Posts Tagged ‘contemporary music’

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

 

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Writing for Percussionists

January 22, 2016

For many years, I have written music for percussionists. Their diverse musical backgrounds generally gives them a very open mind towards the new and contemporary.

My music tends to be highly energetic, groove-based, pop/world-influenced and grounded in modes. In other words, the sound world of jazz and rock, a world that most percussionists of American origin are familiar with due to playing in bands as well as high school and college music programs.

So, if you’re going to write new music today, you’re probably going to find percussionists welcoming you. It is worth noting that the first classical percussion literature written specifically for percussion ensemble begins with Edgard Varèse’s Ionisation (1929-31) a seminal 20th century piece. And, by the way, it’s highly energetic with grooves and world music influences.

Here is the opening to my percussion quartet Material Rhythms. The world influence in the opening measures are found in the 3-2 clavé pattern in the percussionist’s right mallet layered over a 2-3 clavé pattern in the left mallet.

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Material Rhythms for percussion quartet by William Susman, Section I. Wood

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

 

AFRO-CUBAN CLAVÉ RHTYHM

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3-2 Clavé

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2-3 Clavé

Camille on Relevant Tones

February 19, 2015
Chicago new music radio show on WFMT 98.7 FM founded by Seth Boustead

Chicago new music radio show on WFMT Classical 98.7 FM hosted by Seth Boustead

The past few years, composer, pianist and Access Contemporary Music founder Seth Boustead has been hosting the show Relevant Tones on the classical station WFMT 98.7 FM in Chicago. Seth’s brilliant vision of a new music radio show in Chicago has grown from local to national and now international syndication.

Vitality from the piece CAMILLE was broadcast twice but with different ensembles and instrumentation.

Click on the links below to take you to Relevant Tones and listen to CAMILLE and a wide variety of music:

MODERN DAY MOONLIGHTERS

CAMILLE: Vitality performed by Piccola Accademia degli Specchi (flute, saxophone, violin, cello, piano 4-hands)

CD GRAB BAG 

CAMILLE: Vitality performed by OCTET Ensemble (saxophone, trumpet, trombone, double bass, drums, piano, electric piano, vocals)

Album of the Week

December 23, 2014

In Seattle, the radio show Second Inversion, on KING FM 98.1 FM, selected Scatter My Ashes performed by OCTET Ensemble as their album of the week. We also received some very nice accolades, especially about our vocalist Mellissa Hughes. Here are a few excerpts:

“Hughes’ dazzling vocals soar… her voice amplifies the sorrow, hope, and drama of the poetry, making each word glow.”

“A beautiful and texturally fascinating sonic landscape which fully encompasses the listener in its sinuous melodies and jazz-infused rhythms”

“The album stands as a timeless combination of contemporary classical music, minimalism, and jazz into a profound and dynamic multidisciplinary work” – Second Inversion

Second Inversion on KING FM 98.1 FM

Second Inversion on KING FM 98.1 FM

Experiencing a 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.

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.

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.

Muziek Centrum Nederlands is under threat of termination

June 23, 2011

MCN is under threat of termination following the recent announcement from the Dutch Government to cut all funding.

Please sign the petition at http://www.muziekcentrumnederland.nl/en/about-mcn/petition/

Here are my thoughts on the value of MCN in a letter of petition.

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To whom it may concern,

Please do not close Muziek Centrum Nederlands. This organization is vital to the promotion and enhancement of Dutch music within its borders and around the world. Through MCN the music culture of the Netherlands is given a worldwide stage.

I first heard about the magnificent way in which the Dutch support contemporary music through the Gaudeamus Music Festival. For a week every year composers from around the world meet in Amsterdam to have their music performed by the best Dutch performers, ensembles and orchestras.

My music was performed by the VARA radio orchestra with Ernest Bour many years ago. This performance and the entire festival was an unforgettable experience. Do not forsake the prestige and international relations that arise and are enhanced by such cultural encounters which MCN and Gaudeamus (through their performance and composition competitions) have promoted for decades. Thousands of musicians and composers from around the world have benefited and are indebted to this unique Dutch organization.

Great nations are remembered by the culture which they create and support. It is my hope that the Dutch Government’s support of the arts and MCN (which has been the envy and apex of music centers around the world) will continue for decades to come.

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William Susman
http://www.susmanmusic.com