Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and bandleader Marty Ehrlich '77 is back at New England Conservatory in September for a residency that concludes on September 13 with a concert of his music. He has written these notes on the works to be performed on that concert.
Music of Marty Ehrlich
It is a great pleasure to be back at New England Conservatory, and to have this opportunity to work with the dynamic students of the Contemporary Improvisation Department. My music is being given a reimagining by these artists, who bring a wonderful range of musical experience and instrumentation to the work. We will come together as a full ensemble to end each set of tonight's program.
String Quartet No. 1 (Plowshares People) (1993) is a three-movement work played without pause. I feel, with the benefit of hindsight, that this quartet is a meditation on the progression from inward reflection to action, personal and communal, that we often find ourselves engaged in. Its first movement, Introspection, sets the tone implied by its title, and then uses a short musical quote from Albert Ayler's piece Music is the Healing Force of the Universe to begin the dialogue between the voices of the quartet. Plowshares People, the second movement, is programmatic in conception: it tells the story of the nuns and priests who entered a munitions plant and dented the missile warheads that they found. It moves from contemplation to furious action, acknowledgement, and further meditation. You will hear 7 strikes of the hammer. Movement III, The Drinking Gourd, was inspired by my visiting a run-down house in Torrington, Conn., now in the shadow of a K-Mart, that had once been a stop on the Underground Railroad. I've tried to imagine the high emotions riders of that railroad surely felt, and in its current manifestations, surely feel.
Frog Leg Logic (2011) is a bright piece of condensed thought, and the title for my recent recording with my Rites Quartet. It is written to be a springboard for any number of improvisational strategies. We'll leap into one tonight.
Scroll No. 1 (2010) opens Fables, my recent recording. It depicts a slow procession, with a harmonic form based on three scales common in Jewish music. I wrote in the liner notes that "the image is that of the moment in the synagogue service where the Torah is opened, its parchment now in the light and air, and then when it is tightly closed, the text rolled further on into the life of the telling." In the ongoing spirit of the CI department, the soloists in this work come with stories from diverse musical lineages to add to and renew those tales.
Sojourn (1999) is the title of my first recording in the Radical Jewish Culture series on Tzadik. A sister composition to Scroll No. 1, this winding line leads into an open improvisation, a different kind of sojourn. Within the line is another small quote, from the composition Jupiter by John Coltrane.
Agbekor Translations (2012) is a work I wrote recently for my student ensemble at Hampshire College, for collaboration with Mt. Holyoke College's West African Drumming Ensemble. This piece is built from the polyrhythmic drum parts of the dance and ritual of the same name by the Ewe people of Ghana.
Fables Medley (2010) presents three more pieces I wrote for that recording, presented as a suite. Fables features the wonderful piano and accordion playing of Hankus Netsky. I'll let the titles speak for themselves.
The Price of the Ticket (1997) refers to the title of the collected essays of James Baldwin, works whose insights I'm sure have inspired many of us here tonight. I have tried in this musical portrait to express some of the grandeur of the hard but essential vision Baldwin challenges us with in his writing. Within this piece too are numerous quotes, including a song my father loved to sing while driving. I have recorded this piece twice, on my recording Song and in duo with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams. I have never done this with a vocalist, and was excited, when Hankus sent me the CI department's instrumentation, to realize it this way.
Rites Rhythms (2009) opens all my concerts with my Rites Quartet. The opening riff was originally written for cello, and tonight we are going to bring marimba and mandolin to the dance as well.
Inauguration Suite (2012) is the most recent work on this program. It was composed for last spring's inauguration of Jonathan Lash as president of Hampshire College.
Comprovisation/Blue Boye's Blues (2011) “Comprovisation" is my word for what we do. We make it happen in the moment, using all tools at hand, whether pre-composed or not. Welcome. Blue Boye's Blues is my musical portrait of the late composer and saxophonist Julius Hemphill, whose music I have performed throughout my musical career. I hope we send you out into the night with a lift in your step.