Exploring Voices with Russian Composer Olga Krashenko

As a composer and classical music blogger I am always interested in hearing new works particularly from up and coming composers. Olga Krashenko responded to my call for scores presenting me with a chance to hear a recording of her "Up the down Staircase" for 4 female voices. She also included a score so I could explore her compositional style on paper as well.

She has won numerous awards for this piece. The detail at which she expresses her musical ideas on paper and how they translate to actual sound production is certainly reason enough. But the music has more alluring than that. "Up the down Staircase" is an exploration of what the voice can do using a limited set of vocalizations, yet extensive use of modulating the voice through glissandos, trills and vocal effects. As with much of the early work of Stockhausen, Nono and Reich, there is a query into what can be done rather than just repeat what has already been done.

As Ms Krashenko is still exploring composition I suspect there is still a sense of that quest for something new. Numerous composers have pondered this same question, experimenting with what is sound and what is music. Some have done so through magnetic tape, loops, sound generation and various effects. Others have explored the idea of music through new and innovative graphical scores. Regardless of the method, the concept was to attempt to extended the definition of music, to somehow redefine it for a modern world.

Olga Krashenko is one of these exploratory composers. You can listen to her piece (as I did) off of her Myspace page. It is interesting the way the voices weave together. The score does an excellent job instructing the vocalists with what they are to attempt - and I believe the recording is an excellent reproduction of the score. One of the problems with much of 20th century music exploration is the inability to decipher what the composer intended into actual audible sounds. For the most part she uses standard notation with extended technique notes to explain the effects desired. Somewhat like Ferneyhough, she asks the performers to do non-standard techniques, however Ms Krashenko doesn't take it all the way to New Complexity.

This sort of exploration is necessary for the creation of new music. We would not have such an in-depth understanding of minimalism if it had not been for the early experiments of Steve Reich and Terry Riley. Many of the modern sound recording devices used today owe their existence to people like Luc Ferrari and Luigi Nono. These are greats in the field of music - even if I don't tend to like much of what they accomplished personally. We, as musicians/composers/listeners, owe them our modern sonic world for everything from Pop to modern classical has been shaped by what they have done. Olga Krashenko appears to be headed down this same road.

I made the comment that I don't tend to like much of what these composers did in terms of music and I should clarify. I like some of Steve Reich's early works. His later works, particularly his last piece which won a Grammy, are absolutely amazing! He has moved beyond his days of pure sonic exploration and into a world of music. While I understand the importance of his early work, it is his later music that I most admire.

In terms of Olga Krashenko I admire what she has done. It is well crafted and worthy of all the acclaim she has been awarded. However, it is not a piece of music I would specifically choose to listen to in my CD player, or would not enjoy a concert of like pieces. Isolated, it is a strong exploration as to what's possible. For me, I guess I'm waiting for what's next - when does her music become less intellectual and more enjoyable and what shape will it hold?

Olga Krashenko studied at Music School earning the honor of "Young talents of Russia". From 1999 to 2003 her studies took her to the theoretical department of the Kaliningrad Music Colledge where she worked with the Kaliningrad Symphonic Orchestra recording her first symphony. She then she studied at the Saint-Petersburg Conservatoire taking part in several concerts and festivals including the "Time of music: fin de siecle" and the First International Festival of Arts "Destruction and creation", Chernyahovsk, 2007. She has taken extensive courses in Experimental and Acoustic Art with live electronics and magnetic tape, and the Stockhausen Summer Courses in Venice. In January 2009, she was composer in residence at the Studio Varese in Paris where she composed her work "Ge" for flute and electronics. This year she is studying composition and orchestral direction with Paul Mefano privately, Patrice Fouillaud and Teresa Ida Blotta at the Conservatoire de Villeneuve le Roi, and Edith Lejet at the Ecole Normale de Musique, while at the same time being composer in residency with the CLSI computer ensemble.

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