Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Ghosts Are Everywhere

In putting the finishing touches on his final composition with ACO, Derek Bermel gathered his thoughts on his new work A Shout, A Whisper, A Trace.

"During the last five years of his life, the composer Béla Bartók lived and worked in New York City. As he approached the age of 60, in ill health and preoccupied with the destruction of his beloved native Hungary by the Nazis, he slowly began adapting to the unfamiliar surroundings. Yet he struggled with the new language, the cultural barriers, and the speed and complexity of New York.

"Bartók wrote home about his mixed feelings of hope, alienation, and despair to colleagues like the violinist Josef Szigeti and the composer Zoltán Kodály, to his two songs, who remained in Budapest, and to his small array of American piano students and supporters, from Boston to Seattle. The translated letters, published by St. Martin's press, document the humbling struggle of a master composer, trying to make sense of life in America, a place where he was virtually invisible.

"Years ago, while studying Thracian folk style in Bulgaria, I read Bartók's letters. At the time I had been mostly engaged with the correspondence concerning his early travels around Hungary. But as I began composing the final piece for my residency with ACO, I felt drawn to reexamine his later letters. The fresh perspective enabled me to reflect anew on my own experiences living in unfamiliar countries and cultures. I began to muse on the curiously ironic - yet utterly typical - manner in which Bartók's last years unfolded; so many immigrants have arrived in my hometown - New York - brimming with the hopes, fears, and yearnings associated with exile. These remnants exist today; the ghosts are everywhere, present and enduring, as much a part of the city as the buildings and rivers around us."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Go Behind the Scenes!

Go behind the scenes with ACO Artistic Director Robert Beaser and guitarist Eliot Fisk as they explore the challenges of writing contemporary music for the guitar. Check out the video below, which is a continuation of our Composer Portrait Video series.

Film produced by Jeremy Robins.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Preparing the Piano

What do a nine-pound steel ball, gaffer tape and small pieces of rubber all have in common? They help make classical music! In Thomas Larcher's piano concerto Böse Zellen, the soloist "prepares" the piano by placing different materials on the strings of the piano. Tape is placed across the strings, small pieces of hard rubber are placed in between, and a variety of balls are rolled across the strings to alter the sound of the piano. Throughout the piece, the soloist gradually "un-prepares" the piano, so that by the end of the work the instrument is back to its original form.

ACO presents Thomas Larcher and Böse Zellen in the U.S. premiere on May 1, 2009 at Carnegie Hall.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Burkina Electric

When Lukas Ligeti isn't writing new music for ACO, he is often found playing with his band, Burkina Electric. The band brings together traditional popular music from the Burkina Faso region of Africa with contemporary electronic dance music, creating an innovative and pioneering sound in electronic world music. ACO teamed up with The Point in the Bronx to feature Burkina Electric on a recent Composers OutFront! concert. Check out the video below!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Marimba, Illuminated

Lukas Ligeti brings an innovative instrument to ACO - the Marimba Lumina. Ligeti's work Labyrinth of Clouds features the Marimba Lumina in a "concerto of sorts" for electronic percussion, live electronics, and orchestra.
"Modeled somewhat after its acoustic namesake, Marimba Lumina is an electronic MIDI controller that brings an extended vocabulary and range of expression to the mallet instrument family. Marimba Lumina's playing surface includes a traditionally arrayed set of electronic bars and some (not so traditional) trigger pads and strips (reminiscent of those early ribbon controllers). The instrument is played with special foam covered mallets. Although primarily a controller, Marimba Lumina has a built in synthesizer, and can thus function as a complete instrument, ready to plug in and play.

"As you may have suspected, Marimba Lumina adds a few tricks to the usual capabilities of the marimba. User definable "zones" allow portions of the instrument to respond to gesture in different ways. Augmenting the potential for expressive control, Marimba Lumina responds to several new performance variables, including position along the length of the bars, dampening, and note density.

"And for those looking for more possibilities, Marimba Lumina can identify which of four color-coded mallets has struck a bar. This allows one to program different instrumental responses for each mallet, or to implement musical structures in which one mallet selects a course of action while others modify or implement it.

"Living up to its namesake, the Marimba Lumina has LED illumination built into every bar, strip, and pad. These LED's can show key status, edit configuration, controller status or pad selection. Used pedagogically, they can help a player follow a MIDI sequence or the actions of another player. And for icing on the cake, they make it easy to play in the dark!"