British composer and pianist David Bruce draws from folk traditions such as gypsy music, flamenco, and klezmer as well as composers such as Janacek, Stravinsky, Berio, and Bartok in his work. He has composed for Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chroma, among others.
Bruce joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the meaning of his piece Marzipan and the complexities of composing folk music for virtuosic violin.
On May 5, 2017, London's long-time instrumental ensemble Penguin Cafe celebrated the release of their album "The Imperfect Sea" – a collection of originals and existing electronic music arranged for acoustic instruments –with a live performance at Le Poisson Rouge.
Originally formed in 1970s, Penguin Cafe Orchestra was the brainchild of composer and guitarist Simon Jeffes. Jeffes passed away in 1997, and his son Arthur resurrected the band, which currently includes members of Gorillaz, Suede and Florence and the Machine, in 1997. "The Imperfect Sea" is the third album by this incarnation of the band. Alongside original material, which intentionally mimics the layering of electronic music, "The Imperfect Sea" features covers of "dance" music by Kraftwerk, Simeon Mobile Disco and Rock Music.
Penguin Café includes: Arthur Jeffes, piano and dulcitone; Vincent Greene, viola and music director; Clementine Brown, violin; Oli Langford, violin; Darren Berry, percussion and various other things; Rebecca Waterworth, cello; Andy Waterworth, double bass; Des Murphy, ukulele and various other things; Neil Codling, cuatro and various other things
Listen to the full show, featuring introductions and on-stage banter by Arthur Jeffes, at the top of this page.
Control 1 Interlude/Franz Schubert (by Kraftwerk)
Now Nothing (by Rock Music)
Wheels Within Wheels (by Simeon Mobile Disco)
Music For A Found Harmonium
Air à Danser
engineers: George Wellington (technical director), Duke Markos (music mix), Edward Haber
"Petits Artéfacts," the forthcoming debut from Grammy-winning, Eighth Blackbird-founding cellist Nick Photinos, features new music from an impressive array of new and established voices, including Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang, rocker-cum-composer Bryce Dessner and heralded composer-of-the-moment Andrew Norman.
In advance of the release, watch Photinos and ubiquitous percussionist Doug Perkins perform jazz pianist/composer Pascal Le Boeuf's teeth-rattling roller coaster ride Alpha.
The music is comprised of hard-grooving, stop-start cells and seemingly takes its cues from high-anxiety Hitchcock film music imbued with elements of vintage funk, John Bonham-style pummeling and free jazz. The intensity sits firmly at eleven the whole time and director Michael McQuilken's fast-cut and dizzying camera work only heightens the drama.
Petits Artéfacts is due August 25 on New Amsterdam Records.
It is possible that someone, somewhere has listened to an assortment of recent works by Terry Riley and not been utterly charmed, but it is best not to imagine what life must be like for such a person. Now 82 years old, Riley knocked the course of music history sideways with the highly repetitive, process-driven, open-form piece In C in 1964, but he has refused to repeat himself, instead producing a varied catalog of compositions in which the only constants are propulsive syncopation, a richness of ornamental detail, and melody.
Dark Queen Mantra, the titular piece on a new recording from the Sono Luminus label, unites two of the sound-worlds that have made up much of Riley's repertoire: the string quartet and the guitar. The bowed string players here are not his usual partners, the Kronos Quartet, but another bold Bay-area band, the Del Sol Quartet, who commissioned the piece in honor of Riley's 80th birthday, and it is a pleasure to hear Riley's music created and illuminated by a chamber group with a performance aesthetic that diverges from the very strong style of the Kronos crew.
The guitarist, on the other hand, is one of Riley's most longstanding musical collaborators. Riley has written his son Gyan whole volumes of Latin-influenced music for electric and acoustic guitar, and this Mantra is no exception: a sort of concerto for electric guitar and string quartet that delves from a sprightly tarantella into something more tuneful and wistful, and then deeper still into a distorted rock guitar tone, without ever losing a certain breezy, Spanish character.
Along with Dark Queen Mantra and The Wheel & Mystic Birds Waltz, a 1983 Riley quartet, Del Sol also offers here a piece by the legendary contrabass player and composer Stefano Scodanibbio, a longtime Terry Riley collaborator who passed away in 2012. Mas Lugares (su Madrigali di Monteverdi) is a sort of double homage to two other Italian masters: Claudio Monteverdi, whose madrigals emerge like ghosts from the Riley-like bustle of the opening movement, and Luciano Berio, whose own music was similarly haunted by the musical past.
Del Sol String Quartet: Dark Queen Mantra
Sono Luminus | Release Date: August 24, 2017
Available to Pre-Order on Amazon
The Brooklyn Youth Chorus' Silent Voices project – which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this past May – was one of the most socially aware artistic events in New York this year. The project commissioned 10 new works and created space for a sustained conversation about issues of social justice and empowerment among musicians, choristers and audiences alike.
Q2 Music documented conversations about the months of emotional and intellectual energy the choristers’ put into the project.
Keeping the Look Loose by composer Kamala Sankaram, with lyrics written by renowned prose-poet Claudia Rankine (Citizen, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely), is first subject of our two documentary videos. The piece is an anthem for young women, encouraging them to overcome the cultural scrutiny of their bodies.
“I wanted this to be an a capella piece because it's about the choir, it's about them. It's about their agency, and their power, and so I felt like they had to be the ones driving, driving the music forward and driving the journey forward,” says Sankaram. The choristers accompany themselves with claps and stomps throughout to “put them in their bodies and give them a little more power.”
With interviews conducted by Helga Davis, this video is a testament to not only to the truth of these young women’s experiences, but also to a tragically overlooked and rarely mastered gesture of activism: listening.
Watch: Kamala Sankaram's Keeping the Look Loose, with text by Claudia Rankine, below:
Brooklyn Youth Chorus's Silent Voices was a multimedia, multi-composer stage work conceived, produced and performed by the Chorus. Unfolding over the course of the Chorus’ 25th anniversary season, and culminating in a world premiere at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House in May 2017, the work was co-commissioned by Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and WQXR.
The New York electronic composer Oneohtrix Point Never has remixed a piece by legendary Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.
"Andata" appears on Sakamoto's latest release async, an album conceived as a soundtrack to a film by Andrei Tarkovsky that does not exist. OPN subtly colors Sakamoto's tranquil, baroque-informed piano meditation and digital hiss with dated plucked synth counterpoint and syrupy organ-like swells.
Oneohtrix Point Never is the project of composer Daniel Lopatin, who has released seven full-length albums to date (his eighth, a soundtrack to the film Good Time, will be released on August 8). Lopatin often incorporates warped audio samples of sounds from YouTube, films and other "found" sources, referencing modern ambient music, ambient, New Age and No Wave styles. He recently released a single with Iggy Pop.
An upcoming remix album of async set for a September 8 release on Milan Records includes OPN's remix alongside remixes by Arca, Jóhann Jóhannsson and others.
Listen to Oneohtrix Point Nevers's reworking of "Andata":
Listen to Ryuichi Sakamoto's "Andata" from async:
On July 11th, chamber orchestra The Knights premiered Judd Greenstein's Flute Concerto during a live performance at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park. The concerto was written for Knights' flutist Alex Sopp, also a member of the groups yMusic and NOW Ensemble, and broadcast live on WQXR.
As Greenstein explains in the interview embedded below, Sopp is a longtime friend of his and the concerto reflects her relationship with the other musicians in The Knights, both as an ensemble member and soloist. On the onstage interview before the performance, he tells conductor Eric Jacobsen that the piece is about "people doing things that are similar, that are together, but yet have something individual to say."
Listen to Judd Greenstein's Flute Concerto at the top of the page, and his interview with Eric Jacobsen below.
The Knights' Eric Jacobsen interviews Judd Greenstein
David Lang is also co-founder and co-artistic director of New York's legendary music collective Bang on a Can. One of the most visible and performed contemporary composers, he has composed for the Internationl Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Kronos Quartet, the New York Philharmonic and eighth blackbird. His score for director Paolo Sorrentino's film YOUTH was nominated for an Academy Award and he was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his The Little Match Girl Passion.
David Lang joins Jennifer Koh to discuss a composer's awareness of the works alongside which his/her own is being programmed, and an alternative approach to virtuosity, one soaked in subtlety, control, and reservation of emotion, both of which he explores and exemplifies in his Shared Madness composition low resolution.
Julia Wolfe is a composer who finds inspiration in folk, classical and rock music. She was a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, and her opera Anthracite Fields won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. A co-founder of Bang on a Can, she's composed for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and singers and the Munich Chamber Orchestra, among others. Wolfe is currently writing a piece for the New York Philharmonic’s 2018 season.
She joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the history behind the title of her Shared Madness piece, Spinning Jenny, traditional folk technique, and the moment she discovered her love of music.
On July 12, cellist Mariel Roberts – an accomplished solo performer and also a member of Mivos Quartet – joined us in the studio to perform music by the late maverick composer Pauline Oliveros and Columbia University's George Lewis, off her latest album, Cartography.
The wildly virtuosic Spinner, by legendary composer and trombonist George Lewis, incorporates intricate runs of string harmonics and a rubber superball rubbed against the back of the instrument for a detailed and textured piece that also recalls the spontaneity of improvisation.
Pauline Oliveros's Thirteen Changes asks the performer to interpret thirteen descriptive sentences, including "solar winds scorching the returning comet's tail" and "elephants mating in a secret grove."Instructions for Pauline Oliveros' 'Thirteen Changes,' performed by Mariel Roberts (Hannis Brown)
Michael Gordon is a composer and co-founder of Bang on a Can known for a "maximalist" approach to composition. Recent works include Natural History, written for Oregon's Crater Lake, a recent bassoon concerto Observations on Air and The Unchanging Sea for pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama and the Seattle Symphony and Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
Gordon joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the changing definition of virtuosity, which Gordon interprets to be based on potential for connection and communication rather than athleticism, and how this concept is explored in his Shared Madness composition kwerk.
Mark Grey is a composer and sound designer from San Francisco. He has worked with the Phoenix Symphony, Kronos Quartet and California EARUnit. As a sound designer, Grey has worked extensively with John Adams as well as with Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
Grey joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the influence of Grey’s experience with technology on his approach to composition, and his re-construction of soundworlds from Paganini’s 20th caprice.
Paul Simon has always been attracted to new kinds of sounds. From his early band Simon & Garfunkel in the 1960s through solo albums like Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints in the '80s and '90s, up through his recent albums So Beautiful or So What and Stranger to Stranger, Simon has made music that does what the very best art can do: it resonates with our experience, re-frames it, and introduces new timbres and ideas.
Recently, Simon’s curious mind has brought him into the world of contemporary classical music, mining the microtonal sound world of Harry Partch for his last record, and, just last month, collaborating with 10 composers and the ensemble yMusic on a set at the Eaux Claires music festival. On this episode, we hear Simon's perspective on his career and his most recent projects, as well as exclusive audio from the festival collaboration itself.
Heard a piece of music that you loved? Discover it here!
0:18—Andrew Norman: Music in Circles | Listen
2:23—Paul Simon: Insomniac’s Lullaby | Listen
5:04—Simon & Garfunkel: Mrs. Robinson | Listen
6:09—The Penguins: Earth Angel | Listen
7:05—Tom & Jerry: Hey Schoolgirl | Listen
7:48—Simon & Garfunkel: Sound of Silence | Listen
8:13—Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water | Listen
8:48—Paul Simon: Still Crazy After All These Years | Listen
9:09—Paul Simon: Hearts and Bones | Listen
10:00—Boyoyo Boys: Son Op | Listen
10:41—Paul Simon: Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes | Listen
11:03—Paul Simon: Boy in the Bubble | Listen
11:30—Paul Simon: Homeless | Listen
11:58—Paul Simon: Graceland | Listen
12:53—Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Alphabet | Watch
13:22—Paul Simon: Under African Skies | Listen
14:50—Paul Simon: Crazy Love, Vol. II | Listen
15:38—Eddie Palmieri: Ay Que Rico | Listen
15:53—Various Artists: Hausa Street Music | Listen
16:06—Various Artists: Oru Para Todos Los Santos | Listen
16:12—Various Artists: Songhay Gulu Drummers | Listen
16:24—Paul Simon: Further to Fly | Listen
17:08—Paul Simon: Obvious Child | Listen
18:58—Marcos Balter: Bladed Stance | Listen
20:56—Timo Andres: Safe Travels | Listen
23:40—Harry Partch: Cloud-Chamber Bowls | Listen
24:33—Harry Partch: The Bewitched, Scene One | Listen
25:14—Paul Simon: Insomniac’s Lullaby | Listen
26:27—Vincenzo Bellini: Casta Diva, from Norma | Listen
27:58—Sergei Prokofiev: Cello Sonata in C major, op. 119 | Listen
29:15—Paul Simon: Another Galaxy | Listen
31:44—Paul Simon: Kathy’s Song | Listen
32:14—Paul Simon: Train in the Distance | Listen
32:44—Paul Simon: Train in the Distance [acoustic demo] | Listen
35:08—Bob Dylan: The Ballad of a Thin Man | Listen
35:34—Gabriel Kahane: Veda (1 Pierce Dr.) | Listen
36:10—Paul Simon [arr. Gabriel Kahane]: Train in the Distance
37:32—Danny Brown: Ain’t It Funny | Listen
40:14—Paul Simon [arr. Robert Sirota]: America
42:32—Simon & Garfunkel: Sound of Silence | Listen
44:17—Simon & Garfunkel: America | Listen
46:15—Paul Simon [arr. Rob Moose]: Sound of Silence
Andrew Norman, Musical America's 2017 Composer of the Year, is a Los Angeles-based composer who draws inspiration from both the classical canon and modern media, like movies and video games. He is currently on faculty at the University of Southern California.
Norman’s music has been performed by ensembles including the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics, the Philadelphia and Minnesota Orchestras, the BBC, Saint Louis, Seattle and Melbourne Symphonies among others. He recently won the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.
Norman joins Jennifer Koh to discuss performed silence as exemplary of delicate virtuosity, and the “deconstruction of technique,” through which Norman seeks to illicit a deliberately imperfect result, seen as flawed through the eyes of “classical” training but as expressively human through Norman’s eyes. These concepts are all at work in his Shared Madness composition Still Life.
Composer Daníel Bjarnason is currently artist in residence with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and is a member of Bedroom Community, the Icelandic record label and artist collective. In addition to recent and upcoming commissions for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Calder Quartet, and others, he's collaborated with musicians including Sigur Rós, Brian Eno, Efterklang and Ben Frost.
Bjarnason joins Jennifer Koh to discuss compositions as self-contained universes and the challenges inherent in maintain many disparate voices in a work scored for a solo instrument, both forces Bjarnason finds present in his Shared Madness composition First Escape.
Kaija Saariaho is a Grawemeyer Award-winning composer born in Helsinki, Finland, but currently based in Paris. Her studies and research at IRCAM, the Paris institute for research of electronic music and music technology, have had a major influence on her music, and her characteristically luxuriant and mysterious textures are often created by combining performance on acoustic instruments and electronics. Her opera L’Amour de loin was given its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 2017.
Saariaho joins Jennifer Koh discuss the tricky relationship between musical intricacy and performative virtuosity, and the extent to which extended techniques are (and aren’t) actually any less natural for a performer than conventional technique. Saariaho explores these complex dichotomies in her Shared Madness piece Sense.
British composer David Bruce has held positions as Associate Composer of the San Diego Symphony, for whom he wrote three pieces, and as 2012-13 Composer-in-Residence with the Royal Opera House. Carnegie Hall has commissioned numerous pieces from Bruce, and his chamber opera The Firework Maker's Daughter was shortlisted for both the British Composer Award and the 2014 Olivier Awards for Best New Opera Production.
Bruce joins Koh to discuss the vulnerability and humanness that both Bruce and Koh find in folk music tradition, and the concept of a “gift” as it relates to a person’s sense of community, and to the title of his composition Marzipan.
Marc Neikrug has composed numerous works across numerous styles, including symphonic music, chamber music, music-theater, and opera in a career spanning 30 years. His opera Los Alamos was commissioned by the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and his music has been performed by the London Sinfonietta, the New York Philharmonic and the Emerson String Quartet, among others.
Born into a musical family, he was exposed to much music from a young age, particularly string music. He joins Jennifer Koh to discuss his Shared Madness piece, "Flash," its relations to Eugène Ysaÿe, and shares some juicy details on Ysaÿe's personal life.
On Tuesday, July 18, the supergroup of singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister brings their jointly composed concept album Planetarium to the stars above Prospect Park as part of the summer outdoor festival Celebrate Brooklyn!. We caught up with the four musicians to talk about the interplanetary song cycle, which was released June 9 on 4AD.
This album really isn’t about gas giants and hunks of rock spinning through space. What is it really about, and what role did the planets play in its creation and guidance?
Sufjan Stevens: That is a good question! We are all spinning. There is absolutely nothing to learn from a spinning planet, except repetition and nausea. But a life spinning out of control teaches us volumes about love and self-care and responsibility. We must learn from our mistakes a billion times over. There is nothing less than total rapture and refinement in store for us. Fire will test the realness of each man’s work.
I noticed there’s a little moment on “Mercury” that sounds exactly like a phrase in “Death with Dignity,” from Carrie and Lowell. Since it’s been so long in the making, do you think Planetarium songs informed or crossed over into your other work consciously, or unconsciously?
Stevens: That was just a coincidence, nothing more. I suppose those correlating musical intervals suggest something of the universe speaking for that experience of terrible loss. I wish I could explain it more, but I have a feeling it was just happenstance.
A blog post you wrote this past winter turned into a Washington Post op-ed, and it ends “The life you live is not your own. Give your life away.” Who are you giving your life to?
Stevens: To gain your life, you must lose it. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Love everyone else. Be a servant and a steward. Every life matters more than yours. Expect nothing, but give everything. Stop being selfish. That's basically what I mean.Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, James McAlister and Sufjan Stevens (Marzuki Stevens, Flavien Prioreau, Robbie Jeffers, Charlotte de Mezamat)
What was the most difficult thing about reviving this project after so many years?
Nico Muhly: There were two forms of revival, really: the first was making the album out of so many layers we recorded years ago; Sufjan and James did the majority of this — I think it must have felt like cleaning out a hoarder house. Then there is the other thing which is building a live show. Right now, as I type this to you, I’m figuring out how to squeeze what was once an arrangement for string quartet and seven trombones into a smaller band, while maintaining the same visceral power of the original. That’s a challenge for me, but I do it all the time writing orchestral or vocal music.
To me, there’s something deeply lonely about a space-themed album. Thinking of these planets, where life is not sustainable, hurtling through infinite cold and darkness, being reminded of how vast the universe really is – there’s no quicker way to make me feel very small. How does loneliness factor into your creative process?
Muhly: Most of my musical processes happen in absolute isolation; my favorite time is when everybody leaves me entirely alone and I can write for three days. By day four, though, I get desperately lonely for any kind of interaction. I feel like actually one of the most moving things I know about is that sad cartoon about the Mars rover being left up there, thinking that if he (she?) analyses a rock better that he’ll get to come home. I find it heartbreaking.
When she interviewed you for Meet the Composer, Nadia Sirota talked at length about the “u” emails you send to your friends and collaborators when you come across something you think they should see. What do you think was the most characteristic “u” you’ve ever sent to Sufjan, Bryce, and James?
Muhly: So, I just went through the archive — many of them are too vulgar to be described in words! However, of the polite ones: James is something resembling vegan — maybe vegetarian; once you cross the line I stop caring — so I think the best one he got was a giant screed with foul language about how great quinoa was; that dates from July, 2012. Bryce, as you know, is a guitarist, so I look for outrageous pictures of guitar quartets and similar ensembles dressed terribly; you would be amazed how many of these there are. Sufjan gets a lot of different varieties of them; there’s a great one with John Waters talking about John Wayne Gacy, there are a bunch about liturgical incense, some other unspeakable ones — the thing with these is that they really are quite tailored.
Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister's collaborative album 'Planetarium' (4AD)
There are videos dating from as far back as 2012 of Planetarium songs. Did the songs go through many incarnations before you recorded, or did it get back-burnered?
Bryce Dessner: The songs evolved quite a lot over time as we were writing and then preparing the live show, and then the music music continued to develop once we had a chance to play it for an audience. We recorded most of the record shortly after the last Planetarium show, at a church in upstate New York. But then we all had various things going on and we all felt that Sufjan should focus on finishing his own record (Carrie an Lowell was recorded around the same time.) So we essentially put the release on hold until he finished touring that record. Once we picked it back up this past year we all felt that it should continue to evolve which is why the recorded version of the songs is significantly different from those original live versions.
Of the collaborators, you may be the one who most easily slips between the worlds of “pop” music and “classical” music, considering your work with The National on one hand and your commissions for groups like eighth blackbird and Ensemble Intercontemporain. In your opinion, where does Planetarium fall on the pop-classical spectrum? Is it even a spectrum?
Dessner: Everyone involved in Planetarium is really comfortable working form score and does it quite regularly. Because we had a large classical ensemble (seven trombones and string quartet) onstage with us for the live show most of the songs do exist in 'score' form. Steve Reich pointed out to me recently that these conversations about pop and classical (which i try not to overthink) could be more accurately categorized as music that is notated versus music that is non-notated or written/taught by ear. In my personal experience, projects like the works I have written for Ensemble Intercontemporain or 8th Blackbird or the LA Phil, I compose completely on my own and I hand a finished score to the ensemble. In the case of The National, we write collaboratively in the studio together and for the most part (until we start orchestrating the songs for the record) we are not working from score. Planetarium is definitely more of a mixture of those two kinds of processes. Most of the songs for instance Sufjan Nico and I wrote together while spending a week at a residency workshopping ideas.
What draws you into a project?
James McAlister: This project is special – we all are coming from our own corners of the musical universe – but we speak a similar language. Anytime I can be challenged and bring my own personality to a project, I'm in.
What were some of your influences while working on this project?
Brian Eno and Harold Budd: Plateaux of Mirror
Juana Molina: Segundo
Aphex Twin: Syro
Tangerine Dream: Phaedra
BBC Radiophonic Workshop
What makes you want to keep working on it even when it gets so hard you'd rather think about anything but the project?
McAlister: Collaboration is key. The hardest things for me to finish are things that aren't accountable to anyone else but myself.
David Ludwig is a Philadelphia-based composer, who has written for the Philadelphia and National Symphony Orchestras, and had his choral work presented at the inauguration of Barack Obama. He's also composed for the Dover and Borromeo quartets, eighth blackbird, and ECCO.
Ludwig serves on the composition faculty of Curtis and is director of the Curtis 20/21 Contemporary Music Ensemble.
Ludwig joins Jennifer Koh to discuss elemental sounds in instrumental music, use of palindrome, Paganini, and the geometric phenomena of the mobius strip. Ludwig explains how these factors are explored in his Shared Madness composition “Moto Perpetuo”.
The music was recorded last May at National Sawdust as part of the New York Philharmonic's NY Phil Biennial.
Shared Madness with violinist Jennifer Koh – Musical America's 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year – explores the shared creative space between composer and performer, and what virtuosity for the storied instrument means in the 21st century. The series unfolds over 30 short episodes which combine conversation with world-premiere performance audio.