Violist Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti releases the first in a series of three digital albums chronicling her commissioning work with three prominent composers of our era. Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir's atmospheric Sola for viola and electronics is featured on this first volume, along with engaging conversations between Lanzilotti and Thorvaldsdottir about the work and the process of collaboration
|Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, electronics|
|01||prologue & I|
prologue & I
|03||III & epilogue|
III & epilogue
Anna Thorvaldsdottir in Conversation with Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti
|Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti|
|04||introduction / electronics|
introduction / electronics
|05||rhythm / landscapes / perspective|
rhythm / landscapes / perspective
|06||compositional process / drawing|
compositional process / drawing
|07||the meaning of the title|
the meaning of the title
|08||space and energy to compose|
space and energy to compose
|09||working with orchestras|
working with orchestras
|10||passion / focus|
passion / focus
Violist Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti releases the first in a series of three digital albums chronicling her commissioning work with prominent composers of our era as part of The 20/19 Project. Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir's atmospheric Sola for viola and electronics is featured on this first volume, along with engaging conversations between Lanzilotti and Thorvaldsdottir about the work and the process of collaboration.
From the composer, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, “Sola is inspired by abstract structural elements of solitariness in the midst of turmoil — by the desire of calm and focus in chaos. Focusing on intimate materials in a flowing progression that seethe under the surface of disruption, only occasionally observing elements from the surface.”
Sola is in three movements, the first of which is longer than the second two combined. This ten minute opening movement largely explores three contrasting kinds of music: shrouded gestures that integrate pitch with gradations of bow noise and ethereal harmonics, skittering chromatic passagework, and prayerful melodic gestures played in double stops, often over an open string pedal point. Throughout, Thorvaldsdottir’s electronics frame the expansive environment that the viola inhabits. The movement ends with a halo of harmonics echoing in the electronics, a scintillating house of sonic mirrors. Movement two reprises the prayerful double stops and skittering chromatic material without electronics, bringing the listener back into the fragile sound world of the acoustic viola on its own. The electronics return for the final movement, enveloping long limbed singing phrases in a gentle sea of delays and layered material that is drawn from the work’s overall vocabulary. The piece ends as it began, receding back into unpitched white noise generated by the bow. Consistent with much of Thorvaldsdottir’s music, Sola is melancholy and atmospheric, evoking a strikingly barren landscape, and the alienation of a lone individual within it.
The artwork commissioned for these series of albums is by Jasmine Parsia. Reflecting on her inspiration for the work, she writes, “I've been thinking a lot about landscapes and their way of acting as a snapshot of time, but also made through an accumulation of time. Time felt like a natural direction in thinking about The 20/19 Project. This started first with thinking about rock formations while digging more into Anna’s work and the interviews on her site. Then it felt natural to carry this theme across the other two artists’ albums—made with pieces from my prints, and the photographs are mine as well.”
– Dan Lippel
Sola electronics stems recorded by Greg Heimbecker at University of Northern Colorado Recording Studio in Greeley, CO
Sola electronics composed, edited, and mixed by Anna Thorvaldsdottir
Sola viola recorded and edited by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio in Mount Vernon, NY
Anna Thorvaldsdottir in Conversation with Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti recorded by Evan Chapman and Kevin Eikenberg of Four/Ten Media in Thorvaldsdottir’s Studio in Surrey, UK
Album mixed and mastered by Ryan Streber
Sola is part of The 20/19 Project — Commissioned by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti with the generous support of Elizabeth & Justus Schlichting
Workshop in Surrey, UK supported by the University of Northern Colorado through an award from the Provost Fund for Faculty Scholarship and Professional Development
Supported in part by the Western Arts Alliance Advancing Indigenous Performance Native Launchpad program with funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts
Cover artwork by Jasmine Parsia
Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti (b. 1983) is a Kanaka Maoli musician dedicated to the arts of our time. A "leading composer-performer" (The New York Times), Lanzilotti’s “conceptually potent” work is characterized by explorations of timbre and an interest in translating everyday sounds to concert instruments using nontraditional techniques. Her musical voice is grounded in experimental practices, both through influences as part of the network of musicians / artists in the Wandelweiser collective, and her own explorations into radical indigenous contemporaneity. “Lanzilotti’s score brings us together across the world in remembrance, through the commitment of shared sonic gestures.” (Cities & Health) Lanzilotti was honored to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2022 for her string orchestra piece, with eyes the color of time, which the Pulitzer committee called, “a vibrant composition . . . that distinctly combines experimental string textures and episodes of melting lyricism.”http://leilehualanzilotti.com
Anna Thorvaldsdóttir’s music is composed as much by sounds and nuances as by harmonies and lyrical material. It is written as an ecosystem of sounds and materials that are carried from one performer - or performers - to the next throughout the progress of a work. All materials continuously grow in and out of each other - as a performer plays a phrase, harmony, texture or lyrical line, it is being delivered to another performer as it transforms and develops, passed on to be carried through until it is passed on again to yet another. Anna’s music is often inspired in an important way by nature and its many qualities, and the qualities she tends to be inspired by are often structural, like proportion and flow, as well as relationships of balance between details within a larger structure, and how to move in perspective between the two - the details and the unity of the whole.
Anna’s music is frequently performed internationally, and has been featured at several major venues and music festivals such as Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival in NYC, the Composer Portraits Series at NYC's Miller Theatre, the Leading International Composers series at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, Big Ears Festival, Spitalfields Music Festival, ISCM World Music Days, Nordic Music Days, Ultima Festival, Lucerne Summer Festival, Beijing Modern Music Festival, Reykjavik Arts Festival, Tectonics, and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Her works have been nominated and awarded on many occasions - most notably, Anna is the recipient of the prestigious Nordic Council Music Prize 2012 for her work Dreaming, the New York Philharmonic's Kravis Emerging Composer Award in 2015, and Lincoln Center’s 2018 Emerging Artist Award and 2018 Martin E. Segal Award.
Some of the orchestras and ensembles that have performed Anna's work include International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, London's Philharmonia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Intercontemporain, NDR Elbphilharmonie, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Yarn/Wire, The Crossing, the Bavarian Radio Choir, Münchener Kammerorchester, Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, Avanti Chamber Ensemble, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, CAPUT Ensemble, Oslo Philharmonic, and Either/Or Ensemble. In April 2018, Esa-Pekka Salonen lead the New York Philharmonic in the premiere of Anna’s work Metacosmos, which was commissioned by the orchestra, and the work received its European premiere with the Berlin Philharmonic in January 2019, conducted by Alan Gilbert. Metacosmos will receive its UK premiere at the BBC Proms 2019. Anna is currently Composer-in-Residence with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. In spring 2019, she is also Composer-in-Residence at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Anna holds a PhD from the University of California in San Diego.
Sola is an album that consists of a single multi-movement piece for viola and electronics by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, performed by Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, released by New Focus Recordings as of today (Friday December 4)! This is the first of 3 digital releases by Lanzilotti of a project in which she commissioned three prominent composers of the 21st century. On a personal note, I really loved this album as I’ve been a fan of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s music for many years, and this particular album offered some special insight into her music and process.
This particular review will be a little different from previous album reviews I’ve done for KLANG. Typically I provide some of my own insights into the compositions of an album and, when possible, draw from the composers’ own words and program notes to draw additional conclusions about the music. Lanzilotti and Thorvaldsdottir, however, have done that work for me by including a lengthy discussion of this piece on the album itself! The first three tracks make up the actual composition, clocking in at 17:22. The remaining tracks are the performer and composer having a conversation about the piece, it’s structure, meaning, and Thorvaldsdottir’s process. So as to not spoil anything I won’t include much of anything from that conversation and will instead just provide my own impressions after listening through the composition a number of times, and I’ll leave you to listen to the rest.
Before any kind of discussion can be had about the piece, it is absolutely key to know about the core concept behind it, which is isolation and solitude. Though Thorvaldsdottir wrote the piece in 2019, I cannot think of a more fitting concept for our collective experience in 2020, so for that reason alone this is a very timely album. The liner notes mention specifically searching for “the desire of calm and focus in chaos” and I personally think Thorvaldsdottir captured that feeling quite well, and Lanzilotti’s interpretation communicates that quite well.
On a general note, this album offers some really impressive string writing and a wonderfully captivating performance. Lanzilotti brings a level of nuance and care to the material that is really demanding by this particular flavor of music. The piece is delicate and intimate, but not weak in what it has to say and the narrative it tells. I think that comes through very clearly in Lanzilotti’s performance on this recording. The musical materials create an interesting tapestry that straddles ambient soundscapes and rhapsodic motivic development, albeit at a very slow pace for the most part. Thorvaldsdottir melds these two soundworlds into a single symbiotic sonic organism that shifts seamlessly from one to the other throughout the composition. You’ll hear a wide collection of timbres and motivic gestures- underpressure bowed string noise, homophonic passages through sustained double stops, hauntingly beautiful melodies, and even brief moments of rhythmic pulsing on a single pitch. All of this comes to a head in the final 3 minutes of the opening prologue movement when the various ideas are presented in short fragments. These eventually lead to a lush atmosphere created by a repeated viola melody in the upper register of the instrument. This is further augmented by delayed versions of the melody panned in the stereo field to enhance the physical spatial relationship of the fused sonic environments into a single undulating soundscape.
The use of electronics is essential in telling the musical narrative of Sola. All electronic elements are fixed electronics derived from the samples of viola, which are then processed and layered underneath the soloist. At times create a sustained backdrop and atmosphere, at other times they present brief moments of foreground activity. The use of a homogenous timbral palette from electronic manipulation of samples taken from the viola reinforces the central concept of isolation and solitude. To maintain that level of interconnectedness between the acoustic and electronic realms - one in which the electronics are quite subtle yet always necessary - is not an easy feat, and it shows a highly attuned sensitivity in working with these elements.
On a final note, the formal structure of Sola is quite interesting, from a proportional standpoint. The first movement, titled “Prologue,” is by far the longest, clocking in at 10.5 minutes. This introduces every element of the composition - acoustic and electronic. The listener has a chance to really live inside of each sonic space created through the various playing techniques in the viola, and the glacial pace of the movement allows the electronics to fuse gradually and really establish the organic nature of the disparate (though highly connected) sound sources. The second movement is incredibly short and offers an interesting contrast to the first. The same elements are included, but presented on a much shorter timeline in more rapid succession, as if condensing the entire prologue into a 2-minute vignette. I really enjoy the placement and character of this movement, and it gets to the heart of what isolation means, at least to me, in terms of passing time. When isolated and in solitude time ceases to have meaning, and by extension the experience of hearing these materials over the course of 10.5 minutes or just under 2 minutes, their impact is felt equally. It shows an incredible mastery of pacing from Thorvaldsdottir, and Lanzilotti’s performance reinforces that beautifully. The final movement - Epilogue - returns to a more gradual pacing of material. The electronics become more involved, particularly a repeated descending glissando motive (presented in the first movement as well) which acts as a consistent thread throughout. The viola material is centered more around the sustained chordal double-stops, creating a harmonic soup that feels it has no true beginning or end, though never feels incomplete. Like most other aspects of the composition it is nuanced and understated in a very compelling and satisfying way.
In all, I cannot recommend Sola enough. The composition itself is quite compelling and, at least for me, offered an almost cathartic listening experience. Knowing that the central concept is about isolation I felt an almost kindred connection to it while listening. The treatment of narrative as a function of time and thematic development is just done so well on every level. Further, the extended conversation between Lanzilotti and Thorvaldsdottir that follows is a real treat. It’s not often we get to hear the composer’s own insights in such a candid and intimate way, let alone with the performer for whom the piece was written. If you’re a fan of new music with electronics you should check out this album. If you’re a fan of Anna Thorvaldsdottir or Anne Lanzilotti, you should check out this album. Even if you’re not a fan of contemporary music, electroacoustic music, or don’t know who Anna Thorvaldsdottir is, then you should definitely check out this album. It really is quite unique as far as new music albums go, and I’m very much looking forward to Lanzilotti’s next release.
— Jon Fielder, 12.04.2020
Here we meet again, Anne. Always a pleasure. Your newest project is titled Sola. Tell us more about it.
Sola is a gorgeous new work by Anna Thorvaldsdottir for viola and electronics. Anna wrote in her notes about the piece, “Sola is inspired by abstract structural elements of solitariness in the midst of turmoil—by the desire of calm and focus in chaos. Focusing on intimate materials in a flowing progression that seethe under the surface of disruption, only occasionally observing elements from the surface.”
Can you describe your collaborative process with composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir whose work you commissioned for this new recording?
The project itself has been going on for a long time—looking back at our correspondence now I realize that I initially contacted Anna about this project almost exactly five years ago, in November 2015. It took about a year to find support for the commission—in the form of the generosity of Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting.
In the meantime, the collaborative process was part of a larger method of engaging with Anna’s work. Through writing about her work in Music & Literature and interviewing her for the Log Journal, I was able to study some of Anna’s other pieces and support her projects. I also asked if I could record her work Transitions (originally for cello) on my last album in a viola transcription form. Through all these different ways, I was learning the language of her music better and supporting Anna’s work before starting to learn the new commission.
In May 2018 Anna sent me some sounds to record that became the generative material for the electronics. Then a year later, I got a grant from University of Northern Colorado to go to the UK with Four/Ten Media (Evan Chapman and Kevin Eikenberg) to interview Anna and film some little mini masterclass videos on how to make the sounds in the piece for my website Shaken Not Stuttered.
Did the initial ideas behind Sola undergo any major transformations throughout the last six or so months given our restricted existence due to covid19?
No, this project has been in the works for so long that many of the important in-person elements were completed before things shut down. However, performances beyond the tour of premieres have been cancelled, so I decided that I should release my performance exclusivity early so that other people can enjoy working on it—solo repertoire is much more quarantine friendly!
How do you see a recording like Sola shaping or influencing the music scene?
Legacy is developed over time through the impact of works which are given substantial resources beyond the premiere: in particular, high-quality recordings lead to repeated performances and integration into curriculum. In the same way that one would work all year on a Brahms Sonata for their Junior Recital and then have a better idea of what kind of sound to use when playing a Brahms Symphony, I wanted to commission substantial new works so that someone could work on the Thorvaldsdottir Sonata all year, and then also have a window into her orchestral sound world when they went on to perform some of her larger works.
In order to make that process easier, we made video tutorials to show extended techniques used with brief interviews of the composers. Through this extensive free educational resource (an expansion of Shaken Not Stuttered) other performers, students, and audience members will have a window into the creative process. The site advocates for a culture of curiosity, supporting a thriving culture of contemporary music for everyone.
You also commissioned the artwork for the album, right? The album cover for Sola is by Jasmine Parsia. Are you hands on with ideas and thoughts about what you like or dislike when it comes to album covers? What was your initial reaction when you first saw Jasmine’s work for Sola?
Yes. Jasmine also created original artwork for my last album, in manus tuas and I really loved working with her. Because Sola is being released in a series of three albums (part of The 20/19 Project), I asked Jasmine to create a series of album covers that would fit together as a set. Reflecting on her inspiration for the work, she wrote to me, “I've been thinking a lot about landscapes and their way of acting as a snapshot of time, but also made through an accumulation of time. Time felt like a natural direction in thinking about The 20/19 Project. This started first with thinking about rock formations while digging more into Anna’s work and the interviews on her site. Then it felt natural to carry this theme across the other two artists’ albums—made with pieces from my prints, and the photographs are mine as well.”
My own work is often about perspective/community, so I see the album cover as an extension of who is engaged within the work as a whole. So I love how thoughtful she is in engaging with the music in a real way. I’m excited to eventually share the other two works for the rest of the series, but that will have to wait!
What have you been doing more of to stay active as an artist without the option of live performances nowadays?
I am really excited about the new concert platform that Bandcamp is rolling out this month. They were kind enough to give me a sneak peak and I’ll be doing a live album release show on December 4th with an opening act by Andrew Yee and a guest chamber music performance by Longleash.
That being said, I think there are lots of things about being an artist that are always solitary, and other things about being an artist that are always about supporting your community and showing up for people even if you can’t do that physically. I hope that this has been a time of reflection for lots of artists, and a time of seeing who their communities are—and who is missing from those communities. Whose voices do you want to amplify? Who do you want to survive on the other side of this? Whose work are you advocating for behind the scenes?
In a panel on Authentic Engagement: Lessons From Indigenous Communities, playwright Larissa FastHorse (2020 MacArthur Fellow) was talking about how for a lot of indigenous artists, “The process is the art. The community engagement is the art.” It isn’t always about performing live, or releasing something publicly, there are lots of ways to support your colleagues and that is a huge part of being an artist. Supporting your community in the ways that they need to be supported is staying active as an artist.
Have you learned anything exciting that you would’ve probably overlooked if it weren’t for these extraordinary circumstances of recent months?
I’ve been deep-diving into Indigenous Language Revitalization and Decolonization as a part of research for a piece I’m working on for [Switch~ Ensemble]. There’s an extraordinary series by Emergence Magazine on Language Keepers that I have listened to more than once, as well as a gorgeous print edition of articles on other overlapping topics, many of which are by indigenous writers.
Who are some artists or non-artists whose help and encouragement facilitated this latest project and constantly come through for you?
Will Dutta—who presented the UK premiere of Sola—took this project to the next level by creating a whole series of events around the premieres and by publishing a beautiful monograph on the works. He was so generous with his time, brainstorming, and taking the set of commissions further—it has really helped me think bigger about projects, and how to be a better advocate for other artists as well.
Daphne Gerling, who wrote an essay for the monograph about the historical inspiration for this project, was also a wonderful advocate and encouraging voice as I was bringing the elements of this work together.
Of course, Dan Lippel of New Focus Recordings has consistently come through for me, encouraging me to imagine the album release and the albums themselves in a way that is meaningful for the project.
Could you share a piece of good news with us—in addition to your new album Sola, that is?
I’m grateful to be the recipient of a 2020 Native Launchpad Artist Award. Not only did the award allow me to be able to publish this album, but the community of indigenous artists I’ve met so far through the fellowship are so supportive and inspiring.
What’s your hope for what lies ahead musically and artistically for you, for us, and for the arts ecosystem in general?
“The process is the art. The community engagement is the art.”
— Doriana Molla, 12.04.2020
Another inquisitive, resourceful artist combining an online premiere with a record release is violist and composer Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, whose newest initiative makes an online splash on Dec. 4. Springing forth from Lanzilotti’s realization that three of the most-played works in the viola repertoire – Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano, Ernest Bloch’s Suite for Viola and Piano, and Paul Hindemith’s Viola Sonata in F (Op. 11, No. 4) – were all written in 1919, The 20/19 Project saw Lanzilotti commissioning and premiering three new pieces for 2019: Liquid, Languid by Andrew Norman, Sola by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and Lost Anthems by Scott Wollschleger. Now, Sola is the first to arrive on record, coming Dec. 4 on the New Focus label. The digital release includes the 17-minute piece for viola and electronics, along with some 30 minutes of conversation between composer and interpreter about the piece. And, to herald the album’s arrival, Lanzilotti is taking the new Bandcamp live-streaming platform for a test drive, sharing a concert of Thorvaldsdottir’s works and her own original music with cellist Andrew Yee and the piano trio Longleash. The performance begins at 3pm on Dec. 4, and you’ll find details on Lanzilotti’s Bandcamp page.
— Steve Smith, 12.04.2020
This spare, haunting piece for viola and electronics is the first salvo in a new commissioning project from Lanzilotti, whose In Manus Tuas was a highlight of 2019. It's a accompanied by a long interview with the composer, which is full of insights but not something you'll want to hear each time you listen to the piece - which is likely to be often as it is very beautiful and gorgeously played.
— Jeremy Shatan, 12.26.2020
Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti is a violist on a mission to build the repertoire for her instrument. One of the most captivating, immersive albums she’s released to date is her recording of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s electroacoustic triptych Sola, streaming at Bandcamp.
For many listeners and critics, Thorvaldsdottir epitomizes the vast, windswept Icelandic compositional sensibility of recent decades. This mini-suite is on the livelier side of that zeitgeist. The first movement begins with slow modulations, dopplers and flickers of wind in the rafters of some abandoned barn on the tundra – or at least its sonic equivalent. However, Lanzilotti gets many chances to add austere color and the occasional moment of levity via steady, emphatic phrases and the occasional coy glissando.
There are places where it’s hard to figure out which is which, Lanzilotti’s nuanced, delicate harmonics, or Thorvaldsdottir’s own keening electronics, which are processed samples recorded earlier on the viola. The brooding, droning, fleeting second movement seems to be all Lanzilotti – at least until the puckish ending. The conclusion is more lush, similarly moody and enigmatically microtonal, again with the occasional playful flourish. Even in the badlands, life is sprouting in the ruts.
As a bonus, the album includes a podcast of sorts with both performers discussing all sorts of fascinating nuts-and-bolts details, from composing to performing. Listening to Thorvaldsdottir enthusing about traveling to premieres and leading master classes will break your heart: based in the UK, her career as a working composer has been crushed by the Boris Johnson regime.
— delarue, 12.28.2020