Boja Kragulj

Technology is the bridge

CMNW 2019 performer-composer Boja Kragulj talks technology, creativity, education, and making connections.

By CHARLES ROSE

As a freshly graduated composer, I don’t feel a particular attachment to the classical music canon. Of course there are composers and works I have a strong attachment to—Ravel’s La Valse, Beethoven’s late string quartets, Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, Ligeti’s Atmospheres, anything Webern wrote—but I don’t feel the need to listen to something just because our culture deems it important. And it sounds silly to say that I “discovered” classical music—but I didn’t grow up listening to it outside Looney Tunes and movie soundtracks. So when I began listening to Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, I was also listening for the first time to Radiohead, Aphex Twin, Miles Davis, Stockhausen, Björk, Flying Lotus, and so on.

I’ve been perpetually disappointed by how little music education engages with music beyond a tiny corpus of “dead white men.” These guys may present us with valuable techniques and perspectives, but teaching them exclusively while ignoring many other important musical traditions and perspectives is naive at best. Much as we value diversity, I question the value of teaching the same things we’ve always taught, only with a more diverse set of mouth pieces.

What’s the point of allowing more people at the table if we won’t let them speak? Reading the unique perspectives of Pauline Oliveros and Kofi Agawu has been incredibly eye-opening, but I had to discover them outside of the classroom. The onus is on us millennial and zoomer composers to expand our musical minds and build a new musical culture.

Composer, clarinetist, and teacher Boja Kragulj.

What I admire about clarinetist-composer-teacher Boja Kragulj’s music is her dedication to expanding the horizons of music, looking for inspiration from Turkish music, music technology, and her students’ tastes. On June 28th, Kragulj opened this year’s Chamber Music Northwest New@Noon series with an untitled work for clarinet and laptop, creating a haunting and beautiful tapestry of loops, echoes and stretched-out tones. The rest of that first noon program celebrated the clarinet by focusing on its agility and the performer’s skill with extreme ranges and extended techniques, while Kragulj’s work brought forth the instrument’s beautiful resonance and subtle dynamics.

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MusicWatch Weekly: clarinets cut loose!

Chamber Music Northwest blows into town with windy festival-within-a-festival. Meanwhile, woe unto thee: you just missed Makrokosmos V.

“Good afternoon! I’m David Shifrin, and I play the clarinet!” A big roomful of laughing clarinetists goes “woooo!” and welcomes the Chamber Music Northwest Artistic Director to Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall for the first of the festival’s five New@Noon concerts. It’s the last Friday in June, it’s breezy and just uncomfortably warm enough, and we’re up here in the Performance Hall—instead of down in the recital hall by the statue in the basement, where the New@Noon shows are usually held—because of that roomful of clarinetists. “We have a hundred clarinetists here,” Shifrin said, a gigantic smile on his face, “and it’s a joyous occasion.”

David Shifrin and Ralston String Quartet play Mozart. Photo by Jonathan Lange.
David Shifrin and Ralston String Quartet play Mozart. Photo by Jonathan Lange.

Earlier that week

Last Friday, I told you all about the lovely afternoon and evening you could have down at Reed College the following Monday. CMNW’s all-Mozart opening concert was as purply as promised: a warm breezy day, a cool evening, and all the Mozart you could stand—culminating in the delirious birdsong laden romp through the countryside which was Shifrin and Protégé Project Artists Rolston String Quartet ripping through the majory-as-cherry-pie Clarinet Quintet in A Major.

The best music of the evening, though, didn’t feature clarinets much at all: the Notturni for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Baritone, and Three Basset Horns. This combination, when it held steady (two of the basset hornists occasionally switched to plain vanilla Bb clarinets), was so extraordinarily luscious it made me want to hear everything arranged this way. Nottorni, cantatas, arias, art songs, requiems, whole operas, all of it.

Extra points to soprano Vanessa Isiguen and mezzo Hannah Penn (the latter fresh off two runs of Laura Kaminsky’s As One) for supporting both each other and baritone Zachary Lenox, all while blending with the weirdo horns, selling the hell out of Mozart’s sweet, smeary, summery harmonies, and just generally kicking ass.

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