Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Charlotte New Music Festival, USA: Day 8

Back to the grindstone today! As far as I’m aware everyone hit their deadlines, but I think we’re all just a little bit bleary-eyed and un-bushy of tails. There’s a definite element of ‘that-monday-feeling’. However, no time to dwell on that, just have to crack on and get back to the music.

William Heinze (Or ‘Wild Bill’ as we have affectionately named him!) is a bassoon player by trade (and has certainly got the T-shirts to prove it), and was up first for the monday morning presentations. Bill also double majored in Mathematics at college, and there is a methodical and mathematical element to his compositional style, and in particular his piece, “Morphisms” was written based on mathematical concepts, and I’m sure it would be a delightfully joyful piece for anyone who has a secure grasp of maths. My favourite of his presented pieces was a wonderfully humorous, “7.30am Ruins Everything” - a concept I can really get on board with! This piece showed off Bill’s great ability to create imagery, and include a fabulous ‘alarm-clock’ motif which generated a fair few smiles and giggles around the room. I highly recommend you check this piece out - it made me smile on a monday morning, at least, which is a huge achievement! https://soundcloud.com/bill-heinze/730-am-ruins-everything

Next up was Matt Magerkurth, but unfortunately, I had to duck out of the presentations at this point to attend a rehearsal with Great Noise Ensemble (more on that later) - but he was able to send me links to his music so I was able to listen to it on my own and at least get a semblance for his work. From talking to everyone who was in Matt’s presentation I knew that his music was incredibly well received by the group, so I definitely wanted to know ‘what the fuss was about’ so to speak! Matt’s a young composer, only 19 and still at college, but the calibre of the work he is producing is pretty damn amazing. His piece "Off Centre" which was commissioned by the university of Nebraska Lincoln's Chamber Music Institute creates an amazing landscape of something very out of kilter. He expresses that 'being centred is something he feels he is constantly striving for, but is perhaps something that is not quite achievable, at least for him. This is definitely something you can really hear in his music, and the essence of 'organised chaos' is brilliantly portrayed. Have a listen for yourselves: https://soundcloud.com/matt-magerkurth/offcenter

Last up for the presentations was Jeremy Parel. Jeremy’s style was probably more ‘crunchy’ than the other guys presenting this morning, and I know he has a rooted love of punk-rock music, which I can really hear in his music. A piece which was greatly focused on was entitled ‘Letter’, written for 4 hands at piano & soprano voice. This piece came from a very personal experience for Jeremy, which I do applaud him from being willing to present, as it’s certainly something that, as composers, is extremely difficult: presenting a personal piece for scrutinisation can be like a punch to the heart. For me, I don’t think this piece is quite there yet, I think Jeremy can afford to spend more time with it to develop it, and give the subject matter the care I think it deserves. The MIDI realisation of this piece also didn’t really reflect the piece, but that aside there are some interesting harmonic concepts in Jeremy’s music - his other piece ‘Quintet’ showed some lovely colour in writing for double bass.


Great Noise Ensemble rehearsing "Voul-ous enne P'tite Goute?" (by me!!)
As I said before, I had a rehearsal with Great Noise Ensemble today, where I got to hear them play my piece and iron out any issues/discuss performance ideas and the like. This rehearsal was fantastic: not only am I really happy with how the piece sounds, but the musicians from the ensemble all love playing it, and had some really positive things to say about my compositional style and techniques in general. And, I’m super excited that Shawn Gavin, the vibes player for my piece has in fact played percussion for Jason Robert Brown (a concert version of ‘Songs for a New World’) - now, that’s just all kinds of awesome!

The afternoon session today was a masterclass, presented by John Fitz Rogers, in orchestration, focusing on how to create colour within a score, and how orchestration is not just referring to a full orchestral ensemble, but that it refers to the sound of all music, from large groups to solos. For someone who's been out of education for a few years, this was an amazing refresher course in things I already knew, and also a new perspective on how to think about and approach orchestration, for any instrumentation. John had some amazing things to say about resonance, and also how there's only ever really three things going on at any one time, which sounds bizarre to most people, but when you really listen (and look at a score) you can see how there's only ever really foreground, middle ground and background in terms of layers - or at least, that's how it should be when it's well written (Holst's 'Planet Suite' is an excellent example) - at the very basics, really great orchestrations come down to melody and accompaniment. This class certainly has re-awakened my love of orchestral music: I wouldn’t class myself as an orchestral composer, I’ve only written two full orchestral scores, so I think I’ll be having another go in the very near future.


In amongst the audience and using the space
The monday night concert was a performance by the Loadbang ensemble, held at the New Modern Art Galley in downtown Charlotte, featuring new works written by the workshop composers (Ian Gunthrie, Zack Merrit, Daniel Choi, Zack Pentacost, Matt Magerkurth, Niki Harlafti, Carter Rice, Scott Miller) and one by guest composer Armando Bayolo. Loadbang are incredible performers: I think you could literally throw anything at them and they would make it work. Comprised of Baritone Voice, Trombone, Trumpet and Bass Clarinet, it is an unusual combination of instrumentation, and one that poses many challenges to the composers, but one that everyone really made the most of with their pieces. The space offered some difficulty, being a small but boomy space, I found the the Baritones falsetto (particular the area where his chest voice meets the falsetto) was lost a few times, which is big shame - however, the ambience of the space worked exceptionally for all the new music. In particular, I personally really enjoyed Zack Merritt’s piece **Insert Name Here**, and Carter Rice’s very ‘tongue-in-cheek’ “Vocalis” - the piece that seemed to resonate most with the audience in general was Armando Bayolo’s “Last Breaths”, a piece create to honour six men who were unlawfully shot by law enforcement, in particular, the last 3 movements of the work create a very reverent and powerful atmosphere, one I’m very glad to have been a part of as a spectator. 


Just not an american festival without 'Beer Pong'
It’s been a full on day today, and not surprisingly, we all did our usual unwinding pub-sessions and silly drinking games…. I’m sensing a theme emerging…. but that's how we roll as composers - we work hard, but we play even harder! - It’s good to be back into the swing of things for the second week though, so hopefully the energy we generated from today’s activities will pull us all through. Of course, the #bantermobile is banter-tastic, and now has it’s own theme music - “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” by John Adams, as demonstated/conducted/sung by Daniel Choi. 
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