Such Sphinxes as These: Composing the Voynich

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. Continue reading

Posted in Chamber, News, Vocal

Upcoming in 2013:

Happy 2013! A mild winter (so far) has seen much composing and much running on the streets of New Haven and Hamden. Some upcoming events on the calendar for 2013 include:

  • the premiere of Such sphinxes as these obey no one but their master with Brad Wells and the amazing Roomful of Teeth on February 26th, up here at Yale.
  • a performance of Push, for percussion orchestra, by the University of Kentucky Percussion Ensemble out in Lexington, KY on April 8th
  • a residency in mid-April at the Levine School in Washington, DC, where I’ll lead a masterclass with their students and Pictures on Silence will perform my piece Plunge
  • my first marathon, which I’ll be running in Los Angeles on St. Patricks Day (not music related, I know, but training is taking up a lot of my time and I figure the more I talk about doing it, the less I’ll consider dropping out!)

And They Sing This

Back in November the amazing Ashley Smith helped me resurrect And They Sing This, for clarinet and electronics. And They Sing This combines the live clarinet player with two sets of samples I recorded: my great-uncle singing and talking about Polish folk music at weddings, and Humayun’s Tomb, an elaborate mausoleum in Delhi, India.

Click here to check out a recording of that performance and read more about the piece.

UPDATE: live video from the concert has now been posted on youtube.

New Recording: What I Decided to Keep

Happy Thanksgiving! Click here to check out a live recording of David Searle and the CUA chamber orchestra playing What I Decided to Keep, my new piece for chamber orchestra.

In addition to being very pleased with the performance, I was especially proud of my employers on Nov. 7th: what was suposed to be an alumni fundraising event at Carnegie Hall was, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, quickly turned into a hurricane relief benefit concert down in DC. In the true charitable spirit of CUA, the concert hall was packed.

Posted in News, Orchestra

CANCELED: Wednesday, 11/7 premiere of “What I Decided to Keep” at Carnegie Hall

Due to the effects of hurricane Sandy, the Benjamin T Rome School of Music at The Catholic University has decided to cancel its concerts scheduled at Carnegie Hall this coming week. This unfortunately includes the 11/7 premiere of my orchestra piece What I Decided to Keep. Frustrating – but compared to what many others have lost, a canceled concert is small potatoes indeed. And the show does go on: they will be performing the concert on the same date and time, but down in DC at Ward Concert Hall on the Catholic University campus. If roads and weather cooperate, I expect to be there.

While we’re on hurricane related matters, if you’re in a position to help those in need in any way, please do so. People affected by the storm really need your help right now, particularly as temperatures start to drop. For those of us with power and internet, it is surprisingly easy to find ways to help: if you’re able to, take a few minutes, hunt around, and find a way to pitch in.

Within the NYC new music community, my friends at New Amsterdam Presents were hit pretty badly by the storm. You can read about their situation here.

Posted in News, Uncategorized

What I decided to keep

Greetings from New Haven, CT! We’ve temporarily relocated to New England for the year: I’ll be teaching composition and electronic music in the music department at Yale University.

Coming to New Haven meant moving…which of course also meant packing up an apartment that my wife and I lived in for several years. Anyone who has moved as an adult has surely had the archeological experience of unearthing several incarnations of their life when packing. While still embracing my packrat tendencies and filling many boxes with stuff (and parting with 0 musical instruments), I am proud to report that many things were purged (ok, some of the broken Casio keyboards). And then there’s the consideration of mental baggage that one accumulates from living in various places: to compound this, I’m coming back to a school where I did my masters ca. 10 years ago.

All of this brings me to the piece that I gave most of my attention to over the summer: what I decided to keep, composed for David Searle and the Catholic University Orchestra. They’ll be premiering the piece at Carnegie Hall on 11/7. The piece is actually scored for something more like a chamber orchestra: smaller sections of violins and cellos, along with 2 double basses, are augmented with single winds and brass, and a piano. Within the strings, I wanted to have a thicker section sound, but also the ability to treat each player like a soloist (I also wanted to exclude the violas. Insert your favorite viola joke here).

As a composer with one foot in academia, I work at a far less frantic pace during the summer: with my teaching obligations in mothballs until September, I’ve got so much more time to consider compositional issues that I just don’t have the mental space to hang out with for the other 9 months. In addition to considering my output while a resident of DC for the past four years, I also found myself reflecting back on my time at Yale: specifically, the year I studied with Martin Bresnick. At the time, I had one of my most formidable cases of writers block. I had such little music to show in my lessons, that Martin and I may have in fact spent more time talking about other people’s music. Remembering those lessons, I came back to one composer and piece in particular: Béla Bartók’s 5th string quartet. what i decided to keep owes a great debt to this piece, in its linear succesion of events, and use of certain musical materials.

Truth be told, very little is a direct quote from ol’ Béla, but I’d like to think he and I share a similar affinity for musics not typically heard in a concert hall (in my case, funk and prog rock). The piece itself is dedicated with admiration and affection to Martin, who was consistently patient with my compositional hesitance that year. As I reflect back on my four years so far at Catholic University, I can also see that many of the ways I try to create a positive environment for my own students owes much to Martin’s example.

Posted in News, Orchestra

HCL residency in Chicago

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be in-residence at High Concept Labs, a new arts space in downtown Chicago, in June.

Click here for info on the project I’ll be working on over the coming year with the Spektral Quartet. While in Chicago, I’ll be trying to hunt out interesting soundscapes to record for this piece, and other upcoming projects.

May Performances:

As the semester comes to a frantic close, I’ve got two performances coming up in the next few weeks that I’m really excited about: Trio Chiaroscuro comes to DC on Tuesday, 5/1 to play Tudo Bem? Tudo Bom? at the Atlas Theatre (click here tickets and info); and Bounce, my new orchestra piece, will be read by David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony on May 17th as part of their American Music Festival.

Summertime projects include a piece for two harps for another chamber group with a multi-syllabic Italian name (the Sprezzatura Duo!), a string quartet for the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet, and a temporary relocation to New Haven, CT for the 2012/2013 academic year.

Posted in News, Uncategorized

How you doing?

Head over to New Music Box to check out my blog posts from the Buffalo Philharmonic Earshot readings. You can read post one out of four here. My thoughts on the whole experience are up there to read; to summarize, I’ll just say “orchestration lesson on steroids”. Matt Kraemer and the orchestra did a fantastic job with Bounce, and a big thank you is also due to the folks at the ACO for putting together a amazingly useful week of seminars.

The Trio Chiaroscuro premiered my new flute, bassoon and piano trio Tudo Bem? Tudo Bom? at the end of January. The title is the Portuguese/Brazilian equivalent of “how you doing?” (he says in his best north-Jersey Tony Soprano accent.) While there are a lot of tightly coordinated rhythmic grooves in Tudo Bem? Tudo Bom?, I wasn’t really going for anything musically Brazilian in the piece…it’s actually inspired by the phone conversations I have with my wife while one of us is traveling; a playful kind of conversational capoiera where we fit all of the minutes of our time with details from our day. Check out the video below (assembled from amateur capoiera footage and a live performance by Trio Chiaroscuro), or click here for more info on the piece.

Posted in Chamber, News

Bounce: two upcoming performances

My new work orchestral work Bounce was recently selected for the Earshot and Buffalo Philharmonic New Music Readings, and for the Albany Symphony’s Composer to Center Stage program.

As part of Buffalo’s February New Music Festival, Bounce will be read on the Emerging American Composers in Concert event on Thursday, February 23rd at 7pm, conducted by Matthew Kraemer. This is a free concert open to the public, with a Q&A session on stage afterwards. More info here.

The performance of Bounce on Albany’s Composer to Center Stage program is part of their American Music Festival, which will take place this coming May. More info here.

Posted in News, Orchestra