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clarinet & violin

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Composer Spotlight: Icli Zitella

As a part of our "Introduction" concert coming up this Friday, we will be premiering Icli Zitella's "Contacts" for Violin and Bass Clarinet.  Born in Venezuela and currently living in New York City, Icli met and collaborated with Kevin during their time at Manhattan School of Music in 2014.  We reached out to Icli to ask a few questions about him and his musical approach. 

1. What is the most interesting aspect of writing for violin and bass clarinet? 

The challenge to compose for two instruments that seem so different at first sight. But, as I was investigating their possibilities, I realized that they have very much in common: they share a good portion of their register, around two octaves. Also, both instruments have extended techniques that produce very similar sounds: chords, percussive sounds, variations of color at the same height, glissandi, etc.

2. Your piece "Contacts" is based on the way that we communicate. Why did you decide to use this concept for your piece? 

When I was studying philosophy at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, I had a professor that profoundly influenced me: professor Ezra Heymann, disciple of the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. I remember professor Heymann would see dance as a model for all art, in the way that dance has everything to do with gesture and behavior. Even musical terms, for example, when we say that sound is high or low- we use concepts that define gestures, postures and physical actions, like raising your hand to refer to the upper range notes; lowering our hand to refer to the lower range notes. Edward Hanslick, an Austrian musicologist and critic, friend of Brahms, said that music does not express feelings, but the movement that accompanies those feelings: for example, anger and joy suggest fast movements; sadness suggests slow movements.

The idea of music as gesture and behavior has fascinated me for a very long time. I think that the categories of social interaction -conformity, cooperation, competition, coercion and exchange- suggest musical textures, and they relate to the actions that the musicians can do on the stage. Since Natalie and Kevin are married, these categories would show up in a very focused way because a couple is the most elemental form of society. In the music, I ask for the musicians to change their position (and their stands position) for every scene. This is with the goal of intensifying the gesture that goes with every specific interaction: being together, confronting each other, getting in the way of the other, having visual contact, or lack of visual contact, etc.

3. If you weren't a composer, what would you be? 

I would be a philosopher or a writer: someone that is associated with thought, understanding and communication with others through words.

4. Is there a part of your piece that represents your Venezuelan roots? 

In general, I have very few “marks” or “signs” in my music that reflect an ethnic or national identity (at least not consciously). I am opposed to all nationalism: my homeland is humanity. But I do think that I partake in Latin-American culture, its folk music and its artistic tradition, the ideal of emotional and expressive power of music. Music is not just an order of elements (like algebra or an algorithm), but it contains the power to enchant us, move us, provoke emotional reactions in us. Though I don’t really use ethnic elements in my music, curiously, in the case of my piece Contacts, in the last movement, I used a traditional Venezuelan rhythm. This was not a conscious decision, but after finishing it, I realized that it had the rhythm of “Joropo” (or something similar to that rhythm). This rhythm to me is exciting because it is “palindromic”: meaning that if it is read from left to right it sounds the same as if you read it from right to left.

5. Do you think music and art should be used as a way of resistance to the hardship and difficulties we face in the world today? 

Of course! Maybe not in the exaggerated way that western aesthetic tradition attributed music from ancient Greece: the power to destabilize the state and the traditions of its society. But it is obvious that music can contribute to making people more sensible to certain problems in humanity, whether they are individual or the society itself. That is why music has always been an instrument of propaganda, not just in totalitarian regimes. This is the reason why we listen to relaxing music at the dentist office and in the hallways of malls. In traditional cultures, music and singing are fundamental ingredients in rituals of healing. Also, contemporary music, with its questions about the fundamentals of tradition in music, can create the habit of cultivating a critical attitude in the face of prejudice and social conventions that are accepted automatically.