Who is 7R? - Santa Ratniece

Who is 7R?
Santa Ratniece, composer
Composer of My soul will sink within me, response to Buxtehude's TO THE FACE

The circuitous route to Santa Ratniece began in Philadelphia with our friend Lativan Gunta Plostnieks who gave me a CD of Eriks Esenvalds music. We immediately set out to program his compelling music and he became a friend of The Crossing through a commission and visit. In the summer of 2012, Donald was visiting Riga and asked Eriks for a broad view of 'what's going on in Latvian choral music today.'  That discussion began with the music of Santa, which is very different than Eriks' but carried his unreserved recommendation. She is another fascinating Latvian composer (add Peteris Vasks and Maija Einfelde to Eriks) with a compelling expressive voice and a unique and mesmerizing ear for textures. We offered the U.S. premieres of three of her works during The Gulf (between you and me); but we waited to commission her until we could add an orchestra - her color palette extends equally to instruments and voices alike and we wanted to hear what she would do with a wide range of choices. To bring things full circle, Santa stays with Gunta when visiting Philadelphia!

Santa's music relies on the breath - it's all about the breathing of human beings and of the natural world around us - the breath of the earth. In fact, one of the first things that attracted us to her music is the way in which she creates a spiritual world of sound - a kind of grand and yet fragile architecture; when addressed to the topic of ancient lakes and the souls of animals, as in several of her works, one is aware of our relationship to those lakes and animals, and how far we are from them in our daily lives.

Santa first came into public view in 2004 after winning the first prize in the category of Composers under 30 at the 2004 UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris for her work sens nacre. In this short time, Santa's music has gained international acclaim, having been played in Europe, Australia, Canada, United States and South America by Latvian Radio Choir, Sinfonietta Riga, Altera Veritas, Liepaja Symphony Amber Sound Orchestra, Spikeri String quartet, vocal group Putni, pianists Vestard Shimkus, Elizabete Siranteand Reinis Zariņš, (Latvia),  NYYD Ensemble, Ensemble Resonabilis, Estonian National Male choir(Estonia), Ensemble Sarband, Ensemble Recherche, Leipziger Blaserquintett, Ensemble Avantgarde, violoncellist Ramon Jaffé,  Ensemble RARO, Ensemble Reflexion K, Deutsch-Skandinavische Jugend-Philharmonie(Germany), Arditti Quartet, organist Charles Matthews (England), Nederlands Kamerkoor (The Netherlands), Musiques Nouvelles(Belgium) Quatuor Molinari (Canada), Sydney Symphony Fellows(Australia), SOCO Ensemble (Uruguay), Kronos Quartet, The Crossing (United States), ConTempo Quartet (Rumania) and others.

Santa's music has been widely played in the Baltic states, with her compositions included regularly in the programs of Arena Festival, Skaņu Mežs Festival, Latvian New Music Days, Introvert Music Festival, Autumn Chamber Music Festival, Cesis Art Festival (Latvia), Estonian Music Days, Autumn Festival (Estonia), ISCM World Music Days Vilnius, GAIDA, and Music of Changes (Lithuania).

Most of Ratniece`s music is devoted to chamber choir; she has received regular commissions from Latvian Radio choir, a relationship that began with Saline in 2006 and was followed by Hirondelles du Coeur (2007, for choir and orchestra) horo horo hata hata (2008, for 12 voices), Chu Dal (2009), Fuoco Celeste (2011 for cello solo and choir) and Nada el layli (2015 forkemenche, qanun and choir). The Crossing presented the U.S. premieres of three of these works a The Month of Modersn 2013; you can listen to us singing horo horo hata hata:

Santa’s first stage work, a multimedia opera entitled War Sum Up: Music. Manga. Machines, was premiered at the Latvian National Opera in 2011, conducted by Kaspars Putniņš. It has since had further performances at Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn New York, Brighton Festival 2012, ULTIMA Oslo Contemporary Music Festival 2011, Café Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival 2012, Materia Prima Festival 2012 (Poland), Transart Festival 2013 (Italy), and on more than twenty other theatre stages around Europe and Asia (Taiwan and China). Here's some footage from the 2011 premiere:

Santa has degrees in Musicology and Composition from the J.Vītols Latvia Music Academy, studied composition with English composer David Rowland at Enschede Conservatory in the Netherlands, and received her MA in composition at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, studying under Helena Tulve.

Who is 7R? - Hans Thomalla

Who is 7R?

Hans Thomalla, composer
Composer of I come near you, response to TO THE SIDES

Soon after joining the faculty at Northwestern University, the director of the Institute for New Music (also in its inaugural year), Hans Thomalla, approached me with a score and a recording of the new opera he had composed for Staatsoper Stuttgart: Fremd. The final scene of the opera features the chorus - it is an emotionally gruelling, beautiful, tour de force and it captured my imagination immediately: What would a concert work from this dramaturgically-oriented composer be like?  What possibilities lie in his ideas of sound, of microtonal shimmering, of the extremes of dynamics that he employs with such elegance and so organically?  I didn't mention this to him when we discussed Seven Responses, so it was such a gift to receive a work that answers those questions thoroughly and with an extraordinary outcome. Color. Color. Color.

Hans is a modern master of music for the stage. His compositions explore the transitions between music as historically formed expression, often dissecting found "objects" from music tradition, and music as sound as its own acoustic reality. He has worked closely with groups such as Ensemble Recherche, the Arditti Quartet, Ensemble Modern, Musikfabrik, Ensemble Dal Niente, Ensemble Ascolta, Spektral Quartet, Trio Accanto, and soloists such as Nicolas Hodges, Lucas Fels, Marcus Weiss, Sarah-Maria Sun, Yukiko Sugawara among others.

Hans received international attention for the premiere of his first opera, Fremd, by the Stuttgart Opera in 2011. The opera tells the story of the Argonauts encounter with the strange magician Medea on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Through this story, Thomalla explores contradictions of Western thought: the conflict of nature and concept. You can see some excerpts from the premiere production below, and a full studio recording has been released by Col Legno.

In April 2016 Hans premiered his second opera, Kaspar Hauser, at the Freiburg Opera. In addition to his operatic works, Hans has written 10 chamber works, 4 works for soloist, 2 choral works, and 2 orchestral. 

Hans studied at the Frankfurt Musikhochschule and received his doctoral degree in composition at Stanford University. From 1999-2002 he was an Assistant Dramaturge and later Dramaturge and Musical Advisor of the Dramaturgie at the Stuttgart Opera. Hans is Chicago based, currently an Associate Professor of Composition at Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music, where he also founded and directs the Institute for New Music.

Who is 7R? - David T. Little

Who is 7R?

David T. Little, composer
Composer of Dress in magic amulets, dark, from my feet, response to TO THE FEET

We didn't know that David was going to be named composer in residence at Opera Philadelphia when we asked him to compose for 7R.  But, the timing was perfect; we developed the 7R idea in the Fall of 2013, applied for major support from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage in January 2014, his residency at Opera Philly was announced in May and our green-light grant from the Pew was announced in June.  Perfect - and it's nice to have a 'home' composer; David was born and currently lives in New Jersey. It's been a great ride with him, whom we noticed due to his truly individual and creative opera Dog Days; the political nature of that work led us to believe that he may be a great fit for our aesthetic; and, we were right. 

The 37 year-old American composer has been hailed by The New Yorker as ''one of the most imaginative young composers'' on the scene. He has garnered great success with music dealing primarily with political and existential themes. His music has been heard at Carnegie Hall, LA Opera, the Park Avenue Armory, the Bang On A Can Marathon, and elsewhere, performed by such artists as Third Coast Percussion, Kronos Quartet, The LA Philharmonic, David's music is heavily influenced by his history as a punk/metal drummer.

Of his background and eclectic melding of styles, David has said:

I try to embrace the broadest possible musical universe. That’s how I’ve always been as a listener, so to be that way as a composer makes sense to me. My use of style in my compositions today is driven by instinct, and though I am aware of using a style, the process feels very organic. Style is a tool – like harmony and counterpoint. What tools you use depends on what you are trying to build.

David has written three operas: JFK (2016), Vinkensport or The Finch Opera (2010), and Dog Days (2012), which according to The New York Times "proved beyond any doubt that opera has both a relevant present and a bright future." Watch excerpts from the premiere production here:

David has also written three multi-media theater works: Artaud in the Black Lodge (in progress), Soldier Songs (2006/2011), and Music for The Musical Illusionist (2007). Soldier Songs received wide critical acclaim, with Musical America commenting ''One might have expected some sort of stylistic hybrid, but Little’s music falls comfortably within the modern-day ‘classical’ idiom, his allusions to pop adding rhythmic verve and melodic appeal.'' The Atlanta Opera presented a new staging of Soldier Songs to rave reviews in fall 2015, directed by Tomer Zvulun, and designed by GLMMR. 

Educated at University of Michigan and Princeton, Little serves on the Composition Faculty at Mannes-The New School and Shenandoah Conservatory, and is Composer-in-Residence with Opera Philadelphia and Music-Theatre Group. The founding artistic director of the ensemble Newspeak, his music can be heard on New Amsterdam and Innova labels.

You can learn more about David and his music at his website: davidtlittle.com

Who is Seven Responses? - Arnulf de Leuven

Who is Seven Responses?

Arnulf de Leuven (c. 1200-1250), poet/abbot

It may seem strange that the most prominent author of Seven Responses is a Cistercian monk of the 13th century.  But the famed Medieval poem, Salve mundi salutare, also known as Rythmica Oratio, which is now attributed to him, serves as the main source material for Buxtehude's Membra Jesu nostri - and 7R composers Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Hans Thomalla, and Caroline Shaw all relied on this text as source material.

Very little is known of Arnulf de Leuven; he spent ten years as the abbot at the abbey of Villers-la-Ville (Belgium). Eventually, he left the monastery to seek a life of study and asceticism, but died soon after. The records of the monastery were destroyed by French Revolutionaries, leaving us only to know Arnulf was an avid poet and scholar.  We do know that he collected the first annals of the abbey (1146-1240) and also wrote the Excerptum Speculi Caritatis, a verse adaptation of Raymond of Peñafort's Summa Causum. Much of his work is accredited to his 12th-century predecessor, Bernard of Clairvaux, as they are consistent with Bernard's theological philosophies. Although the true source of the Rythmica Oratio is still a mystery, most scholars agree that the most likely writer was Arnulf, not Bernard. 

What a wonderful thing: Medieval words from a mysterious, devoted, and passionate monk, finding their way into our lives in new ways.  

Who is Seven Responses? - Ursula Andkjær Olsen

Who is Seven Responses?

Ursula Andkjær Olsen, poet/musicologist
Work drawn on for Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's response, Ad Cor

Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's search for contemporary poetry to balance the ancient words found in Buxtehude's oratorio led him to the work of Ursula Andkjær Olsen, a Danish poet and musicologist born in Copenhagen in 1970. In his words, her poetry offers ''another way of addressing the heart - desperate, critical, mocking.'' Unlike the love described in Song of Songs and Salve mundi salutare, the love of Urusala's poem is not clearly defined; rather, it is complex, obsessive, hot and cold: ''I just can't feel anything/anyone.''

Much of Ursula's work is centered around the relationship between poetry, prose, and music, of which she writes:

''The world as it is seen through human beings consists of coordinates of various kinds . . . Poetry tries to find alternative structures, alternative coordinates to bind things together, and one of the most important basic principles of those other coordinates must probably – in spite of everything – still be called beauty. These alternative principles may be related to image, sound or rhythm, for example.

The search for rhythm and sound coordinates may seem like something very insignificant – but I believe this quest may actually be able to reveal undersea and oversea connections and thereby possibilities of perception different from those that can be offered by science and narrative art.''

Ursula's work spans an eclectic range of styles and formats. She has published nine collections of poetry, eleven dramatic works, three collected works, three collaborations with visual artist Sophia Kalkaus, and a short story. She also collaborated with Julie Andkjær Olsen on an iPad app and an advent calendar. In 2015, Ursula contributed to the  decoration at a Phsyciatric Hospital in Slagelse.

Check out these photos of her work at the psychiatric ward: http://www.ursulaandkjaerolsen.dk/2015/09/psykiatrisygehuset-i-slagelse/

Ursula has written many music reviews - for the Danish Music Journal, Berlingske, and Politken; she has been editor of the journal Critique since 2013. An avid supporter of new music, she has published a high school textbook: New music after 1945 with Palle Andkjær Olsen as well as an essay on her Seven Responses collaborator Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen: Each with its beak: Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's musical universe.

Although English translations of her work are rare, a collection in French, German, Italian, and Russian is found on her website: http://www.ursulaandkjaerolsen.dk/translations/

She earned her MA in Musicology and Philosophy from the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University, Berlin; she graduated from the Danish Writers Institution, a highly-selective, state-funded higher education school in Copenhagen, in 1999.

Who is Seven Responses? - Guðrún Eva Einervudóttir

Who is Seven Responses?

Guðrún Eva Minervudóttir, writer/novelist
librettist for Anna Thorvaldsdottir's response, Ad Genua

Anna speaks with such joy about her collaboration with Guðrún, how they contemplated the knees together, the humble character of them, what they say. And from that emerged such a gentle poem - a product of two of Iceland's prominent artists.

Born in Iceland in 1976, Guðrún has been writing professionally for nearly twenty years as an author, translator, journalist, and poet. Her works have been published in Iceland, France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, and Finland.

Much of Guðrún's writing deals with the growing divide between modern Icelandic life and the natural world. She spoke eloquently on this topic in an address to mark the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair 2011:

''We have a twofold reputation: On one hand, as a country of literature and culture. On the other, as a primitive society populated by farmers and hunters, who have no understanding of economics and believe banks to be magical factories that make money out of thin air. The term ''noble savage'' springs to mind, and I don’t think it will offend anyone, because we have always been proud of our apartness and played along with the image rather than the opposite.

According to stereotype, Icelanders are children of nature who believe in elves and ghosts, but the fact is that our pact with nature is not always taken seriously. Only now is there a growing realization that nature is not an enemy to be constantly harried, but rather that it is our responsibility to cherish our land and protect it.

We possess, and make use of, the luxury of being able to get out into nature with little effort. This makes up for many of the disadvantages of life in a small country: the homogeneity, the minority complex, and the provincialism that complicates our relationships with one another and the rest of the world.''

Read Guðrún's entire address here: http://minervudottir.com/site/first-time-ever-a-pregnant-woman-gives-the-opening-speech-at-the-frankfurt-book-fair/

Guðrún has published two collections of short stories and prose poetry: Á meðan hann horfir á þig ertu María mey (While He Looks at You, You Are the Virgin Mary) (1998) and Albúm (Album) (2002) as well as six novels. Her novel, Allt með kossi vekur (All Is Awakened With a Kiss) (2011), was awarded the 2012 Icelandic Prize for Literature, the highest honor for writing in Iceland, and was elected Book of the Year by the Icelandic newspaper Morgunbladid. In September 2012, her first work to receive a full English translation, Skaparinn (The Creator/The Maker), was published by Portobello.

Read the first three chapters of Skaparinn, translated by Sarah Bowen, on Guðrún's website (and you will not want to stop there!): http://minervudottir.com/site/translations/

Guðrún received a degree in philosophy from The University of Iceland in 2007.