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Searching for Serotonin, the west coast tour by cellist David Mason and sound projectionist Daniel McNamara, landed at the Ventura College Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, November 15, 2017. Four works of experimental new music were presented including pieces by Kaija Saariaho and György Ligeti. A midweek crowd of the knowledgeable and the curious gathered to hear a combination of acoustic cello and electronics as presented by Mason and McNamara.

The concert began with Sonata for Solo Cello, by György Ligeti. This was written between 1948 and 1953 at the height of Stalin’s power in Soviet Russia, and consists of two movements. The first, “Dialogo”, opened with soft pizzicato arpeggios, a low, solemn tone – and then silence. More arco playing followed, darkly expressive in the lower registers and at times pleasingly lyrical in the higher. The second movement, “Capriccio”, was much faster and more animated. Agitated runs upward built tension, even as the passages downward lessened the anxiety, see-sawing back and forth. Some double-stopped phrasing in the lowest registers produced a menacing growl while in other places the feeling was more conventionally purposeful and open. Ligeti wrote of this piece: “I was 30 years old when I wrote it. I loved virtuosity and took the playing to the edge of virtuosity much like Paganini.” Mason was in complete command as he moved confidently among the passages as they furiously unfolded at the finish.

A recorded augmentation followed, created by McNamara, and this was an electronically processed version of Sonata for Solo Cello as heard through two large speakers on stage. The cello was tacit during this and the augmentation included reverb, echoing, panning and some additional power, especially in the lower tones. There was a 3D effect to this, as well as a sense of remoteness as the processing gradually became more intense. Both movements were heard and the enhancements added an interesting element of strength to the character of the original piece. Sonata for Solo Cello nicely combined the abilities of Mason’s acoustical cello technique with McNamara’s electronic augmentation.

Tide, by Matt Sargent followed, a composition for layers of strings and solo cello. In this piece the electronics assumed the primary role by way of a set of pre-recorded cello tones by T.J. Borden. The opening sounds coming through the speakers were forceful and intense, eventually reaching a total of ten layers. The booming in the lower registers was felt as much as heard, an elemental force of nature like a rising sea or surging tide. The direction of the pitch changes in the recording was indicated on McNamara’s computer screen, positioned so that Mason could see it. As the tones in the recording rose or fell, Mason adjusted his acoustical playing to fit into the new harmony. The changes proceeded slowly and deliberately; the overall effect was like being inside some giant machine that was gradually accelerating or decelerating. The great wash of sounds embraced the listener with a series of continually shifting surfaces that were never tiresome or monotonous. Tide is a beautiful and engagingly simple piece that intimately connects the electronics, performer and audience in a powerfully organic experience.

After a short intermission, the concert continued with Petals, by Kaija Saariaho, who describes her piece this way: “The opposite elements here are fragile coloristic passages which give birth to more energetic events with clear rhythmic and melodic character… In bringing together these very opposite modes of expressions, I aimed to force the interpreter to stretch his sensibility.” Accordingly, Petals opens with light and airy trills in the cello and softly scratching sounds from the electronics. These start high then go lower in pitch, becoming rapidly louder like an angry bee, and devolving into a series of very complex passages before returning to the quiet trills of the beginning. Clear, declarative phrasing is heard, very expressively played by Mason, followed by a softer section featuring single, quietly sustained tones. This subdued texture becomes a bit busier, and then suddenly louder, with trills and more complexity building up the tension before the piece coasts to its finish. The extremes in character and dynamics present in Petals present an impressive technical challenge to the player and an invigorating experience for the audience.

The final piece in the concert was Oog, by Dutch composer Michael van der Aa. This piece includes a pre-recorded sound track that requires the cello player to use a stopwatch to make the closely timed entrances. Oog, which means eye in Dutch, begins with a slow, sustained tone that quickly breaks into a rapid series of phrases involving extended techniques such as rapping on the wooden cello body. More sustained notes follow, quietly and sensitively played, while the electronics inexorably build until a great explosion of sound is heard. The piece now becomes very complex – chaotic even – with rapid cello phrases carefully woven in and around the equally intricate electronics. The close coordination between the recording and Mason’s playing was impressively precise. The fast cello runs and loud, percussive blasts from the speakers had an unsettling, out-of-control feeling that was both stimulating and alarming. Towards the finish the softer tones returned, and a slower, solemn sensibility asserted itself as the piece concluded. Oog is a formidable combination of speed and split-second timing that requires the sort of alert technical virtuosity that was unmistakably present in this performance.

The Searching for Serotonin tour concludes at 8 PM on Tuesday, November 21 at Gray Studios in North Hollywood.

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To open with a broad stroke, opera is generally seen as a medium that embraces tradition. For example, while the repertoire certainly has a myriad more terrifying works to offer, the Royal Opera House offers Don Giovanni and Macbeth as selections from their Top 5 Scariest Operas article. Bearing this in mind, I couldn’t help but appreciate the particularly rich novelty of fitting my smartphone into a specialized cardboard case to watch the first ten-minute episode of The Parkside Murders, the virtual reality horror opera.

The first episode of The Parkside Murders fully embraces its medium as a VR experience, and uses the unique strengths of VR to tell this story. While appreciating opera and cinema are traditionally group experiences, virtual reality (for now anyway)  is solitary by nature. Furthermore, the fixed perspective of traditional mediums allows for a layer of separation as an audience member that this VR experience sheds. Rather than treating this experience as a 360-degree film, The Parksville Murders forces you into drama immediately, establishing the viewer as a named character in the opening supertitles. Before learning the names of our protagonists, you learn that you (yes, you) are The Watcher. As this episode unfolds, The Watcher, unable to move anything below the neck, begins to wonder what their role is in this story. The lack of autonomous mobility in this visceral, 3D environment is frustrating, but a constant reminder that The Watcher is not here to help, harm, or change. The Watcher exists to bear witness. After being directly addressed by the supertitles, and later by one of the main characters, Watcher is left wondering about the nature of their role in this narrative. This isn’t a question one generally runs into in cinema, or opera. Director Cari Ann Shim Sham* transforms several formalist techniques prevalent in horror films such as frenetic editing, use of visual and aural white noise, and frame-rate manipulation in their adaptation for a VR experience. The line between the story and its telling is blurred, and opens up a floodgate of possibilities for storytelling in this medium.

Virtual reality aside (or about as far aside as it can be moved from the main focus) The Parksville Murders is, afterall, an opera. Scored for soprano (Corinne, played by Kacey Cardin), mezzo (Sarah, played by Mikki Sodergren), a small chorus, and electronics, composer Kamala Sankaram incorporates music in a way that is always in service of the drama, and mounting sense of dread. In this episode, the electronics are a clear backdrop for more interesting musical material: Sankaram’s vocal writing and extended use and manipulation of diegetic sound. Sounds of white noise from a nearby television set, sharpening knives, and nearby knocking are deeply embedded into the work, and had this Watcher constantly inspecting their surroundings in horrified anticipation. Sankaram’s vocal writing is, aptly, the cornerstone of this score, and well supported by Cardin and Sodergren’s excellent performances. Captivating in its own right, one begins to notice that Sankaram’s approach to vocal writing itself is being used to tell a story. Cardin’s initial plea of “Help me, help me…” (a plea made directly to The Watcher) is eerie, angular, and immediately stands in stark contrast to the electronic droning that comes before it. Later, the surreal nature of Sodergren’s entrance “on screen” is mirrored in Sankaram’s writing for her character. While Cardin sings at a slower, measured pace, often repeating words and small phrases, Sodergren sings parlando, often speaking in full sentences. The contrast between our two leads leaves so much room for uncertainty about what exactly The Watcher is bearing witness to. Again, it is hard to know where the story ends and its telling begins. The differences in the text setting between these characters and Sankaram’s blending of diegetic and nondiegetic sounds certainly leaves room for this story to dive deep into the realm of the supernatural, but it is too soon to tell.

The first episode of The Parksville Murders is available now exclusively on Samsung VR, and it is well crafted, immersive, and genuinely scary. Recommended. During the daytime. With the lights on.

http://www.theparksvillemurders.com/ 

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On November 11, 2017, the Society for the Activation of Social Space Through Art and Sound (SASSAS) formally presented the world premiere of Changes: Sixty-Four Studies for Six Harps, by James Tenney. Over 150 people filled every available chair in The Box art gallery and demand for tickets was so great that a second, preview performance had to be added. Anticipation ran high in the downtown arts district as the crowd waited to hear this extraordinary work, composed in 1985 but only fully realized this year from materials in the late James Tenney’s archives.

Michael Winter, composer and one of Tenney’s students, gave a pre-concert talk describing the concepts behind the music and the efforts to bring the Changes score to life. Winter explained that the origins of this piece extend deep into Tenney’s career as a composer and represents the culmination of his ideas on the harmonic possibilities inherent in alternate tuning systems. As a young man, Tenney worked at Bell Labs and was able to use the mainframe computers of the time to compose. Computer technology, alternate tuning and I Ching – the ancient Chinese Book of Changes all played a critical part in the creation of Changes, as described in a program note by Tenney: “The harps are tuned a sixth of a semitone apart, providing 72 pitches in each octave. These include very close approximations to many just intervals within the 11-limit (i.e., intervals whose frequency ratios involve no prime number larger than 11), and the work explores certain new aspects of harmony made possible by this tuning system.”

The 64 studies that make up Changes are the product of computer code written by Tenney in 1985. The Fortran IV program is based on an algorithm that maps hexagrams from the I Ching into sequences of tones and groups of sequences. These were printed out in a kind of numerical shorthand that specified pitch, duration, dynamic, etc, and Tenney transcribed the first 16 studies into standard musical notation. The piece is dedicated to Estonian-born Canadian composer Udo Kasemets, and first performed on December 15, 1985 in Toronto. Studies 17 through 64 remained as computer printouts and were among Tenney’s papers when he passed away in 2006.

Efforts to organize and transcribe the remaining studies took a number of years, involving several composers and CalArts students including Winter, Casey Anderson, Jon Myers, Cassia Streb, Loren Pratt and Daniel Corral, among others. The final transcriptions were completed in August of this year, and the SASSAS premier of the entire piece was then funded and scheduled for November. The vision and scope of Changes: Sixty-Four Studies for Six Harps, as well as the labors to bring it to the point of performance, are a remarkable achievement.

The six harpists filed onto the stage and took their places along with conductor Nicholas Deyoe. Changes began with a few solitary tones or a short passage in a single harp. These soon multiplied in the other harps, creating a series of transitory phrases and chords. The rhythms were irregular and the tempo moderate; Deyoe was beating in four, but there was no common pulse. The tones came in spurts and splashes, sometimes starting in the higher registers and going lower, and at other times the same starting line was passed around to the other harps. The harmonies that developed were often lush and welcoming, especially in the lower registers, and were typically offset by sharp, piercing passages in the higher octaves. Each of the studies was not long, averaging about 2 minutes.

Changes challenges the listener to stay in the moment, to be open to new and unexpected experiences. Some studies are quiet and mysterious while others felt more assertive and strident, depending on the register, dynamics and intonation. Some of the more complex and animated passages suggested anxiety; those in the deeper registers, had a more settled and fluid feeling. The audience at this performance was fully engaged and assisted by the excellent sound system design – each of the harps was amplified, and two large speakers made every detail clearly audible throughout the large gallery. The playing was rock solid, an impressive feat as each harp was tuned differently and there were few rhythms common to the flurry phrases that unfolded. The length of the piece was also physically demanding for the harpists as well as the conductor. Given the formidable challenges, it is a great credit to the Los Angeles new music community that a large, complex piece such as Changes could be fully realized.

Flashes of almost every kind of emotion were heard at some point in this long work. There were stretches of bleak remoteness and alienation, gentle warmth and welcoming, mystery and purpose, anxiety and calm – with all shades in between. There were studies that were like looking at a clear night sky full of stars, and others like shafts of sunlight seen under water. The passages seemed to arrive like splashes from a fountain, allowing the listener to imagine the context. Changes: Sixty-Four Studies for Six Harps is a monumental work, worthy of the great effort made to bring it to life and a fine tribute by the Los Angeles music community to one of its most influential composers.

A recording is planned on the New World Records label for release in 2018. Those wishing to contribute towards this can do so at Hatchfund.org .

Musicians appearing in this premiere performance are:

Nicholas Deyoe, conductor

Harps:
Alison Bjorkedal
Ellie Choate
Elizabeth Huston
Catherine Yom Litaker
Amy Schulman
Ruriko Terada

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ecm4815034

Now, and Then
Orchestra Della Svizzera Italiana; Dennis Russell Davies, conductor
Pablo Márquez, guitar
ECM 2485

November 17 sees the release of Now, and Then, an ECM recording of transcriptions by composers Bruno Maderna and Luciano Berio. In addition to his creative pursuits and new music advocacy, Maderna (1920-1973) was in demand as a conductor of classical repertoire. Rather than performing the instrumental music of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque eras with its original, reduced, forces, he made transcriptions of figures such as Frescobaldi, Legrenzi, Gabrieli, Viadana, and Wassenaer (all included on this CD) for the modern orchestra. They are successful arrangements, spotlighting the sonorous brass choirs that epitomize the antiphonal music of this era while deftly incorporating idiomatic passages for the other sections of the orchestra.Russell Davies leads sumptuous yet finely detailed performances of these pieces.

Berio (1925-2003) recreated his Sequenza XI for solo guitar as the ensemble work Chemins V (1992). It is a delirious, sensuous trope on the original, allowing the guitarist – in this case the estimable Pablo Márquez – plenty of virtuosic solo work, while responding to it with imaginative orchestral textures. Some of these serve to augment the percussive quality of the guitar, while others lengthen and sustain the pitch material, creating a haloing effect. Partway through, a thunderous climax in the percussion precedes the longest of the solo cadenzas, underscoring that this is no mere arrangement but a profound reshaping of the original.
In the United States, Russell Davies may be best known for his championing of minimalists. However, like Maderna, his catalog and duties have been widespread both in terms of repertoire and geography. Witnessing him, years ago, tackle formidably complex premieres with American Composers Orchestra, it is gratifying to hear him return to similarly intricate fare in the Berio. Now, and Then is an imaginative and finely wrought recording: recommended.

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On Monday, November 20 in New York, Metropolis Ensemble percussionist Ian Rosenbaum will present an hour-long, seamless musical narrative culminating in Christopher Cerrone’s evocative work Memory Palace. Through electro-acoustic soundscapes, visual projections, and a fluid juxtaposing of unexpected techniques and instruments, works by Mark Applebaum, David Crowell, Tom Johnson, Scott Wollschleger, and Cerrone are interwoven to explore new, expressive possibilities for solo percussion.

Earlier this year, Rosenbaum released a recording of Cerrone’s Memory Palace, a work Rosenbaum has performed over 40 times since its premiere by Owen Weaver in 2012. An autobiographical work, the title refers to a memorization technique where one places mental signposts in an imaginary location and ‘walks’ through it. This 23 minute work is a construction of Cerrone’s life as a memory palace. Apart from three loose crotales, two glockenspiel bars, and a kick drum, a majority of Memory Palace is performed with homemade (or modified) instruments, such as slats of wood, metal pipes, and water-tuned beer bottles. The work also prominently features field recordings taken by composer.

Recorded in 2015 during a residency at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy, NY, this film may be a suggestion of what lies in store, with theatrical lighting and video projection further elevating the natural chemistry between Cerrone’s work and Rosenbaum in this incredibly moving performance.

Monday, November 20

Caveat / 21 Clinton Street / New York, NY

7:00pm (doors) / 7:30pm (event)

Tickets: $20 General / $10 Student

ON THE PROGRAM:

i is not me – Scott Wollschleger

Counting Duet #1 – Tom Johnson

Celestial Sphere – David Crowell

Counting Duet #3 – Tom Johnson

Aphasia – Mark Applebaum

Counting Duet #2 – Tom Johnson

Memory Palace – Christopher Cerrone

For more information/tickets, visit

https://metropolisensemble.org/#memory-palace

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A rare Southern California appearance by Philip Glass, one of the founding fathers of minimalism, took place on October 26, 2017 at the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts in Whittier. A sell-out crowd filled the theater for this long-anticipated event.

The program opened with a solo piano performance of Mad Rush, an early piece that was originally written for pipe organ. Something of a Glass standard, Mad Rush began with a moderate but even tempo, good phrasing and was played entirely from memory. In the middle of a West Coast tour with the Kronos Quartet – and having recently returned from Europe – Glass could be forgiven for any small lapses in keyboard technique – but this never eventuated as Mad Rush unfurled in all its familiar transcendence.

The main business of the evening began when Shane Cadman, Manager of the Shannon Theater, invited Mr. Glass to sit down for a time of conversation. Asked about early influences, the stories of working in his father’s Baltimore record shop were recounted and provided new perspectives. When certain records did not sell, the elder Glass brought these home and listened to them during dinner, trying to determine why no one would buy them. These recordings, unsurprisingly, turned out to be twentieth century composers – Stravinsky, Bartok, etc – and became an important influence on young Philip. Glass also recalled that as a teen-age student at the University of Chicago he admired Schoenberg and Ives, and although these two wrote vastly different kinds of music Glass found that he understood them more completely together – a pattern that would inform his creative process throughout his career.

While studying in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Ravi Shankar, Glass recalled that he came into contact with classical Indian music and the European tradition simultaneously. He compared the interactions between rhythm and melody in Eastern music to the relationship of harmony and melody in the Western tradition, and this strongly influenced his creative thinking going forward. His compositions became an extended attempt to combine the elements of east and west, and this continued after his return to New York. Having found his artistic voice and after mounting his first major work – Einstein on the Beach – Glass confided that he did not want to continue in that style and offered some advice to the young composers in the audience. “Write music for 20 years and I guarantee that you will find your voice. But then the question will become: how do I change it?” The answer to that question for Glass was collaboration, and this became his engine for change. He purposely worked with a variety of other artists, often those he did not know, and widened his stylistic palette to include music for dance, film. ‘pocket’ operas and other forms.

All of this was described by Mr. Glass with great eloquence and a disarming manner that completely captured the attention of the audience. Shane Cadman proved to be a wisely economical interviewer, asking a question now and then and letting Mr. Glass reply in extended fashion, and while his stories wandered a bit, they were never boring. More early piano pieces followed, Metamorphosis 2, 3, & 4, and soon the wide-ranging conversation resumed. When asked about how some of the larger projects came about, Glass stated flatly that he does not accept a commission for an opera until the performance date is set – it is simply too much work to do on speculation. Koyaanisqatsi, however, came about in pieces – film maker Godfrey Reggio would complete a section every year or so, Glass would score it, and the finished reel would be used to raise more money so that the project could continue. Glass has also found himself attracted to science and the idea of scientists as poets with works about Einstein, Kepler, Galileo and Hawking. Ultimately Glass stated that he sees his work in film and opera focused on social issues, especially in these challenging times. Politics, fortunately, never darkened the mood of the conversation and at last Mr. Glass performed Etude #10 as his closing piano piece. The audience was generously appreciative of this most cordial evening; cheering and a warm standing ovation filled the Ruth B. Shannon Center for several minutes.

Photo courtesy of Jay Senese

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Park Ave. Armory

Répons at the Park Ave. Armory. Photo: Sarah Palay.

NEW YORK – On October 6 & 7, 2017, Park Avenue Armory presented Ensemble Intercontemporain, conducted by Matthias Pintscher, in Répons, a major work by the recently deceased French composer Pierre Boulez. It was the first time that the composition has been heard in New York since one of its early incarnations in the 1980s (the Times was hard on him then). Boulez was an inveterate reviser, and the electroacoustic component of this piece continued to evolve with successive technological innovations. It is also the first large-scale work to be mounted here since the composer’s passing in 2016.

Park Ave. Armory

The performance of the roughly fifty-minute long work consisted of two renditions, back-to-back with only a short intermission (many of the principals had worked up a sweat by the end of the evening; justifiably so!) For our section of the crowd, the first performance found the ensemble and Pintscher seated in the center with the audience surrounding them; with their backs facing much of the audience. Brass textures and the section’s seemingly ceaseless mute changes were on full display; some of the string passages were distant-sounding as a result. For the second hearing, the audience moved to a different vantage point: from our seats the musicians and conductor faced us. There was more clarity in all of the parts.

That said, the change of seating was not a wasted gesture: it made for some fascinating listening to the roles of the various sections in the construction of the work. For my seat partner, a theatre person, it was a treat that permitted one better to assess the affects of lighting and the staged quality of the gestural components onstage. Pierre Audi, mise-en-space, and lighting designer Urs Schönebaum did an excellent job of providing an expansive environment equal to the space in the Armory. The use of global changes of lighting suited the piece far better than would have a busier set of cues.

The seating change paid another dividend: one got a different earful of what was going on behind and around the audience. Soloists Samuel Favre, Gilles Durot, percussion (mallet instruments); Dmitri Vassilakis, Hidéki Nagano, piano; Frédérique Cambreling, harp; and Luigi Gaggero, cymbalum, were seated in an outer circle, surrounding the audience and the interior cohort of musicians. Their music was treated to amplification and electronic manipulation by longtime IRCAM sound-smith Andrew Gerzso, who worked alongside Gilbert Nouno and Jérémie Henrot, two of IRCAM’s sound designers, to create the impressive and well-balanced spatial effects.

Répons is labyrinthine in its complexity, formidable in its difficulties. That said, there is a jubilant air to its challenges. In particular, the sensuous nature of the bell-like solo parts, particularly the percussionists’ mallet instruments and the cymbalum, proves irresistible. Although there is much angularity and virtuosity on display, as one finds in a large amount of Boulez’s later work there are also pitches and chord complexes that help to under gird the proceedings and provide the listener with a sense of trajectory amid the flurries of activity. I was quite grateful to have a perusal copy of the score to consult. Universal’s edition of the score is clearly notated and has an elegant layout. Despite the many divisi in Répons, it allows for manageable study of the piece’s materials and flow.

There was palpable enthusiasm from the large number of attendees at the October 7th concert (I opted for this one to celebrate my birthday with Boulez!). It will be interesting to see how reception for his work evolves. Boulez had a somewhat fraught tenure with the New York Philharmonic in the 1970s, but he remained highly regarded in contemporary music circles and his music has hardly been neglected in New York. A memorable performance from a few years ago was a scintillating traversal of Dérive 2 at Miller Theatre. Thus one hopes that the Armory performances will be the first of many retrospectives. The strength of Ensemble Intercontemporain’s presentation should no doubt help to encourage further investigation of Boulez. It was a marvelous event both from the musical and theatrical points of view.

Performance at IRCAM

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On October 11, 2017 downtown Los Angeles was the venue for a new collaborative performance by Rachel Yezbick, Carole Kim and Eric Heep. Coaxial Arts, the new home of the wulf experimental music concert series,  welcomed in a mid-week audience that arranged itself on the floor and along the brick walls in quiet expectation of an unconventional program.

The performance space was darkened as the program opened with Eric Heep’s Bubble playing through the speakers. The sounds were realized from digitally generated oscillations that were processed by computer using a bubble sort algorithm. The result was a series low buzzing sounds that gradually increased in volume and lowered in pitch. After a few moments a new starting buzz was heard, and the process repeated. The close acoustics of the Coaxial space amplified the details of density and texture as each new sequence of the piece proceeded. Sometimes two pitches very close in frequency were heard so that zero-beating occurred. At other times overlapping sequences were heard at widely spaced frequencies, giving rise to a variety of interactions as these unfurled downward. In one sequence, the initial buzzing was heard to have a sharp attack followed by decay and this resembled the striking of a large cathedral bell, minus its tone.

Eventually Bubble ran quietly down and at a given signal, Rachel Yezbick and Carole Kim stood up and approached a large gray latex bag in the center of the space. They entered  one at a time, until both were fully enveloped in its close folds. A wireless microphone was embedded with them and sent the internal sounds back to the computer for processing and into the sound system. All was quiet as the crouching shape lay motionless on the floor and this marked the beginning of The Ground Beneath Her Feet. The amorphous shape and the darkened space allowed the imagination to work, especially as the gray latex bag more or less completely obscured the human forms within. When lying or prone, the shape was seen as benign,  like a sleeping house cat. When creeping along the floor, the shape became something both strange and curious. The movement, the breathing sounds and the occasional suggestion of body and limbs convincingly conjured a presence that was alive. When the performers rose up and moved menacingly towards the audience,  seated just a few feet away with their backs against the wall, primal instincts took over and this change of posture suddenly felt threatening – as if a bear had wandered into Coaxial Arts. The entire performance was very engaging; that a large gray  bag containing two performers could evoke so many different perceptions was remarkable.

As expressed in the program notes, there were deeper intentions behind The Ground Beneath Her Feet:  “… the yearning for shape and the resulting assault against the surface when the desired form is untenable.” Taken from the title of a Salmon Rushdie book, this piece “reflects on the trauma of breaking through into new worlds, metamorphoses and aspiration.” As the work concluded there was much cheering and applause as the two performers emerged. This piece is physically strenuous and on a warm night Ms. Yezbick and Ms. Kim appeared as if they had just come from an extended workout in the gym. The Ground Beneath Her Feet vividly portrays the yearning and struggle for meaning while the striking movements and gestures of the performers completely captured the imagination of the audience.

Photo by Brittany Neimeth

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On October 7, 2017 WasteLAnd presented Plainsound Glissando Modulation op 49 (2006-2007) by Wolfgang von Schweinitz for their first concert of the 2017 fall season. Subtitled RAGA in just intonation, this sprawling work introduced von Schweinitz as the wasteLAnd featured composer for the coming year.  An overflow crowd turned out for the occasion; Matt Barbier and Nicholas Deyoe could be seen hauling extra chairs from storage to the auditorium at Throop Church Pasadena.

Plainsound Glissando Modulation is scored for violin and double bass and consists of two parts with three movements each, designated Region 1, Region 2, etc. Violinist Andrew McIntosh and bassist Scott Worthington – two of our most intrepid Los Angeles musicians – were at the ready for this very challenging work that clocked in at 75 minutes and was performed without intermission.

Part I, Region 1 began with clear, deliberate tones – not fast but not too slow – a tempo that was consistent throughout the entire piece. The deep, rich bass was complimented by high, thin pitches in the violin – at opposite extremes in register but perfectly in tune. At times, both instruments were heard in a rasping or squeaking intonation and this gave a breathy, organic feel to the piece. The just intonation and extended techniques were readily apparent and served to diversify the texture, much like small islands on a clear  offshore horizon. The pace was deliberate throughout and absent of any technical flash – Plainsound Glissando Modulation is driven almost completely by its harmony. Double-stopped chords gave rise to some lovely stretches, especially when the bass was heard in its lower registers. Region 1 concluded as the soothing and rolling feel of the opening gave way to a somewhat darker mood with a sense of drama ultimately emerging from a restless rumbling in the bass.

Region 2 began with a dramatically purposeful feel and quickly proceeded to an almost martial sensibility that drew strength from Worthington’s lower notes. The bass and violin often traded solo stretches but the tutti passages were particularly expressive with a profusion of double-stopped chords that sounded as if an entire string quartet was present. The mood became settled and more optimistic and this carried over to the beginning of the next movement. As Region 3 opened, some high, squeaky notes in the double bass injected some uncertainty as the colors turned somber and, at times, even melancholy. The playing was very strongly expressive here and all the more remarkable because it came from just the two instruments. Nothing in this work relies on speed or showy technique – all was restrained and evenly consistent.

Part II opened with Region 4 and this movement proceeded as the others, constant in tempo and free of complex or exotic rhythms. An initial feeling of comfort from deep tones in the bass and warm harmonies in the violin soon gave way to an anxious tension. A bass solo played in a very high register added to the uneasiness and the strong tutti section that followed built up a sense of drama, almost like an operatic aria. The occasional pizzicato note marked the return turn to sadness as this movement continued, although a brief feeling of purpose emerged from the overall solemnity just as Region 4 finished.

Region 5 followed directly, the second movement of Part II. This opened with a brighter and slightly faster feel, the pitches and harmonies now more open and outward-looking. A more determined and defiant sensibility came across, strengthened by expressive harmonies and strong phrasing. Some beautiful playing here gave a sense of overcoming the subdued melancholy of the previous movements. Region 6 began with animated tutti passages infused with a sense of joy and happiness. Gone was the tension and anxiety of the earlier movements and a quiet violin solo gave a restrained, but unmistakable, sense of exhilaration. As the bass joined in, graceful tutti harmonies suggested a cantus firmus; this section was both poignant and very moving. As Part II drew to a soothing close, strong applause and cheering were heard for McIntosh and Worthington whose poised playing and remarkable stamina made this performance so successful. Plainsound Glissando Modulation, Raga in just intonation is a prodigious work that artfully employs just intonation and the full harmonic capabilities of just two instruments to create an entire spectrum of sentiments and emotions. Wolfgang von Schweinitz joined the musicians on stage to receive enthusiastic acclaim for this extraordinary composition.

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Orchestra Moderne, a new ensemble founded by conductor Amy Andersson in March, will debut at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, October 7, 2017 at 8pm with a program celebrating the legacy of immigration to America titled The Journey to America: From Repression to Freedom (Part 1).

The inaugural program features Peter Boyer’s Grammy-nominated work Ellis Island: The Dream of America, a haunting tribute to historic American immigration features seven actors reading stories chosen from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, accompanied by an emotional orchestral score and projected photos from the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Also on the program is Overture to Light by Emmy-winning composer Lolita Ritmanis, the world premiere of Steven Lebetkin’s compelling Violin Concerto with soloist Momo Wong, and the beloved Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland.

Andersson is perhaps best known for bringing video game music and film scores to the classical concert hall through the music of Konji Kondo, the Japanese music composer, pianist, and sound director who works for Nintendo. She has led performances of Kondo’s The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses around the world. She is also a professor at the Berlin University of Arts, the music director at the CPE Bach Gymnaisum orchestra, and has led numerous opera productions in Germany.

Orchestra Moderne NYC aims to will engage audiences by performing music from film scores, video games, and concert music that is relevant and connected to the important cultural issues in our society. Its stated mission is “to create musical experiences that celebrate humanity and are connected to key social issues, resonating with diverse audiences of music lovers, and providing inclusive opportunities for all composers and performers including women and minorities.”

Tickets are available for purchase here and range from $17.50 to $50.

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