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Vijay Iyer and Morton Subotnick at Big Ears

The Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, draws together musicians operating within different styles, genres, scenes, and social communities; for a magic weekend, this year from March 30th through April 2nd, audiences can expand their ears in twelve venues across the city. 

The composer, pianist, and scholar Vijay Iyer will perform in three separate configurations that highlight his versatility as a composer and performer. On Thursday, March 30th, Iyer, along with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer and composer Tyshawn Sorey, will play in a trio formation; this is the same trio which recorded Iyer’s recent ECM album Uneasy, which was described by Jazz critic Nate Chinen as “taut and enveloping” in his review for Pitchfork.

The following day, Iyer will perform in a different trio, with Pakistani-American vocalist Arooj Aftab and longstanding creative multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, in support of their upcoming album Love in Exile. Iyer first performed with this trio in 2018, and through subsequent improvised performances, the trio developed an emergent, crystalline, otherworldly sensibility; their performance at Big Ears will be their first after the release of Love in Exile on Verve Records on March 24th. 

Finally, on Saturday, April 1st, Iyer will join the Parker Quartet in a presentation of his composed works, including works for solo piano, piano quartet, and more. Check out his Mozart Effects with the Parker Quartet below. 

Closing out the festival on Sunday, April 2nd, Morton Subotnick will perform his newest work, As I Live and Breathe, with his longtime collaborator, the Berlin-based visual artist Lillevan. Subotnick writes:  

 “As I Live and Breathe features live and sampled vocalizing along with some of my most advanced electronic performance techniques. At last, some Buchla modules are now digital plugins and Ableton Live has evolved into a form that will allow me to create a technological environment that I never expected, in my lifetime, to experience. It starts with my breath, moves through a vocalizing cadenza of vocal gestures and ends with a tender and simple use of gentle rhythms and melodic fragments."

Watch an excerpt of Subotnick and Lillevan's recent performance below. 

On Kate Soper's "Romance of the Rose"

As manyreviewers of Kate Soper's recently-premiered opera The Romance of the Rose have observed, this work was a long time coming: its original premiere, slated for early 2020, was cancelled due to the COVID epidemic. In this sense, this opera is the culmination of five years of work. But in another sense, this opera is also the culmination of fourty-two years of work, and also seven hundred years of work: it synthesizes musical ideas that the composer has been developing for her whole life into forms, styles, and narrative tropes that others have been developing for centuries. 

In a 2020 essay about this opera, Soper explains that her interest in Medieval European music lies in “the occult sense that its messages are hidden even when its surface is transparent.” “By dialing up the surface intelligibility,” she writes, "you can increase the contrast, you can circle around things that you can’t look at directly.” In previous works such as 2017’s Ipsa Dixit, Soper’s exploration of things that you can’t look at directly, or perhaps things that you can’t listen to directly, was often undertaken through what some listeners might have heard as “difficult” sonic excursions through material both musical and philosophical. Ipsa Dixit, which was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Music, sets texts from the European tradition with an almost ekphrastic musical style, drawing on differing musical traditions to express, and interrogate, the natures of both words and music. 

In The Romance of the Rose, Soper builds on this strategy, but takes it one step further. Yes, the music, as Zachary Woolfe wrote in the New York Times, contains “astringency, complexity and moments of plain noise.” But those moments are framed by more comforting musical styles, such as in the aptly-named “Torch Song” that dates back to Soper’s early career as a singer-songwriter. 

Rather than a simple post-modernism, Soper’s radical use of differing musical styles has a very specific purpose, and a very powerful function: even as the audience might recognize the stylistic references intellectually, their formal arrangement in the narrative of the work has a very real effect on the heart. Soper likens the effect of this kind of formal intentionality to alchemy: the creation of a new, unknowable thing from a few well-known but ordinary elements. 

The beginning of Act II exemplifies this feeling of musical alchemy: it begins with a welcoming serenade sung with early renaissance style imitative polyphony led by the Dreamer, accompanied by a single plucked string instrument reminiscent of a lute. As the Lover wakes up, however, she begins to converse with these characters in plain, spoken language; they respond with fantastical evocations of dream-like spaces. After the Lover huffs that she’d rather go to a bar than any of these proposed dream-worlds, the piano begins playing the opening of Soper’s “Torch Song,” which melds a descending minor tetrachord—the same device that undergirds such well-known operatic arias as “Dido’s Lament”—with both jazzy seventh chords and medieval open-fifth harmonies. More than a “juxtaposition” of musical styles, this is an alchemy of musical form: as Soper writes, “a glimpse of something real, even hard, underneath a glittering surface.”

PSNY Welcomes Elijah Daniel Smith

                                                                                       Photo: Colin Mohr 

Project Schott New York (PSNY) is delighted to announce the signing of a publishing agreement with composer Elijah Daniel Smith.

Praised by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as a “rising star,” composer Elijah Daniel Smith is quickly establishing himself as one of today’s leading young composers. His music, which has been described as “gnashing and relentless” (Chicago Tribune), and as “a compilation of sounds that defy their source” (Picture This Post), ranges from orchestral compositions to multimedia and interdisciplinary collaborations.

       Fuse Quartet performs the world premiere of Perihelion by Elijah Daniel Smith at Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall at Northwestern University

Elijah’s affinity for dense and complex textures, rhythmic ambiguity and fluidity, and rich gravitational harmonies shines through in all of his creations. His music has been premiered and performed by world renowned ensembles such as The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, Mivos Quartet, Bergamot Quartet, Sō Percussion, Sandbox Percussion, Contemporaneous, ~Nois, DITHER, Copland House, Ensemble Linea, Ecce Ensemble, Fuse Quartet, Earspace, and the Peabody Symphony Orchestra. Upcoming commissions and projects include new works for Alarm Will Sound, Yarn/Wire, and the L. Mattson Collective.

Elijah is currently pursuing his PhD in Music Composition at Princeton University.

Listen to Elijah Daniel Smith's music on SoundCloud here.

Musicologist Ted Gordon recently interviewed Elijah David Smith for PSNY. Watch their conversation here:

     PSNY Interview - Elijah Daniel Smith

PSNY is thrilled to begin a publishing relationship with Elijah Daniel Smith, beginning with four new works. Click the links below to preview and purchase these scores.

Perihelion (2020) for saxophone quartet

Submergences (2019) for string quartet

Looking into Silence (2022) for string quartet and soprano soloist

Shifting Ground (2020) for percussion quartet

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