We’ve had an exciting 6 months mostly spent on groundwork: speaking with composers over Zoom (one of the benefits of the pandemic!), receiving two brand-new works, completing a residency in New Hampshire, and booking concerts for the 2022-2023 season! Overall, it’s been incredibly rewarding to see this project continue to grow, evolve, and be supported. Thank you.
In early February, we participated in Naomi’s university’s (Susquehanna University) annual Martin Luther King Teach-In Day. This year’s symposium was entitled “Embracing Hope and Regeneration,” and we presented a program that acknowledged our collective grief over the losses of the pandemic and the ongoing racial violence, while also celebrating the hope of greater understanding and inclusion. We chose pieces that center around identity and culture, belonging and homeland. We contacted the five composers we had commissioned at that point and asked each of them to create a short video about how and where they find their sense of identity and belonging, how they navigate the cultures they belong to, and whether or not they find their music to be an expression of their culture and identity. The audience was extremely moved by the performance; various faculty asked for permission to share the composers’ videos in their classrooms, and many, many college students found it eye-opening - and reassuring - to hear that these “old” composers (they range in age from 25 to 45) were still struggling to find their sense of identity and belonging. We have decided to incorporate these videos into our future programs, as we’re finding they help audience members relate to the pieces and also more clearly speak to our fight against racism and social injustice.
Also in early February, we received our second commissioned work, entitled “Fantasy” by Navajo composer Juantio (Tio) Becenti. The work is based on the Navajo folk song “Shi Naasha.” In 1864 the U.S. government rounded up the Navajo and forced them at gunpoint on a 300-plus mile march to Ft. Sumner, where they were imprisoned for four years. When the Navajo were able to return to their homelands, they were overcome with joy and spontaneously composed this song. Each time we speak with Tio over zoom, we learn more about his interpretation of this time through his piece, and a little more about Navajo traditions. Much of the piece evokes the horrors of the loss of their homes and lands, the forced march and imprisonment, and the loss of life (“like the music of a horror movie”), but the end is full of strength, joy, peace, and triumph. Each time we perform this work, someone from the audience tells us how moving the piece is.
In March we received our third commission – a Tango from Uruguayan composer Miguel del Águila. Based on the rhythms and colours of his musical culture, his work evolved from a recurring dream wherein he tries to fly but keeps falling, until, eventually, he learns to fly. It was Miguel’s piece and Tio’s piece that we worked on in late May at a week-long return residency we were granted at Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire. This week happened right at the end of the academic year, so it was a wonderful and rejuvenating break. Avaloch is truly a special place – a peaceful remote location where musicians are provided beautiful lodging, their own rehearsal space, and delicious meals – and our only obligation is to practice, rehearse, work, and share with fellow musicians.
We’ve also spent a considerable amount of time this year “in the office,” applying for grants, booking concerts, reaching out to high schools and communities to arrange educational programs, updating the website, and speaking with a new composer to commission. Haitian Jean “Rudy” Perrault will be writing us a work in January 2023, and we have applied for a grant to commission Taiwanese composer Chihchun Chi-Sun Lee. At Avaloch this past month, we met a young Afghani composer, Seare Ahmad Farhat, who we are very interested in commissioning – we’ll keep you posted on that! Also while at Avaloch, we spoke more with Chinese-Samoan/Hawaiian composer Michael-Thomas Foumai, who will be completing a work for us this August. After hearing that Tio’s work was based on a historical injustice to his people, Michael has decided to write his work based on a Hawai’ian protest song that was composed shortly after the U.S. overthrew the Hawai’ian government and took over its people.
We are excited to hit the ground running – in mid-September we will perform all five commissions, with videos from the composers, at Susquehanna University and then on a concert series in Cold Springs, NY. We’ll play at the University of Delaware in late September, and in mid-October we’ll head west to Ohio and Indiana to play at Bowling Green State University and do a four-day residency performing, speaking, and teaching at Butler University. In February 2023 we’ll be out in the Bay Area, California, to play several concerts and to hopefully do some community engagement at various high schools. We’ve also been in touch with high schools in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and hope to be able to schedule concerts and workshops with students there as well.
If you haven’t recently, please take a look at our website (www.Bardin-Niskala-Duo.com), which An-Lin continually updates and revises. Our list of composers is growing, we have a couple short videos posted, and we include our upcoming concert and residency dates. Also linked to our website you’ll find application information for a side-project of ours: our January 2023 Winterhaven Chamber Music Retreat for adults (to be held at Avaloch, in New Hampshire). This is a one-week intensive chamber music retreat for adult violinists, violists, cellists, and pianists. If you know of any adults who would like to spend a week studying and enjoying chamber music together in a beautiful setting, please send them to our website (www.Bardin-Niskala-
And if you’re in the area for any of our performances this fall or spring, we hope to see you there! If you know of a school or community in your area that would be interested in our project, please reach out to us through our Contact page and let us know. One of our goals is to spend more and more time engaging the community through visits to high schools and community organizations. This is often best achieved through personal connections, so if you have some ideas or know someone who heads an organization or teaches at a high school, please let us know!
Last but not least, we want to thank for your continued support and interest in our project. We truly couldn’t do what we do without you. Thank you.
–– An-Lin and Naomi, July 2022
Avaloch Farm Music Institute
As the New Year rolls in and things seem to once again be upside-down and full of the unknown, we are staying optimistic and hopeful for the light at the end of the tunnel! We had several incredible and touching opportunities to return to music-making for live audiences this past November, and engaging and exciting conversations with the composers we are commissioning continue, and it is through these experiences that we remain hopeful. The beautiful thing about composition is that composers work in solitude – writing requires isolation and quiet and time – as does the learning of such pieces.
Here is a bit of what we’ve been up to in 2021:
In August, we were fortunate to be able to spend two weeks at Avaloch Farm Music Institute in New Hampshire – a retreat for professional musicians who seek to work on a specific project for an intense period of time. Our first commission, “Three Adaptations” by Taiwanese-American composer Yiheng Yvonne Wu arrived, completed, the first day of our residency. Over the two weeks at Avaloch, we worked on Yvonne’s piece, sending her bits of recordings and working with her over Zoom. We also started to put together the remaining works on our “Of Innocence, Loss, and Healing – Songs My Mother Taught Me” recital program – song transcriptions of Mahler and Dvorak, Janacek’s Pohadka (Fairy Tale), and works by Nadia Boulanger, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and William Grant Still. Our residency at Avaloch was an important and special time for us – it was the first time in 18 months that we found ourselves amongst fellow musicians, engaging in conversations about music and performing for each other. We knew how much we had all, as musicians, given up during the first year and a half of the pandemic, but we didn’t really know how much we had given up until we got there.
We premiered Yvonne’s piece at Susquehanna University (PA) in early November, and then we took our program on a tour to Wisconsin and Minnesota. You can find a video recording here of the last concert on our tour – at a church in Beloit, Wisconsin – where Yvonne is the composition professor. After we returned home, Yvonne’s composition students wrote about our performance – here are a couple of their responses. This is why we perform and share with audiences.
“Seeing you two perform together was awe inspiring. I don’t usually listen to much classical music, but the entire performance I was transfixed. I appreciate the time and energy you both put into coming to our little campus. Thank you!”
“Thank you so much! This was such an incredible experience, and it blew me away. The performance was amazing and had points that were very emotional for me. Absolutely beautiful and I am so appreciative you all came to Beloit!”
“Seeing such world class musicians like the two of you performing in a church in such a humble place like Beloit is probably my most memorable and fulfilling experience this senior year. Thank you for bringing art and your passions to us.”
“It was an honor to see such reverence for the emotion of music. Your performance shows your mastery and I appreciate you sharing your interpretations of the pieces with such grace. Your intuition and flow were inspiring and engaging to me, and reminded me of the importance of presence within performance. Thank you for coming and making an impact!”
So what does 2022 hold for us? We are currently awaiting our second commissioned work, from Navajo Juantio Becenti – we should receive the work towards the end of this month! Juantio has selected the Navajo song “Shi Naasha” that was composed after the Navajo left Ft. Sumner where they had been imprisoned for numerous years after conflicts with the US, Mexico, and various other Native American tribes aligned with the US. Juantio writes that “after (this) period of conflict the Navajo were rounded up in 1864 and forced on a walk from our traditional homelands to an internment camp 300+ miles away. Many Navajo died during that journey and those that survived were imprisoned until 1868 when a treaty was signed. The Navajo homeland is bordered by 4 mountains with the southern-most being called Tsoodzil (turquoise mountain) or Mt. Taylor in New Mexico. When the returning Navajo saw the mountain, they were overcome with joy and composed Shi Naasha. It talks about going in beauty and freedom.”
Our third and fourth composers to be commissioned – Ugandan-American Niles Luther and Chinese-Samoan/Hawaiian Michael Thomas Foumai – are working on our pieces, with the goal of completing them in August of 2022. Please stay tuned for more information on their works!
We are hoping that this performance season can continue as close to normal as possible – there will definitely be some hiccups along the way, but we are hoping for the best. In early February we will perform again at Susquehanna University (where Naomi teaches), during a day of colloquiums and programs celebrating the work of Martin Luther King. We are preparing a program entitled “What is Identity? Where Do I Belong? Answers In Music.” Many of the composers featured on our program have agreed to record videos speaking about how they find, express, and communicate their sense of identity and belonging, and their sense of culture, in their compositions. We will intersperse these videos with performances of Yvonne’s piece, Juantio’s piece, and of two more works: “Jhula-Jhule” by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail, and “Brother Malcolm…” by Haitian composer Rudy Perrault.
We have additional performances in the works in New York and Connecticut this spring, and if the pandemic allows, a performance on WVIA public radio here in Pennsylvania. In the meantime, we are working on setting up performances in North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, and hope to be able to visit and perform for K-12 schools once pandemic restrictions subside – we will keep you posted!
And lastly, we want to thank you again for your generous support in our project – without your support we would not be able to continue forging ahead. We had a very successful fund-raising year, which has allowed us to contact additional composers to inquire about their interest in composing a piece for our project. We are speaking with composers from Haiti, Peru, and the Chickasaw nation. As things become finalized, we will send you an update and post on our website as well.
We wish you a happy and healthy 2022, full of curiosity and new experiences!
-- Naomi and An-Lin, January 2022
Listening to Yiheng Yvonne Wu speak about her piece,"Three Adaptations," in Beloit, WI.