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Basso Moderno Duo Interview

Posted on 20 February 2008. © Copyright 2004-2020 Composition:Today

C:T talks to the Basso Moderno Duo, whose mission is to creat new repertoire for bass and piano from celebrated composers all over the world, and who have an on-going call for scores.

Basso Moderno Duo
Tell us all about Basso Moderno Duo- how it was formed, and its raison d'être.

The mission of the Basso Moderno Duo is to promote the works of living composers from all over the world by educating nontraditional audiences about contemporary music. We are extremely active in promoting the music of living composers and give 70 plus recitals of new music each year. We have commissioned over 100 new works from composers in 40 countries and all 7 continents, started a festival, several concert series and created the Basically Modern Arts Sanctuary. The Basso Moderno Duo has pushed the limits of the solo bass and has redefined what was previously thought possible and then commissioned an entirely new repertoire by celebrated composers that reflect these advances. Most importantly we have helped promote the works of composers all over the world and continue to find creative ways to attract listeners to contemporary music.
The Basso Modern Duo is pianist Kristen Williams and solo bassist Allan Von Schenkel. We have a shared interest in international travel, history, contemporary music and learning about new cultures. Both of us are interested in philanthropy and wish to bring meaning to our lives by helping others. We do so by promoting the works of 21st century composers and by partnering with professional dance companies and visual artists.

Tell us about your call for scores.

The Basso Moderno Duo has built relationships with composers throughout the world and we continue to seek out new works. Since 2005, we have sought works from composers from as many countries as possible and from composers as diverse as Alan Hovhaness, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ned Rorem and Yoko Ono. We imagine being able to program works from every country in the world and are interested in discovering the unique voices of composers unknown to us.

Despite our large repertoire we continue to have a great need for energetic pieces. The perfect piece would be one which is 2-5 minutes in length and bring an element of excitement to our program. In this piece both instruments will be treated equally and will take turns delivering solo and secondary lines. The piano’s primary role is to supply driving rhythms and fast melodic passages. In contrast, the bass should have long intense lines and climactic moments in the high register as well as lyrical moving lines in the middle register. One possible image is to view the bass as electrical currents and the piano as a storm. These images have stimulated composers throughout the globe and our request has been met with positive results.

The Basso Moderno Composition Competition was formed to encourage composers to write for our ensemble and the high solo tuning. Given annually, the selected composer is awarded a residency at the Basically Modern Arts Sanctuary, multiple performances and a recording of the work.

What advice would you give to composers regarding writing for the Bass?

The bass is an extremely versatile instrument whose use is reflected by the player. It is important that composers learn how to write for the instrument by working closely with performers and write for a specific player. It is only through communicating with bass soloists that will allow the composer to fully exploit the unique character of the solo bass.

We are advocates of the high solo tuning (tuned one forth higher than standard tuning: ADGc). This tuning allows for greater musical flexibility and places the range of the instrument closer the range of the human voice. The tone is intense and it carries easily over the piano. Our ultimate goal has been to find the most attractive sound possible. Another bonus is that the bass has a large register and ‘voices’ that have yet to be discovered by composers. It is exciting to produce such beautiful and varied sounds on an acoustical instrument and to realize the potential.

The Basso Moderno Duo exists to help composers and we enjoy working closely with people from varied backgrounds. We openly invite composers to contact us.

Does the group focus on playing specific types of music?

The Basso Moderno Duo focuses on diversity by commissioning new works from composers from literally all over the world. Our vision is to give recitals that reflect the global village of the 21st century. It is our feeling that there must be a great Australian Aborigine genius or a composer from Turkmenistan whose music is worthy of the stage. Our goal is to educate and introduce listeners to the musical voices of composers who are working throughout the world.

An exciting aspect of new music performance is that each piece is unique and almost always unexpected. We are very open performers and see each piece as unique musical world which we get to discover. Each score has unique obstacles and opportunities that help us to grow as musicians. Pauline Oliveros composed ‘Blue Heron: In Memory of James Tenney’ for us in 2006. Rather than using a traditional score the composer describes in words what it is she would like us to do. Other scores such as ‘Introduction to the Anatomy of Sound’ from Romanian composer Fred Popovici applies a graphic score that utilizes many symbols and advance bow techniques. ‘Dialogue’ by Felix Yanov-Yanovsky of Usbekistan has a very intense melody that treats the bass and piano equally. This gives each instrument both complex solo voice and counter-voice roles which adds dimension to our playing. Richard St Clair’s ‘OUTBURST’ has driving rhythms that deliver a guaranteed adrenaline rush every time we play it. Generally speaking we hope to perform works that really ‘say something’ and give audiences a positive listening experience.

The Basso Moderno Duo is unlike most ensembles in that we are active performance artists. Our concerts include theatrical works and audience participation. Rather than using printed programs we prefer to announce each work, provide and introduction about the composer and the idea behind each piece. Talking about music engages the audience.

How do you go about programming your concerts?

The Basso Moderno duo has a constantly evolving program. We do have several works that have earned a permanent place in our program such as Tango No. 2 by Spanish composer Sonia Megias Lopez, who was twenty when she composed this delightful piece that is both lyrical and energetic.

Often our recitals are built around opportunities to perform. Last summer’s concert at Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC resulted in us commissioning 10 new works by American composers including Pauline Oliveros, Ned Rorem, Lee Hoiby, Leo Kraft, Wallace De Pue, and others. In March 2008, we will premiere six new works at the Women Composers Festival in Hartford, Connecticut. This program includes new pieces by Iulia Cibisescu-Duran (Romania), Alla Penkina (Russia), Betty Beath (Australia), Elinor Armer (USA), Emanuela Ballio (Italy) and Julia Gomelskaya (Ukraine). We will also premiere of ‘Variations on a German Folksong’ by Ruth Schonthal, who composed for us what would be her final work.

We approach each audience differently and adjust our program based on the environment. The Basso Moderno Duo has nearly one hundred pieces in its repertoire and we often add works at a moment’s notice to make the concerts as spontaneous and enjoyable as possible. Speaking between pieces allows us to educate audiences, connect with our listeners and receive feedback. Typically we find that audiences like energetic works with strong rhythms and they like pieces which have a story behind them. Participation pieces such as PA-ALULUNG by Jonas Baes (Philippines) give audiences the opportunity to create an acoustical environment as each person is asked to make a small sound using small bells and other objects that we distribute.

Tell us about your current projects.

We are building a program of new works by Romanian composers Liana Alexander and Octavian Nemescu, Iranian composers Fariborz Lachini and Babek Aleheidar, Armenian composer Vahram Babayan, and Turmenistan composer Maral Yaksieva. These parts of the world have become increasingly interesting to us as has the music of Felix Yanov-Yanovsky of Uzbekistan who composed a short piece entitled ‘Dialogue’ in 2005. The Basso Moderno Duo will be giving five recitals in Bulgaria in March 2008 as guests of composer Lyubomir Denev who composed ‘Funky Talking’ for us in 2007. We will also be giving a recital in Cluj, Romania with Iulia Cibisescu-Duran whose composition ‘Piece for Basso Moderno’ arrived this week. Many of our activities are documented on our blog ‘Basically Modern’ and on our website.

The Basso Moderno Duo has worked with several professional dance companies including Bosma Dance and the Jane Franklin Dance Company in Washington DC. In 2007, we began working with Isabel Gotzkowsky & Friends in New York. This collaboration has been very positive and we have several projects developing with this talented choreographer/dancer. Grant writing is very important in getting large productions produced and we are currently working with Ms. Gotzkowsky to choreograph our composition ’69 Ways to Fall in LOVE’. Collaborating with dance enhances the new music experience. Professional choreographers bring out nuances in the music that might otherwise be lost when hearing a piece for the first time.

In addition to our new programs, we have founded the Basically Modern Arts Sanctuary in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York State. We offer seven to ten day residencies at no charge to selected composers who would like to visit the United States. The Basically Modern Arts Sanctuary’s mission is to encourage composers by giving them a quiet place to compose and to give international composers the opportunity to visit New York City.

What are your plans for the future?

We have many activities planned for the future. We are attempting to start a new music festival and looking for a suitable location. Our home, the Basically Modern Arts Sanctuary has invited several composers for residencies including Lyubomir Denev (Bulgaria), Fariborz Lachini (Iran) and Mikail Kokzhayev (Armenia).

The Basso Moderno Duo has been invited to give a series of recitals at the University of the Philippines in Manila this fall. In March, 2008 we will be giving recitals throughout Bulgaria and Romania, including a performance at the March Music Days festival in Rousse.

In New York, we are working closely with the Isabel Gotzkowsky & Friends Dance Company who is choreographing selections from our program as well as our own performance art composition ‘69 Ways to Fall in LOVE’.

We would like to invite composers to write pieces for us and to encourage young composers to submit pieces for the Basso Moderno Composition Competition. The selected composer will have their piece recorded by us and spend one week at the Basically Modern Arts Sanctuary.

How can people find out more about you?

Our website is continually updated to include new projects, recordings, partnerships and performance dates. Our blog ‘Basically Modern’ includes interviews with composers and important press releases.

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2020

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