New Scores: 2022 Edward T. Cone Institute Concert
New Jersey Symphony Special Presentation
- Sat, July 23 8:00 pm Richardson Auditorium in Princeton
David Robertson conductor
Steven Mackey institute director & host
New Jersey Symphony
Dai Wei’s Samsāric Dance traces cycles of birth, death and rebirth. Baldwin Giang’s to remember is always forgetting explores “the rich space between sound and the music of memory.” Jack Frerer reimagines his solo cello work Steep with an infusion of orchestral harmony and rhythm. In What do flowers do at night?, Sophia Jani revels in the sonic combinations and possibilities of orchestral writing. Institute Director Steven Mackey provides the concert finale with his own Eating Greens.
The Symphony invites the audience to a post-concert reception to meet the composers and enjoy a special Cone-inspired ice cream flavor crafted for the occasion by our friends at the Bent Spoon.
For more information on the New Jersey Symphony Edward T. Cone Institute, visit njsymphony.org/institute.
Dai Wei Bio & Composer Notes
Dai Wei is originally from China. Her musical journey navigates in the spaces between east and west, classical and pop, electronic and acoustic, innovation and tradition. She often draws from eastern philosophy and aesthetics to create works with contemporary resonance, and reflect an introspection on how these multidimensional conflicts and tension can create and inhabit worlds of their own. Her artistry is nourished by the Asian and Chinese Ethnic cultures in many different ways. Being an experimental vocalist, she performs herself as a Khoomei throat singer in her recent compositions, through which are filtered by different experiences and backgrounds as a calling that transcends genres, races, and labels. Her work Samsāric Dance for orchestra and electronics was awarded CANOA Commission (Composing a New Orchestra Audience) from the American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Reading. Her newly composed orchestra Invisible Portals was conducted by Marin Alsop and premiered in Carnegie Hall in March 2022. Recently, Dai Wei was featured in The Washington Post’s “22 for 22: Composers and Performers to Watch this year.” Dai Wei has received commissions and performances by Utah Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Aizuri String Quartet and Curtis Symphony Orchestra. During a centralized quarantine, her piece Song for Shades of Crimson for solo violin and electronics was premiered by violinist Todd Reynolds at Bang on a Can 2020 Marathon. Dai Wei has collaborated with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia under the direction of Dirk Brossé for two consecutive years, where she performed herself as the vocalist and premiered at Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. She also served as young artist composer-in-residence at Music from Angel Fire and Com-poser Fellow at Intimacy of Creativity in Hong Kong. Her compositions have been featured in a variety of venues and festivals, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kimmel Center, Royal Festival Hall, New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, International Computer Music Conference, World Saxophone Congress and North American Saxophone Alliance. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in music composition at Princeton University as a Naumburg Fellow. She holds an artist diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music. After she finished her BA in music composition at the Xinghai Conservatory of Music in China, she came to the United States and earned an MM in music composition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Composer’s Note: Saṃsāric Dance
The piece was inspired by a book I was reading called The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, which is written by Sogyal Rinpoche. He says:
“The successive existences in a series of rebirths are not like the pearls in a pearl necklace, held together by a string, the ‘soul,’ which passes through all the pearls; rather they are like dice piled one on top of the other. Each die is separate, but it supports the one above it, with which it is functionally connected. Between the dice there is no identity, but conditionality.”
The title came from the Sanskrit word Samsara, which is often defined as the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. In this piece, you will hear three different characters that represent three different lifetimes. They are being reincarnated and intersected by each other and more. At the end of the piece, the orchestra is surrounded by electronics which is made by overdubbing layers of my own throat singing. Everything eventually evolves into only one pitch which represents the oneness of everything. As if we can finally rest. And yet, another journey is just about to start.
Baldwin Giang Bio & Composer Notes
Baldwin Giang (b. 1992, Philadelphia) is a Chicago-based composer, pianist, multimedia artist and 2022 Gaudeamus Award Nominee. His work aims to empower communities of audiences and performers by creating concert experiences that are opportunities for collective wonder and judgment. Described as “taut and cohesive ... challenging and rewarding” (Cacophony), Giang’s music has been performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago and Chateau de Fontainebleau. He has received commissions from the National Sawdust Ensemble, Metropolis Ensemble, New York Youth Symphony, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Grossman Ensemble, Playground Ensemble, Fondation Maurice Ravel, Robert Black Foundation, Music in Bloom, How it’s Musically Made and Music from Copland House. Additional collaborators have included the Albany Symphony, Ensemble Intercontemporain, International Contemporary Ensemble, Argento Ensemble, orkest de ereprijs, Arditti Quartet, JACK quartet, Spektral Quartet, Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Yale Symphony Orchestra, University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, Indiana University New Music Ensemble, Rage Thormbones, Quince, Verdant Vibes, AEPEX Contemporary Performance and members of Ensemble Dal Niente and Mocrep.
The domestic and international festivals that have presented his work include: Yale in Norfolk’s New Music Workshop, CULTIVATE, June in Buffalo, New Music on the Point, Bang on a Can, NUNC!3, 24th Annual Young Composers' Meeting (Netherlands), Valencia International Performance Academy (Spain), highSCORE (Italy), Festival Contrasti (Italy), Ecole d’arts Americains de Fontainebleau (France), and Concours International de Piano d’Orléans (France). Baldwin has been awarded the Fondation Maurice Ravel’s Prix Ravel, Musica Prospettiva Competition’s First Prize, University of Pennsylvania’s David Halstead Prize, and Yale’s Beekman Cannon Friends and Abraham Beekman Cox Prizes.
Giang is a graduate of Yale University, earning a BA with honors in both music and political science, and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, earning an MA as a Regents Fellow. He is currently a PhD candidate and Division of Humanities fellow at the University of Chicago.
Composer’s Note: to remember is always forgetting
When does a familiar sound become familiar music? Ravel’s Bolero is a warhorse in the collective memory of orchestral music from the 20th century, especially among popular audiences. Upon hearing a few bars of the indelible melody, almost anyone will be able to recognize the music, even if they cannot name the piece. But in those instants between the initial encounter with sound and the mental recognition of the tune as an established piece, our ears and minds together plunge through the rich depths of our memory to locate a category for the yet unidentified sound. This period of time is often limited to a few milliseconds, too brief to contemplate in the moment. Yet it is in this ephemeral period of time that sound has its greatest potency; the familiar nature of the sound compels us to search our memory for the music to which it belongs, which necessarily requires us to give the particular sound the power of universal association. Before giving a name to it, the particular sound could belong to any music. We eventually locate a name for the sound by forgetting all of the other possible music to which it could belong.
to remember is always forgetting is inspired by this phenomenological process, and the rich space between sound and the music of memory. The piece is structured around six harmonies derived from the spectral analysis of six timbral events in Bolero. In Ravel’s composition, seventeen different instrumental combinations play the two repeated phrases. I chose to analyze six of these instrumental combinations. After isolating the frequency spectrum for the opening pitch on which each phrase starts for each of these combinations, I removed all the fundamental notes from the spectrum, that is all the notes written into the score, to produce the musical material for to remember. One might conceive of this piece as a product of the failure to locate the music of Bolero in our memory—as one possible end to the meandering path our mind takes when it fails to match the familiar sound to the correct source, instead stumbling upon different music, familiar only to our own imagination.
Jack Frerer Bio & Composer Notes
The “exuberant” and “delicious” (Boston Musical Intelligencer) music of Australian composer Jack Frerer has been performed across the US, Australia, Europe and Asia by ensembles including the Nashville Symphony, Albany Symphony, Arapahoe Philharmonic, Australian and Metropolitan Youth Orchestras, Decoda, Metropolis, Tanglewood Music Center and the wind ensembles of UT Austin, UNT and Cornell. Frerer is the recipient of a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Morton Gould Composers Award from ASCAP, the Suzanne and Lee Ettelson Composers Award and Brian Israel Prize from the Society for New Music, and the winner of both the Juilliard Orchestra and Gena Raps Chamber Music competitions. He was a Tanglewood composition fellow for 2019 and a composer for the New York City Ballet’s 2019 Choreographic Institute, and he is currently composer-in-residence with the Arapahoe Philharmonic.
Frerer studied with John Corigliano and Robert Beaser at The Juilliard School, where he now serves on the faculty of its Pre-College division, and is currently a graduate student at the Yale School of Music, where he studies with David Lang, Aaron Jay Kernis, Chris Theofanidis and Martin Bresnick.
Frerer is active as a film composer and producer, with recent projects including scores for Always Summer by Alexa Eve and dance films Virtuality by Maddie Hanson and Tour of a Reverie by Moscelyne Parke-Harrison. He served as recording engineer for the album Cityscapes by Shouthouse, released by New Amsterdam Records in 2019, and produced The Roof, a series of collaborative films and performances featuring NYC-based choreographers and performers.
Composer’s Note: Steep
Steep was originally a solo cello work, written in April of 2021 for Rachel Siu. The original piece remains untouched in this adaptation’s cello part, but is now surrounded by harmonic and rhythmic information, provided by the rest of the ensemble.
The first section places this new material above the cello line, weighing it down. The piece, which begins in its highest register, gradually descends until it reaches the lowest C of the celli and basses. What follows is a moment of stasis – low, droning material which waits for the ensemble to pull it back up.
Sophia Jani Bio & Composer Notes
“Some of it reminds me of minimal music, the repetitions, the different layers that build up little by little, but she doesn’t hide behind them, she uses these techniques to express her own ideas. I find it wonderful how carefully she goes about it. When she’s onto an idea, she doesn’t just grab it, but approaches it carefully and gives the idea time to blossom.” – Tuula Simon, West German Radio 3, “3 of now”
Currently based in Berlin and Munich, Sophia Jani is a composer of contemporary classical and electronic music. Recent commissions include works for the Munich Symphony Orchestra, Yale Philharmonia, Bang on a Can Festival Fellows, Kontai Ensemble, Goldmund Quartet, Sirius Quartet, Omer Quartet and Dandelion Quintet, as well as soloists Jiji Kim, Teresa Allgaier and Eunbi Kim, among others.
A central aspect of her art is her love of collaborating with artists from other disciplines, which is evident in her contributions to prize-winning film, theater and dance productions. In February 2022, her debut album with chamber music works, Music as a mirror, was released through Berlin-based label Neue Meister.
Jani is passionate about building a strong, diverse, international community of artists that open-mindedly and responsibly addresses the challenges music, especially notated music, faces in the 21st century. Therefore, Jani is one of the founders and artistic directors behind “Feet become ears”: a brand-new concert series that will present and celebrate contemporary chamber music in eight concerts in Munich and Berlin starting in the 2022–23 season.
Jani is a recent graduate of the Yale School of Music (MM), where she studied with David Lang and Martin Bresnick, made possible through the generous support of the Fulbright Foundation. She holds a degree in film composition from the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich (BM), as well as a degree in economics from the University of Augsburg (BSc).
Composer’s Note: What do flowers do at night?
What do flowers do at night? was created in the spring of 2018 as part of my graduation project—a 60-minute reading session with the Munich Symphony Orchestra.
Before this experience, I was very skeptical about the orchestra as an ensemble. To me, it was more like a beast from the past with an overwhelming tradition that seems rather out of place in today’s world and is difficult to tame and make fit. At the time, I preferred “private music making” and the studio environment to this very “public” approach, where a large group of people I’ve never met before would play my music in a very official concert hall. However, while working on the piece, I felt more and more drawn to this ensemble with its massive colour palette and I realized what an immense accomplishment it is to make music together in such a large group. So I wasn’t just trying to write music that would interest me as a composer or appeal to the audience, but to create something that would allow the players to grow together and really enjoy making music in such a large group. What do flowers do at night? is multi-dimensional in structure, with changing subgroups that challenge the musicians in different ways—sometimes as part of the orchestra, sometimes as chamber musicians, sometimes as soloists. The musicians must be flexible and aware of their roles at every moment, and listen very carefully to their respective partners.
What do flowers do at night? was my debut as a composer for orchestra and therefore holds a very special place for me personally among my works. I fell in love with the orchestra as a body of sound while creating this music, and I hope listeners will feel at least a little bit the same way when listening!
Steven Mackey Bio & Composer Notes
Steven Mackey was born in 1956 to American parents stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. He is regarded as one of the leading composers of his generation and has composed for orchestra, chamber ensemble, dance and opera. His first musical passion was playing the electric guitar in rock bands based in northern California. He blazed a trail in the 1980s and 90s by including the electric guitar and vernacular music influence in his concert music, and he regularly performs his own works, including two electric guitar concertos and numerous solo and chamber works. He is also active as an improvising musician and performs with his band Big Farm.
Mackey’s music has been performed by leading musical institutions throughout the world, including the Los Angeles, BBC and New York philharmonics; San Francisco and Chicago symphonies; Philadelphia and Concertgebeouw orchestras and Brentano, Kronos and Arditti string quartets, among others. He has received numerous awards, including a Grammy Award in 2012 for his album Lonely Motel: Music from Slide.
Composer’s Note: Eating Greens
True confession: When I got off the phone after my first conversation concerning the schedule for the premiere of Eating Greens, the initial excitement quickly gave way to a wave of paranoid self-deprecation; “Why didn’t I write a piece like ‘X’ or a piece like ‘Y’,” where X and Y represent established European avant-garde masterpieces --monoliths of the twentieth century -- that I studied in school. This self-esteem crisis passed when it occurred to me that it was not necessarily a bad thing that I couldn’t think of a genre of which my piece was simply another example. Neither is it a bad thing that my work reflects an individual sensibility of which my teachers and musical ancestors might not entirely approve. Of course, this is all psychological projection; I really like Eating Greens but I’m not sure whether or not I should like it. At any rate, for better or worse, in Eating Greens, I somehow managed to be myself, despite the grand, somewhat intimidating auspices of the occasion -- a major orchestra premiere.
The title for Eating Greens was taken from a painting I bought in New Orleans at an African art store in the French quarter (it makes me sound rather cosmopolitan, doesn’t it?). This was my first purchase of original art. Leafing through a stack of canvases by Margaret Leonard, Eating Greens immediately caught my attention. I really liked it but remember asking myself if I should like it (sound familiar?). The scene was a three-generational African-American family seated at the table for a meal. There is a big, iron stove and some shelving in the room, but not much else except wall paper: giant-strawberry wallpaper . . . strawberries as big as chairs, connected to vines that threaten to take root in my living room. Each plate at the table has a pile of greens and a piece of what I take to be cornbread. The settings are thoroughly furnished with silverware, yet everyone is eating with their fingers. The colors are shamelessly bright, Crayola colors. The perspective is wildly askew in different ways, in different parts of the painting: Kandinsky without the angst. My description sounds like a hodge-podge, yet somehow a single, distinctive personality emerges which touchingly considers domestic themes: religion, food and art.
A few months later, I went to the Matisse exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I was familiar with his work through prints and admired the marriage of clear, formal principles and playful spirit, but the originals were a revelation. Up close, you could see the pencil marks intended to guide his cutting in the big cut-out works; he continually missed the lines. I imagined him, a grown man, sitting in his studio with a huge pole pasting construction paper on the wall. In spite of the cultural gulf between Henri Matisse and Margaret Leonard, I see a spiritual similarity between them. I would describe their work as deeply playful.
Speaking of ‘deeply playful,’ Thelonius Monk has been an inspiration to me in recent years. I am tickled when I hear him stumble through some scale that in someone else’s hands would be a cleanly executed, rhetorical gesture. In Monk’s hands, it is the stumbling that is important, not the scale. There is a touching but complex irony hearing a sentimental legato ballad strained through Monk’s quirky, all-thumbs style. The ballad takes on a compelling reality, rather than a practiced, artistic, metaphorical form of abstract expression.
If I were having a party to honor the people who, I would hope, would see something of themselves in Eating Greens, I would invite -- in addition to Margaret Leonard, Henri Matisse and Thelonius Monk -- Charles Ives, Elliot Carter, Lou Harrison, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Harry Partch, Conlon Nancarrow, and others who are part of a diverse group of musical personalities that make up what I think of as a tradition of American ‘crackpot inventors.’ Their music swaggers with a spirit of rugged individualism and shows a healthy irreverence for the European masterpiece syndrome which, as recently as a generation ago, haunted American concert music composers.
I hope the preceding provides a context for the sensibility of Eating Greens. In case there is no reception and you don’t have a chance to ask me specific questions about the piece, I’ll try to anticipate what some of those questions might be:
“What is with all the titles?”
I should first declare that titles, for me, are not descriptions or analyses of the piece but, rather, part of the piece. So, the ring of the words, the references imbedded within the words, even the layout of the words on the page is intended to be part of the experience of the piece. They suggest a mind-set, an attitude for listening. While there are inconsequential, personal anecdotes that laid the groundwork for these titles to occur to me, there is no secret story encoded in the titles and narrated in the music. The piece is not programmatic. As far as I’m concerned, music occurs when the acoustic signal I invented is processed in your mind/body.
“ . . . and the pizza delivery in Waffling (sic)”?
This movement is a raucous, Dionysian romp. Its attitude reminds me a little of some Beethoven scherzo movements that play too exuberantly. Their momentum launches them into one too many repetitions of the theme. There is a sudden self-awareness and the theme is cut short, yanked off stage by a vaudevillian hook.
In Waffling (sic), when you consider the zany chain of events that brings us from the opening fanfare-upbeat and the cartoon-like arrangement of “Here We Go a Wassailing,” to the solo bass note three minutes later, I would claim that the pizza delivery, by the time you get there, is a plausible answer to the question, “what next?” The piece gets so derailed and befuddled that it requires a willful breach of concert protocol to get back on track. Enter the pizza; it was the best way I could get the bass player to stop brooding and come back to the party.
“Is there something odd about the tuning in Part II: Loose Threads?”
The oboe and solo violin are de-tuned in movement four, as is the flute in movement five.
Eating Greens was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The duration is approximately 18 minutes.
– Steven Mackey
The Symphony presents the institute in collaboration with Princeton University Department of Music.
Major underwriting support for the New Jersey Symphony Edward T. Cone Institute is generously provided by the Edward T. Cone Foundation and Princeton University.