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The Music of Katherine Balch Now on PNSY

PSNY is thrilled to announce the publication of seven works by Katherine Balch, whose music has been described as "a shimmering sonic blanket quilted from microswaths of richly colored acoustic fabrics." Balch has emerged as a powerful voice in new music, earning commissions from the Tokyo, Minnesota, Oregon, Albany and California Symphony Orchestras, Orchestra philharmonique de Radio France, Ensemble Intercontemporain, International Contemporary Ensemble, and the Argus, Aizuri and JACK quartets, and many more. Balch earned an MM at the Yale School of Music and is currently a Dean's Fellow at Columbia University, where she is pursuing a DMA, studying with Geroge Lewis, Georg Friedrich Haas, Fred Lerdahl and Marcos Balter. She is currently 2017-2020 composer-in-residence for the California Symphony, and also serves on the faculty of the Walden School in New Hampshire. 

Ranging from solo violin to thirteen players, Balch's works on PSNY exemplify her unique exploration of texture and timbre at a granular level, which is also reflected in her works' larger-scale trajectories.

In 2015's New Geometry, for example, Balch inverts a trope from Tom Stoppard's Arcadia—the discovery of micro-level details in plant life—and instead "[amplifies] compact gestures through the harmonic trajectory of the piece, which passes from microtonal to chromatic to diatonic landscapes." Balch's organicism permeates her music, creating textures and timbres that are both highly crafted and also seemingly natural. This simultaneity of craft and nature is also evident in her 2015 string quartet, With Each Breathing, which the composer says "appropriates, reinterprets, and obfuscates" the voices of the inner movements of Beethoven's late string quartets. In her quartet, Balch expresses the ways in which music is created through breath, and vice versa. 

Balch's 2017 solo violin work, Responding to the Waves, continues her investigation into the nexus of humans, nature, and technology, reflecting on a passage from Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name. In an interview in VAN Magazine, Balch discusses this piece in relation to her larger interests in materialism, human and non-human life, gestures, and structural form. 

Balch's interests in gesture, organicism, and texture are also present in her vocal music. 2017's Phrases, for soprano and double bass, sets excerpts from Rimbaud's aphoristic and mysterious Phrases, pulled from his larger prose-poetry collection Les Illuminations. Balch describes the composition of these works during a time of restless energy, "like the tight-knit jittering of molecules in a solid," and thinks of them as both an expression of that feeling and as their simultaneous antidote.

PSNY will also be publishing Balch's Prelude for cello and piano—which is able to be performed as an attaca introduction to Brahms's E Minor cello sonata—and Una Corda for prepared piano and ensemble, which begins with a single tetrachord for the piano and spins out into the ensemble, with microtonal variations. 

Lei Liang: Exploring our Inheritance Through Chamber Opera

Heralded as “one of the most exciting voices in New Music” (The Wire), Lei Liang  (b.1972) is a Chinese-born American composer whose works have been described as “hauntingly beautiful and sonically colorful” by The New York Times, and as “far, far out of the ordinary, brilliantly original and inarguably gorgeous” by The Washington Post. Winner of the 2011 Rome Prize, Lei Liang is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland Award, a Koussevitzky Foundation Commission and a Creative Capital Award. His concerto Xiaoxiang (for saxophone and orchestra) was named a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Last season, Lei Liang’s brilliant orchestral work, A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams was commissioned, premiered, and recorded by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Learn more about that recording here.
 
(Lei Liang at the Qualcomm Institute/Photo: Alex Matthews)

Lei’s first chamber opera, Inheritance premiered at the Experimental Theatre at Conrad Prebys Hall at the University of San Diego on October 24, 2018. Set to a libretto by Matt Donovan, and produced by soprano Susan Narucki (who also created the leading role), this powerful work takes on one of the most controversial issues facing Americans today – gun violence, weaving the story of Winchester Rifle Company heiress, Sarah Wincester, with scenes from the present day. I spoke with Lei about his inspiration for the work, the collaborative process behind the work’s creation, and his thoughts about the engagement of artists with the world around them.


PSNY: What inspired you to write an opera about the legacy of gun violence in America?

LL: We know how we feel when we hear the news about yet another mass shooting. It is so hard to find the right thought process to tell a story of this importance. I’m not interested in writing a piece where the word is already out.

PSNY: Do you mean where the audience is, in a sense, lectured to and overtly told what to think?

LL: Yes. The work must be engaging, inviting people to think together. Particularly in a charged political climate, this gives us a chance to listen to each other.

PSNY: How does Sarah Winchester’s story help to achieve that aim?

LL: Sarah’s story gives us the distance to be able to think; it allows for a critical reception, and offers institutional and historical perspectives of this issue. Her story is a metaphor that looks back and forth and helps us understand where we are. 

(Inheritance – Official Trailer)

PSNY: Tell me about the collaborative process, the colleagues who helped bring the work to life and how Inheritance came to be. It’s a project that was many years in the making.

LL: Matt and I were Fellows at the American Academy in Rome, we both had children, and our families became close there. We began to discuss these issues and partnered with Susan Narucki, and the project took off from there. 

[Ed. note: Matt Donovan is married to Ligia Bouton, Inheritance’s production designer while Lei’s wife is harpsichordist, Takae Ohnishi, who performed as part of the work’s 8-member instrumental ensemble]. 

PSNY: Were there any conflicts that arose in the process?

LL: [Laughs] I think that all of us are actually too eager to support the other‘s vision in the sense that we wondered, “Would we be too gentle on each other; could we be critical enough?”

PSNY: But you were creating an opera on one of the most complex issues of the day. I can’t imagine that it was completely smooth sailing. Were there any times when there were significant differences of opinion, and how were they resolved?

LL: Matt’s approach to the project was based in a great deal of research. He really did his homework…There were times when I made musical suggestions that didn’t take into account his findings and we had to find a compromise that worked for everyone.

(Lei Liang and Susan Narucki discuss Inheritance

PSNY: Let’s talk about the music. Inheritance calls for an 8-piece chamber ensemble, and despite the small forces, you created a vast sound world from the gunshot motif at the opening, to the soaring lyricism of the vocal lines. How did you draw out so much?

LL: I like to experiment with the unexpected. Even the choice of instruments that were used was not your standard arrangement. I also asked them to do many things…to play their instruments in different ways and to vocalize as well, so they were asked to do a lot.

PSNY: Do you think that artists have a responsibility to address socially-relevant issues in their compositions?

LL: I do. I think that we have to use our art in a meaningful way; to create a dialogue so that we can begin to explore these important issues.

PSNY: Inheritance is not the first time that you’ve taken on an important topic in your music [Ed. Lei also contributed an act "Rose", to the one-woman chamber opera, Cuatro Corridos, commissioned by Narucki, featuring four stories (set by Liang, Hilda Paredes, Arlene Sierra, and Hebert Vázquez) that deal with human trafficking]. Do you have any plans to write another work on this subject, or are you exploring other areas for inspiration?

LL: Right now I’m focused on my work at the Qualcomm Institute. The exciting part is to use the recordings and scientific materials to encourage students to compose in a new way – not just to insert the recordings into a composition but to be inspired to compose in an entirely new way. 

[Ed. note: Lei was appointed Qualcomm’s first-ever Artist-In-Residence in August 2018 where he has expanded his research on the sonification of coral reefs as part of his “Hearing Seascapes” interdisciplinary courses]. 

(IDEAS "Hearing Seascapes and Erasure" Performance, 2018)

Lei Liang and his colleagues have just completed the world premiere recording of Inheritance. It is scheduled for release next year on the Albany Records label.


(Inheritance's Creative Team and Musicians Celebrate the Completion of the World Premiere Recording)


(L to R: Judith Sherman, Susan Narucki, Lei Liang, and Steven Schick at the Recording of Inheritance


To learn more about Lei Liang, visit schott-music.com

For a detailed look at Inheritance, visit: inheritance-opera.com 

The study score is available for purchase on PSNY here 


Lei Liang
Inheritance (2018)
a chamber opera in one act
Libretto by Matt Donovan (Eng.)
based on the life of Sarah Winchester
for soprano, baritone, two female voices and chamber ensemble
2cl, tpt in C, 2perc, gtr, hpsd, cb
70' 

World Premiere: October 24, 2018
University of California San Diego, Conrad Prebys Music Center 
Soprano and Producer: Susan Narucki
Baritone: Josué Cerón
Sopranos: Kirsten Ashley Wiest, Hillary Jean Young
Conductor: Steven Schick
Director: Cara Consilvio
Set Design & Costumes: Ligia Bouton
Inheritance is a project of Creative Capital 

Phil Kline and Gregory Spears Premiere New Works with String Orchestra of Brooklyn

On June 8th, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn presents two world premieres of new works by Phil Kline and Gregory Spears, along with a new arrangement of Julius Eastman's classic Gay Guerilla. Vocalist Theo Bleckmann will perform four songs from his ongoing collaboration with Kline entitled Florida Man, so named after the enigmatic tales of people from that eponymous state which have long fascinated Kline. The composer writes: 

I began collecting Florida Man headlines a few years ago. Found texts fascinate me; they’re like secret messages not meant to be set to music. It was important to me that they were authentic, so I vetted them to see if there were actual news stories attached. Did this couple really sell golden tickets to heaven? No, they didn’t. Did this guy really get arrested for a joyride with an owl? Yes, he did! Interestingly, while the Florida Men were characteristically wacky, the Florida Woman stories were sadder. I was drawn into a kind of dialog with these characters, with whom I felt a kinship much keener than I would have imagined.

Bleckmann will perform four songs, including "Waffle House," and "Search and Destroy," which uses the lyrics from Iggy Pop's song of the same name, in honor of his recent residence in the Sunshine State. Florida Man, which is a song cycle in progress, will be published by PSNY upon completion. In the meantime, check out an excerpt from Kline's Exquisite Corpses below:

Spears will premiere a new concerto for two trumpets and string orchestra, performed by the SOB and soloists Brandon Ridenour and Andy Kozar. Spears takes common extramusical associations of the trumpet—the sounds of ceremony, war, and formality— and has composed a piece that he "had no narrative, and yet would play with those associations and let them interact with one another in unexpected ways." The texture of two trumpets against a string orchestra allows Spears to compose a contrapuntal concerto that evokes a pastoral and conversational quality.  

For a taste of Spears's instrumental writing, check out his 2010 String Quartet, Buttonwood

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