Home Must See Music for Writers: Nadia Sirota At An ‘Incredible Point’

Music for Writers: Nadia Sirota At An ‘Incredible Point’


“It’s kind of incredible to be at a point in your life where people let you do what you want to do.”Say to anyone following contemporary classical composition and performance. They’llknow Nadia Sirota.

And we couldn’t have a more fitting opening to the 2016 season of #MusicForWriters than this globe-trotting violist’s arrival as curatorand lead performer inSymphony Space’s week-long Fuse Project residency, opening tonight (1 February) and running through Friday. Details of the residency’s extensive programming are below.

And all of this is being produced in partnership with Q2 Music, New York Public Radio’s pivotal contemporary-classical free 24-hour Internet stream of live and recorded music of living composers, led by the tireless Alex Ambrose.

It’s there, in fact, that you’ll hear Sirota’s much-applauded Meet the Composer series of in-depth looks at some of the biggest names in all of today’s music: John Luther Adams, Andrew Norman, Donnacha Dennehy, Caroline Shaw, Marcus Balter, Meredith Monk, Kaija Saariaho, Ingram Marshall, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and Nico Muhly. (More #MusicForWriters pieces relative to this group: Adams, Saariaho, Thorvaldsdottir.)

And it’s on Q2 Music’s global feed that many of us first heard Sirota. In my case, it was in the darkening autumn of a career assignment to Denmark. Asthe twilight of 2009 closed in on Copenhagen, I heard Sirota from New York City, daily discussing and presenting highlighted recordings of contemporary classical musicas I wrote. From the majestic foundations laid by Philip Glass, John Adams, and Steve Reich to the reachy experimentation of Caleb Burhans and Paola Prestini, Sirota was talking us in, explaining, connecting, pointing up how one artist was affecting another, and howa“new music army” was “rising” to seize the imagination of a world increasingly open to greater modern range than pop.

Sirota, then already known as one of the most adventurous figures in several of the lead ensembles, was beginning to define with Q2 Music how the contemporary classical scene works, how respectful of its roots these artists are, and how much promise lies in a new golden age of composition that speaks with such resonance to authors, in particulara world of musical colorists and textural genius that can stop a sensitive writer in her or his tracks. Welcome to really good, new music.

In addition to her residency this week, Sirota is working on a new album for release from Bedroom Community and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s new recording initiative. She and Muhly are in the fundraising stage for the CD, which will feature the American premiere at Detroit of Muhly’s , written for Sirota, and two so-far unreleased Muhly works: his which Sirota tells me is “the next installment in a decades-long collaborative project between the two of us”and Muhly’s heart-wrenching (their first work together), which is to be recorded in a new arrangement by Christ Thompson of Alarm Will Sound.

Is she busy?

Well, that’s another hallmark of Sirota’s way of living and working. As Delta Air Lines’ new slogan might have it, “there’s no stop in her,” just go.

I recommend that you hit on this video of Sirota’s performance with the DSO of Muhly’s new and listen as you read some of her comments from our conversation. The concerto isan essential new statement of both Muhly and Sirota’s maturing artistry, soaring with the wonderment that Muhly’s intelligence brings to the stage and jagged with the muscular, incisive attack that hallmark’s Sirota’s viola mastery. Muhly’sconcerto,conducted by music director Leonard Slatkin, sets off the DSO’s forces with profound grace and is replete with Muhly motifs the composer’s fans will love spotting. Sirota has never sounded better.

‘What I Was Actually Doing Was Writing’

We start our conversation with an assessment of how far Sirota has come in her career as performing artist, journalist-commentator, and curator. And she gets quickly to something journalists understand: the mixed blessing and curse of being someone who interprets (or reports) other people’s work for a living. And authors will understand the kind of discovery moment she mentions: “What I was actually doing was writing.”

Thought Catalog: How do you see the way things are going now in your career, Nadia, with your new residency starting, the Detroit premiere such a success, and another album in the offing?

Nadia Sirota:I’ve felt a string of grateful feelings about all this. Intermingled with incredible terror at what I’ve wrought upon myself. It’s all very, very cool.

As a musician, you spend so much time working on other people’s projects. And I love working on other people’s projects. I love figuring out how to realize what other people have going on in their brains. That’s why I love working with composers, and it’s something I’m very good at.

But all of a sudden, right now, I’m working on a whole bunch of personal projects in a row, and I’m grateful I can do that.

There’s something to be said for both types of things. On some level, I can throw myself into somebody else’s brilliancethat’s a role I feel very comfortable with. All of these projects have come up because of this, and it’s really very gratifying.

TC: Gratifying, sure, but this is a lot of work, this residency in which you’re putting together all these artist who work with and around youfour evenings of music in a single week.

Sirota: It is a lot of work, but what’s interesting is that this residency is the kind of work I’ve actually trained for on some level. It’s something I know how to do.

By contrast, the funny thing about the radio show [on Q2 Music] is that it took me a really long time to realize that what I was actually doing was writing. I’d been in complete denial aboutthe writing element of that.

In fact, even the way I draft the show: I’ll just make a little note on my phone and I’ll read it off of my notes app. It’s only later when I’m redoing all the voice-overs that I’ll realize that I’ve written about 16 pages. Which is a complete funny thing for me. There’s always a moment in my head when I’m, like, “This is not what I do,” even though it’s something that I do.

So what’s cool about this residency is that it what I do, it’s the kernel of what I’m passionate about. Obviously, it’s tiring and complicated with a lot of moving parts. But I like those parts.

TC: And when I look at the residency, what I see is you programming a festival. That takes the mind of an impresario.

Sirota: I think that’s probably true. The way I went at it is, “What is the music I’d like to see? And who are the people I’d like to have in the room?” There’s a community aspect here.

One of the coolest things about being a traveling musician is that you have this sort of nomadic tribe of people you keepencountering in the strangest places. It’s all these different festival environments, and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, you!” We’re friends but not like friends who are connected to a specific city or place.

And one of the loveliest things about this residency is I’m bringing people from Iceland, from England, from Canada. People I really love and can rely on and am inspired by. I’m bringing them here to New York, to my home turf.

TC: What’s the funding behind the residency at Symphony Space? I know that the residency falls under the aegis of the Composers Now Festival, and there’s support for the Dennehy evening from the Isaiah Sheffer Fund for New Initiatives, right?

Sirota: Right, and Symphony Space has this fantastic artistic director, Andrew Byrne. He has an interesting and exciting vision for how that space can serve the community. The fact that he let me do this speaks very highly to his taste. [She laughs.]

It’s interesting that in the United States of America, this is how it works [in terms of private fundraising with comparatively little public subsidy]. But it also points to how there’s an incredible amount that you can do if you can find someone to believe in it.

TC: And did you use your usual approach to commissioning to get Donnacha Dennehy to write for you?

Sirota: Donnacha I met when he was doing a residency with Alarm Will Sound three or four summers ago. I heard him for the first time, and thought, “Well, this is my favorite music ever.” And I promptly did my thing, which is later at the bar, I commission people when they’re at their most vulnerable and then follow up. [Laughs.] He was immediately excited about this idea of doing something with the viols da gamba. [Bass viols with a similar range to that of the cello.]

So now that piece, is the centerpiece of the whole residency, And we recorded it before we had any idea how to play it, which is an interesting process. It ended up being scored for 11 bass viols and four violas. So we recorded that all with multi-tracking between me and Liam Byrne. The bass viol is a good bit lower than the viola, but the quality of sound on it, on the viol da gamba is so bright. It’s got thisincredible bright weirdness of texture and color. So the lowest instruments in the piece are so bright. And the highest pieces, the violas, are so dark and mellow. I’ve just never hear color like that before.

The other thing he has in this piece, which is very typical of Donnacha is slipping back and forth between just intonation and equal temperament. You get the idea you’re looking through this kaleidoscope and all of a sudden everything seems clear and then it twists. It makes sense and it’s logical, but it’s not quite the same thing.

TC: And yet he never loses you. That’s what I love about Dennehy’s music. Like Nico [Muhly], he remembers the listener and brings us along. They leave us enough for us to hang onto.

Sirota:And you know that it’s hard to play but it’s worth it, and you know why you really have to make it work.

TC: And speaking of what you have to do to make it work, I have to remind you before I let you go of my favorite tweet. It’s from 2010, the Fourth of July, and you were playing an outdoor concert. The , no doubt. Here’s your tweet:


Events In The Sirota Residency At Symphony Space

Tonight, Monday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Sirota is joined by Liam Byrne on viol and a four-viol consortDoug Balliett, Gabriel Cabezas, Loren Ludwig, and Zoe Wiesswith Alarm Will Sound’s Chris Thompson on percussion and a vocal trio: Jamie Jordan, Kirsten Sollek, and the inimitable Mellissa Hughes. The program will delve into the Renaissance music that has influenced both Sirota and her close friend, the composer Nico Muhly, featuring music of Alexander Agricola, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, and more:

  • by Muhly
  • by David Lang (a world premiere commissioned by Symphony Space)
  • for three singers, viola, cello, and percussion by Lang (the US premiere)

Tuesday (2 February), 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Sirota welcomes her collaborators yMusic, one of the New York scene’s best-known contemporary ensembles, in a program to be announced from the stage and includingworks specially written for this eclectic sextet by:

Thursday (3 February), 7:30 p.m. Eastern

Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry joins Sirota onstage for some of his and Bryce Dessner’s (#MusicForWriters interview) most compelling work, including:

  • Parry’s for viola (a New York premeire)
  • and other selections from Parry’s
  • Dessner’s for viola

Friday (4 February), 8 p.m. Eastern

A world premiere of Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy’s is the centerpiece of this special evening that also features Muhly, Byrne, Balliett, Byrne, Ludwig, Weiss, and others onstage with Sirota for:

  • A selection of music from the Icelandic collective Bedroom Community (the recording seat of Sirota, Muhly, and many more of the most acclaimed artists working today in contemporary classical)
  • Dennehy’s (world premiere, the work is co-commissioned by Symphony Space and the Irish Arts Center; #MusicForWriters on Dennehy)

Read more: http://thoughtcatalog.com/


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