On Saturday March 25th at 8 PM, Locrian Chamber Players present a concert at their home base of operations, the performance space at Riverside Church. The program celebrates the legacy of Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016) with two works: The Last Runo for flute and string quartet and the violin-piano duo Summer Thoughts. It also features New York composer Harold Meltzer’s Piano Quartet. The evening is rounded out with pieces by Paolo Marchettini, Anthony Donofrio, and Chia-Yu Hsu. Admission is free; reception to follow.
Wendy first premiered my piece, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, a Yeats setting, in 2010 at a show that Kay and I presented at Bushwick Starr Theatre in Brooklyn. I selected the text because it was one of the readings at Kay’s and my wedding. In fact, the composition was a first anniversary present to Kay. It is inscribed:
They say that the proper gift for a first wedding anniversary is paper. I hope you don’t mind that mine includes notes.
All my love,
Wendy has been a true champion of the piece, and has since performed it in Ohio and Alabama. Other champions need mentioning: Mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen and violist John Yuan have performed Cloths of Heaven as a duo and Megan and mezzo-soprano Ellen Broen have also performed a voice-piano version with pianists Graeme Burgan and Jonathan Palmer Lakeland. Megan has even switched roles and performed it in a higher key with a violinist.
All of this to say that Wendy’s commission sparked my inspiration, and gave impetus to a piece of mine that has had a larger life than many, and that makes me all the more grateful to her. I am thrilled that she will be recording the piece and am excited by the works that are alongside it on the program; many are by close friends which makes this project feel particularly close-knit. She has made an IndieGoGo page for her funding campaign for the recording. You can check it out here.
NEW YORK – Violinist Miranda Cuckson is one of the stars of new music in New York: a fearless, visionary, and tremendously talented artist. On March 7th, she presented a solo program of 20th and 21st century works in a “Pop Up Concert” at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. In her introduction to the event, Miller Theatre’s Executive Director Melissa Smey pointed out that their “Pop Up Series” has hosted dozens of world and New York premieres. Cuckson’s program was no exception, leading off with the New York premiere of En Soi (2017) composed by Steve Lehman, a Columbia alumnus who is now on the faculty of CalArts. It is a very strong piece, written with a bevy of plucked passages using both hands. This is designed to make the violin resemble an African instrument called the ngoni. To further cement this association, Lehman specified a microtonal tuning and scordatura. Accordingly, Cuckson performed En Soi with one violin and the rest of the program with another.
Two pieces by Aaron Jay Kernis followed. Both showed the Pulitzer prize winner’s absolute command of idiomatic writing for strings. Aria-Lament (1992) departs from an introduction filled with soft altissimo passages to a gradual buildup of energy in the main section, incorporating meaty double stops and angular allegro melodic lines. A Dance of Life (2010) juxtaposes fast moving chromatic passages with ruminative sections of achingly sustained lines.
Cuckson has performed a great deal of Michael Hersch’s music. A recent work composed specifically for her, the weather and landscape are on our side (2016), demonstrated the composer’s keen affinity for Cuckson’s capabilities. A multi-movement work, it features numerous delicate passages, employing bowing techniques, pizzicato, and harmonics to differentiate gestures. All was not introversion however, as the piece also accorded the violinist dynamic sections which burst forth in eruptive fashion.
The concert culminated with Huang Ruo’s Four Fragments (2006), pieces requiring considerable virtuosity that use sliding tones and melodic patterns from traditional Chinese music. The frequent resemblance to vocalisms from Chinese opera were striking. The Fragments were a thrilling way to end the concert.
Cuckson is an ideal emissary for contemporary music. Assaying a formidable program, her preparation was exquisite and presentation consistently engaging. Miller has more “Pop Up” events in the Spring, including performances by the Orlando Consort, ICE, Ensemble Signal, JACK, and Mivos Quartet. The price can’t be beat – free – and one can even enjoy a libation to boot.
NEW YORK – On Thursday, March 2nd, Japanese composer Misato Mochizuki was featured on Miller Theatre’s Composer Portraits series. In a concert featuring four U.S. premieres and concluding with a work commissioned and premiered at the 2015Lincoln Center Festival, the audience was introduced to a range of her work. Throughout, Mochizuki demonstrated a clear aesthetic embodied by an interest in exploring a panorama of instrumental timbres and effects and a flair for dramatic, often quasi-ceremonial, designs.
The earliest work on the program, Au Bleu Bois (1998) for solo oboe, was a standout. Mochizuki uses various playing techniques in an imaginatively constructed trajectory, ranging from microtones to multiphonics through all manner of alternate fingerings. James Austin Smith made this formidable work sound fluent and exquisitely well-shaped. Moebius-Ring (2003) was likewise given a persuasive rendition by Ning Yu, who handled its muscular, seemingly ceaseless, repetitions of corruscating glissandos with mastery. Percussionist Russell Greenberg’s committed and commanding performance of Quark-Intermezzi III featured a catalog of percussion instruments and extended techniques. Unfortunately, here Mochizuki’s penchant for the reiterative moved past the merely confrontational to the assaultive, populating the work with fortissimo thwacks of a tam-tam over and over again and a flock of searing bowed crotales (which appeared elsewhere on the program in a similarly overdosed measure).
JACK gave an excellent performance of Mochizuki’s first string quartet Terres Rouges (2006). Once again, there was a “kitchen sink” aspect to the catalogue of playing techniques featured; in general, editing could be a friend to the composer. However, several of the gestures found a structural place that helped one sieve through the panoply: a strident high violin note that opened the piece and reappeared, transformed, at its conclusion, the exertion of varying degrees of bow pressure, microtonal harmonics, and hammer on techniques reminiscent of the way heavy metal guitarists dig in. Indeed, one could see the members of JACK revelling in the challenges posed to them, acting as a tight ensemble unit.
The concert closed with Le monde des rond et de carrés (2015). Written for Yarn/Wire and first premiered at the 2015 Lincoln Center Festival, it is a piece just as much about ritual and choreography as it is about challenging chamber music. Its beginning is particularly striking. Percussionists Ian Antonio and Greenberg made their way from the back of the hall to the stage, playing crotales and cup bells. Once onstage, they were joined by pianists Laura Barger and Ning Yu in unison passages, which gradually began to accumulate a more extensive pitch profile as the percussionists moved to mallet instruments. The intensity of the glockenspiel and vibraphone, played in fiercely fortissimo patterns, urged the pianists to their own glissandos and ostinatos. After the aforementioned searing passages featuring bowed crotales, a drumkit was added to the proceedings, first played by Antonio, then with Greenberg joining in. The piece’s climax involves the kit exclusively, with both the pianists joining the percussionists attacking the kit as well, unleashing a bombardment of crashing cymbals and forceful drumming. It was a kinetic and fascinatingly choreographic conclusion to the piece and the concert. Mochizuki has found stalwart advocates in Yarn/Wire and JACK; one can imagine future fruitful collaborations among them.
The band WHY?’s latest LP, Moh Lean, came out this past Friday on Joyful Noise. WHY?’s first release in four years, it supplies a shot of optimism during times that surely need it.
Upcoming Tour Dates:
03/16 – Cincinnati, OH – The Woodward Theater
03/17 – Chicago, IL – Thalia Hall
03/18 – Minneapolis, MN – The Cedar Cultural Center
03/19 – Omaha, NE – Reverb Lounge
03/21 – Englewood, CO – Gothic Theatre
03/22 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
03/23 – Boise, ID – Treefort Music Fest
03/24 – Portland, OR – Revolution Hall
03/25 – Vancouver, BC – VENUE
03/26 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile
03/28 – Eugene, OR – The WOW Hall
03/29 – Berkeley, CA – The UC Theatre
03/30 – San Diego, CA – The Irenic
03/31 – Los Angeles, CA – The Regent
04/01 – Tucson, AZ – 191 Toole
04/02 – Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
04/04 – Dallas, TX – Trees Dallas
04/05 – Austin, TX – Mohawk Austin
04/06 – Baton Rouge, LA – Spanish Moon
04/07 – Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall
04/08 – Atlanta, GA – Terminal West
04/09 – Asheville, NC – The Grey Eagle
04/11 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
04/12 – Washington, DC – Black Cat DC
04/13 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
04/14 – Cambridge, MA – The Sinclair
04/15 – New York, NY – Irving Plaza
04/17 – Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace
04/18 – Detroit, MI – Magic Stick
04/19 – Grand Rapids, MI – Pyramid Scheme
04/20 – Bloomington, IN – The Bishop
04/21 – St Louis, MO – The Ready Room
04/22 – Madison, WI – UW Union South