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Interview with Fjóla Evans

Contemporaneous is overjoyed to work with Fjóla Evans on her new work Nótt, which we commissioned for our February 11 and 12, 2016 premiere as part of our project, Laws of Nature. We asked Fjóla a few questions during our time working with us here in Brooklyn.

Could give us an introduction to your new piece for Contemporaneous and the inspirations you've channeled?

The piece is called Nótt after the Norse goddess of the night. I think a lot about sleep and dreaming. I'm always so interested in my dreams and my friends' dreams (I know it's an etiquette faux-pas to talk about dreams but I'm crazy for it!). It's so curious to me how a muddled memory of a hallucination you have while sleeping can actually have an effect on your waking life.

When thinking about ideas for this piece, I realized that all cultures have mythologies around sleep and dreams and got to researching them. I picked five myths to model the structure of my piece on. It's so strange to me that humans have evolved so quickly and dramatically though the past few hundred thousand years, but we still need to sleep every 24 hours. This daily need for sleep is a reminder that we are all just biological sacks rolling through our time on earth...

The five movements are loosely inspired by these five mythological figures:

I — Nue, a Japanese hybrid-creature
II — Phobetor, ancient Greek god of nightmares
III — Asibikaashi, the Ojibwe dream catcher
IV — Nidra, Hindu goddess of sleep
V — Baku, Japanese dream-eater

What is it like to write an expansive piece like this for a large ensemble? Does your creative process differ in this context from others?

Definitely! It's for sure the longest process I've written. Most of my previous pieces explore only one sound or musical idea, mutating and developing the one idea for the length of the piece. With Nótt I knew that I wanted the music to travel through several different sections. I really worked hard to make the sections feel connected, while still allowing the music to develop and move somewhere new. Having access to the palette of sounds of a large ensemble was really exciting, and allowed me some new opportunities for experimentation. I tried not to have the whole group playing the whole time, so as to showcase the contrast between the different instruments. Practically speaking, I also listened to lots of pieces that were around 20-30 minutes in length, to see how they hung together. I realized my favorite music of that length was usually distinctly sectional, but in a way that each movement or piece transitioned into the next without pause.

A beautiful example of this is Gradual Requiem by Ingram Marshall (embedded above), which I listened to a lot while writing this piece.

Your piece features a vocalist who sings mostly vowel sounds. How did you conceive of the role of the singer within the musical fabric?

In the third movement there is some text. To create it I googled databases of dream records and searched for sentences that started with “In my dream I...” (e.g. ...was walking, saw a man, saw a pair of tracks) and incorporated fragments of these texts into Lucy's line. I didn't want to communicate an explicit meaning with this text, more the feeling of being half-awake and half-remembering the dream you just had. In the sections where the vocalist sings only vowel sounds, I conceived of her voice being another layer in the instrumental texture, bringing the unique timbre of the voice into the mix.

Are there specific experiences or influences — musical or nonmusical — that proved important in this piece?

I was influenced by these recording of Buddhist nuns chanting, I love the texture of them sort of all following the same vocal lines and rhythms but in a super loose way, some of the nuns seem to be a bit sleepy or something and not following the timing very strictly. I think it sounds so beautiful!

I was also really inspired by this piece at the Whitney Museum by Raphael Montañez Ortiz. For Archeological Find No. 9, Ortiz dedicated a half hour every day at the same time to work on this piece. With no preconceived plan or structure, he would spend the allotted time destroying and rebuilding a couch. By following this ritualized approach, he attempted to harness an unconscious urge for creation and destruction. He created a very human piece of art, but without any preconceived notions of artistic structural harmony. The resulting sculpture is very beautiful and interesting, a scraggly mass of fabric, cushioning and coils. It is no longer a functional couch, but still retains its “couch-ness.” I love this idea that one way to make art is simply to dedicate time to it and trust that your humanness and spirit will come through into whatever you are making.

Interview with Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Contemporaneous is very excited to perform Anna Thorvaldsdottir's gorgeous work Streaming Arhythmia on our February 11 and 12, 2016 program, Laws of Nature. We caught her in Reykjavík, fresh off from traveling, to answer a few questions.

What were some of the inspirations that went into this work?

The notions of tranquility and disruption are the foundation of Streaming Arhythmia — the piece is fundamentally constructed out of a balance between these two elements, as they change their level of presence and significance throughout the piece. These ideas are emphasized by various means, through use of pitch, effects (extended techniques), rhythm, flow, and time, as well as the set-up of the instruments. The piece also plays with the perception of time and meter as the conductor is instructed not to conduct at certain moments. This is a way to try to eliminate the sense of structured time, to allow it to flow freely in time and space.

In his landmark article on your orchestral music, scholar Stephen Long described Streaming Arhythmia as an "early breakthrough." What role to you feel this piece plays in the trajectory of your work up to and since you wrote it?

It is always difficult to map out one's own trajectory — at least it is for me. I have a special passion for writing for large ensembles and orchestras, which relates in a special way to how I think about and experience music. I wrote Streaming Arhythmia in 2007 and was thinking a lot about form and textures. So one of the things I was working with, for example, was to give the music a dramatic rise early on in the work and then writing a "new beginning" so to say. This rise became a percussion duo that rises from the textural materials of the other instruments which then peaks and brings "the new beginning" with a calm harmony.

Also, along with a part of my orchestra work Dreaming, a part of Streaming Arhythmia includes certain elements relating to conducting and the perception of time in live music.

What are your most exciting current projects?

I am currently finishing writing a piece for The Crossing choir and ICE to be premiered this June, and starting to work on two new pieces, one for Ensemble Intercontemporain and an orchestra piece for the New York Philharmonic.

Program Notes for Bard Music Festival — August 13, 2015

Esteban Benzecry (b. 1970, Argentine, b. Lisbon, Portugal): Fantasia Mastay (2010)

According to an ancient prophecy, this is the time of the great gathering called Mastay (in the Quechua language), and reintegration of the peoples of the four directions. The Q’eros are the last of the Incas, a tribe of near 600 who sought refuge in a wide area of the mist-shrouded mountains of Peru near Paucartambo — between 14,000 and 22,000 feet in elevation — in order to escape the conquistadors. For 500 years, the Q’ero elders have preserved a sacred prophecy of a great change, or pachacuti, in which the world would be turned right-side-up, harmony and order would be restored, and chaos and disorder ended. The Q’eros are releasing their teachings to the West, in preparation for the day in which the Eagle of the North and the Condor of the South (of the Americas) will fly together again. They believe that munay (love and compassion) will be the guiding force of this great gathering of the peoples. The prophecy holds that North America will supply the physical strength, or body, Europe will supply the mental aspect, or head, and the heart will be supplied by South America. In the years following pachacuti, the Incas hope that we emerge in a golden age, a golden millennium of peace.

Across this fantasy, I try to represent the symbolic flight of the Eagle and the Condor together, crossing different American landscapes. One can hear rhythms and melodic drafts from the Andes mountains of South America passing for the Patagonian Mapuche, the bagualas and carnavalitos of the altiplane, and Caribbean airs and rhythms of the North. All of these I use as source of inspiration to develop my own language, an imaginary folklore that could be described as a fusion between these roots and the newest techniques of Occidental contemporary music, where I integrate different procedures like Minimalism, polyrhythms, harmonic spectra, pentatonic scales, and multiphonic sounds. In this flight, the principal message is: here there is neither North nor South — America is only one, and we all must be united.

— Esteban Benzecry

This work was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association — Esa-Pekka Salonen Commissions Fund. It was first performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall on May 4, 2010, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.

Argentinean composer, Esteban Benzecry is one of South America's most renowned young composers. His most recent works attempt a fusion between diverse aesthetic currents in European contemporary music and rhythms and folklore rooted in the Latin American tradition. Having lived in Paris since 1997, Benzecry’s works have been commissioned and performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, Gothenburg Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Hamburg Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony, Lisbon Gulbenkian Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre National de Montpellier, Atlanta Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Ensemble Itineraire, Simón Bolívar Orchestra, and the main Latin American orchestras. His music is regularly performed by prestigious artists including Gustavo Dudamel, Gautier Capuçon, and Sol Gabetta, among others.

A 2008 Guggenheim fellow, Benzecry has received various awards from such other organizations as the Critics Association Musical Argentina, the Academy of Fine Arts of the Institute of France, and Banque Populaire Group Corporate Foundation. He has been composer in residence of the International Yehudi Menuhin Academy in Switzerland and at the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid. After receiving his diploma as professor of painting from the Buenos Aires Superior School of Fine Arts, Benzecry studied composition in Argentina and then at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Paris, where he was awarded first prize by a unanimous jury in 1999. He continued to pursue his studies in composition with Paul Méfano and in electroacoustic music with Luis Naon and Laurent Cuniot at Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique.

 

Vicente Alexim (b. 1987, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil): Impulses (2015)

Impulses is built around the relationship between individual musical gestures and a sonic material under constant transformation. These gestures, like impulses, propel the music forward, moving it through different registers, altering its texture and shape, and increasing its momentum. This piece was commissioned by and dedicated to my dear friends at Contemporaneous. It is meant to make use of their mastery of their instruments as well as their beautiful expressivity.

— Vicente Alexim

This work was commissioned and premiered by Contemporaneous at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York City on March 7, 2015. The work won the 2015 Robert Starer Award in Composition at the Graduate Center — City University of New York.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, clarinetist and composer Vicente Alexim dedicates himself to the performance of both traditional and contemporary music, as well as to writing works that explore a wide range of instrumental possibilities.

Noted by The New York Times for his “elegant” playing, Vicente is a proud member of Contemporaneous. As a soloist, Vicente has performed John Adams’ Gnarly Buttons at Carnegie Hall, and his own Chamber Concerto with the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira Jovem. Vicente’s works have been featured by Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais, Atlantic Music Festival, Bowdoin International Music Festival, and the Bienal de Música Brasileira Contemporônea, among others. Vicente is a Graduate Center Fellow in the music composition PhD program at CUNY. He also holds a Master of Music in clarinet performance from the Manhattan School of Music.

 

Enrico Chapela (b. 1974, Mexico City): Li Po (2009)

This piece is based on the poem “Li Po” by the Mexican poet José Juan Tablada, who based this poem on the life of the Chinese poet, Li Po. Tablada traveled to the Far East during the first years of the last century, where he discovered the poetry of Li Po. This poem is based on Li Po’s biography and on a free Spanish translation of his famous work, “Drinking alone with the moon.”

“Li Po” is unique in Mexican literature, for it depicts the story by drawing beautiful calligrammes with the words. The first time I saw this poem I was immediately captured by its visual presentation, but when I discovered that this nice set of calligrammes hided an even more exquisite poetry, I surrendered myself to Tablada. I recognized the power of combining the eye with the ear, semantics with phonetics, east and west, and I knew I had to compose a work based on this poem…

First, I recorded myself reading the poem, once and again, until satisfied with my own interpretation. I then transcribed this recording into a musical score, writing down the notes, the rhythms and the phonetics. I also recorded each phoneme of the poem separately, and by means of a spectral analyzer, obtained the series of partial notes that constitute their acoustic spectra. Secondly, I prepared the electronic part of the work by using the separate phonemes as well as the recording of my reading. Finally, using the poem as structural basis, I composed the ensemble parts using the transcription of my reading and the analyzed spectra as raw musical material.

— Enrico Chapela

Enrico Chapela studied at CIEM academy in Mexico. He obtained a Masters degree at the University of Paris Saint-Denis in 2008. Since 2002 he has won recognitions at several national and international competitions such as a Guggenheim fellowship, National System of Art Creators (FONCA-Mexico), the International Rostrum of Composers (UNESCO), the International Alexander Zemlinsky Composition Competition, and The Barlow Endowment for Music Composition.

Enrico Chapela has been commissioned to compose new works for The Los Angeles Philharmonic, Dresdner Sinfoniker, Carnegie Hall, Britten Sinfonia, Wigmore Hall, Berkeley Symphony, Orquestra Sinfônica de São Paulo, City of Birmingham Symphony, Orquesta Sinfónica Carlos Chávez, Cuarteto Latinoamericano, ONIX Ensamble, New Paths in Music Festival, Seattle Symphony, Bravo! Vail Music Festival, and the National Center for the Performing Arts (Beijing).

His music has been performed in Latin America, North America, Asia, and Europe by performers such as the Chicago Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic, Warsaw Philharmonic, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Jena Philharmonic, Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México, Cabrillo Festival, Tanglewood Festival, Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico, Metropolis Ensemble, Arditti String Quartet, Modern Sax Quartett Berlin, Haags Saxofoonkwartet, Tambuco, Quinteto de Alientos de la Ciudad de México, Quinteto de Metales de la Ciudad de México, Trio de Alientos de Bellas Artes, Gonzalo Salazar, Victor Flores, Mauricio Náder, and Natalia Pérez Turner.

Enrico Chapela teaches composition at CIEM academy and hosts a contemporary music radio show called METAMUSICA that’s broadcasted on the OPUS 94 radio station.

 

Andrés Martínez de Velasco (b. 1991, Mexico City): Espacios y Distancias (or Homenaje accidental a Albert Einstein)

Much of the inspiration for Espacios y Distancias (Distances and Spaces) came from my last composition Retrato (for large orchestra) and I found myself drawn again to some of the same ideas I had explored in that piece but in a smaller, more flexible context. Previously, I had tried to explore the idea of blurred melodic contours through the use of independent lines. To achieve this partial independence in Retrato, I layered a single melody with different phasings (starting points). In this work, I took the idea of independent lines further by asking for 6 string players to play each at a different tempo simultaneously in certain parts of the piece. Using this total rhythmic independence, I attempted to create homogeneous textures, out of which emerge naturally very distinctive voices. The title reflects the fact that, because of their different tempos, the sizes of the bars of each of the independent voices varies — they are smaller for faster tempos and larger for slower ones. After writing the piece, I realized this provided a nice musical parallel to the length contraction that occurs when objects move close to the speed of light, as described by Einstein’s theory of special relativity of 1905 and decided to add the alternate title, Homenaje accidental a Albert Einstein (Accidental Homage to Albert Einstein).

— Andrés Martinez de Velasco

Andrés Martínez de Velasco was born in Mexico City in 1991 and began studying music with piano lessons when he was 6. He started composing when he was 8, rewriting the right hand of Beethoven bagatelles he was playing at the piano. He first formally studied composition at the McGill Conservatory in Montreal after completing high school in Mexico City. After a year in Montreal, he enrolled at the Bard College Conservatory of Music’s dual-degree program, where he majored in composition and physics. At Bard, he studied composition with Joan Tower, George Tsontakis, and John Halle. Andrés has written music for the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival, Deer Valley Music Festival, Dynamic Music Festival, Bard’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program, the Bard College Conservatory Orchestra, and Contemporaneous. He will be moving to Berlin in September to continue his studies.

 

Angélica Negrón (b. 1981, San Juan, Puerto Rico): bubblegum grass / peppermint field (2011)

A lot of my music is about the desire of being in a different time and place than the one I'm currently in. For bubblegum grass / peppermint field, I was inspired by the idea of daydreaming and escaping to my own personal made up land. This piece was originally written for an electronic gamelan ensemble designed and developed by Alex Rigopulos, which is modeled after a Balinese Gong Kebyar, with ten players performing the electronic gamelan instruments along with a string quartet. The electronics consist of acoustic samples of found objects in my apartment and also micro-samples from some of my previous pieces reflecting my interest in capturing and retaining different moments in time through my music. For tonight’s performance, the electronic gamelan part is pre-recorded.

— Angélica Negrón

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1981 and is currently based in Brooklyn. Interested in creating intricate yet simple narratives that evoke intangible moments in time, she writes music for accordions, toys, and electronics as well as chamber ensembles and orchestras. Her music has been described as “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” (WQXR) and noted for its “capacity to surprise” (The New York Times). She was recently selected by Q2 and NPR listeners as part of “The Mix: 100 Composers Under 40” and by Flavorpill as one of the “10 Young Female Composers You Should Know.”

Angélica’s works have been commissioned and performed by Choral Chameleon, janus trio, MATA Festival, TRANSIT, Cadillac Moon Ensemble, Iktus Percussion, and the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, among others, and she has written music for documentaries, films, theater, and modern dance. A long-time member of the Puerto Rican underground music scene, Angélica is a founding member of the electro-acoustic pop outfit Balún, in which she sings and plays the accordion and violin.

Having studied from an early age at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, she holds a master’s degree in music composition from New York University and is currently pursuing a doctorate at The Graduate Center (CUNY), where she studies with Tania León. Also active as an educator, Angélica is a teaching artist for New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers and The Little Orchestra Society’s Musical Connections Program, and she recently co-founded the Spanish immersion music program for young children ¡Acopladitos!

 

Itzam Zapata (b. 1989, Mexico City): Blooming Stardust (2013)

The world is full of stardust. Every year, tons of stardust falls to the earth from the universe: plants, humans, politicians, wombats, and butter — everything in earth, is full of stardust. The way the stardust transforms, or blooms, depends entirely on where it falls. The piece is based on this metaphor. Three objects (a simple pulse, a staggered chord, and an arpeggio) bloom and tangle in different directions.

This piece also reflects two different worlds: one of physics (the music of the stars, expressed with harmony based on the harmonic spectra) and the human and expressive realm (with a contrasting harmonic world expressed with diatonic and consonant harmonies). These worlds contradict and support each other, always surrounded by the echo of a pulse: the beating behind everything.

Three objects, two worlds, one movement, we come from stardust and we return to stardust.

— Itzam Zapata

Itzam Zapata began his studies in Mexico City at the Escuela Superior de Música with Josefina Robles in guitar and Jorge Ritter in composition. Later he continued his studies in Finland at the Sibelius Academy with Lauri Kilpiö, where he is currently pursuing the Master of Music in Composition. He also studied as a exchange student in the Mozarteum in Salzburg under the tutelage of Tristan Murail.

His work has been performed by such ensembles as Talea Ensemble, Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Ostrobothnia Chamber Orchestra, Uusinta, Avanti, and Orquesta de Camara de Bellas Artes, among others. He has been invited to several festivals around the world, including the UNM in Sweden, the Gresham Center in London for a collaboration with VOCES8, and the FORUM 2014 in Montreal, where he was awarded the Coup de cœur du public. He has also garnered the first prize in the Frank Robert Abell Young Composer Competition for New Chamber Music, and the Sonic Landscape prize in the IFCM Composition Competition, among others.

As an active guitarist with a special emphasis in contemporary music, he has given the first performance of more than 10 works from different composers. He is featured in a recording of contemporary music for two guitars by Mexican composers that includes a work of his own. He is the recipient of several grants both in Mexico and Finland, and is a member of the musical associations Korvat Auki and Aurinko: Latin American music.