January 16, 2019. by Hannah Murray.
I was fortunate to attend the live taping of the first ever episode of Living Music with Nadia Sirota on January 12, 2019, at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sirota, she is the violist in ymusic. Here is her bio (from her website)
Violist Nadia Sirota’s varied career spans solo performances, chamber music, curation, and broadcasting. In all branches of her artistic life, she aims to open classical music up to a broader audience. Nadia's singular sound and expressive execution have served as muse to dozens of composers, including Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, Missy Mazzoli, Daníel Bjarnason, Judd Greenstein, Marcos Balter, and David Lang. Nadia won a 2015 Peabody Award, broadcasting’s highest honor, for her podcast Meet the Composer, “the world’s best contemporary classical music podcast” (Pitchfork), which deftly profiled some of the most interesting musical thinkers living today.
Since 2018, Nadia has served as the NewYork Philharmonic’s Creative Partner, a position created for her. In this role, she helped create and hosts two series: Nightcapand Sound ON, the latter of which she also curates. In addition, Nadia works with the Philharmonic on contemporary music initiatives across the organization.
As a soloist, Nadia has appeared with acclaimed orchestras around the world, including the Detroit Symphony, the Colorado Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Spanish National Orchestra, and the Orchestre National d’Île-de-France. To date, she has released four solo albums of commissioned music, first things first (2009), Baroque (2013), Keep In Touch (2016), and Tessellatum(2017). Nadia is a member of Bedroom Community, a collective of musically diverse artists who work and collaborate at Reykjavik’s Greenhouse Studios. She has also lent her sound to recording and concert projects by such artists as The National, David Bowieand Björk.
Nadia is a member of the acclaimed chamber sextet yMusic. Their virtuosic execution and unique configuration have attracted high profile collaborators including Paul Simon, Ben Fo, dsand Anohni, and inspired an expanding repertoire of original works by prominent composers including Andrew Norman, Caroline Shaw, and Chris Thile.
Nadia has received the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for her work in radio, and Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Prize, awarded to pioneering artists and scholars with an emerging international profile. She sits on the board of directors of Chamber Music America, the national service organization for ensemble music professionals. Nadia received her undergraduate and Master’s degrees from the Juilliard School, where she studied with Heidi Castleman, Misha Amory, and Hsin-Yun Huang.
I saw Sirota perform with YMUSIC at the Eaux Claires Festival (hosted by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and Bryce Dessner of The National) in 2015, and 2016 and was a huge fan of her last podcast, Meet the Composer. When I saw that this event was happening I jumped at the chance to get tickets and fortunately scored some front and center. I am a fangirl, there I said it. Keep that in mind as you read this. Role your eyes if you ever think I’m “biased.”
Caroline Shaw & Nadia Sirota in conversation.
I was especially excited to catch this taping because this episode features Caroline Shaw, who I am a big fan of, and Andrew Norman, the current composer in residence with the LA Phil. Wild Up, a contemporary ensemble based in Los Angeles that acted as the house band for the evening.
Firstly, I think that this format for a podcast or contemporary music concert is hugely successful and perhaps one of the best ways to be introduced to new and “different” music. Sometimes it is difficult to foster an appreciation for music that, superficially speaking, seems hard to understand the same way that we adore our favorite classical music. Sometimes the context for modern sounds is all that is missing from understanding and appreciating the experience of hearing living arts. I know that I had this experience with several composers featured on Meet the Composer in the past and thinking “I know I should like this composer and their music, but I just don’t ‘get’ it.” But through the podcast, getting to know the composers as people, and understanding the back story of what goes into their process, a particular piece, or how they interact with the world opened my eyes to the intimacy of their music.
Contrary to popular belief, modern music isn't just about weird noises, or being difficult to understand. The lengths composers often go to in order to create different effects demand that they explore the capabilities of instruments in new ways. It is not just about sonata form, recognizable melodies, and familiar sonorities anymore, it is about turning the experience of feeling and sensation in a way that conjures the experience the composer had into a similar feeling or sensation for the audience.
Caroline Shaw opened the performance, taking the stage with a string quartet to perform her composition, “Cant voi l’aube” which combines the loveliness of medieval chanson with contemporary string sounds. In her interview with Sirota that evening, spoke often of the visual art and artists that often inspire her process and music. Shaw is a violinist who used to play for dance classes, and also performs as a member of the Grammy-winninging vocal project, Roomful of Teeth, “an ensemble dedicated to reimagining the expressive potential of the human voice.” She is also the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for her piece “Partita for 8 voices.”
Shaw also worked with, and toured with Kanye West in 2016 performing with him at the DNC conference in 2015 and touring with him in 2016 as part of his “Saint Pablo” Tour, the in promotion of his album “The Life of Pablo.” I really love her muic, and have for years. Maybe it is because she is a string player AND a singer, but the sonorities she creates with the voice and strings is so ethereal and otherworldly. It sounds modern yet old at the same time. It is uncanny. I feel like it is timeless music that belongs to no specific place in time.
The second guest of the evening was Andrew Norman, the current composer-in-residence with the LA Philharmonic. I was not particularly familiar with Norman's w, rk but members of wild UP performed a movement of "The Companion's Guide to Rome," a nine-movementent piece for mostly string trio, that captures different experiences Norman had while living in Rome. Wild UP performed the ninth movement, titled “Sabina,” which Norman says captures the sensation of light through the ancient windows of a church in the city.
I had never heard this piece before and am now completely enamored with the way Norman manipulates and uses timbre. This piece, in live performance, conjures a religious feeling of euphoria in the listener that is akin to something spiritual and otherworldly. Hearing it, I do feel like I understand the light that was shining through those windows. Norman also spoke briefly about taking time away from composition and how he found his way back to writinHe is a. Norman is also a string player (violist) and plays the piano.
Both composers were well spoken and charming guests that breathed life into their work in a way that makes the “weirdness” of modern classical music feel necessary and essential. Sirota’s podcast project and commitment to exposing more people to the incredible wealth of this repertoire should be required listening for all. Her interview style is candid yet inclusive. You do not need a masters degree in music to understand and relate to the points she makes, the references she uses, or the question she asks yet it is rich enough to satisfy the snobbiest listeners.
I loved how in depth Meet the Composer was, and due to the nature of this format Living Music, is not quite as involved. I’m not sure about future episodes, but also because there were 2 guests and not just one it means the interview portion is a little brief for my taste but this may change in the future. I absolutely loved the live performance component of this show. This is how I feel every musical concert should feel: intimate conversations and sharing of an artists work. Sirota, Norman, and Shaw sat on couches in a quasi-living room set up as wild UP performed on the other side of the stage. You felt like you were almost at somebody’s house hanging out and listening to people’s ideas come to life. I cannot recommend this enough for musicians, composers, music consumers, people who “don’t get” classical music, or think Kanye West is crazy but also kind of brilliant, or want peek behind the curtain for a little insight into the process and true confessions of composition and creation. Shaw admits that deadlines often help her work, whereas Norman says they can get in the way of his mental space to create, openly admitting to being late on several projects due to people in the audience.
Look for Living Music in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts soon.
To read more about the creation of this podcast and Sirota’s recent endeavors, follow the links below: