NOVA Podcast 2.28.16: Music of Bach and Pintscher

Utah Symphony violinist Karen Wyatt, NOVA Artistic Director Jason Hardink, and host Scot Singpiel discuss music on the upcoming NOVA concert by J.S. Bach and Matthias Pintscher.

Music by Matthias Pintscher

Three works by Matthias Pintscher are featured on NOVA’s February 28, 2016 concert. This gifted composer was born in 1971 in Marl, North Rhine-Westphalia, and currently resides in New York and Paris. He has emerged with unusual speed to become recognized as one of the most successful composers of the generation. He works also as conductor with renowned interpreters and orchestras. In June 2012 he was appointed Music Director of the Ensemble InterContemporain beginning in the 2013-2014 season. Last September it was announced that the Mr. Pintscher will serve as Principal Conductor German of the Lucerne Festival Academy, working closely with Artistic Director and composer Wolfgang Rihm. As stated by Stefana Sabin, “Sustained, shimmering, iridescent notes, nuanced instrumentation, and an idiosyncratic penchant for high registers comprise what has become the characteristic and recognizable Pintscher sound… The essential element in Pintscher’s compositions is not melody but their play with color sounds…”

The following notes offer background information on each of the intriguing pieces performed on NOVA this February.

Janusgesicht, for Viola and Cello
The following note is by esteemed scholar of modern music Paul Griffiths (guest lecturer for Salt Lake City’s Messiaen Festival in April of 2007; Mr. Griffiths introduced NOVA’s performance of the Quartet for the End of Time.)

In the case of Janusgesicht, instrumentation accelerates the fusion – and confusion – of the participants, who travel as images of each other through a typically Pintscheresque landscape of fragile yet intensely present sonorities, very often harmonics, traversed at the slow tempo of breathing. The source tone this time is B on the treble staff, sounded in different ways on the two instruments: as a natural or artificial harmonic, pizzicato or arco, away from or on the bridge, trilled or not. Vacillations of sound, at a generally low dynamic level, with notes often rising from silence as far as ppp and then shading back again, create an effect of unreality. The note is there; it is, to begin with, almost all that can be heard, shining and vanishing like the dim beam of a distant lighthouse. But at the same time it seems like the trace of something gone, a mark of absence. So the piece continues, through further echoes, coalescences, and near misses, through unisons and places where one instrument picks out a harmonic of the other’s note, and it is as if the site of aural intentness is rising, to a prolonged intersection on the F-sharp a fifth above the original B, and rising again, to a point super-high for both these instruments, the C-sharp another octave and a fifth higher. Janus, the ancient Roman god of beginnings and transitions – “The matter of new beginnings (“Départ”) and of the imaginary journey from the familiar to the unknown concerns me fundamentally” – is commonly depicted facing outwards in two directions, but here it is as if the two instruments, the two visages, are looking towards one another – listening to one another, of course, as in any piece of chamber music, but also, in their listening as in their playing, feeling for the space that lies between them, across the mirror.

Beyond (a system of passing)
Continuity and further development characterize Matthias Pintscher’s compositions. Concepts found in his flute concerto Transir are expanded anew, informing his recent composition Beyond (a system of passing) for Flute Solo, which was composed for the Salzburg Festival. "The flute is any sound attached to the breathing ' - no instrument is articulated as close to the air stream itself, the instrument vibrating in direct contact with the human breath as an extension of the breath and body, carrying within itself the archaic and proposing a communicative bridge up to the present time... " The composition is based on a work of art by Anselm Kiefer " AEIOU " and was premiered in 2013 by Emanuel Pahud in Salzburg. 

Kiefer’s work, titled “A.E.I.O.U.”, is a walk-in installation containing a large-format painting, a shelf of books made of lead, and a wall inscription. The house in Furtwänglerpark was built and furnished exactly to the artist’s stipulations. The shelf holds sixty lead volumes from which branches of Moroccan thornbushes seem to grow. These enter a dialogue with the painting opposite, “Awake in the Gypsy Camp.” The painting quotes a strophe from Ingeborg Bachmann’s poem “Das Spiel ist aus” (The Game is Over). It shows clay bricks set out to dry – an allusion to Sumerian cuneiform tablets – and is partially strung with NATO wire. The inscription translates: “Awake in the gypsy camp and awake in the desert tent, the sand runs out of our hair, your age and mine and the age of the world are not measured in years.” Gypsy camp and desert tent – words that evoke the nomadic character of our contemporary lives, between forms of existence and states of time, but also alluding to the fleetingness of time, something Kiefer finds especially relevant to the city of Salzburg.

To quote the artist: “I imagined the space as having fallen into a kind of Sleeping Beauty slumber. Each viewer can awaken the work back to life, like the knight in the fairy-tale kissed Sleeping Beauty awake.”

Kiefer’s contribution to the Salzburg Art Project is titled “A.E.I.O.U.” This vowel sequence was used by Emperor Frederick III as a reference to his secretly planned imperialistic claims. “Austriae Est Imperare Orbi Universo”. Originating in late-medieval emblematics, it has prompted over 300 interpretations to date. Viewers are challenged to contribute their own readings, and ideally to generate new meanings.

In Nomine
Matthias Pintscher’s solo viola work In Nomine was commissioned as a part of the vast project outlined below:

The In Nomine genre, characteristic of the late English Renaissance, took as its point of departure a section of the Benedictus from John Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas. That section includes a complete statement of the chant cantus firmus for which the mass was named, and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, spawned an entire tradition of instrumental works in which composers tried to demonstrate their contrapuntal skills by devising new settings of the chant, or of Taverner's own setting, that would stand out from all the others. The subtitle "The Witten in Nomine Broken Consort Book" might lead the listener to expect a little-known collection of perhaps German offshoots from this tradition, but in fact the music is all contemporary. The impressively large collection of 42 pieces found in this collection grew from an initial group dedicated to one Harry Vogt, the director of a contemporary music festival in the city of Witten; the tradition, as mysteriously as the original one, has taken on a life of its own. It would be wrong to call the music varied. Composed between 1994 and 2002, it is far from representing the range of styles heard in Germany during that period. The examples of Webern and Wolfgang Rihm, who composed one of the pieces, loom large; most of the pieces are fragmentary, pointillistic, extreme in instrumental technique, unconnected with tonal centers, and absorbed in the intellectual preconditions of the post-World War II avant-garde, which by now is not avant anything. The settings range from less than a minute to about 11 minutes in length, and Freiburg's ensemble recherche does well at keeping a consistent thread going through music written for various forces. Several works are arrangements of In Nomine by Purcell, Byrd, and their contemporaries, but in most of the music the In Nomine references are fleeting and difficult to identify… Nevertheless, it provides a common reference point for an unusually large collection of German modernist music, and the production by the West German Radio of Cologne is top-notch. (James Manheim)


October 26, 2014 NOVA Concert Preview

Listen to interviews about our October NOVA concert- with violist Julie Edwards and Artistic Director Jason Hardink.

Bruce Quaglia on Composer/Performer Collaborations

Another audio interview with Utah composer Bruce Quaglia- here he discusses the collaboration between composers and performers when staging a world premiere. This segment includes clips from a rehearsal with pianist Jason Hardink and discussion on how to best realize certain aspects of the piano part to his new chamber concerto, L'Acqua Alta.


Notes on Mozart and Johnston

The music on this coming Sunday’s NOVA program unites works by Mozart with those of two very different Utah composers, Bruce Quaglia and Corbin Johnston. The juxtaposition of Mozart and Quaglia’s music is no accident. Quaglia’s Passaggio Scuro employs glittering virtuosity and allusions to dance rhythms of earlier classical styles, while Through the Dark Passage conveys a graceful lightness of texture. He writes music that one could interpret to be very much engaged with the classical tradition, and his own compositional lineage can be traced back to an American school fostered by Arnold Schoenberg’s teachings in the U.S. Johnston’s works, on the other hand, are the result of too many evenings spent performing in the smoky underground jazz scene of the East Coast during the 1980s. His short and decisive pieces are influenced by the cryptic lead sheets and hysterical improvisations of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Cecil Taylor.

Notes on the Quaglia pieces appeared in a previous post. What follows are remarks on the works by Mozart and Johnston for Sunday’s concert.

Mozart’s Serenade in E-flat K. 375 was among the first works he wrote as a new citizen of Vienna. During the summer of 1781 he was dismissed from his post at the court of Salzburg, a circumstance that freed him to pursue a career as a composer and pianist in the musical capitol of the world. The K. 375 Serenade represents Mozart’s earliest attempts to gain favor with the court of Emperor Joseph II. Originally conceived as a wind sextet, Mozart added 2 oboes during the summer of 1782, hoping that it would be performed by the 8-piece court band (it wasn’t). During the five years that separate Mozart’s Serenade in E-flat and the “Kegelstatt” Trio of 1786, Mozart married Constanze Weber and pursued an active career as a pianist/composer through a series of concerts designed to promote his piano concerti. The year 1786 marked a return to opera and a new collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Le nozze di Figaro was premiered in May, and before starting work on Don Giovanni, Mozart spent the summer writing chamber music. The unusual scoring of the “Kegelstatt” work leads one to assume that the intended performers included Mozart on viola and Anton Stadler, dedicatee of the clarinet concerto and quintet, on clarinet. This was not a work intended to garner publicity or money. It was rather an intimate creation meant to be enjoyed in the company of friends.

Corbin Johnston composed Viola and Piano: One Application in 2005 for Brant Bayless. Johnston describes the piece as “an improvisational structure, based on two theme groups and one sub group (Bridge) that delineate the form for improvisation.” The improvisations are incredibly frenetic, always with the intent that the original melodic motives should “disintegrate beyond recognition.”

5.3 |2| blind date  came with the following instructions from Johnston: “No rehearsal necessary. The notion behind this is that of a blind date. No one will have any idea of what their colleagues are going to be playing. So you’ll be hearing the other parts for the first time at the concert, while you are playing your part. Creating sort of an aural blind date. The improvised part is your reaction in the moment.”


- JH, 4.25.14

Bruce Quaglia on L'Acqua Alta (World Premiere)

Utah composer Bruce Quaglia has composed a new work for the NOVA Chamber Music Series to be premiered this Sunday. L'Aqcua Alta is a new chamber concerto for solo viola, solo piano, and an ensemble of winds and percussion. What follows are Bruce's notes on the new work as well as his remarks on two earlier pieces that will be performed on Sunday.


L'Acqua Alta is the name given to the periodic tidal surges of the Northern Adriatic that have, throughout history, caused Venice and other parts of the surrounding Veneto to become partially submerged for weeks at a time during the winters of some years. It is a fact of life in the region which stands in a direct relation to the quality of timelessness that has so often been remarked upon by visitors to La Serenissima. But my chamber concerto is not intended to be programmatic in the manner of, say, Debussy's piano prelude "The Sunken Cathedral," a piece about a mythic temple that emerges from the depths of the ocean every one hundred years. Instead, my title references only the impressions that I received while travelling for work during the period in which the piece was conceived and initially composed. It is therefore a manifestation of the creative diary that I always keep when travelling or composing.

I spent a month in Venice during the spring of 2012 (when there was no flooding), and then in the fall of that same year I visited post-Katrina New Orleans for the first time. In both cities I was struck by the profound beauty of the culture, of the people who lived there and the food, drink and music that made each place unique. And in each city I was also profoundly conscious of the high water, of the history of floods that marks life there. I fell deeply in love with both places during my relatively brief visits to them, and I have found that they now each occupy a place in the geography of my interior imaginative life. My dreams are often now set in relation to these places, and I often think about them in my waking life too. Only the red rock wilderness of Southern Utah has carved out a similarly deep impression within my internal creative imagination, and I have spent a much greater amount of my time in its canyons during the past twenty years by comparison.

So, while the piece is not really intended to evoke the specific locations of Venice or New Orleans, there are associated feelings and ideas from my travels that are present in the music. First, there is Time: the longer cycles of history and natural time and then the shorter increments of time with which we mark our individual lives. The former is dizzying to contemplate, the latter is fragile, it engages our emotions of love, fear and vulnerability, which then seem as nothing when compared to the larger cycles of time into which our lives disappear. The ensemble parts are mostly uncomplicated individually, but their relation to the ensemble is both fragile and delicate, the ensemble is a complex organism that develops various relationships to the soloists. In the third movement that organism evolves: it splits into two distinct units which then reorganize their relationships to one another and to the soloists.

The second idea is more technical, and so I will only explain it briefly and by analogy. The materials of L'Acqua Alta, specifically the pitch materials, conceptually engage the full range of possibilities that are present in chords and scales of different sizes, and most importantly, these are all thought of as cyclical, in accordance with the ideas about time and nature that I have described above. The most basic material of the piece is a 55 note chain that contains every possible six note chord type within it (there are 50 such hexachordal types in equal-tempered music). Naturally they overlap one another to fit into such a compact chain. The chains run in cycles that close larger loops and so they form a substrate out of which the details of the music then emerge. Everything is possible, but not everything is literally present as a musical detail. So it is with time and with nature.

L'Acqua Alta was commissioned by the Nova Chamber Music Series for soloists Jason Hardink (piano) and Brent Bayless (viola), each of whose artistry directly inspired the music that I composed. The piece is dedicated to my friend and mentor, the American composer Charles Wuorinen on the occasion of his 75th year.


Passaggio Scuro is a solo piano work that was commissioned by Jason Hardink of the Utah Symphony in 2005. The title of the work puns on that of another piece- Through the Dark Passage and the Canyon Below…, a chamber trio for which the composer received an Individual Artist’s Grant from the Utah Arts Council/NEA just a few weeks before the Hardink commission in the summer of 2005. The two pieces were thus conceived as “siblings” that share certain familial traits and generative materials. The family resemblance may or may not be immediately apparent to the listener. In each work I was concerned, although in different ways, with presenting a distinctive rhythmic character and a transparency of texture. These works, when taken together, form a snapshot of the midpoint of my twenty years in Utah as a composer. 

The shape of Passaggio Scuro was conceived as a recursive musical structure in which levels of the form mirror musical materials that are presented simultaneously at several levels of time and space. The listener need not be conscious of this compositional technique to enjoy the work however, because the resultant structure creates a sturdy container for the musical ideas of the piece to then be cast within. The intended effect is that of a compelling and dramatic shape presenting a sweeping expressive energy. Passaggio may have been planned with various formal processes to be enacted both openly and covertly, but it was mostly composed in response to the brilliant musicality of the pianist to whom it is dedicated: Jason Hardink.  It is offered as a point of expressive discourse between the composer and performer wherein the performer may subsequently bring the audience into that same dialogue.

By contrast, Through the Dark Passage and the Canyon Below… is a more sectional work that incorporates some of the raw materials that were used in Passaggio, but to different ends. During the summer months that I wrote the trio, I was listening almost exclusively to the music of composer Allen Anderson, a former teacher whose music I greatly admire. His music does not receive nearly as much attention as it deserves and I was planning to write an article that focused on the ways that his compositional techniques reflected earlier traditions of his own teachers, particularly Seymour Shifrin. Unfortunately, I never finished writing that article but I later realized that the trio itself was a pithy essay on those features of Anderson’s music that most engaged me as a listener, its clarity and certainty of expression.

- Bruce Quaglia