Thursday, September 3, 2015

An Interview with Robert J. Martin (cont.)

PARMA is currently working on composer Robert J. Martin's string quartet cycle, "Embrace the Wind!" The album will be his second release on Ravello Records.

We had a short interview with Robert about the influence behind the album's composition and influence, which was posted on July 21st. You can find the interview about "Embrace the Wind!" here: Robert J. Martin: Embrace the Wind!

We were recently able to talk to Robert about music again - this time the topic of conversation was "listeners."

MP: So how can we get more people to listen to new music?

RM: A great question, since it relates so closely to both creators and listeners—though of course listening is itself a creative endeavor. I want to let people know that the listener is absolutely essential to music. The music happens inside the listener—it’s not an external thing that has to be understood. The music is created by the listener as she (or he) hears the sounds. I hear about people not listening because they don’t understand music that is unfamiliar—but I don’t buy it. I think that no one has said to them something like, “Well, listening to new music is like going to a new place—a lot of things are mixed in together—excitement, anxiety, discomfort, pleasure, uncertainty, joy—and that’s OK because that’s part of the adventure of doing something new. Sometimes people can feel uncomfortable if they feel they don’t understand what they’re listening to—and this is where I want to reach out to people and them know that you don’t need any special skills or education or terminology—just willingness to pay attention and listen to what happens—and it’s OK to be feel lost, just as when you travel to any new place.

MP: Sometimes we want to listen to something that is familiar and comfortable? 

RM: We can all appreciate every kind of music—we have only to understand that sometimes we like to do things that feel comforting and familiar; other times we like to do things that can be adventures, things that are new and unfamiliar. Both are legitimate choices, though at least some of the time we might choose to take the road of adventure. One of my favorite quotes is from G.K. Chesterton:  "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”  He is suggesting that doing new things always involves allowing ourselves to be challenged. 

To listen to new music is to travel to an unfamiliar place—and part of the pleasure of travel is coming back to the familiar. I always feel I need a vacation after traveling—even if the travel was my vacation. And part of the pleasure of travel is that we find familiar things in new places—and the new places themselves become familiar and comfortable after visiting them a number of times. 

MP: That sounds easy to say, hard to do.

RM: Action is always more risky than talk. But, with music, the only risk is feeling on unfamiliar ground. This is true of any creative process—if we want to be creative, we have to take a risk. 

MP: But we’re talking about listeners here, not composers.

RM: Exactly—and listening is always a creative process. Even when we have a conversation, it’s the listener who determines the meaning of what is being said, not the speaker. This sounds backwards, but it isn’t—the students decide for themselves, as best they can, what the teacher said—not the teacher. The employee follows the orders she think she heard. We’re all creating meaning all the time; we just don’t realize it. So it is with music; as listeners we are the ones making sense of what we hear.  All a composer can do is ask us to engage with the music and listen carefully. 

MP: So listeners are in a position of power, as it were.

RM: Yes. Always. And I think that once we feel that power, we will be much more comfortable engaging with new experiences, including listening experiences. 

MP: What do people need to know to appreciate new music?

RM: I only know my own experience. I remember my father playing his little phonograph in our darkened living room.  I was maybe in fourth grade. We would listen to Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov or Brahms Double Concerto for Violin and Cello or the Paganini Caprices for solo violin. Not the usual listening fare for a fourth or fifth grader, but I was enchanted. We didn’t have music in our school, so I had no background—listening with my father was my background. When I was in high school—maybe a junior—I bought an AM-FM radio. This was back in the day when FM radios were rare. I had my own room, so I did homework and listened to WFMT, a Chicago radio station that played every kind of classical and new music, from Mozart to Schoenberg to jazz, among other genres. I remember hearing what must have been Schoenberg’s little piano pieces, probably Opus 9, and feeling they expressed my own sense of beauty and, maybe, alienation. It was my secret.

MP: Maybe as listeners we need to hear that we’re the ones creating the music within ourselves? 

RM:When I started teaching I had an office mate who was considerably older than I was but who was teaching sections of the same course I was teaching. One of the assignments he would give his students was to go out and do three things they had never done before. They didn’t have to like what they did, they just had to try it—and, I might add, he stipulated that whatever they did had to be legal, ethical, and moral. It was a great stretcher—and one I’ve tried to remind myself to do as often as possible. Part of having a rich, interesting, and creative life is trying new things. The other part—and this is something I tried to stress when I taught college students a class in creativity—not musical creativity, but creativity in general—is that it’s much easier to deal with new and unfamiliar things in your life if you can get comfortable with not having to understand everything, not having to be comfortable with everything right off the bat. That goes for travel, for starting a new job, meeting new people, and, of course, listening to new music. We act more intelligently (and have more fun) when we’re relaxed in the presence of things we find unfamiliar and maybe even a little confusing. A good way to go is to relax and take it all in. As you become more familiar with what’s unfamiliar, you start figuring out what’s going on. 

MP: What if you listen and you don’t like what you hear?

RM: Of course then you don’t have to listen again. On the other hand, who’s to say you won’t like something the second time you hear it? My composition teacher used to advise: "Compose music you do not yet like.”  What’s the point of that, I thought. But of course he meant that if you only compose music you like, you’re not doing anything new, you’re sticking with your comfort zone. He wasn’t saying to write music that you and everyone else would hate; he was saying to explore music you have not yet grown to like. What a wonderful piece of advice for listeners as well as composers.

MP: What if you listen and listen and still don’t like what you hear?

RM: We all have preferences and it our right to exercise them, so that’s always an option. My college roommate liked to quote conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein. Asked what kind of music he liked, he replied: Every kind of music except the boring kind.  

MP: We all want to hear new music, we just don’t want it to be too new.

RM: We are all fond of certain genres, certain artists. We want to hear their albums—sometimes. After the Second World War, swing clarinetist and dance band leader Artie Shaw was making more money than any other band leader. He quit at the height of his fame, later explaining that he was tired of doing the same old same old but that was all people wanted to hear. Which is fine. People have a right to listen to what they want. Right now I’m listening live to a group called Sway—all friends of mine—doing pop standards from the last six decades. The point is that we are free to choose. I like hearing new pieces, unfamiliar pieces, thorny pieces, and so on. I invite others to do the same. The choice is theirs.

MP: How do you teach people how to appreciate music they find unfamiliar?

RM: I would rather ask, how do people learn to appreciate music? That’s related to another question that interests me: How do you learn to appreciate wine?  It’s not about liking everything, it’s about developing a sensitivity to different tastes, learning language to describe what you’re tasting, and having conversations about what you’re experiencing. It’s about the whole experience. You can say “I don’t know anything about wine, I just know what I like,” but that takes away the fun of trying new things and talking about them. You still like some things better than others, but the whole experience is what it’s all about. Just as in sports, the point is not just to like or dislike this or that team, player, play, etc., but to get into the finer points of the game by observing and talking—and arguing, if you choose.. 

Robert J. Martin composes image-based music; music where the titles and descriptions open a direction to understanding the music. His latest release, PLAYFUL EDGE OF THE WAVE, presents 100 different views of Mt. Fuji in 100 minutes and pays homage to Katsushika Hokusai's art.

Stay tuned for updates on Embrace the Wind!, and check out Robert's latest release, PLAYFUL EDGE OF THE WAVE available on Ravello Records.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New Project: Guitar Duo Alex Lubet and Maja Radovanlija

PARMA Artist Alex Lubet and new PARMA Artist Maja Radovanlija will be releasing an album of guitar duos and solos in 2016. This release, titled THE ENCHANTED GUITAR FOREST, will mix compositions of both Maja and Alex based largely on a combination of traditional Balkan and synagogue melodies, featuring some blues and improvisation. The duo performed many of these pieces live at the 2nd annual PARMA Music Festival in 2014.

Alex Lubet is a Professor of Music and Adjunct Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota. He is a composer, performer, and author whose specialties include music and text for theatre, dance, and improvisation ensembles, and works on Jewish subjects. Blending together musical styles from various cultures, including classical, jazz, blues, and Easter traditions, his Ravello release SPECTRAL BLUES came out in January 2013.

Maja Radovanlija also teaches at the University of Minnesota. She was born in Belgrade, Serbia and has been playing guitar since the age of nine. As graduate student at Indiana University, Maja won second prize at the Latin-American music competition in 2009. During her studies, she often performed new music for guitar, including a piece written by PARMA Artist Don Freund. She is currently also member of the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet.

Keep an eye out for details on the debut release from this guitar duo, and in the meantime, here's a great video of Alex and Maja performing together live:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New PARMA Artists: Musica Pacifica

We're pleased to welcome new PARMA Artists Musica Pacifica, one of America's premiere Baroque ensembles. Musica Pacifica have signed on to release a collection of Baroque instrumental music and cantatas by Handel, Steffani, Telemann, and Rameau, with soprano Dominique Labelle.

The group's performances have been described as "a small miracle of precision and musical electricity" (Washington Post), "a wonderful feeling of vivacious spontaneity, belied by stunning precision of execution" (Los Angeles Times), and "the finest in historical performance today" (Early Music America Magazine).

At home in the San Francisco Bay area, the artists of Musica Pacifica perform with Philharmonia Baroque and American Bach Soloists, and they appear with many other prominent early music ensembles nationally and abroad. They have performed in many concert series across the US and abroad including three appearances at the Berkeley Early Music Festival, the first of which was cited in Early Music (UK) as "perhaps the standout of the entire festival," and most recently at the 2015 Boston Early Music Festival where "the performances were little short of sensational" (The Boston Musical Intelligencer).

Hear the group perform Telemann's "Paris" Quartet below, and keep an eye out for their next release in 2016!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Recap: PARMA Music Festival 2015

The 2015 PARMA Music Festival has come to an end. The weekend of August 14-16 in Portsmouth NH and Kittery ME was filled with concerts and events that brought together classical musicians and ensembles, pop and indie rock groups, electronic artists, and acoustic singer/songwriters. You never know what to expect at the PARMA Music Festival, and this year was no different. 

If you missed out on some of the events, or want to relive a magical moment, we’ve recapped the weekend below.


Friday night the PARMA Music Festival kicked off at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth with electronic and live percussion music by Ivonne Paredes, Bryce Craig, and Adam Vidiksis. Each artists brought their own unique style, modifying and enhancing their instruments with computer-generated sounds. Next to stage was the Chris Klaxton Group, an outstanding jazz ensemble from seacoast New Hampshire. They performed original songs as well as renditions of music by Ben Allison, the Beatles, and the Smashing Pumpkins.

stephaniesĭd at 3S Artspace
Then came stephaniesĭd from Asheville NC, who kept the energy going. Vocalist Stephanie Morgan danced along the stage, each movement bringing her words to light. Her emotional intensity and stage presence as well as the group’s dynamic outpouring was captivating. With all of 3S in high spirits and hunger for more, this concert certainly set the bar for the rest of the Festival.


Saturday morning began at St. John’s Church with a performance of works by Antonín Dvořák and Josef Suk by world-touring Czech violinist and concert manster Vít Mužík, accompanied by pianist and Boston Conservatory professor Karolina Rojahn. Although they had only played together for a short time before, their chemistry was amazing and Vít’s tone and technique was nothing short of exquisite. 

During the early afternoon concert at St. John's, Mac Ritchey, a New England master of various folk and world instruments, showcased solo oud works that placed listeners in different parts of the world. Following Mac, Joseph Summer’s Shakespeare Concerts from Boston MA presented contemporary and traditional pieces that brought the works and characters of Shakespeare to life. 

BUOY Gallery in Kittery ME was showcasing Kenny Cole’s "Flood," a unique exhibition featuring a series of encrypted messages flowing along the walls as well as sculptures of cellular phones scattered throughout the room. Salem MA singer/songwriter and DJ Qwill’s music complimented Cole’s exhibition of engaging in the world around us well. Following Qwill’s soulful set, NH composer William A. Fletcher’s clarinet duo Five Black Birds was performed passionately by Stephanie Ratté Jenkins and Katrina Veno.

Miss Fairchild at The Dance Hall
After filling up on art, engaging music, and wine, Festival-goers walked over to The Dance Hall in Kittery. TEss, a singer/songwriter and guitarist originally from New Hampshire now living in Italy, started off the night with care and captivation. Italian-American cellist Carmine Miranda followed, grabbing the audience with his virtuosic and emotive playing. His focused and intimate approach brought hush to the room.  

Boston-based R&B/soul group Miss Fairchild kicked up the volume a few notches and opened up the floor for dancing. The energy in the room was tangible and the band kept it going all night.


The Festival continued Sunday morning at the Portsmouth Music and Arts Center with an intimate and moving performance of a sonata by Samuel Barber with cellist Carmine Miranda and pianist Karolina Rojahn. Afterwards, Carmine and Karolina opened up the room to discussion, answering questions about collaboration, pop music, raising children in the arts, their idols, and everything in between. It was a wonderful opportunity for Festival-goers to hear from two touring and recording artists.

The Festival moved to Prescott Park with a performance of Prokofiev's works from the Manchester Community Music School flute choir, followed by Peter and the Wolf by members of the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra and conductor John Page, with visual representations by members of the Great Bay Academy of Dance and narration by Virginia Prescott of NHPR. It was a beautiful afternoon and a great places for families to hear a classic narrative expertly set to music and dance.

Kingsley Flood at The Music Hall
All the exciting, engaging, and emotive elements of the Festival culminated in the Main Event at The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Icelandic violinist Eva Ingolf opened with An Evening Indigo by NY-based PARMA composer Rain Worthington. The piece was emotive and melodic, and flowed naturally and from Eva’s instrument. Following her was the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra with Maestro John Page, who played works by de Falla, Piazzolla, and Márquez. For Oblivion by Astor Piazzolla, Page and the PSO were joined by Czech violinist Vít Mužík. They were all in excellent form, performing with power and polish. After the orchestra’s overwhelming finale, Eva came back on stage to play another consuming work by Rain Worthington called Resonances

Boston-based roots rockers Kingsley Flood took the stage and flooded the room with energy and well-crafted and engaging songs. They closed out the Festival with a nothing less than a remarkable performance that exemplified the ethos of the entire weekend.

To recap the fun and tell us what your favorite part was, connect with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Thanks again to Lead Festival Sponsor Kennebunk Savings Bank, and all the other sponsors and donors, as well as the performers, volunteers, venues, and concert-goers! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

New Releases Out on Navona and Ravello Records

St. Helens String Quartet

The intersection of classical music and popular and folk music is where the journey begins for the Seattle-based Saint Helens String Quartet - consisting of Stephen Bryant, violin; Adrianna Hulscher, violin; Michael Lieberman, viola; and Paige Stockley, cello - exploring a sonic vision of American culture presented by four contemporary composers on their debut Navona Records release, AMERICAN DREAMS.

Grammy Award-winning composer Peter Schickele's five-movement String Quartet No. 1, American Dreams weaves together jazz, Appalachian folk, and waltz structures into a pastoral and Coplandesque work that evokes distant images of rural America. Swing Low by Kenneth Benshoof uses the traditional spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" for its motivic material, creating shifting tones of obscurity and clarity through alternating textures. Read More

Skyros Quartet

Follow three composers on a journey through early 20th-century Europe, reflecting on various experiences including the life of a student, the rush of bullfighting, and the folklore of Scandinavia on the debut Navona Records release by the Skyros Quartet, INTROSPECTIVE ODYSSEY. Consisting of Sarah Pizzichemi, violin; James Moat, violin; Justin Kurys, viola; and William Braun, cello; the quartet presents works by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), Joaquín Turina (1882-1949), and Jean Sibelius (1865-1957).

Written while he was a student, the Three Divertimenti by Britten creates a dazzling and witty display of youthful enthusiasm. Weaving a narrative tone poem set in Spain, Turina presents an exotic showpiece in La Oración del Torero ('The Prayer of the Bullfighter'), with a distinct flamenco flair through the idiom of French post-impressionism. Subtitled "Voces Intimae" ("Intimate Voices"), Sibelius wrote these words on the manuscript over three dark and hushed chords in the third movement, marking the center of String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56. The composer combines post-romanticism, 20th-century modernism, and Scandinavian folksongs influenced by the Kalevala, the national epic poem of Karelia and Finland. The captivating and emotive interpretations by the Skyros Quartet show them as a versatile, fastidious, and passionate group, versed in performing a number of musical styles and traditions. Read More

David DeVasto, John G. Bilotta, Paula Diehl

On CRIMSON & LACE, Navona Records' compilation of modern works for voice and chamber ensemble, composers John G. Bilotta, David DeVasto, and Paula Diehl present works that depict the struggles as well as the rewards of human experience, such as heartache, death, love, hope, uncertainty, tragedy, and the resilience of the human spirit.

John G. Bilotta's The Song of the Hermit Thrush for soprano, flute, oboe, violin, viola, and violoncello uses text from a section of Walt Whitman's poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." The excerpt is a celebration, welcoming "the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death." Winter Seven for baritone, choir, flute, viola, and piano by David DeVasto presents seven images of winter and the "wintry," cold, even brutal aspects of human experience. From natural phenomena to the Black Plague and the Civil War, this seven-movement work depicts a cycle of winter itself, from the onset of chill to the first glimpses of spring, illustrating a struggle toward some intimation of acceptance and hope. Read More

Kostov-Valkov Duo

On their debut Navona Records release, KOSTOV-VALKOV DUO: TRANSCRIPTIONS AND PARAPHRASES FOR CELLO AND PIANO, the Kostov-Valkov Duo - cellist Lachezar Kostov and pianist Viktor Valkov - present a powerful and invigorating program, showcasing their virtuosity and superior technique with commanding performances of works by Franz Liszt, Buxton Orr, Bohuslav Martinů, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Exemplifying the Duo's ground-breaking and virtuosic arrangements, the three works by Franz Liszt include the first arrangement for cello and piano of the well-known Hungarian Rhapsody, No. 2. The Duo places Hungarian Rhapsody, No. 1, a lesser-performed piece of Liszt's collection, in a Romani style, building to a fast and wild Czárdás ending. The pieces by Orr, Martinů, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco paraphrase and reference earlier works by Bizet and Rossini. Buxton Orr's A Carmen Fantasy is a lively and romantic work, which illustrates Kostov's fluid vibrato and Valkov's harmonic control and elegance. Martinů's Variations on a Theme of Rossini sets passages from Rossini in a 20th-century style of form and variation, using playful and racing lines between the cello and piano. Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Figaro paraphrases "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Barber of Seville with a spirited yet graceful conversation. Throughout this album, the Kostov-Valkov Duo push the limits of their instruments, unraveling these inspired works with passion, aplomb, refinement, and brilliance. Read More

Michael Matthews | Clearwater String Quartet

Inspired by the worlds of literature and nature, composer Michael Matthews, in his Ravello Records release, STRING QUARTETS, follows in the tradition of such 20th-century composers as Webern and Shostakovich, using his expressive musical language to explore existential and humanistic discourses about society, nature, and our place as individuals in the world.

Performed by the Clearwater String Quartet, many of these works highlight the sharp contrasts, intensity, and varying textures of Matthews' style. At times, the music is mysterious and brooding, at other times it is intense, angular, and frenetic. The composer says of his music, "I want to compel listeners to step beyond the everyday and to dwell for a while in images of paradox, to consider the ever-changing tapestry of life." Reflecting on personal and societal conditions, Matthews' music is serious, intelligent, complex in thematic structure, and rich in motivic relationships. His String Quartet No. 2 is energetic and dramatic, recalling the Second Viennese School, while Miniatures focuses on exploration and discovery from a distinctly North American perspective. The string quartet genre provides a fertile and transparent vehicle for Matthews's music, with its dark timbre and textures emphasizing the clarity, tension, and brilliance of his works. Read More