Miranda Cuckson – New music, new musicians, new entrepreneurs

Last season, Fonema Consort came to New York to perform and I was asked to play as their NY-based guest artist. It was a delight to meet these young musicians, so gifted and thrilled about the music they were playing, the excitement of putting on their own shows, sharing their discoveries with new listeners and friends. It has been terrific lately to see so many musicians around the country and the world throwing themselves into new-music composition and performance, and to witness and take part in the entrepreneurial spirit that has become a necessity but also a positive expression of our modern era. Chicago has been very fertile ground for ensembles and composers, and Fonema Consort seems to have quickly made itself known amid that lively scene.

I'm interested in the group's focus on the voice along with instruments. Co-founder Nina Dante has a remarkably flexible voice and a passion for new works that was evident as soon as I met her. I've always been drawn to the basic song/spoken nature of music, that primal utterance from the throat, whether blossomed into pitch and melody, or closer to speaking voice or other vocal noise. Also, always, I love the combination and balance of words and music, the great question that Strauss so memorably put forth in Capriccio. It's wonderful to see a group explicitly focus on this fundamental aspect.

I am looking forward to play works by two great American artists with Nina. One is Charles Wuorinen's Visible, which sets text by Paul Auster. The lines are stated three times, each time with more urgency and wildness. The twisting together of voice and violin is so effective in this piece- the lines swoop and turn and keep meeting at common notes, only to swerve away again.

We'll also be playing Morton Feldman's Voice, Violin and Piano. Feldman's distinct language of quiet tones, floating sonorities and unpredictable silences sets such an example of exquisite craft, attention to beauty of sound and passing time, and brilliant thinking realized with simple materials. This piece will put the voice and the violin, which is often likened to a soprano voice, in duet along with the piano's particular resonance.
I'll also be playing two solos, by Oscar Bianchi and Kaija Saariaho. Bianchi's Semplice is a solo that I recently recorded. Its title is rather tongue-in-cheek, for it is actually a very ornate piece full of curlicues and light, fanciful passages. He told me that it should sound "semplice" (Italian for "simple"), though the music is actually not. I think this means conveying a certain ease in executing it, and also having a large sense of the trajectory. Though much of the piece has a bright, radiant quality and wonderfully utilizes the sparkling, pretty high register of the violin, it gradually introduces a more edgy microtonal language, with ponticello adding a layer of grit. Oscar, an Italian-Swiss citizen, is very active, with performances lately with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Aix-en-Provence festival and Ensemble Modern, but his music may not be familiar in Chicago, so I am pleased to perform it there.

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's Nocturne is a memorial piece that she wrote for Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski. Compared to her many lush and sweeping large-scale pieces - operas, symphonic works - this is a small sample of her music, but it draws the listener immediately into an amazingly vivid atmosphere and sound world. Moving in sensuous waves and rounded gestures, it is elegiac yet warm and enveloping. Like many composers of the last few decades, she explores some non-pitched sounds - here, crunching noise caused by pressure on the strings. Though this is often an aggressive-sounding noise, Saariaho applies it here subtly, using it to add a poignant twinge to the sighing lines.

I'm looking forward to join Fonema Consort for these works, to share them with listeners and to see and meet people in Chicago in early March!