The second episode of Encore Houston presents KINETIC, the conductorless ensemble in their season-opening concert of 2016, “Illuminations.” a concert which began with the premiere of Luctus Profugis. Encore Houston, hosted by Joshua Zinn, airs Saturdays at 10 pm, with a repeat broadcast Sundays at 4 PM, all on Houston Public Media Classical.
What characterizes American classical music today? The Da Camera Young Artists explore this question at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in a concert entitled “Defining America”. The performance features the music of living American composers Angélica Negrón, Jason Treuting, and Karim Al-Zand’s Duo for Flute and Cello. Performances are free and take place in the exhibition’s galleries at 2pm and 3pm on Saturday, February 4th. Performers include Amanda Galick, flute and Sonya Matoussova, cello.
Ring the Bells at Break of Day was written to mark the 40th anniversary of the Shepherd School of Music, as part of a project to commission each of the school’s faculty composers on this auspicious occasion. The piece is a short, joyful and celebratory work, which commemorates the outstanding music-making that has flourished over the school’s history. The piece was premièred on December 2, 2016 under the direction of Larry Rachleff.
And, oh, the bells at break of day
That roused us, ringing merrily!
—John Morgan (1889)
I wrote Ring the Bells at Break of Day while living in Rome in 2016, and it features a stately chorale tune, Inni e canti [Hymns and Songs], which rang daily from a bell tower across the street. The graceful hymn is interrupted by a quick, punchy theme in the winds (and later, strings)—perhaps the sounds of street bustle and frenetic motor traffic. Eventually the majestic chorale returns: in a solo horn, a short fugato, and finally in combination with the ecstatic, lively music. The piece closes with the jubilant pealing of bells.
Kinetic, the dynamic conductorless string orchestra led by Natalie Lin, performed the world premiere of Luctus Profugis on October 16, 2016. The performance, at the MATCH theater in Houston, was as part of its “Illuminations” concert, also featuring works by Britten and Schoenberg’s Verlärte Nacht. The concert was also attended by member of various Houston refugee relief agencies and advocates, including PAIR Houston.
Luctus Profugis is a lament that reflects on the current European refugee crisis. The title translates roughly from the Latin as “Grief for the Displaced.” The word “profugus” has a connection to the opening lines of Virgil’s “Aeneid,” which describes one of the earliest refugees: Aeneas fleeing the Trojan war to the shores of Italy. In Luctus Profugis, the percussionist at the heart of the ensemble plays a simple three-note motive that repeats for the duration of the piece. Its persistence symbolizes for me the refugees’ journey, their tenacity, courage and resilience.
The current European refugee crisis started in 2015, when tens of thousands of migrants began fleeing their war ravaged homes to seek asylum in the West. Displaced families, primarily from Syria and other areas of conflict, endured perilous journeys to reach safe destinations in the EU. The most dangerous routes have included crossings of the Eastern Mediterranean to ports in Greece and Italy. Thousands of migrants are estimated to have perished at sea. In the United States, which arguably has played the largest role in catalyzing the migration, the reaction to the crisis has been characterized politically by inaction and fear-mongering. Governors in 26 states (including Texas) have refused to settle Syrian asylum seekers. To date, the US has settled 0.05% of the total number of refugees. Canada and Germany have settled over 19 times that number. It is my hope that Luctus Profugis serves as not only an elegy, but also a call to action.
Violinist Natalie Lin and pianist David Mamedov performed the final movement of Imaginary Scenes on February 20th, in Washington, DC as part of the Shepherd School of Music’s contribution to the Kennedy Center’s Conservatory Project. View the terrific performance of Whirling Dervish above.
The wonderful young conductor Cristian Măcelaru, currently Conductor-in-Residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra, will present the European première of City Scenes on February 12, 2016 with the Romanian Radio Orchestra.
Musiqa has just been honored with an “Adventurous Programming” Award from Chamber Music America and ASCAP, its second such award in three years. Three ensembles and four presenters were selected to receive 2016 CMA/ASCAP Awards, which will be presented at the Chamber Music America National Conference on Sunday, January 10, 2016 at the Westin New York at Times Square in New York City. Cia Toscanini, vice president of concert music, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), will present the awards. Established jointly by Chamber Music America and ASCAP, the annual awards recognize U.S.-based professional ensembles and presenters for distinctive programming of music composed within the past 25 years. The recipients, chosen by an independent panel of classical and jazz chamber music professionals, were evaluated on the basis of their programming and innovations in attracting audiences to performances of new music. Musiqa
Classical Voice North America (Journal of the Music Critics Association of North America) reviews SOLI Chamber Ensemble’s October 5th opening concert, which featured a program of works by Pierre Jalbert, Anthony Brant and my piece Swimmy, narrated by Texas Public Radio’s Nathan Cone.
Al-Zand deftly embodies in music the spirit, delicacy, and subtle colors of Lionni’s illustrations (projected on a screen for this performance). Especially delicious are the rhythmically cockeyed walk of a lobster and the serpentine gliding of an eel “whose tail was almost too far away to remember.”
The September issue of La Tenda, a monthly cultural magazine based in Teramo, Italy, reviewed Tagoriana, a CD on Albany Records that includes my Tagore Love Songs. The recording features mezzo-soprano Aidan Soder, baritone Paul Busselberg and pianist Calogero Di Liberto.
…Al-Zand chiude la Tagoriana con la sua giovanile immediatezza e la sua inventiva melodica che non rinuncia alla tradizione liederistica e si compenetra perfettamente con i testi da lui scelti.
…Al-Zand closes out Tagoriana with a youthful immediacy and melodic invention that does not reject the lieder tradition and perfectly interprets his chosen texts.
San Antonio’s SOLI Chamber Ensemble performs Swimmy on Musiqa‘s October 10th concert at the new Midtown Arts and Theatre Center (MATCH). A preview feature appears in the Houston Chronicle. The narrator will be actor Seán Patrick Judge. Other pieces on the program include works by Anthony Brandt, Pierre Jalbert, Marcus Maroney and Carl Schimmel. Performances of this same program will also take place in San Antonio on October 6th and 7th with narrator Nathan Cone.
The Museaux Trio (Syndey Carlson, flute; Denise Fujikawa, harp; and Brian Quincey, viola) have just released their debut CD, which includes a recording of Studies in Nature, a work commissioned for them. The piece is inspired by the illustrations of biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919). His seminal Kunstformen der Natur (1899–1904) features beautiful, elegant renderings of newly discovered sea organisms. A species of radiolaria appears on the CD cover (below). The recording is released on Albany Records and is available for download at iTunes and Amazon.
The Summer 2015 edition of SYMPHONY, the quarterly magazine published by the League of American Orchestras, features an article by Thomas May entitled A New East-West Polyphony, which highlights composers who are “drawing on their Arabic, Turkish, and Iranian roots to enrich America’s orchestral life.” The Houston Symphony’s performance of my City Scenes is mentioned, as is the work of Mohammed Fairouz, Fawzi Haimor, Mariam Adam, Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol, Kinan Azmeh, Kareem Roustom, Malek Jandali, and Reza Vali.
Richie Hawley of Little Frenchie Filmhouse has just released a new film featuring pianist Christopher Janwong McKiggan playing my Paganini Reverie. The film’s visual style is an homage to Alfred Hitchcock, specifically his 1959 film North by Northwest. Hawley is the former principal clarinetist of the Cincinnati Symphony and a current faculty colleague at the Shepherd School of Music. His films are always lively and kinetic, elegantly filmed, produced and—most significantly—eminently musical. Chris McKiggan is a virtuosic young pianist whose musical versatility and innovative programming of new works are hallmarks of his artistic style. His recording of Paganini Reverie can be found on his CD Paganimania.
The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2015–2016 season, which will include an April 30th, 2016 performance of Visions from Another World, under the direction of Cristian Macelaru, Associate Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. An announcement of the season appears in the Edmonton Journal. Also on the program is Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 and Elmer Bernstein’s Guitar Concerto.
In Bach’s Goldberg Variations there’s a brief passage in variation 13 that presents some curious counterpoint. At the start of that variation’s second half (m. 17) there is what appears to be a parallel octave between the bass and the upper voice. It’s the result of an appoggiatura in the soprano—a decoration which is one of the characteristic melodic motives of the variation. Bach embellishes a repeated B (the last sixteenth of the second beat and the first sixteenth of the third beat) with an appoggiatura C. At this same moment, the bass also moves from B to C. It doesn’t look like much on the page, but the parallelism is pretty striking and obvious in performance—nothing else is going on at that moment. I’m not sure if this measure makes it into Brahms’s Oktaven und Quinten catalogue, but it’s definitely a good candidate. It’s also an interesting example of a melodic practice Leopold Mozart rails against in Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule. The B on the third beat is already a non-chord tone: it’s an accented upper neighbor, which resolves to the A that follows (a sixth over C in the bass). So Bach’s decorative melodic C is essentially embellishing an embellishment—decorating a non-chord-tone with a chord tone…!? Leopold Mozart tells us “this can surely never sound natural but only exaggerated and confused.”
But I think this interesting contrapuntal detail reveals even more. It makes an argument for performance practice here: that this appoggiatura (and presumably all the others in this variation) must correctly be played “short.” That is, rather than being coupled to the following B to form a thirty-second-note pair, the C should be played swiftly and clipped. These two possible realization exemplify the distinction between the long appoggiatura, which “takes its value” from the note it precedes, and the short appoggiatura, which “has no value.” The former are played on the beat, the latter before the beat. Understanding and performing this appoggiatura as short, and thus occurring before the beat, means there is no parallel here after all!
In my limited survey of Goldberg recordings, performances of variation 13—as one might expect—usually break neatly into “period performance specialists” who play the appoggiatura short (Pinnock, Leonhardt, Staier), and pianists who play it long (Gould, Sokolov, Schiff). But not always: Perahia gets it right (perhaps not surprising, given his noted musical intellect) and so does Kempff, but Landowska doesn’t.
Recently my friend, mezzo-soprano Aidan Soder, travelled to Kolkata, India on a Fulbright fellowship. She was there for research, performance and teaching—all stemming from her work on Western vocal settings of poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941). Tagore was a Bengali poet, writer, painter and composer—and the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. Aidan’s singing can be heard on the CD Tagoriana, a recording which includes my own Tagore Love Songs. Here’s a review in Ei Samay, the largest Bengali language daily paper, which speaks of her project and performance at Jorasanko Thakurdalan, Tagore’s ancestral home. It also (apparently) mentions me and my music—but unfortunately I can’t read any of it!
Musiqa presented the final program of its 2014–2015 season tonight at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston—the last of its “Loft” series—surrounded by the colorful, sensuous and provocative art of Marilyn Minter. Performers Hope Cowan (harp), Ling Ling Huang (violin), Leah Kovach (viola), Francesca McNeeley (cello) and Aaron Perdue (flute), presented chamber works by Sean Friar, Anna Weesner, Philippe Hersant, Laura Schwendinger and Hannah Lash.