A Worthwhile Journey

by Joshua Roman

Follow Joshua on Facebook, Twitter, and see his schedule at joshuaroman.com


Dear Readers:

Thank you for joining me here as we embark on an exploration of musicians’ lives in today’s changing landscape. Over the last few years, I have been taking on projects and roles that I never dreamt would be a part of my professional life as a musician, and I see many of my colleagues redefining their musical career as well.

For many of us, this is uncertain territory. Leaving our practice rooms behind, entering the worlds of interdisciplinary collaborations, social experiments, entrepreneurial endeavors, and in general, a broader sense of creativity, we are making things up as we go. Luckily, there are fantastic examples of success, from the composer-­performer, like the JACK Quartet, who write and arrange music as well as performing new works by others, to the modern day impresario, like Derek Bermel, who not only composes and plays clarinet, but has curated chamber music series’ in the past and is now Artistic Director of the American Composers Orchestra.

In a world where geographical borders are often easy to cross, and technology blurs the lines of genre and categories in other realms, the question of whether we should define ourselves within old and possibly rigid boundaries is an important one. Am I a cellist? Am I a musician? Am I a classical musician that enjoys other kinds of music, or some broader kind of musician that specializes in classical music? Perhaps a sound artist? Personally, I’ve begun to feel a strong and central pull that brings me towards a core, something I could only describe as “my voice”. In this fast pace world of 30 second sound bites, it is challenging to define this new type of musical individuality, and the meeting the need to articulate a concise statement of who one is, or what one does, can be especially difficult as one embarks upon new paths and begins to explore new avenues of artistic expression.

All of this sounds very new, but one of the most encouraging realizations that keeps coming back to me is the fact that this is all a very old idea. Name a composer from before 1900 and chances are strong that they were also a performer. Many of them were skilled (or at least effective) organizers as well. Assembling musical forces was not always easy to do, if you weren’t in the employ of royalty. Even then, many contracts included more than just writing and showing up to play. I draw much inspiration from famous musicians of old such as Mozart, Bach, Brahms, and others from their time who developed a unique voice, while sharing through their performances and repertoire decisions as well. Today, many of my friends are doing this at incredibly high levels, and their creativity and passion manifest in ways that surprise and invigorate me.

Hopefully, along with keeping you up to date on the things I’m doing, sharing about the music and people I get to know along the way, and musing about ideas and provocations that pop up, this space will afford the opportunity to help discover new and better ways to communicate the essence of what the hell it is we are doing here with this amazing art form. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds!

For now, I will leave you with two lists, and gratitude for sharing the journey with me.

Some Current Projects
Finish writing my first Cello Concerto
Bring back the Haydn C Major
Flesh out a few programs for 15­16 and 16­17 seasons

Music On Rotation

Punch Brothers:­ Who’s Feeling Young Now? (buy)
Gabriel Fauré: Requiem (John Rutter conducting) (buy)
John Adams:­ Shaker Loops (buy)

P.S. Thank you to Second Inversion for inviting me to share via their platform. I encourage you to check out their 24/7 webstream, where you’ll be hearing from me occasionally as well.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Orchestra Underground: Tech & Techno

by Maggie Stapleton

Founded back in 1977, the NYC-based American Composers Orchestra is dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promulgation of music by American composers by way of concerts, commissions, recordings, educational programs, and new music reading sessions.  With an esteemed leadership of Derek Bermel, Artistic Director; George Manahan, Music Director; Dennis Russell Davies, Conductor Laureate; and Robert Beaser, Artistic Advisor Laureate this organization is in amazing hands.

Orchestra Underground: Tech & Techno is the fifth digital album from ACO.   Each piece was commissioned or premiered by ACO for Orchestra Underground, “a series stretching the definition of, and possibilities for the orchestra.  The series challenges conventional notions about symphonic music, embracing multidisciplinary and collaborative work, novel instrumental and spatial orientations of musicians, new technologies and multimedia.”  Orchestra Underground just celebrated its 10th anniversary season in 2013-14 and what better way to celebrate than with this collection of live recordings by Mason Bates, Edmund Campion, Anna Clyne, Justin Messina, and Neil Rolnick.

This release busts out of the gate with Edmund Campion’s Practice, a full-blasted introduction of orchestral forces, cresting and blending seamlessly into an electronic, computer generated outro in Campion’s cheeky musical response to the age-old question, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?” Appropriate, seeing as most of the music on this album was recorded in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall which seeks to host the latest contemporary sounds from classical, pop, jazz, and world music artists.

Like all of the music on this CD, the fusion of traditional orchestral instruments with electronic forces is brilliantly executed in Justin Messina’s Abandon.  This work is played to an electronic soundtrack Detroit techno from the early ‘90s during which they experienced a musical rebirth in the underground clubs.

Tender Hooks, by Anna Clyne features a pair of laptops operated by Jeremy Flower and Joshue Ott, which transmit and receive live data from the orchestra.  Each element of this recording combines standard notation, written instructions and graphic representation.  It also pays homage to one of the earliest electronic instruments, the Theremin!

Neil Rolnick collaborates with violinist Todd Reynolds, to present their instrument creation, the iFiddle.  As Rolnick puts it this is “not just a concerto for violin, but a concerto for a cyborg violin that has been intimately joined to a computer.”  This union definitely displays both elements of a traditional violin, and yes, I think cyborg describes it best.  This piece is strikingly accessible, with catchy violin melodies throughout.

The opening of Omnivorous Furniture by Mason Bates has the feel of “do your best robot dance,” inspired by down-tempo electronic music which soon leads way to full on dance party/funkadelic triptastic.  Mason Bates uses computer and drum pad with the orchestra in this work heavily influenced with British hip-hop.

If you’re looking for a gateway into electronically inspired orchestral music, this is a great disc!  If you’d like to purchase the collection, you can visit iTunes, Amazon, or the American Composers Orchestra.