Welcome to our revamped website!

Having a website that functions on every conceivable platform is a necessity today.  But as we launch this one, it has give me a chance to think back.  When we came together 20 years ago (or is it 21? 19?) the thought of needing a website didn’t exist.  Our first press photos were taken on actual film, with hard copy proofs, and were in black and white (ok, that was a style choice, though it may have been budget…who can remember). We had a hard copy brochure that we would mail to presenters, with an actual demo CD, that Matt would laboriously apply our labels to.

Of course, it’s not just media that has changed.  We’ve grown — yes, older, but also musically.  Recently we applied for a grant and needed to choose recorded samples to include.  It’s been quite a few years since we’ve done this.  I recall having a hard time in the past — every sample had a flaw.   Not something that would destroy a live performance but under the microscope of adjudication could be an issue.   This time we listened to five works from two recent concerts and they were good.  Really good.

I don’t say that easily.  As musicians we are incredibly self critical and always looking to improve but all three of us listened to these excerpts and were actually happy with what we heard. For me, it is a sign of how we have evolved over the last two decades.  I don’t know if we will be around in 2039, and if so, what new media we will have to keep up with, but I do know we will continue to grow and learn for as long as we keep playing.

It’s a tough time to be a classical musician.

Of course, it always has been.  When I started conservatory, everyone was upset that the opportunities for American string players to work in Europe were drying up.  And then there were funding cuts!  Many were worried (rightfully so) about cuts to the NEA.  Five years later, when I played at the White House for the Congressional Picnic during the Clinton administration, we were all (still!) talking about cuts in funding.

And here we are today, again looking at potentially devastating cuts in funding.  Of course, now we are looking at major government cuts to so many worthwhile programs, so the NEA and NEH aren’t getting that much attention.

Small ensembles like ours depend on our earnings from concerts, the generosity of our supporters, and small grants to survive.  Like most other ensembles our size, we have never received any money from the government.

So why should we care about the NEA and government funding?  Because we are all a big community, or to paraphrase my friend Judith Insell (Music Programs Manager for the Bronx Arts Ensemble), an ecosystem.  What impacts one part of the community will trickle down, to use a Reaganism, and effect us all — for good or for bad.

So right now, as we should all be hunkering down, preparing for the oncoming storm, we have decided to start a competition for composers.

Logically, it’s not the best idea— it’s not the most financially sensible plan.  But we think it is a necessity.

When you decide to follow the path to be a performing musician, you know that your chances of a stable income and security are unlikely.  Even less of a “sure thing” is becoming a composer.  Only a handful of classical composers are able to make an actual living composing.  The large majority do other things: they teach (music and other subjects), run publishing companies, work regular day jobs, and a host of other things. They spend a lot of time alone, composing, hoping to get their works performed.

This past September, we had the good fortune of performing at Tulane University.  There, we got to meet a number of composition students.  Writing for an ensemble like ours wasn’t something most had considered.  We had a great time talking to them about our group and what’s possible with a mixed-instrument ensemble (i.e. a group that mixes instruments from different families, as opposed to something more homogeneous, like a string quartet).

When we left, all three of us felt that we wanted to work more with student composers.  To that end, we have decided to launch our first competition.

We hope to accomplish a few things:

  1. Selfishly, we of course hope to encourage more works for our trio’s combination of instruments.  So many great composers have written and continue to write for us, but inspiring more composers from across the country and the world has to be part of our motivation.
  2. Keeping modern classical chamber music a high priority for composers.  Let’s face it – what money is out there for new works often goes to the large arts organizations, like major symphonies and opera companies.  Because of this composers are encouraged to write large scales works for relatively well funded groups. But chamber music is the life blood of classical music.  Chamber music, by design, is intended for smaller, more intimate audiences.  How better to build a direct connection between performer and audience then in intimate environs of a chamber performance?
  3. We decided to not put an age limit on our competition, but open it to anyone working towards a Bachelor, Master, Doctorate or doing Post-Graduate work.  We’ve been together as a trio for almost twenty years, and in that time we have had amazing interactions with so many composers who have written for us.  We feel, and most of the composers we have worked with would agree, that the exchange of ideas brings about better pieces and better performances.  We want to bring this opportunity to composers whom we might never meet without the incentive a competition provides.

Of course, competitions cost money.  For the first prize, we’re planning to premiere the work at our annual Fall concert in New York City and a small stipend for the winner, but there are plenty of other expenses.  We need to advertise the competition — much of which can be done on line, but a hard copy mailing to colleges is advised, and we’ll need to buy advertising in printed publications.  We need to pay our adjudicators for sorting through and judging the submissions.  Speaking of the submissions, we need to set up an electronic means for scores and recording to be uploaded and have a project manager to make sure everything runs smoothly and fairly.

And more…

All of this brings me to fund raising.  I hate fund raising.  We all do.  We hate asking for money.  But in our current environment, we know that funding for a small chamber ensemble isn’t coming from the government or some large grant.  It’s coming from the individual, local donor who believes chamber music is important.

That’s why we hope you will join us at our Benefit on Sunday, March 19 at 4:00 PM.  We will be performing a short program, including music of Graun, Jaime Zenamon (a work from our first concert together!), a new work by Spencer Synder, dances by our good friend, Tony Price, as well some of our own tango arrangements.  There will be tapas and sangria as well!

Can’t be there on the 19th?  You can still make a donation.  Just follow the link and look to the bottom of the page.

We hope to see you there.

And the there were two!

Today is release day for Doug Anderson’s new album, Douglas Anderson: Chamber Symphonies 2,3,4.    Doug’s already garnering great reviews.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read it here.

We recorded Doug’s Chamber Symphony 3 nearly a decade ago in 2006.  We actually recorded in the instrument closet in the old building at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, where Doug, Matt and I all teach.  During Hurricane Sandy that closet was completely flooded with water from the Hudson River.  The odor after was a lovely combination of mold and bleach (Matt remembers notes of carpet adhesive as well).  The day of the session, years before, all was dry.  There were all sorts of cables strung up and  running from the narrow room out to the larger outer space where the computer and drives were.

Recording in a closet was a bit unusual.  I tend to think of recording studios as beautiful spaces with lots of wood and other acoustically favorable materials.  This space, with grey lockers and linoleum floors, wasn’t even close to that image.  We tried to record in the orchestra rehearsal room, but found that the closet (perhaps storage space would be a more accurate description?) was quieter and had better sound.  We laid the piece down in a few hours, and if I remember correctly, Doug took us out for lunch after .  I knew Doug had some “master plan” about getting the work out where people could hear it — but after a year or two or three, I kind of forgot about it.

That is until about two years ago, when Doug told us that he wanted to record Chamber Symphonies 2 and 4 and put out an recording of all three.  He was going in search of a label and would let us know what happened.

And now here it is.  A month after our debut album, Albert’s Window hit the virtual shelves of the internets media stores, out comes DA CS 234, also on the Ravello Records label.

As an aside, I miss when we released records.  I know it makes me sound 100 years old, but with so many ways to listen to music today there is no single word that accurately describes music that you listen to that isn’t a live performance. I hate the word “media”  but with CD’s, MP3’s and other streaming thingys, it’s probably the most accurate.  Still, I just can’t bring myself to call it that, so I’m just going with album.  Don’t take it literally — even though I personally think it would be cool, as far as I know, it isn’t available on vinyl.

We’re not quite done with recordings though.  We are currently finishing edits on an upcoming album of music of Scott Brickman.  That will be coming out later this year.  Scott wrote two pieces for our trio – French Suite and his piano quartet (Ninety Six Strings and Two Whistles) which we premiered and recorded with pianist Beth Levin.  Additionally, each of us collaborated with Beth to record an individual work.  There’s Windpower, for flute and piano (winner of best title), Divertimento for cello and piano, and Partita for viola and piano.  Don’t be fooled by the Baroque Period titles – they are all 21st century Brickman.

I’ll be writing more about Scott’s album soon, but in the meantime check out the first two here.

REM to Robots

This has been a very busy Fall.  We finally unleashed Albert’s Window on the world, had our Tenri concert, as well as our first appearance on the Arts on the Corner series in Brooklyn.  Additionally, we finished recording music for an upcoming CD of compositions by Scott Brickman and are neck deep in edits for that.   Coupled with my running the NYC Marathon for the third time, marking term papers, getting final exams ready, attending student recitals and, oh yeah, practicing and playing some gigs, I just haven’t been able to write a blog.  So, I subbed it out.

I asked Anne Wigglesworh (or Dr. Anne, as we call her) if she would consider writing a blog and she generously has.   Please enjoy.

On becoming a groupie

In spite of having been somehow exposed to music all my life—Puccini and Chopin on the wind-up Victrola  at my grandmother’s; Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music; many choirs and school choruses; violin lessons; the Beach Boys and the Beatles and folk music and REM—I didn’t discover chamber music until my mid-sixties.

Chamber music astounded me by its permutations of sweetness and drama, the variety and tunefulness of the standard-practice repertoire, the varied emotions it revealed or evoked. Every voice could be heard both on its own and as part of the whole sound. I learned that, whereas a giant orchestra had trouble sounding small, that a quartet or trio could sound small and enormous. (Did you hear the Erlkönig encore at the Eight Strings & a Whistle Tenri concert last year?)  I gave up the Philharmonic, the ballet, the opera, and the movies and started going to chamber concerts all the time and in any venue.

The next thing I knew, I was studying the cello. Me and the cello is not the story I am telling here, though full disclosure prompts me to say that Matt is my cello teacher. Likewise, Ina and Suzanne have both coached ensembles I’ve played in at Summerkeys in Lubec, Maine, where I first met them all. Naturally, I wanted to attend the ensemble’s concerts, but I doubted I’d go for the actual music. I had no idea what to expect: Living composers?   What living composers? Are there any? Will I be able to get into the music at all?

At the first of their concerts I heard, they  played Hilary Tann’s “The Walls of Morlais Castle” and I was amazed by the sound, the intricacy of the piece, and its approachability.  It was, surprisingly, beautiful.  The ensemble sounded like an orchestra, like a small ensemble, like individuals. I had to discard my preconceptions about how they were “supposed” to sound because I hadn’t heard some of those sounds before. Neither had anyone else, in many cases. The vibe at their concerts was welcoming and engaging—the musicians got up and talked about the music they played, how they’d come across it, why they’d commissioned it. Sometimes the composers appeared and said a few (or many) words about the piece. And the ensemble members were such stars. My mind opened. After a couple of performances, I was a fan for sure. I go to all their concerts. I follow them around like a groupie: Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan, Presque Isle, Machias, Bay Ridge. I hear the Big Concert programs before the Big Performances, and find them as familiar as, um, Mozart. Nearly.

I didn’t, and still don’t, always get the new pieces when I hear them. Sometimes I get distracted by my foot going to sleep, or some bit in the music —“why did the guy make them pizz 87 identical notes?” “why does this sound like a series of crashes and booms?” “Why this affected-sounding title?” “Which twelve tones are they playing now and what does it mean?”—but it’s a cornucopia of sound at every concert. I’ve become impatient for the end of the standard practice piece they always include, because I want to hear what comes next. When the first notes play, I have no idea what is going to follow. How will the other instruments joining? Where will the music is go?  It’s sure to be engaging and always beautifully played (even the crashes and booms).

Concerts are, of course, ephemeral. But there’s a recourse for those of us who want to hear pieces again, because we loved them, or because we want to understand or relive what was happening, as the performance goes by so fast. Eight Strings & a Whistle has just released a CD, Albert’s Window. Hearing on the CD the music previously experienced live in the concert space expands my enjoyment and helps me see all that action that was going past me while my foot was asleep. It clarifies the structure of pieces that didn’t seem to make total sense at first. In the first piece on the CD, Martin Rokeach’s “Going Up?”, I love the way the flute sets the pace for the more leisurely wave motion of the rest of the piece.  I can better hear the copying machine at Ed Cionek’s Staples when I hear “Bad Robots” at home, where I can listen without the distractions of the concert hall.

So why go to concerts, then, if I can draw so much enjoyment and learn so much from the CD? “That’s pretty easy,” you might say, “of course you go to your teachers’ concerts.” Even so, there are plenty of other reasons to hear them in the concert hall. The warmth of engaging directly with the musicians is missing from the CD, as are the intimate short talks before the new pieces and the remarks of the often-present composers. Listening at home, I miss the excitement of hearing music written for the musicians, that we are hearing often for the first time. Who wouldn’t find that exciting?

I’m a little past groupie age, but I think that’s what I’ve become; thank you, Eight Strings & a Whistle!