Tuesdays @ Monk Space presents

A Sweet Anxiety: Ashley Walters, Cello

November 15, 2016

8:00 pm

Cellist Ashley Walters has been described as performing “…with the kind of brilliance that beckons a major new performer on the new music scene” (Mark Swed, LA Times).

T@MS interviews Ashley Walters
The program contains a challenging list of works that explore the sonic possibilities of the cello. From your perspective, does the combination of these particular pieces affect their meanings as a whole? The works on this program represent what I believe to be milestones of the recent cello repertoire. While there are parallels in this collection of pieces — four use microtonality, all use extended techniques, and all bear the imprint for the performer for whom it was written — the pieces, nevertheless, arrive at dramatically different expressive destinations as a result of their explorations in technique and timbre.

You’ve been praised for your performances of Liza Lim’s Invisibility, a dazzling, unpredictable work that is part of Lim’s ongoing investigation of Australian Aboriginal’s ‘aesthetics of presence.’ The piece has an overall shimmering quality, and uses two kinds of bows to offer different possibilities of friction that explore harmonic complexities within the instrument. What aesthetic qualities have you found most enrapturing about this piece, and how does the work speak to you? Liza Lim has reimagined the personality and voice of the cello in an absolutely unique way. Although the modified “guiro” bow provides visual and timbral drama, it is the retuned strings that truly define the essence of this piece to me. Three of the four strings are tuned lower, darkening and obscuring the cello’s familiar, swan-like voice. The open and ringing perfect fifths of standard tuning are replaced with tense and unruly dissonances.

Also on the program is Berio’s Sequenza XIV, a work inspired by the Kandyan drum rhythms of Sri Lanka. As such, the piece utilizes the cello as a percussion instrument in addition to its traditional role as a string instrument. Given the diverse range of techniques required in this piece, what did you find most challenging or interesting? As a kid, I grew up playing both cello and percussion and I think part of why I love this piece so much is because it allows me to play both! In many ways, Berio set the precedent for composer/performer collaboration making the unique characteristics and capabilities of each dedicatee a central theme in many of his Sequenzas. In the case of this final Sequenza, Berio incorporates these Kandayan drumming cycles, which were shown to him by the great Sri Lankan cellist, Rohan de Saram.

You’ve worked closely with multiple composers, including Nicholas Deyoe whose piece Another Anxiety will be opening the concert at Monk Space. What do you enjoy most about collaborating with composers? What was the process like for Another Anxiety? Nicholas Deyoe has been a friend and collaborator for the past nine years, during which time I have premiered twelve of his works. Our first collaboration, developed in secret, was a piece performed as a surprise dedication to the great soprano, Stephanie Aston on her and Nicholas’ wedding day. The process of our collaboration continues to evolve, but risk-taking and honesty have been our anchors throughout. The inspiration for the opening of another anxiety, with its tiny microtonal intervals, came from Nicholas’ observation that I could easily divide a whole step into four notes in the lowest positions of the cello. To me, such collaboration, is the epitome of being a new music performer. I am so proud to be presenting the results of my collaboration with Nicholas Deyoe and Wadada Leo Smith as part of my program at Tuesdays@Monk Space.

Program Notes
Dear friends,

Thank you for joining me! Tonight, I present works for solo cello that I believe to be significant milestones in the cello repertoire of the last fifteen years. Each piece explores and exploits the cello’s timbrel possibilities, altering our perception of this ordinarily gentle and melancholy instrument.

Two of the pieces on the program were written for me in 2013: another anxiety by Nicholas Deyoe and Sweet Bay Magnolia with Berry Clusters by Wadada Leo Smith. Nicholas Deyoe has been a close collaborator and friend for the past nine years. Since meeting him in 2007, I have premiered twelve of his works, including two solos and a cello concerto, which was premiered this past May. Deyoe’s another anxiety juxtaposes metal-inspired licks with expressive melodies that disintegrate into noise and re-emerge on a stream of microtonality. Wadada Leo Smith has been a mentor and inspiration since I first began playing with him in 2012. Sweet Bay Magnolia with Berry Clusters, a rare solo work in Smith’s output, utilizes his innovative notation system, providing me the freedom to cultivate a personal interpretation that explores time and space, texture and timbre.

A close and personal composer/performer collaboration is also at the heart of Luciano Berio’s Sequenza XIV. Written for the great Sri Lankan cellist, Rohan de Saram, Berio’s fourteenth Sequenza proved to be his last. As a personal dedication to Saram, this work incorporates Sri Lankan drumming cycles, which are heard in two sections of the piece, including the opening, and are executed in both hands. Berio passed away just a few months before he and Saram were to meet to review and revise the score. The score we are left with contains ambiguities, inconsistencies, and errors and offers no explanatory notes to clarify the non-traditional notational elements. As part of my doctoral studies at UCSD, I realized my own version of the score though research of Sri Lankan music, the Sequenzas as a body of work, and through conversations with Saram himself.

The score to Jason Eckardt’s A way [tracing] is ten pages of rhythmic and microtonal complexity, yet takes a mere six and a half minutes to perform. In contrast, Smith’s Magnolia lasts seventeen minutes and fills only four pages. A complexist showpiece, A way [tracing] demands power, dexterity, and expressivity in both hands to realize rapid and detailed changes in pitch, timbre, articulation, and dynamic.

Like the Sequenza, Liza Lim’s Invisibility is written in scordatura, in which the strings of the cello are tuned to different pitches than the standard A – D – G – C. While Berio’s tuning simply raises the G to G-sharp, Invisibility leaves only the D string untouched: D-sharp – D – F – B. These changes cause a surprisingly dramatic transformation of the cello’s personality. The Berio tuning creates tension and dissonance whereas the Lim tuning is somber, dark, and mysterious.

-Ashley Walters