Stay On It

Date/Time

September 29, 2017
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm

 
Location

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (River Level)

 

Party before the concert with our pool, ping pong and foosball challenge playoff as well as a cash bar starting at 6:30 pm.  Then join 300 friends, Guest Conductor David Bloom (of Contemporaneous fame) and the Present Music Ensemble for a mesmerizing concert featuring mezzo soprano Lucy Dhegrae. Urged by idiosyncratic minimalist composer, Julius Eastman, to “Stay On It”, the concert uses repetition as a loose theme. Harsh rain and the feeling, force, and aftermath of devastating floods inspires composer Christopher Trapani’s “Waterlines”.  Repetitive chants and steps comprise Meredith Monk’s “Panda Chant II”.  Finally, we count cows with Composer Tom John’s “narayana’s cows”.

Repertoire
Water Lines by Christopher Trapani
Stay on It by Julius Estman
Panda Chant II by Meredith Monk
Narayana’s Cows by Tom Johnson
The Heart Chant by Pauline Oliveros
Music in Circles by Andrew Norman

Program subject to change.


PROGRAM NOTES:

Music in Circles (2012)
Andrew Norman (b. 1979)

“I love seeing people make choices and take risks onstage,” says composer Andrew Norman, who empowers performers of his music to do just that by leaving important musical decisions up to them. In the opening and closing sections of Music in Circles, the musicians mold their phrases at will in free time. Norman features the viola (his own instrument) prominently in this work, both as the driving force of the motoric central portion of the piece and the leader of the free outer sections.

Of his creative process, Norman says that he spends an enormous amount of time wading in “a mess of sketches on the floor…until the very last second,” dangerously close to the piece’s due date. Then, within the course of one or two days, the material suddenly coheres into a structure. It is almost as if he is performing the sketches in those prophetic days, spontaneously mapping out a new work in a burst of creative activity. “Those days are so rare for me,” he says, “but I kind of live for them.”

— David Bloom

Stay On It (1973)
Julius Eastman (1940-1990)

The raucous joy of Stay On It is magnified by the bold and eccentric life of its composer. Julius Eastman, a singer and pianist, began experimenting with composition in the wake of the first minimalists. He gained attention by writing works that were outspoken in voicing his identity as a young, African-American gay man. Stay On It exhibits the influence of American popular music of the 1970s (“a hint of disco,” according to Alex Ross) in a relentless, syncopated groove. It begins with a bang, launching straight into its propulsive, energetic rhythm – a singer intoning the words “Stay On It” with an air of both urgency and delight. Just when the music begins to feel meditative and automatic, a dissonant voice will go astray, throwing everything into chaos and creating dark and unexpected moments. While an original “score” does not exist, much of the piece takes the form of a structured improvisation, and the version performed today is an outline transcribed from recordings. Based on what we know, the free nature of this type of performance stays true to Eastman’s musical intentions; it continues to evolve the more it is played.


Panda Chant II (1984)

Meredith Monk (b. 1942)

Panda Chant is a section from The Games: a science fiction opera by Meredith Monk and Ping Chong, which was originally created for the Schaubühne Ensemble of West Berlin. Monk composed the music and also collaborated with Ping Chong on the scenario, choreography, and direction. Set on an imaginary planet, The Games takes place in a post-nuclear future where survivors and their descendants are involved in the repetition of ritual games re-enacting Earth’s culture in order to preserve the shards of civilization. Coming at the middle of the opera, Panda Chant is an energetic ritual performed by the whole community as preparation for the third game, Memory. The Games won the National Music Theatre Award in 1986.

Narayana’s Cows (1969)
Tom Johnson (b. 1939)

Tom Johnson created Narayana’s Cows to musically illustrate a math problem posed by a 14th century Indian Mathematician: If a cow gives birth to one calf each year, and in its fourth year each calf gives birth to one calf each year, how many cows are there altogether after 17 years? The piece can be performed by any number and type of instruments, and calls for a narrator to enumerate each generation of cows throughout the music. The result is a mixture of spoken word and sonic patterns akin to looking at a spiral. Through changing pitches (a new, lower pitch for each generation) and changing note durations (short notes for calves, longer notes once they give birth), we can actually hear the cows multiplying year after year, even if we can’t keep count.

The Heart Chant (2001)
Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016)

Pauline Oliveros described her signature philosophy of “Deep Listening” as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing.” This can include musical sounds, as well as the sounds of nature and everyday life – and in the case of The Heart Chant, the sound and energy that comes from our own heartbeats. Like many of Oliveros’ “Deep Listening” works, the score for the piece does not contain any notation, only verbal instructions. Somewhere between a performance piece and a group meditation, the participants are instructed to place their right hand on their heart and their left hand on another’s back, chanting on a pitch that “resonates with your heart.” As the chant is performed, Oliveros begs the questions in the score: “Can you imagine that the heart energies are joining together for healing yourself and others? Can you imagine heart energies traveling out into the universe as a healing for all victims and toward the end of violence?”

Waterlines (2012)
Christopher Trapani (b. 1980)

Composer’s Note:
“You ever have one of those days,” asked Jon Stewart, opening his first post-Sandy broadcast, “where everything you ever loved as a child was underwater?” Well, yes: I know the feeling. That immediate sensation of shock after the storm is still emblazoned in my mind: the fear of losing everything from the concrete to the intangible, from houses and photo albums to cultural traditions. My grandmother knew it too, growing up in the Delta town of Rolling Fork — a nine-year-old child when the Mississippi River burst its banks and floodwaters blanketed her town.

The 1927 Mississippi River flood, one of the most destructive natural disasters in American history, coincided with the heyday of commercial recording in the South — a last burst of enterprise before the great depression that fortuitously left us with several great records chronicling the disaster. In the months following Katrina, I began sifting through these old blues and country records for words and sounds that resonated, borrowing sonorities, couplets, and stylistic gestures and assembling them into a project with historical, musicological, and personal dimensions.

Waterlines is the result, a cycle influenced in equal measure by the Southern music I was discovering through my research and the spectral music I was hearing regularly in Paris. Before long I started seeing parallels: An oscillation between consonance and noise in spectral music started to seem like the sway between the tonic and dominant in the blues. I was struck by the use of microtonal inflections in both traditions, and more importantly by the emphasis on local detail in gesture and sonority. Grisey’s chiseled orchestrations seemed as imbued with meaning as the intricately timed scoops of Son House’s slide guitar.
Each of the five songs focuses on a specific aspect of the disaster. “Can’t Feel at Home,” was written first — seven years ago, in the fall following the storm. The lyrics are adapted from a hymn tune, a strophic text with hints of both linear and cyclical development. Likewise in the music, certain elements are constant, like a refrain — the steady diatonic ostinato of the Appalachian dulcimer, the tonal roots of the harmony — while others — like the slowly thickening orchestration, the incremental expansion of the harmonic complexity, and the incursion of pitchless sounds — are constantly evolving, shifting colors against a steady backdrop.

“Wild Water Blues” gives the narrative account — a fast-motion, first-person account of a storm sweeping through. “Poor Boy Blues” takes a step back, to a disoriented landscape where cultural propriety is jumbled and confused. A blues refrain is intercut with fragments of Romantic lieder — an intrusion from yet another, less explicably dear, tradition — whose themes (wandering, homelessness, boats) resonate with the imagery of the blues texts. “Devil Sent the Rain Blues” is a distillation of anger and frustration, the AAB blues form reworked into a distorted, microtonal dirge. The final song, featuring live electronics and a series of unusual instrumental timbres, transforms New Orleans native Lonnie Johnson’s “Falling Rain Blues” into an outward spiral, a gradual accumulation of fading sounds — the slow transmutation of tragedy into memory.

Waterlines was made possible by a grant from the American Composers Forum with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation.


ABOUT THE COMPOSERS

Andrew Norman is a Los Angeles-based composer of orchestral, chamber, and vocal music. His orchestral works have been performed by leading ensembles worldwide, including the Los Angeles, New York, Berlin, and Royal Liverpool Philharmonics, the Philadelphia and Minnesota Orchestras, the BBC, St. Louis, and Melbourne Symphonies, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Tonhalle Orchester Zurich, Orchestre National de France, and many others.

Norman is the Musical America’s 2017 Composer of the year as well as recipient of the Jacob Druckman Prize, ASCAP Prizes, Rome Prize, Berlin Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He served for two years as composer in residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and is currently composer in residence with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Opera Philadelphia. A committed educator, he joined the faculty of the USC Thornton School of Music in 2013, and serves as the director of the L.A. Philharmonic’s Composer Fellowship Program for high school composers.

Julius Eastman
“One of the problems of writing about Julius is that it is difficult to state anything with certainty,” says Mary Jane Leach, the composer and researcher who recently devoted herself to unearthing the music and writing the biography of Julius Eastman. He was best known as a vocalist, primarily for performing on the definitive recording of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, but he never formally studied voice. He attended the Curtis Institute for both piano and composition, and soon after began to dabble in choreography and interdisciplinary art, becoming a fixture in New York’s underground performance scene in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He was a great admirer of Meredith Monk (composer of Panda Chant II) and his performances received written attention in the Village Voice from Tom Johnson (composer of Narayana’s Cows). The anti-establishment nature of his music, including titles like Crazy Nigger and Gay Guerrilla, led to an unfortunate lack of preservation of his work. Leach set out on a seven-year process of updating reel-to-reel tapes, begging for manuscripts from acquaintances, and interviewing Eastman’s family members. As a result, she gives a telling word of advice to today’s composers: “Don’t rely on the kindness of strangers or well-meaning family members who probably don’t know anything about the music world—make sure you’ve arranged for your music to live on after you.”

Meredith Monk is a composer, singer, director/choreographer and creator of new opera, music-theater works, films and installations. Recognized as one of the most unique and influential artists of our time, she is a pioneer in what is now called “extended vocal technique” and “interdisciplinary performance.” Monk creates works that thrive at the intersection of music and movement, image and object, light and sound, discovering and weaving together new modes of perception.

Celebrated internationally, Monk’s work has been presented by BAM, Lincoln Center Festival, Houston Grand Opera, London’s Barbican Centre, and at major venues around the world. In addition to her numerous vocal pieces, music-theater works and operas, Monk has created vital new repertoire for orchestra, chamber ensembles, and solo instruments, with commissions from Carnegie Hall, Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony and New World Symphony, Kronos Quartet, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Los Angeles Master Chorale, among others.

Tom Johnson has published two books and created over 70 musical compositions, including opera, chamber music, and works for solo piano and guitar. His work is frequently and unapologetically based on logical and mathematical processes. Johnson studied composition at Yale University and went on to study privately with new music pioneer Morton Feldman. He lived in New York and was a frequent music critic for The Village Voice before moving to Paris in 1983.

Pauline Oliveros was a major figure in experimental composition with a career spanning over 50 years. In the 1950’s she was part of a circle of iconoclastic composers, artists, and poets working together in San Francisco. She was awarded the John Cage award in 2012 from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts, served as Distinguished Research Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute inTroy, NY, and was the Darius Milhaud Artist-in-Residence at Mills College. Oliveros was equally interested in finding new sounds as she was in finding new uses for old ones. Her primary instrument was the accordion, an unexpected visitor to the musical cutting edge, but one which she approached in much the same way that a Zen musician might approach the Japanese shakuhachi. Pauline Oliveros’ life as a composer, performer and humanitarian was about opening her own and others’ sensibilities to the universe and facets of sounds. Since the 1960’s she has influenced American music profoundly through her work with improvisation, meditation, electronic music, myth and ritual. Her work lives on through the Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer, which facilitates Deep Listening workshops, retreats, and certification programs.

Christopher Trapani maintains an active career in the United States, the United Kingdom, and in Continental Europe. Commissions have come from the BBC, the JACK Quartet, Ensemble Modern, and Radio France, and his works have been recently heard at Carnegie Hall, the Southbank Centre, IRCAM, and Wigmore Hall.

His music synthesizes disparate influences, weaving both American and European stylistic strands into a personal aesthetic that defies easy classification. Snippets of Delta Blues, Appalachian folk, dance band foxtrots, and Turkish makam can be heard alongside spectral swells and meandering canons. As in his hometown of New Orleans, diverse traditions coexist and intermingle, swirled into a rich melting pot.

Trapani holds a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard, where he studied composition with Bernard Rands and poetry under Helen Vendler. He is currently based in New York City, where he earned a doctorate at Columbia University, studying with Tristan Murail, Georg Friedrich Haas, Fred Lerdahl, and George Lewis. His numerous composition awards include the 2016 Rome Prize, as well as the 2007 Gaudeamus Prize, the first American in over 30 years to win the international young composers’ award.

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