Friday, October 23, 2015

Checking in with Evan Johnson & Adrienne Elisha

This week, we continue profiling and former UB composers and alum who are working on a variety of exciting musical projects.

Evan Johnson
Evan Johnson's music has always focused on "extremes of density and of reticence, of difficulty and of sparsity, and on hiding itself.  This aesthetic of microscopic focus on the faint and fragmentary, exploiting complex sonic peripheries and exploring the musical minuscule in great detail has led The Telegraph to praise his ability to "[conjure] a Beckett-like eloquence from stammers and silences."

This can be heard in one of Johnson's most recent works, my pouert and goyng ouer, for baritone voice, bass clarinet, trumpet and trombone.  The work, premiered last year by New York's Loadbang (who the Center is excited to host for a residency next month), bears an aphoristic program note which, at once, emphasizes its nervously introverted quietude while belying its complexity:  
Badly lit, interiorized, atomized, fragmentary, mumbled, private and unclear: focused intently on the minor detail and on marginal, intermittently audible pressures.
Notated in Johnson's characteristic calligraphic notation, the piece hints at a gorgeously intricate sound world just out of the listener's reach, a labyrinthine flicker of nervous shadows on a cave wall.

Johnson graduated from the PhD program in 2006, and his music has been programmed by an impressive number of internationally-acclaimed ensembles since then, including past/future Center-guests the Mivos Quartet, Dal Niente, and Ensemble SurPlus, among many others, and his work has been heard at several festivals including Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik, Klangwerkstatt Berlin, Dark Music Days, June in Buffalo, and the Darmstadt Summer Courses (at which he was the recipient of a 2012 Fellowship Prize).

Some of the composer's most recent works include indolentiae ars, a medium to be kept, for eighteenth-century basset clarinet, which will be premiered by Musikfabrik's Carl Rosman early next year in Cologne, and the evocatively-titled three reversed movements, to bring destroyed objects back to life, which was premiered by pianist Michael Finnissy last summer.  Johnson describes the latter as, "A small set of motions, extremely, painfully private, miniature rituals."

Evan Johnson, emoi
His current composition projects include Wolke über Bäumen for violin with baroque bow and gut strings, which will be premiered by Karin Hellqvist at the 2016 Ultima festival, and a new work for 'cellist Severine Ballon, to be premiered at the conDiT festival (Buenos Aires) and Tectonics Reykjavik in 2016.  Johnson will also be featured in portrait recordings to be released next year on Carrier Records and Another Timbre, and in two upcoming portrait concerts:  one at Spectrum (NYC) in April and another based around his complete unaccompanied vocal works by Accordant Commons in May.  His work will also see release on recital discs by Ryan Muncy (Largo calligrafico / patientiam for baritone saxophone, on Tundra) and Richard Craig (émoi for bass flute, on Metier Records).  The latter work, a meditation on what Jacques Lacan called "the most profound form of being disturbed in the dimension of movement" can be heard below:

Adrienne Elisha
Adrienne Elisha is a composer and violist who graduated from the PhD program in 2007.  As an advocate for new music, she regularly performs her own pieces and other contemporary works for viola, as she did at the International Bartók festival in Szombathely, Hungary.  Elisha regularly performs with the Slee Sinfonietta, and has been a guest violist with SIGNAL Ensemble and, currently, TON (The Orchestra Now).  In 2008, she displayed
Paul Klee,
Once Emerged from
the Grey of Night
both aspects of her musicianship when she performed with Ensemble Paul Klee in the premiere of Tristan Murail's Liber Fulguralis at a concert in Switzerland. The Klee center also displayed her own work, inspired by Klee's painting, Once Emerged from the Grey of Night, at a play station.

Some of Elisha's recent honors include her 2009 Herrenhaus Composer Residency in Edenkoben, Germany (more about that here), a 2011 Outer Cape Cod Artist's Residency, and fellowships from the 2011 Wellesley Composers Conference (Mario Davidovsky, director) and the MacDowell Colony.  Her works often feature a density of gesture and counterpoint, an often ferocious intensity which is even evident in solo compositions.  For example, listen to Inner Voices for solo viola, a work the composer will perform next month in Switzerland:

Rochester City Ballet rehearses InCantation
Following her residency at MacDowell, Elisha was granted a composer fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation for a residency at the Bellagio Center (May 2013).  Her work, InCantation, for solo bass and thirteen dancers, was commissioned by the Rochester City Ballet, and was premiered by James VanDemark and RCB in January of last year.  In addition, her recent string octet, Azure, was premiered in September 2014 by the Chamber Orchestra of Boston.  This eloquently lyrical piece, with harmonic textures at times glisteningly brilliant or lush and sinewy, was also broadcast on WPRB, and can be heard below.  The same ensemble has commissioned a second work from Elisha, which will be premiered next April.

Congrats to Evan and Adrienne for all their accomplishments and upcoming projects!  We're eagerly looking forward to what they come up with next!