California, Chorus, Christian Baldini, composer, Experimental, Singer, Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized

Composer Laurie San Martin in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On Friday, March 6, I will conduct the world première of Laurie San Martin’s work “what remains” at the Mondavi Center, especially written for the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and University Chorus. Also on that program we will perform Beethoven’s only oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives, with Jacqueline Piccolino, Kyle Stegall and Daniel Yoder as our vocal soloists, and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, with Andrei Baumann. I had the chance of asking Laurie San Martin some questions, and below are her answers.

Christian Baldini: Laurie, we’ve known each other for many years, I have had the honor and pleasure of conducting the world premiere of two of your works: a concerto for two marimbas and orchestra for Mayumi Hama and Chris Froh, and a new work for the Camellia Symphony Orchestra. This will be the first time that I’m conducting a work of yours for chorus and orchestra. When I asked you to write this piece for the UC Davis Symphony and the University Chorus, I mentioned to you that you’d be sharing the program with two major works by Beethoven (his oratorio Chris on the Mount of Olives and his Fourth Piano Concerto). Was this a daunting prospect, or how did you feel?
Laurie San Martin: First, let me say that it’s an honor to write for your orchestras and in particular,  the UCDSO. It’s nostalgic for me because I played in the UCDSO as an undergraduate student  many moons ago.  But also, these are my students and it is a joy to get to work with them in this way. As for Beethoven, his impact casts a long shadow, even 200 years later. HIs 4th piano concerto is my absolute favorite. 

CB: You’ve chosen two beautiful poems that really have informed each of the two pieces. How did you choose them, and how do you look for relationships between the texts and what you do in your music?
LSM: Gary Snyder is an important poet to the greater Davis area, and I found this particular poem For the Children to be beautifully done. While I was already working on the music of the Snyder movement, I came across Rae Armantrout’s Riddance and was immediately taken with it. The similar themes (about nature, the threat of climate destruction) brought these poems close together for me. The tone of each poem is very different but the dramatic balance made them easy to imagine being paired together.

CB: I think I can say without hesitation that your music has evolved and changed considerably in the last ten years. How would you describe how your interests and priorities have changed as a composer?
LSM: I have always been interested in harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, and  how these elements help build a piece. It sounds old-fashioned and in some ways, it is. In the past 10 years, I have heard  a lot of “sound-based pieces” or pieces that are devoid of pitch completely and instead use different shades of noise. Hearing so many pieces that experiment with sound has influenced the way I think about it as well.  

CB: Who were some of your compositional role models 20 years ago? And who are they now?
LSM: 20 years ago, I was finishing my dissertation on the music of Andrew Imbrie whose music offers so much integrity and craft. I was fascinated and inspired by Mario Davidovsky’s music. My playlist likely included Ursula Mamlok’s From my Garden, Dallapiccola’s Piccola Musica Notturna and the many, many piano etudes by my teacher, David Rakowski. More recently, I am interested in music by Unsuk Chin (Akrostichon-Wortspiel in particular). I heard the premiere of Spiral by Andrew Norman in June, 2018 and found it to be brilliantly crafted. My former colleague and good friend Yu-Hui Chang (her Binge Delirium is a go-to for percussion writing) and Kate Soper’s only the words themselves. There are many other composers and pieces that have caught my attention in the past 20 years but I think the most important thing I have done is to go to a lot of concerts. I think experiencing music live—any style of music—has a profound impact us as humans. And I think that has been the single most important part of my growth. 

CB: In your opinion, what is the meaning of art in our society? What can we do as artists to keep our mission relevant to more people?
LSM: Art communicates something that can’t always be said with words. Art is abstract and what we each take from a specific piece of art is as individual as we are. If we don’t retain our individuality in the world, then I think  we will be doomed. I think there is power in experiencing art– how it stirs ideas and emotions that every day life might otherwise leave dormant.

CB: Thank you for your time and for writing this wonderful piece for us. We look forward to sharing it with the audience!

LSM: Thank you for the opportunity. I’m so proud of the student performers and of our audience that continues to support the orchestra. I think it’s really important to program living composers and I’m grateful that you are doing so much to integrate the new and the old into your programming!

Laurie San Martin
Laurie San Martin (courtesy photo)

Laurie San Martin writes music that creates a compelling narrative by exploring the intersection between texture and line. Critics have described her music as exuberant, colorful, forthright, high octane, tumultuous, intricate, intense and rumbly. She writes concert music for chamber ensembles and orchestra but has also written for theater, dance and video. Her music has been performed across the United States, Europe and Asia. Most recently she has enjoyed writing for virtuoso soloists including violinists Hrafnhildur Atladottir and Gabriela Díaz, percussionists Chris Froh and Mayumi Hama, Haleh Abghari (soprano), Yi Ji-Young (Korean gayageum) and David Russell (cello).

Recent awards include the 2018 Andrew Imbrie Award in Music from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and a 2016 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. She has also received awards from Harvard University’s Fromm Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters (Charles Ives Scholarship), League of Composers-ISCM, the International Alliance for Women in Music, and the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer’s Awards. Her music has been performed across the United States, Europe and Asia. As a composition fellow, she has attended the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Norfolk Contemporary Chamber Music Festival, the Montalvo Artist Residency, and the Composers Conference at Wellesley College.

Laurie holds a PhD from Brandeis University in Theory and Composition. She has taught at Clark University and is currently Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis. Her music can be found on the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble’s 2005 CD “San Francisco Premieres”,  Ravello CD “Tangos for Piano” performed by Amy Briggs, New Focus Records CD, and  “Chamber Music from the APNM”.

Concert Hall, Dance, Experimental, folklore, Music, Nature, Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized

Composer Profile: Daniel Godsil in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Christian Baldini: Daniel, congratulations on having your work Cathedral Grove selected to be performed by the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra at our upcoming concert on June 1, as part of the UCDSO Composition Award/Readings. Tell us about your piece, its title, its genesis, and anything else that you’d like to add.

Daniel Godsil: Thank you, Christian! It’s an honor to have been chosen for this, and to get the opportunity to work with you and the UC Davis Symphony!

For me, an orchestra is a very special thing: I love the beautiful concert halls, I love the rituals, I love the great masterworks that have been written for it. I especially love how so many people assemble together, both onstage and off, to present and hear this music. As I was deciding what to do with this piece, I thought about how much an orchestra, and all its accompanying social structure, is similar to “America’s Best Idea”: its national parks. We take time out of our busy days to go experience something out of the ordinary; we’ve decided as a culture how much certain extraordinary places mean to us, and how important it is to preserve them for future generations. The Muir Woods–of which the “Cathedral Grove” is a part– is one such place for me. And there’s immediate beauty, yes, but these ancient trees have been around long before us and will hopefully still be there long after we’re gone: this evokes a very sublime feeling. John Steinbeck said in his book Travels With Charley that “No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree;” this piece is my humble attempt to, instead, make a painting in sound. I tried to capture some of that sublime feeling, and also vitality, majesty, tenderness, silence, light or color filtering through the tops of trees, etc.  

CB: What do you try to achieve with every new piece that you write? What are your main goals?

DG: After finishing my undergraduate work in composition, I spent a long time working as a composer for film and other visual media. When I returned to composing art music, it took me a long time to come to terms with why I was doing it; it didn’t feel like there was a tangible end product like a movie or a video game. What has really helped me is the idea of making music as a community. With so much music out there nowadays, I think it’s important to cultivate music groups or communities–people that you work with, live with, study with, meet at a festival, have coffee with. I’m always most excited to hear music that my friends make or perform. I try as much as I can to write music that will be appropriate for the performer or event I’m composing for, and I love collaborating with performers while I compose. Hopefully, this all helps to communicate with the audience, too.

CB: You’ve now lived in California for quite a few years. Has being a UC Davis graduate student influenced you much professionally and/or personally, and if so, in which ways?

DG: California is a very special place for me: for one, my wife Sara grew up here, and has deep ties to the Bay Area, and her family lives here. And now, my daughter Betsy (who is already 18 months old!) was born here. I grew up in Illinois, in the hometown of poet Carl Sandburg. Illinois has its own kind of beauty, but I have to admit that it’s nothing quite like what I experience in California on a daily basis. A lot of this comes out in my recent music, too. I’ve been influenced profoundly by the natural beauty of my new home state. As an added bonus, the music department at UC Davis is fantastic! We grad students get to compose for and collaborate with world-class performers, and study with musicians and scholars at the tops of their field. What more could you ask for? I’ve also become a very avid cyclist, and I absolutely love that I can bicycle all year round in California. Living in Davis has taught me that time on the bike is almost as important as studying or composing!

CB: Is there anything that you’d like to see change in the usual concert platform, or in the way that symphony concerts are presented?

DG: As I mentioned earlier, I’m someone who really loves the modern orchestra and how it’s presented now. Even though it may seem stuffy, there’s a reverence built into the ritual that I think should be preserved. Just like you wouldn’t go into the Muir Woods with a boombox (hopefully), there’s a level of respect that goes with an orchestral performance. That said, I really think that orchestras need to have a significant “laboratory” component, where new music is given equal standing with established repertoire. When you go to a good museum, the contemporary works aren’t presented in some back room…they’re in a fantastic, new, climate-controlled space, right next door to the masterworks of the past. I’m not a fan of having new orchestral works presented as filler, or blamed for lost ticket sales. The audiences should be given more credit! Look at what the Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil are doing, for instance, and thriving, at that! Championing new music should be a major part of preserving our beautiful orchestral tradition; like the slogan says for the American Composers Forum, “all music was once new.” And by taking chances on new local music! I love going to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, for instance: they have a great collection of local California art, and it’s fantastically diverse. I love it when orchestras do the same kind of thing, it strengthens community bonds very simply and effectively.

CB: What would be your advice for anyone trying to become a composer? (and/or for anyone applying for graduate school in composition)?

DG: Again, I think it’s really important to cultivate musical community. If you’re not a skilled instrumentalist or performer, start by working on that! Get out and start playing music with other people. Write something for a cellist friend, for instance, and see what works. You can learn so much more in one rehearsal than by reading books for that same amount of time. That’s not to say that reading or studying is a bad thing: it’s important to learn your craft through whatever means possible, and doubly important if you want to pursue composition at the graduate level. But I think it’s good to frame everything by actually doing music.

CB: Thank you for your time, Daniel, we look forward to performing your piece and sharing it with our audience soon!

DG: Thank you, Christian, I’m really excited to work with you and the orchestra, and I hope people who hear it will let me know what they think!

 

 

Godsil_headshot

Daniel Godsil‘s music, which has been described by the San Francisco Classical Voice as having an “intense dramatic narrative”, draws from such eclectic influences as rock and heavy metal, science-fiction, and Brutalist architecture.

Winner of the 2017 Earplay Donald Aird Composition Competition (for his quartet Aeropittura), Godsil’s music has been played by Ensemble Dal Niente, Talujon Percussion, the Lydian String Quartet, the Empyrean Ensemble, the Metropolitan Orchestra of Saint Louis, the University Symphony Orchestra at California State University, Fullerton, the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, the Daedalus String Quartet, and the Nova Singers, among many others. Recent film scores include the PBS documentary Boxcar People, Man Ray’s 1926 silent film Emak-Bakia and the feature film H.G. Welles’ The First Men In The Moon. Godsil was a finalist in the 2018 Lake George Music Festival chamber composition competition, the 2018 Reno Pops Orchestra competition, as well as the 2014 & 2018 Red Note New Music Festival Composition Competitions. His choral works are published by Alliance Music Publishing and NoteNova Publishing.

Born and raised in central Illinois, Godsil (b.1982) is currently pursuing his PhD. in Composition and Theory at the University of California, Davis, studying with Mika Pelo, Laurie San Martin, and Sam Nichols. He holds an MFA in Music Composition from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he studied with John Fitz Rogers, John Mallia, and Jonathan Bailey Holland. He also holds a BM in Music Composition from Webster University.

Godsil was selected to participate in the 2017 Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP) in Boston, where he had master classes with composers Nicholas Vines and Georg Friedrich Haas.

Godsil has also been active as an educator, conductor, and performer in the central Illinois area, Knox College, Monmouth College, and Carl Sandburg College. At Knox College, he directed the New Music Ensemble, Wind Ensemble, Chamber Ensemble, and Men’s Chorus. He has also held posts as choral accompanist and collaborative pianist, and served as Music Director and Organist at Grace Episcopal Church in Galesburg, IL.