Warsaw Autumn 2006 – IV

Today we woke up and headed over to hear the Ensemble Phoenix perform a number of pieces for their instrumentation (flute, piano, string bass, percussion) at the Academy of Music.  The program for today was rearranged and they swapped out a piece; the program was:

  • Zbigniew Baginski – Circulations
  • Gerard Grisey – Echanges
  • Alex Buess – Khat
  • Beat Fuhrer – Presto for Flute and Piano
  • Michel Roth – Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd

Some notes on the pieces:

Baginski – nice use of percussion, piano was mostly rhythmic chords, beautiful quiet writing, nice flute melodies, nice use of back of bow on bass strings, the more energetic writing was filled with very short gestures, a very well shaped piece, nice balance of material and contrast, performed very well, very nice piece!

Grisey- not my favorite Grisey piece, a bit spastic, lots of extended playing techniques, nicely performed though but the piece itself is not one I am much into

Buess- flute, percussion, live electronics; electronics seemed to be there to make things REALLY loud; sounded like a child first time playing flute, overblowing and playing the same three notes over and over again, percussion was frantic, did not find myself into this piece


Beat Fuhrer – Presto for Flute and Piano – hyper active, rapid gestures, couldn’t hear the sound of flute but a wash of sound, reminded me of electronic blips and bleeps

Roth – constantly filled, angular and maximized off-beat rhythms, used just about every percussion instrument and effect, piano often written like percussion, very gestural

Of the pieces I found I had the most impression from the Baginski piece (I do like a lot of the music of the older Polish generation…).  I think that the rest of the music were just not my cup of tea; not to say it was badly done or badly written, but perhaps just after something different than where I have my attention to these days. It’s a very good ensemble and was glad to have attended their performance.

Warsaw Autumn 2006 – III

Yesterday’s second half the string quartet marathon ended up being a bit too much for us and plus our friend Karen was in town and we wanted to meet up with her and other friends, so we left after the second intermission.

The pieces on the second concert were:

  • Eugeniusz Knapik – String Quartet
  • Aleksander Lason – String Quartet No. 6
  • Stanslaw Krupowicz – Farewell Variations on a Them by Mozart for amplified string quartet and tape
  • Barbara Buczek – Transgressio. String Quartet No. 2
  • Zbigniew Bargielski – Farwell Night for accordion and string quartet
  • Krzysztof Knittel – Dorikos for string quartet and tape
  • Witold Szalonek – 1+1+1+1 for 1-4 string instruments
  • Tadeusz Wielecki – Hazard and Necessity for string quartet and electronic media
  • Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki – String Quartet No. 1 ‘It is Already Dusk’

Some notes I took during the concert:

Knapik – beautiful string writing, overall form a bit incoherent

Lason – very beautiful serene first half, second half very energetic but took me by surprise at first, fun, even joyous; performers seemed to have gotten lost at one point, but overall enjoyed the piece very much

Krupowicz – electronic sounds seemed very dated; did not like the reverb used and there was a lot of it, piece did not feel very serious, sort of a catalogue of techniques


Buczek – driven by effects, seemed hyper emotional, effects seemed frivolous (tones can often be too…)

Bargielski – a bit over dramatic, very loud cuts and gestures, little transition, red hot or ice cold, not a fan of accordian in classical setting (have yet to hear a piece with this used that really struck me)

Knittel – tape and quartet, concrete style tape, seems more composing with an idea than sound, didn’t work for me

*Intermission* (We left at this point)

Szalonek – Did not attend

Wielecki – Did not attend

Gorecki – Did not attend

I think that I found a lot of the music was very gestural, and perhaps it is just my own taste in that I prefer tones, but a number of pieces also felt very over dramatic. Looking back, I think sonorist techniques and pieces work so well with a string quartet; perhaps it is the number of performers (only four) or the limited sound palette with just string instruments and bodies to use, but I find the larger orchestral or chamber ensemble sonorist pieces more effective.

A long day of string quartets, it was as interesting to hear as it was exhausting.  I’m glad to have attended but would love to spend more time with each individually to really have a chance to get to know the pieces, which I found hard to do in this marathon setting.

Warsaw Autumn 2006 – II

The first concert of String Quartets was really quite overwhelming.  It’s quite a lot of information to take in for one concert, but very interesting to hear so many different composers’ use of the same ensemble.

The pieces that were on the concert were:

  • Grazyna Bacewicz – String Quartet No. 4
  • Witold Lutoslawski – String Quartet
  • Krzysztof Penderecki – String Quartet No. 2
  • Krzysztof Penderecki – String Quartet No. 1
  • Tadeusz Baird – Play for string quartet
  • Zygmunt Krauze – String Quartet No. 3
  • Krzysztof Meyer – String Quartet No. 12
  • Andrzej Panufnik – String Quartet No. 2 “Messages”
  • Pawel Szymanski – Five Pieces for String Quartet
  • Andrzej Krzanowski – String Quartet No. 2

Some notes on the pieces:

Bacewicz – sweet, energetic, playful; lovely use of harmonics, fun

Lutoslawski – intense, got into it further into the piece, episodic at first, later very shaped, a projection of what develops more in his later works, ideas here that are not completely keyboard influenced (multiple times, swells, glissandi) (the keyboard thing is related to something else on my mind…),

Penderecki- more violent than intense, feels as if composed with less feeling than construction, some nice moments but somewhat random, some ideas seemed extraneously put in


Penederecki – enjoyed this more than the Quartet No. 2, seemed more shaped, less frantic

Baird – alternating moments of sincere contemplation and gusto

Krauze – long homogenous chord progressions, dominated by grace-note/held-note idea, a paiting in atonal gray color

Meyer – big work but a bit too fatigued to take in at the moment, seemed a bit gray as well


Panufnik – nice piece but there are others of his which I feel more connection to, some of his writing seems to work better in other mediums

Szymanski – nice collection of pieces, each with strong character, very well articulated (was very tired and falling asleep at this point, which is a real shame, and would really like to hear this piece again, as well as to learn more about the composer)

Krzanowski – Big sound, cacophonous and sonoristic, somwhere between Penderecki and Lutoslawski but more leaning towards Lutoslawski, exhausting to listen to at end of concert

Overall, I found that it was a little hard to take in some of the music as the concert progressed as it was just a lot of music.  In some ways it’s a bit unfair as these pieces all could really stand to be listened to on their own or at least with a little more space between pieces to give a chance to reset and contemplate.  It was sort of like being at a gallery and every painting was bumped up against the next one and you had to move through a fixed rate.

The two pieces which I really took notice of most were the the Lutoslawski and the Szymanski.  I’ve long enjoyed Lutoslawski’s work and now am curious to follow up to learn more about Szymanski (who I found out was sitting four seats down from us; crazy sitting here and knowing many composers are around, reminds me of being at Carnegie Hall for one of the “When Morty Met John” concerts and being in the elevator with Merce Cunningham, or when we sat behind Joan La Barbara at the Feldman “String Quartet II” performance).

Speaking of String Quartet II, I was thinking how interesting that after 3.5 hours with intermissions I felt so exhausted, while after 6 hours without intermission of the Feldman I remember feeling very energized, even though it was past midnight!  I think that alot of the pieces in this concert were really quite full with energy. Also, thinking of it, I don’t think I am used to listening to music at that volume for so long, as when I am listening at home or with headphones it generally is not at so loud a volume.

As with the first concert, there’s a lot here for me to think about, as well as just being really nice to hear really well performed modern music. (BTW: The Silesian String Quartet is an excellent group of performers!) Still thinking alot about string articulations and envelopes and how keyboards have dominated perception of music lately…

Tonight, the second half the string quartet marathon!

Warsaw Autumn 2006 – I

Last night was the first concert of this year’s Warsaw Autumn Festival of contemporary music. I have long wanted to attend this festival since I first heard of it years ago and I am very glad to be able to be at these concerts.

Yesterday’s concert that opened the festival was one of orchestral music at that Filharmonia Narodowa Concert Hall. It was our first time at the hall and I found it quite a lovely and beautiful building with an intimate sized hall (and perhaps the best seats I’ve ever sat in for a concert: ample leg space and very comfortable!). Our seats were on the ground floor underneath the second floor than hung over, so perhaps not the best for acoustics, but just happy to be there.

The pieces on the concert tonight were:

  • György Kurtág – Stele
  • Tomasz Sikorski – Music in Twilight
  • Petero Eötvös – Atlantis

It was the first time I heard any of these pieces, and since I am not all too familiar with any of the composers or their works as well, I wanted to be cautious to give each of these works a fair listening and not be too quick to judge what I heard. Following are some notes I took regarding each of the pieces:

Kurtág – lovely chords at end, interesting but coarse work with temporal layers, curious piece, not sure if it’s where we’re sitting or if it’s the orchestration but earlier sections seemed dense/muddy, proportions/scale felt a little off (some sections felt too long, others felt too short), should listen to again sometime to get to know better to to know how much where we sat affected the experience of the piece

Sikorski – piano and orchestra, piano part mainly built on three types of ideas(pedal held down almost throughout): gestures that reminded me a lot of George Crumb’s piano writing, thick repeated chords, slightly less thick repeated broken chords; orchestra part was aleatoric; mostly thin/muted textures (some quite nice!); piece felt very episodic, orchestral part was a backdrop for the piano, often held single orchestral idea for a very long time while piano played on top of that; piano seemed at times unrelated altogether to the orchestra, also seemed very loud compared to orchestra and covered up the orchestra due to registration and thickness of chords (may be where we were sitting though and perhaps subtler effects were going on); the density of the parts were sustained for long periods and changes were in block-like motion

Eötvös – the piece is really loud! felt like being in a movie theater; large palette of sounds; interesting mix of synthetic sounds and the live sounds, but end of piece seemed very unrelated to rest of the music, almost tacked on; performance was very good, the baritone singer was fantastic and the boy soprano did very well; interesting orchestration with a large variety of percussion (six percussionists), a lot of brass and woodwinds, only a handful of strings, a cimbalon, and synthesizer; I think every person and instrument was microphoned and amplified; amplified instruments have a very different sound which was interesting to hear; large sense of space; hard to focus on the piece at times as it felt too loud for the hall (sort of like standing too close to a painting); ears hurt afterwards; interesting piece, but I had a strange feeling–considering I don’t know much about him or his work–that this wasn’t his best and that he’s going to write something that will be leave a deeper impression

As with a lot of music, I found the pieces to be well written, yet, perhaps searching for different things that what I am after within my own music. It was fantastic though to get to hear these pieces live and I am sure I will check these pieces and composers out again on CD (if they’re available).
Also, I found that each of the pieces incorporated aleatory in their works in different ways. It was great to hear this live and to have this experience to contemplate how it was used in each piece and comparing it to Lutoslawski’s use of aleatory, how differently they all sounded.
Regarding the audience, it was really great to see people of all ages and types there at the concert. I felt very comfortable being there, slightly dressed down, and not feeling an air of pretension. The audience seemed mindful of other people (no extraneous noise!) and also everyone seemed to have opinions on the pieces and had a sense of real interest in the music.
I enjoyed being at the concert very much yesterday and it was a wonderful way to start the festival. Today, a marathon of String Quartets by Polish Composers!

Thoughts on Focus and the Experience of Composing

I’ve been thinking a lot about composing lately, specifically my working process and the importance of focus. I have been working on a larger piece for the past few months but had slowed down about a month ago, partially due to waiting to see what comes next but also just losing a sense of the piece as well as momentum. It also to some degree involves my own ability to focus while composing.

I had taken a week off from most of my other projects to focus on Distant Stars as I had a deadline approaching, something which always seems to make focusing easier. It was really an excellent experience to work on it as it was very focused and enjoyable to work. The constraints on time were worrying at first, as the past couple of pieces before I had spent a great deal of time listening to drafts as I worked, a process which I enjoy and use to make sure to myself that the work really has substance and not just initially something fresh which I liked at the moment. Working this way I have found that I enjoy the results of the work very much and continue to enjoy listening to these pieces long after finishing them.

However, sometimes when listening to drafts too much it can be too easy to lose focus. Other work and aspects of life can interrupt the focus, so a good amount of time is spent in just returning to the piece. Getting myself back to the experience of the piece is not alway easy. I have many thoughts about needing to bring the best of one’s self to the table when working on music which this relates to, and it’s not always easy to be at one’s most focused self when you happen to have time to compose. Focus and having a clear mind is just so incredibly important…

Having a limited time constraint to work on Distant Stars meant not having all too much time to review, but through the experience of composing I found that it also meant drawing upon intuition very strongly to make each compositional move and trusting the actions. This was a very rich experience and I find happens when one stops thinking about the piece and simply listens and acts.

I think it also happens as there are many different technical ideas I’ve experimented with over time that I know somewhat how they work, so that in the moment when I am working I can act intuitively from past experiences. This makes me think I should spend more time regularly sketching ideas and playing in realtime, getting these experiences, good or bad, to become deeply understood, so that I won’t have to think of them when I am working and can work more from intuition.

Also, I found that when I was slowly going through the larger piece and then switched focus to Distant Stars, it was really quite refreshing to work with differents sounds and in a different context. It makes me think back to my college days when I had a great amount of time and not so many responsibilities, that I often worked on more than one piece at a time, primarily focusing on one piece, but whenever I found myself exhausted and needing a break, would move over to another sketch or piece. Doing so often helped illuminate things going on in the first piece I was working on, and vice-versa. Already returning to listening to drafts of the larger piece was refreshing…

I find that there is a parallel to my recent composing experiences and my general programming experiences. When programming, I often find myself working on a project and when I find myself exhausted or at a stopping point I naturally move over to another programming project. I also find that with all the experience in programming I am often programming somewhat intuitively, as I have a lot of experience to draw on to simply know what to do for a large number of situations.

I had in mind to make Distant Stars a part of a larger project entitled “Explorer II”, based somewhat on ideas from my earlier “Explorer I” project. I think it will be a good thing for me to continue on with this series of smaller pieces while working on my larger piece. I have taken the past few days off after Distant Stars to take care of other non-music projects as well as some general music programming and sound exploring, and am looking forward now to returning to the larger piece. Looking at my recent experiences has been helpful to see where I am and evaluate how I’m working and I hope to take the lessons learned and apply them carrying forward.

The New and the Familiar

Lisa’s friend sent a link to an NPR “All Things Considered” episode entitled “Does Age Squash Our Spirt of Adventure?“. It was fascinating to listen to this show about how that there seems to be a correspondence between age and our willingness to try new things. The show also brought up some interesting things regarding radio stations and how they look at their audiences in regards to age and taste.

It makes me wonder about myself and how I am approaching new things. I’d like to believe that I’m rather open to new experiences and will to give something a try, whether it’s new music, food, or any experience really. I think it’s healthy to give things a try, even if there’s a chance of a bad experience or failure, and to really try to approach the new experience with an open mind.

I remember when I first started to explore the world of modern art music.  At the time I was very interested with the group of composers that were classified as Minimalists but was starting to get exposed to a lot of the modernists from the earlier to mid part of the 20th century.  When I first listened to composers like Stockhausen, Xenakis, Cage, and many others, I really didn’t know what to make of it.  I didn’t find I had any connection with the music I was listening to, nor any idea why would one create music like that.

When I came to first hear this music I told myself that I would spend time to find out more about it before dismissing it. Afterall, I was new to it and knew very little about that world of music. I wanted to know that my experience of the work wasn’t superficial and that whatever I came to would be based on the pieces merits.
I spent a month, almost every day, going to the library and checking out records and CD’s, listening to a new composer or piece every day, reading the liner notes to discover a mention of a new composer and then try listening to that composer’s work.  I also spent time finding books and interviews with the composer I was listening to, trying to understand what it was they were after in their music. Looking back, I remember many times leaving the library exhausted by what I had heard, not really excited, but still curious. I also think back to it as a very exciting time, to have such a vast musical world to explore.
After a month of doing this I found my taste changed quite a deal.  I found that the initial experiences of listening to modern music  was somewhat of a reaction to something very new to me, something novel to my previous world.  After getting past the novelty of the sounds and really getting into the essence of the music, I realized that I really did find a connection with this world of music.

I was a bit younger then.  These days I am finding myself less involved with seeing what new experiences are out there but more interested in seeing what new experiences are in what I already am familiar with.  It seems to go in cycles though, sometimes with longer periods than others, of exploring things new and then contemplating the familiar with the new familiar from the explorations.

Perhaps then later then the reasons for exploring new things diminishes is that we simply have so much to explore in what is already familiar…

Ligeti Passed Away Today

I read on a mailing list today that Gyorgy Ligeti passed away. The article that was posted is here.

Since I first came to know of him, I have long respected him and his music.  Today it is gray outside and quiet, even more a reminder of the loss of a great human being.

Maslow – Creativity and Self-Actualizing People

This morning on my way into work I was rereading the chapter of Abraham Maslow’s Toward a Psychology of Being entitled “Creativity and Self-Actualizing People” and absolutely loved it. He talks about creativity and how it shows up in many people and places outside of the common notions of creativity (paintings, music, literature). There’s one line regarding something about a housewife he knew and how he much preferred her first-rate cake to a second-rate painting…

I think what resonated most about the article to me was the highlighting of creativity as being not in the product but in the individual’s actions and way of looking at things. It’s been on my mind lately that much of our works of art are a result of our character and the state of being we bring to the table when going to work, and less so as a result of technique or something inherent to the product itself.

L.A. in San Francisco

Tonight, Lisa and I went to see Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform here in San Francisco: an absolutely wonderful concert of Beethoven and Lutoslawski.

The concert began with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture; it felt a bit hesitant in the slower parts and not quite really full with life, but an enjoyable performance never the less. I have to say that I don’t know how I feel really about Beethoven’s music, as at times I find myself engrossed, and other times flatly not engaged at all. So perhaps I had some baggage in listening to this piece tonight, I don’t know.

The second piece was Lutoslawski’s Fourth Symphony which was the prime draw for myself to this concert. When I first heard the Fourth on CD I didn’t quite get into it, but over time it has grown on me very, very much. The past few months I had been listening to the piece quite a bit and studying the score when I could, and finding myself deeper and deeper into the piece. Tonight’s performance was exceptional. It felt as if the performers really put themselves into the piece, and the conducting was perfect: the silences were filled with weight, the piece was completely cohesive, the sound shaped without a drop in suspense. The orchestra filled the hall with such a wonderfully rich sound, and it was an absolute joy to finally hear this piece live.

After the intermission was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, and still filled with the experience of the Lutoslawski, made it difficult to engage with the first movement (though I haven’t found myself ever really drawn into that movement otherwise). I enjoyed the second movement a great deal, it’s slow, relentless movement forward and lovely orchestration, and found myself listening intently afterwards into the third and fourth, even though their comparable levity in mood. A fine performance of a fine piece.

The performance was capped off with a short, fun encore that I thought went very well after the Beethoven. Overall, the performance was throughly enjoyable and the Lutoslawski was absolutely superb. Another fond memory…


Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music

I’ve long been a fan of Samuel Barber’s music but have until now only known well a handful of pieces. Recently I decided I wanted to know more about his life and works and so checked out the book Samuel Barber : The Composer and His Music from the public library. It’s the first composer biography I have read in a while and although maybe only a hundred pages in, I’ve been enjoying the book immensely.

Reading about Barber in his youth, I was particularly inspired by his being so well-read and being such an eloquent writer himself in his letters. The time and era he lived in really seems like such a different place(though his lament that Europeans were so much more aware of Classical music doesn’t seem so distant), and I found myself drawn in to the character of the society written about as much as the biographical accounts.

It’s been great to find out more of the historical details of the works I’ve long enjoyed, and perhaps more so being exposed to works of his I haven’t yet spent time with, and now am doing so(the Serenade for Strings is quite lovely).
Hopefully this week I will be finishing up the piece I have been working on (with time after to listen and make sure all is well), and when that is finished I think I will have to devote some time to exploring Barber’s scores as well as to become a little more acquainted with the world of poetry (there’s something very inspiring about Barber’s connection with poetry, and it’s a world I simply don’t know very well and I think would enjoy getting to know.)