Concert: Copland and Clarinet
Folk music from around the globe with virtuoso clarinetist David Krakauer.
Zhou Long – The Rhyme of Taigu
Two Klezmer sets with David Krakauer, clarinet
Aaron Copland – The Red Pony
We hope you enjoy our personal approach to program notes: insights from Jason into how and why pieces were selected, followed by notes and quotes from composers and artists about their work.
Introduction from Jason: Our October concert has a straightforward theme - folk music - but the pieces which make up the program are anything but typical. This evening we witness how folk music has informed and inspired performers and composers to express themselves in vividly unique fashions, and also how the orchestra can serve as a vehicle for musical ideas from around the globe.
Zhou Long ’s The Rhyme of Taigu is a thrilling work on its own merits but it also happens to reflect fascinating cross-cultural exchanges from centuries ago and from our contemporary world. The piece draws on Chinese court music from the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD), featuring traditional percussion instruments which later became central to the Japanese tradition of taiko drumming. It also reflects the cultural background of Chinese-American composer Zhou Long, whose work and life are emblematic of 21st-century globalism and China’s importance to it.
Our amazing guest artist David Krakauer is no less fascinating for his exploration of identity and artistry through the study and blending of native traditions. If his comments below regarding his upbringing and musical outlook don’t convince you of the power of cultural influences, his playing tonight certainly will!
Finally, we feature a relatively infrequently-performed work by Aaron Copland, which, like so much of his ‘Americana’, draws on American folk musics. He testimony (excerpted from two essays from the 1940s) offers insight to the reasons why he leaned so heavily on this material for inspiration his film and stage works.
Zhou Long on The Rhyme of Taigu: The concept for The Rhyme of Taigu came from a chamber work commissioned by the Minnesota Chamber Music Society and Theater Mu, a modern Japanese Taiko ensemble. The instrumentation for that work is clarinet, violin, cello and three drummers. Writing for this ensemble made me think about the origins of these traditional drums and their ancient art form.
Taigu is the Chinese pronunciation of the Japanese word Taiko (fat drum). Although the tradition of taiko drumming has existed in Japan for many centuries, its origins can be traced back to the taigu drumming tradition that grew out of Buddhist doctrines and courtly ceremonies from China. Although these two styles of traditional music come from a similar source, Japanese taiko evolved in its own way, developing extremely precise categories and variations of drumming depending on the purpose and context of the performance. These include: gagaku (court music), Noh and Kabuki accompaniment (theater music), Buddhist and Shinto religious ceremonies, as well as in warfare to communicate during battles or in daily life to mark the hours. Taiko also became an essential part of village life in Japan and was used in farming and fishing rituals to encourage successful harvests and catches or to appease the spirits of ancestors. Taigu music in China, as with court music from the Tang dynasty, is known chiefly through literary records; only fragmentary evidence survives of the music itself. Therefore, I have used my imagination to revive this ancient artistic form, bringing both Chinese and Japanese traditional elements into the contemporary western music ensemble.
In this work, I am exploring the energy and the spirit behind this unique art form, in which organized rhythmic materials generate a dramatic and powerful music. The Rhyme of Taigu consists of three sections. It begins with three drummers on the Dagu (bass drums) beating a slow rhythmic pattern, underneath a bass line supported by low instruments. This grows into a denser rhythmic figure and the drums are joined by strings. When the clarinet enters, the three drums fade into the background. Gradually, new patterns develop, each time in a faster tempo, building to a climax that ends the first part. A brief clarinet solo cadenza connects into the middle section, which is inspired by ancient Zhihua temple music from Beijing. The woodwinds evokes the sound of the guanzi, a double reed instrument used in the temple ensemble, with a singing melody accompanied by a haunting free-tempo ritual atmosphere in the ensemble. As in the first part, this section also starts in a slow tempo with woodwinds repeating a singing melodic line in an improvised style. The brass section breaks into this haunting atmosphere, accelerating into the final section where a vivid tempo drives the work to its end.
David Krakauer, from an interview at Sequenza21: I didn’t grow up playing or hearing klezmer music as a kid. But when I came to it, I was in my early thirties and somehow had both the maturity to understand the emotional impact of the music plus some kind of concept of why I was choosing to embark on that musical journey. Basically at the beginning, I just started to play klezmer as a pure search for cultural identity that was totally separate from my professional musical life. And fortunately my early musical education had fully equipped me to embrace an “off the page” style of music. When I was 15 I started studying with Leon Russianoff, one of the greatest clarinet teachers of all time. By the time I started working with him in the early 70s, his former students included many of the top orchestral clarinetists in the country like Stanley Drucker, Franklin Cohen, Michelle Zukovsky etc. But in addition he taught the great jazz clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton (best known for his illustrious tenure in the Duke Ellington band) and a huge array of players from all walks of the music business. So Russianoff had a very open mind and was anything BUT a “stuffy” classical teacher.
As far as the jazz side of things goes, I had the great fortune to meet the incredible composer/pianist Anthony Coleman when we were students together. He asked me to join his band that was doing a huge spectrum of jazz repertoire ranging from Jelly Roll Morton to Monk to free jazz (in addition to Anthony’s music). Covering so many styles of jazz was actually rather unusual at that time, and it was a tremendous experience.
But when I went to college, I kind of had a crisis of confidence. I ended up abandoning jazz and deciding to focus almost exclusively on classical music. It was a very rich and busy life, but I got to a point in my early 30s where somehow I felt like something was missing and I had thrown the baby out with the bath water. I knew at that point I needed to return to the world of improvising and non-written music. So through a series of chance meetings and coincidences (that in retrospect I see I was somehow directing myself towards) I came to klezmer music. At first I was just doing it for fun. And in the same moment I found myself connecting to my Jewish roots for the first time. It was exhilarating. After a few months of doing a bunch of very low key gigs my name came to the attention of the Klezmatics and they asked me to join. It was during that time where I started to develop my own original sound and find my own voice. The conflict I had felt for over 15 years was finally resolved and klezmer became a foundation for me to create a musical home for myself.
I did two recordings and countless tours of Europe with the Klezmatics before I left the band to form my own group in the mid-90s. And that has all launched me on the path that I’m still following today. In addition to touring with my own band, it’s fantastic to have an opportunity to bring it all together by working with composers who have given me room to be myself within their compositions. Recording and performing Osvaldo Golijov’s monumental composition “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” with the Kronos is a notable example. Plus nowadays I have more and more chances to be a soloist with fantastic symphony orchestras playing pieces that straddle both worlds by composers like George Tsontakis, Wlad Marhulets, Ofer Ben-Amots and Mohammed Fairouz. I’ve also enjoyed incredible collaborations with the Montreal based beat architect Socalled, the renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz [ed. - a part wcfsymphony guest artist], John Zorn and the great master of funk Fred Wesley. Musically I feel like I’m in an incredibly exciting place where I can bring all the diverse elements of my universe together with so many incredibly rewarding projects.
Aaron Copland, from the 1940 essays ‘Film Music’ and ‘Second Thoughts on Hollywood’: Hollywood is ... a place where composers are actually needed. The accent is entirely on the living composer. Theoretically, at any rate, the town is a composer’s Eldorado. I can visualize a time when, just as we now speak of ballet music, theatre music, symphonic music, so we will be able to say movie music ...
The purpose of the film score is to make the film more effective, that's clear enough. But I don't think anyone has as yet formulated the perfect solution for this problem. In fact I came away with a sense of the mysterious nature of all film music. In retrospect, I can see three important ways in which music helps a picture. The first is by intensifying the emotional impact of any given scene, the second by creating an illusion of continuity, and the third by providing a kind of neutral background music. Of these three, the last presents the most mysterious problem - how to supply the right sort of music behind dialogue.
Intensification of emotion at crucial moments is, of course, an old tradition of theatre music. True, it is no more than the Hearts and Flowers tradition, but still, perfectly legitimate. The one difficulty here is to get the music started without suddenly making the audience aware of its entrance. To use a favorite Hollywood term, you must "steal the music in.”
Obvious too is the continuity function of music. Pictures, jumping from episode to episode, from exterior to interior, have a tendency to fall apart. Music, an art which exists in time, can subtly hold disparate scenes together. In exciting montage sequences where the film moves violently from shot to shot, music by developing one particular theme, or one type of rhythmical material, or some other unifying musical element, supplies the necessary continuous understructure.
But “background" music is something very special. It is also the most ungrateful kind of music for a composer to write. Since it's music behind, or underneath the word, the audience is really not going to hear it, possibly won't even be aware of its existence; yet it undoubtedly works on the subconscious mind. The need here is for a kind of music which will give off a “neutral” color or atmosphere. (This is what creates the indefinable warmth that the screen itself lacks.) To write music which must be inexpressive is not easy for composers who normally tend to be as expressive as possible. To add to the difficulty, there's the impossibility of knowing in advance just what will work in any given scene.
If Hollywood has its problems it has also its well-known solutions. Most scores, as everybody knows, are written in the late nineteenth century symphonic style, a style now so generally accepted as to be considered inevitable. But why need movie music be symphonic? And why, oh why, the nineteenth century? Should the rich harmonies of Tchaikovsky, Franck, and Strauss be spread over every type of story, regardless of time, place, or treatment? For Wuthering Heights, perhaps yes. But why for Golden Boy, a hard-boiled, modern piece? What screen music badly needs is more differentiation, more feeling for the exact quality of each picture. That does not necessarily mean a more literal musical description of time and place. Certainly very few Hollywood films give a realistic impression of period. Still, it should be possible, without learned displays of historical research and without the hack conventions of symphonic music, for a composer to reflect the emotion and reality of the individual picture he is scoring.
We have merely skimmed the surface, without mentioning the innumerable examples of utilitarian music-offstage street bands, the barn dance, merry-go-rounds, circus music, cafe' music, the neighbor's girl practicing her piano, and the like. All these, and many others, introduced with apparent naturalistic intent, serve to vary subtly the aural interest of the sound track.
The concert suite from the film score [The Red Pony] was prepared at the request of Efrem Kurtz who told me he wanted a world premiere at his opening with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. I worked on the concert version during the summer of this year (1948) and completed it in August. It consists of six movements lasting about 21 minutes. I decided to call it a children’s suite because so much of the music is meant to reflect a child’s world.
Unusual effects are obtainable through overlapping incoming and outgoing music tracks. Like two trains passing one another, it is possible to bring in and take out at the same time two different musics. The Red Pony save me an opportunity to use this cinema specialty. When the daydreaming imagination of a little boy turns white chickens into white circus horses the visual image is mirrored in an aural image by having the chicken music transform itself into circus music, a device only obtainable by means of the overlap.
It is only natural that the composer often hopes to be able to extract a viable concert suite from film score. There is a current tendency to believe that movie scores are not proper material for concert music. The argument is that, separated from its visual justification, the music falls flat. Personally, I doubt very much that any hard and fast rule can be made that will cover all cases. Each score will have to be judged on its merits, and, no doubt, stories that require a more continuous type of musical development in a unified atmosphere will lend themselves better than others to reworking for concert purposes. Rarely is it conceivable that the music of a film might be extracted without much reworking. But I fail to see why, if successful suites like Grieg's Peer Gynt can be made from nineteenth-century incidental stage music, a twentieth-century composer can't be expected to do as well with a film score.
Only a select few artists have the ability to convey their message to the back row, to galvanize an audience with a visceral power that connects on a universal level. David Krakauer is such an artist. Widely considered one of the greatest clarinetists on the planet, he has been praised internationally as a key innovator in modern klezmer as well as a major voice in classical music.
Known simply as “Krakauer” to his fervent following, he is nothing less than an American original who has embarked on a tremendous journey transforming the music of his Eastern European Jewish heritage into something uniquely contemporary. That journey has lead Krakauer to an astounding diversity of projects and collaborations ranging from solo appearances with orchestras to major festival concerts with his own improvisation-based bands.
Krakauer has shared the stage with a wide array of artists across the stylistic spectrum, including the Klezmatics, Fred Wesley, Itzhak Perlman, Socalled, Eiko and Koma, Leonard Slatkin, and Iva Bitova. He has also been sought after by such composers as Danny Elfman, Osvaldo Golijov, David Del Tredici, John Zorn, George Tsontakis, Mohammed Fairouz and Wlad Marhulets to interpret their works. In addition, he has performed with renowned string quartets including the Kronos, Tokyo, and Emerson and as soloist with orchestras such as the Orchestre de Lyon, the Orquestra Sinfonica de Madrid, the Phoenix Symphony, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Dresdener Philharmonie, and the Detroit Symphony, among many others.
Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press noted the visceral nature of Krakauer’s performance style: “Krakauer played with astounding virtuosity and charisma. A furiously improvised cadenza leapt between low and high registers in a way that suggested John Coltrane, building to an excited peak.”