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THE HELLER BASSOON ENSEMBLE PRESENTS:
 
GRAND STREET COUNTERPOINT, BY STEVE REICH, ARRANGED FOR BASSOONS BY REBEKAH HELLER

THE HOLY PRESENCE OF JOAN D'ARC, BY JULIUS EASTMAN ARRANGED FOR BASSOONS BY REBEKAH HELLER, FEATURING VOCALIST DAMIAN NORFLEET

NURTURE, FOR 8 BASSOONS BY FAY VICTOR


SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2024
DOORS: 7PM | SHOWTIME: 7:30 PM | 169 BOWERY NYC 

Virtuosic bassoonist and new music icon Rebekah Heller is joined by ten of the world’s most impressive bassoonists for a one-night only, once-in-a-lifetime event.  Experience the magic of 10 LIVE BASSOONS playing new sounds by incredible composers who all share deep connections with New York City: Steve Reich, Julius Eastman and Fay Victor.

Pleas join us for the HELLER BASSOON ENSEMBLE's WORLD PREMIERES of: 

Grand Street Counterpoint by Steve Reich, arranged for bassoons by Rebekah Heller

The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc by Julius Eastman, arranged for bassoons by Rebekah Heller, and featuring vocalist Damian Norfleet singing the haunting Prelude

Nurture, for 8 bassoons, by Fay Victor

PERFORMERS: Maribel Alonso, Trey Coudret, Alexander Davis, Ryan Ghassemi, Joy Guidry, Rebekah Heller, Stephanie Patterson, Sara Schoenbeck, Jamael Smith, Joseph Swift, Francisca Wright

CONDUCTOR: Lester St. Louis

GUEST VOCALIST: Damian Norfleet

About Grand Street Counterpoint, by Steve Reich, arranged for bassoons by Rebekah Heller:

Originally composed in 2003, "Cello Counterpoint" has been described by Steve Reich as "one of the most difficult pieces I have ever written, calling for extremely tight, fast moving rhythmic relationships not commonly found in the cello literature." Rebekah Heller puts that assessment to the test in her arrangement of the piece for multi-tracked bassoons, reconfigured here as "Grand Street Counterpoint." Co-produced with the composer, the recording captures a lively, kinetic energy that sheds new light on the original.

The piece is in three movements; fast, slow, fast. The first and last movements are both based on a similar four-chord cycle that moves ambiguously back and forth between C minor and E flat major. This harmonic cycle is treated extremely freely however, particularly in the third movement. The second, slow movement, is a canon in E flat minor involving, near the end of the movement, seven separate voices.

Reich and Heller sparked their collaboration back in 2018, when they realized they were neighbors. Heller had long been a huge fan of Reich’s music, and became deeply interested in finding a way to perform his music as a solo bassoonist. "Cello Counterpoint" seemed like a natural fit for both the register and expressive qualities of the bassoon, and Heller began her exploration of this arrangement in earnest when the 2020 pandemic paused the world.

About The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc, by Julius Eastman, arranged for bassoons by Rebekah Heller:

“Dear Joan,” Eastman wrote for the work’s premiere in 1981. “When meditating on your name I am given strength and dedication… I shall emancipate myself from the bind of the past and the present; I shall emancipate myself from myself.”

 

The score for this enigmatic masterpiece, originally for an ensemble of 10 cellos, was lost. All that remained was an archival recording from the 1981 premiere at The Kitchen, which Clarice Jensen used to painstakingly construct a transcription. From this transcription, Rebekah Heller arranged the work for 10 bassoons.

 

Full of dark energy and driving rhythmic propulsion, this 18 minute tour-de-force feels at points both wrenching and full of hope; discordant and optimistic. 

 

The June 8 concert at The Fridman Gallery will be the World Premiere Performance of the bassoon ensemble version.

About Nurture, for 8 bassoons, by Fay Victor

I’ve written a series of bassoon pieces, mainly duos, for the past couple years starting with the commission of bass guitarist Jochem van Dijk (also my husband) and his collaboration with Mexico City based bassoonist Maribel Alonso to write a bassoon duo for that pair. That led me to write a bassoon/voice duo piece as part of the burgeoning development I have with the uber-acclaimed bassoonist Rebekah Heller. This led to a piece for duo bassoons that premiered at the International Double Reed conference in 2023. I’ve got a thing for bassoons!

When Rebekah Heller asked me to compose a work for eight bassoons, I was initially intimidated by the task. I began to think about the chords I like sounded together, and that began the process of writing Nurture. Initially warm harmonic ideas flushed out. I also wanted to explore connection with each of the players and the connection to their individual instruments, especially the reeds.

Ingram Washington was one of my dearest friends. We met in the 1990’s and he was instrumental in getting me to explore Europe and eventually live there for nearly a decade. We met at a time when I was serious about becoming a musician but had no idea how to go about it. At a time when I was most vulnerable and clearly very eager for information, he was a kind friend that only wanted to help. He introduced me to the mainstream jazz scene in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He and his manager, Ineke, made sure I was seen and they took good care of me. This would have been enough but there was so much more to Ingram. He was FUN to hang out with! We laughed all the time and the absurdities of being expats was never lost on either of us. He was a great entertainer, going to his shows, you knew you’d have a ball along with listening to good music. He was generous and supportive and made space for many people he thought deserved a shot, not just me.

Ingram died while I was in the middle of writing what would become ‘Nurture’. This was heartbreaking. Yet, Ingram led a full and rich life that combined peace, fun, an easy prosperity and a no-bullshit way to be in the world. He was so loved because he had all these contours to himself. It was clear that the contours within the composition align with the complex and calm person that Ingram Washington was. Thank you Ingram for letting me get to know you, I am so honored. Thank you, Rebekah Heller for commissioning this work. It not only allowed me to build a world, it allowed me to channel my feelings about the loss of someone special and instrumental in my life. ---Fay Victor, May 2024

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

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Rebekah Heller's work aims to expand the sonic possibilities of her instrument — both in her solo work and through a deep collaborative practice. Called "an impressive solo bassoonist" by The New Yorker, she has released two acclaimed solo albums of new music written for and with her by a diverse community of composers. In 2024, she released a collaboration with Steve Reich, a multi-track bassoon piece called Grand Street Counterpoint (on which Reich and Heller are co-producers), and she is set to release her first solo EP featuring her own compositions on June 28, 2024, on Relative Pitch Records.

 

In 2018, Heller made her solo debut with the New York Philharmonic, and has been a featured soloist with the Seattle Symphony, at the Tokyo-based Born Creative Festival, at the TIME:SPANS festival, and many others. As bassoonist (since 2008), and former Co-Artistic Director of the renowned NYC-based International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Heller has collaborated with hundreds of composers worldwide to make countless groundbreaking new chamber and bassoon solo pieces come to life. Heller has been on the faculty of The Mannes School of Music at The New School since the fall of 2019, where she leads a bassoon studio, co-chairs the wind department, and teaches classes in contemporary repertoire, improvisation for classical musicians, and new music practices

More info at rebekahheller.com

Photo credit: Tarishi Gupta

Damian Norfleet is a "gifted improvisational singer, [performer-composer], actor, and social justice activist  who has occupied a rare multi-dimensional space in the performing arts" (I Care If You Listen). Norfleet  “brings a full range of emotions” (Boston Globe) and “commands both stage and screen with a strong  presence and powerful singing” (EDGE). Across poetry and song, his output focuses on space and  phonemic awareness. 

Damian has performed in fun spaces like Lincoln Center, Roulette, National Sawdust, New York Society  for Ethical Culture, Kaufman Music Center, The Times Center… He’s conducted a sound/movement  masterclass at Bennington College and a vocal health seminar for the performers at Hong Kong  Disneyland. Norfleet has workshopped, developed, and directed new operas with the John Duffy Institute  for New Opera, American Opera Projects, and the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program  at NYU|Tisch.

 

He has been a guest artist with the International Contemporary Ensemble, Ensemble Pi, Anonymous  Ensemble, Dream Unfinished Orchestra, University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, Mount Holyoke  Symphony Orchestra, the New England Conservatory, and the Bread and Puppet Theater. He co-curated  concerts Young, Gifted, and Black (performed alongside the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of  contemporary art by African American artists), and Love in Times of Alienation with the Concerts in the  Heights ensemble, both presented at New York’s Lehman Art Gallery. 

Damian is currently a 2024 Composing Fellow in the Gabriela Ortiz Composition Studio, and his  upcoming performances include appearances with the International Contemporary Ensemble, the  National Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Washington Chorus.

"She’s essentially invented her own hybrid of song and spoken word, a scat style for today’s avant-garde." 

- The New York Times 

Fay Victor is a sound artist/bandleader that uses performance, improvisation and composition to examine representations of modern life and blackness. Victor has released thirteen critically acclaimed albums as a leader, seeing praise in venerable media outlets such as Downbeat, JazzTimes, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Wire, The San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Quietus and the Huffington Post. Victor has performed with luminaries such as Gary Bartz, Archie Schepp, Nicole Mitchell, Randy Weston, Tyshawn Sorey and Moor Mother and is a member of the esteemed new music ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble. In 2023, Victor released first solo record on the Northern Spy records, and most recently has released ‘Life Is Funny That Way’, a full on project dedicated to the unsung pianist, Herbie Nichols on the Tao Forms label that includes Victor’s own arrangements and lyric to Nichols’ iconic compositions.

As a composer, Victor has been commissioned by Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Foundation, The Jazz Coalition and The International Contemporary Ensemble; presented works at institutions such as the New England Conservatory, Brown University, The International Double Reed Society Conference (Bangkok, Thailand 2023), Roulette Intermedium, The Chelsea Factory, University of California at San Diego and Santa Cruz and The New School.

Fay Victor is on the faculty of the College of Performing Arts at the New School and at ROC Nation School for Sports, Music and Entertainment at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY where she teaches vocal and interdisciplinary performance tactics around improvisation. Moreover, Victor is the Board chair for the Jazz Leaders Fellowship, an initiative of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music to fund black women/non-binary jazz leaders. 

Learn more about Fay Victor at www.fayvictor.com

Photo credit: Deneka Peniston.

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Steve Reich has been called “the most original musical thinker of our time” (The New Yorker) and “among the great composers of the century” (The New York Times). Starting in the 1960s, his pieces It’s Gonna Rain, Drumming, Music for 18 Musicians, Tehillim, Different Trains, and many others helped shift the aesthetic center of musical composition worldwide away from extreme complexity and towards rethinking pulsation and tonal attraction in new ways. He continues to influence younger generations of composers and mainstream musicians and artists all over the world.

Double Sextet won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and Different Trains, Music for 18 Musicians, and an album of his percussion works have all earned GRAMMY Awards. He received the Praemium Imperiale in Tokyo, the Polar Music Prize in Stockholm, the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge award in Madrid, the Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall, and the Gold Medal in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has been named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France, and awarded honorary doctorates by the Royal College of Music in London, the Juilliard School in New York, and the Liszt Academy in Budapest, among others.

One of the most frequently choreographed composers, several noted choreographers have created dances to his music, including Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Jirí Kylián, Jerome Robbins, Justin Peck, Wayne McGregor, Benjamin Millepied, and Christopher Wheeldon.

Reich’s documentary video opera works—The Cave and Three Tales, done in collaboration with video artist

Beryl Korot—opened new directions for music theater and have been performed on four continents. His work Quartet, for percussionist Colin Currie, sold out two consecutive concerts at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London shortly after tens of thousands at the Glastonbury Festival heard Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) perform Electric Counterpoint, followed by the London Sinfonietta performing his Music for 18 Musicians. “There’s just a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history and Steve Reich is one of them,” The Guardian.

Julius Eastman

Fighting against the "invisibilisation" of minority cultures and racial and sexual discrimination, Julius Eastman

(1940-1990), a free-spirited and militant artist, described himself as "Black to the fullest, a musician to the fullest, a homosexual to the fullest".

 

An eminent figure of the New York scene as a composer, conductor, singer, pianist and choreographer, Julius Eastman also played the Lincoln Center with Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic, and recorded an album of experimental disco with the producer Arthur Russell.


According to a 1980 press release, "Eastman is a sort of cult figure among composers and singers". A pioneer of the minimalist movement, he was among the first composers to combine elements of pop and minimalist music.

 

Following his death in 1990, after seven years of "deliberate martyrdom" between psychotropic drug-taking and vagrancy in homeless shelters, he was largely forgotten. A great number of his scores disappeared with him.

 

His music remained dormant for decades until Unjust Malaise, a 3-CD set of his work, was released by New World Records in 2005. Since the early 2010s, his work has been re-emerging and attracting growing interest, thanks in particular to the efforts of composer Mary Jane Leach.

About the Heller Bassoon Ensemble

The bassoon ensemble is a rare and unique sound world, one that Rebekah Heller has been intrigued by since composer Felipe Lara wrote a piece for 7 bassoons for Heller back in 2015 (Metafagote). The overtones of the bassoon, when multiplied, create the sound of another instrument entirely — eerily rearranging time and space for listener and performer alike. As a soloist and chamber musician, Heller rarely gets the chance to perform with other bassoonists, and this Heller Bassoon Ensemble debut is a chance for some of her most treasured and respected colleagues to join her in an exploration of a mostly uncharted sound world.

 

The rarity of 10 bassoons creating new sounds together cannot be overstated.

 

Inspired by her collaboration with Steve Reich on Grand Street Counterpoint (2023), Heller made both a solo bassoon and bassoon ensemble arrangement of his 2003 Cello Counterpoint, which premieres on June 8. Another cello ensemble piece, The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc, by Julius Eastman, made a perfect companion for the bassoon choir. To round out the program, Heller commissioned collaborator Fay Victor to compose a new piece for the ensemble, called Nurture (for Ingram), which will also receive its world premiere.

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