Interview with Phillip Golub, Composer

Composer and Jazz pianist Phillip Golub writes playful music taking into account elements of real-time decision-making, melody, and improvisation. He is based between New York City and Boston. Catch the premiere of his latest work, Twenty-Five Short Piano Pieces, Part One, on our upcoming Solo Soundbox concert featuring pianist Kara Huber.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your musical activities?

PG: Well, they are varied! I am a pianist and improviser, and I play in a number of different kinds of groups. I do things that one might sometimes call “free improvisation” or “experimental jazz” or “avant-garde jazz”, and other things that you might just call “jazz” without qualification, but I don’t usually think of there being such a divide. I really just play with my friends and usually the contexts in which we have met go on to inform what music we make. I am writing for those contexts but also writing for contexts such as this concert, where there is more of a clear distinction between composer and performer and I am more solely responsible for the vision of the piece, which is to be realized by a performer other than myself. This, from my perspective, is what constitutes the main difference between the historically African-American and historically Euro-American modes of music making that I am a part of.

CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert. What was the compositional process for it like?

PG: It is a set of seven short piano pieces. Each is repetitive and much of material and ideas are shared between them. They are meant to take the listener on a surprising yet coherent journey, with each movement still being able to stand on its own as well. They are conceived in a sort of song form; there is a kind of AABABA like structure (or similar) in some of them, until that begins to break down. They began as exercises in a certain kind of harmonic thinking pioneered/theorized by jazz composer/theorist George Russell called the Lydian Chromatic Concept. I wrote the seven pieces over the course of an entire year, first three, then another, then two more, then the last one (which is a mashup of the first six). It is quite a loose application of the “concept”, but the pieces could not exist without it. The pieces also all concern themselves multiple simultaneous lines and with an extreme variety of long and short notes. They are not in the slightest easy to play and I want to thank Kara for taking on the challenge!

CSB: How do you feel your background in jazz influences your compositional thinking?

PG: It’s a question I will be answering all my life both for other people and myself, but, frankly, I don’t have the clearest answer. I know things about music, about the world, about how people can listen, and so on, from my experiences with jazz that I cannot unlearn and that are an essential part of who I am as a listener and artist. My pieces often have some kind of improvisation, or at least on the spot musical decision making built into them, but not all of them do—these seven pieces don’t really feature that sort of thing. Ultimately, I think the best answer I can give, is that I know about a range of things that are musically possible that a lack of experience in jazz would make someone unaware of. It is an awareness of those things that may influence my compositional thinking.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?

PG: I’m writing a trio for flute/alto flute, violin/viola, and bassoon. It will explore clearly differentiated kinds of music which will also be separated in space; i.e. the performers will travel around the space to different “stations” to play the varying types of music. It will be an experiment in musical simultaneity, and something quite new for me. But it is also a listening challenge to the players, because there is a complex set of rules that govern when they can go where according to what other people are playing. They have to make many, many real-time choices and they also are asked to improvise in small spurts all over the score.

Interview with Composer Żaneta Rydzewska (Parallels)

Żaneta Rydzewska is a Polish composer now living in Köln and Warsaw. Her ornate, dramatic works have been performed across Europe, taking into account listener perception through the melding of sound, light, and scent. We are excited to present the world premiere of her Piano Quintet as part of Parallels.

Parallels takes place tonight at 7 PM at the Aranoff Center’s Weston Art Gallery in collaboration with Salon 21, pianist Jill Jantzen, and the 4-Way String Quartet.

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

ŻR: I am interested in instrumental new music as well as electronic music; in the last two years, I have used lot of electronics in my pieces. I really love writing chamber music and orchestral music and am also working on music for theatre.

Last week, I was working with Ensemble Musikfabrik on my piece sit back and relax for piano, double bass, percussion, live electronics and light. Now, I am looking forward to this concert in Cincinnati with the amazing musicians playing my Piano Quintet.

CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert.

ŻR: Piano Quintet is very important for me. I wrote the piece with my mind full of memories of my composition professor, who died a few months ago. My work on the musical material during the formation of the quintet was previously determined and strictly mathematical. In the piece, I also employ a harmonic technique which I call “central tones”. For example, I often use f sharp as a central tone, and then add other pitches which are close to it: for example, f quarter tones, f natural.

CSB: What are you hoping audiences will experience during the piece?

ŻR: In Piano Quintet, I tried to present my vision of emptiness. In last part of the piece, I think it should be audible. I tried to show both a helplessness and a process of accepting reality.

CSB: You are splitting your time between Poland and Germany at the moment. How would you compare the scenes for contemporary music in those two places?

ŻR: I think that it is a hard task to compare these both scenes. It is always changing. But in Poland, I can observe a clear division between contemporary music centers: the traditional and the experimental.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?

ŻR: At the moment I am writing a piece for my graduate studies in Cologne for Ensemble Musikfabrik and a piece for large orchestra for my graduate studies in Warsaw.

Interview with Composer Aleksandra Chmielewska (Parallels)

Aleksandra Chmielewska is a Polish composer based in Warsaw whose intricate, melodic works have been performed worldwide. We are delighted to feature her as one of the composers on ParallelsPianist Jill Jantzen and the 4-Way String Quartet will premiere her latest piece, Postcards from Warsaw, tomorrow night at the Weston Art Gallery.

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

AC: I graduated from the Fryderyk Chopin Music University in Warsaw, where I studied composition. Currently I am a Ph.D. candidate at the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice, working on my debut opera about Frida Kahlo’s life. In 2018 I was a composer-in-residence at Feliks Nowowiejski’s Music Salon in Poznań and now I am a chairwoman of The Young Circle of the Polish Composers’ Union. My compositions – choral, orchestral and chamber – have been performed in numerous countries in Europe as well as in the United States and released on CDs by such music publishings as DUX, CD Accord and Ars Sonora. I have collaborated with Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra, Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, Fryderyk Chopin Music University Symphony Orchestra, Unplugged Orchestra, Leopoldinum Orchestra, National Forum of Music Choir, Polish Chamber Choir, Vogler Quartett, E-MEX Ensemble, and many other ensembles. My compositions have been recognized at composition competitions of both Polish and international range, such as: Transatlantyk Instant Composition Contest, Musica Sacra Nova Composers Competition, Patri Patriae Composers Composition and many others.

CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert.

AC: Postcards from Warsaw is a composition for piano quintet, which, in general, refers to the phenomenon of human memory. Each of the three movements contains clichés – such as a tango-like part in the II movement or Dies Irae motif in the III movement. Working on this composition, I was absorbed by the idea of how our mind distorts what we have experienced. Playing with both well-known and not so well-known motifs, I tried to translate to the language of music the dissonance between what has truly happened and how we retell these things in our letters or old-fashioned postcards.

What does the imaginary author of my postcards write about? This question I leave open to the listener’s imagination…

CSB: What are you hoping audiences will experience during the piece?

AC: I always hope to deeply touch audiences’ emotions with my music. For me, music is the language of all languages, that lets us communicate on a far deeper level than we do in everyday life. Emotions that I convey in Postcards from Warsaw are connected with the piece’s relation to the past, so I expect to evoke rather blue-colored moods: sentiments, longing, grief or simply a sad reflection on how some things will never happen again.

CSB: How would you describe the musical scene in Warsaw, and in Poland in general?

AC: It is full of contrasts. On the one hand, we have a great, yet quite conservative, school of choral writing with excellent composers of all generations who often combine writing for choir with singing or conducting as well. On the other hand, we have interesting avant-garde composers keen on electronic and electro-acoustic music. They collaborate with visual artists to create really amazing large-scale multimedia projects. What upsets me is that the representatives of these two groups usually don’t treat composers with contrasting musical ideas entirely seriously.

We are unfortunately a very divided society, and not only in terms of music.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?

AC: First of all, we are going to repeat Cincinnati Soundbox and Salon 21’s Parallels program in Warsaw. I think it’s fantastic, not only because of the idea of building the transatlantic bridge for composers, but also because there are not so many female-composers’ concerts in our country. As a chairwoman of The Young Circle of the Polish Composers’ Union I’m slowly starting to think about young composers’ concerts during the upcoming Warsaw Autumn Festival. It’s a wonderful chance for many young artists to present their works at this renowned festival of contemporary music, but it requires a lot of preparation. However, the project that currently absorbs me the most is my upcoming opera about Frida Kahlo, which is my Ph.D. dissertation piece. I myself was surprised by how deep one must dig into the painter’s life and art not just to tell a story, but to draw out something unusual. It is a big challenge, but also a great adventure.

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.