Feb 13, 2015


Selections from Murder Ballades (2013)        Bryce Dessner (1976-)

I. “Omie Wise”
II. “Young Emily”
III. “Wave the Sea”
IV. “Brushy Fork”

whirligig (2013)                                              Lisa Kaplan (1974-)

Songs of Love and Loss:

Duet for Heart and Breath                             Richard Reed Parry (1977-)
Lamento della Ninfa                                        Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), arr. by Munro
Moro, lasso al mio duolo                                Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), arr. by Munro
Babys                                                                    Bon Iver, arr. by Kaplan


Number Nine (2013)                                       Gabriella Smith (1991-)

Counting Duets                                                 Tom Johnson (1939-)
and Études                                                          György Ligeti (1923-2006)

1. Counting Duet #1 (Johnson)
2. Fanfares (Ligeti, arr. by Kaplan)
3. Counting Duet #2 (Johnson)
4. En Suspens (Ligeti, arr. by Munro)
5. Counting Duet #3 (Johnson)
6. Entrelacs (Ligeti arr. by Kaplan)
7. Counting Duet #4 (Johnson)
8. Automne a Varsovie (Ligeti, arr. by Munro)

Tickets are now on sale at the Honolulu Museum of Art front desk, and online here.

Bryce Dessner, Murder Ballades

Brooklyn-based Bryce Dessner is guitarist of the Grammy-nominated band The National, and a composer who has earned commissions from the LA Philharmonic and Kronos Quartet, among many others. He composed Murder Ballades for eighth blackbird; it has been performed not only in concert, but also by the LA Dance Project as a ballet score, with choreography by Justin Peck. Dessner writes:

“When eighth blackbird asked me for a piece, I immediately knew what to do: let great American folk music inspire a great American new music ensemble. With this in mind I started to examine various strands of American music, both folk and classical, popular and sacred. Around the time I was working we had the horrible tragic shootings in Aurora and Sandy Hook and I started to think about the nature of violence in American Identity.

“The ‘murder ballad’ has its roots in a European tradition, in which grisly details of bloody homicides are recounted through song. When this tradition came to America, it developed its own vernacular, with stories and songs being told and re-told over the generations. These ballads have long been central to the American folk tradition. In Murder Ballades I re-examine several of these old songs, allowing them to inspire my own music …”

The Omie Wise of the first ballad was a real-life murder victim (1789-1808), an orphan from North Carolina made pregnant by a certain Jonathan Lewis who, wishing to marry a girl of better social standing, drowned Omie in a river. In “Young Emily,” a young man who has been away and made a fortune returns, incognito, to see the innkeeper’s daughter with whom he’s in love. They plan to run away and marry in the morning, but during the evening, drinking leads the young man to reveal his wealth and identity, and later that night, the innkeeper kills him for his gold. Meanwhile, young Emily dreams of her love’s death, only to discover in the morning that her dream has horribly come true. “Brushy Fork” is a Civil War ballad, while Dessner’s own “Wave the Sea” is described by the composer as being “woven out of the depths of the many months I spent inhabiting the seductive music and violent stories of these murder ballads.”

Lisa Kaplan, whirligig (2013)

Note by Lisa Kaplan:

  1. a toy that spins around, for example, a top or a pinwheel. Another term for merry-go-round.
  2. a thing regarded as hectic or constantly changing : the whirligig of time.
  3. a small black predatory beetle that swims rapidly in circles on the surface of still or slow- moving water and dives when alarmed.

I only like to play four hands piano with people I really like. This genre, with two players at one keyboard, should make you laugh and curse, and delight in invading each other’s space. (Otherwise, what’s the point? You might as well be playing on two separate instruments!)

Nico Muhly and I wanted a four-hands piece to play together … and, rather than find an existing work, he dared me to write something.

That dare was an inspiration. whirligig is all about getting up in each other’s business and relishing in it. The first movement, off-kilter, is my tribute to Nico and his spunky, vibrant, and amazingly animated personality. merry-go-round is both silly wordplay and a homage to one of my favorite people. The third movement is an odd-metered boogie-woogie that was stuck in my head the whole time I was writing whirligig, and I thought it would be great fun to play.

Richard Reed Parry, Duet for Heart and Breath

Richard Reed Parry is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist, member of the Grammy-winning indie rock band Arcade Fire, and a frequent collaborator with musicians across the stylistic spectrum. His Heart, Breath and Orchestra was recorded by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. Of Heart and Breath, which investigates the interaction between body rhythms and performance rhythms, Parry writes: “The idea is less about ‘performing’ and more about directly translating into music the subtle, naturally varying internal rhythms of the individual players.”

Monteverdi, Lamento della Ninfa (arranged by Munro)

            Lamento della Ninfa, or The Nymph’s Lament, comes from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals, and was written between 1614 and 1638. In its sung form, the text consists of three sections, beginning and ending with a choir of shepherds, who also comment during the central lament:

“The god Phoebus had still to light the great fires of the dawn when the nymph left her dwelling. Her face a pale temple in its ruins of grief, her cries sobbing from her heart, rending.

Hither and thither she went, stumbling through flowers, grieving the love she had lost:

Hear me, O Love, she begged the heavens, stock still now –  rooted to the spot; What happened to that traitor’s vow, ‘Togetherness and trust’? I just want him back, but as he was before. If you cannot  – then kill me; I cannot bear this agony. No more will I listen to his sighs, unless we are separated by a thousand seas – No! No longer will I martyr myself for this. I am destroying myself because of him, and the worse it is, the more gorged, the more satisfied he seems. If I were to flee from him, perhaps then he might come begging? That woman’s eyebrows may be arched more perfectly than mine, but sealed within my breast, O Love, lives a faithfulness still fairer. And that woman’s mouth will never open o give such kisses as I can give! (Hush! Say nothing  – you know only too well!) With these cries she cast her anguish to the heavens. And so it is that in the heart of every lover burns, side-by-side, love’s flame and ice.”

Gesualdo, Moro, lasso al mio duolo (arranged by Munro)

Another lament of a neglected lover, this madrigal was written in 1610. The text of the original: “I die, sinking, in my sorrow/ And the one who can give me life/ Kills me, alas, and does not wish to give me aid. O woeful fate! The one who can give me life, alas, gives me death!”

Bon Iver, Babys (arranged by Kaplan)

Bon Iver is a Grammy-winning indie folk band from Wisconsin, whose name comes from the French “Bon Hiver” (“Good Winter”), used as a greeting on the TV show Northern Exposure. Singer-songwriter Justin Vernon has said of Babys that it is “about when your ex-girlfriend is sleeping with someone else, but you get to dream about when you used to make out with her on a beach.” Its lyrics: “Summer comes to multiply, to multiply/And I, I’m the carnival of peace/ I’ll probably start a fleet with no apologies/And the carnival of scenes, it grows more and more appealing/But my woman and I, my woman and I know what we’re for/Summer comes to multiply, to multiply.”

Gabriella Smith: Number Nine (2013)

Bay Area native Gabriella Smith is currently a doctoral fellow at Princeton; her music has been performed by a staggering array of ensembles. She has won the 2014 ASCAP Leo Kaplan Award, two ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards (2013 and 2009), the Theodore Presser Foundation Music Award (2012), and the First Place Prize in the 2009 Pacific Musical Society Composition Competition.

Smith writes: “Number Nine is inspired by the Beatles’ ‘Revolution 9,’ their collage-like, musique concrète-inspired, aural depiction of a revolution, positioned at the climactic point of The White Album. Inspired by the looped phrase ‘number nine, number nine, number nine,’ etc. at the beginning of the Beatles’ song, I began my Number Nine with an instrumental version of that repeated phrase, and the rest of the piece evolves from its rhythmic and pitch contour. I also incorporated many other ‘Revolution 9’ references, weaving their collage fragments

into Number Nine’s continuously evolving arc.”

Tom Johnson, Counting Duets

Tom Johnson is an American minimalist composer, born in Colorado, and resident in Paris for more than thirty years. In 2001 he won the important French prize “Victoires de la Musique” for his piece, Kientzy Loops. That work, and Johnson’s music in general, is much concerned with mathematical processes. Of Counting Duets, a piece originally for two speakers, Johnson has written:

“These days our devices do much of our counting for us, but we continue to do a lot of counting. Soldiers count the cadence as they march; agricultural surveyors count blades of grass; farmers count sheep; astronomers count galaxies; lab technicians count red blood cells; we all count money. The census counts us.

“The formalistic, religious, arithmetic, psycho- logical, linguistic, and musical implications of counting interest me a great deal, and since I have a special love for patterns and numbers anyway, I have focused much of my work in this direction. There must be countless ways of counting. And come to think of it, ‘countlessness’ is another fascinating subject. Or is it the same subject?”

György Ligeti, Études

The Hungarian Ligeti, considered one of the most important composers of the later twentieth century, wrote his eighteen piano études, divided among three books, toward the end of his career. From Book 1, written in 1985, come Fanfares, a piece full of polyrhythms inspired by the Turkish aksak rhythmic system, and Automne a Varsovie, the name of which refers to the Warsaw Autumn contemporary music festival, and which is dedicated to Ligeti’s Polish friends, who were still suffering under Communist rule at the time of the work’s composition. From Book 2, written between 1988 and 1994, come En Suspens and Entrelacs. The name “Entrelacs” refers to a pattern used in knitting to make a textured diamond pattern; Ligeti creates analogous musical patterns in this piece.