#SaturdaySounds: Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte op. 19 no. 1

Misuse the word song in conversation, and you’re sure to rankle even the most gracious classical musician. It may be a subtle error, but go ahead! Try it. See if they don’t correct your language–or wince a little, at least. To those interested the rationale for this reaction, a song, according to the Harvard Dictionary of Music, is “a form of musical expression in which the human voice has the principal role and is the carrier of text…” Note the key elements: human voice (singer) and text (lyrics). By that definition, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony CAN’T be a groovy song, dude. We call that a piece, or “a composition, especially but not necessarily an instrumental one” (Ibid). So, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is also a piece–because yes, it has singers and lyrics, but only in its final movement.

Okay, enough with the definitions and on to some music. Today, I’m listening to Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Songs Without Words (Lieder ohne Worte), op. 19, no. 1. Notice the use of the word song? “But it’s a piano piece. There are no words! No singer,” I hear you grumble. Yes. I could wax musicologist now and write about characteristics of the Romantic Era, with its shift away from strict Classic Era structures, its lyricism and “emphasis on the indefinable and the infinite” (Ibid). But there are already plenty of sources that describe the music of the Romantics. (Check out links here and here, or go to good music history book, like Norton’s History of Western Music.)

I’d rather write about this one little wordless song: Andante con moto (Walking, with motion). It crystalizes the things I love most about Mendelssohn’s music: its innate sense of hope, purity, and energy. It’s as though his compositions, even in their stormy moments, were bathed in glimmering yellow sunshine. Perhaps that has something to do with upward melodic gestures (Schenker friends, I’m not talking about the Ursatz, don’t get mad). Personally, though, I think Mendelssohn’s music was somehow impacted by his faith. Even now, he is often criticized for his sentimentality and lack of tortured Romantic emotion (à la Schumann or Mahler); but I feel as though I hear the song of his soul when I listen to him–a song too deep for words, evoking inner hope, peace, joy. Perhaps that’s what he meant by Lieder ohne Worte. 

Listen to this recording by Daniel Gortler and see if you’re not feeling more hopeful.

 

Published: Perspectives of New Music Article

I’m so excited to announce that my interview with Stuart Saunders Smith has been published by Perspectives of New Music. In our conversation, Dr. Smith explains his compositional process while we discuss his flute/light piece, The Circle of LightMy deep thanks to everyone at PNM, to Dr. and Sylvia Smith, and to Mark Engebretson and Erika Boysen.

Check out the article in PNM volume 55, no. 2!

Yeah, this is old school: UMBC guest artist adventures

For me, a trip to UMBC is always like a trip home. Sure, the music department has relocated to a new building, my friends have moved onwards and upwards, and some of my favorite faculty members have retired; but there’s something special about remembering your own undergraduate bildungsroman. Whenever I visit campus, I catch ghostly glimpses of things I learned while there: about myself, music, the world. There are apparitions of past joys, heartaches, victories, defeats, and friendships. My heart always fills with thanks when I reflect on any of this.

Imagine my excitement when I was invited to come play a UMBC guest artist recital, as well as stop by classes that I once took myself: Careers in music (MUSC 323), Flute repertoire class (MUSC 193, 194, 390, 391, 392, 393), and Linehan Artist Scholar freshman seminar (LAS 121H). It was déjà vu all over again. My heartfelt thanks to Lisa Cella and Doug Hamby, as well as the rest of the UMBC Department of Music for these opportunities!

This flute/light recital was a beautiful collision of some of my Maryland and North Carolina friends, all incredible musicians and wonderful people: lighting technician (and flutist!) Willie Santiago, sound engineer Sarah Baugher, composers Nick Rich and Jonathan Wall, percussionist Michelle Purdy, and double bassist Emily Damrel. (And I can’t forget Yoshi Horiguchi, who lent us a bass!) The craziest part of the story? Somehow, the performance managed to sell out! There’s no way I can fully express just how exciting this week has been, or just how deeply honored and thankful I am to have been back.

Go Retrievers!

Recital pics and videos will be coming soon.

Interview with Nicholas Rich–and “This is a picture of” PROMO!


Nick Rich is a North Carolina-based guitarist, composer, and songwriter. While we were both in the middle of our Master’s studies at UNCSA, he composed his Lennon Variations for the UNCSA flute ensemble: my introduction to his compositional voice. Influenced by his upbringing in a family that played Country-Western, Bluegrass, and Rock, Nick’s music explores the intersections of popular and experimental music. In Lennon Variations, he quoted John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” fragmenting, overlapping, and percolating the melody through the ensemble as it is slowly transformed into its recognizable, unified self. More recently, he composed a folk-flavored song cycle, Little Simple Song, funded by the Kenan Institute of the Arts.

I am so honored Nick has contributed to my flute/light project with “This is a picture of.” Its lighting concept (developed by Jonathan Wall) is unexpected and compelling, and its coy references to bluegrass (featuring pre-recorded samples by Rich Hartness) are downright fun. I can’t wait to premiere it at UMBC later this month! Until then, Nick generously answered some questions about the piece for me to share with you!

KD: What was your compositional process in writing “This is a picture of”?
NR: On the conceptual side of things, I spent a lot of time talking with Jonathan and Rich. Jonathan and I have done about half a dozen pieces together at this point, and we have a pretty productive working process that involves trying out and throwing out lots of ideas. His perspective is very important to me, even on pieces that we don’t work on together. Rich and I had several conversations that were much less about the art and more about the concepts: technology, communication, social media, accessibility, etc.
On the technical side of things, our piece centers around a photograph of Rich playing fiddle and his partner Tolly playing guitar. That photo generated the music both symbolically and literally. I spent an evening playing music with Rich and recorded it, later developing the electronic backing track from the sound of his fiddle. The music I wrote for the live instrumentalists starts out rather experimental but moves closer to folk as the piece progresses. The text was generated by feeding that photo, and small excerpts from it, into various kinds of AI photo-captioning software. The singers sing about the photo from the software’s perspective. Finally, Jonathan subjected the photo to neural network software, as well as more traditional kinds of image processing, to create his projection.

KD: Did any particular ideas, concepts, or stories inspire your piece?
NR: Rich and I met at a Bluegrass/Old Time convention about a year and a half ago. We bonded over some vintage guitars that I had with me, and shortly after that found that we also share a fascination with electronic music and technology. He’s great with technology in general, has lots of programming experience, and messed around with early synthesizers and voltage control devices a while back. So the idea of doing some sort of piece combining digital media and folk music makes sense in the context of our friendship and shared interests. As we talked more over the months, I learned about his journey with visual impairment and accessibility, and my mind and perspective really opened. Coincidentally, around the time you asked me about doing a piece, I saw some conversations on Twitter about photo captions and accessibility, and the ideas for the piece started falling into place. I asked Rich if he’d be open to doing a piece that incorporated these themes, and he was.

KD: Do you have any previous experience with lighting art? Or, had you thought about the integration of music and light before my commission?
NR: Jonathan and I have done a few video pieces, but we haven’t used abstract lighting art as a medium. But, the idea wasn’t completely foreign. I worked a little bit in lighting design for a concert venue, which I enjoyed. In the live pop and rock world, lighting is a given–although, of course, it most often “accompanies” the music rather than occupying a central place in the art-making. Over the years I had seen lots of contemporary and experimental pieces that use light as a component in one way or another. Jonathan’s language with video is already fairly abstract and non-narrative, so I knew he would be willing and able to deliver a true “flute+light” piece in which all the components work together. I love that we were able to come up with a process in which the text, backing track, live music, and lighting all emerged from the same source.

KD: To what degree can the work be adapted for alternative performance spaces?
NR: In principle I’m in favor of adaptability. With this particular piece, I’ve thought about the possibility of a slimmer version–for example, solo flute+electronics. But I would have to think through it carefully; I generally don’t like “canned” sounds in the electronics, or pre-recorded versions of instruments that could be represented live. With the backing track as it is, there’s a special reason that the fiddle is represented electronically: it goes through a symbolic transformation from being heavily obscured and processed, to being fragmented and looped, to being fully revealed. If I were to somehow include the other instruments and voices in the backing track, I would want to mess them up quite a bit, so that they’re part of that process also.

KD: Would you consider composing for music and light intermedia again?
NR: I would definitely do this kind of intermedia project again. The combination of human performers and some technological component excites me more than either realm individually.

2018 Mid-Atlantic Flute Convention

It’s been a fun, snowy weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Flute Convention–meeting new people, getting to play some flute/light pieces, and catching up with old friends and teachers (go UMBC Department of Music flute studio alums!). Looking forward to more performances, coming soon: most notably, my guest artist recital at UMBC on March 29, 2018, featuring pieces from my flute/light commission project–including a world premiere of “This is a picture of” by Nicholas Rich.

2017 RAFA Artist Competition

It was so wonderful to be at the Raleigh Area Flute Association Flute Fair this year to play at the Artist Competition again–and to make new flute friends. What an encouraging surprise and honor, to win this time around! The RAFA board members were all so kind and the jury’s feedback was helpful. I so look forward to coming back to perform at the 2018 RAFA Flute Fair!

myUMBC, “Krisztina Dér Wins 1st Prize in RAFA Artist Competition!”

2017 Artist Competition Finalists (L to R): Krisztina Der, Megan Makeever, Jeiran Hasan. Photo Credit: Daryl Kessler, Riverview Photography.

Reformation 500

October 31, 2017 was a special day, for many reasons. An orchestra flashmob project I’ve been working on came to fruition: five performances of the finale of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony no. 5 at five locations in Greensboro, NC, in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. (That’s a lot of fives!) David Holley, Artistic Director of Greensboro Opera and UNCG professor, graciously agreed to conduct. I am deeply indebted to him and to the musicians who volunteered to play with us!

Our itinerary:
8:55 AM, Coffeeology
9:30 AM, Whole Foods Market
10:30 AM, Four Seasons Town Centre
11:20 AM, Piedmont Triad International Airport
12:20 AM, Center City Park

A video is forthcoming!
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