April 14, 2013, This Is How It Works for electronics, video and amplified viola premiered by the Boston-based new music ensemble Dinosaur Annex at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, MA.
by Joshef Woodward
Violinist Shalini Vijayan, a lucid dynamo, proved a captivating soloist on Kurt Rohde’s Concertino for Violin & Small Ensemble, a three-movement piece with shimmering textures and churning, rolling tensions. The visceral meets the cerebral, artfully.
by Theodore Bell
Southwest Chamber Music’s LA International New Music Festival
San Francisco native Kurt Rohde described his Concertino for Solo Violin & Ensemble as a sort of Baroque concerto grosso. He is a veteran of Southwest Chamber programs, and his music presents as somewhat traditional, although still engaging and keenly organized. Vijayan’s violin solo was of virtuosic proportions, and the rich tone of her instrument complemented Rohde’s accessible melodic lines, especially in the breathtakingly elegant double-stopped counterpoint of the Sotto movement. The third movement roared as the ensemble pumped the motorific percussive presto to a stirring finale. Rohde is a rising star in West Coast new music and has found a uniquely personal voice among his contemporaries.
by Janos Gereben
From Rome, With Love and Music
Says San Francisco composer Kurt Rohde of his Concertino, which will receive its world premiere June 3 (in Mill Valley) and June 7 (in San Francisco) with the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble:
Just completed, this is the last piece I began in Rome. There is an odd tinge of sadness and closure about the fact that all the music I began in Rome is now finished, that the year there really is over, and whatever changes happened to me while in Rome are up to me to maintain and nurture at this point.”
Along with Rohde Rohde, the violist/founder of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and a prolific composer, two more San Francisco musicians have been benefiting from artistic residence in Rome. While Rohde’s Rome Prize stay recently concluded, San Francisco–raised composer, Lisa Bielawa, who now lives in New York, is a current Rome Prize winner; and ODC Dance Company founder/artistic director/choreographer Brenda Way. Brenda Way was a Resident in the Arts, and served as a senior advisor to the Rome Prize winners, including Rohde.
Rohde recalls his “Rome pledge”:
I made a promise to myself when I went to Rome that I would write only pieces I wanted to write; that I would be brave and do things in the music I had been wanting to do for some time, but was too preoccupied and distracted by concerns of what people might think. Also, I wanted to compose works that were more collaborative and less tied to traditional genres. All in all, I did what I wanted and set out to do, and it was definitely for the best.”
Rohde describes the Concertino for Violin and Small Ensemble as “an odd piece.” It contains a virtuosic, solo violin part, and the ensemble writing is highly intricate and interrelated throughout. While not a full-fledged violin concerto, there is no doubt that the solo violin is the heart of the piece. It is dedicated to Axel Strauss, whom the composer calls “fiercely patient while awaiting a piece from me over the last five years,” who is also the soloist.
Cast in three movements, the Concertino is “modeled on the Baroque concerto grosso technique. In these early ensemble works, the concertino was a subset of solo instruments drawn from a larger ensemble. They would play elaborate versions of the full ensemble’s music, and the solo sections would alternate with the full ensemble (ripieno) passages, giving an impression of the grandiose and public alternating with the intimate and private.” Says Rohde: “In my piece, there are never any ripieno passages: It is all concertino.”
Brenda Way collaborated with Rohde on the composer’s major project during the Rome residence: a puppet theater work, based on the myth of the founding of Rome by the brothers Romulus and Remus. “We spent a huge number of hours in rehearsal, and I have every intention of working with Kurt back in San Francisco — his work is wonderful,” she says.
Reached in Hanoi last month, on a U.S. State Department tour of concerts, Rohde said the Rome residence gave him a big break:
… not having to work and keep all the plates spinning atop the numerous poles; not having to keep track or to portion a part of my brain to multitask all the time in order to be on time, to schedule this and that, be prepared, plan ahead, execute, and constantly be moving, moving, moving…”
Rome does not move. It accumulates: Some things stay longer than others, some things disappear entirely; it spins in place. It has a lot of motion, but goes almost nowhere. I really loved it and was frustrated by it; it is so not Berlin (which I love to the point of wanting to live there).” [Rohde had a Berlin residence in 2003.]
By the time I was getting ready to leave Rome, I knew that if I stayed there much longer, I would not be able to get back to S.F. It was getting under my skin in a way I did not anticipate. In part, I am sure, that was because the American Academy is such a tremendous and accommodating resource for those who go there to work. And my term there was filled with the most lovely, remarkable people, all of whom I have come to adore and respect without reservation. My time there was the gift of a lifetime, and gratitude does not begin to express my feelings about it all, even now, nearly half a year after the fact.”
What did Rohde accomplish during the Rome residency?
I went to Rome with one goal — to do things with my music I had never done before, either because I was too frightened to do them back in my home environment or had not had the time to execute them in the way I would have liked, given my limited time, energy, and resources here back at home. I am happy to report that the year was a huge success all around. I composed my puppet theater piece, have ideas for a full-length puppet opera, and composed a piece for a speaking pianist, a large ensemble work, and part of the Concertino.”
That’s a lot of inspiration and unblocked creativity. No wonder artists have been making the trip to Rome for centuries.
by Joshua Kosman
Nagano takes final Berkeley bow
Thursday’s presentation by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra was more than just a concert. It was a summation, a farewell, a page-turning event.
For 30 years, Kent Nagano has been standing in front of the orchestra and leading it through performances of everything from Bach to Berlioz to Busoni to, well, the Beatles (who could forget the pseudonymous Paul McCartney opus that showed up one night as an encore?). Now he’s moving on – another maestro, still to be determined, will take over next season – and this concert in Zellerbach Hall was Nagano’s final appearance as music director.
As a parting gift, the orchestra commissioned a superb encore from Kurt Rohde, the San Francisco composer and violist whose music Nagano has championed over the years. Bis Bald (in German, “Until Soon”), which opens with fierce orchestral flurries and then subsides in a wistfully inconclusive ending, is a virtuosic and often beautiful work that says both “See ya” and “Hurry back,” all in the span of five minutes. It was the perfect way to end not only one evening, but a 30-year chapter in the Bay Area’s musical life.
by Paul Hertelendy
Auf Wiedersehen, Maestro
BERKELEY—Love was in the air this week, and it was palpable. But how will things look in the cold reality of the morning after?
After 30 years, Music Director Kent Nagano took his leave Sept. 18, conducting his final Berkeley Symphony concert with a curiously conventional Mozart-Bruckner program before a large Zellerbach Hall crowd. He had brought the struggling symphony (begun in 1969) out of the backwaters and turned it into a vital and fully professional force, with more new music in a year than most orchestras produce in a decade or three. He will hereafter only return for a few concerts with the Berkeley Symphony’s elite “Akademie” chamber-orchestra offshoot, coming next in May.
There was even a five-minute world premiere, played at the end as if an encore. Former orchestra member and composer Kurt Rohde, 42, created Bis Bald (“Till Soon”) in Nagano’s honor. It’s a jagged fanfare of great complexity, full of brief outbursts and what, in the old sense of the word, were called ejaculations. It ends in a subtle fadeout, as if watching a ship recede toward the horizon. But before that, there were thematic elements like subatomic particles bombarding a cyclotron target helter-skelter at almost the speed of light. How very Berkeley!
by Benjamin Frandzel
Nagano Bows Out
One of the Bay Area’s most remarkable musical partnerships marked its ending on Thursday night at Zellerbach Hall. After 30 years of shared artistic growth, the Berkeley Symphony offered its final concert with Kent Nagano at the helm as music director. With the rest of the orchestra’s season given over to guest conductors auditioning for the job, this was Nagano’s final bow in the role, though he’ll be back to lead the orchestra’s new Berkeley Akademie chamber concerts next spring.
And there was plenty of music. As always, the program reflected Nagano’s special interests and current areas of focus. On the surface, with big works by Mozart and Bruckner, this seemed a surprisingly traditional bookend for the conductor’s tenure, with the exception of a brief but brilliant premiere. However, the concert proved to be a showcase for Nagano and the orchestra’s strongest traits, with older works sounding fresh and a new work played with verve and commitment.
To mark the event, the orchestra commissioned a new work from Kurt Rohde, Bis Bald (Until soon), an electrifying, five-minute work that ended the program on a high note. This piece generates excitement immediately, with rapid repeated notes, string tremolos, and brief figures scattered throughout the orchestra. The music feels kaleidoscopic while moving forward with tremendous drive, then surprises by dying out with a quiet, open-ended feeling. This was a worthy tribute to a great partnership, and deserves to return in future performances.
by Richard Scheinin
Composer, quartet “respond” to Bartók
Montalvo concert exudes heat, energy, even danger
Composer Kurt Rohde has written his first string quartet. He calls it “Gravities,” and it gives the impression of elemental Earth forces at work, sucking together his musical materials, tightly binding them in a dark place, then blasting them apart and back toward the light. It feels mysterious and a little dangerous: The music teems with energy and keeps threatening to explode in your face.
The Cypress String Quartet gave the new piece a powerful, concentrated performance Thursday at the Montalvo Arts Center. The small, appreciative audience was seated practically eyeball-to-eyeball with the musicians in the salon-like main hall of the complex’s historic villa. This is the way chamber music should be heard; the heat and impact of the music were inescapable.
Rohde, an affable, low-key storyteller, it turns out, was there to introduce and explain the work, which the Cypress commissioned from him a year ago. Last summer, he went off to southeastern Utah to begin his composing; you can hear the isolation and desolation of the setting in the piece. Also the heat of the place and the sense of being overcome by its inescapable and timeless power.
You can also hear the influence of Bartók. Every year, the Cypress asks a living composer to participate in its “Call and Response” series of commissions. This time, Rohde was asked to “respond” to the “call” of Bartók’s String Quartet No. 6, a darkly psychological, jagged-edged work, composed in 1939, right before Bartók fled Hungarian fascism and moved to the United States.
Rohde quotes here and there from the sixth quartet, but the Bartók influence is largely one of mood: “Gravities” has a sense of dark entrapment about it. The first movement (“Undertow”) begins with a ghostly, long-lined threnody, surging, tugging and growing, textures packing tight then unraveling, split by riptides of rhythm and harmony. In moments of deceptive repose, the harmonies seem trapped in mysterious tide pools, filled with strange bits of glimmering life – hidden bits of beauty with nowhere to go. The second movement (“Doubts”) is dirge-like, entranced (first violinist Cecily Ward played with her eyes closed), struggling for balance. The finale (“Danced”) stacks and balances multiple textures and finally tumbles into a war dance, highly percussive, like Bartók, and filled with fierce bow attacks.
It’s a persuasive piece by Rohde, well-known in Bay Area new-music circles as both composer and violist. And now his reputation is going international: Last week he was named winner of the 2008–09 Elliott Carter Rome Prize, given by the American Academy in Rome. It will take Rohde to Rome for 11 months of “independent artistic pursuit.”
The first half of Thursday’s concert was given over to excerpts of works by Mozart, Dvorák, and Bartók: a movement from light to darkness, all building toward Rohde.
by Janos Gereben
Call & Response & Awesome Kids
I’m glad to have the collaborative testimony of Classical Voice colleague Jeff Dunn in his review of the Cypress Quartet’s “Call & Response” concert at Yerba Buena Center on Saturday, because I still find it difficult to believe what happened there.
Arriving at the Forum, I was taken aback by the sight of a full auditorium, full mostly with children. Not “youth” — children, of the 5th- and 6th-grade variety, in addition to a few high school students. Mostly kids, little ones.
Even somebody not of W.C. Field’s disposition couldn’t help wondering: What will they do? What will they do during the performance of the last quartets by Haydn (No. 77) and Bartók (No. 6), and the premiere of Kurt Rohde’s Gravities? Will they fidget, shuffle, cough, sneeze, whisper, slap, kick, text, or just make cell phone calls outright? If they get through the Haydn, what will they do during 35 minutes of the darkest, heaviest, most sorrowful of all Bartók, a Transfigured Night on steroids and without transfiguration?
The kids (and accompanying or independent adults) were spectacularly quiet during the Haydn, there was some coughing during the Rohde (a stunning work, instant classic, but Bartók-like “heavy”) — and that wasn’t the story. During the Bartók — that Bartók, the one with each movement opening mesto (sadly) and going downhill from there — there wasn’t a sound from the audience, not one. From the Franz Liszt Academy to Carnegie Hall, I heard this work, always with some “ambient sound” from the audience; at Yerba Buena, there was only listening, zero sound emission. It was uncanny, spooky, impossible.