Commissioning and Performing New Music for Horn

Commissioning and Performing New Music for Horn

by Matt Oliphant

When I scheduled a performance of Dai Fujikura's PoyoPoyo for fall of 2014, I was initially surprised to find out that I would be giving the US premiere.  Surprised because the piece (written in 2012) is stunningly beautiful and unique and utilizes otherwise untapped tone colors (a lot of which come from the use of a bass trombone harmon - aka wah-wah - mute). And yet I shouldn't have been surprised, because performances of contemporary solo horn repertoire are few and far between. Which is a shame. The horn is an incredibly versatile instrument and lends itself to many techniques of contemporary composition, if only people could or would take advantage of it. 

The sound possibilities PoyoPoyo put into my head led me directly to ask Jonathan Kirk to write a piece for horn and electronics. In our initial meetings, I demonstrated some possibilities of the harmon mute, and he ended up using it in his piece Nine Mile Canyon, to my delight. Besides being a wonderful and inventive composer, Jonathon performs and improvises on brass instruments and electronics, and I knew to expect something awesome. I was not disappointed. The piece starts out pitchless, just taps and whispers, wind blowing through and around rocks and brush.  But later, when the acoustic horn is augmented and heightened by echoes and distortions, the sound density is nearly overwhelming. This is a unique sound world Jonathon has created, and in some ways the opposite to Fujikura's.  PoyoPoyo is never assertive. It is always asking questions but not really waiting around for the answers, bouncing along to the next question.  In contrast, Nine Mile Canyon is bold, a real 'outdoors piece' (appropriate for the horn, originally an outdoor instrument). It demands attention in its quietest and its loudest moments. 

I'm relating all this because, in many ways, Nine Mile Canyon is the catalyst for the program happening on Oct 18 at Constellation. And I say 'program' very consciously.  While in many ways I could call this performance a 'recital', that doesn't feel right.  Jonathon and I premiered the piece this summer (as part of the ambitious Omaha Under the Radar festival) at a bar, and while that setting wasn't ideal, it certainly felt more appropriate than a concert hall.  The conventions of a recital – perform a piece, bow, leave the stage, return, perform a piece, bow, leave, take an intermission, repeat – are unnecessary here, and are being dispensed with. 

The four pieces on the program (which will also include Stockhausen's In Freundschaft for solo horn, and Grisey's Accords Perdu for two horns) will be performed without interruption as a single set, with connecting material mostly provided by Jonathon's electronics set-up. I won't be wandering on and off stage, breaking the mood between each piece. The audience will be taken from one unique sound world directly to the next, hopefully discovering relationships between the pieces that will only unfold in the moment. 

My social media account just reminded me that I received PoyoPoyo in the mail, with a handwritten note from Dai Fujikua, one year ago today.  It's taken a year, but the set of circumstances has culminated in what will certainly be a unique experience!


Dal Niente Presents: Matthew Oliphant
Sunday, October 18, 2015, 8:30pm
Constellation Chicago
3111 N. Western Avenue
$15 General Admission/$10 Students

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