multiple examples of quartets by Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Ben Johnston, and John Adams.
There are built-in challenges for matching the timbres of the strings to the keyboard. Perhaps it is the weighty tradition itself and the focus to find fresh new combinations that satisfies the aural palette.
What are your thoughts about performing music from the classical repertoire versus works by living composers?
As a cellist focused on small ensemble chamber music, I find myself in a unique and enviable position. Conservatory trained on an instrument steeped in tradition, I am lucky to have studied with fantastic teachers handing down their classic wisdom and knowledge. I have had some amazing experiences performing at great festivals such as Tanglewood, Taos, and Banff, and in wonderful orchestras as well.
At the same time I have gravitated toward and truly enjoyed working with living composers, having shared the camaraderie and challenge of exploring new techniques with the ability to discuss performance issues with the composer to be so rewarding. My sister, who is a composer, initiated me into her world of composition through improvisation and dance collaboration and further opened up my eyes to possibilities of interpretation. But guess what? I have decided that the two concentrations nourish each other. After a stretch of doing only new music I find myself listening to Beethoven or Brahms or performing a Bach Suite and thinking, “Now that is a really good composer!” How delightful to play a piece I have grown up hearing and knowing and playing. It is comforting.
My luck is having the opportunity and ability to do both. The thrill of premiering a new work and working hard on a piece to get it just the way a composer wants it is very enjoyable to me. Who knows, it could be a piece that gets played again and again.
Can you tell us about the works you’ll be performing on the program at Monk Space?
Yes, we are really excited by these new works for our ensemble. I have been really into Saariaho’s compositions for quite some time. This is the fourth piece of hers I have worked on. I find her voice so unique and commanding. You won’t be whistling a tune into the wee hours of the evening though. Her music is about abstract color, timbre and contrast. Close your eyes and listen. She takes movement such as trills into tremolo and glissando, puts it over the fingerboard and on top of the bridge, maybe inside the piano, and then the overtones pop out. Her language creates such a wide pallet, changing simple notions of loud and soft, and occasional new sounds. She has truly explored some of the now accepted techniques of sul ponticello and sul tasto. She isn’t afraid to make the motion just stop and meditate on static sound which develops over the longer periods of time. Her music is a little more challenging for the listener and it often needs several listenings, but what a lovely door to enter.
Like Saariaho, Jennifer Higdon is also interested in color as a basis for compositional beginnings. It influences melody for her. Higdon is quite appreciated for her soaring tunes, and Pale Yellow doesn’t disappoint with its glorious romantic feeling. The music has depth too and feels authentic.
Nicho Muhly’s piece is all about rhythmic drive. Its energy is fun with bookends of material that have funky asymmetrical meters and conversational dynamic writing. The middle has a long melody popping through against the chatter. It’s a really fun piece to learn and play.
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.
On Thursday, December 7, night the Calder Quartet will premiere Christopher Cerrone’s new string quartet, Can’t and Won’t, at Walt Disney Concert Hall. It opens hefty program of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. Amid flights and rehearsals I was able to wrangle Chris into answering some questions about the piece and even recording a bit of rehearsal.
When this commission came through, did you know it would be programmed alongside Verklärte Nacht and, perhaps more a propos, Schubert’s Death and the Maiden? It’s hard, reading your score, not to think there’s something these pieces have common with the Ds and the way the polyrhythms work in both openings, the shapes of the lines in Schubert’s presto against your ending…and your program note does say “songs without words” a few times.
I think string quartets have something to do with D! One of the challenging of writing for a string quartet is coming terms to the reality. Though as we speak of this it does make me think of a quote from one of my favorite books, Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathaniel West.
“He sat in the window thinking. Man has a tropism for order. Keys in one pocket, change in another. Mandolins are tuned G D A E. The physical world has a tropism for disorder, entropy. Man against Nature…the battle of the centuries. Keys yearn to mix with change. Mandolins strive to get out of tune. Every order has within it the germ of destruction. All order is doomed, yet the battle is worth while.”
Feels a propos of the piece! A lot of the piece is struggling with the basic nature of string instruments and how they work — these open strings — and how to address them in an interesting and creative way.
There’s a fascinating notational/metric trick at bar 226, when three members of the quartet switch to quarter = 76 and the cello keeps up its ostinato at the previous tempo of dotted quarter = 220, which makes for a not-quite-aligned dance. It seems like a super efficient way to get the intended effect, but I have to wonder how the quartet feels about it. In practice, is it executed accurately, or is getting very close workable in this context? And did you approach it this way because the notated polyrhythm would be essentially unreadable?
Oh no it’s super easy. Trust me players are really good at not playing together sometimes ;-). I think the goal was to have this running through line throughout the whole piece, this restless sense of pulsation. I always feel when writing for strings you need to give me a lot of activity, and movement, and through motion do they create sound. But on a simpler level, I didn’t want them obsessing over some kind of really complicated polyrthyms that I didn’t really care about — it’s just about turning foreground and background on one another a bunch.
The piece constantly returns to static harmony around D with various takes on ostinati, and your program note mentions trying to “find a sense of repose in a deeply chaotic time.” Though a literal interpretation of “programmatic” music of course runs into issues, do you find this is something you were intentionally doing in this piece as a reaction to, say, our current political dilemmas, or has it been an unconscious but real trend in your writing in general? I partially ask because I’ve heard quite a few composers over the past year or so suddenly begin writing much more harmonically static, perhaps traditionally-beautiful music, and parts of this certainly remind me of the balance of chaotic vs. static in Invisible Cities or The Pieces That Fall To Earth.
Hmm, sort of. The piece grows out of a melody I wrote years ago, but after I wrote it, so maybe or maybe not. What I found interesting that, even as I wrote the piece at the Macdowell Colony, a place mostly free of distraction, I still have felt distracted. I’ve felt distracted all year, and I’m sure many people have. It’s one of the weird, particularly toxic side effects of the Trump era: all of the news that comes in makes you more distracted, less focused, less able to do deep thinking: and therefore more like Trump.
This work is an inadvertent dramatization of that very fact.
You’ve become a bit of a regular here. Outside of our awesome concert hall, what’s your favorite spot to hang when you visit LA?
Usually my trips to LA are just jam packed with trying to see all the friends I’ve developed around my projects here. And if not that, sitting in the sunless room of a recording studio working on my new album with Wild Up.
But when I do have a few minutes, I’m excited to spend time in the Arts District, at the Hauser and Wirth gallery, and then swing by Wurstkuche after.
Tickets for the December 7 premiere are available at laphil.com/tickets/colburn-celebrity-recitals/2017-12-07.
Next Tuesday, November 21, cellist Nick Photinos of Chicago-based ensemble Eighth Blackbird will be performing works from his debut solo album, Petits Artéfacts at Monk Space, aided by pianist Vicki Ray. I asked Nick some questions about the album, performing, working with composers, and Eighth Blackbird. Here’s what he had to say:
Can you tell us about the process of recording your album, Petits Artéfacts?
The concept for the album happened after I premiered the Florent Ghys work, Petits Artéfacts, a 17 minute work of six small, tightly constructed pieces. I got thinking about all the short pieces I had played over the years and, when I started digging around, found that none of them had been recorded yet, so the content came together pretty quickly. So did the idea to collaborate with pianist Vicki Ray and percussionist Doug Perkins, two people I’ve played with for many years but not often enough. The recording sessions themselves happened in May and June of 2016 and January of 2017.
What are your thoughts on performing this music live? Does the live performance offer something the recording cannot, and vice versa?
The plan was always to tour this music live following the release, so it’s been really great to get this music out in the world more. As far as why go see this live, besides just that live music is and should be better than listening to recordings: the Ghys in particular has great accompanying videos that Florent made himself, so those are definitely worth seeing and something you can’t get from the album alone. A lot of the works also have more punch when seen live, from the politically-charged Little to the wit of the Norman.
Do you plan on more solo albums in the future?
I’ve started thinking about it, but I want to get as much mileage out of this album as I can, so that’s at least a few years down the road.
Did you work with any of the composers personally while recording the album? Can you tell us about this experience?
Not so much in the recording process itself, but I did work extensively with Florent for the editing and mixing process. I’ve loved his album Télévision, not just for the music but also the sound on the recording: full and rich but also close and present, with not as much reverb as a lot of solo classical albums have. He had a lot of great input and helped shape the sound of the recording in a big way.
So far we’ve been focusing on your work as a soloist in light of your new album, but you’re also the cellist for the Chicago-based new music ensemble, Eighth Blackbird. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences with Eighth Blackbird? In contrast with solo performing, what do you love most about performing with the group? Anything on the horizon for you guys that you’d like to share?
I’m the founding cellist of Eighth Blackbird, now in its 21st season, so it’s old enough to drink. There’s so much I love about the group–the repertoire, the staging and memorization–but it all comes down to simply getting to go to work every day, whether that’s at our studio or recently onstage in front of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and just play good music really, really well together, and have fun doing it. So much on the horizon for us, including a new album of a staged 90-minute work by Dan Trueman, called Olagón, that comes out on Nov. 10; performances of that and our regular rep; and this June the second year of Blackbird Creative Lab, our two-week summer festival in Ojai, CA that’s free of tuition, room, and board for accepted fellows.
On November 17 at REDCAT, the EXO//ENDO ensemble will be performing works by composers Braden Diotte and Ulrich Krieger, both of whom are known for pushing boundaries with their music. The ensemble will perform Braden Diotte’s General Manifest, a 48-minute musical meditation on freedom, using memories of soundscapes along with field recordings from a twenty-year period traveling through the American west. Composer Ulrich Krieger’s Black Sun Rebirth combines elements of contemporary chamber music, dark ambient, doom metal and microsound aesthetics, telling a story of destruction and creation, the demise of the cosmos and the rebirth from the oceans. The piece is inspired by Ragnarök tetralogy and the first book of the Edda. Both composers will be performing with the ensemble.
I asked Braden Diotte and Ulrich Krieger some questions about their work, views on collaboration, the cross-pollination between rock, metal, and contemporary music, and more. Here’s what they had to say:
EXO//ENDO will be performing General Manifest, which, in your own words, pays tribute to the fleeting music witnessed during a twenty-year span riding freight trains about the American West, and is about the broader notion of birthright freedoms. Can you tell us more about this time in your life, riding freight trains and experiencing the underbelly of this part of the country? When/how did you realize you wanted to translate the experience to music, and what was the process of writing General Manifest like?
General Manifest is the repository for a handful of sonic experiences upon which I made a cohesive connection between the music I was listening to and the sounds bellowing from moving freight trains. My reasons for being aboard those trains in the first place varies from year to year beginning with traveling to punk shows in Berkeley, to attempting to collect food stamps in three states at once, to eventually visiting friends in distant cities and states, and finally to reconnect with a lost sense of independence after the demise of a string of important relationships. On one of my decidedly final journeys, in 2011, I experienced a sound-world on the rails just southeast of the Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley, which fell somewhere between an epiphany and a religious experience. It was in that moment that it became apparent that General Manifest needed to be written.
The writing process for General Manifest was graced with a series of very happy accidents which took quite a while to unfold, evolving from a quasi-minimalist multi-pianist work into an electronic work and finally into its current state as an electro-acoustic work. It may continue to evolve, but at its core the work is getting closer and closer to the true sounds from which its inspiration was drawn. Eventually, General Manifest will exist as a personal tribute to those years and experiences, even after I’ve reached the end of the line.
Throughout your career, you’ve collaborated with many well-known artists in the progressive/avant-garde rock scene, such as Faust, Neurosis, and the Locust. What do you enjoy most about the collaboration process?
When it’s truly happening, the collaborative process brings out the best and worst of everyone involved. It is no different than any other intimate relationship, and may be happening with a roomful of people at the same time, which can make things far more complicated. To fully invest in a creative exchange, one should be vulnerable and expose themselves, not withholding passion to save face. Light investment produces light results, like casual dating. Some collaborations have legs, and in my experience the collaborations that have the strongest legs also have the strongest passions, egos, arguments, and so on. There’s a ton of potential for growing in all of it, but the flame that burns twice as bright also tends to burn half as long. So what you’re left with is the artifact: the collaboration in whatever form it was documented. At the end of it all, it’s these artifacts that I get the most enjoyment from.
What do you view as similarities and/or differences between the avant-garde rock scene and the contemporary art music community?
I see the greatest similarities between those two communities existing in the mutual desire to communicate a unique and personal expression built upon the back of their respective lineages. Both worlds tend to be well-informed, and each carries their own discourse surrounding the important mileposts in their lineage. But now, in the 21stcentury, another interesting similarity is the burgeoning crossover between those worlds, with both seemingly pulling from each other’s histories without the concerns that previously kept them divided. As long as that continues to happen, it would be counterproductive to expound upon the differences.
How did you and Ulrich Krieger meet? Do you collaborate often?
I met Ulrich during my stint as a graduate student at CalArts, where he assisted with my 2013 work General Manifest, which was a large part of what I did while there. I was a member of his ensemble Sonic Boom for a period of time, and have performed alongside him in a number of public presentations over the past five years. The collaboration between Ulrich and EXO//ENDO has resulted in numerous collaborative sessions, and has been in development since 2015 – partially due to the “ping-pong” collaboration process that we are using, as well as the fact that none of us live in the same city.
Can you tell us about your experiences with EXO//ENDO, as a founding member and co-director? What do you see for the future of the ensemble?
EXO//ENDO has no future. It is an ensemble that by its very design holds its weight in the present, whenever present that may be. Right now that present involves a collaboration with Ulrich Krieger, as well as several other collaborations that are in various stages of development. Each project has a flavor of its very own, and the personnel are a revolving door of talented soloists and contributors that each brings their wares to any given performance. This – combined with the improvisatory ethos that is the spine of E//E – results in one performance of any given piece varying substantially from any other performance.
EXO//ENDO will be performing your work, Black Sun Rebirth, which is inspired by the first book of the Edda and tells a story of destruction and creation. On a personal level, what does this work mean to you? What do you hope the audience will get from it?
Using classic Greek themes has since long been a staple in art music: Elektra, Prometeo, etc., but very few composers have looked at Nordic mythology for inspiration. Might it be due to less exposure of it, might it be due to Wagner having seemingly occupied that material, might be due to the misuse of the material by fascists and right-wing groups. This always bothered me. I am German and we didn’t even read the Edda in school but we read Greek and Roman mythology and discussed their culture, but not our ancestors. Christianity has done everything to cover up and discredit these Nordic traditions, because they were a threat to the Christian ideology and much more progressive than Christanity: in Germanic tribes women were sword fighting soldiers, women were land and farm owners, and tribes were organized democratically in the Althing, kind of a parliament of tribes. I am interested in looking into this tradition, my tradition more closely. It holds a lot of interesting material. And I hope that the audience will be exposed to these ideas and will be able to connect to these ideas through the music.
The score for Black Sun Rebirth combines elements from contemporary chamber music, dark ambient, doom metal, and microsounds. How did you arrive at this combination of musical language for this piece?
These are all elements I personally like and I am influenced by. Metal, especially black metal, is the only musical style that since decades shows an interest in this culture and is outspoken about the violent, aggressive and bloody ways Christianity slaughtered and oppressed these traditional pagan Germanic cultures. In chamber music I am mostly interested in the extended soundscapes of timbral music—so ambient or doom is not so far away from this. All these styles work with non-traditional musical material. There is no key signature and often not even a meter in a traditional sense in these styles. It seems perfectly contemporary and at the same time ancient material.
Can you tell us about your interest in the cross-pollination between art music and avant-garde rock? Do you have a background in rock music?
Yes, I do. I have been working with Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth, we have the band Text of Light, with Lou Reed (Band and Metal Machine Trio), with the German krautrock band Faust and regularly record saxophone arrangements or soli for rock bands. Just recently I did a 4 contrabass-clarinet arrangement for a doom band in Berlin. I also have my own noise-metal band Blood Oath here in LA. At this moment I see avant-garde rock carrying on the torch of progressive music experimentation more than contemporary chamber music does, which seems as a whole to be in a phase of mannerism and getting conservative and retro. Rock music as well as contemporary art music is based on two main elements: sound and rhythm. Melody and traditional harmony are of minor importance to rock musicians and avant-garde chamber music composers.
You’re known for pushing the boundaries of saxophone through collaboration with many well-known and respected artists, including Lou Reed, John Zorn, LaMonte Young, and others. What do you enjoy most about the collaboration process?
About collaborations I enjoy mostly that the end result is more than the sum of its elements. The music coming out of collaborations is a music I would have never written alone. It is a group thing and in best cases even transcends the group itself.
What do you see for the future of new music?
This is a deep question, I could fill a book with. I talked about some of it already in the questions above. I think we are at the dawn of a major cultural change. I see contemporary chamber music declining due to its crisis and its clinging to the 20th century. I see rock and pop music, especially metal, hip hop and electronica, getting even stronger and developing, opening up more and more to the experiment. It seems that rock and pop will continue the tradition of experimentation and innovation of 20th century art music. We see this already with noise, doom metal and electronica, which are all non-academic, progressive, experimental styles.
Don’t miss out on the concert November 17. Check out REDCAT for more information and to get your tickets.
Karl Kohn is highly respected as a composer and pianist, not just in Los Angeles but also throughout the world. He’s also had a long career both as a teacher and on the board of directors of Monday Evening Concerts. In light of the upcoming Piano Spheres concert (this coming Tuesday, November 7), where Mark Robson will be playing a solo piano work by Kohn (Seven Brevities), I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about composing, his long performance career as a pianist, Monday Evening Concerts, and more. Here’s what he had to say:
Having served for two decades on the board of directors for Monday Evening Concerts, could you tell us about your experience there? Do any particular memories stand out?
The connection with MEC was very important for my wife Margaret and me. Under Lawrence Morton’s directorship the concerts were an opportunity to hear and to perform old repertoire as well as many new works, both by contemporary American and by European composers. Our collaborations and friendship with Pierre Boulez was special and delightful, but the list of other wonderful and meaningful composers and musicians with whom we worked is very lengthy.
Has your childhood growing up in Vienna informed the type of music you like to play/write? How so?
I was brought up in the Viennese Classics but also played some Debussy and Ravel. It was not until the years at Harvard that I played my first piece of twentieth-century music, Hindemith’s Third Piano Sonata. My freshman advisor at Harvard, Edward Ballantine, sent me packages of music while I served in the Army on Tinian in the Marianas, shipments that included works by Scriabin, Stravinsky, and the last two volumes of Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. I was a lucky guy.
You’ve composed for a wide range of instrumentations/genres of concert music. Do you have a favorite instrumentation/genre that you like to write for? Least favorite?
I have no favorites, either in the instrumentations/genres, and no favorites, really, among the works that I have composed – I like “all my children!”
Having written extensively for orchestra, what are your thoughts about composing for this medium? Has your opinion changed over time?
I loved writing for orchestra, and also for symphonic band. But for a Los Angeles-area composer (and especially a reasonably shy one situated way out in Claremont) writing for orchestra is not rich in opportunities. Nevertheless I have written several large orchestral works and all have had performances. In recent years, however, I have written and continue to write mostly for smallish chamber combinations of instruments.
How has your performance career as a pianist informed your career as a composer, and vice versa?
I imagine that my career as a pianist has had a very powerful impact on my compositional career, and I have written very much music for the piano, both solo and duo, and also for chamber groups that include the piano.
Your wife Margaret also has a long career as a pianist, and the two of you have performed together as a duo across the world. How do you inspire/encourage each other? What has your career of performing together been like?
Margaret and I started performing together while we were undergraduates at Harvard, almost seventy years ago – wow! For me certainly it has been a great joy to rehearse and play together with her these many years – indeed a blessed life.
Along with composing, you’ve also had a long career as a teacher. What are your thoughts about teaching? Do you find that it changes the way you look at music?
I taught at Pomona College for 44 years and have been retired from teaching since 1994. I like to think that it was a mutually beneficial experience both for my students and me.
You’re known for having a unique voice as a composer, which links an innovative musical style with a deep understanding of European classical tradition. How did your voice as a composer evolve? Where do you find the main sources of your inspiration?
As for my voice as a composer: I was brought up at Harvard in the milieu of American neo-classicism, admiring the music of my teachers Irving Fine, Walter Piston, Randall Thompson, and also Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. The Monday Evening Concerts and three sabbatical years in Europe gave me an opportunity to stay abreast of current developments from mostly in Europe while at the same time retaining my feet on the ground with teaching – albeit wonderful but more or less initially “unwashed” – undergraduates at Pomona College. I consider that my “style” since the late 1960’s has been referential to the broad historic past of Western, i.e. European and American, art music.
What advice do you have for emerging composers?
Get to know as much music of the past and present as possible, but be aware that this is getting to be ever more difficult in our current musical world. There is no any longer just one musical heritage but rather, in the words of David Noon, a former student: we live now in “a condominium of Babel!”
Check out Piano Spheres for more information on the upcoming concert, Tuesday November 7.