Hearne: Vessels

Program Note

I conducted the Red Light Ensemble in their first concert in 2005. The group was started by Scott Wollschleger and Vince Raikhel, two of my best homeys from Manhattan School of Music, who had asked me to conduct Gerard Grisey's Vortex Temporum on their first concert. That experience—learning, rehearsing, performing such an incredible work of contemporary music with my friends—was super important for me, and after that, the fun never stopped.

—Ted Hearne

Although that blurb is meant as a plug for Red Light New Music’s latest album, Barbary Coast (2015), Hearne cites the experience of conducting Vortex Temporum (1995) as a formative creative moment in the chain of events which led to the composition of Vessels. Vortex, a seminal work by French spectralist Gerard Grisey, utilizes distinct textures to demarcate its various sections. Although Grisey dedicated Vortex Temporum to prominent Darmstadt School composers Helmut Lachenmann and Salvatore Sciarrino, he buried hidden influences of Impressionism – particularly, an extended homage to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe (1912) – amongst its largely atonal and microtonal vocabulary.  

Grisey’s concept of buried material patiently stuck around while Hearne left the Manhattan School for further graduate work at Yale and wrote the comparatively large-scale, style-hopping Katrina Ballads (2007). Once he returned to a smaller, more traditional chamber instrumentation with Vessels, Hearne sought to reapply that layered effect in his own work. In a literal sense, the composer describes “masking the core sound of the instruments” with hazy textures he denotes in the score as “flickering”, “otherworldly”, and “dreamy, breathy”. These eventually give way to the “protected, rich material” – the core of the sound – which lies underneath. The structure of this narrative, driven entirely by shifts in the timbres produced by the violin and viola, is itself indebted to Grisey’s Vortex as well as to the work of Hearne’s fellow Red Light member, Scott Wollschleger.

Located further below what Hearne hears as the core sound of the trio is the influence of the minimal, groove-based textures of Michael Gordon and the rest of the Bang on a Can collective. Although these sounds are not strongly audible in Vessels, Hearne wanted to “bury that American influence and discover what ways its head would pop out” over the course of the piece. The composer explains the benefits of a diverse palette of inspiration in a blog post:

“Our divisions and alliances, our segregations and minglings, our power dynamics, our setbacks and progresses—they are all traceable in our musical decisions, and in the ways we choose to classify them. People identify with music that reflects some part of themselves. […] The composer’s (and performer’s) choices about how to express their ideas factor into their engagement of different genres or stylistic signifiers, and are usually inextricable from it.”

Vessels was written for Anne Lanzilotti and Miki Sophia-Cloud, who were some of the biggest new-music advocates during Hearne’s time at Yale and remain two of his closest friends and collaborators.

—Josh Davidoff

Composer, singer, and bandleader Ted Hearne draws on a wide breadth of influences ranging across music's full terrain to create intense, personal and multi-dimensional works.

Hearne's newest theatrical work, The Source, sets text from the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, along with words by Chelsea Manning (the U.S. Army private who leaked those classified documents to WikiLeaks), and was premiered last October at the BAM Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn. Hearne’s piece Katrina Ballads, another modern-day oratorio with a primary source libretto, was awarded the 2009 Gaudeamus Prize in composition and was named one of the best classical albums of 2010 by Time Out Chicago and The Washington Post. A recent collaboration paired him with legendary musician Erykah Badu, for whom he wrote an evening-length work combining new music with arrangements of songs from her 2008 album New Amerykah: Part One

Law of Mosaics, Hearne’s 30-minute piece for string orchestra, will see performances this year by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony. His album of the same name, with Andrew Norman and A Far Cry, was named one of The New Yorker’s notable albums of 2014 by Alex Ross.

A charismatic vocalist, Hearne performs with Philip White as the vocal-electronics duo R WE WHO R WE, whose debut album (New Focus Recordings) was called “eminently, if weirdly, danceable and utterly gripping.” (Time Out Chicago). Two forthcoming albums of vocal music, The Source and Outlanders, will see release on New Amsterdam Records in 2015.

Ted Hearne was awarded the 2014 New Voices Residency from Boosey and Hawkes, and recently joined the composition faculty at the University of Southern California. Recent and upcoming commissions include orchestral works for the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New World Symphony, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and A Far Cry, chamber works for eighth blackbird, Yarn/Wire and Alarm Will Sound, and vocal works for Volti, The Crossing, and Roomful of Teeth.