Concerto, Dance, Experimental, Music, Symphony Orchestra, Tango

Composer Profile: Ann Cleare in Conversation with Christian Baldini

In preparation for our performance of her orchestral work phôsphors (… of ether) at the Mondavi Center (UC Davis), I had the pleasure of asking composer Ann Cleare a few questions about her music. Below are the answers:
Christian Baldini: First of all, congratulations on the recently announced success of your Ernst von Siemens Prize! This is such exciting news, and so very richly deserved for someone with your sense of imagination, refined sonic creations and unusual sensitivity. And thank you very much for agreeing to answer some questions for us. Do you consider yourself a quintessentially Irish composer? And if so, can you tell us more about how this might have influenced your upbringing, and your music in particular?
Ann Cleare: I’m not sure that I know what a quintessential Irish composer is! Being a composer in Ireland is a relatively new profession – Ireland didn’t have a Bach or Beethoven or Brahms. The country has a history of being the land of Saints and Scholars, and has produced some incredibly talented writers of words, but the writing of music is a much newer activity. In this sense, I don’t carry the weight of tradition that composers of other countries often do. I have always thought of composing as a place where I must define the territory and create my own rules, which then govern the structure of a piece. Unlike many people, the distinction between music, sound, silence, and noise has never been so great for me. I grew up playing tonal music but always felt confined by the limits of its language and thought that there was so much timbral and structural potential to be explored in the everyday sonorities around me, whether mechanical or natural. I don’t see any of this as being a particularly Irish approach, but somehow, being at a distance from the overbearing tradition that composers of other countries have to contend with, has allowed me to create my own sense of what music is or can be.
  
 
CB: You talk about 3 islands and a “composite” in your piece phôsphors (… of ether) – the timber, register and harmonic qualities of each of these groups affects the way you structure the piece. Can you tell us more about this?
AC: Yes, the differing timbre, registers, and harmonic qualities are in aid of distinguishing these three instrumental “islands” from each other – these are technical approaches to creating a sense of individual layers or places within a piece, and then a fourth ‘floating’ island navigates these three and draws out elements or matter that bring the islands into dialogue or exchange.
 
CB: Who would you say are some of the composers (in music history, or living ones) that have had a deep impact on your own music, and why?
AC: Probably the work of Iannis Xenakis. One of the most fiercely original musical minds of the 20th century, Xenakis held a multifaceted career as a composer, architect, and mathematician, and from these influences imagined and created sound in a way that no one else ever has. Particularly his piece Dämmerschein, which is like a ferocious natural force unleashed on the orchestral stage.
 
 
CB: Who are some important people that have inspired you in your education and training? Are there any people that you think you will will always be grateful to, and why?
AC: I love the W.B. Yeats quote that “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. There are a lot of people that I have studied with who have helped light lasting fires with me! In particular, Chaya Czernowin, one of my teachers at Harvard, who showed me the unseen depths of the worlds that I was exploring and how much further I could dig in to make them even more vivid. She also taught me to never rest on my laurels – that once a piece is written, it’s written, and it’s then necessary to move on and find new territory and new challenges.
 
CB: In your opinion, what is the role of art, and music more specifically in society nowadays? 
AC: I think that art should both challenge and reflect the world we live in – I believe that’s what it’s for. It saddens me when my work or work that I admire is described as high brow or inaccessible, when from my point of view, it’s dealing with the most universal of ideas and attempting to communicate them in a sincere way. When asked if my music is too challenging or harrowing for a listener, which it is often described as, I suggest that if you want to pretend the world is a lovely, comfortable place, then stay at home and find something mind-numbing to watch on TV (which, of course, there’s a time and place for…). I work and think hard about how I can make my ideas clear to a listener, to invite them into the experience, but not in a way that compromises or simplifies the complexity of the situation in question, and life is difficult and complex, art isn’t the place to escape from this.
 
CB: Sometimes we read or hear dooming comments that classical/symphonic music audiences are getting smaller and smaller or that only old people listen to concerts. Do you believe in this, and if so, what should or could be done to reverse this trend and invigorate our audiences?
AC: I sway between thinking that the concert hall is a wonderful thing, a unique place of concentration and community, to feeling straight-jacketed and claustrophobic by its expectations of an audience, who it often seems aren’t really considered in the experience. I would love to see more music happen outside of concert hall practices. I can imagine audiences still being capable of actively listening but without the confinement of concert hall behaviour. Programming needs attention too, as often, particularly with programmes of contemporary music, pieces that are programmed together that have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and contradict, rather than compliment each other. Would you go to see three or four different plays in a night? How confusing and overwhelming would this be? Yet several pieces of music are often squeezed into a few hours at a concert hall – making for a very confused experience for an audience. If we want audiences to be interested in the concert hall, we need to reconsider the many antiquated practices that don’t serve it well anymore.
 
CB: What do you seek to achieve with every new piece that you write? What is your main motivation for writing music?
AC: the music I write feels like a type of first language to me – I can express in sound what I often fail to express in words. Composing is where my fullest form of expression finds its outlet. Each piece encourages a listener to contemplate the complexity of the lives we exist within, exploring ideas of communication, transformation, and perception.
 
 
CB: Thank you very much for your time and for answering these questions in such a candid manner. We very much look forward to sharing your captivating music with our audiences here in Davis!
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Ann Cleare is an Irish composer working in the areas of concert music, opera, extended sonic environments, and hybrid instrumental design. Her work explores the static and sculptural nature of sound, probing the extremities of timbre, texture, colour, and form. She creates highly psychological and corporeal sonic spaces that encourage a listener to contemplate the complexity of the lives we exist within, exploring poetries of communication, transformation, and perception.

A recipient of a 2019 Ernst von Siemens Composer Prize, her work has been commissioned and presented by major broadcasters such as the BBC, NPR, ORF, RTÉ, SWR, WDR for festivals such as Gaudeamus Week, The Wittenertage fur Neue Kammermusik, International Music Institute Darmstadt, Bludenzer Tage zeitgemäßer Musik, IMATRONIC Festival of Electronic Music at ZKM, MATA Festival, Taschenopernfestival, Sound Reasons Festival in India, Shanghai New Music Week, Transit Belgium, GAIDA, Totally Huge New Music in Perth, Trattorie Parma, Rainy Days in Luxembourg, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Ultraschall. Through working with some of the most progressive musicians of our time, she has established a reputation for creating innovative forms of music, both in its presentation, and within the music itself. She has worked with groups such as Ensemble SurPlus, 175 East, The Crash Ensemble, The Callithumpian Consort, Quatuor Diotima, The International Contemporary Ensemble, The Chiara String Quartet, Collegium Novum Zürich, ELISION, The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Divertimento Ensemble, JACK Quartet, Ensemble Apparat, Ensemble Nikel, The Curious Chamber Players, Yarn/Wire, ensemble mosaik, The Experimental Ensemble of the SWR Studios, Talea Ensemble, österreichisches ensemble für neue music, The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, ensemble recherche, TAK, Vertixe Sonore, Ensemble Garage, Argento Chamber Ensemble, The Fidelio Trio, oh ton-ensemble, Distractfold, Longleash Trio, and soloists such as Carol McGonnell, Richard Craig, Heather Roche, Bill Schimmel, Benjamin Marks, Patrick Stadler, Carlos Cordeiro, Ryan Muncy, Richard Haynes, William Lang, Laura Cocks, Lina Andonovska, Samuel Stoll, and Callum G’Froerer.

Recent projects have focused on creating experiential environments where sound is given a visual as well as sonic dimension, such works include eyam i-v, a series of five attacca pieces, centred around clarinet and flute writing in various solo, ensemble, electronic, and orchestral settings, spanning just over two hours of music that is continuously transformed in shape, time, and motion around the listener; rinn, a time travel chamber opera involving a multichannel sonic sculpture that the singers and actors wear, interact with, and are amplified by; spatially choreographed chamber pieces such as I should live in wires for leaving you behindanchor me to the land, and on magnetic fields; a newly-designed instrument that a musician simultaneously wears and plays in eölsurface stations, multi-layered theatre involving the staging of extended brass instruments, vocal ensemble, and visuals.

Current and future projects include new works for Ekmeles and solo trombonist William Lang, Liminalities – a collaboration with ensemble mosaik and visual artist Anna Rún Tryggvadottir in Reykjavik and Berlin, a chamber orchestra piece for Ensemblekollektiv Berlin, a series of songs for voice and piano for The Irish Art Song Project, an evening-length work for ELISION, a video opera version of her opera rinn, and the creation of an outdoor musical playground for children with sculptor Brian Byrne.

Ann studied at University College Cork, IRCAM, and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Her scores are published by Project Schott New York and she is represented by the Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland (CMC).  She is Assistant Professor of Music and Media Technologies at Trinity College Dublin. As an artistic collaborator with Dublin Sound Lab, she will work on developing their programming and production of electronic music over the coming years. Ann is Projects Officer with Sounding the Feminists (#STF), a collective championing principles of equality, fairness, inclusivity, and diversity in Irish musical life.

 

Concerto, Dance, Music, Tango

Christian Baldini in conversation with Composer Pablo Ortiz

In preparation for the performance of his Concerto for Bandoneon and Orchestra, I had the pleasure of asking composer Pablo Ortiz a few questions about his music, his training, and more.

Christian Baldini: Pablo, it is a real pleasure to feature your music with our orchestra, especially on a concert which showcases the wide aesthetic range that can be found in an entire “Argentina music” program. You studied in Buenos Aires at the Catholic University (just like me), with some of the most important composers of Latin America. Can you tell us about your training there, and how it formed you as the composer that you are today?

Pablo Ortiz: At the Catholic University I was able to work with Gerardo Gandini, who was the most well-known contemporary composer in Argentina, but also, at some point he became the pianist for the sextet of Astor Piazzolla. He has a series of recordings called Postangos, where he improvises on well known standards, just as a jazz pianist would. He was tremendously influential.

CB: Tango has been a source of inspiration for you for a long time. How did this love for this genre start for you? And when did you decide that you would incorporate it into your own language?
PO: When one of my uncles divorced, he came to live with us in my parents’ house, and he brought with him his extensive collection of tango records. He would sit and reminisce, and I would keep him company, becoming acquainted with the great bands of the golden age: Troilo, D’Arienzo, Pugliese, Firpo among others.

CB: In your Concerto for Bandoneon and Orchestra you use a typical structure of a concerto: in three movements, fast, slow, and faster. But your concerto does not sound “typical” or “standard” in any way. How do you go about reinventing yourself for every piece, and creating new sounds with old forms that sound fresh and unconventional?
PO: I do tend to reinvent myself in every piece. I have several different “styles” that correspond to my musical passions: for instance, I love writing for the voices, and my vocal works are different from my instrumental works, or my tango-inflected works.

CB: You wrote this concerto for JP Jofre, who is a wonderful virtuoso. Can you tell us about your relationship with JP and what it is like to make music with him?
PO: JP Jofre is an amazing musician, and he can play everything technically, of course, but his musicality and warmth is off the charts. Essentially, you cannot remain indifferent when he plays. You cannot help but be moved.

CB: It has long been said that music education is suffering in the public school system (in many countries) and that unless we do something, the classical music audience will continue getting smaller and smaller. What are some of the most important things you would point out to a politician or administrator who might have the capacity to do something about this? Why is music still important and relevant nowadays?
PO: I think that people have to realize that there is a rich cultural patrimony that is worth keeping alive. We have treasures, in art, music, theatre, architecture, that we need to preserve for future generations. In Europe, the State is instrumental in keeping this legacy, in this country [the United States], we are more dependent on the kindness of private donors and Universities. Music is important because it makes you feel things, and understand things relying on your intuition.

CB: Many thanks again for sharing your time with us, and especially for sharing your beautiful music with us. It will be a pleasure to share it with our students and our audience!
PO: I am really happy, and honored to have my concert performed at Davis. Thank you!

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Dance, Music, Tango

Christian Baldini in conversation with Tango Virtuoso JP Jofre

One of the great virtuoso bandoneon players visit California to share his artistry with us

I had the pleasure of talking to bandoneon virtuoso and composer JP Jofre, in preparation for our upcoming concert together at UC Davis at the Mondavi Center performing his own Tangódromo, as well as the Bandoneón Concerto by Pablo Ortiz.

Christian Baldini: JP, what a treat to have you with us for this program, in which we are exclusively playing composers from Argentina, thank you for joining us!
JP Jofre: It is my pleasure to share new music with the beautiful people of Davis for the first time.

CB: Tell us about your piece Tangódromo. What is the “seed” for this piece, and what were the circumstances in which you wrote it?
JP: It is originally a suite for string quartet and bandoneon. I write it between 2012 and 2013 inspired by some of my favorites composers such as Piazzolla, Shostakovich and Stravinsky with the need of expanding the bandoneon repertoire. The world premiere was in NYC with the Attacca Quartet, latter on I made the oficial recording with the Catalyst Quartet on an album entitled Bandoneon y Cuerdas.

CB: You’ve been a wonderful champion of composers from Argentina. Can you name a few composers from Argentina that you’ve worked with, and tell us what was special about working with each of them?
JP: I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful Argentine composers such as Ortiz, Viñao, and Otero and Bruno Cavallaro. With Fernando Otero I made around 200 performances between 2010 and 2015. I learned so much playing his music and going on tour with him that I feel he was one of my main teachers without taking lessons with him.
With Ezequiel Viñao also was a wonderful experience, performing and recording his suite Sonetos de Amor, a very complex, yet gorgeous song cycle for mezzo and chamber ensemble. Collaborating with a living composer is one of the most amazing experiences.

CB: What was your path into music when you were growing up, what (or who) got you started?
JP: Unconsciously I started composing music since very little maybe around 4-5 years old. It was like playing games, for example, I would create a song to sing to my grandma so I would make her laugh. Later on, when I was 15 years old I started more seriously composing on the piano and guitar. First I was very much into rock and pop, I was playing drums on a heavy metal band, but as a teenager about 16-17 years old I fell in love with Dvorak, Leoncavallo (my mother used to play Pagliacci all the time and I loved it), and Albeniz too. Anyways, I have to say there was one composer who made me rethink everything and made me decide what I wanted for my life, that was Piazzolla.

CB: Tell us about the bandoneon. What makes this instrument so special?
JP: It’s basically a portable and expressive organ. I believe the sensitivity of the instrument and the range makes it very special.

CB: Have you ever danced the tango? One would imagine that specializing in this, you are probably a phenomenal dancer, but it’s that the case?
JP: I dance just a bit. It’s a beautiful dance.

CB: Well, it is thanks to wonderful players like you that this instrument and this genre live on, and the great tradition from the masters of the past is passed onto the next generations. Thank you for all that you do to preserve this great art, and for sharing it with us!
JP: Thank you and I can’t wait to play Ortiz’s bandoneon concerto. It’s a wonderful piece that’s deserves to be heard.

For a wonderful feature in the New York Times about Mr. Jofre, visit this link.

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