Saturday, January 29, 2005
Molly Alicia Barth, flutes
Michael J. Maccaferri, clarinets
Matt Albert, violin
Nicholas Photinos, cello
Matthew L. Duvall, percussion
Lisa Kaplan, piano
as ambassadors of new music, eighth
blackbird has a growing reputation for its astounding musical versatility as
well as for its dedication to the works of today’s composers.
Formed in 1996 at the Oberlin Conservatory, the sextet (flute, clarinet,
violin, cello, percussion, and piano) has won numerous awards, including the
prestigious Naumburg Chamber Music Award in 2000 and the CMA/ASCAP Awards for
Adventurous Programming in 1998, 2000, and 2002.
In 1998, eighth blackbird was the first contemporary ensemble to win first
prize at the Concert Artists Guild International Competition.
The sextet is currently ensemble-in-residence at Northwestern University
and the University of Chicago. The
name eighth blackbird refers to the poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens, the
eighth stanza of which reads:
know noble accents
lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know
information may be found on the eighth
blackbird Web site at http://www.eighthblackbird.com.
Alicia Barth plays on a Lillian Burkart flute and piccolo.
eighth blackbird is presented through arrangement with ICM Artists,
Ltd., 40 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019; David V. Foster, President
Higdon (born 1962)
in Brooklyn, New York, on December 31, 1962, Jennifer Higdon grew up in Atlanta
and in Seymour, Tennessee. A flutist and conductor as well as a composer,
she now lives in Philadelphia, where she serves on the composition faculty of
the Curtis Institute of Music, from which she also has an Artist Diploma.
Higdon has earned a B.M. in flute performance from Bowling Green State
University, and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in composition from the University of
Pennsylvania, where she was formerly the conductor of the university’s
orchestra and wind ensemble.
Higdon’s many recognitions are: the
Lee Ettelson Prize from the International League of Women Composers, Best
Contemporary Piece of 1996 from USA Today
for her orchestral work Shine, Ithaca
College’s 2003 Heckscher Prize for her Piano
Trio, and two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
She has been a composer-in-residence with the Music From Angel Fire
Festival, the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, the Walden School, San
Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center, the Prism Saxophone Quartet, and the
Zaka, for flute, clarinet, violin,
cello, piano, and percussion, was completed in 2003 and makes widely creative
use of extended instrumental techniques. It
was commissioned by eighth blackbird
through the Meet the Composer Commissioning Music USA Fund.
The Fund was made possible by generous support from the National
Endowment for the Arts, the Helen F. Whitaker Fund, the Target Foundation, and
through the fiscal sponsorship of Concert Artists Guild.
About Zaka, the composer has written:
“As the dictionary might say: Zaka,
pronounced ‘za’ - ka’ ... verb: To
do the following almost simultaneously and with great speed:
zap, sock, race, turn, drop, sprint.
See also eighth blackbird.”
Zaka was premiered at the
Caramoor Music Festival in Katonah, New York, by eighth
blackbird on July 2, 2004.
Fitzell (born 1968)
and guitarist Gordon Fitzell was born in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada in
1968 and now lives in Vancouver, where he is working on a doctorate in music
theory and composition from the University of British Columbia. He holds a
Bachelor of Music from Brandon University and a Master of Music from the
University of Alberta.
compositions have been honored several times, including the 1997 Vancouver
International New Music Festival Emerging Composers' Competition, the SOCAN
Awards for Young Composers in 1996 and 1998, and first prize in the
electroacoustic music category at the 1999 CBC Radio National Competition for
2001 work violence,
for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion, opens in clam but
grows increasingly agitated. Among other effects, it presents labored
breathing, the contrast of high sustained notes with rumbling percussion, and
frenzied hand motions. Concerning this work, the composer has written:
“In writing violence
I was interested in exploring the concept of aesthetic violence. My
concern was not with artistic representations of violence, but with violence
inherent to the very structure of the art object. What elements conspire
to wage aesthetic war in a work of art? How do issues of syntax,
perspective, temporality, ideology, morality, politics, and technology foster
such a conflict? Is aesthetic violence chaotic or organised? Is it
destructive or constructive? Is it repulsive or alluring? How is
Fitzell and eighth blackbird acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for
the Arts which last year invested $26.6 million in music throughout Canada.
remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada, qui a investi 26,6
millions de dollars l'an dernier dans la musique à travers le Canada.
Rzewski (born 1938)
Moutons des Panurge (composed 1969)
Rzewski, pianist and composer, was born on April 13, 1938, in Westfield,
Massachusetts. He studied
orchestration with Walter Piston and counterpoint with Randall Thompson at
Harvard, and was a student of both Milton Babbitt and Roger Sessions at
Princeton, where he earned his MFA in 1960.
During 1960 and 1961 as a recipient of a Fulbright scholarship, he
studied in Florence with Luigi Dallapiccola.
Active as a teacher and pianist in Europe during the 1960s, Rzewski was
one of the co-founders of the live electronic group Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV)
in Rome in 1966. Later in the 1970s, Rzewski revived his interest in unusual
forms of musical notation. In the
1980s, he found his own methods of applying twelve-tone techniques.
In the 1990s, his style loosened up as he wrote several gigantic works,
including his five-hour “novel” for solo piano, The
his work with MEV, Rzewski emphasized the concept of collective improvisation,
leading both to a penchant for socialist political compositions and a style that
often combined notated and improvised passages. One such work from this era is Rzewski’s 1969 piece Les
Moutons des Panurge (“The Sheep of Panurge”).
It takes both its title and its political subtext from the story in the
fourth book of Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais.
Nicholas Photinos, cellist and program annotator of eighth
blackbird, summarizes the story as follows:
“Pantagruel is traveling by ship with his rascally companion, Panurge,
when their boat meets with a merchant ship carrying sheep.
The merchants make fun of Panurge, though Panurge manages to buy one
sheep from them after much haggling. Panurge
then chucks the sheep into the sea, whereby all of the other sheep follow the
first sheep overboard, one after another. To
this day, the phrase ‘sheep of Panurge’ implies a person who blindly follows
the lead of another.”
his composition, Rzewski creates a figurative, musical analogue to the Rabelais
story. Written “for any number of
musicians playing melody instruments + any number of nonmusicians playing
anything,” the work contains 65 notes, played in a cumulative sequence: 1,
1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4, and so on. When
all 65 notes have been played, the complete melody is repeated.
Then the players continue, dropping one note from the beginning with each
repetition, until only one note remains. That
final note is held until all the players have reached it, at which point all
begin improvising. Rzewski’s
instructions continue: “Always
play loud, never stop or falter, stay together as long as you can, but if you
get lost, stay lost. Do not try to
find you way back into the fold. Continue
to follow the rules strictly.” As
for the nonmusicians, Rzewski encourages them to make any loud sounds, following
the dictum, “The left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing.” Moutons is
dedicated to the Dutch recorder player and conductor Frans Brüggen.
Perle (born 1915)
Moments 2 (composed 2001)
honored as both a composer and a theorist, George Perle was born in Bayonne, New
Jersey, May 6, 1915. He earned his
B.A. at DePaul University in 1938 and his Ph.D. at New York University in 1956.
Over the decades, he has taught throughout the United States, from the
University of Louisville (1949-1957) to UC Davis (1957-1961), from Yale
(1965-1966) to UC Berkeley (1989). In
1986, he won both the Pulitzer Prize in music for his Wind
Quintet no 4 and a MacArthur Fellowship.
His two-volume book The Operas of
Alban Berg won the American Musicological Society’s Otto Kinkeldey Award
and the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award.
Perle was among the earliest of American composers to find inspiration in the
twelve-tone music of the Second Vienna School, his works reflect what he has
called “twelve-note tonality.” From
1939 onward, Perle refined his system to create what amounts to a hierarchical
structure based on symmetrically related pairs among the twelve notes.
As Perle has conceived his system in a manner analogous to the concepts
of “key” or “mode” in tonal systems, the result is a sound that avoids
most of the overt difficulties many contemporary listeners associate with
Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern.
in 2001, Perle’s Critical Moments 2
is a set of nine brief pieces commissioned by the Naumburg Foundation for eighth
blackbird, who premiered the work on March 5, 2002 in New York’s Alice
Tully Hall. His first Critical
Moments was composed in 1996. About
Critical Moments 2, Perle writes:
“The instrumentation of these nine short, self-contained, and
strikingly individual movements for six players corresponds to that of Pierrot
Lunaire, except for the substitution of a percussion part for the
quasi-spoken (Sprechstimme) vocal part
of Schoenberg’s work.”
Bermel (born 1967)
Shifts (composed 2004)
and composer Derek Bermel is as comfortable with jazz and rock and he is with
classical music. Composing since
the tender age of ten, Bermel later studied at Yale and the University of
Michigan, and with such composers as Louis Andriessen, William Bolcom, and
William Albright. Intensely
interested in ethnomusicology, he has also traveled to, and studied the musics
of, such places as Dublin, Ghana, Bulgaria, South Africa, and Jerusalem.
Bermel’s many honors have been a 1999 Ford Foundation Conducting Award, a 2001
Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and a Millennium Prize by Faber
Music. He is co-founder and music
director of TONK, a Dutch-American multimedia ensemble that blends words, music,
movement, and visuals. In another
reflection of his cross-cultural pursuits, he composes and sings for the
Afro-pop trio Strange Fire. Bermel
is also the founding clarinetist of Music From Copland House, which is the
ensemble-in-residence of the center for American music established in Aaron
Copland’s New York home. As an
educator, Bermel has conducted and served as arranger for several jazz choirs,
including Michigan’s Parallel Motion, Yale’s Baker’s Dozen, New York’s
Toast of Hell’s Kitchen, and Jerusalem’s Mash’hu K’mo ha’Blues.
a classical composer, Bermel has received commissions from such entities as the
Gilmore Festival, the Fromm Foundation, the American Composers Orchestra,
Britain’s Birmingham Royal Ballet, the New York International Fringe Festival,
the Tanglewood Institute, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Bermel’s newly-composed Tied Shifts was commissioned by the Greenwall Foundation for eighth
Tied Shifts, Bermel has written:
August of 2001 I traveled to Plovdiv, Bulgaria to spend a month working with the
great Bulgarian folk clarinetist Nikola Iliev.
Fascinated by the melodies in odd meters executed at lightning speeds, I
desired to gain firsthand knowledge of the Thracian folk style by learning to
play the songs from a master musician. In
transcribing melodies with compound meters --5/8, 7/8, 9/8 (sometimes), 11/8,
13/8, 15/8, and combinations thereof – I was particularly struck by the
practice of tying melodic notes over a barline, resulting in an obscuring of the
meter. This process made it
virtually impossible to guess the meter of a song simply by listening, as
downbeats could conceivably be inaudible.
Thus, though implied and felt, the odd metrics of a song could remain
unstressed; the knowledge of the ‘base’ meter would be for players and
familiar listeners alone. To make
matters even more confusing to an uninitiated ear, tied notes were often
decorated with mordents – I use the term generally designated for inflection
similar to the baroque ornamentation -- leaving the impression that the meter
was in a state of constant flux, shifting with each passing measure. These impressions are those of a Western musician, and they
became the points of departure for this piece.
I attempted to fashion philosophical and physiological implications of
the tied shifts into a work that structurally owes more to Western than to
occupy a central place in this piece, on both local and larger formal levels.
The inflections generate their own material, and melodies are spawned
from the contour of the rising mordent itself.
The shape of all the melodic material stems from an obsessively
repetitive cell that rises to a mordent-inflected appoggiatura, then inches up
farther, always clinging to its origin. I
imagined this tension -- manifest throughout the work --as a physical being
determined to stretch itself, to explore the outer edges of its horizon, but
continually finding itself snapped back, as if tethered by an invisible rubber
band its place of origin.
the octatonic harmonic language of the first movement, I emphasize certain
chords, notably a particular inversion of the ‘sharp 9th’ chord that forms
the harmonic underpinning for several of my earlier pieces and that – though
also derived from the same scale – would not be found in Bulgarian music.
The second movement opens in a different harmonic world -- a diatonic
hymn, derived from the opening melodic material. As the hymn is overlaid with a variation of the original
octatonic melody, the two harmonic fields collide and the mordents and
inflections often assume the quality of ‘blue’ notes. A second, mostly octatonic, hymn appears, this time in tight
harmonic clusters typical of folksong settings rendered by Bulgarian womens’
the writing process of Tied Shifts, I had considerable trouble deciding
how to notate the agogic accents so that Western players would
be able to negotiate the difficult rhythmic displacements most effectively.
For their patience in considering several versions of the notation, I
acknowledge the wonderfully competent and thorough musicians in eighth
blackbird, for whom this piece was commissioned.
Special thanks to Lisa Kaplan who initiated the collaboration, to the
Oscar M Ruebhausen Commission from the Greenwall Foundation, Yaddo, and to
Barbara Eliason, Daniel Nass, and Maggie Heskin, who provided invaluable
assistance along the way.
notes by Jay Weitz, Consulting Database Specialist for music, OCLC Online
Computer Library Center, Dublin, Ohio. He
is a contributing performing arts critic for the weekly alternative newspaper Alive:
Music, Art, and Culture in Columbus (http://www.columbusalive.com).
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