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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This week: concerts in New York (November 17 – November 23, 2014)

CONTACT!: John’s Playlist

John Adams - Photo by Margaretta Mitchell

John Adams – Photo by Margaretta Mitchell

John Adams curates and hosts an evening of contemporary chamber music. The program features works by Daniel Bjarnason, Ingram Marshall, Missy Mazzoli and a New York premiere by Timo Andres.
Monday, November 17 at 7:30 PM
Tickets $35
SubCulture, 45 Bleecker Street, Downstairs, New York, NY
..:: Website


Face the Music performs eight new student works composed for the MATA Jr. Festival as well as works by four MATA alumni (Tristan Perich, Missy Mazzoli, Taylor Brook, and Bryan Jacobs).
Monday, November 17 at 7:30 PM
Tickets $30 (reserved seating), $20 general admission, $15 students
DiMenna Center for Classical Music, 450 West 37th St, New York, NY
..:: Website

Ana Cervantes

Ana Cervantes will perform works from her recent commissioning/recording project Canto de la Monarca: Mujeres en México (Song of the Monarch: Women in Mexico), which features new pieces by 16 composers from six different countries, inspired by important women in Mexican history.
Monday, November 17 at 7:00 PM
Tickets $20, Free for members
Americas Society, 680 Park Avenue, New York, NY
..:: Website

Tangent: Exchange

Erik Carlson (ICE) and Chris Otto (JACK) perform the World Premiere of noted wandelweiser composer Michael Pisaro’s three hour duet Exchange.
Monday, November 17 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $12, $8 students/seniors/members
Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, New York, NY
..:: Website

A Centennial Tribute to Andrzej Panufnik

ACME - Photo by Ryuhei Shindo

ACME – Photo by Ryuhei Shindo

The American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) celebrates the centennial of the iconic Polish composer Andrezj Panufnik, performing his String Quartet no. 2 Messages and Song to the Virgin Mary, a work originally for a cappella voices which the composer arranged for string sextet.
Tuesday, November 18 at 7:30 PM
Tickets $15-$25
Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, New York, NY
..:: Website
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Howard Hersh’s Inventivity : Angels and Watermarks

Angels and Watermarks is the latest self-released album (Snow Leopard Music) by Howard Hersh, an American composer who lives and works in the Sierra Foothills. The album, featuring soloist Brenda Tom on the piano and harpsichord plus a ten-piece ensemble under the direction of conductor Barbara Day Turner, serves as a rich and expansive reservoir of Hersh’s musical ideas. Just as a piece is thought to be of a certain attitude, mood, or style, the listener’s journey is then promptly ushered towards new pathways to follow and new sounds to discover. Angels and Watermarks is hard to pin down as a result, but it is without a doubt an exuberant musical experience, one chock-full of inventive surprises.

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How To Take Charge Of Your Finances As A Musician (Part I)


Kudos for choosing to make a life from your passion! What that means is that instead of going to work every day and cranking out spread sheets and memos, you get to create something meaningful that you share with the world.

On the other hand, making a life from music means that you do not have a lot of job security and that it is up to you to create the opportunities to perform and share your art. So how do you make a living as a musician?

The good news is that with some basic knowledge of finances and how to plan, it is entirely possible to make a living from your art.

Here are some basic pointers in order to get started and become financially literate.

1. Articulate Your Challenges

The first step is to explore your attitude towards your finances to zero in on your greatest challenges, as well as to give yourself some credit (no pun intended!) for the things you do well.

Many musicians I know tell me that their biggest concerns around finances include:

  • Fear of not having enough money
  • Spending too much money
  • Worrying about how to earn enough money to support their life style
  • Credit card debt
  • Not knowing how to budget
  • Inability to save for emergencies and retirement
  • A general feeling of “I’m not good at this”.

Or perhaps you, like other musicians I know, need more information about how to save for retirement, invest, taxes and the implications of being self-employed and how to get funding for projects.

To help you identify your fears and challenges, take the financial freedom quiz [on Astrid’s website, Ed.]. This will prepare you to identify the areas that you need to work on. You are now on your way to becoming financially literate!

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This week: concerts in New York (November 10 – November 16, 2014)

Contemporaneous: Living Toys | Ear Heart Music

Contemporaneous new music ensemble (photo credit: contemporaneous.org)

Contemporaneous new music ensemble (photo credit: contemporaneous.org)

In its opening concert of the season, Contemporaneous performs a show of frantic magic encompassing a series of pieces that provide a surround-sound explosion of energy and childlike wonder. This is music that moves like data across the internet or electrons around the nucleus.
Wednesday, November 12 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $20, $15 members/students/seniors
Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
..:: Website

Lamentations for a City | Lisa Bielawa

C4: The Choral Composer/Conductor Collective performs composer Lisa Bielawa’s Lamentations for a City.
Thursday, November 13 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $20 advance, $25 day of show
Galapagos Art Space, 16 Main Street, Brooklyn, NY
..:: Website

Bernard Rands | Composer Portraits

Bernard Rands

Bernard Rands

Miller Theatre presents a Composer Portraits concert of the work of Bernard Rands.
Thursday, November 13 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $25-$35
Miller Theatre, 2960 Broadway, New York, NY
..:: Website

Shattered Glass: Metamorphosis

Shattered Glass (SG) explores perspectives on World War II through the eyes of three very different composers: Pavel Haas, Richard Strauss, and Bela Bartok.
Friday, November 14 at 9:00 PM
Tickets $15, $10 students/seniors
The Actors’ Temple, 339 West 47th Street, New York, NY
..:: Website

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