Leaf Raking Miscellany

It’s a good day to rake leaves, but I want to take a break to say:

  • I’m sorry to be missing the Christopher Rouse Organ Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra this week. There is one more performance tonight (November 19) at 8. Read program notes for the concert here.
  • It’s a pleasure to see my colleague Eric Moe‘s picture in the NY Times Arts and Leisure section today in connection with a counter)induction program at National Sawdust featuring him as both composer and pianist – this at a moment when it seems especially difficult for some composers of our generation to get the attention of the media.
  • On Monday, Nov. 21, I’ll be doing a pre-concert lecture for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society’s concert featuring pianists Lydia Artymiw, Charles Abramovic, Cynthia Raim and Natalie Zhu, plus Philadelphia Orchestra percussionists Don Liuzzi and Chris Deviney. My talk will be at 6:45 before the 8:00 pm concert at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. The program includes the Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, the Mozart two-piano Sonata, and two works by Smetana for two pianos, eight hands – a one-movement Sonata and a Rondo. No, I haven’t heard the Smetana works before either! And yet I found this video of both pieces with Martha Argerich and colleagues performing:
  • I’ve been pondering Mario Davidovsky‘s work after hearing his masterful Flashbacks in two brilliant performances by the New York New Music Ensemble recently. I hope to post here about his work soon; for now, here is the NYNME recording, from a Bridge CD:

Voixtronica in Philly

ben and jessicaBravo to Ben Fingland and Jessica Meyer (pictured) who played a superb program at U of Penn last night. Calling the show “Voixtronica”, they offered a variety of pieces that combined live viola, clarinet, and keyboards with electronic sound, both pre-recorded and generated on the spot. Jessica had an uncommon array of stompboxes for her amplified viola in works by Robert Karpay, John Kaefer, and herself.  Ben set aside the mouthpiece of his bass clarinet for a work by Vinko Globokar in which he spoke, shouted, sang, whispered and more directly into the instrument. (Globokar premiered Berio’s trombone Sequenza. Did Berio get the vocal effects in that piece from hearing Globokar demonstrating the techniques, or did Globokar become interested in such things because of what Berio asked him to do? I would guess the former.) Later Ben partnered with Steve Gosling at the piano for my own Icons, with its electronic sound from the analog studio of 30 years ago, and with Steve at a DX7 synthesizer, playing digital sounds from a slightly less distant past, for a work by Eric Moe. Yes, he played a real DX, so this was a performance, like certain early music performances, on an authentic instrument.

Seen below are Ben and Steve as they prepare to play Eric’s piece.

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The Waltz Project Revisited

Here are some samples from Eric Moe‘s fine Albany disc that draws upon pieces written for publisher C. F. Peter’s Waltz Project of several decades back, along with some new waltzes. The clip includes music by:

1) Wayne Peterson: Valse Subliminale (2001)
2) (@02:58): Eric Moe: Pulaski Skyway Waltz (2002)
3) (@07:37): Milton Babbitt: Minute Waltz (1977)
4) (@08:51): Virgil Thomson: For a Happy Occasion (1951)

Eric is one of the pianists I am writing for in my consortium project.

Many, Many Pianists

A few times on this blog I have made passing mention of a composition project of mine for a group of pianists. I’ve hesitated to write about it in more detail, partly because the list of pianists was still in formation, partly because I was having trouble getting going on the piece. Well, those two things are still the case, but I think it is time to go public with this.

Business has been slow since the 09-10 season when I had two orchestral premieres in quick succession in Chicago and Albany – an orchestral peak followed by a rather quiet trough. Since paying work was scarce, I decided to create an opportunity myself, and contacted most of the pianists I know, plus several I didn’t know. I invited them to each chip in a little money and I would write a solo piece that they would all promise to play at least once, thus addressing the perennial problem of the non-existent second performance. Somewhat to my surprise, I have come up with a substantial list of wonderful artists who have signed on. There are still one or two possible participants, but here is the list so far:

Daniel Barber
Geoffrey Burleson
Eliza Garth
Judith Gordon
Stephen Gosling
Aleck Karis
Catherine Kautsky
Ryan McCollough
Eric Moe
Christopher Oldfather
Linda Reichert
James Winn

(twelve pianists, one for each tone, I suppose)

It is hard to describe the mega-giga-terabytes of talent on that list without falling into a lot of program note bio cliches. What I propose to do instead is let you know a little about how these folks got on my list in a series of future posts. For now, I’ll just say I am extremely lucky to have this group of artists on board.

I should say there are a number of people who wanted to participate, but felt that their schedules were too overloaded already – as well as a few folks who just politely declined. It was kind of everybody to even consider the notion.

So, a piano piece. It can’t be just a bagatelle, people are paying for this. It can’t be a forty minute sonata as such things are pretty tough to program. So I am thinking of something in the 12 minute range. The next question is, a short sonata? a single movement fantasia? or a set of short pieces? I have been striving toward the third of these formal schemes; as I said in my last post, I am intrigued by the idea of building a form from a number of short movements. For one thing, it gets away from the neo-classical “fast-slow-fast” pattern of movements, a sonata strategy which is perfectly plausible, but maybe a little tired. You might suggest that a variation set would be a way to bring order to a group of short pieces, but, while I enjoy writing variations, I did that relatively recently (in a piece derived from the sonata mentioned above). It is still possible that this new work will turn into a single movement with multiple sections, but right now I am thinking of a group of short pieces that are ordered to form an expressive arc. The difference is perhaps subtle, but it has to do with how much the individual elements get rounded off into relatively independent forms; how much, if any, material recurs; how much the material is developed, and how much it is simply presented. You might say I am thinking along the lines of preludes rather than a fantasy or ballade at the moment, but it is still early in the process. I am still making sketches of different kinds of piano music, being a little indiscriminate, just writing it all down. It is starting to become apparent that some of the sketches will be more fruitful than others, but whether they will grow into little pieces or sections of a bigger piece is not clear.

As for a title, I am thinking of borrowing from Auden’s poem about the unique nature of music: Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift.

Upcoming in NYC and DC

– February 10 at Symphony Space in NYC, Sequitur plays pieces by Eric Moe and Randall Woolf based on texts by David Foster Wallace.

– February 12 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in DC, the 21st Century Consort plays Stravinsky, Paul Schoenfield, Jennifer Furr, Bruce Macombie, and Jacob Druckman. A brief interview with Christopher Kendall, who directs the Consort, is found here.