Robert Phillips

Electroacoustic and Chamber Music Composer

Wooden Cities interprets O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden


Wooden Cities

I’m looking forward to hearing Wooden Cities interpret O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden on April 20th at St. Joseph’s Parish. I enjoyed rearranging the piece for Wooden Cities, and was happy to introduce two brass instruments into the reworking — Matthew Stewart will be playing trombone, and my good friend, Nathan Heidelberger, himself a truly excellent composer, will be on horn. I’ve been following Wooden Cites since they began in the summer of 2011, and am grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to listen and delve deeper in to John Zorn’s Cobra on a number of occasions. They’ve been great champions of new music since their inception and have really enriched the sonic environment of upstate New York.

I’m also happy that O Haupt will be sharing a concert with Michael Pisaro’s Fool, a piece which is based on a remix by DJ Screw, one of my favorite DJs, and someone whose music I’ve drawn a lot from over the last three years. O Haupt enjoys a pretty significant and obvious DJ Screw influence, being composed of five J.S. Bach chorales that have been slowed down tremendously and subjected a variety of glissando-izing and pitch and tempo destabilizing procedures, as if I was DJ Screw with some Bach vinyl.

The concert is one of the most well-curated concerts my music has been featured on, the other pieces are by Sofia Gubaidulina, Giacinto Scelsi, and Charles Ives, who are all composers whose music directly relates to mine, especially Scelsi, whose String Quartet No. 4, Quattro Pezzi, and Tre Canti Sacri had quite an influence on Aur, and Ives, whose way of layering heterogeneous styles horizontally on top of each other, or simply detuning individual layers (Symphonies 2 + 4) in a polyphonic texture has influenced my music much like DJ Screw’s has.

Ethan Hayden will be singing Charles Ives Like a Sick Eagle, a truly beautiful and remarkable song with text from John Keats. My favorite youtube performance is here.

The site of the concert, St. Joseph’s Parish, is a gorgeous church with beautiful stained glass windows everywhere and a strikingly reverberant architecture which makes the space ideal for this re-orchestration of O Haupt.

Below is the text from the Wooden Cities’ press release:

Wooden Cities presents SACRED SPACES: a concert of premieres and classic works at St. Joseph’s Parish

Sofia Gubaidulina, In Croce (1979) Charles Ives, Selections from 114 Songs (1922) Robert Phillips, O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (2012) [USA Premiere] Michael Pisaro, Fool (2012) Giacinto Scelsi, Ko-Lho (1966)

Saturday, April 20, 2013
St. Joseph’s University Parish
3269 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14214
Doors at 7 pm, Music at 8 pm
$5 Suggested Donation

Wooden Cities is pleased to present Sacred Spaces, a unique program of premieres and classic 20th century works chosen specifically for the spacious resonance of St. Joseph’s University Parish. The program will include Skizzen, a world premiere by New York-based composer Eric Stewart; O Haupt voll Blut and Wunden, a U.S. premiere by young composer Robert Phillips; Fool, a recent work by internationally renowned composer Michael Pisaro; and works by titans of the 20th century Sofia Gubaidulina, Charles Ives, and Giacinto Scelsi.

“With this program, we are looking to provide something that cannot be reproduced anywhere else,” says Wooden Cities’ conductor and artistic director Brendan Fitzgerald. “We will feature St. Joseph’s tremendous pipe organ for Gubaidulina’s In Croce, and in the other works the performers will be placed throughout the audience. This has the potential to create a completely unique experience for every person in attendance.”

In Croce, performed by cellist T.J. Borden and organist Patrick Davis, depicts a musical cruciform, with the two instruments approaching each other, intersecting, and then continuing on their original path. This form is an expression of both Gubaidulina’s own spiritualism and her dedication to the work J.S. Bach, whose B Minor Mass follows similar patterns.

Bach’s music also serves as a point of departure for Robert Phillips in O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, which will receive its U.S. premiere on this program. Phillips says that his work “asks the players to navigate through a series of Bach chorales, which happen to be my personal favorites: complex, despairing, and unpredictable. These chorales have been slowed down,layered, distorted, and generally treated as if they were played on an unpredictable and independently-minded set of turntables.” Phillips uses the metaphor of alchemy to describe the liquid, psychedelic sounds of O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, as Phillips melts Bach’s tight contrapuntal lines into pools of warped, molten harmonies.

Phillips also cites renowned Houston hip-hop figure DJ Screw — inventor of the “chopped and screwed” style of turntable manipulation — as an influence on his approach, and hopes that this compelling combination of influences will “update [Bach’s chorales] for today’s world by testing their boundaries, multiplying their expressive power, and blurring their identities to the point of intense confusion – similar to the state we find our own selves in, in the complex and schizophrenic world of modern life.”

DJ Screw also serves as a touchstone for Buffalo-born composer Michael Pisaro. “Fool,” from Pisaro’s 2012 collection Tombstones, is based on Screw’s famous reinterpretation of UGK’s “One Day.” In his work, Pisaro applies his own “chopped and screwed” process to Screw’s version, presenting the very first line of the song (“Fool one day you here, then you gone”) in a radically slowed and extended way. The result is a shockingly sensitive and gorgeous experience. “Everyone has this notion of UGK being gangsta rap,” Pisaro says about choosing the material, “but in DJ Screw’s version, which is 2/3 the tempo, it is the most tender rap song.”

Rounding out the program is Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi’s Ko-Lho, a sensual and Dionysian flute and clarinet duet that had its world premiere in Buffalo in 1976. Like much of Scelsi’s work, Ko-Lho focuses on the variation and ornamentation of only one or two notes, blending the flute and clarinet seamlessly as they exchange quivers and sighs. Interspersed among the central works of the concert are selections from Charles Ives’ collection of 144 Songs (“Thoreau,” “Like A Sick Eagle,” “Serenity,” and “The Cage”), alternately sung by Ethan Hayden and Esin Gündüz. These meditations on life, death, and spirituality are among the most mysterious, aphoristic, and alien of Ives’ songs, ranging from “Like a Sick Eagle’s” despairing sighs and glides to the wry, sardonic questioning of “The Cage.”

Wooden Cities is both an ensemble and a collective of performers and composers seeking to help increase the performance and awareness of contemporary music in the Western New York area through unique, educational presentations. Formed in July 2011, the group served as a vehicle for director Brendan Fitzgerald to present John Zorn’s game piece Cobra. Since that time the group has grown to include over a dozen performers and is constantly seeking new works by new composers while continuing to present works by some of the essential, yet underrepresented composers of the 20th Century.


This entry was posted on April 17, 2013 by .