Is it time for an update yet?

Whoa! The heck happened to site updates and fun facts about George? Well, life and laziness happened. That’s what!

After spending two years in prison for…

Wait, I was never in prison…

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Hey friends, you may have noticed the complete lack of updates over the past two years. No, I didn’t die. Yes, I still do music. Yes, I’ll give you guys some updates.

At the moment, GeorgeHeathco.com is undergoing some radical changes. I will be saying goodbye to the blog, and will soon be revamping the content of my site to reflect what it is I’ve been doing mostly, now-a-days (hint: composing less; performing more; teaching more).

This shouldn’t take long before the switch, so please continue being patient!

A not-so-quick, very biased review

This is a bit of a fake out. I don’t have a humongous readership, but I imagine a good update on what I’ve been up to, how my new job is going, or if any new performances are coming up is needed. Things have been well, and lots of cool and exciting projects are in the works. But this is not going to be one of those posts. Instead I want to provide you with a quick review of a piece of music that I purchased this week.

Some buzz has been going around following several exciting episodes of a new podcast called Meet the Composer, hosted by viola badass Nadia Sirota. After putting it off I finally decided to give it a listen. After an exciting couple of episodes featuring the music of John Luther Adams and Caroline Shaw, two composers I was very familiar with and whose work I admire, I decided to listen to the episode featuring the music of Andrew Norman. I had been somewhat familiar with some of his music, even including a link to his piece The Companion Guide to Rome in an earlier post. This episode of MTC resonated with me in a way that I haven’t experienced in quite a long time. Listening to the episode, I found myself grinning the entire time, as Norman and Sirota discussed processes, techniques, philosophies, and ideas that echoed almost every concern with which I had been wrestling. Norman’s delivery and excitement to talk shop was such a pleasure to listen to, as it easily could have been my inner voice talking to me. While I had some familiarity with his music, I hadn’t really given it much of a concentrated listen, so I downloaded the new yMusic album Balance Problems. Composers represented on the album include Andrew Norman, Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, Timo Andres, Marcos Balter, among others. Sirota plays in the ensemble, and Norman has a piece called Music in Circles on the record, which is mixed and produced by another artist whose work I admire: Son Lux. A perfect storm for excellence.

Truth be told, I haven’t listened to the album in its entirety. I haven’t been able to. Andrew Norman’s work on this release is one of those rare pieces that has stopped me in my tracks and made me rethink a few things. The last time I came across a work or sound like this was a few years back with Thomas Ades’ work, and before that when I first discovered Bang on a Can, and before that with Steven Mackey, Steve Reich, and John Adams. The point is, these experiences have often led to major shifts in my musical thinking, giving me a feeling that is both energized and inspired. It is these rare moments that thoughts like “I didn’t know you could do that” or “This changes everything” give me the jolt necessary to proceed.  The following is just my impression of Norman’s writing, with only a little bit regarding yMusic and Son Lux’s contributions.

Andrew Norman  (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Andrew Norman (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Norman’s music displays a sense of clarity that makes what results sound so inevitable and effortless. Structures interact: instruments and sounds play off of each other in an incredibly logical, yet organic and natural way. Every sound is a response to something else. Responses in his music, like that found in spectral writing, act almost like acoustic echoes and anomalies within different size rooms at various distances between source and receiver, at a variety of dynamics and tempos. This is largely achieved by an extremely controlled use of extended techniques to create a very wide and super-effective spectrum of timbres. Despite this, the music has a well-balanced blend of conventional and unconventional sounds. The techniques never sound forced or off-putting. Like I’ve already mentioned, all sounds seem to come from the most obvious and intuitive of places. Norman has a unique harmonic palette. It is strikingly tonal in some areas, and jagged and dense in others. The tonal elements are created though a blend of modal and conventional tonal element. Sometimes the music is diatonic, and sometimes it is mixtures of pitch sets. All of this rides those often vague lines between multiple styles, genres, and periods: Is it Classical (with a capital “C”)? Romantic? Folk? Pop? Time floats. Rhythms flow, jut, pulse… Time is completely malleable in Norman’s hands. Seven minutes passes with the sensation that this music has always been present and has no real beginning or end. We are merely capturing a glimpse or snapshot of something already in progress. What holds this all together is that the music is very cinematic, with a narrative and arc that carries with it many potential visuals. It is obvious with only a single listen that this music is no accident. This is the work of a true master of his craft. After the nearly half-dozen listens I’ve given this in less than two days time, it is still fresh; there are still so many layers to penetrate.

There is so much of this recording that is the result of a breath-taking composition, but this kind of music just requires that the performers really find the sound. yMusic absolutely nails the performance, bringing the gigantic array of sounds and ideas all to life in a way that erases the very thought of individuals playing instruments. Instead, all that we are hearing is just pure music at its finest, at the highest caliber. To capture it all requires an engineer and producer with finesse and a special sensitivity to what can be possible with the music. Son Lux’s production and sound world is stunning. The combination of composer, performers, and producer on this recording makes a work that is three-dimensional and truly remarkable. All I can really add to this now is just WOW! What a treat! Very Humbling.

Here is a link to a video and interview that Alexandra Gardner conducted for New Music Box. Please check it out!

Mind = Blown

Sound Hive

I have some awesome friends, and many of those friends happen to be fantastic musicians! A few of my friends recently formed a new contemporary music ensemble called Sound Hive. They will be performing a couple of shows in Texas, both in Austin and in Houston, spotlighting music by Houston composers. There will be music by Jack Benson, Chad Robinson, Josh Vinci, and myself. I feel like a hog, because I have two pieces on the program: Turbine and a new arrangement of Hammerballet. The new arrangement was an awesome exercise to expand the timbral palette of the piece, as it was originally for violin, viola, and piano. Here, I’ve incorporated the entire Sound Hive instrumentation: flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, french horn, violin, viola, and cello. I’m quite excited to hear this new version. The idea of rearranging older works is still new to me, but has given me fresh looks at what I consider to be my own voice.

The members of Duo Scordatura have joined forces with Sound Hive (which is who will be performing the violin/viola seats!). This will be the 4th and 5th time (I think?) that Turbine will be performed by Duo Scordatura, and I’m honored everytime!

Sound Hive in Austin, TX:
June 13, 2014; 7:30pm at Blackerby Violin Shop
$ 5 students/$10 adults
1111 W. Anderson Lane, Austin, TX 78757

Sound Hive in Houston, TX:
June 14, 2014; 7:30pm at 14 Pews
advance tickets at eventbrite from $15
door price $10 students/$20 adults; cash only
800 Aurora Street, Houston, TX 77009

It is funny that both of my pieces being performed were the result of collaboration or commission by Scordatura, as I am in the middle of writing a third piece for them, coincidentally for the same instrumentation as the original Hammerballet. The piece is being composed for a commission project based around tributes. The subject for my particular tribute is none other than Hildegard von Bingen. The work so far focuses on her stylistic features (wide ascending intervals followed be descending stepwise motion, wide range, and fluid vocal writing) and the blurry lines between consciousness and unconsciousness. The latter is somewhat based on Hildegard’s mystical visions that she reported having since childhood. In paintings and animations, these visions are often depicted as streams of fire. I’ve interpreted these streams to mean something closer to streams of consciousness that one might try to ward off while going into a meditative state. Or, more closely, these streams might be the streams of thoughts and ideas that come to one’s mind during the moments he or she falls asleep. I had a somewhat humorous daydream one evening where I was a a dinner party, and who else should appear but none other than Hildegard herself! She enters, we dance, we joke, and she leaves. Before we dance, however, I greet her with a line from her own Ordo Virtutum, “Angelic comrade, how comely you are in the royal nuptials!” It is the short antiphon that this line is set that I am looking to quote in my piece.

As the piece gets more solidified, I will divulge more details.

hildegard

 

 

 

compassion is a verb

Well, this week has been a bit of a roller coaster. The bad news is that there was going to be an event at Rothko Chapel that was going to include a new work of mine, and it was cancelled. The good news is that my awesome friend Misha Penton stopped by early this week to record the piece. This should be a rather relaxing piece of music, so have a listen and I hope you enjoy! Listen to compassion is a verb here.

The title compassion is a verb come from a quote by Thích Nhất Hạnh. The text for the work is by the Dalai Lama, from his book Kindness, Clarity, and Insight. 

“Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life. And a good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter. These are not sufficient. A good motivation is what is needed: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy; just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity. That we humans can help each other is one of our unique human capacities. We must share in other peoples’ suffering; even if you cannot help with money, to show concern, to give moral support and express sympathy are themselves valuable. This is what should be the basis of activities; whether one calls it religion or not does not matter [so much].”
― Dalai Lama XIV

aaaaand you can all hear it now!

Whew, what a night! I just got home from an awesome evening performing ravens and radishes, I’ve gone through the customary social media blasts  afterwards, aaaand I’m wiped out. Though, I imagine I am not anywhere near as beat as Misha Penton, who not only sang her ass off tonight, but put together the whole evening! Seriously, the amount of work she puts into a performance is tremendous. I’m constantly in awe of the work she does, and I feel blessed to get to work with her!

photograph courtesy of David DeHoyos Photography
photograph courtesy of David DeHoyos Photography

So y’all, ravens and radishes is available to purchase as a digital EP! You can buy it here, on bandcamp. It is only $5. Misha and I were joined by Daniel Saenz on cello. Daniel is absolutely fantastic, and has taught me so much about what the instrument can do. He’s definitely going to have to be at my side when I write another piece with cello.

We have already received a review of the release, by Steve Hicken over at Sequenza21. Read it here. My favorite 3/4 of the review are:

“The lyrics, by soprano Misha Penton, embody elusive retellings of tales from Grimm and a Slavic tale. They are well-matched with Heathco’s music, which has an easy eclecticism that reminds me of chamber rock with shifting textures and metric/rhythmic freedom. The songs work on their own and as part of the cycle.

Misha Penton, in addition to having a way with words, is a fine singer, with a darkly inviting voice, a sure sense of pitch, and outstanding diction. Mr. Heathco is a solid guitarist, coaxing a wide variety of sounds and textures from his instrument, which blends and contrasts in sometimes surprising ways with Daniel Saenz’ superb cello playing.

ravens & radishes is very well-written, recorded, and performed. A good example of the form and style.”

We released a music video for one of the songs from the cycle. The video is for “Sheep’s Clothing,” though we called the video ravens and radishes. Don’t be fooled! I posted the video on my extra media page, but whatever…you can see it here:

 

 

Come be a part of the official release of ravens and radishes!

photo by Dave Nickerson
photo by Dave Nickerson
I am pleased as punch to announce that on April 27th, my piece ravens and radishes will be officially released as a digital EP, along with a video set to one of the songs from the cycle! Setting to music evocative poetry, by my good friend Misha Penton, ravens and radishes is a 25 minute operatic song cycle for soprano, electric guitar, and cello. This project has been over two years in the making, from initial conception all the way to the April release, and we would like to celebrate the occasion by inviting you to our EP and video release party on April 27th! Experience a 30 minute performance with informal seating and standing room, plus an after party with yummy treats and libations. There will be music, dance (choreographed and performed by the amazing Meg Brooker), awesome lighting, and will be just a fun time all around! Visit the Divergence Vocal Theater website for more details!

Sunday April 27, 2014
6:30pm
4411 Montrose Blvd, Houston, TX 77006