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Calder Quartet Performs At Carlsbad Music Festival

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Aired 9/23/10

This year's Carlsbad Music Festival continues to draw young and talented composers and musicians to their alternative classical music festival. Joining us for a performance is the festival's founding ensemble-in-residence, the Calder Quartet. We'll also hear from the winner of this year's composers competition, Kate Moore.

The Carlsbad Music Festival begins tomorrow and runs through Sunday. Most of the performances take place at the Schulman Auditorium at the Dove Library in Carlsbad.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Anyone who still thinks that chamber music is boring or stodgy has not heard the Calder Quartet. Their repertoire spans from the classical standards of Mozart, to the fierce music of contemporary composer Christopher Rouse, with detours into new combinations of music like experimental rock. Critics have called this group of string musicians adventurous, stylish, and superb. They are in San Diego for the Carlsbad Music Festival, and they are here at the KPBS studios, to perform for us. Here is the Calder Quartet with a selection from Igor Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces for String Quartet.”

(audio of the Calder Quartet performing from Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces for String Quartet)

CAVANAUGH: And that is the composition named “Dance” from Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces,” performed by my guests the Calder Quartet, who are in town for the Carlsbad Music Festival. Thank you for that. That was a great way to start. The Calder Quartet is made up of Benjamin Jacobson on violin. Good morning.

BENJAMIN JACOBSON (Violinist): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Andrew Bulbrook on violin. Andrew.

ANDREW BULBROOK (Violinist): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And Jonathan Moerschel plays viola.

JONATHAN MOERSCHEL (Viola Musician): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And a sick and courageous Eric Byers on cello.

ERIC BYERS (Cellist): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Also joining us is Australian composer Kate Moore. Kate is the winner of the Carlsbad Music Festival Composers Competition. Good morning, Kate.

KATE MOORE (Composer): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And we’ll be speaking with you a little bit later about your composition. But I want to talk to the quartet guys because, Andrew, this is – this must be an early morning for you. You guys just played in Los Angeles last night, finishing up a tour with a band called Airborne Toxic Event. So how are you holding up early this morning?

BULBROOK: It definitely feels early this morning, for sure, and I’m glad I made it down the 5 freeway from Los Angeles.

CAVANAUGH: What time did the show wrap up?

BULBROOK: It was a little bit on the early side. We finished at 11:00. But I probably left the house at 5:00 this morning.

CAVANAUGH: How did the show go last night?

BULBROOK: It was awesome. It was at the Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, which is a kind of a mini-Hollywood Bowl just off the 101. And it looked yesterday like it was going to rain but it wasn’t, it was a beautiful night and totally sold out, full house, and it was a really fun way to conclude the tour because it – everyone’s based in Los Angeles so it was really nice that the last date of the tour was in Los Angeles where we’re from and the band is from, and that’s where everybody met and became friends and…

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, you just mentioned the band, Airborne Toxic Event. Sorry. I didn’t stay up late last night and I can’t talk. But we know you here, the Calder Quartet. You’ve played in San Diego a lot. You’re here at the Carlsbad Musical (sic) Festival. You’re a founding ensemble in residence at the Carlsbad Music Festival. But not many of our listeners might know the indie rock band Airborne Toxic Event, so tell us a little bit about them.

BULBROOK: Sure. It’s a five-piece band from, I think, Los Feliz, California and they’ve been together since 2006 and it’s a real testament just to the cultural environment of LA, there’s so many awesome things going on in that city. We moved back to LA from New York where we were at Juilliard in 2007. And since we’ve been back, it’s so cool that, you know, just by being a part of that – being part of the scene in Los Angeles, you can meet a band like this and become friends with them. And we had this great tour where we were learning from them and they were learning from us, and we were helping them with cues and they were helping us with stage presence. And it was like, you know, just a lot of really cool back and forth that was going on. And also in LA right now, you can meet just incredible artists like, you know, since we’ve been back we became friends with a guy named Dave Muller, who’s an artist who’s really inspired by music. I think – Ben, is he in one of the museums down here? Is it La Jolla?

JACOBSON: Oh, yeah, he’s at the one in La Jolla, yeah.

BULBROOK: Yeah, the Contemporary Art Museum there, and so it’s kind of all part of the same thing. There’s just a lot of really cool stuff going on in LA, and it’s really fun keeping our connection to San Diego. Ben grew up here and we’ve all been coming down here for a really long time, and it’s always just so special to be back here because we’ve been coming here since we all met in USC when we were 18 years old.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BULBROOK: Coming down to Carlsbad and San Diego, and it’s really awesome to keep that going.

CAVANAUGH: I know that you’re – you, all of you, are very involved in the idea of combining musical styles and breaking out of the chamber of chamber music, so to speak. But I’m wondering, is there ever an atmosphere that’s even like a little bit too different for you. In other words, how was it actually touring with a indie rock band?

BULBROOK: It’s surprisingly normal. I’d say the weirdest experimental thing we ever did was we did a tour with an experimental rocker and motivational speaker named Andrew W.K. and actually one of the weirdest things I think I ever did, venturing out of classical music—I don’t know if I speak for everyone—was we did a tour for two weeks where every night we’d conclude with some of his most raucous high volume party songs arranged for piano quintet. And then we’d conclude with John Cage’s 4’33” immediately after and often introduced as if it were going to be another really loud party song. And that was actually our cellist Eric, that was like his fit of programming genius, was to put these two things back to back. And I have to say like I have just weird experiences on that tour outside of the shows, just holding that kind of silence with a different crowd every night that had no idea what was happening, that was actually the weirdest thing.

CAVANAUGH: Ben, what does the group get out of this? This experiment? These playing around with the different genres?

JACOBSON: Well, I think one of the most immediate effects is being onstage with a rock band is, like Andrew said, it’s a different kind of presence that I feel like can kind of translate in subtle ways to other genres of music that we play. It’s definitely – the chord structure is a lot simpler and everything like that but – and a lot of times you’re just up there playing a really long tone. But there’s sort of certain ways to like have interest in even the most simple things, so I feel like that’s one thing that we got out of it.

CAVANAUGH: And one thing, Jonathan, do you get any blowback from your classical music fans about this?

MOERSCHEL: No, I think they – seems to me that they find it really interesting that a classical quartet would go out on tour with a rock band, and a lot of our classical fans have come to hear us with a rock band, with Airborne, and, you know, just really loved the experience. They thought that the string quartet really added so much to the sound it really sort of gave it a lot of depth. So I haven’t experienced any blowback from it. I think they all think it’s a great thing and that it helps maybe people that don’t come to hear classical shows sort of gain a little bit of experience with the quartet and I think we’re starting to see some of those rock fans come to our classical shows.

CAVANAUGH: How is touring with a rock band different from touring as a classical chamber music group?

MOERSCHEL: Well, hotels are one thing. When we do the tour, we stayed on a bus. There were 12 of us sleeping on the bus. And, you know, we played a show and then, you know, around midnight after the show, or 2:00 a.m., we got on the bus and go to sleep and end up in the next city and, you know, it’s very tiring but in a lot of ways it’s less stressful because you don’t have to deal with all the airport lines and whatnot, so it’s a different experience and I think there are some classical musicians that do tour on a bus. Like I think Hillary Hahn tours by tour bus. And, you know, it’s a interesting way to see the country. We basically drove all the way across the country, so it was – it was a pretty unique experience.

CAVANAUGH: And, Eric, I know that you are basically wiped out.

BYERS: I can talk.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, but…

MOERSCHEL: He can croak it out a little bit.

CAVANAUGH: This is not from the – your present state is not from excesses on the road, I would imagine.

BYERS: No, we actually got back to Los Angeles on Monday so we had a few – two days to rest up and then played the show on Wednesday. I went to bed early, all that stuff, but, yeah, I just caught a little cold in the last few days of our tour, so…

CAVANAUGH: And there’s, you know, but you guys have your schedules planned out so far in advance, there’s just no way to take off time, is there, Andrew?

BULBROOK: Well, we do take off time sometimes but we aren’t taking off time right now because we’re on the radio.

CAVANAUGH: But, I mean, you do, you’re booked out, I mean, a couple years in advance, right?

BULBROOK: Yeah, classical music tends to book about a year out, so you start knowing your schedule. But it also fills in closer to it. A lot of the stuff, like the tour that we’re talking about, that kind of stuff, fills in later. But it’s very, very hectic and especially when the fall starts, we do a few months in the spring as well where we’re going full speed…

CAVANAUGH: Full speed.

BULBROOK: …all the time. And then we do take time in the summer where we try to disconnect from each other and try to build in some space and try to relax a little bit.

MOERSCHEL: But, generally, when we’re not touring, we’re needing to learn all the music that we’re going to be playing on tour, so we – and we carry a lot of repertoire during the year so it requires a tremendous amount of rehearsal time. So, unfortunately, we don’t get too much vacation time.

CAVANAUGH: Now I know that you’re from Southern California. That’s how you met. And you are the founding ensemble in residence at the Carlsbad Music Festival. But how specifically did you get involved in this festival?

BULBROOK: Well, we all met at USC, the Calder Quartet, and then Ben had this Carlsbad connection where he grew up in Carlsbad. And then was it, Ben, our second year at USC that Matt came to school?

JACOBSON: Yeah, Matt McBain our other – the guy who runs the festival, whom we founded it with, came to school, I think, our – at up at USC in our sophomore year. And he’s a – he was going to school for composition and we all had these kind of collective musical interests and then the idea sprung up between all of us to make this festival happen.

CAVANAUGH: And he fronts a band called Build, right? We’ve also had him on the show. Is there any competition between Build and the Calder Quartet?

BULBROOK: I think what we do is really different so I don’t think there’s any competition.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

BULBROOK: If he played in a string quartet, though, he’d go down.

CAVANAUGH: I see. So there is a level of competition in the world even if it’s not between these two bands.

MOERSCHEL: Just don’t touch a violin…

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

MOERSCHEL: …and we’ll be cool.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with the Calder Quartet. We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, we’ll hear more of the Calder Quartet and a performance – that is, we’ll hear a recording of the Calder Quartet performing Kate’s composition, “Violins and Skeletons,” and then another live performance from the Calder Quartet. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.


CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And our guests are the Calder Quartet, Benjamin Jacobson, Andrew Bulbrook, Jonathan Moerschel and Eric Byers. They are tired. One of them is sick. But they are intrepid and they are here today to play for us. Also joining us is Australian composer Kate Moore. Kate is the winner of the Carlsbad Music Festival Composers Competition. And I want to turn to you just for a few minutes, Kate, and talk to you a little bit about this. You won the competition. I want to say congratulations.

MOORE: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And as a winner, you got commissioned to compose a work for the Carlsbad Festival. Is it going to be premiered at the festival?

MOORE: Yeah, this is fest performance.

CAVANAUGH: And it’s called “Violins and Skeletons.” What inspired this piece?

MOORE: Well, there’s a few inspirations but in particular something that my sister told me. My sister, who’s a couple of years younger than me, just finished med school and she’s a doctor now. But she said that one of her lectures in her – during her time was a musician or a musicologist who came in who was talking about the way harmony, melody and rhythm affects people and the way certain intervals have a physical effect on people. And as a composer, I thought that was really interesting, the link between medicine and music.

CAVANAUGH: That is fascinating. What brought you to enter into the competition for the Carlsbad Music Festival?

MOORE: Well, actually, quite a few of my friends have been involved in it in the past. For example, some of the composers that have won the competition before, I just happened to – they – Fabian Svensson also studied with me in the Netherlands for awhile. And then I also know Daniel Wall, who I met in America a few years ago as well. So it seems like – I mean, my generation of people and my network of people as well.

CAVANAUGH: And I’m wondering, since you got this inspiration for this piece from something that your sister said, what is your sister’s reaction to this composition?

MOORE: Well, interestingly, because I live in the Netherlands and she lives in Australia, we actually haven’t really spoken too much about it just yet.

CAVANAUGH: I see. So you’re waiting for her approval.

MOORE: We’ll see how it goes.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Andrew, I know that you guys will be performing this piece this weekend and from a performance standpoint, what are the challenges in “Violins and Skeletons?”

BULBROOK: Well, we haven’t performed it yet so I’m excited to see what happens. But in preparing for it, one of the big challenges was realizing her technological demands on the performer. And we had to actually pre-record several different versions of the piece and then stack them on top of each other. So that was actually like a really hard thing and Eric, our resident croaker this morning…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

BULBROOK: …spent a long, long time figuring out how to do that and working through that, and we had to go into a studio all day one day and just record this piece. And it’s a large scale work. It’s about an hour long. So in one day, I think we had to play through the thing six times or eight times.

JACOBSON: It amounted to about four hours of actual recorded music, so trying…

BULBROOK: Of pure pain or pure pleasure time.

JACOBSON: A little bit of both.

CAVANAUGH: So – so what we’re going to hear is part of that rehearsal, is that correct?

BULBROOK: Well, it’s not a rehearsal. That’s part of the piece. And that will actually be performing with this recording.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

BYERS: Yeah, you’ll hear – you’ll hear the full piece, which in the performance it’s – three-quarters of the piece is recorded and one-quarter is live. So what you’ll hear on the recording is all four – it’s basically four quartets at once. And it’s a really neat sound because there are all these different rhythms and different textures all kind of – it’s like a cacophonous sound but it has like a certain energy to it that changes and it – so it’s really neat to have kind of a sustained sound going on but it has like a certain feel to it and a certain like vibrancy. It’s really neat.

CAVANAUGH: So your live performance at the Carlsbad Music Festival of this piece will include some of this recording.

BYERS: Yes, it’s three-quarters of the recording and then one-quarter us. And it – Basically, the idea is that it – the sound isn’t coming from just the front of the stage but it’s sort of surrounding the audience so you’ll hear all these different things coming at you from different directions.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear some of that. This is that recording of the Calder Quartet performing Kate’s composition “Violins and Skeletons.”

(audio of Calder Quartet performing “Violins and Skeletons” composed by Kate Moore)

CAVANAUGH: And that is a selection from Kate Moore’s composition “Violins and Skeletons,” part of the recorded version that is part of the performance piece of that composition, and it is performed by the Calder Quartet. You know, I can hear in that how exciting that is going to sound with also a live – a live, one quarter of it live as well, just that sound just reverberating around and around. You know, Kate, I have to say we talk to a lot of new composers on the show here and I have to say, you know, a lot of them are men. In fact, I can’t recall speaking with a woman, a modern composer. What is it like to be a woman in this field?

MOORE: Well, I think for my generation it’s more balanced. I think I’ve got a lot of female colleagues. But certainly, I mean, historically, women didn’t really enter into the field, so much. And I think at certain times it does come up. I mean, like when you’re looking for role models or even people’s expectations of who should be a composer and who shouldn’t be, you sort of – sometimes you come up at a maybe a little bit of a barrier or you have to work doubly hard to convince people that they should take you seriously or, yeah, that sort of thing. But essentially, I mean, I’ve always had very encouraging – I’ve always been in a very encouraging musical atmosphere and directly it hasn’t really been that much of an issue.

CAVANAUGH: Who are your mentors? Role models? Inspirations?

MOORE: Right. So many people, I mean, it’s huge. My direct line, I guess, I was a student of Louis Andriessen in the Netherlands and Martijn Padding and I respect their music a lot and, I mean, there’s a lot of connection with them and a lot of people in America as well, for example, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, like Julia Wolfe and David Lang and Michael Gordon. I also know them and they’re also very inspiring people, very energetic. And my colleagues, brilliant composers around the world from all different places, different – lots of different ideas and – and, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Just let me ask you, when did you start composing music? Is this something that you – a direction you knew you were going in since you were a child or is this something that occurred to you as you got more deeply involved in musical study?

MOORE: I’ve always done it right from the start. We had a piano in the house and I was always playing the piano and making stuff up and improvising for myself. And so it came quite naturally. I mean, I was always quite passionate about writing music down from the moment that I started learning music. I – Well, it wasn’t really a big thing where I came from to be a composer. I mean, there were a lot of performers about but – like when I was writing things down, I didn’t really know who I could talk to be a teacher or like I mean, I’m always quite shy about it all as well, so it was sort of my own private world for a very long time until maybe my last few years of high school where I had a teacher who was also a composer. My music teacher was a composer and she was very encouraging.

CAVANAUGH: It’s about to get quite public. I hope you’re ready for that.

MOORE: Right.

CAVANAUGH: Let me go back to the Calder Quartet and ask who else might be performing at the Carlsbad Musical – Music Festival this weekend. Do we know?

BYERS: Yeah, there’s a pianist, Eric Huebner. He’s giving a recital Saturday afternoon. And also a group called ACME from New York is playing on Sunday. They’re – both of them are really awesome. And then there’s – on Friday, there’s the Village Walk. There’s going to be a bunch of little half-hour performances going on in Carlsbad starting at the train station, and it’s free and I think it will be really fun, a lot of different people kind of doing fun projects they’ve been working on and things like that so…

CAVANAUGH: Now I know you’re going to perform another piece for us. The first two movements of Philip Glass’ “Quartet No. 2 Company.” Who’d like to tell us about this piece? Andrew.

BULBROOK: I’d love to tell you about the piece. This is a miniature quartet that Philip Glass wrote. I think it was written in the early eighties? 1982, or something like that. Yeah? And it was incidental music to a play, was its original conception and I think maybe spread out in between the different acts and now it’s just one piece that we play together. So we’re going to play the first two sections or movements of the work.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, let’s hear it. This is, if you gentlemen are ready, I don’t want to rush you. This is the Calder Quartet performing Philip Glass’ “Quartet No. 2 Company.”

(audio of Calder Quartet performing “Quartet No. 2 Company”)

CAVANAUGH: And that was the Calder Quartet performing Philip Glass’ “Quartet No. 2 Company.” Thank you. That was beautiful. Thanks very much. What do you like about performing that piece?

JACOBSON: I think it – in a lot of ways, it reminds me a little bit of the – of Kate’s music except on a much smaller scale. I mean, this whole quartet is only seven minutes long whereas Kate’s piece is about an hour. But there’s a certain, you know, atmosphere and it’s like you – there’s not really a story going on so you – when you listen to it, you can just kind of space out or just sort of let the music kind of wash over you and, you know, depending on your mood you’ll have sort of a different effect from the music. And I actually really enjoy Glass’ music for that reason. I feel like I don’t have to think about it, I just sort of let it happen to me.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I can understand that. So you’re going to be playing this weekend at the Carlsbad Music Festival. After this festival, are you going to take a break or what are you on to next?

JACOBSON: We’re actually going to Australia in about two weeks, I think, to Melbourne, the Melbourne Music Festival. We’re going to be performing with a British composer, a friend of ours, Thomas Addis. We’ll be doing two concerts down there. It’s our first trip ever to Australia, so we’re really excited.

CAVANAUGH: Well, congratulations and I’m so glad that you came back to San Diego for this. We’re so happy to have you here. Thank you so much.

JACOBSON: Thank you very much for having us.

BULBROOK: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with the Calder Quartet, Benjamin Jacobson, Andrew Bulbrook, Jonathan Moerschel and Eric Byers, and Australian composer Kate Moore. And I want to tell everyone, the Carlsbad Music Festival begins tomorrow. It runs through Sunday, and most of the performances will take place at the Schulman Auditorium at the Dove Library in Carlsbad. If you’d like to comment, please go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, it’s the Weekend Preview on KPBS.

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