Fernwood String Quartet plays set fire to have light June 3, 2018 at Timucua in Orlando

(From https://timucua.com/) The Fernwood String Quartet has been formed by players of Timucua’s own orchestra in residence, the Alterity Chamber Orchestra. The quartet focuses both on contemporary composers and on the repertoire from Joseph Haydn to the 20th century. All players – Caitlin Pequignot, Andreas Volmer, Daniel Cortes, and Hanrich Claassen – also regularly play with other orchestras across Central Florida including the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Space Coast Symphony Orchestra.

The quartet will open with one of Haydn’s most popular string quartets, “The Lark,” followed by Maurice Ravel’s string quartet in F Major. Finally, the quartet will perform Charles Griffin’s quartet “Set Fire to Have Light,” an exuberant work that is influenced by Arabic melodies and rhythms. Griffin lives in Orlando, and orchestral works of his have been performed by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.

$10-$20 suggested donation. Please bring food or wine to share.

Special exhibition of works by Don Moon

Faith Partners

After 26 years, in early June, the American Composers Forum will be shutting down its novel composer-in-residency program called Faith Partners.I was a participant in that program, having shared a residency with composer Gerald Cohen in three powerhouse institutions of worship in New York City: St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Bartholomew’s, and Temple Emanu-El.

I will elaborate more on this post shortly.

El Paso de la Siguiriya to be performed by Berkeley Women’s Community Chorus April 15

The Berkeley Women’s Community Chorus, directed by Debra Golata will perform my El Paso de la Siguiriya, a flamenco-inflected setting for women’s voices of the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. Flamenco dancer Holly Shaw will be featured in this performance. The concert will take place Sunday, April 15 at 4pm at Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California.

BACKGROUND OF THE WOMEN’S CHORUS: In response to the overwhelming interest in Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra, which has a full membership, a new women’s chorus was developed, directed by Debra Golata. We hold to the high standards of BCCO–singing in 2 to 4 part harmony, in a variety of languages with development of vocal and musical skills.

DIRECTOR DEBRA GOLATA received a bachelor’s degree in music education from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in choral conducting from San Jose State University. She has studied modern and flamenco dance, acting, and classical voice in San Francisco, New York City and Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Her vocal performance experience includes solo recitals, opera, musicals, and professional choral singing. She sang with the acclaimed Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Chorale for 15 years, and she has concertized throughout the United States and Mexico with classical guitarist Jon Harris. For Oakland’s Rockridge Chorale she performed as vocal soloist in India and England and has served as accompanist, assistant conductor and vocal coach for the San Francisco Lyric Chorus. She is organist and music director at Northbrae Community Church in Berkeley and teaches private voice and piano lessons, as well as general music classes for schools in the Bay Area.

Frontispiece on J.S. Bach’s Prelude in G major commissioned by Eric Jacobsen and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Premiere on April 7

On Saturday, April 7, 8pm, at the Bob Carr Theater (401 W Livingston Street, Orlando), the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra will premiere my Frontispiece on J.S. Bach’s Prelude in G major, a 4+-minute work that features as part of it J.S. Bach’s solo cello Prelude in G major. Music director Eric Jacobsen will play the featured cello part himself. The piece presents the prelude in its entirety at the center of it and is fully orchestrated, with countermelodies, and an introduction and closing based on the main Bach motive. The orchestra is the exact same instrumentation as Brahms’s Symphony #1: double winds, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings, with the added solo cello. The Bach Prelude exhibits that special magic that he’s so famous for amongst composers, particularly the outlining of chord structures and polyphonic lines within the solo cello part. He also, once G major is established, takes a kaleidoscopic detour away from the home key before returning to the spectacularly sunny opening motive. I tried to capture the various tonal worlds and motives that Bach crafts in the original and amplify them with my orchestration.

Click here for tickets.

Also on the program:
Brahms – Symphony No. 1 in C minor
Rimsky-Korsakov – Excerpts from Capriccio Espagnol
De Falla – Master Peter’s Puppet Show

Eric Jacobsen, conductor; Awet Andemicael, soprano; Alexander Elliot, baritone, William Ferguson, tenor; Kevork Mourad, visual artist

Guest lectures at the 2018 Epcot International Festival of the Arts

Between January 19 and February 19, I will give five different thirty minute invited lectures as part of the 2018 Epcot International Festival of the Arts. The lectures were great fun to prepare and to give to an enthusiastic audience of park-goers at the Odyssey Festival Showcase. The lectures are:
The Evolution of Flow in Hip Hop. Here, I trace the growth in lyrical and rhythmic complexity in Hip Hop from the late 1970s onward, with a special emphasis on the musical, Hamilton.
Maverick Composers. American music history from its very beginnings before the Revolution to the present has its strain of independent thinkers that changed how we all see things. Composers included here are William Billings, Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, John Cage and George Crumb.
A brief history of Jazz. I trace the several musical threads that lead to the birth of Jazz, with a close look at New Orleans itself, because understanding its specific culture helps us better appreciate jazz. We end with a quick tour of the trail blazed by the giants of this uniquely American genre.
The music of John Williams. We put John Williams’s music in context both in film music history and classical music history, with a special emphasis on how Williams so successfully navigates the special demands placed on composers for film.
Women Composers. From a small handful of historically recognized women composers prior to World War II, women have fought and powerfully earned a central place on the world stage of the concert music tradition. We’ll survey this history, with special emphasis on the amazing and varied voices that women composers represent today. Composers featured in this lecture include Hildegard von Bingen, Joan Tower, Jennifer Higdon, Wendy Mae Chambers, Julia Wolfe, and Sarah Kirkland Snider.

City Night performed by the Piano Duo Gastesi-Bezerra at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach on November 19

The Piano Duo Gastesi-Bezerra will be performing a selection from my suite of pieces for piano four-hands From the Faraway Nearby, inspired by paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach on Sunday, November 19 at 3:00 p.m. This and other works will be performed as part of Climate Keys, a worldwide series of concerts in which pianists play music and scientists lead discussions about climate change.

El Paso de la Siguiriya to be performed by Berkeley Women’s Community Chorus November 19

The Berkeley Women’s Community Chorus, directed by Debra Golata will perform my El Paso de la Siguiriya, a flamenco-inflected setting for women’s voices of the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. Antoinette Catalla will be the soloist. The concert will take place at Northbrae Community Church in Berkeley, California on Sunday, November 19 at 4pm. Other works on the concert include Jubilant Song by Norman Dello Joio, Dixit Dominus by Baldassare Galuppi, Oiseaux Si Tous by Mozart, Wir eilen by JS Bach, and Tundra by Ola Gjeilo.

First Contact: Guitarist Robert Phillips and the Orange Blossom Dances – Originally published in Artborne Magazine

Composers of contemporary classical music gravitate toward musicians that are receptive to new repertory. Often, the musicians most receptive to newly composed works are those who play instruments that don’t themselves have big catalogues of canonic pieces dating back hundreds of years. For example, one of the most beautifully intimate and expansive sounds that Western European culture generated is that of the string quartet. But living composers looking to shop around their recent compositions for string quartet have to ask for wiggle room amongst a long list of formidable masterworks that string quartet ensembles have rightfully adopted as standard repertory.

Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven all extensively explored the string quartet’s expressive possibilities. The Romantics, Nationalists and Impressionists that followed in the 19th century found new sonic riches there. In the 20th century, the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich each built their own catalogues of demanding, ground-breaking works that expanded the boundaries of performance techniques and pushed for a reconsideration of what the musical conversation between the players themselves and between the music and listener could be like.

Other instruments do not have the same depth of historical repertory, either because they didn’t attract the attention of big name composers or because those instruments are simply newer. The saxophone was invented in 1840. Percussion instruments, generally speaking, have been in existence pre-historically, but when considering the percussion family as a potentially virtuosic participant in the classical tradition, it’s a 20th century phenomenon. Similarly, precursors to the classical guitar emerged roughly 5,000 years ago, but the modern classical guitar didn’t emerge into broad popularity until the 19th century, during which masterworks for the instrument emerged, but at nowhere near the rate or scope of traditional ensembles like the string quartet.

That is good news for composers. Musicians of these instruments are hungry for serious repertory, and some of them go out of their way to midwife new repertory into being by actively commissioning living composers to write for them. They get the added thrill of having input into the creative process and being able to provide feedback.

Robert Phillips is one such musician. A guitarist based in Lakeland, he is an instructor at the Harrison School for the Arts and on the faculty of Southeastern University. He grew up on Long Island, and earned his Bachelor’s degree not far from home, at Hofstra University. He got his first real taste of contemporary music studying with David Starobin while earning his Master’s degree at Brooklyn College. Starobin owns Bridge Records, a label that specializes in contemporary classical music, and Starobin himself has been the catalyst for a multitude of commissions from a who’s who list of late 20th century composers from George Crumb to Elliot Carter to Gunther Schuller.

According to Phillips, “If you’re not playing new music, you’re just allowing the art to die out. A Beethoven string quartet has passed the test of time, which new music can’t. When Beethoven wrote a string quartet, it was a new piece at that time. If you don’t take a chance on new music, we won’t have new masterpieces. And it’s gotten easier as a performer to program new music, because new music has gotten more audience-friendly compared to twenty five or thirty years ago. We’re now in a period where composers are really re-engaging their audience and really saying something that listeners can identify with and understand.”

After graduating with his Master’s degree in guitar performance, Phillips worked the freelancer’s grind in New York for many years, giving guitar lessons and performing. But by the late 1980s and early 1990s, Long Island’s economy suffered several blows, including Grumman Aerospace corporation laying off 9,000 workers at once, adding them to a pool of unemployed professionals now totalling 90,000 people. As so often happens, music becomes an understandably unaffordable luxury when a family’s choices come down to guitar lessons versus dinner, or a business must choose between having live music or paying their waitstaff. Phillips threw in the towel and headed to Tampa before relocating to Lakeland shortly thereafter. He eventually made the decision to get his doctorate in classical guitar performance from the University of Miami, which entailed commuting weekly for a few years between Lakeland and Miami.

The genesis of Phillips’ commissioning project grew from an inability to choose just one of his favorite local composers to write a new piece for him when he got itchy for one. He’d worked with Troy Gifford before. Gifford is a talented guitarist and composer and is the Chair of the Music Department at Valencia College. Rex Willis, another guitarist and composer at the State College of Florida in Sarasota, was another potential candidate. As guitarist-composers, both Gifford and Willis have accessible compositional styles that are heavily influenced by Spanish dance music. The legendary Argentinian guitarist and composer Jorge Morel, whose performing and recording career exploded in New York in the 1960s, is now based in Orlando.

It dawned on Phillips that he didn’t need to choose just one composer — he could think big and commission a whole concert’s worth, a whole CD’s worth of pieces at once, from multiple composers. He cast a wider net by being open to the idea of working with non-guitarist composers. Phillips began a search for composers with some criteria in mind: they had to have an accessible musical voice; they had to be open to composing a piece based on dance rhythms; and they had to be local enough to make collaboration simple. He found his composers and set tentative agreements. He launched a kickstarter campaign to help fund the process that garnered support from over 60 people.

Rex Willis composed Rondo Diabolico, a 5-minute fun and quirky rondo (a recurring theme followed by episodic digressions) with a tango feel to it. Howard Buss of Lakeland wrote Dances and Interludes, an 8-minute journey through dances forms where a Cuban songo, a bossa nova, and a flamenco rumba are connected by interstitial musical material. Orlando’s Benoit Glazer composed TanVal, a light, sophisticated Jazz-inflected conversation between a tango and a waltz, but in 5/4 time. Troy Gifford contributed a neo-romantic waltz called Valsera. Jorge Morel wrote Preludio y Danzas. That work starts with a short prelude that leads to a fast Latin American dance, then a brisk interlude followed by a sesquialtera rhythm (where a duple and triple feel get overlaid simultaneously), and finally finishes with a flourish. My own contribution, Samba Variations, takes a standard Brazilian samba and treats it like fashion show where we get to see the same samba riff in many different costumes. Phillips plans to compose his own contribution to the set, which he has come to think of as Orange Blossom Dances.

The first performances will take place in Madrid this summer in multiple venues, including the Ateneo Científico, Literario y Artístico de Madrid, the National Archeological Museum, the American Museum, the Nicolás Salmerón Cultural Center, and the Villa de Barajas Cultural Center. American performances are anticipated to occur in Sarasota, Oklahoma City, Orlando and Lakeland. Phillips plans to record it and release it on MS Records, an independent label that specializes in classical music that has a fairly extensive catalogue of contemporary works.

For more information, go to http://www.robert-phillips.com/.

Percussia to perform Cambiando Paisajes, June 15 in Queens, NY

The Queens-based ensemble, Percussia will present Hammers & Keys: music for piano & percussion, on Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 7:30 PM.

This program will feature several works by composers with Queens connections, including my Latin-influenced Cambiando Paisajes, (Shifting Landscapes) for piano and two percussionists, as well as the hauntingly shimmering Not the Light, But the Fire That Burns by Gilbert Galindo. Rounding out the program are the post-minimalist groove Tight Sweater by Mark Mellits, the ritualistic Invocations to Vahakn by the Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness, and Prisoners of the Image Factory, a trio for keyboard percussion and piano by Bob Becker.

50 Ascan Ave.
Forest Hills
Queens, NY 11375

Tickets: $20/adults $10/students at the door