California resident composer Stephen Hartke was awarded the 2013 GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his chamber work Meanwhile: Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays. The piece was commissioned for the Chicago new music ensemble eighth blackbird by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition. Their album featuring Meanwhile as the title track also received a GRAMMY for Best Chamber Music Performance is available from Cedille Records, CDR90000133. Read on for more about the work and how to order a limited-edition autographed score.
Reflecting on the occasion Hartke writes, “It was nice to get the award, especially because of eighth blackbird, who have been such big supporters of me and my work in general.” Indeed, the ensemble has toured extensively with Meanwhile, performing it frequently since the 2007 premiere at the University of Richmond, VA. The Los Angeles Times recaps both awards in its February 10 article.
Like several of Hartke’s works, Meanwhile grew from a long-standing fascination he’s had for various forms of Asian court and theater music, and from a fantasy in which Hartke writes, “I imagine myself the master of my own fictional non-Western musical tradition.” In preparing to write this piece, he studied video clips of quite a number of puppet theater forms, ranging from the elegant and elaborate, nearly-life-sized puppets of Japanese Bunraku, to Vietnamese water puppets, both Indonesian and Turkish shadow puppets, and to classic Burmese court theater that mixes marionettes with dancers who look and act like marionettes. All of these theatrical forms have their own distinct musical styles and structures, by which the composer was especially fascinated by the stark vividness of their instrumental coloration and the often unexpected structural quirks that they have evolved as these traditions have taken shape over the centuries and become stylized.
Meanwhile is a set of incidental pieces to no puppet plays in particular, but one in which the imaginary scenes have given rise to an idiosyncratic sequence in which the sound of the ensemble has been reinvented along lines that clearly have roots in these diverse Asian models. It is played as a single movement, with 6 distinct sections. The piano is prepared for much of the piece with large soft mutes used to transform the color of the middle register into something that rather resembles the Vietnamese hammer dulcimer. The viola is tuned a half-step lower in order to both change its timbre and to open the way for a new set of natural harmonics to interact, sometimes even microtonally, with those of the cello. The percussion array includes 18 wood sounds, from very high Japanese Kabuki blocks to lower range slit drums, plus 4 cowbells, 2 small cymbals, and a set of bongos. Finally, there is a set of Flexatones, which are rather like small musical saws and are played by the pianist with a mallet, their pitch being altered by pressing down on their metal flanges. The tone is rather like that of small Javanese gongs.
To download a free PDF perusal score, visit our downloads page.
We are offering a Limited Edition Score which features full color covers designed by Stephen Hartke, hand-autographed by the composer. To purchase, order by February 28, 2013 by clicking here. For performances, contact our rental department.
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