New Website!

posted Dec 25, 2013, 1:04 PM by Spencer Topel   [ updated Dec 25, 2013, 1:07 PM ]

As of December 24th, 2013, my professional website has moved to:

I gave Google Sites a chance, but it is simply too limiting and clunky to get it updated properly.
So, for the time being, this Google Site will remain as an archive of previous news-related posts from 2012 - 2013, pending any future decision to update it. 
Thank you!

~Spencer Topel

Letter to the Minnesota Orchestra

posted Aug 15, 2013, 9:44 AM by Spencer Topel


August 15, 2013

To the Honorable Mayor R.T. Rybak, City of Minneapolis; Honorable Mayor Chris Coleman, City of St. Paul; Gov. Mark Dayton; Michael Henson, President and Jon R. Campbell, Chair, Board of Directors, Minnesota Orchestra; Musicians, Administration and Board of Directors of the Minnesota Orchestra:

We, the alumni and concerned colleagues of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute wish to express—in the most urgent tone—a call for immediate resolution of the persistent lockout and subsequent cancellation of the 2012-2013 season of the Minnesota Orchestra. We feel it is incumbent upon all parties in this dispute: administration, musicians and board, to be responsible cultural stewards and break through the year-long logjam to return this great orchestra to its mission – to present music in performance to audiences in Minnesota and around the world, to continue to be eminent cultural leaders - enlivening the community with great music and the highest level of musical artistry, and continue its role enriching American culture through music and forward-reaching programs such as the Composer Institute.

We are deeply concerned about the future of the Orchestra and its Composer Institute program.

With this impasse, the 2012-13 Composer Institute was postponed. The Institute, currently in its 12th year is one of the only opportunities for emerging composers in the United States to work with a major American orchestra. The program has been a beacon in the field, and had substantially enriched the Minnesota Orchestra's stature as a forward-thinking cultural institution. Maestro Osmo Vänskä and the entire orchestra and staff have brought this effort to an extraordinary level of quality and commitment. This amazing program, unique in the field, has benefited so many young composers and we fear that it may be in danger of disappearing.

As past participants, affiliated artists and music professionals, we can say with certainty that these experiences, be they the orchestral rehearsals and performances, collaborations with the musicians, Institute Director Aaron Jay Kernis and Maestro Vänskä, and the workshops with top-level professionals from the music field, have been an integral part of each participant’s professional development. The program has helped achieve new breakthroughs in musical careers, and has brought many new and original composers to the forefront of American culture.

Subsequently, we know—with certainty—that the cancellation of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute will have a lasting and negative impact on American music, and we urge you to act now to resolve the lockout and reinstate this essential training ground for the cultivation of talented composers.

The prestige and excellence of the Minnesota Orchestra brings the current crisis to national headlines, with music director Osmo Vänskä pledging to resign at the end of the summer if there is no resolution. Now is the time for Minneapolis, and Minnesota at large, to send the message that it cares deeply about its orchestra and its Music Director, with the fate of its cultural and national identity hanging in the balance.

Please bring the orchestra back to the concert hall.




Mark Adamo New York, NY

Kati Agócs Boston, MA

J. Anthony Allen Minneapolis, MN

Carol Barnett Minneapolis, MN

Gordon Beeferman New York, NY

Derek Bermel Brooklyn, NY

Lisa Bielawa New York, NY

Eugene Birman Cambridge, UK

Dan Bradshaw Honolulu, HI

Keith Bradshaw Charlottesville, VA

Martin Bresnick New Haven, CT

Fernando Buide A Coruña, Spain

Patrick Burke Pittsburgh, PA

Garrett Byrnes Washington, DC

Deirdre Chadwick New York, NY

Anthony Cheung New York, NY

Jacob Cooper Brooklyn, NY

John Corigliano New York, NY

Andreia Pinto Correia Boston, MA

James Crowley Milwaukee, WI

Chaya Czernowin Boston, MA

Kurt Erickson Napa, CA

Man Fang Irmo, SC

Matthew Fields Ann Arbor, MI

Erica Foin Portland, OR

Stacy Garrop Evanston, IL

Michael Gatonska Hartford, CT

Anthony Gatto New York, NY

Michael Geller New York, NY

Philip Glass New York, NY

Stephen Gorbos Washington, DC

Geoffrey Gordon New York, NY

Stephen Hartke Glendale, CA

Ted Hearne Brooklyn, NY

Bill Holab New York, NY

Michael Holloway New Haven, CT

Gregory Hutter Chicago, IL

Texu Kim Bloomington, IN

Michael Klingbeil New Haven, CT

Adrian Knight New York, NY

Geoff Knorr Towson, MD

Angel Lam New York, NY

David Lang New York, NY

Hannah Lash New Haven, CT

Mei-Fang Lin Lubbock, TX

Loren Loiacono Ithaca, NY

Ed Martin Neenah, WI

Elliott Miles McKinley Knoxville, TN

Andrew McManus Chicago, IL

Justin Merritt Northfield, MN

Nico Muhly New York, NY

Keith Murphy Chicago, IL

Polina Nazaykinskaya New Haven, CT

Brian Nelson Lawrence, KS

Paul Paccione Macomb, IL

Robert Paterson New York, NY

Matthew Peterson Stockholm, Sweden

Ben Phelps Los Angeles, CA

Russell Platt New York, NY

Narong Prangcharoen Kansas City, MO

Richard Pressley Charleston, SC

Kevin Puts Baltimore, MD

Alejandro Rutty Greensboro, NC

Kathryn Salfelder Boston, MA

Michael Schachter Ann Arbor, MI

Carl Schimmel Grinnell, IA

David Schober Forest Hills, NY

David Schneider Charlotte, NC

Sheridan Seyfried Philadelphia, PA

Bright Sheng Ann Arbor, MI

Paul Siskind Norwood, NY

Rob Smith Houston, TX

Erich Stem Louisville, KY

Steven Stucky Philadelphia, PA

Reynold Tharp Champaign, IL

Christopher Theofanidis New Haven, CT

Augusta Read Thomas Chicago, IL

Spencer Topel (author) Hanover, NH

Joan Tower New York, NY

David Del Tredici New York, NY

George Tsontakis New York, NY

Michael Twomey San Antonio, TX

Janika Vandervelde Saint Paul, MN

Melinda Wagner Ridgewood, NJ

Wang Jie New York, NY

Lu Wang New York, NY

Stephen Wilcox Goleta, GA

Michael Wittgraf Grand Forks, ND

Gregg Wramage Atlantic Highlands, NJ

Ming-Hsiu Yen Taipei, Taiwan

Roger Zare Tallahassee, FL

More Details

posted Jul 6, 2013, 10:09 AM by Spencer Topel   [ updated Jul 6, 2013, 10:26 AM ]

Strasbourg Cathedrale Rosace
In May I had a chance to work with my former classmate from Cornell ,Augustus Arnone, an eccentric, perfectionist-type pianist who has a serious devotion (or affliction, depending on how you look at it) to American Serialist composers, including Milton Babbitt, some of Carter, u.s.v. For some reason he also likes my music, which is not like that music, but yet tends to be more dissonant and harmonically risqué than some of the retro-tonal music out there today, (no value judgement, just an observation). 

When he approached me to work on a new piece, we communicated via the ubiquitous social media goliath that everyone seems to use these days and starts with an 'F'. Upon returning to the U.S. from Denmark, I had two weeks to compose the work and send it out, but when I looked through the messages on "F" I could not for the life of me find the instrumentation. Finally I found a vague set of abbreviations that I interpreted as vln. = violin cl. = clarinet, pn. = piano, and vl. ?? which under the time constraint I read as a typo: vlc. 

So, when it was finally said and done (parts sent) I get a gentle email back grom Augustus saying that in fact it was flute NOT clarinet they were programming. Fortunately, it was relatively simple to change a few of the movements, and they like the work so much they want to do the clarinet version on next year's season. The moral of the story being: it's always good to triple-check the instrumentation for a commission but occasionally everything works out for the best. 


posted Jun 20, 2013, 10:51 AM by Spencer Topel

If you haven't heard of them, it is worth checking out the now venerable Swedish chamber ensemble named Kroumata. In the following excerpt, they perform Hanna Hartman's Shadow Boxing. Their repertory and breadth of work covering thirty years and over 150 composers is truly outstanding. 

YouTube Video

Two's and Three's

posted Apr 17, 2013, 10:42 PM by Spencer Topel

Walls and Lattices
Among the various projects on the horizon, I'm quite curious to see how an excerpt of my new work Five Details on the Strasbourg Rosace turns out on May 4th at the Cell in NYC. The group Collide-o-Scope Music is busy preparing a roughly one hour program of works by a smattering of composers including moi. I'm not entirely sure how they intend to acknowledge the works (if they do at all) but  I trust they will come up with something great, since they are in the capable hands of Augustus Arnone, their current director and pianist, and with hope they will continue to present the set of pieces in a kind of large-scale curated event. 

Increasingly I'm enamored with this  kind of art-making, which attempts to---at the very least---re-think the norms of the conventional concert music experiences. Here the innovation is a deemphasis on the composer, and more general awareness of the music and experience. It vaguely reminds me of these 60x60 things that show up at electronic music conferences, but with what I surmise is more  careful attention to proportion and flow (these other events all require the pieces to fit into a nice 60 second wind0w, which leads to rage-inducing monotony.) 


The other project coming up later in June is a new work for the Charles River Wind Ensemble. This piece was originally part of a commission application that didn't go through, but I decided to write this work anyway. It was one of these strange situations where the music just "presented itself" and there it was, ready to go. In many ways Trans-Verse is a pure subconscious monstrosity with all the weirdness and free-associations that unresolved psychology produces. In this sense the piece will either be really exciting or a different kind of exc...word. 

in Copenhagen...

posted Feb 23, 2013, 5:09 PM by Spencer Topel   [ updated May 7, 2013, 3:01 PM ]

I've been keeping an offline "journal" of the Danish International Visiting Artist Residency, and this post will grow as I add short entries describing my experiences and activities during the six weeks in Copenhagen. 

Surprise Recording Session

 January 27th, 2013

For whatever reason, I agreed to produce three new works plus the November multimedia installation Homophøn. This kind of timetable is sane for someone like Nico Muhly, but for me it's near suicide. I just don't produce works that quickly. When I was a student at Juilliard, I certainly wrote a lot of music, but with the obligations of being an assistant professor and wearing different hats all the time, the idea of composing nonstop just seemed unnatural, especially since nearly thirty minutes of music needed to be written within three weeks. 

However, it's amazing how a different places changes your outlook on things. As soon as I arrived, I had a burst of creative energy, and within thee to four days, we had plans for all the works and how they would go about assisting me in their creation of them. This leads me to the other important detail: both of the works still in sketches involve semi-staged components. 

For Figuram, the shorter of the two, I require nested boxes to be built from scratch that will be both played and involve limited interaction. The resident architect, Filippa Berglund, (a resident architect, more ensembles should do this!) is helping in the design the boxes and found a willing disciple to assist in the construction. While these are being built, I need to come up for a reasonable justification for why they would be used in the first place! 

Signals is a bit more straight forward, but also potentially much more time-consuming. The basic idea is to stage a fictional story as a radio play, complete with an antique 1930's radio, tape part, and human performers playing music and reciting dialog.  The first task was to record the voice of the radio, who also acts informally as the narrator. It seemed the best fit under the circumstances was the percussionist in the ensemble, Frans Hansen. 

We then decided to do a two hour recording session, and the best option was to use Jepser's guest room, that had an irregular shape, and good overall acoustics. Using a good microphone, we recored the entirety of the radio part, and to my amazement, Frans was an incredible actor! His expression and reading in English was superb, heartfelt, and I could see great potential in the editing process. Occasionally the microphone picked up less desirable noise from other apartments, but since I planned on using a recorded radio hum as the background anyway, a little noise or interruption would be easily masked by the radio sample. 

Hitting the Ground Running

 January 15th, 2013

First impressions are everything and I'm astonished at the sheer hospitality of my Danish collaborators, (and the Danish people in general).  Not only did they make nearly all of our living arrangements in good neighborhoods, but they've gone ahead and organized logistic solutions for our projects. Everything from our flight to arrival at the apartment went smoothly. 

The only potential concern I have regarding the practical day-to-day issues is that the grant funding this project was a bit underestimated, mainly for housing and stipend, though we applied for the recommended amounts. It is nearly impossible to secure a reasonable apartment during the winter in Copenhagen, there just isn't much of a market for it. If you've never visited or lived in Copenhagen, it's quite expensive. Yet, as it turned out that just by a stroke of luck and good connections, Jesper Egelund managed to get a wonderful duplex apartment in Islands Brygge, where me and my family would stay for the majority of the residency. To deal with the budget matters, I ultimately decided to pay the difference myself for the apartment, which proved to be the best solution under the circumstances. 

I learned following our first production meeting that Festspiele, which normally happens at the beginning of February, needs to move to the middle of March. There were a number of factors for this, including a big project with Indian artists in November of 2012, but also they recently learned that another grant came through for a major opera project involving the Danish composer and the FIGURA composer in residence, Peter Bruun. Prior to arrival they discussed the idea of hosting a separate event in February, but since they needed to begin rehearsals on the opera project in February, we decided to use the time during the residency to prepare the works for the festival. I was completely relieved by this arrangement, since two of the works were still sketches. 

Danish International Visiting Artist Residency 2013

posted Jan 8, 2013, 1:32 PM by Spencer Topel   [ updated Jan 8, 2013, 2:02 PM ]

I'm pleased to announce that my work was awarded a Danish International Visiting Artist Residency 2013 to present new compositions and a sound installation in Copenhagen this February and March. This selective prize carries a monetary award and promotes interdisciplinary collaboration with the contemporary performance group FIGURA Ensemble, with whom I worked this past summer. Our project includes four new works, one of which is an installation Homophøn (see video below) that previewed at my Sound Art showcase this past November at Dartmouth College entitled "Sound/Unsound." More news forthcoming!

FIGURA Ensemble, Copenhagen, Denmark. 


Homophøn (2012) Concept and Sound by Spencer Topel and cinematography by Alexander Stockton. 

Intersecare at ISMIR

posted Oct 13, 2012, 5:18 AM by Spencer Topel   [ updated Oct 15, 2012, 10:16 AM ]

I had the pleasure of working with a supremely talented cellist named Filipe Quaresma from Porto, Portugal, on an older piece Intersecare I'd nearly let go after previous attempt(s) to make it work. This time was completely different, in the sense that Filipe was receptive to the non-conventional ideas and to finding the sounds and elements needed to express the concepts.

Here is an excerpt from the performance:

The "official" concert recording is pending review, but parts of it will be featured on a Portuguese documentary about music, art, and emergent technologies. The space for the event was wonderful, an ancient Monastery of São Bento with wonderful acoustics for string instruments, (pictured below). What was the courtyard of the monastery, the architectural renovation added a roof, skylights, and a sophisticated acoustic cloud to the hall. The effect is surreal, almost magical. 
This concert was curated by François Pachet, from Sony SCL Paris, (total dream job), and while I found the selection of music the most thought-provoking out of all the concerts, there were members of the conference who were not happy about a concert that featured serious and experimental music. The idea of a concert at technical conferences probably requires another more involved blogpost, but for now I can say that this event had some truly wonderful moments, including a performance by NickCollins, who seems to brilliant at just about everything. 

SMC Concert I: Electro-Acoustic Music

posted Jun 29, 2012, 2:14 PM by Spencer Topel   [ updated Aug 23, 2012, 7:33 AM ]

July 11th, 2012
 c. Kate Genevieve
8PM (20:00)
Oslo Plads 1
2100 København Ø  

The opening concert of Sound and Music Computing (SMC) brings together a set of brilliant composers writing music involving live-sound processing. Their work and influences span over three continents, and this showcase illustrates the breadth of approaches to musicality, expressivity, and technical innovation extant in the world today. This program will also feature two works by the guest composer, Judith Shatin, one of which is a world premiere.  

Performances include players from the internationally renowned and Copenhagen-based Figura Ensemble, and the virtuoso clarinetist Heather Roche. It is a wonderful and unique opportunity to experience their work and presence on the same concert.

     c. Kate Genevieve 

1. Pierre Alexandre Tremblay: La Rupture Inéluctable for bass clarinet and electronics (Heather Roche, bass clarinet)
2. Akira Takaoka: Responsorium for voice and electronics (Signe Asmussen, Figura Ensemble)
3. Judith Shatin: Cherry Blossom and a Wrapped Thing; After Hokusai for clarinet and electronics (Anna Klett, Figura Ensemble))
4. Jesper Holmen: XP for saw, clarinet, double bass and electronics (Figura Ensemble)
5. Panayiotis Kokoras: T-totum for percussion and electronics (Frans Hansen, Figura Ensemble)


6.  Spencer Topel: Svin for double bass and electronics (Jesper Egelund, Figura Ensemble)
7. Alex Harker: Fluence for clarinet and electronics (Heather Roche, clarinet)
8. Joao Pedro Oliveira: Vox Sum Vitae for percussion and electronics (Frans Hansen, Figura Ensemble)
9. Judith Shatin: Grito del Corazon for ensemble and electronics (Figura Ensemble)

courtesy of the Den Frie Centre for Contemporary Art

Sound and Music Computing 2012

posted May 8, 2012, 9:15 PM by Spencer Topel

The results for SMC 2012  in Copenhagen, Denmark are now public. I was asked by the directors of the conference/festival to curate the electroacoustic concert. I agreed to do so only if I could incorporate input from other members in the music committee. The goal with these selections was to include a diversity of works and styles from around the world, and I believe that we have done so with this group. I should also note that while there were many good tape pieces sent to us, we explicitly asked for live-electronic pieces.  Anyhow, here is the list  (not concert order):

Alex Harker (U.K.):  Fluence for clarinet and electronics (Heather Roche, clarinet)           

 Panayiotis Kokoras(Greece): T-totum for percussion and electronics (Figura Ensemble)            

 Joao Pedro Oliveira(Portugal): Vox Sum Vitae for percussion and electronics (Figura Ensemble)            

 Akira Takaoka(Japan): Responsorium for voice and electronics (Figura Ensemble)             

 Pierre Alexandre Tremblay(U.K.): La Rupture Inéluctable for bass clarinet and electronics (Heather Roche, bass clarinet)

 Judith Shatin(U.S.): Grito del Corazon for ensemble and electronics (Figura Ensemble) 

 Judith Shatin(U.S.): Cherry Blossom and a Wrapped Thing; After Hokusai for clarinet and electronics (Figura Ensemble) 

and a new work by moi for solo contrabass and live-processing.  Looking forward to meeting all of these fantastic composers!

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