Live Performance

November 8, 2014

It’s a different experience watching a live performance of music than listening to a studio recording on your stereo (or earbuds). Here the Rome-based Italian ensemble Piccola Accademia degli Specchi perform the first movement of Camille at Zeeuwse Concertzaal in Middelburg, Netherlands in 2011.

Camille (2010) was commissioned by Piccola Accademia degli Specchi. The work is scored for the group’s instrumentation which is a hybrid of the traditional “Pierrot Ensemble”:  flute, saxophone, violin, cello and piano 4-hands. The saxophone gives the work a unique quality different from the traditional clarinet used in a “Pierrot Ensemble”. Having the piano part played by 20 fingers instead of 10 expands the rhythmic and sound possibilities. There are three movements in Camille with the titles I. Vitality II. Tranquility and III. Triumph.

Album of the Month at textura

October 6, 2014

textura honored Scatter My Ashes choosing it as an October 2014 Album of the Month. Here are a few quotes from their review:

“…resplendent and melodious, and easy to embrace when its fresh blend of neo-classical, jazz, and popular song-based forms sparkles so effervescently…”

“…ruminating on the self’s dissolution and communing with nature…”

“…the experience of big city alienation and its citizens’ insatiable appetite for sensory stimulation…”

“…rambunctious syncopations…”

“…both density and clarity…”

It was also a pleasure to participate in a thought-provoking interview where the album was described as a “genre-transcending fusion of contemporary Western classical, jazz, pop, and non-Western folk musics.”

textura October 2014 cover featuring Albums of the Month by Maya Beiser, William Susman and yMusic

textura October 2014 cover featuring the “Albums of the Month” by Maya Beiser, William Susman and yMusic

Melancholy, Unconscious, and Postmodern Solitude in Poetry

September 22, 2014

A recent review of the album Scatter My Ashes in The Voice gives new insight into the poems of my sister Sue Susman. Wanda Waterman discusses how they were set to music as well as doing some in-depth research into the compositional approach.

Here are some excerpts from the review entitled Where Multiple Streams of Inspiration Joyously Meet and Mingle:

“The poems of his sister seem to arrive, first, from a melancholy soul and, second, from the common unconscious of a culture unnerved by rapid transitions, growing shallowness, and ignorance.”

“…we explore the absurdity of postmodern solitude by means of the poem itself…”

“…the harmonious intertwining of jazz and Western classical, of straight rhythm with swing, of notes rich with sobriety overlaid by cheerfully rippling melodies. …”

“This album, in addition to being delightfully listenable, serves as a short introductory course in new developments in serious music…”

Scatter My Ashes - CD back cover

Scatter My Ashes – CD back cover

Setting a Poem to Music

June 15, 2014

Title Track from OCTET ensemble’s album debut featuring soprano Mellissa Hughes.

The poem Scatter My Ashes is by my sister Sue Susman. I originally set this poem for voice and piano. It was subsequently arranged for OCTET ensemble. I like the sound of these words, their message and the movement they create in their meaning and  story. I try to let the music capture the narrative’s essence sculpting words into motion.

Scatter my ashes before I die.
Let me blow and fade
in the wind
over water
into nothing.
Watch me dissolve in air.
Scatter my old bones.
I am keeping the young ones
fresh, strong the blood circles
and weaves me into a whole piece
with long slender red thread
buried under my skin.

copyright © 1984 – 87 by Sue Susman. All Rights Reserved.

The Poetry of Sue Susman

April 29, 2014

I am drawn to my sister’s poems because they tell honest and flowing stories. They are truthful and insightful narratives about things we see or ought to see.

Recently, I asked Sue to talk a little about her poems sung on the album Scatter My Ashes. You can download the  album booklet  which includes the poems heard in the two song cycles. -William Susman

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“I wrote Scatter My Ashes when I was standing on a street corner handing out leaflets for a political candidate.  No one was around, so I had nothing to do.  I wrote this poem on the back of one of the leaflets.  It just came to me.

With Hot Time, I did have some inspiration.  Some friends and I had just come out of a movie theater.  We were on Clark and Division, an area in Chicago where there a lot of bars.  The whole poem is a description of the way I experience bars.  The “hot dark rooms filled with sweating, hungry bodies, dancing with fever into the morning.” “You can choose one to take home with you,”  is about “one night stands, people picking up strangers in bars and taking them home. “You can go on alone” is the choice not to pick someone up and just go home yourself.   “You can help yourself” has a double meaning—”You can help yourself” to the many people around you to take home with you or you can “help yourself”, as in you can take care of yourself and not need another person to do it.

In Begging the Night For Change, I was in a parking lot and a woman came up to me and asked me for money.  “I said, ‘No’ and walked away.”  I wrote the poem afterwards.  It was a real experience.

In Moving In To An Empty Space,  I was on a personal retreat, staying in a cabin in St. Charles, IL.  I went there fairly often when I was in graduate school.  I spent some of the time writing and some of the time just taking long walks.  I didn’t see anybody for most of the time.  That’s what I came there for, silence and peace.  I wrote “Moving In To An Empty Space” after standing outside in the cold.  It was winter then. I was looking up at the night sky filled with stars.  There was no sound and the words just came to me and I wrote the poem.” -Sue Susman

Quiet Rhythms and a little bit about the music

March 13, 2014

Quiet Rhythms is an ongoing series of short piano pieces that are written in pairs consisting of a prologue and action. In creating each pair, the action is composed first and is syncopated and rhythmic.  The prologue uses the same harmonic patterns of the action but is non-syncopated or “smooth”.

The prologue is usually performed first before the action of the same number. Each book contains 11 prologues and actions and, currently there are four books. You can view the first page of each piece here.

Here is the opening to Action 1 of Quiet Rhythms:

ImageThe action was written first and then the prologue was derived from it. Prologue 1 below uses the same harmony of Action 1 and, the rhythmic pattern is “smoothed out”. This process is followed with all 44 prologues and actions in Books I – IV.

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In this particular prologue, the harmony of measure 1 corresponds to measures 1 – 4 in Action 1 above. Measure 2 here corresponds to measures 5 – 8 in Action 1. Measure 3 corresponds to measures 9 – 12 in Action 1 and, measure 4 corresponds to measures 13 -16 in Action 1. This reductive technique is applied in all of the prologues throughout Quiet Rhythms.

Here is a performance of Prologue and Action 1:

Extraordinary pianists from around the world who perform Quiet Rhythms:

R. Andrew Lee

Francesco Di Fiore

Erika Tazawa

Nicolas Horvath

Elaine Kwon

Brilliant Italian Composer/Pianist Francesco Di Fiore

December 5, 2012

Francesco Di Fiore with Prologue 1 from Quiet Rhythms

I met William Susman in 2011, in the Netherlands, for the first time. I was in Middelburg to attend a performance of my music by ensemble Piccola Accademia Degli Specchi. On tthe same occasion, the ensemble performed the beautiful suite Camille by William.

I was already familiar with William’s music thanks to composer Matteo Sommacal, my dear friend, who invited me to listen to his works. That was a fantastic discovery; William’s music world is absolutely fascinating, very original, personal, with a precise identity and so different from any other music or composer.

From left to right composers Francesco Di Fiore, Douwe Eisenga, William Susman, and Matteo Sommacal in the lobby of Zeeuwse Concertzall, October, 2011

Recently I had the honor to perform a selection from Quiet Rhythms for solo piano, in the Netherlands, at the same venue (Zeeuwse Concertzall) where William’s music and mine was performed in 2011. On that special evening in Middelburg, four composers were present attending a stunning performance in a unique gathering. In some spiritual way, I wanted to recreate that special event performing William’s, Matteo Sommacal’s, Douwe Eisenga’s and my music as well. Four different composers, four different experiences, four different sound worlds but one same language spoken.

Italian Composer/Pianiast Francesco Di Fiore

Italian Composer/Pianist Francesco Di Fiore

Approaching William’s music has been a very singular experience. When you think you have a clear idea of a composer’s purpose suddenly you realize that something is hiding behind it, and behind it, again and again, and so on. I will keep playing William’s music for a long time, as it piques my curiosity and I have so much to learn from him! - Franceso Di Fiore

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Listen to Francesco Di Fiore perform Quiet Rhythms and watch Valeria Di Matteo’s video by clicking here.

Innovative Italian Video Artist Valeria Di Matteo

December 5, 2012

Italian Video Artist Valeria Di Matteo

When Francesco Di Fiore decided to perform William Susman’s piece Quiet Rhythms in his Piano Solo project, I was so thrilled to make a new video for it as I already knew William’s music and I loved it so much.

From Valeria Di Matteo’s Video for Quiet Rhythms – Prologue 1

Creating this video was quite natural to me. William’s notes often painted some kind of non-defined geometrical images in my mind and I already had the idea of a video entirely shot inside a piano, also inspired by a beautiful set of close-up images shot by Francesco himself inside his piano.

From Valeria Di Matteo’s Video for Quiet Rhythms – Prologue 1

The result is a first part, Prologue, in black and white, quite linear, abstract and geometric; Action, the second part, is more narrative showing a journey inside the piano. This instrument is so beautiful as a still object but there’s also so much life inside it to show while a piece is being performed and usually no one can admire it during a concert.

From Valeria Di Matteo's Video for Quiet Rhythms - Action 1

From Valeria Di Matteo’s Video for Quiet Rhythms – Action 1

Geometry, order of the shapes, harmony and colors of materials were to me the perfect subjects for this remarkable piece of music.  - Valeria Di Matteo

From Valeria Di Matteo’s Video for Quiet Rhythms – Action 1

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Watch Valeria Di Matteo’s video and listen to Francesco Di Fiore perform Quiet Rhythms by clicking here.

Native New Yorker: What is my view of the story?

September 16, 2012

Terry ‘Coyote’ Murphy in Native New Yorker (2005)

The story for me is about loss and hope told through powerful visual symbols and traumatic events. Coyote walks us through New York City showing us both “everyday” and life-altering events that take on a new meaning in the context of a Native American guide.

There is a clear and brilliant symmetry to this film. The mystical and metaphorical image of a soaring eagle appears at the beginning and end of the film. The eagle represents spiritual and revered elements of both the Native American and U.S. American culture. The film opens with a symbolic and prescient shot of the Twin Towers approaching the island by water. The film concludes pulling away from the island, again by water, with a close-up of Coyote. However, over his shoulder, where the Twin Towers once stood, there is now an empty void.

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Native New Yorker won many awards including Best Documentary Short at The Tribeca Film Festival and appeared at over 25 film festivals. The Tribeca Film Institute now distributes Native New Yorker

September 16, 2012 The Moondance International Film Festival at The Tribeca Cinemas gives Native New Yorker a reprise screening. It won Best Documentary Short at Moondance in 2005.

Native New Yorker: From what did I draw my inspiration?

September 14, 2012

Filmmaker Steve Bilich and the 1924 Cine-Kodak camera used to film Native New Yorker (2005)

The film has an incredible emotional arc and I tried to echo that emotion in the structure and sound of the score. The layering of rhythms and the incessant drive of the music reflect the energy and the many facets of New York City as well as the motion and pace of the images created by Steve. In addition, the “flicker” caused by the use of that old 1924 Cine-Kodak suggest a tempo and pulse.

The instrumentation of the score is inspired by the abundance of New York City street musicians seen in the film. Violin and guitar buskers appear as well as drummers. The piano is an homage to the musicians who played in so many of the first movie houses. Native American chanting, as well as Middle Eastern vocalizing, reflect emotion, characters, action and events both on and off screen. The breathy sounds of the native flutes are emblematic of the life force present and shared by all cultures.

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Native New Yorker won many awards including Best Documentary Short at The Tribeca Film Festival and appeared at over 25 film festivals. The Tribeca Film Institute now distributes Native New Yorker

September 16, 2012 The Moondance International Film Festival at The Tribeca Cinemas gives Native New Yorker a reprise screening. It won Best Documentary Short at Moondance in 2005.


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