Interview with Composer Salina Fisher

Salina Fisher.jpg

Salina Fisher is a New Zealand composer and violinist currently based in New York. Her work explores the musical traditions of Japan and New Zealand, with experiments in timbre and colour. She studied composition and violin performance at the New Zealand School of Music, and completed a Postgraduate Diploma (Distinction) in 2014 with supervisors John Psathas and Michael Norris. She is currently studying at Manhattan School of Music, New York (Master of Music in Composition) with composer/performer Susan Botti.

Catch Neil Beckmann performing her new work red grid mark phenomenon (2018) for solo electric guitar on our next Solo Soundbox concert, November 18 at 7 PM at the 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati. 

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer? What are you interested in exploring in your music?

SF: I’ve been fascinated by sound as long as I can remember. I try not to place any limits on what might inspire me to respond musically; I love learning and growing through the fresh set of challenges that each new piece presents. I’m particularly drawn to unusual timbres, which is certainly something I had fun exploring in this piece for electric guitar & pedals, thimbles, metal slide, and e-bow!

CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, red grid mark phenomenon?

SF: During our first meeting, Neil happened to mention that he had recently found a perfectly grid-like red mark on his back, which disappeared after a few days. He couldn’t think of anything that could have caused it, and a quick google search showed that enough people had experienced this for it to have a name: “red grid mark phenomenon”. With no medical explanation for the phenomenon, countless online threads can be found discussing its likeliest cause: aliens. I became intrigued with the ways in which people have hypothesized about the ‘unknown’ or ‘alien’, especially at a time when I was writing for an instrument that was fairly ‘alien’ to me. Interestingly, just as I was finishing writing the piece, Neil’s red grid mark came back!

CSB: Who are other artists and composers whose work inspires and interests you?  Are there specific works you could point our readers to?

SF: Recently I had the privilege of attending the world premiere performance of Ashley Fure’s piece ‘filament’ with the New York Philharmonic. This was a completely mind-blowing sonic experience, especially in the way that it made use of the space! Other composers I’m particularly excited about at the moment would include Liza Lim, Tonia Ko, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and Camila Agosto.

CSB: What other new projects are on your radar?

SF: I’m currently working on an orchestral piece for the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra, where I’m currently studying. After that, I’ll be writing a piece for cello and piano to be performed by Matthew Barley and Stephen de Pledge next year. 



Interview with Guitarist Neil Beckmann

Neil BeckmannNeil Beckmann is a classical guitarist dedicated to giving compelling performances of music both well established and unjustly ignored, and expanding the guitar’s repertoire in both solo and chamber settings through collaborating with composers and other artists to create experiences that reflect today’s world. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he currently lives and works in New York City as a freelancer: commissioning new works for guitar, teaching, and performing in solo and chamber settings.

Hear Neil perform new and recent works by Tyler Eschendal, Daniel Harrison, Eve Beglarian, Salina Fisher, James Diaz, and Carolyn Chen at the Solo Soundbox concert on November 18 at 7 pm at the 21c Museum Hotel.

CSB: What initially drew you to new music and collaborations with composers, and when did this interest start?
NB: Among becoming mildly obsessed by Benjamin Britten’s only solo guitar piece and some exposure to other new guitar music, what drew me most into new music were my last two years of undergrad. I lived with two composers: Tyler Eschendal, who wrote a work on this program, and Sullivan Boecker, who is now again my roommate in New York. Living with them opened me up to so much music I had never heard and gave me a sounding board to ask them about music I didn’t understand. One piece that left a deep impact on me was Caroline Shaw’s Partita, which showed me that new music didn’t have to be abstract and dissonant and wildly experimental, and could also move me in a visceral way. This quickly opened me up to also being moved by more abstract, dissonant and wildly experimental music. I then started working with composers much more actively once I moved to New York. I was lucky enough to find a community at school of composers and performers who focused exclusively on playing new music. Playing guitar, it’s almost a necessity to work closely with composers, since often they’re mildly terrified of writing guitar. I’m more than happy to try to assuage their fears, since this close interaction with fellow musicians has been my favorite part of playing so much new music these last few years.
CSB: How do you personally approach learning a newly composed piece?
NB: Usually by asking lots and lots of questions. Depending on if the composer lives by me or not, I’ll meet, Skype or message them after I get the score and bombard them with all the preliminary questions I have. (This leaves out meeting with them before the piece gets written. In the case of Salina Fisher’s piece, we met for about 15 hours cumulatively before she wrote a note so she could learn about the possibilities of the electric guitar.) Once I get the score, the process isn’t too dissimilar from learning any other piece of repertoire. I go through and start to get an idea of fingerings, the shape of the piece, whether things need editing to be playable etc., and I’ll send another round of questions. I’ll also make an early recording to send to the composer for their thoughts if I can. Once the piece gets close to performance ready, I start playing it for friends as much as possible. I think more than most people, the first few times I perform any music I will inevitably do a very bad job, so I’ve learned that I need to get some nerves out by playing for friends (which for me can often be more nerve wracking than playing for strangers). After all this, I’ll probably have more questions, so I’m very thankful that all the composers on this program have been so helpful with all my (often late night) questions!
CSB: Who are some living composers and other new music interpreters who inspire and challenge you? 
NB: George Crumb is one of my eternal new music loves. George Lewis, Reiko Füting, Paula Matthusen, Scott Wollschleger, Tyshawn Sorey, Du Yun, Wang Lu and Suzanne Farrin are all composers working in New York I’ve been into recently. Josh Modney recently released an incredible album of violin music written for him. Guitarists in various genres: James Moore does incredible work with a lot of experimental music; Mary Halvorson is a phenomenal jazz guitarist and bandleader; Dan Lippel and Oren Fader both do incredible work here in New York. And it sounds cliche, but my friends here also all do such incredible, adventurous, and compelling work that I’m constantly inspired by. More than any famous composers or performers, they’re the ones who keep me inspired and wanting to keep bringing new work to life.
CSB: What projects and concerts are on your horizon for this season and beyond?
NB: I’ll be playing James Diaz’ piece in Philadelphia in December. In January, I’m giving a concert in New York with the ever-inspiring Amber Evans, featuring Australian composers/performers and various guitar and voice rep. I’ll also be back in Cincinnati to play for the Cincinnati Classical Guitar Society on March 30. Looking into the future, I’m really interested in helping develop more new music for the electric guitar, and to keep playing music with friends.


Movers & Makers Features CSB

Our upcoming concert at the Mercantile Library was featured in this week’s What to Do/Hear/See:

“Amazingly now in its fourth season, Soundbox specializes in new music, created and performed by (to a large degree) local composers and musicians. A glance at e513’s instrumentation here will tell you that this is not your grandpa’s chamber music. Nor need it be. All the music here was written between 2015 and the present. Let’s hope the dusty annals of The Merc are prepared. Open your ears and take in something new. We dare you. 😉”

Full article here.

Cincinnati Business Courier Features Salon21 and CSB Collaboration

The Cincinnati Business Courrier featured our upcoming Parallels collaboration with Salon21 in their recent interview with Salon21 Artistic Director Jill Jantzen:

“In February, Jantzen, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, will perform five brand-new quintets for piano and strings with Cincinnati’s 4-Way String Quartet, partnering with composers from Cincinnati Soundbox.

Jantzen has no idea how it will sound, since the music is being written as we speak.

It’s that element of the unpredictable that audiences find exciting, she says.”

Read more here.

Interview with Composer Rodrigo Navarro

Rodrigo Navarro color

Born in Salta, Argentina in 1988, Rodrigo Navarro studied composition at the Universidad Católica de Salta, finishing the degree in 2013. There, he studied with Claudio Bazan, Marcos Franciosi, and Diego Vázquez. He also participated in an exchange program in the University of Georgia (USA). He attended several festivals and workshops where he took lessons with composers including Isabel Mundry, Toshio Hosokawa, Luca Belcastro, and Marcelo Toledo. Since October 2016, he has been a researcher and a Master’s degree student at the Tokyo University of the Arts in Japan, under the guidance of Ichiro Nodaira, where he is researching about the lyricism in the music of Toru Takemitsu.

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

RN: As a contemporary music composer, I have always been mostly interested in the kind of music which, while being contemporary could at the same time be identified as “lyrical” (lyrical being understood as being capable of evoking emotions) and thus I’d say the style of my music is always in search of a kind of expression living within those two worlds.

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

RN: The idea that led me to use this title for this piece is the “hollow moon” theory that has been around for quite a few years. Depending on the writer and the time, this theory has taken different names and shapes, and I found the idea of it quite fascinating.

The fact that we are starting to live in the space age, and even when most mysteries have been resolved we can still look at our old neighbor and wonder and fantasize about it, just like humanity has since its beginning, makes me think that despite how far we go as human beings, we are still going to be able to be amazed by the beauty of the world.

The four first movements of the piece describe different moments or views of the Moon and its surroundings. And the fifth movement “From Afar” refers to different perspectives of the Moon, both from Earth (humans), represented through some musical quotations, as well as a fantasized perspective from a different world.

CSB: Have the different areas of the world you’ve lived in affected your music? If so, how?

RN: I definitely think that each place where I have lived or spent time has affected my music, although I would say that maybe not in a direct musical way, since in our present age, with the use of the internet we can access any kind of music from anywhere in the world. Rather location has influenced my music in an intangible way on the hows and whys of the musical creation or just the reason for music being what it is.

In this way I would say that mainly Japan has been a big influence on my music and on the way I think of music and perceive it, especially on the way in which time flows and on the possibility of appreciating a single sound as a whole.

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

RN: At the moment I am composing a piece for solo tenor saxophone to be performed on a saxophone workshop on November at The Tokyo University of the Arts. Also towards the end of this year a small piece for string quartet will be performed in Argentina. Other than that I am focusing on composing a chamber piece for Pierrot quintet, as well as an orchestral piece for the requirements to complete the master’s degree.



Interview with Composer Steven Weimer


Steven Weimer
’s music has been performed by the JACK Quartet, Molly Barth, Fear No Music Quartet, Murray State University Wind Ensemble, Café Momus, and many others. Performances of his work span from Alaska to Bulgaria, with performances at June in Buffalo, Forum-Festival computer Music Space, North American Saxophone Alliance,Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, and various new music festivals. Recent awards includethe Music Now competition of Indiana State University, Eta Omicron chapter’s Phi Mu Alpha Composition Contest, and the CCM Concerto/Composition Competition. Dr. Weimer is currently Assistant Professor of Music at Murray State University in Kentucky.

Join us for the premiere of his piece Frame Data as performed by e513 at the Mercantile Library on October 12.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your work as a composer? What are you interested in exploring in your music? 

SW: As a composer I am interested in harmony and color in my music. Most of my pieces explore ways to divide the 12-note aggregate into smaller groups and utilize different combinations of these groups. I use these divisions to create structure in the harmony and form, while many other elements are left up to intuition. I tend to gravitate towards harmonic collections that have elements of symmetry, but I am also attracted to triadic chords. My aim is to reconcile the structured and mathematical part of my musical mind with the section that loves the tonal language of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms.

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

SW: The background of Frame Data is actually a bit of a departure from my usual approach. For one, the ensemble was a new venture, and I felt that the balance and timbral challenges presented by the quartet needed a different approach. Secondly, I have always wanted to write a piece about my interest in video games and heavy metal. It took until I was in my mid-30s to finally acknowledge these influences, which have been a part of my musical upbringing since the beginning. Writing such a piece demanded a different approach than what I had used in the past.

In writing Frame Data, I wanted to pay respect to the “Street Fighter” series, which are video games where players fight in a two-dimensional side-by-side setting. In these games, every move a player may input to the game has specific frame data that dictates the speed and shape of the move. This frame data is a large chart that lists the ‘frames’ for each move, which is like frames in animation, with the game operating at 60 frames per second. A good player will know and study this frame data for their character to determine which moves are quicker, which moves are safer, which moves are more risky, etc. This element, in combination with the game’s combo mechanics means that a good player must study and practice in order to be skilled at the game. Furthermore, facing a human opponent as your in-game foe requires reaction and improvisation abilities.

All said, the experience of playing the game is quite similar to developing a musical skill. It requires practice and discipline, as well as an understanding of structure (the data) and intuition (reacting to your opponent during the match itself). My work, Frame Data, was initially inspired by precise rhythmic timing, which is the main element in utilizing frame data in a fighting game. This spawned the first section of the piece, which also develops a repeated chord progression. After this idea develops, the piece changes suddenly to incorporate the intuitive side, which features a guitar solo and is reminiscent of the music in Street Fighter games. The final section returns to the original progression, now with blast beats and distortion. The overall structure is loosely ternary.

CSB: How have you seen the environment for new music in Cincinnati change? What are some similarities or differences in your current location?

SW: Cincinnati has always been a great location for new music. What has changed over the years, in my experience, is who is organizing and cultivating new music. Although I have been away from Cincinnati since 2014, the scene seems to be vibrant and youthful, which is wonderful. It is encouraging to see so many events and organizations that are independent and thriving.

I currently live in western Kentucky, where the scene is more scarce due to fewer resources. However, we are still able to have performances throughout the state that feature music by composers who live in Kentucky. Additionally, some recent CCM graduates now reside in nearby Nashville and Memphis, so I am very optimistic of future collaborations. I hope to start a new music ensemble of my own in Nashville some day.

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

SW: My future projects include a new tuba piece, a four-movement choir piece, and a setting of the Latin Credo for vocal soloists and large chamber ensemble. The tuba work has been submitted for performance at a national tuba conference, and the choir works are being composed for the students of Murray State University, which is where I teach. The Credo is a passion project that I have wanted to finish for a few years and will hopefully be completed down the road.