It’s hard to imagine how exciting it must have been to attend the 1913 premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which ended in a riot because of the disturbing rhythms and incendiary musical patterns. Even Beethoven – now considered a staid staple of classical music – was once regarded as somewhat revolutionary in his harmonies.
A concert titled Opus II features premiere performances of works by members of the Arizona State University Society of Composers, Inc. (SCI) in the informal, inviting setting of Phoenix Art Museum, offering the chance to perhaps hear from a modern-day Stravinsky or Beethoven.
“The partnership with the museum is great,” says SCI president Collette Sipho Mabingani, “because…we have the same mission: exposing the public to this music that sometimes is not accessible.” Mabingani was born and raised in South Africa and obtained degrees at Grand Valley State University and Central Michigan University before earning his doctorate in music composition at ASU.
“I started with [percussion] performance,” he says, “and…you have to improvise, so you get this idea of creating…and I got tired of playing other people’s music. I love experimenting with new kinds of music, so I still try and discover something I’ve never heard before.” At Opus II Mabingani will perform his own composition, a solo autobiographical work using rhythms reflecting his personal journey from South Africa to the West, including Latin cadences.
Other composers will use various configurations of a “Pierrot ensemble” of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, and piano — named after the instrumentation used by Arnold Schoenberg in his landmark 1912 melodrama Pierrot Lunaire (Moonstruck Pierrot) –- plus saxophone.
“Even though it’s been around for over a hundred years,” says SCI public relations manager Elliot Sneider of the ensemble, “there’s something always new about it, for some reason. There’s a lot you can do with it, so it’s kind of fun to work with.” Shortly after Sneider wrote his dissertation analyzing blues in the music of Aaron Copland, Maurice Ravel, and George Gershwin, he composed Big Hands Blues for piano, then arranged it for Opus II.
“I…was drawn to jazz when I was very young,” he says, “…this pull to jazz composers like Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk, and the idea of having these structures that…allow for improvisation.”
Sneider studied composition at New England Conservatory of Music and New York University, then received his DMA from ASU, where he was initially intrigued by the work of professor James DeMars. “I have a jazz background,” says Sneider, “so for me there’s always been a pull to accept other cultural music and ‘how do I bring things together?’” He continues, “I found he’s someone who has…made a career dealing with those issues, and so that’s why I wanted to study here.”
“He [DeMars] composes in the same way that I do, which is what we call ‘intercultural music’,” says Mabingani, who also found his advisor’s compositions appealing. “But he uses Native American music with Western music, combines it and makes it his own…so I just fell in love with the way he writes.”
“I think all of the composers at the school really have something unique to bring,” adds Sneider. “Usually you choose your composer and you work only with that person, but here [at ASU] they not only encourage but require you to…work with all of them for a much broader experience.”
“There’s no one dogma, or one style,” says Israeli composer and Doctor of Musical Arts student Gil Dori. “I really got into the music of [ASU professor] Glenn Hackbarth — he’s…into the music on the electronics side, and that’s what I’m interested in doing too.” Dori came to ASU for his master’s degree after graduating from Haifa University, which he describes as “really heavy on composition…the best composers in Israel.”
For Opus II, Dori wrote a work called Shevarim; “in Hebrew it means ‘fragments’ or ‘shards,’ he explains, “but it’s also one of the calls of the shofar [ram’s horn], and really that’s a work based on an old Eastern European Jewish folk tune…it just slowly emerges through this texture.” The piece is a duet for saxophone and bass clarinet, and Dori enjoyed integrating sound effects like tongue smacks, clicks, and breathing through the instruments.
Visit the Phoenix Art Museum this afternoon to hear these new works by Mabingani, Sneider, Dori, and other ASU composers — it’s free with museum admission, and the program promises previously unexplored treasures.
If you go:
When: Sunday, May 11 at 1PM
Where: Phoenix Art Museum
Cost: Free with museum admission
UPDATE (5/11/14 12:47PM): Here’s a live streaming link if you can’t attend the performance: http://ustre.am/1dGp0
Sample free classical music at the third annual Classical Revolution Phoestival, a casual, unique buffet of chamber, percussion, and choral performances held as part of Artlink’s First Friday on April 5. Shuttles stop conveniently at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, where ten ensembles play over the course of three hours. While all four stages are on the cathedral’s grounds at Roosevelt and 1st Avenue, they range from an upstairs auditorium to the outdoor Labyrinth.
Presented by Classical Revolution Phoenix (CRPHX), a grass-roots organization promoting free chamber music performances in unusual, non-traditional settings, the Phoestival offers a demonstration of the cathedral’s organ by Canon Musician Erik Goldstrom as well as an open rehearsal by the Grammy-winning Phoenix Chorale.
Other highlights feature opera scenes performed by Opera Revolution, flutist Jenna Daum with pianist Drew Quiring, a brass quintet, and a string quartet. The more unusual ensembles include the Arizona State University Pan Devils Steel Band, playing instruments painstakingly crafted from 55-gallon oil drums, and the Mana Saxophone Orchestra AZ, comprised of instruments from saxophone to bass.
The Classical Revolution movement began in 2006 in San Francisco and rapidly expanded to more than 30 chapters around the world, inspiring local musicians to create networks and spread their love of the art through high-quality, readily accessible performances. CRPHX co-founder, bassoonist, and recent ASU doctoral graduate Joseph Kluesener says, “Classical Revolution exposes new audiences to classical music styles and beyond…by breaking down…traditional expectation.”
As CRPHX’s main event designer and ensemble booker, Kluesener works closely with Phoenix Chorale Director of Marketing & Communications Jen Rogers, who says, “We call ourselves co-founders — kind of like charter members — but I think of us more as coordinators.”
Rogers continues, “The primary host and sponsor of the Phoestival is the Chorale, [which] provides the venue, design and printing of the flyer, piano tuning, other infrastructure…and helps secure partners.” CRPHX’s volunteer-driven cooperation continues to develop beyond the Phoestival to performances around the Valley, thanks to word of mouth and the wildfire effect of social media.
Among its occasional special events, CRPHX presents a regular monthly concert series at Trinity Cathedral each First Friday, and Second Friday jam sessions at Harley’s Italian Bistro. The Lost Leaf Bar and Gallery hosts 21-and-older shows on the third Wednesday of every month, and Bookman’s of Mesa offers Final Friday performances. CRPHX takes a break during the summers, since many of the movement’s volunteer musicians leave town for festivals and other opportunities.
“I’ve seen our impact slowly spread and grow among average community members and the finest classical musicians in the area. Anyone with interest in us…will find a willingness to produce projects and make an impact…in a very special, musical way,” says Kluesener.
Musician Katherine Palmer is relatively new to CRPHX; she began participating last August. “We’re lucky in the Valley,” Palmer says, “because there are a number of musicians with many different talents…finding performers has not been as challenging as one would think.”
Their mission continues to foster the Classical Revolution ideal, bringing the music of Haydn, Beethoven, and countless other composers old and new into bars, open spaces, public transportation, and any conceivable performance space, spreading the pleasures of classical music in unexpected ways.
If you go:
- Upcoming CRPHX events:
- April 12 — Harley’s Italian Bistro jam session (ages 21+)
- April 26 — guitarist Joseph Higginbotham at Bookman’s of Mesa
- May 3 — ASU Collaborative Piano Studio and Paradise Winds at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral for First Friday
- May 10 — Harley’s Italian Bistro jam session (ages 21+)
- May 31 — Phoenix Chamber Brass at Bookman’s of Mesa
The Arizona Bach Festival continues its third season of performances through this weekend with an organ recital, a chamber orchestra performance, and last night’s unusual piano duo program of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.
When German organist and composer Max Reger arranged the concertos – originally written for various configurations of strings, winds, and harpsichord — for piano four hands between 1905-1906, he was taking another step in a long tradition. Bach often rearranged his own works for different instrumentations, recycling his melodies and themes over the years, and he was one of Reger’s favorite composers; “Bach was his big, big idol,” says pianist Eckart Sellheim. “Bach, Beethoven, Brahms…those three…were Reger’s spiritual and compositional mentors.”
A former professor at the University of Michigan and Arizona State University, Sellheim has served on the faculty and as guest lecturer at conservatories across Germany, earning a respected reputation for historical performance accuracy, with a particular interest in the fortepiano (the modern piano’s predecessor). He and his wife, collaborative piano specialist Dian Baker, performed three of the six Brandenburgs last night at Central United Methodist Church.
The appeal of the Brandenburgs is complex, says Sellheim. “It’s this mixture of very recognizable melodies…the rhythm, the incredibly clear structure, and the beauty of the slow movements.” He elaborates, “They’ve become sort of a main staple of the repertory, and many people grew up with them.”
Bach wrote the six concertos in the early 18th century for the noble court in Brandenburg, a northeast German state. Perhaps because of its difficulty, his music languished unheard for over a century, but today it’s nearly as popular as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Max Reger systematically studied Bach’s keyboard works and also created numerous transcriptions and arrangements of music by composers ranging from Bach to Hugo Wolf, his own contemporary. A friend of Richard Strauss and Hans Pfitzner, Reger is sometimes considered the musical link between Brahms and Schoenberg. “He was highly controversial,” says Sellheim. “He ventures out into unknown fields, particularly the piano music, but never crosses the line.”
“You have to realize,” he continues, “it was an incredible time around the turn of the century, 1900 – there was Wolf, and Strauss, and Ravel, and Debussy…they changed the course of music.” Born in 1873, Reger was a renowned organist known as “the second Bach” because of his keyboard skills. His compositions include modulations and structure flirting with 12-tone rows, but looking back to Baroque and Classical styles.
“Reger had no sympathy for the harpsichord,” Sellheim says, “but Bach on the modern piano is really no problem at all – it works very fine.” Reger’s transcriptions are hugely challenging for the performers – according to Sellheim, the composer said he had the “greatest fun” writing them, interweaving complex lines from numerous instruments into just 20 fingers on a single keyboard.
“It’s fun to play,” he adds, “and as always Bach is so enticing and so interesting, fascinating…not only in the technical and musical aspects, but also rhythm.” Sellheim pauses. “The feeling is always that Bach goes back to the core of music – he makes us clean and clear…it’s so revealing.” He laughs. “The cleaning process makes you sober, if you’re not sober before, and gets you back to the origins…you need to confess something – there is no hiding. Everything is completely open.”
The Festival’s president, Arizona native Scott Youngs, created a seven-year “American Bach” series in his position as director of music at All Saints’ Episcopal Church and Day School. After offering more than 50 cantatas along with Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions, he continued by developing the Festival, a non-profit organization with its own board.
“We strive to present Bach’s music in a variety of ways,” says Youngs. “The music is so versatile and today’s taste so eclectic that we don’t feel constricted by any convention. At least one concert each year is slightly ‘off the wall.’” He continues, “This year’s concert for piano four hands…some portions are strictly from Bach’s scoring, and some portions are…through a much more Romantic and contemporary lens. Lots of notes!”
If you go
- Friday, January 11, 7:30PM at Central United Methodist Church, 1875 N. Central
Eckart Sellheim and Dian Baker play Reger’s transcriptions of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos
- Saturday, January 12, 3PM at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 6300 N. Central
David Enlow performs a dramatic recital on the Visser tracker organ
- Sunday, January 13, 3PM at Camelback Bible Church, 3900 E. Stanford Dr., Paradise Valley
The Festival Chamber Orchestra welcomes violin soloist Stephen Redfield and flute soloist Elizabeth Buck