Friday, May 29, 2015 by Lisa Flynn
You voted, and we listened! For the last two weeks on Midday with Lisa Flynn, we have been counting down your Top 10 Favorite Symphonies that were paired with 10 Symphonic Discoveries – great symphonic masterpieces that may be new to you. Below is a list of your Top 10 Symphonies and the 10 Symphonic Discoveries we’ve enjoyed together, along with information about each of the recordings we heard. Thanks for voting and thanks for tuning in as we explored some of the great symphonic masterpieces.
1. Beethoven: Symphony #9, “Choral”
Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Sir Georg Solti, Decca 4759090
Unsurprisingly, Beethoven’s Ninth tops our list of favorite symphonies. It claims a special place in history and in the hearts of listeners. Although not the most frequently performed Beethoven symphony, the Ninth’s universal message of brotherhood and humanity makes it a central work of the classical canon.
Cherubini: Symphony in D
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini, RCA 60278
Luigi Cherubini spent most of his working life in France and is mostly remembered today for his operas and other vocal works. Widely admired in his time, Cherubini was regarded by Beethoven as the greatest of his contemporaries. In the 20th century, conductor Arturo Toscanini was a staunch champion of Cherubini’s music through recordings.
2. Dvorak: Symphony #9, “From the New World”
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, RCA 62587
Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony was a major milestone in the validation of American music, written as a portrait of the composer’s experiences in the United States. Fascinated by African-American and Native-American songs, he captured their essence in the work and encouraged American composers to find their own voice through the use of traditional melodies.
Beach: “Gaelic” Symphony
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi, Chandos 8958
Dvořák influenced Amy Beach heavily. She looked to his compositions and ideas on American music while composing her own symphony. Instead of using American melodies, she sought inspiration in old English, Irish, and Scottish tunes. The “Gaelic” Symphony was the first symphony by a female American composer to be performed in the United States.
3. Shostakovich: Symphony #5
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Myung-Whun Chung, CSO Resound 0912
The great symphonies are often products of intense personal struggle. Nowhere is this more evident than with Shostakovich’s Fifth, written after the public denunciation of his Fourth by Stalin’s regime. The dramatic power and deep layers of meaning in the Fifth make it his most popular symphony to this day.
Miaskovsky: Symphony #21
New Philharmonia Orchestra/David Measham, Unicorn 2066
Nikolai Miaskovsky was considered the finest symphonist in the Soviet Union before Shostakovich. His 27 symphonies form the center of his career. The 21st symphony was composed in 1940, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Frederick Stock to celebrate the orchestra’s 50th anniversary.
4. Mahler: Symphony #5
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim, Teldec 23328
Gustav Mahler said, “A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” The world of the Fifth Symphony represented a new direction for him. Voices and poetry, which were an integral part of the previous three symphonies, are no longer used. Yet, the Fifth still has an inner program, which Mahler invites the listener to discover.
Hovhaness: Symphony #6, “Celestial Gate”
I Fiamminghi/Rudolf Werthen, Telarc 80392
A painting by the Greek artist Hermon di Giovanno inspired Alan Hovhaness’s Symphony #6. Di Giovanno had guided Hovhaness into the ancient worlds of Greece, Egypt, and India and had encouraged him to study his Armenian heritage. Hovhaness described di Giovanno as “my spiritual teacher who opened the gate to the spiritual dimension.”
5. Tchaikovsky: Symphony #6, “Pathétique”
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, RCA 61246
Tchaikovsky’s final symphony has fascinated listeners since its first performance just nine days before the composer’s death. It’s considered the first tragic symphony. Tchaikovsky biographer David Brown described it as “the most truly original symphony to have been composed in the 70 years since Beethoven’s Ninth.”
Albéniz: Catalan Symphonic Scenes
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra/Jaime Martín, Trito 0078
So much of Isaac Albéniz’s music for piano is known through orchestral arrangements, pushing his works specifically written for orchestra out of the limelight. Albéniz wrote the Catalan Symphonic Scenes in 1888-89 in Tiana, a small Catalonian village near Barcelona. The four movements, using different folk themes, describe four moments at a village fiesta.
6. Mahler: Symphony #1
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt, EMI 54217
All of Gustav Mahler’s nine completed symphonies came out of struggle, but he acknowledged that his first symphonic foray was the most difficult. With it, he took the symphony in new directions, melding the narrative program of the symphonic poem with the structure of earlier works. As a result, he changed the form forever.
Zemlinsky: Symphony #1
Gürzenich Orchestra/James Conlon, EMI 564737
Alexander von Zemlinsky was in the center of Vienna’s musical life at the turn of the 20th century. Although his work was nearly forgotten after World War II, he has recently been recognized as one of the century’s significant compositional voices. Conductor James Conlon has led the revival of Zemlinsky’s music with several important recordings.
7. Sibelius: Symphony #2
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis, LSO Live 0105
In his seven symphonies, Jean Sibelius unleashed new worlds of sound, pushing the limits of orchestral playing and creating vast landscapes which evoke the stark beauty of his native Finland. The Second Symphony marked the first step in his nature-inspired vision of bringing what he called “a profound logic” to music.
Madetoja: Symphony #1
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds, Ondine 1211
Leevi Madetoja is among the most important Finnish composers in the generation after Sibelius, who encouraged his promising young student to follow in his footsteps and write symphonies. Madetoja’s three symphonies are his most recorded and performed works and show his mastery of orchestration and instrumental color.
8. Beethoven: Symphony #3, “Eroica”
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti, Decca 430400
The “Eroica” Symphony represents a turning point not only in Beethoven’s career, but also in the history of music. It was the first work in the “new path” he wanted to pursue, and it reflected his reaction to the political forces of the day, specifically Napoleon. Musically, the “Eroica” presented players and audiences with challenges that redefined what a symphony could be.
Harris: Symphony #3
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, DG 419780
The backbone of Roy Harris’ output is his series of thirteen symphonies, which span his career from 1933 to 1976. Described by the conductor Serge Koussevitzky as “the first great symphony by an American composer,” the Third is remarkable for its broad, sweeping melodies evoking vast landscapes and drawing on hymns and plainsong.
9. Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
Chicago Symphony Orchestrah/Daniel Barenboim, Teldec 98800
Symphonie fantastique is a self-portrait of its composer, Hector Berlioz. Through its movements, it tells the story of an artist’s self-destructive passion for a beautiful woman. The symphony describes his obsession and dreams, tantrums and moments of tenderness, and visions of suicide and murder, ecstasy and despair.
Dukas: Symphony in C
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier, Chandos 9225
Paul Dukas might be considered a “one-hit-wonder” for his ever-popular work “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” But, of the handful of works left behind by the famously self-critical composer, his only symphony also stands out as a masterpiece. It shows his deep admiration for César Franck, who served more as a model than as a teacher to Dukas.
10. Beethoven 5
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti, Decca 421673
During his lifetime, Beethoven’s Fifth was not his most famous symphony. The “Eroica” was actually performed more often. Over the years, the fateful opening theme has come to represent his struggles with destiny, and the work which follows, built on the simplest of motives, shows one man’s triumph of spirit.
Voříšek: Symphony in D
Czech National Sym Orchestra/Paul Freeman, Cedille 90000 058
Combine Schubert’s gift of melody with Beethoven’s flair for drama and you have the music of their respected friend and colleague – the Bohemian composer Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek. Unlike his better-known contemporaries, Voříšek composed few large-scale works in his tragically short lifetime, including only one symphony.
Thursday, May 28, 2015 by Stephen Raskauskas
Is there a better way to start your week than with cold beer, hot pizza, and awesome music?
On Monday, June 1, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s final MusicNOW concert of the 2014-15 season presents contemporary music by some of today’s most exciting living composers: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Marc Mellits, John Zorn, and Myra Melford. The audience is invited to join the composers and performers for an after party with free pizza and free beer.
Yup, you read that right: FREE PIZZA AND FREE BEER!
“Contemporary music and chamber music have gotten a little stiff,” said Mellits. “MusicNOW breaks away from traditional concert formats. I like that it’s not quite so stiff. There are video projections. There’s an after party. It’s such a beautiful way to experience music.”
The MusicNOW series began during the 1999-2000 season. Though, since Mead Composers-in-Residence Anna Clyne and Mason Bates began curating the series beginning in the 2010-11 season, its overall audience has increased. New patrons have attended these concerts as well as other CSO programming, a CSO marketing spokesperson reported.
“Mason and myself have been committed to programing a wide array of musical styles and genres that reflect the diversity of music today,” Clyne said by email. Bates said, also by email, that they strive to include “everything from thorny modernism to gentle ambience. A guiding mission has been to avoid an overemphasis on any one aesthetic in favor of eclectic programs of pieces that complement each other.”
“Transforming MusicNOW into an immersive experience has been a hugely rewarding part of our residency,” Bates said. He and Clyne have enjoyed presenting the concerts in the Harris Theatre to “guide the audience through new music in a way that’s both fun and informative.”
The audiences at MusicNOW concerts are surprisingly diverse. “You see young people, old people, and everyone in between,” Mellits explained. “Typically at new music concerts, audiences are very young. At MusicNOW, you have people of all ages screaming and hollering for great music.”
On Monday night, audiences will have the chance to scream and holler for Mellits’ Octet for string ensemble.
When Octet premiered it was paired with Mendelssohn’s famous String Octet, Op.20. “Some of the string writing and how Mendelssohn handles the violas is really wonderful, and I definitely tried to steal some of those ideas for my own Octet,” Mellits chuckled. “My favorite composers are Vivaldi and Corelli and Bach, and in writing this Octet there’s a baroque influence which is probably even stronger than the influence of the Mendelssohn.”
“Octet has a lot of mechanical stuff. If you think about cogs turning wheels turning something else, that’s the way Octet works: everything depends on everything else,” he said. “The parts by themselves often don’t give you much of the flavor of the whole piece, but when they come together, they create a larger tapestry of sound. There’s also the opposite of that – a lot of rhythmic units, and people playing the same rhythmic unit all the time.”
Mellits thought in terms of rhythmic units in Octet to suit the performers who premiered it. “The original commission was for a professional quartet, from the Syracuse Symphony, and a tremendous student quartet, from the Syracuse Youth Orchestras. So, four of the parts are slightly harder than the other four. I kept rhythmic units together to create a big, aggressive sound, but in a way that helps the younger musicians out.”
Composer Myra Melford will present works on Monday’s program that, like Mellits’s Octet, were also composed for two different kinds of musicians. Melford’s The Large Ends the Way and The Whole Tree Gone were both conceived for improvisers and non-improvisers.
The Large Ends the Way appears on her album The Same River Twice, which takes its name from a saying by the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Because Melford’s works contain composed and improvised elements, no two performances of them will ever be the same.
Improvising music, while exciting for audiences, presents creative challenges for some performers.
“My band is a group of improvisers, and not everyone in the MusicNOW ensemble is an improviser,” Melford said. “So, I am experimenting with strategies to provide freedom for non-improvisers to create color and texture as background against which improvisers can add things.” She aims for what she describes as a “chamber music aesthetic with the malleability of a jazz ensemble” that she has developed over the years.
She learned some strategies for achieving this sound after an experience in the late 1980s with the Brooklyn Philharmonic. “I was asking them to do some things that they weren’t familiar with and created some discomfort. Rather than working with them, they kind of shut down,” she said. Since, she’s learned that “you have to find a way to get musicians to be comfortable, but also to create situations in which it is okay for them to try something new.”
Rounding out Monday evening’s program is Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Dichotomie, a work for solo piano which will be performed by Winston Choi, and John Zorn’s Goetia, a series of eight “incantations” for solo violin which will be performed by CSO Assistant Concertmaster Yuan-Qing Yu. Mason Bates, Anna Clyne, and Myra Melford will also take the stage to participate in the performance. Cliff Colnot will conduct.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015 by WFMT
Gallery assistant Sandra Handley poses for photographs with a lock of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s hair, contained in a 19th-century gilt locket at the Sotheby’s auction house in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
LONDON (AP) — Music lovers have the chance to own a strand of history.
Auctioneer Sotheby’s is selling a lock of hair from the head of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, resting in a gilt locket.
Taking composers’ hair as keepsakes was common in the 18th and 19th centuries.
After Mozart died in 1791, aged 35, his widow gave the hair to the mother of German composer Karl Anschutz. It was acquired by the late British composer Arthur Sommervell and is being sold by his family.
The hair is up for auction Thursday with an estimated price of 10,000 pounds to 12,000 pounds ($15,400 to $18,450).
The sale also includes a lock of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair and an invitation to his 1827 funeral, together valued at 2,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds ($3,100 to $4,600).
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015 by WFMT
Jim Unrath, a longtime WFMT program host and producer, died this past Sunday in Stockton, California of heart failure. He was 78 years old.
Jim served at various times as operations manager, music director, and morning program host. He was the first host of the station’s overnight show when WFMT went to 24-hour broadcasting in the late 1960s.
Jim was with WFMT from 1959 through 1999. He was a boy soprano in the Apollo Boys Choir and studied acting at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre before turning to radio.
Monday, May 25, 2015 by WFMT
Baritone John Brancy, right, and pianist Peter Dugan, left (Photo: Elliot Mandel)
WFMT salutes those who serve our country by broadcasting a special concert: Shropshire Lads: World War I Poets and Composers of Great Britain. Click above to stream the broadcast.
The concert featured baritone John Brancy, pianist Peter Dugan, and poet John Wilkinson in a unique program that combines music and poetry by Thomas Hardy, A.E. Housman, George Butterworth, Ivor Gurney, and others.
This World War I commemoration was presented this past April by the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago in partnership with the University of Chicago Presents as part of its Centenary Weekend: The Crossroads of World War I and Music concert series at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.
6 songs from A Shropshire Lad
Loveliest of trees
When I was one and twenty
Look not in my eyes
Think no more, lad
The lads in their hundreds
Is my team ploughing?
By a Bierside
William Denis Browne
To Gratiana Dancing and Singing
Keep the Home-Fires Burning
God Be With our Boys Tonight
ENCORE: Danny Boy, arr. Peter Dugan
John Brancy is on the verge of an exciting and diverse performing career, and has been hailed by the New York Times as “a vibrant, resonate presence” and a “dashing, strong-voiced baritone”.
In the 2014-2015 season, John Brancy’s debuts include: Opera San Antonio as the title role in Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox along with a gala appearance at the opening of San Antonio’s new Tobin Center; Edmonton Opera as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte; and Opera Lyra Ottawa as Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro. His numerous concert engagements include his debut with Musica Sacra in Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall, where he also performs a recital with pianist, Ken Noda later that season for “The Song Continues”. He makes his recital debut at the Kennedy Center with Vocal Arts DC, and reprises the same program with CAIC (Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago), and Société d’art vocal de Montréal in collaboration with pianist, Peter Dugan. He also returns this season to the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) performing at Merkin Hall with pianist, Steven Blier. Future seasons include a debut with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera Tour, Opera Theater of Saint Louis, and a return to Carnegie Hall in recital as part of their “Evening of Song Series.”
Last season Mr. Brancy made important debuts at Oper Frankfurt as Sonora in Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, Gotham Chamber Opera in Charpentier’s La descente d’Orphée aux Enfers, and Pacific Opera Victoria as Harlekin in Ariadne auf Naxos. Mr. Brancy’s concert and recital engagements for the year included performances with the Saskatoon and Regina Symphonies, San Francisco Symphony, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Brooklyn Art Song Society, and Carnegie Hall’s Discovery Day Series.
During the 2012-2013 season, Mr. Brancy made his professional debut with the Dresden Semperoper, singing the role of Fiorello in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, performed in a new production of John Adams’ I Was Looking at the Ceiling, and Then I Saw the Sky with Paris’ Theatre du Chatelet, and finished his graduate degree at The Juilliard School as Harasta in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen. Mr. Brancy closed the season performing the role of Papageno in Die Zauberflöte at the prestigious Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California where he was described by Opera News as having “impeccable timing, dynamic physicality and robust voice”. In that same summer, Mr. Brancy garnered the first prize in the 2013 Marilyn Horne Song Competition.
While still an undergraduate student at The Juilliard School, Mr. Brancy made his Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall debuts as the Baritone soloist in Fauré’s Requiem, Mozart’s Coronation Mass, and Schubert’s Mass in G. He was the winner of the 2010 Juilliard School Honors Recital Competition and in the following year made his Alice Tully Hall debut, with pianist, Brian Zeger. Mr. Brancy is a recent winner of the Sullivan Foundation Grand Prize and career grants, 1st Prize at the Classical Singer Magazine Competition, and the Gold Award for Voice at the YoungArts Foundation competition. He was a 2nd Place winner in the Gerda Lissner and Liederkranz competitions, and a laureate of the 2012 Montreal International Music Competition.
Pianist PETER DUGAN has been praised by the Capital Gazette as “nothing short of superb” and by the Baltimore Sun as “spellbinding.” Prizing versatility as the key to the future of classical music, Mr. Dugan is equally at home in classical, jazz, and pop idioms. He has appeared as a soloist throughout the United States, including performances in New York’s Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall, and Philadelphia’s Academy of Music and Verizon Hall. He has also performed internationally in Canada, South America, the Cayman Islands, and across Europe. This season, Mr. Dugan appears as a soloist with the New World Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.
A sought-after crossover artist, Mr. Dugan recently performed duos with violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell in memorial concerts for Marvin Hamlisch at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater in New York and The Delacorte Theater in Central Park. He has performed his solo arrangements of Hamlisch tunes in tribute concerts on Broadway and at the Public Theater’s annual gala in Central Park.
Dugan’s collaboration with violinist Charles Yang, which the Wall Street Journal called a “classical-meets-rockstar duo,” has garnered critical acclaim across the United States. Yang and Dugan’s recent performances include the Brauntex Performing Arts Theater in Texas, Joe’s Pub in New York City, and Juilliard’s “Dreams Come True” Gala. This past summer, Yang and Dugan were in residence at the Discovery Channel’s Curiosity Retreat in Colorado and at pianoSonoma, a music festival in California.
An enthusiastic chamber musician, Dugan has studied under and collaborated with Donald Weilerstein, Paul Katz, and Itzhak Perlman, including a 2010 performance of Schubert’s Trout Quintet with Mr. Perlman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dugan has performed chamber music across the United States and Canada, as well as abroad in South America and Europe, including a 2013 recital with violinist Sean Lee at the Wiener Konzerthaus in Vienna. As a member of the Tristan Piano Quartet for three years, Dugan performed across the country, including residencies in Palm Beach and Lake Wales, Florida, and recitals at New York’s Alice Tully Hall and New Jersey’s South Orange Performing Arts Center. Dugan’s chamber music recitals this season will include appearances at the Kennedy Center, the Chamber Music Society of Palm Beach, and Chicago’s Spring Lieder Lounge.
Dugan is a frequent performer of new music. He has appeared for two consecutive years at Juilliard’s Focus Festival and, in 2013, joined the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) for a residency at Dartmouth College, workshopping a new opera by Phil Kline and Jim Jarmusch. Dugan has also premiered works by composer Leonardo Dugan across the United States and abroad as part of the International Holland Music Sessions.
Peter performs regularly in hospitals, nursing homes, and community centers throughout New York City. He advocates the importance of music in the community and at all levels of society. As a founding creator and the pianist for OPERAtion Superpower, a superhero opera for children, Peter has travelled to dozens of schools in the greater New York area, performing for students in public and private schools and encouraging them to use their talents – their superpowers – for good.
Peter was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA where he studied under Aida Epstein and Harvey Wedeen. In 2011, he received a Bachelor of Music degree from the Juilliard School and was awarded the John Erskine Commencement Prize for outstanding artistic and academic achievement. A Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Scholar, Peter received a Master of Music degree from Juilliard in 2014, where he studied under Matti Raekallio. Peter serves on the faculty at St. Thomas Choir School in New York. In his spare time, he enjoys painting, cooking, composing, and writing.
I am an English-language poet whose research interests derive from the reading which continues to be provocative to my writing, whether through absorption, enjoyment, skepticism, envy or antipathy. In recent years my critical writing has been more tightly focused than I might have wished, mainly on poets of the first-generation New York School and on contemporary English and North American poets. Coming to Chicago gives permission to stray, and I look forward (as examples) to writing on Shelley or Crashaw, as well as to writing more about contemporaries despite concomitant risks to life, limb and friendship.
Central to all my critical writing is a preoccupation with the peculiar properties of lyric poetry. What is the social ground of lyric? Does lyric prosody carry a capacity for thought distinguishable from semantics? What principles govern lyric coherence, especially for extended works in sequences or books? What political valency can and should lyric poetry aspire to? My approaches to these questions are governed by a training in close reading, an interest in object relations theory, and a moderate amount of errant curiosity.
My background is an unusual one, in that my academic career followed over twenty years in mental health services in England, latterly with responsibility for planning and performance managing services in the East End of London. However, my commitment to the practice of poetry and to writing about it has been consistent since teenage years. Therefore I know enough to refrain from prescribing where this practice might further take me.
My teaching interests include New York School poetry (Frank O’Hara, Barbara Guest, John Ashbery, James Schuyler); other mid-twentieth century American poets, such as those affiliated with Black Mountain (especially John Wieners) and associated with the San Francisco Renaissance; British poetry, fiction and other prose of the 1930s; British poetry from the 1930s to the present, especially W. H. Auden, W. S. Graham, Lynette Roberts, J. H. Prynne and Denise Riley; and the theory and practices of close reading and of glossing; relationships between poetry and visual arts. I expect these interests will extend.
Please note: Biographies that appear on the WFMT website are based on the information available on the artists’ own websites or those of their representatives.
Friday, May 22, 2015 by WFMT
Gustav Mahler, like many composers, wore many hats in order to make a living. Conducting was one of Mahler’s primary sources of income early in his career, and he quickly became known for his autocratic and often idiosyncratic style. For anyone who has performed Mahler’s music, his close attention to detail is apparent in the many specific expressive markings he includes in his scores. These 6 sidesplitting characters of Mahler conducting reveal that he was just as specific and demanding behind the podium.
Thursday, May 21, 2015 by Stephen Raskauskas
Anyone who has visited the Lincoln Park Conservatory has probably noticed there’s a lot to be seen and heard. Since 2002, the Experimental Sound Studio has been curating Florasonic, a program that commissions composers and artists to make new site-specific music and audio art installations in the conservatory’s Fern Room.
The Fern Room, also called the Fernery, contains countless ferns, fern allies, liverwarts, moss, horsetails, and cycads. Some of these species are hundreds of millions of years old, older than flowering plants (which includes everything from trees to flowers to grass). The oldest plant in the Fern Room is a Sago Palm, technically neither fern for palm, which is between 150-200 years old — and thus is older than the conservatory itself, built between 1890 and 1895.
Florasonic bloomed when sound artist M.W. Burns encouraged Lou Mallozzi, executive director of the Experimental Sound Studio, to explore the conservatory as a site for a sound installation. Mallozzi was pleased that the conservatory was interested in hosting an ongoing series of installations, rather than just a single iteration of the project.
The Fern Room “has a very specific climate and feel to the space – a rain forest-like environment,” and became Florasonic’s natural habitat, Mallozzi said. The turn-of-the-century greenhouse “offered a lot of possibilities because it’s somewhat isolated from the other spaces, and acoustically, it’s almost totally isolated,” he added.
“For a lot of people it’s a fairly contemplative site,” he explained, “so it’s not the kind of place where a really aggressive approach really works. We ask the artists to consider the physical, conceptual, and social dimensions to the space.”
“We collected a few sounds that we were interested in and put them together in a way that complements the environment of the Fern Room,” Jackson said. “We wanted to find a natural way to have the sounds coexist in the space with the ferns. We didn’t want to interfere with the ferns. We didn’t have any specific ideas, we really let the project evolve naturally.”
Round the creep combines recordings of plants growing, amplifying and ornamenting their natural sounds, with recordings of synthesized and acoustic instruments, presented with 4-channel analog and digital processing.
Mallozzi described the installation as a “delicate work” that focuses on the “interplay between ambient sounds and its own harmonic textures, and this notion of distance and sparseness.” Mallozzi explained that the artists explore “the timbre of reed instruments, more than their melodic potential” which they combined with “lightly applied sounds like distant piano or other ephemeral musical gestures.”
Round the creep will be exhibited through May 31, 2015. This Friday, May 22, at 3:30 pm, Hauf and Jackson come to the Fern Room for a live performance that interacts with their installation.
“For the performance we are going to use material from the installation, and I will be there with my clarinet and saxophone playing live, and Boris will be there playing saxophone and electronics,” Jackson said. “We’re going to try to interact with the installation,” which is played through four speakers dispersed in the corners of the Fern Room.
For more information about Florasonic and the upcoming performance in conjunction with Round the creep, click here.
For more information about the Lincoln Park Conservatory, click here.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015 by Stephen Raskauskas
“Can this happen? Can we do it? Can the musicians actually construct instruments onstage and make music that I actually want to listen to? Can we transcend gimmick and theatricality and have actual musical merit? How is this going to happen?”
These are the questions that Glenn Kotche began to ask when devising his latest work, Wild Sound, with Third Coast Percussion and the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. The work comes to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for two performances on May 21 and 22, 2015.
Best known as the percussionist for the band Wilco, Kotche has collaborated with some of the world’s leading contemporary classical ensembles including the Kronos Quartet, the Silk Road Ensemble, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, SŌ Percussion, and eighth blackbird. “Those lines between classical music and rock have long vanished. People are just open to good music and good experiences,” Kotche said.
For Wild Sound, Kotche’s team created entirely new instruments that they construct and deconstruct on stage during the performance, the sounds of which become a part of the music. The work also incorporates field recordings Kotche has made during his travels around the world. He said he wanted to “take wild sounds and rein them in and put them into a musical context to really make them musical and not just noise.”
When Kotche was first approached by Third Coast to collaborate with a team of engineers, he said “I was a little concerned that we didn’t need the full breadth of their expertise, because a lot of this is more simple kind of construction.”
He admitted that his wife, Dr. Miiri Kotche, an engineer herself, “saved the day the night before my first meetings.” She suggested the “possibility of wiring instruments and using an electronic aspect which completely transformed the scope of the piece. Originally, I was thinking about using contact mics in various surfaces so that we could capture all kinds of sounds.”
Eventually, they turned to Arduino technology, which uses sensors and actuators that allow devices to interact with the environment by sensing a range of data like light, motion, sound, and even location.
In Wild Sound, Kotche said “we’re using Arduino technology to trigger certain synthesized sounds that I wrote for the piece. Working with Arduinos really propelled the piece to where the final section is completely about technology and synthesized sounds, which goes in the complete opposite direction from where the piece begins – really raw construction, very wild, rough, homemade instruments.”
Once Kotche, Third Coast, and the engineers answered some of their initial questions, he said they began to pose more practical ones like, “How long does it take you to cut through this metal pipe? Is this safe for you to do on stage? How quickly can you make a bull roar out of a water bottle?”
Kotche and his colleagues ensured that the sounds of constructing and deconstructing the instruments have been seamlessly incorporated into the work as a whole.
“I had to think, ‘If this guy’s constructing, he needs to construct in time, in rhythm,’” he said. “I needed distinctive sounds to cue the performers to let someone know they should be, say, picking up a saw and clamping down that wood or that pipe and start sawing.”
He continued, “Or, ‘Oh, hear that bird?’ That’s got a rhythm that the audience might not pick up on, but it tells a musician he has to start sawing at the sound of that. Then someone else starts nailing, and they work together to create a rhythmic duo, while other people are doing other things. It’s a nonlinear approach to writing: instruments, then musical material, then figuring out how to marry those two.”
Even without the novelty of building instruments on stage or using new technology, Kotche said, “Writing for percussion is super exciting because traditionally, percussion is anything other than a woodwind, brass, or string instrument.”
With percussion, Kotche said, “You have this unlimited palate of sounds, you can go electronic or you can keep it acoustic, you can go with pitched percussion or you can go with idiophones – any direction.”
“It’s much more challenging writing for string quartet,” he said, “because you know what your sounds are, and you can use extended techniques, but you definitely have more strict parameters. For percussion, all that’s blown wide open, which is exciting but at the same time a lot of composers would agree that freedom can also be stifling to a degree.”
“It does fuel creativity when you know what you’re working with. Sometimes you can become confused by too many options,” he confessed. “But luckily, I have enough experience with percussion that I know what sounds I was going after.”
Also, luckily for Kotche, the musicians of Third Coast are some of today’s most talented percussionists, who have been called “superb” by The New Yorker and “brilliant” by The Independent (UK).
“The best part about composing for Third Coast is that it’s a collaboration,” Kotche said. “ I’m never going to say, ‘This is what I wrote, this is how it’s going to be played.’ I always defer to the experts.”
Click here for more information about the upcoming performances of Wild Sound at the MCA.
To hear more of Kotche’s original compositions, click here to stream an episode of Relevant Tones recorded here at WFMT.