Posts Tagged ‘William Susman’

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

Image

“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

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

*  *  *

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

*  *  *

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

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Lucky

August 22, 2012

A conductor who was to give the first performance of Trailing Vortices, my Fromm commission from Earle, met with me a few months before the premiere. His first comment was, ‘Your music is nothing like Earle’s’. ‘Uh, huh right should it be?’ I asked. We did not hit it off. ‘Is the selection of a composer for a commission based on if the commissioner feels you cop his style sufficiently, or on a deeper intrinsic value, something one sees or hears below the surface of the notes?’

Trailing Vortices (1986) was premiered at the Aspen Music Festival

Earle could see and hear something that goes to the core structure of sound and the potential of an individual passionate about moving the language of music forward. I have come to realise that it was not mere luck, but instead being at the right place at the right time and with the right score. The stars lined up for Earle and me. I am grateful to have known him.

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Recordings

August 5, 2012

Bruno Maderna’s legendary recording of Earle Brown’s “Available Forms I (1961)” recorded in 1967

What happens when Available Forms I or II is recorded? A result somewhat like the Calder sculpture that does not move at the Hirshhorn: it takes on a fixed shape in space and time. Listening to a recording of Available Forms I or II, or to any of Earle’s open-form works, many times will elicit an unintended through-line. So, optimally the work should be performed a few times during a concert.

Here is an alternative approach to experiencing this work: with today’s computer technology, a website similar to Earle’s homepage, http://www.earle-brown.org/, could show the score and the listener could click on different sections (that had been recorded by a real orchestra or spliced from existing recordings) and thus act somewhat like a conductor telling the musicians which section to play and when.

(As of this posting on WordPress, Earle Brown’s Novara was recorded by the ensemble Alarm Will Sound. However, it was not recorded for a one-time linear experience. The various sound constellations in the score were recorded separately. These “sound objects” will ultimately be manipulated via a program allowing anyone – and not only a conductor – to “collaborate” with the musicians and composer.  An accessible graphic user interface will allow even a novice an interactive experience to shape the ordering of the piece and sculpt the sound in much the same manner one can move a Calder mobile and alter its shape.)

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Non-linear

July 29, 2012

Score excerpt from Earle Brown’s masterpiece “Available Forms II”

Compose several constellations of sound and then allow the conductor to change the order of the constellations at each performance – a brilliant idea that is at the heart of Available Forms I and II. There is no fixed ‘through-line’; it is different at each performance.

I have been deeply influenced by this approach when I compose. I create small chunks of music or phrases that can be a few measures or many in length. After composing a certain amount of these chunks, I order them in a way that I think works. This approach is not much different from the Available Forms, other than the fact that the material is fixed: I do not have a preconceived notion of an overall arc or through-line.

I would like to try writing a piece someday where the conductor can choose an order of preference, but that would necessitate many performances to assume the desired effect of variation, as in the Available Forms. At the moment, I am not that optimistic.

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

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

Opus One Memphis Interview Part 1

February 23, 2012

At a mixing session for OCTET at The Site in San Rafael, California

MSO’s Opus One will be performing William Susman’s Zydeco Madness in the upcoming performances with Marcela Pinilla on March 1 & 2 at the Rumba Room. William Susman lives in the San Francisco area. His composition, Zydeco Madness, was dedicated “to the forgotten of Hurricane Katrina” in Louisiana. With the recent Mardi Gras celebration, and the fact that it’s awesome to be able to interview a living composer, I thought you would all enjoy hearing what William Susman has to say about being a composer and particularly about the piece the MSO musicians will be performing next week.

Tell us about your background: where did you grow up, and where do you live now? How did your musical career begin?

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and now live near San Francisco. I did my undergrad work in music at the University of Illinois and went to grad school at Stanford in order to work at CCRMA (Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics). I’ve lived in the SF Bay area since then. As a teenager in the Chicago area, I studied with a variety of teachers in classical and jazz piano and, counterpoint. I also played in my high school big band and gigged with jazz combos. My influences back then were all the jazz greats such as Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Monk, Miles, and Coltrane.

My first big break was when I got a BMI award for a large divisi work for soprano, choir and orchestra (Pentateuch) which also happened to be my Stanford master’s thesis. At the BMI award ceremony in New York, I met one of the judges, the seminal American composer Earle Brown. At the ceremony, he said “I had to fight for your score. No one wanted to look at it because it was too big. I was the only one willing to spread it out on the floor!” (that was before you could reduce things cheaply at Kinko’s. I had made copies of the score at an architectural blueprint shop. Not long after BMI, I was staying at the Chelsea Hotel and met Virgil Thomson who lived there. He gave me the practical advice of, “The print is too small and the score is too big!”)

excerpt from PENTATEUCH (1983/84) for soprano, 3 choral groups and orchestra

It was very exciting to have a composer of Earle’s stature champion me. He helped secure a Fromm Music Foundation commission. I wrote a chamber orchestra piece (Trailing Vortices) with that commission and it was premiered at the Aspen Music Festival. It was also selected for the Gaudeamus Festival in Holland and was performed by the VARA radio orchestra (now Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra) conducted by Ernest Bour. Bour was a legend with the European avant-garde having premiered many works by Berio and Ligeti among others. Needless to say, I was honored to work with these musicians while in my mid-20s.

Read the whole interview Opus One Memphis

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.

==
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.

_______________________
William Susman
http://www.susmanmusic.com

Music & Africa

August 24, 2009
William Susman traveling in Burkina Faso. Just another flat tire...

William Susman traveling in Burkina Faso. Just another flat tire...

This is the first entry of a blog I am creating reflecting on my trip to Africa this summer and how it has affected my work as a composer. We initially went to Burkina Faso in West Africa to visit my son who is in the Peace Corps. We also visited Mali, specifically Dogon Country, Bamako and then traveled to Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa. (more…)