My first day back teaching college after our trip to Cuba, a student asked me if I had a good vacation. I was…not pleased, to say the least.
But, I took a deep breathe and explained that playing three concerts in six days is not a vacation, nor would Professors miss a week of class in the middle of the semester to go on holiday.
I doubt he was convinced.
That’s not to say we didn’t have fun, but our two trips this Fall were not vacations. At our annual concert at the Tenri Cultural Institute on Nov. 22, Board member, Dr. Anne Wigglesworth gave us a fabulous introduction. She enumerated many of the things we have done this past year, and she mentioned, that despite how it looks on our Facebook feed, we really were working on these trips. Shouldn’t one have fun at work?
Every time we hit the road, and especially when we attend a festival or university, there are a few different components or objectives. Generally I see the aims as three-pronged: Performance, Education and Interaction.
Performance is the simplest to explain. We have many interesting works for our combination, that frankly, people do not have the opportunity to hear. We need to advocate for these works and the composers who write them. Every time we perform for a new group of people, they are exposed to incredible pieces by composers, new and old, that they may otherwise not ever hear.
Education — a bit more complicated: On every tour, we have had the opportunity to interact with students. At Tulane, we had extended time to read and react to student works. In Cuba, we performed and heard students perform at the National High School of the Arts (ENA) and The Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA – the National Conservatory). These educational experiences are two way streets — hopefully we give something to the students and I know that we learn about from the students and their teachers as well.
Interaction: This is the hardest to quantify, but meeting musicians and others from different cultures (both domestic and international) is incredibly important. Getting time to know people teaches us so much, not just about music but about ourselves as people. In many ways I think this is the most important element for us as artists.
So with that in mind, what follows is a snapshot of our trips. There’s a lot to say, so this time I will start with New Orleans. I’ll follow up with more on Havana soon.
New Orleans is a beautiful city but it is really hot in October! We stayed in the Garden District, a short trolley ride to both Tulane and to the French Quarter. Before our trip, we had consulted friends and social media for dining suggestions and got more than we could possibly use. Our first night we had a cocktail at the Columns, a lovely inn just a block or so from our hotel. Then dinner at La Petite Grocery. The food was fabulous and fortunately once the sun comes down the temperature becomes bearable.
The next day we were off to work. We headed to Tulane where we were greeted by composer Barbara Jazwinski. A few of her students had written works for one or all of us. Some were fully developed, while others were just sketches. We worked in Barbara’s cozy office. After an hour or so, we all grabbed some lunch at the faculty dining room. I can definitely see the difference between a lovely southern private college and NYC public colleges. I’ve only been to the BMCC faculty cafe once and there was no reserved table, real silverware of choices (an entire buffet!) of entree.
After lunch we walked about and toured the Tulane campus until a space was open where we could rehearse. After 3 hours, we were ready to head back to the hotel and figure out something fun for the night. It’s not really hard to figure out something to do in New Orleans. Like New York, it’s open all night — at least in the French Quarter. We had a lovely drink at the Court of Three Sisters, a large open garden under some giant trees. Then we bought some gifts for friends and after a bit of wandering about, we found ourselves a small restaurant for a quiet-ish meal. I love that there is actual mass transit in New Orleans. The trolleys are different from NYC subways, but they run efficiently and we were able to get everywhere we wanted with out a car or cab.
The next day was all about our concert. These days can be hard to figure out. The concert wasn’t till 7 and you really don’t want to practice all day. We again went for a bit of walk about, Matt bought a lovely piece of glass art and of course we found food.
Eventually it was time to perform. We played our largest program of the Fall, all our new works plus a little CPE Bach. The audience, which was small for the fairly large auditorium, seemed to enjoy everything. They really loved the works by our younger composers (Daniel Lemer and Jorge Amado) as well as Pamela Sklar’s “Two Journeys.” And they seemed pretty surprised, and a bit uncomfortable, with Douglas Anderson’s “Reverse Variations on Arkansas Traveler.” This work involves us telling a joke between each of the variations — the jokes we tell are kind of “dad meet music industry” jokes. The audience at Tulane consisted mostly of students, and I think they were just too young to understand that it is ok for music to be funny and for composers not to take themselves so seriously all the time.
After the concert concluded we again hung out and spoke to the composition students. They were very interested in all the new works, with some asking for scores to study. One brought a sketch for violin that I played for her (on the viola.)
Of course we couldn’t leave New Orleans without a trip to Cafe Du Monde. Last trip we completely skipped this and no one could believe it. So, on Friday morning, we headed back to the French Quarter. We got to the Cafe at about 9:30am and found the line extended down the block. We looked at each other and thought about it and remembered that we hate lines, so we turned around and went to Cafe Beignet. (Thanks to Peter Hamilton for that suggestion) I don’t know how they are at Cafe du Monde, but Cafe Beignet was excellent and there was no line (at least till after we had been served).
Coming soon – our return to La Habana
Last night, we kicked off the new season with a fabulous Groupmuse house concert on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Literally steps from Lincoln Center, we performed a program for about 25 people in a lovely, intimate setting. For those who don’t know, Groupmuse is an organization that helps pair musicians and house concerts hosts. A big part of Groupmuse’s philosophy is bringing neighbors together through music, so there’s socialization time before, during intermission and after every performance. Our host, Sheila, had a lively assortment of people. They gathered for about 30 minutes before hand. Matt, Suzanne and I were hanging out in the bedroom, which was acting as our green room during that time. At 6:30, Sheila introduced us and off we went. The audience was close….but honestly, not as close as our concert at 405 Shrader in San Fransisco. At that performance about 60 people were packed into what had been a storefront, and the greenroom was the space under the grand piano where we stored our cases. At Sheila’s Groupmuse, we had a bit more space though audience member Joshua could have tuned pages for me if he had really wanted to.
It was a house concert, but that doesn’t mean that we tamed down our programming. We did start with a lovely and appropriate CPE Bach Trio Sonata, but then segued into Doug Anderson’s, Reverse Variations on Arkansas Traveler (with Jokes!, as the composer says). An audience member told Matt afterwords that she cringed inwardly and thought “this could be awful” at the proposition of us telling jokes, but was pleasantly surprised that we told them so well. Proof again that practicing helps!
At intermission, it was socializing time again. Groupmuse concerts feel a lot like concerts up in rural Lille, Maine, where the intermission can last up to half an hour, because people come from long distances and want to have time to reacquaint themselves with friends.
Then we were back in for an all 21st Century second half. We began with Daniel Lemer’s Who knows? or ¿Quién Sabe? for those practicing their Spanish. This is a work by a young American composer, that employs a lot of extended techniques. It takes turns being super edgy with a lot of harsh squeaks in the strings and multiphonics in the flute, to beautiful, serene harmonies that kind of unfold, not unlike Lux Eterna, by Ligetti. And it rocks! Then we gave a very unofficial premiere of Pamela Sklar’s Two Journeys. We’ve performed the first movement before, but this is the first time anyone besides the three of us have heard the whole work. This is a haunting and subtle work, and you should just come hear it, rather than have me describe it to you.
Finally, we finished with Eidos II by Jorge Amado, our 2018 8SW Composer Competition winner. A big contrast with Pamela’s piece. Joyful, vigorous and a bit primal. I have to say, it was pretty loud in a Sheila’s apartment. I wonder what her neighbors thought was going on.
After it was all over, we had a nice time meeting some of the audience members and sipping a little wine –– not to mention some really delicious bread!
Now we are getting ready to head to New Orleans to present this program, plus Siegfried Thiele’s Trio. We will be working with some composition students at Tulane while we are there too, and of course, eating some beignets
If you want to catch this works, we will be playing them 4 more times this fall. Check out our full schedule here. And you can read more about Doug Anderson, Pamela Sklar and Jorge Amado in our Featured Composer Section. Just follow the links above or click right here.
The Washington Post recently wrote an editorial saying the Summer is over-rated. It’s possible that’s true. What is summer really? – A time when it’s really hot!!
For many of us, summer is when we envision getting a lot done. We make lists and once made, they are hard to escape.
The “list” is that thing we all do — the “I’m going to be productive and not just lay on the beach” thing we seem to need to do to justify our summer.
Everyone has a list. It may be pragmatic – “Paint the house” “Clean the basement” or more ambitious “learn French”. As a rule, the list is not finishable. If we come close to completing them we just add more to it. Sometimes, we don’t even start them. They just linger, close at hand, as a reminder of all the promises we made to ourselves and others.
I have a personal list and a more pragmatic trio list. From a rehearsal point of view, the trio is on hiatus. Matt’s in Colorado and Suzanne will soon head to Maine and then beyond. But even though we are scattered, there are still things to accomplish and thus, we have a list.
Some things are already done:
Airline tickets to Havana √
Tickets to New Orleans √
Get materials ready for our new Intern, who starts in the Fall (Can’t tell you about him, but will in September) √
To be honest, those were fun tasks, so of course they were completed first.
Others are in progress:
Emails to universities about our 2020 Composer Competition — 300+ emails sent, more going soon
Program decisions for the Fall — 90% there…
There are other things that have been started, but have a ways to go: Learn Spanish (no really) — Sí, pero no habla bonito, todavía.
Emails to Presenters – Oy…where’s that intern?
Is the list a good or bad?
If you use it as a tool – good!
If you feel beaten down by it – bad.
List or no, I’m still in favor of summer. And it’s okay to slack off, at least a little. A week on the beach in Florida, rum drink in hand comes my way soon. No instrument. No nail clipper. And after that, it will be back to work.
And meanwhile, that’s July’s Blog √√
Spring is popping up all over… or in our case, 8SW is popping up, which is definitely better then pooping out.
Over the last season and a bit, we have had two Pop Up concerts, and we’re doing it again to celebrate the end of our 2018-19 season.
The Pop Up concerts happen in a variety of spaces. So far, we’ve played at Alchemical Studios in lower Chelsea (not sure that is a legitimate real estate term, but let’s go with it) and Shetler Studios in Midtown. Our next one will be in the Theater district, at a studio we chose because we liked the name. Why studios? First, they tend to be less expensive than a more formal concert space like Tenri, or one of the halls. Also, they are smaller and more casual, which is the aesthetic we’re aiming for. And there are so many options in New York. These performances give us a chance to try different places and acoustics in a pretty low risk way. In the future, we are looking at spaces in the outer boroughs. (Yes, I’m originally from Queens, so I can say “Outer Boroughs”. I still think of Manhattan as going into “the City”.) Maybe even… New Jersey. Who knows?
These Pop Ups are short too. We like to keep them to about 30-40 minutes of music. They are a chance to try pieces out. With any piece, but especially with new music, it’s hard to know what you have till you trot it out in front of actually living people. With these concerts, we can see what works and what doesn’t — what we need to change or adjust. And most importantly to us, get direct feedback from the audience about what they heard.
On June 11, we will be playing three pieces. The first is by NY composer, Pamela Sklar. Pam is a flutist and composer. She and Matt spent many years trekking around Maine and Japan performing with the New York Ragtime Orchestra. I still remember Pam in her flapper dress playing “Whistler and his Dog” on the piccolo. Her work, Third Eye, is a long way from Ragtime. We have actually performed this work once before and Pam is currently working an a second movement that we will premiere in the Fall. You can read all about Pamela and her music in our Featured Composer Section.
Then there is the entrée of this little concert – Aribert Riemann’s Canzoni e Ricercari. This piece was written in 1961 and has been sitting in our library for a long time, waiting for the right program. It’s an interesting set of works that has solo, duo and trio movements.
Finally, a little CPE Bach. I know, not new music, but you know…variety. And of course we’ve messed with it –– Viola instead of a violin, so a few (maybe a lot) of octave changes, altering the timbre just a bit and no pesky harpsichord to get in the way of that nifty Basso Continuo.
These Pop Ups are free to attend, but, of course, we’d never pass up any donations. We do have a new recording to fund, and our 2020 8SW Composer Competition. and a few other projects that you’ll be hearing about soon…I guess I know what the next 3-8 blogs will be about!
Want to come to our June 11 Pop Up at 6PM? Great!! Drop us a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is a bit limited so we want to make sure we have a chair for you and of course, tell you where exactly the performance is happening.
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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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.
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!