Post-mortem: Riverside Symphony does Djuna Barnes Settings

Djuna Barnes Settings

Co-founder/Artistic Director/Composer-in-Residence of the Riverside Symphony is Anthony Korf.   Korf was captivated by my Barnes settings for Vox n Plux--a trio consisting of guitarists Wm. Anderson  (me, the composer) & Oren Fader, with the unprecedented, mold-breaking soprano Elizabeth Farnum (who spearheaded the trio,).   I now think of the Vox n Plux version, the "UrBarnes", found here on SoundCloud--->


Korf did an orchestral arrangement of them for his "band", the Riverside Symphony.  The job was not easy, yet I am delighted with the result.  The orchestra, comprised of outstanding musicians under the brilliant George Rothman, exceeded my expectations day after day, and I know Mr. Korf felt the same way.  

Korf's orchestration is a dazzling improvisation over the songs, imbricating the material into the orchestral space, lovingly bringing to bear all that he has come to love about the orchestra.  His improvisations put to use a vast, unquantifiable arsenal of orchestral knowledge.  Some examples--the "drum kicks" supplied through a snap pizzicato in the basses (on weak beats!) in the last song, Pastoral;  oblique motion in the bass line, where he senses where the guitars will land in their lowest register and anticipate that landing point in the basses, one or two octaves below, one or two beats before the guitars land;  the reverse envelopes (Davidovsky trick) where a pizz covers the start of an arco swell on the same note.

Korf is fiercely independent & utterly self sufficient.  (Like me & Dina Koston, he founded his own organizations, not waiting for the world to come to him.)  He chooses his heros carefully, and my hat is off to his unique and revealing list. He sought out Henri Dutilleux, Marius Constant, Mario Davidovsky, Robert Suter, and Andrew Imbrie, championed their work, and became the mentee of each for a spell, seeking them out and working with them directly.  I consider Korf to be among the most brilliant, surprising, & innovative living American composers.  

--Korf & Rothman choose truly worthy American music that is not represented on NY Philharmonic programs--Stephen Hartke, Ricardo Zohn Muldoon, Harold Meltzer, Paul Lansky, Michael Gandolfi, George Tsontakis--all terrific composers, embedded with standard repertoire that complements the new work.  I do not see NY Phil doing any American composers this year--a deplorable disservice to American composers.-- 

Riverside commissioned me to do an orchestral version of the cycle.  Korf  suggested that the orchestral version should include an orchestral introduction,  interludes between songs 1 & 2 and between songs 5 & 6, and also a reprise of song 2.  (I took all of his suggestions.)  Korf's arranging process led to great improvements in these interludes.  We now agree about a list of revisions to improve the new orchestral version.  It was a delight, and it will get better.

The chamber version is suitable for bourgeois consumption, and yet, Korf's arrangement brought the work firmly and in one fell swoop into a truly bourgeois space--a community that Korf & Rothman have lovingly cultivated for over 30 years that requires a capable board & administrative staff (thanks are due to Angela Sutton and John Hamby) working together in harmony to build a devoted audience for orchestral music.  The incredible community effort often catches the attention of New York City's musical establishment.

The Anderson/Korf is unprecedented in--

--its use of Tibetan overtone singing
--employing a concertino consisting of a soprano and a pair of plucked string players (an indie rock band)
--having the plucked string concertino singing backup vocals
--being the first Djuna Barnes song cycle (that we know of)
--being one of very few instances of a collaborative effort between two composers (more often seen in musical theater)
--that the piece employs (I contend) a harmonic language that is radically integrative.  

--Many of these innovations were already found in the UrBarnes--the Vox n Plux version for 2 plucked instruments & very unique soprano Elizabeth Farnum.  The UrBarnes would not have happened without the encouragement of Zaidee Parkinson & Alanna Stone, who arranged for the commissioning of the songs.  The UrBarnes may possibly be able to incorporate some of the new material that I composed for the orchestral version.-- 

Korf & I agreed that the collaboration marks a turning point in the Western music's emphasis on the individual.  It became a group effort.  I was delighted to see the work move into a collective space that is seen in the collaboration between Beatles and members of Yes and the Gentle Giants.

Korf & I were excited about the way the plucks and the indie rock elements freshened the string orchestra.   There are plenty of serious composers who are tired of the symphony orchestra.  There is a feeling that everything's been done.  Korf upholds it as a grand tradition, which it is.  That cuts both ways.   He convinced me of its ongoing viability by accepting the challenge of subjecting the august institution to new influences (indie rock, Tibetan overtone singing, plucked string incursion, Barnes, etc.) to which it has been resistant.  

I respond to this huge undertaking with the great hope to see composers the world over taking note of these innovations and *taking them further*, and *executing them better* with the support of powerful and sympathetic symphony orchestras.

I need to note here that the project brought in some new funding for the Riverside Symphony from the Augustine Foundation (Augustine guitar strings--the strings that came with Andres Segovia's endorsement and visage).  I wish to give enthusiastic thanks to Stephen Griesgraber & the Augustine Foundation for endorsing a project that is truly a huge leap forward for the classical guitar.    I knew the late Rose Augustine. She supported Cygnus, and she was a generous benefactress of my great mentor, David Starobin.

Thanks also to all my dear friends, family, and colleagues who were there on Dec. 2 for the premiere.

I told Mr. Korf a few nights ago that there should be music employing a string orchestra with a guitar section--10 guitars.   If not in my lifetime.....