Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Naples Philharmonic Jazz Readings: Composer Spotlight - Yvette Janine Jackson

Yvette Janine Jackson is a composer, sound designer, and installation artist with a focus on through-composed and improvisatory forms that draw from history and contemporary social themes. She recently was guest composer-in-residence at Stockholm’s Elektronmusikstudion (EMS) and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Music-Integrative Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Yvette participated in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Summer Intensive last year and was selected for the EarShot Naples Philharmonic Jazz Composers Readings, May 25-26, 2016 at Artis–Naples’ Hayes Hall, for her piece Atlantic Crossing, the first movement of a programmatic suite themed around the Middle Passage.

Yvette spoke to SoundAdvice about her JCOI experience and her piece Atlantic Crossing.

Composer Yvette Janine Jackson
American Composers Orchestra: You have a strong focus on radio opera and narrative soundscape composition in your music and studies. Atlantic Crossing is part of a larger work about the Middle Passage, the stage of the slave trade in which millions of Africans were sent to the Americas. Why did you choose this as the subject for your work?
Yvette Janine Jackson: I’ve used the terms radio opera and narrative soundscape composition to label many of my works from the past few years: radio opera refers to my compositions which invoke the theatre of the mind and narrative soundscape composition is both a type of electroacoustic music and the method I use to bridge my music and research.

Atlantic Crossing is the fourth work I have composed that centers around the Middle Passage.  I prefer to explore historic and socially relevant topics in my compositions, because I find these subjects far more (un)imaginable than fiction.  I have only scratched the surface in terms of accessing shipping records, logbooks, diagrams, journals, and other documents that help paint an accurate picture and inform my music, but I keep returning to this topic because it’s an important part of American history that is often dismissed or misunderstood.  During a rehearsal for Vernaculus II, a composition for improvisation ensemble, I described the conditions of human cargo being packed below decks and one of the musicians remarked that I was being twisted for imagining such a thing. I hadn’t imagined anything, but only based my description on historical documents instructing shippers how to maximize space in their cargo holds. This incident drove me to focus on actual events and to bring to the forefront parts of history that get marginalized.  I still have a lot to learn about this period and it is through composition that I wish to explore it.

ACO: Can you talk about what musical elements in Atlantic Crossing evoke the narrative?
YJJ: Atlantic Crossing, like the majority of my compositions, is programmatic; however the narrative is meant to guide me as a composer rather than influence the audience’s experience of the music. When I have an idea for a composition, I imagine the scenes that are necessary to tell the story which sets the emotional character of the music.  Then I create storyboards in order to help determine the order and amount of detail I will express.  I decide what roles specific instruments or families of instruments will serve.  Musical phrases develop throughout all stages of this process.  I don’t expect the audience to hear or be aware of any of this.  My main objective with Atlantic Crossing was to capture the atmosphere and mood, rather than convey a literal story.  As I expand this work into a suite, I will focus on different aspects of the Middle Passage.

ACO: You were recently composer-in-residence at Stockholm’s Elektronmusikstudion. Has your experience with electronic sounds affected the way you write for the acoustic instruments in an orchestra?
YJJ: My relationship with electronic sounds has definitely impacted the way I write for acoustic instruments and vice versa.  The residency at Stockholm’s Elektronmusikstudion began two days after the first phase of the JCOI intensive and I began sketching Atlantic Crossing while I was still in Sweden.  I was cognizant of the fact that there was so much information packed into the JCOI workshops and demonstrations, that I would not begin to digest much of it until the following weeks when I was sitting in front of the Buchla and Serge synthesizers.  My initial impulse was to approach Atlantic Crossing timbrally, but it’s not spectral music and, except for the strings, there are no extended techniques.

If anything, my experience as a student at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, before it was transformed into the Computer Music Center, had the greatest influence on my orchestral writing. It was during this time that I was exposed to composing tape music, and I like to think of my musical motifs as pieces of tape that can be spliced, cut up, slowed down, etc.  Whether I am composing for acoustic or synthesized instruments, it is the narrative that drives my aesthetics.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the readings?
YJJ: I’m excited to see how the entire process of creating an orchestral work unfolds.  No matter what I do, it’s important that I learn something.  Rehearsals are my favorite part of the creative process, so I am looking forward to the first reading session.  This will be the first chance I get to hear my score realized by a real orchestra and the first opportunity to critique my decisions regarding dynamics, articulation, color, etc.  I’m excited to hear the suggestions made during the feedback session, because I think that will be one of the most valuable moments of the reading process.  Of course, I am looking forward to the final reading and getting a recording of my orchestral music.  I have dreamt of working with an orchestra since I was 12, so I want to learn as much as possible from this opportunity so I can be ready for the next.  I am also eager to hear what wonderful works my peers have created since we last met in August 2015.

ACO: What has your experience in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute been like so far?
YJJ: My experience with JCOI has been and continues to be amazing.  I’ve kept in touch with and worked on projects with participants I met last summer.  One of the most remarkable things about the JCOI intensive was the diversity of participants -34 amazingly talented musicians from all over the country in various stages of their careers.  This created a fertile environment for learning and sharing ideas. It truly was an “intensive”  -six consecutive days, mornings to nights, packed with workshops, demonstrations, conversations, and performances.   My mentor, James Newton, has been extremely supportive in providing suggestions for the score and working with the conductor and orchestra.  I can’t imagine how Phase II at Naples will shape me as a composer, but I just hope to learn and grow as much as possible from this experience.

For more information on Yvette, visit www.yvettejackson.com
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Monday, May 23, 2016

Naples Philharmonic Jazz Readings: Composer Spotlight - Nathan Parker Smith

A native of Northern California, Nathan Parker Smith is an active performer and composer currently residing in Brooklyn, New York. In 2009, he formed the Nathan Parker Smith Large Ensemble, an eighteen-member ensemble regularly performing original music throughout New York. Last year, Nathan participated in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Summer Intensive. He was selected for the EarShot Naples Philharmonic Jazz Composers Readings, May 25-26, 2016 at Artis–Naples’ Hayes Hall, for his piece The Wyoming Matter, which takes its name from a widely unknown crisis in New York City.

We spoke to Nathan about his piece and his JCOI experience for SoundAdvice.

Composer Nathan Parker Smith
American Composers Orchestra: The Wyoming Matter refers to the 1944 crisis in which a freighter ship, the Wyoming, almost spread plague-infected rats to the local population in New York City, stopped only by a last-ditch secret emergency program of rat-trapping and rodent autopsies. Why did you choose this title and subject for the piece?
Nathan Parker Smith: I happened to read Raphael Orlove’s article about the Wyoming as I started work on the composition and I was enthralled with the story. The event is actually quite grotesque, but the story had the sort of intensity and drama I like to capture in my writing.

ACO: Is there any kind of narrative arc in your piece that reflects The Wyoming Matter story?
NPS: The arc of the piece does not directly follow the story of the Wyoming, however, there are sections that display intensity, and sections that are fragile and gentle, parallel to New York’s state in the 1940’s.

ACO: Your group, the Nathan Parker Smith Large Ensemble has performed at popular clubs and venues across New York City. Can you compare the challenges of engaging the audiences at intimate, sometimes noisy venues in NYC vs. audiences at a symphonic concert hall?
NPS: Engaging (or rather competing) with audience in a club in New York can be challenging. Luckily, the music I write for the band is loud and fairly aggressive, so we can usually drown out most of the hecklers. In all seriousness, in an intimate setting, I find the band and the audience react and fuel each other during a performance, but many of the nuances can be lost in the excitement. In contrast, it is wonderful to know that the audience in the concert hall has come solely to listen to the music and that they will be able to hear the smallest details throughout the performance.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the readings?
NPS: After months of composing at the piano, I’m especially looking forward to hearing my piece, as well as hearing the other three composers’ works, performed by a great ensemble.  Personally, it is a rare opportunity for me to be able to listen to an ensemble perform my work without having to conduct or play in the group.  One of the things I’m most looking forward to is that my parents are coming to check out the readings and I’m excited to share work with them.

ACO: What has your experience in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute been like so far?
NPS: The workshop in Los Angeles this last summer was rigorous and eye-opening. The relationships formed with the other composers, mentors and guest artist were invaluable. Learning to navigate the subtle but important differences between the jazz and classical world has been an interesting process as well. The mission of JCOI in providing this opportunity for large ensemble and mixed genre writing has encouraged me to push the boundaries of my own composition style and rethink my approach to writing.

Follow Nathan Parker Smith on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, YouTube
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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind Composer Spotlight - Gity Razaz

Composer Gity Razaz attended The Juilliard School on full scholarship, holds numerous awards, and is composer-in-residence this year at National Sawdust. Her piece The Metamorphosis of Narcissus was premiered by Metropolis Ensemble at Le Poisson Rouge in 2011. The New York Times reviewed the concert, writing "The Metamorphosis of Narcissus ... was a world apart: a narcotic mix of dreamy French horn and clarinet calls, limpid Impressionist timbres and electronically induced expanse. Ms. Razaz’s music was ravishing and engulfing throughout ..."

Gity's piece gets its first full orchestral performance by ACO at Eastern Wind on Friday, April 1 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. Inspired by Salvador Dali's painting of the same name, the work is structured as a triplex musical soundscape with each section exploring an internal/psychological stage of Narcissus' metamorphosis.

Gity was kind enough to speak with SoundAdvice about the Iranian influence in her music and the upcoming performance.

Composer Gity Razaz

American Composers Orchestra: Can you tell us what influence, if any, your Persian heritage has had on your music?
Gity Razaz: I wasn't trained in traditional Persian music and I was raised in a non-musical family of doctors and scientists; I believe that the influence of Persian music on me is more subconscious rather than literal: Persian music is very lyrical and since it almost always accompanies poetry, it can reflect the drama of the text. My music is very lyrical and harmonically emotional. It is also very dramatic in nature --  I'm always thinking about the dramatic trajectory of my compositions through out the process of writing.

ACO: Do you think being raised in non-musical family was an advantage or disadvantage in finding your own, as you say, lyrically and harmonically emotional voice as a composer?
GR: I think growing up in a non-musical -- yet supportive and enthusiastic -- family has been a great advantage in finding my own musical voice. It gave me the freedom to explore various types of music from the get-go. I think it also made me work harder to discover what was out there and what appealed to me musically and stylistically; I was lucky to have the benefits of full artistic exposure from the start of my artistic journey without feeling limited by a certain sound world.

ACO: You've cited Salvador Dali's painting The Metamorphosis of Narcissus as the inspiration for this piece. What initially drew you to this painting?
GR: I'm a big fan of Salvador Dali among other painters of the Surrealist movement. "Metamorphosis of Narcissus" is one of his works employing double imagery, a technique that I've always found fascinating. I also love the Narcissus myth so I was eager to write a piece about this tale inspired by Dali's painting.

"Metamorphosis of Narcissus" by Salvador Dali

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the performance of The Metamorphosis of Narcissus at Carnegie Hall by the American Composers Orchestra?
GR: I'm very excited to hear the orchestral version of the piece! The Metamorphosis of Narcissus was originally scored for chamber ensemble so I'm looking forward to hearing it performed with a large string section.

Hear Gity's The Metamorphosis of Narcissus at Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind - April 1, 2016 at 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel. More details and tickets here.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind Composer Spotlight - Reena Esmail

Indian-American composer Reena Esmail has strong roots in both Western and Hindustani (North Indian) classical music idioms. She holds a bachelor’s degree in composition from The Juilliard School, a master’s degree from the Yale School of Music, and her doctoral thesis explores the methods and challenges of the collaborative process between Hindustani musicians and Western composers. Avartan, her new commission for ACO, takes its name the "avartan" rhythmic cycle featured in Hindustani music, which it explores in the context of cultural perception. The piece receives its world premiere at Eastern Wind, April 1 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall, and features a video by Neeraj Jain.

Reena was kind enough to talk with SoundAdvice about her musical background and compositional process for Avartan.

Composer Reena Esmail surrounded by her Western and Indian instruments

American Composers Orchestra: Tell us how you approached integrating the music of your heritage into a contemporary orchestra setting.
Reena Esmail: I have been a Western musician for my entire life, but for the last six years, I have also delved deeply into the Hindustani (North Indian) Classical tradition. Hindustani and Western classical music can appear to be polar opposites in so many fundamental ways: one is improvised and the other is written, one is primarily a solo art while the other can support massive ensembles. But I've found that, because of these differences, the two traditions don't step on each other's toes. For example, it is possible to explore intricate Indian melodies in the context of a large western ensemble. Most of the music I write is about finding points of connection between these two traditions, and about allowing one tradition to exist in the context of the other.

ACO: You are one of the artistic directors at Shastra, an organization which cultivates the work of musicians who work between Indian and Western musical traditions. Is strengthening the relationship between Indian and Western music something you are also trying to accomplish with Avartan?
RE: Absolutely. There are so many incredible musicians who work between Indian and Western traditions in innovative and unique ways - because the traditions are so different, both in methodology and resultant sound, there are so many pathways to approach connection and collaboration between these musical worlds. Payton MacDonald (percussionist/Dhrupad singer) and I co-founded Shastra because we wanted to showcase the diversity of Indian/Western crossover that exists today.

Strengthening the relationship between Indian and Western music, and through it, Indian and Western culture, is one of the most important aspects of my career. For me, it is deeply personal - I am from two cultures that are literally on opposite sides of the world. Wherever I am, there is always a part of me that longs for the other place. If it is physically impossible for me to be in both places at once, I'm able to create that world through my music.

Watch Reena's TEDx presentation about differences in how Western and Indian cultures share our musical experiences:

ACO: What can ACO's musicians of primarily Western classical background learn from Avartan? Are there any aspects of the piece, such as the 'avartan' rhythmic cycle, that are difficult to approach from a Western perspective?
RE: The term "avartan" is used metaphorically here. An avartan is simply a rhythmic cycle - just as a measure of 4/4 would be in Western music. But the concept of cycles is so ingrained into so many elements of Indian music and culture (even up to the cyclical concept of reincarnation in Hinduism). In this case, I titled the piece Avartan because I saw it as one, single cycle. It makes a slow transition from music that feels characteristically Indian to music that feels characteristically Western, but yet it still slips right back into the beginning music at the very end, illustrating how connected even the most disparate musical worlds can be.

ACO: Avartan features an accompanying film by Neeraj Jain and explores first impressions. Have any of your personal experiences influenced the nature of these first impressions in Avartan?
RE: When I first returned from a year in India in 2012, I noticed this odd thing that would happen. For months, everything I owned was in storage, so I only had my Indian clothes. I love wearing Indian clothes - in India, they made me feel instantly beautiful and elegant. And yet I noticed that as I moved through my American life, the same clothes signaled to people that I was a foreigner. I noticed that people I met for the first time would speak a little more slowly and choose their words more carefully. They were a little more hesitant to interact with me, perhaps for fear of offending me in some way. And I found that people's perceptions of me actually shaped the way I behaved, from the physical gestures to my very thoughts about myself and my relationship to the world around me. In a way, I almost became the foreigner they thought I was.

I've spent years thinking about these interactions, I wanted to try to describe the experience through my music. When the piece begins, it seems to be completely Indian, perhaps even going so far as to feel like a transcription of a classical Indian melody. The accompanying film also shows a montage of Indian people, dressed traditionally. And as the music and the film continue, they veer further and further towards Western music and Western fashion. The beginning and ending shots of the film are the same woman - the first time you see her, she looks very traditionally Indian, and at the end, she looks completely American. The piece is definitely meant to reflect my experience and my fluid sense of identity as I navigate between these cultures.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the performance of Avartan at Carnegie Hall by the American Composers Orchestra?
RE: It's my first performance ever at Carnegie Hall! I'm so excited to have Avartan premiered by ACO in this venue that I've dreamed about since I was a kid.

Hear the world premiere of Reena's Avartan at Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind - April 1, 2016 at 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel. More details and tickets here.

Follow Reena on Facebook and Instagram
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Friday, March 18, 2016

Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind Composer Spotlight - Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol

Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol is a Grammy nominated composer, highly esteemed Jazz musician, and pianist and classical Turkish music singer whose "music is colorful, fanciful, full of rhythmic life, and full of feeling" (The Boston Globe). His Grammy nomination came for his piece Vecd, part of A Far Cry's album Dreams & Prayers, which was nominated for a 2015 Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance. Mehmet was JAZZIZ’s Top 10 Critics’ Choice 2014 pick and is currently in post-production for a CD release with his unique jazz orchestra/combo, Whatsnext. Recently, Mehmet's piece The Blue Typhoon, written for the Boston Cello Quartet, was performed at the Tanglewood Music Festival on a program directed by Yo-Yo Ma.

The Boston Globe has said "Sanlıkol is a citizen of the world ... another who could play decisive role in music’s future in the world" and it is no doubt that his multiculturalism plays an important role in his music. His ACO and Carnegie Hall commission, Harabat – The Intoxicated, is inspired by the classical Ottoman/Turkish music tradition and will feature a poem by a late 19th/early 20th century Sufi dervish, Edib Harabi. Mehmet will sing and play the dd in the world premiere at Eastern Wind, April 1 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall.

Mehmet was kind enough to answer a few questions about the piece for SoundAdvice.

Composer Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol with his ud

American Composers Orchestra: Tell us how you approached integrating the music of your heritage into a contemporary orchestra setting?
Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol: Interestingly enough, I discovered the music of my heritage here in the US. Both of my parents are from the island of Cyprus and my mother is a classical piano teacher who was trained by the British when Cyprus was still governed by them. So, when I was growing up in Turkey with my Cypriot parents I was exposed to Chopin, opera and bossa nova much more so than any kind of Turkish music… Then I came to Boston in 1993 to go to Berklee College of Music. At the time Berklee had a very strong Jazz Composition department with Herb Pomeroy still teaching his legendary “Linewriting" and "The Music of Duke Ellington” classes – I was lucky enough to take these two classes from him in his last year right before he retired. In any case, I was fully invested in that world as well as contemporary classical composition until 2000 when I suddenly took a deep interest in Turkish music and culture. At the time, I was just about to begin my doctoral studies in classical composition at New England Conservatory and, thanks to the flexibility of the faculty there, they allowed me to be able to seriously study a variety of Turkish music traditions and go to Harvard in order to learn how to read Ottoman Turkish in Arabic script. My discovery of the Near and the Middle East and it’s multi-layered cultural legacy was not due to melancholy and/or nostalgia but it was purely because of musical reasons. As a result, while studying the traditional musics and learning how to play the ud (as well as a number of other instruments) my musical experimentations began rather early on. Indeed, I found myself studying and experimenting with early European music polyphony and temperaments, the interpretation and attitude of Jazz against written music, and minimalist expressions in contemporary classical music in order to develop an internalized voice as a contemporary composer that was not necessarily looking to integrate Turkish music into an orchestral setting, but was all about truly reflecting on my own “Turkish-American” modernity.

ACO: Harabat – The Intoxicated features a poem by late 19th/early 20th century Sufi dervish, Edib Harabi, which you will sing while playing the Ud. Can you talk about why you chose this text in particular?
Sufi dervish Edib Harabi
MAS: First of all, for such a special commission I really wanted to compose a piece that had important things to say on a number of levels and I found that Sufism often helps me ground myself better, at least, culturally and spiritually. The type of Sufism (Islamic mysticism) Bektashi dervishes practice is the one that I identify with the most and, Edip Harabi happens to be one of my favorite Bektashi Sufi poets. So, as soon as I received this commission I wanted to look into Bektashi Sufi poetry and Harabi came up rather quickly. I also had a particular aesthetic in mind for the text as I wanted it to have the kind of meter which Ottoman classical poetry used. As a result, I read through a collection of Harabi’s poetry for about a month and found one that I really liked which was in the kind of meter I was looking for. On a spiritual level, the text I selected reflects on the idea of falling under the spell of (what I call) "divine intoxication." The word harab literally means to be devastated. So, harabat would then translate as "the devastated," however, what the author is referring to here is appearing devastated to the public due to being intoxicated with divine love. In fact, Harabi is masterfully creating an analogy here with being heavily drunk from liquor – intoxicated – and appearing devastated as a result. In the end, since he is a dervish, a man of religion, he picks on the religious orthodoxy and says that to the imam he may appear “intoxicated” but how can the imam understand the kind of pleasure giving up the material world brings…

ACO: Your background spans Western classical music, Jazz and Turkish music. Have you found connections between these three musical spheres, and if so, do these connections find their way into your piece? 
MAS: As I noted earlier, I discovered that early European music and classical Turkish music have a lot in common. On the other hand, the improvisational nature of Jazz and classical Turkish music also present commonalities. All of that being said, simply discovering or learning about commonalities between musical traditions do not necessarily mean that a composer can suddenly begin to express these subtleties. Surely, it is a different matter if the composer is only looking to be inspired by a particular musical tradition. However, in my honest opinion, in order for a complex musical expression incorporating a number of musical languages to emerge, the composer must internalize the musical languages with which he/she is working with. After two decades spent studying, performing and composing Jazz, classical Turkish music, early European music and contemporary Western classical composition, I am hoping that in Harabat – The Intoxicated all of these musical languages will be heard in a fashion where they do not necessarily coexist but they are intertwined.

Watch the teaser for Mehmet's upcoming Jazz album with his Jazz ensemble Whatsnext?:

ACO: You will be singing and playing the Ud in Harabat / The Intoxicated. Does either your singing or the Ud take melodic responsibility in the piece, or do they coexist as the solo lead?
MAS: My voice is really the solo lead with the ud supporting it which is directly modeled after the kind of singing that occurs in the classical Turkish music tradition. In this tradition it is common to find the ud or the tanbur (long-necked lute) performed by the singer. And, if the performer is a male singer then the instrument and the voice end up being in the same octave. As a result, the instrument provides support as well as attack and rhythm due to the plucked nature of it.

Watch Mehmet perform a Sufi song notated in 17th century:

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the performance of Harabat / The Intoxicated at Carnegie Hall by the American Composers Orchestra?
MAS: I poured my heart and soul into this piece as I wanted to fully reflect on the “divine intoxication” that got a hold of me several decades ago in Bursa, Turkey. However, only a few weeks after I started composing Harabat – The Intoxicated I lost my father due to a sudden and a completely unexpected heart attack. I know that the tragedy of this loss is deeply buried inside this piece too. As a result, I am looking forward to celebrating my father’s life by performing this piece at Carnegie Hall with ACO.

Hear the world premiere of Mehmet's Harabat – The Intoxicated at Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind - April 1, 2016 at 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel. More details and tickets here.

Learn more about Mehmet, is Jazz outfit Whatsnext, and all his endeavors at his website www.sanlikol.com

Friday, March 11, 2016

Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind Composer Spotlight - Saad Haddad

Composer Saad Haddad is in his last year the Juilliard School, pursuing a Master of Music Composition with John Corigliano, but already he has been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Columbus Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, and American Composers Orchestra. Saad is a first-generation Arab-American who combines the influence of Arab music with a knowledgeable use of music technology in his compositions. His ACO commission Manarah, which will be premiered at Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind, April 1 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel, uses traditional performance practices of Arabic musicians such as microtonal intervallic relationships, glissandi, and unconventional changes in vibrato, and is scored for two digitally processed antiphonal trumpets and orchestra.

Saad was kind enough to answer some questions about his piece for SoundAdvice.

Composer Saad Haddad

American Composers Orchestra: Tell us how you approached integrating the music of your heritage into a contemporary orchestra setting.
Saad Haddad: Before I elaborate on this, I first have to mention another one of my orchestral works, Kaman Fantasy, which highlights the orchestra's string section in particular, mimicking the embellishments, vibrato, asynchronous bowing, and microtonal language most commonly found in the string section performance practice of traditional Arabic ensembles. In Manarah, my approach has less to do with the strings (although I do employ some of the effects from Kaman Fantasy, but to a lesser extent) and more to do with the winds, in respect to embouchure fluctuations and dense ornamentation in the woodwinds and an insistent reliance on the brass section to provide the microtonal language borrowed from the maqam scales. So far, my approach with percussion has been to steer clear of instruments like the tambourine or the darbakah, which I think don't give the listener a chance to draw from their own aural observations on where and how my influences are being incorporated; they're much too immediate for me. Instead, I use percussion that's commonly used in symphony orchestras today like the timpani, bass drum, tom-toms, cymbals, and tam-tam, but in ways that might suggest an outsider's perceptive.

ACO: Manarah uses two digitally processed trumpets which will be placed in the left and right balconies. What can you tell us about the digital processing and the sound created? Will the trumpet "sound" be recognizable?
SD: The trumpet sounds will definitely be recognizable (I hope!). What I'm doing is altering the sounds of the trumpets live onstage -- so you'll hear the live sound of the trumpets just as if they were playing normally (because they are!), but you'll also simultaneously hear their sound altered through a patch my electronics teacher, Mari Kimura, and I developed through a program called MAX. I view it like programming code, but for music. Every piece of 'code' that goes into the patch for this piece is absolutely needed -- if even one small part of the sequence of events goes wrong, it can prove detrimental to the piece. So there of course is an element of holding your breath hoping everything will work, and I've been very lucky in past electroacoustic performances of my other works to be able to anticipate what might go wrong ahead of time, so we'll see what happens. In terms of what you'll actually hear coming out of the speakers, well you'll have to come to the concert to find out!

Circled numbers in the MAX Opt. (Operator) staff indicate coinciding electronic events notated in the Tpt. (Trumpet in C) 1 MAX and/or Tpt. 2 MAX staves. The wavy crescendo and diminuendo-like figures above the Tpt. 2 staff indicate varying degrees of wide and fast vibrato from the live trumpet player.

ACO: The digitally processed trumpets will employ Arabic musical techniques, such as microtonal intervallic relationships, glissandi, and unconventional changes in vibrato. Does the digital processing enhance or mask these Arabic influences?
SD: I knew I wanted to use live electronics, but I wanted to do it in a way that would complement the personal research I've been doing acoustically on Western instruments -- that is, finding ways to incorporate traditional Arabic performance techniques onto instruments typically used in a symphony orchestra. That's the genesis of all the music I've been writing for the past few years. Now when it comes to live electronics, the same concept holds true. What can I do to bring out traditional Middle Eastern peculiarities through an instrument like the trumpet which is not easily capable of producing the effects that I'm seeking to hear? Well, that's when live processing comes in to play. That's the long answer. The short answer is I do hope the electronics enhance my influences!

ACO: Is there established notation for the Arabic techniques you used in the piece? Or did you have to invent your own ways of communicating them on the page?
SD: I've been kind of making up the notation for these techniques as each piece sees fit, although I do try to relate as much of the notation as I can to typical Western notation practice, especially in an orchestral context. Below is one example that I've developed with a couple oboe and bassoon players at Juilliard in regards to what I call 'embouchure fluctuation'. This kind of technique is influenced by the discrete sounds produced from the 'mizmar,' a double reed instrument from Egypt, and the ney, a flute-like instrument used all over the Middle East. In Manarah, this notation finds its way in the flute, clarinet, oboe, and bassoon.

The noteheads above the single lined ossia staff indicate to normalize embouchure for the given note indicated in the staff; the noteheads below the single lined ossia staff indicate to flatten the given note in the staff by a half-step with the embouchure.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the performance of Manarah at Carnegie Hall by the American Composers Orchestra?
SD: I'm really just looking forward to finally hearing how all these sounds work (or not work!) put all together. My process involves a lot of workshopping with musicians as I'm creating the music itself. I've recorded several chunks of this piece already with friends at Juilliard who were very gracious with their time and who've made the process of discovery so rewarding for me. So I've heard bits and pieces of it, with and without the electronics, and to me they all seem to work at least in my head. The ACO's rehearsals and premiere of the piece is the final goal though, and I really hope that all that work pays off in the end! Like with anything else I've written, there are always things that don't go as well as I would have hoped that I refine for the next time around, whether it's the way I notated something on the page, or the orchestration choices themselves; there are also rather pleasant surprises too that I'm of course elated to experience when they do happen! I'm looking forward to finding out what both of these are in Manarah and taking this opportunity as a learning experience for me as I figure out who I am as an artist.

Hear the world premiere of Saad's Manarah at Orchestra Underground: Eastern Wind - April 1, 2016 at 7:30pm at Carnegie Hall's Zankel. More details and tickets here.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

coLABoratory: Composer Spotlight - Judith Shatin

On Saturday, March 5, 2016 at 2pm, American Composers Orchestra (ACO) presents a new work-in-progress by composer Judith Shatin, part of coLABoratory at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music. Judith will be joined by Music Director George Manahan and members of ACO to begin developing and workshopping the new piece, Black Moon, for conductor-controlled electronics and orchestra. Shatin will be utilizing Kinect, a motion-sensing input device commonly used in Xbox video-gaming systems, to analyze the conductor's motions, then send the data to a computer that is programmed to generate electronic sounds that respond to the conductor and musicians in real time.

The coLABoratory workshop at the DiMenna Center, which includes a performance of Red Moon and For the Birds, is free with RSVP here. Judith was kind enough to speak with SoundAdvice about the project.

Composer Judith Shatin
American Composers Orchestra: Your piece Black Moon uses Kinect, a motion-sensing input device commonly used in Xbox video-gaming systems, to generate electronic sounds from the conductor's movements as he or she leads the orchestra. Can you tell us about the genesis for this idea?
Judith Shatin: The idea to use a sensing mechanism to give the conductor more immediate control over the electronic sound first occurred to me when I was composing Being in Time (2015), scored for conductor-controlled electronics, wind ensemble and interactive video. Rather than have the ensemble stay rigidly in time with the electronics, or use a click track, I wanted to give the conductor control over the pacing and placement of the electronics. Sponsored by a University of Virginia Arts Faculty award, I worked with a terrific team at UVA to develop this technology and am now working with graduate composer and programmer Paul Turowski to refine the composer gestures for Black Moon. I’m looking forward to trying these out with conductor George Manahan to make sure they are comfortable for him. They are adjustable for each conductor.

ACO: Can you tell us a bit about what parameters in the electronics are being changed by the conductor's movements?
JS: The conductor triggers electronic cues, and can also move the sounds around in space, and control their volume. Given how much the conductor of an orchestra has to manage, it is important not to add too many extra elements. I want to offer control over those elements that seem most crucial. For this piece, I am designing the actual content of the electronics in advance.

ACO: In general, beyond needing to keep the tempo and meter, conductors have a lot of autonomy in how they use gesture to lead an orchestral work. In Black Moon, because the conductor's gestures will directly affect the sound of the piece, do you give any specific instruction? Or is Black Moon aleatoric in this sense?
JS: We worked with William E. Pease, Conductor of the UVA Wind Ensemble, to develop gestures that are both convenient for the conductor and do not interfere with typical conductor gestures. It is important that the Kinect controller be able to read only those gestures which we want it to use!

ACO: The coLABoratory workshop on March 5 will present Red Moon, a musical sketch demonstrating your work-to-date. Is this piece an exercise in writing for Kinect-controlled electronics or will the final piece contain thematic elements from the sketch?
Kinect controller and sensor
JS: I can’t answer this question yet! The beauty of the coLABoratory is that composers can try things out in advance of composing the final piece. If some work in ways that are suggestive, I will keep them; otherwise, not. And, of course I will be working with a string quintet, rather than the complete ensemble. So, in any case, there will be dramatic changes.

ACO: What has surprised you most about the way your electronic sounds are responding to the conductor-controlled Kinect motion sensor?
JS: I can’t really say that I am surprised. Rather, it is delightful that we now have the technology to enable new kinds of interactions that give performers more freedom, and that support more partnerships between the acoustic and digital worlds. I love them both, and am excited to find new and suggestive ways to combine them.

ACO: How has being involved in ACO's coLABoratory workshop affected the  process of writing Black Moon?
JS: It is always important to me to try out ideas with performers. I deeply value the collaborative process, and the coLABoratory provides just such an opportunity. I also look forward to sharing ideas with the audience, and providing the opportunity for them to try out the conductor-controlled electronics.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Underwood New Music Readings Call For Submissions

25th Annual Underwood New Music Readings & Commission
June 13-15, 2016. Miller Theatre, NYC.
Submission Deadline: December 11, 2015. No Application Fee.

American Composers Orchestra announces its 25th Annual  Underwood New Music Readings  and
Commission to be held  in New York City at Miller Theatre, June 13-15, 2016. Up to seven  composers in
the early stages of their careers will  be selected to participate. One will  be awarded a $15,000 commission to write a new work to be premiered by ACO in a future season  at Carnegie Hall.

The Readings  are led by ACO Artistic Director, Derek Bermel and Artistic Director Laureate, Robert Beaser; and conducted by ACO Music Director, George Manahan. Mentor-composers are Sarah Kirkland Snider and Stephen Hartke.

The Underwood Readings  are the core of ACO's ongoing professional training programs for emerging American composers. Composers participate in two working Readings  with the orchestra, including a public  run-through performance. Composers receive feedback from ACO musicians, the conductor and mentor-composers. Each composer receives a high-quality digital audio  recording to be used for study, archival and career-advancement purposes. Composers also participate in a series of professional development workshops covering such topics as promotion, score preparation and publishing, copyright and commissioning agreements, and other career essentials.
Transportation, housing and meals  are provided. There is no application fee. Guidelines, info  and online  submission are available at:

Applicants must be either a U.S. citizen or non-citizen lawfully and permanently residing, or studying full- time, in the U.S. No age restrictions; however, applicants should  be at the early stages of their professional careers. Only works completed since 2011  that have  not beeperformed or read by a
professional orchestra, nor received a public  performance in the NYC metro area are eligible. Compositions must be less than 15 minutes; a portion or movement from a longer work may  be considered. Instrumentation should  not exceed: winds  at 3,3,3,3 (including standard doublings); brass at 4,3,3,1; harp, keyboard, timpani, 3 percussion, and strings (10,8,6,6,4).  Works employing electronics, MIDI,
digital technology, and/or sound  reinforcement may  be considered. (See special  instructions.) Works requiring soloists will  not be considered. If selected, composers must provide professional, legible orchestral parts and scores prepared according to Major Orchestral Librarians Association guidelines.

Questions and additional info:
call 212-977-8495 ext. 202