Tuesday, October 27, 2015

EarShot Columbus Symphony: Composer Spotlight - Patrick O'Malley

Los Angeles-based composer Patrick O’Malley (b. 1989) writes music which explores the "musical interplay between emotion, color, energy, and landscape." His work has been performed and recognized by numerous acclaimed organizations, most recently the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Next On Grand National Composers Intensive with wild Up, the Boston New Music Initiative, and Fulcrum Point New Music Project, among others. His piece Even in Paradise was selected for the American Composers Orchestra's EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings, and will be performed in Columbus Symphony’s Happy Hour Concerts Series, Thursday, October 29, 2015 at the Ohio Theater.

Patrick answered some questions about the workshops and his piece for SoundAdvice.

Composer Patrick O'Malley

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to hearing Even in Paradise had been selected for the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings? 
Patrick O'Malley: Quite excited, and really looking forward to spending some time in the midwest again after living in Los Angeles for a couple of years (I’m originally from Indiana). Even in Paradise was definitely one of those pieces that I ended up obsessing over more than other projects, so I am very glad that it is receiving the attention. Can’t wait to meet everybody and get to work.

ACO: Your bio says "O'Malley considers the listener’s imagination as much as every other musical element." How does Even in Paradise consider the listener's imagination?
PO: I often (though not always) associate music with some sort of abstract visual imagery - when I listen and when I compose. This is part of the listening experience that an audience member goes through, and is directly connected to his or her imagination. With regards to Even in Paradise, I am trying to create both a landscape and a sort of drama for the listener. What each person individually imagines I cannot say, as the piece does not contain a specific program to tell the audience exactly what to think about. The piece was written to create a sense of place and action. The contrasting sections of hazy harmony versus clear harmony, challenging moments versus moments of release etc., all work to set a stage, so to speak, for the audience’s imagination and emotions to explore.

ACO: What do you hope to learn or improve upon at the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings? Is there anything in particular you feel needs improvement in Even in Paradise?
PO: I made a lot of small revisions to the piece after the premier; mostly dynamics and dealing with the layers of orchestration. Almost every section of the piece contains foreground, middle ground, and background, and if I don’t balance those things correctly, it just sounds like a mess. Those changes proved valuable in a performance of the piece about a month ago, and I hope that (after a couple more changes) with Columbus I’ll finally get everything I was aiming for. And of course it goes without saying that I am looking forward to meeting my colleagues and mentors, and whatever insights they might bring.

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EarShot Columbus Symphony: Composer Spotlight - Saad Haddad

Composer Saad Haddad (b. 1992), a first-generation Arab-American, writes music influenced by the disparate qualities inherent between Arab and American cultures. As a 21st century composer he explores the relationship between traditional instruments and current advances in technology. His composition Kaman Fantasy is no exception and was selected for the American Composers Orchestra's EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings. The piece will be performed in Columbus Symphony’s Happy Hour Concerts Series, Thursday, October 29, 2015 at the Ohio Theater.

Saad was kind enough to answer a few questions for SoundAdvice.

Composer Saad Haddad
American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to hearing Kaman Fantasy had been selected for the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings?
Saad Haddad: First shock. Then shock. Then probably more shock. And then a sudden realization that I had hundreds of pages of parts that I needed to start engraving shortly after receiving the news! But now that all the work on my end is done, I feel nothing but gratitude for the support I've had from the American Composers Orchestra, the EarShot Readings, and the Columbus Symphony. I can't wait to come to Columbus and meet everyone that made these readings possible!

ACO: Your music focuses on incorporating Arabic musical tradition in a Western classical context. Would you say your music, specifically Kaman Fantasy, highlights the contrast between the two musical traditions (Arabic and Western) or are you trying to show their similarities? Have you found any areas where Arabic and Western musical traditions simply don't work together?
SH: To answer your first question I would say yes and yes. One main difference is that my music is fully notated - every pitch, every dynamic, every nuance I want conveyed is all built in the written music. In an Arabic orchestra, the music is traditionally taught by ear directly by the lead instrumentalist, singer, or composer, which is often interpreted further and embellished by the musicians themselves. In Kaman Fantasy, one way I attempted to bridge this aspect of the traditions is by notating bursts of highly decorated gestures that are meant to be played asynchronously within the same moment of a phrase, so that each musician can have his or her own slight variation in time while adhering to its general feeling. Another difference is the idea of form, or structure, between the two traditions. A piece's length in traditional Arabic music is often dictated by the audience, with listeners often clapping and exclaiming praise if they want certain sections to repeat. While this music often contains sections of refrain and improvisation, my work is thorough-composed without repeats and contains no moments of improvisation.

One way I'm trying to show how the traditions are similar is in the performance practice of the instruments themselves. In Kaman Fantasy, in particular, the strings are the main focus ('kaman' means violin) and in both Western and Arabic music, they often play the most important role in evoking melody as well as taking up sonic space for other instruments (i.e., flutes and trumpets in Western music or the nay and oud in Arabic music) to fill in the texture. In terms of performance practice, I supplement traditional Arab violin techniques like bowing, vibrato, and microtonal inflection within the realm of established Western violin practice and apply those principles to the rest of the strings.

Another similarity I intend to convey is in the realm of rhythm, especially in terms of complex irregular meters, that Western and Arabic music share. For example, there are moments in the middle of my work where the entire orchestra is playing in a 7/8+3/4 dance-like meter that doesn't seem to find its footing until the orchestra is back to a strong downbeat where the meter becomes more simple.  

The most important way these traditions differ, and perhaps are incompatible from one another is the idea of tarab, or musical ecstasy. For me, tarab is the most moving aspect of Arabic music tradition, and according to ethnomusicologist Dr. A.J. Racy, "may not have an exact equivalent in Western languages." In general, a state of tarab can be reached when a listener (or the performer) has emotionally charged, sometimes physical reactions to certain moments in a performance, often eliciting intense feelings of joy or sorrow. It's a concept that's difficult to explain yet very perceptible once this music is experienced live.

ACO: What do you hope to learn or improve upon at the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings? Is there anything in particular you feel needs improvement in Kaman Fantasy?
SH: I'm excited to hear if there are any improvements I can make to the notation specifically pertaining to the gestures that involve influences from the Arabic music tradition. This is the first time I'm experimenting with these ideas in an orchestral context and I'm eager to learn what works, what doesn't, and what I can do more of next time around. An opportunity like this to work with a professional orchestra like the Columbus Symphony doesn't come all too often and I hope to get as much input as I can from the musicians, conductor and fellow composers!

Follow Saad on Twitter

Monday, October 26, 2015

EarShot Columbus Symphony: Composer Spotlight - Rosalie Burrell

Composer Rosalie Burrell's (b. 1988) music has been performed at some of the country's most esteemed venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. She is also Artistic Coordinator, Composer and Orchestrator at The Little Orchestra Society, a chamber orchestra that performs for young families and children at venues that have included maximum-security prisons, hospital wards, veteran rehabilitation facilities, and schools. Her piece Paved with Gold was selected for the American Composers Orchestra's EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings, and will be performed in Columbus Symphony’s Happy Hour Concerts Series, Thursday, October 29, 2015 at the Ohio Theater.

Rosalie was kind enough to answer a few questions for SoundAdvice.

Composer Rosalie Burrell

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to hearing Paved with Gold had been selected for the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings?
Rosalie Burrell: I was completely excited and grateful. Its an incredible opportunity to be able to workshop a score with this amount of care, you just don’t come around that kind of time with an orchestra so often. Many of the composers I admire have workshopped their pieces in various ACO programs, and so this feels like a rite of passage in some sense. I'm beyond thrilled to work with the Columbus Symphony and mentor composers this week.

ACO: For the last two years you have been closely involved with The Little Orchestra Society, a chamber orchestra that performs for young families and children. Has the experience of curating music to families and children changed your compositional approach at all?
RS: Curating in a general sense has certainly shaped some of my artistic concerns, though I can’t say that anything to do with that particular audience has changed my approach to composition. Through programming and concert going for instance, I’ve become very interested in the first sound of a piece. In some cases I have an immediate connection with the music from the first bar. And that’s a very refreshing feeling, when my first reaction is a hushed: “Ohh.” In positioning pieces on a program, I’m often looking for those moments. In composing, I’m doing the same. Choosing sounds that I love, connecting and revitalizing them -- they can be surprising or familiar.  That renewable energy is something I’m after in all areas of my work.

ACO: What do you hope to learn or improve upon at the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings? Is there anything in particular you feel needs improvement in Paved with Gold?
RS: I’m very curious to see how the energy carries in a few mid-section areas. The percussion and winds feature heavily in this piece, mostly as solo lines in counterpoint. So I wonder, will the fabric of that counterpoint carry through? I’m excited to have some of those questions answered. And of course to learn and be inspired by what the other composers are working on. I’m hoping to learn as much, if not more from their experiences writing for orchestra.

Follow Rosalie on Twitter and Instagram

EarShot Columbus Symphony: Composer Spotlight - Ivan Enrique Rodriguez

Iván Enrique Rodríguez (b. 1990) is a young Brooklyn-based composer and conductor originally from Puerto Rico. Already his works have been performed by the ELM Antonio O. Paoli choir, trumpeter Luis “Perico” Ortiz, classical guitarist John Rivera Pico, and the San Juan Children’s Choir. Iván is currently working on a commission for guitar, cello, and harp for Elisa Torres Pérez, noted principal harpist of Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico. His composition for orchestra, Luminis, was one of four pieces selected for the American Composers Orchestra's EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings, and will be performed in Columbus Symphony’s Happy Hour Concerts Series, Thursday, October 29, 2015 at the Ohio Theater.

Iván was kind enough to answer these questions about EarShot and Luminis for SoundAdvice.

Composer and conductor Iván Enrique Rodríguez. Photo credit: Mary Kouw

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to hearing Luminis had been selected for the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings?
Iván Enrique Rodríguez: First and foremost, I felt (and feel) completely humbled when I got the news that my piece Luminis was selected for the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings. Orchestral music needs a constant creative production for it to stay alive and maintain relevance. Programs such as EarShot are the seed for the future and sustainability of music written for the orchestra. Being part of such an important program makes me feel that it’s worth taking the sacrifices of this journey. As a composer and a conductor, this opportunity also represents a great nourishment for my career. To be in direct contact with Maestro Milanov is definitely a privileged position to be in and to learn from him. But, what I value the most is the opportunity to share what my soul, constantly and desperately, forces me to write down on staff paper. I undoubtedly feel the responsibility to do art, to commit to the transcendence of music; the obligation to give what has been given to me. This opportunity gives me the chance to share who I am, and for that I feel infinitely humbled and grateful. I believe and live what the great Nadia Boulanger once said “Do not take up music unless you would rather die than not to do so”.

ACO: In your program note you write "Luminis is a set of fantasy variations on original musical motifs." Can you talk about these original motifs and how you came up with them?
IER: This is quite interesting because to talk about these motifs its basically to talk about my composition process. Luminis has its genesis on the ancient metaphysical and philosophical duality concept in which there are two moral opposites (independent of their interpretation) at work, usually represented as good and evil or light and darkness. Once the concept in which the composition is going to be based on is defined, I start to “sculpt down” out of a “block of sound” or to “splatter sound” on a staff paper to achieve what is conceptualized abstractly in my head. What’s interesting about this approach is the aleatoric process of finding the motifs inside the “block of sound” or to visualize them out of the “splash of sound” without actually knowing or “planning” what these motifs may be; just searching for what may describe best the original thematic concept. Once they are identified they are treated with pronounced importance throughout the composition process of the piece. Typically, in a variation composition what is intended to be varied are the original motifs in which the pieces are based on. Luminis treats them in the opposite way, the motifs stay the same throughout the piece and what its actually varied is their surroundings.

ACO: What do you hope to learn or improve upon at the EarShot – Columbus Symphony New Music Readings? Is there anything in particular you feel needs improvement in Luminis?
IER: To answer this, I must quote Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Book V, Chapter I) “The only thing that we can know is that we know nothing, and this is the highest degree of human wisdom.” What I hope to take with me from this experience is all that is desired to be taught. As an artist I find myself in the Quixotesque quest for music, art and knowledge, therefore anything that could be imparted in this experience will be growth for my persona. In my personal view about Luminis, I find it complete and that it expresses effectively what I intended to communicate with the piece. Having had the opportunity to play in an orchestra and the experience as Chief Conductor of the Ernesto Ramos Antonini Symphony Orchestra in Puerto Rico for several years gives me an awareness of how to treat the instruments idiomatically. Nonetheless, any comment or critique always acts as an agent of progress in the artistic self. I personally believe that the view of a work through the eyes of others is always something to value and EarShot allows this opportunity.

Follow Iván on Twitter, YouTube, and Soundcloud

Thursday, October 22, 2015

SONiC Composer/Performer Spotlight - Hannah Lash

Composer and harpist Hannah Lash has been hailed as "striking and resourceful…handsomely brooding" by The New York Times. She has received commissions from The Fromm FoundationBoston Symphony OrchestraAlabama Symphony OrchestraLos Angeles Chamber Orchestra, among many other institutions. Hannah's Concerto for Harp and Orchestra is a commission from the American Composers Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, and Cheswatyr Foundation and will receive its premiere this Friday, October 23, 2015 at ACO: Orchestra Underground - 21st Firsts, SONiC Festival's grand finale concert at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall.

Hannah was kind enough to answer a few questions about her composing process and her new concerto.

Composer and harpist Hannah Lash

American Composers Orchestra: This is your 9th orchestral work in 5 years. When writing Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, did you find that all of this recent experience in orchestral writing influenced the piece at all? Were you able to make less "mistakes" in how you approached things such as orchestration?
Hannah Lash: With each piece I write for orchestra, I learn something about how to orchestrate effectively, and what my relationship is to writing for orchestra. I find certain preferences persisting throughout many pieces for me; for example, I love creating sounds that have a "sheen" to them. I achieve this "sheen" with things like harp blended with string pizzicati and certain percussion, and the way I like to use the flute. I think of orchestral color as a structural element, so that I can go through a musical journey with my materials by shifting colors and illuminating ideas differently by orchestrating them in various ways.

ACO: What ways do you feel the harp influences what the orchestra is playing, and vice versa?
HL: Writing a harp concerto is tricky because the harp is so easily covered by the orchestra. So you have to be particularly delicate in the way you use the orchestra when you want the harp to be highlighted within a texture. I am very aware of this as a harpist with a lot of experience playing in orchestra and realizing that something I've worked really hard on to play beautifully cannot be heard above the rest of the orchestra. So when I'm writing something where I want the harp to be the main character, I tend to be incredibly aware of where the orchestra will have energy, and making sure that the harp has energy where the orchestra does not have as much, so the harp can really come out.

ACO: In your video profile from Harvard Magazine, you say, "for me it's very important to be in touch with my initial idea and be able to whittle it down to its very essence." Can you talk about your initial idea and its "essence" for Concerto for Harp and Orchestra?
HL: The material for the concerto is quite recognizable, even melodic. At its essence, it is a step-wise three-note cell, which is transposed in various different ways and threaded together and counterpointed. In the beginning, we hear it as a driving rhythmic figure, and by the end, it has become a melody counterpointed in such a way to suggest a kind of extended post-Mahlerian tonality.

ACO: Aside from 21st Firsts of course, which SONiC Festival concert are you most looking forward to?
HL: All of them! I wish I could attend every single one-- a lot of friends of mine are involved, and all the concerts are going to be tremendously exciting!! I'm going to go to everything I possibly can.

Follow Hannah on Facebook and Twitter


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

SONiC Composer Spotlight - Clarice Assad

Brazilian-American Clarice Assad is a Grammy-nominated composer, pianist, and vocalist of a wide variety of styles of music, including her own original concepts. Described by the San Francisco Chronicle as "a serious triple threat," Clarice is equally comfortable as a performer, a band leader, and a composer. ACO's SONiC Festival is excited to present Clarice in all these roles at its final AfterHours concert, Wednesday, 10pm at Drom in the East Village, along with dynamic jazz ensemble Eco-Music Big Band.

Clarice was kind enough to answer some questions about her upcoming performance.

Composer/performer/bandleader Clarice Assad

American Composers Orchestra: As a composer you bridge gaps between jazz, classical, avant garde, Brazilian and world music. Is there any one style that you think serves as the basis for your program with Off The Cliff, or are they equal influences?
Clarice Assad: I chose Vem pro Rio as a starting point. It is a simple, straight-forward samba that serves as a nice contrast between the styles that follow, which are nothing like the samba / Brazilian bossa nova rhythms that most people know. We will be performing music from some of Brazil’s most interesting young contemporary composers/songwriters, who are searching for new sounds in their own unique ways. For example, in Thiago Amud’s political piece A Marcha dos Desacontecimentos, he builds this complex, chromatic harmonic world that floats atop a simple rhythmic style that originated in the early 1920’s, known as the carnival march. It sounds really interesting. Gabriel Levy’s Baião de Cinco is also quite innovative, because he combines melodic fragments found in forró music with Arabic overtones. As a composer who enjoys bringing musical styles together, I have great appreciation for what these artists are doing, and I am also really excited to share this music with people who might not normally come across anything like this.

ACO: Your ensemble, Off The Cliff, features some truly world class players. Can you talk about what brought you together, especially in regards to your fusion of musical styles?
CA: We were all brought together by our passion to perform music that we loved - our beginnings weren't very professional. In fact, we couldn’t make it a priority as far as how much time we could dedicate to it. If we had a show somewhere, we almost never had time to prepare… During performances, I recall many times not knowing exactly how a piece was supposed to start or end. There were so many funny and exciting moments because of this. Part of the secret for this to work is trust. And part of the magic, I found, was being on the edge of falling apart, but somehow, being able to hold it together. That’s why we call the ensemble Off The Cliff!

Originally the group started out as a trio, made up of people who could play more than one instrument. The idea was to move back and forth between instruments and in different combinations, to keep the music fresh and interesting. Some of the instruments (say, the banjo, the mandolin, or cavaquinho, and the vast array of percussion instruments that Keita Ogawa performs) helped create the melding of styles quite naturally. Within the past year, our original ensemble performed extensively in places where other musicians would join us (string sections from orchestras, students, local ensembles, guest artists, etc.) and we’ve become this ‘modular’ group, that can adapt itself to different places and situations, depending on what they call for.

For SONiC, we are being joined by phenomenal players such as Adam Niewood, Matthew Rohde, Su Terry, Sergio Krakowski, and Petros Klampanis - and also lead singers Lara Bello and Sissy Castrogiovanni.

ACO: What other SONiC Festival concerts are you planning to see this week? Anything you're excited about?
CA: I wish I could go to every single one of them!! The amount of talent that is being showcased is quite outstanding. I am, though, crazy about vocal music so I was super excited to see that Roomful of Teeth was going to be featured. They are simply phenomenal.

Follow Clarice Assad on Facebook and Twitter

SONiC Collaboration Spotlight - Alarm Will Sound: Zoetrope

“As close to being a rock band as a chamber orchestra can be” (The New York Times), Alarm Will Sound is a 20-member touring ensemble led by Artistic Director Alan Pierson that commissions, performs, and records innovative works by established and emerging composers. Their latest collaboration, Zoetrope, involves directors Margaret Singer and Max Freeman, costume designer Amanda Harlech, artist Casey Legler, cinematographer Shane Sigler, and the music of Charlie PiperZoetrope is a short film inspired by the life and work of the Surrealist writer, photographer, and activist Claude Cahun (1894 - 1954), and will premiere at Alarm Will Sound's SONiC Festival performance, Thursday, October 22, 8pm at Merkin Concert Hall.

SoundAdvice recently spoke with directors Max Freeman and Margaret Singer about the film.

Directors Max Freeman and Margaret Singer
American Composers Orchestra: Can you tell us a little bit about the collaborative process for Zoetrope? Why were you drawn to Charlie Piper's music?
Max Freeman & Margaret Singer: When we were having our first conversations with Alarm Will Sound about collaborating on a film, they presented us with several songs to consider. Charlie Piper's Zoetrope immediately demanded our attention. We think it’s a beautiful, haunting piece of music. There are moments of real wonder in the song, especially at the beginning, but even those moments are laced with an anxious energy that later explodes. The zoetrope conceit seemed like a way to connect the song with a visual artist we’re interested in, Claude Cahun, whose work possesses a similar kind of energy — in both her writings and her photographs, there’s playfulness, but it’s dangerous play, it often verges on nightmare. Cahun enjoyed a measure of fame in her lifetime (1894 - 1954), but after her death she essentially disappeared from history. It wasn’t until the 1990s that her work began to enjoy the attention it deserves.

ACO: In what ways is Claude Cahun's life represented in the film?
MF & MS: The film is not straightforwardly narrative, and it’s not exactly symbolic either. We responded visually to the anxiety in the song by imagining other points or sources of anxiety — the relationship between two ambitious artists working in collaboration; any artist’s difficult task of figuring out what to make; the “anxiety of influence” we felt as artists approaching the legacy of one of our heroes; and the anxiety of Cahun’s life, which included lifelong worry about her mental and physical health, her frustrated ambitions as a writer, and her incredibly brave resistance to the Nazis in Occupied Jersey, which succeeded brilliantly for 4 years, until she was caught, jailed and sentenced to death (she narrowly escaped execution).
Still from Zoetrope
The images in the film directly respond to the work of Cahun and her lover, Suzanne Malherbe. The enormous collage that Casey Legler assembles is inspired by elements from the collages the two artists made for Cahun’s book, Aveux non avenus. And the costumes that Margaret wears (designed by Lady Amanda Harlech) are all re-interpretations of costumes worn by Cahun in the photographs that have made her famous.

SoundAdvice also spoke with composer Charlie Piper about his piece Zoetrope, written for Alarm Will Sound, but originally unrelated to the film.

Composer Charlie Piper
ACO: Can you talk a little bit about the title, Zoetrope, and how it relates to the piece? 
Charlie Piper: I’ve always been fascinated by old-fashioned toys and machines and I decided the zoetrope would work well as a musical object. There are a limited number of images or frames used in a zoetrope, which loop to provide continuous motion when the machine is spinning. However it has to be turning fast enough for the animation to be smooth otherwise you will see the individual frames. The musical content of my piece is essentially limited to a short ‘melody’ which loops but is in continual development. The music begins with the material in a sort of slow pixilated form, which gradually gets faster and faster until it arrives at point of smooth motion, swirling around, gently distorting like an old movie soundtrack. And then the motion starts to break down again, eventually arriving back at the material from the beginning. The music ends one step behind the opening pattern, meaning the piece could in theory loop eternally, like a zoetrope.

ACO: When writing Zoetrope, were there any stylistic or technical areas you felt were more accessible knowing Alarm Will Sound was the ensemble performing the piece? If so, what were they?
CP: Absolutely. I think of Zoetrope having a still waters quality, particularly at the beginning. On the surface it appears quite placid and buoyant, even motionless but underneath all this the mechanics are actually quite complex and in constant flux. I structured the piece by creating an intricate chain of metric modulations - by this I mean the music is continuously moving between different but related tempo markings (speeds). This allows the music to develop and get faster in a natural, organic manner and it is important that the listener isn’t fully aware of the machinery and mathematical processes underneath. I had listened to lots of recordings by Alarm Will Sound before writing Zoetrope so I knew I was in safe hands. I had wanted to explore these musical ideas for a while and they were the perfect group to try them with.

Listen to Charlie Piper's Zoetrope, performed by Alarm Will Sound:

More stills from Margaret Singer and Max Freeman's film, Zoetrope:

Images of Claude Cahun's own work:

Friday, October 16, 2015

SONiC Composer Spotlight - Andy Akiho

Described as “mold-breaking,” “alert and alive,” “dramatic,” and “vital” by The New York Times, Andy Akiho is an eclectic composer and performer of contemporary classical music. Last year Andy won ACO's 2014 Annual Underwood Emerging Composers Commission for his piece Tarnished Mirrors. For his commission he has composed a revised and expanded version of the piece, which will receive its premiere tonight, 8pm, at ACO: New York Stories, SONiC Festival's free concert at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, presented by WNYC New Sounds Live.

Andy was kind enough to answer a few questions for the SoundAdvice blog.

Composer and steel drum player Andy Akiho

American Composers Orchestra: For your commission, you have revised and expanded Tarnish Mirrors for its premiere at ACO: New York Stories. Can you tell us a little bit about how the piece has changed since its original reading?
Andy Akiho: I expanded the piece into two continuous movements. A lot of the music from the original first movement is the same, but the orchestration has changed. Now there is a very prominent celesta part in conversation with the harp and percussion throughout the work, and the steel pan has been taken out of the original percussion part.

ACO: You are an accomplished steel drum player as well as a composer, and have written many pieces for the instrument. Have you found that this has influenced your approach to writing for orchestra at all? If so in what ways?
AA: The steel pan is my piano for composing. I often come up with my melodic and harmonic ideas using the steel pan because it is the instrument I know best (I cannot play the piano). However, recently I have written away from the instrument more frequently to challenge myself and bring more variety to my compositions.

ACO: Aside from New York Stories of course, which SONiC Festival concert are you most looking forward to?
AA: Unfortunately, I am missing the shows starting on the 17th because I am flying to Beijing that day. If I were in town, I would definitely catch all of the SONiC concerts because they are all so diverse, and I would like to hear what many of my friends are performing and composing. I will be in town for the opening night on the 15th, and I'll be sure to catch the Music from the Copland House show: I am looking forward to hearing new chamber pieces by Reena, Steve, Viet, Michael, and Gity. I am also excited that the SONiC Festival is presenting shows at National Sawdust!

Monday, October 12, 2015

SONiC Composer/Curator Spotlight - Anna Clyne

Anna Clyne is a Grammy-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music. Her work, described as "dazzlingly inventive" by TimeOut NY, often includes collaborations with cutting edge choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians worldwide. Anna is the Associate Curator of ACO's SONiC Festival with Derek Bermel and has composed a new piece for Roomful of TeethPocket Book VIII, which will receive its world premiere October 17 at National Sawdust.

Anna was kind enough to answer some questions about the festival and her piece.

Composer Anna Clyne
American Composers Orchestra: Many of your works have been cross-medium collaborations with choreographers, visual artists, and filmmakers. SONiC Festival, which you have co-curated with Derek Bermel, features an AfterHours program dedicated to music and visuals. In what ways would you say visuals, and other disciplines in general, enhance the musical experience, rather than distract from it?
Anna Clyne: Incorporating other art forms into a musical composition impacts both the creative process and the experience of the performance itself.  Through collaborating with artists from other fields – be it choreographers, filmmakers or visual artists – composers have an opportunity to draw inspiration from multiple sources, and to see and hear their music from a different perspective – through a different lens.

One of the exciting aspects of our after-hours concert, Visualizing Music, is that the three works on the program have explored different creative processes, ranging from Chris Cerrone’s Memory Palace, whereby filmmaker Francesco Simeti responded to Chris’ existing composition, to a new work created together, simultaneously, by musician Bora Yoon and visual artist Joshue Ott. The works on this program also explore differences in the way that the visuals interact with the music – from Paola Prestini’s Labyrinth, which has a fixed film component, created by S. Katy Tucker, with sonic and visual breaths to allow for more elasticity between the music and the visuals, to Joshue Ott’s drawing with his custom made software, superDraw, which will be a real-time interaction with Bora Yoon’s live music.

The performance setting also becomes an integral part of the visual/aural experience – interesting approaches can be explored as to how the visuals are projected, be they on a screen above the performance area, onto the walls enveloping the musicians, or even onto their bodies – it offers an opportunity to really re-imagine the concert environment – and to enhance rather than distract away from the performance. We are delighted to be presenting Visualizing Music at National Sawdust, a wonderful new performance venue in Brooklyn, which has state of the art technology for both acoustics and visuals.
ACO: You are a featured composer in SONiC Festival as well as Associate Curator, and your piece Pocket Book VIII will receive its world premiere by Roomful of Teeth at National Sawdust. What can you tell us about this piece?
AC: Roomful of Teeth are incredible musicians, both individually, and as an ensemble. I was fortunate to spend some time with them during their residency at Mass MoCA this Summer – to have a chance to hear them rehearse a new work by Ted Hearne, and to become more familiar with the characteristics of each individual singer. Through their repertoire – all by living composers – they have expanded the sounds available to composers – it’s like being given a whole new set of paints to explore, which is really exciting! Pocket Book VIII is actually a very simple, short piece. It is the first in, what will become, a suite of five pieces – each exploring five different sonnets by William Shakespeare – this one being Sonnet 8 (of the 154 he wrote). With each subsequent sonnet/setting, I will take the voices in a wilder direction – so VIII is the kernel of an idea that will later be developed. The title Pocket Book comes from a tiny blue book, 5” x 3”, of the complete sonnets, that was passed down to me from my Irish grandmother, from which I have wanted to set a collection for a while, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to begin that process.
ACO: Which concert at SONiC Festival do you think will most surprise its audience? Which concert are you most excited to see?
AC: It’s difficult to select one concert, as they’re all really exciting, and so eclectic - the festival represents so many exciting musicians, ensembles and composers – from a whole range of musical influences and styles. As a keen collaborator, I suppose I am particularly drawn to the concerts that explore new collaborations between composers and artists from other art forms. New Sounds - New Moves will be an evening of three fresh off the press works created in collaboration between five musicians and three choreographers – it will be exciting to see and hear these works for the very first time. I have a feeling that they will all be quite different! I’m also very excited to experience the work on our Machine Music concert, which presents five wonderfully imaginative works - ranging from the world premiere of Molly Herron’s Stellar Atmospheres, which incorporates Andy Cavatorta’s Dervishes – an 8-foot tower of spinning corrugated tubes that has been described as sounding like a “choir of angry angels”, to the premier of Albert Behar’s Sound Orb – a tactile speaker system that converts sound into physical energy when placed on the audience’s hands.

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Friday, October 9, 2015

SONiC Composer Spotlight - Angélica Negrón

Angélica Negrón is a Brooklyn-based composer whose music has been described as “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” (WQXR/Q2) and “mesmerizing and affecting” (Feast of Music). She was the 2014-15 Van Lier Fellow and worked closely with ACO, participating in planning educational activities and performances, serving as liaison with student composers. She was also commissioned to write a piece for ACO. Me He Perdido (I’ve Gotten Lost) for orchestra and a "mechanical percussion ensemble" will receive it's world premiere on Friday, October 16, at ACO: New York Stories at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, presented by Arts Brookfield and WNYC New Sounds Live, as part of ACO's SONiC Festival.

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón

Angélica was kind enough to answer a few questions about the piece.

American Composers Orchestra: Talking about your commission last spring, you said you were "interested in exploring the possibilities of integrating robotics into orchestral performance." Can you talk about what possibilities you explored, what worked, and what didn't?
Angélica Negrón: It was an interesting experiment as I originally conceived the mechanical ensemble as an extension of the percussion section of the orchestra and although that approach was still a part of the compositional process of the piece, the robotic instruments gradually revealed a dynamic life of their own that changed the way I wrote for them. I started realizing the spatial potential of the robotic instruments and how, given their placement amongst the audience, they could be more direct in their immediacy because of their proximity to the listeners. Besides proximity, I also considered the physicality of the instruments and how this action traveled through the space. Originally I had thought I would write something that was perfectly synchronized with the orchestra but I soon realized that it would be really challenging to stay together without a click track particularly because of the distance between the orchestra and the mechanical instruments so I decided to treat the material mostly as cascading gestures that echo the orchestra or vice versa. This technical consideration definitely informed the general atmosphere of the piece and the instrumental writing for the large ensemble. The melodic material of the piece was also greatly informed by the tuning of the gamelan instruments in the mechanical ensemble.

ACO: New York Stories takes place at Brookfield Place's large and reverberant Winter Garden. Did knowing that inform how you wrote your piece?
AN: Definitely. As soon as I heard the piece I was writing for ACO was going to be premiered at Brookfield Place's Winter Garden I knew I wanted to incorporate some kind of installation based instruments that could somehow connect the orchestra with the audience in an immersive and engaging way. I talked to Nick Yulman, the instrument builder, about having the instruments in a level that would be between the seating audience and the stage where the orchestra will be performing in so that the instruments serve as a kind of bridge between the two. It's a bit of a risky idea because I've only seen or heard it inside my head and I won't be able to know if it actually works until the day of the performance during the dress rehearsal but I'm hopeful it will translate in the performance space and will result in an interesting experience for the listeners. The instrumental writing of the piece was also highly influenced by the space's reverberation so there's a lot of echoing gestures and resonant chords that will hopefully benefit from the natural acoustics of the space.

ACO: Aside from New York Stories of course, which SONiC Festival concert are you most looking forward to?
AN: There's many exciting concerts for SONiC this year! I'm particularly looking forward to Machine Music: Acoustic and Robotic Instruments for obvious reasons but also because there's a couple of collaborators and friends that I really admire that are part of this concert. I'm also looking forward to Roomful of Teeth's and Alarm Will Sound's shows as both are incredible ensembles that I've been following for a long time and that always bring something new and refreshing to their performances.

Watch Nick Yulman's "mechanical percussion ensemble" in action