The Riot Ensemble Performs Aura

indexLast week, the ensemble Riot gave two amazing performances of my ensemble work, Aura. This is a top class ensemble. Not only excellent players, but a great dynamic and very professional work ethic. The rehearsals were a joy and the piece sounded great from the get go. It was a pleasure to work on refined details and interpretation. And the performances were just full of life and nuance. I can’t recommend the group enough. Some pictures below of my time with the group, and I’ll post a recording as soon as possible.

Premiere at Harvard

Thanks to all who made possible such a beautiful event at Harvard last Tuesday! Below, you can hear the piece and read the text and program note. For all interested, I highly recommend the poetry of Dean Young. His work is full of music!

I Saw My Life Go By in the Coyote’s Jaws

Sharon Harms, soprano; Camila Barrientos, clarinet; Hassan Anderson, oboe;
Yohanan Chendler, violin; Serafim Smigelskiy, cello

Jeffrey Means, conductor

Note:

Much of Dean Young’s poetry finds moments of inspiration in the mundane. The voices in Young’s poems struggle with daily life and are often caught off guard by the epiphanies it can reveal. Young’s character’s marvel at the idiosyncratic passage of time, similar to the way music has the ability to change our temporal perception. Young’s play with words and striking contrasts also lend his work to musical interpretations. My setting attempts to capture the elusive bubbling of creativity that wells up from the unconscious of Young’s many voices.

Sound Icon Premieres New Chamber Concerto

Last Saturday, Sound Icon gave an amazing premiere of my latest chamber work Flight out of Mind. The work is challenging and Jeffrey Means conducted it beautifully. I’m grateful for my collaboration with this excellent group. Thanks for all involved! To read more about the concert and my piece, here is a wonderful review of the event by the Boston Musical Intelligencer:

“The first movement’s surface-level motives—doppleresque “musical gestures that evoke sensations of flight,” —belied the subtlety of the underlying counterpoint. It was this counterpoint that gracefully drove the movement from an opening with detailed, busy polyphony to a homorhythmic texture over a drone at the electrifying end. This kind of compositional eloquence comes only from a combination of discipline and intuitive formal mastery. After a lighter and ethereal central movement, the finale presented a series of thundering crescendos, the last of which was poetically marked by the gradual decay of an isolated residual tone. In all, the symphonic scale of the piece just seemed to bulge at the restraints that the chamber genre placed upon it.”

–BMI

Remembering Elliott Carter

In remembering Carter, I think of how he ventured to Tucson, Arizona to compose his 1st String Quartet in the very late 1940’s. Tucson is where I was born, and so I’m familiar with the intense isolation that Carter must have been seeking. In those vast, expansive desert landscapes, a certain kind of depth can be had once one is separated from the noise of our culture. The Sonoran Desert that surrounds Tucson is a place so completely removed from the concerns of our world. Coming from New York City, Carter was brave to face this isolation. But his exploratory character must have drawn him to it: a silent environment where he could imagine a music all his own.

My own experiences with Carter were transformative. I first met him in New York at a concert celebrating his 95th birthday. A performance of this 5th String Quartet made a great impression on me, and I wanted to know how it was put together. Carter was notoriously shy about discussing the technical aspects of his work and with me he was no different. Soon after, I took the time to study the work’s sketches at the Paul Sacher Stiftung. After satisfying my technical curiosities, I realized that Carter was right to not want to ‘talk shop’ too much with me. He was concerned with being understood as an artist and not a technician: that all the rigors of his work were in service of his art.

Like the desert Carter explored while composing one of his most ground-breaking works, contemporary music itself can sometimes feel inaccessible, even to those who care about it so deeply. For those looking in, perhaps they see a window into the alienation artists can feel as they attempt relevant cultural commentary in such an abstract medium. And Carter’s music is no different, having been characterized sometimes as difficult to access. But what Carter gave us, in the example of his life and work ethic, was the opportunity to move beyond that discourse, and into a space where the rigorous pursuit, and the excitement and adventures of creation, are valued most highly. It is certainly through Carter’s persistent search, over a lifetime, that he found such an original voice. Such an artistic path might set an example for any young artist.

When Carter turned 100, I composed a string duo dedicated to him: Reciprocal Accord. Here, the work is performed by Curtis Macomber and Chris Finkel.

https://johnnyaylward.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/10-reciprocal-accord.mp3

Review in ArkivMusic

Thanks to ArkivMusic for this wonderful review of my album Stillness and Change. “This is music of fascination and profundity”. Wow! So happy that it has touched you! Thanks for these important words and for your support of my work!

And if you check out this review, scroll down to the bottom of the page where you can hear sample clips of the album tracks. A nice feature of this site.