Thurs on tour

Well, I’m on my way back to Philly after a busy two days in New York with Ensemble Epomeo. We enjoyed our chat with Carl at WKCR- it was fun but challenging in the studio. They have a larger space for recording ensembles, but had we been in there, it would have been just about impossible to carry on a conversation with Carl between the pieces. Instead, we were in the booth with him, sort of tucked around the edges of the console. Byron and David were both more or less behind me, and we had to use the same mics for talking and playing, which felt odd, but I’m told sounded fine on air. If we can get permission, we’ll make the show available as a podcast on the E2 website.

WKCR has a wonderfully daring programming philosophy, a refreshing change from the mild-mannered banalities that most public radio stations feel overwhelming market pressure to stick to. After our two hours of live, mostly contemporary chamber music they were doing an hour of avante jazz. This meant we could present a pretty intense and thoughtful program with confidence, focusing on the most radical and experimental parts of our repertoire. We were also able to curate the morning with some recordings of related pieces on CD- bits of Bartok (the final Mesto from the 6th quartet as a cousin to the twilight world of the Schnittke) and the Beethoven op 95 Quartet in comparison with the Op 9 no 3 String Trio.

Our private concert in the evening was fun- I always enjoy house concerts where the audience is there for the music, and this house is one where that is always the case. Of course, we’re learning a lot from doing this program over and over. It really makes me painfully aware of what a pity it is that most concerts only get done once.

Of all the pieces we’re doing on the tour, it is the Schnittke that we’ve lived with the longest, but I’m still making discoveries in every rehearsal, and my thoughts about the meaning of the piece continue to evolve. Schnittke seems to have become almost completely unfashionable among critics and most composers since his death, but fashion is the word. Fashions and trends are amusing phenomena, but whether a piece is in or out with the taste-setters of the day has nothing to do with its status as a work of art. When you can live with a piece like this and continue find new layers of meaning, new relationships between musical ideas, new intersections of process and content there’s no room to be snooty. It’s genius.

Just one example- there is a peculiarly iconic chord progression that occurs several times in the piece. It goes from a major triad up a half step to a minor triad, which means the two chords share the same third. Schnittke has a way of setting this progression as though it is a moment when we step back from the line of the drama and contemplate what has happened. What is interesting now is that we’re finding more and more ways in which this progression doesn’t just stand apart as a sort of incantation, but is knitted into the piece in countless other ways which aren’t immediately perceptible. Sometimes it is presented horizontally, other times he layers the two chords on top of each other. It also turns out that the progression itself shares it’s musical DNA with the main theme of the work, something that’s a bit hard to hear, but clear on the page if you look for it.

We’ve got another concert tonight, doing a slightly shortened and lightened version of our tour program, and we have to finish preparing our children’s program- the first kids concert is tomorrow and I still have some notes to learn in Hansel and Gretel.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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1 comment on “Thurs on tour”

  1. fran snyder

    Hi Kenneth,

    I caught this post about house concerts.
    Please let me know if you’d like to do a piece about the growing importance of these events to the careers of touring musicians.

    I’ve enclosed our latest press release below. Thanks. celebrates 3 years.

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – JUNE 9, 2009, a website that helps artists connect with house concert presenters, is celebrating its 3rd anniversary. This online community has grown to more than 1,000 members worldwide and continues to inspire music fans to become concert promoters – in their living rooms.

    House concerts allow artists to perform for a captive audience, in the casual and intimate setting of a fan’s home. Guests (friends of the host) typically pitch in a suggested donation of $10-15, and take their seats after a short pot-luck meal and social time. The performer then plays two sets with a short intermission, through very little or no sound system, and interacts with the audience during and after the show. These concerts are both artistically and financially rewarding for artists, especially those who often rely upon the distracted and diminishing club audiences to make a living.

    Fran Snyder, a singer-songwriter and the founder of CIYH, regularly speaks on the subject of house concerts at music conferences and has become a recognized authority on the subject. Snyder was recognized by Music Connection in its “Top 50 Innovators, Groundbreakers, and Guiding Lights of 2008,” alongside such names as Derek Sivers, Victor Wooten, Jack Johnson, and Brian Eno.

    “Fran Snyder…is more than a musician and entrepreneur who has built a better mousetrap; he has done so based on a wide range of firsthand industry experience.” — Present Magazine, Kansas City

    CIYH provides free tools, videos, and articles for anyone interested in putting on or learning about house concerts. Host memberships are free, and artist memberships are $48 per year.

    Basic Stats
    400 House Concert presenters in the U.S. and Canada, and a few in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
    700 Artists/Small groups, including hit-songwriters, world class performers, and up-and-coming talent.
    9,000 website visitors per month, and a high-traffic blog “House Concerts and 21st Century Touring.”

    Interesting Links
    Latest Newsletter
    House Concert Videos – and a “how-to” primer for hosts.
    Our Manifesto, “Small is the New Big – how house concerts are saving the modern touring artist.”
    13 Artist Tips to get more House Concerts

    Fran Snyder 817-789-2936

    link to this press release @

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