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.
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.
On April 21, 2022, I will have the pleasure of conducting the US Première of Oscar Strasnoy’s Piano Concerto Kuleshov with Ryan McCullough as our soloist, together with the phenomenal UC Davis Symphony Orchestra at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis, California. Below is a very engaging interview with Ryan talking about Strasnoy, and other interesting topics:
Christian Baldini: Ryan, it will be a pleasure to have you with us for this US première of a composer that I admire and like so much, and which requires a soloist just like you. What can you share with people about Oscar Strasnoy’s Piano Concerto Kuleshov? What is unusual, different and/or attractive about it?
Ryan McCullough: Thank you so much for having me here, Christian, and for your kind words. What I find so interesting about concerti written in this century (and the end of the last) is how much they operate like musical jukeboxes. John Adams’ Century Rolls (1996) is a perfect example of this, a kind of musical survey of piano music in the 20th century, but from the perspective of listening to recordings: of contemporary jazz, stride, bebop, Stravinsky, Satie heard through Art Tatum… the piano is a kind of distant object, a fixture of the past filtered through the intimacy of listening to old recordings in the present. Adams’ more recent piano concerto Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes (2018) is another stylistic grab bag (specifically taking a foray into funk), and there are many other recent pieces I can think of that do this—Julian Anderson’s The Imaginary Museum (2017, also a stylistic grab bag), George Benjamin’s Duet (2008, even more of a throwback to the concerto pre-Beethoven), and Jonathan Harvey’s Bird Concerto with Pianosong (2001, a reimagining of Olivier Messiaen’s birdsong piano music, almost comically from the perspective birds imitating human music). More broadly, the idea of the piano concerto has been ‘broken’ for a while now. Luciano Berio said in 1973 that the concerto, with its 19th-century notions of competition and super-human strength on the part of the pianist, had no meaning anymore, especially in a society where recording technology had effectively replaced the piano as the central hub of domestic music-making. This is even more so the case today—one could easily argue that the true descendant of the piano is a streaming service like Spotify!
Oscar Strasnoy’s Kuleshov definitely explores this idea. It’s almost like a playlist of six or seven songs on random shuffle, where the piano and ensemble snap in and out of different points in each song. Similarly to the Benjamin I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a concerto in the Lisztian sense, where I’m fighting with the orchestra to see who’s faster, louder, better… we’re inseparable. The ensemble floats in and out of the resonance of the piano, and the piano imitates instruments in the ensemble. If you can’t really tell who’s who, then we’re doing a good job! Virtuosity in this case is like a magician performing sleight of hand—“where’d my card go?!”
CB: Who are some other composers you admire, and why?
RMC: There are so many, this is such a hard question. There are many incredible composers doing really wonderful work today, and I feel very lucky to have many friends who are such composers. One is Christopher Stark, who has been writing really powerful, metaphysical works that address climate change head-on. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Tonia Ko, who has a tremendous talent for enlarging the very smallest, most intimate sounds we experience in casual everyday life. Elizabeth Ogonek, who I’m co-teaching a course with on instrument building at Cornell this semester, has an ear that can bend reality (e.g., “there is no spoon”), her music is full of sounds that are truly unreal. Jesse Jones is another friend whose music is just so freaking honest, you feel like you’ve had an unbelievably engaging conversation with an old friend. Dante De Silva is a very close friend who has been exploring alternative tuning systems recently, and writes music that is so personal, almost auto-biographical, but in a way that’s light-hearted and often self-effacing. I could go on… these folks are all in their 30s and 40s, it’s really inspiring, the future of new music feels secure.
In terms of old music, I’ve really fallen in love with the music of William Grant Still recently, there is so much clarity in the writing balancing his rich, resplendent use of harmony and texture. Also the British composer Adela Maddison, a woman known primarily (and erroneously) as Fauré’s lover, who wrote some absolutely magical song cycles and chamber music. Like many women composers in the late 19th century, she has disappeared into the patriarchal fabric of history.
On the other hand, I was just practicing a Mozart concerto for a run of concerts this summer, and ****, how could one person have been so inventive…
CB: You’ve also been composing lately, especially for yourself and your wife (the wonderful soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon). What do you look for in your own compositions? What defines your aesthetics, your choices, your imagery?
I haven’t really had any time to compose this semester, which has been a real shame, and something I plan to rectify this summer. Composing as a performer is (I imagine) a bit like cooking when you’re a professional chef—you spend all this time making incredible dishes for someone else, but when you get home and only have a few hours left to sleep, you barely manage to throw some instant ramen in the microwave and wash it down with a shot of bourbon. Composing is almost like satisfying a craving—you need certain sounds, and aren’t getting them anywhere else, so you go searching for them.
Most of what I’ve written recently has been vocal music. I began setting some poetry by Emily Dickinson (Indeterminate Inflorescence) in March 2020, born from a need for spiritual peace by exploring the reassurance of eternity. Most of the songs play games with infinite loops, where (like the flower structures they’re named for) beginnings and ends are effectively mirror images and can be repeated ad infinitum. Perhaps appropriately, there are still a couple of songs in that cycle that need to be finished and engraved so Lucy and I can finally perform it as a set…
The second set (Argumentum e Silentio), based on the French-German-Jewish poet Paul Celan, is considerably darker, and has renewed meaning to me now. The poetry, which I set in German, is also thinking about eternity, but from a more cynical perspective, a sense that history constantly repeats and everything that is beautiful must be balanced by something that is ugly. One line in particular—from the second song in this cycle, Espenbaum (“Aspen Tree”)—has been on repeat in my head recently: “Löwenzahn, so grün ist die Ukraine. / Meine blonde Mutter kam nicht heim.” [Dandelion, so green is the Ukraine. / My blonde mother never came home.] Celan was born in what is now Ukraine, and both of Celan’s parents perished in the Holocaust in what is now the Russian-backed breakaway state of Transnistria, between Ukraine and Moldova. Historically, Ukraine as a nation has always been more of an ideal than a reality, and so the double-edged imagery of birth and death from the same soil is uncomfortably poignant today. This cycle was hard to write, because such pungent poetry doesn’t need “help”, more a platform to express itself.
The last set (Mister In-Between)was a different kind of coping mechanism, all arrangements of jazz standards by the American lyricist Johnny Mercer, written for and performed with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. If you don’t know who Mercer is, then the titles “Jeepers Creepers” and “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive” will help. This ended up being an exercise in “creative nostalgia”—since these songs are so well-known, it’s easy to mindlessly fall into clichés, or completely drown them in sauce and obscure the extraordinarily creative structures. Stephanie is a force of nature, and composing these arrangements for her was unbelievably inspiring. We’ll be recording the whole set this summer.
CB: How were your beginnings with music? How did it all start for you?
RMC: It was bit by bit. My mom and grandmother both played piano, my grandfather (who was a master woodworker) had stripped the black paint off their Grinnell Brothers baby grand piano and refinished it to reveal its gorgeous mahogany veneer. I started piano when I was 5, but around the time I was 11 there was a confluence of forces—I started composing, I started playing clarinet in various ensembles, was singing in a children’s choir (then subsequently a jazz ensemble and barbershop choir). Suddenly music was everything, and everything was music, and that’s hard to undo. I guess it was a bit like that old piano—there was something underneath that just needed a little time to reveal, then it was off to the races.
CB: What would be your advice for your musicians starting out and/or struggling to find their path? How does one deal with adversity, bad days or rather, what can help find more hope to keep working hard?
RMC: I’m not gonna lie, if I was unsure about encouraging students to pursue a professional career in music before the pandemic, I am even less sure now. This is not an implication of the art itself, which will survive anything, but a testament to the reality that so much of our professional development is non-linear. You give what feels like an amazing performance in a big venue as part of a major festival… nothing comes of it, straight into the void. You phone in a concert at a school… suddenly people are asking you to play that piece again and again. This is even more pronounced with digital content production, which is now a significant part of the job. You spend hours and hours carefully crafting a video recording, edits and color grading and audio mastering… 27 people watch it. Or you make an audition video for someone in an afternoon and… 40k views. It makes no sense. You spend so much time as an admin, leveraging what you’re doing or about to do in order to get more work, it feels like the work itself is secondary.
On some fundamental level we are all conditioned to seek positive feedback—you want to know that what you’re doing is good, and we learn to rely on that external input from the time we’re little. This is useful for training and education, but you eventually must shut it down. You can only learn to develop a specific voice by listening to your inner ear and trusting your own instincts. As a teacher, I know half of what I’m advising students to do is ********, or at least not 100% perfectly suited to every person, and so I work to get them thinking about their own wishes and desires as soon as humanly possible, and to learn to be curious problem solvers.
If you know that music is your life, and there are no other paths that will satisfy you as much, then you will find a place for yourself, but only if you listen honestly to your inner ear and match those genuine desires with external expectations. If you only focus on what other people tell you is good, you might get somewhere in the short term, but in the long term you will cease to exist, and at that point you are eminently disposable. Know thyself, as the ancient maxim goes…
CB: Thank you so much for your wise words, beautiful musicality and time, and I can’t wait to make music with you!
RMC: It has been such a pleasure, the ensemble sounds great, the piece is amazing, California in the springtime is gorgeous… Looking forward to the concert!
Born in Boston and raised behind the Redwood Curtain of northern California, pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough has developed a diverse career as soloist, vocal and instrumental collaborator, composer, recording artist, and pedagogue. Ryan’s music-making encompasses work with historical keyboards, electro-acoustic tools and instruments, and close collaborations with some of today’s foremost composers. In a performance of Chopin “his virtuosity was evident and understated, his playing projected a warmth… that conjured the humanity of Arthur Rubinstein,” (Eli Newberger, The Boston Musical Intelligencer) and in a performance of contemporary music, his playing “found a perfect balance between the gently shimmering and the more brittle, extroverted strands… and left you eager to hear the rest.” (Allan Kozinn, NY Times).
Ryan’s growing discography features many world premiere recordings, including solo piano works of Milosz Magin (Acte Prealable), Andrew McPherson (Secrets of Antikythera, Innova), John Liberatore (Line Drawings, Albany), Nicholas Vines (Hipster Zombies from Mars, Navona), art song and solo piano music of John Harbison and James Primosch with soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon (Descent/Return, Albany), and art song by Sheila Silver (Beauty Intolerable, Albany, also with Ms. Fitz Gibbon). He has also appeared on PBS’s Great Performances (Now Hear This, “The Schubert Generation”) and is an alumnus of NPR’s From the Top.
As concerto soloist Ryan has appeared frequently with orchestra, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Sarasota Festival Orchestra, Colburn Conservatory Orchestra, Orange County Wind Symphony, and World Festival Orchestra, with such conductors as George Benjamin, Gisele Ben-Dur, Fabien Gabel, Leonid Grin, Anthony Parnther, Larry Rachleff, Mischa Santora, and Joshua Weilerstein. Mr. McCullough has collaborated with the Mark Morris Dance Group, contemporary ensembles eighth blackbird and yarn/wire, and has performed at festivals including the Tanglewood Music Center, Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, Sarasota Festival, Nohant International Chopin Festival, and Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival. Highlights of the ‘21-‘22 season include an original cabaret collaboration with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, three separate tours with the Mark Morris Dance Group, a residency with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, Brahms’ Die Schöne Magelone at the Harvard Musical Association with soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon, and performances of Stockhausen’s MANTRA at Notre Dame and Syracuse Universities as part of ensemble HereNowHear.
Ryan lives in Kingston, NY, with his wife, soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon, and in his time off can be found brewing beer, building and modifying audio equipment, or photographing the sublime Hudson Valley. For additional information and curios, visit www.RyanMMcCullough.com.
Christian Baldini:On March 5 I will have the pleasure of conducting the world première of the Violin Concerto “Kuyén” by Chilean composer Miguel Farías, featuring the wonderful violinist Rachel Lee Priday.Miguel Farías is a superb Chilean composer, and we have been colleagues and friends for about fifteen years, when we met in France at a festival where we both had our works for orchestra performed by the excellent Orchestra National de Lorraine. I was immediately captivated by his music because of his great use of the orchestral palette, his imagination and his expressiveness, and his great ability to write motifs that are very memorable without trying to be. It is a pleasure to present this world premiere that was our commission and that received the prestigious support of Ibermúsicas. Miguel, tell us, how was the genesis of this piece? What could you share with us about how you started writing it, what plan you originally had and what changed in the process (if that did happen)? Are you happy with the final results?
Miguel Farías: First of all, thank you very much dear Christian for your words, and I would also like to tell you that it is a great pleasure to be able to collaborate with UCDSO and with you, especially after fifteen years of friendship!
Composing Kuyén was somehow quite intuitive. I like to write narrative (fiction), and during the last year I wrote a book that contains stories that speak of the night, from different perspectives. One of these is one that has to do with mythology. Perhaps that is why I had in mind some sonorities that were related not only to the night, but also to beings that inhabit it. This is how it occurred to me to “ground” this sound speech that was haunting my head, basing it on the narrative of the Kuyén myth. The idea, in addition to having a soloist and an orchestra, reinforced the discourse based on dialogue, which ended up being essential to give shape to the piece.
CB: How were your beginnings with music?
MF: Initially, when I was about 10 years old, I taught myself to play the piano. Then I really liked rock and jazz and I studied electric guitar. I quickly realized that more than playing other people’s music, I liked inventing music on the guitar. So at fourteen I went to find out how to study composition at the conservatory, and at fifteen I was already in my first formal year.
CB: Who were some of the people in your life that have most positively influenced you to be the composer you are today?
MF: It may sound cliché, but first of all my family. In general, I am interested in a type of music that does not question itself, but dialogues with its surroundings. In my family there are no musicians, so they have been an influence not only emotionally, but also creatively and thoughtfully. In the art world, I have generally been much more influenced by literary narratives than by composers. The speech and thought of Raul Ruiz has been important in my way of thinking about the discourse and the musical form. In the construction (or attempted construction) of my own musical discourse, I believe that several writers have influenced me, some examples are the Cubans Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Pedro Juan Gutierrez, the Chileans Christian Geisse and Hernán Rivera Letelier, or the Mexican Juan Rulfo, among several others. Honestly, without literature in my life, it would be difficult for me to continue growing artistically.
CB: Being a young composer is not easy. Opportunities for your works to be commissioned by or performed by an orchestra don’t come very often (or at all). What advice would you give to young composers who are looking for opportunities?
MF: Go forward with a lot of work and confidence. It is difficult to have commissions or works performed by orchestras these days, but my experience has shown me that if one is capable of presenting artistically interesting ideas and projects, there is interest from the institutions.
First of all, in order to present interesting projects, I think you have to work hard to develop a correct and personal way of orchestral writing. You have to understand the sonorities of the orchestra as well as its relationship with musical time. Then, the exercise of the trade itself provides the tools to bring ideas to the score.
On the other hand, composition contests and courses are very useful, not only to have visibility, but also to be able to hear what is written above all. In competitions, the most common thing is not to win, but to keep trying; on the one hand, it serves to develop a high-level orchestral writing, tolerance to frustration, and above all a handling of writing and ease in bringing abstract ideas to life on the music sheet. Contests serve as a kind of exercise in this.
CB: You are also an opera composer. In your opinion, are there any (or many) differences between writing chamber music, symphonic music, vocal music, and dramatic music for the stage, such as opera?
MF: Very much so, in my opinion. The starting point in dramatic and instrumental music is very different. In the first we start from quite tangible and literary narrative resources. In the second, at least in my case, one starts from a blank sheet of paper, where we have to build the sound objects with which the ideas we have in mind will be represented. Both worlds are exciting, and difficult to master.
On the other hand, in dramatic music for the stage, at the time of writing there are many factors to consider that influence each note we write. The narrative, the visual, the temporal; and other more complex factors that have to do with the context of the text being worked on. I’m not saying that instrumental music doesn’t contain these riches and difficulties, but I do say that opera, for example, begins from a space heavily charged by a tradition that has these factors as its starting point. In the opera, our blank page at the beginning is quite lined.
CB: For someone who has never heard your music before, what advice would you give them? What is important in your music? What should they try to hear in your works? (and in this Concerto for violin and orchestra, specifically?)
MF: I find it difficult to answer something like that, since I would like to say that they can hear what they want and how they want when listening to my music. But if we think specifically about Kuyén, I would like them to try to feel the colors and nuances of light with which I tried to impregnate the sonorities, both of the solo violin and of the orchestra. Kuyén for me is a dialogue between colors, lights, brightness and darkness, and I would like to suggest that in this work, they start by letting themselves be carried away by intuition to hear it as an abstract conversation between these elements.
CB: Thank you very much for writing this beautiful work for the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and Rachel Lee Priday. I am very happy to be able to share your music with our public and our community.
MF: Thanks to you dear Christian, to the UCDSO and to Rachel. It has been amazing working with you and Rachel. I have learned a lot, and I have enjoyed it even more. Rachel has given an impressive voice to each of the notes I wrote. I am very excited and grateful. And of course, I hope that this first collaboration after fifteen years of friendship is not the last.
Composer and PhD in Latin American Studies, Miguel Farías (b. 1983) studied in Chile, Switzerland, and France.
He is the winner of several international prizes and beneficiary of commissions and residences in Chile and Europe, including Injuve, 2007 (Spain); Luis Advis, 2007 (Chile); Frederic Mompou (Barcelona, Spain); Joan Guinjoan, 2013 (Barcelona, Spain); Manuel Valcarcel, 2013 (Santander, Spain); the sponsorship prize at the BMW Musica Viva competition of the Bavarian Radio (Munich, Germany); and he was a laureate of the Isang Yun Music Prize, 2007 (Korea); Tactus, 2008 (Belgium); the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition, 2009 (Belgium); and the Reina Sofía (Spain), among others. He was a finalist in the “Composer Project” and “Roche Commissions” programs of the Lucerne Festival, with Pierre Boulez as a member of the jury.
In June 2012, Farías won the 2012 “Art Critics” Prize in the National Opera category and the National Arts Prize “Altazor” in 2013, for his opera Renca, París y Liendres, premiered by the Chilean Symphony Orchestra. In 2018, his second opera, El Cristo de Elqui, was premiered by the Chilean National Opera at the Municipal de Santiago, directed for the stage by Jorge Lavelli. In 2019, he won the Beaux-Arts Chilean Academy prize for the premiere of this opera.
Christian Baldini: 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 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”.
Christian Baldini: Please tell us about your education and training. How did you start with music, and when did you decide to become a singer?
Kyle Stegall: I’ve been interested in professional singing and in teaching singing since my senior year of high school. All three of my degrees are in Vocal Performance, and were granted by the Universities of Missouri, Michigan, and Yale. My passion for communication is what has driven my studies, and the development of my performance and teaching career.
CB: What do you find remarkable about this work by Beethoven? What are your favorite moments in it?
KS: I am so looking forward to performing this dramatic and heroic work with Maestro Baldini and the musical forces at UC-Davis. I am particularly fond of the moment in which the clarinet introduces the prayer theme in Christ’s opening aria.
CB: What are some of your favorite pieces of music, whether in the operatic realm, chamber music, or on the concert platform? Which works would you like to be singing next?
KS: I am lucky to have a career engaged with a great breadth of the classical repertoire. I sing opera, recital, and concert work in equal proportions, which is actually quite rare. I value the opportunity to communicate in such varied stylistic-idioms and performance environments. Everything from the haute-contre repertoire of the French Baroque to world premieres of new repertoire for the solo voice, to staples of the recital canon, to large orchestrated works such as Christus am Oelberge hold consistent spots in my performance seasons. I am particularly fond of the Bach evangelists, the cycles of Benjamin Britten, and orchestrated masses/oratorios of the classical and bel canto repertoire. I’d like to find a spot for Britten’s War Requiem and Berlioz’ Les Nuits d’ete in coming seasons.
CB: What does art, and music in particular, mean to you? Is it relevant in our society today?
KS: Art and music are and will forever be relevant. Art is an intensely potent force for awakening in large numbers of people a dormant respect for our shared, vulnerable humanity. What our world needs is community. What our world needs is emotional honesty. Music is the crystallized sonic manifestation of these things. The question isn’t whether or not art is relevant. The question is whether or not we will make room in our hearts, budgets, schedules, and priorities for it.
Kyle Stegall’s performances around the world have been met with accolade for his “blemish-free production” (Sydney Morning Herald), and his “dramatic vividness” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). A career spanning concert, opera, and recital stages has grown out of successful collaborations with many of the world’s most celebrated artistic directors including Manfred Honeck, Joseph Flummerfelt, Masaaki Suzuki, William Christie, and Stephen Stubbs.
In demand as an opera and concert soloist, Mr. Stegall is a celebrated interpreter of the Bach evangelists, and is often heard in the great oratorios of Handel and Haydn. His operatic repertoire spans the haute-contre heroes of the French Baroque to modern premieres.
Mr. Stegall is a proud alumnus of the universities of Missouri, Michigan, and Yale.