Friday, October 7, 2011

Great Phone Call!

I had a wonderful conversation with Ann Hamilton yesterday. Ann is the acclaimed artist creator of the Tower, the 80-foot-high, 16-foot-diameter venue with double helix staircases in which Sympho will perform next June in California. The concert is entitled, appropriately enough, TOWER. I'll share some of the tantalizing details:

• She met Steve Oliver, the man who eventually commissioned the Tower, through a friend who knew that 1) Ann needed some live sheep for a current project, and 2) Steve happened to be raising sheep.

• The double helix staircase is modeled on a specific well in Orvieto, Italy - sheep descend to the water via one staircase, and they ascend via the other.

• OK, enough about sheep! More intriguingly, the Tower is designed to connect the sky and the ground, and Ann conceptualized it as a throat. (Funnily enough, one of the first images that came to mind upon entering the Tower was the vibrating column of air inside the throat or in a woodwind instrument.)

• It's a very INTERIOR space, even though it's outside. You won't get this until you're standing inside, but it's very true.

• Rhythmically, the staircase looks very regular, but it's not. The stairs get narrower and narrower as they ascend - this compression in ascension and relaxation in descent was integral to Hamilton's design.

• The primary experience was intended to be about movement. The stairs have a nice "gait" to them, though I wouldn't recommend walking them for extended periods of time, unless you're going for a great workout!

• You can look very intimately at the person opposite you on the other staircase, but you can't reach them.

• Finally, given its location in an earthquake zone, there is at least as much built UNDER the ground as there is above ground. During the construction, the team brought in workers from a bridge-building company with airtanks to go underground and make sure the concrete pillars penetrated into bedrock.

For more pictures of this singular venue just click here. The Sympho collaborative team is off to experiment in the Tower for a week, starting on October 17. Can. Not. Wait.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TOWER Beginnings

Just a quick note to our fans: after an intense period of reflection over the past months, we are ready to launch into the beginnings of the artistic development of TOWER, commissioned by the Oliver Ranch Foundation and following in the footsteps of artistic luminaries Meredith Monk and Kronos Quartet. The concerts will take place on June 16 and 17, 2012 in Geyserville, CA. Artistic Director Paul Haas and collaborating artists will be in residence in Ann Hamilton's 80-foot-tall structure for an entire week this coming October. Stay posted for further developments.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Conversation with Sympho Artistic Director Paul Haas

A conversation with Sympho Artistic Director Paul Haas as he talks about the ambitious scope of ARCO, what it's like to develop a site-specific piece for the Park Avenue Armory, the confluence of the old and the new in both the venue and the music, and how the themes of struggle, aggression, protection, ecstasy and revelation are treated by and shared among the three composers of ARCO.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tomorrow we go in!

We've been rehearsing the orchestra for two days now, and I've got to tell you - this is one incredible band. I feel like I'm driving a Lamborghini. They can do absolutely anything - crazy mixed meters, the whole range of dynamics, colors, and styles, and it's almost as if they're able to intuit what I want. Really phenomenal.

Tomorrow night, we move in to the 55,000 square foot Drill Hall to put this concert in its home. Up until now, we've been in a gorgeous historic room in the Armory, but what we've heard bears little resemblance to how it will actually sound in the Drill Hall. Luckily, Bora Yoon, Paul Fowler and I have done tons of research in the Drill Hall, figuring out its acoustics, even before we wrote a note of music.

This may be the last post I write before ARCO. It's gonna get pretty crazy.

Seriously...come to ARCO.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

And it begins

Rehearsals for Sympho's ARCO start tomorrow at the Armory - long days on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, including the performance at 7:30pm. Believe it or not, the first time we'll actually be in the enormous Drill Hall as an ensemble is Tuesday night. Paul Fowler, Bora Yoon, and I cannot wait to hear this music live in that fantastic venue, and we can't wait to share it with YOU.

As you can imagine, the next few days will be packed with activity for everyone involved in this production, so I'll try to get all the important details out right now, before it all hits:

1) Come. You will not want to miss this one. Wednesday, February 16 at 7:30 at the Park Avenue Armory's 55,000 square foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall at 643 Park Avenue, New York City. Buy your tickets here.

2) Read the program notes, beautifully written by Ruth Pongstaphone, ARCO's Staging and Visual Design Director. I can't stress enough how much this piece rewards deeper levels of knowledge.

3) Come to the 6pm pre-concert talk at the Armory, free for ticket-holders. You have to pre-register for this, though.

That's it for now. I'll try to post between now and the concert, promises.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


For those of you who want to geek out on the nitty-gritty, here are the instruments/singers involved in ARCO:


14 Violins
5 Violas
4 Celli
3 Basses
3 Flutes/Piccolos
3 Oboes/1 English Horn
3 Clarinets/1 Bass Clarinet
3 Bassoons
4 Horns
3 Trumpets
2 Tenor Trombones
1 Bass Trombone
1 Tuba
2 Percussionists, playing all sorts of interesting instruments (10-gallon water jugs, anyone?)
2 Laptops
1 Harp
2 Pianos
1 Celesta


1 Soprano (Bora Yoon)
1 Bass-Baritone (Charles Perry Sprawls)
New York Polyphony (early music quartet)

And...a partridge in a pear tree. I think that's it.

One Week Out...

A lot has happened since I wrote my last post. The score to ARCO is completely done. We've constructed and printed the orchestral parts. We've devised the movement paradigm - i.e., who plays what from where (did I mention that the Armory takes up an entire city block?). We've recruited yet another fantastic addition to our team, in the person of Ruth Pongstaphone, who is acting as our Staging and Visual Design Director. The orchestra has been hired.

Basically, we're ready to go. Supremely exciting. We're very honored to be the opening night of the Armory's Tune-In festival, which New York's WQXR is calling the Top New Music Event of 2011.

Our program notes are up and ready for download here. We definitely recommend reading them in advance, as this concert rewards the listener for entering successively deeper levels of understanding.

Tickets are still available, but reserved seats are becoming scarce. Once you've bought your tickets, don't forget to register for the 6pm pre-concert talk with Paul Fowler, Bora Yoon, and me. We'll be discussing the evolution and work process of ARCO, along with getting into more detail even than the program notes.

Things are about to get hectic, as rehearsals commence Sunday. I'll try to keep you posted as we go along. See you at ARCO!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

So here we are in the brave new world of 2011, and it's been a couple of months since my last posting. Paul Fowler, Bora Yoon, and I have been writing music and creating the structure for our next project: the vast ARCO. At this point, the score is almost finalized, and the three of us are a little giddy with anticipation. As you can see on our website, this concert attempts to translate into music the course of a human life. I know, I're thinking, who does something like that? It's a staggering undertaking, and one that has certainly humbled us as we went about doing it. I suppose you could even say IT did US, rather than the reverse. On the flip, if you're looking for inspiration in an artistic undertaking, well...what better subject to delve into than the raw human experience?

It's amazing to me that this is actually happening. We're going to be in the Armory's cathedral-like Drill Hall, with a 53-member orchestra, a bevy of phenomenal singers, a production team to die for, with our vision laid out on the table. Enormous. Can. Not. Wait.

Some things that are going to happen:

• orchestra members will be playing together and separately from everywhere (and I mean everywhere) in the Drill Hall - balconies, über-balconies, stairwells, interior rooms. You name it, we'll be using it.
• pieces will be played where the singer is singing backwards. That's right, like those old LP's where some message reveals itself when you spin the record player backwards. You know what I'm talking about if you're an old man like me.
• you will hear, at key points, 3 or even 4 pieces played simultaneously, layered over one another.

And that's just for starters. More to come, of course, but hopefully this gives you a hint of what's in store.