And the Calendar Takes Another Turn

I admit, I’ve been neglecting my blog.  It’s been an incredibly busy year, and I haven’t had a lot of time to reflect.  But it’s New Year’s Day, and I’m fighting the start of a cold, so it seems the perfect opportunity to take it easy and catch up on a few things.  Including the blog.

There has been a lot of music this year.  I’ve (finally) turned over the trombone concerto to Haim and Ovidiu.  It’s called “Dreamcatcher,” and although it is technically a single movement, it has three very distinct and different sections.  They’ll be travelling to Moscow in a couple of weeks to record most of the works for the upcoming CD, and I can’t wait to hear it.  I won’t be travelling with them, but I will be at the recording session via Skype, so it’ll definitely be a new experience for me!

Now that the score and parts are completed and handed over, I can admit that it was a daunting project for me!  This was my first foray into orchestral composition, and it was a little overwhelming at times.  But I did work my way through it, and I am very proud of the result.  I’m ready and eager to take on more large-scale works, so bring ’em on!

As for other works from this year, I already talked about “Elemental Suite” and “Woman A/Part” in a previous post.  I’m hoping to revisit “Woman A/Part” again this year, in order to expand it into something much more substantial.  I’m also in the midst of transcribing a work for Contrabass Flute with Flute Choir called “J.C. Dist” by Jelle Hogenhuis, who made my contrabass flute, as well as working on another flute choir work with a contrabass solo.  If all goes well, we’ll work on those for the spring concerts with the Central New York Flute Choir.

I’m also very excited that Trio Casals has included “Three Songs” into some of their programming, and have plans to include it on at least 2 more concerts.  You can hear it in Lewes, DE in March, and in Cazenovia, NY in July.  (Details on dates, times, and venues are all available at my website.)

I’m also in the early planning stages of a collaborative project that I’m very excited about.  We’re not ready to present any details about it yet, but I will absolutely keep you up to date as things progress.  

And what else has kept me so busy?  Well, working a 40 hour week at the radio station, of course.  After so many years of absolute freedom in dictating my own schedule, it’s been an adjustment.  But I love going to work every day, getting my hands deep into so much classical music, hearing new releases of new and old works.  I’ve also discovered that I really love doing interviews!  I’m bringing in folks almost every single week to talk about their work in the arts, and sometimes give us a short performance.  It is an absolute blast getting to chat with so many artists, both local and national!  And working on my weekly show, Feminine Fusion, has been absolutely incredible!  It’s going well, and getting very good responses from listeners.  And I’m learning so much about other women in the classical music world, and their achievements and struggles.  It’s giving me a whole new level of respect for those who have led the way in the arts community.

Let’s not forget performing, either.  I’m still a regular member of Samba Laranja, and the Central New York Flute Choir.  And, at the moment, I’m also filling in as second flute with the Onondaga Civic Symphony Orchestra, for their February concerts.  And I still translate and run the supertitle slides for the Syracuse Opera Company.  Add in the non-musical activities that I hope to do this year (dog agility, regular rides on my trike, cheering/heckling my husband during his cyclecross races, just to name a few) and it’s definitely going to be a busy 2017!

So, before I wrap up this entry, let me give you my sincere hope that your 2017 is filled with music and joy!  

A Quiet Saturday Afternoon

Quiet time.  Time to think, reflect – and blog.  That’s something that’s been missing for a while.

Things at the radio station are going very well.  Just like any new endeavor, it’s taken a bit of time to settle into a routine.  Not to mention, as I get more comfortable (and folks around the office get to know me better), my responsibilities are expanding.

It’s been nearly a year since I stepped into the mid-day hosting spot on WCNY.  I’m finally comfortable enough to really call it my own now.  I’ve made a few changes, including a weekly hour of music “Fresh From the Wrapper,” where I feature works from CDs that we’ve just received in the station.  These are the newest classical music releases, some of which aren’t available for sale just yet, and I get to share them with our listeners.

Putting together a 2-hour Concert Hall every other week has been fun as well.  Morning host Bruce Paulsen and I divvy up the Concert Hall duties, hosting on alternating weeks.  It’s a great chance to present music from various venues and organizations here in Central New York, and wow, do we have some incredible talent cross our threshold!

I’m adding another responsibility at the station as well – a new program, which we hope to make available for syndication, called Feminine Fusion.  It features music created, performed, and inspired by women throughout history and into the present day.  Look for the first episode to air on WCNY in September.  It’s titled, “From Parlor … to Prize Winners” and features music composed by Clara Schumann, Libby Larsen, and more.  I’ll be providing a weekly blog update with program notes for each episode, so be sure to listen in if something piques your interest!

If you’re worried that the composition side of my world is being neglected, have no fear!  I wrote a very short work at the request of the Society for New Music based on the photography of Carrie Mae Weems.  The piece is called “Woman A/Part,” and it was premiered at the benefit gala this Spring.  There will be a repeat performance this summer at the Cazenovia Counterpoint Festival as well, and I can’t wait to hear it live.

I’m also taking a vacation from the radio station next week to put the final touches on my trombone concerto for Haim Avitsur.  My good friend Ovidiu Marinescu will be conducting the work (in Moscow in January – brrr!), and the CD will be coming out mid-2017.  I’m very excited about the piece, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

And, in true “glutton for punishment” style, I’ve picked up two new instruments for the summer.  I’m taking banjo lessons from the talented Nick Piccininni (all while enduring an endless array of banjo jokes from my friend, Bill Knowlton).  I’ve also bought an instrument I’ve wanted for some time now – a contrabass flute!  This particular flute was handmade by Jelle Hogenhuis, and I am having an absolute blast with it!  It arrived just after the CNY Flute Choir season ended, and I’m excited for the fall rehearsals to start up again.  I’ve also started working on a new flute choir piece that (fingers crossed) we can premiere next Spring.  I’ll keep you posted on that as well.

If you’ve read this far, well, thanks!  Now that we’re caught up again, I promise you’ll be getting more regular updates.  And if you have ideas or requests for my regular programming or the new Feminine Fusion show on Classic FM, drop me a note and let me know!

My New Reality Show

I’ve often thought of pitching a reality show that follows a composer around in their day-to-day activities.  I mean a real reality show, with the person in the career they had long before the reality show started.  Something you know they’ll still be doing long after it ends.

Then I realize what the show would really be.  A lot of this…image

interspersed with a bit of that…image

not to mention…image

Of course, you’d also see some of this…image

followed by…image

Yeah.  The day-to-day reality of composing is not all that exciting to watch.  Although, truth be told, day-to-day life for most of us is pretty low key.

Still, there are exciting moments.  And some very busy weeks!  Take these last two weeks, for example.  I’ve been working with the 8th grade keyboard classes at Ed Smith School almost every day as part of a composition residency there.  This is an opportunity for these kids to help create a new piece for premiere in May.  Add to that a performance for a local charity organization (that ultimately led to a severe case of laryngitis for me), one at a semi-annual flute showcase, nine rehearsals, and one more performance (two sets) at another local elementary school just this morning.

And in between, of course, more of this…image

There are definitely a few more weeks of that coming up.  And then another whirlwind of activity in May!

But even without the whirlwinds, I think this show could really sell!  Just look at this program.

 

Embracing Human Limitations

Have you heard the one about the efficiency expert who went to a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony?*

Funny?  Sure.  But nowadays, it’s not too far off the mark, I fear.

I read an article a few years ago (and for the life of me, I can’t remember where, or by whom, and I haven’t been able to track it down) about reaching the limits of efficiency.  Orchestras are the most dramatic example of late, but many live arts presenters are struggling to get the greatest possible return with the least possible investment.  Theaters are moving pit orchestras to separate rooms so they can sell more seats.  Concerts are programmed based on what music the organization owns so they spend minimal amounts on new repertoire.  Sets are becoming more “minimalist” – in part, because it is less expensive to paint flats than to build a full-blown set.

In the recording industry, artists and engineers are increasing their use of multi-track recording and digital manipulation to make a few musicians sound like a crowd.  And music distributors are moving farther and farther away from “hard products” like CDs in favor of digital downloads.  It’s just getting harder and harder to recoup your investment.  Everyone is looking for the shortcut.

Every arts organization I know of is tightening their belt, looking for ways to do more with less every single year, and still bring quality performances to their audiences.  But I fear they are approaching a limit that cannot be worked around, buried, or simply willed away.

The human factor.

What I’m about to say could apply to almost any artist, but for the sake of this blog entry, let’s talk specifically about musicians.  The first factor is practice.  No matter how efficient a musician may be in their individual practice sessions, there comes a point where the body and mind simply can’t absorb the information any faster.  Once that kind of efficiency is reached, there are no shortcuts to be taken.

Nor is there a shortcut for group rehearsals.  Even if every single musician in an orchestra has practiced Torke’s Jasper until it is memorized, they still can’t simply hop up on stage the night of the performance, and give a solid performance of a 12-minute work cold.  It takes rehearsal, at tempo or below, enough times to get it right.

And then, there is the performance itself.  There are no more shortcuts left, which is the real joy of live performance.  A 12-minute work takes 12 minutes to perform.  Audience and performers are swept up in the same musical currents for the duration of a piece, bringing a unity to all the participants that is unique to the live experience.

Meanwhile, arts organizations are cutting, cutting, cutting away as much as they can, to make the most of what they have.  And I fear they are reaching that limit, the human limit, that cannot be cut any further.  Yet we continue to ask individuals to do as much (or more) with less, because there are no more shortcuts available in other areas.  In other words, we ask the impossible.

Believe me, I wish I had a solution to achieving the highest performance standards with even lower costs.  Unfortunately, I don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Just in case you haven’t heard it . . .

An efficiency consultant gave his critique of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony:

  1. For a considerable period, the oboe players had nothing to play. Their number should be reduced, and their work spread over the whole orchestra, thus avoiding peaks of inactivity.
  2. All 24 violins were playing identical notes. This seems unnecessary duplication, and the staff in this section should be drastically cut. If a large volume of sound is needed, this could be obtained by the use of an amplifier.
  3. Much effort was involved in playing the 16th notes. This seems an excessive refinement, and it is recommended that all notes should be rounded off to the nearest eighth note. If this were done, it would be possible to paraprofessionals instead of experienced musicians.
  4. No useful purpose is served by repeating with horns the passage that has already been played by the strings. If all such passages were eliminated, the concert could be reduced from two hours to 20 minutes.
  5. The symphony is in two movements. If Schubert did not achieve his musical goals by the end of the first movement, then he should have stopped there. The second movement is unnecessary and should be cut.
  6. In the light of the above, one can only conclude that if Schubert had paid attention to such matters, his symphony would probably have been finished by now.

 

When Things Come Together

It’s an exciting time!  Rehearsals for the 2014-15 concert season have started, the Brazilian ensemble has had two performances in the last week, with two more scheduled for this week.  The flute choir repertoire is set after our reading session last week, and rehearsals start in earnest next week.

And CDs!

Last night I got a copy of the (nearly) final master for the upcoming Samba Laranja CD, featuring my work, Travels.  I am so privileged to have been involved not only in the recording of Travels, but in both performing and giving artistic input on the rest of the CD as well.  The last CD won a SAMMY – and honestly, this one is sounding even better.

Which has raised my excitement level for the new Trio Casals CD as well!  I’m working closely with the sound engineers at PARMA right now, to get Three Songs sounding just perfect.  (Not a difficult job, really, given the incredible performances by Trio Casals!)  Now I realize what a difference it will make when I can hear it in context with the rest of the CD.  I’m even more excited to hear the full master!

It’s also exciting – and a bit nervewracking – to watch the Indiegogo funding campaign.  With just 18 days left, I haven’t quite hit the 20% funding mark.  So here it is, another request for you to check out the campaign and make your contribution.  Then share it with your friends and family, and ask them to support it as well.

Trio Casals: Sylvia Ahramjian, violin, Anna Kislitsyna, piano, & Ovidiu Marinescu, 'cello

Trio Casals: Sylvia Ahramjian, violin, Anna Kislitsyna, piano, & Ovidiu Marinescu, ‘cello

 

Still not sure if you want to support a new and untried work?  That’s understandable.  And so I encourage you to read this article from Minnesota Public Radio.

Three Songs Re-launch

I love September.  In many ways, it feels like a re-birth to me.  Rehearsals start up again for Samba Laranja and the CNY Flute Choir.  The concert season begins in earnest for most music and arts organizations.  Days are breezy, nights are wonderfully cool, leaves are showing the first signs of turning.  It’s as though everyone and everything is pausing just enough to catch a deep breath.

Sure, August ended on a low note.  But I took my own deep breath last weekend, and now I feel re-energized and ready to push ahead once more.

That’s why I’ve launched another campaign to raise funds for my Three Songs, this time on Indiegogo.  Once again, I’m starting from scratch, but I am much more confident this time around.  I’ve learned a lot, and I expect I’ll be better able to spread the word to not only the folks who tried to back me the last time (and hopefully will renew that backing!), but to an even broader audience. 

I’ve said it before, and it’s not news – making new music available to a broad audience takes resources – monetary resources.  Recording, publishing, performers and performance spaces, publicity – all of this comes at a cost.  No matter how frugal I am, it won’t happen for free, especially considering this is much more than a simple CD release.  The enhanced CD includes extra digital content (scores, liner notes, interviews), and the whole process culminates in two live performances, one in New York and the other in Philadelphia.  Believe me, every single dollar is being stretched to its limit!

As for the actually fundraising, this time around I’m concentrating even more on sharing my music with you.  I’ve added several music videos to my Vimeo page for you.  And I’ve given you a little more insight into the inspiration behind the Three Songs in my Indiegogo video, in the hopes it will inspire you to fund these Three Songs

I’ll also be giving you more blog and Facebook entries, and I would love to hear from you with any questions or thoughts you may have.  The smallest funding level is just $1, which means our conversation can start with, “Thank you so much for your support!”

What Are You Listening To?

You would think that, as a composer, I’d have music on almost constantly.  For me, the opposite is true.  I keep the radio turned on overnight, and as I get up in the mornings, but other than that, there’s not a lot of music playing.

There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, I don’t want to unconsciously incorporate something I’ve just heard into whatever piece I’m working on.  And second, I’m a little afraid that what I’m hearing from my speakers might derail what I’m hearing in my head.  (Yeah, I’m pretty good a rationalizing.)

Of course, there’s no reason I can think of that I’d have some random music playing while I’m actively working on a piece of my own.  That makes the second reason a bit ridiculous.  And as for incorporating something I’ve heard, well, I composed Paroxysm long before I had heard Jennifer Higdon’s Steeley Pause.  If you didn’t know that, though, you’d certainly think otherwise.  Reason number 1 just went out the window.

So I’ve set aside one afternoon a week to listen.  Not just to have the radio or CD player on, but to choose particular works/artists/CDs to really listen to, with care and attention.  Not necessarily because I need to study particular works for any reason, but because this is what has caught my attention.  Between CDs and LPs, I have a big collection already to choose from, and Julie Amacher’s podcast constantly gives me new recordings to add to my wish list.

This week I’m listening to some piano and cello duos:

Shuffle.Play.Listen (Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz)
20/21 (Blair McMillen and Robert Burkhart)

and Short Trip Home, with Joshua Bell, Edgar Meyer, Sam Bush and Mike Marshall.

What’s on your listening list?