Derek Wang: Good evening. I'm Derek Wang. Tonight we have four works telling new stories through music, or maybe it's the same old stories, but told in new ways. Stay with us and find out. This is the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble live from the Aspen Music Festival coming up on the Young Artist Showcase.
This is the Young Artist Showcase. Now in our 46th year, thanks to the generous underwriting of The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation. Every summer, Aspen, Colorado becomes a resort town for adventurers in music, including contemporary music. All thanks to the Aspen Music Festival and School. 10 young composers come to Aspen's Schumann Center for Composition Studies and their pieces are given world premiere performances by the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. Tonight we'll hear 4 of the 10 new works, each one of which grew out of a weeks-long work shopping process back in August.
We'll get a glimpse at that unique synergy soon, but first, introducing the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, ACE. Its eight members have been chosen by audition for fellowships lasting three summers. On flute, Alexander Sasha Ishov. Clayton Luckadoo, clarinetist. Colin McCall, percussionist. The Pianist Liam Kaplan. Two violinists, Herdis Gudmundsdottir and Jacob Schafer. Violist Felix Fraser and Cellist Otavio Manzano Kavakama. And calling the plays for the ensemble tonight, Conductor Timothy Weiss. I sat down with Tim in Aspen and I asked Tim why this makeup of instruments.
Timothy Weiss: Well, I think the collection of instruments is quite special in that it gives you such a wide, a range of color with string quartet two winds, high and low, piano and percussion. I mean, just the-the amount that that group can provide from a, um, horizontal and vertical perspective. I mean, articulation and line, and color. It actually can sound quite symphonic, but it can also sound incredibly delicate and transparent. So it's very nimble, but it's also very gargantuan at the same time.
Derek Wang: Tim's also interested in those deeper human values that make any group creative effort possible.
Timothy Weiss: I think what makes the group so special and makes it so successful is that the players come with very, very open ears, but a broad range of experience with contemporary techniques and they come to it with a spirit of experimentation and willingness to try anything. Because ultimately, even though it's new, it's the same as old music. You can't just play it correctly and have that be a good result. It does require nuance, and interpretation, and personality.
Derek Wang: Those are traits that ACE has got in spades, so to speak. I asked violinist Jacob Schafer about that.
Jacob Schafer: Yeah, I mean, well, that's like part of what it means to play. Like whatever you play, it's important and maybe it plays a different role. Maybe it's melody, maybe it's accompaniment or maybe it's an accompaniment becoming melody, like in Udi's piece actually
Derek Wang: Jacob means the composer, Udi Perlman, whose piece we're about to hear, and Accompaniment, that's the piece's title.
Jacob Schafer: There's this figure, this accompanimental figure that he heard growing up, but we all know it from like polkas and all kinds of dance and music, umnjak, umnjak, umnjak, umnjak, kind of like that. And so what he does is he takes that figure, that idea, and he just repeats it over and over and he varies it and keeps doing different things with it, and eventually it becomes a whole piece.
Derek Wang: So let's hear it Accompaniment by Udi Perlman live from the Aspen Music Festival. Here's the world premiere performance.
[MUSIC - Udi Perlman: Accompaniment]
Derek Wang: A brand new work written for the Aspen Music Festival this past summer by Udi Perlman, composer born in Tel Aviv in 1990. His piece is titled Accompaniment. And I'm sure you could hear just how much the ensemble got into that idea. Here's cellist Otavio Manzano Kavakama.
Otavio Manzano Kavakama: The base, you know, or the cello. Um, but my role is basically playing-playing a baseline until like it develops into like a more, um, you know, full and-and-and, you know, like rich texture. And then within that texture, I also become, um, something else than-than-than being, you know, like the baseline. I'm just-just playing some like boom, boom, doon, doon, doon, doon, pa, doon, doon, doon, pa, pa, doon, doon, doon, pi, doon, doon. And then this duality going on, and well, of trying to play this sort of like, you know, moving baseline. Yeah.
Derek Wang: So that's what Tim meant by describing this group as nimble on a gargantuan scale. And the next piece really exploits those possibilities. It's by Leigha Amick, The River's Course. The river in question is the Colorado, and you'll really hear it. Colin McCall will tell you what I mean. He's ACE's percussionist.
Colin McCall: Literally, the world was-- My instrument in this piece, we use rocks to create sounds. Um, so every rehearsal, Leigha would sort of come in with a different rock or set of rocks or a new container to put them in. And it's like, okay, the plastic bin doesn't really sound right, so let's get like a little tiny bowl. Okay, that doesn't really work. It sounds like a wooden bowl. We want to hear rocks. So we ended up putting, like, a towel in a little metal bowl and filled it with rocks. And then I just sort of like rustle them around, which I think you can hear, like, it's the, you know, beginning of the piece. You hear me hitting rocks together and rubbing rocks in a pile. So it's kind of a fun texture.
Derek Wang: So you'll hear the real rocks. And then filling out the landscape, all these unusual sounds from the strings and winds. Here's flutist, Sasha Ishov.
Sasha Ishov: When we were introduced to the concept behind Leah's piece, um, about the, uh, Colorado River flowing and going from a small stream to a big, big, huge, huge river, at the beginning, uh, in one of the earlier drafts, I was really attracted to some of the sounds, the, uh, percussionist I was doing, Colin was doing with, um, uh, striking stones, and what-what the string players were doing. These very dry, um, wispy type-type sounds, um, different various sounds they were making with the bowl.
And at that point, um, Leigha hadn't added anything for the flute in that opening section. And I had an idea of a texture I wanted to contribute to the piece that I thought would fit her vision of-of what she was going for. And I really appreciated how, when I brought this idea and presented it as a palette of sounds, they were then sculpted, crafted, and built into the texture of the piece. And that was one of the-- an example of-of when working with composers directly one-on-one, during the conception of a piece, is very fulfilling because you can directly contribute to a piece's growth.
Derek Wang: So let's hear the fruit of that collaboration. This is The River's Course by Leigha Amick, with once again the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble conducted by Tim Weiss.
[MUSIC - Leigha Amick: The River’s Course]
Derek Wang: That was the premiere performance of The River's Course by Leigha Amick. It's a musical response to the Colorado River as she writes, and as I'm sure you heard at the end, all of its water is used up. But we're up near the river's source tonight, nestled in the Rockies at the Aspen Music Festival, where this past summer, 10 young composers workshopped their premiere pieces with the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. Leading this creative support system was one of the essential composers of our time, also, composer in residence at Aspen, Christopher Theofanidis. He took me behind the scenes. Here's Chris.
Christopher Theofanidis: I mean, one of the neat things about that process is to be able to encourage somebody to take the long view. Like you can keep editing this until believe in yourself that you can actually get this the way you want it. You know, it's one of the things that-- um, is one of the psychological hurdles of a composer is just to-to say, "No, you know what? I can keep editing this and kind of sculpting it until I get it the way I really want it." And it is not a process that happens in a week or two. I mean, often it happens-- I mean, we're lucky that it happens in a two-month period, even, you know, for these pieces. Um, but I think, you know, that's-- I-I think the personal triumph in that is to see them at the end of that process, really happy with the way it all turned out and kind of amazed actually.
Derek Wang: So it's interesting to learn talking to Chris that the composers of the first two pieces, Udi and Leigha, were actually tweaking their structure all throughout the workshopping process.
Christopher Theofanidis: Leigha's piece is a neat example of something that, um, opened up quite a bit again in terms of form. You know, what she did was she decided that the places that were more kind of serene, she needed to really open up into. And that changed the whole shape and kind of feel of the piece. It's a really amazingly gentle introduction into the concert. And then Udi's piece as a, you know, the idea of making accompaniment interesting became better sense of play. And I think, you know, empowering that sense of play in what he was doing and letting him go into silly places and other kinds of things that he-he discovered, um, through kind of how-- let's see how this-this object, this Alberti bass figure stretches, you know?
And, uh, and so, you know, partially, I think in some ways the role of a composition teacher is to-- it's like a psych-psychologist. You know, you're-you're encouraging people that impulse that they have to really go far with it until they find the natural boundary of it in themself.
Derek Wang: So that's the spirit of this whole endeavor, and it's an idea that Chris lives by. He literally has a motto by Rumi tacked onto his studio door, "Half-heartedness doesn't reach into majesty." We'll be back with the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble and with two more world premieres after this short break.
And we're back. This is the Young Artists Showcase on WQXR. I'm Derek Wang. We're gonna plunge back in with two pieces that I can guarantee you've never heard before unless you are at their world premiere this past summer at the Aspen Music Festival. The next piece we'll hear is loaded with moments that might make for subtle epiphanies. It's called, I'm trying to see across by Angela Ortiz. Angela's piece is all about changing perspectives, including in this one moment that Felix Fraser will talk us through. He's ACE's violist.
Felix Fraser: There's also a big viola moment in Angela's piece, which was interesting because the p-- this-- the piece changed so much over the course of the summer. Generally, the piece is in like a pretty fast five, um, a really fast five, difficult. Um, but then there's like a-a middle section that she added in two weeks ago or so, which was really nice. It's sort of like a respite from the whole, like, fast-flowing music. Um, it's in mostly like a slow five, I believe, sometimes like a three. Uh, like it starts off with just the viola and like a-a nice melodic line and joined by the flute, and joined by the violin, sort of like a cannon and it gives you like just a little bit of a pause in the middle of the music. And then you go back to the five-eight fast-flowing stuff. I didn't realize how much the piece needed it until she added it in, but it really helped like the overall architecture of it.
Derek Wang: It's an architecture that gradually reveals itself over the course of the piece with a few Easter eggs strewn along the way. Here's pianist Liam Kaplan.
Liam Kaplan: Yeah, so Angela writes in her score like that toy monkey that plays the symbols, and I'm kinda going papa, papa, papa, papa, papa, papa, really aggressive, percussive. And I really love those kinds of things written in the score because it's not meant to be beautiful necessarily. It's meant to be extreme, and that's kind of a permission slip to just go crazy with it.
Derek Wang: So here is, I'm trying to see across, a world-premiere work by Angela Ortiz, the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble performs conducted by Timothy Weiss.
[MUSIC - Angela Ortiz: I'm trying to see across]
Derek Wang: Live from the Aspen Music Festival. That was the world premiere performance of I'm trying to see across by Angela Ortiz. We've got one premiere left on the show tonight. It's by Matīss Čudars, a Brooklyn-based composer originally from Latvia. There's a sheer physicality to Matīss piece. It really tests the player's endurance. I asked ACE's clarinetist, Clayton Luckadoo, about how he negotiates those demands.
Clayton Luckadoo: I had the difficult decision to make of, to double tongue or not to double tongue. Is that, that tempo where it's just in between comfortable in either. [chuckles] It-- To go-- To double tongue on clarinet is not necessarily as easy as it is on other instruments because of the amount of air and pressure that the clarinet has. And also just the registers make it weird how they have to-- the voicing can change so easily.
And to double tongue, you'd have to go daga, daga or taka, taka. Not to double tongue it's tatata or tadada. At full speed, it was roughly diga, diga, digadigadigadiga, diga. Versus, tadada, tadada, tada, tadada, tada, tada. All with the front of the tongue. And that was quite a challenge in this piece. It was-- It kept going and going, and the articulation doesn't stop. It works in the end. It came together and the tempo was just comfortable enough, but we definitely had to push ourselves.
Derek Wang: That's actually the piece's title, Push. Matīss was a bit coy about why it had to be called that. And it actually wasn't until the concert when all the players were lined up on stage that he revealed the personal story behind that title. Here's Violinist Herdis Gudmundsdottir.
Herdis Gudmundsdottir: We were kind of confused at-at first 'cause he said, "Oh, you know, just push, you know, like push through." And then we didn't know how-- what he was-- He meant by like pushing through. And then in the performance, he said he-he had, uh, lost his mother a few years ago and-and he joined some kind of cult, like, a few year-- like a year or two after that. And, like, with this, like, himself, like, finding himself and then moving to America, he's had to push through some, like, hard stuff. And you could really hear it in the piece.
Derek Wang: This is Matīss Čudars, Push, with the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble conducted by Tim Weiss.
[MUSIC - Matīss Čudars: Push]
Derek Wang: The Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, conducted by Tim Weiss, premiering Push by a Latvia-born composer Matīss Čudars. Thanks for joining us dear listeners, on this edition of the Young Artists Showcase. For over 45 years, we've been underwritten by The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation. We're truly grateful. Here's Terry McGraw with more.
Terry McGraw: Good evening, everyone. It's great to be with you and it's always great being with the Young Artists Showcase, and to hear these really wonderful and inspiring musicians as they continue to share their incredible gifts with us every week. I can't wait to hear the fabulous talent coming up on the showcase and I am so pleased to be able to support the series all through its well over four decades on WQXR and there's so much more to come.
Derek Wang: Thank you, Terry. My thanks to our program producers here on WQXR, Laura Boyman and Max Fine. As always, thanks to our generous program underwriter, the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation. Once again, this is Derek Wang, it's been a pleasure to be with you tonight.
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