COMPOSERS IN PLAY: Of Keyboards and the Blues with Mason Bates

OF GLITCHES AND MACHINES: Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019 at 8:00 PM | Doors at 7:00 PM

Scored for piano with off-stage boombox, White Lies for Lomax is a “short but dense homage” that concludes with a field recording of an Alan Lomax song.  This piece was written for the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and performed by each of the finalists. It has since been orchestrated by Bates; you may find that version HERE.

 

It is still a surprise to discover how few classical musicians are familiar with Alan Lomax, the ethnomusicologist who ventured into the American South (and elsewhere) to record the soul of a land. Those scratchy recordings captured everyone from Muddy Waters to a whole slew of anonymous blues musicians. White Lies for Lomax dreams up wisps of distant blues fragments – more fiction than fact, since they are hardly honest recreations of the blues – and lets them slowly accumulate to an assertive climax.

Excerpt from “White Lies for Lomax” by Mason Bates:

The following is excerpted from an interview given by Lizée with critic Jeremy Reynolds:

Mason Bates, 41, has been named the most-performed composer of his generation as well as the 2018 Composer of the Year by Musical America. The San Francisco-based composer’s music is best known for its approachability and integration of electronica and orchestral music. His alter ego, DJ Masonic, regularly sells out clubs with what he calls post-classical rave music.

Mr. Bates’ newest orchestral premiere, “Resurrexit,” was performed in the Fall of 2018 by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He has been named composer of the year with the orchestra twice, in the 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 seasons. critic Jeremy Reynolds spoke with Mason Bates ahead fo the premiere performance:

 

Jeremy Reynolds: Is the title “Resurrexit” a spiritual nod?

MB: Yes, it was Manfred’s idea to commission a spiritual concert opener. His Catholicism is such a significant part of his life and music. I grew up in a church school, but this sort of spirituality isn’t something that’s figured into my music much since high school.

This turned out to be a challenging piece to write…. It’s a 10-minute concert opener, and those tend to be exciting, pieces like [John Adams’] “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” or my piece, “Mothership.” Combining this excitement with a spiritual energy was tricky. I think the challenge was to write music that evokes things from the story while remaining self-sustainable.

JR: What’s the piece like?

MB: I was drawn to the mysticism of the resurrection story, and I wondered if it was possible to tell the story in a hyper-compressed way. I wanted to incorporate some of the theatrical elements for Manfred. This piece is in a three-part structure. The first sounds like mourning, almost a miniature requiem. The middle section that I think of as the reanimation — flickers of light start to dart all around the orchestra. And the third is the resurrection itself.

 

JR: Any unusual tonalities?

MB: Yes, actually. I’ve been wanting to explore the scales and the exotic modes of the Middle East. I didn’t want to be too literal on that level, but I wanted to give a distinct flavor. There’s a supernatural element to the resurrection story, and in order to conjure that darkness, I wanted to go into those more mournful Middle Eastern tonalities.

The story is dark; to really experience the lightness fully you have to experience the dark. When you think of pieces that evoke the resurrection, they tend to be traditional in terms of harmonies and tonalities. I wanted [“Ressurexit”] to sound more dusty and mysterious.

 

JR: How about odd instruments? Any electronics?

MB: No electronics for this piece, but I’m using an instrument called a semantron, a sort of plank instrument used to summon monks to prayer at the start of a procession. When I first heard this I decided I had to find a way to use it. It’s part of the fabric of the piece. Bringing different sounds like this into the concert hall is a goal of mine. After all, how can you create a new piece of art? Whether it be moving or uplifting, you want to bring something fresh into the concert hall.

 

JR: What else is on your horizon?

MB: In December, I have another orchestral premiere, this one at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra. That piece is called “Art of War.”

For further reading, see the full interview (posted in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 2018), here:

An interview with composer Mason Bates

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: Of Keyboards and of Hitchcock with Nicole Lizée

OF GLITCHES AND MACHINES: Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019 at 8:00 PM | Doors at 7:00 PM

Thumbnail for Lula Lounge site listing. 04.03.19.jpg


Premiered in in July of 2010 by Canadian pianist Megumi Masaki, Nicole Lizée’s Hitchcock Etudes have continued to impress audiences and performers alike in their short, nine-year lifespan.  Drawing on an unusual combination of materials, this compelling set of solo etudes are to be given their most recent interpretation by Stephanie Chua on April 3rd at Toronto’s Lula Lounge.

Scored for piano, soundtrack and video, the Etudes were conceived by Lizée in the following context:

The premise for Hitchcock Études is centered around my ongoing preoccupation with the fallibility of media.  Technology has the potential to fail and can fail in spectacular ways, creating fascinating sounds and visuals. How to capture and replicate those beautiful mistakes?

Excerpt from “Stutter Etude” by Nicole Lizée:

The following is excerpted from an interview given by Lizée with pianist Lisa Korne:

Liga Korne: The individual études organically flow from one to another, did you approach the source material with a new underlying narrative in mind?

Nicole LizéeIn writing the études I capture and convey the wide spectrum of emotions that I experience when watching Hitchcock’s films; further to that, on repeat, zooming in, audio scrubbing back and forth to unveil hidden nuances, etc. The études are my interpretation of both the moments within the films and the techniques of the director – with the ultimate goal of creating a completely new composition. It’s the Foley sounds and the dialogue that I work with, more often than the soundtrack itself. These moments are idiosyncratic – they only happen in one place and sometimes only for a split second. I look to capture the potential musical elements that exist outside the soundtrack – i.e. Norman Bates’ stutter, etc. I want these sounds and moments to extend and develop into a journey of twists and turns – kind of like a fever dream where elements from your experiences of the day become more vivid and unpredictable. And this is just the beginning. The characters on screen now need to interact with the live performer. This is achieved in part by using a meticulous click track so that the performer can infiltrate the screen and become part of the scene. The screen performers and live performers now form a completely new ensemble.

LK: To what extent can Hitchcock Études be perceived as program music? 

NL: It could actually be described as a deconstruction of program music – or program music turning in on itself. By definition program music is meant to evoke images or a narrative. In this work the actual images – and their corresponding sonic material – are part of the orchestration; the building blocks of a new work.

Hitchcock Études is part of an ongoing collection I’ve created called The Criterion Collection, where each work is a tribute to a director who has had a major impact on my aesthetic. So far, études based on the work of Hitchcock, Kubrick, Tarantino and Lynch comprise this series. Each has a completely different vibe as they reflect the diverse visions, personalities, and techniques of each director. While writing each piece I delved deeply into the minutiae of their work. Both the manipulation of the soundtrack and live musical material I write conveys the personalities of the film characters (as I see them) and their impact on my state of mind. So the works reflect the aesthetics of the directors, but also reflect the rumination that I’ve experienced – and the interpretation and emotional denouement that has resulted.

LK: Throughout the score it is clear that the relationships between the individual elements of film, glitch and piano part vary throughout the score, but did you create this piece with the notion of their equivalence from the outset aiming at a complete synthesis of the components?

NL: 
The film and music in my works are written simultaneously and are completely interrelated. The soundtrack and foley effects are manipulated in tandem with the corresponding visuals and notated in the score to allow it to meld completely with the live performer. I create ‘synthesizers’ using short musical and visual excerpts. I dig for pitch where one might not expect pitch to exist. The visuals are ‘notated’ in much the same way as the sonic material – using time and rhythm measurements (rhythm and metre), pitch transposition, stacking pitches to create chords and harmony, tempo changes, layering to create texture, etc. As I mention in the programme notes, notation or transcription is an integral component of the work or process. It is the coaxing of material from existing material by altering its physical state; illuminating hidden melodies, gestures, and rhythms. And the live performer does not play on top of this or through this but is intertwined within this.

LK: Bernard Herrmann wrote that music can serve as ‘the communicating link between the screen and the audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience’. To what extent does the piano part have this ability and function of moulding all elements into one complete experience?

NL: The piano part – and pianist – is the catalyst for all elements. The pianist is the living human engaging with the icons on screen and in the soundtrack. Some of the characters on screen are no longer living, or possibly have been forgotten (arguably considered no longer relevant in the eyes of Hollywood). But none of these are expected to appear in a concert hall as part of classical, chamber or concert music piece. The piano part and pianist is the ‘recontextualizer’. The piano solidifies this musical context. The film and soundtrack are orchestrated in the same way I write for ensemble, but it’s the third member (pianist) that confirms its place in the musical (and, furthermore, notated, concert music) world.

For further reading, see the full interview (posted in November of 2017), here:

Insights into Hitchcock Études

THE PIANO LUNAIRE: Beaver Moon

Friday, November 23rd, 2018 at 7:30 PM

BROCKTON NANOSTAGE, 710 Brock Avenue, Toronto

Piano by nightChristina Haldane, soprano | Adam Sherkin, piano

 

TONIGHT’S PROGRAMME:

ECHO CYCLE (2017) for solo soprano | poems by Seán Haldane

Music by David Jaeger

Echo
If you are Echo, I am a wall
To which your voice can call
And be returned but slightly changed,
Not quite itself but rearranged
In newer harmonies. What you will hear
Is not what you might fear.
The Blackbird in the Rain
The blackbird in the rain at dusk:
I don’t know how the drops settle on his wings.
I am lost.
I wish I knew the meaning of things.
I wish I knew whether or not to trust
Myself in my (I think they are) delusions
Of what or who you are –
Or are they illusions?
My own voice from afar
Says to the blackbird as he sings
‘I am you are I’.
The rain falls darkening the dying sky.
The Berserk Blackbird
Rickety-rackety goes the berserk blackbird,
Riff on riff, perched on the cliff
Of a locust tree, I’m caught
In the torrent and debris of his song,
His notes like jostling boats
As they pour along.
I’d be breathless
If I were he, I almost expect him
To topple head-first to the ground,
Killed by his own sound.
*      *      *

SOUTHERN FRAMES (2008) for toy piano | by Adam Sherkin

  1. Octans I (the Octant)
  2. Eridanus (The River)
  3. Ophiuchus (The Serpent-Bearer)
  4. Ara (The Altar)
  5. Ophiuchus ECHO
  6. Octans II
  7. Chamealeon (The Chameleon)
  8. Musca (The Fly)

PROGRAMME NOTE: Constellations in the night sky have inspired humans to gaze up and dream of countless stories, myths and meanings for millennia. Our relationship to the night sky’s patterns of stars and celestial bodies has changed both in a general sense as humans evolve in history and in a more personal sense as a star gazer’s own record of their time on Earth is traced.

Constellations in the Southern hemisphere are partly visible at times of the year to those observers in the Northern hemisphere, and partly not. Therein lies a certain exoticism and curiosity for an unknown night sky where gazing can be completely transformed if the observer were to find themselves on the opposite side of the globe. Southern clusters of stars also relate more closely to those cultures that first looked upon them, offering a glimpse into ancient eyes and minds: an exercise that has offered lineage and tradition (and present-day astronomy).

*      *      *

THE LIVING SPECTACLE | Three Songs for soprano and piano | Poetry by Charles Baudelaire (1863 – 1867) | translation from the French by Roy Campbell

 

First song: “The Death of Lovers”

We shall have beds round which light scents are wafted,                                                       Divans which are as deep and wide as tombs;
Strange flowers that under brighter skies were grafted
Will scent are shelves with rare exotic blooms.
When, burning to the last their mortal ardour,
Our torch-like hearts their bannered flames unroll,
Their double light will kindle all the harder
Within the deep, twinned mirror of our soul.

One evening made of mystic rose and blue,                                                                                    I will exchange a lightning-flash with you,
Like a long sob that bids a last adieu.

Later, the Angel, opening the door
Faithful and happy, will at last renew
Dulled mirrors, and the flames that leap no more.

*      *      *

NORTHERN FRAMES (2013) for solo {grand} piano by Adam Sherkin

  1. Ursa Minor I (The Little Bear)
  2. Cassiopeia (Queen of Aethiopia)
  3. Cepheus (King of Aethiopia)
  4. Camelopardalis (The Giraffe)
  5. Lynx (The Luminescent-Eyed)
  6. Ursa Major (The Great Bear) *
  7. Ursa Minor II
  8. Draco (The Dragon)

*world premiere