Ensemble Pi’s Sixth Annual Peace Project Concert

New music collective Ensemble Pi is pleased to return to The Cooper Union’s Great Hall in  New York City, for its sixth annual Peace Project concert, Echosystem: Protecting our Water, on Saturday, March 19 at 8 p.m. The evening will bring together works inspired by the environment, especially the earth’s supply of water and the dangers this vital element is currently facing. The Cooper Union’s Great Hall is at 7 East 7th St. at Third Ave., NYC. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students and seniors). More information at (212) 362-4745 or www.ensemble-pi.org

Highlights include George Crumb’s masterpiece, Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) for three Masked Players (1971), inspired from the singing of the humpback whale; the Premiere of Kristin Norderval’s Echo Systems (2011), composed in response to both the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the 1989 sinking of the Exxon Valdez tanker in Alaska; Pete Seeger’s classic song, Rainbow Race, in a new arrangement by Karl Kramer (2011); and Christopher Kaufman’s Hudson Valley (2010), capturing the world of the Hudson River Valley through music and film footage, including the dangers of natural gas drilling.

Echosystem: Protecting Our Water is presented as part of the Ensemble Pi’s Peace Project, which was launched by the collective in 2005 with the goal of opening a dialogue between ideas and music on some of the world’s current and critical issues. Performers will include Kristin Norderval, voice and laptop; Airi Yoshioka, violin; Idith Meshulam, piano; Clair Bryant, cello; Karl Kramer, French horn; Barry Crawford, flute; and Nick Gallas, clarinet.

Composed in 1971 for the New York Camerata, George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae (The Voice of the Whale) was hailed as a “beautiful dream vision of the deep” (Andrew Porter, The New Yorker). The work was inspired by the singing of the humpback whale, a tape recording the composer heard two or three years previously, and is scored for flute, cello and piano. Each of the three performers is required to wear a black half-mask (or visor-mask). “By effacing the sense of human projection,” the composer writes, the masks “are intended to represent, symbolically, the powerful impersonal forces of nature (i.e. nature dehumanized).” Crumb also suggested that the work be performed under deep-blue stage lighting. The form of Vox Balaenae is a simple three-part design, consisting of a prologue, a set of variations named after the geological eras, and an epilogue.

Kristin Norderval’s Echo Systems, for voice, bass flute, and electronics (www.norderval.org), draws from the tales of Rosina Philippe from the Grand Bayou in Louisiana, and Faith Gemmill from the Arctic Village in northeast Alaska – two leaders of Native American communities who have faced the worst American environmental disasters to date: the explosion of the BP oil rig in Louisiana and the sinking of the Exxon Valdez tanker in Alaska. Playing with the concept of feedback, musical, environmental, and political, Echo Systems explores the fragility of our shared eco-system – or our common circulatory system on this planet.

After the traumatic political events of 1968 in the U.S. – iconic folk singer/activist Pete Seeger briefly flirted with giving up singing. Instead, he grew a beard and, adopting the “Think global, act local” philosophy, helped build the sloop Clearwater, which sailed the Hudson River, advocating the cleanup of that polluted waterway (which runs beside his home in Beacon, NY), and ecology in general. Rainbow Race was released in his 1971 Grammy-winning album, Pete, and the song has been arranged for voice, piano, cello, violin, flute, French horn, and clarinet by Karl Kramer for the Ensemble Pi’s concert.

Hudson Valley, by Chris Kaufman (www.chkaufman.com), originally commissioned by Quintet of the Americas, will be performed in an arrangement for flute, violin, horn, clarinet, cello and piano. The work combines live performance, sound design, speech, and a film composed from both natural images and the art of Ken-Cro-Ken and Alice Cotton. The composer gathered hundreds of natural sounds from the Hudson River Valley environment (ocean, whale, dolphin, wolf, coyote) to create backgrounds and musical textures against and with which these sounds are performed. The penultimate movement, which depicts the dangers of natural gas drilling, features metallic percussion and original instruments made of metal sounds as well as actual ambient pile-driver sounds.

Ensemble Pi is a socially conscious new music group dedicated to performing the music of living and undiscovered composers. Since its inception in 2001, under the artistic direction of pianist Idith Meshulam, Ensemble Pi has developed innovative, collaborative and educational programs that bridge the gap between new music and new audiences. Every year, since 2005, the ensemble presents an annual multi-media peace concert at The Cooper Union. The project aims to open a dialogue between ideas and music on the great issues of the day, through the commissioning of new works and collaborations with visual artists, writers, actors and journalists. Collaborators have included the South African artist William Kentridge, American journalist/writer Naomi Wolf, Iraqi actress Namaa Alward, and Israeli philosopher/activist Anat Biletzki. Ensemble Pi has also championed the work of contemporary composers by premiering and commissioning works by Frederic Rzewski, Philip Miller, Alice Shields, Kristin Norderval, Karim Al-Zand, and Peter Ablinger, among others. In the fall of 2010, Ensemble Pi released its first CD, Keep Going: The Music of Elias Tanenbaum (Parma Records). In 2011, the ensemble will celebrate the 85th birthday of composer Gunther Schuller at Symphony Space; and in 2012, it will tour the U.S. with Black Box – a program of composition set to the films and projections of William Kentridge – along with the Kentridge exhibition.

Christopher Kaufman has composed extensively in the classical and film genres. He is the recipient of awards and commissions from the M.J.F. Fund, The Saltonstall Foundation, CAP Individual Artists Award, UCC Council on the Arts, Sage Fellowship, SOS, Community Arts Partnership Grant, Meet the Composer Grant, and the MacDowell Arts Colony. Kaufman was a Featured Artist for Obama Music, Arts and Entertainment. His music has been performed at the United Nations, ACA Festival of American Music, the internationals Musikinstitut in Darmstadt, June in Buffalo, the American Composers Orchestra readings, the Ithaca Festival, the Northeastern Composers Conference, the Charles Ives Center for American Music, Encore Summer Music and Eastman’s Musica Nova.

Acclaimed as a composer, singer, and improviser, Kristin Norderval has premiered numerous new works for voice and presented original compositions at festivals and concert houses in Europe, the Far East, and the Americas. As a soloist she has performed with the Philip Glass Ensemble, the San Francisco Symphony, Oslo Sinfonietta, and the Netherlands Dance Theater, and has recorded with Aurora, CRI, Deep Listening, Eurydice, Koch International, and New World Records. In 2005 Norderval received the Henry Cowell Award from the American Music Center in recognition of her innovative work as a composer. Commissions have included works for Den Anden Opera in Copenhagen, the Bucharest International Dance Festival in Romania, jill sigman/thinkdance in New York City, and the early music ensemble Parthenia. Norderval’s compositions can be heard on Deep Listening, Koch International, and Everglade.

This event is generously funded by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Argosy Foundation, Meet the Composer, and Open Meadow Foundation.