Program Notes

Georges Aperghis – Les sept crimes de l’amour, for soprano, clarinettist and percussionist (1979)The 7 Crimes of Love was composed in the spirit of instrumental theater. The unfurling of these seven passionate crimes is rigorously articulated by the music and the positions that the three protagonists must adopt throughout the seven movements (noted in the score), which were carefully plotted to produce the sounds imagined by the composer. Some accessories (including the deeply symbolic apple) and the use of fraudulent instruments (the body of the clarinet without a mouthpiece, the zarb as a megaphone) also contribute to the scenic appearance of this theatrical work.

Note by Daniel Durney (translated by Nina Dante, from the George Aperghis website)

14 Récitations selections, for solo voice, 1978
George Aperghis, b. 1945

We are reminded of tongue twisters, repetitions of the multiplication tables, and a rosary-like stream of prayers when experiencing Georges Aperghis’ cycle, 14 Récitations, for solo voice. The mechanistic, memory- challenging nature of this work encourages sound games unique to the performer’s experience (agglutination of certain consonants, soaring contours, and involuntary inflections) that transcend the realms of syntactic logic and intuitive story-telling.

Note by Pablo Chin

this will rub against my grid III A, for solo flute, 2013
James Bean, b. 1989this will rub against my grid III A was conceived as part of the composer’s large-scale cycle this will be changed and made solid, in which two series of pieces – the eponymous this will be changed and made solid  I-III and this will rub against my grid I-IV – alternate back and forth with one another. The this will rub against my grid I-IV pieces function in this context as a “structural scaffolding” of sorts: in contrast to the formally dynamic this will be changed and made solid pieces, the this will rub against my grid pieces share numerous properties (including pitch content, rhythm, and articulation) and thus provide a “static, reoccurring and stabilizing crutch” that nevertheless has a sense of motion – to an ultimately lower energy state – thanks to highly salient changes in tempo and dynamics. Furthermore, while all the this will rub against my grid pieces must employ a flute (c, piccolo, alto, and bass in I-IV, respectively), they also may include additional instruments, each with independently realized and“distinctly different” music, ad libitum. The work in this context thus effectively mediates between stasis and movement and between independence and interrelation. For the standalone, solo context in which this will rub against my grid iii a is performed tonight, Bean tailored the work – in particular, significantly altering the dynamic and articulative context – so that these “global,” macro-structural issues become “local,” micro-structural ones. As he puts it, in contrast to the original 75′ cycle, here “everything is happening all at once.” This simultaneity lends the work a remarkably dramatic quality as the flautist seems to struggle against herself in order to convey this sense of “everything…all at once.”Note by Etha Williams

Sequenza I, for solo flute, 1958
Luciano Berio, 1925-2003

What would happen if J.S. Bach had been exposed to electroacoustic means of making music, to pop and jazz, linguistic science, and to the most advanced techniques of serial composition? We could only speculate; perhaps the music of Berio illuminates such a conundrum. In the Sequenza I for flute, an elaborate technique of melodic writing allows Berio (like in Bach’s solo partitas) to generate counterpoint. Such a technique delves into demanding instrumental possibilities (fast large leaps, fast changes in timbre and dynamics, etc), and the exploration of the full chromatic palette (which Berio learned from Webern). The end result is an expansion of the historical understanding of virtuosity that in Berio’s music contains a dramatic and a humanistic element, thus transcending mere exhibitionism.

Note by Pablo Chin

Sequenza III, for solo voice, 1958
Luciano Berio, 1925-2003

Luciano Berio composed Sequenza III with the prodigiously flexible voice and natural sense of drama of his then-wife, Cathy Berberian, in mind. Their  long-lasting  collaboration  proved fruitful,  her inherent dramatic flair  complementing Berio’s budding “vivid, gestural idiom,” (Oxford Music) qualities which are present in much of  his prolific oeuvre. During  Berio’s time up to today, the inescapable lyricism of his work serves as a bridge from the familiar idioms of the classical music era to the unfamiliar and often enigmatic avant-garde soundworld. However, it would be a mistake to simply label Berio’s music as “dramatic” or “lyrical”: while Sequenza III (for example) operates beautifully on the level of a hysterical mini-drama, looking deeper, this piece masterfully blurs the line between speech and song, words and sounds, virtuosic complexity and improvisation. It is debatable whether the text of this piece, vaguely feminist in nature, plays as important a role as the inherent meaning/emotion of the sounds made in producing them; Berio transforms the singer’s relationship with text by using words as “musically structurable sounds” (Oxford Music), which, regardless of their meaning, conjure certain emotions/reactions in the performer and listener alike.

Note by Nina Dante

9 Settings of Lorine Niedecker selections, for female voice and cello, 1998/2000
Harrison Birtwistle, b. 1934

Poet Lorine Niedecker belonged to the Objectivist movement in poetry, in which the poem was treated as an object capable of transmitting the poet’s clear-minded and sincere observations on the world. In Birtwistle’s settings of Niedecker, this same sense of objectification becomes apparent in the distinct roles of the voice and cello: suspended above a colorful and narrative cello line, the voice calmly, statically floats, declaiming the poetry, observing the sound world.

Note by Nina Dante

Semplice, for solo violin, 2010
Oscar Bianchi, b. 1975

The title of Oscar Bianchi’s Semplice reflects on a paradox of virtuosic playing: that complex technique should be presented to the listener as though it is simple. Semplice draws on diverse types of virtuosic figuration – such as quasi-improvisatory melodic passage-work, rapid scalar passages, glissandi, and double stops – in order to reflect on the technical complexities that have characterized solo violin music since its inception. This multifarious figuration combines with constantly changing metrical and rhythmic organization – bars of 10/8 followed by bars of 13/8; septuplets followed by triplets –, conveying the impression of an improvised solo in which complexity and spontaneity meet.

Note by Etha Williams

“L’artisanant furieux” from Le marteau sans maître, for mezzo-soprano and flute, 1955
Pierre Boulez, b. 1925

Pierrot Lunaire (1913) and Le Marteau sans maître (1955) are two landmark works of 20th century music. For many, the former inaugurates, together with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the music of the new century. On the other hand, Boulez’s Le Marteau was praised by Stravinsky more than four decades later as the only important piece of its time. In this nine-song cycle, Boulez renders tribute to Schoenberg’s Pierrot, among other things, by writing a movement for voice and flute, as in Pierrot’s 7th movement (something that would be emulated almost 30 years later by Brian Ferneyhough, in his Etudes Transcendentales).

Note by Pablo Chin

Juan Campoverde, muna: ii, for solo guitar with tape (2006-12)Muna: ii, whose title derives from a combination of the words “moon” and “luna,” likewise combines two sonic worlds—that of amplified classical guitar and computer-generated sound—in order to comprise a “unified,” yet kaleidoscopically shifting, sonority. The work is, moreover, preoccupied with the “interaction between its sounds and the spaces around them” and with processes of decay—the decay of the guitar’s tone, amplified electronically, and the intermittent emergence and decay of taped sounds, which blend into and interweave with those of the guitar. Towards the end of muna: ii, these processes reach a piece of point of condensation and intensification as the segments of taped sounds become increasingly closely spaced and as the interplay of guitar and tape becomes increasingly dense. Yet even here, the sense seems not to be that stability has been achieved, but rather that the “fragile” elements that pervade the work have come into exceptionally close—and volatile—contact. Note by Etha Williams
umbrales for two sopranos, flute and guitar (2014), by Juan Campoverdeumbrales is a contemplation of the poetic spaces conjured by Ecuadorian poet Efraín Jara Idrovo’s text from “Sollozos por Pedro Jara” (which itself was written during the poets’ self-exile period in the Galapagos Islands), standing on the borders that connect Jara Idrovo’s thoughts and words on the impermanence of life, on the deeply unsettling limitations of its temporality, and the musical traces that remain from my readings of his poem. Note by the composer
Awake, Aware, Awaiting for soprano, flute, guitar, piano, violin, vibraphone, 2012
Andrés Carrizo, b. 1982

This piece owes its genesis simultaneously to the soundSCAPE Festival, and to a course taught by Augusta Read Thomas, “Imagination and Expertise in Music Composition.” Both required a composition for a very similar sextet, so I decided to use the course’s final reading session as a testing ground for what became this piece.Having never set text to music, I embarked on this project with some trepidation. There are a great many artsongs I admire, but I have never read poetry musically: poetry has never inspired the urge in me to set it to music. Thus, the project of setting a text (a requirement for the class) seemed daunting.One solution to this problem, suggested first by Marcos Balter and then by Francisco Castillo Trigueros’s example, was to write my own text. The result has been incredibly rewarding: I’ve discovered the parallels between writing music and writing text, and simultaneously the myriad musical suggestions embedded in poetry, as well as how these help catalyze musical decisions.Furthermore, in approaching the poem as a musician, I was able to read and extract interpretations from my own text that I had not intended as a poet. The creative lines were blurred even further by the nature of the class, and the number of invaluable suggestions made by my colleagues and the participating musicians. I feel very fortunate to have taken part in this venture, and am thankful for it.

I cannot stay…
I will not tarry here,
Loitering in this lapidary land.
Wherefore words were broken…
…ages past.
When singing of sweet forgotten silences
You lied,
Awake, aware…

Note by the composer

The Crutch of Memory for indeterminate solo string instrument (2004), by Aaron CassidyThe Crutch of Memory continues my long-standing interest in prioritizing and foregrounding the physical, choreographic elements of musical performance. As in a number of my recent works, here it is physical states, the interface between the body of the player and the body of the instrument, and physical gestures that drive the sonic surface. I am interested in the ability of these corporeal actions to be present as musical material in their own right and not simply as means to an aural end. As such, the notation employs a detailed, multi-layered tablature that independently controls the movement up and down the fingerboard, the spacing width of the fingers, the contact between fingers and strings, as well as the actions of the bow and right hand. And of course, because it is physical movement that is prescribed, the piece can be performed on a variety of string instruments (any bowed, non-fretted instrument with at least four adjacent strings) and with a variety of scordature (which may be chosen by the performer based on a series of guidelines given in the score).I have long been interested in generating sonic relationships through physical action, as have, of course, a number of predecessors and colleagues. However, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the tendency of these composers (myself included!) to initially generate material through physical, choreographic systems but then, in essence, erase (or at least conceal) these structures in the notation (which, in the end, still seems to prioritize pitch as a primary parameter). In this work, I have endeavored to strip away the pretense of pitch in an effort to more directly prioritize the performative actions in the notation.The piece is also of course about memory, about memories, about loops and cycles, about entropy and accumulation, and about loss. The title comes from a line in Jonathan Franzen’s beautiful essay, “My Father’s Brain,” which discusses the neurological physicality of memory, memory loss, Plato’s discussion of writing in the Phaedrus, writing as a detriment to memory, and family.The work is dedicated to Carter Williams in thanks for his support, assistance, encouragement, and friendship. Note by the composer
Abismo azul, floreciente for voice, bass flute, alto saxophone and percussion, 2011
Francisco Castillo Trigueros, b. 1984

Although in much of my vocal music text is subjected to musical forms and conventions, I set out to do the opposite in Abismo azul, floreciente. In this piece for voice, bass flute, alto saxophone, and percussion, a narrative is the focal point. Behind it, musical passages color the text, like incidental music in a movie or play. The piece contains four movements, each composed of a different section of the narrative, and one instrumental interlude. The character of the text, which is constructed around fragments from Arthur Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations, ranges from descriptions of urban symmetries with nature (in reference to Rimbaud’s Les Ponts) to depictions of apocalyptic scenes (containing fragments from Rimbaud’s Mystique).Absimo azul, floreciente was written in Chicago and Amsterdam in 2011 for the Acanthes 2011 worshop and revised in 2013 for Fonema Consort’s concert in the Latino Music Festival in Chicago.

Note by the composer

desde un sueño espeso, suspiro inmovil, mar infinito, for solo flute and electronics, 2011
Francisco Castillo Trigueros, b. 1984

This work is the result of an ongoing collaboration with Dalia Chin. Thanks to many recording sessions, we were able to explore several non-traditional performance techniques in which pitch is veiled by air, thus blurring melodic patterns and creating a unique language for the instrument that interacted in a beautiful way with the electronic processes.

As the piece unfolds, an austere sequence of distant notes and silences turns into a dense tonal fog, delicate ripples grow into overwhelming distortion, breath becomes tide.

The piece concludes with a crystallization of allusions, a complete submersion into noise, the only moment where the source material of the electronics is not a recording of Dalia.

Note by the composer

*7 Studies on Chapter 34, for solo voice and tape, 2012
Pablo Chin, b. 1982

Pablo Chin’s 7 Studies on Chapter 34 offers an alternate journey through the ecstatic verbal confusion that is chapter 34 of Julio Cortázar’s novel Rayuela (Hopscotch). Chin’s lush and lyrically complex aesthetic find a home in Cortázar’s novel, whose characters confronts life’s harshest realities with an inner-world of magical realism.

Chapter 34 of Rayuela reads like a morbid mind-game of hopscotch: two different texts are followed throughout, in alternating lines. The first text (recited in the tape part using various vocal techniques) is that of a banal novel being read by La Maga, the frustratingly simple lover of the novel’s “hero” (Horatio Oliveiras); the other is the tortured stream-of-conscious of Oliveiras himself, transformed by Chin into a series of vocal extended techniques, lone phonemes, and sudden bursts of comprehensibility in the live voice part.

The interactions of these two painfully different but attracting characters which drive Rayuela, are mirrored in Chin’s 7 Studies on Chapter 34: the tape part sets an ominous environment like that of Oliveiras’ dark inner-world in which La Maga’s harmless prattling festers and rots; the live voice translates into music Oliverias’ garbled and often incomprehensible efforts to find meaning in his crumbling world, which result in disturbingly sublime events.

Note by Nina Dante

The inventiveness, the obscure places of the imagination, the sincere and the absurd fascinate me in the literature of Julio Cortázar. This is my fourth piece that is influenced (directly or indirectly) by his works, in this case, chapter 34 of Rayuela (Hopscotch), in which two texts are overlaid in alternating lines, one quoting fragments of the other. Those fragments provide the textual material on which the songs are based.

This piece is written and dedicated with much affection to Nina Dante.

Note by the composer

A Rayas y Cuadros for guitar (2008 – 2014), by Pablo Santiago ChinThe essence of A Rayas y Cuadros owes inspiration to the art works by New York-based artist Theresa Chong, particularly to a series of gouache and pencil drawings from 2007. Such an inspiration ranges from the formal aspect of her drawings, the peculiarity of her creative processes, and especially the variety of emotional reactions they awake in me as their labyrinthine surfaces permeate into my imagination. The drawings are basically composed of a constellation of dots spread across surfaces of handmade Japanese rice paper; these dots are intuitively connected by fragile lines delicately drawn by pencil. Thus, unpredictable trajectories of an ephemeral quality amass into a convoluted map of infinite destinies and possibilities. The piece also recalls the following text from Julio Cortazar’s Chapter 34 of Rayuela:“Where are you now, where will you be from today on, two points in an inexplicable universe, near or far, two points that make a line, two points that drift apart and come close together arbitrarily […] and still both of us, Maga, form a pattern, you a point somewhere, me another somewhere else, displacing each other […] and little by little, Maga, we go along forming an absurd pattern, with our movements we sketch out patterns just like the ones flies make when they fly around a room, from here to there, suddenly in mid-flight, from there to here, that’s what they call Brownian movement, now do you understand? A right angle, an ascending line, from here to there, from back to front, up, down, spasmodically, slamming on the brakes and starting right up in another direction, and all of this is drawing a picture, a pattern, Paris that go from here to there, from there to here, drawing their picture, putting on a dance for nobody, not even for themselves, an interminable pattern without any meaning.” Note by the composer

Boschiana, for soprano, tenor saxophone and piano, 2013
Pablo Chin, b. 1982

Boschiana forms part of Chin’s ongoing series of songs inspired by the Argentine novelist Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela; it furthermore embeds a wealth of additional intertextual references, which bridge the Renaissance and modern eras through their shared interest in aesthetics of strangeness and instability. Boschiana takes as its text a poem by the twentieth-century U.S. American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the following excerpt cited in Rayuela:

Yet I have slept with beauty
in my own weird way
and I have made a hungry scene or two
with beauty in my bed
and so spilled out another poem or two
and so spilled out another poem or two
upon the Bosch-like world.

Not only the reference to Hieronymus Bosch (the fifteenth-century painter most famous for The Garden of Earthly Delights, part of which is reproduced below), but also the poem’s adaptation of allegory – in the portrayal of beauty personified – links Ferlinghetti’s text with the era of the Renaissance, a period in which abstractions were rendered human and in which the relationship between the beautiful and the grotesque proved a persistent and fruitful source of artistic fascination. Moreover, Bosch’s interest in the boundaries between the beautiful and the grotesque, the natural and the artificial, finds deep resonances in the extravagant chromaticism of the late-sixteenth-century Renaissance madrigal, of which Carlo Gesualdo counts as the most extreme practitioner. Chin’s setting plays off of this connection between Bosch and Gesualdo (as well as the aesthetic connection of both with modernity), drawing on two lines from Gesualdo’s wildly dissonant “Moro, lasso, al mio duolo” and “) dolorosa sorte”to set Ferlinghetti’s final line: “upon the Bosch-like world.” This line, and its attendant music, emerges gradually through constantly changing textures in the three parts – the vocal part, for instance, begins with insistent repetitions of single pitches, yet gradually expands in both pitch and timbral range –, mirroring the “weird” and unstable creative process that Ferlinghetti’s poem so vividly suggests.

Note by Etha Williams

De mi canto fluyen soledades ajenas, for solo cello, 2009
Pablo Chin, b. 1982

De mi canto, que brota y se propaga por espacios insipidos, fluyen soledades ajenas.

From my song, that blossoms and propagates through insipid spaces, foreign solitudes flow.

Text by the composer

Pablo Chin – (in)armonia: motetes, for 8 female voices (2014) *This piece consists of motets where the choral part (sopranos 1-3 and mezzos 1-3) alternate between a setting of the seventh verse of Giuseppe Ungaretti’s poem I fiumi (cited in Cortazar’s chapter 42 of Rayuela), and streams of spoken text from Rayuela’s chapter 34 (also used in the tape part of my piece 7 Studies on Chapter 34), whereas the soli sopranos develop theater characters based on the streams of spoken text. Each motet provides emotions that the soli sopranos can freely apply throughout their parts (both fixed or as transitions from one to the other), thus contributing to the shaping of their character. It is advised to predefine a sequence of transitions between these emotions, as opposed to improvising them. During periods of silence, the soli sopranos should be still. The spoken sections in the six-female choir should also be acted, differentiated from the sung sections. Transitions between singing techniques, dynamics, phonemes and the different ways of vocal production must be clearly distinctive, so that the rhythmic flow of the lines comes out. Note by Pablo Chin

Albumblatt, for female voice, flute, violin and guitar, 1995
Aldo Clementi, 1925-2011

Albumblatt (translating to Albumleaf) was a popular title in the 19th century used for short compositions meant to be included in a friend’s album. That may explain the transitory character of Clementi’s piece, which resembles a snippet of a larger sonic “landscape”. The texture is composed of four melodic phrases with clear tonal contour, interwoven in early counterpoint fashion, and rotating throughout the four voices. The indication on the score, Tempo di Valzer, is of metric annihilation due to the frequent avoidance of downbeats and extensive use of sustained notes in the individual lines. Further fragmentation is expressed by the broken syllables “hae” and “schae”, uttered in the vocal line, which are extracted from the name of the dedicatee of the piece, Michael Marschall von Bieberstein.

Note by Pablo Chin

Synchronisms No. 9, for solo violin and tape, 1988
Mario Davidovsky, b. 1934

More than establishing a dialogue between instrument and tape (as in Synchronisms no.1 for flute and tape), in Synchronisms No. 9 the violin and tape work hand in hand. The electronic sounds act as extensions of the resonances of the violin; or, the violin adds a sense of danger typical of live performance to the fixed media of the tape. It is the pioneering analog-produced sounds that transport us to the effervescence of early electronic music in the 1960’s, just a decade after the foundation of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, of which his former teacher, Milton Babbitt was one of its founders.

Note by Pablo Chin

tʁistɛsə, for soprano, two voices and cello, 2010
Daniel Dehaan, b. 1988

At its essence, tʁistɛsə is a sonic painting of a romantic poem by Victor Hugo, Tristesse d’Olympio. A paradox emerges: although the piece requires three voices, the poem is never recited- it inspires the sonic landscape, as if the poem were a painting. Only a ghost of the text remains as fragmented syllables in the voices, a beautiful example of text painting at its most literal.

The technical demands of performing this piece (especially the measured inhales and exhales and the harmonic-dominated cello line), which keep the performers always on the edge of hyperventilation or imperceptibility, creates an experience that mirrors that of the poem’s melancholic hero, Olympio, who, faint with sorrow, searches through the fog of the past for the last shred of the Beloved’s melody, which still “palpitates beneath the veil”…

Note by Nina Dante

A Roaring Flame for soprano and contrabass, 1982
James Dillon, b. 1950

A Roaring Flame, the last in Dillon’s early triptych of vocal works (Who Do You Love – Come Live With Me – A Roaring Flame), intermingles two texts from distinct linguistic and poetic traditions: a traditional Scots Gaelic invocation (collected by the late-nineteenth-century folklorist Alexander Carmichael and published in his Carmina Gadelica) and a fragment from the sole surviving canso of Clara d’Anduza (an early-thirteenth-century Provençal trobaritz). The title furthermore adds a third textual influence, being drawn from the Irish Gaelic Lament of Liadan (from its closing stanza: “A roaring flame has dissolved this heart of mine”).  Moreover, the Scots Gaelic and Provençal are not merely juxtaposed but are rather enmeshed with one another; the invocation serves to “circumscribe” Clara d’Anduza’s text, which occurs in place of the line “Ann an subh craobh” and thus functions as a glossolalia of sorts – a new linguistic texture, a speaking in tongues. This alternation in linguistic texture is mirrored in the frequent textural changes and contrasts of the work, which Dillon describes as “outfold[ing] to twelve textures.” And for much of the work, not only the texture and language but also the two parts (double bass and voice) seem almost willfully independent, and even opposed. Yet through this very difference, the work’s promised meaning arises: in Dillon’s words, “music and text forge a synergy – the conjugal thread!”

Note by Etha Williams

Algo, for solo guitar, 1977
Franco Donatoni, 1927-2000

Donatoni’s Algo is the first in a series of “Algo” pieces he wrote for guitar, all of which are based on the same musical material: a brief lick from the music of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt:

Algo is one of several of Donatoni’s compositions that draw on jazz (others include Hot [1989] and Sweet Basil [1993]); here, Donatoni joins these jazz influences with figurations reminiscent of 19thcentury classical guitar writing and of flamenco guitar. In Algo’s first movement, these idioms seem to be reflected through a prism, hinted at but altered through the use of fragmentation and juxtaposition.

The opening presents a wide array of different gestures and figurations; over the course of the movement, different gestures are foregrounded or backgrounded, producing a constantly shifting timbral, rhythmic, and intervallic landscape. This shifting gestural landscape culminates near the end of the piece in an extended fortissimo sequence wherein the arpeggiated Django Reinhardt fragment is repeated and developed at length; although the gesture had appeared at several points earlier in the piece, it is here that its structural importance as the basis of the piece is finally revealed.

Note by Etha Williams

Shin’gyô, for soprano and piccolo, 1981

Pascal Dusapin, b. 1955

Dusapin’s Shin’gyô takes its text from a Japanese translation of the Heart Sutra, one of the shortest but most well-known Buddhist scriptures; Dusapin sets nearly the entirety of the sutra, omitting only its narrative introduction and its mantra-based conclusion. This sutra relates the Bodhisattva of Compassion’s account of how he attained enlightenment, emphasizing the paradoxical relation of material reality and emptiness in the Bodhisattva’s opening lines: “Body is nothing more than emptiness,/emptiness is nothing more than body. /The body is exactly empty, /and emptiness is exactly body.” It is through this realization, the Bodhisattva explains, that the “perfection of wisdom” and “Nirvana of the sacred soul” can be attained.

Throughout the piece, Dusapin explores the high registral space of both the piccolo flute and the soprano voice; while largely rhythmically and melodically independent, the two parts tend to occupy strikingly similar registral space and often intersect at or near the same pitches, conveying a sense of simultaneous separation and closeness. Likewise, while the registral space that the flute and soprano occupy is relatively limited, they explore this limited space in rich melodic and harmonic detail, with densely interweaving lines that employ copious quarter-tones. In these paradoxical relationships between separation and closeness, limitation and plenitude, Dusapin seems to emphasize both sides of the Bodhisattva’s proclamation: not only is the “body exactly empty,” but, on the other hand, “emptiness is exactly body.” Dusapin sets the text mostly syllabically, but he notably omits the word “Néhan’” (“Nirvana”); at the point when this word would be sung (towards the end of the text), the singer sings untexted pitches that are, as Dusapin writes, “like an echo” of the text and music that came before.

Note by Etha Williams

If something characterizes Pascal Dusapin’s compositional personality, is his idiosyncratic aversions that has led to his avoidance of percussion instruments (seen as almost a Boulezian cliché), his preference for instruments that can imitate the voice (therefore his aversion to the piano), and his aversion to his native language French in vocal works, which in part explains the choice of the Japanese text in his piece Shin’gyô. This choice on the other hand is not foreign to Dusapin’s interests, as the sonic imagery of Japanese music fosters his characteristic exploration of microtonal harmony, in this case associated with the frequent, evocative quarter-tone inflections on pitches.

Note by Pablo Chin

Two Walking, for two female voices, 1993-4
Pascal Dusapin, b. 1955

Dusapin’s wrote Two Walking as he was working on his fourth opera, To Be Sung; both works adapt their text from Gertrude Stein’s 1928 A Lyrical Opera Made by Two, an experimental modernist libretto through which Stein explores her relationship with her partner, Alice Toklas. The number two – present in the title of Stein’s text, in Dusapin’s own title, and in the work’s instrumentation (two sopranos) – is integral to the expressive substance of Two Walking, for the two sopranos’ coequal interaction with one another amplifies Stein’s intimate texts’ poetic and phonemic content. (Indeed, Dusapin has compared his text setting in Two Walking to that in Renaissance madrigals, in which two equal voices play words and even individual sounds off one another in order to increase their denotative and connotative import.)

In the first song, Dusapin mirrors Stein’s text’s insistent focus on a single consonant sound – “w,” heard in such repeated words as “wings,” “wedding,” “weigh/way/away,” “well,” and “weed” – in the music’s insistent focus on, and exploration, of a single dyad (B-G#, heard particularly prominently at the beginning of the work). This first movement is wholly based in traditional techniques of vocal production, and indeed, songfulness is part of the text’s expressive substance; Dusapin’s setting ends with the two voices together proclaiming, “They sing.” In the third movement, on the other hand, he moves to a more extensive vocal timbral palette, incorporating the sounds of vocal “white noise,” whispering, and inhalation and exhalation – a sound-world that emphasizes the physicality of the voice as the two sopranos sing of lovers’ kisses. The fourth movement returns to some of the same textual imagery – for instance, that of “singing”/”song” and “wedding” – of the first, and likewise to a similar, if somewhat less elaborate and more reflective, sound-world.

Note by Etha Williams

Nomi Epstein – Pillars and Glisses, for two sopranos, flute, clarinet, electric guitar, piano, violin, and cello (2012)Pillars and Glisses, written for the first season of the Wild Rumpus ensemble, explores Epstein’s preoccupation with the object-like qualities of sound. Epstein conceived the work in emphatically spatial-physical terms, describing it as a “sound-sculpture composition, where material is realized as tactile, space-occupying structure.” As such, rather than working on the level of traditional motivic work and metrical time, Epstein notates the work in terms of the interplay of two paradigmatic sound objects: pillars (notated in the squares as rectangles), which represent brief, loud outbursts of sound at the musicians’ registral and timbral extremes; and glisses, in which musicians slide upwards or downwards between pitches. As it constantly oscillates between these basic objects in subtly changing configurations of instruments, the work suggests a mediation between a basic opposition of static suddenness (in the pillars) and gradual transition (in the glisses). Note by Etha Williams
yuunohui’ehecatl’nahui’tlapoa, for a wind and string instrument and piano, 2012
Julio Estrada, b. 1943

The two “yuunohui” pieces heard in conjunction tonight – yuunohui’ehecatl and yuunohui’ehecatl’nahui’tlapoa – are situated at opposite chronological ends within a large series of works that Estrada composed between 1983 and 2012, all of whose titles include the initial word “yuunohui” and all of which based on the same basic pre-compositional material (defined graphically through five curves, which are then applied to differently defined musical parameters depending on the specific work in question) and structural frame (a set of six sections of equal duration framed by an introductory and a final section). Indeed, the word “yuunohui” (the Zapotec word for for “fresh clay”) is highly suggestive in this regard, pointing to the way these works each centrally preoccupy themselves with shaping and reshaping basic materials – the “fresh clay” of the compositional process.

The most recent of this set of works, yuunohui’ehecatl joins to this idea of “fresh clay” the Nahuatl word ehecatl – “wind” –, pointing to its instrumentation: an indeterminate set of instruments that must include woodwinds and/or brass instruments but may also utilize other instruments drawn from the whole “ensemble ‘yuunohui” (i.e., the total ensemble of instruments used across the “yuunohui”. The performance today is realized by combining the trombone with two instruments from ensemble’yuunohui, the solo piano (heard in yuunohui’tlapoa) and the double bass (heard in yuunohui’nahui). Yuunohui’ehecatl moreover expands the yuunohui family’s basic material through multiplication, deriving from each of the five basic components three new ones for a total of fifteen separate parametric vectors; this multiplication results in a sonic world characterized by constantly shifting layers of a “diversity of macro-timbres.” To achieve such a diversity of timbres, Estrada employs an innovative notation based on the trajectories of individuated parameters (ordered from least traditional to most traditional) rather than specific instrumental parts.

Composed nearly three decades before yuunohui’ehecatl, yuunohui’nahui (for double bass) forms the final of four works for strings that Estrada composed at the beginning of the yunnohui project (hence, “nahui” translates to “four” in Nahuatl). Yuunohui’nahui likewise employs an expanded notational system in order to account for and richly individuate so-called “secondary”musical parameters, though its notation of pitch and rhythm follows somewhat more traditional practices. Here, within the confines of a single solo instrument, diverse textures result from the independent movement of these individuated parametric vectors, creating a complex multiplicity of trajectories that nevertheless intermittently intersect with one another.

Note by Etha Williams

Voices and Cello, for two female voices and cello, 1973
Morton Feldman, b. 1926-1987

Voices and Cello is one of a series of miniatures for voice and instruments that Feldman wrote during the early- and mid-1970s. It shares several features with the other miniatures written during this period, including its simple title – which merely states the work’s instrumentation rather than evoking formal, generic, or programmatic content – and its instrumental treatment of the voices – which do not sing on a text, but simply explore pitch and rhythmic content that interweaves in constantly changing configurations between the two voices and with the cello.

The piece furthermore continues Feldman’s long-standing interest in exploring extremes of quietude and stasis: the work’s only dynamic marking comes in the form of the instruction “Very quiet” at the top of the score, and the three instruments’ pitches and rhythms change  – sometimes synchronized with one another, other times separately –  with little sense of direction or linear progression. Throughout the piece, the cello almost exclusively plays in harmonics – producing a light, ethereal, higher-register sound – with occasional plucked pizzicati interspersed, further contributing to the general sense of a subdued sonic world.

Despite the general sense of stasis and non-development, the work seems at certain points enigmatically to evoke linear structures. Towards the middle of the work, a strange, ghost of a climax occurs, with the upper voice reaching a marked registral apex from which it quickly descends. And the piece’s ending is likewise puzzlingly marked: the cello, which previously had only played isolated notes in pizzicato, now plays entirely in pizzicato, lending new significance to a gesture previously heard only in brief, isolated moments. Amid the general stasis of the work as a whole, such evocations of linear form seem not to rationalize or make sense of the work structurally, but rather to cast it in all the more puzzling a light.

Note by Etha Williams

Voice, violin and piano, 1976
Morton Feldman, b. 1926-1987

During the early- and mid-1970s, Feldman composed a spate of works involving the voice, often with titles that simply state the work’s instrumentation – as is the case in 1976’s Voice, Violin, and Piano. The simplicity of the title speaks to Feldman’s intention: neither to explore a genre (such as “sonata,” “étude,” or “nocturne”) nor an extramusical program, but simply to work with the sonic possibilities afforded by the three instruments involved. As such, timbres shift constantly between the three instruments throughout the piece, with the voice being treated not as a vehicle for linguistic expression but rather as an instrument just like the other two; the score instructs that the “voice is to sing a constant open hum throughout on the vowel ‘n’, but not too nasal.” As in many of Feldman’s other works, the focus is not on a linear process of development or narrative, but rather on a constantly changing, kaleidoscopic treatment of musical material. Nevertheless, one might hear a loose trajectory of transformation over the course of the piece, with the voice moving from the a lyrical, metrically regular vocal line heard at the beginning of the piece to a metrically irregular meditation on three consecutive pitches.

Note by Etha Williams

Superscriptio, for solo piccolo, 1981
Brian Ferneyhough, b. 1943

Part of Ferneyhough’s larger Carceri d’Invenzione (Prisons of Invention) cycle, Superscriptio concerns itself with issues of the dialectical relationship between constraints (“prisons”) and imagination (“invention”). The composer describes Superscriptio as “fleeting[ly] sketching in” a “brittle outline,” noting the association of registral extremes with “borders, boundaries, and with whatever lies beyond.” Indeed, the piccolo’s tracing of gestures in unaccompanied musical space invites comparison with an artist’s sketching in pencil on a plain, white piece of paper. The piece opens with confident, ascending gestures in the upper part of the piccolo’s high register that delineate clear, if brittle, boundaries; the flute plays continuously, with no rests, and changes in gesture line up with changes in meter and dynamics. As the piece progresses, however, the flute’s gestures begin to lose much of this certainty: they gradually desynchronize with changes in meter and dynamics and are often broken up by silences. While borders between metrical, dynamic, and gestural changes are still present, they no longer line up with one another, prompting the listener to imagine what might lie beyond these borders.

Note by Etha Williams

+still sweet…, for mezzo soprano, alto flute, and viola, 1998/2006
Dai Fujikura, b. 1977

Still Sweet was originally written without words. Dai asked me to fit words to the piece, as an experiment to see if I could both interpret the dramaturgy of the piece and then find words which were

I felt that in Still Sweet, the singer starts with a feeling of romantic confusion, and insecurity, but with the support of the viola and alto flute gains insight by the end of the work.

I’m in any you we you
you are Him then,
Come I’m
you and I we are
where are you?
I am any
you we you are when I’m
then I am anyone, I’m anyone then?

Note by the poet, Harry Ross

Invocation VI, for soprano and bass flute, 2002-3
Beat Furrer, b. 1954

Invocation VI draws its text from various excerpted phrases from the 16th-century Spanish saint and poet Juan de la Cruz’s Canciones de la Alma, which depicts the Soul’s yearning for mystical union with the Bridegroom, Jesus. It is the sixth scene of Furrer’s eponymous opera, throughout which Furrer explores “Anne’s [the protagonist’s] voice, its intimacy, the ‘dramatic’ space between cultivated opera voice and the immediacy of a corporeal expression (such as breath, scream etc)”; and considerations of the relation between cultivated, pitched vocal production and corporeal, unpitched utterance pervade Invocation VI. Similarly to Lotofágos, which uses numerous repetitions of the first word to signal the difficulty of speech, in Invocation the soprano repeats her first question, “Why have you arrived in this heart?”, numerous times, only once using notated pitches. Throughout the piece the soprano oscillates between clearly pitched melodies – often using the same downward, weeping gesture heard in Lotófagos – and unpitched, often whispered utterances. The flautist is often called upon to breath audibly and to utter syllables as he or she plays so that the flute part, rather than acting as accompaniment, seems to function as an extension of the soprano’s voice. Invocation, then, alludes here not only to the process of calling out but to the voice (“voca”) with which one does so – whether that voice is a scream, a whisper, or a melodic line.

Note by Etha Williams

Lotófagos, for soprano and contrabass, 2006
Beat Furrer, b. 1954

Lotófagos, or “Lotus eaters,” takes its text from a prose-poem by the Spanish poet José Ángel Valente.  Its title refers to the mythological island of lotus eaters; when Odysseus’s men landed there, they ate the lotus plant and forgot about their home, wanting only to stay on the island. Valente’s text expands on this theme of forgetfulness, only at the end invoking its opposite, memory, with the question, “A mild yet warm wind comes from the south. Is this memory?” Furrer’s setting opens with the soprano and bass singing in identical registers, blurring the distinction between instrument and voice; and the first word emerges only slowly, as though the protagonists are struggling even to remember how to speak. This sense of a struggle to speak pervades much of the movement; while certain phrases are emphasized through accented, declamatory delivery, many others feature a disjointed descending figure reminiscent of sighing or weeping. Interestingly, the soprano never sings the line “A mild yet warm wind comes from the south”; instead, a solo bass interlude suggests the line nonverbally, after which the soprano resumes, once again close in register to the contrabass: “Is this memory?”

Note by Etha Williams

Erin Gee, Mouthpiece VI, for soprano, flute, viola, contrabass, and percussion (2004)Mouthpiece VI forms part of Gee’s larger Mouthpiece series, all the works in which employ the voice and share a focus on what Gee describes as “the physiology rather than the psychology of music”—that is, on embodied sound rather than semiotic meaning. Gee thus foregrounds the musicality of the interactions of the performers’ bodies with their instruments—for instance, the touch of the volists’ and bassist’s fingers and fingernails on their instrument’s strings; the pressure of the flautist’s lips on the instrument’s mouthpiece; and the friction of the singer’s tongue and lips in producing consonant sounds. Too, the significance of harmonic and melodic events is displaced in favor of an expansive exploration timbre—particularly in the percussion part, which features a vast array of different instruments. Throughout, Gee’s music encourages the listener to focus on the inherent materiality of sound—the myriad sonic manifestations of the collisions between the physical substance of musical instruments with music-makers’ bodies. Note by Etha Williams

+Quattro Voci, for soprano, flute, clarinet, and piano, 1988
Stefano Gervasoni, b. 1962

The title of Gervasoni’s Quattro Voci (Four Voices) refers both to the number of musicians for whom the piece is scored and the number of poets from whom its text is drawn. Quattro Voci is written for four players – soprano, flute, clarinet, and piano – and is written in four movements, each of which takes its text from a poem by a different late-20 Mario Luzi’s Primo o dopo l’esperianza, Edoardo Sanguineti’s C, and Giorgio Caproni’s Aspirazione.

Sereni, Luzi, and Caproni’s texts all allude to a sense of distance and detachment: Sereni and Luzi’s texts both allude to “shadows,” while Caproni’s  includes the lines “In a dream, maybe/in an echo.” Sanguineti’s text offers contrast with a visceral depiction of the “clear chronic crisis” of the apocalypse; part of Sanguineti’s larger Alfabeto Apocalittico (“Apocalyptic Alphabet”), the focal letter here is “c,” a sound which begins nearly every word. Gervasoni reflects this poetic content in his musical settings. The first, second, and fourth movements all contain slower, quieter, somewhat detached musical gestures: slow vocal lines remaining on a single pitch in the first movement; soft, fragmentary phrases in the second movement; and delicate interweavings of vocal and instrumental timbres in the fourth movement. The faster, more musically active third movement contrasts with these, using loud glissandi that give the impression of stylized screams and emphasizing the “c” sounds that pervade the text. Whether depicting detachment or crisis, Gervasoni gives a vivid sonic portrayal of a world that is fragile and uncertain.

Note by Etha Williams

Vinko Globokar, ?Corporel, for solo percussionist and his/her body (1984)Corporel (which means “having to do with the body”) strips down the familiar Romantic idea of the suffering artist – which the other two works on our program reconsider as a species of insanity – and takes it to a raw extreme. The premise appears simple: Globokar has the shirtless percussionist use his own body as an instrument, hitting, beating, thwacking, and wordlessly vocalizing. Patterns of sound and gesture are built from what seems to be self-inflicted pain, keeping us transfixed even as we flinch. Is this a form of madness? Or perhaps the performer is split in two, enacting torture visited on him by an unseen sinister force – or its memory, stamped on his body and repeated in grotesque rituals of internalized punishment.Where in traditional aesthetics we like to anthropomorphize musical instruments (a violin “sings”), Corporel seems, on one level, to dehumanize the performer by transforming him into an instrument and stripping away the veneer of civilization – or at least it seems to make him regress into a sort of primal unconscious. At the same time, his gestures, percussive and vocal, generate an oddly compelling sense of authentic expression, one not filtered through convention. The performer is, after all, both agent and instrument, subject and object: “playing” himself. Ultimately, though, it’s through the tension between the premeditated shape of the performance and its spontaneous-seeming execution that Globokar holds us captive, whether we react with bemusement, concern, or outrage.From the LA Philharmonic “Music and Musicians Database”
*Otra Música 12b for soprano, flute, clarinet, tuba, piano and double bass, 2013
Guillermo Gregorio

Otra Música 12b “Apuntes para la pos-historia” Part 2 belongs to my series of pieces called Otras músicas. I began writing these pieces in 2004, the year Otra Música 1 was premiered in Berlin. These pieces refer to a monthly column on “experimental” and “avant-garde” music—called Otra Música— I was writing back in Buenos Aires early in 1970 in the stereophile magazine Audio Universal. This series of pieces constitutes a kind of meditation on the musical experiences I’ve undergone through the years since.Otra Música 12b consists of three conventionally defined musical structures regarding duration and notation, connected by two open sections also conventionally notated but whose duration and final configuration are to be determined by the conductor or the performers during the performance. The musical material contained in the two open sections refers to the material already played or to be played, contained in the three determined sections, but presented to the performers in a different format. The words sung by the soprano in the open parts are from a text by León Rozitchner.

Note by the composer

…Pellicanz for soprano, violin and piano, 2008
Tomás I. Gueglio–Saccone, b. 1980

…Pellicanz was inspired by the phrase: ‘Deus est ensi conme li pellicanz’ (‘God is like the pelican’), the opening line of a song by French nobleman and troubadour Thibaut de Champagne (1201-1253). This literary found object is treated as a musical one: the sentence is phonetically deconstructed and the resulting sonic bits-and-pieces are “translated” into the violin and the piano to conform an array of available sounds. When reassembling those materials, the objective was to portray the extravagance of an imaginary dialogue between God and a Pelican or (even better) a soliloquy of a Pelican-God. The work was commissioned by the argentine trio Bracelet, and was premiered in the Centro Nacional de Musica of Buenos Aires in July of 2008.

Note by the composer

*Pleasures in Momentum, 2 female voices, 2 flutes, bari sax, piano, violin and cello, 2012
Edward Hamel, b. 1986

Pleasures in Momentum deals with a hysteric and conflicting obsession with progression and retrogression. At times, the music gives the impression of a trajectory only to return to its original state or to discover a lack of conclusiveness in its point of arrival. There are polarities of hope and failure; surrender and advancement; confidence and embarrassment; stillness that is argumentatively in motion. The work is organized into 4 aphorisms, which could be performed individually, in pairs or trios or as a continuous  piece.

Note by the composer

Lied for amplified flute, 1971
Heinz Holliger, b. 1939

The the later twentieth- and twenty-first centuries have witnessed a profusion in music for solo flute; from this repertoire’s beginnings in Edgar Varèse oft-played Density 21.5, it has received notable additions from (among many others) Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, Horațiu Rădulescu, Brian Ferneyhough, and Salvatore Sciarrino. It is to this repertoire, then, that Heinz Holliger – a renowned woodwind player as well as composer – contributed with his Lied of 1971. In choosing such an insistently vocal title for the work, Holliger foregrounds a concern that has figured centrally (both positively and negatively) in much of this repertoire: the potential vocality inherent in a flautist’s breath and sound. Holliger in particular foregrounds the sheer physicality of the flautist’s breathing, at various points calling for the player to “snore” (“snarchen,”), to play with “brittle breath,” to make “much air noise,” or to “hold the flute against the mouth.”

The result is a piece that mediates between the biologically familiar – the intimate aspects of the human mouth, throat, and lungs themselves – and the culturally familiar – the normative sounds of flute technique, both in the twentieth-century and before –, suggesting a new sense of what it means for a work to be a “Lied.”

Note by Etha Williams

Birds Fragments III, for flute (bass+piccolo) and shô/accordion, 1990
Toshio Hosokawa, b. 1955

Two themes, both linked with his Japanese background, are central metaphors to Hosokawa’s aesthetic: nature and calligraphy. In Birds Fragments, the accordion may symbolize the ever-present forces of nature, while the flute(s) draw inspiration from these forcesto “manifest the spirit of the voice in the breath”, as he has explained for other of his works. Nature itself (the breeze, rain or river) as embodied by the accordion, acts like a canvas of minuscule irregular topography where the brush strokes of Japanese calligraphy irradiates physicality, resistance and liberation of contained energy, as in the flute(s) part.

Note by Pablo Chin

In Old Virginny, for soprano and contrabass, 2007
Shawn Jaeger

In Old Virginny is the second of two pieces Jaeger has written for soprano and contrabass, both setting texts from Cecil Sharp’s English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. The song contrapuntally juxtaposes the soprano’s high register against the contrabass’s low register, drawing on this contrast between registers to dramatize the song’s narrative structure. The song’s first two stanzas are clearly from a male perspective, while the fourth and fifth are from a female perspective; the third and sixth, however, are more ambiguous. In his setting of the gender-specific verses, Jaeger draws heavily on the contrast of high soprano and low contrabass registers; furthermore, the central pitch of the fourth and fifth stanzas is slightly higher than that of the first and second, reinforcing the idea of a shift in narrative perspective between these sets of verses. In the ambiguous third and sixth verses, Jaeger brings the soprano and contrabass parts closer to each other, creating a sense of duet – “as if each person remembered the same old song differently.” Through vernacular song’s roots in shared cultural memory, the two characters are able to overcome the vast difference in their instrumental registers and, at least momentarily, sing together.

Note by Etha Williams

Promenade sur une Lumière bryuante, for solo double bass and tape, 2004
Marisol Jiménez

Encuentros, and Promenade sur une Lumière Bruyante (Walk on a Noisy Light), are the third and fourth movements of the cycle Añoranzas del Fuego, for bass clarinet, double bass and electronic media, from 2004. The score bears the following poem:

Apparition of
an infinite parchment
that burns in the unfolding of
its layers.
The ashes
give shape to
at random.

Note by Pablo Chin

*Devil Madrigals, for two sopranos, bass flute, prepared piano and live electronics, 2013
Christopher Wendell Jones

The title of Christopher Jones’s Devil Madrigals evokes the Renaissance and Baroque madrigal tradition, an evocation born out in the work’s exploration of the ways that the interaction of multiple voices (in this case, the two sopranos) on the one hand elucidates and on the other hand obfuscates the the two voices’ semantic and phonemic content. The text itself frequently alludes to the on the one hand split and on the other hand double nature of these voices’ musical and textual content with lines such as “With the devil likety double/Each half will the other” and “On the double and only a whole damn person in the details”. Similarly, the piece unfolds in such a way as to emphasize the simultaneous duality and unity of the two voices, beginning with each voice singing alone in only slightly overlapping registers and continuing with ever-increasing interaction of the two voices. Throughout the piece the two voices’ lines constantly explore the boundaries of semantic and semiotic comprehensibility, sometimes hinting at well-known adages and at other times disintegrating into nonsensical phrases or simple vowel sounds against the constantly shifting rhythmic patterns of the accompanying instruments. The resulting sense is neither reducible to the textual nor the musical content, nor even to the sum of them, but comes from their playful interaction – “a whole damn person in the details.”

Note by Etha Williams

*Spirits and Elements, for soprano, flute, saxophone, cello and 4-channel electronics/tape, 2012
Jonathon Kirk

Jonathon Kirk’s Spirits and Elements takes its text, and title, from a poem by Henry David Thoreau that, true to the Transcendentalist philosophy Thoreau espoused, meditates on the human relationship with nature and spirituality and the yearning to transcend time-bound earthly concerns for higher ones:

All things are current found
On earthly ground,
Spirits and elements
Have their descents.

Night and day, year on year,
High and low, far and near,
These are our own aspects,
These are our own regrets.

Ye gods of the shore,
Who abide evermore,
I see you far headland,
Stretching on either hand;

I hear the sweet evening sounds
From your undecaying grounds;
Cheat me no more with time,
Take me to your clime.

In describing how he came to set this text, Kirk cites the influence of Ives – who was likely fascinated by the musicality of both Thoreau’s writing and larger philosophical ideals – and further explains that he had long been “struck by the calm mixture of prose and lyrical poetry” in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, the larger collection from which the poem is drawn. (In an interesting parallel to …sofferte onde serene…, this text, too, is written in memory a close family member of the author: Thoreau’s brother John.) Of this text in particular, Kirk notes that “I always thought I could hear Thoreau singing certain moments in the book”; and accordingly, Kirk’s setting both draws out and amplifies the  meaning and structure of Thoreau’s poetics.

In particular, Kirk, like Thoreau, brings together considerations of art and nature in his rhythmic setting of the poem. He notes that he used mathematical Hidden Markov models – associated with the “invisible structures” of bird song and insect choruses – to “loosely generate various bioacoustical structures algorithmically” that at the same time reflect the free rhythms of Thoreau’s poetics. These rhythms, together with the sounds of the accompanying instruments and electronics, emulate the “natural” layers of sound that underpin Thoreau’s imagery (“the sweet evening sounds/From your undecaying grounds”); in turn, the vocal part floats above these, sensitively reflecting the parallelisms of Thoreau’s poetry – for instance “Night and day/year and year” through paralleled, yet subtly differentiated, musical settings. The vocal setting and free rhythmic character of the piece as a whole matches Thoreau’s closing plea to nature: “Cheat me no more with time/take me to your clime.”

Note by Etha Williams

Kafka Fragments, for soprano and violin, 1985-6
György Kurtág, b. 1948

In a comparative essay on Brecht, Eisenstein and Diderot, Roland Barthes defines the pregnant moment as that one gesture that contains all absences (therefore all totalities, as in Borges’ Aleph), and whose intensity makes it independent from the apprehension of the totality of the work. Each Webernian miniature by Kurtag seems to be in constant search for this frozen depiction of meaning. Each moment counts, and is self-contained. Griffiths saw this instances as the particularization of the momentary gesture through its liberation from musical syntax. The resulting scattered nature of these works recalls the fragmented state of the subconscious. Therefore it makes sense Kurtag was fascinated by a such post-Freudian author as Kafka, whose loose notes from different letters and diaries served as text for this cycle of short movements for soprano and violin.

Note by Pablo Chin

sense títol for double bass and wind instrument (2012), by Ryan Krausesense títol is an untitled work for double bass and wind instrument. The use of the Catalan language to indicate the untitled nature of the piece is an example of composer Ryan Krause’s uncanny mastery of wordplay. Commissioned for a concert of contemporary chamber music in Catalonia, Krause created a work that explores measured and unmeasured austerity in musical performance. The double bassist creates the foundation of a sonic landscape by performing a procession of physically fragile dyads (two pitches played simultaneously) in the uppermost register of the instrument, exclusively in harmonics (tones created by lightly touching the strings). The wind instrument part is completely improvised, but informed and limited by the pillars of unstable sound created by the double bass. The pitch intervals are small in range and delicate to execute on the double bass, which gives the wind player a microscopic space within to freely play. This set of performance guidelines is in part a commentary on the economic ‘austerity measures’ enforced by the Spanish government in 2012 in response to the international financial crisis. Note by Kathryn Schulmeister

*gravity of shadows, for two female voices, bass flute, and contrabass, 2012
Morgan Krauss, b. 1985

The title of Krauss’s gravity of shadows refers to the sense of pull that the piece’s rhythmic gestures create as they begin together, move apart, and align again. Gravity of Shadows is organized first and foremost around this sense of pulse: Krauss explains that the piece evolved out of her interest in “writing simple rhythms based upon breathing or heartbeat and a performer’s natural capacity to evoke these phenomena through notational direction.” Each of the four performers thus plays its own sequence of distinctive, repeating rhythmic patterns, with no one rhythmic pattern asserting dominance over the others; the sustained low dynamic level, along with expressive indications such as “timid” and “as if not existent,” helps performers and listeners alike to focus their awareness on the way these rhythms interconnect. Blend between the parts is further crucial to this sense of interconnection, with the upper three parts – two sopranos and bass flute – together forming an “sonic palette” to which the “quasi-pointillistic,” lower-register contrabass part provides a sense of contrast.  While all four parts are distinct, there is no hierarchy, no one performer who takes precedence over another. Instead, the piece emphasizes the interlocking of the performers’ different, but mutually compatible, heartbeats.

Note by Etha Williams

Morgan Krauss – Apprehending Distinction, for 6 voices + double bass (2014) *Apprehending Distinction for 6 voices and contrabass is a work that intends to exploit the performers’ physical and psychological stamina/fatigue in relation to one another, to the score and the aural results produced through their interpretation of the musical content. These results should derive from variability as well as parameters of controlled and natural sonorous phenomena. It is my hope that the unseen tension held within the performers bodies and the perceivable tension of their bodies displayed through performance will remedy one another, creating additional autonomous musical layers perceivable within the ensemble as a homogeneous unit. Note by Morgan Krauss

*Blind, for contrabass with two sopranos and flute, 2013
Shawn Lucas, b. 1984

Shawn Lucas’s Blind explores the timbral boundaries between vocal and instrumental music through a compositional practice that takes the composer’s drawn sketches (an example of which is reproduced below). As Lucas explains, these sketches help determine the relationship between the work’s various parts; while cautioning that there is not a 100% correspondence between the sketches and the score (the former simply acting as an ideal guide for the latter), he notes that, “In my drawings there are various layers, two of the most prominent are structural points and interweaving complex lines,shapes, and scribbling. Every instrument can represent a certain layer throughout the piece, but I conceived it with the idea that the double bass would represent a structural point, or rather a foundation for the sound. The soprani and flute are extensions of that sound and represent the complex lines and spaces.”  The instruments, moreover, are integrally related to one another; frequently one part is instructed to sound as though “arising” from another, and the flautist and bassist at various points are instructed to sing, audibly breath, or produce an “airy” tone, suggesting a mimetic relationship with the soprani. The work’s title, Blind, arises from Lucas’s awareness that he often works relying on “raw artistic insight” rather than with a definitive trajectory in mind –  in a sense, writing blindly – and his desire to take compositional action on this realization.

Note by Etha Williams

*Rhinoceros, for soprano, flute, violin and electric and acoustic guitar, 2012
Shawn Lucas, b. 1984

Shawn Lucas explains that Rhinoceros was initially inspired by a recurring dream culminating in the”sudden emergence of a giant rhinoceros, which was out to kill me” and notes parallels with the title of Bartók’s piano composition “Bear Dance.” However, Rhinoceros contains no direct sonic depiction of its titular animal; rather, Lucas explains, the figure of the rhinoceros is present in the piece as a “shadow,” a reminder of why he composes. The work utilizes a wide range of pitch and timbral possibilities: microtonal scordatura in the guitar and violin parts; techniques of vocal production including unpitched whispers, sprechstimme, and pitched singing; and whispered, percussive, and singing tones in the flute, to name just a few. In this vastly expanded sound-world, Lucas structures his musical material both through the stark timbral contrasts and unexpected resemblances.

Note by Etha Williams

AGGELOI III à 6, for solo voice, 2010
Stratis Minakakis, b. 1979

Like Parra’s Mort d’Antigone, Stratis Minakakis’s Aggeloi III forms part of a larger cycle of works in which issues of ancient Greek tragedy – and specifically that of Sophocles – reemerge in a contemporary context. (Aggeloi translates to “messenger,” a reference to the role of such figures in Sophoclean tragedy.) Crucial to Minakakis’s relationship with this distant past is the idea of memory as not a mere replication of the past, but rather as something that “ denote[s] the absence of its object, and…construct[s] a substitute, a simulacrum, that takes its place.” He thus avoids so-called naturalistic modes of text-setting, preferring to treat his ancient texts as “found objects” whose meaning and form are in no way fixed – an approach vividly illustrated in his polyphonic treatment of the six text excerpts set in Aggeloi III. Minakakis describes the Aggeloi cycle as a whole as “deal[ing] with fundamental gestures in music”; in Aggeloi III, these explorations of basic musical gestures are for the first time explicitly linked to a Sophoclean scenario: the scene at the end of Oedipus at Colonus in which an awed messenger struggles to convey Oedipus’s miraculous death and absolution. This sense of  “a bewildered messenger that is struggling to articulate the extraordinary event to a possibly disbelieving audience” leads Minakakis to an exploration of a particular musical paradox: the implicit polyphonic possibilities of a single melodic part. Over the course of the work’s two movements, the six textual fragments from Oedipus at Colonus are not treated sequentially but simultaneously, emerging in layers of imagined registral polyphony side-by-side one another. Both the difficulty and the wonder at conveying what happened are vividly suggested in the stark aloneness of the solo voice and in the “tree-like structure” that gradually arises through this imagined polyphony.

Note by Etha Williams

Apoploys III for two female voices, drums, and tuning fork, 2013
Stratis Minakakis

The third in a series of Homer settings, Apoploys III’s title translates to “sailing forth,” referring to Odysseus’s maritime journey home. In accordance with this imagery, Apoploys III takes as its text a single sentence from Book 11 of the Odyssey, describing Odysseus’s encounter with his mother’s ghost in the underworld: “Tris đe moi ek xeiron skiei eikelon e kai oneiroi eptato” (“Three times she flitted from my arms like a shadow or a dream”). This sense of elusiveness seems to pervade Apoploys III, which bears the subtitle “Homeric Shards for Two Sopranos”; and, likewise the aesthetic of the shard – a small, necessarily fragmented remnant of something that was once whole (indeed, something much akin to a ghost, as well as to the heritage of antiquity in modernity) – is crucial to the work.

Throughout the first movement, the second soprano trails behind the first soprano, with a line that varies yet strongly resembles the first soprano’s, as though its shadow (indeed, the second soprano line is labeled “l’ombra” – “the shadow” – in Minakakis’s score). Too, the theatrical element of the work – the lighting and the movement of the performers on the stage – emphasize this sense of the second soprano’s shadow-self moving in constantly changing relation to the first soprano. In the second movement, the visual sense of shadow gives way to the sonic sense of an echo, with the two sopranos both echoing one another and finding resonant echoes in the sounds of struck tuning forks. In both, these concepts of shadow and echo become means by which to come aesthetically to terms with the question of the recoverability (always elusive and only partial) of the fragmentary, shard-like remains of that which has been lost.

Note by Etha Williams

*[IVsax(op_VIvln/c)], for soprano saxophone and optional violin and cello, 2012
Joan Arnau Pàmies, b. 1988

Organicism | some thoughts on [IVsax(op_VIvln/c)]

My interest in writing scores is strongly connected to the inherent ability of music to embrace reality. I understand music as a network of potential relationships, a priori, of any kind; as an extremely intricate machinery that allows  interpretation to flourish. Not only do I understand interpretation as the act of performance (as in the activity that takes place between score and performer), but also as an essential aspect of both the process of composition and the act of listening.


When composing, I make an effort to meticulously analyze every single material that I am interested in. Whether I am dealing with a particular psychological visualization of a potential sound or the nature of a simple notational signifier, each object needs to function as an essential mechanism of the overall outcome.


To compose, for me, is a matter of penetrating into my own ability to discern the implications of every single compositional decision: it is an exhaustive process that attempts to transmute my own perception of reality into a different domain. Composing embodies labeling, triggering, listing, critiquing, but it also provides a setup in which noise causes a predetermined system to reorganize itself at a higher level of complexity—hence unpredictability, inconsistency, diversity.

Note by the composer

[k(d_b)s] for solo bass (2013), by Joan Arnau Pàmies[k(d_b)s] is a piece for double bass with scordatura. It lasts approximately eight minutes. The piece was written in 2013 for Kathryn Schulmeister, who gave its world premiere at the University of Chicago in October of the same year.[k(d_b)s] explores unconventional notational strategies as means to trigger complex interpretive processes. This notation has the capacity to produce contingent formal paths which had not explicitly been formalized throughout the compositional operation. The mental state of the interpreter during the process of translating such notational signifiers into concrete sonic objects catalyzes the existence of a multiplicity of obliquely predetermined trajectories whose purpose is to enrich the overall musical experience.Specifically to [k(d_b)s], the score presents a degree of relations between six instrumental techniques: part of the bow in contact with the string, bow speed, placement of the bow on the instrument, bow pressure, number of strings depressed by the left hand, and left hand position on the fingerboard of the instrument. Furthermore, this parameterization is complexified by the temporal organization of the piece, which visually expands or contracts so that the level of entropy between score and performer acquires a movable dimension. Note by the composer
PALIMPSESTUS for soprano, double bass and percussion (2013)Joan Arnau Pàmiesfrom the New Oxford American Dictionarypalimpsest |ˈpalimpˌsest| noun- a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.- something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form: Sutton Place is a palimpsest of the taste of successive owners.
Mort d’Antigone, for mezzo-soprano and clarinet, 2001
Hector Parra, b. 1976

Ancient Greek tragedy has long exerted a remarkably strong musical fascination; from Claudio Monteverdi’s sixteenth-century dramme per musica to Iannis Xenakis’s twentieth-century evocations of the music of the ancient Greek dramatic chorus, composers and listeners have found in this ancient genre an enticing historical testimony to the affective power and narrative potentials of music. Parra’s four-part Antigone cycle, a set of works that take Sophocles’s eponymous tragedy as their point of departure, might thus be understood in terms of this historical dialogue – a dialogue between past and present, between music and language, and between the impulse to expression and the tragedy of muteness.

Mort d’Antigone – the third work in the cycle but the first to be composed and, interestingly, the only one to employ a vocal part  – sets Antigone’s monologue (see below) upon being condemned to be buried alive. Parra’s setting divides Sophocles’s text into two sections – the first containing only the first three lines of the text and the second setting the whole text –, each of which concludes with a clarinet solo passage. This musical division and repetition of the text has a striking narrative effect: the listener may initially believe that Antigone’s plea to “at least wait until I am dead” has been honored. Yet soon this proves not to be the case; and the excess of pathos produced from this unwillingness to honor the boundaries of life and death suffuses the second section. Both sections’ vocal parts moreover end with variants of the word “dead” (morte in the first section, morts in the second), delivered in a markedly speech-like fashion – seeming to suggest that much like Antigone, caught in a liminal state between life and death, the expressively meaningful substance of music lies trapped in the borderlands between speech and song.

Note by Etha Williams

Dust Unsettled for soprano, cello, trombone, piano, and percussion, 2012
Mauricio Pauly

Pauly’s Dust Unsettled takes as its text an extract from Gabriel Montagné Lascaris-Comneno’s Hombres que se caen del caballo (“Men who fall from their horses”); in this text, Montagné moves tensely between various binary mental states – renewal and frustration, fantasy and reality, reciprocated and unreciprocated love, certainty and uncertainty, light and dust. The music, too, suggests uneasy tensions, oscillating constantly between pitched and unpitched music, carefully controlled and more indeterminate tone production, repetition and change, and the numerous timbral possibilities afforded by the ensemble; too, the singer’s text seems frequently to traverse the boundaries between the sung and the spoken. Much of the work proceeds in fragments, in starts and stops, suggestive of the illusoriness of poetic and musical continuity and wholeness – an aesthetic of “fall” rather than of resurgence.

Note by Etha Williams

Adjö for soprano, flute and guitar (1982-85), by Kaija SaariahoOne of Saariaho’s first works since moving into Paris, Adjö was composed between 1982-85, around the time she also composed her early major works Verblendungen for orchestra and tape, and Lichtbogen for ensemble and electronics.In this piece, trends of her mature style are already present, like the richness of timbre which emerges from transitions between sound and noise, the reciting of text into the flute, and a prominent attention to harmony over other aspects of the piece. Along with the varied treatment of the text in the voice part (including techniques like whispering, inhaling, freely repeating given words and transitions between different ways of singing), an almost operatic lyricism (decades later to derive into her first opera L’amour de loin) emanates from the empathy of her music with the poetry of Finnish-Swedish poet Solveig von Schoultz, in which images from Nordic nature are evoked (the “radiant and dark blue” of winter) and embedded with visceral juxtapositions (“the snow burns like fresh fire”). These transition in the poem from plain nature into subjective apprehension can explain the choice of precise rhythmic notation at the beginning of Adjö (in which “the soprano is meant to sound as if all the singing would be done with an extreme effort, as if there would be something preventing the singing”), with spatial notation (where “little by little the voice is then ‘freed’ into singing”). Note by Pablo Chin

Changing Light, for soprano and violin, 2002
Kaija Saariaho, b. 1952

Like the composers of the so-called Spectral music (Grisey and Murail especially), Finnish composer Kajia Saariaho often uses computer analyses of sounds as models for composition. Her exposure to these technological tools contributed to sensitize her towards the minute details of sound and their influence on timbre, which, combined with her passion for literature and a tendency to the operatic (hitherto she has written three operas) merged into a unique sensuous language, of which Changing Light (based on a poem by Rabbi Jules Harlow) and Iltarukous (with text in Finnish by Eino Leino) offer a taste of.

Note by Pablo Chin

From the Grammar of Dreams, for soprano and mezzo soprano, 1988
Kaija Saariaho, b. 1952

From the Grammar of Dreams draws its text from two Sylvia Plath texts, both published in 1963: her poem “Paralytic” and three excerpts from her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar. The texts reflect both the psychological struggles Plath underwent throughout her life – her titular “paralysis”  – and her desire to overcome these struggles, through death if necessary – to be like the magnolia, “drunk on its own scents,” which “asks nothing of life.”

Saariaho does not set these texts linearly, but rather distributes them freely between the two voices in a collage-like fashion; in interviews, she has stated her views that the two soprani do not represent separate individuals but rather a single person – the “I” of Plath’s texts – with all of her multifaceted desires and struggles. Composed in five movements, the work alternates between lyrical, slower movements and half-sung, half-spoken faster movements and freely mix clearly articulated segments of text with vowels sounds, which themselves sometimes transform into segments of text. Through this fluid treatment of text, pitch, and sound, Saariaho explores Plath’s texts not in a logical, discursive manner but rather through a structure resembles that of the unconscious – a “grammar of dreams.”

Note by Etha Williams

Iltarukous, for soprano and piano
Kaija Saariaho, b. 1952

Like the composers of the so-called Spectral music (Grisey and Murail especially), Finnish composer Kajia Saariaho often uses computer analyses of sounds as models for composition. Her exposure to these technological tools contributed to sensitize her towards the minute details of sound and their influence on timbre, which, combined with her passion for literature and a tendency to the operatic (hitherto she has written three operas) merged into a unique sensuous language, of which Changing Light (based on a poem by Rabbi Jules Harlow) and Iltarukous (with text in Finnish by Eino Leino) offer a taste of.

Note by Pablo Chin

Kaija Saaraiho – L’aconisme de l’aile, for solo flute (1982)The possibility to move from secret whispers [in the low, breathy register of the flute] into clear, beautiful, “abstract” sound [in the high, sharp register of the flute] was one of the starting points for L’aconisme de l’aile (The Terseness of the Wing), started in Freiburg and finished in Paris 1982. Another important image on which I focused my mind when writing this piece was that of birds, not really their song but rather the lines they draw in the sky when flying. I had already started the piece when I felt the need to add a text in the beginning, which would in fact be the source for the musical material. The book Oiseaux (Birds) by St.-Jean Perce (1887-1975, a French poet and diplomat, Nobel-Prize-winner in 1960) got into my hands in the public library of Freiburg, and I found a passage in this collection of poems that described somehow the images that I had in my mind: that of birds, fighting gravity, flying away, secret and immortal.Ignorants de leur ombre, et ne sachent de mort que se qui s’en consume,
d’immortal au bruit lointain des grandes eaux, ils passent, nous laissant,
et nous ne sommes plus les mêmes. Ils sont l’espace traversé d’une seule pensée.
Laconisme de l’aile!…
 Ignorant of their shadow, knowing of death only that immortal part which
is consumed in the distant clamor of great waters, they pass and leave us and we are no longer the same. They are the space traversed by a single thought.
Laconism of the wing!…
Quoted from Kaija Saariaho

Mirrors, for flute and cello, 1997
Kaija Saariaho, b. 1952

Saariaho’s Mirrors consists of a series of fragmentary melodies in both the cello and the flute parts; in keeping with the work’s title, these fragments at all times mirror one another in various musical domains – pitch, rhythm, timbre, and gesture –, giving the overall work a sense of constant reflexivity. Moreover, even as the flautist participates in the creation of these musical mirrors – present both within her material and in her interactions with the cellist –, she simultaneously comments on them verbally: throughout the piece the flautist intermittently recites a text drawn from the Roman da la Dame à la lycorne et du biau chevalier au lion, a 14th-century poem that inspired the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestry (text below, image at right):

La dame et la lycorne detailImage: The Lady and the Unicorn – Sight (detail)

Miroir clair –
brillant sans souillure –
dans lequel il peut se voir lui même
et voir l’amour de sa Dame.

Clear mirror –
brilliant, unblemished –

in which he can see himself
and see the love of his Lady.

The mirror constructions in this work, then, are not mere abstract musical devices, but means of revelatory reflection – the reflection of the self through the transformative gaze of the Other, who is the object of the self’s desire.

Mirrors’s fragmentary construction reflects its origins as part of a CD-ROM, Prisma, dedicated to Saariaho’s work. On this CD-ROM, Mirrors appears not as a fixed composition but as a “game of musical creation” in which the user is permitted to create his or her own version of the piece by dragging and dropping the flute and cello’s pre-composed musical fragments as he or she wishes, combining the fragments either freely or in accordance with Saariaho’s mirror-based compositional constraints. The version heard tonight is Saariaho’s own realization of the piece.

Note by Etha Williams

Koh-Lho, for flute and clarinet, 1966
Giacinto Scelsi, b. 1905

The two movements of Scelsi’s Ko-Lho both reflect the composer’s long-standing interest in exploring questions of timbre, microtones, and articulation within a deliberately narrow range of pitch. Throughout the work, the flute and clarinet parts often remain within a whole step or a semitone of one another, decorating their close harmonies and unisons with microtonal inflections, rhythmic repetitions of a single pitch or pair of pitches, and trills and tremoli; the listener’s attention is thus drawn principally to such “secondary parameters,” and he or she may even nearly forget about pitch as an organizing principal. At several points, however, marked disruptions to this way of hearing occur: one or both instruments will break out of the deliberately narrow range it otherwise inhabits, abruptly and strikingly taking on a wider melodic ambitus and more markedly defined contour. In each of the movements, these disruptions lead to a different fate: in the first, the two instruments come together, each ending on on the same pitch; but in the second, the ending suggests that the previously heard disruptions cannot be resolved so easily.

Note by Etha Williams

Sauh I and II for two female voices (1973), by Giacinto Scelsi,

We often think of both phonemes and pitches as distinct elements: for instance, as “long o” vs “short o,” or as “F-natural” vs “F-sharp.” Yet both phonemes and pitches exist on a continuous spectrum: between long and short “o” sounds lies an infinitude of in-between phonemes, and between equal-tempered B-natural and B-flat lies limitless microtones. In Sauh, subtitled “liturgia” (“liturgy”), Scelsi exploits these properties to create a sense of sacred ritual; throughout the piece, the singers move gradually between phonemes (e.g., from “ü” to “ö”) and pitches (e.g., from B to B-half-sharp), creating a sense of constant transformation of voice and of harmony. As he does in many of his pieces, Scelsi here highlights this sense of limitless microinflections by severely limiting the range within which these microinflections occur: both voices stay between pitch-classes G and C, and Scelsi’s choice of phonemes is similarly limited. This limitation of means encourages the listener to pay all the more attention to the myriad possibilities that lie within it. Note by Etha Williams

Drifting the Upper Layers, for flute and bass flute, 2012
Scott Scharf, b. 1979

Scharf notes that Drifting the Upper Layers was inspired by articles on deep sea exploration, citing in particular explorers’ emphasis on such exploration’s “slow descent and…the marine snow: both organic and inorganic particles that fall from the upper layers of the sea to the bottom.” Indeed, this image of marine snow – which forms aggregates as it becomes increasingly dense in deeper levels of the sea – is suggestive of Drifting the Upper Layers’ treatment of musical material. The work’s opening bars present a sparse sonic environment; both players play “breathy, unfocused pitches” an octave apart at staggered rhythmic intervals and with substantial rests between notes. As the work progresses, the musical texture becomes denser and denser as both flute parts begin to make use of increasingly rich timbral and pitch material as rests between notes gradually shorten and, eventually, disappear. Throughout the piece, durations of notes (and rests) constantly and subtly shift, creating a free, unmetered sense of time that undergirds the gradual accretion of musical material; as Scharf describes, “Over the course of writing, this piece seemed to take on the movement of layered, seemingly free-floating, material that makes up this underwater haze.”

Note by Etha Williams

“Der kranke mond” from Pierrot Lunaire, for soprano and flute, 1913
Arnold Schoenberg, 1874 – 1951

Pierrot Lunaire (1913) and Le Marteau sans maître (1955) are two landmark works of 20th century music. For many, the former inaugurates, together with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the music of the new century. On the other hand, Boulez’s Le Marteau was praised by Stravinsky more than four decades later as the only important piece of its time. In this nine-song cycle, Boulez renders tribute to Schoenberg’s Pierrot, among other things, by writing a movement for voice and flute, as in Pierrot’s 7th movement (something that would be emulated almost 30 years later by Brian Ferneyhough, in his Etudes Transcendentales).

Note by Pablo Chin

Due melodie, for soprano and piano, 1976
Salvatore Sciarrino, b. 1947

In his Due melodie (Two melodies), Sciarrino draws expressive substance from a problem familiar to many historians and literary scholars: the existence of multiple different manuscript versions of the same text. Here, the text is taken from the beginning of a love sonnet by Giambattista Marino (1569- 1625) found both in Marino’s Versi d’amore and in his Poesie varie. At first glance, the two manuscript versions might seem extremely similar:

Versi d’amore

Oh Dio! che cari e preziosi pianti
son, languidetta mia, questi che versi
su per le guance, e da’ leggiadri e tersi,
vive perle stillanti, occhi stillanti.

Poesie varie
Oh Dio, che cari e preziosi pianti
son, languidetta mia, questi che versi
su per le guance, e da’ leggiadri e tersi,
vive perle stillanti, occhi stellanti.

But closer inspection reveals a crucial vowel change: the last line of the Versi d’amore version ends “occhi stillanti” (“dripping eyes”), while the last line of the Poesie varie version ends “occhi stellanti” (“starry eyes”). It is on this difference that Sciarrino seizes in writing the two movements of this piece, entitled “Occhi stillanti” and “Occhi stellanti,” respectively. In keeping with the textual similarities, the two movements share much similar figuration in both the piano and vocal parts; however, while the vocal writing in the first movement is based around short, highly ornamented, isolated pitches, the second movement features steady, long notes held on a single pitch. In this way, the textual difference between the two poems pervades each song’s expressive material: in the first movement, the short, trembling gestures give the impression of individual tear drops (“dripping eyes”), while in the second, the longer, steady notes convey the gleaming of a star (“starry eyes”).

Note by Etha Williams

Il motivo degli oggetti di vetro, for two flutes and piano, 1986-7
Salvatore Sciarrino, b. 1947

Sciarrino has described his music as watching a volcano erupting from faraway. Could it also be a minute piece of precious porcelain breaking at your feet?

The fragility of the short motivic figures chosen by Sciarrino to construct this piece (whose title translates to “the motive of the glass objects”), and their loose silent bonds suggest a thin piece of crystalline glass at the verge of breaking.

Note by Pablo Chin

Sonata No. IV, for solo piano, 1992
Salvatore Sciarrino, b. 1947

From the very beginning of the piece, a relentless alternation between high- and low-register cluster chords pervades Sciarrino’s Piano Sonata No 4. The intensity and violence of this gestural content is not only aural but, for the pianist, physical; as David Kalhous notes, “The physical tension the pianist experiences during the performance (the piece is technically very demanding) translates into a psychological uneasiness that the listener will undoubtedly feel while listening to this piece.” But while the intensity of these chords is likely the first thing that will catch the listener’s attention, it is far from the only one. For beneath this imposing façade of cluster chords lies a plethora of musical detail: the cluster chords are conceived in careful counterpoint with one another, as are the triplet figurations that are constantly played within the cluster chords. These triplet figurations are heard throughout the piece but seem constantly to shift between the foreground and background of the piece: sometimes, they are nearly entirely drowned out by the cluster chords, while at other times they are clearly audible within them; and occasionally, the cluster chords briefly drop away entirely and the listener hears only the more delicate, melodic triplet figuration. These momentary glimpses into the delicate material that lies within the sonata’s musical material can be just as unsettling, if not more so, as the raw intensity that characterizes the piece as a whole.

Note by Etha Williams

Alexander Sigman, epiglottis, for two sopranos, flutes, cello, contrabass, electronics, and video projection (2013; World Premiere)Commissioned by Fonema Consort, who are giving the work its world premiere tonight, Alexander Sigman’s epiglottis arose out of the composer’s collaboration with Croatian visual artist Damir Ocko in the latter’s solo exposition The Kingdom of Glottis. The work represents a form of of compositional synesthesia through translation: Sigman analyzed the images from Ocko’s video (Spring)which alternatingly depict erupting volcanic activity and the movements of a contortionists—and translated this into auditory information (itself split between various parts and parameters), which is then retranslated back into the images. From these successive translations emerge a structure in which audiovisual segments serve as formal pillars—introducing the work, providing interludes between song movements, and concluding it—that frame Sigman’s central settings of Ocko’s sonically-charged poetry. (Sigman sets Ocko’s poetry in three songs; for reasons of time constraints, only the first and third songs are heard tonight.) The result is a dense web of different forms of aesthetic communication—poetic-linguistic, visual, and musical—that constantly impinge on, refer to, and transform one another. Indeed, Sigman plans to use this integrally multi-sensory song cycle is planned as a basis for a forthcoming one-act chamber opera.Texts:

I: (!)

Frost (!)

Welcome (!) cracks and ruptures

Welcome (!) what is under your weight,

That hidden shape of oppression

(Did you know That has been ringing persistently?)

If you could just melt away

But no, You grapple us all

Glazing with sharp and sparkling fear

Our trembling bones

(Our ringing too)

But trembling is ringing Of subversive kind

PushPushPushing upwards

From the inside out, Crescending

Towards the black ice,


And when it finally breaks through your persistence,

This ringing spring,

This Fearless-Unstoppable-Free of everything

but its own stream: Clear Resonance

It will be like an unreal feeling.

III: Nickering


Poem I:


Then came

on the upper lip

on the upper teeth,

on the edge of the teeth

on the inner surface of the teeth

on the gum line just behind the teeth,

to the back of the ridge

on the hard palate on the roof of the mouth

on the soft palate further back on the roof of the mouth

and on the uvula hanging down the entrance of the throat

my throat

the throat itself

the epiglottis

the flap

the windpipe

the pink soft wet skin of the lower lip

in front of the tongue

by the tongue

just behind the tip of the tongue

on the blade of the tongue

the blade of the tongue,

the body of the tongue

the root of the tongue in the throat

my throat

the throat itself

the entrance

the glottis

Poem II, Part a:


[my mind,] my broken

my spitting, pointing, pointing, speaking

my Hand that is an arrow, hand-shoe

Paper-skate, ballpoint pen, and the window,

the window that is a flatten eye Staring.

Homeless among the spheres of keys

as discordant beauty, trips,

slips of the tongue.



a single string

Clanging clumps

to my arrows

to point in and out

to shivering inventions

sharp shaped mouths,

I whistle, it bleeds.

I spit: oasis,

bigger then my mouth

the mouth of a snake.

I faint,

I rush,

for demented syllables,

Whisper the unknown ones

My arrows respond in panic.

Poem II, Part b:



My clocks,

Dripping instead of counting

Counting instead of fluttering

Fluttering instead of pronouncing

Pronouncing instead of pointing

Pointing instead of running away

Running away instead of running like a horse

Instead (of) Running like horse with a tail on fire

Instead (of) Running like a horse with a tail on fire and a broken leg

Instead (of) Running like a horse with a tail on fire, unaware of a broken leg

Instead (of) Running like a horse with a tail on fire, unaware of a broken leg, nickering! Nickering! Nickering! Nickering! Nickering! Nickering! Nickering! Nickering! Nickering!

the shining pillar of anti-beauty (int-0) version II, for solo viola, 2011
Alexander Sigman, b. 1980

The experience of performing this piece is disorienting by design. The microtonal scordatura (retuning of the instrument), application of a lead mute to the strings, and amplification (both literal and figurative) of sonic “by-products” isolate the viola from its usual expressive sphere, effectively transforming it into a rusty and cantankerous object.  As the performer navigates and integrates inherently incompatible, unstable, and charged material particles, their kernel identities undergo progressive erosion.

As the first interjection/interruption/interception/interpretation/interpolation/intersection (or however one wishes to interpret “int-0”) in the context of Nominal/Noumenal, two interlocking cycles of ten pieces for soloists, chamber ensemble, electronics, and video, the first version of the shining pillar of anti-beauty (int-0) was scored for solo cello. The title otherwise leaves little to the imagination.

Note by the composer

Simon Steen-Andersen – Difficulties Putting it into Practice, for two amplified sopranos (2007) Difficulties Putting it into Practice challenges the traditional view of the microphone as a transparent means of communication, instead foregrounding the function of the microphone as an emphatically mediating device. The work’s text derives from’s entries for “communicate” and “perceive,” which mix explanatory phrases, synonyms, and examples of usage in what emerges as a quasi-poetic fashion. Yet even as it cites these concepts, Steen-Anderson’s music foregrounds precisely their boundaries, sonically exploring forms of interference with communication and of distortion of perception. The semantic content of the sopranos’ declamation of their text is thus constantly shrouded by close miking techniques, which forcibly confront the listener with the physical sounds of the singers’ vocal production and actions. Yet Steen-Andersen instructs that the performers “put a big effort into making [the text] understandable”; it is thus precisely the struggle to communicate—indeed, the “difficulties putting it into practice”— that becomes the object of communication. Text:To convey information about; make known;impart:She communicated her views to the office. To reveal clearly; manifest:Her disapproval communicated itself in her frown.To become aware of, know, or identify by means of the senses:I perceived an object looming through the mist.To recognize, discern, envision, or understand:I perceive a note of sarcasm in your voice.This is a very nice idea but I perceive difficulties putting it into practice., communicate/perceive
Small Atlas for soprano, flute, soprano saxophone and piano, 2011, by Chris SwithinbankRecently I have been interested in cartography and the important role it plays in how we comprehend the spaces we inhabit. An atlas is a collection of maps, often several maps show the same area but map different details and data, each time revealing another facet of the land’s geography. Small Atlas lays out a small set of musical units using time as its canvas, but in another sense every work of music maps out a series of physical actions, instructing the performer to explore their connection with their surroundings in a characteristic fashion. Here, the singer begins with the phrase ‘J’existe’ and, through their existence, the performers briefly map time.

Small Atlas was written for the composition workshops at Centre Acanthes 2011 in Metz, France.

The phonetic material employed in Small Atlas is minimal, but is drawn fromthe following two fragments, from Jean-Paul Sartre and Bernadette Béarez Caravaggi respectively:

J’existe. C’est doux, si doux, si lent. Et léger: on dirait que ça tient en l’air

tout seul. Ça remue.


Ce que je veux,

c’est fixer

les instants.

Ce ne sont

que fragments,

mais ensemble

ils dessinent

la vie.

Note by the composer

Partial Response I for soprano and two saxophone mouthpieces (2000), by Chiyoko SzlavnicsSince 2004, the music of Canadian composer Chiyoko Szlavnics is the result of a process that involves drawing. Like Estrada, Szlavnics begins by sketching the drawings against a grid, and later she transcribes them into musical notation. There is certain simplicity about the structure of Szlavnics’ drawings in that they are made of straight, ascending, and descending lines or curves. This is compensated for by the complexity that arises when translated into sound, since the combination of voices and their trajectories create an unfamiliar and often-unpredictable sonic landscape rooted in just intonation harmonies, and in acoustic phenomenon like beating and difference tones. Then, the formal articulation in the large scale relies on the interplay between steady passages where chordal structures are held, and moving passages where one or more tones from those chords slowly transition into other tones by way of glissandi lines.About Partial Response I Szlavnics tells the performer: “this piece explores combinations of just intervals, and the phenomenon of beating. Be prepared to have and extraordinary aural experience!” Note by Pablo Chin

Mimesis, for voice and piano, 2012
Monte Weber, b. 1991

The conceptualization of Mimesis came about through the struggle to pinpoint my own compositional aesthetic with regards to stuttering and speech therapy. Instead of portraying the struggle and inconsistency of my own speech I decided to let the process of repetition and fluidity govern how words transform. Hogs in suits with wet cigars becomes A hut damned king throws thorns which riddles by transforming single words: hogs–>hags–>august–>hot–>a hut, etc. The process involves the repetition of each word while altering one or more vowel/consonant sounds to achieve fluid transformations and to arrive at a word with a completely different connotation. In Mimesis, the conversational discourse between the two performers explores the inherent unnoticed virtuosity involved in speech.

Each word’s ability to transform so fluidly tells me something about the connection between seemingly disparate words, that is to say that if hogs and hags dwell within such close proximity within this easily traversable continuum, perhaps for a stutterer learning to attain fluidity is only a matter of working through hogs in suits with wet cigars.

Note by the composer

Drei kleine Stücke, for cello and piano, 1914
Anton Webern, 1883-1945

The shadows of the grand, monumental works of 19th symphonists as well as their rhetoric still resound in Schoenberg’s music, despite his claims for innovation, as expressed by Boulez in his legendary essay “Schoenberg est mort” from 1952.  Both grandeur and grammar were redefined in Webern’s musical language of brevity. In pieces like the Op. 11, the minute is far from insubstantial, despite its impermanence. Each event becomes expressive by way of isolation. Framed by silence, these sound verbalizations leave trails behind them that permeate the void with lyricism.

Note by Pablo Chin

Pairs, for up to four pairs of any instrumentation, 1968
Christian Wolff, b. 1934

For whom is music written? This ever-going question for composers seems to have a clear, emphatic answer in the music of Christian Wolff: for the performer. His indeterminate works incessantly explore ways to enhance the interaction and communication between players, in a way that they become more deeply involved with the creation of the work. In Pairs, up to eight musicians can play in four groups of two each. The flexibility of the score invites each pair to open a dialogue that clarifies the rules of the “game”. In Fonema Consort’s version of the piece, the communal work within pairs is contrasted by a more alienated coexistence between them, thus stressing on aspects of culture’s control and nature’s chance.

Note by Pablo Chin

Visible, for female voice and violin, 2004
Charles Wuorinen, b. 1938

Wuorinen’s Visible takes its text from a poem by Paul Auster. Using vivid imagery and enjambment to depict the visual and psychological effects of lightening, the poem likely stems from Auster’s own experience when, at the age of fourteen, he saw a friend struck and killed by lightening:

Spools of lightning, spun outward
in the split, winter night: thunder
hauled by star – as if
your ghost had passed, burning,
into the needle’s eye, and worked itself
sheer through the silk
of nothingness.

Wuorinen repeats this text three times, with the musical material becoming successively more intensely embellished and agitated in each repetition.   Too, over the course of these three repetitions, the relationship between voice and violin shifts: the second features the material originally heard in the violin in the voice (and vice versa), while the third features alternation between the two parts. Like three bolts of lightening, each successive repetition of the text intensifies the imagery and emotional content of the text.

Note by Etha Williams

Furiosamente, for solo piccolo, 1985
Jay Alan Yim, b. 1958

The inspiration for this piece for solo piccolo came from a poem by Octavio Paz bearing the same title; the poem conjures up images of flight and predation, and the confluence of avian associations, mercilessness, and the aura of mystery suggested a well-known film by Alfred Hitchcock. The piccolo is ideally suited to such a characterization: its low register is rather cool, icy even, its middle register seems detached and calculating, and its high register whistles up into the stratosphere. In fact, I rather wanted to suggest a parallel between the threat posed by the cinematic Birds and the actual concert situation, and the performer is encouraged to adopt an attitude of aggressive virtuosity.

The birdsong-like patterns do not derive from actual ornithological research, but are instead elaborated from densely interlocked variations on three very short motivic ideas: a five-note phrase, a four-note variation of it, and a three note motive which is a truncated version of the five-note phrase. The music tends to de-emphasize these relationships in the belief that they are elemental enough to function subliminally; the work’s construction is thus subsumed by vectoral/gestural shaping and the manipulation of the music’s momentum.

Note by the composer

Katherine Young – Master of Disguises, for sopranos with tape recorders, bass clarinet and baritone saxophone (2014) *Master of Disguises utilizes a short piece of text excerpted from Kelly Link’s short story “The Girl Detective” as source material. This fragment hones in on one of the story’s themes: loss and looking for something you don’t necessarily expect to find. Master of Disguises explores process, searching, elusiveness and instability. Commissioned by Fonema Consort to write a new piece in which the vocalists use auxiliary instruments, Master of Disguises asks the singers to perform percussive gestures on small portable cassette players: stopping, ejecting, rewinding, fast forwarding, and sometimes playing a cassette tape.The girl detective has been looking for her mother for a long time. She doesn’t expect her mother to be easy to find. After all, her mother is also a master of disguises.Note by Katherine Young

*No habia sino detalles… for soprano, flute and cello, 2012
Julio Zúñiga

“Thinking is to forget differences, to generalize, to abstract. In the cluttered world of Funes there were nothing else but details, almost immediate ones.” –– Funes the Memorious, Jorge Luis Borges