A not-so-quick, very biased review

This is a bit of a fake out. I don’t have a humongous readership, but I imagine a good update on what I’ve been up to, how my new job is going, or if any new performances are coming up is needed. Things have been well, and lots of cool and exciting projects are in the works. But this is not going to be one of those posts. Instead I want to provide you with a quick review of a piece of music that I purchased this week.

But first, a bit of preface to the review! I’ve not had the most successful year w/r/t composition. I’ve had a number of fantastic performances, recording releases, and commission opportunities, for which I am grateful, but I have also had a very serious bout of all-frustrating-things-pertaining-to-the-act-of-creation. Mostly, I’ve had many concerns about the direction my music has been leading to. Have I beed overusing certain forms, ideas, and procedures? Am I sacrificing a good technique just to churn out something to meet a deadline? Are these really sounds that I want to hear? Am I really getting my ideas across clearly? What is really important to me as a composer? All of these questions (and many more that are just too ridiculous to post) have had the disastrous effect of stopping me cold in my tracks, stifling any momentum I had gained towards the end of my grad school and early post-school days. On top of it all, I’ve just not been very inspired. While much of the music I have been getting into (and there has been LOTS of it!) has been fun to listen to and full of good ideas, I have had very little luck in finding anything that has fueled much of a spark to motivate me, as has always been the case in the past. That is, up until this week.

Some buzz has been going around following several exciting episodes of a new podcast called Meet the Composer, hosted by viola badass Nadia Sirota. After putting it off I finally decided to give it a listen. After an exciting couple of episodes featuring the music of John Luther Adams and Caroline Shaw, two composers I was very familiar with and whose work I admire, I decided to listen to the episode featuring the music of Andrew Norman. I had been somewhat familiar with some of his music, even including a link to his piece The Companion Guide to Rome in an earlier post. This episode of MTC resonated with me in a way that I haven’t experienced in quite a long time. Listening to the episode, I found myself grinning the entire time, as Norman and Sirota discussed processes, techniques, philosophies, and ideas that echoed almost every concern with which I had been wrestling. Norman’s delivery and excitement to talk shop was such a pleasure to listen to, as it easily could have been my inner voice talking to me. While I had some familiarity with his music, I hadn’t really given it much of a concentrated listen, so I downloaded the new yMusic album Balance Problems. Composers represented on the album include Andrew Norman, Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, Timo Andres, Marcos Balter, among others. Sirota plays in the ensemble, and Norman has a piece called Music in Circles on the record, which is mixed and produced by another artist whose work I admire: Son Lux. A perfect storm for excellence.

Truth be told, I haven’t listened to the album in its entirety. I haven’t been able to. Andrew Norman’s work on this release is one of those rare pieces that has stopped me in my tracks and made me rethink a few things. The last time I came across a work or sound like this was a few years back with Thomas Ades’ work, and before that when I first discovered Bang on a Can, and before that with Steven Mackey, Steve Reich, and John Adams. The point is, these experiences have often led to major shifts in my musical thinking, giving me a feeling that is both energized and inspired. It is these rare moments that thoughts like “I didn’t know you could do that” or “This changes everything” give me the jolt necessary to proceed.  The following is just my impression of Norman’s writing, with only a little bit regarding yMusic and Son Lux’s contributions.

Andrew Norman  (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Andrew Norman (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Norman’s music displays a sense of clarity that makes what results sound so inevitable and effortless. Structures interact: instruments and sounds play off of each other in an incredibly logical, yet organic and natural way. Every sound is a response to something else. Responses in his music, like that found in spectral writing, act almost like acoustic echoes and anomalies within different size rooms at various distances between source and receiver, at a variety of dynamics and tempos. This is largely achieved by an extremely controlled use of extended techniques to create a very wide and super-effective spectrum of timbres. Despite this, the music has a well-balanced blend of conventional and unconventional sounds. The techniques never sound forced or off-putting. Like I’ve already mentioned, all sounds seem to come from the most obvious and intuitive of places. Norman has a unique harmonic palette. It is strikingly tonal in some areas, and jagged and dense in others. The tonal elements are created though a blend of modal and conventional tonal element. Sometimes the music is diatonic, and sometimes it is mixtures of pitch sets. All of this rides those often vague lines between multiple styles, genres, and periods: Is it Classical (with a capital “C”)? Romantic? Folk? Pop? Time floats. Rhythms flow, jut, pulse… Time is completely malleable in Norman’s hands. Seven minutes passes with the sensation that this music has always been present and has no real beginning or end. We are merely capturing a glimpse or snapshot of something already in progress. What holds this all together is that the music is very cinematic, with a narrative and arc that carries with it many potential visuals. It is obvious with only a single listen that this music is no accident. This is the work of a true master of his craft. After the nearly half-dozen listens I’ve given this in less than two days time, it is still fresh; there are still so many layers to penetrate.

There is so much of this recording that is the result of a breath-taking composition, but this kind of music just requires that the performers really find the sound. yMusic absolutely nails the performance, bringing the gigantic array of sounds and ideas all to life in a way that erases the very thought of individuals playing instruments. Instead, all that we are hearing is just pure music at its finest, at the highest caliber. To capture it all requires an engineer and producer with finesse and a special sensitivity to what can be possible with the music. Son Lux’s production and sound world is stunning. The combination of composer, performers, and producer on this recording makes a work that is three-dimensional and truly remarkable. All I can really add to this now is just WOW! What a treat! Very Humbling.

Here is a link to a video and interview that Alexandra Gardner conducted for New Music Box. Please check it out!

Mind = Blown

Sound Hive

I have some awesome friends, and many of those friends happen to be fantastic musicians! A few of my friends recently formed a new contemporary music ensemble called Sound Hive. They will be performing a couple of shows in Texas, both in Austin and in Houston, spotlighting music by Houston composers. There will be music by Jack Benson, Chad Robinson, Josh Vinci, and myself. I feel like a hog, because I have two pieces on the program: Turbine and a new arrangement of Hammerballet. The new arrangement was an awesome exercise to expand the timbral palette of the piece, as it was originally for violin, viola, and piano. Here, I’ve incorporated the entire Sound Hive instrumentation: flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, french horn, violin, viola, and cello. I’m quite excited to hear this new version. The idea of rearranging older works is still new to me, but has given me fresh looks at what I consider to be my own voice.

The members of Duo Scordatura have joined forces with Sound Hive (which is who will be performing the violin/viola seats!). This will be the 4th and 5th time (I think?) that Turbine will be performed by Duo Scordatura, and I’m honored everytime!

Sound Hive in Austin, TX:
June 13, 2014; 7:30pm at Blackerby Violin Shop
$ 5 students/$10 adults
1111 W. Anderson Lane, Austin, TX 78757

Sound Hive in Houston, TX:
June 14, 2014; 7:30pm at 14 Pews
advance tickets at eventbrite from $15
door price $10 students/$20 adults; cash only
800 Aurora Street, Houston, TX 77009

It is funny that both of my pieces being performed were the result of collaboration or commission by Scordatura, as I am in the middle of writing a third piece for them, coincidentally for the same instrumentation as the original Hammerballet. The piece is being composed for a commission project based around tributes. The subject for my particular tribute is none other than Hildegard von Bingen. The work so far focuses on her stylistic features (wide ascending intervals followed be descending stepwise motion, wide range, and fluid vocal writing) and the blurry lines between consciousness and unconsciousness. The latter is somewhat based on Hildegard’s mystical visions that she reported having since childhood. In paintings and animations, these visions are often depicted as streams of fire. I’ve interpreted these streams to mean something closer to streams of consciousness that one might try to ward off while going into a meditative state. Or, more closely, these streams might be the streams of thoughts and ideas that come to one’s mind during the moments he or she falls asleep. I had a somewhat humorous daydream one evening where I was a a dinner party, and who else should appear but none other than Hildegard herself! She enters, we dance, we joke, and she leaves. Before we dance, however, I greet her with a line from her own Ordo Virtutum, “Angelic comrade, how comely you are in the royal nuptials!” It is the short antiphon that this line is set that I am looking to quote in my piece.

As the piece gets more solidified, I will divulge more details.

hildegard

 

 

 

compassion is a verb

Well, this week has been a bit of a roller coaster. The bad news is that there was going to be an event at Rothko Chapel that was going to include a new work of mine, and it was cancelled. The good news is that my awesome friend Misha Penton stopped by early this week to record the piece. This should be a rather relaxing piece of music, so have a listen and I hope you enjoy! Listen to compassion is a verb here.

The title compassion is a verb come from a quote by Thích Nhất Hạnh. The text for the work is by the Dalai Lama, from his book Kindness, Clarity, and Insight. 

“Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life. And a good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter. These are not sufficient. A good motivation is what is needed: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy; just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity. That we humans can help each other is one of our unique human capacities. We must share in other peoples’ suffering; even if you cannot help with money, to show concern, to give moral support and express sympathy are themselves valuable. This is what should be the basis of activities; whether one calls it religion or not does not matter [so much].”
― Dalai Lama XIV

aaaaand you can all hear it now!

Whew, what a night! I just got home from an awesome evening performing ravens and radishes, I’ve gone through the customary social media blasts  afterwards, aaaand I’m wiped out. Though, I imagine I am not anywhere near as beat as Misha Penton, who not only sang her ass off tonight, but put together the whole evening! Seriously, the amount of work she puts into a performance is tremendous. I’m constantly in awe of the work she does, and I feel blessed to get to work with her!

photograph courtesy of David DeHoyos Photography

photograph courtesy of David DeHoyos Photography

So y’all, ravens and radishes is available to purchase as a digital EP! You can buy it here, on bandcamp. It is only $5. Misha and I were joined by Daniel Saenz on cello. Daniel is absolutely fantastic, and has taught me so much about what the instrument can do. He’s definitely going to have to be at my side when I write another piece with cello.

We have already received a review of the release, by Steve Hicken over at Sequenza21. Read it here. My favorite 3/4 of the review are:

“The lyrics, by soprano Misha Penton, embody elusive retellings of tales from Grimm and a Slavic tale. They are well-matched with Heathco’s music, which has an easy eclecticism that reminds me of chamber rock with shifting textures and metric/rhythmic freedom. The songs work on their own and as part of the cycle.

Misha Penton, in addition to having a way with words, is a fine singer, with a darkly inviting voice, a sure sense of pitch, and outstanding diction. Mr. Heathco is a solid guitarist, coaxing a wide variety of sounds and textures from his instrument, which blends and contrasts in sometimes surprising ways with Daniel Saenz’ superb cello playing.

ravens & radishes is very well-written, recorded, and performed. A good example of the form and style.”

We released a music video for one of the songs from the cycle. The video is for “Sheep’s Clothing,” though we called the video ravens and radishes. Don’t be fooled! I posted the video on my extra media page, but whatever…you can see it here:

 

 

Come be a part of the official release of ravens and radishes!

photo by Dave Nickerson

photo by Dave Nickerson

I am pleased as punch to announce that on April 27th, my piece ravens and radishes will be officially released as a digital EP, along with a video set to one of the songs from the cycle! Setting to music evocative poetry, by my good friend Misha Penton, ravens and radishes is a 25 minute operatic song cycle for soprano, electric guitar, and cello. This project has been over two years in the making, from initial conception all the way to the April release, and we would like to celebrate the occasion by inviting you to our EP and video release party on April 27th! Experience a 30 minute performance with informal seating and standing room, plus an after party with yummy treats and libations. There will be music, dance (choreographed and performed by the amazing Meg Brooker), awesome lighting, and will be just a fun time all around! Visit the Divergence Vocal Theater website for more details!

Sunday April 27, 2014
6:30pm
4411 Montrose Blvd, Houston, TX 77006

Talkin’ shop at the local radio station, like a boss.

14_LS_Louis_Andriessen_0

 

It’s no secret that I enjoy Louis Andriessen’s music…a lot. So, I was super excited to get to talk with Dacia Clay about Andriessen’s music at KUHA for this week’s Classical Classroom. You can check that out here. Check out any of the other 36 episodes on the site, as well.

Houston had the misfortune to lose a very important component to its (only) local Classical music radio station this past Fall. A number of talented hosts and personalities that routinely engaged local artists and their/our work were let go in a rather unfortunate manner, and with that the city lost a large a great source for local talent to help share and promote their work to the “masses.” It is shows like Classical Classroom that still offer a small chance for local classical buffs to connect.

 

shifting landscape has been Incipitsify-ed!

My violin, clarinet, and piano trio, shifting landscapehas been included on the Incipitsify channel on youtube. This is great because not only do I FINALLY have some music up on youtube, but my piece is included in a channel with so much other awesome music! This has been a great way for me to sample a ton of really cool pieces by some stellar contemporary music composers. A few of my favorites on the channel are Ken Ueno’s …blood blossoms, Andrew Norman’s Companion Guide to Rome, and  Chaya Czernowin’s Sahaf. 

shifting landscape. Check it out:

Duo Scordatura and Turbine reviewed

My friends Nicholas Leh Baker and Faith Jones of Duo Scordatura released their self-titled, debut album a few months ago. The album features a number of pieces that were commissioned by and written for the duo (violin and viola), including one of my own: Turbine. They did a fantastic job with this recording and performed the hell out of my piece. The group received  a rather nice review by Andrew Sigler over at New Music Box, which you can read here. Of my piece, Sigler had this to say:

George Heathco’s Turbine features a Q&A between the two instruments that quickly overlap and become a sort of hockety canon starting in the lower registers and ascending by and by as the piece develops. A bright harmonic tonal center sways from dark to light and back again, as an ostinato in the viola plays against double stops in the violin. Pizz moments make their way into this trading texture, one that never gets too busy but always feels full and focused. This leads to a more legato section followed by a reductive ending in which a long phrase played between the instruments gets pared away until there is nothing left.

I love writing for Duo Scordatura, as they are incredibly passionate about playing any and all music, especially by younger composers and friends! I have now written a couple of pieces for the group, the other being Hammerballet, which augments the group by adding a piano. In addition to those, I’ll be writing another piece for them as part of an upcoming commissioning project. Many more details will be announced as the project draws near.

Crowd-funding with Liminal Space, “Slumber” performance, etc…

Hey gang! I wanted to put up a blurb about a little crowd-funding campaign that Luke Hubley and I are running over at the Liminal Space camp. We’re trying to raise money for our next concert, which will be on December 11th at The Barn. Unlike most other concerts we’ve presented, we’ve decided to go way out on a limb, take a bit of a financial risk, and to produce something that we feel will be truly special: presenting Steve Reich’s 2×5, with original dance by Lydia Hance and Frame Dance Productions! This is huge for us, as it represents the first time we’ve reached out to another organization to initiate an interdisciplinary performance of this type. Here is a bit of some “official writing” from our page:

“We are pleased to announce that the second concert season of Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble is well underway! Our successful first season consisted of thirteen performances, including premieres of newly commissioned works, collaborations, and contemporary music rarely performed in Houston. This season, we are preparing a memorable evening featuring the Houston premiere of Steve Reich’s 2×5 with original dance and choreography by Lydia Hance and Frame Dance Productions, as well as performances of Orianna Webb‘s Sustenance Variations, and works by Eric Martin and Rob McClure, both commissioned by our New Music Initiative. As Liminal Space ventures further into presenting groundbreaking contemporary works, we are honored to have the opportunity to work with Frame Dance Productions, well known in the Houston arts community for their innovative and collaborative presence. We hope that you will plan to join us for this special event on December 11th at The Barn – Dance Source Performing Arts Space, just outside downtown Houston. We’ve been very fortunate to have community support for the performances we’ve presented in the past. With this project, we have decided to take a large leap to expand not only the performance venue size, but also the scope of our collaborative efforts. However, to do this means that both operating and production costs will be significantly higher than in projects past, as everything from venue and music rental to program and promotional material costs have increased for this project. We would like your help to reach our $2,500 goal, and ask for your financial support in bringing this unique artistic endeavor into fruition. Even the smallest things cost money, so contributions of any size are more than welcome and will absolutely go a long way. Any and every contribution matters! In the event that we do not meet our goal, we are still able to keep any donations made to us.” Please visit our indiegogo page, and consider contributing to the project! CLICK HERE

You can watch the amazing film about the concert that I compiled, directed, and scored here:

In other awesome news, as part of an Intersection Ensemble Houston performance, my song for voice and marimba, “Slumber,” was performed on Friday, November 8th. Mezzo-soprano Cecy Duarte and Luke performed the hell out of the piece, and unlike most other times, I actually got the performance on recording! I’ve been blessed with having outstanding vocalists perform this work. Over the past Summer, soprano Misha Penton sang the work. Both Cecilia and Misha did stunning work on the piece, and both brought something a little different to the work that I would not have thought about. What individuals can bring to a work is just astounding to me. Anyway, here is a link to the performance:

The Summer update!

My Summer has been rather exciting, so far.

To start, Liminal Space traveled up to Norman, Oklahoma back in May. We had a performance at the University of Oklahoma for the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy on May 19h. Also performing in Norman that night was Mother Nature. As I was leaving our hotel room to head to our rehearsal, some serious dark clouds rolled in and it started to hail. No sprinkles. No thunderous warning shots. Just pea-sized hail. As my luck goes, I took a stupidly wrong turn and headed down the highway through the hail, now accompanied by a torrential downpour. Once I was about a mile from the hotel, I hear off in the distance what sounded like an air raid siren. The sound of a tornado siren for the first time is rather frightening when you are driving alone in an unfamiliar place. The hail strengthened and grew to the size of marbles, and I managed to survive after finding a gas station awning to pull under. To my surprise later that evening, a tornado had in fact touched down and caused some tremendous damage nearby. The next night, nature’s encore would prove to be especially disastrous for Moore, Ok, which was just up the road from the conference in Norman.

I posted the flyer on this site for the Forecast Music performance of my piece Shifting Landscape in Winston-Salem. The performance was lovely, and I got to make a few new friends. My original plan for my off-time in Winston-Salem were to take a little time to explore the city and have some solid me-time. However, the hotel I booked was several miles north of downtown, and apparently a little out of the way for the ensemble members. No bus. Cabs weren’t cheap. I got the me-time I wanted, but in the comfort of my hotel room. It was relaxing and I was able to begin work on a new piece for violinist Nicholas Baker. Before my flight out, I did get to travel to Raleigh for a bit.

The week following that trip was marked by a number of rehearsals and a performance of a number brand new songs that were written in rather short amount of time. The Houston Grand Opera’s community outreach arm, HGOco, put together a wonderful collaborative project that set poetry by fourth and fifth grade students to music by several composers from the University of Houston. I was amazed to find that I can churn out three brand new songs in a week’s time! The project was a blast and culminated in a wonderful performance. Here is a brief article that goes into a little more detail.

On June 2nd, Liminal Space had the final concert of our inaugural season. The program included Marc Mellits’ Black, John Cage’s In a Landscape, Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, and two world premieres by Mark Buller and Eric Martin. The concert was great, I absolutely had a blast performing Electric Counterpoint. It felt very special to be present brand new music to a very supportive audience. The performance was even reviewed by andrew Sigler on NewMusicBox!

Liminal Space has had a very lucky season opener, as far as press goes. In July, Liminal Space was included in an Arts and Culture article on adventurous programming. Also on the list are a host of Houston’s heavy hitter ensembles and presenters, many of whom I have looked up to over the years. It is very humbling to be on that list, but it is also extremely exciting and a tad bit validating!

My summer wouldn’t be complete without spending five weeks teaching music with many of Houston’s finest musicians to many of Houston’s finest high schoolers at American Festival for the Arts. I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of this organization for the last few years.

LASTLY, I finished the song cycle that has been mentioned numerous times on this blog. I collaborated with Misha Penton, who wrote a fantastic set of poems based on fairytales. We started talking about this project back in December 2011/January 2012. Sometime shortly after that, she began sending me various texts and poems to be set to music. At the time, my intentions were to have the songs finished by the end of the Summer of 2012. “By September” was my mantra. Well, as things can go with schedules, mine began to take on a different set priorities that required more and more of my time. I was called to teach a couple of classes at UH, ReGifting Lions had its premiere and run, Liminal Space began, and Cthulhu rose! September turned into November, which turned into December, into Spring, into mid-May, and finally into June…of 2013. What eventually solidified things was finally sitting down and setting a date. DEADLINES! Those things definitely help get the ball rolling. I’m pleased that tonight we will be premiering ravens and radishes: a telling of talesa song cycle for soprano, electric guitar, and cello. With the help of cellist Daniel Saenz, we are showing this thing off at a private house concert, which will be followed up by a week of recording the piece. Other performances are in the works and likely to surface soon! On a similar note, also on the house concert program will be another piece of mine for mezzo-soprano and marimba, called Slumber. The words were written by Pant Factory vocalist Ben Cunningham. This is the third performance of this piece, and it sounds great in the hands of Luke Hubley and Misha. Expect an audio clip very soon!

The next big “thing” after this recording is the weekend beach vacation that my family will be sharing with some close friends.