Listen Faster, Listen Different

Whether Writing Music or Code, Some of This Year’s Fellows Ask for Your Ear
Tamar Diesendruck and Kurt Rohde. Photo by Joshi RadinTamar Diesendruck and Kurt Rohde. Photo by Joshi Radin
By Fred Bouchard

Tamar Diesendruck: Branching Pathways

Tamar Diesendruck’s major project this year for large wind ensemble and percussion is inspired by processes and branching patterns of evolutionary biology. Her recent works use varied notations and strategies that result in webs and networks of sound. She delights in creating highly varied music based on the same musical “DNA.”

Diesendruck is an independent composer based in the Boston area. Her compositions have been performed throughout the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Performers of her work include the Pro Arte Quartet, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Lions Gate Trio, Speculum Musicae, and New Millennium Ensemble.

Kurt Rohde: Choosing Subjects from Disney to Queen Kristina

The violist turned composer Kurt Rohde never trained formally, yet he writes engaging, intuitive chamber music. His Radcliffe works are amazingly diverse. One is a piece for the Brandeis-based Lydian String Quartet, inspired by Renaissance treatises by Fludd, Vicentino, and Kircher. Another is a chamber opera about Queen Kristina of Sweden’s self-exile in Rome. The protean life and mythology of Walt Disney is the subject of yet another piece. A professor of composition at the University of California at Davis, Rohde plays viola with the Left Coast Chamber Orchestra on Double Trouble, his new Innova CD.

He’s intrigued by the range of methodologies he encounters among other musical Radcliffe fellows. “Like Venn diagrams, we overlap,” he says. “We find appreciation for music’s purpose and honest sounding boards for how creators, performers, and listeners make it part of their lives.” He also enjoys Harvard’s libraries. “I’m finding so many useful journals for my operas. It’s like being loosed in a candy shop!”

Kate Soper: Exploring Interactions Between Voices and Instruments

Kate Soper. Photo by Tony RinaldoKate Soper. Photo by Tony RinaldoAs a composer and new-music soprano, Kate Soper delves deep into the interactions between voices and instruments. A 2012 Guggenheim fellow, Soper often seeks to find her voice through establishing dramatic tensions.

In her vocal duos—with flute, violin, or percussion—“music and voice offer mutual support, exchanging and sharing roles, and mirroring responsibilities,” she says. Her flute and voice duo interpolates text by the poet Lydia Davis, as the singer’s “desperation to be understood unleashes an inner monster,” as Soper puts it.

Her main work as the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Fellow is Here Be Sirens, an opera for voices and electronics. “What,” Soper wonders about these timeless seaside seducers, “are they doing on the island in their downtime?”

Michael Scott Cuthbert: Detecting Trends in Music Using Computers

Michael Cuthbert, the Rieman and Baketel Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, delves into scores of medieval and Renaissance Europe—worm-eaten codices, repurposed palimpsests, faded parchments, and all—to analyze and reconstruct them for musical trends and pattern studies. In his Radcliffe study, “Digital Musicology of Late-Medieval Polyphony,” he’s examining and digitally enhancing fragments of Italian sacred music (1350 to 1420) to overcome difficulties such as overwriting and bleed-throughs.

Cuthbert developed software—called music21—that attracts thousands of hits from researchers and composers eager to use computers to “listen faster” to find trends among hundreds of works at a time. Musicologists also use the program to parse patterns in, say, Bach’s 389 chorales.

An associate professor of music at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cuthbert recalls growing up a “Navy brat” in San Diego, where he developed interests in music and math by “playing clarinet, composing on a Commodore 64 computer, and hearing Beethoven’s Fifth,” the only classical music recording he had access to. Later he studied early European repertory’s complex notational systems and composed music for cutting-edge ensembles.

Tsitsi Jaji: Discovering Art Songs at the Schlesinger Library

Tsitsi Jaji and Michael Scott Cuthbert. Photo by Joshi RadinTsitsi Jaji and Michael Scott Cuthbert. Photo by Joshi RadinTsitsi Jaji, this year’s Mary Bunting Institute Fellow, specializes in the music and literature of transnational exchanges among African, African American, and Caribbean cultures. As she wraps up final revisions of Africa in Stereo (Oxford University Press, 2013)—about how African American popular music contributed to modernism and pan-Africanism in Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa—she’s also exploring the history of art songs in the Black Atlantic, from the 18th-century African-born composer Ignatius Sancho to contemporary works.

A professor of English and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Jaji has made her biggest find at the Radcliffe Institute in the Schlesinger Library’s papers of the composer Shirley Graham Du Bois, including “Compensation,” a setting of a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Jaji plans to perform the work, along with Dunbar settings by Avril Coleridge-Taylor and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, with her research partner in her spring Radcliffe presentation on art songs as a form of literary commentary.


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