I’m excited to share a very special project with you– THE PLACE WHERE YOU GO TO LISTEN
Through a partnership with The Presidio to celebrate their landmark forest, artist Andy Goldsworthy, created 3 site-specific installations throughout the park, and embedded a 4th piece in the wall of the Presidio Officers’ Club.
A Scottish sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist, Goldsworthy truly and beautifully understands the intimate relationship between man and nature, and, in his own words, strives “to make connections between what we call nature and what we call man-made."
7 compositions have been selected to complement the Goldsworthy sites, to be performed over the course of the afternoon from 1-4pm at each of the sites: Spire, Wood Line, Tree Fall, and Earth Wall.
Formerly Known as Classical was founded by Matthew Cmiel when he was a high school student at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts. The student-run New Music ensemble had the explicit goal of encouraging teenagers to both play and listen to the music of their life-time. Since its inception in 2004, the group has been organized and directed by high school students. Past directors include Matthew Cmiel (founder), Preben Antonsen, Dylan Mattingly, and Gabriella Smith. Recently, Nick Main and Theo Haber asked their composition teacher, Matthew Cmiel, if they could re-ignite the spark and get the ensemble going again; he enthusiastically agreed.
According to Nick Main, Co-Director, “ The goal for this ensemble is to spread the music that I have grown to love, namely, contemporary classical music. It's a genre of music which, if unfamiliar with, can be a bit difficult to get into, but I'm hoping that people will open up to it and love it like I do.”
Main and co-director, Theo Haber, are interested in collaboration and cross pollination, the intersection and overlap of different art forms. Given the diverse creative environment at SOTA where they are currently enrolled, “this opens up the possibility for incorporating students from any of the other departments into new compositions for the groups. This could be anything from film scoring to combining something stable like a painting or sculpture with music, which is temporal.”
This combination of stable and temporal art forms is an exciting component of the up-coming concert event “The Place Where you go to Listen". The 2 PM performance of Anna Clyne's "Resting in the Green" from "The Violin" at Goldsworthy’s site, Wood Line, will feature seven string players; five of which are students at Asawa SOTA: Lucy Nelligan, Kana Luzmoor, Stephanie Blanco, and Terra Hurtado, and Theo Haber.
Future plans for Formerly Classical include a concert, tentatively slated for November 2016, of selected works by John Adams, Osvaldo Golijov, David Lang, Frederic Rzewski, Kaija Saariaho, Theo Haber, and Nick Main.
Notes on Resting in the Green –Nick Main
Rests somewhere between a contemplative, and a mystical state.
Paints a landscape, born of blues, browns, and greens.
Longing, but not sad.
Almost heart-wrenching, but in a nostalgic, refreshing sense.
Evokes thoughts of a simpler time, taking us out of the stress of everyday life.
Fades between monophony and polyphony.
On Resting in the Green –Matthew Cmiel
Anna Clyne's music always haunts me. She writes such simple expressions, beautiful phrases and beautiful melodies, but the way she portrays them is always heartbreaking. A common trademark of hers is letting each phrase fade out before it reaches it's natural conclusion, leaving the listener wanting more. I always loved this "technique," but Resting in the Green achieves the same effect without ever fading out. IN fact, the piece is basically one melody just gradually unfolding, gradually expanding into the air, gradually wandering into the distance, gradually breaking your heart.
This piece came out of a Project of Anna's called The Violin. She traded writing short pieces for violin/violin ensemble in exchange for lessons on how to play the violin. It led to her developing a very deep understanding of the physical properties of the violin, and how best to evoke the beauty held within.
I N S P I R A T I O N
"The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue edge of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It dispersed among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue."
–Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust
THE PLACE WHERE YOU GO TO LISTEN
2 PM: WOOD LINW
Visit the website to learn more.
Click on the map for directions to the event.
What I've learned most from being a teacher at a public arts high school is that people respond to different mediums and sometimes, quite unexpectedly, they can ride that medium into a different world of inspiration and appreciation.
A spontaneous pathway is powerful and serves to reach a greater audience. Those who love visual art can fall in love with writing, when it discusses a painting or sculpture. Writers can fall in love with music, initially from a connection to lyrics, which leads to the discovery of how the music enhances and complements the literal content, co-creating the fullness of the words and music together.
ADRIANNA & LILY JOIN AE FOR A LITTLE WHILE 9/9.
People have been wondering about the suggested readings I’ve shared on the After Everything website– books, articles, and poetry; my personal pathways into the worlds of this event.
Together, Adrianna, Lily, and I have been working to find the perfect excerpts, as guide posts that provide another way into the works, and maybe even add another dimension to your experience of the music we will perform.
The Del Sol String Quartet and I first worked together when I was 13 years old. They workshopped my piece in a student reading session. I still point to that workshop as one of the first times I really began to learn about the importance of detail in the notation of my own music. I remember them very kindly explaining to me what I’m sure must have been awful mistakes I’d made without even realizing it. I remember one of my movements was nearly impossible to play, but they worked on it and showed me what made it challenging, and even pointed out how I could achieve the exact same effect without making it so hard on the players. A VERY important lesson for all composers.
We’ve worked together in other capacities over the years, both professionally and casually. They’ve commissioned a string quartet from me for their 20th anniversary, I’ve brought them in to talk with my students and coach them, I worked for them at one of their fantastic QuartetFest events, cooking and preparing food for their students to enjoy, etc. It continues to be a joyous experience for all.
What stands out most in my memories of Del Sol is a single concert from a couple years ago. It used, if I recall correctly, 4 entirely different tuning systems– something VERY difficult to do with string instruments (and perhaps also only truly possible from string instruments). But the difficulty was never the point. Each piece hit you on an emotional level; it simply tore out your heart strings. One of the great pieces was by Persian composer, Reza Vali, using Persian scales and tuning. It was quasi-improvisational, but it had a steady emotional tone, with every sound saturated with pain and longing. It developed slowly, building itself up until eventually you were fully enveloped in sound and just when you felt you couldn’t endure another moment of these riveting and intense emotions, the violist, Charlton, played a note that was insanely high. Maybe the others were as well, but Charlton’s face is what I can recall most vividly, lost in the emotion of that moment. It wasn’t just a note, it was a wailing, an expression of immense pain throughout, a feeling I will never forget. One of those moments in a performance when you recognize the sheer power of music.
‘‘As a composer, I believe that music has the power to inspire a renewal of human consciousness, culture, and politics. And yet I refuse to make political art. More often than not political art fails as politics, and all too often it fails as art. To reach its fullest power, to be most moving and most fully useful to us, art must be itself.” –John Luther Adams
There is a sense in which John Luther Adams is the spiritual musical parent of this whole event. In many ways, it would have been easy and appropriate to simply put on music by John Luther Adams at each of the Andy Goldsworthy sculptures because, as Andy Goldsworthy encapsulates the relationship between nature and man so well in visual art, so does John Luther Adams in Music. He writes of birds, of trees, of the sun, and of vast open plains. This piece is called The Wind in High Places.
This is not political music. What it is, what most of John Luther Adams music is, is understanding the beauty, the grandeur, and even the fear inspired by nature, by the earth. It is music that deeply values life, in many forms, even the life inside of the wind.
When you listen to John Luther Adams music it slowly envelops you, it slowly overwhelms you. He uses very gradual tectonic shifts that breath into you and fill you with a sense of the beauty of the world. In this piece, the players use only harmonics (‘ghost’ notes that are hidden within ‘normal’ notes) and open strings, never touching their finger boards. This should create a feeling of effervescence, or lightness, and in a sense it does. To me, however, this lightness is not true levity, but rather a form of intimacy—a chance to share something so close to the heart that it is only spoken of in whispers, perhaps only spoken aloud when you are alone, just you and the sky.
I N S P I R A T I O N
The Mockingbird –Mary Oliver
in his pearl-gray coat
and his white-windowed wings
from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing, but it’s neither
lilting nor lovely,
for he is the thief of other sounds—
whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges
plus all the songs
of other birds in his neighborhood;
mimicking and elaborating,
he sings with humor and bravado,
so I have to wait a long time
for the softer voice of his own life
to come through. He begins
by giving up all his usual flutter
and settling down on the pine’s forelock
then looking around
as though to make sure he’s alone;
then he slaps each wing against his breast,
where his heart is,
and, copying nothing, begins
easing into it
as though it was not half so easy
as though his subject now
was his true self,
which of course was as dark and secret
as anyone else’s,
and it was too hard—
perhaps you understand—
to speak or to sing it
to anything or anyone
but the sky.
THE PLACE WHERE YOU GO TO LISTEN
1 PM: SPIRE
Visit the website to learn more.
Click on the map for directions to the event.
I regret to inform you that the originally scheduled Sunday event:
"The Place Where You Go To Listen" has had to be rescheduled.
Instead, please join me and the After Everything Orchestra for
a concert on Friday evening, September 9, 2016, at 6 pm at
the Presidio Officers' Club, 50 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco.
“I thought on the train how utterly we have forsaken the Earth, in the sense of excluding it from our thoughts. There are but few who consider its physical hugeness, its rough enormity. It is still a disparate monstrosity, full of solitudes & barrens & wilds. It still dwarfs & terrifies & crushes. The rivers still roar, the mountains still crash, the winds still shatter. Man is an affair of cities. His gardens & orchards & fields are mere scrapings. Somehow, however, he has managed to shut out the face of the giant from his windows. But the giant is there, nevertheless.”
I am sorry for those of you who were intending on coming to the Sunday event. I will spend my time and energy making Friday night the most amazing experience that I can.
I'm sad that I won't get to share Toru Takemitsu, Anna Clyne, or John Luther Adams with you for this concert, but I am certain that the music on Friday evening will be enjoyable, empowering, and satisfying. I will be sending out brief discussions of the four pieces we will be doing over this next week.
Wishing you the best of everything, always–
Matthew Cmiel & After Everything
MC Writing for string orchestra is a new experience for you, can you discuss how your wrote for strings? What models did you use, and how were they helpful? Were there any particular sounds you wanted to express?
PA Although I haven’t written for this ensemble before, string writing has been intuitive for me since childhood, especially the virtuosic aspect (Sarasate is the bread of ancient memories). In this piece, the strings have two main uses: dense chords that move lyrically, treating the orchestra as a massed body, vs. the capricious, ornamented, soloistic playing. My main influences are Mahler and Strauss, who love the virtuosic violin solo in the midst of symphonics — the huge coquette-cadenza in Ein Heldenleben, or the mis-tuned violin in the second movement of Mahler 4.
MCInstruments of Straw engages in a rich harmonic language. Discuss how you created the harmonic language and what it expresses.
PA Each symmetrical division of the 12 notes (augmented triads, diminished sevenths, and the whole tone scales) is treated as a “field,” understood as bland by itself. The chords I use are usually the combination of conflicting fields (i.e. separated by a half-step), segmented by register; e.g. the “pierced” diminished - a five-note chord with an odd note out (used often by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann etc), but also extrapolations of up to 9 or 10 notes. This way every chord has a “hot spot” of tension, located in a specific voice or register (the one with the counter-field), and this “hot spot” is passed around from voice to voice, creating constant uneasiness. I also used Messiaen’s technique of combing through scales to form chains of chords, except instead of his symmetrical octatonics, I used asymmetrical nine-note scales; e.g. D major scale plus C natural and G sharp.
A Mackerel or "Fish-scale" Sunrise, as mentioned in Wallace Steven' poem.
MC The title of Instruments of Straw expresses a certainly futility, a certain struggle of ability, but the poem the title is taken from expresses a playful joy. I feel that your piece has both aspects of this dichotomy in the work, with the futility being these ideas that start and stop, and never complete, but the joy being these waltz motives. Can you discuss that further?
PA Actually I find the poem quite sober and disturbing; difficult to like. So I can’t speak to that. In my piece, I would consider the dense chorale material (and falling-minor-third falling fifth motive) as expressing ennui / sehnsucht / alienation while the waltzes are glamorous, spiritually bereft distractions. When the waltz first appears, it’s hesitantly pleasant, but grimy discomfort gradually takes it over. Honestly, joy doesn’t really enter in, except as a pretense. The piece could be summarized as a series of attempts to cheer yourself up; of course, all fail.
MC How would you explain the form or structure of your piece?
PA A one-act opera without words. Like any old-fashioned story — opposing forces that gradually pull each other into conflict and crisis. Listen for the streptococcal cello scream — that’s the breaking point. Also, the whole piece is bookended by choric comments — at the beginning: “You all know the story….”, at the end: “And that’s the way it goes.” I got the idea from the 1953 film Ugetsu, where an old dude tells you the moral of the story right at the outset.
MC How would someone best prepare for listening to your piece?
PA By not reading any of the above? Seriously I cannot come up with an answer to this one. Although the piece contains certain beauties, it is not entertainment, more like a stern parable of self-deceit and decadence. This is probably not so good for your promotions.