In the Club with: Edo Frenkel
For our third episode, we are happy to welcome conductor-composer-pianist Edo Frenkel and cellist Alexa Ciciretti. You can find Alexa's interview here. Welcome, Edo!
Tell us about a recent musical experience that you particularly enjoyed.
Perhaps this will be an unusual answer, but a recent musical experience I had that was particularly enjoyable was at a conducting audition - I can preemptively sense ‘huh!’s of surprise with eyebrows raised…
I should preface my answer by saying that like for many of us, auditions have been pretty burdensome for me, and one of the reasons this audition was so enjoyable was that I somehow was able to get myself into a head-space, mind-set, whatever one is to call it, in which I could “let go” of any result.
The required repertoire was already cause for joy: excerpts from Stravinsky Le Sacre, Ravel Daphnis, Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake - music I grew up listening to and have always wanted to conduct. Moreover, the structure of the audition was a bit different from what I’ve previously experienced, in that one had to work with dancers.
I don’t know how common it is for folks to conduct with dancers, but I can honestly say it was my first time, though I had played for a ballet class once a quite a few years earlier. In any case, the experience was really exhilarating, and though I made several basic mistakes, to have to suddenly interpret and understand how a completely different genre of artists feel and express themselves while simultaneously maintaining all of the typical functions that a conductor normally does made for a very exhilarating experience; perhaps because of rather than in spite of the risk.
Who are some composers or ensembles you’ve been enjoying listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to a huge variety of music lately. I’ve particularly enjoyed getting to know the music of Stefan Wolpe in much greater detail, particularly his chamber music, Symphony, and various piano pieces. The music of Harrison Birtwistle is kind of a staple for me and I always enjoy listening to pieces I’ve never heard before, such as Keyboard Engine, or revisiting old pieces, such as The Triumph of Time and The Mask of Orpheus.
I’ve had an on-again-off-again obsession with the music of Machaut and Gesualdo. I recently came across some really remarkable recordings of both composers’ music by a group called Grain de la voix - an added bonus is the group’s reference to Roland Barthe’s essay of the same name. By that same token a couple of months ago I came across EXAUDI vocal ensemble’s performances of Nicola Vincentino’s music and I find myself frequently relistening to them - especially the piece Musica prisca caput.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the music of my peers, especially Samir Amarouch and Yu Kuwabara. It’s especially exciting to hear friends develop into really inventive and inspiring composers. I'm very eager to see what new directions in music emerge as we younger composers continue to develop and grow.
Lastly, there are two operas I’ve been obsessed with lately: György Kurtág’s Fin de Partie and Philip Venables’s Psychosis 4.48. Both are fascinating pieces that really deal incredibly well with the texts they’ve set, especially given the mammoth gravity of their respective tasks. I need to listen to both a bit more but I find each to be an incredibly deep, rich, and rewarding listen.
Is there a moment or experience that got you hooked on contemporary music?
To be honest, I grew up listening to contemporary music. My mom used to play VHS and laser-discs (wow, I feel old) of all sorts of pieces including the operas of Oliver Knussen, the late music of Stravinsky - including Aldous Huxley Variations - and many of the famous Ballets Russe pieces of the early to mid-20th century. Beyond that, as a kid, I was always into noise-y music, ranging from Jimi Hendrix, Bad Brains, Merzbow, Nirvana, Frank Zappa, Slipknot … the list goes on.
There were probably two particular experiences, though, that drove me to perform it myself. When I first went to college, after my piano teacher had been mortified by my over-enthusiasm for dynamic contrasts in a Beethoven sonata, he recommended that I take a look at the music of composers from the Second Viennese school. When I complained I didn’t understand the music he encouraged me to take composition lessons formally (I had already “composed” by then) to better understand how this music works. Needless to say, once I actually was able to play a couple of pieces by Schoenberg and Webern, I was really into the music, regardless whether I “understood” how the music was put together or not.
That led to the second experience which was a concert of Sal Martirano’s music, which featured his piece L’s GA. The piece is a 30-minute multimedia piece from the late 1960’s, which involves a very gradual recitation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, hence the title of the piece. I had never witnessed anything like that before and was so completely mesmerized. I remember thinking “Is that allowed?! Does that count?!”
That spirit of adventure, challenge, and sometimes the very question of what’s allowed and what counts has kept me hooked ever since.
What role would you like to see contemporary music play in our music community - or in the community at large?
I don’t know if I would like the role of contemporary music to change beyond what it already does but I do wish there was greater financial and institutional support in order to more frequently give audiences the opportunity to experience it. When I say institutional support, I suppose I mean within the commercial sphere -- that is, I wish there could be more of a space carved out for it in people’s daily listening experience. I say that with some reluctance, though. There is something to be said, though I understand it could be contested, that some of the power of truly adventurous music, new music as a genre, is derived from its very existence outside of a quotidian sphere. Moreover, it could be said that having a self-enclosed community which develops various sets of rules and principles for what things mean and what sounds good further reinforces the genre’s edge and more richly and uniquely cultivates what the music can mean. In any case, the most important thing for me is that somehow the path to find this music is streamlined, so that people, if they’re interested, can find the music that’s out there.
As someone who conducts, composes, and performs, do you have any advice for other multifaceted musicians seeking hybrid careers?
I had a teacher who gave me what I have found to be very wise advice and it continues to echo in my head from time to time: if you’re going to develop several vocations at once, all to the same high professional level, you have to expect that it’s going to take that much more time to do it. In essence, whether we are developing one specialty or four I find that we have to be patient and to allow ourselves the time needed to develop those skills. I have found that for me, the higher the level we reach the more patience we need to have with ourselves so that we can derive as much joy from what we’re doing as possible. That way we can have a clear vision of what we’re doing within a particular artistic sphere at a given time. I find that this is the fundamental thing - never to just do something for the sake of it, but rather to find the meaning of what it is we’re doing. If we have a clear vision of the broader picture and we are able to infuse our efforts with sincere enjoyment, then that can generate creativity which then has the opportunity to be understood through the transmission of an artistic experience.
The other element is learning how to balance the different fields within which we want to operate. That, in a sense, is a skill unto itself. I think that still relates to the aforementioned idea of patience but it has to be matched with a very sincere and sometimes brutally honest assessment and sense of self. The worst thing that can happen is that we overburden ourselves and we can’t fulfill our creative promise. To make sure that never happens we just have to be very honest with who and where we are in our creative development and to be patient with the trajectory of our growth. That leads me to the other bit of advice my teacher gave which has remained my mantra for living (no I’m not exaggerating): if every day you work to develop the highest level of yourself, there’s no guessing, your future makes itself.
Outside of music, what are some other types of art and media that you particularly enjoy?
I’m an avid watcher of anime. At the moment I’m halfway through a series from the early 2000’s called Monster. It’s really a classic. I have always loved movies, too, but there’s something about the added aesthetic element of the animation itself that I really enjoy in anime.
Thank you for joining us, Edo!
Edo Frenkel is a "feisty" (LA Times) young conductor, composer, and pianist, quickly gaining attention for his "performances of both intimacy and intensity” (Opera Magazine). He has guest conducted LUDWIG, Baltimore Symphony Musicians, Ensemble Meitar, Ensemble Mise-en and appeared in performances with Tonkünstler Orchester-Niederösterreich, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Charleston Symphony, members of New World Symphony, and Ensemble Moderne Akademie. He has performed in Aldeburgh and Lucerne Festivals and was a featured Festival Artist at the 2019 Ojai Festival. In July 2021, Dr. Frenkel will participate as an assistant conductor at the Verbier Festival. Beginning in September 2020, he will serve as the JPYAP Assistant Conductor of the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Dr. Frenkel has worked as assistant conductor to Sir Simon Rattle, Brad Lubman, Franck Ollu, and Barbara Hannigan. In addition to working as Hannigan’s assistant, he served as répétiteur, coach, and keyboard player for the LUDWIG European/US tour which included performances at the Paris Philharmonie, Royal Concertgebouw, and Hamburg Elbphilharmonie. As a keyboard player, Dr. Frenkel also served as Hannigan’s rehearsal pianist on the Satie: Socrate project at the Ruhrtriennale Festival and at the Park Ave Armory in New York City. He performed in the Philadelphia Orchestra's SoundLAB as part of the Barnes/Stokowski Festival.
At home in both notated and improvised music, Dr. Frenkel performs regularly in concerts involving creative music making. Additionally, he has performed with Jazz greats Peter Erskine and Randy Brecker.
His music has been performed in international festivals by artists such as Talea Ensemble, EXAUDI vocal ensemble, JACK quartet, Tonküntsler-Orchester Niederösterreich, and Ensemble Paramirabo. His music has been performed in the US, Canada, Japan, and in Europe. He has been featured in such festivals as Royaumont Voix Nouvelles (France), CEME (Israel), and the ME_MMIX Festival (Spain). His most recent commissions include a work for pianist Yu-Ting Huang and the Concours International de Piano de Porte d’Orleans and a large ensemble work for Ensemble x.y. (UK) as part of their Zeitgeist Online Gallery. Headshot (top) by Stephen Jones; photo (bottom) by Nicholas Tippie