Galileo Celebration Update

string trio playing Nocturnes

Jennifer Strernick (vln.), ERin Araujo (vla.), and Eric Grata (vc.) performing Nocturnes in the Rotunda of the University Art Gallery. Photo credit: Emily O’Donnell.

Saturday, February 15, 2014 was a snowy day in Pittsburgh, just like seemingly every other day this past winter. The snow was falling hard enough in the morning that I wondered whether the celebration of Galileo’s 450th birthday would have to be cancelled, but the front passed through and the skies cleared up, so that afternoon I made my way over to Pitt’s University Art Gallery to meet the trio and go over a few final places in Nocturnes. Honestly though, there wasn’t much for me to do until people showed up. And show up they did, over a hundred or so representing many different sectors of the University and community.

UAG curator Isabelle Chartier, the driving force behind the whole event, introduced all the participants who had gathered in the front gallery where Aaron Henderson’s video montage played. Professor Paolo Palmieri, from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science gave a brief talk on Galileo, highlighting Galileo’s interest and skill in art and music as well as his contributions to astronomy.

After Dr. Palmieri’s talk, attendees were invited into the Rotunda to view Michael Morrill’s Linea Terminale paintings as the the string trio (Jennifer Sternick, violin; Erin Araujo, viola; and Eric Grata, cello) premiered Nocturnes, twelve miniatures to frame each of Michael’s twelve paintings. My hope was that people would turn toward the painting, but I think it’s very difficult  to turn away from seeing a chamber ensemble do its thing. I tried to set a good example myself though, moving through the circle of paintings, studying each one for about the space of one nocturne.

From my entirely biased perspective, I think Linea Terminale and Nocturnes worked well together. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is how music can alter our perception of the passage of time. When I set a text for vocal music, I’m doing nothing so much as slowing down the pace at which the text is declaimed, allowing the words to unfold more clearly, often repeating words or phrases to focus our attention. “Setting” Michael’s paintings to music was a similar sort of thing—an effort to help focus our awareness and maybe slow down time a little.

I’m so happy to have been a part of the Celebration of Galileo’s 450th Birthday. It was a very positive and successful event! I’m particularly grateful for all the hard work Isabelle Chartier did to make the event happen and to Michael for his enthusiasm and support for Nocturnes.

A Celebration of Galileo’s 450th Birthday, Premiere of Nocturnes

February 15, 2014
3:00 pm

 Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, Free

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University of Pittsburgh Departments of Music and Studio Arts and the University Art Gallery have organized a commemoration of Galileo’s 450th birthday. The interdisciplinary event will take place from 3-5 p.m. in the Rotunda of the University Art Gallery.

The centerpiece of the event will be an interdisciplinary installation I’ve had the privilege of collaborating on with Pitt Studio Arts faculty members Michael Morrill and Aaron Henderson. The installation is built around Michael’s Linea Terminale paintings, themselves inspired by Galileo’s moon drawings. Aaron’s video and my brand new composition for string trio were created as a response both to Linea Terminale and the broader idea of celebrating Galileo’s life and scientific contributions.

Linea Terminale consists of twelve paintings in four groups of three. I structured my music along the same lines — four sets of three miniatures, averaging around a minute each. About the time I was finishing up the twelfth section, it occurred to me that the common character of all the movements was that of a nocturne so that’s what I’ve titled it: Nocturnes. I realized that the whole time I was composing the piece, the image of Galileo peering through his telescope at the moon was in the back of my mind. It makes sense because night time is still the best time to observe the moon.

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Special guest Paolo Palmieri, from Pitt’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science, will give a brief talk on Galileo and his contributions prior to the performance.

This interdisciplinary celebration of Galileo’s 450th birthday is cosponsored by the Departments of Studio Arts and Music, the University Art Gallery, and the Departments of History and Philosophy of Science, Physics, and Astronomy and Philosophy. The event is free and open to the public.

Pittsburgh School for the Choral Arts CD Now Available

TranseamusThe Christmas CD I produced for Pittsburgh School for the Choral is now available. I am so  grateful for the privilege of working with such an outstanding organization. There is something special about being at a live performance when you feel like all the musicians rise to the occasion and give it their best. To not only be present at that kind of moment (which happens over and over again with these young musicians) but to also be able to capture it on audio is an extra rush for me.

To get your copy, contact

Emily Swora, Choral School Administrator
Phone: (412) 267-7707
E-mail: eswora@oaklandgirlschoir.org

 The cost is $15 plus $2 for shipping. You can pay by paypal or mail a check to

PSCA
PO Box 82563
Pittsburgh, PA 15218

I know you’ll enjoy it.

Watch: Video Excerpt from Separate Self, Movement III

Separate Self (Movement III excerpt) from Garth Zeglin on Vimeo.

Here’s a little longer video excerpt from the third movement of Separate Self. It will give you an idea of just how elegant Garth Zeglin’s kinetic fabric sculptures are in action.

I like to think of the essence of counterpoint as multiple parts having their own interest and yet never banging into each other. In the third movement of Separate Self, I took very clearly defined materials and worked on having the lines constantly shift in their relationships to each other. The end result is a soundscape that has a high degree of both stability and fluidity. I’m really happy about how the musical and visual gestures work together for this movement.

Separate Self: Excerpt from Movement II

A good friend once asked me why I write the kind of alt-classical music I write. It wasn’t a snarky question in any sense and I was touched that he had bothered to listen to my music at all. My answer was simply that there were things that I could do from within the classical tradition that I couldn’t imagine doing in any other genre. The slow movement—the adagio—is one of those things.

One of the pieces of music that probably helped me realize I was a composer at heart is Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. As a high school trombonist whose primary aspiration was to play in the Chicago Symphony, I was obsessed with Mahler and Bruckner. One day I had driven to the record story to add Mahler 4 to my collection. I expected it to have the same massive brass gestures that Symphonies 1–3 had. I listened to the whole thing, waiting for the inevitable explosion, but it never came. No trombones at all. That’s where something funny happened. Instead of being disappointed, I fell in love with the Adagio, which I still consider one of the best moments in all of Mahler’s symphonic output.

The slow movement in Separate Self embodies a lot of what fascinates me about the classical (in the broadest sense) slow movement: using sound to create quietness, stillness through motion, stretching time, the feeling that words would be inadequate to the task of what you are trying to express… But not only inadequate; it’s the feeling that words would actually do violence the idea. Or course, we wouldn’t want that to happen, so here’s the music, performed here by IonSound Project.

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Separate Self Audio Excerpts

Finally posting some audio excerpts from IonSound’s premiere of Separate Self back in March. What can I say? I lead a full life! Find out all about Separate Self and listen to excerpts from all three movements. The clip below features brilliant playing by violinist Laura Motchalov, pianist Jack Kurutz, and drummer Dan Zawodniak.

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OGC Rehearsal for Reflexions

OGC-Caplet-Reh.

I was at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Pittsburgh recording the dress rehearsal for the Oakland Girls Chamber Choir performance on Saturday night. The choir, ensemble, and magnificent soprano Laura Very sounded terrific. Back when I was freelancing as a trombonist I performed at First Pres, but it had been a long time, and I’d forgotten how unique the acoustic is there. You expect a large stone church to be very washy, but as music director Anne Smith explained to me, this church was designed around the minster being heard easily from the pulpit at every point in the sanctuary. The result is that text projects with absolute clarity so it’s a wonderful place to sing!

The mics on the stand are a pair of Rode NT2-As in a Blumlein array. I don’t see many people using a Blumlein pair, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. You get the stable stereo image of a coincident pair and some of the roominess of a spaced omni pair, but with just the two mics. The NT2-A is extremely flat in figure eight mode, so it’s very nice for capturing acoustic music. I experimented with using various spot mics over the course of the rehearsal, but by far the best sound in this venue and with these musicians was just the simple stereo pair, so that’s what we’ll do on Saturday night.

Speaking of Oakland Girls Choir…

Pittsburgh School for the Choral Arts, parent organization for Oakland Girls Choir, just published their new Web site, including some tracks from a live recording I made of OGCs’ 2012 Christmas concert. The whole concert will be on a CD to be released next fall, but in the meantime, you can hear some excerpts here.

There are many fine musical moments from this performance, but one of my favorites is Rise up Shepherd by Mark Hayes. It features all three choirs together, from the youngest first graders to the seniors in high school. You really hear the progression and maturation of the girls’ voices, where they started and where they are headed, and yet it’s wonderful and energizing at every level.

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Animé BOP! Screens Virgil Cantini Film, Performs my Score

April 14, 2013
7:00 pm

Bellefield Hall Auditorium, Free

Anime-Bop

L-R: Linda Fisher, bassoon; Robin Driscoll, oboe; Rob Frankenberry, piano

I’m delighted that Pittsburgh trio Animé BOP! will screen Will Zavala’s film Virgil Cantini: The Artist in Public while performing my score for said film live. Will and I have been working closely with Animé BOP! bassoonist Linda Fisher to make some minor revisions to the film and the music so that it’s more suitable to a concert setting. It will run abut 8 1/2 minutes total and include many familiar scenes around the city, clips from Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, and some wonderful glimpses into Cantini’s studio. In short, it’s a film that is truly steeped in Pittsburgh’s cultural life.

Will and I first collaborated in 2009 on the film about Cantini, the founder of Pitt’s Studio Arts program whose sculptures occupy prominent places around the Pittsburgh cityscape. The impetus for the film was the ongoing Artists on Film project cosponsored by Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and we’re delighted that it continues to hold appeal and find new audiences.

Animé BOP! is calling the concert The Pittsburgh Composers and along with Will’s film and my score, it will include Nancy Galbraith’s Incantation & Allegro, James Ogburn’s Complements and Collisions, the premieres of eX (e to the x) by Mark S. Fromm  and Semplicemente by Noah Rectenwald, and Robert Frankenberry’s arrangement of Daron Aric Hagen’s Tryst.

I hope you can make it!