We are thrilled to announce that we have been awarded a grant from New Music USA for “The Hunger”, a new opera by Donnacha Dennehy for Alarm Will Sound, Dawn Upshaw and Iarla O’Liónard. The work is based on diaries and personal accounts from the period of the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-52). A departure from the conventions of the orchestra pit, the work will integrate the players into the action and storytelling on stage.
The Great Famine was a time of major upheaval—at least one million people died, and another million emigrated—the historical significance of which is well accounted for. Less well developed are accounts of those who directly witnessed and suffered through it. At the heart of Dennehy's "The Hunger" are personal, contemporaneous stories that open a new dimension on the tragedy of the famine.
The principal text will be Asenath Nicholson's astonishing "Annals of the Famine in Ireland" that recounts in vivid detail the unfolding famine she directly experienced. Nicholson was a formidable and unique character. Born in Vermont in 1792, she founded a boarding house in the 1830s for the poor and homeless in New York City. There she noticed that the most desperate came from Ireland.
Eager to discover why, she left New York for Ireland to see for herself. She traveled the country, often on foot, to observe first-hand the devastating effects of the famine. Nicholson’s account is extraordinary because of her transgressive sympathy; she directly quotes from the peasants, and actually stayed in their cabins, something that no other commentator did.
Dotted throughout the opera will be actual recordings of ordinary people singing traditional Irish songs contrasting with personal accounts of contemporary economists addressing the complexity of governance vs. laissez-faire economic policy in the context of a situation where this ideological battle results in catastrophic results.
"The Hunger" will take advantage of Alarm Will Sound's uniquely extended performance skills and visionary collaborators to create an unconventional operatic experience. It promises to find an audience looking for adventurous and meaningful artistic experience on a topic rich with meaning.
On February 20, Alarm Will Sound returns to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its third performance as artists-in-residence. The show is a collaboration with Dance Heginbotham that connects music-making and movement in many ways: dance accompanied by music; musical performances shaped by staging; and hybrids in which dancers create sound and musicians create movement. The production, based on the music of Aphex Twin, Tyondai Braxton and Edgard Varèse, will take place in the Charles Engelhard Court where performers and audience will be surrounded by exquisite large-scale American sculptures.
This project came about through an introduction by choreographer Mark Morris. He suspected that Alan Pierson, Alarm Will Sound Artistic Director, and John Heginbotham might make good collaborators. Mark sent Alan to see John's choreography of Tyondai Braxton's Central Market and he left excited both by the choreography and the music. John and Alan began exploring a possible AWS and Dance Heginbotham collaboration around a new piece of Tyondai Braxton's that we all hoped to commission. They learned that they all shared a love of electronic music: AWS has made an ongoing project of arranging electronic music from Varèse and Stockhausen to Aphex Twin and Ben Frost; and John had choreographed several of Alarm Will Sound’s Aphex Twin arrangements and was working on choreography to music of electronic music pioneer, Raymond Scott, whose work AWS had contemplated a project with as well. Electronic music has also been a major source of inspiration for Ty, who frequently works in the idiom and who, with Fly By Wire, derived the quirky, strangely-looping pattern that pervades the piece from tinkering with low frequency oscillators and step sequencers.
The program that John and Alarm Will Sound put together for this concert centers on three pioneers of electronic music: Edgard Varèse, Raymond Scott, and Aphex Twin. This music has been an inspiration for John Heginbotham, who found the mechanical sounds and offbeat humor of these artists resonant with his wit and with the fun he had with mechanical movements. Varèse's music was the inspiration for Alarm Will Sound's own initial exploration into movement with music, Nigel Maister's 2006 staging of Intégrales that Nigel has recreated for the Metropolitan Museum's Engelhard Court for this performance. AWS has long embraced movement as a resource to harness in making the sorts of rich performance experiences that we've sought, and in Twinned, Alarm Will Sound and Dance Heginbotham have come together to create a music and movement event, one in which both ensembles are involved in all aspects of the performance, the goal being to create an interwoven musical and dramatic experience.
On February 6, we presented the second concert of our second St. Louis Season at the Sheldon Concert Hall. But it’s actually our fifth year playing in Missouri. Since 2010, we have been the resident ensemble at the Mizzou International Composers Festival, held in Columbia each summer. St. Louis and Columbia therefore form an axis for us, so after we performed in St. Louis, we took the show to Columbia on February 7 at the Missouri Theater. It was the first time we performed in Columbia during the school year, so we met lots of new people in the audience.
The music on the program was diverse: from Conlon Nancarrow’s mad-scientist experiments using big-band tunes, to the Beatle’s counter-culture experiments using tape loops; from the introspective post-minimalism of Charlie Piper, to the intense modernism of Charles Wuorinen; and from the electronica of Edgard Varèse, to the electronica of Aphex Twin. The stylistic range says a lot about the wealth of today’s music.
In Missouri, the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation is capitalizing on that wealth through its commitment to making the state a center for contemporary composition. Cruising down I-70 between St. Louis and Columbia, we felt how much Missouri itself is becoming an axis for composers, performers and audiences drawn to new adventures in music.
We have been playing the music of Derek Bermel for several years, returning to it time and again because its eclectic influences are rich and varied. Canzonas Americanas, released on Cantaloupe Music, brings the stylistic variety of his work together in one album, capturing the many musical traditions of North and South America that are part of Derek's—and our—world.
“Derek Bermel synthesizes the diverse musical languages of his time into a unique, thoroughly individual American voice that is tuneful and rich, engaging and sophisticated,” says Alan Pierson, our Artistic Director. “Canzonas Americanas establishes Derek as a composer firmly in an American tradition like Copland, Ives, Gershwin, and Ellington before him.”
We are joined by the remarkable Luciana Souza whose voice evokes a Latin dreamscape in the last movement of the title track. Timothy Jones performs the song collection Natural Selection with theatricality. And Kiera Duffy adds her soprano to the arresting At the End of the World.
Alarm Will Sound is a twenty-member group dedicated to the creation, performance, and recording of today's most innovative music.
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Payton MacDonald, one of our percussionists, and Jessica Johnson, our founding flutist, arranged this track for our Acoustica project.
Visit our Soundcloud for more recordings.
Beth met the other members of what would become Alarm Will Sound while pursuing her Master’s degree in clarinet and music education at Eastman. She fondly remembers her first concert with the new music ensemble, Ossia, as Alan conducted Ian Quinn’s Passacaglia.
After graduating from Eastman, Beth won an orchestral job in Texas, but found the experience to be about as fulfilling as a regular office job. She jumped at the opportunity to rejoin fellow Alarm Will Sound musicians when they began their residency at Dickinson College in the small town of Carlisle, PA. She lived with other Alarm Will Sound members in a farmhouse during the three-year residency which they liken to being on a reality television show. Beth was lucky enough to remain on the ‘show’ for all three seasons and has remained in PA. She now teaches at Dickinson College, Harrisburg University, Messiah College and Kutztown University while maintaining an active freelance career.
Beth’s involvement in Alarm Will Sound is one of the highlights of her career. It is more than just an ensemble, she says, it’s a new way of approaching music. She also enjoys the sharing of knowledge that happens with the ensemble gets together as it greatly influences her teaching and overall musicianship.
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