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Updated: 2 hours 37 min ago

Folk-Influenced Composer David Bruce

Wed, 2017-08-30 21:00

British composer and pianist David Bruce draws from folk traditions such as gypsy music, flamenco, and klezmer as well as composers such as Janacek, Stravinsky, Berio, and Bartok in his work. He has composed for Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chroma, among others.

Bruce joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the meaning of his piece Marzipan and the complexities of composing folk music for virtuosic violin.

Listen: World Premiere of Judd Greenstein's Flute Concerto for Alex Sopp

Sun, 2017-07-16 21:00

On July 11th, chamber orchestra The Knights premiered Judd Greenstein's Flute Concerto during a live performance at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park. The concerto was written for Knights' flutist Alex Sopp, also a member of the groups yMusic and NOW Ensemble, and broadcast live on WQXR.

As Greenstein explains in the interview embedded below, Sopp is a longtime friend of his and the concerto reflects her relationship with the other musicians in The Knights, both as an ensemble member and soloist. On the onstage interview before the performance, he tells conductor Eric Jacobsen that the piece is about "people doing things that are similar, that are together, but yet have something individual to say."

Listen to Judd Greenstein's Flute Concerto at the top of the page, and his interview with Eric Jacobsen below.

The Knights' Eric Jacobsen interviews Judd Greenstein

Pulitzer Prize Winner David Lang

Thu, 2017-07-13 21:00

David Lang is also co-founder and co-artistic director of New York's legendary music collective Bang on a Can. One of the most visible and performed contemporary composers, he has composed for the Internationl Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Kronos Quartet, the New York Philharmonic and eighth blackbird. His score for director Paolo Sorrentino's film YOUTH was nominated for an Academy Award and he was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his The Little Match Girl Passion.

David Lang joins Jennifer Koh to discuss a composer's awareness of the works alongside which his/her own is being programmed, and an alternative approach to virtuosity, one soaked in subtlety, control, and reservation of emotion, both of which he explores and exemplifies in his Shared Madness composition low resolution.

MacArthur Fellow Julia Wolfe

Wed, 2017-07-12 21:00

Julia Wolfe is a composer who finds inspiration in folk, classical and rock music. She was a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, and her opera Anthracite Fields won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. A co-founder of Bang on a Can, she's composed for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and singers and the Munich Chamber Orchestra, among others. Wolfe is currently writing a piece for the New York Philharmonic’s 2018 season.

She joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the history behind the title of her Shared Madness piece, Spinning Jenny, traditional folk technique, and the moment she discovered her love of music.

Watch: Cellist Mariel Roberts Performs Solos by George Lewis and Pauline Oliveros

Wed, 2017-07-12 11:24

On July 12, cellist Mariel Roberts – an accomplished solo performer and also a member of Mivos Quartet – joined us in the studio to perform music by the late maverick composer Pauline Oliveros and Columbia University's George Lewis, off her latest album, Cartography.

The wildly virtuosic Spinner, by legendary composer and trombonist George Lewis, incorporates intricate runs of string harmonics and a rubber superball rubbed against the back of the instrument for a detailed and textured piece that also recalls the spontaneity of improvisation. 

Pauline Oliveros's Thirteen Changes asks the performer to interpret thirteen descriptive sentences, including "solar winds scorching the returning comet's tail" and "elephants mating in a secret grove."

Instructions for Pauline Oliveros' 'Thirteen Changes,' performed by Mariel Roberts (Hannis Brown)

Bang on a Can's Michael Gordon

Tue, 2017-07-11 21:00

Michael Gordon is a composer and co-founder of Bang on a Can known for a "maximalist" approach to composition. Recent works include Natural History, written for Oregon's Crater Lake, a recent bassoon concerto Observations on Air and The Unchanging Sea for pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama and the Seattle Symphony and Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.

Gordon joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the changing definition of virtuosity, which Gordon interprets to be  based on potential for connection and communication rather than athleticism, and how this concept is explored in his Shared Madness composition kwerk.

Composer & Sound Designer Mark Grey

Mon, 2017-07-10 21:00

Mark Grey is a composer and sound designer from San Francisco. He has worked with the Phoenix Symphony, Kronos Quartet and California EARUnit. As a sound designer, Grey has worked extensively with John Adams as well as with Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Grey joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the influence of Grey’s experience with technology on his approach to composition, and his re-construction of soundworlds from Paganini’s 20th caprice.

Episode 17 - Paul Simon's Curious Mind

Sun, 2017-07-09 21:00

Paul Simon has always been attracted to new kinds of sounds. From his early band Simon & Garfunkel in the 1960s through solo albums like Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints in the '80s and '90s, up through his recent albums So Beautiful or So What and Stranger to Stranger, Simon has made music that does what the very best art can do: it resonates with our experience, re-frames it, and introduces new timbres and ideas.

Recently, Simon’s curious mind has brought him into the world of contemporary classical music, mining the microtonal sound world of Harry Partch for his last record, and, just last month, collaborating with 10 composers and the ensemble yMusic on a set at the Eaux Claires music festival. On this episode, we hear Simon's perspective on his career and his most recent projects, as well as exclusive audio from the festival collaboration itself.

Heard a piece of music that you loved? Discover it here!

0:18—Andrew Norman: Music in Circles | Listen
2:23—Paul Simon: Insomniac’s Lullaby | Listen
5:04—Simon & Garfunkel: Mrs. Robinson | Listen
6:09—The Penguins: Earth Angel | Listen
7:05—Tom & Jerry: Hey Schoolgirl | Listen
7:48—Simon & Garfunkel: Sound of Silence | Listen
8:13—Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water | Listen
8:48—Paul Simon: Still Crazy After All These Years | Listen
9:09—Paul Simon: Hearts and Bones | Listen
10:00—Boyoyo Boys: Son Op | Listen
10:41—Paul Simon: Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes | Listen
11:03—Paul Simon: Boy in the Bubble | Listen
11:30—Paul Simon: Homeless | Listen
11:58—Paul Simon: Graceland | Listen
12:53—Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Alphabet | Watch
13:22—Paul Simon: Under African Skies | Listen
14:50—Paul Simon: Crazy Love, Vol. II | Listen
15:38—Eddie Palmieri: Ay Que Rico | Listen
15:53—Various Artists: Hausa Street Music | Listen 
16:06—Various Artists: Oru Para Todos Los Santos | Listen
16:12—Various Artists: Songhay Gulu Drummers | Listen
16:24—Paul Simon: Further to Fly | Listen
17:08—Paul Simon: Obvious Child | Listen
18:58—Marcos Balter: Bladed Stance | Listen
20:56—Timo Andres: Safe Travels | Listen
23:40—Harry Partch: Cloud-Chamber Bowls | Listen
24:33—Harry Partch: The Bewitched, Scene One | Listen
25:14—Paul Simon: Insomniac’s Lullaby | Listen
26:27—Vincenzo Bellini: Casta Diva, from Norma | Listen
27:58—Sergei Prokofiev: Cello Sonata in C major, op. 119 | Listen
29:15—Paul Simon: Another Galaxy | Listen
31:44—Paul Simon: Kathy’s Song | Listen
32:14—Paul Simon: Train in the Distance | Listen
32:44—Paul Simon: Train in the Distance [acoustic demo] | Listen
35:08—Bob Dylan: The Ballad of a Thin Man | Listen
35:34—Gabriel Kahane: Veda (1 Pierce Dr.) | Listen
36:10—Paul Simon [arr. Gabriel Kahane]: Train in the Distance
37:32—Danny Brown: Ain’t It Funny | Listen
40:14—Paul Simon [arr. Robert Sirota]: America
42:32—Simon & Garfunkel: Sound of Silence | Listen
44:17—Simon & Garfunkel: America | Listen
46:15—Paul Simon [arr. Rob Moose]: Sound of Silence


Grawemeyer Award Winner Andrew Norman

Sun, 2017-07-09 21:00

Andrew Norman, Musical America's 2017 Composer of the Year, is a Los Angeles-based composer who draws inspiration from both the classical canon and modern media, like movies and video games. He is currently on faculty at the University of Southern California.

Norman’s music has been performed by ensembles including the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics, the Philadelphia and Minnesota Orchestras, the BBC, Saint Louis, Seattle and Melbourne Symphonies among others. He recently won the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.

Norman joins Jennifer Koh to discuss performed silence as exemplary of delicate virtuosity, and the “deconstruction of technique,” through which Norman seeks to illicit a deliberately imperfect result, seen  as flawed through the eyes of “classical” training but as expressively human through Norman’s eyes. These concepts are all at work in his Shared Madness composition Still Life.

Bedroom Community's Daníel Bjarnason

Thu, 2017-07-06 21:00

Composer Daníel Bjarnason is currently artist in residence with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and is a member of Bedroom Community, the Icelandic record label and artist collective. In addition to recent and upcoming commissions for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Calder Quartet, and others, he's collaborated with musicians including Sigur Rós, Brian Eno, Efterklang and Ben Frost.

Bjarnason joins Jennifer Koh to discuss compositions as self-contained universes and the challenges inherent in maintain many disparate voices in a work scored for a solo instrument, both forces Bjarnason finds present in his Shared Madness composition First Escape.

Finnish Trailblazer Kaija Saariaho

Wed, 2017-07-05 21:00

Kaija Saariaho is a Grawemeyer Award-winning composer born in Helsinki, Finland, but currently based in Paris. Her studies and research at IRCAM, the Paris institute for research of electronic music and music technology, have had a major influence on her music, and her characteristically luxuriant and mysterious textures are often created by combining performance on acoustic instruments and electronics. Her opera L’Amour de loin was given its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 2017.

Saariaho joins Jennifer Koh discuss the tricky relationship between musical intricacy and  performative virtuosity, and the extent to which extended techniques are (and aren’t) actually any less natural for a performer than conventional technique. Saariaho explores these complex dichotomies in her Shared Madness piece Sense.

Transatlantic Composer David Bruce

Tue, 2017-07-04 21:00

British composer David Bruce has held positions as Associate Composer of the San Diego Symphony, for whom he wrote three pieces, and as 2012-13 Composer-in-Residence with the Royal Opera House. Carnegie Hall has commissioned numerous pieces from Bruce, and his chamber opera The Firework Maker's Daughter was shortlisted for both the British Composer Award and the 2014 Olivier Awards for Best New Opera Production.

Bruce joins Koh to discuss the vulnerability and humanness that both Bruce and Koh find in folk music tradition, and the concept of a “gift” as it relates to a person’s sense of community, and to the title of his composition Marzipan.

Sante Fe Composer Marc Neikrug

Mon, 2017-07-03 21:00

Marc Neikrug has composed numerous works across numerous styles, including symphonic music, chamber music, music-theater, and opera in a career spanning 30 years. His opera Los Alamos was commissioned by the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and his music has been performed by the London Sinfonietta, the New York Philharmonic and the Emerson String Quartet, among others.

Born into a musical family, he was exposed to much music from a young age, particularly string music. He joins Jennifer Koh to discuss his Shared Madness piece, "Flash," its relations to Eugène Ysaÿe, and shares some juicy details on Ysaÿe's personal life.

Three Questions to Sufjan Stevens and the All-Star Team Behind 'Planetarium'

Mon, 2017-07-03 08:00

On Tuesday, July 18, the supergroup of singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister brings their jointly composed concept album Planetarium to the stars above Prospect Park as part of the summer outdoor festival Celebrate Brooklyn!. We caught up with the four musicians to talk about the interplanetary song cycle, which was released June 9 on 4AD.


This album really isn’t about gas giants and hunks of rock spinning through space. What is it really about, and what role did the planets play in its creation and guidance?

Sufjan Stevens: That is a good question! We are all spinning. There is absolutely nothing to learn from a spinning planet, except repetition and nausea. But a life spinning out of control teaches us volumes about love and self-care and responsibility. We must learn from our mistakes a billion times over. There is nothing less than total rapture and refinement in store for us. Fire will test the realness of each man’s work. 

I noticed there’s a little moment on “Mercury” that sounds exactly like a phrase in “Death with Dignity,” from Carrie and Lowell. Since it’s been so long in the making, do you think Planetarium songs informed or crossed over into your other work consciously, or unconsciously?

Stevens: That was just a coincidence, nothing more. I suppose those correlating musical intervals suggest something of the universe speaking for that experience of terrible loss. I wish I could explain it more, but I have a feeling it was just happenstance. 

A blog post you wrote this past winter turned into a Washington Post op-ed, and it ends “The life you live is not your own. Give your life away.” Who are you giving your life to?

Stevens: To gain your life, you must lose it. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Love everyone else. Be a servant and a steward. Every life matters more than yours. Expect nothing, but give everything. Stop being selfish. That's basically what I mean.

Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, James McAlister and Sufjan Stevens (Marzuki Stevens, Flavien Prioreau, Robbie Jeffers, Charlotte de Mezamat)


What was the most difficult thing about reviving this project after so many years?

Nico Muhly: There were two forms of revival, really: the first was making the album out of so many layers we recorded years ago; Sufjan and James did the majority of this — I think it must have felt like cleaning out a hoarder house. Then there is the other thing which is building a live show. Right now, as I type this to you, I’m figuring out how to squeeze what was once an arrangement for string quartet and seven trombones into a smaller band, while maintaining the same visceral power of the original. That’s a challenge for me, but I do it all the time writing orchestral or vocal music.

To me, there’s something deeply lonely about a space-themed album. Thinking of these planets, where life is not sustainable, hurtling through infinite cold and darkness, being reminded of how vast the universe really is – there’s no quicker way to make me feel very small. How does loneliness factor into your creative process?

Muhly: Most of my musical processes happen in absolute isolation; my favorite time is when everybody leaves me entirely alone and I can write for three days. By day four, though, I get desperately lonely for any kind of interaction. I feel like actually one of the most moving things I know about is that sad cartoon about the Mars rover being left up there, thinking that if he (she?) analyses a rock better that he’ll get to come home. I find it heartbreaking.

When she interviewed you for Meet the Composer, Nadia Sirota talked at length about the “u” emails you send to your friends and collaborators when you come across something you think they should see. What do you think was the most characteristic “u” you’ve ever sent to Sufjan, Bryce, and James?

Muhly: So, I just went through the archive — many of them are too vulgar to be described in words!  However, of the polite ones: James is something resembling vegan — maybe vegetarian; once you cross the line I stop caring — so I think the best one he got was a giant screed with foul language about how great quinoa was; that dates from July, 2012. Bryce, as you know, is a guitarist, so I look for outrageous pictures of guitar quartets and similar ensembles dressed terribly; you would be amazed how many of these there are. Sufjan gets a lot of different varieties of them; there’s a great one with John Waters talking about John Wayne Gacy, there are a bunch about liturgical incense, some other unspeakable ones — the thing with these is that they really are quite tailored.


Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister's collaborative album 'Planetarium' (4AD)


There are videos dating from as far back as 2012 of Planetarium songs. Did the songs go through many incarnations before you recorded, or did it get back-burnered?

Bryce Dessner: The songs evolved quite a lot over time as we were writing and then preparing the live show, and then the music music continued to develop once we had a chance to play it for an audience. We recorded most of the record shortly after the last Planetarium show, at a church in upstate New York. But then we all had various things going on and we all felt that Sufjan should focus on finishing his own record (Carrie an Lowell was recorded around the same time.) So we essentially put the release on hold until he finished touring that record. Once we picked it back up this past year we all felt that it should continue to evolve which is why the recorded version of the songs is significantly different from those original live versions.

Of the collaborators, you may be the one who most easily slips between the worlds of “pop” music and “classical” music, considering your work with The National on one hand and your commissions for groups like eighth blackbird and Ensemble Intercontemporain. In your opinion, where does Planetarium fall on the pop-classical spectrum? Is it even a spectrum?

Dessner: Everyone involved in Planetarium is really comfortable working form score and does it quite regularly. Because we had a large classical ensemble (seven trombones and string quartet) onstage with us for the live show most of the songs do exist in 'score' form. Steve Reich pointed out to me recently that these conversations about pop and classical (which i try not to overthink) could be more accurately categorized as music that is notated versus music that is non-notated or written/taught by ear. In my personal experience, projects like the works I have written for Ensemble Intercontemporain or 8th Blackbird or the LA Phil, I compose completely on my own and I hand a finished score to the ensemble. In the case of The National, we write collaboratively in the studio together and for the most part (until we start orchestrating the songs for the record) we are not working from score. Planetarium is definitely more of a mixture of those two kinds of processes. Most of the songs for instance Sufjan Nico and I wrote together while spending a week at a residency workshopping ideas.


What draws you into a project? 

James McAlister: This project is special – we all are coming from our own corners of the musical universe – but we speak a similar language. Anytime I can be challenged and bring my own personality to a project, I'm in.  

What were some of your influences while working on this project?

Brian Eno and Harold Budd: Plateaux of Mirror

Juana Molina: Segundo

Aphex Twin: Syro

Tangerine Dream: Phaedra

BBC Radiophonic Workshop


What makes you want to keep working on it even when it gets so hard you'd rather think about anything but the project?

McAlister: Collaboration is key. The hardest things for me to finish are things that aren't accountable to anyone else but myself. 

Curtis Institute's David Ludwig

Sun, 2017-07-02 21:00

David Ludwig is a Philadelphia-based composer, who has written for the Philadelphia and National Symphony Orchestras, and had his choral work presented at the inauguration of Barack Obama. He's also composed for the Dover and Borromeo quartets, eighth blackbird, and ECCO.

Ludwig serves on the composition faculty of Curtis and is director of the Curtis 20/21 Contemporary Music Ensemble. 

Ludwig joins Jennifer Koh to discuss elemental sounds in instrumental music, use of palindrome, Paganini, and the geometric phenomena of the mobius strip. Ludwig explains how these factors are explored in his Shared Madness composition “Moto Perpetuo”.

The music was recorded last May at National Sawdust as part of the New York Philharmonic's NY Phil Biennial.

Shared Madness with violinist Jennifer Koh – Musical America's 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year – explores the shared creative space between composer and performer, and what virtuosity for the storied instrument means in the 21st century. The series unfolds over 30 short episodes which combine conversation with world-premiere performance audio.

Ojai Music Festival Director Vijay Iyer

Thu, 2017-06-29 21:00

Vijay Iyer is a pianist, composer, bandleader and electronic musician. He was named DownBeat Magazine's 2014 Pianist of the Year and was the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur "Genius" Award. He is the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of Music at Harvard University and was Music Director of the 2017 Ojai Music Festival.

Iyer joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the aesthetics through which Iyer believes we experience contemporary art, and the way we deal with absurdity.

The music was recorded last May at National Sawdust as part of the New York Philharmonic's NY Phil Biennial.

Shared Madness with violinist Jennifer Koh – Musical America's 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year – explores the shared creative space between composer and performer, and what virtuosity for the storied instrument means in the 21st century. The series unfolds over 30 short episodes which combine conversation with world-premiere performance audio.

Unsilent Night's Phil Kline

Wed, 2017-06-28 21:00

Phil Kline is a composer whose music stands out for its range and unpredictability. From boombox symphonies to chamber music and song cycles, his work has been hailed for its originality, beauty, subversive subtext, and wry humor. Kline is a veteran of the thriving art and music community of the East Village in the 80s and 90s, where he founded the The Del-Byzanteens, a rock band, with Jim Jarmusch and James Nares. and played guitar in the historic Glenn Branca Ensemble.

More recently, Kline has collaborated with vocalist Theo Bleckmann, string quartet Ethel and Bang On A Can, among other soloists, ensembles, and orchestras. Kline also hosts a daily radio show on Q2 Music.

Kline joins Jennifer Koh to discuss madness, satanism, and Paganini’s 24th caprice, and the role that each of these entities play in the concept of “virtuosity” as it applies to the solo violin. Kline explores the relationships of these concepts in his Shared Madness piece Bedeviled.

The music was recorded last May at National Sawdust as part of the New York Philharmonic's NY Phil Biennial.

Shared Madness with violinist Jennifer Koh – Musical America's 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year – explores the shared creative space between composer and performer, and what virtuosity for the storied instrument means in the 21st century. The series unfolds over 30 short episodes which combine conversation with world-premiere performance audio.

Chicago's Augusta Read Thomas

Tue, 2017-06-27 21:00

Augusta Read Thomas is the composer in residence for the Eugene Symphony Orchestra's 2017-2018 season, and recently premiered a new choral work with Boston's Lorelei Ensemble. She was formerly the Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony, for Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez, from 1997 through 2006.

Read Thomas joins Koh to discuss the how she seeks to elicit athleticism from Koh’s tendencies and “depth” as a performer, and seeks to explore both staunch and fluid juxtapositions between the different soundworlds the violin is capable of in her Shared Madness composition “Venus Enchanted”.

The music was recorded last May at National Sawdust as part of the New York Philharmonic's NY Phil Biennial.

Shared Madness with violinist Jennifer Koh – Musical America's 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year – explores the shared creative space between composer and performer, and what virtuosity for the storied instrument means in the 21st century. The series unfolds over 30 short episodes which combine conversation with world-premiere performance audio.

Listen: The London Contemporary Orchestra Plays Jonny Greenwood, Mica Levy and Julius Eastman

Tue, 2017-06-27 21:00

On May 18th 2017, the London Contemporary Orchestra gave their New York debut concert at Le Poisson Rouge, featuring members of Ensemble LPR. The program included US Premieres of works by Mica Levi and Johnny Greenwood, a world premiere of a work by Jed Kurzel, and works by Philip Glass, Julius Eastman, and others. 

The London Contemporary Orchestra, formed in 2008 by co-Artistic Directors Robert Ames and Hugh Brunt, has established itself as one of the UK’s most innovative and respected ensembles – collaborating with a distinguished array of composers, artists and brands, including Radiohead, Secret Cinema, Actress, Vivienne Westwood, Jonny Greenwood, and members of Arcade Fire, among many others. The LCO's fundamental mission is to promote the best new music and cross-arts collaborations to an increasingly wide audience.

Listen to the full audio at the top of this page, and individual pieces below.

Edmund Finnis - Relative Colour

Mica Levi - Jackie (US Premiere)

Mica Levi - Under The Skin

Johnny Greenwood - Application 45, Detuned Orchestra, Future Markets, Mata Aini Kuru Kara Ne (US Premiere)

Jed Kurzel - Macbeth (World Premiere)

Ricardo Romaneiro - 12 Volt Ghost

Julius Eastman - Joy Boy

Philip Glass - Echorus

This program was recorded and engineered by Edward Haber (technical director and mix) and Rick Kwan.

IRCAM Innovator Jean-Baptiste Barrière

Mon, 2017-06-26 21:00

A one-time director of Musical Research, Eduation and Production at IRCAM in Paris, the music of composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière concentrates on the intersection of music, image and mathematics.

Barrière joins Jennifer Koh to discuss philosophies involved and forces at work in the relationship between a performer and the computerized reactionary counterpart in an electroacoustic work, all important considerations in his Shared Madness composition “Palimpsest Capriccio”.

The music was recorded last May at National Sawdust as part of the New York Philharmonic's NY Phil Biennial.

Shared Madness with violinist Jennifer Koh – Musical America's 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year – explores the shared creative space between composer and performer, and what virtuosity for the storied instrument means in the 21st century. The series unfolds over 30 short episodes which combine conversation with world-premiere performance audio.