Meet the Composer

Meet the Composer

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Meet the Composer is a Peabody Award-winning podcast that takes listeners into the minds of the composers making some of the most innovative and breathtakingly beautiful music today.

Episodes

Kickstart Season Three  

Hi, I’m Nadia Sirota, host of Meet the Composer (MTC). MTC is a podcast that confronts the artists and art that move us, using radio storytelling to tease out what makes these pieces and people tick. We aim to share the music we love with anyone who is down to listen. Music can be tricky to talk about, so when words fail, Meet the Composer uses all of the tools in our arsenal – sound design, phrasing, underscoring, and sonic embroidery – to share what we love about music with our audience. MTC is art and artists, exposed.

Just a few weeks ago, we were blown away to hear that MTC won a 2015 Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor, praise which put us in the heady company of Radiolab and This American Life. The Peabody committee described MTC as “Fascinating, intelligent, enlightening podcasts devoted to the work of current classical composers. The show integrates music with thoughtful conversation about it without distracting from either.”

We've been humbled by the overwhelming reception from our listeners. Since the show launched in June 2014, listeners from 183 countries have downloaded MTC more than 540,000 times! We've also had big shout-outs from The Guardian and The New York Times with the headlines “Meet the Composer: the podcast that's demystifying classical music” and “With ‘Meet the Composer,’ Nadia Sirota Illuminates New Music.”

Both seasons were funded in large part by your contributions via Kickstarter, so, honestly, we could not have made this happen without your support. We hope we have rewarded your trust with beautiful, composed radio, and we want to start making you more. 

With our upcoming third season, we are excited to take on new formats for the show and to follow creative themes past individual composers to stranger and more exotic conclusions. An emphasis on the driving forces that compel composers to put pen to paper will be a key component of Season Three. We will continue to profile composers but also unpack breakthrough pieces and dig into those moments when musical styles clashed, flirted and mutated between all types of composers, both living and dead! We will continue to compose radio with probing interviews, expert commentary and through-composed sound design.

Learn about our current and critical Kickstarter campaign and help today to make Season Three a reality

Bonus Track: 'Viola Concerto: Part II' by Nico Muhly  

I'm so excited to share today's Meet the Composer bonus track with you. Last October, I traveled to Detroit to perform the US premiere of Nico Muhly's viola concerto with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Leonard Slatkin. The orchestra has graciously agreed to let us use the second movement of the viola concerto for our show for three months, so this is our first ever LIMITED-TIME bonus track. 

Nico wrote the concerto in 2014, and in a lot of ways it's the fruit of 10 years of our working together. The piece is in three movements, and this movement, Part II, is sort of the emotional heart of the piece. It's soulful and colorful and I adore playing it. 

At the end of the movement the viola line suffers a sort of massive emotional breakdown, which is then answered by a huge orchestral explosion, featuring a giant tam-tam (gong) and all sorts of low-brass rumbles. In the aftermath, individual members of the orchestra play small phrases independently of each other, finally reuniting in a wounded coda. 

This is my favorite part of the concerto to play. 

Many, many thanks to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Slatkin for making this bonus track possible!

Nico Muhly: Community Theater  

First, a disclaimer. I wanna make something clear right off the bat here: I'm completely in the tank for Nico Muhly. We went to college together and he has been one of my best friends and most frequent collaborators ever since. But! He is deeply gifted creator, and honestly I'd feel insane not featuring him just because we're close.

Okay.

Nico is a composer with a very specific point of view – a rabid communicator whose personality factors massively in his work. Nico works extremely well with others; his collaborators live and create in an environment that is just foreign enough to instigate surprising, brilliant results. He curates community on a grand scale, corresponding with dozens of people a day, and is the hardest working person I have ever met. Nico lives his life out loud, and his music is stunning, hilarious, touching, and brilliant. - Nadia Sirota

Bonus Track: 'Scape' by Anna Thorvaldsdottir  

This week’s Meet the Composer Bonus Track is a world premiere recording of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s piano work Scape. Scape, like many of Anna’s works, uses extended techniques to create unique, otherworldly textures. For this piece, Anna demands quite a bit of playing INSIDE the instrument, as well as a few somewhat unconventional preparations to the instrument itself.

Prepared piano basically means a piano with stuff in it, screws, thimbles, tin foil, pieces of paper, the type of thing that’ll make a piano technician start to sweat. The first couple people to do this type of thing were crazy Americans, Henry Cowell and John Cage. Definitely take a moment to check those guys out, if you have a sec.

Anna, very much in keeping with her timbral language, uses these techniques to carve out massive swaths of sonic texture, creating a huge universe in a relatively limited time frame.

A couple weeks ago, Cory Smythe, pianist for the International Contemporary Ensemble, stopped by the Q2 Music studios to create the beautiful world premiere recording. –Nadia Sirota

Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Composing Is Second Nature  

Anna Thorvaldsdottir is an Icelandic composer whose work conjures entire environments of sound, surrounding the listener in a dark and forbidding landscape. Anna thinks sonically; her music comes from a deeply non-verbal place, and she has developed a brilliant workflow which allows these ideas to remain mostly whole and unmolested through her creative process. Anna often favors massive ensembles, writing delicate and detailed parts for every player, but even when she is writing for smaller forces, she somehow summons these massive sonorities — detailed, elegant tapestries with a seductive gravity, which pull the listener in with their gradually revolving color and texture. - Nadia Sirota

Bonus Track: The Lost Movement of Ingram Marshall's String Quartet, "Voces Resonae"  

Today’s MTC bonus track is a WORLD PREMIERE! Or, apropos of its October release, we might call it a movement brought back from the dead. This undead movement was born back in 1981, when Ingram Marshall wrote a string quartet for the Kronos Quartet called Voces Resonae.

The piece employed, among other things, very complicated choreography for a sound engineer operating delay units (big physical boxes about the size of say a DVD player), a task which, at the time, was completed by Ingram himself. However, when the third movement of this work, "Turbulent but flowing," proved too logistically complex to be performed, it was essentially put in a drawer, where it has remained for the last thirty-some years. 

That’s where we come in! MTC has enlisted the fabulous Parker Quartet to help us rescue this lost movement, with the help of MTC producer Curtis Macdonald playing the role of, as Ingram put it, “the mad scientist in the middle.”  Except in our contemporary take on the piece, all the delays and echoes are created with software instead of hardware. 

The Parker Quartet is:

Daniel Chong, violin
Ying Xue, violin
Jessica Bodner, viola
Kee-Hyun Kim, cello

We hope you enjoy the Lost Movement! - Nadia Sirota

Special thanks to publisher Peermusic Classical for allowing this usage.

Ingram Marshall: A Connecticut Hippie In California  

Ingram Marshall is often called a California Minimalist, a title which, while not exactly geographically accurate, allies him with a loose cadre of artists writing ambient, visceral scores. It’s a title he’ll happily wear, but it only vaguely describes they art he makes.

Ingram is kind of a throwback – a free-thinker making music on his own, music that accesses a deep, emotional place. His music leaves the listener gutted, keyed into something beyond consciousness. It’s ambience with a purpose, slowly inevitably unfolding towards a climax. - Nadia Sirota

Immerse yourself in Ingram Marshall's music with our weeklong pop-up stream

Bonus Track: LPR Live Preview  

I’m thrilled this week to give you a sneak peek of a new Q2 Music podcast called LPR Live coming out this Fall. It’s hosted by Conor Hanick, a longtime friend and radio colleague, a brilliant pianist and all-around sensitive and insightful advocate for new music. The performances will come from Greenwich Village's Le Poisson Rouge, a stalwart showcase for new music in New York City and a trendsetting venue that's been “serving art and alcohol since 2009.”

Here’s a quote from Conor about the show:

This is not your typical pre-concert hosting, and the content is not your typical pre-concert banter. Each episode of LPR Live will weave together a variety of voices that bring you into the heart of the beast of this dynamic downtown, underground performance space and into the personal aspects of the music’s creation and presentation. This is a podcast that will let this exciting new music take its first (digital) breath. Production will create a sonic space where each strand is able to “converse” with its surroundings, and the richness and multi-dimensionality of the voices themselves will create the form, almost like eavesdropping on a conversation in the performer’s greenroom.

Join me in welcoming LPR Live into the podcasting family, and stay tuned for more Meet the Composer goodies in the weeks to come. 

-Nadia Sirota

Bonus Track: 'Light and Matter' by Kaija Saariaho  

I am so thrilled to bring you this Meet the Composer Bonus Track! We are extremely lucky to present this recording of Kaija Saariaho's piano trio Light and Matter, taped live at the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress, just this past May 22 by the world-class ensemble of violinist Jennifer Koh, cellist Anssi Karttunen and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute.

It's lovely, colorful, and you are some of the first people to hear it... after Justice Ginsburg, of course!

The composer’s program note is below:

"The starting point for the music is light kinetic energy, which is then developed into more dramatic gestures and rapid exchanges among the three instruments. The piece advances in spinning motion, moving from the original luminous fabric into more thematic patterns or towards the inertia of slow choral textures, 11 before returning into the original weightlessness and starting a new flickering spin.

As a result, we hear three musical elements–kinetic texture, thematic motives and slowly moving choral material–in constantly changing combinations and orchestrations. I wrote this piece in New York, while watching from my window the changing light and colors of Morningside Park.

Besides providing me with the name for the piece, perhaps that continuous transformation of light on the glinting leaves and the immobile trunks of the solid trees became the inspiration for the musical materials in this piece."

I hope you enjoy!
-Nadia Sirota

Light and Matter (2014) is published by Chester Music, Ltd.

Commissioned by the Library of Congress Dina Koston and Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music (in honor of the 90th anniversary of Concerts from the Library of Congress), Britten Sinfonia and Norrbotten NEO, and co-commissioned by the Aeolian Chamber Players in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Bowdoin International Music Festival.

Engineering credits: Michael E. Turpin

Kaija Saariaho: Ears Open  

Kaija Saariaho's music evokes all sorts of natural sounds, the kinds of complex, white noise-y sounds that we often tune out. She's able to take the instruments of the orchestra and pull out of them the sound of wind rustling through trees, or waves hitting the shore. She's got this ear that can hear the music everything, but in not in a John Cage way — she's not putting all sounds on an equal playing field. Instead, she teases harmonies out of these sounds, finding notes that were aaaalmost there to begin with.

Kaija is famous for writing moving, visceral works full of difficult new instrumental techniques. She often writes for acoustic instruments with almost subliminal electronic manipulation — it's hard to tell where the performer leaves off and the electronics begin, and she's written full scale operas, often with strong, historically-inspired female protagonists, grappling with huge themes, love and death, that kind of thing. - Nadia Sirota

Bonus Track: 'Stringsongs' by Meredith Monk  

I am absolutely THRILLED to present this week’s bonus track, an exclusive in-studio performance of Meredith Monk’s transcendent string quartet Stringsongs.

Stringsongs is Meredith’s first string quartet. Written in 2005, the piece was premiered by the Kronos Quartet. I am extremely proud to share this piece now, in a performance by the inimitable ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble) in the Q2 Music studios.

In the Meet The Composer: Meredith Monk episode, we spent a considerable amount of time focusing on the fascinating processes Meredith has employed constructing some of her vocal music — namely, her using her vocal ensemble to workshop ideas in the air. Stringsongs is an example of a completely different working style; these days, Meredith has been writing more and more scored, instrumental music, and Stringsongs was developed very much that way. The piece is in four movements: "Cliff Light," "Tendrils," "Obsidian Chorale," and "Phantom Strings." This work is a gorgeous example of Meredith lending her gilded aesthetic to a very Classical format.

The composer’s program note is below:

In Stringsongs, my first piece for string quartet, I explored using instruments to create unexpected textures and sounds in much the same way that I have worked with the voice over many years.  I was inspired by the profound musicianship and passionate commitment of the Kronos Quartet. During the rehearsal period, as I got to know the players, the music came to life in surprising ways, colored by the distinctive "voice" of each musician.  

Stringsongs is published by Boosey & Hawkes.

This recording session was engineered by Irene Trudel.

Meredith Monk: Creation as Spiritual Practice  

Living legend Meredith Monk is a composer, vocalist, dancer,choreographer and filmmaker. While all of these descriptors are technically on point, none quite gets to the bones of who she is as an artist. Meredith seamlessly blends these media into arresting performance pieces that feel like rituals -- rites from another dimension. While most of her music has no text, it somehow communicates volumes.

For Meredith, words are too "pointy," and can never get at the spaces between emotions. Meredith has been crafting these meticulous works for over fifty years now, and she's never satisfied unless she's pushing herself to find something new, something special. 

Watch an episode of Q2 Spaces in Meredith's Tribeca home-studio:

 

Announcing Season Two  

Hi, I'm Nadia Sirota, host of Q2 Music's Meet the Composer (MTC). We set out to create something really different with MTC – a look into the minds and creative processes of composers making some of the most innovative, strange and breathtakingly beautiful music today. And we wanted to make these audio portraits feel like a musical experience.

Because you supported our Season One Kickstarter, we were able to bring to life our first five hour-long, fully sound-designed episodes. We couldn't have done it without your help. We're so proud of how Season One turned out and so thrilled that MTC spoke to you

You listened to Meet the Composer over 200,000 times from over 70 countries, via iTunes, wqxr.org and wnyc.org. Tens of thousands heard MTC on terrestrial radio in New York (WNYC), but also in Los Angeles and soon Chicago. We got some great coverage for Season One, including from Radiolab, the BBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Vogue plus a wealth of comments and social media posts you can check out here.

Here's what Jad Abumrad of WNYC's Radiolab had to say: "Compelling and beautifully produced. One of the best things I've heard in a long time... Talking about music in a way that's compelling can be hard. And so when people do it well, I just feel like you gotta give them props."

Help us make Season Two a reality. Learn about our five featured Season Two composers and support Meet the Composer today on Kickstarter

Bonus Track: 'Intercepting a Shivery Light' by Marcos Balter  

Building on a long-standing collaborative relationship, Marcos Balter wrote Intercepting a Shivery Light for the Anubis Quartet, a saxophone ensemble, in 2012. The piece's title is an anagram for Everything in its Right Place, a Radiohead song, which Marcos admits is an important song for him "and many members of [his] generation."

The saxophone quartet is a particularly pliable medium, in that the four members can blend seamlessly in a way that's impossible for other instrument groups (gauntlet thrown!). As a result, this piece is an excellent example of one of the hallmarks of Marcos' music: turning a group of people into one thing (for the record, he also likes to turn one person into a whole group of people; check out his Memória for solo cello).

This month's Bonus Track is a live recording of the Anubis Quartet performing Intercepting a Shivery Light, from the world premiere at the Music Institute of Chicago in 2012. The Anubis Quartet is Allison Balcetis, David Wegehaupt, Sean Patayanikorn, and Ryan Muncy.

Marcos Balter: Failure Is an Option  

For Marcos Balter, stellar composition requires the dedicated, daily practice of an athlete. He doesn't think it possible to unearth and hone brilliant musical ideas without slogging through a whole bunch of failures along the way, nor does he believe that the compositional demigods we revere so highly – Bach, Beethoven, Mozart – birthed only masterpieces. He worries too many creatives get tongue-tied attempting consistent genius, and that their work suffers for it. Marcos has learned to embrace failure, and that these failures can lead to incredible breakthroughs.

Marcos is a composer whose manic energy and relentless work ethic effuse from everything he touches: friendships, pedagogy, and especially his music. His fast-talking, whip-smart style is easy to detect in his intricate scores. His music reverberates and pulses with energy, sometimes in such a small container, or in such a demure dynamic that the score feels almost radioactive.

Marcos Balter's point of view is singular; he can roll with the modernists and the minimalists with ease, and yet his music doesn't really fit any particular rubric. His carefully constructed works have fine grammar, well-planned architecture and often astonishing material. He is a master at finding unexpected timbral rhyme that delights and surprises.

Bonus Track: 'Its Motion Keeps' by Caroline Shaw  

In 2012, the Grammy award-winning Brooklyn Youth Chorus commissioned the the future Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw to write a new work for their upcoming Benjamin Britten centenary celebration concert at Carnegie Hall. The result, "Its Motion Keeps," is a swirling piece for SSA choir and viola that employs at once the familiar (repetitive, calming ostinati) with the strange (extended techniques, clashing dissonance).

On September 16th, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus (under the direction of conductor Dianne Berkun-Menaker), joined us in the Jerome L. Greene Space to perform for a live recording alongside Caroline Shaw herself on the viola. As part of an exclusive Meet the Composer Bonus Track, download "Its Motion Keeps" by Caroline Shaw.

Caroline Shaw Lives Life Beautifully  

Caroline Shaw began her love affair with music at the age of two, when her mom started teaching her violin. Throughout her childhood, Caroline had a lesson every Wednesday afternoon, and sang and played in school and at music camps, falling for chamber music by Mozart and Clara Schumann. Caroline always made things; when she was bowled over by a Brahms sonata, she'd try and figure out how to construct her own sonatas. As a young adult, she continued on a rigorous, violin-centric path, earning both undergrad and masters degrees in violin performance from Rice University and the the Yale School of Music.

But after Yale, her life took a slight detour; Caroline had never stopped writing, and despite having never had a formal lesson in her life, Caroline was accepted to Princeton University's PhD program in composition. Just two years later, at age 30, she became youngest person ever to win the Pulitzer Prize in music. Tune in to find out how Caroline synthesizes old forms with new techniques to create her arresting, beautiful music.

Bonus Track: Excerpts from The Hunger by Donnacha Dennehy  

In 1844, Asenath Nicholson, a school teacher, reformer and proprietor of an all-vegetarian boarding house in New York City, travelled to Ireland to "personally investigate the condition of the Irish poor." Upon her arrival, she saw the beginnings of the Great Famine, a seven-year period of mass starvation and disease in which it is estimated over one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland. Nicholson's writings and first-hand observations from the time are stitched together to form the narrative backdrop of The Hunger, a multi-media opera by Donnacha Dennehy.

Commissioned by Alarm Will Sound, The Hunger provides an overtly emotional and personal account of the devastation created by the famine. Interwoven into the live performance are vintage recordings of sean nós (old style) Irish folk tunes as well as video clips of economists and historians discussing the social-political causes and ramifications of the disaster.

As part of an exclusive Meet the Composer Bonus Track, download movements one, two and five of The Hunger, a work-in-progress that was performed at the Sheldon Hall in St. Louis by Alarm Will Sound and mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway. 

Donnacha Dennehy: Composing With Frequency  

Donnacha Dennehy is an Irish composer who thought he was going to study with spectral icon Gérard Grisey in Paris. When he showed up, however, it was apparent that Grisey had accepted him into his study under the mistaken notion that he was not, in fact, a gentleman but a lady.

A bit put off by Grisey's visible disappointment with his gender, as well as the strikingly uninteresting uniformity in the style of his students work, Donnacha headed to Amsterdam, where he met Louis Andriessen, who changed his life. Donnacha's music fuses the old (sean-nós and other Irish styles) and the new (just intonation, pulse-based textures) to create something all his own. It's a music that is at once satisfying and supremely strange.

Bonus Track: "Sabina" from The Companion Guide to Rome by Andrew Norman  

In 2007, composer and newly minted Rome Prize-recipient Andrew Norman found himself among 15 artists and 15 scholars heading to the Eternal City for a period of several months of reflection and writing. The defining work produced from this opportunity was The Companion Guide to Rome, a 30-plus minute string trio in nine movements, each one taking cue from a different Roman church, that in 2012 was named as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. 

Norman describes the work as being "informed by the proportions of the churches, the qualities of their surfaces, the patterns in their floors, the artwork on their walls, and the lives and legends of the saints whose names they bear. The more I worked on these miniatures, the less they had to do with actual buildings and the more they became character studies of imaginary people, my companions for a year of living in the Eternal City."

As part of a Meet the Composer Bonus Track, download the movement "Sabina" (inspired the church of Santa Sabina, and arranged here for string quartet) from the Calder Quartet's upcoming "Eclectic Currents" album.

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