City Music Alumna Wins Dunraven Welsh Young Singer of the Year

City University Music alumna, Siân Dicker (graduated 2014), was awarded the Dunraven Welsh Young Singer of the Year award after competing in the final at Maesteg Town Hall on Saturday 25th March 2017. The competition was adjudicated by David Jackson (Artistic Director of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World) as well as Welsh singers Rebecca Evans and Gary Griffiths. Siân is currently in her second year of a Masters in Vocal Studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama studying with Marie Vassiliou and Janice Chapman. As a result of winning the competition, Siân was awarded £2,500 towards her tuition fees for next year.

Siân’s upcoming engagements include her Wigmore Hall debut performing new music in collaboration with GSMD composers, opera scenes at Milton Court studio theatre in July as well as various recitals at the Guildhall school. See further details on her website: https://www.siandicker.com/

 

Cappella Romana, the vocal ensemble founded and directed by City Reader in Music Alexander Lingas, offered the first North American festival dedicated to Estonian composer Arvo Pärt between 5 and 12 February, 2017 in Portland, Oregon, USA.  Dr Lingas himself presented a lecture and directed four events, two of which featured instrumentalists of Portland’s Third Angle New Music ensemble: ‘Odes of Repentance’, a programme of a cappella sacred works; the   Passio Domini nostril Jesu Christi secundum Ioannem by candlelight (with the participation of the choir of Lewis and Clark College); the Missa Syllabica sung within the context of a Roman Catholic mass; and a gala finale concert at Reed College featuring Pärt’s Te Deum alongside works by Sir James MacMillan, the late Sir John Tavener, and Thanos Mikroutsikos. The full programme book including essays by Dr Lingas is available here: http://www.cappellaromana.org/apfbook/

Many of the concerts were sold out and the festival generated considerable interest in the media. Here is a review from the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/arvo-pärt-festival-in-portland-oregon-exceeds-expectations_us_58a7712fe4b026a89a7a2ae2

‘Innovative and Thought-Provoking’: Russian Chant with the Seattle Symphony and Cappella Romana

Dr Alexander Lingas of City and the men of the American-based vocal ensemble Cappella Romana recently completed an innovative collaboration with the Seattle Symphony that highlighted the roots of Sergei Rachmaninov’s orchestral music in the sound world of Russian liturgical chant. For three successive days, Dr Lingas led the singers both in pre-concert lecture-demonstrations of Russian sacred music and in two short vocal works sung immediately before splendid performances of Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto and Second Symphony directed by SSO Principal Guest Conductor Thomas Dausgaard. The concerts were hailed by audiences and critics, with the Seattle Times describing the participation of Cappella Romana as ‘highly atmospheric’ and ‘an innovative and thought-provoking entry into Rachmaninov’s musical world’. Full reviews are available here:

http://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/classical-music/review-seattle-symphony-and-audience-show-rachmaninov-the-love/

http://www.cityartsonline.com/articles/breathtaking-performances-dausgaard-and-melnikov

During this busy weekend Cappella Romana also presented performances in Seattle (at St James Roman Catholic Cathedral) and Portland, Oregon (at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral) of a full-length concert tracing ‘The Russian Chant Revival’ of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Full programme notes are available here:

http://www.cappellaromana.org/the-russian-chant-revival/

A video of Dr Lingas’s informal talk before the Portland concert is here:

#RussianChantRevival pre-concert lecture in #PDX

Posted by Cappella Romana on Sunday, April 2, 2017

City Chamber Choir Concert at St Clement’s Church

The City University Chamber Choir gave its Spring Term concert at St Clement’s Church on Wednesday 29th March, conducted by Tim Hooper, featuring a wonderful selection of pieces, including the sublime ‘Locus Iste’ by Bruckner, a full performance of the Vivaldi Gloria and the word premiere of acappella vocal piece ‘Sleep’ by first year BMus student Jacob Collins. For the Vivaldi, the choir was accompanied by a small chamber orchestra featuring BMus students Anna Vaughan (violin), Daisy Heath (‘cello), Stamatios Solonos (oboe), Jacob Collins (Harpsichord) and MA student Carlota Rodriguez Ruiz-Healy (viola). Vocal solos featured Emilie Parry Williams, Nia Rees and Carolina Herrera. A very enjoyable concert and the harpsichord also enjoyed its first outing of the year!

Tim Hooper will be conducting the Chamber Orchestra in a concert on May 19th as part of the City Summer Sounds Festival

City Composers Visit King’s College London, March 2017

At the beginning of the academic year, Marcos Stuardo, a PhD composition student at King’s College London, proposed an exchange whereby composers studying at Kings would give presentations on their work at City and vice versa. Following a departmental research seminar last November at which four PhD composers from King’s discussed their work, two of our PhD composers, Georgia Rodgers and William Cole, and Masters student, Dorothy Lee, visited King’s College on Wednesday 29th March, accompanied by our “Composition Tsar”, Aaron Einbond.  

William was the first to take the floor, discussing a performed sound installation that was staged last year. After William outlined ideas behind the work’s conception and played a short sample of a recording of the performance, a lively dialogue ensued as the King’s cohort questioned its ontological and experiential structures, and its relationship to more traditional operations of music-making.

Following William’s presentation, Georgia detailed her aesthetic interests in acoustic phenomena and explained how these concerns inform her compositional approach, which she demonstrated through an analysis of two recent works. The King’s composers were receptive to Georgia’s music and raised several interesting issues, resulting, again, in an exciting exchange of ideas.

Last to present was Dorothy, who showed how her work brings together Western and Asian musical concepts, highlighting a range of philosophical and creative influences, and illustrating how these influences play out in her music. Drawing the session to a close, yet another stimulating discussion occurred as Dorothy was confronted with a number of acute questions from the audience.

At the end of the seminar we retired to the pub, where we discussed possibilities of how this exchange might progress in the future and how we might incorporate students from other faculties across London. With the revival of our Listening Group next year, the composition arm of the Music department at City are keen to reach out and create opportunities for sonic artists across London’s universities (and beyond) to share their ideas and exhibit their work. The arrangement with King’s this year has demonstrated just how valuable cross-institution interchange is, and going forward it seems imperative that City capitalises on its potential to play a leading role in this. 

William Cole, Music PhD Student

Ian Pace – Interactive Workshop on Musical Denazification and the Cold War at LSE Conference, March 28, 2017

Ian Pace, Head of Performance and Music Lecturer at City, whose research focuses on modernist music and musical life during the Third Reich and the Cold War, will be giving a workshop on ‘Music, Identity and Nationalism with Reference to the Third Reich and early Cold War Period’, at the ASEN Conference on Anthony D. Smith & The Future of Nationalism: Ethnicity, Religion and Culture’, taking place at the London School of Economics. The conference takes place on March 27-28, 2017, and Ian’s workshop will take place from 11:40-13:10 on the 28th. Places are still available for the conference; full details, and a programme for the conference can be found at https://asen.ac.uk/conference-2017/ .

The purpose of this workshop is to engage with the issues of nationalism as affected German musicians and those working in the music world, through interactive roleplay relating to denazification procedures in each of the four zones of occupied Germany – American, British, French and Soviet.

Fragebogen zur Entnazifizierung (1946)

A series of four ‘legends’ have been created, each relating to a real individual; two composers, one pianist and composer, and one music journalist and writer. Each faced denazification in different zones. Participants are invited to take the role of one of these legends in a mock denazification hearing, which will be directed by Ian Pace in the role of Chief Interrogator. He will question the participant on the nature of their activities during the Third Reich, including questions relating to the aesthetics of their work, and they are offered the chance to reply and defend their record. Others are invited to take role in the ‘defence’ or ‘prosecution’ team, interspersing comments where appropriate relating to the case in question. These requires only study of the legends themselves (those who wish to join the prosecution will be provided with a little extra information unknown to the individual being interrogated).

If time permits, the final half hour of the workshop will be devoted to a wider discussion directed by Ian Pace about wider cultural/political agendas relating to the Cold War in Europe on both sides of the Iron Curtain, as relate to music and nationalism. Some questions to be considered include whether supposedly ‘internationalist’ aesthetic agendas might be viewed in terms of a type of ‘Western European pan-nationalism’ (which has also informed culture in the EEC/EU) or conversely these are less solidly geographically rooted. Another is how in the Eastern Bloc, musical traditions with historical connections to those found elsewhere in Europe and further afield were modified in accordance with the dominant role of the Soviet Union and Russian musical traditions, not least in light of the expulsion of ethnic Germans from most of Eastern Europe.

 

Introductory Bibliography

Biddiscombe, Perry. The Denazification of Germany: A History 1945-1950. Stroud: Tempus, 2007.

Chamberlin, Brewster S. Kultur auf Trümmern. Berliner Berichte der amerikanischen Information Control Section July – Dezember 1945. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1979.

Clemens, Gabriele, ed. Kulturpolitik im besetzten Deutschland 1945-1949. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1994

Clemens, Gabriele. Britische Kulturpolitik in Deutschland 1945-1949: Literatur, Film, Musik und Theater. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1997.

Heister, Hanns-Werner and Klein, Hans-Günter, eds, Musik und Musikpolitik im faschistischen Deutschland. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1984.

Janik, Elizabeth. Recomposing German Music: Politics and Tradition in Cold War Berlin. Leiden, Brill & Biggleswade: Extenza Turpin, 2005.

John, Eckhard. Musik-Bolschewismus. Die Politisierung der Musik in Deutschland 1918-1938. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1994.

Kater, Michael. The Twisted Muse: Musicians and their Music in the Third Reich. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Kater, Michael. Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Linsenmann, Andreas. Musik als politischer Faktor: Konzepte, Intention und Praxis französischer Umerziehungs- und Kulturpolitik in Deutschland 1945-1949/50. Tübingen: Narr, 2010.

Monod, David. Settling Scores: German Music, Denazification, and the Americans, 1945-1953. Chapel Hill, NC and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Pike, David. The Politics of Culture in Soviet-Occupied Germany, 1945-1949. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.

Prieberg, Fred. Handbuch Deutsche Musiker 1933-1945. CD-ROM, 2004, revised version 2009.

Riehtmüller, Albrecht, ed. Deutsche Leitkultur Musik? : zur Musikgeschichte nach dem Holocaust. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2006).

Scherliess, Volker, ed. »Stunde Null«. Zur Musik um 1945. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2014.

Steinweis, Alan E. Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Thacker, Toby. Music after Hitler, 1945-1955. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.

 

City Balkan Ensemble Lunchtime Concert, Friday 17th March 2017

The City Balkan Ensemble presented its first official concert at City on Friday 17th March. Established and led by MA Ethnomusicology student Gundula Gruen, the ensemble presented its debut performance at the department’s Christmas Cabaret in December, since when its membership has doubled!

The performance on Friday featured a selection of vocal and instrumental pieces from Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and other parts of the Balkans, as well as songs from further afield such as Georgia. Pieces ranged from lively dances (including audience participation for the song ‘Jovano Jovanke’, a 7-time dance from Macedonia) to more contemplative songs.

Ensemble members are: Gundula Gruen (violin), William Brown (voice), Nia Rees (voice), Carolina Herrera (voice), Antonis Rousounelos (bouzouki), Kaz Levell (accordion), Ruth Kay (recorder), Anna Vaughan (violin), Serena Cassini (clarinet), Laudan Nooshin (clarinet), Fotis Begkli (clarinet and percussion), Emily Eaton (flute), Jamie Turner (guitar), Robbie Josephs (electric bass), Hannah Chow (cello) and Harriet McBurnie (cello).

The ensemble is great fun to play with and we are always looking for new players. We can accommodated most instruments or voices. Rehearsals are on Wednesday evenings from 7pm in the Ensemble Room. If you’re interested in joining, email Gundula: <Gundula.Gruen@city.ac.uk>

You can watch 8 of the pieces performed below:

 

PhD and MA Celebrations at City Graduation

January graduation saw no less than 6 Music Department students awarded their doctorate degrees. Students on the MA Music, MA Composing for Moving Images, MA Ethnomusicology and MA Composition also received their awards.The doctoral awards were as follows: 

PhD

Stephen Wilford: Bledi Cockneys: Music, Identity and Mediation in Algerian London’ (supervisor: Stephen Cottrell) 

Jocelyn Howell: ‘Boosey & Hawkes: The Rise and Fall of a Wind Instrument Manufacturing Empire’ (supervisor: Stephen Cottrell)

Alex Jeffery:’The Narrascape of Gorrilaz’ Plastic Beach: An Interdisciplinary Case Study in Musical Transmedia’ (supervisor: Miguel Mera).

Miranda Crowdus: ‘Hip Hop in South Tel Aviv: Third-Space, Convergent Dispossession(s), and Intercultural Communication in Urban Borderlands’ (supervisor: Laudan Nooshin) 

DMA

Ben Schoeman: ‘The Piano Works of Stefans Grové (1922-2014): A Study of Stylistic Influences, Technical Elements and Canon Formation in South African Art Music’ (supervisor: Christopher Wiley; Guildhall advisor:Ronan O’Hora).

Annie Yim: ‘Robert Schumann’s Musical-Aesthetic Influence on Brahms’ Piano Trio in B Major, Op.8 (1854 Version) as Illustrated by Schumann’s Piano Trio in D Minor, Op.63’ (supervisor: Christopher Wiley; Guildhall advisor: Joan Havill).

Many congratulations to all the students and their supervisors!

PhD Music Graduates, 30.1.17

MA Music Graduates, 30.1.17

British-Iranian composer and City PhD student Soosan Lolavar on her opera ID, Please, and experiences of US immigration

Composer Soosan Lolavar, who is currently studying for a PhD at City, has recently received new public attention relating to her experiences in having her opera ID, Please performed in the United States. In this blog she writes exclusively in detail about the new work and her recent trip to the country, following the announcement by the new president Donald Trump of severe restrictions on entry to the country by those of Muslim origin, lending the opera a new topicality.

A year ago, when myself and the playwright Daniel Hirsch discussed a storyline for the opera that we would write together, we had no idea how acutely world events would become entangled in our work. At the time, I was living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania studying Iranian classical music at Carnegie Mellon University with the help of a Fulbright Scholarship. As a British-Iranian immigrant to the US (and as a human being) I was deeply disturbed by the rhetoric of the Republican primaries unfolding around us, particularly the much discussed ‘Muslim ban,’ supported in various gradations by every single Republican candidate. At the time (the halcyon days of early 2016) such a move seemed like grotesque political posturing: a racist and divisive move, but surely one that no sane candidate would ever actually enact. Against this backdrop we briefly considered writing an opera about Trump, but decided that he would likely be gone from public life by the time of the opera’s performance and so might seem like a strange choice of figure. In the end we settled on a piece about immigration, set at border control in an unnamed country and time and considering contemporary rhetoric on borders, nationalism and others.

In February 2017, five days before I was due to fly to the US to attend the rehearsals of our immigration-themed opera, ID, Please, I received the news that, due to my dual British-Iranian nationality, I was officially banned from entering a country I had called home for a year. My experience was, thankfully, incredibly short-lived, since soon enough the privilege of my British passport swung into action and dual nationals of the UK were given special dispensation to travel. This left me in a strange and ambivalent position that I continue to navigate. My situation received some media attention – ‘British-Iranian composer unable to attend rehearsals of her opera about immigration’ has a fairly nice ring to it – in which I struggled to prevent journalists from representing me as a poor, innocent victim of the order. My British privilege had already ensured that I would travel as normal while Iranian passport-holding friends of mine who lived in the US were now terrified for their immigration status. Moreover, unlike my hijab-wearing family, I am able to ‘pass’ as un-threatening at border control and avoid the ‘random’ extra checks they continually endure. This is not to say that I experienced immigration without fear. Due to my dual nationality, I carry a different visa from most British nationals which always elicits a question and the subsequent disclosure of my Iranian nationality. On landing at JFK I braced myself for extra questioning and, in an eerie echo of one of the lines from the opera, “clutched my passport so hard it made my hand hurt”. Oddly, in the end the officer asked me no questions at all. Perhaps he was just tired after a no doubt exhausting week, perhaps he forgot, or perhaps it was due to the fact that the Temporary Restraining Order on the bill had been enacted just four hours before I landed. I suppose I will never know.

Needless to say, the events of the past few months have brought the opera into terrifyingly sharp focus, with the shape of the work altering several times as a result. In reaction to world events, Daniel Hirsch added references to ‘building walls’, ‘checking their teeth’ and ‘a billionaire tyrant’, as well as an instance where a Muslim passenger is asked to visit a different queue on disclosure of her religion (eerily enough, this line was added before we could be sure the Muslim Ban was anything other than bloviating election rhetoric).

Despite these oblique contemporary references, the opera as a whole is located everywhere and nowhere, with the travellers representing everyone and nobody at all. Of a total of three singers, only the baritone border guard represents a fixed and conventional character. The other singers act as ciphers playing multiple travellers with no names, switching gender, religion and backstory dozens of times throughout the opera. Thus, while one singer proclaims themselves a refugee in one instance, they may disclose that they are a drug smuggler, a human-rights activist or a student soon after. The overlapping voice types of traveller one and two – mezzo-soprano and counter-tenor – similarly reflect the constant identity slippages that each singer engages in. Our intention was that the audience is left with a feeling of uncertainty of who anybody really is. Are any of us truly and completely honest at borders? Can the list of questions asked really enable you know someone? Is there such a thing as an innocent or a guilty person?

Moreover, as a result of such shifting characters, the work as a whole eschews a conventional narrative arc. A question I’m regularly asked is how many of the travellers make it through to the other side of the border. The answer is we have no idea. We focus on the plight of one person only briefly and, before we know the outcome, the action shifts to someone new. Here the story explores how individuality (and humanity) can be erased at borders as unique life experiences harden into case numbers. This is true both for travellers facing the power of the state, and for those that work at border control whose individualism is stripped away by a life of dull, repetitive tasks.

Against this backdrop and in terms of the music, I was keen to produce an environment with an overall feeling of instability, fear and mechanical, dehumanising repetition. I was particularly keen to ensure that repetition never felt safe or calming but always had a sense of instability or dread. One technique I used for this was shifting the rhythmic setting of particular reoccuring lines while keeping the melodic contour the same (see figure 1). This not only highlights the potentially ambivalent meaning of particular lines – for e.g. is “I do not like the way you look at me like that” a defiant statement of humanity or a fear of profiling? – but also created the feeling of a shifting foundation where the reality was never quite clear.

Fig. 1 From the mezzo-soprano aria ‘My hands are sweaty, my heart is racing’

Here the melodic contour is transposed down a fourth:

The same interrogation occuring at different points in the opera

 

The border guard questions travellers

However, the border guard repeats the phrase “anything else to declare?” several times throughout the opera with no changes made to its rhythmic setting. Moreover, he often presents questions to travellers sung entirely on one note. Both processes highlight him as a relatively powerless character, someone who is following orders and is dehumanised by their repetitiveness (see figure 2).

Fig. 2 Dehumanising the border guard

Further techniques that produce a feeling of instability include using mixed meters and syncopation to disrupt the pulse, and setting words so that the stresses fall unnaturally (see figure 3).

Fig 3.

In response to a question about their religious affiliation, traveller one (mezzo-soprano) responds, “Well, I don’t really have one, it’s kind of complicated”. In everyday speech, the stresses for this sentence might fall thus: “Well, I don’t really have one, it’s kind of complicated”. Instead, in this setting, strong beats fall on “Well, I don’t really have one”. Moreover, for “it’s kind of”, the triplet quaver is shifted by a semi-quaver so that a clear pulse is completely absent from the first few beats of the bar, and the first obvious strong beat falls in an unexpected location: “complicated”.

There are several further instances in the opera where a triplet quaver motif is shifted in order to disrupt a clear sense of pulse and stability, see figure 4.

Fig 4. Disrupting the sense of pulse by shifting a triplet quaver figure

 

A sense of uncertainty is not only produced through rhythmic instability but also through the fluctuation of pitch. There is a reoccurring theme of a low drone being interrupted by a quarter tone at several points throughout the opera (see figure 5).

Figure 5

B drone in marimba, trombone and tuba interrupted by C ¾♭ in bass clarinet, violin II, viola, cello and double bass

 

 

A drone on C disrupted by D ¾

This sense of pitch instability is further explored, particularly in a trumpet-cello duet which makes use of extreme vibrato, glissandi, ‘growling’ (a trumpet technique where the player sings into the instrument at the same time as playing, made popular particularly by big band jazz), and the use of a plunger mute to create the sense of an unstable pitch centre, see figure 6.

Figure 6

Pitch stability interrupted by various techniques

ID, Please has become a complex process through which I work through my feelings of instability in the new world order, my fears for immigrant communities across the world and my concerns for the safety of my family and friends. As a result of recent political events, I certainly feel a greater sense of responsibility to produce a piece of work that adequately represents the complexity of such positions.

The work will premier at Pittsburgh Opera on 1st April 2017 and will be live-streamed via the Carnegie Mellon University website with hopes to bring it to the UK in in the near future.

Newton Armstrong on BBC Radio 3 and RTBF (Belgium)

Newton Armstrong has recently featured on programmes on BBC Radio 3 and Radio Télévision Belge Francophone. In December, Armstrong was interviewed on a Radio 3 Music Matters feature programme on American composer Milton Babbitt, titled “Milton Babbitt: Changing the way we think about music.” Earlier this month, Armstrong was the subject of a profile feature on the RTBF programme “La touche contempo.”

The programmes can be streamed at the links below:

Milton Babbitt: Changing the way we think about music (BBC Radio 3, Music Matters).

La touche contempo: Newton Armstrong (in French, Radio Télévision Belge Francophone).