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Isaiah Ceccarelli Bow

at107    Isaiah Ceccarelli   ‘Bow’                                  Canadian Composers Series #3

1. ‘Sainte-Ursule 11’ (2014)      Katelyn Clark (organetto) & Isaiah Ceccarelli (percussion)

2. ‘Falsobordone’     (2015)      Mira Benjamin & Galya Bisengalieva (violins), Robert Ames (viola) & Gregor Riddell (cello)

3. ‘Oslo Harmonies Part 1’ (2014)      Mira Benjamin (violin) & Isaiah Ceccarelli (percussion)

4. ‘Bow’                   (2015)      Mira Benjamin & Galya Bisengalieva (violins), Robert Ames (viola) & Gregor Riddell (cello)

5. ‘Oslo Harmonies Part 2’  (2014)     Mira Benjamin (violin) & Isaiah Ceccarelli (percussion)

6. ‘Dunstable’          (2015)        Mira Benjamin (violin), Robert Ames (viola) & Gregor Riddell (cello)    youtube extract

7. ‘Sainte-Ursule 2’  (2014)        Katelyn Clark (organetto) & Isaiah Ceccarelli (percussion)                 youtube extract

Isaiah Ceccarelli

The third CD in the Canadian Composers Series contains seven pieces by Isaiah Ceccarelli, a composer-percussionist who lives in Montreal. The music Ceccarelli composes falls broadly into two categories: timbrally-based music in which he himself performs, and through-composed pieces that focus on harmonic progressions. His CD ‘Bow’ presents both of these sides of his work: the title track, ‘Falsobordone’ and ‘Dunstable’ are compositions for string trio or quartet, while the ‘Oslo Harmonies’ and ‘Sainte-Ursule’ tracks are semi-improvised duos in which Ceccarelli plays alongside violinist Mira Benjamin (Oslo Harmonies) and Katelyn Clark, who performs on a rarely-heard medieval keyboard instrument, the organetto on the Sainte-Ursule pieces.  

In this extract from his interview in the booklet accompanying the Canadian Composers Series CDs, Isaiah talks about the two sides of his compositional work, and what unifies their apparently different surfaces:

“Two very different soundworlds co-exist on your CD. Does this represent a schizophrenic music personality, or do they actually connect more closely than is apparent?

It’s probably that I’m a little bit schizophrenic in music because I’ve always liked so many very different things. But specifically I’d say that the way that I play on the tracks with Katelyn Clark and Mira Benjamin is only outwardly different from the music I compose on the string pieces. When I’m making that kind of timbral music I much prefer to be involved playing as part of the sound. I think if I just composed it and handed it over to musicians – even fantastic musicians – then it probably wouldn’t come through in the same way and I wouldn’t be happy with the outcome. It’s not that they wouldn’t do it well, but if I wasn’t involved I just wouldn’t quite get the timbral sounds quality that I wanted (mostly through my own faults as a composer!), so in the end it would feel that composing like that was like banging my head against a brick wall.

But working alongside Katelyn or Mira, we don’t have to worry too much about what’s written on the page, but we can talk about it and try things out and the page is just to remind us about where we’re going with the next step. With Mira, I feel that it’s more comfortable to have even just two notes written on a page than to be freely improvising – even if those two notes have got to last an hour, she’ll make them sound great. With Katelyn on the Sainte-Ursule pieces we talked about it and found sounds that we liked and then did many takes of the same thing – or it was always a bit different, but it sounded generally the same. I think when we play it’ll probably always sound a bit like that – kind of clanky metallic percussion with drones.But back to the album, for me the more improvised pieces – Oslo Harmonies and the Sainte-Ursule tracks – are really like the same music as the string pieces but behind a veil. It’s as if you’re further away, are listening from a distance, or it’s just more opaque. Especially with the reed organ on Oslo Harmonies Part 1. The reed organ is like the strings in the string pieces but has such a peculiar sound. But the timbral quality of the reed organ doesn’t hide the fact that the harmonies are kind of the same as in those string pieces. The string music is more in your face; it’s 95% clear and is directly there in front of you.

But the underlying sound is basically the same across all the album. It’s just that when we’re playing the more open stuff we’re adding layers of veils on top of the harmonies. But none of the music is melodic; it’s all harmonic, it’s just the string pieces are more clear and directly harmonic than the others.

How did you come to study with Laurence Crane, given that he’s in London and you live in Montréal?

I booked half a dozen lessons with him and came to stay in London for four weeks. Laurence told me to bring pretty much everything I’d ever written, so I collected everything I had together and burned lots of CDs, and we essentially just went through it. We talked about how to make ideas clear, and he told me how not to waste time and space in composition, and how not to have seventeen ideas packed in where two would work. And he also told me about various practical aspects, like how the score looks, how the parts look, how many measures or bars to have on a line – just practical things that all help to clarify the work. It was a mixture of creativity and just nuts and bolts, which is something I really like.”

You can read the whole of Isaiah Ceccarelli’s interview in the Canadian Composers Series booklet. The booklet comes free with any order of two or more of the Canadian series CDs, or you can order it separately below for £4.

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