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Thalia Book Club Camp offers up-close interaction with renowned children's book authors and illustrators, book discussions, and book-related field trips around the city. This blog follows the camp's activities.

As early as fall 2008, I began imagining Wall to Wall Behind the Wall: Music from the Soviet Era on May 15, 2010. I started with repertoire, the amazing wealth of music coming from Central and Eastern Europe that, to my mind, ear, and heart, comprises some of the most powerful, beautiful and important music composed in the past 75 years.
Wall to Wall Behind the Wall
It was important to me to represent many different nationalities, musical aesthetics, and political viewpoints over the course of the day. Also critical was creating a nice flow – solo and chamber, vocal and orchestral, lyrical versus angular, consonant versus dissonant, overtly political versus subversive or apolitical, popular versus obscure, standard repertoire by great masters versus newer works by younger composers who came of age during a transitional period.

Questions I was often asked included “how did you choose who is performing” and “why did you decide on what is being performed?” The answer to these questions is, of course, all that is involved in the art of curating – making  interesting choices as to artists and repertoire and then building a project – be it a series or a festival or a whole season, or in the case of Wall to Wall, a daylong marathon.

I quickly made a list of favorite composers. From there, I made sub-lists of “important’ works by these composers, which I knew would be in musicians’ repertoires and that our audience would know and want to hear, followed by lesser-well-known works that I would have to invite people to learn about and which the public would experience for the first time.

So then the challenge began… which works to include and which to discard off the bat? Which artists to invite? How many? How few? How to create a varied and interesting day from an aural and historic standpoint? How to make the day’s flow such that the tech crew would not have to re-arrange the stage after each piece, leaving lots of dead time?

Alexander TansmanWhat were the musical stories I wanted to tell with Wall to Wall Behind the Wall? Who were the musicians who would help bring it all to life? Why would any given musician or ensemble be interested in participating? In my last blog entry, I wrote about the Russian repertoire and artists, focusing on the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic and guest composer Sergei Slonimsky. Now I would like to look at two other programming paths that resulted in certain bodies of work being included, and certain artists being the best bet to perform these works. One path came out of my having discovered – well over two years ago – the music of the Polish-Jewish expatriate composer Alexander Tansman (pictured right) at a salon concert offered by the New York’s Nurit Tilles (long associated with Steve Reich and Musicians and a member of the estimable piano duo Double Edge), where she offered an afternoon of his beautiful Nocturnes. The music stayed with me and Nurit, who had done extensive research on his life and output, and was eager to introduce me to his Mazurkas as well; she will offer Volume I of the Mazurkas at Wall to Wall.

Alexander Tansman’s Sonate No. 5 performed by Norit Tilles

Fast forward to fall 2008 and a meeting with the remarkable Anna Perzanowska at the Polish Cultural Institute where we were beginning a conversation of how PCI might collaborate with Symphony Space in Wall to Wall Behind the Wall. She gave me lots of cds to listen to and lists of composers and performers to consider for inclusion. I could not have asked for a more willing partner. I made it clear to Anna that there were several works that were on my “absolutely necessary to include” list. One was Gorecki’s string quartet, “Already it is Dusk.” Another must-have composer was Grazyna Bacewicz. Anna suggested the renowned Silesian Quartet (pictured left) as the perfect ensemble to come from Poland as their repertoire list included Gorecki and Bacewicz. In reviewing what else they might contribute to the day, I noted that they played the Tansman quartet music; I knew that there was a Tansman Piano Quintet and asked if she thought we could put Nurit Tilles together with the Silesians to offer the Quintet, creating the opportunity for these wonderful artists to collaborate. She queried them and once they affirmed their interest in so doing, we built a full program for them uniquely catered to New York audiences.

Arthur AvanesovAbout nine years ago I received an email inquiry from a composer-pianist from Yerevan, Armenia, Artur Avanesov (pictured right), about a chamber piece of mine that he was considering for performance. I sent him the music and when he responded that he wanted to place it in a concert, I was delighted. I wrote back, asking the ridiculous question, “I know two Armenian musicians who are based in Yerevan; might you know them, too?”  As it turned out, Artur and Margarit were friends and colleagues, both teaching at the State Conservatory of Music. When he told Margarit that he was planning to program my trio, she also wanted to perform a work of mine, and the next thing I knew, I was in Yerevan for a concert of my music. That experience has evolved into a lifelong friendship and professional collaboration that is deeply meaningful.

Arthur Avanesov’s Garun a performed by Arthur Avanesov

Paul TaubIn 2008, I returned to Yerevan to present, with Artur, a three concert contemporary music festival: Armenia-America: Music Now! with the support of a grant from CEC ArtsLink. It was an uplifting and musically satisfying time for all. Wanting to introduce Artur’s music in the U.S., I brought some of Artur’s music back with me and gave some scores to a colleague and friend in Seattle, flutist Paul Taub (pictured right), whose Seattle Chamber Players are the leading proponents of Eastern European music in the Pacific Northwest. Last year, SCP brought Artur to Seattle and Paul and Artur are now committed collaborators.

Franghiz Ali-Zadeh Ask Havasi performed by Paul Taub

Tigran MansurianSo as Wall to Wall planning started to consume my imagination, I held a place for Artur and Paul to reconnect, and for Artur to perform not only his music, but other works, too, including a beautiful chamber piece, “Agnus Dei,” by Tigran Mansurian – pictured left, one of Armenia’s senior and pre-eminent composers, who I had the fortune of meeting in Yerevan and who has since relocated to Los Angeles. I invited several of New York’s finest chamber players to join him to bring the work to our stage. Artur’s own “Namu Amida Butsu” for flute and piano (with Paul) will receive its New York premiere.

Time now to work out some dress rehearsal details…entry # 3 is soon to come!

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