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Dear Friends,

On Sunday, April 19, my piece Rise was premiered in Washington, DC. A collaboration with the poet Tameka Cage Conley, the work bears witness to our country’s fraught journey from Selma to Ferguson and beyond. The morning of the performance, a young Black man named Freddie Gray died of severe injuries sustained while in Baltimore City Police custody.

Last week, Chris Shiley and I recorded the Invocation that opens Rise. The same music returns in the fifth movement, called for by Dr. Cage Conley’s words: “A horn tells us, / a brother has fallen, again…” I share it with you as a lament, a prayer, and a call to action, for Freddie Gray and for Baltimore.

You can stream the track for free, and buy it for $1 or more. All proceeds go directly to the family of Freddie Gray, and will be used to cover medical and burial costs.

Click here to listen and donate. Thanks so much, and please share if you are so inclined!

All Best,
Judah

P.S. For those interested, I posted some thoughts on art and activism over the course of the past week in Baltimore. You can read them here and here.

Contact Judah Adashi

20 hours ago | |
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marieThe New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy (NWS),  has launched a free, online resource called  Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration, dedicated to the works of one of the 20th century’s most influential, innovative and provocative composers . Content for the website derives from New World Symphony’s three-day program Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Centennial Celebration (February 8-10, 2013), the most ambitious and comprehensive commemoration of the artist’s legacy mounted during the hundredth anniversary of his birth. The site, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, represents works from throughout Cage’s career, with performance videos of some of the composer’s best-known pieces as well as works that have never before been presented or documented in this way.

At the core of the online archive are videos of 12 performances and behind-the-scenes discussions of Cage’s work by Michael Tilson Thomas; Fellows of the New World Symphony; world-renowned artists including new-music vocalist Joan La Barbara, pianist Marc-André Hamelin, soprano Jessye Norman; and dancers from the New World School for the Arts in choreography by Merce Cunningham. The performances drew on the extraordinary possibilities for staging and visual enhancement made possible by the New World Symphony’s campus–the New World performances extend that process, going beyond simple documentation to become creative realizations of Cage’s work. More than 25 behind-the-scenes vignettes of rehearsals and preparations for the performances take the viewer into the process of “making the right choices,” providing musicians, educators and audiences around the world with rare access to insights and conversations between NWS’ Founder and Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas, NWS Fellows, guest artists, and John Cage experts as they approached the delicate and nuanced task of preparing Cage’s works.

Also included on the site are extended essays by John Cage and Michael Tilson Thomas; interviews with Michael Tilson Thomas, Laura Kuhn (Executive Director of the John Cage Trust), guest artists and NWS Fellows; artist biographies; links to program information for each work performed; and materials related to Cage’s activities in poetry and visual art.

“The New World Symphony’s John Cage festival was an opportunity to stretch our imaginations to the fullest,” said Michael Tilson Thomas. “Over the course of the week we came to appreciate the amazing range of his music. The diversity of his music inspired us to use all the capabilities of our ensemble and of our building to present his works in installations designed for them. The videos on the website are, in some cases, reportage of those installations. In other cases they are new video works based on the experiences of the live performances. The process of performing and interpreting his works has been a transformative experience for all of us who were involved.”

The extraordinary richness of the videos on the site is made possible by the comprehensive documentation of the works during the festival by the New World Symphony’s audio and video team. The festival and the website was funded in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, ensuring that the works of John Cage would be documented and made available for future generations to learn about and appreciate his contributions to the fields of music, dance and artistic thought. Documentation of the event included multiple camera and audio crews who recorded hundreds of hours of video over a two-week period, documenting every aspect of the preparation and presentation of Making the Right Choices.

Highlights of the archive include the video realization of The Seasons (1947), Dance / 4 Orchestras (1982), in which images of Cage’s drawings and compositions are layered upon the views of the musicians in performance; Cheap Imitation (1969), performed with a portion of the original and rarely seen Merce Cunningham choreography, titled “Second Hand”; and She is Asleep, Part 1 (1943), which includes images that appear to be seen from within the instruments being played. Over the next year, additional videos, interviews and materials will be added to the site.

The website is New World Symphony’s most recent accomplishment in online music education. NWS is a leader in the experimentation and development of music applications for Internet2, a high-speed, next-generation Internet, connecting more than 200 U.S. universities as well as international universities and governments. To date, NWS has connected with more than 150 institutions in over 20 countries, in order for its Fellows to receive instruction from professionals around the world, and for its Fellows to share their own knowledge with young musicians as well, providing access to classical music instruction and mentorship that they may not otherwise have access to.

7 days ago | |
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Tomorrow evening, composer and pianist Gregg Kallor will continue his stint as SubCulture’s inaugural composer-in-residence with a performance of songs that will also feature acclaimed mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala and renowned baritone Matthew Worth. The concert corresponds with a celebration of National Poetry Month and the 150th anniversary of William Butler Yeats’ birth, whose work Kallor sets in many of the songs included on the evening’s program.

Again, the performance is tomorrow, April 28, at SubCulture (45 Bleeker Street, Downstairs), and tickets are $25 in advance, $30 the day-of. Doors open at 6:30 PM and the concert begins at 7:30. More information on the program and the night’s featured artists can be found here, at SubCulture’s website.

Tomorrow’s concert marks the second showcase of Kallor’s two-year residency, which will ultimately result in five world premiere performances. The next event on Kallor’s docket as SubCulture’s composer-in-residence is later this year, in June.

8 days ago | |
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lapqFriday night, April 10, 2015 and Zipper Hall in downtown Los Angeles was the venue for a concert titled I Hold The Lion’s Paw featuring the The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. A knowledgeable crowd gathered to hear four pieces of percussion music that included a world premiere.

The first piece on the program was Mallet Quartet (2013) by Joseph Pereira, written for two vibraphones and two marimbas. Pereira writes about this piece: “Each pitch is considered on its own as a scale, of many timbral particles waiting to be examined. For the most part the focus is on the resonances, the attacks, and the overtones. Whether it is the playing technique used or simply the natural sounds of the instrument, these can all be exposed and manipulated in different ways, depending on the register they are in.” The metallic sounds of the vibraphones and the more organic tones from the marimbas provided a rich set of contrasts and possibilities that were exploited throughout this piece. From the very first chord that came crashing down from the stage there was the immediate sense of ‘many timbral particles’ flying through the air. The feeling was like being inside a bipolar grandfather clock with metallic clangs and twinges intermingling with wooden knocks and rapping. Rapid and independent runs from each instrument added to the general cloud of sounds that alternated between a metallic, industrial hardness from the vibraphones and a more comforting, natural sound from the wooden marimbas.

There were quiet stretches and these had the feeling of being in a dark basement full of active industrial piping off in the distance. At other times the tutti crescendos that increased in tempo as well as volume produced an energetic, industrial feel – but without becoming overwhelming. A variety of mallets were used to create a series of changing effects and textures from each instrument. Joseph Pereira’s experience as principal timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is embedded in the sinews of Mallet Quartet – the techniques for extracting just the right sounds and colors were masterfully scored and in this performance carefully executed.

Lullaby 5 (2013), by Nicholas Deyoe, followed and for this the stage was reconfigured with four percussion stations having, variously, marimbas, vibraphones, drums, cymbals and other assorted percussion. This began with a light tapping on a snare drum and then cymbals followed by a sharp report from a drum. Some bowed sounds were heard, a flurry of loud percussion, and then a quiet stretch. A mysterious feeling predominated in the softer spots and carried forward a growing tension that was periodically discharged by loud tutti drum rolls and cymbal crashes. The piece progressed this way with slowly rising levels of stress broken by sudden surges in volume and energy. A drum stick drawn over the surface of a cymbal was especially effective in one of the quieter places. The louder sections were vintage Deyoe, who demonstrated that he can bring his characteristic intensity and frenzy to a percussion piece. Lullaby 5 is reminiscent of Lullaby 4 – written for cello, trombone, clarinet and piano – and comprised of the same tension/release pattern heard here. Lullaby 5 is an exacting exploration of strong feelings along these same lines, proficiently expressed by the LAPQ.

The Year Before Yesterday (2013) by Shaun Naidoo was next. The program notes state that “Naidoo’s use of rhythm, form and melody creates a gorgeous and singular sound-world that truly expands the existing percussion repertoire. … This work was among the last that Naidoo completed before his early and unfortunate passing in 2013.” Scored for marimbas and vibraphones The Year Before Yesterday begins with low trills that lay down a nice bass foundation followed by a series of single notes that generate a feeling of building tension. We are walking deep into a dark forest, and the crescendos and decrescendos add a sense of adventure to the journey . There are stretches of syncopated melody that add energy and movement as well as slower sections – as if we are resting from our trek, surrounded by the sounds of the forest. The Year Before Yesterday is a marvelous sonic exploration of an unknown place, powered by percussion and our imagination.

After an intermission, the final piece of the program was the world premiere of I Hold The Lion’s Paw (2013-2014) by Andrew McIntosh. For this there were two percussion stations center stage and one each in the right and left balconies. The piece began with single notes struck on bowls at all four stations followed by chime tones. There was a sense of being surrounded by the sounds and an overall exotic feel. From time to time water was added to the bowls, raising their pitch and this became something of ritual throughout the performance. The vivid imagery and sustained sense of motion and movement evoked a kind of sojourn, as if we were walking along some strange path. At times it felt as if we had arrived at some fantastic, yet dangerous hamlet – the mix of percussion changing towards chimes, bells and cymbals – and a great flurry of sound that felt orderly and civilized. At other times it was as if we were caught outdoors in a violent storm, complete with sheets of rain and loud claps of thunder.

I Hold The Lion’s Paw is a large-scale piece and, as Andrew McIntosh quoted in the program notes: “To summarize Morton Feldman, the form of a piece of music over 20 minutes or so in length ceases to be concerned with structure and instead is about strategy. There is a point in any long piece where you lose an emotional connection to the shape as a whole, and the piece then becomes about the moment-to-moment flow of experience and memory.” If the journey was long – and it seemed as if we had circled around and revisited a place or two – the sounds were always interesting and the variety engaging. The spacing of the percussion stations between stage and balcony was used to good advantage. The coordination of each remote station – with the slight delays in sound arrival – was nicely exploited and precisely executed by LAPQ. Different stretches of the piece varied in dynamics, texture or color and the journey was enhanced by the presentation of ‘gifts’ to the listener – elements that were unexpected or the result of the placement of the different percussion stations. This piece has a certain resemblance to McIntosh’s Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure, from a recent CD; the same sense of exotic exploration comes through. I Hold The Lion’s Paw is a vast, but always interesting work that extracts the maximum from the varied percussion pieces of the ensemble, and this performance was superbly realized by the LAPQ.

The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet is:
Nick Terry
Matt Cook
Justin DeHart
Cory Hills

Mallet Quartet, The Year Before Yesterday and Lullaby 5 are available from Amazon on a CD titled The Year Before Yesterday

19 days ago | |
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The Minnesota Orchestra is off to Cuba.  The historic May trip culminates with two performances in Havana, May 15 and 16 and will also include several musical exchanges between Orchestra musicians and students.  These will range from coaching sessions with high school and university student musicians to rehearsing with a Cuban youth symphony and playing jazz music with professional Cuban musicians. The Orchestra announced in February that it would perform in Cuba as part of the 19th annual International Cubadisco Festival this May, becoming the first U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba since President Obama took steps to normalize relations between the countries last December.  The tour is being made possible by a generous gift from Marilyn C. and Glen D. Nelson.

The Orchestra’s opening performance on Friday, May 15, at the Teatro Nacional will feature Music Director Osmo Vänskä conducting the Orchestra in an all-Beethoven program, including the Egmont Overture; Symphony No. 3, Eroica; and Choral Fantasy, the latter with Cuban pianist Frank Fernández and choruses Coro Vocal Leo and the Cuban National Choir.
The second performance, on Saturday, May 16, at the same location will feature Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla’s Danzón, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite, conducted by Vänskä.

The Orchestra tour group will comprise 165 individuals, including 100 musicians, as well as stage crew, staff, community members participating in a “people to people” exchange and members of the media.  Cargo for the trip will include 65 tour trunks, collectively weighing more than four tons, and the music for 16 musical works, totaling 2,000 individual parts.

The International Cubadisco Festival is an annual music festival that encompasses one of the most important recording competitions in the Cuban music industry.  The theme for the 19th annual festival, running from May 15 to 24, is symphonic and choral music.

Musical Exchanges
Following their arrival in Cuba on Wednesday, May 13, Orchestra musicians will visit Cuban high school and university music students on Thursday, May 14.  At the Escuela Nacional de Música, a national high school for music study, Minnesota Orchestra brass, string, percussion and woodwind players will coach student chamber groups, hold master classes and exchange musical performances in a two-hour morning session. The Escuela Nacional de Música includes more than 500 students from across Cuba who focus on both classical and popular music studies.

At the nearby Instituto Superior de Arte, a university that focuses on the arts, Minnesota Orchestra musicians representing all the instrument families will meet with university student musicians, offering group master classes as well as practical coaching advice for students who are preparing for annual competitions, again in a two-hour session.

On the morning of Friday, May 15, the Minnesota Orchestra will join the 80-member youth symphony, Orquesta Sinfonica Juvenil Amadeo Roldán, onstage at the Teatro Nacional for a side-by-side rehearsal.  Sharing stands and music, the Minnesota musicians and high school-aged youth symphony members will rehearse Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances with Music Director Osmo Vänskä.  (The students will perform this music the next day as part of the International Cubadisco Festival.) Composer and conductor Guido López Gavilán—who serves as the youth symphony’s conductor—will also lead the combined ensemble in a rehearsal of one of his own pieces: Guaguancó, a colorful work with complex Cuban rhythms.

Following the Minnesota Orchestra concert on Saturday, May 16, members of the Orchestra who also specialize in jazz performance will head to the Havana Café, where they will participate in a late night musical jam with Cuban musicians.

22 days ago | |
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darcy-james-argue

Delighted to see one of our favorites,  Darcy James Argue, among the 2015 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship winners announced yesterday.

The Guggenheim Foundation gives out annual fellowships in a range of disciplines including academia, the arts and science. The organization says they are “appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise” and this year’s 175 scholars were drawn from a pool of 3,100 applicants. The organization’s website does not list the amount, saying that the grants vary, “taking into consideration the Fellows’ other resources and the purpose and scope of their plans.”

2015 Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellows for Music Composition:

George Lewis, Steve Lehman, Darcy James Argue, Matthew Barnson, Richard Carrick, Sean Shepherd, Rand Steiger, Amy Williams, Etienne Charles, Chihchun Chi-sun Lee and Andreia Pinto-Correia.

Past award winners in this category include George Antheil, Aaron Copland, Alex Mincek and Vivian Fung.

26 days ago | |
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RC20April 1, 2015 was the date and the REDCAT Theater at Disney Hall was the site of a concert by the Southland Ensemble of the early music of the late Robert Ashley. A full crowd was in attendance with only a scattering of empty seats.

The Entrance (1965) was first on the program and this was video projected behind the stage showing a keyboard with stacks of pennies being placed on the keys. There were speakers in the back of the theater where the tones could be heard and as a new stack of pennies was to a key added the resulting tone could be heard entering what was a continuous chord. The stacks grew in number and eventually the sound produced was a large cluster chord that seemed to cast a spell in the theater – just loud enough to be heard but never very definite and always changing as stacks of coins were moved about or added to the keyboard. In fact this video was projected during the entire concert, providing a sonic foundation for all that followed. Robert Ashley, quoted in the program notes, stated: “I have never understood what ‘The Entrance’ means. It was ‘inspired’. I would guess that it means something like the way to get into another, different frame of mind – that makes the performance of the other pieces possible.” This continuous realization of The Entrance was well-suited to the REDCAT performance space and consistent with Ashley’s vision of it.

She Was a Visitor (1967) featured a female soloist spotlighted in one corner of the dark stage precisely repeating the words “She was a visitor.” As this continues, the listener becomes aware of musical suggestions heard in the patterns of speech. The audience was invited to join in by choosing a sound from the recitation and then vocalize that sound quietly for the length of one breath. There was some participation in this and it was most effective when sustained. Small pockets of sound arose among the audience in the darkened theater at varying times and this was an appealing addition to the repetition of the phrase. It was as if small communities of sound formed, disbanded and reformed in subtle collaboration with the soloist. That She Was a Visitor extracted these fascinating bits of musicality from simple repeated speech was a credit to the focus of the soloist and the theatricality of the staging. Such was the power of the moment that applause was held – it was as if we were witnessing the arc of a larger story as the stage was prepared for next piece.

The Wolfman (1964) followed and this piece was described in the program notes as “… treating the cavity of the performer’s mouth as a chamber that influences the nature of the feedback heard by the audience.” Accordingly, a very brave James Klopfeisch took up his position center stage under a spotlight and a microphone. Off to the right, Casey Anderson operated some equipment that played back recorded voices and generated various electronic sounds. The soloist began by humming a steady note into the microphone and attempting, with varying success, to induce feedback into the theater sound system. Different vocal techniques were used including sung notes and long, sustained shouts. As the piece progressed, the beeps and chirps of the accompanying electronic sounds became louder and seemed to compete with the soloist. The cries of the soloist into the microphone became more plaintive as the electronics gained in strength – perhaps as a metaphor for the individual trying to be heard in a society filled with informational clutter. At one point Klopfleisch began imbibing water in an attempt to change the sonic properties of his throat and mouth in order to match the power of the ever-rising electronics. The increasing distress of the singer generated an instinctive empathy for the individual striving to be heard. Eventually the electronic chatter slowed and then stopped, leaving just the soloist to bring the piece to a quiet ending. The stage lights darkened leaving just the enigmatic sound of the cluster chord from the video. The Wolfman is a memorable piece that gains its power from the courage of the soloist and the precision of the lighting, staging and sound systems – all of which was featured in this excellent performance.

RC10

In Memoriam… ESTEBAN GOMEZ (1963) was next and for this the stage was populated with a number of instruments and players, starting with a small, portable organ that began the piece with a single, sustained tone. The other players entered one at a time contributing long consonant pitches, rising and falling in volume. This produced a lovely sound whose color changed as slight variations in pitch were introduced by the players – at times this gave an otherworldly feel before returning to the familiar. The stage lighting was again very effective, spotlighting the players against the darkened stage. As the piece progressed a single instrument would dominate the texture for a time, then fade back while another emerged. Zero beating could be heard as the instruments matched pitches and, overall, the ensemble was very controlled, managing the long, continuous tones of this piece with great care.

After the intermission, another memorial piece was played, this time In Memoriam … CRAZY HORSE (1963). A much larger ensemble filled the stage – in orchestral fashion – with high and low string sections, brass and winds. The players tuned and then a conductor walked out to take her place at the podium. The strings began with a series of rapid, random notes that had a frantic, almost chaotic feeling. This was soon offset by warm, chorale-like tones from the brass, all playing smoothly together. The piece proceeded in this way – one section issuing a frenzy of uncoordinated notes while another section countered with sustained and soothing tones. There was no common beat or rhythm, and the sections entered and faded out on their own. The tension and contrasts produced some unusual textures and feelings – often quite lovely – although overall a sense of melancholy seemed to predominate. In Memoriam … CRAZY HORSE brings a scale and presence equal to its subject that all came across quite clearly in this performance.

RC30Trios (White on White) (1963) concluded the concert and this was a series of appearances in different parts of the stage by three players. The first of these was a flute, alto sax and accordion playing a sustained and dissonant chord. After a short time the spotlight moved to a different part of the stage where a flute, viola and percussion were stationed. The percussion consisted of a series of suspended crow bars that were struck in sequence. At a certain point in the sequence the flute and viola entered for the duration of just one strike, and this trio brought a sort of Buddhist sensibility with the solemn clanging of the crowbars.

The final trio featured a violin and viola player in white masks accompanying a bassoonist who proceeded to give a whimsical lecture on the history of his instrument. This dissertation of the trivial and the arcane drew some knowing laughter from the audience, and it was all intended in good fun. The masked string players added a running commentary as the bassoon player explained, and then demonstrated, a number of historical styles and mannerisms of the bassoon including humorous excerpts from Mozart, Vivaldi, Stravinsky and Berio.

This concluded the concert on a lighter note but there was no question that the Southland Ensemble had brought the early works of Robert Ashley to the REDCAT stage in masterful fashion. So much of Ashley’s works are theatrical in nature and the superlative staging and lighting were exactly what this concert required. The Southland Ensemble continues to add an important dimension to the cultural life of Los Angeles with outstanding performances of the late 20th century masters

The Southland Ensemble is:

Casey Anderson – saxophone, electronics
Matt Barbier – trombone
Orin Hildestad – violin
James Klopfleisch – vocals, bass
Jonathan Stehney – bassoon
Cassia Streb – violin
Christine Tavolacci – flute (co-director)
Eric KM Clark – violin (co-director)

Guest Performers:
Erin Armstrong – woodwinds
Jonathan Armstrong – clarinet
Jennifer Bewerse – cello

And many others

The next performance by the Southland Ensemble will be in June, 2015 – check their website for details.

Photos by Bonnie Wright (used with permission)

28 days ago | |
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PiE Wild Beasts - picture 158The spaciously comfortable sanctuary of the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena, CA was the site for a concert titled gnarwhallaby: The Wild Beasts. On a pleasant Sunday evening, March 29, 2015, a nice crowd gathered to hear the six pieces on the program that included a world premiere. The concert was produced by People Inside Electronics and featured the formidable playing of the gnarwhallaby ensemble combined with historical as well as contemporary electronic sounds.

A question and answer session preceded the concert and a brief history of gnarwhallaby was recounted. It was noted that the instrumental combination of the group comprises a sort of miniature orchestra with piano, woodwind, brass and strings represented. This combination tends to drive their repertoire and much of their material has come from the late 20th century music of Eastern Europe, although they have performed a number of works by contemporary Los Angeles composers.

The first piece was Pour quatre [For Four] (1968) by Wlodzimierz Kotonski (1925-2014) and this began with a series of light, rapid runs of notes from several instruments, played independently and with no common beat. Sforzando entrances by individual players appeared against this busy background and the overall effect was quite intriguing. As the piece continued, different duos of instruments would begin a section, be joined by a third instrument and then drift apart as the combinations reset. This gave rise to a procession of different textures of varying densities that was quite engaging. Although no electronics were used in this piece, the program notes state that Kotonski composed by “Eschewing strict meters, tempi and traditional score format in favor of a cue-based and texturally/temporally improvisational notational technique, the aesthetic of this piece is less like chamber music and more like the unpredictable and ineffable environment of the early electronic pieces.” All of the strong entrances were cleanly played and the wilder parts efficiently managed by gnarwhallaby, making Pour quatre the perfect reference point for the rest of the concert program.

Next was Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo (1971-72) by Andrzej Dobrowolski (1921 – 1990) and for this two large speakers were placed on each side of the piano that began the piece by emitting a loud rumble of thunder. A sustained and anxious sound followed and a crash from the piano dramatically signaled the entrance of the soloist. A variety of mechanical sounds, clicks and squeaks from the speakers were accompanied by a series of rapid runs on the keyboard and the alien feel of the electronics was offset by the more musical counterpoint in the piano. Different sounds came from different speakers – at times and the piano had to compete to be heard. The electronic sounds eventually settled into a menacingly low rumble, like some sinister alien presence lurking nearby in the shadows. The piano played lightly – but still sharply – as if reflecting the anxiety that was hanging in the air. In this charged atmosphere the piano evoked a mixture of dread and fear as if waiting for the creature to strike. The electronics now became more animated, like a pin ball machine, going faster and faster.  The piano responded with a series of frantic passages as if in a full panic, followed by a sudden crash and silence. Now alone, the piano issued quiet, but anxious notes as the electronics started up again with a dull roar that grew in volume, before finally fading completely away. Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo is a powerful and frightening piece of music that demonstrates how effectively electronic sounds can trigger primal emotions.

The Wild Beasts (1978) by Morton Subotnick (b. 1933) followed, for piano, trombone and electronic ghost score. This work was originally inspired by an exhibition of Les Fauves paintings, and Subotnick writes: “I was left with the impression that each subject was portrayed as ‘normal’, but that we were seeing this subject through a strangely prismatic atmosphere… an atmosphere comprised of rare and possibly ‘unearthly’ gases… an atmosphere in which normal expectations of color and shape would not exist. This was the visual counterpart to my ‘ghost’ idea, i.e. a traditional musical instrument played into an unusual and continually transforming atmosphere … an atmosphere in which the normal sound expectations would not exist.”

The instruments of gnarwhallaby were played into microphones and the sound processed and played out again through speakers to create the ‘transforming atmosphere’ that is basis of this work – Morton Subotnick sent his original electronics files to be used for this performance.  The piece begins with muted trombone calls, like hearing some animal in the far distance. The piano strikes single notes and the feeling is solemn, yet very exotic – as if we are in some pleasant pasture high in the remote mountains. The trombone calls become louder and longer while at the same time the piano becomes more strident – as if something is approaching. Finally a loud trombone blast announces the arrival of a large menacing presence and the piano boils in excitement. Rapid and anxious playing in the trombone combine with frantic piano passages to evoke something like a melee, A series of vocalise shouts and grunts are heard coming through the trombone and the speakers, adding to the sense of terrible combat.

The playing continues in this fashion with the electronics bending and twisting the sounds, but always increasing in dynamism. The energy escalates until the trombone finally starts to slow and drop in pitch before dying away. Funerary chords are heard in the piano while the sound of air rushing through the trombone gives a sense of shallow breathing by the beasts. A cup mute produces a series of low, growling sounds in the trombone as the piano tolls single, solemn chords at increasing intervals as the piece fades quietly away.

Running some 30 minutes in length, and with the trombone almost continuously called upon to produce powerful and unorthodox sounds, this was a heroic effort by Matt Barbier whose lip and lungs never faltered. The audience cheered at the conclusion and gave a standing ovation for this inspired and intense performance.

Krabogapa (1969) by Andrzej Dobrowolski followed the intermission, scored for clarinet, trombone, cello and piano. This began with a series of sharp notes in the clarinet that were joined by the cello and accompanied by rapid runs in the piano. Low tones in the muted trombone followed, with a repeating phrase in the piano and a series of beeps and boops from the clarinet that made for a frantic feel. After a short quiet section the clarinet exploded in a series of very bright and piercing passages. The entire ensemble issued runs of short, rapid notes with no common rhythm, but nevertheless starting and stopping precisely together. Soft trombone notes dominated a final quiet section with the cello building tension until sounding a final pizzicato ending note. Krabogapa brings out the orchestral elements in the gnarwhallaby ensemble – noted in the pre-concert talk – and the strings, brass, wind and keyboard playing was equal to the challenge of this very expressive work.

To Warsaw with Love [Z Milosci Do Warsawy] (1971) by Donald Erb was next, scored for clarinet, trombone cello, piano and electronic sounds. In this piece the electronics seemed more at ease with the acoustic instruments, becoming a sort of conversational partner rather than a hair-raising adversary. The opening was built around a series of pitches moving alternately upward and down with the acoustic instruments producing an almost electronic feel. When the actual electronic sounds entered they were mostly beeps and blips and gave a more alien flavor to the texture. Mallets were seen being applied to the piano strings, and the other instruments joined in sporadically, but with good ensemble. In the quieter sections the electronic sounds and instruments played off one another nicely, as if in conversation. To Warsaw with Love is an entertaining reminder that electronic sounds are much more than just a raw energetic presence.

The final piece of the concert was the world premiere of Sad Trombone (2015) by Isaac Schankler, scored for clarinet, trombone, cello, piano and electronics – this work was written especially for gnarwhallaby. Isaac writes: “The genesis of Sad Trombone is the quintessential sound of failure, the chromatic descending four-note motive that often accompanies a wrong answer on a game show, a pratfall, or a botched opportunity.” The piece opens with an electronic pitch of sine wave perfection and crystalline coolness.  This is soon joined by the cello and clarinet – at what sounds to be a slightly different pitch – but with the effect that the entire ensemble sounds like a series of precision oscillators.  A piano chord enters, adding a sense of menace and foreboding. A loud blast from the trombone signals the start of a number of syncopated and rapid passages of increasing intensity. The feeling borders on the chaotic but the texture is yet coherent – an amazing sound.  Far from being merely sad, there is a real sense of anxiety here.  A trombone solo with processed electronics follows and at one point the sound is like the roaring of a motorcycle racing away from a stop light. The electronics are effective in adding to the ensemble and always seem to be under control. Sad Trombone is ultimately a bit darker than its title might indicate, but provides a powerful example of how effectively electronic sounds can be scored together with acoustic instruments in capable hands; this piece fit in perfectly with the other works on the program.

gnarwhallaby is:
Brian Walsh – clarinets and saxophones
Matt Barbier – trombones
Derek Stein – violoncello
Richard Valitutto – piano and keyboards

The next People Inside Electronics presentation will be The Magnetic Resonator Piano on Saturday, April 18, 2015 (at the same venue) featuring performances by Nic Gerpe, Aron Kallay, Steven Vanhauwaert, and Richard Valitutto.

Photos by Adam Borecki (used with permission)

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holy1Geoff Nuttall, violinist for the St. Lawrence String Quartet and Director of Chamber Music for the SpoletoUSA Festival in Charleston SC,  just announced details of the 11 programs for the 33 concerts that will be performed at this year’s Festival . The series runs from Friday, May 22 through Sunday, June 7 and is sponsored by Bank of America.  I’ll be taking in a few of the performances and giving you a report.

Among the highlight of this year’s series is the world premiere of Control Freak for improvising singer and instrumental septet, composed by the 2015 composer-in-residence Mark Applebaum. A colleague of  Nuttall’s at Stanford University, Applebaum is known as the “mad scientist of music” because of his inventive compositional style and innovation with instruments. In addition to the premiere of his new piece, he will perform his Aphasia for hand gestures with pre-recorded sound as well as several pieces for blues piano. Applebaum performs on the first two programs; Control Freak premieres on Program III, performed by baritone Tyler Duncan, pianist Pedja Muzijevic, clarinetist Todd Palmer, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Geoff Nuttall, violist Daniel Phillips, and cellist Christopher Costanza.

“It’s going to be a varied and eclectic musical ride with Mark,” Nuttall says. “He’s an amazing blues and jazz pianist, which you’ll experience, and you’ll also get to witness an important moment in music history when we hear a new piece of art.”

Programs for this season’s series include well-known canonic jewels as well as new musical experiences with contemporary compositions and selections unearthed from past centuries. Among the new and newish pieces are Osvaldo Golijov’s Omaramor for cello, performed by Alisa Weilerstein; Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet, op. 11; and Andrew Norman’s Light Screens.

The chamber music series begins on Friday, May 22 at 1:00pm with Vivaldi’s Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe in B-flat Major, featuring violinist Livia Sohn and oboist James Austin Smith; Mark Applebaum’s Aphasia; and Dvorák’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major.

Nuttall has great taste and his eclectic pairings of compositions  spanning more than 400 years, are always entertaining, if a tad, quirky. Program IV will include two pieces by Chinese-American composer Huang Ruo, whose opera Paradise Interrupted has its world premiere at Spoleto Festival USA this season. “Flow I and II” will feature Huang Ruo on vocals, as well as Zhou Yi on pipa (Chinese lute) and other series artists, including Tara Helen O’Connor, who will abandon her usual flute for the djembe (West African drum). Huang Ruo’s compositional style often marries Chinese tradition with seemingly disparate cultures, as is also heard in Paradise Interrupted.

“It’s a great luxury to be able to bring Huang Ruo from the opera to the chamber stage.”  Nuttall says. “Audiences will be able to see the full portrait of a musician. This is a great example of the spirit of Spoleto—we have this vast canvas of disparate artistic offerings, and because the creative minds behind them are in the same place at the same time, new artistic connections are forged for both the musicians and the audience.”

This year, lutenist Kevin Payne joins the musicians on the Dock Street stage, opening the doors to repertoire from the Renaissance, including two John Dowland songs and an Elizabethan set with  Nuttall, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, and cellist Christopher Costanza; the lute is also featured on Baroque and contemporary works.  Payne is a member of Juilliard 415, the Buxtehude Consort, and the Peabody Consort, and was the first lutenist to be accepted to The Juilliard School, where he is pursuing a graduate diploma in historical plucked instruments.

Returning artists include baritone Tyler Duncan, pianist Pedja Muzijevic, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, clarinetist Todd Palmer, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Livia Sohn, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, pianist Inon Barnatan, violinist/violist Daniel Phillips, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, double bassist Anthony Manzo, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet (members of which are Mr. Nuttall, new second violinist Owen Dalby, Lesley Robertson, and Christopher Costanza). New to the series is composer Mark Applebaum, lutenist Kevin Payne, violinist Benjamin Beilman, and pianist Erika Switzer.

Led by  Nuttall, the St. Lawrence String Quartet—the Arthur and Holly Magill Quartet in Residence—celebrates its 25th anniversary during their 2014–15 season, including 20 years as part of the Bank of America Chamber Music series at Spoleto Festival USA. Making his ensemble debut from the Dock Street Theatre stage, Owen Dalby has been named as the new second violinist of the SLSQ. Dalby is a graduate of Yale University and is an acclaimed soloist and chamber musician. Currently based in New York, his relocation to Stanford University to be an artist-in-residence with his colleagues in the SLSQ will be a homecoming of sorts;  Dalby is a native of Berkeley.

This year’s festival will be Nuttall’s sixth season as chamber music director, a post that includes his introductions to each program from the stage. Of his ability to educate and entertain,The New York Times said: “Mr. Nuttall turns out to be chamber music’s Jon Stewart… while maintaining the high musical standards of the series, he has established a new style of presentation that juxtaposes the ridiculous with the sublime, delves into serious musicology and casually uses technology. In short, he is subtly redefining what a chamber music concert can be.”

Each of the 11 programs is performed three times with two performances daily at 11:00am and 1:00pm in the 463-seat Dock Street Theatre at 135 Church Street.

Full Schedule Continues After the Break

PROGRAM I: Friday, May 22 at 1:00pm; Saturday, May 23 at 11:00am and 1:00pm

Vivaldi:  Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe in B-flat Major, RV364
Livia Sohn, violin; James Austin Smith, oboe
Geoff Nuttall and Benjamin Beilman, violins; Daniel Phillips, viola;
Christopher Costanza, cello; Anthony Manzo, double bass; Pedja Muzijevic, harpsichord

Mark Applebaum:  Aphasia
Mark Applebaum

Dvorák:  Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, op. 87
Pedja Muzijevic, piano; Benjamin Beilman, violin;
Daniel Phillips, viola; Christopher Costanza, cello

PROGRAM II: Sunday, May 24 at 11:00am and 1:00pm; Monday, May 25 at 11:00am

Spohr:  “Fantasia and Variations” on a Theme by Danzi for Clarinet and Strings, op. 81
Todd Palmer, clarinet
Livia Sohn and Geoff Nuttall, violins; Benjamin Beilman, viola;
Christopher Costanza, cello; Anthony Manzo, double bass

Mark Applebaum:  Jazz Number and Pre-composition
Mark Applebaum, piano

Schumann:  Dichterliebe, op. 48
Tyler Duncan, baritone; Pedja Muzijevic, piano

PROGRAM III : Monday, May 25 at 1:00pm; Tuesday, May 26 at 11:00am and 1:00pm

J. Strauss: “Rosen aus dem Süden” Waltz                                                                           Geoff Nuttall and Livia Sohn, violins; Daniel Phillips, viola; Anthony Manzo, double bass

Mark Applebaum: Control Freak for improvising singer and instrumental septet (world premiere)
Tyler Duncan, baritone; Pedja Muzijevic, piano; Todd Palmer, clarinet;
James Austin Smith, oboe; Geoff Nuttall, violin; Daniel Phillips, viola;
Christopher Costanza, cello; Anthony Manzo, double bass

Beethoven:  String Trio in C Minor, op. 9, no. 3
Benjamin Beilman, violin; Daniel Phillips, viola; Christopher Costanza, cello

Tchaikovsky (arr. Auer):  Lensky’s Aria     
Livia Sohn, violin; Pedja Muzijevic, piano

Verdi (arr. Leob): “Solenne on quest’ora” from La Forza del destino
Livia Sohn, violin; Geoff Nuttall, viola; Pedja Muzijevic, piano

PROGRAM IV: Wednesday, May 27 at 11:00am and 1:00pm; Thursday, May 28 at 11:00am

Mozart: Sonata in G Major, K. 379    
Geoff Nuttall, violin; Pedja Muzijevic, piano

Huang Ruo:  “Flow I and II”
Geoff Nuttall, violin; Christopher Costanza, cello; Huang Ruo, voice;
Tara Helen O’Connor, djembe; Shelley Monroe Huang, bassoon; Zhou Yi, pipa

Beethoven:  An die ferne Geliebte, op. 98  
Tyler Duncan, baritone; Erika Switzer, piano

Alfred Schnittke: Hymn II
Christopher Costanza, cello; Anthony Manzo, double bass

J.S. Bach:  Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047
Todd Palmer, E-flat clarinet; Tara Helen O’Connor, flute; James Austin Smith, oboe; Daniel Phillips, violin; Geoff Nuttall and Livia Sohn, violins;
Benjamin Beilman, viola; Christopher Costanza, cello; Anthony Manzo, double bass; Pedja Muzijevic, harpsichord

PROGRAM V: Thursday, May 28 at 1:00pm; Friday, May 29 at 11:00am and 1:00pm

Buxtehude: Sonata for Two Violins in C Major, BuxWV 266
Owen Dalby and Geoff Nuttall, violins; Christopher Costanza, cello;
Pedja Muzijevic, harpsichord

M. Gould: Benny’s Gig
Todd Palmer, clarinet; Anthony Manzo, double bass

Prokofiev: Sonata for Two Violins, op. 56  
Livia Sohn and Benjamin Beilman, violins

C.P.E. Bach:  Flute Concerto in D Minor, W22
Tara Helen O’Connor, flute
Geoff Nuttall, Owen Dalby, Benjamin Beilman, and Livia Sohn, violins;
Daniel Phillips, viola; Christopher Costanza, cello; Anthony Manzo, double bass;
Pedja Muzijevic, harpsichord

PROGRAM VI: Saturday, May 30 at 11:00am and 1:00pm; Sunday, May 31 at 11:00am

Haydn (arr. Salomon):  Symphony in no. 104, “London
Pedja Muzijevic, harpsichord; Tara Helen O’Connor, flute;
Geoff Nuttall and Owen Dalby, violins; Daniel Phillips, viola;
Christopher Costanza, cello; Anthony Manzo, double bass

Oliver Knussen:  Elegiac Arabesques, op. 26a
James Austin Smith, English horn; Todd Palmer, clarinet

Schumann:  Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, op. 47  
Pedja Muzijevic, piano; Benjamin Beilman, violin;
Daniel Phillips, viola; Alisa Weilerstein, cello

PROGRAM VII: Sunday, May 31 at 1:00pm; Monday, June 1 at 11:00am and 1:00pm                        
Haydn:  String Quartet in G Minor, op. 20 no. 3
St. Lawrence String Quartet

Dowland:  “In Darkness Let me Dwell” and “Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite”
Tyler Duncan, baritone; Kevin Payne, lute

Klughardt:  5 Schilflieder for Oboe, Viola, and Piano, op. 28
I. “Langsam, träumerisch”
II. “Leidenschaftlich erregt”
III. “Zart, in ruhiger Bewegung”

James Austin Smith, oboe; Daniel Phillips, viola; Pedja Muzijevic, piano

Osvaldo Golijov: Omaramor for Solo Cello
Alisa Weilerstein, cello
PROGRAM VIII: Tuesday, June 2 at 11:00am and 1:00pm; Wednesday, June 3 at 11:00am                       
Stamitz:  Clarinet Quartet in E-flat Major, op. 8 no.4  
Todd Palmer, clarinet; Livia Sohn, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; Alisa Weilerstein, cello

Barber:  Dover Beach      
Tyler Duncan, baritone; St. Lawrence String Quartet

Guillaume Connesson: Nocturnal Toccata for Flute and Cello 
Tara Helen O’Connor, flute; Alisa Weilerstein, cello

Mozart:  Viola Quintet in G Minor, K. 516
St. Lawrence String Quartet, Hsin-Yun Huang, viola;

PROGRAM IX: Wednesday, June 3 at 1:00pm; Thursday, June 4 at 11:00am and 1:00pm

Tartini: Violin Sonata in G Minor, “Devil’s Trill”
Daniel Phillips, violin; Kevin Payne, lute; Christopher Costanza, cello

Iva Bittová:  “Hoboj” and “A Strange Young Lady”
James Austin Smith, oboe; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola

Chopin:  Cello Sonata in G Minor, op. 65
Alisa Weilerstein, cello; Inon Barnatan, piano

PROGRAM X: Friday, June 5 at 11:00am and 1:00pm; Saturday, June 6 at 11:00am

Composers TBD:  Elizabethan Set
Geoff Nuttall, violin; Tara Helen O’Connor, flute;
Kevin Payne, lute; Christopher Costanza, cello

Fauré: La bonne chanson, op. 61
Tyler Duncan, baritone; Erika Switzer, piano; St. Lawrence String Quartet

J.S. Bach:  Keyboard Concerto in F Minor, BWV 1056
Inon Barnatan, piano; St. Lawrence String Quartet;
Daniel Phillips and Livia Sohn, violins; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola;
Alisa Weilerstein, cello; TBD, double bass

Shostakovich: Two Pieces for String Octet, op. 11
St. Lawrence String Quartet; Daniel Phillips and Livia Sohn, violins;
Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; Alisa Weilerstein, cello

PROGRAM XI: Saturday, June 6 at 1:00pm; Sunday, June 7 at 11:00am and 1:00pm

Andrew Norman: Light Screens
Tara Helen O’Connor, flute; Livia Sohn, violin;
Lesley Robertson, viola; Christopher Costanza, cello

Telemann: “Ihr, die ihr in der Sunden?” from Es sind schon die letzten Zeiten, TWV 1:529
Tyler Duncan, baritone; and James Austin Smith, oboe; St. Lawrence String Quartet;  Livia Sohn and Daniel Phillips, violins; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola;
TBD, double bass; Kevin Payne, lute

J.S. Bach: “Gebt Mir Meinen Jesum Wieder” from St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244
Tyler Duncan, baritone; Daniel Phillips, violin; St. Lawrence String Quartet;
Livia Sohn, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; TBD, double bass; Kevin Payne, lute

György Kurtág: “Hommage à Robert Schumann” for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, op. 15
Todd Palmer, clarinet; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; Inon Barnatan, piano

Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, op. 44
Inon Barnatan, piano; St. Lawrence String Quartet

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The joyous news from Philadelphia today is that Bird Lives!  Opera Philadelphia is doing its first premiere in almost four decades and it’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,  composed by Daniel Schnyder, whose “thrilling classical-tinged jazz blend…constantly pushes the envelope” (Jazz Times), to a libretto by award-winning poet and playwright Bridgette Wimberly.  The new chamber opera was created for American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a nominee for the 2015 International Opera Male Singer of the Year Award.

Co-commissioned and co-produced with Gotham Chamber Opera, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD was conceived and written for Brownlee’s agile, expressive voice, which Schnyder likens to the color and technical virtuosity of Parker’s music. As the New York Times notes, the tenor “soars easily up to ringing top notes, high Cs and even higher. Mr. Brownlee’s singing is a model of bel canto style.”

Directed by Ron Daniels under the leadership of Music Director Corrado Rovaris, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD premieres in Opera Philadelphia’s Aurora Series for Chamber Opera, crowning the company’s 40th Anniversary Season with a five-performance run in the Kimmel Center’s intimate Perelman Theater (June 5–14). Tickets are available from Ticket Philadelphia at 215.893.1018 or operaphila.org.

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