Over $400 Raised for Hurricane Recovery

I’m pleased to announce that the  Imaginary Timescapes concert raised over $400 for the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund. Thank you to everyone who was in the audience on Saturday night for the performance.  I enjoyed talking with audience members after the show and meeting new fans.  Lets keep the conversation going—you can find me on twitter @kjs6—after all, “twitter is an obsession!”


Love and Betrayal in Reflections on Espionage

On this Valentine’s Day, I find myself wondering, where is love in the music of the Imaginary Timescapes program?  There’s tenderness towards inanimate objects and hints of middle school crushes in “Confessions from the Blogosphere,” but the main love story is that of betrayal.  In Reflections on Espionage, Felucca anticipates the arrival of her lover into a trap, while thinking out loud about her predicament.  The program note and texts for this song cycle for voice and string quartet, to be premiered in this version on Feb. 16th, is as follows:

When I asked the poet John Hollander for permission to set the poems that became the song cycle Reflections on Espionage, he responded, “Poor old Cupcake’s transmissions seem at first glance to be unlikely candidates for setting (and perhaps at second glance as well),” but encouraged me to try. Perhaps it is their unusual nature that drew me to these poems that comprise an intriguing novel. But it is also the range of emotions, complicated layers of thought processes, rhythm of language, and relevance to our own less exotic lives that inspired me to write these songs.

Codename Velvet’s attempts to question his own use of violence in the name of a higher purpose, as overheard by Cupcake, offer an interesting perspective on what we would call terrorism. This terrorist is not lacking a conscience, nor is he incapable of self-doubt; he merely lacks the courage to confront these challenges to his world-view. Felucca is a more sympathetic character, torn between loyalty to her lover and to her work, and resigned to the sacrifices that her work entails. Cupcake, the narrator whose daily transmissions comprise the novel, ponders his sentimentality for the little things in this unauthorized transmission to Image.

Felucca: The Listening

Artifact, as you know, was broken early
Today, and as per instructions, Felucca
Monitored the tapes, which now leave no question
—You were, of course, right—and will have reached you by
The other route. Here I enclose a transcript
Of what our bug picked up from the listening
Felucca as she waited for him to come;
It is of no particular use to us.

(Felucca) This waiting is worst.
Microphones in place, the hidden camera
Aimed at the bathroom medicine chest, almost
At the right bottle when the door is opened.
All is silent save for the sounds of midnight
Traffic outside, far below his apartment:
I hear them in my earphones as I wait here
In an adjoining dark flat for his return.
Turn, spool, turn, spool, spin, tape and wind him home now.

The tape recorder will be activated
By his footfall, which the shrewd machine knows as
Well as I do; then when he telephones them,
The flat, uncoiling serpent hissing softly
Will witness first his betrayal of the work.
Turn, spool, turn, spool, spin, tape and wind him home now.

They knew about us, gave me the assignment
Because of that, as if trapping a lover
Tested anything—as if everybody
I tailed or listened to or marked were not my
Man, all lovers were not on the other side.
Turn, spool, turn, spool, spin, tape and wind him home now.

A greenish letter L eyes me from my watch.
Now there is a hiatus in the street noise.
My quietness is gone, my heart is heavy.
Turn, spool, turn, spool, spin, tape and wind him home now.

Cupcake: The Enciphering

Cupcake to Image: this new frequency is
Better I think for our little transmissions
And certainly free for use at the hour I
Am accustomed to using. The cipher, of
Course, remains the same old eleven-matrix.
Today at sending time my wrist just under
My watch was itching and burning as if it
Were keeping some canonical time other
Than what my watch recorded, as if it were
Ringing some pre-set alarm. I reached home in
Time to find the new frequency clear and I
Started a rapid encipherment of this
Small message, noticing how easily now
My plain text goes into a cipher like this,
So familiar with long use that I wonder
From time to time if it can still be secure.
It has a natural plainness of its own
By now. And yet I cling to it, thinking how
At any moment we might have to scrap it.
Agents should not have pets, nor grow fond of their
Ciphers: one-time pads, anonymous bedmates,
Momentarily adopted ladybugs—
These are for us, I should think, in the long run.

Velvet: The Bombing

Do well by the project. Nothing lies beyond
But madness, the incapacitating chill
Of madness. Who are “We?” Who “They”?—Neatly
Printed capitals at the heads of the ruled
Columns on my grandmother’s bridge-scoring pads.
The names had for me as a child an order,
A mystery, quite apart from the way those
Curt pronouns were used in life. “We”, then, and “They”—

The paired purposes—ours and theirs—are themselves
Matched in a gimcrack tournament whose rules are
Revised bi-monthly by a board of macaques.
Do well by the project. Nothing lies beyond.

“We” and “They”: The Eastern Theys, the Western We’s,
Two franchised teams play professional eyeball,
And if we play well, where else is the good life?

Purpose is sickening. The work would suffer.
If there were justifications for it, how
Could one bomb anything? or cause bystanders’
Limbs to sail across the street, landing with a
Wet thud at one’s feet, if one were so fatuous
As to feel that this price were paid for something.
A clearly-broken, gaily emptied egg is
All that the golden word omlette can mean.

History who would be your judge is hardly
Even a nightmare—it is something you ate.

—John Hollander

 Come hear this work on February 16th!  (Tickets, $20, are available here; proceeds befenit the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.)

The “Imaginary Timescapes” Vocal Quartet

I’m pleased to introduce the members of the “Imaginary Timescapes” vocal quartet.  I will be singing soprano, with Suzanne Schwing on alto, Dennis Tobenski on tenor, and Phillip Cheah on Bass.  We will perform three of my works for mixed chorus: companion pieces Obsessions from the Twittersphere and Confessions from the Blogosphere, as well as Signifying Nothing.

If there’s a professional choral performance the New York area, chances are mezzo-soprano Suzanne Schwing is in it.  I’ve enjoyed working with her in C4: the Choral Composer/Conductor Collective, in which I appreciate her impeccable precision and artistry.

As a frequent performer of contemporary music, Suzanne explains the unique challenges and pleasures she associates with singing this repertoire: “There’s a particular skill set that is required when performing contemporary music.  This isn’t to say that it’s a differentskill set than is required when performing older, more mainstream works; rather, it’s that same skill set being taken into uncharted territory.  With contemporary music, there is little or no previous performance history from which to draw an example, and this requires perhaps a greater degree of focus during the preparation and performance of the piece.  The flip side of this is that there are also few, if any, expectations attached to the piece on the part of the listeners—there’s no-one in the audience saying, “But this isn’t the tempo that Muti took on his 2007 recording,” for example—and this offers the performers greater latitude to create the new reality of the piece.  The challenge of these pieces lies in their newness, which offers a heightened sense of freedom in return.”

I look forward to working with fellow vocalist and composer Dennis Tobenski for the first time on the Imaginary Timescapes performance.  He comes highly recommended for his skills as a tenor—including by the NY Times’ Anthony Tommasini, who called him a “dynamic vocalist.”

As one would expect of a composer-performer, Dennis focuses primarily on performing works of the 21st and late 20th centuries.  Asked about how his experience as a composer influences or helps him as a singer, he insisted it was mostly the other way around: “Certainly, being a composer allows me to approach the music that I sing with an intimacy that I don’t know that I would have otherwise. Also, I tend to be a bit more….dare I admit….critical as a singer than I might otherwise be about scansion, text setting, and (un)prepared entrances. But I think that my training as a singer has influenced the way that I write much more significantly.”

One of Phillip Cheah‘s many talents is an ability to sing in both the bass and the soprano register, and his involvement enables us to perform  Signifying Nothing with only four people even though it calls for a three-part soprano divisi at one point. But that unique ability aside, Phillip’s musicianship is an invaluable asset to the vocal quartet for the Imaginary Timescapes performance. I worked with Phillip in C4: the Choral Composer/Conductor Collective from its founding in 2005 through 2010, when he left to take a position as Music Director of the Central City Chorus. (Coincidentally, Phillip conducted C4’s premiere of Signifying Nothing in 2010.) Whether singing under his baton or alongside him, and especially when he is conducting one my compositions, I always appreciate his heartfelt expression and exacting ear.

Come hear this talented group of singers on February 16th!  (Tickets, $20, are available here; proceeds befenit the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.)

Introducing the Pur ti Miro Quartet

I’m pleased to introduce the Pur ti Miro Quartet, a newly formed quartet of Juilliard students who will be premiering Reflections on Espionage and October in Galicia, both for voice and string quartet, on the Imaginary Timescapes performance.  While they have only recently begun playing together as a quartet, they have all been making music together in various combinations and ensembles for a long time.  I’m thankful to violinist and soprano Elizabeth Derham (profiled separately here) for connecting me with the Pur di Muro Quartet.  In addition to Elizabeth on violin, I would like to introduce the rest of the players in the quartet:

Violist Isabel Hagen is an active chamber musician and an avid performer of new music, performing with new music ensembles such as Ensemble Signal and the Wordless Music Orchestra.  She frequently works with composers, and has worked with John Adams, Charles Wuorinen, and Steve Reich.  Isabel is currently an undergraduate student at the Juilliard School studying with Masao Kawasaki, where she was a finalist in Juilliard’s 2011 viola concerto competition and is a two-time recipient of the Rosemary Glyde Scholarship awarded by the New York Viola Society.

Cellist Sofia Nowik  studies with Darrett Adkins at Juilliard, where she is a graduate student and a principal cellist in the Juilliard Orchestra. She also plays as a freelance musician throughout the tri-state area, performing in orchestras and as both a soloist and a chamber musician for numerous concerts, recitals, and recording projects. Sofia premiered Tim Keyes’ The Mighty Mississippi, a concerto for cello and large-scale orchestra and choir with the Tim Keyes Consort, and she also appeared as a soloist with the Manalapan Symphony Orchestra, Central Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and the Livingston Symphony.

Sofia has served as both principal and assistant principal with the New Jersey and New York Youth Symphonies, respectively, and as well as with the Plainfield Symphony. As one of the musicians chosen to represent the Juilliard Orchestra , she was invited this past summer to co-lead the cello section in a special joint project with the Royal Academy of Music (London) under the direction of composer and conductor John Adams. This collaboration produced two performances, one in New York City as part of the Lincoln Center Summer Festival and a culminating performance in London at the BBC Proms Festival. Sofia is also a cello mentor and coach at the Juilliard School Pre-College Division, a member of the Juilliard School’s contemporary ensembles New Juilliard Ensemble and Axiom, and a Teaching Assistant for the Liberal Arts Department at the Juilliard School.

Praised by The New York Times as “spellbinding,” violinist Alex Shiozaki regularly premieres new works between performances of more traditional repertoire. Equally at home with music new and old, he has appeared as a soloist on stages from Carnegie Hall to Harvard University’s Paine Hall. For several summers, he has been invited to Tanglewood as a New Fromm Player, specializing in contemporary music.

Described by conductor David Effron as “a natural leader,” Alex has led as concertmaster the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Juilliard Chamber Orchestra, New Juilliard Ensemble, Harvard Bach Society Orchestra. He has performed with Ensemble ACJW, Le Train Bleu, and Second Instrumental Unit in NYC, with the New World Symphony in Miami, and with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra on their tour to Japan.  Highlights of his appearances a chamber musician include being featured on the Wednesdays At One concert series at Alice Tully Hall, in the Focus! Festival at the Juilliard School with the Mark Morris Dance Group, and in a New York Times multimedia feature performing Stravinsky’sL’histoire du soldat under the baton of Alan Gilbert.

Come hear this vibrant ensemble as we collaborate on February 16th! (Tickets, $20, are available here; proceeds befenit the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.)

The Imaginary Timescapes Campaign was a Success!

I’m happy to announce that the campaign for my Imaginary Timescapes performance was successful!  Thanks to all my supporters for both your financial gifts as well as your many messages of encouragement.

I raised a total of $3,430—$3,080 from the RocketHub online campaign and an additional $350 in contributions by personal check—that’s $230 above the goal of $3,200!  Since the total expenses for the performance comes to $3,800, the extra $230 is much appreciated and I will use it towards meeting those expenses.  I now am relying on only $370 in ticket sales, or 19 tickets, to break even. 

As I announced earlier, any proceeds from the performance (after the expenses are met) will be donated to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.  Since I expect to sell more than 19 tickets, this is now becoming a benefit concert for the people in NJ whose lives have been altered by the storm.

In addition to exceeding the financial goal of the campain, I am pleased to announce that I exceeded my goal of 30 individual contributions.  A total of 39 individuals or families gave donations to the performance, and for that I am grateful.  When I apply for foundation and government grants, it will help to show that I have this many supporters.

Thanks again to all of you who gave to the campaign and made the Imaginary Timescapes performance possible!

Composers Now Festival

Imaginary Timescapes is one of many performances on the Composers Now Festival. With a goal of increasing the visibility of composers in our society, the festival features X composers in X performances across X boroughs of New York City.  As Tania León, the Artistic Director of the festival, explains, “Composers today are creating the sonic legacy of tomorrow. They need to become better known for their contributions in all genres and in all communities, and with this awareness and understanding, they will be more deeply valued.”

Also on the Composers Now Festival is Uncaged, a performance of C4: the Choral Composer/Conductor Collective (with which I perform) on February 28th (details here).  There are two other concerts of vocal music on the festival, both on February 21st: a performance by Dawn Upshaw with students from Bard’s Vocal Arts Program, including a new work by George Tsontakis (details here); and Thomas Buckner, with Ensemble L’Art Pour L’Art (details here).

Please check out the Composers Now Website to find out about the many composers featured in the festival.

(Originally published 12/16/12)

Shout-out to My Number One Fan

Today marks four years since I stood under the chuppah with my best friend and number one fan, Charles Natt.  So I diverge from my focus on the music and people that will be featured on this performance, in order to recognize this non-musician who plays such an important role in my life.  His support and encouragement is incredibly valuable to me.  And even though he can’t tell a tonic chord from a dominant, he has helped with ideas for my music—it was his suggestion to set the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy from Macbeth when I told him about my idea for a choral piece that ebbs in and out of existence.  (The resulting work, Signifying Nothing, will be performed by the vocal quartet on this concert.)  He has been the inspiration for my music (the choral piece Perfect Gift dedicated to him, for example) as well as a listening ear for my challenges, musical and otherwise.  Happy anniversary, sweetheart.

(Originally published 12/13/12)

Tonight at Tenri

(please note, this post was published on Nov. 30th, 2012)

The Tenri Cultural Institute, the Japanese art gallery where my Imaginary Timescapes concert will take place, is a fairly popular performance space for new music. This performance there tonight looks like an interesting one—the Association for the Promotion of New Music is presenting a concert of solo clarinet (Christopher Grymes) with electronics, programming works by the electronic music pioneer Mario Davidovsky and his students. Jeff Nichols, one of my professors at the CUNY Graduate Center, will lead a panel discussion on Davidovsky’s music. Curious about the venue for myImaginary Timescapes performance? Check it out:http://apnmmusic.org/concerts.html. And to learn about Mario Davidovsky, I recommend this interview with Frank Oteri:http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/mario-davidovsky-a-long-way-from-home/.

(Originally posted Nov 30th, 2012 at 09:26 AM EST)

Kicking off the campaign

Welcome to my RocketHub campaign! Please watch the video, read the text, and make yourself at home. Have a question or an idea? Please post a comment—look at the “recent conversations” tab. Or, you can always send me an email (chestnutoak at gmail dot com) or give me a call. I would love to hear what you have to say.

Over the next three weeks, I will be using this blog as a place to post information about the performance and to keep you updated on the progress of the campaign. I will write about the music and the texts on the program, and will profile each of performers. To start, I am pleased to announce that I recently finalized all of the performers (in addition to myself) for the concert, and it’s a very talented group of musicians:

Phillip Cheah, bass
Elizabeth Derham, violin & soprano
Isabel Hagen, viola
Sofia Nowik, cello
Suzanne Schwing, alto
Alex Shiozaki, violin
Dennis Tobenski, tenor

(Originally posted Nov 27th, 2012 at 11:33 AM EST)