Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Charlotte New Music Festival, USA: Day 9

Cassie Weiland was first up today. Cassie probably has the least experience as a composer, having only switched to study composition in her junior year of college (she is a senior), and she chose to display her music in a journey, starting with the first piece she ever wrote (some would argue, an incredibly brave thing to do!). Entitled ‘Ripple' this piece, written for Piano, Alto Sax and Bb Clarinet is based on the concept of water ripples and the ebb and flow dropping a pebble in water will create. I really like Cassie’s use of harmony and imagery, and I sense elements of impressionistic music in her writing. Another piece that she presented that really appealed to me was ‘Hummingbird Heart’, a vocal piece for Alto/Counter-tenor and piano. I think Cassie’s word setting is beautiful in it’s sparseness, and she creates some very warm colours with her harmonic language. I actually would love to perform this piece myself (if she’s willing to let me have a copy that is!) - One other thing Cassie showed a good sense for is pacing in her music, which she agreed that she does seem to have a natural sense for.

Possibly the best rehearsal mark I've ever seen
Olivia has come about to composition in a more round-a-bout way than most of us. A percussion performance major, she states she is not ‘formally’ trained in percussion, and started as an electronic composer (in her own words, "farting about on garage band”), and eventually decided to orchestrate her creations for ‘real people’ to play. Olivia’s style is deeply rooted in minimalism, and I did thoroughly enjoy listening to her music. It has an innate quirkiness about it which, I find, is often not the case with minimalist pieces, and her piece ‘Power Walking’ for example definitely had filmic qualities about it. Olivia is a composer who has clearly found her voice, and her personality shines through her music, and in particular “Nobility of Homophones” written for two toy pianos was fascinating and really, really fun! I also loved a little extra piece she showed: an arrangement of Marc Mellits ‘Machine V’, which I’ve heard two previous times this week already - recorded in Marc’s presentation, performed live by The Great Noise Ensemble, and now this rockier-punkier version by Olivia’s band. Marc Mellit’s himself has even said he prefers her version, and I have to agree, this was so cool! Check out both the original, and Olivia's version, and decide for yourself!

Marissa was last to present, and described herself as ‘nothing like Steve Reich’, which was a highly amusing way to begin presenting. Her first piece ‘Frost’ for Viola, Double Bass, Guitar and Narrator certainly had it’s own very unique style, and, for me, a performance art quality about it (which is really amazing to achieve simply through a recording). Marissa stated that she doesn’t like to be boxed in by music theory, and struggles with ability of keep an idea going - this is evident in a piece she has written for solo vibraphone (which she later informed us that her husband was the performer - damn is he good!). However, the general consensus of the group was that Marissa need not worry about the ‘scored silence’ that makes it’s way into her pieces, as they are wholly effective and generate a wonderful atmosphere. In particular I really admired her writing for vibraphone, which was incredibly idiomatic for the instrument, and very intricately scored with immense detail. Marissa really understands percussion, and writes very, very well for it. 

Lansing Mclowsky presenting a 'synesthesia-chart'
Guest faculty composer Lansing Mcklowsky gave a presentation about “The relationship between music and visual arts” - essentially the concepts of ‘seeing the music’. There is a rich historical interaction between music and art (Impressionism, Expressionism, Baroque and film music, etc.) He went on to discuss the four types of visual music: Sound-light, colour music, visual form (e.g: multi-media), and augenmusik (essentially ‘eye-music). Mcklowsky discussed, in-depth, the ideals of augenmusik, including composers who compose via colour, or visualise colour when they composer (synthesisia), composers who’s scores are, in themselves, art (e.g. George Crumb) and ‘sonakinatography’ (sound-music-notation), a concept pioneered by Channa Horuitz. I also really loved the idea of a ‘painter’ listed in the instrumentation for a piece (as shown in one of Mcklosky’s own works ‘Glisten’) - essentially the painter takes on the role of ‘improviser’ and is required to create a work on the spot in response to the music - I’d love to see something like that back home! 
- This presentation was a fascinating insight into the connection between art (in particular, colour) and music, and in a way was a lovely extension from the orchestration seminar with had with John Fitz Rogers the day before, who also talked about colours in music. 

My second lesson of this festival was actually with Lansing Mcklowsky, which focused on my piece ‘Concerto for Electric Bass and Rhythmic String Orchestra’ - I’m not going to lie, I had a hard time in this lesson, I’m not wholly sure I agree with what Lansing was saying about my work, in particular the ‘virtuosic’ qualities of a soloist in a concerto, and even the concept of a concerto itself. Maybe it’s a personality clash, but I found it really hard to not take everything he said personally - but in talking to other composers who have had lessons with him or been taught by him for a good length of time, I found some reassurance that this is just the way he is. I think I need to take some time to absorb what he was trying to say. At least, in a positive note he really enjoyed my piece ‘A la Perchoine’, and in fact the tiniest revisions he suggested I do think may heighten it as a piece, including writing a few more pieces to go with it as a set/suite. 

Tuesday night's concert program
The concert for tuesday night was mix of the Beo String Quartet and various guest soloist musicians to make up ‘mixed ensembles’, and the repertoire was again made up of workshop composers (Marissa Dispirono-Dike, Chih-Liang Lin, Clay Allen, Lydia Dempsey, Andrew Binder) and faculty composers (Elizabeth Kowalski, Lansing McLoskey and John Fitz Rogers) - This was a really strong concert program; not just in the variety and quality of the presented pieces, but also in the standard of the performers. Particular highlights for me included Andrew’s piece ‘Ballyhoo’, which reflected the jazzier side of his personality (which I got to see more of at the Jazz Workshop we both attended), and John Fitz Roger’s pieces: three movements from his work "Book of Concord" - in particular, a general consensus from the audience was about the second of the three movements (movement four in the full work) entitled 'Grace by Degrees'. The harmony was stunning, and it was expertly played by the Beo String Quartet, and having attended John’s presentation on orchestration, it is so clear that he really knows what he’s doing himself when it comes to creating colour and atmosphere. I really, really want to hear the full work now!

A pretty full on day for me, and much more up-and-down than previous days, but none the less it was a day full of fascinating concepts, lessons and just some really good music - and it was all rounded off with some quality all-american-food at ‘Ed’s Tavern’ :)

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