Friday, July 1, 2011

Music11 Last Day!

Our last day here at Music11 was a wonderful culmination of this festival's musical activities. In the afternoon over half of our participant performers played in masterclasses for eighth blackbird. Since we had so many performances, we divided forces, having piano, percussion, and voice in Bartok Hall, and strings and woodwinds in the Salon. We heard some fantastic performances and wonderful ideas for improvement. Because the members of eighth blackbird have experience with so many different kinds of music, they have insights into many aspects of the performing process. These masterclasses were so successful that many of us wished that we had held more of them, and earlier in the festival so that everyone could have seen one another perform towards the beginning of our time here. I think we'll be holding more events like this in next year's installment of MusicX, because it was so enriching for everyone involved.

The final concert was a rewarding summation of the various aspects of this festival. It showcased the participant composers and performers by their contributions to the concert: Toru Takemitsu's Rain Tree, Amy Kirsten's joujou, and Ruben Naeff's Fill the Present Day with Joy. What a beautiful culmination of all of the work and inspiration that went into the making of this festival - from the first acceptance letters our participants received, to the last notes of each piece they composed and performed for Music11. It showcased composer-in-residence David Lang with his pieces wed and these broken wings. He has been a wonderful presence at our festival for the last week. We greatly appreciate his first-rate musicianship, his creativity, his knack for challenging and guiding young musicians in their work, and his lovely personality. It showcased ensemble-in-residence eighth blackbird through their performances of the two Lang pieces, plus Philip Glass' Music in Similar Motion, and Stephen Hartke's new violin and piano piece Netsuke. In particular, it showcased eighth blackbird violinist Matt Albert who gave his last performance with the ensemble during this concert. As Joel Hoffman observed while speaking at the concert, Matt Albert's musicianship and personality is characterized by generosity and courage. Matt is generous in his expressive playing, his mentoring of younger musicians, and his friendships. He is courageous in his constant drive to discover new music, take risks, and embrace the unknown. This courage has lead him to explore new opportunities in his career, which is why he is now departing from eighth blackbird. We will certainly miss him; we wish him many blessings for this new step in his career; we know that his courage and generosity will ensure him spectacular success. As this festival draws to a close, we are also saying goodbye to our general manager Michael Ippolito, who has been an indispensable part of MusicX for years. He is a composer, administrator, and friend of the absolute first rate. As with Matt, we fully support Michael in his next step and look forward to hearing about what he accomplishes in his post-MusicX career.

One of my very favorite things about this festival is that it doesn't really end at the end of our two weeks here. It was amazing to see how many wonderful friendships and collaborations were forged during our time in Switzerland. I for one am already looking forward to embarking on upcoming projects that resulted from the friendships I just made in the last two weeks - and I know that I am not alone in this. It seems like everywhere I turned, I heard people plotting and scheming about exciting artistic endeavors for the near future. To have not only a fantastic group of people, but also an inspiring place, seems to be a key part of the recipe for inspiration. I believe that there is something about this gorgeous place that helped us all take a real break from our normal lives and open ourselves up to new dreams and aspirations. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone for an outstanding time together - and let's keep in touch!

Music11 Composers III and Final Vote

Thursday we had our third concert of new works composed for Music11, as well as our final composer masterclass. In the afternoon Ruben Naeff, Kerrith Livengood, David Trum, Elizabeth Ogonek, and Ben Wallace got to present their music for David Lang. Once again, many of our recurring topics came up in discussion. I think this may be because we have a very artistically diverse group of composers - since we are all so different, we tend to focus on the more universal issues of being a composer. The conversation quickly turned to the way we introduce our music to listeners. We also addressed the ever-present topic of self-consciousness as a composer. Lang is quite a natural teacher; he has a knack for figuring out what a composer is trying to achieve, and encouraging him or her to achieve that more fully. He spoke of the difference between what you want to do in your music, versus what you do because you think it will please the listener. He encouraged us to write music that suits our own taste, with the confidence that a curious listener will be interested in experiencing our music on its own terms. As he put it, "if I'm not interested, I'll go watch a baseball game. If I am interested, I want to hear what you have to say, not what you think I want you to say." Lang also addressed the topic of text setting in relation to David Trum's vocal piece. Often we fall into the habit of setting words in a speech-like fashion, writing notes that are more or less the same length, never going against the grain. Lang advocated for a more elastic treatment of text. He believes that the text must become subservient to the music - not the other way around - and that passages of text can be set in ways that condense or expand its delivery in relation to its emotional content.

Our evening concert opened with Lang's aria "I Had No Reason" from his opera The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. This hauntingly exposed passage featured soprano Lindsay Kesselman in the role of Mrs. Williamson, whose husband has mysteriously vanished while walking across a field. Midway through, she was joined unexpectedly by violinist Matt Albert, who emerged from the audience and began playing.

Amy Kirsten's joujou explored the relationship between two classic Commedia dell'arte characters Pierrot and Columbine. Deidre Huckabay (flute), Megan Ihnen (mezzo-soprano), Katrina Leshan (guitar), Matthew Duvall (percussion), and Katy LaFavre (percussion) gave a brilliant performance. Each musician was called upon to vocalize and play percussion at various points in the piece, and they did so very effectively. The lightning-quick flashes of sound were absolutely mesmerizing. Amy's music is like a magic pastry shop of surprising sonic flavors.

Hojin Lee's Piece for Flute, Viola, and Piano embarked on an introverted journey full of brooding turmoil. Tim Munro, Andrea Hemmenway, and Daniel Walden played with deep angst.

In his Piano Trio: Prelude, Michael Ippolito made three instruments sound like a full orchestra. Sarah Saviet (violin), Branson Yeast (cello), and Lisa Kaplan (piano) played with dynamic force and confident unity. From intricately weaving lines to massive, juicy harmonies, the work was satisfying at every turn.

In contrast, Hye Jung Yoon's Piano Trio exemplified a different type of emotional fervor. Matt Albert (violin), Branson Yeast (cello), and Bryan Kelly (piano) were expressive and precise as they interpreted the lonely, desolate fury of the work.

Ben Wallace's quirky title, Lil' Iannis is Too Shy to Get Up and Dance, requires a bit of explanation. Ben took the rhythms of Iannis Xenakis' unpitched percussion piece Rebonds B and set them to pitches, creating a much different effect than Xenakis' original. The Xenakis piece has become a sort of inside joke among conservatory percussion students, since it is played so constantly that you can sometimes hear multiple people practicing it at once when walking by percussion practice rooms. Hearing it set to Ben's cheerful notes and played by Laura Lentz (flute), Nicholas Photinos (cello), and Yen Lin Goh (piano) was a quirky and welcome surprise.

all streams reach the sea at last, by Elizabeth Ogonek, was full of rich contrasts; the piece was by turns electrifying, tender, fiendish, and aquatic. A lovely performance was given by Tim Munro (flute), Emily McPherson (flute), Daniel Walden (piano), Joey Van Hassel (percussion), and Clara Warnaar (percussion).

When introducing his piece Fill the Present Day with Joy, Ruben Naeff told us "I wanted to write an opera about you." This propulsively energetic work was a setting of comments, status updates, and various other pieces of information from Facebook. Many of our participants' names came up in the piece, making it a fun, personal, and entertaining conclusion for the concert. The work's title comes from a William Wordsworth quote that mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen had posted on her wall. Ruben's piece makes use of this text, as well as the numerous comments posted by Megan's friends. The piece was given a spirited and unabashedly wacky performance by Jessica Aszodi (soprano), Matthew Albert (viola), Thomas Kotsheff (piano, claves, bell) and Charlie Magnone (piano).

After the concert we held our Music11 composer competition, in which we all voted for our favorite pieces from the festival. The prize is another performance of the winning pieces on Friday's final concert. This was a fun way to express our admiration for one another and hear some of our favorite pieces again. Congratulations to our winners Amy Kirsten and Ruben Naeff!!! We look forward to hearing your pieces again! Congrats also to our three honorable mentions: Michael Ippolito, Dylan Sheridan, and Gabriella Smith. This was definitely the best MusicX festival ever - we look forward to savoring our last day here together!