Hudson River inspires 3 world music premieres

Three world premieres by composers who represent styles as divergent as classical, hip-hop, jazz and
Violinist Vaniel Bernard Roumain, above, will join violinist Mark O’Connor and clarinetist Don Byron in a performance Saturday night at The Egg.
Violinist Vaniel Bernard Roumain, above, will join violinist Mark O’Connor and clarinetist Don Byron in a performance Saturday night at The Egg.

ALBANY — Three world premieres by composers who represent styles as divergent as classical, hip-hop, jazz and folk with interludes of poetry and video projections is a heady mix for any venue. For The Egg, it’s downright revolutionary.

“We’d dabbled in the past and done a little commissioning,” said Peter Lesser, the executive director. “But three composers performing their own work based on one theme on the same night is a much bigger deal musically.”

On Saturday, fiddler Mark O’Connor will present his “Old Time” String Quartet No. 3; hip-hop violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain will present his “Soundtrack to a Shared Dream” for string quartet, percussion and electronic instruments, which will be accompanied by Bill Morrison’s original film; and jazz clarinetist Don Byron will present an untitled work for string quartet, piano and clarinet. David Gonzalez will perform poetry and spoken word segments between each work.

Source of inspiration

Because the evening is an anticipation of the Hudson River Quadricentennial, which will be officially celebrated in 2009, Lesser asked each composer to choose some aspect of the river to use as inspiration. O’Connor chose the river’s natural beauty, its discovery and early European settlement. Byron focused on the effects commerce and travel had on the river, especially around the Hyde Park area. Roumain centered on the current life of the river and the potential future.

Hudson River Quadricentennial

WHEN: 8 p.m. April 12

WHERE: The Egg


MORE INFO: 473-1845 or visit

Lesser chose these composers because they are New York-based; they can perform their own music, which reflects numerous cultural influences; and they could each compose a work that would stand on its own. Although Lesser gave them the freedom to use any instrumentation, he said he found it interesting that they all chose the string quartet as their base.

“It will provide a nice stream of consciousness and continuity [of sound],” he said.

O’Connor had no trouble using the river for inspiration.

“My family’s ancestry goes back to 1626 on the Dutch side and I have some Mohawk blood,” he said. “My great-great grandmother was kidnapped and married an Indian chief.”

His string quartet is 25 minutes long and has four movements that will use old-time fiddle music themes.

Roumain said he had to imagine a possible future, so he created a skeleton of a story around which he wrote six movements that include the UFO sightings in the 1990s, environmental issues, such as the downstate cement plant, and even a monster. The work is about 23 minutes long.

Because there’s so much fantasy mixed with reality in Roumain’s work, his players will “play on” such unusual objects as bottles and brake drums in addition to their acoustic instruments and he has electronically prepared the piano and put pickups on the string players to further distort the sound.

“The work has as much to do with John Cash as John Cage,” Roumain said. “It will allow the audience to use their imagination.”

Byron was inspired by a Copland piece to create a 25-minute work that will use leitmotifs (musical identity markers) as the music journeys from marshes to commercial sites through cultural changes of the past 100 years, he said.

Time to prepare

Lesser contacted the composers in 2006 about the idea of doing a work. That gave O’Connor plenty of time to fit it in between several other commissions he was doing. “It took me three months to develop the quartet,” he said. “I’m getting faster at composing. I work through the difficulties easier.”

Roumain took longer because he had to conceive of a written way to indicate electronic sounds.

“I had to create symbols for the effects,” Roumain said. “It was like throwing myself off a cliff.”

It took him almost nine months to complete the work because he wrote the score and parts by hand and not on a computer. Fortunately, the players he works with understand his methods and provided five rehearsals before opening night.

Byron said he took time thinking about how traditional a piece he would compose.

“My usual pieces are in the Stravinsky/Bartok range. But this is singular. It’s a new approach,” he said. “I hope I don’t write something I can’t play.”

Although each man has a strong performance career, composing is something they’ve always done. O’Connor composed his first work at 12, and over the years has used his own compositions to generate solo performing gigs. His many recordings of his compositions include the 2001 Grammy Award winning “Appalachian Journey” (Sony) and his first Fiddle Concerto has had more than 150 performances.

Roumain has composed informally since he was 10. He is also the music director for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, band leader of DBR and The Mission, and orchestras from Dallas to New York City have played his work.

Byron first began composing in high school for the Latin bands he played saxophone in. His work can be heard on more than 70 jazz to classical recordings. He has also written for Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can All-Stars.

On the road

To make sure the works get a second performance, Lesser is taking the entire show on the road. With funding from the state Music Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and a few others, the Hudson River Quadricentennial concert will get performances in New York City, Peekskill, Oswego and Lake Placid. And that’s only to start, he said.

“Our goal is to take the concert around the state,” he said.

Categories: Life and Arts

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