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Copland V. Bon Iver Program Notes

Program notes on the 'Copland V. Bon Iver':

I’ll never forget hearing Bon Iver for the first time. It was the song ‘Woods’, which opens strikingly with a single, unaccompanied and heavily auto-tuned voice. A reflective four-line phrase is sung and then repeated in full, but with the addition of a vocal harmony. This happens over and over, each time a harmony being added, almost like a trance-inducing incantation, until it is an immensely powerful chorus of this uncanny and supernatural voice. This was a voice to be listened to.

 

The summer before I attended the Curtis Institute of Music, I picked up an LP of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring with Leonard Bernstein conducting. I fell in love with the piece that summer, listening over and over, with giddy anticipation that I was about to attend the same school as Bernstein. All through my years at Curtis I would listen to that record. I’d lay down on the floor of my apartment, close my eyes, and dream of conducting the work with a major orchestra someday.

 

Lasting impressions, deep connections. This music is more than just music to me, just like your favorites are to you. In combining them I bring two beloved friends together, to commingle, become familiar, explore what they have in common, and share stories. How special that I can facilitate and be a party to that.

 

The origins of my working with vocalists goes back even further, to my days in high school singing in and arranging the music for a barbershop quartet. Following that, for four years at the University of Illinois I sang in and directed a distinguished a cappella group called The Other Guys. It was these choral scenarios that gave me my first conducting experience (indeed Bill Prokopow later sung in and directed that same group).

 

So again I am bringing two beloved parts of my life together- the chorus, which I was so immersed in during my high school and undergraduate years, and the orchestra, which I’ve been working with ever since.

 

I tell you all this to illustrate this point: any creative artist is simply using A) the techniques he or she has developed and B) the means at his or her disposal to bring into form something original, that is representative of their unique artistic journey.

 

Something Michael Tilson Thomas said to me about Mahler comes to mind, referring to the latter’s interpolation of folk music and (then considered) bizarre orchestral effects: ‘he was using the sound world of the orchestra to represent the music that he heard in his daily life.’ That is what any composer is doing, and that is what these mash-ups are. 

 

This particular piece was actually the first mash-up I attempted, in 2012. The premiere went well enough with the Indianapolis Symphony that it opened up the opporunity for an even bigger endeavor the next time out, which became the Brahms V. Radiohead. The Copland V. Bon Iver has sat on the shelf since then, in favor of newer and more skillful works, but I always thought it might become something special if I gave it a rewrite. Last summer I did just that, adding several Bon Iver songs and making the piece more synthesized and cohesive as a whole.

 

In that way this one is particularly special to me, because it again illustrates a journey- from that first attempt in 2012 until now. How amazing that Bon Iver and Aaron Copland can take me from my high school quartet to The Other Guys to my Curtis apartment to Indianapolis and then right here to Pittsburgh- and that I can share the journey with all of you.

 

What a journey it has been. I do hope you enjoy.

 

Steve Hackman

1/7/16

 

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And I can see for miles...

When I started writing Copland + Bon Iver, I was seeking a lyric that could anchor the piece or serve as a central theme the way “Nobody said it was easy” from “The Scientist” functioned in Beethoven + Coldplay. It turned out that I found several lines, but they did not end up serving as structurally as in aforementioned example. Instead, I added them in atmospherically — like an impressionistic collage — to the very beginning and ending of the Copland, augmenting the already tranquil and meditative tone.

These are those lines of lyric, accompanied by some of my favorite images from Bon Iver’s music videos:

And I can see for miles, and miles, and miles...

'm up in the woods... I'm down on my mind...

Come on, Skinny Love, just last the year...

And at once I knew I was not magnificent...

Don't you cherish me to sleep... ah....


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At the beginning, on the first time around...

View on Pittsburgh Symphony Blog Site

The FUSE@PSO concert on March 9, 2016 will be something I am calling STRAVINSKY: REMIX|RESPONSE. It will be a live remix of Stravinsky’s FirebirdSuite — juxtaposed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra playing the original Stravinsky will be remix vignettes that use segments of the Stravinsky treated using modern popular/DJ/electronica production techniques. In other words, during those segments the orchestra will be combined with laptops, drum machines, synthesizers, singers, rappers, you-name-it-because-it-is-all-being-conceived-as-we-speak.

This is the first ever concert I am writing of this nature. It is quite a thrill and opportunity. I’m using techniques I’ve developed over the last few years of creating my own :STEREO HIDEOUT: music. It is particularly exciting at this point because the project changes shape dramatically with each day of work; that is another way of saying it is yet very unformed, very raw and in the initial stages.

The first phase of work has been to load the original Stravinsky into Abelton (the music production software), choose segments that are ripe for remixing, go crazy creating beats and soundscapes around those samples, and see where it leads. Included here are screenshot videos of a few sections. You’ll hear acapella raps of Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Childish Gambino superimposed. I am still undecided on what will ultimately exist over the top — it may be all new material — new raps and new songs that are based on the Firebird myth — it also may be the existing songs you hear in this. Or it may be a combination.

All I know for certain is that, when I open up Ableton tomorrow, it will feel brand new again. That is the fun of being at the beginning, on the first time around.

Hope you enjoy, and that you’ll come out in March to hear the results.

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Beethoven V. Coldplay Program Notes

Would Beethoven have appreciated the music of Coldplay?

A ridiculous notion, I know. But just follow me here for a moment. Pretend Beethoven was your very same age, and he was seated next to you at this concert. Pretend you were able to strike up a conversation with him.

I ask you to engage in this exercise because that is where my thinking took me when writing Beethoven V. Coldplay, for I realized shortly after beginning that I was the exact same age Beethoven was when he wrote the Eroica symphony. This had a startling and ultimately revelatory effect on me. As I was rewriting the very same notes he had written- at the very same point in our lives- I found myself thinking of him as an actual person. This closeness went far beyond any biographical study I had done before. So I began to wonder- what if I knew him? What would he be like? Could we possibly have had anything in common?

And eventually, of course: what we have thought of Coldplay?

Beethoven confronted broad, universal and humanist themes in his music- would he have found affinity with a band that did the same? His music was deeply personal; he connected his emotional state directly and without encumbrance to the notes he wrote- is there any doubt, when listening to Chris Martin sing and play the piano, that he does the same?

The Eroica symphony is now mentioned among only a handful of pieces that changed the course of music forever, and Beethoven was certain of its brilliance; yet the premiere was met with ambivalence, with some critics calling it ‘unintelligible’. Would Beethoven have felt empathy with the Coldplay line, ‘Nobody said it was easy… no one ever said it would be this hard’?

Beethoven had a coarse and unpleasant personality and therefore found sanctuary from the outside world in his music. Would he have appreciated the lyric, 'I turn my music up... I shut the world outside... I hear my heart start beating to my favorite song…'?

Or, 'When you love someone and it goes to waste, could it be worse?’- would those lines have meant something to the composer who struggled at romance and was often tortured by unrequited love?

And can you imagine the 34 year-old composer- who had recently battled depression to the extent of considering suicide owing to the realization that he was irreversibly going deaf- not being overcome by the lyric, ‘Tears stream down your face… when you lose something you cannot replace…and I will try to fix you’?

I chose to pair Beethoven and Coldplay because of their shared universality- that feeling they evoke that this is what music should sound like. Only upon finishing the piece did I begin thinking of all these serendipitous connections. At first they startled me. How was I so lucky? How is it possible that these lyrics could relate so much to Beethoven’s life?

But then I realized- we love Coldplay because we feel they are speaking just to us- their songs seem to tell our own stories. So why shouldn’t they tell Beethoven’s? If he was once a person the same age as us, desperate for recognition of his genius, battling his health and depression, longing for love, and ‘dreaming of paradise,’ who is to say he wouldn’t have found escape in a song of Coldplay? Or a moment of peace knowing that someone had been through exactly what he was going through and had found a way to perfectly articulate it through song?

So what is the point of an exercise of this sort? Will changing the lens through which we view these artists and composers provide a new perspective? Will finding connections between them offer a new context? Isn't it just a little too far-fetched to even think that Beethoven would EVER have listened to Coldplay? And even if he had- what is the point in combining his music with theirs?

I know my answer. You're about to hear it.

-Steve Hackman, October 2015


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Here's to the fools

Sitting in rehearsal for the Pittsburgh Symphony's presentations of 'Fantasia' this weekend, I found myself wondering what the classical music and film critics of 1940 thought of Walt Disney's creative ambitions- accompanying concert music with animated imagery and invented narratives. Did they find it vulgar? Unnecessary, disrespectful, distracting, superfluous? An entry into territories the sensible and dignified among us would think wiser of traversing?

Here's a sampling:

"What the music experts and the art critics will think of it we don't know...Probably there will be much controversy, and maybe some long hair will be pulled. Artistic innovations never breed content."

- Bosley Crowther, New York Times film critic

"The illustrations of the Beethoven 'Pastoral' are sufficient to raise an army, if there is enough blood left in culture to defend itself. . . . The clean, pure sounds--the unbearably clean, pure sounds--fall about us while we gaze on the raspberry and marshmallow Olympus, and the pure, strong music seems to be dropping cold and frustrated tears."

- Dorothy Thompson, New York Herald-Tribune

"Much of Fantasia distracted from or directly injured the scores...we could have had from last night a fantasia of musical sequences in which the fanciful and absurd, the witty and romantic, the burlesque and the sentimental were delightfully commingled. What we saw was a conglomeration reminding of Mark Twain's Colonel Sellers at the breakfast table, 'planning a railroad which should run through Slouchburg and Doodleville, Belshazar, Catfish Babylon, Bloody Run, Hail Columbia and Hark From the Tomb.'"

- Olin Downes, New York Times music critic

"Grotesquely kitschy."

- Film critic Pauline Kael

". . . To have the Pastoral Symphony interrupted by applause for sugar-sweet centaurettes is painful."

- Franz Hoellering, The Nation

Ten days before the film's premiere, Walt Disney said to the New York Times, ''Maybe I'm screwy. I don't know. It isn't that I deliberately set out to break movie traditions. But if someone didn't break loose with new things the movies wouldn't be where they are today. You'd still have 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' Somebody's got to be a damn fool."

Here's to the fools.



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Beethoven V. Coldplay

Beethoven V. Coldplay:
A symphonic mash-up of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony ('Eroica') and the music of Coldplay

Commissioned by the Colorado Music Festival
Performed by the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra
Andrew Lipke, Kristin Newborn and Bill Prokopow, vocals
Re-composed, arranged and conducted by Steve Hackman


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Colorado Music Festival 'Mash-Up' Series 2014

After appearing last summer with the 'Brahms V. Radiohead', I was asked by the Colorado Music Festival to music direct this summer's three-concert 'Mash-Up' series. What a fantastic opportunity to program and present a trio of innovative and exciting programs. Here is the lineup:

Program #1: World Premiere of 'Beethoven V. Coldplay' (July 1)

CMF has commissioned this next 'mash-up' program of mine. I am calling it an 'Eroica oratorio-fantasy using the themes of Coldplay'. It is the Beethoven 3rd symphony converted into a second choral symphony, with adapted themes of Coldplay suspended atop the orchestra throughout. Nine Coldplay songs are used in all, and the majority of the Eroica is played. The 'mashing up' has reached completely new heights with this work, as Beethoven and Coldplay generally coexist the entire time. I've also composed a new 'Intermezzo' to be played in between the third and fourth movement, which marries the Coldplay song 'Sparks'.  Needless to say, this is my biggest work to date, and I eagerly anticipate the premiere. I am very grateful to CMF for making it possible. 

The following playlist contains the individual selections that are used in the work.

Program #2: My Brightest Diamond, Aoife O'Donovan and Olga Bell (July 15)

I am quite proud that we were able to get all three of these incredible artists, given how in-demand they are. Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), Aoife O'Donovan and Olga Bell have much in common- their conservatory training, their divergence from the 'traditional' path and development of their own voice, list of all-star collaborations (Yo-Yo Ma, Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, Dirty Projectors, etc), and emergence as some of the most significant artists in the indie/classical/whatever-you-want-to-call-it world. But yet their music is so wonderfully varied- and that is what I am most excited for. They will each present sets with the CMF orchestra then come together for pieces together as a finale.

Program #3: San Fermin

If you've heard these guys, well, then you know. Ellis Ludwig-Leone, the mastermind, composer and keyboardist of San Fermin, is a graduate of the Yale school of composition, and served as Nico Muhly's assistant for a time before creating this project. He holed himself up in a cabin for eight weeks and scored the entire 55-minute work- which flows continuously form beginning to end- calling for singers, rock instruments, and a classical chamber ensemble. One could call that an orchestra of sorts.... On this concert, the sweeping and captivating sound of the eight-person San Fermin will be augmented by the CMF orchestra, in arrangements Ellis has done himself. This promises to be an epic finale to the season. Just a few days after, San Fermin will appear at the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, IL, and prior to being with us they are opening up for St. Vincent. What a thrill it will be to play with these guys in the midst of their emergence!

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Brahms v. Radiohead

Brahms v. Radiohead:
A symphonic mash-up of the Brahms 1st Symphony and Radiohead's 'OK Computer'

Performed by the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra
Andrew Lipke, Will Post, and Kristin Newborn, vocalists
Re-composed, arranged and conducted by Steve Hackman

July 7th, 2012 - Chautauqua Auditorium - Boulder, CO

Previous performances include Indianapolis Symphony and North Carolina Symphony. Florida Symphony will present it in January '15.

 

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Two arrangements for Chanticleer

I had the incredible honor of arranging two pieces for the world-renowned choral ensemble Chanticleer, a group that's inspired me since I was a teenager. This was for their recent album release Someone New.

I shared arranging duties with some fabulously talented individuals, among them Mason Bates ('Washing of the Water'), Michael McGlynn ('Ring of Fire') and Vince Peterson ('Somebody to Love'/'Temtation'). There are some stunning selections and awesome performances on this album, and I was so glad to be a part of it.

Here's the info on my pieces:

1) 'Wait Fantasy': This arrangement of the M83 song (from the seminal album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming) ended up being of epic proportion; though I had no idea how powerful it would be in the hands of an ensemble this virtuosic. In seeking a companion to the M83, which is very succinct of form and material, I came across the Emily Dickinson poem 'Waiting'. The first line of the poem is 'I sing to use the waiting'; I'd found some fortune indeed. Combining the two resulted in a long-form structure that was fit to accommodate the fantasy-like musical sketches I'd been making.

Hearing the ensemble sing this piece live in Brooklyn recently was among the most exhilarating musical experiences of my life. My heart has not beat that hard and fast in quite a while. Chanticleer has attacked this rather challenging piece with ferocity and unwavering artistic integrity; that they now include it in their touring program (alongside Samuel Barber , no less) is a humbling honor I truly had never even dreamed of.

 

2) 'The Hamburg Song': For some added flavor I snuck Hamburg Hymne , the city's traditional anthem, into this Keane song. The Hymne opens and closes the arrangement as well as provides thematic material for the development section. The biggest treat is that my great friend and former Other Guys colleague Ben Jones sings the solo- quite wonderfully.

Former OG's in the house, please stand up: James Earl Jones II (in NYC rehearsing for the 'Porgy and Bess' national tour), Chris Lacour, Ben Jones, me

Former OG's in the house, please stand up: James Earl Jones II (in NYC rehearsing for the 'Porgy and Bess' national tour), Chris Lacour, Ben Jones, me

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Time For Three 'Grieg Mash-Up'

I wanted to share this wonderful suite that I created along with my longtime collaborators and friends Time for Three.  It mashes the Grieg 'Holberg ' Suite up with pop songs and TF3 originals. A highly enjoyable and pleasant listen. Great work to TF3the CMF orchestra and conductor Michael Christie.

Playlist: 

1. Grieg Holberg Suite 1st Movement (Prelude) 

2. Banjo Love (TF3/Hackman)

3. Grieg Holberg Suite 2nd Movement (Sarabande) ->  

4. Blackbird (Lennon/McCartney) -> 

Grieg Holberg Suite 2nd Movement Conclusion

5. Grieg Holberg Suite 3rd Movement (Gavotte and Musette) ->

6. Kissing in the Tree (TF3/Hackman) -> 

Grieg Holberg Suite 3rd Movement Conclusion

7. UFO (Coldplay)

8. Grieg Holberg Suite 4th Movement (Air) 

9. Grieg Holberg Suite 5th Movement  (Rigaudon)


 

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The Torch-Light

intended to blog every week so i suppose i’ll just write. much better at extemporizing at the piano. as soon as one note follows another a relationship establishes. evocation of a style, mood, setting. leaf through an internal rolodex; write a new card. the battle of what’s already been and what could be. keep moving. don't look back. turn off your brain. turn off your brain. abandon is the torch-light in this ne’er explored cave. recklessness. adrenaline. totality. form is the tracing of your steps. theories are useless here. it’s you and darkness and if you’re good a torch and if it’s good a tear.

Stephen Hannock: Vortex at Dawn, Rose Mist

Stephen Hannock: Vortex at Dawn, Rose Mist

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In residence with the Illinois Sympony and Nick Kendall: 'The Arc Inspired'

This week my great friend and frequent collaborator Nick Kendall and I have the privilege of being in residence with the Illinois Symphony. I was commissioned by the orchestra upon Nick’s recommendation to compose a violin-concertante-type piece that would open this weekend’s performances, the rest of the program for which is the Sibelius violin concerto and Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration. My piece is entitled The Arc Inspired and indeed I hear Nick working through several passages in the adjacent hotel room as I write this (update- he’s just moved to Sibelius- perhaps if I rework this paragraph again he’ll have alternated back) (update #2- we are at breakfast now and Nick isn’t practicing anything, he’s eating oatmeal).

I’ve been awestruck since the very first moment I arrived by the graciousness and sincerity of the ISO family, starting with executive director Trevor Orthmann (who personally commissioned my piece) and extending to the numerous members of the board and symphony supporters we have met. Most of this interaction has taken place through dinners and cocktail parties that have been thrown in honor of us being here, where Nick and I have had the opportunity to speak and perform. Believe me, the honor has been all ours. These folks support their orchestra and are passionate about the arts in their community- and it shows.

Speaking of being awestruck- the hilarity and charm of new music director Alastair Willis incites in one the same response- but in no way do I mean to belie his formidable skills and perspicacious attention to detail. These qualities were obvious from his very first email to me, where numerous inquiries about my score evidenced his careful and thorough study. We had a wonderful session yesterday going through the piece, and both Alastair and Nick are ready to go. I'm humbled already by the effort and passion they've put into my work. I cannot wait to hear it with the orchestra.

More later. Fingers crossed for good rehearsals!

SH

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