O is for Olson

Tawnie Olson had just began teaching at Hartt around the time I started my undergraduate there. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to study with her however, I was lucky enough to have several conversations with her. I also had the opportunity to get to know her work. She’s a wonderfully nice person and an amazing composer whose works can be both lyrical and at other times can be quite aggressive.

I remember hearing the piece Something to Say for tabla and electronics in a masterclass at Hartt. I told Tawnie after the concert that I really enjoyed the piece. I immediately realized what a mistake it was to say that. I began to rephrase myself and say I found it really powerful. It’s an incredibly difficult piece to accept/listen (thus the inappropriate feeling of “enjoyment”) to but, a very important work. It addresses several issues in equal rights and women’s rights through a series of statements (in the form of fixed media) that are very personal accounts of things said to or overheard by Tawnie. In addition to the programmatic elements the technical side of the composition and instrumentation are also incredibly innovative. This was the first piece I heard that incorporates tabla in contemporary classical composition and it does so very well. Others obviously exist (such as the works of Evan Ziporyn) however, Something to Say has a unique blending of traditional rhythmic concepts and vocabulary from the Indian Classical Tradition with many concepts from the experimental music tradition in a very organic way.

Tawnie also has a pair of marimba solos with electronics that are absolutely stunning. Both were written for Ian Rosenbaum and are based on Birdsong. Unlike most people who have pieces about birdsong (Messiaen John Luther Adams etc.) Tawnie pays attention to the songs and uses them as a basis for a composition rather than as transcriptions. Additionally, she is interested in her personal connection to birdsong and the purpose/function of the birdsong. As I begin planning my recital at CalArts next fall I am confident I will be playing one of her marimba solos.

Recommended Listening/Viewing:

Something to Say for Tabla and Electronics

The Blackbird at Evening for Marimba and Electronics

Meadowlark for Marimba and Electronics

Seven Last Words From the Cross for Chorus, Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Tenor and Baritone Soloists and Chamber Orchestra