Posts Tagged ‘New music’

‘Taking Five’ With So Percussion in Idyllwild

April 29, 2012

So Percussion in Idyllwild (from L) Jason, Adam and Eric.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Every So often, you get lucky.

This particular Saturday afternoon, April 29, at 3:15 p.m., band members from the New Music group, So Percussion, were sitting on the steps outside of the IAF Theatre in Idyllwild.

They were “taking five” while the Idyllwild Arts Student Orchestra and music director Peter Askim were working with guitar legend, Richard Thompson, inside the theater.

It was like finding The Rolling Stones at Starbucks.

Jason Treuting, Josh Quillen, Eric Beach and Adam Sliwinski, were just hours away from the free New Music Concert with the student orchestra, featuring World Premiers of music by Richard Thompson, Chin Yi and Peter Askim, and Jason’s West Coast Premier of “Oblique Music.”

They were hanging out with Jason’s 15-month-old-daughter who had the same bright eyes.

“She likes it when we play,” Jason said. “But it’s hard to tell if she has any musical abilities yet.”

The group of Yale graduates, based out of Brooklyn, are causing a rage in the classical music world.

“The range of colors and voices that So Percussion coaxes from its manergerie is astonishing and entrancing,” claimes Billboard Magazine.

You can look on their web site for more accolades from the New York Times, the Village Voice, and even The Financial Times. We’re lucky that Peter Askim has brought this group to the attention of Idyllwild and folks on the West Coast.

According to their web site, So Percussion plays compositions by John Cage and Steven Reich, as well as their own works.

Jason with his 15-month-old-daughter

John Cage and Steven Reich are two pillars of percussion chamber music. Many of their once radical ideas are now widely accepted as part of America’s experimental classical music tradition. So Percussion has been playing their from the beginning, which also inspires their own original music.

Jason explained how New Music is different from modern music.

“After our concerts, I often talk to people who think that New Music is the same as Pop music,” Jason said. “They listen to Mariah Carey or Lady Gaga and believe it’s the same New Music that we’re playing. It’s not based out of classical music, and that’s a big difference.”

Jason said that he sometimes conducts a Q & A session after their concerts, and asks people what they think of their New Music.

“We ask them if there was anything they heard that they didn’t like,” Jason said. “And there’s this long pause. And then we say, ‘C’mon, there was probably something in the concert that you didn’t like.”

He said that once he gets audience members to admit there’s stuff that they didn’t like about So Percussion’s New Music, then they have a starting point.

(from L) Josh, Jason's daughter and grandma outside Bowman in Idyllwild

“With the onset of Social Media, we are becoming more attuned to our preferences, and don’t venture out of our safety zone,” Jason said. “It’s OK that you don’t like all New Music. You don’t have to like all of it, but the fact that people are open to new experiences is important.”

Sometimes, he said, the classical music fans feel like they have to love New Music or not.

“But it’s OK if they don’t love everything that they hear,” Jason said. “It would be kind of a bummer if all we listened to was things that we really like.”

He said that their repeat performances are always better accepted.

The same thing went with the members of the Idyllwild Ars Student Orchestra.
“At first, it was a little hard to get them to open up,” Jason said. “They hadn’t had much exposure to New Music. But Peter Askim is generating a lot of positive energy about New Music and it’s catching on.”

Jason said they played a little bit before the All School meeting on Friday afternoon, and that helped the orchestra to open up a bit.

“They’re a good group of kids, and I think we cracked the shell a bit,” Jason added. “Afterwards, we were talking and hanging out and it helped break down barriers.”

At the All School concert, So Percussion used a lot of tactile instruments, such as pipes, tin cans and flower pots.

“A lot of people associate us with the popular percussion groups, Stomp and Blue Man Group.” Jason said. “We wanted the orchestra students to see that we’re having fun and that we’re regular musicians just like them.”

Rong, a cello player, said the energy of their practice sessions changed when So Percussion came into town on Thursday night.

“Their energy was so great!” Rong exclaimed. “It was unbelievable!”

Also on the dock Sunday is guitar legend, Richard Thompson. Courtesy photo Idyllwild Arts.

So Percussion, Richard Thompson and the student orchestra will travel to Los Angeles on Sunday for their second concert on Sunday, April 29, at 4 p.m. at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood.

Advance general admission tickets range from $10 to $20. Prices will be slightly higher at the door. Peter Askim hoped that the concert would be “sold out,” since it’s a fundraiser for the Willam M. Lowman Concert Hall on campus.

“Peter said that we made the LA Times,” Rong said before her orthodontist appointment Thursday. “The paper is saying that people should come see our concert. That’s kind of a big deal.”

The Barnsdall Theatre is a new venue for the Idyllwild Arts Student Orchestra and their New Music guests.

“The theater was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright,” stated Adam. “I’ve always liked him as an architect, and I took my first girlfriend to Falling Water in Pennsylvania.”

Jason said that So Percussion has set up a concert two years from now.

“We’ll be playing the music of David Lang,” he said.

Setting up a gig two years out is nothing unusual, he said.

“My wife is also a musician, and we’re always talking about dates years into the future,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get a perspective on the here and now.”

So Percussion, Richard Thompson and the Idyllwild Arts Student Orchestra will be playing at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 29 at the Barnsdall Theatre, located at 4800 Hollywood Blvd. For tickets, visit It’s My Set at

And to listen to selections from So Percussion, visit

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.





New Music: Dramatic Shift for Students

April 9, 2012

Orchestra students (file photo) have mixed feelings about New Music

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Students from the Idyllwild Arts Orchestra will take a dramatic shift from their classical music repertoire to New Music for their next concerts on April 28-29. Some of them like New Music because it’s so different, while others don’t like it as much.

“We don’t just listen to songs written by dead people,” chided Peter Askim, music director and composer-in-residence at Idyllwild Arts (see New Music post on Idyllwild Me dated May 7, 2010).

He’s used to their resistance.

“When I told Peter that I didn’t like New Music, he said that it was because I didn’t understand it,” said Rong, a cello player.

“I like it because it tells a story,” said Meng, a double bass player, from Beijing, who also plays the cello and piano. “But it can be hard to play sometimes.”

Meng, a double bass player, says New Music tells a story

Mostly because there’s no CDs they can listen to, and it’s not posted on You Tube.

Rong said that this next concert is particularly hard for the three percussionists. Dixin, a violin player, agreed.

“They have to play so many instruments,” Dixin said. “It’s really amazing!”

For the New Music concerts each year, Peter also helps promote the new works by emerging and established composers. Richard Thompson, voted among the Top 20 best guitarists by Rolling Stone magazine, will be performing “Interviews with Ghosts” on his guitar.

Also Chen Yi will be performing “Tone Poem,” a piece commissioned by the student orchestra and the Richard P. Wilson Fund for New Music.

Three composers from So Orchestra will be performing individual works, including “Oblique Music” by Jason Tretuing, “Credo in US” by John Cage and “Music for Pieces of Wood,” by Steve Reich.

Also on the docket is Peter’s brand-new piece, “Elsewhere.”

Dixin said Peter Askim's "Elsewhere" is kind of quiet and slow

“It’s kind of quiet and slow,” explained Dixin. “But I like it.”

Andrew Leeson, a staff member in Creative Writing, has called Peter “The Master of the Dramatic Pause.” (See “Askim’s New Music Revealed” on  Idyllwild Me posted Nov. 11, 2011).

Jo, another bass player, said that the New Music they’re performing with Richard Thompson sound more like Rock n’ Roll.

“He was knighted, you know,” she said.

Many in Idyllwild may remember Thompson’s “Cabaret of Souls” that was performed with the Idyllwild Arts Orchestra last year.

The New Music concerts will be held on Saturday, April 28 at the IAF Theatre on campus and on Sunday, April 29, at 4 p.m. in The Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood. The Idyllwild concert is free and open to the public, while the LA concert is a fundraiser and Pre-sale tickets range from $1o to $20, and a little more on the show day.

For tickets, visit or call (323) 644-6272. For Pre-Sale tickets and more details on the New Music concert, visit There are several videos of Richard Thompson singing and playing his guitar, including one from 1952.

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Askim’s New Music Composition Revealed

November 11, 2011

Viola Master Class with Ms. Kozasa. (from L) Sirayah, Alex, Ayane Kozasa, Kathy and Howard

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The Tuesday, Nov. 8th afternoon concert at Stephens Recital Hall was limited to just a select few. Among those in attendance were student composers, poets, and musicians, along with a few teachers. What they were about to hear was a New Music composition by Peter Askim, Idyllwild Arts’ award-winning music director and composer-in-residence. Not only were they going to hear a brand-new piece, but also the viola player was a winner.

“This viola piece called, ‘Inner Voices,’ was written for the Primrose International Viola Competition in Austin last year, but the winner is here tonight to play it for us,” said Peter Askim, and then introduced Ayane Kozasa, a senior music student at Curtis Institute of  Music in Philadelphia.

“There were viola players from all over the country playing this piece, which was a required piece,” Peter explained. “Everyone had to learn it at the same amount of time, and Ayane won the prize for the best performance. And in a minute, you’ll see why.”

Peter handed out a few scores of “Inner Voices” for those who wanted to follow along, as Ms. Kozasa walked to the front of the room. She was a pretty woman in a black shift dress, and boots that matched the snow outside. Her hair was cut short, perhaps so that it wouldn’t interfere with her instrument.

Looking around, I learned quickly the best way to listen to New Music compositions, was to close your eyes. To my right, Peter had his eyes closed and was leaning forward slightly. To my left, Andrew Leeson, an Creative Writing instructor, also closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. Across the room, Idyllwild Arts Headmaster Brian Cohen (who also plays the viola) had his eyes closed.

Ms. Kozasa shows Alex how to dance while playing his piece as Brian Cohen looks on.

I wasn’t sure why these guys were closing their eyes when there was a pretty coed onstage, but I guessed it was “all about the music” at this point.

From a past experience of listening to a New Music Concert at the Los Angeles Philharmonic last year, I knew that it wasn’t going to be like any standard music. It’s as if the composers crumpled it up and threw it out the window.

(from R) Peter Askim introduces Aane Kozasa to headmaster Brian Cohen

When the conductor started the New Music Concert at the LA Phil, I thought all of the musicians were still warming up. The piece had an unsettled, frenetic feeling about it.

“When are they going to start playing?” I asked the student next to me in the balcony. “Shh, they’re playing,” was my answer.

Now, sitting in Stephens Recital Hall listening to Peter’s  “Inner Voices,” I knew to expect the unexpected.

I breathed in slowly, resisting the urge to close my eyes and decided to focus on the young woman’s viola and bow.

What came out of her instrument was frenetic, and intense. Like someone running through the snow, but at a very fast pace. Maybe the person was running from the police? Who knows? But he was definitely running for his life.

Then I realized that it wasn’t likely an urban setting, but perhaps in Idyllwild. I imagined a person running through the forest. Since there aren’t any bears in these parts, perhaps the person was running from himself?

Then, after the intense part ended, the mood changed, and everything slowed down dramatically. Again, I thought of nature, and how everything seems calm after a rainstorm.

Meanwhile, Ms. Kozasa was putting on a nice performance for the audience who still had their eyes open. She moved across the stage, often times arching her bow as if it were a spear. Then she’d play the queer high notes with such delicacy that her bow barely touched the strings.

During “Inner Voices,” there were many long pauses, in which I was tempted to clap before it was over. Yet, I resisted, and succommed to the tension of the piece, which ended with more of a light “pop” than a razor-sharp dramatic ending. That was rather nice.

“That’s amazing world-class playing,” Peter said, as he stood, clapping for Ms. Kozasa.

“Peter is the master of negative space,” Andrew exclaimed.

When Peter heard that comment repeated later on, he laughed.

Ms. Kozasa works with Howard on his piece

Ms. Kozasa said that it wasn’t a difficult piece to play, once she broke it down into sections.

Peter asked her to explain to the audience how she would approach playing a new piece such as this one.

“Well, I’d look at the bigger sections at first,” she said. “And then try and figure out the character of each part. It’s harder when its free form.”

Peter said that oftentimes, the students think about the fingerings and trying to get the rhythm right, but they have a hard time finding out the meaning of the piece.

Ms. Kozasa said that she tries to find out what the composer is trying to say within the fingerings of the piece. Whenever possible, she also researches other music from the same composer to help with the meaning.

Afterward, Peter said that he finished “Inner Voices” about this time last year, but it had nothing to do with nature or the weather in Idyllwild.

“I finished it in the winter, but started it in the summer,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the seasons.”

So much for my interpretation of a man running through the snow.

For the next hour, Ms. Kozasa held a Master Class in which sh worked with four viola players, including Howard, Alex, Kathy and Syriah. Each played a short piece for her, in which she gave input and suggestions. More often than not, Ms. Kozasa suggested the students become more physical and aggressive in their performances.

Ms. Kozasa makes suggestions to Kathy

For example, when Alex played a slow, Bach piece, Ms. Kozasa stated that it was a dance, and suggested that Alex take a few dance steps.

What?! Dance while he was playing? I tried to imagine what was going through that young man’s head!

“This piece is really about dances back then,” she said. “And the third step is really suspended in mid-air. Try and step while you play. Here, let me show you.”

And then she played the same song, but exaggerated the steps to an unknown dance as she moved across the stage.

Alex, likely eager to please, played the piece again, and moved as best he could to the ancient dance.

“That’s beautiful,” she exclaimed as he finished. “It feels more like a dance in which your whole body is moving to the music. Now, try and put character into each step. Don’t be afraid of making a huge dip.”

After all of the students had played, Peter and Ms. Kozasa stuck around at Stephens to record the piece. He said to look for it soon on iTunes.

For more information and to see a video of Ms. Kozasa at the June 5th Primrose Competition, visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Nov 11, 2011 @ 1:28





New Music Tonight, then Redcat Saturday

May 7, 2011

Music Director Peter Askim's viola concerto will be showcased tonight

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Tonight, in celebration of the school’s 25th Anniversary, the Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra will showcase New Music by several contemporary composers. However, some compositions are only a few weeks old.

“I need to finish my orchestra piece,” Peter Askim, music director and composer-in-residence had said during Spring Break in March.

His new viola concerto was specially created for Roger Myers, a notable violist and chair of the strings department at the University of Texas at Austin. Myers is regarded as one of the foremost performers and teachers of his time. He will be performing the piece for the first time tonight.

Chris, a classical viola student at Idyllwild Arts, will be paying special attention to Myers performance from his orchestra seat. Chris took a master class with Myers earlier in the year, and plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin because of him.

“He’s an awesome teacher and performer,” Chris said. “I can’t wait to hear him perform with us.”

When asked what they think of Peter’s new viola concerto, some string students say that it’s difficult to play. But then again, all of Peter’s pieces have been known to be difficult.

For the orchestra students, New Music is a great diversion from their classical repertoire. In preparation for a piece, some students go to the library or purchase the song online.  That way, they can listen to the music  in the quiet of their practice room. However, for these New Music pieces, there is no record, CD or track to refer to, and it can be a little nerve wracking.

“We don’t just listen to songs written by dead people,” Peter chided students before a New Age concert they attended at the LA Philharmonic last year.

Besides Peter Askim, the works of three other contemporary composers will be featured at the New Music orchestra concert tonight. They include: Rufus Reid, Pierre Jalbert and Jan Radzynski.

“Spanning traditions and crossing genres, the program is a microcosm of the world of Contemporary American Music, and a celebration of the diversity of cultures and styles that Idyllwild Arts represents,” states copy on Peter Askim’s web site.

The program includes the World Premiere of a new orchestral work by renowned jazz bassist Rufus Reid. “A recipient of a Guggenheim Award, Reid’s new work blends and blurs the boundaries of jazz and classical orchestral music,” Peter’s web site states.

“Recipient of the Rome Prize, the BBC Masterprize, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Stoeger Award and a 2010 American Academy of Arts and Letters award, composer Pierre Jalbert’s astonishingly beautiful music is at once immediately accessible and refreshingly new.

“A native of Poland and former resident of Israel, Jan Radzynski writes music that transcends borders, cultures and time itself. His new work for violin and orchestra is intellectually probing, cross-cultural and deeply moving.”

There will be two chances to listen to the New Music Concert this weekend. It will be performed at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Saturday, April 7, at the IAF Theater on campus. The concert is free and open to the public. Then at 4 p.m. on Mother’s Day, Sunday, April 8, the group will perform at REDCAT at Disney Hall in Los Angeles. General admission ($25) or student tickets ($10) are available at REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd Street in Los Angeles or by visiting

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: May 7, 2011 @ 12:21

Iyer & Student Orchestra at REDCAT Sunday

May 9, 2010

Vijay Iyer talks with students after his "Math & Music" lecture at Idyllwild Arts

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Internationally-acclaimed jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer will play with the Idyllwild Arts student orchestra at the REDCAT Theater at Disney Hall on Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 9 at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25, and proceeds go to Idyllwild Arts.

Iyer, who is an old college friend of Peter Askim, the music director and composer-in-residence at Idyllwild Arts, performed one of his compositions at the concert last night at the IAF Theater.

His piece, entitled “Interventions for Improvised Piano, Electronics & Orchestra,” was met with some skepticism at first.

Connor Merritt was skeptical of Vijay Iyer's composition at first

“It’s really hard to play,” said Conner, a trombone player. “It’s not the kind of music that we’re used to.”

During an interview on You Tube, Iyer discussed that same concern with his “Interventions” piece.

“Classical performers are trained in interpreting musical notes on a page,” Iyer said. “They have lots of ideas on how to do that, and it’s what they’re good at. With this piece, I hope to draw from that expertise.”

But this piece called for certain instruments to improvise, something that jazz musicians are used to, but not classical musicians who play in an orchestra.

To be ready for their performances, each of the sections had extra rehearsals–in addition to their regular orchestra rehearsals. The list was posted on the cafeteria door, and other students knew they wouldn’t be seeing much of the music students during “orchestra week.”

Well, their hard work paid off. Last night’s concert was a success, according to James Duval, a classical flute player and the former head of the Music Department at Idyllwild Arts.

At 10:30 p.m. Saturday night, the concert was over, and Duval was overseeing several students as they loaded up the truck with all of the instruments, including the bass drum. The truck is set to head down the hill Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in plenty of time for the 5 p.m. show at the REDCAT.

“There were a lot of people there tonight,” Duval said. “And they really liked Vijay Iyer’s piece.”

Charles Schlacks, Jr., a former Russian History professor at Berkeley, was among those who attended Saturday’s performance on campus. He has amassed a classical record collection in excess of 40,000, but continues to enjoy live performances.

“The student orchestra always does a nice job,” Schlacks said. “The new music was different than what I’m used to, but it was very nice.”

In another interview on You Tube, Iyer said that he’s used to comments like that about his music. As background, Iyer earned a bachelors degree in math and physics at Yale. Although he studied jazz piano in high school, it wasn’t until after he graduated from college that he became a full-time performer and composer.

“In America, they don’t always support certain arts,” he told an Indian reporter shown on You Tube. “Even if music not commercially popular, it gets out there somehow because it needs to. In the end, music is the healing force, the force of change.”

Iyer mentioned that other musicians, even popular ones, do improvisations too.

“I saw a video of the guy from the Black Eyed Peas who took a speech by (President Barak) Obama and turned it into a piece of music,” he said. “It was his concession speech in New Hampshire. And it had all the rhythms and candances associated with music.”

Iyer taught a "Music & Math" class at Idyllwild Arts Friday

Not surprisingly, much of Iyer’s compositions are based on math principles. In fact, he gave a lecture on “Math and Music” to about 75 Idyllwild Arts students and faculty on Friday, May 7. There, he explained how math is integrated into music.

“Usually, I don’t like music to be too hard, contrary to what you might believe,” Iyer said, amongst laughter from the music students.

He outlined rhythm phrases that crossed over the beat in rhythmic progression, and gave the “A, B, A, B, A” pattern variables.

“As you can see, it is taken on a linear shape,” Iyer said. ‘But this is not music.”

He said that the challenge of being a composer today is to remain fresh, and always learning something new.

“But it helps me to start with something artificial,” Iyer said. “That way, you’re not always starting from the same place each time.”

Then he played some of his improvisations from an amplifier attached to his laptop.

However, Iyer wasn’t the only one with an orchestra piece that was performed Saturday night. Askim, too, featured one of his pieces, a trombone concerto.

“His piece was hard to play too,” said Connor.

Ieseul Yoen, shown at her recital, is looking forward to playing at RedCat Sunday

Senior pianists Ieseul, Linda and Daphne “Kitty,” each got to play different pieces with the orchestra.

Ieseul said that she’s looking forward to playing at the REDCAT.

“Any chance we get to go down the hill and perform before a live audience, is a good thing,” she said.

Another good thing for the Idyllwild Arts student orchestra also happened this weekend.

“Our recording of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony came out Friday, May 7 (Tchaikovsky’s birthday),” Askim said. “It is a CD/DVD set, and I think it will be good.”

To hear that recording, visit iTunes at

For tickets and more information about the RedCat performance on Sunday, May 9, at 5 p.m., visit, or call (213) 237-2800. Tickets are $25 for the general public and $10 for students with I.D.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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