Video program note: Four Iconoclastic Episodes

Saturday, June 23, 2018

In 2003, during Steven Mackey's first composer residency at Yellow Barn, violinist Anthony Marwood proposed the idea of a double-concerto for violin and electric guitar with string orchestra. Six years later, Steve and Anthony premiered Four Iconoclastic Episodes. On July 26, 2018 the double-concerto comes home to Yellow Barn for a performance with Steve and Anthony in the Big Barn. Steve describes the genesis and composition of his piece in the following video program note:

Songs of Refuge and Resistance

Friday, June 22, 2018

In advance of Yellow Barn's 2018 Summer Gala, The Westerlies offer the following notes for their program with Theo Bleckmann, Songs of Refuge and Resistance, which was developed during a Yellow Barn Artist Residency in June 2018:

In June of 2018, Theo Bleckmann and The Westerlies worked in residence at Yellow Barn to pair songs of resistance with songs of refuge, seeking to balance music’s integral role in protest movements with the power of songs to provide internal solace amidst external turmoil.

This balance is perhaps no better demonstrated than in the two pieces that bookend the evening, those of Joni Mitchell and Judee Sill. Joni Mitchell first recorded The Fiddle and the Drum on her 1969 album Clouds, and its anti-war message has been associated with a number of resistance movements since the 60’s. A contemporary of Mitchell, Sill released two albums in the early 1970’s before her untimely death from drug overdose in 1979. Her 1973 song The Kiss is a demonstration of her remarkable lyricism and Bach-influenced harmonic sensibility.

The protest song is given a fresh, new take in the work of American composer Phil Kline. A veteran of New York’s downtown scene, Kline’s work has been hailed for its originality, beauty, subversive subtext, and wry humor. 3 Rumsfeld Songs come from his 2004 work Zippo Songs, a statement on war and the politics of war based on the Pentagon briefings of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The song cycle was written for Theo Bleckmann and was one of the most talked-about records of 2004, winning “Best of the Year” citations throughout the world, from The New York Times to The Guardian, from CNN to NPR. His song Thoughts and Prayers was written for Theo Bleckmann and The Westerlies during their June 2018 residency at Yellow Barn, and sets the words of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivor and activist Emma Gonzalez’s speech addressing the NRA.

Two original pieces in the program by members of The Westerlies draw on their inspiration from the world of poetry. Trombonist Andy Clausen’s Land was composed while in residence at Yellow Barn in June 2018, and sets words from Agha Shahid Ali’s poem of the same title. Exploring the complexities of life as an Indian-American immigrant, Agha’s work colorfully illustrates the thematic and cultural poles of past and present; America and India, Islamic and American geography, American cities and former American Indian tribes. Trumpeter Riley Mulherkar’s Looking Out is a reflection on the poem of the same name by Japanese-American activist, feminist, essayist, and poet Mitsuye Yamada. Born in Japan, Yamada spent most of her childhood in Seattle until 1942, when her father was arrested by the FBI for espionage and she was interned at the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho. The poem “Looking Out” comes from her 1992 work Camp Notes and Other Writings, and is juxtaposed here with text from FDR’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary ofWar to prescribe certain areas as military zones and cleared the way for the incarceration of 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry.

True to their Seattle roots, The Westerlies find another voice of resistance in Pacific Northwest history in Joe Hill, a Swedish-American immigrant and laborer who rose to prominence as an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. As Hill and other IWW organizers traveled to lumber and construction camps throughout the west, they would often encounter missionaries from the Salvation Army who were attempting to convert the local migrant workers to Christianity. One of the Salvation Army’s (referred to fondly by the IWW as the “Starvation Army”) most popular hymns was “In the Sweet By and By”; in response to the Salvation Army’s overtures to the migrant workers, Joe Hill, a gifted songwriter himself, wrote a parody version of “In the Sweet By and By” called “The Preacher and the Slave”. Trombonist Willem de Koch’s arrangement juxtaposes the two songs side-by-side, highlighting Hill’s witty, cynical lyrics. 

Early in their development as an ensemble, The Westerlies found mentorship in Seattle-based composer and pianist Wayne Horvitz; their first performance was at his Seattle club The Royal Room, and their first recording was their 2014 album of his compositions, Wish The Children Would Come On Home. These two Horvitz pieces come from his 2012 work Smokestack Arias, a song cycle for soprano voice, piano and pre-recorded electronics and accompanied by dance performances with text by Robin Holcomb. Inspired by the 1916 labor uprising and resultant deaths, now known at the Everett Massacre, each song portrays the perspective of a different woman affected by the uprising and the deaths of the slain protesters, giving a personal account of a seminal event in the history of the Pacific Northwest labor movement. 

Perhaps no voice is more associated with American protest songs than that of Woody Guthrie, and his voice is channeled through The Westerlies in many iterations. One of the songs, entitled Tear the Fascists Down was recorded in 1944 but never released until 2009, when master discs of Stinson Records were discovered in a Brooklyn apartment. At the same time that Guthrie was writing his songs, Bertolt Brecht was a prominent international voice of freedom. His poem “Bitten der Kinder” was written in 1951 and set to music by Paul Dessau, originally written to be sung by a children’s choir but arranged here by Riley Mulherkar.

Amidst these voices of resistance, the original songs of refuge by members of the ensemble shine. Another Holiday by Theo Bleckmann, was written in June of 2016 shortly after the mass shooting atPulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Says Bleckmann, “Unlike my often long and intensely critical editing processes when writing music, ‘Another Holiday’ seemed to appear almost fully formed. This is a not a protest song but a song about being without refuge, of being isolated from your family because of whom you love.” Also bringing familial relationships into the program is Andy Clausen, who wrote Grandmar in November of 2017, shortly after the passing of his grandmother. Says Clausen, “the piece is a meditation on the challenges of loving someone with whom you have vehement political disagreements.”

The theme of refuge is exemplified in Wade in the Water, a well-known spiritual work song from the Underground Railroad. The meditative melody is a hymn of resistance and unification, originating from one of the (many) dark times in the African American struggle. Theo Bleckmann arranges it here next to Look for the Union Label, a TV commercial song from the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (formerly the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and other unions). Composed by R&B Soul artist Malcolm Dodds to a lyric by advertising executive Paula Green, the melody seems to strongly reference Jerome Kern’s Look for the Silver Lining.

Theo Bleckmann and The Westerlies would like to thank Yellow Barn for making this program possible.

In Their Own Words

Sunday, June 17, 2018

2018 Young Artists Program composers, left to right:
Adam Karelin, Benjamin Champion, Theodore Haber, Hannah Ishizaki, Lauren Vandervelden, Matthew Pinder, Sequoyah Sugiyama

The Young Artists Program concert on June 17, 2018 features seven world premiere performances of works by our YAP composers. Here is what they have to say about their work:

Theodore Haber (b.1999)
Entrances at Bay (2018)

I often go to a place called Indian rock to clear my head when I am back home in Berkeley, California. It is a rock formation that has been in the Berkeley hills for hundreds of years. From the top, you can see all of the Bay Area. When I arrived back home after finishing my first year in college, I wanted to go there to reflect. Along with me, I had brought a book of manuscript paper. I decided, while watching the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge, to start writing this piece. I knew that I wanted to explore the idea of a single line as the entire conceptual and sonic material for the piece, but where that line would go, and how it would develop, I was not yet sure. So, as I sat at the top of Indian rock, reflecting on my year, looking forward, both in time and physically at the setting sun, I wrote the first few iterations, or entrances, of the line. They were the entrances at bay.

Adam Karelin (b.2000)
System Preferences (2018)

System Preferences is a collection of three pieces: Systema Naturæ, Systema Machina, and Systema Deus. Systema Deus was premiered and recorded in the summer of 2017 in Los Angeles, by members of the Sunset ChamberFest. The full System Preferences suite is being premiered this afternoon, by members of the Yellow Barn Young Artists Program.

The pieces call for a retuned violin and mutes for the strings and piano in order to repurpose the sound of the trio in painting a landscape that is technically familiar to the players and sonically unfamiliar to the audience. The three systems share germinal material but treat it distinctly. Both the timbral similarities and disparities of the three instruments are explored through the dramatic scope of the ensemble.

Hannah Ishizaki (b.2000)
Lyrids (2018)

Lyrids was inspired by a yearly meteor shower called the Lyrids, which occurs in April and passes through the constellation Lyra. This piece follows the emotions of an observer from the anticipation of the astronomical event to its passing and the subsequent stillness. Lyrids begins with a cello solo that represents the observer’s watchful hope, which is then passed to violin and then viola. The expectation is broken by punctuated piano that reflects the bursts of adrenalin upon viewing the first meteors in the sky, leading into the full meteor shower. The calm of dawn then comes at the end, but the feeling of anticipation for the next night’s meteor shower still remains.

Sequoyah Sugiyama (b.1997)
Variations (2018)

Variations for piano quintet is my first foray into the world of integral serialism, a compositional technique wherein the constituent elements of the various parameters of music (i.e. pitch, rhythm, dynamics, etc.) are serialized, or placed into a strict order and realized almost exclusively in that order. Serialism was a divisive force in 20th century music, notorious for alienating concertgoers by prioritizing a seemingly academic rigor over conventionally pleasing aesthetics. But it is difficult to make generalizations about what the philosophical or artistic impetus for the emergence of serialism is because composers approached it in vastly different ways, and for sometimes contradicting reasons. My historical fascination with this approach to composition has evolved into a musical interest. In writing Variations, I set out to discover what I can learn from serial technique.

Lauren Vandervelden (b.1999)
Apprehension (2018)

Before writing Apprehension, I knew my friend Anoush would be performing the clarinet part. This inspired me to craft a virtuosic clarinet part that would show off this quality in her playing. Beginning mysteriously, the clarinet line becomes more improvisatory, highlighted with percussive gestures. This cadenza-like opening allows the players musical freedom, enabling them to utilize liberty in the pacing of the introduction, pushing and pulling to create a sense of tension. The turbulence of the beginning erupts into a faster, more playful, yet still agitated section. My inspiration for the title came not from my analysis of my composition, but instead from my confusing the 12:00pm deadline given for the completion of my work and thinking it was 12:00am instead. Having missed the deadline, I was overwhelmed with panic and realized my anxiety resembled the turmoil of my composition, making Apprehension the obvious choice for my title.

Matthew Pinder (b.1998)
String Quartet (2018)

This is the first movement of a four-movement string quartet. The movements are arranged in a slow-fast-slow-fast manner and this the first slow movement. One of my primary goals in composing this piece was to make sure every note had a definite place and purpose and to use as few notes as possible to convey as much as possible. I didn’t want to have dissonance just for dissonance’s sake or consonance just for consonance’s sake. What resulted was a movement consisting of long phrases with a slow melodic motion. It is my opinion that the long notes often hold tension and drama more effectively than fast notes and I tried to utilize this as much a possible in this piece.

The beginning is somewhat unusual. I have written a 29-measure duet between the first violin and the viola. This introduction is somewhat tonally ambiguous and the texture is thin because there are only two voices. When the whole quartet plays together for the first time, at measure 30, the warmth of a D-major chord is a polar opposite to what came before it. Throughout the rest of the piece I explore many different tonalities and textures while keeping the melodic motion relatively slow.

Benjamin Champion (b.2000)
Turtle Sphere (2018)

Waiting for things to happen is one of my favorite activities. I imagine that sea turtles are the grand masters of waiting. I like to think that this piece waits for things to happen, in the same way that I imagine sea turtles do. I wrote this piece in a “non-discriminatory” way, by which I mean I sat in front of a piece of paper without preconception and wrote as ideas occurred to me. My only objective was to fill each page with an idea or a shape and then wait, not only for the next idea to come, but for the eventual textual arc holding all of the events together to reveal itself.

More works by these young composers can be heard on Thursday, June 28 and Friday, June 29 at The Big Barn.


Music No Boundaries: NYC 2018

Sunday, May 27, 2018


May 24-26, 2018

Yellow Barn Music Haul's second annual trip to NYC spanned three days of performances in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens with 34 musicians performing on street corners, in neighborhood plazas, and at city parks.

Titled “Music No Boundaries: New York City”, Seth Knopp’s programming included an evening performance dedicated to Bach’s cello suites, guitarist and composer Steven Mackey and percussionist Jason Treuting performing their original work Orpheus Unsung, Travis Laplante performing original works for solo saxophone, and many performances by Yellow Barn festival alumni. 

See below for the full schedule of locations, programs, and performers.


Daniel Anastasio piano

Natasha Brofsky cello

Julia Bruskin cello

Lizzie Burns double bass

Elspeth Davis voice

Erika Dohi piano

Margaret Dyer viola

Madeleine Fayette cello

Gabriel Feldman piano

Magdalena Filipczak violin

Rosie Gallagher flute

Amanda Gookin cello

Melanie Henley Heyn voice

Brian Hong violin

Michael Katz cello

Travis Laplante saxophone

Jennifer Liu violin

Steven Mackey electric guitar

Merz Trio (Brigid Coleridge, violin; Julia Yang, cello; Lee Dionne, piano)

Bryan Park cello

Emely Phelps piano

Edvard Pogossian cello

Ian Rosenbaum percussion

Maren Rothfritz viola

Domenic Salerni violin

Daniel Schlosberg piano

Lucy Shelton voice

Max Tan violin

Cordelia Tapping voice

Jason Treuting drums

Andrea White flute

Aaron Wolff cello

Sound Engineer: Dev Ray

Stage Managers: Michael Bradley Cohen and John Zdojeski


Yellow Barn is grateful to the following people and associations for making this tour possible:

Peter Arndtsen, Columbus Amsterdam BID

Astoria Park Alliance

Phil Gordon, Lincoln Square BID

Owen Harang, 34th Street Partnership

Andrew Ronan, NYC DOT

Full Schedule

Thursday, May 24 | 4-6pm
Herald Square Plaza, on Broadway between 35th and 36th St., Manhattan

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Suite No.1 in G Major, BWV 1007 (1720)
Julia Bruskin, Madeleine Fayette, Michael Katz, cellos

J.S. Bach Suite No.2 in D Minor, BWV 1008 (1720)
Edvard Pogossian, Aaron Wolff, Madeleine Fayette, cellos

J.S. Bach Suite No.3 in C Major, BWV 1009 (1720)
Edvard Pogossian, Natasha Brofsky, Julia Bruskin, cellos

J.S. Bach Suite No.4 in E-flat Major, BWV 1010 (1720)
Aaron Wolff, Julia Bruskin, Natasha Brofsky, Michael Katz, cellos

J.S. Bach Suite No.5 in C Minor, BWV 1011 (1720)
Edvard Pogossian, Michael Katz, Natasha Brofsky, Aaron Wolff, cellos 

J.S. Bach Suite No.6 in D Major, BWV 1012 (1720)
Aaron Wolff, Natasha Brofsky, Madeleine Fayette, Julia Bruskin, cellos

Friday, May 25 | 12-3pm
108th St. and Broadway, Manhattan

"Open Mic" with Yellow Barn Musicians

Edwin Roxburgh (b.1937) Stardrift (1992)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Syrinx (1913)
Rosie Gallagher, flute

Elvis Costello (b.1954) Songs from “The Juliet Letters” (1993)
Elspeth Davis, voice; Brian Hong, Domenic Salerni, violins; Margaret Dyer, viola; Amanda Gookin, cello

Elliot Carter (1908-2012) Figment III (2007)
Lizzie Burns, double bass

Mark Applebaum (b.1967) Aphasia (2010)
Steve Reich (b.1936) Pieces of Wood (1973)
Ian Rosenbaum, percussion

Ursula Mamlok (1923-2016) Haiku Settings (1967)
Lucy Shelton, voice; Andrea White, flute

Cathy Berberian (1925-1983) Stripsody (1966)
Lucy Shelton, voice

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Serenade in D Major, Op.8 (1795-97)
Magdalena Filipczak, violin; Maren Rothfritz, viola; Bryan Park, cello

Popular and Jazz Favorites
Cordelia Tapping, voice; Gabriel Feldman, piano

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) Gretchen am Spinnrade, arr. Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) from Iberia, Book I “Evocación” (1906)
Daniel Anastasio, piano

Kris Davis (b.1980) Trees and Grass on the Other Side of the Tracks (2018)
Erika Dohi, piano

Traditional American Folk Songs
Melanie Henley Heyn, voice

Friday, May 25 | 6-8pm
Richard Tucker Square at 66th St. and Broadway, Manhattan

Travis Laplante (b.1982) Original works for solo saxophone
Travis Laplante, saxophone

Steven Mackey (b.1956) and Jason Treuting (b.1977) Orpheus Unsung (2015)
Steven Mackey, electric guitar; Jason Treuting, drums

Saturday, May 26 | 12-2pm
Astoria Park, near Charybdis Playground, Queens

"Open Mic" with Yellow Barn Musicians

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Sonata No.1 in G Minor, BWV 1001 (1720)
Max Tan, violin

Popular and Jazz Favorites
Cordelia Tapping, voice; Gabriel Feldman, piano

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op.70 No.2
Merz Trio (Lee Dionne, piano; Brigid Coleridge, violin; Julia Yang, cello)

Donald Martino (1931-2005) from Fantasies and Impromptus (1981)
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) from 24 Preludes, Op.11 (1888-96)
Emely Phelps, piano

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) Sonata in A Minor, Z.804 (c.1680)
Jennifer Liu, Brian Hong, violins; Aaron Wolff, cello; Daniel Schlosberg, continuo

Saturday, May 26 | 7-9pm
Wyckoff Plaza at the Myrtle-Wyckoff subway station, Brooklyn

Steven Mackey (b.1956) and Jason Treuting (b.1977) Orpheus Unsung (2015)
Steven Mackey, electric guitar; Jason Treuting, drums

Travis Laplante (b.1982) Original works for solo saxophone
Travis Laplante, saxophone

Yellow Barn’s 2018 Summer Artwork

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Katie Loesel, Plastiglomerate: Human Fossil, ink and watercolor, 22" x 30"; Courtesy the artist
Katie Loesel’s current work uses abstraction and color to explore ideas of geological history, microscopic surfaces, and rocky formations. Her interest in human influence on climate change and plastic as a distinct marker of our current era plays into the shapes and forms. Plastiglomerate is a new type of rock formation that has been proposed as a geological marker of our current epoch, the Anthropocene, created from a mixture of natural and sedimentary elements fused by plastic from the ocean. The horror and intrigue from this distinctly human interference inspires the shape, form, and color that meld together through layers in the artwork. The appearance of these objects in the work are strangely playful, yet expose our flaws as creators of this plastic virus that is becoming layered into our history. The subjects in the artwork develop and grow in complexity throughout the process of making and layering and range from simple, overlapping shapes, to complicated structures.
Katie Loesel grew up on Lake Erie in Erie, Pennsylvania. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking from The Cleveland Institute of Art in Cleveland, Ohio and a Certificate in Museum Studies from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. She is a snowboarder, sailor, crafter, gardener, environmentalist, cyclist, and lover of local food and drink. After living in Thailand and Boston, Katie moved to Vermont to focus on her art. She tends to make prints, drawings, installations, and sometimes books. She has participated in artist residency programs at Vermont Studio Center and Zea Mays Print Studio. Her work has been exhibited nationally, with frequent shows throughout Vermont. Katie is the recipient of a 2016 Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant. Katie teaches printmaking at Burlington City Arts and Champlain College.

Find out about Yellow Barn's 2018 Summer Season

Ornamentation and Articulation in Bach

Friday, March 23, 2018
Pianist Enrico Elisi discusses his April 2018 artist residency, Bach's Partitas for Keyboard:
The life of a performing musician who is simultaneously juggling the many responsibilities of a full-time professorship is hectic. Occasionally, I feel the need for a short escape to find protected time for my practicing and personal studies. When that retreat takes place at Yellow Barn—an idyllic place with studio space in quiet, spacious settings—one feels grateful. For this reason, it is exciting to imagine and look forward to my upcoming residency, when I will be able to concentrate on qualitative work and find some truly productive time!
This residency will give me the chance to continue my studies of selected repertoire by J.S. Bach, in preparation for three upcoming solo recitals in China, the United States, and Italy. In addition, this moment of unique concentration on my work will be of great value for my upcoming CD project on the same subject. The focus of my residency is the study of choices of ornamentation and articulation, as well as the variety of applied possibilities, that the original text of Bach's selected works suggests based on historical evidence. In addition, I wish to use the uninterrupted time at my disposal to transcribe and study ornaments and articulations used by selected keyboard players who have left us recorded and vibrant interpretations of Bach. I am especially (but not solely) interested in the work of musicians who perform Bach on historical keyboards. Since I play Bach on the modern piano, the view of musicians who do not can only compliment and enrich what I feel more comfortable with. I am ready to accept the challenge!
There is a downside to this idea, however, which has to do with certain traditions in the field of classical music. For instance, young jazz pianists routinely transcribe sound documents as a tool to better understand and study the styles of various performers. Unfortunately, this is not widespread among "classical" pianists, or, to avoid the use of that misunderstood word, pianists tackling other forms of art music. On the contrary, it is often frowned upon. 
This said, I have a very open-minded approach, and if the result of my work can help me (and others, when I present what I have discovered to other musicians) think of a few more possibilities to draw upon ornaments and articulations more freely (possibly, even on the spur of the moment from the available choices) and thus create some fresher interpretations, then I will be satisfied with the scope of the project. 
Naturally, there are helpful (albeit confusing) statements on ornamentation in several important historical sources (the major treatises of the Baroque period, for instance), but even those suggestions can be interpreted slightly differently among performers. Transcriptions may reveal differences in the interpretation of ornaments played by different musicians. Interpretations can vary between musicians even when their choices are based on historical evidence. The truth is that there are some possibilities and I am far more interested in the notion of the variety of these possibilities than of confining myself to accepting only one view (for instance, the first I envision). If there is one truth about the Baroque period, it is that performers were allowed a certain latitude with the text. The symbols—the notes, the pauses, the slurs, the staccatos, the ornaments—were meant as starting points. This does not mean that a performer should have a green light to do what he or she wishes at will. I hope to find a balance—a synthesis—between these radical points. I know that my journey at Yellow Barn will be a fascinating one!

Enrico will conclude his residency with a performance at Next Stage on Saturday, May 5th at 8pm. The concert concludes with an open discussion between musician and audience.