Mark Robson, March 6
Beat Furrer – Drei Klavierstücke [West Coast Premiere]
Karlheinz Stockhausen – Klavierstück V
Toru Takemitsu – Pause ininterrompue
Frederic Rzewski – Sideshow (from Squares)
Bruno Louchouarn – Drive Through for piano and video [Piano Spheres Commission/World Premiere]
Rodion Shchedrin – Three Pieces
Conlon Nancarrow – Sonatina
Swiss composer Beat Furrer is a vital presence in contemporary music. He moved to Vienna in the 1980s and founded the important new music ensemble Klangforum Wien. His catalogue is diverse, comprised of works for solo instruments, voice, chamber ensemble and orchestra, including the splendid Piano Concerto (2007). His music has an elastic and kinetic quality, while tone and gesture become objects for exploration in their own right. And like his avant-garde forebears, Furrer is interested in the extremes of the keyboard and its possibilities for the captured and reflected sound produced by sympathetic resonance. In first of the Drei Klavierstücke (2004), this idea of residual resonance is the governing idea. An implied sub-melody of silently depressed chords in the bass register is brought to life by the striking of chords whose release causes harmonics to sound. As these chords are enunciated they shift slightly, as if making little sidesteps. At three points the discourse is interrupted by a chain of descending arpeggios, the last of which leads directly in to the second piece. It begins on a high and low C which are obstinately reiterated until they’re abandoned in favor of a gentler phrase of chords that becomes a sequence based on the harmonic series that descends majestically to the bass and then rises to the highest register in search of the C that had always been latent from the outset. The harmony is stripped as it were until all that remains is that high C. A glittery, swirling energy characterizes the opening of the third piece (with the periodic interruption of a mechanically pulsed chord cluster at the highest end of the keyboard). The sequence of rapid scalar figures which alternate between the hands—like Debussy’s Étude pour les huit doigts gone mad—is developed until it begins to dissipate into a cycle of slower climbing figures which are slowly overtaken by punctuating clusters reminiscent us of the gestures of the first Klavierstück. The piece winds down like a series of audible radioactive half-lives.
A certain aspect of the sound world of Furrer’s pieces—points of sound and registral extremes—is prefigured in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klavierstück V (1954). This excerpt comes from a larger set of nineteen solo piano pieces, the first eleven of which were written chiefly in the 1950s (with revisions) and the final ones penned at a later stage of the composer’s career with material derived from his mega-opera Licht. The fifth Klavierstück is in six brief sections, each of a different tempo and pre-determined by a matrix of numbered parameters (such as pitch series, density of notes, tempo ratio) that governs the whole group of Klavierstücke V-X. Stockhausen, displaying his penchant for the astral, describes the process underlying the conception of his piece in this way: “a central pitch will sometimes be attacked with a very rapid group of little satellites around it, sustained with the pedal as a coloration of the central pitch, like moons around planets and planets around a sun. A specific color tints such a ‘head’—or core—of a sound structure, by means of the interval of the notes which ring together.” What are more traditionally called ‘grace notes’ are used as a device to shape or influence the progress of individual notes and chordal aggregates. It is not always easy to differentiate between notes of rapid value (sixteenths and thirty-seconds) and the more ‘decorative’ groups (to be played “as fast as possible”); however, one may eventually distinguish them by their tendency to appear in a burst around individual tones, in a sense ‘pointing out’ the pitches of longer duration. The keyboard is exploited here for its contrasts of register, and matters of articulation and pedaling become structural elements in their own right.
Toru Takemitsu was an artist who had his finger on the pulse of the poignant and the prismatically interstitial. Though his language runs a gamut from the unabashedly sentimental to the atonal, the exotic and the austere, a sensibility of refined utterance weaves its way through all his music. In the early work Uninterrupted Pause (1952-60), our ears perceive the influences of Messiaen’s tonal language in the first piece, the atomized style of mid-century Darmstadt composition in the middle movement and the aphoristic expressionism of a Webern in the last. But the unique intimacy of Takemitsu’s voice is already quite palpable. The overall mood is nocturnal and reflective, articulated by brief moments of intense drama. The individual titles are inspired by the poetry of Shuzo Takiguchi, a fellow collaborator in the artistic collective Kikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) in which Takemitsu participated early in his career.
Sideshow comes from the suite Squares (1978), written in a prolific decade that saw the composition of many major piano works by Rzewski, including his vast variation cycle The People United Will Never Be Defeated. The tense opening motif of the piece–brief parallel arpeggios with a punctuating chord (revisited in 1992 to initiate the monumental melodrama De Profundis)–sets the tone of the work with its bitonal bite. The intervening rests suggest ‘stop-time’ such as one might hear in rags, aligning it with Rzewski’s penchant to draw on popular keyboard idioms. Indeed, the piece unfolds with a definite groove in which a feeling of vortex emerges as each hand announces patterns that rise and descend by chromatic degrees in opposition to one another. After the swirling has reached its climax the opening material returns is re-introduced as if being re-animated; its development is truncated and then brought to a muffled conclusion.
French-Mexican composer and cognitive scientist Bruno Louchouarn’s music has been performed at venues internationally. He has extensive film, theater, and dance credits, including the futuristic cantina music in Total Recall. His musical compositions are informed by his studies in cognitive musicology and often focus on the narrative structure of myths, and the interaction of music and visual movement. Louchouarn lectures widely on this subject and teaches at Occidental College. Recent projects include: Tree (2010 PEN Award winner); Alcances, commissioned by the Pasadena Biennial 09: ORIGINS, premiered by pianist Vicki Ray and the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet at Art Center; Surf Orpheus, musical with book writer, Corey Madden and choreographer, Jacques Heim, UCSD & Getty Villa; Agamemnon, directed by Stephen Wadsworth, featuring Tyne Daly, Getty Villa; Shekinah, La MaMa, NY; Little Sisters, choreographed by Rosanna Gamson, REDCAT in Disney Hall. Day For Night a 12-hour film and music installation commissioned by GLOW 2010, Santa Monica beach, and featured at Transatlantyk Film Festival 2011, Poland. A Weekend With Pablo Picasso, with Culture Clash’s Herbert Siguenza, Alley Theatre, Houston, and Los Angeles Theater Center, Center Rep Walnut Creek. We Are Not Alone, A Musical Narrative, with book and lyrics by Carlos E. Cortés and Juan Felipe Herrera, commissioned by and premiered at the 24th Annual Tomás Rivera Conference, at University of California Riverside. Recent projects include Rain After Ash, a multimedia immersive work commissioned by A X S Festival in Pasadena, California, at the Pacific Asia Museum. Night Falls, a dance-theater work at ODC in San Francisco.
Forthcoming premieres include a multimedia chamber oratorio Voces en el Polvo/Voices in the Dust, about the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, at Boston Court next November and a viola concerto for violist Brett Deubner, with the LA Chamber Players, in May 2013.
Bruno Louchouarn writes about his work: In my artwork I explore the interaction of the visual and the auditory. Drive Through, a new work for piano and video, was conceived as a daydream–more than a reflection–on urban life. What makes a city recognizable, nostalgic, even? Is it the mythologized beauty of its iconic monuments or the patterns one sees in the interstitial spaces: undulating ribbons of freeway concrete, patchworks of candy colored stucco, glimpses of alleys, store fronts, sidewalks or a lone pedestrian crossing an overpass. Oscillating between the glitzy and the derelict, Los Angeles reveals itself most often through the capsule of our cars as we gaze through a windshield at the city and the souls inhabiting it; connections emerging in the fleeting passage of time.
Music and Video by Bruno Louchouarn.
Camera: Bruno Louchouarn, Kaitlyn Pietras.
Production: L’Atelier Arts
Rodion Shchedrin hails from the generation of Soviet composers born in the 1930s that includes Sofia Gubaidulina and Alfred Schnittke. He is perhaps best known for his ballet Carmen Suite (1967), a smart and provocative reworking of Bizet’s opera music designed to feature the talents of his ballerina wife Maya Plisetskaya. Shchedrin has remained an extroverted musician whose profile as a solo pianist has reinforced that of his career as a composer. Apart from his six piano concerti he has produced numerous solo works, including a collection of Six Pieces (some of which are in multiple movements) that was compiled from 1952 to 1961. Poem (1954) presents an expansive melody reminiscent of Prokofiev, developed for the most part in a leisurely 7/4 meter. In the manner of Albeniz (1959) is perhaps an imaginary dance scene for his wife, evoking a synthesized language of Latin-flavored gestures that includes guitar strumming and flamenco posturing. Troika suggests the archtypical horse-drawn carriage used in the Russian winter; the piece proceeds with a charmingly relentless pulse in 5/8.
Conlon Nancarrow is most known for his creative independence as a composer whose oeuvre focused nearly exclusively on the player piano, sans pianist. After participation as a fighter in the anti-Francist Spanish Civil War, Nancarrow returned to America to discover that his Communist affiliations might cost him his passport. He decided to move to Mexico in 1940, becoming a Mexican citizen in 1955. Prior to his time abroad he had worked as a jazz musician and had frequented the avant-garde composers of his day. However, by removing himself to another country, he found his original voice in the absence of more active influences. By focusing on the player piano, Nancarrow could realize music of great contrapuntal complexity and virtuosity that obviated the need for a live performer. However, prior to composing his corpus of fifty player-piano etudes Nancarrow wrote a three-movement Sonatina (1941) for human hands, though he did make a piano roll version of the piece later. Its outer movements are constructed with the devices of devilish canonic and fugal writing, while the interior movement is a blues whose narrative might imply a gringo’s visit to the local south-of-the-border bar with a very brief brawl and a return to laconic civility. ‘Nough said…
Copyright—Mark Robson 2012
Kathleen Supové , January 31, 2012
Anna Clyne On Track (video by Joshue Ott) 2007
Carolyn Yarnell The Same Sky (video by Eric Wenger) 2000
Lainie Fefferman Barnacles 2010
Michael Gatonska A Shaking of the Pumpkin 2007
Neil Rolnick Digits (video by R. Luke DuBois) 2005
Yamaha piano furnished by:
ANNA CLYNE ON TRACK (2007)
for piano, soundtrack, and video
Interweaving the voice of the Queen, Anna is giving life coach instructions to us with sounds of airports and undersea travel, the piece explores the tension between the clockwork of our daily world and the expressive world of music. It is also a stunning virtuoso vehicle. (KS)
London-born New Yorker/Chicagoan Anna Clyne (b. March 9, 1980) is a composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music, combining resonant soundscapes with propelling textures that weave, morph, and collide in dramatic explosions. Her work, described as “dazzlingly inventive” by Time Out New York, often includes collaborations with cutting edge choreographers, visual artists, film-makers, and musicians worldwide. Currently the Chicago Symphony’s Mead Composer-in-Residence through the 2011-12 season, Music Director Riccardo Muti lauded Clyne as “an artist who writes from the heart, who defies categorization and who reaches across all barriers and boundaries. www.annaclyne.com
CAROLYN YARNELL THE SAME SKY (2000)
for piano, soundtrack, and video
The Same Sky was commissioned by Kathleen Supové as part of the national series of works sponsored by Meet The Composer/Arts Endowment Commissioning Music/USA. It is scored for piano, electronically recorded track and video. In addition to writing the piece, Carolyn Yarnell had the ingenious and groundbreaking idea to include a video inside the piano lid, a 21st Century homage to the paintings and inscriptions found inside harpsichord lids. The video footage was captured by software visionary Eric Wenger. The piece is deeply influenced by a trip that Yarnell took to Tunisia. About the title, she writes: “I was watching a movie one night, the setting was an amazing 14th century Venetian Gothic Palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal. On the landing of a white marble staircase was a table with an enormous vase filled with flowers, a window beside…..I found myself wishing that I lived somewhere like that…and then the picture panned across the ornate wall and out the open window into a stunningly beautiful sky. In that moment I realized that no matter what we may possess in this life, we all share the same sky.”
Composer/visual artist Carolyn Yarnell holds degrees from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Yale University. Yarnell’s music encompasses a broad spectrum of style and media, ranging from orchestral works and electronic soundscapes, to solo and chamber music performed on both modern and early instruments; computer music, multi-disciplinary works, children’s songs, and improvisatory space music with a metal tinge. Ms. Yarnell’s works have been commissioned & performed by the best orchestras and performers around the world. carolynyarnell.com/
LAINIE FEFFERMAN About BARNACLES
Fefferman writes: “The inspiration for this piece was much less about the piano and its history and much more about the dazzling Kathy Supové. I was thrilled to write her this piece.”
Lainie Fefferman was born in 1982. She did her undergrad at Yale (where she studied Music and Near Eastern Languages) and is currently in her third year of the composition grad program at Princeton. www.lainiefefferman.com
MICHAEL GATONSKA About “A SHAKING OF THE PUMPKIN”, excerpted from CD liner notes by John Halle: “A series of vignettes from ‘the mystic society of plants and animals’ evokes the seething complexity of the insect world, the obsessiveness of woodpeckers, the inexorable projection of plants toward the light. These are evoked by flurries of intricately fashioned pianistic filigree, sub-basso explosions and quasi-aleatoric controlled improvisation. Perhaps most endearing is the lyrical superstructure created for the ‘song of the butterfly’, an oasis of almost romantic placidity in the midst of an extravaganza of neo-modernist gesture.” This work was commissioned by Kathleen Supové with funding from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust.
Michael Gatonska studied music composition with Krzystof Penderecki, Marek Stachowski, and Zibigniew Bujarski at the Academy of Music in Krakow, Poland, and with Elias Tanenbaum at the Manhattan School of Music. His works have been performed by major orchestras throughut the country and at festivals around the world. www.michaelgatonska.com
NEIL B. ROLNICK “DIGITS” (2005) for piano, soundtrack, and video. Notes by Neil Rolnick Obviously, digits are what we use both to play the piano and to operate computers. This piece makes some fairly extreme demands on both types of digits. The piano part, written for Kathleen Supové, exploits her incredible technique to play a bit more than is humanly possible. The computer, which plays only sounds which originate from the piano, integrates with the live playing in a way which is seamless and, hopefully, a bit magical.Digits is a composition for solo piano and digital processing. The pianist must bring virtuoso technique to the performance, and the processing is designed to amplify the piano’s sound in ways that are both subtle and arresting. All the processed sound comes from the piano. There can also be a video component of the piece. Designed by R. Luke DuBois, using Jitter, the video track processes live images of the pianist’s fingers (her digits) as she performs the piece, and projects them on a screen inside or above the piano lid. The overall effect of the piece is of a classical, virtuoso piano sonata, in which the piano itself has been bent slightly out of shape, amplified, and multiplied, and the images of the player’s fingers are brought directly to the audience and manipulated to complement the music.
Neil Rolnick is a pioneer in the use of computers in performance. He was a researcher at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) in Paris in the late 1970s and since 1981 has taught at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he founded the iEAR Studios. www.neilrolnick.com/
Vicki Ray, November 15, 2011
Gassho (2011): Linda Bouchard
Bharata’s Music Box (2011): Eric Guinivan
Sigils (2010): Daniel Corral
speak to me (2010): Amy Beth Kirsten
The Waking (2011) Vicki Ray
“Gassho” means “the raising of the hands with palms together”. A gesture we repeat over and over while practicing Buddhism.
Gassho is the most autobiographical piece I have ever written; at the same time it is the most narrative. It is a like a private journal of what it meant for me to sit and meditate. How insanely difficult it is to quiet the mind. The material is taken from quotes from early pieces of mine that are repeated in several variations throughout the piece. Also, there are quotes of Schubert’s Sonata in A major. Why Schubert? Simply because his piano and chamber music often gave me fortitude during my twenties, when things were particularly challenging; Zen and Schubert my two invisible allies.
Gassho is made of three sections constructed of independent segments or phrases (thoughts) that can be played in any order the performer chooses, they can also be repeated or omitted. In section One and Two, there is a kind of refrain or “Mantra” that is to be played in between each segment. So, each segment alternates with one Mantra. Again the performer chooses the order of the Mantra and some can be omitted. There are a few other simple rules that govern each section but the overall structure is very simple and audible. The performer also determined the order of the loops and the density of the electronics. In Gassho, the performer is given a certain control over the flow of the piece and can simulate the experience of a condensed ‘meditation”.
As I was composing the work I realized once again that there is nothing more fun then to compose for a friend and a musician who truly inspires. Gassho is dedicated to Vicki Ray. (L.Bouchard)
Canadian born Linda Bouchard has lived most of her adult life in the US while carrying an active career as a composer, conductor and producer on both side of the Atlantic. Linda lived in New York City through the 80s where she composed, led contemporary music groups and opera and made orchestral arrangements for churches and ballet companies. She has composed over 90 works in a variety of genres, from orchestral and chamber works to dance scores, concerti, and vocal pieces and multimedia theatrical works. In the early 90s she moved back to Montreal and was composer-in-residence with the National Arts Center Orchestra where she composed several works for the orchestra and organized 20th-Century Music events such as the First Orchestral Workshop and the Summer Music Festival: Atonal Departure.
Since 1997, Linda has made San Francisco her home where she lives with her husband and her son. In June 2001, she was invited to participate at IRCAM’s “Stage d’Informatique Musicale” in Paris. This marks the moment when she started to integrate electronics into her works. In the fall 2005, she founded NEXMAP: New Experimental Music Arts and Performance, a non profit arts organization dedicated to the presentation of international artistic events in the Bay Area.
Bharata Muni was an ancient Indian sage and musicologist whose theoretical treatise the Natya Shastra codified the early roots of classical Indian dance and music. Authored between 200 BC and 200 AD, the Natya Shastra was considered the defining treatise of Indian classical music until the 13th century, establishing principles of consonance and modality that remain cornerstones of Indian classical music to this day.
Bharata’s Music Box is an exploration of key principals from the Natya Shastra, refracted through the lens of the 20th century and crossed with the Western art music tradition. The piece is essentially a theme and variations loosely set against the structure of a traditional Indian classical raga performance, growing from its slow, free introductory section to its increasingly propulsive and rhythmic melodic body.
Bharata’s Music Box whimsically ponders the question: if this Indian sage were alive today with a modern understanding of musical history, what would he compose if he were able to build a music box from a grand piano? (E.Guinivan)
Eric Guinivan’s music has been performed by numerous orchestras and chamber ensembles across the United States, Europe, and Asia. His works have received several awards and honors, including three BMI Student Composer Awards, two ASCAP Morton Gould Awards, and grants from the Theodore Presser Foundation, and Meet the Composer. Eric has received commissions from the New York Youth Symphony, the Delaware Youth Symphony, the Firebird Ensemble, the Michigan Music Teachers Association, the Lotte Lehmann Foundation, and pianist Vicki Ray, among others
Eric began studying percussion at age 10 and is an active performer currently based in Los Angeles. A founding member of the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, Eric has also performed with orchestras and chamber ensembles across the country. Eric made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2011 performing as soloist with the New York Youth Symphony in the premiere of his work Meditation and Awakening for percussion and orchestra. The New York Times subsequently described the work as “engaging,” praising its shimmering colors and frenetic energy. Eric has also performed as soloist with the Downey Symphony and the University of Southern California Thornton Symphony.
Born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, Eric received Bachelor of Music Degrees in Composition and Percussion Performance from Indiana University and holds a Masters and Doctorate from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. Eric currently teaches composition, music theory, and aural skills at University of Southern California and music history and theory at Renaissance Arts Academy.
A sigil is a codified pictogram designed to interface with the unconscious mind with the goal of “expanding the realm of achievable reality.” One usually designs a sigil and later activates it through some ritual of their choosing. In writing this piece, I was interested in exploring the parallels between the composition process and that of using sigils. When one compares the writing of music to the creation of a sigil, and performance to the activation of it, the correlations are striking.
Besides the similarities in practice, the purpose of the two activities is also similar. Being little more than vibration, music can be considered the most innately abstract of art forms. This makes it particularly well suited to communicate with the unconscious. Arguably, this has been its role in society since the dawn of man.
Part I consists of driving stacked sevenths, with motifs from later movements peeking through the widening cracks in the otherwise unrelenting pulse.
Part II is more ethereal, full of clusters and angular gestures.
Part III is a kaleidoscopic harmonic journey around the piano.
Part IV is reminiscent of Indonesian music, with lingering motifs from previous movements orbiting like satellites.
Each section is an individual sigil, though the musical materials from each movement seep into the movements before and after, creating a larger unified sigil. (D.Corral)
Daniel Corral is a composer and multi-instrumentalist born and raised in Eagle River, AK. He has composed for avant-garde puppetry, various chamber ensembles, an orchestra riding a Ferris wheel, music boxes, accordion orchestra, player piano, film, dance, theater, and much more.
Daniel is the primary composer/arranger for Timur & the Dime Museum, as well as puppet theater group Tandem. These two ensembles recently collaborated to premiere Daniel’s puppet opera, Zoophilic Follies, at the Redcat NOW Festival. Daniel also recently founded Free Reed Conspiracy, an accordion orchestra dedicated to contemporary music.
In May 2007 he received his MFA from CalArts, where his teachers included James Tenney, Anne LeBaron, Morton Subotnick, and Stephen “Lucky” Mosko. He recieved his BM from the University of Puget Sound in May 2004.
(speak to me)
II. The Curse
(speak to me) is a 3-part dramatization of the Echo and Narcissus myth. In the first movement (Deceit), we get a very real sense of how the charismatic and fast-talking Echo spins one of her animated stories; we, her captive audience, are left bewildered as we try to keep up with the story. In the second movement (Curse), the pianist vocally portrays two characters at once – the terrified Echo (high breathy sounds) and the vengeful Juno (low notes) – as Juno casts the spell which leaves Echo without the ability to speak. The first two movements feature both piano and the pianist’s voice, but the last movement (Longing) is for piano alone – reflecting Echo’s inability to speak as she wanders the empty forest alone. The last movement is woven out of musical material featured in the first two movements – especially the pitches assigned to the words “Can you hear in my voice?” Played over and over those pitches form a motive that yearns for a way to reach out and be heard. (A.B.Kirsten)
Text and gibberish for movement I, by the composer
Text for movement II by Mariko Nagai
The Waking is a musical realization of the eponymous work by Theodore Roethke. Each stanza of the poem serves as a “movement” of the piece which follow each other without pause. (V.Ray)
Described as “phenomenal and fearless” Vicki Ray is one of the leading interpreters of contemporary piano music. A long-time champion of new music she has worked with some of the most prominent composers of our time, including figures as diverse as Gyorgy Ligeti, Pierre Boulez, Steve Reich, Elliot Carter, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Oliver Knussen, Louis Andriessen, Steven Stucky, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon and Chinary Ung. Ms. Ray has commissioned and premiered numerous works, running the gamut from established composers such as John Adams, Morton Subotnick, Stephen Hartke, David Rosenboom, Paul Dresher, Rand Steiger, Kamran Ince and Eric Chasalow among others – to emerging young artists such as Amy Kirsten, Daniel Wohl and Oscar Bettison.
Known for thoughtful and innovative programming which seeks to redefine the piano recital in the 21st century, Vicki’s concerts often include electronics, video, recitation and improvisation. As noted by Alan Rich, “Vicki plans programs with a knack for marvelous freeform artistry…what she draws from her piano always relates in wondrous ways to the senses.” As a founding member of Piano Spheres, an acclaimed series dedicated to exploring the less familiar realms of the solo piano repertoire, her playing has been hailed by the Los Angeles Times for “displaying that kind of musical thoroughness and technical panache that puts a composer’s thoughts directly before the listener.”
Ms. Ray’s work as a collaborative artist has been extremely diverse and colorful. She has been the keyboardist for the pioneering California E.A.R. Unit since 1994 and is currently their Artistic Director. Vicki is also the pianist in the CalArts-based New Century Players and the Los Angeles based ensemble Xtet. Her chamber music contributions to the vibrant musical life in greater Los Angeles include frequent performances on the Dilijan, Jacaranda and the Green Umbrella Series. She performs regularly on the venerable Monday Evening Concert series and was featured in Grisey’s Vortex Temporum on the 2006 celebration of the re-birth of the series. Vicki has been heard in major solo roles with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the German ensemble Compania, and the Blue Rider Ensemble of Toronto, with whom she made the first Canadian recording of Pierrot Lunaire.
As a pianist who excels in a wide range of styles Vicki Ray’s numerous recordings cover everything from the premiere release of the Reich You Are Variations to the semi-improvised structures of Wadada Leo Smith, from the elegant serialism of Mel Powell to the austere beauty of Morton Feldman’s Crippled Symmetries. Recent releases include Feldman’s For Christian Wolff on Bridge Records. Upcoming recordings include David Rosenboom’s Twilight Language on Tzadik Records and Feldman’s For Piano and String Quartet with the Eclipse Quartet on Bridge Records.
She is currently head of the piano department at the California Institute of the Arts, where she has been on the faculty since 1991. Last year she was awarded the Hal Blaine Chair in Music Performance. For the past four years she has served on the faculty at the Bang on a Can summer festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
For current information on upcoming concerts please go to www.vickiray.org
Gloria Cheng, September 20, 2011
Bernard Rands, 12 Preludes for Solo Piano (2007)
The composer writes: The 12 Preludes for Solo Piano were begun in April 2006 and completed in February 2007. Commissioned by Maria and Robert Skirnick (New York) and the Ruhr International Piano Festival, Essen. Germany, the work is approximately 40 minutes in performance duration.
Dedicated “in affection and admiration” to pianist Robert Levin, who performed the world premiere in Essen on May 15, 2007, the creative challenge was to compose a work whose 12 sections are integrated into a formal whole at the same time as each Prelude has its own formal integrity and thus can be selected and performed separately from the others. Robert Levin’s experience, skill and knowledge of early keyboard music(s) was influential in determining the spirit and character of each Prelude giving rise to an acrostic on the pianist’s name.
When Debussy completed his Preludes he wrote that he thought they would take their place ‘to the left of Schumann and to the right of Chopin.’ I would suggest that mine are to the left of Bill Evans and to the right of Oscar Petersen, without implying any specific jazz influence but simply that the work of those two great jazz composer/pianists has always been a joy to me.
Bernard Rands, described by Musical America as “a composer with a poet’s sensibility and a painterly love of color and line,” is a leading figure in contemporary music with an output of over one hundred published works and recordings. The originality and distinctive character of his music has been variously described as “plangent lyricism” with a “dramatic intensity” and a “musicality and clarity of idea allied to a sophisticated and elegant technical mastery”- qualities attributed to his studies with Dallapiccola and Berio.
His work Canti del Sole, premiered by Paul Sperry, Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic, won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize in Music. His large orchestral suite Le Tambourin won the 1986 Kennedy Center Freidheim Award. Conductors that have programmed his music include Barenboim, Boulez, Berio, Mad- erna, Marriner, Mehta, Muti, Ozawa, Rilling, Salonen, Sawallisch, Schiff, Schuller, Schwarz, Silverstein, Sinopoli, Slatkin, von Dohnanyi, and Zinman.
Rands’ work Canti D’Amor, recorded by Chanticleer, won a Grammy Award in 2000. Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s recording of his Canti Trilogy for soprano, tenor, and bass with chamber orchestra was released in December 2004 to great critical acclaim, including Time Out New York’s top-ten CDs of the year. His seventieth birthday, in 2004, was celebrated internationally with more than one hundred performances of his music taking place at prestigious venues worldwide as the composer was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Recent commissions include Chains Like the Sea, premiered by the New York Philharmonic and Lorin Maazel in 2009, Danza Petrificada, premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Riccardo Muti in the Spring of 2011, and the two-act opera Vincent, based on the life and work of Vincent van Gogh, premiered at Indiana University Opera Theatre, led by Arthur Fagen and directed by Vincent Liotta.
Bernard Rands lives in Chicago with his wife, composer Augusta Read Thomas.
Gavin Bryars , Ramble on Cortona (2010)
The composer writes: The term “Ramble” comes from Percy Grainger whom I have always admired both as composer and pianist. He uses it for the kind of piece that other composers might have called a “Paraphrase” – his most notable exercise in this genre being the remarkable Ramble on Love, based on themes from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. This “Ramble” is based on themes from my vocal laude, which derive from 13th-century manuscripts found in Cortona, Italy. Parts of this piece come from a short set of three variations on one of my laude (Lauda 13 “Stomme Allegro”) that I wrote for students at the 2003 Victoria Piano Summer School in Canada. I revised this material and added more parts to the work, alluding to other laude, shortly after I had written my Piano Concerto (The Solway Canal) for Ralph van Raat. It is, effectively, my first piece for solo piano.
Gavin Bryars, born in Yorkshire, was first of all a jazz bassist and pioneer of free improvisation with Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley. He subsequently worked in the USA with John Cage and in Britain alongside Cornelius Cardew. His early iconic works The Sinking of the Titanic (1969) and Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1971), both enjoyed major recording success in various versions. He has written extensively for the stage, including three full-length operas and dance works for, among others, Merce Cunningham, Edouard Lock and William Forsythe. He has been associated with many visual artists, as well as with early music performers, and has a long list of instrumental, orchestral and vocal works to his credit for artists such as the Hilliard Ensemble, Red Byrd, Trio Mediaeval, Latvian Radio Choir and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Currently he is working on a chamber opera on Marilyn Monroe for the Aventa Ensemble and an installation in collaboration with the Quay Brothers to be premiered in Leeds as part of the Cultural Olympiad for the 2012 Olympic Games. Gavin Bryars now lives in Leicestershire and British Columbia and, in addition to composing, performs internationally with his own ensemble.
Harrison Birtwistle, Betty Freeman: Her Tango (2001)
Regarding this miniature composed for the 80th birthday of his friend and patron, Birtwistle has remarked, “It’s not really a tango, is it? More like a habanera, like seeing a tango behind a gauze. …What’s dangerous about taking a ‘ready-made’ like the tango is that it brings all its baggage with it. You can hear about halfway through something that sounds like Ravel’s ‘Habanera’ from the Rapsodie espanole. I used to play that piece on the clarinet, so it just found its way under the door and into my work. There’s also some of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte here too.” The cheekiness of this quasi-tango does evoke the prickly yet big-hearted Betty Freeman, along with Birtwistle’s playful affection for her. Listen to the opening: one can almost hear Betty’s voice intoning “Haaaarrrrrry.” Betty, having devoted her life to helping composers and fortifying the cause of contemporary music both worldwide and for us lucky ones in Los Angeles, passed away on January 3, 2009. ( G.C.)
Sir Harrison Birtwistle was born in Accrington in the north of England in 1934 and studied clarinet and composition at the Royal Manchester College of Music, making contact with a highly talented group of contemporaries including Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr, John Ogdon and Elgar Howarth. In
1965 he sold his clarinets to devote all his efforts to composition, and travelled to Princeton as a Harkness Fellow where he completed the opera Punch and Judy. This work, together with Verses for Ensembles and The Triumph of Time, firmly established Birtwistle as a leading voice in British music. Birtwistle’s music has attracted international conductors including Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Elgar Howarth, Christoph von Dohnányi, Oliver Knussen, Sir Simon Rattle, Peter Eötvös, Franz Welser-Möst and Antonio Pappano. His music has been featured in major festivals and concert series and among his many honors are the Grawe- meyer Award and the Siemens Prize. He was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, awarded a British knighthood, and made a Companion of Honour. He was Henry Purcell Professor of Music at King’s College, University of London (1995-2001) and was Director of Composition at the Royal Academy of Mu- sic in London.
Oliver Knussen, Ophelia’s Last Dance (2010)
The composer writes: Ophelia’s Last Dance is based on a melody dating from early in 1974, which was among several ideas intended for – but ultimately excluded from – my Third Symphony (1973 – 79). Some of these evolved into the ensemble piece “Ophelia Dances, book 1” (1975), but not this one – which nonetheless continued to haunt me from time to time over the years. After the death of Sue Knussen in March 2003 it strongly reminded me of happier times and eventually, on the occasion of Paul Crossley’s 60th birthday recital in 2004, I decided to give it a tiny frame of its own so it could be shared with listeners other than the one in my head.
It still remained a fragment at that time, because although the melody will never find the form for which it was originally conceived, the new frame suggested the possibility of continuing the dance in various ways. The present work (written at my home in Suffolk in 2009/10) is the result, in which a number of other “homeless” dance-fragments – related more by history and mood than by anything more concrete – are bound together by means of variously wrought transitions to and from rondo- like recurrences of the original melody.
“Ophelia’s Last Dance” was commissioned by the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival for 2010 Gilmore Artist Kirill Gerstein, with funds from the Russell L. Gabier Fund.
Born in Glasgow in 1952, Oliver Knussen grew up near London, where his father was principal double bass of the London Symphony Orchestra for many years. It was with the LSO that Knussen made his con- ducting debut in 1968 with performances of his First Symphony in London and in Carnegie Hall, New York. His first major works Coursing and the Third Symphony placed him in the forefront of contemporary Brit- ish music. In the 1980s he collaborated with Maurice Sendak on Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!, two chamber operas that have since been performed worldwide. Several of his later works have quickly established themselves in the repertory: Songs without Voices, Two Organa, the Horn Concerto, the Violin Concerto, Requiem – Songs for Sue for soprano and chamber orchestra and most recently, Ophelia’s Last Dance for solo piano. Knussen is one of the most sought-after conductors of new music, and in this capacity has appeared with many major international orchestras. He is currently Artist in Association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. From 1983 till 1998, Knussen was Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival, and in 1992, in collaboration with Colin Matthews, established the Contemporary Composition and Performance Courses at Aldeburgh.
George Benjamin, Relativity Rag (1984)
The composer writes: Relativity Rag begins with a simple two-section Rag-time. As it progresses, however, things begin to change – phrases are cut up like bits of film, the tempi of the hands separate, the harmony distorts and eventually the Rag is transformed beyond recognition. It re-forms out of a dense cloud of sound towards the end, and briefly flourishes before being finally crushed and sent spinning off the top of the keyboard.
Born in 1960, George Benjamin started to play the piano at the age of seven, and began composing almost immediately. In 1976 he entered the Paris Conservatoire to study with Olivier Messiaen (composition) and Yvonne Loriod (piano), with later studies under Alexander Goehr at King’s College Cambridge. His first orchestral work, Ringed by the Flat Horizon, was played at the BBC Proms when he was just 20, whereupon it achieved a remarkable international performance record. The LSO and Pierre Boulez gave the world premiere of Palimpsests in 2002 to mark the opening of the LSO’s season-long retrospective of his work at the Barbican, “By George.” Recent years have seen numerous international retrospectives of his work in Berlin, Strasbourg, Madrid and Lucerne. In January 2010 there were extensive celebrations marking Benjamin’s 50th birthday given by the San Francisco Symphony and London Sinfonietta. The centerpoint of a large-scale portrait at the 2006 Festival d’Automne in Paris was his first operatic work, Into the Little Hill. He is currently engaged on a second operatic collaboration, Written on Skin, to be premiered at Festival Aix- en-Provence in July 2012. As a conductor he regularly appears with some of the world’s leading ensembles and orchestras. In 1999 he made his operatic debut conducting Pelléas et Mélisande at la Monnaie, Brussels. He lives in London, and since 2001 has been the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at King’s College London, succeeding Sir Harrison Birtwistle.
Samuel Barber, Hesitation Tango (from Souvenirs, 1954)
Originally composed in 1952 for piano duet, Souvenirs is a six-movement suite that Barber described as “a divertissement in a setting of the Palm Court of the Hotel Plaza in New York, the year about 1914, epoch of the first tangos.” The suite, inspired by Barber’s many visits to the Palm Court for their famed afternoon tea, nostalgically recollects the social dances of that era “with affection, not in irony or with tongue in cheek, but in amused tenderness.” In his orchestration for Lincoln Kirstein and the New York City Ballet, Barber added movement subtitles that more precisely rendered the delicate yet deliberate progression of locations within the Hotel Plaza that he envisioned: Waltz (The Lobby), Schottische (Third Floor Hallway), Pas de deux (A Corner of the Ballroom), Two-Step (Tea in the Palm Court), Hesitation Tango (A Bedroom Affair) [what else?]. The suite concludes with a Galop (The Next Afternoon). (G.C.)