One’s got to love someone whose family name’s pronunciation sounds like a truncated version of your own. Seriously, this is one of the many “first meetings” reported on these pages, in this circumstance with a cellist and composer who’s also a rare case of academically trained yet open-minded musician (punk is a part of her DNA) and human being (check her thoughts here) but, for some reason or another, hasn’t broken the ice of an inadequate visibility to date. String Theory should definitely help in achieving the goal thanks to its brilliantly multifaceted restraint. On the one hand, Ritch wanders across the galaxy of spectral-motionlessness-cum-throbbing-pulse, remaining there for long moments of magnetic sine wave-induced stasis (“16 Days”). On the other, the classic expertise of this inquiring mind emerges in “Sonata De Kinor – 1st Movement”, a soloist piece replete with echoes from a past age without romantic saccharine. In the middle of silence stands “Duo For Solo Cello”: “delicately strong” music halfway through timbral x-ray and very essential study of melodic collapse, confirming the validity of this woman’s talent which you’re strongly urged to further authenticate by downloading the album (it’s free!) and telling me that I was right (as always, haha).
Acts of Silence
Music Blog sharing Creative Commons music
Sarah J. Ritch has painted a rich musical landscape over the last few years whether being a composer or performer. A quick listen to several of her tracks at https://sarahjritch.wordpress.com/sounds/ shows strength in a variety of styles including classical and experimental. Her recent release on Absence of Wax, 16 Days, Ritch has composed a beautiful 10-minute track that explores the meaning of drones. At first listen, 16 Days comes across as simple a drone piece, but upon further listens, one is taken by the layering of dropping of waves that linger between silence and noise.
What The Fluxus? Interview With Composer Sarah Ritch
Photo by Brent Faklis
This weekend local music collective Anaphora will put on the Interdisciplinary Arts Festival, a series of concerts on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday featuring music, sound installations, and other works inspired by the Fluxus art movement (a full schedule can be found here). Fluxus pieces, which make up the bulk of the festival, are usually just one or two sentence directives that produce strange displays; for example, Fulcrum Point’s concert last week contained a Fluxus work where a drummer played on the head of a helmet-wearing fellow musician. The resulting art is meant to be ridiculous and often laughter-provoking.
The festival is the brainchild of composer Sarah Ritch, the curator of Anaphora’s Contemporary Series and one of Anaphora’s four founders. The group, which also has a Classical Series headed up by two other original members, Ritch’s husband Aurelien Pederzoli and clarinetist Cory Tiffin (the fourth founder is Tiffin’s fiancée Lisa Dell, who handles publicity and booking), has been putting on innovative, entertaining, and affordable concerts since the group’s inception two years ago. We recently chatted with Ritch about the Interdisciplinary Arts Festival, its origins, and the importance of silliness.
Chicagoist: What is Fluxus?
Sarah Ritch: At its most basic, Fluxus is an interdisciplinary art movement developed in the 1960s. It crossed all boundaries, from painting to sculpture to music and performance art. It was closely tied to Dada and both were movements of anti-art and anti-bourgeois, intellectual, commercialized art forms, “anti-art” of course being more a statement than a reality. There were many pieces which called to attention to the absurdity of academia and intellectualism and some that were just focused on absurdity itself.
C: What was the driving force that got it going? Was it reacting to something in particular?
SR: Well, of course, but that’s a complicated question. You could say it was a reaction to abstract art and “serious” art, in general. Whenever a movement reaches its height and becomes too complicated, a counter movement always emerges. To me what’s important is that, I feel, this was the one movement that really incorporated all mediums of expression, and required you not to take yourself too seriously.
C: So that matters to you much more than being “against” any of the abstract or self-serious art?
SR: Of course. There is some fantastic serious music, paintings, artists, composers. For instance, I love Beethoven and Rothko. I just am not Beethoven or Rothko, so the Fluxus and Dada philosophies are what’s true for me.
C: Say more about how those philosophies are true for you.
SR: Well, maybe it’s a personality defect, but I incorporate humor in everything, sometimes in very subtle ways, if only as inside jokes for myself. I can’t take myself too seriously. I don’t think anyone should, really. Although it is an honor to be respected by others. One thing that made me very sad during my stay in musical academia was seeing the joy for music sucked out of conservatory students. Everything gets so serious and life-threatening: how you play this note, how you approach and leave it, is it appropriate for the style, the composer, the tonal system, etc. I found myself unable to casually listen to music anymore. I was always analyzing and finding the flaws! And I had to stop playing classically because of the pressure.
C: How does Fluxus differ from Dada?
SR: Dada was more focused on visual arts and was more politically charged. It also came about 40 years earlier. It laid the foundation for Fluxus. Dada was more assertively anti-war and anti-art where Fluxus is tongue-in-cheek.
C: How did you choose the Fluxus pieces – “pieces” probably isn’t the right word, is it? – for the festival?
SR: “Piece” is a good word. Well, I have a small group of friends who I ran wild with during my undergrad studies at CCPA [Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University]. We had a ton of fun and got into a bit of trouble. Rules for performance were even altered because of us.
C: Dare I ask what you did?
SR: Well, there was one piece we did that was a “piano concerto” [written by Darren Bartolo, who is also taking part in the festival] that featured electric viola, guitar, and myself on the tambourine. I had seven music stands for my extremely complicated part. It wasn’t considered appropriate. A pair of my friends also choreographed an ’80s-inspired dance routine in short shorts and using rainbow streamers to a Scissor Sisters song. There was also “Trouser-geist,” a character developed by my good friend Sam Krahn. He wore pants on his arms and wore a paper bag over his face. We did these performances on the student composition recitals.
C: That sounds pretty Fluxus-ish.
SR: Yeah, mostly improvised late at night in the practice rooms. We made a spaceship from boxes we found once!
C: Did it work?
SR: For us. Anyways, I decided to do this festival with them and we picked the pieces we liked best, essentially.
C: But not all of the festival is Fluxus, correct?
SR: Nope. The piece [“Your Reaction to this Work”] we are premiering of Ryan Ingebritsen‘s is more a serious sound installation. We thought it would be fun to see what would happen when live musicians had to interact with the environment. My piece “Stutter” is actually more a performance piece in the vein of “watch this person suffer” style. And Spencer [Hutchinson], our closing act, is an electronic music performer and video artist.
C: Tell me about “Stutter.”
SR: Well, there is a soundtrack of a speech therapy lesson over which I read 20 pages of tongue twisters. Or until I stutter uncontrollably. This is a piece that is actually a reverse humor relationship. It is funny on the outside, but actually fairly personal as I went through a lot of speech therapy as a kid for my own speech problems.
C: Did that play in the genesis of the piece?
SR: Yes, I was interested in exposing myself. Well, getting out of my safe zone and making myself fuck up. Deconstruction.
C: What do you mean by “deconstruction”?
SR: Deconstruction of the process of eliminating your flaws. Letting them out.
C: How did the festival come into being?
SR: Well, I’ve always wanted to do this type of show. One of the reasons I joined in on the Anaphora party when it was in its conception. I felt we couldn’t just jump right into this type of thing, because I truly want to blend “serious” music with the Fluxus idea, to show that we can be friends. So I planned my concerts with a little edge each time, leading into this, I suppose. Basically, I don’t hate serious music, I hate the line between what’s considered serious music and pop or art or performance, etc.
C: I noticed Saul Garcia is playing a central role, hosting each of the three events. Tell me about him.
SR: [Ritch initially responded by directing me to the Wikipedia page for Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego Rrose Sélavy.] Saul Garcia is a very important character for me. He helps me cope with my insecurities and makes me laugh. I thought this was the perfect event to introduce him to Chicago formally. I used him as a pen name previously.
C: Will Sarah Ritch be at any of the festival’s events?
SR: Only through “Stutter.”
C: Do you know what the video work [that will accompany Hutchinson’s music] will be?
SR: I have no idea. I like surprises!
Interdisciplinary Arts Festival will take place Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at the Jennifer Norback Fine Art Gallery, 217 W. Huron, FREE; Friday at 7:00 p.m. at the Elastic Arts Foundation, 2830 N. Milwaukee, $10; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at the Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, $5
Preview: Anaphora’s ‘Synesthetic
Photo by Doyle Armbrust
We’ll plug pretty much anything either Anaphora or dal niente does, so when there’s an Anaphora concert that features a world premiere by dal niente founder Kirsten Broberg, obviously we’ll tell you to check it out.
Influenced by composer/visual artist Kyong Mee Choi, whose 1999 piece “Reflective Layers” appears on the program, and her sound and installation work while studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, composer and Anaphora curator Sarah Ritch has developed an event that will focus on the interaction of aural and visual elements. Anaphora commissioned new works by Broberg and fellow Chicago composer Marcos Balter for the show, and Ritch worked with the composers to develop a visual element to accompany and elevate the music in order to create a melding of sound, visual art, and atmosphere, an experience that will begin upon entering the concert hall.
In addition to the pieces by Choi, Broberg, and Balter, dal niente violinist Austin Wulliman will give an encore performance of Kaija Saariaho‘s “Calices,” which he premiered at last Thursday’s dal niente concert (which, along with the ICE concert Veronica told you about, means Chicago may be riding a Saariaho wave).
Chicago new music is riding the waves of a youth movement
- John von Rhein, Heard and Scene, June 11, 2009
Attention must be paid to the chamber groups that are making Chicago’s contemporary music scene a lot livelier and more diverse than it was some three decades ago. That was when the avatars of atonal modernism ruled the local roost and numerous Chicago composers were treated like pariahs because their music didn’t conform to prevailing stylistic dogma.
In recent years wonderful new-music groups such as Accessible Contemporary Music, Anaphora, ensemble dal niente, ICE and Third Coast Percussion have popped up all across town, reminding us that new music can also be fun.
Skilled young classical performers are injecting vitality into a remarkably broad spectrum of new music, and they in turn are attracting smallish but eager bands of youthful listeners.
I caught the season finales of two such groups, Anaphora and the CUBE Contemporary Music Ensemble, and I was glad I did. Both the spunky newcomer and the still-feisty veteran mix the fresh with the familiar, giving pride of place to local composers while bringing to local attention interesting voices from outside the city.
Some past CUBE concerts have suffered from scrappy performances and dry academicism. But this one turned out to be a winner: a varied showcase for soprano Susanna Phillips, a star alumna of Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center (class of 2007) who already has leading opera houses clamoring for her talents.
She gave a raptly beautiful, deeply affecting account of Samuel Barber‘s “Knoxville, Summer of 1915,” along with songs by Georgi Sztojanov and CUBE founder and member Patricia Morehead. Lawrence Axelrod’s “Mandala #5,” a world premiere, was a Zen-like meditation for string quartet based on minimalist repetition of baby-simple tonal materials.
I was also happy to catch up with Anaphora, a group formed one year ago and even more Out There in terms of its repertory, which extends from the Viennese classics to the newest avant-pop-classical fusion fare.
What an Anaphora spokeswoman calls “a seat-of-the pants” ensemble puts on gutsy but polished performances on a tiny budget but with a palpable enthusiasm that’s contagious.
Anaphora seeks out small alternative venues that encourage the whooping interplay between performers and audience I heard at the season finale of its contemporary series at the Green Mill Jazz Club. The concert was part of a nifty series of Sunday-afternoon new music events composer George Flynn launched at the Uptown Chicago lounge about two decades ago.
Along with a contemporary classic, Osvaldo Golijov’s “Yiddishbbuk,” a string quartet played Richard L. Ortiz’s hard-driving, aptly yclept “Persistence.” Further aural adventures came courtesy of Jacob ter Veldhuis’ “Grab It!” — a raucous duet for tenor saxophone and obscenity-spouting audio recording — and Sam Krahn’s “Missed Connections” — a funny and poignant little song cycle based on personal ads from Craigslist. Sarah J. Ritch’s manic, rock-infused “86 Violins,” a world premiere, could have been a world derniere as well: It ended with the two violinists smashing their instruments.
Good thing nobody called for an encore.
Unfathomable Sadness, Juvenile Delinquency, Craigslist
Photo by Doyle Armbrust
Sunday’s concert at the Green Mill features three Chicago-based composers who know each other from their studies at Roosevelt University. Anaphora will perform Rich Ortiz‘s string quartet “Persistence in the Face of Adversity” and will premiere the violin duet “86 Violins” by Sarah Ritch, the group’s co-founder and curator.
The third piece by a Roosevelt alum, Sam Krahn‘s work for clarinet, viola, piano, and voice, is entitled “Missed Connections,” and for exactly the reason you’re hoping it is: the title and text of the song cycle come from the delightfully entertaining (and rarely useful) Craigslist section of the same name. Soprano Caitlin McKechney will play the part of the horny public transportation user.
Music by more established composers include Osvaldo Golijov‘s “Yiddishbbuk,” an earlier work by the darling of the new music world. Golijov said the inspiration for the string quartet was the final line from a series of apocryphal psalms that Franz Kafka included in a letter to his lover, Milena Jesenská: “No one sings as purely as those who are in the deepest hell. Theirs is the song which we confused with that of the angels.” That’s an intense statement. Except, at it turns out, Golijov, because he’s a smart ass as well as a brilliant composer, made the quotation up.
Anyhow, the origins of the line are less important than the emotional thrust, which underlies the first movement commemorating three children who died at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The other two movements concentrate on the happier side of Golijov’s Jewish heritage: the Yiddish stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Leonard Bernstein’s (Jewish) relentless advocacy of the music of Gustav Mahler (Catholic/originally Jewish).
The music of Jacob TV, another “in” composer, although one whose popularity is more recent, will also be featured on the concert. “Grab It!”, one of his wildly entertaining boombox pieces, is written for live tenor saxophone and a recording of music and excerpts from the frightfully entertaining (and very useful) documentary “Scared Straight!”
This is the final concert of Anaphora’s first full season, and in that brief time they’ve shown an innovative ear for programming that has landed them among the leaders of the Chicago new music scene. The chances to catch them over the summer will be few and far between, so grab a cheap $5 ticket while you can.
Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, Sunday, June 7, 2 p.m., $5, 21 and older
New Music From a New Ensemble
Photo: Renee LaLonde
We all know a marriage creates a single existence out of two individual lives, but composer Sarah Ritch and violinist Aurelien Pederzoli’s wedding also created a music ensemble. Pederzoli’s gift to his new bride was a concert of her works, and the subsequent collaboration between them and two others, Cory Tiffin and Lisa Dell, was so successful, they decided to run with it.
The result was Anaphora, which has its one year anniversary next month. The Chicago-based group plays both classical and contemporary music, and this Monday, April 27, they’ll concentrate on the latter, putting on a concert of largely improvisatory minimalist and process pieces at the Chopin Theatre.
Anaphora will play two works by Chicago composer and sound artist Olivia Block. An untitled electroacoustic composition will be perfomed by the composer, and “Stupid Afternoon,” an acoustic work for winds, strings, and piano, commissioned by Anaphora, will receive its world premiere.
Chicago music scene mainstay George Flynn will perform his own “An Inner Glance” for solo piano, and five percussionists will play “Music for Pieces of Wood” by Steve Reich, who was awarded a long overdue Pulitzer Prize this week.
Rounding out the show, husband and wife will team up, with Pederzoli playing Ritch’s “400 g,” written for violin and CD. The recording is a four second clip of a violin performance that has been stretched to four minutes (think lateral expansion; the pitch isn’t affected), a process Ritch likens to looking at a cell under a microscope. Pederzoli will play a graphically notated score that calls for improvisation according to these usually hidden nuances.
The traditional gift for a one year anniversary is paper, so bring your $10 cash ($5 if you’re a student, and nothing if you’re 12 or under) and help Anaphora celebrate early.
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division, Monday, April 27, 7 p.m., $10, $5 with student ID, free for ages 12 and under, (773) 278-1500
Chopin Theatre; Mon 27
By Bryant Manning
Since the collaboratively run Anaphora Ensemble started in April of last year, it’s performed more shows than just about any small classical troupe in the city. The ensemble’s willingness to play anything lets it explore limitless worlds. Unlike other niche area chamber ensembles, Anaphora has no wish to specialize strictly in the concerti grossi of Handel or the cobwebbed corners of the 20th century. Sarah J. Ritch, the ensemble’s composer-in-residence and cofounder, says she favors interdisciplinary programming and throwing Brahms and John Cage side by side if a coherent artistic mission justifies it.
On Monday 27, the collective of four primary members and a slew of local performers presents a thrillingly modern concert that showcases local up-and-comers and legends. Sound artist Olivia Block, with a background in video art, injects her latest experiments into the world premiere of “Stupid Afternoon” and an untitled electroacoustic composition. DePaul composer and improvisation icon George Flynn performs a work for solo piano.
Ritch’s opus, “400g for Violin and CD,” samples a recording by violinist Carmel Raz. The Pro Tools–doctored clip takes a four-second phrase and balloons it to four minutes so that every tiny nuance of sound becomes a clear and present motif. The violinist Aurelien Pederzoli then fiddles along live to this mutated, improvised recording, forming a “duo” with herself.
With almost 32 concerts already planned for its second season, Anaphora not only avoids any of the repetition suggested by its moniker but sidesteps any hint of a sophomore slump.