Thursday: Sarah Cahill plays Harrison at LPR

Pianist Sarah Cahill appears at LPR on April 6th at 7 PM as part of her tour celebrating the music and birth centenary of composer Lou Harrison. She and I touched base earlier this week as she was preparing for her trip to the Northeast.

 

Hi Sarah. Thanks for taking time to talk with Sequenza 21. Which was the first Lou Harrison piece you played? When were you first aware of his music?

 

I don’t remember the first piece I played, but I became interested in him because of my fascination with Henry Cowell and Ruth Crawford and that circle of early 20th century American experimentalist composers.  And in the Bay Area, where I live, there’s a profound affection and devotion to Lou Harrison everywhere.  He taught at Mills College for many years, and lived fairly close by, in Aptos, and worked with many musicians I’m close to, including Larry Polansky, Robert Hughes, Jody Diamond, Willie Winant, Phil Collins, Julie Steinberg, and many others.

 

What was it like working with Harrison on his pieces? Tell us about the piece that you premiered.

 

I premiered a piece called Festival Dance for two pianos, with the pianist Aki Takahashi, at Cooper Union in 1998.  It’s a piece Lou Harrison wrote in the 60s and had never been played.  He was such a gracious person, always kind-hearted and relaxed.  He wanted us to emphasize the melodic line.

 

At LPR, you will be playing ‘Party Pieces.’ What was the collaborative process like in this composition – how did the “exquisite corpse” concept play out in the musical domain?

 

Lou Harrison, Virgil Thomson, John Cage, and Henry Cowell met frequently in Lou Harrison’s loft on Bleeker Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in about 1944 or 1945.  Lou Harrison explains it best: “Each composer present would write a measure, fold the paper at the bar line and, on the new fresh sheet, put only two notes to guide the next composer in his connection.  The next composer would write a bar, fold at the bar line and leave two more black spots and so on.  It seems to me that we would begin simultaneously and pass them along in rotation in a sort of surrealist assembly line and eagerly await the often incredible outcome.”  Last month I visited the Lou Harrison archives at UC Santa Cruz, with Lou’s great friend, composer/conductor/bassoonist Robert Hughes, and made copies of some of the manuscripts with my cell phone.  I’ll give copies to the audience at my concert on Thursday evening.

 

What are some of the other pieces you are playing at LPR?

 

I’m starting with two unpublished Lou Harrison pieces, Range-Song and Jig, that pay homage to his teacher and friend Henry Cowell, who was in San Quentin at the time, with Cowell’s famous chord clusters.  Then a movement of Cowell’s own Rhythmicana, dedicated to Johanna Beyer, so then I’ll play a short piece from Beyer’s Dissonant Counterpoint.  That will lead to the Conductus from Harrison’s Suite which he wrote while studying with Schoenberg (with a twelve-tone row).  Then a short piece by James Cleghorn, who was Harrison’s friend who suggested he take classes from Henry Cowell.  His son Peter Cleghorn will be in the audience to introduce that piece.  Then a pair of pieces, both composed in 1946 for a performance by the choreographer Jean Erdman: Lou Harrison’s The Changing Moment, not heard in New York since 1946, and John Cage’s Ophelia.  Both compositions reveal some of the emotional disturbance and identity crisis that affected both composers at the time.  Then a movement of Frank Wigglesworth’s Sonatina, and ending with the wonderful Summerfield Set that Harrison composed in 1988.  At LPR I have to stick to a sixty-minute program– otherwise I could go on and on and on with Lou Harrison and his circle, because there are lots of fascinating connections.

 

Tell us about the concerto? What was Harrison’s approach to orchestration in this piece primarily Western in conception, or does it incorporate non-Western instruments/allusions/tuning, etc.?

 

Lou Harrison’s Piano Concerto is one of the great concertos of the 20th century.  It’s gorgeous and epic and should be played a lot more often.  The piano is retuned in a Kirnberger tuning, as are sections of the orchestra.  There’s a great battery of percussion.  

 

What else is going on for you this season?

 

Later in the year I’m playing Lou Harrison’s great Concerto for Piano and Javanese Gamelan a few places around the country, and also playing a program of his piano works on three different instruments– equal tempered piano, tack piano, and piano in Werckmeister 3– in Tokyo and Fukuoka, at the invitation of the extraordinary composer Mamoru Fujieda.  I’m learning Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen for next year, and Takemitsu’s Quotation of Dream (Say Sea, Take Me!) to perform at Interlochen in July.  And next month I’ll get to play Lou Harrison on Maui and the Big Island, along with Tania Leon, Ruth Crawford, George Antheil, and many others, at the invitation of a marvelous composer, Robert Pollock, who runs a concert series there.

Thanks again.

Thank you!

Sarah Cahill’s April-May 2017 Lou Harrison Tour Schedule

(Fall 2017 Lou Harrison tour dates will be announced in May 2017)

 

Solo Recital | Le Poisson Rouge | NYC
April 6, 2017 at 7pm
Link: http://lpr.com/lpr_events/lou-harrison-centennial-sarahcahill-april-6th-2017/

MicroFest North: Iconoclasts at 100 | Center for New Music | San Francisco, CA
May 7, 2017
Link: http://centerfornewmusic.com/calendar/

FULL: Harrison | Berkeley Art Museum | Berkeley, CA
May 10, 2017 at 7pm
Link: http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/program/full-2017-music-performance

Lou Harrison Centennial Celebration | New Music Works | Santa Cruz, CA
May 14, 2017 at 3pm and 7pm
Link: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2721368

Solo Recitals | Ebb and Flow Arts | Hawaii
May 20-21 2017
Link: http://ebbandflowarts.org/

Friday: Ueno Opera at Sawdust

At National Sawdust on Friday April 7th at 7 PM, Opera Cabal presents the premiere of Ken Ueno’s new opera Aeolus. Joined by vocalist Majel Connery and Flux Quartet, Ueno performs throughout the opera. His fascinating blend of vocal techniques includes microtonal inflections, megaphone-amplified directives, and throat-singing. Electronics, video projections, and an architecturally conceived set design converge to make Aeolus a potent multimedia concoction. I recently caught up with Ken as he was in the thick of preparations for the opera.

Hi Ken. Thanks for taking the time to talk with Sequenza 21.

 

Why are you calling this an opera instead of some other genre? As you well know, multimedia theater pieces are called all sorts of things…

 

Following the examples of Monteverdi, Mozart, and especially Nono, “opera” seems to be an open enough label, if we need a label, so I hope it’s appropriate for this piece.  But you’re right – I don’t really know what to call it. It doesn’t have a regular narrative. It features two voices that are in distinct contrast to bel canto singing. But I am attached to the possibilities Prometeo opens up, so if Nono’s is an opera, then, Aeolus, can be an opera too, right?  Aeolus does feature a suoni mobili (Nono calls the movement of sound the main drama in Prometeo) characteristic in that, in the guise of Aeolus (the ruler of the winds), I move around the hall, directing my non-semantic vocalizations with a megaphone to articulate the architecture, the space, as an instrument.

You’ve mentioned that there are autobiographical elements in the libretto. Since it is fairly nonlinear in terms of narrativity, would you like to share how some of your own history fits in?

 

Memory is non-linear.  Spaces between texts and texts in memory become islands in search of a place in time, an ostensible home, which the idea of a Penelope represents.  My biographical circumstance is that my family moved around so much during my formative years that I don’t have a normative sensation of a home. So, the idea of a home is a mythic space for me, one I’ve also begun to associate with not only a place, but also specific people with whom I shared lived in those spaces that felt like places to which I belonged. That’s also, I think, why James Joyce resonates so powerfully in me. If there is a main narrative in Aeolus, it’s the counterpoint between the semantic and non-semantic in search of a home.

 

If I may, here’s an excerpt of a draft I’m writing for something else, which elaborates on this:

 

My own language acquisition parallels Dedalus’ in that the trajectory from babbling to fluency did filter out a palette of sounds that were extraneous to language. As a baby, I remember understanding language before I could actually speak. I remember both the frustration of not being able to communicate, as well as the tiny victories when I somehow managed to reach out and get through – sometimes purely through the inflections of non-semantic vocalizations, maybe combined with clear physical gestures like pointing or shaking my head.

When I was four, my family moved to Switzerland, and apart from speaking Japanese with my family I was a mute child again, unable to speak the local French. The burgeoning richness of my internal life was frustrated by this communication setback. Around that time, I was given a portable Aiwa tape recorder and started to make non-linear musique concrète, playing with snippets of sounds of my little world in exile. Listening to those recordings now, through auto-archaeology, I discover not only that I was vocalizing non-semantically, but that I was singing multiphonics. I was babbling, testing the limits of my vocal repertoire, expanding the repertoire of sounds my body could make. Unhinged from semantic obligation, I was freely playing at making sounds for the pure sake of making sounds, developing a series of dexterous moves ancillary to spoken language – to logos. I remember how it felt. The complex vibrations of the multiphonics reverberated in my body, shaking my bones. It was soothing. I learned to make a variety of sounds that registered different feelings. They felt like different weights of the world. Not being able to speak the local language, not having any friends, I was performing, rehearsing for my future self. The future will rationalize the past. When I read James Joyce as a teenager, the tropes of alienation and exile, and the distance between language as sound and language as semantic medium, all resonated with me.  

Tell us about your collaborators.

 

Majel Connery is my singer.  Though classically trained, she has a beautiful lyrical voice, that reminds me of Elena Tonra from Daughter or Beth Gibbons of Portishead. But that’s really unfair. I should not be naming names or comparing her to anyone else – she has a great voice, she is a primary referent in her own right. When I heard her voice and imagined what it was capable of, I knew I wanted to write songs for her. Songs that would carry the semantic exposition in Aeolus. She’s been very generous with me in trying out sketches of my songs in different keys, etc., so that we can get to the right voice/word combination to get to the pathos that I want to express. Majel is also a brilliant project leader. She is Opera Cabal. She is our fearless leader and most responsible for all of this happening. A visionary!

 

Thomas Tsang is a brilliant architect with whom I have been collaborating for ten years.  We met as fellows at the American Academy in Rome, and we’ve collaborated on installations ever since. As an artist, he brings a fully-fledged multidisciplinary edge to architecture. He questions traditional outputs and bravely creates installations, events, workshops that challenge us to rethink the history of specialization in our related fields.  The full vision for the opera is to have a space that he designs that is something more than a set or venue, something more integral to the expression of the piece. We are working towards that.

 

Erin Johnson is a video artist with whom I have been collaborating over the last few years. She’s an all-round creative force. Many of her works thread the line between video art, installation, performance art, curation, and community engagement. She naturally problematizes categories in her artistic output. She curated a work of mine last summer – Fortress Brass, a site-specific piece that took place on boats and then at Fort Gorges in Portland Harbor, in Maine. Erin made videos for four of the scenes in Aeolus, for scenes with voice-overs. Voice-overs take the place of dialogue in Aeolus (a move that I first began to experiment with in my first opera, Gallo). Being pre-recorded, the voice-overs inhabit a different time/place: it serves a distancing function.

 

I am also lucky to be working with the renown Flux Quartet. Specialists in the extreme demands of new music, breathtaking in their courage and inspiring. I am blessed to have this team.

 

What are some of the electronic elements in the piece?

Mostly, the electronics are backing tracks for the pop songs.  In one scene, I perform with a Max patch that the brilliant designer/composer Ilya Rostovtsev made for me. The patch lets me use my iPhone as a controller for algorithmic drums.

 

What does lateral bowing sound like? You’ve become a big fan of it … how did you first discover it as a technique?

 

I like lateral bowing because it sounds like breath – the link between my vocal practice, my body, and the embodied choreography of sounds that I notate for instrumentalists to perform.  I first came up with lateral bowing, when I was experimenting on a viola during the composition of my viola concerto, Talus.

 

What’s next for you?

 

I’m lucky to have pieces upcoming for talented friends: a piece for five-string baroque cello for Elinor Frey; a solo trumpet + electronics work for Andy Kozar; a solo cello piece for Jason Calloway; a saxophone piece for Vincent Daoud; a trio for Kim Kashkashian; and a long overdue piece for piano for Kathy Supove (and some other things too).

BMOP Records Thomson and Premieres Sanford

Virgil Thomson – Gertrude Stein

Four Saints in Three Acts; Capital Capitals

 

Charles Blandy, tenor; Simon Dyer, bass; Aaron Engebreth, baritone; Andrew Garland, baritone; Tom McNichols, bass; Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, mezzo-soprano; Sarah Pelletier, soprano; Deborah Selig, soprano; Sumner Thompson, baritone; Lynn Torgove, mezzo-soprano; Stanley Wilson, tenor;

Boston Modern Orchestra, Gil Rose, conductor

 

BMOP/Sound 1049 2xCD

 

Virgil Thomson’s 1934 collaboration with the eminent author Gertrude Stein resulted in their first of two operas, Four Saints in Three Acts. Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose, has made successful forays into recorded opera before, bringing scores such as Lukas Foss’s Griffelkin and Charles Fussell’s Wilde to life. Their recording of Thomson/Stein’s opera is a very successful addition to the orchestra’s burgeoning catalog of works.

 

Taking Stein’s use of non-linear narrative in her writing as a cue, Thomson created a score that, for its time, was exceedingly adventurous. At first blush, one might well think of Thomson’s harmonic language – relentlessly tonal – and his borrowing of material from the American vernacular – ranging from hymns and folksongs to popular songs and dances – to be far more conservative than Ives or other contemporaries who mined similar material but with a more dissonant palette. There is also a component of repetition and scalar melismas, even counting that sounds like a cousin of passages in Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, that suggests a proto-minimal approach to Thomson’s design. However, near-constant shifts of texture and demeanor, which mirror Stein’s approach to text, provide their own set of challenges for both musicians and listeners: in essence, how to follow the thread?   

 

Four Saints in Three Acts is a work with a large cast, yet all of the roles in BMOP’s production are populated by fine singers, many of whom are associated with the Boston area’s various operatic ventures. The orchestra’s playing under Rose is also exemplary: this is a score in which frequent changes of instrumentation create a balancing act that could undo a lesser ensemble.

 

The liner notes are well curated. Given his totemic role as a writer on music, including Thomson’s essay about Four Saints is a particularly nice touch. Thomson scholar Steven Watson contributes his own enlightening essay, underscoring the durability of the opera through many production incarnations, from its original — an all African-American cast (most unusual for its day) — to Robert Wilson’s staging for huge animal costumes.

 

Capital Capitals is another Thomson/Stein collaboration, this one from 1927, for four male voices and piano. The text discusses the various virtues of “capital cities” —  Aix, Arles, Avignon, and Les Baux — in Provence (Stein became acquainted with the region during her tenure as an ambulance driver in the First World War). It is breezier than Four Saints and proves an eminently charming counterpart.

 

_______

David Sanford

At 8 PM on Friday, March 31st at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, BMOP presents a concert featuring works by John Harbison, Eric Sawyer, Ronald Perera, and the world premiere of BMOP commission Black Noise by David Sanford. Soloists include violinist Miranda Cuckson, cellist Julia Bruskin, and pianist Andrea Lam. At 7 PM, a pre-concert lecture with the composers will be lead by Boston Symphony’s Robert Kirzinger. A repeat performance, this one with the Claremont Trio as soloists, will be at 3 PM on Sunday, April 2nd at Amherst College’s Buckley Recital Hall.  

GBV – “Dr. Feelgood Falls off the Ocean”

Guided by Voices
Photo: Sandlin Gaither

Guided by Voices’s August by Cake is out on April 7th. It is Robert Pollard’s one hundredth album!

TOUR DATES
4/7 – St. Louis, MO – Ready Room
4/8 – Oklahoma City, OK – ACM@UCO’s Metro Music Fest, The Criterion
4/14 – Indio, CA – Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
4/15 – San Francisco, CA – Bimbo’s 365 Club
4/17 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
4/18 – Seattle, WA – Nuemos
4/21 – Indio, CA – Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
4/22 – West Hollywood, CA – The Roxy Theatre
4/28 – Columbus, OH – Skully’s Music Diner
4/29 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Pyramid Scheme
5/5 – Detroit, MI – Magic Stick
5/6 – Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop

Say it Ain’t So, Mr. Shipp

Matthew Shipp Piano Song

Matthew Shipp

Piano Song

Matthew Shipp, piano; Michael Bisio, bass; Newman Taylor-Baker, drums

Thirsty Ear Records

Pianist Matthew Shipp has been a prolific recording artist: he has released dozens of albums as a leader and appeared on dozens more as a collaborator. However, Piano Song, his 2017 recording for Thirsty Earwill be his last for the imprint and, likely, his last for a US label (Shipp concedes that there may be a few more CDs released out of Europe). Shipp will continue to curate the releases on Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series (a jazz series that welcomes cross-genre efforts) and he will continue to play live. That said, for those of us who are fans of Shipp’s recordings, it is saddening to contemplate that he is nearing the end of the road on this part of his musical journey.

Piano Song is a consistently engaging valedictory statement. A trio date with two solo tunes (all by Shipp), like much of Thirsty Ear’s output the CD is enthusiastically eclectic in terms of its stylistic profile. While bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor-Baker may not be as familiar to listeners as some of Shipp’s other collaborators, they form a beautifully well-connected rhythm section. Bisio’s solo on “The Cosmopolitan” is supple melodically and versatile harmonically. Taylor-Baker’s snare filigrees and drum fills considerably enliven both that tune and “Flying Carpet.” The rhythm section crafts a fluent and mysterious introduction for “Scrambled Brain.” Bisio employs double-stops in a wide-ranging part while Taylor-Baker coaxes all manner of subtleties from the snare drum, evolving into a more kinetic posture and adding cymbals and toms as the duo continues. This is a noteworthy aspect of Shipp’s approach to the trio: allowing duo subsets of the ensemble to really shine at various moments on the recording.

Shipp’s playing, in addition to having its own original stamp showing, encompasses the work of a wide range of progenitors: Taylor, Hill, Monk, Tyner, and Ellington, just to name a few. Shipp’s short solo at the beginning of the proceedings, and his intro on “Silence of”  combine modal and post-bop lyricism. He forcefully swings on “Micro Wave,” a tune that moves from quasi-bop licks to far more dissonant utterances. “Mind Space” finds him supplying fleet-fingered angular lines countered by Taylor-Baker, while repeated notes and chords as well as achingly slow Schoenbergian arpeggiations are accompanied by Bisio’s arco playing on “Void of Sea.” “The Nature Of” features Shipp’s signature low register melodies, in which a bass line is accompanied by a countermelody up an octave or so. Eventually, the piece expands to encompass the upper register too, with vertical stabs added to the duet texture. “Gravity Point” is rife with repetition, with halting ostinatos and tremolos set against a middle register piano solo and furious interplay from the rhythm section. The album closes with the title tune, a poignant ballad that the listener may imagine as Shipp waving goodbye to this chapter. Shipp’s discography is an impressive legacy and, at 56, one senses that he has much more to offer the jazz world in future incarnations.

Locrian Players Celebrate Rautavaara

Shoot for Locrian Chamber Players

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 Richman’s vox*viola project

Singing violist Wendy Richman

My dear friend and collaborator, singing violist Wendy Richman has undertaken a campaign to fund her first solo album, vox*viola. Consisting of pieces for singing violist by Lou Bunk, Christian Carey, Jason Eckardt, Stephen Gorbos, Jose-Luis Hurtado, Everette Minchew, Arlene Sierra, David Smooke, and Ken Uenothe recording will be released via ICE’s TUNDRA imprint on New Focus Recordings

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:

Dearest Kay,

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,

C

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.