Alejandro Civilotti, Buenos Aires, California, Cello, Christian Baldini, composer, Compositor, Conductor, Eduardo Vassallo, España

Alejandro Civilotti en diálogo con Christian Baldini

Christian Baldini: Conocí a Alejandro Civilotti hace quizás una década, en un concierto que yo estaba dirigiendo en Buenos Aires junto a la Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional. Allí, afortunadamente tuvimos en el programa una pieza de Alejandro (Elegía por Julia Ponce, de Lavapiés). Querido Alejandro, será un placer dirigir el estreno en los Estados Unidos de tu obra para cello y orquesta Auris Concertum, junto al gran Eduardo Vassallo y la UC Davis Symphony Orchestra. Cuéntame por favor, cómo comenzó la génesis de esta pieza? Sé que está relacionada al implante coclear que has recibido, y su dedicación a Su Majestad la Reina Sofía también viene relacionada a su ayuda para garantizar que esta operación sucediera. Me encantaría que nos cuentes el fondo de todo esto.

Alejandro Civilotti: Ante todo gracias por recordar el concierto en que nos conocimos y estrenamos Elegía por Julia Ponce. Es un gran recuerdo para mí también!

Respecto a Auris Concertum: 

Esta obra fue escrita en el lapsus entre el momento en que me llaman de la Fundación García Ibáñes a instancias de la Casa Real, para notificarme que van a realizarme los estudios previos a realizarme el Implante Coclear. Su nombre está relacionado con una publicación que se llamaba “Auris” que pude hojear mientras esperaba a ser atendido, y a modo de comentario he de decir que el ciclo Auris tiene dos obras: la primera es la que ahora se estrena en EEUU, para Violoncello y gran orquesta, y la segunda, escrita luego de haber sido implantado titulada “Auris Resonantiam”, que es para Violín y gran orquesta. las dos obras forman una pareja.

El tiempo previo a la intervención fue de poco más que un mes o mes y medio, fue el tiempo que llevó la composición de la obra. La misma la terminé la mañana en que iba a ingresar al quirófano. Así que gran parte de lo que esa obra cuenta, está teñida de lo que sentí en ese momento, en que oscilaba entre una gran expectativa e ilusión, y a la vez temor, nostalgia, en fin, un sin número de sensaciones. Es como si en esos días -y por lo tanto en esa obra- estuviera sometido a un carrusel de sentimientos e imágenes de una parte importante de mi vida. Por lo tanto, ya que toda obra es un trozo de nuestra biografía, decidí volcar todo eso en una obra dónde a modo de símbolo, un protagonista se enfrentara a todo eso. Y me pareció el Cello el instrumento más adecuado por sus posibilidades expresivas, sus recursos y además porque era conocido que la Reina tenía predilección por el instrumento, y a modo de agradecimiento pensé en escribir la obra, como un gesto de buena educación: más bien soy anti monárquico! La segunda del ciclo está dedicada a los médicos que me intervinieron y a la Fundación García Ibáñez en su conjunto.   

CB: Cómo era tu vida antes del implante, y cómo te ha cambiado desde allí? Musicalmente has sentido que las cosas son diferentes a raíz de estos cambios?

AC: Lo que principalmente ha cambiado es en la comunicación con las personas. Por poner un ejemplo, yo estuve doce años sin poder atender el teléfono…. respecto a la audición musical, ha mejorado mucho, sobre todo en cuanto a lo que escucho en la parcela rítmica, que se escucha perfecto, un poco menos en la cuestión melódica y armónica. El implante coclear es algo que se crea a partir de investigaciones tendientes a intentar que los niños que nacen sordos, no sean a la vez mudos. Así que pone todo su acento en el lenguaje; aunque lógicamente todo ha ido mejorando desde mi intervención. Pero la música abarca frecuencias que difícilmente puedan ser  cubiertas en su totalidad por un implante que en definitiva es un reemplazo del oído. Pero es un gran avance y en mi caso me supuso un disparador motivacional. Pero he de decir que desde hace muchos años, tal vez a causa de este problema, me habitué a atender mi oido interno: escucho internamente, y hasta con los ojos cuando miro una partitura, y eso lo veo una ventaja.

CB: Cómo describirías tu música para alguien que nunca la ha escuchado?

AC: Resulta difícil responder a esa pregunta, ya que a mi entender no escuchamos sólamente con el oído, escuchamos con la cultura, es decir, escuchamos con la que hemos escuchado! Tal vez la mejor descripción posible, que no soy yo el más indicado en hacerla, es que es música que cree en la melodía, aunque ésta sea con una gran carga disonante, con una cierta agresividad… Me atrae mucho la cuestión del timbre y sus posibilidades expresivas, el ritmo. Es una música que no sirve como música de fondo, para poder pensar en otra cosa: intenta activar la complicidad del oyente, atrapar su atención. En todo caso, con errores y aciertos, intento defender la idea de que la música es transversal, su naturaleza es generar ese punto de encuentro sensible entre el que la crea, el que la interpreta y el que la recibe. Su sentido está en esa comunicación, y hasta diría que toda estrategia como forma, es la manera posible que ha encontrado quien la ha creado para llegar al público. Todo lo que escribo está orientada en ese sentido y confieso, hasta imagino la luz y la situación de escena a la hora es escribir una música.

CB: Sé que también te interesa la ópera. ¿Me contarías acerca de proyectos que te gustaría componer? ¿En dónde buscas tu inspiración?

AC: La ópera es una parte muy importante en mi creación. Es un lugar en que confluyen mis ideas, tanto musicales como de otra índole. He escrito bastante, aunque al ser un terreno en que se hace necesaria la inversión de grandes presupuestos, son de difícil salida.

Ahora mismo estoy escribiendo lo que sería mi quinta ópera: sobre la historia de Faetón, un ser perteneciente a la mitología griega que es el creador de la Vía Láctea. será una ópera en tres actos y trabajo sobre un excelente libreto del excelente maestro, que es a la vez experto en literatura y cine, a la vez músico – toca bandoneón – Gustavo Provitina, de Argentina.

También estoy trabajando en un tríptico, una ópera en tres actos con una historia diferente en cada acto, pero que configuren una mirada digamos cosmogónica. De ella hay escrito un acto y la mitad de otro. Sus historias serán un fragmento del cuento de Oscar Wilde “El ruiseñor y la rosa”, el otro será un mito solar de vinculación con el mundo griego, y el tercero será sobre la idea cosmogónica del pueblo Wichi, originario del gran Chaco americano. De esta tercera parte ya hay escrita mucha música, pero aún se está elaborando el libreto.

Después tengo dos óperas de cámara, una se ha llevado a la escena en 2007 en Badalona (Barcelona), dentro del contexto Teatro por la identidad de las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, y la segunda titulada “La escala”, ópera de cámara que trata sobre el tema identitario del pueblo catalán. Las historias y sus correspondientes  libretos de estas dos óperas, las realizó mi hijo Diego Civilotti, con el cual llevamos toda una vida de relación creativa, pues él es Filósofo muy vinculado al tema de la creación artística, además es músico y escritor. Con él realizamos tal vez el trabajo de mayor envergadura en ese terreno: la obra escénico musical titulada “Karaí, el héroe”, realizada sobre la novela del gran escritor y antropólogo argentino Adolfo Colombres. Obra de tres horas de duración, en tres actos.

Y hay en proyecto dos óperas más, una será una mirada contemporánea de Las Bacantes.

Además de estas obras, y atendiendo a algo que atraviesa todo lo que hago, que es mi interés por  las causas sociales (diría que más del 80% de lo que he escrito está dentro de esa órbita de “lo social”), estoy preparando la creación de una obra sobre Armenia: será para gran orquesta con Violín concertante.

CB: Qué consejos le darías a jóvenes compositores que están iniciándose en esta carrera?

AC: Lo primera es que ésto no es una carrera…ja.ja. Para mí es una herramienta para narrar lo que vemos y sentimos frente a eso que vemos. Una narrativa posible sobre un trozo de nuestra biografía. Por lo tanto mis consejos van en el sentido que intentar construir su propia narrativa personal. Escuchar mucha música, lo digo siempre, escuchamos con la cultura y aquello que pasa a formar patrimonio de lo que es bello, en realidad es aquello que podemos reconocer, aquello que hemos escuchado, escuchamos con lo escuchado! Leer muchos libros, acercarse a las artes plásticas, en fin, abrirse a todo lo que ocurre para luego, desde la sensibilidad personal, desde una identificación sensible, elegir el camino.

La búsqueda de los elementos técnicos, con ser importantes y que hay que obviamente asumirlos, son simplemente herramientas, tal como dice un poema de estética taoista ” el propósito las palabras es transmitir ideas, una vez transmitidas éstas, las palabras se olvidan…”, las palabras-técnica, es algo que hay “que olvidar” y centrar nuestra atención en la idea. Algo así como no cometer el error de señalar la luna y mirarse el dedo. 

CB: Muchas gracias, desde ya. Será un placer dirigir tu música nuevamente!

AC: El placer es mío! Me hace gran ilusión esta interpretación en calidad de estreno en EEUU, en manos de tu excelente trabajo de dirección, y en la maravillosa interpretación en cello sólo, del gran Maestro Eduardo Vassallo a quien me une una profunda amistad y admiración sin límites. 

Alejandro Civilotti (foto de cortesía)

Alejandro Civilotti (La Plata, Argentina, 1959)

Compositor argentino nacionalizado español, Alejandro Civilotti (1959) es profesor del Conservatorio de Badalona donde imparte desde 1988 armonía, contrapunto y composición y de la Escuela Superior del Taller de Músics, donde imparte orquestación. A partir de 1977 realizó estudios de armonía, contrapunto y composición en su ciudad natal con Enrique Gerardi, discípulo de Alberto Ginastera y de Nadia Boulanger. Al finalizar esa formación a finales de 1984, Civilotti viajó a Barcelona, donde comenzó a estudiar composición e instrumentación con Josep Soler, discípulo de René Leibowitz en París y de Cristòfor Taltabull en Barcelona. Entre otros, ha sido Premio Reina Sofía de Composición, Premio Ciudad de Barcelona, Premio de Composición Casa de las Américas y Premio Internacional Ciutat de Tarragona. Asimismo, ha recibido encargos de instituciones nacionales e internacionales, como el Centro para la Difusión de la Música Contemporánea (CDMC) o el Ministerio de Cultura de Francia.

Su extenso catálogo cuenta con obra vocal, de cámara, para piano, ópera, música para cine, obra para orquesta… y 7 sinfonías que abarcan su etapa de madurez, desde la Sinfonía n.º 1 (1985) hasta la dedicada a sus padres Sinfonía “Requiem” n.º 7 (2018). Entre sus estrenos recientes destaca el de Solitudes en el Ciclo de cámara de la London Symphony Orchestra, Aché para actriz declamando, violonchelo solo y sexteto de percusión el la temporada de cámara de la City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, y el de Letanías para violonchelo y piano, por Marc Renau dentro del proyecto catalán “El violoncel desconegut”. En diciembre de 2022, tendrá lugar el estreno de Cosmos para Orquesta Sinfónica, dedicada a Michel Onfray, por la Philharmonisches Staatsorchester de Mainz bajo la dirección de Daniel Montané. 

Alejandro Civilotti (La Plata, Argentina, 1959)

Alejandro Civilotti was born in La Plata in 1959 and has spent most of his professional career in Spain. He has been a professor of harmony, counterpoint and composition since 1988 at the Badalona Conservatory of Music, and he is professor of orchestration at the Taller de Músics Bachelor of Music. From 1977 onwards, he studied harmony, counterpoint and composition for five years in his hometown under Enrique Gerardi, a pupil of Alberto Ginastera and Nadia Boulanger. After finishing his training at the end of 1984, Civilotti travelled to Barcelona, where he began to study composition and instrumentation under Josep Soler, a pupil of René Leibowitz in Paris and Cristòfor Taltabull in Barcelona and one of the most important composers of his generation in Spain. Among others, he won the Queen Sofía Composition Prize, the City of Barcelona Award. He also received some commissions from the Centre for the Dissemination of Contemporary Music (CDMC) for the International Contemporary Music Festival of Alicante, and a commission from the French Ministry of Culture.

His extensive list of works includes many compositions for voice, for piano, for orchestra, music for cinema, opera, etc., as well as seven symphonies that encompass his mature period, from Symphony No. 1 (1985) to the symphony dedicated to his parents Symphony No. 7: Requiem (2018). Among his most recent world premieres are Solitudes in the chamber season of the London Symphony Orchestra, and Aché for actress reciting, solo violoncello and percussion sextet with Eduardo Vasallo as a cello soloist during the chamber season of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Next December 2nd will be premiered his work Cosmos for Symphony Orchestra with the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester de Mainz under the direction of Daniel Montané.

Anibal Troilo, Beauty, Buenos Aires, California, Cello, Christian Baldini, Concerto, Conductor, Eduardo Vassallo, Experimental

Eduardo Vassallo in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On November 19, 2022, I will have the pleasure of welcoming the wonderful cellist Eduardo Vassallo as our soloist in Alejandro Civilotti’s work “Auris Concertum”, with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra at the Mondavi Center. I had the opportunity of asking Eduardo some questions, and below are his answers.

Christian Baldini: Dear Eduardo, what a pleasure to have you with us here in Davis to perform as our soloist in Alejandro Civilotti’s work for cello and orchestra “Auris Concertum”. I know you played the world première performance of this piece with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. Tell us, why is this piece so special to you? How would you describe it to someone who doesn’t know it?

Eduardo Vassallo: It is a great pleasure to be here with you guys.
Yes indeed I did the world première of this amazing piece.
On saturday will be the USA premier.
This piece is very special because it was written during a terrible time for Alejandro; he won the Queen Sofia Competition (Spain);at that time he started losing his hearing and by the time the Queen gave him the prize he couldn’t hear anymore; She was shocked by the situation and a few weeks later he got a call from the Palace with an invitation to go and see the Queen’s doctors. They couldn’t do much but the only possible hope was a Cochlear Transplant, (One of the first in Spain at that time). The Queen Sofia paid for the operation.
The “Auris Concertum” was written as a thanks to Her Majesty Queen Sofia. He started working as soon as  he new about the operation and  finished it on the morning one hour before going to the hospital.
Without knowing what the outcome would be, this piece  is full of desperation,  anger, memories and hope.
I love very much the language, using all the registers of the cello is very challenging not only for the soloist but also for the orchestra.

CB: Tell us more about the composer, Alejandro Civilotti. How did you become acquainted with his music? Has your relationship with him evolved over time?

EV: We met many years ago, he is a very interesting person and we got on really well together. He invited me to participate in a very interesting project in Formosa North East of Argentina, a province without any classical music connection; he moved from Barcelona for more that 5 years, I used to go once every year to play chamber music and to supervised the creation of the “Tecnicatura de Musica”. The programme after much work it is up and running!!!!!
We became very good friends and I have played many of his pieces, in Birmingham, Buenos Aires, Brazil and Barcelona.

CB: Last month we had the pleasure of hosting at the Mondavi Center the wonderful orchestra that you play in, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. You have been their principal cello for quite some time now, playing under revered music directors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Andris Nelsons, Sakari Oramo, and now Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. Could you share with us some anecdotes or amazing experiences that you may recall from playing in (and from being one of the leaders of) this wonderful orchestra?


EV: I considered myself lucky to have worked with these great musicians.  For me the most important thing was to witness the way an orchestra matures and moves on; each music director brought some different creativity and they each helped making the orchestra feel alive and with a purpose.

CB: You have played a lot of new music in Birmingham. Simon Rattle was a champion of promoting living composers. Are there any composers, works or experiences that you remember very fondly from this?

EV: Many, very difficult to single one out but the cycle Towards the Millennium was spectacular, it last 10 years with concerts in Cardiff, London, Birmingham and Vienna.
We started in 1990, and finished in the year 2000; each year we would be playing pieces from that decade, in 1990 we will played pieces from 1900 to 1910; in 1991 pieces from 1910 to 1920; finishing with the millennium playing pieces that had just been written!!! It was unique and I am very proud of having been a part of it.

CB: Thank you so much for your time and great answers. I look forward to sharing your wonderful musicianship with our audiences this coming weekend here in Davis!

EV: Looking forward to seeing you all there in this beautiful hall. I hope you enjoy my playing!!!

Eduardo Vassallo
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by the age of 17 Eduardo Vassallo was a founder member of the String Quartet of the National Radio, and the solo cellist of the National Symphony Orchestra. Not long after, he came to Europe to study at the International Menuhin Music Academy in Switzerland, where, as a key member of the Camerata Lysy Gstaad he took part in numerous recordings, and toured throughout the world with Sir Yehudi Menuhin and Alberto Lysy.
From there Eduardo moved to Germany, where he became increasingly active in the field of contemporary music as a member of the WNC Ensemble für Moderne Musik. In 1989 he became Principal Cellist of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, firstly under the musical direction of Sir Simon Rattle, then Sakari Oramo, Andris Nelsons and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, then as of next season, Kazuki Yamada. He was one of the founding directors of the Birmingham Ensemble (a chamber group drawn from the ranks of the CBSO). He has also guest led the cello sections of most of the main British symphony orchestras.
As a soloist Eduardo has given recitals throughout Europe and South America, and has appeared frequently with orchestras including several major concertos with the CBSO. In England he gave the world premieres of the Sonata for cello and piano and the Duo no. 2 for violin and cello by his compatriot Jorge Bosso, and the Sinfonia Concertante by Indian composer Vanraj Bhatia, and he performed the UK premiere of “Azul” by Osvaldo Golijov. In Buenos Aires his world premieres include the cello concerto “Auris Concertum” by Argentine Alejandro Civilloti with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Buenos Aires, and the Grand Tango by Astor Piazzolla.
In 2009, he formed a collaboration with Tim Garland (saxophone) and Marcelo Nisinmam (bandoneon) to create a multimedia jazz/tango fusion show called Transtango, first performed in the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, then at various festivals around the country (Salisbury Festival, Vamos Festival Newcastle, Buxton Festival etc). As a result of this collaboration, the CBSO commissioned Tim Garland to write a double concerto for cello and saxophone to celebrate Eduardo’s 20 years in the orchestra, which he performed with the composer under the direction of Christian Jarvi.
Eduardo Vassallo has 2 solo recital CDs, “Latin American Masters” on the ASV label, and “Tangos by Piazzolla” on the Somm label.
His love for the tango caused him to form “El Ultimo Tango”, a quintet dedicated to music from Buenos Aires, with which group he has released 3 CDs He was also a guest artist on the CD “Conception” by the jazz fusion John Turville Trio.
Eduardo taught for 32 years at the Royal Northern College of Music, and still teaches at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and has taught at summer courses in Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, England, and South America. He has regularly participated in the International Festival of Chamber Music in Formosa, Argentina, and Femusc in Brazil, and is the founder and director of the Latin-American Cello Festival, which takes place every 2 years in Buenos Aires.
In 2014, he became the Musical Patron of Rutland Sinfonia.
Eduardo Vassallo plays a Paolo Testore cello made in Milan 1710 and a Ferdinando Gagliano cello made in Napoli 1792.


Beauty, California, Christian Baldini, Conductor, Experimental, Soloist, Symphony Orchestra, Viola

Wendy Richman in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On Friday, October 14, 2022, I will be conducting Harold in Italy, by Hector Berlioz at the Mondavi Center in Davis. Our distinguished soloist with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra will be Wendy Richman, a highly acclaimed viola player who has been hailed by The New York Times and The Washington Post for her “absorbing,” “fresh and idiomatic” performances with “a brawny vitality,” I had the opportunity to ask Wendy a few questions in preparation for our performance, and below are her responses.

Christian Baldini: Wendy, welcome, I am delighted to have you with us at the Mondavi Center to perform this marvelous music with our orchestra. Tell me, what are some of the features of Harold in Italy that you’d like to share with people in the audience? How do you see Berlioz as a composer? In your view, what makes this music so very special?

Wendy Richman: Thank you so much for having me here and inviting me to share this incredible piece with the students and community! I have always loved Harold in Italy, and it’s been an absolute joy to finally learn and explore it.

In contrast to Paganini’s initial opinion, I love that Harold isn’t a “bona fide” viola concerto. The standard viola concerti are wonderful and should be heard more often, but they’re not all written with the central idea that the viola’s more mellow sound can be in the forefront. It’s not always fun as a soloist to try to project with an acoustically imperfect instrument (more on that later) over a huge orchestra, and I imagine it’s not the most fun for a conductor to constantly implore the orchestra to play pianissimo. Berlioz, though, was one of the greatest orchestrators of all time. He knew what would work best for the viola. Instead of making the violist play in the highest registers that aren’t always our best feature, Berlioz created a viola part that can sing in so many different registers, with huge orchestral tutti sections that allow the ensemble to play fully without constant shushing from the conductor. Harold features all the things I love so much about my instrument: rich, human sound; subtle shadings and major contrasts of character and color; and most of all, its ability to blend and weave into and out of textures in partnership with so many other instruments. That is what viola and violists do best: we are musical chameleons and chamber musicians by nature, so it makes sense that we’d be excited in this piece to play along with English horn, bassoon, the viola section, and even the trombones!

Of all the moments I love in the piece, my favorite movement by far is the second, the “March of the Pilgrims Singing the Evening Prayer.” The “march” aspect is as important as the “prayer”: there is a calm, stately flow to the music, a feeling of timeless inevitability carrying us to the fleeting clarity of the last chord. I imagine that we musicians are quietly sojourning through narrow cobblestone streets, hearing intermittent church bells in the distance (represented by dissonant long notes in the French horns and the harp). My favorite part of my favorite movement is a long middle section with gorgeous, clear orchestration. The woodwinds alternate with the upper strings and cellos to play a hushed chorale, the basses anchor the chorale with a pizzicato (plucked) walking line, and the solo viola outlines the many harmonic changes with arpeggiated chords. These arpeggios are played with a sound that Berlioz only uses in this single section of the entire work. I play sul ponticello, with my bow hair right up against the instrument’s bridge, producing a slightly scratchy, haunting sound with lots of high overtones. I don’t know for sure, but I want to think it’s a linguistic wink from Berlioz: maybe the pilgrims are crossing a long footbridge…since sul ponticello means “on the bridge” in Italian. 

CB: You are a distinguished new music performer, having been a member and performed with the International Contemporary Ensemble, and also the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Can you tell us how you first became interested in new music? Why is new music important and/or relevant?

WR: When I was a freshman at Oberlin in 1998, I was asked by a friend—a senior who was really into contemporary music—to play with CME (Contemporary Music Ensemble). Unlike a lot of schools that emphasize only the most traditional playing styles and repertoire, Oberlin was and is still known for its advocacy for new music. CME was where the cool kids were, and I felt so cool.

Then I picked up my music. Insert scream emoji here. It was a set of two pieces (Funerailles I and II) by a composer named Brian Ferneyhough, who is known for a style called “New Complexity.” It looks a bit like those joke scores that were meme-ish before memes were a thing. There is a lot of scholarly discussion about the philosophy of this music, about the inherent effort in learning and playing Ferneyhough’s scores. But I didn’t know any of that at the time—I just knew it was about 100 times more difficult than any music I’d ever seen.

The concert was structured so that Funerailles I opened the program and Funerailles II closed it. All I remember is walking onstage with great trepidation, followed by playing a bunch of notes, followed by panic, followed by walking offstage and bursting into tears. Tim Weiss, the incredible CME director, looked at me with wide eyes and an incredulous smile. He gave me a hug. 

“What’s WRONG?!?!”

“I…I…I got SO LOST! I’m so sorry. I ruined it.”

Tim threw his head back and laughed, probably rolling his eyes.

“WENNNdy! NO! I mean…that’s what this music is! ……….We were ALL lost!”

I walked back onstage for the last piece and played with a focus and determination I’m not sure I’ve replicated since. I may or may not have played a lot of correct notes, but I did quickly discover that I loved playing challenging music requiring a different skill set to prepare and perform convincingly. I also loved playing with the seemingly fearless musicians on that concert, many of whom later became my fellow founding members of the International Contemporary Ensemble.

In some ways, it makes a lot of sense for a violist to be interested in playing new music: it was kind of a novelty for the viola to be featured in pieces until the mid-19th century, and it wasn’t until after WWII that composers truly figured out how to write for us. I mentioned previously that the viola is “acoustically imperfect,” which is due to the fact that we hold it like a violin. It would be too heavy and awkward to play if violas were the right size for our pitch range—half the size of a cello, as our strings are an octave higher than a cello’s. When we started holding it like a violin, luthiers “cut down” instrument like Amati and Stradivarius violas and made the necks thinner, eventually making slightly smaller violas the norm. (That’s the short explanation—that the viola should actually be almost twice as big as it is! I don’t really know WHY we hold it like a violin, but I’ll let someone else lead the resistance for that.)

So in the middle of the 20th century, more composers were compelled to write for the viola as a solo instrument, and they experimented with chamber instrumentations that didn’t force the viola to compete with its acoustically superior (read: louder) counterparts, the violin and cello. That’s not to say there isn’t a ton of incredible repertoire for us prior to that time. I love playing string quartets, which were my first musical love. I also play Baroque/historical viola and live for a Monteverdi suspension. And I’m thrilled to play Schumann’s Märchenbilder when I have the chance. We don’t have to stop playing and listening to all the older stuff! I’ll admit that I went through a long phase of that, but I’ve come around to feeling more fulfilled by programs that are simply good music, from a variety of times and places, with a satisfying connecting thread. When composers started thinking more outside the box with the viola, there was simply much more repertoire for us to choose from. 

CB: You recently released your debut solo album on New Focus Recordings, including nine works in which you play, and also sing. Can you tell us about this project? How did it all fall into place? How did you choose the composers that you would include in it?

WR: Thank you for asking about my album. It was a long, intense journey: I started working with the composers around 2010, recorded in 2016, and spent several years editing on and off (and crowdfunding!). It is a scary and vulnerable process, made more so because I was listening to myself sing. I’d had plenty of experience listening to recordings of myself playing, and I had come to terms with generally despising that activity but dealing with it. But I was unprepared for the emotional weight I’d feel with my voice being part of the picture, because it had been a long time since I had been a semi-serious singer. So it took a lot to get myself to listen to each round of edits. I think the hardest part of the whole experience was that it was released just two months before the beginning of the pandemic. It didn’t get as much attention as I had hoped, and I didn’t get to tour with it. I still could, but the world is different from March 2020, and I think in some ways I’m a different musician from March 2020, too. That’s all to say that there’s a lot I would do differently if I could do it again, but ultimately I’m proud of what I created.

I was sort of equally committed to viola and voice when I was in high school. In college, I focused on viola but was very lucky to study voice with Marlene Ralis Rosen during my time at Oberlin. When I moved to Boston to pursue my master’s degree, singing kind of fell by the wayside—I didn’t have a teacher, and I felt like I needed to solely focus on viola. From time to time, I sang something short on a recital, mostly the Brahms op. 91 songs with viola. (I wasn’t performing both parts on those, though!) I also learned a piece by Giacinto Scelsi called Manto, of which the third movement is written for “singing female violist.” The piece is difficult for performer and audience alike; it’s not conventional and is frankly very strange! But I just loved everything about it. I began performing Manto III often, and audiences’ positive responses to it taught me that any piece of music can be “accessible” if the performer believes in it. 

I missed singing, and I started to think I’d been a better violist when I was also singing regularly. The positive response to Manto III got me thinking about whether there were other pieces written for singing violist. When my now-husband and I moved to Ithaca, NY, in 2007, I started taking voice lessons with the wonderful late soprano Judith Kellock. Judy was excited by the idea of my commissioning pieces to play and sing, and the project started to take shape thanks to her encouragement.

At the time, I was very active on Twitter, and through that platform I met and/or reconnected with a lot of composers. I decided that I wanted to work with people whose music I liked, of course, but also people who I really loved personally. That aspect of the project ended up being even more important than I realized early in the process, as becoming close friends with each composer helped our communication and understanding when the album took longer than I’d originally hoped.

CB: What would you say to people who don’t like new music, or who say they don’t understand it, or that they simply prefer their usual music by Bach, or Beethoven or Brahms?

WR: Listening to certain things can be challenging, and sometimes we equate “challenging” with “work.” It’s a bit like reading something like a Haruki Murakami novel, or watching a Jim Jarmusch film, or looking at a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois. The abstract stuff is not always for everyone, and it’s not for every moment of every day. I also don’t want to feel like I’m forcing it upon people. I just ask everyone to approach it with an open mind and open ears, not trying to understand but rather simply experience. Once you get used to the language, the aesthetic, it can be enormously rewarding. Sometimes it doesn’t speak to you, and that’s totally fine! But it does feel more approachable with more time and more contact.

As those references may tell you, I also find it helpful and enriching to explore other avant-garde and experimental art forms, both historical and contemporary, as well as music from other cultures, like Indonesian gamelan ensembles or Tuvan throat singing. That music has been around much longer than some of the Western European musical tradition we think of as “classical.” If we consider the entire history and breadth of music as a spectrum—but one with multiple dimensions—it becomes easier to keep ourselves open to unfamiliar things. All music, all art, was “new” at some point, and Berlioz was certainly ahead of his 19th century contemporaries in many aspects of his composing.

CB: Lastly, what is your advice for young performers? How should one get ready for the profession? I also ask this because we have all faced challenges, failures and sometimes even (or especially) extremely gifted people end up giving up and quitting. What is a healthy mindset to fight this, and to keep going?

WR: It’s completely normal to feel discouraged sometimes, and even to go through long periods of questioning the profession. I wish it weren’t such a normal thing, but musicians and artists are a bit cursed in the overthinking department. Don’t worry if your career doesn’t look exactly like your teacher’s, or your friend’s or the way you thought it would look. No matter how many hours a day you might spend doing something different like working in an office environment or teaching fourth grade, if you’re still doing the thing, you’re still doing the thing. Allow your present self to define yourself, not other people or abstract, years-old goals.

My advice to young performers is to remain flexible. Develop and maintain “chops” for a variety of musical styles and jobs. My goal as a teenager was to play in a string quartet and perform with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. When I began to focus on contemporary music, I still played as much “conventional” chamber music as I could, but I turned my attention pretty fully to the contemporary rep. I still took orchestra repertoire classes but never imagined I’d take orchestra auditions. I ignored my parents’ advice to take a pedagogy class because I thought I hated teaching.

But along the way, I’ve done every single one of those things. I’ve taken orchestra auditions and won jobs, allowing me to have a steady source of income and travel to New York to play with International Contemporary Ensemble, as well as giving me enough credibility as an orchestra player to sub with some of the country’s best orchestras. When I finished my master’s degree and was faced with the reality of trying to make ends meet, I discovered that I love teaching. Again, this provided a steady source of income, and the love of teaching led me to return to school for my doctorate. The full-circle moment came when I moved to New York in 2017 and started subbing with Orpheus—still a dream come true. And when I moved to Los Angeles in 2020, my varied experiences and skill sets allowed me to reach out to people who might be interested in hiring me. It’s hard work and takes some mental juggling to piece together a career that way, but I love the variety and challenges. Be open to serendipity, and don’t knock something until you’ve tried it again ten years later.

Wendy Richman (courtesy photo)

Wendy Richman has been celebrated internationally for her compelling sound and imaginative interpretations. As a soloist and chamber musician, she has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center Festival, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Miller Theater, Mostly Mozart Festival, Park Avenue Armory, Phillips Collection, and international festivals in Berlin, Darmstadt, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Karlsruhe, Morelia, and Vienna. Former violist of The Rhythm Method string quartet, Wendy is a founding member of the New York-based International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).

Hailed by The New York Times and The Washington Post for her “absorbing,” “fresh and idiomatic” performances with “a brawny vitality,” Wendy collaborates closely with a wide range of composers. She presented the U.S. premieres of Kaija Saariaho’s Vent nocturne, Roberto Sierra’s Viola Concerto, and a fully- staged version of Luciano Berio’s Naturale. Upon hearing her interpretation of Berio’s Sequenza VI, The Baltimore Sun commented that she made “something at once dramatic and poetic out of the aggressive tremolo-like motif of the piece.”

Though best known for her interpretations of contemporary music, Wendy enjoys performing a diverse range of repertoire. She regularly performs with NYC’s Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and has collaborated with fortepianist Malcolm Bilson, the Claremont and Prometheus Trios, and members of the Cleveland, Juilliard, and Takács Quartets. She has also been a frequent guest with the viola sections of the Atlanta Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, and St. Louis Symphony.

From 2017 to 2021, Wendy served on the string faculty of New York University (NYU Steinhardt), where she taught viola, chamber music, and a class on extended string techniques. She has also held teaching positions at the University of Tennessee, University of Alabama, and Cornell University, as well as NYU Summer Strings, Walden School Summer Young Musicians Program, Sewanee Summer Music Festival, and Music in the Mountains Conservatory.

Wendy earned degrees from Oberlin Conservatory (BM), New England Conservatory (MM), and Eastman School of Music (DMA). She studied viola with Carol Rodland, Kim Kashkashian, Peter Slowik, Jeffrey Irvine, and Sara Harmelink, and voice with Marlene Ralis Rosen, Judith Kellock, and Mary Galbraith.

Her debut solo album, vox/viola, was released in 2019 on New Focus Recording’s TUNDRA imprint.

Beauty, California, Christian Baldini, New York

David Felder in Conversation with Christian Baldini

David Felder is an exceptional and unusual composer in many ways. While most composers treasure traveling around the world collaborating with various groups and orchestras, David Felder avoids traveling at all costs. He will not travel. Despite this he has built very strong ties to and valuable collaborations with some of the most important new music performers in the world over the course of several decades. These include Irvine Arditti, and his Arditti String Quartet, as well as the Buffalo Philharmonic (where Mr. Felder teaches), Nicholas Isherwood, Brad Lubman and his Ensemble Signal, and many more. On May 21, 2022, it will be my honor to conduct the West Coast première of Felder’s work Die Dämmerungen with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra at the Mondavi Center. I had the chance of asking David some questions, which he responded to via voice memos, and below is the transcription of these informal but extremely illuminating exchanges.

Christian Baldini: Your music is often inspired by external sources, such as literature, painting, or even a tarot deck of cards. For this piece you utilized poetry by William Carlos Williams, Dana Gioia, and also a quote from Psalm 130, and a direct reference to Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. Can you tell us how this fits into your creative process? Are there any particular ideas that come to mind first, and that inspire you to make references to these works through your music?

David Felder: Each one of the texts is set to instill an atmosphere for each one of the movements. In fact the texts were not picked first, but the music was conceived first. As I began working on the music I started searching for texts that would in some way tie the movements together but also create an atmosphere across the music.

I have a personal relationship with one of the poets. That is Dana Gioia. I have worked with his poetry before. We’ve been associated together and I very much enjoy his poetry. In this poem, he refers to Jacob and the Old testament story. Jacob’s ladder. The ladder which angels used to ascend and descend to/from heaven.

There is a sadness and lack of awareness in terms of the opportunity. The heavenly and the mundane. Jacob slept on a stone pillow through the potential experience. It’s spoken about as “Impossible distances”

1st poem / 1st movement: William Carlos Williams

“sparkles from the wheel” / the wheel can be thought of in many ways: a wheel of time

Ophanim: certain angels that surrounded the throne of Yahweh in certain Cabalistic formations

First two movements: Ascent and Descent

2nd movement: a particular location – reflective of the small town (East Aurora) where I personally reside – humanity attempting to bridge the gap between the mundane and the divine: a concern for me in this work

3rd movement: Psalm 130: ominous Old Testament text

Connecting to Jacob and his ladder

looking at a calling out from the abyss, from a very dark place

In 2017: the world began to feel very dark – I attempted to capture the ominous feeling of the world around me – it is a real calling out, a point of imitation / canonic treatment of a melodic line which is rising out from the depths and finds its expression at the very end of the movement

4th movement: a kind of scherzo

I abridge a Nietzsche’s text – “twilight of the fools”

we are living in a world which is governed by fools in every way – this is being proven more every moment that ensues

this piece has a tremendous sardonic edge to it – tremendous energy – feels like a kind of Helter Skelter and rootless energy

we are being shouted at from every particular angle 24/7 if our ears and eyes are open to it – “I shut my eyes and ears as much as possible now”

binary form: second form is highly repetitive, with a pounding energy

a couple of transcriptions of politicians ‘sloganeering’ – it has become endless today – we are inundated with inanity

as a young man I was fascinated and infatuated by the works of Shostakovich – “there is a Shostakovichian energy in this movement”

CB: To me this piece seems very spiritual. Not only do you have these trajectories of descending and going into the depths of the human soul, but you also have these “impossible distances”, as referenced in the beautiful poem by Dana Gioia. You make a reference to “the Goddess of Dawn and a sense of personal rather than collective place in the second piece. Over the course of the first three of the four pieces the music is quite dark, intense, slow evolving, extremely beautiful and expressive. And in your final movement somehow it all seems to click into place, with bursts of energy that most composers could only dream of. You also make references to the “age of shrill” and the “incessantly repetitive propaganda.” How do all these musical materials come into place for you? How do you balance out purely musical material from all these external elements that are clearly influencing you and inspiring you?

DF: This balance of programmatic and musical elements is always a challenge for any composer. Programmatic ideas come in a pre-compositional way – I know what I want to say and I find the technical means to say that.

Simple binary forms make it much easier for the listener to understand the material presented in the piece – These forms rhyme much like the poets have a relationship in this piece – from a technical point of view, music is meant to complement and reinforce itself through self-similarity

each movement begins in a similar way except for the fourth – the other three are more related to one another

rhyme: there is ascent followed by descent – sometimes the registers of the piece simply flip

We exist as members of a society and a culture, and we also exist as individuals – the piece attempts to try to address some of those various relationships

more personal: the town where I live (East Aurora) – a strong sense of place

3rd mov :a look at universal energy of despair

1st mov: universal phenomenon of sunlight and sunset and sunrise

last movement: a very specific cultural phenomenon: when societies are in intense decay, propagandas are at its highest

pulling all of this together is what one’s training as a composer allows one to attempt to do – I try to hold these divergent images together through my experience as a musician and as a composer for over 50 years

CB: Besides your extremely successful and busy career as a composer you have been a remarkable teacher to so many great composers. Your influence and your legacy mentoring and reaching out to the future generations is invaluable. How have you balanced your life as a Distinguished Professor and Birge-Cary Chair in Composition at SUNY Buffalo, and as the Artistic Director of the “June in Buffalo” Festival since 1985, with your life as a composer?

DF: For almost 50 years I’ve been producing concerts. I felt very strongly that it’s very important for young composers to have their music produced at a very high level.

balance: I’ve never only wanted to do just one thing – It became very interesting and important for me to create musical opportunities for audiences, composers

Now, reverse engineering. There’s been a cost. It’s taken enormous energy to put this into place and maintain it. It comes at some expense to the creative work that you do.

I’m coming now to what I consider to be the end of my creative moment. I recently finished a second cycle of Jeu de Tarot. 14 movements.

After that I’m going to take a hiatus. That hiatus will continue until I have a good idea.

David Felder (courtesy photo)

David Felder has long been recognized as a leader in his generation of American composers. His works have been featured at many of the leading international festivals for contemporary music, and earn continuing recognition through performance and commissioning programs. Felder’s work has been broadly characterized by its highly energetic profile, through its frequent employment of technological extension and elaboration of musical materials (including his Crossfire video series, and the video/music collaboration Shamayim), and its lyrical qualities.

Felder has received numerous grants and commissions including many composer’s awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, two New York State Council commissions, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, Guggenheim, two Koussevitzky commissions, two Fromm Foundation Fellowships, two awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, Meet the Composer “New Residencies” (1993-1996), composer residency with the Buffalo Philharmonic, two commissions from the Mary Flagler Cary Trust, and many more.

In May 2010, he received the Music Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a career recognition award. Shamayim was awarded a Silver Medal in Music from the Park City Film Festival in Spring, 2011.

Felder serves as Birge-Cary Chair in Composition at SUNY Buffalo, and has been Artistic Director of the “June in Buffalo” Festival since 1985, when he revived it upon his arrival in Buffalo. Since 2006, he has been Director of the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music at the University. From 1992 to 1996 he was Meet the Composer “New Residencies,” Composer-in-Residence to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and WBFO-FM. In 1996, he formed the professional chamber orchestra, the Slee Sinfonietta, and has been Artistic Director since that time. In 2008, he was named SUNY Distinguished Professor, the highest rank in the entirety of the SUNY system. In 2015 he was named Co-Director of the University at Buffalo’s Creative Arts Initiative, a plan to bring major international creative artists to the region as guest artists.

Felder recently released a CD on Coviello Contemporary featuring Jeu de Tarot (2016-2017), a chamber concerto recorded by Irvine Arditti and Ensemble Signal, and conducted by Brad Lubman. The disc also features his string quartet Netivot (2016), recorded by the Arditti Quartet, and Another Face (1987), recorded by Irvine Arditti. His recent orchestra piece, Die Dämmerungen, commissioned by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, will receive its complete world premiere at Kleinhans Music Hall on October 5th and 6th, 2019, under the baton of JoAnn Falletta.

A dedicated teacher and mentor, he has served as Ph.D. dissertation advisor and major professor for over eighty composers at Buffalo, many of whom are actively teaching, composing and performing internationally at leading institutions. Nearly 900 ’emerging’ composers have participated in June in Buffalo, the festival Felder pioneered and dedicated to younger composers upon his arrival in Buffalo in 1985. Felder served as Master Artist in Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in February-March, 2010. His works are published by Theodore Presser, and Project Schott New York, and portrait recordings are available on Albany, Bridge, Coviello, BMOP/sound, Mode, and EMF. Two recording projects were recently completed, both of Les Quatres Temps Cardinaux in surround sound, with one being released on BMOP/sound, and the other on Coviello Contemporary.

Beauty, California, Christian Baldini, composer, Concerto, Conductor, Experimental, Music

UC Davis Sinfonietta Debut: Ligeti, Wald, Catalan, Shirazi.

On Friday, May 13, 2022 I will finally have the pleasure of conducting the first public performance of the UC Davis Sinfonietta, a wonderful large ensemble comprised of some of the most advanced musicians at UC Davis. We will be performing an iconic work of the “large ensemble” repertoire: Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto. We will pair the Ligeti with three short works that were written for the exact same instrumentation by Aida Shirazi, Josiah Catalan and Sarah Wald. I asked these three excellent young composers if they’d like to write a companion piece for the Ligeti, and each of them came up with their own beautifulproposal and very distinctive style, which I find fascinating.

PROGRAM

Sarah Wald, Lavava y Suspirava: Fantasy on a Sephardic Romance (world première)

Aida Shirazi, Lament (world premiére)

Josiah Catalan, Cloudburst (world première)

György Ligeti, Chamber Concerto

UC Davis Sinfonietta

Christian Baldini, music director & conductor

Ann E. Pitzer Center, UC Davis

May 13, 2022, 7pm

UC Davis Sinfonietta rehearsing at the Pitzer Center

This performance was actually meant to take place in 2020, but of course we all know that the world was shut down, and this public debut the Sinfonietta was then canceled and it had to be postponed. The existence of this Sinfonietta is very important to me. I am a firm believer in the power of performing chamber music with friends and colleagues. The members of this Sinfonietta are almost exclusively leaders of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, which is in itself a powerhouse among University orchestras in the world. Offering our members a deeper dive into this repertoire is a very symbiotic experience, which promotes artistic growth of its individual members, and also of the whole orchestra. Promoting fluid communication, better understanding and even a closer familiarity among our members is very positive in every way. Seeing their commitment, their joy and their excitement in bringing these four works to life has been a real delight, and I look forward to sharing these premieres with our audience.

György Ligeti’s music always feels to me like visiting a dear old friend. I have been very fortunate to conduct several works by him such as Lontano, Atmosphéres, Mysteries of the Macabre, selections from his Requiem, his Violin Concerto (with the wonderful Miranda Cuckson, which was released on Centaur Records), and also chamber works of his. He was probably the most original musician of his generation (and this is not a minor accomplishment having been a contemporary of Luciano Berio). He was not only a perfectionist and a tremendous innovator, but he was very independent, never quite associated with any “schools” of composition per se. He clearly did not need to associate himself with any of them aesthetically in order to succeed: “I hate all these pseudo-philosophical over-simplifications. I hate all ideologies,” Ligeti said in a 1986 interview. “I have certain musical imaginations and ideas. I don’t write music naively. But I imagine music as it sounds, very concretely. I listen to it in my inner ear. Then I look for a certain system, for a certain construction. It’s important for me, the construction. But I always know it’s a second thing, it’s not a primary factor. And I never think in philosophical terms, or never in extra-musical terms.”

Composed between 1969 and 1970, the Chamber Concerto work utilizes Ligeti’s fascination with micropolyphony, creating textures that arise from many lines of gradually denser canons that move at different speeds or rhythms, and which result in complex sonorities, as described by Ligeti himself: “One clearly discernible interval combination is gradually blurred, and from this cloudiness it is possible to discern a new interval combination taking shape.” “This four-movement piece is a concerto inasmuch as all 13 players are virtuoso soloists and are all treated as equals,” Ligeti says. “In other words, we are not dealing with the usual type of concerto in which soli and tutti alternate, but with a piece for 13 concertante soloists. The voices always develop simultaneously, but in varying rhythmic configurations and generally at differing speeds.”

Here is also some very helpful information from Sarah Wald, Josiah Catalan and Aida Shirazi about their own works:

Notes by Sarah Wald:

I composed “Lavava y Suspirava”: Fantasy on a Sephardic Romance as part of my dissertation, which was a collection of seven pieces, for a variety of different ensembles, based on Sephardic folk songs. I was very excited to write this piece because the combination of instruments is really wonderful, and it was a lot of fun to write a companion piece to Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto. This piece was also an important precursor to my current, post-PhD work with Sephardic folk songs. It is one of only two in my dissertation collection that is based on a romance specifically. Romances—also known as narrative ballads—are a really special genre within the Sephardic folk repertoire. As my program notes mention, traditionally, they were very much a women’s genre: Sephardic women would sing romances to instill and reinforce important Jewish values. In my current work, I’ve pivoted towards focusing on the romances almost exclusively.

I’m very much looking forward to the premiere. I had originally planned and timed everything to have all of my dissertation pieces performed and recorded before receiving my PhD, but COVID threw a wrench into the works. While I was lucky to have some of my dissertation pieces recorded prior to graduation, it was a little disappointing to have a few performances/recordings still outstanding. So this upcoming premiere is highly anticipated and even cathartic, in a way.

My piece is based on the Sephardic romance “Lavava y Suspirava” (“Washing and Sighing”). Romances in Sephardic culture were traditionally associated with women and the domestic sphere: For example, mothers would often sing them to their children as lullabies. This romance is based on the tale of Don Bueso. At the beginning of the song, a captive woman washing clothes in a river spots a knight returning from war. The knight invites the woman to leave her washing behind and come with him. As the song progresses, the two recognize each other as long-lost brother and sister and are subsequently reunited with their parents.

In my piece, melodic fragments from the original song are altered and recombined constantly throughout the ensemble. I preserve the overall structure of the original song, including the surprising modal shift toward the end. The convergence on one note (Ab) during the last third of the piece serves to emphasize that modal shift and to represent a sense of suspended time, as the long-lost siblings’ realization sinks in that their family will be made whole again.

Sarah Wald holds degrees from Columbia University (BA in music), the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (MM in composition), and the University of California, Davis (PhD in composition and theory). Sarah’s music has been featured at festivals in the US and Europe and on WFMT’s Relevant Tones. Over the last several years, her pieces were selected from calls for scores for New Music on the Bayou (2016), women’s choir Vox Musica (2017), chamber group North/South Consonance (2018), and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival (2020). Sarah has also received a number of grants and commissions from organizations such as the Illinois Arts Council Agency, Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Saint Xavier University Flute Choir, the University of Tennessee Martin’s Contemporary Music Group, Keyed Kontraptions, and Access Contemporary Music.

Sarah Wald (courtesy photo)

Lament Program Notes (by Aida Shirazi)

Lament is based on the aria, Dido’s Lament from Henry Purcell’s opera, Dido and Aeneas. It revolves around the concepts of longing, death, and sorrow. I have tried to reimagine these concepts according to my personal experience of loss and the burden and darkness caused by it.

The core idea of my piece is a descending chromatic bass line which represents the traditional lament bass line and borrowed from the aria. The chord progression built on this bass line moves slowly and the bass line is mostly embedded in the overall texture of the piece. In time, the harmonic rhythm becomes faster and the bass line more recognizable. Towards the end of the piece, I have incorporated a melodic fragment of the aria, which is an homage to this heart-wrenching opera and Purcell.

I am thrilled about the premiere of Lament by the UC Davis Sinfonietta under the direction of Maestro Baldini. While working on the piece, I anticipated to be present at the rehearsals and premiere, like all other performances of my works at UC Davis since 2016. The idea of working with Maestro Baldini on yet another occasion and sharing the program with my dear friends, Sarah Wald and Josiah Catalan, for the inaugural concert of our Sinfonietta would give me enormous joy. However, the pandemic changed the course of everyone’s lives and sent all of us into a limbo. Thanks to science and, of course, the perseverance of our artists, we are finally able to get back to the halls and savor the beauty of live music-making. It is a pity that I cannot be present for this concert. I wish I could be there to celebrate the gift of my fellow composers and performers, but I thank all of them from the bottom of my heart and cheer them with a standing ovation all the way from Paris. Writing Lament was a rich and, at times, intense emotional journey for me. I hope I have succeeded in creating a similar experience for the audience

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Aida Shirazi (1987) is a composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music. Shirazi’s music is described as ”unfolding with deliberation” by The New York Times, “well-made” and “affecting” by The New Yorker, and “unusually creative” by San Francisco Classical Voice.

In her works for solo instruments, voice, ensemble, orchestra, and electronics, she mainly focuses on timbre for organizing structures inspired by Persian or English languages and literature.

Shirazi’s music has been featured at festivals and concert series including Manifeste, Mostly Mozart, OutHear New Music Week, MATA, New Music Gathering, Direct Current, Taproot, and Tehran Contemporary Music Festival in venues such as Maison de la Radio France, Lincoln Center, and Kennedy Center. Her works are performed by Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Miranda Cuckson, International Contemporary Ensemble, Oerknal, Quince Ensemble, Ensemble Dal Niente, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Empyrean Ensemble, and Bilkent Symphony Orchestra among others.

Shirazi has earned her Ph.D. in composition and music theory from the University of California, Davis. She has studied with Mika Pelo, Pablo Ortiz, Kurt Rohde, Yiğit Aydın, Tolga Yayalar, Onur Türkmen, and Hooshyar Khayam as well as participating in workshops and masterclasses by Mark Andre, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Riccardo Piacentini, and Füsun Köksal, among others. Shirazi holds her B.A. in classical piano from Tehran University of Art (Iran), and her B.M. in music composition and theory from Bilkent University (Ankara, Turkey). She has studied santoor (traditional Iranian hammered dulcimer) with Parissa Khosravi Samani. Shirazi is a class 2021-22 participant in IRCAM’s “Cursus Program in Composition and Computer Music.”

Aida Shirazi (courtesy photo)

Catalan: Cloudburst

For flute, oboe, clarinet in B♭, bass clarinet, horn in F, trombone, piano, celesta, and strings
Composed 2022

Duration about 6 minutes

Cloudburst explores a couple simple ideas throughout this piece: the accumulation and release of movement and energy. Over time, the keyboard instruments with ostinato lines become slowly distorted through countering waves of sound that cause subtle to intense degrees of rhythmic and harmonic dissonance. Eventually, this progressive accumulation of energy reaches a breaking point where all that momentum is released, leaving the aftermath of incessant ostinatos behind to slower-moving masses and trickling of sounds. I would like to thank Christian Baldini and the players of the UC Davis Sinfonietta for their work in performing this piece. 

Josiah Tayag Catalan (he/him) is a Filipino-American composer born in New York City and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Recently, his compositional interests have become centered around the intersects of merging alternative modes of temporality and harmony by fusing elements that stem from influences in traditional, avant-garde, popular, and Southeast Asian musics. He has been awarded prizes from NACUSA, the Sacramento State Festival of New American Music, the Megalopolis Saxophone Orchestra, and the American Prize, has been a finalist in the Thailand International Competition Festival and ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer’s Awards, and has served as a Fromm Foundation Composer Fellow in the Composer’s Conference. Josiah’s music has been commissioned and performed internationally by individuals and groups such as the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Earplay, Empyrean Ensemble, Lydian and Arditti String Quartets, the MANA saxophone quartet, The Megalopolis Saxophone Orchestra, violinist Miranda Cuckson, percussionist Chris Froh, and soprano Helena Sorokina. His music is published by BabelScores.

Currently, Josiah is a Bilinski Fellow at the University of California, Davis researching the music of composers in the Philippine avant-garde movement and teaching as a lecturer in Music Theory and Composition at Sacramento State. He is a tennis and baseball nerd who plays competitively, enjoys riding road bikes on scenic California highways, and often hikes around Northern California with his partner and adopted mutt. 

Josiah Catalan (courtesy photo)