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kinds of expanses

These days, I dive deeper into Wallace Stevens every morning. This morning it’s “The Poet of Geneva,” an old professor who stands at foot of the Pacific and is rattled by its “long-rolling opulent cataracts.” They create an “unburgherly apocalypse” in his mind.

I wonder how Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Mann, and other professors from Europe, newly arrived in Los Angeles, felt looking out onto the same expanse.

Lake Geneva seemed calm and majestic. It was heavenly, when I stood before it for the first time last summer: the perfect marriage of sky, earth, and water.

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But the Pacific is everything to me –  wild, cold, rough, beautiful, dangerous. And it stretches to infinity.

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Steve Martland

Overwhelmed after rehearsing the late Steve Martland’s Crossing the Border this afternoon with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. This is work of righteous anger by a composer too little known in the United States.

His music is, in his own words, “a weapon against despair.”

To perform Crossing the Border is like going to battle as a member of a spiritual army. It has the fervor and ecstatic quality of William Blake, the artist he reveres. Like Blake, Martland’s music marries Heaven and Hell. It is as work of sublime beatific violence, mercilessly slaying the ugly, the petty, the illiberal, the myopic, the ungenerous.

Have a listen. Learn more about him.

Sibelius 7 (1)

After working on this today I felt like I had to lie down: the same feeling after learning or experiencing something that cuts to the quick. This symphony is a window to how life has gone, is going, will go. It gets sadder. It doesn’t end well at all, yet it feels right.

What’s Up?

 

I’ve spent the week hiking every morning, rehearsing every night. Music in the mountains is an old idea, but a good one. On these hikes, I’ve been thinking about the urge to go up, why we want to keep climbing. I’ve been noticing the water streaming down from somewhere high, how it roars at one moment and is still the next. All these hikes struck me as a metaphor for what we do as artists. Always pushing up, trying to be better, looking for the source of the flowing water, looking for the still moment at the summit, the secret vista waiting at the top.  And then we turn around and go back down. We can’t stay there forever, but we’ll climb there again.

 

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That Crazy Week of New Music in San Francisco

 

Leaving chilly Chicago this afternoon for a week to remember in San Francisco. There’s a huge density of new music in SF coming up:

Tonight, Philip Glass Etudes at Davies with the composer, Timo Andres, Maki Namekawa.

Thomas Adès conducts the San Francisco Symphony with Dawn Upshaw and Kirill Gerstein in subscription concerts, featuring In Seven Days.

The new SoundBox venue is curated by me and Nathaniel Stookey this weekend. The program, called “Farther Out,”  features music by Terry Riley, Nat himself, Lisa Bielawa, Oliver DiCiccio, and a big world premiere by Nicole Lizée.

The venerable Other Minds  festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend featuring music by Lou Harrision, Charles Amirkhanian, Miya Masaoka, Peter Sculthorpe, Maja Ratkje & Frode Haltli.

I’m going to be in SoundBox for a lot of the week so I’m sorry I can’t catch everything, but I’m very happy to be part of the music coming out of SF this week!

 

Writers on Music

This week in Kitchener-Waterloo we’re performing a concert that I’ve been thinking about for years. It’s called “Writers on Music,” part of our Intersections series. As many of you know, the premise of Intersections is to combine orchestral music with other disciplines, and that we have done! From food, to neuroscience, to yoga, to quantum physics, the we’ve found a way to broaden the conceptual canvas of orchestral music, and connect it to the world of ideas.

The writers and music idea is an obvious fit, but it’s taken years to actually make it happen. I have no idea why I hadn’t asked Words Worth books (a fantastic bookstore in Uptown Waterloo) about collaborating before. But finally, I did. They helped find the authors (both Canadian), who had written novels with a “musical atmosphere.” They selected Wayne Grady, and his novel Emancipation Day. It’s about racial identity, “passing,” and family dynamics. Its soundtrack is jazz of the dance-club variety. Next was Miriam Toews, and her novel All My Puny Sorrows. Her book is about a concert pianist who is plagued by depression and thoughts of suicide, and her family members who are trying to pull her back into life.

Once the books were chosen, I realized that there was a challenge with creating the program itself. One novel features jazz, but we’re not a jazz orchestra; the other features piano music, and we are not a piano. I thought it was essential to feature this music in the program, because it’s the soundtrack for the novels, but there was more to do. The solution I came up with was to turn the tables halfway through each interview. We’ll have music respond to words, by playing jazz and Rachmaninov piano music; the authors will briefly read from their novels; I’ll interview the authors. But then the the tables will turn, and the authors themselves will have to respond to music they hear. I sent both Wayne and Miriam “unmarked music” by living composers. Knowing nothing about what they are hearing except the sounds themselves, their assignment was to write a response to what they heard. Luckily, both authors were game. I can’t wait to hear their responses.

Why did I do this? Because I like the crosscurrents of music and words, and the way the direction of the concert unexpectedly turns. I like how it feels, at least in my head. I also thought that it would inspire the audience as well. So many audience members are at a loss for words when describing the music they hear (or so they tell me). That’s a good thing of course, because the best music should go beyond words, and hit expressive points that are difficult to describe, but easy to feel. On the other hand, I think having a writer respond to music in public will resonate with an audience that has been listening “passively.” It will encourage discussion – one idea will lead to another – there may even be arguments!

Through this, I want to remind the audience that great music is not meant to be listened to passively. Actually, it requires our greatest attention – an energy similar to, say, reading a novel. My dream audience would be like a giant book club: social, argumentative, committed, engaged with the work and with each other. This week, we’re going to try to make this happen.

Expanding

So excited about These New Puritans new live record out today! It’s called Expanded and you can get it: digital, CD, Vinyl. I’m conducting. I was asked to be a part of the project late in the game last year, and I’m so glad I was able to make it. This group is not as well known in North America as they should be, but I think they will be. Jack Barnett crafts dreamlike songs and sounds, orchestrating everything. What I really like about this music, live and recorded, is the precision of the sounds chosen. Even though there’s a 35-piece orchestra, Synergy Vocals, a band, a magnetic resonator piano, and electronics, there is so much intention in the use of sound and space, with a visual aesthetic to match. I think the concert and recording went somewhere new. I hope you’ll take a listen, and it’s also very interesting to compare this to the studio album, Field of Reeds

 

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The Soloists of Summer

 

Before we begin NEXT SEASON I want to thank the music gods for great soloists!  I got to work with some amazing people this summer in San Francisco as Director of Summer Concerts.  Not only classical powerhouses like Simon Trpčeski, but also the next generation, like the fantastic young violinist Benjamin Beilman. Have you heard him play?  He’s great!

I also helped put together a concert with Cheyenne Jackson (from 30 Rock, Glee, Broadway, and the SF Symphony’s recent amazing recording of West Side Story).  He invited Broadway legend Faith Prince, with whom I had a vibe.  We will meet onstage again someday.

But some of the most memorable soloists were from unexpected places.  Makoto Ozone joined us for Rhapsody in Blue.  If you don’t know Makoto, he is a heavy jazz player who can play classical repertoire, which is kind of amazing because he’s self-taught.  I asked him how he learned the Gershwin, and other pieces like Mozart “Jeunehomme,” and Prokofiev 3rd(!).  His answer? “Very slowly.”  The results speak for themselves.  He blew our collective minds. After the Gershwin, we teamed him up with a combo of SFS musicians (Mark Inouye – trumpet, Jake Nissly – drums, and Scott Pingel – bass) for a Ravel set.  They played Ravel’s Pavane and Bolero along with the orchestra, improvising in between (Pavane) and over (Bolero) Ravel’s music.  Badass.

The other x-factor was drag queen Courtney Act.  (Say it with an Australian accent, and you’ll get it: “caught in the act.”) She had never sung with orchestra, ever. Her challenge was to sing the “Elephant Love Medley” from Moulin Rouge with Cheyenne, and she nailed it. She came in flawlessly prepared, and sang beautifully. Such nerve and poise I have rarely seen, but I guess you need it for RuPaul’s drag race.

Anyway, both these folks should be part of your orchestra’s worlds, but you may not have heard of them yet.  Here are two videos!!

Courtney’s SF Symphony experience:

 

And here’s Makoto Rhaposdising with the NY Phil:

 

 

 

 

Moments

I think when we talk about classical music in forums such as these, it’s most often “big picture” stuff: the future of orchestras – is classical music dead – how do we change etc.

But for me it seems that what moves things forward are specific moments, and points of contact with the art itself.  I collected a few I experienced from the past few months. I don’t think it’s business as usual out there, at least where I’m traveling.

 

Here they are:

 

A young clarinetist tries to tell a large audience what it feels like to be an outsider.  Short of breath, he almost gives in to nerves and panic. Then he takes a deep breath, and just plays.

 

A famous orchestra drives into the suburbs in search of new a audience, and finds one.

 

A violinist creates an 80 minute program of Beethoven and Cage, interspersed with narratives about communication, blindness, and deafness.

 

An audience of 4th to 8th graders learns that Stalin killed millions of people.  They listen to Shostakovich differently.

 

A stage director learns to let the music speak for itself. “We need to pull back and give the music space to be what it is,” he says.

 

An audience cheers when the orchestra reaches C Major in the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

 

A harp string spontaneously snaps during ppp cluster chords in a Henry Cowell orchestra piece.

 

An orchestra presents a concert about music and quantum physics while the city hosts an NRA convention with 75,000 attendees.

 

A Canadian immigration officer learns that symphony tickets are actually affordable.

 

Two orchestras premiere a piece on the same weekend.  The composer hops on a plane and gets to hear both performances.

 

A young CEO gets excited about supporting an orchestra’s education projects.  He grew up in a steel town and listened to his father’s 78’s of Enrico Caruso. His life changed.

 

Remake/Remodel

I’ve been … revamped!

Very excited about launching the revamped edwinoutwater.com today!  There are some great new features that will allow me to be able to share what I’m up to …

I have a lot of very interesting stuff coming up in the next few months, and I’m glad I’ll be able to communicate more about this through the site.

Firstly, the 03. Projects page has been added.  It has a list of all the non-traditional concerts I’ve put together over the years, including videos, nice quotes from composers and all sorts of other stuff.  I get asked all the time about these concerts and the main work of this revamp was collecting them in one place so they can be seen at-a-glance.

Secondly, the 05. Media page has a bunch of added videos.  I seem to be making a video a week, and I’ve collected some of my favorites on this page.  Especially proud of the Satie video that leads off, ” A Musician’s Day.”

I want to thank Mat Dunlap for the remake, and also Hoon Lee who designed this website many years ago.  Mat’s redesign stays true to Hoon’s original and enduring vision of the site. I don’t think Hoon is doing much web design these days … he’s too busy kicking ass these days as Job on Cinemax’s Banshee.  Also thanks to my team at 21C Media for looking after all of this.

Also, I have now found a use for the awesome t-shirt on the front page!

And, finally, the website revamp made me think of this song.