On Sunday, October 16 at 3 PM at the Penn Museum
3260 South Street in Philadelphia
Relâche, the internationally renowned new music octet, kicks off its 2016–2017 concert series at the Penn Museum with new music to accompany some old silent film favorites—and a new commission inspired by 4,000-year-old texts from the Penn Museum’s collection of Sumerian cuneiform tablets. The ensemble performs the world premiere of Sumer Redux, the new commission by the ensemble’s composer and bassoonist Chuck Holdeman. The three fantastical Méliès silent films ca. 1903, The Merry Frolics of Satan, Hydrotherapie Fantastique, and The Damnation of Faust, are screened with new music by Phillip Johnston. A Relâche premiere by Paul A. Epstein rounds out the program.
Special for Students! $5 with ID, plus bring a second student along for free!
Regular admission is $15, or $10 for Penn Museum members
at the door or use this link to purchase in advance
Enter at 2PM to visit the galleries before the concert
(The Midas show requires an additional $5 admission)
PROGRAM NOTES FOR OCTOBER 16
Fancy Flight takes the highly chromatic melody of Flight of the Bumblebee and subjects it to a process I call filtering, whereby notes of the melody which do not belong to a particular key are omitted and replaced by rests. The locations of these notes determine the rhythms of the piece.
Night Piece 2 was originally written as a solo organ piece for Carson Coonan. This version, written for Relâche, is dedicated to the artist Stanley Wenocur. Stan is a high school classmate of mine with whom I recently reconnected after more than sixty years. After hearing the organ piece, Stan suggested I do a version for ensemble, something I hadn’t considered. Night Piece 2 is built on a set of five rhythmic cycles between 23 and 29 sixteenth notes in length, all prime to one another.
Paul A. Epstein is professor emeritus of music theory at Temple University, where he taught from 1969 to 2001. Born in Boston in 1938, he is a graduate of Brandeis University and the University of California at Berkeley. In 1962-63 he studied privately with Luciano Berio on a Fulbright grant to Italy. Epstein’s compositions include works for string orchestra and for a variety of small ensembles. His long time collaboration with poet and novelist Toby Olson has produced two chamber operas as well as songs and vocal chamber music. A setting of Olson’s short story, Reading, was commissioned for baritone Thomas Buckner.
In “American Music in the Twentieth Century,” critic Kyle Gann cites Epstein as “One of the finest postminimal composers…” and calls Chamber Music: Three Songs from Home “…a vocal setting for winds and keyboards of great contrapuntal beauty.” Epstein’s music has been presented in the U.S. and abroad by such ensembles as Relâche, counter(induction, Topology, the Circle ensemble of London, and ONIX Nuevo Ensamble de México. A compact disk of his recent piano music, performed by R. Andrew Lee, is available on the Irritable Hedgehog label. His music also appears on the Mode, Capstone, and Navona labels. Recent performances have taken place in London, Paris, Kiev, and at Weill Recital Hall, New York.
Last year Relâche musician Chuck Holdeman was one of a group of Philadelphia composers who answered the call to propose the creation of new music inspired by the archeological collections of the Penn Museum. Because of Relâche’s residency at the museum, now commencing its fourth season, Chuck found an opportunity to bring to life a fascination he discovered at the museum, the ancient cuneiform tablets of Sumer. The tablets represent the first known writing system devised by a human society, a system which was in use in Mesopotamia from about 5000 BCE to 500 BCE. The Sumerians created a literature of their own, a good portion of which is available online in English, published by Oxford University. Originally attracted by whatever humor he might find, Chuck discovered an overblown imaginary debate between a hoe and a plow, and also became acquainted with Enheduana (23rd century BCE), a high priestess, daughter of King Sargon, and possibly the very first author we know about. Chuck has chosen excerpts from one of her texts concerning Enheduana’s primary goddess Inana, whose domain encompassed both creation and destruction. Sumer Redux juxtaposes these narrated texts with music inspired by them, while also honoring Sumerian instrumentalists: harpists, pipers, and drummers. The two strings of Relâche, viola and bass will pluck (i.e. play pizzicato), the four Relâche woodwinds will pipe, while Relâche’s drummer will drum, joined by percussion sounds created by Relâche electronic keyboardist Ron Stabinsky. Little is known about how Sumerian music actually sounded, but we do think that lyres were tuned to basically what we have as the white keys of the piano with a version of D as the low note, and we know they had a system of preferred intervals, especially the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th. Chuck has utilized these preferences in a very free way, with no conscious effort to sound antique.
Georges Méliès was a French magician who became one of the very first film makers, writing, designing, producing, and directing 78 short films in his first cinematic year, 1896; by 1913 he had made 500 films, most now lost. Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo was based in part on his life- Ben Kingsley played Méliès. Despite the newness of film, Méliès excelled at inventing special effects and remained committed to the fascination of creating illusion. In some cases the black and white originals were colorized, true of Merry Frolics of Satan shown today. Philip Johnston has been a part of the downtown music scene in New York for many years, composing music in the jazz and new music genres, and leading groups with his soprano sax, including The Microscopic Septet, associated with NPR’s Terry Gross. His Méliès Project was created in 1997 for his own performing group and he has toured the the world with it, including in Australia where he now lives. His arrangements for Relâche were originally created in 2000 and updated for today’s performance; since 2000 some longer and better Méliès prints have been discovered and restored.
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Relâche is a new music ensemble that for over thirty-five years has maintained an international reputation as a leader in commissioning and performing the innovative music of our time. Relâche has a unique sound—flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, viola, piano, bass and percussion, and performs works that are neither classical, nor popular, but somewhere in between—a melding of Western classical traditions with jazz, rock, electronica, world music, and more.
Among the oldest continuously operating, non-profit organizations and chamber ensembles dedicated to contemporary music in the United States, Relâche has consistently offered world-class performances and presentations of music by leading American and international composers and artists. To date, Relâche has performed more than 600 concerts in the Greater Philadelphia area, around the country and the globe, including residency, festival and touring appearances in South America, Japan, and Eastern and Western Europe. The Ensemble boasts a touring-ready repertoire of over 50 pieces and a repertory library of over 400 works. Relâche commissions include works by Robert Ashley, Kitty Brazelton, John Cage, Uri Caine, Fred Frith, Kyle Gann, Philip Glass, Fred Ho, Michael Nyman, Pauline Oliveros, Bobby Previte, George Russell, Somei Satoh, and Lois V Vierk. Relâche has released seven CD’s to date, from Relâche on Edge (1991), to Comix Trips (2014).
Contact Relâche via emailing Chuck Holdeman, email@example.com or calling (215) 574-8248.