Sunday, 30 March 2014

A post on nothing.

Sorry everyone, but this is a post about, well... nothing.

I just wanted to let everyone know that due to being alarmingly busy suddenly with various auditions, recordings, and projects that Stockhausen is taking a brief break. Which is okay, as the performance will not be until the fall some time apart will be fine. I will keep posting here though, since I am going to be working on it in some ways. Mostly away from the horn. Still things to learn and share, but for this week. Enjoy the following.

On that note, I should get back to the practice cave before rehearsals begin this evening.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

"Faking" it

So the title of this post is misleading, sorry, but that is just what it is. This post will be back about my learning process and Nebadon, and what I am doing with this work. Though it is worth noting that this is one of my big concept things I feel strongly about, especially towards new music. For now, let's jump back on starship Stockhausen and depart for Nebadon (nerd alert).

One thing I truly respect about Stockhausen's music is by and large it is rather quite playable, that is not saying it is easy, it is actually rather difficult. It is full of little things that at first look simple but turn out to be either complex or downright ludicrous, be it in it's coordination, execution, or simply playing it with a beautiful sound. I will put two examples of this on here.

So above are those two examples. There is nothing really complicated about the patterns, they present some challenges, but again, nothing to lose that much sleep over. (Ignore my markings since that is some analysis and such that I have talked in brief about before). So back to the challenges that exist in these examples. With the first example, the challenge is can you make a nice clean shift between open and stopped, maintain pitch, while entering delicately on a higher pitch. BUT, the priority here should be can you do it with the singing sound that you would use in Brahms, or Schubert.

Example number two, the challenge is facility in the low range, clarity, a good trill, and a resonant sound. This is good enough for a sub par version of this lick (which appears in various permutations throughout the entire work (over 20 minutes!!) It is a tricky little lick, but executing it has to be a guarantee, not a good enough.), what I am truly striving for is can I make a "majestic" or "interesting" musical line out of the material, in such a way that nobody notices this slightly unidiomatic horn lick.

Since Stockhausen writes music that is very playable I am going to pull an example from another work I am preparing that is more towards the... "are you kidding me? I'm not a bass clarinet" kind of lick." Which will help me make my bigger picture point.

As you can see, this is a little further away idiomatically from something horn players are used to seeing. (The work is full of this, and it grows in complexity, and each permutation you get LESS variance in what pitches you need to draw attention towards.) So this is the kind of lick my title was referring to, Faking it. Anyone who knows me knows that when I hear someone say "I can just fake that" is akin to nails on a chalkboard. So I think I will take  moment to explain that, and as well relate it back to Stockhausen, and Sirus (dork) in general. 

If you have ever been to a new music concert, you have heard (and probably in great supply) faking. Otherwise known as, kind of making the gesture. Now, some of you have probably made it to see a concert of new music that seemed to be so insanely good there must have been some witchcraft going on. Well, there was no witchcraft, you probably heard someone(s) who had spent countless hours getting it AS CLOSE to the ink as possible (while keeping a wonderful, intune, captivating sound, that is full of musical gesture). If you imagine playing Beethoven and the player beside you is "faking" it, you would know they were not up to par, and that person would most likely not be in that chair next concert. Could you imagine a concert of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra with a string section full of faking it (you probably can...). When you compare those to performances where they "nailed it" why would you ever buy the other product.

As a performer I feel obligated to make sure I can play the music as well as I can. If that means I have to woodshed a lick up until the day of the concert that is what I will do, I can't personally accept "faking" it as an answer for any kind of music. So back to Nebadon, I am focusing on always having this wonderful sound that is full of colour and intrigue. My sound model is the same that I would use playing Cello Suites (in C) on horn. If someone froze time on a single note, I wouldn't want them to think that I was playing some strange modern music (or isn't good...). I would want them to be able to say what a great resonate note, he must be playing some Schubert. (Then when time resumes they would be in for a treat)

 This isn't a problem unique to new music but it seems to be a slightly more accepted practice for one reason or another.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

What is in a performance Part 2

So this time around I felt like talking a bit more in detail about the nature of programming this style of music.

I wrote this awhile back and never published it anywhere, but I think it will find its home in this series of posts I am working on. (So if the voice is a little strange I was writing for a less casual posting.. so I had my serious pants on that day)

As someone who is active in new music I am always facing certain challenges that are not as present when programming from the conventional cannon. These challenges can be seen as opportunity for an immersive experience for the audience, if thoughtfully planned.

One challenge is that of the perceived expectation of new music. Robert Blumen talked about at great length in his article “Why do we hate modern classical music”, I won’t get into this article since I don’t think I could keep it brief, at all (though if you want to raise your blood pressure, go give it a read, and try to be polite. This article also highlights how the terminology we use can be harmful. I hate using the phrase "modern classical music, or anything close. This music has it's own genre, there is no need to try to borrow from another. Rant over). What he does bring to the front though, is that people expect modern music to sound like “car crash” music. I assume those reading this are well aware this is not the case, nor is this an opinion that I share in the least. There is a tremendous amount of great music out there and some of that “car crash” music he speaks about is some of the greatest in the cannon. This creates a unique for us, especially as performers that is: how on earth will we get this music out in a way that is going to be meaningful.

One of the most used (read: abused) tactics I have seen is referred to as “The hostage program”. This is where you program a monumental, popular, and a largely accepted work at the end of a program, or have it share the first half of the bill. This is done largely so people don’t have the chance to show up at intermission to hear only their favorites. While we are going down that road while you are at it scrap the intermission, now people are there to stay (I have seen this done, and it usually ends with a very fidgety upset audience). This hostage method works to some degree as you do create exposure for the audience this is largely due to the “rules” of concert halls related to seating. If you want to hear Brahms, you have to hear Mason Bates, or R Murray Schaffer.

Last year I programmed a recital with Turnarounds for amplified horn and tape, Spiegel im Spiegel, Deanimator for horn and electronics, and finishing with The Reinecke B-flat trio for horn, clarinet, and piano. Though, while programming this I fell a new way that I could approach programing. The intermission in the afore mentioned program came AFTER Deanimator which left me to figure out how do I program the first half, and to do so in a way that people leave with a great experience. A major problem/opportunity with electronic music (in programming in my opinion) is how quickly it can cause tension, emotional highs and lows, angst, relief, etc. When the recital was in its infancy there were two works that were going to be there no matter what, Turnarounds, and Deanimator. Two things these works do (both fantastic works) is taking the audience through highs and lows at a rapid pace in ways that can be overwhelming the listener. When I realized this I figured I needed to find a piece that would bring the listener back to a calm, and relaxed state. As well they needed to be ready and receptive to the experience the next work.

The answer came to me in Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, now as a horn player, attempting the Pärt was, perhaps, the most challenging undertaking I could think of at the time. Which was daunting, and more than once I considered my mortality, and thought to myself there had to be another way. Though, I could never seem to find one that would work as well as the Pärt. So as a performer I faced the challenge. In the end the response from the programming of the first half from the audience was great, they didn’t care there was a “masterpiece of the repertoire” coming after the intermission. The first half was so successful as a whole it simply worked and didn’t need the “treat for the audience” of the Reinecke.

From all this I learned a major lesson in programming new music, if we want the music to become more popular, appreciated, and accepted it has to come from the performer and programming. As well as through very meaningful execution of the music since we have something that the standard cannon doesn’t have as much of, the importance of the live performance. New music is such an immersive experience which simply can’t be replicated at home in a pair of headphones. Seize the power of that and go forth and program. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

What is in a performance Part 1

As I mentioned in my post last week I was preparing to talk about certain elements of a performance that in my mind help make a complete and memorable performance... Then I was sidetracked. But, we are back to our regular programming and will go on from here.

So in part 1 I plan to address the main areas that help create complete products both in the micro and macro picture as well as briefly touch on a few things. (Remember this is my opinion, and as always is very much me figuring these things out with the hope for dialogue to happen)

Starting on the macro sides of things I always consider a few things when programming a piece.

1) Do I have a theme or if not, can I derive one from the work that is causing me to program a concert.

    • Most if not all of my recitals etc, have come from the desire to perform a singular work.
    • I always strive to have some kind of internal consistency that help pull things together, OR helps progress the concert from work to work in a way that you can go from Gabrieli to Globokar.(You can do it... if you plan it out and make it make sense.)
2) What is the desired effect/affect of the recital as a whole. (I also address this on the micro side)
    • This will directly effect what I program around the major work. If I am trying to create a recital full of radical aesthetics I will not be programming Strauss, sorry old chap it just isn't in the books.
3) Finally... is it possible.
    • Anyone who has been with me as I program recitals knows in the initial stages I have no feeling for the actual demands of the recital (Nor should I).This has led me to reprogram things many many times. On the plus, each work that I omit can easily become the basis for the next concert. 
      • I should note, there are times when a work fits the bill so perfectly that you simply have to suck up you mortality and make it happen (for me that was Speigel im Spiegel).
4) Time.. since well, we have to be sensitive to that. 
    • The more radical a program becomes the more I am aware of this since people (me included) can only take so much.

On the micro side, the list is basically the same so I don't need to explain it further. The only thing I will mention is that I try to avoid programming works that are very similar, if I do I need to find a way to give the listener time to digest things (intermissions, lighter works, etc).

I think a great number of times when we talk about making a great show we look at what we have in front of us, instead of what we could have. Stubbornness has led to some recitals that are intolerable... long, redundant (as much as I love Bach I don't need 2.5 hours of keyboard Sonatas.), and inaccessible.

Here is my big point that I have come to personal terms with, you may agree, or not... As the performer we are the least important person in the process. The Audience is the king, they buy tickets, they tell their friends, they literally feed us, both in food and in the ability to acquire more food. That being said, Everything starts from what WE want to present. We then find a way to balance things so that the audience walks away and remembers what they say. Though we are the least important, we do hold all the cards it just helps to know what game we are playing. (Trust me if you try to play blackjack in a poker game you won't fare that well)

In regards to the Stockhausen I think I have nailed down the program (for the time being, I am sure it will change) for now it will be including Messiaen, Reynolds, and Stockhausen. Will be fun.

Until next time.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Making it matter

I originally started this post to write about what I was going to do to make Nebadon come off successfully as a great performance of a piece of music. The hope of that post was to draw some very obvious parallels between ANY style of music. About those certain things that we as performers need to do to make a works performance successful, be it Bach, Mozart, Stockhausen, or Globakar. Since, in my opinion at least there are certain elements that need to happen to make a performance great.

Now, here is where that post went off a rail... I agree with everything I just wrote or else why would I put it on the internet. What I started thinking about though was the big that question we as performers are faced with (or should be in my opinion). That is the big WHY. What is it about whatever piece of music you chose to present to the world that makes it special, that makes it unique and worth sharing. Yes we all have different tastes. I can say in total certainty (I’d bet all my Star Wars cards, even the Fett man on this) that there are more people turned off by new music than on. This presented me with an interesting question, it is one that I have faced before but as time goes on more clarity comes from it. It is this, how do I make this matter? In the grand scheme of things, for music, and its place/role in society how do we keep value in music. At the same time how do we keep pushing the barriers of imagination, of sound, of possibility. I love Brahms as much as the next person but that isn’t the end of the road, it is a point on the journey.

As you can tell this post is very much of me working it out with myself. Though, it is also an invitation for dialogue about the subject matter. I would love to hear from people who don’t like new music (and are willing to discuss it, not just call it stupid sounds and dumb composers… since, I am sorry if this is your attitude you need to grow up) about what is it missing for you.

I don’t have answers to all the above. I have ideas, lots of them. I know why this music matters to me (as does all music) I think one challenge we face, especially those of us who spend a great deal of time in the “new music” world is not only reaching out to others, but inviting them to reach back.

Maybe next time I will talk about Stockhausen…