Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Klagenfurter Ensemble

I'm thinking now of a most unforgettable moment in 2001, descending into Klagenfurt airport, a Tyrolean Air flight attendant in a dirndl leaning over, me noticing a photograph in the newspaper held by the passenger in the next row forward - a woman's mouth covered in blood! I'm fascinated, what could this be? But then I look at the caption, and it is my name. Soon we descend, and down the stairs to the tarmac, with the beautiful mountains of Carinthia all around, I meet Gerhard. "Maestro!", he says, and sweeps me into the Liegl-Garge, where I meet for the first time so many who have remained my friends over the years: Alexei Kornienko and Elena Denisova, Thomas Woschitz, Mariko Wakita, Josef "Pepi" Oberauer.

The performances of that opera - die Nacht wird kommen - was the first time I ever experienced eleven curtain calls with standing ovations, and when I realized there was something very special about Gerhard, and the Klagenfurter Ensemble and the audience it had developed who seek theatrical adventure.  When Gerhard asked me to write something again, I said yes without hesitation, and then yes again after that: YKCYC with the crazy wonderful VADA-ettes, and Rattensturm with the brilliant Peter Wagner, and more standing ovations, and in between many pilgrimages to the Lindwurm with the Empress, and Schnitzels, and hiking with the Lehners in the aforementioned beautiful mountains, where we stopped for a little wine, and driving through Slovenia and Italy for even more wine - oh, and that migraine!

I'm thinking now about how the Talltones Extended were so nervous that the great Maestro Erling Wold would be angry with them for changing the perfect jewel-like music I had written for YKCYC and of course I was not, but rather was so delighted in the way they played it that it kept me warm and happy as I walked back home through the cold and snow and the Christkindlmarkt. And the Rats! - who soldiered through the rhythms and made something so powerful that I saw many reduced to tears when the lights went down, crying over the agonies of the long-ago and almost forgotten war.

Writing this, I too find my eyes wet, remembering much that has come into my life through KE, how it opened up many opportunities - as I'm sure it has for others. There are many people I have met and worked with at KE that I have gone on to do art with all over, and who have become important to me. The operas I have done at KE have had a continuing life, getting better and better, and finding their way out to all parts of the world. It's very special, this place you have created: a beacon lighting the way to artistic delight and power and glory.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

UKSUS CD out! now!

 Buy it!

The UKSUS CD is officially out today, available in all your favorite places, digital and physical. For you who still live in this world, I would encourage buying the object itself, a beautiful hardbound book with CD enclosed, designed by Karen Johnson. And the performers, they who bring the magic: Bryan Nies conducting, the vocally resplendent (Opera News) Laura Bohn and powerful Nikola Printz, the handsome and extravagantly transgressive tenor (Los Angeles Times) Timur Bekbosunov, Bob Ernst!, and the ensembles from the US and Austria. 

Who can forget Richard Klammer singing the Divan Song (included on the CD), here accompanying scenes from the cast featured on the CD: 

A feverish mashup of artistic and political history, commentary on vinegar and meatballs, and non sequiturs, all set to Wold’s tangy, versatile score (San Francisco Chronicle), it combines the stories of Daniil Kharms and the OBERIU with equally absurd scenes from his life in Stalin's Soviet Union. 

What is amazing about the OBERIU is that, while living in abject fear and panic under Stalin, they laughed and laughed and laughed, loved wordplay and nonsense, rejoiced in absurdity, and held onto that love and joy and laughter to very end, to their ambiguous deaths in custody of The State, the secret police, the NKVD.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

How to write music

As a composer of the day, I'm often asked by others who are envisioning a career in composition how it is done, and I typically tell them sorry, but the consanguinity of composers is a guild with many secrets. However, here I am once again on Zug 132 heading out of Pordenone, feisty and wanting to throw some carnavalean confetti of cautions to the wind so here it is, a simple flowchart to guide your new and exciting life adventure:

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Rattensturm at the Little Roxie

>>> Tickets here <<< 

American premiere!  Introduced by Rattensturm composer Erling Wold.

RATTENSTURM is the latest opera by local composer Erling Wold (Certitude and Joy, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, Queer, UKSUS), commissioned by the Klagenfurter Ensemble for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, with a libretto by Austrian writer and director Peter Wagner.  This concert film was shot over the run of sold-out shows and captures the intimate, powerful performances of Nadine Zeintl and her fellow war-loving rats, screaming and singing in delight of the gut-exploding carnage.

At the beginning of June 1918 the SMS Szent István, the splendor and pride of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, sets sail on its maiden voyage to break through the defenses at the Strait of Otranto. She had had only a few practice runs, and her crew had spent its time polishing the brand-new engines, scrubbing the decks, and putting on fat.  In their haste, they forget to open the submarine barricades, they fail to sail under cover of night, and the wet coal gives off a plume of smoke. Spotted by an Italian torpedo boat, the Szent István dies an ignominious death in an already pointless war, the tragic but inevitable outcome of the contemporary feelings of duty, sacrifice, honor, and a willing subjugation to the leaders.

Watch the trailer here:

Directed by Peter Wagner, music by Erling Wold, design by Manfred Bockelmann.  Featuring Sebastian A. M. Brummer, Martin Ganthaler, Michaela Khom, Angie Mautz, Marilene Novak, Michael Uhlir & Nadine Zeintl.  Alexei Kornienko conducting the Collegium Musicum Carinthia. 99 min. In German with English subtitles. Digital.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

She Who Is Alive

The masterful Robert Harris and I discussing She Who Is Alive, from last year before West Edge Opera performed a hastily-scribbled scene (The Third Degree) as part of Snapshot.  With Rattensturm in between, I've only recently gotten back to the scribbling, but am planning to finish this thing and do the film or die trying. SFCCO is performing a pre-writing suite from it on October 13th, with the fabulous Nikola Printz performing, screaming in all caps:


The program notes:

She Who Is Alive (Official Teaser Trailer #1) is a suite from the in-preproduction film-opera adaptation of Robert Harris’s surreal fascist thriller, a death drive dream gliding through the residual terror of the twentieth century. We find ourselves on a tropical beach, the sun setting, April Jergen riding her horse. Meanwhile, in the National Homeland, the Polemarch Rorman sings a poem he has written to his young boyfriend. His boyfriend is full of disdain. Eventually, April has a dream and fulfills her destiny for the National Homeland.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Where credit is due

We are in rehearsal for Rattensturm, and today was the first day - glorious day - where we had everyone in the room: actors, singers, instruments, video and triangle.  It made all so happy to hear it together; I could see the light shine forth from everyone's eyes. 

This piece really is Peter Wagner's.  It's his libretto, his architecture, his direction, his video, his concept.  I really am just the composer.  But the music still does something big.  The reporter from the Kleine Zeitung asked if the music was atmosphere and I said no, it really is setting the text, even the spoken text, and has a structure and impetus of its own.  In the interview, Peter talked about the „suggestive Drive der Musik“ and the goosebumps it brings forth so I think he sees that. 

But even the music isn't all mine, and while I listened I scribbled down what I remember of what I was thinking of during while writing the piece.

I explicitly stole a favorite chord progression from Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte for the virtual choir section at the end of Act I.  I don't think anyone would notice, although there is a tickling when I listen to it that makes me thing there is something in the violin accompaniment that came from another piece through a less conscious path, but maybe not. 

Ravel was a very careful composer who created very few but absolutely perfect jewels whereas, at least in this particular piece, I was scribbling as quickly as I could, the first two acts in Firenze during a week last December, and the rest in bits and pieces in my basement and here and there in hotel rooms in Europe - a process that doesn't lead to perfect jewels, but speed invites the muse. Listening to it here today I have no idea for much of the piece if I wrote it or how it was written. 

Just before, in the cathedral in Ravenna, the Empress and I heard Natalia Haszler's Credo universale. It's a lovely lovely piece, and she has a way of handling speaking and chant-like text presentation, which the Empress commanded me to use, so I did. But again, no one would confuse Haszler and me. 

When I was a boy, I heard somewhere - one of those idiotic rules that stick in the brain - that it was very bad to double instruments in chamber works, but I do it all the time, and in this piece, the way the strings and the piano mix together reminds me of one of the Faure piano quintets that Sara Klancke played, as well as some bits from Michael Nyman's opera of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. And I always like how Fred Frith would double the vocals with the violin. I did it just a little, but consciously so, so I mention it here for completeness. 

The string writing in the aria Der Krieg bringt hohe sittliche Kräfte.. is from part of Doctor Atomic that the Empress mentioned just as I got to that bit, and it was on my mind so into the pot she goes. 

When I first was thinking about this piece, I was improvising at the piano and came across some chords which, after some time, I realized were thinly disguised versions of chords I have used many times before, but shortly thereafter noticed a modal similarity to the chords that begin Schubert's Der Doppelgänger, and since Peter liberally quotes lots of texts of the time I thought why shouldn't I, so I mixed in some of me with some of Mr. Schubert's song. My favorite Schubert musics are the dark musics, e.g. the above, Die liebe Farbe, etc. 

And there is a direct setting of Ich hatt' einen Kameraden, as a traditional quote, originally suggested by Peter, as well as O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden from the St Matthew Passion - which was my father's favorite hymn and which still makes me cry. It suddenly came to mind as I was reading the War Speech by Peter Rosegger: Je mehr der Stahl geglutet, Je besser ist das Schwert. Je mehr ein Herz geblutet, Je größer ist sein Wert. And I had told myself to take my first impulse so again hop la! 

The prayer section, Aus seelsorglichen Gründen..., is the one bit that someone looking at the score and who was familiar with L'Histoire du Soldat would say hey, what?  And that's the second time I've done that with Stravinsky, but I could claim it is because L'Histoire was written right during World War I and anyway, I went to his grave on San Michele and I cried and asked for forgiveness and I feel absolved.   

I steal from myself as well, but that's common among composers.  Bach did it, and maybe that was because like me he had to write so much so fast. All of Act IV is based on an unrelated piano piece of mine: The obsidian blade is made of winter. And when writing fast, one falls back on tricks that worked before. You've got to put some notes down for the players or the producer will say why am I paying them to play when they aren't playing, so time to do the Wold thing, mixing in some arpeggios and some 5s against 3s and some 7/8s and the usual stuff. And that noisy sound I use throughout - sampled from a radiator in the National Gallery in Moscow, just around the corner from those incredibly beautiful marine paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky - is so much like the whistling thrumming noise I used in Sure Fire. But now that I think of it, this opera is all about the sea so maybe again this wasn't my decision at all. 

Friday, April 20, 2018


I may be dead, but still I hear the roads calling, the hills of home and the restless rivers wondering where I am. Mahomet has found a simile for the moon; she hangs limply, broken like an old palm
branch. Do come and visit; you may find me on the Western Front, I go out at night to watch the German rockets. They have white crests, throw flame across no-man’s land, burst into green and blue, drop down in purple rain. I gaze in awe, the last days of a beautiful world.
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