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Posts Tagged ‘What’s Next? Ensemble’

Sounds: Jason Barabba: Lettere da Triggiano

Composer Jason Barabba just posted a video of the premiere of his huge piece Lettere da Triggiano, and it’s great. What’s Next? Ensemble, joined by actor Kalean Ung and singers Elissa Johnson, Anna Schubert, Amy Fogerson, and Sarah Lynch, put on a semi-staged performance directed by Doug Oliphant.

Of the piece, Jason says,

I inherited a small stack of handwritten letters that grandmother had kept until she died. They were from her sister-in-law, written between 1948 and 1951 and are half of a conversation between my grandmother in Los Angeles and my Great Aunt in Triggiano, Italy. The letters cover a period of time when my grandfather was dying and end about a year after his death. They are very personal and heartfelt missives from a woman who was not able to make the trip to visit her brother as he was dying on the other side of the ocean. I felt there was a good piece in there, so I’ve taken Carmela’s letters and broken them up. They are not presented complete, nor in order. I cannot even begin to know how to summarize the narrative. I never met Carmela, but I feel like I’ve gotten to know her through these letters. I cannot overstate how grateful I am to everyone that had a hand in getting this piece to the stage in October. I am in awe of the performance presented in this recording. I feel like a very lucky composer.

LA Composers Project 2013: Richard Valitutto

Today we’ve got composer and pianist Richard Valitutto discussing the piece he’s featured on What’s Next? Ensemble‘s fifth annual Los Angeles Composers Project on April 26 at Boston Court.

Valitutto headshotThe name of your piece being performed at LACP 2013 is:

frammenti notturni

[Click the title to listen]

Tell us about it.

For most of my life as a composer (which is, relatively speaking, not all that long), I’ve kept various notebooks or scraps of paper with little musical ideas jotted down on them. Sometimes, I’ll not write down anything for weeks at a time, and then it will only be one measure of music – just a few pitches, harmonies, or basic gestures. At times when I have a specific project in mind, these ideas are more plentiful or involved. Two similarities I noticed about all these collected scraps is that I have a ton of seemingly disconnected, completely unused ideas, and a majority of them came to mind and were recorded at night (like many people, I simply work better and more freely when it’s dark and quiet).

In November 2012, my good friend and colleague Mark Menzies and I performed a recital at the Hammer Museum which focused on Morton Feldman’s epic 80-minute duo for violin and piano, For John Cage. We also performed a substantial first half of shorter compositions for violin or viola and piano by Cage, Feldman, Anton von Webern, and – with mutual coercion – one each by Mark and I. Although slightly absurd in retrospect (the concert was about 3 hours long!), this first half allowed the audience to really attune the senses to Feldman’s lengthy (and quiet!) journey. It also afforded Mark and I each the opportunity to write pieces for one other, and more abstractly – though no less meaningfully – for John, Morton, and Anton as well.

This duo for violin and piano, frammenti notturni, was my contribution to that event, and in it I have included a wide array of some of the aforementioned compositional fragments from over two years of random jottings: many of which were primarily influenced by Cage, Feldman, Webern, and Menzies; their techniques, philosophies, playing styles, distinguishing characteristics, formal structures, etc. Basically, everything in this piece – from its formal plan to very specific harmonic and melodic gestures – comes from and points back to these four people. And it is to the four of them that I owe a great deal of my development as a musician, composer, thinker, and human being. This small compositional offering is dedicated to Morton, John, Anton, and Mark.

Favorite X : Y

Breakfast :: two eggs sunny-side up, link sausage, home fries, sourdough toast, some good cheese, grapefruit juice, and coffee.

LA Composers Project 2013: Dante De Silva

DeSilva HeadshotIt’s getting a little tricky to keep the “Next up in our series of interviews with composers featured on What’s Next? Ensemble‘s fifth annual Los Angeles Composers Project” line fresh, so feel free to leave a comment suggesting how I should introduce whoever is next. In any case, today we’ve got Dante De Silva.

The name of your piece being performed at LACP 2013 is:

Mr. Distinguished

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Tell us about it.

The idea for Mr. Distinguished came from a simple idea—I missed writing fun music. I had been knee-deep in my opera about Gesualdo, and I felt I needed to write something that wasn’t emotionally draining.

Inspired by the works of Jacob Ter Veldhuis, I set upon finding a recording of a Dickens story or some poetry. I came across a website,, an online project that gets volunteers to record themselves reciting books and poetry in the public domain. After days of searching, I found the text for Mr. Distinguished from a chapter of Emily Post’s book of etiquette—the chapter titled “Introductions.”

Much like a kid (me) entering phonetic combinations of letters into a Speak & Spell to hear dirty words, I wanted to manipulate the text into something much more playful than the ridiculously snobbish original text. I manipulated the spoken text to create a character, Mr. Distinguished, who is despicable and goes against many of the rituals Emily Post suggests. He is “always abrupt and unflattering, rude, preposterous, [and] inelastic”—he is almost exactly the way I was described by my etiquette teacher.

Favorite X : Y

My favorite car from the Pixar Cars movies is Fillmore.

Here’s the piece:

LA Composers Project 2013: John Eagle

johnwp1-e1304190327686Next in line to answer some questions about his piece featured on What’s Next? Ensemble‘s fifth annual Los Angeles Composers Project is John Eagle. Let’s do this thing.

The name of your piece being performed at LACP 2013 is:

Asperges Me 

Tell us about it.

Asperges Me is based on the Latin antiphon of the same name, which is a part of the Roman Catholic Mass. Taken from Psalm 51, my piece uses the first two lines, “Thou shalt purge me, with hyssop and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” I wrote the piece following the birth of my nephew (the piece is dedicated to his parents) while thinking about the transformative possibilities that lie dormant in every relationship. One can view the piece as a kind of deconstruction of the chant. The melody itself has a beautiful rise and fall, invoking a sense of striving as it ascends and release as it falls and returns to the tonic. I took the melody and broke it down into 1-3 note fragments which are played in each voice and harmonized according to a range of overtone ratios. I prefer to look at the piece as a kind of translation, or opening-up. Each voice plays every part of the entire melody, but each with its own harmonization. As a collective, the ensemble plays the entire set of ratios and the audience gets to hear each note of the melody cast in a slightly different way, giving the piece a sense of multi-dimensionality. Duration, dynamics, and even the choice of one instrument are decided upon by the players, granting a wide range of expressive potential and making each performance specific to the ensemble.

Favorite X : Y

I’m gonna go with favorite childhood breakfast cereal: peanut butter Captain Crunch.

How about a recording?
While I do have a live recording of Asperges Me, I’d prefer to share a better quality recording of a recent piece which was composed at the same time as Asperges Me. The piece is rhythm color #2—resembling, suggesting. It was premiered by New Century Players in November 2012. The piece was constructed according to a similar process as the one in Asperges Me, organizing harmonies according to a limited range of overtone ratios which translate and shift over time.

LA Composers Project 2013: Robin Cox

Next in our series of interviews with composers featured on What’s Next? Ensemble‘s fifth annual Los Angeles Composers Project is Robin Cox. Here we go:

Cox HeadshotThe name of your piece being performed at LACP 2013 is:


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Tell us about it.

“Everywhere” juxtaposes a lilting bass clarinet solo against the rhythmic backbone of vibraphone accompaniment as processed by digital delay.  I was interested in creating an impression of delay processing as simply a natural extension of the instrument.  The vibraphone’s ringing ambience also provided a nice opportunity for blending such with the unique capacities a bass clarinet has for nuancing a musical phrase, or even a single long note.

Favorite X : Y?

Favorite vice : extremely dark chocolate.

Here’s the piece:

LA Composers Project 2013: David Utzinger

Utzinger headshotNext up in our series of interviews with composers featured on What’s Next? Ensemble‘s fifth annual Los Angeles Composers Project is David Utzinger. Here we go:

The name of your piece being performed at LACP 2013 is:

Quintet for Flute, Piano, and String Trio 

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Tell us about it.

I wrote the second movement of this piece for a class I was taking at the Berklee College of Music (where I received my bachelor’s degree). It was originally scored for Flute, Violin, Cello, and Piano. A professor of mine liked the piece and asked that it be put on an upcoming school concert. I had to get the players together (of course), and as Berklee is primarily a Jazz school, I needed to look outside of the college for “classical” players that could handle the material. I had a really good friend at Boston Conservatory that played viola, she said “I can find you all the players you need if you write in a viola part”, so now the piece had a viola part. The movement was performed, everything went off fine, and then I decided about 6 months later that the only thing about the piece that I liked was the “coda”. The coda was a three voice fugue, the subject of the fugue being a very diatonic twelve tone row (they exist). In the end, only that coda survived from the original piece (still at the end of the second movement). About five years later I wrote the first movement (which is what is being performed at the LACP concert), starting the piece with a fragment of the tone row, played pizzicato in the cello.

I see music in terms of shapes and colors; triangles, squares etc. In my mind the first movement was a combination of white, light blue and grey, and was a triangle, or rather a wedge that wedged to the right, like a door stop.  The beginning is the “small” side, and as the piece progresses, it slowly ramps up in tempo, density, volume, texture etc. I think of it as a giant crescendo. The fragment of the original tone row appears here and there, usually as a melodic line, poking its head out above the accompaniment. The opening of the piece is the white/grey part, and ideally, as the wedge of the piece grows, so too should the blueish color increase, and eventually take over, perhaps hinting at a bright yellow. To this end I tried to keep the strings from playing “arco”, for as long as possible, because (for no apparent reason that I know of aside from “I just see it that way”) plucked strings are white/grey, and bowed strings have color.

In the end this movement is about growth, and not necessarily the good kind. The main motif; a four note cell first played by the flute, eventually spreads and infects the entire piece. By the end of the movement, all instruments are playing some version of the fragment simultaneously, choking the piece, and abruptly cutting it off.

Favorite X : Y

Facial hair : handlebar mustache.

Here’s the piece:

LA Composers Project 2013: Jeffrey Parola

On April 19 and 26, What’s Next? Ensemble will be putting on their fifth annual Los Angeles Composers Project. It’s a Boston Court this year, in Pasadena. We’ve got eleven composers with pieces on the two shows to look forward to, so New Classic LA has decided to interview all of them, one at a time, about the pieces they’ll be having performed. We start the series, right here, right now, with Jeffrey Parola.

The name of your piece being performed at LACP 2013 is:

Parola headshot

Qualms & Misgivings 

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Tell us about it.

Qualms & Misgivings was written in 2011 while I was studying with Frank Ticheli at USC. It was my first year at USC, and I wanted to try something different, so I decided to change up my compositional process by composing away from the piano and using alternative notion. I had a vague dramatic narrative in mind while composing the piece, where I envisioned two groups of characters, each group suspicious of the other. But these groups are inherently similar, and their suspicions lie in the subtlety of their differences. I chose musical material that represents this tension of similarity versus difference, namely whole tone and octatonic sonorities. “Wrong notes” begin to impede on the whole tone texture, which causes a friction that ultimately leads to a quarrel that leaves the characters heaving-and-hoing in the final measures.

Favorite X : Y

Favorite musical moment in LA: watching the LA Phil play Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie live at Disney Hall.

[Editor: I went to this concert, and it completely blew my mind. One of my favorite musical moments in LA as well].

Here’s the piece:

Out West Arts has your May calendar set

Dude. I hadn’t updated the blog in a few days (largely do to working out a classical guitar arrangement of Wonderful Tonight for a friend’s wedding), and was just coming on to mention that a) wild Up have a show this weekend, and b) Crescent City, a completely insane looking “hyperopera,” opens tonight, but Brian over at Out West Arts has already done a pretty amazing job summing up what’s on for this month. So you should just read that. I think the only thing he’s missing is What’s Next? Ensemble‘s Fourth Annual Los Angeles Composers Project, coming up on June 1. But that’s not in May, so I’ll let him slide, this time.

Check out Out West Arts’ comprehensive listing of events worth attending at

This is a good weekend for independent opera in LA

This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, you can catch three (THREE!) operas – two by local composers – at clubs around town, and let me tell you, you really should.

Friday, our friends (yeah full disclosure, but they’re great musicians whether or not we’re friends) in What’s Next? Ensemble are presenting a double bill at Royal/T in Culver City. The shows are Michael Gordon’s Van Gogh and Shaun Naidoo’s Nigerian Spam. Tickets are available here.

Saturday and Sunday, Julia Adolphe’s psychodramatic chamber opera Sylvia gets its premiere at The Lost Studio in Hollywood. Julia wrote the libretto herself, and it seems like pretty heavy stuff involving young love with family friends and memories of the Holocaust. It’s $5, and I hear Saturday night is already sold out. I’ll be there Sunday, so say hello. Complete details are at, and we’ll have an interview up here with Julia sometime shortly after the show.

See you this weekend.