This past April, Kevin Eikenberg and Evan Chapman of Four/Ten Media met me at a train station in London very early in the morning to travel together to composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s studio. She generously hosted us for the day so that we could film a new set of masterclass videos on the techniques that are in her newly commissioned work for The 20/19 Project, Sola. In addition, we filmed this in-depth interview on Thorvaldsdottir’s background writing for strings, process composing, and determination.
a new album (and liner notes by) Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti
All the works on this album are transcriptions or involve the act of transcribing. Transcription is not just an act of borrowing, it is also an act of admiration, an act of perspective-taking. The album title comes from Caroline Shaw’s solo cello piece, in manus tuas meaning “in your hands.” How does one’s perspective shift in rewriting/transcribing/copying? In a digital age of copy-paste-retweet-regram-sharing, what does it mean to take the time to transcribe by hand?
As I was finalizing the details of this album, I found Jasmine Parsia’s beautiful prints and asked her to create both the cover artwork and an accompanying set of unique prints for the album. Jasmine’s works repurpose, abstract, and copy, thereby reconsidering or redefining the original object. In personal correspondence, Jasmine wrote about her process in making the print that would eventually become the album artwork:
Over the past couple weeks, I had been circling around the black and white monoprints, and today I brought in some of the blue and it’s bringing a much-needed subtle brightness that I feel/hear in your work. Something about the black on its own felt too stark. This process feels more resonant, too. The black layer is made using a monoprint technique—laying ink on plexi and pressing a print, typically only one print comes out from each run. So more ink is added, shifting the image—bits from each print echo into the next. The blue layer is silkscreen, and is added in response to the black monoprint beneath it. I often think of this process—the monoprint and the silkscreen together—as translating and highlighting certain areas/marks/thoughts.
Transcription enables us to learn from others as well as process our own thoughts. In doing so, we deepen our understanding of each other. Transcription—empathy—as creative practice.
Andrew Norman trans. Lanzilotti — Sonnets (2011)
One of the engaging aspects of Andrew’s music is his playful and dramatic use of extended techniques juxtaposed with joyful lyricism. Each movement or sonetto—“little song” or “little sound”—explores a fragment from a Shakespeare sonnet. The first movement, with shifting change, ends with a dramatic scratch stop—a ripping sound as the bow moves towards molto sul ponticello and overpressure at the last moment, abruptly stopping on the string. In to be so tickled, both instruments evoke the sound of giggling. The third movement, my tongue-tied muse employs the stutter technique—a physically arresting, distorted and deteriorated filter of the underlying melody. So far from variation takes the simple idea of opening or closing a gesture and explores it in the interaction of the viola and piano. Finally, confounded to decay ends with the piano subtracting notes from the resonance to create a melodic line that emerges from what remains. By translating these sonnet fragments into sound, Andrew makes the words jump off the page: they become giggles, heartbreak, confusion.
Caroline Shaw — in manus tuas (2009)
Caroline has a series of short videos that she catalogues under the phrase, “The detail of the pattern is movement”: a quartet of friends sitting in front of a water fountain, colored flags dancing in the wind, cherry blossoms falling through a bright sky, shadows on autumn leaves. The phrase itself—which Caroline has used as text in one of her other vocal works—is from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. The stanza continues:
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
Caroline’s music is frequently about stretching out the experience of one moment, and often about experiencing music itself: either as a performer or as an audience member. In her notes for in manus tuas, Caroline says that the work was originally written “for a secular solo cello compline service held in the dark, candlelit nave.” The work is based on fragments of a motet by Thomas Tallis of the same name. Caroline explains:
While there are only a few slices of the piece that reflect exact harmonic changes in Tallis’s setting, the motion (or lack of) is intended to capture the sensation of a single moment of hearing the motet in the particular and remarkable space of Christ Church in New Haven, Connecticut.
The act of experiencing music leads to the act of creating music. This repurposing of the Tallis motet is more about the emotion felt in that moment than the music itself. The piece ends with an extended section strumming or plucking the instrument in ever-increasingly fragmented phrases. Caroline told me once that this section was as though you are trying to tell someone something but keep getting caught up in the words, unable to say what you need to say. “Caught in the form of limitation / Between un-being and being.”
Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti — Gray (2017)
This work was originally developed with choreographer Wendell Gray II as a part of a Periapsis Music & Dance Artist Residency. The specific sound of each unit is defined, but the rhythm and overall timing of each section is influenced by the dancers. The dancers become a part of the score, determining the rhythm and pacing of the work with their physicality. This version for performance/recording does not include dancers, but evokes their memory in the way we thought about the pacing and phrasing as we recorded the large sections. In any interpretation, the performers should create long lines that explore the subtle shifts in timbre apparent in the writing.
There’s an element of transcription in my piece as well: the violist is asked to handwrite a text into their score to use as rhythmic material. As the piece unfolds, this material is transcribed onto the viola as a breathy/throaty memory of the sound of the text.
The percussion instruments used are temple bowls, snare drum, and pū‘ili. The use of pū‘ili is as much for sound as for its various translations. Hawaiian words often bear multiple metaphorical meanings.
pū‘ili. 1. n. Bamboo rattles, as used for dancing. 2. vt. To clasp, hold fast in the hand, embrace, grasp firmly. Pū‘ili mai ‘oe ā pa‘a, hold tight. 3. n. A type of tapa-beater pattern: tips of zigzag ridges in adjacent surfaces meet and form sunken lozenges. Cf. ko‘eau, in which the ridges are parallel.
— Hawaiian Dictionary, Edited by Pukui and Elbert
The pattern described by pū‘ili in the last definition is similar to the pattern of the snares on the bottom of the drum. The second meaning is related to the theme of the piece and the dance created with it that was about struggling, embracing, and ultimately letting go.
Andrew Norman — Sabina (2008–09)
I entered very early in the morning, while it was still dark, and as I listened to the morning mass I watched the sunrise from within the church. The light in Santa Sabina is breathtaking; the large clerestory windows are not made of glass but of translucent stone, and when light shines through these intricately patterned windows, luminous designs appear all over the church’s marble and mosaic surfaces. As I watched the light grow and change that morning, I was struck by both its enveloping, golden warmth and the delicacy and complexity of its effects. I sketched the material for this piece soon after that unforgettable experience. —Andrew Norman
The Basilica of Santa Sabina was built between 422–432 by Peter of Illyria to “crown the Aventine hill.”  The most stunning design element of the basilica is the lattice clerestory windows added in the ninth century. These windows, typical of Roman artisanal work at the time, “were arched and elongated, endowed with latticework . . . of wood . . . with translucent panels of selenite.”  Selenite (from the word for “moon stone” in Greek) or gypsum crystal is a translucent stone that exhibits double refraction, an optical property in which the light upon entering a substance splits into two rays: an ordinary ray that travels at the original speed unchanged and an extraordinary ray that is bent as it passes through the crystal and slows down.
The selenite clerestory windows glow in the pre-dawn light illuminating the geometric patterns of the frames and the golden stars on the ceiling. The experience of the transition from darkness to light in the basilica is reflected in the evolution of white noise to distinct pitch at the beginning of Sabina. First, one only hears the white noise of playing on the bridge in the first line of this movement. White noise is so named because as white light contains all colors of the spectrum equally, white noise contains equal presence of all pitches. The white noise represents the light outside the basilica at dawn that illuminates the clerestory windows to reveal their patterned frames.
As the sun begins to rise, the first light enters through the windows in the apse, creating flickers of deep red and orange light on the walls of the basilica. The viola flutter at the end of line 1 represents this first flicker of light in the basilica as it is refracted through the selenite. The movement as a whole reflects the cycle of a full day. Both the melody and the structure reflect the principals of Rotational Form: a metaphor for the cycle of sunlight coming through the clerestory windows of Santa Sabina. Through double refraction, the selenite in the windows creates stunning light effects. Rotation implies continuation, starting anew. Each day is an opportunity to take the time to be human: to be both ordinary and extraordinary.
This note is comprised of excerpts from my dissertation: Lanzilotti, Anne V. L., “Andrew Norman’s The Companion Guide to Rome: Influence of Architecture and Visual Art on Composition.” DMA diss., Manhattan School of Music, 2016.
 Allen White, The Crown of the Aventine, directed by Robert Duncan (New York: Kindly Light Media, 2011) https://vimeo.com/24602346, 27 minutes.
 Paloma Pajares-Ayuela, Cosmatesque Ornament: Flat Polychrome Geometric Patterns in Architecture, trans. Maria Fleming Alvarez (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001), 62.
Anna Thorvaldsdóttir — Transitions (2014) originally for cello
Transitions explores the relationship or conflict between “man and machine,” a theme specified by cellist and commissioner Michael Nicolas. To highlight and distinguish the differences between the human and the mechanical at the beginning of the piece, Anna uses specific timbres. A more metallic sound for machine-like gestures is contrasted with sighing figures, pitch bending, and expressive uses of vibrato that imply performative emotion. When I’m performing this piece live, I strive to reflect these two characters in my physicality: in the sections that are indicated as “machine” gestures, I plant my feet, keep my posture stiff, and move only my bow, as though a machine were executing only the exact movements necessary to create the specified sound. When the more human expressive sections are marked, I breathe more and allow for a natural approach.
While I have performed this piece many times live, the act of recording it gave me a deeper insight into the dramatic contrasts inherent in the writing. When recording, you have to be more aware of human sounds that may sneak into the microphones that would not be heard by an audience: sniffling noses, squeaky shoes, rumbling stomachs. It is not only about recording the sounds so that they seem human or machine-like, but also making your own body conform to nonhuman standards.
As the piece continues, this distinction is blurred. In what aspects of our humanity do we strive for machine-like perfection? When machines are programmed by humans, in which ways do they exhibit human biases or flaws? Is it better to strive for perfection, or is something lost when we cut ourselves off to mistakes, emotion, and humanity? With digital recording technology, dramatic shifts in pitch or timbre can be executed with the touch of a button or the turn of a knob. The slower process of transcription by a composer from one instrument to another involves not only this shift in pitch but also the reimagining of the musical and emotional gesture as performed by a different person. The messiness of life and of being human is a series of transitions captured in this haunting work.
released July 19, 2019
Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, viola
Karl Larson, piano (tracks 1-5)
Sarah Mullins, percussion (track 7)
Recorded, edited, mixed, and mastered by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY. Produced by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti. Cover artwork at Jasmine Parsia
© all rights reserved
Press for in manus tuas
“She writes beautifully about music: what it means, why it matters, and how it relates to our lives. . . . These are passionate and eloquent renderings of some seriously striking music composed by leading contemporary composers.” —hocTok.com
“an entrancing new album” —Alex Ross
The album has been featured in Steve Smith’s Log Journal Playlist (Live life out Loud) and Alex Ross’s August 12, 2019 Nightafternight Playlist: New and recent recordings of interest.
Thursday, June 13, 2019 - 6:30pm - 8:30pm
In celebration of the exhibition Changing and Unchanging Things: Noguchi and Hasegawa in Postwar Japan, The Noguchi Museum presents Changing and Unchanging Sound, a musical performance featuring the premiere of a work by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, works by Kaija Saariaho, Juri Seo, and improvisations based on paintings by Saburo Hasegawa. Lanzilotti is joined by Johanna Lundy on french horn, and the Argus Quartet.
Changing and Unchanging Sound reframes and interacts with works by Isamu Noguchi and Saburo Hasegawa. Saariaho’s Sept Papillons (Seven Butterflies) for solo cello uses the physicality of the musician’s hand movements to evoke the image of a butterfly settling on the fingerboard, as Hasegawa’s The Butterfly Dream—from Chuang Tzu (1956) imagines characters as butterflies. The musicians will also perform improvisations based on Hasegawa’s works that are featured in the exhibition. The theme of postwar reflection and memory are present in Saariaho’s Aure—the opening melody uses the phrase “Why us, why the star?” from Anne Frank’s diary. Seo’s Winter-Spring, from her quartet Infinite Season, suggests death and rebirth using old styles reimagined in contemporary contexts. Finally, Lanzilotti’s new work honors Noguchi’s never fully-realized Bell Tower for Hiroshima (1950; partially reconstructed in 1986) and imagines the sound this memorial might have created.
As a whole, Changing and Unchanging Sound considers being open or closed, amplifying the sentiment of Noguchi and Hasegawa’s conversations about cultural exchanges. In working through sonic and visual forms of how things break up and how they’re put back together, Changing and Unchanging Sound explores questions about what it is to be human, living in uncertainty and growing after destruction.
Free. RSVP recommended: email@example.com
Excited to announce that I'll be the new Curator of Music at The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) starting in the fall! EMPAC is an incredible resource for artists, not only in the technological resources and wonderful performance spaces which inspire new possibilities for the interaction of people and digital media, but also in the center's dedication to the creation of art itself, "from inception to completion," through the year-round artist-in-residence program and commissioning projects.
This post has been updated to include live videos from the performance.
Friday, November 16, 2018 at 8:00pm Qubit presents Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti and David Poissonnier performing an evening of works for viola and/or electronics by Kaija Saariaho, Nina C. Young, Ken Ueno, Jonathan Harvey, and Lanzilotti.
SAARIAHO — Vent Nocturne (2006)
The idea for Vent nocturne (‘Night Wind’) first occurred to me while I was reading a bilingual edition on the poems of Georg Trakl. This synchronicity of the two languages—German and French—led me to muse on the relationship between the viola and electronics.
The work is in two parts: Sombres mirroirs (‘Dark Mirrors’) and Soupirs de l'obscur (‘Breaths of the Obscure’). These, as their names suggest, focus first on symmetrical thinking and then on the variation of the glissando, not unlike a sigh, that rounds off the phrases.
To me the sound of the viola has always suggested that of breathing, which, along with the wind, became a major element of the electronic part.
Notes by Saariaho
UENO — Vedananupassana (2016/18)
In Buddhism, there are four ways of attending to mindfulness: the contemplation of the body, contemplation of feelings, contemplation of the mind, and the nature of things. Each of these further breaks down in relation to the self, others, and the self with others. Vedananupassana is the contemplation of feelings. Ueno writes:
Vedananupassana was originally composed as the first movement of a larger work, Four Contemplations, an evening-long site-specific installation performance for the various spaces of the Asian art galleries in the RISD Museum. My installations are proxies for my own breath, as an extended vocalist in which custom software algorithmically “re-perform” my vocalisms to articulate space. In a similar way, my compositions for classical instruments from the past five years, orchestrate aspects of my vocalisms and breathing. Breathing is important to me as it is the portal into mindfulness and is not only central to singing and meditation, but also life itself. Four Contemplations is an instrumental meditation on breath. Much of my what I composed for the string instruments involves techniques that evoke different kinds of breath.
Ueno’s Vedananupassana is therefore a meditation on feelings: the sound of the viola and how it is processed through the six-channel set up is the means for contemplation. The performer contemplates the sound related to the source/self, related to others in the room as it reaches the listener, related to the source and others as it is misdirected through different channels, and finally, hopefully more aware, returns to the sound of breathing.
Notes by Lanzilotti
LANZILOTTI — Gray (2017)
This work was originally developed with choreographer Wendell Gray II as a part of Periapsis Music & Dance’s First Emerging Artist Residency. The specific sound of each unit was defined, but the rhythm and overall timing of each section was determined by the dancers. The dancers became a part of the score, determining the rhythm and pacing of the work with their physicality.
The percussion instruments used are temple bowls, snare drum, and pū‘ili. As with many words in the Hawaiian language, pū‘ili has multiple meanings that interact with each other not only as homonyms but as metaphor. In this live version for viola and electronics, the fixed media acts as a memory of the interaction.
pū‘ili. 1. n. Bamboo rattles, as used for dancing. 2. vt. To clasp, hold fast in the hand, embrace, grasp firmly. Pū‘ili mai ‘oe ā pa‘a, hold tight. 3. n. A type of tapa-beater pattern: tips of zigzag ridges in adjacent surfaces meet and form sunken lozenges. Cf. ko‘eau, in which the ridges are parallel. — Hawaiian Dictionary. Edited by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.
Notes by Lanzilotti
HARVEY — Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco (1980)
This work is a reflection of my experiences at Winchester Cathedral where my son Dominic was a chorister from 1975-1980. It is based on his voice and that of the great tenor bell. This enormous black bell of superhuman power has inscribed upon it: HORAS AVOLANTES NUMERO MORTUOS PLANO: VIVOS AD PRECES VOCO (I count the fleeing hours, I lament the dead: I call the living to prayers). This serves as the boy’s text. The pitch and time structure of my work is entirely based on the bell’s rich, irregular harmonic spectrum, a structure neither tonal nor dodecaphonic nor modal in any western or oriental sense, but unique to itself. The eight sections are each based on one of the principal eight lowest partials. Chords are constructed from the repertoire of 33 partials; modulations from one area of the spectrum to another are effected by glissandi. Constant transformations between the spectrum of a vocal vowel and that of the bell are made by internal manipulation of the two sounds’ components. The walls of the concert hall are conceived as the sides of the bell inside which is the audience, and around which (especially in the original 8-channel version) flies the free spirit of the boy. The work was commissioned for IRCAM by the Centre Georges Pompidou and first performed at the IRCAM day in the Lille Festival on 30 November 1980. It was made at IRCAM with the helpful assistance of Stanley Haynes in July-August 1980.
Notes by Harvey
YOUNG — Sun Propeller (2012)
The title, Sun Propeller, refers to the propeller-like rays of light that occur when sunbeams pierce through openings in the clouds. Scientifically, these columns of light that radiate from a single point in the sky are known as crepuscular rays. The actual phrase "sun propeller" is a literal translation of the Tuvan word for these sunbeams: Huun-Huur-Tu (also the name of a famous Tuvan folk singing group).
The ideas for this piece come from my interest in Tuvan music. Their music, particularly the practice of throat sining, is a vocal imitation of natural surroundings (the sounds of babbling brooks, wind resonating against mountains, etc.) and is used to pay respects to the spirits of nature. This type of Tuvan music is built upon a low drone-tone with overtones floating above. The music values timbre and vertical relationships over traditional western melodic and harmonic principles, and melodies are generated through vocal filtering techniques. In Sun Propeller, the [viola]’s sonic characteristics are altered through a G-G-D-G scordatura tuning, making for an instrument that resonates in G (the drone tone). Different bowing techniques filter the drone to create a rich tapestry of timbre and melody. The electronics, live processing and pre-recorded sounds, are diffused through six speakers.
Notes by Young
David POISSONNIER graduated from the Centre PRIMUS at the University of Strasbourg with a degree in ‘Directeur du son’. In 1994, he joined IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique in Paris). Here he was responsible for the sound engineer’s department from 2003 to 2010. He worked with composers such as Pierre Boulez, Kaija Saariaho, Philippe Manoury, Jonathan Harvey, Michael Jarrell, Martin Matalon and Georges Aperghis.
David Poissonnier works at prestigious venues in Europe and the US for sound projection and the creation of many concerts and operas. The recording of L'amour de loin for which he was responsible for the mixing of the electronics, was awarded with a Grammy Award for best opera recording.
Since 2010 he has been working at the Centre for Electroacoustic Music (CME) at the Geneva High School of Music in association with the composition class of Michael Jarrell, and also works as a freelance sound engineer at various festivals (Lucerne Festival Academy, Archipel, …) and recordings.
Recently, he is in charge of sound projection for the new Saariaho’s opera Only the Sound Remains (Amsterdam, Helsinki, Paris). He is invited by Sibelius Academy to take part at the workshop “Creative Dialogue” with the cellist Anssi Karttunen and Kaija Saariaho (Finland 2017) and with Magnus Lindberg (Santa Fe 2018).
Anne Leilehua LANZILOTTI is a performer, composer, scholar, and educator focused on music of our time. For a complete bio, see the ABOUT page.
Qubit — Project Q is located at 1850 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10031. Take the C Train to 155 St., or the 1 Train to 157 St. / Bus M100 to Amsterdam Ave & 152 St.
Tickets are $10/$15 Student/General Admission.
It was a pleasure getting to study Kaija Saariaho’s music and writings over the summer as I was working on the liner notes for Jennifer Koh’s new album, Saariaho X Koh. Cedille Records has kindly allowed me to publish my notes here in anticipation of the album release. Saariaho X Koh is out November 9th on Cedille Records! Pre-order the album here, and read on below.
Kaija Saariaho’s string writing is beautiful and compelling. At moments the sound seems to lose all its weight, the timbre brightening with flutters of harmonics, evaporating suddenly. Other times, the sound presses to the edge of force, breaking purposefully. While Saariaho is known for her ability to create incredible operatic, digitally enhanced soundscapes, her compositional voice is marked by its timbral colors. Her demand of formal structures is made powerful by her intimate knowledge of string technique, allowing for these wonderful details.
Violinist Jennifer Koh remembers hearing Saariaho’s music and knowing immediately that this was someone she related to. In an interview for Meet the Composer, Koh said, “I almost felt like I knew that I would be close to [Saariaho] when I heard her music. . . . I felt like I understood this person.”
Aside from her longstanding collaborations with string players such as Koh and Anssi Karttunen, Saariaho herself has a unique relationship with the violin. In our conversations about this album, Saariaho recalled:
I started playing violin at the age of six — it was my first instrument. I then started playing piano at the age of eight. My early memories of playing violin are filled with smells: I always liked a lot the smell of a rosin, and my first teacher smoked a lot, and in fact he left me during the lesson to play alone to go to smoke in another room.
The evocative sound world Saariaho creates draws from all these senses. In an interview for Music & Literature, Peter Sellars commented of Saariaho that:
. . . the music is there to remind you of the power of invisibility and that all of the things that are moving are actually invisible. But Kaija moves them imagistically. And so it takes you into this other world of visual art which is not about things as they appear but their secret existence shimmering in the dark. And that is where Kaija’s music lives.
“Tocar” means “to touch” in Spanish, and is the verb used for “to play an instrument.” The playfulness and tactile aspect of the word is explored in this work for violin and piano. In her essay “In Music, of Music, toward Music” (2005), Saariaho commented of her own compositional process:
These last years, I’ve wanted to physically get closer to my music. So I’ve tried to find new aspects of my musical expression, aspects that I hadn’t known, like playfulness, joy, or movement.
Taking the physicality of the title as an entry point, Saariaho asks the listener to explore different translations and possibilities. In the composer’s program notes for the piece, she writes:
One of my first ideas for Tocar about the encounter of two instruments as different as the violin and piano, was the question: how could they touch each other? . . . In Tocar both instruments move forward independently, but also keep an eye on each other. I imagine a magnetism becoming stronger and stronger — the piano becomes more mobile — which draws the violin texture towards the piano writing culminating in an encounter in unison. After this short moment of symbiosis, the violin line is released from the measured piano motion, continuing its own life outside the laws of gravity.
Tocar asks the question, “how does an idea or a person touch us?” This album gives the listener a window into the answer that binds these two great artists, Koh and Saariaho.
Cloud Trio (2009)
In the morning, clouds come low into the mountains so that you can breathe them, touch them with your hands. Midday they rise, creating shelter from the relentless sun, or shift suddenly as a storm emerges. Saariaho told me of her time in the French Alps writing this piece:
When you are high in the mountains, one often sees many different layers of clouds, having all different forms, speeds and textures. They are all different, and yet we all know that they all are clouds. These notions turned into musical ideas in this trio.
As with clouds, Saariaho asks the performers to take on different roles in this piece, sometimes creating shadows, building new forms, or creating atmosphere around other objects. In her essay, “In Music, of Music, toward Music,” Saariaho elaborates:
Every instrument houses a rich and multidimensional world that the musician must awaken and breathe life into. It’s true that this world isn’t manifested in the same way for every person: “my cello” in particular makes use of the high register and the noise of a bow that glides from the bridge to the fingerboard . . . Stretching out its usual recognized and established sound broadens the range of colors and expressions; the musician produces a sound in a different way that isn’t used in classical repertoires.
Cloud Trio invites the listener into the changing soundscape built by the violin, viola, and cello. As they move and shift, they represent ourselves projected onto clouds: aware of our surroundings, weighed down by the shadow of past forms, or daydreaming of the future and what could be built.
Light and Matter (2014)
The most recent work on this album, Light and Matter draws on the landscape of a city park as it changes with the light. Saariaho told me in personal correspondence:
I composed this piece in New York when we lived next to the Morningside Park. I could see the park during the whole day, from sunrise until sunset, and that change of light modified constantly the park: the trunks changed colors, the shadows moved and reshaped the landscape. And I had these images in front of me from fall to spring. All that inspired me to compose Light and Matter so that I have very reduced musical material that is then varied constantly in different ways.
In the work, violin, cello, and piano trade the musical material across different textures, as though the light — as expressed by harmonic spectrum — is shifting between them. In her essay, “Earth and Air” (2005), Saariaho wrote:
Time is light: the light indicates the time, gives the rhythm, influences nature. I’ve always needed daylight when I work. I can’t compose at night. For me, each instrument’s sound has a different intensity of light. The whiter the light, the purer the spectrum.
The piece ends with all three instruments collecting on the note C, where the piece began. This pitch center from the opening of the piece returns, now viewed through a slightly different light, having traversed the path of the composition.
“Why us, why the star?”
This single line of text from Anne Frank’s diary is woven through the texture of Saariaho’s Aure for violin and cello. The piece takes this motive from the third movement of Dutilleux’s Mémoire des ombres (Shadows of Time), in which the phrase is sung by a single child’s voice. Dutilleux writes that his piece is “for Anne Frank and for all the children in the world, all innocent.” Saariaho’s work — originally written as an homage to Dutilleux for his 95th birthday — remembers this phrase, and in doing so echoes the former composer’s sentiment.
In Saariaho’s duo, the motive is first asked by the solo cello. It immediately begins to unravel and change as the two instruments pass the question back and forth. As the melodic memory of “Why us, why the star?” is stretched through time, it becomes more pleading. Saariaho marks in the score for the gesture to be “calm,” then “intense,” then “fragile,” as though the performer is turning the words around in her mind, trying to understand them. Perhaps unheard, the melody fades into memory in flickers of harmonics as the work comes to a close. The overheard phrase was just a breath or breeze — aure — now lost in time.
Graal théâtre (1994)
Saariaho’s violin concerto, Graal théâtre, takes its title from the Jacques Roubaud novel of the same name. The title itself inspired her to think about the theatricality of performance, and the tension between the composition as a fixed score and its realization by a soloist. When asked about the influence of the text, Saariaho said:
I was interested in the combination of the words Graal (Grail) and théâtre, thinking of an abstract search for the holy grail — whatever it would mean for each of us — and the concrete art form of the theatre. I imagined the violinist as the main character in a play. As with all my music, these were some of the ideas which then become abstract music, and the storyline and the imagined are left behind.
This violin concerto was originally written for soloist Gidon Kremer, but it is also the reason that Koh and Saariaho met. Recalling their first meeting, Saariaho wrote:
Jenny contacted me in 2006, telling me that she was going to play my concerto Graal théâtre with the LA Phil, and asked whether I would be in the US so that we could work together before the concert. I did visit NYC for concerts, and we met . . . she was full of energy and questions concerning details. I like Jenny’s willpower and intensity when she performs. She is a truly creative performer, and more generally has all kinds of ideas!
Koh has now performed the work many times, and her skillful interpretation draws out the raw pain inherent in the work. In conjunction with recording for this album, Koh commissioned pianist and filmmaker Yang Bao to create a work based on the concerto. In our interview, Bao said that he was drawn to the strong sense of duality in the piece, continuing:
We attract duality — the shadow of ourselves on a wall. There’s a struggle within my body, myself, my mind of all the possibilities. It’s a miracle that I am who I am, as there are infinite versions of who we could be. I wanted to bring out these variables in the visuals: the movement of nature, the body, and imagination. The reason I chose the shade of red was that it jumped out at me as the color, as though I had seen it before.
This chain of inspiration — from the Roubaud title, to Saariaho’s craft, to Bao’s visual rendering — shows the process of translating a creative work across mediums. In doing so, each artist reveals her own personal search: the complex theatricality of performing one’s intimate thoughts in order to express oneself.
I’ll be performing the Rebecca Clarke Viola Sonata with the University of Northern Colorado Symphony Orchestra this Wednesday—exactly 99 years after the premiere of the original Sonata! This new orchestration was done by composer Ruth Lomon, and it complements the colors in the viola part, bringing new life to the piece. I’m excited to perform this new version as a part of celebrating the centennial of the three 1919 Viola Sonatas by Clarke, Bloch, and Hindemith (which I’m further commemorating with The 20/19 Project). UPDATE: Here’s an excerpt from the performance at UNCO.
Originally written for Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge’s composition competition in 1919, Clarke’s Viola Sonata faded into obscurity, until in 1976 Toby Apple and Emmanuel Ax performed it on WQXR as part of a program celebrating Clarke’s 90th birthday. The performance inspired violists to research more about the wonderful work, and it is now a standard part of the our repertoire.
Clarke was born in the UK in 1886. She studied composition at the Royal College of Music in London from 1907–10, but her studies stopped abruptly before she was able to finish. In Liane Curtis’s article for The Musical Times, she explains this was because Clarke “quarreled with her father, who threw her out of the house, forcing her to earn her own way as a violist.”
Clarke went on to have a vibrant career as a touring viola soloist and chamber musician in her young adulthood. According to The New Grove Dictionary, “she performed extensively in Hawaiʻi in 1918–1919.” (I’d like to think that she wrote at least some of the Viola Sonata during her time in my home state!) As a composer, both her Viola Sonata (1919) and her Piano Trio (1921) were in the final round of Coolidge’s competitions for those respective years, and Coolidge eventually commissioned Clarke in 1923 to write a cello and piano work.
Clarke’s compositional output waned after this, due to various outside forces. Today, the Viola Sonata is her most famous and frequently played work. To learn more about Clarke’s life, read Liane Curtis’s article, and to read more in depth about the Viola Sonata check out Daphne Gerling’s wonderful dissertation, Connecting histories: Identity and exoticism in Ernest Bloch, Rebecca Clarke, and Paul Hindemith's viola works of 1919.
It was such a pleasure working with the amazing ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Young Artists last week at Thailand International Composition Festival. Now in its 14th year, the festival included musicians from all over the world. I was honored to join this year as a guest composer.
The three ASEAN Young Artists from the Philippines are founding members of Ripieno Ensemble, a newly founded group dedicated to performing contemporary music that has already done some wonderful projects (read more about them here: http://www.interlude.hk/front/modern-academy-focus-ripieno-ensemble/) I’m grateful for all the care they put into the performance and I’m excited to follow the group’s future projects!
In the large group photo, from left to right: Joseph Emmanuel V. Hernandez, Korn Roongruangchai, Turtle Sam Kaploykeo, Patricia Erika Poblador, Alfin Satriani, Danelle San Andres Dionisio, John Castro, Mhaze Danniel R. Lim and Jhuan Tjan Lee. (Photos by Nantpipat Vutthisak)
I interviewed Lesley Flanigan for The Log Journal in anticipation of her upcoming show at St. John the Divine on May 9th during Red Bull Music Festival New York.
Excerpt: "If I think about the advice I would give to myself at a younger age, the first thing I would say is trust the process. For example, I stepped away from sound for those five years. I thought I had lost my voice, but it was in me, I just needed to come at it from another angle. That means trusting the process and living your life. It doesn’t just go away; it can percolate and come back even stronger, whether it’s writing music or creating a project." Read on
Friday, April 6, 2018, 6:30pm at The Noguchi Museum
In celebration of the exhibition Akari: Sculpture by Other Means, The Noguchi Museum presents Sounds of Akari, a musical performance featuring violist Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, harpist Ashley Jackson, and flutist Alice Teyssier in a program featuring an original composition by Lanziotti and works by Claude Debussy, Andrew Norman, and Toru Takemitsu.
Inspired by the poetic, ephemeral nature of Isamu Noguchi’s Akari, Lanzilotti incorporates sounds of Akari themselves into her work for flute, viola, and harp. Recordings of tapping, opening and closing, and rubbing the washi paper, bamboo, and wire of the lanterns evoke the feeling of being inside the light sculptures. Additionally, the three instrumental parts of the composition draw subtly from the other pieces on the program, incorporating works of the past as Noguchi was inspired by the transformation of traditional paper lanterns into modern lights.
Following the premiere of Lanzilotti’s work, the program will continue with three other works that evoke the fragility and lightness of Akari. Itinerant was written by Takematsu in memory of Noguchi shortly after his death. The work changes moods frequently to reflect the transient nature of Noguchi’s life. Norman’s Sabina recalls sunrise in the Church of Santa Sabina, in Rome, Italy, drawing a comparison to the way that Akari makes light soft and beautiful by filtering it through washi paper. Finally, Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp moves through moments of lightness and joy and fragile sound as timbres of these three instruments combine.
This program is free and coincides with Free First Friday, with free admission offered throughout the day. RSVP recommended: firstname.lastname@example.org
The concert will coincide with the release of my new album The Akari Sessions (featuring Romina Monsanto). While the album stands alone, it is meant to be listened to in the exhibit, Akari: Sculpture by Other Means.