Insider Interview: andPlay Duo

On September 27, 2019, the pioneering violin and viola duo, andPlay release their debut album "playlist" on New Focus Recordings (FCR233). In this Insider Interview we spoke with Maya Bennardo and Hannah Levinson about how their duo began, how they developed their musical aesthetic, and more.

How did you meet, and what inspired you to form andPlay? 

andPlay met many moons ago when we were both undergrads at the Oberlin Conservatory. We were friends through Maya’s freshman roommate, and reconnected at the roommate’s wedding before Maya moved to NYC. Once Maya had made the move we ended up playing in a new music ensemble together. The ensemble asked if small groups of players would be interested in going to Fire Island to play chamber music concerts. Maya loves the beach and did not want to pass up the opportunity, so she called me [Hannah] and we decided to play violin/viola duos. We scoured the NYU music library and asked around to find some good music, and ended up putting together a very challenging and fun program of music by Stefano Gervasoni, August Reed Thomas, Brendan Faegre, and Christian Wolff that went over quite well with the beach-loving audiences! After that we decided that we wanted to play more together, so we booked a show and starting racking our brains for an ensemble name. andPlay was born, and the rest is history...

How did you come up with your name, and how does it describe the aesthetics (or any other aspect) of your ensemble?   How would you describe andPlay’s style? 

andPlay was born out of another freelance gig that Maya was part of in her early days in NYC. In this piece a group of 12 performers each had their own tape part with headphones that would tell the performers when to play. Maya would wait and wait until a firm voice would quickly say “and PLAY”. We spent a great deal of time making lists and contemplating different ensemble names, and one evening at my [Hannah’s] apartment while hosting a monthly cake night we workshopped some names around to the group. There were a few contenders, but andPlay was the one that everyone kept coming back to. 

We liked the connotations of the name and how succinct it was. There is something playful and mischievous about it that keeps you on your toes. This curiosity and light-hearted nature is something that we always strive to bring to our collaborations and performances. Even when performing very “serious” music, we try to remember that we are “playing,” both in the sense that we are literally playing our instruments, and that we are enjoying making something together!

How did your interest in music by contemporary composers develop?  How has your taste in various compositional styles changed over the years?

Like I mentioned before, we both went to the Oberlin Conservatory where the Contemporary Music Ensemble and new music in general was woven into the fabric of the community in the same way that Bach and Brahms are. Our professors encouraged us to explore music outside of the traditional repertoire and we both fell in love with the collaborative quality of performing music that was being written in our time and by people that we could actually have a conversation with. 

Over the years our tastes have broadened and we experiment with and discover new styles of music. We have been performing a lot more music by the Wandelweiser collective in the past three years, and have become quite enamored with exploring the intimacy of two voices playing static or sparse music. We have also commissioned music in Just Intonation and have committed to delving into this musical world and learning as much as we can. 

Your upcoming debut album, playlist, features world premiere recordings of works that you commissioned. What do you look for in selecting composers to write works for the duo? 

When we commission new works we are looking for composers that are writing music that speaks to us and who we can imagine writing something genuinely unique for our instrumentation. So much of the early repertoire for violin/viola duo was written as if it were almost two different hands on a piano - someone has the melody, someone accompanies them, and vice versa! We are really interested in composers who push past that and treat the ensemble as one giant instrument, figuring out creative ways to compose for two similar instruments.  Some of our commissions stem from long-term collaborations with composers and their music, whether with andPlay, or through other ensemble or solo pieces. Those types of relationships are really special to us because it means that we develop a musical language together that we have fully immersed ourselves in over the years, like the two pieces by David Bird featured on this album, which were written four years apart. 

What other projects are keeping each of you busy, both with the duo and elsewhere? 

We are constantly dreaming and have a long list of projects that we want to bring to life in the coming years with andPlay. So much of our creative energy is thrown into the duo, and our differing yet complementary personalities keep us both grounded/idealistic enough to pinpoint the projects that we know will be both fulfilling, exciting, and possible for the ensemble. This season we are looking forward to new commissions, a collaborative project with some LA-based musicians, the second season of our audience engagement series,  and performances throughout the United States. Stay tuned for some larger projects on the horizon in the next few years! We can both also be found performing with other ensembles in NYC and around the world; we are definitely keeping busy!

October 15-19: Momenta Festival V

In celebration of its 15th Anniversary, Momenta Quartet presents: Momenta Festival V - October 15, 16, 18 & 19

Four concerts each curated by a different quartet member

Admission is free for all Momenta Festival concerts Reservations strongly encouraged for events at Americas Society October 15 & October 16

"[the Momenta Festival] has become one of the most amazingly eclectic, never mind herculean feats attempted by any chamber ensemble in this city..." - New York Music Daily

October 15-19, 2019: Momenta Quartet presents the Momenta Festival at Americas Society and Tenri Cultural Institute. The fifth edition of the Festival features five premieres (four world premieres and one NYC premiere). Admission to all concerts is free. The festival features four diverse chamber music programs each curated by a different member of the quartet. With programs that blend the old and new, the "intriguing programming" (The New York Times) and "striking originality" (I Care If You Listen) of the Momenta Festival have been acclaimed by critics and fans alike.

The 2019 festival opens at Americas Society on October 15 with a retrospective on 15 years of the Momenta Quartet, featuring guest conductor David Bloom, vocalist Brad Walker and curated by violist Stephanie Griffin. The performance includes the world premiere of Alvin Singleton's Chamber Music America commission as well as the late Mario Davidovsky's String Trio. The music continues on October 16 with the program “Night Dances” curated by violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron and featuring works by Roberto Sierra and Gyorgy Ligeti. The festival moves downtown to the Tenri Cultural Institute for the final two concerts. On October 18, cellist Michael Haas’ program “American Voices” features a world premiere by Christopher Stark and a New York premiere by Alyssa Weinberg. The festival concludes on October 19 with the program “Toy Stories” curated by violinist Alex Shiozaki. Momenta is joined by toy pianist Phyllis Chen in a program inspired by the recent birth of Shiozaki’s first child. The evening ends with a performance of Mozart's String Quartet K. 387, a consonent conclusion to a wildly diverse quartet of programs.

"We founded this festival in 2015 as an artistic outlet for each of our individual musical interests," says Momenta violist Stephanie Griffin. "I continue to be surprised to discover new pieces and composers that my Momenta colleagues introduce me to through this festival."

Admission to all concerts is free. Reservations strongly encouraged for events at Americas Society October 15 & October 16

Momenta Quartet's 2019 Momenta Festival

Fifteen Years of Momenta: A Retrospective - curated by Stephanie Griffin

Tuesday, October 15 at 7:00 pm

Americas Society

680 Park Ave., NYC

Free admission

Momenta Festival V opens with a celebration of Momenta’s 15th anniversary with selected milestones from their unique and eclectic personal repertoire along with world premieres by Matthew Greenbaum (conducted by David Bloom) and the Chamber Music America commission of Alvin Singleton. The Momenta Quartet is joined by bass-baritone Brad Walker.

Program:

Mario Davidovsky: String Trio

Julian Carrillo: String Quartet no. 10

Alvin Singleton: Hallelujah Anyhow CMA Commission WORLD PREMIERE

Matthew Greenbaum: Crossing Brooklyn Ferry for baritone and string quartet WORLD PREMIERE, text by Walt Whitman

Guest artists: baritone Brad Walker and conductor David Bloom

Night Dances - curated by Emilie-Anne Gendron

Wednesday, October 16 at 7:00 pm

Americas Society

680 Park Ave., NYC

Free admission

"Dreamy and hallucinatory works inspired by or evocative of night music- contrasts of darkness and light, mysterious atmospheres and manipulations of time, extremes of character and emotion." This is how violinist Emilie-Anne Gendron describes her program which features the world premiere of Roberto Sierra's String Quartet no.3 - written for and dedicated to Momenta. Also on the program is Ligeti's raucous and colorful String Quartet no.1, music by Harry Partch arranged by the late Ben Johnston, and more.

Program:

Roberto Sierra: String Quartet no. 3 WORLD PREMIERE

Gyorgy Ligeti: String Quartet no. 1 “Metamorphoses nocturnes"

Mario Lavista: String Quartet no. 2 "Reflejos de la noche"

Harry Partch (arr. Ben Johnston): Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales

Erwin Schulhoff: Sonata for solo violin

American Voices - curated by Michael Haas

Friday, October 18 at 7:00 pm

Tenri Cultural Institute

43a W.13th St., NYC

Free admission

Featuring the world premiere of Christopher Stark's Seasonal Music, the New York premiere of Alyssa Weinberg's Still Life for clarinet and string quartet, as well as music by Manena Contreras and Jason Kao Hwang - American Voices highlights music all written in the past 15 years.

Program:

Manena Contreras: Instantes

Alyssa Weinberg: Still Life for clarinet and string quartet NYC PREMIERE

Jason Kao Hwang: If We Live in Forgetfulness, We Die in a Dream

Christopher Stark: Seasonal Music WORLD PREMIERE

Guest artist: clarinetist Eric Umble

Toy Stories - curated by Alex Shiozaki

Saturday, October 19 at 7:00 pm

Tenri Cultural Institute

43a W.13th St., NYC

Free admission

Toy Stories is inspired by a recent, life-changing event that I experienced on May 2, 2019: the birth of my son. While I have long been interested in the unconventional sounds of toy instruments, this year’s festival seemed like the right time for a 'toy program'." - Alex Shiozaki. For the final concert of the 2019 festival, the Momenta Quartet is joined by toy pianist Phyllis Chen.

Program:

Stephanie Griffin: "Happy Car Ride" from The Lost String Quartet

Stefano Gervasoni: Adagio ghiacciato da Mozart, KV 356 for toy piano and violin

Phyllis Chen: The Matter Within for deconstructing toy piano, toy piano tines, and string quartet

Mozart: String Quartet No. 14 in G major, K387

Guest artist: toy pianist Phyllis Chen

Momenta: the plural of momentum - four individuals in motion towards a common goal. This is the idea behind the Momenta Quartet, whose eclectic vision encompasses contemporary music of all aesthetic backgrounds alongside great music from the recent and distant past. The New York City-based quartet has premiered over 150 works, collaborated with over 200 living composers and was praised by The New York Times for its "diligence, curiosity and excellence." In the words of The New Yorker's Alex Ross, "few American players assume Haydn's idiom with such ease."

Momenta has appeared at such prestigious venues as the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery, Rubin Museum, Miller Theatre at Columbia University, the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Washington University in St. Louis, Ostrava Days in the Czech Republic, and at the internationally renowned Cervantino Festival in Mexico. Momenta has recorded for Centaur Records, Furious Artisans, PARMA, New World Records, and Albany Records; and has been broadcast on WQXR, Q2 Music, Austria's Oe1, and Vermont Public Radio.

Insider Interview: composer Dan Siegler

On October 17 and 18, 2019, composer Dan Siegler and guest artists perform the world premiere of Concrète Jungle at The Invisible Dog (51 Bergen St.) in Brooklyn. In this Insider Interview we spoke to Mr. Siegler about the origins of Concrète Jungle, his early inspirations as a composer, and more.

How did Concrète Jungle come into being? 

The work evolved slowly. It was something I would do for fun in between assignments for hire. I became fascinated by New York voices and sounds, and more conscious of the city I’ve spent my whole life in. I would wander the streets recording noise, interview people with strong accents, find archival clips on YouTube. After a few years it had developed into…something. I wasn’t sure what yet. 

How/where did you find and gather all of the different voices you use in the piece? How did you determine which bits to use?

The piece is entirely instinctual, with the imperative that every sound come from New York or a New Yorker. As I collected the voices, I began to notice that themes were emerging; dialogue about gentrification, art making, industry, feminism. Do you remember that game “Concentration”? It was kind of like that. I’d turn over one square and try to find the other square that matched the same subject matter. It was like some gigantic puzzle, but the answers were more abstract than literal. I became interested in creating dialogue through editing, between people who had never met. 

You recently gave a workshop performance of excerpts of this work. Tell me about the audience reaction. What do you hope the audiences at the Invisible Dog performances will come away with?

In the Summer of 2018, I finally showed the piece to the public when David Lang and Suzanne Bocanegra graciously opened their little theater to me. If I didn’t get this thing out of my head I was going to go crazy. What I was looking for was what they call “proof of concept” on Shark Tank. In other words, does the thing work? Does it hold an audience’s attention. It’s a “deep listening” experience and requires focus. To my complete shock at the Q & A after, there was so much response that we had to cut it off at a certain point. The conversation with the audience on that night was one of the most validating experiences of my life and helped me recommit to the project and go deeper. I hope that the audience for Invisible Dog will feel the intention of the piece which is about connection and how hard it is and how important it is, between people and across generations. We have sound, lighting, and production design now so the whole piece has taken a bold step further. 

What roles do the guest performers – be it dancer, instrumentalist, or vocalist - serve in relation to what you are doing on stage? Do you provide printed music, parameters or suggestions to them? 

The guest performers are all talented artists I know or have worked with and I’ve been lucky to have surrounded myself with a lot of special people. That they would contribute their time and talent to this is really an honor. All the direction really comes from curation. I would only ask people I knew would be comfortable improvising in this sort of environment. I think of the guests as representing those chance encounters that you have, like at the deli or on the street, that affirm humanity and make the city feel like a special place. They serve as a reminder to not live too far inside your own head, that others around you can contribute to a shift in collective energy if you’re open to it. 

And….what ARE you doing on stage during the performance? 

What I’m doing is live mixing. So I’m taking the text and the sounds and using f/x to manipulate them, so that every performance contains improvisatory elements, both from the guest soloists and myself. I can decide to emphasize a particular part or bring something down. I can fly a sound around the room or make it sound tinny, like it’s coming from an old transistor radio. 

What led you to a career as a composer?

I studied classical piano until I got to high school and then I ditched it for rock music. I had bands and played all the great clubs that are now closed, CBGB’s etc. All the while, I was contributing music to friends’ theater productions and modern dance performances. I was setting up my recording studio and finding that was my happy place. I love tinkering with sounds and structures and I can take a maddeningly long time to finish. But I get there eventually. So essentially, not becoming a rock star led to my career as a composer, which it turns out, I was a lot better suited for. 

How would you describe your composition style, and what other composers do you draw inspiration from? 

I start with sounds, as opposed to notes. The notes come later after I’ve established the baseline concept. The concept comes from the sounds. Over the past few years my work has evolved and has become more mobile. I record from wherever I am and that inevitably becomes part of the composition. Hildegard Westerkamp has been a huge influence as of course has Pierre Schaeffer, an early pioneer of musique concrète, from which Concrète Jungle gets its name. I try to mess with people’s conception of rhythm. We’re such a beat-driven society. I love beats as much as the next person, but I want to find rhythm in different ways. Even arpeggios make me impatient. We all rely on these devices to create propulsion and I try to find that motion in other ways. I use words rhythmically, voices as instruments, not as singers or storytellers. Then I usually add vintage synthesizers and minimal orchestration for strings, horns or woodwinds.  

Dan Siegler's Concrète Jungle: a twist on New York voices

October 17 & 18: Dan Siegler's Concrète Jungle

A conversation between New York past and New York present, about New York’s future

"The recorded music, by Dan Siegler...used varied sounds—rushing water, staticky buzzes—to complement the piano, strings, and brass, and was frequently haunting." - Andrew Boynton, The New Yorker

On October 17 & 18, Bessie-award winning composer of experimental music, Dan Siegler and guest artists perform the world premiere of Concrète Jungle at The Invisible Dog (51 Bergen St.) in Brooklyn. Admission is free ($15 suggested donation) and reservations are available at this link.

Siegler's new electro-acoustic work features hundreds of intricately edited New York voices and highlights borough-specific accents, linguistic filler and word repetitions to form assembled sentences and musical grooves. Layered under the dialogue, Siegler transforms harsh urban street noise by filtering it through digital delay, reverb and echo effects, rendering it meditative and ambient.

The world premiere performance features guest instrumentalists, vocalists and dancers including Pam Tanowitz (dance), Christina Campanella (voice), Pauline Kim Harris (violin), Tomoko Omura (violin), and Greg Chudzik (double bass); additional performers to be announced. The collaborative artists perform, individually, improvised solos that compliment and contrast with the ambient noise created by Siegler.

Concrète Jungle is inspired by and takes its title from musique concrète, an electronic genre pioneered in the 1940’s in which readymade sounds are employed in place of instrumentation.

Dan Siegler began recording the source material, clips of conversations and other utterances by New Yorkers, in 2013, shortly after his father was diagnosed with dementia. “I didn't realize it at the time,” said Siegler, “but by creating this piece, I was attempting to make order out of the chaos of my dialogues with him, which contained some of the most comical and emotional exchanges we'd ever had." After Siegler's father died, Dan discovered some of his black and white street photographs, including images of a Times Square flea circus, Chinatown parades, and East Village tenements. Projections of this artwork are incorporated into the performance.

“The New York City I remember is long gone,” says Siegler. “But when I'm live-mixing these dialogues and sounds, I'm establishing some measure of control, if only for one night, and placing sounds, voices, attitudes, expressions that may be considered antique, into a contemporary context.”

CALENDAR LISTING

October 17 and 18, 2019 at 7:30 pm

Concrète Jungle

by Dan Siegler

with guest performers Pam Tanowitz, dance, Christina Campanella, voice, Pauline Kim Harris, violin Tomoko Omura, violin, Greg Chudzik, bass and more

The Invisible Dog

51 Bergen St.

Brooklyn, NY

Free admission

($15 suggested donation) RSVP at this link

Dan Siegler is a Bessie Award-winning composer and sound artist. His music has been described as "luxuriously mercurial" by Artforum, and “eerie, churchly and jazzy…” by The Village Voice. Strongly influenced by musique concrète, his work incorporates references to jazz, blues and folk via a mix of analog synthesizers, orchestration for strings, horns and woodwinds, glitch sound material and field recordings.

Siegler has worked extensively with choreographer Pam Tanowitz. Their collaborations have been performed at venues including Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum, Lincoln Center Out of Doors and The Joyce Theater. He has composed music for choreographer Yanira Castro and the violin duo, String Noise, among others. DanSieglerMusic.com

andPlay duo: new release of world premieres on New Focus Recordings

Debut album by andPlay features world premiere recordings commissioned by the duo

Violinist Maya Bennardo and violist Hannah Levinson perform works by David Bird, Clara Iannotta and Ashkhan Behzadi

“playlist” on New Focus Recordings is released on September 27, 2019

When violinist Maya Bennardo and violist Hannah Levinson decided to form the duo andPlay in 2012, their mission was to expand the repertoire for their instrumentation. By any measure, this New York-based duo has already succeeded. andPlay has commissioned and premiered nearly three dozen works to date, in addition to performing other rarely heard 21st century works, in venues from New York City to Stockholm.

All four of the works on andPlay’s debut album, “playlist” (New Focus Recordings, FCR233, release date September 27, 2019) are world premiere studio recordings. The duo commissioned three of these: Crescita Plastica by Ashkan Behzadi, and two pieces by David Bird: Bezier and Apocrypha. The fourth work, Clara Iannotta's Limun, was previously released as a live recording, and is heard here for the first time in a studio performance.

This collection of composers represents diverse cultural backgrounds and styles. Iranian-American Ashkan Behzadi’s Crescita Plastica(2015) “begins like a mad virtuoso falling off a cliff, as though all the wild expressiveness of music over the last 400 years were suddenly unleashed,” writes Meghan Burke in the liner notes. The work is a dense struggle between opposing musical elements — sustained lines with crescendi of varying lengths; violent interjections of double stops; furious microtonal passage work; and razor thin ponticello outbursts.

New York composer David Bird’s Bezier (2013)opens with a playful cataloging of timbres on the instruments, a vocabulary of scratches, cracks, pops, and breathy bow sounds in childlike exploration. Emerging from this texture are ethereal harmonic trills, briefly conjuring the fragile sound world of Sciarrino’s solo violin works, floating into a remarkable section of chirping sounds that could be mistaken for a field recording in a bird sanctuary. The second work by Bird on the album,Apocrypha (2017), incorporates electronics, producing a dialogue between the acoustic and digital sounds in which the acoustic sounds struggle to maintain their organic identity.

The sonic palette in Italian-born Clara Iannotta’sLimun (2011) explores shimmering harmonics, brilliant ponticello exclamations, and weightless glissandi, forming composite phrases that establish a tactile sensuality. The work requires the participation of two page turners who serve double-duty: they each play a high drone on a small harmonica.

Maya Bennardo and Hannah Levinson are true ambassadors for their instrumentation, pushing their collaborators to find new ways of writing for their instruments that sound like more than just a violin and a viola. This album goes beyond exploring the limits of instrumental technique and sound, engaging with aesthetic boundaries and possessing the ineffable, mysterious quality of communicating emotional truths far greater than the sum of their parts.

andPlay performs on October 4 at Metropolis in New York City; in Columbus, Ohio on November 20 and at Kent State University on November 21; details forthcoming. Contact ClassicalCommunications@gmail.com to request a physical or digital copy of this recording.

TRACKS

1. Ashkan Behzadi – Crescita Plastica (2015) - 14:30

2. David Bird – Bezier (2013) - 9:18

3. Clara Iannotta – Limun (2011) - 7:24

4. David Bird – Apocrypha (2017) - 16:47

Gapplegate Classical-Modern reviews "Instruments of Revelation"

A program of chamber music in first recordings is what we contemplate this morning, in other words New Tonal Music 2005-2011 by Victoria Bond (b. 1945), under the umbrella title Instruments of Revelation (Naxos 8.559864). The Chicago Pro Musica does the performance honors and they are quite convincing and well worth hearing in that role.

The music has a whimsical quality throughout, whether by means of mildly sarcastic quasi-march-gallops or a shade here and there of the burlesque. I was alerted to the attractions of this album as a huge James Joyce fan by the 20-minute "Leopold Bloom's Homecoming" (2011) based on a relevant Ulysses-oriented Joycian text sung by tenor Rufus Muller with piano accompaniment by Jenny Lin. It is broadly lyrical in a matter-of-fact way and convinces as viable vocal art without sounding as "radical" as the Joycean original, but that is OK. What I mean to say is that the music gives the words less of a stream-of-consciousness and more of a deliberation a la Britten with Henry James? No matter because it is nicely done and memorable.

The short piano solo work "Binary" (2005) is the more exploratory of the works here, with a convincing rhythmic punch that has a slightly "Jazzy" pedigree and clustering quasi-pentatonic-chromatic thrust that comes through nicely as played by Olga Vinokur. The music I read in the liners is based on a Brazilian Samba, which makes sense of it all once you know. The "Binary" of the title alludes to the composer's treatment of the digits zero and one, which the unaided ear may not at first catch but no matter as the music is compelling.

Backing up to the first works on the program we have the title piece. "Instruments of Revelation" (2010) which is for a large-ish chamber ensemble. The music has some somewhat Stravinskian whimsy a la L'Histoire du Soldat in an extension and a furtherance that goes beyond the original feeling and then segues into other realms. There is a pronounced descriptive exuberance at times that is captivating.

"Frescoes and Ash" (2009) has a rippling rhapsodic feel to it, a Carnival of the Animals sans animals flavor at times, descriptive and absorbing. The chamber ensemble sounds quite full thanks to Ms. Bond's artful scoring. There are times when I am slightly and favorably reminded of the hushed stillness of Vaughan Williams' "A Lark Descending," but then Ms. Bond moves forward into her own zone and the feeling goes to be replaced by another vista not without its own artful quality. Regardless there is poise and good humor throughout.

And as all is said and done with this program one feels refreshed and in the presence of a lively musical mind. This may not quite be a music of sturm und drang, but if you listen on its own terms there is music to like just fine, to draw a smile, to give is a puckish Midsummer Night's Dream without Puck himself or the Fairies. It is enchanted music nonetheless. Listen.

Review Corner on Truman Harris "A Warm Day in Winter"

This is a jolly album of bassoon-led pieces.

Yes: you study all your life, you’re really good and you put out a complex album … and it’s summed up as jolly. All that effort for one word. Jolly hockey sticks is what always comes to mind when we play this, but we’re not really sure what that means.

This album features six works and the bassoon and flute (the former played on some tracks by Harris, an orchestral bassoonist) feature a lot. It reminded us of jazz in the way the instruments take the lead but it’s not for fancy solos, just runs of notes. Hunting online we found a biography of Harris: Gramophone magazine called his music “winsome and engaging,” and Music Web International wrote that the album is “hugely enjoyable,” which it is. Jolly is what they meant; perky maybe.

The pieces on here suggest a man who understands the complexities of music but, as a working musician, knows the importance of getting bums on seats and balances the two out. That’s not to say this is workmanlike music: it’s subtle and varied, and he favours the wind instruments.

We can’t pick out standouts. It’s all to a quality, though the opening piece Rosemoor Suites captures the imagination straight away. It’s all evocative; there are moments of modernism but Mr H is always thinking of his audience, so there’s nothing even remotely scary on here.

The Eclipse Chamber Orchestra/Sylvia Alimena play. Recommended for when you want something entertaining and easy, but not anodyne. And if you like the bassoon, obviously.

Out on Naxos 8.559858.

Insider Interview: Ted Altschuler, Director of BPAC

 

Insider Interview with Ted Altschuler, Director of the Baruch Performing Arts Center

What’s the process for programming a season at BPAC?  How do you develop a theme or unifying concept?

We feature New York as well as international artists, presenting a season that is diverse in artistic genre, national origin of the art and artist, and subject matter. We present only artists whose work I have experienced live.  I am particularly interested in a confluence of genres – whether that means multiple arts disciplines, arts and humanities, or arts and sciences.  We emphasize programs combining arts and social justice.  As a venue located at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, we echo the university’s ethos of inclusion and accessibility.  Our students come from over 100 different countries!  I don’t tend to decide on a more specific theme beforehand, but as the season takes shape, one emerges. The 2019-20 tagline is: Imagination. Depth. Diversity. 

You have a doctorate in neuroscience and decades of experience as an opera and theatre director.  How does your unusual background inform your programming decisions?

I spent many years directing plays and opera and teaching at The Juilliard School because I am interested in the creative process.  When I really connect with artists, it is most often about artistic practice and values. There are easily 50 cellists whose playing might be thought of as excellent. I’m interested in what values they bring to the work, the extended narrative of their work over time, what composers they are drawn to, how they connect with the music, fellow artists and audience, does their practice include intense collaboration, site-specific work, do they improvise, do they compose – how they achieve the qualities we see in the finished product? As someone who makes work, I am intensely aware of the creative and practical resources required.  At BPAC, we don’t just “book” artists, we host residencies for choreographers, composers, playwrights and other artists, providing time and space to make work.  This helps cushion the financial risk, and since the creation of the work is happening here, creative process can be another point of entry for BPAC patrons and Baruch students.  While some people love the performance, others get into what goes on behind the scenes. 

I got interested in neuroscience via my work with performers. Cognitive neuroscience looks at the physiological sources of our emotions and behaviours - how we pay attention, remember, use our senses – these are processes we all engage in, but actors consciously exploit them. My experimental studies looked at what the brain contributes to the information that our eyes collect from our world to produce the experience of seeing - something that is really a creative act. 

Science, like art, observes the world, playing with something in it to understand it better. Cognitive science has made me keenly observant of human behaviour; it has given me a rigor in how I direct an artistic organization and, has made me a better story teller.  The data that results from an experiment is really not of value until it is embedded in narrative.  It is story that attaches outcomes to what is known so far and says why they are significant.

How do you discover the artists that you consider for a season?  How do you get to know these performers if you have not already experienced their work?

I’m a voracious consumer of live performing arts.  It’s my pleasure, as well as my job. Living in New York City certainly doesn’t hurt, although I see performances pretty much anywhere I travel.  As more arts patrons have gotten to know BPAC’s great 25th Street location - its intimately scaled concert hall with superb acoustics, its beautiful black box theatre - and as our programs have become generally more visible in the performing arts landscape, colleagues, artists, and artists’ managers have come to me with great frequency about their ideas for collaborations. I get to know artists’ work over time by experiencing it myself and talking to them. Then logistics like time and budget come into play and if that works for everyone, we have lift-off! 

What kind of balance do you strive for, with regard to artists making their BPAC series debut vs. returning artists?  

I hope that around 1/3 of our artists or artist pairings in any given year are new to BPAC.  Sometimes they are completely new, for instance this year we will present Clarion and Daedalus Quartets for the first time, but we are also bringing back pianist Michael Brown.  Instead of a solo recital, he will perform with his frequent collaborator, cellist Nicholas Canellakis. We have also invited back the fabulous modernist pianist Guy Livingston, he will perform with soprano Rayanne Dupuis who is well known internationally, but will make her New York debut at BPAC premiering songs by William Bolcom! I’m very excited that BPAC is the venue where New Yorkers can first hear his “Poèmes libres de droits” written for Guy and Rayanne.

New York is a world capital when it comes to the performing arts.  What are the special aspects of BPAC that bring audiences to your events?  What is unique about BPAC and its offerings?

What is unique about BPAC, and a real asset to New York when it comes to chamber music, is our Rosalyn and Irwin Engelman Recital Hall. At a capacity of 175 seats, it is truly a chamber setting in which to appreciate soloists and small ensembles.  Its acoustics are among the best in the city.

BPAC prioritizes intimately scaled performances. This is the third year in which we will co-present Heartbeat Opera, whose aesthetic is intentionally scaled down – they are what off- Broadway is to Broadway. They take the grandiosity out of opera, leaving what is truly grand – focused story-telling, compelling characters, and an impeccably played and sung score that has been re-orchestrated so as to hear the music anew in a way that fits a 200-seat theatre.

There are some ways in which I’m pleased not to be unique.  I would say that the quality of the artists we present are on par with the musicians you can and do hear at Alice Tully Hall or Jazz at Lincoln Center, the dancers you see at the Joyce, the performances that you see at New York Theater Workshop or the Metropolitan Museum.

We are in a great neighbourhood - 25th Street between 3rd & Lexington Aves borders Gramercy, Kips Bay and No Mad – the area now known as Flatiron, due to its proximity to the Flatiron building on 23rd & 5th.  There are so many good places to eat nearby – Eataly, the Freehand Hotel, all the fantastic Indian spots in Curry Hill.  Madison Square Park is a lovely urban refuge just two blocks away on Madison and 25th.  

Last, but certainly not least, in this pricey cultural capital, we have affordable tickets.  For every event in our season, there are tickets available for $35 and often for less, and student tickets for $15 and sometimes less.

What programs on the ‘19-20 season stand out for you as highlights?

I’m not supposed to play favorites, but in each program genres I’ll draw your attention to:

THEATRE

Terra Firma – WORLD PREMIERE -   Sep 27 – Nov 10.

In a Brechtian future, a tiny kingdom is created. This play wrestles with what makes a citizen, a country and a civilization.  Inspired by real events in which an army major claimed an abandoned concrete platform in international waters as his own sovereign nation.  Featuring Andrus Nichols (Sense & Sensibility) “I’m beginning to think she can do anything.” – Ben Brantley, NY Times.   

CHAMBER MUSIC

Daedalus Quartet – Music from Exile w/ NY PREMIERE of Babel - Nov 22

This “exceptionally refined young ensemble with a translucent sound.” – The New Yorker makes a sonic exploration of the response to repression and exile.  The program includes the defiantly joyful third string quartet of Viktor Ullman, written in Theresienstadt in 1943. The NY Premiere of Babel by Gabriel Bolaños, whose family fled Nicaragua. The piece uses the sound of string instruments to explore the variety of human language, revealing both cultural differences and our fundamental similarity. Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s monumental piano quintet, composed in Moscow after his escape from the Nazi invasion of Poland, closes the program in celebration of his centenary

OPERA

dwb (driving while black) NY PREMIERE  - March 19 – 21

“Singers are storytellers,” says soprano/librettist Roberta Gumbel (“silver voiced…” – The New York Times), “but rarely do we get the opportunity to help create the stories we are telling.” Collaborating with Susan Kander (“A composer of vivid imagination and skill.” – Fanfare) and the cutting-edge cello/percussion duo New Morse Code,  this brief, powerful music-drama documents the all-too-familiar story of an African-American parent whose “beautiful brown boy” approaches driving age as, what should be a celebration of independence and maturity is fraught with the anxiety of “driving while black.” 

DANCE

Foray WORLD PREMIERE - March 26 – 28

The first evening-length solo concert in five years by this very-in-demand Lincoln Center Institute choreographer.  Set to an array of classical/contemporary music remixes, this marks the debut of D2D/T, Mr. Latif’s artist collective. They present four original works made with collaborators from New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey, and American Ballet Theater.  

MULTI-DISCIPLANRY PERFORMANCE

Talea Ensemble – Love and Diversity US PREMIERE - April 2 - 4

Lying somewhere between music and theater, this work is by Manos Tsangaris, never before seen in the U.S.  The audience begins in a social setting filling out a questionnaire about, art, love, and friendship. They enter the performance in small groups, visiting several stations. At each sits a musician/actor.  In a sequence of interactions, the audience is immersed in the performance – first encountering each musician individually and, finally, experiencing the piece as a whole. This exemplifies Talea's mission to champion musical creativity and cultivate curious listeners and is why they are hailed “A crucial part of the New York cultural ecosphere”- New York Times

TransCentury Communications reviews Mozart Concertos

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 17 and 24. Orli Shaham, piano; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson. Canary Classics. $16.

There are endless ways to interpret Mozart, endless reasons for doing so, and endless explanations of why one interpretation or another “works” or does not. The reality is that all interpretations “work” if they interest, intrigue, move, engage, attract the audience; in that sense, whether they are academically correct, historically informed, careful to play what the composer expected to hear or more concerned with being heard in a modern setting by contemporary audiences, is largely irrelevant to their “rightness.” This is important to remember at a time when ongoing arguments about piano type, orchestra size, recording venue and more seem never-ending when it comes to music from before the 20th century (and even some from the 20th century). Mozart’s music, like Bach’s, communicates effectively, often brilliantly, whether or not played in the way Mozart played it himself or expected others to play it. Academics can argue whatever points they will, but what ultimately matters is whether performers have something valuable to say, to communicate to listeners, and have found an effective way of bringing it forth.

What is striking about the Orli Shaham/David Robertson collaboration in two well-known Mozart piano concertos, on the Canary Classics label, is how well it communicates feelings and expressions that seem “Mozartean” even though there is nothing historically accurate about the recording at all. The orchestra is too large for Mozart’s time, the piano far too big and resonant, the cadenzas not at all in Mozart’s style (especially in the first movement of Concerto No. 24), and Shaham’s playing is far too focused on the emotionally expressive passages of the music – not only in the enormously powerful No. 24 but also in the slow movement of No. 17. Purists will not care for what Shaham and Robertson have done here, although they will (or at least should) appreciate the consistency of these interpretations and the excellent support that the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra accords Shaham. But as a reaching-out CD, as a deeply felt production that connects beautifully and meaningfully with an audience 230-plus years after these concertos were written, the recording is absolutely first-rate.

Shaham and Robertson clearly have deep feelings for Mozart that they know how to translate into feelings to be shared with an at-home audience. It is extraordinarily difficult to listen to this recording without giving it full attention: it insists that what it has to say is more important than anything else that may be in a listener’s environment while the disc plays. This is by no means always the case with recorded music, or even with recorded Mozart, which can descend into mere prettiness without the counterbalancing pathos that is one of the signposts of Mozart’s genius. It would be facile and rather silly to say that Shaham and Robertson “channel” Mozart; better to say that they understand Mozart with a thoroughness that allows his music to flow through them and through these performances in a way that connects directly with an audience that, objectively, is immeasurably different from any for which Mozart wrote or could have written. The way Shaham shapes each individual variation of the finale of Concerto No. 17, the considerable drama of the coda of that movement, the unbridled intensity Shaham insists on presenting from the start of Concerto No. 24, the almost unbearable heights to which she takes that intensity in the finale of the latter concerto – these and many other touches illuminate aspects of Mozart that have always been there in the score (and of which, to be sure, other performers have also been cognizant), but that Shaham and Robertson connect with tremendous skill in performances that are fully and beautifully integrated from start to finish. This is not “correct” Mozart in the historical sense, but it is hard to escape the feeling that it is very much correct in its effects, its meaning, and its emotional impact. The ultimate test of performances for most listeners is not whether they are historically accurate but whether they are convincing – and these certainly are.

TransCentury Communications reviews "A Warm Day in Winter"

Truman Harris: Concertino for Horn and Chamber Orchestra; Concertino for Flute and Chamber Orchestra; Rosemoor Suite; Aulos Triptych; Flowers; Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano. Alice Kogan Weinreb, Aaran Goldman, Carole Bean, Leah Arsenault Barrick, flutes; Nicholas Stovall, oboe; Paul Cigan, clarinet; Truman Harris, Sue Heineman, Steven Wilson, bassoons; Laurel Bennert Ohlson, horn; Audrey Andrist, piano; Eclipse Chamber Orchestra conducted by Sylvia Alimena. Naxos. $12.99.

There is a somewhat unfair perception that many contemporary composers care more about impressing other composers and/or performers of their music than about reaching out to a wider audience. Like many behavioral generalizations, this notion has a grain of truth at its core in some cases but is a vast overstatement when applied to all cases. Indeed, there are composers such as Truman Harris (born 1945) who, while clearly interested in creating music that will appeal strongly to performers, are also hoping that an audience of non-performers will find the works worth hearing even if the listeners do not realize just what goes into the playing. All six Harris works on a new Naxos CD are interestingly scored and written to intrigue and challenge the performers – indeed, the players on the disc are the ones for whom Harris wrote the pieces. But all the works also have much to recommend them simply as music and, on that basis, will appeal to listeners who enjoy woodwinds (which dominate these pieces) and are open to hearing some unusual instrumental combinations.

Harris’ music has something of pastiche about it, with noticeable (that is, audible) influences both from classical composers (Stravinsky, Poulenc and others) and from popular music (ragtime, tango, etc.). This music generally lies quite well on the wind instruments, which is scarcely surprising in light of Harris’ lengthy career as a bassoonist with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra (heard on this recording), and other ensembles. The string writing here is also fine, although piano parts, when that instrument is used, are rather pedestrian. The longest and most expansive pieces here have the most conventional scoring. They are the two concertinos, for horn (2015) and flute (2003). Both offer the soloists plenty of opportunities to stand out within a traditional three-movement structure. In fact, despite their dates of composition, both these works could have been written decades earlier – and that is not a criticism but a measure of the skill with which Harris has absorbed earlier influences and put them to good use in producing well-balanced, intricate but eminently listenable music. Still, the four non-concertino pieces, although slighter than the concertinos, are more aurally interesting through their use of unusual instrumental combinations.

The five-movement Rosemoor Suite (2015) is for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon, with Harris himself playing the last of these instruments. The work pays direct homage to some of Harris’ musical inspirations by including a Charleston and a “Silent Movie” movement that does indeed sound as if it could accompany a film from the pre-sound era. There is also an attractive, brief theme and variations here, called “Fantasia.” Even more engaging is Aulos Triptych (2015), for four flutes and piano – quite an ensemble! – whose three movements’ grace, reminiscent of Poulenc, is nicely expressive of the titles “Light and Color,” “Dreams of Fancy Places,” and “A Warm Day in Winter.” Harris has considerable skill as a miniaturist, as is clear not only in Aulos Triptych but also in Flowers (2006), whose six movements are very short indeed: the longest, “Tulips,” lasts less than 90 seconds. LikeRosemoor Suite, this work is for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon (Harris again). The daintiness and delicacy of Flowers are admirable and are effectively communicated. And then there is the fascinating Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano (2008), another work (like the concertinos) in the traditional three movements, but one whose sound is decidedly unusual. The piano’s three chords in “Until Three [o’clock]” are its most noticeable contribution here, with the bassoons weaving a lovely sonic tapestry in “Moon in the Water” before cutting loose in a jazzy, waltzing rondo finale in which Harris does not perform, perhaps preferring in this instance to sit back in the role of composer and delight in the many moods of which he knows his instrument to be capable. Even though the bassoon is often relegated to a kind of comic role, Harris knows that it, and the other instruments for which he writes, have a far greater expressive capability – and one that does not require the sorts of artificial “extensions of range” that engage many contemporary composers but few contemporary audiences.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra announces release of Mozart Piano Concerti recording with conductor David Robertson and pianist Orli Shaham

Release date: August 23 on Canary Classics

"a first-rate Mozartean" - Chicago Tribune


Renowned pianist Orli Shaham, conductor David Robertson, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra announce the international release of an album featuring two of Mozart’s most-loved piano concertos.

Recorded for Canary Classics at historic Powell Hall in November 2017 and January 2018, the valedictory season of Robertson’s 13-year tenure as Music Director of the SLSO, the album may be purchased via this link.

Between the month of his 21st birthday and the time of his death 14 years later, Mozart effectively invented the piano concerto and turned it into one of the most thrilling of all musical genres. Shaham trains the spotlight on the drama and expressive power of two of the composer’s finest works for keyboard and orchestra in her latest recording for Canary Classics. The album presents the compelling pairing of Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 17 in G major K.453 and 24 in C minor K.491. Her vision of both scores is brought to life in company with the SLSO and Robertson, ideal partners in a project that penetrates deep beneath the surface of Mozart’s music to reveal a complex web of quicksilver emotions and fluctuating moods.

The album’s selected works stand as emblems of the extraordinary theatricality of Mozart’s concertos. Each highlights the spirit of dialogue between soloist and orchestra, the ever-shifting exchange of musical ideas, colors, and textures used by Mozart to create a world of limitless dramatic possibilities.

Pianist Orli Shaham said, “These pieces move with such intense energy, driven forward by themes that grow in many directions. They develop like characters in a play or an opera. Mozart always thought dramatically and theatrically first. The way he wrote the first melody you hear is the perfect way to set up a scene, whatever that scene is. I feel like these concertos are great examples of opera at the concerto level. With the theme and variations in the finales, for example, each variation is a little part of a scene in which the story is being pushed along.”

Taken together, the two concertos embrace tragedy and comedy, pathos and joy, laughter and tears. Mozart pushes at the boundaries of convention – from harmonic language and thematic development to the technical demands he makes on the soloist – to construct multiple layers of meaning.

The SLSO recording of the Mozart piano concerti is latest in a robust history of recordings that has resulted in nine Grammy Award wins. Most recently, the SLSO, in conjunction with Blue Engine records, released the first commercial recording of Wynton Marsalis’Swing Symphony in July 2019. The SLSO won the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance for the Nonesuch release of John Adams’ City Noir, conducted by Robertson.

WFMT's New Releases with Lisa Flynn features "A Warm Day in Winter"

The chamber music of contemporary American composer Truman Harris is informed by his experience as an orchestral musician; it is idiomatic, exciting, and frequently cast for unusual combinations of instruments. One such example is the unique Sonata for Two Bassoons and Piano, flavored with jazz, romance, and waltz-like elegance. Rosemoore Suite is a captivating story without words moving from nostalgia to vitality, and the two Concertinos explore rich lyricism and playful virtuosity. Vibrant colors and a sense of vivid fantasy suffuse the radiant Aulos Triptych. The Eclipse Chamber Orchestra is well-known for its exceptional performances and diverse repertoire. Founded in 1992, and comprised of 22 members of the National Symphony Orchestra, the membership also represents a convergence of instrumentalists from chamber ensembles based in Washington, D.C.

Insider Interview: Organist Christopher Houlihan

In the fall of 2019, organist Christopher Houlihan performs Joseph Jongen’s Symphonie Concertante with both the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (Sept. 27 & 29, as part of the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival) and the St. Ann Festival Orchestra (Oct. 1) in Washington D.C. In this Insider Interview we spoke to Mr. Houlihan about the composer Joseph Jongen and what makes his Symphonie Concertante so special.

Tell me about the composer and organist Joseph Jongen.

Jongen was an organist, composer, and educator. Living from 1873–1953, he is considered, along with César Franck, one of Belgium’s most important composers. His music might be best described as late-romantic, certainly under the influence of his compatriot Franck, and tinged with hints of Strauss (with whom he briefly studied), Fauré, and Debussy. He is most well-known for his organ music, though he composed extensively for orchestra and chamber ensembles as well.

How did his Symphonie Concertante come about?

The Symphonie Concertante was commissioned in 1926 by Rodman Wanamaker and was to be premiered at his eponymous department store in Philadelphia, home to the world’s largest fully functioning pipe organ. Due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances, the premier was cancelled; the work was premiered in Brussels in 1928 and the first American performance took place at Carnegie Hall in 1935. (Yes! For many years of its history, Carnegie Hall was home to a very large pipe organ; sadly, no longer.)

Jongen titled his work “Symphonie Concertante.” This is a fairly uncommon title, especially for a 20th century work.

            A symphonie concertante is a kind of hybrid piece, typically defined as a work for orchestra featuring at least two soloists. The soloists frequently play a virtuosic role, but at times also weave into the larger orchestral fabric of the piece. In the baroque era this kind of work might have been called a concerto grosso; in the romantic period it might have been called a double- or triple-concerto. In the classical period it was called a symphonie concertante. Mozart’s Symphonie Concertante for violin and viola is an extraordinary example of the form.

So, why a symphonie concertante in this case, and why only one soloist? What is your role like in the Jongen, does it differ from a soloist in a traditional concerto?

            The most famous piece for organ and orchestra is, of course, Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, a piece which is sometimes thought of as a symphonie concertante. In it, the organ provides a sonic cushion for the orchestra at the start of the second movement, then acts as an orchestral foil during the last section of the work. Despite its fame, the Saint-Saëns symphony does not feature a very complicated or virtuosic role for the organist.

            Jongen provides his soloist with many opportunities to show off (especially in the perpetual motion toccata which concludes the piece) but also provides occasion to fade into the orchestral texture (for instance, the organ effectively accompanies the orchestra during much of the third movement).

            Because a great organ (especially the organ Jongen was writing for in Philadelphia) features so many individual sounds which often imitate the colors of an orchestra, all available at the fingertips of one organist, the piece is not merely a concerto—here, the organist is simultaneously several soloists as well as accompanist.

What’s your favorite moment(s) in the piece?

It’s impossible to pick a favorite moment in such a great piece! I especially love the second movement, the Divertimento. It reminds me of Louis Vierne and his quirky scherzos, full of spritely organ figurations one moment, and then reverential chorale like melodies the next.

With multiple performances of Jongen’s Symphony Concertante this season on different organs how do you prepare for those anticipated differences in instruments and halls, as well as with different orchestras and conductors?

As is in most endeavors, thorough preparation and practice is always helpful. I will most likely play the piece from memory so that I can focus more on being in sync with the conductor and orchestra. Because an organ soloist is often at some physical distance from the conductor, and the pipes of an organ may even be in a third location, organists have to be extraordinarily ready for whatever they might encounter when performing with an orchestra. I know the Trinity College organ particularly well, especially since I play it practically every day, and I have also previously heard and admired the St. Ann’s organ, so I know a little bit of what I’m in for sonically. However, in Washington, the organ is in a gallery several feet above the orchestra, so I’ll be watching the conductor via a camera and television monitor! Organists are used to this.

Take Effect reviews Truman Harris' "A Warm Day in Winter"

A veteran composer and bassoonist, Truman Harris caters to wind instruments here, as he pens tunes for his long running colleagues on this superbly executed collection of chamber music.

“Rosemoor Suite” starts the listen with flute, oboe, bassoon, horn and clarinets on a playful, elegant tune with cascading beauty, and “Aulos Triptych” follows with 4 flutes and piano on an upbeat and adventurous exploration of timeless rhythm.

On the back half, “Flowers”, which uses the same instruments as “Rosemoor Suite”, delivers a cinematic quality to the sophisticated manipulation of light and dark textures, while “Sonata” recruits a mysterious angle of darker ideas in one of the album’s best that is also the most complicated, but far from esoteric.

With players on hand from the National Symphony Orchestra and the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, Harris is in great company here, and together they flesh out engaging, layered and graceful classical and chamber sounds that will satiate not only the ears but the mind the soul.

Classical Post highlights Margaret Brouwer's "Voice of the Lake"

'Voice Of The Lake' Oratorio Highlights Environmental Concerns

July 11, 2019

In response to the 2014 algae bloom in Lake Erie, Cleveland composer Margaret Brouwer decided to create an environmental oratorio with hopes of increasing interest around Lake Erie and other threatened bodies of water.

After two years in the making, Brouwer’s 80-minute oratorio, “Voice of the Lake,” premiered at the Cleveland Institute of Music in October. The performance is now available on DVD and YouTube.

Composed of four parts, the oratorio opens with “At the Lake,” a joyful tribute to Lake Erie. The piece progresses with “The Public Hearing,” which portrays the conflict of opinion in Cleveland as to whether it is safe to dump dredged sediment into the lake. The third part tells the story of “Evening Near the River,” during which two campers come across the algae-filled lake and see some of its causes and solutions. Finally, the piece ends with “Sunrise at the Lake,” a resolution to clean up Lake Erie.

Through these four parts, Brouwer attempts to reveal the significance of the lake, which is used as a recreational site, natural habitat and source of drinking water for potentially 11 million lakeside residents. Due to phosphorus runoff from fertilized farms and leaky septic systems, however, the lake was filled with algae, much of it poisonous. In order to convey the reality of the situation, Brouwer took phrases from public hearing transcripts in relation to the algae bloom. The result is a libretto based more so on factual information than on poetry.

The video of the performance is now available for purchase on DVD for $30, of which $8 will be donated to the North American Lake Management Society.

The performance features the Blue Streak Ensemble, Blue Streak Ensemble Chamber Singers and the Cleveland Institute of Music Children's Choir. The soloists include soprano Angela Mortellaro, mezzo Sarah Beaty, tenor Brian Skoog and bass Bryant Bush. The show was conducted by Cleveland Opera theater director Domenico Boyagian.

— Kristine Liao

WXXI features Margaret Brouwer's "Voice of the Lake"

Music expresses love, concern for Great Lakes

By MONA SEGHATOLESLAMI

Composer Margaret Brouwer lives in Ohio, near Lake Erie. She loves the natural beauty of the Great Lakes and she’s worried about them.

She has composed her love for Lake Erie -- and her concerns for its future --  into a musical work called "Voice of the Lake."

Listen to the feature here

"The Great Lakes are actually the largest body of fresh water in the world," and yet, she says, "We take it so for granted. People don’t realize what a wonderful natural treasure we have." 

She’s concerned about farm runoff that feeds toxic algae blooms, people dumping trash, and the dirt being dredged from the Cuyahoga River being dumped in the lake.

In her music, she started with sounds of people interacting with the lake.

"I think a lot about sounds before every piece that I write, and the sounds that I want to create," she explains, "so I was thinking a lot about the sounds of the lake, the sounds of the children splashing in the water." 

In addition to depicting the ways that people interact with the water, she includes scenes showing innovative ways people have tried to control and stop the algae, and a portrayal of a public hearing about lake dumping.

"I really believe that music should be two equal parts: One would appeal to the intelligence, to your brain -- and one would appeal to your soul and your heart and your emotions.  All the music is pretty emotional, actually."

"A lot of it is beautiful, wonderful, happy music (in) the first part, and there’s angry music, there’s very sad music, too," she says. "The soprano plays the role of the person who loves the lake and sings about it in the first part, and then she is very upset and angry in the second part about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In the other parts, her arias are very, very sad.  She doesn’t understand; she doesn’t know what to do about it. She’s trying to figure it out." 

In the end, Brouwer says, "I don’t really give an answer in this piece, other than showing the people who are doing something.  The children ask people to help; they say, 'we need help', and they’re asking everyone to work together to help the lake."

Brouwer says she struggled with how exactly to end the piece.

"I could have made it fictional, and had it be something where people were all leaving the area because there was no good drinking water and people were dying, because that could happen," she says. "Right now, I just decided to leave it up in the air with what’s going to happen, who’s going to get involved." 

"Voice of the Lake" has been performed at an International Symposium for the North American Lake Management Society in Cincinnati and at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well as in more traditional concert settings. Brouwer also plans to someday turn it into an opera, with a story set in and around the lake. A recording is now available on DVD and to watch on YouTube

Classical Music Daily features "Voice of the Lake"

Margaret Brouwer's new environmental oratorio
is now available on DVD and at YouTube

... the message Brouwer’s piece delivers is one that needs to be heard. - Classical Voice North America

In August 2014, an algal bloom in Lake Erie poisoned the drinking water of the four hundred thousand residents of Toledo, Ohio, USA. 'Lake Erie is in trouble, and getting worse by the year', wrote The New York Times. The dire situation of pollution in this Great Lake is the inspiration for American composer Margaret Brouwer's work, Voice of the Lake. A live performance of this critically-acclaimed work, which took place at the Cleveland Institute of Music on 19 October 2018, is now available to watch on both YouTube and on DVD.

Brouwer has always been keenly passionate about the environment, and this interest often informs her compositions. In an interview with Cleveland Classical she said, 'The creation of the work started with my personal wish for Lake Erie to be clean'. Brouwer has more to say in an article on RockTheLake.com.

Voice of the Lake (2016-18) is an eighty minute oratorio for vocal soloists, choirs and chamber ensemble which brings to life the ongoing environmental concerns that are affecting Lake Erie: a recreational treasure, expansive natural habitat, important economic engine, major shipping channel and the source of drinking water for eleven million people. A musical vista of nature and the lake, the lyrics are by Margaret Brouwer with additional text gleaned from public record transcripts including Congresswoman Marcia Fudge and the US Army Corps of Engineers, with a short video by Joshua Lipton.

The video features the Blue Streak Ensemble, Blue Streak Ensemble Chamber Singers, and the Cleveland Institute of Music Children's Choir, with soloists Angela Mortellaro, soprano, Sarah Beaty, mezzo, Brian Skoog, tenor and Bryant Bush, bass, conducted by Cleveland Opera Theater Director Domenico Boyagian. The DVD is available to purchase (for US$30, of which $8 will be donated to the North American Lake Management Society) at margaretbrouwer.com or watch now on YouTube.

Posted 27 June 2019 by Keith Bramich

American-Israel Cultural Foundation features Orli Shaham's Bach Yard

‘Bach Yard’: Orli Shaham’s ‘Baby Got Bach’ Has New Name

Orli Shaham’s interactive concert series for kids, ‘Baby Got Bach’ has a new name – Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard – and an expanded program. ‘Bach Yard’ combines live ensemble performances with storytelling, costumed musicians, and a host of activities in which children can take part. The interactive concerts introduce musical concepts, instruments and the experience of concert-going to children age pre-Kindergarten to early elementary.

The internationally renowned concert pianist and mother of twin boys, Orli Shaham launched Baby Got Bach in 2010, bringing live interactive concerts to thousands of young children and their parents. Now with an expanded age range, a new location for performances at Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center, and educational and community outreach, Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard will introduce many more young ears to live classical music.

Insider Interview: Composer Truman Harris

Composer Truman Harris’ debut CD “A Warm Day in Winter” is released on March 9, 2019, on the NAXOS American Classics Label (8.559858). In this Insider Interview we spoke to Mr. Harris about his compositional inspirations, performing in an orchestra and chamber ensemble, and more.

What led you to a career in composition?

I grew up in a musical household, with my mother the choir director at the local church and my father the church organist.  As far back as I can remember I’ve been attracted to composing rather than conducting.  Perhaps that’s partly because I noticed at some point that while most of the people around me were whistling/singing tunes they’d heard in the media, what I was whistling were mostly original tunes that popped into my head.   Another factor was my long tenure in a professional wind quintet.  After giving four recitals each season for years, our group began to run out of new literature.  The quintet’s website received dozens of submissions of new works for possible performance, but the group would almost inevitably decide that the pieces didn’t suit our needs.  I set about trying to write the music we weren’t finding.

You were in the NSO for over 40 years. How does that experience as an orchestral musician inform your work? Are there any particular composers from which you draw inspiration?

Sitting on stage surrounded by the sounds of the orchestra each week, and access to study scores of particularly interesting upcoming pieces were a big help in my attempts to understand the techniques of composition.  Certain aspects of a piece would sometimes be more or less successful, and my habit was to ask myself why that might be.   My colleagues were a great resource in understanding the technique of writing for instruments other than my own.  Writing a viola part, for example, I was helped by the availability of 12 professional violists who were amazingly generous with their artistry.

How would you describe your composition style?

For want of a better phrase, “Twenty-First Century Tonal.”  I gravitated early on to the Stravinsky side of the Stravinsky/Schoenberg split last century.  Perhaps one could say that Stravinsky revolutionized rhythm while Schoenberg revolutionized melody.  An important quote for me is from Paul Hindemith: “Music, as long as it exists, will always take its departure from the major triad and return to it.  The musician cannot escape it any more than the painter his primary colours or the architect his three dimensions."  For me, music is about singing and dancing, and I very much hope that my pieces can both sing and dance.

Your latest album is titled A Warm Day in Winter. In what ways do the pieces reflect this title? Are there any other ways in which the pieces relate to each other?

The last movement of Aulos Triptych, with that title, depicts a cold morning with a gradual warmup.   The modern complex world can also seem a little chilly at times, and perhaps music can add a bit of welcome warmth to our lives.  The wind quintets were written for some of the same people, and the character of the part writing reflects something of their individual personalities. 

Speaking of titles, a lot of your pieces have descriptions that are very evocative. Do these become part of the piece early on in the process?

I rarely know in advance what the titles of movements or even of the whole piece will be.  As the materials develop and begin to show some structure, I find that extra-musical associations will often occur to me, which then can help direct the progress of the remaining music still to be written. 

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re working on?

Recently completed are two wind quintets, a sonata for bassoon and piano, and a trio for two flutes and cello.  Synthesized recordings of these are now up on my YouTube channel, Compositions by Truman Harris

Also completed just last week is a Kennedy Center commission for a variation for full orchestra based on the Paganini 24th Caprice.  The Kennedy Center website discribes the project as, “When former NSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin led the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, he commissioned a set of variations—each from a different living American composer—on the famous Paganini Caprice No. 24. In honor of Slatkin’s 75th birthday season, a number of orchestras, including the NSO, have each commissioned an additional variation to create a new, expanded version of the work.” Thus my contribution will be part of a work with other variations written by several  different composers entitled, “Yet Another Set of Variations (on a Theme of Paganini).”  The piece is scheduled to be performed this season by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, as well as two other orchestras next season.  All performances will be conducted by Leonard Slatkin, whose vision is responsible for the work.

My next projects are TBA, and may include a trio for oboe, bassoon, and piano.

The Art Music Lounge reviews "A Warm Day in Winter"

Tripping the Light Fantastic with Truman Harris

American composer and bassoonist Truman Harris (b. 1945) is one of those writers whose work can best be described as light and witty without being mundane or cloying. It’s essentially tonal with harmonic twists and turns, the rhythms are generally straightforward, but at no time is any of it predictable. In short, this is the kind of music that fits my definition of “delightful,” not the predictable old-timey tonal music of the Romantic era that everyone else seems to think is the cat’s meow.

This is immediately evident in the Rosemoor Suite, a collection of five pieces for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. This is a combination that Harris really favors; the even shorter Flowers, which pops up later in this program, is written for the same combination. Harris himself plays the bassoon on both. Even in the slow piece in this suite, “By the Stream, Late September,” Harris manages to hold one’s interest via repeated rhythms and overlapping solo spots in a quasi-hocket style, although this is the one piece that would be most likely to turn up on your local snoresville classical FM station. “Charleston” emulates the beat of this famed 1920s dance, but here Harris really skewers the harmony in an effort to shake things up, while the finale, “Silent Movie,” is, surprisingly, less frenetic in tempo and sounds more like a modern composer’s reaction to a silent movie than the kind of music one might actually hear accompanying one. It also includes plaintive solo spots for the oboe and flute in a slower tempo.

The Aulos Triptych refers to the ancient Greek flute that was often paired with the Greek harp or kithara, but there’s nothing really Greek about this music. It has lively American rhythms, the opening movement, in fact, being in a rollicking 6/8. It almost (but not quite) sounds like the kind of music you would have heard in the background of an episode of Peabody’s Improbable History on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, except that it’s somewhat more complex in its interweaving of instruments. The second piece, “Dreams of Fantastic Places,” is slower in tempo but, oddly, still uses a 6/8 tempo and is more rhythmically complex than its counterpoint in the Rosemoor Suite. The last piece, “A Warm Day in Winter,” is in 4 but with several double-time passages, weaving the piano part among the four flutes in an intriguing manner.

The Concertino for Horn & Chamber Orchestra is a bit more ambitious in form, but only just. This is yet another lively piece which sounds fun to play, and although our horn soloist, Laurel Bennert Ohlson, has a somewhat rough tone, she sounds as if she’s having a ball playing it. The music here uses contrasting meters and tempi in its development sections, but again is primarily tonal. In fact, the music bears some resemblance to the wonderful pieces that Alec Wilder wrote for his French horn buddy, the late John Barrows. There are also some wonderfully intricate passages in the first movement for interwoven winds, and when the strings re-enter the tempo picks up, the rhythm becomes more complex, and Harris throws in some whole-tone passages. I did, however, find the second movement to be less original and adventurous, albeit still amusing, with a few unusual key changes thrown in for good measure. The third movement opens as a fun romp in polka tempo. At the 1:17 mark, however, Harris throws in some rhythmic complexities that make the music sound as if it were running backwards, and afterwards the pace slows up in order to add a few other syncopated touches in the orchestral part.

Flowers returns us to the syncopated part-writing and ebullient mood of the Rosemoor Suite, except that each section is considerably shorter and thus more compact in ideas. I felt that the third piece, “Tulip,” was relatively stagnant although pleasant to listen to, but “Kudzu” was particularly ingenious in construction with a sort of loping 4/4 beat at a medium brisk tempo.

Possible because the bassoon is his instrument, I felt that the Sonata for 2 Bassoons & Piano was by far the most serious as well as the most complex and arresting piece on the album. The essential style is the same, but here Harris is less flippant in his use of motor rhythms and his development sections are even more complex than in the other works. Sometimes he has the two bassoons play contrapuntally against each other, sometimes in harmony, and sometimes gives one of them a lyrical line while the other plays syncopated figures against it. In addition, the piano part has a real jazz feel to it, something I did not detect in the other pieces. Indeed, the first movement, with its continual rhythmic shifting during the development section, is a sort of locus classicus in how to write modern chamber music with a jazz influence. The second movement, a bit more conventional, is quite lovely in its own way, but in the third Harris again returns to syncopated rhythms that have at least a touch of jazz beat about them—although, in my mind’s ear, I could hear a more jazz-based pianist doing even more with the piano part than Audrey Andrist does here. At the 1:56 mark there are some remarkable cross-rhythmic effects, after which the tempo relaxes for a few bars before picking up steam again.

The flute Concertino, though also lively, is a bit more serious than the one for horn and, to my ears, better written overall. Mind you, the horn Concertino is not badly written, but much more lightweight in its ideas and not as strongly developed. Here, I felt that Harris had a better feel for the instrument and used it more as a voice in the overall progression of the music rather than as a “showcase” instrument. It’s a subtle difference, but to me an important one. Once again he uses contrasting rhythms for his contrasting themes and developments, yet here they seem to follow upon one another more logically and hold one’s interest better. Even the syncopations are knitted into the overall musical progression better than in the horn Concertino, although I found the slow second movement somewhat predictable in comparison to the outer movements.

In toto, then, an interesting disc with many interesting and fun moments and a really great sonata for bassoons and piano.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley