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.

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Interview with Cellist Nat Chaitkin (Parallels)

Cellist Nat Chaitkin is one of the founding members of the 4-Way Quartet, who will be joining us next week for Parallels. Nat is currently a member of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. He is active as a performer and teacher in Cincinnati, including through the Quartet’s 4-Way String Project.

Read more about Nat and 4-Way below.


CSB: What is your musical background?

NC: I grew up in the NY new music world – my dad was a composer, and took me to all sorts of concerts as a kid. I started studying the cello at 11, spent some time at Juilliard Pre-College, and went on to the University of Michigan, studying cello and American History. I then moved to Washington, DC and spent 8 years as a member of “The President’s Own” US Marine Band. I moved to Cincinnati 10 years ago, joining the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, subbing with the CSO, and teaching at CCM Prep. I also developed a solo program to bring classical music to new audiences called Bach and Boombox.

CSB: How did 4-Way begin? What are your current projects as an ensemble?

NC: We formed in 2015, with the goal of creating an community-based ensemble. We share our love of chamber music both through performing and teaching underserved youth. We are in our third year of residency at Woodford Paideia Elementary School, where we assist with the orchestra program during the day. Woodford is also the home of our central activity, The 4-Way String Project, which offers free lessons and chamber music opportunities to 16 selected 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

CSB: As a cellist, how would you describe the works on this concert?

NC: Hard! Seriously, they are very diverse in what they ask of the players. A couple are very “notey”, requiring lots of technically demanding practicing, while others ask for an expanded range of sounds, calling for extended “non-traditional” techniques. All of them are challenging in their own way, and I’m really looking forward to hearing them all come together.

CSB: What are you hoping audiences will experience during this concert?

NC: Five striking and very different perspectives on one of my favorite ensembles – some of the greatest works in chamber music are written for piano quintet, and the audience will hear its full range of possibility!

CSB: What are your impressions of the music scene in Cincinnati. How have they changed over the years?

NC: Cincinnati has a wonderful music scene, thanks to two pieces of its history – the CSO, and King Records. Many cities “have” a symphony, but there is real civic pride in ours which I have not found in many other places. Several years ago, I was one of six people to receive the Cincinnati Artist Ambassador Fellowship, which allowed me to develop my solo program, and present it in community settings all across the city. I saw how much music is part of the fabric of life here, in part thanks to King [Records] and its legacy of bringing different musicians together. Having a group like 4-Way wouldn’t be possible in lots of places, but here, we find lots of support, and that’s because of the city’s strong support of its musicians.

Interview with Pianist Jill Jantzen (Parallels)


Soundbox is partnering with Salon 21 and the 4-Way String Quartet next week to present Parallels, a concert featuring five world premieres for piano quintet by American and Polish composers Laura Harrison, Rachel C. Walker, Julia Seeholzer, Aleksandra Chmielewska, and Żaneta Rydzewska.

Pianist Jill Jantzen is a dynamic member of the Cincinnati music scene. She holds degrees in piano performance from Oklahoma City University and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and is now Lecturer of Piano at Thomas Moore College. Jill is the Artistic Director of Salon 21 and also the pianist for this event.

You can catch Parallels on February 6 at the Weston Art Gallery. (More information here).


CSB: Tell us a little about your musical background.

JJ: I started formal piano lessons when I was 5, though family stories claim that I was fascinated with the instrument at an even earlier age. I began violin lessons around age 9, which carried me through college. These days, I consider piano to be my work, and violin is my hobby. And while I play mostly classical music, I will never say “no” to a good pop song jam session.

CSB: Could you introduce our readers to Salon 21?

JJ: Salon 21 is a series of intimate piano concerts in unexpected places around Cincinnati. We host emerging pianists who play a range of music from classical to jazz and traditional to contemporary. Each concert is a place where our audience can casually enjoy a short piano concert up close and personal.

CSB: Where did your interest in working with living composers begin?

JJ: I wish I had a fancier answer… I befriended some composers during my undergrad, and I quickly became one of the “go-to” instrumentalists who would play for composition recitals. No matter what the scope of the project, it is always an honor to be a part of the process of bringing a newly composed piece to life.

CSB: As a pianist, how would you describe the works on this concert?

JJ: Each of the pieces is quite different in character. There are singable melodies, mathematical rhythms, and I frequently play inside of the piano. The moods cover all aspects of the human experience: pensive, hazy, energetic, passionate… All of the composers have done an excellent job at utilizing the many facets of the instrument.

CSB: What other upcoming projects are on your radar?

JJ: I am giving a solo concert on April 17th at Trinity Episcopal Church in Covington, where I’ll perform pieces by Debussy and Beethoven. Then on May 23rd, I’ll be playing with violinist Rebecca Culnan at the Mercantile Library to close out Salon 21’s fifth season.

February 6: Parallels!

On February 6 at the Weston Art Gallery in Cincinnati, we’re teaming up with Salon 21 to present five world premieres for piano quintet written by composers from the United States and Poland: Żaneta Rydzewska, Aleksandra Chmielewska, Julia Seeholzer, Laura Harrison, and Rachel C. Walker.

This program will be presented separately in both Cincinnati and Warsaw, Poland over the course of the 2018/2019 season. The US premiere will feature 4-Way Quartet, Cincinnati’s String Quartet and Salon 21 Artistic Director, pianist Jill Jantzen. This project is supported by the generosity of community contributions to the ArtsWave Campaign.

Interview with Composer Tyler Eschendal

Tyler EschendalTyler Eschendal is a composer and percussionist originally from the suburbs of Detroit and now resides in Los Angeles, CA.  A love for rhythm, pulse, and layering heavily influences his music, as well as an interest in adapting sample-based procedures found in electronic music to acoustic and live instrumentations. Tyler holds a B.M. in music composition from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, and a M.M. in composition from the University of Southern California.

Hear Tyler’s work This City Is a Stepping Stone on our Solo Soundbox concert with Neil Beckmann on Sunday, November 18, at 7 PM at 21c Museum Hotel.


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

TE: I am really interested in introducing sample-based procedures of electronic or previously recorded music into live/acoustic settings with a goal of suspending or preserving moments that I find interesting from various sources (both classical and non-classical).  Fragments and gems of timbre and rhythm exist everywhere in the seconds that pass by in real time, and I am interested in exploiting and extending these moments.

CSB: What is the background to your piece for this concert, This City Is a Stepping Stone?

TE: This piece is direct collaboration with the guitarist, Neil Beckmann.  We lived together in Cincinnati for a number of years and decided the best time to collaborate on a piece would be after we both moved away to opposite sides of the country, him to NYC and myself to LA.  As a percussionist, I often find myself trying to turn everything into a percussion instrument; this piece is no exception.  I wanted the piece to be extremely rhythmic and visual, so I brought a cheap acoustic guitar and started experimenting.  Specific gestures and techniques require a notation that works best for the performer, and this is really where the collaboration side of the project came in to play.

CSB: Could you talk about the similarities and differences you’ve noticed between the Cincinnati new music scene and that of your current location?

TE: When I lived in Cincinnati there was a blossoming community of artists, musicians, and composers who pieced together a brilliantly quaint and often DIY contemporary music scene that I’m sure has since grown.  I now live in Los Angeles which has a GIGANTIC music scene.  Production value (lightening, projections, venue, live sound, etc.) is at the forefront of any/all concerts in LA, which heavily influences the listeners experience.  As incredible as this is, there are often times where I miss new music concerts stuffed into Cincinnati living rooms.

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

TE: I try to keep my listening list as expansive and diverse as possible.  recently I’ve been spinning a lot of gospel organ music from Dominique Johnson, revisiting Nicole Lizée’s works, and obsessing over the experimental sample-based outlet death’s dynamic shroud.wmv

CSB: What other new projects are on your radar?

TE: I’m currently hashing out a 30-40 minute solo project for myself with samples, percussion, and text. Also in the midst of piece for the Young Composers Meeting in the Netherlands organized by orkest de ereprijs and the Gaudeamus Foundation.

Interview with Composer Carolyn Chen

Carolyn Chen

Carolyn Chen is a composer whose work reconfigures the everyday to retune habits or our ears, through sound, text, light, image, and movement. For over a decade her studies of the guqin, the Chinese 7-string zither traditionally played for private meditation in nature, has informed her thinking on listening in social spaces. Chen holds degrees from Stanford University and UC San Diego. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

Hear her new work for solo guitar, Mom and dad are not at home performed by Neil Beckmann on our Solo Soundbox concert on November 18 at 21c Museum Hotel.


CSB: The opening of your bio says that you “have made music for supermarket, demolition district, and the dark.” Could you tell us more about that? 

CC: Half the work I do lives outside the concert hall or without instruments. In 2010, I curated an evening of covert and overt supermarket interventions at the Ralph’s across from UC San Diego that’s been remounted a few times – it included pieces like tuming to freezers, singing aisle contents while being pushed through in a shopping cart, or rearranging shelf contents in the manner of tuning the guqin, the Chinese zither historically played in nature. In the Zhuantang district of Hangzhou in 2012, I navigated through a partially demolished house by listening to the sound of a shard of glass scraped against the wall while moving through various rooms. I also did a number of pieces for small lights blinking in the dark (people circling one another in a model solar system) or for specific durations of light and dark (while performers acting as a corpse and watcher move through different positions).

CSB: What are you interested in exploring in your music?

CC: I’m interested in looking at stuff that I otherwise wouldn’t take the time to notice. Often this can be kind of mundane, and music is a way of investigating or meditating on something that I’d otherwise ignore – how couscous rolls, or how different objects fall, or my parents’ take on astronomy, or why I’m so bad at screaming. Another part of this is that each project is a chance to learn from the people I’m working with, and their practices and traditions – for example, I’d never written for solo classical guitar before this project with Neil, so it was fun to learn about the repertoire a little bit.

CSB: What is the background for your piece for this concert, Mom and dad are not at home?

CC: This piece happened through composer Jen Wang’s organizing commissions for immigrant advocacy – people donate to The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) or other immigrant advocacy organizations – and composers contribute pieces in turn. Neil and I had crossed paths at Nief-Norf Summer Festival in Knoxville, and then came into this through Jen’s Facebook post. Like many others, I’ve been continually appalled by the actions of our current administration, especially the separation of innocent children from their families, and I’m still looking for ways to stand up for a more just vision of our society. This is just a small piece, in honor of Neil’s contribution. I was listening to some lullabies online, and came across this one from the Puyuma, an indigenous people of Taiwan (where my parents are from). The melancholy of the song was striking. The lyrics ask the child to quickly close its eyes and go to sleep, because its parents are not at home – they are away catching fish. There’s not really an explanation for this, but it seemed like a natural departure point, with this oddly rhyming situation of absence and separation. The piece starts with chords and melodic gestures from the lullaby, repeated and gradually varied in small steps.

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

CC: I was really impressed by this when I ran across it in Berlin a couple years ago and I just found out Julian Rosenfeldt’s MANIFESTO came to LA – it’s a film installation where Cate Blanchett takes on 13 different personae, performing different historical artists’ manifestos, which resonate with each other in interesting ways. Also Cate Blanchett is amazing.
I just got married to a song called Pink Goodbye from Heather Lockie’s album Marshweed in the Garden – it’s just dizzyingly, tremendously beautiful. The album is full of gorgeous and surprising sounds, bundled in these very personal songs.
Over the summer I got to hear Southland Ensemble perform Laura Steenberge’s Byzantine Rites, a collection of musical pieces involving actions with household objects that was just exquisitely imaginiative and strange and lovely. I can’t find it online, but this is an older myth-related piece which is pretty amazing.

CSB: What other new projects are on your radar? 

CC: I’m finishing a series of pieces taken from quotes by lady adventurers for singing violinist Batya Macadam-Somer, editing video for an evening-length music-and-talking piece about how to fight for percussionist Jen Torrence, and I’m starting music for a film project called Golden with visual artists Annie Albaglia and Minoosh Zomorodinia, and poet Cintia Santana; a new piece with Aperture Duo; and a film collaboration with clarinet-and-sho player Michiko Ogawa and filmmaker Lyndsay Bloom.

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.