Wednesday, June 30, 2010

the vielle à roue

[Editor's Note: On Monday we had Nissim Schaul give a demonstration of a hurdy-gurdy. I asked him to write about the instrment. (Fortunately he didn't have to travel with this instrument on a plane.)]

I brought my hurdy-gurdy with me to Music10 entirely in order to proselytize for the instrument. I’m not the best spokesman, since I’m still a bit of a beginner, but a few days ago, I got to give a half-hour to talk about the instrument in front of lots of other composers. I was excited!

So, to start with, I’m not talking about an organ-grinder.  It’s unfortunate that in English, two instruments have one name on account of the crank.  But a monkey could never play the vielle à roue  (I’ll use the French word from here on out, since I’ve been learning the French version of the instrument.)  It’s actually a pretty complicated instrument – lots of moving parts.  First, most famously, are the drones (the bourdons – the bumblebees).  My student instrument has four drone strings, though many vielles have 6-8, not to mention the ringing sympathetic strings.  One of my four drones is special, called the chien (the dog).   Most of the strings are on a stable bridge, but the chien’s bridge moves, meaning that it buzzes when hit hard.  That allows a vielleur to add a rhythmic aspect to an instrument that otherwise is quite static.

Music 10 Composers 1

Another post by Maria Grenfell. :)
The title of the concert held on Tuesday 29 June really sounds like an imaginary World Cup score.  Fortunately, in this case, the composers won and there wasn’t a vuvuzela within coo-ee.  Sorry, that’s my fake Australianness coming out, while surrounded by Americans here in the beautiful Swiss alps...

The first concert of works by participant composers featured a wide variety of pieces that we have come to expect during this week of multi-faceted music-making.  Opening the program was “Quartet (after...)” by Wenhui Xie.  This is a re-working of material from her Symphony no. 1, and commemorates the tragic loss of many children during the 2008 Chinese earthquake.  Long static lines were punctuated by sharp gestures, breath tones and key clicks from clarinet, circular motions on violin strings, speech from the percussionist, and playing inside the piano with fishing line.  Absolute control was required by the players, and it was a dramatic way to begin the evening.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ecstatic Dances

Here's a post by composer Maria Grenfell. The photo is also hers.
An abundance of exciting contemporary flute music gave eighth blackbird flutist Tim Munro the grand idea of staging a concert at the Music 10 Festival featuring music written for flutes of many sizes and in various combinations.  The opening concert of the Festival on Monday 28 June, Ecstatic Dances, treated the audience to music by composers from Estonia, Australia and the USA.  With contrasting approaches to timbre and musical materials, the performance showcased the superb talents of the musicians at Music 10, whose dedicated approach to learning and performing new music is at the heart of this unique two-week collaboration between composers and performers.

Opening the program was UNCLOSE, by New York composer Hannah Lash, a participant at the Festival.  Written for soprano, two percussionists and piano, the piece featured a range of extended techniques for voice and piano, punctuated by scraping and sighing unpitched percussion sounds, silences, as well as the extraordinary voice of Lindsay Kesselman, who seemed to pluck high notes effortlessly out of nowhere and wove the syllabic text and vocalisations on the composer’s poetry in a performance that held the audience captive.

Château de Chillon Pictures

Joel Hoffman Presentation

So...this should have been up earlier, but with everything else going on (rehearsals, napping, eating, composer/performer nerd games in the evening), I'm a little behind. Here's my thought's on Joel Hoffman's presentation.

Joel Hoffman gave a presentation on his music a few days ago, not exactly knowing what he was going to play for us. He admitted that he had sort of a dilemma as to what to share; he didn't want to play music that some of us had already heard (there are a few of us CCMers here), nor did could he share his most recent music. (By the way, a few of us young composers had the SAME problem; I personally had troubles deciding what to bring for composer show-and-tell.) He did want to share his music, but he didn't want to play anything that some of us have heard before, plus he didn't have any recordings of his new style.

I have been curious about this new style for some time ever since he mentioned his use of silences during my lessons. He has been talking about it for weeks now, and here I was curious to hear any recordings of his music to demonstrate this compositional turn. Alas, there were no recordings, so Joel turned to improvisation instead (for the most part).

Day 8

Today's post was written by participant composer Amy Beth Kirsten:

If last night's concert was the only musical event that I got to experience at this festival it would have been worth the trip. I don't know about you, but those transcendent, life-altering musical experiences don't come along that often and when they do, well, it's powerful.

From the accidental prologue of church bells, to Matthew's final winding down of the woodblock in Hartke's Meanwhile, I had completely lost myself...and found music all over again - isn't it great to fall in love with sound? Oh yes, it was one of those concerts.

The whole concert was so terrifically paced; I don't think it could have been programmed better. With Hartke's Percolative Processes it was impossible not to be drawn in - quiet waves of intense and ever-shifting color that, to me, evoke earth elements - it was the perfect door to walk through. Once fully inside the metaphoric "room," we had the pleasure of experiencing Bresnick's My Twentieth Century. Like many of the fellows here, I'd only ever heard this piece as a recording. As effective as it is as a recorded piece, it profoundly aches with heartbreak when experienced live. The obsessive and unrelenting rhythm married with a joyous harmonic language creates an emotional conflict that feels so honestly born from the text - as I said last night, "you had me at 'fireflies.'" And I just have to say that the delivery of lines of text was so much more than mere delivery - each one of you felt truly plugged into the energy and sound of words in such a visceral way...all I have left to say is WOW.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 7

Sunday began a new chapter in our time here at Music10. After our final round of composer presentations, guest composer Martin Bresnick and guest pianist Lisa Moore arrived around lunch time.  It's really great to have them here! Several participants already knew them, so they have been catching up over meals and hanging out on the porch. Those of us who did not know them are enjoying getting to know them. As we have mentioned before, one of the big advantages of this festival is the continual interaction between everyone here. We get to know each other personally, as well as artistically.

(Music10 flutists Pethrus Gärdborn, Tim Munro, and Kelli Kathman)

That night we had our first concert, held in the Bartok Hall here at the Hindemith Centre. The performance mostly featured contemporary flute chamber music, but also included UNCLOSE by participant composer Hannah Lash. (Hannah's work was programmed on this concert because she needed to leave on Monday.) Scored for soprano, piano, and two percussion, UNCLOSE juxtaposed sung poetry with humming and percussive vocal effects, which were mirrored by brushing and murmuring in the instrumental parts. Soprano Lindsay Kesselman, pianist Erika Dohi, and percussionists Matthew Duvall and Christian Smith gave a wonderfully sensitive performance of this haunting, ethereal work.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Days 5 & 6

On Friday we began our day with more composer presentations, which stimulated lots of interesting discussion as usual (see previous post by Carolyn O'Brien). After an afternoon full of rehearsals, we gathered together after dinner for artistic director/guest composer Joel Hoffman's presentation on his own music. He began by letting us in on the latest developments in his compositional style, since sweeping changes have occurred in the past year. In particular, he said that his most recent works are full of silences - often quite long ones - and that he sees the music as being carved out of the silences. He also spoke about his experience and views on improvisation and its relationship to composition. Dr. Hoffman performed a set of music for solo piano, which included a Brahms intermezzo and his own piece Hands Down, interpolated with improvisations. He also played recordings of several other works, including 6-8-2-4-5-8, which he wrote for MusicX's ensemble-in-residence, eighth blackbird.

Saturday was a free day, allowing us to take a break from our intense musical activities. Several of us went on excursions to Montreux, Vevey, the Chateau de Chillon (a medieval castle near Montreux) or Les Pleiades (a mountain near Blonay), and some people just took it easy and stayed at the Hindemith Centre. It felt great to get some fresh air and a fresh perspective on our musical work. Stay tuned for more pictures!

When can a composer put a stay at a spa on their résumé?

Today's post is written by Carolyn O'Brien, one of our participant composers:

After attending the Music10 Festival in Blonay, Switzerland and subsequently displaying that fact on my résumé, it almost feels as if I'm claiming a stay at a spa as a professional accomplishment! The food, wine, view of the alps and Lake Geneva, not to mention the stimulating conversations with the company I keep is so lovely, it's impossible to see my stay as anything other than luxurious. Instead of seeing a masseuse for what ails me, I get my ego stroked by gifted performers at every rehearsal. During each morning presentation with my fellow composers or master class with our esteemed professors, I get multiple solutions to questions I never thought would be answered in my own music.

For example, during my own presentation a few days ago, I announced to the group that I was thinking of removing ostinato from all my music because I felt it was both an easy way to push music forward, it was equally difficult to get out of the groove without cutting it off in a violent way. Today, I was proven wrong by my new colleague Federico Garcia in his piece for guitar, marimba and piano entitled "Bajo el hechizo." Federico's ostinato showed so much nuance with registral and timbral shifts the likes of which I'd never even considered until today.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Behind on Food Posts

We all had a day off today (mostly), so I'm a little behind in updating everything that's going on. Here are some more food photos taken by Yu-Chun Kuo.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pictures from Days 3 & 4

1. Hindemith Music Centre, Chalet de Lacroix
This building contains the Salon Hindemith (where we have many of our presentations and masterclasses), the dining room, a living room, rehearsal rooms, and bedrooms.

2. Hindemith Music Centre, Pavilion
This building contains rehearsal rooms, Bartok Hall (where most of our concerts are held), and bedrooms.

Days 3 & 4

Wednesday and Thursday held many rewarding activities here at Music10. On Wednesday morning we had another round of composer presentations, giving us a change to hear recordings of more of the fascinating music that our participant composers have written. We're listening to everything from orchestral and wind ensemble works, to vocal and choral works, to chamber and solo music. It's nice to hear a variety of works by each composer, giving us a chance to experience the different sides of their personalities.

Later that evening, several of us took a nice walk down to the nearby town of Vevey. We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset over the lake, with the mountains in the background. Plus we got to visit the famous giant fork statue which appeared on our promotional posters. (See next post for pictures.)

Some Pictures from Day 2

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Getting settled in

We are really spoiled here: great people, great place, great music, great food.

The last few days have been full of our scheduled musical activities. Performers have been putting in many hours rehearsing the new pieces by the participant composers. Each work is prepared in a series of five rehearsals, each of which lasts an hour and a half. Composers have been holding music sharing sessions each morning, giving each composer thirty minutes to play recordings and talk about their music. This allows us to get to know each other’s work, and it generates lots of conversation. Some of us have even been sharing our scores with each other. These presentations often bring up issues that many of us face in composing our music; for instance, the integration of classical and nonclassical styles, the notation of rhythmically complex music, the meanings of dynamic markings, and the creation of effective musical structures. It’s nice to spend time with lots of other composers and know that we’re not alone! And the level of musicianship is astronomical at the festival this year. At each session, and at the rehearsals I have visited (including the ones for my own piece), I have been continually blown away!

On Tuesday night, guest composer Stephen Hartke gave a presentation on his music, playing a wide variety of his works and discussing each of them. He spoke about the idea of informed intuition, meaning that you gather knowledge about music that allows your intuitive decisions to be shaped by good examples. It was inspiring to see how this concept appears in his works, which draw on a wide variety of influences, yet sound unique and spontaneous. His works manage to evoke everything from ancient ruins to creaking bedsprings, plus the music is beautiful and fascinating on a purely sonic level. It’s a tremendous privilege to have Dr. Hartke in our company this week.

What We're Eating

Yu-Chun Kuo is one of the percussionists at Music10, and she has been faithfully taking pictures of the food and providing descriptions. So, if you're jealous that we're eating ridiculously yummy food, get mad at her, not me.

6/21 Lunch Dessert: Cherry Tart, Apricot Tart, Apple Tart
(Note from the author: Yes, you read that right. LUNCH DESSERT.)

More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

And So It Begins

And so it begins, this torture of being fed dessert twice a day. It must not be healthy, you know, desserts twice, cheese three times a day, lots of wine.

But, yes, the Music10 Festival has begun. We arrived yesterday and may have been a bit tired, but we're looking forward to meeting new people and having new music performed.

We could get used to this.

Photos of Day 1 after the jump.