Amy Williams Telephone, 2021 Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Felipe Lara Metafagote, 2015 Heller and Lewandowski
Arnold Schoenberg Kammersymphonie op 9, 1906 Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Elizabeth Mann, flute
Gilles Cheng, oboe
Roni Gal-Ed, oboe
Nuno Antunes, clarinet
Michael Lowenstern, clarinet
Yasmina Spiegelberg, clarinet
Gina Cuffari, bassoon
Adrian Morejon, bassoon
Eric Reed, horn
Stewart Rose, horn
Todd Phillips, violin
Eric Wyrick, violin
Ramon Carrero-Martínez, viola
Eric Bartlett, cello
Gregg August, bass
Joseph Gramley, percussion
John Ostrowski, percussion
Charles Overton, harp
Mika Sasaki, piano
Lino Gomez, alto saxophone
Heller and Lewandowski
Rebekah Heller, bassoon
Maciej Lewandowski, electronics
Concert duration: approximately one hour and ten minutes
The children’s game of telephone requires careful listening. The process of passing a simple phrase around a circle of individuals creates inevitable (and fascinating) transformations. Most often the listener tries to duplicate what they heard precisely, but sometimes there is an intentional (devious or hilarious) change. We played the game of telephone during the first Grossman Ensemble rehearsal in Chicago in September 2021. The Ensemble’s unique format, with time given to elaborate on ideas through collaboration and conversation, was essential to the concept of the piece—and to its playful energy. There is certainly some subtext about the omnipresence of telephones in our lives. We switch quickly between text threads and sometimes mistakenly respond to the wrong person. We delete (superficial, informational, irrelevant) threads and we save other (complex, emotional, memorable) ones. We seek comfort, distraction, and connection from telephones. It is relentless, but also full of possibilities, as we find new ways to communicate and keep conversations going.
Felipe Lara Metafagote (2015)
Fagote, in Portuguese, means bassoon; the title, Metafagote, suggests both an attempt to compose music that is self-referential to the idiomatic, physical, timbral idiosyncrasies of the bassoon, while attempting to explode, deconstruct, and ultimately go beyond the expressive faculties of the instrument. The work’s basic recognizable elements (percussive ricochets, multiphonics, drones, glissandi) are subjected to a self-similar structure. As I interpret each corner of this canvas, which is comprised of extremely specific sets of proportions and durations, each bassoon element gains a life of its own and unfolds the musical journey of the work. With the help of amplification and spatialization, the listener is placed inside an imaginary, compound, and orchestral ‘metabassoon’. The soloist leaves a sonic trace, which is picked up, transformed, and projected through loudspeakers.
Arnold Schoenberg Kammersinfonie (1906)
In this opening concert of TIME:SPANS 2022 we look back more than one hundred years to Arnold Schoenberg’s Kammersinfonie (Chamber Symphony Op. 9 for 15 Solo Instruments) from 1906.
The ‘solo’ instruments are taken from the orchestral groups as of 1906—woodwinds, brass, and strings. The term ‘chamber’ symphony hints as much to the attitude of how to perform the piece as to the space in which it should be played, i.e., a smaller concert hall. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra further emphasizes these chamber music aspects by performing without a conductor.
Schoenberg emigrated to the United States in 1933, where he died in 1951. He composed Op. 9 to be performed within the context of the orchestral culture of the era, possibly as part of concert programs in large halls, but he found the work to be imperfectly suited for those circumstances. This prompted him to make a larger arrangement, Op. 9b, and thus to step back from his initial radical idea of the solo instrumentation of the earlier version.
It was only after Schoenberg’s death that professional contemporary music ensembles emerged whose basic instrumentation was grounded in the idea of single woodwinds, single brass instruments, piano, percussion, and string quintet. Among such European and American ensembles, to name a few with their founding dates, are London Sinfonietta, 1968; Ensemble Modern (Frankfurt), 1980; Klangforum Wien, 1985; Ensemble Musikfabrik, (now Cologne), 1990; Alarm Will Sound (New York), 2001; Talea Ensemble (New York), 2008; and Ensemble Signal (New York), 2008.
The concept of such ensembles is usually flexible, in that a central group of about sixteen solo musicians/instruments can either be reduced to one player for a solo piece, or expanded, often adding other instruments such as acoustic and electric guitar and bass, harp, accordion, and electronics. As an example, Ensemble Signal describes itself as “able to appear in flexible configurations of one to thirty-plus players.”
I programmed Arnold Schoenberg’s Kammersinfonie in this opening concert to point out the massive influence this work has had, not only as a milestone in music history but also as an organizational idea for a specific type of ‘sinfonietta’ ensemble. In turn the instrumental palette that has become more widely available through such groups has inspired many twentieth- and twenty-first century works ‘for solo instruments’ and is still active in many modifications as an engine for more to come.