I just found a concert of the guitar/violin duo Duo 46 online. It's a concert they played in Calgary at St. Stephen's Anglican Church on April 5th, 2008, and is presented on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporations web site. You can listen to the entire concert online for free, and I have to say they played my piece particularly well. I also really enjoy the pieces by Beaser, Liderman and John Oliver.
I met guitarist Matthew Gould and violinist Beth Schneider when I was a student at the University of Texas in 1997. I wrote Sonata 46 for them in 1998, and they've since played it so much and in so many places, I've totally lost track of it. They've had to have played it at least 50 times, which blows my mind.
I thought I would start a new series of blogs about composers that I respect, and whos music I think is shaping the classical music of the 21st century. I'll be doing this by telling you about how I discovered their music, and how they personally affected me in the beginning. I'll be introducing you to some of their work, and pointing you to where you can find more, so you can discover them for yourselves.
I was introduced to Carlos Rafael Rivera's music back in 1998, when I was a student at the University of Texas studying classical guitar with Adam Holzman. Every Wednesday afternoon, all the guitarists in his studio would attend "rep. class". This was a kind of master class, where various people would play whatever pieces they were working on in front of everyone, and Adam would comment (or yell - lol).
One big part of a classical guitar student's year is the Guitar Foundation of America's annual international guitar competition and convention. Winning the competition usually means the start of a real concert career for the guitarist, so it's taken very seriously by anyone who wants to become a professional classical guitarist.
Every year, the GFA releases a list of required pieces that all participants must master, and perform at the competition. This year for example, the required piece - referred to as the "set piece", is Astor Piazzolla's "Compadre" from his work Cinco Piezas. The set piece usually comprises some kind of work that is standard to the classical guitar repertory, and contains techniques that the GFA feels every classical guitarist should be able to execute.
So, what does the GFA competition and set pieces have to do with Carlos Rafael Rivera?
Before 1999, part of the GFA competition was their annual competition for composers of guitar music. The composers would submit their pieces, and the piece would be judged by a panel of guitarists and representatives from the GFA. The winning piece would not only be published, but would be the second set piece that every guitarist was required to play in the competition. Unfortunately, in 1997, the GFA lost its resolve for the program, and announced that 1998 would be the final year for the composition competition.
I believe that this decision was made partly because of most of the music that won and became set pieces over the years. I remember sitting in rep class, week after week, listening to the guitar students that were preparing for the competition play these pieces over and over again. And to be completely honest, most of these pieces were downright horrible. I will never forget the winning piece from the 1997 competition. I don't remember the composer, but the piece was called EtuDE - yes, those last 2 letters were capitalized. It was this long, naively atonal work, with the distinguishing feature of having the guitarist stop in the middle of the piece, and sing "DEEEEEEEE!!!!!" on the pitch D, and then continue with the aimless atonal music. It was ridiculous, and hilarious at the same time - but can you imagine being a judge at the 1997 GFA competition and having to listen to hundreds of guitarists yell "DEEEEEEE!!!!" for 3 days in a row?? So, with many debacles of music like this one, the GFA decided to cancel the composers program, and that 1998 would be the final year.
Of course, irony was in full swing, and sure enough, in 1998, they got their best piece ever. It was a piece of music by then student, Carlos Rafael Rivera called Whirler of the Dance. As in years past, I heard several guitarists in rep class play Whirler of the Dance week in and week out, and the piece got better every time I heard it. I think everyone was in agreement that this was a great piece, and now instead of people feeling kind of relieved the composer project was going away, I think Carlos actually made them start to regret canceling it (although the GFA has never resurrected the program).
The winner of the competition that year was the great Serbian guitarist Denis Azabagic, who was a mere student himself then, but is now recognized as one of the best out there. Here is video of Denis performing all three movements of Whirler of the Dance:
Since then, Denis has developed a great relationship with Carlos and has commissioned other work from him and professionally recorded and released his music.
You can find other music by Carlos on iTunes, including his piece La Maja y el Hechicero written for Azabagic's flute and guitar duo, Cavatina Duo. Actually, you can download this for FREE on iTunes, as well as the Cavatina Duo's entire concert, so you have no excuse for not checking it out!! hehe
I came across this You Tube video of Pierre Boulez doing a kind of presentation of parts of his piece Sur Incises. It reminded me how much I love this piece. The audio quality of the You Tube video does not really do it justice, but I thought I would post it anyway.
The ensemble is very unique - 3 pianos, 3 harps and 3 percussionists (usually playing vibraphones). The combined sound is something so wonderful - a white crystalline sound world, sometimes shimmering with an ethereal beauty, other times pulsing with brutal primal rhythms.
I would highly recommend checking out the real recording, but even that cannot match how this piece sounds when heard live - it's amazing. To hear this huge collection of big strings (in the pianos and harps) and the aluminum bars of the vibraphones in the air of the hall - you can feel the air vibrating all around you, even in the quietest moments.
I just heard today about the controversy surrounding the band Coldplay and the guitarist Joe Satriani. A friend of mine posted a status update on Facebook congratulating Satriani on winning the Grammy for Song of the Year. Being a guitar child of the 80's, I was shocked and kind of elated at the prospect of Joe Satriani winning song of the year in 2009. However, it was explained to me that Satriani is suing Coldplay for plagiarizing their song "Viva la Vida" from Satriani's "If I Could Fly". I was linked to a really great, in-depth analysis of the two tunes done by guitarist Andrew Wasson, and I think Coldplay is in big trouble. If there is any justice, Satriani will win his lawsuit hands down. Here are the videos Andrew posted.
The first thing was an announcement of an article that I appeared in:
There's a new feature in the classical guitar magazine Soundboard this month (Volume 33, 2007). The magazine is published by the Guitar Foundation of America. There is a little about me, and they have also published my first guitar etude. Classical guitarists - please check it out!
Audio:Etude No. 1 for Classical Guitar:
The second was a fantastic review I recieved:
il dolce stile nuovo for violin, cello, and piano by Anthony Joseph Lanman.
The second time I heard this work was in a car driving up to Crater Lake in Oregon. Already familiar with the piece as the lake came in sight for the first time, the fabulous glacial morning blue color of the lake blended with the sonorous cadences of the main section of il dolce stile nuovo and created for me one of those priceless moments where music and Nature unite.
As a composer, I am jealous of this work. Jealous perhaps in the best sense, in that I admire the technique and spirit that created it. Mr. Lanman states in the score that he was influenced by composers and musicians as diverse as Perotin, Corelli, Bach, Schoenberg, and the band Metallica. However, this diversity of inputs yields a most consistent output. This is not music of collage or pastiche, but a heartfelt and wholly unified work.
The piece revels in seeming contradictions, yet comes out more unified than most. Pop syncopations of the most sophisticated kind make the piece rock, while the ecstatic refinements of the main A sections put the work in a realm somewhere between the exquisiteness of Ravel and the ecstasies of Scriabin. Lanman combines the "rock" and "exquisite ecstasies" with complete success, to create a whole I have never experienced before, one which puts me in a unique--and marvelous--place. This is a composer who not only thoroughly understands the musical language he has chosen for the piece, but he also feels that language in a fundamental way that makes this music an intellectual, yet above all thoroughly visceral, experience. The music is also completely idiomatic to his modal language in melody, harmony, and rhythm. It is through his heartfelt instincts, and not random experiments in sound, that Lanman has come up with something genuinely "nuovo" in this work.
In this work, writing for all instruments is fascinating and varied. The improvisatory B section contrasts strongly with the flanking A sections, and allows the violin a carefully controlled chance to sound like a distorting electric guitar by using vibrato from tasto to sul. ponticello positions on the fingerboard. The piano contrasts long-held pedal passages with lengthy toccata-like passages where use of the pedal is minimized. The instrumental writing throughout is genuinely hypnotic, again in the best sense.
Lanman's contrapuntal sensibilities, especially with regard to harmonic and rhythmic textures, show a sophistication which allows each line to be clearly heard, yet form a whole where each segment of the harmony is completely natural to the piece and not an artificial result of combined counterpoint. Rhythms, while often quite complex are never deliberately so, and only add to the dramatic tension.
Mr. Lanman's self-published manuscripts are a joy to behold in an era where many major publishers do it "on the cheap", and a separate small study score and recording accompany his amply sized performance editions.
il dolce stile nuovo was the winner of the 2002 ASCAP/Morton Gould Young Composer Award. Gregory Hall
(this is a forthcoming review, to be published in the Contemporary Recording Society's "CRS Society News" bulletin.)
Juventas, a young new music ensemble based in Boston, is once again performing one of my pieces. This group of talented performers and composers have been very good to me and my music, having performed il dolce stile nuovo and Sonata 46 in the past. This time, they will be performing my fast and furious flute and piano duo Cerulean Soliloquy. Performances will take place on Saturday, February 28 at 8pm at The Boston Conservatory's Seully Hall and Monday, March 3 at 7:30pm at Eastern Nazarene College's Musica Eclectica Concert Series in Quincy, MA.
Many of you who know me well well know that I am a huge nerd. One of the nerdy things I love, and have always loved is video games. Even as a kid, I would spend hours programming games in BASIC on my TI99/4A computer, and then leave the computer on all night because, as I never had a hard drive, as soon as I shut the computer off, the game would be gone. Before that I had the Atari 2600 - after the TI99 I had a Commodore 64, then an Amiga and finally a PC - all of these systems were for one primary purpose - playing games.
My life obviously took a different turn as a musician and composer, but I still have a passion for games, my current passion being World of Warcraft, the MMORPG (and for those not hip enough to know, that means Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game - gah) that was developed by Blizzard Entertainment and released in November, 2004.
I've always had great respect for Blizzards games ever since I played the first Warcraft RTS (Real Time Strategy) back in 1994. Every game that followed was simply the best game for that particular genre of games on the market. Every aspect of the games were awe-inspiringly great. I think even the first game music that I really thought was great was the music for Diablo II.
But the one, single aspect of Blizzard that I have always been most impressed with was simply their working philosophy, it's not done until it's done. While every other game company out there had hard deadlines for its programmers, often resulting in sub-par or even broken games, Blizzard sometimes took years to develop a single game, and stood by their stance, insisting that the game would be worth the wait - and they were always right.
When World of Warcraft was released in November, 2004, I was one of the first in line to play, and as usual, I was not dissapointed. In fact, Blizzard had once again outdone themselves - the game was incredible. I've pretty much only played WoW since then - a record breaking 4 1/2 years - longer than I've played any other single game, and my faith in Blizzard has never wavered, until now. Allow me to digress into another example to illustrate my current worries.
MP3.COM I'm not sure many of you remember the original MP3.Com. In it's current incarnation, it's basically an online music store, similar to sites like Napster.com or iTunes. When it was founded in 1997 however, the site was exclusively for independent artists to post their music. They had the option to offer free downloads, or to stream the music and sell CDs, which MP3.Com would manufacture.
I was one of the first composers to post my music on MP3.Com in 1997, and even though I was just starting out, still an undergraduate in college at the time, I started to gain a small fan base for my music. Incredibly, MP3.Com established a program where they actually paid the artists on the site based on how many downloads you were getting. I would say that over the course of about 4 months, I was paid around $2500.00. Needless to say, MP3.Com was an incredible outlet for independent artists, and it was clear that the owners of the site truly did care about the independent artist and wanted to see them succeed.
But, as with most great things, it didn't last. In 2001, MP3.Com was bought by the huge conglomerate Vivendi Universal. From the moment Vivendi took over, things started to change. For one, the artist pay-out program was stopped immediately - can't have those dead-beat artists making too much money! Then, in an attempt to generate more revenue, they started to split the artist pages (which originally was just one simple page per artist) into multiple pages per artist, so they could generate more ad space, and sure enough, more and more ads started to show up all over the site (WoW players - is this starting to sound familiar?). The site started to cater more and more to major label acts, making the transition to what the site is now. With added pages, and more advertising, the site gradually became unwieldy and belabored for the user to navigate. In 2003, Vivendi dumped the site off to CNET, and CNET promptly killed the site in December of 2003, re-opening it in it's current state.
Blizzard and World of Warcraft
Blizzard to me has always been like the original MP3.Com was - uncompromising and more concerned with putting out the best product out there than with trying to make loads of fast money. They were independently owned, and operated on their own terms, which is the main reason they are what they are today.
However, like MP3.Com, Blizzard was eventually bought out by, once again, Vivendi Universal. Given my personal history with MP3.Com, I was very worried by this news. Blizzard assured their many fans that the sell-off would not in any way affect how Blizzard does business or how it makes its games. Everything would continue as it had. I have to also say that this was almost a direct quote from when Vivendi initially took over MP3.Com - chillingly close.
In 2007, Vivendi games merged with Activision, and created Activision Blizzard - a huge conglomerate of video game developers. All together, this conglomerate owns many of the top video games on the market today, including World of Warcraft and Guitar Hero to name just a few. Again, we were told not to worry - that nothing at Blizzard would change - right.
With the release in November of last year of World of Warcraft's second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, I was already starting to suspect change at Blizzard. Right away, I could see that many aspect of the expansion were unfinished - one look at any crafting profession in the game could tell you this. Also, the only large, multiple-boss dungeon that was (and still is) available was one that essentially already existed from the original game, but had been re-tooled for Wrath. Compare this to the first expansion, which featured two large, multi-boss raid dungeons (Karazhan and Serpent Shrine Cavern) and 2 "single boss" dungeons (Gruul's Lair and Magtheridon's Lair) from day one of the expansion - all completely new.
Still, Blizzard told us over and over, nothing's changed - it's still "not ready until it's ready."
Recently with the release of patch 3.0.8, it is becoming clear to me that things definitely are not the same at Blizzard. Things are clearly being released before they are ready, and I suspect that Blizzard is now being given hard deadlines by their Activision overlords. The expansion has been a series of one buggy patch after another, patch 3.0.8 being possibly the buggiest patch yet to be released, requiring multiple re-patches and hot fixes. The game itself is also laggy and choppy for many players, and I have heard reports (and have experienced it myself) of WoW overheating video cards, crashing unexpectedly, etc. Five years ago, these are things I would have never expected from Blizzard, but they are becoming more and more accepted by the player base, all while Ghostcrawler tells us nothing has changed - there's nothing to worry about.
In addition, like MP3.Com, ads are starting to pop up all over Blizzards site and forums, where there were never ads before. I also expect ads to start appearing on the game launcher very soon. With 12+ million subscribers at an average of $15 per month, does Blizzard really need additional revenue from advertising? It's not a huge deal - none of this is really yet - but they are all signs - signs that point in a disturbing direction.
This is what happens when large corporations take over smaller, independently owned businesses. The swoop in with their arrogance and "we know best" philosophy, and slowly the smaller company is made to tow the company line. I sincerely hope that the recent troubles are temporary, and that Blizzard is an exception, and that I'm totally wrong, but I have a feeling I'm not wrong. I've just not seen this issue discussed in the WoW community at all, and I think it should be discussed.
I still love WoW - I would go as far as to say that I think WoW is probably the greatest computer game ever made, and I hope it stays that way and is not run into the ground like MP3.Com was.