Next Tuesday, gnarwhallaby (Richard Valilutto, Matt Barbier, Brian Walsh, and Derek Stein) will be performing an adventurous program at Monk Space, including two world premieres and some recent commissions. I interviewed Matt Barbier (trombone) about the program, the future of gnarwhallaby, commissioning, and more. Here’s what he said:
On June 5, you’ll be performing “Lullaby 4” by Nicholas Deyoe, world premieres by Olga Rayeva and Daniel Tacke, and recent commissions by Elise Roy and Richard Barrett. Can you tell us a bit about the works on the program?
It’s a fairly personal program for us in a lot of ways, especially at the group’s current juncture. Nick’s piece was the first major work written for our iteration of the quartet and what we made our Carnegie debut with, so it’s always been a very special piece that’s at the core of our repertoire and the work that is most closely tied to us as individual players. Dan’s piece is quite exciting for us because we’ve played a pre-exising work of his that had no trombone, but did have voice (the change to trombone is questionable), so we’re looking forward to being able to have a work of his that we all play. His piece is based on Morton Feldman’s Half a minute, it’s all I’ve time for, which is an actual 30 second piece Feldman wrote for the original group that we’ve enjoyed playing over the years, but can be a little odd to program. We look forward to playing something that is based on it, but has a little more room to breathe. Elise’s piece is a bit like Nick’s in the sense that it was written by a friend who we’ve all known quite a while, however we mostly know Elise from performing with her (she’s a very good flutist on top of her great composing). Because of this, her approach to us is from a very different angle than Nick and a very different type of familiarity, but we look forward to them sharing that space. Olga’s piece is a bit of wild card for us. I met Olga when she was a fellow at the Villa Aurora and she came to a concert I gave that included Michelle Lou’s colossal HoneyDripper and really enjoyed it. From there we started conversing a little bit and she asked to write us a piece. It’s really excitingly out and feels, in certain ways, to tie to some of the more ethereal works written for the early Polish group, who, I think, everyone in the group feels a kinship (or fondness?) for. Richard’s piece is probably our ‘biggest’ commission to date and something that was in the works for quite a while. We’re big fans of his music and have been discussing doing a concert of his music for a long time. The idea of getting a new piece came up a few times and so I ended up just asking and he was, very kindly, interested in writing quite a large piece for four people in jumpsuits. His piece is in four movements, each based on an important jazz artist for him: Cecil Taylor, Thelonius Monk, Eric Dolphy, and Miles Davis.
Were all the works you’ll be performing on this program gnarwhallaby commissions? What do you enjoy most about commissioning new works?
Everything on the program was written for us by people we know, or got to know in the process. Commissioning new works for gnarwhallaby has been an especially rewarding process because our group exists as the third iteration of an ensemble founded in Poland in the late 1960’s and we’ve tried to be very cognizant of the instrumentation’s history when contributing new works. The Warsztat Muzyczny had a very particular bend to their own commissions and the Quartet Avance did a lot to keep the repertoire alive while adding their set of works that related but also reflected the generation that they were of. It’s been an exciting challenge to find composers whose music fits into that progression but also reflects our own interests, particularly as the first American group.
How did you get started as an ensemble? Has the group’s goals and/or focus changed since you formed in 2011?
Our origins come from CalArts where we were all students. We weren’t there together but everyone overlapped as MFAs (Brian’s last year was Matt’s first, Matt’s 2nd was Derek’s first, and Derek’s 2nd was Richard’s first). I (Matt) had a very keen interest in this one specific piece by Gorecki, which Brian, Derek, and I all played together before Richard arrived, and that interest led to finding a treasure trove of other works (over 60). At first our focus was to primarily revive that repertoire and occasionally add new pieces. However, over time our focus has really shifted to a much heavier focus on new works by people we like to work in close collaboration with.
What are your thoughts about how gnarwhallaby’s repertoire fits within the existing canon, either in the context of your particular instrumentation or in the wider context of chamber music?
It’s a fun group in a lot of ways given that we’ve got three instruments that can be quite loud and one that can only be…moderate? So our instrumentation has kind of violated some understood orchestration rules from it’s very origin, while also functioning as a micro orchestra. It has a very traditional but also somewhat unique place in the canon in terms of the way the ensemble functions. A huge portion of our repertoire functions as the clarinet, cello, and trombone as a meta instrument that fits with the piano. This isn’t a particularly new idea, but it is something that happens quite consistently from a wide range of composers so one wonders if it is something inherent to the nature of the group. On the personal side (as a trombonist that is), it fits in the canon in a very unique way because of this. Many composers (whether related to range, touch, velocity, color, etc.) demand that the trombone not only do things that’s not quite in it’s understood nature to do, but do them as well as the other three instruments. So it’s fairly unique in the canon of brass music that you’re being held against very idiomatic writing for instruments that do very different things than your own.
What’s in store for the future of the band?
Well we’re entering quite a new and kind of terrifying stage. Very shortly Richard will be leaving LA to get a doctorate at Cornell so we’ll have to sort out a new mode of existing and this will be our last show for a little while. We’re all quite close friends and we rehearse a lot over long periods of time. And drink lots of coffee. So we’ll have to, sadly, find a new mode. We’re planning Exhibit B, however. It’ll include music by Nicholas Deyoe, Michelle Lou, Andrew Greenwald, and Adriana Holszky. We’re also planning some more large scale concerts, including the full Barrett cycle.
For more information about the concert or to get tickets, check out Tuesdays at Monk Space.
Oboist Claire Chenette will be sharing her WORK with Tuesdays at Monk Space — specifically, a passion for cultivation, both in the worlds of new music and the fermentation of food. The program explores the often mysterious concepts of invisible processes over time, experimentation, and the complexity of crafting. The upcoming concert on April 17 will feature works by composers Helen Grime, Nicholas Deyoe, Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Toshio Hosokawa, and Marin Marais, along with a selection of her own handcrafted fermented foods. I had the opportunity to ask Claire some questions about the program and the inspiration behind it. Here’s what she had to say:
The concept behind your upcoming concert is fascinating. What interesting relationships do you find between the fermentation of food and creating music?
I’d like to answer this question with the help of fermentation expert Sandor Katz–“we use the same word —culture—to describe the community of bacteria that transform milk into yogurt, as well as the practice of subsistence itself, language, music, art, literature, science, spiritual practices, belief systems, and all that human beings seek to perpetuate”.
For me, fermentation and music are adjacent in the patterns of my daily life. I’ll be bringing an alpine-style cheese that I made last fall when I was brainstorming ideas and ordering music for this show. I’ll also be bringing a batch of sauerkraut that I made last Monday, the same day that I tied the reeds I’ll use on Tuesday. This show is part of Wild Up’s WORK series, and I can’t imagine a better or more real way to share not just my oboe playing, but my work and ways of working.
How did you get started fermenting your own foods, and do you have any favorites? What do you find most interesting about the process?
Some people approach fermentation for its health benefits. Traditionally, it was mostly about preserving the harvest pre-refrigeration. I was drawn to fermentation by my taste buds. The flavors of home ferments are often much more complex and interesting than anything I can find in the grocery store (which is why they go well with the music in this show, which is more complex and interesting than anything I can find on the radio). One of the most unexpectedly simple and delicious ferments I’m bringing is a carrot-ginger relish that I made using way-too-big, overwintered carrots that I found when I was digging up the garden this spring.
The most interesting thing about the fermentation process is that you can’t really control it, which means that what you create is bound to be unexpected. You set up a controlled environment, and then you tend to it while it does its thing. Microbial communities and time are transformative.
The concert at Monk Space features works by composers Helen Grime, Nicholas Deyoe, Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Toshio Hosokawa, and Marin Marais. Can you tell us a bit more about the works on the program? For example, do they relate to each other in any ways you’d like to point out?
Nick Deyoe wrote NCTRN 2 for me in 2015 and this will be my first performance. Virginia Woolf writes “The living poets express a feeling that is actually being made and torn out of us at the moment,” and that is the best phrase I can think of to describe NCTRN 2. I can’t imagine that it will be something anyone is expecting. With the traditions of fermentation on display, I wanted to bring in history and an older sense of innovation with the French Baroque composer Marais. Ruth Crawford’s “Diaphonic Suite” is playful and modernist. Hosokawa’s “Spell Song” is heart-wrenchingly lyrical and expressive. And Helen Grime’s “Arachne” is a perfectly crafted little story about what might befall you if you think you’re the best at weaving. A good reminder to take it easy on the crafting.
Anything else you’d like to share?
All of the ferments I’m bringing will be displayed on ceramic art by Saul Alpert-Abrams. Potter Shannon Garson writes “The privilege of using handmade pots is that they contain the idea of human endeavor, a link with other people, not with factories or corporations.” It is truly a privilege to bring Saul’s pottery to this event. His work will highlight the radical idea that a simple object can be a place where people can meet and share a life-affirming experience of beauty.
For more information about the upcoming concert and to purchase tickets, visit Tuesdays at Monk Space.
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.
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.
Tonight, soprano Elissa Johnston will join the Lyris Quartet at Monk Space for what’s sure to be a beautiful night of music. In anticipation of the quickly approaching concert, I had the opportunity to interview Lyris Quartet members Alyssa Park (violin), Shalini Vijayan (violin), and Luke Maurer (viola) about the program, thoughts on collaboration, and more. Here’s what they said:
The program contains a set of lyrical, moving, and experimental works from a variety of composers, including Arvo Pärt, Pin Hsin Lin, John Tavener, David Hertzberg, and Evan Beigel. From a programming perspective, how do the pieces relate to each other, and/or how do they contrast?
Perhaps the unity of the concept for this program lies in the reflective and complex writings of each composer. Each of these pieces have their own unique meditative quality which is not to say that they lack power. On the contrary, because of the subtleties and contrasts within each piece, it creates a haunting beauty. We hope this selection of composers and their pieces will help the listener look inward and be able to escape all the chaos around us…to be in the moment and just feel. (Alyssa)
How often do you perform with vocalists? What has the process of collaborating with soprano Elissa Johnston been like?
We’ve had the opportunity to work with vocalists in a number of different settings. As the featured string quartet on Long Beach Opera’s production of David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field several seasons ago, we had the rare chance to support an entire cast of vocalists. That said, when we get the chance to work with a singer in an intimate setting such as this, it is always a special treat. The beauty of the voice is the ideal to which all instrumentalists aspire, in phrasing, tone and timbre. Elissa is always such a joy to work with because she can grasp such a wide array of styles with her captivating voice. Not to mention, that she is a fabulous person and really fun to be around! (Shalini)
Both you and Elissa Johnston are known for performing a wide variety of works, both from the classical canon as well as living composers. Has this repertoire informed your playing in any ways you’d be interested in sharing?
We do have a great foundation of having played many of the celebrated works for quartet together, and it’s always great to revisit pieces from past eras after working on those from this century. We are fortunate to often have the chance to work directly with composers on new music for quartet. Indeed, three of the pieces on Tuesday’s program are by composers right here in Los Angeles! Years of collaboration with many composers definitely has expanded our own individual instrumental technique, and it has built up our ability as a group to listen and react to each other. (Luke)
For more information about the concert or to get tickets, check out Tuesdays at Monk Space.
Composer Nicholas Chase and violinist Robin Lorentz have a joint performance at Tuesdays @ Monk Space on February 21. This event will mark the world premiere performance of Chase’s electro-acoustic piece Bhajan, a four-movement work for electric violin and live electronics. This performance, celebrating the release of Bhajan as a new Cold Blue Music CD, will mark a rare return visit to Los Angeles for both musicians. I had a chance to interview both of them ahead of the concert. Here’s what they had to say:
What is the driving force behind Bhajan? What are the unifying elements across movements?
Exploration! That is the driving force behind Bhajan. There isn’t any aspect of it that isn’t designed as some form of investigation both theoretical and physical—including my friendship and musical relationship with Robin. I couldn’t have written this for someone else. Another violinist would have thought I was crazy!
The violin part in Bhajan is very simply constructed and focuses the tuning of the open strings. Virtuosity is a traditional western approach to a large piece like this, but my idea in was to take traditional virtuosic acrobatics out of the concerto scenario and bring the player back to the fundamentals of playing. As it turns out that approach brings out a whole different kind of virtuosity for both of us. So the investigation takes place on stage between the two of us, in a kind of musical conversation. That’s a good way to describe the piece: if you think of the four sections of the piece as parts of a conversation, you’ll hear how they evolve out of each other.
How did you first become involved with Hindi devotional music and Indian raga? What about this music speaks to you the most?
I’m not actually involved with Hindi devotional music and know very little about it. I studied North Indian Classical Music briefly with Rajeev Tharanath at the same time I was studying composition at conservatory. I had studied Schoenberg’s atonal serialism extensively and I felt like I that gave me an interesting springboard to dive into the deeper traditions of raga.
Rajeev discovered that I have a great ear for subtle tunings, tonalities and complex rhythms. I discovered that western formality—even serialism—was too constricting for me. What I love about raga is that within a single raga system the performer can shape her performance with limitless nuances and stylization. That makes the music both personal and alive. That is something I started putting into my writing early on in modular scores. Even though Bhajan isn’t modular, it tallies up everything I learned from writing those.
I started writing Bhajan during a research residency at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. At the time I was hanging out with acoustic technicians and I spent a lot of time talking and thinking about the physical phenomena of sound. I don’t know how I missed it early on, but I discovered that Hindustani music is also concerned with many of these aspects of sound making—with how the sound waves emanating from a string interact with sound waves emanating from another string!
I think it’s the unlikely but exquisite conscious union of science, skill, and craft that draws me to raga.
A good way to hear how I’ve brought all this into Bhajan, take a listen to Drshti, the second section of Bhajan, then listen to Ram Narayan’s performance of Raga Marwa on the sarangi. Wildly, I hadn’t heard this performance until after Drshti was recorded and mixed—I was surprised myself at how the two pieces echo each other. It’s exciting to think that I might have come to a musical conclusion outside of, but still reflecting, an ages-old tradition.
Bhajan was just released by Cold Blue Music in January 2017, but the performance at Monk Space will be its world premiere performance. What do you hope to communicate to the audience with the live performance of Bhajan?
You asked about my involvement with HIndi devotional music above. What I didn’t say is that, even though I’m not involved in devotional music, through nearly a decade of committed yoga practice which I had to take up for health reasons, I realized that making music is my devotion. It’s how I communicate back to the world and the “worlds beyond this world.” What I mean by that is scientifically, we understand that we’re all made up of vibrations. As musicians I think that we’re perhaps more, or at least differently, tied to an understanding of those vibrations. Bhajan is a celebration of the bridge between what we experience and its vibrational source and is a humble offering to that. You know, when someone waves at you, you wave back. Bhajan is me and Robin waving back!
How did you meet Nicholas Chase, and what was the collaborative process like with Bhajan?
I met Nicholas Chase through the CalArts Community and through The California EAR Unit. We were both heavily involved with Cal Arts at overlapping times and non overlapping times, so were aware of one another; but my first chance to work with Nick and get to know him was with the EAR UNIT. Nick wrote some musics for the Unit and so we worked, travelled and concertized together.
The collaborative process on Bhajan with Nick was indescribably and wonderfully prismatic. Every moment a new birth and breath…just like the piece. I love Bhajan so very very much. To have been involved with it in any way has been the richest gift.
You have performed for an incredibly diverse range of artists, composers, and projects. What have you gained from these diverse experiences?
Tickets for the February 21 concert are available at tuesdaysatmonkspace.org/shows/cold-blue-night.
Monk Space, in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles was the venue for a concert titled Crazy Quilt, string music from the Cold Blue recording label as performed by the Formalist Quartet. A nice midweek crowd turned out on March 10, 2015 – Crazy Quilt being part of the monthly Tuesdays@Monkspace series of new music concerts.
Hymn of Change (2010) by David Rosenboom was first, in an arrangement by Andrew Tholl, one of the violinists in the Formalist Quartet. This piece derives from an earlier work by Rosenboom, as he writes in the program notes: “In my 1998 work for piano, Bell Solaris- the Sun Rings Like a Bell, initiating waves of influence that traverse, shape, and create space, time and life – twelve movements emerged from subtle and grand transformations of the Hymn of Change, which I had written earlier in 1992. Some years later, after hearing Bell, Andrew Tholl was inspired to arrange the Hymn, a kind of slow, gospel waltz, for string quartet.” The result of Andrew’s efforts is a warm, traditional sound with full four part harmony and good balance that perfectly recalls the sunny days of late-19th century Americana. Although not a long piece, the careful playing of the Formalist Quartet and accommodating acoustics of Monk Space combined to bring Hymn of Change into a vivid realization that brought complete tonal satisfaction.
Music for Airport Furniture (2011) by Stephen Whittington was next, and this was a US premiere. An Australian musician with a long history of involvement with contemporary composers, Whittington gave the first performances in Australia of music by Christian Wolff, Terry Riley, James Tenney, Peter Garland, Alan Hovhaness and Morton Feldman – among many others. Whittington’s extensive travels were the inspiration for Music for Airport Furniture – which owes far more to Erik Satie than to Brian Eno. This is not music to fill public spaces but rather tailored for the interior of the human heart. Whittington writes: “I was interested in the airport departure lounge as an arena for human emotions – boredom, apprehension, hope, despair, loneliness, the tenderness of farewells – all taking place within a bland, often desolate space.”
Music for Airport Furniture consists of a series of long sustained phrases, lush and warm, broken only by the occasional pizzicato arpeggio in the cello. The sweet sadness of farewell is slowly released with a distant, introspective feel. The string quartet is the perfect ensemble for this music. The delicate texture was nicely realized by the Formalist Quartet who kept the long, quiet passages interesting by infusing just the right amount of energy while at the same time carefully controlling the dynamics. The brick wall acoustics of Monk Space allowed the intimate and heartfelt sensibility of this piece to reach all parts of the audience. Music for Airport Furniture slowly unpacks all the emotions of the lonely traveler waiting for an airline boarding call.
After an intermission the concert concluded with a world premiere – String Quartet No. 4 Crazy Quilt (2014), by Peter Garland. Crazy Quilt is based on an earlier work for solo cello – Out of the Blue – written the year before, which consisted of a rising, then descending arc of 44 pitches. The other instruments of a string quartet were then added to this foundation to increase the timbrel possibilities. As Garland writes, “I chose different basic time units: with the cello maintaining its 60-second unit, the viola uses a 75 second unit, violin 2 uses a 90 second unit; and violin 1 uses two different units – first a 45 second one, then shifting to a 30 second unit, and finally going back to 45 seconds. The common denominator for all these is that they add up evenly to 45 minutes (2700 seconds). I.e. what starts together, ends together…” For this performance page turners were employed as the players were continuously engaged in sounding the long, sustained tones called for in the score.
The beginning of Crazy Quilt is a quiet, sustained chord in the lower registers of each instrument. The bowing by the players was, of necessity, achingly slow – but the sound produced was warm and full. As the time units rolled by, the chord would change slightly, – generally rising in pitch – but very slowly and deliberately. Each change of tone by a player would reveal an entirely new feeling in the sound, sometimes adding tension or anxiety and sometimes resolving into mellowness and warmth. There was no beat per se; the players had to concentrate and be in good communication as each was working to a different time unit. Overall the effect was very engaging – like watching a slow-motion kaleidoscope. In the lower registers the feelings were mostly smooth and reassuring, but as the pitches increased the more stressful and anxious sensations predominated. At the very top of the arc the violins soared above the rest of the ensemble – sometimes heroically and sometimes with great angst – but always bringing another interesting variation to the sound. As the piece floated gently downward in pitch, the chords seemed to become gradually more consonant and consoling. The familiarity and harmonic cohesion in the middle registers added to the feeling of solace, and by the conclusion of this piece there was a comforting sense of return.
Crazy Quilt is an ambitious work, attempting as it does, to conjure so many different colors and feelings from the sound. It is also a difficult piece to play given the different time units and sustained pitches required – with no conventional tempo or harmonic progressions to follow. Despite these challenges, the Formalist Quartet brought this piece fully alive so that the vision of Peter Garland was fully articulated.
The Formalist Quartet is:
Andrew Tholl, violin
Mark Menzies, violin/viola
Andrew McIntosh, violin/viola
Ashley Walters, cello
The next concert at presented by Tuesdays at Monk Space will be on Saturday, March 21, 2015 at 8:00 PM at Villa Aurora, featuring The Varied Trio (Yuri Inoo, Aron Kallay, and Shalini Vijayan). Music of Lou Harrison, Bill Alves and others will be performed.
Tuesdays at Monk Space, the series run by Aron Kallay and Jason Heath in K-town, has a really cool mix of old and new happening tonight at 8. The first half of the program features Ensemble Hotteterre performing music by Couperin, Telemann and Phillidor on period instruments. The second is a Mark Robson solo harpsichord show, with pieces by Henry Cowell, Alexander Tcherepnin, Maurice Ohana, György Ligeti, and a premiere from Robson himself, along with selections from Froberger, Rossi, Scarlatti, and Giovanni de Macque for flavor.
Full info on the show is available at http://tuesdaysatmonkspace.org/shows/oldmusic-newmusic.