Friday, September 30, 2016

Preview of PARMA's October 2016 Releases

Musica Pacifica

MI PALPITA IL COR: BAROQUE PASSIONS is a compelling journey into the rich corners of the mid- and late-Baroque period. Featuring an array of thrilling instrumental and vocal compositions, the album is driven by the performances of French-Canadian soprano Dominique Labelle and American early music ensemble Musica Pacifica, founded in 1990, based in San Francisco, and whose playing has been called “a small miracle of precision and musical electricity” by the Washington PostREAD MORE

University of South Dakota Chamber Singers | David Holdhusen, Conductor

LET ME FLY showcases the extraordinary talents of the University of South Dakota Chamber Singers in a compilation of American choral music under the direction of Dr. David Holdhusen. The album, recorded from 2014 to 2016, primarily draws on two mainstays of contemporary American choral repertoire – traditional folk song and spiritual arrangements and new works featuring a lyrical, lush harmonic language. 

David Kirtley | Joanne D. Carey | Timothy Kramer | Christopher J. Hoh

CADENCE, the new vocal music compilation from Navona Records, offers a set of inspired, emotive premiere recordings by composers Christopher J. Hoh, David Kirtley, Joanne D. Carey, and Timothy Kramer in works juxtaposing the ethereal and the earthy, the diaphanous and the muscular, and the serene and the agile. READ MORE

Sang-Hie Lee 

Pianist Sang-Hie Lee performs original works written for two pianos, by internationally recognized composers Gerald Chenoweth, Eun-Hye Park, Lewis Nielson, Daniel Perlongo, and Paul Reller, in ARS NOSTRA: BUT NOW THE NIGHT. Along with collaborating pianist Martha Thomas, the pieces showcase the instrument as a “super piano”, unveiling textures and new combinations of sounds not accessible with a soloist. READ MORE

Aidan Andrew Dun | Lucie Rejchrtová

Poet and musician Aidan Andrew Dun offers extremely unique works of spoken word poetry recitation, with keyboard accompaniment, in his Ravello Records release HONEYLAND. The album’s offerings can be seen to have roots in a number of Western musical and literary practices.  Dun’s geographically specific epic poetry recalls the writings of James Joyce, and his interest in reciting poems to music suggests the influence of English poet and painter William Blake. READ MORE


This exquisitely produced album embodies the beautiful art whose creation has been enabled by the newly opened cultural exchange between the United States and Cuba. Through a collection of intriguing compositions by American and American-based composers, INTERSECTIONS showcases the talents of Cuban musicians in a variety of large ensemble and chamber settings. Moreover, the pieces in the album’s contents are replete with symbols that touch on the promise of this new beginning in American-Cuban relations, and suggest some of the darkness that preceded it. READ MORE

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

New PARMA Artists: Cappella Clausura

I'm pleased to share that Cappella Clausura, a Boston-area ensemble of voices and instruments specializing in music written by women from the 8th century to the present day, are now among the newest members of the PARMA family and will soon be releasing recordings of Hilary Tann's "Exultet Terra" and other works on Navona Records.

Although this will be Cappella Clausura's first project with us, PARMA has previously worked with Hilary Tann to record her orchestral work "Anecdote" with long-time PARMA collaborator cellist Ovidiu Marinescu.

Aside from "Exultet Terra," this release will also feature other works by Hilary Tann and by 12th century German composer Hildegard von Bingen as performed by Cappella Clausura.

Keep an eye out for more news about the upcoming release - in the meantime you can find Cappella Clausura's upcoming performance schedule here, and check out a live recording from 2012 below:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Alicia Terzian, Recipient of the MERCOSUR CULTURAL NETWORK Award!

PARMA artist, Alicia Terzian, was awarded the Mercosur Cultural Network award for her outstanding work in the field of creation as well as diffusion of contemporary music within Argentina and around the world!

Terzian studied at the National Conservatory of Music and Performing Arts of Buenos Aires where she graduated from piano in 1954, from composition in 1958 and with the First Prize and Gold Medal in 1959. Her career has brought her around the world as a performer, orchestra conductor, musicologist and as a diffusor of contemporary music.

Alicia Terzian will be accepting the Mercosur Cultural Network award Tuesday, September 27th  at 6.30pm in the Auditorium Santa Maria of Buenos Aires at the Bank of the City in Buenos Aires. There is no entrance fee. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Meet World-Renowned Trumpeter, Dave Douglas!

World-renowned trumpeter, composer, educator and entrepreneur from New York City, Dave Douglas from Green Leaf Music, is teaming up with OURBIGBAND for the annual PARMA Recordings Music Festival on October 7th at the 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, NH.

Dave Douglas is known for the stylistic breadth of his work and for keeping a diverse set of ensembles and projects active simultaneously. 

His unique contributions to improvised music have garnered distinguished recognition, including a DorisDuke Artist Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an AaronCopland award, and two GRAMMY® nominations. While his career spans more than 40 recordings as a leader, his active projects include his Quintet; Sound Prints, a quintet co-led with saxophonist Joe Lovano; Riverside, a quartet co-led with Chet Doxas; a duo with pianist Uri Caine; and, High Risk, an electronic-inspired quartet with Mark Guiliana, JonathanMaron and Shigeto.

Douglas has held several posts as an educator and impresario. From 2002 to 2012, he served as artistic director of the Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at The Banff Centre in Canada. He is a co-founder and president of the Festivalof New Trumpet Music, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2012. In 2014, he completed two years as International Jazz Artist in Residence at the Royal Academy of Music. In addition to joining the faculty at the Mannes School of Music in 2015, he recently accepted a three-year appointment as the Artistic Director of the Bergamo Jazz Festival in 2016.

PARMA Recordings is very excited to be able to support the PARMA Music Festival in presenting highly distinguished artists such as Dave Douglas. Here's a sneak peek to what you will be experiencing coming up on October 7th. Mark your calendars!

Meet "Not Your Average Orchestra" OURBIGBAND!

Join OURBIGBAND with Dave Douglas for a night of pure musical talent and diverse sound as PARMA Music Festival presents its first concert in the season on October 7th. Buy your tickets here.

OURBIGBAND has brought together the coastline musical roots of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, in order to create a sound that is unlike anything you can find in a big band. Some might say that they are "not your average orchestra."

Chris Klaxton, the founder and organizer of OURBIGBAND, was quoted in an article for the Portsmouth Herald on his thoughts about getting the big band off of the ground:

 "I find myself surrounded constantly with fine instrumentalists and, as of the past several years, there is a plethora of fantastic musicians that can all improvise, all read music extremely well, can play in a very traditional way and are open to all forms of new/popular music. Knowing the musicianship and personalities in the band as I do, it seemed a perfect opportunity to put something of this sort together. I feel our collective sound/interests could yield a band capable of performing not only from the classic repertoire (these guys can swing hard!), but could also allow us to pursue original music, music from outside the jazz idiom, and eventually occupy a space in the community that is unique to us, our generation and our interests."

OURBIGBAND is made up of a 13-piece horn section, piano, drums, guitar and vocalists. This contemporary big band works with, and plays anything from classical composers, to improvisers, and original works, while constantly adapting to diversity in sound.

Monday, September 19, 2016

New PARMA Artist: Michael Slayton

Image from Vanderbilt University 
PARMA is excited to announce that composer Michael Slayton's album, SURSUM, will be coming out this November on Navona Records. 

Michael's work has previously been featured on the Navona album SPECTRA - A CONCERT OF MUSIC BY MEMBERS OF CONNECTICUT COMPOSERS INC. His new album will include the piece"Sonate Droyssig" from the SPECTRA album. 

Michael holds both his M.M. and D.M.A. from the Moores School of Music in Houston, TX. 

In addition to his composing work Michael is the editor-in-chief/author of the book Women of Influence in Contemporary Music. The book dives into the lives and music of notable American women in composition. Some of the women featured in the book include PARMA artists Libby Larsen, Marga Richter, and Judith Shatin. In 2013 Women of Influence was awarded the Pauline Alderman Award from the International Alliance for Women in Music. 

Michael currently serves as the Chair of the Composition and Theory department at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music

Can't wait to hear SURSUM? Check out a track from the album here. Welcome, Michael! 

Friday, September 16, 2016

New PARMA Artists: The Bold City Contemporary Ensemble

The Bold City Contemporary Ensemble

PARMA is excited to announce that the Bold City Contemporary Ensemble have signed on to release their debut album on Navona Records. 

The Bold City Contemporary Ensemble is a collective of classically trained musicians championing a new movement of contemporary music. Based in Jacksonville, Florida, the group is flexible enough to accommodate pieces for anywhere from two players to thirteen, and inventive enough to constantly seek out ways to re-invent the medium of live performance in order to create an "immersive, all-sensory experience" for their audiences.

The Bold City Contemporary Ensemble's new album will highlight a program of chamber works by violinist, composer, and PARMA artist Piotr Szewczyk, who released his album VIOLIN FUTURA on Navona Records earlier this year. The album will also feature Trio Solis, the faculty piano trio from Florida State University.

The new album will be available in 2017 on CD, digital download, and streaming, but until then you can keep up with the Bold City Contemporary Ensemble through their website: Stay tuned!

New PARMA Artist: Mark Volker

We are excited to announce that composer Mark Volker is joining the PARMA roster of artists. 

Mark holds a P.h.D from The University of Chicago and previously studied with PARMA artists Samuel Adler and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon.

Mark's compositions have been performed and recorded internationally including performances by the Chicago Contemporary Chamber Players, eighth blackbird, the Boston Brass, the Kiev Philharmonic, the Orquesta de Baja California, and many other notable ensembles. In addition to his composing work, Mark is an accomplished classical guitarist, often performing with New York City Opera flutist John McMurtery. Mark currently serves as Coordinator of Composition and Assistant Professor of Music at the Belmont University School of Music in Nashville, TN. 

PARMA will be releasing Mark's album, which features two chamber suites, on Navona Records. In the meantime Mark's music can be heard on his website here.

Welcome, Mark!  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New PARMA Artist: Beth Mehocic

Image from
We are excited to announce that composer Beth Mehocic is joining the PARMA roster.

Beth currently serves as the music director/composer-in-residence and professor for the department of dance at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to her composing work, which includes over 100 works for various large and small ensembles, Beth is a  poet, visual artist, filmmaker, and author. In addition to being performed throughout the United States, Japan, China, and Europe, several of her pieces written for dance have been featured at the Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringe Festivals

We'll be digitally releasing Beth's "Piece by Piece," which we recorded with the Moravian Philharmonic Chamber Players this past June, in January of 2017.

In the meantime her music can be heard on her website here. Welcome, Beth!

Interview with PARMA Composer Scott Brickman

This past August PARMA Recordings released Scott Brickman’s newest album on Ravello Records titled 96 Strings and 2 Whistles. The album is broken down into five pieces, French Suite, Wind Power, Divertimento, Partita, and the title piece, Ninety-Six Strings and Two Whistles performed by the ensemble Eight Strings & a Whistle and pianist Beth Levin.

This is Brickman’s third album on Ravello Records. Brickman is a Maine based composer and Professor of Music and Education at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

We caught up with Scott to talk to him about the recording process, his newest album, and the great state of Maine. Read more below:

This is your third release on Ravello Records – how do you feel about your growth and catalog looking back at these three albums?

First off I feel like I'm very fortunate to have three albums out with top notch performers. Really, there are a lot of very talented people for whom the stars haven't aligned that way. Sometimes I pinch myself to make sure this is real.
While we’re looking across your three releases on Ravello Records, what do you think stands out about each release and what do you want listeners to walk away with?

One perceptive performer friend of mine said that there is a "sense of play" that she detected in my music. What I would like listeners to walk away with, is that this music is accessible and fun for sympathetic and imaginative listeners and the composer is having a blast writing it.
Your new album, 96 STRINGS AND 2 WHISTLES, includes a number of styles and varieties – what’s the common thread that ties everything together? 

I think what stands out is the relationship to the Western Art Music canon, filtered through a late 20th-early 21st Century lens. Sure other modernists absorb vernacular features into their scores, but, movement III of my French Suite *is* London Calling, and, without coming of age in the late 70s and early 80s and being a fan of the Clash, this couldn't have happened.
You worked with the same group of performers for the entire record.  How did you come to select Eight Strings & a Whistle and Beth Levin for the music?
Paraphrasing Jerome Kern, "they selected me". ESW played at UMFK in 2011. We connected at that event, and one thing led to another. Of all things, Beth Levin is a neighbor of one of the "band". Their putting me in touch with Beth, that just may make me believe in divine intervention.
What was the recording process like for this album, compared to your other releases?
All of them are the same. I'm hands off. The performers pretty much do what they like. And I have been immensely pleased with what the performers have done on all three albums.
Having stated that you are interested in a wide array of music, what would you say a few of your most influential albums are?
Both The Beatles' White album and Weezer's White album, Boulez's old Columbia recording of him conducting Le Marteau and Livre pour cordes, Stravinsky's 3-lp set on Columbia of him conducting his three famous ballets, Nono's La Lontananza Nostalgica Utopica Futura, and Dzintars, The Latvian Women's Choir.

Having taught at University of Maine Fort Kent since 1997, what are some trends you notice with today’s students compared to when you started?
Well, students are more technologically savvy. They tend to be more compartmentalized than the ones I had twenty years ago.
Maine is known namely for being the home state of Stephen King, and the setting for many of his novels. What is something that you would want outsiders to know about both Maine and your home state?
Maine is BIG. It's bigger than all of the other New England States put together. It takes longer for me to drive from one end of Maine to the other, than it does from me to drive to New York City from the southern tip of Maine. I'll speak for the St. John Valley. We're more diverse than people might think. Yes, Maine is comprised primarily of old white people. But, here, both because of our proximity to the Canadian border and because of our University's successful athletic programs, there tends to be a lot of internationals up here, and for me, that's a definite plus.
What else should we know about you?

I had never been to Europe until I visited my oldest daughter there in the spring of 2015 when she was there as part of a junior year abroad. My oldest daughter hooked me on Europe. I've been four times in the past two years and I plan to go again. Some of my most memorable musical experiences are the ones I've had in Eastern Europe. I can't wait to go back.

96 STRINGS & 2 WHISTLES is now available - listen to an excerpt from the album here:

PARMA Featured Playlist: Piano, Meditations and a Few Bells!

Happy Hump Day! How's your week going?  The weather is starting to cool down, so here's a sampler from our recently released September albums from Navona and Ravello to warm up to in our featured Spotify playlist: Piano, Meditations and a Few Bells!

Enjoy and pass it along!

Monday, September 12, 2016

PARMA Music Festival with Dave Douglas and OURBIGBAND!

PARMA is excited to announce that the next performance in our annual PARMA Music Festival is Friday, October 7th. Joining OURBIGBAND is world-renowned trumpeter and composer, Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas, prolific trumpeter, composer, educator and engineer from New York City, has received the Doris Duke Artist Award, the Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland award, and two GRAMMY® nominations! Douglas's work has been noted for his attention to a diverse set of ensembles and for his constant exploration of new genres and techniques. 
OURBIGBAND is "not your average orchestra", they have performed anything from new to old and original to classical. OURBIGBAND is not afraid to take on new sounds and work with a diverse community of artists from improvisers to skilled composers. The teaming up of Dave Douglas and OURBIGBAND is a sound surely not to be missed. Buy your tickets here. 

The annual PARMA Music Festival is continuing into 2016 with a fresh coat of paint and a new direction. In the spirit of keeping the Festival innovative in terms of programming, scheduling, and the overall format, PMF 2016 will be a series of one-off concerts in various locations in New England and beyond throughout the 2016-2017 season – stay tuned for the latest updates and announcements. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Bob Lord, My Record Producer: A Note From Lawrence Ball On Release Day

Today is release day for our labels, and we are proud to present ENERGY DIAMOND by my friend, the magical man Lawrence Ball, among them.

Our first project together was the electronic album METHOD MUSIC, co-produced by myself and Pete Townshend of The Who, and it made quite the impression on its launch.  I hope this excellent album - a collection of live performances by living players - does the same.

Lawrence wrote a note about me and the release that he asked to have posted on our blog.  And, of course, being a human being who admittedly gets a bit of a tickle reading lovely things about himself, I graciously agreed!  Below is that note.

Thanks Lawrence -

Bob Lord
CEO, PARMA Recordings


Nearly 6 years ago I was contacted by a gentleman wanting to discuss my music.

That can't be right. Was he really serious after my 35 years at that point of unrecognised composition? Was he real?

Anyhow, I spoke with this gentleman about many things including the 9 against 2 cross rhythm I was experimenting with at that time. 

(It's quite magical, you first play 3 against 2, then you play the first and third beat of a three beat subdivision of each of the three beats.)

Bob and I hit it off from phone one.

Bob has a giant background in many forms of music. He understood my spanning The Who, Soft Machine and Pink Floyd right across to classical, electronic, jazz and world music, which is always an exciting discussion. 

His giant music spirit reminds me of Frank Zappa's - his creativity, and huge nurturing energy also, is that vamped.

He is an oxygen tank of big musical feeling and insight. 

What some don't realise is that Bob has behind him an accomplished, spirited trio - Dreadnaught - of prolific rock music also informed by many genres.

And his Italian background makes for a deep respect for artists, which feels great to me. A cultural father at half my age!

Navona, his classical label, is renowned for high quality album production, in acoustics and graphics, as well as effective and respected promotion. 

Navona's quality of music and the span of colours is excellent. It is a testimony to the many tongues of speaking that music today inhabits.

Bob kindly suggested we release an album of my festival performances, ENERGY DIAMOND, which is out today.

This collection spans 16 years and is a good start at making known my score performances (not my only musical format, to be sure) to the audience who already embrace my computer-generated/layered music album on Navona. 

I visited Navona's HQ whilst travelling in the USA in 2012, and was applauded well for an impromptu improvisation on the company grand piano. 

It was great to meet the team who had supported my first release. Real and virtual (and virtuous) entities in human form...

I am enormously excited for my second Navona release, which you can find here:


Lawrence Ball

September Releases Out Now on Navona and Ravello Records!


Pianist, chamber musician, 
and educator Cicilia Yudha presents her Navona Records release SELECTED PIANO WORKS BY ROBERT CASADESUS AND HENRI DUTILLEUX, featuring her expertise as a solo pianist, as well as the exploration of the compositions of Robert Casadesus.


Throughout history, musicians and activists have enlisted the power of music to connect us to the pressing issues of our times. The brainchild of physicist Robert Davies, THE CROSSROADS PROJECT comprises two performances, Rising Tide and Emergence, performed by the Fry Street Quartet in multi-disciplinary collaboration. READ MORE


Navona Records is delighted to present DASHING, a festive album for the holiday season featuring brand new works and arrangements of holiday favorites by several outstanding composers, with performances by The Stanbery Singers, the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra. READ MORE


Navona’s latest compilation release, BETWEEN THE ECHOES, showcases recent chamber works composed by Georges Raillard, Daniel Burwasser, Michael Lee, David DeVasto, and Allan Crossman. Straddling the line between tradition and modernity, each piece of music is a profoundly unique experience for the listener to uncover and enjoy, drawing from world influences across time and space. READ MORE


Composer Lawrence Ball has long been fascinated by the intersection of subjective human emotion and algorithmic mathematical objectivity.  In his 2012 Navona Records release METHOD MUSIC, produced by Pete Townshend of The Who and PARMA Recordings CEO Bob Lord, he took Townshend’s long-gestating concept of automatic musical portraiture first explored in LIFEHOUSE and WHO’S NEXT and turned it into reality, creating a system which could translate personal information and experiences into sound. READ MORE


Composer and guitarist André M. Santos showcases his chamber works on his debut Ravello Records release SOUNDS OF A DIFFERENT UNIVERSE. Santos wrote each of the pieces featured on the album for fellow musicians and friends, resulting in a kaleidoscope of diverse personalities and styles. To this end, the sounds in his pieces indeed inhabit a different universe—his colorful chamber works bring together unexpected and intriguing combinations of instruments and timbres. READ MORE


On his debut Ravello Records release ROSE, composer Michael Laurello offers a personal and refined style marked by rhythmic invention, visceral directness, and earnest emotional depth. His music reflects his diverse stylistic influences, which include Western classical music, jazz-fusion, progressive rock/metal, and EDM/IDM. Intricate polyrhythms, high-energy grooves, and a sophisticated harmonic palette are distinctive features of his music. READ MORE

Thursday, September 8, 2016

New PARMA Artist: Michael Kurek

Michael Kurek | Photo by Denise Truscello
We are proud to welcome American composer, Michael Kurek, to the PARMA family! We will be working with Kurek on a new release of chamber and large ensemble works slated for released in 2017.

Kurek has garnered recognition from many prestigious institutions, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters, where he received the Academy Award in Music. He has also won several national awards and fellowships from a variety of organizations nationwide, such as the Fromm Fellowship in Composition from the Tanglewood Music Center, awards from BMI and NEA.

While Kurek is an American composer, he studied with several composers from various parts of the globe, including Hans Werner Henze (Germany), Eugene Kurtz (France), as well as William Bolcom and Leslie Bassett (USA). Kurek's music has been performed by orchestras and ensembles on five continents. 

Kurek's music is grounded in the tonal narrative, making the listener feel vicariously caught up in the musical story line. Fundamentally melodic, tuneful, and accessible, but by no means dumbed-down, this is highly crafted music that satisfies the intellect but also moves the emotions. Listeners often fall in love with this music and want to hear it again and again, like they once did the classics.

Kurek received his doctoral degree from the University of Michigan, and is currently at Vanderbilt University as part of the composition faculty.

Below, check out a glimpse into the musical world of Michael Kurek. This performance features the "Pas de deux" from Michael Kurek's Trio for Violin, Violoncello, and Piano. The accompanying ballet was choreographed by Sarah Slipper:

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

New Project: Apollo Chamber Players in Cuba

We're pleased to announce that PARMA Artists Apollo Chamber Players have signed on to record fellow PARMA Artist Arthur Gottschalk's Imágenes de Cuba” with PARMA in Cuba as part of our upcoming trip back to Havana in January 2017. We caught up with violinist Matt Detrick of Apollo to chat about some of the inspiration and interaction which led to the project:

Anabel Ramirez, violin; Matthew J. Detrick, violin; Matthew Dudzik, cello; Whitney Bullock, viola
(photo by Ben Doyle, Runaway Productions)

What initially sparked your interest in Cuban music and culture?

Cuba has this almost mythical status to it, having been shrouded in mystery and intrigue for over a half-century. A flashbulb memory of mine occurred when I was 10 years old and first learned about the Cuban missile eyes were permanently opened to the interdependency of the world, how we are all connected for good or for bad.

Cuban music captivates for good reason - it has a unique way of stirring the soul and inviting the listener to lose themselves in the moment. This is how I feel when listening to say, Buena Vista Social Club, Bamboleo, or the music of Leo Brouwer. I think these musicians represent Cuban music and culture very aptly and leave you wanting more.

How did the concept of Imágenes de Cuba” come about, and can you share a little more information about the composition itself?

Imagénes de Cuba, the seventh work of our 20x2020 commissioning project, has been a few years in the making. The genesis arose during the summer of 2014 as my Apollo colleagues and I were planning commissions and booking composers to launch 20x2020. We were drawn to composer Arthur Gottschalk’s musical voice and approached him about a commission. While brainstorming themes, he mentioned a life-long fascination with Cuba’s rich musical heritage, particularly its unique fusion of classical and folk genres. We loved the idea and settled on a premiere date in the spring of 2016. Little did we know that big changes were in store for the US and Cuba!

Two years later Imagénes de Cuba was premiered for a full house at MATCH, one of Houston's newest performing arts venues. It was particularly special to connect with so many in Houston’s vibrant Cuban-American community. Partnering with Refugee Services of Texas, we invited a recent Cuban immigrant to take part in a panel discussion with the composers. Such interesting perspectives and life stories were shared! It’s hard to describe, but during the performance there was this incredible energy in the audience...I think it had something to do not only with its size and diversity but also the ‘feel’ of a more non-traditional chamber music crowd. In fact, there were a few moments where the audience chuckled aloud at certain ‘jokes’ the composer embedded in the music. This caught us a little off guard, but in a positive way.
Arthur Gottschalk (center) w/ Apollo Chamber Players
(photo by Ben Doyle, Runaway Productions)
Imagénes de Cuba is the product of Professor Gottschalk's two decades of musical research in Cuba. The composer's aim was to incorporate Cuban folk music through various rhythms, styles, and popular songs. Fragments from the famous peanut vendor 'protest' song and the well-known Guantanamera color the first and second movements; the third movement, 'Timba,' is based on the Cuban music form of the same name, a combination of salsa, funk, rumba, and other popular dance styles. 

The most challenging aspect to the piece is settling into the right rhythmic groove - on paper, the rhythms are remarkably complex, so the challenge is internalizing these individually and collectively to sound to the listener like we’ve been doing this our entire lives. It’s a very different demand and skill set than we’re used to…we’ve definitely grown as a result.

What other works will be featured alongside Arthur Gottschalk’s Imágenes de Cuba” on your next album?

Our next album will consist entirely of 20x2020 commissions. (The first three project commissions were featured in Blurred Boundaries.) Imágenes de Cuba will be paired with our Croatian-themed commission (20x2020 No. 6) by NYC-based composer Alexandra du Bois, her fourth string quartet to date; Three Goat Blues (20x2020 No. 4) by Israeli-born composer Gilad Cohen, professor of music at Ramapo College in New Jersey; and a Persian folk music themed commission by Syrian composer-pianist Malek Jandali. It promises to be eclectic mix of new music and an organic outgrowth of our past work.

What was it like working with Cuban composer Maureen Reyes Lavastida on her piece Más allá de una verdad..” and were there any challenges in performing this string orchestra work as a string quartet?

It was so much fun working with Maureen Reyes. She is a wonderful person and composer, and her musical maturity belies her relatively young age. As you mentioned, Maureen composed Más allá de una verdad..originally for string orchestra while a student in Havana. She later adapted the piece for string quartet, and Apollo was fortunate to present the American premiere (alongside Imagénes de Cuba). One challenge in performing the work as a string quartet is trying to replicate the 'tonal fullness' of a larger string ensemble; however, I think a deeper, more intimate connection with the audience is revealed in its smaller instrumental form.

What do you think US-based ensembles and composers can learn from the music of Cuba?

(photo by Ben Doyle, Runaway Productions)
Since music genres are more ‘blurred’ in Cuba - there is very little distinction between classical and folk music, for instance - I feel musicians and composers in the US can grow from identifying themselves simply as musicians. Why must we always label ourselves by genre? Granted, mastering the technical aspects of any artistic category is necessary. However, the end result of communicating and interpreting, of MAKING MUSIC, is the same. This is universal.  
Also, it may not be well recognized (in the US, that is) that Cuban musicians perform at an extremely high, professional level. Combined with centuries of cultural mixing, the uncompromising standards of perfection fostered by Russian influence have helped define Cuba’s artistic performance and worldview. Along with this, we can learn how music and art flourish in the context of political oppression. Cubans have long been oppressed by their government, and a vibrant and professional music scene has been nurtured in spite - or as a result of - this situation.

Lastly, I hope that we might learn to really ‘let ourselves go’ during performance. There is such an emphasis on technical perfection in the classical music world that it sometimes gets in the way of performing and connecting with the audience. I think Cuban, and Latin music generally, are good models for which to strive in this regard.

Besides the music itself, what other elements of Cuban culture do you hope will inspire your upcoming recording sessions?

As big foodies, I expect the delectable cuisine of Cuba to help nourish and inspire our music-making! It’s much fun to experience the many facets of a different culture - its customs, art, music as well as its food. But the appeal of Cuba is so much more - having been closed off from the US for over a half-century, there’s a special appeal to take in the richness of its culture.

I love the work of Alejo Carpentier, the celebrated Cuban novelist and musicologist. He was one of the first practitioners of ’magic realism’, the literary idea of incorporating mythical elements into realistic fiction. In a way, I think this duality correlates not only to the music of Cuba, where musical ideas from Africa, Spain and other countries have generated rich, hybrid styles, but also to the real and perceived relationship between the US and Cuba. There is much to learn from one another. This cross-cultural experience, I hope, will begin to build a foundation for mutual cooperation and understanding. It is a special honor to record in the country which inspired the new commission, amongst its people and musicians.

Having explored folk music of many cultures through your work, especially on EUROPEAN FOLKSCAPES and BLURRED BOUNDARIES, which features are particularly distinguishable about Cuban folk music?

As mentioned previously, the lines between genres of music in Cuba are quite blurred. In fact, you could say it’s ‘creolized’, a mix of European, African and Chinese styles that have formed this distinct soundscape. Perhaps most noticeable is its unmistakable rhythmic energy and pulse. Polyrhythms, or multiple rhythms rendered simultaneously, are inherent in African percussion music, just as melody is at the core of European music. Composer Art Gottschalk inventively blends an Afro-Cuban percussion instrument, the shakere, with our classical, Western instruments in Imágenes de Cuba. It certainly brings a jive to the music and launches Apollo into new interpretive territories.

Why do you feel it’s so important for a US-based ensemble to collaborate with Cuban artists at this point in history?

My hope in Apollo visiting Cuba is to begin again the free cultural exchange between our two countries. Politics aside, we have much to learn from each other. From our perspective, their style of playing and approach to music is compelling; perhaps our artistic inquisitiveness and entrepreneurial spirit might tickle their curiosity. Beyond this, I strongly believe that music has the capacity to build bridges and cultivate empathy like no other medium. I hope we can use art to reteach people how to see and to foster new relationships.

We are proud to call Houston - one of America’s most culturally diverse cities - our home, and we are honored to help usher in this new era of artistic partnership between the US and Cuba. 


Be sure to keep an eye and an ear out for updates about the upcoming Cuba project, and check out the video below to hear the premiere performance of Imágenes de Cuba” in Houston: