New Music at Carnegie Hall: Carnegie Hall Commissions
Commission at a Glance
Sulvasutra
Evan Ziporyn
Recorded on September 13, 2006
at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood Music Center


Gascia Ouzounian, Violin; Carmel Raz, Violin; Nadia Sirota, Viola; Wouter Vercruysse, Cello; Wu Man, Pipa; Sandeep Das, Tabla

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Notes on the Work

Composer/clarinetist Evan Ziporyn is Artistic Director of Gamelan Galak Tika and a founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, with whom he has toured since 1992. He has received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Goddard Lieberson Fellowship as well as commissions from the Rockefeller Foundation, American Composers Orchestra, Meet the Composer, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the Pew Foundation, and the Kronos Quartet. His music is colored by his 25-year involvement with Balinese gamelan: his groundbreaking works for gamelan and Western instruments have been featured at the Bali International Arts Festival and in Zankel Hall.

Mr. Ziporyn’s CD of orchestral music, Frog’s Eye, will be released this fall on the Cantaloupe Music label. His works have been released on Sony Classical, New Albion, New World, Koch, Innova, and CRI. His 2001 solo clarinet CD, This Is Not a Clarinet, made numerous Top Ten lists and was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and PRI’s The World. His music was also featured in the American Repertory Theater’s acclaimed 2004 production of Oedipus Rex.

A partial list of collaborators with Bang on a Can includes Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, Brian Eno, Paul Simon, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Ornette Coleman, Don Byron, Louis Andriessen, Iva Bittová, Thurston Moore, Wayan Wija, Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Pamela Z., and Ethel. As a bass clarinet soloist, he will premiere his Grenadilla Concerto with the American Composers Orchestra in Zankel Hall next month. He is Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has two children, Leo, 13, and Ava, 6.

About Sulvasutra, the composer writes:

Sulvasutra is based on an ancient Sanskrit treatise, probably dating from 800 BCE, that gives rules for the proper construction of Vedic altars. It is in three continuous movements, built around rhythmic cycles of four, five, and three—that is, the sides of a right triangle.

“Ka” (literally, “who”; also the first consonant in the Sanskrit alphabet) is the secret name of Prajapati, the selfexisting one who creates the universe. His story here mingles with our own creation myth, the Big Bang. String harmonics are floating particles, regarded as waves by the “one seer,” who dreams the pipa melody. The particles accrue to singularity, then explode and take shape, creating space for the tintal meter of the tabla.

“Agni” is the sacrificial fire, Prajapati’s second creation, itself a god. There is evidence that elements of Vedic culture spread to Georgia and Greece; this movement represents that wildfire-like diffusion. Its modal harmonies wind their way through Georgia to the West; its meter begins as strict jhap (a five-beat tal) and ends in an additive feel closer to the Balkans.

In “Letter to Pythagoras (3/4/5),” we remain in Greece, where the Mystical Order learned its math from someone (who?). Over a simple drone, the violins build a melody on the same 3- 4-5 triangle. Mathematical formulae are infinitely expandable, and what follows is a door opening to that expansion, all burning steadily over a strict three-beat tal.