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Monday, November 18, 2013

5 Questions for Beth Morrison and Paola Prestini

By Robert Wood

Beth Morrison
Paola Prestini
Beth Morrison, creative producer and executive director of Beth Morrison Projects, and Paola Prestini, composer and executive and artistic director of VisionIntoArt, are co-creative producers of 21c Liederabend, op.3, a two-night reimagining of the art-song recital, coming to BAM November 22 and 23. 

1. What inspired the original 21c Liederabend idea?

Beth Morrison: I received two degrees in classical vocal training from conservatories, and the Liederabend was always a beloved monthly event at which the singers got together to sing for each other, their friends, and the public. It was about focusing on communication through song. I loved these nights. When you leave conservatory, the Liederabend ceases to exist in the professional world. I wanted to bring this form into the 21st century and make it wholly of today and of the now. To do that, we needed all living composers that were writing for the voice, and we needed to create a multimedia context for our visual world. Paola and I came together to figure out how to do that, and we are now in our third incarnation (op.3) and so happy to bring the Liederabend to BAM.

Paola Prestini: This was Beth's baby, and I’m thrilled to have been on board since Op. 1! With the inclusion of my company, VisionIntoArt, we delved into a multimedia realm that Beth and I thought would amplify and further contextualize the Liederabend as a vibrant and important expression in today's time.

2. What are the most important art-song traditions that you see perpetuated in 21c Liederabend? And any that have been intentionally left behind?

Beth: The most important is the human voice. The need to communicate through words and music. We begin our Liederabend in a traditional way, with piano and voice, but we quickly move forward from there and explode it out to a much bigger ensemble, one that involves contemporary instruments like the electric guitar and synthesizer. I don’t feel as though anything has been left behind, because we are building on the form—honoring it, loving it, and evolving it.

Paola: We look for diversity and unique voices when programming, and I feel that we've covered the spectrum! Composers today are writing in so many diverse styles, and many of them are represented at 21c. The voice is indeed the through line, and even there, the voice types range from pop to operatic to folk.

3. Both of you are often associated with what has been called “indie classical” music, for better or worse. Where do you stand? What does “indie” mean to you?

Beth: Oh boy, this is a can of worms.  It means many things to many people. The composers who I work with don’t like the term if it refers to a style but do like it if it only refers to the DIY movement that has evolved. To me, though, I still think of it as a term that is very musically inclusive (in a good way). It refers to classical writing that takes influences from jazz, rock, pop, musicals, world music, etc., and forms a synthesis. Each composer’s voice creates a different synthesis that is unique to them. But there are no more rules. I guess in the end that is what indie means to me—breaking rules for the good.

Paola: I think the typical connotation is that it is a blend of rock, pop, and classical, often with a healthy dose of minimalism. But now, I feel the term has been more broadly used to represent the independent movement which has pervaded the classical industry. It is an exciting moment for new music. Our future is largely in our hands, and we are more responsible [for developing it] than ever. It is empowering and exciting.

4.  Most people associate the art-song tradition with the West, but 21c Liederabend op.3 includes the amazing Zimbabwean group Netsayi and Black Pressure, among others. How do they fit into your idea of what 21st-century art song is? 

Beth: We are living in a global world and Netsayi is a trained composer who uses her band as one of her mediums. It’s perfect.

Paola: They fit right in! Our idea is that the writing should be unique, and no matter what style, the criteria is that we be moved by the music and that there be deep process and virtuosity in the compositional approach. Netsayi definitely represents this: she mixes rhythms and forms from her native Zimbabwe, orchestrates them for her band and traditional instruments such as Zimbabwean marimbas and mbiras with western instruments such as the violin and cello. We also felt it was important to embrace a more international approach to the art song with the opportunity of bringing 21c to BAM.

5.  What are you both listening to right now, arty or otherwise?  

Beth: I am always listening to 30 Seconds to Mars, as I am obsessed with them. They are an arty alternative rock band that I get a lot of inspiration from. I also spent time this week with Nico Muhly’s Principles of Uncertainty (an amazing song cycle for countertenor that we did on our first Liederabend in 2009) and also Philip Glass’ Satyagraha, which is a frequent playlist for me. In addition to that, I’ve been listening through much of the Liederabend repertoire (which is awesome!!).

Paola: Right now I am listening to Einstein on the Beach and Vijay Iyer, alongside Arcade Fire's new album. I've also been watching a lot of videos of Heiner Goebbels and Vocal Theater Carmina Sovenica in preparation for writing for children's choirs!

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