June 29, 2012 - Parhelion Trio presents "15 Minutes of Fame" -- Vox Novus
Every now and then there is a unique opportunity for a composer to write a piece for a specific ensemble. Parhelion Trio (Sarah Carrier, flute; Medina, clarinet; & Andrea Christie, piano) offered one such opportunity in the form of a competition run through Vox Vovus called "15 Minutes of Fame". Nearly 60 composers wrote 1-minute pieces to be considered for the concert at St. Luke's Church in Jackson Heights, NY, and only 15 were chosen. As luck would have it, my piece, Glass Half Full, was one of the official selections. The title is both a description of the optimistic mood of the piece and a nod towards Philip Glass on his 75th birthday year. The performance of these 15 miniatures was intriguing on many levels. Several of the composers had traveled far and wide to be there for their one minute piece, one as far as Spain. All 15 pieces were played back to back with little interruption, presenting a kaleidoscope of musical snapshots. It is often mind-boggling when presented with a concert of modern music for the definitions of contemporary music are so disparate. This portion of the concert proved especially dizzying due to the short time frame of each piece, the rapidity of change, and the fact that all were written for this specific combination, yet turned out so different. I believe it was Leonard Bernstein in the 1970's who predicted an era of eclecticism, and in being part of this concert, I was reminded that that era has arrived. Still, I was no less gratified nor entertained by the evening of music, which also included a program full-length works by Guillaume Connesson, Camille Saint-Saens, David Schober, and Paul Schoenfeld. Parhelion Trio offered a stellar performance of all. I look forward to hearing more from them (and perhaps writing more for them too, 1 minute at a time).
June 20, 2012 - “TwoSense” at Barge Music, Brooklyn, NY
I often find myself swaying to music I like. It probably comes from my rock-band days of old. But at last night’s concert at Barge Music, TwoSense had me swaying twice as much. There is something surreal about watching a concert whose backdrop is a bobbing Manhattan sky-line. I kept picturing the grand piano rolling off stage into the East River but apparently they have it sufficiently anchored. All added elements aside, the music performed by cellist Ashley Bathgate and pianist Lisa Moore (as well as their guest violinists) was superbly executed and deftly programmed.
Janacek’s lovable Pohadka (Fairytale) started the program. This communicative three-movement work is laden with folk melody and Janacek’s famous witticism. It is an inviting way to start a program of all 20th Century works. Next was Martin Bresnick’s piece, Prayers Remain Forever, based on a poem by Yehuda Amichai. It is built on the notion that since the beginning of Man, many languages and God’s have come and gone, but the human condition remains the same. The work aptly reflects that notion; it is a steadily paced piece that brings together the seemingly irreconcilable elements of minimalism and the sharp, biting dissonances derived from the school of serialism. In using repetition and variation of simple materials, Bresnick constantly plays with the tension of what is expected and what materializes, ending in a barbaric phrygian-tinged crescendo that was like watching a cave man beat his hands against the wall.
The second half turned this lovable duo into a trio as violinist Courtney Orlando was added to the (rocking) stage. Bresnick’s student, Samuel Carl Adams, premiered his Piano Trio, displaying a colorfully dissonant and tightly-packed language within a semi-classical sonata form. The two strings, often in unison or at the octave were set in motion against the piano resulting in a fascinatingly syncopated groove that seemed to define the piece. It ended with a wonderful pulling-apart of the elements, with the strings in harmony set against the piano and building to the final fiery coda.
The closing piece was Bresnick’s weighty Trio for piano, violin and cello from 1988. As the composer himself described, each of the four movements is entitled with a description like a miniature poem: I. Semplice, Inesorabile; II. Leggiermente, con accenti diversi, “Cat’s Cradle”; III. Parlando, Affetuoso; IV. Ardente, Sperduto. The material, as he explained to the audience, was the result of a reevaluation of his voice and process, the result of which yielded a language built of simple elements and worked through with intellectual prowess. As the evening concluded, I stepped onto “land” for the first time in 3 hours and continued to think about this piece the rest of the evening. I look forward to swaying to more concerts featuring TwoSense and Martin Bresnick, whether or not at Barge Music.
June 17, 2012 - “Bang On a Can Festival” NYC
I was able to catch 4 hours out of the 12 marathon hours of Bang On a Can at the World Financial Center this year. Even the New York Times critic couldn’t make all 12 hours. After meeting up with my fellow composer friends Howie Kenty and Roy Vanegas we met a fellow music-goer -- one of the few people in the crowd who wasn’t a performer or composer.
A jewelry-maker by day and a music-fan by night, she confided in us that after a few years of attending the festival, she just can’t invite her friends anymore. It’s not that the musical styles aren’t often appealing, especially to first-timers, but that the gargantuan nature of the event and the back-to-back performances of weighty pieces can be daunting even to the musically trained. In the midst of one 6-piano work, she turned to one of my friends and said, “I think I need a musical degree to understand this.” It got me thinking -- no one understands every second of modern music, but rather, after prolonged exposure, you are able to listen to it like my 2-year old nephew listens to thunder -- perplexed yet intrigued.
It is always illuminating to hear non-musicians’ reactions to the music that we musicians live and breathe. I was content to sit there, taking in the reverberations of the booming space and the meditativeness quality of works by David Lang, Steve Reich, and the most ambitious piece of the evening, Le Noir de l’Etoile by Gerard Grisey, masterfully performed by the Talujon percussion ensemble. This hour-plus piece is based on the properties of pulsars, a phenomenon recorded from space, thousands of light-years away from little old Earth. It finished out the evening around 12:15 am, at which point, the hard-core few (which still amounted to dozens) awarded the group with a standing-ovation. It took me the rest of the night to return to Earth, as I was reminded again of the transformative power of a good piece of music, however short or long.
June 3, 2012 - “Music for the Soul” Mineola, NY
For almost three years, I have been working as an organist for Our Savior Lutheran Church in Mineola, Long Island. I got the job when I first started my Masters at Queens College and am now leaving it after having just graduated with my MA in Composition. It literally put me through college. As a way of giving back to the job which gave me so much, I decided to put on a final farewell recital entitled, “Music of the Soul.” The music which comprises this program is made up of pieces which gave me a lot of comfort after moving from Sacramento to New York City six years ago:
-Bach, Prelude and Fugue in F#, WTC I
-Beethoven, Sonata in E, Opus 109
-Brahms, Intermezzo in A, Opus 118, no. 2
-Chopin, Ballade No. 1 in g-minor
As well as 2 original works of mine:
-Lullaby (2006) based on excerpts of Chopin’s Ballade No.1, dedicated to my late Grandma Midge
-American Variations (2007) abridged, commissioned by Richard Cionco, featured on my Centaur CD
Being raised by a Jewish composer and a Protestant ballerina made my older brother Jim Knable and I practicing believers in the Arts above all. As far as organized religion goes, though, I think we were both technically “confused.” As an adult, I started working for St. George’s Episcopal Church of Charmichael, California, which gave me my first insight into religion. A funny thing happened while working for them -- I started listening. When I moved to NYC six years ago, I missed the comfort of a congregation and the regular ritual of a service. I picked up a sound-engineer position at Calvary-St. George of Gramercy Park, NY where I also subbed for Kamel Boutros as Music Director occasionally. Another funny thing happened at this job -- I started speaking the words. This job lead me to Our Savior where I worked with Pastor Albert Triolo, often singing and collaborating together on various liturgical compositions. The biggest transformation happened to me here -- I began to feel the meaning in those words. This may seem like a simplified and exaggerated account (and it is) but for a kid who didn’t grow up with religion, besides the occasional Easter service (disappointingly devoid of chocolates), it means a lot.
As I finish out my third church appointment and perform my final notes for Our Savior, I lift up this music as a representation of my transformation. Music is not just some thing to be practiced and performed. It is something that gives comfort, something that communicates, and most importantly, something in which to believe. I give thanks to all the jobs that lead me here and the composers which help me to find meaning in my life.
May 31, 2012 - “ACSM Graduation”
Today, I graduated from the Aaron Copland School of Music with a Masters of Arts Degree in Music Composition. I was honored to receive the George Perle Award and walk alongside my favorite person in the whole wide world (who shall remain anonymous). Here is the link to the speech that I gave. What can I say? I’m a heart on a sleeve kind of guy. I hope you enjoy.
May 15, 2012 - “QCNMG Multimedia Concert” Queens College, Flushing, NY
The final concert of the Queens College New Music Group (QCNMG) this year is also my final concert serving as their President. I have lead this group for 2 years, in 13 concerts, in venues both in Queens and Manhattan, with a whole host of varying ensembles including (in performance order):
-The Dynamic Motion String Quartet
-The Second Instrumental Unit
-Lunatic at Large
-Classical Singers Career Development Club lead by Chad Smyser
-Nota Bene lead by Michael Lispey
-Argento New Music Ensemble
-River Guerguerian and the QC Percussion Studio
At times it has been one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done, and at others, one of the most rewarding. Perhaps most things are like that -- things worth doing usually come with more responsibility (parenthood comes to mind). In short, I don’t regret it.
This final concert was the Multimedia Concert featuring QC performers. On the program were works by student composers including Howie Kenty’s self-performed, mind-bending electro-acoustic work Bone and Symbols; Will Wheeler’s heart-warming ballet Lunar Mythology, beautifully choreographed by Teresa Anne Volgenau; and my own flute and piano composition Pattern Behavior, with choreography by Melissa Wilson, as danced by the Rose Academy of Ballet, with Sarah Carrier on flute; among others. The whole evening was a success. Afterwards, I mounted the stage to thank my fellow officers only to be surprisingly awarded with a plaque. I don’t think I’ve gotten a plaque since Little League! Somehow, it feels different as an adult, perhaps because this time I earned it.
April 10, 2012 - Benjamin Stapp’s “Return from Panapolis” CD Review
Jazz-tubist Ben Stapp has released his sophomore record “Return from Panapolis” on the independent label Uqbar Music. As a long time friend and off-and-on collaborator, it’s hard for me to remain totally unbiased, but believe me, this record is truly great. I told him myself the other day, “Man, I’ve been playing your record non-stop because I’m excited to hear it, not just because I’m obliged.” Every time Ben and I see each other, we digress into our former garage-band selves: swearing like sailors and laughing til it hurts. We have played in 3 rock bands, a trad-jazz group, youth symphony, marching band, and in his first 9-piece amalgamation of the Zozimos Collective (featured on this CD in a smaller combination). Now, as a fan, I can sit back and hear the musician Ben has become. This CD is a combination of all those disparate interests rolled up into eight taut and catchy tracks. I am partial to all of them, but if I had to choose, “Chia Visits the Moon” best represents everything I love about this hybrid style: saxophonist Justin Wood solos against a guitar riff straight out of our prog-rock days; Ben holds down the fort, tuba-style; add in Danny Fischer’s fragmented drum interpolations and I feel like I’m flying to the moon indeed.
It’s available to purchase here. Check it out.