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

Wendy Richman in Conversation with Christian Baldini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s WRONG?!?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Richman (courtesy photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anibal Troilo, Buenos Aires, Christian Baldini, Tanto

Victor Lavallén en diálogo con Christian Baldini

El próximo 5 de Agosto (de 2022) tendré el placer de dirigir la Orquesta Nacional de Música Argentina “Juan de Dios Filiberto”, en un programa que presenta obras de Victor Lavallén y de María Laura Antonelli. “Lavallén Sinfónico” es una Suite sinfónica con 11 tangos de este gran compositor y bandoneonista que ha tocado con todos los grandes, incluyendo sus 10 años como arreglador y bandoneonista de Osvaldo Pugliese. Diego Schissi ha realizado estos arreglos sinfónicos, y tendremos al Quinteto Lavallén como solistas al frente de la orquesta (Victor Lavallén, Diego Schissi, Juan Pablo Navarro, Guillermo Rubino y Alejandro Bruschini). Nos hemos sentado a conversar con el Maestro Victor Lavallén (quien a sus 86 años muy humildemente me insiste que por favor lo trate de “vos”) para charlar sobre este interesantísimo proyecto y música en general. Debajo están las respuestas.

Comienzo esta entrevista comentándole al Maestro Lavallén que hace pocos días, almorzando con mi amigo Juan Pablo Jofré (luego de habernos presentado juntos con la Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional en Buenos Aires), le comenté del proyecto que haríamos con Victor. Juan Pablo es un gran bandoneonista y compositor argentino que vive en los Estados Unidos hace unos 15 años, y que trabaja por todo el mundo. Cuando le conté del concierto con Victor Lavallén, Juan Pablo me dijo “No te puedo creer! Victor es el más grande. El mejor de todos. Nos pasa el trapo a todos.” Esa humildad de Juan Pablo está totalmente en coincidencia con la gran humildad que tiene el Maestro Lavallén, quien es realmente una parte viviente de nuestra cultura musical como argentinos, y como amantes del tango.

Christian Baldini: Querido Victor, contame por favor acerca de tu experiencia no solamente como uno de los más grandes virtuosos del bandoneón, sino también como arreglador de varias de las grandes orquestas de tango, incluída la de Pugliese!

Victor Lavallén: Si bueno, yo te digo, yo comencé a los 14 años a trabajar profesionalmente. En la década del ’50 había muy pocos músicos. Yo había estudiado en Rosario primero con mi tío, y después en Buenos Aires con Eladio Blanco, que tocaba con D’Arienzo. Al año o algo así me puso en una orquesta. Cuando me pusieron la música delante, yo empecé a llenar todos los silencios. “Pibe venga”, me dijeron. No se tuteaba antes. Yo tenía 14 años pero parecía que tenía 18. Me dicen “Usted se dió cuenta que no dió una, no?”  Y ahí me echaron. Pero una semana después me llamó mi maestro y me dijo que en la orquesta no conseguían a nadie entonces me llamaron a mí. Entré y me quedé dos años. Era muy difícil ehh… Había cosas como con siete bemoles para solo de bandoneón… 

Después de ahí empecé con Miguel Caló. Ahí estaba Julián Plaza, estaba Bajour. Después con Atilio Stampone. Y con Franchini. Todo lo que está grabado lo grabé yo. Y con el flaco Paz. 

Christian Baldini: Cuando yo le cuente a mi viejo todo esto no lo va a poder creer. A mi viejo le gusta muchísimo el tango y conoce mucho de su historia.

Victor Lavallén: Y si… te digo, yo estaba en un momento en cinco orquestas. Me levantaba a las 10am y volvía a las 5am. Estuve con un montón, hasta que después… un día me fui a Radio El Mundo. Y me encontré con Romero, el pianista de Pugliese. Me pidió que pusiera mi nombre. Había tipos muy conocidos, que eran carteles. A la semana me llamaron a mí. Me citan en la radio, Radio Splendid. Me preguntaron: “usted escribe”, y yo dije que sí, aunque en realidad no había hecho casi nada. Y me pidieron que hiciera un arreglo de “Gallo ciego”. Y bueno, dije. Pero yo no estaba en la onda todavía. Y le digo, che, como hago acá? Y le preguntaba a Ruggiero y a Pitani, y a todos les pedía ayuda para hacer el arreglo. Y salió. Zafó. Después me dice Sergio Maciel, por ahí vamos a Rusia, y necesito que me hagas un arreglo del tango “El pañuelito”. Y con ese ya me mandé solo. Y cuando volvimos de Rusia, el éxito era “El pañuelito”.

Y en ese interín, se va De Marco. Y me preguntan a mí, y lo recomendé a Julián Plaza. Ellos no querían carteles. Por eso me habían contratado a mí que no me conocía nadie! Y después empecé a estudiar. Estudié con Rovira, estudié con el Maestro Nistal, ahí por Congreso. Después con Juan Carlos Cirigliano. Pero yo ya sabía para ese entonces. Yo con Pugliese probaba todo. Y a veces me decía “pero pibe, no se piante”, porque yo me rajaba. Estuve 10 años con Pugliese.

Después en el sexteto, con Osvaldo Ruggiero. Estuve con un montón de orquestas.

Después apareció Forever Tango. Juntos con Marconi, estabamos en la televisión y nos fuimos tres veces a Londres. Con Walter Ríos. Había dos orquestas, en Londres y en San Francisco. Y Ríos se fue y me puse a dirigir esa orquesta 18 años. Y después estuve a cargo de la orquesta escuela. (la Emilio Balcarce)

Después grabé lo mío, con Luis Bravo.

CB: Y con la orquesta escuela cuántos años ha estado?

VL: Desde el 2011. Primero estaba Emilio Balcarce. Después vino Marconi. Y después de Marconi me llamaron a mí, y estoy desde el 2011.

CB: Y aparte es una orquesta impresionante a la cual viene gente a formarse en la tradición tanguera de todo el mundo, verdad? Yo conozco a una pianista Coreana (Sumi Lee) que vive en San Francisco y que vino a hacer la orquesta escuela. Ahora conozco a un Puertorriqueño (Ishtar Hernandez) que también está haciendo el programa. Cómo sucede esto?

VL: Suena una barbaridad, son todos buenos músicos, y aparte son todos pibes jóvenes, que vienen de todos lados! Venite a un ensayo! 

CB: Me encantaría, cuando?

VL: Venite el miércoles 3.

CB: Perfecto, muchas gracias! 

VL: Hoy me tuve que levantar a las siete y no dormí nada (para llegar a tiempo al ensayo con la Orquesta Nacional de Música Argentina)

CB: Una pregunta importante: el tango, que significa para vos?

VL: El tango es todo para mí! Yo nací en una familia de tango, en Rosario y mi papá tenía una orquesta de tango. Mis tíos eran todos músicos. El tango para mí es lo máximo.

Pero yo al principio, vivía en Gorriti y Bustamente. Y a una cuadra vivía el gordo Pichuco. Y yo tocaba la trompeta, me gustaba mucho el jazz. Pero a mi mamá le llenaron la cabeza que era peligroso, y no era bueno para los pulmones. Con lo del bandoneón también trataron de convencerla que era malo. Pero después me fuí a Rosario a estudiar con mi tío, y cuando volví, arranqué con Eladio Blanco. Yo tengo 86!

CB: Qué consejos le darías a la gente joven que está arrancando y tratando de iniciarse en una carrera en el tango?

VL: Yo pienso que está bien, que tienen que estudiar como hacen ahora, que antes no se estudiaba tanto. Pero tienen que fijarse en no desvirtuar el género. Entonces hacen todos Piazzolla o más que Piazzolla. Y Piazzolla es melódico aparte. Los que son muy contemporáneos no se entiende nada. Hay que investigar y escuchar mucho. A las orquestas. Las orquestas de antes eran muy modernas. Parece que son las de ahora. Hay que escuchar a Miguel Caló, Franchini, Osvaldo Pugliese. Era muy avanzado. 

CB: Cómo lo describiría a Pugliese?

VL: La idea de Pugliese era muy avanzada. Esa yo también la hubiera querido hacer. Tener una orquesta pero que escribieran todos. Encontrarle una forma. Lo que hizo Pugliese. Por la forma de él, todos fueron a parar ahí. Después había muchos que ponían lo propio. Julián Plaza, Ruggiero, yo, Balcarce, y también Julio Carrasco que era un violinista que no era muy conocido. Pero el tipo sabía un montón. Yo le preguntaba todo a él al principio.Los pibes de ahora me gustan mucho. Les interesa el género. No lo toman como una cosa así nomás. Vas a ver como te va a gustar el ensayo. Me gustaría que vinieras.


CB: Y por supuesto que voy a ir, ahí nos vemos! Maestro, ha sido un placer impresionante. Me siento muy privilegiado de estar colaborando juntos en este hermoso programa que presenta tus tangos con vos mismo como solista.

VL: Que gusto che, encantado, y va a salir muy bien esto!

Victor Lavallén

Victor Lavallén

Nació en Rosario, provincia de Santa Fe. Debieron pasar algo más de cincuenta años para que decidiera dejar de ser «un muchacho de la orquesta», ocupando un lugar en la línea de bandoneones. En varias oportunidades declaró ser persona de bajo perfil, quizás el ideal para ser invitado por algunos directores como refuerzo para las grabaciones o, como ocurre en la actualidad, ser el director de la Orquesta Escuela Emilio Balcarce, o bien director de la Orquesta de la Municipalidad de Lomas de Zamora (ciudad colindante a la ciudad de Buenos Aires).

Qué mejor para los muchachos que tenerlo a él como maestro. Pero este tanguero no comenzó con la mirada puesta en el fueye sino en la trompeta y, sus oídos, en el jazz. Por suerte cerca suyo, rondaba un tío bandoneonista que trabajaba en orquestas rosarinas, Héctor Chera, hermano de su padre Luis (director de orquesta), quien no sólo lo entusiasmó con el instrumento sino que le enseñó y lo fue formando.

Con muy poca experiencia se largó a Buenos Aires con no más de catorce años y, en el Picadilly, aquel local que estaba en el subsuelo de la calle Corrientes casi Paraná, consigue ingresar en una agrupación pequeña llamada Los Serrano, a cargo de un señor Eduardo Serrano que lo despidió al poco tiempo.

Más adelante fue a estudiar, durante largos meses, con Eladio Blanco, músico de Juan D’Arienzo. Ya con mejor respuesta, volvió a la orquesta de Serrano y permaneció a su lado un par de años. Durante aquel tiempo de estudio alternó en la agrupación de Antonio Arcieri —violinista decareano que falleció poco después, el 5 de mayo de 1952—, y en la de Lorenzo Barbero.

Desde 1951 hasta 1954, estuvo con Miguel Caló, que incluyó una recordada gira por tierra brasileña y también grabaciones. Es digna de elogio su participación en varios discos, entre los que podemos citar a “En fa menor” (de Roberto Caló) y “El chamuyo” (de Francisco Canaro).

Sin obedecer un orden cronológico, es importante citar su tránsito por las orquestas de Ángel DomínguezMiguel NijensohnEnrique Francini y Joaquín Do Reyes. Fue primer bandoneón del pianista Juan José Paz cuando acompañó a Elsa Rivas, en su plenitud como cancionista; también ocupó ese lugar con Atilio Stampone e integró la formación que acompañaba a Armando Laborde y Alberto Echagüe, en el breve lapso que estuvieron fuera de la orquesta de D’Arienzo.

Hubo otros trabajos hasta que llegó el momento de su consagración definitiva cuando, en 1958, ingresó a las filas de Osvaldo Pugliese, para integrar la inolvidable línea de bandoneones junto a Osvaldo RuggieroJulián PlazaIsmael Spitalnik y Arturo Penón.

Fueron diez años de músico y arreglador, inmerso totalmente en el estilo y el espíritu del maestro. Alguna vez me comentó que Pugliese insistía a sus músicos que intentaran componer y hacer sus arreglos, a fin que la orquesta no resultara monótona. Era una forma de que, sin perder su particular secuencia rítmica, pudiera escucharse algo nuevo. Y así fue. Cada uno aportó lo suyo, y es posible que esa haya sido la causa por la que don Osvaldo siguiera tan vigente hasta su fallecimiento.

En cuanto a esta modalidad impuesta por Pugliese a sus muchachos respecto a los arreglos, Víctor me contó que generó algunos pequeños disturbios: «Como todos opinaban, ocurrían discusiones fuertes, varios tenían su trabajo hecho y no lo podíamos escuchar porque dos o tres decían que el que corría era el de Emilio Balcarce o el de Penón, por ejemplo, y uno que había hecho el suyo se quedaba con bronca. Ahora si yo con mi orquesta tuviera mucho trabajo me gustaría que los músicos compusieran y arreglaran porque así se irían formando». Y más adelante agregó: «hoy las orquestas se acabaron, de las que llevan años en la lucha están la de Leopoldo Federico y Rodolfo Mederos y alguna otra reciente, pero se trabaja poco, o son contratados para eventos especiales o para el turismo, no hay campo de acción y el baile, que sí funciona, se arregla con discos».

Volviendo al repaso de su trayectoria, llegamos al año 1968. Pugliese estaba enfermo y había otras cuestiones. Alguno de sus muchachos comenzaron a reunirse para tocar como sexteto y, en poco tiempo, sobrevino la retirada definitiva. Así nació el Sexteto Tango.

Ruggiero y Lavallén (bandoneones), Emilio Balcarce y Oscar Herrero (violines), Alcides Rossi (contrabajo), Julián Plaza (piano) —al que llegó después de tantos años portando el bandoneón— y el cantor Jorge Maciel.

Estuvo 19 años consecutivos con el sexteto, hasta que decidió retirarse. A partir de ese momento, participó en dos formaciones: la Orquesta Municipal del Tango entonces dirigida por Carlos García y Raúl Garello y la Orquesta Color Tango junto a Roberto Álvarez (bandoneón), Carlos Piccione y Fernando Rodríguez (violines), Amílcar Tolosa (contrabajo), Roberto Cicaré (piano) y Juan Carlos Zunini (tecladista).

Luego participó en el espectáculo Forever tango, con un grupo de músicos, cantores y bailarines, que recorrió Estados Unidos y Canadá. El director orquestal era Lisandro Adrover, y el cantor, nuestro amigo Alfredo Sáez.

En 2007, y dirigiendo su propia orquesta, graba un disco con el título, Amanecer ciudadano, editado por el sello EPSA que contiene diez temas, combinando tangos clásicos y páginas propias como: “Amanecer ciudadano”, “Meridional”, “A la sombra del fueye”, “Mistongueando” y “De norte a sur”.

En el 2010, hizo su segunda producción discográfica con el titulo Buenosaireando, junto a Alejandro Bruschini (bandoneón), Pablo Estigarribia (piano), Silvio Acosta (contrabajo) y Washington Williman (violín). El compacto tiene 12 temas, en los que se destacan dos composiciones suyas: “Buenosaireando” y “Romance de primavera”.

Buenos Aires, Christian Baldini, Compositora

Maria Laura Antonelli en Diálogo con Christian Baldini

El próximo 5 de Agosto (de 2022) tendré el placer de dirigir la Orquesta Nacional de Música Argentina “Juan de Dios Filiberto” en el Auditorio Nacional del CCK, en un programa que presenta obras de Victor Lavallén y de María Laura Antonelli. “Criaturas del fuego” es una obra para violín y orquesta, y va a contar con Javier Weintreib como solista. Debajo hay una breve entrevista con la compositora.

Christian Baldini: María Laura, cómo comenzó la génesis de “Criaturas de fuego”? Cuál fue el disparador que te inspiró a escribir un concierto para violín y orquesta?

María Laura Antonelli: Esta obra “Criaturas del fuego” para violín y orquesta nació después del estreno de mi obra “Infernadero, seis piezas para Orquesta con piano y gritos olvidados”, en la que yo estuve como piano solista y con medios electroacústicos en vivo también. “Infernadero…” fue encargada y estrenada por la ONMA en 2019, a raiz de que yo lanzara mi disco de composiciones propias en piano “Argentígena, piano tango & electroacústica”(Acqua Records – 2018). Desde ahí me convocaron y empezó el trabajo con la Filiberto y “Criaturas” es un desafío porque es la primera vez que escribo un concierto solista para un instrumento que no es el piano. Sentí que la Orquesta estuvo muy feliz por el estreno de Infernadero y además recibí el premio de la Asociación de Críticos Musicales de la Argentina por mi labor compositiva de 2019, que atribuyo a Infernadero porque fue donde puse mi mayor energía ese año. Apenas se estrenó Infernadero, los programadores me propusieron componer una obra para violín solista y el orgánico de la ONMA. Empecé a escribirla en 2020 y luego se retrasó su estreno por la pandemia, estuve con otras obras, y hoy acá estamos. 

CB: Qué le dirías al público que son los aspectos más importantes de tu música? Cuáles son los elementos que les aconsejarías escuchar, como punto de partida?

MLA:  Me parece fundamental no subestimar jamás al público. Mi música está construida como un tejido de eventos sonoros que aparecen en la línea de tiempo, que a través de las intensidades y matices muestran la tímbrica, los colores y las texturas de ese tejido. Está atravesado por el tiempo de la escucha interna y la búsqueda de gestos de músicas que ya pasaron, algo así como si intentara reconstruir recuerdos de cosas que no ocurrieron. Los aspectos más importantes son la diversidad de los eventos sonoros que convergen en el espacio acústico, y para eso hay que diseñar ese espacio, que es el trabajo más difícil. Y creo que debe haber un factor de sorpresa en el ritmo en el que, aun habiendo propulsión, es decir, aunque podamos seguirlo con el cuerpo, sin haber sorpresa en esa propulsión, la música se apaga. Me gusta el desafío que tiene construir con un ancla en algo de la tradición, y también pienso que la capacidad de asombro está intacta y que hay que mantenerla viva cada vez que alguien escucha una música por primera vez. Lo que más deseo que me pase a mí al escuchar música es que la obra me permita desalienarme por un rato. Y eso mismo deseo para los otros que escuchan mi música.

CB: Cuáles han sido las influencias musicales más importantes en tu mundo compositivo?

MLA: Te los digo en cualquier orden, no cronológico ni en orden de importancia para mí, sinó así como me salen: Bach, Troilo, Piazzolla, Schaeffer, Schumann, Stravinsky, Bartok, Messiaen, Berio, Spinetta, Gobbi, De Caro, Gardel, Gismonti, Sting, y así sin nombrarte nada de jazz, el abanico es enorme igual, no sé…..todos mundos muy diferentes que desde el academicismo coexisten casi como una incongruencia dentro mío, pero es así como impactaron también en mí. Son músicas que conocí tanto al tocar el piano como escuchando en grabaciones o en vivo y que determinaron con mucha fuerza mi búsqueda de la creatividad musical y mi vocación.  

CB: Sos pianista, y me pregunto, cómo comenzó todo musicalmente para vos? ¿En que momento tuviste la necesidad de comenzar a componer?

MLA: Supongo que ambas cosas nacieron juntas. En principio empecé a tocar el piano porque quería aprender, pero ya tocaba de oído en un tecladito que había en mi casa desde muy chica, incluso antes de ir al colegio. En esa época ya inventaba melodías y formas en el tiempo, improvisaba un poco y luego la formación musical apuntó al piano en primer lugar y después a la composición especialmente en la adolescencia, cuando me peleaba con la partitura y quería poder tocar de oído lo que estudiaba leyendo y viceversa, y sentía que todo eso que inventaba y grababa empezaba a agigantarse y tuve la necesidad de hacerle lugar. Pasaron varios años hasta que pude encontrar la forma del discurso sonoro en el espacio acústico más o menos parecido a lo que imaginaba y descuadrarme de lo pianístico. Creo que, por suerte, casi nunca se llega a lo imaginado, sino que en el mejor de los casos la música cobra vida propia y aparece. Por eso me parece fundamental escuchar la voz interna que es la que pide la música.

CB: Muchas gracias por tu tiempo, y espero que tengamos un hermoso estreno de “Criaturas del fuego”.

MLA: Muchas gracias a vos Christian, será un gran concierto y es un placer enorme para mí estar trabajando juntos y que “Criaturas del fuego” tenga tu mirada.  

María Laura Antonelli al piano

Sobre María Laura Antonelli

Pianista, compositora y arregladora argentina. Tuvo experiencias como solista académica y pianista de tango en diferentes proyectos en las más importantes salas de Buenos Aires así como en el circuito under, el interior y en países europeos como Italia, Austria, Holanda, Alemania, Escocia y República Checa. Hizo música para danza contemporánea y cine. Integró proyectos como compositora, improvisadora y arregladora con formaciones desde dúos hasta orquesta típica. Cuenta con dos discos previos de tangos clásicos. El último, Argentígena, piano tango & electroacústica (Acqua Records-2018), netamente instrumental y de composiciones propias, fue considerado un trabajo “de frontera” por sintetizar elementos del tango, la música contemporánea y el jazz y nominado a los premios Gardel 2019. Actualmente trabaja en su próxima obra orquestal y en música de piano solo. Además es docente en el Conservatorio de la Ciudad A. Piazzolla y Conservatorio Superior M. de Falla.

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Jonathan Salzedo in Conversation with Christian Baldini

Christian Baldini: This Saturday and Sunday (June 11 and 12, 2022), I will have the pleasure of collaborating with the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento conducting two unusual works: Frank Martin’s Petite Symphonie Concertante, featuring Jonathan Salzedo (harpsichord), Kerstin Allvin (harp) and Dmitriy Cogan (piano) as our three soloists, plus a string orchestra led by legendary violinist Bill Barbini (one of the youngest members ever of the New York Philharmonic, and longtime concertmaster of the former Sacramento Symphony). The other work on the program that I will be conducting is Claude Debussy’s Danses (Danse Sacrée, and Danse Profane), for harp and string orchestra, also with Kerstin Allvin as our soloist.

I had the pleasure of asking each of our soloists a few questions about this performance and about the Frank Martin. Below are the answers by Jonathan Salzedo regarding his own impressions about the piece. I asked him to include anything including those things he enjoys, and also what he finds surprising, its context, the end of World War II, and his thoughts about Frank Martin himself.

Jonathan Salzedo: I have known about Frank Martin’s Petite Symphonie Concertante for as long as I have been interested in the harpsichord, at least 55 years. Being somewhat rooted in the 17th and 18th centuries, I never expected that I would get to play it, so this engagement came as an unexpected pleasant surprise.

The harpsichord disappeared from fashion around 1800 and only returned to the concert stage after 1900 with a resurgence of interest in ancient music. While mainstream orchestral instruments evolved, the harpsichord had completed its development by 1800, and the piano took over the role of the keyboard of choice. When the harpsichord was revived by Arnold Dolmetsch, the initial intention was not that it should evolve or that new music should be written for it – keeping the ancient music in museum mode was all that was needed. But by 1945, the harpsichord had not gone unnoticed, and already there were new concertos by Manuel de Falla, Bohuslav Martinu and Francis Poulenc, and it was finding its way into film scores.

The harpsichord Frank Martin had in mind for his 1945 Petite Symphonie Concertante was not the equipment of the 18th century. Between pioneering harpsichordist Wanda Landowska and the Paris piano maker Pleyel, a far more robust harpsichord emerged, able to withstand the demands of the modern concert hall. Martin’s score is marked with specific instructions for effects only possible on that instrument. Pleyel’s robust model did not stand the test of time, and by the 1960’s makers were following Dolmetsch’s lead and basing instruments on 17th and 18th century models. While the “revival” harpsichord still has a few champions, the harpsichord and early music community is almost exclusively using traditional types of harpsichords again. So the first dilemma for the harpsichordist is whether to try to rouse a Pleyel for this piece, or to use today’s equipment, ironically the same equipment that the 18th century player would have used. Pleyels are not so common today, and my choice is to use what I own, built in 1974 by Ted McKnight and styled on a Pascal Taskin instrument from 1769. While I can’t follow all of Martin’s registration recommendations (the equivalent of an organist having different stops available), I have all the tonal variety I need to make the music work.

Did Martin consider the problem of balance with a harpsichord of any kind in an ensemble? Back in the heyday of the harpsichord, its role was to play solos or to have a background role in ensembles. Only a few experimentalists dared to bring the harpsichord into the foreground with a chamber group or orchestra, notably Johann Sebastian Bach and Jean-Philippe Rameau. Even with Pleyel’s robustifications, the harpsichord is not able to come over the top of orchestral sound like a piano. It is an open question whether the harpsichord needs amplification for this work. Had Martin been thoughtful about balance, I would expect to find the harpsichord always accompanied by light instrumentation, and the piano and harp soloists to have soft effects in the trio work. This is not the case. I will be using discreet amplification.

When I tell people I am playing this piece, I am often asked whether I like atonal music. I find myself considering whether this work is atonal. The first twelve notes of the piece form a tone row, rather a communist concept, each of the twelve notes appearing just once. The early sections of the piece fall under the spell of this idea, and one might expect the piece to have the angular qualities we associate with Arnold Schoenberg, the creator of the tone row composition. While this was not an easy piece to get to know, once I became accustomed to its musical ideas, I did not find it atonal. There are always tonal centers to be found. Martin does not necessarily like to stay for long in one key – the music is restless, always moving somewhere. And at times, it is dissonant too, and keys co-exist in a disturbing way. But it never loses the sense of going somewhere, and when it arrives, even fleetingly, one does enjoy the moment. My 50-year career has had a lot to do with exploring the rhetoric of the 17th and 18th centuries, and new music for the harpsichord that I encounter does not always follow those old rhetorical guidelines. But here I find a surprising amount of that kind of rhetoric that references the former age. Among his accomplishments, Frank Martin was a harpsichordist, and it is clear that he knew the idioms of the 18th century.

What else is there in this music? As well as finding a warm version of Schoenberg and fragments that resonate from the 18th century, there is more. The piece can be read as a survey of all that was happening, both in music and in the world outside, at the end of World War II. The world order was in flux, so the piece is restless. The chordal clusters and rhythms of jazz were finding their way into art music, and they too are here. And while the music reflects the ideas of predecessors, it also foreshadows what will come. The March that opens the final section anticipates Henri Mancini’s Pink Panther, and later I hear in embryo Edwin Ashley’s Danger Man theme. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that the last page of my part is entirely pentatonic (just using five notes that are pleasant sounding in any combination) and ends with a brisk G major scale. When we reach that point, I am reminded that the first part I play ends in an F minor scale. So there appears to be an over-arching trajectory from the darkness of F minor through many musical trials to the simplicity of a pentatonic mode and finally the brightness of G major; perhaps a reminder that bleak times always contain a seed of hope for a less confused and better future.

Christian Baldini: Why is music is important to you? Is there any advice you want to share with young musicians?

Jonathan Salzedo: What to say to a young musician? It’s not an easy career, many frustrations, a lot of self-doubt, terrible comparisons – but also great joy and the best community you could imagine, because musicians are the only people who will really understand you. When I moved to the USA from England at age 31, I was ready to give up music – I thought I had played out that youthful dream. But if music wants you and you have a bit of willingness, you and music will somehow find each other and have to put up with each other. Now that I am 71, I can’t imagine a life better than the one I have had, mixing music with a whole lot of other interesting stuff, including technology. Having an artistic outlet really does make you a better person, less likely to buy guns and shoot people, more likely to be intrigued by the world and its infinite possibilities. Follow your nose; don’t let anyone else suggest that you should grow up.

Jonathan Salzedo (courtesy photo)

British born harpsichordist Jonathan Salzedo is a frequent Freeway Philharmonic contributor in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was an active and occasionally prizewinning pianist in his youth, then planned to study harpsichord with someone famous, but ended up learning what he knows from working with fine musicians with good ideas. With his wife Marion Rubinstein and daughter Laura Jeannin he runs The Albany Consort, a group with a long and impressive track record, though only one (accidental) recording. Jonathan also plays new music with violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, including compositions written for the duo. He actually likes moving and tuning instruments, and considers these to be an important part of the whole harpsichord experience. When not on the road doing gigs, he sings at Congregation Etz Chayim, Palo Alto, and runs a software consulting business.

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

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

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

PROGRAM

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

Aida Shirazi, Lament (world premiére)

Josiah Catalan, Cloudburst (world première)

György Ligeti, Chamber Concerto

UC Davis Sinfonietta

Christian Baldini, music director & conductor

Ann E. Pitzer Center, UC Davis

May 13, 2022, 7pm

UC Davis Sinfonietta rehearsing at the Pitzer Center

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

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

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

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

Notes by Sarah Wald:

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Wald (courtesy photo)

Lament Program Notes (by Aida Shirazi)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aida Shirazi (courtesy photo)

Catalan: Cloudburst

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

Duration about 6 minutes

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

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

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

Josiah Catalan (courtesy photo)