Following a very lovely and successful benefit house concert for nunc yesterday, I’m looking forward to nunc’s concert this Friday, January 18 at 8pm. It’s a really interesting, fun, riveting program that I think you’ll enjoy greatly- and it’s FREE. Do come!
I’d love to see you there! My program notes are below.
“Got to be Modernistic”
a chamber music concert
with Miranda Cuckson, director, violin and viola
Joseph Brent, mandolin; Alex Lipowski, percussion; Adrian Morejon, bassoon; Mary Nessinger, mezzo-soprano; Matei Varga, piano; Ning Yu, piano
at Mannes Concert Hall
150 West 85th Street
Quasi hoquetus (1984) for bassoon, viola and piano by Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931)
Nocturne (Kawase Hasui) (2010) for mandolin and violin by David Loeb (b. 1939)
Dikhthas (1979) for violin and piano by Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001)
Requiem furtif (1998) for violin and claves by Georges Aperghis (b. 1945)
in the hospital yard (2012) for violin and piano by Michael Hersch (b. 1971)
Visible (2004) for voice and violin by Charles Wuorinen (b. 1938)
Got to be Modernistic (1930) by James P. Johnson (1894-1955)
arranged for violin and mandolin by Joseph Brent (2013
by Miranda Cuckson
In 2007, I started presenting chamber concerts in New York, largely here at Mannes, and I called this series “Transit Circle”, after a kind of telescope. Last year, I decided to incorporate the series as a non-profit, music-presenting organization and I renamed it nunc, which is Latin for “now.” The word appealed to me partly for its compact, knobbly aural charm, but also because it succinctly evokes both the past and the present in one syllable: “now” expressed in an ancient language. With nunc, I would like to celebrate and bring across the freshness and immediacy of music of all eras.
Tonight’s program comprises mostly recent works, by composers whose music I find full of idiosyncratic character, inventive craftsmanship, and stirring expressiveness. A uniting thread is the variety of unusual instrumental combinations. One of the joys of my work has been collaborating with musicians and developing an understanding of the sounds and construction of their instruments, and experimenting with combining my sound with theirs. This program presents some less-frequently-heard musical synergies, and is assembled as an aural progression meant to tantalize and engage the ear with timbral contrasts and colors.
The concert begins with Sofia Gubaidulina, who was born in the Tatar SSR and has been known for using unusual combinations of instruments. Her music has been influenced by the indigenous music of her region, her keenly felt mysticism, and what knowledge she was able to acquire, in the insulated Soviet Union, of techniques of contemporary Western composers. In the 1980s, Gidon Kremer brought her to foreign attention by performing her violin concerto, and in 1985, she finally was able to travel outside of the USSR, thus launching her productive international career.
Gubaidulina’s collaboration with Russian bassoonist Valery Popov led her to contribute several substantial works to the bassoon repertoire, including a concerto and Quasi hoquetus for bassoon, viola and piano. This trio joins the wind and string instruments in “hocketing”, interlocking rhythms and plaintively lyrical duets. The piano supplies rich resonance and harmonies, and punctuates the activity with brusque chords. The piece progresses from a swirling but essentially static opening through increasingly fervent episodes, culminating in a desperate outpouring.
David Loeb studied with Peter Pindar Stearns at Mannes College and teaches at Mannes and the Curtis Institute. He has written extensively for Asian instruments and for early-music instruments. The culture of Japan has been a particular source on inspiration for him. He has composed many pieces for mandolinist Joseph Brent, including several sets of solo Caprices and three Nocturnes, which Brent has recorded with colleagues. The Nocturnes partner the mandolin with violin, guitar and clarinet respectively and are based on work by Japanese and Dutch visual artists. Loeb wrote:
“The three Nocturnes, despite their different instrumentation, comprise a cycle. Each piece derives its character from several works of an artist who frequently depicted night and twilight scenes. Perhaps because of a palette restricted by the need to communicate darkness, thees scenes often have a very dramatic character. Kawase Hasui traveled extensively in Japan during the early 20th century, producing more than 600 woodblock prints, mostly depicting rural and village scenery. Almost all of his night scenes have a very peaceful atmosphere, even those with rain or snow.”
Iannis Xenakis was among the avant-garde composers who thrillingly revolutionized post-World War II music. A Greek French citizen, he was not only a musician, but an engineer, architect, mathematician and author of theoretical works on music. In his compositions, he incorporated ideas stemming from his scientific interests, pioneering electronic and computer music, and applying stochastic and aleatoric processes, and set and game theory. While his works derive from highly cerebral concepts and treat sounds and sound events as objects put through experimental processes, the results are usually very visceral and emotional. Tension and excitement build up as layers accumulate and clash, and the combination of control and disorder in the rhythm creates a wild sense of motion.
Dikhthas (1979) employs the relatively conventional violin-piano duo but creates an explosive partnership in which the instruments combine their sometimes similar, sometimes drastically contrasting lines to form a bristling, volatile texture. The piano plays densely gnarled polyphonic passages as the violin wails on vertiginous slides. A microtonal section brings the focus onto a single main note and the rhythms it enunciates. Violin and piano break off to exchange strenuously virtuosic solos before joining again in scurrying, wild textures.
Greek composer Georges Aperghis studied with Xenakis and has lived for many years in France, where he founded the Atelier Théâtre et Musique. His music often involves theatrical elements (gestures, spoken text) and can be humorous and sardonic. Though he works largely in experimental theater, he has written many instrumental compositions. Requiem furtif is a duet for essentially melodic and essentially rhythmic instruments: the violin and claves (wooden sticks). Aperghis has said that the piece should conjure “leaves rattling in a cemetery”, the claves suggesting lifeless objects, the violin conveying life and movement. He also described the piece as “a frozen portrait à la Giacometti”. The violin skates around in legato arpeggiated fifths and is synchronized rhythmically with the quick taps of the claves. At times, the instruments trade sharp, startling attacks.
Widely considered one of the most gifted and powerfully communicative artists of his generation, Michael Hersch teaches composition at the Peabody Conservatory. Also known as a formidable pianist, he has performed throughout the US and Europe. His recent commissions include those from the Cleveland Orchestra, baritone Thomas Hampson and Ensemble Klang. His music uses spare materials to grippingly visceral effect. He creates vivid drama by packing the utmost expression into very simple bits of material. Using isolated clusters or double-stops, Hersch employs the power of a single attack, or of a precisely shaped crescendo on a single note, to express his aims. His markings are careful and concise, conveying both gentle motions and violent contrasts across a huge dynamic and pitch range. His new piece in the hospital yard is a movement from his chamber opera on the threshold of winter, transcribed for violin and piano from the original version for soprano and eight instruments. The opera is based on Romanian writer Marin Sorescu’s last work, The Bridge, in which the author confronted his impending death from cancer during the final weeks of his life. The violin and piano form a largely unified statement of pummeling rhythmic spurts and and tolling quiet tones.
Charles Wuorinen, winner of the Pulitzer prize and a MacArthur fellowship, has long been a celebrated American musician and has written a large catalogue of more than 260 works for a variety of mediums. Born in New York, he began composing early on and later attended Columbia University. His music is atonal and characterized by contrapuntal compexity, ingenious formal and pitch design, and brilliant use of timbre, and can be anything from flamboyantly playful to very cantabile and passionate. As a conductor and presenter with the Group for Contemporary Music, he championed the music of Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter and Stefan Wolpe, among others.
His 2004 song Visible sets poetry by writer Paul Auster:
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.
Auster, whose work often deals with the role of chance in life, has spoken of his experience as a 14-year-old seeing his friend killed by lightning just a few feet away from him. The above text is stated by Wuorinen three times, each section having increasing urgency and greater leaping intensity. Voice and violin are entangled in twisting lines that frequently meet at shared pitches, then veer away from them.
James P. Johnson was a pioneer of the stride style of piano-playing, and a key figure in the development of ragtime into jazz. Along with Jelly Roll Morton, he brought piano playing in America to a new level of virtuosity and influenced many great jazz artists that followed, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum and Fats Waller. Born in New Jersey, Johnson grew up hearing the music of New York City’s vibrant club scene and the ragtime of Scott Joplin. He honed his craft to become one of the most brilliant exponents of the Harlem Stride style, in which the 4/4 oom-pah of the left hand accompanies ornate, often improvised, blues-inflected flights in the right hand. Johnson was a prolific composer of musical theater; among his songs were “Charleston”, which became one of the most popular hits of the 1920s, “Carolina Shout”, which became a virtuoso test piece for striving jazz pianists, and “You’ve Got to be Modernistic”, which dates from 1930. Johnson’s playing of this piece was later re-issued by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. (Joseph Brent made tonight’s arrangement for violin and mandolin.) Though Johnson was an influential innovator and talent of his time, he is not as well-known or widely credited today as the more celebrated Art Tatum, Fats Waller or Jelly Roll Morton, and was for a long time buried in an unmarked grave in Queens.
In great demand as soloist and chamber musician, violinist Miranda Cuckson is highly acclaimed for her performances of a wide range of repertoire, from early eras through to the most current creations. She has been praised as “fiercely gifted” (Time Out NY), an “extraordinary” violinist of “undeniable musicality” (New York Times). Her CD of Luigi Nono’s “la lontananza nostalgica utopica futura” for violin and electronics (Urlicht) was named a Best Classical Recording of 2012 by the New York Times. She has also made five lauded CDs on Centaur Records: concertos by Korngold and Ponce with the Czech National Symphony, and disks of violin music by Ralph Shapey (two-CD set), Donald Martino, and Ross Lee Finney. Vanguard Classics released her CD “the wreckage of flowers” featuring the violin works of Michael Hersch. Upcoming releases include solo and duo works by Anna Weesner, microtonal solo violin pieces, and solo/duo works by Carter, Sessions and Eckardt. Recent concert highlights include her performance of Walter Piston’s Concerto at Carnegie Hall with the American Symphony Orchestra, and the world premieres of Harold Meltzer’s “Kreisleriana” for violin and piano, commissioned by the Library of Congress, and Jeffrey Mumford’s “through a stillness brightening” for violin and ensemble. Miranda is director/founder of the non-profit organization nunc. She made her recital debut at Carnegie’s Weill Hall as winner of the Presser Award. She performs frequently at major venues including the Berlin Philharmonie, Library of Congress, 92nd St Y, Zankel Hall, Bargemusic, and the Marlboro, Bard, Bodensee, and Lincoln Center festivals. She has worked with composers such as Dutilleux, Carter, Adams, Sciarrino, Haas and Davidovsky. She studied at The Juilliard School, where she was awarded her doctorate with high honors, and teaches at Mannes College.
Joseph Brent has brought a consummate artistry and dedication to the mandolin, and has helped to bring his instrument into the 21st century. Graduating from Berklee College of Music in 1999, he immediately began working closely with many of the great modern composers, including Carter, Boulez, Lindberg, Neuwirth, and Nathan Davis. He has given solo recitals in America, Europe and Asia, and made his Carnegie Hall solo debut in 2001 with the New England Philharmonic. He and his duo partner, harpist Bridget Kibbey, were among the first artists in the Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program. Recently he gave a series of performances and masterclasses with the New World Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas, and was invited to perform as soloist with Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony in 2013. He has an active career in popular and improvising music and has played with Woody Allen, Regina Spektor, Jewel, Gary Smulyan, Erin McKeown, Stephane Grappelli, Alice and Ravi Coltrane. The Joe Brent Quartet features his own compositions and arrangements. His books of pedagogy, Scales and Arpeggios for the Mandolin and Orchestral and Chamber Excerpts for Mandolin are published by Lulu. His debut album, Point of Departure, features duets with Ms. Kibbey, and he recorded the mandolin works of David Loeb for Vienna Modern Masters. He is on the faculty of Mannes College.
An advocate of contemporary music, Alex Lipowski is the Executive Director of the Talea Ensemble and has performed in ensembles such as the Second Instrumental Unit, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, ICE, and Wet Ink Ensemble. He has been seen on concert stages throughout North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. As a soloist and chamber musician he has collaborated with composers including Pierre Boulez, Helmut Lachenmann, Unsuk Chin, Pierluigi Billone, and John Zorn to name a few. Lipowski has presented guest lectures at the University of Virginia Commonwealth, Denver State College, and UNICAMP, São Paulo, Brazil and holds a Bachelors and Masters degree from the Juilliard School. He has performed at festivals including the Lucerne Festival, Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt, Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival and Great Mountains Music Festival. A career highlight is a tour with Pierre Boulez through Europe and then to Japan performing Boulez’s work, sur Incises. He has recorded for Mode Records, Gravina Musica, Naxos, Tzadik, and the Living Artists Label.
Praised for his “teeming energy” and “precise control” by the New York Times, bassoonist Adrian Morejon has established himself as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral musician. As a soloist, Morejon has appeared in New York, Boston, Vienna and Prague, with the Talea Ensemble and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Upcoming highlights include solo appearances with the IRIS Orchestra and Miami Symphony Orchestra. He will be featured in a recording of Harold Meltzer’s Full Faith and Credit, double concerto for two bassoons and string orchestra, to be released by BMOP/Sound. An active chamber musician, Morejon is a founding member of Sospiro Winds, bassoon duo Dark & Stormy, and the Gene Project, and a member of the Talea Ensemble and Metropolis Ensemble. He has appeared with the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, International Contemporary Ensemble, St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, as a guest artist with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Chamber Music Northwest, and Boston Chamber Music Society. He completed graduate studies at Yale while studying with Frank Morelli. He also studied bassoon with Bernard Garfield and harpsichord with Lionel Party at the Curtis Institute of Music. Morejon is currently on faculty at the Boston Conservatory.
Mezzo-soprano Mary Nessinger has been heard in venues including Carnegie, Alice Tully, Avery Fisher, and Merkin Halls; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C.; Jordan Hall and the Gardner Museum in Boston; Wigmore Hall in London, the Philharmonie in Berlin, Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. In addition to performing works from the standard repertoire, she has enjoyed a close working relationship with some of contemporary music’s most innovative composers. She obtained her BM degree at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, and afterwards studied at the Eastman School of Music. She is currently a Lecturer in Voice at Vassar College. Nessinger has collaborated with artists including Peter Serkin, Mitsuko Uchida, Robert Spano, Ida Kavafian, Fred Sherry, David Shifrin, and has been a soloist with the Baltimore and London Symphonies, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Boston Modern Orchestra Project. She has sung with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Brentano, Colorado, Pacifica, Orion and Endellion String Quartets, and as a guest artist at Tanglewood and at the Ravinia Festival. She has recorded prolifically, including two recent monodramas written for her: Lee Hyla’s Lives of the Saints and Suma Beach on BMOP/Sound; and Eric Moe’s Tri-Stan on Koch International.
New York-based pianist Matei Varga is established as one of the leading young artists of his native Romania. He has performed at major venues around the world, among them Zankel Hall, Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Hall, the Auditorium du Louvre and Salle Gaveau (Paris), the Romanian Athenaeum and the Radio Hall (Bucharest), Royal Dramatic Theater (Stockholm), and Casals Hall (Tokyo). Mr. Varga is a prizewinner of numerous international competitions, including the Maria Canals Competition in Barcelona, Porto International Piano Competition and George Enescu Competition in Bucharest. He also won the Dorothy Mackenzie Artist Recognition Award at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, “Salon de Virtuosi” Career Grant and the Mannes Concerto Competition. All Music Guide wrote about his Naxos album produced by Max Wilcox, with piano music by George Enescu, that it shows “a pianist fully on top of the rather punishing and never showy virtuosity required by Enescu’s music” and declared the recording a “standout”. He holds a BA from the National University in Bucharest, a MM and Professional Studies Diploma from Mannes College. He is a teacher at the Lucy Moses Music School and the Project Manager of the Vendome Prize.
With the same vigor and dedication for traditional and avant-garde repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries, pianist Ning Yu takes on some of the most demanding music written for piano, including pieces that incorporate extended techniques, multi-media and improvisation. Ning has performed dozens of world premieres including the works of Terry Riley, Michael Gordon, Tristan Perich, and Cenk Ergün among others. She has appeared on stages worldwide including Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and also the United States. As a chamber musician, Ning has performed with leading new music ensembles such as Bang on A Can – All Stars, Signal Ensemble, and theater groups Mabou Mines and the Tectonic Theater Project. Ning is a member of the New York-based percussion and piano ensemble Yarn/Wire. A native of Shenyang, China, Ning has been living and working in New York City since 2004.