This week’s Ensemble Talea residency concerts feature new works by Felipe Lara and five student composers
Ten minutes after faculty composer Peabody Felipe Lara Double Concerto, soloist Esperanza Spalding raises her left hand from the strings of her bass and places a vertical index finger in front of her lips to deliver an audible sound Hush ring. This gesture of silence, familiar as a non-verbal request for silence, looks more like a disarming invitation to listen more sharply when Spalding performs it at the world premiere in September 2021 of the Philharmonic Orchestra’s piece. Helsinki conducted by Susanna Mälkki, who can be seen through the orchestra online channel on demand. The delicate and crisp vocalizations of Spalding’s soprano splash over the soft sibilance of the hush, the orchestra behind her providing a decrescendo of strings and brass reminiscent of the sparkling sound of the carbonation of soda settling in a glass.
In separate pre-concert interviews with the composer and soloists included in the recording of the performance, Lara, flutist Claire Chase and Spalding report that the creative collaboration that ultimately led to Double Concerto, a co-commission by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, began with Chase and Spalding first sending Lara short sound recording notes they can produce, then in the fall of 2018, Chase visited Lara’s New Jersey home to experiment with making sounds with her flutes. It is a way for the composer to get an idea of his potential sonic palette for a piece. “I love this process,” Lara said in an interview in her Peabody office. “I never really write music out of the blue. I really write for people – not in a way to make them happy – more to try to figure out what I think they are, what I think they could really be, and then push them around a bit too. I think that in a great collaboration, neither the performer nor the composer leave as the same person. it’s true for my Double Concerto and this new room too.
Chambered spirals, the new piece he refers to, debuts this week at the Peabody Residency at Taléa set, the exceptional New York-based group that actively works with composers to present new works to the canon. Oscar Bettison, the chairman of Peabody’s composition department, also worked with Talea, who debuted with his short story La Arqueología del Neón in August in New York. With the financial assistance of a Johns Hopkins Catalyst Award 2020-2021, Lara was able to bring Talea to Baltimore this week to play both Chambered spirals and Bettison La Arqueología del Neón alongside five new works by graduate student composers of Peabody for a pair of concerts on October 28 and October 30.
“We are known for establishing deep and long-term collaborations with composers,” says composer and percussionist James Baker, conductor of the Talea Ensemble. “This is at least the third time that we have worked closely with Felipe, and we in the group have immense respect for him and vice versa. He’s in the rehearsal room, asking questions, making comments, and the piece is set up quickly, translating what’s on his mind into what we’re hearing. It is important for us that composers feel free to bring us their material, that it is accepted and also very well taken care of.
Asking students to write for the group offers them both the hands-on experience of transforming sheet music into sound and a coveted chance to work with an experienced professional ensemble with a solid reputation to bring new pieces to life. “We come together with this text, which is the score, but now we’re going to shape it,” Lara says of the rehearsal process. “If there’s anything they can suggest that would make it better, I totally agree. It’s a real privilege to be in this community of incredible virtuoso performers, and I think we shape everyone’s musical life. And for the students, having an established professional ensemble, who can literally play anything and are also incredibly nice people to work with, at their disposal made them be pretty fearless about what it is that they are doing. ‘they write.
Each student was assigned to write for different instrumental combinations of musicians in Talea, from the 13 full members of the ensemble to smaller units. “We’ve all heard of them because they’re phenomenal,” says David Carlton Adams, whose On the thin ice of modern life is for cello, clarinet and flute. He says he went to New York to hear Talea perform Bettison’s La Arqueología del Neón in August and I had the chance to chat with a few musicians.
“The ideas I had had to be taken a few notches after hearing them play,” Adams continues, sharing a copy of his score, showing his notation key for extended techniques, such as removing the head joint from the head. the flute. Flutist “Barry Crawford took a few moments to demonstrate some things to me, questions that I had emailed him. It really shaped the room. I already had some basic structural ideas and sketched out a shape, but the way different kinds of sounds were made was definitely influenced by hearing him make them.
Jia Yi Lee was commissioned to write for cello, clarinet, flute, percussion, piano and violin, and exchanged a few emails with the band to better understand how to format their percussion score. “I’m interested in sounds that are not commonly found in ordinary instruments, unconventional playing techniques,” she says, adding that her sift includes an arched polystyrene block. It aims to create the effect of digital filters in the production of electronic music, processes which only allow certain ranges of frequencies to pass, with acoustic instruments.
“I was exploring a lot of sounds, including how to get as close as possible to the white noise of instruments,” Lee continues. “And in the middle of the room, I did something that I had never really done in my work before, which was to calculate certain harmonies mathematically, because I know that this ensemble is capable of playing microtons. I’ve heard from my teachers and other people who have worked with Talea that they are really amazing musicians, so I’m delighted to hear how it goes when they come here – I mean, to have your piece performed by a whole is just a dream that many of us have.
Julio Elvin Quiñones began to reflect on his work by exploring other repertoires with the violin, piano and percussion instruments entrusted to him. He says faculty composer Peabody Michael Hersch, his advisor, encouraged him to engage in things outside of music, like literature and poetry, while writing, and Quiñones recently sought out to be inspired by the poetry of Julia de Burgos, a famous poet. and activist from his native Puerto Rico. He borrows the title from him Transmutation for his new job.
“The poem is basically about how relationships change us and shape who we are,” Quiñones says, adding that while writing, “it really helped me think about the relationship the three instruments have with each other. others, the kind of commonalities and sharpness differences that the violin has with the piano, and what comes in when you start to add percussion. While I was writing the piece, I discovered that so disparate they could sounding is a very symphonic combination, and it helped me think about these relationships between instrumentation in the context of the poem.
Graduate student composer Zhishu Chang says the thematic ground of his In the red, for 13 musicians, is quite simple: “What do you mean when you See red? “she said in a Zoom interview. The color red, she adds,” brings a lot of emotions and associations to people, maybe a really fierce or explosive force. This piece has a bombastic and upsetting movement and also a certain contemplative interiority and writing for Talea gave me a chance to really push myself to another area for their technical prowess. I think the players gave me more strength and courage to do what I want.
Chang echoes Lara’s sentiment about the ideal collaboration that changes both the musicians and the composer a bit. By working with the Talea ensemble, the students participate in a kind of structured experimentation that accompanies the creation of new projects: going from nothing to something. The path to travel is never the same twice, and the overall journey from page to sound can branch off in many different places.
When I stopped by Lara’s office to chat with him, he was working on a new piece for the Parker Quartet. He says he returns to the string quartet every now and then to feed his creativity and that returning to that form makes him wonder what it means to him now. “Every time I start a play I think to myself, well, what should I do? ” he says. “A lot of times I don’t know, but I know what I shouldn’t be doing. And I was thinking, well, the last thing I want to do is kind of sonata form.
“My immediate reaction was, why not? Lara continues. “If you reject it so hard, maybe that is precisely why you should go.” I tell my students that we tend to gravitate towards the things we’re good at and the things we love and tend to reject the things we’re not that strong or comfortable with, but it should be. really the opposite. We should improve the things we’re good at by working on the things that maybe need to be encountered or challenged. So I face my form fears and try to find some interesting ways to shape this thing.