Meet composer Kareem Roustom

We are honored to be giving the mid-west premiere of Kareem's work Abu Jmeel's Daughter. He was kind enough to answer some questions for us about his work.

"I have decided that my music must serve as a vehicle for some kind of message, be that advocating for cross-cultural understanding, compassion for the 'other', or to raise a fist against injustice and tyranny, or another cause that, even in a very small way, tries to make our world a little better."

Share a little of your background story as a Syrian-American and the path you have traveled to becoming an established award-winning composer, commissioned by some of the biggest names in classical music.

Well, I'm not sure that I'd use the word "established" but I'll try to give a brief synopsis of how it came to be that I am replying to your e-mail. I was born in Damascus, Syria to an American mother and a Syrian father and was raised there until about the age of 13. At that point it was decided that we should move permanently to the USA. In hindsight, the decision was very wise but it breaks my heart to have to admit this. The move was difficult in many different ways but I suppose you could compare it to uprooting a tree and replanting it somewhere else. However, this sense of uprootedness, and current events, has played and still plays a very important role in my creative work.  Also, because of this uprootedness I found music. At first it was through the guitar and jazz, as a way to run away from my conflicted identity, and then through the oud and "classical" and traditional Arabic music as a way to run towards my conflicted identity and to embrace it.  That process took years. However, I always knew that composition was at the deepest core of my efforts and since I've always had much more confidence as a composer than as a performer my path became clear.

How I came to be "established" is a bit of a circuitous story and not at all conventional. With the exception of few lessons with Michael Gandolfi, I am a self taught composer. I don't have a PhD in composition and I don't hold a tenured position anywhere so I've always had to rely on my intuition. I've always tried to hone my craft, to study the music that I love and to learn from the music that I don't love. Sometimes professional opportunities came when I wasn't ready and sometimes they came when I thought I wasn't ready but I was. The disaster that has been unfolding in Syria has certainly created an interest in its culture. I realize that in some ways that has opened the door, and this is not something that I want to take advantage of, but I hope that the 'door' will stay open because my music has a certain quality to it. So far, that seems to be the case, and I am grateful for that. If I can use this opening to help others then I do and will continue to do so.

Over the years, I've been active in performing, teaching, and transcribing Arab music from the near east in addition to composing. So my work is rooted in both worlds. I am equally comfortable writing in a completely "western" language as well as a completely "near eastern" language as well, or somewhere in between. It is a spectrum that shifts according to the project that I am working on. 

You play the oud, can you tell us a little about the oud and how how the traditional music (classical Arabic) you study and perform on the oud differs from and/or is similar to traditional European music?

The oud  

The oud

 

The oud is the most central instrument in Arab music. It is the instrument of choice for composers, and on which all the theory is based. The oud is also the typical instrument of choice to accompany vocalists. It is often referred to as the "king" of instruments. It is found throughout the Arab world, in Iran, Turkey, Greece, Armenia, the Balkans and further east. It is the ancestor of the guitar but it still continues to inspire. The new generation of oud players have achieved tremendous technical proficiency on par with high level flamenco guitarists. There are as many styles as there are countries that use the oud, but in the Arab world you can make a broad distinction between North Africa, the Levant, the Gulf countries and Iraq. The latter has its own distinct musical style than the other regions. When I was performing a good deal of early music [European music predating c. 1650) with Boston Camerata, I realized that long ago European and Arab music were not so far apart. At a certain point the differences outweighed the commonalities. However, performers on the oud now perform in all kinds of cross-over settings so it really has become a global instrument. [Click here to enjoy a groovy tune performed on the oud]

What inspired you to set Abu Jmeel's Daughter to music? What is it about this tale that inspired you?  What were some of the challenges you faced when composing this piece?
This morality tale has a decidedly different flavor than European morality tales, do you have any insight about the tale to share with our audience?

Click to purchase book

Click to purchase book

This was co-commission from the Alba Ensemble in France and Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture in Philadelphia. It has been performed in English and French but not yet in Arabic. I don't recall whose idea it was but the commission called for a setting of a folk tale. I did a good deal of research to find a suitable story, and chose this one because I felt its structure lent itself well to a musical setting. Also the elements of magic and the supernatural, as well the difficulties and challenges faced by the heroine, inspired my imagination.


The only challenges in the commission were the reaction to some of the text: In France they asked me to remove the word "God" from the text as the story ends with "...and God blessed them with a happy life" or something of the sort. The French are almost religious about their secularism. In the USA it was decided to hold a panel after the concert about misogyny as some people felt that the tale leaned that way. Both instances were baffling to me. As far as the element of misogyny, of course the Arab world has been and continues to be male dominated. This tale, I believe, was told by mothers and grandmothers to daughters and granddaughters. I believe that the point of passing such stories down was to tell young girls that as a female member of this society 'the cards are stacked you' and to prepare them for the challenges ahead. Each story probably had a nugget of knowledge it. But they were also told as a form of entertainment as well.

For a contemporary society to say that we no longer need such tales or that they send the wrong message is more than a little disingenuous. We don't have to search further than our American borders to find proof of this. Ralph Ellison's "The Invisible Man" deals with similar themes. Also, for people to want to keep such tales hidden is a denial of part of history.

As far as the 'otherness' of these tales, I don't feel that they are so far off from European folk tales. In my research, I found an old Arab/Persian folk tale that was very similar to Snow White. As for difficulties in European folk tales, what lesson can one take away from Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl? That is a very dark, sad, and upsetting story but I believe that this was how children were taught that the world can be a very uncaring and dangerous place. That is the function and purpose of such tales. I feel that it is a mistake for us to shelter our children from these tales by Disneyfying them (the original Little Mermaid did not have a happy ending).  Abu Jmeel's Daughter is a tale about paying a price for seeking material gains; physical beauty and greed for wealth, in this instance. It is also a story about patience and perseverance through difficult times as well as a warning to recognize our limits. To look for facile moral lessons in such stories is kind of the easy way out.I prefer things that force you to scratch your head a little and to have to think. As a composer, a little darkness is also inspiring as it offers opportunities for the use of color inspired by dark humor. That said, audiences of all ages have enjoyed this story and it was a pleasure to see young children enthralled by the performances.

A lot of your music blends the two traditions of classical Arabic and classical European music. What are some of the natural ways the traditions overlap and what are some of the challenges? What can we listen for in Abu Jmeel's Daughter to hear this?
Is all of the music you compose a blend of Arabic and European traditions, or do you sometimes intentionally set one tradition aside to focus on another?

I suppose that I've been trying to master two languages. As a result any given piece can have a style that is somewhere on a spectrum between 'pure' Arab or 'pure' Western 'classical' or somewhere that blurs the line between both.  In Abu Jmeel, you might hear the influence of Ravel and some Elliot Carter as well as a traditional folk song (it is used right after the wedding of Ridda and prince Alwan - see video below).

The reason I used this melody is because it is based on a rhythm called Zaffa which happens to be a rhythm that is often performed at weddings in the near east. While most listeners won't get this, I try to bring this kind of depth to all my work.  As far as when to use one language or another, or a combination, it depends on the project. However, I've arrived at the point where my overriding focus is on the emotional intent of the composition, not so much the surface features.

What are your current projects?

I am in the final stages of producing/composing/arranging an album project that features female vocalists from a number of world traditions and orchestra. We recorded the fabulous Philharmonia Orchestra at Abbey Road in London this past August and I will be mastering the album in Los Angeles later this month. For concert music commissions I am very excited about the three commissions I have this year. The first is a work for clarinetist Kinan Azmeh [who just won a Grammy Award with the Silk Road Ensemble] and the Deutches Symphony Orchestra in Berlin. I'm working on this piece currently and it will be recorded in Berlin later in 2017. Following that I will begin a 25 minute work for Boston choir based choir Coro Allegro and string orchestra. The text, which is still being compiled, deals with 'current events.' The third work is my second commission from maestro Daniel Barenboim and it is a work for clarinet (Kinan Azmeh) and the newly founded Pierre Boulez Ensemble. This work will be premiered in Berlin at the Pierre Boulez Saal in 2018. I am deeply humbled and grateful that maestro D.B. has asked me for another work. Incidentally, Kinan and I have been struggling to find funding for a work for clarinet and large ensemble since 2008 and now we are blessed with two amazing opportunities.


What do you believe the role of music, especially "art music", plays in today's society?

This might sound too lofty but I believe art music can and should comment on the human condition and the condition of and our relation to nature.  At this point in time both the human condition and nature, our planet, are in a very difficult place. I have decided that my music must serve as a vehicle for some kind of message, be that advocating for cross-cultural understanding, compassion for the 'other', or to raise a fist against injustice and tyranny, or another cause that, even in a very small way, tries to make our world a little better.  I believe that this can be achieved through subtlety, sincerity, the highest craftsmanship possible and passion.

You can hear Abu Jmeel's Daughter by Kareem Roustom, along with works by Valerie Coleman, Andre Previn and Igor Stravinsky on March 10 at the 560 Music Center.

"My Mom, the Composer"

For years, our friend George Yeh has been suggesting (or even pestering) us to focus a program on what he believes may be the only Mother-Daughter composer relationship in history (can you believe that!?) Lo and behold his persistence paid off. We are thrilled to be presenting these two very fine composers on our upcoming concert set. George graciously agreed to write their story up for us to share with you, complete with links to recordings and really great research.

We are so grateful to George for bringing these two artists to our attention, and for his faithful support of our mission. We also thank him for sponsoring the piano rental for this concert! THANK YOU GEORGE!


On the upcoming “Family Affair” concert by Chamber Project Saint Louis on February 11, many of the family relationships involve familiar names and conventional connections.  The Bach family is the most obvious example, with Johann Sebastian the illustrious father, and distinguished sons like Carl Philipp Emanuel (also featured on the program), Johann Christian, and Wilhelm Friedemann.  With respect to husbands and wives, the best-known classical music composer couple (not that there are many) is Robert Schumann and Clara Schumann, at least for those who remember that Clara was both a composer and a celebrated pianist.  A famous family name attends to the siblings Fanny Mendelssohn and Felix Mendelssohn, although families with composer siblings seem to be quite rare in general, regardless of gender.

NIcola and Elizabeth. Courtesy of Nicola LeFanu's website.

However, the outlier family relationship on this program, in just about all demographic senses, is the pairing of Dame Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) and her younger daughter Nicola LeFanu (born 1947).  The one mother-daughter pairing on this concert, this may well be the only such composer pairing in the history of classical music to date.  In 2007, Maconchy’s centenary and LeFanu’s 60th birthday year, concerts with music from mother and daughter took place in London, Belfast, and Dublin.  10 years later, in honor of Maconchy’s 110th anniversary year and LeFanu’s 70th birthday, one concert with music of both composers is scheduled for this May at the University of York, where LeFanu was formerly on the music faculty.  This CPSTL concert thus marks a rare event anywhere this year, and also might be the sole event in the US with both composers on one concert.

Given that classical music has historically been a man’s world, to state the very obvious, it would be easy to assume various struggles against sexism in their respective lives, at the very least for Maconchy, in earlier, “less enlightened” times.  A closer look at Maconchy’s life reveals a more nuanced picture, certainly with unpleasant incidents of sexist attitudes, but also with much support for Maconchy to pursue her vocation as a composer.

Elizabeth Maconchy

Elizabeth Maconchy

Maconchy showed talent for music at an early age, even though her own parents were not musical.  Her parents thus secured their daughter her fair share of music lessons during her childhood in Dublin.  She also began to compose, and progressed as a teenager to the point that she received lessons in harmony and counterpoint from the Irish composer John Larchet.  According to LeFanu, in her on-line biography of her mother, one of Maconchy’s Dublin teachers was so impressed as to advise the family that “she must go to the Royal College of Music”1 (RCM) in London.  After the death of her father in 1922 from tuberculosis, Violet, her mother, moved the family to her native England, to allow Maconchy to fulfill that advice.

Maconchy began her studies at the RCM in London in September 1923, where she wasn’t quite prepared for the faster pace of London life compared to Dublin.  As well, at age 16, she was younger than most of the RCM students, and still in grief over her father’s death,2 apart from any considerations about being female in a male-dominated environment.  Once acclimatized on campus, however, she progressed well as a pianist and as a composer.  Off-campus, she secured lessons in composition from Ralph Vaughan Williams, starting in 1925.  She became introduced to the music of Bartok about a year later, whose music would prove a great influence on her own voice.  Vaughan Williams reportedly said of Maconchy, once she completed studies with him, that he was:

“…very sorry to lose her, but I can teach her no more, she will work for her own salvation, she will go far.”3

Granted, it wasn’t all completely smooth sailing.  The single most notorious documented incident of sexist attitudes that Maconchy encountered at the RCM involved her application for the Mendelssohn Scholarship for overseas study, the RCM’s prize honor.  She applied after Vaughan Williams suggested that she continue her studies in Prague.  The adjudicators included the RCM’s director, Hugh Allen, who congratulated Maconchy the day after the interview on her winning the scholarship.  However, Maconchy had not won the award, which Allen apparently hadn’t realized.  According to Rhiannon Mathias (daughter of the Welsh composer William Mathias, and a flutist and writer on music), the ensuing conversation included a cringe-inducing, gratuitous comment that contradicted Allen’s nominal commiseration at her not winning:4

“…[Allen] replied that the adjudicators must have changed their minds after he had left the room.  He then added, ‘but anyway, if we’d given it to you, you’d only have gotten married and never written another note!’”4,5

This is obviously a very tacky comment, to put it mildly, if a commonplace reflection of earlier social attitudes.  However, it must be noted that during her time at the RCM, Maconchy never faced barriers, from Allen or anyone, to tackling any courses or subjects, or studying with whomever she wanted.  Remember also that Allen had assumed that Maconchy had won, which conveys Allen’s subliminal knowledge that she was a quality student, regardless of gender.  Ultimately, this story ended happily.  Maconchy won a different RCM award in 1928, the Octavia Traveling Scholarship, which allowed her to travel to Prague after all.  

    If anything, a much bigger life challenge for Maconchy resulted not from gender bias, but health.  Full-blown tuberculosis struck her around 1932, presumably the result of latent infection from her father that only blew up on her years later.  She and her husband William LeFanu adopted an English countryside lifestyle of “fresh air and sheer willpower”6, as she did not want to move to Switzerland for recuperation.  Over the rest of her life, while she still encountered general instances of prejudice against female composers, she and her music received praise and championing from such influential British musical figures of the time as Sir Henry Wood and Donald Tovey, as well as Vaughan Williams.  Maconchy became friends with composers of her generation like Michael Tippett (a classmate at the RCM) and Benjamin Britten.  She also formed great friendships with fellow composer Grace Williams and violinist Anne Macnaughten, who became a strong champion of Maconchy’s music.  Maconchy was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1977, and named a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in 1987, the second woman composer in UK history to be made DBE. 

    Perhaps the heart of Maconchy’s achievements as a composer is her series of 14 string quartets.  This writer recalls that the Mid-County branch of the St. Louis County Library had at least one CD of Maconchy’s quartets (if some enterprising reader who happens to be in the library’s neighborhood can confirm if they’re still there, that would be nice to know).  You can check out one of her string quartets, No. 13, from a 2013 concert at London’s Cadogan Hall, as part of that summer’s Proms, at the following video:

By comparison, LeFanu didn’t have to concern herself with overtly sexist attitudes the way her mother did.  Of course, it helped to have an extraordinary and unique mother as a role model.  Growing up, LeFanu attended concerts with her mother, and listened a great deal to the BBC’s Third Programme. Originally, she thought of becoming a playwright rather than a composer.  She sometimes wrote songs to go with the plays, and gradually realized that she was better at writing music than plays.  One obvious question here is how present the mother’s work was in the daughter’s work.  On this question, and regarding her own early efforts, LeFanu recollected:

“She was always extraordinarily supportive but she didn’t help directly; I think she was very nervous of pushing it….My mother didn’t formally teach either my sister or myself because she thought it was not a good idea for parents to teach their children, but she was very supportive.”7

LeFanu also stated this interesting perspective about artists in general:

“I don’t see composers or writers or anyone as on a pedestal; I don’t have a nineteenth-century view of them like Wagner did; maybe that is the advantage of having had a mother who was a composer.”7

LeFanu studied music at Oxford, and soon after at the RCM, following in her mother’s footsteps.  Ironically, at the RCM, LeFanu won the Mendelssohn Scholarship.  After graduation, she spent several years as a freelance composer, and did graduate studies at Harvard.  In 1979, she married a fellow composer, David Lumsdaine.  Their son, Peter, was born in 1982.  She and Lumsdaine held a joint post at King’s College London from 1981 to 1992.8  She then became a professor on the music faculty of the University of York in 1994, and was department head from 1994 to 2001.  She retired from York in 2008.

Regarding her own life, LeFanu recalled that a bigger challenge of being a composer was the classic career-family balance, rather than any sort of gender prejudice:

“I didn’t have a full-time job until I came to York in 1994, so I could always put composition first.  During the years at King’s College London, David and I had a job-share, which was ideal.  I would compose at home in the mornings and teach in the afternoon, and inevitably I lived an incredibly hectic life because I also enjoyed being a wife and mother.”7

In retrospect, LeFanu realized that she was very lucky to come of age as a composer when opportunities for female composers were particularly strong, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s:

“I came to London’s concert halls as a young woman and heard The Fires of London playing Gillian Whitehead, the Allegri Quartet playing Jennifer Fowler, Jane Manning singing Erika Fox, the CBSO [City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra] playing a new orchestral work of mine... I believed, in my naivety, that this was the beginning of the good times; that all that Elisabeth Lutyens, Priaulx Rainier, my mother Elizabeth Maconchy and the other women composers in that generation had stood for and struggled for was finally bearing fruit.”9

Nicola LeFanu

Nicola LeFanu

However, by the mid-1980’s, this environment had distinctly retreated for women in British classical music.  LeFanu addressed entrenched and unconscious gender bias in the field in a public lecture titled “Master Musician: An Impregnable Taboo?”, which she delivered almost exactly 30 years ago, at the “Women in Music” weekend in London over February 6-8, 1987.  (The immediately previous quote from LeFanu is from this lecture.)  In an interview published in 2006, she recalled how she was motivated to research the issue in detail:

“I felt that I had had terrific opportunities and so I was somebody who could speak up without being accused of having a chip on my shoulder.  It was obvious to me that you cannot combat sexism with sexism, which is a mistake that is often made.  If you take one group who are suffering and show up prejudices then you’re probably helping all the groups who are suffering, which was not easily understood by those men who criticized us and said that we were creating ghettos and so on.  They didn’t realize that what we were pointing out was a certain very territorial and self-regarding oligarchy in the English musical establishment, which ironically is still there.”7

In a 2008 interview with the MUSE Choir of Cincinnati, LeFanu acknowledged that she was quite fortunate in her own life as a composer:

“Prejudice is seldom overt these days, but it exists, nevertheless. I'd like to think, since UK has such a number of fine women composers, that things were getting better; but then, things were very good for women composers when I began, in the nineteen sixties.  So I don't take for granted that all the old prejudices have completely gone away.  But for myself, I have not been discriminated against as far as I know.”10

One can see that LeFanu has advocated for the greater presence of women composers on general principle, rather than out of self-interest, since by her own admission, she knew that had it good personally in her own professional life.  It thus only makes sense that she would advocate that other female composers should enjoy similar barrier-free careers.

    We can ask, of course, how much things have changed in the last decade in the UK for female composers.  Such a question is well beyond the remit of this blog post, of course.  The single most visible positive sign is the 2014 appointment of Judith Weir as Master of the Queen’s Music, the first woman in the post’s nearly 400-year history.  In London, at The Proms, the world’s largest classical music festival, composers like Weir and Sally Beamish, and Charlotte Bray, Tansy Davies, and Anna Meredith from the next generation, have become regular featured composers. 

LeFanu herself continues to compose, where her recent works include a chamber opera, Tokaido Road (2014), which you can sample on-line from a February 2015 performance at the Guildhall School in London:

Her other recent compositions include Threnody for orchestra (2015), and “A Birthday Card for Jane O’Leary” for solo piano (2016).  Her very newest opus is scheduled to premiere on February 17 in London, The Crimson Bird for soprano and orchestra, a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society.

It remains to hope to see you at this concert at The Chapel on February 11, and to send early happy 70th birthday greetings to Nicola LeFanu from St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Sources

  1. LeFanu, Nicola, “Elizabeth Maconchy DBE (1907-1994)”.  ‘MusicWeb International’ website, October 7, 2007.

  2. Mathias, Rhiannon, Lutyens, Maconchy, Williams and Twentieth-Century British Music.  Ashgate Publishing Limited (Farnham, England), p. 16 (2012).

  3. Anderson, Martin, “Our finest lost composer”.  The Independent, April 13, 2001.

  4. Mathias, p. 28.

  5. Interestingly, LeFanu reverses the attributed sentiments, in her 2007 on-line bio of her mother, that the adjudicators were in favor, but Allen was against, quoting the same comment.  However, Mathias had cited Maconchy’s own reminiscences in a 1985 TV documentary for the UK’s Channel 4, Elizabeth Maconchy: A Video Portrait.  Maconchy quipped that the adjudicators were “aged about ninety”.  So, with all due respect to LeFanu, this writer leans more to Mathias’ recounting of the story.

  6. Mathias, pp. 51-52.

  7. Haddon, Elizabeth, Making Music in Britain.  Ashgate Publishing Limited (Aldershot, England), pp. 119-135 (2006).

  8. LeFanu, Nicola, “David Lumsdaine: A biographical appreciation”.  ‘The music of David Lumsdaine’ website, 2012.

  9. LeFanu, Nicola, “Master Musician: An Impregnable Taboo?”  Lecture given at “Women in Music”, February 6-8, 1987, South Bank Centre, London.

  10. A Conversation with Composer Nicola LeFanu”.  MUSE News, Fall 2008.

Meet composer Adam Maness

We commissioned composer Adam Maness to write a piece for us for our concert themed ESSENCE, which explores how composers express what is essential to them about their home through their music.

His piece for clarinet, violin, viola and cello is call The Delmar Wall.
We asked him a few questions about himself and his music.

Q: Your formal training and performing is not as a classical musician, but now you are performing with and writing for classically trained musicians. Can you share a little about what your training in music was and how it has evolved? What are some of the challenges and some of the rewards of working with musicians from different backgrounds?

I started playing the piano when I was ten. Mostly classical (nothing too serious) until I discovered jazz when I was around fourteen. In high school, I played in the jazz band and eventually started playing jazz and pop gigs around St. Louis. After high school, I moved to New York to attend the New School University as a jazz performance major. Before I could graduate, I got a call from a vocalist back in St. Louis named Erin Bode asking if I would write some music for a record she was working on. Her career was starting to flourish and she wanted a regular band so I moved back to St. Louis where I spent 11 years playing and writing songs with Erin. 

Around 2008, Erin was starting to play more and more concerts with St. Louis Symphony concertmaster David Halen and asked if I might be interested in writing some string arrangements of our original music. I leapt at the opportunity despite the fact that I had no experience writing for strings or orchestrating anything, really. David Halen was extremely gracious - we met a few times to discuss the basics of writing for the string section. After that, I was hooked on orchestration, composition, and arranging. Eventually, with the help of some new-found classical musician friends, I formed The 442s, a band in which I could really dig in to composition with great players on a regular basis. 

After years of being a jazz musician, it's been a complete thrill to learn these new skills and grow in ways I could never have imagined. The tools that it takes to improvise on the piano - knowledge of harmony, voicings, voice leading, counterpoint, bass movements, melody - all translate easily into composition and orchestration. The challenge has been learning the history of the music itself. I know so much about obscure jazz artists, but am still just hitting the broad strokes of Beethoven and Brahms. However, it is thrilling to discover such amazing art as I go.

Q: What inspired you to write about The Delmar Wall?

I love St. Louis, but there's this strange physical and mental divide in our city. Delmar Avenue between downtown and the loop is cartoonishly divided between the very rich and very poor - almost exclusively white and black. I'm not an overtly political person; I don't usually engage in political discussions on social media or have bumper stickers on my car, but I think an important duty of the artist, and something we're well-equipped to do, is to hold up a mirror to our environment for everyone to see. With "The Delmar Wall", I used as broad of strokes as I could to invoke what I hope are the most basic human qualities of tribalism, frustration, and ultimately, decency. 

 Q: What is your favorite thing about living in St. Louis?

I love being a part of such a rich and thriving arts scene! I am doubly lucky to have a foot in the jazz community and a foot in the classical community, both of which (with the help of great organizations like Chamber Project St. Louis!) are pushing the art-music scene here to grow in new directions. And the Cardinals.

Q: What's next for you this fall?

Right now, I'm putting the finishing touches on an album of Christmas music featuring The 442s, Peter Martin, Jeremy Davenport, Erin Bode, Brian Owens, and Montez Coleman that should be ready for this holiday season. I'm also working on a new piece commissioned for the Webster Groves High School concert band honoring on of their alumnus and former St. Louis Symphony contrabassoonist, Drew Thompson, who tragically passed away in 2013 at the age of 27.

Adam and Dana were interviewed on KWMU 90.7 about Adam's piece. Learn even more about it here>

You've got two chances to hear Adam's new piece in two intimate venues!

 


 

15/16 Season Preview

We are excited to present our EIGHTH SEASON! We have new venues (you requested we find some bigger spaces!), new collaborators and our first commission! But we're keeping all your favorites too. We'll be back at The Chapel Venue and our ON TAP series will continue to partner with local service charities and taverns for unique community events. 

1. SPARK 

We open the season with an energetic program featuring harp, flute and strings bringing to life the spark that ignites when something new is created. This is our first event at Crave Coffee House which resides in a beautifully renovated church adjacent to the SLU South campus. Crave has become a vibrant community space and we look forward to filing it with music! 

2. DANCE

We are thrilled to be collaborating with Cortango Orquesta to present a truly unique evening! Be ready to dance, or at least tap your toes, during this three part event. FREE beginner Tango lessons, followed by a concert of tango music when Chamber Project and Cortango join forces, followed by a traditional milonga (dance) with a DJ. Come to some, come to all, you don't want to miss this! 

3. PLAY

We can't wait to hear what composer Christopher Stark creates for us for our first ever commissioned piece! This world premiere will be partnered with music for winds and piano by two of the most playful composers in history: Mozart and Poulenc. 

4. SHADOW

We collaborate for the first time with local favorite, Stella Markou, soprano, on this beautiful and haunting program. This program will be presented ON TAP at the Tavern of Fine Arts, and we make our first appearance on the beautiful stage at The Hettenhausen Center for the Arts at McKendree University. 

5. DIVINE

Heaven and earth intersect with this program highlighting Schubert's String Quintet, often regarded as the pinnacle of chamber music, composed to express the universality of the human condition. Stabat Mater for soprano and string quartet by Virgil Thomson compliments and rounds out the program. We return to The Chapel for this intimate and beautiful program. 

 

6. WANDER

We close our season of original programing with a feisty program for flute, clarinet, harp and strings playing music from around the world. From the haunting beauty of French Impressionism, to Celtic sounds and a wild spin of gypsy music arranged by local composer Christian Woehr, this concert will lead you down a satisfying path! You have two chances to hear this program at The Chapel Venue and ON TAP at the Schlafly Tap Room.

 

7. CHOICE

Of course we finish it all off with our always popular CHOICE concert at The Chapel Venue! 


Meet composer Christopher Stark

We love playing music by living composers. Living, breathing, walking, talking humans that we can connect with. We are even more excited when they can come to our concerts! 

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On October 17, composer Christopher Stark will be joining us for our performances of his work Borrowed Chords. Christopher is newly appointed as Assistant Professor of Composition at Washington University, and recently won a significant commissioning grant from Chamber Music America.  Read more about it here > 

Chris graciously agreed to an brief interview for us to all get to know him better. Find out about his creative process, and his thoughts on gooey butter cake. 

What was your path to becoming a composer?

My path to becoming a composer was long and slow. I grew up in a very remote part of the United States (western Montana) where access to diverse styles of live music weren't abundant. I sought out all of the local happenings that I could, which involved a lot of pep band, playing in garage bands, and going to shows of regionally touring acts of primarily folk music. With rock and folk music as my background, I started studying classical music in college--I almost became a math major because I love numbers. It took me quite a while to understand classical music, but I knew it would be a lifelong source of interest due to its complexity and massive history, which has proven to be true; I love it more everyday.

 What is the most challenging thing about composing? What is the most rewarding thing about composing? 

The most challenging thing about composing is the sheer amount of time it takes to compose a piece and constantly having to move between macro concepts and micro details--it's very easy to get lost in one or the other. Also, maintaining the attention span to sit and work for hours on a piece everyday over the course of a few months has become increasingly difficult with the prevalence of all the bizarre technology we have to distract us. The most rewarding part of composing is completing pieces, which can seem at times impossible along the way. As a composer friend of mine put it, "I don't like composing, but I like having composed."

What is the story behind Borrowed Chords? 

Borrowed Chords is an interesting piece in my output because it marks the first time I felt like I was able to tightly control my language and certain musical techniques (primarily harmony).* A lot of my composing was highly intuitive before writing this piece, which can sound great at times, but can also feel very random. In Borrowed Chords, I felt like I was able to stick with certain ideas and fully work through their potential to create something satisfying formally and harmonically. The piece was written as part of an assignment in which I was given 48 hours to compose a piece using two four-note chords. These two chords were favorites of my teacher, Roberto Sierra, so I called the piece Borrowed Chords as an homage to him. Since writing this piece, I have focused more on developing a harmonic language which has consistency over the course of an entire movement, and I am increasingly fascinated by musical theories about how to develop harmony over time. All this aside, it's a fun and short piece, and I hope that you'll hear elements of my rock, folk, and jazz background in its driving rhythm and folky melodies.

*(Harmony is 2 or more notes sounding at the same time. There are millions of possible combinations and sequences and learning to be selective and creative about those options is one of the key steps in writing music that is successful. In his situation Christopher is using 2 sets of 4 notes to control the harmony in Borrowed Chords) - Dana

What is one thing you wish everyone knew about composers?

That we are as crazy as advertised. ;)

You just moved to St. Louis.  What is your favorite thing about St. Louis so far?

Hailing from the north, I love the weather here. I'm so happy to be away from the biting cold. I also love the ease of livability, the low cost of living, friendly people, and working at Wash U, which is a fantastic school. There are also really great coffee shops here (Sump, Blueprint, Kaldi's) and, of course, gooey butter cake.

Is there anything about St. Louis that has surprised you or was unexpected?

Two things: the first and most obvious surprise was the events in Ferguson. My latest piece for Piano Quartet has a short commentary at the end of one of the movements where I felt I couldn't continue without dealing with the emotions I felt while watching and reading the news about Mike Brown's death. Second, I was awestruck by Saarinen's Gateway Arch, which I had never seen in person. How many cities have a modernist sculpture as their defining feature? That's very cool, in my opinion.

 Any other performances of your works coming up?

The aforementioned Piano Quartet will be premiered on October 19th in Louisville. I also have an orchestral song being premiered in New York on November 14th. In the spring I'll have some events here in St. Louis, which people can find by checking my website.

Thank you for programming my work and welcoming me to St. Louis. I'm very excited to be here.

ON TAP concerts support local charities.

Our ON TAP series continues to highlight local charities that do good work in our community. This week we are featuring Card Care Connection at our concert at The Schlafly Tap Room.

Card Care Connection is a local non profit that provides supportive handmade cards and Bundles of Cheer to those facing cancer. Have you every been on the receiving end of a random act of kindness that made a difference to you? Now is your chance to be on the giving end of a gift of kindness. 

You can bring and donate small items for their Bundles of Cheer packages such as:

  • lip balm
  • nail polish 
  • lotion 
  • socks
  • new pillow cases
  • small toys 

You can support their handmade card projects by donating postage. 

A representative from Card Care Connection will be on hand to share what they do with us. Visit their website to learn more.>


Giving More

Building community has always been a core value for Chamber Project, so when Tony Saputo offered to help us make our final ON TAP concert double as a collection opportunity for Operation Food Search, we were thrilled! Operation Food Search is a local organization that distributes over 2.75 million pounds (!!!) of food and necessities to community partners every MONTH!  150,000 people in the region, about a third of them children, are fed monthly. We are honored to spread the word about their good work and give you the opportunity to connect with them. 

Our friend Tony is the leader of the local chapter of the United States Bartender's Guild. He thought our concert would be a great opportunity to join forces to support a cause that the Guild is involved with. (You may remember that our last ON TAP concert at The Schlafly Tap Room doubled as a collection even for Connections to Success) 

Tony worked with 4 Hands Brewing Co. to arrange everything and invited two of St. Louis' best bartenders to join him to serve you great brews during our concert. Not only are these bartenders donating their services for the evening, they will be giving 100% of their tips to Operation Food Search as well as. Additionally we will be accepting non-perishable items (no glass please) for donation - so grab a can from your pantry and tip big as you enjoy an evening of fantastic music by some of the best musician's in St. Louis at a fantastic brewery! 

Take a moment to get to know these three generous guys and come out and say "hi" on Wednesday night! get tickets now >

Introducing our Celebrity Bartenders! 

Matt Sorrell, the Guild's secretary, is an experienced mixologist and freelance writer based in St. Louis, MO. He has been writing professionally for thirteen years and has contributed to a variety of local and national publications, such as USA Today, Draft Magazine, ALIVE Magazine, Ladue News, and FEAST Magazine. He also co-authored a book with Chef Clara Moore, "Shop Like A Chef: A Food Lover's Guide To St. Louis Neighborhoods."  Also, after creating a traveling bartending service named Cocktails Are Go to deliver in-home tastings and educational sessions at house parties and social gatherings, Matt Sorrell has become a core bartender at some of St. Louis' best cocktail vendors, the former Salt and recently established Planter's House.

Seth Wahlman is a long time member of the United States Bartender's Guild and is the Bar Manager of Eclipse Restaurant of the Moonrise Hotel.  His drinks have been published in ALIVE Magazine, Sauce, and Feast. Mr.Wahlman was named Sauce Magazine's 2012 mixologist of the year and also placed in various cocktail competitions throughout the region for Bombay Sapphire, Don Julio, and others.  With a love and extensive knowledge of culinary practice, beer, wine, and liquor, Seth is truly a force that keeps St. Louis' bar scene consistently interesting and fresh!

Tony Saputo works alongside Seth Wahlman at the Eclipse Restaurant as the Assistant Bar Manager. Mr. Saputo is the social supervisor of the St. Louis Chapter of the USBG and cofounder of the popular city wide cocktail club, Drink Up, St.Louis.  Much like the other volunteers, Tony has placed in various local magazines featuring original cocktails and creations.  He often travels to different Bartender's Guild events throughout the country, proudly acting as an ambassador of the St.Louis bar culture.  Tony will be celebrating his tenth year behind a bar this year.

EVOLUTION

MAY 7, 7PM*
4 Hands Brewing Co. 

$12.50 in advance
$15.00 door
$5 students

A modern American quintet for Saxophone and Strings, a jazzy duet for clarinet and bass and the famous String Quintet by Dvorak.

*There is no Cardinals baseball on Wednesday - there is ample free parking across the street from 4 Hands. 

What's going on

We are busy! Here's what we're up to right now. 

THANK YOU to everyone who attended and donated clothing at our ON TAP concert last month. Dress for Success took home an enormous haul of professional attire and the evening was a definitive success!

*This week we are coaching young musicians from the Ladue High School Bands to prepare them for their upcoming concert at a local retirement community. Conversations and demonstrations about how to stay together as an ensemble and how to most effectively communicate with each other and with the audience have been a lot of fun!

*In March, Chamber Project will perform at NASA - no, we're not going to the moon -  it's the largest ever North American Saxophone Alliance biannual conference, held this year at The University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana.  We are honored to have been accepted to perform. Jen, Adrianne and pianist Rachel Aubuchon (from Columbia MO) will be highlighting our commitment to women in the arts as we perform works of Jennifer Higdon and Adrienne Albert. We perform on March 22.  learn more here>

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*We are gearing up for our final three concerts of the year.  EVOLUTION promises to be a fantastic program. Visit the CONCERT page for details and tickets. 

For our final ON TAP concert at 4 Hands Brewing Co. will be co-sponsoring a donation drive for Operation Food Search with the local chapter of the National Bartenders Guild Association. Stay tuned for details. Tickets for this go on sale March 1. 

*Many of your favorite Chamber Project musician's are performing next week in Winter Opera's production of Lucia di Lammermoor, including Megan Stout who performed the big harp solo from this work last year in a Chamber Project concert. get tickets here>

 

Meet Jeff

We are excited to be presenting our first concert with a percussionist! Over a year ago we got an email from this guy introducing himself. We checked out his youtube channel and were impressed, so we working him into this really fantastic program. In fact, he has a piece all to himself!  

Jeff's story -

The way my mom tells it, my musical career started when I was 2 years old.  We'd be visiting my grandparents, and I would climb up to the piano and plunk out melodies that I had heard on the stereo or just make up my own melodies.  I got started on piano lessons a couple of years later, but was always looking forward to the 4th grade, when we got to start participating in band.  I always knew I wanted to play percussion - in fact, it was completely amazing to me that some people DIDN'T want to play percussion.  Once I started, there was no looking back.  When it came time to start thinking of careers and college majors, I couldn't imagine myself doing anything other than music.  Nothing else seemed right.

Jeff with some of his "toys".

Jeff with some of his "toys".


I got my degree in music education from Penn State University, but didn't quite feel ready to enter the work force - I wanted to really hone my skills as a performer.  So I resumed my studies at the University of Michigan, earning my master's degree in percussion performance.  After graduating, I returned to my home state of New Jersey to start my teaching career.  For three years, I worked as an elementary school band director and district percussion specialist.  I had a great time doing it, but rather quickly realized that this was not my life's calling - I wanted to work with college students, those who have made the decision to dedicate their lives to music.  So I returned to Ann Arbor and graduated with my DMA, also in percussion performance.  Upon graduating, I was fortunate enough to find employment at Lindenwood University.

Just one of the instruments Jeff will be performing on with us. This is a marimba. 

Just one of the instruments Jeff will be performing on with us. This is a marimba. 

 

Working at LU has been fantastic - my students and colleagues are great, and I am totally justified in choosing this career path.  I am currently the Director of Percussion Studies at the St. Charles campus, and the Director of Bands at the Belleville campus.  I am thrilled to be playing with Chamber Project STL - chamber music has always been a very important part of my musical education and career, and being able to continue that with this group means a lot to me.  The 'Weave' program features great music (although I am partial to Reich's Vermont Counterpoint, my solo debut with the group!), and I'm sure you'll love it as much as we do.  Thanks for supporting Chamber Project STL and the arts!  Please visit my website at www.jeffreybarudin.com and my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/JeffBarudin to see my videos and learn more about me.  

Meet Jeff at our Very Open Rehearsal on Jan 9 and hear him perform Jan 17 and 29th. Check out our concerts page for details.

What in the world is AUGENMUSIK?

Last week, we showcased a piece of music by composer Kenji Bunch that we'll be playing this month. He uses non-traditional notation to convey his musical ideas. You can read all about it here >.  

Augenmusik, or "eye music" is not at all a modern invention. Bob Chamberlin, Professor and Director of Music Theory and Musicianship at Webster Universtiy generously wrote up a little history of Augenmusik. It's amazing how different music through the ages sounds. You'll have to come to one of our three concerts next week to see how Kenji's Augenmusik sounds (it's very different from any of the examples here!)

Augenmusik: a brief introduction

The term “augenmusik”  is a German work that means literally, “eye music” or music to be appreciated visually.  Composers have been notating visually intriguing musical scores for many centuries.

Perhaps one of the most well-known examples is the chanson, “Belle, Bonne, Sage” by Baude Cordier (ca. 1380 – ca. 1440).  The musical score is shaped like a heart and has red notes to indicate rhythmic alterations.  A smaller heart made of musical notes hangs like a pendant within the musical score. See and here it here >  Baude Cordier also composed a round, “Tout par compass suy corposis” or “With a compass I was composed."   Listen to it here >

Cordier - "With a Compass I was composed."

Telemann, "Gulliver Suite"

Telemann, "Gulliver Suite"

In the 16th century, Italian madrigalists (song writers) often used different note values to indicate specific words that were either dark or light words.  For example, black notes might be used for the words “death” or “night” and whole notes and half notes to express words like “light” and pale”.  In composer Luca Marenzio’s work, “senza il mia sole” (1588), black notes are used for the phrase, “chiuser le luci” (close their eyes).”

During the Baroque period, Telemann’s “Gulliver Suite” uses meter and note values to distinguish between “Lilliputian” and “Brobdingnagian.” (The two islands in the book the music is based on.) Listen to it here >

Many recent composers (20th and 21st centuries) have composed augenmusik.  George Crumb’s composition, “Makrokosmos, Vol. I” for amplified piano, includes pieces depicting a cross, a circle and a spiral galaxy.  These shapes were chosen to indicate different signs of the zodiac.  Listen to it here >

George Crumb

George Crumb

Interview with Kenji Bunch

We're excited to be playing the music of American composer Kenji Bunch this month. We got his CD Boiling Point and fell in love with the piece Drift and decided it fit perfectly on our DREAM program  Much to our surprise, when we got the music, it was not written out in traditional notation! We thought you might like to know more about how this works, so we've put together two blog posts about AUGENMUSIK (Eye Music).

Bob Chamberlin from Webster University is going to share a short history of Augenmusik, including links to recordings in our second post, but first, we're going to hear from Kenji Bunch himself. We contacted Kenji on Facebook and asked him a few questions about his creative process with Drift.       

Drift by Kenji Bunch. All images used with permission.  

What inspired you to write a graphic score?       As a performer, I've worked with a lot of graphic notation, from my years as violist in the Flux Quartet to my time as part of the performing composer collective Ne(x)tworks, a group that specialized in music of the New York School, the avant garde movement of John Cage and his contemporaries.  Writing graphic scores seemed a natural extension of this work.

What came first, the musical ideas or the desire to use this type of notation? What's the story behind this composition? 
I was commissioned by the Spoleto USA Festival to write a trio for clarinet, viola, and piano.  For whatever reason, at the time I was working on the project, my schedule only allowed me to sit down at my desk and get to work rather late at night.  After taking the necessary time to settle down and focus, so that I was actually ready to get good work done, I would be so tired that I'd literally be falling asleep while composing the piece.  I realized that some quality musical ideas were drifting away into my subconscious mind, and if I was able to recall any of them later that night or the next day, they wouldn't be exactly the same.  

Then it occurred to me that there was potential for some interesting exploration about this notion of memory and transformation.  In essence, the material in this piece develops not through the traditional compositional tools, but through the performer's ability to recall what he or she heard earlier in the work.  Any "mistakes" in this recollection would be embraced as development of the material.  And ultimately, the piece serves as a metaphor for the process of grief, which is really a confrontation and reconciliation with the idea that memories are inherently ephemeral, and can't be preserved without some kind of inevitable alteration.

The music literally Drifts away sometimes. 

 Did you experiment with and discard different ways of writing the same material? Did you rearrange the order of the material or movements?    I actually tried valiantly to write this piece using traditional notation.  This was a commission for very accomplished performers, but not necessarily for people who would be accustomed to performing off of drawings.  I was concerned the graphic score would be a distraction that could keep the piece from being taken seriously.  Ultimately, though, I realized it was really restricting me to write the necessary bar lines and rhythms, and it ended up looking way more complicated than it sounded.

Do you use this type of notation often?      I think my first graphic scores were back in 2002, when I was writing for a band called Nurse Kaya that I had with some friends.  I've used non traditional notations a number of times since then, but probably about 85% of my music is written the normal way.

What challenges does this type of notation present to you as the composer? What rewards does it offer you as the creator of this music that traditional notation doesn't offer?      First of all, we need to recognize that every form of notation, including the standard one in use for hundreds of years, is a graphic score.  Music written down in any fashion is a graph, depicting sound frequencies (pitch) over time.  There are other variables (dynamics, articulation, etc.), but all scores are expressions of a graph.  

With this in mind, it becomes possible to see that for certain techniques, traditional notation may not always be the best choice.  What I've found with pieces like "Drift" is that the notation, while at first kind of bewildering, actually makes it a lot easier for the performers to make music.  It enables listening rather than counting, and connecting and responding with each other, rather than trying to anticipate someone else's rhythms or assert your own.  It can be very freeing.  Especially in the case of this piece, which makes room for some gently guided improvisation for the three musicians. 

Check out Kenji's website >     (and buy some of his music!)

Isn't it interesting to learn about the process behind creating music? Which of the images are you most excited to hear? Do you think you'll be able to tell what we're playing in the concert? 

  

We discussed how long this passage should last in rehearsal a few times. In the end, it just happens the way it happens! 

Initially this page probably scared us the most. The first time we played it it was a disaster, but it's amazing how it always works out.

We'll be performing Drift three times in November: 

SAT NOV 16, 8pm    THE CHAPEL VENUE
We've been selling out at The Chapel Series - don't wait to get your tickets! Advance pricing and online sales end at noon on day of concert.  buy tickets now > 

SUN NOV 17, 3pm    LADUE CHAPEL 
You asked for a matinee concert, and you got it! Join us in this beautiful sanctuary. Free will donation suggested.  view details >

NOV 20, 7:30pm    WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY CHAMBER MUSIC SERIES AT THE DANFORTH UNIVERSITY CENTER (DUC)
 
A cozy venue for a great concert.  view details >

 

Chamber Project ON TAP

Artistic Director and flutist Jennifer Gartley introduces our new series:

CHAMBER PROJECT ON TAP

Before I moved to Saint Louis, I am going to have to admit I did not like beer. I just didn't. I mean, I was over my horrible amaretto sour stage, but beer was not at the top of my list.  But when you move to Saint Louis, you better saddle up because beer is KING.  STL is the home of Budweiser, you can walk out of your house in the city in the morning and smell the hops/seeds/barley, or whatever it is they are brewing, and know you are in the Lou.

 

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There is a craft beer revolution going on in Saint Louis too, and it is exciting, and good for the city, and really really tasty.   Personally, I've been able to explore my tastes with my local brew masters over at the Civil Life, Urban Chestnut, Six Row, 4Hands, Schlafly... and I know I don't like the beers that taste like perfumed flowers, but I do like the stouts, and a good black ale.  And it can be a little less intimidating than wine (which is also pretty darn good, but if I'm being honest, I can't tell the difference between a Pinot Noir and a Merlot, but I pretend to).  You can learn a little but  more about the viewpoint of some of these craft breweries in the trailer for their movie here: http://www.craftinganation.com/  - but if you don't have time, it really comes down to community, and making people happy, and locally supported businesses.  What can that do for a city? A community?

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Well, obviously, this sounds SO up the Chamber Project alley - all about people, connecting with our community, making St. Louis a better place to live...  But beer and classical music in a bar? Does that work?

It's happening all over the country, and our experiments with it have show a demand for it! Check out this piece on the Cleveland Orchestra in a local Cleveland bar, breaking down barriers and finding new audiences. Pretty cool, huh?

We want to bring together all that St. Louis has to offer - great music, great beer and great people, all ON TAP just for you. We are proud to partner with Schlafly Beer and 4 Hands Brewing Co. along with the Tavern of the Fine Arts to try this out this season - come and raise a glass with us,  it's going to be fun. Cheers!

CHAMBER PROJECT ON TAP  
Tavern of Fine Arts - OCT 23, 7:30pm
Schlafly Tap Room - JAN 29, 7:00pm
4 Hands Brewing Co. - MAY 6, 7:00pm   

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This series is partly funded by The Missouri Arts Council and the Regional Arts Commission.

Season Six has a Theme!

From the get go, we've enjoyed pulling together our concerts with a theme. We could just plop together any old music we like, but where's the challenge in that? This season we've taken it to the next level, and have a theme uniting our entire concert series.

Each of our five programs this year connects in some way to theater. This idea originated when we discovered the newly discovered original score to a work by the famous Aaron Copland and built a program around it. From there we kept building our season and bit by bit realized that with we could work out a theme for our entire series! We're really excited to present our first concert in just two weeks. Rehearsals began this past weekend, and were a blast. 

Our first concert is titled DANCE, and includes the "new" work by Copland, as well as 4 tangos in some form or another!  Here's a little bit about this concert. 

Copland wrote some incidental music to a play in 1940. Quiet City was a flop as a play, so Mr. Copland took his score for quartet and arranged it for string orchestra, trumpet and English horn. You can read more about how the original scoring was recently published here in last weeks blog post. 

 

Keep an eye out around town for this poster! 

We built this program around Quiet City, which has the unique instrumentation of trumpet, saxophone, clarinets and piano. We added a few instruments to that ensemble to build out the program. 

The concert  begins with a short piece titled "Breakdown Tango" by American composer John Mackey which was composed to be danced to, although not as a traditional tango! It's a wild and raunchy affair that will spice up the kick off to our sixth season! 

We finish the program with another ballet score by an early 20th Century composer, Martinu. (He's Czech, but the music is all French.) La Revue de Cuisine  is about a love triangle between kitchen utensils. Yes, you read that right, kitchen utensils. Want to read more about how "Dishcloth makes eyes at Lid but is challenge to a duel by Broom?" (click here)  As you might imagine the music is delightful, playful and full of dance numbers. there's a Tango, a Charleston and a March for seven instruments. We're excited to have Dawn Weber playing trumpet with us on this piece and the Copland! Check out her website, she's got about one million cool things going on. 

At this point in the program development process, we figured we'd better add a few more dance numbers to the program to keep the theme going. Pulling in the suite of dances from Stravinsky's trio arrangement of his famous L'historie du Soldat was an easy fit (or not so easy for Kyle who has to play maybe the most difficult Tango ever written for violin), and we get to Dance with the Devil for a minute or so, which should be fun. We also threw in a slow tango by the tango master, Piazzolla, and wham, we've got a program all about theater and dance! 

So put your dancin' shoes on and join us on Sept. 6 at The Chapel for a great time! Tickets are on sale here.  

Program details are available here > 

 

Copland's Quiet City

This post is written by Adrianne, saxophonist and Artistic Director of Chamber Project St. Louis

We’re always searching for interesting works to program on Chamber Project St. Louis concerts.  Sometimes we have favorites in mind, or classic works of the chamber repertoire, but sometimes we want to find something new and unique to perform.  A piece by Copland would surely fall into the category of a classic or well-known work, but not in this case! 

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<--Copland wrote for saxophone?! 

You can imagine our surprise when, about two years ago, we heard about a newly discovered version of Copland’s relatively well-known orchestral piece Quiet City.  It turns out that the original version of the work, which was written for a play by Irwin Shaw, was for clarinets, alto saxophone, trumpet and piano.  How perfect for Chamber Project!  Copland did not write much chamber music repertoire, so this is a very exciting discovery.  

It turns out that we have Christopher Brellochs to thank.  He was pursuing a Doctorate in saxophone at Rutgers University when his professor approached him with what turned out to be the long lost Copland score.  National Public Radio featured his story about unearthing and adapting the original work, which is how we came to know about it. 

Find out more about Copland’s Quiet City—check out the NPR interview and recordings here!

What an exciting way to start the season! Dana and I look forward to performing with Dawn Weber on trumpet and Peter Henderson on piano for this upcoming concert.  This will be Dawn’s first performance with Chamber Project St. Louis!  Come and hear the St. Louis premiere of this new classic on September 6 at the Chapel.

 Chamber Project St. Louis presents DANCE
September 6, 8:00 PM
The Chapel Venue

MACKEY Breakdown Tango
COPLAND Quiet City
STRAVINSKY Four Dances from The Soldier’s Tale for Trio
PIAZZOLLA Tango No. 4
MARTINU La Revue de Cuisine

Purchase tickets here 

Meet Laura

On Saturday we present our Fourth Annual Audience Choice Concert. Laura, founding member and Artistic Director of Chamber Project, shares her choices in this blog post about her path in music.

I did not grow up in a musical household, but my parents wanted me to try a variety of activities, so I did. I took years of dance classes, figure skating lessons, and even played team sports. It was all fun. However, when I began playing the viola in 4th grade, at James Madison Elementary in Colorado Springs, I was hooked. My parents provided me with many opportunities, and music was the obvious choice for me to focus on.

Posing for a picture before my tap recital. This was one of my favorite costumes.

With Ms. Johnson and some of the members of "Strings 'R Us". That's me on the right with the rolled jeans.

   I had an incredible elementary strings teacher, Ms. Linda Johnson. Her class was delightful, learning was never laborious. She gave me extra lesson time and additional music to work on so that I would continue to be challenged. Ms. Johnson kept it light and funny. She named the string program “Strings ‘R Us”. One of our concerts was entitled “An Anesthetic Experience”. If you must know, 50 beginners playing a variety of string instruments is not what most would label as soothing, but our parents appreciated the sarcasm.

Me, holding my brother Matt with my sister Mandy. "Lessons" would begin soon...

I would spend hours practicing my orchestra part, perfecting it passage by passage. I encouraged my younger siblings to play string instruments and then as I was clearly the “expert”, I gave them private lessons. This, of course, did not go well. Tears were shed and lessons ended abruptly. I just wanted them to have as much fun as I did playing music! I choose to continue with music, they, in spite of their “lessons” with me, did not. 

I entered The Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) thinking I would love to be a professional chamber musician. I was really into chamber music and had just finished a great summer at The Olympic Music Festival playing string quartets. However, CIM is known for its orchestral training and affiliation with The Cleveland Orchestra, so after my four years there, I was convinced that I wanted a job in the viola section of an orchestra.

I went to graduate school and started taking orchestra auditions. While in grad school, I met this great guy who was also taking orchestra auditions. He won a trombone position in the St. Louis Symphony. We got married, moved to St. Louis, and he started his new job. I started playing as a substitute with the St. Louis Symphony, my desire to play with an orchestra was partially fulfilled.

Performing a Dvorak string quartet at Olympic Music Festival.

It was at the end of my first year in St. Louis that two things occurred. I met Dana, Jen, and Adrianne, and we started talking about how much we missed playing chamber music. Chamber Project Saint Louis was in its infancy.  I made the choice to re-focus my energy on my first love of chamber music. 

That year I also got a job at City Academy teaching elementary students to play the violin. I never thought that I would be in a classroom setting, it wasn’t one of the choices I had originally seen for myself, but I have grown to love it and am now thrilled that this option came my way. The kids are awesome. City Academy gives them opportunities that they would most likely never have and this makes me proud to be a part of this.

Every May, when the 6th grade class leaves their violins at school to leave for middle school, I get nostalgic. I wonder if any of them will ever play a note again, even though they promise me that they will. 

I hope that I have planted a seed and that when they grow into brilliant young professionals, that they will love and support the arts.  My own life was changed by Ms. Johnson’s dedication to her students and to music, and this inspires me to pass it on.

Ensemble in Residence at The Community Music School of Webster University

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We are excited to be the Ensemble in Residence at The Community Music School of Webster University this summer for the 2014 Summer Composition Intensive!

During this unique two week camp, students learn basic composition skills, or hone the skills they already have as they compose a piece for clarinet, viola and piano. They will have the opportunity to work with the musicians throughout the camp as their work develops. The camp culminates with Chamber Project Saint Louis performing all of the works for family, friends and anyone else who wants to come! 

Chamber Project clarinetist Dana Hotle has been an instructor at the camp since it began over 10 years ago. She says, "The CMS Composition Intensive is always the most inspiring part of the year for me. To watch these young students enthusiastically create music is always a thrill, and affirms my belief that Classical Music is alive and well and has a very bright future.  Hearing their works performed on the last day is something I look forward to year after year. It's amazing what these kids do! I'm really excited that Chamber Project is the Ensemble in Residence this year. It is a natural fit for what we do. I'm really looking forward to being able to perform the pieces that I've helped them compose!"

The camp is a truly unique opportunity for young musicians, and draws students from all over the country. Have a young musician in your life who might enjoy this? Learn more at the CMS website HERE

Meet Elizabeth, and her family.

We have enjoyed having Elizabeth Ramos (violin) perform with us so much this season! When we asked her to play this upcoming concert with us, she was giddy with delight. It turns out that one of the pieces on the program holds a special place in her heart, and this is her first opportunity to actually play it. She has graciously shared this story with us today. Elizabeth comes from a family of musicians. Both of her parents play in the St. Louis Symphony. Her mom is a cellist and her dad is a violinist. Both of her siblings are also musicians. What is it like to grow up in a house full of string players? She gives us a little glimpse in her story. 

Elizabeth Ramos, violin

Elizabeth Ramos, violin

In my parents house, my mother has a studio that is cluttered with dusty cassettes, decaying volumes of music, and every type of random artifact you could imagine, ranging from decade old used strings to broken splintering cello chairs.  It is here that I would come in my adolescent years to rummage through old bins of recordings and thumb through yellowed, flaking pages of chamber music.  Mixed into the hodgepodge of musical paraphernalia I would frequently come across live recordings of my parent's performances, some from only a few months prior, and others extending as far back as their conservatory days in the 70's.  Perhaps early on I had a deep seated sense of parental pride, or more likely it was just an inquisitive child's curiosity, but more often than not I would find myself specifically combing through the familial stacks of long forgotten cassette tapes labeled "Carmen Fantasy, 1987," or "Brahms Double, 1993."

Elizabeth on the far left, with her sibling playing together.

Elizabeth on the far left, with her sibling playing together.

Every find would be a secret bonanza, to be confiscated and listened to over and over again while doing the dishes. (The kitchen had the most easily accesible stereo.)  It was during one of these "snooping" sessions that I came across a cassette tape of the Schumann Piano Quintet with my father playing first violin.  To a child's ears, it was magnetic.  During the after dinner dishes that evening, I dragged my little brother into the kitchen and forced him to sword fight with a spatula and a wooden spoon to the Scherzo, and play acted a long, drawn out melodramatic death accompanying the slow movement.  For the next year it was the only recording that played during our dish washing listening sessions.  Eventually we memorized our own made up lyrics, usually consisting of comedic insults and ridiculous dialogue, frequently interrupted by bouts of giggles and laughter. Throughout the years I've held this chamber work in the highest regard, not only for it's masterful brilliance, but also for the nostalgic quality it inspires.  This will be my first time performing the Schumann Piano Quintet.

Come hear Elizabeth play the Schumann Piano Quintet next Friday! Maybe she'll swing a wooden spoon at you during the Scherzo. 

ACE April 12, 8:00pm The Chapel Venue buy tickets>

SCHUBERT  String Trio in B flat Major CRESTON  Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano SCHUMANNPiano Quintet in E flat Major

Hannah Frey, violin Elizabeth Ramos, violin Laura Reycraft, viola Stephanie Hunt, cello Adrianne Honnold, saxophone Peter Henderson, piano

Where in the world...

Our upcoming concert is called "Voyage" and explores music that expresses some kind of journey. We asked our musicians about their musical Voyages! Cellist Valentina Takova previously shared her story, which envovles an intense journey of leaving her homeland and moving to America with her cello. You can read that here. But this time she shares something a little lighter. And sandier.

Don't you wish you were here right now!?

"I have traveled quite a bit because of my cello but I think my favorite work related voyage is going to Hawaii! Yes, you read this right! I play with the Honolulu Symphony from time to time and there is nothing better than dropping off your cello after rehearsal and going to the beach or to swim with turtles! Every day is sunny and beautiful. Girls wear flowers in their hair and people say Aloha when you walk in to Walgreen's. And at the end of the week...you get payed...Yes, you read that right too! Of course there are always dangers like getting your ears full with sand from a big wave, falling off of a cliff while hiking or being bitten by a giant bug...but I'll take it! Thank you Honolulu Symphony! Definitely my favorite musical voyage!"

Artistic Director and flutist, Jennifer Gartley shares her story of going to a festival in Canada where she fell in love....sort of.  She's also been to Mexico, but that story is for later.

I can tell you Jen never stops talking about this guy.

A few summers ago, well more than a few now, I spent a couple weeks up in Canada, north of Quebec at a music festival called Domaine Forget.  The sole reason I went was to learn from my flute boyfriend: Emmanuel Pahud. To be clear, he is unfortunately not my boyfriend, but I can promise you if you ask any of my college students about my flute boyfriend, they will know exactly who you are talking about. Now, I did not just love him because he is beautiful and French - but that didn't hurt.  I loved him mostly because he was the most amazing flute player I had ever heard.  My

Emmanuel Pahud, Jens not so secret celebrity crush.

friend Anne and I drove up from Portland, Maine in an old ford taurus that had seen better days.  We arrived and the views were breathtaking and there were a ton of flutists.  Flutists sometimes get a bad rep for being ul

tra competitive and dare we say not very friendly, but that was not my experience.  I made a ton of new flute friends from all over the globe and I got to practice my French a little bit.  Emmanuel Pahud turned out to be not only an amazing player, but also an empathetic, daring, and inspiring teacher.  On our free days, we walked through the streets of Quebec and I bought a really great pair of earrings from this fancy Canadian store, that turned out to be an American chain retailer - but I felt very fancy for a moment. The lessons I learned about being open to other musicians, making intentional artistic decisions, and hearing J.S. Bach in an entirely new way are lessons I have carried with me ever since.

Vince Varvel, guitar enjoyed performing all over Europe. Vince is performing with Chamber Project for the first time on Voyage. 

vinceI think my favorite musical "voyage" up to now has been the first time I went to Europe to play. The excitement of being in Europe combined with the experience of playing for the wonderful audiences over there was a life-changing experience for me.  While it was wonderful performing in a big city like Paris, my favorite concerts were the ones played in the smaller towns in the countryside where we were welcomed and treated like family (and fed pretty well, to boot!)

FEB 22, 7:00pm at The Saint Louis Art Museum Art After 5 series.Call 314-721-0072 to reserve your free tickets. **THIS CONCERT IS SOLD OUT**

MARCH 1, 8:00pm at The Chapel Venue. $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Includes 2 drinks. Click here for advance ticket purchase.

Full Program PIAZZOLLA            L’histoire du Tango BERMEL                Soul Garden SCHOENBERG     Transfigured Night

Meet Eliana

Our upcoming concert is titled "VOYAGE" because all of the pieces start somewhere and end up somewhere different. We thought it would be fun to learn about Voyages our musicians have taken so we asked them to share. Eliana Haig (viola) will be making her debut with Chamber Project next week. She's new to Saint Louis so take a moment and get to know her and her story! We'll have a few more stories coming soon.  Hi! My name is Eliana and I am very excited to be playing viola on the Voyage concerts for Chamber Project! I am a Saint Louis newbie, having just moved here with my fiance, Alex, in August. I currently teach about 22 private students (and growing) and freelance throughout the region.

Eliana and her beloved viola!

I decided on the viola in 3rd grade string orchestra through a process of elimination. I decided that 1) the violin was too high-pitched and annoying (upon working with many great violinists I have since changed my view) and 2) the cello was going to be a pain to carry around. The viola and I have been inseparable ever since. I love playing the middle voice and being in the center of the action.

I’ve been lucky that my viola playing has allowed me to enjoy many different parts of the world as well as many different musical experiences. I just moved to Saint Louis from Rochester, New York: I got my Master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music, then lived “downstate” (NYC area) for two years, then went back to Rochester, and now here. I grew up in Kentucky, but did my Bachelor’s degree in Wisconsin, so I’ve sort of lived a little bit of everywhere! My most interesting musical voyage, however, was the year I spent studying abroad in Austria.

Beethoven Monument in Vienna

Like many American students, I did a study abroad program for a semester, and chose Vienna as my destination. To non-musicians this may seem a bit random. Why not London or Paris or Berlin? But Vienna is actually a musician’s dream destination. Most of the composers we know best lived there, including Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Schubert, and Schumann. Arnold Schoenberg, the composer of Verklärte Nacht [which is on the upcoming concert], was born in Vienna and lived and worked there before being forced to emigrate when the Nazi party rose to power. {click here to watch a short video about Schoenberg in Vienna} I got to visit Beethoven’s apartment, explore an entire museum devoted to Mahler, and see a Bruckner Symphony with the same orchestra and the same hall where it was premiered. During my semester in Vienna, I also took lessons with a fantastic viola teacher, from whom I learned so much that I decided to stay the rest of the year.

This teacher actually taught full-time at a school in Graz, a small city in the southern part of Austria, so I enrolled there. I learned conversational German, though much of it I have forgotten. I played a lot of concerts, and met many people from all over the world. Being far away from home with only a passable command of the language was exciting, fascinating, confusing, and lonely, often all in the same day! Since I often think in musical terms, the best way I can think to describing my experience is that it was like learning a completely new piece of music for the first time.

Beginning to rehearse a new piece, while fun and exciting, is often disorienting. Even if I have listened to the piece with the score, hearing my part combined with the others for the first time feels like information overload. Especially when I’m preparing to perform piece of contemporary music, it takes a while to try to understand the “musical language” of the composer. Why do they want it to get louder there? What emotional or coloristic effect is he or she going for? Sometimes a new piece seems so “foreign” that I’m not even sure if certain markings in the score are clerical errors or intentional musical instructions. But much like the thrill of travelling, I love playing new music because it stretches me intellectually and forces me to try new ways of doing things - all in real time and while responding to the other musicians. That’s why live music is so much fun!

Much like a composer’s notes in the score, symbolic instructions can get lost in translation. This ambiguous sign, which I saw outside of public transit station in Graz, Austria, says “uneven surfaces”.

What does this mean?!

Be sure to say hi to Eliana at one of our upcoming concerts!

FEB 22, 7:00pm at The Saint Louis Art Museum Art After 5 series.Call 314-721-0072 to reserve your free tickets.

MARCH 1, 8:00pm at The Chapel Venue. $10 in advance, $15 at the door. Includes 2 drinks. Click here for advance ticket purchase.

Full Program PIAZZOLLA            L’histoire du Tango BERMEL                Soul Garden SCHOENBERG     Transfigured Night