CRISSY BROADCAST: SFCMP was the lead professional ensemble for this World Premiere by Lisa Bielawa, which gathered 800 amateur musicians — a professional, student and amateur musicians, including orchestras, bands, and experimental new music groups — in a massive, spatialized symphony involving at San Francisco’s Crissy Field. Free to the public, the event reached 5,000 people directly. SFCMP ensemble members led musical workshops with their assigned groups and conducted the groups during the performances. Most of the general public, including family members of the participants and the amateur participants themselves, had never been part of a ‘new music’ performance before. Getting “outside the concert hall” was achieved in a very impressive fashion. While working collaboratively with an individual artist created some administrative challenges in “entrenching” and aligning “institutional planning” with an artist-led framework, the event was deemed an artistic and community success:
“I’ve never heard music like this before…” – audience member
“You’ve enabled my playing to evolve in unimaginable ways. Thanks for the open door to the Muse” – adult amateur musician
“ I knew I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t realize quite how thrilling it would be. A big part of the excitement came from being so tightly connected to so many people for precisely fifty minutes. It was fun to under the command of the clock, knowing that other musicians depended on us to play the right thing at the right time in the right place. It felt a lot like a big game!” – Lowell HS band director
Lisa Bielawa – Composer & Artistic Director These musicians will perform on the grounds of Crissy Field for thousands of music lovers and unwitting park goers.
Sunday, July 21, 2013 7:30 p.m. | Center for New Music, 55 Taylor Street
Tickets $15 at the door ($10 for CNM members)
The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) launches a new, occasional series of musical events with the inaugural SFCMP Players Show, featuring SFCMP guitarist David Tanenbaum with local ensembles Mobius Trio and The Living Earth Show.
The Players Show is a new project that casts a spotlight on our ensemble members and their various musical activities around the Bay Area with informal, pop-up events. The ground rule in putting together the Players Show is that SFCMP musicians share the kinds of activities, collaborations, and repertoire they are exploring in their careers and in the Bay Area, and let them curate an hour-long concert. SFCMP sees these events as another way to bring listeners — from the deeply devoted, to the casual, to the total newcomer — into the arc of new-music creation, performance, and appreciation.
This program of contemporary music for guitar will be curated by David Tanenbaum, who in addition to serving as SFCMP’s resident guitarist is chair of the guitar department at the SF Conservatory. Works will be performed by local ensembles Mobius Trio and the Living Earth Show, both former students and proteges of Tanenbaum.
SFCMP audiences will recognize Travis Andrews of the Living Earth Show as the lead guitarist on our January, 2013 Steve Reich concert and his scintillating performance of Electric Counterpoint.
David Tanenbaum Lou Harrison Scenes from Nek Chand
Ronald Bruce Smith Five Pieces for Guitar and Electronics
The Living Earth Show
Brian Ferneyhough Renvoi/Shards
Luciano Chessa The Captain’s Testament
Kevin Villalta Witch Wagon
Brendon Randall-Myers Making Good Choices i. running with scissors ii. following directions iii. hanging on for dear life
Earlier in the day, at 5:00 p.m. SFCMP will participate in a free panel discussion with composer Lisa Bielawa and others on the renaissance of site-specific and participatory new music in the Bay Area. The panel will preview Bielawa’s October 2013 Crissy Broadcast event, for which SFCMP is the lead professional ensemble.
The next SFCMP Players Show will take place on October 17 at 7:30 pm at the Center for New Music. Curated by SFCMP harpist Karen Gottlieb, the program includes Lou Harrison’s Music for Harp, with Gottlieb accompanied on percussion by SFCMP Artistic Director Steven Schick and Andrew Myerson (of local duo The Living Earth Show).
Thursday, October 17, 2013 – 7:30 p.m. | Center for New Music, 55 Taylor Street
Tickets $15 at the door ($10 for CNM members)
Curated by SFCMP harpist, Karen Gottlieb
SFCMP presents the second SFCMP Players Show of the 2013-14 season, featuring SFCMP harpist Karen Gottlieb accompanied on percussion by SFCMP Artistic Director Steven Schick and Andrew Myerson (of local duo The Living Earth Show).
The Players Show is a new occasional concert series that casts a spotlight on our ensemble members and their various musical activities around the Bay Area with informal, pop-up events. The ground rule in putting together the Players Show is that SFCMP musicians share the kinds of activities, collaborations, and repertoire they are exploring in their careers and in the Bay Area, and let them curate an hour-long concert. SFCMP sees these events as another way to bring listeners — from the deeply devoted, to the casual, to the total newcomer — into the arc of new-music creation, performance, and appreciation.
The program is entitled: “Breaking Boundaries and Pushing the Envelope – Exploring New and Exciting Realms of the Harp” and includes a solo performance by Mills College MFA student Stephan Haluska, who seeks to “push the harp into new territories by extending the harp’s vocabulary” and a performance by Oakland harpist Destiny Muhammad (a.k.a. The Harpist from the Hood) with bass and drums. Her self-described genre ‘Celtic to Coltrane’ is “cool and eclectic with a touch of storytelling to round out the sonic experience.” Gottlieb, with Schick and Myerson, will perform Lou Harrison’s Music for Harp.
Stephan Haluska is a harpist, improviser, and composer. He loves the harp for its resonant beauty, for the myriad of sound possibilities, the idiomatic harmonies that the pedals can derive, and the tactile nature of the instrument. Stephan’s aim is to push the harp into new territories by extending the harp’s vocabulary through extended effects, amplification, and electronics, and to provide new roles for the instrument. Stephan is currently attending Mills College in their MFA program in Performance and Literature with a concentration in Improvisation where he studies with Zeena Parkins, Fred Frith, and Roscoe Mitchell.
Destiny Muhammad is Recording/ Performing Artist in Singer-Songwriter fashion on Harp. Her genre ‘Celtic to Coltrane’ is cool and eclectic with a touch of storytelling to round out the sonic experience. Destiny has opened for The Oakland East Bay Symphony, shared the stage with Pulitzer Winner/ Author Alice Walker, GRAMMY Awardee(s) India. Irei, Narada Michael Walden, Jazz Masters Azar Lawrence, Marcus Shelby, Omar Sosa, John Santos, accompanied Jazz Divas Denise Perrier & Diane, Witherspoon, performed American & European Classical compositions with the Oakland Public Conservatory Symphony Orchestra and co-starred in Def Jam Poetry Winner Ise Lyfe’s Hip Hop Play ‘Pistols & Prayers to name a few. She has also headlined for the ‘Women in Jazz’ Concert series in San Francisco. Destiny is expanding her musical ideals with her project, The Destiny Muhammad Project. She is Governor Emeritus and Educational Chair Emeritus of the Recording Academy, San Francisco Chapter, Jazz Heritage Center of San Francisco Jazz Ambassador and an ASCAP Songwriter Awardee.
Along with guitarist Travis Andrews, Andrew Meyerson is part of the San Francisco-based duo The Living Earth Show. They were featured on SFCMP’s debut SFCMP Players Show in July, 2014. LES will soon celebrate the release of a CD on Innova Records.
Steven Schick. Credit: Bill Dean; Stephan Haluska Photo by Bonnie Chan
Supported in part with major funding from the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University
Steven Schick and Rand Steiger, Co-Curators
Crissy Broadcast –October 26-27 – SFCMP will be the lead professional ensemble for this event, which unites 700 professional and amateur musicians in a site-specific world premiere of a work by Lisa Bielawa at the iconic Crissy Field. Performances at 10:00 am and 4:00 pm on Sat., Oct. 26 and 12:00 pm on Sun., Oct. 27. Free public event
Timber– Thursday, November 14. Elena Langer’s Two Cat Songs (2010) for voice, piano, and cello and Michael Gordon’s 2010 work Timber – a percussive tour de force for six musicians playing amplified and processed lengths of lumber. 8:00 pm at the YBCA Lam Theater. Click here for program notes.
Origins– Friday, February 14, 2014. SFCMP Artistic Director Steven Schick performs a rare San Francisco recital of works by Stockhausen, Feldman, Lachenmann, Vinko Globokar, James Tenney, and Xenakis. JCCSF, 8:00 pm.
Triptych– Tuesday, February 18. Features Aus.Weg, a 2010 work by Georg Freidrich Haas,Luciano Chessa’s 2013 work Set and Setting, for musicians and “youth delivering scents of lavender and jasmine,” and James Dillon’s large-scale 2012 work New York Triptych, for musicians, radio receiver and CD player. 8:00 pm YBCA Forum. Click here for program notes.
Project Anton – Monday, March 24: Project Anton. Anton Webern’s 1934 masterwork Concerto for Nine Instruments is juxtaposed with a world commission of an inter-media work by Polish composer Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, Pointing Twice, with Korean guest choreographer Young-Doo Jung. Also Brian Ferneyhough’s La Chute D’Icare, and In Memoriam Jon Higgins by Alvin Lucier. 8:00 pm YBCA, Forum.
I can now happily announce that the culture wars between European and American music are officially over.
You knew that there we were at war with Europe, right?
Alas, it’s true. And I am sorry to say that a too much of my forty years of active engagement with contemporary music has been devoted to identifying and then defending what it meant to be an American musician. The most difficult years for me personally were the 1980’s, strangely paralleling the real cold war. I finished my degree in Freiburg in 1982 and immediately began teaching at the Darmstadt Summer Course. In Germany it seemed like every musical encounter was a test of authority: my European colleagues doubted that I really understood how to play Stockhausen, and as a riposte, I questioned their Ives and Cage. Every claim was answered by a counter claim: they had their spectralists; we had Partch; they had Nono and we had Feldman. Both sides claimed Varèse. A propos Varèse: in my five-year stint as director of the Centre International de Percussion de Genève the only time voices were ever raised above a well-modulated Calvinist murmur was when I claimed that Varèse was American. The gloves – in that particular case, expensive silk ones – came off.
Then in a small tipping point there was a revelatory moment on tour with the Bang on a Can All-Stars. We were playing in Lithuania and were in the midst of the obligatory press conference when one played in Eastern Europe. One journalist repeatedly tried to bait us with questions about the great European/American divide. As a group who flew under the colorful flag of downtown New York City, we got that kind of thing a lot. At that moment Evan Ziporyn, whose piece Hive you are about to hear, and who was sitting on the dais with me that day, noted that a third of the group was born neither in the United States nor in Europe. Furthermore, he continued, he had had his most formative training in Indonesia. Maybe, he posited, the new musical reality was neither European nor American. Maybe we could begin to leave the world of Henry James and Edith Wharton, of Nadia Boulanger and Speculum Musicae, behind. Our cultural cringe could finally be put to rest – after all, why cringe any more? Houston has great opera, Salt Lake City has a first-rate contemporary music series, and Minneapolis probably has more interesting theater and musical events per capita than Paris. But also, just maybe, we could temper our jingoistic defense of the American Experimentalist tradition (as though we invented the idea of experiment.)
The reason I am mentioning this topic at all is that it was only a few weeks ago that it occurred to me that the current San Francisco Contemporary Music Players season – of which we have plentiful reason to be proud for its diversity and aesthetic range – consists exclusively of American music except for one piece, the brief violin solo by Liza Lim that you will hear tonight.
What a wonderful surprise!
How wonderful that there is such diversity of style, musical aesthetic and personal history within the music of a single country! How wonderful it is that Lewis Nielson sounds unlike Evan Ziporyn, and even that John Cage in 1938 sounds very little like John Cage in 1958. And how equally wonderful is the inclusivity of American music such that a composer like Chaya Czernowin, born in Israel, educated in the United States, Germany and Japan, for a while a Professor in Vienna, and now at Harvard, is fully an American composer in our view. And most of all how wonderful that a (very nearly) full season of American music was created, not as a political statement or a box to be ticked on a grant application, but simply by accident – based on the criterion of musical excellence rather than national origin. And finally, how wonderful, for those of us who suffered through the grim culture wars on both sides of the ocean that we simply do not have to care anymore.
There are still valuable and important centers for the advancement of American music. My pronouncement here is no judgment that they are irrelevant. But they are out-of-date and badly in need of a make-over so that they become less concerned with promoting American music and more concerned with bettering the experience of American audiences. And for organizations, even our own from time to time, who profess to being the voice of the European avant-garde. That battle is over. It’s time to move on to more important fights. After all we created a season of American music and I didn’t even notice!
As SFCMP prepares for a performance of Hive, we asked composer Evan Ziporyn about the concert’s namesake piece:
On the list of works on your website, the first section is labeled as “Works for Clarinet/Bass Clarinet,” but many of the pieces, includingHive, appear in other sections as well. Of course, since you play Clarinet yourself this isn’t all that surprising, but could you talk a bit about how you think about these works as somehow distinct from the other pieces with which they share “secondary” categories?
Mainly this is navigational – my default job description is ‘composer/clarinetist,’ many of my works are for clarinet, so a significant number of visitors to the site are clarinetists – putting that section first is the equivalent of displaying something in the front of a store – if this is what you’re here for, you need look no further! Of course it also reflects something about my music, the depth of my relationship to the instrument, technically and personally.
While writing for only wind instruments is maybe not all that unusual, it’s also not an ensemble type that many people are particularly familiar with, and in fact Hive is the only piece of its kind (in terms of instrumentation) that we’ll be featuring in our programming for this season. Could you talk about how you approach the wind ensemble and perhaps what you find particularly interesting and unique about these instruments?
This is really a continuation of the last answer. For years I thought of the solo clarinet pieces as self-portraits; it at first took me by surprise the other musicians would want to play them. (Coincidentally one of the first players who approached me years ago was Jeff Anderle, he’s played several of my pieces brilliantly, so it’s great to have him be part of this performance). I had to find a way to codify my idiosyncratic techniques, find notations and alternate fingers, set aspects that in my own performance could be more open, etc. Hivewas a commission from another ‘legit’ player who has performed my music extremely well, Ted Schoen of Minnesota. The other members of the original group were two extremely fine orchestral players, principals in St. Paul and Atlanta. Classical clarinet, wind ensembles, and clarinet choirs were a large part of my youth, but over the years I had come to feel like an outsider in that world. So the fact that they wanted to do this was very important to me – an opportunity to reconnect to that community and to that style of playing, to find a way to meaningfully merge our sensibilities. I felt like I was returning to my hive after a very long day out, bringing back nectar and pollen from the outside world.
Continuing somewhat with this thread of interest in unique sound-worlds, could you talk a little bit about how your experience with Gamelan music shapes your compositional style?
I began studying Balinese gamelan over 30 years ago; and I’ve led my own ensemble and composed for it for over 20 years – so at this point it feels like part of the DNA – hard to know where to even begin! Direct evocations and quotes aside (though these almost always seep in), I suppose it’s a cyclical orientation, a love of syncopation, an emphasis on ensemble interaction, and an awareness of the visceral and the beautiful. That would be the musical side of it. There are also community aspects of gamelan – both how the ensemble works and how it fits into Balinese society – that I find continually instructive and inspiring. These have been equally important to me in shaping my musical activities over the years.
Finally, in the notes for Hive you mention that the piece is in part derived from your experiences as an amateur bee-keeper. Could you talk about your decision to use bees as the jumping off point for this piece? Did you decide to start keeping bees knowing that it would inform your music?
My wife and I had begun keeping bees in 2007, right around the time this piece was commissioned. Like many non-musical avocations – chess or child-rearing, to name too – it opens up entirely new ways of thinking about the world – sometimes small observations, sometimes life-changing epiphanies. In this case it was somewhere in between – there is something so ‘other’ about bee society, it is one thing to know this in the abstract, quite another to experience it in an ongoing and interactive way, dealing with this bizarre alien culture (which incidentally has the ability to kill you) in a box in your back yard. That said, the meaning of bee life is structural and formal – the life cycle, the rhythm of their interaction, the way they work together. All fueled by a daily hunt for the sensuous. You will notice how well that corresponds to the list in the previous answer…so how could I resist
As SFCMP prepares for a performance of Chromatic Quadrachord, we asked composer Paul Dresher about the piece and the unique instrument from which its title is derived:
To start, could you share a few thoughts on your approach to instrument building?
An idea for an instrument usually starts with the question “What would happen if…”. The
“if” in that answer might be something like “we put strings on a 16 foot long beam?” or
“we explore the way a hurdy gurdy mechanically bows strings?” or “dispense with the
keyboard and invent new ways to play a pipe organ.” Of course, behind any of these
questions is a curiosity about sounds and a desire to discover either a new sound world
or a new way of creating or controlling sounds that might already be in our musical
What is the process of orchestration like now that you’ve created such a wealth of new sounds with the instruments you’ve built?
It is always a substantial compositional step when one attempts to move beyond what
may be a seductive and thoroughly intriguing single sound of a new invention in order
to create a more layered or complex music. Of course, if you are combining that
sound with other newly-invented sounds, you probably have a bit more freedom. But
if one is combining that invented instrument with conventional instruments, one has
to grapple with the very basic issues of the tuning system one chooses to use, and of
course, important characteristics of timbre (sound “color”) and dynamics (the relative
loudness and balance). The latter two are an issue that any composer deals with when
writing for two different instruments and this is best learned through direct experience.
In this work, which is one of my first to combine the Quadrachord with conventional
instruments, I decided to explore that question directly by choosing an ensemble that
combined different instrumental families: bowed strings (violin), clarinet (woodwind),
struck strings (piano) and percussion (marimba). And because the Quadrachord does
NOT play in the same tuning system as these conventional instruments – all it’s intervals
are derived from the natural harmonic series – I decided to make the difference between
their tuning systems one of the main subjects of the work itself.
In an interview about your Concerto for Quadrachord & Orchestra, you talk about some of the challenges of trying to blend or distinguish the voice of the instrument with that of the orchestra. Could you talk a little bit about the “voice” of the Quadrachord and how we’ll be hearing it in tonight’s piece?
I’ll apologize in advance for the overly-technical description in the following paragraph
– one that is likely indecipherable to anyone not well-versed in the tuning of the intervals
of the natural harmonic series. Fortunately, I don’t expect anyone listening to the
work to follow the development of the music in any way different from how one might
normally listen to chamber music except to offer the hint (or perhaps a warning) that in
some places, some phrases will not sound “in tune” with one’s expectations of normal
What we’ll hear from the Quadrachord in tonight’s performance is a relatively simple
(in terms of formal structure) and somewhat systematic exploration of the two different
parameters that shape the composition: orchestration and intonation. The piece begins
with the Quadrachord alone, establishing it’s distinct sound world and playing the
simple bowed pattern that it will use throughout the work. The musical content at that
point is simple and entirely in tune with the tuning systems that all the other instruments
will use. (The Quadrachord playing the 6th harmonic on all but one of the strings). As
the piece develops, each instrument plays a short duet with the Quadrachord. At each
entrance, the Quadrachord moves to a new harmony that incorporates at least one of
the next ascending intervals of the harmonic series on one of the four strings. At that
point there is divergence between the tuning of the notes on the Quadrachord and on the
conventional instruments. As the piece progresses, duets turn into trios, then quartets and
then the full quintet towards the end. And at each instrumental change, the Quadrachord
moves higher in the harmonic series, ascending stepwise (hence the “chromatic” of the
title) as until it’s final harmonic pattern that uses the 17th, 15th, 13th and 18th harmonics
respectively on the four strings (that are tuned Ab, F, F, and Db).
Chromatic Quadrachord will be performed on Monday, February 25th at 8pm (more information).
In preparation for the World Premiere of his SFCMP commissioned Rabbit Hole, Mark Applebaum provides some insight towards the bizarre world of the piece:
There seem to be two kinds of musicians. The first type says, “This is what I do; write me something like that.” The second type says, “This is what I do; please (please!) challenge me to do something different.” To my mind, Steve Schick, is decidedly in the second category.
So when Steve asked me to compose for the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players I felt at liberty to pursue an astonishingly ridiculous idea I had been mulling for almost two decades: to write a piece of music based on page turns. Until Rabbit Hole the “page turn piece” was only an absurd mental musing provoked by a logistical dilemma: annoyed by the challenges of finding reasonable moments for players to turn the pages of their parts (due to my habit of composing dense, overly prolix music that keeps the arms constantly engaged) I vowed to one day compose the page turns first—the page turn as principal musical material. I would then compose the mute changes for brass instruments and the mallet changes for percussionists. Precise rhythmic moments would be identified for trading the alto flute and piccolo, for adjusting the violin bow’s tension, for oiling a trumpet valve, for picking up claves and putting them down, and so on. There would even be composed states of attentiveness: high for body language suggesting imminent sonic production; medium for tracking musical flow in a slightly relaxed state; and low to describe what the body might do during a full movement of rest. The very last thing to be determined, and only grudgingly, would be pitches and rhythms.
What was once an asinine concept has been realized as the serious—or at least fastidious—musical enterprise that is this piece. (It may still be asinine.) I recognize the seeming irrationality of a project that eschews the utility of conventional musical materials and replaces them with structures based on musical marginalia. The result may make you smile cheerfully or shake your head in exasperated disbelief, or both. But it’s not supposed to be comedic. It aspires to the absurd side of the ludic.
Exploring this particular rabbit hole appealed to me for four main reasons:
First, the piece makes virtually no sound. Increasingly I’ve become annoyed that music, for most people, seems to demand sound. Must it? Some of my recent pieces have veered away from that supposition, whether through the addition of increasingly predominant visual elements (e.g. Concerto for Florist and Orchestra, Aphasia for hand gestures synchronized to sound, Echolalia consisting of 22 Dadaist rituals, the Mouseketier sound-sculpture which functions as both an instrument and as visual art), or through the active suppression of prescribed sound in the compositional phase in order to invoke real or imagined sound in performance (e.g. Tlön for three conductors and no players, The Metaphysics of Notation—a 72-foot graphic score without instruction).
Second, the Eurocentric preoccupation with pitch as the (tediously) foremost parameter is subverted, simply sidestepped. (The players do get to play exciting, conventionally virtuosic, and highly mercurial contrapuntal passages made up of idiomatic and extended techniques with precise—and lovingly chosen—pitches. But, perversely, the players are asked to play at the impossible dynamic ppppp—a gorgeous sound, if paradoxically compressed, concentrated, and squashed.)
Third, the focus becomes a theater made up of ancillary musical praxis, the ritualistic margins of performance culture, a way to floodlight neglected edges of what Christopher Small inclusively calls musicking. (By the way, I’d hate for actors to perform this piece. This is a kind of music, however weird, for musicians—special, intrepid ones who are not insulted by an invocation to care about things that are not central to their conservatory training.)
Finally, the logistics should be eminently practical. In theory, this should be a piece that works easily. After all, the germinal impulse was to obviate difficult page turns and patronize the incidence of “extra-musical” actions.
Regrettably this is not a practical piece after all. There are 90 page turns (everyone reads from full 180-page scores in which each page has a five-second duration—but with no two pages made up of the same meter and tempo arrangements, thereby creating a deliberate choreography of conduction). Furthermore, it is preposterously swollen with events—picking up mallets, changing mutes, etc.—each at a precisely specified time. Moreover, additional categories of material crept in, ones that seem ancillary but are in fact fundamental: fussy hand gestures; frequent physical relocation; and the migration of the printed score to the forearm as players read from custom-made wristwatches (responding to various glyphs as the second hand passes over them).
There is indeed something perplexing about a piece whose counterpoint demands that the audience ask, at a given moment, “Should I pay attention to the cello’s nearly inaudible melody, or to the percussionist’s lifting of an instrument (which will not be played, by the way), or to the flutist who just started walking to another position on stage?”
And some will be inclined to ask “Is it even music?” I’m convinced that this it not the right question. The question should be: “Is it interesting?”
Increasingly I’ve pursued the things that seem intriguing to me, even when, as artistic formulations, their likeness to familiar models—those traditionally defined pieces that one is supposed to make as a composer (beyond which a judgment of dilettantism or lunacy is invited)—is tenuous. Becoming unhinged from a paradigm can be pretty interesting. Or, at the very least, it encourages a trip down a rabbit hole which, however terrifying (it may never end…there may be no return…), is rarely boring.
* * *
Rabbit Hole, scored for octet of flute, trumpet, three percussion, violin, viola, and cello, is affectionately dedicated, with gratitude, to Steven Schick, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players director and intrepid collaborator. It was commissioned through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, which is made possible by generous support from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund.
Rabbit Hole will be featured in our Third Subscription Series Concert of the same name. Find more information here
As SFCMP prepares to perform I’m Worried Now But I Won’t Be Worried Long, we asked composer Eve Beglarian about the piece:
It’s hard not to fall in love with the title of the piece we’ll be hearing tonight, and it seems that it’s part of a current running throughout a number of your compositions in which the titles deal with anticipation or acknowledging a distance of time or space in these strangely specific and personal yet ultimately ambiguous ways – How I Like That Time, I Am Writing To You From a Far-Off Country, I Will Not Be Sad in This World are some that seem to share in the game of I’m Worried Now, But I Wont Be Worried Long. Could you talk about the connections (if there are any) between these pieces and perhaps offer some insight towards how this current flows in your very large body of works?
It happens that in the last two pieces you mention, along with Worried Now, I’m using source material from traditional Armenian music, though in very different ways in each piece. The titles themselves come from a range of different places: How I Like That Time is a line from an interview about sex, I am writing to you from a far-off country is the title of the Belgian surrealist Henri Michaux’s poem that I set in the piece, I will not be sad in this world is the title of the Armenian song I am working with in that flute piece, and I’m worried now but I won’t be worried long comes from Charley Patton’s Down the Dirt Road Blues. I think it might be meaningful that all the titles are quotations from other people, not my own invention. While I always aim to make my work emotionally available to the listener — that’s why I’m writing it, after all — I am not exactly a confessional artist. It’s not really about me.
One of the most interesting things about pieces for a solo instrument and electronics is that it often becomes very easy to tell which “player” the sound is coming from, and in tonight’s piece one of the roles of the electronics seems to be that of an entirely distinct accompinamental ensemble. What is the relationship between the violin and the electronics in I’m Worried Now But I Wont Be Worried Long?
The original recording of leaky pipes in a bathroom at the Beijing Conservatory is the basis of the whole piece. The rhythm and sonorities grew from that material. Along with transformations of that bathroom recording, there are counter-melodies in the pre-recorded track that flesh out a sort of hazy quartet that accompanies the live violinist. Sometimes some of those parts are performed live. The delay on the live violin lines up with the delay on some of the pre-recorded tracks as well, so perhaps the relation of live vs. recorded in this piece is malleable.
Approaching your music from a fairly broader angle, you’ve been identified a number of times as a post-minimalist composer, and it’s not difficult to hear qualities associated with the music of Steve Reich or Philip Glass in I’m Worried Now But I’m Not Worried Long. How do you place yourself in terms of the legacy that this title implies? How do you approach the minimalist language when writing music?
Lately, I’ve been mulling over Robert Alter’s analysis of the structure of repetition in the Psalms. Repetition isn’t just simple parallelism, but a growth and transformation, a deepening of the idea that’s nominally repeated. There’s a through line in Worried Now that for me is quite different from the purity and clarity of classic minimalism. But that’s true of the later music of Reich and Glass as well, of course. Purity and clarity only take you so far, then everything gets messy again.
I’m Worried Now But I Won’t Be Worried Long will be performed on Monday, February 25th at 8pm (more information).
Please enjoy a sneak-peek into our Artistic Director Steven Schick’s notes for our February 22, Rabbit Hole program.
It’s springtime. Or at least it is in Southern California, where I am writing these words. With desert flowers in the offing and blooming jacaranda not far behind, our attention turns to things that grow.
Or, in the case of this concert, to things that change.
On the surface tonight’s concert looks like a crazy quilt of divergences, but dig a little deeper and you’ll note that everything grows from a common ground. All of these pieces started from a remarkably similar impulse, but each has grown in its own way. To torture the metaphor a bit more, from the same soil will grow fantastically varied flowers.
Tonight we present five composers. Each is rooted in a particular branch of the American experimentalist tradition. Each was an accomplished performer before becoming a composer. And for each, the elaboration of a known tradition has been guided by forces external to that tradition. Those external forces are what Robertson Davies has referred to as the “Fifth Business:” they are catalysts designed to destabilize an otherwise balanced system. Without such a force nothing can change; with it everything does.
Take Paul Dresher for example. Paul has been a central figure in the Bay Area music scene since he relocated here after his studies at the University of California, San Diego, where he worked with Robert Erickson. The Erickson philosophy, with no small influence from Harry Partch, Lou Harrison and musical visionaries from African and Asian traditions, led Dresher along a path of musical invention and instrument fabrication that has made him an iconic and profoundly influential West Coast composer. The instrument you’ll hear tonight, the “quadrachord,” is just one of his many inventions. But Paul has also worked as much in the theater as he has in the concert hall. And his theatrical disposition has led him to understand not just how music sounds but also how it acts. The result is a lively, virtuosic, and fully embodied variation on the California experimentalists.
Iconoclast, intellectual, and sensualist, Eve Beglarian, is represented by I’m worried now but I won’t be worried long, a brief but alluring work for solo violinist and a pre-recorded tape of the processed sounds of leaky pipes. If the standard trope of American Experimentalists has been, “it’s all about the sound,” Beglarian’s take on it may well have be, “it’s all about the experience of the sound.” For Eve, music is about what happens to you when you listen. Her most effective pieces are always the most affecting ones. This is a small-ish sample, but imagine what can happen when she uses a big canvas. For more see her evening-length piece for the cellist Maya Beiser or her continuing musical essays on a one-woman, human-powered trip she made down the length of the Mississippi River in 2009.
Stuart Smith’s version of the American impulse comes from the other side of the country. His work has drawn self-consciously on the tradition of American Transcendentalism. Indeed much of his work has been informed by a world-view that places humans and nature in correlative resonance. Beyond that a long series of pieces written for remarkably similar instrumentation alludes to Emerson and Thoreau. Note his set of eleven “Links” for vibraphone solo spanning more than twenty years. Smith calls these works “essays,” and they vary so little from one another in terms of color, texture and musical language that they function more as journal entries than as pieces of music. With Smith’s music the outlying force is his love of jazz and his willingness to quote it overtly, both as material and inspiration. Pinetop for piano solo refers to Pinetop Perkins, who lived nearly a hundred years and influenced practically everyone who has played any kind of blues or rock music.
No simple categorization of George Lewis is possible. But if you trace his roots back far enough they will lead you to the trombone and to the communal musical-making of the African American tradition. But that’s just the beginning. On a recent trip abroad I had to fill out a visa form. When I got to the line where I listed my occupation, I suddenly smiled and thought of George. What would he do here? There was not a box for: scholar, designer of nearly the first real-time interface between performers and computers, teacher, advocate of musical communities of extraordinary diversity, performer, and more recently and very fruitfully, composer. George is all of the above and has touched nearly every area of music and nearly every musician I know. We are very pleased to give the first performance of his latest work, Hexis.
My first act as Artistic Director of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players was to ask Mark Applebaum to write a piece for us. I told the board to consider the commission “truth in advertising.” I wanted to SFCMP to retain the identity of its distinguished past while aggressively re-evaluating the impact of that past on the future. I knew that Mark would write our anthem. Rabbit Hole did not disappoint. It is a work firmly rooted in the most rigorous practices of contemporary music, but one that produces a singularly ludic and seemingly undirected flow of events. It could have been written by one of the Marx brothers if he had studied with Webern and Derrida. It is a piece full of detail: from sounds that are almost but not quite played, to highly virtuosic instrumental passages, detailed stage movements, dada-esque hand signals, and special wristwatches (I am not kidding.) You will soon experience it, so there is no reason to describe it further. Suffice to say that it is extremely aptly named.
Yes, thoughts have turned to spring: to the way we start as one thing and become something else. It’s the becoming that’s so sweet, the way that things, even when you think you know them well, can become something unexpected. One of the fondest memories I have of my father was watching him walk out onto the black plowed earth of our Iowa farm and sniff the warming spring air. “We’ll plant now,” he announced, and with that everything began to change.
We send our warm thanks and vernal greetings to the four wonderful composers on tonight’s program and to you, our intrepid listeners.
Our Oberlin Winter Intern, Duncan Reilly, has been with us since the beginning of the new year. For this, his final week of the internship, Duncan will share some observations about the countdown to concert day.
When I first came to work for the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, I, not being a classical musician, was under the impression that classical music concerts just sort of happened. Most groups playing classical music will go out of their way to entice my age group to their concerts through cheap tickets, targeted advertising, and interesting programming. If I were fulfilling my internly duties elsewhere in San Francisco, I would have jumped at the prospect of a ten dollar ticket to see a world-class ensemble performing the work of Steve Reich. I would likely have bought a ticket, seen the show, and paid the effort that goes into performing the music little mind. Fortunately, I have been working with the SFCMP for the past three weeks, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing (and contributing to) the preparations for January 28th’s Confirmation concert, as well as a few others. What follows is a production diary, with my thoughts and observations on how a SFCMP concert comes together.
January 21st (7 days until the concert) – Setting the Stage
I learned today that finding a venue isn’t something you do once for each concert and forget about. It’s a constant process to keep updated on all the available venues around the city, and to find out which ones are suitable for the concert in question. Every little thing has to be taken into account, from which ticketing service we’re allowed/required to use, to the possibility to host a reception after the concert, to whether we’ll even have a piano at the space. With a smaller ensemble, with no dedicated space, there’s no way to guarantee that we’ll have a place to play other than by scheduling way in advance and keeping a careful eye on cost. I was researching for a concert in November, but we’re already narrowing down a list of about twenty venues.
Finding the space isn’t everything, though. Even when you’ve already decided on a venue, everything that a concertgoer will take for granted on the night of the show needs to be locked down and figured out. Last week, I went to visit the venue for Confirmation, the beautifully decorated concert hall at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. It’s the perfect venue for Music for 18 Musicians – there’s just enough baroque ornamentation to remind the audience of the piece’s classical roots, and just enough polished wood and acoustic paneling to reassure them that they aren’t in for stodgy traditionalism. To make the piece and the room work together takes coordination, though. Every movement of the set has to be coordinated, down to the last music stand. Perhaps a symphony orchestra would have this down to a science, but with a group like the San Francisco Contemporary Music players, who use unorthodox arrangements, experiment with staging, and never play the same concert twice in a row, there’s no room to get comfortable.
Music for 18 Musicians is perhaps one of the more complex pieces to stage that we could have chosen. The name is a bit of a misnomer — there will be more than twenty people on stage, all told. The instruments will range from percussion to voice, and incorporate a whopping four pianos. The effect can be hypnotic if done properly, but it relies on the ensemble’s ability to sound like one otherworldly instrument, and that in turn relies on the room being set up just right. With some planning, and a little bit of acoustic know-how provided by the conservatory staff, I think it’s fair to say that we’ll make it happen.
January 23rd (5 days until the concert) — Scores and Performances
Rehearsals for the concert started last night. It was my first chance to see the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players play contemporary music, a chance for which I was grateful after a day at the office. Sitting in the mostly empty auditorium at the San Francisco Conservatory, I listened to Artistic Director and percussionist Steven Schick lead a group of professional musicians and students through Music for 18 Musicians for their first time.
I was surprised, at first, that I could hear the problems he pointed out. I expected the piece to be a relatively simple undertaking, especially for the talented musicians that make up the SFCMP. No instrumental virtuosity is required to play the piece; there isn’t a melody in Music for 18 Musicians that any reasonably talented musician would have trouble with on their own. Putting it together was the first big challenge. With a piece as textural as this one, every musician has to hit their marks exactly or things will sound off. Though the piece allows the performers some freedom in how to perform it, everything has to be tight rhythmically. It really gave me an appreciation for how much effort goes into producing a concert, especially one of new music with complicated textures and rhythms.
When the rehearsal started out, things were a little ways from tight. As it progressed, though, I heard melodic lines start to interlock, and, as the sound technicians fiddled with the amplification, the performance took on the ethereal quality that Music for 18 Musicians shares with no other piece.
Perhaps part of this was just due to musicians getting more comfortable with the music. Even I, with no experience of classical music as a performer, could tell that playing Steve Reich is entirely different from anything else one might play, but as the musicians delved deeper into the score, something seemed to click. It wasn’t a single moment of “getting it,” but a process that had as much to do with understanding the other musicians as learning the score.
Of course, the other part was the input from Steve Schick. A veteran performer of Steve Reich’s music, Schick has a unique role in the playing of the piece. Music for 18 Musicians does not use a conductor in the traditional sense. Instead, the vibraphonist and the first clarinet share the duty of cuing the other musicians for transitions, and often take the initiative to move the ensemble on to the next section. Schick, only playing sporadically to cue the other musicians, was in a unique position to correct mistakes on the fly. As he moved around the space, correcting the more minor problems, I could hear the music actually improving as it happened. The ensemble had become a living, breathing entity, and it was ready to do big things.
January 24th (4 days until the concert) – Why Hold Concerts?
Though I’ve heard Music for 18 Musicians, Clapping Music,and Electric Counterpoint before, and I have recordings of them that I can listen to whenever I want, I always feel that it’s worth it to go see performances of them. It’s not because I always expect a performance to be better than a recording. In fact, it might be the exact opposite. A recording can, through multiple takes, recording studio sound, and creative editing, come as close to perfect as is possible, nailing every last mark on the score, and containing no mistakes whatsoever. Far from this being criticism, it’s this inscrutable level of detail that makes listening to some records over and over again so rewarding.
Concerts are different. A concert is a higher-risk environment, where musicians are given one chance to play the piece correctly. No matter how talented they are, the possibility remains for little hiccups to distract the audience. Other things will be distracting no matter whether the performers make a mistake or not. Those sitting close enough will hear the noise of the page turns, and everyone will hear the musicians tune before they start. Simply put, it is a process with no possibility for perfection, or even the possibility of nearing it.
If this is true, why don’t audiences give up, retreat back to their homes, and rely on recordings to fulfill their musical needs? Some would suggest that it’s a social reason, but who hasn’t tried to make their friends listen in rapt attention to a recording, and realized that the experience just isn’t the same? Others say that the sound is better, but who hasn’t heard a concert that they’ve enjoyed in spite of the sound quality and not because of it?
In my opinion, it is the imperfection itself that makes a concert worth going to. A concert doesn’t have to stand the test of time, and it doesn’t have to bear close scrutiny because it can only really be heard once. A record promises perfection in return for fetishization, for the possibility of repeated listenings. A concert, in return for the forgiveness of its mistakes, promises a shared experience, and the knowledge that this is music performed by people, for people.
January 28th (Day of the concert) – Making it Work
The day of any concert is always a complex mix of excitement, stress, and sheer terror. The fact that this will be undoubtedly our biggest concert of the Spring only makes this combination a bit more acute. It’s no secret that classical music ensembles are clamoring to get their hands on a younger audience, and there’s no better way to do this than through a composer who has both influenced and been influenced by the popular music of his generation. Now that we’ve sold the tickets, we just need to deliver on the performance.
Sitting in front of me is a 15-step checklist of what needs to happen to make the concert work perfectly. From the time that the SFCMP staff arrive, to loading the uneaten cheese and crackers from the reception into a car, everything is accounted for. Two hours before the music starts, staff arrives to get a sense of the venue. At an hour and forty-five, our volunteers show up and are briefed in turn. The box office opens at 6:30, and at 6:45 we begin seating guests for the pre-concert talk.
At half an hour until showtime, things get tricky. The house is already crowded, and we need to take inventory of which tickets will be used, and which won’t. People with comps will have already showed up to claim them, and so begins the process of finding seats for those with none. More than likely, we’ll have fewer tickets than people that want them, but those with the patience to wait in line will have a chance at seeing the show.
After all the tickets are taken care of, one way or another, there’s nothing left to do but show everyone to their seats, turn out the lights, and hand things over to the musicians. It’s a credit to them that we haven’t once seriously worried about what happens after that. The rehearsals have been productive, to the point where a blindfolded listener could hardly tell the difference between the student guest performers and the SFCMP regulars, and at eight o’clock (by practical standards, that means anywhere from 8:01 to 8:05), they take over. That part of the concert, only marked as “Downbeat” on the schedule, is what the other fourteen steps revolve around. We as the staff, along with every other person in the room, get to sit back, and see what we worked for unfold before us.
Artistic Director Steven Schick writes about our upcoming All-Reich Program on Monday, January 28:
When Steve Reich was asked what he gleaned from a short study trip to West Africa in 1970 he responded with one word: “Confirmation.” The simplicity of that answer – that what was learned in Africa reinforced that which was already there – is refreshing in today’s climate where composers sometimes scour the ends of the earth – or even the nearest junkyard – for inspiration and material before they examine and hone their own musical language. The frailties of artistic tourism are best skewered by Peter Carey who writes derisively in the opening pages of Illywhacker about his character Annette Davidson, an author who lived twenty-eight years in Australia and a few months in Paris, but wrote about Paris.
After his few months in Africa, Steve Reich didn’t “write about Africa.” He didn’t return to the United States with a backpack full of African rhythms or agogo bells, and while others may have tried to package his rhythmic pieces from the 1970s as deriving from his studies in Africa, he never did. In fact, one might claim that he came back with nothing new at all except the sense that he had already embarked on an interesting path, one that he felt resonated with the musical practices of West Africa. Of course for anyone paying attention to the history of popular music in the United States, this resonance will come as no surprise. Listening to African-American music in any of its many forms, from jazz to rock to country to hip-hop, establishes a deep and intimate rapport with West Africa whether a listener knows it or not. Reich has told me that Africa inspired a profound self-awareness in him; it was like a word he already knew but had never heard.
After he returned from Africa, Reich took several critical steps. Realizing that he needed a community of like-minded musicians he expanded “Steve Reich and Musicians” from the trio it had been in the mid-1960s to eighteen musicians by the mid-1970s. And, he began to write music for this ensemble in a way that capitalized on a collective creative mechanism. This is the meaning of “confirmation”: his experiences in Africa, and their application both to his musical language and to the communal working methodology within his ensemble, led to his most fertile creative period. Drumming, his masterpiece for percussion, voices, and piccolos, was written the year after he returned from Africa, and the ne plus ultra of the Reich opus, Music for 18 Musicians, was begun a few years later in 1974.
In tonight’s concert we present three examples of just this kind of confirmation. We’ll start with the interlocking rhythms of his Clapping Music, played here in a doubled instrumentation for four clappers instead of the usual two. The rhythm is Reich’s re-invention of an African bell pattern, however its application to the composition is all-Reich. In what would become a trademark strategy of rhythms phasing against one another, everyone begins with a unison reading of the rhythm. On a cue half the group shifts the pattern “to the left” by leaving out an eighth-note. Hearing the same rhythm played out-of-phase with itself causes fascinating composite rhythmic structures, as you’ll hear. The phasing group leaves out yet another note and a new composite pattern emerges. Another move produces another pattern and so on until all the options are exhausted and the two sides re-unite in unison.
Electric Counterpoint is perhaps the best known of Reich’s “counterpoint” pieces, scored for live soloist and pre-recorded multi-track accompaniment. It will be played tonight in an alternate version for an ensemble of electric guitars led by David Tanenbaum, a long-time Reich collaborator who has released a solo recording of the piece on New Albion Records.
If Clapping Music is a variation on a rhythm, and Electric Counterpoint a study of multiple lines and textures, Music for 18 Musicians is an essay in harmony. One might even think of it as a Reichean chorale built on a cycle of eleven chords, which open and close the piece. The speed and complexity of the shifting harmonies, especially as the piece opens and all of those different chords are crowded together, makes Music for 18 Musicians the most dense and complex of all large-scale Reich instrumental works and creates several dramatic, harmonically driven points of arrival. This is not only unlike anything we had heard to this point in the Reich output, it is also unlike any music we’ve ever heard.
So what is being confirmed in Music for 18 Musicians? Perhaps it is an alternative view of authorship whereby the music is driven not by a single point of authority – a conductor or a completely fixed score – but by a communal process in which basic decisions are of group concern. Shared decision-making controls the precise number of repetitions of each phrase and by extension the formal shape that arises and by extension of that the emotional aura of the entire performance. Perhaps that which is being confirmed in Music for 18 Musicians is a social view in which shared leadership means that at one moment or another every person on stage has the control of the piece in his or her hands. Everyone is indispensable. We could learn something from that. Perhaps there is also the confirmation of something more basic: that playing together is a source of joy, that after nearly an hour of non-stop playing where the reins of the piece have been passed to everyone on stage at least once, where no one has soloed and where everyone has belonged, there is bliss to be found in arriving fresh, alive, and together.
With New Music, I am able to take risks, to present works where the ink is still wet, and to showcase the diversity of talents and artistic styles that are happening now. In addition, I’m able to work with other innovative artists to create location- or personnel-specific pieces, utilizing the specific strengths and features of an ensemble or organization. New Music for me means tapping into the most innovative artistic streams, working collaboratively with composers, and bringing to life the music that future organizations will consider canonical.
My favorite part of preparing new music is the face-to-face with the composers. Often their demeanors are surprisingly different from what I would imagine based on their music. For me, it’s much more meaningful and memorable to connect with them personally.
Collaboration with composers is one the things I enjoy most about being a performer. It is incredibly rewarding to be involved in the first presentation of a piece of art to the public. Working closely with a particular composer allows me obtain insight into a piece directly from the source and makes the performance of the piece that much more meaningful, both for me and for the audience. By playing new music, my technique can be pushed to new limits and that type of engagement only helps me to improve all aspects of my music making. To me, playing new music is, in certain sense, about living in the present – since I’m alive right now, as a musician I feel like I have to be part of the music that is being created right now!
Why New Music? — Why Not New Music! All music was new at one time and this music is new and exciting in our time. I love working with composers and their creative process. What interests me most is encouraging composers of all ages to write for the harp, how best to get their ideas across and how to write most effectively for the instrument. As an instrument the harp did not come into its own until the late 19th and early 20th Century. It has a wealth of sounds and lends itself particularly well to New Music.
I was asked to play new/contemporary music while an undergrad at Oberlin (a very active new-music scene), and found it fascinating, exciting, challenging; so different from the “three B’s,” that participating in it opened part of the spectrum of music that had been invisible to me until then. It’s sometimes engaging and captivating, sometimes abrasive, often extreme, and always interesting.
As SFCMP prepares to perform Sam’s Piano Trio , we spoke with him about the piece:
Q: One of the most interesting aspects of your Piano Trio is the pairing of very sophisticated motivic, rhythmic, and harmonic idioms with an easily discernible structure and fairly transparent development of ideas. Could you speak a little about this?
SA: This piece is very much an experiment in classical formalism. I found it a satisfying gesture to break away from working with unconventional forms, which is what my focus had been prior to writing the trio. The piece has all the elements of a Sonata Allegro form: three large formal sections, a coda, a Da Capo, but it is condensed, kaleidoscopic, and functions using a harmonic language I have been developing for some years. It was a lot of fun and very liberating to work this way.
Q: Continuing along the same path, it’s interesting to see titles and clips from performances of pieces like Woman Bomb and GAIN alongside compositions like the Piano Trio. Do you try to maintain a binding current throughout your oeuvre (you mention in the program note that the trio is a sort of acoustic “consequent” to your “antecedent” electronic works) or do you prefer just to jump in and immerse yourself in whatever you feel potential in?
SA: I have always had an adaptive personality, and I think one of the most gratifying aspects of being a composer (especially a young one) is working in many different contexts. So, I tend to say ‘yes’ to projects that involve unfamiliar territory. Perhaps this is haphazard behavior – just jumping in, so to speak – but it has been rewarding and fascinating thus far. I am not so concerned with carefully maintaining a ‘binding current’ through my catalogue. That seems too Apollonian for my personality.
Q: The Piano Trio combines the wide tessitura of the piano with interesting uses of articulation, rhythm, and bowing in the strings, creating strong convergences and contrasts of timbre. Could you talk about how you, a composer of electronic music, approached this piece in terms of the extremely diverse palette provided by its instrumentation? How do you explore timbre factors in general?
SA: To me, timbre is simply another expressive component of music. When I am trying to express something, I pay attention to timbre the same way I pay attention to harmony, rhythm, what have you. This piece expresses itself in a number of ways, so, naturally, its timbral world is ever-shifting.
Q: Tension Studies is the only piece we’ve found of yours that includes the use of an amplified instrument, in this case, the electric guitar. How do you, as an electro-acoustic musician approach such sonic intermediates as loudspeakers and amplifiers? Are they separate instruments or as much a part of the same body as, say, the strings and the resonant surfaces of a violin?
SA: I think the role of loudspeakers and amplifiers change depending on the piece. With live electro-acoustic works like Tension Studies, the processing and resonating bodies are part of the instrument, as the performer is making decisions about how the electronics function during the performance. For fixed works, like Gain and some other pieces, this is not the case. The music is plastic like a painting – or a sculpture. In these cases, the listening experience is not influenced by the whims of a human being during a performance.
The Piano Trio will be performed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 (more information).
Samuel Carl Adams will be a featured panelist for Young American Composers and the Legacy of John Cage on Friday, October 26, 2012 (more information).
10. The biggest all-Cage music weekend in the Bay Area
9. Friday assembles three composers “speaking with” Cage, across the decades
8. You might learn what an Oxen Bell is
7. You will discover the thread that unites an amplified cactus to a prepared piano
6. Four minutes and thirty-three seconds of only the voices in your head
5. Twenty-five talented girl singers providing the ultimate mashup
4. You can create a field recording and “Dip in the Bay”
3. You can explore the queer truth about Cage and Merce – with shrooms!
2. On Sunday you and all your friends are free to come, go, stop, rest, listen, and experience with your own ears
1. You can be part of celebrating the centenary of a great American composer
Artistic Director Steven Schick writes about our upcoming Cage Centennial Celebration at the end of this month:
John Cage was a great American composer and deserves to be celebrated for his enormous contributions to the music of the 20th century and beyond.
That’s obvious, right?
After all, thousands of concerts all over the world will have been devoted to celebrating this year’s Cage Centennial this year. (He was born on September 5, 1912.) Yet in those thousands of events we have seen relatively little attention played to John Cage, composer. We have seen multiple essays and a new book describing Cage’s relationship to Zen Buddhism. We have seen exhibitions of his paintings, his poetry, his correspondence. We have focused on Cage’s personal relationship with Merce Cunningham and his aesthetic rapport with Rauschenberg and Duchamp. We have fêted his well-known interest in Thoreau, in Joyce and Satie. We have saluted the cross-cultural, and even countercultural impulses behind his devotion to chance procedures and the “I Ching.” A well-known composer, and good friend of mine, claims that Cage was a revolutionary theorist, “but not really a composer,” a view shared by Cage’s most famous teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, who while bemoaning Cage’s utter lack of sensitivity to harmony nevertheless proclaimed him to be, “an inventor of great genius.”
Judging from the welcome outpouring of affection and attention this year’s centennial celebrations have presented, Cage is apparently “all of the above.” But is he a real composer?
Our answer is, resoundingly, YES! He was a great composer, and furthermore his music can stand alone as great music with or without the attractive aspects of his personal philosophy and artistic taste.
The celebration of John Cage by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players may be small by comparison to some – see the ten day festival in Washington last month or week-long celebration in Cologne in May, among many others. But by restricting ourselves to a presentation of his music we can ask a single important question: does the music of John Cage still engage us as “contemporary music,” that is to say music that exerts significant leverage on the welter of today’s aesthetic and cultural concerns, or is his oeuvre now to be filed on the increasingly dusty shelves of music history of the very recent past?
In search of an answer we invite you to two concerts and a panel discussion. The first concert on October 25 presents the three percussion “Constructions” co-mingled with the music of three young American composers, Samuel Carl Adams, Lei Liang, and Missy Mazzoli. The second is a Musicircus consisting of several dozens of Cage pieces presented over the course of the afternoon of October 28.
With “Constructions” our hope is that Cage as the twenty-something composer of the late 1930’s and early ’40’s might speak across the decades to today’s young composers. Is the sense of delight and exploration, so present in the Cage works, a part of their music as well? Are the musical processes and professional travails much different now? Will they understand each other, the young New York transplant by way of California six decades ago and the young New Yorkers and Californians of today? Again, I think the answer will be a resounding, yes, but let’s find out together.
We start with the percussion pieces because they are indeed points of departure, both to Cage’s notoriety as a composer but also to contemporary percussionists as the foundational works of a repertory. Here we see not just the opening of cultural floodgates whereby a Burmese Gong is played next to a Mexican teponaxtl, next to some Chinese tom-toms, next to a set of Oxen Bells (what are Oxen Bells, anyway?) By engaging the multiplicity of percussion sounds Cage took an important first step along his path towards indeterminacy. Think of all the possibilities implied in the simple indication of “medium gong.” This could be a gong from one of many cultures and it could be played with a large variety of sticks. In short a “medium gong” could mean a huge spectrum of sonic possibilities. So in his percussion music Cage could specify an action (hit the gong now) but not necessarily the sound it would produce. Controlling what music might act like rather than what it might sound can be bewildering to listeners. Someone who taps his foot through Third Construction might well wonder if the same composer was also responsible for the metrically directionless Freeman Etudes. Or perhaps a naturalist devotee of music for amplified cactus (believe me, there are such people) will find herself completely at sea in the mechanical world of the prepared piano.
But there is a single coherent mind at work in all of this music. Consistency is a product of what I think of as the “Cage theorem,” a behavioral model whereby strictly emplaced limitations in the realm of musical construction allow for rich unpredictability in sound and style. Nearly every Cage piece operates on this principal. The theorem dictates that the more securely anchored the formal dimension, the greater the amount of chance-based freedom is possible. Take First Construction (In Metal) for example: here we find a rigidly repeating cycle of 16 measure phrases, each subdivided regularly into a strict rhythmic template. The sounds that fill this template, however, are a volcanic admixture of clangorous metallic percussion. According to this formula, Cage did not claim to know what sounds his ensemble of percussionists would make, just when and for how long they would make them. In subsequent years, increasingly rigorous formal mechanisms led to increasingly free sonic results until at the very midpoint of his life we have 4”33”, his famous piece in which a performer(s) does not play at all, leaving to complete chance the sounds that will fill the four minutes and thirty-three seconds of musical time. A long debunked mythology claimed that this was a piece of whimsy, a musical joke. In fact it is the ultimate focus on process over product. It is a crystalline structure, filled with nothing. Indeed to paraphrase Cage himself, he had nothing to say and he was saying it.
So is this music, much of which is more than fifty years old, still contemporary? I can only say for myself that the Cagian universe still feels like home. It still feels like today. Like Cage, I believe that sound constrained by form and informed by occasion bears meaning even if those sounds are ultimately unpredictable. I believe that composers, performers, and listeners enjoin an equally shared listening space in which each has responsibility and no one has a free ride. I concur with Satie’s phrase, often quoted by Cage: “L’artiste n’a pas le droit de disposer inutilement du temps de son auditeur.” I smile when I read Cage’s statement: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas; I’m frightened of the old ones.”
With these sentiments in mind we will start on Thursday with Cage’s early percussion music and continue on Sunday’s Musicircus with a kaleidoscopic array of his later music. On Sunday we will hear Postcard from Heaven in a version for more than a dozen harps. We’ll hear A House Full of Music for the members of the San Francisco Girls’ Chorus singing their favorite songs, and the Music for series for professional musicians playing their favorite sounds. We’ll offer recorded birdsong, water gongs, readings from his influential book Silence, and a massed orchestra of radios. You can take a “musical walk” by picking up a map and taking a Dip in the Lake, or just sit still and hear what you’ll hear in 4’33”. We’ll visit his landmark works: the virtuosic Etudes Boreales I-IV for cello and percussionist playing the inside of a piano, and the ground-breaking Concert for Piano. We’ll also have special guests, including dancers brought to us by Anna Halprin, a long-time Cage collaborator.
In short you’ll hear the music of an American master: John Cage, composer. Happy birthday, Mr. Cage.
As SFCMP prepares to perform Still Life with Avalanche, we asked composer Missy Mazzoli about the piece:
You mentioned in an interview that one of the most important things you were taught was that you must live a life in music instead of simply having a career in music. This seems particularly relevant to a piece like Still Life With Avalanche in which events from your life are actually the basis of some of the musical material. Can you speak about the decision to include an unanticipated event in your life in a piece of music you’d already begun to develop? Is this a standard part of your compositional process?
Actually when I was referring to having a life in music I was thinking of it more in a positive sense, in that I try to make artistic decisions that help me lead the life I want to lead and be the person I want to be, even when I’m not in the act of composing or performing. I think it’s one of the advantages of being an artist – I don’t think of my career or my music as something separate from who I am when I’m truly being myself. That said, the inevitable flip side of that is that the nasty stuff in your life finds its way into your work when you’re distraught or unhappy. When my cousin died I wasn’t thinking about music. I just wanted to bang on things and cry and make noise. When I got tired of that I robotically went back to composing, only to find that I had become a completely different person. It didn’t feel right to continue in the same direction. Yes, I pulled the piece in a dissonant, angry direction, but there’s never that simple life-to-art translation of “I was angry so I made angry music” or “I was sad so I wrote a melody in D Minor”. When composers say things like that it feels a little too facile; I think there’s usually a much more complicated process of translation happening there, and it’s a process that is fascinating and mysterious. So yes, every day the events of my life find their way into my music, but in a way that is complex and often hidden, especially to me.
Perhaps one of the defining features of new music is its use of instruments not typically found in what might be considered the “classical canon”. Could you talk about how you deal with new timbres and perhaps explain what qualities of the harmonica led you to include it in Still Life?
I love harmonicas because they’re always slightly out of tune! I love introducing an unpredictable, vulnerable element into highly structured music. Most people in the audience are familiar with the sound of someone breathing in and out into a harmonica, and I wanted to draw them in with a timbre that was both comfortable and haunting. I love the contrast of the wheezing harmonica, played in a way that any non-musician could play it, with these virtuosic string passages that are only really playable by .0001% of the population.
Inevitably, referring to a composition as a “still life” is going to raise questions given the fact that any kind of change over time is typically perceived as “motion”. Certainly there is a fairly clear line in the piece between its more static and motive elements, but it seems, at least to me, that there is never quite the total stasis implied by a “still life”. Could you talk about how you dealt with and thought about the concept of a still life as it can exist in music, and why an avalanche spoke to you as a particularly appropriate motive element?
Honestly, this title was always like this joke that only I seemed to find funny. The point is not that it’s actually a still life or an avalanche, but that it’s something impossible, something that had within it two elements that were pulling on each other because they can’t co-exist. The music has this conflict too; there is a theme that wants to dig its heels into the dirt and repeat over and over in an almost manic, clown-happy kind of way, and all this harmony piled up that wants to drag it off the cliff and into the ocean.
Still Life with Avalanche will be performed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 (more information).
Missy Mazzoli will be a featured panelist for Young American Composers and the Legacy of John Cage on Friday, October 26, 2012 (more information).
As SFCMP prepares to perform Aural Hypothesis, we asked composer Lei Liang about the piece:
In the performance notes for Aural Hypothesis you mention that “the overwritten ‘cadenzas’ are meant to trigger improvisatory action and accidents,” and that what you prefer from the performer is “not deliberate details…but rather an explosive energy that threatens to destroy the overall balance of the composed work.” Certainly this seems appropriate for the piece given your description of contrasting calligraphy brushstrokes in the program notes as well as of shigaraki ware in the piano note, but is this kind of openness to the unpredictable and technique of “overwriting” despite anticipation of mistakes typical of your work? If so, what are your limits with regards to how much control you’re willing to relinquish or maintain?
Sometimes I write passages that are meant to be so challenging that it forces the musician to wrestle with it in live performance. Their difficulty level is not absurd, but rather attainable – or almost attainable. In fact, every detail should be realizable, and it should be rewarding for practice. It is a special feeling for me to experience the intensity of struggling to gain control. I don’t think of it as relinquishing control – it is not about that. Rather, it is about the challenge of attaining, and gaining control in an intense moment. It is about the willingness to sacrifice the correctness of a few notes in order to channel the explosive energy. I find this struggle – and the mistakes that come with it – to be very human.
On a similar note, it’s very interesting that you would “overwrite” something which you expect not to be played exactly. That is, there’s an interesting tension between the specificity of notation and the acceptance and expectation of deviation from what you’ve written. Of course, with transposing instruments it’s common practice to notate in a way that to an extent directly contradicts what is actually heard, but it seems to me that in this piece you’ve discovered an interesting sort of variant on this idea of “transposition” which allows for deviation from the specific notes written based on a given performer’s own experience of reading the notation and interacting with the sonic results of your score. Since the cadenzas are so specifically notated, could you talk about how you chose exactly what notes to write in terms of the actual sonic results you desired?
I write these rapid passages very slowly, and I test them out with care to make sure that they are playable, and at the same time awkward – “awkward” in the sense that they pose real physical challenges to the pianist. How rapidly and precisely can one play? How far can one’s fingers leap? What is a really “awkward” move that makes the passage challenging yet still musical?
The title of the piece is extremely interesting; the pairing of somewhat scientific terminology with an art form traditionally perceived as exceedingly subjective; the use of the word “hypothesis” suggesting conjecture and questions which anticipate results and thus discovery. There’s so much to think about before even hearing the first note. Could you talk about the title and your conception of the piece as a “hypothesis”?
Chou Wen-chung, the composer to whom this piece is dedicated, once made the remark that “music is calligraphy in sound, calligraphy is music in ink.” I have been intrigued by this remark, and by another one he asked me, “when is a line not a line?” Writing music is a speculative process for me. In this piece, I was trying to discover for myself whether there is a parallel between lines in ink and lines in sound. When is a melody no longer merely a melody? The second half of the work is really an effort to answer this question.
Aural Hypothesis will be performed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 (more information).
Lei Liang will be a featured panelist for Young American Composers and the Legacy of John Cage on Friday, October 26, 2012 (more information).
Violinist Hrabba Atladottir studied in Berlin, Germany with professor Axel Gerhardt and professor Tomasz Tomaszewski. After finishing her studies, Hrabba worked as a freelancing violinist in Berlin for five years, regularly playing with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Deutsche Oper, and Deutsche Symphonieorchester. Hrabba also participated in a world tour with the Icelandic pop artist Björk, and a Germany tour with violinist Nigel Kennedy. Joshua Kosman, music critic of San Francisco Chronicle, praised her performance of Vivaldi’s “Spring”, and called her violin playing “delicate but fervent.”
In 2004, Hrabba moved to New York, playing on a regular basis with the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Orchestra of St. Luke’s and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra among other orchestras. She also played with the Either/Or ensemble in NY in close collaboration with Helmut Lachenmann.
Since August 2008, Hrabba is based in Berkeley, California, where she has been performing as a soloist and with various ensembles including New Century Chamber Orchestra, The Empyrean Ensemble, the ECO ensemble. Hrabba is currently a Violin Lecturer at UC Berkeley and at Mills College. Hrabba joined SFCMP in 2015.
Jeff Anderle is a pioneer in the world of low reeds, helping to popularize the role of the modern clarinet and bass clarinet through his innovative and diverse performances, ensembles, and commissions.
He is a founding member of both Splinter Reeds, the Bay Area’s first reed quintet, and REDSHIFT contemporary music ensemble, as well as a member of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and the Paul Dresher Electro/Acoustic Band. He is half of the bass clarinet duo Sqwonk, which has commissioned and premiered a significant body of work that infuses aspects of classical, folk and popular music into its own distinct style. As a member of the virtuosic, heavy metal bass clarinet quartet Edmund Welles, he has been featured nationally at festivals and masterclasses.
Jeff is a founding co-director of Switchboard Music, a presenting organization which has featured hundreds of innovative musicians through its annual marathon and concert series. In addition, he makes regular guest appearances with a wide range of music institutions from orchestras to diverse chamber music ensembles.
Jeff teaches clarinet, bass clarinet, chamber music, and entrepreneurship at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has been on the faculty at U.C. Berkeley and as a member of REDSHIFT holds a guest artist residency at California State University East Bay. He holds a M.M. from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a B.A. from University of California at Los Angeles. Jeff joined SFCMP in 2012. www.jeffanderle.com
Tod Brody (flute) is principal flutist with SFCMP, as well as local new music groups Earplay, Eco Ensemble, and the Empyrean Ensemble, with an extensive career that has included performances of numerous world premieres and many recordings. He is also principal flutist of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Sacramento Opera, and the California Musical Theater, and makes frequent appearances with the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet orchestras, and in other chamber and orchestral settings throughout the region. Active as an instructor, Tod teaches flute and chamber music at the University of California, Davis. In addition to performing and teaching, Tod is an active arts administrator, currently serving as Executive Director of the Marin Symphony. Tod joined SFCMP in 1997.
Oboist Kyle Bruckmann’s work as a composer and performer spans from the Western classical tradition into the frontiers of free jazz, electronic music and post-punk. With more than 60 recordings and a striking array of performance affiliations to his credit (Splinter Reeds, Quinteto Latino, the Stockton Symphony, sfSound, Eco Ensemble, Ensemble Parallèle, and others) he has been acclaimed as “a modern day renaissance musician,” and “a seasoned improviser with impressive extended technique and peculiar artistic flair.” Before relocating to the Bay Area in 2003, Kyle was a fixture in Chicago’s experimental music underground, collaborating regularly with electroacoustic duo EKG, the ”noise-rock monstrosity” Lozenge, and the Creative Music quintet Wrack (recipient of a 2012 Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant). Bruckmann earned undergraduate degrees in music and psychology at Rice University, studying oboe with Robert Atherholt, serving as music director of campus radio station KTRU, and achieving academic distinction as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He completed his M.M. at the University of Michigan, where he studied oboe performance with Harry Sargous and contemporary improvisation with Ed Sarath. He now teaches at UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. Kyle joined SFCMP in 2012. kylebruckmann.com
Hailed as a “brilliant pianist” (Financial Times), Kate Campbell performs frequently as a soloist and chamber musician specializing in 20th and 21st century music, and is at home with styles ranging from thorny modernism, to “sleek and spirited” minimalism, to indie classical.
In addition to her work with SFCMP, Kate is the pianist for the Eco Ensemble in Berkeley, and co-founder and pianist of the interdisciplinary duoK A T E S, which intertwines new solo piano music and new dance. As the pianist in the contemporary ensembleREDSHIFT, this year she will continue a guest artist residency at California State University East Bay, premiering works by faculty and student composers. She is also proud to be one of the founding organizers of theOmaha Under the Radar Festival, featuring new music, dance, and theater in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.
Susan Freier (violin) is known in the Bay Area beyond her SFCMP affiliation as a member of the passionate and provocative Ives Quartet (formerly the Stanford String Quartet), of which her husband SFCMP cellist Stephen Harrison is also a member. After earning a degree in Music and Biology at Stanford, Susan entered the Eastman School of Music where she co-founded the widely acclaimed Chester String Quartet. She has been a participant at the Aspen, Grand Teton and Newport Music Festivals, and has performed on NPR, the BBC and German State Radio. Formerly an artist-faculty member at the Pacific Music Festival, Music in the Mountains at Steamboat Springs and the Rocky Ridge Music Center, Susan is currently on the artist faculty of the Schlern International Music Festival in Italy and the San Diego Chamber Music Workshop. Her recordings are on the Newport Classics, Stolat, Pantheon, Laurel, Music and Arts, and CRI labels. Susan joined SFCMP in 1993.
Percussionist Christopher Froh specializes in promoting and influencing the creation of new music through critically-acclaimed performances and dynamic lectures. Also a member of Empyrean Ensemble, Rootstock Percussion, and San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Froh has premiered over 100 chamber and solo works by composers from 15 countries. His rich and diverse career also includes performances with the San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie Hall, Gamelan Sekar Jaya at the Stern Grove Festival, and session recording at Skywalker Ranch for a video game about monkeys and pirates. Chris has recorded with the San Francisco Symphony on SFS Media; as a soloist on Albany, Innova, and Equilibrium labels; and as a chamber musician on Bridge Records and Music@Menlo LIVE. As a soloist, he has appeared at festivals and recitals across Japan, China, Turkey, Europe, and the United States including featured performances at the Beijing Modern Festival, Nuovi Spazi Musicali, and Music@Menlo. He studied at the University of Michigan, Eastman School of Music, and Toho Gakuen Conservatory where he was a student of marimba pioneer, Keiko Abe. He teaches percussion and chamber music at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento. Chris joined SFCMP in 2002.
Lifelong “noisemaker” Hall Goff (trombone) gravitated from boy choir to trombone at age 12, absorbing all sorts of recorded sounds and musical styles from Dixieland, bebop, pop vocalists of the early 60′s to early Zappa, Chicago Symphony recordings, and comedy troupe The Firesign Theater. Hall obtained his B.A. from Oberlin and his M.M. at Yale School of Music, whree he was mentored by John Swallow and Otto-Werner Mueller. A former orchestra member in Italy’s Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto and The Macerata Opera Festival, Hall has been a member of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra since 1977 and the Golden Gate Park Band since 2009. Goff has had the ongoing good fortune to play with many Bay Area ensembles of all sizes, as well as on various recordings and motion picture soundtracks, as well as in backing musical stars of opera, jazz, rock, and pop, from The Manhattan Transfer and Vic Damone to Glen Campbell, Bob Hope, and many others. Hall joined SFCMP in 1979.
For more than 30 years, harpist Karen Gottlieb has performed, toured and recorded with such notable ensembles as the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, San Francisco Girls Chorus, Pacific Boychoir, San Francisco Boys Chorus, California Symphony and the Skywalker Recording Symphony. In her touring with the San Francisco Symphony, she has performed in many of the world’s greatest concert halls including Royal Albert Hall, London; Musikverein, Vienna; Concertgebouw, Amsterdam; Philharmonie Berlin; and with some of the leading music festivals – Salzburg, Edinburgh, London Proms and Lucerne. Within the USA, she has performed in most of the major symphonic venues from Carnegie Hall to Disney Hall and performed under the directions of many of the leading conductors – Claudio Abbado, Herbert Blomstedt, George Solti, Seiji Ozawa, Michael Tilson Thomas, Edo DeWaart, Erich Leinsdorf and Mstislav Rostropovich.
As a freelance artist, she regularly performs with many ensembles, especially enjoying her work in contemporary music. Among the many leading 20th and 21st century composers, she has worked personally and in ensembles with Elliot Carter, John Adams, Lou Harrison, Phillip Glass, John Williams, Gunther Schuller, Jake Heggie, Alan Hovhaness, John Luther Adams & Witold Lutoslawski.
Karen has also worked with many of the most celebrated of popular culture artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Linda Ronstadt & Michael Feinstein. She is the harpist for the Skywalker Recording Symphony, having recorded many of the major movies, TV and video game soundtracks, and served as principal harpist with the California Symphony and the Cabrillo Music Festival.
Karen received her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington in Seattle and her Masters in Performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music. Her teachers include Alice Chalifoux, Lynne Palmer, Pamela Vokolek, Marjorie Call, Marianna Oberascher and Linda Wood Rollo, including summer studies with Lucile Laurence and Susann McDonald.
A very active cellist in the Bay Area and beyond, Stephen Harrison (cello) is a founding member (with his wife, Susan Freier) of the Ives Quartet (formerly known as Stanford String Quartet) and a member of the faculty at Stanford University. Formerly principal cellist of the Chamber Symphony of San Francisco, the Opera Company of Boston, and the New England Chamber Orchestra, Harrison has performed on National Public Radio, the BBC, and on both German State Radio and the Netherlands State Radio. Stephen has toured internationally and recorded on the Delos, CRI, New Albion and Newport Classics labels. Harrison has been on the faculty of the Pacific Music Festival and is currently an artist/faculty member of the Rocky Ridge Music Center. Most recently he has served as principal cellist of the Mendocino Music Festival, coached at the San Diego Chamber Music Workshop and performed at the Telluride Chamber Music Festival. He earned his degrees at Oberlin College and Boston University, where he received the Award for Distinction in Graduate Performance. Stephen joined SFCMP in 1984.
Violinist Graeme Jennings lives in both Sydney and San Francisco. He is a former member of the legendary Arditti String Quartet and now performs regularly as a member of Australia’s internationally renowned new music group, Elision. He has recently worked as guest concert-master with the Adelaide and Melbourne Symphonies and Associate Concert-master with the Sydney Symphony. Locally, he is a member of Adorno Ensemble. Graeme has served on the faculties of UC Berkeley, Mills College and Stanford Universities and now serves as a Senior Lecturer in Violin and Viola at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane, Australia. Jennings has toured widely throughout the world, made more than 70 CDs, given over 300 premieres, and received such accolades as the Siemens Prize (1999) and two Gramophone awards. He has appeared as soloist with orchestras such as the Royal Concertgebouw, Munich Philharmonic, Berlin Radio, Austrian Radio, Netherlands Radio, French Radio, Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, Queensland and Tasmanian Symphony. He joined SFCMP in 2007.
Peter Josheff, clarinetist and composer, is a founding member of Sonic Harvest and of Earplay. He is also a member of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Empyrean Ensemble and the Eco Ensemble. He performs frequently with Opera Parallele, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, and Melody of China, and has worked with many other groups including West Edge Opera, the Ives Collective, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Composers Inc., and SF Sound.
Peter has composed instrumental and vocal music, opera and pop songs, as well as music for dance and theater. Crazed Loner, his singer/songwriter project, had it’s public debut in October 2016. His latest work, The Dream Mechanic, Four Poems by Carol Vanderveer Hamilton,commissioned by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, was premiered in February 2017. Other recent compositions include Big Brother (2014) for solo piccolo, premiered Earplay; Ground Hog Day (2014) for clarinet and string quartet, premiered by the Farallon Quintet; Europa and The Bull (2014), a chamber oratorio commissioned for and premiered at the Mary Holmes Festival at UC Santa Cruz; The Cauldron (2013), commissioned and premiered by tenor Brian Thorsett; Waiting (2012), commissioned and premiered by Earplay; Nautical Man Nautical Man (2011), an album of pop songs; Sutro Tower in the Fog (2011), commissioned, premiered and recorded by the Bernal Hill Players; Sextet (2010), premiered by Sonic Harvest; and Inferno (2008), a chamber opera produced by San Francisco Cabaret Opera in 2009. Peter joined SFCMP in 1999.
Clarinetist Bill Kalinkos enjoys a diverse musical career as a member of critically acclaimed groups such as Alarm Will Sound, Ensemble Signal, Deviant Septet, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Eco Ensemble, and Splinter Reeds. Recognized by the Washington Post as a “notable contemporary music specialist,” he has been fortunate enough to work with and premiere pieces by many renowned composers. As an orchestral player, Bill is the principal clarinetist of the Oakland East Bay Symphony, a member of both IRIS Orchestra and the New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra, and he has performed with The Philadelphia Orchestra and The Cleveland Orchestra. Prior to his appointment as Visiting Assistant Professor of Clarinet at the University of Missouri – Columbia for 2014-15, Bill served on the faculty of the University of California at Santa Cruz and Berkeley. As a recording artist, he can be heard on the Cantaloupe, Nonesuch, Euroarts, Naxos, Mode, Orange Mountain, Albany Records, and Deutsche Gramophon labels., Bill joined SFCMP in 2012.
Daniel Kennedy (percussion) is a specialist in the music of the twentieth century. A member of Earplay and the Empyrean Ensemble, he has been the founding member of contemporary ensembles including including the California E.A.R. Unit and the Talujon Percussion Quartet, and has performed throughout the United States, Europe, India, Bali, and Japan. Described as a “subtly graceful soloist” by the San Francisco Chronicle, he has been featured in a solo role with the California Arts Council Touring Program, and has an extensive list of other concert appearances as well as recordings to his credit. He received his M.F.A. degree from the California Institute of the Arts and his D. M. A. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Mr. Kennedy, who has recorded widely, is both Instructor of Percussion and Artistic Director of the Festival of New American Music at California State University, Sacramento. Daniel has been a member of SFCMP since 1993.
Originally from Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Adam Luftman is currently the Principal Trumpet of both the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet Orchestras. Prior to moving to SF in 2007, Luftman held positions with the Baltimore Symphony, New World Symphony in Miami, and Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He has also been a guest artist with many of the countries finest orchestras including The Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony. During the summers, Luftman has performed at the Grand Teton Music Festival, Mainly Mozart Festival, Sun Valley, Tanglewood Music Center, National Repertory Orchestra, National Orchestral Institute, Spoleto Festival, Aspen, and the Pacific Music Festival in Japan.
In addition to his orchestral work, Adam has been a featured soloist with a number of orchestras and is a member of the National Brass Ensemble and The Bay Brass. He has recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, the National Brass Ensemble, for ESPN Sunday Night Football, and on many movie and video game soundtracks. Luftman is currently on the faculties of the San Francisco Conservatory, UC Berkeley, and San Francisco State University. He has presented masterclasses all over the country including The Curtis Institute of Music, New England Conservatory, Cleveland Institute of Music, New World Symphony, and Tanglewood. He is an honors graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Interlochen Arts Academy. Adam joined SFCMP in 2010.
Loren Mach (percussionist) is passionate about 21st-Century music. A graduate of the Oberlin and Cincinnati Conservatories, he has premiered countless solo, chamber, and orchestral works. He teaches at the University of California, Berkeley and is principal percussionist of eco ensemble, principal timpanist of San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, and co-founder of Rootstock Percussion. Mach often performs with the San Francisco Symphony and other local orchestras, but he prefers more intimate projects with groups like Empyrean, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Opera Parallel, Earplay, and sfSound. In recent summers he has performed at the Ojai Music Festival, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, and Music in the Mountains. Mach was awarded a 2011 Investing in Artists grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation. He appeared in two full-length concerts at the 2014 Venice Biennale with eco ensemble, including a special performance of Nagoya Marimbas for Golden Lion lifetime achievement honoree, Steve Reich. Mach’s other passions involve our fundamental relationship to food as a form of communion with others and our interconnectedness with the natural world around us. An avid hiker, climber and cyclist, he cherishes time spent outside as an integral part of being alive. Loren joined SFCMP in 2015.
Roy Malan (violin) serves as solo violinist with the California Symphony and Opera Parallèle, and was the long-time concertmaster and solo violinist for the San Francisco Ballet. The founding director of the Telluride Chamber Music Festival, he has an extensive career of performance domestically as well as in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia, and Africa to his credit. He is also widely recorded on the Genesis, Orion, and other labels, Roy was formerly a member of Porter Quartet, Stanford String Quartet, Ives Quartet, and the San Francisco Piano Trio, among others. Educated at London’s Royal Academy of Music under Yehudi Menuhin, he also attended Juilliard and the Curtis Institute, where he was a student of Ivan Galamian and Efrem Zimbalist (he authored the latter’s biography). Roy currently serves on the faculty of the University of California, Santa Cruz, plays locally with a string quartet, piano trio, and music festival engagements. Roy joined SFCMP in 1976.
Lawrence Ragent (French horn) is a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and has been locally affiliated with the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, Sinfonia San Francisco and the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra. His performances on the Baroque horn have been with American Bach Soloists, Philharmonia Baroque, Magnificat ,and the Trinity Consort. An honors graduate of the New England Conservatory, he taught at Brown University and performed with the New England Ragtime Ensemble and the Boston Symphony before returning to his native California. Currently, Lawrence is on the faculty of Stanford University where he is also a member of the Stanford Woodwind Quintet. He joined SFCMP in 1981.
Oboist Sarah Rathke maintains a busy and enthusiastic performance presence in Northern California and beyond, as a member of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestras and a regular performer with the symphonies of Marin, Fremont, Santa Rosa, Vallejo, California, Berkeley, Monterey and Santa Cruz. She was a member of the Avenue Winds, a Bay Area woodwind quintet committed to new music, and has also has performed with various orchestras including the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Ballet. Born into a musical family in Alberta, Canada, and a lifelong new music enthusiast, Sarah received her B.M. from Northwestern University where she studied with Ray Still at and her M.M. from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music under John DeLancie. Rathke is a Professor of Oboe at UC Berkeley. Sarah joined SFCMP in 2012.
Nanci Severance (viola) has been a member of the San Francisco Symphony since 1982. She has performed with many Bay area ensembles, including the Stanford Quartet, Composers Inc, Chamber Music West, the Midsummer Mozart Chamber Players, and the Parlante Chamber Orchestra, with whom she was principal violist. She is also a member of the Donatello String Quartet, and she is a regular guest artist with the Stanford String Quartet. Over the course of her career, Nanci has performed with the Toledo Symphony, the Cleveland Opera orchestra, the Cleveland Ballet, as Assistant Principal violist of the Aspen Chamber Orchestra and rotating Principal of the Spoleto Festival Orchestra. A native of Michigan, Severance received her B.M. from Oberlin College and her M.M. at Northern Illinois University. She has performed with SFCMP since 1986 and became a member in 2008.
David Tanenbaum has performed as a solo guitarist throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Solo performances over the course of his career have included the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Vienna’s ORF orchestra, and elsewhere, under the baton of such eminent conductors as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Kent Nagano and John Adams. Many distinguished composers have written solos for David, including Hans Werner Henze’s guitar concerto An Eine Äolsharfe, Terry Riley’s first guitar piece Ascención, four works by Aaron Jay Kernis, and the last completed work by Lou Harrison. Tanenbaum has toured extensively with Steve Reich and Musicians, in Japan with Toru Takemitsu, and has had a long association with Ensemble Modern. He is currently recording the complete guitar works of Sofia Gubaidulina for Naxos. David is the Chair of the San Francisco Conservatory’s Guitar department. David joined SFCMP in 2008. davidtanenbaum.com
Peter Wahrhaftig is Principal Tubist of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, and is a founding member of the Grammy-nominated Bay Brass. He appears frequently with the San Francisco Opera, the Oakland-East Bay Symphony and numerous other local organizations, both in concert and in recordings, including those of Alvin Curran, Christian Wolff, and electro-acoustic composer Chris Brown . Past engagements have been with the Israel Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the Ringling Brother-Barnum and Bailey Circus, and heavy metal legends Metallica. In addition to his performance career, Wahrhaftig has performed on the soundtracks of numerous movie and video games. An Oakland native, Peter received his degree from Northwestern University, where he studied with Arnold Jacobs, and has also studied with Floyd Cooley. He can be heard on Alvin Curran’s eclectic CD Animal Sounds, and he now teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, U.C. Berkeley, and privately in the Bay Area. Peter joined SFCMP in 1982.
Grammy-nominated percussionist William Winant is internationally regarded as a leading performer of avant-garde music. In 2014, he received a Grammy nomination for his recording of John Cage’s historic solo work, 27′ 10.554″ for a percussionist, on Micro Fest Records. Over the course of his career, William has collaborated with legends of 20th and 21st century music, from Iannis Xenakis to Steve Reich and Yo-Yo Ma, and from Merce Cunningham to Kronos Quartet and Sonic Youth. Composers who have written for Willie include john Cage, Lou Harrison, John Zorn, Peter Garland, Larry Polansky, Gordon Mumma, Alvin Lucier, Terry Riley, Fred Frith, Somei Satoh, and Wadada Leo Smith. He is the percussionist with the avant-rock band Mr. Bungle, and performs locally with his own ensemble, the William Winant Percussion Group. A member of the instrumental faculty at the University of California at Berkeley and Mills College, and a Visiting Lecturer at University of California, Santa Cruz. Winant has made over two hundred recordings covering a wide variety of music, including the revered recording of Lou Harrison’s La Koro Sutro and the 2013 release of Five American Percussion Pieces. In 2016, Winant was awarded a prestigious grant from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts in recognition for his groundbreaking work as a contemporary percussionist. William joined SFCMP in 1988. williamwinant.com
In addition to his work with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, percussionist Nick Woodbury performs with and co-directs Mantra Percussion – a group dedicated to large-scale projects that redefine the traditional classical music concert format. Woodbury has appeared alongside the Bang on a Can All-Stars, with the Ensemble Modern Akademie, and Eco Ensemble. His work with contemporary music includes premiering new works by George Crumb, John Luther Adams, Michael Gordon and many others. Woodbury has appeared at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Apple Store at Lincoln Center, Kresge Auditorium at MIT, New Music New College, Symphony Space in Manhattan, Carlsbad New Music Festival, Bowling Green New Music Festival, Percussive Arts Society International Convention, X Avant Festival in Toronto, Vancouver New Music and the Festival Internacional de Inverno de Campos do Jordão in Brazil. Nick joined SFCMP in 2015. nickwoodbury.com
Double bassist Richard Worn has performed extensively with the San Francisco Opera and Symphony. Currently, he serves as Assistant Principal Bass of the Marin Symphony and Principal Bass of the Sanse Chamber Orchestra as well as with the Berkeley Contemporary Chamber Players, ECO Ensemble, Other Minds sfSound, Empyrean Ensemble, Earplay, and Composer’s Inc. Richard is also former Principal Bass of the New Century Chamber Orchestra. With his Worn Chamber Ensemble, founded in 1996, has performed works for both solo bass and ensemble by such composers as Andreissen, Cage, Harrison, Henze, Reveultas, Scelsi, Varese, and Xenakis. Richard holds degrees in double bass from California State University, Northridge and the New England Conservatory. He currently teaches and provides orchestral coaching at UC Berkeley. Richard joined SFCMP in 2002.
Rozella Floranz Kennedy (Executive Director) has over 25 years of experience in nonprofit management, ranging from arts and cultural organizations to the ACLU. She began her career in media, working in editorial management roles at Paris Passion magazine, Mothering magazine, Oxygen.com, Time Inc., and other media institutions. She helped establish three nonprofit organizations in New Mexico, where she lived for the last 12 years: the NM Centennial Commemoration, Creative Santa Fe, and the nationally acclaimed Santa Fe New Music (SFNM). She co-founded SFNM and helped lead the organization to many accolades, including 100 performances, nine major commissions, 39 world premieres, five American premieres, and the 2010 Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Most recently, Rozella served as business development director for a national diversity organization providing opportunities to Native American students. An alumna of New York’s Brearley School, she holds degrees from Tufts University and the Université de Paris, Sorbonne. She is a published essayist. She and her husband, the composer and conductor John Kennedy, have two daughters and two dogs. Rozella joined the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players in 2012.