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Posts tagged 'Alvin Singleton'

Alvin Singleton's "Sweet Chariot" at the National Museum of African American History & Culture

On February 26, members of the US Army Band "Pershing's Own" performed Alvin Singleton's Sweet Chariot in the recently-opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Sweet Chariot, composed as a "tentet" with multiple reed doublings, sets the traditional spiritual with Singleton's characteristic inventiveness and unique compositional voice. Carman Moore writes,

Sweet Chariot seems to be, much like Singleton’s recent orchestral work Different River, created from a series of disparate events, often divided from one another by silences or long-held tones. Some of them seem lyrically mournful, some fanfare-esque, some dancey (at one point almost salsa-like), some joyful, some loud, some soft, high and low…but always highly-contrasted and unpredictable. 

If you weren't in DC, you can still watch the performance, which was live-streamed and recorded here (starting at 57:45); Sweet Chariot was also recorded and released on Albany Records in 2014.

Ethan Iverson interviews Alvin Singleton on "Do The Math"

(photo: Alvin Singleton, left; Ethan Iverson, right)

Alvin Singleton, who recently celebrated his 75th birthday year with a portrait concert at Roulette, has been interviewed by pianist and composer Ethan Iverson on his blog, Do The Math. Calling Singleton "one of the most important living American composers," Iverson queries Singleton about his influences, collaborations, commissions, performances, and more.

One of the most extensive and thorough interviews with Singleton ever published, their conversation traces Singleton's musical life through his early days in Brooklyn, his training in New York and at Yale, his experiences with other major composers and performers, and the preservation of his unique compositional voice in the face of countless 20th-century aesthetic movements. 

(video: Argoru IV; Stephanie Griffin, viola)

Along the way, Singleton covers a large sampling of his works over the years, including the Argoru series, Be Natural, Mestizo II, In Our Own House, Inside-Out, ShadowsSecret Desire to Be Black, and many other works published by Schott Music. Discussing his recent work for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Different River, Singleton and Iverson had the following exchange: 

EI: Different River is an orchestral work for Atlanta that has various strong thematic characters. When there are big blaring major triads next to more conventionally advanced modernist harmony it is rather shocking.

AS: Well, the piece itself is the river. And as river flows, the scenery changes. But it’s still the same river.

EI: A metaphor for American music, perhaps!

Be sure to check out the full interview at Do The Math.

Alvin Singleton on PSNY

Alvin Singleton has been one of the leading compositional voices in America since the 1960s, as a member of a cohort of American composers who fused the inheritance of European Modernism with a unique style of American individualism. Raised in Brooklyn and trained at Yale, Singleton resided in Europe for most of the 1970s, returning to become the composer-in-residence at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1985, and has since become an acclaimed American composer. For the first time, a selection of Singleton's music is now available for immediate download via PSNY. 

Though Singleton has worked extensively with orchestras, he has also written works for chamber ensembles, theatrical pieces, and vocal ensembles. Two early works from 1966—Mutations for solo piano, and Epitaph for double SATB chorus—show Singleton's own unique take on the transformations of melodic material, nodding toward the Serialist tradition but going his decidedly own way.

(Singleton composing in his Atlanta studio, late 1980's)

In the 1970s, Singleton's writing for solo performers and small chamber groups pushed on that tradition even further: 1974's Be Natural, for any trio of bowed string instruments, includes ludic and improvisational elements that emphasize the creativity inherent in musical performance, and 1978's Argoru IV is a fiendishly difficult piece for solo viola, meticulously notating music to the point of it sounding improvisatory during performance. Both pieces were recently performed as part of a portrait concert at Brooklyn's Roulette — check out a video of Be Natural from that concert, below: 

[Be Natural performed by Stefanie Griffin (va), James Ilgenfritz (db) and Meaghan Burke (vc)]

Singleton's signature playful, enigmatic style is also heard in other chamber works from this period, including the solo harpsichord work Le Tombeau du Petit Prince (1978) as well as Necessity is a Mother...!!! (1981), for three female actors and amplified double bass—a piece which calls for extensive improvisation by all four performers, and nods to the tradition of spoken word performance.

(pages from Le Tombeau du Petit Prince, listen to a recording here)

His more serene, mysterious aesthetic can be heard on pieces such as Et Nunc (1980) and Through it All (2007), both of which feature wind instruments. A truly versatile composer, Singleton's work over the past forty years has varied widely by instrumentation and ensemble, but has retained a fascinating, important compositional voice.

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