On October 31 and November 1, Issue Project Room will present the second FOR/WITH Festival. The festival is geared toward new compositions, with a special emphasis on the trumpet. Trumpeter Nate Wooley initiated and curates the fest, which this year will present works by Ashley Fure, Catherine Lamb, Felipe Lara, Annea Lockwood, and Wadada Leo Smith. Wooley recently took some time off from organizing and practicing to talk to National Sawdust Log about trumpet music and his objectives with the festival.
NATIONAL SAWDUST LOG: What’s the difference between “for” and “with”? More specifically, what is the difference to you between playing someone else’s composition and playing it with them?
NATE WOOLEY: The “for” and “with” in the festival title have more to do with the composition process than with the actual performances, most of which are undertaken by the performer only; the idea being that each piece featured in the festival has been created “for” the performer through some sort of collaboration “with” the composer, resulting in music that is, in some ratio, parts of each of them.
This will be the second “For/With” festival. What’s different this year?
Each year’s festival takes on the personality of the composers commissioned to write for it. Last year, the commissioned composers were Christian Wolff and Michael Pisaro, so there was an emphasis on the aesthetics they both exemplify, giving the programming a rather abstract and, to me at least, wonderfully introspective turn. With the exception of Annea Lockwood’s immersive ensemble piece, Bayou-Borne for Pauline Oliveros, the work was relatively inward looking throughout.
But the greatest difference this year is the inclusion of a broader field of performers. While last year’s festival was centered on a single performer and the trumpet repertoire, this year will have performances by Rebekah Heller, Dominic Donato/Frank Cassara, and Wet Ink Ensemble. So the cast has broadened out a great deal, to the betterment of the whole project.
How did the idea to present musicians playing “for” and “with” composers on alternate nights first come to you?
Initially I was just looking for a place to perform the trumpet pieces I had commissioned, and approached Issue Project Room to ask for a night solely dedicated to that. Zev Greenfield suggested more of a celebration of the composers with the commissions as the generating source of the rest of the program. Initially, we just intended to have performances of the music of commissioned composers past, present, and future, but Jon Abbey of Erstwhile Records reminded me of the great Christian Wolff/Michael Pisaro duo improvisation record [Looking Around], so we took the opportunity to present that duo again, and both composers also stuck around to play Annea’s Bayou-Borne and some of Christian’s Exercises. At that point, the collaborative spirit of the programming was obvious and became one of the missions of the festival moving forward.
This year I intended, again, to let the composers sit back and enjoy, but Wadada brought up the idea of doing a solo and duo version of his piece Red Autumn Gold—and you’re not going to say no to that! So, there is an element of the composer/performer still involved this year
Clearly there are variables dictating who’s a “for” and who’s a “with”—if they’re performers, for example, or if they’re going to be in town (although it looks like at least most of them will be present). Were there any curatorial decisions involved in who was included on which night? How did you decide who to include on both nights, and why did you want to include some on both?
I wanted the music of both Annea and Wadada to be presented each night, as it’s a celebration of their work. Since Wadada couldn’t perform on the 31st, it set the pacing for what would be on what night. Annea isn’t performing regularly, and she and I are happy to just present our collaboration on the solo piece, Becoming Air. I also like to feature music from future collaborators, so there are works by Ashley Fure and Catherine Lamb on the program. But since they are both living in Berlin at the moment, they won’t be able to be present, sadly.
Since the trumpet is so central to the festival, I want to ask you about Wadada Leo Smith. Speaking as a fellow trumpeter, what do you think is his contribution to the trumpet world?
Wadada opened my mind to a lot of things on the trumpet. I am not sure I initially understood his playing, beyond the sheer power of his sound. But after some time with it, I was opened up to the wealth of sound and timbre he gets on every single pitch. Hearing his music, and learning about how he thinks, allowed me a path to my own voice. It’s nice to see him getting more credit now, not just for his composing, but for his singular way of playing the horn.
You’ll be playing his Red Autumn Gold, a piece that uses both traditional and graphic notation. This seems like a perfect example to talk about “for”-ness. How closely did you work with him to realize the score?
I didn’t see the score until it was done. That may lead one to believe there was no “with” or “for” at all, but Wadada and I have known each other for a while, meeting here and there and sharing bills, and, when I got the piece and played through the parts, it was like he had pulled things straight from my vocabulary. It was so easy to hear exactly how to phrase a line, even if it had minimal markings for the rhythm. It just fell naturally into my sensibility. So, I feel like we were working together, and I didn’t know it!
You’ll also be playing a version of the piece “with” Smith. How much do the solo and duo-with-composer inform each other?
With the solo version, I’ve been working on finding a balance between my voice and Wadada’s. Because of the openness of his Ankhrasmation scores, there could be a tendency to get lazy and just “blow” during that section, so I’m trying to be rigorous in following his directions—treating those graphically notated sections in a way that sounds a bit like me, while treating Wadada’s written music with respect.
With the duo version, there are a lot of other practical considerations. But the main challenge for me is to not get lost in Wadada’s sound. He’s such a personal and powerful player that I will have to work to maintain my own personality, and not just do my very half-assed Wadada Leo Smith impression.
An underlying theme to the festival is your interest in commissioning works for solo trumpet that – and I’m quoting the press release – “feature the trumpet player as a whole, rather than the capabilities of the trumpet as a machine.” What does that mean? Is there historical precedent for whole-trumpeter music?
The impetus for the commissioning series was to:
create an interest in the possibilities of the instrument in some composers that I found fascinating but maybe would have never gotten around to writing for brass, and
to establish a small repertoire for trumpet players that were looking to work outside of the standard repertoire.
From the latter came this idea of featuring “the trumpet player as a whole,” which means to make music aimed at treating the trumpet player as more than the embouchure, lungs, and fingers. That challenge of writing for the human playing the trumpet rather than the trumpet player has meant different things to different composers. Christian Wolff placed little moments of singing, whistling, and open improvisation into his piece, Ashley Fure wrote things that she knows only I do into hers. Annea has made a piece that transforms the performer’s body into a kind of ritual experience, and Michael Pisaro’s piece works best when it’s based on the listening prowess of the player, not just their ability to reproduce perfect sound.
In the standard classical trumpet repertoire, there are few pieces that ask the player to push their entire self by being performative or making sound off the horn or simply asking them to make a musical statement that is overtly intimate and personal and can’t hide behind the intent of the composer. In the contemporary trumpet repertoire, I think Kenneth Gaburo’s Mouthpiece is the exception—and the model of the “trumpet player as a whole” kind of thinking. It takes a special compositional mind to tackle a challenge like that, but everyone I’ve commissioned so far has solved the whole trumpet player problem with grace and elegance. The next step is to hear some people beside me play these pieces to see what they bring to them!
The series runs two consecutive nights, Halloween and All Saint’s Day. Anything special planned for the holidays?
Are you asking if you can wear a costume, Kurt? Yes, but only you.
Nate Wooley presents the second “For/With” Festival at Issue Project Room on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at 8pm; issueprojectroom.org
Kurt Gottschalk has written about music for All About Jazz, Signal to Noise, The Wire, Guitar Player, Goldmine, NYC Jazz Record, Brooklyn Rail, Coda, Musicworks, New Music Box, Time Out New York, and publications in France, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, and Russia. He is the producer and host of the Miniature Minotaursradio program on WFMU, and is the author of two books of fiction.
Classical music coverage on National Sawdust Log is supported in part by a grant from the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. The Log makes all editorial decisions.
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