The Poetry of Places

Program notes and composer bios (new works)

Amy Beth Kirsten: h.o.p.e. (2016)

The American Visionary Art Museum (Baltimore) is a sacred place for me. Even though it’s a fantastically beautiful building, it’s not the architecture that draws me to the place, it’s the artwork inside, the stories of the lives of the untrained – often mentally ill – artists, and the memories that I’ve made there.

My new work, h.o.p.e., is inspired by The Big Hope Show, a current exhibition that “champions the radiant and transformative power of hope. Over twenty-five visionary artists, among them many ‘super survivors’ of enormous personal traumas, exhibit soulful creations reflecting their personal transcendence, and, often, a heightened or newfound creativity and sense of humor.” (quoted from the AVAM website).

This work was commissioned by Nadia Shpachenko and is dedicated to her.
–Amy Beth Kirsten

Amy Beth Kirsten’s music combines popular idioms with fierce expressionism and theatre and often requires musicians to play, vocalize, act, and move simultaneously. Her work is distinguished by an intense physicality that pushes players to extremes by making their bodies and voices instruments of artistic expression.

Recipient of fellowships and awards from the John S. Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, ASCAP, among others, she is co-founder and director of HOWL – a modular new music ensemble that specializes in instrumental and vocal theatre. In 2014, HOWL’s record label, Bad Wolf Music, released its first recording, If this world could stop. Upcoming releases include she is a myth, the first CD of Ms. Kirsten’s solo and chamber works. Her music is also recorded on the Parlour Tapes+ label. Recent works were commissioned and supported by the Harvard University Fromm Foundation, Chamber Music America, The MAP Fund, New Music USA, and The National Endowment for the Arts.

Ms. Kirsten was recently appointed Adjunct Faculty of Music Composition at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.

Website and works lists: amybethkirsten.com

Hannah Lash: Give Me Your Songs (2016)

Give Me Your Songs is a piece that plays with material that feels very songful and rather simple. This song-like idea is developed and shifted in a number of different ways throughout the form; it is represented in many different lights and shapes, as if being shown through a kaleidoscope, it is the very stuff of the piece, and yet the piece itself spins forward in a form that is anything but a reflection of song-form.

I was inspired to write this piece when I was in residence at Aaron Copland’s house in upstate New York last summer. The place itself was tremendously inspiring because of its history and the fact that Copland lived there for so many years, and also because of the rocky ground on which it sits, and the rather unique structure of the house itself. I found something mysterious about the layout of the house; it interacts interestingly with the rocky hilltop on which it sits, so that the main living room seems almost to float in the air when you look out of the large picture window. The layout of the house is interesting and I found myself making wrong turns for the first couple of days I was there, surprised every time I ended up in the kitchen or living room, thinking I was headed toward one but in fact going toward the other.

All these elements together gave me the idea for this piece, Give Me Your Songs – a piece that plays with its own structure in various angular and surprising ways, and also, as is the case in Copland’s music, reflects a song-like musical essence.
–Hannah Lash

Hailed by The New York Times as “striking and resourceful…handsomely brooding,” Hannah Lash’s music has been performed worldwide with commissions from The Fromm Foundation, The Naumburg Foundation, The Boston Symphony Chamber Players, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, Orchestra of the Swan, and Talujon Percussion, among others. Lash has received numerous honors and prizes, including a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a fellowship from Yaddo Artist Colony, the Naumburg Prize, the Barnard Rogers Prize, and the Bernard and Rose Sernoffsky Prize in Composition. Lash obtained her Ph.D in Composition from Harvard University in 2010. She has held teaching positions at Harvard University, Alfred University, and currently serves on the composition faculty at Yale University School of Music.

Website and works lists: hannahlash.com

James Matheson: Alone, in Waters Shimmering and Dark (2016)

In the middle of a lake in Pine Plains, NY sits a solitary house on an island. The water ripples around it, the surroundings are beautiful, geese and a pair of swans fly and swim, toads croak at night. It is evocative and beautiful in its context. It occurred to me at one point, though, that this was all from the point of view from an observer on the mainland. From the island itself, the experience would likely be very different – solitary, peaceful, exuberant when the natural elements are roused, but perhaps with an underlying loneliness of perspective as well.

The piece consists of three short movements. The third of these was originally written earlier in 2016 (under a different title) for a memorial concert for my late teacher, mentor and friend, Steven Stucky. As I was working on it I came to feel that it was also meant for something larger. And with an opportunity to write for Nadia Shpachenko approaching, it made perfect sense that the larger work that I envisioned would be the piece I wrote for her.

Everyone knew Steve’s brilliant side, his witty side, his generous side, his gregarious side. Not everyone knew of the more private Steve, who I think felt a bit like a lone traveler. That perspective offered a perfect meshing of my intentions for this piece: to capture that feeling of isolation, but also of the unexpected joy that can sometimes highlight the fine line between loneliness and its happier sibling, solitude.

–James Matheson

New York-based composer James Matheson is widely regarded as one of the most distinctive, vital, and creative musical voices of his generation. Among his commissions are works for the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Chicago and Albany Symphony Orchestras, Carnegie Hall, and the St. Lawrence and Borromeo String Quartets. The American Academy of Arts and Letters honored him in December 2011 with the Charles Ives Living, an award of $200,000. A September 2016 release from Yarlung Records features three major Matheson works on LP and CD: Violin Concerto (Baird Dodge, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Esa-Pekka Salonen); Times Alone, (soprano Laura Strickling and pianist Thomas Sauer); and String Quartet (Color Field Quartet). A new work for large orchestra, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will be premiered February 24th, 25th and 26th, 2017.

From 2009 to 2015 James served as Director of the the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s innovative Composer Fellowship Program. In addition to the Ives Living award, Matheson has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, Civitella Ranieri, the Bogliasco and Sage Foundations, ASCAP, and the Robbins Prize. From 2005-2007, Matheson was Executive Director of the MATA Festival of New Music in New York, which commissions and performs the work of young composers who are making their entry into professional musical life. Matheson has held residencies at Yaddo and the Liguria Study Center, and has been a fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

Website and works lists: jamesmatheson.com

Harold Meltzer: In Full Sail (2016, rev. 2017)

For years I have been taking walks in Manhattan through Chelsea, along the High Line park, or to take my son to summer camp by the Hudson River. Regularly they bring me past the curved white glass facade of Frank Gehry’s IAC Building, which, according to a critic, “gives the appearance of a tall ship in full sail.” I began to imagine the building launching from the New York harbor into the open sea, a little like the office building did in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

An architect’s primary challenge may lie less in creating a beautiful or electrifying space, and more in figuring out how to move people around and through the space. So this piece of music is an attempt to translate into sound not only the quality of the facade, the feeling that everything is bravely in motion, but also what it’s like to be on the streets near it.

In Full Sail was commissioned by Piano Spheres and is dedicated to Nadia Shpachenko.
–Harold Meltzer

Harold Meltzer is inspired by a wide variety of stimuli, from architectural spaces to postmodern fairy tales and messages inscribed in fortune cookies. In Fanfare Magazine, Robert Carl commented that he “seems to write pieces of scrupulous craft and exceptional freshness, which makes each seem like an important contribution.” The first recording devoted to his music, released in 2010 by Naxos on its American Classics label, was named one of the CDs of the year in The New York Times; soon there will be new recordings on the Bridge Records and BMOP/Sound labels.

A busy 2016 includes performances at Tanglewood during Contemporary Music Week and by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, premieres in March by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and by the Boston Chamber Music Society at Sanders Theatre at Harvard, in May by guitarist Eliot Fisk in Connecticut and by pianist Nadia Shpachenko at Piano Spheres in Los Angeles, and in October by tenor Paul Appleby with pianist Natalia Katyukova and by Music from China with the Talujon Percussion Quartet.

A Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2009 for his sextet Brion, Meltzer has been awarded the Rome Prize, the Barlow Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and both the Arts and Letters Award in Music and the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Commissions in recent years have issued from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the Fromm and Koussevitzky Music Foundations, New Music USA, Library of Congress, Boston Chamber Music Society, Concert Artists Guild, and the ASCAP Foundation for the New York Festival of Song. Founder and co-director for fifteen years of the new music ensemble Sequitur, Meltzer lives with his family in the East Village of Manhattan.

Website and works lists: haroldmeltzer.com

Andrew Norman: Frank's House (2015)

Frank’s House is an exploration in musical deconstruction inspired by Frank Gehry’s Santa Monica home. Like Gehry, who took a turn-of-the-century Dutch Colonial bungalow and wrapped it in an explosion of asymmetric angles and raw surfaces, I took an old four-hands piano waltz and wrapped it in layers of percussive activity and chance happenings.

Many of the industrial materials Gehry utilized to make his home—including plywood, corrugated metal, and chain link fence—are used here as musical instruments.

Frank’s House was commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and is dedicated to Berta and Frank Gehry.
–Andrew Norman

Andrew Norman is a Los Angeles-based composer of orchestral, chamber, and vocal music. His distinctive and highly energetic voice has been cited for its “daring juxtapositions” (The New York Times), its “staggering imagination” (Boston Globe), and for its “Chaplinesque” wit (L.A. Times).

Norman’s symphonic works have been performed by leading ensembles worldwide, including the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics, the Philadelphia and Minnesota Orchestras, the BBC and Saint Louis Symphonies, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Orchestre National de France, among others, with chamber music performances at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the CONTACT! series, the Ojai Festival and beyond. He has served as Composer-in-Residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Opera Philadelphia, and currently holds that post with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Norman is the recipient of numerous awards including the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Norman’s The Companion Guide to Rome was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music, and his orchestral work Play was nominated for a 2016 Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Norman is on faculty at the USC Thornton School of Music and serves as director of the LA Philharmonic’s Composer Fellowship Program.

Website and works lists: andrewnormanmusic.com

Lewis Spratlan: Bangladesh (2015)

The last episode of My Architect, Nathaniel Kahn’s film tribute to his father, the great architect Louis Kahn, takes place in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and features a brief interview with an elderly local figure, wherein he extols Kahn’s vision in creating the vast complex of buildings that constitute the National Assembly. He argues that Kahn’s work has given transformative hope and a sense of focus and purpose to his nation, otherwise an endless terrain of rice paddies. This piece is about Kahn’s National Assembly Buildings and their unique power.

It consists of these five interlocking sections:
1. The people of Bangladesh. The energetic local music is evoked.
2. The buildings. They are of two main types, concrete and brick.
3. Water. The buildings seem to be floating on a lagoon, a projection of the country’s inseparability from water.
4. The people build the buildings. Swarms of laborers create visionary structures using the most primitive materials – bamboo scaffolding, concrete buckets made of straw.
5. The buildings in the nation. A contemplation of the buildings’ looming presence in the life of Bangladesh.

The opening music pervades the whole piece and provides the F# foundation on which it is built. This is the key of the people. Water is its opposite pole, C, the given of nature. The buildings oscillate around G and F, the pitches that surround F#, and bear a sturdy fifth relationship to C. Beyond these structural bases, the music floats freely, inspired always by Kahn’s towering edifice and its integrative force.

Bangladesh was commissioned by Piano Spheres and is dedicated to Nadia Shpachenko.
–Lewis Spratlan

Often praised for its dramatic impact and coloristic brilliance, Lewis Spratlan’s music is widely performed in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2000, he is also the recipient of Guggenheim, Rockefeller, NEA, Bogliasco, and MacDowell fellowships, as well as a composition award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Recent works include the one-act opera Earthrise, commissioned by San Francisco Opera; a piano quartet, Streaming, commissioned by the Ravinia Festival as part of its 50th anniversary celebration; Sojourner for ten players, commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress; Zoom, commissioned by Sequitur; Wonderer, commissioned by pianist Jonathan Biss; Shadow, commissioned by cellist Matt Haimovitz; Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, a consortium commission; Architect, a chamber opera, released on CD and enhanced DVD by Navona; A Summer’s Day, commissioned by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Shining: Double Concerto for Cello and Piano, commissioned by Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley; and Common Ground, commissioned by the Crossing Choir as part of its Seven Responses initiative, premiered in Philadelphia, July 2016, and repeated in New York on the Mostly Mozart Series, August 2016.

Spratlan’s opera Life is a Dream received its world premiere by the Santa Fe Opera in 2010, under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, and was awarded the $35,000 Charles Ives Opera Award by the American Academy of Arts and letters in May 2016. His Horn Quartet, dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, was premiered in September 2013. Bangladesh, for solo piano, commissioned by Piano Spheres, was premiered in October 2015 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, by Nadia Shpachenko, followed by numerous subsequent performances. Act I of Midi, his opera in progress, received a workshop performance at the National Opera Center, New York, on October 24, 2016.

Recent recordings include Architect, a chamber opera (Navona CD & DVD); Apollo and Daphne Variations (BMOP/Sound); and Hesperus is Phosphorus (Innova).

Website and works lists: lewisspratlan.com

Nina C. Young: Kolokol (2010)

The inspiration for Kolokol comes from a study of traditional Russian Orthodox Church bells. This piece is based on the seventeen Danilov Bells that hang at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Danilov Bells originate from the 13th century Danilov Monastery in Moscow that was founded by Alexander Nevsky’s son. The bells were moved to the United States in the 1930s after American industrialist Charles R. Crane purchased them in an effort to save the set from Soviet efforts to melt them into raw materials for weapons production. In the summer of 2008 the set was returned to Moscow. Now a new set of seventeen bells (replicas of the originals) hang in the bell tower of Harvard’s Lowell House. Being very intrigued by the history of these bells, I traveled to Harvard in the fall of 2009 to make field recordings. These recordings are featured both directly and indirectly in Kolokol. I analyzed the spectral characteristics of each bell and from this data I was able to fix the seventeen distinct harmonies of the piece. These harmonies, which feature pitches outside of standard piano tuning, are manifested in the piano writing and in the electronic sounds as seventeen detuned virtual pianos.

The piece consists of four movements to be played without pause:

1. Blagovest – Converging
2. Trezvon – Red (Beautiful) Chime
3. Perebor – Funeral Chime
4. Trezvon – Jubilant Chime

These movements are my own take on a “fantasy” approach to traditional Russian bell ringing practice. The core concept of each movement comes from a traditional ringing style (after which it is named) and is then developed and embellished to create my own take on a journey within the sounds of the bells.

Kolokol was commissioned by the McGill student composer-in-residence program and was premiered in March of 2010 by pianists Yuxi Qin and Wensi Yan in Montreal, Quebec.
–Nina C. Young

New York-based composer Nina C. Young writes music characterized by an acute sensitivity to tone color, manifested in aural images of vibrant, arresting immediacy. Her experience in the electronic studio informs her acoustic work, which takes as its given not melody and harmony, but sound itself. Young’s music has garnered international acclaim through performances by the American Composers Orchestra, Inscape, Milwaukee Symphony, Orkest de ereprijs, Phoenix Symphony, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Argento, Divertimento, Either/Or, JACK Quartet, Metropolis, Nouveau Classical Project, Scharoun, Sixtrum, wild Up, and Yarn/Wire. Winner of the 2015-16 Rome Prize in Musical Composition, Nina has received a Koussevitzky Commission from the Library of Congress, a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Salvatore Martirano Memorial Award, the Jacob Druckman Prize, and honors from BMI, IAWM, and ASCAP/SEAMUS. Nina has held fellowship residencies at the Atlantic and Aspen Music Festivals, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne’s 2014 Forum, and the Tanglewood Music Center. A graduate of McGill and MIT, Nina completed her DMA at Columbia University where she was an active participant at the Columbia Computer Music Center. In 2016 Young joined Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) as Assistant Professor in the Department of Arts. She serves as Co-Artistic Director of NY-based new music sinfonietta Ensemble Échappé. Her music is published by Peermusic Classical.

Website and works lists: ninacyoung.com

Jack Van Zandt: Sí an Bhrú (2016)

Time and the River; Stonecutting; Spirals and Zigzags (Homage à Boulez); Dance of Renewal; Eternal River; Starlit Night.

Located along Ireland’s Boyne Valley, Sí an Bhrú, or “Newgrange” as it is known in English, is thought to be the oldest extant building in the world. Built more than 5,000 years ago around 3200 BCE, it is many centuries older than Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt. The Neolithic construction, commonly referred to as a “passage grave,” consists of a large earthen mound within a stone wall that is lined with elaborately decorated “kerb stones.” The building contains a stone-lined passageway that leads from an outside door into a central stone-enclosed cruciform chamber at its center. Each year on the winter solstice, the rising sun shines through a small slit above the door and light travels directly down the passageway and illuminates the interior chamber for 17 minutes. The monument is a Late Stone Age encyclopedia of engineering, scientific and agricultural knowledge, and it has numerous progressive astronomical alignments—sun, moon, planets and stars—making it both a functioning annual calendar and celestial observatory. The interior passageway has a resonating frequency of A-110 Hz, which corresponds to the lowest note common to most male voices, and is thought to be significant in terms of the use of the inner chamber as a musical performance space for ritualistic purposes.

The musical structure of my piece takes the form of a number of variations on cyclic thematic materials which fall into several sections that follow each other without pause. These titled sections are based on aspects of the building and its surroundings that suggested musical expression to me. Time and the River portrays the infinite, slow-motion flow of time in the observed progression of celestial objects, nature, the seasons, and the nearby River Boyne. Stonecutting represents the technologies that gave the builders the ability to move extremely heavy, giant stones many miles, and the tools to shape them just right. Spirals and Zigzags is based on the shapes that decorate the kerb stones that are evidence of sophisticated abstract thinking and artistic ability. (This section is also a musical homage to the late Pierre Boulez who was a major influence on me as a young composer.) Dance of Renewal is an imaginary ritual dance for the winter solstice, with accompanying music from the interior chamber of the monument propelled by a gradually emerging ostinato. A brief return to the beginning, Eternal River, leads back to the outside world and the timeless wonder of a moonless, crystal-clear Starlit Night.

Sí an Bhrú was commissioned by and is dedicated to Nadia Shpachenko.
–Jack Van Zandt

Jack Van Zandt is a Los Angeles-based composer of music for concerts, public spaces, and gallery installations, as well as TV, film and advertising. He is the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Composers Forum. He studied composition with Alexander Goehr, Peter Maxwell Davies, Peter Racine Fricker and Thea Musgrave. His concert music has been performed in the USA and in Europe, where he lived and worked for 20 years. His commercial music, composed in partnership with Joel Wachbrit, appears frequently on national broadcast and cable television. His recent work for two pianos, “Regular Division of the Plane,” was premiered in Los Angeles by Grammy-nominated LA pianist Nadia Shpachenko and New Yorker Kathleen Supové in February 2016. A work for solo viola, “Stoicheia,” was premiered by Alma Fernandez at the 2015 Hear Now Festival. A new piece for microtuned piano, “…the rest is silence…,” will receive its first performance by Grammy-nominated pianist Aron Kallay during Microfest on June 28 at Monk Space. Other pieces to receive their premieres in 2016 are “Stirrings Still: In Memory of Peter Maxwell Davies,” for chamber ensemble, and a song cycle for soprano and piano, “Apples and Time Crack in October,” with poems by Jill Freeman.

Website and works lists: jackvanzandt.com