Ars Subtilior #7: More Than Quiet

At the next Ars Subtilior concert on Sunday, October 2nd, the MusicWorks Collective will be joining forces with Ordinary Affects, a group led by violinist/composer Morgan Evans-Weiler that explores, workshops, and commissions contemporary experimental music. Together we will present the works of Michael Pisaro, Morgan Evans-Weiler and Joseph Kurdika. The concert will feature premiers of new compositions by Pisaro and Evans-Weiler.

Michael Pisaro is a member of the Wandelweiser collective, an international community of composers who explore slow, quiet, intimate music of a minimal nature. In early September, I was extremely delighted to to find out that New Yorker Magazine featured an article( “The Composers of Quiet” by Alex Ross)about the category of experimental music that has been presented on CMW’s Ars Subtilior series since its inaugural concert in 2012.  In the article, Ross elegantly describes the scores of the Wandelweiser composer collective as “hovering in a space between sound and silence.” All of the composers featured on the next Ars Subtilior concert are connected to the Wandelweiser movement in one way or another. Michael Pisaro is a long-time member of the collective, Joseph Kudirka studied with Pisaro; Boston-based Morgan Evans-Weiler will be studying with Antoine Beuger, one of the founders of the collective, next month during a trip to Germany.

Although many of the characteristics of a “typical” Wandelweiser piece (slow, quiet, intimate) will be practiced during the concert, listeners will also be treated to delicately complex layers of unique timbres and sonic densities. This will partially be achieved by the expanded and unusual instrumentation of the concert—there will be ensemble members performing on amplified objects and sine tones—but also through the use of extended techniques on traditional instruments. Pisaro describes the range of sounds in his piece from “pure tone” to “pitch-focused noise” or “degrees of more or less white noise.” In other words, you’ll see two cellos, but you ain’t gonna hear two cellos.

How does one compose density or timbre? How does a composer translate these ideas to musicians and in turn, how do the musicians interpret these ideas correctly?
One way Michael Pisaro achieves this is by referring the performers of his piece to the paintings of J .M. W. Turner. He describes them as having “a sense of a landscape that is thoroughly penetrated by sunlight, fog, mist and debris; where the features of the landscape (ships, shore, cliffs, buildings, animals, people) are just recognizable behind the teaming elements. The paint is uneven, layered, material, textured: but even when dense, never heavy.”

It is highly conceptual music, but it is meant to sound organic and natural, the way water evaporates into air. The music is not only supposed to create atmosphere, but sound like it.

The works by Kurdika and Evans-Weiler also consider equally complex ideas. Kudirka’s score does not use traditional musical notation; there are only written directions, such as: “Each sound that a player makes should be conditioned by physical properties of the player/instrument.” And Morgan Evans-Weiler notes “Since the possibilities of variation are so vast, players should consider all manners of sound creation on their instrument. Playing a clear ‘normal’ pitch should be one in a thousand possibilities that a performer may choose.”

I hope you can join us in our explorations of these new and uncharted sonic landscapes.

-Laura Cetilia, Resident Musician

We hope you can join us to hear Ordinary Affects and MusicWorks Collective perform:

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016
8:00 PM
186 Carpenter St
Providence, RI
Suggested donation $5-10

There will also be a performance in Somerville, MA
Saturday, October 1, 2016
8:00 PM
321 Washington St
Somerville, MA
Suggested donation $5-10

Thursday, September 29: Sonata Series #1

Please join us for the opening concert in a series featuring CMW musicians and guests celebrating the sonata form. This season, concerts take place at the Music Mansion, and we kick off the series with Jesse Holstein, Josie Davis and pianist Jeff Louie performing Bartok, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.


We will be opening the program with a selection of Bela Bartok’s Duos for Two Violins. These pithy but brilliant pieces encapsulate the Hungarian composer’s unique mature style: a perfect synthesis of Eastern European folk music and the Western Classical tradition.

Next on the program: Prokofiev. I’m sure we can all relate to the feeling of witnessing mediocrity and thinking, “I could do that and a lot better.” This was the sentiment expressed by Sergey Prokofiev in his 1941 autobiography regarding his Sonata for Two Violins composed in Paris, 1932: “Listening to bad music sometimes inspires good ideas… After once hearing an unsuccessful piece [unspecified] for two violins without piano accompaniment, it struck me that in spite of the apparent limitations of such a duet one could make it interesting enough to listen to for ten or fifteen minutes….”

Indeed, in the span of fifteen minutes, Prokofiev scripts an incredibly rich dialogue between two violins. Written in a slow-fast-slow-fast four movement structure, the conversation runs the gamut between the most tender affections to violent brutality.  This masterpiece of the violin duet repertoire will be the centerpiece of our Sonata Series performance.

For the final piece on the program pianist Jeff Louie will join us for Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano written by Dmitri Shostakovich and arranged by Lev Atovmian. The pieces are charming–from a delightful polka to a witty waltz. The music is uncharacteristic of the turbulent Shostakovich that we might often imagine, and we hope it will make for an uplifting end to our journey through violin duet repertoire.

–Jesse Holstein, Associate Director/Senior Resident Musician
–Josie Davis, Violin Fellow

We hope you can join us for Sonata Series #1!
Thursday, September 29 at 7pm

Selections from Duos for Two Violins, Bela Bartok
Sonata for Two Violins
, Sergei Prokofiev
Five Melodies for Two Violins, Dmitri Shostakovich

Josie Davis, violin
Jesse Holstein violin
Jeff Louie, piano

Music Mansion
88 Meeting Street, Providence

Admission is free

Thank you to the D’Addario Foundation!


Community MusicWorks is grateful for continued support from the D’Addario Foundation—an organization committed to supporting music programs that have been proven to be most effective in creating positive social change.

On September 22nd in Brooklyn, New York, D’Addario is hosting Music Makes You: A Benefit to Support Music Education. The evening event will feature a live auction to raise awareness and funds for eight music-centered non-profits. We are thrilled that Community MusicWorks is a featured organization and would like to thank D’Addario for their generous support and recognition of our program! 

More information about the benefit event and the D’Addario Foundation is available here:

–Josie Davis, Violin Fellow

Welcome, New Fellows!

Each year, CMW welcomes two musicians to its Fellowship Program.  The Fellowship program, which began in 2006, is a two-year intensive immersion that gives career-bound musicians the experience of participating in the Community MusicWorks model. Fellows teach, perform and mentor alongside Resident Musicians.  Through hands-on experience working within the larger community and with key organizational practices, they are encouraged to imagine careers that combine artistic practice with service. This year we are delighted to be joined by violist Ashley Frith and cellist Zan Berry!  Here’s a little bit more about them…


Ashley Frith, from Miami, FL, decided to postpone her time in a Masters Program in Viola Performance in order to participate in the CMW Fellowship Program.  “I was brought to this unique opportunity by a mutual friend of Jesse Holstein.  I felt that being a part of this organization was the next obvious step in my musical journey, the step I didn’t know was possible – the opportunity to learn and experience the possibilities of combining the endless pursuit of musical excellence with the goal of making a profound impact on our world community. “

Ashley is inspired by CMW’s commitment to “quality in every aspect of their work and treating each task with the same level of respect and attention.”  She is most looking forward to broadening her understanding of what it means to truly be of service and continuing to develop the ways in which she can assist others through music.   

When asked to describe herself as a musician, she responded, “I’m not sure how I would describe myself as a musician yet, but I would describe myself as a thoughtful and passionate person. Maybe it’s the same, not sure; I know they definitely inform each other!”

In her spare time Ashley loves singing and playing old gospel hymns and jazz tunes.


Zan Berry moved to Providence from Ann Arbor, MI, where he obtained a MM Cello Performance degree at the University of Michigan in 2014.  As both performer and teacher Zan says “I am very interested in breaking out of traditional molds of musical performance and education to make Classical music more relevant to 21st century society.  I felt that the CMW mission encompassed this broader perspective of a musician’s role in society and recognized the potential for music to change people’s lives.”  

Zan is especially looking forward to the diverse musical opportunities that the Fellowship program offers to everyone in the CMW community – “everything from the Bach Around Town pop up concerts to the Ars Subtillior New Music Series to getting to explore a wide variety of musical styles and ideas with the students and faculty in lessons and group classes.”  He has a strong inclination towards new and experimental music, free improvisation, and collaborating with other art forms. Also a singer, Zan has even begun composing his own songs for cello and voice!

When asked about teaching Zan said, “I like to bring my own creative spirit to teaching, encouraging students to approach the instrument from a creative basis and prioritize the development of their personal voice.”   When not playing the cello, singing, or teaching, Zan enjoys many hobbies like hiking, meditation/yoga, playing basketball, and of course listening to new music, trying to discover the latest alternative rock bands!     

Welcome, Ashley and Zan!

–Minna Choi, Fellowship Program Director/Resident Musician

CMW Summer Camp 2016


What was your favorite thing about summer camp?

“Playing my violin”

“Climbing up the waterfall”

“Playing capture the flag”

“The swim meet”

“Costume night”

“The talent show”

“The treasure hunt”

“The food!”

These were snippets of CMW students’ responses upon leaving our Summer Camp week with the Chorus of Westerly at Ogontz Camp in New Hampshire. 

My own favorite thing about camp this year was getting to jump into a summer camp that had a long history of successful summers, but was open —and interested—in continuing to change and improve every year.

This year, the Chorus of Westerly’s collaboration with Community MusicWorks was part of the change. CMW students jumped into the mix as cabin counselors, as field day competitors, as leaders of the evening reflection before taps, and as talent show performers.


For 7 days, students practiced, worked on chamber music, rhythm & improvisation skills. The group created a new ensemble piece inspired by the soundscape of our environment: one where we could hear crickets, birds, thunderstorms and waterfalls throughout the day and night.

Jessenia, a CMW student serving on our Board said,

“Meeting new people is one of the best parts of camp. I have made new friends and I hope to keep in touch with them. I also realize that I underestimated our younger CMW students. They’re amazing musicians, and they even taught me how to have fun and enjoy the childhood I have left! I have had so much fun and even though I wasn’t even aware I’d be a counselor, I came to love the job and the girls in my cabin. Ogontz has taught me that even the people you least expect, can become like family.”

It was magical to see a full-blown overnight summer music camp in this 8th year of CMW’s own summer camp programming. I’m looking forward to seeing how this unique collaboration between two fantastic organizations grows from here. 

–Rachel Panitch, CMW Summer Camp leader and Fellowship Alum


All photos graciously shared by the Chorus of Westerly!  To see more photos (and videos!) check out their Facebook Page.

Season 20 Opening Concert


The MusicWorks Collective hopes you can join us for the first concert of Season 20!

For our first performance of the season we are very excited to offer a program featuring three living composers!  This program includes a reprise of 12 Moods, composed by our dear friend Jessie Montgomery and originally commissioned by CMW in 2015 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights movement.  Written for 2 string quartets plus double bass, the piece takes inspiration from Langston Hughes’ Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz and as one might expect is beautifully evocative of both jazz music and a wide variety of moods.

The newest iteration of our Fellows Quartet will be making their debut with Entr’act by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw, and members of the MusicWorks Collective will come together as a string orchestra to perform Christopher Theofanidis’s energetic and breathtaking Visions and Miracles.

Such a program is a rare treat for performers and audiences alike.  As often happens, these pieces have become dear to our hearts the more time we have spent working on them, and we are looking forward to sharing them with you.

We look forward to seeing you there and beginning our 20th Season together!

Community MusicWorks Season Opener
Sunday, September 18, 2:00 PM
RISD Museum, Grand Gallery

Caroline Shaw Entr’act  (performed by the CMW Fellows Quartet)
Christopher Theofanidis Visions and Miracles
Jessie Montgomery 12 Moods

Reception to follow

Season Opener Concert Preview
Saturday, September 17th, 3:00 PM
Touisset Community Club
Hosted by Rick & Jacque Russom

Please RSVP to Katie Sklar at if you would like to attend this Preview concert. 

Community MusicWorks at 20!


Welcome to the twentieth season of Community MusicWorks! As we round the corner of two decades, we recommit to the original vision of this organization and celebrate the tremendous growth in a community of musicians, alumni, audiences, and families.

 John Dewey, in his 1934 Art as Experience, argues that there is a vital need to “restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art, and the everyday events, doings and sufferings” that are daily life. His work was to understand the true origins, and therefore meanings, of art, and to separate those from the museums, concert halls, and other institutions of art to get back to the very nature of what arts experience is. Dewey concludes that we need to remember the essential link between art and everyday life.

 In many ways, this has been the undertaking of Community MusicWorks over the past two decades—musicians working to restore continuity between concert music and everyday experience, practicing their art form in communities where their roles as educators, performers, composers, and neighbors all add up to a larger whole.

 In our work, however, there is the risk of seeing art as only instrumental to another end—art helps kids in school, or it contributes to a sense of place. These are important effects of arts experiences, to be sure. But it is critical to remember that the experience of knowing ourselves, of having a space for reflection and emotional resonance is the experience of art.

 In our twentieth season, we undertake experiments that link artistry and community. Our concerts will range from performances in grand halls to the corner taqueria. We’ll present a range of music, from spirited new works by contemporary composers Carolyn Shaw, Jessie Montgomery, and Christopher Theofanidis; to our annual fall Bach concerts; to the winter concerts of new music; to a reprise of Fantasia, a salsa-inspired concerto that will bring back musicians and alumni from our twenty years in a celebration of our community.

(see our Calendar for details about all these upcoming events)

 We will also celebrate this milestone by having CMW musicians appearing around our city in twenty pop-up concerts. Stay tuned for these wonderful collisions that restore continuity between concert music and the everyday.

And finally, our ensemble name. Over the evolution of our organization, we have seen many iterations—from the early days of one, two, then four musicians being resident in our community, to the decade of the Providence String Quartet, to the expanded forces represented by the CMW Players. In this twentieth season, as we recommit to the vision of a collection of artists making their work together under the mission of Community MusicWorks, we rename the faculty musical ensemble: the MusicWorks Collective.

 Music works for community, for making meaning, for bringing people together, for restoring continuities between art and everyday life. We look forward to celebrating continually, all season long!

-Sebastian Ruth, Founder and Artistic Director


photography by Stephanie Alvarez Ewens