The Flexible Orchestra with a core of bassoons and contrabassoons performs September 28th, Thursday, 7:30 at the Ukrainian Restaurant, 140 Second Av. At 9th Street, conducted by our wonderful, Tara Simoncic.
It’s a “Concerto Program” with works by Daniel Goode (the orchestra’s founder), Krystina Bobrowski from San Francisco, David Demnitz from Gamelan Son of Lion, and violist/composer, Stephanie Griffin of the Momenta Quartet. In addition, as a gesture to the history of “multiples” of one instrument, we will revive Mary Jane Leach’s “Feu de Joie” for solo bassoon and six recorded bassoons. The soloist will be Sara Schoenbeck, our first bassoonist.
Goode’s “Concerto for Lecturer and Orchestra” is a setting of his wife, Ann Snitow’s lecture on how to survive backlash—ominously relevant to now. Ann will perform the solo lecture.
David Demnitz’s “Savor Pelog/Shading: Clarinet Concerto” is written for Goode playing his instrument. It was originally a piece for gamelan orchestra, which he as transcribed for the Flexible Orchestra.
Bobrowski’s premiere will feature her on french horn. Stephanie Griffin will feature herself on viola.
For further information, write Daniel Goode at
No reservations are needed for the concert. For before the concert dinner reservations, call the restaurant at:
Remember the concert starts at 7:30!
Gorgeous, beautiful, moving! Just to start with: the set by Robert LePage represents the sea with wall-to-wall horizontal strings of LED lights flecked with sprays of lighting changes. Glittering minimalism at its best. The characters play in between the rows of lights. The story makes the sea a central character. It separates and then unites the lovers.
I’m going to be able to cut corners on facts because of Alex Ross’s excellent review(s) in the New Yorker. I’m sure the NYTimes has good stuff to google also.
So Saariaho. She’s Finnish and 64. She’s so good it’s almost scary! Most contemporary opera never gets to this level. And she’s the first woman opera composer at the Met since Dame Ethyl Smythe in 1903. I just learned that Smythe’s opera was on a double-bill. But this is opera about a troubadour where the love story is actually moving, the physical encounter at the end though limited, is passionate and sexy. The death of the hero—this time, unlike so many opera deaths—from illness at sea is reasonable in Medieval times. She’s a “countess” (Susanna Phillips) and a fabulous, passionate creature who comes alive both to the fantasy of the hero from across the Mediterranean, and the real one in the flesh, The troubadour is a powerful baritone with a tenor upper range (Eric Owens). The Pilgrim is the only other character, genderless, but beautifully sung by Tamara Mumford. She’s the go-between for the lovers.
Yes, Wagner’s Tristan…, Yes, also Debussy’s Palleas…” and also the neoclassical revivals of “antiquity” by Lully and Gluck and others. The chant-like chorus emerges importantly as a part of the feel of antiquity. But Saariaho is her own person. The libretto in French is syllabic (one note per syllable). That makes it declamatory. It’s delivered almost entirely in a double-gapped scale (larger than one step between consecutive scale notes, like the “harmonic minor” but with a second gap earlier in the scale).
I found this an over-used device that made the singing feel contricted by the scale, though the singers worked against it. And the wonderful mid-views and close-ups possible in the movie theater created so much drama, character and emotion that it hardly mattered in the end. The camera was active without being intrusive. The sound was excellent at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. This is an amazing medium for opera. What will it do to the Met live performances? Well, that’s their problem. They must reduce Met ticket prices at least.
I’m still bothered and always will be by the opera singer’s vibrato, especially in this case by the baritone. In the close-ups of the Pilgrim, you could see her lower jaw vibrating to create the vibrato. Less so with the lead soprano. Whenever a “straight” tone emerged, I was enlivened. A mixture is what one hopes for.
More has to be said of the cluster-y, drone-using orchestral harmony. Vocal pitches are almost always embedded someplace in the orchestra texture. Sometimes, as in the ending, a very persuasive bass tone underlies a tonal center. At other times the texture with filigrees of solo instruments takes over, and a kind of pan-everything pleasurable sound suffuses us.
Thumbnail Review No. 50
Sunday, September 18, 2016 at 7:30 PM
The Loft of Daniel Goode and Ann Snitow
167 Spring Street – bell #3
New York, NY 10012
subways: E. C, 6, 1, N and R
tickets $15/ $10
no advance reservations
Can you imagine a piece that combines the athleticism of an uphill marathon run on a continuously steepening course with an ethereal, other-worldly sound that takes you out of-body?
I’m excited to invite you to a truly rare experience, the first performance in decades of Bill Hellermann’s extraordinary solo flute piece Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December. The athleticism in this piece is a non-stop circular breathing run for close to an hour! And what is being circular breathed? A highly evolved, gorgeous multiphonic world shimmering though a continuous breath tremolo! This incredible duality between the physical and ethereal makes for a musical and emotional experience unlike any other. Those who heard the premiere of this piece at Phill Niblock’s loft in 1979 remember it vividly.
Before I coalesced my identity as a composer-performer, there was a period in the 1970s when I asked a number of composers to write works for me. Of the solo flute pieces from that time, Three Weeks… is by far the most unique and indeed the very best.
I’ve wanted to revive this work for quite some time, and now it’s happening! I’ll be recording Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December for New World Records on September 21 and 22, and this public performance is a celebration of the work and the wonderful friendship and collaboration between Bill and I that made it possible.
I’ll also be performing two of my pieces for solo contrabass flute, Afterimage, Before and Our Cells Know. An extremely athletic work in its own, maximally percussive way, Afterimage, Before is surely the first flute work dedicated to Ginger Baker, my favorite rock drummer. Our Cells Know, the title track of my recent solo contrabass flute CD on Tzadik Records, is a lyric work dedicated to the beautiful spirit of Stephanie Stone.
Bill Hellermann on Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December:
“Three Weeks in Cincinnati in December is the last of four compositions I wrote In the late 70’s for solo instruments. They all feature a focus on a specific instrumental technique that was both unusual and difficult. Three Weeks… was exceptional in that it featured three such techniques taking place simultaneously: circular breathing for close to one hour, a continuous diaphragm tremolo, and a succession of beautiful yet very challenging multiponics.. The piece was conceived of and written in close collaboration with the extraordinary flute virtuoso, Robert Dick. Without his involvement I would never have dared to write such a piece and without him it never could have been performed. The intent of all the pieces in the group of four was to explore the special tension attained through the intense physical and mental focus demanded of the performer. This results in sounds I feel have a very complex, not entirely predictable, beauty.
The title is from a chance remark made by Peter Gordon during a conversation around the time I was finishing this piece.”
Bill Hellermann graduated from the Univ. of Wisconsin in Mechanical Engineering and arrived in NYC in 1962, where he performed in the Village as Guilliermo Brillante, flamenco guitarist. Following a series of minor miracles he became a composition student of Stefan Wolpe’s, got a DMA in Composition at Columbia, did post graduate studies with Morton Feldman at the Chock Full of Nuts at 116th & Broadway and wound up in SoHo exhibiting sculpture, scores, and photographs, as well as composing and performing. In the 70’s he was a curator at PS 1, The Clocktower and the Alternative Museum, where he launched the first exhibitions of sound sculpture and audio art — in the process bringing into usage the term “Sound Art.” Among his many awards is a Prix de Rome from The American Academy in Rome.
All eighteen of his Etudes for Piano, composed between 1985 and 2001. A tour de force of composition, and of pianism by Taka Kigawa. Several of them played from memory. Most read from huge cardboard paste-ups. No page turns! The notes must be very small and the pianist, very good eyesight. I’ve been an admirer of Ligeti since the days of LPs. I have many. I should look at his notation. But Taka carries away the huge cardboard paste-ups after each of the three sets.
I’m amazed by what I’m hearing. Speechless, but I would like to say something. Rather bland words below. Add color!
Up the piano it went.
Down the piano it went.
In the middle of the piano it stayed. Then up, then down. To the top. To the bottom. Bam! Tonal? No, but something like it. (Schoenberg said there was no such thing as atonal.)
Fast, faster and fastest it went. Then faster. Loud, loudest. Terribly soft. Terrific activity then over, there’s another layer, low, softer, slowly ending underneath. That happened again in another etude. And again. Is there another way of listening to this? Should a “Schenker diagram” be forming in my head? N/A.
Dreamy slower, but never too slow. Suddenly come in some irregular accents. Dream is over. Louder, much. Regular accents, violent, but not for long. Nothing too long. This is Europe, not the U.S.
Why do I think that this piano converts everything into 19th Century music? It’s not the pianist. He’s doing more than just his job. Still, I think: Chopin, Liszt (that other Hungarian). Debussy. But how can this be since the program notes by Taka Kigawa tell us of the fantastic numerical and rhythmic facts about the pieces. Algorithms gone wild. Or maybe semi-wild—”poly” is just not strong enough a word for these rhythms. Super-Poly? Is my impression of the Romantic era because of the pedaling? and is that Ligeti’s or Kigawa? Seems right for the material. Not too much. Just enough. So, why? Should the touch be more “mechanical?” That seems wrong. So, why?
Poetic titles: L’escalier du diable, Vertige, A bout de souffle, White on White, Automne å Varsovie—is this last an in-joke about the Warsaw Autumn Festival, or composed for it?
I notice the pianist’s frequent use of the soft pedal—for all soft passages. Yes, I can hear the difference. I like the sound. Is it in the score? or is it the pianist’s decisions? (Should I ask him, I think afterwards. But there’s a line.)
I’m in the front row of tables. Across the table is the NY TImes music critic. I ask him if he’s going to write about it (I saw him scribbling in tiny red handwriting). He says: yes.
In Wednesday’s edition. I’ll get it. It’s a big crowd at LPR. They are enthusiastic. So am I. I try my “bravo” whistle at the end, but it doesn’t come out. Wet my fingers?
I’m weary. So much effort by these tours de force dazes me. Maybe I need a drink?… Oh, I already had a drink, Le Poisson Rouge requires it.
Do I like the music? That almost seems superfluous.
And I really don’t know.
Maybe I’ll know in a week or two. Or more. If yes to like, could it be like a lot Maybe admire is safe. Respect? No problem. But like? That’s the issue, isn’t it? To have on that desert island with you. And what about love, need? Another thumbnail for that. And another for the issues that lie behind this post.
Thumbnail Review No. 49
It’s hard to know where to start with Larry Polansky’s new Three Pieces for Two Pianos. There are more than three pieces on the New World CD, and they are not all for two pianos. But let’s say we start in the middle, with the third of the three pieces which Michael Winter rightly calls, in his excellent liner notes, an “epic.” Or, on the other hand, let’s jump in with the next track, Old Paint, a rather sad folk song that was sung to me as a child by Tony Kraber, actor and folksinger, at our school fair.
It is sung softly to us here by the young, talented pianist, Rory Cowal, too soft to hear the words, but with the slow swinging rhythm of the original which acts like a baby’s crib for the song, cradling it in a bath of non-related piano tones. So beautiful! Half-way through I started to sing softly with Rory, even though I don’t remember most of the words. It was more than an exercise in nostalgia—though that is the sentiment of the song about leaving a favorite horse and his home town of Cheyenne. It’s a piano piece that just moves you in a slow triple rhythm.
So on to the epical third movement of the Three PIeces for Two Pianos, played by such sensitive pianists, Marilyn Nonken and Joseph Kubera. Like many of his pieces this one begins softly, poignantly, only to betray that mood gradually with an outpouring of wonderful “cacophony.” Caused apparently by what I’d like to call Larry Polansky’s “irrational canons.” They quickly stream into a low bass-register stream, and into at least one stream in the treble range. The ear tends to simplify at least in early hearings, so I’m saying one treble stream for now. Larry has used canonic practices in many earlier pieces, typically staggering the voices’ entry times so that they all end together. Here the canonic texture can only be heard as fabulous heterophony. This gluing together of tones into streams that decorate unisons into spikey non-unisons is such an important development in modernist (and beyond) music. One can’t really account for much great music of our times and before without heterophony. You can get there—to heterophony—by many routes. Mike Winter, composer and liner-notes writer can help you with Larry’s!
I sense that his usual canonic practice is not the case here with piece no.3, but rather there is a big bubble effect that starts at the beginning, then continues on with a maximum explosion of energy in the middle, and a soft, again poignant, ending. Not all algorithmic composers do as Larry does, shaping the expressive output along with the notes.
The first of the three pieces starts out almost like a Chopin prelude. But overlays soon obscure a single-minded trajectory. There are dominant seventh chords, and a couple of re-beginnings. You sense that inside of the complexity there are the modules of the earlier material. Only the second of the three pieces and its following “Interlood” feel amorphous. But even here as throughout, the harmony however generated, algorithmically or otherwise, is complexly interesting, and probably immune from chord labels and any simplistic analysis.
There is more to say about the other pieces. The k-toods, for example, which for the composer is about parenting, and for the listener about a set of romps, some of which claim a kind of motoric, ostinato quality that says to me: ‘I’m not a minimalist, but I can repeat and excite!’ Interestingly, much of these latter pieces is based on guided improvisations. So bravo for the two players, Tobin Chodos and Ittai Rosenbaum. Both have backgrounds in improvisation and jazz. Ending the CD is an arrangement with stretched-out harmonies made from a Shaker hymn. played beautifully by Amy Beal.
So what is our conclusion—though none is needed: There is grandeur and quietness, sheer positive energy, and complexity of composition. Ives feels to me like a progenitor, but new algorithmic and compositional ideas have come since Ives. Finally one can only ask the listener to listen. And then, listen again!
Thumbnail Review # 48
Esa-Pekka Salone turned the Hugo Ball poem, KARAWANA, into a huge, sumptuous, post-modern orchestra piece so very much like the huge, sumptuous MODERNist orchestra piece he just conducted by Messiaen, his Turangalila Symphony. At the Philharmonic this week and last. I went to open rehearsals both times. Wonderful experiences. But:
Somehow I’m dying from too much chocolate. And yet—the symphony is so sexy; it hardly matters whether it’s sumptuous or not. It glows in the light or the dark.
So, what’s to complain about? Really not much, just that the great Dada master, Hugo Ball’s wonderful nonsense poem with allusions on almost every made-up word, like bung (which occurs three times in the short poem), is not really audible, intelligible in the orchestra piece, or worse, not funny in the declamatory way it is funny if you recite it yourself. Try it in the attachment I’m including.
There’s nothing funny in the Messiaen piece. It’s too beautiful to be funny. So, two non-funny, almost too beautiful orchestra pieces. Then there’s the deflationary Hugo Ball telling you it’s all bung. And he’s telling you in a beautifully collaged sound-text graphic which he designed. Now we’ve got three beauties, and very little satire left.
But Ball will win it back from beauty once we recite his poem in our own voice. And also…let’s get off it about beauty being bad for art. Not true. Even in the most mundane, unbeautiful Fluxus event, presentation can be beautiful: the toy paper boats being blown about in a tub of water. Whose beautiful piece was that, I don’t remember. It might be George Brecht. Bob Watts’s F/R Trace has the performer walk on stage with a French Horn, bell up. He (there was only one female Fluxus artist, Alison Knowles, with Yoko Ono a runner-up), thus he, would face the audience, bow, and out would come from the bell of the horn a myriad bunch of ping-pong balls. They would bounce and bung all over the stage, even into the audience; the sound and the sight was awesome. A one-liner. How beautiful!
So that’s what was missing. We don’t get it all from one artist, and that’s a little complicated to take in. We assemble it from parts made by several people, including from a gigantic, gorgeous orchestra that, nevertheless…leaves something out.
Thumbnail Review No. 47
January 24th, 2016
Birthday Concert #1: Chamber Music
167 Spring Street, 7:30 PM
with Joseph Kubera, piano; and Pauline Kim Harris, violin
Sonata for Violin and Piano (2014)
Piano Sonata #1* (2015, premiere)
OoMPAH for piano (2002, revised: 2007)
Relaxing at the Piano (‘70s) – performed by the composer
Piano Sonata #2* (2015, premiere)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (reprise)
• The two piano sonatas use piano music composed in 1959, extended and developed with newly composed material.
Birthday Concert #2 takes place on February 12th, 7:30 PM at the Cell: 338 West 23rd Street. Premiere of Clarinet Quintet, for clarinet solo (Moran Katz) and string quartet (Momenta Quartet) and a revival of Tunnel Funnel for chamber orchestra (Flexible Orchestra conducted by David Gilbert who premiered it in 1988), dubbed by VV critic, Kyle Gann, “Tune of the decade.”
DEAR FRIENDS, yes,
My delightful two-octave toy piano, pulled out of the back of a closet to star in my one-act, autobiographical opera, Irina, along with many other stars of the orchestra, like dramatic soprano, Kamala Sankaram, like wonderful ballet dancer au point, Mayu Oguri, like virtuoso principal violist AND composer, Stephanie Griffin, and like Maestra Extraordinaire, Tara Simoncic, our conductor since 2004.
Not to mention the other fabulous, amazing, dedicated performers, and old friends like Fritz Kraber on flute and with only a little reluctance on wooden piccolo (for only a few bars—thank you Fritz!)
TOMORROW, THURS, MARCH 31st AT THE UKRAINIAN RESTAURANT (great borscht) at 8 PM, 140 Second Av. at 9th St. $20 at the door. We’ve had standing room only at past concerts, so don’t delay. Show up!
And the fabulous ending to all endings: Phil Corner’s Ideal AMEN. He takes the ending of the Berlioz Requiem and ends and ends and ends that fabulous chameleon-like piece.
Oh, and Lev Ljova Zhurbin’s window into our eastern european past, its emotional melodies and thoughts, the slow-fast form of so many of those folk pieces.
I could go on. Violas extraordinary, all those sounds they can do: in Toronto composer, publisher, experimentalist, Gayle Young’s Departures. And Dean Rosenthal’s dedication to “deductive music” pioneered by Tom Johnson, last year’s Flexible Orchestra composer. And still more: Stephanie Griffin’s passionate new piece for SEVEN violas!
It’s the last year of “VIOLAS PLUS.” The Flexible Orchestra flexes into a new sound next year. So get the old sound now while it lasts!
SEE YOU THERE!