COMPOSERS IN PLAY: The piano turned imaginary percussion instrument with Taylor Brook

Taylor BrookCOMPOSERS IN PLAY offers an up-to-date snapshot, particularly in conjunction with a premiere or new artistic collaboration.  Ahead of the upcoming performance June 5, 2019 in Toronto – The Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project –  Taylor Brook  discusses his new piece for composer/performer Adam Scime: Shaekout.  Taylor sat down with us to offer some thoughts about the piano and a compelling new compositional approach he dubs: Piano as Imaginary Percussion Instrument.)  🎹  Ten Supersonic questions follow.


What are your current thoughts about solo piano music?

It’s hard to eke out something original and stand against the great repertoire for me. There’s the additional issue where my music is quite microtonal, so I cannot rely on the harmonic tools that I’ve developed. For the left-hand piece, my approach was to treat the piano as a kind of imaginary percussion instrument.

I wrote a solo piano piece back in 2009, (it’s alright.)  At the time, I found it very challenging to write for the piano; today, I think I find it even more challenging to do so.  I will often enhance my writing for the piano in an ensemble context with re-tuned piano samples, mixed to give the illusion that the instrument is microtonally tuned.  I have also written some digital piano pieces (re-tuned).

My dream is to write for a piano that I myself can retune.  Microtonality has been such a constant throughout my work: my whole harmonic language is based on it.  I almost feel like I am a beginner again when I write for the piano.  This is the reason I took the particular approach I did in the new piece Shakeout (ie. without any kind of baggage!)

 

What pianistic effects or concepts were you after in your new left-handed piano piece, Shakeout?

As mentioned before, I tried to think about the piano as an imaginary percussion instrument.  To this end, I severely limited what could be played in terms of pitches and harmonies, instead focusing on rhythmic ideas.

Another thought I’ve had in context of this project: after looking at the list of composers involved in the project, it occurred to me what a beautiful group of works would be created from the cohort.  I thought I’d like to offer something that will contrast and generate interest within the group.

So I wrote a rather “ugly” piece.

It’s not repulsive, just brutal. Of course, it could be a fun little piece in isolation, however not knowing what the other composers wrote, (just knowing their music in a general sense), I thought it might be interesting to produce music that stand outs as well as fitting well within the group.

 

What might you identity as your favourite or most compelling piano technique, extended or otherwise?

Anything can be compelling in context.

 

Tell us more about your approach dubbed, “piano as an imaginary percussion.”

This is something that I do often in my work: not necessarily conceiving of a new imaginary instrument, I prefer to frame things in terms of an invented tradition; an alternative reality.
I have written pieces that are vaguely modelled after folk songs but from a folk song “tradition” that does not really exist.  Likewise, with Shakeout, I was proposing: what if the piano was an imaginary percussion instrument, with its own performance history and its own set of idiomatic techniques?   With this as the rubric, I limited myself in a rather extreme way.
Ecstatic Music, a piece I wrote for violin and percussion adapts this approach.  For the violin part, I imagined that the instrument was from some other tradition where the lowest three strings were basically percussive strings.  The only melodies should be played on the high E-string.

 

TEN SUPERSONIC QUESTIONS

1. ​What instrument do you most dislike the sound of?

None really – Marimba can be tough, but I can’t say I really dislike it.

 

​2. ​What music are you writing at the moment?

Solo for bassoon and electronics for Dana Jessen. Electronic music. And a piece for TAK ensemble (soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, and percussion) with electronics.

 

3. ​Name three other composers you’d share a drink with.

Adam Scime!

 

4. Favourite performing artist alive and active today?

Not sure – I need to get out more!

 

​5. ​What did you want to be when you grew up?

Too late.

 

​6. ​What was the last piece of new music that really blew you away?

Mouthpiece by Erin Gee.

 

​7. ​Name your favourite key, chord, tonality, cluster or extra musical noise.

11/8 with 6/5 (ie. the 11th overtone mixed with the just minor 3rd).

 

8. ​ What book are you reading at the moment?

Music in the 17th and 18th Centuries by Richard Taruskin (brushing up for my teaching).

 

​9. ​ Favourite breakfast food?

A Croissant.

 

​10. ​(Summer) dream vacation?

Smithers, B.C.

 

Extra question: ​Name your favourite Montreal haunt.

Patati Patata


Visit: taylorbrook.info

Facebook Event: Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project, here

ADVANCE TICKETS at: Canadian Music Centre

COMPOSERS IN PLAY: From six hands to one with Alex Eddington

Alex Eddington
COMPOSERS IN PLAY offers an up-to-date snapshot, particularly in conjunction with a premiere or new artistic collaboration.  Ahead of the upcoming performance June 5, 2019 in Toronto – The Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project –  Alex Eddington discusses his new piece for composer/performer Adam Scime: The Opera Game.  Alex wrote to us with his thoughts about the piano genre and its less common iterations: scores for six-hands and left-hand.)  🎹 Ten Supersonic questions follow.

How might you describe your relationship with the piano? Is this the first left-handed work you have written for the instrument?

The Opera Game is the first left-handed work I’ve written, but what’s strange is that I’ve never written for TWO-hand piano as a solo (well, not for 20 years). Only accompaniment to other voices, choirs, instruments.  I have a major SIX-hand piano piece.  Yes.

The piano was the first instrument I learned, and the one I’ve played most, and I’m teaching beginners now.  So perhaps some day I’ll suddenly write a bunch of etudes for young pianists.

 

What were you hoping to convey with this music and was it successful?

I went out on a limb with this one, by making text an integral part of the piece.  The performer talks about the construction of the piece, and the reason it exists, all the while playing it.  I’m a theatre person as well, and this was a theatrical impulse.  It’s the kind of piece you have to be in the room for, to see facial expressions and his left hand struggling to keep up.  It’s meant to be awkward and look/sound like a performer overcoming hurdles, but it could also be charming in the right hand and mouth.  Adam Scime is a charmer, thankfully.

I’m also interested in music that is derived from non-musical things: chess in this case. Converting chess games to music is awkward, arbitrary.  Can it capture the drama and depth of this game?  Not in the music as notated: it has to come from the performer.  I might expand this piece in future, to include video of the chess game, quotes from Bellini’s “Norma” (the opera that this chess game was played during) and maybe right and left hands as opponents.

 

How, if at all, did writing for one hand only inform your compositional process (at the keyboard) and overall aesthetic?

With a different piece I would have looked at how to use the left hand smoothly across the entire keyboard, to create an illusion of space and depth that belies the single hand.  But with THIS piece I wanted it to sound like the performer is being imposed upon, more and more.  Part of the fun (?) will be watching his left hand jump around to specific but arbitrary keys.

 

TEN SUPERSONIC QUESTIONS:

1. ​Where are you from originally?

The Beaches area of Toronto.  Same house I live in now, actually.

 

​2. ​What are you writing at the moment?

A guitar/electronics piece for Daniel Ramjattan, sound design and musical arrangements for three summer theatre productions, and the libretto for an opera-ish piece with Toronto Consort.

 

3. ​Name three other composers you’d share a drink with.

Ann Southam, Benjamin Britten and Anna Magdalena Bach.

 

4. Favourite performing artist alive and active today?

Film/TV: Bryan Cranston or Sandra Oh

Music: Andrew Bird?  Bela Fleck?

This is tough.

 

​5. ​What did you want to be when you grew up?

Firefighter, Magician, Biologist, Composer (in that order!)

 

​6. ​What was the last piece of new music that really blew you away?

Jay Schwartz: “Music for Voices and Orchestra”

 

7. ​Name your favourite key, chord, tonality, cluster or extra musical noise.

The song of the Swainson’s thrush.

 

8.​ What book are you reading at the moment?

Just finished “Night” by Elie Wiesel.  Wow.

Back into the middle of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.

 

​9. ​ Favourite breakfast food?

Harvest Crunch.  All day.  By the handful.

 

​10. ​(Summer) dream vacation?

Haida Gwaii by kayak.

 

Extra question: ​Name your favourite Toronto haunt.

My canoe, floating just off of the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant.


Visit: alexeddington.com

Facebook Event: Canadian Left Hand Commissioning Project, here

ADVANCE TICKETS at: Canadian Music Centre

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