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Written for Talea 3


Written for Talea is now becoming a tradition, an annual of concert of works written expressly for the flexible configurations of the Talea Ensemble and reflecting our belief in the creation of a new repertory that highlights important and varied voices. The admiration goes both ways: performers who thrive on the new bring to life music that is written with their own strengths and personalities in mind. Friday’s concert brings together four such pairings.

Oscar Bettison’s work is always white-hot in its intensity, regardless of its decibel level, and one may just as well perceive influences from the European postwar avant-garde as the vernacular playfulness of the Hague school and American post-minimalism. His inspiration here is the artist Joseph Cornell, whose “transformative use of everyday objects” is a vehicle for Bettison’s own longstanding experiments with materiality, whether purely musical or physically involve mutations or reinventions of instruments.

Waterlines is a five-movement work that has deep personal resonance for its composer, Christopher Trapani. Taking blues lyrics from the 1920s and 30s as a starting point (most directly related to the great Mississippi River flood), it serves as a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which caused the destruction of the composer’s own family home. Various plucked instruments and blues-intoned vocal lines combine with ensemble and electronics to create blurred edges of loss (both cultural/historical and personal) and memory.

Hans Tutschku has spent his entire career thinking about and making electroacoustic music, and is particularly adept at the subtle manipulation of processed and live sounds. Under uses the metaphor of “unseen forces” as a starting point for textural exploration. Piano and percussion play crucial, active roles here, and slowly the other instruments emerge out of granite-like textures to match them.

In Aaron Helgeson’s Poems of Sheer Nothingness, the relationship between text (in this case, ancient and forgotten) and voice, and then voice and ensemble, is one of mutual respect and maximal restraint. Instrumental colors – often sparse and delicate – reinforce particular textual affects and their resulting vocal contours: plaintive sighs in the first song, languid melismas in the second, then gasped breathlessness, quivering arabesques silenced by pregnant pauses, and finally prolonged resonance.

-Anthony Cheung
Artistic Director, Talea Ensemble


He’s Making His List and Checking It Twice!

Have you been Naughty or Nice this year?

Wondering if Santa’s coming down your chimney?

Talea has the inside look at Santa’s list:

Gave a compliment?
✔ Nice!

Didn’t get your flu shot?
✘ Kinda naughty

Listened to a new composer?
✔ Definitely nice!

Didn’t try anything new?
✘ Not naughty, but kinda boring.

Took a risk on a world premiere?
✔ Very nice!

Made a paper plane with your program and flew it at the performers?
✘ Most likely that was naughty

Made a charitable donation to the Talea Ensemble?
✔✔ Not only do Santa and the IRS think that’s really nice, but the Talea Ensemble agrees!

Haven’t done that yet?
You’re not naughty; in fact, you have until midnight on December 31st!

For every $10 you donate to the Talea Ensemble, you receive one raffle ticket for a $300 gift certificate to The Modern, MoMA’s unique restaurant located at 9 East 53rd. St in New York City.


Support New Music!

Donate to Talea

Or send contributions directly to:
Talea Ensemble
37-18 Northern Blvd. Suite 208
Long Island City, NY 11101


iNSIDE Out: Georges Aperghis

In anticipation of the US premiere of Georges Aperghis’ multimedia extravaganza Happy End on April 23, 2014, the Talea Ensemble offers a portrait concert of solo and chamber works by the Paris-based Greek composer, whose lifelong engagement with experimental musical theatre has influenced every aspect of his work, including the purely instrumental.

Aperghis (b. 1945 in Athens, and based in Paris since 1963) has long been engaged in experimental musical theatre. It was his involvement as founder and musical director of the ATEM (Atelier Théâtre et Musique) beginning in the mid-1970s that changed his own approach to music-making. Involving musicians not just in the sound-based realization of scores but extending and integrating aspects of speech and bodily movement, Aperghis questions and plays with the production and perception of sound, as well as the multi-layered interactions between sight and sound.

The theatrical elements often mix the absurd with the poignant; sentimentality is conspicuously absent, but even satirical moments are driven by an intensely human and emotional impulse. The dramatic action is never cold or abstruse and is wholly integrated into the musical action; through virtuosic and kinetic feats, the performer humanizes what are often calculated and even mechanical processes.

When Talea performs Happy End in April, all the elements you will encounter on this program will be present and amplified. In working with an ensemble of sixteen, the video-artist Hans Op de Beeck, pre-recorded and processed voices, live electronics, and a familiar children’s tale (a retelling of Perrault’s Le Petit Poucet, or Tom Thumb), Aperghis engages with all the senses in larger and grander proportions. We hope that our December 18 concert will spark your new or continued interest in the unique oeuvre of Georges Aperghis.

— Anthony Cheung
Artistic Director, Talea Ensemble

December 18, 8 PM
University Settlement, Speyer Hall
184 Eldridge St.
New York, NY
Free Admission

Georges Aperghis: Dans le mur (2007)
Georges Aperghis: Rasch (2001)
Georges Aperghis: Fuzzy Trio (2006) *US Premiere
Georges Aperghis: Les Guetteurs de sons (1981)

Learn more about Happy End


Zorn @ 60

Chad Batka for the NY Times



Check out a beautiful article written by Ben Sisario for the New York Times about John Zorn’s life and a year-long celebration of a life-long journey of music making. Zorn is one of the most influential artists across a variety of genres of music. Talea is gearing up for a concert as a part of Zorn @ 60 at Miller Theatre on September 26th. Get your tickets here!


Steve Coleman


Talea hits the Newport Jazz Festival this Sunday, August 4th, with a brand new piece by legendary jazz saxophonist, Steve Coleman. Checkout Anthony Cheung’s post about working with Steve on his new piece for Talea.


After rehearsal yesterday, I had a chance to sit down with Steve Coleman and talk about his approach and interests. With a career spanning over three decades, Steve is one of a handful of truly influential musicians of our time. His music and concepts, and the musical community that emerged around himself and other like-minded musicians in Brooklyn in the 1980s, led to the emergence of the M-Base movement, the effects of which are still being felt in many players of subsequent generations. Indeed, pianist and composer Vijay Iyer has remarked, “it’s hard to overstate Steve’s influence. He’s affected more than one generation, as much as anyone since John Coltrane.”


After approaching Steve with the idea of doing a project together, he responded with an invitation to play at the Newport Jazz Festival this year. Though he was originally asked to do something with fellow jazz musicians with whom he had previously no contact, Steve insisted on bringing Talea into the fold, after a period of checking out the ensemble’s work and seeing the possibilities of an interesting collaboration.


His new piece, titled “Synovial Joints,” reflects a continuing theme in his work, a preoccupation with systems of the body and the interconnected rhythms they share. But far from mapping these connective tissues literally, they provide a metaphor for the way the music is constructed, the way rhythm grooves – and Steve’s music always grooves hard – overlap and transform. He talks about how shared rhythmic elements between different patterns are like the musical joints that make different independent limbs work together. And the discussion goes beyond musical ligaments, into spheres of influence and overlapping orbits of experience. Can we, as an ensemble that specializes in mostly notated music, capture the essence of what he’s doing with an essentially extemporized idiom? Rehearsals make that point clear: the ensemble responds with alacrity to his modifications and suggestions, both verbal and notated, after a period of adjusting to his way of working. Capturing what Steve is trying to do groove-wise, though seemingly clear on paper, takes longer to grasp, and in the end we are all taken with the absolute mastery with which he communicates his intentions.
He mentions meeting Per Nørgård and taking a liking to his music and ideas immediately, a connection that makes way too much sense: Nørgård, a Danish individualist who also works with the interweaving of rhythmic and melodic cycles, is similarly interested in musical metaphysics, as if the proportions of musical material can lead toward a higher plane of consciousness.


The discussion turns to mentorship, and some of Steve’s early on included the great Chicago-based tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, and later Sam Rivers and Thad Jones, in whose big bands he played for a while. And Steve has continued that tradition admirably, working with younger players and serving as a model of generosity with his own ideas. For the project with Talea, he has brought in two younger players with whom he often collaborates, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, a member of Steve’s longstanding group Five Elements since 2000, and drummer Dafnis Prieto, a recent recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. And another young musician, the Swiss-born saxophonist Maria Grand, is on hand to assist with the score and play clave patterns. It is this coming together of talent from different yet overlapping musical orbits that has been the lifeblood of Steve Coleman’s music, and Talea is thrilled to be a part of it.


-Anthony Cheung
Artistic Director, Talea Ensemble


NATURAL WAYS

Charlotte Hellekant & Barbara Hannigan in Matsukaze, Photo: Bernd Uhlig/LaMonnale/De Munt via Bloomberg

Read what Hannah Duebgen, librettist from Toshio Hosokawa’s Matsukaze, says about Hosokawa’s connection to nature. Re-posted from Talea’s blog from January 2012.

“When I first met Toshio Hosokawa, two things about him struck me immediately: On the one hand his life in two cultures, the Japanese and the Western world, and, along with it, his very modern lifestyle: long distance flights, jet lags and the constant swapping between languages are part of his professional routine, while I also sensed in him a deep affection for nature in general and the Japanese landscape in particular.

Whoever has had the chance to be shown around Japan by him, has seen the joy and devotion with which Toshio points at a wild waterfall, a flower about to blossom or the stone bed in a Japanese garden, begins to understand where the source of his energy and inspiration lies. For Toshio, his profound attachment to nature goes far beyond a mere appreciation of its soothing beauty and recreational value, and is instead fueled by the Buddhist belief that we human beings are all part of a greater whole, a unity that becomes sentient in the nature surrounding us. Just as every breath we take unites us with the air around us, brings oxygen into our bodies which also ensures the life of plants and animals, we thus become, each time we take a breath, part of that greater entity called nature, or even the universe.

This idea of breath as a passageway linking human beings to nature resonates strongly in Toshio’s musical aesthetics. Many of his compositions begin with an ascending sound, rising – like a breath – slowly out of silence into being, then reaching a peak point before returning into silence again. During that process, silence can make itself felt as that which tacitly surrounds us and is gradually inhaled by the rising sound, a sound which gains momentum as it incorporates more and more silence… When talking about his music, Toshio likes to compare the breathing gestures in his works to a calligraphic line that equally arises out of nothing – the blank page – into something, a black brushstroke, before returning into nothing again.

It is in this sense that most of his works are horizontally conceived and bear a natural, organic flow. They play with classical Western modes of musical progression like contrast, counterpoint or harmonic modulations, and yet never lose those underlying breathing gestures which make Toshio’s music unique. Many of his pieces carry names referring to nature, ‘Landscape I, II, III’ being among the most obvious examples, other works allude to the process of ‘Blossoming’ or ‘Dawn’, and even ‘Matsukaze’ the Japanese title of the opera for which I wrote the libretto, refers to a natural phenomenon: matsu-kaze, which in Japanese can mean ‘wind in the pines’ as well as ‘pining wind’.

In all of his works, Toshio remains a wanderer through cultures, combining traditional Western instruments with his particular, Eastern musical aesthetics. And it may well be that combination which fascinates many listeners – Eastern and Western – in Toshio’s work: His use of music as a way of bringing us back to that which unites us all.”

Hannah Duebgen,
January 2012

 

 


Schnee

Come hear Talea perform Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee at the Bang on a Can Marathon on June 16th. More info here.

Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee is a wonder. How to say how? It is a sequence of aural images of snow, in some cases onomatopoeic (the swish of brushing off a wooden deck, the soft ease-crunch of steps through a fresh snowfall) but more often poetic, suggesting crystalline whiteness, cold light, gentle falling. It is a set of ten canons, ten systematic processes in which the same ideas are floating in slow spirals seen in mirrors. It is a study in melancholy (and joy). It is a succession of five pairs of movements, where the second in each pair repeats the first, as if the first had been music on glass and could now be overlaid on something else. It is simultaneously time standing still, splitting, revolving and accelerating away – standing still because we are held under the spell of a basic melody throughout, splitting because layers will move at different speeds, revolving because the same ideas are constantly being refracted and reformed as layers knock against one another, and accelerating away because the movements get shorter and shorter, from nine minutes down to one for a total length of just under an hour.

At the start, a tune picks itself out right at the top of the piano as one of the string instruments keeps repeating a superhigh harmonic, almost pitchless, creating gasps of intensity, fire in ice. This is the pristine sound world, new and unforgettable, established at once. The tune is repeated and then overlapped, in the first intimation of the kind of interference pattern of past and present that is one of the most remarkable features of the work. On a larger scale, the entire first movement (for piano quartet, sounding as no piano quartet ever did) is embedded in the second (for the full ensemble, adding a second piano, percussion and three woodwinds), and on the largest, perhaps all the movements are doubles of one another. Fine relationships hover, in this snow-blinding beauty.
-Paul Griffiths


Learning Ferneyhough




This is one way of learning Brian Ferneyhough’s Incipits- graphed above by Talea violist, Elizabeth Weisser. Come out for June in Buffalo on June 5th to hear Elizabeth and Talea featured at this year’s festival!


Tara on FAMA


American Immersion: Beat Furrer is coming to New York May 14-17. Checkout what Tara says about learning this masterpiece and preparing her brand new contrabass flute for FAMA Scene VI.


FAMA is really an amazing composition and it’s a thrill to be a part of this project. The writing is so imaginative and colorful and the Talea Ensemble is very excited to be working with composer Beat Furrer!


I routinely play flute, picc, bass and alto flutes and they are really common these days. What is exciting for me is being able to use my new contrabass flute. The bottom end of the range is one note lower than cello, and its so great to be able to live down there for a while. It’s a lot of pipe and the sound is incredibly sensuous.


Beat Furrer is a master orchestrator and the way he uses this instrument, and others in the work is genius. Don’t miss the opportunity to hear FAMA!


-Tara Helen O’Connor


FAMA

FAMA is coming!  Mark your calendars for American Immersion: Beat Furrer for May 14-17.  Together with the Austrian Cultural Forum and the Bohemian National Hall, Talea will present an evening of chamber music as well as the US Premiere of Beat Furrer’s chamber-opera, FAMA. Read what Michelle Lou says about her experiences upon first hearing Furrer’s masterpiece.


In November of 2005, I was invited by Beat Furrer to attend the first night of his monodrama, FAMA at the Kunsthalle in Vienna, Austria. It had just received its premiere at the Donaueschingen Music Days the month before. I was living in Graz on a Fulbright Fellowship to study with Furrer at the time. This piece has left many indelible images in my memory, both sonic and visual. There are so many layers in this work that makes it so experientially rich. It was such a striking experience: like I was being pulled closer and closer into an incredibly intimate space, as if  being drawn into the emotional and psychological mind of Else. She is the lone character, adapted from a short novel by Arthur Schnitzler about a young woman forced into prostitution to financially support her father. To tell his story, Furrer layers the metaphor of Ovid’s telling of Fama, the Goddess of Rumor. He builds a kind of container around her of sound and space that represents her existential struggle. This container is a resonance of her inner world. We become voyeurs. With the metaphor of Fama, she mutters and whispers into our ears as instruments and voices murmur. Telling us secrets. Voices and music shift from being internalized thoughts to outward expressions until it is too difficult to tell which is which. I remember most vividly Scene IV, the duo between contrabass flute and Else. This scene placed me on the edge of my seat, perception heightened as Else engages in a hysterical monologue while the flute answered her in otherworldly sounds. She seemed like she was both right up against my ear and yet impossibly distant. I also recall the process by which the instrumentation became more and more fragmented as the piece progressed. The climax, signaled by a tam tam roll brought the piece to its finality, and the instruments dropped out one by one. After I left the venue and walked out into the brisk air and through the Museums Quartier back to a friend’s apartment, the work was still resonating in my mind’s ear and it took me a moment to realize where I was. You know, I was very lucky to see FAMA within the sound room that he designed for the piece. It added to the experience, but I am confident that the absence of the box does not take away from it. It is an astonishing work, so potent with metaphor and affect that the stark sensation of intimacy and existential drama prevails in the music and not in the staging. I am very excited to see Talea present its US premiere this month in NYC. It will be more than interesting to layer an experience of this work over another after so much time has passed.


-Michelle Lou
Director of Communications and Outreach, Talea Ensemble


Against the Morning




As we get ready for Saturday’s show at the MATA Festival, Taylor Brook gives some insight into his piece, Against the Morning. Come check it out this weekend at Roulette!


The Talea Ensemble will be giving the US premiere of my recent composition, Against the Morning, as part of the MATA festival this Saturday night at Roulette in Brooklyn. This piece explores the possibilities of a “what-if?” genre of contemporary music, as I began the work by posing the question “what would Schoenberg have written if he had composed his orchestral piece Farben today?” How would Schoenberg have explored the same coloristic ideas now that the normative palette of timbres and tunings have expanded so much in contemporary music? Although these questions are both faulty in nature and purely hypothetical, they allow me to face these great, imposing works with an attitude of curiosity and playfulness.

The reason for conceptualizing the piece in reference to Schoenberg’s Farben came from the nature of the commission itself, as it was to be premiered as part of a recreation of Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances, a concert series that ran in Vienna, and later in Prague, during the late 1910′s and early 1920′s. This concert series was, for better or for worse, a breakthrough in terms of how new music was presented as the pieces would have only performed after they were deemed “ready” as no program was given until the audience had arrived in the concert hall. The group presented both chamber music as well as reductions of orchestral music such as Debussy’s Aprés-midi and Bruckner’s 8th Symphony. These orchestral arrangements would have the curious instrumentation of a proto-sinfonietta, consisting of woodwind quintet, string quintet, piano, and harmonium. The harmonium gave the arrangements a particular fullness and was often employed to approximate an orchestral sound in the chamber-music setting. In my work, I decided to make the harmonium a soloist that does not lead the group as much as serve as the fountainhead of the musical proceedings.


Against the Morning begins with Schoenberg’s famed five-note “Farben Chord”.  Instead of the slow canonic modulations of the harmony in the original, rather the chord is treated as a block of sound to be parsed, expanded, developed and reshaped. The music then takes Schoenberg’s thematic material and reworks it into a microtonal passacaglia that explores the orchestration possibilities on simple melodic lines. What follows I will leave for the music to show you itself.

Play Ball!

Talea is westward bound this week for concerts in Seattle and Victoria, BC.  If you can’t join us out west, checkout Anthony Cheung’s program note about Tuesday’s concert at Town Hall Seattle.  We’re psyched to be collaborating with rock star cellist, Joshua Roman.


The Talea Ensemble presents a concert on the theme of “games,” loosely defined as musical representations of real and imaginary activities, from sports to video games, relying on cooperation and competition. In each piece, rules are set into motion and either strictly adhered to or broken. More than just sonic mimicry, the aural connection to rule- and role-based music making reveals new possibilities for drama and rhetoric, and consistently plays with the listener’s set of expectations.


In Mauricio Kagel’s Match (1964), two cellists situated on opposite sides of the stage compete in an imaginary tennis match while being “refereed” by a percussionist in the center. A composer very much influenced by Kagel’s sense of theater and play is the polyglot improviser, composer, and impresario John Zorn, whose early game pieces explored the possibility of improvised interactions within strict constraints and single-sheet scores consisting of verbal instructions. “Rugby” dates from this early period; which relies on a prompter holding up instruction cards.


Many of the works of Vito Zuraj, a young Slovenian composer based in Germany, use analogies from tennis, both in their titles and rhythmic and polyphonic energy. The ensemble will present a new version of “Deuce” for bass clarinet and percussion. And turning to virtual rackets, Moritz Eggert’s “Pong,” written in a new version for Talea, is an allusion to the first-ever video game. Here the rackets hit and miss moving objects, receiving and deflecting musical material. Similar to the Kagel, the medieval musical idea of “hocket” is used prominently to convey dialogue and disruption.


Finally, a purely musical game exists in the form of Milton Babbitt’s “Fourplay.” Babbitt, whose punning brilliance with titles was itself a game of the highest order, infers nothing more than musical interplay, with an underlying and fluid two-part polyphony that anchors the full instrumental component through a brilliant network of relationships.
-Anthony Cheung
Artistic Director, Talea Ensemble

 


Stockhausen

Rehearsal Photo: Matt Gold, David Shively, Alex Lipowski, Robyn Schulkowsky, Sam Pluta, David Adamcyk



In case you missed Talea’s performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie I, you can checkout a recording of the concert here. Happy listening!


Mikrophonie I




The man who excites hardly can judge upon what he is doing…
(Karlheinz Stockhausen)


It is late Saturday night, and we have spent many hours over the last few days in a white room making noises on a very, very large tam-tam. We will spend many more hours doing the same over the days to come. I had initially approached Stockhausen’s landmark work Mikrophonie I with an image of myself as a micronaut, an explorer tunneling deep into the inner resonances of the work’s single instrument, the tam-tam. But the division of labor is such that I now realize that in my role as the player who excites the tam-tam I am something more like a test subject in this particular experiment. The player next to me, the microphonist, “probes the surface of the tam-tam with the microphone, as a doctor probes a body with a stethoscope.” Further afield, and therefore operating from a position of objective observation, two additional players utilize filters and potentiometers to analyze, comment upon, and correct our actions. Meanwhile, my counterpart and I are busy carrying out a set of actions which are precisely notated, but the actual material of which is only described by the composer in all too human terms: groaning, baying, barking, bellowing, growling, hissing, spitting, cackling, yelling, grunting, howling, wailing, cracking, grating, chattering, scratching, screeching, murmuring, croaking, and so on, mostly in alphabetical order. We have been joking amongst ourselves in rehearsal that perhaps we should all wear white lab coats for the performance, but I am pretty certain that this would really only be appropriate for the engineers at the filters, and maybe the player next to me who will be probing both the tam-tam’s and my behavior for the duration of the work.


-Matthew Gold, Talea percussionist


On Ralph

Video Capture from Luna Park (2011) by Georges Aperghis. Photo by Sylvia Gomes via l'Institut français de Pologne.

 

The first nine months of 2012 have been filled with an underlying sadness in the wake of the death of Ralph Kaminsky, who died on January 15 at age 85. I have never met anyone like him. In a state-of-the-art listening room (with, for equipment geeks, two Wilson Audio Alexandria speakers holding court) he and his wife, Hester Diamond, hosted monthly salon-type afternoons in their home, inviting people for the sole purpose of listening to contemporary music. And I mean only contemporary music. He rarely played anything written before say, 1980. One of the few exceptions was Wagner’s Ring, yet his passion meant that listeners were more likely to hear versions done within the last decade, such as the daring and original stagings from Copenhagen and Valencia.

 

The list of composers he championed – and in many cases, socialized with – is long: Hans Abrahamsen, Unsuk Chin, Marc-André Dalbavie, Beat Furrer, Gérard Grisey, Kimmo Hakola, Tristan Murail, Olga Neuwirth, Matthias Pintscher, Huang Ruo, and hundreds of others were a part of his regular listening. (Often overheard, “I listen to music by composers who are composing, not decomposing.”) And many contemporary music groups, as well, were part of Ralph’s daily life; Alarm Will Sound, Argento Ensemble, eighth blackbird, Either/Or, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and Talea Ensemble were just a few of his favorites. For Ralph’s 80th birthday, Hester commissioned Dalbavie to write a cello concerto, adroitly done by ICE in 2008 at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

 

Now and then he and Hester would host live concerts in their home. One evening was like no other: the JACK Quartet in Georg Friedrich Haas’s mysterious third string quartet, “In iij. Noct.” (2001), performed in complete darkness. Ralph and Hester enlisted an expert crew to extinguish every light source in their living room: windows were fitted with plywood and sealed tight with tape (two different kinds, to avoid ruining the paint). Spaces around doors were blocked. LEDs on telephones, computers and wall switches – all obliterated. Before the hour-long journey began, Ralph turned off all lights to give the audience a sample of what to expect, for those who might panic. I placed my hand a half-inch from my nose and could see nothing. Afterward, JACK violinist Ari Streisfeld said they had done the piece a number of times, but this was the blackest environment they had ever experienced.

 

Ralph left so suddenly that it’s still hard to grasp that he’s gone. Many New York concertgoers will miss his familiar mane of silvery-white hair, and after a particularly provocative evening, that mischievous smile coupled with, “Well, what did you think of that!”

 

He also had a sly sense of humor, often coupled with unexpected timing. After a particularly nice lunch one afternoon, we got together a few weeks later. “Oh Ralph,” I confessed, “I’m so sorry – I meant to send you a card.” He pulled me closer and said, “Want to hear a joke? Why don’t WASPs have orgies?” I shook my head and he whispered, “Too many thank-you notes.”

 

At an age when some people begin to close off their options, Ralph assiduously – even defiantly – challenged his ears, and those of everyone around him. He may have been the sole person in New York City who owned every recording made by Kairos, the trailblazing music label based in Vienna. Once I asked him if he ever listened to any Bach or Mahler on his highfalutin system, and the cheerful answer was, “No, heard all that already – don’t need to hear it again.”

 

In the fall of 2011, at what would be his final meeting of the listening group, Ralph had just discovered the glories of streaming Internet audio and video, and transferring the results to his music room. The inaugural example was a spectacle commissioned by IRCAM-Centre Pompidou and the Warsaw Autumn Festival: Georges Aperghis’s dazzling, technically innovative Luna Park (2011)—perhaps the ideal valediction for a man dedicated to the pursuit of the new.

 

– Bruce Hodges

(from  Monotonous Forest)


(Re)Acquainted




About this time a couple years ago, Talea was getting ready to perform a portrait concert of Boulez’s works at Miller Theatre.  Boulez had been with us for the few rehearsals leading up to the performance and we were honored to have David Robertson, conductor of St. Louis Symphony and former music director of Ensemble Intercontemporain, in attendance at the dress rehearsal.  I was speaking to him about our experience negotiating the “epic” Dérive II and what he said was so beautiful.  He drew an analogy to a road trip in which you are driving somewhere you haven’t been before.  The first time can seem long but the more times you take that trip, you start to recognize landmarks and soon the trip seems short.  We had the opportunity to revisit a few works this fall, including James Dillon’s New York Triptych, Pierluigi Billone’s Dike Wall and most recently Olga Neuwirth’s torsion.


Lightning Striking Twice (in a good way):
Normally we think of repeating a performance as a positive thing: an opportunity to make up for the unexpected bumps in the first performance; a chance to bring the piece to an even higher level.  Olga’s piece, however, presented a unique situation: the first performance went better than any of our rehearsals had even gone.  So all of a sudden, there’s a little anxiety that goes into meeting and hopefully exceeding a standard.  Around the time we were preparing for this performance, I heard a story from a friend who was cast in the role of Da Ponte in a stage adaptation of the Memoirs of Lorenzo Da Ponte, by Maristella Lorch.  There were supposed to be several performances at the Casa Italiana of Columbia (1955), but the first one went so well, they canceled all of the others feeling they wouldn’t be able to achieve the same level of perfection.  Well, a second performance of torsion came complete with the challenges of any repeat performances: a new audience automatically requires a certain sensitivity, in this case a new hall required a different kind of sensitivity- and on top of that, we wanted it to go as well as, if not better than, the first time.  It did in fact go well: there was a lot of concentration that went into this second performance and it was a thrilling experience for us.


Going Beyond the Landmarks:
There comes a point on that road trip that, not only do the recognizable landmarks make the duration feel shorter, but you feel you can really afford to take your eyes off the road and appreciate other aspects of the journey: the landscape, the wind in your hair (assuming you have a convertible and it’s not winter), the conversation with your fellow passengers.  That’s the other great aspect to performing a piece more than once.  In fact, in the week leading up to the second performance of New York Triptych, James Dillon was talking about how there’s a point in the course of rehearsals/performances, where the piece ceases to be his and it becomes the performers’- “alchemy” is the word he used in fact.  It’s true for us as performers as well- there’s a shift from paying closest attention to our own notes, to noticing how they fit with everyone else’s, to figuring out how to project them in a hall or communicate them to an audience.  So ideally, if we do our job right in the performance, that piece ceases to be ours and becomes the audience’s.  The more time we have had to live with a piece, the easier this is to achieve.


Taking New Journeys:
This is the nature of performing in an ensemble that specializes in the music of today.  We are always challenged by new works and new composers.  Speaking personally, the upcoming concert on December 14th is an interesting one for me because it consists entirely of world premieres- so clearly with these pieces we are currently becoming acquainted with.  I have had the opportunity to play Anthony Cheung’s music before so, although this is a new piece, there are elements of his language that are familiar or I understand and am able to reference.  This will be my first Trapani and Lewis piece though, so as I have been practicing- the muscles in my hands, the idioms in my ears and my expectations all need to be trained.  It’s a pleasure to have this experience of learning new music because it’s this process that keeps us vibrant as musicians and as listeners.


-Beth Weisser
Talea Ensemble, Viola and Director of Development

 


SYNCHRONICITIES: Anthony Cheung

Photo by Beowulf Sheehan

 

Your new work, SynchroniCities is a play on words; you’ve turned it into a compound word: time and place. I understand you took field recordings in different locations and worked them into the piece. What inspired you to do this? And can you describe the processes involved in incorporating these recordings?


I was interested in finding common ground between sounds captured in various locales and used for different occasions, no matter how disparate the sources and irrespective of time and place. And of course, the original meaning of “synchronicity” implies an almost serendipitous encounter of time and place. Going into this project, I didn’t set out with the goal of capturing field recordings based on particular themes, but found that sounds kept organizing themselves together, based purely on objective criteria like similarity or contrast of timbre, but also on their semiotic and ritualistic connotations. I simply kept my ears open to many sources, as well as my recording equipment at the ready. I’m always struck by how concrete sounds in the world are both overwhelmingly chaotic and commonplace.

 

We tend to think of image as the strongest signifier of place, yet sound can be equally, if not more, powerful. And especially emanating through the ambiguity of speakers, processed slightly beyond recognition, and further enhanced and in dialogue with live instruments, they can take on many new meanings and references.

 

Time as objects of perception seems to be a preoccupation in your body of work. How do you work with time here?

 

Within the four sections of the work, there are many moments that return, slightly altered, expanded, or compressed. I’m very interested in playing with the perception of memory over time. If and when I do repeat things, it’s usually with the alteration of recognizable material – a re-processing of a sample, for example, or the stretching of a very fast rhythmic gesture into something almost unrecognizable. Time is always in flux here, though some sections feel more static than others.

 

You’ve written before that Jazz is a large influence on your sound world. Sometimes it is clearly audible in your work. Who are some of your favorite jazz musicians?

 

Improvisation, in particular that of the jazz tradition, has been an important part of my musical background, and I can’t imagine not being influenced by it, whether in subtle or more outward ways. My approach to melodic phrasing is as something quite pliable, and similarly, my use of notation is more as transcription of gesture originating in the body or a vocalization, rather than broken down by the constraints of the parameters of a particular system. Other ways in which I’m influenced include how instruments dialogue with one another in real-time, the power of motivic developing variation through an improvised solo, and how harmonic innovation can really be the stamp of a musician’s personality. There are so many great musicians who have influenced me, where to begin? One of the great things about living in New York was getting to see so many of my heroes live: Keith Jarrett, Lee Konitz, Cecil Taylor, Brian Blade, Jim Hall, Brad Mehldau, Martial Solal, dozens and dozens more. And of course hearing Steve Lehman and George Lewis – both of whom resist and defy categorization within and around “jazz” - on so many memorable occasions as well. I’m so glad that they’ve written fascinating new works for this concert.

 

How do you place or conceptualize these seemingly disparate influences? American, European?

 

I think we’re in an exciting time where so many of the sonic characteristics that once connoted acceptance within a clearly defined aesthetic have been lifted, recontextualized, and re-invented, and that there isn’t a taboo surrounding their re-appropriation. Of course there is still the matter of being inventive and in good taste about it, but the fact that it’s harder to point to unified schools of thought based on nationality or region is definitely a healthy thing. But Chris Trapani’s question posed at the end of his interview is an important one to consider: can there be a regional voice for the American composer? I would like to think that regional influences can and should be tapped into, without necessarily being the primary defining characteristic of a composer’s output. And the important question is whether there is something musically interesting and relevant about putting these things in dialogue with one another.

 

I also think there’s quite a lot to be explored in terms of the consonance (or dissonance) of very distinct cultural references suddenly being thrown together. One of the ways I go about it in this piece is through live-processing of the piano. The piano, the exemplar of equal-temperament in western music, sometimes get processed through an “auto-tune” filter, using modes from different traditions and historical periods, such as just intonation and Indonesian gamelan tunings. Just as field recordings from very different cultural contexts get mixed together, so too do the tuning practices of cultures vastly removed by time and place.

 

As the Artistic Director and co-founder of Talea, what is it like working with an ensemble that you have such an intimate relationship with? What do you see in the future for the ensemble?

 

It has been an unbelievable privilege and pleasure working with the musicians of Talea. When I wrote this piece, I knew I’d be very consciously thinking of the personalities of the individual and collective sounds of the group and Jim Baker’s conducting. In concert music, it’s rare to have a relationship with a group of players in which it’s possible to tailor-make compositional decisions, and I realize that I am extraordinarily lucky in this respect. Through the incredible dedication of the musicians, staff, and supporters, we’re going to see the group continuing to attract the attention of composers who want to see their visions realized, who are looking to work with an ensemble that’s known for being adventurous and open. I think the international presence of the ensemble will also continue to expand. That has already happened quite a bit in the last two years, and new projects in the pipeline will make it even more so.

 


SYNCHRONICITIES: NEW WORKS

PREMIERES BY LEWIS, TRAPANI, LEHMAN, CHEUNG
DECEMBER 14, 2012 8:00 PM
MANNES COLLEGE OF MUSIC
150 W 85TH STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10024

*FREE ADMISSION


SYNCHRONICITIES: George Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Columbia Professor, legendary trombonist, improvisor and scholar George Lewis speaks a bit about his new work for Talea and about his compositional approach.

 

 

Talea will be premiering your work, Mnemosis, on December 14th. What was the point of departure for this piece?


Mnemosis draws inspiration from two conceptions of time, history and memory in Western philosophy: Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal recurrence, and Wittgenstein’s conception of Unzeitlichkeit, which is to my mind inadequately translated as “timelessness,” although I don’t have an alternative handy.

 

Throughout Mnemosis there are measures / blocks of material that are strictly repeated two or sometimes three times and this activity stops at the end where the ensemble finally plays rhythmically together. This plays into the title of the piece. Can you speak more about this?


Over the past few years I’ve used repeated passages to create moments of stasis and reflection, most notably in my 2011 composition for large ensemble, The Will To Adorn.  In that work the repetition sections are more cryptic, but Mnemosis is perhaps my first piece that is rather extensively based on repetition, using a process that might recall in some ways the concept of suspension in fourth-species counterpoint.  Rather than notes, the units of suspension are “blocks” or modules of behavior in a given instrument or grouping of instruments that recur at irregularly displaced time points relative to other groupings. The procedure also recalls the “visualization” paintings of Jack Ox (see http://abstractcomics.blogspot.com/2009/07/kurt-schwitters-ursonate-by-jack-ox.html and http://www.jackox.net/pages/bruckner/BrucknerText.html), in which a single architectural image is divided into equally-spaced strips and becomes fractured by vertical displacement of individual strips.  In Mnemosis, the “strips” may be conceived as temporally displaced in a conceptually horizontal way. As with the Ox paintings, a sense of progress and stasis gradual develops upon sustained engagement. However, this is not “music as a gradual process”; although moments of local recursion are frequent, so are sudden changes of perspective and flow.

 

What are some of the criteria that you have for yourself to evaluate your own work’s successes or failures, if you even use those terms of critique?


Since I’m basically an experimental composer, the goalposts for success are constantly moving, but the question reminds me of that wonderful article about Michael Tilson Thomas visiting Carl Ruggles. At the time Ruggles was 95 years old and basically on his deathbed in a nursing home.  Thomas puts headphones on Ruggles’s head and plays Sun-Treader (which I admit to having a long love affair with) and Ruggles starts singing along, yelling “Great! DAMN FINE WORK!” If I’m enjoying listening to a piece of mine like that, and if I feel that I’ve gone as far as I could go for that moment in terms of the organization and the construction of sound, I suppose that it’s successful for me.

 

How do you approach composition?


Well, as the fellow in the Quentin Tarantino movie Pulp Fiction put it, I’m in a transitional period at the moment, and there have been distinct changes in the way I approach composing.  First of all, these days I try to concentrate on making each moment of sound physically and emotionally evocative.  This operates in tandem with my second principle, which is to avoid the unadorned moment.  I like to keep the inner life of sounds moving, rather like the “aural exciters” in early studio electronics that were designed to introduce microfluctuations with the goal of avoiding psychological habituation.  Moments of repose are outnumbered by overstuffed nonlinearity, and I like to manage noisy, unstable textures that “decorate the decorations,” as Zora Neale Hurston put it.

 

How do you conceive of form and pitch material?


Lately I’ve enjoyed deriving pitch material the old-fashioned way–that is, old-fashioned circa 1980s, using analyses of musical instrument spectra.  For example, Mnemosis and other works use spectra drawn from my audio library of bassoon and saxophone multiphonics. In planning the works, I create modular moments that work for me, and decide later how they are to flow as a sequence; modules that don’t fit the emerging conception of the flow of the work are saved for another time, and sometimes, modules become superimposed upon each other. In performance, the pieces operate in perceptually concatenationist mode; listeners catch the bus and go along for the ride, and I try to avoid teleologies, motivic elaboration, and global form.  In this, again, I’m guided by the Wittgenstein quote from proposition 6.4311 of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:  “If by eternity is understood not endless temporal duration but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present.”  Living in the present with Talea has been an excellent place to be; I very much look forward to this concert and would like to thank them for their support for my work and that of so many others.

Finally, if the concert is about remembrance, I’d like to have us remember Jonathan Harvey, who just left us.

 


SYNCHRONICITIES: NEW WORKS

PREMIERES BY LEWIS, TRAPANI, LEHMAN, CHEUNG
DECEMBER 14, 2012 8:00 PM
MANNES COLLEGE OF MUSIC
150 W 85TH STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10024

*FREE ADMISSION


SYNCHRONICITIES: Steve Lehman

 

 

Composer, saxophonist Steve Lehman fields questions about his work and his upcoming piece, Khalid.

Can you talk a bit about how you found yourself choosing to study music composition first at Wesleyan while concurrently at the Hartt School of Music and then later at Columbia? What attracted you to these institutions?


Well, my parents are both very musical, so music has always been a big part of my life. As far as the specific choice to attend Wesleyan, I think I was drawn to the music program there because of the stellar faculty and the fact that the university as a whole is very rigorous academically. And I found many wonderful mentors there, like Anthony Braxton, Jay Hoggard, and Pheeroan akLaff. Alvin Lucier is also on the faculty there and I was able to spend a couple of years studying South Indian music as well. I studied at Hartt specifically to work with saxophonist/composer Jackie McLean, who has been an idol of mine since I was a kid. And at Columbia, I worked primarily with George Lewis and Tristan Murail, and also with Fabein Levy, Brad Garton, and Fred Lerdahl — all composers I look up to a great deal.

 

You are involved in many contexts: performer, composer, bandleader, sideman and scholar. How do all of these disciplines inform one another?  How would, say, your experience performing in a jazz context inform your fully notated compositional work? Do you find that there are moments of dissonance between your activities (and not just in terms of time management)?


I wish I had a good succinct answer for that. I’m really just trying to pursue the things about music that excite me the most, and they come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. With all of the musical activities you mention, I’m most interested in connecting with people in a meaningful way — the social aspect of it. And that can happen in performance, in rehearsal, and also through formal and informal discourse about all of this music that we all care about so much.

 

In writings on your music, you cite the seemingly disparate practices of African American improvised music and French Spectral composition as important in the formation of your own work as a composer. Can you go into it a little bit here? What are the common concerns of the two disciplines?  How do they feed each other and how do they feed you?


Yes, well, a lot of my recent scholarship has dealt with the overlapping histories of these two musical communities. And what I keep coming back to is this idea of musical thresholds, which often manifest as thresholds of perception in the listener. That space between timbre and harmony; pulse and duration; structure and spontaneity. I think the most expressive instrumental music, of any kind, often takes advantage of those kinds of perceptual boundaries, and I think it’s a compositional preoccupation that’s at the heart of Afrological forms of improvisation and much of French spectral music as well.

 

You mention Grisey and music theorist Jean-Luc Herve as expanding upon ideas of the perception of rhythm and attempting to find that thin line or ‘rhythmic threshold’ between the simple repetitions of a pulse and the loss of pulse by rhythmic complexity.  Is creating this space a priority in Khalid?


Right. That’s a kind of rough paraphrase of a comment that Hervé made about Grisey’s music, and it’s making reference, in particular, to the first and third movements of Vortex Temporum. I suppose Khalid does deal with that idea in some important ways. And the whole notion of creating a meaningful and expressive sense of pulse without having to rely of structural repetition is definitely something I think about a lot. That said, there is actually a fair amount of surface level repetition in Khalid — something that is somewhat unusual in my music. If there is a rhythmic or perceptual threshold that this piece explores, it’s probably the boundary between serial and segregated modes of listening. Basically, whether you’re hearing sound events as part of one unified stream of information, or as two or more parallel streams. Rhythm and alignment can play an important role in determining a particular mode of listening, but things like timbre, register, and dynamics also play a big part, as you can imagine.

 

The piece, scored for piano and percussion, focuses on a right hand arpeggio in the piano, which although the shape of the gesture repeats, the pitches change ever so slightly, with the highest pitch constantly shifting its position in the beat.  The others also appear repetitive at first, but like the piano, shift their attacks and they all function to produce layers of rhythms.  How did you conceive of this rhythmic structure?  Are you using spectral harmonies?


Yes, well the structure of the piece is really centered around the expressive potential of all of these kinds of subtle shifts. And, in particular, it really revolves around a small collection of rhythmic devices that I’ve been developing and refining over the past four or five years. If the piece is working well, there can be moments when the music seems to speed up, slow down, and stand still simultaneously. And I think that kind of musical structure can be very meaningful and even emotional when it’s presented in the right way. So, my hope is that Khalid will at least evoke some of that. As for the harmony, I’d say that the “attitude” towards harmony in this piece is decidedly spectral. Suffice to say that much of the pitch material in the piece is informed by the acoustic properties of both the piano and the vibraphone.

 

What does the title, Khalid make reference to?


Khalid is an Arabic name which means “immortal” or “eternal.” At first, I considered calling the piece “Khalid/Kaleid/Collide,” since many aspects of the piece strike me as rather kaleidoscopic. But in the end, I decided to keep it simple, and I suppose more open to interpretation.

 

How has your experience been working with the Talea Ensemble? Consideration of personnel is an important part of your working method. Was it here?


It’s been wonderful working with Talea. This is one of the premiere new music ensembles on the planet, so it’s been a real gift to work with them. And yes, I think the personnel, and the personal relationships have played a big role in bringing this piece to life. Anthony Cheung is one of my favorite young composers and a really beautiful person in general. And we have been keeping abreast of each other’s work and looking for ways to support each other since we first met at Columbia. So, Anthony comes to this piece with a really keen understanding of my work as both a composer and a performer. And he’s able to draw from that body of information in bringing the piece to life, which is really amazing. Same for Alex Lipowski and Matt Gold, who have both spent time working on the percussion part for Khalid. These guys are so meticulous and such outspoken advocates for new music, it’s wonderful.

 

 


SYNCHRONICITIES: NEW WORKS

PREMIERES BY LEWIS, TRAPANI, LEHMAN, CHEUNG

DECEMBER 14, 2012 8:00 PM

MANNES COLLEGE OF MUSIC

150 W 85TH STREET

NEW YORK, NY 10024

 

*FREE ADMISSION

 


SYNCHRONICITIES: Christopher Trapani

 

Composer Christopher Trapani talks about his new work, Waterlines, written for Talea and funded by an American Composers Forum Jerome Foundation commissioning grant.

You were born and raised in New Orleans and it is clear that the rich sonic tapestry of blues and jazz is an important element that you draw from in your own work. Do you find that having had an academic or you could say euro-centric compositional education is difficult to reconcile with the vernacular traditions? Is it a very conscious decision to meld your disparate interests or has it been an organic process of inquiry?


I’ve found that what inspires and fascinates me the most — in cities, in art, in food — is cultures converging to produce unexpected results. That’s how we got Andalucía, chicken tikka masala, and Graceland. Certainly New Orleans fits into that tradition, uniting many more strands than most people realize — including my Irish and Italian relatives who landed there at the end of the 19th century, back when New Orleans was the country’s second largest point of entry.

So the melting pot aesthetic comes naturally to me. I like it when one passion, one part of my life, bleeds into another. That kind of synthesis is a crucial element of my work, as it is for many artists — but it has to be organic, not contrived.

The storm brought up a lot of emotions about home and identity, what’s unique to a tradition and what is universal, and the cycle is really born out of a reflection on the various poetic and musical meanings of home. To the Carter family, home is heaven, a future hope. To Ramblin’ Thomas (whose incomparable “Poor Boy Blues” is set in the third song), home’s a distant memory. To Charley Patton, it’s the tonic chord, the resonant open strings of his guitar. To Gérard Grisey it’s a lush, consonant harmonic spectrum. All these conceptions get tossed in the pot.

 

Since you left New Orleans, you’ve been many places: Harvard, at the Royal College of Music in London, in Paris, Istanbul and at Columbia University here in New York. How has this physical displacement and experience of such diverse cultures affected your work and your own identity? Does it deepen your desire to maintain a strong connection in your work to the American vernacular?


Well, I have to say first off that I don’t always engage with American folk music or jazz; that’s only a small percentage of my work. But I do like for my music to be heard in a wide context, to draw from and make allusion to a variety of styles: Ottoman classical makam, Darmstadt grit, West African balafons, obscure Ninth Ward rock…

There’s probably some truth to the old cliché that moving abroad (and worse, to Paris) makes you more aware of your “Americanism,” that the distance gives a new sense of perspective. It was here anywhere that I first discovered Greil Marcus’ Invisible Republic (now published as The Old, Weird America) and Harry Smith’s folk music anthology, both of which got me thinking about parallels between early American music and the spectral music I was hearing at IRCAM and the Cité de la Musique — another current I found myself immersed in for the first time.

The sounds and phrases of blues and country records run throughout Waterlines. But while it may be the most immediately apparent layer of influence, it’s only the surface. A careful listener will hear the spell of spectral music — an oscillation between consonance and noise, microtonal inflections that mirror natural resonance — as well as snippets of Romantic lieder, marching band rhythms, and the eclectic spirit of George Crumb.

 

Waterlines consists of five blues songs with lyrics taken from the Carter Family and Bessie Smith, amongst others. The lyrics are poignant. They’re about the loss or displacement of home and of water and floods, with titles like, “Can’t Feel at Home,” and “Wild Water Blues.” On the score of this work you have two dates: 2005 and 2012. 2005 was the year that Hurricane Katrina devastated the southeastern United States and although 2012 is the date of the completion of your work, there is a poignancy and relevance in the wake of Super Storm Sandy. Can you say a few things about this? Did you already begin to compose this piece in the wake of Katrina? How were you personally affected by it?


Katrina was a complete shock. Devastating, life-changing. My father’s house was washed away, my childhood home got ten feet of water, but the worst effects were less tangible: morale was shaken, the cultural landscape of my hometown was changed forever. No one knew what would happen going forward, whether an entire set of traditions and a unique way of life might just disappear. I was already living in Paris when the storm hit, but to say I felt it strongly would be an understatement.

I wrote the first song, “Can’t Feel at Home,” in the immediate aftermath, in the fall of 2005. You’ll hear it nearly exactly as it was finished then, before I returned home for the first time after the storm in December 2005. I’d already gotten the idea of creating a cycle around the songs of the 1927 flood, and had started collecting and organizing texts in my mind, but I stopped composing there, returning to the piece only last summer.

I think it’s fair to say that it haunted me for seven years, while I tried to find the circumstances to bring what I considered a very personal and important project to life — so I’m extremely grateful to the Talea Ensemble and Anthony Cheung in particular for giving me this tremendous opportunity.

 

Can you talk about why you chose to write these blues songs? Are they still, “the blues” after your treatment of them?

 

Katrina got me reading (John Barry’s Rising Tide, for starters) about the 1927 Mississippi River flood — one of the most destructive natural disasters in American history, one that complete reshaped Southern society and politics. As it happens, the flood coincided with the heyday of commercial recording in the South, a last burst of enterprise before the great depression that fortuitously left us with several great records chronicling the disaster.

Combing through compilations of blues lyrics and drawing on the research of Memphis musicologist David Evans, I sought out songs with some sort of parallel to Katrina, but always with the goal of fashioning a more abstract and timeless perspective. I tried to be very attentive to the forms of the texts I was treating, but also to mold them into something new.

Strictly speaking, the first is a strophic text, a hymn tune, and I use that as an analogue for the music: certain elements are constant, like a refrain — the steady strum of the dulcimer, the tonal roots of the harmony — whereas others are constantly evolving. The rest of the song texts consist of blues couplets, but these are used in a variety of ways. “Wild Water Blues” gives the first-person narrative, rushes through the couplets in an exaggerated lightning-speed account of the devastation. In fact only the fourth song, “Devil Sent the Rain Blues,” uses the classic AAB blues device of repeating the first line over a different harmony, subtly shifting the insinuation behind the words.

 

Waterlines showing water levels after the flood.

 

In borrowing the blues songs, did you transcribe the vocal lines from the recordings? How important is it for you to have a singer who understands the style, that is, not to sing with an, ‘over-trained’ voice?


It’s important to know that there are no actual transcriptions in Waterlines, only stylistic allusions. I did listen repeatedly to and try to absorb something essential from the records that lent texts to the cycle, but I don’t mimic them. I sometimes borrow larger gestural ideas: the way, for instance, Kokomo Arnold falls to the very bottom of his range at the end of each line of “Wild Water Blues,” or Charley Patton’s habit of snapping the low strings of the guitar against the fretboard.

As for the singer, it’s absolutely essential to have someone who sets the right tone and knows the traditions being referred to. Nine times out of ten, when a contemporary composition makes reference to some form of popular music, it’s tongue-in-cheek, a wink to the initiated. Here’s it’s the opposite: a dead-on honest, respectful, and thoroughly un-ironic treatment of the words. One of the reasons Waterlines took so long to premiere is a simple pragmatic one: I simply didn’t want to do it in France, where I hadn’t met a singer who I thought could pull off the English and the folk gestures. It’s such a pleasure to have the astonishing Daisy Press — the only person I know to have sung both Philippe Leroux and Neil Diamond — to collaborate with on the premiere.

 

Damage done to Trapani's family home after Hurricane Katrina.

 

The cycle begins with a solo Appalachian dulcimer, and later the singer accompanies herself on a retuned autoharp. How did you approach composing for the ensemble?

 

Well I wrote the “auxiliary strings” part — for one player who handles the Appalachian dulcimer, steel-stringed acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and a fretless double-stringed Turkish banjo called the cümbüş — with the intention of performing it myself. But I’m not exactly a virtuoso; quite the opposite. Instead, writing for myself allows me to focus on idiosyncratic details in the way I play. The just intonation autoharp is an instrument I first made for another piece (Westering) by retuning all the strings, then taking the chord-bars off, sanding them down, and recovering them with new felt patterns to make new chord shapes in just intonation (microtonal patterns that follow the natural harmonics of the overtone series).

But aside from my own unusual instruments and a few doublings (the clarinetist plays harmonica, the trumpet player picks up the sandpaper blocks), the line up is pretty standard: three winds, three strings, and a large percussion setup. The fifth song also features live electronics: samples of rain, pops from vinyl records, and percussion swishes and scrapes that provide a background constant layer of white noise — an idea either inspired by the pervasive noise of an old 78 RPM gramophone record or borrowed from the omnipresent maracas in Tristan Murail’s Ethers, though the context makes it hard to tell which.

 

Can you speak about the tuning?

 

Harmony in Waterlines runs the gamut from diatonic triads to wide microtonal chords. Microtones — that is, the pitches that fall between the tempered keys of the piano — are a common feature of the blues (as shadings of a tonal grid) and spectral technique (as partials of the overtone series), though clearly used rather differently in each case. Precision is important, and there are certain technical devices used to ensure a degree of accuracy in producing mictrotones on tempered instruments: retuning strings on the guitar and viola to match natural harmonics, tuning the flute down by a quarter-tone. Then for the voice and unfretted strings (including the slide guitar), which are obviously more capable of smaller inflections in pitch, microtones are written more freely.

Another parallel with spectral music comes to mind here: nuance of gesture is more important than pitch selection, which is in some sense pre-determined in both styles. A listener who hears just the notes of a blues scale in a Son House lick is missing the point, just as another who hears only shifting shades of consonance in Les Espaces Acoustiques is glossing over whole dimensions of the work. In Waterlines too, the focus is on the local level, small details of articulation and timbre.

 

Is there anything else you’d like the audience to know about Waterlines?


One question I hope Waterlines will raise is this: Is there any room left for the regional voice in American composition? In American art and literature, there seems to be a degree of recognition for non-centralized trends; Southern writers in particular are always said to have “a strong sense of place,” as Walker Percy always described it. But aside from a few radically disparate voices who unjustifiably get corralled together as “West Coast Experimentalists,” most American composers seem to end up in the Northeast, learning an amalgamated style and losing their accents in the process. Listening to their music, who could ever deduce that Nancarrow was from Arkansas, that Babbitt had been raised in Mississippi?

I was always shocked that the New York Philharmonic, commissioning a piece to commemorate the September 11 attacks, chose John Adams, one of the few composers synonymous with another major city. Was there no one in New York up to the task? On the other hand, you clearly don’t have to be up to your neck in water to have something to say about the storm. It’s a delicate line, but I do believe that re-valuing regional traditions — recognizing again that there are a wealth of perspectives and experiences within our own borders — can only enrich the new music landscape, and more importantly, might even be the key to recapturing some kind of immediate and gut-level connection with listeners.

 

SYNCHRONICITIES: NEW WORKS
PREMIERES BY LEWIS, TRAPANI, LEHMAN, CHEUNG

DECEMBER 14, 2012 8:00 PM
MANNES COLLEGE OF MUSIC
150 W 85TH STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10024

*FREE ADMISSION


torsion: transparent variation




Looking back on last night’s concert at Wien Modern and looking forward to tomorrow’s concert at Contempuls, Talea bassoonist talks about learning Olga Neuwirth’s torsion: transparent variation for solo bassoon and ensemble.


When I first received my part to Olga Neuwirth’s torsion: transparent variation for solo bassoon and ensemble, I quickly realized the amount of work that I was going to have to put into learning a plethora of extended techniques and various colors.  Before I could say a sentence, even a word, I had to learn how to pronounce syllables in a new musical language.  However, once I created my new palette of sounds, I discovered an unprecedented freedom of expression.  It wasn’t an etude of new techniques for the bassoon, a realm of composition which many new pieces can accidentally stray into.  On the contrary, torsion is a complete and complex musical thought filled with many unique colors on the bassoon that many listeners may not have heard before.  The enjoyment of expressing myself through a different musical language, however, was only part of the reward in learning this piece.  The responses from individual audience members after my first performance of torsion sparked great conversation over what potential sound worlds the bassoon could create.  Preformed boundaries of the bassoon’s capabilities were broken down for many listeners.  I thank Olga for writing such a great piece to be added to the bassoon’s limited repertoire.  I’m also grateful that we get to perform it two more times in Vienna and Prague and look forward to any conversation in response to torsion from others.


-Adrian Morejon


Ca tourne ca bloque


Hear an excerpt of Ondřej Adámek’s Ca tourne ca bloque and read what Talea intern, Zach Seely, says about Adámek’s fascinating music. Come hear the US Premiere of Ca tourne ca bloque on September 21st at the Bohemian National Hall.

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I am always excited when introduced to a composer’s new works. It’s a thrilling moment, when one is never quite sure what to expect. The journey through the unknown and the experience of absorbing the soundworlds a composer and performer(s) forge together can be entirely captivating. The opportunity to hear new music that provokes different ways of listening or performing can be the most rewarding. Sharing these experiences with others is just as fulfilling.

It is with this same spirit of excitement that Talea will be performing Ondřej Adámek’s “Ca tourne ca bloque” (2008), for ten instrumentalists and sampler, for our opening night concert. In this energetic work, Adámek masterfully interweaves a wide timbral spectrum within an environment full of musical expression. Within the work’s large structure, Adámek playfully choreographs exchanges in timbre and infuses a dialogue with infectiously fractured rhythmic motives. “Ca tourne ca bloque” explores intricacies perceived in the articulations and contour of speech patterns. The instrumentalists emulate these characteristic voices and provide an additional rich palette of sound colors. His pieces fuse contemporary classical music and elements of music from different cultures. Adámek has quickly become a widely celebrated and prolific composer. His works have been featured by many prominent figures amongst our international music community. His musical soundscapes are simple, clear, and engaging.


Zach Seely


Recording Romitelli

July 31, 2012!  Talea Record Release on Tzadik

Anamorphosis: Music by Fausto Romitelli

Read what Beth Weisser says about her experience in working on the new disc.

In March of this year, Talea traveled to EMPAC to record works by one of our favorite composers, Fausto Romitelli. Recording is something that comes with the territory of being a musician, but there is something still very alien about it.

A performance is like life: it’s now and it’s here. There will be good and bad moments, both of which will either fade into oblivion or transform to exist as memories.  There is a direct connection between the performers and the audience- a symbiotic energy that can expand only within the limit of the space.  A recording is more like a time capsule.  It is about some future, determined or not, and it is not about here but rather, there.  With a time capsule, one gathers the items and ideas of the time and protects them in a container for future generations to understand what today was.

Talea’s Romitelli disc is our first time capsule.  It is our way of sharing with the broadest audience through time and space what we understood this music to be at this point in time. Talea has been performing Romitelli’s works from some of its earliest concerts and from its beginning, the Talea Ensemble has felt deeply committed to Romitelli’s works. We have had the opportunity to bring some of his masterpieces to the US for the first time and we have grown to better understand his sound world and his vision.  We have also had the opportunity to work with and speak to many people who knew him well.

Because we all feel so invested, the concentration and care in the sessions was palpable and because of the intensity of the experience, we learned more about ourselves and each other with every take we did. Romitelli came more into our physical, intellectual and emotional selves than ever before.  While creating a vehicle for posterity is a great responsibility, it is also a great privilege.  Eternalizing the ephemeral is a challenging endeavor, but when the time capsule consists of great music, it is rewarding and an honor to be a part of.

We are so grateful to EMPAC, Argeo Ascani, John Zorn, and Tzadik Label for making this recording possible.


James Dillon: New York Triptych

In anticipation of the world premiere of James Dillon’s New York Triptych, Talea cellist and Dillon-veteran Chris Gross talks about his experience in learning Dillon’s music. Come hear the world premiere on July 16, at the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt


Practicing your own part of a new work is kind of like studying an elephant by examining it’s tail from half an inch away: you don’t really know what you’re dealing with until you see all the parts put together.  That’s a bit how it feels with James Dillon’s new work New York Triptych, though having had some previous experience with his music, I have certain expectations and notions about how it will eventually be constructed.  My first experience with Dillon was as somewhat of a new music newbie – a senior at Oberlin College, premiering The Soadie Waste (a quintet commissioned by friend and pianist Mike Gallope).  It was a great honor of course, but we were all green to say the least; that first experience working with James still resonates in my memory.  Now of course I know James and his music a little bit better.  It’s comforting, but perhaps slightly dangerous when you start to know a composer’s music better: what you the performer might expect to happen and what the composer has in mind could be two very different things.  Sitting here in my apartment some things already jump out as quintessential-Dillon (oh yes, those nasty double stops in multiple rhythmic layers).  But there seem to be some new elements as well (such as massive virtuosic figurations in palindromic formation); new for me at least.


And that’s the big discovery – we just don’t know yet what this will be.  Only James knows and, really, he doesn’t completely know; we, the musicians still have a big role to play.  I’m looking at my elephant’s tail: I wonder what’s attached?


-Chris Gross


***This piece was made possible by a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation.


Persephassa at Storm King

Free Ride Home by Kenneth Snelson


Persepolis, in Iran



Of all of the music we play that makes reference to nature, it is the work of Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) that for me most clearly suggests natural phenomena in their manner of operation and capacity for overwhelming power. The Greek born Xenakis was a trained and practicing architect, engineer, mathematician, music theorist, and not least one of the most important composers of the twentieth century. His application of mathematical models and architectural concepts to sound resulted in a music of beautifully conceived forms containing highly volatile materials. Much like nature, his music seems to exist beyond human directed goals or narrative structure. While obeying the necessary laws of physics, a natural event has its own sense of time and space and a capacity for both the sublime and the terrible, but it is ultimately unpredictable and utterly without concern for humans or our experience of it. The Storm King Art Center, where we will play Xenakis’s Persephassa this weekend, is a place of extraordinary natural beauty in conversation with large-scale sculptures that require open space on a vast scale to be properly perceived. By bringing Xenakis’s music into this landscape we hope to introduce another physical element to the environment, one constructed in both time and space and made up of sonic materials, and to extend this conversation into the realm of sound.


Persephassa, for six percussionists, was composed in 1969 and premiered at the first Shiraz Festival, held in the ruins of Persepolis, an ancient Persian site. Its title is a variation on the name Persephone, the goddess of springtime. Making use of the physical layout of the space, Xenakis explored his interest in spatial music by placing the percussionists in a hexagon around the perimeter of the site. The music itself is designed to exploit this placement and send material spinning around and across the ensemble, often in multiple directions at once, and at ever changing rates. At Storm King, we have chosen to place the ensemble at the edges of a natural plateau surrounding Kenneth Snelson’s 1974 sculpture Free Ride Home, composed of aluminum and stainless steel tubes and wires. Here, the six percussion setups will take on elements of both the natural landscape and the human designed artworks inhabiting it, and mediate between them. The listener will be able to sit between the players and hear Xenakis’s meticulously crafted lines spinning around the circle and feel its raw brutality, or sit on a hill above and experience it from a distance, an event of massive power but still not so close as to be dangerous.


The sounds of Persephassa are produced on drums, slabs of wood, metal pipes, thin sheets of metal, stones, and siren whistles. The percussionists begin each section with a unified line, each player gradually striking out at an individual speed, separating from the other players. The lines retain their integrity, but the interaction between them becomes unpredictable. To me this has always felt something like applying heat to a material and watching the molecules launch into motion, eventually becoming chaotic and irregular, not unlike making popcorn. At moments of greatest intensity Xenakis interjects a six-part burst of irregularity and chaos that he refers to as a nuage or cloud, an interaction that he has described as both functioning like a rain storm or a mob in the street – a teeming mass of unpredictable elements.


In planning this work for Storm King it was always clear that its scale would be ideal for the design of Persephassa, providing the space to set up around the audience and let the spatial and temporal processes of the work play out. But it is the uncontrollable aspects of the site, the wild surroundings and its susceptibility to nature that are most in accord with the shattering impact of the work at its most extreme moments.


Now, let’s just hope it doesn’t rain.


-Matthew Gold, Talea Percussionist


Gala 2012

If you missed Talea Gala 2012, you can catch a glimpse of the festivities here!

Matthias Pintscher, Gala 2012 Guest of Honor


Thomas Stelzer, Talea Board Member


Talea Conductor James Baker talks about Fausto Romitelli


Bon appétit!


Victor Adan's Tractus



Stay tuned for announcements about Talea Gala 2013!

 


Listening to Gérard Grisey’s Talea

Come hear Talea play Grisey’s Talea this Friday April 20th at the DiMenna Center! Talea friend and wonderful music journalist, Bruce Hodges, shares his insight on listening to this spectral masterpiece and Talea’s namesake.


In Latin, “talea” means “cutting,” and in Gérard Grisey’s Talea, an initial idea is gradually excised—elements removed and others taking their place. In two parts played without pause, the work is intended to—in the composer’s words—“express two aspects or, more precisely, two auditory angles of a single phenomenon.” But his concise description feels inadequate to describe the experience of hearing the score.


Talea’s power comes from its examination and illumination of an overtone cycle, a phenomenon integral to Grisey’s output (and spectral music in general). Somehow when one hears the ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) illuminating Grisey’s argument, it feels like being exposed to one of life’s basic building blocks—like grasping at DNA and holding it in your hands.


The five players alternate between moments of great ferocity (especially in the piano), and those of eerie quietude—at times almost as if everything has been shut down completely; at others, sounds emerge like soft groans from the earth itself. The timbres float, hover, barge into your brain, recede, reform themselves, take you hostage. As the scurrying of the first part calms down in the second, the waters reform, interrupted by various phenomena, until a kind of miraculous climax occurs near the end. Bit by bit, the violinist states the overtone scale with a thrilling baldness—as if everything previously had been building toward this moment—before the violinist repeats the scale again, and this time the sequence is abruptly cut off.


-Bruce Hodges


A Tribute to Fausto Romitelli

As we gear up for a week of recording Fausto Romitelli’s music at EMPAC, get to know Fausto through some beautiful tributes written by his friends and family. We were fortunate to have gathered these for a concert back in April 2010, and happy to share them again here with our e-fans!



Riccardo Nova: Composer Colleague
“It is difficult to speak/write briefly about Fausto; his personality had so many qualities. His very special way of laughing is the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I think of him – it was contagious, and the last time I heard him laughing was few day before his death: I called him from a public telephone somewhere in India. He was in the hospital attached to an oxygen mask. He could hear the heavy noise of the Indian traffic in the background and he made some ironic comments related to the “nice cacophony” … he could not breathe so well, but still managed to laugh. This was my last conversation with him … after a few days, he was gone.
In the late nineties Fausto and I shared a small flat in Liege; we were both working at the CRFMW. At that time Fausto was composing Bad Trip Lesson 1 (at the CRFMW he was realizing the electronic tape) … we were in the studio from morning till very late at night, and usually, in the morning, I was the first to wake up and make the coffee. Everyday when the coffee was ready, I would try to get him out of bed and he responded with the same sentence, “Please do not disturb me, I am working. Let me work a bit more….” I do not know if this was true or not, but whenever I hear his music, and specifically Bad Trip 1, I always recall those moments, for it is likely that his mind was in this “in-between reality”, where dreams and consciousness are merged together and where the mind is not yet totally in contact with the solidity of actual reality. . . I never forced him to wake up faster and every morning he drank his coffee cold. . .”


Giovanni Verrando: Composer Colleague
“Listening to Fausto’s music explains the kind of person he was: bold, cultured, and with a strong imagination. He was an extraordinary reader, thinking it was valuable for a contemporary composer to know in detail the good and bad habits of his time, and taking risks by showing those habits in his own scores. For us, his works such as Professor Bad Trip or An Index of Metals are flags, road signs that show us in which direction we have to carry on with our music.”


Marco Mazzolini: Publishing Representative, Ricordi Milan
“Fausto liked cycling at night in his village of Gorizia. Gorizia is a border town and at night it is completely deserted – when you walk, you hear only the sound of your footsteps. Fausto would pedal fast on empty streets in the faint light of the streetlamps, and was regularly stopped by the police, asking him for his documents every time.
We were friends and we talked amongst ourselves as two friends do. We worked together and joked together. Writing took up all his life and his way of being; there was the same hypersensitivity and visionary soul in his music — the same intelligence, the same irony, the same playful torment. “It is not required that one lives up to eighty,” he said, lying in his hospital bed. His thinking was lively and open, but filled with a strange urgency and full of loneliness. I feel like smiling when I think of Fausto riding the bike, pedaling fast at night through the deserted streets of Gorizia.”


Mauro Lanza: IRCAM colleague
“The very first time I met Fausto was a long time ago in Venice, after a concert. I clearly remember him – an Italian composer between Italian composers – freezing the audience when he provocatively stated his profound dislike for “all that Italian contemporary music”. It was not so much a judgment as the attitude of a child dropping a stink bomb and waiting for reactions to happen.
Our second encounter was at IRCAM. I was a student who had just arrived, attending his first “Espace de Projection” concert ever. There I heard Fausto’s music for the first time: the first chapter of his “Professor Bad Trip” trilogy. This piece deeply impressed me, not only because of the appealing mix of sonorities, echoing spectral music and progressive rock, but especially because of its form.
Unlike many “second generation” spectral composers, Fausto was not trying to get rid of continuity and slowness; he was raising them to the nth power. With him, repetition becomes hypnotic and ritual, inharmonic spectra become a metaphor of un-human, “processes” spreading illness, and the order-chaos polarity, typical of early spectral works, is now a one-way travel towards entropy.
To a certain extent his music was often impersonal, like a natural phenomenon. Fausto was an unmerciful god creating his miniature world, infecting his lab colony with a deadly virus and waiting for things to happen.
I remember having been compulsively listening to “Professor Bad Trip” for months before receiving the shocking news of Fausto’s death. The energy, vision and straightforwardness of his work have deeply influenced me as well as a whole generation of young composers.”


Valentina Romitelli: Sister
“I have never provided a comment on Fausto and his music, as I inevitably focus on the person, the man, the brother, and forget about the composer, which is probably what audiences care most about. Yet, the passionate request by the Talea Ensemble and the sincere enthusiasm of its members convinced me to write a few words about Fausto Romitelli.
The first qualities I would mention are his continuous research, curiosity, need to read and listen to ‘everything’, look ‘beyond’, seeking something new, and then the need to develop, polish, review everything in a restless effort to reach something. I do not know what it was, but he was never fully satisfied. Yet it happened a few times that after a first execution by a good ensemble he enjoyed his music and appeared even happy about the final outcome of his efforts, and, in the end, happy if people appreciated his music.
He was a contrarian, often remaining distant from trends and vogues, and, as a young composer, he got quite angry when someone suggested his music was influenced by his teacher. After a few years, his music had gone very far away, pushed by his research and driven by his strong will to move up, to look ahead. Even in his personal life he was never really still: he used to read many books at the same time, to change his mind again and again…. A friend of his once commented, ‘He was never happy, never satisfied: he wanted to be in his hometown when he was in Milan, wanted to be in Milan when he was in Paris, and to be in Paris when he was back home… in short he was happy only on the train.’
The last aspect of his complex personality I would mention here is his light approach to life: maybe that was also a way of balancing his strong commitment for music — which used to absorb a huge amount of concentration and energy — or a (positive) side-effect of his disease and a way to live with it. In any case his style of blending lightness with complexity and ‘culture’ is definitely part of his heritage, and his music reflects this.”


Thomalla’s Capriccio




We are excited to premiere a brand new work by Hans Thomalla. Come hear Capriccio on March 9th! Read what Talea’s Artistic Director, Anthony Cheung, and Hans had to say about it recently.


AC: Many of your works reference historical genres pieces of the past, particularly the early 19th Century. Titles such as “Character pieces,” “Musical moments,” “Album-leaf,” and now with this new piece, “Capriccio,” are but a few examples. What is your relationship to these types of genres? Why do you reference them and what is specifically attractive to you about the early Romantics?


HT: Just as much as it means creating acoustic realities, composing for me means to find out about the musical reality that surrounds me, about the numerous fragments from musical languages that over the years have accumulated into something like a “vocabulary”. Romantic musical gestures, expressions, and forms are a major part of that layering of references (not least because of their dominant presence in the classical music industry, and – at least during the time I grew up – in music for film and television, which because of its connection to concrete narratives so much coins our concepts of what musical figures “say”). My relationship to these materials is one of alienation – it is not “my” musical language – and at the same time one of intense attraction and curiosity. The referential figures are almost always eventually destroyed in my music, though: their dissection into their acoustic elements makes place for a different acoustic reality.


AC: Could you tell us about “Capriccio,” and how it fits into your output as a whole?


HT: I don’t really think about my music as a “whole”. Each of the pieces lives its own life, I hope. There are some traces to other recent works, though: the interest in melody, although one that is not predefined by scales and cadential gravitation, but by sudden linear relations between different materials; the transformation from traditional harmonies into multiphonics and vice versa. “Capriccio” is the attempt to follow the path of a melody that starts out as a rather rigid declination of scales (the concept of a technical virtuosity that has been so much part of the genre “Capriccio”), and that increasingly carries along structural “dirt” – multiphonics, driftwood of major and minor chords, spectral blossoming in the strings, all kinds of acoustic filters; and then eventually follows its own constantly re-charted navigation. “Capriccio” is also a genre of lightness, and I was curious to investigate a sound-world that is literally agravic, where all sounds are more and more airy, flautando, lifting the bow from the string and the mouth from the read, to create sounds that have almost lifted themselves up from any acoustic grounds.


AC: Tell us about “Fremd,” your recent opera that was premiered last year at the Stuttgart Opera.


HT: “Fremd” was a quite exhausting and intensive project – the second run of performances is actually going on at the very moment in Stuttgart, and I plan to see one of the last shows and participate in a discussion with the audience. It is the story of Medea and the Argonauts, which I read as an encounter of strange worlds (fremd means strange in German). It was the attempt to “tell a story” on the stage, without giving up one of the most exciting aspects of contemporary music: its liberation from any kind of system of reference, its insistence to be heard as sound just as much as sign. The struggle between Medea and the rationalistic Greeks is partially just that: the struggle of Medea’s concept of sound (and with that of nature in general) that is essentially “free”, and that of the Argonauts trying to rationalize acoustic experience and expression. It’s a “big” piece – large orchestra (partially placed around the audience), choir, soloists and live electronics. I wrote stage music already as a high school student, and later in college I wrote music for the Frankfurt Theater. After my undergraduate studies I worked at the Stuttgart opera company from 1999-2002 as a dramaturge – so I think that it is a field to which I was always attracted (and the success of “fremd” made me start thinking about the next opera-project already).


AC: You write that in order for contemporary music to be meaningful, it must examine the historical and rhetorical necessities of sounds and their specific uses, instead of relying on a repertoire of known gestures. Is it possible to create in a language without these references, and is that a conscious goal of yours at all times?


HT: I don’t think it’s possible to write music without any of these references, but I am interested in music that truly examines them to the core, transforms them, dissects them, and sometimes violently destroys them. I think there is nothing as boring in New Music as musical language, that in every moment is on stable ground. Whatever that ground is (neo-romantic expressive stereotypes; the never ending repertoire of minimalist- or film-music-idioms; any kind of post-serial “academic” syntax) – music that does not at times shake its own foundations, that actively deconstructs the so comfortably inherited language, eventually becomes meaningless, I think.


Sequenza VI

 

Read what Talea violist, Elizabeth Weisser, says about learning and performing Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VI.  Then come hear her shred this Sunday, February 26th at 4 PM, at the Roger Smith Hotel!

iNSIDE Out Series
Negative Space: Music and Silence for One Viola
Works by Ianns Xenakis, J.S. Bach, and Luciano Berio

I was asked to play Berio’s Viola Sequenza a year and a half ago.  I was very excited about the wild chords and ferocious tremolos.  And with my affinity for coffee at the time, I thought that shaking my bow a lot would not only be an easy task, but pretty fun as well.  Over the course of the summer leading up to it, I looked at the score and listened to several recordings as well as digging up as much reading material to get the piece in my head and heart.

Then the day came where I put the music on the stand and started to play the first note  (violist Walter Trampler remarks about the the duration: “play until you think someone in the audience would scream”).  I was playing all four notes as loud as possible with my bow going as fast as I could make it go.  Feeling the lactic acid building in my right bicep, I finished that one note and put down my viola to call it a day.  (I think Benjamin Franklin said something about do tomorrow what you could do today.)  Day two, I tried a whole page.  Again,  the idea of actually getting through the entire piece when I felt literally winded and in a certain amount of pain after scrappily surviving a sixth of the piece seemed unrealistic.  Throughout the process leading up to the concert, I tried everything.  I added more core strength exercises to my day. I tried fabric and rubber bandaids and even stuck those wart pads on the top of my bow.  I tried different kinds of rosin too.  I increased my caffeine intake.  I focused on using different muscle group and sometimes would even try alternating muscle groups in the middle of a run-thru. Basically, if you picture the montage from Rocky and replace the soundtrack with an avant-garde solo piece, I think that is what my life looked like for awhile.

And there was a certain dissonance within myself that went along with this process.  The piece fought my body, my body fought the piece, I fought my body: it was a real struggle.  But the more “beat up” I was, the more attached I found myself becoming to this work.  I loved the way the harmonies would go from dense and dark to almost having these specks of light.  I thought it was remarkable that he could change the texture so slightly and the dramatic impact was undeniably potent.  And I thought the trajectory of the piece was so organic and elegant but in no way ordinary.  The physical investment I put into the work made all of the conceptual elements much more special to me.

The day of the concert came and I still had concerns about being able to get through the piece.  What would happen if my muscles simply stopped?  I’ve seen it happen to marathoners- why not me?  Even though this was a much smaller task than a marathon in terms of duration and mileage, this 12 minute piece was a huge journey for me.  To keep you in suspense no longer, I got through without needing Gatorade, but I told myself I didn’t think I had it in me again to do it.

I woke up the next morning and felt like part of me was missing (and no, it wasn’t my arm despite what I thought the worse case scenario could be).  The Sequenza had become part of my identity- my raison d’etre- for the time that I worked on it and suddenly, it was gone.  The soreness in my arms remained but I felt incomplete.  I hadn’t appreciated, through all of the bandaids and blisters, what had become almost a meditation for me: a time of escape and growth.

Therefore, I’m happy to get the piece back in my arms and fingers.  Muscle memory helps and the negative space during which I didn’t play it allowed for me to regain strength and gratitude for the journey this time.


Get to know Donatienne

Photo by Mikael Libert

We are excited to have the fabulous Donatienne Michel-Dansac joining us from Paris very soon.  Come hear her sing Bernhard Lang’s DW 16: Songbook 1 as a part of the Austrian Cultural Forum’s 10th Anniversary Series at the Bohemian National Hall on February 17th. Get to know her here first!

 
You joined a chorus at your Conservatory when you were 11, but had you always been drawn to singing or was that a new phenomenon for you?
I joined a children’s choir in the opera house of the town where I lived when I was 11.  The theater was my second home; I spent so much time in it!  It was not singing which was new at that time, but singing in choir: I adored it. My very first experience onstage was singing in the choir in “Carmen” and I have been addicted since…

At what point did your fascination begin with contemporary literature?  Was there a certain piece that got you hooked?

My mother used to listen to a lot of music at home- mostly classical and jazz.  Then in the 70′s and 80′s, there was a big contemporary music festival in Royan, France. My mother took the car and we went there to listen to lots of creations.  It was more than three hours by car to go there which at that age seemed like an eternity!! I remember going to a recital of Cathy Berberian when I was nine years old. It was amazing. I’ve always listened to music at home but also going to a lot of concerts. On average, I think I went more than six times per month to the concert or opera since I was six years old. My very first experience as a singer which made me fall in love with contemporary music was meeting Pierre Boulez: I was 22 and it was for “Laboryntus 2″ by Berio, in Paris. Looking at such a big conductor, so calm, so easy, so smily, who conducted this music.  It was a new experience for me, but I deeply wanted to interpret it.  Since this experience, I always think about my time with Boulez when I work on any new piece. “Laborynthus 2″ hooked me, but it was also meeting Pierre Boulez.

What has been the strangest requirement from a composer/piece of music that you have had to meet?

In dealing with complex new music, I’m sure that with work, patience and intelligence, we can do lots of things!!  The strangest request of a composer that I ever had was that he asked me to copy my voice which had been transformed by a computer… I just didn’t understand why because it was done (and very well!…) by the machine. I’m not a machine, so I didn’t do it, but it was very hard to explain because the composer didn’t understand that I was not a machine.  His requirement was not strange, it was just ridiculous. No more to say…I work with great composers who are great human beings who write very difficult things but although it’s a lot of work, it always teaches me something about the possibilities of my voice.

What is your process as you are getting to know a work?

When I first get to know a work, I always work first in my mind.  Just in my mind, no humming, no mimics, just in the head. To hear inside, to simply read also, to be closer and closer to the score and its own style.  This process can take months for certain pieces (for example some “récitations” by Aperghis took me 9 months of this type of work, for finally 4 minutes of music… haha!)  But the reward is that when you work so hard with your mind and intelligence, as soon as it’s time to sing (because the deadline of the concert arrives) more than 80% of the work is done. It always is astonishing to me but it’s real.

What is most interesting for you about singing DW16?

Receiving a score is always a present!! Everything is interesting in this score: the difficulties are very interesting because you have to look for solutions and I think I’m born to always look for solutions (even if I don’t find them which can also be very interesting…). In regards to DW16 Songbook I, I like the principle of Chamber Music, to work on a score entirely, understanding all of the instruments, what they do, where they are, where I am suppose to be inside their line etc… I like the repetitions of texts because you’re obligated to always say the same thing but never the same way… It’s a score where everything is written, I just have to do what is written. And last but not the least, there is a lot of humor in this piece.

Georges Aperghis: Récitations (excerpt)

 



Enno Poppe’s Holz

In preparation for Saturday’s Inharmonic/ (X)enharmonic concert at Merkin, Rane Moore tells us about mastering Enno Poppe’s clarinet concerto, Holz.

Listen Here: Enno Poppe: Holz (excerpt)

Klangforum Wien, Stefan Asbury (conductor)

“I’ve spent the last month or so engrossed in the music of Enno Poppe. His clarinet concerto Holz, was written for one of my heroes, clarinetist Ernesto Molinari. I had a transformative musical experience with him at Darmstadt and hope to run into him again when Talea plays there next summer. I have definitely been trying to channel his virtuosity, artistry and charisma in my preparation.

This clarinet part poses several practical challenges. It is a wild and virtuosic score with frenetic registral jumping and endurance demands, but in sitting down with it my initial task was simply figuring when to play each note. I remember hearing Brian Ferneyhough describe a section in his piece “Terrain” as looking through a window on a highway with lanes of traffic moving at different speeds. While Poppe’s music and rhythmic sensibility differ from Ferneyhough’s, this image loosely sums up the complicated, unstable rhythmic organization of “Holz.” Not only are instruments moving at varying speeds, but within my own part small repeated gestures stretch and push. It’s a compelling abstract idea and tricky to realize!

Luckily practicing this and each of the microtonal pieces for Talea’s Dec 17th concert appeals to my obsessive tendencies. In this piece Poppe employs quarter and eighth tones and while I’ve played plenty of music with various tuning schemes it is always rewarding to discover new tricks to achieve them more easily and accurately. It is a bizarre feeling after an afternoon finessing eighth tones when a half step seems so wide you could drive a truck through it. I love the idea that honing in on micro-details (pitch, rhythm, etc.) explodes open textural, harmonic, and expressive possibilities.

These details, among many others, help Poppe create a striking variety of complex and imaginative sound worlds. My solo line, at times sinewy and at other times explosive, weaves through the ensemble playing ethereal, mechanical, humorous, grotesque, and gorgeous music.”

-Rane Moore

Come hear Rane shred Holz this Saturday, December 17th, at Merkin Concert Hall at 8 PM!


John Zorn Portrait

John Zorn Composer Portrait Video Preview

We are psyched to premiere  John Zorn’s Bateau Ivre (2011) on Friday December 9th at Miller Theatre.  Join us and a great collection of all-stars including Fred Sherry, Jennifer Koh, Stephen Gosling, and many more.

Bateau Ivre (2011) has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.

Read what long-time collaborator Willie Winant has to say about working with John Zorn.

I’ve known John for almost 25 years, he is probably the most creative and imaginative composer I’ve ever known or worked with (and I’ve worked with a lot)! Henry Cowell had said that a composer of today should be able to write music convincingly in more than just one genre (or style), and John does this in spades, not only convincingly but with imagination and total creativity! It’s been a real honor to know, and have the opportunity to work with him.

-Willie Winant


Revisiting Kontakte

Photo by Wang Lu

Last night, Alex and I rehearsed Stockhausen’s Kontakte for the first time since our performance of it at the Spark festival in Minneapolis last fall. The concert on Friday at the German Consulate New York will be our third outing with the work, a milestone of electroacoustic music which remains mesmerizing a half century after it was written. So much of the learning curve with Kontakte is about memorizing and internalizing the tape part; as each event unfolds in fixed, pre-determined time, we interact with the broad strokes of the tape and its minute, moment-to-moment details, not to mention the other live performer. The rather elegant and ingenious graphic notation that Stockhausen devised to represent his electronics greatly aid the performer’s understanding and memory of the part, and two types of notation – prescriptive for the performer and descriptive for the tape – are thus employed simultaneously. Parallel interactions exist in real-time: those of the performer/tape and the performer/performer. The challenge in relearning the work has been to master both of these dialogues, which require different modes of processing information (perhaps even different parts of the brain!). Sam Pluta will be on hand with the tremendous task of balancing the tape and live parts seamlessly, and also giving us a few essential cues. But for most of the time, it’s up to us to feel what 10.4 seconds of near-silence followed by a huge outburst really sounds and feels like. Our internal clocks have to be running smoothly, because mistake 10.4 for 10.7 and you’ve missed the boat forever.

Another amazing thing about performing this piece, from my point of view, is the vast array of percussion that I get to play. We spent the first hour just getting all the auxiliary instruments set up and working. From indian bells to cymbals to cowbells, woodblocks, and gongs, the pianist for Kontakte has an elaborate setup that extends far beyond just playing on the keys of the piano. It’s a challenge that is incredibly satisfying, as I get to step into the shoes of a percussionist for much of the piece and augment the typical sonorities of the piano.

-Anthony Cheung
Artistic Director, Talea Ensemble

 


Welcome to the New Talea Site!

Welcome to the Talea Ensemble’s newly revamped website! With this digital makeover we are pleased to announce the 2011-12 season and several new features of the site itself: updated audio/video clips as well as the beginning of a regular blog series that will feature the contributions of performers, composers, and audiences.

2011-12 marks Talea’s fifth full season, and continues the innovative and unpredictable thematic programming which we strive to present. Bringing forward new works for the first time is the most exciting aspect of what we do, and a number of commissioned works will receive their premieres this season, from emerging composers to internationally established figures. There will be classics of experimental music mixed with more recent works that illuminate them in new contexts. A major event in December is a concert of microtonal music, with a conference at Columbia University earlier in the day. We also continue our commitment to the music of the late Fausto Romitelli. After having introduced much of his music to the US for the first time, we will be recording a disc of his music, presenting a portrait concert, and taking his music on tour.

Talea also continues its commitment to working with student composers, many of whom are already heavily involved in the professional worlds of new music; we will be in residence at four universities this season. And we continue our ongoing relationship with the arts-driven Roger Smith Hotel in midtown Manhattan, presenting a series of concerts integrating traditional repertoire with the new through thematic links and informal concert discussions. These continue to be some of the most enjoyable and rewarding ways for us to reach out to audiences, many of whom are regular attendees.

We look forward to seeing you this season!

-Anthony Cheung
Artistic Director, Talea Ensemble