Hayes Biggs Premieres and Video

I was remiss in not posting prior to recent performances of music by my Columbia classmate Hayes Biggs. In the first week of March, Hayes had two premieres in New York: a motet called Goe, Lovely Rose, performed by C4 (the Choral Composer/Conductor Collective); and a new work for Rolf Schulte, violin and Stephen Gosling, piano, called Inquieto (attraverso il rumore). I’ve listened to a recording of the new violin and piano piece, and Hayes hit the mark with a brilliantly virtuosic piece that made good use of his formidable performers while not skimping on musical depth.

You can check out Hayes’s music at his SoundCloud page. I previously wrote about Hayes here, here, and here, and there is a video interview with Hayes here.

Times Like These at ClarinetFest 2014

CD cover

Lisa Oberlander, clarinet, and Tatiana Muzanova, piano, will be performing my Times Like These this coming Sunday, August 3, as part of the International Clarinet Association‘s ClarinetFest 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  This convention is a big deal in the clarinet world, with tons of concerts, lectures, exhibits, and so forth. Lisa’s performance will be part of a 12 noon recital in Shaver Theater on the campus of Louisiana State University.

Lisa, with pianist Yien Wang, has recorded the piece for Potenza Music. (That’s the lively cover art above.) The release is imminent, so far as I know; I’ll post the relevant links for getting the disc as soon as they become available. Lisa and Yien have a fabulous command of the piece; check out the video of their performance:



Originally commissioned and premiered by Jean Kopperud and Stephen Gosling, and recorded by them for Albany, Times Like These was recently published by the Theodore Presser Co. However, I don’t see it listed yet on their website, nor at Sheet Music Plus – if you are interested in the piece, I suggest contacting Judith Ilika, head of promotion at Presser: jilika@presser.com. I know they have the PDF file of the score that I sent to them, so be persistent and I’m sure they will eventually get you the music. UPDATE: you can purchase the piece at the Presser website here.  Judith Ilika no longer works for Presser; you can try sales@presser.com for questions.

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.


Times Like These in Georgia

I want to remind you of the performance of my Times Like These in Georgia this week. Clarinetist Lisa Oberlander is joined by pianist Yien Wang in performing the piece that was commissioned by Jean Kopperud for her “Extreme Measures” project, and subsequently recorded by her and Steve Gosling for Albany. Lisa’s program is on September 6 at Legacy Hall, RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, Schwob School of Music, Columbus State University, Columbus GA.

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.

No Extra Notes

Richard Zarou, proprietor of the website No Extra Notes, invited me to prepare a podcast of my music to post on his site. I am told it will be available starting at some point tonight (Sunday, November 13.) The podcast is mostly samples of my music – The first movement from Dream Journal, played by Network for New Music; a motet sung by Emmanuel Music; and a clarinet and piano piece with Jean Kopperud and Stephen Gosling. (Thanks to Albany Records for the go-ahead on using the first and third of those pieces.) There are lots of other composers featured at No Extra Notes, definitely worth looking around.

Reading and Playing Crippled Symmetry

Crippled Symmetry was one of the Feldman works performed at the recently completed American Sublime festival here in Philadelphia. Here’s a naive question, probably better directed to the folks in the group either/or who performed the piece, but I thought I would raise it here first. As Kyle Gann points out in his “efficiency” essay, the notation of rhythm in Crippled Symmetry (among other late Feldman pieces) is ambiguous at best and, by conventional standards, unintelligible. I am wondering just how performers deal with the notation, practically speaking. Triadic Memories makes sense to me – the notation is subtle, annoying perhaps, but I feel I know how to play the piece. Something like Crippled Symmetry – I just don’t know how to approach it. Does it become a form of spatial notation? Ralph Shapey used to say, regarding the spots in his scores where the arithmetic didn’t work out, “play it like a sight picture” (sic), by which he meant interpret it as spatial notation. Feldman’s notation recalls the puzzles in Ferneyhough’s music, and both composers seem to want to mess with the performer’s expectations. But the math in Ferneyhough works. According to my colleague Steve Gosling, when I asked him about playing Ferneyhough’s Lemma-Icon-Epigram, he said first you do the math, then it’s a matter of figuring out how to play what off of what – i.e., the seventh note of this group will be right before the eleventh note of that group, etc. How to do that in the Feldman?