QUANTUM CHANGE: When a sudden realization leads to an immediate behavioral recognition.
Mason Bates and Gabriela Frank, both children of the 1970 and ‘80s, make up the bread of the Peter Lieuwen sandwich that is this first concert of the SOLI 2011-2012 season. Being a fan of a good sandwich, if not quite a connoisseur like this year’s winner of the Next Food Network Star (sandwich king Jeff Mauro), I know, as you probably do, that good bread is tremendously important in a good sandwich. Although by no means identical, like any two slices of Wonder are, both Bates’ Red River and Frank’s Hilos do seem to be cut from the same loaf. Perhaps an artisan boule, something hardy but fun – maybe even with raisins or sesame seeds. Both are made up of modestly brief movements depicting scenes of places you might want to vacation at - the Colorado River and Peru respectively. Both are warm (did I mention this sandwich is served warmed, but never toasted?), welcoming pieces, open and inviting in ways that just seem natural to this generation. There are differences, to be sure – for example, Mason Bates embraces technology, including an electronic music part to Red River. Gabriela Frank’s work, on the other hand, refers often to traditional Peruvian dances and instruments and even clothes.
I don’t want to suggest, by any means, that Peter Lieuwen’s Overland Dream, the “meat” of this grinder, is somehow more substantial (or tastier) than the other works. But it is a single movement, fourteen-minute piece, which automatically creates a different kind of formal arc. And I do feel it is more a challenging piece, asking more of your attention (as longer works often do) and rewarding you for following the play of its themes over time. Although they all three share a sense of place, with Overland Dream invoking Lieuwen’s backyard, the Western United States, I feel there really is a difference in the language of this work and two yeasty slices that surround it: still warm, but with a bit more of a bite. Whether it’s just a difference between composers or a generational gap (not that I’m positing Lieuwen as some kind of aged prosciutto), well, I’m just not prepared to say.
So go light on the mayo, add the veggies of your choice, and open your mouth to take a big bite of these three “Quantum Change” works… wait – Quantum Change? You mean I was supposed to be doing some kind of physics metaphor?
Mason Bates: Red River (2007) 17’
Combining a chamber ensemble with the rhythmic power and drama of electronics, Red River traces the journey of the great Colorado River to its various destinations in the Southwest - Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, the California desert - where its overuse is a source of endless controversy. Perhaps no body of water better illustrates the age-old confrontation of humankind and nature than the great Colorado, whose very name embodies this struggle. Its early designation as Red River was a nod to the rich color arising from its special silt, which ultimately ended up trapped behind various dams erected along its way. The name changed to pay homage to the river's source, high up in the Colorado Rockies at the Continental Divide - and that is where this work begins.
Various streams accumulate as the runoff from the Rockies builds into a formidable body of water. The delicate musical amass as the first movement unfolds, with quicksilver figuration in the piano echoed by the other instruments, and the electronica beats move from ambient trip-hop to energetic drum 'n bass. These various musical streams unite in "Interstate 70," an epic American freeway that parallels the Colorado through the state of Utah, and the electronics disappear as the ensemble falls into a bumpy and capricious ride.
As we arrive at the central, lyrical "Zuni Visions," we find ourselves floating high above the river in the red rocks of Arizona's Grand Canyon. The Zuni Indians once lived in caves up in the walls of the Canyon, and the atmospheric electronics and bending clarinet melody imagine us looking down at the river with them. This ponderous movement ends abruptly with the arrival of enormous machinery, and the ensuing "Hoover Slates Vegas" uses all manner of industrial beats in the electronics to conjure the building of the Hoover Dam - the great sink of Las Vegas - with a nod to the razzle-dazzle of that thirsty city. Exhausted by all this human activity, the river (and the piece) moves to its final resting place, the huge Sonoran Desert in southeastern California. The trickles of the opening have now run dry, and all we are left with is the buzzing of a Sonoran cricket amidst the vast emptiness of the desert.
The music of Mason Bates fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms, the harmonies of jazz and the rhythms of techno. Frequently performed by orchestras large and small, his symphonic music has received widespread acceptance for its expanded palette of electronic sounds, and it is championed by leading conductors such as Michael Tilson Thomas, Leonard Slatkin, and John Adams. He has become a visible advocate for bringing new music to new spaces, whether through institutional partnerships such as his residency with the Chicago Symphony, or through his classical/DJ project Mercury Soul, which has transformed spaces ranging from commercial clubs to Frank Gehry-designed concert halls into exciting, hybrid musical events drawing over a thousand people.
This season, Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony premiere Alternative Energy, an 'energy symphony' that spans four movements and hundreds of years. Another major commission, Mass Transmission, received its premiere(d) on the San Francisco Symphony's Mavericks Festival, and the composer serves as this season's Project San Francisco artist-in-residence at the SFS. The London Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas recently recorded Mothership, and the work was subsequently premiered at the Sydney Opera House by the YouTube Symphony to an online audience of 1.8 million. Appearing on programs from the Detroit Symphony to Portugal's famed Casa da Musica is The B-Sides, a dance suite that drops into five surreal landscapes. Many purely acoustic works complement his diverse catalogue, such as Desert Transport - recently conducted by Marin Alsop at the Cabrillo Festival – and Observer in the Magellanic Cloud, which toured with the superstar chorus Chanticleer. For more info, go to www.masonbates.com.
Peter Lieuwen: Overland Dream (2011) 13’
“As the title suggests, Overland Dream is a panoramic soundscape of the American West. Having lived in New Mexico, California and Texas my entire life, the dramatic natural beauty of these places continues to influence and inspire my music. While the movement and energy created by the motor-rhythm, asymmetric meters and syncopated gestures may suggest a passing landscape as seen from a train, car or horseback, the broad harmonies are intended to provide shifting instrumental colors as variations of light and the season. Pandiatonic gestures are often juxtaposed with those employing the octatonic (half step/whole step) scale. The melodic gestures are frequently presented “in harmony” at the interval of the 7th or 9th, creating a sonic halo around the primary melody.” Overland Dream was written for SOLI Chamber Ensemble, and received its premiere in June 2011 in Arlington Texas.
The music of Peter Lieuwen has been commissioned, performed, and recorded by orchestras, small ensembles and artists throughout North America and Europe. His symphonic music has been hailed as “an attractive array of shimmering, shuddering sonorities, making the most of minimal means” (The New York Times), “arresting in every single measure” (New York Daily News) and “undeniably ear – catching” (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch). The composer’s music for small ensembles has been described as “slight, dependent on dainty sound effects, and attractive” (The New Yorker), “broad in instrumental palette and highly successful in its handling of balances” (Musical America) and “dramatic, intricate, and incisive” (American Record Guide).
Peter Lieuwen was born in Utrecht, The Netherlands, in 1953, and grew up in New Mexico. He studied at the University of New Mexico and the University of California, Santa Barbara with composers Scott Wilkinson, William Wood, Edward Applebaum, Emma Lou Diemer, and Peter Racine Fricker. From 1984 to 1987 he taught composition at UC Santa Barbara. Since 1988 he has been on the faculty of Texas A&M University. From 2000-2005 Lieuwen served as the inaugural head of the Department of Performance Studies at TAMU. He is currently Professor of Music and Composer-in-Residence.
Most of Lieuwen’s music is published by Keiser Classical, with recordings available on Albany, CRS, Crystal, Pro Arte/Fanfare, New World, and VMM. Peter Lieuwen lives with his wife Bonnee and their family of animals in South Central Texas.
Gabriela Frank (b. 1972): Hilos (2010) 25’
Hilos (Threads, 2010), written for the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, is scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Alluding to the beauty of Peruvian textiles, both in their construction and in their pictorial content of everyday life, the short movements of Hilos are a kind of Peruvian “pictures at an exhibition.” Players are mixed and matched in various combinations, and draw on a myriad of sounds evocative of indigenous music. These include fanciful pizzicatos and widely-spaced tremolos suggesting guitar-like instruments, strong attacks and surging releases suggesting zampona panpipes and quena flutes, glissandi and scratch tones suggesting vocal coloristic effects, and so forth. The movements are:
- Canto del Altiplano (Songs of the Highlands): A bold piano opening of tremolos sets up rhapsodic lines decorated with the strong attacks and releases one would hear in highland wind instruments.
- Zapatos de Chincha (Shoes of Chincha): This light-footed movement is inspired by Chincha, a southern coastal town known for its afro-peruano music and dance (including a unique brand of tap). The cello part is especially reminiscent of the cajon, a wooden box that percussionists sit on and strike with hands and feet, extracting a remarkable array of sounds and rhythms.
- Charanguista Viejo (Old Charango Player): The charango, a ukulele-like instrument traditionally constructed with an armadillo shell, is evoked through tight broken chords and odd tremolos in the piano part alongside quick pizzicato notes in the violin. The violin also has a highly emotional melody line decoration with hints of scratch tones to convey the sounds of an old man’s voice as he accompanies himself singing.
- Danza de los Diablos (Devil Dance): A tribute to the devil dances of the southern Puno regions of Peru, this movement features “stompy” rhythms, quick dissonant grace notes and a general boldness of spirit.
- Zumballyu (Spinning Top): A musical depiction of a popular children’s toy in Quechua Indian culture.
- Juegos (Games): A romp inspired by the teasing games that children play.
- Yaravillosa: A play on the words “maraviollosa” (marvelous) and “yaravi” (an ancient melancholy Inca song), this movement especially draws on glissandi, tremolo, and surges to evoke typical vocal performance practices.
- Bombines (Bowler Hats): A humorous dance in homage to the ubiquitous bowler hats worn by mountain women. The “karnavalito” rhythm punctuates throughout.
Identity has always been at the center of Gabriela Lena Frank's music. Born in Berkeley, California, to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Frank explores her multicultural heritage most ardently through her compositions. Inspired by the works of Bela Bartók and Alberto Ginastera, Frank is something of a musical anthropologist. She has traveled extensively throughout South America and her pieces reflect and refract her studies of Latin American folklore, incorporating poetry, mythology, and native musical styles into a western classical framework that is uniquely her own. She writes challenging idiomatic parts for solo instrumentalists, vocalists, chamber ensembles, and orchestras. Moreover, she writes, “There's usually a story line behind my music; a scenario or character.” Frank's compositions also reflect her virtuosity as a pianist — when not composing, she is a sought-after performer, specializing in contemporary repertoire. A 2009 recipient of the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship to assist in research and artistic creation, Frank has collaborated with a broad range of artists.
Frank attended Rice University in Houston, Texas, where she earned both a B.A. (1994) and M.A. (1996). She studied composition with Paul Cooper, Ellsworth Milburn, and Sam Jones, and piano with Jeanne Kierman Fischer. Frank credits Fischer with introducing her to the music of Ginastera, Bartók, and other composers who utilized folk elements in their work. At the University of Michigan, where she received a D.M.A. in composition in 2001, Frank studied with William Albright, William Bolcom, Leslie Bassett, and Michael Daugherty, and piano with Logan Skelton.
Mason Bates (b. 1977)
Red River (2007)
for violin, clarinet, cello, piano, and electronics
I. The Continental Divide
II. Interstate 70
III. Zuni Visions From The Canyon Walls
IV. Hoover Slates Vegas
V. Running Dry On The Sonoran Floor
Peter Lieuwen (b. 1953)
Overland Dream (2011)
for violin, clarinet, cello, and piano
Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972)
for violin, clarinet, cello, and piano
- Canto del Altiplano
- Zapatos de Chincha
- Charanguista Viejo
- Danza de los Diablos