Gérard Grisey ~ Le Noir de L’Etoile (1989-90)

Gérard Grisey (1946-1998)
Le Noir de L’Etoile for 6 percussionists, tape and live electronics (1989-90)

This regional premiere of Le Noir De L’Etoile was performed on 11/19/12 at Rowan University by Dean Witten with an Alumni All-Star Ensemble. The musicians were Matthew Witten, percussion 2; Anthony DiBartolo, percussion 3; Brittany Hoffman, percussion 4; AJ Lustig, percussion 5 and Mika Godbole, percussion 6.

I was bummed about missing Talujon’s performance of this massive work at last year’s Bang On a Can marathon, so finally now I can hear it in its entirety.

Time Travelers ~ Kickstarting Andy Akiho’s First Percussion Quartet


Time Travelers, a new percussion ensemble that features Ian David Rosenbaum, Gwen Burgett, Ayano Kataoka and Svet Stoyanov, came together in 2012 to perform and record Paul Lansky’s Threads for Bridge Records. The success of this project led to their first commissioning initiative: a new percussion quartet from rising composition star Andy Akiho. This piece is Akiho’s first for percussion quartet, and Time Travelers will premiere it at venues across the United States in April 2013. They are funding the commission for this project through the great Kickstarter.

The campaign needs $7,000 in 8 days time–They have made over $2,400, but they need your help, so, please check them out! There is a video of the pitch for the campaign on the link below, but right here is a video of Akiho and Rosenbaum performing another one of Andy’s original pieces:

Andy Akiho: Karakurenai (Andy Akiho and Ian Rosenbaum, percussion)

Click here to donate to the Time Travelers/Andy Akiho Percussion Quartet project

Lisa Pegher’s New York Debut at The Cell (A Review)


Lisa Pegher
The Cell, NYC
Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Written by Sharon Mizrahi

© 2012 Sharon Mizrahi

The lights dim, then darken in the intimate confines of The Cell. A single spotlight glows over a drum set in center stage. One figure emerges from the corner, picks up two drumsticks, and pounds out a jarring thwack. The figure is Lisa Pegher, and though her epithet of choice is “solo percussionist,” this intrepid powerhouse is more than just a drummer. Pegher is an alchemist of time, sound, and space, crafting visceral landscapes that penetrate the ears and mind. But most poignantly, she epitomizes experimental virtuosity, uniting the abstract and the concrete to form a transcendent whole. Continue reading

Lisa Pegher ~ Interview/Preview of her New York Debut at The Cell

Percussionist-composer Lisa Pegher will be making her first-ever New York appearance at a venue called The Cell on Thursday, June 28th at 8 PM. In this concert, she will be performing works by composers such as Paul Lansky, Tobias Broström, a world premiere by Joe Sheehan, and even a collaboration with visual artist Ben Hill on a piece she co-composed with Andrew Knox.

Lisa had some time to talk to us about this concert.

CM: Can you talk about your start as a percussionist and what drew you to those instruments?

LP: My first experience with drumming began in fourth grade like many other young American players. I was “tested” to see which instrument I should play in grade school band. The teacher handed me a pair of sticks and it was as if I already knew what to do. There was something about those sticks that felt right and came easily. Having come from humble beginnings and a somewhat unstable early home environment, music became a close friend at a very young age. When everything seemed to be falling apart, the sticks were always there for me to hold on to. And growing up, music was a great emotional outlet and also a provided a place where I could find solitude. Continue reading

Chicago Transit Authority ~ “Beginnings” (1969)

Normally, I want to pontificate on artists or bands that have something truly worth talking about, but I’d rather just let the music speak for itself this time, as I kind of been doing lately anyway.

I did explain in a previous post that this particular track has an ending that really moves me in a weird way, when it just brings the percussion up and fades, like the band picked these instruments up, partied with them and in a conga line went out the door. Amazing.

Jason Treuting: on Sō Percussion and Related Things

Jason Treuting performing on the bicycle wheel during one of his compositions with several fellow artists at an appearance at the Ecstatic Music Festival, Merkin Hall at Kaufman Center, NY, 2/23/12 (Photo courtesy of David Andrako)

Jason Treuting, composer and performer from the great Sō Percussion had time for me the little blogger that could (I’ll never get used to talking to these guys, so, I need a pinch for every post)!

Sō Percussion has The Cage Bootlegs, along with some exceptional recordings in It is Time for Steve Mackey, The Woodmans soundtrack for David Lang, and so many others (Buy them if you can), but Jason Treuting is also very active as a composer and collaborator with other artists, and given that many artists are working on all of these things at once, it’s crazy not to address everything as you’ve seen on these pages. I spoke about the Ecstatic gig already on the janus piece I did, but I’d be remiss not to ask him about it, regardless.

Jason spoke with me via Skype. Continue reading

Amy X Neuburg/Cory Smythe at Roulette: A Review

Photos courtesy of Glenn Cornett

Amy X Neuburg/Cory Smythe
Brooklyn, NY
Dec. 13, 2011

It’s East Meets West…coast, that is.

On the stage of the old-school charming Roulette in Brooklyn was yet another creatively edgy program, put on this time by the pairing of West-coast avant-cabaret artist Amy X Neuburg and New York’s own pianist-composer, ICE’s Cory Smythe. Presented without an intermission, the show was almost entirely electronic or electro-acoustic in nature (with the exception of a refreshing burst of Fats Waller’s “Handful of Keys” from Mr. Smythe), and most of the pieces were composed and/or arranged by both of them. Continue reading

Composers: Keeril Makan

“…Time is your canvas and sound is your paint…”

Though these words were spoken by just one of many teachers composer Keeril Makan had in his musical upbringing, their continuing effect is obvious. His distinct brand of controlled cacophonous music is receiving wonderful press (The New Yorker, Newsday, Sequenza21, and even yours truly ;)); His works have been performed by great ensembles such as the Kronos Quartet, Bang On a Can All-Stars and Either/Or; His music has been featured in numerous festivals throughout the world (MATA Festival, Other Minds Festival, Gaudeamus Festival, Voix Nouvelles), and he is the recipient of several awards including the 2008 Rome Prize (American Academy in Rome), as well as awards from Meet The Composer and ASCAP. Even with such massive buzz as a composer, Keeril is also handling the position of Assistant Professor of Music at MIT. He managed to take some time and talk to us about his composer beginnings as well as his current CD Target, and a little about his life as well.

CM: When you studied violin, were you thinking of a career as a violinist with any kind of soloist aspirations?

KM: I enjoyed playing violin, but I realized at a certain point that I wasn’t really a performer. I have tremendous respect for musicians who can both master their instrument and connect with an audience. I actually stopped playing violin for a number of years during college. When I came back to it in graduate school, it changed my composing. I suddenly reawakened my physical connection to sound. Ever since then, I try to play the instruments that I’m writing for if I have the opportunity. This is how I wrote both Zones d’accord and Resonance Alloy. My physical exploration of the instruments connects the music with the idiosyncrasies of my body. It makes the music more personal, and I think more unique.

CM: What was it that led you to start composing?

KM: I started composing when I was in high school at the Interlochen Arts Camp. I went as a violinist, but I took classes in conducting and composition, and found that I spent most of my time composing during those summers. I like to tell the story of the first day of that composition class. The conductor said to all of us that composing is like painting, except time is your canvas and sound is your paint. Now go compose. There wasn’t any instruction given, or models put forth. I think this had a profound impact on my life as a composer–you just compose with what you have. There is no correct way, there’s nothing you need to know before you start. As you compose, you create your own tools and teach yourself what you need to know. It’s a continual, changing process, and there are no guidelines other than your own search for self-knowledge.

The Noise Between Thoughts (Either/Or Ensemble; Keeril Makan Portrait Concert, ICA, Boston, MA; 3/17/11)

CM: Who is your biggest influence?

KM: There are too many influences to name–many teachers, many colleagues and many friends. I’ve had some great teachers, but none of them were domineering figures. When I was younger, that made things difficult because I had to find my own way. As I’ve grown older, I’m thankful for the space that those early teachers gave me. All of them contributed to my growth, but none of them are towering over my shoulder as I’m composing.

CM: The piece titled Target you had written as a song cycle with poet Jena Osman. How did the idea for this piece come about, and was it your idea to collaborate with Jena?

KM: I was selected to participate within a workshop at Carnegie Hall on writing for the voice with John Harbison and Dawn Upshaw. When I was notified that I was selected, I was only given a week to find a text that I wanted to set to music, and get it cleared by Carnegie. I had met Jena at the Djerassi artist residency program, and I liked her work very much. I asked her if she had any texts that might be suitable, and she gave me a few different options. The texts were meant for performance, although in her case as spoken word. She gave me a lot of freedom to rearrange the texts as I needed. I don’t quite remember now, but I think there were two main texts that I rearranged into the five songs of Target.

CM: I must say, with the top-range notes and the dramatic weight of it in general, the piece was very powerfully sung by Laurie Rubin. What was it like to go through the process of working with her on this piece?

KM: I was assigned Laurie as the singer that I would work with by Dawn and John. I quickly searched her on the internet and learned she is blind. I talked to Laurie on the phone about her voice as well as by email, and she sent me recordings of her singing, but she never mentioned to me that she was blind. I figured that since she didn’t mention it, and she was having professional success as a singer, that I didn’t need to take her blindness into account in my composing. It’s actually a difficult part, with a lot of detail in terms of vocal inflection and rhythm. Her process for learning a piece is to have the text put into braille and have her accompanist teach her the melody by ear. But once she learned it, she’s had a string of remarkable performances with the piece.

Target (IV: Leaflet II; Laurie Rubin, mezzo-soprano; California E.A.R.)

CM: There is this incredible collapse/explosion at the end of the violin/percussion duet 2. By the way, the piece itself employs such a great use of the sonata form, but how was that last part done? Did the acoustics or production play a role, or did Jennifer [Choi] and David [Shively] slam everything they had into it? I really thought there was a third musician handling electronics on the recording (I even checked)!

KM: The ending of the piece is a structured improvisation for violin and bowed thunder sheet. David had showed me the marvels of the bowed thunder sheet when we were at college together at Oberlin, and I had been waiting for the right moment to use it. There are no electronics on this CD at all. The violin utilizes some techniques used in Zones d’accord which helped it blend with the bowed thunder sheet.

It’s funny that you should mention sonata form. When I was writing this piece, I was consciously trying to avoid any references to forms that I know. Every section explores its idea, and then never returns. I think Morton Feldman said something like if a composer succeeds in realizing his intentions when he starts a piece, then the piece will fail. Hopefully 2 is a success as a piece, so my intentions regarding the form are secondary.

CM: Zones d’accord is the unaccompanied piece for cello. Again, I thought there was an electronic element somewhere in the performance (or if it was an electric or a regular cello w/pickup) only to realize there wasn’t, and the soloist [Alex Waterman] made such a harmonic drone that sounded like guitar feedback (and the whole piece is wonderful, btw). Probably a dumb question, but do you have these instructions marked down in the score to make the musicians go to this extreme?

KM: Because I had been playing the cello as I was writing the piece, I was able to figure out how to very efficiently tell the cellist how to get the sounds I that wanted. It’s a combination of bow pressure and location, and placing the fingers of the left hand between nodal points to get some of the multiphonic-like sounds. There are short written instructions to indicate how to do the various techniques.

CM: Resonance Alloy is the percussion solo that closes the “Target” CD. You probably saw me say this in the review, but some of the structure of this piece reminds me of something a jazz group would play where the band plays the theme, takes turns playing solos, and then returns to the theme. Are you a fan of jazz and if so, did this have anything to do with the inspiration for Resonance?

KM: There’s a lot of jazz I enjoy and have a great respect for, but it’s never been a major influence on me. For me, this piece comes out of the experimental tradition, composers like [Alvin] Lucier, [James] Tenney and Reich. I certainly wasn’t composing it with a theme in mind; rather there is a continual timbral transfiguration in the piece, and an underlying rhythmic process where the rhythm simplifies, and this usually announces a new section of the piece. I’m guessing that it’s these moments of articulation that you’re hearing as points of return in the piece, which is my intention. Without these moments, I think the listener would get lost in the continual sound/noise transformation.

Resonance Alloy (excerpt; David Shively, perc; Keeril Makan Portrait Concert, ICA, Boston, MA; 3/17/11)

CM: Are there any future plans or fantasy projects you have for any specific artists on the drawing board?

KM: There are two big projects that I’m working on. The first is an operatic adaption of Ingmar Bergman’s classic film Persona, with a libretto by Jay Scheib. It is being written for Alarm Will Sound. We are still looking for commissioners and presenters for this project. I’ve written a piano/vocal score over the past year that I’m very excited about. It’s the first vocal music that I’ve written since Target. The second is an evening-length chamber piece for Either/Or for 2 clarinets/bass clarinets, percussion and string trio. We just received a Meet The Composer commission for that, which will be premiered in 2014.

Mu (Masumi Rostad, prepared viola; Longy School of Music, Boston, MA 2009)

Official website
Keeril’s new CD at Amazon.com
In Sound
Keeril’s first CD at Amazon.com

CD Reviews: Keeril Makan: Target

The thing that I notice more than anything else hearing the pieces on Keeril Makan’s second CD Target is that they almost all seemingly have a similar structure of a setup, a climax, and an unraveling of sorts.
While the opening piece for violin and percussion titled 2 has the biggest unraveling you’ll ever hear at the end (Tam Tam and scratch-tones that are made to sound as if a metallic building is collapsing on top of a den of lions inside The Grand Canyon if Arizona was The Sistine Chapel), its layout is much more sectional and varied like a Liszt or Schubert sonata. The piece overall is played with such brilliance by Jennifer Choi and David Shively, and I particularly enjoy the shrill, faster section.

The solo cello piece Zones d’accord (performed by Alex Waterman) starts with a distorted drone (One that makes one reminiscent of some great moments in guitar feedback) that descends into furious passages and piercing phrases that fall back into a more silent drone.

The title piece Target, written in collaboration with poet Jena Osman as a commentary on US military intervention tactics (with actual military leaflets sampled in Osman’s texts), is a 5-song cycle performed by contemporary chamber ensemble California E.A.R. and mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin. In a slow-rising chord progression on “Twister I” (By contrast, you hear the reverse of the progression on the final section “Twister II”), Rubin, doubling on the melody with the flute (and backed by strings), sings at the top of her range once the piece is fully-engaged. Rubin does this with such fearless abandon, and she is equally compelling when she sings a few phrases in a dry, vulnerable half-spoken a capella.

Resonance Alloy is an epic all-percussion piece performed by David Shively. Scored for 3 cymbals and a gong, the piece gradually moves you through various degrees of vibration and volume using only simplistic gestures on the metallic objects, and as they each take a solo as in a jazz combo performance, the piece is eventually brought back to the opening theme.

After receiving great press from the NY Times and a blessing of an endorsement by David Lang on the CD’s liner notes, I can safely declare that Keeril Makan is definitely a composer that is destined for greatness, and this recording is proof of that. Just when you start to think “It’s all been done”, he proves that it quite possibly hasn’t been.

Link for purchase on Amazon

Official website for composer Keeril Makan

Composers: Jennifer Higdon

Jennifer Higdon, one of the top living composers of our time, has let me interview her for The Glass. Someone pinch me.

Anyway, Jennifer Higdon, born in Brooklyn, NY and eventually settling in TN, had her beginnings in high school band. A self-taught student of the flute, she had further study and experience at Bowling Green State University, where she met and worked with conductor Robert Spano for the first time, and then The Curtis Institute of Music in Philly, and it was here that she studied with composer David Loeb and earned her Artist’s Diploma. She came back to Curtis a while later to teach 20th-Century Music History and Theory (She even had a particular student in this course that we’ll discuss later).
A winner of many awards (Including The Pulitzer Prize for the Violin Concerto, and a 2010 Grammy for the Percussion Concerto), Higdon has since become one of the most favored American contemporary composers among orchestras both in the US and abroad.

CM: Okay, so, you taught yourself the flute, which, by itself is an incredible achievement, then your flute teacher Judy Bentley wants you to write an original piece for the flute. How did this impact your artistic abilities, and then how did things progress from there?

JH: I think having a chance to actually organize sound onto the page completely opened my musical world. Once I had written that first piece and heard it played, I became entranced with the idea of doing it more and more. I also must have had an innate interest in it, because I recently found some sketches that I had made (very primitive) when I was in high school, attempting to write music. But I have to admit, everything in my musical world changed profoundly with the first composition. It has been a steady road since them, filled with lots of dips, backslides, forward jumps and hefty climbs….actually about 30 years worth! But worth every frustration and joy.

CM: Before you started, we’ve learned that you grew up with virtually no classical music around you, and later on when you learned the flute, it led to composition. Was the sound of classical music something you needed to acquire a taste for around this time, or was that more or less simultaneous with where you were headed?

JH: I don’t know that I needed to acquire much taste in it…since it hadn’t been part of my world, I found it kind of interesting to listen to when I first encountered it. I probably have had to develop a taste for older classical (the Romantic and Classical periods). I really had my first experiences through 20th century music, which I loved. So some of the music felt natural, and some of it, I still really have to try to sit through calmly (meaning it’s more of an effort). But the developing interest in it was quite simultaneous (I’m still learning the standard rep).

Higdon: running the edgE (Mary Matthews, Melissa Werthheimer, flutes; Justin Bird, piano; Peabody Conservatory, MD 2010)

CM: After an extensive array of solo and chamber pieces were created by you, then came the orchestral music, and among these pieces is the astonishing “blue cathedral”, written as a tribute to your brother Andrew Blue Higdon. This must have been the greatest way of showing everyone how you felt about him, and this piece is definitely evident of that. Can you talk about him, the work’s narration of him and your thoughts about its reception when it premiered and its continued performance today?

JH: I was happy to be able to write a piece that serves as a tribute. I’m very glad that the piece worked (the night before the first reading of the work, I was thinking that it didn’t work at all). Andrew was always a generous, kind individual who loved being the Bohemian artist. My Dad gave him the middle name of “Blue” so that if he ever decided to become an artist, he could go by that name. He had a very natural gift for creating wonderful visual arts, even as a young child. And he loved music, usually rock & blues. Most of ‘blue cathedral’ is me trying to come to grips with his passing, and the idea of whether life would (for me) be about living or about death. I kind of wrestled with that throughout the writing of the work, and by the time I reached the end of the work, I had decided that Andrew would want me to focus on living.
I have to say that it’s profoundly moving how many people are affected by the piece. Even when program notes haven’t been published about the work, it seems to make a real impression. And I couldn’t be more pleased by the number of orchestras that have done the piece…something like 300 or so. I frequently meet musicians who come up to me and tell me they’ve played the work and that they enjoyed it. What a great thing for a composer.

Higdon: blue cathedral (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Robert Spano, conductor)

CM: So along comes an ex-student of yours named Hilary Hahn, and she commissioned you to write a violin concerto. She was your student at Curtis when you taught 20-century music history and theory. The dynamic of the movements (Especially when I hear the way the pensive 2nd movement sets up the forceful finale) really does seem to lend itself to the possibility that it could be the story of her journey in that course because she reportedly was not yet a fan of contemporary music when she started it. Can you talk about how that course relates at all to the narrative of the concerto?

JH: I loved teaching that 20th Century class. We covered something like 40 composers during the year, and it ran the historical gamut of Debussy forward to music written yesterday. I covered commissioning and the history of each piece in terms of the commissioners, which seemed to be a revelation for many of the students. We also spent a lot of time talking about the development of the musical language and most importantly, their responsibility to be a part of their own time through performing and commissioning. I think that class may have been the first where Hilary heard so much music…active listening in class and debating were key to the design of it. And I think it was probably one of her earliest experiences composing and performing her own works (a requirement in the class). The whole idea was to open new vistas in their minds and expand the way they define and think about music. She’s a great sign that it worked. And boy, am I glad! Talk about reaping the benefits of what you’ve sowed.
The narrative of the concerto is primarily an exploration of Hilary’s performing gifts and talents.

CM: The concerto was, for me, the most anticipated new work I’ve ever wanted to hear largely because of Hilary, but it was great to hear (EDITOR’S NOTE: At least partially, I was late; LONG story) during one of its premieres in 2009 a whole year before the CD was released (And I was very pleased to hear it start to finish when I got the recording). Did you ever anticipate during any of that time that it could be the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize?

JH: I never imagined that the Pulitzer Prize would be connected. I have a feeling if you asked other Pulitzer winners, they’d say the same thing. It’s pretty surreal.

Higdon: Violin Concerto (III: Fly Forward: Hilary Hahn, violin; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Vasily Petrenko, conductor)

CM: It’s evident that when you compose pieces for players you are familiarized with their previous work. For Hilary, it was her Schoenberg, but when you had written “On a Wire” for eighth blackbird (Which I just heard, and love), how much of their stuff had you heard when you wrote it for them? The piece, by the way, sounds very much like a concerto for chamber ensemble and orchestra.

JH: I always make it my job to really know the performers for whom I’m writing. With 8th Blackbird, I was probably more familiar than with any other artists. “On A Wire” was the 3rd work I had written for them (“Zaka” and “Zango Bandango” were the other 2). We had been friends since 1999, and I had heard them perform about 4 dozen different works. I had also hung out with them enough at festivals and concerts to get to know their personalities. So for me, the real challenge was to get orchestras to go along with the types of things I wanted to do in the piece (like prepared piano and piano bowing…a real first in the orchestral experience). I also knew we wouldn’t have a lot of rehearsal time, and so to get the colors and techniques in the orchestra to blend with the soloists’ very unusual techniques, was a real balancing act. Add to that, the serious job of mapping out the choreography of who would play what pitches, move their bowing lines at particular times, pick up guitar picks and mallets, play inside the piano, and then play their own respective instruments…well, it was a lot of extra work, but so worth it. The audience is always stunned by this piece…it’s amazing to watch. And you’re right, it is a concerto for chamber ensemble and orchestra.

Higdon: On a Wire (rehearsal excerpt; eighth blackbird and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor; Aug, 2010)

CM: Would you say that concertos have become your specialty as a composer? There’s the “Violin Concerto”, a second Violin Concerto with chorus titled “The Singing Rooms” for Jennifer Koh, “Concerto for Orchestra”, “Concerto 4-3″, the “Percussion Concerto” that just won a Grammy, and you even have a “Piano Concerto” that we’re still waiting for.

JH: It does seem like it has become a specialty, now that you mention it. I also have an Oboe Concerto and Soprano Sax Concerto. Oddly enough, it just happens that there seemed to be a lot of performers asking for concertos. They were all pretty tricky to write, as balancing a soloist with orchestra is challenging. And for “Concerto 4-3″, combining bluegrass and straight classical was hard. But I’ve been pretty pleased with how they turned out. The Piano Concerto had a gap of 4 years between the writing and the premiere, so I had to go back and learn that piece when it came to the premiere (it seemed like another composer had written it). Yuja Wang did an amazing job premiering it….and we’re working on getting that recorded now. These things sometimes take a seriously long time. I’m definitely more comfortable now with the art form than I was when I started, but maybe that’s because of all of the practice.

Higdon: Percussion Concerto (Lisa Pegher, drums and percussion; Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra; Kirk Gustufson, director, Jan 2010)

CM: Just out of curiosity, do you write pieces simultaneously?

JH: I’ve tried this, but find it difficult to pull off. My pieces change language and intensity and design quite a bit, so it’s hard for me to keep them separated, so I only do one at a time. That allows me to live in the world of that piece and really work it over in my head.

CM: Have you ever thought about composing operas?

JH: Yes! August 10th will reveal just that, a new opera project. I always try to challenge myself, and this is definitely going to be a major learning experience.

CM: I also wanted to know if I could ask you about the piece that Hilary wants you to write for her upcoming ’27 pieces’ project (If it’s completed and has a title and everything)

JH: My contribution to this project is a piece called “Echo Dash”. I believe I heard that it’s supposed to be premiered October 23rd in Chicago. But I’m not sure that’s even accurate. I am looking forward to hearing all of the works involved in this project. Hilary has really taken to heart the idea of an artist’s responsibility to be a part of the creation of new works. I always tell folks, you won’t be remembered in history for your performance of Beethoven, but you can make history by commissioning and performing new works. That’s the most profound way to make a mark!

EDITOR’S NOTE: A special nugget I found:Higdon: Trumpet Songs (Stanford Thompson, trumpet; Elana Jiveava, piano; 2009)

Official website