16
Jan 18

New Chamber Ballet

New Chamber Ballet joins forces with Ekmeles for a new ballet to music by Kaija Saariaho and Karin Rehnqvist. Also on the program: a new ballet to music by Bach.

Ekmeles rep for concert

  • Kaija Saariaho – From the Grammar of Dreams (1988)
  • Karin Rehnqvist – Davids Nimm (1983)

Ekmeles personnel for concert


01
Jan 18

Microtonal Premieres

This program features U.S. and world premieres by composers experimenting with the infinite tuning flexibility of the human voice. A world premiere commission by Marc Sabat is paired with U.S. premieres by Catherine Lamb and Rebecca Saunders, and an Ekmeles favorite by Erin Gee.

  • Marc Sabat – Seeds of Skies, Alibis (2007)
  • Rebecca Saunders – Soliloquy (2007)
  • Catherine Lamb – pulse/shade (2014)
  • Erin Gee – Three Scenes from SLEEP (2008)

Ekmeles personnel for concert


27
Nov 17

An uneasy symmetry?

As part of our 2017-2018 season we’re continuing to give each of our core singers a turn at the helm of the blog. The below post below comes from our bass, Steven Hrycelak.


So much of the history of Western music centers around tonic and dominant harmonies, as well the dominant’s functional cousin, the subdominant.

For those of us obsessed with symmetry, however, it is worth noting that the thing that divides the octave in half is the tritone — which is exactly in between the fourth and fifth scale degrees, upon which the subdominant and dominant chords are built.

To achieve a scale that contains these fourth and fifth scale degrees, major and minor scales are made of various combinations of whole and half steps. Scale degree four and five are a whole step apart, but a scale of only whole steps would contain neither of these pitches; that is, neither a perfect fourth nor a perfect fifth above the root would be in this scale.

How, then, to achieve something more symmetrical? More contemporary composers have explored two options. First, the whole tone scale, which divides the octave into six equal whole steps, and the tritone into three equal whole steps. Dominant and subdominant harmonies are not a part of compositions employing this scale, and any given scale degree has less prominence, but a feeling of completion or circularity may still be felt as the octave is achieved, depending on how the composer uses this scale. The other frequently employed option — more of a technique than a scale, per se — is based on minor thirds, which can stack indefinitely to create diminished triads. This divides the octave into four equal parts, or the tritone into two equal parts. I find that this configuration further downplays the prominence of scale degrees, meaning that nothing feels like a root as diminished triads endlessly invert.

Chris Trapani, in his piece End Words, explores a further division of this symmetry — and one that we are not used to either performing or hearing. In the second movement this piece, the building block is a scale in which the minor third is cut in half; in other words, each scale degree is equal to 1.5 semitones. In this way, the octave is divided into eight equal parts; the tritone, into four.

In my experience in working on this piece, this adds to a further lack of grounding, or a feeling of weightlessness, as the size of the interval is not one that we encounter regularly. But, since each interval is the same size, perhaps there is also something grounding in that? Maybe you have another reaction altogether? I’d love to know what you think, when you come to hear us on Friday night!


19
Nov 17

Second chances

As part of our 2017-2018 season we’re continuing to give each of our core singers a turn at the helm of the blog. The below post below comes from our baritone and director, Jeffrey Gavett.


As musicians working in contemporary music, we have a lot of first chances at things. Whether we’re first cracking open a new, ink-still-wet commission written just for us, or digging into an existing, new-to-us work for the first time, a lot of our work consists of first encounters. This is an exciting way to be dealing with art and life, and I’m sure that this is at least part of what draws many of us to this field.

Because of this state of affairs, second chances are even more special to me. Every piece that’s ever been performed has a premiere; not every piece gets a second performance. This week we’re giving the second performance of End Words, a substantial piece written for us by Christopher Trapani, and commissioned by Chamber Music America.

Coming back to a piece after the premiere, I look at it with totally different eyes. Despite the hours and hours we spent rehearsing the piece for the premiere, I’ve found new questions to ask the composer, finding ambiguity in passages that I previously read through without a second thought. Certain sections feel internalized and ‘finished’, while others feel totally foreign – did my score change in the last six months?

A second performance still requires a deep reassessment of the work. The piece isn’t brand new, but it also isn’t at all a repertoire standard yet. Sometimes I find it useful to take the process of learning for a second performance more like another chance at a first engagement with the score, walking the same paths with a different intention. What if, instead of focusing on hearing a section harmonically, I focus on the linear intervals; instead of a rhythmic focus, what about a melodic one? A great piece of music can yield new insights with each performance, and ideally, the second performance is a chance to go in a different direction than the first, further opening the possibilities. I’m very excited for this second performance – and maybe even more so for the third, coming up this May. What could be better than a second second chance?


30
Sep 17

Control

As part of our 2017-2018 season we’re continuing to give each of our core singers a turn at the helm of the blog. The below post below comes from our baritone and director, Jeffrey Gavett.


The composers for our concert of October 7th have all notated their scores in a somewhat traditional sense. We have sheets of paper with words, notes, lines, and symbols on them, that communicate to us what we are supposed to do to realize the music. One thing that differs between the pieces is the level of control that the composer decides to exert over the performance – below are a few examples selected from the concert’s repertoire.

James Weeks’s Primo Libro exerts a level of specific control of the performance in many ways. The octave is divided into 31 equal parts, demanding a specificity of intonation from the singers, who are also following a rhythmic flow that moves on a prescribed grid, but without traditional meter. Cassandra Miller’s Guide also asks the singers to perform a difficult and specific task in memorizing, slowing down, and transposing the details of an audio recorded performance. However, the ensemble is split up into three groups, each of which must coordinate internally, but which move independently from one another. Thus the performances are rigidly controlled at the level of the individual, and small group, but the larger work is more open.

Liza Lim’s Three Angels contains a range of notational styles and levels of control. The soprano’s music is extraordinarily specific, with difficult rhythms and quarter tone inflections of melody throughout. The baritone’s solo is traditionally notated, but also includes instructions for improvisatory looping and shifting of materials. The mezzo soprano performs with a small ‘wacky whistle’ on her palate, and her music is written totally graphically. The coordination of the solos is also left slightly open, similar to how Miller’s work is more open in a larger formal sense.

Ben Johnston’s Rose, like James Weeks’s Primo Libro, is extremely specific in its pitch demands. Written in a 7-limit just intonation system, the work avoids the traditional triads of a 5-limit system and creates a new harmonic grammar for its tuning. Its rhythm and formal language however are musically very traditional, and depend on phrasing and shaping by the singers for expressive purposes.

25
Sep 17

Learning by ear

As part of our 2017-2018 season we’re continuing to give each of our core singers a turn at the helm of the blog. The below post below comes from our soprano, Charlotte Mundy.


What would it mean for classical music if the score wasn’t the definitive version of the piece, but just a guide – a starting point?

In a recent interview on the Resonant Bodies podcast, Jennifer Walshe said, “In the theatre world they understand the script is the starting place, it’s not the definitive document…. People don’t rush up to the director’s table [after a play] and look at the script, whereas after a new music concert they rush up to the stage to look at the notation because that’s where we have been told that the piece is located. It’s located in the notation, and the analysis of the piece should always lead with the score.”

I find it exciting, then, that three of the pieces on our program on October 7 require the study of non-visual material apart from the score, i.e. recordings, as part of the rehearsal process.

Primo Libro by James Weeks uses a tuning system that divides the octave into 31 notes (as opposed to the usual 12). The intervals are audible but so tiny that they’re hard to comprehend unless you’ve already heard them, preferably multiple times. They’re virtually impossible to read off the page. The only way to come close to learning this piece properly is to use a synthesizer to render Weeks’ insanely precise (and also incredibly expressive and dramatic!) melodies and vertical harmonies.

As part of the process of learning Guide, composer Cassandra Miller asks the performers to memorize the phrasing, inflection and diction in Maria Muldaur’s 1968 recording of the song, “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah.”

Her Disappearance is graphically notated, and intended to be a relatively ‘open’ piece. It should, in theory, be possible without hearing the recording of the composers’, Bethany Younge and Kayleigh Butcher’s, performance. But the recording has been indispensable in helping Elisa (Ekmeles mezzo) and I understand how to approach the piece.

I think our concert on October 7th proves that re-thinking how music is written, disseminated and learned opens up space for more flexible, exciting, new sounds. It will also ultimately open up the role of ‘composer’ to people who have brilliant musical ideas but don’t feel at home between the five lines of the musical staff. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.   


15
Aug 17

Ekmeles +

Ekmeles is augmented by electronic accompaniment for this celebration of collaborative sound. Ekmeles’s Chamber Music America commission from Christopher Trapani receives its second performance here, paired with an older work for voices and electronics by established master of computer music Kaija Saariaho. Finally, the expansive and open form of John Cage mixes voices and electronics in four interconnected solos.

  • Christopher Trapani – End Words (2016)
  • Kaija Saariaho – Nuits, Adieux (1991)
  • John Cage – Four Solos for Voice (93-96) (1988)

Ekmeles personnel for concert

End Words has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.


08
Aug 17

Music of Longing

Ekmeles performs the World Premiere of James Weeks’s Primo Libro, the U.S. Premiere of Cassandra Miller’s Guide and other works on the theme of personal and spiritual longing.

  • James Weeks – Primo Libro (2016) World Premiere
  • Cassandra Miller – Guide (2013) U.S. Premiere
  • Liza Lim – Three Angels (2011)
  • Ben Johnston – Rose (1971)
  • Courtney Bryan – Come Away, My Beloved (2013)
  • Kayleigh Butcher and Bethany Younge – Her Disappearance (2015)

Ekmeles personnel for concert


08
May 17

Why bother?

As part of our 2016-2017 season we’re giving each of our core singers a turn at the helm of the blog. The below post below comes from our soprano, Charlotte Mundy.


Why bother with microtonal music?

I ask myself this question often, especially when I should be practicing microtonal music. I complain, ‘it takes soooo much work to learn, the myriad obscure symbols people use to notate it are confusing, and the human voice, prone as it is to pitch inconsistency, cannot possibly be the best tool for rendering infinitesimally precise systems of tuning. So why am I sitting inside on a beautiful spring afternoon singing along to a midi rendering?!?!’

But then Ekmeles gets together for rehearsal, somehow we manage to produce some precise, just-tuned chords, and suddenly I remember:

Because it’s literal magic, that’s why.

A couple weeks ago we got our first chance to sing with the electronic part for Christopher Trapani’s brand new piece, End Words, and we kept breaking down in fits of giggles. OK, partly that was because we were hearing each others’ voices unexpectedly coming out of speakers mounted on the walls around us – talking, humming, singing – as if our invisible dopplegangers were popping in and out of the room at will. But also, the harmonies we were immersed in, based on the harmonic series and rendered perfectly via digitally-tuned recordings, are utterly disarming. I can’t help but feel a little off-balance and giddy when I’m immersed in them.

Come to our show next Saturday, May 20, at the DiMenna Center to hear (and feel!) what I mean. Along with the world premiere of End Words, we’ll perform two other works that have awesome electronic tracks and gorgeous vocal writing – Zosha Di Castri’s The Animal After Whom Others are Named and Joanna Bailie’s Harmonizing – and Courtney Bryan’s kinetic, exciting A Time For Everything. Hope to see you there!


20
Apr 17

That Which is Fundamental

Ekmeles visits Bowerbird in Philadelphia to take part in That Which is Fundamental, a Julius Eastman retrospective. Other artists featured on this program include Moor Mother, the Eastman Community Choir, and Arcana New Music Ensemble. Ekmeles will perform Eastman’s half-hour vocal quartet Macle, in its first performance since the 1970s.

Ekmeles repertoire for concert

  • Julius Eastman – Macle (1968)

Ekmeles personnel for concert