(Gabriel and I recently held a trans-continental iChat to further illuminate our evening on the Ecstatic Music Festival. Here’s the transcript.)
Gabriel Kahane: Hi Timo
Timo Andres: Hey there! What’s on the menu today?
GK: I’m trying to remember how it was that we came to present this wacky Ives program, and I feel like it had something to do with one of our first culinary (mis)adventures, no? Did it involve risotto?
TA: They all blur together. Like soup.
GK: Oh wait, it involved BLT’s!! You made olive bread.
TA: Oh right. Those crazy Thai-style BLT’s I made for you
GK: Yes. They were so good.
TA: So this concert is like a Thai person making a BLT.
GK: That’s kind of what it is— wherein I am the Thai person, and the BLT is the Ives song. Or, you are the Thai Person and my pop songs are the BLT. Does that sound right?
TA: I think the program itself is a BLT. A bunch of layered ingredients that are only tangentially related but end up working together to form a brilliant whole.
GK: If you do say so yourself. But yes.
TA: And we are but the mayo.
GK: Yes, true. But let’s leave culinary metaphor aside for the moment and talk about the vernacular in concert music.
TA: You are so goal-oriented here. It’s great. It’s a funny idea for me because classical music is sort of my vernacular. I’m not one of those hip young kids you hear about who “grew up playing drums in a punk band” or “writing hip hop beatz”.
GK: Yeah, I hear you. In a way, it’s my vernacular as well. Do you see, as I do, that the tradition of bringing the vernacular into concert music is one that has essentially been continuous for the last four hundred years, but was briefly interrupted in the decades following WWII?
TA: I tend not to like to think of music history as linear.
GK: Okay, but say— the quodlibet of the Goldberg Variations. To me this is one of the prime instances of the sacred and the profane coming together to make a delicious croque monsieur. Do you know the lyrics to those songs?
TA: Yes, something about chard stem soup. It’s a pretty high class example.
GK: Yes! But then the other one is like kind of soft-core. “I wouldn’t leave the house if…she is so “wet”? “moist”?
TA: So what your saying is, is Bach alt-classical?
GK: I mean… it’s DURRTY. But no. In fact, what I’m proposing is that the notion that alt-classical is a new movement is historically myopic.
TA: I would agree.
GK: In fact, we’re just picking up a thread that got dropped from, say, 1945 to 1970.
TA: Well, it got dropped by the “academic” side of “classical music”. Meanwhile Lenny was all about electric guitarz.
GK: Yeah, and we can forgive him for Mass, because his heart was in the right place? But talk to me more about how you don’t view music history as being linear.
TA: I’m a big believer in “growing pains” periods in music history. Johann Stamitz anyone?
GK: But when you say non-linear, are you even rejecting a broadly linear “three steps forward, two steps back” scheme?
TA: It’s like the universe. It’s a star being born, or something. It doesn’t happen overnight. But many can be forming/dying simultaneously.
GK: Uh huh. So Ives is great in that sense. He’s kind of a postmodernist avant-la-lettre, no?
TA: and with that, my neighbor has fired up the Rihanna
GK: Oh sweet. I love Umbrella
TA: I would say he’s more of a magpie. I don’t know if self-conscious postmodernity can be ascribed. In fact I think his sensibility was quite romantic.
GK: Mmm, yes, well this is a different talk than we’re giving up at Columbia. I guess through the thicket of the harmony, there is a romantic impulse there.
TA: All different sorts of composers can find something to love in Ives. He’s like our Honest Abe. He can do no wrong.
GK: Which sort of brings me to the notion that he’s a great jumping off point or genealogical antecedent for both you and me. As totally different as our voices are, I think there’s maybe— I feel icky talking about this, but—
TA: Cause you’re a Republican and I’m a Democrat?
TA: (jk, we’re both libertarians)
GK: —no but we both have this soft spot for the 19th century that is more explicit than in the music of some of our contemporaries. Not that it’s about lifting or quoting, but there’s an affinity.
TA: Right, we get together and play Brahms waltzes, which are the best thing ever.
GK: And also, ideologically, it seems like we’re both committed to drawing a line through history, whether it’s LINEAR or not, to connect some dots at various historical train depots.
TA: I think Ives struggled to get away from that 19th-century “parlor” tradition but that it was pretty deeply rooted.
GK: But sometimes that “movement against” or “movement away from” is what yields the most satisfying work. The struggle becomes the statement, perhaps? In the same way that Brahms 1 is all about not being Beethoven 9. Until he finally gives in.
TA: In our case it may be more about juxtaposition. We’re not trying to say literally “This influenced this influenced this”. It’s more like, what if you put nước chấm on a BLT? Wouldn’t that be interesting?
GK: Which is why I particularly love these Bach/Kurtag transcriptions. There’s something about him evoking the overtones of the organ that feels so right in juxtaposition with Ives. (devotion!)
GK: Yes. So we’re kind of about juxtaposition on the one hand, and on the other, there is something about intertextuality within our respective bodies of work. Some Connecticut Gospel is somehow the twin of the slow movement of my piano sonata inasmuch as both pieces interpolate some harmonic gestures that to my ears come very much out of a “pop” tradition.
TA: Yes. In fact this program is very much about harmony, if you want to get geeky about it. I don’t know that I can put it into words too clearly, which is actually one of the reasons I’m crazy about harmony. But I would argue that there is a common thread of “devotional” harmony in Western Musics that you can pretty much follow from Bach all the way through the romantic era, and then it joins the vernacular mid-stream. Ives certainly has it. In The Housatonic at Stockbridge the entire thing is grounded by these deep, organ-hymn chords and churchy voice leadings. It’s like Brahms’s German Requiem down there.
GK: It’s interesting though that you brought up this notion of harmony as the mayo on our programmatic BLT because, while it might seem facile to make such a statement on the surface, I don’t know that a lot of contemporary music is particularly concerned with harmony.
TA: Harmonic simplicity maybe. Not to say our music is, like, Ferneyhough over here.
GK: I think this is another thing that you and I have in common is that we’re approaching harmony in what could be perceived as either a reactionary or progressive way depending on one’s point of view.
TA: I try not to get too political about it. I know what I like.
GK: Yeah, I didn’t mean that in ideological terms. I guess what I was going to say is that what I find appealing about your music is that in a piece like Some Connecticut Gospel the juxtaposition is Mahleresque chromaticism vs. triadic glowing warmth (as opposed to harmonic stasis vs. triadic glowing warmth, which is not really a juxtaposition for me).
TA: Yes yes. Ivesian thickets. Ives and Mahler have a lot in common. Maybe that’s another iChat.
GK: Another program, even.
TA: And Some Connecticut Gospel is directly about Ives.
GK: I hear that. So have we gotten on the nose enough about why our program is the way it is?
TA: I think so. Do you have any questions, Gabriel?
GK: I think this is pleasantly vague.
TA: Have you decided what hymn you’re troping on?
GK: No. But that’s my homework for this tour. Have you?
TA: Thinking about doing At the River. Ives set it, so did Copland, but I just can’t stay away.
GK: N.B. I am so over-caffeinated right now
TA: I am in a post-minestrone lull. That’s also the genre of music I write. Post-Minestrone.
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