Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New season, New work

As the autumnal winds start blowing through the trees outside my apartment, I am reminded that indeed the season has started. Of course - the (painfully) sudden onslaught of practicing, part-making, rehearsing, meetings and emailing has also provided a clear cue as well.

Though I am having a tougher time than usual making this shift from summer to fall, I have particularly enjoyed our rehearsals so far for "Kalas". Having a brand new piece in front of you to discover is always exciting....especially when it is written for you and someone close to you in mind (clarinetist/hubby is my partner in this piece...and also in life).

It has its challenges as well - it's very much like having a mess of puzzle pieces in front of you... some fit, some look like they might fit but you can't figure out how they relate to the puzzle as a whole, and some you just have no idea what to do with them.

Thankfully, the composer Mohammed Fairouz lives just downtown from us, so we had the luxury of working directly with him to help realize the shape and nuances that are often impossible to really notate in the parts. Mohammed has a clear vision of what he wants and sings it for us (which thankfully saves us a lot of rehearsal time to be spent guessing what would be best). For those pieces that are not yet fitting, we play and play again, while also spending time brainstorming how to better interpret or amend what is on the page.

Having said all this, Ben and I are now looking forward to going back into the "studio" and making this piece truly our own as well as Mohammed's. Hope you can all make it on Saturday to see the premiere performance!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Messiaen and Me

I am so pleased that c)i will be performing Quartet for the End of Time next Saturday.  This piece, and the work of Olivier Messiaen in general, are very dear to me, having been present at the very beginning of my life as a composer.  My first composition teacher was Herman Weiss, who as a Fulbright Scholar was a student of Messiaen. He told me a story that he and Messiaen were at a concert with the Quartet on the program.  Herman knew he was coming down with something, and by the intermission felt quite ill.  He attempted to make his apologies to his teacher, but Messiaen told him, “Weiss, if you leave I will never speak to you again.”  Of course, Herman stayed, and fell into bed at the end of the concert.  After a week of the most horrible flu, he staggered to the window of his apartment, to see about some commotion he heard.  And there, on the street below, was a motorcade, and Richard Nixon going by in a convertible, waving. He could not feel sure whether this was a hallucination from the illness, or if it really was Nixon.

Anyway, I heard lots of stories about Messiaen and his music.  The Quartet was the first work I seriously studied “as a composer,” trying to analyze how Messiaen practiced such an economy, or perhaps such a unity, of material and at the same time created such a fantastic breadth of colors, characters, and expression.  He taught me how rhythm bears a strong impact on the perception of pitch. He could take the exact same string of pitches, and in one movement express something harsh, even violent, and then in another movement show it as furtive, quiet, imminent. The Quartet is a work I can go to again and again, and every time I give myself to it I discover something new. 

 And the best way to hear Quartet for the End of Time yourself is definitely to hear the counter)induction version.  As Messiaen would say, “Elle rocke.” Read what Allan Kozinn had to say in The New York Times the last time we performed it…

 MUSIC REVIEW; Beauty Despite Terror and Melancholy


Published: Friday, October 3, 2003

 A facile connection is often made between the apocalyptic vision of Olivier Messiaen's ''Quartet for the End of Time'' and the circumstances of its composition, in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1941. The work's odd scoring -- piano, violin, clarinet and cello -- reflects the instruments available in Stalag 8A.

 Yet Messiaen's fascination with Catholic mysticism would probably have led him to write this work even if he were free and at peace. His inspiration was not the war but the imagery in Chapter 10 of the Revelation of St. John. And although parts of the score evoke both terrifying power and sublime melancholy, the work mainly strives to offer a glimpse of otherworldly beauty and eternal salvation.

 Given the vividness and variety of Messiaen's writing, it is easy for even an ad hoc chamber group to create an effect with this work. But conveying its full emotional weight and spiritual grandeur, as the new-music ensemble Counter)induction did on Tuesday evening at Christ and St. Stephen's Church in Manhattan, requires an uncommon combination of precision, suppleness and an almost choreographed interpretive approach.

Everything was right: the second, sixth and seventh movements, meant to convey the rainbow coloration and mysterious presence of the angel who announces the end of time, was played with a fiery ensemble virtuosity. Benjamin Fingland's clarinet playing gave substance to Messiaen's depiction of the celestial birds in ''Abîme des Oiseaux.'' And with the steady, perfectly measured support of Blair McMillen's piano, the group's cellist, Sumire Kudo, and its violinist, Asmira Woodward-Page, played the two meditative slow movements with a transforming intensity and beauty of tone.

 The performance was almost shattering enough to make a listener forget all that had gone before it. But the first half of the program was equally worthy. Kyle Bartlett, one of the ensemble's two resident composers (the other is Douglas Boyce), contributed ''Sown Under the Skin of Her Hands,'' a brief, tactile string trio that begins as a study in pianissimo textures but quickly gains thematic coherence and heft. Jukka Tiensuu's ''Beat'' entertainingly explores the tensions between sliding microtonal clarinet and violin lines and the fixed pitch of the piano. And Jessica Meyer, the ensemble's violist, gave a focused, beautifully centered account of Krzysztof Penderecki's unaccompanied Cadenza.