London-based musician Simon Lasky has recently added a new skill to his set. A classically trained pianist, teacher, and composer of contemporary classical and jazz music, he’s now the driving force behind It’s All Music, a lively series of presentations about the close connections between classical and popular music.
He draws a tight line between the musical stylings of Stevie Wonder and Mozart. “Yes, one is a black soul singer from America and one is a dead German guy with a wig on, but I want to show people how they compare.” It’s All Music runs a musical arc from Mozart to Schubert to Gershwin to Jimi Hendrix to Paul Simon and on from there. It started with visits to London schools (mostly high school level) to share a universal appreciation of all musical forms. “I’m not trying to say ‘Your music is inferior,’” he says. “I care about good music, and I don’t like people thinking classical music is only for affluent, middle-class white people.”
This was his fourth visit to Banff as a composer, and he experimented with presenting It’s All Music to a few more diverse audiences, like the Canmore Seniors’ Life Long Learners, a room full of Banff Centre staff, and some indie musicians here for a recording session. He reports that they were all into it. Given his vast knowledge of centuries of music, I asked Lasky about a few tunes that are most meaningful to him.
What was the first piece of music you ever bought with your own money? It was a CD of Jacqueline du Pré playing the Elgar Cello Concerto. She was at the peak of her powers, but she knew she was sick and she didn’t have a lot of time left. I also bought Faith by George Michael. I still have it.
What’s a song that brings back a particularly significant memory for you? The live version of Shine on You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd. When I was 15 or 16 I was visiting my cousin in Israel, and this song seemed like the sound of what being a grown-up would be like.
Do you have a song on your iPod that’s a guilty pleasure? Anything from The Killers’ Day and Age album. It’s a really good pop record, but I think if my friends saw me listening to it they’d go ‘hmmm’.
Alastair Putt is a musician and composer from London who’s been in Banff recently as a resident in the Leighton Artists’ Colony. The 29-year-old is basking in the solitary isolation of his mountain studio to work on a piece commissioned for the London Symphony Orchestra, which will premiere in the summer of 2014.
Putt is inspired by mathematical processes, and uses them as material for his music. His new work, still untitled, “is governed quite strictly by a spiral-shaped form in which the successive sections become shorter and faster, giving the sense of a coiling screw.” He says the form gives a nice arc to the piece as a whole, even if the precise nature of the structure isn’t necessarily heard by the listener.
Putt’s mathematical inspiration isn’t unusual among composers. Many early-20th century composers inspired by serialism looked to mathematics for models to organizing sound. But Putt has distanced himself from the intense dissonance also associated with serialism (and says that he sympathizes with people who experience excessive dissonant sounds as an “assault”). He sees a common trend in contemporary classical music towards a “rehabilitation of consonance” (borrowing a phrase from Julian Anderson, a former professor of his), reviving the more stable harmonies associated with traditional classical as well as popular music.
I asked him if that was a conservative trend. “I don’t think that a composer who uses harmony is any more conservative than a poet who still uses, say, traditional syntax,” he told me. Still, there’s a challenge here to avoid clichés and tired conventions. “I’m interested in consonant chords which don’t have such historical baggage, as, say, great big romantic chords,” Putt adds. “It’s all a matter of context, and keeping things in balance within the consonance-dissonance spectrum. That’s how music gains its light and shade, its intrinsic drama.”
Every year this annual Instrument Fest rotates between a focus on the cello or a focus on the violin. This February we had 25 participants take part in Cellofest, spending a long weekend here at the Centre. The participants, mostly young emerging artists, were excited to attend this specialized training opportunity, which combines master classes, ensemble coaching, and supervised rehearsals. Below are a few snapshots that capture Cellofest in action.
Rodney Sharman has been to The Banff Centre many times before, but his most recent was a very different visit for the Canadian composer.
While Sharman works in many different musical genres, he usually focuses on one piece while he’s here. However, when he came to the Centre last Fall, he planned to work simultaneously on four projects: a piano piece; a piece for Duo AttemaHaring, which consists of bass trombonist Brandt Attema and harpist Astrid Haringo; a cabaret song; and finally to complete touch ups on a dance opera.
Under our interview, you can hear his piece “Incantation”, which was a commission from Kathleen McLean for her CD Nightsongs. This piece was selected by NPR’s Performance Today to represent the year 2004 in their series on music of the 21st century. The abstract piece is written for bassoon, harp, and string quartet. Abstract composition, pieces without an explained narrative, is something that Sharman is not only interested in but sees less and less in modern composition.
Luciane Cardassi, pianist, and Katelyn Clark, harpsichordist, share the concert performer’s devotion to mastering the traditional techniques of their instruments, as they do the artist’s curiosity about the novel directions that might be tread with their instrument. RocKeys, the duo which they together comprise, concentrates on performing new works that pair their respective keyboards in experimental and synergistic arrangements.
“Luciane and I are both very curious about our instruments and what possibilities there are for the two to exist simultaneously within musical works,” says Clark. “[RocKeys] allows us to explore the strengths and limitations of the piano and harpsichord.” Continue Reading →