by J. Andrew Dickenson
“I feel lucky to be able to do this,” Oren Fader says. “Being a freelance guitarist in New York is the most interesting job I could ever imagine having. Constantly performing new works, playing with different players and ensembles, travel, teaching, recording. It’s really the best. Of course, it’s not the most stable job in the world. But the challenges and rewards really make it wonderful.”
Indeed, Oren is a guitarist who seems to have his hand in just about everything interesting. In addition to a prospering solo career, he frequently performs in duos and ensembles, commissions new music, and even tours with the Mark Morris Dance Company. A seasoned musician who studied with Bruce Holzman and David Starobin, Oren’s international performance career has taken him to the far corners of the earth: Tokyo, Russia, Munich, and Mexico are just a few of the distant locales that have had the pleasure of hearing his music.
In addition to performance, Oren has been featured on a range of recording projects, making guest appearances on albums with music from Dowland to a 21st-century arrangement of The Rite of Spring. His debut solo CD, Another’s Fandango, was met with critical acclaim and featured performances of Bach, Rodrigo and more. Oren now follows his debut with yet another stunning solo achievement, First Flight, a compilation of ten pieces written specifically for him. I asked him to tell me how this project came about.
Fader: I had just finished a solo CD of more traditional music (Bach, Rodrigo, Mertz), and I wanted to do something new. A lot of the music I play is contemporary music, composed in the last few years, and I thought it would be interesting to ask some composers I respect to write me short pieces. Some of the composers were people I’d known for years, like my duo partner Bill Anderson, and some were relatively new to me. One of my new music groups, Cygnus, has a residency at the CUNY Graduate Center, and three of the students’ compositions for the group really stood out. So I asked them to write a piece for me. Other composers I’d heard about, or had worked with on other projects.
I was also influenced by one of my teachers, David Starobin, who has recorded many new works, and expanded the repertoire. I had been thinking for some time that something like that would be a really exciting project. I dedicated the recording to him.
Tell me about the music on First Flight.
The beautiful thing about the CD is that all the composers are so different from one another. One sounds a little like Carter, and one sounds like banjo picking. One has Hendrix influences, and one has Indian sitar licks. The styles are really all over the map, and that, to me, makes the CD interesting. I love playing my iPod on “random”, so I’ll be hearing Monteverdi, and then Van Halen. First Flight is a little like that. By the way, “First Flight” is the English translation for “Primo Volo,” one of the pieces on the CD, by Marco Oppedisano, who was also my producer and editor.
Would you recommend all guitarists/musicians work with composers?
Absolutely. You can learn so much. You can learn (after many years), the difference between a difficult piece and a poorly written piece. This kind of knowledge comes in handy in residencies, when you get a lot of student compositions. You have to decide whether the piece will sound good after sufficient practice, or whether the lack of knowledge/skill about guitar writing presents a problem. With some of the pieces on the CD, I offered the composers some minor revisions, voicings, or techniques of which they may not have been aware. After years of playing new music you can usually get what the composer is about. Then it’s the player’s job to make it come alive, or at least make sense! I don’t want to co-compose, but I will offer
suggestions. Some of the pieces on the CD were written by guitarists, and of course these required the least editing.
While so many guitarists sit in their room practicing solo music, you are an active collaborator with other musicians and you are a member of many interesting ensembles. What do you enjoy about playing with other musicians?
First of all, it’s fun. I love playing solo repertoire, but there’s so much great music with other instrumentalists. Why not play it? Also, you can learn a great deal: other instrumentalists have different concerns; breathing, phrasing; each instrument has to deal with how they make a line. Guitarists are not trained to breathe, but if you work with a singer, you have to learn how. Your playing becomes deeper. Also, on a practical level, it’s good to have someone coach you who doesn’t play the instrument. They don’t care about your nails, or about the fact that the guitar is soft, or lacks sustain. They just want to hear the music. This kind of approach is very valuable.
Three of the ensembles you play in — Fireworks, Cygnus, and Glass Farm — are dedicated new music, but all three have different styles, instrumentation, and play different music. Tell me about some of these differences and what you enjoy about each.
I enjoy playing in all of them. Briefly, Cygnus (two guitars, flute, violin, cello, oboe) has been performing and commissioning new works for almost 20 years. Next season will be our 20th, and we’ll have a new works concert to celebrate. This group has commissioned some of the finest composers, including Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen, Sebastian Currier, Akemi Naito, and many others. We’ll soon release a new CD on Bridge Records. Bill Anderson is the founder.
Fireworks (electric guitar, bass, percussion, plus pierrot ensemble — piano, winds and strings) is a rock-inspired new music group. The founder and bassist, Brian Coughlin, has arranged all sorts of music for us, including Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (recorded last year and available), and dance music from the Renaissance to the Bee Gees (recorded and will be released next year). This group gives me a chance to get in touch with my rock roots. This summer the group has residencies and performances in Oregon and Utah.
The Glass Farm Ensemble was founded by the marvelous Swiss composer and pianist Yvonne Troxler. For years Yvonne has been presenting concerts with new music, sometimes mixed in with older classics. Glass Farm Quartet is electric guitar, sax, piano and percussion. This group’s mission is really to expand the literature for this quartet. When we started playing together there were only a few pieces we knew about, Andriessen’s Hout being the famous one. We now have commissioned and presented dozens of new works for this ensemble. Other Glass Farm projects include performances of Yvonne’s transcription of a Mahler song cycle in the Fall, and our continuing NYC series. In addition, we have just finished recording a piece written for us by New York University composer Elizabeth Hoffman.
You recently went on tour with the Mark Morris Dance Company. That must be really exciting.
It was a pleasure, although it was the first time in many years that I had to audition for a gig. I played with this company for about a year and a half. It was really only one piece, Lou Harrison’s Serenade, for guitar and percussion. This was onstage accompaniment for a solo dance choreographed and performed by Mark Morris. Mark is a superb musician, as well as being a legendary performer, and he coached us and gave us lots of ideas. It’s as I said before, since Mark is not a guitarist, his comments were purely musical ones: Faster, slower, more intense, accents, climaxes, moods, colors; that sort of thing.
What are the challenges of working with dancers?
Fader: One must have excellent rhythm. That’s of prime importance. Also, being flexible about interpretation. The perfect interpretation on a recording may not be the one that works in a live performance with dancers. Being able to change things quickly and convincingly was also helpful.
What can we expect on your upcoming concerts?
I haven’t completely decided yet. Probably a mix of old and new. That’s what I always find the most interesting! Maybe even some chamber music.
Well, we will certainly be looking foward to it, whatever it is! Oren, thank you so much for your time.