Imagine a musical world that never existed

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Jonathan Potter writes for the Brattleboro Reformer:

Like a paleontologist dreaming of bones yet unearthed or an anthropologist pondering evolutionary what-ifs, a foursome of composers and musicians is following an imaginative and innovative line of inquiry in creating a new piece.

Brought together by Yellow Barn’s Artist Residency program, composers David Smooke and Ken Ueno and the Pictures on Silence featuring Jacqueline Pollauf on harp and Noah Getz on saxophone have gathered at the Greenwood School to create a new piece that extends the range of their instruments—literally.

Deconstructing and reconstructing the saxophone and harp, the four are exploring new sounds and new ways of playing, while imagining what the instruments would be like if they had evolved differently.

"We are considering the conflated history of their instruments, and the larger history, which I think is the history of the development of technology," Ueno, who arrived in Putney from UC-Berkley. "We are creating an imaginary trajectory for their instruments ... a tributary that got lost."

The resulting music created for and by these new instruments will be intriguing, it may be beautiful, and some of it may be hard to take. But it is music created in an atmosphere of liberation; the instruments have been cut loose from the evolutionary lines that produced the harp and saxophone as we know them.

"One of the functions of art is to open up people’s expectations. We want to confront people’s expectations of what music can be," said Ueno.

The public can get a glimpse of the creative process in this residency titled "Utopia/Euterpe/Dystopia," this Friday at 7 p.m. at the Greenwood School library. Admission is free.

To do that, the four have embarked on an unusual path, one that began with trips to area hardware stores, where they found plastic tubing, metal hardware and other tools and materials to make these new instruments.

"We took a sax down to the hardware store, and began taking it apart. To their credit, we didn’t get a lot of strange looks," said composer David Smooke. "I wonder what you have to do in Brattleboro to get an odd look at a hardware store."

Freshly reassembled, Noah Getz’s sax, mischievously renamed a "hookahphone," is a new animal—capable of low, rumbly didgeridoo-like sounds and higher, mournful, almost human cries.

For Getz, who is still mastering the new instrument, the experience has been liberating. The music world has challenged the boundaries of key, pitch, rhythm, harmony and form. Now the accepted boundaries that come with playing a certain instrument have been broken down.

"Those parameters are not mandatory," said Getz.

Moving to Mike Kohout’s Greenwood School woodshop, the four are also building a new harp—a 10-foot, two-stringed creature that could be called Harposaurus, capable of ominous, low sonic vibrations.

When asked what her 10-foot harp is like, Pollauf had a disarmingly simple answer: "It’s huge."

"We’re trying to figure out how to transport it out of here. It’s a challenge of somewhat epic proportions," said Smooke.

The four hope this epic challenge eventually results in a full-length production that explores the confluence of music, performance and other art forms—something all four are interested in.

"As performers, as musicians, we are always participating in an act of drama on stage," said Getz.

Pallouf, Getz and Smooke have worked together on smaller projects and had dreamed of collaborating on something more extensive. The Yellow Barn residency made that possible, and allowed them to welcome Ueno into the project.

"We really want to thank Yellow Barn for giving us an opportunity to work together," said Ueno.

Utopian/Dystopian Saxophones and Harps

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The resident musicians of Yellow Barn's Utopia/Euterpe/Dystopia residency arrived in Putney, Vermont on Sunday night. Their first stop on Monday morning was to Brown & Roberts hardware in Brattleboro, disassembled saxophone in hand. Upon returning to Yellow Barn's campus at the Greenwood School, the artists created the first prototypes of the modified saxophone and harp that will be incorporated into a new work jointly composed by Ken Ueno and David Smooke for the harp-saxophone duo Pictures on Silence (harpist Jacqueline Pollauf, and saxophonist Noah Getz). The musicians will present their work in a free demonstration on Friday, Jnauary 11th at 7pm in the Greenwood School library.

Ken Ueno and an extended saxophone:


Jaqueline Pollauf and a ten-foot harp:

Ken Ueno demonstrates another saxophone extension:

Yellow Barn in 2013

Monday, January 7, 2013

This year Yellow Barn is reaching out from its summer retreat in new ways, partnering with “Yellow Barns” in other fields to bring our Vermont-based mission to an international community of musicians and listeners.

1.  Summers at Yellow Barn

Yellow Barn’s reach is deepening locally and growing nationally through partnerships in the education and arts worlds, yet we continue to draw energy from our roots, the summer festival that David and Janet Wells began in 1969 in their home in Putney, Vermont. Each year 36 young professional musicians, selected from over 400 applicants from across the United States and abroad, travel to Putney along with an internationally renowned faculty to rehearse and perform together in 20 concerts at the Big Barn, Yellow Barn's intimate concert hall in Putney. This program has been an important haven for musical exploration since the first Yellow Barn participants came to live, study, and perform in the original “yellow barn”. For one Yellow Barn musician, “In this world, the impossible becomes possible and the beautiful becomes sublime!”

2.  Counterpoint: Structure and Improvisation

Cellist Jay Campbell and pianist Conor Hanick explore the dialogue between the unbridled imagination of the Baroque and our contemporary world, finding complement and contrast in the rigorous, structurally rich writing of J.S. Bach and Charles Wuorinen and the more intuitive and improvisatory C.P.E. Bach and Matthias Pintscher. Premieres of new works by composers Wei-Chieh Lin and David Fulmer add new voice to this counterpoint. During their Artist Residency in Putney, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Hanick, and Mr. Lin lead a workshop creating texts inspired by music with students at the Greenwood School, a school for boys with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences. Along with other Yellow Barn-Greenwood School partnership projects, this collaboration will be filmed for a Ken Burns documentary focusing on the extraordinary work of the Greenwood School.

3. Cuatro Corridos (Four Ballades) From the U.S. – Mexico Border

Cuatro Corridos is a new chamber opera addressing human trafficking across the U.S. – Mexico border. The telling of a story based on true events from the perspectives of four women brings a group of Mexican and American artists together to begin their work during a Yellow Barn Artist Residency. The composers (Lei Liang, Hilda Paredes, Hebert Sandrin, and Arlene Sierra), the ensemble (soprano Susan Narucki, guitarist Pablo Gomez, pianist Aleck Karis, and percussionist Ayano Kataoka) and librettist Jorge Volpi, work in residence in Putney. Led by Ms. Narucki and Mr. Volpi, this chamber opera becomes the centerpiece of an effort to heighten public awareness about human trafficking and encouraging social activism wherever the work is performed. In Putney, this includes discussions in the community, including on campus at the Greenwood School, where this residency inspired its faculty to make human rights a central theme for the year’s curriculum.

4. Our Local Schools: Music of Time and Place

Under the auspices of Chamber Music America, a Yellow Barn Artist Residency brings curriculums created by Due East (flutist Erin Lesser and percussionist Greg Beyer) to public school students in the Putney community. Building upon Putney Central School’s commitment to respecting and exploring its own environment, Due East, together with composer Elainie Lillios, inspires 8th-grade students to listen with new awareness, incorporating sounds of nature from their world into poetry and using familiar technology to create musical vignettes out of what they have heard and written. At Brattleboro Union High School, a fundamentally strong music program allows Due East to unite classroom and music studio through the study of Brazilian texts and culture, and the performance of a chamber concerto based on Brazil’s musical heritage written by Mr. Beyer for the indigenous berimbau, wind ensemble, and choir.

5. Le Noir de l’Etoile (The Black of the Star) in Dallas and Marfa

In 1967, a young astronomer detected in the heavens a rapidly varying radio signal, in the form of periodic impulses 1.3 seconds apart. The discovery caused a sensation. The impulses were so regular that for a while they were taken to be signals coming from extraterrestrial civilizations. — Astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Luminet

Music From Yellow Barn takes Gérard Grisey’s 1981 masterpiece based on the discovery and sounds of pulsars and staged for six percussionists surrounding an audience, to Dallas for sunset and midnight performances at the Nasher Sculpture Center, and then to a remote ranch in Marfa, Texas for its first performance out-of-doors. Astronomers Matthew Shetrone of the McDonald Observatory (Ft. Davis, TX) and Tom Geballe of the Gemini Observatory (Hilo, HI) lead a day of discussions with the artists and audience.

6. Remembering 9/11 Through New Music

Family members from Tuesday’s Children, an organization committed to providing long-term support and services for the children of 9/11, travel to Yellow Barn’s Young Artist Program, participating with its musicians (composers and performers ages 13-20) in the process of creating new music that memorializes and brings unique perspective to the events of 9/11. Staff members from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and Tuesday’s Children join composers Stephen Coxe, Stephen Mackey, and Christopher Theofanidis in guiding this collaboration.

7. Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy’s Death

In the history of a people there are moments and lives too important to be left untouched by artistic illumination. John F. Kennedy once said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

Honoring President Kennedy, Yellow Barn presents a program in which words, seeking to comprehend the complexities of that time, find illumination in the music of Olivier Messiaen and John Cage, and One Red Rose, a new work by Steven Mackey co-commissioned by Yellow Barn with the Nasher Sculpture Center and Carnegie Hall. In remembrance of a day one half-century ago, this program is developed in residence at Yellow Barn by the Brentano String Quartet, clarinetist Charles Neidich, and pianist Seth Knopp, and then presented in Dallas, with a special performance and worldwide broadcast of One Red Rose from the Sixth Floor Museum.

2013 Collaborators

Brattleboro Union High School (Brattleboro, VT)

Carnegie Hall (New York, NY)

The Greenwood School (Putney, VT)

The McDonald Observatory (Ft. Davis, TX)

The Nasher Sculpture Center (Dallas, TX)

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum (New York, NY)

Putney Central School (Putney, VT)

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (Dallas, TX)

Tuesday’s Children (New York, NY)

The Requiem for Zhanaozen: Star of the North

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Indrani Basu writes about Fulmer's new work for The Times of India:

Award-winning composer, violinist, and conductor David Fulmer, a member of the faculty of the Columbia University Department of Music, has completed a new work for virtuoso cellist Jay Campbell. The composition honours those massacred in Zhanaozen in Kazakhstan.

"I first became aware of the oil strike in Kazakhstan when Sting canceled a pop music concert there over human rights concerns and in solidarity with the workers. Weeks later, on December 16 last year, the government murdered a great number of those striking workers. I became intensely focused on the plight of the widows and orphans left by this brutality and hope this work can bring them some comfort while reminding people in the West that one year out, this horrific killing remains unpunished and the dictatorship there continues to oppress his people," said Fulmer, the youngest member of the Columbia music faculty.

The Requiem for Zhanaozen: Star of the North, is written for Jay Campbell and commissioned by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF). Yellow Barn will present the Requiem, where Campbell will be an artist-in-residence, from February 23 to March 1 next year, said a press release from HRF. Premiere performances will also take place in Dallas' Nasher Sculpture Center (on March 8), and then in New York City, and abroad throughout numerous international venues, stated the release. Inspired by the poetry of Aleksandr Pushkin, Fulmer composed an intense work for solo cello with a searing harmonic surface, creating musical gestures of intensity and intimacy.

"The Human Rights Foundation is thrilled that two prodigies ten thousand miles away from Kazakhstan are willing to spend their precious time and artistic talents bringing attention to injustice and suffering in a Central Asian Republic that has remained a dictatorship since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991," said Sarah Wasserman, HRF's chief operating Officer. "Just three weeks ago the Kazakh government began a crackdown on media. The country is in dire need of international attention and exposure," she concluded.

In Remembrance of David Wells

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Yellow Barn invites all visitors to share their thoughts and stories of David. This memory bank will become the basis for a collection of tributes, recordings, photographs, and other memorabilia that Yellow Barn plans to publish in conjuction with the opening of Yellow Barn’s summer season during the first week of July, 2013.

If you wish to contribute photographs or other items to this collection, please send materials to Yellow Barn, ATTN: David Wells Collection, 63 Main Street, Putney, VT 05346, or by email to For more information about Yellow Barn's plans to honor David, please contact Catherine Stephan, Executive Director, at (802) 387-6637 or

Read David's history, view photographs, and listen to recordings of David

Read Yellow Barn's directors' reflections on David

Watch the August 2012 memorial service in the original Yellow Barn (courtesy of Brattleboro Community Television)

Reflecting on David

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Yellow Barn directors Seth Knopp and Catherine Stephan share their memories of David Wells:

David once crowed (yes, he sounded like Peter Pan!) that his festival, Yellow Barn, was about Food, Music and Love. David was true to his words. He offered sustenance with the generosity of a Jewish mother and ate with the pleasure of a Roman emperor. His approach to music-making seemed at once raw and instinctive, shaped by his intense connection to the senses, and yet touched with the nobility of deep understanding. I am not sure that I have ever met anyone who connects these as seamlessly as David did. And David’s love; so many have felt it in his intense desire to share what he heard and in his unquenchable thirst to learn.

Those of us who, moved by an artist’s music, often harbor hope that their art is a reflection of the human being, can look to David as a shining example that this can be so.

- Seth Knopp, Artistic Director

David spun many stories for me when I was his student, so I am going to spin one about him. Like all of David's students I had two copies of every score that I explored in my lessons with him: his copy and mine. I would play, and he would make marks. First he would underline something. Then he would circle it, then put little lines around the circle, then longer lines...there were times when his copy of the score looked like a Batman comic. Then he would start erasing as I remembered my intentions. We were done when his copy of the score was clean again. Along the way I would put marks in my score also, but I didn't have the courage to erase them. That is the difference between David and me. He has the courage to wrestle with something and come out clean. I still strive to make my score look like David's score. And that's David, too. He inspires us to face life and all of its challenges, and then let go, with grace.

- Catherine Stephan, Executive Director

Read David's history, view photographs, and listen to recordings of David