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June 7, 7p

Walker & Co (The Loft)

107 W Mississippi Ave, Ruston, LA 71272

[Livestream Link]

Program

Matchsticks by Jacob Schoenle (Georgia)

 

Remains of a Permian Gas Station by Alan Mackwell (Colorado)

 

Miniatures from Phoenicia by Sami Seif (Lebanon)

a tulip iron by Angela Slater (United Kingdom)

Duo by Jack Wilds (Texas)

 

Notes

Matchsticks began as an experiment with rhythm and timbral layering. The "woody" timbral possibilities of this ensemble—toward which I quickly gravitated—began to remind me of my childhood discovery of "found sounds." When I was young with little to do, I often used whatever I could find (boards, logs, rubber bands, etc.) to see what interesting sounds it could make; I even fashioned crude string instruments on which I could play a simple tune. With a whole ensemble of professionally-crafted instruments now at my disposal, the possibilities for this piece were...relatively limitless. The woody layers that emerged create a rhythmic mosaic that erupts into dancing flames—like matchsticks—and brings the music to its fiery conclusion.


Remains of a Permian Gas Station, which won a BMI Student Composer Award in 2022, is a string trio inspired by an abandoned gas station in West Texas. Through its eight movements, Remains of a Permian Gas Station explores themes of degradation through its structure while sonically simulating the gas station’s deteriorating interior; promises of musical symmetry are inevitably corroded, recurring musical ideas are twisted before being left for dead, leaving space for strange, organic ideas to spring from the cracks. The piece, like the gas station it takes its inspiration from, urges forward from the exploitative systems that once defined it and finds roots in decay.

Around 1050 BC, the Phoenicians invented the very first writing system based on phonetics. Spread by Phoenician merchants across the Mediterranean world, it evolved and was assimilated by many other cultures and became the foundation for the Roman alphabet used by Western civilization – as well as all other alphabetic writing systems currently in use. Miniatures from Phoenicia intersects my curiosity about linguistics (specifically the branch of phonology) with my interest in the history of my ancestors, the Phoenicians, particularly their groundbreaking innovation – the phonetic alphabet – into my music. The music is partially inspired by the main phonological groups: vowels, plosives (p, t, k, etc…), sibilances/fricatives (s, sh, f, etc...). The music of Phoenicia has been lost. With this piece, however, I invite the audience to re-imagine what it might have sounded like. I ask the flutist to play in a number of unconventional ways – sometimes superimposing multiple extended techniques on top of each other. The language of the music is constructed with the help of small cells that form recursive patterns – mimicking the recursive nature of Semitic languages. Perhaps one might hear the spirit of ancient Phoenicia come back to life through these miniatures. Miniatures from Phoenicia is dedicated to Mary Kay Fink who so generously helped me, and without whom this piece would not exist in its current form. I am eternally grateful for all of her guidance, ideas and inspiration – as well as for premiering the piece.

Note from librettist Kendra Preston Leonard: a tulip, iron is about the fear and horror created by psychological and emotional abuse, the relief of escape from abuse, and the work required to contend with traumatic memories of it. Using Perle Fine’s work The Early Morning Garden (1957) as a focusing device for this lyric, I work with elements of the natural world as well as my own personal history. The mezzo soprano and tenor serve as protagonist and antagonist, respectfully, and I’ve made it deliberately unclear as to whether their texts and interactions are taking place in the present or are memories. The text is in three loose sections, through which the protagonist moves from fear and intense self-doubt into greater agency, grapples with the causes and extent of her wounds, recognizes how trauma has shaped her, and becomes able to distance herself from it. The antagonist diminishes and humiliates the protagonist, causing her to hesitate and sing in fragments of sentences. He calls her simple and an embarrassment, disparaging her mind and body and abilities, even as she begins to communicate more fully and lyrically and draws on a wider world for her outlook. Finally, he—or the memory of his words and actions—falls silent, becoming nothing to the protagonist, as she leaves the scene—or memory—with self- determination. Note from the composer Angela Elizabeth Slater: When I approached Kendra for a unique text to set, I asked her to explore memory as something difficult, questioning why certain things happened the way they happened, questioning yourself and whether things were your own fault. I wanted the text to draw on the deep intense emotions that still bubble over the surface from the bullying and gaslighting. I experienced at school. I have found this text deeply emotionally powerful to set. Alongside this, I engaged with the visual stimulus of Perle Fine's work The Early Morning Garden. Taken together, these helped me find a soundworld that is a mixture of fragility and strength, whilst exploring the nuances of colours and distinct gestural shapes for both the string players and the vocalists. The piece should be treated as an imagined scene from a larger narrative trajectory set ambiguously in memory or somewhere real; perhaps it is both.

Duo is a work for marimba and bass clarinet based on the interval control technique pioneered by Lou Harrison. Rather than a more traditional soloist-accompaniment paradigm, the piece features both instruments as equal partners as it develops the motivic material through various moods and tempos.

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