Berlin Premiere (+audio excerpts), Life in Deutschland, Aesthetic Reassessment!

Four weeks ago, I had a premiere in Berlin at the annual Fulbright conference with an ensemble made up of American Fulbrighters livingin Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Hungary.  The work performed was the chamber version of three songs in collaboration with an american Poet living in Dortmund, Kate Thorpe (no relation), and conductor Thomas Heuser living in München.  I was quite happy with the overall result, and am now working on an expansion and re-orchestration which will be premiered and recorded in San Francisco this coming August as part of the 2nd Annual Melos Music Concert, which I will elaborate upon later.  For those of you that are interested, I’ve made a handful of rough audio excerpts temporarily available here, with program notes below…  More to come later once I receive the professional recording, this was done simply with a small field recorder in the audience.

I’ve started work on a solo piece for Alto Saxophone, for Michael Torres, a D.M.A. candidate at Ohio State University, who will perform the work at a National Saxophone convention in 2012.  I’m currently studying the multiphonics and extended techniques available on the instrument, and familiarizing myself with the repertoire.  I’ve also just had a meeting with a young German independent filmmaker studying in Sweden, who will be making a documentary on ‘Busking’ in Hamburg in July, essentially examining the lives of street artists and musicians.  I will be composing the score, or more specifically I will compile a musical sound collage made up of the sounds of the city, music captured live during filming, my own field recordings, and additional musical reinforcement of my own design.

Next up, I’m heading to Essen on April 30 for the German premiere of my first art songs (written in 2007) by Polish soprano Yvonne Prentki.  I’m in the process of scheduling formal interview sessions with Peter Michael Hamel, Sascha Lino Lemke and Walter Zimmermann (among others), as well as familiarizing myself with their music and background information.  Will be attending a performance of ‘Moses und Aron’ in Zurich in May, Schönberg’s unfinished Opera, and hopefully the regional premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s opera ‘Dionysos’ in Amsterdam in June.  As mentioned above, the organization ‘Melos Music’, of which I am the president and founder, will be holding our 2nd Annual New Music Concert August 19th in San Francisco.  We are currently in the process of applying for a variety of grants and funding for the concert, as well as two days of recording sessions produced in tandem with the concert, with professional performers and the premieres of 11 works by our composer members from all over the U.S.  I am EXTREMELY excited about this project, and am certain that we will produce an event of a very high caliber, with the resulting CD and documentary footage being made available later.  You can find more information about the project proposal, concert, recording sessions, and public outreach/Q&A planned here.  I’ve signed my Eastman papers, and will be beginning in the Fall as a Ph.D. candidate.  Although I’ll miss Hamburg, I am very much looking forward to it, and being immersed in a community of very high level composers, performers and creativity.  I’ve also just recently learned that Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, who was a guest composer I studied with intermittently over the course of one year at UNLV, and whom I will be studying with again at Eastman, was nominated for the Pulitzer prize.

The sorts of things on my mind recently mostly have to do with my aesthetic direction as a composer, and the ways in which I interact with the music and people I am surrounded by.  Although I am very proud of the work I have achieved to date, I cannot help but feel that I have not yet found my ‘voice’, and I believe that my exposure to the composers here in Germany will have a very interesting effect upon my future work.  The types of issues that have arisen in conversation and from my own reflection upon the concerts and seminars I’ve been attending, have as much to do with philosophical attitudes towards composition (and art in general) as they do with aesthetic preference.  However, despite any radical opinions that myself or others may have, the music I’ve been exposed to has certainly opened my eyes to new technical possibilities, orchestrational techniques, and a sound world that is unlike anything I had ever been aware of while in the United States.  I feel that with the next few pieces that I write, it is imperative that I start with a truly blank slate, and to explore sonorities, techniques and organizational materials that I had not before considered.  I hope to achieve this by writing a series of solo works in which my compositional emphasis shifts from exactness and complex organization of pitch material, to an emphasis on gesture, color, and intensity/spontaneity.  Beginning with this work for Alto Saxophone, and later works for harp, organ, solo voice, piano and others, I hope to break from some of the aesthetic and technical boxes that I currently find myself within…

PROGRAM NOTES FOR ‘FOUR BERLIN SONGS’ from Fulbright Conference/Gala Concert
The selections being performed this evening from Four Berlin Songs are initial sketches that will soon be expanded for chamber orchestra, with the addition of a fourth movement to complete the song cycle.  This collaborative project was initiated when composer Jason Thorpe Buchanan, conductor Thomas Heuser, and poet Kate Thorpe first met as Fulbright fellows in Marburg, Germany in August of 2010.  The potential subject matter for Kate’s soon to be written poetry was discussed at length, exploring themes such as distance, time, memory, culture, and the creative process, as well as the role of art in modern society.

In later correspondence she described her interest in “making connections and erasing distinctions (new growth, life, oddness, distortion, re-seeing of the everyday world)” and “having a central strand that remains constant”, for other ideas to “grow or be juxtaposed against…. I think of a spiral often–that you’re in roughly the same place but further out/in–also different.”  In composing these songs, my intention was to retain Kate’s idea of a spiral, where one remains at a fixed point spatially and observes their surroundings change, thus shifting perspectives while physically remaining in stasis.  This principle is applied harmonically and thematically through polytonality and the superimposition of germinal pitch and rhythmic materials, while simultaneously retaining a strong sense of centricity.

I have found that the opportunity to write these songs has come at a stage in my life where, as an American composer living in Germany, my mind is constantly filled with thoughts, questions, and doubts regarding my own aesthetic values and national identity; feelings I imagine many of us experience during our time abroad.  How can the familiar and unknown be reconciled— the comfortable and the unsettling, the romantic and the avant-garde, the old and the new?  These are questions that I have asked myself over and over again throughout the process of composing these works.  My hope is that these issues are reflected in the musical atmosphere within which these songs exist, alongside the tension, fragmentation, decay, roughness, expression and space alluded to in Kate’s poetry.
– Jason Thorpe Buchanan



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