Premieres and Commissions

Eve Beglarian 2011-12 The Sirens, or Pleasure

Eve is one of those artists that is truly undefinable – her repertoire is so vast and it is satisfying on every level from the most intellectual to the genuinely visceral.  When TSS started putting together a program of music inspired by Coney Island for our project “A Coney Island of the Mind: Songs of the Boardwalk”, she came to mind as someone who might actually have some existing music on that theme.  As it happened, she had been working with some relevant elements, including photos from the recent Mermaid Parade and a recording a siren sound from her travels down the Mississippi that she had been digitally manipulating. We talked with her over several months over how these pieces might fit into a theatrical work. She later explained: “The Sirens, or Pleasure is one of several pieces I have made that explore a location recording of a warning siren in Plaquemine, Louisiana. The combination of traveling and sirens got me to thinking about the sirens of ancient Greek mythology, which got me to thinking about (and photographing) the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. Some conflation of all these elements[created the framework]: Eleanor sings the music of the Plaquemine siren, Jocelyn plays excerpts of piano music related to Coney Island, the sea, and/or mermaids, all under the control of Yael, who spins the bicycle roulette wheel I fished out of the trash on Fourteenth Street in Manhattan one desolate January afternoon in 2011."

The end result was performed in two iterations – one in Dec 2011, which involved two performers (Jocelyn and Eleanor) interacting with the roulette wheel, and musical choices – including music ranging from Debussy and John Philip Sousa to Irish mermaid songs and Gordon Lightfoot – dictated by where the wheel landed. Interwoven with the textual and musical crosscutting were projected visual images selected by Eve and dramaturg Kelley Rourke. The second version in Mar 2012 brought in additional collaborators: director Yvan Greenberg and performer Yael Acher as our third Siren onstage, spinning the wheel to determine the choices.  The result was a compelling and thought-provoking theatrical work with ever changing elements on all sides.

Eric Moe 2011 Rapid Transit

Eric writes music that is complex and thrilling, so we were delighted that he took up the challenge to write a piece that spoke to him of Coney Island for the “Coney Island of the Mind” project. He said “I thought about the subway trip there, which alone distinguishes it from any other similar place. William Carlos Williams’ “Rapid Transit”, from his early book “Spring and All”, is the classic subway poem: the movement in the poem (and song) mimics the stop and start of a typical NYC subway ride. In the final section, the train goes express.”

This piece is very colorful and evocative of, as Eric calls it, “a Coney Island-type outing.” You can almost feel the sand in your shoe on the way home.

Gilda Lyons 2011 Coney Run

Our second collaboration with the gifted Gilda Lyons (see 2008’s Songs of Lament and Praise), Gilda’s vivid process of bringing a world to life within her music was a natural fit for the “Coney Island of the Mind” project. Gilda said: “When Two Sides Sounding approached me about a new work for their Coney Island of the Mind project, I found myself drawn to subjects that took an off-kilter view of the iconic imagery associated with the Brooklyn neighborhood.  I let those subjects lead me in crafting a “hybrid” piece for the duo: a directed improvisation that approaches total freedom while remaining tethered to five pre-recorded soundscapes: Daybreak; Giant Lobster; Thunderbolt; Moving Picture Show; and Dawn.  The cycle moves from off-season, through Coney Island’s heyday celebrations, and into off-season again, bookended by the two halves of a Sara Teasdale poem that points to the murky stuff below the shiny surface.” 

We ran with the challenge – Eleanor developed an original “Lobster Dance” and Jocelyn brought the Rollercoaster and old timey movie theater soundtrack to life as we moved through five scenes Gilda had created. Our first extended improvisatory work, at times daunting to two classically-trained performers. Gilda’s own voice was heard throughout the track, so having her actual presence in our ears was a constant guidepost.

Kala Pierson 2011 Three Ripples

Kala created a new version of her short song “Three Ripples” for a second iteration of the Unaccustomed Earth project with the South Oxford Six that was performed at the University of Southern Maine with pianist Michael Rose (cellist Michael Haas also joined the program).   The entire song text is: River/bless my river longing/oh river.  The atmospheric piece is here and gone in an instant – a musical version of skipping stones on the water.

Michael Rose 2011 Kyrie (after de la Rue)

Spring 2011 brought a really special concert with “Composers at the Keys,” in which each piece featured the work’s composer at the piano. Mike Rose’s Kyrie, written for voice, cello and piano, is based on the opening movement of Pierre de la Rue’s “Missa L’homme arme.” Elements have been twisted – timbre, rhythm, dynamics, register – but de la Rue’s original is always present to some degree. In the concluding section (the work is a 3-part form, Kyrie-Christe-Kyrie), the vocal part was inspired by Japanese Buddhist chant, the piano is based on de la Rue’s imitative writing, and the cello refers to the L’homme arme tune.   In rehearsal with cellist Lawrence Zoernig, we determined that for the 2nd section, we wanted a “click track” to keep the 3 parts (which involved triple meter, quintuple meter and syncopation) steady so Lawrence provided a percussive tap with his foot.

Rachel Peters 2011 Reproduction from “Canon I”

In the fall of 2010, Eleanor was working on an ensemble piece of Rachel’s when the composer mentioned she’d had an idea to write a piece for soprano and photocopier using the copier manual as a text source.  Eleanor invited her to present an excerpt at the spring Composers at the Keys concert, and she got cracking.  Rachel’s research led her to this revelation: “I read that Canon actually fits their machines with thicker glass now because repair service calls increase 25% during the holidays due to people getting drunk and photocopying their body parts at office parties. This scenario is rife with metaphor. The copier is a perfect distillation of a culture obsessed with image, mass production, maternity (reproduction) fetishism, and generally manipulating the pieces of ourselves to become whatever we prefer.” So the piece grew into a theatrical cantata about an office party gone awry, and a lone office manager left waiting for the repairman and ruminating.  The first excerpt, which included Rachel at the piano, Colter McCorkindale on electric guitar, and a recorded photocopier track, played on the laptop by Jeff Tang, was a scene called “Reproduction.”  The Manager finds the machine jammed up with copies of her co-worker’s ultrasound, and a kaleidoscope of thoughts on parenting, lost relationships and toxic office politics ensue.

 Daniel Sonenberg  2010 Detuned Radio: Ecstatic Reminiscence and Arguments About Music

This powerhouse cycle came about through Dan’s interpretation of “crossing cultural divides” which was the theme of our concert “Unaccustomed Earth” in October 2010.  To him it wasn’t about traveling or heading into strange cultures, but instead about the artistic divide between classical and rock music. It’s a divide he operates on both sides of, but he realized how many people have strongly opposing thoughts about their chosen terrain and the music on the other side.  He asked everyone he knew about the roles that these different genres of music play in their lives, and from the responses he selected four song texts (by Andy Goldstein, Daron Hagen, Michael Kupietz and Elliott Schwartz) and added a fifth from the writings of legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs.  These songs are filled with worlds of experiences and influences – the audience can keep their ears open for snippets from Olivier Messiaen, Van Morrison, George Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, The Kinks and Radiohead, just to name a few.  There are also some surprises in terms of the demands on the performers.  You can see a video of Radiohead Song on our Listen page.

Aleksandra Vrebalov 2010 Excerpts from the opera “Mileva”

Aleksandra offered us these excerpts from her opera-in-progress Mileva to perform on a concert of music by the composers’ collective the South Oxford Six that we were putting together in late 2010.  The opera is based on the life of Mileva Einstein, wife of Albert, who was left by Albert and lived her final days in a sanitarium.  The first excerpt had the unique honor of being our first foray into a work in Serbian – it was a joyfully youthful meditation on the nature of love (from the first - happier - part of the opera).  The second excerpt was being performed by the Kronos Quartet around the same time that we were working on it, and was written in open score without barlines.  It’s a setting of a German poem “Der Sonnenuhr” by Rudolf Binding (from the last – sadder – part of the opera) sung when Mileva is in the asylum and has lost her mind.  Performing this piece required an intensity of concentration that adds an electrifying element to the performance – the performers feel as if they are walking a tightrope.  It’s enormously satisfying once you get through the initial learning period, where you fall off the tightrope a lot.

Kala Pierson 2010 Circle of Ice

Kala came to hear us perform in the spring of 2010 and left with a gleam in her eye about writing for a new piece for us as part of her ongoing project “Axis of Beauty” – she called us “sensitive live+audio explorers.”  We liked the sound of that, and liked even more what Kala came up with for the Unaccustomed Earth project – this work with text by living Iranian poet Zhila Mosa’ed is a response to one woman’s struggle with the weight of history on her shoulders, and the music has an otherworldly quality.  The track, created by Kala, has gutteral cries, clangs, whooshes and tinkling that blend unexpectedly with the live performers. (Or for a more technical explanation, according to Kala: “the audio is made from three types of acoustic sound sources: unprocessed vocals by my collaborator Sukato; processed shimmering sounds made from my voice saying "shhh"; and unprocessed metal sounds and changing-harmonics I recorded using a piano's strings, keys, and metal frame.) The pianist uses mallets and other effects on the strings inside the piano to add to that extended palate.  The results are all sound, fury and stillness in one. Check out an excerpt on our Listen page.

Edward Ficklin 2010 Fragments

South Oxford Six member Eddy told us that he had “discovered the amazing, terse, nearly lost treasure trove of poetic fragments that constitute what remains of Sappho's work. The fragmentary nature of the extant texts calls me to put pieces together into something like a mosaic, to create the suggestion of something larger and more complete.” For this extended song, he  assembled some of the fragments to “create a symbolic day in the life of the lovelorn poetess—and of anyone feeling the sting of Cupid's arrow.” The piece is lush and passionate, veering between torment and ecstasy – the result is an intimate psychological portrait of desire.

Michael Rose 2010 Excerpts from the opera “Ugetsu”

Two of our longtime colleagues in the new music world, librettist Emily Howard and composer Michael Rose, are collaborating on a full length opera “Ugetsu” (and they have credited the great debt they owe to American Opera Projects for support in developing the work.) Ugetsu, which is based on a film by Mizoguchi, is a sort of a Japanese ghost story – it twists forward and backwards and leaves you wondering what was real.  The music is very influenced by non-western sounds – there is a lot of strumming and picking in the piano and emotional vocal gestures.

Edie Hill 2010 “Sculpture” from Legitimate Magic

Edie was the first composer we worked with when we started TSS (which is to say, before we even knew it was TSS.)  We simply adore her song cycle “Between the Limbs, Music” and have performed it many times because of its beautiful writing for both voice and piano.  We had been hoping for many years that the opportunity would arise where Edie could write something for us, and in 2010 the Schubert Club commissioned a new work from her for us, with additional underwriting by the Minnesota State Arts Board . Edie selected poetry from Annabelle Moseley, and the lush and evocative “Sculpture” was the result, which we premiered on our concert “Ways of Knowing” at the Tenri Cultural Center in Manhattan and the Landmark Center in St. Paul. 

Christopher Gable 2008 Hens: Their Diseases and Cure

Songs about hens!  What more can we say? (Actually a lot.)

Originally scored for voice and guitar, this cycle was commissioned by Nancy King and Robert Nathanson in 2003.  The piano and voice arrangement was commissioned by Two Sides Sounding in 2008.  We were very fortunate to receive a grant from the American Composers Forum to support our performances of this work both in NYC and the Twin Cities.

Chris has this to say about the words: “The texts are based on the writings of a woman named Nancy Luce, who died in 1890 on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. You will probably agree after reading through them that they are not your normal song texts.  They come from a small book that I ran across by accident in the University of Minnesota library entitled “A Complete Edition of the Works of Nancy Luce”, published in 1875.  Ms. Luce was truly enamored of her “dear little hens” and offers pages upon pages of advice on their proper care and feeding, mixed in with strange religious devotional poetry, and thoughts on the sinful nature of humans.”

These songs are strange. Strange and brilliant. You can hear the final song of the cycle on our Sound Clips page.

Louis Durey 1941 Six Madrigaux de Mallarme

It’s a rare thing to be able to say that you premiered a group of songs by a long-dead composer written over 60 years before. (Louis Durey was a member of “Les Six”, a group of composers writing after the first world war in France which included Francis Poulenc and Darius Milhaud.)  Credit Jocelyn Dueck, profoundly learned Francophile and scholar, for contacting Louis Durey’s daughter, Arlette Durey, which working on her dissertation several years back, to communicate about her deep love for French mélodie.  During their correspondence, Jocelyn was given access to some of Durey’s unpublished work and granted permission to perform it.  TSS was thrilled to give this little group of miniature songs their first go round in 2008, working off of handwritten scores to decipher the late composer’s creation.

Gilda Lyons 2008 Songs of Lament and Praise

TSS first encountered the work of Gilda Lyons as an ensemble in 2005 when we performed on one of Michael Rose’s contemporary art song marathon concerts with the Brooklyn New Music Collective.  Gilda’s work give you the sense of something very new and unlike anything you’ve ever heard coupled with something ancient, mystical and deeply true.  She is a true renaissance woman: a composer, performer and artist, as well as artistic director of The Phoenix Concerts, an amazing series). She commits profoundly to everything creates and the results are spectacular.  We were very moved by this cycle, set to a collection of Irish text fragments from the 11th to 13th century about women’s experiences of love and loss, birth and death.  The whole life experience is in these songs.

Corey Dargel  2005-2008 Con dolcezza (with Sweetness)

Corey is known as the vastly talented creator of inventive songs and texts, as well as being a dynamic interpreter of his own works, but he was very open to writing for a more traditional duo of acoustic piano and classically-trained soprano.  He had been reading speeches of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and suggested them as sources – we premiered the first 3 in 2005 and he added a 4th in 2008.  We have probably performed these songs more than any other in our repertoire, and audience reactions run quite the gamut.  People want to laugh at times but don’t know if they should, then other parts of the cycle are deadly serious and bittersweet.  Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, was interviewed by The A.V. Club in The Onion and was asked whether anyone is writing “overtly political music” today.  His reply and description of these songs is spot-on: 

“I'm thinking of the composer Corey Dargel, who takes speeches of Condoleezza Rice and makes these very beautiful, elegant art-songs out of them. They're wonderful, because you're not sure where the irony is. Something very heartfelt comes out of her speeches. [Laughs.] And yet there's also something satirical at work. It's hard to classify.”

There’s a whole website devoted to these songs, which were also mentioned on Twitter by Rachel Maddow.

Samuel Piperato  2005 Three Poems of Eleanor Ross Taylor

Eleanor met Sam in a workshop at New Dramatists in NYC for composers and librettists in which she participated as a performer.  When they started talking about text selections, they knew they wanted something contemporary and something that they could get permission to use.  Eleanor had long admired the poetry of her distant relative, Eleanor Ross Taylor (for literary trivia buffs, besides being a talented poet in her own right, Eleanor was also married to the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author Peter Taylor.) She contacted Eleanor, who had never had any of her poems set to music and was delighted to give permission.  The resulting settings are filled with fire, passion and loss.

Eleanor does however worry that listeners will think that she is the poet.