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All-American Program

Monday, September 26, 2005, 7 PM
Herbst Theatre

The Earplay Ensemble
Mary Chun, conductor
Tod Brody, flutes  •  Peter Josheff, clarinets  •  Karen Rosenak, piano
Terrie Baune, violin  •  Ellen Ruth Rose, viola  •  Thalia Moore, cello

Guest Artists
Wesla Whitfield, vocalist  •  Kevin Neuhoff, percussion
* * *
Ralph Shapey
Sonata for Violin and Piano
(West Coast Premiere, 1998)

Frances White
A Veil Barely Seen
(West Coast Premiere, 2000)

Stephen M. Gryc
Dream Vegetables
(San Francisco Premiere, 1997)

Bruce Bennett
from the ashes
(World Premiere, Earplay/Fromm Foundation Commission, 2005)

* * *

Program Notes

Ralph Shapey, sonata (1997-98) for violin and piano

  I. Variations
 II. Rondo-Scherzando
III. Canzonetta

Ralph ShapeyBorn in Philadelphia, Ralph Shapey (1921-2005) showed early talent as a violinist, conductor, and composer. Compositionally, Shapey always pursued excellence in his own style, regardless of trends; and in a world that frequently places at least as much emphasis on the personality and image of the artist as on his work, he uncompromisingly held the idea that the music, once created, should stand on its own. This commitment, along with a refusal to compromise his integrity and disillusionment with the musical climate of the time, led him to withdraw his compositions from 1969 to 1976, believing that people were unable to appreciate and perform his work for its own sake. Irrespective of controversy over his approach to music, Shapey's status in contemporary American music cannot be ignored. Combining a deep respect for the classical masters of the past with an interpretation that was wholly original, he has been described as a "radical traditionalist."

In his conducting career, Ralph Shapey worked with a number of major symphony orchestras and recorded his Rituals for Orchestra with the London Sinfonietta. He was the founder and music director of the Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago, a group that celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1989 and established a reputation for excellence under Shapey's leadership. Its programming reflected Shapey's firm belief in giving all styles of music a chance to be heard, regardless of personal taste.

Notable awards and commissions include a MacArthur Prize from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (1982); the First Prize in the Kennedy Center Friedheim Competition (1990, for Concerto for Cello, Piano and String Orchestra); the Paul Fromm Award (1993); a commission from the Philadelphia Orchestra for the bicentennial of the Constitution in 1987 (Symphonie Concertante); a commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to mark the centennials of both the orchestra and the University of Chicago (Concerto Fantastique); and two commissions from the Library of Congress. He was elected in 1989 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1994 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


*   *   *

Stephen M. Gryc, Dream Vegetables: Six Poems of Maggie Anderson (1997) for voice, clarinet, violin, and marimba

1. Exposure
2. Falling
3. Nightmare
4. Insomnia
5. Recurring
6. Flying

I met Maggie Anderson while we were both fellows at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire during the summer of 1988. I was instantly drawn to her work and told her of my interest in setting her poems about the dreams of vegetables as they grow in the garden. The poems are certainly whimsical and clever, but they are also beautifully crafted, full of evocative imagery and ripe for musical use. I felt that the clearest way to project the text of these poems was to have the vocalist speak rather than sing the words. The rhythmic setting of the text is exact to ensure complete coordination between the voice and the three instruments. I am very enthusiastic about the instrumental combination of clarinet, violin, and marimba. Even though each instrument produces sound in a different way, providing variety, they all are constructed predominantly of wood and are capable of blending together their rich sounds, especially in their darker, lower registers. The piece was begun in the spring of 1996 at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming and completed in the winter of 1997 at my home in Farmington, Connecticut.

-- Stephen M. Gryc

Stephen GrycStephen Michael Gryc was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1949 but lived in Sunnyvale, California during the 1960s. He received his professional training at the University of Michigan, where he studied composition with William Albright, Leslie Bassett, and William Bolcom. He is currently Professor of Music Composition and Theory at the Hartt School of the University of Hartford. His music is published by Alphonse Leduc, Boosey and Hawkes, Carl Fischer, and others, and his works have been recorded for the Capstone, Centaur, Klavier, Opus One, and Summit labels.

An intimate understanding of the technique of instruments and the imaginative use of instrumental color are hallmarks of Gryc's music. He has written for every type of western instrument and ensemble, from duo to large orchestra. His instrumental expertise has brought commissions from a diverse group of leading soloists, including oboist Bert Lucarelli, flutist John Wion, and trumpeter Philip Smith. Gryc's most recent commissions include a trombone concerto for Joseph Alessi, principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic.

Maggie Anderson (born 1948 in New York City) has taught in the creative writing programs at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Oregon, and Hamilton College. She currently teaches at Kent Sate University. Among her awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Anderson’s books of poetry include Years that Answer (1980), Cold Comfort  (1986), and A Space Filled with Moving (1992).


*   *   *

Frances White, A Veil Barely Seen (2000), for viola and electronics

Chapter 6 of the Tao Te Ching is about the Valley Spirit, an eternal female element associated with water. In a poetic translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, she is compared to "a veil barely seen":

The valley spirit never dies;
It is the woman, primal mother.
Her gateway is the root of heaven and earth.
It is like a veil barely seen.
Use it; it will never fail.

I recorded the sound of water for this piece in the winter and early spring of 2000. Listening to the different streams, I felt myself pulled in by the sound. The water flows between, around, and through the rocks, and as it does, it produces different pitches and rhythms. They change in subtle ways, depending on where you stand. The longer I listened, the more I began to hear. But sometimes I could not tell whether the pitches that I heard were really there or were only sounding in my imagination. Finally, I felt myself disappearing into the water.

A veil barely seen was commissioned by, and is dedicated to, Liuh-Wen Ting.

-- Frances White

Frances WhiteA composer of both instrumental and electronic music, Frances White studied composition at the University of Maryland, Brooklyn College, and Princeton University. She has received awards, grants, and commissions from organizations such as Prix Ars Electronica (Austria), the Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges (France), the International Computer Music Association, Hungarian Radio, ASCAP, the Bang on a Can Festival, the Other Minds Festival, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, The Dale Warland Singers, the American Music Center, The Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Additionally, she has received resident artist fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and The Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Ms. White's music can be heard on the Wergo, Centaur, Nonsequitur, and Harmonia Mundi labels. Recently, her music was featured as part of the soundtrack for Gus Van Sant's award-winning film Elephant.

Frances White studies the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and finds that the traditional music of this instrument informs and influences her work as a composer. Much of Ms. White's music is inspired by her love of nature, and her electronic works frequently include natural sound recorded near where she lives, in central New Jersey.


*   *   *

Bruce Bennett, from the ashes (2005) for flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano, and percussion (world premiere/Earplay commission/Fromm Foundation)

from the ashes is based on an underlying structural melody that provides not only melodic profile but also form and harmonic content. This melody is not heard explicitly throughout most of the composition, though it does surface at a few key points. From this ur-melody, significant structural pitches are identified and then used to generate harmonies based on frequency modulation synthesis. This technique has proved effective in controlling the relative consonance and dissonance of the generated harmonic fields depending on the equivalent relative consonance/dissonance of the melodic intervals. The resulting series of harmonic fields creates what could be thought of as a harmonic topography, which is then navigated by the composition.

The poetic impulse for the piece is inspired by the myth of the Phoenix -- a cycle of destruction and rebirth. The composition is primarily concerned with what is born out of catastrophe. Moments of extreme violence give way to periods of calm, and this dichotomy shapes the dialectic of the piece.

from the ashes was composed for Earplay at the request of violist Ellen Ruth Rose and conductor Mary Chun, and was made possible by a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation. It is dedicated to the memory of John Rush.

-- Bruce Bennett

Bruce BennettBruce Christian Bennett received his musical training at Reed College, where he was a student of David Schiff; San Francisco Conservatory of Music, studying with Andrew Imbrie, David Conte, Elinor Armer, and Alden Jenks; and the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied with Richard Felciano and David Wessel. Dr. Bennett is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Tulane University.

Bennett is interested in electroacoustic music and compositional models based on naturally occurring acoustic and artificially generated spectra. Canciones de amor y la noche for voice, ensemble, and electronics (1998) is representative of this interest, as are Schematic Nocturne for solo piano (1997) and the demon in checkered pants for brass quintet (1997). Sketches for cello and electronics (1999/2000) was composed for cellist Hugh Livingston as an exploration of extended instrumental techniques magnified by real-time digital signal processing using MAX/MSP.

Bennett's works have been performed by the Arditti String Quartet, the Ensemble InterContemporain, Sirius, and members of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players; his electroacoustic music has been presented at events such as the Electric Rainbow Coalition Festival at Dartmouth, the Pulse Field exhibition in Atlanta, Sonic Circuits II, Cultural Labyrinth in San Francisco, and EX-STATIC and Sonic Residues in Melbourne.

A member of the Earplay board of directors from 2000 to 2003, Bennett was a founding member of both the Berkeley New Music Project and the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies Users Group, a coalition of composers and engineers whose interests are in the interaction of music and technology.


Guest Artists

Wesla WhitfieldWESLA WHITFIELD (voice) inhabits an indeterminate zone where jazz and cabaret meet. Trained in classical music and opera, she has spent her career breathing life into the body of Broadway tunes, movie songs, and Hit Parade numbers known collectively as The Great American Songbook. Though based in San Francisco, Whitfield now spends much of her time in New York, working such noted rooms as the Algonquin Oak Room, Jazz Standard, and Le Jazz Au Bar, and she performs frequently at Town Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, and Carnegie Hall. Accompanied by jazz greats Mike Greensill and John Wiitala, Whitfield’s sixteenth recording, ‘In My Life’ on HighNote records, was released in January of this year and is being hailed as her finest to date. Broadcast and print media that have highlighted her life and work include "All Things Considered," People magazine, "CBS Sunday Morning," and The New York Times Magazine.

KEVIN NEUHOFF (percussion) is a soloist and new-music chamber musician who has performed with the Cabrillo Festival, the Oakland Ballet, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, the Other Minds Festival, New Century Chamber Orchestra, and the Paul Dresher Ensemble. He holds the post of principal timpanist with the International Carmel Bach Festival Orchestra, the Western Opera Orchestra, the Berkeley Symphony, and the Fremont Symphony, and is principal percussionist with the Marin Symphony. Neuhoff is frequently invited to play with the San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and Sacramento Symphonies and can be heard on recordings made on the Harmonia Mundi, Triloka, New Albion, Wide Hive, and Nonesuch labels.


Program notes edited by John H. Mugge

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