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Brad Balliet on “Multiphonics”

Sep

16

The Metropolis Ensemble returns to LPR on to present their latest Resident Artist Series. They recently sat down with Brad Balliett to get the lowdown on “Multiphonics,” check it out below? (via Metropolis Ensemble)
 

 
WHAT IS THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THIS PROJECT? WHY THE BASSOON?
I love the bassoon, and I almost never regret choosing it as the cornerstone of my musical life. Yet there are times that I have really envied pianists, harp players, and violinists because they could accompany themselves with harmony while they played a melody. Of course the bassoon only plays one note at a time, so that always seemed impossible. When I discovered Multiphonics, special fingerings on the bassoon that let me play chords instead of single notes; I wanted to explore how close I could get to turning the bassoon INTO a piano (or at least some kind of wooden, wind-driven squeezebox).
 
When Andrew asked me about ideas for a potential concert on Metropolis Ensemble’s Resident Artist Series, I immediately thought about this versatile sound, and how it might sound in combination with the amazing musicians that make up Metropolis. Beyond my fascination with this newfound set of colors on my instrument, I’ve always wanted to create a program that gives composers and an audience the chance to reconsider the bassoon more generally. The bassoon is by nature expressive, and its capabilities tend to surpass most listeners’ expectations, maybe because it is more visible than audible in most orchestral concerts, being relegated to the task of filling out the inner voices more often than not.
 
I wanted to share more sides of the bassoon, particularly the characterful way the instrument sings. Having such wonderful players available, we created a program of ‘Concertos’, pieces that pit the bassoon against the ensemble.

 
THERE ARE A GREAT VARIETY OF STYLES AMONG THE COMPOSERS ON THIS PROGRAM. HOW DO THEIR APPROACHES DIFFER, AND WHAT SORT OF EXPERIENCE WILL THAT CREATE?

Each composer takes a personal and idiosyncratic approach to the idea of a ‘concerto’, though, so the results a wide reaching: they range from a ‘pocket’ chamber concerto to a song cycle for mezzo-soprano with bassoon accompaniment.
 
There are two pieces that unpack the traditional idea of a ‘concerto’ in especially fascinating ways. Bora Yoon’s work creates a brand-new live electronics accompaniment for Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto using the sound of the bassoon itself (an idea inspired in part by Timo Andres’s Coronation Concerto, premiered by Metropolis in 2012). It’s the most familiar of all bassoon concertos, so it will be interesting to hear the familiar solo line in a completely new context.
 
The other piece that tackles an older concerto is by the young composers of ComposerCraft, a program for middle-school aged composers at the Kaufmann Center. These six composers worked together to create a new concerto for bassoon and strings inspired by Vivaldi’s La Notte Concerto.
Nina Young is taking a new view of the concerto as something more streamlined and pared-down in her Pocket Concerto for chamber ensemble. My twin brother, Doug, is doing the opposite – he’s blowing up the idea of a concerto to include a mezzo-soprano, turning it into a song cycle at the same time. He’s working off of texts about Cleopatra, and I’m excited that Majel Connery is singing with Metropolis. She has a beautiful, almost unearthly voice.
 
My own concerto takes the idea of ‘Multiphonics’ to the hilt, exploring as many different colors as I can, using almost exclusively this technique.
I hope that both the varieties of treatment of the bassoon and treatment of the idea of a ‘concerto’ will create an experience that makes an audience member say ‘I didn’t think of it that way before’.

 
WHY IS THIS PROJECT IMPORTANT TO YOU IN THE BASSOON COMMUNITY, THE CLASSICAL MUSIC COMMUNITY, AND BEYOND, SAY, THE GENERAL PUBLIC?
It’s exciting to premiere five new works that feature the bassoon on a single evening – it’s a rare occurrence. I believe in the composers on this program, and I think that these pieces will become an important part of the new repertoire for bassoon from the early 21st century. I think bassoonists around the world will want to play these pieces.
 
I’m glad to share this project with classical music community, especially composers: my hope would be that they consider the bassoon for their own music more often. Laboring under the impression that the bassoon is unwieldy, limited, pale, and gangly, composers frequently omit the bassoon from their works when it might make a beautiful addition. If even one composer thought more about the bassoon after this program, I’d consider it a success.
 
Hopefully the general public also gains something from a thorough introduction to the state of the bassoon concerto today – even if it is only to get the instrument itself on the public’s radar just a little bit more.

 
Interview by Sequoia Sellinger (via the Metropolis Ensemble Tumblr
 
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Intrigued? So are we! Join us on October 11 for an evening featuring premieres by composers Brad Balliett, Doug Balliett, Bora Yoon, and Nina Young. (details here)

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