Friends in High Places

Music That's Aware of Its Surroundings

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Monday, July 11, 2011

My friends, it’s been so long! I’ve missed you all! I’ve been mostly in London and Reykjavik since we last talked, the former city to see Nico Muhly’s opera Two Boys (so good) and the latter to record viola things and schvitz. Along the way I played some great little shows, and one of the highlights of my trip was a recital with organist Jamie McVinnie and Nico Muhly at Westminster Abbey.

Now, it’s sort of hard to communicate exactly how this went down in physical space, but you can see me perched atop the organ loft in the photo at left. The Abbey is cruciform and the nave is insanely tall and the organ loft where I am at is sort of midway down. Here, I’ll draw you a picture:

So right, there are several challenges playing in a space like this, but most notably: how does one balance a viola (playing from one specific locale, at a relatively low volume) with an organ (which comes from really every direction at once and can completely fill the 320,000 cubic feet of the place?). The answer, actually, is just play loud and long and slow, but it can take some trial and error to get there.

All of this has me thinking about music’s interaction with space. Some music feels quite at home in one location and completely out-of-place in another. There’s music that’s been written for a specific place, music for specific events, music meant for headphones and music meant for car stereos.

This week, I’ll celebrate my first summer week back at the radio with music that’s aware of its surroundings. Can you think of any locale-evoking or site-specific works? Chime in with your favorites in the comments section below and I'll do my best to share them on Friday's show!

Hosted by:

Nadia Sirota

Comments [7]

Hey, Nadia, by any chance was there a recording made of the Naumburg Concerts premiere of Lisa Bielawa's "Tempelhof Etude"? It's the one for the Berlin airport -- so site-specific you could land a 767 on it. They're doing it full-out there next year with about 600 people. I think we're all in it, bring the viola. And LIsa was chatting about it on New Music Canonball while you were Europing. The performance at the Naumburg Shell was on her chat day, 20 June, w/ Eric Jacobsen (good Danish spelling). Wouldn't it be awesome for this week's theme?

So glad you're back.

Jul. 12 2011 05:50 PM
Alistair Reid from Coventry Cathedral UK

Neely Bruce's 'Portals' (2008) was written for St. Bartholomew's, NYC and is a good recent example of a site-specific work. The piece is based on scriptural references throughout the church and relies on the church's layout of galleries and lofts.

Jul. 11 2011 12:50 PM

Welcome back, Nadia! (And btw, Olivia did a grand job of grinding the Q2 organ while you were out.) I really enjoyed "Two Boys," too, as well as the critical cross-currents that followed. Sorry I didn't get to hear you in your airy Westminster perch while I was in London. Glad you're back with us -

Jul. 11 2011 12:20 PM

Nadia, what a fabulous experience to attend "Two Boys", and to play in Westminster Abbey!
And welcome back...

Jul. 11 2011 11:42 AM
matthew maclellan from vancouver, bc

definitely not 'new music' but I believe Dufay's 'Nuper rosarum flores' is worked out to the proportions of the florence cathedral.

Jul. 11 2011 05:38 AM
Vance Maverick

Rothko Chapel is a good choice -- but is there any recording that was made in the Rothko Chapel? Not the UC Berkeley recording you're playing, I'm pretty sure.

Jul. 11 2011 01:20 AM
Vance Maverick

Fort Worden Cistern?

Jul. 11 2011 12:05 AM

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