Transit, for cello and percussion
Tobias Werner and John Kilkenny
National Gallery of Art
Chez Monk, for piano
Augustus Arnone, piano/Collide-O-Scope Music
New York, NY
Inscape Chamber Orchestra
Episcopal Church of the Redeemer
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Category Archives: Chamber
Colin Hill and the percussion ensemble at Tennessee Tech University gave the premiere of my new percussion quartet Aqua Vitae last month. I just got a recording of the piece from them: take a listen below:
More info on Aqua Vitae here.
Two new pieces were premiered this spring: back in March, cellist Dan Shomper gave the premiere of Vox Animarum, and in April, Colin Hill and the percussion ensemble at Tennessee Tech University premiered Aqua Vitae, for percussion quartet.
Both of these pieces were written over my sabbatical last fall, and in each work I’m trying something entirely new to my compositional vocabulary: in the cello piece, I worked with Dan on bow pressure techniques that widen the timbral spectrum to include quite a bit of noise in the cello’s tone. In the percussion quartet, I decided to work with a collection of junk instruments (bits of metal and wood) alongside traditional percussion instruments like bass drums, toms, marimbas, and vibraphone. Aqua Vitae, as you might guess from the title, was written as an homage to the centuries-old whiskey making process. You can read more about both pieces via these links: Vox Animarum, for solo cello, Aqua Vitae, for percussion quartet.
Next week I’ll be gearing up for a recording session with Inscape Chamber Orchestra. They’ll be recording What I decided to keep, in a new arrangement specifically for them. You can check out the original version here, premiered by David Searle and the Catholic University Chamber Orchestra last year.
I’ve also just posted recordings of two performances from the past few months: take a listen to Her Exit, written for and performed by DC’s Great Noise Ensemble, here, and Bounce, in a new arrangement for large wind ensemble, performed here by David Vickerman and the wind ensemble from the College of New Jersey.
Go here to check out the Spektral Quartet tearing through Passage Through the City, premiered this past summer out in Chicago at The Hideout. It was absolutely amazing working with these guys: I love the energy they brought to my piece, and I’m looking forward to hearing it again this season in DC.
On November 8th, Bounce will be premiered in its new incarnation as a piece for large wind ensemble. David Vickerman and the winds from The College of New Jersey are going to rock: the program is quite an ambitious foray into newer repertoire for winds (Schwanter’s In Evening’s Stillness and Mackey’s Asphalt Cocktail are also on the program!). Have a listen to some excerpts from the original orchestra version of Bounce here. I’ll be visiting the TCNJ campus the week before to work with the group in rehearsal, and to be a guest on the College’s brown bag series to talk about the process of converting orchestra to wind ensemble.
After a relaxing year away in New England, I’m very excited for my first DC premiere since returning to the area. With a little help from my friends the Great Noise Ensemble, Her Exit will be premiered along with 12 other new works at the Atlas Theatre on Saturday, September 21st at 8pm. Tickets here. Each composer involved in the project was asked to write a piece in response to a particular track on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album: my track was She’s Leaving Home.
When I started thinking about this project, the perspective of the lyrics in She’s Leaving Home really stuck out at me: the story is delivered by an omniscient outsider, seemingly gazing down at the characters as their lives play out. After finding out that the song was written about a real person and an actual sequence of events that Paul McCartney read about in the newspaper, I thought it would be interesting to try to write my piece solely from the perspective of the pregnant teenage runaway. In Her Exit, I tried to create a musical world that’s the polar opposite of the sweet and delicate She’s Leaving Home, akin to looking at a photographic negative image of the Beatles’ presentation of the story. Hope to see you there.
Almost 1 year ago I had a short residency in Chicago at High Concept Labs, an interdisciplinary arts space on the north side of town. While in the city, I got started on a collaboration with the Spektral Quartet, a young string quartet that’s quickly established itself as one of Chicago’s premiere new music groups. The fruit of these labors will be unveiled on Saturday, June 29th at the Hideout (across the street from HCL). For a preview of what to expect, head over to the Spektral Quartet’s blog to check out a conversation about the project between myself and violinist Austin Wulliman. Tickets can be purchased here; more info on this special end-of-season event is on the Spektral’s website here. This is going to be a really great show at a fantastic venue: along with my piece, they’ll be playing some Haydn, Verdi, Liza White, and Ben Hjertmann, with premieres by Alex Temple and Castillo Trigueros. Hope to see you there.
I had a great time earlier this month hanging out in Lexington, Kentucky with Colin Hill, James Campbell, and the University of Kentucky percussion ensemble. Colin conducted my piece Push, for 12 percussionists. Check out this video of the performance: the opening ambient textures are beautifully shaped, and I love the energy in the faster music towards the end.
Over the weekend of April 19th I’ll be in DC, spending some time at the Levine School as their 2013 Composition Masterclass guest. In addition to meetings with their students, Pictures on Silence will be performing my piece Plunge, for alto sax, harp, and electronics (written for them back in 2010). The performance is Friday evening at 7pm on Levine’s NW DC campus; the masterclass takes place the following morning. Both events are free and open to the public. Sponsored by the awesome folks at The Randy Hostetler Living Room Music Fund and The ASCAP Foundation Jack and Amy Norworth Fund.
Such sphinxes as these obey no one but their master, my new vocal octet and longest title to date, was premiered last week by the inimitable Brad Wells and Roomful of Teeth. Click here to listen to the performance and read more about the piece. Special thanks to the Beinecke Library at Yale University, who, along with hosting the concert, put the Voynich Manuscript on display as part of their current manuscript exhibition.
I just finished a new piece for Roomful of Teeth, an amazing vocal octet led by conductor Brad Wells. Inspired by the Voynich Manuscript, my piece makes use of several of the non-Western vocal production techniques that the group specializes in (yodeling, throat singing, and overtone singing). What follows is a lengthy program note: hopefully it will inspire a few readers to come check out the premiere in New Haven in a few weeks! Pics of the Voynich Manuscript courtesy of the Beinecke Library at Yale.
The Voynich Manuscript has piqued human interest since it first surfaced at the court of Emperor Rudolf II in the late 16th Century. (Radiocarbon dating completed in 2011 has dated it to the early 1400’s.) The manuscript’s florid script has remained completely indecipherable: perfectly legible (and resembling some western scripts of the period), the characters that make up the script do not add up to any known language. Indeed, it’s the lavish illustrations (present on every page, some of which foldout to the size of several pages) that have led to the general consensus to label some sections as herbals, astronomical, biological, cosmological, pharmaceutical, and recipes. Like the script, the illustrations have also resisted complete explanation: the plants in the herbal section are like none found on this earth; likewise, the astronomical charts do not belong to anything in our heavens charted by astronomers. These curiosities have prompted some to theorize that the Voynich is nothing more than an elaborate hoax, likely made by alchemists looking to extort money from Rudolf II. Yet some of the foremost minds in cryptology, from the 16th c. to the present day, believe that the text is an elaborate code. Linguists have found that the ordering and frequency of characters in the script have all the qualities of language; analysis of the writing reveals it to be in the hand of someone practiced at writing this script fluently. Some believe it to be in a hybrid language, because of some similarities in morphology to language families in East and Central Asia. Others claim that the text is an example of transcribed glossolalia, or even that the book was deposited on our planet by aliens. The Beinecke Library at Yale, where the manuscript has been part of the collection since the 1960s, gets regular requests from individuals wishing to ingest pieces of the manuscript (or, in some cases, just lick), inspired by a belief in its healing properties.
Without a real stake in the outcome of Voynich interpretation, I find the subjectivity in all these interpretations beautiful and moving. The process of constructing meaning from the many variables at play in the manuscript made me think about the myriad approaches to constructing music. Why do certain notes and rhythms follow other notes and rhythms? Is a composer’s process ever completely explainable? There might be a code at work, but how deep does that code go, and could anyone ever actually crack that code? Does it even matter that the logic of the piece is perceived while experiencing it, and why might a listener privilege objective truth in considering music?
Roomful of Teeth has skillfully absorbed the means of vocal production from various cultures across the planet. What I found fascinating was how these techniques, divorced from their original cultural practice, could be assembled into some new language. How could I make sense of Tuvan throat singing layered on top of Swiss yodeling? There might be a logical grammar at work, but a beautiful assemblage of sounds might also just be a happy inspirational coincidence, never to be heard from again. The title of my piece, Such sphinxes as these obey no one but their master, comes from a letter written in 1666 by Jan Marek Marci. Marci, a Jesuit priest who possessed the book for a time in the mid-1600s, sent the book off to Athanasius Kircher in Rome, hoping he could make something of it. Kircher, known in his day as the premier Egyptologist, failed to make any headway with a translation.
UPDATE: click here to listen to the performance.