Serving the San Francisco Bay Area New Music Community

Fri, Mar 3 2023 7:30 PM

660 Lomita Dr. Stanford
Click for Venue page

The Composition Forum presents the residency concert of Rajna Swaminathan, Ganavya Doraiswamy, and Myra Melford.

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FREE and Open to the Public

Face coverings are strongly recommended. We encourage you to continue wearing masks for the comfort of our audience members, artists, and staff.

Directions, parking, accessibility:

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Rajna Swaminathan is an acclaimed mrudangam artist, composer, and scholar. Rajna has been described as “a vital new voice” (Pop Matters), creating “music of gravity and rigor… yet its overall effect is accessible and uplifting” (Wall Street Journal). In her music and research, she explores the undercurrents of rhythmic experience and emergent textures in collective improvisation.

One of only a few women who play the mrudangam professionally, Rajna received her creative foundation on the instrument from her father, P.K. Swaminathan, and mrudangam legend Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman. Through extensive experience performing in the Karnatik music and bharatanatyam scenes, an affinity for various streams of South Asian film/popular music, and deep collaborative work in New York's jazz and creative music scene, Rajna developed experimental approaches to improvising on the mrudangam, piano, and voice.

Rajna’s orientation as an improviser-composer blossomed through a search for resonance and fluidity among musical forms and aesthetic worlds. Her ensemble RAJAS has been a prominent medium for her expansive compositions, which involve a lattice of rhythmic, textural, and modal approaches. The ensemble's sound has been described as “unlike any other on the scene” (New York Times), and their debut album, Of Agency and Abstraction (Biophilia Records, 2019), received much critical acclaim. The ensemble recently premiered and began touring a new suite, Apertures, commissioned and supported by Chamber Music America's New Jazz Works program (2019-2022).

Rajna’s scholarly work also intersects with her musical study and informs her creative curiosities. She was recently appointed as Assistant Professor of Music (Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology) at UC Irvine's Claire Trevor School of the Arts. She holds a PhD in Music (Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry) from Harvard University, and degrees in Anthropology and French from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her dissertation, titled Time, Virtuosity, and Ethics Otherwise: Queer Resonances for Diasporic Play, catalyzes a creative dialogue between artistic and academic engagements with uncertainty and openness in geography, archive, and embodiment.

In addition to her work with RAJAS, Rajna has composed for JACK Quartet, Del Sol Quartet, violinists Jennifer Koh and Lucia Lin, among others. Recent commissions include the Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Sawdust, Bang On A Can Marathon, and fellowships with the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music. Rajna performs extensively in ensembles led by Vijay Iyer, Amir ElSaffar, Ganavya Doraiswamy, and Aakash Mittal. Her interdisciplinary work has included collaborations with playwright Anu Yadav, visual artist Zahyr Lauren, the Ragamala Dance Company, and poets Mahogany L. Browne, Sarah Kay, and Jon Sands.

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Tamil Nadu-raised and New York-born critically acclaimed vocalist Ganavya Doraiswamy lives, learns, and loves fluidly from the nexus of many frameworks and understandings. Hers is a deeply profound and rooted voice. A multidisciplinary creator, she is a soundsmith and wordsmith. Trained as an improviser, scholar, dancer, and multi-instrumentalist, she maintains an inner library of “spi/ritual” blueprints offered to her by an intergenerational constellation of collaborators, continuously anchoring her practice in pasts, presents and, futures. Much of her childhood was on the pilgrimage trail, learning the storytelling art form of harikathā and singing poetry that critiques hierarchal social structures. She is a co-founder of the non-hierarchical We Have Voice Collective.

Hers is a life of nonlinearity, and singularity. Despite not not being schooled traditionally as a child, she carries degrees in theatre (Broward Community College) and psychology (F.I.U.), with graduate degrees in Contemporary Performance (Berklee College of Music), ethnomusicology (UCLA), and Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry (Harvard). Both as an educator and student, she “wishes to study and bring liberative techniques into this world… study certain dyads: what empowers, who is disempowered; what heals, who is ailing— and wishes to wed the two.”

Recent works include: a film made during the pandamic titled this body is so impermanent... (2021) directed by her close collaborator Polar Music Awardee Peter Sellars, featuring Ganavya (composition, solo voice), legendary calligrapher Wang Dongling, and acclaimed dancer Michael Schumacher (choreography, dance). The piece was created over a 6-month intensive collaborative period, where Ganavya worked from the rural mountains of Oregon, Michael from Amsterdam, Peter from LA, and Wang Dongling from China. Additional works include: 64-hour piece titled Atlas Unlimited: Acts VII - X (2019) where she continuously generated material from the narrative of Zakaria Almoutlak, a Syrian with refugee status; Daughter of a Temple (2019) a 56’51” composed piece for two loudspeakers that drew from Alice Coltrane-Turiyasangitananda’s Monument Eternal, as premiered in the 13th Havana Biennial for Carrie Mae Weems’s The Spirit That Resides; Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra Chapter 7: The Goddess (2019) directed by Peter Sellars, featuring Ganavya (composition, solo voice) and Michael Schumacher (choreography, dance). Her written work includes a collection of 101 short essays titled ether, will appear in the forthcoming issue of Arcana: Musicians on Music, edited by John Zorn.

Selected forthcoming works include words for Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding's forthcoming opera Iphigenia; leading How To Cure A Ghost: The Album, songs made from Fariha Roisin’s poetry; Sister Idea, an album made on WhatsApp with bassist and composer Munir Hossn, and Let’s Go Out and Play, commissioned by the Jerome Foundation for Roulette Intermedium.

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The pianist, composer, bandleader and educator Myra Melford— whom the New Yorker called “a stalwart of the new-jazz movement”—has spent the last three decades making brilliant original music that is equally challenging and engaging. Culling inspiration from a wide range of sources including Cecil Taylor, the blues and boogie-woogie of her native Chicago, the poetry of Rumi, the AACM and yoga, she’s explored an array of formats, among them ruminative solo-piano recitals, deeply interactive combos and ambitious multidisciplinary programs. Melford’s most recent release, The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12), by her quintet Snowy Egret, is an extraordinary document of her unique creative language—a seamless, shifting blend of composition and improvisation, and a probing of the space shared between dynamic small-group jazz and contemporary chamber music. Since debuting on record as a bandleader in 1990, she’s built a discography of more than 20 albums as a leader or co-leader, and has collaborated with such luminaries as Dave Douglas, Marty Ehrlich, Liberty Ellman, Erik Friedlander, Ben Goldberg, Joseph Jarman, Leroy Jenkins, Ron Miles, Nicole Mitchell, Tyshawn Sorey, Chris Speed, Stomu Takeishi, Cuong Vu and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Melford’s teachers and mentors include Butch Morris, Henry Threadgill, Jaki Byard, Don Pullen and other icons of jazz postmodernism, and she has received some of the most prestigious honors available to an improvising musician: numerous DownBeat poll placings, a 2000 Fulbright scholarship, a 2012 Alpert Award in the Arts for Music and, in 2013, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and the Doris Duke Residency to Build Demand for the Arts.
After having been an influential presence in New York since the mid-’80s, Melford relocated to the Bay Area in 2004, to join the music department at the University of California, Berkeley, as a Professor of Composition and Improvisational Practices. She continues to bring cutting-edge jazz and new music to the campus community via her teaching and as a guest curator for the Cal Performances organization.

Cost: FREE