Miscellany encore

– A memorial service for recording engineer Curt Wittig will be held at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Washington, DC, on Saturday, November 5th at 11:00 am. Read about Curt here.

counter)induction begins its season with music of Boulez, Feldman, Scelsi, Davidovsky, Webern, Babbitt, and Kyle Bartlett at the Tenri Cultural Institute in NYC, Sunday, October 30 at 8:00 pm. Saxophonist Matt Levy of the Prism Quartet is featured.

-The Crossing, coming off their participation in the James Dillon extravaganza at Miller Theater, has announced a project called The Gulf (between you and me), beginning with a workshop in Philadelphia with composer Chris Jonas and poet Pierre Joris, November 12, 2011, at 1:00 pm at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. More info here.

Network for New Music opens its season at the World Cafe in Philadelphia on Sunday, November 6 at 7:30 pm. Music by Ingrid Arauco, Joseph Hallman, Louis Karchin, Thomas Kraines, Andrew Rudin, Arne Running, and Robert Schulz.

Curt Wittig In Memoriam

Master recording engineer Curt Wittig  has died. I knew Curt because of his association with the 21st Century Consort; he recorded their concerts over a period of decades. Scroll down to bottom of this page for a bio note. There is an archive of Curt’s Consort recordings here. Find some old snapshots with Curt on composer Maurice Wright’s scrapbook page. (Update: Maurice has posted additional pictures here.)

Curt was the recording engineer for the second recording I ever made, about 30 years ago: Crumb’s Celestial Mechanics, with pianist Lambert Orkis (reissued on Innova). He also took care of the amplification for the Consort performances Lambert and I gave of the work, creating the larger-than-life sound that Crumb wanted – not just loud, but rich and true and undistorted. Given the amount of sound being put out by the piece, a substantial amp was required, and in my mind’s eye I can see Curt setting up this massive black box of an amplifier that he took pride in like an ordnance officer taking pride in an especially large bomb… a sort of “that oughta do it” glee…

He recorded performances of the many pieces of mine that the Consort has done over the years, and he was the engineer for the recordings of my vocal music that are in the process of being edited (read more here). I will remember Curt as not only a consummate professional, but as a vibrant spirit, full of love for life, for music. He was so supportive of, so enthusiastic regarding what we musicians all try to do. I am grateful to have known him.

Update: with permission, here is the text of an e-mail announcing Curt’s passing, sent by Christopher Kendall, director of the 21st Century Consort, and Dean of the School of Music, Theater and Dance at University of Michigan:

Dear friends,
The news of Curt Wittig’s sudden departure from this world on Monday is shocking and incredibly sad news for all of us. Curt’s meaning in the music world, in which he has long been a revered figure and pioneer, has been immense. In Washington, as the chronicler and indispensable part of many of the region’s most meaningful musical enterprises for decades, his contribution has been incalculable. Both of the Consorts in which I’m involved have counted Curt a member of the family. Curt had the commitment and also the temperament of an artist, and was truly “one of us.” Our memories of these ensembles’ musical milestones will be forever affirmed in the magnificent recordings Curt produced of our activities. Our living and reliving of thirty years of music will be forever inhabited by the spirit of Curt.

As it happens, I wrote Curt an email the night he died, thanking him for the latest piece of his extraordinary archival work on the 21st Century Consort’s history. He had reached back to the very first concert the group performed in 1975, and miraculously preserved its recording. I hope he was able to read that message of appreciation for his incredible life’s work before he died, and that his passing was peaceful.

We await further word as Curt’s family makes plans for a memorial. For now, your passing on of this news to those who would want to know is appreciated.

Christopher Kendall

Setting Records

Not a lot of posts lately, as I have been occupied with recording related work. I recently met with Alan Harler, director of Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club, at the studio of Joe Hannigan to go over a live recording of my Mendelssohn Club commission Fire-Memory/River-Memory (more about the piece here.) A run-through of the piece had been recorded as well, and the idea was to touch up the performance recording with patches from the run-through as need be. However, what we ended up doing was more about adjusting the performance recording rather than splicing in bits from the run-through. Joe was able to work a good deal of digital magic to clean up and improve the live recording. This was no small challenge, given that the recording was made in the cavernous chapel at Girard College, with a long decay that may be desirable for the organ that is based there, but not for choir and orchestra. While Joe couldn’t dry out the sound, he was able to improve the balance of the orchestra. He also adjusted the pitch at a moment when the women of the choir and a horn entry are juxtaposed – I don’t know if the women were low or the horn was high, but it got fixed. Especially impressive was the way Joe could excise bits of noise from the recording. A cough during the soft chime note that ends the first movement of my piece was removed not by splicing, but by filtering. Joe used a piece of software that provided a graphic image of the overtone content of the sound. You could then select a portion of the signal and attenuate or remove it. Joe was able to remove the high frequencies of the cough while leaving the sound of the chime intact. The software served as a sort of pinpoint band reject filter. All of this wizardry is old news, I suppose, but the relative ease with which such things are done remains impressive for those of us old enough to know how to use a splicing block.

Along with F-M/R-M, the Mendelssohn Club disc will include Jennifer Higdon‘s On the Death of the Righteous and Andrea Clearfield‘s The Golem Psalms, so I am in good company. The album will be released later this year.

I have also continued to work on mapping edits for a disc of vocal music with the 21st Century Consort. I must say I find it a challenging task. How to pick between two great takes? What to do when Take A has problem X, but Take B (of the same passage) has problem Y – and you’re not sure where a practical edit point might be? Some of my colleagues say they love to do this kind of thing because of the control it gives them over the final result. Me, I find it paralyzingly difficult to make the necessary decisions.

It helps that the raw material is so good, what with the splendid players in the Consort, Christopher Kendall’s conducting, and singers Susan Narucki and Bill Sharp. And it also helps to be working with some real pros in the studio. George Blood is helping with editing the Consort recordings, while the man who did the recordings themselves, Curt Wittig, will do the mixing, cleanup, and so forth. (Go here to read about Curt as well as the members of the Consort.) Curt and I go back a long ways, including his work on the record I made with Lambert Orkis of George Crumb’s Celestial Mechanics (reissued not so long ago on Innova). I can’t say exactly when this vocal disc will come out, but progress is definitely being made.

The planned disc will include four pieces. Holy the Firm, on texts of Denise Levertov, Susan Stewart, Annie Dillard, and John Climacus was originally written for Dawn Upshaw and Gil Kalish who premiered it back in 1999. I made the chamber ensemble version for the Consort, and did the same with From a Book of Hours, a Rilke cycle. In this case, instead of expanding the instrumentation, it was a matter of reducing it, since the original version was an orchestral commission from the Chicago Symphony, who premiered it with Lisa Saffer in 2002. Four Sacred Songs, arrangements of old Latin hymns, was made for Voices of Change, and was based on a set of Three Sacred Songs originally written for voice and piano in 1989 and premiered by Christine Schadeberg and Christopher Oldfather. (I added a fourth song for the ensemble version since the set of three seemed too short to make it worth getting a group together.) Rounding out the album is Dark the Star, a baritone cycle that sets Rilke and Susan Stewart, plus a verse from the Psalms. This set was written specifically for the Consort and Bill Sharp and dates from 2008.

It’s remarkable that though I have been fortunate enough to have a bunch of CDs out there, only one has any vocal music, even though I have done a good deal of music for voice in recent years. So it will be especially good to have recorded documents of this side of my work, both for chorus and for solo voice.

All this comes on top of the recent release of the Prism CD Dedication, which includes my Straight Up. Read more here.