» Interviews


5 Questions to Daniel Felsenfeld (The New Music Gathering)

Composers Mary Kouyoumdjian, Daniel Felsenfeld, Matt Marks, and Lainie Fefferman are the organizing forces behind The New Music Gathering, a first-of-its-kind event for practitioners and lovers of contemporary music to be held at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, January 15-17, 2015. Danny Felsenfeld took time out from the flurry of final event preparations to give us the lowdown on this exciting new happening. 


There’s a growing buzz about The New Music Gathering coming up in San Francisco next month. What’s it all about?

The New Music Gathering is a new kind of hybrid event. At its heart it is best described as a conference, in the sense that it will be a place where people who write, produce, perform, and promote “contemporary concert music” (for lack of a better term) can meet and discuss those matters in like-minded company. There will be presentations and lectures, as well as concerts and demonstrations. We’ll also have some innovative sessions—composer-performer “speed dating” and something we are calling the “therapy room,” wherein people can consult industry experts about specific challenges they are facing. And there will definitely be some after-hours surprises.

One of the most important things about The New Music Gathering is that there is no dominant style or aesthetic that we are seeking to promote.  All are welcome, whatever kind of music you write or play or enjoy, however old (or young) you are, whatever your role in the music world at-large may be.

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5 Questions to Sally Whitwell (pianist, composer)

20 years in the making, Philip Glass’s complete Piano Etudes will be performed at BAM on December 5 and 6. We caught up with Sally Whitwell, Glass specialist and one of ten pianists on the bill, to find out more.

Sally Whitwell

Sally Whitwell

How has Philip Glass’ music changed you as a musician and a pianist? What do you think his legacy will be when it comes to piano music?

It was the opportunity to record some of Philip Glass’s earlier piano music that really changed me a lot. It forced me to think really carefully about how to shape the music, both at a micro and macro level, so that it has a genuine sense of drama. For me, Glass’s music is constantly evolving abstract narrative that speaks to the listener in a way they cannot describe verbally. It speaks so profoundly but only when it is shaped well.

The question of legacy is an interesting one. Before I played any of Glass’s music, I always viewed him as more of a theatre composer, opera and dance and so on. Perhaps it is the notion that a composer primarily engaged in theatre brings a dramatic shape to everything else to which they turn their hand? The constant influence of the theatrical surely has to have an effect of some kind, however subtle it may be.

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5 Questions to Bryce Dessner about Black Mountain Songs

Black Mountain Songs, co-commissioned by BAM and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, will receive its world premiere on November 20 with performances through the 23rd. Featuring new music by Jherek Bischoff, Bryce Dessner, Tim Hecker, John King, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, Caroline Shaw, and Aleksandra Vrebalov (performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Choral director and conductor Dianne Berkun-Menaker), the piece invokes the creative spirit of the fabled Black Mountain College. We caught up with co-curator and featured composer Bryce Dessner to pick his brain about his work and this special run of concerts.

Bryce Dessner - Photo by Anne Mie Dreves

Bryce Dessner – Photo by Anne Mie Dreves

Do you consider yourself to be a guitarist first or a composer first? How does your classical guitar pedigree inform your works for voice, orchestra, and chamber ensemble?

I actually grew up learning music on the flute and piano and switched to guitar later as a teenager because I wanted to play in a rock band. Shortly after I started studying classical guitar which eventually led me to contemporary music and studying composition at Yale. A lot of my early experiences as a professional musician were playing contemporary music by composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass on electric guitar. I don’t really think of myself as a guitarist or composer first, they are both essential parts of me. Like most composers who have an instrumental background, the guitar is my primary instrument and it is still what I play best. I have been ‘composing’ for a long time, and my interest in instrumentation has expanded naturally as I’ve written more music and I have been given access to larger ensembles and orchestras. Writing for chorus, and especially the young singers of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, has become one of of the greatest experiences of my musical life.

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5 Questions to Samuel Adams (composer)

On Saturday, November 8, the San Francisco Symphony (Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor) will perform Samuel Adams’s Drift and Providence, a 19-minute orchestral piece co-commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and the New World Symphony, and funded in part by the Composer Assistance Program of New Music USA. We talked to Adams about it.

Samuel Adams - Photo by Nathan Phillips

Samuel Adams – Photo by Nathan Phillips

Getting to work with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas must be extremely exciting and a huge feather in your cap. What were some of the challenges you faced, both internally and externally, when writing Drift and Providence for the San Francisco Symphony and New World Symphony?

Yes, it is a privilege working with this wonderful group of musicians. I am so glad that MTT, the San Francisco Symphony, and New World prioritize the support of young artists.

The project’s genesis was through New World Symphony directly. Each year, the organization curates an evening of new work. In 2012, I was asked to create a piece to be presented alongside the work of composers Marcos Balter, Amy Beth Kirsten, poet Malachi Black, and visual artist James Nares.

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5 Questions to Paul Dresher (Composer)

At Roulette, on Sunday, October 26, the Paul Dresher Double Duo will perform Double Ikat Part 2, Dresher’s invented instrument duo Glimpsed From Afar, John Cage‘s Six Melodies for Violin & Keyboard Instrument and Martin Bresnick‘s Fantasia on A Theme By Willie Dixon. TwoSense performing the world premiere of Dresher’s three movement duo for cello & piano Family Matters. We asked 5 questions to Dresher.

Paul Dresher - Photo by Andrew Constantini

Paul Dresher – Photo by Andrew Constantini

When you are composing for traditional instruments or those of your own invention, are the processes different? Do you find yourself adapting the language of one onto the other?

A composer always has to be very conscious of the instruments they are writing for and when working with invented instruments, it’s really no different. One has to understand what the instrument and the performer are technically capable of and then one builds one’s work in relationship to that. Of course, because my approach to inventing instruments sometimes results in – when I’ve been successful – musical resources that are not easily produced by conventional instruments, one has to be well aware of how those resources interact well, or not, with conventional instrumental resources. For example, the Quadrachord – because of it’s long string length (140 inches) and low open string fundamental pitches (at the bottom of the piano range) – is able to easily and with complete pitch accuracy play the intervals of harmonic series up to the 24th harmonic and beyond. But it is very limited when it comes to playing accurately in equal temperament. So, when I compose for the Quadrachord in combination with other traditional instruments, I have to be continuously aware of the contrasting intonational resources and thus I’ve had to develop some unique strategies in order to make such instrumental combinations possible.

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