Concerto, Music, piano, Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized

Soloist Profile: Erica Mineo in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Erica Mineo will perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto as our soloist with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra on June 1 in a program that will also include Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, and a new piece by Daniel Godsil. Click here for more details.

Christian Baldini: Erica, first of all congratulations on winning the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition. There was a competitive pool of applicants, and the jury’s decision was unanimously in your favor. At your age, you have already quite a few important accomplishments behind you. Please tell us how you started with the piano. How and when did you first become interested in music? I understand you also play the violin. Please tell us about it too.

Erica Mineo: Thank you! This opportunity to perform with the symphony is a great honor and a dream come true, and I must give credit to Marilyn Swan, my wonderful piano teacher, and Claire Zheng, an excellent accompanist and an even better friend. I am indebted to them both for all their support and guidance through these months of learning and interpreting the Schumann.

I started piano when I was seven, rather late compared to most of my contemporaries. But I’m thankful I wasn’t ever forced to play an instrument. Cultivating my love for music has been a very organic process. When I was very young, I listened to plenty of Classical music—my parents still have the Mozart CD’s they played when I was a baby! I suppose you could say I’m from a musical family, too. On my father’s side, my grandmother is a jazz singer, and my great-uncle Paul Peek was a rockabilly musician and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee! On my mother’s side, my uncle is a classical music aficionado, and so was my grandfather.

I’ve got a funny story about how I ended up playing the violin. My elementary school had an orchestra program in which students chose any instrument they liked. When I was nine, I arbitrarily picked the violin, and it’s stuck with me ever since. With both instruments, I’ve been lucky to have teachers who instill a solid foundation in technique, artistry, and theory while still making music meaningful and ultimately, fun. And ever since my early days with those Mozart CD’s, Classical music has remained an integral part of my life and identity.

CB: Which other activities do you enjoy outside music?

EM: Just like music, I’ve been very passionate about animals, especially cats and horses, ever since I was young. I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian. Currently, I enjoy volunteering with Yolo County Animal Services (YCAS) and Therapeutic Riding and Off-Track Rehabilitation (TROTR), both in Woodland. I’m also a member of Foal Team—we help take care of the baby equines (and the occasional alpaca) that come through the UCD vet school’s large animal neonatal ICU. I’m an undergraduate volunteer with the Knights Landing One Health Veterinary Clinic as well—our monthly clinic provides in-town veterinary services to the rural community of Knights Landing.

I very much enjoy reading literary classics, especially Shakespeare, and writing poetry. Running and nature photography illustrate my ever-present affinity with the great outdoors. And ever since finding out I’m autistic, I’ve become keenly interested in disability rights and neurodiversity, why we need this variation of brains and minds more than ever in today’s world. As the buttons and pins on my violin case illustrate, I hope to channel this deep passion into promoting disability awareness and acceptance and empowering other autistic people. I’m the co-founder and Vice President of the Autism and Neurodiversity Community at UC Davis, a peer-support group for autistic students.

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CB: We look forward to featuring you as our soloist for the first movement of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. In your opinion, what is so beautiful and remarkable about this piece? Why did you choose to perform it?

EM: The Schumann is such a sensitive, intimate, and yet fiercely determined work, with so many mischievous moments and little conversations with the orchestra. I especially love the back-and-forth parts between the piano and the oboe solo. Here’s a fun fact: the oboist playing these solos, Rose—I mean Professor Baunach—is actually my Physics instructor this quarter! And Claire’s on timpani, and I’ve got several other friends in the strings, winds, and brass. Schumann really fosters collaboration in this concerto. I’ve never really believed the soloist is inherently “better” than the orchestra anyway—one musician does not make a concerto, after all—but here, the piano and orchestra make a true team.

I also can definitely relate to Schumann as a person. While he likely wasn’t autistic, the historical evidence shows he definitely was neurodivergent in some respect. I wonder if his music was like a different kind of language for him, much as it is for me. Music communicates so much more than mere words!

Ms. Swan suggested learning the Schumann about a year ago, since I performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto in high school. I understand Grieg composed his piano concerto after hearing the Schumann, and it’s quite fascinating to see the similarities between the two. Not only the key, A Minor, but also minutiae such as those mischievous oboe solos! These two pieces are quite like siblings, and I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to learn them both.

CB: What is a typical routine for you? How much do you practice your piano and your violin, and how do you balance your music with school activities, and everything else?

EM: You’re absolutely right—fitting music, schoolwork, and pre-vet activities all together is a delicate balancing act. A consistent routine is essential. I usually get up very early in the morning and try to go to bed at a decent hour if I’ve not got a late-night Foal Team shift. Social media does not exist in my vocabulary. Ironically, the academic rigor is not the most difficult aspect of the school day—it’s pacing myself through all the sensory stimuli that accumulates when I’m walking to class and interacting with others. The music building and the Pitzer center are two of my refuges when it gets overwhelming—the little red bench on the second floor of the music building is one of my favorite spots.

As a busy pre-vet, I do admit I ought to practice music more than I do—usually I snatch an hour or two in between classes, or—as Claire is apt to tell you—occasionally even before lessons. But with such limited time, one learns to make the most of every minute, to focus on those key measures while not losing sight of the entire work. And when I’m not practicing, I’ll get creative—perhaps think about interpretation and intent while walking to class, play some pieces I’m working on to the cats in the YCAS shelter, or have a playlist of passages running (excuse the pun) in my head while I’m on a run.

CB: Is music very important to you? (I imagine it is, when I hear you play!) And why?

EM: The eminent French piano teacher Nadia Boulanger once said, “Do not take up music unless you would rather die than not do so.” This sentiment resonates deeply with me. Classical music is the oxygen for my soul. It’s been the portal to forming meaningful, long-lasting friendships—virtually all my close friends play an instrument or sing. Ultimately, it’s allowed me to feel such profound emotion and expression I never previously thought possible.

And while being autistic does have its challenges as an invisible disability, you can especially see its great strengths in music. My sensitivity to sound becomes an asset in noting the little details, in pieces from my chamber group’s piano quintet to Bach fugues. When I play or hear a piece, I see and feel sparks, waves, and ripples of color in addition to the notes themselves. Thanks to this intersection of autism and musical perception, I not only hear but also experience music as a living, tangible entity.

CB: What are your dreams? Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?

EM: After finishing my undergraduate studies, I plan to attend veterinary school, most likely along the companion animal/equine track. I hope to keep advocating for acceptance of autism and neurodiversity in society, including in music and the veterinary field. And I very much hope to keep playing the piano and violin and sharing these musical masterpieces with others—both humans and non-humans—throughout these years and beyond.  

CB: Thank you very much for your time, and for your very inspiring answers. We look forward to sharing your beautiful musicality with our audience soon!

EM: You’re very welcome! I very much look forward to rehearsing and performing with you and the symphony!

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Erica Mineo, a second-year undergraduate majoring in Biological Sciences and minoring in Music and Animal Science (Equine), currently studies piano with Marilyn Swan at UC Davis. Erica began her piano studies at age seven with Soh-Ra Kim and Dr. Linda Mazich-Govel in Rancho Palos Verdes. In high school, she studied with Hans Boepple, music professor and former department chair at Santa Clara University. She has enjoyed master classes and sessions with composer Dr. David Ward-Steinman, Bernadene Blaha, Lucille Straub, Nina Scolnik, and Dr. Louise Earhart. Erica performed Mozart’s 9th Piano Concerto as a soloist with the Southwestern Music Festival and Beach Cities Symphony orchestras, and the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Monta Vista High School Chamber Orchestra and the Winchester Orchestra of San Jose. She was a three-time state finalist in the Celia Mendez Beethoven Competition at San Jose State University, and has also earned recognition for performances of Mozart, Bach, Chopin, and Grieg. In 2017, Erica was a Music Teachers’ Association of California (MTAC) Young Artist Guild finalist, and in 2015 earned MTAC Panel Honors for piano and violin. She began studying violin from age nine with Gail Gerding-Mellert, and in high school with Julliard faculty member Li Lin as well as Robin Sharp, SF Chamber Orchestra concertmaster and Stanford faculty member. Erica was the Monta Vista High School Chamber Orchestra concertmaster, and now studies violin with Jolán Friedhoff at UC Davis. As a violinist, Erica enjoys performing chamber music in a piano quintet.

A passionate pre-vet, Erica is keenly interested in pursuing the companion animal/equine track. She is a member of the UC Davis vet school’s Foal Team and the Knights Landing One Health Veterinary Clinic. She also volunteers with Yolo County Animal Services (YCAS) and Therapeutic Riding and Off-Track Rehabilitation (TROTR), both in Woodland. Her other passions include classic literature (especially Shakespeare), writing poetry, running, nature photography, and disability studies.

Erica is also a proudly autistic disability rights advocate, and the co-founder and Vice President of the Autism and Neurodiversity Community at UC Davis, a peer-support group for autistic students. She was invited as a panelist to speak about her experiences as an autistic university student at the UC Davis MIND Institute’s May 31st Neurodiversity Summit.

 

 

 

Concerto, Experimental, folklore, Music, Symphony Orchestra, Tango, Uncategorized, violin

Composer Profile: Esteban Benzecry in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On May 4, 2019, I will have the pleasure of conducting the symphonic triptych “Rituales Amerindios” by Argentinean composer Esteban Benzecry, with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra in the beautiful Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. On the same program we will include the Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, with violinist Stephanie Zyzak and cellist Eunghee Cho, and the work “phôsphors (. . . of ether)” by Irish composer Ann Cleare.

Christian Baldini: Esteban, first of all, it is a pleasure for me as an Argentine to be conducting your beautiful and captivating music in the US. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. Tell me, how were your first few steps in music? You have been living in Paris for many, many years, but your path started in Argentina. How was your childhood, and when did you first feel attracted to music composition? 

Esteban Benzecry: I am the one who is grateful, and I am delighted to know that my music will be heard in Davis, and that it is in such great hands. 

I became close to music when I was already a teenager. Before then, I was always more attracted to painting. When I was 10 I had an attempt to learn the piano, but I quit after a few months because I found it boring, perhaps because I was not mature enough for it at the time.

While I was attending elementary school and high school, I also went to the Fine Arts Institute Manuel José de Labardén (Instituto Vocacional de Arte Manuel José de Labardén) in Buenos Aires, where we were taught fine arts, theatre, photography, theatre, indigenous instruments and folkloric dances.  It was then that in a self-taught fashion, and kind of ‘playing’ I became closer to music. When I was 15 I started playing the guitar and learning songs. My first private teacher was María Concepción Patrón. I loved improvising and I wanted to learn to write what I improvised. 

After a few months she urged me to learn the piano and composition, so I continued my studies with Sergio Hualpa and with Haydee Gerardi, all of this simultaneously while I was studying Fine Arts at University, at the Prilidiano Pueyrredón.

There was a very important moment in my life which was when the Argentine violinist Alberto Lysy listened to a piece that I had written for violin and piano. He got very excited and encouraged me to write a piece for solo violin, a capriccio. He told me that if he liked it, upon his return from Switzerland he would play it as an encore in one of his concerts for the youth. My big surprise came when, upon his return, he got so excited and liked it so much that he decided it to include it on a concert but not as an encore, but as part of the program, and in no other place than in the Main Hall of the Teatro Colón. This was in May 1991, when I was 21. 

My piece received very good reviews and other musicians and orchestras started to ask me for new works. It was all rather strange, but it seemed very natural, because I was not looking for musicians, they were rather looking for me for new works. 

That is how specific projects made me spend more and more time with music and I then felt that I no longer needed to express myself through painting. On the other hand, in 1994 the National Symphony Orchestra of Argentina premiered my first symphony “El compendio de la vida” under the leadership of their Music Director Pedro Ignacio Calderón. In this piece I tried to fuse these two worlds: each of the four movements was inspired in paintings of mine that were exhibited in the foyer of the Auditorio de Belgrano.

My becoming close to music was very intuitive, and something that took place as a necessity. I started writing for orchestra without having received lessons in music theory or orchestration, I loved looking at scores and following them with recordings, and that was a big learning moment for me. 

After the first few works of mine had been premiered, when my career choice was already defined by music, I went to Paris, in 1997, to study composition with Jacques Charpentier and “musical civilization” at the National Conservatory of the Paris Region, and I received my degree “Premier prix à l’unanimité”, then I continued my studies in courses with Paul Mefano, and although I was older than the age limit, he encouraged me to attend his classes at the National Conservatory of Paris as an auditing student. 

CB: Your father is one of the most influential orchestra conductors of Argentina. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but I know that he has taught and educated many generations of conductors and orchestra musicians through his wonderful (which he founded) National Youth Orchestra of Argentina (Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Nacional José de San Martín), which has been an incredible “barn of talent” in Buenos Aires. How was it for you growing up in such a musical family? Did you ever consider following your father’s footsteps as a conductor?

EB: Musical interpretation is a different world from the creation. I was fortunate enough to be born with a family that loves art, and who always supported me and stimulated me with a blind faith in everything that I was set out to do. The pressure of having a father that is renowned in the musical environment in the country where I grew up could have nullified me due to the high expectations that some people might have had, to see if it is true that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, and the pressure to have to develop my own merits regardless of those expectations…. but luckily it was not like that: I continue to do what I love the most and I am very grateful of the childhood I had where I was never pressured into becoming a musician, but rather I alone, like in a game, chose it.

As a little boy it was very common for me to come to rehearsals and concerts, so I absorbed a lot of things like a sponge. 

Curiously so far I am not interested in being a performer, I don’t know if I have the charisma, the capacity to communicate something that I do in such an intuitive manner as a creator. 

CB: Which are the composers that have influenced you the most? Stravinsky seems to have had an obvious influence on you, but perhaps there are others that have equally had a great influence in your music? 

EB: Also the music by Latin American composers that have integrated into their musical language folklore, such as Ginastera, Villalobos, Revueltas.

The colorful orchestral palette of French composers, as much the impressionists as that by Dutilleux and Messiaen, and the timbres in contemporary spectral French music, my brief passage with electroacoustic music as a student in Paris were very influential. Even if I ended up as a symphonist, electroacoustic music opened my ears to look for other sonorities with the orchestra. 

My past with fine arts, somehow left a mark in my music in the sense that it is very visual and based in colors, it is as if I was coloring with my music, like building sonic sceneries. 

CB: What is the most important goal for you as a composer? What do you try to communicate with every new piece? 

EB: I suppose with my musical language I exteriorize my internal world. I don’t know if I attempt to do anything, it simply flows without being able to explain why I do it, I don’t know if it belongs to me. 

One can theorize about the musical grammar but once can’t have the answer about where that image came from (that image that covered the empty canvas), or where those notes came from within the silence. 

There is no autopsy or scientist who could give an explanation about where the art we create comes from, or whether we simply communicate it, or whether it already existed in a different dimension of the universe. 

Michelangelo Buonarroti said something like “The sculpture already existed, I only took the excess out of the block of marble.”

CB: In your opinion, what is the role of symphonic music (and/or art in general) in the world we live in nowadays?

EB: Art is like a force of nature that must be allowed to flow, we are only a vehicle of its transmission, it contributes to the universal collective memory, it is the hieroglyphs which will live on as opposed to our physical body, which will disappear; it is the “black box” which will reflect in the future what the human of the past felt. 

There is a role of current entertainment and also that of eternity. 

I always have the impression of that I am planting trees that will remain here for the future generations, as opposed to the performers that live in them now. 

There is much art that is created with new technologies, which contributes to its evolution, but with time it turns obsolete or not very practical, while symphonic music is a classic that will last just like oil on a canvas, where what evolves is the language itself, the image, the sound that one stamps on it, but using the same matter.  

The symphony orchestra is also the highest expression of the result of collective work, an example of a society. 

With these topics nobody “owns the truth”, it is just a viewpoint. 

CB: Please tell me, what was the initial seed behind the genesis of your work “Rituales Amerindios”? Was it your own initiative, or due to the commission that you received? Is the musical material ever influenced by commissions that you receive?

EB: Very few times I have received commissions in which a theme had been imposed upon me, normally it is me who chooses a theme. 

This piece was a commission by the Gothenburg Symphony (National Symphony of Sweden), whose music director was Gustavo Dudamel. It was premiered by this orchestra in Gothenburg in January 2010, and that same week it was taken on a tour to the Festival Internacional de Música de las Islas Canarias in Las Palmas de Gran Canarias and in Tenerife. This symphonic triptych is dedicated to Gustavo Dudamel, which motivated me to write a work that, in my humble way, could be a musical homage to Latin America through its three main pre-columbian cultures, which are the Aztecs (Mexico), Mayas (south of Mexico and central America), and Incas (South America, primarily in Peru).  

Each of the movements, then, carries the name of a divinity from each of those cultures:  I  – Ehécatl (Aztec God of Wind) II  – Chaac (Maya God of Water) III – Illapa (Inca God of Thunder)

Gustavo Dudamel has subsequently programmed it with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in subscriptions at Walt Disney Concert Hall and on tour to San Francisco in Davies Symphony Hall on the Centennial of the San Francisco Symphony. He also conducted it in Carnegie Hall in New York with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra from Venezuela, and he took it on tour to Berkeley, Royal Festival Hall in Londo y the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Other orchestras such as the Philharmonique de Radio France and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic (Teatro Colon) have programmed this work as well.

CB: With regards to the musical materials, it is incredible how you can accomplish such memorable and simple motives like that one that starts “Rituales Amerindios.” How do you find such a subtle balance between complex elements (of which there is a lot in your work as well) and simple elements? Do you have a constant quest to find something memorable and transcendent? 

EB: If I said I’m on a constant quest to create something memorable and transcendent it would sound too pretentious. How does one find that? 

I thank you for your point of view about my music, and it is very difficult to describe with words what I do with my music in a very intuitive way.

When I compose I like to create themes that can be melodic or rhythmic motives which pop up in my music like characters that come in and out of a musical scenery. My music is very pictorial, as if it was about sonic sceneries that serve as a background to those characters which at different moments reappear with variations, thus giving unity to the work. 

Rituales amerindios is a symphonic “mural” (a large painting that has been painted onto a wall, like a fresco) which is loaded with simple and recognizable elements that call your attention, on top of complex textures that serve as background. 

CB: Rhythmic force, evocations to nature, moments of a very beautiful lyricism are a very natural part of “Rituales Amerindios” (and maybe a signature of you as a composer). Have you looked for inspiration in the concept of a neo-nationalism or a sort of imaginary folklore, to call it by some name? (I personally imagine that Alberto Ginastera would have liked your music very much) 

EB: I thank you for your comment. 

Defining my music is very difficult because I would run the risk of labeling myself with the description that I might do and I do not have any strict dogmas.
In works like “Rituales Amerindios” I feel a bit in line with Latin American composers such as Revueltas, Villa-Lobos and Ginastera of the “imaginary folklore”, what I mean is that I do not attempt to do ethnomusicology, but rather, in many of my works I have taken roots, rhythms, mythology or melodic turns of our continent as the source of inspiration, but in order to develop my own language, which could be described as a fusion of these roots and the new techniques of the contemporary western music.
Even if I have things in common with the aforementioned composers (we use these same roots as a source of inspiration), since I am a composer of the 21st Century my aesthetic influences are different.
In my first few works this happened unconsciously, maybe due to the contact that I had since a young age with folklore and indigenous instruments in the arts institute “Labarden” in Buenos Aires, and also due to my passion for certain South American composers. Today, I think that this has been vindicated and I do it more consciously with a very exploratory attitude, even though not all the works in my catalogue have this thematic material.
In my works I like to recreate the sonorities of indigenous instruments such as the “quena” or the “sikus” but utilizing instruments from the traditional orchestra, through contemporary procedures such as the use of multiphonics, harmonics, different kinds of air blows, extended techniques in the wind instruments, and I try to recreate the sound of the strummed “charango” through the use of pizzicato with arpeggios in the violins, etc.

 

I also love sounds of nature, the singing of imaginary birds, the sounds of mineral elements, vegetables, woods, water ambiences, the fauna: “Rituales Amerindios” is also a chant to nature in the Americas. 

CB: Esteban, I thank you so very much for your time and wonderful answers. We are truly honored to share your beautiful music with your audience. 

EB: I am the one who is grateful, to count on performers as enthusiastic as you who bring life to my music. The work that you are doing with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra making so much music of our time known through your concerts is truly remarkable. 

Esteban Benzecry 2019 Alita Baldi 12
Esteban Benzecry – Photo by Alita Baldi (2019)

 

Argentinean composer born in 1970. Esteban Benzecry is one of South America’s most renowned young composers. His music is programmed by the world’s leading conductors, performing organisations and festivals. Interpreters and commissions include the Carnegie Hall, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Gothenburg Symphony, Hamburg Philharmoniker Orchester, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Sydney Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Tampere Philharmonic, Stavanger Symfoniorkester, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orquestra Gulbenkian, Orquesta Nacional de España, ORCAM Orquesta y Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid, Orquesta Sinfonica de RTVE. His most recent works attempt a fusion between rhythms with Latin American roots and the diverse aesthetic currents of European contemporary music creating, a personal language, an imaginary folklore. Benzecry lives in Paris since 1997.

Cello, Concerto, Music, Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized, violin

Soloist Profile: Eunghee Cho in Conversation with Christian Baldini

As we get ready to perform Brahms’s Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, it is my pleasure to ask our soloist Eunghee Cho some questions about this piece, about music in general, and about his role as Artistic Director of the recently founded Mellon Music Festival in Davis, California.

Christian Baldini: Eunghee, it is a pleasure to welcome you back to your hometown to showcase you as our soloist for this marvelous piece of music. Tell us why you chose to perform this piece? What is so special to you about it? 

Eunghee Cho: I’ve found that collaborating with inspiring musicians on an incredible piece of music motivates new dimensions in my perception of sound and musicality. The double concerto allows for the creation of a sonic über-instrument from the cello-violin combo simultaneously manifesting alongside their unfolding conquest with the full orchestra. I can’t wait!

CB: And tell us about your soloist partner, violinist Stephanie Zyzak. How did the two of you meet, and would you say you have much in common with regards to music making?

EC: We first met in the context of a conductorless chamber orchestra. During our first cycle, we were both principals for Shostakovich’s C minor Chamber Symphony – a transcription of his 8th string quartet for string orchestra. I was absolutely floored by the anguish she vocalized in that opening movement solo. Within those first few minutes, I knew that it could only ever be a privilege to work with such a powerful artist.


CB: Tell us about how you decided to found the Mellon Music Festival in Davis. I had the pleasure of attending some of your events, and it gives me great comfort to see so many talented young people working together and offering high quality music performances. How did you come up with this idea, and where would you like to go with it?

EC: In a nutshell, Davis was missing an international chamber music festival and I had some buddies who loved performing chamber music! More specifically though, so much of the current climate of classical music appreciation is predicated on a snobby, elitist stereotype of the genre when in fact it can be one of the most inclusive and accessible media of expression. To combat the stigmas, our programming and outreach efforts actively exploit the inherent beauty and expressive potential of the classical genre. Beyond nurturing a community around dedicated festival engagement, we’ll make classical music in vogue once again!

CB: What are your choices for programming music? I noticed that in future concerts you will be performing more recent repertoire (works by Ligeti and Golijov), which seems like a welcome development. Are you planning on commissioning works in the future perhaps too?


EC: Of course you can’t go wrong when programming the classics, but we are also advocates of an evolving music tradition that embraces musical innovation, especially when we have the chance to pick the brains of living composers. I can only imagine how bummed I’d be if I found out after I died that I could’ve asked the 21st century edition Beethoven how to perform precisely his hugely varying dynamic and articulation varieties. In the past, we commissioned, with support from a Boston-based grant, two new works for the festival in our Spring 2018 preview concerts with the Holes in the Floor cello quartet. Commissions are certainly in our future!

CB: What is your ideal job? Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years?


EC: My ideal job would be spending my weeks alternating between intensive musical collaborations and work as a professional dog walker.

CB: If you had to give advice to a very young musician starting out, what would you say to them? What should they do in order to become a successful musician?


EC: A lot of the time it will feel like the music is kicking your butt, but if you can push through the temporary grind, the product is one of the greatest imaginable rewards. Also, find inspiration in as many of the oldies (i.e. Kreisler, Piatigorsky, Szigeti, Casals, Tertis) as your 24-hr days will allow.

CB: Do you enjoy reading? Sports? What other activities do you enjoy outside music (and besides dogs!)?


EC: Mostly resulting from a general paranoia, I tend to arrive at airports hours before my flight’s scheduled departure so I’ve adopted another hobby that can aptly be described as “people watching.” Also, I have hardly ever said no to a game of pick-up soccer.

CB: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. We look forward to a beautiful performance together! And maybe we’ll play soccer together someday (another passion of mine!)
EC: Absolutely my pleasure! See you soon!

eunghee Cho2W
Born in Davis, California, Korean-American cellist Eunghee Cho was awarded Second Prize and the special award for Outstanding Chinese New Piece Performance at the Alice & Eleonore Schoenfeld International String Competition in Harbin, China. He has also earned First Prize in the USC Solo Bach Competition, the Borromeo String Quartet Guest Artist Award, New England Conservatory’s Honors Ensemble Competition, Sacramento Philharmonic League JAMMIES Concerto Competition, and was awarded top prize in the Classical Soloist category by Downbeat Student Music Awards.
He has appeared as soloist with numerous orchestras around the country including the Sacramento Philharmonic, Cape Symphony, Atlantic Symphony, Symphony by the Sea, Davis Symphony, and Sacramento State Symphony Orchestras. He currently holds the Joyce & Donald Steele Chair as Principal Cello of the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, and frequently performs as Principal Cello with Cape Symphony, Unitas Ensemble, and Symphony by the Sea. Eunghee has actively participated in classes at the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival and Académie Musicale de Villecroze in France and has worked closely with distinguished professors such as Steven Doane, Colin Carr, Myung-Wha Chung, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and members of the Guarneri, Emerson, Tokyo, Orion, Brentano, Borromeo, and Shanghai Quartets. 

 

As an avid chamber musician, Eunghee has collaborated in performances with artists such as Midori Goto, David Shifrin, Elton John, François Salque, and the Borromeo String Quartet, and has performed as a guest artist with A Far Cry, Da Camera Society, and the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento. Previous festival engagements include the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Taos School of Music, Bowdoin International Music Festival, Rheingau Musik Festival, Festival International d’Echternach, and Rencontres Franco Américaines de Musique Chambre in Missillac, France. He is Artistic Director and Founder of the Mellon Music Festival in Davis, CA.

Eunghee graduated magna cum laude and as a Steven & Kathryn Sample Renaissance Scholar from the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Music in Cello Performance and a Minor in Biology. Following his completion of a Master’s degree at the New England Conservatory of Music he is currently enrolled in the conservatory’s Doctor of Musical Arts Program under the tutelage of distinguished pedagogue Laurence Lesser. His previous instructors include Paul Katz, Andrew Shulman, Andrew Luchansky, Richard Andaya, and Julie Hochman. He plays on a 1930 Anselmo Gotti cello on generous loan by Colburn Foundation. Away from the cello, Eunghee enjoys neighborhood pick-up soccer, everything about dogs, and dawdling in local coffee shops.

Concerto, Dance, Experimental, Music, Symphony Orchestra, Tango

Composer Profile: Ann Cleare in Conversation with Christian Baldini

In preparation for our performance of her orchestral work phôsphors (… of ether) at the Mondavi Center (UC Davis), I had the pleasure of asking composer Ann Cleare a few questions about her music. Below are the answers:
Christian Baldini: First of all, congratulations on the recently announced success of your Ernst von Siemens Prize! This is such exciting news, and so very richly deserved for someone with your sense of imagination, refined sonic creations and unusual sensitivity. And thank you very much for agreeing to answer some questions for us. Do you consider yourself a quintessentially Irish composer? And if so, can you tell us more about how this might have influenced your upbringing, and your music in particular?
Ann Cleare: I’m not sure that I know what a quintessential Irish composer is! Being a composer in Ireland is a relatively new profession – Ireland didn’t have a Bach or Beethoven or Brahms. The country has a history of being the land of Saints and Scholars, and has produced some incredibly talented writers of words, but the writing of music is a much newer activity. In this sense, I don’t carry the weight of tradition that composers of other countries often do. I have always thought of composing as a place where I must define the territory and create my own rules, which then govern the structure of a piece. Unlike many people, the distinction between music, sound, silence, and noise has never been so great for me. I grew up playing tonal music but always felt confined by the limits of its language and thought that there was so much timbral and structural potential to be explored in the everyday sonorities around me, whether mechanical or natural. I don’t see any of this as being a particularly Irish approach, but somehow, being at a distance from the overbearing tradition that composers of other countries have to contend with, has allowed me to create my own sense of what music is or can be.
  
 
CB: You talk about 3 islands and a “composite” in your piece phôsphors (… of ether) – the timber, register and harmonic qualities of each of these groups affects the way you structure the piece. Can you tell us more about this?
AC: Yes, the differing timbre, registers, and harmonic qualities are in aid of distinguishing these three instrumental “islands” from each other – these are technical approaches to creating a sense of individual layers or places within a piece, and then a fourth ‘floating’ island navigates these three and draws out elements or matter that bring the islands into dialogue or exchange.
 
CB: Who would you say are some of the composers (in music history, or living ones) that have had a deep impact on your own music, and why?
AC: Probably the work of Iannis Xenakis. One of the most fiercely original musical minds of the 20th century, Xenakis held a multifaceted career as a composer, architect, and mathematician, and from these influences imagined and created sound in a way that no one else ever has. Particularly his piece Dämmerschein, which is like a ferocious natural force unleashed on the orchestral stage.
 
 
CB: Who are some important people that have inspired you in your education and training? Are there any people that you think you will will always be grateful to, and why?
AC: I love the W.B. Yeats quote that “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. There are a lot of people that I have studied with who have helped light lasting fires with me! In particular, Chaya Czernowin, one of my teachers at Harvard, who showed me the unseen depths of the worlds that I was exploring and how much further I could dig in to make them even more vivid. She also taught me to never rest on my laurels – that once a piece is written, it’s written, and it’s then necessary to move on and find new territory and new challenges.
 
CB: In your opinion, what is the role of art, and music more specifically in society nowadays? 
AC: I think that art should both challenge and reflect the world we live in – I believe that’s what it’s for. It saddens me when my work or work that I admire is described as high brow or inaccessible, when from my point of view, it’s dealing with the most universal of ideas and attempting to communicate them in a sincere way. When asked if my music is too challenging or harrowing for a listener, which it is often described as, I suggest that if you want to pretend the world is a lovely, comfortable place, then stay at home and find something mind-numbing to watch on TV (which, of course, there’s a time and place for…). I work and think hard about how I can make my ideas clear to a listener, to invite them into the experience, but not in a way that compromises or simplifies the complexity of the situation in question, and life is difficult and complex, art isn’t the place to escape from this.
 
CB: Sometimes we read or hear dooming comments that classical/symphonic music audiences are getting smaller and smaller or that only old people listen to concerts. Do you believe in this, and if so, what should or could be done to reverse this trend and invigorate our audiences?
AC: I sway between thinking that the concert hall is a wonderful thing, a unique place of concentration and community, to feeling straight-jacketed and claustrophobic by its expectations of an audience, who it often seems aren’t really considered in the experience. I would love to see more music happen outside of concert hall practices. I can imagine audiences still being capable of actively listening but without the confinement of concert hall behaviour. Programming needs attention too, as often, particularly with programmes of contemporary music, pieces that are programmed together that have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and contradict, rather than compliment each other. Would you go to see three or four different plays in a night? How confusing and overwhelming would this be? Yet several pieces of music are often squeezed into a few hours at a concert hall – making for a very confused experience for an audience. If we want audiences to be interested in the concert hall, we need to reconsider the many antiquated practices that don’t serve it well anymore.
 
CB: What do you seek to achieve with every new piece that you write? What is your main motivation for writing music?
AC: the music I write feels like a type of first language to me – I can express in sound what I often fail to express in words. Composing is where my fullest form of expression finds its outlet. Each piece encourages a listener to contemplate the complexity of the lives we exist within, exploring ideas of communication, transformation, and perception.
 
 
CB: Thank you very much for your time and for answering these questions in such a candid manner. We very much look forward to sharing your captivating music with our audiences here in Davis!
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Ann Cleare is an Irish composer working in the areas of concert music, opera, extended sonic environments, and hybrid instrumental design. Her work explores the static and sculptural nature of sound, probing the extremities of timbre, texture, colour, and form. She creates highly psychological and corporeal sonic spaces that encourage a listener to contemplate the complexity of the lives we exist within, exploring poetries of communication, transformation, and perception.

A recipient of a 2019 Ernst von Siemens Composer Prize, her work has been commissioned and presented by major broadcasters such as the BBC, NPR, ORF, RTÉ, SWR, WDR for festivals such as Gaudeamus Week, The Wittenertage fur Neue Kammermusik, International Music Institute Darmstadt, Bludenzer Tage zeitgemäßer Musik, IMATRONIC Festival of Electronic Music at ZKM, MATA Festival, Taschenopernfestival, Sound Reasons Festival in India, Shanghai New Music Week, Transit Belgium, GAIDA, Totally Huge New Music in Perth, Trattorie Parma, Rainy Days in Luxembourg, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Ultraschall. Through working with some of the most progressive musicians of our time, she has established a reputation for creating innovative forms of music, both in its presentation, and within the music itself. She has worked with groups such as Ensemble SurPlus, 175 East, The Crash Ensemble, The Callithumpian Consort, Quatuor Diotima, The International Contemporary Ensemble, The Chiara String Quartet, Collegium Novum Zürich, ELISION, The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Divertimento Ensemble, JACK Quartet, Ensemble Apparat, Ensemble Nikel, The Curious Chamber Players, Yarn/Wire, ensemble mosaik, The Experimental Ensemble of the SWR Studios, Talea Ensemble, österreichisches ensemble für neue music, The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, ensemble recherche, TAK, Vertixe Sonore, Ensemble Garage, Argento Chamber Ensemble, The Fidelio Trio, oh ton-ensemble, Distractfold, Longleash Trio, and soloists such as Carol McGonnell, Richard Craig, Heather Roche, Bill Schimmel, Benjamin Marks, Patrick Stadler, Carlos Cordeiro, Ryan Muncy, Richard Haynes, William Lang, Laura Cocks, Lina Andonovska, Samuel Stoll, and Callum G’Froerer.

Recent projects have focused on creating experiential environments where sound is given a visual as well as sonic dimension, such works include eyam i-v, a series of five attacca pieces, centred around clarinet and flute writing in various solo, ensemble, electronic, and orchestral settings, spanning just over two hours of music that is continuously transformed in shape, time, and motion around the listener; rinn, a time travel chamber opera involving a multichannel sonic sculpture that the singers and actors wear, interact with, and are amplified by; spatially choreographed chamber pieces such as I should live in wires for leaving you behindanchor me to the land, and on magnetic fields; a newly-designed instrument that a musician simultaneously wears and plays in eölsurface stations, multi-layered theatre involving the staging of extended brass instruments, vocal ensemble, and visuals.

Current and future projects include new works for Ekmeles and solo trombonist William Lang, Liminalities – a collaboration with ensemble mosaik and visual artist Anna Rún Tryggvadottir in Reykjavik and Berlin, a chamber orchestra piece for Ensemblekollektiv Berlin, a series of songs for voice and piano for The Irish Art Song Project, an evening-length work for ELISION, a video opera version of her opera rinn, and the creation of an outdoor musical playground for children with sculptor Brian Byrne.

Ann studied at University College Cork, IRCAM, and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Her scores are published by Project Schott New York and she is represented by the Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland (CMC).  She is Assistant Professor of Music and Media Technologies at Trinity College Dublin. As an artistic collaborator with Dublin Sound Lab, she will work on developing their programming and production of electronic music over the coming years. Ann is Projects Officer with Sounding the Feminists (#STF), a collective championing principles of equality, fairness, inclusivity, and diversity in Irish musical life.

 

Cello, Concerto, Dance, Music, Tango, Uncategorized

Soloist Profile: Anssi Karttunen in conversation with Christian Baldini

In preparation for our performance of Peter Lieberson’s “The Six Realms” (for cello and orchestra), I had the occasion of asking our wonderful soloist Anssi Karttunen a few questions:

Christian Baldini: Anssi, what a treat to get to perform this piece with you as our soloist, thank you so much for joining us! This will be the first time that this piece will be performed without the cello being amplified, is that correct? You were very good friends with Peter Lieberson, so can you tell us the history behind the reason for this piece being published for amplified cello, despite the composer’s wishes?

Anssi Karttunen: I know exactly what must have happened at the first performance with Yo-Yo Ma because the same thing has happened to me with other first performances. There is no piece more difficult for balance than a cello concerto. Nowadays there is mostly very little time to rehearse for any orchestral piece and the one aspect that takes time to sort out is balance. So it sometimes happens that in order for the cello to be heard in the first performance one has to ask for a discreet amplification. Usually in the following performances the composer can work out the problematic passages. That is exactly what happened in Toronto, the only problem being that it was then published as a piece for amplified cello and orchestra which was not Peter’s original idea. When I suggested that we take a look at the dynamics together in order to make a version that can be performed and rehearsed in normal time he was delighted. We were both convinced that Six Realms would work very well with some small revisions which he was going to do himself. Unfortunately he got very ill and wrote to me some time later that he would not able to finish the work but that he trusted I would make the right decisions. A few months later he passed away, it has taken 8 years to find the right conditions for this performance.

CB: This work is based on some Buddhist principles, and the concept that (in Lieberson’s own words) “differing states of mind and emotions colour our view of the world and shape human experience”. We know Lieberson was a Buddhist, but can you develop on this and how it might have affected his compositional output?

AK: I don’t think Peter is trying to give us a lecture on the Buddhist idea of cycle of rebirths through six realms, but as it was for him a very concrete and deep belief it gave him a story thread to follow and to tell through his music. There is a universality in the message of the piece that does not require knowledge on Buddhism. The movement through different stages of existence and emotional states can be felt and received either concretely or as an abstraction. The sincerity of Peter’s relation to his own music and his beliefs is there for all of us to feel.

The Six Realms is structured as follows:

1. The Sorrow of the World (introduction)
2. The Hell Realm (aggression: acute, self-perpetuating anger at the world and ourselves)
3. The Hungry Ghost Realm (passion: the need to possess or continually consume; we are never satisfied because we can never get enough)
4. The Animal Realm (ignorance: an obsessive need to control or to find security)
5. The Human Realm (passion: the desire for something better, and a lessening of self-absorption, allows for the possibility of our becoming dignified humans who long for liberation from these six realms of existence. It is only from this realm that we are able to move on to achieve Enlightenment: the right way to view, and interact with, the world.)
6. The God Realm (ignorance: blissful self-absorption of our godlike powers, until doubt sets in and shatters our confidence) and The Jealous God Realm (aggression: extreme paranoia and competitive drive; we never trust anyone or their motives)

CB: What is so very special to you about this piece, and, are you hoping that now that we finally perform it without amplification (with some of the edits that you did with PL before he died), it will finally become a staple of the Cello Concerto repertoire?

AK: The important thing is not that we play it with or without amplification, it is simply that the piece gets heard again. It often happens even to masterpieces that for one reason or another they do not receive the success they deserve immediately and need to wait for their moment. I sincerely think that this is one of the great American concertos and there are not too many of those for any instrument. At the same time it is not merely American, it is a universal piece. Peter didn’t want his music to sound American or Buddhist, he followed the principle of « being brave enough to experience existence without dogma or belief of any kind ». I hope we can bring justice to this wonderful piece.

CB: You have given the world premiere of over 180 works (and counting), and have worked with some of the most celebrated composers of our time such as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Luca Francesconi, Kaija Saariaho, and Pascal Dusapin. Can you tell us why it is so important to actively promote the works of living composers?

AK:There are three main reasons why working with living composers is essential for us performers:

– Firstly: Music has changed a lot during history but the work of a composer has remained essentially the same, It still starts with an empty page and through their own individual battles composers manage to put down on paper the closest approximation of their music that notation allows. Knowing how different composers work today is the best way to imagine how composers worked earlier, how they all are different and have very different priorities for us performers.

– Secondly: There is nothing more exciting than being part of the creative process. The moment when a piece is born. Being the first messenger who allow an audience to discover a new creation is a priceless opportunity.

– Thirdly: The work of a performer is ephemeral. Nothing remains of a concert, sometimes a recording, but often not event that. CDs exist, but recordings often fall out of fashion and our work is eventually forgotten. The only legacy we can leave behind are the pieces that we were able to inspire composers to compose. So through these pieces which will survive in the hands of other performers a little bit of my happy moments will survive for future generations.

CB: Can you share with us some interesting, amusing or charming anecdotes of your life as a touring musician, traveling around the world working with wonderful musicians from all walks of life?

AK: Friends are what is the most interesting, charming and amusing thing about the life of a traveling musician. And coming back to places to meet the friends again. Sometimes one meets a person that marks your life and never meet them again. Sometimes a surprising place or friend accompanies you throughout the rest of your life. One such place is Davis; when I first came here 20 years ago I had no idea that a recording Pablo Ortiz played for me of Piazzolla and Troilo led us to a collaboration that has produced now already two CDs and countless pieces and concerts. And Davis itself became a place were I am now coming for my fourth visit, each time with a completely different project. Another such person was Peter Lieberson, I only met him on two occasions, but our bond was so strong that we became very close and he and his music has accompanied me far beyond his passing.

CB: Wow, that is amazing to hear. Now changing completely the subject, and dreaming big, tell us, if you were appointed Artistic Director of a Music Festival with unlimited resources, and you had to choose the programming for 3 symphonic programs (with unlimited choices of soloists, orchestras, choirs, conductors), who would you invite, and to perform what?

AK: If you offer me unlimited resources, then I can take the liberty of traveling in time. The first concert I would program is the one that I in fact programmed four years ago in Helsinki when I directed the Musica nova Festival. This was such a happy moment of being with and listening to friends that I would love to offer it to more people to enjoy. My closest friend Olly Knussen sadly passed away last summer so the only way this concert could happen is with these unlimited resources.

1:
Peter Lieberson: Shing Kham, percussion concerto (orchestrated by Oliver Knussen)
Mark-Anthony Turnage: On Open Ground, viola concerto
Reinbert de Leeuw: Der nächtlige Wanderer
Finnish Radio Orchestra, conducted by Oliver Knussen (1952-2018), soloists: Pedro Carneiro, percussion and Steven Dann, viola

2:
The second concert would be a trip into history. To meet and hear two of my heroes and to understand how they performed themselves. Schumann’s cello concerto I would have to offer to play myself, because no cellist in his lifetime wanted to play it and he never heard it. Hearing Brahms and his friends perform the Double Concerto would be the ultimate way of understanding his music and the way he performed it himself. So much has changed since those days and there are no records to listen to, we can only guess how it may have been.

Schumann: Cello Concerto, Schumann conducting and myself as soloist
Brahms: Double Concerto, Brahms conducting, Joseph Joachim, violin and Robert Hausmann cello

3:
Arnold Schönberg: Gurrelieder conducted by Schönberg.

I would want to sit in the audience for this concert that was one of the most important moments in the history of music. Plus I would be sitting next to so many incredible people, Berg, Webern, Zemlinsky and many others. And if I had organised the concert I would have the chance to take them all out for dinner afterwards.

CB: That was very illuminating, and it speaks very much about the great breadth of repertoire that is so important to you. Once again, Anssi, thank you very much for coming to Davis to perform this wonderful music with us, and for sharing your very interesting insights with us!

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