Interview with Composer Sullivan Boecker

Sullivan Boecker is a composer who studied in Cincinnati and is now based in Cleveland. He writes detailed, daring works for a variety of ensembles. His latest piece, threading, will be premiered by violinist Jack Bogard on our April 5th Solo Soundbox concert in collaboration with Chase Public.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer?

SB: Most of my work up to this point has been a hodgepodge of different styles exploring many different concepts. More recently my work deals with themes of focus, deconstruction, and situational contingency. I’m very interested in what happens when a performer and audience is placed in a situation where the same material is flipped ever so slightly. Through processes of deconstruction or glacial modification the focus is jarred, forcing a refocus into a slightly different, if not totally unfamiliar, situation.

CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, threading?

SB: threading continues this exploration of focus, deconstruction, and situational contingency. These are ideas that I focus on in most of my work and am always discovering new limits for certain material. In threading the foundational material is a simple four-note motive. I take the actions of the performer and the music itself—their finger placement, finger pressure, rhythm, and general pitch area—and subject them to small changes that make for a completely different resultant sound.

CSB: What connections have you found between the new music scenes in Cincinnati and Cleveland?

SB: I’m not sure that I know the New Music scene in Cleveland deeply enough to make much of a comparison. From what I can tell it is pretty similar. Cleveland is a much bigger city than Cincinnati and therefore has many different venues for all types of music. From East side to West side two different venues can be a half hour away from each other. Other than size, Cleveland and Cincinnati are fairly similar from what I can tell, which really isn’t much.

CSB: What are some of the upcoming projects and performances on your radar?

SB: The Eschaton Ensemble at Vanderbilt is playing a new chamber orchestra piece of mine. I’m collaborating with Neil Beckman, a good friend and guitarist, on a new piece for solo classical guitar and am also working on revising a string quartet I wrote three years ago, also for friends. I’m working on getting a sound installation going in the apartment I’m living in as well as some other performances of pieces for voice/recitation using new visual poetry that I might also parlay into strictly “musical” performances with some friends. Looking ahead, there’s a lot going on. Always with friends. It’s great!


Interview with Composer Corrina Bonshek


Australian composer Corrina Bonshek writes contemplative, nuanced music inspired by her love of nature. We’re delighted to present the premiere of her work Up in the Clouds on next week’s concert with All of the Above.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about the background of your piece?

CB: Up in the Clouds is a reimagining of a solo Pipa piece I wrote in 2015 for Taiwanese Pipa virtuoso Chen Yu Rong. The idea for the work came after reading Robyn Davidson’s book Tracks, which is a memoir of her solo trek from Alice Springs to WA with four camels and a dog for company. She describes time as passing differently in the desert, moving in eddies and curlicues, with a spaciousness that hints at the eternal. This idea really sparked my imagination and began to think of curling waves of sound-color that were sometimes times forceful and at other times gentle and subtle. In my music, these waves gradually reveal a simple heartfelt melody that I think of as blossoming of a desert flower after rain. Up in the Clouds revisits these ideas in a new ensemble context with some new musical materials.

CSB: What challenges did you face in arranging your work from pipa to Pierrot ensemble?

CB: Pipa has a very specific tonal palate. When you strike or pluck a string, the sound dies away quite quickly. Perhaps that’s why Pipa has an immense range of techniques to sustain notes including lots of different types of tremolo, bends and slides. Often phrases are punctuated with silence so that you can fully digest the prior sound-color before a new technique is introduced.

Rather than trying to imitate the Pipa with western instruments, I decided to think about the essence of what attracted me to this instrument – the interplay of active gestural variety and silence or pauses and the variety of tone- colors. It was a treat rethink these ideas in relation to Pierrot ensemble as there so many wonderful tone-color combinations possibly with instrument pairing: for example cello and bass clarinet, vibes and piano, etc.

And so, I rethought my interplay of active gesture and silence as a interplay of faster filigree gestures and sustained notes that get passed around the ensemble to create waves of varying sound-colors. I’d quite like to revisit these ideas again for an even larger ensemble.

CSB: How does location impact your work?

CB: I am very influenced by the sounds where I live. My composing room or studio looks out onto a forest. Birds do sing just outside my window. In Australia, the birds are incredibly raucous and lively. That’s because a lot of the birds are nectar eaters. They get pretty vocal about their tree or patch of flowers. As different native plants are in flower almost all year round (its subtropical here), there is no shortage sound or inspiration.

In fact, I often find nature sounds creeping into my music. Up in the Clouds is no exception. The last section is my musical version of the neighbourhood dusk chorus. A choir of Currawongs and Butcher Birds who sing outside my window every evening as the sun goes down. It’s a joyous sound.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar this season?

CB: My creative focus at the moment is a big outdoor work I am creating for fifty-piece string orchestra and percussion. This project is a little different as it is conceived as an installation for a walking audience and will be premiered at a major festival in my hometown. I am busily writing away and drinking lots of tea to help me stay focused and meet my upcoming deadlines! There are a lot of notes in this piece, the show will span one hour and 30 minutes, so this project is going to keep me busy for the entire season.

Interview with Composer Turkar Gasimzada

Azerbaijani composer Turkar Gasimzada writes ornately detailed, intimate works that captivate the ear.  We’re delighted to feature his solo piano work vu’cumpra’ (2010), as performed by Kristofer Rucinski, on our Season One closing concert on May 5th at the Hoffner Lodge.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your compositional process?

TG: For me there is a very tiny little room between nothing and something and the beauty is kept in there. I search for a key to that room, I go for that charming moment of magic in music. Poems also do play a role in being a source of inspiration and motivation for my compositions. I tend not to leave the room as in this poem by Joseph Brodsky (English translation is below):

Don’t leave the room, don’t make the mistake and run.
If you smoke Shipkas, why do you need Suns?
Things are silly out there, especially the happy clucks.
Just go to the john, and come right back.

Oh, don’t leave the room, don’t ring for a car.
Because space consists of a corridor
And ends with a counter. And should a floozy slip in,
Flashing her teeth, make her scram without stripping.

Don’t leave the room, feign that you’ve caught a chill.
What could be more fun than four walls and a chair?
Why leave this place only to come back late in
The evening same as you were, moreover, mutilated?

Oh, don’t leave the room. Dance the bossa nova
In shoes but no socks, a coat over your naked bod.
The hallway reeks of ski wax and cabbage.
You wrote a lot of letters: one more would be too much.

Don’t leave the room. Oh, just let the room imagine
What you look like. And generally, incognito
Ergo sum, as form was told in anger by substance.
Don’t leave the room! Methinks out there it ain’t France.

Don’t be a fool! Don’t be like the others.
Don’t leave the room! I.e., let the furniture have its druthers,
Blend in with the wallpaper. Lock up and let the armoire
Keep chronos, cosmos, eros, race, and virus from getting in the door.

CSB: How does the performer you are writing influence the music you write?

TG: I am fond of writing music for the performer I know personally. It is kind of sharing a part of your personality with someone. I do think of a specific person when I write a certain piece. I would not be true to myself if I said I thought too much of one’s performance skills or had any kind of aesthetic expectations. I write the music I need to write, however, I do think of a person, his character that I know and try to listen to the stuff I have written pretending I have their ears.
CSB: What influence does location have on you? How did your years in Cincinnati influence your composition?

TG: I did my MM degree in Manhattan School of Music in New York before I came to Cincinnati for my doctorate. In New York the tempo was very fast; I felt that I needed to be in an ascetic place where I could give myself more time to compose, and Cincinnati was just the right place for that reason. Currently, I am in Baku, Azerbaijan but I do remember my times in Cincy, when I felt I would use to come back from the library very late, let’s say at 4 am, and watch how deer wandered around me.

I met a number of great performers and composers in Cincinnati and I am very thankful for this experience.

CSB: Who are some other local composers you admire? What would go on Cincinnati new music playlist?

One of the most influential composers in University of Cincinnati was and still is Mara Helmuth, with whom I studied with during my years in Cincinnati. I would like to specifically draw attention to her pieces Butterfly mirrors and Water birds.

Here is a playlist (in a random order) of Cincinnati composers I admire :

CSB: What new projects are on your radar?

I’m currently completing a project that took me two years to complete – “19 fragile constructions” for prepared santoor, percussion and electronics. I am also working on a piece for solo flute based on Samuel Beckett’s shortest work, “Breath”.


Interview with Composer Stephanie Ann Boyd

Composer Stephanie Ann Boyd writes lyrical music that is colorful and vibrant. As a recent graduate of New England Conservatory, she continues to have strong ties to the city of Boston.  Flautist Chia-Chen Feng and pianist Brianna Matzke will premiere her new work Imogen, which was written just for us, on our inaugural concert tomorrow night.

Imogen for flute and piano weaves together several made-up folk songs to tell the stories of three very different Innogen or Ingen, the Old Irish word for maiden. In this piece I return to my Gaelic heritage to find ways to help the piano and flute evoke the bagpipes, bodhrán, celtic harp, and penny whistle.

CSB: What specifically about these Gaelic folk sounds – sonically and conceptually – drew you to them? What are your personal experiences with these sounds and ideas?

SAB: I’ve been in love with the bagpipes forever. (I probably heard them for the first time at the annual Celtic heritage festival my parents took me to beginning when I was in kindergarten.) There’s something about having a drone hit me in the chest and reverberate through me that lends a joy I can’t find anywhere else. It made sense to go ahead and borrow from the catalog of Gaelic instruments at least as a jumping off point for this piece – there are places where the flute won’t sound like our classical flute, where the piano is more interested in its beat than its pitch, and of course drones abound.

CSB: What prompted you to explore them in this piece and with this instrumentation?

SAB: I really, really enjoy melodies as painted in time and timbre by the flute! I’ve never had an occasion to write for flute and piano before, so I wanted to work with both instruments to create this collection of songs almost; these melodies that would be as close to [being] sung as possible without the voice entering the instrumental equation. The nature of the melodies lent themselves to creating a lovely narrative incorporating inspiration from those other, more ancient instruments.