Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bernstein's Mass

http://bit.ly/60EiOi Alex Ross discusses Bernstein's Mass. Worth a read, and a wonderful piece worth getting to know.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

How we hear Boulez

From Bis Morgen:

Even a surface sweep over Arnold Schönberg's output shows him to be a romantic at heart, even through the most prickly musical passages. The same can't always be said of Pierre Boulez. What to make of this character? Is this music relevant? We have an expansion of the (a)tonal practices of Schönberg, a development of the rhythmic resources of Stravinsky, but with close links in orchestrations to his French forefathers. (And let us not forget that the very concept of hyper-organization in music which Boulez so epitimizes was virtually invented by Franco-flemish composers, his heritage, over 500 years ago!) . What to make of his music? When asked once about the fact that his music did not seem to share his own very charming personality, his wit and humor, he said of the humor in his music, "it's in there."

When asked how long it would take for people to appreciate his music, he suggested that it would take "about 80 years."

Well, Mr. Boulez, it has been

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ars Nova Dallas - Concert Review

"Ars Nova" first appeared c.1320-22 in a treatise on a new 14th century music style denoted by increasingly liberal rhythmic notations that resulted in a new polyphony.  Fast forward to its meaning in 2009 as "Ars Nova Dallas".  "Ars Nova Dallas" aspires to present new music styles since the radical rupture of 1909-13 from Romanticism and Impressionism .  Of the three pivotal works from this musical big bang -Elektra R.Strauss 1909, Pierrot Lunaire A.Schoenberg 1911, Rite of Spring I.Stravinsky 1913 - "Ars Nova Dallas" chose the nine instrument configuration of Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg.
The decision to launch a new music festival with Pierrot Lunaire is daring indeed. The impressive results speak volumes about the musical integrity of its founders, Jordan Smith and Ryan Ross.  In the space of six months they obtained sponsorship, organized The Dallas Festival of Modern Music and assembled a collection of highly capable regional musicians  - "Ars Nova Dallas" - to perform an inaugural concert series.   Mr. Smith says his inspiration derived from synergy with the opening of the new AT&T Performing Arts Center and his desire to further expose under represented modern music repertoire.  Included in Mr. Smith's future agenda will be equal proportions of 20th century musical icons alongside living composers who offer immediacy and relevance to the era in which we live.
This performance trend is not a Dallas phenomenon but rather indicative of a broader development of western cultural expression that has come of age.  In significant music centers around this country and countries of western Europe, well trained classical musicians educated in 20th century music are making their voices heard by creating their own, often times non-traditional, venues.   The previously thought difficult and unplayable is no more.  Since 1964, with Terry Riley's In C, another reaction revolted against the established order.  This time, in lieu of the exclusivity of abstract serial methods, composers began experimenting with new space-time tonal perspectives and rhythmic structures.  Music is a language and a new language requires time to absorb into the social fabric.  This passage of time has elapsed and the update is now in progress.

                                       Artistic Director, Ryan Ross
Monday, Nov 9, evening's performance displayed full competence to deliver the rigors of this most varied and strenuous program.  The theme of Pierrot dominated the program.  The first piece introduced the Russian variant of Pierrot as Petrouchka in Petroushskates by Joan Tower (1980).  Written for ice skaters, hence Petroush-skates, this  inventive composition is an original rework of Igor Stravinsky's 3 act ballet Petrouchka.  Ms. Tower followed the 3 act musical form as if she put Stravinsky's score into a grinder and then reassemble selected bits and scraps into her own condensed 12 minute version.  The ensemble was conducted convincingly by Ryan Ross.   Mr. Ross brought to life the carnival spirit of the beginning and ending, set between a brief middle section that alluded to Petrouchka's deep melancholy and disturbed behavior.  Mr.Ross handled these tempi and dynamic contrasts with subtle control.
Next Mr. Ross conducted Barbara White's My Barn Having Burned to the Round, I Can Now See the Moonwritten in 2008.  Ms. White has written many pieces with titles from Haiku and Chinese Proverbs.  "My Barn..." refers to either a Chinese Proverb or  Japanese Haiku.  The meaning refers to sorry and grief: "Loss is guaranteed in life, yet so hard to see the beauty".  Mr. Ross says that the piece is modeled on the sound of the Japanese shakuhashi flute.  There are two sections: an opening section of loud attack and motion followed by several minutes of ever quieting and disperse decay into nothingness.  Mr. Ross's beat was always clear and steady through the empty spaces.  With a small ensemble, economy of gesture is appropriate.  Mr. Ross conveyed an austere and abstract atmosphere.

                                                    Artistic Director, Jordan Smith
The center piece of the evening's program and Festival was Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire Op.21 written in 1912.  Schoenberg expanded late German Romantic Chromaticism into "free tonality" and later into a realm of rigorously structured atonality - 12 Tone Technique.  Schoenberg was also a intensively serious painter who knew and exhibited with Kandinsky in the 1910 "Der Blaue Reiter/ Blue Rider" show.  These were the early years of German Expressionism when artists sought to express life through a subjective distortion of reality for an emotional angst effect.
Pierrot Lunaire indeed does achieve an angst.  During the 21 poem cycle, Pierrot starts on an unstable foot that leads down a path to deranged dissolution.  At the end Pierrot somehow walks away from madness in a fog of resolve about his fate.  To achieve this artistic state of being we heard Jessica Abel  "sprechstimme" the role of Pierrot.  Ms. Able, from the Peabody Conservatory, has been coached by an authority of sprechstimme, Phyllis Bryn-Julson.  After the pitch is sung the voice deviates to speech quality creating an eerie unsettling feeling.  Ms. Abel was perfect throughout her delivery as Pierrot, enhanced by appropriate costume and make-up for this concert version.
Pierrot Lunaire was composed in "free tonality".  It was in 1908 when Schoenberg transitioned away from what he saw as tonal exhaustion of late German Romanticism.  However Schoenberg never abandoned discipline.  Pierrot Lunaire is a masterpiece of compositional technique that employed every known formula in the development of western music but literally inverted them all upside down, inside out and backwards.  Rhythmically, it is all askew imposing a most difficult ensemble challenge.
Jordan Smith pulled together an array of musicians by colleague and Internet networking.  This is a capable ensemble of the highest professional standard.  There are no slackers here.  All are dedicated to solid modern music performance.  In the past there have been too many "new music ensembles" that fake it and do little better than sight read scores.  "Ars Nova Dallas" demonstrated fluency, understanding, dedication, energy and passion for this score.  Mr. Smith is to be commended and recommended for his achievement to organize, learn and conduct this landmark score of 20th century music.  Mr. Smith drove an intensity in the air that this was an important performance even though the audience was few.
Schoenberg's foreword to the score states "The performer's task here is at no time to derive the mood and character of the individual pieces from the meaning of the words, but always solely for the music.  To the extent that the tone-painterly representation ... will be found in the music anyway [not the text]."  And this is exactly what happened.  Mr. Smith conducted the score straightforward, no swinging arms, no jumping up and down, no swaying body to convey a message.  Mr. Smith concentrated on musical execution to maintain necessary strict cohesion.  There was a clean brilliance in instrumental execution from Mr. Smith's tight control throughout the score.  Mr. Smith adhered faithfully to Schoenberg's foreword and thus the sounds of the spirit soared.  All the "Ars Nova Dallas" members played as both soloist multiple times and in tuttis.  All "Ars Nova Dallas" members performed the most gnarly difficult passages exquisitely.  Ms. Abel captured the essence of the mentally unstable Pierrot executing the sprechstimme technique with intimate aplomb.
Nothing is perfect, so it must be said that the small Wynne Chapel within the gracious host's complex, Highland Park Presbyterian Church, is extremely dry and bright.  This is an acoustical problem that caused the most dense passages of the Schoenberg to overwhelm Ms. Abel's voice.  Also in this room the piccolo, which shrieked most accordingly, provokes a slight degree of short aural discomfort.  Mr. Ross and Mr. Smith might like present this show to a larger audience at a higher venue.  There are certainly enough people who would be very interested to hear this rare and important performance.
The Cast of musicians:
Jocelyn Goranson, flute/piccolo
Mary Druhan, clarinet/bass clarinet
Veronica Gan, violin/viola
Craig Leffer, cello
Rueben Allred, piano
Jessica Abel, sprechstimme
Ryan Ross, conductor
Jordan Smith, conductor
For more info: 

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Inaugural Year Comes to a Close


A very nice review from a blogger.
Many thanks to our partners, friends, and colleagues for a wonderful inaugural festival.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Christopher Theofanidis

The Dallas Festival of Modern Music would like to congratulate Dallas born composer Christopher Theofanidis on the world premiere of his Cello Concerto by Nina Kotova and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. This is new music that even the most conservative audiences can get behind, however, it is still music that holds a true and firm connection with high artistry.

Music Director Jaap van Zweden and the DSO hit another one out of the park with Mahler's First Symphony. The baseball analogy continued with sports-worthy cheering by an appreciative audience.

For more great music like Theofanidis', plan your visit to the Dallas Festival of Modern Music, November 5-9, 2009.

Suzuki specialist Lucas Carter

The Dallas Festival of Modern Music is much more than a simple collection of concerts by some of North Texas' finest musicians and ensembles. In addition to our many performances, the festival is pleased to offer a number of varied education programs that will reach hundreds of public school students all across Dallas. Today, we spotlight Lucas Carter, a Lubbock violinist who will be presenting string masterclasses to students throughout Rockwall and Dallas ISD.

Lucas Carter began playing the violin at the age of 15, and his first public performance was only six weeks later. At 17, he was accepted as a scholarship student to the Texas Tech School of Music. His teachers have been Sharon Mirll, Dr. Stephanie Ezerman, Dr. John Gilbert and Dr. Kirsten Yon. Mr. Carter also credits as major influences upon his career violinists Brian Lewis, Janet Sung, Simon Fischer (UK) and Jasper Wood (Canada).

Mr. Carter has been involved with STELR since the fall of 2002 and received his Suzuki training at the Santa Fe Suzuki Institute and Dr. Susan Baer. He has also attended the Hot Springs Music Festival, Pierre Monteux Festival, The Simon Fischer Residency at OU and The Starling-Delay Symposium at The Juilliard School.

Mr. Carter is the Founder and Executive Director of the West Texas String Association and performs regularly with several regional and community orchestras. In the summers he returns to HSMF as a Violin Associate. In the summer of 2009 Mr. Carter will be joining the faculty of Hummingbird Music Camp in Jemez Spring, New Mexico. Currently he has a studio ranging through all ages and levels in Lubbock, TX. He regularly performs the duties of a guest artist, clinician, orchestral contractor, adjudicator, orchestral musician, chamber musician and soloist.

Since 2002 Mr. Carter has served as an adjunct to the Lubbock Independent School District in several capacities. In the 2007-2008 academic year he was the interim violin instructor at Iles Fine Arts Magnet. An active performer of music of all genres, Mr. Carter has studied Medieval performance practice under Angela Mariani, the host of NPR's Harmonia. He can be heard in orchestral recording on the NAXOS and Albany recording labels. His work in the pop-culture industry includes concerts with Amy Grant and The Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Major performance venues have included Bass Performance Hall, Westminster Abby, Christ Church Cathedral and St Mary's Chapel at Oxford University.

Mr. Carter has performed across the United States, the United Kingdom and France. In the 2009 performance season he will be premiering a work that was dedicated to him by composer Sean Havrilla entitled Oberon a caprice for solo violin. Concerts are scheduled across New Mexico, Arkansas, Texas and Japan.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

DFMM presents featured composer Barbara White

As part of its inaugural season, the Dallas Festival of Modern Music and Ars Nova Dallas are pleased to be presenting three performances of My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon, a work for Pierrot ensemble by American composer Barbara White.

Composer Barbara White was born in Boston and was educated at Harvard/Radcliffe Colleges (A.B.) and the University of Pittsburgh (M.A., Ph.D.). She also studied in Paris with Betsy Jolas under the auspices of Harvard’s Paine Traveling Fellowship. She is Professor in the Music Department at Princeton University, where she began teaching in 1998. White spent the 2000-01 academic year on sabbatical as a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

White has received commissions from the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York New Music Ensemble, Boston Musica Viva, the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players, the Fromm Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation, and marimbists Nancy Zeltsman, Dominic Donato, and Stephen Paysen. Her music has been presented by Speculum Musicae, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the New Millennium Ensemble, the Wellesley Composers Conference, the Fromm Foundation Contemporary Music Series at Harvard, the Longy School’s new-music group Longitude, Dinosaur Annex, and Music on the Edge. Recent honors and awards include an ASCAP Award to Young Composers, three awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (including a 2009 Academy Award in Music), a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Interdisciplinary Arts Award, and several MacDowell Colony residencies. She received a 2000 fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship.

White has a long-standing involvement in interdisciplinary collaboration, especially in composing for dance. She has worked extensively with choreographers Marcela Correa and Joan Wagman; in 1996, White and Wagman founded Momentum Interdisciplinary Arts, which has since premiered several of their collaborative dance works. In the last several years, White has been engaged to complete a number of community residency projects, commissioned by organizations such as Chamber Music America Rural Residencies the American Composers Forum and National Endowment for the Arts's Continental Harmony initiative. In 2007 she is completing an outreach residency with the M.O.R.E. Program at the Aspen Music Festival.

As a clarinetist, White has performed her clarinet works with Momentum Interdisciplinary Arts, the Fromm Foundation Contemporary Music Series at Harvard, Tasto: Dois Compositores ao Piano (Rio de Janeiro), Frente de Danza Independiente (Quito, Ecuador), and the Florida International Festival of New Music.

White’s scholarship combines the analysis of the "nuts and bolts" of musical design with an investigation of cultural context, approaching such topics as jazz analysis, interculturalism, signification in contemporary opera, and the workings of gender in composition and analysis. Recent articles include “'As if they didn’t hear the music,’ Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Mickey Mouse," in Opera Quarterly; "Music Drama on the Concert Stage: Voice, Character and Performance in Judith Weir’s ‘The Consolations of Scholarship,’" in Cambridge Opera Journal; "Making Mischief in the Melting Pot: The Eclectic Music of Don Byron," in Intercultural Music 3, and "Difference or Silence? Women Composers Between Scylla and Charybdis," in Indiana Theory Review. Reviews and shorter pieces have appeared in Notes, Open Space, and newmusicbox.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

DFMM presents featured composer Joan Tower

As part of its inaugural season, the Dallas Festival of Modern Music and Ars Nova Dallas are pleased to be presenting three performances of Petroushskates, a work for Pierrot ensemble by American composer Joan Tower.

Hailed as "one of the most successful woman composers of all time" in The New Yorker magazine, Joan Tower was the first woman to receive the Grawemeyer Award in Composition in 1990. She was inducted in 1998 into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters, and into the Academy of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University in the fall of 2004.

She was the first composer chosen for the ambitious new Ford Made in America commissioning program, a collaboration of the League of American Orchestras (at that time, the American Symphony Orchestra League) and Meet the Composer. In October 2005, the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere of Tower's 15-minute orchestral piece Made in America. The work went on to performances in every state in the Union during the 2005-07 seasons.

The Nashville Symphony and conductor Leonard Slatkin recorded Made in America, Tambor, and Concerto for Orchestra for the Naxos label. The top-selling recording won three 2008 Grammy awards: Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album, and Best Orchestral Performance.

Tower has added conductor to her list of accomplishments, with engagements at the American Symphony, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, the Scotia Festival Orchestra, the Anchorage Symphony, Kalisto Chamber Orchestra and another eight of the Made in America orchestras, among others.

Since 1972, Tower has taught at Bard College, where she is Asher Edelman Professor of Music. She recently concluded her ten-year tenure as composer-in-residence with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, a title she has held at the Deer Valley Music Festival in Utah since 1998 as well as at the Yale/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival for eight years. Other accolades include the 1998 Delaware Symphony's Alfred I. DuPont Award for Distinguished American Composer, the 2002 Annual Composer's Award from the Lancaster (PA) Symphony, and an Honorary Degree from the New England Conservatory (2006). "Tower has truly earned a place among the most original and forceful voices in modern American music" (The Detroit News).

Among her recent premieres: Angels (2008), her fourth string quartet, commissioned by Music for Angel Fire and premiered by the Miami String Quartet; Dumbarton Quintet (2008), a piano quintet commissioned by the Dumbarton Oaks Estate (their third commission after Stravinsky and Copland) and premiered by Tower and the Enso String Quartet; Chamber Dance (2006), commissioned, premiered, and toured by Orpheus; and Copperwave (2006), written for the American Brass Quintet and commissioned by the Juilliard School of Music. As part of her appointment as Season Composer for 2007-08 by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, A Gift (2007), for winds and piano, was commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest and premiered by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center players Tara O'Connor, David Shifrin, William Purvis, Milan Turkovich, and Anne Marie McDermott in February 2008. Other CMS premieres included Trio Cavany (2007), performed by Cho-Liang Lin, Gary Hoffman, and André Michel Schub, and Simply Purple (2008) for viola, performed by Paul Neubauer.

Her compositions cross many genres: Can I (2007) for youth chorus and two percussionists; Copperwave (2006), written for the American Brass Quintet and commissioned by the Juilliard School of Music; DNA (2003), a percussion quintet commissioned for Frank Epstein and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble, Fascinating Ribbons (2001), her foray into the world of band music, premiered at the annual conference of College Band Directors; Vast Antique Cubes/Throbbing Still (2000), a solo piano piece for John Browning; Big Sky (2000), a piano trio premiered by David Finckel, Wu Han, and Chee-Yun; Tambor (1998), for the Pittsburgh Symphony under the baton of Mariss Jansons; and Wild Purple (1998) for violist Paul Neubauer. Tower's 1990 Grawemeyer Award-winning Silver Ladders was written during her 1985-88 St. Louis Symphony residency, and was subsequently choreographed in 1998 by Helgi Tomasson and the San Francisco Ballet. Her 1993 ballet Stepping Stones was commissioned by choreographer Kathryn Posin for the Milwaukee Ballet.

Joan Tower's bold and energetic music, with its striking imagery and novel structural forms, has won large, enthusiastic audiences. From 1969 to 1984, she was pianist and founding member of the Naumburg Award-winning Da Capo Chamber Players, which commissioned and premiered many of her most popular works. Her first orchestral work, Sequoia, quickly entered the repertory, with performances by orchestras including St. Louis, New York, San Francisco, Minnesota, Tokyo NHK, Toronto, the National Symphony and London Philharmonia. A choreographed version by The Royal Winnipeg Ballet toured throughout Canada, Europe, and Russia. Tower's tremendously popular five Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman have been played by over 500 different ensembles.

In addition to two Naxos recordings, Tower's popular Petroushskates opens the new first recording by the innovative group, eighth blackbird, on the Cedille label. Fanfares Nos. 1-5, Duets, and Concerto for Orchestra with the Colorado Symphony (Marin Alsop) may be heard on Koch; and the disc "Four Concertos" — with Elmar Oliveira, Ursula Oppens, David Shifrin, Carol Wincenc and the Louisville Orchestra — is available on d'Note Records. Turning Points (1995), a clarinet quintet for David Shifrin and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, is on Delos. New World Records features her chamber music, including her first string quartet Night Fields. First Edition celebrates her legacy with the St. Louis and Louisville Symphonies with an all-Tower orchestral disc which includes Sequoia, Silver Ladders, Music for Cello and Orchestra, and Island Prelude for oboe and strings featuring soloists Lynn Harrell and Peter Bowman.

Joan Tower has been the subject of television documentaries on PBS's WGBH television station in Boston, on the CBS network program, Sunday Morning, and MJW Productions in England.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What's an Ars Nova?

This blog is dedicated to covering the Dallas Festival of Modern Music and its Ensemble-in-Residence, Ars Nova Dallas. But what is ars nova?

Ars nova was a stylistic period in music of the Late Middle Ages, centered in France, which encompassed the period roughly from the preparation of the Roman de Fauvel (1310 and 1314) until the death of Machaut (1377).

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music defines Ars nova Thusly:

(Latin). New art. The new style of mus. comp. in Fr. and It. in 14th cent. Name derived from tract (c.1320) by Philippe de Vitry. Restrictions of ars antiqua were replaced by greater variety of rhythm, duple instead of triple time, and increased independence in part-writing. In Fr. Machaut was finest exponent of ars nova and in Italy G. da Cascia, J. da Bologna, and Landini. The It. madrigal was a later flowering of ars nova.

Simply put, ars nova, is simply new art. Ars Nova Dallas, therefore, is an ensemble dedicated to presenting thrilling artistic experiences for audiences in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. The ensemble will serve this function each fall as it offers performances for the Dallas Festival of Modern Music. This November 7-9, 2009, look for Ars Nova Dallas to perform at Highland Park Presbyterian Church and at a venue near you. Under the batons of conductors Jordan Smith and Ryan Ross, the musicians of Ars Nova Dallas will be performing works by Joan Tower and Barbara White. The ensemble will also be offering three encounters with the landmark Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schönberg with Soprano Jessica Abel performing the virtuosic Sprechstimme (speaking-song part).

Please stop by the festival website regularly for additional updates.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Women Composers

In 1966, James Brown famously crooned that “It’s a Man’s World,” and as far as the world of classical music composers is concerned, this has generally been the case. The reasons for this are many. Most obvious is simply a lack of musical education. Until the 20th century, classical education tended to limit how far a woman would go in her schooling, and the only real chance a girl had at even a basic music education was to be born into a musical family, the aristocracy, or to be sent to a nunnery.

Other reasons that historical women composers are few and far between are darker. For much of the past millennium, it was generally held that the serious study of music was for men only. In the 19th century, Abraham Mendelssohn, father to Felix and Fanny, famously wrote to his daughter, “Perhaps for Felix music will become a profession, while for you it will always remain but an ornament; never can and should it become the foundation of your existence." With such a restrictive attitude very much the cultural norm, it should come as no surprise that Clara Schumann would confide a resulting lack of self confidence in her diary. "I once thought I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose - there has never yet been one able to, and why should I expect to be the one?" Both Fanny and Clara have gone on to claim their rightful spots in history, but during their life, that was certainly not the case.

Much like Susan B. Anthony serves as the figure head of American women’s suffrage, Hildegard of Bingen may serve that role for women composers. Born in 1098, Hildegard was a Renaissance Woman 400 years before that was possible. Tithed to the church as a young girl, Hildegard’s creative and scholarly output is impressive; in addition to her composition activities, she conducted early studies in to linguistics, developed her own alphabet, was an accomplished naturalist, herbalist, poet, magistra, channeller, and founder of several spin-off monasteries. However, her place in music history is solid. While over 70 of her works survive today, her Ordo Virtutum (Play of the Virtues) is considered the oldest morality play with music. While Ordo Virtutum tells a story of the Devil and the Virtues battling for a human soul, the genre as a whole would develop in to a European institution for the next 500 years.

While a handful of other women composers’ names are sprinkled throughout the Middle Ages, the next woman composer of significance doesn’t appear until the middle Baroque in the 1600’s. Not only unique for publishing her music in single-composer volumes, Barbara Strozzi has been called "the most prolific composer-man or woman-of printed secular vocal music in Venice in the Middle of the century." However, for every woman composer we might think to mention for the next 300 years, the general musical public could more easily produce the names of dozens of male composers. Even given the quality of output by Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn, the average classical music concertgoer would be hard pressed to recall ever hearing a live performance of one of these composers’ works.

Thankfully, heading beyond 1900, that trend has very slowly begun to change. Amy Beach’s early 20th century American and European concert tours brought her music to the masses, and to this day she is the only woman included among the 87 composers listed on the Boston Pop’s “Hatch Memorial Shell.” And Nadia Boulanger, although not typically remembered for her own compositions, is considered among the greatest composition teachers ever, counting among her students Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, John Adams, Daniel Barenboim, Philip Glass, Astor Piazzolla, and hundreds of others. When asked about being the first woman to conduct the Boston Symphony in 1939, she replied, "Well, I have been a woman for 50 years now and have recovered from my initial astonishment." Perhaps it is this attitude that has begun to provide parity for women composers today.

In our inaugural season, the Dallas Festival of Modern Music is proud to present ensemble-in-residence Ars Nova Dallas, who will be presenting concerts featuring two of today’s leading women composers, Joan Tower and Barbara White. Visit our Performance Calendar for a list of performances and come hear the music of these remarkable women!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Pierrot Ensemble

As one might expect, great composers generally leave their marks on history directly through the sound and craft of their music. Bach's seemingly effortless mastery of counterpoint is revered and imitated to this day, and the sheer depth of Beethoven's music casted a shadow that fell the length of the 19th century. Other composers have left their marks in slightly other way - Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravel are both remembered today as among the greatest innovators and practitioners of orchestration while Joseph Haydn, despite his prolific and exceptionally remarkable output, still claims a special pedestal due to his early championing of the string quartet. And then we turn to Schoenberg.

Arnold Schoenberg's development of serial composition, also sometimes called twelve tone composition, is as important and influential as any of the innovators mentioned above. Indeed, a strong case can be made that nearly everything that happened musically in the 20th century was in some shape or form a reaction to Schoenberg's serial techniques. And while Schoenberg was certainly aware of the revolutionary implications of his serialism, he also unexpectedly left his mark on history through his choice of instrumentation for what might be considered his magnus opus, Pierrot Lunaire.

Completed in 1912, Pierrot Lunaire is a 21 poem melodrama based on a German translation of Albert Giraud's poem cycle of the same name. Written in his expressionist style, and thus pre-serial, the work is scored for an ensemble of six musicians: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and a soprano "soloist." The flute player doubles on piccolo, the clarinet player doubles on bass clarinet, and the violin player doubles on viola. And in spite of the mixed reception the piece has received since its premiere, the core quintet of instruments has since become a standard chamber configuration known simply as "The Pierrot Ensemble."

The Pierrot ensemble not only survives, but thrives today. While the flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano are still sometimes complemented with singer (as Schoenberg did), or other times percussion, dozens and dozens of composers have found the core quintet more than adequate, with our without doublings. This is perhaps most due to the ensemble's brilliant spectrum of colors and versatility, here recalling a classical piano trio, but then perhaps quickly flirting with the colors of a woodwind quintet or even full orchestra! Indeed, it is a configuration important today not only for it's historical association with Pierrot Lunaire but also for its own exceptional merit.

This year, the Dallas Festival of Modern Music is proud to feature Ars Nova Dallas, performing as a Pierrot ensemble. With a tip of the hat to the creator, we present Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire with Sprechstimme soloist Jessica Abel. And with an acknowledgment of the new life that the Pierrot ensemble has taken on through the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, we offer Joan Tower's thrilling Petroushskates and Barbara White's introspective My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon. Visit our Performance Calendar today to plan your visit!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Artist Spotlight: Jessica Abel

Today's feature will cover information on American Soprano Jessica Abel, who will be making her north Texas debut this November as she performs the taxing Sprechstimme (speaking-voice) of Arnold Schönberg's Pierrot Lunaire with our very own Ars Nova Dallas. Help to greet Jessica with a warm Texas welcome this November at the Dallas Festival of Modern Music.

Jessica is an avid promoter of contemporary vocal music and is a 2008 recipient of the Phyllis Bryn-Julson Prize for Commitment To and Performance of 20th and 21st Century Vocal Literature. Jessica recently performed the title role in a contemporary American opera Dora with the Peabody Chamber Opera, and gave a recital “Early Works of Contemporary Masters” at the Peabody Conservatory. Also, she recently commissioned and premiered the song cycle Six Significant Landscapes, by emerging American composer Evan Rogers and performed Libby Larsen's song cycle Try Me, Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII on the Peabody Thursday Noon Recital Series.

Ms. Abel is equally at home performing the beloved standard operatic and art song repertoire. Jessica was recently in residence in Graz, Austria as a member of the Opera Studio at the American Institute of Musical Studies where she performed under the baton of Edoardo Müller and participated in a masterclass with soprano Patricia Craig. In the summer of 2008, Jessica performed the role of Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) under the direction of Matthais Kuntzsch with the Bay Area Summer Opera Theatre. She also recently appeared as Papagena in the Peabody Opera production of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). Past recitals have included works by Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Fauré, Debussy, Poulenc, among others

As a musician who gained inspiration, motivation, and support from her pre-collegiate studies, Jessica believes strongly in music education as a foundation for cultivating the creativity and productivity of youths, as well as a means to foster appreciation for the arts. In 2007, she toured to local grade schools in the Baltimore area, performing the role of Pamina in the Peabody Opera Outreach production of an abridged version of the classic opera Die Zauberflote. Jessica has specialized graduate-level training as a vocal pedagogue. She runs a private studio in Baltimore, MD, and is on the faculty at the International School of Music in Bethesda, MD. She is committed to encouraging the talents of every youth to help create confident, well-rounded individuals.

Jessica holds a Master of Music in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from the Peabody Conservatory of Music, and a Bachelor of Music from the Florida State University College of Music. She currently studies with Marianna Busching and Phyllis Bryn-Julson.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


The Festival now has an InstantEncore™ web presence. Please stop by and join in the conversation!

For those of you who don't know, InstantEncore is a wonderful place to connect with fellow musicians, alert them to your upcoming concerts, and share ideas with the best and brightest in the business. Check it out!


The Beginning of a New Era

Welcome to the Ars Nova Dallas Blog. Here, you will find information regarding the Dallas Festival of Modern Music, performing ensemble Ars Nova Dallas, festival founders Ryan Ross and Jordan Smith, as well as information about various artists and organizations affiliated with the festival.