Week Three at YAP

Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Thanks for giving me the chance to rejoin YAP this summer & for the crazy amount of planning that's evident in such a well-crafted online program. I was talking to [a YAP friend] about it after you called, and he said something to the effect of (paraphrasing), 'If it's even possible that an online program would be genuinely musically enriching, Yellow Barn would be the one to make it happen.' Wholeheartedly agree — I've had a blast so far :) —2020 Young Artists Program participant

Yellow Barn's 2020 Young Artists Program, our first distance learning program, might have finished for the time being, but the work explored and the connections made are strong enough to carry us to next June, when we look forward to welcoming every musician in this year's program to join us in Putney—at long last.

In their last week, participants had the opportunity to speak with composer Lei Liang, currently residing in California where he is on the faculty of the UC-San Diego, one more example how this year's program gave participants the rare opportunity to work with faculty and guest faculty from across the United States and abroad.

Most of all, the final week included a marathon of performances ranging from solo performances of works for musicians and electronic tape, world premeires of new works by YAP composers created during the program, and the conclusion of this year's John Cage Songs project, which gave all of us a unique look into the lives of YAPpers in their natural habitats! Over 81 performances,took place during YAP this year, including four new solo works from each of the six composers.

Four of these performances are included below, and many more will be appearing on social media in the coming days. Enjoy, and look forward to seeing more of these inspiring musicians next summer.

Mark Applebaum: Aphasia
Nupur Thakkar (Schumburg, IL)

Michelle Li (Edison, IL): Shadow Play
World Premiere
Joshua Weinfeld, percussion (Nashville, TN)

Mario Davidovsky: Synchronisms No.3 for cello and electronic sounds
João Pedro Gonçalves, cello (Lisbon, Portugal)

John Cage: Song #35
Rolando Gómez (Princeton, FL)

Press for Yellow Barn Opening Night 2020

Monday, July 13, 2020

Cashman Kerr Prince wrote about Yellow Barn's 2020 Opening Night Concert in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, published on July 11, 2020. 

Beethoven Walks installation - ZACHARY STEPHENS

Gilbert Kalish (Photo: Zachary Stephens)

Traveling to bucolic landscapes and enjoying the wealth of music in more relaxed music festivals provides one of the main joys of New England summertime. This year we cannot visit this barn in the Vermont woods (or many other sites), but they are nevertheless finding ways to transmit some measure of that joy to us.

Gilbert Kalish began yesterday’s Yellow Barn stream by speaking about Charles Ives and his mighty sonata on local thinkers. In some dozen minutes Kalish made a case for Ives as the first American classical composer, one knowledgeable of European classical music traditions but steeped in American music, with the music of his father’s band encoded in his compositional DNA. At the same time, Ives wrote about his understandings of the Transcendentalists who populate this sonata. Kalish tied Ives to this year’s celebrated composer, Beethoven, noting that the opening four notes of that now-ubiquitous symphony recur some 40 times in Ives’ sonata. (He invites us not to listen for it and says as a performer he finds that it distracts from the music at hand to stumble across another citation of Beethoven while in Concord.) Visually, Beethoven looms as a presence, with enlarged autograph pages of his String Quartet Op. 132 on the walls at the back of the stage.

Then to the music. Kalish humbly said he was going to try to play Ives’s Concord Sonata. And play he did. Dating from circa 1911 – 1915, Ives’ “Piano Sonata No. 2 ‘Concord, Mass., 1840-60’” is a monument in four movements. The first, “I. Emerson,” begins meditatively, calmly and quietly. While the tempo remains ruminative, the music becomes increasingly complex (if not, indeed, thorny). There is a tolling, bell-like quality which Kalish perfectly captured; perhaps Ives bethought himself momentarily of Amherst, Mass. and Emily Dickinson at the end of this movement? The second movement, “II. Hawthorne,” opens more chipper and melodic; we move from essays to longer prose narrative. I am astounded at the carefulness and variety of touch Kalish extracted using the wooden block for the black-key tone clusters. In this movement the American songs and hymns Kalish alluded to earlier come to the fore, as citations, as inspiration, as irruptions into the musical text (earworms of centuries gone by, perhaps)—notably dances that sound almost-familiar. These musical stories whirl frenetically into a dance of excitement, then a breather, and it commences to build up again. “III. The Alcotts” opens with bell-like pedal tones; church bells seem a structurally uniting refrain throughout. (I am not sure Bruce Hornsby had that quite in mind in his 1986 citation of this movement’s opening.) The Alcotts try on a waltz, later a jig, before returning to a quiet conclusion. The concluding movement, “IV. Thoreau,” tackles everybody’s favorite Transcendentalist, in a deliberate way, full of quiet introspection. Here the optional flute part appears, at first as though a febrile manifestation then gaining strength in its off-stage presentation. The sonata finds its conclusion in quiescence and stillness. Screen fades to black.

Harmonically this sonata is fresh and varied, ranging from the familiarity of common practice to Ives’s own new explorations, often in many different directions over the length of this work. Uniting these movements is a shared sense of the Promethean task of creation, its rewards and its struggles, and here expressed in the context of a young nation striving to find its own artistic path forward, in Concord and in Connecticut.

Following a ten-minute intermission, the concert resumed with the world première of Stephen Coxe’s “Entstehung Heiliger Dankgesang (Emergence of a Holy Song of Thanksgiving)” (2020). Composed for string quartet and percussion, this work is a response and a prelude to the slow movement of Beethoven’s Op. 132 quartet, which follows it on this program.  Alice Ivy-Pemberton and Emma Frucht, violins; Roger Tapping, viola; Coleman Itzkoff, cello; and Eduardo Leandro, percussion brought Coxe’s music to life. Here is Coxe on his work:

The current work consists of 45 pages of realizations, reworkings, responses, guidelines for interpretation, and examples from Beethoven’s autograph score, all of which may be excerpted and arranged in any fashion for a given performance. A performance of the entire set would take well over an hour: this evening’s performance explores a considerably shorter ‘excerpted’ version among many possible versions, as it is conceived to directly precede a performance of the Op.132 slow movement.

This aleatoric work encompasses four types of response: canons, realizations, guidelines, and “roads not taken” but discernible in manuscript pages. You can read Coxe’s full note HERE. Here beginning with bowed percussion and the clarion quality of such sounds, the music intones its introit. The string players pursue thoughts and themes; the percussionist stands in for the scribbling composer. Again, music attempts to capture the act of creation at work and at play. The whole has an ethereal quality to it which underscores and reinforces the improvisatory nature of the composition and is so perfectly captured in this performance.

The same string players (now minus percussionist, who quietly left the stage) presented “Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart,” the slow third movement from Beethoven’s String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132 (1825). Opening quietly and drawing on the tradition of hymns, which it enriches and ennobles, this music builds in intensity and passion as it reifies and affirms its own act of artistic creation. Between moments of hymn and canon with the religious intensity we associate with the pinnacle of those forms, and reinforced by invoking the piety so often heard in the harmonic Lydian modality here used, there come moments of lighthearted charm that recall trios of Haydn quartets. Tripartite structure predominates yet the signification shifts as the music reprises, reflecting thematic growth as thanks profuse. Sacred and secular, this music twirls around twin and often disparate poles of daily life; we hear Beethoven grappling to express his own testament. The movement ends with the diminishing waves of harmonious sound, never disappearing only growing fainter as they ripple outwards into the universe.

With two cameras and an unknown number of microphones (greater than four that I saw over the course of the broadcast), Yellow Barn has invested in bringing us an enriching experience of the music on their campus. Gone is the intimacy, of course, and there are some glitches — some audio pops, but clear video. (I watched on a newer tablet.) Early in the Ives, the audio briefly took on the quality of a music box. I file this under the Law of Unintended Consequences. Ives would, I think, have loved it. This is one positive addition to the experience that comes from these newer modalities of delivery. For the second half, the musicians spread out, standing throughout the barn for Coxe’s work, reading from notes and sketches on the walls and somehow incorporating themselves into the décor along with the reproduction of Beethoven’s manuscript pages for the op. 132 quartet. For the Beethoven the quartet of strings took to a more canonical seated arrangement yet at greater than normal distance one from the other.

The initial live presentation on Friday night had to be postponed until Saturday afternoon due to connectivity issues in southern Vermont. Still, this performance rewarded our wait — and I hope it will remain available for some time. Find a spot in your garden, equip yourself with a cool beverage of choice, tune in HERE, and if your luck prevails, perhaps some garden birds will opine on the musical birdsong in this fabulous opening Yellow Barn concert, to complete the idyll we crave.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College. He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra

Michael Gallagher's 4th of July

Friday, July 3, 2020
In September 2011, four young slam poets from California joined the Parker Quartet, baritone William Sharp, and pianist Seth Knopp for a Yellow Barn Artist Residency. Today we offer this performance of Michael Gallagher’s “4th of July” with thanks to the poets, whose lives and the lives of those who witnessed their work, from the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Nasher Sculpture Center, to their hometown of Stockton, remain intertwined.
While in Putney, this residency ensemble of ten artists created the program Intimate Letters: Cultural Outrage and Personal Tragedy from Mahler to Slam Poetry. A program of original poetry interspersed with works by Lee Hyla, György Kurtág, Gustav Mahler, and Leoš Janáček, Intimate Letters premiered at the Vermont Jazz Center in Brattleboro, VT, and then travelled to Boston, MA, New York, NY, Washington, DC, Dallas, TX, and Stockton, CA, performing in venues ranging from concert halls to living rooms.
Intimate Letters was the genesis of an ongoing Yellow Barn Music Haul residency at the Epiphany School in Dorchester, MA. We look forward to reuniting with their slam poets and faculty, together with Yellow Barn musicians Travis Laplante and Charles Overton, as soon as we are able.

Yellow Barn Awarded NEA Cares Act Grant

Friday, July 3, 2020

Margaret Grayson wrote about Yellow Barn's NEA Cares Act grant, published on July 3, 2020. 

Ten Vermont arts and culture organizations received more than $600,000 in direct grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, as part of the federal coronavirus relief package.

The NEA awarded $50,000 grants to Kingdom County Productions, Dorset Theatre Festival, the Vermont Folklife Center, the Community Engagement Lab,  the Yellow Barn and the Weston Playhouse Theatre.

The NEH awarded $133,512 to the Vermont Historical Society, $69,263 to the University of Vermont, $29,362 to the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, $53,036 to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and an additional $97,017 to the Folklife Center.

The Weston Playhouse, Vermont’s longest-running professional theater, has lost all of its earned income since canceling its summer theater season, said executive artistic director Susanna Gellert. While the theater has been able to reduce its operating budget from $2.3 million annually to about $1 million, the grant support is still vital.

“The $50,000 NEA grant is a pretty huge leg up for us,” Gellert said. She said the Weston staff are planning to use it to budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins January 1. A Paycheck Protection Program loan ensured that no staff have been laid off so far, and Gellert is cautiously optimistic that donor support will remain strong enough that all staff can be retained.

The theater’s director of development, Emily Schriebl Scott, said planning for the future is about more than just financial concerns. There are more philosophical questions, too: What should a theater try to be during a pandemic? For the Weston, staff have focused on supporting playwrights and artists in creating new work and virtual offerings.

“It’s been really heartening to land on these incredibly creative ways of moving forward,” Schriebl Scott said.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act awarded $75 million each to the NEA and NEH, 40 percent of which was distributed to statewide organizations such as the Vermont Arts Council and Vermont Humanities to distribute further. Those two organizations have been distributing $700,000 from the NEA and NEH in the form of grants to nonprofits of between $2,500 and $10,000.

More than 200 organizations and individual artists have applied for grants, reporting more than $36 million in current and projected losses due to the pandemic. According to the arts council, the creative sector accounts for 9.3 percent of the state’s jobs.

The remainder of the NEA and NEH money was earmarked for direct grants. These national grants were highly competitive. The NEA received more than 3,000 applications and awarded 855 grants; the NEH received more than 2,300 applications and awarded 317 grants.

“We are incredibly grateful for everything the NEA does, and especially the arts council. But I would love to see government funding increase in this moment,” Gellert said. “We’ve talked, as a state, about how the creative economy fuels Vermont. I think we’re really going to learn what that means.

"I’m sure we will start to see some organizations have to close their doors for good," Gellert added, "and I think the impact will be profound.”

Bringing Beethoven's Music to the Woods of Putney

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Reporter Margaret Grayson wrote this story about Yellow Barn's Beethoven Walks, published on July 2 in Seven Days.

Beethoven Walks installation - ZACHARY STEPHENS

Beethoven Walks Installation (Photo: Zachary Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)

Composer Ludwig van Beethoven was known for long, solitary walks through the woods surrounding his home city of Vienna, Austria. In a year when musicians and fans planned to celebrate his 250th birthday, the pandemic means they have to do it in a similar socially distant style.

Seth Knopp, the artistic director of Yellow Barn, a chamber music center in Putney, has led the design of Beethoven Walks, an outdoor installation and musical experience along walking trails. People can download an app loaded with Beethoven’s music and walk the trails, which are punctuated with benches and reproductions of Beethoven’s handwritten sketches and manuscripts.

“It occurred to me that there might be a way to bring people to music, rather than the other way around,” Knopp said. “The natural world, and walking on trails, was a big part of Beethoven’s process.”

Knopp spent many hours walking the selected trails, deciding which Beethoven pieces would pair well with the walks and how to time them. Beethoven’s well-known Symphony No. 5, Knopp said, might be better suited for a walk in Yosemite National Park. He chose a variety of music — some more gentle and contemplative, others “bright and effervescent.”

“We didn’t want one to drown out the other,” Knopp said. “Specifically, I didn’t want the music to drown out the sounds of nature.”

He recommends that walkers don’t use headphones. Instead, they can download the app and play the music out loud through their phone speaker.

Catherine Stephan, Yellow Barn’s executive director, helped coordinate with museums and centers in Europe to reproduce some of Beethoven’s original music sketches — some of which he probably wrote while walking the woods in Vienna — and manuscripts, which are the finalized version of a piece of music. The sketches are printed on banners, designed to look like they’re a part of the landscape. 

The walks are located on the Greenwood Trail on Putney’s Greenwood School campus and the Hannum Trail on Putney Mountain. The Hannum Trail installation will likely be taken down on July 18, but the Greenwood Trail will remain as a permanent gift to the school.

“It’s meant to be a very simple experience that’s meant to take people out of our current situation and connect them to music,” Knopp said. “I think that people should walk the trails not thinking that they’re taking a hike, but almost as if they’re in an outdoor installation.”

Yellow Barn is known for drawing musicians from around the world to take part in its summer festival. The center brought a smaller number of artists to Putney this year; after quarantining for 14 days they could rehearse with each other at a distance. The musicians will perform for a livestream season from July 10 through August 8.

Yellow Barn has also taken its traveling stage to local hospitals and retirement centers to play music for people who are isolated due to the pandemic.

“We go around and we play everything from the Beatles to Beethoven and everything in between. And you see people come to life,” Stephan said.

Yellow Barn was one of six Vermont arts and culture organizations to receive a direct $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts as part of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding.

An Introduction to Charles Ives

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

In advance of Gilbert Kalish's performance of the "Concord" sonata on July 10th's Opening Night Concert, Yellow Barn invites you to learn more about Charles Ives by reading Jan Swafford's insightful biography of the composer:

Charles Edward Ives (1874-1954)

For all his singularity, the Yankee maverick Charles Ives is among the most representative of American artists. Optimistic, idealistic, fiercely democratic, he unified the voice of the American people with the forms and traditions of European classical music. The result, in his most far-reaching work, is like nothing ever imagined before him: music at once unique and as familiar as a tune whistled in childhood, music that can conjure up the pandemonium of a small-town Fourth of July or the quiet of a New England church, music of visionary spirituality built from the humblest materials--an old gospel hymn, a patriotic tune, a sentimental parlor song. The way in which Ives pursued his goal of a democratic art, and his career of creating at the highest level of ambition while making a fortune in the life insurance business, perhaps could only have happened in the United States. And perhaps only there could such an isolated, paradoxical figure make himself into a major artist.

Charles Ives was born in the small manufacturing town of Danbury, Connecticut, on October 20, 1874, two years before Brahms finished his First Symphony. During the Civil War his father George Ives had been the Union's youngest bandmaster, his band called the best in the army. When the war ended George had returned to Danbury to take up the unusual trade, in that business-oriented town, of musician.

As a cornet player, band director, theater orchestra leader, choir director, and teacher, George Ives became the most influential musician in the region. Yet while Danbury prided itself during the 1880s in being called "the most musical town in Connecticut" (that in large part due to George Ives's labors), people still viewed the profession with little understanding or respect. That situation, which would have been the same in most American towns in the 19th century, had its impact on Charles Ives. Still, his family was prominent, noted for extravagant personalities and (except for George) a gift for business.

like father, like son 
Ives told the story of his introduction to music: his father came home one day to find the five-year old banging out the Ives Band's drum parts on the piano, using his fists. George Ives's response gave the first impetus to his son's career as a musical innovator. Rather than saying, as would most parents, That's not how to play the piano, George observed instead, "It's all right to do that, Charles, if you know what you're doing," and sent the boy down the street for drum lessons. Charlie never did stop using his fists on the piano, and was eventually notorious for requiring a board to play the Concord Sonata. Thus the invention of what a later age would call "tone clusters."...

Read the complete biography