© Pala Garcia. All rights reserved.

LONGLEASH @ Ohio U

  Not too long ago, LONGLEASH enjoyed a welcome respite from the chaotic, slushy horror that is New York City in February. It came in the form of a short residency at Ohio University in Athens, where we were reunited with our dear friend and composer-collaborator Dr. Evan Antonellis, and graciously hosted by the composer and professor (and craft beer aficionado) Dr. Mark Phillips. We required significant caffeination the morning following our long drive to Ohio in order to do our presentation on extended techniques (but not for lack of passion for the topic). We’d selected favorite works from our own repertoire for an audience of composition students and a few curious instrumentalists, planning to use those works to discuss and demonstrate significant 21st century developments in extended technique. This topic stands at the intersection of new music and string pedagogy, which I’ve always found particularly fascinating. We live in an exciting age for extended performance practice – a time of rapid developments and a standardization of these new techniques. As these new techniques become incorporated into “common practice”, it is our responsibility as performers and educators to interpret and execute these techniques as accurately and effectively as the composer originally intended. However, there is also the “death principle” to morbidly consider -- for when a composer is no longer on this earth to answer questions about how to execute their special extended techniques. One always hopes (sometimes in vain) that sufficiently clear instructions were also included in that musical legacy for generations of interpreters to come. As our presentation progressed, we were pleasantly surprised that the students wholeheartedly matched our enthusiasm for this potentially esoteric topic. It speaks to the efficacy of an ingenious extended technique when well executed. When successful, such an effect transforms the sound of a familiar instrument into something unprecedented, previously unimaginable, rich and strange. Often I find that the effects draw on the common sound vocabulary of everyday life, communicating through a musical new language what we already know to be true. Students were particularly captivated by the cryptic, humorous effects in Helmut Lachenmann’s Toccatina, and the exhilarating, tabla-like rhythms of Stefano Scodanibbio’s Voyage Interrupted. Directly afterwards, Evan led us straight to Athens’ finest enchiladas at Casa Nueva – and we couldn’t have asked for better fuel to help us power through our program that evening of works by Younghi Pagh Paan, Reiko Füting, and Beat Furrer. We also gave our first ever performance of Wolfgang Rihm’s Fremde Szene III, the last of Rihm’s three “essays” for piano trio. Fremde Szenen are character pieces written in the early 1980’s. Inspired (none too subtly) by the works of German Romantic composers, the pieces feature mood changes so abrupt they would make Schumann himself a bit dizzy. While this music certainly poses technical challenges, what is most difficult is the potential conceptual awkwardness when style and character suddenly shift. Executing these strange moments in an effective, convincing manner is an artistic challenge that we will look forward to revisiting in the near future. Our second day in Athens began with a student composer reading. Eight talented student composers contributed works ranging from short sketches to fully developed pieces. They showed a variety of influences, from post-minimalism to traditional Persian music. While they varied wildly in style and form, all the pieces had one quality in common that we (and all musicians) deeply appreciate: clean, clear, correct notation. For many developing composition students, mastering notation software may seem secondary to the actual act of composition – but when real live musicians sit down to play a work, the impact of whether a piece is well notated or not becomes painfully apparent. I believe we have Dr. Antonellis and Dr. Phillips to thank for training the students to be conscientious engravers. One piece that particularly stood out was a clever set of 5 miniatures by Eli Chambers. The first four of the pieces alternate between noisy explorations of extended techniques in the strings and the piano, and more straightforward, rhythmically driven movements. The final miniature, a nod to Father Ives, features a beautiful, “delirious” piano solo, during which the strings to move to either side of the pianist to assist in a final pathos-filled chord. We concluded our residency in Athens with a discussion about Furrer’s Retour an Dich for Evan’s post-tonal class. This work is fantastic, an endless subject for discussion, because it contains such a wide variety of potential topics: notation, form, sound construction, independence vs. coordination, etc. The piece is structured around themes of memory and recognition. Throughout the work, the listener experiences a prolonged state of aural déjà vu, striving to decipher the origin of the musical fragments that appear and reappear. The performers are in a constant state of mutual pursuit, echoing each other's musical material but perpetually just out of reach of synchronicity. The piece is one of our favorites to play and interpret. We were thrilled for the opportunity to share it with such an inquisitive and attentive group of students. LONGLEASH so very much appreciates Dr. Evan Antonellis and Dr. Mark Phillips for the time, effort and care put into to scheduling the lectures, workshops, and performance. The warm reception, thoughtful students and attentive audiences made for an inspiring environment. We hope to return soon!   Dr. Mark Phillips is the Distinguished Professor of Composition at Ohio University, where he has taught since 1984. Working in both electronic and acoustic mediums, Mark’s works have been performed by orchestras including the St. Louis Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra, and artists such as Richard Stoltzman. Dr. Evan Antonellis is a Visiting Professor of Theory at Ohio University. He is the recipient of a BMI Award, a two-time finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Award, and has had his works performed in Germany, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and the US. LONGLEASH looks forward to premiering his new piano trio work in the 2014-2015 season.