Mason Bates

Duration: 11 minutes
Instrumentation: Cello, violin, piano
Commissioned by Young Concert Artists, Inc
Premiered by the Claremont Trio in 2002 at Weill Recital Hall in New York City, New York
Copyright/Publisher Information: Aphra Music.
Sole Agent: Bill Holab Music

The composer writes:

Sandwiched between my burgeoning shelf of electronica vinyl and an admittedly more modest stack of bargain-bin classical LPs, I have in my record collection a few dozen albums of old-time string-band music. The covers show ecstatically happy groups of country musicians crowded together and clutching the tools of their trade: fiddles, guitars, mandolins, banjos, a string bass. The breakneck, instrumental picking on the records is even livelier than the looks on their faces, and somewhere in that soulful, earthy music I found a space to begin String Band.

Those who are aware of old-time string-band music might hear a twangy resemblance to the work’s opening material. A unison that slowly bleeds lower, made more effective by the use of pencil erasers and small screws inserted in the piano, grows into bluesy, sliding half-steps. This ultimately flowers, in the middle of the work, into a long melody framed by bent notes – but at that moment the piece begins to disintegrate. With the pitch world fractured and the grooves of the beginning now fading into the chemical sunset, the last half of the piece shows the ensemble as a very different kind of string band. It is a unified band of resonating strings, with the melody regressing back to its original space of a bleeding unison.

About the composer:

The music of Mason Bates fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms and the harmonies of jazz and rhythms of techno. Frequently performed by orchestras large and small, his symphonic music has been the first to receive widespread acceptance for its expanded palette of electronic sounds.

Bates was appointed by Music Director Riccardo Muti, along with Anna Clyne, as one of Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Mead Composers-in-Residence and took up the post in the 2010/11 season for a term of two years. Maestro Muti extended both Bates’ and Clyne’s terms through the 2013/14 season, which enables them to develop further the collaborations he has commenced with various partners in Chicago as well as new relationships.

Bates has become a visible advocate for bringing new music to new spaces, whether through institutional partnerships or through his classical/DJ project Mercury Soul, which has transformed spaces ranging from commercial clubs to Frank Gehry-designed concert halls into exciting, hybrid musical events drawing over a thousand people. Other collaborations include works toured by Levy Dance. As a DJ, he often appears with upright bassist David Arend in spaces from San Francisco to Berlin, including Mezzanine, Temple, Volksbühne, John Colins and SFMOMA.

Carnegie Hall’s 2012/13 season opened with Riccardo Muti leading the CSO in Alternative Energy, an “energy symphony” that spans four movements and hundreds of years. Premiered by the CSO in February 2012 to rave reviews, the work subsequently toured California and New York’s Carnegie Hall; it received its Canadian premiere in February by the Toronto Symphony. In June 2013, a new piece by Bates will have its world premiere on the CSO’s MusicNOW series. A new violin concerto for Anne Akiko Meyers and the Pittsburgh Symphony premiered in December under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, and the Pittsburgh Symphony will perform many of Bates’ works as he serves as Composer of the Year. Under choreographer Aszure Barton, the Houston Ballet premieres a new ballet to The B-Sides, a dance suite that drops into five surreal landscapes that has been performed around the country since its San Francisco Symphony premiere. The Phoenix Symphony presents two of his works this season-Desert Transport, which conjures a helicopter trip over the Arizona landscape, and a new song cycle for soprano and orchestra.

While Bates often performs the electronica onstage with orchestras, dozens of repeat performances of his symphonic music happen without him-demonstrating how electronics can act as a new section in the orchestra with little logistical effort.  A good example is Mothership, which premiered at the Sydney Opera House by the YouTube Symphony to an online audience of 1.8 million: it will appear on symphonic programs across the country this season.

Many purely acoustic works complement his diverse catalogue, such as Sirens, an a cappella work touring with the superstar chorus Chanticleer. The solo piano work White Lies for Lomax, commissioned by Tanglewood Music Center, won the Van Cliburn Composers Invitational and is heard regularly on recitals.  A new string quartet premiered by the Del Sol Quartet at the 2012 Cabrillo Festival receives its Bay Area premiere this December. A great deal of his music has been performed by the musicians of Young Concert Artists, the acclaimed New York organization where he served as composer-in-residence.

Raised in Virginia where he studied piano with Hope Armstrong Erb and composition with Dika Newlin, Bates enrolled in the Columbia-Juilliard program in New York City. Earning degrees in music composition and English literature, he studied primarily with John Corigliano and also under with David Del Tredici and Samuel Adler. He worked with Edmund Campion at the University of California, Berkeley, where the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies became an important influence on his approach to electro-acoustic composition. Awards include the Heinz Award, the Rome and Berlin Prizes, a Charles Ives scholarship and fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Jacob Druckman Memorial Prize from Aspen Music Festival, ASCAP and BMI awards, and fellowships from Tanglewood, Creative Capital and the Guggenheim Foundation.

For more information about Mason Bates visit