Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Flutist Laura Falzon Performs Alvin Singleton's 'Argoru III' at AMNA Conference at UCLA Oct. 22

[Sing to the Sun: Chamber Music by Alvin Singleton, Troy 902 (2007)]

On Oct. 8, 2009 AfriClassical posted “Flutist Laura Falzon Performs Alvin Singleton's 'Argoru III' AMNA Conference, UCLA Oct. 22.” Immediately after interviewing Laura Falzon yesterday, we learned that Sequenza21.com had posted a highly relevant article entitled: "ARGORU: Variations on an African Theme - Flutist Laura Falzon performs Two World and one US premiere in a concert featuring works by El-Dabh, Singleton, Fairouz, Euba, Camilleri, Moorman, Smith and Travis in Los Angeles California on Thurs, Oct. 22nd 2009." It is a reminder that this flutist of Canadian birth, Maltese heritage and a cosmopolitan outlook is a major force on the global contemporary music scene. Her website lists dozens of premieres, many involving Composers of African Descent.

It's very nice of you to take some time out for us in what has to be a busy week with the AMNA Conference coming up?
Yes, it is! Well thank you for inviting me to do this!
You're more than welcome! Normally, I would have asked someone about the unique aspects of a multicultural program, but that seems to be your whole career!
Yes, it's true. In 1991, through another composer that I worked with a lot, somebody from Malta...
Charles Camilleri?
I have some of his piano music on the Olympia label.
Oh, well he is the first one who introduced me to contemporary music and I did a lot of work with him.
He is the one who introduced you?
Yes, he introduced me to Akin in London. I met Camilleri in 1983, or something like that.
We have his biography at my website and I know that when he was at Churchill College Akin Euba started this movement which has led to the UCLA Conference.
Yes, Akin Euba is the one. He has his center in London. Do you want me to talk a little bit about Charles?
Just briefly, and then we can talk about Alvin Singleton.
Charles, who is from Malta, he actually was born in Malta, but then he went to Australia, worked in Canada, worked in England, with music of course. He was a conductor for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as well. When he was very young, he was a piano/accordion prodigy. He came to Malta in the late Sixties. In the early Eighties I was already working with the National Orchestra of Malta, but in those days I was still a part-timer, and we were playing this concerto, his “Maqam Concerto for Piano.” He heard me play in the orchestra and he asked somebody to phone me to let me know that he wanted me to go to his house to discuss and introduce me to his works for flute. Eventually, he invited me to perform his work in various Mediterranean Festivals. So I joined him and other musicians and went to Greece. It was the Year of Music celebrated by UNESCO. We also went to France and Italy on a concert tour.
So it started in Greece?
Yes, our collaboration started in Greece. Eventually he wrote more than 10 pieces for me. This included a whole range of instrumental combinations, like flute solos, he wrote for flute and piano, chamber music, and with the Chamber Orchestra and then a big flute concerto which I haven't premiered yet. That was the last piece. Unfortunately, Charles died this year, on January the 3rd.
Yes, that's too bad. It must be a loss.
Yes, a great loss. So after the Mediterranean tour I was introduced to intercultural music. Then I moved to Britain, and Charles phoned - he was still in Malta – and asked “What do you think about playing in this festival?” Of course I had just arrived in England and I was very excited about it, and Akin Euba was organizing this.
Akin has this Center called “Center for Intercultural Music Art”...
So it's called “CIMA.”
After that I was asked to play some music by African composers, and Akin sent me the pieces he wanted me to play. And that's how I became more and more involved in intercultural music! So from then on Akin organized festivals in Cambridge University. This was only the second festival. So then I did performances for him at Cambridge University, London University, and then eventually we did a Rockefeller Residency together.
How long did that last?
That was only for a couple of weeks. It was in Bellagio, Italy. And then six months later, it was like following the other one, in Pittsburgh where Akin eventually was based.
It was quite a lot of people. For instance, there was somebody performing Yoruba drums. There was also somebody I also did a lot of work with. I only got to know her in Pittsburgh. She was performing a Chinese Ku Cheng. There was an Indian vocalist, there was me, on Western flute...
Was Dawn Padmore in that?
No, Dawn Padmore was not in Pittsburgh. I only met Dawn in 2003, I think.
I see.
Actually, we have a group together, me, Dawn and the pianist.
Is that the “Id-Dinja Ensemble”?
Yes, it is. And “Id-Dinja” is a Maltese word which means “the world”, because we try to perform music by composers basically who write intercultural music. Dawn is a great singer. We actually have a concert together when we come back on Nov. 4th. We'll play some pieces by Akin Euba. Do you know Joshua Uzoigwe?
Yes. I know about him.
Yes, because he's wonderful...
He's one of the African composers on the Composers of African Descent piano album by William Chapman Nyaho?
Yes. And I think on your blog, one of the other composers that you have that I've worked with is called Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.
Oh, yes! He died in 2004.
In 2002 or 2003 I performed his U.K. premiere of his “Sonata for Flute and Piano” and he came for the occasion.
He did?
Yes. I think he mentions it on the website as well, because there is a recording.
Oh, okay.
Through Akin, over all these years, I performed a lot of works, for instance by Halim El Dabh...
He's Egyptian, isn't he?
Yes, and by a lot of other composers, including then British composers so I used to get money through grants from the British Arts Council to commission inter-cultural works. For instance, somebody who's very well known in England, a composer called Geoff Poole. Akin and I got him to write a piece for flute with Korean harp. We premiered it in one of Akin's festivals. But I was the one who applied and got a commissioning grant. Then there's somebody else who's not African but Indian. Do you know John Mayer?
I only read the name at your website.
John Mayer, in England, again is a very well known composer. Unfortunately he died about three or four years ago. He comes from India; he was actually born in Calcutta but eventually went to the Royal Academy of Music in London, became a violin player but he also studied composition. He made his name through a concerto for James Galway, and it was again Akin who introduced me to him. Akin phoned and said “I'd like you to play this piece for flute, piano and tampura.” I said “Well, I would but I don't even know what a tampura is!” So then Akin called the composer, and he called back and he said “Oh, you know the composer is going to play tampura at the concert.” I said “Oh, that's great!” I think this was in 2000. So we did this, which was a piece called “Sri Krishna” for flute, piano and tampura, which again was also written for James Galway. Then after that John Mayer wanted to write a piece for me for flute and Indian instruments. We did that. We got a big commission from the Arts Council of England and we premiered it at Warwick Festival in the North of England.
It was called “Padma Phool.” It was for flute and Indian instruments. He used three instruments, tampura, which he played when we performed it a couple of times, sitar, which his son played, and padma, played by a performer named Neil Drake if I remember correctly. This is what I remember, because I did a lot of work. So Akin prompted it all, and then eventually I carried on working on all these new pieces that I commissioned as well.
You were there at the beginning, virtually?
So this is nothing new to you?
No, to me this seems a natural course of developing one's repertoire and enriching it by moving across cultures and bringing them together. A couple of years ago I also organized a big concert for Akin here. We worked on a musical piece by Akin called “Below Rusumo Falls.” Again it's for a number of people, including a dancer. Dawn was there. Bongani Ndodana was the conductor when we premiered this.
I think he's from Toronto, if I remember, but originally from South Africa?
Yes, exactly. So I'm trying to get – there's a new festival in Washington, D.C. called “Intersections”, which again is about race, culture and identity.
When would that be?
If it happens, it's a new festival which happens over about three weeks between February and March.
Are you based in the United States temporarily?
It's not temporary. I've been in New York City for 5 years. You never know whether I will end up back in England. My husband took up a professorship at Columbia University 5 years ago.
How did Alvin Singleton come to your attention?
I recently was working with another Egyptian composer. He's very young, he's going to be 24 years old in a couple of weeks. His name is Mohammed Fairouz. He studied with Halim El Dabh and apparently Halim recommended him to work with me. We decided to work on a new piece for flute and piano together. I only premiered this piece a couple of weeks ago, in New York at a place called “Le Poisson Rouge” which is a new place. They are doing a lot of great concerts there. Alvin's name was mentioned by Akin. Akin said “You know what composer you would be interested in?” He was mentioning a couple of names, and then I did some research and I really liked what I read about Alvin and also what I heard at his website. So then I got in touch, through the publisher, and then Alvin phoned. We had this long conversation and I actually got to know him. He was telling me about all his family, and unfortunately both his siblings died, and he was born in Brooklyn, and all these things. So then we discussed what music he already had for flute, and he only has actually two pieces. He's got this piece, which is for flute solo that I'm going to play which is called “Argoru No. III” because he's got a lot of pieces called Argoru and they are numbered differently.
I see.
This one is number three in the series. Basically “Argoru”, according to the composer, is a word in a Ghanaian language.
That's the Twi language?
Yes, which means “to play.” And if you look at the score of the piece, there are no bar lines and it is very, very free for the composer. In fact, Alvin said “It's like a blueprint or map,” designed by him and to be developed further by the musicians.
There's room for you then to improvise?
Yes, so I actually tried. I remember the first time I got the score. First he sent me an mp3 and then I got the score, I said “Oh, this is very free. This is very pertinent because I am doing some research on the conductor's view of music interpretation as it relates to contemporary music at Columbia University.” He was interested too, so I thought “Oh, I think I'm going to have a lot to say about the piece eventually.” Yes, so he leaves it very open.
How long is the piece?
It's only about five minutes. That is not very long, but it's a wonderful piece! For some people, it might create a problem, because he leaves it too free for the performer. But for other people, like me, I enjoy it.
Are there suggestions that it would be lively in the way that it is played, or soothing or what?
He does give the metronome markings, but then there are a lot of runs, after the second note. For somebody who hasn't played contemporary music, it would be a bit confusing, because there's a lot of room for interpretation by the performer.
I see.
It's not like a note in words, like from my research and reading, Umberto Eco talks about the “open work,” for instance Berio's "Sequenza” for flute, which initially he wrote without any bar line. This is a bit similar. Alvin is well studied in Italy with Petrassi, and actually his publisher also wanted to know my take on it, and I said probably another aspect of my affinity for his music might be because I also have an Italian background and I studied with somebody who studied with Severino Gazzelloni when I was young, and I was obsessed with this Italian flute player.
So you can trace your own influence to the Italian heritage?
Is there anything else that you'd like to say about your work that you're going to play, Laura?
I love the piece! Of course, it's my first time that I'm going to play it. We're also playing the New York premiere next year, because it hasn't been given a New York premiere yet.
I see.
So I'll still be working, even after the performance on Thursday on the nuances that would shape the piece. I have a little bit more say than usual then, so yes, I love that.
Well, I really appreciate your taking your time to explain the work that you're going to perform. I hope everything goes beautifully for you on Thursday. Your website has many sound samples, and you list some of the recordings also.
When I put the performance on YouTube I'll send you a link.
That would be very much appreciated!
I promised Halim, even though I have 5 other concerts after this!


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