A String Mysterious: Interview with composer Mark Rimple

Introducing Mark Rimple, whose Mystic Fragments is featured on A STRING MYSTERIOUS. Mark composed this intricate and transporting work for Richard Stone and I in 2014, while on sabbatical – in his words, ‘the idea of the work itself came from reading a lot of mysticism and comparative mythology.  I originally had titles for each movement culled from various poets and philosophers but dumped them after each movement was begun’. Mark revealed that many ideas for the piece came to him while in a state of sleep, and the various experiences of consciousness, dream-state and semi-sleep became important sources of inspiration for Richard and I in developing our interpretation of the piece. 

Sleep has held fascination with artists throughout the ages – why, and what examples do you find particularly intriguing?

That I rarely get enough of it.  Or that my dream life is fraught with conundrums and great detail.  But there is a truly bizarre and meaningless world of symbols that we spend our waking lives trying to apprehend and concretize- which I find a remarkable parallel with in some musics that I love.

Your background as a musician is unusually rich and diverse. How do these experiences influence your approach to composition?

My performing background helps immensely as it always guides what I write.  My performance life has included long stints in both new/20th century music and early music of all shades.  These share flexibility in time and a long-breathed sense of line, especially medieval and Renaissance polyphony.  Of course being a lutenist makes it easy to write effectively for Richard.  As a theorist, I have a wide grasp of all sorts of musical structures and parametric interactions.  Lately I’ve been fascinated by the work of Meyer and Narmour, and in the perception of music and the way we predict and find satisfaction and surprise in music.  But I’ve also been absorbed in several avant garde movements in the past including the boundlessly free aesthetics of the Bliue Rider Almanac of Kandinsky that involved Schoenberg in his most evocative period.  

What advice or guidance do you give to young composers in seeking to develop their own musical voice?

Don’t pin yourself down too early and never stop growing and challenging your assumptions.  And remember that the only rules in your music are the ones you set.  And that you can break them just as easily.  Finally, learn about perception and cognition, and realize that no matter what you hear, every listener will come to the table differently.  Meaning is what we make of it and we cannot control others, so be aware of this and turn yourself in by what you write.  You are often your own best audience, and this begins the equation towards a successful work.  

Mark Rimple is a composer whose works often incorporate early instruments and techniques.  His music has been performed by Parnassus, ChoralArts Philadelphia, Piffaro, The League of Composers/ISCM (at Weill Hall), Mélomanie, Network for New Music, and The 21st Century Consort (at The Simthsonian); his debut solo composition CD, January:  Songs and Chamber Music of Mark Rimple (Furious Artisans) includes works for archlute, countertenor, viola da gamba and harpsichord.  His Partita 622 appears on Mélomanie’s CD Florescence, and his Four Canons for clarinet and English horn was recorded by Duo del Sol (Centaur).  His current projects include a series of songs for cello and baritone for Jean Bernard Cerin and Eve Miller for their new online new music portal Resonance, and a recording of his duo Portrait of a Dying Empire by saxophonist Marshall Taylor and harpsichordist Joyce Lindorff.  As a performer, Mark has garnered critical notice for his interpretation of early music from national newspapers and journals including the Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, Early Music America, Fanfare, and Early Music (UK).  He is adept on stringed instruments and performs regularly on the gittern, citole, lute, archlute psaltery, tenor viol, bandora and cittern.  With Drew Minter and Marcia Young, he is a founding member of Trefoil and a regular guest artist with the Newberry Consort and The Folger Consort.  In 2017 he will appear with Severall Friends with Mary Springfels, Ryland Angel, and Drew Minter in concerts in Santa Fe, Albequerque, and Vassar College. He has also appeared with Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, The King’s Noyse, Ex Umbris (at the Clinton White House), New York’s Ensemble for Early Music (at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway sereneding Judi Dench, and in Limoges, France), Mélomanie, Pomerium, Network for New Music, Cygnus Ensemble and the GEMS production of The Play of Daniel at the Cloisters and Trinity Church, NYC.  He is currently working on a CD of Italian music for gittern, lute and archlute, and has just completed a new CD of Renaissance vocal chamber music with his ensemble Musica Humana Vocal Consort.   Dr. Rimple holds the rank of Professor in the Department of Music Theory, Composition and History at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Why ‘a string mysterious’?

You might be wondering how the name for this record came about. Honestly, it took a while for me to settle on it – I had a couple of good ideas, but upon googling them, discovered that someone else had unfortunately had the same good idea before me! I was searching for something that encapsulated the essence of the program, and the title ‘a string mysterious’ finally came to me one morning at the same moment I envisioned the image that became the album art – it was one of those flashes of inspiration that we’re lucky enough to sometimes experience.

There are two meanings behind the name. Firstly, you can see the pieces on the program as beads on string, similar to a mala or a rosary – the idea that the can be used for contemplation, either individually or as a set, spoke to me. Like beads of this kind, their meaning and purpose change depending on experience of the person through whose fingers they pass. Secondly, the baroque violin itself is a somewhat mysterious element in this program – Biber’s use of the technique of scordatura, where the strings are mis-tuned, changes the voice of the instrument and makes it something of a mysterious beast to play, while the contemporary pieces give the instrument new vocabulary and expression.

Because of the way the inspiration for the title came about, I’m curious to discover whether other meanings will reveal themselves to me. I loved to hear from one person, who told me that it struck them as a pun – as in, the ‘A’ string is mysterious, but what about the D?! What does ‘a string mysterious’ say to you?

GRAMMY nomination!

I’m beyond excited to have been nominated with The Crossing for a GRAMMY award, for our recording of Thomas Lloyd’s Bonhoeffer! Congratulations to all our our stable mates in the nominations, what an incredible honor!

Here’s a track from this powerful work – IX. Meditation – Night Voices (Tegel)

Avaloch Farm Music Institute

I couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring start to the new season! With the Franklin Quartet, I spent some time in New Hampshire at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute, where we had the luxury of rehearsing and performing solidly f0r nine days, surrounded by stunning countryside, and nourished by exquisite home cooking.

In our cabin, surrounded by lush canopy and sprawling fields, we delved into quartets from the mid-to-late eighteenth century, delighting in works by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven that represent the pinnacle of the string quartet canon, and discovering beautiful but little-known quartets by Boccherini, Cherubini, and Kraus. One of the many wonderful aspects of life at Avaloch Farm is the fact that musicians share their time there with other ensembles, eating and relaxing together, and sharing their art in concerts at the end of the day. Listening to Ned Rorem’s breathtaking song cycle ‘Ariel’, and to works completed only hours before, refreshed our ears and affirmed our work by reminding us that no matter what our repertoire or area of specialization as musicians, we are dealing with powerful stuff.

As part of Avaloch’s community outreach program, we performed at the Havenwood/Heritage Heights Retirement Community in Concord, NH, and the following day performed our new program ‘The Vienna Connection’ in recital at the First Church in Jaffrey, NH. Life in a string quartet demands give and take, negotiation, patience, generosity, and above all, trust, and all of that requires time and space to develop. We are so grateful to Deb and the entire team at Avaloch for dreaming up such a miracle, and for making their dream a reality so that we could make ours come true also.

Join us at 7.30pm on October 7th 2016 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, when we will perform our program ‘The Vienna Connection’ on the Five Fridays concert series.

The Franklins outside our cabin at Avaloch Farm Music Institute

The Franklins outside our cabin at Avaloch Farm Music Institute

Sea Tangle

I’m happy to tell you that Mezzo-soprano Maren Montalbano has invited me to be part of her recording project, Sea Tangle: Songs from the North. In Maren’s words:

Mezzo-soprano Maren Montalbano’s SEA TANGLE is an exploration of myth and folk tales from the northern lands of Alaska, Scotland, and Iceland through song. Joined by Rebecca Harris on violin and Christa Patton on harp, Maren will perform vocal works, both old and new, which have never before been recorded for the public. From Scotland comes SEA TANGLE, a cycle of Hebridean folk songs collected and arranged for voice and harp by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser; though it was published in 1913, there exists no recording of this music as of yet. We next visit Alaska with Kamala Sankaram’s KIVALINA (2014), a meditation for mezzo-soprano and violin on the eponymous barrier island which is currently being subsumed by the ocean as a result of climate change. Melissa Dunphy will be adding her own compositional voice with a work for mezzo-soprano, violin, and harp, using text from the Icelandic Edda, ancient epic poems that were the inspiration for J.R.R Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS.

As a North Sea girl, this idea truly speaks to me, and I’m excited about getting down to work with Maren, harpist Christa Patton and composer Melissa Dunphy. Read more about it here and stay tuned for more details! To make a tax deductible contribution to support Maren’s project, click here.

The Franklin Quartet

Introducing The Franklin Quartet! I am honored to be a founding member (not a founding father..!) of this ensemble with Daniel Elyar (violin/viola), Marika Holmqvist (violin/viola) and Rebecca Humphrey (cello), performing 18th and 19th century string quartet repertoire on period instruments. We chose Benjamin Franklin as our namesake, embracing our Philadelphian roots, and celebrating the spirit of invention.

Our next concert happens on February 26th at S. Clement’s Church in Philadelphia, when we will perform Haydn’s ‘Seven Last Words of Christ’.

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Thank you to Tatiana Daubek for this lovely photo!

‘Bonhoeffer’ with The Crossing

The invitation to record and perform Thomas Lloyd’s powerful oratorio ‘Bonhoeffer’ with The Crossing and Donald Nally this month was one I couldn’t have been happier to accept. The opportunity to work with a group I deeply admire, coupled with a chance to engage with a subject of such profundity, has made for an incredible start to the new season.

After two days of intense sessions, the recording is made, and now we look forward to performances next week, at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, and – crucially – at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where Bonhoeffer himself studied and taught. Bonhoeffer’s manner in the face of the violence of the late 1930s – and its treatment in this stunning work of art – gives us pause to reflect on our own response to the cruelties of our time.

Recording 'Bonhoeffer' with The Crossing, September 2015

Recording ‘Bonhoeffer’ with The Crossing, September 2015

 

Bach@7

I count myself as incredibly fortunate to spend so much time playing music by J.S.Bach. This past New Year’s Eve, I led the orchestra in Choral Arts Philadelphia‘s performance of the Christmas Oratorio – nearly 500 people packed the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral to listen to Bach’s telling of the Christmas narrative. Similarly, large crowds gather at our monthly Bach cantata concerts, held at the beautiful St. Clement’s Episcopal Church.

I say this not to brag, but to communicate the fact that Bach’s choral music offers something to the hungry, the seeking, the hurt, the joyous. With this in mind, Bach@7 performances are offered to the people of Philadelphia on a pay-what-you-wish basis – all are welcome, regardless of their ability to pay.

Join us for upcoming performances:

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11TH
Choral Arts Philadelphia and Philadelphia Bach Collegium

Combining Bach’s two audition Cantatas for the position
in Leipzig, where he was to spend the rest of his life, with
two works of Johannes Brahms, who was highly influenced
by Bach’s music.

Chorale Prelude on “O Lamm Gottes”
Fest und Gedenksprüche Opus 109 – Johannes Brahms
Cantata 22: Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwoelfe
Cantata 23: Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn

Lass Dich nur nichts nicht Dauren – Brahms

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8th 7pm 
Celebrity Series” with Mezzo Soprano Jacqueline Horner (Anonymous4)
Geoffrey Burgess – Oboe
Rebecca Harris –  Violin

Two sumptuous Alto Cantatas with a member of
America’s most popular early music groups,
Jacqueline Horner of Anonymous4. 

Schlage doch, Gewuenschte Stunde BWV 53
Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C Minor BWV 1060
Cantata 170: Vergnuegte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust

WEDNESDAY, MAY 13th 7pm
Choral Arts Philadelphia and Philadelphia Bach Collegium 

Our Spring series ends with thoughts about Easter, ranging from
one of Bach’s earliest Cantatas based on Luther’s great Easter Hymn,
Heinrich Biber’s fantastical representation of the Resurrection
from the Rosary Sonatas combined with
choral superstar Eric Whitacre’s “Alleluia”

Alleluia – Eric Whitacre
Resurrection Sonata – Heinrich Biber
Cantata 4: Christ lag in Todesbanden

Looking Ahead….

As the autumn leaves begin to collect around our feet, it’s inevitable that we begin to look ahead to a new season… why, summer, of course!

I’m already looking forward to being a part of the faculty for the 2015 Curtis Summerfest Young Artist Summer Program. Teachers, please consider this great program for your intermediate and advanced level students – applications are due March 18th, but it’s never to early to look forward to summer!

Hope to see you there!

Visit the Curtis YASP website for more information:

http://summerfest.curtis.edu/programs/yasp/

 

Curtis Summerfest Young Artist Summer Program 2014

Today marked the end of three fantastic weeks on the faculty of the Curtis Summer Young Artists Summer Program – what a day! Four concerts in less than 24 hours, one giant cake, and many tearful goodbye selfies later, 81 students are returning home enriched, inspired and uplifted.

The precious moments are too many to name. Every concert – faculty recitals, playing new works by student composers, orchestra performances, Stravinsky, Beethoven – was a celebration. Hard work, long days, and deep breaths paid off. I saw the luminous face of a child as he heard his music played for the first time. I played for a young conductor’s debut. I shared a music stand with a teenager whose intellect and enthusiasm re-invigorated my love for Elgar’s orchestration.

Youth is a special time for an artist. The spark is already there. Passion and spirit abound. All are truly themselves. None are jaded. It’s such a privilege to spend time with a young musician, to share with them and challenge them. It’s nothing but joy to pass it all on.

Go forth, young artists. May your journeys be inspired by love, and may we all remain young artists at heart.