Tuesday, July 22, 2014 by Noel Morris
Program note: on Sunday, July 27 at 6:00 pm, tune into WFMT for a broadcast special about Harris Hall at the Aspen Music Festival.
On Monday, July 28th, the President and First Lady will recognize Joan Harris for her tireless support of the arts. It was announced on Tuesday that she would be a recipient of the National Medal of Arts.
The visage of Joan Harris is a familiar one around the lobbies of the Civic Opera House and Symphony Center. She’s also a fixture at the venue that bears her name, Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park, though her stewardship of the arts reaches far beyond the windy city.
Joan Harris is the namesake of the Harris Concert Hall at the Aspen Music Festival. She is a trustee of the Juilliard School, and a member of the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board. She has also served on the President’s Commission for the National Endowment for the Arts.
This year, as Chicago’s Harris Theater marks its tenth anniversary, Joan Harris reflects on the creation of that performance space:
“Buildings are not just buildings. The most important thing about a cultural building is building it from…the inside, when there’s a perceived need that needs to be met by the creation of a cultural building. For years, when I was working with Chicago Opera Theater, we had no good, viable place to perform. The same was true about other small or midsize companies. So, a number of us tried…to find a place where we could share space. It didn’t work. It really wasn’t until…the early 90s when a group of foundations got together and said, ‘Let’s take a good look at this.’”
Listen to WFMT’s Lisa Flynn in conversation with Joan Harris about the Harris Theater and her lifetime love of the arts:
Joan Harris chairs the Irving Harris Foundation, a private family foundation that supports the arts and humanities, early childhood initiatives, and Jewish philanthropy. Through the foundation, she established the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago, and is a major supporter of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNow series, WFMT’s Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin, and the Chicago High School for the Performing Arts.
Joan Harris is a lifetime trustee of the the Francis W. Parker School, a member of WFMT’s Radio Committee, and past president of Chicago Opera Theater, and the Illinois Arts Alliance.
Joan Harris established Chicago’s Harris Theater in order to broaden access to the arts in downtown Chicago, and to serve as a partner to emerging and midsized performing arts organizations. The Theater helps organizations build infrastructure and develop resources for growth and long-term organizational sustainability.
Other recipients of the 2013 National Medal of Arts include:
- Julia Alvarez, novelist, poet, and essayist, for her extraordinary storytelling
- Brooklyn Academy of Music, presenter, for innovative contributions to the performing and visual arts
- Bill T. Jones, dancer and choreographer, for his contributions as a dancer and choreographer
- John Kander, musical theater composer, for his contributions as a composer
- Jeffrey Katzenberg, director and CEO of DreamWorks, for lighting up our screens and opening our hearts through animation and cinema
- Maxine Hong Kingston, writer, for her contributions as a writer
- Albert Maysles, documentary filmmaker, for rethinking and remaking documentary film in America
- Linda Ronstadt, musician, for her one-of-a-kind voice and her decades of remarkable music
- Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, architects (receiving individual medals), for their contributions to architecture and arts education
- James Turrell, visual artist, recognized for his groundbreaking visual art
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 by Noel Morris
Live on Wednesday at 12:15 pm
When Yevgeny Kutik was a boy, his mother declared, “Enough.” She packed up her family and left the Soviet Union.
There wasn’t one reason for leaving. It was a series of reasons: Yevgeny was bullied in Kindergarten; she was laid off because her employers exceeded their “quota of Jews”; her older son had picked up racial slurs at school – against their own people. America seemed to be a better home for this family.
Most of the belongings of three generations had to be left behind, including mother’s violin – that was declared a national asset. With just a few suitcases in hand, children, parents, and grandparents bid, “Do svidanya.”
Today, Yevgeny Kutik is making a name for himself as a concert violinist. He’s been featured on NPR, in The New York Times, and has climbed to #6 in Billboard Magazine.
Here Yevgeny Kutik shares some things about his story and how it shaped him as an artist today:
Describe the background of your commercial release, Music from the Suitcase?
My family left Minsk, Belarus, now the former Soviet Union, in 1989. We left in search of religious freedom, much like millions of other Soviet Jewish families were doing at the time. As a condition of leaving, you were allowed to bring only a very limited number of personal belongings and almost no money. My mom had collected a number of fascinating music scores from her days as a violinist and decided to squeeze them into one of our suitcases, along with our other most cherished belongings. Growing up as a kid, I paid little attention to these scores (which were sitting on our shelf) but always associated them with this family journey. As I became older I became increasingly interested in exploring my past, and these scores were an integral part of this process. I compiled the music for this album from these collections.
Your family came to the U.S. seeking a better life. How are they doing and do they feel like Americans now?
We are all extraordinarily grateful for the wonderful community that embraced and helped us upon our arrival in the USA. This country has given me and my family amazing opportunities to live free and accomplish wonderful things. We are truly lucky.
Do you ever wish you could have studied violin in Russia or have you found a musical home in the United States?
I had some absolutely incredible violin teachers here in the USA, starting with my mother. I worked for several years with the late, esteemed Russian pedagogue, Zinaida Gilels, in Boston. After that I worked for over eight years with Roman Totenberg, a legendary Polish violinist who saw most of the 20th century unfold before his very eyes. He passed away at 101, and was a major influence on my playing, musicianship, and much more. Following this, I went to work with Donald Weilerstein. Mr. Weilerstein needs little introduction from me, of course. His unique approach to music really helped me to see the violin differently.
I read you were kind of excited about the other artists side-by-side with you on iTunes. Who were they? Does their music influence you or is it something you enjoy more when you’re “off the clock”?
I am grateful for the wonderful attention and reception “Music from the Suitcase” has received. When it was featured on iTunes for a week, I found myself in the company of artists such as Juan Diego Florez, Anne Akiko Meyers, Simone Dinnerstein, and many others. It was truly an honor to be featured among such great artists, whose work inspires me on a daily basis.
On Wednesday, Yevgeny Kutik plays at the Chicago Cultural Center on the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts. WFMT’s live broadcast begins at 12:15 pm.
More on Music from the Suitcase.
Monday, July 21, 2014 by Noel Morris
Monday at 8:00 pm
South African-born cellist Amanda Forsyth grew up in Canada. Together with her husband, Pinchas Zukerman, Forsyth co-founded the Zukerman Chamber Players. They played the popular Archduke Trio and the Dumky Trio at Ravinia’s Martin Theatre in June. That recital airs on Monday evening at 8:00 pm on WFMT.
Beethoven and Dvořák were at the height of their powers when they wrote the trios on this program. Dvořák was 49 years old, Beethoven, 44.
Cellist Amanda Forsyth mused about the assumptions people make when looking into a composer’s personal life: “A lot of musicians these days – we started very early. We had incredible pedagogy, and intense concentration at such a young age…[speaking of] the serious versus the exuberance of youth, it’s interesting because we tend to think of serious as old, and not-serious as young” – yet the Archduke Trio has what Sir Donald Tovey called a “marvelous study in Bacchanalian indolence.” Dvořák’s Dumky Trio plays on a traditional Ukrainian folk style, the “Dumka.” The characteristic dumka alternates between melancholy and exuberance. Dvořák plays with extremes in this piece, infusing his fast sections with a rigorous, dance-like buoyancy.
Friday, July 18, 2014 by Noel Morris
Getting beyond “The book was better”
Last week, when Lyric Opera presented a sneak peek at the opera based on Ann Patchett’s bestselling novel Bel Canto, general director Anthony Freud quickly closed the door on comparisons to the book.
Addressing a gathering of patrons and members of the media, Mr. Freud shared some of the thinking behind the creative process, saying it must “stand on its own terms as an opera, rather than just…the book as a play set to music.” This is to say that composer Jimmy López and librettist Nilo Cruz do take liberties with the book – and were encouraged to do so – but always in the interest of making the strongest case for the story.
The opera Bel Canto, a work in progress, has been a team effort from the start. The composer and librettist have had support from the production staff. At last week’s gathering, they took notes as members of the Ryan Opera Center sang completed scenes to the accompaniment of two pianos. Novelist Ann Patchett was not in attendance, but has been part of the process as well.
To be sure, books and operas are different species. In a novel, one can read the thoughts of a character. The opera composer can use the aria for this purpose, but must be mindful of the people who will be sitting in the theater seats – too much of something can cause a show to drag. According to Mr. Freud, it’s important for the new work to feel like it “couldn’t be anything but an opera.”
Ann Patchett evidently is unconcerned about her book in the hands of this creative team. At the read-through, Sir Andrew Davis chuckled as he recalled sending her the libretto. When Lyric got no reaction from her, they began to worry. Months went by with no communication. Later, Ms. Patchett admitted she was so determined to keep her distance, she hadn’t read it. Eventually, she did read Cruz’s libretto. According to Sir Andrew, she emailed saying it was “more beautiful” than the book.
The Bel Canto project was the inspiration of Lyric Opera Creative Consultant Renée Fleming, who had had it on her mind to develop new works. In 2012, she talked to a roomful of journalists about how much she enjoyed Ann Patchett’s books, Bel Canto in particular. From there, she said she combed through piles of scores and composer bios. In the end, Peruvian native Jimmy López was the unanimous choice of Lyric’s artistic triumvirate (Fleming, Davis, and Freud).
To date, Jimmy López opens the opera much like the book, with a soirée at the vice president’s residence in Peru (the book calls it a “South American country”). Most of the guests are international visitors. The Peruvian government presents American opera star Roxane Coss as the entertainment. Just as she finishes her aria, a pack of scrappy freedom fighters raids the mansion, taking the guests hostage. Government forces arrive, sealing captives and captors inside the mansion.
The characters are crafted with seamless efficiency by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and librettist Nilo Cruz, while the opening music thrusts the party guests into the utter foreignness of the situation. The music of Jimmy López shimmers with the wildness of the surrounding landscape, as if it might overtake the manicured house – which it does.
Throughout the drama, one is remotely aware of a military stand-off beyond the perimeter (this is an ongoing hostage crisis), but the real story unfolds inside the house. López weaves his way through the interactions of rebel, guest, and opera star – all of whom are stuck together like fish in a fish tank.
Author Ann Patchett uses music like a magic elixir. Cut off from the outside world, the characters seem suspended in time. Captors and captives begin to love the singer’s art. As the story progresses, they lose their grasp on their former lives and embrace a different version of themselves, finding beauty and harmony together.
Imagining Bel Canto as an opera could prove to be a stroke of genius. This story makes brilliant interplay between people who don’t speak the same language – opera is nothing if not a multilingual art form. While professional opera singers are expected to sing French, Italian, and German like native speakers, many adding Spanish, Russian, and English; Bel Canto author Ann Patchett uses all these and ups the ante, adding Japanese and Quechuan (an Andean tongue which predates the Incas).
Bel Canto the opera makes a great show of the singers’ linguistic prowess. A key character, polyglot-interpreter Gen Watanabe, volleys one dramatic moment after another, helping the others discuss everything from the shingles to late-night liaisons. A host of benign interactions happen at lightning pace, endearing these captives to the audience, while providing a catchy vehicle for the composer.
Ultimately the situation is a “powder keg,” to use Anthony Freud’s words – not because of the differences between dignitaries and rural militiamen (and women), but because of differences between their makeshift community and the outside world.
It might be difficult to entirely wrest oneself from the experience of having read the book before seeing the opera. On the other hand, if fans of novelist Beaumarchais grumbled about his treatment in Marriage of Figaro or Barber of Seville, we’ve since forgotten. At the end of last week’s preview, the gathering of press and patrons was eager for more Jimmy López.
The premiere of Bel Canto is slated for the 2015-2016 season. Do read the book, but see the opera first.
Thursday, July 17, 2014 by Noel Morris
New York Philharmonic tribute to Lorin Maazel, Thursday at 9:00 pm
In the summer of 1943, Lorin Maazel could be found conducting the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra (what is today the New York Philharmonic) at Lewisohn Stadium on the campus of City College of New York. Other conductors on the summer series included Fritz Reiner, Andre Kostelanetz, Morton Gould, and Antal Dorati. Maazel was 13 years old.
Lorin Maazel led a concert with the New York Philharmonic as recently as January of 2013. From 2002-2009, he was the orchestra’s music director.
Lorin Maazel conducted the New York Philharmonic over a period of 70 years.
Thursday evening on WFMT, The New York Philharmonic This Week presents an encore presentation of a work composed by the late conductor and former music director who died on Sunday at his farm in Castleton, Virginia.
A Tribute to Lorin Maazel
Thursday, July 17 at 9:00 pm
Lorin Maazel, conductor
James Galway, flute
Han-Na Chang, cello
Jeremy Irons, narrator
Brooklyn Youth Chorus
Maazel: Monaco Fanfares
Music for Cello and Orchestra
The Giving Tree
The Empty Pot
Irish Vapours and Capers
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 by Noel Morris
Live Broadcast, Tuesday at 5:45 pm
This week’s Rush Hour concerts presents Bach in a tantalizing combo of musical styles. St. James Cathedral organist Bruce Barber plays Bach keyboard works at the organ, and Sones de Mexico performs some of their own Bach arrangements on traditional Mexican folk instruments.
When we chose to perform the music of J.S. Bach…some of our instruments, like the diatonic folk harp, have to re-tune several times during the piece…He plays with his right hand while he re-tunes with his left.
—Juan Dies, Sones de Mexico
The name Sones comes from “son,” a whole category of traditional Mexican music with titles like huapango, gustos, chilenas, and son jarocho. Each region’s contribution to the son has a distinct flavor with its own instruments, dances, and singing styles. Sones de Mexico not only learns these distinct styles, but makes their own arrangements. More recently, Sones has expanded the geographical base to include something a little more to the east: Thuringia, that is, Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
Producer and CEO Juan Dies spoke to WFMT about Sones de Mexico.
What kind of ensemble is Sones and what kind of music do you play?
Sones de Mexico Ensemble is a multi-instrumentalist sextet that specializes in a large family of regional styles of folk music from Mexico. Many of these styles fall under the generic name of “son,” hence the name of the group. The various regional styles of son are qualified by the region they came from: son huasteco (from the Huasteca region), son planeco (from El Plan), son calentano (from Tierra Caliente region), son jarocho (from Veracruz), etc. The group was founded in Chicago 20 years ago. We became a non-profit organization to professionally preserve, teach, and record this music in the U.S.
How far back does the tradition of playing on those instruments go? What kind of music typically gets played on them?
Some of our instruments like the Aztec huéhuetl and teponaztli drums date back to pre-Columbian Mexico. Many others, such as vihuela and jarana guitars and the harp, and the styles of music played on them, were developed during the Renaissance, in Mexico’s colonial period under Spain (1510-1810). Other traditional instruments like the guitarrón (bass guitar) and the chromatic marimba (xylophone) were invented after Mexico’s independence in 1810.
With the traditional folk instruments, what are some of the trickiest, most virtuosic things that players do on them?
When we chose to perform the music of J.S. Bach, for example, which has several key changes, some of our instruments, like the diatonic folk harp, have to re-tune several times during the piece. Our harp player does this without missing a beat. He plays with his right hand while he re-tunes with his left.
Where are your bandmates from? Where did they train?
Our band members come from different parts of Mexico: Michoacan, Morelos, Mexico City, and San Luis Potosi. We all met in Chicago. No musician comes to us already knowing all the regional styles of music we play. New musicians who join the ensemble must go through an apprenticeship period that can last anywhere from six months to two years. Even after years playing in the group we continue to learn more as we mine our rich heritage for new material and new challenges.
You are doing some new arrangements of old music, on old instruments that don’t typically go together. Tell us about that.
Some people call this “old wine in new bottles.” Indeed, as we try to preserve these music traditions, we believe that they need to evolve with the times and their surroundings. We call this a “living tradition.” For example, we have incorporated some modern instruments in our ensemble like the drum set and an electric upright bass, but what we play on them can date back hundreds of years.
Does Sones de Mexico have a social mission?
Our social mission mostly revolves around our educational efforts. In a media environment where our home country appears in the news mostly related to undocumented immigration, drug trade, and violence, we like to educate people about the amazing artistic and cultural assets that Mexico has to offer. We feel proud to have been able to take the music of forgotten and under-appreciated rural populations of Mexico to the great stages of the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Ravinia and Millennium Park.
What is Sones de Mexico’s musical mission?
Our musical mission is to maintain the traditions we represent by learning them as well as we can from our elders, by innovating upon them through our original arrangements, and then by teaching them to the next generation so they can carry on.
Sunday, July 13, 2014 by Noel Morris
Lorin Maazel (1930-2014)
Program note: Listen to WFMT on Monday, July 14 for Lorin Maazel recordings and remembrances by those who worked with him.
Orchestral musicians, opera singers, and fans around the world are mourning the loss of American conductor Lorin Maazel. He died of complications from pneumonia on Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Castleton, Virginia, where the festival he founded is in full swing.
Finding Joy in the Living of Life…
and extending the hand of friendship to all Mankind…
But we must try.
There were those who said Lorin Maazel was tough to work with; others praised his brilliance and generosity. He was honored by the World Economic Forum for using “art to improve the state of the world.” One of his most noted ventures was a tour with the New York Philharmonic to North Korea in 2008.
In recent years, Maazel was occupied by the establishment of the Castleton Festival which provides a nurturing environment for young musicians (Maazel sold his Guadagnini violin in order to endow the festival).
He became an active blogger, reporting on everything from the sayings of Buddha to experiences on the podium.
Earlier this year, Lorin Maazel caused a flurry of headlines when he announced he was becoming a vegetarian. He told reporters he was inspired by his son Orson to take a stand against animal cruelty.
Maestro Maazel worked extensively in Europe. He served as Artistic Director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin and General Manager of the Vienna State Opera. He held posts as music director of the Radio Symphony of Berlin, the Symphony Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio, and the Munich Philharmonic.
In the United States, he served as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic.
According to a statement by the Castleton Festival, “in the last year he maintained an active conducting schedule, leading 111 concerts in 2013 alone, from Oman to Munich.”
Lorin Maazel was born in Paris in 1930 to American parents studying abroad. He is survived by his wife Dietlinde and daughters Anjali, Daria, Fiona, and Tara; and sons Ilann, Orson, and Leslie. He is also survived by four grandchildren, Kiran, Owen, Calypso, and Sahara.
July 14 is Bastille Day, which means: ’tis the season for La Marseillaise, the patriotic song that’s been tapped by people the world over. It’s on one of the earliest recordings in history (Sousa’s Band, 1898). Arrangements and send-ups range from Stravinsky to Monty Python. Film critic Roger Ebert listed the singing of La Marseillaise in Casablanca as one of the “100 Great Movie Moments” (video below).
Incredibly, the French national anthem has become a 4th of July tradition. Municipalities across America wait until sunset to start Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (written to honor Russia’s defeat of Napoleon). About 12 minutes into the overture, Tchaikovsky writes “marcatissimo” − heavily accented − on the trumpet part. The trumpets start blaring a melody. On beat four, the first cannon fires along with the opening salvo of the fireworks show. That trumpet tune is La Marseillaise.
It is one of the first melodies a Suzuki violinist learns (Schumann’s Two Grenadiers). It pops up in The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love (video below), in Shostakovich, Debussy, Berlioz, Kodaly, Liszt − even rappers have had their way with La Marseillaise.
Can you name other references to La Marseillaise?
Background: The Storming of the Bastille
Louis XVI convened the Estates-General on May 5, 1789, an assembly composed of representatives from the three “estates”: the clergy, the nobility, and the rest of the population. In reality, the Third Estate had little power. Crippling taxes and a shortage of food fueled unrest among members of the Third Estate. In June, the Third Estate pressed for a constitution and formed a parliament, the National Assembly, to address grievances without interference from the king.
On July 13, rumor spread that the king was dispatching his army to destabilize the parliamentarians. On the morning of July 14, 1789, a group of tradesmen raided the Invalides, stealing a cache of weapons. The gunpowder, however, was stored at the castle known as the Bastille. The mob proceeded to the medieval fortress. The Bastille guards opened fire on the crowd. The king’s reinforcements arrived, but sided with the mob. The Bastille surrendered later that afternoon. The crowd proceeded to dismantle the entire building.
People across France rebelled against landowners.
Composition of La Marseillaise
By 1792, French revolutionaries had established a constitutional monarchy, though radicals wanted to abolish the crown. Fear of interference by neighboring monarchies led France to declare war on Austria and Prussia. The mayor of Strasbourg approached an army engineer and amateur musician about composing a marching tune for French troops. That engineer, Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, responded with La Marseillaise – or rather, “Chant de guerre de l’armée du Rhin” (“War Song of the Army of the Rhine”). Ironically, Rouget de Lisle was a royalist, but his tune spread through the revolutionaries like fever. Soon revolutionaries from Marseille marched into Paris singing the song. It came to be known as La Marseillaise.
Tragic End for Composer
Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, composer of La Marseillaise, was imprisoned for refusing to denounce the king. He survived Robespierre’s Reign of Terror (1793-1794) when an estimated 40,000 were executed. The composer was freed from prison in its aftermath. He died in poverty in 1836.
Pierre-Jean David d’Angers made a drawing, a medallion, and a wax bust of Rouget de Lisle. The artist left this journal entry about their meeting:
“I moved closer to the poor sick man and, despite all my enthusiasm, I could not suppress my emotion on seeing my idol buried beneath a woolen bonnet. In that pile of rags it was impossible to recognize the author of that anthem that will forever stir Liberty in people’s hearts…They wrapped him in a blanket, and the poor rheumatic, more or less erect, sat in his chair.”
You may have caught Alain Lefèvre on WFMT’s Impromptu. He’s not only a whiz at the keyboard, but on the broadcast board as well. The French-Canadian pianist and composer is passionate about music: playing music, talking about music, and working as an advocate for music with educators, broadcasters, and listeners.
Lefèvre hosts a two-hour show on Radio-Canada’s Espace Musique. He admits it’s a challenge to juggle the radio commitment and an international piano career, but also admits feeling an urgency to nurture audiences for the art form that’s meant so much to his own life. The program is broadcast every Sunday in Canada, coast to coast.
Lefèvre came to Chicago for a recital in Ravinia’s Martin Theatre on June 20, 2014. That recital airs on WFMT, Monday at 8:15 pm.
Bach: Prelude and Fugue in A minor
Haydn: Piano Sonata in F major
Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonata in B-flat minor
Ravel: La Valse
WFMT brings you a live in-studio performance with guitarist Miloš Karadaglić on Monday, July 14 at 6:00 pm.
“Miloš” performs Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival on Friday, July 11. On Tuesday, July 15, he performs a solo recital in Ravinia’s Martin Theatre. Don’t miss this radio special with acclaimed classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglić on Monday at 6:00 pm.
WFMT and Seth Boustead of Relevant Tones present the 2014 Thirsty Ear Festival, Saturday, July 12 at the City Winery. Special guests include the Fonema Consort, Graham Reynolds, and Gaudete Brass. The Festival celebrates ‘what’s new’ in music with a wide range of styles and composers.
Composer, radio host, and Thirsty Ear curator Seth Boustead spoke with WFMT about the Festival:
How did the festival come about? Where did the name come from? What would be your wildest dream-come-true for the festival?
I’ve been hosting a radio show for about the last ten years, on WFMT and before that on WLUW, but I also have an extensive background in concert production and promotion so it was probably only a matter of time before I wanted to do some kind of live event with Relevant Tones.
The name comes from a friend of mine who was talking about an event he went to years ago and he said of the audience, “they were incredible, they had such thirsty ears.” I thought it was a funny and imaginative way to describe people open to new sounds and decided it would be the perfect name of the event.
Wildest dream come true would be that the festival would sell out completely within minutes of announcing the lineup, that we could book anyone we thought of and that more and more people would become interested in thought provoking new music.
What does the typical Relevant Tones or Thirsty Ear fan have on his or her iPod? Do you think they’re more inclined to listen to Schubert or to Radiohead?
I think Radiohead. The vast majority of people coming to new music concerts and perhaps listening to Relevant Tones are younger and more steeped in pop music, although it does tend to be of the art rock variety. That’s actually why we moved the festival from the Empty Bottle to City Winery. The first year at the Empty Bottle the place was packed with young hipsters which was great, but if they’re already interested then I think we need to turn our attention to other people.
We’re hoping that over time City Winery will attract the kind of WFMT listener who thinks they only like common practice period classical, and we’re hoping they’ll come give it a try and possibly find something new they like. It’s simply not possible to hate all contemporary, it’s far too varied a genre.
Do you find a lot of musicians and composers on the new music scene crossing over from different genres?
Not as much as you would think. The ones who cross over from rock or pop tend to be the most successful and the most savvy with social media and so the most likely to get press. But there are tons and tons of composers with a traditional music school background, but they just don’t make the same splash that a Glenn Kotche does. And Relevant Tones is one of the few places where their music can be heard.
Headliner Graham Reynolds lives in Austin, Texas, which is a music town. Is he active in Austin, and how has that music scene rubbed off on him?
He’s hugely active there. I was just there in April and he’s pretty well-known. He is a died in the wool Austiner for sure. He’s basically an indie rock guy who also happens to love jazz and classical and is wildly talented as a pianist and drummer.
But the indie hipster scene in Austin has definitely rubbed off on him, or perhaps he has been part of crafting that image. Richard Linklater’s film “Slacker” is a huge part of that image and it wasn’t too long after that that Graham started writing scores for him so that image is part and parcel of who he is. I can’t imagine him anywhere else but Austin.
Reynolds is associated with making music with everything from Duke Ellington’s work to garbage trucks. Which Reynolds do you think we’ll get?
I’m not sure! We don’t micro manage at Thirsty Ear, we hire the folks we think are going to do interesting things and let them do their thing. I know that he wanted to play with a string quartet so I put together an incredible group for him, including Nick Photinos of eighth blackbird. Other than that I’ll find out with everyone else on Saturday!
The Fonema Consort will be performing as well. We often associate “consorts” with early music. Is there a connection? Do they make music that draws on Renaissance music or are they polar opposites?
I think they were thinking of consort in terms of vocal music but you’re right that it normally applies to early music in general. There is no connection with early music. Fonema is the Spanish version of phoneme which is itself the Greek word for the smallest unit of speech. They are interested in experimental text settings and vocal techniques so perhaps they are polar opposites of Renaissance performance techniques and certainly in terms of sound.
Gaudete Brass is arguably the most conventional or standard group on the program. What about them appeals to you?
Gaudete are one of the most exciting performance groups in town. They commission and premiere new works all the time, they gravitate toward composers who don’t normally write for brass, they have described themselves as the anti-Canadian Brass, they have really good beer at their concerts and they’re just passionate, fun, talented performers. I really love them and knew they would do a great job. It’s also a nice balance to the program. Our thirsty eared audience wants to hear as eclectic a mix as possible and on Saturday that’s just what we’ll give them!