The primary subject matter of this program are two works by Catalan composer Joan Arnau Pàmies, both of which problematize the mechanics of conventional string technique with emphases on the physicality of interpretation as both a critical element of dramatic content, and as a vehicle for generating complex sound. These pieces have emerged from an ongoing collaboration between Pàmies and myself, a process which has recently culminated in the interpretation of compositions which employ original graphic notational systems that decouple the technical components of sound production.
Pàmies’s recent works for double bass form what I believe to be a substantial contribution to the current solo and chamber ensemble repertoire for the instrument. “[d(k_s)b] (2011)” and “[k(d_b)s]” (2012-13) exemplify works that are not only viscerally thrilling performances of technical virtuosity, but also rigorous explorations of the dimensions of musical text in relation to the process of interpretation.
Emerging from different stages of conceptual interest from the same composer, these pieces use contrasting means to establish musical vocabularies. The score of “[d(k_s)b]” is notated traditionally, which provides instructions for performance in terms of rhythm, pitch, meter, and conventional descriptions of tone color effects such as dynamics, accented articulations, etc. The piece is characterized by a multiplicity of narratives defined by distinct gestural materials and their relation to the virtuosic physical and technical demands of the instrumentalist in live performance.
In contrast with “[d(k_s)b],” “[k(d_b)s]” challenges
the conventional relationship between performer and instrument.
The score is created with an original graphic notation system with independent parameters established for each mechanical action for sound production. This notation emerged as a means to trigger complex interpretive processes, which consequentially produces an original musical vocabulary unreproducible with standard notation. As opposed to the defined gestures of “[d(k_s)b],” “[k(d_b)s]” creates a malleable, noisy vocabulary, impossible to define in quantities normally associated with composed music, yet also structured with contours and developed shapes explored separately in each parameter.
Interjected between the chronologically ordered pieces by Pàmies will be a world premiere performance of a new work for solo double bass by an early composition teacher of Pàmies, catalan composer Enric Riu. “Sound Portrait” was composed for me in 2014; the piece involves an evolution of collaborative relationships between the performer and score; from traditional interpretation to guided improvisation. The piece is structured by a proportional timeline rather than traditional rhythm and meter, which allows the piece to have an organic flow of events. Each performance is unique given the improvisatory nature of the score. I look forward to exploring what inspiration will arrive in the context of this performance.
The program commences with a meditative work by Swiss composer Klaus Huber. Ein Hauch von Unzeit VII begins with traditional musical vocabulary, and subtly unravels into an introspective meditation on time, sound, and breathing. The opening features a quote from the D minor Chaconne from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, first purely melodically, then figured with supportive harmonic tones. The melody then engages in a gradual process of disintegration guided by suspended and complex sonorities created by the range of timbres and performance techniques possible with the double bass. As the melody becomes completely lost, the sense of measured time in the music also dissolves and the tones transition between noise and clearly defined pitch.
Huber suggests that this piece should follow the journey of someone who begins a stroll along a “narrow, well-marked path,” and subsequently becomes completely lost, without direction or objective. The philosophy of this piece begs for a moment of patience, reflection, and freedom from rigidly set systems, a thought that I believe works beautifully for opening a program of contemporary music.
Soloists from Fonema Series II: Kathryn Schulmeister, double bass
Friday, April 3 at 8 PM / $10
High Concept Labs
2233 S Throop St (enter on Cermak), Chicago
Joan Arnau Pàmies: [d(k_s)b] (2011); [k(d_b)s] (2012-13)
Kathryn Schulmeister, double bass