Archive for the ‘Orchestral’ Category

Sun & Moon

Saturday, March 8th, 2008
Score of the Sun movement

Score of the Sun movement

        March 8th 2008 the SFCCO performed one of my circle music compositions; Sun & Moon ( Low / High). The Sun & Moon have been center of mythology since the dawn of time. They represent the balance of man and woman, light and dark, the cycle of life. This musical representation of Sun & Moon consists of two sections, Sun starts from left and moves to the right then moon start from the right and move to the left. These sections are in a form known as circle music. Essentially, circle music uses phrases that can be played at any time and in any order. I first learn about circle music form from Dr. Cindy McTee who wrote a circle music piece for my bassoon teacher.


Symphony No. 3 “The Shadows of Japanese Children” take 2

Friday, December 7th, 2007

        After premiering the outer two movements in 2005, the SFCCO premiered the inner two movements of my third symphony: Symphony No. 3 “The Shadows of Japanese Children” on December 7th, 2007. More information is avaible from the original notes of the first performance.


Ha-Me’aggel for Orchestra

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

        I recently completed a new composition, Ha-Me’aggel (one who draws circles) for Orchestra (Video Low / High) was premièred June 9th, 2007 by the SFCCO. This the biggest of my jazz and classical music to date. Originally this piece written for my quintet (woodwinds, trombone, cello, koto and percussion), the Cooke Quintet. The group recorded Ha-Me’aggel on An Indefinite Suspension of The Possible just 2 days after the première of “Music for Humans“. The CD was released on my label Black Hat Records. It has four sections, which in the original version could be played in any order, a form known as circle music. I felt that this piece would adapt well as a Concerto for Saxophone or Orchestra, though I had to make the form less flexible for an orchestra. There is some freedom to allow different instruments be featured but in the first performance alto sax (Michael Cooke), clarinet (Jonathan Russell), piano (Alexis Alrich) and timpani (Victor Flaviani) are featured instruments. These featured instruments have improvisational solo sections. The melodies in the piece were written using a Klezmer scale, which made me think of the story of Onias (Honi) Ha-Me’aggel, a first century Jewish scholar who drew a circle and placed himself in the center of it, praying for rain and whose prayers were mysteriously and immediately answered. My prayers where also answered, as this piece was made possible by a Creative Connections Award from Meet The Composer.


Music for Humans

Friday, June 9th, 2006
Michael introducing his composition.

Michael introducing his composition.

        “Music for Humans“, was premièred June 9th, 2006 by the SFCCO and Schola Cantorum. (Video Low / High) “Music for Humans”, makes use of extended vocal sounds instead of the traditional chorus sing text. Based on ideas I have for a choral symphony, the chorus is asked to make sounds humans can make but choir are rarely asked to. Clapping, snapping and clicking of the tongues are some of the extra sounds the choirs is asked to make. And since there is no text instead of the traditional Ooohs and Aaahs, I use the rich sounds of the Chinese Phonetic alphabet, Zhuyin Fuhao or known as BaPaMaFa. Not only are the sounds the choirs makes in “Music for Humans” unusual, but so it the way the choir is used. Instead of being a soloist, they are used as just another set of instruments like they way I used 4 vocalist in my first symphony. As for the sound of work, one can hear hints of Witold Lutoslawski, Paul Hindemith, and Meredith Monk. I make use of techniques made famous by Giacinto Scelsi, where I improvise sections then transcribes them into notation, for the orchestra to replay. Over all the work maybe a meditation of the human mind, with points of calm clarity, beauty and intense confusion, which is how we humans live our lives everyday.


Open Ended

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

I had one of my guide improvisation compositions performed by the SFCCOOpen Ended is a very versatile work that is composed before your eyes. This work has no set instrumentation and can be played by any number of performers. It also has no set length; the piece could last 5 minutes or 24 hours. Based on Rova‘s Radar techniques, Open Ended is less of a composition and more of a color or tool palette. It is an ever-growing collection of rules and games for the performers that are triggered by hand signals by the conductor/composer. The conductor/composer then composes the piece live using these hand signals to guide the performers. Open Ended has been performed several times but every time it is a world première and unique performance that can never be repeated.


Symphony No. 3 “Shadows of Japanese Children”

Friday, June 10th, 2005

        I wrote a new symphony, Symphony No. 3 “Shadows of Japanese Children”. It is based my string quartet with the same title which was completed in 1993. It was a time when I began writing music influence by other cultures. I also began experimenting with polyrhythms and elastic-tempos, like Cowell describes in his book, New Musical Resources. When the SFCCO decided to perform Henry Cowell’s Symphony No. 13 “Madras”, I revisited his music and writings. Listening to Cowell’s “Ongaku for Orchestra” brought my string quartet to my mind. So I decide to rewrite my string quartet and turn it into a symphony for this special SFCCO concert. (video)

       “Shadows of Japanese Children” is a four-movement work based on Japanese music. A book I found in a used bookstore in Dallas, Unforgettable Fire, inspired it. Atomic bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki filled this book with drawings and stories. Many were about children turned into ash statues – their shadows burned on the ground. This very powerful book reminds us that war is not a video game. This work is dedicated to those children. 
       The first movement, “Shadows Playing on the Ground“, makes use of a melody in a Japanese classical piece by Kengyo Fujinaga called Yachiyo Jishi (1741-1744). The second movement, “Where has the Shadow’s Father Gone?” is based on the lullaby Ora No Omboko. The third movement, “The Mountain of One Thousand Good Fortunes is Ablaze!” is based on the folk song Sempuku-yama. The titles of the second and third movements are based on the lyrics of the original folk song. The fourth movement, “In the Fallen Sun, only Shadows Remain” makes use of two more folk melodies Hora Nero Nen Nero & Toryanse. The title of this movement and the first movement come from lines in the beginning of Unforgettable Fire.


Concerto for Musician

Sunday, May 9th, 2004

         I finished writing a new guided improvisation orchestra piece called Concerto for Musician. Concerto for Musician, what does that mean? Unlike traditional concerto, which are usually for a particular instrument, Concerto for Musician is for a multi-instrumentalist. The first movement is for a soprano instrument, then second movement is for an alto instrument and the last movement is for a bass instrument. At the world premiere the “musician” was me, the composer. I played the first movement on flute, then second movement on alto saxophone and the third moment on bassoon.

        Each movement has a feeling or sound, which is reflected in the movement’s title. The first movement is entitled: Cosmological. This movement has a vast sound with flares of energy and twinkling. The first movement tapers in to the second movement, which is entitled: Mechanical. This movement has a fast pulse and sounds like many mechanisms working at once. Aqualogical is the title of the third movement, which has an organic and liquid sound. One can hear the depths and breadth of the ocean in this movement.
        Concerto for Musician uses an unusual compositional technique: guided improvisation. As apposed to free improvisation where everyone does what ever they hear or see fit during the music, guided improvisation uses some rules to limited the sounds and directions so the composer can get the sound and feeling he is after. Standard Jazz music could be considered guide improvisation, but the “rules” in Concerto for Musician are different then the rules of Jazz music. Some of the techniques used in this work are based on Larry Ochs’ “Radar” techniques. The soloist follows some rules as well, but is basically aloud to do want he/she wants. The soloist is encourage to use extend techniques like multi-phonics (playing more then one note at a time) and sounds on the instruments that are appropriate to the movement. The SFCCO premiered this piece (Program Notes) on May 9th, this performance would not be possible if it was not for the Subito grant I was awarded from the American Composers Forum.


Symphony No. 2 “Mozart ist Tot!”

Monday, April 21st, 2003

       In 2003, I wrote a symphony, Symphony No. 2 “Mozart ist Tot!” Mozart is one of the most recognized and performed composers in America. In fact, most American symphonies mainly play European composers from the 19th and 18th century. They very rarely play music by an American composer and if they do play one, it not a new composition. It would be like if the commercial pop radio stations only played rock music from the 50’s and early 60’s and on top of that music is only by European artist (no Elvis). I feel Mozart is over played by symphony orchestras. I personally do not wish to hear his music at any symphony concert again, unless the piece is altered in a way to make it new and interesting. Symphony No. 2 “Mozart ist Tot!” is my attempt to make Mozart interesting and modern. Though this is a step backward for my musical objectives; because it uses no improvisation and like my first symphony uses other composers’ music or styles, I had some events that made me decided to write this symphony.
       The first of these events was in December 2002 and I was looking to entering a composition contest. The rules of the contest made me mad because they were so restrictive. Symphonies and composition contest like to limit the creativity of composers with rules like no longer then 15 minutes and no new notation. They basically do not want to put in the effort to learn a new piece of music. While this was not really news to me, it just upset me that this kind of limiting creativity still is going on.
       The next event happen in Atlanta later the same month, I was listening to the radio and a NPR dj was complaining about new music. He said that composers should not write music that was so irritating, and write something that sounds more familiar. Of course if he ever read Meyer’s “The Meaning and Emotion in Music” he would realize that his view of sound is a conditioned response and if he took the time to listen to more new music the dissonance and sounds would not seem irritating. Again I got mad because this dj with nation radio coverage was poisoning listeners against new music.
       The last event also occurred in Atlanta, the Atlanta symphony was advertising that they where play a new composition they commissioned, the first new piece in eight years. Eight years, a professional orchestra with money recourses of the Atlanta symphony should be commissioning several pieces a year not one every eight years. In Mozart’s time if an orchestra only played one new piece every eight years the listeners would not have showed up. They only wanted to hear the newest compositions, not the oldest.
       One night while I could not sleep in Atlanta, I was thinking about the above events and the first SFCCO concert. Mark Alburger told a story about how his Symphony No. 1 (“It wasn’t classical…”) got its’ theme. The story he told was about how people leaving a concert complained that the new music piece was not classical; it was symphonic but not classical. I guess for those concert goers composers must not try and expand or develop music forms. But without growth music is a dead art form and would only be museum music. Then the idea hit me to use a Mozart symphony and make it modern and interesting.
       So when I got back home in January of 2003, I took Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 “Haffner” and replaced the notes with my own. Thus only using his rhythms and form, which is ironically how Mozart worked, he wrote that the first movement of “Haffner” symphony was “monothematic, ‘worked out’ after Hayden’s model.” I picked the “Haffner” symphony because of its length (without repeats it only last15 minutes which is the longest most orchestra will allow for new pieces) and that it was written about the time America won the Revolutionary war, 1783. Each movement uses a different compositional style. The first movement, Twelve Steps of Mozart, uses a twelve tone row that I improvised in a recording I made in September of 2001 called Jagged. (Released on StatementsBlack Hat Records) The second movement, Minimally Mozart, uses minimalism and each section is reduced to a three-note pattern. The third movement, Caging Mozart, uses chance (I used dice to pick the notes) and is an obvious homage to great American composer John Cage. The 4th movement, Giant Steps of Mozart, I used the great saxophonist John Coltrane’s solo on Giant Steps as a replacement row for some sections and it’s chord progression for other sections.
       I hope you will enjoy my latest symphony, and that you will join me in a protest against American symphonies. I am calling for a Mozart boycott in order to get more American and new music composers programmed by professional orchestras. I hope that people will stop going to professional orchestra concerts where Mozart is programmed (except groups that perform on period instruments and are solely dedicated to playing Mozart’s music), maybe this will help to motivate symphony orchestras to play more new music. I hoping to get professional orchestras to stop performing Mozart for 5 years and program American and new music composers in his place. The SFCCO premiered “Mozart ist Tot!” (Program Notes) on April 5, 2003.



Friday, October 4th, 2002

       I currently stopped working on an opera because my style is changing. Improvisation has become important to my classical work as it is to my jazz work. I’ll beginning to blur my jazz and classical music. I have a new CD out called “Statements” that is the beginnings of the merger. I have also been performing with other classical improv music in the S.F. bay area, and studying with Larry Ochs to learn ways of developing my ideas. I was writing an orchestra piece for the SFCCO called “Channels” which is to be a concerto for chamber orchestra in a collage style. I’m was writing four movements each one in a different style and featuring a different section of the orchestra, then I’m planning to cut it up and mix them together. This piece became very large and complicated so I put it on hold but completed another one instead for the SFCCO. This work is called Pollock after Jackson Pollock the painter. It uses improvisation to create a sound style that match Pollock’s painting style. It is supposed to sound like him painting in that unique style of his. Pollock (Program Notes) was premiered on Oct. 4, 2002.