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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
Christian Baldini:On March 5 I will have the pleasure of conducting the world première of the Violin Concerto “Kuyén” by Chilean composer Miguel Farías, featuring the wonderful violinist Rachel Lee Priday.Miguel Farías is a superb Chilean composer, and we have been colleagues and friends for about fifteen years, when we met in France at a festival where we both had our works for orchestra performed by the excellent Orchestra National de Lorraine. I was immediately captivated by his music because of his great use of the orchestral palette, his imagination and his expressiveness, and his great ability to write motifs that are very memorable without trying to be. It is a pleasure to present this world premiere that was our commission and that received the prestigious support of Ibermúsicas. Miguel, tell us, how was the genesis of this piece? What could you share with us about how you started writing it, what plan you originally had and what changed in the process (if that did happen)? Are you happy with the final results?
Miguel Farías: First of all, thank you very much dear Christian for your words, and I would also like to tell you that it is a great pleasure to be able to collaborate with UCDSO and with you, especially after fifteen years of friendship!
Composing Kuyén was somehow quite intuitive. I like to write narrative (fiction), and during the last year I wrote a book that contains stories that speak of the night, from different perspectives. One of these is one that has to do with mythology. Perhaps that is why I had in mind some sonorities that were related not only to the night, but also to beings that inhabit it. This is how it occurred to me to “ground” this sound speech that was haunting my head, basing it on the narrative of the Kuyén myth. The idea, in addition to having a soloist and an orchestra, reinforced the discourse based on dialogue, which ended up being essential to give shape to the piece.
CB: How were your beginnings with music?
MF: Initially, when I was about 10 years old, I taught myself to play the piano. Then I really liked rock and jazz and I studied electric guitar. I quickly realized that more than playing other people’s music, I liked inventing music on the guitar. So at fourteen I went to find out how to study composition at the conservatory, and at fifteen I was already in my first formal year.
CB: Who were some of the people in your life that have most positively influenced you to be the composer you are today?
MF: It may sound cliché, but first of all my family. In general, I am interested in a type of music that does not question itself, but dialogues with its surroundings. In my family there are no musicians, so they have been an influence not only emotionally, but also creatively and thoughtfully. In the art world, I have generally been much more influenced by literary narratives than by composers. The speech and thought of Raul Ruiz has been important in my way of thinking about the discourse and the musical form. In the construction (or attempted construction) of my own musical discourse, I believe that several writers have influenced me, some examples are the Cubans Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Pedro Juan Gutierrez, the Chileans Christian Geisse and Hernán Rivera Letelier, or the Mexican Juan Rulfo, among several others. Honestly, without literature in my life, it would be difficult for me to continue growing artistically.
CB: Being a young composer is not easy. Opportunities for your works to be commissioned by or performed by an orchestra don’t come very often (or at all). What advice would you give to young composers who are looking for opportunities?
MF: Go forward with a lot of work and confidence. It is difficult to have commissions or works performed by orchestras these days, but my experience has shown me that if one is capable of presenting artistically interesting ideas and projects, there is interest from the institutions.
First of all, in order to present interesting projects, I think you have to work hard to develop a correct and personal way of orchestral writing. You have to understand the sonorities of the orchestra as well as its relationship with musical time. Then, the exercise of the trade itself provides the tools to bring ideas to the score.
On the other hand, composition contests and courses are very useful, not only to have visibility, but also to be able to hear what is written above all. In competitions, the most common thing is not to win, but to keep trying; on the one hand, it serves to develop a high-level orchestral writing, tolerance to frustration, and above all a handling of writing and ease in bringing abstract ideas to life on the music sheet. Contests serve as a kind of exercise in this.
CB: You are also an opera composer. In your opinion, are there any (or many) differences between writing chamber music, symphonic music, vocal music, and dramatic music for the stage, such as opera?
MF: Very much so, in my opinion. The starting point in dramatic and instrumental music is very different. In the first we start from quite tangible and literary narrative resources. In the second, at least in my case, one starts from a blank sheet of paper, where we have to build the sound objects with which the ideas we have in mind will be represented. Both worlds are exciting, and difficult to master.
On the other hand, in dramatic music for the stage, at the time of writing there are many factors to consider that influence each note we write. The narrative, the visual, the temporal; and other more complex factors that have to do with the context of the text being worked on. I’m not saying that instrumental music doesn’t contain these riches and difficulties, but I do say that opera, for example, begins from a space heavily charged by a tradition that has these factors as its starting point. In the opera, our blank page at the beginning is quite lined.
CB: For someone who has never heard your music before, what advice would you give them? What is important in your music? What should they try to hear in your works? (and in this Concerto for violin and orchestra, specifically?)
MF: I find it difficult to answer something like that, since I would like to say that they can hear what they want and how they want when listening to my music. But if we think specifically about Kuyén, I would like them to try to feel the colors and nuances of light with which I tried to impregnate the sonorities, both of the solo violin and of the orchestra. Kuyén for me is a dialogue between colors, lights, brightness and darkness, and I would like to suggest that in this work, they start by letting themselves be carried away by intuition to hear it as an abstract conversation between these elements.
CB: Thank you very much for writing this beautiful work for the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and Rachel Lee Priday. I am very happy to be able to share your music with our public and our community.
MF: Thanks to you dear Christian, to the UCDSO and to Rachel. It has been amazing working with you and Rachel. I have learned a lot, and I have enjoyed it even more. Rachel has given an impressive voice to each of the notes I wrote. I am very excited and grateful. And of course, I hope that this first collaboration after fifteen years of friendship is not the last.
Composer and PhD in Latin American Studies, Miguel Farías (b. 1983) studied in Chile, Switzerland, and France.
He is the winner of several international prizes and beneficiary of commissions and residences in Chile and Europe, including Injuve, 2007 (Spain); Luis Advis, 2007 (Chile); Frederic Mompou (Barcelona, Spain); Joan Guinjoan, 2013 (Barcelona, Spain); Manuel Valcarcel, 2013 (Santander, Spain); the sponsorship prize at the BMW Musica Viva competition of the Bavarian Radio (Munich, Germany); and he was a laureate of the Isang Yun Music Prize, 2007 (Korea); Tactus, 2008 (Belgium); the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition, 2009 (Belgium); and the Reina Sofía (Spain), among others. He was a finalist in the “Composer Project” and “Roche Commissions” programs of the Lucerne Festival, with Pierre Boulez as a member of the jury.
In June 2012, Farías won the 2012 “Art Critics” Prize in the National Opera category and the National Arts Prize “Altazor” in 2013, for his opera Renca, París y Liendres, premiered by the Chilean Symphony Orchestra. In 2018, his second opera, El Cristo de Elqui, was premiered by the Chilean National Opera at the Municipal de Santiago, directed for the stage by Jorge Lavelli. In 2019, he won the Beaux-Arts Chilean Academy prize for the premiere of this opera.
Christian Baldini:El 5 de Marzo tendré el placer de dirigir el estreno mundial del Concierto para Violín y Orquesta de Miguel Farías, que lleva el título “Kuyén” junto a la gran violinista Rachel Lee Priday. Miguel es un gran compositor chileno, y hemos sido colegas y amigos por unos 15 años, cuando nos conocimos en Francia en un festival donde ambos teníamos nuestras obras para orquesta interpretadas por la excelente Orchestre National de Lorraine. Inmediatamente su música me cautivó por su gran manejo de la paleta orquestal, su imaginación y su expresividad, y por su gran habilidad de escribir motivos que resultan muy memorables sin intentar serlo. Es un placer presentar este estreno mundial que fue nuestro encargo y que recibió el prestigioso apoyo de Ibermúsicas. Miguel, contanos, ¿cómo fue la génesis de esta pieza? Que podrías compartir con nosotros acerca de cómo comenzaste a escribirla, que plan tuviste originalmente y que cambió en el proceso (si eso pasó)? ¿Estás feliz con los resultados finales?
Miguel Farías: Primero que todo, muchas gracias querido Christian por tus palabras, y también me gustaría decirte que es un enorme placer poder colaborar con la UCDSO y contigo, sobre todo después de 15 años de amistad!
Componer Kuyén fue de alguna manera bastante intuitivo. Me gusta escribir narrativa, y durante el último año escribí un libro que contiene cuentos que hablan de la noche, desde distintas miradas. Una de estas es la que tiene que ver con lo mitológico. Quizás por eso es que tenía en la mente algunas sonoridades que se relacionaban no solo con la noche, si que con seres que la habitan. Es así que se me ocurrió aterrizar este discurso sonoro que rondaba mi cabeza, basándolo en lo narrativo del mito de Kuyén. La idea además de tener un solista y una orquesta, reforzaron el discurso basado en el diálogo, lo que terminó siendo esencial para darle forma a la pieza.
CB: ¿Cómo fueron tus comienzos con la música?
MF: En un comienzo, cuando tenía unos 10 años, aprendí a tocar piano de manera autodidacta. Luego me gustó mucho el rock y el jazz y estudié guitarra eléctrica. Me di cuenta rápidamente que más que tocar música de otros, me gustaba inventar música en la guitarra. Así que a los 14 años fui a averiguar como estudiar composición en el conservatorio, y a los 15 años ya estaba en mi primer año formal.
CB: ¿Quienes fueron algunas de las personalidades en tu vida que más te han influido de manera positiva para ser el compositor que sos hoy en día?
MF: Puede sonar cliché, pero en primer lugar mi familia. En general me interesa una música que no se cuestiona a sí misma, sino que dialogue con su entorno. En mi familia no hay músicos, así que han sido una influencia no solo desde lo emotivo, sino que también desde lo creativo y reflexivo. En el mundo del arte, en general me he influenciado mucho más por narrativas literarias que por compositores. El discurso y pensamiento de Raul Ruiz ha sido importante en mi manera de pensar lo discursivo y la forma musical. En la construcción, o intento de construcción, de mi propio discurso musical, creo que me han influenciado varios escritores, algunos ejemplos son los cubanos Guillermo Cabrera Infante y Pedro Juan Gutierrez, los chilenos Christian Geisse y Hernán Rivera Letelier, o el mexicano Juan Rulfo, entre varios otros. Sinceramente sin la literatura en mi vida, me costaría seguir creciendo artísticamente.
CB: Ser un joven compositor no es fácil. Las oportunidades de que una orquesta te encarguen o toquen tus obras no llegan siempre ni muy frecuentemente. ¿Qué consejos le darías a jóvenes compositores que están buscando oportunidades?
MF: Seguir adelante con mucho trabajo y confianza. Es difícil tener encargos u obras interpretadas por orquestas actualmente, pero mi experiencia me ha mostrado que si uno es capaz de presentar ideas y proyectos artísticamente interesantes, hay interés de parte de las instituciones.
Antes que todo, para presentar proyectos interesantes, creo que hay que trabajar mucho en desarrollar una escritura orquestal correcta y personal. Hay que entender las sonoridades de la orquesta así como la relación de esta con el tiempo musical. Luego, el ejercicio del oficio mismo entrega las herramientas para llevar ideas a partitura.
Por otro lado, los concursos y cursos de composición sirven mucho, no solo para tener visibilización, si no que para poder oír lo que se escribe por sobre todo. En los concursos lo más común es no ganar, pero seguir intentándolo, por un lado, sirve para desarrollar una escritura orquestal de alto nivel, la tolerancia a la frustración, y sobre todo un manejo de la escritura y la soltura en llevar ideas abstractas a partitura. Los concursos sirven como una especie de ejercitación de esto.
CB: Sos también un compositor de ópera. En tu opinión, hay alguna (o muchas) diferencias entre escribir música de cámara, sinfónica, vocal, y música dramática para el escenario, como la ópera?
MF: Muchísima para mí. El punto de partida discursivo en la música dramática y en la instrumental es muy diferente. En la primera partimos de recursos narrativos bastante tangibles y literarios. En el segundo, al menos en mi caso, uno parte desde una hoja en blanco, en que hay que construir los objetos sonoros con los que se representarán las ideas que tengamos en mente. Ambos mundos son apasionantes, y difíciles de dominar.
Por otro lado, en la música dramática para escenario, al momento de escribir hay que considerar muchos factores que influyen en cada nota que escribamos. Lo narrativo, lo visual, lo temporal; y otros factores más complejos que tienen que ver con lo contextual del texto que se trabaja. No digo que la música instrumental no contenga estas riquezas y dificultades, pero sí que, la ópera por ejemplo, comienza desde un espacio muy cargado por una tradición que tiene estos factores como punto de partida. En la ópera nuestra hoja en blanco del inicio viene bastante rayada.
CB: Para alguien que nunca ha escuchado tu música antes, que consejo les darías? ¿Qué es lo importante en tu música? Que deberían intentar oír en tus obras? (y en este Concierto para violín y orquesta, puntualmente?)
MF: Me cuesta responder algo así, ya que me gustaría decir que oigan lo que quieran y como quieran al escuchar mi música. Pero si pensamos específicamente en Kuyén, me gustaría que intentaran sentir los colores y los matices de luz con los que intenté impregnar las sonoridades, tanto del violín solista como de la orquesta. Kuyén para mi es un diálogo entre colores, luces, brillos y oscuridades, y me gustaría sugerir que en esta obra, partan por dejarse llevar por la intuición para oírla como una conversación, abstracta, entre estos elementos.
CB: Muchas gracias por haber escrito esta hermosa obra para la UC Davis Symphony Orchestra y Rachel Lee Priday. Estoy muy feliz de poder compartir tu música con nuestro público y nuestra comunidad.
MF: Gracias a ti querido Christian, a la UCDSO y a Rachel. Ha sido increíble el trabajo contigo y con Rachel. He aprendido muchísimo, y lo he disfrutado más aún. Rachel ha dado una voz impresionante a cada una de las notas que escribí. Estoy muy emocionado y agradecido. Y claro, espero que esta primera colaboración después de 15 años de amistad, no sea la última.
Miguel Farías, compositor y Doctor en Estudios Latinoamericanos, chileno, nacido en Venezuela en 1983.
Es ganador de varios premios internacionales y beneficiario de encargos y residencias en Chile y el extranjero. El 2011 y 2013 fue finalista en los programas “Composer Project” y “Roche Commissions” del Festival de Lucerne, con Pierre Boulez como jurado.
En junio de 2012, fue ganador del premio del círculo de críticos de arte 2012, en categoría ópera nacional y del Premio a las Artes Nacionales “Altazor” 2013, gracias a su ópera “Renca, París y Liendres”. En 2019 recibió el premio «Domingo Santa Cruz» de la Academia Chilena de Bellas Artes.
En 2018 estrenó su segunda ópera, «El Cristo de Elqui», encargo del Municipal de Santiago, Ópera Nacional de Chile. Y en 2021 estrenó su monodrama «La Compuerta nº12, con libreto propio sobre el cuento homónimo de Baldomero Lillo.
Es profesor asociado de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Sus obras son editadas y publicadas por Universal Edition.