Coming Up in Philly

– The Prism Saxophone Quartet and pianist Uri Caine collaborate in a program at the World Cafe this Thursday, April 16 at 7:30 PM (The program is repeated in NYC on the 17th.) I’m going to be writing a piece for Prism and piano myself for next season.

Bowerbird is presenting an evening of “visual music” by composer and video artist Matthew Greenbaum at Temple University’s Rock Hall this coming Saturday, April 18, at 7:30 PM. The program features pieces that combine live performer with video. You might see this an extension of the live performer plus electronic sound genre so brilliantly cultivated by Matthew’s teacher Mario Davidovsky, but Matthew’s language – both sonic and visual – is very much his own.

– On April 19 at 3 pm, at the Curtis Institute, Network for New Music offers pieces by Michael Hersch, Jan Krzywicki and David Ludwig in a collaborative program bringing together Network with Curtis and the Print Center.



Wednesday Morning Miscellany

Here are some random events and a few other items.

Ensemble 20/21, the Curtis Institute’s new music ensemble, does an all-Stucky program this coming Friday, March 1. Concert at 8 pm, interview with the composer at 7:30.

New York Virtuoso Singers has another concert packed with premieres, including works by: Richard Wernick, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Mark Adamo, Richard Danielpour, Augusta Read Thomas, Thea Musgrave, Joseph Schwantner, William Bolcom, Roger Davidson, David Felder and Joan Tower. Merkin Concert Hall in NYC, Sunday, March 3 at 3 pm.

– Matthew Greenbaum’s Amphibian series returns with a program by the Temple University Percussion ensemble, with Cyndie Berthézène, soprano. Works by
Augusta Reade Thomas, James Tenney, and Andrew Taylor along with a showing of Maya Deren’s classic experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) and a new piece by Matthew himself for video animation and electronic sound. The HIART Gallery 227 W29 St. in NYC,  March 7 at 8pm.

– Soprano Stacey Mastrian will offer a program of 20th century Italian music at the University of Pennsylvania on March 13 at 8 pm. The big piece will be Luigi Nono’s La fabbrica illuminata for soprano and four-channel electronic sound; the program will also include the Berio Sequenza for voice and works by Dallapiccola and others.

– My current Lenten reading is The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery, a fairly early book by Henri Nouwen. This is reminiscent of Thomas Merton‘s journals, a mix of narrative about life in the monastery combined with deeper, heartfelt reflections on what Nouwen confronted during his months living there. You gotta love a book where one of the chapter titles is “Nixon and St. Bernard” (Nouwen is writing at the time of Watergate).

Here is a list of 500 movies you can see online, legally (so far as I know), and for free.

Amphibian in NYC

Composer Matthew Greenbaum curates a series of concerts called Amphibian that features chamber music and video art. The first concert is coming up on January 16 at 8 pm, with the Momenta Quartet offering works by Haydn, Cage, Elizabeth Brown and two Temple U. students, Kenneth Brown and Daniel Fox. The program is at the HiArt Gallery, 227 W. 29th Street in Manhattan. Do check out the other concerts in the Amphibian season – highlights include music by Augusta Read Thomas, Maurice Wright, James Tenney, Hayes Biggs, Gérard Grisey, and Jason Eckhard, as well as Matthew himself.

Easter Tuesday Miscellany

After a break for the Easter Triduum, I am back with a few random bits:

– I found this quite moving. I wish more folks who do liturgy showed this kind of sensitivity and imagination.

– Have been listening to this. These are complete versions of the ballets. If you only know the suite, some of the parts you don’t know in Appalachian Spring are unexpectedly edgy. The complete Rodeo is not much different from the Four Episodes, and it is inspired throughout, unlike Billy the Kid, which has some vacant pages. Dance Panels sounds a little dated, unlike the earlier ballets.

-upcoming in Philly:

– Dolce Suono Ensemble presents an intriguing program at Trinity Center this Friday, April 13, including two works by Shulamit Ran. (Go here and scroll down.)

– Network for New Music offers a premiere by Matthew Greenbaum called Rope and Chasm – a work for video and soprano – Sunday, April 15 at 7:30 in Rock Hall at Temple University. A preview:

Matthew Greenbaum on Kickstarter

My colleague Matthew Greenbaum is raising money on Kickstarter for a concert by violinist Mari Kimura as part of Matthew’s Amphibian series in NYC on April 25 Kimura will play her own fascinating interactive pieces (using IRCAM technology, etc.), Mario Davidovsky’s 9th Synchronism, and premieres by Eric Chasalow and Matthew. The concert takes place at HiArt Gallery in Chelsea.  Go here to support the concert. Another post about Matthew here. Here is Mari in action with a robot guitar:

Sunday Miscellany

Matthew Greenbaum’s Amphibian series presents a program called Cybersounds North, on Monday, Feb. 20th:

Adam Vidiksis: MITOCHONDRIAL DREAMS for percussion and electronics
Maurice Wright: TRANQUILITY: visual music
Ryan Olivier: DISTANCE – music video
Matthew Greenbaum : 23 SKIDDOO – music/video
Joo Won Park: TOCCATA for contact microphone, found objects and computer.
Annie Niekirk: BALLOON MAN for alto sax and computer-generated sound
Vinnie Manzo: NIL for solo classical guitar and interactive music system
Beth Wiemann: CROWS EVERYWHERE ARE EQUALLY BLACK for clarinet, viola and video

Aaron Stewart, saxophone
Beth Wiemann, clarinet
Anatole Wieck, viola


Penn colleague Guthrie Ramsey on Whitney Houston here. Nice to see somebody focusing on the music-making, instead of the persona, personal life, number of records sold, etc.


Harold Rosenbaum has announced an astonishing array of commissions for the New York Virtuoso Singers 25th anniversary season next year:

Mark Adamo, Bruce Adolphe, William Bolcom, John Corigliano, Richard Danielpour, Roger Davidson, David Del Tredici, David Felder, John Harbison, Stephen Hartke, Jennifer Higdon, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Fred Lerdahl, Thea Musgrave, Shulamit Ran, Joseph Schwantner, Steven Stucky, Augusta Read Thomas, Joan Tower, George Tsontakis, Richard Wernick, Chen Yi, Yehudi Wyner, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.

NYVS is focusing on women composers this season, with concerts on March 25 and May 13, including music by Penn colleague Anna Weesner on the latter date.



Amphibian and more

– Go to Matthew Greenbaum‘s website for information on the Amphibian performance series: music and video from Maurice Wright, Dalit Warshaw, Beth Wiemann, Steve Jaffe, Wuorinen, Scelsi, Davidovsky, Wolpe, Rakowski, Nancarrow and many others, plus Matthew himself. Performers include the Momenta Quartet, Cygnus, and Mari Kimura.

– Looking forward to reading some things Santa brought me: the 2nd volume of the Sondheim lyrics with commentary and Gunther Schuller’s autobiography; also, some items from the new acquisitions shelf at Penn: At the Piano: Interviews with 21st Century Pianists by Caroline Benser (the pianists are Leif Ove Andnes, Jonathan Biss, Simone Dinerstein, Marc-André Hamelin, Stephen Hough, Steven Osborne, Yevgeny Sudbin, and Yuja Wang); and Kaija Saariaho: Visions, Narrative, Dialogues, edited by Tim Howell, with Jon Hargreaves, and Michael Rofe.

– I’ve recently been listening to The Bad Plus album For All I Care. This is the one with the brilliant Ligeti, Stravinsky, and Babbitt covers, and with Wendy Lewis on vocals. She’s awfully good – she’s not so much a “jazz” singer, more of a singer/songwriter sound, but better in tune, with clearer diction and not whiny. Her natural register seems to be a rather low contralto, but she can get into a plaintive head voice as well as a Broadway-ish belt. The reading of Roger Miller’s Lock, Stock and Teardrops is heartbreaking. But if she is so good, why are there times that I am dismayed when the voice enters? On the track Feeling Yourself Disintegrate, the trio builds to an ecstatic texture focused on a little scale segment, with some chimes layered in – it’s a wonderfully joyous moment. But then the voice comes back in, and suddenly the track becomes ordinary – very good, but mundane. It’s a figure/ground problem – I was happy to be digging the wonderful instrumental texture; that was the “figure” to which I attended. But when the voice entered, the instruments became “ground”, they seemed to recede, almost as though the level had been reduced on their channels in the mix.

The modern musicologist likes to snigger at the notion of the transcendent purity and independence of instrumental music. But that quality of going beyond the everyday is exactly what enthralled me about instrumental music when I was starting out. As a kid I remember having that feeling that I think C. S. Lewis describes somewhere – of finding oneself at home in a land you never knew existed before – when the turntable stylus hit the first groove of Kind of Blue or the Mahler 7th when I brought them home from the library. I remember my brother complaining about the lack of vocals in the jazz records I played – he felt unmoored – exactly what I loved. This special quality of music that is freed of the human voice may be a cultural construct and an illusion to be deconstructed, but that doesn’t make it invalid. I say this as a composer of plenty of vocal music. Notes and rhythms create their own world, their own voice – it’s one of the worlds I seek to live in as a musician.

Coming Attractions – 2011-2012

– Go here for a press release on the upcoming Miller Theater season, including a massive James Dillon 3-night extravaganza and Composer Portraits including John Zorn and George Lewis.

– the Orchestra 2001 website lists three programs for next year, with Boulez, Adams, Pärt, Andriessen, and a Crumb premiere – the seventh book in his remarkable American Songbook series.

CityMusic Cleveland offers 24 free concerts next season.

Network for New Music’s focus is on what they are calling Word Music, with big pieces by Lewis Spratlan and Matthew Greenbaum, and collaborations including one with The Crossing.

Boston Adventure, part two

After Saturday morning’s rehearsal with Emmanuel Music, I had a great lunch at 29 Newbury with Ryan Turner (Emmanuel Music Director) and Pat Krol (Emmanuel executive director). (Check out the tomato soup and the pulled pork sandwich.) After a long walk in the Public Garden (amazing tulips) I made my way over to Brandeis where the 2011 BEAMS Electronic Music Marathon was in progress. Twelve hours of electronic and mixed media works! I caught nearly half the event, arriving – regrettably – too late for music by some familiar names, among them: David Felder, James Dashow, William Coble, Kaija Saariaho, Hans Tutschku, and Dennis Miller – and some not so familiar names: Ferdinando De Sena, Jeremy Podgursky, Michel van der Aa, Malin Bång, and a good many others. The unfamiliar names were mostly European, and one of the good things about the mix of pieces was the inclusion of music from Europe that is not often heard in this country. There was a chronological mix as well including older pieces such as …sofferte onde serene… of Nono, from 1976 (has not worn well) and Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco from 1980 by Jonathan Harvey (still sounds fabulous, especially nice to hear it in a hall with a multi-channel setup). There were a lot of pieces that involved live processing, but much of this mostly just involved putting a live player through a laptop that served as a sophisticated stomp box providing variations on delay. There seemed to be a limited array of compositional options: either the processed version accumulates the notes as though the piano pedal was depressed (the homophony strategy); or something that was just played gets repeated, looped or not (sort of canon at the unison). Pieces for what we used to call “instrument and tape” – now the expression is “instrument and fixed media” – were also heard. Performances were at a very high level throughout the evening. A few standouts:

the forgotten dialect of autumn by Heather Stebbins – memorably lyric violin lines played by Krista Buckland Reisner, with live electronics.

Winter Fragments by spectralist master Tristan Murail – the Boston-based group Sound Icon playing with live processing, plus video imagery by Herve Bailly-Basin – mostly aqueous images, sometimes crystalline, mostly responding to the music in a direct way, and therefore suggesting a high end  iTunes visualizer. (Just as the laptop ends up being a fancy stompbox. Fancy technology does not always mean a fancy result.)

Rope and Chasm by Matthew Greenbaum –  Re’ut Ben Ze’ev, mezzo soprano, narrating, singing, and interacting with a video. The piece is based on Nietzche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra; one memorable moment was when the mezzo reached up her hand to a wounded figure in the video, casting her hand’s shadow onto the screen – a simple gesture, but quite touching.

Strange Autumn by Steven Kazuo Takasugi – a theater piece with narration, electronic sound and a percussionist making amplified noises with various pieces of paper. Something oddly moving about making a piece with such impoverished means.

Scuffle & Snap by Eric Chasalow – an heir to the Davidovsky tradition, Brandeis faculty member Chasalow, who curated the marathon, offered another one of his finely crafted studies in, as he put it in a program note, “building heightened dramatic structures around traditional instruments”. He continues, “I like to use a wide variety of sound sources, recontextualized, but very resonant with memories.” Chasalow’s work is important because he is not just an electronic music composer, he is an electronic music composer; the way he carefully shapes musical gestures and their interaction was a welcome contrast with much of the music heard that day.

The last piece I heard was Davidovsky’s Synchronism No. 12, played with her customary verve and lively array of colors by clarinetist Jean Kopperud. This is the most recent in the series of pieces for instruments and electronic sound by the original maestro of the medium. Here is Jean just before playing the piece:

By now it was getting close to midnight, and time for me to go get some sleep before the next morning’s church service with my motet at Emmanuel. More soon.