CSB: Could you share some about AOTA’s background? What initially drew you to performing and promoting the works of living composers?
AOTA: All of the Above began back in January of 2015 with a meeting at CCM— where we were all students at the time— to discuss the possibility of a series of concerts featuring Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. As many know, Pierrot Lunaire is an incredible masterwork for the core instrumentation of AOTA, and birthed a whole new genre of music for our ensemble, which is now known as the “pierrot ensemble.” Out of a sheer desire to play this seminal work, Nave organized performances at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Gorno Music Library at CCM and gathered a group of friends who were also interested in the repertoire. Because the piece is so demanding to put together (especially without a conductor), we rehearsed endlessly leading up to the performances, and in the process, we discovered that not only did we love this music, but we loved playing with each other. Additionally, I think we all felt a bit limited in school and desired to explore more repertoire in the new music genre. So when the Pierrot performances were done, we decided to keep playing together! We also added a percussionist, since so many works that we are interested in are written for “pierrot plus percussion,” an instrumentation Eighth Blackbird has popularized. It was kind a situation where we all serendipitously thought, “Wow, this music is super cool, this is a lot of fun, let’s keep doing this.” And more than just playing music that we all really enjoyed, we wanted to create our own opportunities, collaborate with living composers and friends, and play music where we felt we had an active decision in the creative process.
CSB: What has your experience been working on the pieces for this upcoming concert?
AOTA: Rehearsals for this concert have been incredibly demanding, but also a ton of fun. The pieces on the program are vastly different, so trying to capture each unique character has been a bit of a challenge. This diversity in style, however, has also made rehearsing really engaging and interesting. For instance, the piece by Tristan Coelho, read/write error, is super rhythmic with a ton of complex rhythms and time signatures as well as a plethora of extended techniques, while Laura Harrison’s piece, Focus, is very ethereal, still, and delicate in many places. So we have to call on every creative tool we own as individuals and as an ensemble to give full justice to each piece. I think this is the challenge for any musician, to create a work of art that aligns with what the composer intended that is also artistically fulfilling for the performer. We have to think a lot about the composers’ intentions as well as their satisfaction of our interpretation and performance. Ultimately, we want to breathe life into the music we have been given to create something moving and poignant and worthy.
CSB: What have been your favorite works as an ensemble?
AOTA: We’ve had the chance to play some pretty amazing music over the past few years. One of our favorite composers is Andy Akiho, a percussionist and composer based in Brooklyn, so we’ve performed and recorded two of his works— NO one To kNOW one and Erase, the latter which we have performed countless times at this point. We also really enjoy music inspired by the Bang on a Can style, so of course we love to play pieces by David Lang like cheating, lying, stealing and these broken wings. We’ve also done some Missy Mazzoli and Nico Muhly and plan on starting a new piece by Robert Honstein, a composer from the Sleeping Giant composers collective, in the spring. Additionally, We’ve been lucky enough to work very closely with Douglas Knehans, Professor of Composition at CCM, and Edward Smaldone of Queens College and have planned some really exiting performances and recordings of their music in the coming months (read below!). Something really fun that we also like to do are covers by Björk and Radiohead that were arranged for us by a good friend in Australia, acutally, named Alison Wright. And while we love playing music by our compositional heros, some of our favorite pieces have been a result from our collaborations with student composers and friends like David Clay Mettens, who we commissioned from the University of Chicago, as well as composers we met at CCM like Dan Harrison, Sullivan Boecker, Michael Lanci, and Mack Lamont. It is these projects with friends and colleagues that we have enjoyed most— workshopping and premiering new pieces is incredibly fulfilling for us as a group and something we hope to do more and more as our ensemble grows.
CSB: What other concerts can we look forward to hearing from AOTA this season?
AOTA: Actually, our next concert will be our debut at Carnegie Hall on December 18th! We are premiering two works by Douglas Knehans and Edward Smaldone as a part of the New York New Fusion Music Festival. We are beyond excited for this opportunity and will be spending the majority of our time until then preparing for this performance. However, In early February we will be presenting two concerts at the Cincinnati Art Museum in collaboration with the exhibit by Cincinnati artist, Ana England. In late February, we return to New York City to perform at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music for a concert hosted by the International Society of Contemporary Music; this concert will feature the works of Knehans and Smaldone, and while in NYC, we are recording the same music on our first album to be released on Ablaze records. Back in Cincinnati, we will be featured in a late:night concert hosted by Concert:Nova (date TBD) and later in the spring, we are partnering with the incredible Cincinnati group, Intermedio, for an installation project that you won’t want to miss. You can always check our website as well as our instagram and Facebook @alloftheaboveensemble for more updated information on upcoming events.