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Discover This! 5 Pieces by Frederic Rzewski

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Frederic Rzewski

April 13, 1938 – Westfield, MA, USA

“American composer, now resident in Belgium, of mostly chamber, vocal and piano works that have been performed throughout the world; he is also active as a pianist.

Prof. Rzewski studied music privately with Charles Mackey in Springfield, Massachusetts as a child and studied composition with Walter Piston and Roger Sessions, counterpoint with Randall Thompson and orchestration with Claudio Spies at Harvard University from 1954–58. He studied composition with Milton Babbitt and the music of Richard Wagner with Oliver Strunk at Princeton University from 1958–60, where he also studied literature and philosophy from Greece. In addition, he studied composition privately with Luigi Dallapiccola in Rome in 1960.

As a pianist, he frequently performed with the flautist Severino Gazzelloni in the 1960s. He then co-founded with Alvin Curran and Richard Teitelbaum the improvisational and live electronic ensemble Musica Elettronica Viva in Rome in 1966 and performed with it from 1966–71. Since then, he has been active as a pianist, primarily in performances of his own pieces and music by other contemporary composers.

He taught at the Conservatoire royal de musique in Liège from 1977–2003, where he was Professeur de Composition from 1983–2003. He has given lectures in Germany, the Netherlands and the USA.” – from The Living Composers Project

Discover This! 5 Pieces by John Adams

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John Adams

February 15, 1947 – Worcester, MA, USA

“John Adams began composing relatively early; at ten he started composing, and by 14 he had heard his works performed. Entering Harvard University in 1965, Adams became the conductor for the Bach Society Orchestra. At Walter Piston’s Clarinet Concerto world premiere, Adams performed on the clarinet as the soloist. He moved to San Francisco in 1972 to teach at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music until 1984.

While at the conservatory, Adams worked in an electronic music studio and was the conductor of the New Music Ensemble. It was in San Francisco that he heard the minimalist works of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley for the first time, and was immediately drawn to its sound. However, he soon felt that although minimalism was “the most important stylistic development in Western art music since the Fifties”, the genre had its limits, since repetition was its foundation.

Adams coined the term “post-minimalism” starting with his piece for string septet Shaker Loops (1978). This style is characterized by greater dynamic contrasts and a more fluid and layered sound. The completion and premiere of Harmonium in 1981 was well-received by critics and the public, establishing Adams as a major American composer. In 1987, he made yet another impact on the music scene with his opera Nixon in China. Another major opera work followed in 1991, titled The Death of Klinghoffer, which, like Nixon in China, detailed a historic event.

At the turn of the century, Adams composed El Niño (2000), an oratorio based on the Christmas story of Jesus Christ. With the tragic events that transpired on September 11, 2001, Adams was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center’s Great Performers to compose a piece in memory of the victims. The result, On the Transmigration of Souls (2002), is a work for orchestra, chorus and children’s choir on pre-recorded tape, earning Adams a 2003 Pulitzer Prize.

John Adams continues to compose to this day, with his most recent work being The Gospel According to the Other Mary (Oratorio for Chorus, Orchestra and Soloists) in 2013.” – johnadamscomposer.com

Discover This! 5 Pieces by Julia Wolfe

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Julia Wolfe

December 18, 1958 – Philadelphia, PA, USA

“Julia Wolfe, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in music, draws inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, bringing a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them.

Her Pulitzer-winning concert-length oratorio,Anthracite Fields for chorus and instruments, draws on oral histories, interviews, speeches, and more to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region. Mark Swed of the LA Times wrote Anthracite Fields “captures not only the sadness of hard lives lost…but also of the sweetness and passion of a way of daily life now also lost. The music compels without overstatement. This is a major, profound work.”

Wolfe’s music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. Recent projects include her evening-length Steel Hammer for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and singers which is now touring in an expanded theatrical form with director Anne Bogart and her SITI Company and receives its New York premiere at BAM’s 2015 Next Wave festival. Wolfe’s body concerto riSE and fLY, commissioned by the BBC and performed this season by the Cincinnati Symphony, features percussionist Colin Currie playing rapid-fire body slaps and street percussion. The New York Philharmonic recently announced her new evening-length commission for orchestra and women’s chorus that will premiere in the fall of 2018. For the Philharmonic commission, Wolfe continues her interest in American labor history with the subject of women in New York’s garment industry at the turn of the century.

Wolfe has written a major body of work for strings, from quartets to full orchestra. Her quartets, as described by The New Yorker, “combine the violent forward drive of rock music with an aura of minimalist serenity [using] the four instruments as a big guitar, whipping psychedelic states of mind into frenzied and ecstatic climaxes.” Wolfe’s Cruel Sister for string orchestra, inspired by a traditional English ballad, was commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra and received its U.S. premiere at the Spoleto Festival. Fuel for string orchestra is a collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison. She has collaborated with theater artist Anna Deveare Smith, choreographer Susan Marshall, designers Jeff Sugg and Jim Findlay, and director François Girard, among others. Her music has been heard at venues throughout the world, including the Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, LG Arts Center (South Korea), Settembre Musica (Italy), Theatre de la Ville (France), the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall, and has been recorded on Cantaloupe Music, Teldec, Point/Universal, Sony Classical, and Argo/Decca.

In 2009 Wolfe joined the NYU Steinhardt School composition faculty. Wolfe is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music collective Bang on a Can. Her music is published by Red Poppy Music (ASCAP) and is distributed worldwide by G. Schirmer, Inc.” – from Julia Wolfe’s Official Website

Discover This! 5 Pieces by David Lang

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David Lang

January 8, 1957 – Los Angeles, CA, USA

“David Lang is one of the most highly-esteemed and performed American composers writing today. His works have been performed around the world in most of the great concert halls.

Lang’s simple song #3, written as part of his score for Paolo Sorrentino’s acclaimed film YOUTH, received many awards nominations in 2016, including the Academy Award and Golden Globe.

His the little match girl passion won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in music. Based on a fable by Hans Christian Andersen and Lang’s own rewriting of the libretto to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, the recording of the piece was awarded a 2010 Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance. Lang has also been the recipient of the Rome Prize, Le Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, and Musical America’s 2013 Composer of the Year.

Lang’s tenure as 2013-14 Debs Chair Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall saw his critically-acclaimed festival, collected stories, showcase different modes of storytelling in music. This season Lang sees the premiere of his chamber opera Anatomy Theatre at LA Opera, the 4th annual performance of the little match girl passion to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the UK premieres of the national anthems with the London Symphony and mystery sonatas at Wigmore Hall, as well as residencies at the Strings of Autumn Festival in Prague, the Winnipeg New Music Festival, and Baldwin-Wallace College.

Lang’s music is used regularly for ballet and modern dance around the world by such choreographers as Twyla Tharp, Susan Marshall, Edouard Lock, and Benjamin Millepied, who choreographed a new piece by Lang for the LA Dance Project at BAM in 2014. Lang’s film work includes the score for Jonathan Parker’s (Untitled), the music for the award-winning documentary The Woodmans, and the string arrangements for Requiem for a Dream, performed by the Kronos Quartet. His music is also on the soundtrack for Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning La Grande Bellezza and the director’s upcoming film, Youth. In addition to his work as a composer is Professor of Composition at the Yale School of Music.

Lang is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music collective Bang on a Can. His music is published by Red Poppy Music (ASCAP) and is distributed worldwide by G. Schirmer, Inc.” – from David Lang’s Official Website

Discover This! 5 Pieces by Kaija Saariaho

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Kaija Saariaho

October 14, 1952 – Helsinki, Finland

“Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now, in mid-career, making a worldwide impact. She studied composition in Helsinki, Freiburg and Paris, where she has lived since 1982. Her studies and research at IRCAM have had a major influence on her music and her characteristically luxuriant and mysterious textures are often created by combining live music and electronics. Although much of her catalogue comprises chamber works, from the mid-nineties she has turned increasingly to larger forces and broader structures, such as the operas L’Amour de loin and Adriana Mater and the oratorio La Passion de Simone.” – from Music Sales Classical

Discover This! 5 Pieces by Annea Lockwood

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Annea Lockwood

July 29, 1939 – Christchurch, New Zealand

“Born in New Zealand in 1939, Annea Lockwood moved to England in 1961, studying composition at the Royal College of Music, London, attending summer courses at Darmstadt and completing her studies in Cologne and Holland, taking courses in electronic music with Gottfried Michael Koenig. In 1973 feeling a strong connection to such American composers as Pauline Oliveros, John Cage, the Sonic Arts Union (Ashley, Behrman, Mumma, Lucier), and invited by composer Ruth Anderson to teach at Hunter College, CUNY, she moved again to the US and settled in Crompond, NY. She is an Emerita Professor at Vassar College.

During the 1960s she collaborated with sound poets, choreographers and visual artists, and also created a number of works such as the Glass Concerts which initiated her lifelong fascination with timbre and new sound sources. In synchronous homage to Christian Barnard’s pioneering heart transplants, Lockwood began a series of Piano Transplants (1969-82) in which defunct pianos were burned, drowned, beached, and planted in an English garden.

During the 1970s and ’80s she turned her attention to performance works focused on environmental sounds and life-narratives, often using low-tech devices such as her Sound Ball, containing six small speakers and a receiver, designed by Robert Bielecki for Three Short Stories and an Apotheosis, in which the ball is rolled, swung on a long cord and passed around the audience. World Rhythms, A Sound Map of the Hudson River, Delta Run, built around a conversation she recorded with the sculptor, Walter Wincha, who was close to death, and other works were widely presented in the US, Europe and in New Zealand.

Since the early 1990s, she has written for a number of ensembles and solo performers, often incorporating electronics and visual elements. Thousand Year Dreaming is scored for four didgeridus, conch shell trumpets and other instruments and incorporates slides of the cave paintings at Lascaux. Duende, a collaboration with baritone Thomas Buckner, carries the singer into a heightened state, similar to a shamanic journey, through the medium of his own voice. Ceci n’est pas un piano for piano, video and electronics merges images from the Piano Transplants with Jennifer Hymer’s musings on her hands and pianos she has owned, her voice being sent through, and colored by the piano strings.

Other recent work includes Vortex commissioned by Bang on a Can for the All-Stars; a surround-sound installation, A Sound Map of the Danube; Luminescence, settings of texts by Etel Adnan for Thomas Buckner and the SEM Ensemble; Gone! in which a little piano-shaped music box, attached to 20 helium balloons, is released from a concert grand and floats off over the audience playing, in one case, Memories. Jitterbug, commissioned by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for the dance eyeSpace, incorporates Lockwood’s recordings of aquatic insects, and two improvising musicians working from photographs of rock surfaces. Poems by three of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are the focus of In Our Name, a collaboration with Thomas Buckner for baritone voice, cello and ‘tape’.

Much of her music has been recorded, on the Lovely, XI, Mutable, Pogus, EM Records (Japan), Rattle Records, Soundz Fine (NZ), Harmonia Mundi and Ambitus labels. She is a recipient of the 2007 Henry Cowell Award.” – annealockwood.com

Discover This! 5 Pieces by Conlon Nancarrow

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Conlon Nancarrow

October 27, 1912, Texarkana, Arkansas, AR, USA
August 10, 1997, Mexico City, Mexico

“Born in Texarkana, Arkansas in 1912, Nancarrow was active in his early years as a trumpeter, playing jazz and other types of popular music. He attended the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music from 1929-32, and later studied composition and counterpoint in Boston with Nicolas Slonimsky, Walter Piston, and Roger Sessions (1933-36). He values most his work with Sessions: “The only formal studies I did that were important were the studies I had in strict counterpoint with Roger Sessions. That was the only formal training I ever had. And they were rigid! I’d do this strict counterpoint exercise, and then I’d take a piece of my music and say to him, ‘What do you think of this?’ ‘Very interesting; where’s your counterpoint exercise?'” Nancarrow also cites Bach and Stravinsky as seminal influences.

In 1937 Nancarrow enlisted in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. On his return to the United States in 1939 he became involved in the New York new music scene, contributing several reviews to Modern Music and associating with other composers such as Elliot Carter and Aaron Copland.

Nancarrow was a dedicated socialist, which made him politically unacceptable in the United States. This was brought plainly home when he applied for a passport and was denied. Angry at such treatment, he moved to Mexico City in the early 1940s, becoming a Mexican citizen in 1956. He died there in 1997.

Nancarrow returned to the player piano partly because of Mexico’s extreme musical isolation. Another more compelling reason was his long-standing frustration at the inability of musicians to deal with even moderately difficult rhythms. He goes so far as to say that “As long as I’ve been writing music I’ve been dreaming of getting rid of the performers.” With the advent of the phonograph, the player piano has been relegated to the status of an object of nostalgia. But not so for Nancarrow, who since the late 1940s has composed almost exclusively for the instrument.

The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, Nancarrow’s complete Studies for Player Piano have been released on compact disc by Wergo (Germany), produced by Charles Amirkhanian.” – Other Minds