Brightwork newmusic: Migrations

Brightwork returns to T@MS for a program featuring Alexandra Gardner's highly lyrical music and provocative Migrations, a piece that explores the nonrandom movement of an atom or radical from one place to another within a molecule. And birds.


Jonathon Grasse - Radio Free Los Angeles
Clarence Barlow - Für Luise
Alexandra Gardner - Migrations


Liviu Marinescu - Harmonic Fields
Paul Hindemith - Bassoon Sonata
Kaija Saariaho - Mirrors
Sean Friar - Scale 9

An interview with Alexandra Gardner

Can you tell us about your piece "Migrations," and what initially sparked your interest in the concept?

Migrations was originally composed for the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. I often like the concept for a piece to have multiple layers of meaning, so in this case I was interested in the idea of migrating birds, as well as in the idea of migration in the molecular sense. Just to dispel the myth that composing is a romantic activity, I can tell you that I finished copying the score and parts for this piece in the laundry room of a hotel in Aspen Colorado, in the middle of the night. Very unromantic, but a good story!

How do you apply the concept of migrations musically within the piece?

There is a lot of small step-wise movement in the instrumental parts overall, but in the larger structure of the piece, the "big moment" is when all of the music takes a dramatic shift. One whole step up!

What are your general sources of inspiration when writing music?

Many things, but particularly mythology, literature and my training as a percussionist.

As a successful female composer in a male-dominated field, what has your experience been like? Do you have any advice for other women composers?

I can safely say that I have been extremely fortunate, in that my primary mentors have always been female, so I have not experienced some of the difficulties that my colleagues have. However, there are always challenges that arise, and I expect there will continue to be for a long time to come, although things are improving for sure. My advice for other women composers would be that while under no circumstances should one try to "be musically like the boys" if that is not of interest, it is helpful to put oneself in the same places where the boys are, as much as possible. Make sure you are seen and heard as a peer by being present and accounted for. It's not easy, but then being a composer is never easy!

Program Notes

Two Movements for Mixed Sextet (Radio Free Los Angeles) was completed for Brightwork in 2017, premiering at the Festival of New and Improvised Music at CSU Dominguez Hills. The first, polystylistic movement consists of two sections. “Playful mystery/curious inuendo,” is polyphonic, pairing like-instruments propelled by regular pulsations, then by ambiguous rhythmic gestures and discontinuities within a seven-beat meter. A brief moment of massive vertical sonorities breaks this up. The second section, “Reading the Sun,” consists of contrasting passages including melodies anchored by the piano’s block chord progression, a homophonic texture followed by two ostinato-based passages closing the movement. Following a long, bowed vibraphone pitch, the second movement’s entirely different minimalistic rock feel begins with pizzicato strings in a four against three polyrhythm characterizing the entire movement. “Evocation” is a thorough re-arrangement of the final movement of my Trio for Oboe, Flute, and Piano (2010). This tonal/modal material is also dominated by a cyclic, tertial chord progression moving by minor thirds, and features a flute/clarinet duet with pulsing accompaniment also answering and augmenting the duet’s melodies. The work’s subtitle “Radio Free Los Angeles” is an innocently apolitical riff off of Radio Free Europe, the U.S.’s Cold War-era propaganda broadcasts aimed at the U.S.S.R.’s Eastern Bloc.​ -Jonathon Grasse

Für Luise: Ladies and gentlemen, it is borderline-frightening how rapidly the supply of extant music multiplies. This takes place not only in the field of *new* music, as we can easily find via the currently growing catalogs of countless thousands of living composers, but also in the constantly new, previously unknown works of late masters. This is due, at least in part, to the sudden discovery of lost scores, but also, more recently, through the direct mediation from the Hereafter. This new path of communication with the Great Beyond led to the birth of yet another new science, Necromusicology, by which musical works can now be revived from the Spirit of the Departed.

One such example can be found in the following work: It is said, "Für Luise," is for piano, and it is believed that the initials "LvB" written on the score are identical to those of the almost anonymous composer Lorenz or Karl-Lorenz von Baerloewen. -Clarence Barlow

Migrations is written for and dedicated to the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. The title refers not only to the migration of birds or animals from one region to another, but also to the definition of migration as it appears in chemistry—the nonrandom movement of an atom or radical from one place to another within a molecule. -Alexandra Gardner

Harmonic Fields: Most debates on the meaning of harmony in music will have to acknowledge the great heights reached in the western world during the tonal era. Once we step back a bit, the notions of harmony and togetherness in music gain new meanings, ultimately revealing a much more complex phenomenon. One could see harmony as more than functional tonality, and even more importantly, a lot more than just homophony or a series of chords. In a broad sense, harmony in music has been around for as far back as we can imagine, and in many cultures, has coexisted quite happily with functional tonality.

The discussion on how to achieve a state of harmony through sounds should always begin with the general understanding that musical practice is first and foremost a communal affair. Composers, performers, and conductors explore and enjoy the art of music by seeking a sense of common purpose. In a general sense, they seek harmony – even if only temporarily – as they try to extend this sense of togetherness to their audiences as well.

Harmonic Fields reexamines the meaning of a few perennial concepts, such as concord and consonance. At the foundation of this work there are four types of situations: areas built using modes derived from the first 15 partials of a low “C” fundamental (adjusted to C, D, E, F#, G, A♭, B♭, B), sections focused on the remaining four pitches (D♭, E♭, F, A), textural segments freely written in a heavily chromatic idiom, and brief serial episodes. For much of the piece, all attempts to mimic the “C” partials in their natural order are interrupted by moments of pitch uncertainty. Towards the end however, harmonic coherence is attained when the proper configuration of the “C” overtone series slowly appears in its natural order, thus providing a sense of focus and clarity. The main goal was to work with very simple archetypal concepts like consonance vs. dissonance or pulse vs. non-pulse in order to create moments of departure and return from a state of harmonic unity. -Liviu Marinescu

The Bassoon Sonata, while hardly a popular work, has attracted a fair amount of attention on the concert stage and in the recording studio. Cast in two movements, with the second containing three inner movements, the sonata is short, lasting not quite ten minutes. The opening panel is lively and features a typical Hindemithian theme: It has a quaintly jovial manner as first presented on the bassoon, but takes on a somewhat heroic, more serious character as this brief panel proceeds. The second movement presents a lovely lyrical theme on the bassoon against dreamy accompaniment on the piano. Suddenly, the music changes moods, launching into the next section -- the longest in the work -- a lively, playful march of great color. The pastoral closing section begins with a relatively lengthy piano solo of serene character. The bassoon finally enters, taking up the piano's theme and this attractive work soon ends in a pensive mood.

Mirrors is a piece written originally for the CD-rom Prisma dedicated to my music. In the context of the CD-rom, the user can build and play his own versions of Mirrirs, by combining pre-defined fragments. Because written for this purpose, the piece is built in such a manner that it can be reconstructed in multiple versions. The fragments of the game are the passages separated with a double bar. The existing score is my own version of Mirrors, but musicians are welcome to construct their versions of it. They should, anyway, try to follow the ideas I had about musical mirrors: there should be always a mirror in one or several of the following musical dimensions: rhythm, pitch, instrumental gesturr or timbre.

The mirror can be horizontal, between flute and cello, rhythm mirror, gesture, vertical, timbre, flute gesture, cello gesture, rhythm pitch. -Kaija Saariaho

Scale 9: After having spent the better part of half a year studying intensively for major exams while working on my doctorate, I found myself wonderfully energized and ecstatic with my new abundance of free time once they were over. This piece was started while I was still in the midst of that euphoric, manic delight of having a huge weight lifted from my shoulders; it brims with energy that is in turns playful and volatile and frequently changes in ways that are often unexpected.

Scale 9 is the scale used to measure hypomania in the MMPI, a manual widely used by psychologists which provides diagnostic criteria for various mental conditions. I try to capture some of the hallmarks of a manic episode in this piece; especially distraction by irrelevant stimuli, flights of ideas, elevated mood, and accelerated and occasionally out-of-control motor activity. -Sean Friar

About the Artists

Brightwork newmusic is a classical new music sextet based in Los Angeles, California. A flexible and fearless group of world-class musicians, Brightwork consists of piano, violin, cello, flute, clarinet, percussion (an instrumentation which is often called “Pierrot + percussion,” and which is to modern chamber music what the string quartet was to earlier centuries), and champions the best of the music that’s being written today, while continuing to play the classics of “new” music from the last hundred years.

We play the music we love, whether this is one of our favorite masterworks of the 20th century, or the latest dazzling score from a composer whose music we just discovered. What the listener can expect at a Brightwork concert–at the very least–is exciting, emotionally engaging music presented in state-of-the-art performances. Brightwork seeks to draw the audience into the creative process.