N is for Negrón

Angélica Negrón is a composer whose work I have been getting to know the past few weeks. I first discovered her music through an article which discussed nine different living composers and while I was at least familiar with the eight other names, I didn’t know her name. I decided I should know more about her since the list was full of composers I love. I went to her website and was immediately drawn to the pure joy of the music. Her works include many different instruments some are more conventional like a standard orchestra or vibraphone solo but, others include accordion, toy instruments and even electronic gamelan.

The first work I heard which I am currently obsessed with is Bubblegum Grass Peppermint Field for electronic gamelan and string quartet. This piece just makes me smile for so many reasons, the timbres are so joyful, the music is very clever and it sounds like it must be a blast to play! One of my favorite aspects of this piece is that she didn’t write a piece in the traditional gamelan style nor did she use the gamelan instruments in an entirely traditional manner. The original sound-world in combination with the fact that the strings and gamelan are used equally rathe than one being an accompaniment to the other, allows this piece to be incredibly unique.

I am excited to share her work and deeply listen more of it once I can finish listening to Bubblegum Grass Peppermint Field on repeat.

Recommended Listening/Viewing:

Bubblegum Grass Peppermint Field

What Keeps me Awake

FONO

La Isla Mágica

Memories of a Penitent Heart (Film Score)

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M is for Macbride

Much like Robert Carl, David Macbride is a composer I met through my studies at Hartt. He was my first composition professor and is one of the biggest influences on my life both musically and otherwise. Over the course of almost six years now I have had a pleasure to really get to know him and his music. I have been lucky enough to participate as a performer in a number of ensembles premiering his works and have also premiered a couple of solos and duets for percussion as well. I am also delighted to say David has also premiered a few of my compositions with me.

Though David’s music has great variety throughout one theme that seems to always come back is the importance and use of percussion in someway. It’s easy to forget David’s background is not in percussion (he is a pianist) as his knowledge of the instruments and techniques is vast and comparable to many percussionists. He was born of a Eurasian background and uses this influence in several of his works blending timbral, cultural and harmonic sounds from the east and the west (similar to the work of Takemitsu).

There is also often a political view in his music. Sometimes it can be very overt such as the piece Staying the Course which has one note to represent a life taken in the Iraq War and sometimes it’s incredibly subtle (perhaps even just projected by the listener) such as in Bells of Remembrance.

I am currently at work on a recital of solo percussion music by David that will hopefully be presented in the Spring of 2018. It’s always a pleasure to be working on his music and I find the more a play it the more I learn about myself. I wouldn’t be the musical or even the person I am now if it were not for my meeting David.

Recommended Listening/Viewing:

Triptych for solo Marimba

Staying the Course for Solo Percussion

Bells of Remembrance for Percussion and Piano

Still Night Thoughts for Solo Piano

Piano Concerto for Piano and Orchestra

Music for a Large Space for Large Wind Ensemble

Songs of Simple Truth for Voice and Ensemble

 

L is for Laurie

Like most people the first music I heard by Laurie Anderson was her album Big Science I really enjoyed it and I found that it was growing on me slowly. On first listen, I thought it was pretty good and I might have to learn more about her and her work. It didn’t take long for me to realize how much of an ear worm the entire album was. I couldn’t get it out my head and while sometimes that can be frustrating, in this case I loved it. I started to research her work further and discovered Big Science grew out of a four disc live collection entitled United States Live. Laurie Anderson’s music is very autobiographic and has a narrative quality throughout. In someways her work seems like a blending of Opera, Electronics, Pop and Concert Music all in one.

I was fascinated with United States Live for a while before discovering she had a new album coming out which was a soundtrack to a new film she had made. Both the soundtrack and the movie are titled Heart of a Dog and deals primarily with themes of death and loss. It’s a beautiful and staggering work of art. It’s easily one of my favorite albums of all time. Her ability to use her personal stories or current events happening around her to for a larger and more universal message is breathtaking.

Recommended Listening/Viewing:

Big Science

United States Live

Heart of a Dog (film)

Heart of a Dog (soundtrack)

K is for Kotche

One of my favorite things in music is when genres blurred and combined. It’s exciting for me when a performer of classical music has an interest in other cultures and other styles of music. One of the best examples that I can think of as a composer and a performer is Glenn Kotche. Kotche is best known for being the drummer in the Indie Rock band, Wilco. In addition to this he is also an amazingly successful composer writing works for The Silk Road Ensemble, Eighth Blackbird and, Kronos Quartet. Even his compositional work is highly diverse from traditional percussion ensemble to pieces inspired by Gamelan music and Balinese Monkey Chant. He also has helped to promote to works of other composers as well through commissions, including a drum set opera but John Luther Adams.

Kotche’s album Adventure Land made a huge impact on me. It’s a variety show of an album. The instrumentation on each track is incredibly unique and as one might expect given Kotche’s interests, the pieces are stylistically all over the place. He is also a fantastic writer having contributed an essay for The Farthest Place and has published book entitled A Beat a Week.

 

Recommended Listening/Viewing:

Money Chant

Anomaly

Drum Kit Quartets

The Traveling Turtle

Wild Sound

J is for Jesey and Jeremy

Although this is the first instance, I knew at some point I would reach a letter in which I had to spotlight two composers instead of just one. I had decided when that happens it would be treated as a “Bonus” and I would just make two separate posts instead of one. The one exception is today’s post. The reason I have decided to combine these two composers is because, although they have never met before, they seem to have a lot in common. Today’s composer’s are Jeremey Parel and Jesey Meche. I met Jesey in high school and and we both became composition/percussion double majors at Hartt.

One of my favorite things about Jesey is we both share a need to obsess over things that interest us. We both feel a need to listen to an entire band’s discography, search through their live footage, find any writings they have and, any sheet music we can find. Thanks to this Jesey has shown me so much music I wouldn’t have heard otherwise including: Neutral Milk Hotel and Sufjan Stevens. This obsessiveness carries directly into his compositional process (sometimes directly sometimes indirectly).

I met Jeremy earlier this year at CalArts. He is also pursuing his MFA in Composition. Jeremy works very methodically and in someways his process can appear similar to Jesey’s method of obsession. While it’s not an all consuming practice like Jesey’s method, it is a very focused and dedicated practice that can yield similar results and excellent music.

Both Jesey and Jeremy incorporate humor in their work. What makes it particularly successful is the humor is NOT the focus of the composition it is a byproduct of the composition. Both in their music and life Jesey and Jeremy have very similar senses of humor and personalities in general. Their music can also be very serious and even dark as well. Perhaps a good comparison would be the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut. While they are incredibly funny and even goofy/silly at times, overall they may have a moral grounding and message to be delivered to the reader.

So, Jesey meet Jeremy and Jeremy Meet Jesey!

 

Recommended Listening/Viewing (Jeremy Parel):

Stress Ball

(T)horny Music

Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings

Five Pieces of Trash

 

Recommended Listening/Viewing (Jesey Meche):

Sneakin’ Like

Honey badger

i will float until i learn how to swim

i will speak until i learn how to speak

 

 

I is for Ingram

I’m not sure when the first time I heard the music of Ingram Marshall was. I know the first piece I heard was Fog Tropes and I know I loved it. I think I may have been introduced to his music by Andrew Ardizzoia when I was studying  composition with him as a freshman at Hartt. Whatever the case may have been I know I instantly wanted to hear more of Marshall’s music.

I love the blending of new and old in Marshall’s vocabulary. At times it can remind me of contemporary minimalist works or reductionist composers, like La Monte Young or even some of the composers from Wandelweiser. At other times I am reminded entirely of Mahler and Sibelius. His timbral palette and his use of his lush romantic vocabulary can create some of the most beautiful music I have heard.

I find his music to be very visually stimulating. That is to say, when I listen to his music I always have some type of image going on in my mind. It seems with works like Alcatraz (which has photographs as a part of the music) that Marshall shares my interest in the visualization of his music and has helped me to see what I hear.

Recommended Listening/Viewing:

Fog Tropes for Brass Sextet and Tape

Alcatraz 

Gradual Requiem for Electronics, Synthesizer, Flute, Voice, Mandolin, and Piano

Kingdom Come For Orchestra

Florescence Soledad For Solo Guitar

Sea Tropes for Flute, Violin, Cello, Bass Clarinet, Marimba, and Tape

H is for Hans

I am very excited to talk about today’s composer because he is a composer whose work I am still getting to know. Hans Abrahamsen is a Danish composer who I have been listening to for a few months (I had his music before this but, I just started really getting to know it this year). His work is often associated with that of Ligeti’s.

I have not had the pleasure of playing his music yet (the first in this series thus far whose work I haven’t experienced as a performer) though hopefully that will change soon. I was first introduced to his music in the last year of my undergraduate degree at Hartt by Matt Sargent. He introduced me to his piece Schnee which, is an incredibly beautiful chamber work. His music is extremely delicate. The music can be so fragile at times and while it does seem similar to Ligeti, I am often reminded of the composer Henryk Gorecki’s late work (especially his Fourth Symphony).

One of the most interesting things about Abrahamsen is how little his output is (due in part by a hiatus from composing for about a decade). I find it refreshing to see such a successful composer have such a small output of compositions (at least that he considers acceptable to a public audience), each piece carries so much weight and importance. When learning music throughout the ages by composers like Bach or Mozart or Haydn It can often seem like the more prolific a composer, the better the composers works are. I think this can become a distraction to a composer’s truly great works by letting them become lost in a sea of pieces. The amount of refinement and craft Abrahamsen uses to construct each piece is truly admirable and inspiring. I am excited to get to know more of his works and look forward to playing his music someday.

 

Recommended Listening/Viewing:

Walden for Woodwind Quintet

Schnee for large ensemble

Left Alone for piano left-hand and orchestra

Let Me Tell You for Soprano and Orchestra