From Vermont and Baltimore, to Dallas

Sunday, February 1, 2015

This month FD, the lifestyle magazine of the Dallas Morning News, profiles Yellow Barn's Artistic Director, Seth Knopp, who also serves as Artistic Director of Soundings: New Music at the Nasher. Now in its fifth season, Soundings is the cornerstone of an ongoing collaboration between the Nasher and Yellow Barn.

If you put together the words serious music and Dallas, the first things you may think of are the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in the acoustically perfect Meyerson, or the Dallas Opera in the lipstick-red Winspear.

Try to think a little differently.

You can be in the Arts District and skirt the glamour of the big venues and their more traditional programming. Seth Knopp, of the chamber music and piano faculties of the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and of the Yellow Barn Music School and Festival in Putney, Vermont, is a pianist. He is also a distinctly un-Dallas-like fellow. Soulful, Jewish, intellectual: He’d be more at home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side or in Brooklyn than in Dallas’ glitz. But since 2010, Knopp has been the man behind the most innovative, quirky music series in this city. Soundings: New Music at the Nasher blends the tried and true with the avant-garde — and it continues to play to packed houses. In November, the superb young cellist Alisa Weilerstein played solo works by Bach and then 20th-century masters. This month, and in April and May, “Music From Yellow Barn” will involve percussion and string quartets, the harmonious and the dissonant.

Knopp, 55, grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. His father, a math professor, was besotted with music; his mother was an amateur pianist. He studied with the master pianists Leonard Shure and Leon Fleisher and, while in Philadelphia, played classical cocktail piano at a restaurant near the University of Pennsylvania campus. By 1987 he was ensconced in Baltimore; in 1998 he took over Yellow Barn. The center for chamber-music study and concerts was founded in 1969, and now hosts more than 4,000 people who come to hear more than 100 musicians yearly. Just last month, Yellow Barn was presented a prestigious honor, for the second time, with a telling name: the Adventurous Programming Award from Chamber Music America and the American Society of Composers and Publishers. All this — plus classes, studios, workshops and residencies — amid 100 rolling, idyllic acres in southeastern Vermont. (Yellow Barn’s eight studios are there on the campus of the Greenwood School, for boys with dyslexia and other learning differences. It also makes use of the Big Barn performance space, in downtown Putney, just three miles away.) Knopp is Yellow Barn’s artistic director.

He certainly obsesses over music. “One reason to do [it],” Knopp says, “is to understand life better and to bring you in touch with other people. But it’s also a fact that music is a window to the world.” That missionary zeal is part of what brought Knopp together with Jeremy Strick, the director of the Nasher Sculpture Center. Yellow Barn and Nasher patrons Charles and Jessie Price — the music supporters keep a low philanthropic profile in Dallas, very much off the radar — made the connection. “I indicated,” says Strick, “that we needed a brilliant programmer to organize” a new-music program. “Charles suggested Seth, whom he’d met years earlier when Seth performed in a concert at the Nasher.” When Soundings began, both Strick and Knopp had no idea whether people would come. Now, the 200-seat Nasher auditorium, about the size of Yellow Barn’s main Big Barn performance space, is usually sold out for each program, well in advance. The concerts, says Strick, “engage and challenge audiences in [the Nasher’s] intimate space — something Dallas is clearly eager to experience.” No matter where it’s heard, Knopp is building audiences and making people realize there is no reason to fear new music. In fact, he doesn’t think about his programs geographically: His only goal is that the performers and their audiences “lose themselves in their listening.” He says he loves the Texas openness about collaborations between groups, the cross-pollination that comes out of — and then feeds back into — a sense of community. A different kind of community is, of course, the very essence of the chamber works and other small groupings that the Nasher presents, nothing so large as a full-scale orchestral program. For Knopp, acutely alert to the transcendent power of music, the greatest pleasure comes in these small groups. What he likes best is working with singers, and in May he will collaborate with the soprano Lucy Shelton in a performance of Arnold Schönberg’s 1912 Pierrot Lunaire, on a program that will also include theater and cabaret songs by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.

Yet for all the public aspects of music and music-making, Knopp remains, like many performers, instinctively private. For the public, he relishes performing Beethoven — but in the solitude of his own room, it’s Bach and Chopin. He performs and has teaching residencies all over: Toronto, Austin, Chicago and Washington state have been recent stops. At home in Baltimore, he administers, creates programs and works with chamber ensembles and pianists at Peabody. I ask how long he can go without practicing, especially when he’s on the road. Three days without playing for himself, he says, induces twitchiness. “Practicing becomes a home. It’s not a chore. It’s where you find yourself. When I’m at the piano, I know that’s where I’m meant to be.”

By Willard Spiegelman

Yellow Barn’s 2015 Summer Artwork

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Eric Aho, Figures in a Landscape, 2014, 50×60", oil on canvas, Courtesy the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York

Figures in a Landscape is a recollection of a walk through a bright, wide field with friends in late summer. The “figures” in this painting are enveloped by the surrounding landscape, an integral part of it like the grasses in the foreground.

—Eric Aho

Eric Aho (b. 1966) is an American painter known for his gestural, abstracted canvases evoking natural forms and color. Aho’s paintings arise from direct experiences in the landscape and are then developed primarily in the studio from memory.

Aho studied at the Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in London, England and received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. In 1989 he participated in the first exchange of scholars in over thirty years between the U.S. and Cuba. He completed his graduate work at the Lahti Art Institute in Finland supported by a Fulbright Fellowship in 1991-92 and an American-Scandinavian Foundation grant in 1993.

His work is included in the permanent collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. Aho was elected National Academician of the National Academy Museum in 2009. He lives and works in Saxtons River, Vermont. DC Moore Gallery in New York has represented his work since 2009 and will present an exhibition of new paintings in October 2015.

Find out about the 2015 Summer Season

Yellow Barn in the Boston Globe's "Top Ten of 2014"

Sunday, December 28, 2014

On August 3, 2014 Yellow Barn's 45th Summer Season came to a close with an unannounced performance of All The Things You Are for piano left hand alone performed by Leon Fleisher as a gift for Yellow Barn musicians and audience members. This magical moment appeared in the Boston Globe's "Top Ten Performances of 2014" alongside performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Handel & Haydn Society.

Read Jeremy Eichler's feature article about Yellow Barn and its season finale

Yellow Barn wins Adventurous Programming Award

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Yellow Barn, an international center for chamber music based in Putney, Vermont, has received the 2015 Adventurous Programming Award from Chamber Music America and the American Society of Composers and Publishers.
This is the second Adventurous Programming Award for Yellow Barn, which won in the category for presenters of more than 10 concerts of mixed repertoire. Other past winners include the Kronos Quartet, Aspen Music School and Festival, and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.
Through these awards CMA and ASCAP celebrate the ongoing vitality of chamber music by honoring creativity in chamber music programming. In Yellow Barn’s case, its sense of adventure comes from presenting concerts that recognize the potential of music from all eras to give insight into the world around us.
“In programming, my hope is to help illuminate music for the interpreter and audience member in ways that invite them to lose themselves in their listening. Inspired by the natural and limitless connections different musics share, we are free to experience what we hear without being constrained by the weight of tradition, and can be brought closer to our world and to our essence,” said Artistic Director Seth Knopp.
Yellow Barn welcomes musicians and audiences from all over the world to its annual Summer Festival and ongoing Artist Residencies. Last year Yellow Barn presented over 30 concerts in Putney and across the nation, in addition to special events for multi-generational audiences, and workshops in local schools.

Programs generated by its Artist Residencies in Putney travel through collaborations with organizations in other fields, most notably with the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, where last year’s Yellow Barn programs included performances honoring President Kennedy on the 50th Anniversary of his death at City Performance Hall and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.
Another program developed at Yellow Barn, “The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book”, currently is touring North America, with upcoming performances at the University of Chicago and the Morgan Library.
The 2015 CMA/ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming will be presented on Sunday, January 18th at CMA's National Conference in New York.

Find out more about Yellow Barn's Summer Season

Peruse the 2014 summer concert programs

Learn about current and past Artist Residencies

In Return for My Song: Learn More

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The play of tension and release is a vitally important element in our experience of music, and tonality, the hierarchical relationship between pitches or harmonies, is one framework that guides us. Much is asked of an audience experiencing new work with sounds that are less familiar but the ear is quick and can adapt to new sounds when context is there to guide us.

The centerpiece of this residency is a microtonal work by composer James Wood titled “Déploration sur la mort de Gérard Grisey." Microtonal music makes use of intervals smaller than the evenly spaced, Western semi-tone, and is used in a wide variety of music; from traditional systems of Indian music and Indonesian gamelan music, to rock and roll and the blues.

The Parker Quartet and Ian Rosenbaum will take us on a sonic adventure that explores the incredible variety of music that can be referred to as “microtonal” and works that stretch our concept of other tonal systems.

Public Events

Learn more at a free discussion with the artists on December 18th at the Putney Public Library

Buy tickets for the concert on December 20th at Next Stage


The following playlist draws from the great variety of music sometimes referred to as "microtonal". Many of these selections can be found online on You Tube, or through online stores such as Spotify and iTunes. Click on the links for additional program notes.

Jeff Beck (b. 1944), electric guitar About Jeff Beck
A Day in the Life-Live (Live and Exclusive from the Grammy Museum) (2010)
Over the Rainbow (Emotion and Commotion) (2010)
I Ain’t Superstitous (Beckology) (1991)
Definitely Maybe (The Jeff Beck Group) (1972)
Led Boots (Wired) (1976)

Jon Catler, electric guitar Program Note
Sleeping Beauty (2007)
Planet Slicer 1 (2007)
Planet Slicer 2 (2007)

Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012), composer Program Note
Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco (1980)

John Lee Hooker (1917-2001), blues singer, songwriter and guitarist
Boom Boom (1961)

A form of microtone known as the blue note is an integral part of rock music and one of its predecessors, the blues. The blue notes, located on the third, fifth, and seventh notes of a diatonic major scale, are flattened by a variable microtone.

Ben Johnston (b. 1926), composer Program Note
String Quartet #5 (1979)

Harry Partch (1901-1974), composer Program Note
Delusion of the Fury (1964-6)

Radiohead (1985-)
How to Disappear Completely (2000)

Tan Dun, composer (b. 1957) Program Note
Eight Colors for String Quartet (1986-8)

Nicola Vicentino, composer (1511-1572) Program Note
Musica prisca caput (1555)

Luciano Berio, composer (1925-2003) Program Note
Naturale for viola, percussion, and tape (1985-6)


John Lee Hooker
Boom Boom 
Download a PDF of the song text

How to Disappear Completely
Download a PDF of the song text

Now Playing on YB Radio

We look forward to the arrival of percussionist Ian Rosenbaum and the Parker Quartet with recordings of their performances, along with music we remember from last year's residencies.

Yellow Barn in the Washington Post

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Celia Wren writes for The Washington Post in advance of a performance at the Jewish Literary Festival in Washington, DC on October 20, 2014:

A tale some 600 years old will turn another page Oct. 20, when the multimedia concert “The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book” has its D.C. premiere. The production, with an original accordion-and-piano score by Bosnian-born composer and accordionist Merima Kljuco, draws on the staggeringly eventful history of the eponymous liturgical volume, whose origins may date as far back as the mid-14th century.

The concert is part of this year’s Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, mounted by the D.C. Jewish Community Center and running Oct. 19-29.

A Haggadah, the order of service used at the Passover Seder, includes a recounting of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. The richly illustrated and ornamented volume that became known as the Sarajevo Haggadah originated in medieval Spain at a time of relative harmony for that country’s Jewish, Christian and Muslim citizens. After surviving Spain’s expulsion of the Jews in 1492, the book turned up in Venice, where, in 1609, a Catholic censor’s inscription seems to have preserved it from destruction in the Inquisition.

By 1894, the Haggadah was in Sarajevo. During World War II, a Muslim librarian at Sarajevo’s national museum hid the book from the Nazis, and during the Bosnian War in the 1990s, another Muslim librarian saved the priceless volume by moving it to a bank vault during fierce shelling.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is “a symbol of survival, and a symbol that inspires respect and tolerance toward different traditions and cultures,” says Kljuco, who grew up in Sarajevo and remembers a society that — before the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s — reveled in diversity. Families such as hers, she said, celebrated holidays with Jewish, Christian and Muslim neighbors and felt a bond with multiple cultural heritages.

“It was a very difficult moment for most of us when the nationalists came to power and started to divide us,” Kljuco said by phone from her home in Los Angeles.

Kljuco started playing the accordion at age 12. She lived through part of the war but left Bosnia in 1993, when she was 19, and continued her musical studies in Germany and the Netherlands. About four years ago, a friend gave her a copy of “People of the Book,” a novel about the Sarajevo Haggadah by Geraldine Brooks, who had covered the Bosnian war for the Wall Street Journal. Kljuco was familiar with story of the Haggadah, but Brooks’s book gave her a jolt of inspiration: She decided to compose a piece of music that would follow the book’s journey through the centuries.

The Sarajevo Haggadah’s unusual illustrations depict, among other events, God’s creation of the world, so Kljuco began her 12-movement composition with a sequence in which her accordion mimics the sound of breath — an evocation of metaphysical and artistic creation. Subsequent portions of the score incorporate fragments of Sephardic melodies and bits of traditional Bosnian music and reference a medieval Jewish-Italian dance. And, Kljuco says, with clusters of notes in the piano’s low register, she “tried to paint musically the terrifying sounds I experienced during the war” in Bosnia.

Kljuco worked on the piece during a residency at Yellow Barn, a center for chamber music in Putney, Vt. That organization’s artistic director, Seth Knopp (a founding member of the Peabody Trio), became the pianist for the work, which grew to incorporate Bart Woodstrup’s video imagery. Woodstrup digitally animated the Haggadah’s illustrations and other features in such a way as to evoke the book’s historical experience. For instance, Kljuco said, the visual accompaniment to a movement she titled “Inquisitor” shows pages of the Haggadah engulfed in flames — until the 1609 inscription by the Catholic censor appears, seeming to extinguish the fire.

Commissioned by the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s New Jewish Culture Network, “The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book” had its world premiere at Yellow Barn in March. It also has been seen in Dallas, San Francisco and elsewhere. At its debut in the Boston area in late March, novelist Brooks experienced the piece for the first time.

“I was completely blown away by it,” Brooks said by phone from her home on Martha’s Vineyard. The range and artistry of Kljuco’s music, she says, was a particular surprise: “I had always thought of the accordion as polka, you know?” Instead, Brooks said, Kljuco “takes you to war with this instrument. She takes you on a journey through sinuous Spanish-inflected music, through Italian music, through music of the Ladino community in their exile. In her hands, it’s such a versatile instrument.”

The piano contributes further atmosphere, Brooks said, and the video “draws on the artistry of the Sarajevo Haggadah but reinterprets it in this delicious feast for the eye.”

For the Boston-area debut, Brooks contributed an introduction and participated in a post-performance discussion, and she will handle similar duties in Washington. Audiences appreciate hearing about “the various hands that saved” the Haggadah over time, she said.

The book, Brooks said, has survived instances of “this recurring disease we humans have of demonizing otherness” and has become “a symbol of those who can stand up against these poisonous ideologies of Us and Them.”

The D.C. performance of “The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book” is not the first offering in the Jewish Literary Festival — there’s a local-author fair Oct. 19 — but it is being billed as the official opening event.

DCJCC’s chief executive officer, Carole R. Zawatsky, said the production’s use of 21st-century technology to bring “vibrant life” to a 14th-century artifact “encapsulates the dynamism” of the Jewish experience.

“Jews have lived all over the globe and are also always in the process of reinvigorating our own story throughout time and space,” she said.