Beginning of Semester Hustle

The semester here at KU has just started, but things are already in full swing, with some projects about which I’m very passionate coming to culmination in the next few weeks.  

It all began last night with Victoria Botero’s Cecilia series and a program devoted to the music of Susan Kander.  Hannah and I reprised *dwb* (driving while black), a one woman opera about the perils of teaching your son to drive in a country where driving while black could be lethal.  dwb was one of our New Morse Connections projects, and I'm excited to keep sharing this work.

I also joined Jacob Ashworth and Victoria for the premiere of Eavesdropping, a setting of some of Michelle Boisseau’s evocative and powerful poetry. Boisseau, a KC-based poet and UMKC faculty member, passed away suddenly, and Susan was commissioned as a remembrance. 

These are two gripping settings of texts and powerful pieces. Victoria (in Eavesdropping) and Roberta Gumbel (in dwb) are giving phenomenal performances, and I’m happy to be chiming in with a larger than normal assortment of instruments, including a spinning saw blade, amplified water, as well as the usual suspects.  For more information, here’s a a great feature on the project by KC Studioand a story from KCUR.

(Plus, the venue is total Mike-bait.  The 1900 Building is the most modern mid-century modern building in KC, and a great place for those who appreciate modernist chair design, and who may or may not own books with titles such as "1000 chairs".)

Next week is another big percussive week in KS.  We’ll be hosting superhuman composer/steel pan player Andy Akiho for a week of percussive activities culminating in a KU Percussion Group show at the Lied Center here on the KU campus.  It’s unusual for a percussion group to be featured on our university’s concert series, and we’re really excited to make the most of the opportunity. 

It's official now!

Andy’s music has become essential repertoire for percussionists, and we are excited to spend some time on a wide variety of his output. We’ll be featuring some of Andy’s recent chamber music, as well as his big steel band piece Alloy.  I’ll play a few duos with Andy, and then he’ll join a combo of faculty and students for some of his Synesthesia pieces and no oNe To kNOW one.  If you can’t make it out to Lawrence on the 31st, the show will be live-streamed here.

After that, it’s time for KU’s inaugural Wunsch New Music Festival.  We do a lot of contemporary music at KU, but we haven’t had a dedicated new music festival until now. This February we’ll four amazing composers: Amy Kirsten, Tonia KoHannah Lash, and Nina Young.  We’ll be featuring their chamber and solo music in performances from our KU faculty February 13th and 14th, as well as pre-concert talks, presentations, and more.  

Those of you reading closely might notice these are the four composers working on my Unsnared Drum project.  Eek! I’m very excited to present three of these works during the festival. I can’t wait to share these pieces with the world, and continue to try and change how people think about and play one of my favorite instruments.

Then, it’s off to St. Louis to join the Missouri Chamber Music Festival for their Hannah Lash portrait concert.  I’ll be playing Hannah’s snare drum solo Start, as well as her Folk Songs, on a program featuring Schumann’s Waldszenen, Hannah’s Frayed, and the Debussy flute, harp, viola sonata.  If you’re nearby, come for the open rehearsal February February 16th, and stay for the concert February 17th (and support the snare drum!)

Finally, last year, I was fortunate to spend a few days at the Lansing Correctional Facility with Sarah Frisof, Ingrid Stölzel, and Hannah Collins.  We worked with some of the (already really amazingly musical) inmates on composing a piece as a group.  You can read more about the program here. For the workshops, Ingrid wrote a beautiful piece based on the Whitman poem “The Voice of the Rain," which we recorded at KU.

And find a common language that we could speak

Practicing George Lam's "The Emigrants" before New Morse Code premieres the piece next week in Queens. In this movement, "Translations," George has Hannah and I weave in and out of unison with the spoken text. How am I doing?

Heard in this excerpt are:
Chris Yip, NYPD sergeant and pianist
Hikaru Tamaki, cellist, member of Duo YUMENO 夢乃
Nivedita Shrivraj, Carnatic musician
Harold Gutierrez, composer

Catharsis Update

Last summer, Hannah and I spent a week with David Crowell at Avaloch, workshopping his new piece for cello/percussion and pre-recorded cello/percussion. We spent a few days at Guilford Sound tracking, and David has been busy mixing the piece, adding some synthesizer parts and fine tuning the sound.

I’m happy to report that Catharsis is done. Two movements, each of which includes multiple cello and percussion parts. Take a listen here:

I can’t wait to play this piece with the rest of the consortium!

November News

Yesterday, I celebrated daylight savings time with a solo recital at the University of Kansas, my home base. I took a break from my typical diet of “all new music all the time” to share some slightly older music.

David Crowell’s Celestial Sphere was commissioned by a consortium of percussionists led by the amazing Ian Rosenbaum.  The piece is for many, many marimbas: some pre-recorded, and one live.  Celestial Sphere got me back in touch with David, which led to our current cello/percussion collaboration (more about that soon). I first played Elliot Cole’s Bloom Suite when working with Elliot and his Living Room Music cohorts on a concert for the Percussive Arts Society International Convention.  It’s a real shred fest!

To those, I added two classics—Iannis Xenakis’ Psappha and Georges Aperghis’ Le Corps à Corps.  Both of these pieces are really special to me.  In my ears, Psappha is still an outlier more than 40 years after its composition: a coalescence of ancient Greek scansion, layered counterpoint, and modernist brutality, alternately jagged and suave. Le Corps à Corps is a grim motorcycle crash alternately reacted to, acted out, and narrated.  Aperghis toes the line between theater and concert hall, a boundary more transparent in percussion than any other instrument. Both are collaborations between composers and performers which have deeply inspired my own work as a musician, and I was excited to share both again.

Lastly: the world premiere of Hannah Lash’s Start. Hannah wrote this piece as part of my Unsnared Drum project.  Our mission is to reinvent the snare drum through commissioning, sharing, and recording new works from four really interesting composers, and I think Hannah’s piece is a stupendous first completion.  

Next, I’ll be heading to Indianapolis for a performance with my new ensemble, the Percussion Collective.  We’ll be presenting a show at the Percussive Arts Society’s International Convention, premiering a new work by Alejandro Viñao alongside Steve Reich’s Sextet and Garth Neustadter's Seaborne. For those of you who don’t know PASIC, just think mash together the Modern Language Association Conference, a giant drum store, and the country’s biggest high school marching band competition.  Lots of lanyards and earplugs, and you always leave with more stuff than you anticipated. It’s a joy to play with this group, and a real honor to play for so many percussionists.

The next day, New Morse Code is teaming up with Roberta Gumbel for the premiere of *dwb*: Driving While Black.  This opera, with music by Susan Kander and libretto by Roberta, tackles issues of race through the lens of a mother teaching her child to drive in a country where DWB can be fatal.  We presented part of piece last year at KU, and are excited to bring the piece to a larger audience at the Lawrence Arts Center.  

Next up is a trip to Queens for the premiere of George Lam’s The Emigrants.  We made a video talking about the project, for which George interviewed immigrant musicians living and working in Queens:

I love where this piece is going.  George used the voices of his interviewees and to create a piece where spoken word and music intermingle, and the result is a powerful way of highlighting these musicians’ stories. We’ll be presenting the piece at the Queens Museum, with performances from some of the musicians featured in the piece.  More info is available at our project website.

The Emigrants and *dwb* are projects which tackle complex issues by presenting people’s experiences.  Stay tuned for more info about these and other projects NMC is undertaking, and how you can be a part of them!

Limestone and Felt

New video alert! Caroline Shaw’s Limestone and Felt, arranged for cello and marimba (from the original viola/cello) by New Morse Code. Once again, HUGE thanks to Four/Ten Media for their amazing videography. I love the way Evan and Kevin use shadows and light to mirror the echoes and ostinati in the piece. The light is also a sly nod to Caroline’s inspiration—hearing music in big, reverberant (and shadowy) cathedrals. Thanks as well Vic Firth for distributing.