Sunday, October 27, 2019

Music Kitchen "Forgotten Voices" #9 Featuring Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's "Music Kitchen Interplay"

Forgotten Voices World Premiere

Presented in Association with Carnegie Hall 

May 21, 2020 @ 7:30

Zankel Hall

Kelly Hall-Tompkins writes:

I'm so excited to introduce you to the Forgotten Voices September premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.  Though I had never had the honor of performing Ellen's work before, I am a big fan of her amazing and powerfully evocative writing, and I am honored that she joined this project!  Please read below about the shelter premiere, including the debut of our 4th and final Forgotten Voices featured singer, the wonderful bass Mark Risinger, for a poignant and unique contribution to this cycle.   I am simply thrilled that you will get to hear Ellen's "Music Kitchen Interplay" as well as the 14 other Forgotten Voices works in our Spring World Premiere Concert in Association with Carnegie Hall and at Zankel on May 21, 2020.
Oh yeah, and in case you were wondering:

Music Kitchen is still small.
We are just doing something REALLY BIG.
(and unprecedented and historic and...)
We rely on your generous support now more than ever!

In addition to the "Ticket of Support," many thanks and cheers to those both known and anonymous who are beginning to send donations our way through payroll deduction.  (Is it you?) If you wish to support Music Kitchen and the Forgotten Voices project, your support will also be most welcome by clicking here:
Thank you for all you do.
Warmest Regards,
Music Kitchen New York City - Photos by Gregory Routt

Premiere #9: September

Composer Highlight: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Photo by Bill Keefrey

Chosen Text:

"Never been so close to a violin, so emotional —excellent timing on the musicians part.  Kitchen Music was a blessing to my hungry body and soul.  How do you get the violin to talk like that?"


At a time when the musical offerings of the world are more varied than ever before, few composers have emerged with the unique personality of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Her music is widely known because it is performed, recorded, broadcast, and – above all – listened to and liked by all sorts of audiences the world over.

Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians [8th edition] states: "There are not many composers in the modern world who possess the lucky combination of writing music of substance and at the same time exercising an immediate appeal to mixed audiences. Zwilich offers this happy combination of purely technical excellence and a distinct power of communication."

A prolific composer in virtually all media, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s works have been performed by most of the leading American orchestras and by major ensembles abroad. Her works include five Symphonies and a string of concertos commissioned and performed over the past two decades by the nation’s top orchestras.

Zwilich is the recipient of numerous prizes and honors, including the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Music (the first woman ever to receive this coveted award), the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Music Prize, the Arturo Toscanini Music Critics Award, the Ernst von Dohnányi Citation, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, four Grammy nominations, the Alfred I. Dupont Award, Miami Performing Arts Center Award, the Medaglia d'oro in the G.B. Viotti Competition, and the NPR and WNYC Gotham Award for her contributions to the musical life of New York City. Among other distinctions, Ms. Zwilich has been elected to the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1995, she was named to the first Composer’s Chair in the history of Carnegie Hall, and she was designated Musical America’s Composer of the Year for 1999. Ms. Zwilich, who holds a doctorate from The Juilliard School, currently holds the Francis Eppes Distinguished Professorship at Florida State University.

Forgotten Voices Premiere #9

“Music Kitchen Interplay” by
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Kodaly Duo for Violin and Cello

Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violin

Peter Seidenberg, cello
Mark Risinger, bass voice

Today we had an intimate but potent ensemble for an intimate but potent crowd.  I was just thrilled to premiere the wonderful new Forgotten Voices Song by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and to pair it with my beloved Kodaly Duo, which made its Music Kitchen debut in today’s performance.

We began our rehearsal with the Kodaly and almost immediately, a woman with blond hair came in and sat down with such determined familiarity that I thought that perhaps she was an unmentioned guest of one of the artists.  She watched and listened to our rehearsal intently from the second row.  It wasn’t until a member of the staff came in to ask her if she might like to perhaps eat before the concert and she stepped out that I realized she was a client.  But in no time at all, she was back in her spot for the rehearsal, watching us closely and with appreciation.

This time I went downstairs to see how many clients were in the building and to possibly advertise if necessary before we were to start.  I smiled when once again I saw the familiar face and red hoodie of Marvin.  “I was looking for you!” he said beaming.  “Will you be there?” I asked.  “Yes” he said, “but I have to meet with my case manager first; I wanted to let you know that I’m getting an apartment!” That’s terrific news!” I said, “congratulations! That means we won’t see you after today, so I really look forward to playing for you one last time at the concert.”  But in a realization of one of my long-term goals, he leaned in and said, “No, not the last time.  I’ll be at your concerts out there, he said motioning vaguely towards the door.  You won’t see me or even know I’m there, but I’ll be...” and he made an applause motions while beaming, his face turned upward as if trained on a stage.

When I returned, this time there was no particular magic which filled the room.  It was pretty much the same intimate crowd, focused towards the back of the rooms as when I left.  Perhaps others had gotten their apartments as well.  I decided we would go ahead and start.

I made my usual introductions while this time preparing our audience for the newer, more virtuosic style of music we would be offering today.  I told them to expect from the Kodaly a raw, earthy energy and harmonies you could feel in your gut. Plus color influenced by the French music of Debussy.  I also told them that Kodaly and his friend Bartok went out into the country with their early recorders and recorded people in the fields and villages singing traditional folk tunes to incorporate into their more formalized music.  How perfectly aligned with our vision for today and these 15 months.  As we began to play, I threw myself into this beloved work which I recorded some 17 years ago on my debut CD.  And yet part of my consciousness was roused by the motion of every movement and possible entrance by a human body near the door, and I willed the top of my eyes and the side of my head to see.  Simultaneously, I worried that I had over promised in my introduction as my other senses seemed to tell me that no one was paying any attention to our performance this time.  Uh oh- would this be the first time my fears would be realized and a concert in a focused, quiet environment would fail to hit the mark?  But when we finished, Marvin punctuated the hearty applause with both arms pumping the air at the end.  And when I asked for thoughts and impressions, Marvin lead eagerly by volunteering about this performance “It completes my day.”  While I breathed a sigh of relief, his enthusiasm was immediately echoed by someone else in the back of the room.  “Me too!” Contrary to my pointers of rawness, this audience heard the solace.  “It eases my day too; it relaxes my mind. Gave me a sense of peace inside,” said the man in the back.  Another interjected, “It’s a work of art.  I tell you- I’ve never heard anything like that before.  I’ve been all over- to Europe... but I’ve never heard anything like that.  But he did pick up on some of what I had mentioned, “It’s not easy!” I immediately quipped, “You picked up on that, huh?” and everyone had a hearty laugh.  Peter wanted to clarify, “not easy to listen to or not easy to play?”  He clarified- “Not easy to play! I can tell how much experience it takes to do what you did.  It sounds nice.”

For another man it reminded him of the time in his high school when other students played instruments.  For yet another man it sounded like “walking on the beach on a sunny day- nice and smooth.”  “You gonna play another one?” He asked.  Yes, I assured.  “Ok, give us the name, the year....”. So I gave them more info about the 31 year old Kodaly who wrote the piece in 1914.  I also told them about how the Hungarian language apparently has many words accented in the first syllable and that Hungarian composers like Kodaly used that in the music as well.

For the next movement I told them that there’s an extended passage that evokes a full-fledged thunder and lightning storm, first the low distant rumble, then flashes of lightning, then moving walking or riding through a hard rain.  I asked them to listen to see if it strikes them that way too.  When we got to the passage, I heard at least at least one person say, “this is it-that’s the lightning.”  But by the time we got to the end, no one was willing to quite venture a guess.  “It sounds nice, the whole thing.”  “Fair enough,” I said, “what did you like about it?”  “It sounds nice,” he said again, it was something different.”  Again, this is a phrase that I have heard from several people over the years, striking me as an indicator that the speaker is moved by what they heard and cannot fully express it.  He continued, “it’s the first time I’m hearing it” I replied, “I’m glad it connects with you the first time you’re hearing it.” I asked, “If you could say one thing that was your favorite thing about it, about this piece, what would it be?  “Just the way it sounds.  It’s something different.”  He went on, “I know they got specific names, that’s a violin, right?” “Yes, and that’s a cello,” I said.  “Yeah, it ain’t easy playin’ that.  I noticed that. I know you don’t just walk out and do that.”  “It’s true, it takes a lot of work,” I replied.

When no one else had any more to say, I then told our audience that we have a really special treat for them, “Oh! Thank you so much,” came a reply.  I introduced Forgotten Voices and introduced Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, sitting right in the front row.  I said that she is not just a composer, but a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who has won 4 Grammy nominations, a Guggenheim and many other awards- and at each of those mentions, the same vocal gentleman in the audiences punctuated the points with vocalizations of appreciation, surprise and esteem- “Oh! Ooh! Wow!” I said that we are so honored to have the contribution and the presence here today of this wonderful composer.  Each Forgotten Voice piece is unique in its own way, but this piece comes to this project by a particularly unique path. Thematically, the material is drawn from a solo violin work that Ellen wrote for the Indianapolis Violin Competition.  But inspired in a whole new way by the Forgotten Voices Project and the words “Never been so close to a violin before” and “How do you get the violin to talk like that?,” she reimagined the piece and has re-gilded the title as “Music Kitchen Interplay.”  

Ellen rose to underscore how particularly inspiring those words were for her in choosing to write for this project, it really “lit her fire” she said.  Mark then read the complete text for the song and he surprised me by saying that he had had the same feeling that this writer the first time he heard me play!  So he too found deep resonance with this particular text, “How do you get a violin to talk like that?” and was happy to now have a chance to render it in song.  I could not be more thrilled and honored that a song for Music Kitchen Forgotten Voices by one of the country’s most celebrated composers will also be part of the virtuoso violin canon and was written specifically for me and Mark Risinger.

We jumped into the work and at the end were greeted with hearty applause and thumbs up. “You get better and better, you crushed it!” said Marvin.  “Sounds like we’re at the opera,” said another.  “It gives you energy,” said yet another and he continued, “something new for us.”  When I asked if they had ever been this close to a violin before, someone called out, “First time!”  And as we have been frequently offering with these new pieces, I asked if we could play it for them again now that they know what to expect.  The voices of immediate and eager approval of this idea felt good to hear.  But before we even started, one client wanted to share what he wrote- “Music is a universal language.  And it soothes the mind and soul of everyone.”   I asked, even though this piece goes all over the instrument, and even though you’ve never heard anything like this before, it’s speaks to you right?”  “Of course,” said one.  Another opened up for the first time to share that his daughters are also very musical, two play violin and one sings.  With that we played the piece again.  “What a voice,” said Marvin.  Someone new, a woman’s voice spoke up, “I liked it.  I like how you were speaking through the instrument.”  Our special guest for today, my colleague and Executive Director of BMI said she liked how there was not just one voice from the violin but many different voices, both in Ellen’s compositional techniques and huge range and my playing of them.  Further for me, with the stark register difference between the highest violin lines and the lowest bass notes, I can almost smell incense on the word blessing, as if in an old cathedral!

Ellen stood to thank the audience and us, and I asked the audience if they’d ever met a composer before.  No one had, so I invited Ellen to speak more about her work.  She spoke eloquently on a really central point that I am also not only passionate about, but on which Music Kitchen is founded.  She showed the audience the score, saying the black dots on the page are what we are given, “But these are the people that bring my music to life.  It takes the human element…”  A client broke in to say, “Because you’re not playing it.”  “No, I’m not, she replied, I’m thinking it and they give it life.”  Immediately grasping it, he chimed in, “They build it up.”  “Absolutely and that’s one of the great joys of being a composer.  And it’s lovely to share it with you,” she said warmly to the audience. A heartfelt “Thank you!” was the immediate reply from our most vocal audience member for today.  But as I was just about to wrap up, finally the woman near the front, who had been listening since the first notes of our rehearsal ventured to speak, shyly and with a tone of voice reminiscent of the hearing impaired.  But she waxed tenderly about the violin sound reminding her of “being with someone that loves them but they don’t know it yet.  It reminds me of those feelings.”  Though I’m not sure I fully grasped her meaning, I was very taken with the power of her sentiment.  Another man continued by saying he loves hearing music live, touching another point on which I am passionate.  I started to wax about how recordings are important to document great performances, but that live music is essential.  The vocal audience member was reminded of listening to Beethoven’s 5th, so I played once again the opening motive.  Though I don’t always mention it here, it never ceases to amaze me how many times that work is evoked in the shelter. 

Ellen further spoke of the little differences between our two performances; she says she loves that as it’s evidence that the work is living and breathing.  The same man wanted to know how she thinks of the notes in the first place.  Ellen replied that of course she works very hard, studied, and also used to play the violin, but still that there’s something very mystical and magical about composition.  Indeed.  I thanked our audience for electing to come upstairs to our concert and for listening, and they returned a hearty thanks to us.  I reminded them that they were the first to hear this piece and the public would hear it second in a concert.  “A concert?” they perked up already at the thought.  “Will it be in New York?”  Smiling on the inside about our upcoming Carnegie Hall World Premiere Announcement, I replied, “Yes, it will, and I hope you will come.  And I am already in contact with shelter staff and the Department of Homeless Services to make sure you can attend if you would like.”  When I reminded them that when they get there, they can say, “I’ve heard this because they already played it for me!” there were light-hearted chuckles around the room.  With that, we took our group photo.

Following are the notes from the listeners:

I really liked the music.

It was fun listening to the alusions of the sound of the musi to the environment of the feelings and senses.  The song choices were good
       1.  The work of pheasants
        2. Thunderstorm
        3. ?
        4. Opera of the violin
Thank you for coming to my ears!

Music is a universal language It soothes the mind and souls of life in every aspects
Learn to love music as you listen to it

The inspiration of the Art’s and the songs
Mr Mark talented singer the tones

(Spanish card- not legible)

Love that style of music.  It makes my day complete…..come again.  And again.
Thanks so much! 😊

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