Main Stage :: Up With The Arc

Up With The Arc

The Arc Duo commission new repetoire while breathing life into old favorites

August 13, 2006


After electrifying the concert scene with a sold out Carnegie Hall debut and performances at prestigious venues such as Lincoln Center, Merkin Concert Hall, Weill Hall, Trinity Church, and the National Flute Convention, Bradley Colten and Heather Holden are ready to announce their first CD.

Urban Guitar: Your new CD sounds great. How did you choose the music for it?

Bradley Colten: Thanks, I’m glad you like it.

This is Arc Duo’s first CD and I suppose you could think of it as a collection of some of our favorite repertoire (Robert Beaser’s Mountain Songs, Astor Piazzolla’s History of the Tango, Ned Rorem’s Romeo & Juliet, and Joan Tower’s Snow Dreams). We simply chose music that we love to perform.

With this said, there were really two criteria in deciding what went on the record. First, the disc reflects our interest in music that displays equality and balance in the ensemble, equal emphasis for flute and guitar. Second, we set out to make a statement about pieces we thought were of real significance in the repertoire.

Of course, the Beaser and Piazzolla works enjoy wide attention. These are great works in that they are at once accessible to all audiences and of lasting value musically. (I hope that we’ve been able to add a new and interesting perspective on these pieces with this recording.)

However, the Rorem and Tower works haven’t yet gotten the attention they deserve. They are truly remarkable works offered by two of the more significant composers of our time. The guitar is highlighted beautifully in both pieces and they should be considered gifts to us guitarists!

Snow Dreams and Romeo & Juliet are especially dear to me because Heather and I had the good fortune of working with both Joan Tower and Ned Rorem on their respective piece. Both composers have influenced not only our interpretations of these pieces, but also our work as an ensemble in general.

With the release of the CD this July, Heather and I are already looking toward our next disc which will feature works we’ve commissioned and debuted. We’ve pretty much got the repertoire decided upon. Of course, first we must find additional funding!

Urban Guitar: Was recording two very different instruments challenging?

Bradley Colten: In my mind, recording with flute and guitar is no more challenging than performing. The instruments have quite different attributes, so one must take care to balance and blend the two sounds. This is something that Heather and I have always been mindful of and, happily, it is something that has always come relatively easy to us. We were also very lucky to have Silas Brown as our engineer on this project. He is wonderful to work with and an absolutely brilliant engineer.

Urban Guitar: Tell me about your commissioning project.

Bradley Colten: Early on, Arc Duo dedicated itself to 20th Century and Contemporary music. Once we committed to music of our time, it became imperative (for both practical and more lofty reasons) to help expand the ensemble-type’s repertoire. In 2004, Diller-Quaile School of Music generously began to funded the Commissioning Project, leaving it to Heather and me to pick composers with whom we want to collaborate. The first composer we worked with was Duncan Neilson who composed Romances For Flute and Guitar which we then debuted in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall.

I have found along the way that there is almost nothing as exciting and rewarding as working with composers and helping bring new works into existence.

Urban Guitar: What have the composers been like to work with?

Bradley Colten: The composers I’ve worked with, both in the commissioning process and in coachings of already existing works, are as varied as any group of individuals. Some wish the performer to simply interpret what they have already fully conceived and created. Others have been happy to have me roll up my sleeves and jump in with advice, gentle critique, and questions. Of course the guitar is a new and idiosyncratic instrument for many composers. With these commissions, there is invariably much time spent re-voicing chords and re-thinking passages.

Urban Guitar: Of the music you commissioned, do you have a favorite?

Bradley Colten: This is an impossible question! I could not possibly choose – or at least, I could not possibly tell!!

Urban Guitar: What other composers do you plan to commission?

Bradley Colten: Arc Duo is currently waiting (excitedly) for a score from Roland Dyens – his first ever flute/guitar work – and we have just begun a collaboration with New York composer Shafer Mahoney. We are chatting with a few others right now, but I shouldn’t speak much more of this until things have solidified.

Urban Guitar: Tell me the genesis of the Arc Duo. When did you begin playing together?

Bradley Colten: Heather and I met standing in line to register for classes at the Manhattan School of Music - it was literally the first day of our Masters Degree program in 1995. At first we just began playing for each other and trying out new solo pieces we were working on. Then the next year, to fulfill our chamber music requirement, we began playing together as an ensemble. After graduation, Heather moved to Italy for two years, so we suspended the duo and I went to work on solo repertoire and a solo CD. When she returned we picked up where we left off and quickly got serious about the ensemble.

Urban Guitar: You've probably been involved with many chamber groups, in school and otherwise. Why have you continued to foster this group as a professional?

Bradley Colten: Interesting question. I’ve done a lot of chamber music from my years as an undergraduate onward, and with very few exceptions, I have had great experiences. As I said before, Heather and I started playing together in our Masters program and something just clicked with us. It certainly helped that early on we got encouraging feedback form coaches and colleagues. We were having fun and performing some. Later on, we won a competition, kept getting concerts, and eventually we were on our way!

I suppose that ‘click’ for us had a lot to do with our shared musical aesthetic. We really think about music in complimentary ways – this makes for really exciting rehearsals. While this shared aesthetic is at the core of good (and lasting) chamber music ensembles, there are other things that make groups work well or not. In order to survive, a group’s members must be on the same page in regard to the business end of things too. I think this is where Heather and I got lucky. We have found that we work really well, and compliment each other’s strengths, on the business side of things too.

Now that Arc Duo is ensemble-in-residence at Diller-Quaile School of Music, we have the luxury of rehearsing together most days of the week and meeting regularly for business meetings – it’s a great set up.

Urban Guitar: What differences do you find in playing chamber music as opposed to solo playing?

Bradley Colten: Both are great. In chamber music you are responsible for a part that is tied to a whole. You must understand your partner’s line, work with them and respond fluidly to them. With solo playing, there is certainly more self-reliance and therefore, perhaps more freedom. On the other hand, rehearsals are fun and sharing ideas and working as a team is truly an amazing, energizing thing. Touring is also much more fun with a friend!

Urban Guitar: Do you find your solo playing improves by being in a chamber group?

Bradley Colten: Absolutely! Especially for guitarists, chamber music is such an important exercise and so beneficial to solo playing and general musicianship. Guitarists, perhaps more than all other instrumentalists, suffer from musical seclusion. This impacts not only their facility on the instrument, but also how they think about repertoire, performance and learning.

With chamber music work, guitarists must listen to intonation, work on pulse, and really explore the dynamic range of our instrument. While these elements can often be overlooked when playing alone, in chamber music they confront you straight away – and that is a good thing!

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