Bach and beyond
Tonight's livestream will feature a piece that is new to me, my first ever performance of Theme and Variations on "Draw the Sacred Circle Closer" by Adolphus Hailstork. Dr. Hailstork is Professor of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He has a long and storied career, but don't be fooled; he is still writing important works for orchestras (and more) across the country. I was familiar with his name, but not really with his music. I think that is at least partly due to the fact that for many years I was immersed in the "Uptown" modernist styles of composition. Dr. Hailstork has his own distinctive compositional voice, and it inhabits a stylistic range that is comfortable with traditional tonality. He has been ahead of his time in that way.
I found on this piece by happy accident, after stumbling onto a YouTube video by cellist Timothy Holley. Thank you to him for the introduction and to Dr. Hailstork for writing this delightful piece!
I urge you to learn more about this important American composer: https://www.adolphushailstork.com/bio of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.
Last month, a new string quartet was born. While following strict COVID-19 safety protocols, Inés Voglar Belgique, Ruby Chen, Jennifer Arnold and I gathered with composer Damien Geter to rehearse and record his String Quartet No. 1 "Neo-Soul." The station has been operating under carefully constructed safety rules since last March, and was nearly empty, since most employees are working from home on any given day. An air purifier had been running noisily before our arrival, and as you can see from the picture, we were quite spread out. I'm not gonna lie...it took time to get used to being so far apart, and I'm not sure we ever felt 100% adapted to it. It's so much harder to hear each other, and of course, masks don't make it any easier to communicate. You know chamber musicians use eye contact to communicate while they're playing, but this experience helped me see how much we also use facial expressions. Still, we all felt fortunate to have the opportunity to play together!
The four of us have in fact all played together a great deal over the years, both in the Oregon Symphony and in various chamber music groupings. Jen came to Portland especially for this occasion, from her new home in Richmond, VA, and it was such a treat to see her in person and play with her! I really hated not being able to give her a big hug after not seeing her in over a year, something I know you all can relate to. Damien is one of many composers to have long-awaited premieres derailed by the pandemic. The Oregon Symphony was to have presented his new African American Requiem last May, one of the cancellations I most regretted last Spring. When we are able to perform live again in the hall with large forces, Damien's Requiem will be rescheduled as soon as possible, so that's something to look forward to.
We were able to rehearse this three movement quartet very efficiently, which was important for COVID safety and necessary for scheduling reasons. Jen was working remotely in her position as Director of Artistic Planning and Orchestral Operations of the Richmond Symphony and the rest of us had a variety of online teaching obligations to schedule around. Right away during the first reading, it was evident that we had all played together a lot. Things come together so easily when you have a huge foundation of shared musical experiences to draw from! Equally important to this ease is that Damien writes wonderfully idiomatically, meaning that things really work on the instruments. His parts were clear and accurate to the nth degree and the music was so compelling, it swept us along. It was great to have him there for much of the rehearsal time to answer questions, but future performers of this wonderful piece -- and there will be many! -- will not need that. This is what you want in a score and parts, needless to say. (I am being so cut and dried. To be clear, we had fun!) Also, Damien's presence was kind, calm and positive, adding another welcome dimension to his contribution to the sessions. What a consummate professional he is! I look forward eagerly to more collaborations with him in the future.
The recording we made -- the best of two full takes of each movement in live performance style, engineered by Daniel Hornbeck -- will be broadcast tonight, 11-19-20, and again this Sunday, and will also be available in the Audio Archive for two weeks after the broadcast.. I can't recommend this any more highly! Damien's quartet is delightfully engaging and satisfying to play and will be equally so to listen to. It's tuneful and full of great grooves and lots of soulful beauty (as you might expect from the title) and I'm honored to be part of launching it into the repertoire. Also on the program is a new poem by S Renee Mitchell, also commissioned by All Classical Portland. I have seen her perform readings of her poetry and she is absolutely captivating,
On AllClassical.org, Thursday November 19, 7pm PT; Rebroadcast Sunday November 22, 4pm PT
Together Apart is the name of my newest composition, but it's also a way to describe how we're living these days. As soon as it became impossible to play live with others (unless you live with them), I started sketching out music designed to be played with latency and glitchy video conferencing-type connections. The idea was that even if you couldn't always see and/or hear your fellow musicians, the piece would still sound like it should, and there would be opportunities to rendezvous and stay on track, within parameters designed to be forgiving.
Of course, this is only worth anything if the intended audience can hear the aggregate result! That was beyond my tech capabilities -- and still is -- but Doug Jenkins of Portland Cello Project has found a way. In the photo below, you can see him in the computer screen, along with Diane Chaplin, Valdine Mishkin and myself. This is my view during our recent rehearsals. Yes! I said rehearsals! It was exhilarating to actually rehearse, and with two such extremely fine musicians. We could see and hear each other, three voices at the same time, and better than we actually needed to for the sake of pulling off the piece, which meant that we were able to feel that sense of musical interaction and communication for which we adore chamber music. Bliss.
The piece is non-metered and uses an aleatoric approach -- quite common these days in new classical music -- meaning that an element of chance is expected and unavoidable in performance. This has generally been used to introduce an element of chance or variability into the music, but I'm using it to allow for those things, due to the technical limitations of the online medium we're performing in these days. There are rhythms that are meant to be played in a relatively steady tempo, but if a player does something expressive with the time or if individual tempi vary, the design allows for that not to be a problem. There are periodic fermatas (holds) to serve as rendezvous points (visible at the very bottom of the music in the photo below), allowing for everyone to be caught up and ready for the next section, and it is always clear who has the material -- easily seen in the basic movements of the bow arm, as well as hearable -- that indicates the commencement of the next section.
My new notation software, Dorico, was ideal for this, since bar lines could be added only where I wanted them. Except for a few places where I manually shifted notes, they still line up vertically on the page (i.e. between the parts) in a manner that could be said to graphically represent their relationships in time. It's not a prerequisite for a successful performance that the players accurately realize the three parts in this way, since there is a lot of wiggle room baked in, but in our rehearsals, I noticed that we were often pretty well lined up! This is no doubt due to a couple of things: we were all using our computers with Ethernet (not WiFi), which reduces latency and increases reliability, and we are all three very good at keeping a steady tempo. Because we could hear each other, we were able to imitate the tempo, dynamic level and character of the first statement of each melody, and even make subtle adjustments along the way. That's chamber music! I don't mean to imply that we could hear and respond with anything like the same finesse and detail we could if we were in the same room, and the music (intentionally!) doesn't even have many of the elements that make something like a Beethoven string quartet require many, many hours of rehearsal. But, still...It was lovely to feel that sense of give and take, a little of that musical mind meld, that we are missing so much right now.
Even with Doug's tech wizardry and the investments and improvements the three of us have made in our own equipment, we're still at the mercy of the Internet, with all its vagaries, so I suppose there's no guarantee that we'll always be able to hear each other with so little in the way of lag and glitches. This piece, and any others constructed in a similar way, wouldn't suffer musically if there were some of those problems, but when it goes the way it did in our rehearsals, we can revel in the experience of making music truly together, even though we're physically so far apart.
The Portland Cello Project is doing a livestream every Tuesday at 6PM PDT, and I'm referring to the one for May 26, 2020. (There may be plans afoot to share to other platforms, I don't have any details to share about that.) There will be five solo pieces in addition to this cello trio. Each Cello Tuesdays installment is available after the livestream on PCP's Facebook page, and the past ones are well worth checking out! Here's a link.
Tomorrow, May 10, 2020, I'll be performing the last leg of this weekend's Mini-fest by the Siletz Bay Music Festival in collaboration with the Lincoln City Cultural Center. LCCC has been offering "Creative Quarantine" presentations to their community, and the partnership with SBMF is a natural extension of that activity, since many SBMF events are held in the excellent auditorium at the Cultural Center.
Following a 3:00 family performance -- not just for kids, but including performances by kids! -- by violist Miriam English Ward and her family, I'll present some of my favorites, chosen especially for the occasion. SBMF offers chamber music, jazz and orchestra concerts each summer, and a versatile mix is a point of pride for the festival. In addition to Bach and some jazz-inflected, Bach-inspired selections my program will include a setting of a poem by Ed Edmo, "Celilo Fishermen." Ed is a Native American writer and Traditional Storyteller, and the premiere of a section of our collaboration about Celilo Falls was to have premiered on one of the orchestra concerts at SBMF this summer, so it seems fitting that I share a smaller collaboration between the two of us with the SBMF audience. My program will be:
"Prelude" from Suite in C major by J.S. Bach
"Allemande" from Jazz Suite by Lucio Franco Amanti
Tango para Ilaria by Carter Brey
Celilo Fishermen by Nancy Ives
All-Things by Kenji Bunch
Somewhere Over the Rainbow, arr. Nancy Ives
I hope you can join me! 3:30 (or when the previous program is done) on Sunday, May 10, 2020, on the Lincoln City Cultural Center's Facebook page.
I know that many concertgoers are noticing that more and more musicians are using iPads to perform, especially those who play a lot of new music. Not having to depend on the light in whatever space you find yourself in -- and outreach activities like Classical Up Close often take us places that are not designed for concerts -- and not worrying about wind blowing music off the stand when playing outdoors have always been appealing factors, but the advent of the 12.9" iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil, along with the availability of pedals for turning pages, has put it over the top: it's worth it.
This picture of my music stand shows an example of another reason I love having the iPad option. I'm working on Sabina for solo cello by Andrew Norman -- whose music I've really loved in Oregon Symphony performances -- and as you can see, the notes are very small from the cellist's vantage point. The iPad on its side does the trick. The pedal will "turn" the music to the next 1/2 page. Sweet relief for my eyes!
As soon as the stay-at-home order cancelled every cultural event in Oregon for the foreseeable future, Artslandia stepped into the breach with new content tailor-made for this moment of crisis. They have created a daily series of live-streamed events, "Virtual Happy Hours," featuring the broadest imaginable array of our region's creatives. This has given us, as both performers and audience members, a "place to go" to feel connected, entertained, uplifted, and informed -- but especially, connected.
My Virtual Tip Jar tonight will be on behalf of All Classical Portland, whose radio broadcast on 89.9 FM (and others around the region), stream at www.allclassical.org, and ICAN Children's Network are more important than ever. I hope you'll join me live tonight on Artslandia's Facebook, their website, or (even more virtually) by catching it archived. I'll post the program I perform here in case you want to know more about the pieces I'll play.
New website! It is indeed timely to have this improved functionality when the public side of our musical lives are taking place entirely on the internet. I plan on reposting the Bach blog entries soon and resuming that project, but for today, I have something else to share. Please consider following this blog by filling in the Notify Me box above. I'd love to stay in touch!
I did a really fun interview and photo session back in January for the April "InSymphony," which is the magazine that includes the month's programs for the Oregon Symphony in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall along with other features produced by Artslandia. Programs which could not happen, program books which were not given out to the audience...
No moping. Here's a link to that feature.