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Discover This! 5 Pieces by Robert Helps

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Robert Helps

September 23, 1928 – Passaic, NJ, USA
November 24, 2001 – Tampa, FL, USA

“Robert Helps is not only the pianist’s pianist and the composer’s composer, but he is the composer’s pianist and the pianist’s composer, for, since his teen-age performance of music that was deemed unperformable, he has played incomparably: compositions which other pianists could not or would not perform. The singular pianistic mastery which he brought to these performances moulds his own writing for piano, from which pianists have discovered resources of nuance, rhythmic subtlety, dynamic control, and sound which endow their own playing with a new sensitivity and sensibility. His chamber and orchestral compositions are not pianistic transcriptions, but the fresh realization of the same awareness in these non-pianistic media. He long has been a legend in his own time and he deserves it.” –  Tribute by Milton Babbitt (1996) Robert Helps Web Monument

“Robert Helps was Professor of Music at the University of South Florida, Tampa, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He was a recipient of awards in composition from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim, Ford, and many other foundations, and of a 1976 Academy Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. His orchestral piece Adagio for Orchestra, which later became the middle movement of his Symphony No. 1, won a Fromm Foundation award and was premièred by Leopold Stokowski and the Symphony of the Air (formerly the NBC Symphony) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His Piano Concerto No. 1 was commissioned by the Thorne Music Fund and first performed by the composer with the Manhattan Conservatory orchestra. His Piano Concerto No. 2 was commissioned through the Ford Foundation by Richard Goode and performed by him with the Oakland (CA) Symphony.

Robert Helps served as professor of piano at the New England Conservatory, the San Francisco Conservatory, Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Manhattan School of Music. He was artist-in-residence (pianist) at the University of California-Davis in 1973. He was recorded extensively as pianist, composer, and pianist/composer on such labels as Victor, Columbia, Composers Recordings Inc., Deutsche Grammophon, New World, Desto, Son Nova, and GM Recordings. Many of his compositions, including his Symphony No. 1 (Naumburg Award) and Gossamer Noons for voice and orchestra, are recorded. He was very active as a solo and chamber music pianist throughout the United States. His major teachers were Abby Whiteside for piano, and Roger Sessions for composition, and he toured extensively with such internationally famous performers as Bethany Beardslee, Isidore Cohen, Rudolf Kolisch, Phyllis Curtin, soprano, and Aaron Copland, and for many years performed solo and chamber works, many of them world premières, for internationally known chamber music and contemporary music organizations in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, and elsewhere. His later concerts included memorial solo recitals of the music of renowned American composer Roger Sessions at both Harvard and Princeton Universities, an all-Ravel recital at Harvard, and a solo recital in Town Hall, NY.

His final compositions include Eventually the Carousel Begins, for two pianos, A Mixture of Time for guitar and piano, which had its première in San Francisco in June 1990 by Adam Holzman and the composer, The Altered Landscape (1992) for organ solo and Shall We Dance (1994) for piano solo, Piano Trio No. 2, and a piano quartet commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation. He died in 2001.” – from Naxos

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Discover This! 5 Pieces by Morton Feldman

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Morton Feldman

January 12, 1926 – New York City, NY, USA
September 3, 1987 – New York City, NY, USA

Morton Feldman was born in New York in 1926 and died there in 1987. Just like Cage, a close friend, he was an American composer – an American artist – an American in the true sense of the word.

He identified himself by differentiating his views on composition from those of his colleagues in Europe. He was proud to be an American because he was convinced that it enabled him the freedom, unparalleled in Europe, to work unfettered by tradition.  And, he was an American also in what may have been a slight inferiority complex in the face of cultural traditions in Europe, something he proudly rejected and secretly admired.

Like any true artist, Feldman was endowed with a sensitivity for impressions of a wide variety of sources, literature and painting in particular. His affinity to Samuel Beckett has enriched music literature by a unique music theatre piece, Neither, and two ensemble works. His friendship with abstract impressionist painters gave birth to a range of masterpieces, Rothko Chapel in particular. But even the knotting of oriental rugs gave Feldman musical ideas (The Turfan Fragments).

To the question as to why he preferred soft dynamic levels, he replied:

“- Because when it’s loud, you can’t hear the sound. You hear its attack. Then you don’t hear the sound, only in its decay. And I think that’s essentially what impressed Boulez . That he heard a sound, not an attack, emerging and disappearing without attack and decay, almost like an electronic medium.

Also, you have to remember that loud and soft is an aspect of differentiation. And my music is more like a kind of monologue that does not need exclamation point, colon, it does not need…”

Feldman also had an intriguing reply up his sleeve when it came to answering the question why he composed in the first place:

“You know that marvellous remark of Disraeli’s? Unfortunately, he was not a good writer, but if he was a great writer, it would have been a wonderful remark. They asked him why
did he begin to write novels. He said because there was nothing to read. (laughs). I felt very much like that in terms of contemporary music. I was not really happy with it. It became like a Rohrschach test”.

More than twenty years since his death, Morton Feldman’s music is as alive as ever.” – from Universal Edition

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Discover This! 5 Pieces by Milton Babbitt

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Milton Babbitt

May 10, 1916 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
January 29, 2011 – Princeton, New Jersey, USA

“Milton Babbitt, American composer and theorist known as a leading proponent of total serialism—i.e., musical composition based on prior arrangements not only of all 12 pitches of the chromatic scale (as in 12-tone music) but also of dynamics, duration, timbre (tone color), and register.

Babbitt attended public schools in Jackson, Mississippi; he played violin as a young child and then turned to piano, clarinet, and saxophone. In his youth he loved jazz and other popular music. After beginning mathematics studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he transferred to New York University as a music major. In New York City he also studied privately for several years with the composer Roger Sessions.

Babbitt, Milton [Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]Babbitt’s Composition for Synthesizer (1961) displayed his interest in establishing precise control over all elements of composition; the machine is used primarily to achieve such control rather than solely to generate novel sounds. Philomel (1964) combines synthesizer with the voice, both live and recorded, of a soprano. More traditional in medium is Partitions for Piano (1957). Babbitt wrote chamber music (Composition for Four Instruments, 1948; All Set, 1957) as well as solo pieces and orchestral works. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Babbitt continued to use serialist techniques in his later works, which include Arie da capo (1974), The Head of the Bed (1982), Swan Song No. 1 (2003), and An Encore (2006; commissioned by the Library of Congress) for violin and piano, among other compositions for small ensembles; solo pieces, such as Play It Again, Sam (1989; written as a viola solo for Samuel Rhodes) and More Melismata (2005–06; commissioned by the Juilliard School) for cello; and Concerti for Orchestra (2004) and several other pieces for larger groups.

Babbitt was a member of the music faculty at Princeton from 1938 to 1984, and he joined the faculty of the Juilliard School in 1971. He also taught composition at the Berkshire Music Center (now Tanglewood Music Center) in Massachusetts and at the Darmstadt Music Festival in Germany. His interest in electronic music brought him the directorship of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. In 1959 he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1982 he received a lifetime Pulitzer Prize in composition.

Babbitt was unapologetic about the difficulty of his music, arguing that understanding “advanced music,” like “mathematics, philosophy, and physics,” requires extensive background and effort. Nonetheless, he saw his music as belonging in a tradition that flowed from Johannes Brahms through Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. The composer and conductor Gunther Schuller said conducting Babbitt was “a great thrill, to get inside that music with those marvelous sounds and textures,” and critic Alex Ross wrote that Babbitt’s “music…shuffles and shimmies like jazz from another planet.”

As an active participant and thinker, Babbitt wrote extensively about music. His writings are collected in Milton Babbitt: Words About Music (1987; edited by Stephen Dembski and Joseph N. Straus) and The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt (2003; edited by Stephen Peles).” – from Britannica

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Discover This! 5 Pieces by Lukas Foss

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Lukas Foss

August 15, 1922 – Berlin, Germany
February 1, 2009 – Bridgehampton, New York City, NY, USA

“The German-born American composer, conductor, pianist, and educator, Lukas Foss, began his musical studies in Berlin, where he studied piano and theory with Julius Goldstein. Goldstein introduced Foss to the music of Bach, Mozart, and L.v. Beethoven, which had a profound effect on Foss musical development. In 1933, Foss went to Paris where he studied piano with Lazare Lévy as well as composition with Noël Gallon, orchestration with Felix Wolfes, and flute with Louis Moyse. He remained in Paris until 1937, when he moved with his family to the USA, continuing his musical instruction at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In addition, he studied conducting with Serge Koussevitzky during the summers from 1939 to 1943 at the Berkshire Music Center. He also studied composition with Paul Hindemith as a special student at Yale from 1939 to 1940.

Lukas Foss began to compose at the age of 7 and was first published at 15. At the age of 22, he won the New York Music Critic’s Award for his cantata Prairie, which was premiered by the Collegiate Chorale, under the direction of Robert Shaw. From 1944 to 1950 he served as the pianist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1945 he was the youngest composer ever to receive a Guggenheim fellowship. From 1950-1951 he was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, and received a Fulbright grant for 1950-1952.

In February of 1953 Lukas Foss received an appointment as professor of music at the University of California at Los Angeles – succeeding Arnold Schoenberg – where he taught composition and conducting. While at UCLA, he founded the groundbreaking Improvisation Chamber Ensemble. He served from 1963 to 1970 as music director and conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1963, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Foss founded, and became the director of, the Center for Creative and Performing Arts. In 1971, Foss became the conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, a position which he held until 1990 when he was named Conductor-Laureate. In 1972, he was appointed conductor of the Kol Israel Orchestra of Jerusalem. In 1972-1973 he served as composer-in-residence at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, and from 1981 to 1986 was conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony.

Lukas Foss was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1989-1990 served as composer in residence at the Tanglewood Music Center. He became professor of music at the School for the Arts at Boston University in 1991. He has also traveled widely, appearing as a guest conductor with many American and European Orchestras, and lecturing at many North American colleges and universities, including Harvard and Carnegie Mellon.

Lukas Foss had contributed profoundly to the circulation and appreciation of music of the 20th century. His compositions illustrate two main periods in his artistic development, separated by a middle, avant-garde phase. The works of his first period are predominantly neo-classic in style, and reflect his love of J.S. Bach and Igor Stravinsky. In the transitional period he fused elements of controlled improvisation and chance operations with 12-tone, and serialist techniques. Notable works of this period include the Baroque Variations for orchestra, and the chamber works Time Cycle (1960), Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1978), and Echoi (1963). His later period works, including the Renaissance Concerto (1990) for flute, embrace a wide variety of musical references, displaying a keen awareness of idioms and styles that span the history of western art music.” – from Bach-Cantatas

Discover This! 5 Pieces by Pauline Oliveros

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“PAULINE OLIVEROS is a senior figure in contemporary American music.  Her career spans fifty years of boundary dissolving music making.  In the ’50s she was part of a circle of iconoclastic composers, artists, poets gathered together in San Francisco. Recently awarded the John Cage award for 2012 from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts, Oliveros is Distinguished Research Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, and Darius Milhaud Artist-in-Residence at Mills College.  Oliveros has been as interested in finding new sounds as in finding new uses for old ones –her primary instrument is the accordion, an unexpected visitor perhaps to musical cutting edge, but one which she approaches in much the same way that a Zen musician might approach the Japanese shakuhachi.  Pauline Oliveros’ life as a composer, performer and humanitarian is about opening her own and others’ sensibilities to the universe and facets of sounds.  Since the 1960’s she has influenced American music profoundly through her work with improvisation, meditation, electronic music, myth and ritual.  Pauline Oliveros is the founder of “Deep Listening,”  which comes from her childhood fascination with sounds and from her works in concert music with composition, improvisation and electro-acoustics.  Pauline Oliveros describes Deep Listening as a way of listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing.  Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, of one’s own thoughts as well as musical sounds. Deep Listening is my life practice,” she explains, simply.  Oliveros is founder of Deep Listening Institute, formerly Pauline Oliveros Foundation, now the Center For Deep Listening at Rensselaer.” – www.paulineoliveros.us

Discover This: 5 Pieces by Fazıl Say

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Turkish pianist and composer Fazıl Say was born on January 14, 1970 in Ankara.

“Composing is always a form of improvisation: with ideas, with musical particles, with imaginary shapes. And it is in this sense that the artistic itinerary and the world-view of the Turkish composer and pianist Fazıl Say should be understood. For it was from the free forms with which he became familiar in the course of his piano lessons with the Cortot pupil Mithat Fenmen that he developed an aesthetic outlook that constitutes the core of his self-conception as a composer. Fazıl Say has been touching audiences and critics alike for more than twenty-five years in a way that has become rare in the increasingly materialistic and elaborately organised classical music world. Concerts with this artist are something else. They are more direct, more open, more exciting; in short, they go straight to the heart. And the same may be said of his compositions.

Fazıl Say wrote his first piece – a piano sonata – as early as 1984, at the age of fourteen, when he was a student at the Conservatory of his home town Ankara. It was followed, in this early phase of his development, by several chamber works without an opus number, including Schwarze Hymnen for violin and piano and a guitar concerto. He subsequently designated as his opus 1 one of the works that he had played in the concert that won him the Young Concert Artists Auditions in New York: the Four Dances of Nasreddin Hodja. This work already displays in essence the significant features of his personal style: a rhapsodic, fantasia-like basic structure; a variable rhythm, often dance-like, though formed through syncopation; a continuous, vital driving pulse; and a wealth of melodic ideas that may often be traced back to themes from the folk music of Turkey and its neighbours. In these respects, Fazıl Say stands to some extent in the tradition of composers like Béla Bartók, George Enescu, and György Ligeti, who also drew on the rich musical folklore of their countries. He attracted international attention with the piano piece Black Earth (1997), in which he employs techniques familiar to us from John Cage and his works for prepared piano. After this, Say increasingly turned to the large orchestral forms. Taking his inspiration from the poetry (and the biographies) of the writers Nâzım Hikmet and Metin Altıok, he composed works for soloists, chorus and orchestra which, especially in the case of the oratorio Nâzim, clearly take up the tradition of composers such as Carl Orff.

In addition to the modern European instrumentarium, Say also makes frequent and deliberate use in these compositions of instruments from his native Turkey, including kudüm and darbuka drums and the ney reed flute. This gives the music a colouring that sets it apart from many comparable creations in this genre. In the year 2007 he aroused international interest with his Violin Concerto 1001 Nights in the Harem, which is based on the celebrated tales of the same name, but deals specifically with the fate of seven women from a harem. Since its world premiere by Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the piece has already received further performances in many international concert halls. Fazıl Say scored a further great success with his first symphony, the Istanbul Symphony, premiered in 2010 at the conclusion of his five-year residency at the Konzerthaus Dortmund. Jointly commissioned by the WDR and the Konzerthaus Dortmund in the framework of Ruhr.2010, the work constitutes a vibrant and poetic tribute to the metropolis on the Bosporus and its millions of inhabitants. The same year saw the composition, among other pieces, of his Divorce String Quartet (based on atonal principles), and commissioned works like the Piano Concerto Nirvana Burning for the Salzburg Festival and a Trumpet Concerto for the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival, premiered by Gábor Boldoczki.

In response to a commission from the 2011 Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, Say has also written a Clarinet Concerto for Sabine Meyer that refers to the life and work of the Persian poet Omar Khayyam. Fazıl Say’s works are issued worldwide by the renowned music publishers Schott of Mainz.” – from fazilsay.com

5 Pieces by Fazıl Say

Mesopotamia Symphony (Symphony No. 2)
Opus 38 / 2011 / 52 minutes
Commissioned by IKSV
WP: 23/06/2012 Istanbul, Aykal, Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra
I. Two Children in the Plain / II. Tigris River / III. About the Culture of Death / IV. Melodrama / V. Sun / VI. Moon / VII. Bullet / VIII. Euphrates River / IX. About War / X. Ballad of Mesopotamia

Universe (Symphony No. 3)
Opus 43 / 2012 / 28 minutes
Commissioned by the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg
WP: 07/10/2012 Salzburg, Mozarteumorchester Salzburg, Ivor Bolton
I. Expansion of the Universe / II. Venus / III. Storm on Jupiter / IV. Earth-like Planet Gliese 581 g / V. Supernova / VI. Finale Dark Matter

“Nietzsche and Wagner” for Piano
Opus 49 / 2013 / 10 Minutes
Auftragswerk der Stadt Bayreuth in Zusammenarbeit mit der Klaviermanufaktur Steingraeber & Söhne zum Richard Wagner Jahr 2013
World Premiere: July 30, 2013 Bayreuth, Stadthalle (D) · Fazıl Say, Klavier

Paganini Jazz
1995 / 5 minutes

İstanbul Symphony (Symphony No. 1)
Opus 28 / 2009 / 45 minutes
Commissioned by Konzerthaus Dortmund and WDR
WP: 13/03/2010 Dortmund, Howard Griffiths, WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln
I. Nostalgia / II. Religious order / III. Blue Mosque / IV. Merrily clad young ladies aboard the ferry to the Princes Islands / V. About the travellers to Anatolia departing from the Haydar Pasha train station / VI. Oriental night / VII. Finale

Meet the Artist – Eli Ponder-Twardy

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Our next New Music On A Sunday Afternoon will feature collaborations by current and former University of South Florida graduates. Get to know a little about them as we feature some of their work until the concert in June!

Eli Ponder-Twardy is a recent graduate of the University of South Florida, from which he holds a degree is in jazz performance. Eli has been a featured artist nationally, at USF’s 2015 New Music Festival and The Venture Compound’s: We Are Jazz Series, and, internationally, at the La Spezzia, Vienne, and Umbria Jazz festivals in Italy and France respectively. Tampa composers Nathan Corder, Susanna Hancock, and Paul Lewis have all dedicated pieces to Eli during his time in Florida.  Eli hales from rural northern Alabama, and, from an early age, has been drawn to the arts because of their ability to build community. In Tampa, Eli has undertaken organizational work with organizations that seek to do just that, including the Hillsborough County Arts Council in Tampa, Urban Conga, and College of The Arts Council at USF. In 2015, Eli was awarded a Fulbright study grant to study in Leeds, England. Through studying modern arts administration infrastructure in the UK, and the illustrious Arts Council of England, Eli plans on using this experience to gain necessary to advocate for community building through the arts upon his return to the United States.