Chosen One: Nadia Sirota
Interview with Nadia Sirota.
“To me, baroque is an adjective meaning ornate, intricate, and worked-over, but also unexpected; the original word came from a description of an imperfect pearl– something that is gorgeous but irregular. Within these tracks, the solo viola was recorded relatively quickly, the idea being that the energy and imperfection of performance is left intact and embroidered upon.”
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
‘Baroque’ is the title of Nadia Sirota’s debut release for Bedroom Community, whose mesmerizing three-dimensional structures of viola awakens your senses and captivates your heart. This represents the latest landmark record in the modern classical era of the 21st Century. Of course, as ever, Iceland’s Bedroom Community lies at the heart of this significant, groundbreaking music. Sirota is synonymous with the label, whose collaborations include labelmates Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurðsson amongst a myriad of other leading artists. Sirota’s viola playing is nothing short of astonishing.’Baroque’ comprises six pieces: three by labelmates Nico Muhly, Daníel Bjarnason and Paul Corley, and three pieces by acclaimed composers Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazoli and Shara Worden. In the words of Sirota: “I feel that my job is to communicate the intent of the composer as clearly as possible to the listener”.
Over the past decade, Sirota has been involved with unique interpretations of new scores and for commissioning and premiering works by some of the most talented composers. The New York Times has heralded Sirota as “a bold new-wave music interpreter and the violist of choice among downtown ensembles these days.” Sirota has been an integral part to luminaries of both the modern-classical scene (Stars Of The Lid, Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson) and indie giants such as Arcade Fire, The National and Grizzly Bear, to name but a few. Similarly to her close friend and colleague, Nico Muhly, Sirota graduated from the Juilliard School where she created the Juilliard Plays Juilliard programme for student composers and performers. Furthermore, Sirota is also a founding member of ACME (the American Contemporary Music Ensemble). I feel that ‘Baroque’ is a sum of all these parts that showcases Sirota’s multi-faceted role as performer, chamber musician, educator, and above all, interpreter. It is these very interpretations found on ‘Baroque’ that transcends time, and where the listener witnesses pure joy from the violist.
Album opener ‘In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves’ comprises intricate layers of glorious strings. The piece of music is soft and its diminished tones gradually evolve into a swirling symphony of interwoven melodies. This piece of music was written by Judd Greenstein. At the heart of the music lies a collaboration that began over a decade ago, when these two souls met in New York. ‘From The Invisible To The Visible’ is a composition by Shara Worden, of Clogs and My Brightest Diamond fame. The opening viola strings and pulse of synthesizer creates an otherworldly ambient soundscape. Think Oneohtrix Point Never remixing the work of Valgeir Sigurðsson. Sublime. Next is Missy Mazoli’s composition, entitled ‘Tooth And Nail’. A playful viola motif returns throughout, as a drone of pulsating strings are majestically looped together. This was the first piece of music Sirota knew would appear on the record. ‘Etude NO 3’ begins the second half of ‘Baroque’ and is perhaps my personal favourite. A symphony is distilled in five sacred minutes. A myriad of moments are embedded in this joyous piece of music. There are endless leaps of notes as the music dances around the sonic terrain. The little vignettes of viola unravels before a crescendo of empowering strings and electronic wizardry brings the piece to a magnificent close.
‘Tristan Da Cunha’ is composed by labelmate Paul Corley. A slow, gradual build of mournful strings is etched across the beautiful tapestry of sound. I feel the opening passage is score music to a delicate sunrise, as the sun’s rays slowly radiates through the sky’s clouds. This gorgeous composition was just finished in time for Iceland Airwaves in November. ‘Sleep Variations’ is a piece of music composed by Daníel Bjarnason, also a renowned composer from the Bedroom Community family. Amazingly, there are 11 lines of viola, each one recorded on top, which meant recording over two and a half hours of music. The expansive sound is steeped in magic and wonder. I am dumbfounded by just how a piece of music such as this is made. ‘Baroque’ is a body of work comprising six concertos, where each one offers a realm of infinite beauty, wrapped with extravagant intricacy.
‘Baroque’ by Nadia Sirota is out now on Bedroom Community.
Interview with Nadia Sirota.
Congratulations Nadia on your amazing new album ‘Baroque’. All six pieces of music are breathtaking and really are touchstones of 21st century music. It’s with great pleasure that I talk with you a little about your music. Please discuss ‘Baroque’ and the reason why you chose this as an album title?
I feel it’s baroque but not in the traditional sense but of a time and space removed from any such classification.
On this project, I had the luxury of ample time in the studio to create plush, 3D textures. When choosing a title for the album, I was trying to find a word that would describe how intricately worked all of these tracks felt. To me, baroque is an adjective meaning ornate, intricate, and worked-over, but also unexpected: the original word came from a description of an imperfect pearl– something that is gorgeous but irregular. Within these tracks, the solo viola was recorded relatively quickly, the idea being that the energy and imperfection of performance is left intact and embroidered upon.
Three pieces on ‘Baroque’ are composed by labelmates and close friends of yours- Nico Muhly, Daníel Bjarnason and Paul Corely. Please give me an insight into these compositions and how you interpreted these pieces of music?
Nico and I have been friends since college. Early on I was a little put out by his melodic footprint, namely that all of those fifths didn’t lie that idiomatically on my instrument. Eventually I decided to suck it up and ask for an étude that would help me internalize these weird leaps. One étude became many, and this étude number three is (oddly) the fourth such work. They are kind of joyous little pieces.
As for Sleep Variations, Daníel sort of casually mentioned that he had written a sort of viola concerto with an orchestra made up of ten additional violas because of an international viola event that had taken place in Iceland and would I be interested in checking it out some day. As you can imagine, this is an absurd and wonderful thing for someone the casually drop into conversation. I was totally intrigued. When there were a couple days available in the studio, we decided to try our luck laying down the viola tracks, one on top of the next. Two days for a 14-minute piece seems pretty generous, but with 11 lines, I had to record over 2 and a half hours of music! We got through it on willpower and whisky, and the result was the backbone of this updated version of the work. I’m in love with it.
Paul Corley and I were bored in Switzerland last summer when he played me a demo of what was to become Tristan Da Cunha. I bullied him into finishing it in time for Iceland Airwaves in November because it was too gorgeous to not include on the record. Once I knew it was a possibility, I got super selfish about it. I’m so glad he got on board.
Staying on Bedroom Community, it is a really romantic situation for making music out of this inspiring label. It is a tight-knit community of friends and musicians with like-minded aspirations. Please tell me about Bedroom Community and the friendships and projects you have made and are part of through this?
Yeah, I can only say hippie-ish things about the label, studio, people. They are wonderful amazing yadda yadda yadda.
I love the opening piece ‘In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves’. A heavenly sound of strings and intricate layers recalling the rhythmic pulses of Steve Reich. As a visualization of this piece, a red sun is rising on the horizon, slowly and gracefully. Please talk me through this composition?
This work, by Judd Greenstein, was inspired by Carl Sagan’s Golden Record, shot off into space in 1977, containing all manner of humanity’s output for other potential life forms to discover. It was part of an installation by the artists New Catalogue, and originally the seven viola parts were spatialized around the exhibit. It’s such an elaborately composed tapestry of similar but distinct voices. I love playing it.
The other three pieces are by composers Judd Greenstein, Missy Mazoli and Shara Worden. What is it about these composers and their work that brought you to re-interpret their music?
Similar to my relationship with the folks at Bedroom Community, I have a relationship with a lot of composers in New York, with whom I’ve collaborated for almost a decade now. Judd and I met at a summer festival in 2004. Missy and I met shortly thereafter and made quick plans to collaborate, although the piece on the album, Tooth and Nail, represents the first project we ever got around to making happen! That was one of the first things I knew was going on the album. I met Shara playing viola parts for her project My Brightest Diamond. She has also collaborated a lot with my sextety Music. I love her compositional voice (not to mention her voice-voice).
‘From The Invisible To The Visible’ is beautiful. The slowly moving harmonies feels just that and is reflected in the title. Please tell me about your viola playing and how you have developed over the years?
Shara wrote From the Invisible to the Visible for James McVinnie and myself to play at the MusicNOW festival in Cincinnati last year. It was conceived to be performed on a church organ in a great and resonant space. Jamie and I were actually just playing around when we tried it on Valgeir’s 1982 Yamaha Home Organ with built-in drum machine, but we loved the sonority and kept on playing with it and it ended up on the record.
On your debut album ‘First Things First’, the opening ‘Duet No.1, Chorale Painting Downwards by Nico’ was the first piece you ever commissioned. Please tell me about this piece and special moment where you had music commissioned?
In college, among other things Nico was known for working quickly. If your recital program was too short, you could ask him for a piece and boom! You had a piece! This work was initiated in that context but more importantly we found a really special working relationship through that project that inspired all the collaborations after it.
In terms of collaborations you have worked with everyone, from The National, Arcade Fire, Jonsi, Grizzly Bear to Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter and Stars Of The Lid. It really is amazing! How do you feel about the collaborative side of your work and how does the creative process change from being a composer and performer?
I am at the end of the day a perpetual collaborator. I do not write my own music, so there’s actually not a massive difference in working with the artists you mentioned and working with the artists on the record. I feel that my job is to communicate the intent of the composer as clearly as possible to the listener.
What is next for you, Nadia?
I’m trying to find a nice wine store while I’m here visiting Dallas.
‘Baroque’ by Nadia Sirota is out now on Bedroom Community.