Two fascinating articles point to fascinating and imaginative applications of technologies from opposite ends of the spectrum - low and high. Wired magazine online profiles Volker Bertelman and his Hauschka project, a young pianist who performs on prepared pianos with both an eclectic mix of old and new technologies (that Ebow has me really, really fascinated!!) John Cage, naturally, would've been...well, referenced, at the very least, as he already is in the article. Kinda funny to see how digital programmers (like Pianoteq) on the one hand are trying to sound more like acoustic pianos, while pianists like Mr. Bertelman are trying to make their pianos sound more synthesized!
The New York Times writes about the YouTube Symphony project, where folks will be able to contribute their video renditions of orchestral parts from a commissioned work by Tan Dun leading to a final video mashup performance of jury-selected entries. The second part of the project involves an interesting twist on the traditional orchestra audition process, where video submissions will be judged by members of various major orchestras leading to an all-expense paid trip by Google for a Carnegie Hall performance under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.
Bold, imaginative, exciting - it's heartening to hear that classical music can find such a powerful venue to encourage fresh discoveries and new collaborations, and that "traditional" instruments can continue to re-invent themselves in cool ways!
A Concerto for the Coolest Cats in Classical Music
There are some days that i come home and think that i have the best job in the world. Yesterday was definitely one of those days, after spending time rehearsing a brand new concerto written by Jennifer Higdon for that uber-hip ensemble "Time for Three" and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Maestro Christoph Eschenbach!
Bluegrass, rock, classical Americana, combined with special effects from the T43 band galore (bow scrubbing, bass thumping, string slapping, wacky-wild slides...) - Jennifer has really put together a knockout piece that grooves so perfectly with T43's unique sound and musical approach!
This was a rarity for me: playing a conductor rehearsal in Verizon Hall itself, rather than in the Maestro's studio. What fun to rip into the piano reduction at full volume!
Nick, Zach, and Ranaan embody an exciting new vision for classically-trained musicians - bold initiative, fearless creativity, rip-roaring fun, mutual respect for each other, an infectious connection with fans and colleagues, all that topped together with artistry of the highest caliber. The future of art music is in awesome hands with these three superstars!
I don't know about you, but i guess being a former archer made me fall in love with Ranaan's bow quiver/holster thingy:
Go guys, go! This is sure to bring the house down, again and again!
i'm not a professional runner by any wild stretch of the imagination, but at least i've come to the point where i can actually enjoy my runs, particularly when i have great music to inspire me into that peculiar frame of mind that i can only describe as "the zone". i suppose this is the point where runners' endorphins kick in to produce that special "high" that makes you feel like you're flying over the road. i've always had a particular affinity for electronica for my runs, music that provides a steady accompaniment to the breathing and heartbeat rhythms as my body struggles to overcome the first mile of sluggishness and my mind gradually stops fussing about how i feel and settles itself into the delicious zen of the pavement.
With that in mind, i'm getting inspired to crank my MP3 runs up to the next level by adding tracks from post-minimalist composer David Toub. Close to a year ago (November 2006) i performed one of David's works - "objects" - as part of Sequenza 21's first ever live recital for contemporary art music. The original MIDI rendition of "objects" is now available on Amie Street, a terrific work for marimba, piano, and electronic organ - the hypnotic sonic blend would make for a perfect running companion!
Be sure to check out David's other Amie Street offerings, including some fascinating minimalist meditations for solo organ:
Minimalism, to me, is a bit like those old stereoscopic posters, where you let your mind's eye drift over the collage of patterns until a three-dimensional picture gradually emerges into view. Perfect for running music, i'd say - see you on the street, David!
While Amie Street is carving out a terrific niche for independent and alternative rock bands, i wanted to draw some attention to some of the Classical Music selections i found notable as a way of both introduction to new Amie Street listeners and as encouragement to my Classical Music colleagues to consider contributing more tracks to this fledgling new distribution website.
(Ok, i'm afraid that embedding these player files from AmieStreet.com might "break" those of you viewing this site with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, so hopefully y'all will just defect over to Mozilla's Firefox Web Browser en masse!)
Here's a little summary of some of the worthwhile Classical Music tracks that can be had for almost nothing on Amie Street:
The Ingrooves Symphony Orchestra has a pleasant selection of albums for folks new to classical music. You can't go wrong with building a nice, inexpensive beginner library of Easter, Christmas, and miscellaneous selections for orchestra and solo piano with the albums below:
i've got to learn more about composer Kobi Arad (i suspect he's also a pianist, given the high level of pianism chops in these recordings) - he's got an incredibly eclectic mix of hip hop, lounge, jazz, classical and contemporary classical compositions compiled over several albums. Really remarkable stuff here, if i may say so!
I can't think of a greater musical honor than to have composer create works that are dedicated to someone. Composer John Carollo met me 'virtually' in MySpace and we've enjoyed a wonderful collaborative relationship, particularly with the inclusion of three of his preludes into my first Visual Recital program. John recently completed three etudes within a larger compilation, and he was kind enough to share them with me as follows:
Thank you so much, John, for the incredible honor! This is the first time anyone has ever dedicated works to me - i can't wait to put them together for performance! Hope my chops are up to snuff...
Tonight i'm performing as part of a 2 piano 2 percussion ensemble, playing a work by H. Koprowski titled "Tutto Il Mondo - Esistenze Corta il Nostro Mondo (Short Existence of Our World)". Bad boy Hugh skimmed the music and thought, "no problem" again - i'm getting myself into more and more hot water with my skim habits!
Well, as you can guess, there was a problem - apparently, the piece calls for extensive passages involving plucked strings. In the past, the works i've encountered calling for plucked strings only required a few isolated notes here and there. I could chalk up the required strings and visually eyeball the spots as needed. In this case, there are simply too many notes to chalk up - the plucked passages are treated as full melodic events. This called for a different technique entirely:
Rather than label each and every note within a 3 octave range, i thought it would be more effective to just label the "black keys".
One problem i found was that a 9 foot Steinway has a crossbeam that angled in a peculiar way, blocking access to the lower strings - hence, i had to affix the lower note labels to the front of the dampers:
Needless to say, it makes for some awfully awkward maneuvering!
In contrast, my B Steinway (about 7 foot) in my studio has a different crossbeam angle, making for much easier - and consistant - access to all the strings i need to pluck:
Another problem i encountered was the technique of plucking itself. Viewing the strings from a standing position, the dampers actually block direct line-of-sight to their corresponding strings. During our rehearsal, i was making a horrid mess of trying to sightread the plucked parts and finding my finger hopelessly lost jumping from string to string. After some chagrined practice, i found that i could use the dampers themselves as physical - as well as visual - points of reference. Instead of just eyeballing the labeled dampers, i found that i could get reliable results if i physically touched the damper that marked the string i needed to pluck and angled my finger along the left corner of the damper:
I still have to get used to seeing the labels as "black keys" and not as the actual notes that i have to pluck, but with a little practice i'm already feeling much more comfortable about the passages. You'll notice that i've been using my specially designed music rack for extended techniques, first developed for my recording session with flautist Jan Vinci.
Thankfully, Maestro Don Liuzzi - principal timpanist of the Philadelphia Orchestra - will be conducting the ensemble for the performance tonight (having a nice conductor makes a HUGE difference in putting a complex piece together quickly and efficiently! Thank you, Don!!)
Chris Falzone, one of the piano majors at Curtis, will be on the second piano. Patrick Pastella, a current Curtis percussion student, and Pius Cheung, a Curtis percussion alumni, will be at the helm of the browbeaters.
The performance will be at the Loews Hotel on 12th and Market as part of a birthday celebration for Mr. Koprowski (90+ years young!) - i think it's a private affair; i'll be sure to blog more about the event tonight after the fact. Here's hoping that they have Steinway B's at the Hotel, NOT D's (the 9 foot concert grands). Also, gotta remember to think like an acoustic guitar player and NOT cut my fingernail!
Thought you might like hearing some highlights from my recent 2 piano recital with Walter Cosand at Arizona State University in Tempe. Charles Griffin was kind enough to send over a freshly inked score of his new 2-piano work, "From the Faraway Nearby: Homage to Georgia O'Keeffe", which received a wonderful reception from the audience - gorgeous, haunting, exciting work! I really love his writing! Two of the 6 movements are featured in the embedded player, "The Lawrence Tree" and "Sky Above Clouds I."
Other works included selections from Holst's "The Planets" and the Brahms F minor Sonata Op. 34 bis, the work which the famous Piano Quintet was based on (or was it the other way around? eep) We concluded with Witold Lutoslawski's "Variations on a Theme by Paganini", a nasty little piece that's a dazzling showstopper when it works! I'm including that as well in the player - enjoy!
Arts In Motion: Provocateurs at The Philadelphia Art Museum
The repercussions from last week's video recital segment with Lidia Kaminska continue - i'm really looking forward to attending the next show this Friday by Arts In Motion, a Philadelphia-based performing arts group that combines live classical music performances with innovative computer-generated visuals and video artistry. I'm reprinting the invitation email i received (with permission from the group) below - hope to see lots of you there in the audience with me!
Arts in Motion pays tribute to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's provocateurs - visionary subversives who have shaped the evolution of art. Classical virtuosi, DJs, and experimental video artists fill the Great Stair Hall with progressive music and immersive visuals inspired by the Museum's collection.
Live mixed video collage and three-dimensional music visualizations surround the audience, pulsing with the beat as fearless young artists fuse classical elements with next generation electronics. Drawing upon 500 years of musical evolution, Arts in Motion's amplified string quartet joins forces with some of Philadelphia's hottest DJs and electronic musicians. Results span the gap from Bach, Chopin, and Beethoven to Radiohead, electronica, and pop. Visuals draw inspiration from the greatest provocateurs of the past including Duchamp, Schwitters and Kandinsky. Experience the explosion of artistic boundaries as today's provocateurs challenge your notion of what art can be. http://www.myspace.com/artsinmotion to listen to some samples.
If you print out this e-mail, you will get a discount on the admission and a half price 'provocateur' drink as well.
DATE : 9/1/06 (First Friday in September)
TIME : Music Starts at 5:45
LOCATION : Philadelphia Museum of Art (26th & Benjamin Franklin Parkway)
Now i'm feeling a little bit like i did when my wife and i left the pre-opening screening of "Superman Returns" - great ideas, but something lacking in the execution, somewhat of a letdown. Here's what i mean:
"Today's Composers" is sort of a collective composers' podcast, providing a venue for little-known composers to be heard. For a relatively "small" fee, composers can submit works that are played in their entirety, without introduction, comment, or discussion. And that's precisely where i'm having a problem with the concept - this music can be difficult for the uninitiated to absorb. It's certainly easier to just slap up recordings and collect a little money on the side to help defray the cost of bandwidth, but it's another thing entirely to spend some time with the works submitted, to get to know the composer personally, and to explore and discuss the music in a way that helps folks get the most out of their listening experience. The submissions from the external homepage at http://www.todayscomposers.com/ seem to be stillborn - as of this writing, i count 11 submitted works listed dating from July 2005 sporatically up to January 2006. I also tried adding an iTunes subscription as per the site's instructions (you need to do this manually by entering the RSS feed xml file into iTunes' "Advanced"..."Subscribe to Podcast" menu options - why doesn't the webmaster put up a one-click subscription button?), but the feed seems to be dead in the water, as no files seem to be accessible anymore (the RSS icon doesn't appear on the site)...
Hm...i sense a well-intentioned effort that seems to have died an early death...
...but perhaps, there is hope. The MySpace profile for Today's Composers seems to have been very recently created (5/22/2006), although it appears that all of the works are just resubmissions from the original homepage (the String Quartet by Yohei Kurihara seems to be a compilation of the separate movements that were previously submitted, for example). But with only 64 friends as of this writing and 338 profile views (3 plays listed today from the MySpace jukebox player - all of them mine, i think...), i'm worried that this concept will continue to die a protracted death...
Don't get me wrong, that's NOT what i want to see happen!
I have a few suggestions for helping this collective composers' site to survive:
1. Get rid of the fee for now. Concentrate on getting composer submissions first, build volume, then perhaps introduce a nominal fee for additional work submissions. This collective needs a library worth listening to before it can become a meaningful tool to promote composers.
2. As of this writing, the Classical Music Group in MySpace has 3551 members. Even the 20th Century Contemporary Classical Music History/Criticism/Analysis Group has 151 members. If i were the creator of "Today's Composers", i would be spending as much free time as i could inviting the members of these and other similar groups to join my friends list - you would see an immediate increase in the number of plays and in the overall exposure of the composers featured on the page. This is the fundamental mechanism that makes promotion via MySpace work so effectively, but it won't happen by itself. You need to actively find your fan base and communicate meaningfully to them!
3. Speaking of composers, there needs to be links to each of the featured composers' MySpace profiles and/or personal websites prominantly placed on the page. Music for it's own sake is one thing, but to promote yourself as a vehicle to help composers gain exposure without actively promoting the composers themselves is an example of bad marketing that serves no one. Talk about the composers. Link to them. Discuss their music. Explain what they are contributing, and why it's worth investing time and energy listening to. I get really frustrated when i see good fruit dying on the vine for no other reason than a lack of simple care and attention (metaphorically speaking, of course - don't pay any attention to the dying ficus tree in my office...ahem, ahem...)
I've been dreaming about creating some sort of new music podcast series venue, and am in discussions with a number of composers about this. I was really hoping that 'Today's Composers' would be an example to follow for this type of venue, but that doesn't seem to be the case yet. Hopefully, i'll be eating my words in a few months and i'll see this concept explode with wild popularity, but i suspect that if some fundamental marketing principals aren't applied soon, then it'll be a long while before my mouth chews Nike leather...
How do you reach a video generation that has had virtually no formal music education and no relevant cultural connection to classical music? How do you communicate musical concepts to an audience that has virtually no concept of even the basic grammar of music, much less any acoustic discernment? What syntax do you use to bridge an illiterate listener?
Bloggers like Greg Sandow and a host of others are asking these questions and many more, challenging aspects of classical music presentation that may be alienating audiences and doing more harm than good in the name of antiquated and irrelevant traditions. At the same time, it seems that there are more and more young classical artists that are rising to the challenge in new and ingenious ways. Enter Philadelphia-based Arts in Motion, an innovative performing and educational arts organization that has used Curtis students and Philadelphia Orchestra musicians for some of their past performances, combining classical music with cutting edge visuals and groundbreaking presentations that seek to bring contemporary relevance to audiences and artistic evolution to musicians.
It seems that they use high-end Alienware PC's to generate proprietary computer graphics that can be synchronized to live performances via a tap-tempo input device. This seems to work on a 'live' video-game software architecture, where imagery can be manipulated in real-time. The graphics from some of their demo videos look like flying tadpoles soaring over an abstract valley, where each note played displays a new 'tadpole' that is placed higher or lower depending on the given pitch, and varying in size depending on volume. The viewing angle can be shifted around, and the landscape/note colors can vary accordingly, presumably in relation to the 'mood' of the music. This offers considerable freedom for the musician, as they aren't held to a strict 'click track' to keep in time with the music (a la orchestras playing movie scores, following along with the fixed pace of the visuals) and can play freely, with the visuals keeping in time with the music instead of vice versa.
Here is their mission statement:
Art is for everyone. That means you.
Arts in Motion, a non-profit corporation, presents concerts and education programs that bridge generational and cultural gaps while preserving and expanding the classical music tradition. Through collaborations with video artists, electronic musicians, poets, and interactive designers, AIM's informal and accessible concerts present new forms of multi–sensory art. Arts in Motion Education Department (AIMED) brings classical music to underserved youth with free performance demonstrations and computer–aided music composition lessons. Both AIM's concerts and education programs employ the latest technology to bring classical music into the 21st century
Be sure to check out their video gallery, as well as the link to WHYY from their site that features a great documentary on their innovative educational outreaches.
The Shark Moves On: Classical Music's Dorsal Fin Still Cuts the Water
A fascinating look yesterday by the New York Times at how classical music isn't merely surviving, but in fact thriving and growing, most notably in contemporary and baroque performances. My biased opinion? I think we're on the verge of a truly explosive growth in the classical/contemporary art music scene. My dream is to see stadiums - yes, stadiums - full of fans eager to hear the latest contemporary art music performances and compositions. I think that day may be nearer than one might expect...
Find me on Blognoggle's Top 100 Classical Music Blogs!
Wow! What an honor! My blog has been added to Blognoggle's Top 100 Classical Music Blogs! Blognoggle does a fascinating job of "shadowing" the most recent blog posts from their roster, effectively giving you a bird's eye view of the Classical Music scene today on a single page. Think of it as a dedicated/selective RSS reader (special browser based programs that capture feeds from sites that post new content on a regular basis - my favorite RSS reader currently is Bloglines, but there are several other wonderful readers out there) specializing in the field of classical and contemporary art music. Be sure to make Blognoggle New Music/Classical and a nice cup of coffee a part of your morning daily news routine! Thanks, Blognoggle!
Be Moved! Collaborative music project with Brian Sacawa and Willow Grove Students
Check out this innovative educational collaboration between Brian Sacawa and Evan Tobias' students at the Willow Grove Middle School. The project is called "Be Moved!", and it involves the students at Willow Grove writing short compositions for Brian, a concert saxophonist (and contemporary music blogger extraordinaire!) to record as digital sound files. The recorded sound files are then uploaded to a server for the students to download and manipulate into a final remixed composition. The project's activities are being documented on a blog, which presently features a great Q&A between Brian and the students. What a fantastic way for these kids to connect directly and creatively with professional musicians!
BTW, this is reminiscent of the Vermont MIDI project for composers - podcast interview with David Ludwig on that project to be posted soon!
Check out this New York Times article on Midori's efforts at championing new music. Also check out Midori's own website - some really innovative approaches to bridging connections between new music and reluctant audiences, including symposiums, DVD's mailed out to ticket buyers, and even a 50% discount on Midori's performance fee for presenters to take a chance on this type of programming. Kudos to Midori, and best wishes for her courageous artistic endeavors!
Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!