A few months ago we heard the premiere of Daniel Bjarnason‘s Qui Tollis at the LA Phil’s Noon To Midnight festival (review here). Tomorrow, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet brings the piece back to LA at the release concert for their album BEYOND. In the third of our series of exclusive videos, Daniel and the members of the quartet discuss the work.
Beyond that, Daniel was kind enough to answer a few questions:
In the video about Qui Tollis, LAPQ member Nick Terry describes it as having a combination of serenity and brute power. I’d say that about a lot of your other work too, particularly Emergence, which also came out recently. Is that balance something you actively strive for, or does it happen almost on its own as a result of your voice and taste?
I would say it is something that is a part of my own voice, like you say, and having realized that I don’t really fight against it but am aware of it. Sometimes I want to emphasize that characteristic and sometimes not.
You mentioned looking to other percussion works for inspiration on this one. Are there any particular inspirations, or pieces you discovered while listening, that readers can also check out?
I would like to mention one piece in particular that I completely fell in love with which is The So Called Laws of Nature by David Lang.
What excited you most about working on this piece with LAPQ?
I felt that they were really willing to go the extra mile to bring the piece to life. Apart from being fantastic musicians they have a wonderfully curious and positive attitude. For example the idea of using electronic triggers was entirely theirs and I thought it worked great.
You’ve been doing a lot in LA lately. What attracts you to the scene here? What’s different about it from Reykjavik or the other places where you are most active?
I’ve had the great fortune of developing a relationship with the LA Phil and I continue to work with them regularly which is an absolute privilege and joy. I have also worked the Calder quartet which is LA based and have been in touch with many other wonderful musicians and artists in the city. I find that there is this energy and curiosity in LA and a general willingness to experiment that I find invigorating. In some ways it reminds me of Reykjavik in that there is a feeling of everything being possible. I think that is what is attracting so many artists to the city now.
Yesterday we premiered The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet‘s video with Andrew McIntosh about his piece I Hold The Lion’s Paw, from their forthcoming album Beyond. Today we’ve got composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir discussing her piece Aura.
The record is out on Friday, and LAPQ is playing a free album release show at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute that night at 7:30. The album and concert include music by Christopher Cerrone, composer of The Industry’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Invisible Cities; Daniel Bjarnason, who was recently featured in the LA Phil’s Reykjavík Festival; and rising LA composer Ellen Reid. The evening will also include video and surround-sound audio samples of works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Andrew McIntosh, plus a demonstration of an immersive virtual reality video of Cerrone’s L.I.E. from his Memory Palace, heard on the new album.
Come back tomorrow for our video and interview with Daniel Bjarnarson, and pick up the album and concert tickets at lapq.org.
The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet‘s next album, Beyond, drops on Friday, and they’re playing a free album release show at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute that night at 7:30. The album and concert include music by Christopher Cerrone, composer of The Industry’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Invisible Cities; Daniel Bjarnason, who was recently featured in the LA Phil’s Reykjavík Festival; and rising LA composer Ellen Reid. The evening will also include video and surround-sound audio samples of works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Andrew McIntosh, plus a demonstration of an immersive virtual reality video of Cerrone’s L.I.E. from his Memory Palace, heard on the new album.
LAPQ gave us permission to premiere three composer interview videos they did, and we’ll have them up today, tomorrow, and Thursday ahead of the concert and release. To start, here’s composer Andrew McIntosh and members of the quartet discussing his piece I Hold The Lion’s Paw
Album and concert details are at lapq.org.
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.
The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, who we have interviewed before, just wrote and asked for a bit of help spreading the word about their call for works/opportunity for composers to work with them. Here’s what they said:
Next Wave is free! Applicants need to submit a completed score, which we will use to judge. The piece does not need to be a percussion score; rather, we want applicants to submit pieces that show their voice and their aesthetic direction.
We are looking for young students to push the boundaries and work with us to create new pieces for percussion quartet. In short, we will select four composers to write us pieces and join us for an intensive rehearsal in January. Two composers will be selected as winners, receive $500 each, and be performed on a spring concert. Everything will be documented so all composers will end up with good quality audio and video.
The application deadline is September 30th, and we hope you will post information on your site. We feel that this is a great way to collaborate with young composers, as well as develop new and exciting repertoire for percussion quartet.
Complete details are up at lapq.org/next-wave.
Andrew McIntosh came up to me at a concert last week to invite me to hear the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet premiere his new piece, I Hold The Lion’s Paw, at Zipper Hall this Friday, April 10. I’ve loved LAPQ’s recordings, and immediately thought, “wait a second, why haven’t we done anything with them on New Classic LA?” Andrew introduced me to percussionist/LAPQ member Matt Cook, and here we are.
Fill us in on the show at Zipper this weekend.
On Friday, April 10th, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet will play a new piece from Andrew McIntosh called “I Hold The Lion’s Paw.” We are thrilled to premiere this in Zipper Hall because we can take advantage of the size and acoustics of such an incredible space. We will have four stations set up around the audience to spread melodies in the air and move our sound around the hall. The goal is to create a concert experience that is tailored more towards our audiences’ ears rather than their eyes.
The other pieces on the concert will remain on stage and represent a more traditional chamber music concert experience. These pieces have been written for us by Los Angeles based composers Nick Deyoe, Joseph Pereira, and Shaun Naidoo. For audiences that have never attended a percussion concert, they will be amazed by the virtuosity of percussionists as well as the diverse sonic possibilities of the art form.
With the music you choose to program and record, it’s obvious that space is important to you. Your records on Sono Luminus are recorded in 7.1 surround sound. Did the decision to record like that come from within the group, or from the recording team? Do you feel that the recordings work equally well on a stereo setup like most listeners have?
As opposed to a string quartet or those with piano, the percussion performance model is very fluid and always changing. We often have strict space constraints because of the large size of our instruments like timpani and marimbas. Equally as often, we have high flexibility in space based on the kind of repertoire we choose and the smaller instruments we could use to create it.
At each show, we try to use the space provided to give an audience the deepest experience possible. We tailor each piece and our instrument choices to do just that.
When we perform in a small space, we give an intimate experience of hand held instruments and use items that can fit on one small table. These concerts often explore rhythm or the nuance of softer sounds. When in a large hall, we choose music that can push the limits of the louder dynamic spectrum.
We are excited to perform this show in Zipper because the hall is sensitive enough capture subtle details with clarity and it is large enough to let us push the louder moments.
The spatial aesthetic of our albums began when we started our recording partnership with Sono Luminus. Most of what they record is in 7.1 Surround Sound and designed to appeal to both the audiophile community and traditional lovers of classical music.
Their recording sessions typically use one tower of microphones in the center of the room with seven microphones pointing in every direction. During the session, we place our instruments in four stations surrounding the microphones so they can capture the actual spatial sound image. This presents challenges when trying to execute tight rhythmic passages over a great distance, but it pays off when we are able to listen to a piece and feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the ensemble.
When our albums are released, they come with two discs – one stereo CD, and one BluRay surround sound disc. To me, the stereo version still captures the beautiful details of the composition, our playing, and a large dynamic spectrum. The stereo version is also how 95% of our listeners can hear the album (iTunes, Spotify, and mp3s, etc). Having said that, sitting in the middle of a BluRay surround sound album with the production quality that Sono Luminus offers is an extremely rare and rewarding experience.
You have, in not a huge amount of time, put out an impressive number of records, nabbed a GRAMMY nomination, and managed to keep a very busy schedule of performances and events. You’re still in touch with our local scene here, though. Without being too blunt about it, what’s your secret?
We appreciate the kind thoughts and we feel fortunate that our work has been received so well up to now. With the individual realities of our family lifestyles, SoCal living proximity, and our creative work with other projects, it is not possible for us to be a “full-time” ensemble at the moment. We are also passionate educators so this makes presenting long tours challenging.
Dealing with our limited schedules, we have chosen to create most of our work by collaborating with composers who are associated with Southern California in some way. The Los Angeles art music community in 2015 is equally as diverse and exciting as anywhere in the world. Although we do work with composers all over the world, since our ensemble’s birth we have made it our mission to highlight the music of Southern California. In doing so, we hope to extend the long tradition of new music on the West Coast by contributing what is happening right now.
Our relationships with these artists help propel our artistry and career as an ensemble. We work together to create an audience, a sound world, and relationships with music venues.
Percussion quartet is a genre that more and more composers are writing in. Is the medium becoming today’s equivalent of the string quartet in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries? If so, why do you think that is?
Percussion repertoire is expanding rapidly… we love this! There are several reasons for this recent explosion of content.
75 years ago, composer John Cage challenged the expectations of classical music listeners and used percussionists to experiment in a variety of musical contexts. He set the trend for many composers today to be ambitious in that way. He also established the trend for many percussionists to volunteer to experiment for composers and push the limits of what they could achieve behind an orchestra.
The large collection of instruments many of us have and the hundreds of sounds we can create is attractive to many composers. These sounds often can not be appreciated from behind a larger ensemble, so percussion quartet is a great outlet to explore them. For example, crumbling paper or bowing a cymbal is a kind of sound that requires very few other events to be happening in that moment so they can be heard.
Lastly, the pedagogy over the last 65 years has evolved and created an incredible vehicle for producing creative, talented, and ambitious students. These students create professional ensembles or become teachers to an even more evolved group of young students. A few decades ago, percussion training was limited to orchestral applications or drumset. Now, percussion ensemble playing is at least 50% of the education most modern percussionists receive.
With more and more pieces in the medium, and – I assume – more and more submissions as your reputation grows, what makes a piece stand out as something you want to play? What gets you excited?
Pieces can stand out to us for a variety of reasons. It could be as simple as coming across a piece that fits a theme of an upcoming event – such as music for percussion and electronics, or music to be performed outside.
New pieces that get us excited can vary as well. We often get excited by “new classical” pieces that cross genres and invite interest from wide audiences. We are equally as interested in meditative pieces that focus on subtle shifts in sound evolving over time.
In terms of choosing our repertoire, it is a fluid process. We always welcome new works and any composer to send us ideas. With the limited touring schedule, it sometimes has to coincide with practicality of other pieces on the concert and what instruments are available with the time given.
What’s on the horizon for LAPQ?
After our show on April 10th, we head up to Fresno in May for the California Day of Percussion. We’ll adjudicate young ensembles, give masterclasses, and perform a show for hundreds of high school and collegiate percussionists.
LAPQ recently received our 501c3 non-profit status, so we are excited to be developing the long term growth of our group! We are in the process of solidifying our Board of Directors, fundraising, and long term planning over the next few months.
We are also preparing to record our third album with Sono Luminus. As part of this, we are talking to various composers and finding the right mix of artists to collaborate with to make the album special. Part of this will be fundraising for a large scale commission, which we are very excited about!
Tickets to see LAPQ this Friday at Zipper Hall are available from $5 – $20 at the door. Full details are up on the facebook event page at facebook.com/events/875741825819987. More info and recordings are up on LAPQ’s site, lapercussionquartet.com.
This Friday night at 8, the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet and Los Angeles Guitar Quartet are joining forces to premiere YMIR, a new work from Jeffrey Holmes, at the Laguna Beach Music Festival. Jeffrey had a moment to answer a few questions about the piece.
The idea originated between Nick Terry of LAPQ and Bill Kanengiser of LAGQ. They had the idea to collaborate at the Laguna Beach Music Festival, but since it is a unique ensemble (four guitars and four percussion players), repertoire for this instrumentation was non-existent. Since I have worked with LAPQ several times in the past, and I have personally known all the members of LAGQ for literally decades, it seemed like the right fit for me to compose a new piece for this collaboration. I’d also like to add that Brian Head, who will be conducting the premiere on Friday, mediated between everyone involved, and was instrumental in getting this whole project to happen.
What about the music? What is the piece about?
I wanted to write an ancient, savage, and primitive piece, and that inspiration, combined with the source of the project coming from the Laguna Beach Music Festival, led me to look towards the origin of the ocean. YMIR is the primordial being in the indigenous Scandinavian religion…and from his blood, all of the seas were formed. This programmatic idea manifests in the music is several ways…most notably in the instrumentation and the treatment of the instruments. The guitar quartet is tuned in a complex microtonal scordatura, that enables multiple levels of overtone tunings to occur, thus through intonation imitates the timbre of an ancient lyre or plucked string instrument. There are several types of percussion instruments used in the piece, all of which could be ancient primordial instruments, such as skinned drums, a cow horn, the clashing of simple stones that imitate the sounds that would be made as a warrior chisels away at a spear tip or arrow or knife, bull roarers, metal sticks and gongs, even a large sledge hammer…but there are almost no “modern” percussion instruments (such as a marimba or vibraphone or cymbals, etc.). The music itself is divided into nine sections with a coda, each of which bear titles that depict a violent state of the ocean and imply a spiritual transcendence. YMIR was inspired by the following quote from the Eddic poem Skáldskaparmál:
“Útan gnýr á eyri Ymis blóð fara góðra.”
[Out on the sea-bank of good vessels Ymir’s blood roars.]
Did you actively work on it with the performers, or deliver a score flat out?
No, after discussing the general duration and the microtonal tuning I was planning to use, I just wrote the piece that I had in my head, and delivered a finished score. Though there has been much interesting and enjoyable discussion since, mainly about finding the right percussion sounds to create the effect that I envisioned.
I actually haven’t been down to Laguna for a concert. Are they receptive to new music there?
Being and LA native I know Laguna and the surrounding beach and mountain areas well, but in regards to new music I have no idea…we”ll see! As with all my music YMIR is extreme and uncompromising, and does not attempt to please anyone who is not willing to listen to it on its terms. So if there is any resistance of any kind to new music in Laguna, YMIR will challenge those audience members to their core.
What else are you working on?
I am currently composing a big piece (ca. 30-minutes in duration) for chamber orchestra for the TALEA Ensemble…to be premiered in New York and at festivals in Europe, including Wien Modern, Darmstadt, and others during the 2016 season.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Laguna Beach is a beautiful part of California, and is surrounded by protected nature reserves. So come down for the concert as well as the beach and mountains!
Here’s another sample of Jeff’s music, in the form of his second string quartet:
We are incredibly proud of our friends in the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. If you haven’t heard yet, their album Rupa-Khandha, released earlier this year on Sono Luminus records, is nominated for two Grammy awards! Huge congratulations to Matthew Cook, Justin DeHart, Eric Guinivan, and Nick Terry. Here’s hoping you guys bring home some trophies.
The good news about this for you? You can hear them this Saturday night at Atwater Crossing, in collaboration with People Inside Electronics. The concert includes the premiere of Isaac Schankler‘s Blindness. Complete details are up at peopleinsideelectronics.com/lapq. See you there.