In 2010 we had the great pleasure of premiering Edmund Cionek’s Bad Robots.
In October of 2007, Ina and Matt were asked to perform and record Ed’s Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra with the Bar Harbor Music Festival Orchestra. Soon after, Ed invited the Trio to perform on the Bar Harbor Music Festival’s New Composers Concert, which he curates. As part of this series, the night before the concert Ed hosts an open discussion where he, the featured composers, the performers and the audience converse about the works on the next evening’s program. At one point, Suzanne demonstrated the sound of key clicks (the sound the keys make when depressed quickly without any air passing through the tube of the flute) on the alto flute. Ed was quite taken with the sound. “How cool was that!” he enthused. Right then we knew that he would write a piece for us. About six months later, the first movement of Bad Robots arrived. Surprisingly, the work does not include any key clicks!
Edmund Cionek is a New York-based composer who writes for the theatre and the concert hall. He earned his DMA in Composition from the University of Michigan, where he studied with William Bolcom. He also studied with Max Deutsch at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. He has won many awards and his works have been premiered by renowned ensembles such as Quintet of the Americas and Composers Concordance. Most recently Ed’s American Overturewas commissioned and premiered by the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra in Connecticut. In addition to his responsibilities as Composer-in-Residence at the Bar Harbor Music Festival in Maine, Ed is on the faculty of New York University and the State University of New York at Purchase.
We recently spoke with Ed and asked him about the process of writing Bad Robots.
8S&W: What are your musical influences?
EC: My influences are varied. I played lots of ethnic weddings as a kid, and there were many hours of “study” at the University of Michigan, and lessons in Paris with a Schoenberg disciple, Max Deutsch. I love classic R&R and classic folk, and I speak jazz with an accent. I keep up with friend’s new pieces, recordings, or theatre projects. I get a different perspective from arranging and orchestrating. I really know my classic rep.! I am greatly influenced by teaching music at NYU & Purchase, and my wife, Patti, is a consummate musician. And Ives.
8S&W: When you compose, do you have a particular approach or process?
EC: Many, many years ago my teacher, William Bolcom, said “write chamber music for people you know.” When you’re starting out, that’s what you do, but it’s valuable at any stage in your career. A sculptor surveys that block of stone before carving away. So do composers.
I try to write something every day. I work at the coffee table, piano —wherever the notes are. I chase them around the apartment! I’m also in the habit of memorizing my current piece so that I can take it with me through the day. I start with pencil and paper — an old habit! When I get a section done, I put it on the computer. With each work I have the highest hopes: “This will be the most ___ I’ve ever written.“ Usually, I end up making a deal with the thing to get it done. Right now I’m writing a piano piece for Christopher Johnson to play on the Bar Harbor Festival this July, and a work for Max Lifchitz’s North-South Consonance Chamber orchestra.
8S&W: What’s the story, the motivation, behind Bad Robots?
EC: That’s the music that happened, but more importantly, it’s a very cool thing to write for Eight Strings & a Whistle. You are special for many reasons. Your love of making music and encouraging composers shines right through! I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but there are groups out there without personality, who make plans reading grant descriptions. You are not funded properly by grants (although you will be) so your artistic goals are totally your own. You play pieces more than once and your audiences are treated to very polished, thought-out interpretations. Really, really great.
8S&W: What are your thoughts on New Music in general?
EC: Who can tell? I remember in the 70’s people saying “Well, when people are educated, they’ll accept the dissonance and experimental nature of contemporary music and appreciate it,” but that hasn’t happened. What no one saw coming was how pop music would devour new music; even though at that time it was happening to jazz and folk. I’m fascinated by what I call “new music dinner theatre,” adventurous listeners who fill places and brave kitchen noises, bad sightlines, inferior pianos, uncomfortable seats, less than ideal acoustics and still find it all meaningful. Cage asked us to listen to the sounds around us and we have said “Ok, but with dinner and drinks.” Very interesting development.
Bad Robots had two premieres. The world premiere took place at the Keeler Tavern Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and the New York premiere took place at the Tenri Cultural Institute. Ed was at both performances. We had worked intensely with him before the Connecticut performance, but afterwards he was not entirely satisfied. Though it was very well received, upon hearing Bad Robots in concert, both Ed and his wife, Patti Wyss, decided that the third movement needed revising. We soon received a “new” third movement, which contains the same material, but is more compact and to the point. We “work-shopped” this new version in Maine over the summer, and prepared it for the NY premiere, which was a great success. Now that it’s in our repertoire, we’re looking forward to performing Bad Robots again this spring.