Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

Composer/Percussionist Olivia Kieffer Talks About Arranging and Performing

January 22, 2016

World premiere of William Susman’s Material Rhythms for percussion quartet performed by Reinhardt University’s Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Olivia Kieffer.

I recently asked composer/percussionist Olivia Kieffer to talk about her work on some of my percussion music. She and her ensemble, the Reinhardt University Percussion Ensemble, premiered my quartet Material Rhythms. She also arranged some of my piano music from the series Quiet Rhythms. -William Susman

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Before we met, Bill and I exchanged emails in preparation for the premiere of his percussion quartet “Material Rhythms”. One of the first pieces of his that I listened to was a recording of Francesco Di Fiore on piano playing “Prologue and Action 1” from Quiet Rhythms Book I.

Francesco Di Fiore performs Prologue and Action 1 from Quiet Rhythms in a film by Valeria Di Matteo.

I loved it so much, and was immediately taken by the beautiful ringing tones and thought how marvelous it would sound on vibraphones and marimbas. I asked Bill if I could arrange it for a keyboard quartet of 2 vibes and 2 marimbas, and he was on board!  I stayed up all night and arranged “Action” and sent it to Bill in the morning. He came back with excellent suggestions, and I let the arrangement sit for a good while.

When Bill came to Reinhardt to hear the Percussion Ensemble premiere Material Rhythms, he gave me the bound score of Quiet Rhythms, Book I. Once I had that, I was able to truly start translating the piano score into a living breathing keyboard quartet. Taking apart the notes and rhythms in each hand, sometimes keeping them the same and sometimes rearranging them,  and fitting them in creative ways to the range and tone of the keyboards was a lot of fun and a new experience for me.

Turns out this solo piano music fits beautifully and naturally on marimba and vibes. Since it is less Right-Hand/Left-Hand and more Hands-Working-Together, it is physically familiar for percussionists to play.

Prologue 1

Prologue 1 (excerpt) from Quiet Rhythms for piano

“Prologue 1” starts with ascending and descending 16ths, and introduces the hand-to-hand clavé.

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Prologue 1 (excerpt) from Quiet Rhythms arr. Olivia Kieffer

In “Action 1”, there is a constant clavé rhythm, which changes from 3/2 to 2/3 alongside the harmonic changes. It starts with a busier amount of pitches, then simplifies, then moves into big chords.

 

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Action 1 (excerpt) from Quiet Rhythms for piano

 

The clavé is notated in the piano score with beams that cover both staves, to make the pattern visually clear. I had to find an idiomatic way to notate this for percussionists which led me to figuring out a 4-mallet sticking that would naturally ascend like the “right hand” of the piano. Another idea was to use harder mallets in the right hand.

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Action 1 (excerpt) from Quiet Rhythms arr. by Olivia Kieffer

Letter D in Action 1 is the first time that all four parts are playing together, it’s the first time full chords appear, and is one of two spots where the vibraphones represent one hand and the marimbas the other. Though Prologue has slightly similar music in its last section; it is pianissimo and subtle. So it felt important to bring those Action 1 clavé chords in with a bang!

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Action 1, mm.84-96 from Quiet Rhythms arr. Olivia Kieffer

 

Below, is the original with the clavé chords entering at measure 89.

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Action 1, mm.85-96 from Quiet Rhythms for piano

 

In Material Rhythms, each movement has its own rhythmic patterns which are passed from instrument to instrument, player to player, in various combinations. The first 3 movements are Wood (2 blocks), Metal (3 metals), and Skin (2 drums). The last movement is a combination of all 3. This passing rhythmic material creates its own melodies, particularly in “Metal”. I cut pipes to be very close in pitch to each other (in relation to low-middle-high across the players), to create a sort of Balinese Gamelan, shimmery sound. “Metal” has constant 3s, and the rhythms come out from the melodies of the pipes, and the stark dynamic contrasts.

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III. Metal (excerpt) from Material Rhythms for percussion quartet

Something I love about Bill’s music is that he is a master of layering. This is something that can be discovered while listening to the music and also from studying the score. The depth of his music comes to life, though, when being played.  There are beautiful patterns which fit themselves into all the chords. Like a beloved book often returned to, and every time something new appears, so these layers are found over time by the performer. His music speaks for itself! He can create a pattern that is, in a single line, harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic. Quiet Rhythms is beautiful and uncomplicated, yet goes as deep as one is willing to take it. When the music speaks on its own, the details are fresh to see and to work with. -Olivia Kieffer

 

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.

Native New Yorker: How did I approach composing the music for a silent film?

September 14, 2012

A scene from Native New Yorker (2005)

When I compose music for any film, I try to make an organic connection to what I see and hear on screen. I listen for music that may already be in the film or, perhaps performed by one of the characters using a particular instrument. I then develop my melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic material as well as instrumentation based on this pre-existing music.

 
Because Native New Yorker is a “silent film”, the emphasis was on creating a link between my score and the visuals. Unlike my other film scores, there was no actual “indigenous” music heard on screen that could inform my themes. So, I took another approach based on the many musicians seen in the film yet not heard.

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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: How did I get involved with this project?

September 11, 2012

Native New Yorker (2005) A film by Steve Bilich. Music by William Susman

I went to a shorts screening at Sundance in 2002. They screened a portion of what was to become “Native New Yorker”. For a few minutes, we watched, stunned, a close-up of Coyote while over his shoulder images of the Twin Towers burned in the background accompanied by music from Mozart’s Requiem. It was very startling and moving as well as somewhat surreal because we were watching these images through the lens of a silent film era camera. It was an extraordinary moment I think for everyone who saw those images that day given 9/11 had happened only a few months prior.

I approached Steve after the screening and suggested that if he expanded the film it would benefit from an original score that would add “commentary and context”. We stayed in touch over several years. He completed the film in 2005 and I scored it in about two weeks. He liked my approach and went with it.

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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.

Opus One Memphis Interview Part 5

February 29, 2012

Memphis Symphony Orchestra String Section

You originally wrote Zydeco Madness for solo accordion. What prompted you to write it for String Orchestra?

By expanding it for string orchestra, I was able to reach a larger scale of sound, create different textures with the original material and give the piece wider exposure. Also, we all saw horrific news reports of people’s stuff floating, drifting and burning in currents slick with oil. I had this vision of someone’s accordion floating in this mess, and morphing into some giant monster accordion dripping with the fallout of toxic sludge. In a sense, the string orchestra was like a giant accordion.

Solo accordion and String Orchestra obviously sound very different. Do you prefer hearing this piece one way or the other?

No preference. I love the way Stas plays this piece and he usually amplifies himself in order to get the scale of sound I’m looking for. I also am very happy with the way the string orchestra version came out. They each make a powerful statement in their own way.

Do you like that your piece will be performed in a non-traditional venue? MSO Opus One always performs in non-traditional venues.

Very much. I am very excited about this performance with the MSO at the Rumba Room. I think the MSO Opus One Series has the right idea about how to reach a wider audience. Hopefully there will be people at the Rumba Room who having never heard a live orchestra may consider coming to a concert hall performance in the future. For anyone attending, it’s a cool vibe to sip a drink in a relaxed atmosphere and connect with the music up close.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It’s such a pleasure to be working with the MSO and I am very excited to hear them play!

Thank you so much for your time! We are really excited to hear your piece!

Read the whole interview at Opus One Memphis

Opus One Memphis Interview Part 4

February 26, 2012

I’m interested in hearing more about your chamber music group, OCTET. For all of you readers who aren’t familiar with OCTET, it’s an awesome New York-based music ensemble dedicate to performing contemporaary compositions that push boundaries. What inspired you to start OCTET?

What inspired me to start OCTET was the need to hear my music. It’s always been a challenge to get performances. I wanted to take control of getting my music performed and recorded. I also wanted to create a distinctive ensemble sound. Our instrumentation is sax, trumpet, trombone, drums, piano, keyboards, vocals, and bass. We are a scaled down big band playing contemporary classical.

(You can hear the ensemble at our website and on our blog.)

Let’s talk about the piece MSOs Opus One is performing on March 1 and 2, Zydeco Madness. You’ve told me before that this piece was your response and memorial to the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. What connection do you have to Louisiana?

I lived in New Orleans for a year and a half before transferring to Champaign-Urbana. I remember the seasonal storms and floods and walking around in 3 feet of water years before Katrina. When Katirna happened, I asked myself why are these people being neglected and forgotten.

Initially, it was a solo accordion piece, because the lead instrument in a Zydeco band is typically a button accordion. I chose Bayan accordion which is a very large button accordion with a wider range than the accordions you see in Zydeco bands. The Bayan accordion is what one studies in the conservatory. You also generally play the Bayan sitting down because of its weight.

Stas Venglevski performs Zydeco Madness for Bayan Accordion solo in San Francisco

My piece does not emulate the Zydeco sound, which is very much tied into blues and creole music, so much as paint a picture or a mood around the events of Katrina using an accordion. The piece is episodic, jump-cutting from one event to the next like a news report.

It was premiered by a great Russian Bayan virtuoso named Stas Venglevski. I created a string orchestra version shortly after.

Read the whole interview at Opus One Memphis

Opus One Memphis Interview Part 3

February 26, 2012

I can say from personal experience that even musicians in music conservatories shy away from new compositions. What is the biggest barrier that modern day composers face when presenting their works to the public?

Yes. That can happen. In my experience when I was at University of Illinois and then at Stanford, I was able to find musicians willing to play my music. It was good experience getting feedback from these players who were friends of mine. It was only after I left school that it became a challenge.

In my opinion, there is not a single barrier but three that are interrelated. And, in a sense they are not exclusive to music but pertain to almost any new endeavor.

1. Money to create and produce something new

2. A platform to present what you produced and,

3. Using that platform effectively to reach an audience.

Once barriers 1 and 2 are met, number 3 – trying to reach an audience poses a challenge. How to get people excited and interested in coming out to hear live music and taking a chance on something new and different and, perhaps even a little demanding is where the classical music world should put more energy.

Do you find that modern audiences are excited to hear premieres of works? After all, that’s how all the great Classical composers got their start

It all depends on the venue and the vibe. I think it’s vital that audiences meet composers at a concert. Audiences always have an opportunity to see and, or meet a conductor, soloist or orchestra members yet it is ironic that composers are often overlooked. I think audiences would get more excited about new pieces if they were given an opportunity to have some sort of human connection even if it’s only to see the composer take a bow. Question and answer sessions before or after a concert also help foster communication.

So, in answer to your question, I do not really think audiences are generally excited about hearing premieres of new works, but they could be. It’s all about communication, reaching out and saying hey, check this out, it’s something new, meet the composer, hear him talk about his music, we think you might connect with his sound or what inspired him, etc. I think it’s also helpful when the musicians performing the music get a chance to meet the composer

I think the MSO’s Opus One Series is making a great step forward in reaching out to audiences. A smaller, relaxed venue can create a more personal connection for the audience and performers.

Read the whole interview at Opus One Memphis