81. Interviews – Composer Samuel Stokes on the Premiere of his “Mythos”
Over the past few days, I had a chance to talk again with composer Samuel Stokes about his new piece Mythos which will be premiered this Tuesday, October 4 at “Joyous Sounds,” the next concert in the series Nachtmusik von BrainSurge, which will feature cellist Paul Christopher and double bassist Josue Ramirez. Stokes who teaches composition at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana has in fact written Mythos with just this occasion and just these performers in mind. I previously had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Stokes about his Scion of Eisenach when this piece received its Louisiana premiere back in May at the Sugarmill Music Festival. It was great to reconnect with Dr. Stokes, although I regret I will miss the premiere next week. Here is what Dr. Stokes had to say about his new piece.
What is the significance of the title “Mythos” and does your new piece follow a specific program? "Mythos" is a term that describes a culture's belief system. It is a general term and can encompass belief in both deities and political ideologies. I have been spending a lot of time recently thinking about how one's belief in a deity, and often a holy book, can shape one's political ideologies, and conversely, how one's belief in ideologies can shape one's perception of a deity and interpretation of a holy book. This reshaping of themes can be found in this piece, particularly through the competition between disparate harmonic languages. The beginning of the piece is clearly in A minor, but the themes presented at the beginning are altered throughout the piece and juxtaposed with very non-tonal harmonic language.
Are there any musical motives or ideas audience members should be listening for? Do these relate to the title “Mythos”? There are thematic motives from the opening A minor section. Immediately following the A minor section is an explosive non-tonal gesture in the bass, which is also an important motive throughout the piece. About halfway through the piece, there is a dolce theme in the cello, which is clearly in G major. It is then rather quickly transformed until it is barely recognizable. The alteration of the G major melody is particularly analogous to how quickly a culture's “mythos” can be altered until it barely resembles its original form.
Did you encounter any special challenges writing for two string bass instruments? If so, how did you overcome them? The biggest challenge in writing for a cello and bass duo is that both instruments are low string instruments and there is a tendency for the sound to become very thick on the low end. There are essentially two things that I did to overcome this. First, I simply embraced the low end during certain parts of the piece, especially with the double-stops in the bass during the first section of the piece. Second, I made good use of the higher register of the cello. The upper register of the cello is simply beautiful for lush melodies.
What has it been like working with Paul Christopher and Josue Ramirez? When did you complete your work and when did their work begin? Working with Paul and Josue has been great. I met Paul as soon as I moved to Natchitoches in 2013, and Josue and I were in grad school together at LSU before that. I've had the pleasure to see them both perform on multiple occasions in the past, and they are both high caliber, energetic performers. I completed the piece in June of this year and they began working on it right after I finished. I was able to hear them rehearse the piece at the beginning of September, and I'm very excited at how it sounds.
What is the future of this composition? I don't have any immediate plans for the work after its premiere, but it is certainly possible that I would submit Mythos to composition calls or seek out other performers to play it in the future. The sheet music is also available for purchase as a digital download at Sheet Music Plus.
Is there anything else you would like to say about this piece? I really enjoyed writing this piece and working with Paul and Josue. I really hope everyone enjoys what I'm sure will be a fabulous performance!
If you have not had the chance to attend Nachtmusik von BrainSurge yet, be sure to catch Tuesday’s concert and the premiere of Samuel Stokes’ new work, Mythos! The music starts at 6:30 PM at the new BrainSurge center at the corner of Texas and Jackson, between Sylvan Learning and Wildwood Pizza in Alexandria. In addition to the new piece by Stokes, musicians Christopher and Ramirez will also play works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Julius Goltermann. Full program notes are available here!
About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a music scholar, composer, and advocate of music. Jackson graduated summa cum laude from the Louisiana Scholars’ College located in Natchitoches, Louisiana in May 2013 after completing his undergraduate thesis “Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers.” As series director of the successful Abendmusik Alexandria chamber music series from May 2014 to April 2016, Jackson played a vital role in the renewal of interest in chamber music across central Louisiana. This interest has encouraged the creation of the annual Sugarmill Music Festival and the new series Nachtmusik von BrainSurge, both of which Jackson remains active in as concert annotator and creative consultant. He also blogs at MusicCentral where he shares concert experiences, gives listening recommendations, posts interviews with contemporary composers, and offers insights into his own compositions. As a composer, he has worked to integrate a modern vocabulary into established classical forms in ways that are not only innovative but also engaging to the general listener. In fall 2016, Jackson began graduate studies in musicology at the University of Louisville where he also sings with the University Chorus and participates in the School of Music Composition Seminar. Learn more about Jackson Harmeyer, his scholarship, and his compositions at www.JacksonHarmeyer.com.