ASCAP

Footnotes for violin and cello received an “Honorable Mention” in the 2014 ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards.  The piece was composed for violinist Sonja Harasim and cellist Lachezar Kostov who premiered it in March 2013.  The recording is available here.

The press release with the complete list of recipients was posted earlier today on ASCAP’s website.

I’m back! …and other updates

Well, I’ve been gone far too long and it’s time for some general housekeeping.  First, the primary reason of my (otherwise inexcusable) website-neglect: I just finished my written comprehensive exams for the doctorate.  After a total of 9 hours of frantic and awkwardly-left-handed scribbling of every last thing I know about music history and theory, I now emerge, badly shaken, a bit delirious, but breathing.  When I lean my head to one side I can still feel little musical-historical tidbits drip out (…”L’Orfeo 1607 Figaro 1786 Tristan 1859 Octet 1923 Sinfonia 1968 Nixon in Ch..” – that kind of thing).  I still need to keep some of that in my heRecital_Talking1ad, since orals are on Monday.  But in general it’s so refreshing to be back at composing, practicing, looking forward to the next plans and projects, etc.  Despite the stresses and the total time-suck of studying for the several months before the exams, it was actually invigorating, at times, making new discoveries or re-discovering something (a composer, genre, era, whatever) that I had previously neglected.  Some examples: Monteverdi – his later continuo madrigals, especially the ones built on ostinati (I also realized a strange thing – I had never, not in any of my graduate or undergraduate classes, once studied Monteverdi.  He seems to get the short shrift in Baroque-era classes, and truncated off the end of Renaissance courses. One of those ‘transitional’ composers who, because of our need to parse history, gets the concluding chapter in a Renaissance book and the introductory chapter in a Baroque book, though the reality is, I suspect, all music is transitional (wasn’t there a composer who said that about a piece of music itself?…a work constantly in transition? I digress.))  A few other “finds”: Frescobaldi/Froberger keyboard music (I’m taking breaks from writing this to read through some of Fro’s suites).  Mozart’s disgustingly inexhaustible and effortless melodic impulse (okay, I was already pretty much aware of this, but between re-visiting his concertos, sonatas, and symphonies and developing a new-found appreciation for his operas, the ‘disgusting’ aspect of it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks.)  AlsIMG_0800o, this aria. And also, the eight or so years leading up to WWI, around 1907-1914. Thinking of this era, I always thought of Stravinsky’s ballets, Schoenberg’s Pierrot, etc.  But also this: Webern, Berg, Bartok, Scriabin, Ives, Busoni, the Futurists, Debussy, Prokofiev, Strauss, Ravel, and others were all hitting their stride and making some of their most important contributions at this time.  Put another way: Strauss’s Elektra, Scriabin’s Prometheus, Schoenberg’s Pierrot, Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, and Stravinsky’s The Rite came out in consecutive years, 1909-13.  And that’s just to mention a small sample.

And so comps are (mostly) done.  Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of joining my former piano teacher, Peter Gach, in a concert of solo and four-hand music at the Encinitas Public Library in Southern California.  Peter performed one of my solo pieces, a few pieces by composer William BradbuRecital_GachSolory, and I joined him in the premiere of the full set of four Beach Scenes for piano four hands.  The photos strewn about this post are from this concert – as you can see, we had a beautiful view of the Pacific, basically just up the road from a few of the beaches “featured” in my piece.  I’m currently finishing up another solo piece for Peter, to be performed throughout California in January.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some traces of Frescobaldi wind up in there.  I’ve also got a pending commission for a violinist out in Oregon for a violin/piano piece based on Oregon scenery, anything from the greyish-blue hues of urban Portland to the lakes and rivers of the Cascades, or perhaps the rocky, windy coast.  Whatever I decide, it’ll be a good way to mentally transport myself back to Oregon while stuck in Houston traffic (didn’t Debussy write La Mer (1905!) in Paris?).

Besides those projects, I have my dissertation to think about as well as various recitals, jazz gigs, lessons to teach, and generally just more days of music to enjoy.  I’ll try to keep posting here more often, especially with any new musical discoveries I might stumble upon. Oh! Almost forgot: I also made a SoundCloud page, which can be found here.  I haven’t really decided whether to rely primarily on that or my own “music” page here, or whether I might just link the two together.  But I’ll likely keep the SoundCloud updated with more recent recordings as they become available.

Cheers!

Flannery O’Connor and the Creative Process

I’ve been happily revisiting the stories of Flannery O’Connor, usually getting through one or two (if they’re short) before going to bed.  I read most of the stories a couple of years ago, although at times it’s hard remembering which ones since the world she creates is so recognizable, vivid, familiar, and consistent from story to story.  In any case, I’ve been hooked on her work ever since I read “The Violent Bear it Away” as an undergrad.

Last night I was glancing through the introduction to the new(er) edition of O’Connor’s complete stories and found this quote, from a letter to a friend, commenting on her creative process:

“I must tell you how I work.  I don’ t have my novel outlined and I have to write to discover what I am doing.  Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.  I am working on the twelfth chapter right now…Of the twelve chapters only a few won’t have to be rewritten, and I can’t exhibit such formless stuff.  It would discourage me to look at it right now and anyway I yearn to go about my business to the end.”

It seems to me that composers, and probably artists in general, lie somewhere along a spectrum between having a complete concept of the whole at the onset and, on the other hand, starting from the very smallest idea and working outward.  I have found myself at various points along this spectrum, and I know that other composers will also tailor their processes to whatever task is at hand.  And sometimes it’s just fun to try to do things different way.   In other words, there certainly isn’t (nor should there be) any orthodoxy on the matter.  Still, it’s somewhat comforting to find an account of the creative process that’s so similar to my own.  So often I find myself exploring one idea, tinkering with the details, trying to let it play and grow without regard to any formal design, until finally (and hopefully) it suggests the bigger picture.  I, too, really don’t know what I’m thinking until I see what I’ve said.  Or maybe: I don’t know what I want to say until I say it.  Often, badly.  So then it’s time to rework and re-say what was just badly said, hoping that this new improvement, too, will suggest new directions (this, as one might imagine, falls easily into an infinite regress, or some kind of mad spiral, which accounts for about about 97% of my stress and the fact that the vast majority of any given piece will actually be written in the last sliver of time I spend on it).   As O’Connor’s flustered tone implies, this approach can be maddeningly frustrating and tedious, but there is always that sense of gratification and excitement as the work gradually takes on its identity and begins to emerge.

 

Leipzig

Leipzig-03.07.12

on the train to Weimar, Erfurt, Eisenach…

I spent yesterday (the 3rd)  in Leipzig, seeing and doing as much as I could in the several hours I had. First of all, my friend SeHee (currently in Berlin) is in the process of moving to Leipzig, and was there attending to some of that business. We met for lunch at a small Italian cafe adjacent to the St. Nikolaikirche. As we were eating we both commented on how ridiculously quintessential the setting seemed to be: sparkling water, a wobbling table, a narrow, cobblestone side street, quiet enough to be serene, but close to the sounds of bicycles, children, tourists, shops, fountains, etc.; accordion music coming from some distant corner, bouncing between old walls and buildings to reach us, all under the shade of a towering medieval church (with bells tolling on the hour). Now there’s an image to remember.

 In fact, most of Leipzig, especially the city center, with its maze of narrow streets and beautiful rows of buildings, had a similar charm. In the few hours I had before most museums and sites began to close, I saw St. Nikolaikirche, the Thomaskirche, Mendelssohn-Haus, and Schumann-Haus (but arrived 15 minutes after it closed). These were the main places I had in mind to see, the last three being especially significant in Leipzig’s (hence Germany’s, hence Europe’s) musical history. I could have spent the entire day just at Thomaskirche – its musical and cultural history would take at least that long for me to really absorb and take in.  Bach, of course, worked there (for the longest portion of his career, and to the end of his life) premiering St. Matthew’s Passion and many other of his best-known works. Martin Luther preached there. Mozart played its organ. Mendelssohn revived many of Bach’s works there. Et cetera. And not only is it a beautiful architectural feat, there are also several great monuments and statues in the surrounding area, as well as the Bach-Archiv and Museum directly next door. And let’s not forget a brewery – “Brauerie an der Thomaskirch” in the adjacent plaza where I felt it only proper and fitting to ingest “ein mass Schwarzbier” with a nice view of the church’s tower.

 The other sites/museums were of course great, but Thomaskirch had a very special effect on me, one I probably shouldn’t try to hard to describe here.

 Next: Weimar, Erfurt, Eisenach…

Berlin

Berlin to Leipzig – 03.07.12

An amazing two weeks in Berlin just came to a close. I’m now sitting in the ICE bullet train, headed to Leipzig to begin a six-day trip across Germany and finally to Fontainebleau, France (just outside of Paris). There I’ll spend four weeks at the American Conservatory with other music students from around the world. So, now that I have a few minutes here to relax, I’m going to try to sort out some of the highlights of my time in Berlin. First,

 the music:
-the Komische Oper’s somewhat bizarre and yet powerful and strangely satisfying production of Mozart’s Idonemeo (even with a stage/set malfunction that interrupted the opera – twice!)
-Konzerthausorchester Berlin with an all-Russian program: Glazunov, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky. The highlight for me were the winds in Stravinsky’s “le chant du rossignol”
-Seminar classes at Samuel Adler’s summer FUBIS program at the Freie Universitaet
-a wonderful meeting and lesson with composer Reiko Fueting, which involved an hour and a half or two-hour stroll along a canal, through a forest in the outskirts of Berlin in Koenigs-Wusterhausen
-Stumbling upon a free chamber music concert on the international “La Fete de Musiqe” (Jun. 21) at a beautiful church in Kreuzberg.
-meeting John Dawson, pianist for the Deutsche Oper and mutual friend of mine and Howard Pollack’s (musicologist at U of H). We spent one afternoon reading 4-hand pieces at the piano, just as Howard and I love to do.  So there was that neat little symmetry.

the sights in and around Berlin:
-Spandau: Altstadt Spandau, St. Nikolaikirche, Spandau Zitadel
-Potsdam – Sanssouci Park, palaces, gardens. Potsdam is where Bach met with Frederick the Great in a famed encounter that led to his “Musical Offering.” Unfortunately, that particular palace was destroyed in WWII, but there are plenty of others in Sanssouci Park and in the surrounding areas. The grounds and gardens at Sanssouci are…I can’t find the right word…scrumptulescent?
-central Berlin: the Tiergarten, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Franzoeischer Dome, Berliner Dome, Konzerthaus, Kudamm, etc. etc. etc. (why bore you with an amateur tourist’s pamphlet?)
-Kreuzberg: wonderful streets, shops, restaurants, Viktoria Park, and (perhaps best of all) Mustafas Doener Kebap

fun/friends:
-Fan Mile at Brandenburger Tor – One of my favorite “just for fun” activities in Berlin. Three friends and I went down to the “Fan Mile” in the Tiergarten for the public broadcast of the Germany vs. Greece Eurocup game. An estimated 400,000 fans also joined us.
-Rice Friends: there happened to be five Rice music students in Berlin at the same time – for four different reasons! It was great seeing Ross and Hilary (composers), Meghan (violin) and SeHee (cello), especially since we didn’t all necessarily see each other that much back in Houston.
-New Friends: it was also a pleasure meeting new friends, mainly via Ross and Hilary and the FUBIS program. Most of the aforementioned, to-be-mentioned, and unmention-(ed)(able) activities involved them as well!
MUSTAFAS – best Doener Kebap in Berlin. 

 odds and ends:
-Morning cappuccinos and reading (currently DFW’s “The Broom of the System” – this is a reminder for myself to bring this up in a later post) at various cafes.  Each cappuccino a work of art.
-Berliner dogs, the most well-behaved creatures on the planet. I just felt that was worth mentioning.
-Bespectacled German toddlers in plaid and overalls, uttering wonderful things like “Tschuss, U-Bahn…Tschuss!”
-Observation: one’s German tends to improve throughout a given day, followed by a sharp drop in quality the next morning. Beer may be a factor.

Next: Leipzig

Uv’Chein Variations – new recordings

Some downtime in Berlin has resulted in me finally getting my act together and posting new recordings.  Check out the music page to hear my “Uv’Chein” Variations for violin and piano, written for my friend and violinist Abby Young, which we premiered on May 12 at the University of Oregon.

“Uv’Chein, and then…” is a song by folk singer-songwriter Alisa Fineman, and was the perfect vehicle for such a project. Thanks for giving us permission to do this, Alisa!

Philly -> Berlin

I’m sitting at my gate at the Philadelphia Airport, leaving for Berlin via Frankfurt in about 40 minutes.   Just had an incredible weekend in Philly with the premiere of “Travelling Salesman” followed by a celebratory night and a full day yesterday of exploring.

For the next two months I’ll be in Germany and France and will be using this blog for updates.  Gotta jet – more soon!

-Ben

Miscellanae

Some things:
– Recently, the Da Camera Young Artists put on several concerts at the Menil Collection as part of an ongoing series surrounding Debussy (who turns 150 this year).  I arranged his piano prelude “des pas sur la niege” for string quintet and percussion and in addition wrote my own response to this piece, which I titled “fantasy on footsteps”, for string trio and vibraphone.  Both performances went great, and the rest of the program (which featured Ravel, Messiaen, Saint-Saens, as well as other Da Camera composer Mark Buller) was, I thought, just right for a Debussy tribute.

– On Wednesday, March 14th pianist Linda Angkasa premiered my “Trio Lima” along with violinist Eric Siu and percussionist Robert Garza in Rice University’s Duncan Hall.  I couldn’t have been happier with their performance, and Linda’s recital on the whole (“Gamelan-Influenced Western Classical Music”) was interesting, engaging, and a complete success (it also featured a premiere of an awesome solo piano work by Rice composer Charles Halka ).   The whole program is being repeated again this coming Friday, March 23rd at 7:30 pm at the HCC Performing Arts Center.  Here’s a link with further details:

http://www.artshound.com/event/detail/441573337/Gamelan_Inspired_Western_Classical_Music

– In the works: a set of a variations for violin and piano for my friend and violinist Abby Young (University of Oregon), a piece based on L’Homme Arme for cello in honor of composer Robert Kyr’s 60th birthday, and a piece for clarinet and percussion written for Musiqa and The Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston.

-This summer I’ll be spending a month at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France, doing what they’ve been doing since the 1940s or so (lots of intense musicianship training and master classes in composition).  I’m also looking into other travel plans for the summer, so hopefully it’ll be a busy and exciting one.