“I have observed that there are people who are interested in what’s new and what’s adventurous, and there are people who are more interested in deeply delving into what’s familiar,” says Susan Hartzell, a long-time member of the SFCMP board of directors. Susan attends San Francisco Contemporary Music Players’ concerts with her husband, Harry, and with friends whom they have introduced to the group over the years. “We can’t force people to like new music,” she observes, “but we can expose people to new things, and let them decide for themselves. Even if it’s not for you, it’s important for the community, it’s important for the culture, to keep new music going, to encourage composers who are creating new art.”
Susan was introduced to music the way many have been, by starting piano lessons as a little girl. In 4th grade, thanks to an inspiring school music teacher, she fell in love with the violin. A family friend gave her his instrument, and she convinced her parents to let her have violin lessons, too. Singing in church and school choirs rounded out her musical experiences through her school years, and she is still a member of a choral society.
Evolution of “Evenings on the Roof”
While Susan’s family was living in Southern California during the Second World War, her parents had musician friends who introduced them to the flourishing new music scene in the Los Angeles area. One series they regularly attended, “Evenings on the Roof,” featured many of the culturally significant musicians of the émigré community. Susan would go to concerts with her parents when a friend of theirs was performing as a soloist, and she credits those experiences with whetting her appetite for new music. When Susan was 12 years old, her family moved to the New York City area, where art played a big role in their outings, especially trips to the MOMA. Susan’s mother was always curious about new art and music, and she communicated her excitement to her daughter. Susan grew up with a sense that new art and music were important and rewarding.
When Susan met her husband Harry, who also came from a family with a passion for music, they enjoyed listening to the opera on the radio and attending concerts together, and Harry became a new-music fan, too.
During a college summer working at the Aspen Institute, Susan had met the soprano Phyllis Curtin. Later, in Boston, she and Harry attended an afternoon new-music recital that Ms Curtin gave in a small hall at MIT, followed by an evening performance by the Metropolitan Opera star Renata Tebaldi at Symphony Hall. Susan remembers the telling contrast between the two audiences. Ms Curtin received enthusiastic applause; Tebaldi was showered with ovations and bouquets by adoring fans.
1985 poster by Walter Chardak Bercu Design
After Susan and Harry moved to the Bay Area, they pursued their interest in modern art by becoming members of SFMOMA. A brochure from the museum invited them to “Listen to Modern Art” by attending SF Contemporary Music Players’ concerts on Monday evenings in the Green Room at the War Memorial Veteran’s Building. They loved the idea of getting a babysitter for their kids and enjoying a “twofer:” attending a concert in the Green Room and seeing art during the extended intermission.
SFCMP c. 1988
Susan got hooked on the experience of hearing contemporary music in the intimate setting that the Green Room provided. She recalls many memorable moments with the organization. When she first heard a Morton Feldman piece, she admits, ““At first, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it!” Now Feldman’s work has become a favorite. SFCMP provided her first experiences of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and other seminal works, some of which were “totally puzzling” and others easily accessible.
Rehearsal with John Cage
Susan especially remembers a performance of John Cage’s “Music for Flowerpot,” in which Willie Winant was required to drop the flower pot right on the beat. “When it shattered,” she says, “I realized how much fun there was to be had, as well as how much stimulation!” One of the joys of subscribing to SFCMP was sharing the concerts with Susan’s parents, who had moved to the Bay Area. It brought their common interest in contemporary music full circle. When her mother passed away, Susan decided to honor her by sponsoring a piece in her memory. They had both especially loved the work of Lou Harrison, so Susan underwrote a performance of his Symfoni #13. It seemed a fitting tribute to the woman who had introduced her to the joys of new music.
For Susan and Harry, one of the rewarding aspects of supporting the SF Contemporary Music Players is the connection they feel to a community that shares their interest in contemporary music—both their fellow audience members and also the Players, with whom they have become familiar over the years. During the ten years that Susan has served on the board, different artistic and executive directors have brought different styles to the organization. She is glad to see, however, that the organization has stayed true to its mission, and that the players of the ensemble have remained loyal, continuing to present challenging concerts at the highest level. Now, with Steven Schick at the helm, she is excited to see what the future will bring for this venerable but ever-new Bay Area treasure.
Click here to see more photographs (All photos courtesy of ArtSeed)
Grounded in our belief that contemporary music has the potential to engage even community members who have no closeness to classical music per se, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) deploys an inclusive overall strategy to engage collaborative projects that are engaging, welcoming, valued, and above all, authentic. A recent example of this was our very-successful October 2012 John Cage Musicircus, realized in partnership with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. We welcomed over 900 people to the event, and began a deeper engagement with our community. In October, 2013, we served as the lead professional ensemble for the massive Crissy Broadcast, which attracted thousands of individuals for a world premiere of a site-specific work by composer Lisa Bielawa.
The success of these large-scale outreach events informs our plan forward for Project Anton.
As part of our March, 2014 concert, Project Anton uses the past as a touchpoint for defining the present. It centers around a new multimedia work by Bay Area composer Jaroslaw Kapuscinski: Pointing Twice. This new piece, for gramophone soloist, nine musicians, video/computer operator and conductor is itself being commissioned as a response to Anton Webern’s Concerto for Nine Instruments, Op. 24, also on the concert.
The line of inquiry that interests us in working with young artists mimics the inquiry of the composer. Jarek wants to listen to Webern’s iconic work and interpret a response to it at the compositional level. We seek to construct a parallel creative process with Bay Area youth groups to consider and co-create their own responses to the Webern work. We welcome the “clash of cultures” that can emerge when “non-initiates” to twelve-tone music are invited to respond to it. To put it bluntly, we will begin from a frame of “what does this dead, white, male, European composer possibly have to say to interest me, 21st century urban kid?”
It is our hope that through a process of introduction, immersion, and co-creation, new stylistic dialogue can exist that goes beyond anything Anton Webern could have possibly imagined — but that also brings benefit, enjoyment, and esthetic questioning (and answering) to our young artist collaborators.
Why is SFCMP Interested in this process?
One of our core beliefs at SFCMP is that contemporary music has the potential to engage many members of our community, even if they don’t have a stated affinity for classical music. It is to our advantage that the public at-large has many emotive and indirect aesthetic/”crossover” connections to new music (through jazz, pop, world, and other music forms, as well as interdisciplinary and visual arts), even if they do not necessarily have experiential ones. It’s our aim to leverage this “esthetic upside” and forge a place at the community table for new music.
We also consider it to our advantage that new music has more “crossover appeal” in many instances – thanks to electronic music, tribal/ethnic polyrhythms, trance music, tape loops and other techniques that pop and underground culture have adopted from 20th century maverick composers. Some audiences will never feel comfortable in a strict concert hall experience, and they shouldn’t be made to feel they have to. Our interest is in meeting audiences “where they live” through our field of new music, and seeing what interesting results these encounters can lead to. That’s the beauty and power of art in our landscape today.
In working with our wonderful and experienced partners at ArtSeed, we seek to engage youth who have no a priori connection to Webern’s classical tradition (twelve-tone/atonal music). Often considered a “difficult” genre within 20th century classical music forms, dodecaphonic music (to use the precise term) actually holds interesting promise and relevance in our age, where dissonance, ”noise rock,” rap, electronica, and other popular styles make up an important part of the youth landscape.
Here’s how our Artistic Director Steven Schick frames the line of inquiry:
Anton Webern lived in an impossibly complicated world. His country in Europe had been in the middle of not just one, but two world wars. Towards the end of life, everywhere he looked there was rubble, destruction, enormous poverty, and chaos. How does an artist deal with a world that is spinning out of control? How do you raise your voice above the noise? Do those sound like questions we could ask ourselves today? yes, perhaps there are more than a few similarities to early 21st America — the chaos, the competition for space, wars and other social problems. How would you make yourself be heard?
Webern did two things as a composer to make himself be heard: the first is that he didn’t try to drown out the noise by making music that was extremely loud or aggressive. Instead he responded by creating quite soft and gentle music, usually in very short pieces for pretty sweet sounding instruments. Maybe he was saying that when you can’t scream louder than everyone else, you can make yourself heard by whispering.
The second is that he created hyper-organized music. He used several systems organize and structure his music but the most famous one was called “12 tone music.” It’s really pretty simple. You write a sequence of twelve different notes — all the notes of the chromatic scale — and number them 1 through 12. Then you use them in order. You can also reverse the order or play other mathematical games with the ordering of the notes. And it does really seem like a game. At the end though everything in a piece is related to the original order of the notes. That mean that there is a sense of belonging among the notes — a sure knowledge of what should go where.
Does that sound overly calculating? Maybe it does. But imagine living in a world where nothing made sense, where random violence and chaos waited around every corner. Webern made music — and saved his sanity — by making extremely orderly music. However loud and crazy it was in the world, he could find peace an a beautifully and elegantly ordered inner world.
Did the kids ever enjoy making up their own games with Steven Schick and our Program Director Mason Dille!! One of those went something like this: “Imagine having a conversation using only three words at a time.” Such is the spirit of Webern’s compositions, put into a context that young people can not only understand, but enjoy — and perhaps even teach others about?!
In the workshops, the students are guided by the two organizations’ collaborative creative team through an inquiry-based creative process that will be fueled by their exposure to: 1) the original Webern Concerto, 2) detailed visual arts-based workshops with ArtSeed and SFCMP staff, 3) exposure to the performing artists’ creative process (“building a concert” via rehearsals), 4) ongoing contact with SFCMP staff in a teaching role; and importantly 5) the students’ own artistic inquiry and reaction.
ArtSeed is developing and delivering a series of 10 school-based workshops at the SF Public Montessori School in fall, 2013 around the life and work of composer Anton Webern. Students will be led through an introduction to Webern’s work and aesthetic, and will be led by ArtSeed instructors in creating visual art works in “response” to the work and musical movement.
Our project will culminate in two public performances of Pointing Twice on March 24, 2013, with the World Premiere at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum in San Francisco preceded by a “Contemporary Insights” educational performance for the public the day before. The artwork by the young artists will be scanned by ArtSeed staff and integrated into the evening through projection. Physical exhibitions of the children’s artwork are being explored. Participating students and their parents will be invited to dress rehearsals and the concert evening.
Evaluative measurements exist across three outcome areas: 1) artistic quality and impact; 2) audience experience and institutional value; and 3) broad community awareness, appreciation, and learning in the arts (i.e. “new audiences” and educational outreach).
Over the past 25 years, Michael Gordon has produced a strikingly diverse body of work, ranging from large-scale pieces for high-energy ensembles to major orchestral commissions to works conceived specifically for the recording studio. Transcending categorization, this music represents the collision of mysterious introspection and brutal directness.
Gordon’s music merges subtle rhythmic invention with incredible power embodying, in the words of The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, “the fury of punk rock, the nervous brilliance of free jazz and the intransigence of classical modernism.” Deeply passionate about the sonic potential of the traditional orchestra, Gordon’s orchestral works include Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, a radical reworking of the original, commissioned by the 2006 Beethoven Festival in Bonn and premiered by Jonathon Nott and the Bamberger Symphony; and Sunshine of your Love, written for over 100 instruments divided into four microtonally tuned groups. Under the baton of composer/conductor John Adams, The Ensemble Modern Orchestra toured Sunshine of your Love to seven European capitals in 1999. Gordon’s string orchestra piece Weather was commissioned by the Siemens Foundation Kultur Program, and after its tour was recorded and released on Nonesuch to great critical and popular success. His interest in exploring various sound textures has led him to create chamber works that distort traditional classical instruments with electronic effects and guitar pedals, including Potassium for the Kronos Quartet and Industryfor cellist Maya Beiser. Also for Kronos, The Sad Park, written in 2006, uses the voices of child witnesses to September 11th as its subject. Gordon’s monumental, 52-minute Trance, originally written for the UK-based group Icebreaker, was debuted in 1997 and recently performed twice in New York City by the ensemble Signal.
Forged in Moscow and refined in London, composer Elena Langer’s music intermingles a contemporary practice with a rich tradition drawn from her Russian upbringing. The product of an imaginative and fearless exploration of thoughtfully conceived sonic landscape, Langer’s work traverses between tumult and the sublime. Her facility with figuration animates the texture of her music with the characteristic rhythms of her Russian homeland, complemented by a musical grammar drawing on the color and bombast inherited from the experimentations of the post-modern era. At times, her music is patient, playing in a sonic-space between well defined and complimentary emotive poles, and at other times, it represents an unabashed, raw emotional energy. Langer’s work evokes an exquisite, sacred stillness struggling to predominate against a discordant and cacophonous present. One could say Langer’s music is a study and reflection of our modern world.
Elena Langer was born in Moscow, coming of age during the decline of the Soviet era. Enrolling at Gnessin Music College, she studied musicology and piano before entering the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory where she pursued composition with Yuri Vorontsov. In 1999 she moved to London, entering graduate studies at the Royal College of Music under the tutelage of composer Julian Anderson. She followed these studies with a doctorate prepared at the Royal Academy of Music under composer Simon Bainbridge. In 2002-03 Langer became the first Jerwood composer-in-residence at Almeida Theatre, London, during which time she composed two short operas, Ariadne (2002) and Girl of Sand (2003), both based on librettos by the poet Glyn Maxwell. Ariadne went on to further performances at Tanglewood Music Center as well as the Britten and Strauss Festival in Aldeburgh, where the opera won the Priaulx Rainier Prize in 2003.
1) What the benefits of purchasing a SFCMP Season Subscription?
- Deeply discounted ticket prices
- Preferred seating (subscribers’ seating area)
- First news about special events and offers
- Peace of mind & lack of hassle
2) I don’t want to purchase online. Can I just order by mail?
If you prefer to purchase tickets by mail, please send a check for $250 for each Nine-Pack or $170 for each Six-Pack to: SFCMP, 55 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. Mail orders include a nominal surcharge to cover handling fees.
3) I only want to purchase a Six-Pack. How can I indicate which concerts I want to attend?
- We will contact you directly after your online purchase to confirm which concerts you wish to attend.
4) I am not happy with paperless ticketing. Can’t you just mail me my tickets?
- Yes we can mail printed tickets to any subscriber who prefers this option. Select “will call” during the checkout process, and we’ll contact you after your purchase to inquire if you would like printed tickets.
5) When will my printed tickets arrive?
We will mail tickets within four business days of receiving your order. Subscriptions purchased less than a week before the concert will be held at the door.
6) When do single tickets go on sale?
They are on sale now! You can choose to have your tickets sent to you or paperless ticketing. Do note that if you purchase a single ticket less than a week before the concert, Brown Paper Tickets will not be able to ensure your mailed ticket will be received in time, so opt for paperless ticketing in that case.
7) What about the Steven Schick “Origins” concert? Why can’t I buy that online as part of my subscription?
- This is a special concert event and not part of our “subscription series.” All ticketing for that event is through JCCSF: www.jccsf.org/tickets. Tickets are $30, $40 and VIP reception tickets are $100.
8) I want to add a contribution to SFCMP when I place my order. How can I do that?
- Thank you! There’s a box right on the order page where you can add a charitable donation.
Featuring the London-based Russian composer Elena Langer’s Two Cat Songs (2010), for voice, piano, and cello sung by local soprano Amy Foote, and Bang on a Can co-founder Michael Gordon’s 2010 work Timber – a percussive tour de force for six musicians playing amplified lengths of lumber. Based on the simantras used by Eastern Orthodox monks, these instruments will be custom-built for this performance.
“Beyond the ever-shifting rhythmic crosscurrents that give the music its vigor and hypnotic intensity, Timber also plays on tones unique to each plank…overtones hover and fuse, conjuring eerie moans and radiant coronas.” (Steve Smith, New York Times)
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
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).