Live video of John Faieta’s June 24th solo trombone show at the Bop Stop

In case you can’t make it to see John’s incredible virtuosity firsthand, the Bop Stop was kind enough to recording a livestream of the performance which is available at – www.facebook.com/bopstop .

No matter how you hear this virtuoso performance, it is sure to be a night of great music!


An Interview with John Faieta, Trombonist

By Laura King for NO EXIT

John Faieta is an acclaimed trombonist and a pandemic epoch transplant to Shaker Heights, OH, along with his family. John was born and raised in Lynn, MA, and received his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from Boston University. He taught at Boston University, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, and Berklee College of Music. John is renowned as a player of remarkable virtuosity and sensitivity who has had a storied career performing with groups like The Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Boston Pops Orchestra, and The Atlantic Brass Quintet.

We caught up with John recently, excited to talk “Big T” trombone:

Q. Tell us a little about your background, John. In what circumstances and at what age did you discover your passion and talent for music? What instruments do you play, and what was it about the trombone specifically that seduced you?

When I was in 4th grade, in Lynn, MA, my school brought people in to do a musical instrument demonstration. I really liked the Saxophone because it was a newer, shinier-looking instrument that the others and had so many keys. Yes, that’s right, I liked the Saxophone. I brought home the permission form for my parents to sign but forgot to put down which instrument I preferred. I was embarrassed that I didn’t remember and in a moment of panic said to my mother, “I want to play the trombone.” When the trombone came to my house, I felt even more embarrassed to say it wasn’t the correct instrument. Since my parents paid for the trombone in full, and I had made the mistake, I didn’t feel right saying anything about it. As I played the trombone, however, I discovered that the instrument coincidently fit my musical tastes much better than any of the others. Even that of the Saxophone!

Q. The trombone is an unusual instrument, and the “trombone family” is quite an extended group! Please can you describe the various types of trombones, what they are used for, and where we might hear them? Which of these do you play?

From a musical standpoint, the trombone isn’t an unusual instrument. You hear trombone played in, orchestras, rock bands, and jazz bands, among others. You often hear it used in combination with vocal music as it has a sound that resembles the human voice. The unusual aspect of the instrument is its shape. This is due to the movable slide that assists in changing notes. Because of the slide, it was the first brass instrument invented (called a Sackbut in the Renaissance) to have the ability to play a chromatic scale.

I play Alto, Tenor, and Bass Trombones, but there is an entire consort of trombones. The list of trombones is as follows: Soprano Trombone (also called Slide Trumpet), Alto Trombone, Tenor Trombone (which I will play at the recital), Bass Trombone, and Contra Bass Trombone. There is also a Valve Trombone that has the shape of a slide trombone but uses valves to change notes. Some people play an instrument called a Superbone that has both the slide and valves. That said, when someone says they play Trombone, normally it’s the Tenor Trombone because that’s the instrument that kids start playing in Band.

Q. What do you see as the possibilities for the trombone in new classical and avant-garde music?

I see very many possibilities. Since the trombone resembles the human voice, much more can be explored in this area. Not just the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher, but a great many imitative vocal sounds. Some people have used jazz concepts in their avant-garde approach, and that is useful in vocal imitation, among other aspects. The sound of the slide moving between notes is embraced in jazz, and all but ignored in classical music. The slide sound gives a very “human” quality to the music.

Q. A concert program of solo trombone works provides a rare opportunity for listeners, and yours certainly represents an array of diverse and evocative sounds. Why did you curate these works together? What would you like your audience to receive from your performance?

You’re correct in that each piece offers its own sound. That diversity is one of the biggest reasons I picked this program. The intention is to keep the listener interested in what’s coming next. If I can hold the audience’s attention for the duration of the program, I view that as a success. The goal is that the audience enjoys the concert by getting whatever they get from hearing it.

Q. We’d love for you to discuss and detail some of the pieces, especially Luciano Berio’s Sequenza V. For Trombone…

The Persichetti uses the vocal imitation sounds well. It also has technically challenging aspects, which he writes in a way that fits nicely on the trombone.

The Bolter pieces are important for me because in college I studied with Norman Bolter, who was a trombone player in the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops. I also had the privilege of performing with him as a substitute player while he was in those orchestras. To enhance the musical experience, Norman suggests that during a performance the performer connects with a story, emotion, or a feeling that is personal to them as they play. I use this connection when performing.

The Berio Sequenza V was written in memory of Charles Adrien Wettach, Grock the Swiss Clown (1880-1959). He is known as the “King of Clowns,” and was also a musician and composer. As a boy living in Oneglia, Italy, Luciano Berio lived near Wettach, and he would often steal oranges from his garden. Because he was so familiar with Grock as a neighbor, he had no understanding of his greatness. It wasn’t until Berio was 11 years old that he saw his first performance of Grock the Clown. After that, he stopped taking his oranges. Sequenza V is theatrical in nature, using multi-phonics with the vocal sounds imitating the sounds of the trombone and many of the trombone’s sounds imitating the voice. It was composed in 1966 for Stuart Dempster.

Where? Is a short fun piece that Alyssa Reit wrote for her son, Nate. Alyssa is a harpist and composer living in the New York area.

Postcards III is written by Anthony Plog. He has written numerous works for brass and many of them I have performed. All his pieces are well-written and aesthetically effective.

Q. You taught for two-plus decades, most recently as Associate Professor of Brass at Berklee College of Music. Would you describe experimenting, learning, teaching, and performing as symbiotic or separate aspects of your music path, and why? What did you enjoy most about teaching and are you missing it in the mix, having recently retired?

I’m not quite ready to say that I am retired from teaching, but I am definitely on break. All those activities are symbiotic and always have been. Through teaching others, I learn more about my own wants and needs as a performer. I do miss getting to discuss making music on a personal level with others, and I suspect when the time is right, I will return to teaching in some capacity.

Q. Where are you directing your creative energies in 2022-23? Do you have any exciting activities planned or ambitions you’d like to share with us?

My family and I moved to Cleveland six weeks before the pandemic shut down, which gave me little opportunity to discover the music scene within the city. I hope to get time to more fully experience what Cleveland has to offer in 2022-23. Living in Cleveland has given me a chance to spend more time with my children while maintaining a performing career. I look forward most to continuing this balance of my career goals and family life.


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit: Sounds of Despair at SPACES Gallery (Apr. 29)

By Jacob Strauss
Unless you have been through it, it is impossible to grasp the brutalities of war. You cannot imagine the violence, the hunger, the desperation, the isolation. You cannot reckon the infinite death sowed through the ground. Brutality is the reality. It creates a different kind of human.

On April 29th at SPACES gallery in Hingetown, No Exit’s program gave the audience music of total anxiety and horror, melancholic hope, and of life’s long continuity without much meaning.

The cimbalom was the feature of the show, an instrument capable of taking on many personas. Its performer, Chester Englander, has shaped his career around the instrument, and has inspired composers to write more repertoire for it, some of which was presented on the program.

Cleveland residents might be familiar with the cimbalom’s sound from hearing it at Hungarian and other Central and Eastern European festivals and restaurants that populate our city. Others might be familiar with its sound and construction thanks to its sibling, the hammered dulcimer.

The show opened with a world premiere of Hong-Da Chin’s “…tears…yet far yet near,” conducted by James Praznik. The piece takes its title from a Gu Cheng poem titled “A Walk in the Rain.” Gu wrote in China in the latter half of the twentieth century, and his experimental poetry was a reaction to the Cultural Revolution and its restrictions on artistic expression.

In the context of No Exit’s entire ensemble, the cimbalom dresses in the sounds of a mandolin, a horn section, and a guzheng. Motifs are first played quickly and boisterously, and then deconstructed, dominant notes hollowed out with harmonics or sustains. Dissonant wailings become sad melodies and melodies become ghosts.

This evokes the images of dams being built in Jia Zhangke’s 2006 film, Still Life, when China’s rapid industrialization began pushing people from their homes, drowning entire villages in the valleys and changing the cultural, as well as the physical landscape. Since Hong-Da Chin’s expatriation to the West, he feels both the proximity of the initial memory, and the disquiet caused by its factual inaccuracies. This composing and decomposing of his reflections is anxiously written into the score, and performed with mathematical precision by Englander and the ensemble.

Traveling to the Nordic state of mind, Per Nørgård’s String Quartet No. 8, Night Descending, inspired by poems written by Guillaume Apollinaire — who was wounded in The Great War and succumbed to the Spanish Flu of 1918 — was bleak and ethereal. Violinists Mari Sato and Cara Tweed, violist James Rhodes, and cellist Nicholas Diodore were able to bring out the horror and graphic nature of the music.

Haunting muted chords ascend and descend, bending in and out of tune before the cradle of soft dynamics is thrown into a loud realization of violence at the end of the opening “Prologue – Eulogy.” “Man – Animal” begins with pizzicato and continues with a demented theatricality, like a Hollywood musical dance number skipping through a devastated city. Voices sing out briefly. Then the descent, the void. Nørgård evokes the first instance of pure sadness at the end of the third movement, “Voyage,” moving into the slow and quiet nightmare of “Night Descending.”

Every small movement arrives as a slice of bow across the strings or snap of strings against the fingerboard, finishing with a groaning cello. The work’s opening theme returns as bombs fall, scattering debris depicted by col legno. The music sinks back into safety with head in hands, only wanting peace and rest and a peaceful dying breath. With musicality and sensitivity, the ensemble concluded the piece with quiet, heartbreaking phrasing.

The audience was given a reprieve from the horrors of the world with an intermission and Edward Smalldone’s Duke Re-dux, an homage to Duke Ellington’s, Come Sunday. A quartet with vibraphone, flute, cello, and bass clarinet evoked images of a calm Sunday morning in New York. Trains rolled underfoot from Gunnar Owen Hirthe’s bass clarinet, the light bounced off the buildings from Luke Rinderknecht’s vibraphone, and the sweet dialogue between Sean Gabriel’s flute and Diodore’s cello sang with a colorful melancholy, like the walk home from church when you are glad to be free from obligation, but too tired to care about any activity for the rest of the day.

The last piece on the program was a new composition for cimbalom and string quartet by Douglas Knehans — who was in attendance — titled Ecstatic Waves. Englander played the cimbalom with both hammers and hands, which lent two different textures to the sound of the instrument.

In “Searise Breaking,” the waves are endless, their constant motion provoking anxiety and dread, but especially in the more violent second movement titled “Enfoamed Rock.” Englander drove the music forward with unrelenting pace, hammering away at the strings, the string quartet mirroring him. The final movement, “Unreturning Tides,” is a slow funeral service, a long elegy full of silences and continuations.

This was not an easy concert to digest. Themes were confrontational and the music was challenging. However, it offered an understanding of how the world sounds harsh and violent and cold, though not always, and not completely.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (May 18, 2022). The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com: Unheard-of//Ensemble at SPACES (Apr. 2)

By Mike Telin
I was once told that it’s good to not think too much about life’s problems. However, there are more than enough reasons to ask yourself: why more isn’t being done to combat climate change? How much is corporate greed responsible for the changes? Why do people buy into mass marketing?

On April 2 at SPACES and presented by No Exit, the excellent Brooklyn-based Unheard-of//Ensemble — Ford Fourqurean (clarinet), Matheus Souza (violin), Iva Casian-Lakoš (cello), and Daniel Anastasio (piano and electronics) — presented three thought provoking works that challenged listeners to never stop thinking about these questions.

The centerpiece of the evening was Christopher Stark’s environmental treatise Fire Ecologies. The performance also marked the premiere of the full video art by Zlatko Ćosić. Throughout the seven-movement, 55-minute work, the ensemble was in top form. Each player was in command of their own demanding part while making even the thorniest technical tutti passages sound effortless. Above all, the musicians were in perfect sync with the visually stunning projections.

In the opening movement “terra incognita” (Unexplored Territory), sounds of wind and the ocean slowly combine and increase in volume before transitioning into “jeux d’eau” (water games). Here, footage of water, ducks, blue skies, and smoke after forest fire provide a picturesque backdrop to the music’s lush choral sounds with long accents — along with some demonic electronics.

Prior to the performance, Ford Fourqurean told the good-sized audience that Stark’s work found inspiration in Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps. This relationship was most clear in “louange à l’éternité de Mère Nature” (Heart of Mother Nature) with its long, sustained cello lines hovering over organ electronics that was a haunting juxtaposition to the video’s blue skies. Here cellist Casian-Lakoš outdid herself.

During “Infernal dance” (Dance from Hell) the video takes you on a highway ride with smoke rising in the background, while “Dypt inne i Barskogen” (Deep in the Forest) features frantic, quick instrumental passages and deep bell sounds from the electronics. In “Marche funèbre” (Funeral March) we find projections of power lines in Central California with steady, unfriendly sounding beats in the ensemble until silence takes over, and the sight of burning grass with a crane gradually morphs into a moose. The music then seamlessly returns to a reprise of “terra incognita” — this time with high harmonics in violin and cello, and flutter-tongue in clarinet, which all slowly fade away.

While Fire Ecologies is often a disturbing commentary on man’s disregard for the earth, the work also suggests a sense of hope that ultimately nature will prevail.

The program opened with Doug Bielmeier’s relentlessly busy Corporate Responsibility Pledge. An electronic ostinato is constantly interrupted by the acoustic instrumental motifs, while Allison Tanenhaus’s inventive videos of cars, polluted water, quarantined beaches with sludge, and mountaintop removal mining, along with hyperbolic messages telling consumers “name your price” and “must see.” The music builds in texture and volume until it collapses.

The evening’s social commentary also included a musical take on the perfume fragrance Rose 31 composed by the electronic duo No Plexus. The score features rhythmic keyboard passages under chorale-like phrases in the cello and bass clarinet. These transition into extended continuous accented chords and slides. A shrill vocal line repeats “your existence, their victory” over and over. Throughout, the video features rose and blue colors along with abstract shapes that morph into a seemingly endless array of hues.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (May 6, 2022). The full article can be found – Here


No Exit is performing at Carnegie Hall

NO EXIT embarks on their upcoming series of New York City concerts this week with back-to-back performances at Queens College on May 11th and at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall on May 12th. We are extremely excited to be work on so many great new pieces by members of “The Collective” and can’t wait to share that experiences with our east coast audiences this week!

Here is a sneak peek at the beautiful full concert program by Josephine McLachlan: CARNEGIE HALL PROGRAM


From BroadwayWorld.com: NO EXIT Performs Works By The Collective at Two NYC Concerts In May

By Stephi Wild
NO EXIT new music ensemble performs works by The Collective in two New York City concerts, May 11 at Queens College and May 12 at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.

The Collective, founded in 2019 by composer Douglas Knehans, is an international cooperative of composers seeking to give a platform to and highlight the diversity and quality of powerful, individual artistic voices. Composers from diverse backgrounds and practices come together to project broad currents of compositional practice. The composers hail from all over the USA as well as Greece, the Netherlands, and Poland.

The program includes four World Premieres, two US Premieres, and five New York City Premieres. The World Premieres include Blackwork, Scarletwork for violin, viola, and cello by Cindy Cox, Sonic Entanglement for piano and electronics by Spiros Mazis, Unnatural Tendencies for piano solo by Amelia Kaplan, and Lines of Desire for bass clarinet, viola, and cello by Jack Vees.

Other composers featured are Timothy Beyer (NYC Premiere), Douglas Knehans (NYC Premiere), Constantine Koukias (US Premiere), Pamela Madsen (NYC Premiere), Mathew Rosenblum (NYC Premiere), Edward Smaldone (NYC Premiere), and Agata Zubel (US Premiere).

Composers in The Collective are joined in a common mission to project the strong breadth of styles in contemporary composition. Concerts feature tuneful and soothing music, meditative music. challenging and aggressive music, dramatic and powerful music, comforting and passionate music.

Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com (April 28, 2022). The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com: Chester Englander with No Exit: “The Big Cimbalom Thing”

By Mike Telin
If you thought the cimbalom was only used in Eastern European folk music, think again. “I got my start on it with the LA Philharmonic,” percussionist Chester Englander said during a recent telephone call. “They hired me to play a piece by Frank Zappa called Yellow Shark and it uses the cimbalom in ‘The Girl in the Magnesium Dress.’” From then on Englander has been on a mission to expand the instrument’s repertoire.

On Friday, April 22 at 7:30 pm at Kent State’s Ludwig Recital Hall, Englander will join No Exit in a concert they’re calling “The Big Cimbalom Thing.” The program will feature music by Per Nørgård and world premieres of works by Douglas Knehans, Hong-Da Chin, and Edward Smaldone — and it will be repeated on April 28 at 8:00 pm at Cleveland State’s Drinko Hall, April 29 at 8:00 pm at SPACES, and April 30 at 7:00 pm at Heights Arts. All the concerts are free.

How does Englander describe the instrument to those who have no idea what it is? “Most people in America have heard of the hammered dulcimer, so I say that it’s in the dulcimer family. I also point out that there are many instruments around the world in that family that are cousins of each other. They are all very different from each other, but they are all members of the chordophone family” — instruments that produce sounds by vibrating strings.

Englander noted that the cimbalom tends to be used more often in chamber music rather than orchestral works. “A great thing about No Exit is that it’s a varied group, so the music doesn’t have to be written for the full ensemble,” he said. “Doug’s piece is for string quartet and Hong-Da Chin’s is for the full ensemble.”

This is not the first time that Englander and No Exit have worked together. In the fall of 2019, he and the ensemble’s cellist Nicholas Diodore performed Katie Agócs’ Saint Elizabeth Bells. “This is our first set of concerts of commissioned repertoire and there’s more in the pipeline,” Englander said.

What do composers need to know in order to write idiomatically for the instrument? “In the past, starting with John Adams — the first person who wrote for me — I’ve made a full-size template of the instrument so that they could see the layout of the notes. I want them to know where the notes are, but once they see the template, it terrifies them too. And the fear of writing something that isn’t playable sometimes can get into their creative process.”

Englander pointed out that the instrument’s octaves are not orderly like the piano, where the spacing between the notes remains the same everywhere on the instrument. “With the cimbalom, especially in its higher register, the positioning of two A’s is very different from the positioning of two E-flats, for example. And chromatic octaves really get my blood pressure going.”

How did an accomplished percussionist find his way to the cimbalom? “Back to Yellow Shark,” he said. “The LA Phil said, ‘We want you to play, but you’ll have to learn to play cimbalom — we’ll get you an instrument.’ I looked at the music and thought, I want the money, so yes, I’ll do it.”

Soon after, Englander had a moment of clarity, he said, and decided to buy his own instrument. “I thought, so few people play it, and if I play it with the LA Phil, I’ll have credibility all over the country. That was the spark that lit the inferno. And that first concert was conducted by John Adams. We knew each other and he said, ‘I didn’t know you played cimbalom, do you want me to write a piece?’”

Englander noted that Adams has included the cimbalom in a few of his orchestral works. “The Gospel According to the Other Mary was the first, then came Scheherazade.2, and now I’m slated to premiere his new opera in San Francisco in the fall. It’s another huge part. I’ll start working on that as soon as the No Exit concerts are finished.”

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (April 22, 2022). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Chester Englander, Cimbalomist

By Laura King for NO EXIT

Chester Englander fell in love with percussion as a boy in Santa Monica, CA and he studied at Interlochen Academy, and then the Cleveland Institute of Music. Chester performs internationally as a percussionist and cimbalom soloist and has established himself as the “go to cimbalomist” for American Orchestras. He can also be heard playing percussion on the scores of popular video games and movies—and on the recording of Reach for the Stars by will.i.am that was broadcast on Mars from the NASA Curiosity Rover. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Rachel, a violinist, and their two daughters Charlotte and Alice.

We caught up with Chester recently in advance of No Exit’s April concert series that includes two world-premiere works for cimbalom, which Chester will perform with the ensemble.

Q. You began your musical career as a percussionist … how did your passion for those instruments arise and develop, and how did you ultimate gravitate towards the cimbalom?

I started playing percussion because I thought it would be easier to play one drum than to play the trumpet! Soon after I realized how much more there was to it, and I enjoyed the process of mastering technique from the beginning. My cimbalom career began innocuously while performing as a regular guest percussionist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; they needed me to learn a relatively basic cimbalom part as part of a larger percussion setup for The Yellow Shark by Frank Zappa. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q. Chester, please give us some description of the cimbalom and a brief history of its origins in ancient Babylonia and its fascinating nomadic evolution through the Hungarian gypsies to the modern concert stage!

The cimbalom is a member of the chordophone family of instruments, along with the piano, harp, and other stringed instruments. It would be more readily recognized as a cousin of the American hammered dulcimer, and there are versions of the dulcimer in many countries throughout Europe and Asia. There is evidence of chordophones documented in the Old Testament, as King David played the psaltery!

The evolution of the dulcimer can be traced by the various diasporas of civilizations and travel and shipping patterns of colonization, with versions of the dulcimer such as the yang-qin of China, the santoor of India and Iran, the qanun of Syria, the Austrian Hackbrett, and many others.

Q. Beyond thrilling audiences with your “unnerving dexterity” (San Francisco Chronicle) and “vivid… and brilliant clarity” (NYT), what are you trying to do with the cimbalom?

My larger goals for the cimbalom are to expand its use as an instrument in the “standard repertoire”, and to change its image from one as a folk instrument to one of a new and expansive voice for composers yearning for vibrant colors and deep emotion.

Q. No Exit has commissioned two pieces for cimbalom from Douglas Knehans – a 20-minute concerto –and Chinese flutist/composer Hong-Da Chin, and the world-premiere of these works will happen during the ensemble’s upcoming concert series. Please describe your experience of learning and playing these pieces.

Through my collaboration with No Exit, we have conceived two works using instrumentations never heard before. The use of cimbalom and string quartet in Ecstatic Waves by Douglas Knehans explores the synergy of chordophones of different types, maximizing their similarities and differences. …tears… yet far yet near by Hong-Da Chin uses the No Exit ensemble in combination with cimbalom to showcase a multi-layered sonic exploration unlike any heard before.

Q. What other cimbalom excitement is in your plannable future?

I am very excited to be performing as Solo Cimbalom for the World Premiere of a new opera by American composer John Adams, Antony and Cleopatra. This premiere will take place with the San Francisco Opera in September 2022, and it will serve as my fourth premiere of his works.


From ClevelandClassical.com – Unheard-of//Ensemble On Climate, Place, and You

By Emmy Hensley
As the ongoing climate crisis continues to grow in severity, artists across all disciplines have turned to their work to bring about a call to action for members of society to do better — or perhaps, to remind them that this issue isn’t going to just go away. Brooklyn-based Unheard-of//Ensemble’s artistry takes this idea to a new level, inviting their audiences to fully engage with the music, space, and of course, nature that surrounds them during the evening.

Clarinetist Ford Fourqurean, cellist Issei Herr, pianist Daniel Anastasio, and violinist Matheus Souza make up the electroacoustic ensemble that has been touring together for over half a decade. Most recently, the group played for numerous colleges, universities, and performing arts centers in the southern part of the country. Along with their upcoming concert in Cleveland, the ensemble will return to Bowling Green State University to finish their Klingler ElectroAcoustic Residency (KEAR).

Unheard-of//Ensemble will perform Christopher Stark’s Fire Ecologies on Saturday, April 2nd, at 8:00 pm at SPACES. This 55-minute, multimedia work views the environment through the lens of climate change, with video and audio captured by Stark and Zlatko Ćosić.

“We started this project early on in the pandemic,” Fourqurean explained. “Stark drove through Montana, then to Oregon and Northern California, getting footage of the wildfires that were happening in September and October of 2020… we wanted to have a really interesting, evocative show that also interacts with the nature itself.”

The premiere of Fire Ecologies took place at Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal in September 2021. Fourqurean had been capturing video at the West Dredgers and made a connection with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy. The clarinetist noted that the environment here has its own paradoxical structure. “It’s interesting to see both the industrial waste and pollution, but also the rebuilding that’s going on. There’s actually a lot of wildlife returning.”

The ensemble hadn’t intended on premiering the work at the Canal, but when a friend from the Conservancy suggested otherwise, it felt like the perfect choice for a performance venue. The inlet they scouted allowed for the ensemble to perform on the water on a ten by twenty-foot raft. The location also provided audience members with the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in the concert experience by canoeing in the river thanks to the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club. The giant white wall on the other side of the Canal made it possible for video to be projected, bringing Stark’s concept to life.

Unheard-of//Ensemble has performed the work numerous times since the premiere in Brooklyn and each has offered a new perspective for audiences and performers alike.

“There’s something to be said about being on the water, experiencing that space,” said Fourqurean. “If you experienced this in a forest, it’d be a different mentality. That said, a concert hall with large speakers, a subwoofer, and a projection screen gives a really immersive experience as well. Different benefits come from each type of installation.”

The group is looking forward to their upcoming Saturday performance at SPACES in collaboration with No Exit. The versatility and customization capabilities that Fire Ecologies presents has assured the ensemble that they can deliver a resonating performance no matter where they play. Though having never worked with No Exit, Unheard-of//Ensemble is now partnering with the new music group via their mutual connections through Christopher Stark and Timothy Beyer.

In a world with rapidly shifting environments, climates, societal structures, and art forms, Unheard-of//Ensemble delivers an experience that encourages audiences to find their place in ever-changing landscapes.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (March 31, 2022). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Composer Christopher Stark on his Climate-Change-Inspired Works

By Laura King for NO EXIT

Born in 1980 in St. Ignatius, Montana, Christopher Stark is a composer of contemporary classical music deeply rooted in the American West. He is an Associate Professor of Composition for Washington University in St. Louis, where he shares his expertise in combining acoustic and electronic instruments and techniques. His latest work, Fire Ecologies, is a 55-min musical and visual collaboration with video artist Zlatko Ćosić that explores American landscapes through the lens of Climate Change. The piece will be performed in Cleveland by Unheard-of//Ensemble on Saturday, April 2, 8:00–9:00 pm at SPACES, a No Exit Presents event.

We caught up with Christopher recently to discuss his work:

Q. Christopher, to start, please give us an overview of your early relationship with music. What instruments got you going, and when did you start to compose? Where did you get your formal music education?

I began composing as an undergraduate at the University of Montana. Before that, I was a rock and metal singer and guitarist, and I had explored songwriting through that avenue. From there, I studied in Cincinnati and at Cornell University before finally ending up in St. Louis.

Q. How did your rural upbringing in western Montana inspire you creatively in a grand and more particular sense?

My work is pretty much always about landscape, which is directly tied to my upbringing. Montana has a much slower pace of life than most of the places I have lived or traveled to, and I think that pace is present in my work.

Q. When did you begin to combine travel adventures and composition? Did you go in search of something specific to inform a compositional work, or did you find your inspiration from some aspect of the trip?

Listening and capturing field recordings is a big part of my process. I get very inspired by being in new places because I experience a sense of freshness and naivety that really helps me indulge the creative part of my brain. I didn’t travel a lot growing up. I lived in Montana until I was 24 and I think I took my first plane ride when I was 18, so traveling is very exciting and still very new to me. I go, I listen, and almost always something interesting reveals itself as I’m paying attention.

Q. Please share a little about your piece 2nd Nature. What is the backstory to that piece, and what did you find to be most sonically exciting about the environments you explored in Northern Thailand and Vietnam?

2nd Nature contains a sample of an extremely intense and high-pitched insect population (cicadas?) that I recorded in the mountains of northern Thailand. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard. I recorded it and slowed it down and found it was made up of these incredibly slippery overtone pulsations, and I used that inspiration and technique to write something similar in the solo violin part.

Q. How did your multi-media work Fire Ecologies come to be, including your collaborations with Zlatko Ćosić and Unheard-of?

Unheard-of//Ensemble and I applied for a grant from Chamber Music America to write an hour-long piece, and we decided it would be nice to have a video element accompany the piece, so we hired Zlatko Ćosić to create a visual accompaniment to the music. I traveled in my car all around the United States collecting video and audio of instances of how Climate Change is reshaping our landscape, and I used these recordings to inspire the different parts of the piece. In many ways, it is still a work in progress, as I and the ensemble keep traveling and collecting sounds and recordings––it could be a piece that continues to evolve as things continue to change in our environment.

Q. In what ways did an up-close experience of the 2020 California wildfires affect you personally and creatively? What do you hope that the audience receives from your work?

The scale of it was very shocking. There were days when I would drive for 10-12 hours straight and be in smoke the entire time like a thick fog. The entire state of California was filled with smoke. You could see fires burning or see where fires had burned everywhere. After experiencing this piece, I hope that people will consider taking action to save our environment.

Q. Are there more creative travel adventures in your near future?

Yes! But they are yet to be announced. Stay tuned!


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit presents David & Jerome in live-processed piano works at the Bop Stop

By Mike Telin
Friend and Begin
When composer/pianist Jerome Begin was in need of a pianist for a dance project he was working on, the Cleveland native was faced with a conundrum. “Being a pianist, I have never hired a pianist,” he said during a Zoom call.

After speaking to a number of acquaintances asking for recommendations, he decided to contact David Friend. “Jerome sent along some of the pieces and we set a time to meet at Juilliard where he teaches,” Friend recalled during that zoom conversation. “We played through some of the music and immediately everything felt great. And it’s continued to be a really good partnership.”

On Thursday, March 10 at the Bop Stop, David and Jerome will perform Post, a 50-minute set of pieces for solo piano with live processing that explore a different way of creating an uncanny valley-esque reality where human, acoustic and electronic- processed elements interact and overlap in hard-to-define, disorienting ways. The event, presented by No Exit, is free.

Mike Telin: What was the genesis of Post?

David Friend: Like many new pieces it has a circuitous path. Jerome has worked with a number of dance companies including the Brian Brooks Moving Company. Brian was creating an evening-length work and he commissioned Jerome to write the music, so the music was developed in tandem with the choreography. Once the decision was made to use solo piano, that’s when I came onboard.

As things came together, there was a workshop performance at the Harris Theater in Chicago, and ultimately, it had a run at the Joyce Theater in New York City.

MT: What made the two of you decide to turn it into a music-only project?

DF: After the run at the Joyce it became clear that the dance part was going to come to an end because there was no interest from Brian in taking the project further. That’s when Jerome and I started thinking about what’s next. How can we make the music survive?

So we decided to make an album. We started the recording process and began to be in touch with some record labels, but of course, the pandemic put everything on hold.

MT: Did the extra time work to your advantage?

DF: It turned into a silver lining because it became a second workshop period.

So much of this music is about finding the gray areas — the integration of the electronic processing and the acoustic sound of the piano. The two are so intertwined that it becomes difficult to tease out what is piano and what is processing. So having an entire extra year gave us time to think about the music and re-evaluate and tweak things.

Jerome Begin: As I was mixing the recording, we were able to take time between each session and listen to it — so often you don’t have that luxury.

MT: How much did the music change during this period?

DF: It did take on an imprint from that period. It was a profoundly strange time where we were living in isolation and out of necessity technology became even more interwoven into our lives at all levels.

It was interesting to reconsider the musical concepts while I was thinking about how technology was affecting my life — could I tell how my mom was feeling over Facetime? And as a result, I think this music carries a lot of emotional intensity around those issues.

MT: When I listened to it I was impressed by how the electronic lines grow out of the piano lines.

DF: The music does contain a lot of familiar piano tropes which are informed by the fact that Jerome is a very fine pianist.

JB: I played piano in a band as a kid and when I was thirteen I got my first synthesizer. so I have these two musical histories — one that is electronic and one that is more of a classical bent.

I’m also a composer who really loves limits — writing for a string quartet, there are things that can and cannot be done and those limitations are so valuable. But once you introduce electronics you literally have the entire library of recorded sound available to you. So the question becomes, where do you draw the lines?

When I was asking myself that question I thought: what if I tie the electronics really tightly to the sound of the acoustic instrument?

I use an iPad, but I am actually playing the electronic processing like an instrument. And the reason it moves with the music is because the piece is a duet.

DF: There are no external electronic sounds coming into the piece — it all originates from the piano. But by the same token, it also means that, as with conventional chamber music, we are responding to each other.

It feels like an advancement for electro-acoustic chamber music because it’s not only one component of the piece that has the capacity to come to life during a live performance. It’s more than just clicking a button and having a live performer play along with something.

MT: Jerome, how did you begin writing for dance?

JB: When I was at Ohio University I stumbled my way into the dance department as an accompanist — I needed a part-time job. But the fluke of finding that job led to an entire career of writing for dance and theater. And the bulk of my commissions have come from the dance world.

It’s been interesting writing for dance and theater because it has changed the way I think about writing music. There’s an inherent “theater” in the performance of music. I don’t mean theatrics or performing over-dramatically, I mean just the act of performing music is theatrical. That’s always in my mind. What are the players doing and what are the relationships onstage? What is the audience feeling just being in the room with the people playing?

MT: Do either of you have any final thoughts?

JB: I’m looking forward to the last piece of the puzzle, which is what happens to a work that was created as an album when you put it in front of a live audience? How does it change and what do you learn about the piece? We’re both really excited to find out.

Post will be released on New Amsterdam Records on March 25.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (March 8, 2022). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Post- Collaborators David Friend and Jerome Begin

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Friend and Begin

David Friend is a classically-trained pianist who is interested in thinking beyond traditional boundaries that artificially restrain necessary experimentation and evolution in music. The New York Times describes him as “[one} of the finest, busiest pianists active in New York’s contemporary-classical music scene.“

Jerome Begin, described by the New York Times as a “fabulous composer-pianist“ and an “unimpeachable“ choice of collaborator, has composed many scores for dance, theater, concert works, installation, and film. He is equally at home in the classical, experimental, theatrical, and pop worlds.

In an upcoming No Exit Presents event, the two musicians will perform Post-, a 50-minute set of 9 pieces for solo piano with live processing. We caught up with David Friend recently:

Q. David, please tell us a bit about your growing-up years in southern Louisiana and how your experiences in that colorful locale ripened your musicality.

Southern Louisiana is a unique place, culturally speaking. For me, a big part of that was growing up surrounded by a variety of deeply rooted musical traditions that have evolved side by side and in conversation with each other over hundreds of years. My mom and my older sisters played the piano, and I started taking lessons quite early, which were mainly focused on classical music. However, my musical interests were always really broad, and I had a lot of musical outlets other than classical music growing up. I remember listening to Cajun radio with my dad on the weekends and translating the local gossip that the local DJs wove through the playlist (I spoke French, but my dad didn’t), but also my wonderfully broad-minded piano teacher lugging out the radically notated score to Makrokosmos by George Crumb when I was probably only 8 or 9 years old. Growing up in this environment, it would have been impossible for me to ever think that there was only one way to do music — to some extent that likely laid a foundation for my path in music, which I’ve never viewed as fitting squarely in any single existing tradition or role.

Q. When did you decide to pursue a music education and career, and how did you encounter your early muse, Phillip Kawin? What were his exceptional attributes as a teacher? What were the most valuable lessons that you absorbed from him?

I studied music pretty seriously from early on but decided to make a go of it about halfway through high school. To do that, I knew that I needed to get out of my stomping grounds to understand better how the broader music world functioned. I met Phillip Kawin at a summer music festival for pianists in upstate New York when I was 16, and he completely blew my mind. Our first lesson ended up being three hours long, even though I never got past the first six notes of the piece I was working on. I was astonished that he could work at such a microscopic level on the fundamentals of producing sound at the piano. That ultimately led me to study with him at the Manhattan School of Music after I graduated from high school. I feel fortunate to have spent six years working on two degrees with him — his approach as a teacher was intense and tremendously detailed, but he also gave his students a lot of freedom. I was always interested in working with living composers, playing unusual repertoire, and extending techniques and unconventional approaches to the instrument. He didn’t have a problem with that at all and let me pursue my musical interests while also instilling in me an incredibly deep well of technical resources for which I will always be grateful.

Q. Please share about your doctoral studies at Cornell with Xak Bjerken and your focus on experimental and contemporary keyboard performance. What was the subject of your dissertation, and why did you choose it?

By the time I started my doctorate at Cornell, I had already spent several years establishing myself in the New Music scene in New York. The doctoral program at Cornell allowed me to continue my work as a performer of new and experimental music and take a deep dive into the history, philosophy, and theory underpinning the music that I was playing and the emerging music scenes that I was a part of. My dissertation was about the keyboard music of Tristan Perich, but also charted the emergence of the particular New Music Community that developed in the late 90s and early 2000s in New York City and its connections to relevant generational, political, and economic factors.

Q.The “burgeoning movement of liberatory change” in the new music field is something you embrace as both theory and practice. Kindly discuss.

We live in (necessarily) revolutionary times, and the disruptions of social change affect every aspect of our lives. One of the things that I appreciate about working in experimental music and collaborating with living composers is the feeling of being a functional part of the process that moves culture forward. Experimentation helps us create the art that can effectively respond to and feel relevant to the reality of constant change in the human experience. In the case of Post-, I think of this project as a profoundly necessary reevaluation of what solo piano music can be and do. So many of the conventional tropes surrounding my instrument are rooted in musical cultures that existed decades or centuries ago. While history is important and traditions are not inherently bad, they can be stifling or lead to artificial evolutions that don’t feel authentically connected to contemporary society or relevant to the world we all live in. This project charts out a different approach – not by turning its back on the history, but by starting with the deep roots of pianism and growing another type of tree.

Q.Q. How did you and composer Jerome Begin collaborate on Post- ? Please describe the evolution of this project and your co-creative processes…

I’ll let Jerome cover this question!

Jerome Begin responds: Post- had its origins as a score for a contemporary dance work entitled Prelude. Choreographer Brian Brooks commissioned the music for an evening-length dance work.

In recent years, much of my work has involved the live, dynamic, electronic processing of acoustic instruments. For this work, Brooks and I decided on piano with live electronics. The experimentation began in my Brooklyn studio as I built an arsenal of sonic manipulations around the piano. Being a pianist myself, I then immersed myself in the process of improvisation at the piano while running the electronic processing, searching for constructions both acoustic and electronic that would result in the electronics being inextricably linked to the sound of the piano and functioning in a way that is deeply necessary to the piece.

I found myself being drawn to those effects that lead the listener to question what is acoustic and what is artificial and to puzzle out how the two relate. There is always a vital cause-and-effect connection between the two; if the piano stops playing, the electronics do nothing.

In the absence of text or program, all my work initially sets out to be simply about sound. Inevitably, emotional seeds begin to germinate and take root, weaving their way through the continuing sonic explorations and conceptual pursuits. By the time a work is finished, the two have become so thoroughly entwined that it’s impossible to say which process guided the other.

Rather than setting out to make a work about something in particular, I tend to uncover what a work is about once it is complete. Post- is no different. I am endlessly fascinated by that mysterious process by which initial sonic experiments gradually become formed and imbued with layers of meaning; how the pushing around of air molecules in audible frequencies becomes emotion once the listener’s presence completes the circuit. That ambiguous in-between space where my sounds meet the lived experience of the listener to wrap around one another is where the magic lies.

David Friend and I met when he came aboard for the performances of the dance work, and when it became clear that the dance piece had run its course, we decided together to continue the work as a music project. Our relationship from the start was a highly collaborative back-and-forth about the nuances of the work, at first in relation to the dance and eventually as a work in its own right. Our collaboration traversed the technical musical aspects of performing the work and the conceptual directions the work would take as we morphed it from a dance score to a concert work and recording. Post- for us has become an interrogation of what the piano can be and do in our current time, as well as a framework for contemplating our inextricable tangle with technology. It explores the place and definition of virtuosity, the effects of blurring/altering the familiar, and the fluid crossing of former boundaries that seem to dissolve all around us.

As a composer, I value these kinds of artistic relationships with players most. Together, David and I have uncovered ways of playing and thinking about the work. We are fascinated to see how this process continues as we venture out, bringing the piece to live audiences, completing that magic circuit.

Q.What visceral and interpretive experiences do you anticipate for the concert audience, and what would you personally like them to take away from the performance?

David Friend continues:This project is really a labor of love, and I hope that audiences will hear and feel how much of us has been poured into the piece. In many respects, Post- is a response to a reality all of us are experiencing—the gradual encroaching of digital technology into our daily lives and the impacts on our relationships and our sense of ourselves in the world around us. The music here reflects this deeply interwoven relationship, finding moments of both beauty and disorientation along the way. The boundaries between the electronic processing and the sound of the acoustic piano disappear, and often the listener will struggle to tease one from the other. By investigating these in-between spaces, we traverse new sonic experiences that resonate with the inner lives we are all cultivating in our rapidly shifting society.

The necessity of understanding ourselves, other people, and the world around us through a lens of intersectionality has become a necessity. I think that Post- charts out a vision of what a more contemporary, more relevant, more intersectional understanding of pianism can be. For me, the result is filled with meaning and beauty, and I hope it will be for listeners as well.

Q.Where do you see contemporary pianism heading in the next ten years?

I’m really heartened by the growing movement among musicians to step up to the plate on issues regarding equity and inclusion, as well as the newfound determination to prevent the cycles of abuse that have sadly been a reality for generations of musicians. I feel strongly that our cultural life will be strengthened when it isn’t premised on exclusion or riven with fear and trauma. This is when we can make meaningful structural changes, and we need to seize this opportunity. Beyond that, I think that the ecumenicalism that emerged in the 90s with organizations like Bang on a Can has been broadly beneficial to American music. We don’t need to engage in stylistic civil wars with each other or establish the value of our own music by denigrating the music of others. What a waste of time! I expect (or, anyway, hope) that this trend will continue. For performers, that means that playing new music will continue to require being fluent in an ever-widening range of vocabularies and techniques. I think that keeps things fresh and makes us all better musicians.


An Interview with Matt Shaffer, No Exit’s Art Director

By Laura King for NO EXIT

Ohio native Matt Shaffer, aka Edwin Wade, is a modernist printmaker, painter, and No Exit’s Art Director. Edwin’s creations, which range from surrealist collages to 1950’s abstraction, have been featured on HGTV’s Design Star and NBC’s Extreme Home Builders. He has shown in galleries from Palm Springs, Florida to Cleveland, and his art is available on Etsy: Here.

Recently, we caught up with Matt to learn a little more about the important role he has played for 13 seasons by visually presenting No Exit to the public:

Q. I understand that you have small town Ohio roots. Can you describe your childhood, adventures, and education?

I grew up in an idyllic small town in Ohio—think of Stand By Me or Stranger Things—with lots of adventures that included firearms, fishing, and hijinks. I was first introduced to painting and printmaking by a local art teacher who was also a professor at a nearby university. Most days, I squeezed in an extra class with him where I could experiment with materials and techniques. The knowledge and insight gained from doing that greatly influenced my young creative mind.

Q. Was your family artistic? How was your creative side discovered (by you and others) and expressed when you were young?

My mother was a wonderful drafter. I recall being astonished at the fidelity of her drawings and tried to mimic her artwork that seemed to appear out of thin air onto the paper. She nourished my artistic tendencies, and so did a neighbor who was an oil painter. I spent endless hours creating my own little worlds with crayons at the kitchen table. My talent and enthusiasm for art was recognized with two Scholastic Art Awards during elementary and middle school, which was pretty exciting.

Q. Please share around your art background and creative path. How did your career develop?

After a few years in the U.S. Marine Corps, I eventually landed at Youngstown State University and majored in studio art. My professors were all wonderful painters who had been involved in the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s-60s. I was influenced very much by them. I feel there is something quite romantic about the painters of that generation, and New York City was the epicenter of the movement. An early idol of mine was Jackson Pollock. I adopted his blue-collar approach to his artmaking and have used this effectively in my professional career as both a painter and graphic designer.

Fast forwarding a few years, another important influencer introduced me to the magic of Adobe Illustrator. Wow! I was blown away! I became fascinated by the possibilities that the computer afforded me as an artist. I set about learning that software, and specifically how to apply a hand-drawn feeling to otherwise flat and cold graphics.

Q.Is Edwin Wade an alter-ego? What are the origins of your professional name (if I have that assumption right)?


Q.You have an obvious passion for mid-century modernist art. What about that movement engages and inspires you as an enthusiast, collector, printmaker, and painter?

I consider the Mid-Century Modern era to have produced the high art of modern western civilization. The aesthetics and philosophy of that period still influence contemporary art and design today. The period is rich in history, art, design, music, and literature, and by immersing myself in this vast pool of knowledge, I hope I’ll arrive at similar conclusions in my own work. I have been an avid collector of Mid-Century Modern art and design for many years, with a focus on the work of Charles and Ray Eames.

Q.When did you first connect with Tim Beyer? At what point did you begin to work with No Exit?

Tim and I have been great friends for a long time, and we share a similar enthusiasm for modernism. In the very beginning, we discussed what direction No Exit should take graphically and easily reached consensus. We both love the work of the famed Bauhaus and Czech Avant Garde artists of the 1930s—and the rest is history, as they say. We have always tried to marry our graphic materials with the new music from each concert to generate a rich, cohesive expression. If I remember correctly, I’ve worked as No Exit’s Art Director from the second concert program onward.

Q.Please describe your responsibilities and working processes for No Exit. How do you envision and design the graphics for a concert event to correspond with the musical program?

My responsibility is to oversee all printed and visual aspects of the ensemble’s presentation. I have directed the visual identity of No Exit to reach our current take on avant-garde photo montages. My design process relies heavily on the use of vintage design elements, including historical photography, ephemera, and hand-drawn elements. Many of the images are photos of the people and places in Cleveland’s past—if you are local and look closely, you may recognize some of them. The tone or theme of the musical pieces in each concert that is performed by the ensemble acts as a framework that underlies the whole design. The works for No Exit always include a handbill, program cover, and graphics for the website. Sometimes I have the chance to create a CD cover or some apparel. My newest T-shirt turns No Exit’s design philosophy into a surreal wearable experience—I am very happy about this one!

Q.You have a young son… how has being Dad impact you work? Does Jackson have creative inclinations?

My son is on the cusp of turning seven years old. Raising Jackson has greatly reduced the time I could spend on my personal work and therefore the quantity, but I am planning to get back to painting soon. It is something I’ve greatly missed. Being surrounded by art and design is making a huge impact on my son, naturally. He is very excited to learn how to make art and I’m glad to oblige him.


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit embarks on a number of firsts

By Mike Telin
No Exit
Now that musical ensembles are presenting concerts in front of in-person audiences, many groups are reviving plans that had been put on hold.

On Friday, December 10 at 7:30 pm in Kent State University’s Ludwig Recital Hall, No Exit, will present the first of three area concerts in partnership with a group of composers known as The Collective.

The program includes works by Amelia Kaplan, Mathew Rosenblum, Douglas Knehans, Cindy Cox, Pamela Madsen, and Konstantin Koukias. The program will be repeated on December 11 at 8:00 pm at the Bop Stop and on the 18th at 8:00 pm at Praxis Fiber Workshop. The concerts are free.

“This is a new adventure in programming — playing an entire program of pieces by one group of composers,” No Exit artistic director Tim Beyer said during a recent telephone conversation. “We will be playing their works throughout this season.”

Beyer, who is a member of The Collective, described it as “a diverse group of accomplished, established composers,” adding that while it was formed two years ago, this will be their first outing. “We planned a lot of things, but the pandemic hit and everything was all put on hold. So this is the first series of concerts that the group has done.”

How did the members find each other? “Douglas Knehans is sort of the founder and director of the group. I got to know him because of No Exit’s ongoing Cimbalom Project when he wrote a piece for Chester Englander. We were talking and one thing led to another and soon the topic of The Collective came up.”

Regarding the music, Beyer noted that although No Exit has programmed electro-acoustic pieces in the past, this series includes more than usual.

“Matthew Rosenbloom’s Two Harmonies is interesting because he uses a piano that is played with a Midi keyboard. And that is tuned to a different temperament and balance than the piano, so the two are interacting with each other, and in Matthew’s hands, the results are quite wonderful.”

Another electro-acoustic work is Konstantin Koukias’ Byzantine Images for flute and digital delay. “The flute is mic’d, and there is a delay in some of the flute lines as well as an electronic distortion.”

The program also includes Amelia Kaplan’s Unnatural Tendencies for solo piano, Douglas Knehans’ Mist Waves, Cindy Cox’s Blackwork, Scarletwork for string trio, and Pamela Madsen’s Owl’s Breath for bass clarinet.

In February 2022 No Exit and The Collective will take the program to New York City for performances at Le Frak Concert Hall in Queens on the 9th and at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on the 11th — another No Exit first. “We’re all looking forward to it,” Beyer said. “It’s a great thing for us.”

While a Carnegie Hall debut is noteworthy, Beyer was clear about expressing No Exit’s appreciation to all of the local venues who regularly host the ensemble. “The series also includes our debut performance at Praxis Fiber Workshop. That’s another COVID thing, we had booked it two years ago but, you know. So we’re happy to finally be able to play there.

It’s a great venue, and that’s something that is appealing to us. But whether it’s SPACES, Heights Arts, Arts Collinwood, The Bop Stop, Kent State, or Cleveland State, they all serve such an important role in the community, so we always feel that these places are important partnerships.”

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (December 9, 2021). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Amelia Kaplan, Composer and Educator

By Laura King for NO EXIT

Amelia (Amy) S. Kaplan is a composer whose music creates meaning by juxtaposing and recontextualizing refined gestures crafted from the myriad of sounds accessible in our wired environment. A recent recipient of a Copland House residency, Amelia’s works have been performed at festivals worldwide. She holds degrees from the University of Chicago and Princeton. She heads Theory and Composition at Ball State, and directs the New Music Ensemble. Amy is also a member of The Collective, a consortium of internationally renowned composers that includes No Exit’s artistic director Timothy Beyer.

We caught up with Amelia recently to talk about her projects and processes:

Q. Amy, we enjoy hearing the backstory to new musical works, and learning about their composers. Could you give us some insight into your early years and musical beginnings?

I had a pretty conventional middle-class upbringing. I started on violin and piano at age 9. I swapped violin for flute when I was 10, and then when I couldn’t get any sound out of that I switched to clarinet. I continued on clarinet and piano through graduate school (lessons) and added in oboe and saxophone in high school. I played in lots of orchestras throughout junior and high school (California), college, and grad school. I majored in physics in college, never imagining I would pursue music as a career because it seemed too difficult to “make it” in music. and I didn’t want to spend 5 hours per day in a practice room. I also loved science and I didn’t know one could be a composer.

In the end though, once I discovered in college that there were still composers, I decided to attend grad school in composition since it would allow me to combine the problem-solving aspect of science with the freedom of music (there were too many requirements to switch majors in college once I had started the physics degree, so I graduated in that to avoid having to spend an extra expensive year).

My piano teacher in high school was friends with Ernst Krenek and we all had to play pieces by him, so I learned a set of 12-tone pieces. I loved 20-C music from the first piece I heard, so I already had an affinity for post-tonal music when I was young, but Krenek was in his 80s when I met him (c. 1980) and I didn’t realize there were composers younger than his generation because their music was not played by symphony orchestras or in schools, and there was no internet. Hence, another reason for my lack of knowledge about composition as a career option.

Q. Please share around your music education at University of Chicago and Princeton. Who were your influencers in those years and how did they influence your evolution and trajectory?

As mentioned above I did not study much music at Princeton, but I did play in the orchestra and in a newly formed new music improv group. Specifically, I worked with J.K Randall (a very “out there” composer) and a grad student, Mark Nelson, who went on to teach at a few small colleges, though I haven’t been in touch with him in decades so I’m not sure where he is now. They were both very much from the John Cage end of the spectrum of composition – graphic scores or at least lots of aleatory. I loved performing this music but did not see myself writing music like this. (Once I met grad students in composition at Princeton, I realized it was a “thing.”).

After I graduated from college, I discovered that some composers were still writing music with specific pitches and rhythms on paper, so I worked at Bell Labs for four years while I went into New York and took private composition lessons with a composer at Juilliard. (My piano teacher was going to school there to earn a doctorate in piano, so she set me up.) Then I applied to grad school when I had completed three pieces – mostly sounding like early 20th-century music (Bartók and Stravinsky kind of harmony). I was pretty naïve at the time, so when the University of Chicago offered me a full fellowship, that’s where I decided to go since I did not have funds to pay for more education myself. I loved it! Intellectually, I still think it’s the best school to be at, and when I was a student, musicology there was the best in the country, and I took advantage of that. (I almost switched to musicology from composition.) I studied composition with Ralph Shapey—an interesting experience—and then Shulamit Ran, Marta Ptazynska, and John Eaton. I learned a lot from all of them. All were/are very pitch and rhythm-based composers, so I developed my more traditional craft with them. What I do now is must more focused on gesture and timbre, and it took me awhile of being away from there to get into a more interesting space, from my perspective.

Q. The diversity of your interests is intriguing. Your website bio mentions fondness for referencing historic music, Jewish music, Indian Classical music, and physics. Where were you exposed to these various elements and how did they grab you?

I was exposed to all of these growing up. I was a classical music nerd and spent my free time sight reading through standard piano rep (Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, even Bartók) and listening to and playing standard orchestral rep (again Beethoven, Brahms, but also Stravinsky). I’m Jewish, so that’s been part of my heritage from before I was born, and we always had great musicians/singers at our synagogue. Physics and “historic” music you now know about. I can’t remember when I first was exposed to Indian classical music, but in grad school I became hooked – probably from a concert – and I sat in on an Indian music course. When I was teaching at the University of Iowa, I drove down to the Maharishi University and took tabla lessons, then later took sitar for a semester–not enough to be able to play much of anything, but enough to understand more what goes on. I haven’t had much time to spend time with it lately, but it’s still a love of mine.

Q.Please illuminate for us your sound-world and compositional processes.

Timbre and gesture are usually starting points for me, and when I begin a piece, I usually spend time thinking about the types or sounds I want to use, more than melodies or rhythms. That usually means exploring all the possible extended techniques one can do on each instrument. Piano is obviously one of the more limited instruments unless one prepares it. I usually do that, but for this project that wasn’t possible, so I decided to make ample use of the sostenuto pedal that allows one to keep the hammers on individual notes raised while the rest of the keyboard works as usual. (When a key is depressed, the note sounds, and when it is released, it is stopped.)

I also think a lot about gesture and musical narrative. Because I grew up absorbing such a large amount of standard classical music literature, more conventional dramatic shapes are so natural for me, and I don’t find that particularly interesting. As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to structure the passage of time in alternative ways, not always successfully. I find it helpful to watch movies or read books that structure story telling in non-conventional ways, or control time in non-conventional ways. Or to listen to music that structures time in non-conventional ways.

Q.You have directed your creative powers in recent years toward writing works for the sake of planetary health and wellbeing. What is your ultimate aim with these pieces? Do you believe it is possible for contemporary classical music to effect meaningful change, and if so, how?

Ultimately, I don’t really think contemporary classical music by itself can really effect meaningful change, if by that you mean motivate people to do more for the planet by recycling, driving less, eating less meat, etc. It’s hard, if not impossible, to be specifically representational with music alone. That’s pretty pessimistic, I realize, but who knows, maybe even just creating a message that gets spread through program notes in concerts will subtly nudge some folks to do even something small. A band piece I completed in 2019, The Permian Divide, is just now being performed by our wind symphony, and it’s tangentially based on climate change. (Inspired by having read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction, but the original performance was cancelled because of COVID.) So, that gives me an opportunity to amplify the message that we need to do something about it now through the program notes that accompany the piece. And our band concerts tend to be very well attended, so that provides an advantage over a typical new music concert.

Q.Your work Unnatural Tendencies for solo piano will be included in No Exit’s upcoming concert series featuring works by members of The Collective. Backstory please!

Because I was not allowed to prepare the piano (put screws or erasers into the strings, or damp them by hand, e.g.) and was thus limited in timbral variety, I decided to focus almost entirely on gesture. Specifically, I wanted to suggest traditional gestures and then thwart their “natural tendency” for conventional harmonic motion and developmental pacing, and instead take them to unexpected places or drastically alter the rate at which the events would unfold…. kind of like stopping to read a footnote in the middle of a narrative, which slows the story unfolding.

Afterwards, I realized this was much like what was happening to us during COVID. All our natural tendencies had to be held in check—to hug someone we hadn’t seen in a long time, or shake hands on being introduced to someone, or sit near someone. As a teacher having to negotiate with students on Zoom and in the classroom simultaneously, I found my natural activities had to be rethought, and I had to focus on technology instead of teaching. I found this extremely frustrating, because I could only see what students were writing at the desks, and if I wrote on the board, I had to repeatedly rearrange my laptop for the online participants. The way I structured time had to be adjusted. Even now, I am dealing with the fallout of students having spent an “unnatural” senior year in high school by adjusting my teaching pace and activities.

Q.What petite or grand ambitions do you have for 2021, as a composer and as an educator in these strange pandemic-delineated times?

I have no grand ambitions – just getting through this and hopefully back to some semblance of normal will be enough. I am lucky to have a sabbatical this Spring (officially “special assigned leave”…we’re not supposed to call it a sabbatical), so I’m working on a piece for two pianists, and I am allowed to have them play inside. The work is mostly a commentary on social justice/injustice and will play with the relationship between the two pianists, but since I’m still conceptualizing the piece, I don’t want to say more.

As for being an educator, I’m hoping to just continue our “normal” way of doing things. We all must wear masks, which I am fine with, since it doesn’t really interfere with teaching, and our students who play in ensembles are vaccinated, so even performing is relatively normal. Any grand changes that would be a result in a return to online teaching will require more technology, so that would mean more funds and better tools. But that is not something I have any control over.


An Interview with Douglas Knehans, Composer and Founder of The Collective

By Laura King for NO EXIT

Douglas Knehans is an American/Australian composer and the Norman Dinerstein Professor of Composition Scholar at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He also directs the Ablaze record label to record and produce music by living composers and founded The Collective, a cooperative group of exceptional and diverse compositional voices who share resources, contacts, and new works to further their art and the experimental music genre.

Recently Douglas discussed these endeavors and his other passions with No Exit:

Q. Douglas, you were born in St Louis, but received your early education in Australia. Please tell us a little bit about family and your beginning years, and how you encountered music and developed your interest and talents.

When I was about 13 we moved from my home city of St. Louis, Missouri to Sydney, Australia for my father’s work. Soon thereafter his work placed us more permanently in what I now think of as my second home Melbourne, Australia.

I had always wanted to engage with people on a very intimate and emotional and immediate level. However, this, of course, is not really how society works, so I sought out an artform through which to affect such immediate communication. I had dabbled somewhat in visual art—painting, drawing and photography mostly—until I was looking through our family’s rather catholic collection of records and found a Bach solo violin record. This really changed my whole quest for deeper communication and my focus turned to music. I was 16 and had never played an instrument, could not read music, did not know theory or anything. After looking at a few different instrument choices I settled on flute and started lessons in both flute and music theory. Eighteen months later I was accepted into the Australian National University’s Canberra School of Music and began my training.

Q. Who were your mentors and muses during your education, and then beyond?

My first real mentor was Thea Musgrave who I worked with at Queens College and has since become a wonderful colleague and friend. My teachers at Yale: Jacob Druckman; Lukas Foss; Betsy Jolas and Jonathan Berger were also tremendously influential. Beyond student days I would cite people I have been lucky enough to work with on a less formal basis: Pierre Boulez and Witold Lutosławski most prominently.

Q. Your website describes your work as being about metaphorically pairing nature and natural forms with the most visceral experiences of human relationships and life. How did this overarching theme come to pervade your work?

Drama seems to have a foot equally in our personal as well as artistic worlds, I suppose. There is nothing more dramatic than nature and natural forms and the more I reflected on it, it really seemed to me that we inhabit two worlds: the external one in which we move about and are social and work and play and the internal one that seems to be in a state of constant reconstruction, re-formation and even re-invention as we grow and change emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually. This grew more and more powerful as a metaphor for me. With the degradation and evolution of our planet in response to climate change, the fluidity even of nature itself seemed to be thrust more centrally into our lives in a way that it was not when I was a child, for example. These two forces coming together in their fluid changeability seemed an excellent vessel for my music and my musical voice.

Q.”The sounds of nature course through the orchestral pieces…with a primitive force and melodic insistence that recall Stravinsky,” said The New Yorker. Please in a few of your own sentences describe your personal soundscape for us.

I seek to balance the dramatic and image-fixed notion of an external world—a visual that represents a soundscape if you like—and once this image is established start to tighten or extract from it an expressive world, an emotional world, that is based on an imagined internal landscape of the heart and mind that is related to and perhaps even not completely unlike the externalized world I have sought to establish through—I hate this term—”sound painting.” I think one of the issues I struggle with relating well in words is how these two are subtly established in a nuanced way and counterpoint each other and interact with each other which, at the end of the day, is quite fluid and contextual. There is something about the elemental ‘rawness’ of nature that seems similar to the unvarnished human emotions we all go through. This external/internal-macro/micro dialectic seem quite similar to me and really engage my whole creative being in a very holistic and immersive way that results in music with a dramatic surface but also with, I hope, an emotional depth that is immediate and clear.

Q.You are involved with Ablaze records, a label that represents living composers across a wide range of media: chamber, orchestral, electronic, choral, and ensemble music, plus composer and performer ‘portrait’ discs. How did you connect with this project and what does it mean to your overall musicality?

Ablaze Records is a label that I own and curate and established in 2008. What it means to my overall musical life is that I am privileged to connect with a huge range of composers from around the world—I think by last count well over 300 of them—and act as producer for our recordings—orchestral, choral, chamber music etc. I am pretty good at getting into the language of a wide range of composers and this helps me to direct the recordings so that the composers’ style is well represented. It has also allowed me to form terrific artistic partnerships with groups like the absolutely tremendous Brno Philharmonic in Czech Republic, the chamber choir Coro Volante here in Cincinnati, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Glasgow and the CCM Wind Orchestra among a host of other ensembles.

Q.As a member of The Collective, No Exit will be performing one of your works, Mist Waves, in an upcoming concert that will spotlight composers within that organization. Can you share the backstory to your piece on the program, and would you also talk a bit about The Collective?

Yes. Mist Waves was unusual for me—I wrote the whole seven-minute piece in one working day start to finish. It is a kind of a loose chaconne in structure and is about mist or fog and this comes in waves as we walk or drive through it: sometimes it is little more than a vagueness and other times almost impenetrably thick. The image made me think of how sometimes our feelings and thoughts are known and unknown to us in unequal proportions and intensities. So the structure is fluid and not “locked” even though it is broadly repetitive and the solo part meanders through this landscape in a searching and expressive, rather emotional and yet distant way. I am extremely fond of the piece.

The Collective was formed by myself when I decided to invite a bunch of composers with quite diverse compositional voices into a collective where we pool our resources, networks, and musical works to achieve cool outcomes for all of us. The first of these is happening in Cleveland thanks to the enormous generosity of No Exit New Music Ensemble and will culminate in a concert at Carnegie Hall in February 2022.

Q.In addition to work with Ablaze, you have responsibilities as an educator at Cincinnati Conservatory, and to your family, including your wife Josephine, two children, and a very authoritative dog. How do you find time and motivation to turn initial inspiration into a completed score? 

For me the key is clarity and planning. I can’t really do anything of substance—compositionally or otherwise—without a kind of game plan or agenda. So, it really is not about how much time one has, it is about how efficiently and well one uses that time. Once I have a plan and materials the piece is pretty much solidly ‘oriented’ and then I can work as much or as little on it each day and it is still work that contributes to the final result. The motivation seems to happen at the very beginning of the work—some might call this ‘inspiration’—and results in a plan and foreground materials. Once these are in place the completed score is almost inevitable over time. My only rule is to compose every single day.
Q.Your website describes you as a vegan who enjoys organic food and wine with his politics, and as an advocate for animal rights. How did you develop this last passion, and what is the extent of your involvement in humane causes? Does your family take these issues to heart too?

The issue of animal rights is, for me, little different than that of human rights. I guess I think of it as sentient being rights! I became vegan for health reasons, and I found over time that I was actually eating really yummy food for a long time and from a hugely diverse range of cuisines from around the world and the question just seemed to come to me “So… why exactly do we need to kill and/or oppress animals?” The thought that I kill and eat you because I can and because I am smarter and more organized and more technological and have opposable thumbs is one that more and more played on my mind and became troubling to me. Animals are trusting, have feelings and intelligence. They are without malice and one with the earth and seasons and each other. The arrogance of our “superiority” in being able to dupe an animal into a holding cage in order to slaughter it just saddens me tremendously and says all the wrong and worst things about us as humans.

I know that this whole attitude is considered weird and maybe hippy-dippy by many, and some years ago I would have been one of those criticizing such views! However, if we change one thing in our lives there is an onflow of change. For me I stopped eating animals and animal products for selfish reasons and the weird development was that, over time, it made me less selfish, more humane, and more one with the earth and my fellow sentient inhabitants. I don’t really bang on about this to friends and family and others—their choices are their choices—but I have made mine and I feel good about it.


An Interview with James Praznik—No Exit’s Associate Director and Man of Multifarious Hats

By Laura King for NO EXIT
James Vs Swan

James Praznik is a composer, conductor, pianist, sound engineer, filmmaker, copywriter and more. His varied artistic endeavors has garnered acclaim among his peers, as well as audiences. As a composer of highly expressive music, James has written works for concerts, stage productions and videogames. He is an associate director of “No Exit” and is an original member of “Duo Approximate.” a group that performs live soundtracks to silent films. James holds a bachelor’s degree in composition and theory from the University of Akron, where he studied composition with Daniel McCarthy and Nikola Resanovic and piano under Philip Thomson. He received a master’s degree in composition at Cleveland State University, under Andrew Rindfleisch and Greg D’Alessio. Currently, James is on the verge of completing his PhD in Music Composition and Theory at Brandeis University, where he also serves as the music department’s recording engineer and technologist.

Q. When in your Cleveland youth did you and music meet? What persons, places, and things inspired and motivated you to pursue composition as an undergraduate and beyond?

The musical avenues of my young life are deeply rooted in the great traditions of a younger brother idealizing all the activities of his sibling. My desire to study piano came from nothing more than seeing my older brother playing the instrument. The same can be said for me choosing to be a percussionist in my school ensembles – my brother chose the instrument and I dove in after him. Granted, in the end I ended up being much more dedicated to music than him.

Composing on the other hand is something which emerged out of my curious discovery of the Cleveland Composers Guild. A friend saw in the paper that a local composer was premiering his first symphony at Cleveland State. My young mind couldn’t believe that people were still writing music like this (contemporary concert music seems to be one of the world’s best kept secrets) and I just had to hear the result. Sometime later, I discovered that my piano teacher was friends with the composer of that symphony, the prolific wind composer Dan Rager, and offered to introduce us. I ended up studying composition with him during my junior and senior years of high school and learned a ton about the ecosystem of composers in Cleveland. It was at his suggestion that I attended the premiere of the late Dennis Eberhard’s magnificent work for orchestra and children’s chorus “To Catch the Light”, a concert which cemented my desire to dedicate my academic life to composition.

Then again, in a less romantic way, it was the sheer amount of technical knowledge which drew me to study composition in an academic setting. I was compelled to not just have a cursory appreciation of what made the intricate and colorful music of the 20th century function, but to also understand it and absorb it on a fundamental level. That sort of understanding requires a continuum of knowledge that traditionally embodies the foundation of academia.

Q. Tim Beyer describes you as a renaissance person – masterful as a musician, composer, filmmaker, music technologist, audio engineer, and more. Was your evolution as such accidental or deliberate? Describe the critical junctures on the map of your artistic travels to date.

I never considered the skills I’ve accrued throughout my life as having any deliberate origins. Every time I dig into a new artform it is under the umbrella of simply refusing to let a good idea die on the vine. When I reach a roadblock, I take the time to adapt to a problem, learn the intricacies of its solution and never believe that I am only capable of writing music. To my mind, creativity and curiosity are intimately linked. Ultimately, I would really describe myself simply as an endlessly curious person.

In terms of critical junctures, I would cite any instance where I first met with an especially supportive mentor. Often I had second-guessed my trajectory or standing in the musical community, but being nurtured by people like Philip Thomson, my piano teacher, Andrew Rindfleisch and Greg D’Alessio, my composition mentors at Cleveland State, or Tim Beyer, my close partner in crime and one of the first people to relay that my art is something special, has made me feel like a part of something bigger at every critical point of my adult life.

Q. As a composer, you are fluent in several musical genre, having composed original works for concerts, stage productions, commercial video games, etc. Please share about your unique creative process—inspiration through perspiration to performance.

My creative process is far from elaborate or mysterious. Essentially, I have one piece of criteria to satisfy before beginning a project: I need to feel as though I spent far too much time watching television, films or reading books. As I binge on these things, I take the moments between to consider what my imagination sees as my next performance piece and do my best to hold on to that inspiration. If I forget something by the end of my binge, it clearly didn’t leave a strong impression. At some point before the deadline, I force myself to begin writing and inevitably start loving each moment where I can sit down and continue chipping away at my material. Oh, and as every artist will tell you, deadlines help a lot.

Q.Please discuss your film arts endeavors, including your structured improvs to silent films. How were you able to draw on past filmmaking projects during the pandemic trail to help create the uber-engaging No Exit online concert experience?

In so many ways, my film endeavors perfectly reflect my relationship to the arts. I would love to engage so much more frequently in creating these things, but I am too often held hostage by what one might think of as “the right circumstances.” I love working on projects where everyone has the same unwavering enthusiasm. This is the spirit which allowed me to partner with someone like Garrett Cameron (the saxophonist in Duo Approximate) in crafting compelling soundtracks for several silent films. We would rehearse every other day and simply improvise over a single chunk of a film again and again. Once we had material which we felt embodied the spirit of the film we would move on to the next section. I will add that the one criterion for us to work on a film was that neither one of us could be familiar with it in any way. This allowed us to keep the spirit of surprise throughout the rehearsal process since neither of us truly knew where the plot was going until we had basically completed our soundtrack.

That same spirit of unwavering enthusiasm inspired me to work with Tim and the musicians of No Exit in creating our unique concerts throughout 2020 and 2021. Tim and I discussed how every detail would reflect who we are as Clevelanders and musicians and we both worked tirelessly to make these shows happen exactly how we imagined. Likewise, it was Tim who encouraged me to contribute intermission materials where I could exercise my creative spirit and contribute something unpredictable to our audience with increasingly bizarre results. I embraced my limitations and came out of the pandemic with some really fun things to share.

Q.Q. Your top five film noir movies are …?

Top five film noir movies…..in no particular order….. and with the condition that there are so many more to speak of: Touch of Evil (Orson Welles 1959), Pale Flower (Masahiro Shinoda 1964), Out of the Past (Jaques Tourneur 1947), The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks 1946) and Double Indemnity (BIlly Wilder 1944).

Q.When did you first connect with Tim Beyer and what won you over? What does your No Exit task list look like these days as Associate Artistic Director?

What won me over with Tim is how upon spending time with him I discovered a similarly endless amount of compassion and curiosity to my own. And much like myself, the real core of Tim cannot, and should not, be apparent in a first meeting. We first met in 2006 at a concert celebrating Eliott Carter’s 100th birthday, but it wouldn’t be until 2008 when I started to see the depths of his humanity and how he deeply thought about every aspect of existence (a rare trait in the 21st century). Since then, I have had so many new worlds shared with me through his experience, and I love discovering what he curates when we are exploring films, books or art.

In terms of my role in No Exit, much like Tim I jump in and do whatever is necessary to make sure our vision is realized, whether that requires me to be a filmmaker, conductor, pianist, technician, lighting artist, roadie, recording engineer, producer, web-manager, copywriter, or simply emotional support. And I’m sure as we expand our vision for what the ensemble is, Tim and I will continue discovering new challenges to redefine the limits of our curiosity.


An Interview with Ogni Suono’s Noa Even

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Jiri Trtik

Formed by saxophonists Noa Even and Phil Pierick in 2010, Ogni Suono is committed to expanding and promoting repertoire for saxophone duo by commission and performing new works. They have released two albums of commissioned works—Invisible Seams and SaxoVoce. The duo has performed on concert series around the US and toured internationally. Below, Noa Even talks to No Exit about Phil and her passion and commitment around expanding the new music repertoire for sax, and their desire to go deep with each piece they perform.

Q. Congratulations on your 10th anniversary as Ogni Suono. How did the universe conspire to bring you and Phil together? What moved you to form a duo in 2010? What is your mission and what does the name mean?

Thank you! Phil and I were placed in the same saxophone quartet when we were both students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I was there to pursue a master’s degree and Phil was an undergraduate senior in the studio. The quartet didn’t last, but the following year, while Phil was studying abroad in Paris, we decided to commission two pieces for the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial Conference. Following that experience, we decided to put together a full program and book our first tour, which took us through Iowa and Illinois. Aside from two years when we both lived in Cleveland, our duo has always been long-distance.

The name Ogni Suono comes from our first commission, entitled ogni suono come un’essere vivente, Italian for “Every Sound Like a Living Being.” The piece was composed by our friend Jimmy Bunch, who was a student at UIUC with us at the time. We decided that “Ogni Suono” (every sound), although sometimes challenging for Americans to pronounce, was a fitting description of what we do. We’ve always enjoyed exploring the sonic possibilities of our instrument alongside composers. Our mission has been to expand the repertoire for saxophone duo in both depth and breadth.

Q. Ogni Suono has commissioned a lot of exciting work over the last decade. What inspires you to a engage a specific composer? Working with them, how much direction do you give for a new work and how collaborative are you and they during the writing, refining and performance phases? (I.e., What is your process as a commissioning and performing duo?)

We have honed the collaborative process over time. From the earliest conversation with a composer, we are clear that we’d like to be involved throughout the stages of composition: workshopping with the composer if they want to experiment with techniques, seeing sketches or drafts, answering questions regarding notational preferences, recording sound bites for feedback, etc. Ideally, the composer is open to suggestions, both technical and artistic, as we are practicing and rehearsing the piece. Sometimes, changes are made following the premiere or subsequent performances. This can pose a challenge for us, but always leads to a better result.

Compared to most new music ensembles, we have not commissioned that many works in our ten plus years together. Logistically, as a long-distance ensemble, it’s quite overwhelming to learn a brand new program each season and much more enjoyable to mix and match new music with pieces we’ve already performed. Most importantly, we love performing our music many times over so that the music has longevity and evolves with us over time. It’s also great for the composers to have multiple performances of their music rather than just one or two, as they often receive royalties and reach more audiences. Phil and I spend hours meticulously refining each piece and having repeat performances makes our investment worthwhile.

Q. Please talk about your interest in the integration of voice and saxophone. How did this theme excite you and then evolve to become your second album, SaxoVoce, released in 2015?

At the time, we were looking for a themed project that challenged us performatively in a new way. I can’t quite remember why voice came to mind as an option, but it immediately seemed appealing. Using our own voices was a way for us to connect with audiences, draw them in, and enhance an already vocal instrument. Phil is a trained vocalist—he studied voice for several years. I enjoyed singing as a kid, but never took lessons. The new challenge of learning to vocalize in various ways and allow composers to find new sounds was right up our alley.

Q.When you toured through Asia, Eastern Europe and the UK in 2019, how were you received by the various music cultures you encountered? Can you share a few memorable and/or transformative moments from the international tour?

In Asia, there has been a sense of awe or even slight shock from our audiences following our performances. In Europe, there has sometimes been a deeper sense of appreciation and respect. In both cases, there seems to be a bit more gratitude from audiences abroad than in the United States. This could also be because we are coming from another part of the world, so audiences appreciate that we’ve traveled to play for them. In Asia, the most striking difference in the post-concert experience is the number of photos people are interested in taking with us!

Q.How do your roles as educators enhance your creative musical activities—for example, envisioning and manifesting your future?

As teachers, we are often putting processes and even abstract concepts into words. The act of doing so serves to clarify things to ourselves as well. Until I can explain something to someone else, am I really an expert? Perhaps, but the teaching process deepens and expands my understanding significantly. My own playing and artistry have improved tremendously since finishing graduate school and I really believe that teaching is primarily responsible. Solving my students’ problems has helped me solve mine.

Q.What did 2020’s pandemic isolation mean for Ogni Suono? Given the state of the world, do you have a Plan A and Plan B for 2022, and if so please describe them!

For us, the pandemic meant a delayed 10th anniversary season. We had planned to take a break following our 2018-2019 season, but not the long one that Covid demanded! Now that I am in Philadelphia and Phil is in Chicago, we’ll need to be strategic about scheduling. We do have a few bigger commissions in the works that we’re hoping to fund in the next couple of years. However, we both have other performance activities, work, teaching, etc., so we’ll be compartmentalizing our activities and meeting up for more consolidated stints. No plans for 2022 quite yet, but we’re optimistic that performing will still be a possibility.

Q.How do your roles as educators enhance your creative musical activities—for example, envisioning and manifesting your future?

I can’t remember exactly when I first attended a No Exit concert in Cleveland, but it must have been in 2015 or 2016. At the time, there were one or two other new music ensembles, but none with the same depth of programming and long-term planning as No Exit. Tim Beyer and his team put so much thought into striking a programming balance by featuring local composers, bringing in guest composers to collaborate with the ensemble, and performing existing works. When one zooms out and considers the Cleveland music scene, it’s clear that No Exit is really the only ensemble championing works by living composers and doing so thoughtfully and at a high level. They play the same program 2-3 times within a week or so, but rather than doing that at the same venue, they travel around the city bringing the music to different neighborhoods, and for free!

It’s also important to mention that No Exit is not just an ensemble. I had the pleasure of working with four student composers in northeast Ohio last season. We did virtual workshops and meetings, and a virtual performance of world premieres. No Exit also presents other ensembles and soloists at events like our upcoming concert. I appreciate their collaborative and supportive spirit.


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit new music ensemble at Heights Arts (Oct. 2)

By Daniel Hathaway
The third iteration of No Exit’s fall program took the ensemble to an intimate venue — the gallery of Heights Arts on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, where space is at such a premium that percussionist Luke Rinderknecht’s big marimba was nearly marooned offstage, and a few dozen audience members added up to a packed crowd.

That only added to the fun and sense of engagement that’s always embedded in a No Exit concert, and on Saturday evening, October 2, listeners could witness the expertise of the musicians at close hand.

Proceedings got off to a dramatic — and amusing — start with Rinderknecht’s solo performance of Agata Zubel’s Mono-drum (2020). The percussionist began tickling the Gran cassa with brushes, then changed to various drumsticks as the voice of the bass drum gained in intensity.

Then he dumped a grocery bag full of multi-colored plastic balls onto the drum head, and proceeded to dislodge them in waves just using vibrations and tilting the drum in its housing. As an unintended consequence, the vibrations knocked a framed piece of artwork on the gallery wall askance — a detail you wish could remain part of the piece. Rinderknecht’s playing was riveting, and the balls became part of the stage set for the rest of the first half.

Composer Giuseppi Desiato was on hand to introduce his Transitoria for violin (Cara Tweed), cello (Nick Diodore), and electronics, a short work that layers subtle slides from the strings over what sounds like radio static, but also produces some jarring attacks. It sounded somewhat underdeveloped, even for a piece with its title.

Derrik Balogh was also present to talk about his Lyrical Inventions for Ensemble, which he intended to represent “the experience of standing around a piano with friends or family and sharing a musical moment.” The ensemble’s sharing was based on a two-line score — almost a lead sheet, he said — which left a lot of decisions to the individual players. The result was a four-movement, easy on the ear, folksy creation that definitely sounded like parlor music as it moved through nearly melodic material to unisons, to slow lyrical lines, then to unisons again, ending unsettlingly on an unresolved major 9th.

Artistic director Timothy Beyer’s Amputate III dates back to 2011, and its title foreshadows a fearsome piece of music that, if it doesn’t suggest the experience of having a limb sawed off, at least replicates the kind of feeling you get on a death-defying amusement park ride (this is horrible, but bring it on!) Beyer created the bold and sometimes deafening tape track by recording himself cutting through meat and bone “using antique surgical instruments,” and writes that he intended “to evoke a sense of emotional, psychological, and spiritual amputation” in ruminating on “the experience of profound loss.”

Pianist Shuai Wang met important moments in the violent, slashing sounds of the electronic track with disjunct, accented plunks, creating a soundscape that isn’t easily forgotten.

The concert ended with Jiří Trtík’s Forest City, which the Czech composer, who spent four winters studying in Cleveland, came back to hear. Speaking to the audience, his charming introduction invoked the white stillness of a Northeast Ohio winter, under which a lot of unseen activity is going on.

The most developed work on the program, Forest City is full of static, mildly dissonant beauty, crystalline effects, clarinet key clicks, and the occasional broad melody that sounds as though it’s quoting from other pieces, but you’re not sure what. Throughout, pulsing figures both subtle and prominent propel the music, which ends with striking major chords blurred just beyond recognition by added tones. Intriguing to hear for the first time, the piece invites more opportunities to engage with it on deeper levels. Like Cleveland under a blanket of snow, there’s a lot happening just out of sight.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (October 5, 2021). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Composer and Educator Jiří Trtík

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Jiri Trtik

Jiří Trtík (pronounced Yearshee Turteek)—aka Trtini—is a Czech composer, conductor, and educator. Jiří was recently named the most successful Czech composer outside of the Czech Republic. He studied philosophy in Prague at Charles University, composition and conducting at the Prague Conservatory, and received a Master of Music degree from the Cleveland Music Institute in 2019. ​Jiří has composed music for several movies, notably Wolves on Borders, which was premiered​ at the documentary movie festival Vision du Reel in Switzerland, ​The Hunch​, ​Zelená Vdova​, and ​Jdi dál​. His works have been performed for audiences in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Latvia, the United States, and Japan.

Currently Jiří is on the faculty of the International Conservatory of Prague, and recently ran a successful fundraiser to launch his own ensemble for new music based in Prague (www.stro.my).

Q. How did you develop your interest in music and composition, Jiří, and when did you realize it would be your life’s path?

Well, I don’t have a musical family background, fortunately/unfortunately, so I did not play an instrument as a child. It all started with a high school garage band, we were 15 or 16 and playing punk/ underground music. I loved it. Energy, poetry, music, people, concerts, revolt, fun! The more I did it, the more I loved it and the higher demands I put on myself. From punk, I developed an ear and interest for classical music. I felt only with classical music could I freely express myself, emotions, stories, feelings, ambience, colors, impressions, expressions, thoughts, natural forces, spiritual things, you name it.

After about a year of studying philosophy, I found myself practicing and composing music long hours on piano. I knew I had to drop philosophy and apply to a conservatory…kind of like if you love someone you have no choice… And I am happy that I can say even today that the more that I make music, the more I love it and the higher expectations that I place on myself.

Q. When did you first make your connection with movie production?

When I was about 20, I just happened to date a pianist who decided to drop piano major and become a film director – admirable choice! Therefore, I was hanging out with students of cinematography. They always needed music and I wrote it for them. We developed a wonderful friendship that keeps us working together even today.

Q. Please tell us about your experience of coming to the Cleveland Music Institute from the Czech Republic. How did you end up in the CIM master’s program? What did you enjoy most about your time in Ohio as a student?

Even though I love my country, I always knew I wanted to live abroad from the Czech Republic (at least for some time). The original plan was to study philosophy in Paris, but my passion for music was getting out of control—I had to give up philosophy and go to a conservatory.

USA is a great country for composers, no kidding. During the 20th century it was the artistic center of the world. Many great composers from all over the globe were living and working here. How welcoming and open-minded the American audience was (and still is!) towards new art…that is so rare. And because of this incredible chapter in US history, I knew I wanted to move here.

I applied to a couple of schools in the US and CIM worked the best for me. I would never trade this chapter in Cleveland and CIM for any other city or school. Later I discovered how big the Eastern European population is in Cleveland, so it almost felt like home. Priceless.

Q. No Exit will be performing your new work ​Forest City​ as a world premiere in its next concert series. Can you describe for us your inspiration for this piece?

“Forest City” is a nickname for Cleveland—you can see it on the historical signs. Indeed, it is a truthful and poetic name because the whole of Cleveland Heights is like a beautiful park. And when you climb up to the rooftop of the Cleveland Clinic and look around, you don’t see houses but trees! Even as I was landing at the airport on Friday, seeing Cleveland from a bird’s perspective, I saw mostly trees!

The forest theme makes me especially happy. Recently, I have been working on another composition, a bassoon concerto, dedicated to the forests of the world—a musical homage to trees. It seems that nature has been subconsciously present in my most recent works.

Q. ​What was the covid lockdown like for you personally and professionally in Prague? Can you see any clear benefits from this challenging experience of isolation and artistic limitation?

For the first lockdown, I was still in Cleveland. The second one I spent in Prague. They were both the same. I did not write a lot of music. I spent my time teaching online, growing asocial, doing a lot of running in nature, hanging out with my girlfriend, simple things…like so many other people.


An Interview with Composer Derrik Balogh

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Derrik Balogh

By day, Derrik Balogh ​applies his considerable talents to write and produce music for eCards, musical cards, phone apps, and animated cartoons at American Greetings. There, public favorites ​Shaquille O’Neal, Dolly Parton, William Shatner, Smokey Robinson, Donny Osmond, Michael Bolton and Alicia Keys are within the​ long list of​ artists and stars that have worked with him on various projects. After hours, ​Derrik produces pop music, plays as a studio musician, and composes new works in a range of musical genres. He received his bachelor’s degree in music composition from The University of Akron and his master’s degree in music composition from Cleveland State University.

We caught up with Derrik recently to talk about his many musical aptitudes and his brand new composition for No Exit:

Q. Let’s start our interview with some “way back when,” Derrik. Can you give us a glimpse of your early connection with music and share what moved you to want to study composition for undergraduate and master’s study programs?

I started gigging around 14 years old, playing punk rock shows at church venues, and then by 16 I was gigging in bars. I was the songwriter for all the bands I was in, and that experience of writing music led me down a rabbit hole. Then it seemed like I blinked and just like that I was holding a graduate degree in music composition in my hand. Yikes! lol

Q. Rumor has it that you first met Tim Beyer, No Exit’s founder and artistic director, in composition classes at Cleveland State University. What adjective would pin to Tim back then? Has life changed him?

He was a more positive person back in the day. He’d say things like, “We have to be thankful that there can’t possibly be anyone worse than George W. Bush…” He’s not as happy-go-lucky as he used to be.

Q. No Exit will soon perform the world premiere of your commissioned piece ​Lyrical Inventions for Ensemble​. Please describe your inspiration for this work and how you developed the concept.

I am lucky to have a nice recording studio, so I sat and recorded some ideas, edited like crazy, replayed it and eventually it came out the way it did. And then I transcribed the recording. What resulted was two lines of music, and then I thought about how to present it. Is it a piano piece? A duo? And then I landed on a score where it could be any combination of players. The two lines of music are presented, but there are indicators in the score that tell other players where to jump in. It reminded me of playing from chord sheets with friends when I was young.

Q. Your full-time job as music director at American Greetings piques our curiosity. What do you get up to during your workday? What type of projects do you most enjoy?

So, technically I’m an audio producer, but you can call me a music director. Music director is one of the hats that I wear during my work. In short, I oversee all aspects of the audio. I’m responsible for conceptualizing, composing, arranging, performing, recording, mixing, and mastering the audio content. Sometimes the audio is a funny jingle, and other times it could be a score to picture with foley and voice acting. There are times when I do the work myself, and then there are times when I freelance out and oversee/direct the work that comes in. I work with performers, producers, and composers from LA to Singapore. And that’s one of my favorite things about the job—working with really talented people.

Q. You have a broad skill set which implies interests in various types of music in both commercial and artistic/eclectic arenas. Is there one area that is a favorite, i.e., feels most true to you, or are you in spirit a salmagundi?

I guess put me down as a salmagundi (I had to google that word! lol) I really don’t care if it’s pop or art music, or any other media for that matter, as long as it stays true to itself and is relatable.

Q. How did the pandemic affect you personally and in your various earning and creative endeavors? And what are your hopes for 2022?

My baby girl Lydia was born during the pandemic! Yay! She’s turning one at the end of September!!! AAAHHH!! Keeping a little human alive is tough work and an amazing distraction from the outside world. My hopes for 2022… hmmm…I hope George RR Martin finishes the Winds of Winter. That would be really nice.


From ClevelandClassical.com: Buoyed into the evening: 30 minutes of No Exit (Aug. 27)

By Jarrett Hoffman
By unofficial consensus, it’s best when virtual concerts wrap up in under an hour. The new music ensemble No Exit took that idea to another level on Friday, August 27 with a pre-recorded video of less than half that length.

In person, that might feel like an abrupt end to your plans for the night, given the effort needed to find some decent clothes and squeal out the driveway. But at home on Friday, when the concert was over, I felt refreshed in a way I didn’t expect. While full-length concerts can take something out of you energy-wise, here I felt almost buoyed into the rest of the evening.

There were just two pieces on the program, both for solo instruments, but you could say there were three performances. That’s because, as has become a welcome tradition in No Exit’s virtual outings, director Tim Beyer turned his introductory remarks into a comic monologue. “I’ve got some exciting news for you,” he said, utterly straight-faced. “Everything in the world is just great. There’s nothing to worry about. Things are going according to plan.”

The music began with Bartók’s 1926 Piano Sonata, and the spirit of each movement was captured convincingly in the hands of No Exit’s own Nicholas Underhill. The opening “Allegro moderato,” with its strange cast of characters engaged in a hectic and dissonant dance, was vivid, and it ended with a thrill thanks to the pianist’s dramatic speed and emphatic punctuation mark.

The “Sostenuto e pesante” not only showcased a gentler range of his articulation, but also the atmospheric cinematography of Jane Underhill, who pulled back to the corner of the room with her shot, matching the cold, poignantly disengaged mood of the music. And though a few speed bumps arrived during thorny technical passages, the “Allegro molto” was fittingly wild and manic. It’s too bad the audio quality was a bit on the brittle side for this first half of the concert.

The program concluded with Adam Roberts’ 2008 Sinews. Navigating the intriguing musical language — a combination of sighing glissandos, intense crunches, and ghostly wafts of sound — guest violinist Mari Sato was a visceral and engaging storyteller. Her wide range of expression extended to the ending, where her light articulations were like drops of rain when you’re not yet sure it’s raining.

Stylized cinematography, this time the work of No Exit associate director James Praznik, again enhanced the experience. With Bartók it was through pulling back, with Roberts through coming close — in one instance, the camera followed along as Sato reached for her mute from a nearby table. It felt symbolic: even in that moment when she wasn’t playing, she practically held the audience in the palm of her hand.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (September 8, 2021). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Composer Adam Roberts

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts is assistant professor of Composition and Music Theory at Kent State University. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in composition from the Eastman School of Music in 2003 and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2010. Adam also studied at the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna from 2007-2008 on a Harvard University Sheldon Traveling Fellowship. Prior to joining the faculty at Kent State, Roberts taught at Harvard University, Northeastern University, Istanbul Technical University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Music, and the University of Georgia’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music.

Q. Welcome back onto a No Exit concert program, Adam. It’s nearly a year since No Exit performed Bell Threads and we had an interview conversation together. How has the pandemic affected your teaching and compositional endeavors?

I taught composition lessons on Zoom, which worked out well actually, and I ran the KSU New Music Ensemble in person, socially distanced in a huge ballroom with masks on and plexiglass dividers for the wind players. My composing also continued—I wrote a percussion concerto that was premiered by Cameron Leach and the New Albany Symphony Orchestra last March—though I wrote for a reduced orchestra, and we didn’t know for sure if the premiere would happen. It did and it was pretty cathartic after being holed up for a year. I wrote about it here

Q. Guest violinist Mari Sato will be performing Sinews, a work you created in 2008 during your graduate studies. Tim Beyer has described it to me as “quietly intense and utterly sublime.” Where were you at that time, what specifically inspired you, and how did the piece develop throughout your unique writing process?

That’s a very sweet description by Tim, and interesting to hear his take on it. I wrote Sinews during a very intense period of my life. I had just finished studying for a year in Vienna with Chaya Czernowin and a cohort of about eight very serious postgraduate students from all around the world. We would each have weekly lessons with Chaya and then would meet once a month and a student would present their work for the group. These sessions were long, deep and sometimes confrontational and would be a very honest reflection for each of us.

At the end of the year, the class had an opportunity to write for a concert at Wien Modern, the month-long new music festival in Vienna. Gabriela Diaz, an amazing violinist in Boston had asked me to write her a piece, and I thought I would also have the piece played in Vienna. I had been alone working on composing a lot that year, and I think the piece reflects a sense of visceral intensity from that period of aloneness. There is a moment of nearly inaudible, quietly intense material in the middle of the piece, as Tim says, but there are also moments of forte pushing and pulling, like a sculptor molding energy in real time.

Q. Can you describe please how you work with musicians so that your intention for a composition is conveyed in performance? In what ways did covid protocols including virtual concert formats affect this for you? How have you and Mari been collaborating in preparation?

I feel extremely lucky that Sinews found its way to Mari via Tim. It’s a very hard piece that requires a special performer, and the last time it was played was 7-8 years ago. Mari tore into it with dedication and curiosity in the best possible way. We worked together over Zoom just like we would have in person, with me singing/scatting material for her to give a sense of phrasing and architecture here and there and commenting on little connections and motifs. Mari was dreamy to work with—she was very open to hearing my comments, and also had her own way of navigating the piece.

Q. After writing a piece, how fixed or finished do you consider it to be? That is, is the work alive … are there times when a musician’s interpretation of a piece takes it further for you? If so, could you talk a little about that?

The score is usually finished (unless I end up revising something, which is somewhat rare). But yes, the work is very much alive, and that’s why I love writing acoustic music so much: when you hand a performer a work, you get to hear and feel their specific engagement with it, the way their body moves, the way they breathe, their sense of touch, and that human variety is to me where the magic lies.

There are certainly interpretive ideas that I have very strong opinions about, but within that frame there is a lot of room for play and variety. I am very lucky to have had Sinews performed by five remarkable violinists (all women!) and each has brought her own sensibility to the piece.


An Interview with Violinist Mari Sato

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Mari Sato

Mari Sato, an acclaimed violinist based in Cleveland, has enjoyed a rich and varied career as a chamber musician. For twenty-four years, she was the second violinist of the award-winning Cavani String Quartet, giving concerts on major series that included Carnegie Hall, Corcoran Gallery of Art, the French Festival de L’Epau, and the Honolulu Chamber Music Society, among others. She served on the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music 1995-2018 and is now coaching chamber music at the Oberlin Conservatory.

Q. Welcome back onto a No Exit concert program, Mari. Almost two years have passed since I first had the opportunity to interview you as a guest violinist. This time you will be performing a solo work by Adam Roberts, Sinews (2008). How has he introduced you to his piece and interpreted it for you?

What a pleasure it was to learn Adam’s Sinews for this No Exit concert program. I was not previously familiar with Adam’s work, and it was a real learning experience to work with him through this piece. Due to the pandemic, we used technology to work together through the interpretive process. I shared video sketches of myself playing his work that I posted on YouTube, we talked through it over Zoom, and I played in real time through that medium as well. Adam is a great musical coach. It was fun talking about music in general with him. He knows so much, and he has incredible ears. Even though he wrote Sinews in 2008, his work is so internalized that he could sing sections of it to me without the score in front of him. The way that he sang the phrasing was so natural, and immensely helpful.

Q. How would you describe the sound world of Sinews for an audience of musicians and non- musicians?

I asked Adam the same question when I started learning his piece and I think that he describes the sound world of Sinews best, so I am going to share a quote from him: “The piece is very much about physical gesture, sinuous energy, pushing, pulling, scraping, and the wonderful variety of sounds and textures that can be made with different amounts of bow pressure and bow placement, from the nearly inaudible to the scratchy and everything in between.”

Q. What is your favorite section of the piece to play? Are there any challenging or especially
interesting sections to accomplish in this work?

My favorite part of the piece is the beginning. I love a dramatic opening! The entire piece is
challenging to play on both a technical and emotional level because of the acrobatics of the left
hand, the coordination of the bow to create quick changes of sounds, and the extreme dynamic
contrasts. As a performer, I felt I had to pretend at times that I was a dancer, and at other times that I was a reciter of haiku poetry.

Q. How did the pandemic affect your professional life as a career musician and educator? Were you able to continue these pursuits in online or other form?

Like so many of my friends, I adapted to the pandemic and was able to continue teaching and performing through masking, physical distancing, being outdoors, video recordings and Zoom sessions. It was definitely a challenging time that reaffirmed my love of making music with others. But my appreciation for video and audio recording as an art form also grew tremendously in the past year. I am really looking forward to seeing and hearing James Praznik’s work on Sinews in No Exit’s online concert, as he did a lot of creative work behind the camera and through the microphone. It was truly a collaborative project.

Q. Are you working on any exciting projects now, Mari? What do you hope that the circumstances of 2022 allow you to do?

Currently, I am learning quite a few works by living composers with a few ensembles. I am very excited that I will be joining Cara, James, and Nick of No Exit in the Spring for works that feature cimbalom played by guest artist Chester Englander. Anything can happen between now and then, but I hope that 2022 includes a return to enjoying the live music experience together again. There is nothing like it.


From ClevelandClassical.com: Hong-Da Chin — Taking the past into the future

By Mike Telin
Composer and flutist Hong-Da Chin has carved out a unique career. His music is influenced by folk music from his native Malaysia as well as Chinese and Indian cultures. A specialist in contemporary music, he is equally at home on modern and traditional Chinese flutes.

Of his July 2018 performance with No Exit clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe, I wrote that “the evening was a walk through a cultural garden of sonic delights.” On Friday, July 2, Hong-Da Chin returned to the No Exit stage, this time via a pre-recorded, streamed concert. The hour-long, solo performance features five mesmerizing improvisations played on four traditional Chinese flutes.

And once again, the cultural garden is in full bloom as Chin proves himself to be a master of improvisation — each with a discernible arc that grows out of the instruments’ timbres and technical capabilities. The video is available on demand on No Exit’s website.

Darker for xiao and electronics — xiao is a bamboo instrument that is played vertically like a recorder and has a mouthpiece shaped like the letter U — begins with a grand, percussive opening that quickly transitions into repetitive, articulated high pitches. Throughout, the flute line lives on top of the thick, demonic electronics, resulting in an invasion of other-worldly microtonal sounds — a beautiful horror-film soundtrack.

Next, Chin turns to the xun — which he describes as the Chinese ocarina — an egg-shaped clay instrument that can only play a single pentatonic scale. Voice Poem for xun solo is full of extended techniques often heard on modern flute — tongue clicks, pitch bends, wind gusts, flutter tongues, and slaps on the finger holes. All of which make the sudden, short spurts of melodic material all the more attractive.

The dizi is a six-hole, transverse bamboo flute with a vibrating membrane that creates a buzz. The instrument is the perfect choice for The Buzz of a Fly for dizi solo. As the title suggests, the fly buzzes around making wide, dramatic circles as it spins and dives, zooming here and there until it finally finds the open window.

Although the bawu looks like the dizi and xiao, the instrument’s sound is produced by blowing into a metal reed, resulting in a tone quality similar to that of the clarinet.

Clarinet for bawu solo begins with long, straight-tones motifs that are punctuated by intermittent lower, metallic sounds. Suddenly, fast scale flourishes and trills take over before returning to the opening material. The piece is engaging in its simplicity, and Chin’s subtle timbre changes keep things fresh.

Chin saves the most expansive improvisation for last — Crying for bass xun and electronics is a haunting imagination of a Taoist funeral. Here, the low growls in the electronics, coupled with the deep, rich sound of the xun, become hypnotic. The steady pulse of the temple block and accents from the gong depict the solemnity of the funeral procession. Gradually, the sounds of humans crying become audible. Suddenly the music stops, leaving the crying to continue as the screen fades into darkness. Fascinating!

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (July 7, 2021). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with composer and flutist Hong-Da Chin

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Beyer Face

A native of Kajang, Malaysia, Hong-Da Chin is both a composer and accomplished flutist. His contemporary works reference Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures and his music has been performed at celebrated venues and festivals in countries around the world. Studying flute and composition, Hong-Da attended Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, then continued his education at the University of Houston and the University of Louisville. He went on to earn a Doctor of Musical Arts in composition 2017 under Marilyn Shrude and Mikel Kuehn at Bowling Green State University. Hong-Da is currently the Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Western Illinois University—and an avid recreational badminton player.

Recently Hong-Da talked with No Exit about composing avant-garde new music for his assemblage of old-world instruments:

Q. Hong-Da, I’ve read online that you became obsessed with the Chinese flute as a 10-year-old boy. Which flute captivated you and what about it sparked your passion?

The dizi (the transverse bamboo flute attached with a membrane) was the first Chinese flute that captivated me. The buzzing timbre and the structural simplicity of the dizi caught my attention. When I was ten years old, I thought I would be able to master the instrument quickly (in my own way) and I played through all the dizi solo repertoire that I was able to get my hands on. I have always enjoyed how my fingers could fly effortlessly on the finger holes, creating music in the process.

Q. Your original works celebrate diversity, incorporating elements from the Malay, Chinese and Indian folk music traditions. How were you exposed to these varied genres, and how did you come to integrate them as your unique, singular voice?

When I was 10, my brother introduced both me and my sister, who played the pipa (Chinese plucked string instrument), into the Chinese orchestra in our school. That experience was my first formal exposure to traditional Chinese music. I was later introduced to a community Chinese orchestra by the instructor in our school, and this gave me many opportunities to work with musicians from the Malay and Indian cultures in Malaysia. I was often invited to perform with the ensembles from other cultures at cultural and political events. Thus, these expressions—intentionally or unintentionally—are integrated into my compositional works.

Q. When did you begin playing the Western flute? What led you to move to Texas to begin your advanced music education?

Shortly after I started to play the dizi, I was introduced to Mr. Yii Kah Hoe, now a renowned Malaysian composer, to further strengthen my dizi techniques. Mr. Yii introduced me to the Western flute and to music composition, where my passion for music deepened even more. After I earned a music diploma in Western flute performance, I worked as a freelance flutist, playing both the Western flute and Chinese flutes at gigs. A year and a half into being a freelancer, I felt the urge to improve myself as a musician. Following a fortunate stroke of serendipity, I was able to secure a scholarship at the Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, TX, which initiated my educational journey.

Q. To someone whose ears have never met a Chinese flute, how would you describe the sound worlds innate to your traditional instruments? And please tell us a little about their origins.

Dizi – The transverse dizi has been present in China for thousands of years. The most distinct feature of the dizi is the presence of the membrane which is attached on the hole in between the mouthpiece and the finger holes. When air is blown through the dizi, the membrane vibrates creating a vibrant buzz which is a lot like the timbral shimmering produced by the accordion.

Xun – Similarly to the dizi, the xun (or Chinese ocarina) has been present in China for thousands of years. The end-blown xun is made of clay and it produces the timbre closest to that of the human singing voice.

Bawu – The transverse bawu likely originated in the southwest of China. The instrument is often associated with southwest China minorities, such as the Hmong and Yi. The mouthpiece of the bawu consists of a metal reed. To produce a sound, one must cover the mouthpiece with the mouth and blow air into the reed to produce a clarinet-like timbre.

Xiao – The xiao too has been present in China since the ancient period. It is an end-blow instrument with a hollow and soothing timbre.

Q. When you receive a commission, do you choose a flute as your basis, or does an inspiring theme come first to suggest the flute? What is your creative process for writing a new piece?

An inspiration often comes first as the basis of a new composition, and it could be as abstract as fragrance and as concrete as an interval. Instrumentation that is fitting to the inspiration will then be decided. However, if a commission specifically asks for flute, then the inspiration would also come from the flute (timbre, fingerings, extended techniques, etc.). My creative process includes finding the instrumentation that fits the source of inspiration or vice versa, constructing a few contrasting musical ideas, creating variations among the musical ideas, and putting them together in the appropriate proportion to the structure of the music.

Q. Please give us some background for the five works in your upcoming concert, including your use of improvisation and electronics.

Darker for xiao and electronics – the electronics in this piece was from another composition of mine written for clarinet and electronics. The inspiration of the electronics comes from the ‘flanger effect’ that, with different levels of depth, creates oscillations with wide vibrato, therefore creating a distorted otherworldly microtonal world that compliments the microtonal versatility of the xiao. Techniques such as pitch bend and residual sound are used in this improvisation.

Voice Poem for xun solo – Most of the western flute extended techniques equivalents—residual sound, tongue click, pitch bend—can be heard in this improvisation. I tried to exhaust the timbral and technical possibilities of what the xun can do in this improvisation.

The Buzz of a Fly for dizi solo – The title was inspired by Emily Dickinson’s I heard a Fly buzz—when I died… which I thought was fitting because of the buzz connection between the dizi and a fly. I combined the traditional techniques of the Chinese flute and the extended techniques of the western flute in this improvisation. Key clicks, pitch bend, residual sound etc. will be heard in this improvisation.

Clarinet for bawu solo – The title is given due to the clarinet-like timbre produced by the bawu. In this improvisation, recurring musical ideas will be heard in different variations.

Crying for xun and electronics – The electronics of Crying is a musical imagination of a Taoist funeral that involves chanting and striking on a Chinese temple block and gong. A bass xun is used in this improvisation and the timbre produced is very deep and meditative.

Q. Finally, when did you first meet No Exit and where do you see your collaboration with the ensemble going?

I connected with No Exit in 2016 when their clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe premiered Perpetuity for bass clarinet solo at CSU, Spaces and Heights Arts in Cleveland. So far, I have written three compositions for No Exit…and if the future allows, I really hope to bring No Exit to workshop and perform at Western Illinois University!


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit & Zeitgeist: New Sound Worlds

By Mike Telin
Beyer Face
Although great strides have been made in audio technology, latency issues (lag in time due to internet connection) still prevent musicians from seamlessly passing musical lines from multiple locations in real-time. In their most recent collaboration, “New Sound Worlds,” Cleveland-based No Exit and St. Paul-based Zeitgeist bring life to a new work by Scott Miller during which members of both ensembles perform from their homes and studios.

Aside from that, the beautifully curated program primarily features captivating performances of solo works that are presented in a logical progression of sound and temperament.

The musical journey begins with Isang Yun’s Monologue for bass clarinet. Gunnar Owen Hirthe’s tone is unblemished during the slow, introspective lines. During the work’s sudden bursts of sound with wild trill passages and pitch-bending in the instrument’s highest register, the clarinetist’s technique is undaunted.

Pianist Nicholas Underhill brilliantly unravels Frederic Rzewski’s quirky take on the spiritual Down by the Riverside. The arrangement is full of off-kilter rhythms typical of the composer that build in complexity until suddenly transforming into a playful restatement of the tune. And somehow Underhill makes sense of it all.

Garth Knox’s Viola Spaces is a set of etudes, each of which explores a different extended technique. While the etudes were written for pedagogical purposes, James Rhodes makes music out of each of the four he presents.

“Beside the bridge” highlights sul ponticello. Its primitiveness is captivating and Rhodes is in complete control. The slow and mysterious “Ghosts” focuses on sul tasto while “One finger” is all about glissandos and multiple lines played with — one finger. “Nine fingers” is all about pizzicato. Here Rhodes becomes a one-man dance band.

Percussionist Heather Barringer creates an alluring soundscape during Harold Budd’s Lyrio for solo gong. The composer, who had a long relationship with Zeitgeist, recently passed away from COVID and the performance is dedicated to his memory. Bathed in a soft blue light, Barringer brings soft rumbles and gentle tides to the piece, which is simultaneously mesmerizing, spiritual, and meditative, but most of all sonically interesting.

Clarinetist Pat O’Keefe is a musical wizard during Salvatore Sciarrino’s Let Me Die Before I Wake, a piece that leaves you wondering if it is of this world or perhaps another.

The Song of the Earth by environmental filmmaker and composer Philip Blackburn features footage of the boiling mud field in San Jacinto, Leon, Nicaragua. Vibraphonist Patti Cudd, with the assistance of recorded wind harps, creates drama during the work’s continuous flow of slow-moving, unresolving harmonic progressions which add mystery to the footage of muddy water oozing from the earth.

The program’s grand finale is the premiere of Scott Miller’s Exit velocity. During an interview with this publication, Miller talked about his use of telematic composition (collaboration among artists widely separated and linked through telecommunication), and his use of graphic notation (which replaces notes on a staff with visual symbols that are interpreted by each player).

“One of the things that I like about graphic notation is how much agency it gives each performer to really be in the moment of making the music,” he said in that interview. “And that I think is what makes it succeed with telematic music making because rather than attempt to synchronize their behavior with four, five, or six other people whose information arrives at different moments in time, everybody is simply in their own moment.”

During the eight-minute, rambunctious work, rat-a-tat rhythms, squeaks, howls, scratching, pointed motifs, and long, semi-melodic lines are underpinned by percussive beats. Sudden, loud bursts juxtaposed with interludes of calmness result in a dramatic display of an imaginative sound world that lets listeners craft their own accompanying narrative.

As always with No Exit, the sound and video are high quality and the production’s “film noir” concept seamlessly and oftentimes humorously weaves each portion of the show into 82 minutes of viewing and listening pleasure.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (June 15, 2021). The full article can be found – Here


No Exit’s performance of Christopher Stark’s “Ved sjøen” to be featured in short film by Zlatko Cosic

Cosic Film

No Exit has been fortunate to work with and commission new pieces by so many truly extraordinary composers, Christopher Stark being amongst them. Chris is a brilliant artist and one heck of a human being to boot! “Ved sjøen” is an amazing work! Congratulations Chris! I hope that you’ll all tune in and check out BY THE SEA.

From Film-maker Zlatko Cosic:
BY THE SEA will screen at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, July 16-25, 2021. Composition “Ved sjøen, I. Åpenbaringene” by Christopher Stark. Performance by NO EXIT New Music Ensemble. Video by Zlatko Cosic. www.cinemastlouis.org/st-louis-filmmakers-showcase

The complete “Ved sjøen” will be featured on No Exit’s upcoming CD release.


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit and Zeitgeist to Explore New Sound Worlds

By Daniel Hathaway
Beyer Face
The new music ensemble No Exit continues its longstanding collaboration with Zeitgeist, their counterparts from Minnesota’s Twin Cities, with “New Sound Worlds,” a free online concert that debuts on Friday, May 21 at 7:00 pm.

No Exit founder and artistic director Timothy Beyer said in a recent phone conversation that the mostly solo works on the program “get outside the traditional mold and deal with sound more than formal structure. They’re immersive, but cerebral, and they also force more active listening.”

The exception is Frederic Rzewski’s Down by the Riverside, the piano work that Nicholas Underhill will play at the beginning of the program. “He presents the tune in kind of a literal way, then he goes nuts,” Beyer said.

James Rhodes will be featured in Garth Knox’s Viola Spaces, a set of etudes the Scottish-born avant-garde composer and violist played in 2009 on the Cleveland Museum of Art’s “Viva and Gala Around Town” series at Plymouth Church.

Clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe, back in the saddle after hand surgery, will play Isang Yun’s Monologue for bass clarinet, representing “a composer from the first generation of the sound as music movement,” Beyer said.

Then, handing the program off to Zeitgeist, Beyer said that percussionist Heather Barringer will demonstrate various ways of creating a soundscape using a single gong in Harold Budd’s Lyrio.

The program will introduce multimedia with The Song of the Earth by Philip Blackburn, who Beyer called a wonderful environmental filmmaker and composer. “Blackburn’s work is beautiful, sublime, profound, and right on point.” Patti Cudd will be featured on vibraphone. “With the pandemic, soloistic music is the theme for the year,” Beyer noted.

Clarinetist Pat O’Keefe will wrap up the solo section of the program with Salvatore Sciarrino’s Let Me Die Before I Wake, which Beyer described as another personally stylized sound world, this one about a dream state.

The program concludes with Scott Miller’s Coincident Episode 4, part of a continuing project between the composer, who is on the faculty of St. Cloud State University, and the musicians of Zeitgeist. The three earlier episodes are viewable here.

I reached Miller via Zoom, who expanded on the description of the project on Zeitgeist’s website:

COINCIDENT is a telematic, multi-episode, audiovisual collaboration between Zeitgeist, composer Scott L. Miller, visual artist Carole Kim, and an evolving list of artists. Each artist performs from their home studio, and they connect to each other through specialized software that facilitates real-time performance with greatly reduced latency issues (lag in time due to internet connection). Because latency is reduced, but not gone, the music embraces a certain amount of asynchronicity; individual events can occur at different times without compromising the musical idea. The music is paired with a projection world created by Carole Kim that is derived from micro-installations (located under her kitchen table) and projections performed in real-time with the music.

In our Zoom conversation, Miller talked at length about telematic composition (collaboration among artists widely separated and linked through telecommunication), and the graphic notation he uses that leaves many performance decisions to the performers.

“One of the things that I like about graphic notation is how much agency it gives each performer to really be in the moment of making the music. And that I think is what makes it succeed with telematic music making because rather than attempt to synchronize their behavior with four, five, or six other people whose information arrives at different moments in time, everybody is simply in their own moment.”

It’s difficult to delve more deeply into the subject in an article of this scope. Perhaps it’s best to circle back to my conversation with Timothy Beyer, who ended our chat by saying, “It’s a great deal of fun having a new medium to be creative with. We can do things we couldn’t with live music, and harness the best of both worlds. Returning to live performance feels weird because we’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole.”

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (May 19, 2021). The full article can be found – Here


from soundidea.substack.com: Staring Into the Void: The Vaguely Optimistic Nihilism of Timothy Beyer

By Adam Roberts

Shrouded in darkness, a rounded talking head in black in white, with thick, artsy glasses, and a salt and pepper beard looks directly into the camera, “we need to have a frank and serious discussion about program notes: (pregnant pause) we got ‘em” (the entirety of the conversation). He goes on, “It’s just like the programs we hand out during our live concerts, only digital,” cut to “digital!” flashing across the screen in ‘80s video game lo-fi font. The speaker’s clear and measured tone and dry, acerbic humor create a striking contrast to the otherwise ominous, film noir quality of the production.

This talking head belongs to Timothy Beyer, composer and artistic director of No Exit Ensemble, and these speaking introductions (of which there are several at this point, found on No Exit’s Youtube channel) exhibit a mixture of high artistic intent and surgical comic timing that offers an entree into Tim’s world.

To enter further into Tim’s world takes some digging, however, as his online presence is limited; he has no website, though you can read his bio on No Exit’s home page. I met Tim when I ran into a friend, the composer Hong-Da Chin at a Cleveland Orchestra concert where he was in attendance with Tim. Hong-Da was in town as a guest composer with No Exit, and I invited Hong-Da to come speak at my composition seminar at Kent State the next Monday. He was without a car, and Tim drove him to KSU, where we met up for burritos at the legendary Taco Tantos (one of the last truly hippie hangouts in Kent) before heading to seminar.

I was already aware of No Exit Ensemble, one of Cleveland’s most active new music ensembles, now in its 12th season. No Exit has consistently programmed diverse music of the highest caliber since its inception. As an educator in the area, I also had quickly become aware of No Exit’s dedication to working with emerging composers. As just one example, they have been instrumental in ensuring that young composers have continued to receive performances during Covid-19: this year they partnered with Transient Canvas and Noa Even and premiered new works by composers from Kent State, Cleveland State, and Baldwin Wallace Conservatory.

Back to the No Exit virtual concert, Tim’s introduction is in fact preceded by another introduction, a blast of full-bodied sound, consisting of pulsating, dense piano chords that gradually accelerate, with a myriad of other instruments pulling out spectral harmonic detail. This rich sonority reaches a cadential pause, leaving cymbal resonance and a quiet flute note suspended in the air, and then moments later we are whisked into what sounds like a sped-up tape rewind, sound flying through the air and wiping the slate clean.

When I first heard this introduction as part of No Exit’s first virtual video premiere on 10/02/2020, I texted Tim, asking what the hell this amazing sound was, not realizing it was his music. What gripped me immediately was the density, the orchestration, and perhaps most importantly, the harmonic sensitivity: there was clearly an astute ear organizing this verticality into a dissonant but highly resonant structure. It reminded of the opening bell sonority of Tristan Murail’s 1980 orchestral work Gondwana, a favorite verticality of mine, that is also highly dissonant (inharmonic) and resonant. So naturally, I asked Tim to send me the score, and he obliged.

Beyer Score

It turns out that this introductory music is the climax of a 2018 work entitled She Was My Only Child, composed for No Exit New Music Ensemble and Patchwork (Noa Even, saxophones and Stephen Klunk, percussion). Consisting of flute, saxophone, bass clarinet, percussion, drum set, piano, violin, viola, and cello, these groups create a unique ensemble that, in the history of contemporary music, feels like either an expanded Pierrot ensemble or a reduced chamber orchestra.

As striking as the piece’s sonic climax is Beyer’s formal restraint: this twelve-minute work essentially unfolds one sonority that excruciatingly moves from stasis to activity, culminating in the aforementioned dense blast of sound. After this moment of intensity, the music lingers, frozen again.

There are fragrances of other composers here. Morton Feldman’s music crosses my mind in relationship to the widely spaced harmonic field that runs throughout the work. There are unpredictable repetitions in this music, also reminiscent of Feldman, though Feldman generally repeats pitch patterns while changing rhythmic figurations; here, instruments swell or change parameters (eg. from non vib. to vib.) coloring the music. These kinds of delicate color changes call Scelsi to mind, and the swells and bell-like harmony evoke spectral music. But these are only fleeting associations, this music exists in a world of its own.

Of particular note is the work’s stasis, especially with regard to its harmony. Other composers would succumb to pressure to vary the notes more (the traditional academic composition advice). I can imagine it would be important for a composer like Murail to show his métier and create some kind of progression or teleology. Beyer’s piece, on the other hand, by doggedly not varying the core harmony, commits itself to sitting with an uncomfortable emotional state and watching it incrementally thaw from frozen pain into an angry growl over the course of its duration.

Indeed, the title of the work and its formal arc make me wonder if the piece is an enactment of catharsis. I hear the climax as an outcry, a yell of aggression, and the quiet aftermath as devastated resignation. The title speaks to the trauma of loss, which only reinforces this interpretation.

The discomfort of the work is not only communicated by the piece’s emotional content, it also arises due to the actions required of the performers. Most notably in this regard is the flute part: the flutist plays a pp E6 for the entire duration of the work, a seemingly simple action that requires intense focus and physical stamina. The composer writes as an instruction to the flutist “like still air, non vib.” While every other instrument progressively performs increasingly varied material, the flutist must remain unmoved, un-vibrating, embodying an emotional thread that is unable to transform, remaining stuck in time. Apart from the final three strikes of a chime, this flute E is the last sound we hear, symbolizing the idea that some pain may not so easily be released.

I asked Tim about the title, and he explained that he had been in a relationship with a woman who had a daughter, with whom he had been very close. When the romantic relationship ended, Tim’s relationship with the woman’s daughter became complicated, a loss that remains painful to this day. The title of the work comes from this painting:

Sean Gabriel at Appletree Books

About the connection of this painting to the musical work, Beyer writes:

Let me start off by saying that in my mind, much of the aesthetic and sensibility of my piece came from this painting. There’s a lot that conveys this aesthetic: the color palette, the distorted figurative representations and elements of the overall composition. It’s clear that the mother is in mourning, the visual manifestations of this are almost Victorian. To me, the depiction of the ‘toppled’ church steeple indicates that in the face of such loss there is no solace nor salvation to be found in religious dogma. You’re stuck with the sorrow, there’s no escape from it, it becomes a part of you.

What really hits me is the depiction of the deceased child. Rather than a ghastly apparition, the dead daughter is covered in a sheet like a child’s halloween costume. At first glance, it almost seems whimsical, but it is utterly devastating. The ‘costume’ is literal, in that it is a ghost, while also being an embodiment of childhood and is likely a representation of the child’s personality and predilections, perhaps even a recounting of an actual incident in the little girl’s life. By depicting the child in this way, the loss is made real. The fact that the ‘ghost’ casts a shadow shows that in some way the dead daughter (or internalized embodiment or memory thereof) is quite real, as if to exist in the physical world. Depicting this ‘ghost’ in such a fashion also drives home the notion that she will forever be a child, will never age or grow up, permanently frozen in memory as she was at death. She is dead. The dead are nothing. They’re dead. It’s the memory of them that may survive (a grieving parent). To quote my own bad poetry……….There is no longer truth, only memory.

In several wide-ranging, darkly funny conversations and through a talk on his work, I learned that Beyer had come to formal composition study relatively late in life (in his mid-twenties). He was always deeply committed to a life in music, and he spent his earlier years composing and performing as the trombone player in the group Pressure Drop. An experience of meditating on the atrocities of the Holocaust—Beyer is Jewish—moved him to turn his attention more to composing, as he felt that popular outlets would not allow him to express the depth of emotion he was experiencing. Beyer enrolled at Cleveland State University where he completed his undergraduate and Master’s degrees with mentors Andrew Rindfleisch and Greg D’Alessio. CSU was also where Beyer met James Praznik, composer and co-director of No Exit.

I asked Beyer about trauma and loss (also exemplified by Beyer’s Amputate series). In stark existentialist remarks, Beyer talked about how humanity wouldn’t be around much longer, and of the pointlessness of human existence. We live, we make, we die, there is no ultimate meaning. But then Beyer would laugh, a sense of humor peeking through the despair. Was the humor simply a coping mechanism?

Beyer explained that composing for him often involves a lengthy process of meditating on pain. He forces himself to stare at devastating images, sometimes for hours at a time, in order to engender a state from which he can create most directly about such experiences. He compared this to method acting—he feels he has to fully inhabit a frame of mind in order to work. Beyer has taken it upon himself to stare unflinchingly at the darkest parts of humanity and to give voice to these experiences.

Beyer is a force for good in NE Ohio, dedicating himself to bringing people together to make idealistic art, and working to provide young composers with abundant performance opportunities. He thrives on taking a stand for music he believes in and for emerging artists. I can’t help but be amused by the contrast of Beyer’s bleak outlook of humanity and his own positive community-building activities: even though humanity is doomed, Beyer is compelled by a tikkun olam sensibility to leave the world a better place than how he found it (even if he believes this won’t make a drop of difference).

Beyer may have stared into the void and seen an abyss, but ironically, this darkness may be the very force providing him with a sense of purpose.

Originally published on soundidea.substack.com (April 18, 2021). The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit: zany, creative, impressive & local (Mar. 26)

By Jarrett Hoffman
Beyer Face
Plenty of pre-recorded concerts have offered audiences some sort of new and compelling experience. But few organizations have mined that format with as much joy and silliness — and in general, personality — as Cleveland’s new music ensemble No Exit. That trend continues with their latest video, released on March 26 and centered around music by Cleveland-area composers.

You won’t want to miss the opening remarks, which turn the obligatory into a comedy routine. One of the best lines delivered by the shadowy head of artistic director Tim Beyer: “Recently, we’ve been flooded with letters from little boys and girls from around the country, all of them asking the same question: Tim, how can we give money to No Exit?”

Intermission even brings forth a short film, Mouth Counterpoint Redux, which centers around another floating face: that of associate director James Praznik. But this face is a silent one, and sometimes not a face at all, but rather an enlarged mouth or eye surrounded by a thick head of hair — that perfectly avant-garde combination of wacky and a little disturbing.

Like those sections of the broadcast, the performances are also seen in grayscale, bringing a sense of cohesion and atmosphere to the separate recordings.

The stellar music begins with Adonai Henderson’s We Tremble, but Know Better. This deeply expressive, deeply mesmerizing piece, devoted to multiphonics and tremolos for the bass clarinet, is the first of four world premieres on the program.

Throughout, Gunnar Owen Hirthe makes magic with his gentle articulations and smooth decays. He times the tremolos rewardingly, and his unobtrusive circular breathing keeps the long phrases smooth and the tension taut.

As both composer and performer, Nicholas Underhill explores a fascinating partnership in the two-movement Concerto for Piano and MIDI Orchestra. The abbreviation “MIDI” (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) might conjure something cheap-sounding in your head, but these samples — from a pipe organ to steel drums to the sound of a helicopter — are aurally pleasing, and blend intriguingly with piano. Sometimes those two sources of sound whirl together. Other times, one or the other leads the way, or even takes a solo passage.

A fellow composer-performer, Luke Rinderknecht is up next with his Resonances for solo marimba — plus the sympathetic vibrations of a nearby gong, which creates a unique, impressionistic aura, especially when the music speeds up.

But what stands out most is the arc of this piece: it gradually and convincingly progresses, but also returns now and then to its opening material, providing a satisfying sense of destination and origin. The only oddity is the camera angle — it might feel more comfortable to rotate your device 90 degrees.

In Beyer’s Amputate II (2007), the only non-premiere of the broadcast, the composer sets a mournful, meditative atmosphere with the alto flute, then allows bits of electronic sound to make their way in almost intrusively, like bad memories. Eventually, those sounds bear down upon you, before the purity of long tones brings things to a close.

Of special mention are Sean Gabriel’s virtuosic air control, and the instrumentation itself. Both the general mellowness of the alto flute and the discomfort of its high range provide the exact pairing needed for this music.

The finale, Ezekiel Paulowski’s 2020 Set to Viola: What We Will Remember, shines with its original language, bringing in elements of Romanticism but casting them in a cold, subdued light. Near the end, Paulowski takes the piece in a different direction, introducing bits of Stars and Stripes Forever. Some moments in this section feel a little on the nose, while others incorporate that music quite convincingly. Throughout, James Rhodes impresses with his clean technique and his keen, confident expression — not at all over-Romanticized — expertly putting across this unique take on recent events.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (March 30, 2021). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Ezekiel “Zeke” Paulowski

By Laura King for NO EXIT

Ezekiel “Zeke” Paulowski (b. 1997) is a native of Steubenville, OH and began composing in his youth.
At age 17, he wrote the musical score to the dramatic production of Tomorrow is a Lovely Day, a play
in two acts by Ashley Lamatrice. The experience inspired Zeke to study music composition at Kent State University, where he has received many opportunities to create new works. In 2020, he represented Kent State on the Cleveland Chamber Symphony’s Young and Emerging Composers Program. Zeke is recognized as an emerging artist who can find inspiration in life’s commonplace moments, and with a bright future.

Below Zeke speaks with NO EXIT about his impressive new music endeavors and the impetus for his commissioned work:

Q. We like to begin at the beginning—please share your early journey with us! When did music
come into your life and how did your passions and talent evolve from your youthful experiences?

I can always remember enjoying any interaction with music. From my earliest days of childhood, I
was always dancing and singing and every keyboard I saw I had to try playing. When I was 13, a friend
mentioned to me that she wanted to make a short film and I played something for her in E Phrygian—
a unique sound I thought was brand new! Our project ended up going nowhere, but I learned that I
could take a idea, figure it out, and write it down as music. In my junior year of high school, that
same friend decided to write an elaborate play for us to perform and she asked me to come up with
music for it. Now a project of this size was both intimidating and exciting—an entire musical score
for a 90-minute production! But through it I discovered that I had so much to say musically, and my
self-perception as a composer was formalized. From that point I committed to study music and have
been composing ever since.

Q. You have described your project Contraception: The Taboo Song Cycle, which was premiered
by the Kent State University New Music Ensemble and vocalists David Kulma and Maline
Rauschenefels, as your masterwork to date. Please explain how your project came to be.

If there is one thing on earth I am remembered by, I sure do hope it’s writing Contraception: The
Taboo Song Cycle! And I would like to praise everyone who made that project come to life…The Kent
State University New Music Ensemble, directed by Dr. Adam Roberts… my conductor Sarah Kois who spent months preparing for that score, treated it with the same respect as any other piece …Malina and David, who were both absolutely stellar vocalists…and my friends Nicole, Kelsy, Andrew and David who were with me when I was first inspired to write the work. It was such an honor to collaborate with all of these people, and it just came together beautifully.

My friends and I ended up at the Dittrick Medical History Center one Monday, when the Cleveland Art
Museum was closed. I am amazed at the extensivity of the collection that depicted the history of
contraception. The ancient devices and text were something to behold! And I just kept thinking to
myself, “Composers set music to random text all the time, what if I write a song about something in
here?” There were plenty of texts from the Bible and old medical textbooks to reference, but I
couldn’t decide on one thing, so I wrote a whole song cycle on the subject.

As the concert date approached, I was quite nervous, to be honest. My professor was in faculty meet-
ings bragging about my latest work. Posters were being hung up around the school with my name and the word “contraception” appearing close by. I imagined people having such disgust for the subject matter, but that just reinforced my initial purpose—to bring the important topic to light. In the end, people seemed amazed by my work. Many people attended that concert specifically for that piece, which was such an honor. It was a special moment in my life, and I clearly saw the awesome payoff of my hard work.

Q. Your commissioned work for No Exit is a self-reflective musical journal of 2020, a year defined by challenges and responses on every level of society, including personhood. Can you talk about this piece as a theme? What specifically inspired you here?

We all faced challenges last year, and this meant we had to rethink everything we knew. Learning how to cope with the pandemic, mastering the digital world, dealing with a tumultuous election year, coming face to face with the social injustices in our society, and many more things. I realized that I was on the precipice of many personal decisions and major historical events.

These feelings manifested themselves in my music, of course. The opening of the piece seeks to capture the ambiguity and uncertainty of a new year. One theme of this piece is that we can pay attention to recognize when history is happening. I absolutely love history and think it is it is fascinating to consider if historical players were at all aware of the gravity of their actions. I believe that we should live our lives with the understanding that our actions carry weight. These effects can be felt
on a personal level, local level, and our collective actions can be felt on the global level.

Q. How did you connect with No Exit for this concert, and what does a commission opportunity
from the ensemble mean to you as a young and emerging composer?

I credit my Taboo Song Cycle (mentioned earlier) for connecting me with No Exit. I met Tim Beyer at
one of our New Music Series concerts at Kent State when my professor Adam Roberts introduced us. We started talking about that piece and my work, and Tim said he wanted to commission something from me—very exciting words for a young composer still in school to hear!

This opportunity means so much to me. First, it is only through these wonderful new music groups
that these emerging voices have a chance at being heard. Second, being a commissioned composer
feels very “official” and like a whole new chapter of life opening up. Third, it is such an honor to
have a renowned professional like James Rhodes preparing for a concert to play some of my music!
And all of these elements that go into a No Exit concert—such as the promotion and the interviews—
really show me I am standing at the entrance of the professional music world. I am so grateful to No
Exit for this opportunity. It is one I think I will never forget.

Q. Where do you see your career heading, Zeke? What are some of your professional goals and how will they align with the next decades of evolution within the experimental music genre?

I’d like to continue to compose music that fits into the current world. It is important for me that my
unique artistic voice be in tune with the struggles and experience of everyday people. I like to look for the beauty in the common. I think experimental music is such a great place for that because there are fewer boundaries. I hope I can continue to be a part of this great world of composers who
aren’t afraid to go further than before!


An Interview with Adonai Henderson

By Laura King for NO EXIT

Adonai Henderson is a Cleveland-native, composer and trumpet player. He received his Master of Mu-
sic degree in composition at Cleveland State University and studied trumpet performance with a focus on jazz studies at Bowling Green State University. Adonai directs and composes for the Brass Ensemble at Messiah Lutheran Church and directs youth brass programs at various Cleveland area
schools. In his free time, he relishes introducing his two daughters to the joys of music.

Q. What do you recall as your earliest meeting with music, Adonai? Was the connection immediate and natural, or a relationship that developed over time?

My earliest meeting with music had to have been with my mother singing Michael Jackson. I used to
sing and dance to his music after school when I was in Kindergarten. From there, my musical development felt very natural.

Q. What instruments do you play, and when did you discover your aptitude and passion for writing experimental works?

Currently, I play trumpet, piano, and trombone. I started trumpet in the fifth grade, and I have been
playing piano for about as long as I can remember. My senior year of high school, I wrote a piece of music for the concert band. Since then, I have been pushing my composer chops to take on new experiences.

Q. You studied jazz as an undergraduate at Bowling Green and then music composition at CSU.
When did you encounter avant-garde new music – who were your muses and mentors?

When I was barely old enough to walk, my aunt gifted me with a toy piano. That was enough to
catapult me headfirst into music. Everything since then has been driven by the desire to know it
more deeply.

Q. What do you reach for as you follow your inspiration for a new work? Does your creative
process aim more to challenge and change you or your audience?

I like to reach for a satisfactory balance of interesting to listen to and stimulating to understand on a deeper level, music that is accessible to both causal and more involved listeners. Original
composition has, for me, always been about gathering as much as I can and finding the right way to
put it all into practice. I have had to learn to direct my impulses to clearly present what I have
learned in a way that makes sense to the listener. In that way, I want to challenge both myself and
my audience to explore unfamiliar avenues of music.

Q. In 2020, you produced your first commissioned work for No Exit—a solo percussion piece
ngoma that was performed by Luke Rinderknecht and “drew inspiration from Africa and its
diasporic legacies.” Please share around that experience.

ngoma started out as a mundane desire to investigate African rhythms for a solo percussion piece. It
was only after I was immersed in the research that I realized how many of the rhythms that I was familiar with in Minimalist music were actually drawn from popular African rhythmic motifs. So, rather than minimizing or erasing the context that shaped my piece, I chose to embrace it with the
name ngoma – a Swahili term for dance and drum.

Q. We’d love to hear any backstory to your latest commissioned work for No Exit, We Tremble,
but Know Better.

I wanted to familiarize myself with the multiphonic capabilities of the bass clarinet, and what better
way to do that than to force myself to learn it well enough to write for it. The multiphonic tremolos
maintain an ambient air of mild unrest, an unconscious parallel to the waves of unrest and constant
anxiety familiar to myself and so many others.

Q. And last but not least…how does a proud dad give the gift of musical joy to his two young

Music is a constant in my life to the point that I am often practicing it no matter what else I am do-
ing. That often means I am tapping out rhythms while I am playing with my girls, and, from the time they are old enough to interact, they do too. My oldest, from the time she could talk, began counting aloud with me as I tapped, and my youngest is just now big enough to really start dancing to my groove. I love seeing their authentic response to the music around them at such an early age, and I hope it continues to grow in them as it did for me.

From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit presents works by composers who call Cleveland home

By Jarrett Hoffman and Mike Telin
Jan21 Poster
The ensemble No Exit will continue its season on Friday, March 26 at 7:00 pm. The playlist features four world premieres — Zeke Paulowski’s 2020 Set to Viola: What We Will Remember, Nicholas Underhill’s Concerto for Piano and Midi Orchestra, Adonai Henderson’s We Tremble, but Know Better, and Luke Rinderknecht’s Resonances — as well as Timothy Beyer’s Amputate II for alto flute and electronics. As always, the concert is free.

“We love presenting concerts that celebrate some of the extraordinary musical voices that reside in Northeast Ohio,” No Exit artistic director Timothy Beyer said in a press release. “There are some great Cleveland-area composers who are really doing their own thing, thinking outside the box and writing music that is singular, unique and really worthwhile.”

Trumpeter and composer Adonai Henderson is a graduate of Bowling Green State University and Cleveland State University. He directs and composes for the Brass Ensemble at Messiah Lutheran Church, and directs youth brass programs at various schools in the Cleveland area.

We reached Henderson by Zoom to talk about his new piece We Tremble, but Know Better.

Adonai Henderson: I got the inspiration from a Sciarrino piece, Let me die before I wake, which deals with multiphonics and tremolos for the clarinet. I follow a blog by Heather Roche that was talking about that piece, and she said you can use a lot of those same techniques with the bass clarinet.

Jarrett Hoffman: So this is for solo bass clarinet. Have you worked with Gunnar [Owen Hirthe] before?

AH: Yes, I have. He was actually getting his doctorate at BGSU when I was an undergraduate there, so I knew him previously. And then working with the No Exit ensemble while I was getting my master’s at CSU, we reconnected.

JH: Let’s talk about the title, We Tremble, but Know Better. Where does that come from?

AH: So the piece has kind of an ominous sound to it. The harmonics with the tremolos beneath them makes for an eerie kind of feeling — so despite the fact that we know better, we tremble.

JH: As I was researching for our interview, I found your YouTube Channel, where you’ve been sharing some different projects with trumpet, trombone, and keyboard during the pandemic. There’s straight-up fun stuff, like an arrangement of a tune from the video game series Halo, and also some powerful music themed around racial justice. But in contrast, this piece for No Exit isn’t programmatic, is it?

AH: Not in that same way. I kind of wrote this to get more comfortable with what the bass clarinet can do, and to try and push my limits as a composer, moving away from some of the tonal ideas that I like to use. But as I combine the multiphonics and the extended techniques, some of the notes make a bassline, so I was able to create a piece that makes tonal sense, but not in a very conventional way.

JH: You said in an email that you’re as excited about this piece as ever.

AH: Well, I haven’t been able to hear it really. The computer programs that I’ve been using to write the piece don’t really do it justice playing it back. The notes I was able to put in my head were from messing with a keyboard, doing tremolos in one hand and playing the upper notes in the other. So I don’t really have an idea how it’s going to sound — that’s the biggest reason I’m excited about it.

Hailing from Steubenville, Ohio, Ezekiel “Zeke” Paulowski is a recent graduate of Kent State University. One high point of his studies there was the KSU New Music Ensemble’s premiere of his Contraception: The Taboo Song Cycle, inspired by a trip to the Dittrick Cleveland Medical History Museum. As he writes in his bio, this is often how his music has been inspired: finding art in the regular and ordinary.

We reached Zeke by telephone and began our conversation around the title of his new piece, 2020 Set to Viola: What We Will Remember. As he confirmed, it is indeed for solo viola — his first collaboration with No Exit’s James Rhodes — and is a description of events from last year.

Jarrett Hoffman: How exactly did 2020 inspire you here?

Zeke Paulowski: I definitely think in looking back on 2020 — and I wrote the piece around December — there was so much happening socially and politically in terms of the global pandemic. A lot of times, I write music out of a need to express emotion, you know what I mean? Reflect on things. At first I wasn’t exactly sure what to write about, but I kind of settled on something that was meaningful to me. A lot happened in 2020, and I think somebody needed to artistically say something about it.

JH: There are so many different styles a composer could use to approach that topic. Tell me a little bit about what you ended up doing compositionally.

ZP: There are a lot of different moods and characters within the piece. We see a very soundscape-esque world that develops in some parts of it. There’s also a lot of satirical writing, and one specific instance where there’s a classic American song used in a satirical way — the Stars and Stripes Forever march.

JH: Of course, you also finished your undergrad at Kent State in 2020. Did that add anything extra for you in terms of the importance of last year?

ZP: Well you know, 2020 is a very special year to me, a very memorable year. On top of having some amazing achievements in life, you also find that you’re dealing with so many challenges — so many things that come with graduating and figuring out how to navigate the rest of your early adulthood (laughs).

Mike Telin talked to Nicholas Underhill about his Concerto for Piano and MIDI Orchestra.

In his program notes, Underhill describes the first movement, Adrift, as “one of those COVID pieces…inspired by the dreariness of near isolation,” whereas the second movement, Tarantella, is the exact opposite in character — “it’s the athletic part of COVID: keeping things active.”

During a telephone conversation Underhill explained that his original idea was “not to create a piano concerto, but rather to compose a piece using the instruments found in music notation software and from importing MIDI sounds.

I asked Underhill to explain what MIDI is and does.

Nicholas Underhill: All composers have been working with MIDI ever since the development of the music notation software Finale and Sibelius. You use MIDI for a piece that has not yet been performed — you can give a MIDI version to an orchestra or soloist, but you can also use it in a more creative way. You can write music that couldn’t possibly be played by a real instrumentalist. I could use the sound of a helicopter, for example — modulate the helicopter sound and use it in the material of the music I’m composing.

Mike Telin: Are MIDI and a synthesizer the same thing?

NU: MIDI is simply a synthesizer that produces sounds. There are two major software packages for orchestral composers and they each come with a MIDI realization.

MT: Could you explain how MIDI is used for composing?

NU: Say that you are writing something for strings and brass — you do a mockup of the piece using MIDI sounds, which can be anything from primitive to fairly sophisticated samplings of real instruments.

This way you can hear the piece in real time, and it gives a sense of what the piece sounds like. And for a composer you can hear which sections are too long or too short, and whether there are incorrect notes.

You can submit a MIDI score as a demo to a player or organization. They need to use their imagination because it doesn’t sound exactly like that, but it gives an idea of the general balance of things.

MT: Is MIDI considered part of electronic music?

NU: MIDI is only a tiny part of the total panorama of electronic music sounds that you can hear. Pro-tools can create virtually any sound you can imagine. It takes characters of the waves, breaks them down, and then modulates them section by section.

My idea was to say, okay, I have a score, and all I want to do is to add some weird sounds. Adding sounds is like adding spices — a pinch of garlic here and a pinch of oregano there.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (March 23, 2021). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Sean Gabriel, No Exit Flutist

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Sean Gabriel
As the ensemble’s flutist, Sean Gabriel has contributed his geniality and gift of “amazingly nuanced sensitivity” to No Exit for almost a dozen years. He earned performance degrees from Baldwin Wallace and Indiana University and begin his rich and varied career in the 1980s with the Ohio Chamber Orchestra and Cleveland Ballet Orchestra. Currently Sean serves on the music faculty of Baldwin Wallace and Cleveland State Universities, where he is a frequent recitalist in both solos and chamber music programs. His list of professional affiliations and accomplishments are extensive, and include a Grammy winning recording of Oliver Messianen’s Oiseaux, with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony featuring pianist Angelin Chang. Sean is an eager supporter of local composers in premiering new works and enjoys giving lectures on music history at local high schools.

Below, Sean provides the backstory to his impressive career and provides an overview of the evolution of the Cleveland contemporary music scene, including No Exit’s place in the schema:

Q1. Tell us the story of Sean meets flute and falls in love.

I was fortunate to have been raised in a family that appreciated classical music and opera, so I had a lot of great music in my ear by the time flute lessons began in the sixth grade. My progress was rapid and in high school I was able to study with William Hebert, who was the long-time solo piccolo player of the Cleveland Orchestra. Hebert started me on a rigorous technical regime of scales, arpeggios etc. that formed the basis of everything that came later. I was able to continue studying with him for four years at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, where he was the flute professor.

Q2. You earned performance degrees form the Baldwin Wallace (where you now serve as faculty) and the Indiana University School of Music. How did your teacher-mentors and a formal performance education serve as a launchpad for your varied and industrious career?

After William Hebert, while in graduate school at Indiana University, I studied with James Pellerite, former principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. He refined my playing and assigned me to play in the University New Music Ensemble under the direction of Harvey Sollberger— flutist, composer, and conductor. This experience was life-changing, as I developed a real connection to contemporary music.

As luck would have it, when I returned to Cleveland after graduating, there was a flute opening in the Cleveland Chamber Symphony (founded and directed by Edwin London), which was starting to move in the direction of all new music from a combination of that with earlier classical repertoire. What a dream come true! This was the late 1980s and the audiences were merely a handful of people, but soon the ensemble gained popularity because of the quality of membership and programing. By the late 1990s, the concerts were pretty much standing room only.

Q3. You are often described as a performance staple on the Cleveland classical music scene…a unique talent who has been around “forever.” From that perspective, how would describe the evolution of your city’s scene?

The Cleveland music scene has always been vibrant, but the past decade or so has shown a remarkable emergence of smaller groups like No Exit, whose high-quality performances have attracted much attention. Early music ensembles like Apollo’s Fire and Les Delices are also touring and recording successfully.

For several years, pre-pandemic, Cleveland Chamber Symphony would host NEOSonicFest, a week-long new music festival in the Spring that would include performances by smaller groups like No Exit, Ars Futura, FiveOne Experimental Orchestra, Blue Streak Ensemble, and others. The concerts were at multiple venues around town and attracted sizable appreciative audiences. Mid-sized ensembles like Blue Water Chamber Orchestra, City Music Cleveland, and Cleveland Chamber Choir round out a generalized classical repertoire similar to the Cleveland Orchestra, but on a smaller scale.

There are also other organizations like the Cleveland Chamber Music Society, Cleveland Classical Guitar Society, and Chamber Fest Cleveland (summer) that present full-season concerts. We do lack a current large-scale opera company in our fair city, but otherwise there is diverse musical activity nearly every day of the week during the academic year, a real plus for attracting music students to the area.

Q4. Please talk specifically about being an “early gen” new music musician, and participation in the growth of experimental music as a genre. What would you say are its specific demands versus classical?

As far as performance styles go, I always say that if one can perform new music, one can perform anything! The skills required for new music cover all the traditional styles, then go beyond in terms of learning extended techniques and an advanced understanding of rhythm that is crucial. Extended techniques are sound elements that fall outside of the traditional realm. Some are easy to produce, others are more challenging, but they are always just part of the whole picture. Many musicians that are unfamiliar with new music tend to get stuck on extended techniques and then have trouble forming the larger concept of a piece. There is usually some type of modification that must occur with the music for it to flow. I always try to keep the big picture in mind.

Q5. When and why did you connect with NO EXIT? From your perspectives as both a member and a music education, what impact do you think the ensemble has had on the NE Ohio region over its 12 seasons?

Back in the late 1990’s. when I was performing with Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Tim Beyer was a regular audience member and we performed some of his compositions, as he was working on a degree from Cleveland State University, where our ensemble was in residence. Somewhere around 2012, Tim, being familiar with my playing, asked me to join his new group, No Exit, which had started a few years earlier as a piano trio. I agreed without hesitation, and the ensemble has grown to become a major presence in the Cleveland musical scene. The No Exit members have a true interest in and feeling for contemporary music and are all so easy to work with—meaning no divas. (Well, I am probably the closest.) Truly, I think No Exit is superb, and Tim, as the ensemble’s artistic director, is the ultimate class-act in terms of his person, support, and management. Our programming is exciting, and the audiences have increased and diversified each season—loyal, enthusiastic, and engaged. And I see new faces at every concert that surprise me…it’s such a great feeling!


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit January Concert: premieres & drolleries

By Daniel Hathaway
noexit at SPACES
New music concerts can run the risk of sinking under the weight of their own self-importance, especially when “world premieres” are involved. Happily, while No Exit takes itself seriously, it goes about its business with a redemptive playfulness, as demonstrated in several of the entries in the hour-long concert that debuted on the ensemble’s YouTube channel on January 29.

Artistic director Timothy Beyer set the tone for the opening work by Jeremy Rapaport-Stein, appearing like the floating head of the Wizard of Oz in a quasi-film noir introduction. Beset with a parched throat, he turned the emcee job over to a ventriloquist’s dummy, who carried on in time-honored vaudeville style while Beyer drank a glass of water.

That led to the first world premiere, Rapaport-Stein’s ten-movement There was something that I had wanted to say to you… At the opening, the hand of No Exit assistant director James Praznik wads up multiple pages of a legal pad while trying out title phrases with a not-so-sharp sharpie. Ultimately, there are 59 words in the title, which should earn the piece at least an honorable mention in Guinness.

In his notes, the composer writes,

This piece came from thinking about anxiety and isolation. I kept coming back to the image of a solitary musician wandering around their apartment, making tiny pieces out of every action they took. What started out as a possible metaphor for a piece turned instead more into the piece itself literally (as well as a prescription for the process of its composition).

We see the hands — but never the face — of percussionist Luke Rinderknecht, who plays mysterious chords on the marimba (“flutterbug”), tunes a pair of miniature radios (“radiocounterpoint no. 5”), taps on a ring binder (“fingers”), clinks on three wine glasses (“hallelujah”), dallies with a snare drum and high hat cymbal (“villanelle”), and plays a mallets toccata (“for James Praznik”). Praznik also noisily fries eggs in a pair of pans (“breakfast”), and elasticizes his face (“mouth counterpoint no. 1”). Finally, an unseen hand types phrases dimly displayed in reverse on a vintage monitor, accompanied by the sounds you associate with Houston attempting to connect with a space flight (“dearest”). The final message, i have loved you, appears in letters large enough to read.

That wacky spirit continued into an intermission feature, when No Exit clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe, recovering from hand surgery, pointed out his bandaged paw and, responding to Beyer’s suggestion that he contribute something to the concert, amusingly demonstrated how to make a one-handed martini.

On either side of that bit of bartending, violist James Rhodes brought gravitas to the proceedings with attentive, nuanced performances of Giancinto Scelsi’s 1964 Xnoybis III and a second world premiere, Tyler Adamthwaite’s Fleeting Remnants of the Severed Wonderland.

Growing out of Xnoybis II, described in the program notes by Praznik as a “meditative soliloquy on a single pitch,” Xnoybis III “gives the illusion of a conversation among competing voices…the root of this music lies within the composer’s conception of patience…above all, what stands out is his unconditioned way of improvising, as if wrapped in a mist of Zen-like emptiness.” Rhodes prefaced his performance with the caveat that it “requires great concentration both from the performer and listener.”

Adamthwaite introduced his piece, saying that “It’s about the contrast between frantic, raspy mumbling and a beautiful, singing quality of sound,” and inviting the listeners to come to their own conclusions about what they mean.

Cellist Nick Diodore noted that Iannis Xenakis wrote Dhipli Zyia in 1951, when he was studying with Messiaen and working in the architectural firm of Lecorbusier. He said that the music was folk-driven, like that of Bartók, and the performers are told to play without vibrato. “Personally, I find that quite refreshing.” Then Diodore and violinist Cara Tweed gave a tight, energized performance of probably the most accessible work on the program.

Back in the theoretical realm for the third world premiere, Inga Chinilina wrote in her notes that “Give Me a Second uses the tuning system as an equal participant of the compositional process, along with pitch, rhythm, and timbre.” In her spoken remarks, she said that her piece concerns itself with the interval of a second, but because of different temperaments, “not all seconds are the same.” Cara Tweed turned in a committed performance of a work that much resembles the Scelsi — and shares with it the impression of overstaying its welcome.

Cinematographer Rebecca Rhodes deserves a virtual round of applause for wrapping a number of little scenes together into a cohesive presentation. A separate credit screen identified the composers of other bits of music used for titles and transitions.

The video remains available for on-demand viewing Here

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (February 9, 2021). The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit presents “New Year, New Works — a Virtual Concert + Commentary Experience”

By Mike Telin
Jan21 Poster
“Like for a lot of ensembles, this season turned out differently than what we had imagined it would be,” No Exit artistic director Timothy Beyer said during a recent telephone conversation. “All of the music we had planned, we couldn’t do. They were all ensemble pieces, and we are not getting together as an ensemble this season, so we had to commission solo pieces on the quick — we needed to find composers who would not only write something good but also deliver it on time.”

On Friday, January 29 at 7:00 pm, No Exit will present “New Year, New Works — a Virtual Concert + Commentary Experience.” The program will feature world premieres by Tyler Adamthwaite, Inga Chinilina, and Jeremy Rapaport-Stein as well as music by Iannis Xenakis and Giancinto Scelsi. The free performance and program book are available on the ensemble’s website and Facebook page.

“Tyler, Inga, and Jeremy are very gifted and wrote some interesting pieces,” Beyer said. “I’m sure that listeners are going to really enjoy what they experience.”

How did No Exit find these young composers, and what about them instilled confidence that they would meet the deadline? “We always keep our ear to the ground when it comes to finding new, young composers. That’s part-in-parcel for what we do. We like to work with people we know — it’s a little bit safer that way — and other times we just hear about them. In this case these are people that our associate director, James Praznik, knew from Brandeis, and he knew them well enough to know they’d do a good job and deliver on time.”

The three were given carte blanche as to what instrument they would write for — “any instrument we have in the group as long as it was solo,” Beyer said. “The pieces are a little longer than we would normally ask for, but under the circumstances we felt that would be okay.”

In his bio, Tyler Adamthwaite says that he writes music that seeks to explore the existential and affective aspects of space through sound. His inspiration often comes from the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of spatial design, giving his music a shadowed quality. He received his MFA at Brandeis University and is currently pursuing his PhD in music composition and theory at SUNY Buffalo.

In an interview with No Exit’s Laura King, Adamthwaite said that Fleeting Remnants of the Severed Wonderland Spoke One Ashen Sylph Who Sang So Fervently to Death (for solo viola) is about transition of focus — from just thinking of music as sound, to thinking about the instrument as a sounding body. “I wanted to highlight the peculiar nature of the viola, which is often raspier and more subdued than a violin or cello. I didn’t use many different sounds in the work — I want the audience to marinate in each of the sound worlds and come to their own determinations.”

Inga Chinilina’s Give Me a Second is for solo violin. Born in Moscow, Chinilina holds a BM in Composition and Performance from Berklee College of Music and an MFA in Theory and Composition from Brandeis University. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Music and Multimedia Composition at Brown University where part of her duties include teaching.

“Transferring knowledge is one of the best feelings, and listening to the students’ works is the best part of teaching,” she told King. “I aim for two goals — the first is to support my students to be true to themselves. I hope that in their creative process, students feel liberated not to follow anyone’s expectations, but instead to pursue creating unique works. The second involves the craft, because beyond any idea, there is the labor and skills needed in order to bring an idea to life. I love when I can explain a concept concisely and effectively.”

Of his There was something that I had wanted to say to you but I didn’t, Rapaport-Stein told King that “the title is the third in a series of quite long ones (titles) I’ve written recently. Anxiety and a kind of ungapatchka sensibility comes through a lot in my music, so the titles are a non-sonic way of trying to capture that feeling — of something messy, fat, perhaps a little chaotic. For this piece, the title is a kind of cheap imitation of the poetry of Lydia Davis. I was reading a book of her essays on writing as I was making the piece.”

Beyer added that Adamthwaite, Chinilina, and Rapaport-Stein are people that No Exit should be working with in any case. “The ensemble has a long history of giving young composers opportunities. We like doing that and needless to say, it is important.”

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (January 26, 2021). The full article can be found – Here

An Interview with composer Jeremy Rapaport-Stein

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Jeremy Rapaport-Stein is a composer based currently in Harrisburg, PA. His work explores “improvisation, vocality, memory, euphoria, and obsolete modes of audio communication through concert music and installations.” He received his BA degree from Swarthmore College and is currently a PhD student in music theory and composition at Brandeis University, teaching musicianship, sound studies and writing. Jeremy has held residencies at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and Crosstown Arts in Memphis. He has received commissions from the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Guerilla Opera, Orchestra 2001, Odds and Ends Trio, Boston New Music Initiative, and the Cabrillo Festival. In addition to his musical interests, he is passionate about working with young-adult English language learners.

Below Jeremy shares around his life’s path, COVID creativity and his musical processes:

Q1. Let’s begin with a broad brush, Jeremy. Please talk a little about your journey as a musician. When did music come into your life and how did your relationship with performance and composition evolve from your early experiences?

I started playing cello when I was very small and eventually turned into a decent high school player. I considered pursuing a career as a performer, but quickly realized that doing so might actually involve practicing. Since my favorite part was always changing around bits of the cello part to make the piece sound strange, it dawned on me that composing could be more fun and entail less work. I was definitely right about it being more fun.

Q2. At what point did you identify with the experimental music genre? Who do you consider to be some of your mentors and muses, and why?

I left out a key part above, which is that I began to listen to a lot of jazz and creative improvised music as a teenager. When people ask me about my favorite composers, I say Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk, and their music has probably been the most consistently meaningful to me. I’m also a bit of a drama queen, so I’ve always had a soft spot for Shostakovich. As I began to listen to these composers’ music, and then the music of the people who studied with and were influenced by them, my ears began to open up further and further.

I also would love to take this opportunity to mention Marvin Rosen. He’s a pianist and scholar, and for years has hosted a radio show in my hometown of Princeton, NJ that spotlights experimental music. Marvin taught a class about 20th and 21st century music at Westminster Conservatory as part of a high school arts program I attended. He showed us some of the most delightfully obscure music you could imagine, and it is one of my true pleasures in life to keep re-discovering and even meeting in person some of the composers I first heard about in that class. So, thanks Marvin.

Q3. On your website www.jeremyrapaportstein.com you are described as someone “who likes to make ethical, peculiar objects with sounds, words, and gestures.” What does that expression look and sound like to your rapt audience?

I would love to know! I’ll tell you first if I ever manage to find out.

Q4. For your No Exit commission, you have written a piece titled There was something I wanted to say to you but I didn’t and so I went home and thought about it more and then the next time I saw you I also didn’t say anything but now that it’s been a few years I feel as if I really must tell you the thing that I had meant to before. That name is almost a back story itself, but not quite. Please share some details about your inspiration and how you evolved this original work.

The title is the third in a series of quite long ones I’ve written recently. Anxiety and a kind of ungapatchka sensibility comes through a lot in my music, so the titles are a non-sonic way of trying to capture that feeling — of something messy, fat, perhaps a little chaotic. For this piece, the title is a kind of cheap imitation of the poetry of Lydia Davis. I was reading a book of her essays on writing as I was making the piece.

Q5. The COVID virus contagion has seemingly changed everything. In what ways did having an online world premiere as your compositional endpoint morph your creative thought process? Also, your personal bio includes “anxiety” among your artistic interests. Can you describe how the pandemic may have played into that interest in a constructive way?

The piece was entirely inspired by watching an earlier streamed No Exit concert. I loved the feeling of being beamed into each musician’s own little world and so I thought about ways I could create a number of different little intimate spaces within the same piece, as if we were getting a virtual tour of someone’s very bizarre house room by room.

Q6. As a language and music teacher, beyond the actual subject matter that will be tested, what do you most hope to impart to your students?

That they are strong, that they are resilient, and that they inherently possess the capacity to eventually find good answers for themselves.

Q7. How and when did you connect with No Exit?

James Praznik, who multi-tasks behind the music for No Exit, is one of my dearest friends and a long- time musical mentor. I named one of the movements of this piece after James, in honor of him and the wonderful work that No Exit does championing new music. It uses material from one of the very first works by James that I heard, a piece which he wrote for No Exit reimagining the music of Raymond Scott. Mine is a very silly movement for xylophone, though. I hope he doesn’t mind.


An Interview with composer Inga Chinilina

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Born in Moscow, USSR, composer, sound artist and pianist Inga Chinilina currently resides in Providence, Rhode Island. Her works have been performed by The Empyrean Ensemble, Neave Trio, Lydian String Quartet, Loadbang Ensemble, Splice Ensemble, Russia State Academic Russian folk ensemble, Moscow Contemporary Music (MCME) Ensemble, Sound Icon Ensemble. Inga had performances at Zeitströme Tage für aktuelle Musik (Darmstadt, Germany), Taproot New Music Festival (UC Davis CA), The International Festival of Contemporary Music Moscow Autumn (Moscow, Russia) Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts (Waltham, USA), and Open Space International Composers Laboratory (Moscow, Russia).

Currently Inga is pursuing her PhD in “Music and Multimedia Composition” at Brown University. She also holds a BM in Composition and Performance from Berklee College of Music and an MFA in Theory and Composition from Brandeis University.

Q1. From Moscow, USSR to Berklee, Brandeis and Brown … please tell us about your journey as a musician. When did you begin to play an instrument? How did music become a passion for you? Are there distinct elements from your youth and native culture that still color your work in the present?

Musical cultures that we grew up with always color our work even if they are not obviously traceable. In my family, we used to sing Russian traditional songs after dinners—slightly out of tune, out of sync. Not everyone knew the words, and still it was beautiful. I think it influenced my interest in alternative ways of musical composing and my love of untempered sonorities. My childhood musical training was limited—I had a monophonic electronic keyboard and an elementary music theory book. It was only later in life that I received substantial musical training.

Q2. How has your relationship with composition evolved over time and across continents?

In the beginning, I was under the impression that I needed to master the Western-European canon of music composition. Several years after coming to the United States, I started the search for my voice and reconsidered my initial desire to fulfill the expectations of “composers in power.” Now I am searching for sonorities that represent me and what I believe in.

Q3. As a composer, you both question and explore the rules that organize Western academic music. What are some of the ways you believe that our musical hierarchies resemble the organization of contemporary Western societies? Can changing the structuring principles of music truly affect society? If so, how, and why?

Many aspects of the organization of societies have strict hierarchies and structures, and I see the same in Western-European music. Most classical music uses Equal Temperament (ET) and hierarchical structures for music organization. Tonal music uses a hierarchy of certain chords and serial music has a strict order of pitches’ appearance. ET became a universal standard just in the past century, and despite its high utilitarian function, ET goes against the sound wave’s properties. For example, the only interval that coincides with the prominent overtones of a fundamental is an octave, whereas other intervals are shifted to provide the possibility of playing in different keys. However, the ET tuning system surrounds us, and we learn to ignore the imperfections…we consider ET intervals being “in-tune.” Musicians not only accept the ET limitations upon themselves, but also impose a singular way of being “in-tune” on everyone else, creating a self-policing structure. For me, the relationship between structuring principles of music and structuring principles of society is a two way-process. When society is changing, it seeks new music—and I hope that introducing new music can present alternative pathways for society. Using new sonorities in a violin piece, I try to show how things that historically were not appreciated still have their place in music and are equal participants of the musical structures.

Q4. When did your interest in Gregorian Chant and church music improvisation arise? How is this interest reflected in your work?

Following the idea of hierarchical properties of tonal language, I saw Gregorian chant and renaissance music as alternatives to hegemonic tonality, and this is how my interests arose. I think all our experiences have an impact, though currently this type of music is not a prime influence in my work.

Q5. You are teaching as part of your graduate studies in Music and Multimedia Composition at Brown University. What do you enjoy most about this responsibility, and what is the most important learning that you hope to impart to your students?

Transferring knowledge is one of the best feelings and listening to the students’ works is the best part of teaching. I aim for two goals in my teaching. The first is to support my students to be true to themselves. I hope that in their creative process, students feel liberated not to follow anyone’s expectations, but instead to pursue creating unique works. My second important aim in teaching involves the craft, because beyond any idea, there is the labor and skills needed in order to bring an idea to life. I love when I can explain a concept concisely and effectively.

Q6. The last year has been challenging on so many levels…would you say that the societal shifts mandated by our collective COVID19 response have hindered or enhanced your creativity, and what does that look like?

The divide in society, the way people respond to the pandemic, the consequences of people’s actions—all these changed the way I approach composition. A virtual meeting over the summer with composer Reiko Füting had a major influence on me. I learned from him that composition is a responsibility to society, a process that cannot be detached from people and the society we are living in. This meeting in combination with COVID-19 shifted my approach to my work.


An Interview with composer Tyler Adamthwaite

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Transient Canvas
Tyler Adamthwaite is a composer and performer who writes music that seeks to explore the existential and affective aspects of space through sound. Some of his biggest sources of inspiration come from the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of spatial design, giving his music a shadowed quality. He received his MFA at Brandeis University, where he studied composition with Erin Gee and David Rakowski. He is currently pursuing his PhD in music composition and theory from the University at Buffalo under the instruction of David Felder.

Below, Tyler shares about his interests in expressing the world as sound, and his artistic process:

Q1. Tyler, as a composer and performer you have been dedicating your energies to exploring the existential and affective aspects of space through sound, particularly as new music. Can you talk a little bit about this – what interests and experiences pulled you in this direction? What areas of study outside the scope of music are supporting your interests?

I have been drawn to a sense of place for a long time. When I was a kid, my parents took me out into the mountains on camping trips, hikes, etc. so that my sisters and I would have an appreciation for our local environment. Over the years, I have continued this by incorporating walks into my compositional process—thinking about the sounds I would like to use while listening helps me to think through the problems of a piece. One memorable experience happened in 2014, while I was studying abroad in Japan… a morning hike up the mountain on Miajima was hazy, rainy, and not too pleasant in the clothes I had on. But the profound stillness of the path struck me. There were no people and very few animals about on such a dreary morning, and I experienced it as very surreal. Looking back, I see that as the start of this path I am on.

As far as studies outside of music, I like to read novels and poetry. I look at how narratives are created, and then try to incorporate some of those techniques into my music.

Q2. Looking to compose multi-sensory experiences for an audience, where do you turn to find an ideal setting? How do quietude and cacophony differ sensorially in interior and exterior spaces?

I don’t think there is an “ideal setting.” I want the sensory experience of my music to be evocative without pushing people too heavily towards an image. Cacophony and quietude are important aspects of guiding the piece, and to me they really represent the same space. However, one could represent the exterior and one the interior of any situation… like when we are overwhelmed by outside stimulus, it can feel like there is not enough internal reaction, and vice versa. I think my sensitivity to this arises my personal struggles with anxiety, but I have found that a lot of people can relate, even if the experience isn’t explicitly defined.

T.V. Adamthwaite · Silent Embers performed by Ensemble Mise-En

Q3. Our lives and performances have had change imposed upon them in the past year. Concerts are now designed as streaming experiences. How has this changed your creative and practical thought processes.

The past year has been incredibly hard to deal with from a creative perspective. I have had a few projects terminate and finding a creative outlet has been difficult. I thank the No Exit ensemble for commissioning me, of course, but I also thank my mentor David Felder for encouraging me to explore alternative creative methods. I have been writing a lot for myself in recent months. I am a violinist, although not a virtuoso by any means, and writing for myself has allowed me to think about how I play and craft a style around my sensibility on the instrument. I think that has been the biggest change in my process, how I write has changed from thinking of the instrument only as a tool and more of a sounding space itself.

Q4. Please share the backstory to your new work for No Exit, Fleeting Remnants of the Severed Wonderland, for viola. What are some of the more nuanced aspects of your piece that you will explore with violist James Rhodes?

Fleeting Remnants of the Severed Wonderland is about this transition of focus—from just thinking of music as sound, to thinking about the instrument as a sounding body. I really wanted to highlight the peculiar nature of the viola, which is often raspier and more subdued than a violin or cello. I am hoping that I can explore the individuality of the viola more with James Rhodes. I didn’t use many different sounds in the work. I want the audience to really marinate in each of the sound worlds and their come to their own determinations.

T.V. Adamthwaite · Whisper, Speak, Sing (Fall 2018) performed by the Lydian String Quartet

Q5. Your interest in the concept of “being,” sometimes defined as aliveness, or full presence … where are you most likely to meet it in music – in contemplating, composing, performing, observing the audience, or someplace else?

That is a hard question. For me, music is an all-in experience, and no single part brings me to a sense of Being. I tend to focus more on the listening perspective because that is where most people meet music, in the end. I personally compose in silence, because I need to stop and hear the piece in my mind’s ear to make decisions about the flow of the music. Every detail is painstakingly determined by this cycle of writing-listening-rewriting-relistening, until the piece is ready to be presented. My end goal is for the listener to BE in the music as much as I have been.

Q6. You are teaching now as part of your graduate education at University of Buffalo. What does having the opportunity to impart knowledge to students mean to you?

Yes, I am currently teaching aural skills. I find it rewarding to teach practical skills like sight singing and dictation because it encourages students to explore the music they already listen to in a new way. When I was learning, and still to this day, I transcribed and arranged songs for violin ensemble to keep up my ears and to have some fun with music I enjoy. What I want my students to take away from class is a joy for music. I don’t care how many facts they know… I mean, they can just google for facts. I want them instead to be capable and creative musicians and have fun along the way.


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit: Here and There Part 2 — “Concert à la miniature”

By Mike Telin
noexit at SPACES
At a time when just about everything is being scaled down, the one-hour concert sans intermission has become the norm, which is, quite honestly, a good thing. In their latest pre-recorded concert that debuted on November 27, No Exit takes things a step further. At 30 minutes in length, “Concert à la miniature” features solos and duos of five minutes or less, and the engaging diversity of the program coupled with stellar performances by members of the ensemble is a testimony to the cliché that good things come in small packages. Click Here to access the performance on demand.

First up is Kaija Saariaho’s captivating Aure. This brief feast of emotions is exquisitely played by violinist Cara Tweed and cellist Nicholas Diodore. The upclose, but not intrusive camera shots make the performers’ solid techniques — high harmonics in the violin and left-hand pizzicatos in the cello — as much fun to watch as they are to hear.

Introducing Betsy Jolas’ Episode Second: Ohne Worte, flutist Sean Gabriel says the work “challenges traditional ideas of pitch, sound, rhythm, and melody.” Written in 1977, it sounds traditional in 2021, but Gabriel’s fluid performance of this charming piece full of long, slow moving lines is a pleasure to hear.

Defined by a juxtaposition of long tones and technical flourishes, Charles Delaney’s …and the strange unknown flowers… for unaccompanied flute finds Gabriel in his element. His ability to make sudden shifts in tempo and motivic sequences gives the work an attractive arc.

Speaking of arcs, Arc-en-ciel (Rainbow) from György Ligeti’s first book of etudes, is steeped in French impressionism with colorful ascending and descending lines. And pianist Nicholas Underhill possesses the technique and imaginative mind to bring the hues of the rainbow to life. Again, the camera work captures the complexity of the piece — there’s so much that needs to be said in three and a half minutes.

Underhill feverishly wraps everything up with a commanding performance of Leo Ornstein’s Sucide in an Airplane. We hear the engine revving up with growling tremolos in the piano’s low register. As if experiencing turbulence, the music is accented by pounding, often violent chords and trills until an abstract chord gradually fades into silence.

The production qualities are superb, and No Exit’s artistic director Timothy Beyer brings his own understated humor to his opening remarks. Is there a better way to spend thirty minutes?

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (December 10, 2020). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with No Exit’s clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Transient Canvas
Clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe joined NO EXIT in 2015. He earned bachelors’ degrees in Music Education and Performance from the University of Kentucky, a master’s degree in Music Performance from Ohio State University, and a Professional Studies diploma from the Cleveland Institute of Music. He is currently working on a dissertation titled “The Clarinet Music of Michael Finnissy and Evan Ziporyn,” within Bowling Green’s contemporary music doctoral program. Gunnar has performed with professional chamber, wind, orchestral and faculty ensembles throughout the mid-west, and at Carnegie Hall. He has also instructed individuals of all ages, both musicians and non-musicians, in remote learning, classroom and studio settings.

Below, in a recent interview, Gunnar describes his experience of being “born and bred” as a new music performer. (*Quoting NO EXIT’s artistic director Tim Beyer there.)

Q1. Gunnar, I have been told that you grew up in the wilds of northern Wisconsin, where naturally you fished through the ice, hunted deer and defied death on snowmobiles. You also played clarinet. When did you begin your music studies, and how did you connect with your instrument?

Like most public school kids, my start in music was in fifth grade band. My oldest brother had played clarinet, so we had one at home—and initially, I wasn’t very good. I was put in the back of the section and struggled playing “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas. I did enjoy performing, though. One night, after playing something for my parents, that same brother (he hates this story, by the way) told me, “Pretty good…but you’ll never be as good as me.” Well, that was I all I needed to work hard at clarinet and saxophone, which gave me a competitive edge.

Q2. You were one of the first fleet of students in the US to graduate with an actual degree in new music performance. How did you develop that level of interest in new music? Can you describe your undergrad and graduate programs for us? Which teachers/mentors impacted you most?

New music chose me. Early on in my training, the music of the 20th century caught my ears on a different level. Though I would eventually learn classical styles, many critiques included comments like, “too romantic” or “too jazzy”. I never received comments like that while performing challenging solo works for clarinet or pieces by modernist and contemporary composers, so I made that my goal.

This, of course was aided by my first teacher, Dr. Scott Wright both in high school and at the University of Kentucky. He taught me anything was possible if you could make hours of scales and arpeggios into something musical (at ridiculous speeds, of course). However, I was no robot. He challenged me always to “find a voice.” He’d belt out clarinet melodies in his small studio in a brilliant operatic tenor, take me across the hallway to listen to the sopranos learn from former Metropolitan Opera divas, and have me improv to twelve bar blues before we got started on my prepared repertoire. I think most importantly, however, was his push to make me a good teacher. Everything came from a perspective of pedagogy… “How would you teach this?” It forced me to analyze not only how I physically perform, but what my audience is hearing and thinking.

I struggled with the decision of taking job offers teaching K-12 orchestra and sidelining my clarinet performance career for one in music education. After a gap year, I auditioned for graduate schools in clarinet performance and started at The Ohio State University with Jim Pyne, a man who won his first orchestra gig at age 18 and also made mouthpieces for countless professionals. He taught me how to hear clarinet. Today, with so much digital recording, we can listen to ourselves with or against others for countless hours, but that is not the same as listening to yourself in a room. Listening to the acoustics of a space and hearing how you fill it with sound or closing your eyes and mentally placing yourself at the back of a hall. I also joined a stalwart cadre of new music fanatics at OSU that exposed me to things I’d never heard or performed, and which was a different kind of magic altogether.

I think my most well-known influence was at the Cleveland Institute of Music—Franklin Cohen, former principal clarinet of the orchestra. He challenged me in ways I still have a hard time articulating. Learning from someone who exudes musicality as a raw power is not only intimidating but inspiring. We challenged each other in many ways, I think. “Like this…” he would say, and there would be my lesson, figuring out a single nuance in an excerpt or phrase. Ultimately, CIM afforded me the ability to learn from amazing coaches how to perform chamber works with some of the most talented young musicians I’ve ever met.

My final journey, before joining No Exit, was my doctoral work in new music at Bowling Green State University. I owe so much to Kevin Schempf, a brilliant mentor who brought those characteristics of clarinet playing that I’d learned in such concentrated forms and distilled them into a single, sell-able idea. He taught me what would win an audition, and how to perform with musical economy while maintaining my voice. The environment at BGSU was definitely intense…with fantastic performers (both student and faculty), an exciting composition department, and a rigorous academic course load. I was literally on campus five days a week, teaching in Ohio and Michigan, driving to gigs in four different states, but still made time to improv with my friends and faculty.

Q3. Clarinet vs bass clarinet. What are their similarities and differences? Do you have a favorite piece to play on each, and what makes it so?

This may be a political answer, but I don’t think I can call myself a new music clarinetist and pick one over the other, nor a single piece above all others. The bass clarinet is similar to a clarinet in tone production and basic technique, but then a radically different instrument when you really dig in. And I mean that phrase in multiple ways, honestly. The clarinet has the facility and range to make it sound like the other treble instruments of the orchestra, or something else entirely. For example, one of my favorites is Evan Ziporyn’s “Four Characteristic Pieces”, where each movement is taken from a different type of non-western performance types on culturally specific instruments and ensembles. The bass clarinet, in the orchestra anyways, sonically sits among and apart from the other low instruments. Not a bassoon, but not quite a saxophone, and often in unison with the low brass, but definitely not a horn or trombone. In chamber music, the bass clarinet can blend with strings the same way a clarinet does: vocalizing with the viola or swooning with the cello. In many contemporary pieces, the bass clarinet provides multiphonic chords of such depth and power that the clarinet cannot compete. And in aggressive improv, the bass clarinet can hold its own against the sax. A good example is David Lang’s “Press Release,”a marathon for solo bass clarinet with page after page of low slap-tongued bass lines grooving under soft, singing melodies two and three octaves higher.

Q4. You are known to have an entrepreneurial streak, and work full-time in finance, teach clarinet, and are an active solo, duo, and ensemble performer of new and classical music. Is there more on your agenda? How – and why – do you manage to combine all these endeavors?

I am quite happy with my current situation, and I feel incredibly lucky to have it. I don’t really know who could ask for more, honestly. I have a job that is flexible enough to allow these opportunities for creativity and pays off my student loans. Teaching adjunct, as long as you keep your financial expectations low, is a great joy and stretches the pedagogical skills I learned in my undergrad. And performing with NO EXIT and getting called up for other gigs is still as exciting as ever. I think it would be great to start a recital series here in Pittsburgh when live performances are back in vogue. If not, I’ll do it online like everyone else.

Q5. When did you first encounter NO EXIT, and what moved you to enlist as a NO EXITeer? How has the ensemble evolved since you’ve been a member?

Tim Beyer approached me to participate with NO EXIT while I was still at Bowling Green working on my doctorate. I had no idea what to expect, but I brought what I could to the rehearsals and performances, enjoyed meeting the new and incredibly talented musicians, and never left. The ensemble continues to challenge itself under Tim’s direction. The repertoire continues to challenge, and working with different composers to get a different sense of ensemble every time we learn a new piece also requires new ways of communicating, at times. The performance goals for our group in general, have never ceased to be innovative and interesting, for us and our audience.

Q6. What has been your most exciting NO EXIT concert performance experience, and why?

I alluded to this earlier in my remarks about the saxophone, but I would have to say our Eric Dolphy series. We worked with amazing Cleveland composers and brought in talent from outside the classical world to create a tribute which really became a happening for us. You could call it a jazz-inspired performance, but that is so dry and upholds so many connotations that we, while performing, did not entirely embrace. It was bigger than that, experimental yet grounded and free, and each performance was better than the last.

Q7. Your cat. Is she musical like her dad? Please share the top five things you love about your feline!

My cat’s name is Marie Laveau. She is very sensitive and hates loud noises. In that respect, I suppose she is like her dad, but she gets upset and leaves the room if I take out one of my clarinets and usually hides under a blanket or cabinet until its over. But she will always come out for treats afterwards. She is the softest cat I’ve ever felt and the best cuddler. She always catches the laser pointer. She always greets us by the door when we come home, and lays in the sun for belly rubs.

You can hear Gunnar doing his thing by visiting his website at https://www.gunnarowenhirthe.com


From ClevelandClassical.com: Crocus Hill Ghost Story on Friday the 13th

By Mike Telin
noexit at SPACES
Friday the 13th — the mere mention of this day conjures up fear for those suffering from triskaidekaphobia. Or perhaps that fear stems from seeing one or more of the twelve slasher films. And, we must not forget that Italian composer Gioachino Rossini died on that most unlucky day.

On Friday, November 13 at 7:00 pm, St. Paul-based Zeitgeist will present Crocus Hill Ghost Story, the first of three broadcasts as part of the “Here and There 2020” collaboration with Cleveland-based No Exit. Listeners can access the free, pre-recorded performance at No Exit’s website or Facebook page on the night of the concert.

During a recent telephone conversation, No Exit artistic director Timothy Beyer confessed that the date is a coincidence. He also noted that this year is different from the previous “Here and There” collaborations. “Since we can’t get together to perform, Friday will be only Zeitgeist. Later this month, we (No Exit) will perform alone, and in January we’ll do an online concert together.”

Crocus Hill Ghost Story is a tale about a house possessed. Inspired by the author’s experiences of living in a St. Paul mansion during the 1980s, the piece follows the relationship between two longtime friends, and how that relationship evolves as they find themselves in the midst of a haunting. ​The work features an original story by Cheri Johnson, music by Julie Johnson, sound design by Eric M.C. Gonzalez, and video by FIX Agency. Performers include Heather Barringer and Patti Cudd (percussion), Pat O’Keefe (woodwinds), Jill Dawe (piano), and Krisanne Weiss (narration) of Zeitgeist.

In a press release, Barringer explained that the roots of Crocus Hill Ghost Story began when Julie Johnson was invited to “explore new musical ideas with us through the Zeitgeist/Composer Workshop in 2014. We were taken with her American roots-inspired compositions and were certain that together we could create something unique to share with audiences. And in turn, she invited her sister and frequent collaborator to join us as well, and we readily embraced the idea. Little did we know we had invited a ghost into our midst.”

Barringer went on to say that their haunt led them to explore the “sometimes dark and complicated side of a variety of relationships — between words, music, and images, lovers, friends, and adversaries (living and otherwise) while continually moving between that veil of what is and what might be.”

“Here and There 2020” will continue on November 27 at 7:00 pm with à la miniature. The online concert by No Exit will include works by Saariaho, Ligeti, Ornstein, Jolas, Xenakis, and Delaney.

The final installment of the series takes place on January 29, 2021 at 7:00 pm, when No Exit and Zeitgeist will present a virtual collaboration featuring the world premiere of a work written for both groups by Scott Miller.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (November 10, 2020). The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit debuts new season (Oct. 2)

By Mike Telin
noexit at SPACES
With the onslaught of streamed concerts, whether live or pre-recorded, ensembles are now faced with the task of deciding how to present themselves on-screen to an at-home audience.

On Friday, October 2, No Exit debuted their 12th season with a pre-recorded program featuring a winning variety of music that showcased each of the members performing from their homes. As we have come to expect from the ensemble, the playing was superb, and the sound and video were high quality. But it was the production’s “film noir” concept that seamlessly wove each portion of the show into 65 minutes of viewing pleasure.

Appearing on-screen as a talking head, artistic director Timothy Beyer delivered an opening monologue worthy of Saturday Night Live. “It might come as a surprise that avant-garde music ensembles are not particularly well-funded,” he drolly said, while periodically a cute, colorful kitten flashed by.

As a dim light cast shadows across a grand piano, Nicholas Underhill introduced William Grant Still’s mystical-sounding Seven Traceries. The pianist brought wonderful phrasing and an even, burnished sound to “Cloud Cradles,” while “Mystic Pool” was defined by even more exquisite phrasing and subtle dynamic contrasts. The fast, dancing passages during the brief “Muted Laughter” twinkled, and his interpretation of “Out of Silence” was appropriately romantic, while “Woven Silver” conjured up visions of fairies in the forest. Underhill found an attractive simplicity in “Wailing Dawn,” and flawlessly negotiated the dancing scale passages during the concluding “A Bit of Wit.”

Without introduction, No Exit percussionist Luke Rinderknecht launched into the world premiere of his Downfall (a collage). The compelling eight-minute work is a demonic re-imagining of London Bridge Is Falling Down. The sound of a conch shell and single, soft strikes on the bass drum open the piece. Tapping rhythms on its rim gradually expand into a syncopated, off-kilter march. Rinderknecht introduces a minor-keyed London Bridge played on a set of tuned metal bars, repeated on the temple blocks. Tapping on a hanging lampshade provides a color change, while snare drum adds accents to the rhythm. Repeated conch shell drones and single bass drum notes bring the commentary on the current state of world affairs to a somber conclusion.

From a wood-paneled room, Sean Gabriel introduced Harald Genzmer’s Sonata for solo flute, noting that he first heard the composer’s music while in high school. Playing with a clear, unblemished tone and impeccable intonation, Gabriel highlighted the semi-improvisatory nature of the opening “Andante.” He was clearly having fun during the energetic “Vivace amabile” and in the slow, translucent third movement, the short flourishes sparkled. The final “Presto” is in the vein of Hindemith, with whom Genzmer studied. Gabriel played the catchy melody — along with quick, short, articulated passages that make their way across the full range of the instrument — with aplomb.

The screen during the brief intermission featured the silent, motionless face of No Exit associate director/composer James Praznik — or was it Charles Manson?

The only duo of the concert came from cellist Nicholas Diodore and violinist Cara Tweed. Performing from their living room, the players’ innate sense of rhythm and abundant technique served them well during Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Deux Chôros. During the work’s two movements, “Moderé” and “Lent-animé,” the composer brilliantly juxtaposes folk idioms with modernism, which Diodore and Tweed presented with authority, spontaneity, and passion.

Speaking from a park in Columbus, Ohio, composer Adam Roberts said that he wrote the solo viola work Bell Threads for Garth Knox around the time of his own grandmother’s passing. The piece is both an elegy for her and “a tribute to the beautiful instrument that is the viola.”

The alluring work contrasts soft, melodic lines with a range of harmonics and glissandi that create a kaleidoscope of sound. Throughout the piece, the viola remains muted, adding a darker tone to the ethereal feel. James Rhodes’ performance was magically subdued. Not a note or musical gesture was out of place, creating a smooth, seamless flow from beginning to end.

No Exit’s marketing materials have for a long time featured black and white photos of the players in stoic, emotionless poses, so the film noir concept is a natural progression — one that succeeded brilliantly in providing a unified look and feel to the production.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (October 20, 2020). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Bass Clarinet and Marimba duo Transient Canvas

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Transient Canvas
Transient Canvas, the Boston-based contemporary duo comprised of bass clarinetist Amy Advocat and marimbist Matt Sharrock, is on a foundational, multi-pronged mission to revolutionize the modern concert experience. Since 2011, the duo’s innovative performances have been praised coast to coast … as “superb” by the Boston Globe, “disarming” by Cleveland Classical, and with the San Francisco Chronicle lauding “the versatile imagination they both display and inspire in others.”

Recently, Matt dialogued with NO EXIT about the challenges and rewards of moving contemporary music online as live performance during corona containment:

Q. The last time we spoke you shared your incredibly busy schedule – teaching your instruments, producing a third album, playing 30-40 concerts a year, and running an annual composer fellowship program. And then came COVID19. In what ways did things change for you as a result?

Well… for one thing, we have gotten to spend a LOT more time with our cats—they have been suuuuper spoiled! But we’ve actually managed to stay surprisingly busy these last several months, as our teaching moved entirely online and a large portion of our college residencies did the same. (We’ve become a lot more tech-savvy as a result!) Our third album, Right Now, In a Second, will still be released October 16 on New Focus Recording (woo!) … plus, we have been able to pivot to virtual concerts for the season, like the one we will be performing this weekend.

Seriously—we have been incredibly lucky. In a way, being a small chamber group that specializes in new music has been an advantage. We do not have a lot of overhead, and, since Amy and I live together, we have been able to rehearse and record together throughout the pandemic. Many of our colleagues have not had the same good fortune, and we want to encourage everyone to donate to your local artist/musician relief fund! It is going to be a long time before concert halls are running at capacity again, and most freelance musicians (and even non-freelance musicians) have fallen through the cracks financially.

Q. You do lots of online activities and excel here. Describe your learning curve! What have you lost and what have you gained by jumping onto the various virtual performance platforms?

We’ve lost the immediacy and sense of connection provided by the concert stage. There simply isn’t anything like that very human connection— it’s what keeps us going, really. Now, live streaming comes kinda close to this experience, especially when our audience interacts with us through comments, but those always come at a 30-second delay. Still, we have found that these kinds of concerts still provide all of us (performers and audiences alike) with a taste of the connection we used to get.

We have also gained a wider audience, in a way. With all the traveling we have done over the years, we have amassed many followers who have only heard us play live once. Now these same people can tune in to our online shows, and they have been interacting in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. So, there is a bit of silver lining to the current situation.

Our learning curve has been steep… We had an advantage in that we’d been performing electroacoustic music for a number of years, so owned a good amount of audio gear, but it still took us awhile to figure out how to bypass the limitations of many streaming services to curate a nice- sounding performance. We are certainly not professional audio engineers, but hopefully our concerts are still enjoyable to listen to!

Q. You proclaim on your website that Transient Canvas “is on a mission to revolutionize the modern-day concert experience.” Has the Year of Living Distantly been your ally or a roadblock? Please explain!

Honestly, it has been a little of both. One of the ways that we seek to revolutionize the modern concert experience is simply by creating connections with our audience. We want to make our performances as accessible as possible, and we choose to do this by being friendly (gasp), and talking to our audience (double gasp), and even cracking some jokes every now and then (or every time we talk). We break the fourth wall—we encourage discussion—and this is all much harder while performing virtually.

And it’s also NOT harder. After all, comment sections on live streams are a great way to communicate with people. Plus, like I mentioned earlier, our audience is no longer limited by geography. So, people from all over the world can interact with each other while they are interacting with our performance. As my dad would say, “That’s not nothing!”

One thing that Amy and I try to hold on to is the sense of danger and excitement that is only possible in live performances. It is very tempting to make heavily edited, musically perfect videos. After all, no one wants wrong notes up forever on the internet. But, while we love the musical satisfaction of releasing idealized performances like our upcoming album, it is more important than ever to hold onto the magic of a live performance, warts and all. To that end, we only release unedited live performances on our virtual concerts. We might record the pieces earlier in the day for logistical reasons, but we never edit.

Q. So whatcha got planned for your upcoming virtual concert that will be hosted by NO EXIT?

We’re combining some new pieces and some old favorites, both electronic and acoustic, to address the musical “crossroads” we find ourselves in. We are very excited to give the web premiere of Teerath Majumder’s Crossroads, which is our first foray into live electronics in a virtual setting. Teerath is an amazing composer, and one of our 2020 Composer Fellows! We’ll also be performing some TC “classics” by Jen Wang, Marissa Hickman and Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, plus two fabulous pieces by Kitty Xiao and Yiyang Wang that were written for us as part of the 2020 RED NOTE New Music Festival at Illinois State University last February. This will be a very eclectic and provocative program!

Q. Transient Canvas works with many new composers every season because you are “very concerned with relevance.” What are some of the musical themes that people are taking on to reflect this extraordinarily bizarre and stressful epoch on earth?

Every composer is reacting to our current epoch a bit differently. The composers we are working with are avoiding writing “pandemic pieces,” or at least they are avoiding referencing the pandemic specifically. Perhaps we’ve seen a trend toward introspection and economy of material, if anything.

Q. Please talk about your relationship with electroacoustic music and some of the challenges inherent in creating and performing it well!

We are enthusiastic amateurs! But seriously—we started performing electroacoustic music because it opened a huge world of possibilities for us as a duo. Our two instruments can become part of a huge landscape of sonic color once electronics are added.

One amazing development over the past decade is the fact that a performer can treat electronics the same way a guitarist treats their instrument: they don’t have to know how to build it, they only need to know how to play it. That was not universally the case as recently as 2011, when we first formed our duo. At that time, to play electronic music, you had to create everything yourself (or at least that is how it appeared to us), unless you were performing a tape piece. Now the interface between performers and electronics is so intuitive that it is just a matter of practice and comfort.

One challenge to performing electroacoustic music is to remember to still listen to each other, as well as to the electronics! A lot of the music we play has a click track, and many musicians completely turn their ears off once a click is introduced. You cannot do that—you still must make music with one another. Otherwise, why perform live at all?

Q. Let’s end on a laugh, just because! What has been your funniest quarantine concert (or Zoom) experience?

This wasn’t a concert, but it was Zoom-related… Near the end of the spring semester, one of my conservatory students learned why they shouldn’t balance their iPhone on a windowsill during class. We all got a super exciting view of their screen plummeting down into the backyard and eventually into their dog’s mouth. That was an exhilarating moment in time for all involved.


From ClevelandClassical.com : No Exit launches new season online October 2

By Mike Telin
The show must go on! Although the 19th-century phrase was originally associated with circuses, its spirit lives on to this day as performing arts groups across Northeast Ohio and around the world figure out how to bring their shows to the public.

On Friday, October 2 at 7:00 pm, the area’s premier new music ensemble, No Exit, will present the debut performance of their 12th season online. The program will feature William Grant Still’s mystical Seven Traceries (solo piano), Villa-Lobos’ Deux Chôros (violin and piano), Harald Genzmar’s Sonata (solo flute), Adam Roberts’ Bell Threads (solo viola), and the world premiere of Downfall by No Exit percussionist Luke Rinderknecht. Listeners can access the free, pre-recorded concert and download the concert program by visiting the ensemble’s website or Facebook page.

“COVID-19 has forced us all to rethink how we live, work, and go about our lives,” No Exit artistic director Tim Beyer said during a recent telephone conversation. “At the moment, the members don’t feel comfortable playing together as a group, and since I am one to err on the side of safety, that’s where the idea for solo pieces came from.”

Although a program of mostly solo works is a little out of the ordinary, Beyer sees it as the perfect opportunity to showcase each of the ensemble’s musicians. “About mid-summer we commissioned some talented composers to write solo works for all of the members of the group. So as we move forward, we’ll have a healthy supply of new music to present.”

People who are familiar with No Exit concerts know that world premieres often take center stage, and this concert is no exception. “Luke’s piece, Downfall, is very cool. He takes all of these older pieces, like London Bridge Is Falling Down, that refer to the collapse of a bridge or a country or a culture, and creates a collage. He even blows through a conch shell seven times to represent the falling down of the walls of Jericho.”

About the ensemble’s decision to pre-record the concert, Beyer said, “We’ve tried to create something that will resemble what people enjoy about our live, in-person performances. But at the same time we’re trying to do things that are specific to the medium of broadcasting.”

To assure that video and sound quality are as good as possible, each member recorded their performance at home, and those recordings were then taken into post-production. “We’ll also be inserting a lot of other material. For instance, the musicians and composers will talk about their pieces, and those segments have been recorded separately. With so many people in different places, to try to do all of this in a live-stream would have been a recipe for disaster.”

Beyer said that No Exit’s 2020-21 season will encompass at least five concerts, including their annual collaboration with St. Paul-based Zeitgeist on November 13 at 7:00 pm.

The ensemble will also continue to present guest artists. Boston-based marimba and bass clarinet duo Transient Canvas will give a concert on Saturday, October 3 at 7:00 (visit No Exit’s website at the time of the performance).

The event begins their year-long collaboration with No Exit during which the duo and saxophonist Noa Even will work with Northeast Ohio’s student composers. “This is a tough time for college students — a lot of their opportunities have now vanished. So with all that is going to be happening, this will be a pretty full year for us.”

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (September 29, 2020). The original article can be found – Here


An Interview with Composer Adam Roberts

By Laura King for NO EXIT
Diodore Photo

No Exit’s Laura King recently had a chat with composer Adam Roberts. Adam is a very thoughtful and eloquent guy and the resulting interview is wonderful. No Exit will be performing Adam’s “Bell Threads” for solo viola during this Friday’s (10/2) online concert. See event listing for details.
An Interview with Adam Roberts – Composer, Educator

Adam Roberts is assistant professor of Composition and Music Theory at Kent State University. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in composition from the Eastman School of Music in 2003 and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2010. Adam also studied at the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna from 2007-2008 on a Harvard University Sheldon Traveling Fellowship. Prior to joining the faculty at Kent State, Roberts taught at Harvard University, Northeastern University, Istanbul Technical University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Music, and the University of Georgia’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music.

Below, in a recent interview with NO EXIT, Adam gives us a glimpse into his full and colorful life as a world traveler, composer, music educator and mid-west family guy, while sharing his creative process:

Q. Adam, you are a new father of twins, which must provide all sorts of sonic inspiration! Can we start by talking about your own early relationship with music? What instruments did you play and when did you begin to compose?

Yes, being a father to twins does provide a great deal of sonic inspiration, and inspiration otherwise (also exhaustion!). I started playing the piano when I was about 7 years old. We had an old upright piano in the house, and my mother had taken lessons in high school and remembered certain pieces by heart—the Ab Schubert Impromptu, and the first Bach Invention, for example. I would hear her play through these and was intrigued, even riveted. I remember hearing her playing the first prelude from WTC 1 and having a vivid, almost psychedelic experience, like I was hearing rain fall upwards. So, my musical education began with my mother teaching me the first Bach Invention by rote—put your hand here and there—and I learned it and memorized it without being able to read music. Then I had to start over from the beginning with reading. Piano is really the only instrument I play. I was lucky that there was absolutely no pressure in the house to be a classical musician, and that my relationship with music has really come from my own attraction to it. Even when I started practicing a few hours a day later, I had no-one in the house keeping track of it, it really came from me. And I feel grateful to this day that that innate enthusiasm for music has remained intact.

I started composing when I was a teenager, and out of largely social motivations. I had been to the Brevard Music Center for piano when I was 13 and fell in love with it. It was the first time in my life that I had been surrounded by peers who loved music as much as I did and I wanted very much to go back the next summer, but I developed tendonitis in my right hand and had to take a break from the piano. I noticed they had a composition program, so I quickly wrote a piece for left hand piano, recorded it on a cassette tape and got in. I spent that summer composing, and I was hooked. I came back to Columbus, OH and found a composition teacher, Marshall Barnes, whom I studied with during high school. I was lucky to find Marshall. His wife Dorothy was an amazing wood- worker, and I would go over to their house and improvise on the piano, and we would drink tea and talk about art; in a way it was my first intellectual, artistic community.

Q. What would a short-hand map of your musical journey look like to this point? How have each of the colorful cultures that you have immersed yourself in after college shaped you as a composer and informed your process?

I do think of my life as being in these chapters, each characterized by a certain cultural color, even smells and tastes. I studied at Eastman and Harvard for school, each which provided a vastly different experience. Eastman had several famous American composers on the faculty at the time— Augusta Read Thomas, Christopher Rouse, Joseph Schwantner—all who wrote a colorful, extroverted kind of orchestral music that was performed frequently in the U.S. At Harvard, on the other hand, the focus was much more on European composers, such as Grisey, Lachenmann, Sciarrino, etc.

I also spent a very formative year studying with Chaya Czernowin in Vienna in 2007-8. When I finished my doctoral studies in 2010, I got a position at Istanbul Technical University, where I taught from 2011-2014. I had many amazing and challenging experiences in Istanbul, and eventually decided to move to NYC in early 2015, where I lived until 2018 as a freelancer, cobbling together a living and going to a million concerts and writing music—it was an intense and thrilling life.

I also taught for a year at the University of Georgia in 2016-17, and then moved to Ohio for the position at Kent State in 2018. So, it’s uncanny that after living in Rochester, Boston, Vienna, Istanbul, and NYC that I’ve landed back in Ohio, two hours from where I grew up. I do think my music has been shaped by these different environments, and in my work I’ve often felt that I am synthesizing seemingly irreconcilable influences from each of these chapters. To get more specific would take too long, so I’ll leave it there for now.

Q. From your experience, will you talk a little bit about the difference between identifying as a professional composer in the US and in Europe?

Throughout my life I’ve thought a lot about the difference between being a composer in Europe and America. There are pros and cons to both, I think. There is a lot to be jealous of when thinking about new music in Europe, and I think it really comes down to a general awareness of culture and deep history. Considering groups like Ensemble Intercontemporain, Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Modern— these are well funded groups with top players and large audiences—this can only happen when there is a deep respect for history and culture and support of it. When I lived in Vienna, I attended Wien Modern, a month-long new music festival with an overabundance of incredible concerts, and I would see my German teacher at the concerts. This teacher wasn’t a professor, she was a language teacher, and she was interested enough in the cultural offerings of her city that she would go to Wien Modern! It’s hard to imagine the same thing in the U.S., a middle school language teacher attending many nights of a new music festival.

On the other hand, if you want to partake in the musical apparatus in Europe, there does seem to be a specific set of cultural histories and expectations one needs to accommodate to be accepted there and championed by these ensembles and institutions. In the States, there is that wonderful DIY energy that has fueled so many of our most amazing composers, including Charles Ives and Morton Feldman… also jazz artists like Ornette Coleman. It is hard to imagine a Philip Glass happening in Germany, for example. And when you meet people in the States who have dedicated themselves to new music, you know you’re meeting folks who have a quasi-spiritual commitment to their craft and who have made sacrifices to pursue art and beauty. I have so much respect for groups like NO EXIT who get out there and just make it happen—because it comes from a truly idealistic and pure place.

Q. I’ve heard you describe composition as a lonely pursuit requiring a single-pointed focus. How do you manage to close the door and go to that still and alone space when you have a family with babies and full-time teaching responsibilities?

Yes, composition is a lonely pursuit, and let me emphasize that I think it really needs to be lonely, and that is a good thing! We are so bombarded by media and saturated with information, musical and otherwise, that I think it is even more important today for a composer to sit with their own loneliness and feel into their own experiences. By creating something individual and honest, a composer can offer an opportunity for communication and intimacy, experiences that are sorely lacking in our communal mind these days. So, I am hopeful that in this way a composer still has an important role to play in our culture.

But I haven’t answered your question, have I? It is challenging with the responsibilities you mention to shut the door and go to that place. On the other hand, I am thinking in the back of my mind about the music I am writing while I’m with my children, so that when I finally do have a chance to sit and compose, I’m excited to get down to it. But I have had to modify my process a bit and force myself to work in certain windows, otherwise pieces just won’t get finished.

Q. Once inspiration comes for a new piece of music, how do you start composing? Do you have any rigors or rituals associated with that creative activity? Are deadlines friend or foe?

My main rigor and ritual are simply getting to the desk and making time for composing. Then, I usually start by writing a snippet of music that I hear/feel vividly and work outward from there. I find in general that I can’t write something down unless I can feel it strongly and it excites me, or it feels urgent in some painful but important way. If I don’t feel convinced by an internal experience, I wait. I find it helpful to both think about the whole form and intention of the piece and zoom into specific material at the same time. Deadlines are truly a necessary evil; I probably would never finish a piece without a deadline.

Q. Your work “Bell Threads” for viola will be performed by James Rhodes in NO EXIT’s upcoming virtual concert. The program describes it as “visceral and intense.” Can you share the backstory with us?

I think that’s a perfect characterization of the music (and I would be pleased if someone described my work in general that way). Towards the end of my graduate studies, in 2009, I wrote “Bell Threads” for Garth Knox, who we had in residence at Harvard. At the time, my grandmother Roslyn was dying, and in a way the piece was written as an elegy for her. Without her support, my life would not have taken the shape that it did—of that I am certain. So, the piece is inward-looking and prayerful, expressed by the viola being muted throughout. Otherwise, metaphorically, there is an imaginary bell resonance ringing, and the violist, through a combination of ethereal harmonics, liminal trills, and singing lines, unfolds this resonance by playing different strands of it throughout the piece.

Q. How did you come to connect with NO EXIT, Adam?

When I moved back to NE Ohio, I soon became aware of NO EXIT as an important Cleveland-based New Music Ensemble, but I connected with NO EXIT on a personal level through a serendipitous encounter with the composer Hong-Da Chin at a concert by The Cleveland Orchestra. Hong-Da and I had already met at the Avaloch Music Institute, and he was in town for a performance with NO EXIT. I invited Hong-Da to share his music in the Kent State composition seminar, and Tim Beyer drove him there. That is how Tim and I met, and since then we’ve been collaborating to bring the ensemble to Kent State, and are developing a musical partnership that is wonderfully productive for all parties. I am very grateful for this connection!

Q. From your perspective as a new music composer and educator, where do you see that the new classical music scene stands, and do you have any predictions for the decade ahead?

The scene is so diverse (at least aesthetically), that is a difficult question to answer, and any specific answer is bound to be wrong! But personally, I think the push to come to consciousness around our need to diversify is having a profound effect on our culture and the new music scene. I expect that in the next decade we will become aware of many new voices and shades of styles that we haven’t been exposed to yet, and that’s very exciting! I also think there is important work to be done in reinvestigating music of the last hundred years and making certain that composers who did amazing work are heard and are part of the story we tell about new music. As just one example, Olly Wilson should be on every syllabus of 20th century music, in my opinion.


No Exit and Transient Canvas: Starting the Season with Two Programs in Two Days


We’re very excited to be presenting our first program of the season this Friday (10/2) at 7:00 pm! We have some really wonderful music in store for you and are looking forward to performing for you again after what feels like far too long.

But wait……… it gets better! On Saturday (10/3) at 7:00 pm No Exit is thrilled to present one of the most dynamic new music groups around today, the Boston-based marimba and bass clarinet duo Transient Canvas. As some of you may recall, Transient Canvas was scheduled to perform in Cleveland as part of No Exit’s last concert season, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it had to be cancelled. Transient Canvas are renowned for their electrifying and virtuosic performances so don’t miss it!

This performance will mark the first event in what will be a yearlong collaboration with No Exit during which time Transient Canvas will work closely with Northeast Ohio student composers culminating in a concert of their music (January 29) written for the ensemble.

Transient Canvas’ Saturday concert will examine the crossroads of “live” and electronic performance. Be sure to join us both nights for two unforgettable evenings of online concerts. It’s going to be an amazing weekend of music!

Please see event listings for details. Both concerts are free and open to the public. Please visit noexitnewmusic.com on the night of the concerts and go to the ‘upcoming events’ section. Click on the concert listing to find the link which will allow you to view the events.


Get An Advanced Sneak Peek at the Program for No Exit’s Upcoming Virtual Season Opener

Tweed Photo

We are thrilled to be in the final stages of preparing our amazing concert of solos and duos at home, which premieres October 2nd at 7PM at noexitnewmusic.com and facebook.com/noexitnewmusic. As the date rapidly approached we thought it would be a nice treat to provide an advanced copy of our program. Hopefully all this information will remind everyone that no matter what, there is a vibrant year of new music ahead.



An Interview with No Exit’s violinist Cara Tweed

By Laura King
Tweed Photo
Cara Tweed, at age five, began studying violin at the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Sato Center for Suzuki Studies. She holds degrees in violin performance from The Cleveland Institute of Music and Cleveland State University. Cara was the principal second violinist of the Opera Cleveland Orchestra from 2004-2010. She has been faculty at Cleveland State University, The Aurora School of Music and The Music Settlement. Currently, Cara teaches at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, where she directs their Music Academy. An avid educator, she has maintained a private violin studio for over 15 years.

Below, Cara responds to questions about her impassioned multi-career:

Q. Legend has it, Cara, that your musical vocation was launched by Mickey Mouse and a tantrum. Please tell!

I actually don’t remember the “toy store incident” my parents like to speak about, but I do remember being very excited to receive the Mickey violin for my 4th birthday, or maybe it was Christmas. Unfortunately, it did not work! My parents were determined, though. We picked up some rosin at a local music store and I finally managed to get some sound out of the plastic strings!v

I am not sure where the urge to be a musician came from, but I do recall that it was always there. My parents both played some piano as kids, but didn’t consider themselves musicians per se. My mom enrolled me in a kids’ music class, but I hated it…I was only interested in “really” learning how to play an instrument. So I began Suzuki violin lessons at CIM shortly before my fifth birthday. Of course, I wanted to quit right away—I wanted to play songs immediately and did not like to practice. But that is typical of most kids. And sticking with it delivered the important life lesson that if there is something you really desire to do, for it to be enjoyable, you need to work really hard at it.

No Exit New Music · Timothy Beyer – Amputate IV for violin and electronics (2012)

Q. What influencers beside Micky would you credit for sparking the passion and dedication that have led you to become a professional musician and avid educator?

So many, really. All my teachers were important to my growth. I studied with David Updegraff during my most formative years—from the age of 12 to 20. He really shaped my technique. Paul Kantor was also a huge influence. I think that he taught me how to be my own teacher, which is so important, because deep down, technique is personal. Everyone must figure what works for their own body. Mr. Kantor also has an uncommon grasp of instructional psychology that helped shape me as a teacher. Specifically, the need to
personalize teaching to each student. It’s important to have a structure and lesson plans, but it is also important to skillfully tweak a program to motivate individuals. That can include repertoire, the sequence of teaching method and technique, but also the way you relate to them as little people. It is something that I think about with each of my students.

Q. At what point did you first encounter new music genres? How did that expression fit alongside the classical canon that you have always embraced?

Like most violinists, my backbone growing up and through college was certainly traditional classical music. But I was exposed to new works here and there. In high school, my theory teacher was a composer and composition teacher, so I often played new works written by her students. I suppose my official foray into new music occurred toward the end of college when I played a couple of concerts for the Cleveland Composers Guild. New music was always part of my interest, but not something I wanted to focus on exclusively. Coming out of school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had established early on that I did not want to play full-time in an orchestra. I fell into teaching and discovered that I really loved working with students and guiding their musical development.

Around the same time, I began to play more and more chamber music, which I found to be a great complement to my role as an educator. As my interest in new music grew, Tim Beyer approached me about being a founding member of NO EXIT. Suddenly, I found myself with a multi-career.

From the start, NO EXIT was such a fascinating project! How exciting to be able to commission new works and define how the music would be performed…really put things together from the ground up. Tim’s vision was—and is—very comprehensive. The musical mission is certainly very sound, and there is also a visual aesthetic and a feeling that defines our concerts. We genuinely connect with our audiences, and over the years our unique presentation has grown a following for us. It is wonderful to connect with people in the intimate setting of a public space like an art gallery, and to be energized by their engagement. I definitely prefer our smaller venues versus a concert hall.

Q. Your violin performances are described as “dazzling,” “captivating,” and you have been reviewed to find “nuance and character in every turn of phrase.” How do you bring forward a listener experience like that from your instrument?

For me, the joy in playing the violin and making music is in phrasing and creating different tone colors. Which is why I love ensemble playing so much—I can really feel like my voice is there blending with others, but I am also at the same time in command of that voice, and it is my own. I decide the phrasing, where the music is going, what type of character, feel, mood I want to create in a piece. To me, the technique and all the rest is in service to that.

Also, NO EXIT plays many new compositions, and, in the case of a world-premiere where there is no other performance to listen to, we get to translate, individually and collectively, the composer’s intentions, oftentimes alongside the composer!

Q. What are the greatest joys and challenges you have encountered playing the violin?

I think for me, and probably for a lot of people, coming to grips with the physical nature of the instrument and limitations of the body—figuring out what you can do in a healthy manner—that has been my greatest challenge. I’ve been very lucky in recent years, but I did
have a shoulder and neck injury when I was 15 that forced me to take a break for several months. I learned then that technique must be determined not by what gets the best sound immediately but what can be sustained long term in a healthy manner.

My greatest joy as a violinist? I would say just making music with other people and sharing it with audiences.

Q. When did you discover your affinity for conducting? What special skills and abilities does one need to communicate a composer’s intention to performers?

Conducting for me was a natural evolution from teaching. I don’t identify as a conductor per se, but I do conduct, and I enjoy it. Currently, I conduct elementary choruses at Laurel, and it is a really joyous experience because it’s all about the kids and the music. I have encountered a lot of young conductors who were very focused on themselves and what they are doing. But when you are teaching children, your focus is naturally on them. So, I don’t worry about my technique so much, I’m just concerned that I am clear and helping them make music.

I do know that I am a very emotive conductor, as I tend to be a very emotive violin player. I feel the music and I move with the music—not better or worse than someone else’s method, just the way life made me. I have seen, though, that it helps kids when they see you are feeling their music, finding the joy within it. It helps them be less nervous. And that is a big issue for young children when they are performing.

Q. NO EXIT has 11 seasons under its belt and over 150 commissioned works. You were there at the start. Is it more or less fun?

It has been an extraordinary journey from conception until today. The momentum that carries us has been very satisfying. NO EXIT has evolved conceptually and gelled as a larger group over the last several years, as we have added new members. Performers love to play to packed rooms, and we consistently experience full concerts with very enthusiastic audiences. We always play a few pieces together as the full ensemble in each concert, and it is enjoyable to the audience and to us to also experience the different smaller ensembles that can come out of our whole.

I will say, too, that we truly value the collegiate relationships we have developed with our repeat composers. More and more, the commissions we get are written specifically for us— the composers understand who we are as a group, and so the result is something very exciting. So, really, the NO EXIT fun never stops!


An Interview with No Exit’s cellist Nicholas Diodore

By Laura King
Diodore Photo
Nicholas Diodore was born in Marion, Indiana to a musical family and his talent for cello was obvious at a young age. He received his early musical instruction from Geoffrey Lapin of the Indianapolis Symphony, and went to high school at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where he excelled in chamber music and his studies of 20th century compositions. Nick also attended the Cleveland Institute of Music as a student of Alan Harris, Merry Peckham, and Richard Weiss, assistant principle cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra.

These days Nick expresses his artistic gifts as both a tradesman and a musician. He teaches cello at the Music Academy at Laurel School and maintains a private studio in Chargrin Falls. He is a founding member of NO EXIT and serves on the board of the Cleveland Cello Society.

Q. Nick, you grew up in a musical family and were recognized and awarded for your talents as a cellist early on. Can you share around your musical youth? What opportunities were you given, and when did your gifts begin to shine?

My mother was a public-school orchestra teacher in a rural Indiana. Her family owned Butler Music Company, our town’s music store. We spent so much time there around the pianos and parlor style organs, and all our family events, gatherings, and parties revolved around music. Anyway, she forced me to play the violin at some young age, maybe 5 years old or so. I did not like it at all and did everything I could to get out of practicing. My older brother also played the violin. He was very disciplined and seemed to understand technique much better than me.

When I was in fifth grade, my mother was the orchestra teacher. She did not want me to be ahead of anyone else on the violin, so she had me play cello in her class. Amazingly, the first time I played the cello I was instantly better than I ever was at the violin. The instrument made sense to me for some reason. I took private lessons, advanced quickly, and was able to join my first youth orchestra when I was in seventh grade.

Exposure to orchestra culture helped me realize the competitiveness that drives success in performance. At some point my brother won a scholarship to Interlochen Summer Camp. He came home and told me all about the Academy and I knew I had to go there. A year later, I did—my mother made it happen.

No Exit New Music · Kaija Saariaho – Spins And Spells (1997)

Q. You received an in-depth classical music education and excelled within it. When did you encounter contemporary music, and what about it seduced you to deep dive into this genre?

I encountered contemporary music at Interlochen. One of my friends was a composer and he wrote a piece for me, and I was so happy to be the first person to play it. My enthusiasm caught the attention of other composers, and I became a regular performer on composers’ forum concerts. I still love to be part of this creative process.

Q. A few years ago, Zach Lewis wrote a pre-review for the Plain Dealer of your NO EXIT solo concert and stated that you “aim to crush the cello pigeonhole” with your interpretations of modern music. Expound on that, please!

Honestly, I don’t really know what he meant when he said that. I had given several unaccompanied performances in NO EXIT concerts. and I wanted to put all those pieces together in one show. It was a huge undertaking. I think the main idea of the program was contrast, but there were common threads that bound genres. There were spectral pieces that shared an atmosphere with highly atonal pieces. Violent, aggressive pieces that shared motifs with gentle, quiet pieces. I really wanted to show the range of colors and emotions that unaccompanied cello music can portray.

Q. Along with Tim Beyer, Nick Underhill and Cara Tweed, you are a founding member of NO EXIT. How did you connect with this merry band, what was your early vision, and how would you assess the journey to date?

I met Tim through a mutual friend. Tim had discussed with Tom Bowling, our original violist, the possibility of putting together some kind of collective that could be a catalyst for new compositions. We started out as a piano quartet. Ten years later, we have expanded to seven core members and have now been responsible for over 150 commissioned new works. I think we are doing a great job!

Q. You perform with NO EXIT, a cello quartet (Pizzicato 4), and DadBand. You also teach. How do these combine to stimulate and fulfill you creatively?

I also enjoy woodworking and have a full-time job as a plumber. I love to work with my hands and make stuff and fix stuff. I am very attracted to the mechanical side of things. Playing with various groups keeps me engaged socially with like-minded people. Fulfillment has never been an issue for me. I give what I’m capable of giving, and that keeps me pretty happy.

Q. What do you need to become inspired to compose a new work? Please describe the steps in your creative process.

Of all my activities, composing requires morning hours set aside when my brain is sharpest.  At least with practicing the piano, you know what challenge comes next, but with composing, by definition, you never do. Coming up with a new idea is an important event that can happen at any time, so it is important to seize and capture those on Finale music software before they get away. Then they can be filled out and refined later in a more measured setting when time allows.

Q. You are known as a cellist of remarkable sensitivity, expressiveness, and exquisite virtuosity. How much of this would you attribute to genes and exposure, and how much is the product of hard work?

I was trained by my teacher Allen Harris at Cleveland Institute of Music to keep the composer’s intentions first and foremost in my mind—it is ingrained that a piece of music must never be about me, I am its interpreter.

I’m not sure how much caring about a thing can be attributed to genes, but my family is full of musicians and both my brother and I have succeeded in music, so maybe there is something there.

Still, I would never have stuck with the cello if I didn’t love it. And to achieve my musical facility and understanding of technique, of course I’ve practiced like crazy.


An Interview with No Exit’s pianist Nicholas Underhill

By Laura King
Transient Canvas
Pianist/composer Nicholas Underhill is one of the founding members of NO EXIT, which will begin their 12th season this fall. Nick is classically trained, holding a master’s degree in piano from the New England Conservatory of Music. He was introduced to contemporary new music at Hampshire College, where his gift and affinity for the genre was quickly recognized by teachers and composition students. Nick has performed solos recitals in Carnegie Recital Hall, Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Concert Hall, and in 1991 he was featured in Chicago’s prestigious Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts. He taught piano at Mount Union College and Hiram College, and has played with The Cleveland Ballet Orchestra, The Cleveland Chamber Symphony and The Cleveland Chamber Collective. His original works have been performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, and many other organizations and players. Nick’s collaborative recitals include programs with his wife, piccoloist Mary Kay Fink.

Nick talked recently to NO EXIT about his path to become a career pianist and new music champion. Here is his interview:

Q. Tell us about your early encounters with the piano, Nick. When did you start playing and how did the importance of music and performance evolve for you over time?

My relationship with the piano began in a recital of other students that I saw in first grade. These were the students of Mrs. Neukranz, who unbelievably taught class piano in my elementary school in Evanston, Ill during school hours. I heard the other students play and decided, “I can do that.” After a year of study with her, I had completed the first four books of the John W. Thompson series. Upon learning of this accomplishment, the local bully stopped beating me up and taught me how to play baseball.

Q. You hold a master’s degree in piano from the New England Conservatory of Music. Who were your most important teachers and influencers during and after your education?

I got a master’s degree at New England Conservatory studying with Katja Andy. Prior to that I had completed undergraduate piano studies at Smith College as a Hampshire student with Monica Jakuc and Konrad Wolff, as well as occasional study with Russell Sherman. After moving to New York City in 1980, I continued studies with Konrad Wolff and Edmund Battersby. 

Of those teachers, Monica Jakuc (not a big name, but one of the most refined and sensitive pianists I have ever heard) and Konrad Wolff had the most impact on me, partly because I was ready to take in their advice.

Q. When were you first exposed to the new classical music genre? Was it a slow growing friendship or love at first listen? Tell us about that trajectory.

I became a classical music snob at an early age listening to recordings of the Chopin Ballads, some of his most evocative works. I had heard the name Chopin incorrectly as “Showman”, but it didn’t matter, I was hooked. My sixth-grade classmate with his Massachusetts accent wanted to know if I could play “pawpulah music,” but I wasn’t interested.

My sister and other teenagers gradually expanded my influences to include the Beatles (as they first appeared on the national scene), Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, The Doors, and most importantly jazz, which occupies a lot of my interest today. I was in a practice room during the 70’s, and after that I was too busy to listen to anything with regularity.

I was exposed to a lot of 20th century classical music in College. Monica Jakuc saw my interest and talent in that genre and encouraged me to pursue it. Thankfully, unlike so many academics, she also led by example, performing works of John Cage, John Harbison, and others, as well as the traditional composers. I performed my fellow Hampshire College student and present-day successful composer Daniel Asia’s music on my degree recital at Hampshire.

As a graduate student in piano as New England Conservatory, I became one of the go-to pianists for the student composers. I hung out with those people much more than with other pianists. I developed a close and lasting friendship with fellow NEC composer Gary Philo and his wife, Amy Reich, among many others. The composition professor Tom McKinley heard me read a piece of mine in class and declared that he saw me making a living as both a pianist and composer. Eventually I followed his advice and became one of the composers, too.

Q. Which suits you best – pianist/composer or composer/pianist?

I was a pianist almost exclusively until about 1993, and now I seem to alternate between the two.

Q. You are reputed to be “a champion for new music for the piano” in major cities. How, beyond giving thrilling and provocative performances in renowned concert venues, did you acquire that accolade? How are you championing currently?

I have described above how I became a champion of new music until about 1980, when I moved to New York to pursue a career as a pianist. While there I performed music of various composers, including Columbia University students. In my Carnegie Recital Hall debut in 1985, I performed from memory the George Perle Short Sonata and the daunting 20-minute single movement Piano Sonata by Nicholas Thorne. Through Thorne’s influence, I performed his works at the American Academy in Rome.

After moving to Cleveland in 1990, I performed a lot of Cleveland Composers works, and later joined the Cleveland Composers Guild. I perform a lot of new works in my current ensembles — The Cleveland Chamber Collective and No Exit.

Q. What do you need to become inspired to compose a new work? Please describe the steps in your creative process.

Of all my activities, composing requires morning hours set aside when my brain is sharpest.  At least with practicing the piano, you know what challenge comes next, but with composing, by definition, you never do. Coming up with a new idea is an important event that can happen at any time, so it is important to seize and capture those on Finale music software before they get away. Then they can be filled out and refined later in a more measured setting when time allows.

Q. You are one of NO EXIT’s four founding members. Over 11 seasons, how has the organization’s intention to commission and perform new music evolved? What excitement is on the horizon?

Tim Beyer has nurtured the group and the contributing composers to an amazing level. We can all contribute ideas for repertoire, but as a practical matter, one person must be way ahead of the curve planning commissions and venues, and that person in our group is Tim. Since he doesn’t play in the group, he is focused single-mindedly on getting gigs and music for us to play. Many people have benefited from Tim’s consistent efforts.

We had an exciting concert planned for Spring with commissioned works by Ladislav Kubik, Chris Stark and Buck McDaniel, which we had world-premiered in 2019. That concert program was a great cross section of No Exit’s best music and best playing, but unfortunately it was cancelled due to COVID 19 — or let’s just say postponed….


From ClevelandClassical.com: Responding, or not, to the pandemic: conversations with eight composers

By Jarrett Hoffman
During the COVID-19 pandemic, performers and presenters have grappled with cancellations by giving virtual performances and releasing videos from the past.

Composers have been flying a little more under the radar — and in a way, that’s natural. “Sheltering in place isn’t that much different than being on deadline for a piece,” Oberlin Conservatory professor Stephen Hartke wrote by email. Cleveland Institute of Music professor Keith Fitch agreed: “A quarantined composer is not so different from a non-quarantined composer.”

Hartke and Fitch are two of the eight composers — including professors, freelancers, and young professionals — who agreed to share their thoughts for this article. After establishing that all things considered, they’re healthy and well, we delved into how — or whether — the pandemic has impacted their writing.

One category that emerged is composers who aren’t letting current events affect their music, whether they’re pressing forward with projects they began before the coronavirus hit, or starting new pieces.

“I’m in the zone,” Lorain County Community College professor Jeffrey Mumford said by telephone. “I’m just focusing on getting the work out as best I can.”

That includes two ongoing projects — a solo violin piece and a cello concerto — as well as a “bucket-list” piece for him: a double concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra. The soloists will be Lauren Cauley and Mariel Roberts, who visited LCCC’s Signature Series last fall.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and they’re such amazing players and nice people,” Mumford said. “I find that the older I get, the more I want to work with good players, but also nice players.”

Fitch noted that with one exception — the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 — his music “isn’t really affected by external events.” In fact, the piece he’s currently writing happens to be celebratory. “I’m enjoying going into a more positive space when I work on it,” he said.

Although social distancing in some ways fits composing well, University of Akron professor James Wilding said that it’s important for him to interact with his musicians ahead of the writing process to get to know who they are, what they like, and how they sound.

With that in mind, he recently returned to a project for players he already knows well — a trio for himself at the piano and two of his colleagues from the university, oboist Jack Harel and bassoonist Cynthia Cioffari. “The occasion is the celebration of Jack’s upcoming promotion to Full Professor of Practice, a title shared by Cynthia and myself,” Wilding said. “So it’s our chance to welcome him into our little club, as it were.”

Since he’s familiar with Harel and Cioffari as players and people, he’s been able now to devote himself to the solitary matters of his craft. “I bathed my ears in music for oboe, bassoon, and piano,” he said, and began to create “the next addition to this ensemble’s beautiful tradition.”

Theo Chandler, an Oberlin graduate currently pursuing his Doctorate of Musical Arts at the Rice University Shepherd School of Music, has seen all of his commissions for the next few months postponed. Armed with extra time, he started to write a new piece — a clarinet quintet — for no commission money. That’s in addition to revising old works, a task many others also plan on clearing from their to-do lists.

Another category: composers who are noticing that their projects mirror the world a little differently given the state of affairs. Hartke is writing a sextet called Desperate Measures, meant to be performed at a summer festival that he knows might not take place. “It’s coming to be a reflection on these unsettled and unsettling times.”

He’s also working with stage director David Schweitzer on an opera libretto adapted from Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros, in which people suddenly begin turning into those horned animals. “We’ve been at work on this for a long time, but there is something about the play that has become even more apropos,” Hartke said.

Cleveland Composers Guild member and former CIM professor Margaret Brouwer continues to work on a commission from three musicians in the American Wild Ensemble. Fear is a central element of the piece, which evokes “animals near the shores of the Great Lakes who are afraid, whose homes and lives are in jeopardy,” Brouwer said.

Now, fear from the human world is also entering the piece. “It is interesting to think of our plight being similar to what the animals have been experiencing for some time,” Brouwer said. “Perhaps the greatest part of the fear — for us and for the animals — is not knowing when or if the threat will strike.”

Tim Beyer, artistic director of the new music ensemble No Exit, doesn’t plan on shaking up the direction of his composing, but he acknowledged that the pandemic will have some effect on it, perhaps subconsciously.

“This is probably true of most people as well, but for me, where I am in the moment — whether because of external circumstances like what’s going on now, or internal things — certainly affects how I conceive of composing. Having said that, I’m not planning on writing a piece about being locked in the house.”

Beyer plans to get back to working on a piece based on Franz Kafka’s short story A Hunger Artist. “I have a very solid idea of what I want it to do, but I’m sure isolation and anxiety will find their way into it in some way.”

Natsumi Osborn, a third-year Oberlin student who is also composer-in-residence at the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra, found herself suddenly uprooted in mid-March, when she was required to pack up her things and leave campus. She’s currently at home in Houston, where she attended high school.

At first — with the move, settling in, and the overall sense of uncertainty — she took some time away from music. Last week, classes resumed remotely, and with that return to structure, she’s found the time and the mental space to compose, which has been “quite welcoming,” she said.

Osborn is conflicted over how to write music in the context of the pandemic. “On one hand, knowing that we are in the middle of a historic moment makes me think about all the composers who wrote profound music responding to markers of history,” she said. “I almost feel a certain expectation to be writing directly in response to what is going on.” At the same time, she finds that difficult to do because she’s still processing what’s happening in the world on a day-to-day basis.

“Music for me is a way to process narratives and emotion in hindsight rather than in-the-moment, as sort of a final closure,” she said. “So writing about the pandemic right now just doesn’t feel intuitive.”

Continuing previous projects has brought comfort and a sense of stability. “I have been working on a song cycle based on poetry by my great-grandmother, which has been an exciting family research-based project.”

Being removed from the mindset of constant work at college, and taking long walks in nature during her self-quarantine in Houston, Osborn has felt her mind clearing, and her concentration on the present moment sharpening.

“It has allowed me to compose with more focus — being in tune with what I really want to hear in my music — rather than being constantly focused on a deadline, writing as part of the flurry that is college life, or writing solely to meet all of the subconscious expectations I tend to set up for myself.” For her, that’s been “a small silver lining of the pandemic.”

A few composers offered their perspectives about the future. Fitch finds that it helps to look forward to next season — what his CIM New Music Ensemble will perform, and which guest composers he might invite to campus. “This WILL be behind us someday, and we can get back to live music-making,” he wrote.

Said Mumford, “I think when this thing passes, people will be tripping over themselves to get out of their houses and re-engage with the world. And what we do as artists will play a major role because civilization depends on it. We need this for our souls.”

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (April 8, 2020). The original article can be found – Here


An Interview with Marimbist Matt Sharock of Transient Canvas

By Laura King
Transient Canvas
Transient Canvas, the Boston-based contemporary duo comprised of bass clarinetist Amy Advocat and marimbist Matt Sharrock, is on a self-professed multi-pronged mission to revolutionize the modern concert experience. Since 2011, the duo’s innovative performances have been praised coast to coast … as “superb” by the Boston Globe ,“disarming” by Cleveland Classical, and with the San Francisco Chronicle lauding “the versatile imagination they both display and inspire in others.”

Below, in a recent interview, Matt shares around past and present endeavors and raises our anticipation for Transient Canvas’s March 20 concert in Cleveland as the special guest of NO EXIT.

Q. Matt, you and Amy been performing together for almost a decade. How did you Transient Canvas come to be—can you tell us a little bit about your personal paths and that intersection?

Sure! Amy and I met during a summer telemarketing job for the Handel & Haydn Society, of all places. I’d just finished my masters in Marimba Performance at Boston Conservatory, and Amy was trying to make some extra money to buy a car. That’s one of the great things about Boston—there are amazing musicians everywhere you look!

Anyway, I was fresh out of conservatory and trying to find my musical niche, so I asked Amy during a coffee break if she’d like to read some clarinet/marimba duos together. At this point, Amy was already a well-established orchestral freelancer and new music specialist in the city, so I assumed she wouldn’t be interested. Fortunately, I was wrong about that, and we had our first rehearsal in August of 2011. We instantly clicked and began producing our own concerts. We asked our friends to write for us initially, and in our first three years we premiered over 40 pieces and developed a loyal audience base. After that, we started touring—Atlanta and San Francisco (for the first New Music Gathering) to start—and our organization hasn’t stopped growing since.

We started this group as a fun side project. When you’re a freelance musician, it’s really important that you have some kind of creative outlet that you truly own, otherwise it’s easy to let the gigging life grind you down.

It’s still amazing to us that, almost 10 years later, that Transient Canvas has grown into the organization it is today, with two albums (plus a third on the way), 30-40 concerts a year nationally and internationally, and an annual Composer Fellowship program that lets us work with brilliant young composers from all over the world.

Q. How would you describe Transient Canvas’s unique sound world? Who are your muses and influencers these days as a duo?

Hmmmm… That’s a hard question. Our sound world is… “woody?” The bass clarinet and marimba actually blend extremely well. We have the same range, and the unique overtone structures of our instruments are surprisingly similar. The bass clarinet has a remarkably diverse array of sounds at its disposal, from multi-phonics to slap tongues, and the marimba also offers quite a bit of extra color if you’re willing to get creative. For the past few years, we’ve also added electronics to about half of our shows, so our sound world has become extremely malleable.

In terms of muses, we are constantly inspired by the wide range of composers we work with every year. We really strive to provide a blank canvas for composers to work with, and every season we are blown away by new ways composers thrive under the limitations of our instrumentation.

Q. Your website says that Transient Canvas is on a mission to revolutionize the modern concert experience. Where do you put your creative energies to try to accomplish this?

We focus our energies in a few different places. Most importantly, we are super concerned with accessibility. We want our audiences to feel at ease at our concerts and even have a little fun (perish the thought)! That doesn’t mean that the music we program is particularly accessible, but WE are accessible. We crack jokes, talk to the audience, stay on stage the whole time, and do whatever we can to break the separation and elitism inherent to the usual “classical music concert” model. If an audience feels comfortable and is having a good time, then they are always more open to receive some of the more challenging pieces that we perform.

We are also very concerned with relevance. We are so dedicated to working with new composers every season because we want to present music written by people who are going through the same s*** that our audience is going through. We also spend a lot of time and energy designing programs that contain a broad range of modern styles while communicating a relevant theme. Our two main programs this season, Wired and Origami, each address issues of contemporary life through the lease of modern music. For next season, we have several large projects in the works, including Synesthesia, a program that pairs live interactive video with five of our longer pieces to create the sensation of sitting in a living painting.

Q. Transient Canvas will soon world premiere Exposure, a new chamber opera by Bea Goodwin and Daniel Felsenfeld. Tell us a little bit about this dramatic project. Will it be leading you in a new direction?

We’ll actually be premiering Exposure just two days before our NO EXIT concert down in Columbus (thanks to the generous support of the ever-altruistic Johnstone Fund for New Music). This project has been in the works for several years. It all began with a phone call to composer Danny Felsenfeld, brainstorming a chance to collaborate. What began as an idea for a short piece for TC + soprano morphed into an hour-long chamber opera based on the Thomas Hardy novel The Well-Beloved. The opera turns the Hardy novel on its head and examines the complex relationships and blurred lines that artists experience with exposure, artistic validation and exploitation (both sexual and otherwise). Librettist Bea Goodwin has done a remarkable job placing this material firmly in the #metoo era. The opera is profoundly uncomfortable, and for that very reason it is also extremely relevant.

New direction? Well…. we’re definitely not going to morph into an opera company any time soon, but we are definitely planning on larger collaborations with a wide variety of other artists and musicians as we enter our tenth season.

Q. Your concert in Cleveland is built around Mari Epstein’s Origami (2012). What about this work inspired you to create a unified concert program?

Marti’s music is desolately beautiful, timeless and utterly unique. Narrative momentum is set aside in favor of blended colors and contrasting shades, inviting the listener to live inside her work. For me, her music evokes the remarkable sensation of watching a painting being painted from the viewpoint of the canvas, feeling each new brush stroke as it is applied, observing subtle changes in shade and texture as familiar shapes are revisited over and over again with slight variations.

Marti’s music invites the listener to form their own personal connections with abstract art. I built a program around her, filling it with music that invites the audience to form their own personal narratives. Some of the pieces have one-word titles like Rebounds and Monochrome. Were the pieces inspired by those words, or were those words applied to the pieces once they were complete? Some of the pieces capture environmental soundscapes, such as the whirring of an MRI machine or the melting of a glacier in the arctic. One of my best friends is a brilliant composer (and a former student of Marti’s) who once gave a paper that basically purported that music on its own is utterly meaningless—that all meaning derived from listening to music comes purely from the life experiences of the listener. For that reason, music is extremely powerful; it unlocks our imaginations and lights fires in parts of our brains that can’t be accessed by other means. Music is both everything and nothing. In this program, I’d like to test that theory 🙂

Q. You are incredibly busy professionals … traveling and performing as Transient Canvas, playing with other ensembles, developing innovative programs, commissioning new works, teaching your instruments and composition, and still finding the time to record for yourselves and others. How do these areas of interest interplay to elevate and fulfill you?

All of these areas work together to make us the people that we are. Musicians are omnivores, and we need a broad diet in order to stay healthy. By playing in ensembles like Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra, our ears are exposed to the rich timbral possibilities of a full orchestra. By teaching, we become better players. By working with composers, we gain deeper insight into the creative process, and so on and so on. We’re very lucky to be able to live the rich artistic lives that we live. Plus… being busy pays the bills. 😉

Q. You’re Boston-based. How did you connect with NO EXIT to bring about this guest performance? Will there be collaborative concerts in your future?

It all comes down to Andy Rindfleisch. He introduced us to Tim when we performed as part of the Re: Sound Festival in June 2018. Then, Andy brought us back in the Fall to premiere his large-scale American Monster, which combined the forces of TC, Zeitgeist, Ars Futura and NO EXIT. We all hit it off, and after a remarkable evening that culminated in an absolutely indescribable Chinese dinner, we knew that we needed to work together more!

We also love Cleveland. I’m from Marion, Ohio, and finished my undergrad at Baldwin Wallace back in 2009. I feel very connected to this city. My formative years were spent going to the Cleveland Orchestra after eating at Tommy’s in Coventry😊 and we come back either to perform or just to visit whenever we can. We knew that we would be performing in Columbus this spring, and we reached out to Tim to see if NO EXIT would be willing to host us in Cleveland.

If it’s not giving too much away for next season, let’s just say that this is the start of a beautiful friendship. 🙂


An Interview with Composer Buck McDaniel

By Laura King
Buck McDaniel
Buck McDaniel is a recent transplant from Cleveland to New York, where, in addition to engaging his various muses to write compelling new music, he is the organist and choirmaster at historic St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Kisco.

Buck talked recently to NO EXIT about his life’s path and processes in this interview:

Q. Let’s start with a broad brush, Buck—please give us an overview of your journey as a musician. When did music become a passion for you, and how did your relationship with performance and composition evolve?

Although I was raised in a small Mississippi town, from a young age my mother frequently exposed me to the opera, ballet, and classical music. I was lucky to live near two very dedicated music teachers, Ronnie & Loucinda Herrington, who vigorously encouraged my compositional interests after we inherited a piano. Far removed from the cultural centers of the northern cities, I read the New York Times Arts section daily. This introduced me to a lot of contemporary music, and curiously also to the Church. I read a review of Nico Muhly’s Bright Mass with Canons, written for John Scott and the Choir of St. Thomas Church 5th Avenue, found a recording, and immediately got completely obsessed. Nico gave me the opportunity to arrange the work for a performance at the Tanglewood Festival in 2014.

Q. With no experience except listening, I imagine that playing the organ in a glorious church would be very visceral. Can you describe it for us?

I frequently describe the organ, like opera, as a sort of Gesamtkunstwerk. The artists that contribute to the final product include the composer, the interpreter, the organ builder, and the building’s architect. If all four of these people make good work, then you get beautiful art. Playing the organ often feels like you’re “playing the building”, which is why it’s so rewarding to perform in (and write for) architecturally stunning spaces.

Q. From Columbia, Mississippi to Cleveland, to Harlem … How do you anticipate that this recent change of location to one of New York’s most vibrant and colorful neighborhoods will affect your musical life and works?

I’ve spent a lot of time in the City, both as a child and soon after I left Mississippi. My life in New York closely resembles my life in Cleveland: writing music, playing concerts, attending concerts, going to restaurants, smoking cigarettes, etc etc.

Q. You were commissioned to compose a new work for NO EXIT ensemble, and your work was world premiered as part of their Cleveland Composers Series in 2019. You’ve explained that Light Down was inspired by a 19th century folk murder ballad titled Loving Henry. How did a gruesome love story become the seed you chose for your inspiration?

The composer Tim Beyer, NO EXIT’s artistic director and co-founder, is known to have a deliciously macabre taste in art. Last season being the ensemble’s 10th anniversary, I wanted to write a piece dedicated to NO EXIT that really appealed to Tim’s sensibilities. The folk material implicates certain sounds from the ensemble (a knife’s blade, shoveling a shallow grave, etc). Several hocket sections in the strings frame the work, mimicking folk musicians’ habit of smiling during performances of these gruesome songs.

Q. Your compositions have been described as founded in a minimalist aesthetic, plus “other things.” Can you talk a little bit about that? How would you describe your style?

Yes, it is true that I often write pattern-based “minimalist” music. And the music I write is heavily influenced by the music I like.

Q. In your role as a church organist, there are times when you are playing for the congregation to set a certain mood or inspire them (preludes/postludes, etc), and when you want to encourage them to sing. Can you share around how you design and perform a church program?

I’m not sure I identify with the label “church organist”: my professional career has relied heavily on my identity as a composer. Though I serve as Organist & Choirmaster to an historic New York parish, Olivier Messiaen did the same thing in Paris and was never labeled “church organist”. With that said, liturgical music is essentially incidental music to a play you’ve seen before. We all know the plot (he’s gonna die). Musically, you can draw on the entire canon of music history to portray that day’s story. One week it’s this creamy choral motet in Latin by Palestrina, and another week it’s a spiky organ explosion by Messiaen.

Q. Can’t let you get away without asking you this question … what is your favorite hymnal and hymn?

The Roman Gradual and Tota pulchra es.


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit: and Zeitgeist at the Bop Stop (Jan.17)

By Timothy Robson
noexit at SPACES
Despite predictions of snowy weather, there was a full house and enthusiastic audience at the Bop Stop on Friday evening, January 17, for the latest concert by the Cleveland-based new music group No Exit, collaborating with their Twin Cities counterpart Zeitgeist. The program was concise and wildly varied, with several first performances. Each work contained imaginative soundscapes and alluring musical ideas.

No Exit opened the program with five movements from Jonathan Posthuma’s ongoing series Paul Klee: Painted Songs, based on the visual works of the Swiss-born German artist. “Carnival in the Mountains” is overt sound-painting, a phantasmagoria of a tango along with other palm court dance music, but with menacing undertones. “She Bellows, We Play” is a duo for flute and clarinet, with each playing sinuously chromatic lines, sometimes taking the lead, other times following.

“Destroyed Place,” a study in silences broken by passages for flute and alto flute, was effectively performed by Sean Gabriel. Interpolations on a gong, played with both mallets and wire brushes, simulate wind blowing through a silent, empty space.

The most effective of this set was the fifth movement, “Dream City,” which hints at Olivier Messiaen’s chamber writing in Quartet for the End of Time. Posthuma’s harmonies overlap and evolve sensuously, growing ever more ecstatic as the music progresses. I was left wanting a longer movement with even more development.

The Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988) also composed surrealist poetry in French. His 1965 Xnoybis II, played with extreme virtuosity by violist James Rhodes, is only a few minutes in duration. It is a study of a single note, D-sharp, with variations of pitch, duration, and dynamic. The viola was tuned so that several strings were playing slightly altered versions of the D-sharp. Despite consisting of only one note, the piece was not at all boring. The techniques foreshadowed Scelsi’s fellow Italian Luciano Berio’s series of Sequenzas which have similar virtuosic ambitions.

Inspired by a Rodin bronze sculpture depicting a fierce angel protecting a dying soldier, Michael Rene Torres composed The Call to Arms for No Exit, who gave it an emotional and technically adept performance. Its sonorities are often jagged — with repeated notes in and out of phase — and violently dissonant, but alternating with moments of aching beauty and lyricism. Torres played the alto saxophone in the ensemble, which also included violinist Cara Tweed, clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe, and cellist Nicholas Diodore.

The second half opened with a joint performance of From Unknown Silences (1996) by Pauline Oliveros, the Grand Earth Mother of American avant-garde music. The ensemble was spread throughout the expanse of the Bop Stop, and it wasn’t clear what performing instructions the composer gave to the performers. The program notes referred to “continuous variation” framed by silence framed by sound. Close listening and watching indicated the performers used their instruments in every way except traditional performance. The clarinet player behind me ended this realization of From Unknown Silences with an accurate representation of a fart.

By contrast, Zeitgeist clarinetist Pat O’Keefe’s reworking of Silvestre Revueltas’ Sensemaya into his own Sensemaya/Sense of Mind was a model of tonality. O’Keefe’s highly imaginative and entertaining Afro-Cuban mashup involved piano and two percussionists, with the composer on bass clarinet. Revueltas’ music is still apparent, but here it is more minimalist, with a scarier and more vicious edge. This was one of the highlights of the concert.

Tiffany Skidmore’s The Psyche and Cupid Miniatures I-IV are extremely brief excerpts — all less than a minute — from her opera-in-progress. Piano, bass clarinet, and percussion each make their contributions, but the excerpts seemed more like sound clips or studies in sonority intended for further elaboration.

Zeitgeist included two works originally composed for their annual series of Halloween concerts in St. Paul. Both Daniel Nass’s Shadows of Shadows Passing and Doug Opel’s Midnight Mary are collections of the musical passages and effects that fill modern horror movie scores — entertaining, but musically slight. Of the two, Midnight Mary was more intriguing for its programmatic exploration of the obsessive 19th-century fear of being buried alive. There were eerie scratches, a triangle sounding like a jangling bell, and unsettling passages for two miniature music boxes integrated into the texture, along with the swooping sounds of a souped-up Theremin, that early “hands-off” electronic instrument.

The program closed with Buck McDaniel’s Scherzo in Four Movements, which served as something of a musical farewell to Cleveland as McDaniel moves to New York to further his musical career. In his pre-performance remarks, the composer noted that the classical symphonic scherzo is a kind of musical joke, but not necessarily a funny one. One of the movements lampoons the English Renaissance composer Orlando Gibbons’s setting of the word “motion” as “mo-see-on.”

McDaniel’s minimalist writing is highly influenced by the works of Steve Reich, but with far greater harmonic variety and motion. McDaniel also gives a tip of the hat to his composition teacher by reworking part of an Andrew Rindfleisch work with different harmony and development. Zeitgeist gave the Scherzo a joyous, expert performance, enthusiastically received.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (January 20, 2020). The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit: and Zeitgeist present “Here and There 2020”

By Mike Telin
noexit at SPACES
There is something odd about only looking at audio speakers during a concert of experimental electronic music. How do you humanize such an experience? The thoughtful musicians of No Exit delightfully answered this question in an engaging and interactive concert at Appletree Books on Friday, October 18.

Composers have always turned to works of art, literature, folklore, and music by other composers as sources of inspiration. This week, St. Paul-based Zeitgeist and Cleveland-based No Exit will present “Here and There 2020” featuring music inspired by the art of Auguste Rodin and Paul Klee, the myth of Cupid and Psyche, a poem by Nicolás Guillén, the music of Steve Reich and Andrew Rindfleisch, as well as by stories of a young woman who was buried alive, and of a haunted hotel. The free concerts take place at Kent State on Thursday, January 16 at 7:30 pm, the Bop Stop on Friday, January 17 at 8:00 pm, and Heights Arts on Saturday, January 18 at 7:00 pm.

This week’s concerts also mark the continuation of a collaboration that began over a decade and a half ago — before Tim Beyer had even thought about starting his own ensemble. “I first met Zeitgeist when they came to Cleveland State when I was a student,” Beyer said during a recent telephone call. “Every summer they hold a workshop for composers they want to work with, and about ten or eleven years ago they chose me.”

Over time Beyer developed both professional and personal relationships with the members of Zeitgeist and was taken by the passion they had for presenting music to their community that might not get heard elsewhere. “They were always about the bigger new music picture, and had the right idea about how to do things. And when we started No Exit, they were a model that I looked at.”

In a separate telephone conversation, Zeitgeist percussionist Heather Barringer said that she had always expected Beyer to have a great career in Cleveland’s new music scene. “I knew he would be important as a composer, but I’m not sure that I expected him to develop an ensemble.”

Although Barringer did not know that Beyer had modeled No Exit’s guiding principles on those of Zeitgeist, it did not surprise her to hear it. “He always had such a commitment to working with Cleveland composers and to presenting concerts in Cleveland,” she said. “That’s why he was my first call when we wanted to develop a touring partnership. We were looking for some particular things: we wanted there to be a growing audience for new music and we didn’t want our sites to be on either coast. We are committed to making sure that music and art happen throughout the country, and we want people to know that all these communities are thriving and producing composers who deserve to be noticed.”

As with all great collaborations, both ensembles have artistically benefited from the partnership — Zeitgeist regularly commissions and performs music by Cleveland composers, just as No Exit does with Minnesota composers. “No Exit comes here every year,” Barringer said. “Our audiences look forward to that concert. And we’ve expanded so that it happens in Duluth as well as St. Paul.”

I asked Barringer to tell me about the works Zeitgeist will perform.

Cleveland composer Buck McDaniel’s Scherzo in Four Movements hints at the music of Steve Reich and Andrew Rindfleisch. “It is so delightful. It’s well composed, virtuosic, and challenging to play. And it’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek — playful is the word I would use.”

Sensemayá/Sense of Mind is by Silvestre Revueltas, inspired by a poem by Nicolás Guillén, and arranged by Zeitgeist member Pat O’Keefe. “It’s not a direct transcription, it’s more of a reimagining of the themes and things that happen in the piece.”

Midnight Mary is by St. Paul-based composer Doug Opel. “It’s based on a ghost tale about a young woman who was supposedly buried alive, which gave rise to the practice of undertakers installing bells in coffins, so that if it happened to you, you could ring the bell. This was a big thing in Victorian times — they were obsessed with being buried alive. The second movement is about the decaying of the body and all the bacteria and insects that attack it. The piece was written for a Halloween festival — but Halloween is all year long.”

Midnight Mary required Barringer to learn to play the Theremin. “I have a souped-up one by Moog. It has a digital out-read so you can select and program different scales and adjust what waveform you’re using — all sorts of things. It does take some doing to learn to play it.”

The Psyche and Cupid Miniatures I – IV is by Tiffany Skidmore. “Tiffany is a Minnesota composer, and these are four miniatures that are packed with information. They all exist as chamber works, but they are also embedded in an opera that she is presenting this coming February. Just like when Stockhausen was composing, every work that he wrote existed in many different forms and served his operas.”

Daniel Ness’ Shadows of Shadows Passing is also based on spooky things. “About an hour and a half away from St. Paul in the town of Sauk Centre is the haunted Palmer Hotel. It’s also where the author Sinclair Lewis lived for a while. It’s a regular hotel — people stay there — but I think it’s every Tuesday that if you want to get up at 2:00 am and go downstairs, you can get a haunted tour. The Twin Cities Paranormal Society has been there a number of times investigating and gathering information about it. Dan did that and even slept in room 11 — known for being occupied by a spirit named Annie.”

No Exit will be presenting St. Paul-based composer Jonathan Posthuma’s Paul Klee: Painted Songs, an ongoing series of chamber works inspired by the artist’s paintings. The concerts will include “High Spirits” and the world premieres of “Carnival in the Mountains,” “She Bellows,” “We Play, Destroyed Place,” and “Dream City.”

Also receiving its world premiere performance will be The Call to Arms by Columbus-based composer Michael Rene Torres, inspired by the Rodin sculpture of the same name. The set will be rounded out with Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi’s Xnoybis II.

To conclude the program, No Exit and Zeitgeist will come together for Pauline Oliveros’ From Unknown Silences.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (January 14, 2020). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Composer and Saxophonist Michael Rene Torres

By Laura King
noexit at SPACES
Q. How old were you when you began to make music, Michael, and what drew you to the

I was in choir in elementary school, and enjoyed it, but I really became interested in music in middle school when I started clarinet in beginning band. I was 11 years old. I switched to the saxophone 4 months later and have been a saxophonist for the past 25 years and still love it.

Q. Who and/or what encouraged and inspired you during your education and early career?

I had many mentors all throughout my education; also peers who inspired me. Music is a
communal activity. It’s all about relationships and that’s easy to forget when we’re in the practice room. For instance, it’s an absolute joy to work with the musicians of NO EXIT on my music and watch as their individual personalities speak through the music.

Q. You describe yourself as a saxophonist, composer, educator and curator on your website. Which is most YOU? How do these areas of interest/focus interplay to challenge, define and fulfill you?

I tend to think that all my interests are related – it's all just creativity and energy. Teaching makes me a better performer and performing informs my teaching. My composing makes me a more creative saxophonist and my performing enhances my composing, and both of those influence how I curate concerts and experiences. I like to think of myself as an artist instead of any one singular thing. It also makes my life really fun and interesting, jumping from project to project.

Q. How do you balance practicing technique and finding new inspiration through listening to and creating new music? Please talk a little bit about your compositional process!

I’m always listening. The sounds of everyday life are really inspiring to me because theses sounds tell stories; they tell our stories. I capture field recordings on my phone all the time of random sounds we make and don't think twice about, like the sound of a coffee grinder. It’s not one sound, but a collection of sounds that change and over time and have a start, middle, and end…sort of like form in music. I'm also easily inspired by the visual and literary arts. In terms of process, I usually just let the music decide where it wants to go. I absolutely do research on instrumentation and orchestration, but when I start writing, the process is more creative than technical and moves very quickly with lots improvisation. Editing, of course, takes me forever…

Q. In NO EXIT’s upcoming concert series, your commissioned work The Call to Arms will be world-premiered by the ensemble.  Can you provide us with some background to this particular piece?

The Call to Arms for Clarinet, Saxophone, Violin, and Cello was really inspired by the French sculptor, Rodin. There was a traveling exhibit of some of his bronze work that I visited when it stopped in Columbus. My piece basically tries to reflect the incredibly powerful sculpture of the same name by Rodin (https://www.instagram.com/p/B17KI2UgeEz/) and explores the introspective battle that the sculpture represents. I chose the instruments because I wanted to write a quasi string quartet with the clarinet serving as 2nd violin and the saxophone as the viola. I am really fond of resonance, timbral exploration, and using composite rhythms to create texture and I use these tools in the work. It’s dramatic and energetic and has been a lot of fun to prepare with the musicians!

Q. How did you first connect with NO EXIT? From your position, how do you see them impacting the new classical music scene with a multitude of commissions and world- class, free-and-friendly performances?

This is my third time working with NO EXIT. I wrote an unaccompanied solo work for NO EXIT’s clarinetist, Gunnar (who I went to school with) and he decided to program it on a NO EXIT show. Gunnar gave an amazing performance of my piece and I got to meet the other musicians and hear them perform. It was just a great experience. After that, I had some nice conversations with Tim, NO EXIT’s artistic director, which lead to two commissions, including my recent piece, The Call to Arms. Every experience with NO EXIT has been wonderful…great musicians and great people. I really think this kind of chamber ensemble is the future of classical music. It’s able to present interesting and intimate experiences featuring music that ignites the imaginations in new ways and by giving voice to the composers who are writing music about what it’s like to be alive in today’s complicated world. It’s really genuine.


An Interview with Heather Barringer, percussionist with St.Paul based ensemble Zeitgeist

By Laura King
noexit at SPACES
Heather Barringer is a percussionist and executive director for the celebrated new music quartet Zeitgeist. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin, River Falls with a bachelor’s in Music Education in 1987 and studied at the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory from 1988-90. In addition to performing and recording with Zeitgeist—she’s been a member since 1990—she is a percussionist in Crash, which is Mary Ellen Childs’ ensemble, and has worked with many Twin Cities organizations, including Nautilus Music-Theater, Ten Thousand Things Theater, Minnesota Dance Theater, and Aby Wolf.

Below, Heather responds to questions about her musical career and current pursuits in a recent interview with NO EXIT:

Q. Can we start by talking about your early relationship with music, Heather? What would a shorthand map of your journey to become a new chamber music professional look like?

I grew up in rural Wisconsin, which is where I still live. My parents weren’t musically inclined, though my mother believed I needed a music education. My parents bought a piano and had me start piano lessons with a woman that taught down the road. My early musical life included music encountered through music lessons and my mother’s record collection of country music (real country music, by the way) and rock n roll. When 10, I began learning a band instrument, just like so many young musicians in the Midwest. I loved performing and had a natural affinity for mallet percussion instruments, but I always felt there was a little something missing from my musical experiences. Once at university, I discovered new music through a contemporary ensemble and realized I had found my musical home.

Q. What drew you to percussion? That category is a big umbrella. What are some of the conventional and more unusual instruments you have played? Which are your favorites, bringing you the most joy?

I think the “big umbrella’ of percussion is exactly what drew me to the art of “what happens if I hit this?”. I found hitting things fascinating from a pretty early age. My father is a metalworker and his shop is on the rural farm where I grew up. Some of my earliest sonic memories are of the solitude of nature and the clangorous sounds of metal striking anvils, power grinders, and welding. At the age of six or seven I would climb into where he stored all his steel and hit everything with metal rods. That’s still probably my favorite instruments. One of the wonderful challenges of being a percussionist is adapting to the next sound source that will fit under my umbrella.

Q. Your love of musical exploration and creation blossomed quite early through youthful experiences. And at what point did you really identify with the new chamber music genre? Who have been your muses and influencers along the path?

I saw myself as a new music chamber musician in college. University of Wisconsin-River Falls had a really thriving new music program, one that is continued by my colleague, Patti Cudd, to this day. Both of us played in composer Conrad De Jong’s new music ensemble. After that, I studied with percussionist Al Otte at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Q. You have been with Zeitgeist for almost 30 years—that’s amazing! Who are the current members in the quartet?

Indeed, 30 years is a long time. I’ve gotten to work with so many amazing musicians in that time, and I’m so very proud of the work that Zeitgeist has created in my tenure. Our current members are myself and Patti Cudd, percussion; Pat O’Keefe, woodwinds, and Nikki Melville, piano.

Q. When and with what aim did Zeitgeist and NO EXIT begin to collaborate with bi-annual concert series you’ve called Here and There? What do you most enjoy about this partnership

Before Here and There, Zeitgeist performed in Cleveland many times through our relationship with Andrew Rindfleisch. It wasn’t long before we became aware of Tim Beyer’s NO EXIT ensemble and discovered that we shared some common goals. Both of us want to strengthen and shine light on the creative capital in our respective communities. We began by performing our repertoire in each city and soon expanded to commissioning work as well. Our touring partnership enables us to provide opportunities for Ohio and Minnesota composers and increase awareness in both communities of the tremendous work being done.

Q. Zeitgeist and NO EXIT share a dedication to commissioning emerging and established composers for new works that you then perform as world premieres. Why is this important and a point of passion for both organizations?

For Zeitgeist, commissioning and performing new work is central to our mission. We work within the American experimental art tradition, and our job is to work with composers and audiences to create and strengthen new musical thought.

Q. From your seasoned perspective, where do you see the new classical music scene stands now in general? Do you have any predictions for the decade ahead?

In so far as where new music is now, I see musicians continuing to do what we do: reaching forward to discover new ways of expression, looking back to find the wisdom of our elders and ancestors, all the while responding to the social climate and concerns of our day.

An abundance of art right now directly addresses or responds to the social crisis and divide that we are experiencing in this country and worldwide. If our nation and world can move to greater reconciliation, I think the music being produced will change as well in terms of its inspiration and intent.


An Interview with Nabil Abad

By Laura King
noexit at SPACES
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Nabil Abad is a composer of larger ensemble and chamber music. He is a recent graduate of Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, where Clint Needham and Jonathan Sokol were his principal teachers in composition.

Nabil enjoyed uncommon success as a student. In 2018, his Seven Miniatures for strings was awarded 2nd place in the Cleveland Composers Guild’s Collegiate Competition, and, in 2019, the Alabama Orchestral Association chose his orchestral piece Discord to be performed by its Festival Orchestra as the winner of its annual composition contest. Nabil also received his first professional commission this year…the world premiere of his Wearing Away for string quartet will be performed by NO EXIT and special guest Mari Sato during the ensemble’s November concert series.

Below, Nabil shares the experiences and insights of a young composer on a tall trajectory:

Q. Nabil, what an exciting year you’ve had to date, a likely culmination of hard work plus raw talent. How did you first connect with music, and what moved you to become a composer?

My earliest experience with music was playing saxophone in band in middle school and high school. I began composing in high school, but I didn’t decide that it was going to be my main focus until I was at Baldwin Wallace. When I began pursuing my music degree, I wanted to keep my options open, so I started out by studying saxophone and composition. By the end of my first year, I realized I had a much higher aptitude for composing than performing, so I went with my strength.

Q. What was it like for you to win a composition contest as a student, and be invited to work closely with an orchestra for the world-premiere performance of your piece? What were some of the things that you learned from this experience?

It was an incredible opportunity to work with that ensemble and serve as composer-in-residence for their festival last February. I learned a lot—including important skills for the professional world. Two examples were rehearsal techniques when working with an orchestra, and public speaking, as I needed to talk about my work during the concert.

Q. How would you describe your unique sound world? Who and what are your influencers and how does your inspiration arise?

It is quite hard for me to describe the sound world of my music. Some musical features I like to explore in my music are complex rhythmic structures, dissonant harmonies, and the ideas of density and disorder. I get inspired by ideas that I think would be interesting to represent musically, and then see how they play out. I have also drawn inspiration from a variety of different sources, including visual art and literature.

Q. Please describe your working process. How does it vary when you write for orchestra versus a chamber group?

When composing, I usually like to start out by making some sort of plan for the large-scale form of the work and goals for things I would like to accomplish in writing the piece. In writing chamber music, I tend to think about the relationships between the members of the ensemble and how their parts interact. When writing for orchestra, I think of how to express grander gestures by using the combined power of larger groupings of instruments.

Q. What are your goals as a recent grad and young professional? Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I hope I will continue to receive more commissions! Ten years from now, I imagine that I will be out of school with my doctorate in composition. After that, I want to start a teaching career.

Q. Clearly, Nabil, you’re passionate about you do. What meaning and value do you feel that creating new music has in the world today?

I believe that the creation of new music is and always will be a very important pursuit. And that composers will continue to develop and improve techniques to create deeper artistic expression through music. If you look back through history, composers of each generation have built off of what came before them and pushed the boundaries of what music could do…evolving a wider and more complex range of sounds to represent the range of human emotion.

Q. How did you connect with NO EXIT to receive this commission? Were you given any parameters for the work by your benefactor? What does their support mean to you as you start on your path as a professional?

As a native of Cleveland, I have been attending NO EXIT’s concerts for a few years now. There, I was able to meet and build relationships with some of the members of the ensemble. After they became familiar with my music, they let me know they were interested in working with me.

I greatly appreciated the freedom that that NO EXIT gave me with this commission. The only parameters I was given was that the work would be for string quartet, and a window of time for the length of the piece.

As a composer still in the very early stages of a career, it makes me so happy that an amazing ensemble like NO EXIT would want to collaborate. I really cannot adequately express how much this support from NO EXIT means to me!


No Exit in motion at the University of Duluth

Every year No Exit travels to the twin cities to join St.Paul based new music ensemble Zeitgeist for two weekends of amazing collaborative music making between the twin cities and our home in Cleveland. Our trip to Minnesota occurred in September, and thanks to composer Philip Blackburn, who graciously audio and video recorded the concert, we are able to share two works we performed during our residency at the University of Duluth. First is a work written by Czech composer Ladislav Kubik as a commission for No Exit completed shortly before his untimely passing in 2017. The second work is duo for clarinet and piano by Minnesota based composer and environmental sound artist Philip Blackburn.

We cannot wait to have Zeitgeist join us again in Cleveland on January 16th at Kent State, 17th at The Bop Stop and 18th at Heights Arts.


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit: No Exit: Electronica at Appletree Books (Oct. 18)

By David Kulma
noexit at SPACES
There is something odd about only looking at audio speakers during a concert of experimental electronic music. How do you humanize such an experience? The thoughtful musicians of No Exit delightfully answered this question in an engaging and interactive concert at Appletree Books on Friday, October 18.

Over ten years, Artistic Director Timothy Beyer and friends have slowly cultivated an adventurous audience. The fact that they filled the seats on Friday with people who want to explore avant-garde music making, and who participate in the conversation between pieces even at a concert without an ensemble present, shows how successful No Exit has been in filling a musical need in Cleveland.

One helpful through-line for this “disembodied” performance was that each composer took the spoken word as their starting point, and then built audio collages from that.

Berio’s 1958 Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) creates music out of mezzo-soprano Cathy Berbarian’s reading of a section from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Berio took apart that recorded speech and focused on individual phonemes, which on Friday flew across the sound space mixed with high-pitched chirping, resonant jumbles, and bouncing splices. Every so often a single word appears out of the mass, like “listen,” and then the first syllable is stretched into an extended, serpentine sibilant.

Associate Director James Praznik spoke about his 2015 work Exo-Narrative No. 1: “Thanks for the Memories,” describing a moment when his first listener changed the direction of the piece. The crazed opening had an aggressive sadness the composer hadn’t considered, so he decided to fill out the 4-½ minutes by emphasizing loneliness. The result is the aural equivalent of the “shaky cam” technique in recent violent action movies. Sliding siren-like sounds and sudden high-volume spasms were mixed with words that were difficult to comprehend. Amidst some calmer shimmering and framing breaths, the overall emotion was captivatingly disturbed.

Greg D’Alessio’s untitled work specifically written for this concert was based on his 2018 piece for No Exit: Many Doors. Mixing recorded sounds of ensemble members’ instruments with audio from productions of Jean-Paul Sartre’s eponymous play in both French and English, the composer described it afterwards as an “existential, hellish dance party.” Framed by repetitions of a woman saying “toujours,” the music builds clear drum grooves as melodic chunks and instrumental solos dance with excerpts from the play. The result is an oddball comedy mixed with angst in the best Sartrean tradition.

Beyer’s Dissent is a political work from 2006 that asks the question: “What shall be the end of these things?” Built from old preaching records made by some of America’s most notorious bigots and religious charlatans, Beyer’s piece piles up layer upon layer of fanatical pronouncements starting with the most innocuous and ending with horrid, paranoid diatribes. Low sweeps and voluminous knife swipes further place the excerpts in ironic quotation marks. The metallic screeching derived from these ramblings made clear Beyer’s own feelings about his noxious muses in this work.

The evening ended with a preview of an upcoming Praznik work for the No Exit ensemble. Built from many layers and constantly moving from calm to explosive extremes, the piece whetted the audience’s appetite with an exciting, vertigo-inducing chunk from its electronic backdrop.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (October 23, 2019). The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Mari Sato

By Laura King
noexit at SPACES
Mari Sato, an acclaimed violinist based in Cleveland, has enjoyed a rich and varied career as a chamber musician. For twenty-four years, she was the second violinist of the award-winning Cavani String Quartet, giving concerts on major series that included Carnegie Hall, Corcoran Gallery of Art, the French Festival de L’Epau, and the Honolulu Chamber Music Society, among others. She served on the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music 1995-2018, and she is currently coaching chamber music at the Oberlin Conservatory.

Below, Mari provides more intimate background to her career path and her music during a recent interview for NO EXIT:

Q. To begin at the beginning, Mari, I’m interested to know a little bit about your long relationship with the violin. When did you start playing the instrument, and how has its meaning and importance evolved for you over time?

I was four years old when I began my studies on the violin through the Suzuki Method. In the beginning, playing music was something I did with my family. Later it became a way to connect with friends by playing together in ensembles. It has always been an important part of my life. Learning and performing music with others continues to be my ideal way to relate to others, share powerful emotional experiences, and bring people together.

Q. What has your musical path looked like from a personal point of view? And who were the muses and influencers who appeared to guide you along the way?

I was a late bloomer in music. I did not decide to devote myself to the art until my senior year of high school. Many people along the way helped me catch up. I am still catching up! I was incredibly fortunate to join the Cavani Quartet right out of college. My first ‘musical family’ gave me 24 years of beautiful memories studying and performing a diverse repertoire, but especially the Beethoven and Bartók quartets. Those experiences shaped me in fundamental ways. Team coaching with Peter Salaff at the Cleveland Institute of Music also had a deep impact on me. Teaching with kindness and striving for the character and meaning in the music are strong values that remain with me.

Q. What would you describe your personal style of play? What have been your greatest challenges with the instrument? What about playing brings you the greatest joy?

I’d say that I strive to be an inquisitive and collaborative musician. It gives me great joy to work with others to bring the music off the page and move others in performance. Sometimes the process of figuring out how to achieve that can be very challenging when a musical language is new. But often that hard work leads to a breakthrough in understanding that is personally rewarding.

Q. Please describe the process you undertake when you collaborate with a composer to practice and perform a new composition—for example, Nabil Abad’s new work for the STRINGS! concert.

When learning a new work, whether it is by a known older composer or a new one, I usually start with the score and then the individual part. Recordings when available are so helpful. Hearing how others have brought a piece to life is invaluable.

In the case of Nabil Abad’s commissioned quartet, we did not have the luxury of being able to hear others perform the piece—we will play the world premiere of it. Because I was not familiar with Mr. Abad’s compositional style, I listened to his wind ensemble piece Discord, and some songs through SoundCloud, to get a sense for his “sound world.” Program notes by the composer are, of course, very helpful to understand the inspiration behind a work. And before performance time, we will certainly have communicated with him directly with any questions that arise about the interpretation of his music.

Q. You’ll be playing with NO EXIT in intimate venues and in a concert hall. How do these venues differ experientially for the musicians and the audiences?

I enjoy playing in both the traditional concert hall, as well as intimate venues like SPACES and other galleries. When performing in a concert hall, it is easier for me to use the acoustical space like another instrument, as I listen for the sound coming back to me. In an intimate smaller space, that is harder to do. However, the audience reaction to the music is more immediate and that fun interaction makes the experience of performing more “live.”

Q. Can you offer a little insight into why string quartets so specially regarded in classical music, new and old?

From my completely biased perspective, some of the greatest music ever written was for the medium of the string quartet. The combination of two violins, one viola, and one cello is a unique sound that lends itself to explorations in color, conversation, and emotion. Thanks to the legacy of Haydn, Beethoven, and Bartók, the string quartet repertoire continues to grow.

Q. How did you end up connecting with NO EXIT for this concert? Can you please speak a little to the ensemble’s role in the regional new music scene?

I have known NO EXIT’s string musicians—James, Cara, and Nick—for years, given that the music world, and especially the string world in Cleveland, is quite small. I have been a fan of NO EXIT’s vision since it was founded in 2009. It is very important to support the creation and performance of new music. It keeps “classical music” alive and relevant.

NO EXIT has captured the avant-garde niche, which serves to challenge all of us, performers and audience members alike. By their mission and activities, they entice us to be open to new ideas, new sounds…and to test our perceptions of beauty and order. I have learned so much from my experience collaborating with these wonderful artists. Thank you to artistic director Tim, James, Cara, Nick, and percussionist Luke for inviting me to join them for this NO EXIT concert!


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit at SPACES (Sept. 6)

By Nicholas Stevens
noexit at SPACES
Any concert program that begins with music of mutual hostility and ends with a lament may seem too reminiscent of the news cycle in 2019. Add to that a composition about species diversity, and the picture darkens further. However, No Exit’s season opener at SPACES felt more like a refuge from the fights and frights of everyday life, or at least a guide to bearing them with grace and vulnerability. In a program of diverse music, Cleveland’s contemporary-classical powerhouse proved itself capable of anything, and unafraid to take risks.

The concert on Friday, September 6 found audience members seated near the entrance and the musicians set up where a hallway opens into a larger gallery space — unusual for this venue but necessary due to an installation, and mostly unproblematic for sight and sound. Artistic director Timothy Beyer greeted listeners with characteristic good cheer. No Exit proves itself in performance, with no excessive solemnity required.

Pianist Nick Underhill wrote Passing Lane, here given its world premiere with the composer at the keyboard and James Rhodes on viola, as a “road rage toccata,” premised on a destructive interaction between duet partners. From the start, the two strayed into one another’s musical territory, with results that suggested fury without veering into gratuitous pounding. Rhodes sounded unhinged in the aggressive moments, but sweet during a “rest stop.” Underhill likewise careened most of the time, but also waxed contemplative. The ending, too good to spoil, involves a pencil and the viola’s strings.

Adonai Henderson, a composer studying at Cleveland State University, drew inspiration from Africa and its diasporic legacies in writing ngoma, a solo percussion piece busy enough to simulate a whole ensemble. Luke Rinderknecht tapped and hammered at a set of conga drums, thwacking rims for emphasis. It’s a testament to both Henderson’s and Rinderknecht’s sharp senses of pacing that the interlocking patterns of the opening led to the explosive climax with simmering inexorability.

A symbolic “cage” of music stands surrounded clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe in Philip Blackburn’s Air, forcing him to rotate from one to the next. The avian metaphor emerges from Baroque movement types, such as those named in the piece’s three movements: Air, Canary, and Ground. The first featured Hirthe alone, musically leaping but calm. Later, Underhill entered with left-hand rumbling that grew into sharp stabs. In the final movement, high pitches for the clarinet became overwhelming to hear — a consequence both of Blackburn’s edgy, maximum-volume writing and the acoustic of the hallway space.

Sean Parks, another Cleveland State composition student, contributed Species Plantarum, Liber II, named for a 1753 botanical treatise. The first movement, inspired by a Tanzanian herb, moves in blips and oozes. The second, titled after a woody shrub, conjures the plant’s texture through the rasp of brushes on a snare drum. The third began with a lovely duet for violinist Cara Tweed and cellist Nick Diodore, interrupted by insistent cries from Sean Gabriel’s piccolo. The piece’s most ear-catching textures come in the fourth, which incorporates switched-on vibraphone, alto flute, and cello, with some well-timed tongue slaps for clarinet. The fifth and longest movement echoed the literal opening-out of the performance space into the gallery behind.

The concert ended with two pieces featuring percussionist Chester Englander, whose expertise lies with the cimbalom. Englander’s soft skitters and sudden accents conversed with Diodore’s swirling figures in Kati Agócs’s Saint Elizabeth Bells. A tribute to the composer’s father inspired by the church bells he heard on his deathbed, the piece cites familiar hourly chimes only once, but to wrenching effect.

Englander returned for a solo encore, the final movement of György Kurtág’s Splinters. Blossoming into knotty chords, Englander’s stutters and strokes showcased the almost magical capabilities of the seldom-heard instrument, which, in a city as influenced by Eastern European cultures as Cleveland, could well find more of a foothold here. Let’s hope so.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com (September 23, 2019). The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com: Road rage as inspiration: chatting with No Exit’s Nicholas Underhill

By Jarrett Hoffman
noexit at SPACES
How most of us react to overly aggressive drivers: clench our teeth, sweat, maybe give a honk, and fume. How pianist-composer Nicholas Underhill reacted: write a piece of music.

Passing Lane is a duo for piano and viola, but it’s also “a cinematic Road Rage Toccata,” as Underhill writes in his notes. He and his No Exit colleague James Rhodes will premiere the work when the ensemble opens its eleventh season with free concerts on September 6 at 8:00 pm at SPACES, September 7 at 7:00 pm at Heights Arts, and September 13 at 8:00 pm at Cleveland State University’s Drinko Recital Hall.

The programs will also include premieres by Cleveland State composition students Adonai Henderson and Sean Parks, works by Kati Agócs and Philip Blackburn, and a performance by cimbalom virtuoso Chester Englander, the start of a two-season partnership with No Exit that will include a commissioning and recording project.

During our conversation, Underhill was contemplative and curious, not angry, about those who tailgate and weave back and forth to get ahead on the road.

“If you want to get deep about it,” he said, “it sort of evokes the self-involved nature of people. They’re in their own cars with their own music blasting, they’re not paying much attention to other people, and they’re having their own experiences as they drive. There seems to be a death wish there too, but you can’t psychoanalyze them — you can’t even see who they are, the way they drive.”

Passing Lane is an “adversarial” piece between two drivers — two instruments. “The violist smacks the bow on the piano strings, and later on I take a pencil and hit the viola strings,” Underhill said. “It doesn’t actually damage the instruments but creates a contentious atmosphere.”

In one moment, the music gets quiet and serene. Here, Underhill imagines that the drivers have pulled over to indulge in a “Heart Attack Mac” and an energy drink — “something that would keep you on edge and able to drive at 90 miles an hour,” the composer said. That’s not to say he doesn’t like fast food. “I’m attracted to it, but I try to resist it,” he said, laughing.

The tone of the piece is absolutely meant to be light, both for performers and listeners. “No one’s going to yell at me if I mess up my own piece, and James seems to have a very fun attitude towards it as well,” Underhill said. “A lot of times, you feel like you have to give a really serious performance. Maybe it’s a premiere, and you could affect that composer’s career. It’s nice to have an interlude from that — and for the audience too. Some of the pieces we play are so heady, and this one’s clearly not.”

noexit at SPACES
Underhill actually wrote Passing Lane in 2015 for himself and Tom Bowling, then the violist in No Exit. “I thought he would have the sense of humor required to do something like this,” the composer said. But Bowling left the group and moved to Texas, and convenient performance opportunities failed to present themselves until now. Either way, Underhill said the piece fits Rhodes (pictured right) even better. “He’s the most benign and affable personality, but adventurous too. It’s perfect for him and me.”

Coming back to Passing Lane four years after writing it, the composer said it’s like a new work for him. “There’s the same feeling as when you’ve gotten a tough piece from another composer — it’s like, ‘Why did that rascal write that?’”

The other works on these programs deserve some digital ink as well. Kati Agócs’ 2012 Saint Elizabeth Bells (which will feature Chester Englander) was written in memory of her father, who in semi-consciousness may have heard the bells of Saint Elizabeth Cathedral in Budapest during his last days in a nearby hospital. She writes:

Every phrase of the work’s nine-minute trajectory comes out of the natural intervals of the bell sounds as I mis-remember (and imagine) them, with the purest version — and the part that I composed first — heard near the end.

Among his many endeavors, Philip Blackburn is known as a composer and environmental sound artist: his works have been heard in harbors, forests, and drifting out of storm sewers, as well as in more traditional settings. Air, written in 1984 as his first paid commission, is packed with counterpoint. He writes that listeners may count up to 87 canons in the clarinet line alone, adding:

The musical gestures may well relate to my speech patterns as well as the fact that, during the composition process, I had to rotate my body very slowly in front of the fireplace to keep warm in my mother’s chilly house that winter.

Adonai Henderson’s ngoma evokes the rhythms of African and African Diasporic cultures, and is meant to give the illusion of a small percussion ensemble, while Sean Parks’ Species Plantarum, Liber II takes inspiration from the composer’s interest in plants — the movement titles are taken from the binomial Latin names of members of his own tropical and subtropical collection.

Article originally published on clevelandclassical.com on September 3, 2019.
The full article can be found – Here


Catch Nicholas Diodore and Chester Englander Live on WCLV 104.9 September 5th

noexit at SPACES
For an exciting sneak peek of what we have in store for our fall concert series, be sure to tune in to WCLV 104.9 to hear No Exit’s cellist Nicholas Diodore and special guest cimbalomist Chester Englander perform Kati Agócs’ “Saint Elizabeth Bells” live in the Ideastream studio.

To hear this piece and a host of new and exciting works from composers around the country and right here in Cleveland, join us on September 6th at SPACES, September 7th at Heights Arts or September 13th at Cleveland State University. Come share an evening of great new music with us to start our 11th season with a bang!

And for those who missed it as it happened over the air (or for those who just want to hear such a beautiful work again and again), go to https://www.facebook.com/WCLV1049/ for the archived recording.


An Interview with Philip Blackburn

By Laura King
noexit at SPACES
Philip Blackburn is a Cambridge, UK-born composer and environmental sound artist. His works have been heard in ships’ harbors, state fairs, forests, and wafting out of storm sewers, as well as in galleries and on concert stages. A renaissance man for the modern age, he is also a filmmaker, writer, teacher, designer and record producer. Since 1991, Philip has been director of the innova Recordings label, a premium label for American new music. Air: Air, Canary, New Ground, his 1985 composition for piano and clarinet written at the age of 22, will be featured in NO EXIT’s September concert series.

Below, Philip discusses with NO EXIT how his experimental music soundscape compositions are a synthesis of his life and work:

Q. Philip, to start, would you give us a brief overview of the evolution of your relationship with composition?

I wrote my first composition for trombone (an instrument for which I had no talent) at 16 because I had to. It occurred to me that if I played my own piece, no one could complain about it. I came from a creative family where my father is a novelist and my brother a jazz musician, so it seemed quite natural for me to make something that didn’t exist before and explore as my muse directed. I went to Clare College in Cambridge as a Choral Scholar and continued my low-key creative endeavors. Having been exposed to the amazing musical universe of Harry Partch and his homemade instruments and theories, I knew there was a world beyond the conventions that were being inculcated in me. Like him, I went outside. Outside the mainstream and literally outdoors to nature; the field that would come to be called Biomusic. Like Pauline Oliveros, I consider listening to be a creative social act so a composer is, in this sense, setting up occasions for listening just as much as putting forth sonic structures. Once the emphasis shifts to the experience of music rather than its internal relationships on a page, it can open doors.

My works are often site specific so the process starts with a deep dive into the stories, materials, and memories of a place. These have included a TB sanatorium, a shipping port, a network of storm drains, or the proportions of a new building. Each comes with its own set of conditions that I can have fun remixing. Having worked in such uniquely loaded settings, the notion of a piece intended for a standard indoor concert stage is oddly daunting.

Q. Could you describe what you reach for in your compositions, i.e., your intention that informs your process?

I take the task of listening – and paying attention to my responses – seriously. I am fortunate that my everyday and professional life is structured in a way to prioritize experiencing the environment in musical terms. Working at the American Composers Forum I’ve been involved with more than 650 albums of other peoples’ works, helping to bring each to its fullest realization. Publishing can be just as creative an act as the sounds that went into the pieces. The cover art, the descriptions, how they are put into the public domain – all affect the way they are received and experienced.

As a public artist that specializes in sound, my work must first fully engage me … but it should also have some chance of making a difference in the lives of complete strangers. I’ve had experiences viewing art, reading a book, or listening to music that totally changed my life. I want that result. At least for a while. After listening to my work, and exiting the concert hall, are you more aware of the birds in the trees, the feel of the wind, an acoustic reflection from a wall, the oncoming traffic? Did it change your thinking? Provide new problems to consider? This is a tall order. In the glut of music and noise that is out there these days, that most people have learned to tune out, it is easy for a musical effort to have no impact at all.

It struck me, walking through a rainforest, that the creatures that live there are able to survive because of their acoustic niche in the ecosystem. If your voice as a bird, a frog, or mammal is not heard, your species dies out. A living sonic ecosystem is orchestration perfected over evolutionary timescales. That’s hard to beat in a textbook about instruments.

Q. How does creating new music soundscapes that intrigue and inform your listeners affect you internally?

I am always learning from my work—about self, about what not to do. Composing for me is about the process of discovery and unearthing possibilities, the same way we make sense of our complex world at every moment; not merely starting with a fully-formed idea and spewing it out. As such, composing is what we all do as a daily practice; it’s all part of the art of noticing.

Education typically shows us models of what has gone before, why they are good, and how you depart from them at your peril. I believe the opposite. Education is about freeing you from those models and throwing you back to your own inner resources. For that you need a technique that subverts your own preferences, throws in some randomness, makes you go beyond your usual habits, and allows you see your materials afresh. Composition, perhaps, as meditation.

From my perspective, existing musics are best treated as examples of what not to do. They are personally challenging in that way. Why repeat something that has already been done by someone else? Especially when you want your original work to be unique and make a difference.

Although it can be disorienting to start in this way, I find the more I let go, the more a work is true, is of me. And I often say at the end of this process, when I am the first person to know the outcome, “Wow. Really? That was inside of me, waiting to come out?”

This is how you find your own voice—the more you release, go beyond your typical habits and tastes, the more you are left with nothing but your voice. There is a deep congruence about my works but on the surface, every piece is unlike any other.

People often confuse convention with discipline. Most of my works are quite unconventional but highly disciplined. I love to hear from people who say they never heard anything like it before but were totally transported.

Q. You recently received a commission from NO EXIT. What can you tell us about that work in progress?

I’ve done so many site-specific community-based pieces that I began by contemplating my personal connection with Ohio. And I found that one of my relatives, Charles Cheney, moved to Mt. Pleasant (now Mt. Healthy) near Cincinnati in the 1830s with a mission to plant 3000 mulberry trees that would feed silkworms for the family silk manufacturing business in Connecticut. This was a misguided endeavor as the climate wasn’t suitable and all the trees soon died. But while there he was a prominent Abolitionist and secret conductor on the underground railroad (aided by the fact that he was also president of the overground railroad company and could thus ensure safe passage up the line for the escaping slaves). So I wondered about the sound of the saplings and even recorded the actual sound inside a mulberry tree trunk in my back yard.

What were the sound signs of the underground railway? Night time clues: Owls, crickets, rubbing stones, coded knocks… tapping on the window of a safe house in the dark of night. I read that Harriet Tubman would go around singing the spiritual “Promised Land” and change the tempo according to whether it was safe to move or not. Well, I can do that too, right down to the granular waveform level as a harmonic drone…

My research then led me to the Old Testament (and the current title for the piece): “The sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.” That is what God reportedly told David to wait for in order to vanquish the Philistines. Waiting for a change in wind conditions is normal procedure in military affairs so didn’t really require divine guidance. And the translation is wrong anyway since they confused the word for mulberry with that for quaking aspen, native to that area. But it’s still a nice title.

So, this would be a timely piece, about migrants, escape from captivity, and the ever- relevant journey to freedom. It will have local interest, it is personal, and adaptable to a wider story. I wonder how it will turn out.

And I have to say that I am very excited about composing an ensemble piece for NO EXIT, and returning to the concert hall after many years in the wilderness. I’m quite interested to see how my life’s journey will be reflected in this new work and what kind of journeys it might take other people on.


An Interview with Kati Agócs

By Laura King
noexit at SPACES
As a contemporary composer, Kati Agócs is renowned for her highly individualized works that are evanescent, lyrical and viscerally direct. NO EXIT is delighted to be performing one of Kati’s most exquisite pieces, Saint Elizabeth Bells, in its September concert series, featuring special guest artist Chester Englander on cimbalom. Below Kati provides the backstory for her composition in a conversation with NO EXIT:

Q. Kati, reviewers have often described your works as challenging without being elusive, and in emotional and transmundane terms. Have these qualities always defined your compositions? Who and what were your early influences?

Very early on as a composer I was influenced by the Second Viennese School—Arnold Schoenberg’s “Book of the Hanging Gardens,” in particular and Webern, Berg and Milton Babbit, who was my composition teacher. I began my creative education as a visual artist and a performing vocalist. While at Juilliard, I was a professional soprano at various churches in New York City. Certainly, my performance background informs my work; my first compositions were vocal pieces, and sacred music has always been a major focus. My visual arts background brings an interest in proportion and in the balance and progression of timbral densities. Literary sources often come into play for me as well.

I begin every piece with a strong, distinct sound world. Every medium is very different – – be it orchestral, chamber, or vocal. It’s very different with every piece. I always feel like I’m starting from scratch.

Q. Once your inspiration comes for a new work, how do you start composing?

I write at the piano. Playing things through in real time helps me understand the flow and the formal trajectory of a new piece. I’ll improvise an entire form. I often write for specific players or collaborate directly with players. When I began to work on Saint Elizabeth Bells for cimbalom and cello, I wrote the ending first—the sound of the tolling church bells as my father would have heard them in an adjacent hospital during his final hours, in a semi-conscious state. Then I went to a cimbalom-player friend to experience what I’d written and refine it on the instrument. The sound of the cimbalom is rich in timbre but also very pure—it was originally a folk instrument — and that special, fragile quality influenced the sound of the piece overall. The cello is an equal partner in the piece. I knew I wanted the cello line to be lyrical—something very human, something one could sing.

Q. A commission provided the circumstances for you to create such a beautiful piece of music, didn’t it? How did it unfold?

Saint Elizabeth Bells was commissioned by the New York-based cellist André Emelianoff. He encouraged me to explore my Hungarian roots by writing a piece that included the cimbalom, the concert hammered dulcimer, in its scoring. Those roots originate with my father, Sandór Agócs, who was born into a family of watermelon farmers. The first of his family to be educated, he worked for the Hungarian Radio in Budapest in the early 1950s and fled Hungary as a political refuge after the 1956 uprising, eventually returning home in the 1990’s. He died in 2011. I wrote the score in 2012, a very poignant time for me, and it was premiered by Paul Katz and Nicholas Tolle on the New England Conservatory’s First Monday series in 2013. It is about ten minutes long.

Q. Saint Elizabeth Bells is a deeply personal piece of music. Please share more of the backstory with us!

The muse for this composition were the bell sounds of the Saint Elizabeth Cathedral in central Budapest, which is named for Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, a Catholic saint who served the sick. There is a hospital beside the cathedral called Saint Elizabeth Hospital, where my father spent his last days. As he lay dying in his bed, his room facing the cathedral, he would have been washed over and over by drifting and resonating bell sounds celebrating Easter, perhaps evoking memories just beyond his reach.
Every phrase of the work’s trajectory comes out of the natural intervals of the bells as I mis-remember and imagine them. And the purest version—the part I composed first— comes at the end. The piece is not mournful, instead it has a shimmering, delicate quality. It’s meditative, coloristic, and non-linear in the way that dreams are … and the harmonies are spectral, floating over the melodies and expanding the chords upwards into waves of atmospheric overtones. I was trying to intuit through the closeness of our relationship what my dad’s experience was, so in a way there is a mystery within Saint Elizabeth Bells.

Q. My last question for you, Kati—how did you connect with NO EXIT?

They just found me! I believe that Tim heard a recording of the piece online and got in touch. And I’m so excited that Chester Englander will be playing the cimbalom part! He’s is a brilliant musician and known around the world for his artistry on a very difficult instrument that is rarely heard in the U.S. I’ll be present for the concert on September 13th at Cleveland State University’s Drinko Recital Hall. I can’t wait to meet everyone! Oh—and NO EXIT will be making the first professional recording of Saint Elizabeth Bells as part of their cimbalom collaboration with Chester. All very exciting!

Want to know a little more about Kati? Here’s a short bio from her website:

Born in 1975 in Canada of Hungarian and American parents, Kati Agócs earned doctoral and Masters degrees from the Juilliard School, where her principal teacher was Milton Babbitt, and has served on the composition faculty at the New England Conservatory in Boston since 2008. She is also an alumna of the Aspen Music School, Tanglewood Music Festival, Sarah Lawrence College, and Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific (United World Colleges). She has written on recent American and Hungarian music for Tempo and wrote a candid inside glimpse into the new-music scene in Hungary for The Musical Times. She had previously spearheaded an exchange program between the Juilliard School and the Liszt Academy in Budapest. As a result of these activities, the progressive Vienna-based publication Bécsi Napló credited her with raising the visibility of Hungarian composers abroad. Kati Agócs is a citizen of the United States, Canada, and Hungary (EU). Her works are published by Kati Agócs Music and are distributed internationally by Theodore Front Musical Literature.

Kati is currently curating a concert series called A Stone’s Throw for Metropolis Ensemble in New York which, alongside her own work, features performances of work by Hungarian composers who would not otherwise be heard in the U.S.


From ClevelandClassical.com: No Exit presents Rob Kovacs in 88bit at Appletree Books (July 19)

By David Kulma
noexit at SPACES
No Exit’s summer offerings took a surprising, yet delightful turn on Friday, July 19 — to classic video game music. Rob Kovacs is from the generation of musicians who grew up playing video games on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the late 80s. Last year, he began an ambitious project dedicated to arranging this music for solo piano. 88bit, Kovacs’s alter ego, now has about an hour’s worth of music from eight games in his memorized repertoire. He played with passion and panache on his electronic keyboard at the intermission-less concert in the cozy atmosphere of Appletree Books in Cleveland Heights.

Vintage game music presents some obvious difficulties for human performance. The composing possibilities of the 8-bit NES allowed composers to write three simultaneous musical lines at any given time. While they often feature the familiar texture of a melody and a bass line, the options regularly exceed easy distribution between two hands and go at speeds that make human musicians seem slothful. In addition, the length of time a game player would spend in a particular environment was unknowable, so the composers chose to create catchy loops that continued until the player moved to a new stage. Taking these loops and stringing them together without musical understanding could easily lead to endless vamping.

Kovacs easily surmounted these issues, creating cohesive wholes. He possesses bountiful virtuosity as well as a good compositional handle on how the disparate musics of each game could flow into a standalone musical narrative. At times, Kovacs created veritable single-movement sonatas out of this spiraling, jumpy computer music. The best example was his take on Yoshio Hirai’s music for StarTropics, an action/adventure game released in 1990. The various themes were given functional names (“Title Screen,” “Danger,” “Victory!”) as well as poetic ones that fit the game’s story (“The Test of Island Courage — Dungeon”). The music flowed so well in Kovacs’ hands that when the “Boss Battle” theme came around, I was overtaken by the anxiety I remember as a kid playing similar games fighting evil overlords.

Sean Gabriel at Appletree Books

Like StarTropics, most of the concert was filled with music from games unfamiliar to me, but were enjoyable discoveries. The Adventures of Lolo resembled the Joplinesque main Mario theme — with a Latin feel — while Marble Madness was a fantastical set of etudes akin to Debussy had he been more ruthlessly minimalist. Kovacs’ highly pianistic arranging choices used textures similar to Mendelssohn and Brahms where the middle voice is a hand-switching menagerie, and thickening octave doublings that made this deep-cut concert easily digestible for a classical aficionado.

The two lengthiest selections were from two well-known games, while avoiding the obvious choice of Super Mario Bros. Nobuo Uematsu’s beautiful music for the original Final Fantasy (1987) is the most obviously pianistic of NES music with a famous “Prelude” featuring atmospheric, spindly arpeggios, while Takashi Tateishi’s energetic music for Mega Man 2 (1988) was full of rock bombast at high speeds.

Kovacs hopes to arrange all of the music ever released on the NES, and based on his obvious hard work and clear passion, his 88bit project is a worthwhile and impressive feat of musical skill and imagination.

Article originally published on clevelandclassical.com on July 29, 2019.
The full article can be found – Here


An Interview with Rob Kovacs 88bit

By Laura King
noexit at SPACES
NO EXIT is pleased to be presenting Rob Kovacs – 88bit in concert on July 19, 2019 at Appletree Books, when Kovacs will perform his astonishing piano arrangements of the early electronic music that enlivened classic Nintendo (NES) video games—including Mega Man 2, Final Fantasy, Castlevania II, Marble Madness, and more.

Below, Rob discussed the experiences that shaped his musical disposition and some of the proficiency, dexterity and compositional challenges inherent in working with classic video game music.

Q. You’ve mentioned that 88bit is the product of your two passions – retro video games and music. What experiences did you have with these growing up that pointed you towards your current path?

Both are part of my earliest memories. I have older siblings; my sister would play songs on the piano and I’d dance around, and my brother would jam out to prog rock on the drums. I started tinkering around on the piano and drums as early as three, making up my own little melodies or “songs.” I composed my first real piano song at age 10.

We also had 10 arcade games that my Dad received in a trade—games like Centipede, Donkey Kong Jr., and Super Pacman, which was my favorite. There was a setting that allowed you to open the game up to playback all the different sound effects and songs. I loved just standing there and going through all the different sounds the game could make.

We had an Atari too, which was neat, but when I got a Nintendo (NES) for Christmas, it was the best day of my life. That’s when my love for video games truly took over.

Q. The music you are playing was composed originally for computers, not humans, so it includes some definite challenges for a two-handed pianist. Can you describe some of those and how you overcame them?

The biggest challenge is just finding a way to play all the notes. The NES sound chip was limited to essentially four voices, one of which could only produce noise, and the other three could produce pitches. So, at maximum, you would rarely be able to hear more than three notes at a time. To overcome this, composers treated each voice uniquely and crammed a lot of notes in each voice to imply harmony.

In general, early video game music was high energy and fast and usually composed by having a melody line, a bass line, and a contrapuntal or accompaniment line. To get that third line, I usually need to break it up between hands. The right hand plays the melody and some of the middle voice, and left hand plays the bass and the other parts of the middle voice. This is both technically and mentally really challenging, but not unlike a Bach fugue.

Another major challenge is very fast repeated notes, which the piano does not do well compared to other instruments. Depending on the quality of the piano itself, certain speeds are not possible; 16th notes at around 140bpm or higher really push the limits of the instrument and the pianist! To get these very fast repeated notes, I use a slightly different fingering of 4-3-2, 4-3-2 similar to a Flamenco guitar player.

Another fun challenge is encountered when the middle voice is used as an echo, or delay. This effect is created when the middle voice plays the same notes as the melody but an 8th note behind and at a quieter volume. I play this effect in the “Prelude” for Final Fantasy, and I’ve never seen it in traditional classical music.

OK, I keep thinking of more challenges, ha… The “Intermediate Race” in Marble Madness uses quarter tones. There is a melody that is in between the key of E minor and D# minor. It’s quick and subtle and has a unique sound that isn’t quite right in either of those keys. So, to get the desired effect of being out of tune, I play this melody in D# minor, and at the same, play a very short note a half step up. So, for the whole melody I’m playing two notes simultaneously—one long and one short … similar to a grace note, except a grace note is played at the same time as the main melodic note rather than slightly before.

Q. What are your favorite pieces to play and why?
The Marble Madness soundtrack is one of my favorites. Each level is so unique and just works so well for the piano. The soundtrack blends elements of classical, rock and jazz, and there’s really nothing in the piano repertoire that sounds quite like it.

I also love playing the Mega Man 2 soundtrack. It’s much more technically challenging than some of the other soundtracks but it rocks—and it is just so high energy.

Q. Could you share the history of the evolution of video game music from computer to the concert hall, and when you plugged in to it?
Honestly, I don’t know the history super well, but performing video game music has certainly grown in the past 15 years. I believe the first official video game music concert was in 1987 in Tokyo. The first video game music cover band that I ever heard of was formed in 1998 and called The Advantage. They are a 4-piece band focusing on NES soundtracks and playing all the parts.

My high school rock band, Open Blind, performed an arrangement of the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack, which was definitely our biggest hit, ha!
Now there are lots of bands, groups and even orchestras that perform video game music. There’s the Zelda Orchestra that performs music from the Zelda franchise. And there’s Distant Worlds, performing music from the Final Fantasy franchise. I had the privilege of performing with them when they came to Cleveland last year.

Martin Leung is probably the most famous VGM (video game music) pianist. He performs concerts and live streams very excellent and classical-style version of video game music.

Q. How have your audiences responded to your concerts? Who is coming to listen, and who gets the most excited?

They respond well! I get people of all ages—very exciting to me—because part of my goal is to expose this early video game music to people who might never have played them. I get people who are in their 30’s-40’s who grew up with some of this, and love the nostalgia aspect. I also get people older than that who’ve never heard the music and regardless, really connection with it and tell me how impressive and unique it sounds!

Q. How does the music of the new games compare to the early NES soundtracks?

Well, first thing, they don’t have the limitations the early systems did. Now you can just compose and record any music and put it in a game. A lot of it is more orchestral and bigger, sometimes taking a back seat as environment sounds are playing a bigger role, or there can be dramatic speech involved, and in that case, the music is like a movie score.
There’s lots of great music though, especially from some newer games like Undertale, Celeste, Xenoblade 2, and the Halo series to name just a few.

Q. Have you beaten all the games you include on your program?

Yes, haha! Before I arrange or perform a soundtrack, I need to understand the game and how the music fits into it, because that effects how I arrange it, order the songs, and add in sound effects. Some games, like Arkanoid, are extremely challenging, and so I use a device called “Game Genie” which allows the user to put in codes to help, such as infinite lives or continues. Otherwise I’d be spending WAY too much time trying to master these games which, given today’s standards, might be considered unfairly difficult.

Q. Are you still a gamer?

I haven’t bought a new system since the Super Nintendo (SNES). I’ve only played a few new games in the past decade or so. Mainly because they are just so time consuming and addicting. They’re truly amazing. I do still collect and play NES and SNES games.


From ClevelandClassical.com : No Exit: Gabriel & Pongracz at Appletree Books (June 21)

By Rory O’Donoghue
noexit at SPACES
Cleveland’s preeminent new and avant-garde music ensemble, No Exit, returned to Appletree Books in Cleveland Heights for another intimate evening of chamber music on Friday, June 21. Flutist Sean Gabriel performed three solo works and was joined by percussionist Andrew Pongracz for two pieces for flute and marimba.

First up was Victoria Bond’s Shenblu, a portmanteau title that evokes both the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Flute Talk magazine observes that Shenblu is built is on a pentatonic scale, and that its success “depends upon the flutist’s ability to present the changing moods from languid and expressive to intensely driving, primitive and guttural, in a multi-metered dance-like section.” Although its palette of articulation was a bit bland, Gabriel teased out these sectional nuances with a keen sense of style.

“I’ll start again,” Gabriel said with a grin after a passing ambulance disrupted the beginning of his next selection, Betsy Jolas’ Episode 1. In the oldest piece on the program, Jolas instructs the performer to follow three different methods of measuring space and time throughout the work: metronomically with a tempo marking, sections to be completed within a certain timespan, and phrases that require precisely one breath. Gabriel went to great lengths to tease out Jolas’ quizzical musical content, at times melodic and at others abruptly punctuated. He handled the tricky music with a broad sense of line.

Sean Gabriel at Appletree Books

Gabriel invited Pongracz to the stage for Peter Tanner’s Diversions for Flute and Marimba, a lively six-movement work from a rather obscure composer. “He’s still alive — well, we can’t prove he’s dead,” Pongracz said beforehand. “We don’t know much about him.” The two explored Tanner’s movements with flair and wit, sparkling in the more virtuosic sections. The tenor voice of the marimba added much-needed depth to the evening’s aural spectrum. Pongracz lent fiery technique to the March and the Finale, rocketing through difficult passages.

Gabriel went solo again with Augusta Read Thomas’ Karumi, which he said means “lightness of touch” in Japanese. The piece featured long melodic lines with interjecting articulations in a manner that recalled the Jolas. Pongracz joined the flutist for the closer, Howard J. Buss’ Stellar Visions, which explores many different sonic realms with enjoyable momentum. The two managed the wonderful juxtaposition between the puckish, skittering marimba and long, rhapsodic flute, and blended seamlessly in a number of entrances and exits. The piece worked up into a fun groove, a fresh-sounding ending to a varied evening.

Article originally published on clevelandclassical.com on July 1, 2019.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com : Re:Sound Festival of New and Experimental Music — concerts one & six

By Mike Telin
noexit at SPACES
It’s hard to believe that it was only a year and a half ago that area audiences were introduced to the Cleveland Uncommon Sound Project (CUSP). With all of the high-quality programs they have produced since that time, the organization already feels like a trusted friend. Founded by saxophonist Noa Even and cellist Sophie Benn, CUSP’s engaging programming brings together the new music enthusiast and the new music curious. One way that is accomplished is through the annual Re:Sound Festival of New and Experimental Music, which ran from June 6 through June 9 and included six concerts featuring fourteen soloists and ensembles from across the United States at venues around the city. I attended the opening and closing events.

The Festival kicked off on Thursday, June 6, at the funky Negative Space Gallery. First up was Cleveland-based duo Miralia/Stranahan — Lisa Miralia, electronics, and Paul Stranahan, percussion — whose improvisation drew on influences from avant-garde, experimental noise, metal, and ambient musics. Although the duo produced a colorful palette of sound, the twenty-minute improvisation had a predictable structure: beginning softly with tiny bells and ringing bowls underpinned by atmospheric electronics, it grew in volume until it reached an ear-shattering level when Stranahan brought a drum set and gongs into the mix. Then, the sound reversed course and gradually became quiet — a nice way to begin the Festival.

The music went acoustic with a technically superb and musically brilliant performance by Chicago-based saxophone quartet ~Nois (Brandon Quarles, Hunter Bockes, Jordan Lulloff, and János Csontos). The ensemble produced a richly hued blend, its musical prowess evident from the first bars of Gemma Peacocke’s haunting and rhythmically puckish Dwalm. David Reminick’s Consort for four de-tuned soprano saxophones is defined by quiet, short, articulated passages and sudden bursts of sound. The players were perfectly in sync as they tossed the musical line from one to the other. Their set concluded with an outstanding performance of Pauline Oliveros’ text score Thirteen Changes. ~Nois clearly had both a musical and theatrical plan for each of the composer’s lines of poetic prose, evocative images, and mysterious statements. No. 12, “Elephants Mating in a Secret Grove,” was especially vivid.

The final act of the evening was saajtak, a Detroit-based art-rock quartet comprised of vocalist Alex Koi, electronic artist Simon Alexander-Adams, percussionist Jonathan Taylor, and bassist Ben Willis. While it would have been nice to hear them in a room that provided a bit more auditory clarity, their engaging, musically diverse set included everything from pop to popera to progressive rock to Latin-tinged jazz. It’s well worth checking them out in the future.

No Exit, one of Cleveland’s premier new music ensembles, was first up on Sunday, June 9 at the Bop Stop. Their set included two world premieres by participants in CUSP’s CoLab project, a months-long collaboration with area high school composers that provided them the opportunity to workshop their pieces with No Exit musicians.

The Canary and The Crane by Emma Eddy, a freshman at Avon High School, creates a melodic array of birdsongs that seamlessly move from one motif to another. Violinist Cara Tweed, clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe, and flutist Sean Gabriel brought these colorful sounds to vivid life.

Luke Rinderknecht - Emanuel Wallace

The second premiere, Mya Vandegrift’s Non-Alcoholic Beverages, is evocative of Monet’s Water Lilies. Tweed, Gabriel (now on alto flute), and percussionist Luke Rinderknecht, who produced perfect intonation on wine glasses, gave a committed performance of the well-structured, atmospheric work.

Sean Gabriel - Emanuel Wallace

The ensemble vibrantly performed Yoon-Ji Lee’s In Dark Sunshine, written in both traditional and graphic notation. A faculty member at Berklee, Lee constructs an array of musical imagery through fast, driving percussive passages juxtaposed with gentle, soft sound clouds. Tweed, Hirthe, and Rinderknecht negotiated the many complex rhythms with ease, and the decaying sound of a cymbal and a long violin slide brought the piece and the set to an artful conclusion.

Pianist Ju-Ping Song presented two works based on fallibility and trauma. Amy Beth Kirsten’s h.o.p.e. — inspired by The Big Hope Show, an exhibition by artists who have survived enormous personal trauma — finds the pianist doing double-duty, simultaneously playing grand and toy pianos. The unison passages are reminiscent of a Medieval chant that occasionally plays with off-kilter rhythms. The work also asks the pianist to produce Sprechstimme-like sounds — all of which are repeated and repeated again.

Canadian composer and turntablist Nicole Lizée’s Lynch Études explore her preoccupation with the fallibility of media in excerpts from David Lynch’s films. While the music provides a captivating backdrop to the humorously edited and repetitive film excerpts, that humor diminished over its roughly twenty minutes. Still, the piece provided Ju-Ping Song the opportunity to demonstrate her formidable technique and keen musical sensibilities.

The program described ParkJones, a collaboration between composers Joo Won Park and Molly Jones, as “a platform for both to expand their electroacoustic improvisations.” The duo were inventive with their fast paced electronics while each utilized a seemingly endless bag of tricks. Jones added a blow-horn, saxophone, and bells, and each wailed away on recorders — it was all sensory overload at its best and brought the afternoon and the Festival to a fine conclusion.

Photos by Emanuel Wallace.

Article originally published on clevelandclassical.com on June 14, 2019.
The full article can be found – Here


Ladislav Kubík’s Rich Musical Legacy Celebrated by No Exit

noexit at SPACES

Music is an evolving artform. Every artist and listener spends a lifetime choosing which traditions are most integral to their understanding of the human condition and infusing that into their personal taste and style; ensuring the beauty they personally recognize in art will live on in the zeitgeist for another generation. Ladislav Kubík, without a doubt, understood the deepest parts of the human condition. His work speaks among the most heartfelt expressive outlets of the 20th century, and his influence as a teacher is so much a part of contemporary music it is not a stretch to say every No Exit concert to date featured some of his students.

It is not a stretch to include Ladislav Kubík in the same breath as the greatest of his contemporaries. He, and many of the greats, can boast both massive large ensemble works and intimate solo pieces embodying equally epic narratives. But while a composer such as Krzysztof Penderecki valued constant and radical change as the cornerstone of his creative journey, Ladislav spent his lifetime honing musical language into a style of storytelling on par with the likes of the great Czech author Franz Kafka.

On our concerts we will be presenting a loving overview of Ladislav’s chamber music through the years. This program will feature his last completed work, commissioned by No Exit; in anticipation of that event LINKED HERE is a recording of Lament of a Warrior’s Wife, one of the earliest pieces of Ladislav’s for soprano, viola, bass clarinet, piano, percussion (two players), and tape. Enjoy this recording and then join No Exit this week to engage in a celebration of Ladislav’s complete creative evolution.


From ClevelandClassical.com : No Exit remembers composer Ladislav Kubik

By Jarrett Hoffman
noexit at SPACES
How should we remember someone after they pass away?

Czech-American composer Ladislav Kubik died in 2017, and many of the obituaries written for him described an impressive career — from his Guggenheim fellowship to first prizes in several major competitions and a 26-year teaching post at Florida State University.

One short article included below went in a different direction. You got the sense from reading it that this writer really knew Kubik, and that his loss was personal.

The writer was Tim Beyer, director of No Exit. And that new music ensemble will give the premiere of Kubik’s 2017 Nocturnes in three free concerts next week devoted to the composer’s works. Nocturnes, a No Exit commission, turned out to be Kubik’s last completed piece.

The performances take place on Monday, April 15 at 8:00 pm in Drinko Hall at Cleveland State University, Friday, April 19 at 7:00 pm at Heights Arts, and Saturday, April 20 at 8:00 pm at SPACES.

Years ago, as a composition student at Cleveland State, Beyer made a trip to Prague to study with Kubik at his Czech-American Summer Music Institute. That came on the recommendation of Greg D’Alessio and Andrew Rindfleisch, Beyer’s two teachers, who had also attended the festival.

“He was just an amazing man on all levels,” Beyer said of Kubik. “He was a teacher’s teacher, and as a composer, you can hear for yourself. But as a person, he was extraordinary, a very kind man. You meet those people who are almost more of a force of nature than a real person — that was Ladislav. He had such a good way about him, and he was very gregarious and charismatic. With that, his music, and what he did as a teacher, he was just larger than life.”

When No Exit commissioned Nocturnes, the plan was to have Kubik visit Cleveland to be here in person for a retrospective of his works. “He sent me a handwritten copy of the piece, and by the time I got it and tried to get in touch with him, he had passed,” Beyer said.

No Exit will surround that world premiere with Kubik’s 1979 Duo Concertante for violin and piano, 1978 Sonata for viola, 1995 Elegy in Two Movements for cello, and 2003 Trio “Metamorphoses” for clarinet, cello, and piano.

“We wanted to present as much of a span of his career as we could,” Beyer said. “Any composer who’s been at it for a while wasn’t doing the same thing in 1978 as they were in 2017.”

But first, it was a struggle even to get any of Kubik’s music following his passing. “I spent seven months digging under every rock, and couldn’t find anything,” Beyer said. “There are copyright disputes with his publisher, and even the Czech government has been involved.”

Then Kubik’s copyist, and his son, Petr, came to the rescue. “They were able to get us most of the music,” Beyer said. “At one point, Petr actually went through his father’s things to see what he could find. It was a very intense process.”

Beyer said that both Petr and Magdalena, the composer’s daughter, will be in town for the second and third concerts of the series.

Article originally published on clevelandclassical.com on April 9, 2019.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – NEOSonicFest: a look back at the beginning, and a peek at what’s on tap in 2019

By Jarrett Hoffman
noexit at SPACES
When a festival runs for long enough, it becomes interesting to look back and remember that it wasn’t always a staple of the local culture. At one time, it was entirely new.

“Last weekend,” Daniel Hathaway wrote in April of 2014, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony “burst suddenly into bloom like a crocus after a long winter with the first of two concerts anchoring its promising new enterprise, NEOSonicFest…”

Back then, music director Steven Smith had been thinking for years about how to keep the name and activities of the Cleveland Chamber Symphony alive, as Mike Telin reported in our very first preview of NEOSonicFest. The retirement of the orchestra’s founder, Edwin London, and the end of its residency at Cleveland State University had slowed the group’s momentum.

“We thought the idea of concentrating our activities into a specific period of time would give a greater focus on what CCS does,” Smith told us in March of 2014. But not only looking out for itself, the orchestra also saw an opportunity to raise awareness of the region’s thriving new music scene.

About this time every year since, locals have kept their eyes and ears open to see just what’s been cooked up by CCS, Smith, and a selection of other local contemporary acts brought in to perform at the festival.

So — what’s in store for the sixth iteration of NEOSonicFest?

The concerts kick off on Friday, March 29 at 9:00 pm with an electro-acoustic triple bill at Mahall’s Main Stage in Lakewood. The headliner is Buck McDaniel’s and Jacob Kirkwood’s live electro-acoustic score for Fire on the Water, a recent production by Cleveland Public Theater for the 50th anniversary of the burning of the Cuyahoga River. Oboist Devin Hinzo, violinist Ariel Karaś, and percussionist Mell Csicsila will join McDaniel and Kirkwood to perform the concert version of the piece.

A one-woman choir might sound like an oxymoron, but for those more technologically adventurous, like Christa “UNO Lady” Ebert, it just means grabbing a microphone, a small mixer, and a loop pedal. Harpist/composer Stephan Haluska opens the evening with his own electro-acoustic compositions blending traditional and non-traditional harp playing through extended techniques, preparation, tools, electronics, and effects pedals. Get your $7 tickets here.

Next, on Saturday, March 30 at 7:00 pm at Heights Arts in Cleveland Heights, is Patti Cudd in a presentation by No Exit. The longtime member of Minnesota-based new music ensemble Zeitgeist will present works from her 3-disc album EOS (2017), mostly made up of commissions for solo percussion and electronics. Those include Cleveland-area composer Colin Holter’s Suburb. Tickets are suggested, but they’re free.

Fans of video game music know that the recordings available on streaming services are not great, to put it mildly in some cases, and that live performances are hard to come by. Here to the rescue is Rob Kovacs, aka 88bit. The Cleveland native comes to the Bop Stop on Monday, April 1 at 7:00 pm to perform piano covers of Nintendo classics like Castlevania and Mega Man 2 as well as lesser-known titles, as he stretches the limits of traditional piano playing. Again, tickets are suggested but free.

Following in their own long tradition, Steven Smith and the Cleveland Chamber Symphony will present the “Young and Emerging Composers Concert” on Wednesday, April 3 at 7:00 pm in Gamble Auditorium at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea.

This year’s event features works by Chris Neiner (Cleveland Institute of Music), Steve Chauvette (Baldwin Wallace University), Zachariah Thomas (Bowling Green State University), Robert Hosier (Cleveland State University), Andrew Wegerski (University of Akron), Scott Little (Kent State University), Samuel Ryan Silverman (Cuyahoga Community College), and Andrew Dana (Oberlin College).

Tickets are free but required. And anyone interested in glimpsing part of the process is welcome to attend an open rehearsal on Sunday, March 31 from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, also at Gamble Auditorium.


More young talent will be featured when the CIM New Music Ensemble heads to Lab Studios on Friday, April 5 at 7:30 pm. The program includes music by Andrew Norman, Stravinsky, and Berio, as well as film and visuals by Kasumi (above), and is co-produced by CIM, NEOSonicFest, and Fresh Perspectives.

The influence of the latter series can be seen in the evening-long food and beverage service and the after-hours dance party, curated by Jest Media, to celebrate the last event of the series’ inaugural season. Doors open at 6:30 pm, music begins at 7:00, and the CIM ensemble goes on at 7:30. Tickets to the concert are free, and a $5 donation (or $10 after 9:00 pm) gets you to the dance floor.

Smith and CCS will tie the bow on their 2019 NEOSonicFest on Sunday, April 7 at 5:00 pm in the Silver Hall series at the Maltz Performing Arts Center. You’ll hear works by Keith Fitch, Julia Perry, and George Walker, a longtime friend of CCS who died last year at age 96.


You’ll also see dance. Verb Ballets will premiere choreography by Michael Escovedo to a work by Margi Griebling-Haigh of the Cleveland Composers Guild, and the Cleveland School of the Arts dance department will come together in a separate collaboration with composer Gabriel Novak, a former Young and Emerging Composer winner. Tickets are free but required.

That concert marks the official end of the festival, but there’s a cherry on top: a “NEOSonicFest Extension” on Sunday, April 14 at 4:00 pm at Waterloo Arts. Flutist Sean Gabriel, percussionists Mell Csicsila and Andrew Pongracz, and pianist Randall Fusco of the Cleveland Chamber Symphony will perform locally composed works by Howard Buss, Jeffrey Quick, Lou Harrison, Daniel Dorff, and Steve Stanziano. Free tickets are suggested.

It should be a fun, exciting, and surprising ride. Let’s go.

Article originally published on clevelandclassical.com on March 25, 2019.
The full article can be found – Here


Virtuoso Percussionist Patti Cudd Comes To Cleveland For Three Unforgettable Solo Concerts

noexit at heights arts
Among the colleagues and friends No Exit has become acquainted with in the new music community, one of our most precious is the relationship we share with the members of our sister ensemble from St.Paul, Zeitgeist. Each member of that ensemble is a virtuoso performer in their own right, and in that spirit No Exit is bringing Patti Cudd, one of Zeitgeist’s amazing percussionists, to Cleveland for solo recitals on March 28th, 29th and 30th.

Patti is bringing pieces from her new album “EOS”, a three CD set of works for solo percussion and electronics; 16 of which were commissioned by and written specifically for her. While in Cleveland, Patti will be presenting six of these original works spanning the true diversity and capabilities of modern percussion repertoire.

When a performer presents a true labor of love to an audience, the result is an emotional and cognitive experience which is both engrossing and unquestionably invigorating. Patti truly loves these pieces, having lived with some of the works since her days as a student, and the results will be nothing short of spectacular.

Join No Exit in welcoming Patti’s world class musicianship to Cleveland at Appletree Books on March 28 (7PM), The Bop Stop on March 29 (8PM) and as part of NEOSonicFest at Heights Arts on March 30 (7PM).


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit premieres by Cleveland composers at SPACES (Feb. 16)

By Nicholas Stevens
noexit at SPACES
In a Northeast Ohio music world recently energized amid multiple anniversary seasons, ensembles have faced the challenge of honoring their histories while plunging headlong into the future. Leave it to No Exit new music ensemble, ten years young this season, to prove itself among the most forward-thinking of all. In a concert of world premieres on Saturday, February 16, the chamber collective played a program defined more by promise than by pomp.

The performance took place at SPACES, inside Johnny Coleman’s installation Crossing the Water: Requiem for Lee Howard Dobbins, named for an enslaved child lost to illness in Oberlin over a century ago. Coleman’s vision of a better fate for young Dobbins made for a haunting and radiant setting. However, Danny Volk’s nearby The News Gallery seemed a more apt answer to the No Exit performance. It confronts visitors with rejected proposals for SPACES exhibitions, reproduced on newsprint as a reminder of the contemporary art world’s galling ratio of talent to opportunity. Walking in past images of planned yet unrealized art, listeners could reflect on the importance of No Exit’s mission.

Keith Fitch’s Ruthless Voicings opened with shining, bell-like chords from Luke Rinderknecht’s vibraphone. Melodies drifted in, but as would happen often, Gunnar Owen Hirthe’s bass clarinet disrupted the tranquil texture. Hirthe’s room-rattling digressions made for some of the most forceful moments in Fitch’s beautifully conceived chamber work. At the other end of the volume spectrum, the rattling of suspended reeds amounted to a ghostly refrain.

The elegant graphic score for Chris Auerbach-Brown’s Silver Mountain appeared in the program books, and as a poster in the room. While the visual aid may have helped some follow the piece’s varied repetitions, it could hardly account for the drama of the performance. Violinist Cara Tweed, violist James Rhodes, and cellist Nicholas Diodore read the same solo from the same part, yielding melodies of distinct pitch and character. Some memorable features appeared to arise from improvisation, rather than the score.

No Exit artistic director Timothy Beyer’s She Was My Only Child shares its name and mood with a painting by Louise Pershing, which depicts a black-clad figure leaving a blood-red church as a small, ghostly form lingers behind. Bringing all of the players together to cap the concert, the piece also tied the program to the setting in a subtle but effective fashion. Flutist Sean Gabriel pulled a sort of teakettle wail from the headjoint of his instrument as textures shifted, and the excellent upper strings — violinist Cara Tweed and violist James Rhodes — created the sonic equivalent of a halo, or perhaps a more threatening aura. Later, Hirthe generated tones that sounded like the authentic vocalizations of a spirit, gurgling unintelligibly from the other side.

Sean Gabriel, playing alto flute as he would for most of the evening, stood for his solo role in Buck McDaniel’s rollicking Light Down. The carrier of the tune that inspired the composition, a grisly murder ballad called “Loving Henry,” Gabriel offered an extended stretch of murmuring melody over the disconcerting hum of a gong roll. McDaniels’ piece offered rhythmic intensity and eerie stillness alike, juxtaposing sudden violence with loving utterances.

Fresh from intermission, the ensemble made an ironclad case for Nasim Khorassani’s Sketches. Each of its seven movements corresponds with a photograph of an everyday surface. The ensemble delivered an impressive array of contrasting soundscapes in a few fleeting minutes, creating textures that pulsed, shuffled, wavered, and soared. The elements that all movements share — like the recurring bowed cymbal tone — proved still more intriguing. Proficient in the art of scoring for small ensemble, Khorassani also has a gift for the concise yet profound.

The program concluded with a work by the teacher of several composers on the program, Cleveland State University’s Greg D’Alessio. Many Doors calls back to the Jean-Paul Sartre play that lent No Exit its name, and puns on the relationship. A piece of variable movement order and duration, the work appeared as Many Doors/ No Exit this evening. Words fail to describe the seamless flow of the music from one solo passage to another, and from acoustic sound to electronics and back. Hirthe, Tweed, Diodore, and Gabriel each had a moment in the spotlight, playing over such varied material as simulated birdsong and Nine Inch Nails-style industrial beats. Even Sartre’s voice entered the fray, speaking of unresolvable contradiction.

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on February 20, 2019.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit: 5 composers, 5 premieres, part 2

By Jarrett Hoffman
noexit at SPACES
If you ask a bunch of composers how they dreamed up their latest pieces, they’ll all have something completely different to say.

That’s what I learned this past week, when I spent time on the phone with five of them to ask about their new chamber works being premiered by No Exit this weekend.

That new music ensemble, directed by Tim Beyer, will give free performances of these pieces at Heights Arts (Friday, February 15 at 7:00 pm), SPACES gallery (Saturday, February 16 at 8:00 pm), and WOLFS gallery (Friday, March 1 at 7:00 pm) in this second installment of the group’s Cleveland Composers Series.

“It’s the basis of life,” Christopher Auerbach-Brown said of the water cycle, which inspired his new work Silver Mountain. Auerbach-Brown is the Director of Public Programs at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. “There’s a section where things bubble and start getting exciting, and there’s a gesture that’s called the geyser where it kind of goes fwoosh!” The geyser “comes up through a mountain,” hence the title, and is followed by rain.

If that description sounds like something you could see, it’s because it is, thanks to the composer’s graphic score. “It affords me the opportunity to make a visual connection to the music, and forces the visual references into the music itself,” he said. “Plus there’s no one way to play the piece. It’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure rather than reading a book from beginning to end. The choices are my suggestions — I’m still kind of controlling the music, but controlling it a lot less.”

Before making a digital copy, Auerbach-Brown hand-wrote the score in ink on onion skin. “Part of that process involves measuring everything in advance — the sizes of measures, where they’re going to go on the page, and how their position reflects the piece from a visual standpoint,” he said.

Buck McDaniel, the 2018-19 Kulas Composer Fellow for Cleveland Public Theater, has been “sort of obsessed” with Missouri State University’s Max Hunter Folk Song Collection since he was a kid. “It’s great because it’ll have pretty accurate transcriptions, plus field recordings and the texts,” he said. “The nature of a lot of folk songs is that there will be ten versions of the same material, and here you can see the different traditions. It’s some very good ethnomusicology taking place.”

That Collection is where he discovered Loving Henry, a folk song about a woman who stabs and kills a man after he turns her down for another woman. (He seems to let her down pretty easy in this version, though in others, under titles like Young Hunting and Earl Richard, he tells her that a finer woman “than ten of you” is waiting for him. Bad choice.)

Working with a 1958 recording by Joan O’Bryant, McDaniel inserted an arrangement of the song into his new piece Light Down. The folk material “sort of sneaks up on you in some delicious ways,” he said.

He also had in mind what kinds of pieces No Exit likes to play — “I wanted it to be fun,” he said — as well as his experiences with Tim Beyer. “Every time you see him, he’s always telling you some terribly macabre story. He used to collect antique medical instruments, and I’m sure he still does. So I wanted to do something that would please Tim’s own sensibilities, and sort of be this abstract, dark meditation on Americana.”

The composer joked about naming the piece. “Loving Henry was originally going to be the title, but I didn’t want it sound like it was about a former lover of mine named Henry or something. My title actually comes from the first line of the song, where this female lover says, ‘Light down, light down, loving Henry,’ essentially asking him to stay with her in bed,” McDaniel said. “So it’s not about a power outage.”


Of all five pieces on the program, the most mysterious in concept might be Nasim Khorassani’s Sketches, which is based on seven visual textures. The Cleveland State University graduate, now pursuing her PhD in composition at the University of California, San Diego, explained that she started graphically sketching her music last year. “This time I had the timbre of the sound in my head, but instead of sketching it, I found it on the textures of walls and floors around my office area.”

She took photos of these textures, which gave her “more timbral information,” she said, in addition to informing the structure of the piece: at first mirroring photos that become progressively more rough in texture, then later more metallic. Khorassani noted, however, that she didn’t exclusively follow what she saw. “Sometimes I wanted to make changes musically.”

The composer said that her recent interest in combining visuals with her writing might be connected to her background in graphics, which she studied before composition. But she also just likes how photos and drawings give her something concrete to refer to. “They have a lot of information in a glance,” she said. “Instead of memorizing things, I have something saved that I can go back and review.”

Another fascinating concept surrounds Greg D’Alessio’s electroacoustic Many Doors. It’s made up of several short sections, mostly highlighting solo instruments, and the idea is that if any one of those sections were extracted to be played alone, it wouldn’t be the same, quite literally.

An example is The Secret Life of Birds, which was premiered by No Exit flutist Sean Gabriel back in 2016. That became one of this work’s episodes, but the version that will be heard as part of Many Doors has been abridged and altered.

“It’s like a mothership and these little pods that come out of it,” said D’Alessio, who teaches composition at Cleveland State. “Or like a network of related pieces that sort of feed into each other. That was the idea from the beginning, and for one reason or another it didn’t happen a few years ago, so I just did one of the solo pieces. But now I have a composite piece, and then conceivably will do another whole set of solo pieces so that you could recombine bits and pieces for whatever forces you have. It’s not like the usual concrete, freestanding piece that is just that thing and only that thing.”

D’Alessio imagines the project ideally in an electronic format. “Maybe there would be links, and you would be listening to the piece and say, ‘I want to hear more of the cello thing,’ and you could deviate into the cello space and then come back. But that’s down the road someplace, maybe.”

Many Doors honors the 10th anniversary of No Exit in a few ways, including its title, a play on the ensemble’s own name. “And I don’t know whether this stuff would stay if I made a concrete version of the piece, but for these performances I worked in some of the French production of Sartre’s No Exit from the ‘50s, and a little bit more of the playwright himself (pictured below).”


For some composers, a title comes at the very end of the writing process, almost out of desperation. But for Restless Voicings by Keith Fitch, he said, “I had that title for the last ten years, and I was waiting for the right piece. When Tim asked me to do something for No Exit’s 10th-anniversary season, I thought, this was the time to write that piece, whatever it was going to end up being.”

Fitch, who teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music, actually keeps a list of possible titles in his studio. “I have my list that goes back to college, and now I look at them and think, oh my god, some of those are terrible!”

It’s just part of how he works. “I almost always have one or two options for a title as I’m beginning a piece,” he said. “Because for me, it’s one of the first windows into the piece. We go to a concert and we see a title, and whether it’s poetic or evocative or compelling, that’s our first entrée into the piece — assuming it’s not something abstract, like String Quartet No. 4. So it’s hard for me personally to write a piece without having an idea of what that first encounter with it will be. But I have students and lots of composer friends who just struggle and struggle and struggle with titles. They write the piece and then they never know what they’re going to call it. I’m just very different that way.”

This title popped into Fitch’s head over a decade ago — not when he was up late at night philosophizing about the universe, as we might imagine composers do, but simply when he misheard something during a car ride.

“I was teaching at Bard, and Joan Tower and her husband Jeff were driving me to the train station to go back to New York. Jeff was taking jazz piano lessons at the time. He was talking about his lesson that day, and he said, ‘Rootless voicings,’ which is basically when you’re harmonizing the melody, but there’s no root of the chord — like Bill Evans’ voicings. But I misheard it as ‘Ruthless Voicings’ and I thought, ‘That’s a great title for a piece. Now I just have to figure out what the piece is going to be.’”

Article originally published on clevelandclassical.com on February 12, 2019.
The full article can be found – Here


Composer Greg D’Alessio Creates Epic Work for No Exit

noexit at heights arts
In 2016 Cleveland composer Greg D’Alessio composed “The Secret Life of Birds” for No Exit and flutist Sean Gabriel. It was an engaging and evocative work dripping with avian color, and truly crafted by a master. Here is the recording of the premiere performance by Sean Gabriel from September of 2016.

Though the piece seemed complete as a flute solo, Greg made it clear it was part of a much larger and more involved work. Now on Part 2 of No Exit’s Cleveland Composers series, Greg’s entire epic work “Many Doors” will have its premiere along with imaginative world premieres by Keith Fitch, Nasim Khorassani, Chris Auerbach Brown, and Buck McDaniel. It will be a night of musical expression not to be missed.


From HeightsObsever.org – Bridging mediums to further the arts

By Laura King
noexit at SPACES
The new-music ensemble No Exit will perform at Heights Arts, 2175 Lee Road, on Friday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. In recent years, No Exit has appeared frequently at the gallery, so it can be easy to forget that two decades ago, neither organization existed at all.

In 1999, participants in a Cleveland Heights civic visioning process identified the potential of the arts to positively impact the community. Soon after, the nonprofit Heights Arts was formed by a group of residents intent on tapping that resource. Two decades later, strategic collaborations, such as the one between Heights Arts and the No Exit, have enhanced the regional arts scene and invigorated the community.

When Heights Arts executive director Rachel Bernstein, a classical cellist and teacher, succeeded founding director Peggy Spaeth in 2013, she envisioned that the newly expanded gallery space could become a known destination for both visual art and music. Bernstein recognized that having a grand piano permanently on-site would help that cause, and the gallery soon acquired one with the assistance of a generous benefactor and No Exit pianist Nicholas Underhill. With the piano as a practical and symbolic bridge between the visual arts and music, a close working relationship blossomed between Heights Arts and No Exit, grounded in a shared philosophy of making art accessible to everyone.

“Our collaboration with No Exit and its musicians has grown over the past years into a friendship between like-minded people with very similar missions,” said Bernstein. “We all together strive to make the arts freely accessible to the community and to offer high-quality programming featuring local artists. No Exit helps us fulfill a mission to bring different types of music to the public—in this case, challenging the status quo about what classical music is. Our partnering is perfect, as a No Exit concert at Height Arts draws in new audiences and provides a stimulating, satisfying experience for all.”

No Exit Artistic Director Timothy Beyer affirms the benefits of the symbiotic relationship: “Partnerships like the one that has developed between No Exit and Heights Arts are foundational for a vital arts community to really thrive. In a typical classical music concert hall, there is always a barrier of space, of formality, of distance. The casual and intimate setting of Heights Arts does away with that stuffiness and allows listeners to connect fully. They experience the musicians and the avant-garde musical performance viscerally and on a very personal level. As a result, with each concert we hold at Heights Arts, our audience keeps growing, diversifying and becoming more engaged. We are extremely grateful that we share with Heights Arts a philosophy and dedication to making high-quality meaningful art accessible to the general public.”

No Exit’s Feb. 15 concert at Heights Arts is titled Cleveland Composers Series II, and will feature five world-premiere works by local composers Keith Fitch, Buck McDaniel, Christopher Auerbach-Brown, Nasim Khourassani, and Greg D’Alessio. All compositions are new and were commissioned by No Exit.

As with all No Exit performances, the concert is free, friendly, and open to the public.

Article originally published on heightsobserver.org on February 1, 2019.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit with Patchwork at SPACES

By Nicholas Stevens
noexit at SPACES
Music fans tend to look back fondly on the moments when love took root. Rarer, and less often commented on, are the occasions when a concert or first listen sticks in the mind because it rekindles, rather than sparks, a passion for a particular style, genre, or format. For lovers of fresh, provocative, enchanting new chamber music, No Exit new music ensemble’s December 14 performance with Patchwork at SPACES offered a reintroduction to the fundamental appeal of the art and its scene. Listeners heard eleven expert performers render five world premieres, all within the bright intimacy of four art-lined gallery walls.

Directness of expression reigned throughout the evening, starting with the cozy oval of seats: performers on one side, audience opposite. Assistant director James Praznik jolted listeners to attention with Screaming Songs, his own composition. Designed to “wring vocal expressions” from all-instrumental forces, the piece succeeded: saxophonist Noa Even and bass clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe achieved humanlike sounds. However, even non-wind players, such as cellist Nicholas Diodore and drummer Stephen Klunk, stretched known techniques in pursuit of the quasi-vocal. Some music calls attention to its own artifice with its clear sections and melodic play. Not this piece, which felt organic and alive, voicing its own growing pains.

Ty Emerson’s Darkling, I Listen, inspired by Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale, resembled a single painted brushstroke on an otherwise blank canvas. Variable in thickness, color, and height, drawn against silence and always threatening to run out, the line of sound appeared most fragile when Nicholas Underhill’s piano and David Luidens’s glockenspiel splattered above. Hong-Da Chin’s …the arc of a tear… zoomed in on the titular gesture of sorrow and replayed it over and over, from a new angle each time. The opposite of Praznik’s piece, it makes both local and long-term processes plainly audible. In concert, it proved absorbing and, at moments, shocking.

Although many readers might choose Screaming Songs as a soundtrack for their daily news consumption, they might consider Colin Holter’s smart, striking Pallor instead. A reflection on everyday social realities that gradually grow too grating to ignore — such as traditional notions of white identity in the U.S., “increasingly and troublingly loud” in Holter’s self-aware phrasing — the piece asks audiences for patience. After several minutes’ worth of periodic shh sounds from a laptop that underpin calm, interlocking woodwind lines, one wonders: is this getting louder? The question felt like a distant memory by the time the performance reached its raucous climax, complete with the rubbing and beating of a snare drum head with a brick of Styrofoam. By the end, one truly does question how we all got to this point, musically as well as politically, without noticing.

No Exit artistic director Timothy Beyer’s She Was My Only Child shares its name and mood with a painting by Louise Pershing, which depicts a black-clad figure leaving a blood-red church as a small, ghostly form lingers behind. Bringing all of the players together to cap the concert, the piece also tied the program to the setting in a subtle but effective fashion. Flutist Sean Gabriel pulled a sort of teakettle wail from the headjoint of his instrument as textures shifted, and the excellent upper strings — violinist Cara Tweed and violist James Rhodes — created the sonic equivalent of a halo, or perhaps a more threatening aura. Later, Hirthe generated tones that sounded like the authentic vocalizations of a spirit, gurgling unintelligibly from the other side.

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on January 2, 2019.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit: Cleveland Composers Series

By Mike Telin
noexit at heights arts
Since its founding, the inimitable new music ensemble No Exit has regularly given a voice to area composers, and the ensemble will continue that tradition with its upcoming Cleveland Composers Series. The program spotlights five new works by composers who are recognized for their singular and distinctive voices.

On Friday, November 30 at 8:00 pm at Cleveland State University’s Drinko Hall, No Exit will be joined by special guest Patchwork Duo — Noa Even, saxophone, and Stephen Klunk, drum set. The evening will include works by James Praznik, Colin Holter, Hong-Da Chin, Ty Emerson, and Timothy Beyer. The program will be repeated on Saturday, December 8 at 3:00 pm at the Bop Stop and Friday, December 14 at 8:00 pm at SPACES. As always, the concerts are free.

“For a long time, composers have sought inspiration from finding connections between music and other mediums of art,” No Exit artistic director Timothy Beyer said during a telephone conversation. “This series of concerts features a few works that fit that bill.”

Beyer pointed out that the impetus for Chin’s The Arc of a Tear is a poem by 20th-century Chinese poet Gu Cheng. He said that Emerson’s Darkling, I Listen was inspired by — and uses text from — Ode to a Nightingale by English Romantic poet John Keats. Beyer’s own work, She Was My Only Child, takes both its namesake and subject matter from a 1946 painting by Pittsburgh-based artist Louise Pershing.

He called the other two works on the program spellbinding. “Praznik’s Screaming Songs delves into the notion of virtuosity in a unique and rewarding way, while Holter’s Pallor deftly explores a new sonic landscape, combining electronic sounds with live acoustics.”

How did Beyer discover Louise Pershing? “I stumbled upon her,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in the fine arts, and especially works by regional artists. They are often first-rate, but don’t always get a lot of attention from outside the their home base. I do think that in Pittsburgh, Louise is a name to be reckoned with in that period and style.”


Beyer noted that his 12-minute piece is not meant to be a literal depiction of Pershing’s work. “The painting is stunning,” he said. “It’s clearly about the loss of life, and She Was My Only Child is simply inspired by it.”

During a separate conversation, James Praznik said that the idea for Screaming Songs came about while he was reflecting on past musical experiences he thought were beautiful.

“Many years ago, I was part of an improvisational piano and saxophone duo, and we would accompany silent films. The sax player had only been playing the instrument for about two months when we started the project, so he invented his own way of playing. It was an interesting juxtaposition between me with a solid foundation and him playing his instrument in an unusual way. He would scream into it, use multiphonic fingerings — all sorts of things.”

Praznik said that he remembered thinking how much fun that project was. He also realized that he had included some of those elements in pieces he had written over the past several years. “I thought for this piece, since we’re teaming up with Patchwork, what could I do to capture this idea of what brings me the most joy? I could write a piece where all of the gestures from the instruments are representations of extreme register effects. And find a way so that each person has to reinvent their own idea of virtuosity and find this unusual voice throughout the piece.”


How does Praznik define virtuosity? “I think that virtuosity is synonymous with freedom — the freedom to express anything to the fullest extent that one can. It’s also the idea that we can express something about who we are from having spent so much time with an instrument.”

Praznik said that he has enjoyed writing for saxophone, something he has not done for a long time. Has he written for drum set? “No, never. The closest I got is that I was a percussionist during my formative years — school bands and orchestras don’t usually have a big need for a pianist. When I’ve arranged some jazz pieces for No Exit, I’ve included drum set, but I would just give instructions. This is my first classically-notated piece.”

Since Praznik is an original member of No Exit — as is most of the ensemble — I asked him how it feels to be celebrating the group’s tenth anniversary.

“The best way for me to sum it up — this goes back to the time when we were still only a piano quartet, and we took a trip to Prague to play at the Dvořák House. At that time I was thinking about how players come and go in other ensembles. I would ask Tim about that. He has always been of the opinion that he should treat the group like we are a family. And I feel that everyone has an equal say in everything that goes on. We all really care about each other, and I think that has created an atmosphere where people just want to stay and be a part of it.”

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on November 27, 2018.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit begins tenth anniversary season with trio of concerts and collaborations

By Mike Telin
noexit at heights arts
2018-19 marks the tenth anniversary of the always creative new music ensemble No Exit. And they will begin their season later this week by once again sharing a stage with Minneapolis-based Zeitgeist. “I’m just thrilled that they will be joining us for these opening three concerts,” No Exit Artistic Director Timothy Beyer said during a telephone interview. “They are they an absolutely amazing new music ensemble but they’re also great collaborators — they always bring something wonderful to the table.”

The first concert on Friday, September 14 at 8:00 pm at SPACES will include world premieres by Christopher Goddard and Cleveland-based composer Ty Emerson. The program will also feature music by Joshua Rosner, Philip Blackburn, Jerome Kitzke, and Julius Eastman.

The two ensembles will move to WOLFS on Saturday the 15th. The 8:00 pm program will again feature works by Goddard, Emerson, and Blackburn. Rounding out the evening will be Frederic Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues and the world premiere of North Star by Minnesotan Alexis Lamb.

The final concert on Monday the 17th in Drinko Hall at Cleveland State University will see the world premieres of Andrew Rindfleisch’s American Monster for Sinfonietta and Greg D’Alessio’s Running with the Devil for video/audio media. The program will conclude with Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! The program is part of CSU’s Cleveland Contemporary Players Artist in Residence Series.

“Andrew Rindfleisch’s piece is going to be huge,” Beyer said. “It will feature No Exit, Zeitgeist, Ars Futura, Transient Canvas, and other performers — twenty musicians in all.”

“Needless to say, we’re currently experiencing a time of great turmoil and tumult in this country. People on both sides of the fence feel that their idea of America is being threatened. I know that many composers and ensembles feel like they should stay clear of taking a side, professionally speaking that is. But we at No Exit are really pleased that we can in some way play a part in giving voice to artists like Rindfleisch and D’Alessio. I think that it’s important — dare I say, American.”

I spoke to Andrew Rindfleisch by telephone and began our conversation by asking him how he was able to bring together all of the ensembles.

Andrew Rindfleisch: I had a professional relationship with Zeitgeist in Minneapolis for many years, and went to one of their collaborations with No Exit as an audience member. I was talking to Heather Barringer, one of the directors of Zeitgeist, and they commissioned me to write a new piece. She said she was interested in one that had political overtones, and would address the current state of affairs. When I began to think about it, I knew that I would need a bigger ensemble, so I thought, No Exit and Zeitgeist collaborate all the time — let’s do that. I also thought that with Ars Futura here in Cleveland, they could join us, as could Transient Canvas from Boston.

Kerrith Livengood originally wrote Show as a solo for tenor saxophone, and Hirthe planned to play a version for bass clarinet at New Music On the Point last summer. But some of the work’s technical demands — plus the wacky weather at the festival taking a toll on Hirthe’s bass — led him to premiere the clarinet version instead, which he’ll play again on Friday.

Mike Telin: What made you decide to program the Rzewski?

AR: I talked to Tim Beyer and we thought that if we’re going to have a quasi-political theme, we may as well do the greatest political piece which is Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

It will add a bit of history to the concert and it’s still a relevant work and is significant to the piano repertoire. It’s always nice to have a piece like that on the program, especially if it’s by a living composer — there aren’t that many monumental pieces by living composers. So it is the perfect centerpiece for the concert.

MT: And you’re bringing in Geoffrey Burleson to perform it.

AR: Geoffrey and I go way back to Boston in the ‘80s. He’s just a great new music pianist and very versatile in both jazz and classical repertoire. I worked with him all through the ‘90s on many projects. Whenever I get a chance to work with him I love to do it.

MT: Tell me about American Monster.

AR: It’s in seven movements and it’s happily an unusual instrumentation including four pianos and four percussionists. It is a reflection on the current American political landscape, and my perceptions of it as an unapologetically grotesque and corrupt enterprise. The movement titles reflect different aspects of the scene although I don’t mention anybody’s name. The middle movement is satirical and the finale is more serious reflection.

I have written some politically motivated pieces in the past that have been inspired by events that are specific to this time, but not confined to it. They could apply to any authoritarian or quasi-authoritarian world somewhere. I have never used names.

MT: Have you composed political pieces in the past?

AR: I have. Most have been real satire, but this piece is more serious. From my perspective, it’s hard to make fun of what is going on right now, whereas six years ago it was easier to make fun of this or that.

The movement titles of American Monster are:

1) An Immoral Stench Wins the Day

2) The Largest Crowds in the History of the Universe
3) March of the Cowardly Sycophants

4) Interlude: Reminiscence

5) Cruelty is Fun!
6) Supporters, Friends and Loyalists: Racists, Bigots, Homophobes, Neo-Nazis, Fox News, Regular Nazis, White Supremacists, Traitors, Right-Wing Radio Hosts, the National Rifle Association, Islamophobes, Neo-Confederates, the Ku Klux Klan, White Nationalists, the Republican Party, Evangelical Christians, the National Football League, Anti- Anti-Semites, Murderous Dictators, Authoritarian Governments, and Various Xenophobes
7) Enemies: Everyone Else

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on September 11, 2018.
The full article can be found – Here


Andrew Rindfleisch’s “American Monster” Is Just The Latest Part of His Body of Political Pieces

noexit at heights arts
When considering concepts and messages for his new works, composer Andrew Rindfleisch takes considerations beyond academic discourse and engages with one of his most beloved passions: The United States of America and everything it historically represents. In this era of the “24 hour news cycle” Andy is creating pieces that both humorously and satirically push listeners to rethink cultural currents and intense movements.

Andy’s first work that can overtly be called a political song is the satirical “Conservatives United”. It gives a shocking account from the perspective of an extreme right-wing American in a jovial style reminiscent of humorist Mark Russell. The musical materials are extremely polished, the lyrics completely unfiltered. A true stream of consciousness from the most extreme parts of American thought.

Never being completely content with making a statement in just one style Andy followed with a second more improvisatory work, with the help of Steve Baczkowski on Saxophone, Jeff McLeod on Guitar and Matt Felski on Drums, called “I Saw it on Fox News”. This work, which takes its texts directly from “Fox News” commentators, is much more personal. “I Saw It On Fox News” reflects Andy’s feeling watching “Fox News” and becoming agitated in the process. It is an interesting irony that the ire expressed in this work functions as both the intended effect of the alarmist news network and as a residual effect on the passive rational viewer.

These political pieces are not exclusively studio works. More recently Andy created a work for solo bass clarinet, written for virtuoso Pat O’Keefe, composed in response to the personalities present in the Republican debate of 2016. It is clear what the composer intends to impart to an audience with a title like “The Lunatic”.

Andy’s most recent work “American Monster” is a tour de force featuring his most monstrous ensemble and most deeply important message. Come here the premiere on September 17th at Drinko Recital Hall when No Exit teams up with Zeitgeist (Minnesota), Ars Futura (Cleveland), Transient Canvas (Boston), pianist Geoffrey Burleson and others to create an immersive and important night of music.


Wolf’s Gallery Presents A Stunning Exhibition that Flaunts Cleveland Culture

noexit at heights arts
One of the truly amazing venues that No Exit has performed in is Wolfs Gallery. It is a rather unique and special place filled with some extraordinary art. In the coming weeks, the gallery will present an exhibition which places in the limelight an important part of this city’s artistic legacy, The Cleveland School artists. Here’s a little about that:

This stunning display of over 150 works of art and design was conceived as a celebration of the Cleveland School and their important role within our city’s longstanding tradition of artistic excellence. As a not-for-profit exhibition, Cleveland: A Cultural Center is the first of its kind for WOLFS. The vast majority of exhibited works have been graciously loaned from private collections.

Cleveland: A Cultural Center will be on view at WOLFS from July 12th through August 31st, 2018. For more information visit The Wolf’s Gallery Website


No Exit Records Christopher Goddard’s “trope (en)trop” for Their Upcoming Album

noexit at heights arts

This summer marks the beginning of No Exit’s first major recording project; an album of some of our favorite pieces written for the group. During our first session we recorded Christopher Stark’s beautiful and evocative “By the Sea”, and here are some stills from our recording of Christopher Goddard’s “trope (en)trop” at Cleveland State University with Grammy winning engineer David Yost.
Wade Art1

Wade Art 3

Wade Art 3

We can’t wait to share more information as this exciting album project continues throughout the year!


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit: a clarinet and five flutes at Appletree Books on June 15

By Jarrett Hoffman
noexit at heights arts
Clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe + flutist Hong-Da Chin = quite the duo.

Combining Chinese traditional music with contemporary repertoire, their upcoming concert — presented by No Exit on Friday, June 15 at 7:00 pm at Appletree Books — will include three duets (one of them by Hong-Da), six solo works, and six instruments (the two likely suspects, in addition to four Chinese flutes).

Let’s start with the bookends of the program. Giacinto Scelsi’s Ko-Lho and David Liptak’s Duo meld together the sounds of the clarinet and Western flute to fascinating effect, treating the instruments almost like conjoined twins.

Hearing an all-Scelsi program at Bowling Green State University is what first drew Hirthe to that composer. “I was really struck by how simple and powerful his music is,” the No Exit clarinetist, Flint Institute of Music faculty member, and BGSU doctoral candidate said during a recent telephone conversation.

How does Hirthe deal with the challenging multiphonics in Ko-Lho? “So much of it is how you use your air and shape your mouth. That way of playing isn’t conducive to ‘good’ clarinet playing — you have to give up a few things in order to do it well.”

Though similar to the Scelsi, Liptak’s Duo really occupies a different universe. “I think it brings in that traditional flute-clarinet world, but it’s also something that people aren’t necessarily used to hearing,” Hirthe said.

Listen to even ten seconds of Ken Ueno’s solo clarinet work I screamed at the sea until nodes swelled up, then my voice became the resonant noise of the sea, and the title will start to make sense.

“With pieces like that, I always find that you just have to let yourself go,” Hirthe said. “Again, don’t think about ‘good’ clarinet playing. Don’t think about the sound — just get yourself into the piece: what does it mean to be in front of the ocean and experience that loudness but also oneness?”

Kerrith Livengood originally wrote Show as a solo for tenor saxophone, and Hirthe planned to play a version for bass clarinet at New Music On the Point last summer. But some of the work’s technical demands — plus the wacky weather at the festival taking a toll on Hirthe’s bass — led him to premiere the clarinet version instead, which he’ll play again on Friday.


I phoned Hong-Da Chin to talk about the other alluring side of this program: the solos for Chinese flute, plus his own duo. An accomplished composer (Young and Emerging Composer Award at NEOSonicFest) and flutist (having appeared at Carnegie and Alice Tully Halls), he recently graduated from Bowling Green’s DMA program, and will join the faculty at Western Illinois University as Assistant Professor in Music Theory/Composition this fall.

We began our conversation by discussing the traditional New Shepherd Song, which “describes the vastness of the prairie in inner Mongolia,” he said. Listen for the imitations of horses galloping and neighing.

He’ll play that work on the dizi, a bamboo flute that is played transversely (horizontally). The instrument has six finger holes and no keys, so chromatic playing requires “half-hole” fingerings, where the player covers a hole only partially.

“One advantage is that you are able to play glisses very easily, unlike the Western flute,” Hong-Da said. “The disadvantage is that you need to have very good ears to play chromaticism in tune. Everything is a half-hole, and sometimes it’s not exactly half — you just have to listen to it, like with the recorder.”

Two other keyless, bamboo flutes are the xiao (which he’ll play for The Remaining Snow in the Cold River) and the bawu (for The Fisherman’s Song). The ancestor of the shakuhachi, the xiao is played vertically like a recorder, and has a mouthpiece shaped like the letter U.

The mouthpiece of the bawu, on the other hand, is a piece of reed like that of a mouth organ, such as a harmonica. “You have to cover the entire mouthpiece, and then when you blow air into it, the reed will vibrate,” Hong-Da said. Both the bawu and the xun, which Hong-Da described as the Chinese ocarina, can only play a single octave. “The xun is made of clay and looks like an egg with eight finger holes,” the flutist said.

The sound of the xun resembles a human voice, making it a compelling match for Three Variations at Gate Yang, an ancient farewell tune about leaving China through that gate. “There was no guarantee you would be back because it was very dangerous out there — you had the desert, and the tribes that were hostile against the Chinese,” Hong-Da said.

We closed our conversation discussing his duo One Gallon of Tears, which premiered last month at the University of Maryland in its original version for two Western flutes.

“It’s written in memory of the 239 victims of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which went missing on March 8, 2014,” Hong-Da said, recalling the figures without hesitation. “The plane still hasn’t been found. And since I’m Malaysian, this incident means a lot to me. It was a dark day for Malaysians, and for the Chinese and everyone else on the plane.” The piece is made up of microtonal, descending figures. “Those lines are like tears flowing down one’s cheek,” the composer said.

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on June 12, 2018.
The full article can be found – Here


A Glimpse of No Exit’s Duo Concert of Contemporary Repertoire and Traditional Chinese Music

Our upcoming concert, featuring the duo of No Exit’s clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe and virtuoso flutist and composer Hong-Da Chin, is certain to be an exciting and engaging evening of music. Though most of our audience are familiar with the types of contemporary repertoire we present, it is exciting to point out that Hong-Da will be presenting traditional Chinese music in addition to 21st century literature.

For a taste of Hong-Da’s amazing virtuosity on traditional instruments, here is a video of Hong-Da performing his piece “A Withered Sunflower with Uneven Legs” for Chinese Flute and 14 Musicians with the CCM Orchestra at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music.

Be sure to join Gunnar and Hong-Da at Appletree Books on Friday, June 15 at 7 PM for an engrossing performance full of surprises.


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit’s Nicholas Underhill: solo piano at Heights Arts (June 2)

By Alice Koeninger
noexit at heights arts

Nicholas Underhill’s solo piano recital at Heights Arts on Saturday, June 2 featured a complex program by 20th- and 21st-century composers who seemed to be attempting to dismantle tonality. A member of No Exit, Underhill played eight compositions that he worked on for over a year. The concert was part of the ensemble’s summer series.

The gallery setting was small and intimate, with the piano situated in front of the art as if on display. This casual atmosphere gave the music a more accessible feeling despite its cerebral nature — almost as if it could be purchased and taken home like the art on the surrounding walls.

The modern quality of the concert was felt not only in the music but in the setting and the fact that Underhill was playing from an iPad. The pianist made the audience feel involved as he informed us about every selection — though it wasn’t difficult to hear common elements of dissonance, arhythmic phrases, and atonal masses of notes throughout. He said that the program included some of his favorite works: Copland’s Piano Variations (1930), and selections from Gary Philo’s Five Impromptus (2016) and David Leisner’s Labyrinths II (2009).

Underhill began with The Dark Net, one of his own pieces from 2016. Before taking the bench, he described the work as “vampire music,” meant to be “dark and mysterious” as the title suggests. It begins with spiraling, swirling notes, anchored by a few warm chords. Underhill’s phrases were evenly accented, remaining at a fairly steady tempo and resonant volume throughout. Amidst the whirl of notes a theme emerges, twirling up the keyboard to rest on two high notes that end the piece.

Next was Iannis Xenakis’ Mists (1980), which Underhill described as “one of the most intellectually complicated pieces written” because of the complex grid used to compose it. As the title says, the work is meant to evoke mists rolling across the water in an impressionistic manner similar to that of Ravel. While the harsh notes rapidly scrambling up the keyboard demand attention, they were at times too bright to feel like a haze. However, the rolling lines have a purposefully random quality that draws the listener in and holds one’s interest for all 12 minutes of the piece.

Though the evening was not meant for easy listening, Underhill did sprinkle some more melodic and agreeable compositions into the program to disrupt the maniacal atonality of works such as Wild Men’s Dance (1913) by Leo Ornstein. Underhill described Morton Feldman’s Piano Piece (1956) as getting a fortune cookie when you were expecting a four-course meal at a Chinese restaurant. The metaphor, although not complimentary towards Feldman, was accurate in depicting the hesitant notes and deliberate pauses that made it feel like an amuse-bouche easing the audience back into listening.

Frederic Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues (1979) is meant as a tribute to the working class, as demonstrated in the rapid low notes, reminiscent of a machine, becoming thicker in texture as notes are added. A four-chord blues progression becomes more prominent as the piece goes on, but then dissolves into loud chords. Underhill kept the underlying rhythm steady despite its fast repetition, and his hand crossings added to the drama. The physical exertion required to perform the work was evident when he stood up to bow, breathing heavily.

Underhill ended the evening with a bright, humorous encore “in honor of my kitty cat, Nibbles.” Kitten on the Keys by Zez Confrey showcased his talent, his appreciation of ragtime, and his sense of humor all at once. The energy during the second half of the concert was infectious, and the audience clearly enjoyed the encore, as well as the evening as a whole.

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on June 4, 2018.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit and Patchwork to become “partners in crime”

By Mike Telin
noexit at heights arts

On Friday, April 27 at SPACES, the adventuresome new music ensemble No Exit and the pioneering saxophone and drum set duo Patchwork (left) will celebrate spring with an evening of premieres. The concert will include works by Derrik Balogh, Victoria Cheah, Osnat Netzer, Christopher Stark, and Evan Ziporyn. The program will be repeated on Monday, April 30 at Cleveland State University’s Drinko Auditorium and on Saturday, May 5 at Heights Arts. All three concerts begin at 8:00 pm and are free of charge.

“We’re excited to be able to premiere Christopher Stark’s Ved sjøen (‘By the Sea’),” No Exit artistic director Timothy Beyer said by telephone. “It’s an evocative rumination inspired by the time he recently spent living in Norway. He’s phenomenal and in my mind, one of those composers that everyone should know. I met Chris many years ago when we were both composers in residence at a festival in Salt Lake City. We hit it off, and we’re honored and pleased that he wrote something for us.”

Beyer said No Exit will also be reviving one of the first pieces that the group commissioned, Derrik Balogh’s “gorgeous and immersive” string trio, Fantasie: si tu veux. “We loved it back then and have been wanting to have a chance to do it again. Derek is a Cleveland State alum and he currently works at American Greetings composing music for their cards.”

Also featured will be two pieces by clarinetist/composer Evan Ziporyn: Tsmindao Ghmerto, a work which calls on the musician to play clarinet while simultaneously singing, and Four Impersonations, which incorporates elements of Balinese, Japanese, and East African music.

Beyer added that Victoria Cheah’s We waited for each other on aim “creates a curious and compelling soundscape for the listener to inhabit.”

The director said that No Exit is happy to be “partners in crime,” with Patchwork (Noa Even, saxophone, and Stephen Klunk, drum set). Patchwork will give the world premiere of Israeli-born composer Osnat Netzer’s Zwang und Zweifel, which Beyer described as “a visceral, internal world of conflict and chaos.”

In her composer notes, Netzer writes:

Zweifel means ‘doubt’ in German. Zwang is much more difficult to translate to English. It can mean compulsion, coercion, constraint, pressure, obligation, restraint and force. My piece Zwang und Zweifel explores the inner tumult that happens when one tries to live with a choice between two options, both of which threaten to tear body and mind to shreds. Musically, this is reflected in the musical materials (body) attempting to devolve into chaos and mayhem, while the musical syntax (mind) is rigidly and strictly trying to constrain and control them.

In a separate interview, Noa Even said that Plunk had performed a marimba work by Netzer during his undergraduate studies at BGSU. “Then we met her at a saxophone conference in 2012. She’s based in Boston and teaches at a few schools, including Harvard. It’s funny because she knew my dad, who sings with a group of Israelis every couple of weeks — Osnat played piano for them. So it’s a strange Boston/Israeli connection.”

Even said that since that meeting, she and Plunk kept the composer in mind as someone they’d want to work with in the future. “Osnat came to Cleveland last summer and worked with us for three days, which was an ideal situation because she wanted Steve and I to find the sounds that we like to create. She basically had a sketch of the piece by the time that she left. It’s nine and a half minutes and full of complex rhythmic changes — Stephen made a click track for us to practice with because it is very complicated getting in and out of the rhythms. But there are also sections that are either quiet and intimate, or chaotic. We think people will like it.”

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on April 24, 2018.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – NEOSonicFest 2018 to present five concerts April 5 through 11

By Mike Telin,
noexit at heights arts

Since 2014, the Grammy Award-winning Cleveland Chamber Symphony has sponsored NEOSonicFest, a festival of new music performed by musicians from Northeast Ohio and beyond. The 2018 festival will run from April 5 through 11 (see below for concert dates and times).

Clarinetist Carol Robinson and trumpeter Nate Wooley will kick things off by performing selections from Éliane Radigue’s Occam Ocean on April 5 at MOCA. The composer describes her work as “an ongoing acoustic work with influences ranging from electromagnetic waves, to William of Ockham’s philosophies, to science fiction mythologies.”

The always creative No Exit will return to the Festival on April 6 at Heights Arts. The ensemble was founded by composer Timothy Beyer as an outlet for the commissioning and performance of contemporary avant-garde concert music. No Exit is committed to promoting the works of living composers, particularly the music of young and emerging artists who haven’t yet received either the opportunities or exposure of their better-known counterparts. (Works by Leo Ornstein, Ty Emerson, Per Nørgård, James Praznik, Andrew Rindfleisch & Tristan Murail).

On April 7 at 7:00 pm at the Bop Stop, Keith Fitch and his outstanding CIM New Music Ensemble will make their first appearance on the Festival. The program will feature David Rakowski’s Breakdown and Préludes for Piano, Stephen Hartke’s Oh Them Rats Is Mean In My Kitchen, and Fitch’s The Range of Light.

Also returning to the Festival is the Cleveland Composers Guild. On April 8 at Judson Manor, the venerable organization will team up with the Syndicate for the New Arts for a program titled “Small Pieces | Big Impressions,” featuring seven-minute compositions by Guild members to be performed by violinist Dana Johnson, cellist Wesley Hornpetrie, and pianist Annie Jeng. The program will include Jennifer Connor’s Sevenwaters, Colin Holter’s red river of the north, Jeffrey Quick’s Piano Trio II, “Experience,” Ryan Charles Ramer’s I Have Wasted This Life And Would Waste Any Other, Robert Rollin’s Rhapsody on Themes by Rachmaninoff, Fuga, Dolores White’s Trio Tango, James Wilding’s Preludes, and Jiří Trtík’s Improvisation No. 30 (After Kandinsky).

The Festival will wrap up on April 11 when conductor Steven Smith leads the Cleveland Chamber Symphony in the annual Young and Emerging Composers Concert at BW’s Gamble Auditorium. As always, the concert will highlight music by the area’s top student composers. This year’s roster includes Nabil Abad (Baldwin Wallace University), Emilio José González (Bowling Green University), Jiří Trtík (Cleveland Institute of Music), Davison Yon (Cleveland State University), Benjamin Grove (Kent State University), Soomin Kim (Oberlin Conservatory), Samuel Ryan Silverman (Cuyahoga Community College), and Cody Ray (University of Akron).


NEOSonic Festival performances are free unless otherwise noted.

Thursday, April 5 at 7:30 pm
Carol Robinson, clarinet and Nate Wooley, trumpet
Music by Éliane Radigue
Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA)
11400 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland
Purchase tickets here

Friday, April 6 at 8:00 pm
No Exit
Program to be announced
Heights Arts, 2175 Lee Avenue, Cleveland Heights

Saturday, April 7 at 7:00 pm
Cleveland Institute of Music New Music Ensemble, Keith Fitch director
Music by David Rakowski, Stephen Hartke, and Keith Fitch
Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland

Sunday, April 8 at 7:00 pm
Cleveland Composers Guild and the Syndicate for the New Arts
Music by Jennifer Connor, Colin Holter, Jeffrey Quick, Ryan Charles Ramer, Robert Rollin, Dolores White, James Wilding, and Jiří Trtík
Judson Manor, 1890 East 107th Street, Cleveland

Wednesday April 11 at 7:00 pm
Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Steven Smith director
Young and Emerging Composers Concert
Music by Nabil Abad, Emilio José González, Jiří Trtík, Davison Yon, Benjamin Grove, Soomin Kim, Samuel Ryan Silverman, and Cody Ray
Gamble Auditorium, 96 Front Street, Berea

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on March 27, 2018.
The full article can be found – Here

Cleveland Orchestra Trumpet Virtuoso Jack Sutte Joins No Exit for Trumpet Fanfares at NEOSonicFest

For our performances as part of NEOSonicFest V on April 6th and 8th we are proud to be presenting a special set of trumpet fanfares composed by Cleveland composers Andrew Rindfleisch and James Praznik. To help us realize these pieces, No Exit is joined by special guest trumpet virtuosi Scott McKee, one of our frequent collaborators, and Jack Sutte, second trumpet of The Cleveland Orchestra.

Here is Jack’s bio from the Cleveland Orchestra website:

Jack Sutte joined The Cleveland Orchestra as second trumpet in 1999. Prior to his Cleveland appointment, he was the principal trumpet in the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in Norway. A native of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, he attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he earned a bachelor of music degree, and the Juilliard School in New York City, where he earned a master of music degree. He studied with Frank Kaderabek at Curtis, Raymond Mase at Juilliard, and Chris Gekker at the Aspen Festival. Mr. Sutte has performed as soloist with The Cleveland Orchestra with principal trumpet Michael Sachs, as well as with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the New World Symphony, and the Haddonfield Symphony. He made his international solo debut in Argentina in 1995. Mr. Sutte is a lecturer of trumpet at the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music, and has taught at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.

Mr. Sutte lives in Euclid, Ohio, with his wife, Audra Zarlenga, their children, Maya and Louis, and four dogs. His hobbies include running, cycling, and multisport racing.

This is a not to be missed performance by Cleveland’s premier contemporary music ensemble.


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit and Zeitgeist at SPACES (January 14)

By Mike Telin
noexit at heights arts

No Exit kicked off the new year with a series of concerts that also marked the contemporary music group’s third collaboration with the excellent St. Paul-based ensemble Zeitgeist. I attended the performance on Sunday, January 14 at SPACES.

Receiving its world premiere, Nicholas Underhill’s No Exit for Zeitgeist was written to celebrate the collaboration between the two ensembles. Underhill took full advantage of the forces at his disposal — violin, viola, cello, flute, two clarinets, two keyboards, and three percussionists. Based on a single scale, a hybrid of Mixolydian and Harmonic minor, the work also “makes indirect references to pieces by Kaija Saariaho and Andy Rindfleisch, as well as other solo pieces I have heard played in our concerts,” Underhill writes in his composer notes.

It begins with a scale spread over multiple octaves that continually grows into an intense, pulsating chord. A celestial middle section is highlighted by haunting solos for the viola and violin, giving way to an extended percussion cadenza before ending with a loud, short chord. Conductor James Praznik led a tight performance of the rhythmically complex work.

Twin-Cities-based composer Joshua Musikantow’s Tzimtzum also received its world premiere. Introducing the work, Musikantow said the title is Hebrew for “contraction,” a concept in the Lurianic Kabbalah that states that in order for God to create a space for lesser spiritual and physical planes to exist, God must contract, or conceal his/herself.

Based on a fifteen-note scale with nine fixed tones and six microtones, the hypnotic work is a study in shifting timbers. No Exit’s violinist Cara Tweed, violist James Rhodes, cellist Nicholas Diodore, flutist Sean Gabriel, bass clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe, pianist Nicholas Underhill, and percussionist Luke Rinderknecht gave the seven-minute piece a captivating performance.

Commissioned by Zeitgeist, Cambodian-American composer Chinary Ung’s Spiral XIV “Nimitta” is grounded in the traditions of Khmer Pinpeat — the ceremonial music of Cambodia — and Balinese Gamelan. The subtitle “Nimitta” is a Pali word meaning a sign or image that is received through meditation. Ung makes use of “heterophony,” a single, constant melody that is embellished simultaneously by other voices. Zeitgeist’s clarinetist Pat O’Keefe, pianist Nicola Melville, and percussionists Heather Barringer and Patti Cudd gave a dramatic reading of the brilliantly crafted, intense work.

Eric M. C. Gonzalez’s Found Again, Secure in Migration is a three-movement work that comments on “monumental life transitions.” The former Clevelander explained that he and his significant other had recently relocated to St. Paul. The first movement, “A Recent Distant Past,” is about the reliability of home and reminiscing on separation. “A Forward Moving Pilgrimage” is about the sense of wonder that is brought on by new opportunities, while “Fortunate Companions” is about knowing where you came from and knowing where you are headed. Gonzalez weaves a variety of musical styles throughout the mercurial work, including walking bass-lines and boogie-woogie licks. O’Keefe, Melville, and Barringer brought every mood change to life.

Written for piano and any combination of additional instruments, Bill Ryan’s Blurred begins with repeated notes in the piano. As instruments are added the piece blossoms into a colorful soundscape and gradually diminishes until the repeated piano notes quietly fade away. The piece is mesmerizing and members of both ensembles sounded terrific together.

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on January 24, 2018.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit and Zeitgeist continue their collaboration this weekend

By Mike Telin
noexit at heights arts

“We’re starting off the new year with a bang,” No Exit artistic director Tim Beyer said during a telephone conversation. This weekend No Exit will continue their collaboration with the St. Paul-based new music ensemble Zeitgeist. “The two ensembles will once again be sharing a stage in a series of concerts that is sure to be an unforgettable musical experience.” The series kicks off on Friday, January 12 with a 7:00 pm concert at Wolfs Gallery. The ensembles will perform at 8:00 pm on Saturday the 13th at Heights Arts and at 12:00 pm on Sunday the 14th at SPACES.

“This is our first time at Wolfs Gallery and they’re pulling out all the stops. Hors d’oeuvres will be served at 6:30 pm and there will also be valet parking,” Beyer said. “It will be nice to introduce people to Wolfs’ extraordinary space and exquisite collection of paintings and sculpture while enjoying an intimate evening of music. We love playing at Heights Arts and SPACES, so this is going to be an incredible series of concerts. As always, the performances are free and open to the public.”

Beyer said that their collaboration has become ever more meaningful since No Exit and Zeitgeist began working together three years ago. “We’ve been to St. Paul three times — the last was back in October of 2017 — and this is the second joint concert in Cleveland. Over time concerts have included not just improvisation, but new pieces by composers from St. Paul and Cleveland that were written for both ensembles.”

Due to space considerations, Friday’s performance at Wolfs Gallery will feature music for smaller ensembles. The concert will include the world premiere of Tzimtzum by Twin Cities composer, author, and percussionist Joshua Musikantow. The work’s title is Hebrew for “contraction,” a concept in the Lurianic Kabbalah that states that in order for God to create a space for lesser spiritual and physical planes to exist, God must contract, or conceal his/herself.

“Joshua’s music has been performed in concerts and festivals in England, France, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and across the United States,” Beyer said. “I met him many years ago when we were both studying in Prague.” The concert will also include a new work by Colin Holter. “Colin is interesting to our collaboration in that he is from St. Paul but living and teaching in Cleveland. He wrote this piece for Zeitgeist for our October concerts, so this is a Cleveland premiere. Suburb is about his move from St. Paul to Cleveland.” Works by Bohuslav Martinů, Lou Harrison, Jennifer Higdon, and Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr. will also be included.

Saturday’s and Sunday’s program will feature works for larger ensembles, including the world premiere of No Exit for Zeitgeist, by No Exit pianist and composer Nicholas Underhill, as well as the Cleveland premiere of Eric Gonzalez’s Found Again, Secure in Migration. “Eric lived and worked in Cleveland for a long time but has recently moved to St. Paul. He wrote the piece for our collaboration.”

A work suggested by Zeitgeist is Spiral XIV “Nimitta” by Chinary Ung, a Cambodian-American composer who teaches at the University of California San Diego. “His music is wonderful and immersive — something you experience rather than merely listen to. He uses a lot of traditional music that includes the Khmer Pinpeat and Balinese Gamelan.” The program will be rounded out by Michigan-based composer Bill Ryan’s Blurred and Joshua Musikantow’s Tzimtzum.

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on January 9, 2018.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit at SPACES Gallery (Sept. 30)

By Mike Telin
noexit at heights arts

The inventive new music ensemble No Exit launched their ninth concert season with three identical concerts featuring world premieres by Ohio composers. I attended the September 30 performance at the acoustically pleasing SPACES Gallery. The evening was defined by works that creatively explored the use of layered rhythms, ranging from the violent to the enchanting, that were deftly performed by the seven-member ensemble.

The first premiere was Michael Rene Torres’ …his existence a flux… (2017). Inspired by an excerpt from philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations, the work opens with long-ringing notes in the glockenspiel, later joined by the piano, that transform into slow-pulsating tones as players are added. The mesmerizing chords grow in volume as they are interrupted by loud instrumental shrieks from the ensemble. Long chords return, fluctuating syncopations in the piano and glockenspiel meditatively floating above. Flutist Sean Gabriel, clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe, violinist Cara Tweed, cellist Nicholas Diodore, pianist Nicholas Underhill, and percussionist Luke Rinderknecht performed expertly, bringing the work’s inner turmoil to life.

Tweed and Diodore were joined by violist James Rhodes for premiere number two, Nasim Khorassani’s Growth (2017). The work depicts the story of a musical cell formed by the tones B, C, D, and E-flat which gradually grows over nine minutes. Trills, sharp accents, and subtle waves of sound that reflect the young composer’s Iranian roots are skillfully woven together, creating a hazy color palette. The performers, cued by Hirthe, played with poise.

The full ensemble was onstage for the evening’s final premiere, Matthew Ivic’s Septet (2017). During the eleven-minute work, Ivic uses tone clusters that slowly unfold — compact music becomes fragmented and fragmented music becomes unified. Opening with long chords punctuated by a snare drum roll and woodblock, a virtuosic wailing clarinet line leads into a soft march section. This music ebbs and flows in style between neo-classical and Americana, as the instruments exchange solo passages. Eventually the beguiling theme builds into a full-blown march which is suddenly halted by booming stomps in the percussion. Long chords emerge as triangle taps bring everything to a tranquil conclusion. The enjoyable piece was given an excellent performance that captured both the menacing and calming nature of the work.

Alexsander G. Brusentev’s In Mourning, for solo flute, provided the perfect platform for Sean Gabriel to show his prowess in performing extended techniques — the un-barred, introspective work contains roughly fifteen of them. The gripping piece is a solemn meditation, perhaps about a deceased pet, that is rudely interrupted by poltergeists — sultry straight-tone melodic passages countered by whistle tones, flutter tonguing, key slaps, and humming. Gabriel understands how to convey this music to the audience, which he held in rapt attention from beginning to end.

Clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe possesses a phenomenal technique and a natural ability to make the thorniest passages sound easy. Both qualities were evident during his riveting playing of Eric Mandat’s Tricolor Capers. A clarinetist himself, Mandat is known for composing experimental works for the instrument. Capers, a three-movement work played without pause, is filled with multiphonics and fast leaps from the lowest to highest register, with just enough chromaticism to keep it interesting. Hirthe’s dark, woody sound was ominous during the opening “Portent,” his soft passages brutally interrupted by loud wails. Simple oscillating motives build during “Sway,” and gradually move into the wild, exciting “Bop.”

What made the evening so attractive was the variety of styles and the compactness of each work. Nothing was longer than eleven minutes.

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on October 5, 2017.
The full article can be found – Here


Sad News About Ladislav Kubik


It is with a heavy heart and great sadness that I report that Ladislav Kubik has died. He was an extraordinary composer, an extraordinary person……. truly larger than life. We extend our deepest felt sympathies to his family and those close to him. He was a remarkable human being.

No Exit had planned for their 2018-2019 season to present a series of concerts – comprised entirely of Ladislav’s work – that would serve as a celebration of this great living composer. Ladislav wrote a new piece for us – which we just received a few weeks ago – to be premiered during this series of concerts. We plan to still move forward with this program although it is heartbreaking that the context of these concerts has changed.

If you are not already familiar with Ladislav’s work, I would encourage you to go online, seek out his music and discover his brilliance for yourself.

You will be so dearly missed Ladia.


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit opens season with three premieres by Ohio composers

By Mike Telin
noexit at heights arts

The inventive new music ensemble No Exit will launch their ninth concert season with a free concert on Saturday, September 23 at 8:00 pm at Heights Arts. Staying true to the ensemble’s mission, the program will feature three premieres by Ohio composers.

“We’ve always had a keen interest and deep commitment to commissioning and premiering new works by composers working and living in our area,” No Exit’s Artistic Director Timothy Beyer said during a telephone conversation. “There are so many artists in our neck of the woods who are creating interesting and worthwhile music. Cleveland — and for that matter, Ohio — has something special going on in this regard.”

The program will be repeated on September 29 at Cleveland State University’s Drinko Hall and on the 30th at SPACES Gallery. Both performances begin at 8:00 pm and are free of charge.

New works by Cleveland residents include Matthew Ivic’s Septet, and Iranian-born composer Nasim Khorassani’s Growth for string trio. Also seeing its world premiere will be …his existence a flux… by Columbus-based saxophonist and composer Michael Rene Torres.

“All three of our world premiere pieces are really amazing,” Beyer said. “This is the third time that No Exit has commissioned a work from Matt Ivic, and he always brings something original to the table.”

Beyer described Nasim Khorassani as “an extraordinary young lady who is currently a composition student at Cleveland State. We performed a piece of hers in a workshop and were so impressed that we wanted to have her write something for us.”

Beyer noted that No Exit has played music by Michael Rene Torres in the past. “Our clarinetist, Gunnar Owen Hirthe, performed his Voices of Contempt for solo clarinet during last year’s NEOSonicFest. I think that he’s a remarkable composer, and his new work is really powerful.”

Also included on the program will be music by Saint Paul, Minnesota-based composer Alex Brusentsev. “Alex wrote an evocative piece for solo flute called In Mourning. We were introduced to Alex’s music through the exchange program that we’ve been doing for the last few years with Saint Paul new music ensemble Zeitgeist. The partnership with them has been a rewarding experience that has borne a lot of fruit, not the least of which is getting to know some great composers from Minnesota like Alex.”

The program will be rounded out with the music of clarinetist and composer Eric Mandat. “Tricolor Capers is a rather virtuosic piece, the kind that our clarinetist Gunnar has a special talent for bringing to life,” Beyer said, adding that Mandat is known for composing forward-thinking, often experimental pieces for the clarinet. “His work has helped to flesh out a lot of the extended techniques that are used on the instrument.” Beyer added that all five works share a commonality of layered rhythms, ranging from the violent to the mesmerizing.

These concerts are just the beginning of what promises to be a remarkable season for No Exit, Beyer said. “We have so many extraordinary things planned, including more commissioned pieces that will see their world premieres.” In October No Exit will return to St. Paul to perform a series of concerts with Zeitgeist, and in January both ensembles will perform in Cleveland.

Other season highlights include the revival of their Trio Concert format, featuring violinist Cara Tweed, clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe, and percussionist Luke Rinderknecht. The April series will include a collaboration with saxophone-percussion duo Patchwork.

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on September 19, 2017.
The full article can be found – Here


Nicholas Diodore Concludes Summer Recital Series at The Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern (Aug.23) and The Bop Stop (Aug.27)


With only two concert engagements remaining before the summer ends, No Exit’s virtuoso cellist Nick Diodore is ready to conclude his series of summer recitals with some truly memorable performances. The cello presents so many rich sonic possibilities for composers in the 20th century, and Nick’s recital repertoire represents some of the most impactful and demanding pieces ever written for the instrument; ranging from Kaija Saariaho’s exuberant explorations of the cello’s entire sonic character, Andrew Rindfleisch’s focused yet musical exploration on a single sonority or Timothy Beyer’s use of the cello to embody physical maladies.

Be sure to join No Exit and Nick for two free shows starting at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, August 23rd at The Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern and starting at 7 p.m. Saturday, August 27th at The Bop Stop.

These recitals are definitely a unique musical experience not to be missed.


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit at Bop Stop: “Homage to Eric Dolphy” (May 27)

By Joshua Rosner
noexit at heights arts

Recently declared “the hippest haunt on the Cuyahoga” by New York Magazine, the Bop Stop was abuzz for No Exit’s “Homage to Eric Dolphy.” No Exit is no stranger to inventive, new programs. But especially intriguing on Saturday night, May 27 was that this outstanding new music ensemble added to its ranks a trio of talented local jazz musicians: Bobby Selvaggio (alto saxophone), Scott McKee (trumpet/flugelhorn), and Dustin May (drum set).

“Hat and Beard,” from Dolphy’s seminal album Out to Lunch, was heard in an arrangement by Andrew Rindfleisch, who reimagined the piece for string trio (violinist Cara Tweed, violist, James Rhodes, and cellist Nick Diadore), trumpet, alto saxophone, and drum set.

May began with a medium-tempo swing, and the rest of the ensemble entered with a sharp, sudden pop. Diadore took the role of bass, locking in stunningly with May, while Tweed and Selvaggio played the melody with a beautiful blend. Soon the room was filled with trills from trumpet and high strings, and Rindfleisch’s arrangement became a vessel for Selvaggio’s improvisations. Thanks to Dustin May, this contemporary ensemble was swinging.

After Tweed left the stage, Luke Rinderknecht (vibraphone) and Gunnar Owen Hirthe (bass clarinet) joined the ensemble for Selvaggio’s arrangement of Serene. As he writes in the program notes, here the saxophonist’s fascination with avant-garde musicians playing “pretty straight-ahead” songs was apparent. The arrangement featured Rhodes and Rinderknecht improvising over backgrounds written in a way that they, too, could be determined in the moment.

With Tweed back in the mix and the composer at the piano, Paul Epstein’s Looking for Eric immediately set up a chaotic conversation among the musicians before settling into a bass figure between the left hand of the pianist and Hirthe. This was the first moment in the evening that sounded like fully-fledged jazz minus a bass player — the traditional big band sax soli was distributed between winds and strings before Selvaggio, McKee, and Epstein all took solos.

Selvaggio’s arrangement of Out There begins as a ballad derived from Dolphy’s melody for string trio and saxophone, then the entire ensemble improvises together before returning to the melody in unison.

The first half concluded with Tim Beyer’s Elegy for saxophone, bass clarinet, trumpet, vibraphone, and cello, conducted by James Praznik. The most traditional chamber piece on the program, Elegy begins with cacophony as a Dolphy-esque line is passed around the ensemble. While Hirthe blasted out an impression of a didgeridoo, Praznik left the stage. The ensemble continued with a collective improvisation, finishing with a flurry of key clicks and McKee flicking the bell of his trumpet — one of the most sonically satisfying moments of the evening.

After intermission, Hirthe performed Roger Janotta’s direct transcription of Dolphy’s live solo performance of Billie Holiday’s and Arthur Herzog, Jr.’s God Bless the Child. Hirthe made the arpeggios and his entire instrument seem effortless.

Greg D’Allesio’s Late Lunch is a collage of themes from Out to Lunch with lovely orchestration, including an especially memorable blend of vibraphone, bass clarinet, and viola.

Selvaggio’s arrangement of Truth featured lush backgrounds from bass clarinet, flugelhorn, and viola. The saxophonist soared as the improviser Cleveland has come to adore. His arrangement was reminiscent of the Third Stream greats (like Gunther Schuller) and even ended with a Picardy third (minor piece of classical music ending on a major chord).

Closing out the program was Praznik’s Iron Manic, a restructuring of Dolphy’s Iron Man. Taking the bare essence of that work, Praznik, who played piano for the performance, gives the ensemble a set of instructions to follow — almost a road map. Featuring large-scale improvisations, sustained strings, and an incredible drum solo from May, the piece delivered on the manic energy it promised.

A fine line exists between appropriating jazz into classical music and paying homage to a musician whose work defies genre. In this case, No Exit paid elegant tribute to Dolphy, balancing the notes he played with why Dolphy played them. One can only hope that No Exit and other ensembles in Cleveland continue to wrestle with this challenges — and, more importantly, that they are as successful as Saturday evening’s homage to Eric Dolphy.

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on May 31, 2017.
The full article can be found – Here


From Cleveland.com – Cellist Nicholas Diodore aims to crush cello pigeonhole with modern recital series (preview)

By Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
noexit at heights arts

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Think you know how the cello sounds? Think again.

Better yet, attend one of the solo concerts cellist Nicholas Diodore has planned this spring and summer, beginning Saturday at Heights Arts. Do that, and never again will you regard the cello as a simple source of warm depth.

“We tend to kind of pigeonhole the cello as dark and brooding,” said Diodore, a member of the Cleveland-based new music ensemble No Exit. “But it isn’t that way at all.”

Sure, the cello is great for Bach, Brahms and Dvorak. Some might even say the instrument was built for that music.

But that’s not the view Diodore holds. For him and many others, the cello has kept up with the times and remains a vital and powerful medium for the music of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Yes, it can sing, soar and wax uncommonly romantic. But it can also screech, howl and haunt in a way no other acoustic instrument can. Just as modern composers pushed the limits of the orchestra, so too have artists found new ways of making the cello speak.

“The thing most people say to me after concerts is they had no idea the cello could sound like that,” Diodore said.

Here’s a revealing fact: The oldest work on Diodore’s program hails from 1976, the year cellist Mstislav Rostropovich commissioned 12 solo flights on the name Sacher (the notes E-flat, A, C, B, E and D), in honor of Paul Sacher, the late, great champion of new music.

One day, Diodore hopes to perform them all. For the time being, this Saturday, he’s focusing on four, each of them as different as can be: “Sacher Variations” by Witold Lutoslawski, “Les mots sont alles” by Luciano Berio, Punena No. 2 by Alberto Ginastera and “Trois strophes,” by Henri Dutilleux.

“The melody that comes from that [name], it doesn’t settle,” Diodore said. “The amount of variations they were able to get out of it is unbelievable.”

That’s not all Diodore has in store for his audiences (the second planned performance is 7 p.m. Friday, June 30 at Appletree Books in Cleveland Heights; more are TBA). In addition to the Sacher commissions, the cellist also intends to feature “Spins and Spells” by Finnish titan Kaija Saariaho and two works by Cleveland-based composers: “Afflictions,” by his No Exit colleague Timothy Beyer, and “Quiet Music” by Andrew Rindfleisch.

Not your typical recital, in other words. Then again, “typical” is a relative term. For Diodore, who grew up on the cutting edge of music, a series of modern solos is all in a few days’ work.

“It’s an ambitious program, but it’s also right in my wheelhouse,” Diodore said. “I’ve always been around that creative process. It’s kind of what I do.”


Cellist Nick Diodore

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, May 6.

Where: Heights Arts, 2175 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.

Tickets: Free. Go to heightsarts.org or call 216-371-3457.

Article originally published on Cleveland.com on May 2, 2017.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit brings Eric Dolphy back for three concerts in April and May

By Mike Telin
noexit at heights arts

When NoExit celebrated jazz great Eric Dolphy back in 2012, the Ensemble’s artistic director Timothy Beyer said that although Dolphy is best known for his contributions in the jazz world, his music transcends that idiom. “His is a unique voice in American music, one that defies categorization.” On Saturday, April 29 at 8:00 pm at Heights Arts, NoExit will present the first of three concerts that will once again pay tribute to Eric Dolphy. The program will be repeated on May 13 at SPACES and on May 27 at The Bop Stop.

“When we did that first series of concerts dedicated to Dolphy we were just dipping our toe in the water,” Beyer said during a recent conversation. “But this program not only takes a deeper look at his music, it emphasizes his living legacy.” The concerts will include Dolphy’s Hat and Beard, arranged by Andrew Rindfleisch, Serene and Out There, arranged by Bobby Selvaggio, and a collage of Dolphy’s music titled Late Lunch, arranged by Greg D’Alessio, as well as the premieres of original works by Paul Epstein, Timothy Beyer, and James Praznik.

In addition to NoExit’s regular personnel — violinist Cara Tweed, violist James Rhodes, cellist Nicholas Diodore, pianist Nicholas Underhill, flutist Sean Gabriel, clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe, and percussionist Luke Rinderknecht — the concert will feature special guests: drummer Dustin May, trumpeter Scott McKee, and saxophonist Bobby Selvaggio.

“Eric Dolphy is a singular presence in the music world,” Beyer said. “The more I’ve been thinking about and listening to Dolphy’s music, the clearer it becomes that he wasn’t just ahead of his time, but he was truly of another place. He’s often associated with jazz, and for good reason, but ultimately that was his launching point to something else. That’s why I think his music is as much akin to avant-garde classical music as it is to jazz.”

Prior to the 2012 performances, we spoke to alto saxophonist, composer, arranger, and educator Bobby Selvaggio and asked him to give his thoughts on cross-genre collaborations.

“I wanted to do something a little different for this project, so I arranged Dolphy’s Out There more like a Bartók string quartet where the alto sax is treated as a second violin. But this idea of collaborating across musical styles is happening more and more. It’s something that I have talked to Nick and Cara about in the past, and it’s something they have been thinking about as well. Although there have been crossover attempts where jazz musicians were doing classical type things for years — all the way back to the 40’s and 50’s — this idea of having everyone join together is really important in this day and age. A leading reason behind this NoExit project was to arrange pieces that would require improvisation. It’s been exciting to do that with classical musicians. Improvisation is not just a jazz thing, it’s important to music in general.”

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on April 28, 2017.
The full article can be found – Here


A Taste of No Exit’s Upcoming Tribute to Jazz Luminary Eric Dolphy.

In Spring 2012, No Exit dedicate a concert to the works of legendary jazz musician Eric Dolphy. It was our first concert incorporating jazz in to our repertoire, and we had a blast. In fact, it was such much fun that we are expanding on our previous offerings and doing it all again April 29th (Heights Arts), May 13th (SPACES) and May 28th (The Bop Stop). Here is a sneak peek at one of the returning tunes, Andrew Rindfleisch’s arrangement of Dolphy’s “Hat and Beard” from the 1964 album “Out to Lunch”.


From ClevelandClassical.com – NEOSonicFest presents contemporary music over a ten-day period (March 17-26)

By Mike Telin
noexit at heights arts

No Exit’s Friday, March 24 program at Heights Arts opened with Ryan Gallagher’s Night Falls Fast for viola and percussion. The work begins as though the two performers are working at cross-purposes, later evolving into a single unit. Violist James Rhodes and percussionist Luke Rinderknecht were magnificent.

Gunnar Owen Hirthe brought an abundance of life to the world premiere performance of Michael Rene Torres’s Voices of Contempt for solo clarinet. Traveling from the lowest to the highest range of the instrument, Hirthe played with nimble technique. The sometimes angry-sounding work ends with a final screech before fading into silence.

Matthew Ivic’s Piano Quartet No. 1 is defined by long sustained lines and intermittent rhythmic blasts. Violinist Cara Tweed, violist James Rhodes, cellist Nicholas Diodore, and pianist Nicholas Underhill gave a convincing reading of this anxious work.

The evening also featured an outstanding performance of Bohuslav Martinů’s Duo No. 2 for Violin and Cello by Tweed and Diodore, while alto flutist Sean Gabriel found all the wit and whimsy in Donald Erb’s Music for Mother Bear.

Article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on April 11, 2017.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – NEOSonicFest continues with four new music concerts this week

By Mike Telin

NEOSonicFest 2017 continues this week with four concerts that celebrate the breadth of Cleveland’s new music scene.

The festival will feature a performance by No Exit on Friday, March 24 at 8:00 pm at Heights Arts. “It will be a great concert. These are some of our favorite pieces in our repertoire, and it’s nice to be able to perform them again,” artistic director Timothy Beyer said during a recent conversation.

The program will include Ryan Gallagher’s Night Falls Fast for viola and percussion. “Ryan grew up in Cleveland, and one of his first pieces was part of CCS’s Young and Emerging Composers concerts, which is where I first met him,” Beyer said. “I’ve always been impressed with his music.”

Another composer Beyer first met through the Young and Emerging program is Matthew Ivic. “His Piano Quartet No. 1 is one of two pieces we’ve commissioned from him, and we’ve always loved it. We first performed it during our second season, and it’s nice to be able to bring it back.”

Columbus-based saxophonist and composer Michael Rene Torres’s Voices of Contempt for solo bass clarinet will receive its world premiere at the concert. “We were introduced to his music through our clarinetist, Gunnar Owen Hirthe, and we hope to play more of his music in the future.”

The evening will also feature Bohuslav Martinů’s Duo No. 2 for Violin and Cello and Donald Erb’s Music for Mother Bear. “I never had the opportunity to really get to know Donald Erb,” Beyer said. “Obviously, he loomed larger than life in the Cleveland new music scene. He was an inventive and original composer, and it’s great to include this piece on the program.”

Excerpted from an article originally published on ClevelandClassical.com on March 21, 2017.
The full article can be found – Here


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit: a conversation with composer Emily Koh

By Mike Telin

Composers never know how and when they will find inspiration for a new work. For Emily Koh it was during a visit to a museum. “I was walking around the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and a painting by Esphyr Slobodkina caught my attention,” Koh said during a recent telephone conversation. “Her pieces are abstract, colorful, and angular — all the things I find interesting, not only in music, but in art and sculpture as well.”

On Saturday, February 4 at 8:00 at SPACES Gallery, No Exit will present the world premiere of Emily Koh’s esphyr, performed by violinist Cara Tweed, pianist Nicholas Underhill, and percussionist Luke Rinderknecht. The concert will also include Lou Harrison’s Suite for Solo Piano (tribute to Arnold Schoenberg), Christopher Deane’s Mourning Dove Sonnet for vibraphone, Nicholas Underhill’s Habanera for violin, and George Antheil’s Violin Sonata No. 2. The program will be repeated on Monday, February 6 at Cleveland State University’s Drinko Auditorium, and on Saturday, February 11 at Heights Arts. Both concerts begin at 8:00 pm.

Koh began working on esphyr by sketching some of her musical ideas using brightly colored writing utensils. “The piece is not written in graphic notation, but the map was full of straight lines and angular movements,” she said.

Born in 1986, Koh is the recipient of awards from ASCAP, Prix D’Été, and PARMA. She has received commissions from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, Composers Conference at Wellesley College, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and has been awarded grants from New Music USA, Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy, and Artistic Excellence (Paul Abisheganaden Grant). A graduate of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, NUS, and the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, Koh is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Music Composition and Theory at Brandeis University.

Koh has found her success as a composer surprising. “I always thought of myself as going to conservatory to become an orchestral bass player. In high school, I had one composition class which made me think that maybe I should consider writing music. When I applied to college I also sent in a composition application, so I guess you could say the rest was history.”

Even with her busy schedule in North America, Emily Koh finds the time to stay in touch with her family in Singapore. “I visit my parents and grandparents as often as possible,” she said. “I’ve also had a lot of performances of my pieces there, which I am very thankful for. The fact that people are interested in hearing my music is very humbling.”

Originally Published on ClevelandClassical.com January 30, 2017.


No Exit Composer Portrait: Emily Koh


For No Exit’s upcoming February concert series, which will feature violinist Cara Tweed, pianist Nicholas Underhill and percussionist Luke Rinderknecht, we are excited to present a newly commissioned work by extraordinary composer Emily Koh. Emily’s work, which can be characterized for both its recognizably musical character and its re-imagining of instrumental texture, has been performed all over the world by ensembles such as the Singapore Symphony, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, the New England Philharmonic and the participants of the 2015 Singapore International Violin Competition.

Emily’s new work “Esphyr”, for violin, percussion and piano, is an intense look at how textures can grow out of an instrument with a fixed tuning and be transformed in to a far more robust texture through micro-tonal inflections on the violin and spectral accents in the percussion.

For now, enjoy a similarly colorful work by Emily “cis-[flux]”, recorded by the Boston based sinfonietta “[sound icon]”, which uses the same ingenious textures as “Esphyr”, but spread across an entire chamber orchestra.


From ClevelandClassical.com – No Exit and Zeitgeist at New SPACES (Jan. 15)

by Daniel Hathaway

noexit-1Zeitgeist, the new music ensemble from St. Paul, Minnesota, hosted their Cleveland colleagues, No Exit, in concerts in the Twin Cities last fall. No Exit returned the favor last weekend, joining Zeitgeist for three concerts at the Happy Dog Euclid Tavern, Heights Arts, and SPACES. We caught some of the pieces on their joint playlist at SPACES’ new location in Hingetown on Sunday, January 15, where the musicians presented several sets between noon and 5:00 pm.

The ambiance was completely informal. A double row of chairs was set up in the main gallery, but most of the audience either stood around the perimeter or circulated between rooms. Titles were only sporadically announced, and at times it was difficult to know if musicians were warming up, testing equipment, or if a piece had actually started.

The audience was obviously a mix of visual art fans and new music followers. The former were a chatty crowd, even when seated, the latter intent on hearing what was going on and not averse to shushing their more garrulous fellow travelers. Still, the laid-back atmosphere made it easy for the curious to dip an ear into music that was often both new and strange. And there was enough visual content to hold the attention of those who may be more stimulated by images than sounds.

Like most No Exit performances, this one featured a fascinating variety of styles and media. We walked in halfway through the first performance of Mark Applebaum’s The Metaphysics of Notation, in which the whole group of instrumentalists performed a graphic score projected on the back wall. In the program notes, No Exit associate director James Praznik writes that the piece “seeks to deconstruct and reinterpret the way in which musicians are trained to respond to certain symbols and then, by placing these symbols in a series of abstract collages, force a group of players to improvise and audibly bend their understanding of music in front of you, the audience.”

While made up of a vast catalogue of familiar symbols, the collages are complex and sometimes mystifying. Needless to say, the musicians’ reactions were as varied as individual interpretations of Rorschach images, and the collective texture could never be the same twice — as we heard in a second performance an hour or so later. Did the piece go on a bit too long? Perhaps, but there was a lot to watch and listen to.


A second multimedia work was James Praznik’s film Almost a New Man, originally performed by No Exit in 2011 with live cello, but now recomposed for bass clarinet and percussion (Zeitgeist’s Pat O’Keefe and Heather Barringer). Praznik shot the 17-minute film in addition to writing the live music to go with it.

The narrative is inscrutable, and some of the images disturbing. A man on a beach (Derrik Balogh) confronts a figure whose head is swathed in gauze. Cut to a filthy washroom sink into which the man spits up blood and later extracts a vinyl record from under the water. Gauze man drowns beach man in a bathtub, but both return for another encounter on the shore. And there’s more. The live music on Sunday was more sporadic than on the film, but no less chilling, and expertly played.

Per Bloland’s Shadows of the Electric Moon, a rare, virtuoso piece for upside-down snare drum, featured Zeitgeist’s Patti Cudd in league with a Mac laptop and a sound exciter. Eighty-some cues found Cudd using sticks and antique cymbals to conjure sounds from every part of the drum and its stand. Her virtuosic performance was equally riveting to watch and to listen to.


The two most accessible pieces we caught on Sunday were Marc Mellits’ Black and Pat O’Keefe’s Hello, Cleveland! Praznik writes in the program notes that “one of the greatest expressive qualities of ‘American Minimalism’ is its ability to clearly project a message of unfiltered excitement and joy during a performance.” That’s precisely what bass clarinetists Gunnar Owen Hirthe of No Exit and Pat O’Keefe of Zeitgeist accomplished during their dazzling encounter in Black. Chasing each other at daring time intervals, they ran through a whole roster of musical styles — breathlessly, though they seemed scarcely winded at the finish line.

O’Keefe’s piece, inspired by the Frank Gehry building at Case Western Reserve University, begins with lush textures, then turns foot-tappingly jazzy. Earning its Hello, Cleveland! inscription, it brought smiles to the faces of the onlookers.

Among other very positive impressions to be formed on Sunday: the acoustics of SPACES’ new digs are just as favorable to music as the old gallery space down the street. More performances to come, we hope.

Originally Published on ClevelandClassical.com January 17, 2017.


From ClevelandClassical.com – Zeitgeist to join No Exit for three Cleveland concerts

by Mike Telin

noexit-1“Groups like ours appeal to the most adventurous of listeners,” Zeitgeist percussionist Heather Barringer said during a recent Skype conversation. “They’re people who enjoy listening to something that hasn’t been listened to before.”

Beginning on Friday, January 13 at 7:30 pm at Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern, the St. Paul, Minnesota-based new music ensemble will join forces with Cleveland’s own No Exit for three free concerts featuring experimental music that explores the possibilities of multimedia, improvisation, and electroacoustics. Performances continue through Sunday. See below for a complete list of programs, times, and locations.

“These concerts are going to be really amazing, and each program is a little different,” No Exit artistic director Timothy Beyer wrote in an email. “These Cleveland concerts are the second leg of our multi-city collaboration. The first part of this season’s ensemble exchange program took place in St. Paul in the fall, and now Zeitgeist will be in Cleveland to return the favor.” The collaboration grew out of the two ensembles’ shared goal to bring greater national visibility to composers and performing artists who make their homes in the Midwest.

Founded in 1977 at Macalester College, Zeitgeist began as a loose collective of seven to ten musicians, but has since evolved into a quartet of two percussionists, a woodwind player, and a pianist.

Heather Barringer, who joined the group in 1990, said that the two groups have been friends since they were first introduced to each other through Cleveland State University composition professor Andrew Rindfleisch. “Andy was aware of our group and brought us to Cleveland many years ago, and that was when we first got to know Tim,” Barringer said.

Now in its second year, the collaboration has expanded to include the commissioning of new compositions. “During this series of concerts, No Exit will be performing a work they commissioned from Ann Millikan, a St. Paul composer they met last year,” Barringer said. “For Zeitgeist’s part, we’re going to be playing music by No Exit composers Tim Beyer and James Praznik.”

As the commissioning project grows, Barringer said she hopes they will commission works around shared topics such as the two areas’ relationship to the Great Lakes. “We want to create music that highlights the contrasts and similarities between St. Paul and Cleveland.”

Given that today’s composers are inspired by a such a range of sources, I asked Heather Barringer how she characterizes the music performed by ensembles like Zeitgeist and No Exit. “It is hard to describe, but I usually use the words ‘newly created music.’ There is an incredible amount of musical variety out there — from music that is completely electronic, to music that sounds very pop-oriented, to that which does not stray very far from classical.”

Originally Published on ClevelandClassical.com January 10, 2017.


No Exit Welcomes St.Paul Based Ensemble Zeitgeist for a Weekend of Music Making

We are very excited to announce our upcoming series of concerts which will serve as the second leg of our multi-city collaboration with the amazing Zeitgeist! The first part of this season’s ensemble exchange program took place in St. Paul, Minnesota where Zeitgeist hails from. Now Zeitgeist will be in Cleveland to return the favor! We have three concerts scheduled – 1/13 at the Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern, 1/14 at Heights Arts and on 1/15 a day long ‘open house’ concert at the new SPACES.

No Exit and Zeitgeist will be presenting a weekend of avant-garde music, performing both as individual ensembles and collectively to bring to you an experience which will run the gamut of experimental sounds including pieces which explore the realms of multimedia, improvisatory and electroacoustic music. Each concert will feature a different program so please check out each individual event invitation to see what we’ll be performing.

Featured on the program(s) are a few pieces which were written for (or otherwise are seeing their premiere) this series of concerts including Ann Millikan’s experiment in ‘chance’ music “Streams”, Timothy Beyer’s otherworldly “Shtetl”, Janika Vanderveide’s multimedia exploration of reality “This World is Maya” and a profound reimagining of James Praznik’s film/live music creation “Almost a New Man”.

You can find out more about Zeitgeist by visiting their Facebook page or by going to zeitgeistnewmusic.org


James Praznik’s Almost a New Man Re-imagined for Zeitgeist

almost-a-new-man-news-picComposer, filmmaker and No Exit’s associate director James Praznik created a unique piece for the ensemble, entitled Almost a New Man, which was premiered in April of 2011. James created both a film and a musical element (which was performed live and in real-time by No Exit’s cellist Nick Diodore), the result being an extraordinary and spellbinding work of art.

For No Exit’s upcoming series of concerts with Zeitgeist (which will take place in St.Paul, Minnesota November 10-13), James has re-imagined his multimedia masterpiece by composing entirely new music for it which will be performed by Zeitgeist’s clarinetist Pat O’Keefe and percussionist Heather Barringer. We plan on presenting Almost a New Man again this January when Zeitgeist comes to Cleveland to perform with No Exit.

Please enjoy the original version of James Praznik’s Almost a New Man…..


From ClevelandClassical.com – (Review) No Exit: “Sonic Landscapes” at Heights Arts (Oct. 8)

by Mike Telin

noexit-1For their latest series of concerts, the first-rate new music ensemble No Exit presented “Sonic Landscapes,” a program of six appealing works that explored the variety of ways composers use timbre, texture, and rhythm to create vivid imagery with sound. I was part of the capacity audience who attended the October 8 performance at Heights Arts.

Short, jabbing rhythmic patterns interjected into long melodic lines are the defining features of Danish composer Per Nørgård’s Spell (1973), which opened the concert. Like a trio of chameleons, clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe, cellist Nicholas Diodore, and pianist Nicholas Underhill deftly changed musical colors with each of the work’s short motifs.

The mark of a great composer of miniatures is the ability to create a complete musical arc within a three- to four-minute period, and the late Stephen Paulus knew exactly how to do that. Performing three movements from his Seven Miniatures (1989), Diodore, violinist Cara Tweed, and violist James Rhodes nimbly brought the jazzy “Caprice,” to life. The Trio evoked the stark, cold Nordic winter during “Lament,” and tossed off the quicksilver lines of the ending “Toccata” with flair.

The evening included three world premieres, the first of which was Cleveland State University faculty composer Greg D’Alessio’s Secret Lives of Birds (2016), for solo flutes and electronics. The work is beautifully constructed and inventively interweaves recorded bird songs and lyrical flute passages with live acoustic melodies. Performing on c and alto flutes, Sean Gabriel, for whom the piece was written, brought a graceful warmth to the alluring writing. A nice aspect of the piece is D’Alessio’s resistance to using a barrage of extended techniques in his flute writing, only a few flutter tongues are added here and there for ornamentation, allowing the listener to bask in the serenity of the music.

Born in Taiwan in 1995, Yuan-Keng Ling is currently studying composition at Brandeis University. A very brief, lighthearted work, Out of…// (2016), is centered around a single musical gesture with humorous riffs exchanged between the instruments around it. Here, percussionist Luke Rinderknecht joined Hirthe, Rhodes, and Underhill in a performance that articulated all that the music had to say.

The third premiere was Malaysian-born Hong-Da Chin’s Perpetuity (2016) for solo bass clarinet. Commissioned and performed by Gunnar Owen Hirthe, the work utilizes the entire range of the instrument, including some arresting harmonics in the high register. Throughout, Hirthe repeatedly demonstrated his technical prowess, as well as his stunning breath control. But in the end, Perpetuity indeed like something that was lasting forever.

Except for a slow “Americana-sounding” middle section, Jefferson Friedman’s 78 (2006), is ten minutes’ worth of rhythmic pulsating sound that creates the illusion of two trains on a fast track to collision. Friedman’s imaginative inclusion of blues chords, syncopations, and constant modulating harmonies keep the hyper-active work exciting. Rinderknecht led Gabriel, Hirthe, Tweed, Diodore, and Underhill in an impressive display of pin-point precision, bringing the evening to a wonderful conclusion.

Originally published on ClevelandClassical.com November 3, 2016.


From clevelandscene.com: Whether for Contemporary or Old Music, Two Artists Find Cleveland a Great Place to Live and Work

By Mike Telin


Cleveland provides fertile ground for artists who have grown up or gone to school here and later decided to make the city their home and a place for creating their artistic identities.

Just to choose two examples, composer and new music advocate Timothy Beyer, and Baroque oboist Debra Nagy have chosen to settle here — rather than move to the coasts — and each has established an ensemble that both represent their individual artistic missions and contribute to the cultural life of Cleveland.
“Music was always part of me,” native Clevelander and No Exit artistic director Timothy Beyer said, “although when I was a kid I never thought I would be a composer in the classical music sense. I was sure I would compose, but I thought it would be in the rock or jazz genres.”

Beyer, who spent most of his pre-adult life in the Heights, said that like a lot of kids, he began studying music at a young age, and played in a number of bands with friends.

“In the 1990s I formed a Jamaican Jazz band called Pressure Drop,” Beyer recalled. “We toured, recorded a record, and were featured on a few compilation CDs. It was a great way to spend my 20s, although it wasn’t something I saw myself doing forever.”

When Beyer began to find the Pressure Drop’s music to be too limiting for his expanding musical ideas, he started to think seriously about pursuing a career in classical music, a genre he had enjoyed all of his life. “Because the band was touring and playing a lot of gigs, I enrolled at Lakeland Community College. That was the easiest way to fit in my studies, and it seemed like a good way to get an education.”

After Lakeland, Beyer decided to totally immerse himself in his classical music studies. He enrolled at Cleveland State University and studied composition with Andrew Rindfleisch and Greg D’Alessio. “Both of them were wonderful teachers and the school provided me with the best set of circumstances I could ask for,” Beyer said. “Some college students are trying to find themselves, but because I was older, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do. I just needed to find the tools and the means to get there, and Andy and Greg were big forces in my life.”

Beyer earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in composition while beginning to create new music groups. “All composition students look to their peers to perform their music. During my last year as a student, I officially formed No Exit with pianist and composer Nick Underhill, violinist Cara Tweed, violist Tom Bowling, and cellist Nicholas Diodore. After I graduated in 2009, we became a professional ensemble. Composer James Praznik, and our art director, Matt Shaffer, have also been involved with the group since the beginning.”

Beyer noted that forming an ensemble was essential to the development of his career. “Musicians, and especially composers, need to be entrepreneurial,” he said. “It becomes clear very quickly that if you want any chance of having a life in this business, you have to create your own opportunities. And I find that I’m much happier doing it this way.”

Did they think about the role that No Exit could play in the musical life of Cleveland when they formed the group? “We did, and not to sound too full of myself, we planned out a course from the beginning and we’ve stuck with it. We’ve been very lucky that so far it’s paid off. We knew it would take some time to build an audience that would support groups like us. We needed to develop relationships with venues that fit the music we play, and places whose audiences were already somewhat aware of new music. That way, we’d have a chance of getting people in there even if they didn’t know us.”

Since the group’s founding, No Exit has performed regularly at Cleveland State University, where they are an ensemble in residence, as well as at SPACES Gallery, and Heights Arts.

Over time, No Exit has increasingly made collaborations an important part of their programming philosophy. “As I’ve grown older, I see less of a separation between artistic mediums,” Beyer said, “and over the past few years we’ve sought out collaborators who blur those lines. We’ve also brought in some great musicians from all over the country. This also ties into the idea of creating a culture for what we do. Cleveland has a lot of great new music groups aside from us, but it is beneficial to bring in people who I feel are the best at what they do. And the audiences have been responded positively.”

Beyer takes great pride in the fact that No Exit has had only one personnel change since 2009, when violist James Rhodes replaced Tom Bowling a couple of years ago. “Everyone has a good time making music together, and they want to get it right. There has been an astounding level of dedication to the ensemble, and all of the members have dedicated to make their homes in Cleveland. They’ve had opportunities in other places, but have chosen to stay because they want to be here.”

How does Beyer spend his time in the city when he’s not working? “I could talk about Cleveland all day,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve always been a local history buff, and there’s a plethora of interesting buildings and neighborhoods in this city. I do go to the Art Museum on a regular basis, and I like going to the police museum and some of the lesser-known cemeteries. And now that there are many great restaurants in Cleveland, I do take advantage of them. My folks were very hip on Zack Bruell’s restaurants, so I grew up eating at them. I still think they’re as good as it gets, but I do enjoy all of the great ethnic food as well.”

Excerpt originally published on clevelandscene.com: September 28, 2016


From clevelandclassical.com: No Exit to play three “Sonic Landscape” concerts on September 29 and October 1 & 8

by Mike Telin

noexit-1“We live in an era where composers are constantly re-imagining and re-contextualizing how sound can be used in their work,” No Exit artistic director Timothy Beyer said during a recent telephone conversation. “And the music featured on our upcoming series of concerts will explore the different ways that composers can use sound to really paint a picture.”

On Thursday, September 29 at Cleveland State University’s Drinko Auditorium, Saturday, October 1 at SPACES, and Saturday, October 8 at Heights Arts, No Exit will present “Sonic Landscapes.” The program will include music by Per Nørgård, Stephen Paulus, Jefferson Friedman, Hong-Da Chin, Greg D’Alessio, and Yuan-Keng Ling. All performances are at 8:00 pm.

“In addition to having a strong connection to nature, most of the pieces featured on these concerts focus on timbre, texture, and rhythm,” Beyer said. “While these elements are present in all music, the idea of using them as the primary means of expression is very cool. It almost challenges the listener to hear these pieces more as one may experience an abstract painting. So I suppose this is where the notion of ʻsonic landscapesʼ or ʻsonic painting,ʼ if you will, came from.”

Beyer described Per Nørgård’s Spell for clarinet, cello, and piano as fugacious and captivating. “Nørgård’s music doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and I’m surprised by that. I know you hear this kind of fluffy language applied to a lot of pieces, but Spell is a great showpiece that really is a journey from beginning to end.”

When asked about Stephen Paulusʼs Seven Miniatures, Beyer said that in his mind, they are the perfect embodiment of what miniatures should be. “Paulus knows how to approach the form. He knows how to minimize the materials and ideas, and he knows how to bring out that special something that is so wonderfully evocative and moving.”

Beyer is happy to able to include Jefferson Friedmanʼs 78 on the program, a work he compared to a freight train. “A lot of composers bring rock music or other popular forms of music into the classical arena, and I think that Jefferson does it in the best way I have ever heard. It doesn’t sound like pop or rock, but you can clearly hear those styles in it.”

Continuing a long No Exit tradition, world premieres will play a key role in the program. Greg D’Alessio’s The Secret Lives of Birds for flute and electronics is built around field recordings of bird songs. “Greg has inventively manipulated those songs. Besides the flute that will be played live, he also recorded some flute sounds and has manipulated those as well. It’s the kind of writing that Greg does best.”

Hong-Da Chin’s Perpetuity was commissioned by No Exit clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe. “Gunnar has worked with Hong-Da in the past and liked his music very much. The way he uses sounds fits the program’s title perfectly. It’s a colorful piece with a lot of rhythmic texture.

“Yuan-Keng Ling is a student at Brandeis University. I would not go so far as to call his Out of…// ‘spectral music,’ but it is in that camp. It’s very nuanced and impeccably put together. Both Chin and Ling are very talented young composers who have a lot to say and are definitely speaking in their own voices.”

Published on ClevelandClassical.com September 27, 2016.

From coolcleveland.com: NO EXIT New Music Ensemble Paints a Picture with New Contemporary Classical Art Music Program

Thu 9/29 @ 8PM

Sat 10/1 @ 8PM

Sat 10/8 @ 8PM

For the better part of the last decade, Cleveland’s NO EXIT New Music Ensemble has been pushing the boundaries of contemporary classical art music.

Now, NO EXIT returns with a new program of experimental music exploring the manner in which composers use sound to paint a picture. Free performances of compositions by Per Nørgård, Stephen Paulus and Jefferson Friedman, as well as new works by Hong-Da Chin, Greg D’Alessio and Yuan-Keng Ling are scheduled for Thu 9/29 @ 8pm at Cleveland State University’s Drinko Auditorium, Sat 10/1 @ 8pm SPACES and Sat 10/8 @ 8pm at Heights Arts.

CoolCleveland talked to NO EXIT artistic director/composer Tim Beyer about the unique septet, which this year will be performing more than 20 shows.

What’s the history behind NO EXIT?

Our first concert was in 2009. The original group was a piano quartet. These were all people I knew through my affiliation with Cleveland State. Since then, we’ve expanded the lineup to include a percussionist, a clarinetist and a flutist, as well as a supporting staff. The vision has always been focused on bringing this sort of avant-garde music to Cleveland and presenting a far wider plethora of what’s out there. It’s not a criticism, but we were all generally unsatisfied with what we were able to find in our area. A lot of the new music being played was the same sort of thing. And it’s a big world out there. We also had a desire to promote the works of young and emerging composers, people who hadn’t really had a lot of opportunities to get their music out there. So it was an opportunity to create our own opportunities as musicians, composers and also pass those opportunities on to other people. To date, we’ve commissioned over 70 pieces of music. That’s a big part of what we do. We also do residencies and workshops to further that aim.

Can you elaborate on the type of music and compositions that define the NO EXIT sensibility?

There are so many extraordinary people out there who have a very unique and singular voice. They really are sort of their own compass in what they’re doing, and a lot of that was not being represented. At least that’s what we saw. What we were seeing was music that represented the middle, and there’s a lot more taking place on either side.

It seems as though NO EXIT is attracted to esoteric or adventurous material.

It’s a lot of things. Our concept is we are into things that at times may be esoteric but are avant-garde, on the vanguard in some way or another. A few years ago, we did a program of Raymond Scott’s work. He was a very interesting, unique iconoclast of the jazz world. No one has done anything like him before or since. So we brought in a lot of other jazz musicians to supplement the group. And then on the other end of the spectrum, we may do a concert of people doing very interesting and vanguard things to multimedia or electronics work. And then we might do people who just write for a string quartet but they’re working in new and different ways to use sound and write pieces. So it’s not one thing we do. It’s more of an overarching philosophy that we look for composers that we feel are avant-garde and are very much working off their own compass.

Who have you found enjoys a NO EXIT concert?

At the beginning, we felt if we were going to see any level of success here you need to help create a culture for it. A lot of people won’t go to Severance Hall but they would go to SPACES. So what we found is a lot of different people. And there really isn’t a type. Also, it depends on shows. Like when we did the Raymond Scott thing, we got a lot of jazz people who may not come to the rest of our concerts. Last year we did a tribute to Erik Satie, so there were people there who had an interest in Satie. But generally speaking, the audience has been growing and we found people in Cleveland have been amazingly receptive.

It seems as though it’s safe to say if you’re into classical music or more esoteric contemporary styles, at the very least NO EXIT provides an entertaining evening of music.

People don’t walk away unhappy, regardless. And I think a lot of people really enjoy it. Usually when one goes to a see a concert, we put ourselves in a certain mode. We kind of understand what a concert-going experience is, whether it’s a rock concert or going to the orchestra or whatever. But I think when people get into this space and hear what we’re doing, it sort of challenges them to experience the music in a very different way. Most people find that very rewarding in one sense or another. And ironically, I think most of our audience is not the traditional sense classical people. In fact, I think classical people tend to stay away from things like this. They’d rather hear Beethoven or Mahler. Which is great. It’s incredible music so there’s not as much as a cross pollination as one might think.

Originally published on coolcleveland.com


‘Sonic Landscapes’ Composer Portrait: Yuan-Keng Ling

Yuan Keng Photo
For our fall concert series ‘Sonic Landscapes’, No Exit is presenting music which seeks to create a ‘sonic environment’, one in which fully immerses the listener in the experience….music that you can really smell, touch and taste. To this end, we have carefully selected pieces that focus on color and texture, music that strives to evoke elements usually reserved for the visual arts. One of the composers we asked to participate in this project is Yuan-Keng “Ernest” Ling, whose work is subtly dramatic and imbued with organicism.

Ernest is also well versed in popular music, having a rock band in his native Taiwan. I believe this sort of “having a foot in two worlds” artist can always surprise an audience with whatever they create, as is most certainly the case with Yuan-Keng Ling. We’d like to share a piece of his that takes a very different approach than what you will hear on our fall program. Enjoy!


No Exit Welcomes Our Newest Member, Clarinetist Gunnar Owen Hirthe

Photo by Michiko Saiki

Photo by Michiko Saiki

No Exit is happy to announce the addition of Gunnar Owen Hirthe to the ensemble’s line-up. Gunnar thrilled us with his inspired performances during his stint as a special guest artist when he appeared on No Exit’s last series of concerts (April 2016).

Gunnar Owen Hirthe hails from Green Bay, Wisconsin and is currently studying new music for clarinet at Bowling Green State University’s Doctoral Program in Contemporary Music. This distinguished program is focused on the artistic specialization of music from the 20th and 21st centuries. Gunnar has worked extensively with experimental, avant-garde and electronic music.

We are proud to have him be a part of No Exit!