I’m lucky to have been acquainted with the members of Zeitgeist for several years now. They commissioned (and beautifully recorded) Andrew Rindfleisch’s, my teacher’s, seminal work Nightsinging, and they shared a bill with my ensemble as part of the 2018 Re:Sound Festival here in Cleveland. Heather Barringer, Zeitgeist Executive Director and percussionist, contacted me and revealed they liked my set at Re:Sound and asked if I’d be interested in writing a work for Zeitgeist. She suggested a suite of several miniatures and asked if I was considering any extra-musical ideas for a work.
Tell us about your new work for Zeitgeist.
Scherzo in Four Movements came about due to Heather’s suggestions on form. The entire piece obsesses over a Reich-ian relationship between the two mallet instruments (think Music for 18 Musicians), yet its harmonic shifts are more severe. The opening section of the second movement, Sections, is a reaction to the texture of the second movement of Andrew Rindfleisch’s Nightsinging. I’ve completely changed the harmonic content, and the work develops in an entirely unrelated way.
A music history professor in school described a Scherzo as a joke, but not necessarily a funny joke. As in, the joke can be cruel, or "on you." The heart of the piece is this absurd Beethoven-ian "BAH-dah-dump" gesture. You’ll hear it when you hear it.
What is the Cleveland music scene like?
What’s amazing about Cleveland is that it’s big enough to do whatever you want, yet small enough that you can get away with anything. There’s a rich community of musicians working in noise and free improvisation--one joy is the normalization of completely batshit crazy music on the same bill with punk rock or whatever. Saxophonist Noa Even and cellist Sophie Benn are both responsible for elevating a lot of that music to a high level with their Cleveland Uncommon Sound Project. Lisa Miralia’s Mysterious Black Box radio show and Devin Hinzo’s fresh perspectives concerts have championed the music of gender-fluid composers and music that doesn’t have an easily-defined home. Rob Galo stays booking crazy shit. It’s all really healthy for the scene.
There have been some fabulously eclectic concerts: I’ve straight up conducted aleatoric electro-acoustic music on the same concert as this glorious hip-hop group Mourning [A] BLKstar, oftentimes including musicians from their ensemble in my own compositions. The tenor Matthew Jones and I are constantly doing messed up things to Handel - in venues ranging from the church, the bar, the club.
I’m sure this happens in other cities, but what’s great about Cleveland is that audiences don’t really see it as being something unusual. They’re never congratulating themselves on being “out there.” There are no rules concerning what kind of music you work in.
There’s of course a rich jazz scene, and the Cleveland Orchestra permeates a lot of the chamber music happening. In my life as an organ recitalist, people can be quite conservative--I don’t really worry about it though!
What motivates you as a composer?
Nico Muhly often describes his job as a composer as creating “a piece of art that is better than the same amount of silence.” If I can fill a period of time with music that’s worth listening to, I’ve achieved that.
Anything you would like to add?
I am beyond excited to be making my Minnesota debut in these concerts. The Twin Cities have historically been a vital incubator of contemporary art, and I’m honored to have created work for these stellar musicians. I look forward to meeting all of St. Paul at Studio Z!
HERE AND THERE 2019
ZEITGEIST & NO EXIT ENSEMBLE
Sept 20-21, 7:30 p.m. & Sept. 22, 2 p.m. • Studio Z, St. Paul, MN