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.

 

Music, Uncategorized

Christian Baldini in conversation with pianist Andrei Baumann

In preparation for our upcoming performance of Copland’s Piano Concerto at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis, I spent some time with Andrei Baumann talking about Copland, music in general, and about the importance and role that art has in society nowadays.

Christian Baldini: How would you describe the Copland Piano Concerto to someone that’s never listened to it, or who knows nothing about it?

Andrei Baumann: Be open-minded. You will hear sounds that are jarring and dissonant. Expect the unexpected. After listening to the piece for the first time, you will hopefully want to listen to it a few MORE times, because it moves by so quickly and can seem so spontaneous and unexpected. If the first movement has gone by, and you have enjoyed the wonderful melodies exchanged between the piano and orchestra; the piano cadenza to begin the second movement will be a good hint for what’s to come!

CB: One could undoubtedly describe Aaron Copland as one of the great American composers, with vast influences on so many others such as Leonard Bernstein, but perhaps reaching out to other cultures as well such as Carlos Chávez or Alberto Ginastera. In this concerto, the obvious references to jazz and blues are crystal clear and omnipresent, and in some of his other music we have references to the “folksy feeling”, in Copland’s own words, or even the adoption of serialism. These terms can all equally be used to describe Copland’s varied output. How do you see Copland’s legacy in the music of the 20th and 21st century?

AB: Copland’s language is very new to me. I remember working on his Sextet at a chamber music festival. It took such a long time for us to find a level of comfort while working on this piece. I love his songs set to Emily Dickinson poetry, and of course Appalachian Spring.

I think Copland’s music is very accessible to audiences. In the 21st century, we have become accustomed to hearing so many different sounds. As someone whose ear is more drawn to tonality, I naturally am inclined towards Jazz Standards and Classical harmony. The musical world today is so different. Copland’s music feels like a mish-mash of the “old and the new.” He is truly a great American composer.

CB: Everyone knows Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which was written just two years prior to the Copland Piano Concerto, but why do you think such few people know about this piece? I was fortunate to get to know this piece as I was assisting Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony, and one week Inon Barnatan came to play this piece. What do you think is the reason that  this wonderful concerto has not become a staple in the repertoire?

AB: This is a great question, for many reasons. One of the reasons that I have become so drawn to this piece is that the soloist and orchestra play equally important roles. I can imagine parts of the second movement being played by a big band! Sometimes I have the feeling that I am playing in a jazz combo, big band or large chamber music ensemble. I can’t understand why this concerto is not performed more often. I wonder if the fact that the orchestra and soloist parts are so intertwined makes this piece less appealing to learn. Certainly it is not a concerto that would be suitable for piano competitions, which are such a staple of ones early musical development. Hopefully this concerto will be performed much more in the future!

CB: How did you start with music?

I was introduced to music in a very unique way. My father loves Classical music, and introduced me to this music at a very young age. I fell in love with this music instantly. I have always loved playing chamber music: the interaction with other musicians, exchanging ideas, coming up with a common interpretation. A vivid memory was an outreach performance of Schubert’s Trout Quintet in Toronto. Three of us absolutely adored the piece, and we got two friends to join our group. We only performed the piece once, but I was felt as though I couldn’t stop smiling inside for the full hour! We were so lucky to play such a glorious piece of music, and communicate this together to an audience.

CB: What have been the most inspiring experiences and people to you in your professional life?

AB: In recent years, people who have inspired me the most are artists who are introducing music to the community. Some of these families would never have access to music, and these musicians educate students in a most commendable way. Locally here in Davis, Sandra Brown; in Vacaville, Chase Spruill is doing wonders for the music program at Sierra Vista; and in Providence, Rhode Island, Adrienne Taylor: who represents Community Music Works in a most admirable way. These individuals have a unique ability to communicate the language of music and to inspire the next generation.

CB: Are there any other piano concertos that you would love to play after this one? Which ones?

AB: In no particular order: Rachmaninoff 2nd, both Chopin concertos, and Beethoven’s 3rd and 4th concertos. Playing a concerto is such a unique and thrilling experience.

CB: What would you say is the role of music in society nowadays?

I believe that music can play a much greater role in society. In this country, Classical music and Jazz are appreciated by a wonderful group of enthusiasts. While I’m extremely grateful to these enthusiasts, the greater population seems very much out of touch with this tradition. It would be easy to see this as a fault, however the problems are numerous. Music and art should be a foundation of our education. If this music is presented and celebrated from a young age, then the group of enthusiasts could grow in years to come. In an age where we seem to be more and more isolated, music can create community. Thankfully it is still not possible to have an ensemble made up of iPhones and computers instead of musicians. People need to be involved, and this is clearly positive!

The excuse that tickets for concerts are too expensive simply doesn’t work. How expensive is it to go see a sports event in Sacramento or the Bay area? Are people just simply losing interest? Somehow music seems to be losing its way, and I really believe it starts from the beginning. Hopefully people will still appreciate listening to a Beethoven symphony in 100 years.

 

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ANDREI BAUMANN, pianist

An active soloist, chamber musician, Andrei Baumann has performed extensively in the USA, Europe, Canada and Venezuela. As winner of the 2009 Borromeo String Quartet Guest Artist Award, he performed with the quartet in Jordan Hall on January 29th, 2009. His Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Recital Hall occurred in May 2008 with violinist Lily Francis as part of the Distinctive Debuts series. Other notable performances include a solo recital on the Sundays Live Concert Series at Los Angeles County Arts Museum which was broadcast by KCSN, 88.5 FM, solo recitals at the Crocker Art Museum Classical Music Series in California, performances at Caramoor Festival and with Itzhak Perlman at the Perlman Music Program. Andrei has performed in masterclasses for such distinguished artists as Elisso Wirssaladze, Pavel Gililov, Leon Fleisher, Claude Frank and Marc Durand. Among the numerous festivals he has participated in are Corsi in Sermoneta, Italy; Ost-West Musikfest in Krems, Austria; Internationaler Kammermusikkurs in Böhlen, Germany; Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in Finland; Banff Centre for the Arts and Orford Arts Centre in Canada; and in the USA, Aspen Music Festival, Perlman Music Program.

Recent performance highlights have included a Mothers Day performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto with Peter Jaffe and the Auburn Symphony, and numerous chamber music performances with cellist Susan Lamb Cook and friends. Mr. Baumann is a frequent performer at the Mondavi Center, Harris Center and others venues in Northern California. He also recently released a second album Miroirs, which includes works by Bach, Debussy and Ravel.

Mr. Baumann has a Masters of Music in Piano Performance from New England Conservatory in Boston, a Künstlerischer Ausbildung Diploma from the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Stuttgart, Germany, and a Bachelor of Music degree at the Glenn Gould School of The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada. His most influential teachers have been Andre Laplante, Jamie Saltman and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein.

Mr. Baumann has been a piano faculty member at the Rivers School Conservatory in Weston, MA. He is also Head of the Piano Department at Camp Encore/Coda in Sweden, Maine. In addition, he has been a jury member at the A Ramon Rivera Piano Competition at Rivers School Conservatory in Weston.

Mr. Baumann has moved back to Davis, and is very excited to open a piano studio. He is currently accepting students. Mr. Baumann is an avid nature enthusiast. He is currently pursuing the ideal sunrise, the Aurora Borealis, and many new adventures.

 

Baldini conducting UC Davis Symphony Orchestra

Christian Baldini started conducting at age 19, and he came to international attention when he made his debut in Salzburg as a finalist for the Nestlé/Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award. He has served as Music Director of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento since 2012. He has also served as the Music Director of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and Barbara K. Jackson Professor of Conducting at the University of California, Davis, since 2009. With these orchestras he has conducted multiple world premieres, and local premieres of such important works as Varèse’s AmériquesLuciano Berio’s SinfoniaLigeti’s Violin Concerto, and many relevant symphonic cycles like those by Sibelius, Brahms and Schumann.
Baldini has conducted opera at the English National Opera (most recently Verdi’s Aida at London’s Coliseum in November 2017), Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (Dallapiccola’s Il prigioniero, Dallapiccola’s Volo di notte, and the world premiere of Oscar Strasnoy’s Requiem), and the Aldeburgh Festival in England (Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia). Since 2009 he has been the Music Director of the Rising Stars of Opera in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, showcasing some of the most talented operatic singers of the young generation.
Baldini previously served as an assistant conductor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony. His CD recording “Mozart: Opera Arias and Overtures” conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was chosen as “Recording of the Month” by the BBC Classical Music Magazine, and received 4- and 5-star reviews by the specialized press. He is a frequent international guest conductor with appearances leading the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Munich Radio Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra (or Argentina and Portugal), Teatro Argentino de La Plata and the Florida Orchestra.
For more information visit: http://www.christianbaldini.info