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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
10 Living Composers talk to TC

I guess this is a first on TC.
During the last 12 months I have corresponded intensively with some of my favorite contemporary composers and selected 10 to initiate a thread that involves them.
So first of all, I would like to thank the composers who were so kind, generous and enthusiastic to participate in this project.
I asked them to select a highlight work and to comment on it. We exchanged about the 5 other works and all of the works were personally validated by the composers.
These shortlisted works and the comments related to them are meant to present a balanced overview of the composer’s repertoire, considering both time lines and genres.
Whenever possible links to videos or audio are provided.
It has been an avowed objective to select composers from different parts of the world and to give women composers an equal share of voice.
There is one initiator’s post per composer so that members can comment on each composer separately.
At the end there is a general comment post where members can give more global comments on the thread.
I fully realize the scope of this thread and the risk that it might scare off some listeners. Bear in mind that you can listen to one piece at a time and come back whenever you feel like it on your voyage of discovery. There are only 60 pieces in total and you will like some and dislike others. The only guarantee I give you is that the 10 are great composers.
Looking forward to your active participation. JK

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
List of abbreviations:
YT YouTube
SC Soundcloud
AT Another Timbre
Spot Spotify
SQ String quartet

1 Chaya Czernowin 1957

Czernowin was born in Haifa in 1957 and studied there until the age of 25. Then she moved to Germany to continue her studies and subsequently spent some time in Japan and again in Germany on fellowships or grants.
She also studied with Ferneyhough and Reynolds in San Diego in the early nineties.
Czernowin was awarded the Ernst von Siemens Music Composer’s Prize in 2003.
It is difficult to find enough adjectives to define her work. Here are some: visceral, wild, sensual, dark, analytic, multi-sensory, sonic, concerned (with the world she is living in).
Themes like lockdown and death (Atara), the difficulty to love or to connect (The Heart Chamber) are just examples of the multitude of themes her great mind is eager to tackle.
She is known to be interested by ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), proprioception, phenomena that exist in our world but are difficult to perceive and of course psychological and physical actions or reactions of human beings.
She likes to express her musical intentions metaphorically.

1.1 Highlight: Atara Vocal YT 2020-2021
Chaya’s words:
At the beginning of 2020, right before Covid hit, I had a clear concept for the orchestra piece, as follows: Crude: large blocks of orchestral mass, drifting into and apart from each other moved by momentous forceful, and unpredictable energies. This piece was to be a lament to the hubris of humans thinking that we can control the forces around us and a reminder of these unknown forces which move us and our environment. Little did I know that in March 2000 our world will stop and indeed our loss of control vis a vis nature would be so staggering.
During the 2020 Corona lockdown, I came upon a poem written by Zohar Eitan. The poem was new and was written during the lockdown. It describes the atmosphere and feelings of the lockdown and death.
Zohar is an Israeli poet/musicologist/composer, a long-term friend with whom I collaborated extensively.
I read the text and instantly knew it belongs in this piece. In this piece, the orchestra moves slowly and forcefully in huge independent blocks. As opposed to this the singers and their chamber instrumental formation are fragile, lost in the huge sudden spaces opened by the orchestra.
1.2 The Quiet Orchestral YT 2010
The Quiet is part of a trilogy of orchestral works (with Zohar Iver and Esh) in which Czernowin explores the possibilities of transcending language and attempts to create music that can be touched and felt through the ear.
It is a turning point, a new orientation in her career.
Heavy sections of material oppose lighter strands in The Quiet.
Czernowin is concerned with physics and the interactions and motions of atoms, energy, matter and other particles.
She is seeking a third realm; situated between our senses and our mind, one that is on the fringe of our consciousness.
Her whole oeuvre is a search for unknown territory, physical or mental and each work of the Trilogy is a powerful part of that quest.
1.3 Afatsim Ensemble YT 1995
Czernowin’s sound occupies a unique world and often many instruments become one composite instrument.
Afatsim is composed for an ensemble of 9 players who are spaced apart and subdivided into four groups.
The composer manages to obfuscate the groupings and the sound sources, except for a bass clarinet, are not recognizable.
First there is considerable restraint, followed by nearly inaudible passages, expressed in whispers and sighs.
Progressively the work attains real solidity and unity to find a sense of momentum which ends with a deep growl and a little grunt.
A strange, intriguing piece full of fascinating sounds.
1.4 The Guardian Concertante YT 2017
Infinite Now, the opera preceding the Guardian turned out to be darker than expected and the cello concerto is a request for some power to guard us.
Like a dream that combines waking reality with figments of our imagination
Czernowin expresses fragments from the natural world through her own voice.
The piece is a kind of exchange between the cello and the orchestra.
The cello emerges from the orchestra, but then pulls away. Wind instruments create breathy tones to resemble the sound of a bow and a string, which makes the orchestra sound like a cello.
The cello is amplified, while extended techniques add shade and color to the orchestra.
There is a solo cello after the introduction and a cadenza near the end. But don’t be fooled. This is nothing like a traditional concerto, as the cadenza is not a synthesis of the piece but rather a new place where the despair becomes transparent.
Finally, the whole orchestra crashes in all at once to end the piece.
1.5 The Hour Glass bleeds still for string sextet YT 1992/1999
This sextet is about motion and time and the music deals with phenomena that are on the threshold of hearing, speech and motion.
The multitude of timbres tends to decouple the sound from the instruments that create them.
As there is no explicit narrative, one experiences various states of multiplicity and inherent fragility.
Blood is like a pulse that affects the perception of reality and time, as well as the rhythm of our body and life.
Like in many of her other works, Czernowin uses a central idea that she distills throughout her piece.
1.6 Heart Chamber Opera DVD 2017-2019
After her remarkable first 3 operas, the emotional Pnima, the bold Zaide-Adama and the darkly majestic Infinite Now, Czernowin delivers a new kind of opera with Heart Chamber.
She wrote the libretto herself, made use of microphones that play back pre-recorded singing and videos so that the stage becomes a visualization of an internal landscape. Her orchestral writing is luminous and is boosted by ravishing electronic enhancements. A small chorus of voices in the pit binds the work together.
There is no flowing narrative, but eight close-ups define the action. It all starts with a chance encounter wherein a woman walking up the stairs drops a honey jar which is picked up by a man and returned intact to the woman.
A short dialogue ensues which sets possibilities of a love relationship in motion.
The fluid form adopted by Czernowin runs parallel with a love connection of which the outcome cannot be predicted and there is no real closure at the end.
The two characters have an alter-ego voice that describes their inner feelings and thoughts.
The opera has 5 modalities which are connected to different groups of instruments:
-Close ups that enact the plot
-Sound floods or surges that flood and saturate the concert hall
-ASRM Episodes which mimic small movements of mouth or body
-Dreams which relate to the social pressures connected to a love story
-Forests. Invisible forests, forests of muscles and veins, a forest of hair
All this sounds quite complex and the opera requires several viewings in order to be fully appreciated as the precision of the writing, the attention to details and the various expression modes of the voices are mind-boggling.

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
2 Lei Liang 1972

Lei Liang was born in Tianjin, China in 1972 and moved to the US for further studies in 1990.
He obtained degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music and a Junior Fellowship and Ph.D from Harvard University.
He studied composition with Birtwistle, Czernowin and Davidovsky.
Lei Liang is currently professor of music at the University of San Diego, California.
He won several prizes, including the Grawemeyer Award in 2020.
His music is a mix between East and West and he does not forget his Chinese roots from which he often seeks inspiration.
Lei Liang is very much involved in ecological topics and even tackles the subject with scientists.
His music is hauntingly beautiful and can shift from imperceptible sounds to expansive orchestral music.
It includes a catalogue of more than 100 works with a recent focus on opera.

2.1 Highlight: A thousand Mountains … a million Streams Orchestral YT 2017
Lei’s words:
I always wanted to create music as if painting with a sonic brush. I think in terms of curves and lines, light and shadows, distances, the speed of the brush, textures, gestures, movements and stillness, layering, blurring, coloring, the inter-penetration of ink, energy, breath, spatial resonance, spiritual vitality, void and emptiness.
A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams meditates on the loss of landscapes of cultural and spiritual dimensions. The work implies an intention to preserve and resurrect parallel landscapes-both spiritual and physical-and sustain a place where we and our children can belong.
2.2 Luminous Ensemble YT 2014
Luminous is a bass concerto written for the innovative improviser Mark Dresser.
The rich spectra evoked by the bass embody voices that encompass extreme opposites, like light and darkness, paradise and inferno.
What is remarkable is that these voices are unified by a singular vibrating body.
They are explored in a few large sections starting with bowing on one string, double-stop bowing and pizzicato.
At the end of the piece the performer even bows multiple strings simultaneously.
2.3 Verge Ensemble YT 2009
Verge for 18 solo strings was composed around the birth of the composer’s son Albert and his name asserts itself in different configurations and disguises.
The 18 strings are taken full advantage of in their timbre and potential for sound.
Technically the composer borrows from the convergence and divergence of musical voices found in traditional Mongolian music.
The strings are divided into antiphonal groups and diverge into sub-ensembles and quartets, but also appear as 18 soloists who converge into a singular voice at the end.
2.4 Gobi Gloria for SQ Chamber YT 2006
This string quartet belongs to a series of compositions that grew out of the composer’s admiration for Mongolian music.
In his childhood in China, he often heard Mongolian melodies arranged for the erhu, but the discovery of the recordings of the legendary Mongolian fiddle player Serashi transformed his musical language.
Lei Liang found a magical range of expression encompassing solitude, timelessness and a vastness of space.
This spirit is captured here in the ornamental and often independently moving and layered lines moving throughout the piece.
2.5 Garden Eight Piano YT 1996
Lei Liang has composed a series of pieces entitled “Gardens” as a tribute to the Ming Dynasty Yuen Yeh, the earliest and most exquisite Chinese horticultural treatise.
In the Chinese mind, the garden is seen as an extended environment, a visual world as well as a world of senses.
Passing of clouds, far-away mountains, the ringing of ancient temple bells, the transience of seasons all become part of the extended space.
Garden eight is a musical garden and to perform it is to walk through a garden of sounds.
Descalzo’s fabulous performance adds an extra dimension to the piece as the delicacy of sounds reach incredible levels in the eight miniatures.
2.6 Inheritance Opera YT 2018
Inheritance tells the bizarre life of Sarah Winchester, the widow and heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune.
She is believed to have sought shelter in a labyrinthine mansion to find refuge from the spirits of the people killed by the weapons that gave her so much wealth.
Lei Liang juxtaposes the historical story with the present complex questions about complicity, atonement and gun control.
It exemplifies the composer’s endeavors to delve into contemporary social, ecological and political issues.

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3 Zibuokle Martinaityte 1973

Martinaityte was born in 1973 in Lithuania where she studied composition at the Lithuanian Music Academy.
She attended New Music Summer Courses in Darmstadt and also studied with Ferneyhough, Lindberg, Murail and Harvey.
In addition to acoustic music she developed an interest in electronic music.
Her music seeks to revive the essential aesthetic category and revolves around the notion of beauty with a particular fascination for timbre and texture.
She is presently based in New York.

3.1 Highlight: Saudade Orchestral YT 2019
Zibuokle’s words:
Saudade in Portuguese means a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves.
According to the writer A.F.G.Bell, the famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.
In my personal experience this notion of Saudade symbolizes the stratum of multiple yearnings that have started layering with the “blue period”-death of my father and immigration to USA. For the last decade this thread of longing has been woven into my life coloring all experiences with the myriad hues of blue.
3.2 Sielunmaisema for cello and orchestra Concertante YT 2019
Sielunmaisema is a Finnish word that refers to a soul-landscape, a place which is valued by an individual who often returns to it in memory.
This concept word is dear to the composer who explores issues of identity and place, due to her 2 cultural identities: Lithuanian and American.
Martinaityte uses the 4 seasons as 4 movements and as a cherished memory of her early life. One can hear the nostalgia for the past and for the landscape that is no longer the same due to global warming.
The cello is the ideal instrument to express this nostalgia.
3.3 Ex Tenebris Lux String orchestra YT 2021
From Darkness comes Light is a piece that is influenced by the current pandemic and that is meant to encourage us to face an uncertain future with courage and determination.
Of course, darkness is always part of the rhythm of our daily lives.
Paradoxically we need it to perceive light, whether as a reality or as a metaphor.
In her piece Martinaityte achieves multiple gradations of darkness which are explored through dense musical textures.
The individual instruments are often condensed into a monolithic sound and are only differentiated when a state of light is reached.
3.4 In Search of Lost Beauty Chamber YT 2016
In what is probably her greatest achievement to date, Martinaityte develops an hour-long sequence of audiovisual moments on the elusive subject of beauty.
There are 10 sections which are united into a structural coherent whole.
They are an invitation to see the beauty in commonly seen and familiar phenomena, which most of us would usually not pay attention to.
The piece is also a reaction against speedy screen images that make us forget the beauty of our surrounding world.
This search for beauty forces us to slow down, operate less automatically and discover true moments of being.
3.5 Solastalgia Chamber SC 2020
This combined word finds its origin in the concepts of solace and desolation as algia denotes suffering.
To the composer it means that you feel homesick although you are at home which is caused by environmental changes and global warming.
It is an additional layer of nostalgia, which is an essential component in Martinaityte’s oeuvre.
3.6 Impulses Piano YT 2007-2008
There are many beautiful moments in these 6 miniatures that resemble drawings on the water which disappear before they can be perceived.

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4 Hector Parra 1976

Parra was born in Barcelona in 1976. He studied with Padros and Guinovart at the Barcelona Conservatorium, with Harvey, Ferneyhough and Manoury at Ircam in Paris and with Jarrell in Geneva.
Parra won the Ernst von Siemens Composers Prize in 2011.
He is a pianist, who has also benefited from his immense experience at Ircam.
Like many of his top Spanish colleagues he is fascinated by early life, biology, science and physics. On top of that he is influenced by the work of visual artists like Soulages, Tapies and Plensa. The famous poet Paul Celan has been an inspiration for a few of his works.
Since a few years he devotes a lot of time to lyrical compositions and his operas Hypermusic Prologue, Das geopferte Leben, Wilde and les Bienveillantes have been widely acclaimed.
Parra lives in Paris since 2002 and teaches at Ircam.

4.1 Highlight: Inscape Orchestral YT 2017-2018
Hector’s words:
Inscape for an ensemble of 16 soloists, grand orchestra and electronics, intends to develop a psychoacoustic journey to the limits of the known world to dive virtually in a universe which is way beyond our sensorial experience. We will make a utopic journey through a giant black hole.
All starts in a sonorous world made of small sound bits, nearly vocal, where the whispers of the public, the instrumental sounds and the physical space form a coherent and organic unit.
Bit by bit, the growing power of the orchestra and the instrumental soloists, activated by developing electronics, propels us into zones of very high energy, which distort the perception of the musical space-time, transforming the initial fragility in rough and deformed energy. It is time now to dive into the horizon of events in the rotating acoustic black hole.
We are crossed by powerful gravitational waves made of electronic sound. Its spectrum and changing density beats to the rhythm of the spectral compression and the spatialisation that transforms the perception of the physical space of the hole, which dilates and retracts cyclically while following the rhythm of these waves.
Surviving the extreme experience, we are led to a new universe, through the annular worm hole we go through without being damaged by the incredibly powerful gravity here.
How will this new paradise be? Presently we can only explore it with the music that is being written.
4.2 La Mort i la Primavera Ensemble YT 2021
Parra uses 2 ensembles and 2 conductors to narrate a hallucinant vision in his tone poem consisting of six movements.
His work is inspired by the unfinished and posthumous novel of the Catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda. It is a dark novel, inhabited by fear and death, which tells the story of an adolescent who seeks deliverance from a dystopic, brutal and cruel society through suicide.
The composer musically represents cruel rituals, permanent danger, hostility to a harmonious human life and rebellion through the dominant use of cello and contrabass (particularly in the last two movements).
His refined lyrical writing for flute occasionally brings in some relief.
It is a sacred dance, a ballet without dancers, an opera without voices that reminds us of the distant Rite of Spring.
4.3 SQ 3 Aracne for SQ Chamber SC 2015
Parra is on a quest to a hypersonic reality, a kind of stirring of instrumental material inspired by “The Spinners”, a masterpiece by Velasquez.
The composer links the dramatic art of his quartet to the painting as the performers start in a traditional way and then progressively the instruments and the players morph into spinners and finally into spiders.
To achieve this, they attach a silk thread, that acts as a fifth string, to their instruments, which enables them to obtain the most diverse sounds like: a bird’s song, a swarm of bees, thunder rolling, the creaking of a door or a saw, the gallop of a horse.
The silk thread is not a lucky find. It is linked to the compositional gesture and to the special timbres achieved by the Tana Quartet with incredible colors and sonorous saturation.
4.4 Limite les rêves au-delà Cello YT 2017
Parra’s fascination for black holes is well known and he invites us to an interstellar musical voyage.
His work is a psychoacoustic experiment that goes far beyond the limits of the world we know and exceeds our previous sensorial experiences.
There is a constant dialogue between natural and artistic phenomena, from confrontation to fusion, which slowly develops into a cosmological symphony.
The audience is confronted to the abyssal violence of physical forces which are brilliantly recreated by Arne Deforce and his cello. The endless varieties of the vibrations of his strings are amazing and are augmented by the excellent sound engineer Thomas Goepfer.
The music is an invitation to explore the indomitable energy of the universe.
4.5 Au Cœur de l’Oblique Piano SC 2016-2017
Claude Parent and Paul Virilio were the architects who worked on the oblique function, their innovation through the continuity of the inclined plane, which led to the construction of the Sainte-Bernadette-du-Banlay Church.
Parra’s piece is an homage to Parent and questions some of the most intimate and essential principles of musical architecture.
In the first movement the pianist draws power from the chord with the nails, the palms and the finger tips gaining energy until he/she reaches a psychological limit.
In the second part inspired by Parent’s church with its great sobriety and massive body the pianist slows down by combining chords played on the keyboard with sounds extracted from the strings.
The musical structure accelerates towards an undulating, fluid, virtuoso piano language.
4.6 Hypermusic Prologue Opera Spot 2008-2009
Parra’s opera is performed by a soprano and a baritone, supported by 10 musicians and a conductor
The subject is about the physics of extra dimensions and Parra was inspired by professor Lisa Randall’s book “Warped Passages” and asked her to write the libretto for his opera.
The two characters interact day to day, but the soprano longs to explore higher dimensions while the baritone is satisfied with a static world.
At the end he is forced to make the leap to the so-called fifth dimension and follow her in order to save the relationship.
Musically the composer expresses this fifth dimension as an extended musical concept through electronic manipulation, distortion of the voice and extended vocal techniques.
The audience clearly experiences the conflict between the lovers and their ultimate reconciliation through Parra’s glittering, jarring often electronically generated sounds.
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