Interview with Composer Charles Peck

TF08161-for-web-680x1024.jpgComposer Charles Peck writes dynamic works with focused energy.  We can’t wait to hear pianist Holly Roadfeldt perform several of his piano works on our Solo Soundbox concert this Friday, now at the Hoffner Lodge in Northside.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about the pieces on this concert and your collaborations with Holly?

CP: The first piece on the concert, Metropolitan, I wrote back in 2011 – during my time in Cincinnati actually. I had been musing on a few of the cities that I had visited and felt compelled to document them somehow. There are five total movements, each with a contrasting, urban perspective. Holly came across this piece via twitter, believe it or not. After we somewhat randomly first connected there, I continually noticed her posts about performing new music and eventually decided to send her a recording of Metropolitan. Fortunately, she decided to program it and started a nice collaboration that we’ve had over the past several years.

The other piece on the program, Focus, is a new piece written specifically for Holly. Having heard her perform both my music and others many times, I wanted to write something new that would feel uniquely-suited to her musical spirit. She plays with rich character and a real sensitivity towards contrasting textures. Thus, Focus embodies those musical characteristics using the metaphor of light coming in and out of focus. It is full of layers and phrases that I knew she would interpret well.

CSB: How do you approach the solo piano medium?
CP: Piano is an interesting instrument to compose for because there is an overwhelming amount of repertoire, including tonal, atonal, retuned, prepared, and inside-the-piano works. This potential for contemporary composers is massive, to say the least. And yet, we keep coming back for more because of the expressive power of the instrument and it’s ubiquity in the music world. Personally, I am most attracted to the physicality of the instrument. Watching a pianist go to work can be a visceral, yet beautiful experience. It requires subtlety and power in equal proportions. Much of my piano writing has sought to embrace this dichotomy, allowing the performer to showcase both ends of the spectrum either simultaneously or by contrast.
CSB: To what extent does location influence your music?  
CP: Location plays a big part in Metropolitan, which was initially inspired by Philadelphia. The longer you live somewhere, the more you become accustomed to the varying and diverse sounds of the environment. In the case of cities, I have always loved how different an area can sound from one block to the next or from one hour of the day to another. At different moments in Metropolitan, you can hear car horns, night life, or people walking. And it was a fascinating compositional experiment to discover how to assemble this collage of sounds.
CSB: What are your current and upcoming projects?

CP: I have a number of exciting projects coming up. In two weeks, I have a premier of a piano quartet with the New York Youth Symphony at Carnegie Hall, which should be an exciting concert. Then, in June, I’ll be working with the Albany Symphony on my orchestral work Mosaic during their American Music Festival. And I am just now wrapping up a new piece for Alarm Will Sound that will be premiered in July at the Mizzou International Composers Festival. Should be a fun few months!

Guest Blog Post: Laura Harrison’s Concerto Inspirations

Laura Harrison

Today, we’re joined by composer Laura Harrison, a Cincinnati-based composer whose music is brooding and richly textured. Her new piano concerto Corners of the Sky will be premiered by pianist Kristofer Rucinski, conductor Jon Noworyta, and the Soundbox Orchestra.

One of my favorite aspects of being a composer is creating opportunities to work together with other incredible musicians and bring a brand new piece to life. It is an especially poignant experience when these collaborations happen with performers whose aesthetic sensibilities are similar to my own. Kristofer Rucinski is one of those performers. The first piece I heard him play was the Lou Harrison piano concerto. I was inspired not only by the piece, but by Kris’ visceral interpretation of it. His rich, confidant sound and his penchant for choosing driving, dissonant music made me want to write a piece for him. My first collaboration with Kris was also within the context of orchestra, but although the piano part was prominent, it wasn’t quite a solo. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to write a much more substantial concerto for him. The New Concerto Project proved to be the chance to do this.

The title Corners of the Sky is an adaptation of a line from a poem by Frederico Garcia Lorca. When I read this phrase, I imagined a sky with a thunderstorm moving in from one direction, while the other direction is still clear and sunny. While this piece does not follow a specific program, the title felt like an apt description for the quickly changing moods in the piece. A dark, brooding opening gives way to a lively, rhythmic section, before settling into a more reflective character.

Guest Blog Post: Stephanie Ann Boyd on Ritūum


New York-based composer Stephanie Ann Boyd is no stranger to the concerto genre. Come hear her new bassoon concerto Rituūum, featuring soloist Andrew Marlin, conductor Alexander Colding Smith, and the Soundbox Orchestra, on our May 2nd concert.

Lately I’ve felt concerto writing is very akin to portrait painting in that the piece is so much more than simply an image captured in time: the personality and spirit of the commissioner/soloist must be present in every layer of the music; the music itself must be a true homage to the history and the capabilities of both the instrument and the soloist. 

Eric Tyler Barga approached me two years ago about writing a concerto for him. He knew that he wanted a three movement structure, an incredibly visceral and rhythmic style overall, heart-ache written into the second movement, the Dies Irae snuck in there somewhere, and we both agreed that it should reflect an obsessive, ritualistic, manic behavior throughout. I immediately went to my dear friend Google and looked up the word “ritual” and its Latin roots: up came the word Ritūum. 

With this concerto being not only a portrait of Eric but also a portrait of the bassoon — that absolutely magical and resonant log of wood — I made sure to spend adequate time in the piece on the capabilities of that instrument that strike me every time I hear them: the goosebump-inducing sighing/screaming/wailing of the high register’s long, celery green tones; the earthy, pungent pedal tones that feel impossibly low every single time; the ability to practically fly between slurred 16th notes (showcased in the first movement as sextuplet sixteenths) with radical agility, and the stunningly human middle register. 

And so in Ritūum you’ll hear a jumpy, manic first movement with an oasis-like middle section, a middle movement that sings of the coldness of winter and a descent into the one-sided begging, pleading of a love gone wrong. The third movement is a non-stop crescendo towards a triumphant, hopeful ending. 

Guest Blog Post: Cristina Spinei’s New Concerto

Nashville-based composer Cristina Spinei writes upbeat, lyrical music inspired by her love of dance.  She joins us today to tell us about her Clarinet Concerto (2017), which we’ll be premiering on the upcoming New Concerto Project.

Clarinetist Emily Tyndall and I are part of the Nashville based new
music group Sound Riot. About a year ago, at Sound Riot pianist Amber
Thruman’s wedding, Emily asked if I would be interested in composing a
concerto for her. I had never written a concerto before so I thought
it would be a fun project to work on. A few months later Rachel
proposed the idea of the New Concerto Project to me, and I knew that I
had to write this work!

Concerto for Clarinet is in two contrasting movements and is scored
for clarinet and string orchestra. The first movement is slow and
lyrical; I really wanted to take advantage of Emily’s gorgeous tone. I
used a lot of divisi strings to give the clarinet accompaniment a
light, translucent texture. I wanted to keep everything simple in this
movement. It’s refreshing to write a piece that focuses on melody and
the beauty of lines.

The second movement is a fast, rhythmic one that uses an ostinato as
the main theme. This is actually a reworking of a piece that I wrote
for Sound Riot, Lilt. I was commissioned by the dance company New
Dialect to write a piece for dance using Sound Riot. Since I knew that
I had the concerto to write for Emily, I wrote Lilt with the intention
of turning it into the concerto later. It was a good way to test out
some material for the clarinet part. The instrumentation of the
concerto is completely different from Lilt, but the main ideas stayed
the same. I think there were a few obnoxiously complicated rhythms
that I took out. And I also added a cadenza, which the original piece
didn’t have. The hardest part about writing a new piece is waiting to
hear how it all sounds! I’m very excited to be involved with this

January Soundbox Photos

This past Saturday was Cincinnati Soundbox: Cincinnati – Southern California, which featured the world and regional premieres of new works for one to three guitars from composers Laura Harrison, Lydia Winsor Brindamour, Adam Borecki, and Ivan Alexander Moscotta at Rohs Street Cafe in Clifton. The performers were Christopher Wilke, William Willits, and Donald Broerman. Videos of the performances will be posted soon!




Interview with Composer Adam Borecki

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Adam Borecki is a Los Angeles-based composer of eclectic, playful music.  We’re excited to include his solo guitar piece Unfold (2014), performed by Christopher Wilke, on our Season Two opening concert on January 21st at Rohs Street Café.

CSB: To what extent do you see location affecting your work?

AB: Location plays a huge role in the development of a composition. I grew up in Medford, a medium-sized town in Oregon, but after undergrad and masters in Orange, Orange County and Los Angeles respectively, I’ve been in southern California for about 8 or 9 years now.

Living in a huge city with so much music available has absolutely shaped the way that I listen to music and how I compose music. I think that every composer has to find where they fit in. For me, I’ve become interested with how my music fits in (or stands out) from the music surrounding it in the community.

CSB: What are your impressions of the arts scene in Los Angeles?  How have the various places you have lived over the years impacted your music?

AB: The arts scene in Los Angeles is outstanding. I could spend all day talking about the different organizations and groups, large and small.

The city has a long history with contemporary classical music. Presenters like Piano Spheres, Jacaranda, Green Umbrella, and Monday Evening Concerts have pushed the boundaries of music for decades and decades (with premieres by Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Boulez, and many more).

Yet it’s also home to countless new series: Tuesdays @ Monk Space presents a variety of cutting edge new music in a small brick warehouse that used to be a speakeasy. WasteLAnd challenges its listeners with avant-garde and experimental music. The Industry presents experimental opera, from “Invisible Cities” which was experienced live on headphones through Union Station to “Hopscotch”, which was performed in cars across the entire city.

I currently work as a recording engineer, so I experience plenty of concerts every month. That includes anything from solo piano recitals (in which works were written two centuries ago) to composition recitals (in which works were written two days ago). Nowadays, when I sit down to compose, I’m very concerned with what I can bring to a concert that you can’t get anywhere else. For example, in the work you’ll hear tonight, I designed a somewhat unique tuning for the guitar. I also ask the guitar to play with extremely specific techniques (precise hand positions to create exact timbres) that go beyond standard guitar performance.

CSB: Could you tell us a little more about the piece we’ll be presenting?  What compelled you to write it?  

AB: I am fascinated by intonation, which is the primary factor behind “Unfold”.

Generally speaking, tuning for any instrument usually involves compromises: Standard guitar tuning (“equal temperament”) is not really ‘perfect’ for anything, but ‘pretty good’ for most everything. But I ask the guitarist to re-tuned microtonally (in this case, to the “harmonic series” of the note D), and I write music that exaggerates the differences between equal temperament and the microtonal tuning. Musical passages are written to juxtapose the extremes: either sounding very ‘pure’ or emphasizing the ‘crunch’ & dissonance.

Although I enjoy experimenting with timbre and intonation, I always incorporate some “traditional” elements of composition. You’ll hear motivic development as themes repeat and develop over time. The reason this piece is called “Unfold” is because I started composing it with a single theme (a phrase of harmonics) which you only hear once in its entirety, at the very end. The movement of the piece towards the final exposure of the theme is like the process of unfolding different variations to get to the finale.

CSB: What is your relationship with the guitar? Did that relationship affect the way the piece was conceived? 

AB: As a performer of classical guitar, I have a pretty intimate understanding of standard techniques and fingerings. I composed most of this piece with my guitar in hand, but several sections I specifically got away from the instrument to write the notes in my mind, not the notes in my fingers.

Nowadays, I perform primarily guitar for outreach concerts (elementary schools, hospitals, libraries, etc.) with the Kaleidoscope Trio or as solo background music for private events. That means that my technique isn’t perfect; I constantly revised this piece while writing to make it fit my fingers. I have tons of respect & gratitude for concert guitarists like Christopher Wilke to make this music like this come to life. Thank you!

CSB: What lead you to explore microtonal elements in this piece? 

AB: Quite simply, I love the way it sounds! I’ve heard microtonal music on guitars before, and I thought to myself: “I want to do that”.