Interview with Alexa Babakhanian to talk about her new work, "Beat by Beat", a vocal chamber piece for SATB, piano, guitar, violin and string bass, using a collage of texts by female poets of the Beat Generation
I had a chance to talk to New York based composer Alexa Babakhanian about the new work she has composed for our upcoming concert "I sing the body electric: Walt Whitman and Beat Generation Poets in chamber music and song" on June 12th at 8 PM (Saint Peter's Church at CitiCorp in Manhattan); I asked her a couple a questions about "Beat by Beat". I liked her interesting choice of focusing on the female poets of the Beat Generation, she was the only composer of our group of world premieres to focus on these poets, which are often the forgotten shadow group of the male Beats:
AT What attracted you to this text by Diane DiPrima for lyrics for your new chamber music ensemble piece "Beat by Beat"?
AB I was struck by DiPrima's frank poignancy in her representation of the mundane aspects of intimacy between mates. After researching women in the beat movement, I was compelled to compile a collage text of poems of eight women: Marie Ponsot, Anne Waldman, Diane DiPrima, Elise Cowan, Joanne Kyger, Lenore Kandel, Barbara Guest and Denise Levertov.
AT What are you trying to do with this piece?
AB After I had my collage text, I began to construct the piece.The work is driven by the text and has a fleeting pastiche quality. The sparse instrumental writing is colorful, adventurous and reflective. The singers often share thoughts and finish each others words. Ideas spill over and onto themselves. Syllabic extractions and abstractions pierce the score intermittently. The singers and musicians are stretched beyond the confines of their traditional modes of expression and often meld into one another creating a fluid continuity within juxtapositions of the poets' ideas.
AT How would you describe your musical style and basic personal themes that bleed into your work?
AB I enjoy taking risks and thinking outside the box of genre, language, instrumentation, and traditional approaches to performance and production of sound. I'm attracted to natural elements-their juxtapositions and fleeting qualities.
AT What other stuff are you up to?
AB I am currently preparing for a concert of my works at St. Marks including Hyakunin Isshu (100 poets/100 poems of the Imperial court.) written in Japanese for voice, Traditional Gagaku and western instruments, Videography and Dance and the woodblock prints of Hokusai which was originally presented at Columbia University and performed by Japanese Masters led by me at the piano.
I'm also working on a Quasi-Concerto for Rebecca Young, (Associate Principal Viola, New York Philharmonic) for Viola, Other Instruments and the Art Works and writings of Sol Lewitt.
...And most importantly, I'm enjoying my greatest creation and inspiration, Etenraku Babakhanian-my 11 month old son!!