The new MIT Music and Theater Arts is at:


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Ruehr’s among top 10 2014 Classical Albums

Baltimore City Paper has released their Top 10 Classical Albums of 2014 list, and Ruehr’s O’Keeffe Images is #5!

Their List:
1. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, “Dvorák: Symphony No. 8 – Janácek: Jenufa Suite” (Reference Recordings)
2. Seattle Symphony Orchestra, “John Luther Adams: Become Ocean” (Cantaloupe)
3. St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, “City Noir” (Nonesuch)
4. Anonymous 4, “David Lang: love fail” (Cantaloupe)
5. Boston Modern Orchestra Project, “Elena Ruehr: O’Keeffe Images” (BMOP/sound)
6. Rushes Ensemble, “Michael Gordon: Rushes” (Cantaloupe)
7. New York Philharmonic, “Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4” (Dacapo)
8. Amit Peled and Noreen Polera, “Tsintsadze: 5 Pieces on Folk Themes – Popper: Tarantella, Op. 33” (Centaur Records)
9. SOLI Chamber Ensemble, “Música, por un tiempo” (Albany Records)
10. DeltaCappella, “Michael Ching: A Midsummer Night’s Dream—opera a capella” (Albany Records)

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Ellen Harris, Handel Scholar, in the News













Ellen Harris, photo by Bryce Vickmark

Boston Globe: interview

BBC Radio 3 interview and review on “Music Matters” (starts at 30” and runs to 45”)

NYTimes holiday gift guide: classical music

Sunday Times (London): Best volumes on classical music:
Ellen T Harris adopts a different tack from most recent Handel biographers in viewing the composer from the standpoint of his profession and personal associates, business partners and aristocratic patrons. George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends (Norton £25) is a sequence of thematic chapters, each with its own timeline, charting the composer’s career through others’ eyes and ears, evoking more vividly than most the society in which Handel moved.

The National (an English-language newspaper in Abu Dhabi!): picture of cover

George Frideric Handel: A Life With Friends by Ellen T Harris. He is known to most of us as the composer of Messiah, but the man himself is a bit of a mystery. Using diaries, letters and other archives, this is a tapestry of London life with descriptions of his music and stories of betrayal, cunning and loyalty. (Norton, November 11)

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Keeril Makan in the New Yorker

Dead Calm


At Miller Theatre, the Either/Or ensemble, conducted by Richard Carrick, offers an all-Makan concert. Credit Illustration by Raymond Bonilla

In “Resonance Alloy,” which the Either/Or ensemble presented at Miller Theatre in 2011, the composer Keeril Makan pulled off a small miracle: a half-hour-long piece for solo percussion that completely commands your attention. Its severely restricted collection of unpitched timbres (the player strikes a gong and three cymbals in an incessant stream of rhythm) has its antecedents in compositions by James Tenney and Alvin Lucier, but the work’s brave exploration of expressive territory makes it memorable. It’s lulling, thrilling, and, at times, downright eerie.


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Ruehr’s O’Keeffe Images/BMOP CD review

500x500Album du jour: Elena Ruehr, “O’Keeffe Images” (Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose)

Elena Ruehr‘s music has it all going — life, line, color, pulse, depth, shade, shape.  It’s inviting and welcoming, then once you’re inside, stimulates and entertains (what a concept!) to the last note, at which point, like a child after an amusement park ride, you want to go right back and do it again.  ….MORE

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Ruehr and Southworth/Ziporyn world premieres reviewed

In: reviews Boston Musical Intelligencer
NOVEMBER 24, 2014

Complex Portraiture, Fragmented Yet With Teeth
by Sudeep Agarwala

From Classical Greece to Ukraine to Broadway, Roomful of Teeth mixed another powerful motley of mood, affect, experience, and premieres at Kresge on Friday.

After rebuffing Apollo, Aeschylus’s Cassandra is cursed with the gift of prophecy no mortal will believe. When she first appears in theAgamemnon, time is suspended: Cassandra, goaded by the chorus, details the fall of Troy, her home, then her journey to Greece as Agamemnon’s booty, and, ultimately, the proleptic mourning of gory end (known to no one but her) at the hands of Clytemnestra—events we know to be fated are but the bewildering ramblings of a harried PoW.

True to curse, she is ignored, only to see her visions come true.

That is the prototype for what takes place more than two millennia later in I Puritani and Lucia di Lammermoor—the first mad scene existing in opera.

Madness was well-reimagined in Elena Ruehr’s Cassandra in the Temples, premiered by the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth in Kresge Hall on Friday evening. The opera is a fruitful collaboration with Gretchen Henderson, whose 13-part libretto takes place in the head of Cassandra as she remembers her curse and prophesies her demise. The text is as much poetry as artwork: the libretto at times taking the form of prose, at others defiantly stylized. One poem is a serpentine extension of the word no; another elegantly drapes itself around two intersecting columnar lines. Still further is the poetry shrouded in an oracular aura of ambiguity, shattering dialogue and interchanging speakers. Voices rarely arise individually to provide meaning, and Ruehr’s text settings were equally fragmented, altogether not unlike the worm-eaten papyri that are our sources. Ruehr’s setting for a cappella ensemble meets the substantial challenges of the libretto with a highly stylized minimalist language that imbues each scene with distinct character, as if in imitation of the theater masks employed in ancient Greek theater. Although there are moments where individuals are heard above dense vocal texture, creation of character and narration alike is largely motivated by combinations of voices and vocal effects.

The character ambiguity and lack of narrative clarity make it difficult to envision Cassandra as an opera in the traditional sense (notably, Friday’s performance was unstaged). Regardless, the dramatic structure of the work, from the approach to Cassandra’s temple to a procession away from the tomb that lies beneath, illustrated by splintered text and fractured sound of tragic madness, makes for a strikingly effective experience.

How fitting that Cassandra in the Temples be paired with the world premiere of Christine Southworth and Evan Ziporyn’s Borderland. Thematically the pieces are polar opposites: Cassandra is deeply internalized, delving into individual psychic trauma; Borderland, dedicated to the people of Ukraine, takes for its subject political oppression and the demand for social justice. The work starts with settings of tweets and Facebook posts from the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down in July. The music convulses in a code of syllables that fizzle and propagate like digital media itself. Subsequent movements move from online media to more traditional poetry, to imitations of birdsongs and nature—a progression from the immediate outcry against current oppression and conflict to a wider and deeper paean for the fundamental state of human life in disputed land. While each movement uses one or more of the languages that populate Ukraine, each tongue is deliberately unrecognizable, words broken down into syllables, until the only unifying theme is the shared basal human sound. This fragmentation of language, and through it the effacement of emotion, seems a dire attempt to distance Borderland’s audience from truth hidden in the piece. Yet the extremes to which the work goes to enact the secret reveal all the more the deep trauma that betrays the authors, the composers, and their music—a strikingly effective approach to memorializing contemporary events, and indeed to memorializing the heritage and history of its suffering peoples.

Friday evening’s concert premiering these works featured the eight members of Roomful of Teeth under the leadership of music director and founder Brad Wells. Now in its fifth year, the ensemble has had remarkable success, particularly with its first album in 2012, which received a Grammy for Best Chamber Music / Small Ensemble Performance. Ensemble member Caroline Shaw won the Pulitzer for Partita for 8 Voices, written for and premiered by the ensemble.

The ensemble sound was well-blended and sturdy—a feat in itself given both works’ demanding scores. In addition, I was struck by the panoply of vocal effects at the ensemble’s disposal. The opening ofCassandra introduced a haunting diphonic drone above solid open fifths. This drone appeared again in Borderland and other pieces—a signature technique. But less dramatic vocal effects peppered the performance. Borderland incorporates birdsong, distant whistles and warbles from the sopranos, while Cassandra demanded glissandi in the sopranos (admittedly garnering not insignificant laughter from the audience) to mark the savagery of the remonstrance Cassandra pays Apollo’s advances in the fourth scene of Ruehr’s opera. Individual members contributed significantly to more-solo movements. Eric Dudley and Dashon Burton gave notable performances in Cassandra: Dudley’s resonant tenor reveling in the hushed susurrations of the serpents of Apollo’s temple in the third movement, Burton’s substantial baritone finding its home among the mahogany color of the lower voices in the eighth movement. None of this is to ignore the work of Estelí Gomez throughout the work, whose crystalline soprano resonates satisfyingly in the muffled acoustics of Kresge. Although lesser in scope, Borderland also included significant small(er) ensemble work, particularly in the third movement, duets intertwining between tenor and baritone soloists, only to dissipate into imitation by soprano and alto duet, supported by a haunting mantra.

The evening concluded with three works, Allemande from Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices, Judd Greenstein’s Run Away and Brad Wells’s Otherwise—works representing more standard fare for the ensemble. After the impact of the two world premieres from MIT composers, dramatic and emotional, I found the transition difficult, although I can’t deny the significant artistry involved in the closing performances. The pieces were rendered in a more colloquial register, a more versatile palette of colors. Allemande switches sharply from spoken lines to broad rock harmonies that pulse and jitter throughout the six-minute duration, interrupted briefly by an echoing soprano vocalise. Run Away, alto Virginia Warnken the soloist, might have been stolen directly from Broadway if its complex harmonies didn’t betray a more sophisticated undertaking.Otherwise, composed in 2012 for the ensemble by Wells, featured Cameron Beauchamp’s profound operatic bass resounding in deeply satisfying ripples throughout Kresge. An experience of powerful contrasts and explorations, Friday evening’s program was greeted with a most appreciative ovation.

Among his professional singing experiences, Sudeep Agarwala has performed with many local choruses.



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Elena Ruehr’s Premieres previewed by the Globe

ElenaRuehr73928x10 Cantata Singers, Roomful of Teeth Premiere new Ruehr works

by David Weininger of the Boston Globe

Roomful of Teeth will premiere Ruehr’s Opera on Nov. 21 at MIT.

…“Cassandra in the Temples” came about in a more roundabout way last year. Henderson, a Mellon postdoctoral researcher at MIT, introduced herself to Ruehr at an MIT composers forum and proposed a collaboration. Ruehr was fascinated by Henderson’s writing, which includes a novel, poetry, and essays. During a series of meetings, they brainstormed an idea for an opera about the mythical figure of Cassandra. They were also intrigued by the idea of a “bodily” opera — one that would be performed a cappella, and danced as well as sung.


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Elena Ruehr’s November includes Three Premieres

THE ARTERYElena-Ruehr-7270-8x10-300x366
by Keith Powers
…Two of them take place in Boston: a performance of “Eve” by the Cantata Singers at Jordan Hall Nov. 8, and her a cappella opera “Cassandra in the Temples” Nov. 21, sung by the adventurous vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium. A third premiere, a chamber setting entitled “It’s About Time,” debuts Nov. 16 and will be performed by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players as part of their ambitious year-long Project TenFourteen….



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Sarah Cahill Interview on WMBR

cahillPianist Sarah Cahill will be interviewed live on 88.1 FM WMBR’s New Edge Program on November 11 at 3pm.

Cahill will perform a recital in Killian Hall.

Nov 16 | Sun | Visiting Artist: Pianist Sarah Cahill, new music champion in a solo concert featuring works from her recent CD A Sweeter Music, including Terry Riley’s Be Kind to One Another, on NPR Music’s top 100 songs for 2013, Evan Ziporyn’s Fragrant Forest from Pondok, and works by Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Meredith Monk, and Phil Kline.  4pm, Killian Hall.  Free.

Bay area pianist, writer and producer Sarah Cahill has commissioned, premiered, and recorded numerous compositions for solo piano. Composers who have dedicated works to her include John Adams, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Pauline Oliveros, Annea Lockwood, and Evan Ziporyn.  She has also premiered pieces by Lou Harrison, Julia Wolfe, Ingram Marshall, Toshi Ichiyanagi, George Lewis, Leo Ornstein, and others. Cahill has researched and recorded music by the important early 20th-century American modernists Henry Cowell and Ruth Crawford, and has commissioned a number of new pieces in tribute to their enduring influence. She enjoys working closely with composers, musicologists and scholars to prepare scores for performance. Recent appearances include a concert at San Quentin of the music Henry Cowell wrote while incarcerated there, Lou Harrison’s Piano Concerto with Steven Schick and the La Jolla Symphony, and Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet at the Yehudi Menuhin Chamber Music Seminar and Festival.

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MIT Chamber Music Students Develop Roadmap


This semester, Kyle Swanson, flute; Kelsey Chan, clarinet, and Christine Zheng, piano, coached by Jean Rife in the Chamber Music Society are studying Dash, a piece by Jennifer Higdon.  They analyzed the piece and created the roadmap shown on these images and  will perform it in December in a concert series in Killian Hall along with other ensembles in the Chamber Music Society.

Many of Jennifer Higdon’s pieces are considered neo-romantic and tend to use octatonic scales. They display a freedom of form, intense dynamic changes and dense textures. Although Higdon’s pieces are mostly tonal, some atonality is still present.  Her musical style is said to emphasize interesting color combinations.

Dash. Roadmap

Jennifer Higdon is an American composer who has received many awards including a Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Violin Concerto which premiered in 2009, a Guggenheim, a 2010 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for her Percussion Concerto, two awards from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Pew Fellowship in the Arts, Meet-the-Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, and ASCAP.

A flutist, Higdon earned an Artist’s Diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with David Loeb. She then obtained a master’s and a doctoral degree in composition from the University of Pennsylvania under the tutelage of George Crumb.

Higdon teaches composition at the Curtis Institute where she holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Compositional Studies. She has served as Composer-in-Residence with the Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Philadelphia and Fort Worth Symphony orchestras and has  also received commissions from others, including the Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta, National,  Minnesota,  Indianapolis, and Dallas Symphony Orchestras.

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