Review of Four Songs

My favorite piece of the night was the most “traditional” even though the accompaniment was computerized. The song cycle Four Songs from the Caucasian Chalk Circle, written by Scott Blasco and performed by versatile mezzo-soprano, Katherine Crawford.  Originally written for a theater group performing the Bertolt Brecht play by the same name, and it was, in my opinion, nothing less than phenomenal.

Read it all here.

Four Songs recording

A recording of Four Songs from The Caucasian Chalk Circle has been posted on UMKC Conservatory’s InstantEncore page as part of the Best of Spring 2010 Performances playlist. The performance is by Katherine Crawford, from the February 2010 Composers Guild concert.

LISTEN HERE

The songs themselves are also available on my profile page, and the complete playlist is here (the pieces by my friends Chris Biggs, Caroline Miller, and Brad Baumgardner are all top notch).

“Reliquary”

RELIQUARY
intermedia installation
constructed spring 2010
Displayed in the UMKC Miller Nichols Library, May-August 2010

Reliquary was a sound art installation collaboration undertaken with my mentor Paul Rudy for the UMKC Friends of the Library annual celebration. Using reclaimed library shelving, interactive audio processing and visuals projections, and an Arduino-driven system of light- and sound-event triggers, the structure created an immersive tactile intermedia environment that invited participation through specially-placed gold-covered books on a matte black shelving background.

Here are a few links to photos and such:

February/March 2010 performances

Tango-Passacaglia
@ Ball State University Festival of New Music
Saturday, February 13, 11:00 AM, Sursa Hall
Elizabeth Robinson, flute; David Blakely, violin; Curtis Green, cello; Jim Rhinehart, piano

Four Songs from the Caucasian Chalk Circle
@ UMKC Composers Guild Concert III
Tuesday, February 16, 7:30pm, Grant Hall

@ University of Iowa Festival of Contemporary Music
Saturday, March 27, 7:30pm
Katherine Crawford, mezzo-soprano; fixed-media electronics

November/December performances

Sustinui Te will receive two performances in November, with soprano Katie Woolf singing and me at the computer. The first will be Thursday, November 5, at the Electronic Music Midwest festival hosted by Kansas City Kansas Community College. The concert is free, and will begin at 7:30pm. The second will be at a KcEMA fundraising event on November 9.

Four songs from The Caucasian Chalk Circle are scheduled for their concert premiere by mezzo-soprano Katherine Crawford on KcEMA‘s December 5 program, at La Esquina in Kansas City.

Rondo alla Smirk will be premiered December 14 by violinist Piotr Szewczyk as part of his second Violin Futura program. More details when I have them.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

The Caucasian Chalk Circle opened on Saturday at Dordt College. There are four more shows in the next week, two of which I plan to attend. I’m told the two performances on Saturday went well and were well received by sold-out audiences.

While I don’t have an exact count, all told I ended up with somewhere just over half an hour of music for the play. I intend to excerpt four or five numbers as a song cycle of sorts (all from the main character, Grusha), which are scheduled for a performance in December here in Kansas City on a KcEMA concert.

These are a few notes I wrote for a lobby display at the college:

Although he called for singing throughout The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Brecht provided no music for its production, instead making just a few limited and rather broad comments about what it should seek to accomplish in the context of the story. This allows for a great deal of freedom on the part of the composer, but also requires a substantial investment in the story and characters themselves. It was an investment of time and care that has been deeply rewarding for me, and I thank Teresa for providing me the opportunity to work with her and her cast in this production.

The audience will hopefully notice that there is one major distinction that organizes the music here. Throughout the whole play save one moment, the music of The Singer is performed with accompaniment by live instruments, while that of Grusha is accompanied by prerecorded, electronically generated music. The only other music sung as part of the story itself (rather than as narrative or commentary, as in Azdak’s music) is that of the sore-footed soldier, and is unaccompanied. This division serves a dual purpose: first, to set off music about the story from music in the story by making the former “real” and the latter somewhat less so (something like the imaginary harp glissandi used in television to signal a switch to a dreamlike scene); second, setting only Grusha’s music with electronic accompaniment unifies her music, underscoring her character’s centrality and that of the texts and themes of the songs she sings. There are other aspects of the music that reinforce this duality, and the attentive ear might discern distinctive harmonic and melodic qualities in the musics of the different characters.

The text I set for this production is from an adaptation/translation by Frank McGuiness, and I hope to make it available to other directors who may be performing that version. It’s always nice to be able to have something performed more than once, and there’s a lot of music in this play!

Two new works

I’ve recently completed two new compositions, and expect premieres of each in the fall.

Tango-Passacaglia is for flute, violin, cello, and piano, written for my friend Elizabeth Robinson, a doctoral student flutist at Ball State University. The goal with this piece was an unpolished, raw sort of feel, with a focus more on driving rhythmic interplay than lyricism.

Rondo alla Smirk is a solo violin work for violinist/composer Piotr Szewcsyk’s Violin Futura project. It is a play on the well-known final movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata K311 (the Rondo “alla Turca”), borrowing the Mozart rondo’s form to serve its own energetic, rock guitar-inspired material. You can learn more about Piotr and his fantastic work here.

On the docket for summer work remain settings of the song portions of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle (for a fall production at Dordt College), a work for electric guitar and piano, and a setting of one of my wife’s poems for soprano and computer. Still in process, although without a deadline, is my Sinfonia, the first movement of which (Monument) can be heard on my listening page.

A lot to do, but it’s only June 1.